Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Image of the Week - Westward Ho! Pebble Ridge

Making photographs can sometimes be like waiting for a bus. Nothing comes along for ages and then several all come at once.

I have been regularly visiting the seaside town of Westward Ho! for a few years now and have had about 4 photographs in my mind that I have been trying to make for a while. Circumstances have never been exactly right and these photographs have remained elusive until, that is, last month when I managed to produce the first of these at the sand dunes.

I rather assumed that would be it for some time but less than a month later I found myself back for a half term break with my family. The weather was hot and sunny with a clear blue sky and a little haze – just perfect for a half term holiday with the kids. The tide had been out most of the day and I had enjoyed the afternoon watching my wife and two of our growing brood body boarding in the surf. As I watched I couldn't help think about photographic opportunities and I realised high tide was going to occur a little after sunset, about the perfect time for a dusk afterglow that was sure to be a good one given the weather conditions.

About halfway along the sandy beach just before the pebble ridge meets the sand dues, there is a pathway over the pebble ridge laid from concrete railway sleepers for surfers to make their way from the car park to the beach. I had long ago realised that where this meets the high tide the wet pebbles and pathway would be great for reflecting colour from a dusk sky. Today could well be the day to make this photograph.

I later informed the family I was planning to walk to the surfers pathway that evening and asked if anyone fancied coming along. My son took up the offer. What 10 year old doesn't fancy exploring an endless supply of pebbles with a high tide in which to throw them while the sun sets?

I'd previously assumed a straight view down the path would work best, but when I arrived I realised that this would be problematic for two reasons. There were still a few dedicated surfers in the sea directly in front of the pathway and the brightest part of the post sunset sky was going to be out of frame to the right. So I walked to the left of the path and looked towards the headland of Baggy Point where I expected the brightest sky would be. Perfect!

With my camera set-up and the light just about right I just needed the pebble throwing in front of me to stop for a moment. “Fancy taking a photograph?” I called.

“OK.” came the reply.

I handed him the stopwatch and cable release, explaining I needed a 60 second exposure.

Click..... Click. It was done. A new bond between photographer and son had been forged. Maybe he'll follow in my footsteps after all, but before I could finish that thought, “Can we go now? I'm bored.”

Saturday, 26 June 2010

Image of the Week – Bow Fell and Langdale Pikes

This, my final image from last year's Lake District trip, nearly didn't happen.

Sadly it was my last day and the weather forecast was dreadful. As I hauled my bags out of the B&B I considered heading straight home but I decided to take a chance and head towards Langdale. As I approached Elterwater the sun unexpectedly burst through the heavy cloud and my spirits were lifted. It wasn't in my plan, but the scene over Elterwater was not to be missed so I pulled over and for around half an hour I was treated to a fine display of heavy rain cloud and sunlight over the village. I even managed to catch a rainbow which helped make up for the one I'd missed earlier in the week at Derwent Water.

As I said, this wasn't in my plan so I soon packed up and headed on towards Wrynose Fell overlooking Langdale Pikes. It goes without saying that the weather had turned rather wet again but after the break in the cloud I had encountered at Elterwater I was optimistic for another spell of good light. Patience was going to be the order of the day.

Well, so there I was all set up sheltering under my umbrella waiting, waiting and waiting.... I was there a good couple of hours before I spotted a small patch of blue sky through the clouds. A while later the peaks of Bow Fell and Langdale Pikes started to emerge from the low cloud and then finally a little sunlight spilled out onto the fells for a short few minutes and I managed two exposures.

My high spirits remained, boosted by the knowledge I now had at least two photographs which was two more than the morning's weather forecast suggested I'd have at this point. I stayed on the fell for another hour before I realised, fun as it was, I was completely soaked through and was actually getting rather cold. I had a 5 hour journey through an endless string of roadworks in heavy rain ahead of me and to top it all off I had managed to loose the lead that connects my MP3 player to the car stereo – I needed to hang onto my high spirits so I decided to call it a day.

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

A Spot of Bother

I'm not one to wrap my photographic gear up in cotton wool. A camera, lens, filter or whatever is just a tool to be used in the pursuit of making a photograph. I've read about people obsessing on forums over how best to look after their gear. You'd not believe the elaborate storage solutions some employ (even a glass display cabinet for prized lenses would you believe), and there's a whole culture out there who consider just one dust spot on their camera's digital sensor a major catastrophe. Not me. I love making photographs, not my gear.

Mind you if I were talking about my beloved Hi-Fi system at home then that would be a very different matter. Just ask my kids who grew up in fear of touching Dad's Hi-Fi - not that it bothers them now they are teenagers! So do I understand people's obsession.

However as much as I like my camera, I want to use it, not protect it. I wouldn't leave say 3 grands worth of DSLR and lens on a tripod while I walk off and explore my surroundings for example. No wait, I have. What I mean is I do look after my gear, but the odd scratch or nick here and there doesn't worry me.

