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25 Jan
The sun rises over the Dart Valley near Sharp Tor on DartmoorSharp Tor at sunrise

Sharp Tor Luck

On Sunday morning I found myself at Sharp Tor on Dartmoor. There are several Sharp Tors and I guess that this one is one of the easiest to access. It’s the one just off the Ashburton to Two Bridges road and with a very convenient car park.

Truth be told, I was heading further west to Peek Hill above Burrator. For the previous twenty minutes I had been wondering why I had bothered as the sky was resolutely overcast. I was contemplating going home but thought Read more

03 Jan

To Crow Tor

Ever since I first saw it, perched on the side of its hill in mid Dartmoor, I’ve wanted to visit Crow Tor. It’s not a straightforward walk in and a diversion from the Littford/Longaford/Higher White Tor ridge, or down and up from Beardown Tors is required.

I chose the latter and on an admittedly impulsive walk (I had planned to go elsewhere) decided to pay a quick visit as the low cloud was promising some dramatic side-lighting.

I got lucky and, despite not getting my pre-envisaged shot, I am quite pleased with the result here. It was a nice walk in and, in the calm after sunset, a nice walk back. As usual, I wished I could have stayed for longer.

Thanks for looking.

07 Mar

Return To Hay Tor

Hay Tor, that big lump of granite that dominates the eastern moor and can be viewed from miles around.

Hay Tor, that big lump of granite that gets overrun by tourists and locals alike in good weather, simply because of its accessibility.

Hay Tor, that big lump of granite I drive right past every time I visit the moor.Read more

01 Jan

My Favourite Photos of 2012

I can’t believe that its the end of another year — it seems to have gone in a blur. What do I remember, photographically speaking, of 2012? Well, it didn’t start off too well when my tripod collapsed and broke my camera on a wet Dartmoor morning, but it got a lot better. I think I can safely say that my output improved over the course of the last 12 months. There are still things I would like to improve — on location composition for example as I do tend to crop a little too much in post production — but I can look back over the last 12 months with a feeling of satisfaction.

When compiling this list of favourites I thought of just picking out my faves and posting them but, after a bit of thought, Read more

02 Dec

A Fine Morning in the Fog

With fog forecast for Saturday morning, there was only one place to go. Well, that’s not strictly true as I had three places in mind depending on how thick the fog was, but all of these places were in West Dorset. In the end I plumped for a spot overlooking the Marshwood Vale which I had visited on several previous occasions, although not with my current camera gear which is capable of giving me much better quality shots than before.

I had tried and failed in this spot only a month ago — a big bank of cloud to the East ruined any prospect of sun playing with the mist — so I was determined to try again and hope for better luck this time. There’s something really satisfying about Read more

25 Nov

Fascinating Orford Ness

In autumn 2010 I visited Orford Ness on the Suffolk Coast with my family. This is an abandoned cold war military test site, now run by the National Trust. In order to get there you have to take a short ferry journey from the village of Orford itself. It really is a fascinating place — an empty landscape of abandoned buildings on a shingle spit, with the famous “pagoda” buildings dominating the attention. I imagine that in many ways its a bit like Dungeness in Kent but, having never been there, this is just a guess.

One way that it probably differs from Dungeness is that you can only take one ofRead more

28 Oct

Old ‘n’ Faded

No, not me, not even this blog which I’ve left untouched for months now. Rather a collection of photos I’m beginning which originated on my Android phone and have had the sepia treatment. I must say that I’m not particularly fond of smartphone photos that have been given a random effect and posted to Instagram or similar. So why Am I doing this?

I suppose it boils down to compromise.

I used to fall into the trap of taking my DSLR gear everywhere — especially on family days out in the harsh midday lighting conditions. Lugging the gear around was tiring, and stopping to set up a shot was irritating for the family, especially when the end results were nothing to write home about. So these days I try to leave the camera gear at home when on family trips and, when I see a promising composition, just take a few snaps with the android phone and save them for future reference.

I have found that some of these stand up to having a faded sepia look quite well. Rather than jut let them stagnate on my phone, I have decided to start a gallery on my Flickr site. As I stated earlier, random effects are not my thing so I’m at least trying for some consistency by using the same effect on all of the shots.

For reference the settings are Filter: Platinotype, Frame Type: Film, Frame Style: Filed Negative Carrier

I guess it’s really an exercise in composition. I like the shots of Yarmouth pier and particularly the view from Sharpitor which, when I visited with full camera gear, I found quite challenging composition-wise. I’m glad I took these as they will help me the next time I visit for a better composition.

