Tag: photography

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.

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 ….)

23 Oct

A Fenland Foray

When we go away to visit family or friends, I rarely get out for dawn photography as the occasions tend to involve lots of food and drink and late nights. However, before a recent family trip to Cambridge, I spent a little time doodling around on Bing maps “just in case”. My thinking was that, if I could find somewhere really close to where we were staying, I could nip up the road first thing, hangover permitting, and see what was there. The weather forecast for our weekend visit was fine with misty mornings, so an early morning foray looked possible.

And so it was that I found myself wandering along the banks of the Great Ouse, North of Cottenham, at just gone 7 o’clock one morning with no idea what I’d find and thinking that I’d missed the best bits of the dawn. My first dilemma was to choose left or right after I parked the car. I chose left and wandered off away from the rising sun. I was drawn by the mauve/pink tones in the sky that often occur just before sunrise or after sunset. Just around the corner I found a tree on the far bank that composed nicely against some grasses on the near bank which were reflected in the mirror-smooth water. I set the tripod up and rattled off a few shots. The composition didn’t really work in 3×2 but I thought that a square crop might improve things:

As I was setting up to take this photo my tripod fell over. Recovering from the shock that my expensive and trusty camera gear had narrowly missed a watery end I found that two of the tripod leg clamps had broken. How this had happened I don’t know but it made me a little grumpy — although the whole assembly would still just about about stay up if I was gentle with it. Packing up I headed across the road, back past the car, and into the sunrise. Over the fields I could see a farm surrounded by outbuildings and trees with the sun rising just over it. It was too bright to take a shot and I cursed my decision that I had not been there 10 minutes earlier to get the first of the sun’s rays through the mist. So, having found a spot with potential, I thought of the following day, packed up, and wandered back to the car, spooking a fox trotting happily along the river bank on the way.

Next day I came back for more of the same. The weather was similar but the fog slightly thicker. I headed straight for the spot I’d found the previous day and waited for my image. It never really came — because of the thicker fog — and the exact same atmosphere just didn’t happen. I got a fair few shots which I might still play with, but nothing to write home about. The best thing about that morning was just being there. It was pretty near silent apart from the distant hum of the A10, and the rather spooky and noisily abrupt evacuation of the trees by roosting birds as I walked past. I even got to see my friend the fox again, trotting along in the same place — probably assuming that the idiot with the tripod wouldn’t be there two days running.

Despite the small photographic return on my investment of getting up early, this particular morning made me realise that I should spend more time enjoying the atmosphere of the locations I get to, rather than scurrying about like the proverbial blue-arsed fly trying to get a winning image. After all, the images I’m after are supposed to convey serenity and atmosphere — what would be the point if I don’t get to feel that first hand?

18 Sep

Photographic Frustration

Now we are moving into autumn, and my summer of busy weekends is over, I have the time to get out and about at the weekends to make the most of golden hour photography at achievable times. This weekend I was itching to get out and about and, despite having had too much wine on Friday night to really warrant getting up before sunrise, come 05:30 I was up and in the car, heading for Colmers Hill in West Dorset. This is an oft photographed location, some might say Read more

24 Jul

Early Morning Hopes – Just a Recce in the End

Its been some time since my last blog posting. Mainly because I’ve not done much photography of late. Time to redress the balance …

A lot of my photography in Devon has been either at the coast or up on the moors. One place which I don’t photograph enough is the scenery within the 10 mile radius or so of where I live – The gentle rolling East Devon countryside. I don’t know why that is; possibly that I’ve not really explored the tiny lanes and footpaths enough since we moved here 8 years ago – certainly it is very tempting to go straight for the many “obvious” places around here when on a day out, perhaps ignoring some very promising photographic viewpoints.

With that in mind, a few Sundays ago I decided Read more

03 Jul

Food and Photography: Mexican Burgers with Avocado Salsa.

Following a recent discussion with colleagues about the technicalities of food photography, and it being some time since I ventured out do shoot a landscape, I felt the need to take a photo, and thought I’d give food a go. Its something I’ve tried before without success, and there are issues with this one, but I think its my best effort to date.

It being a nice summers day, we were having Mexican style burgers and salad for dinner so an alfresco shot seemed a good idea. I set up the camera on the tripod on the patio at maximum aperture for minimal depth of field. I needed an out of focus drink in the background, so set up Read more