Playing the waiting game…

St. Aubins, a Channel Island challenge willingly accepted - despite the constant rain!

St. Aubins, a Channel Island challenge willingly accepted – despite the constant rain!

You’ve got to love the camaraderie among photographers these days.

Thankfully, gone are the days when secrets were kept, and most of us willingly share information about locations, settings used, time of day etc. After all, most of this information is stored digitally inside the picture file and can easily be accessed.

There are still some secretive ‘togs out there – which reminds me about the day I was in a gallery, paying some quite grand compliments to the displaying photographer. On one particular night sky image, I commented along the lines of “that must have taken a long exposure to stop down the lens to get that depth of field at night” – not even a smile or nod, just a tap of his pen on the “Please note; no technical information will be discussed regarding the taking of my images”. Funnily enough, I didn’t buy anything!

Thankfully, these instances are very few and far between and, on the whole, we’re a friendly bunch who just enjoy photography. One evening at La Corbiere, Jersey, I got talking to some photographers (as you do). We’d had a great evening capturing the rising tide with the distant lighthouse and setting sun providing plenty to shoot (see Rushing Tide and Pink Tide). La Corbiere attracts a lot of photographers on a nice evening, and there were a few of us eyeing up each others compositions and openly discussing what we thought worked, and what we thought didn’t.

One of my new Channel Island photographer buddies made the comment “Corbiere is relatively easy to compose…” and she was right. The causeway provides a great lead-in line, helps smooth the rushing incoming tide, and is lined either side by dramatic granite rock formations – maybe not “easy”, but certainly not too demanding. It was the second half of her statement that intrigued me though “…but St. Aubins fort is very difficult to get right.

That sounded like a challenge to me! After discussing St. Aubins more, my heart was set on at least giving it a go. I didn’t have many days left on our Jersey trip, and the weather wasn’t looking great – but let’s not let that put us off! I’ve always been a firm believer that weather fronts give dramatic light, and the lack-of-days/wet-weather-forecast position I was in was providing a prime opportunity to prove this right (hopefully!).

Proving I’m a true landscape photographer by obsessing over at least three different weather forecasts on a less than hourly basis, I picked Thursday morning as a best bet. A weather front was due to pass over Jersey, with light rain stopping right around sunrise. Time to set my alarm clock

It’s not always easy to get out of a warm, comfortable bed several hours before the sun rises, but it’s even harder when you can hear the rain falling outside. However, this was my last proper chance, so I had to go for it – and after all, I had faith in the forecasts; two of them were saying the same thing, so it had to be right – didn’t it..?

On arrival at St. Aubins, it looked far from photogenic. The wind was blowing, the rain was falling and it was fairly cold – not a great start. Not to be put off though, I pulled on my waterproofs and slipped the waterproof cover over my camera bag, and headed off in search of compositions.

Just to fill you in a little, low tides in Jersey are generally very low, and St. Aubins fort is easily accessible at low tide. There is also a small harbour, and slipways down to the beach/water with smaller fishing boats spread across the beach waiting for the sea to reach them.

While walking around the harbour, the most pleasing composition I found is the one you see featured here. It was also the driest as the persistent rain was falling at an angle, and the harbour wall (which I was huddled under) was keeping a lot of the rain off me. The foreground granite sets make up one of the boat slipways and I liked how the edges of the sets and mortar acted as lead-in lines to lift your eyes to the distant fort. All I needed now was for the rain to stop and the sun to come out – after all, it was time for sunrise and the forecaster’s suggested improvement in conditions should be along any second.

I couldn’t help but keep looking at my watch. The rain was still falling, and sunrise time had now been and gone. Had I wasted a morning? Was I going home with a blank memory card? I suddenly realised I was squinting – the clouds had parted, the rain had stopped and the newly risen sun was washing the scene in bright pinks and purples!

Thankfully, a long time ago, I got into the habit of storing my camera in “landscape mode” (set to Av, ISO100, f/11, Mirror Lockup etc) and I can be shooting within seconds of my Canon locking into the head of my trusty Manfrotto tripod. I’d already worked out the composition and my focus point for maximum depth of field; all I had to do was line everything up and shoot…

I quite liked the initial image captured, but thought the sky needed a bit more drama, like some movement and tension in the clouds. Dropping to f/22 and slipping a 0.9 Neutral Density filter stretched the exposure to 10 seconds, just enough to add a touch of drama. The clouds still needed a brooding boost though, so the 0.3 Neutral density Graduated filter I had been using was replaced with a stronger 0.6. This added the extra contrast to the clouds I wanted, and my next image captured is the one you see here.

