Thursday, 16 May 2013

Loughrigg Fell Cave

Feeling somewhat frustrated this week. I've been excitedly waiting for the delayed start of spring with a list of locations to photograph. Finally it has arrived but to my dismay I have managed to catch a cold. Just a cold I hear you say. What a wimp! Well yes I would agree but this one seems to have affected my balance and I'm simply in no position to get behind the wheel of a car at the moment.

Never mind, I'm sure I'll be back on my feet next week and it's not as if I have a shortage of images to prepare back at base which leads me onto the subject of my post.

This was from a couple of years ago while visiting the English Lake District during the summer. This was a wet and overcast day on Loughrigg Fell near Rydal. In other words a typical summers day at the lakes! Big vista image opportunities were going to be limited in supply so I chose to explore the fell and in particular the area marked as 'Caves' on my OS Map.

I found two caves easily accessible from the footpath, and this is the larger of the two. Later research revealed these caves to be the result of slate quarrying that ceased in the early 20th Century.

This cave contains a large pool of water at it's entrance and I was immediately drawn to the colour and shapes on the cave wall and it's reflection in the water. Surprisingly the pool contains many ornamental goldfish. I can only assume that at some point someone released some goldfish into the pool and over the years these have successfully bred. Judging by the number of fish I could see they are obviously thriving in this environment.

Friday, 19 April 2013

Storm Thorgerson 1944 - 2013

It was with great sadness that I heard about Storm's passing on the radio this morning. His work has been a big influence on me for a long time although regrettably I only discovered who he was much later in life.

I first knowingly saw one of his designs at the age of 9 when I wondered into a local record shop with my mother. There plastered all over the walls were posters of a grand looking industrial building (Battersea Power Station) bathed in fantastic morning sunlight with a gorgeous sky overhead in which a tiny pink pig was flying. The image had me transfixed and had I had the money (and was not with my frugal mother) I probably would have bought whatever that album was there and then just for the cover.

That image and that day has stuck with me ever since and I attribute it to my love of photography that developed shortly afterwards. Looking back I realise it has had an impact on my style too, not to mention my love of skies in my photographs.

As a teenager a friend introduced me to Pink Floyd's music and I was delighted to discover that this iconic image was in fact the cover of their 1977 album 'Animals'. I have been a big fan of their music ever since and 'Animals' has always had a special place in my heart. I later discovered that Storm was the designer of covers for much of the music I have loved over the years such as Peter Gabriel, The Cranberries, Muse as well as Pink Floyd.

A few years ago I bought a used Nikon FM2 SLR film camera off eBay for some personal black and while work I wanted to do and I was astonished to find the seller was Rob Brimson, one of the photographers credited to the cover of Pink Floyd's Animals. We corresponded briefly by e-mail and he confirmed he did indeed photograph the power station from a helicopter. I recall he observed, after looking at my work, that I obviously like skies!

I never imagined that one day I too would be designing and shooting an album cover of my own but that is exactly what I have recently done for my daughters band. While not quite on the grand scale of Battersea Power Station (nor they as big as Pink Floyd!), I have just realised that there is just a little of Storm's influence in the cover. It's not ready to see the light of day yet, but when it is I will probably write a short post about it.


Edit: If anyone wants to see more of Storm's work then I thoroughly recommend the book 'Taken By Storm' by Storm Thorgerson which contains many of his designs along with commentary from Storm.

Sunday, 7 April 2013

Failure - Ignoring My Own Advice

Practice, practice, practice. I think Jimi Hendrix reportedly played his guitar for 6 hours a day on average, at least that's what I'm constantly telling my daughters when they've gone a couple of days without playing their guitars or singing together.

Well I have to admit that I've failed to follow my own advice and this week I paid the price.

You see, apart from a couple of weeks during last autumn, I'm ashamed to say I've not used my Large Format camera regularly for over a year. I have lots of excuses, the main one being I've been concentrating on another project and haven't had the time to devote to my photography that I would like. Of course I've been working on my photography all this time, but have found myself using the lack of time as an excuse not to pick up my Large Format camera.