I've had my fair share of accidents; I've burst the zip of an over filled ruck sack, sent prime lenses off for a swim in rock pools, dropped a polariser into the Thames (and gone in to retrieve it) broken a tripod 3 times before I realised I needed something stronger and used a weather sealed DSLR in the rain until it started firing the shutter on it's own accord (even when it was turned off). I've lost count too of the number of freak waves that have caught me out drenching both me and camera. I received a round of applause once at West Bay, Dorset for one particularly fine and evidently very funny drenching - the picture below was exposed just moments before the wave hit.

I'd be hard pushed to name a particular piece of equipment that was most precious to me, but given I only have one of these I suppose it would have to be my Pentax Digital Spotmeter. I use it for all my film work, and I often carry it around with me when scouting locations - it's a useful device to see what a scene might look like through the lens and is a great for a sanity check of a high contrast scene before hauling my kit bag out of the car. I bought it used off eBay a few years ago for a very reasonable price and it's something I could not be without.

So there I was at Kilve beach in Somerset watching the summer solstice sunset on Monday when I turned round to open my camera bag and plop! I'd left my spot meter on the top of my bag and it slipped off into a rock pool. I made a quick grab for it, but I was too late and whatever I pointed it at, the meter gave only a zero reading.

I knew they were expensive, but I had no idea how expensive. Nothing used on eBay, but I found a new one going for £657 + vat, reduced from £793 + vat. Och! This is going to have to be an insurance job - glad I have a new for old policy.


Still, that night I couldn't help feel guilty about my trusty meter. So, armed with a jeweller's screwdriver set and my friend Google, I set about dismantling my meter. I soon worked out I needed to unscrew the eyepiece with some careful assistance from a small screwdriver. Then, once I discovered there was a hidden screw behind the serial number panel, I was in. It was surprisingly dry inside but the water had headed straight for the light sensor. After carefully running some distilled water over the wet circuit board holding the sensor to wash away the corrosive salt water, I removed the 3 screws holding circuit board in place. Having then washed and dried off the sensor I re-assembled it and refitted the battery.

To my surprise it worked! I need to verify the readings, but a quick comparison with my DSLR confirms it looks good. I thought I'd lost her there and so I'll be taking a little more care with my trusty spot meter from now on. My one regret, apart from being so careless in the first place, was I somehow managed to loose the serial number panel in the excitement of success. Stupid, but annoying.

Thursday, 17 June 2010

Image of the Week - England!

Ok, so this one isn't going to win me any awards, but I couldn't help photographing this flag flying on the seafront at Budleigh Salterton in Devon while out yesterday in the glorious sunshine.

I am sure it was no coincidence I should come across this flag during the World Cup but it was a great reminder that we need a win tomorrow evening lads!

I was of course at Budleigh Salterton for more serious matters, namely photographing the River Otter estuary. Having scouted the location back in February I decided that the sun setting at it's most northerly point, ie close to midsummers day in June, would provide the perfect light. All I had to do was time my visit with a high tide and good weather and the picture was mine for the taking. Despite initial disappointment that there was not a cloud in sight, I soon realised I could not have asked for better weather yesterday.

Now, all I need is a convincing England win tomorrow for a perfect end to a perfect week.

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

Image of the Week - Derwent Water, Cumbria

This is another from my Lakes trip last November and follows on neatly from my Castlerigg blog post last week.

Having spent most of the day at Castlerigg I decided to return to this jetty in Barrow Bay on Derwent Water. I say return because I had stopped by this location the previous day while scouting out locations suitable for wet overcast dusk photography - I had seen the long range weather forecast that morning!

Soon after I arrived there were a couple of moments of sunlight on Skiddaw, the mountain on the right, and one dramatic almost complete rainbow* over Skiddaw but my best image was to come after sunset.

Although this was still a little over two weeks before the flooding that brought so much devastation to the area, the water level was still quite high and on this day the ferries that normally sail on the lake and stop off at this jetty had all been cancelled. I have no idea if this level of water is normal, but I have not found any photographs of this jetty this submerged. The previous week I had spied a number of interesting rock patterns on the water's edge around the lake and had hoped to photograph these but they had all now disappeared under the rising water.

This, my last exposure of the day, had required a 5 second exposure which was just enough to erase the ripples from the water.

*Rainbows are a frustrating phenomena. They have knack of teasing the landscape photographer and although I have been lucky to photograph a few rainbows in my time, most have got away and today's was definitely a teaser. My camera was pointed in the opposite direction and by the time I had swung it round and re-focussed, the rainbow was gone.

You need a sense of humour in this job and fortunately (or unfortunately depending on how you view these things) a couple joined me on the shoreline half an hour later and asked if I had seen the rainbow which gave me the perfect excuse to share my latest amusing anecdote. They then showed me the rainbow on the back of their compact digital camera - cue more laughter while they quickly made good their escape from the madman and his anecdotes.

It's moments like this, the rainbow that is, not scaring off bystanders, I long for a medium format rangefinder that I can slip into my bag ready for a rainbow moment.