Month: December 2011

31 Dec

My Favourite Photos of 2011

What do I mean by my “Favourite Photo”? Well, in this post I’ll be concentrating on my own photos — I have seen some pretty inspiring stuff from other photographers this year so I may well make another post focusing on those.

2011 has been the year that I’ve really got back into photography. In 2010 in an effort to stimulate myself back into a hobby I really enjoy, but which I’d let slip somewhat since the arrival of my young son, I challenged myself to take and post a monochrome photo a week. This was fun and stretched me a little bit as I hadn’t really done B&W seriously before then. I ended the year with some shots I really liked and had a new “sideline” to my hobby.

Fun and rewarding as that was, my real interest in photography is landscapes and, living in Devon, I have no real excuse for not getting as many of those in the bag as possible. So, in 2011, I chose to get up for sunrise whenever I could and get out and about wherever I was to make the best use of the pre-dawn light and the golden hour. This also coincided with my setting up a new Flickr account, having finally migrated away from the friendly but stagnating pbase which I’d used for the previous 4 years as my photo hosting site of choice. Most of my photo opportunities were limited to dawn rather than dusk as I still want to keep some semblance of a family life and I figure that getting up before the others is better than abandoning them at bedtime.

So, in purely chronological, and not preferential, order here are my favourite photos from 2011:

A long exposure of some steps at Sidmouth leading to the beach at Chit Rocks.
The River Otter as it enters the sea at Budleigh Salterton. A grey dawn was threatening nought, but just as the sun rose, the breaking cloud was lit up magnificently.
I initially cursed this woman standing at the end of the Cobb at Lyme Regis waiting for sunrise. Then I thought "what the hell" and shot away. I just wish that the tide was in a bit more ...
I cursed this chap too when I tried a long enxposure of Dawlish breakwater. However he did manage to sit still for 30s in just this one shot, which was shortlisted in the Landscape Photographer of the Year competition (but which fell at the final hurdle of judging)


A shot of the folly called Dunstall Castle in Worcestershire


Teignmouth Pier in the mist at dawn.


Back to the Otter Estuary for a magical sunrise in December
Dawlish Warren Old Groyne on Christmas Eve - just about the best sunrise I've ever witnessed.

Here’s to more and better in 2012 — I certainly hope so anyway.


28 Dec

If at First, You Don’t Succeed …

… “Forget it”. So said Tommy Cooper, the Wurzels and, I suspect, many others for comedic effect. However following a very thin weekend of photography, which included an “oh so nearly” shot from Dawlish Warren, I spent the next week mulling over what could have been and, rather than forget it, the traditional “try try again” kept coming to mind.

The “nearly shot” in question was one of the old groyne at Dawlish Warren in Devon. The beach here is part of a spit of sand dunes which protects the mudflats at the mouth of the Exe estuary. There are numerous wooden groynes along the beach to protect from erosion and, towards the far end, there is the remains of an old “first generation” groyne which isn’t really functional any more but which I’d had my eye on for a little while. I have had a grab shot of this structure in my Lightroom catalogue for a little while but I wanted something a bit more artistic.

The first week I though of visiting I chose at the last minute to go elsewhere. When I checked my Flickr account later that day I’d discovered that my contact Mark Lakeman had been there that day and captured an effective composition with muted colours which I quite liked, but which he wasn’t pleased with, complaining about a “lack of mojo” in his commentary.

The following week I headed off with a view to getting a shot from the right hand side looking out to sea, with the groyne pointing towards the midwinter rising sun. “Curses” I thought when I arrived as I had forgotten that there was a modern groyne just to the left which would hamper any attempt to shoot from this side. Add to that an almost total lack of cloud in the sky and it was my turn  to experience a disappearing mojo. There was a thin strip of could on the horizon and I caught the sun behind it as it rose. Several compositions included pleasing starbursts but, and I have no idea how this happened, none were anywhere near in focus. I put this down to camera shake due to breaking waves moving my tripod in my own Flickr commentary but carelessness was probably a more accurate cause. Anyway, I posted one shot (below) to Flickr and left it at that.

The shot is OK but I had taken a number of more “square on” compositions which looked better overall as there was separation between the posts, but which were also blatantly out of focus. This one is, at least, in focus and offers a pleasing sun reflection and line of clouds on the horizon, but it is not what I was after.

