No. 17/32 #Project 32

No. 17/32 Verulamium Park, St Albans

No. 17/32 Verulamium Park, St Albans

With sunrise coming around 7am throughout these early November days it makes getting out in time for it a little less punishing than 4am summer starts!

That said, this assumes you're not travelling too far because ideally you have to be set-up in location by 6.30am at the latest. This assumes you know where you want to be stood and even where you're parking, how long the walk to the destination is etc. So, it pays to have thought through all of that before you commit to putting the alarm on for a 5-5.30am wake up!

In my mind it's best to go local, and I've featured Verulamium Park earlier in the Project 32 series, in fact it was No.1 that I started with back on January 18th 2014 (my birthday). That was shot at Sunset from one end of the large lake that sits in the Park, I'd always wondered about the view from the other end at sunrise...

I arrived in good time to set-up at the lakeside, I'd already got a good idea of where I needed to be so went straight to the location. It was a pretty sharp morning with a little cold bite in the air, so there as plenty of hopping up and down on my part to keep warm.


After spending 30-45 mins in this position I came to the conclusion that (a) I wasn't getting a huge splash of sunrise colour this particular morning and (b) I wasn't even convinced there was a decent enough composition from my position. So, feeling slightly nippy I decided to call it a day and head home for Breakfast #2. I jumped in the car and set-off, however the road to get home flanks the other side of the park and as I was driving I turned to see a wonderful (and hidden from my previous position) mist rising through the park and the sun gently kissing the still frosty ground. I managed to park up and bolted over the fence into the park, the famous Abbey of St Albans was shrouded in the mist and the autumnal colours of the leaves were accented nicely by the warmth of the early morning sun. 

I tweeted a picture from my iPhone of this scene and it was picked up by a local Hertfordshire website who wanted to use it on their front page...fame at last! Well, sort of...I did pick up a few new Twitter followers, if not a cheque! See website front page below:

To see all the images in #Project 32 please click here


No. 16/32 #Project 32

Marlow, Buckinghamshire (No. 16/32)

During my time in Berkshire I'd walked past this view many times, I knew there was something there but it was (and still is) riddled with challenges. Composition seems straight forward but what you can't see on the main image is that there's a metal jetty in the foreground just in front of the wooden jetty. Only by very careful positioning of tripod and camera height can this be suitably 'cut out' of the composition without eating into the front of the wooden jetty. 

Secondly, the weir to the left side of the image has a slightly ugly metal fence around it which can be obvious in brighter lighting, and the other issue can be a procession of boats and/or kayakers getting in the way. Put all of this together and I thought it's quite possible I'm going to need to make various sunset time visits to try and get something decent...In lots of ways I got lucky on this first attempt...

I had 'hot footed it' from work to quickly drop something with a friend on the way to Marlow, thankfully the traffic wasn't too bad and I managed to park very close to the location. Sunset was due at 6.30pm and throughout the 30min drive from work the sky was packed full of deep orange and I really thought I'd missed the show. The couple sat drinking a bottle of wine on a nearby bench looked annoyingly smug when they said "oh, you've missed the best bit"... However, the pre-planning and visualising I'd already done in my head meant that within a couple of minutes of my arrival I was set-up and shooting what you see above (I hope all that wine put some calories on your waist Mrs!).

You can see the main image in it's #Project 32 place by viewing the gallery


Soon after, and with the colours receding, I made a little iPhone snap of my shooting position (you can see the ugly metal jetty), see below:

I hung around for 45 mins or so after sunset as often you can get an amazing 'afterglow' that your eyes don't see but the camera can pick up if you use a nice long exposure. However the clouds were moving in and it never ignited as I hoped. I've included a couple of the later night shots below, just for interest...

Alternative later shot at Marlow

Alternative later shot at Marlow

Alternative later shot at Marlow

Alternative later shot at Marlow


No. 15/32 #Project 32 (the forgotten no.4!)

Peak District, Derbyshire (No. 15/32)

This is the one that nearly got away! I took lots of pictures on my trip to the Peak District earlier in the year and I use a 'flag' system to mark favourites and possible contenders for #Project 32 - somehow I missed flagging this and it sat idle until a couple of days back when I was scouring through my Peak District images wondering about future locations etc.

As you may remember from my blog about the trip to the Peak District it was mighty cold, very windy and all together quite a bleak and desolate atmosphere (the weather didn't help!). I wanted to portray that 'steely' atmosphere in this image. The rocks have an obvious interesting texture and shape, I hope they lead nicely to the hazy glimpse of colour in the distance...it certainly takes me back to that windswept peak and the bone chilling yet beautifully pure air that surrounded us.

