Monday, 31 May 2010

Image of the Week – Castlerigg Stone Circle, Cumbria

The 3 or so hours I spent at Castlerigg last November was one of the most productive 3 hours I have spent with a camera. In between the numerous rain showers there was spectacular and fast changing lighting. This meant a lot of 120 roll film to scan, clean-up and prepare, and worse still, a lot of images to edit down to get to the best few.

Having worked with digital for a number of years and then returned to film, I can honestly say the worst thing about digital is the temptation to shoot a lot of images with the result that editing the images to leave just the best becomes a chore. With film, especially when using a view camera, most of this editing is done in the field. The slow process of setting up the camera really concentrates the mind and those half hearted shots and unnecessary duplicates are dismissed long before the shutter is pressed.

I was dreading sorting out this batch of film, but once I got going the couple of days it took flew by as I excitedly inspected each transparency on the light table, fed them into the scanner and cleaned-up and adjusted the scan in Photoshop to match the original transparency.

The location of Castlerigg Stone Circle is a truly magical place, nestled between the fells at the head of a valley leading to Dale Bottom it is easy to see why our ancient ancestors chose this spectacular location. The presence of the stones only enhances the feeling of drama about the place.

Combine this with some fast moving heavy rain clouds interspersed with piercing sunlight and you have the recipe for some frantic, but fun landscape photography. I was very glad of my umbrella lash-up mind you. This was only the second day of my week long trip and I would have gone home happy five days later even if I'd not exposed single transparency after that day.

It's a popular spot mind you and on a rainy day like this you can be sure the best moments coincide with a bus unloading a party of pensioners sporting bright red waterproofs onto the scene. Patience is essential!

Wednesday, 26 May 2010

Image of the Week - Sand Dunes at Westward Ho! Devon

I "saw" this picture in my head a couple of years ago. However, whenever I paid these dunes a visit I never managed to pull it off. Silly really as it's quite a straightforward composition with nothing tricky to set-up. I visit the place several times a year which makes it all the more frustrating.

Each time I have visited this spot conditions just weren't what I needed for my picture; it was too sunny, too cloudy, the tide was in, too many people taking a stroll on the beach below, too windy, etc., etc. (My wife firmly believes I am never happy and to a point she's probably right.)

Earlier this month I had spent the afternoon in Bude and I planned on being near Woolacombe for the sunset but as I drove North a blanket of cloud moved in just as the weather forecast had predicted. As I approached the turn-off for Westward Ho! I decided to return to base for an early finish.

Some time later, while looking out across the bay, I noticed a gap forming in the cloud on the horizon. I had less than an hour before sunset so there was no chance of reaching Woolacombe, but the dunes were only a 15 minute walk away.

Half an hour later I was all set-up waiting for the sun to break through. The gap in the cloud had narrowed and when the sun did break through for a brief few minutes the light was quite subdued. I made one exposure as the sunlight reached it's peak before it quickly faded. The moment was over quickly and I didn't really register how lovely the light actually was. I waited to see what would happen as the sun set and for a while after that just in case, but nothing more was to be had that day.

I returned in darkness happy enough that I had a new picture, but it wasn't until a few days later when I received the processed transparency that I really understood how wonderful that brief light had been. This for me is part of the magic of photography. Although I was there in the flesh to experience the moment, it took a photograph to freeze that moment in order to truly appreciate it.

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Image of the Week - Blea Tarn, Langdale, Cumbria

In stark contrast to the warm sunny weather most of Britain has enjoyed this week my favourite image this week is from somewhat wetter and colder times.

I drove past Blea Moss on a number of occasions last autumn on my way to other locations but on this day, having given up all hope of actually making a picture, I did stop and set-up on the shore just before sunset. The day's rain was showing signs of easing so I thought I had nothing to loose.

I suppose this is a well photographed classic view of Blea Tarn and the Langdale Pikes, but having since searched around, I note that most pictures show much more pleasant weather. Having long since given up on returning home with transparencies exposed to crisp blue skies reflected in glass like lakes, pleasant weather was no longer a priority for me.

I exposed 6 images in total (3 conventional and 3 panoramic) but I immediately knew this image was the best. Conditions were windy with on and off rain showers and this was the only moment where the wind and rain subsided long enough for the water's surface to become still and provide a good mirror image of the fells and the clouds above. Without this mirror image the dark mountains and foreground boulders were not enough to hold interest in the rectangular 4x5 format.

My one regret is the positioning of the left hand boulder which really should have been higher in the frame and not cut-off at the edge of the image. In truth the boulder formed part of the shoreline and was not surrounded by water so ideally ought to have been excluded from the composition entirely. However I could not find a way of composing the remaining boulders without encroaching into the reflection of the fells. Of course sat now at my dry desk enjoying the warmth of spring it's easy to think why didn't I simply do "this or that?" Perhaps being cold, wet and tired "this or that" simply didn't occur to me, or maybe they did but there were further complications? In the words of my maths teacher many years ago, "must do better next time."

As a comparison this is one of the panoramic version of this scene.

