Saturday, 30 October 2010

Lake District

I've just returned from a week in the Lake District National Park. Unlike last year, which was a trip dedicated to photography, this year's trip was a family holiday. However, the presence of my family is never one to stop me from making photographs.

This was the best week I have had in the Lake District as we enjoyed some great weather although we also endured a little not so great weather too. Despite my best laid plans though, I only had one opportunity to use my large format camera which was during dawn at Blea Tarn.

The weather actually allowed for a second early start with this camera but I was thwarted by an embarrassing oversight the day before which left me with no fuel in the car until the local filling station opened by which time the best light had long gone.

I did haul my large format kit up Cat Bells for the second year running only for the weather to follow the exact same pattern it did last year; sun as we set off and cloud by the time we reached the top although with a much stronger wind this time. I didn't even remove my rucksack from my back. That picture of Newlands Valley I started last year remains unfinished business for now.

The Panasonic GF1 proved to be the perfect camera for the trip and didn't miss a beat, even after tumbling out of the back of the car. There was no messing about with different lenses (I've found the 20mm pancake lens and my legs are all I need) and without the need for a tripod or for peering into a tiny viewfinder (except when the sun is too bright) it's just perfect for photographing the landscape while out walking. My only accessories were three neutral density filters and holder plus the electronic viewfinder which makes for a wonderfully light kit bag.

I will no doubt be posting images from my trip in this blog over the coming weeks so watch this space and my latest work gallery.

While I was away autumn proper seems to have finally arrived in the southwest so it's back to Dartmoor next week before the leaves drop.

Monday, 25 October 2010

Image of the Week - Combestone Tor, Dartmoor

I've been making a concerted effort to focus my attention on Dartmoor recently. It's a place I love to explore and photograph. Maybe it's a subconscious desire to make up for not completing my Ten Tors training when I was a teenager. It was either complete the Ten Tors training or fight for second place in the winter handicap series at my local sailing club that my friend and I were taking part in.*

After a day exploring the area near South Brent I decided to end the day in more familiar territory. So, with about hour to go before sunset I was trying desperately to find a good composition at Combestone Tor. In my mind I had settled on a wide vista over the Dart Valley below. The emerging autumn colour in the woods bathed in warm evening sunlight would make a perfect picture I thought.

As usually happens the cloud cover put an end to that idea. Although small shafts of light were appearing from time to time, there was just not enough sunlight to make it work. The majority of the scene was in shadow and there was too much contrast for it to work. The last straw was when a huge patch of clear blue sky parked it's self over the scene. An endless string of thick cloud was obscuring the sun and yet everywhere else was featureless blue sky.

My next idea was the granite stacks of the Tor bathed in sunlight. Every so often a patch of sunlight would make it's way towards the Tor and each time I tried to predict which stack of rocks it would hit, but it soon became clear I was chasing my tail. It must have been quite a pantomime watching me. The sun is going to hit these rocks. Oh know it isn't. It's behind you!

Now I love working with my large format camera. It takes time to set-up and this means I have to slow down and consider every picture very carefully. Since moving to large format I make a lot less pictures, but I like to think that these pictures are an improvement over those I used to make I am ever so grateful for that. However, there are times when it is the most frustrating piece of wood, metal and glass ever assembled by man. Right now was one of those moments. The sun was headed for the horizon fast and breaks in the cloud were becoming fewer and fewer. I was determined to make a picture but I could feel time slipping away.

In order to keep interesting cloud in my picture I was now forced to work on the dark side of the Tor with the sun the other side. That was giving me some serious contrast problems. I really didn't want just a silhouette of the Tor so reluctantly I conceded that it wasn't going to work on the transparency film I had with me.

I abandoned my Ebony in favour for the little Panasonic GF1 and pancake 20mm lens. This is happening too often I thought. I was attracted by the colourful cloud above the grey granite rocks and exposed a couple of horizontal pictures. Then as I repositioned for a vertical composition the sun briefly shone through the rocks onto the marram grass in front of me and onto the edges of the Tor just long enough for one picture. I just knew that was my picture of the day.

With my optimism rekindled and the cloud now moving eastwards to cover that boring blue sky, I took my Ebony round to the other side of the Tor and did manage two exposures on transparency film before the sun finally disappeared. Now I could return home happy with my days work.