To see the rest of my #Project 32 images please click here


No. 13 & 14/32 #Project 32 Progress

I'm rolling these two pictures into one blog entry because for me they are less about the final image and more about the reasoning behind why I undertook #Project 32 and the challenges it has provided.

No. 13/32 - Dunstanburgh Castle, Northumberland


With an already fairy busy schedule I suppose I should have guessed it would be harder than I expected to get out and take more photographs. One of the thoughts behind the project was to try and make steps towards not just being a 'holiday photographer' - I don't mean that in any sort of commercial way, rather that I wanted to dedicate pro-active time to getting out and seeing new places and taking more pictures that are pre-planned, researched and envisaged. 

If I reflect on the 14 images that have made it into the project so far only 4 could meet the desired criteria of being 'extra' time that I've made for picture taking rather than just trying a bit harder when other circumstances (like weddings!) have given me the opportunity to be somewhere picturesque already. As we roll into September, there are only really 4 months left for me to complete the project (18th Jan), I think by May/June I was starting to realise that 32 might be tricky, especially if I was not to compromise on my standards, however modest they may still be.

No. 14/32 - Bamburgh Castle, Northumberland


It would be easy to just try and cram some pictures in to bump up the numbers (and I'm slightly wary that no's. 13 & 14 are that!) - but rather I'm going to try harder to make the time (somehow!) to stick to the original plan and maintain standards over the course of the year. The more I get out, the more I see, the more chances of great light there will be. Also, like any pursuit my technical skills will improve from more time in the field, as will my 'eye' and feeling for picking the right locations at the right time.

So, time to re-focus, kick myself up the backside and get out and make it happen...you can't say I wasn't trying at least in the picture below as I precariously positioned myself with the tide coming in at a rate of knots!:

Step Carefully

To see all the #Project 32 images so far please click here

No. 12/32 #Project 32

Bamburgh Beach, Northumberland

We arrived at Bamburgh late afternoon after spending most of the day on Holy Island. Bamburgh is well known for its impressive and picturesque castle that sits proudly on the beach and has been used in many films and most of visit Northumberland's leaflets etc! The actual village itself is tiny so that took very little time to explore (just enough time for Giulia to polish off a cream tea) and so we headed down onto the beach nice and early in preparation for a sunset shoot. The beach is really impressive, lovely wide sweeping vistas greet you and the sand stretches south as far as the eye can see.

quick snap of Bamburgh Castle

quick snap of Bamburgh Castle

 

We headed north up the beach towards the rocky outcrop where you can actually get a view back towards Holy Island from. We were hopping from rock to rock scoping possible viewpoints for later on. I had in my mind it would be nice to get some shots of the castle at Sunset but I knew really it was the wrong time of year due to sunset positioning etc. However, I did originally set-up in that direction but soon realised (a) I hadn't picked much of an interesting foreground and (b) all the colour in the sky was over my left shoulder looking north not south. 

So, a quick swing around with camera and tripod and I headed back up to the rocks. There was a wonderfully 'blue twilight' feel to the light and the damp rocks in the foreground add some interesting texture. I'm not 100% happy with it but bearing in mind it wasn't what I originally had in mind I'm happy I was able to change plans mid-action and take best advantage of what was available. Now I've scoped these places out hopefully the 2nd visit in the future will bring more success.

See this and all the other Project 32 images by clicking here.

No. 11/32 #Project 32

Harthope Burn, Northumberland

On the last day of our Northumberland trip we headed inland. After a few days of coastal exploration we wanted to have a look at the Cheviot Hills and what was buried deep within.

A bit of a sucker for moving water I tried to google 'northumberland waterfalls' - the weather was on/off and a dull day can be best for shooting waterfalls as it gives an even diffuse light that means the dynamic range (from very bright to very dark) isn't too big. This helps the camera capture all the relevant light without being stretched too far when you slow the shutter speed down to catch water in a softer, dreamier style.

We'd driven into the Langleeford Hope area of the Cheviots down a single track lane for 2 miles or so, dodging sheep and cows that were strewn around the road as we went. The clouds were fairly low lying and so it provided a nice English atmosphere, reminding me of the Lakes with it's slightly damp mossy feel. When we reached the end of the drivable track it was time to carry on by foot.

Another 2 or 3 miles up the track and we'd had some waist deep terrain to navigate and time was ticking a little (we still had to drive 6hrs back down south at some point that day!). We were in search of the Harthope Linn waterfall which I read was about a 20ft drop into a pool, but hard to find...so far no sign and it appeared we were in the right place on the map. With Giulia suffering something of a temperature (oops, it was actually the start of flu!) we decided to cut our losses and head back. We could however hear some rushing water not far from the path but down a 10-15ft incline and then about 25 metres or so up along the route of the burn away from the walkable path...so with the sun out for a minute off we went!