The view north from Sharpitor
The view north from Sharpitor

I also couldn’t resist giving the Coombestone Tor dead tree the effect.

Twisted dead tree at Coombestone Tor
Twisted dead tree at Coombestone Tor

So, none of these are competition winners (critics of LPOTY might think otherwise ;-)), and I’m not expecting legions of new twitter or flickr followers, but its a bit of fun and gives an airing to some shots which I think have at least a modicum of compositional credit.

Now, time to get back to the proper stuff ….

16 Apr

Why I Should do it My Way

Regrets? I’ve had a few. And this is one of them.

Several times over the past year year I have been put off by other photographers when going out on early morning shoots. Maybe I should start finding less popular locations as I quite like the solitude at first thing — just me, my camera, and a rising sun. But, hey, I want to get my own versions of what others call the photographic clichés so I guess I’ll have to put up with company every now and then — after all I certainly don’t have “first dibs” on anywhere. I have found, however, that I am easily put off by these other photographers and this was never more evident to me than on a recent trip to Dovercourt Low Lighthouse to shoot the sunrise.

I first found out about this location back in 2008 when I was an active Pbase user and saw an excellent photo by Katie Jones on the same site. My usual photographic patch is Devon but, as my in-laws live in Essex and I spend several weekends a year up there with the family, I immediately put it onto my to-shoot list. It is a long drive from the in-laws’ house in Wickford to Dovercourt and getting there for sunrise after a few too many beers the previous night has proved beyond my weak willpower until now.

I was determined to make my own photo out of the location and not just copy what I had seen elsewhere. Turning up 20 minutes or so before sunrise the tide was perfect (about 3/4 out and receding) so I set up my tripod on the beach and composed a pleasing (to my eye) composition using the foreground groynes and more distant walkway to create a zigzag lead in to the main attraction. I took two shots with this composition, the best of which is below (another shot, omitting the groynes, is on my Flickr photostream):

I like the composition and actually quite like the almost monochromatic feel to this image. However, shortly after taking it, I was distracted by the other early riser on the beach — another photographer who was setting up his shot 30 yards or so to my left. “Aha”, I thought, “he’s a local and he must know the best compo’s”. Not wanting to miss out, I moved further up the beach towards him and started making different compositions waiting for the sunrise and the accompanying lightshow. None of these compositions really worked as well for me as the first one had and, by the time I returned to my original location after about half an hour, the sun was up, tide had receded too far, and the compo didn’t work any more.

Now, as it happens, I hadn’t missed a fantastic sunrise so no real damage done but, on closer inspection, I hadn’t focussed properly and the foreground groynes were sharp at the expense of an ever so slightly out of focus lighthouse. The effect is minimal but noticeable to me — and therefore very annoying. If I had only stuck to my guns and worked on my original composition I hope I would have noticed this and put it right, coming away with an image I was 100% satisfied with and not thinking that I must return (and at this rate it will be 2016 before I do so …).

Another example is when I visited Hay Tor in Devon in March (image below):

Again, another photographer was there and he put me off — probably more so than the one at Dovercourt because this one was aloof and ignored my presence and attempts to even say hello to him while waiting for sunrise (at least I had a good chat with the chap on the beach). I spent far too long more aware of what he was doing rather than concentrating on the scene before me and doing the best that I could. As it happens I quite like what I came away from Hay Tor with, so not much damage done there.

I have had similar experiences at other locations: Lyme Regis Cobb and Teignmouth Pier to name but two.

I have more than enough photographic experience to trust my own instincts. Why is it, therefore, that I always get distracted by the other guy? Resolution for the rest of the year: put the blinkers on and stick to my guns. Either that or avoid the photographic honeypots …

07 Apr

Copying or Co-incidence?

On the way home down the M5 from a weekend  in the Midlands the other week, I worked out that we’d be passing the Severn Bridges at about sunset. I persuaded my wife to let me turn off the motorway and head for the Second Severn Crossing (SSC) as on my previous visit, way back in 2008, I had tried to take a shot from directly underneath the bridge showing both the detail of the underside and the main structure of the bridge in the distance as the road curves to the right. I have yet to publish this image as my exposures were all to pot and the underside of the bridge was way too under-exposed. Therefore this was my opportunity to put things right.