Following Mark’s comments and my own disappointment I nicknamed this place the “Beach of Despair” and spent the next week mulling over what could have been. The sun would soon start rising further north and my chances at rectifying my mistakes would be few unless I wanted to wait until next winter. So it was that on Christmas Eve, I thought I’d give it another go. Rising a good 90 minutes before sunrise I headed off towards Exeter under a thick blanket of cloud. As I turned onto the A379 to head away from Exeter towards Dawlish Warren, I saw a clear slot on the low horizon and my hopes were raised.

Parking the car, I thought I may have been too late, despite it still being 50 minutes or so until sunrise. The horizon was already dark red and I ran and stumbled my way the 15 minutes or so to the old groyne. I made sure that the tripod was firmly in the sand, composed  to hide as much of the new groyne behind the old one as possible, and took extra care focusing to ensure that the posts were pin-sharp. By this stage the sky was turning bright red and I was getting very excited indeed. For about two minutes just before sunrise the sky was intensely red. I took numerous shots until it began to fade, checking, checking, and checking again for focus.

Then I looked behind me.

The sky was turning pinker and there were wispy red clouds against the darker grey layer. I ran around to the other side of the groyne, composed, focused, and kept shooting. Once the sun had risen above the cloud layer, I stopped, packed up, and jumped up and down with clenched fist like a little kid.

One of these latter shots was the first of mine to make it to Flickr Explore, peaking at #49 and my views went through the roof. Web traffic and comments are, of course, not why I am taking photos but it was a really pleasing way to round off the day and was the final justification for wanting to go back and get it right second time around.

And it is in no way the “Beach of Despair” any more …

11 Dec

Keeping the Faith …

Due to my job I only really get out and about for sunrise photography at the weekends. Following one particular washed out weekend I was looking forward to the next to “scratch that itch” and had, therefore, been studying the weather forecast for the upcoming Saturday since Tuesday. The weekend looked wet and my only hope seemed to be Saturday morning. Fine, you might think, but I was taking Friday afternoon off work for a Christmas “do”. The last thing I wanted was to overindulge and spend the best hours of the next day in bed with a sore head.

Come Friday I made my excuses and left the party late afternoon to get the train home. The forecast still looked touch and go, with a clear slot in between a couple of banks of cloud promising just a chance of something good around dawn. I was still unsure where to go — Dawlish Warren for some groyne shots [insert smutty joke here] or Budleigh Salterton for a go at my “default” location of the Otter estuary. It was high tide 90 minutes before dawn so I thought I’d take a crack at the latter with the trees of Otterton ledge reflecting in the high tidal waters (another fave location for high tide is the Cobb in Lyme Regis, but I knew that there was a photographic workshop on that day so gave that a wide berth).

When I woke up it was raining outside and Honiton was under a blanket of cloud. A quick check of various weather-related apps on my smartphone and the chances of a good sunrise looked decidedly slim, so I decided to go back to sleep.

Except I couldn’t.

Half an hour later I gave in, got up, threw on some clothes and headed for the coast, still under a blanket of cloud and with a bit of drizzle continuing to fall. Am I addicted to this hobby of mine?

Half an hour after that I was on location. As well as being a fantastically photogenic location, there is also a bloody great car park about two minutes’ walk from my “tripod holes”. Even though it was 7 a.m. I paid for a parking ticket as this car park is notorious for being checked up on and, as expected, a mere two minutes later I was set up and ready to go. It was an still hour until sunrise and the estuary was totally silent. A bank of cloud overhead was, inch by inch, heading East and threatening the clear sky over the trees. Another bank of cloud on the horizon meant that it would be a few minutes after sunrise until any light show were to start.

I waited and waited. Grey skies — no great photos today I thought. Bored of waiting I wandered up and down the river looking for alternative locations and eventually headed back to the camera, still waiting patiently on its tripod. 10 minutes to sunrise. No light show; 5 minutes to sunrise. Still no light show; Sunrise. Still no light show. I decided to stick it out and, then, 5 minutes or so later, a few pinky red edges to the cloud-bank. Before I knew it the sky was red, the water was red, and I was thinking “bloody hell!”. Strangely the few dog walkers who had congregated in the area for their morning ritual seemed oblivious. I resisted the urge to go “snap happy” and concentrated on trying to get just a few “good-uns” and I have posted them, below:

I then ran up the estuary path to an alternative viewpoint, hoping to get a shot of the first rays hitting the reeds as the sun crested the ledge. Unfortunately the ebbing tide had receded by just a few inches too much and my photo included the mudflats rather than another reflection shot. Still – thats splitting hairs as I still like it and, come the next dawn high tide, I may just be back for more …

(As I got into my car to drive home, the car park ticket inspector turned up, true to form. Glad I got that ticket ….)