It's around here somewhere!

It's around here somewhere!

After a bit of 'river bank hugging' and some comedy moments slipping on very slimy rocks we found the view of the mini falls and settled on that as a good compromise. I actually took a few shots at different heights with the final Project 32 version being my favourite. There probably was a better composition to be had but I was perched on the only rock big enough to take me and some of my tripod, it was actually fairly deep around me so there weren't many other options.

The trick is not to fall in...

The trick is not to fall in...

As we headed back to the car after about 30-45 mins at this spot the heavens opened (probably not helping the flu situation) and we got totally drenched, thankfully just as we got back to the car it ceased for a few minutes allowing for a quick change of clothes hopping on one foot and hoping no-one else came along mid change! I bloody loved it...

See this and all the other Project 32 images by clicking here

No. 10/32 #Project 32

Holy Island, Northumberland, UK

I've been reading and re-reading a couple of books recently featuring the photographer David Ward, he's pretty big on abstract images and does an amazing job at it. It's not an area I've really got into, with my preference generally being for wider landscape vistas, but on one of the Holy Island beaches I spotted this textured pattern in the sand.

The skill is to take something seemingly simple looking and make it work visually. There are various 'rules' of composition and each image ideally takes the viewer on a journey through the frame. Of course rules are there to be broken but most successful images can be dissected to reveal for example the use of thirds in the composition and some sort of leading line flow or direction for the eye. Here I've tried to balance the top left and bottom right of the image with the textured sand 'pouring' out towards the bottom left side of the frame. 

I think this type of image generally works better in a similar series as opposed to a 'one-off' but that's all you're getting for now!

This image is No.10 in my Project 32 series, to see the full portfolio please click here.

No. 9/32 #Project 32

Lindisfarne Castle, Northumberland, UK

We had a great trip unto Northumberland recently for a friends wedding. We managed to tag a few extra days onto our visit to have a look around the area as we'd never been before.

I can safely say we were massively impressed. Such wonderful coastal and inland areas of natural beauty and an area packed full of history due to it's proximity to the Scottish border and all the back and forwards that has brought over the years.

This particular image is of Lindisfarne Castle which is actually on Holy Island. There are visiting restrictions due to the causeway being flooded daily by the incoming tide so if you do go, check the tide times! Once on Holy Island the south side (it's only about 3km in total) is very busy with tourists visiting the village and castle, however if you carry on walking around the island you can soon be away from the crowds and enjoying the pristine coastline.

Despite being generally lucky with the weather over the weekend there were some pretty thick brooding clouds on this morning (much better for photos!) and I tried to capture some of the wild and timeless nature of the view. I was pretty much leaning through a gap in a stone wall to get this angle and there wasn't much space for composing, however I'm fairly happy with the result and just looking at the image I can feel the freshness of the wind buffeting around and the history of others who've seen this view for hundreds of years. Thankfully there were no Vikings in long boats approaching during our visit...

This image is No.9 in my Project 32 series. To see the full portfolio please click here.

Something a little different...

'The Terminator'

You may recognise this as a 'next step' from the selfie I posted a few weeks ago :) I must admit I don't use Photoshop for my landscape pictures, but I have been using it for some more design based projects I've been working on. Sometimes I do need to create design/composite graphics for work including flyers, web banners, email campaign images etc so in an attempt to broaden my skill-set with Photoshop I tried to re-create the classic Terminator look...don't worry, it's not real...or is it....??? Check out the trailer below:


No. 8/32 #Project 32

Burton Bradstock, Dorset

Towards the back end of our trip to Dorset the endless blue skies started to turn a little more unpredictable due to inclement weather heading in from the West. A bracing walk down the beach at Burton Bradstock is always a good way to start the day and my memories of visiting this beach regularly a few years ago came back as the wind buffeted us robustly. 

The crumbling cliffs on this beach can make for some nice image potential but the star on this morning was the sky. With the sun trying to burst through a patchwork of ever darkening cloud there was certainly the sense of incoming rain. Happily some lovely person had seen fit to leave a nice wooden boat just in the right place for me to take advantage of its position looking out to sea.

I've got to say there are warning signs all down this beach which allude to the difficult seas, and I'm pretty sure you would have to pay me a decent amount of cash to venture out in this boat, suffice to say I was happiest with my 'land legs' firmly on.