There are two things you notice as you walk under the bridge — the quietness, given the busyness of the road it carries, and Read more

07 Jan

Grumpy New Year …

I’d gotten into the mindset that I’d be having a lie-in this Saturday morning. The initial forecast a couple of days ago was for a totally cloudy weekend. No photography for me then but, hey, that meant I could have a wine-soaked Friday evening and maybe watch a good film.

Then I checked the forecast again.

The cloud was forecast to clear by 9. Sunrise was at 8:15. With a bit of give in the timing of the forecast it looked like I might get a good sky for the golden hour, so it was off to bed early(ish) for me and off up to Dartmoor to see what I could get. It is a new year resolution of mine to hunt out new locations and, having spent much of 2011 photographing coastal seascapes, I have added Dartmoor to the list of places that I really should explore this year.

Easing myself into my resolution I thought I’d just potter around Hay Tor and Saddle Tor and see what compositions I could get. Turning up well before sunrise it was still raining, and pretty damn windy, but I had faith in the forecast and wandered off trying to pick out a viewpoint with my head-torch. I found an OK, but not too inspiring, viewpoint on Saddle Tor and, sure enough, with about 20 minutes to go the cloud began to break and there was a good-ol’ letterbox on the horizon promising some first-light low rays to light up the scenery around me.

Then things began to go wrong.

The letterbox filled in, and the cloud passing overhead began to seemingly “bunch up” on the horizon, meaning no decent light until way after sunrise. It was clear overhead so I stayed put on the moor  but took the time to find a better viewpoint. Eventually I found a composition which might work, so set the camera up on the tripod, framed my composition, and waited.  A few minutes later I rooted around in my camera bag — what for I can’t remember now — and was abruptly stopped in my tracks by the sound of the tripod falling over, a victim of the strong winds. I don’t care about a tripod falling over by itself, but when it has a Canon EOS 5Dmkii and 24-105L lens on top, that’s a different matter. I swore, picked everything up, gave it a quick visual check, dried it off, and thought “phew – no damage done”.

[edit #1: Turns out I had a broken leg clamp on my tripod]

This had really hacked me off, and the thickening cloud-bank did little to lighten the mood. For some reason I didn’t like where I was any more but, rather than head home, I headed off looking for a post-sunrise location elsewhere.

Ending up at “the tree“, which I’d always promised myself I would avoid, I set up a compo and waited for the light. There were little patches of light hitting the ground in the middle distance around me now, and I promised myself it would eventually come good where I was. Firing off a test shot to check out the compo, I heard the mirror lock up, and then pressed the shutter release button on my cable release again to expose the scene. Nothing. Tried switching it off and switching it on again. As soon as the camera took power from the battery the mirror would lock up again and I couldn’t release the shutter to take a shot.  I couldn’t get the damn thing to do anything. I packed up and trudged and drove the hour home in a mood thinking, not really of the cost of the repair — things break and I can take the cost of that on the chin, or go to insurance if the cost is too great for that, but mainly of the time I would be without camera. From past experience of sending off camera gear I would be sans camera for anything between 2 and 12 weeks.

[edit #2: The cost of repair clocks in at a jaw-dropping 670 quid — insurance it is then …]

Getting home I unpacked and tried the camera again. It worked! For about 3 shots and then failed again. I’m unable to change any of the settings using the buttons on the control panel, and I can’t release the shutter. So, off to the Colchester camera repair centre it is ….

Lets look on the bright side and assume I’ll be camera-less for only 3 weeks. What can I do in the meantime? Well, certainly not “visit Start Point for sunset before the sun starts setting around the headland” which was another of my resolutions. And maybe not “visit the Somerset levels for some starling action” which was another, as they may be gone by the time I get the camera back. So, in no particular order, my next few weeks will be spent:

  • Cleaning and servicing my tripod
  • Preparing a website
  • Preparing images for http://photo2012.net/
  • Preparing and submitting photos from the archive to Alamy
  • Maybe, just maybe, dusting off the old 20D but I’m not sure I want to. It never produced images remotely as good as my 5dMkii
  • Avoiding Flickr and hence seeing what the other local togs are up to
  • Maybe buying some film to throw through my ancient, and loved in its time, EOS3. Some moody B&W perhaps.

I’ll finish this post with a shot from the moor from a few years ago, which is the kind of thing I was hoping to get over the next few weeks — and maybe will shortly again if I’m lucky.