I've been fooling myself though because a Large Format camera is not like a bike that you never forget how to ride. Unless you practice you quickly forget those little, but important, things that with regular use you'd remember without even thinking.

This week I spent a few days on the North Devon coast. For the last two nights low tide occurred at dusk and so the night before last I decided to take another look at the old pier at Westward Ho! and work on an image I have had on my mind for sometime. I managed two exposures, but the second is most likely ruined. After careful focussing I forgot to tighten the locking nuts on the lensboard tilt action. As a result the whole front lensboard tilted down as I cocked the shutter. By then it was too dark to accurately re-focus. I did my best and exposed a sheet of film, but I am sure it is ruined.

Last night I decided to photograph the wreck out on the beach at Westward Ho! that I had noticed was exposed the evening before. Another image I've had in mind for quite some time. I arrived in plenty of time but the wreck was nowhere to be seen, re-buried under sand it would seem. Instead I decided to make a few images of the patterns left in the sand by the retreating tide. For my last (and hopefully best) composition I switched from my usual Velvia 50 film to the faster Provia 100 due to the dwindling light. Without thinking I calculated the exposure from my light meter without resetting the film speed on my lightmeter and over exposed the image. Schoolboy error!

What made this last mistake all the harder to bear was that I was making a long exposure and had a whole 2 minutes in which to consider my mistake and rectify it by closing the shutter early. During long exposures I often pass the time by re-calculating exposures just in case I have made a mistake. Of course I forgot the change in film speed and made the same mistake a second time. My mistake only dawned on me once I was packed up.

I'm now wondering what other errors I made but I will have to wait for the film to be returned from the lab to find out. So, determined not to make these mistakes again, I will be out and about with my Large Format camera on a regular basis from now on. Fortunately I did make a few exposures on an 'idiot proof' digital camera so all was not lost. The image you see here is one of them.

Friday, 22 March 2013

More Memories of Spring

After my previous post about the lack of spring things have decidedly taken a turn for the worse. Instead of a planned photo and video shoot for my daughter's band on the coast today I have been sat at my desk watching the rain. Everything north of the M4 motorway has, or soon will have, several inches of snow and much of the soutwest is either flooded or is under threat of flooding. What is going on?

I can't work out if spring is just a little shy this year or if winter has decided to stay. I cannot wait for some greenery on the trees. Much as I quite like the winter months, it really is time for winter to move on.

My list of locations to visit this spring is growing and I cannot wait to get out the door. This is one location I am keen to get back to with my Large Format camera. Barton Wood in Exmoor National Park in Devon. A wonderful woodland through which the East Lyn River flows and meets Hoaroak Water at Watersmeet.

For relaxation, there is little that can beat spending the day working with this camera beside a peaceful river in woodland.

The images you see here were made a couple of years ago on a DSLR while exploring this woodland and I've been itching to get back with a larger camera ever since.

Roll on springtime.....

Thursday, 7 March 2013

Memories of Spring

A couple of mornings ago I was chiselling ice of the car windscreen, then as the sun rose in the clear blue sky I felt warmth on my face that I had not experienced for several months. The birds were out singing and there was blossom on the fruit tree in the garden. Spring was here!

My excitement was short-lived though as the next day the clouds were back and today it's cold, raining and feels nothing like spring. The forecast suggests we're not going to get that sunshine back for a while.

To make up for this disappointment I thought I'd share a spring picture of March Daffodils but I was surprised to find I don't actually have many images of Daffodils. Something I must rectify. Anyway, I did find this one from a visit to Ashton Windmill a couple of years ago.

By coincidence this is a location I am hoping to photograph at night when the weather allows. Watch this space....

Saturday, 23 February 2013

Stargazing in The Mendip Hills

Last year I posted about getting into photographing the night sky. Since then I've been doing some research and a little planning. It's all turned out much more addictive than I first thought. This week I was photographing Crook Peak on the Mendip Hills. Knowing that we were in for a clear sky that night I decided to take the opportunity to hang around until after dusk to make a start on my night sky project.