Although this is not a new genre ('boat on beach with moody sky shot') I was happy to catch some of the impending drama of the sky on that particular morning, after all we were there for a blood pumping walk and some fresh sea air...the photo opportunity was just an added bonus.

This image forms part of my Project 32 series, to see the rest of the images please click here.

No. 7/32 #Project 32

Chapmans Pool, Dorset

On a recent trip to Dorset we got a tip-off that there was a nice cove at Chapmans Pool. I had already been heading in that direction but to another coastal point that was sadly out of bounds due to the military manoeuvres that get practiced in the Lulworth Camp area.

So, on arrival it was certainly very quiet, a weekday afternoon in June and the fact it had been a bit of a grotty day weather wise probably helped with that! We walked through the first field and approached this coastal view, the original plan was to head down to Chapmans pool for some closer sea shots but one glimpse of the near vertical, muddy, wet and slippy path and we had other thoughts. So, we took the upper path and got this nice view back down the coast towards the West.

The weather had been quite changeable all day and the sun was breaking through the clouds only in small pockets as a rain surge headed in from further down the coast. The conversion of the picture to black and white hopefully helps display the tonal contrast between the bright breaks of sunlight and the ever darkening clouds. It's always a challenge when presented with a wide open vista, if often looks great to the eye when you are there but when you check back through your pictures it can look a little flat with no real focus point. One thing that can save that is dramatic lighting and contrast, this is by no means perfect light above but I was fairly happy with the result. For an update on my Project 32 progress please click here

No. 6/32 #Project 32

Durdle Door Beach, Dorset

We recently spent a week away down in Dorset. Thankfully the first few days were blessed with sunshine and much beach/coastal walking and exploring was done. It's something of a cliche to get a decent Durdle Door picture, sort of a 'right of passage' for budding photographers. However, at this time of year the position of the sun at sunrise and sunset isn't optimal for getting that winning shot of the 'Door' rock face.

However, beggars can't be choosers and as we were in the area it seemed only right to go down and enjoy the beach at Sunset. It's a really nice beach and earlier in the day we'd swum through the 'Door' itself so it was quite relaxing to be watching the sunset with literally only 2-3 others on the whole beach.

There was a little interesting colour going on this evening and I tried to compose a nice calming shot back down the beach with the sweeping curve of the sea hopefully offering a nice  guide into the scene. The light was reflecting nicely off the surface and the tranquil sea helped with the reflection of that.

My only regret? The footsteps in the pebbles further up the beach. I had carefully smoothed out the footsepts/debris in front of my shooting position but didn't make it further up the the beach, plus the addition of other walkers would have made that tricky. Something to do next time...For an update on my Project 32 progress click here

Top 5 Tips to improve your snaps: # 1/5 APERTURE Settings

This is the first of a five part series of articles that aims to give some quick, easy and straight forward tips on how to improve your pictures. This isn't a comprehensive photo course, rather some real tips on how you can get control of your picture taking and improve your general snapshots.

Not everyone wants to faff around with different lenses, lugging a tripod around and getting up at all hours but that doesn't mean you don't want good pictures when you're on holiday, visiting the family or at a party etc.

So, first up is APERTURE settings. Most digital cameras offer the choice to manually adjust your aperture settings, you might find an Av (Canon) or A (Nikon) mode on your camera dial. Or, they offer auto modes that alter the aperture settings without you really knowing it, once you understand the info below you'll be able to apply the correct mode for your creative ideas and understand how they will work.

The aperture is a 'hole' located inside the lens of the camera. The 'hole' or 'diaphragm' is formed by a series of six overlapping blades that make the hole size bigger or smaller depending on their setting. See examples below, note the 'f number' below each size.

You can see that on the lower f numbers; f 2.8 / f 4 for example, the size of the 'hole' is much larger than the smaller f 16 / f 22. This is the important bit: The size of the hole affects how much of the picture is in focus from front to back (depth of field) and how much light is let into the cameras sensor.

Whilst it's very important to understand that the size affects how much light is let into the cameras sensor there is a more important setting which affects that which we'll learn about later, namely shutter speed. For now I want to focus on (get it!?) the other main point; how much of the picture is in focus (from front to back). 


I'm going to keep the next bit really simple as at this point you don't need to know how or why this works, you just need to be able to apply it to a practical situation. So, in the most jargon free terms possible:

IF YOU ONLY READ ONE PART, READ THIS PART!!