*In case you are wondering, we held onto second place throughout that winter series and I still have my glass trophy to prove it. The atrocious weather that winter (gales, frozen lake etc.) meant that very few boats took part in the series and if I recall correctly we were only one of two boats to complete enough races to qualify so I guess we were last too!

Monday, 18 October 2010

Image of the Week - Grand Pier, Weston-super-Mare

Following the fire that destroyed the previous pavilion on the pier on the 28th July 2008, the new pavilion is due to open this coming Saturday (23rd October) so I felt it appropriate that this weeks image should be one of the pier complete with the new pavilion.

The Grand Pier was originally built in 1904 and is no stranger to fire. It suffered a similar disaster in January 1930 when the pier's theatre was destroyed by fire. The theatre was replaced in 1933 by the very same pavilion that was destroyed in 2008.

I must admit that I found the old pavilion rather sad looking. A few months before the fire I made a series of photographs of the pier out of season in black and white to reflect the way I then viewed it. Despite this I did find myself rather saddened by the fire in 2008 which at the time seemed a great loss for the town. I was quite surprised at how fond of it I had become.

Having seen the new pavilion last week for the first time in the flesh so to speak I have to say I was rather impressed. With the new Grand Pier pavilion, along with the regeneration that has been going on along the town's seafront including a new promenade, Weston-super-Mare is starting to look much more attractive. Although it's undoubtedly been a tough couple of years for holiday businesses in the town, I wonder if perhaps the fire was exactly what the town needed to spark (no pun intended*) much needed change.

It's interesting to compare the old and new pavilion and note that despite it's contemporary glass and steel design, the new pavilion is surprisingly sympathetic to the old design. It's not just the obvious four towers as there are many other similarities.

Apart from a probable visit when I was only 5 years old, the memory of which is marred by the trauma of getting stuck in the estuary mud by the pier, I am sure I've never actually been on the pier and I've never felt like changing that, until now that is.

*Although the official report on the fire recorded the cause of the fire as unknown, the Fire Brigade thought the most likely cause was faulty electrical wiring.

Saturday, 16 October 2010

New Images - Mewslade Bay, South Wales

A recent addition to my archive are these images from the beautiful Gower peninsular coast at Mewslade Bay near Pitton in South Wales.

All made with my large format Ebony camera on Velvia 50 film, these images show the magnificent carboniferous limestone rock formations along the cliffs at Mewslade Bay and Fall Bay.

More images from the Gower can be found in my Gower gallery.

Saturday, 9 October 2010

Image of the Week - Hayne Down, Dartmoor Part II

Following on from yesterdays post, it seems the story still had more that needed to be told. You see it wasn't quite as simple as I had conveyed as I had omitted some detail in the interests of keeping the post reasonably brief. This detail seemed unimportant at the time. How wrong I was.

I had neglected to mention that I did indeed have a second, but brief, chance at photographing the south side of the hill at Hayne Down with my Ebony camera before the sun finally set.

Why did I feel this was unimportant yesterday? It was because I did not expect my photograph to be anything remotely near a success. The scene was particularly contrasty; the sky on my left just above the horizon was much brighter than the rest of the scene and the rocks in the foreground very dark. Also, very little sunlight was by now reaching the landscape due to the shadow of the hills to the west and only a small area was illuminated.

I felt sure that the scene would need far more care and time to set-up than I had available. The tricky balancing of filters and exposure calculation would need careful consideration. I nearly didn't bother to insert the film holder into the back of the camera. In the end I threw caution to the wind, only to immediately regret the waste of a perfectly good sheet of film on such a ridiculously high risk endeavour.

So, imagine my surprise when the first transparency that I placed on the lightbox this morning was this very picture. "Good grief!" I thought. Of course it wasn't completely plain sailing as being such a contrasty scene in the first place didn't make for an easy scan when exposed on a high contrast sheet of Velvia 50. It required some careful work during scanning and post processing to produce the final image, but it was worth it.

Although both this and the previous image were taken several minutes apart and therefore were subject to different lighting, it still makes for an interesting comparison between digital and film capture. If ever I needed reminding of why I persevere with the relatively slow and cumbersome process of film capture on a large format camrea, this is it.