The limestone outcrop at the top of Crook Peak made for an interesting foreground so before darkness fell I selected the most interesting looking rocks and then waited for the stars to appear. My research had paid off as once it was dark enough I was easily able to identify the pole star (Polaris) around which all the other stars would appear to rotate. Better still I managed to find it in my viewfinder!

The one thing I was unsure about was whether to go for one single long exposure or several short exposures and stack the images together later. Consensus on the internet was the latter. Certainly my limited attempts at star trails on my old Nikon D2x a few years ago supported the thinking that noise would be an issue with one single long exposure.

I had a Mental block once darkness fell though and was unable to remember where the intervalometer could be found in my camera's menu. That decided it. I had no intention of spending all night searching through a menu on the back of my camera so single long exposures it was!

I tried different exposures of up to 10 minutes and experimented with a small LED torch to paint light onto the rocks. I was pleased with my final image, although a 20 minute exposure would have given longer trails for better effect. As it happens the camera did admirably well with a single exposure and produced very clean images.

This stargazing bug has certainly bitten and the family now has a small 4 inch telescope. We've only used it in the garden so far and this has limits due to nearby street lamps and a restricted view of the horizon. The day before I made the image above at Crook Peak, we decided to go up onto the Mendip Hills which would be free from these limitations. So just before sunset we carried the telescope up to the top of Cross Plain on the Mendips (near Crook Peak).

Unfortunately once we were set-up we realised that the batteries in the telescope's motorised mount were running flat which made locating objects in the sky a little tricky. Mental note to charge them before leaving the house next time. Our frustration was made worse by the stiff breeze that kept shaking the telescope. A little more planning will be required for our next excursion!

Still, it wasn't a completely wasted trip as I managed to make some nice images of the kids using the telescope in the dusk light.

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Duckpool, North Cornwall

A few months back I took the plunge and decided to see what all the fuss was about Adobe Lightroom version 4. Well, it has proved to be particularly good at extracting detail from images made in tricky lighting conditions. For example, this was an image I made hand held while walking along the North Cornwall coast one sunny winters day two years ago.

I had been exploring Sandymouth beach near Bude looking for interesting images for a future visit later in the year when the evening sun is better positioned. I wasn't expecting to make any pictures that day as the light wasn't particularly good but I had my little Panasonic GF1 for recording interesting compositions that I planned to re-visit with my large format camera.

When I reached Duckpool I was immediately drawn to this fantastic rock formation. As luck would have it cloud cover had moved in and softened the bright sunlight that had prevailed throughout the day and I saw the possibility of an image. Unfortunately the cloud cover, whilst softening the sunlight, had extended behind this rock and so presented me with a new problem. The bright cloud behind the rock and the dark shadows at the front were at either end of my camera's sensitivity. If I had my tripod I could have made two exposures, one for the sky and one for the rock which could be then combined. I didn't have a tripod and besides, I've never been entirely happy with the results of this technique. I would have to make this image with one single exposure.

Whilst I was able to capture the whole dynamic range on my camera (just), I was not hopeful of being able to extract clean detail from the dark shadows. The camera recorded most of the scene as a black silhouette and from experience I knew that would mean horrible noise and very little detail when I set to work on the image. Later, after downloading the image, my suspicions were confirmed to be correct and I was unable to produce anything usable, let alone close to what I remember seeing that day.

I decided to put this image aside and tackle it another day.

Having become familiar with Lightroom's increased capabilities I recently decided to take another look at this image. The new tools in Lightroom, as well as being more intuitive, made surprising light work of this image. To my delight I was able to extract a huge amount of detail from the shadows and the inevitable noise was easily controlled without any loss of fine detail. Of course, I could have also achieved this using the latest Adobe Raw Converter in Photoshop CS6 which uses the same processing engine as Ligthroom 4, but I personally find the controls in Lightroom to be more intuitive.

I was so pleased to be able to produce this image I remember seeing that day and I am now looking at reworking a few old favourites of mine now that I know what can be done.