Example #1: The lower the f number the smaller the depth of field - Using a low f number (f 2.8 or f 4.0) is great when you want to isolate your subject for creative effect. Example below:

f 4.0 for 1/1250 sec

The image above was shot at f 4.0 - you can see that the flower (the main subject) is sharply in focus and the mountain scenery behind is blurred. This is because the lower f number reduces the depth of field. This is a nice effect and works well with people, animals, flowers etc or in any situation where the background is either messy or distracts the viewer from the main subject.

Tip!: Be very careful that you focus correctly using your auto focus or manual focus on the main subject, otherwise you'll have the wrong part of the image in focus, and the rest will be out! If using a small 'point and shoot' digital camera you may have to point it at your subject and half depress the shutter to 'lock' the focus on your subject, then re-compose the scene with your finger still half depressing the button and when you're ready fire away!

Example #2 - The higher the f number the larger the depth of field - Using a higher f number (f 11 upwards to f 22) is best when you want to show the whole scene in sharp focus. Example below:

f 14 for 1/200 sec

This image was shot at f 14, you can see that the mountains in this example are in focus but also the person near the front of the scene is also in focus, so the depth of field is quite large (the opposite effect to the flower example). Using a higher f number is usually best when taking landscape shots as you often want to show the foreground, mid and background in focus.

Tip!: It's also important that you focus in the right place, even with a larger f number. The general tip is to focus 1/3 of the way into the shot to ensure front to back sharpness.


Summary

So, take a look at your camera and see if you can find the Av (Canon) or A (Nikon) aperture priority mode - this will let you set the aperture/f number manually to suit your creative ideas. Helpfully, this is the only setting you will manually change in aperture priority mode, the camera will take care of the rest (shutter speed, ISO etc) automatically.

If your camera only has pre-programmed settings then switch it to 'Landscape' mode when you want a larger f number effect (greater depth of field) and switch it to the image of a flower or human head when you want the smaller f number effect (small depth of field).

Try and get creative with this and fire off a few test shots in the garden or park etc, don't move around just change the Aperture settings and focus on the same subject. You should see the difference in the pictures as you move up the f numbers, mastering this is part 1 of improving your snaps.

Join us next time for #2 Shutter Speed! We'll cover how to get that dreamy blurred water effect and how to capture fast moving objects in sharp focus every time!

Recommended Reading:

The Digital Photgraphy Book Vol 1 - Scott Kelby (click here)

Understanding Exposure - Bryan Peterson (click here)

Digital Landscape Photography - Michael Frye (click here)

Stuck indoors...

It's been a really busy few weeks with work and other commitments and I've been struggling to find any time to get out and 'shoot'. In the odd times when there's been a spare couple of hours either the weather has been poor (and not in a good photographic way) or other barriers have got in the way.

So, with my trigger finger raring to depress the shutter I decided to set up a little indoor shoot. I'm normally much more engaged by landscape imagery, partly because I like to be out in the landscape and also because if you really want to shoot people properly you need a studio, extra lighting, backdrops etc, and more importantly a purpose. But, this is all done at a booked appointment time and as such can be a little forced, props to the great photographers who manage to engage their clients whatever mood they may both be in. I think I prefer to let nature run the clock on what sights I see though.

However, needs must and so after a little positioning of myself, reflector and camera/tripod etc I fired off a few 'selfies'. On reflection it seems a little egotistical taking pictures of myself, I must insist that it's all in the name of progression and honing my skills! I had been 'letting myself go' a little for a few days on the facial hair front so was looking to match the spirit of that with a grimey, grungey sort of a look...I'm fairly happy with the end result and at least I had the camera out.


No. 5/32 #Project 32

Pitstone Windmill, Bucks

On a recent journey back from Oxfordshire I came past Pitstone Windmill whilst driving home. I had heard there was a nice little Windmill tucked away somewhere on the edge of Bucks near the Ivinghoe Beacon area so it was nice to finally stumble across it. As I drove past all I got was a fleeting glimpse but it looked promising. I determined to get back there in the next week or so to try and catch a nice (albeit clichéd) shot of the windmill with setting sun behind it etc.

An opportunity arose on a late Sunday afternoon and the light seemed moderately promising so I headed out with Giulia to 'scout' the windmill again and hopefully get a decent shot. It's a short 30 mins drive from home and the access is easy thanks to a small lay-by to park in. Just as we bounded off down the path we spotted another photographer, already with tripod out and having bagged a decent position and seemingly the moral rights over the image making for the evening!

Undeterred we had a good walk around the area trying to get the best angle, albeit maybe for next time when we had the place to ourselves and when the sky might hopefully do something more interesting, it was actually now becoming too clear and the sun was reducing to just a bright ball of light but not sharing it's glow with the wider world.