As you can see there is no reflection to be had of the fells which allowed me a little more freedom with the placement of the boulders. Although the colour from the sky above created interesting colour in the water, I feel this picture fell short because it lacks the tranquillity of the first image due to the movement recorded in the sky and water - a combination of windy conditions and a long exposure due to rapidly diminishing light.

Monday, 10 May 2010

Image of the Week - Coniston Water, Cumbria

Finally, after several distractions, I am making inroads to my stack of transparencies from the Lake District last autumn.

Although, as previously mentioned, most of my images were in the 6x17 panaramic format, my first was made using on the 4x5 format.

The weather had been grey mist and drizzle all day. Not the most inspiring day but I held out hope for improvement in the afternoon.

The weather did indeed brighten up a little at around sunset and I finally saw an opportunity to unpack my view camera at Coniston Water. In hope of some colour in the sky at this time of day I realised I needed to be on the eastern shore looking west. All I needed was some foreground. There are a few wooden jetties along the shore, but these are already well photographed and perhaps a little clich├ęd so I set about finding something alternative. That's not as easy as first imagined.

There isn't a great deal along this shoreline and with the water level higher than usual as a result of the recent rain, there wasn't much of the pebbles and rocks visible above the water. Being the 3rd longest lake in the Lake District there's quite a lot of distance to cover and I was beginning to think I'd not find anything. Eventually I came across this small bed of dried reeds and had just enough time to set-up before the light faded.

Thursday, 6 May 2010

Beach Huts at Summerleaze Beach, Bude

My planned photography over the past few days in Devon and Cornwall hasn't quite gone to plan owing to the weather. My view camera has seen very little action for a while now. I've set it up enough times I suppose, but on most occasions I've not actually released the shutter.

Still, Tuesday provided decent enough weather throughout the morning and early afternoon to warrant a trip out with my DSLR and I spend a pleasant couple of hours wondering around the seaside town of Bude in North Cornwall. A welcome break from the 24 hour election coverage.*

Actually, it was quite a liberating experience. Freed from the cumbersome set-up of a view camera, tripod and light meter, I could simply walk around and photograph at will. Of course I wouldn't give up the view camera experience and the quality of an exposed 4x5 sheet for the world.

It's given me some ideas for future work with the view camera that I might otherwise have overlooked too. Hopefully the weather will perk up next week and I can return.

*Talking of the UK election. While walking around Pentire Point on the North Cornwall coast last week I foolishly thought I'd escape being wound up by the election for a few hours. Not so. No sooner had I arrived than someone with a megaphone was driving around Polzeath disturbing the peace by shouting at all and sundry that they should vote UKIP.

Saturday, 1 May 2010

Black Nore Lighthouse

While I was checking my facts about the proposed closure of Hartland Point lighthouse I discovered another lighthouse from the South West that I have photographed that is short-listed for closure.

Built in 1894, this rather unusual iron lighthouse in the Bristol Channel near Portishead in Somerset overlooks the South Wales coast and helped guide ships headed for Portbury Docks up the channel.

I suppose it's closure is the onward march of technology.

Hartland Point Lighthouse

I embarked on my Spring tour of Devon and Cornwall on Thursday, heading into North Cornwall via Dartmoor. Spring flowers on the coast can be quite hard to time just right, especially on the Atlantic coast where they are under constant attack from the elements. They are at their best for precious little time. For instance, despite being in flower all along the coast, I discovered the patch of bluebells I had scouted out last year were still nowhere near flowering.

So, yesterday I chose to stay nearer to my North Devon base in Westward Ho!

I remembered I had recently read that Trinity House had short-listed the lighthouse at Hartland Point for closure. Apparently all sea going vessels now use the Global Positioning System (GPS) and there is no need for a visual warning. Forgive my ignorance, but isn't that the same GPS that reportedly has a number of satellites overdue for replacement, and isn't our own star just embarking on it's natural cycle of increased solar activity that threatens to knock out satellites?

Anyway, built in 1874, the light from this little lighthouse can be seen from Westward Ho! Where I am staying. Infact I can see it while I write this. I have photographed the lighthouse on a number of occasions, but with the possibility it might soon be switched off I thought it would be a good idea to pay it a visit and photograph it's light once more, perhaps for the last time.

There is a great spot just south of the lighthouse on the cliff top a short distance off the beaten track where you get a clear view over the bay and the lighthouse and at this time of year the Thrift (Sea Pinks) should just about be in flower. I had in mind this would make a great place to photograph the Thrift and the lighthouse with it's light shining against a heavy grey sky. Perhaps if I was lucky a splash of evening sunlight from the West too.

When I arrived I found most of the cliff edge on which I had stood a few years earlier had fallen onto the rocks below and the Thrift was all but gone. A tiny clump remained and was clinging on precariously for life and was nowhere near flowering. The cliff top looked rather untidy and made for a very unsatisfactory foreground. I moved up the coast a little and had to settle for a composition lacking any foreground and regrettably lacking a view of the light I had set out to photograph.

I exposed one sheet, but I fear it's unlikely to match the two photographs shown here from 4 years ago. I probably should not have exposed it at all, but I felt compelled to make at least one exposure given the lighthouse may not have a future.