Friday, 8 October 2010

Image of the Week - Hayne Down, Dartmoor

Dartmoor contains the largest areas of granite rock in Britain and it is this granite that forms the many tors that make up the landscape of the region. I think it is these tors that make Dartmoor one of my favourite inland locations to photograph. I don't visit the moor anywhere near enough and so when I do visit it can be quite overwhelming.

I find it best to concentrate on one location at a time. Studying a location for a day helps locate possible compositions in preparation for the best light and also watching the light as it changes helps me predict how things might turn out before setting up a camera.

This week I was at Hayne Down which is the location of the unusual granite rock stack known as Bowerman's Nose. I made a few straightforward pictures of this stack, see below, but it was the surrounding landscape that really interested me and in particular how the warm evening light would enhance the autumn colours.

A bank of cloud was thickening in the west as evening approached and had already blocked the sun. The cloud was drifting northwards and looking south I noted there was a good possibility of a break in the cloud before the sun set behind the hills to the west. I decided my best chance was for some sunlight over the south side of Hayne Down and Hound Tor to the south. With this in mind I set-up my large format Ebony camera on the south side of the hill. As I watched a gap was forming and all I had to do was wait for it to reach the sun... if only it were that simple.

Typically the gap in the clouds closed up as it neared the sun. Another gap appeared shortly afterwards, but this was further along to the north which meant it was already drifting away from the sun. I turned round and saw the hills to the north were bathed in wonderful sunlight. From earlier exploring I already knew what the composition on the north side would be but with a sinking feeling I looked at my camera and realised there was no time for the lengthy task of repositioning it. I only had a few minutes.

So it was my little Panasonic GF1 that came to the rescue, hand held because I had no time for extracting the tripod from under my Ebony.

I did get a lucky break shortly afterwards as for a brief moment the south side of the hill was illuminated by the last rays of the sun. Fortunately my Ebony was still set-up for this moment, but I knew deep down that the picture from the north side was the 'one' and won't be matched by anything on film when I receive the transparencies back from the lab. Yes I was very disappointed I didn't use my Ebony, but equally I was very glad I had the GF1.

Friday, 1 October 2010

Image of the Week - Rhossili Bay

For those who often read my blog you may recall earlier this year I wrote about how I had paid a visit to Rhossili Bay after a visit to Mewslade Bay in March this year.

I had arrived at Rhossili a few minutes before sunset, just in time to photograph the last rays over the beach and Rhossili Down before descending the steps to the beach. A fellow photographer was already at the wreck of the Helvetia when I reached it but he was happy to let me set-up beside him.

I have never met a photographer who's not happy to share a spot with me, but I've encountered plenty who at a distance seem quite happy to stroll into another photographer's composition and inconsiderately set-up their tripod just as the light reaches perfection. Sometimes it can be quite literally tripods at dusk as we try to out manoeuvre each other. Funny in hindsight, but not so amusing at the time if you've been set-up most of the day for that one picture.

While I slowly set-up my Ebony my companion was busy photographing the last moments of the sunset. My game plan was for a dusk afterglow which was looking like it might be a cracker and I was ready just after the sun had disappeared below the horizon. My companion was soon packed up and said his goodbyes before setting off for the steps. It's odd how I'm usually the last to leave a beach. Most photographers leave before the light, in my opinion, is at it's best. Thirty minutes or so and two compositions later I was happily packing up my own gear away and looking forward to some tea.

While I was waiting for the best light a man walking along the shoreline came over to me and excitedly asked if I had seen the green flash.

"The what?" I asked.

"The green flash."

He went on to explain that it's a rare phenomenon that more usually occurs in tropical areas just after the sun sets and it had happened here today. I told him I wasn't watching the sunset so missed it, but if I'm honest I thought he must be seeing things as I'd never heard of such a thing.

When I returned home I looked it up and lo and behold it's a real phenomenon and it would appear I did indeed miss it. Funnily enough I recently saw the film Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End on DVD and the green flash that I'd never heard of until this day is a major part of the story. I've been paying more careful attention to sunsets since then but have yet to see one.