After some circumnavigating of the windmill, and a bit more massive dog dodging, we settled ourselves around one side out of view of the stationery (but persistent) photographer who had set-up camp shooting into the sun. Not wanting to give up for the day (despite wanting to be where the other person was) I tried to take it as a challenge to stay in our little area out of view and still make something graphically interesting. The beams of the windmills arms were catching some late sun glow and the textured wooden surface was being nicely highlighted.

A bit of playing around with angles, wider lenses, lying in mud and other interesting flora and fauna ended in the shot above. You could argue that I shouldn't have 'cut off' the other arms of the windmill but going even wider was proving difficult due to the changes in perspective it created.

Even if not technically perfect this shot is going into #Project 32 as a reward to myself for trying to find something different to the clichéd shot I set out to get, and for adapting to the situation as it arrived. I'm sure I'll be back when some more promising light occurs but in my limited chances to get out with the camera it's important to maximise each opportunity and it's nice to come at something with a different perspective.

To see a larger view of this image and all the other #Project 32 images please click here

No. 4/32: #Project 32

'Morning Mist' St Albans, Herts

About 2-3 weeks ago there was a spell of heavy mist in the mornings in deepest darkest Hertfordshire. Happily for me (but not my bank balance) our balcony commands panoramic views over a broad vista of trees and the morning sun rises slap bang in the middle of it. With a raise of my head from the pillow in the early am I can see if it's worth jumping out of bed and grabbing the camera. 

On this occasion I had to get up anyway to get Giulia out for an early train so it was in my bleary eyed breakfast prep that I noticed the scene above unfolding behind me. With a quick grab of my camera I lent myself against the balcony door for support and fired off a few shots. Sadly the tripod wouldn't really have extended high enough to clear the balcony and down towards the view, I much prefer shooting hand-held where possible anyway.

The atmosphere was wonderful as the dense morning fog clung to the trees and dappled the power of the sun rising through it, this diffusing of the bright sunlight spread the colour richly through the morning sky. A nice shot and best of all it was shot from approx 10ft out of my bed!

Click here to see a larger version of the picture and all the other #Project 32 shots.

Peak District - March 2014

I managed to make it up to the Peak District for one day on a cloudy and windy March weekend. I had booked to go on a workshop in the afternoon with Peak District based photographer Duncan Fawkes, I had only recently come across Duncan's work and his website etc through following a re-tweet on Twitter and seeing a couple of his images in the 'Landscape Photographer of the Year' book, I applied some simple logic to my decision to go on the workshop though: his photos are much better than mine, therefore it's pretty much impossible for it not to be worthwhile to go! This was my first workshop and I viewed it as a good time to dedicate some hours to photography and being outside in the fresh (it was fresh indeed!) air.

After a morning at a local waterfall that I had scouted on-line (and took my 3rd picture in the #Project 32 series, see here) I joined up with Duncan and the other participants in a wind swept car park outside Hathersage. It was a very relaxed yet informative environment and after a few greetings etc we headed to the first location, atop Higger Tor. The wind was absolutely howling up there and it was a challenge to focus the mind, let alone the camera. Coupled with the wind was a flat dull grey sky which made grandiose sweeping vista shots pretty impossible but does give at least even diffuse light, so trying to find some interesting shapes in the rocks was the order of the day for me. Duncan was very helpful and informative, his encouragement to find a rock to 'love' was a good way to try and not be overwhelmed by the size of the scenery but to find something smaller to focus on and really find some interesting compositions within the landscape.

There were a couple of shots that I wanted to share from this session, neither I was totally blown away with, but one in particular below that I see some potential in below:

I was attracted by the strong lead in lines on the rocks in the foreground, this is hopefully complimented by the path in the far distance that the lines lead to, and onwards from. There's something that I'm not totally sure about, perhaps if the sky was more interesting it would have been nice to include it in the upper part of the shot (I omitted it due to the dull grey colour), also perhaps the perspective could be improved by moving up/down to take the shot. I wish I took a video of my position at the time of shooting though as I was being battered by the wind and literally half hanging off Higger Tor above a rocky drop below, there was no space to whip the tripod out and the wind would have made it redundant so I chose to hand shoot.

The other shot which I took up on Higger Tor is flawed in many ways but I like something about the atmosphere of it, it's dark and a bit 'into the unknown' it sort of encapsulated the often dark Peaks and inclement weather - see below:

Whilst there are lots of technical issues with this picture there's something I like about it still...comments welcome on this one!

As the afternoon passed we decided to head down off Higger Tor (and out of the wind!) and make the short drive to Stanage Edge. This popular 'beauty spot' is quite iconic in the Peak District and certainly makes for a pretty photography location, it also seemed to be pretty popular with the rock climbers who were scrambling up the sun bathed west facing rocks.

Atop the Edge there are many interesting rock formations, most of which point in the direction of the setting sun making for ideal foreground mterial. As I wandered up and down the Edge I was really trying to find a compelling composition, with the shot below I think I was close if not spot on.

Due to the brightness of the sky in comparison to the darker ground photographers often use graduated filters, on this occasion I did have mine with me but only 2 of the 3 as the third one I had snapped in half in the afternoon whilst wrestling to get it out of its cover in high winds. Because of that you can see in the image below the sky is a little too bright around the sun, you can take multiple exposures and then blend them together in post-processing, this could have been a way to salvage the sky but the warmth of light glowing on the rocks still makes for a pleasing picture in my mind:

Stanage Edge - Nice light on the rocks, shame the sky is a little 'blown' in the highlights

It certainly was a great location for image making, I'd also like to say how helpful and informative Duncan was on the day. He gave some very useful technical advice and also stimulated my mind with regards how to approach composition and balancing of elements. He also took time the week after to converse with me via email about the images I took on the day providing some very insightful critiquing of what worked and what didn't really.

I'll leave this post with an quick snap taken on my iPhone of some of the other workshop participants above Stanage Edge. We were all quite engrossed in our camera settings, positioning, waiting for the light etc...I looked up at one point and saw such concentration, it was actually nice to take a few seconds just to look around and take in the overall scene and atmosphere atop the Edge, not just through the frame of the camera.

Workshop participants with Duncan Fawkes on Stanage Edge in the Peak District. Trying to snap that winner sunset.

Workshop participants with Duncan Fawkes on Stanage Edge in the Peak District. Trying to snap that winner sunset.

No. 3/32: #Project 32

A couple of weekends ago I managed to get up to the Peak District for a day, I had the morning to myself after quite an early start gliding up the M1 in minimal traffic and then in the afternoon I joined a workshop led by Peak District photographer Duncan Fawkes.

This was my first venture on a workshop and it was a little bit last minute on my part having spotted the space just a week or so before via a retweet on Twitter. There was only a space for the afternoon/sunset session but I thought if I'm driving all that way I better crack on early and make use of the morning. Read my blog on the workshop here.

I spent a few evenings trawling the web trying to scout various locations I could visit depending on weather conditions/time etc. If the sun is shining down or if the sky is a flat grey it can have a big steer on where you should be trying to make images. I'm realising so much of the picture taking process is in the preparation... 

This day in particular it had started very overcast, I had researched a couple of possible waterfall locations which are perfect when the conditions above are flat. The light from the sky is not too powerful which cuts down on reflections and minimises the dynamic range for the camera to capture, this diffuse light is perfect for woodland or waterfalls. The particular waterfall I visited was quite secluded so I had the place to myself for a good hour or so. I took multiple images from various angles, I'm still training myself to be more disciplined and not just operate a scatter gun approach, it sort of worked here!

The picture that has made it into #Project 32 was taken about 2/3 of the way through my time around the waterfall, it was a very deliberate image and I'm pleased that it came out pretty much exactly as I envisaged it. The shapes in the rock remind me of two 'heads' or 'faces' - especially on the far right of the frame, you can make out the eyes, the face looks like it's split between light and dark, it's actually quite menacing in some ways...I'd be interested to see if you spot it, you can't view the picture in the same way once you have seen the faces! It feels like something out of 'Lord of the Rings' or something, possibly even Voldermort-esque for the Harry Potter fans!

I liked the symmetry in the rocks and the reflection of water on the main lower rock showed lots of 'craggy' detail in the surface, there's a nice contrast between the obvious movement of the water (exaggerated by the long exposure) and the resolute solidity of the rocks. 

You can see the final image in a larger version, and the rest of the #Project 32 images here.

 

No. 2/32: #Project 32

Burnham on Sea

Despite being regarded as something of a possible cliché in the UK photography fraternity I couldn't help but take up the opportunity of visiting the famous wooden 'lighthouse' at Burnham on Sea whilst passing on the way back from a work commitment.

I had been on the road since 6am and had a fairly long travel and subsequent meeting so by late afternoon when I arrived at the beach, after a tight 'in-car' quick change out of suit and into more suitable clothing, I found the blasting wind to actually be quite invigorating (at least for the first hour or so!). As I walked down the beach towards the 'lighthouse' I was scouting possible angles etc, due to the wind the sand was making some interesting patterns as it whistled down the beach. I stopped to try and compose a minimalist abstract image with a slightly longer shutter speed to record the sands pattern as it flew across the surface, BUT the wind was so strong that the camera was being buffeted around (even on a weighed down tripod), plus the chance of getting particles of sand all over my gear forced me to quit that shot, it's a shame because the wind required to make the shot interesting is also the factor that makes it a very hard shot to capture.

When I got much closer to the lighthouse I temporarily went into a 'brain-freeze', it's something I've experienced with more iconic venues before, you can be too quick to whip out the camera and just start blasting away without exploring all the angles carefully enough. A friend once likened it to meeting a famous celebrity, they suddenly lost all reasoning and the art of sensible conversation, as if overwhelmed by the situation of another human being near them!

However, after a little walking around and checking out angles I settled down on the edge of the dunes, realistically it was the only place I was going to get a longer exposure that you often need in low light situations as it offered me some protection from the wind. Being a popular beach for dog walkers I did experience some moments of interest, as you can see below:

 

As you can see in the video I was just on the edge of the dunes and there was some nice foliage. Had the colours in the sky been better (they never appeared, hidden by cloud) I would like to have introduced some of the foliage into the foreground of the image, it would have blurred nicely a little showing the movement caused by the wind and would have brought a green element of colour to contrast the sand. On this occasion though the colour never really appeared and so I set my mind to making a B&W image using a long exposure.

The long exposure obviously streaks the clouds and actually even though I really like the final image I'm not sure if the cloud streaking is a little heavy. What I do like is the little shaft of light that runs horizontally across the foreground, this was the last sun rays reflecting of a small channel in the beach and for me it gives that foreground a little interest that the picture wouldn't work so well without.

You can see the final shot again and all the other #Project 32 images here.

ps - I did manage to get off the beach without wet feet, despite another interesting run in with a Boxer dog that went crazy for my torch light!

No. 1/32: #Project 32

Verulamium Park, St Albans

This shot was really a kick start for me, It was my birthday and earlier in the day I had settled on the thought process behind #Project 32 after some consideration for days.

So, the sun was out and there were some interesting clouds in the sky in the late afternoon, my girlfriend and I headed down to the park for a nice walk around the lake before onwards for birthday dinner. As the conditions looked like there could be some nice colour in the sky later I loaded up the camera bag and tripod. The recent heavy rains had 'flooded' the lake and there was a lone bench on something of a peninsula of dry land. This particular area is pretty popular with the duck/swan feeding fraternity so I experimented a little with some shots of the wildlife and as usual that didn't press my buttons, in fact it was a little intimidating being slowly surrounded by hungry geese and swans, not sure if it was good or bad that we didn't have any bread to give them!

Not a massive fan of the geese, I'm looking suitably worried!

Not a massive fan of the geese, I'm looking suitably worried!

However, it did allow a little time to assess the area and possible viewpoints for when the sun finally sank and the colours ignited.

Sitting on location, waiting for the sun to drop. Pic courtesy of Giulia and iPhone!

Sitting on location, waiting for the sun to drop. Pic courtesy of Giulia and iPhone!

I had the shot I wanted in mind, it was just a case of waiting for the sun to drop. As the sun dropped so did the temperature and it wasn't long before it was approaching dusk and I was really starting to test the patience of my poor girlfriend. I'm pretty sure watching someone else in the semi-dark fiddling with a camera in the middle of January only holds a certain appeal so my heartfelt thanks go to Giulia for her constant support and patience!

I experimented with a couple of other shots and angles etc, my opinion is divided on the shot below for example, I don't think it quite works; the foreground and centre are a little too dark and I hadn't exposed correctly enough to bring enough light back in the post-processing, plus I don't totally like the dynamic of the composition:

Not quite, an experiment of sorts but not everything will work as you see it at the time.

Not quite, an experiment of sorts but not everything will work as you see it at the time.

 

It was a good 25-30 minutes after the official sunset that I got the shot that I was finally pleased with. In such dark conditions (a) focusing was not much fun as the auto on the camera had nothing to lock onto in the dark and (b) setting manually using the rules of 'hyperfocal distancing' is all well and good but again the semi-dark and impending feeling of worry about being in a town centre park in the dark on a Saturday night probably added to the challenge! Anyway, we got the shot and avoided any random muggers or lunatics on the dark walk back to the car. I was pretty happy with the end result, especially because it required very little post-processing, probably the least of any shot I've ever published in fact. I must admit getting quite a buzz seeing the picture review on the lcd screen at the time of taking the shot, I'm glad we hung around until it was seemingly too dark and others with perhaps less persistence may have packed up. You can see the final shot and all the other #Project 32 images here.