Before I could reach for my 10-stop ND to really extend the exposure into minutes, the gap in the clouds had closed, the rain had started again (even harder) and my photography was over for another morning.

 

Exposure information:   10 secs @ f/22, ISO100.

Filters used:                      0.6 Neutral Density Graduated and 0.9 Neutral Density filters.

Post Processing:              RAW file tweaked in Lightroom, converted to TIFF and checked at 100% for dust bunnies.

Prints of my images are available for purchase from my website.

All images protected by copyright laws for Andrew Stevens Photography 2014.

Following in the footsteps of giants…

Mogshade, New Forest (asp100-1991)

Mogshade, New Forest (asp100-1991). Oak tree and heather, taken a short walk from the most photographed tree in the New Forest.

As my regular readers will know, I generally try to find fresh views and vistas for my photography, or at least new views of old vistas (if you get my drift).

Living on the Hampshire/Dorset border, this is quite a tricky feat considering how many wonderfully photographic venues there are literally on my doorstep – but a lot of these vistas are already photographed to death, with 99% of images from the exact same angles as previously published by the giants of landscape photography. Yes, I have been guilty of this too, but I find my “style” leads me towards other locations, angles and viewpoints (and “style” is a whole other Blog post!).

Don’t get me wrong, when I look at Charlie Waite’s fantastic images of Win Green, or David Noton’s sublime images of the ledges at Kimmeridge, I know exactly where they stood to take them and feel like reaching for my camera gear and go grabbing some images – after all, these great locations are only 30 minutes away from home – but that’s not what it’s all about, not for me anyway.

David Ward summed it up for me perfectly in a recent article he wrote for Outdoor Photography magazine. For those not familiar with David’s work, he specializes in intimate landscapes and is well worth a view (wish I could afford some of his work on my wall). But the key point with David’s images is while they are fantastically considered, composed and exposed, you wouldn’t really know where a lot of them were taken unless you read the caption (which David doesn’t always include as it’s kind of irrelevant with these images).

To quote David;

“We carry our images with us because the compositions we make are the product of all that we’ve seen and learnt up until that point. The only exception to this is when we blindly copy a photographic composition we’ve already seen. Doing this can teach us how another photographer solved the compositional problem they were presented with but, outside the narrow definition that the image file resides on our hard drive, it won’t be ours.“

So, even though we’ve captured our version of that prize-winning/front cover/world famous image, can we really call it our image? We’ve got up at stupid o’clock, gone to the same location, the exact same spot, used the same viewpoint and composition and tripped our shutter to capture the image. Ok, it’s likely not to be as good as the inspirational version(s) as not all of us have the ability or resources to wait for the right light or revisit day after day until we get it right. But apart from saying “I took that”, is it really our image?

How much more satisfying would it be to capture a lovely image of a new location? Something fresh and never seen before? Ok, there’s not much of the world left unexplored, but there’s plenty of landscape left un-photographed. If you use Google Earth to research some of the most iconic landscape images, you will probably be surprised how many of them are taken from roadside laybys or car parks! But if the landscape is so photogenic there, would it not be equally photogenic a few hundred yards away?

From personal experience in the New Forest, some of my more successful images have been taken within a ten-minute walk of the most famous pine tree in Hampshire (and possibly the UK). The oak tree at Mogshade featured above is a perfect example (for me anyway). “Bratley View” is world famous for the excellent Scott’s Pine tree with heather and bracken in the foreground, and sweeping views beyond – but the Scott’s Pine is virtually in the car park, and due to excessive gorse growth to one side, there’s only really one composition available. Ok, on my first visit to Bratley, I majored on the tree – but didn’t really feel satisfied.

On my return to Bratley a few weeks later, I  wanted to explore the surroundings, so stood with my back to the car park, and walked straight ahead to see what I could find. Within a few minutes, I was stood next to the magnificent oak tree you see featured here; there is also a drainage pond immediately to the right of my tripod, and I have used both to great effect for some rather commercially successful images.

Next time you’re near a world famous image location, try taking a walk and see what you can discover?!

 

Exposure information:   1/20 sec @ f/11, ISO100.

Filters used:                      0.6 Neutral Density Graduated filter.

Post Processing:              RAW file tweaked in Lightroom, converted to TIFF and checked at 100% for dust bunnies.

Prints of my images are available for purchase from my website.

All images protected by copyright laws for Andrew Stevens Photography 2014.

Is that the time? Time to improvise!

St Catherine's In  Mono

St Catherine’s, Jersey, captured at dawn

St Catherine’s Breakwater in Jersey photographically intrigues and perplexes me. It’s a Victorian jetty about a mile long, has a lovely curving lead-in line, lots of foreground interest with the granite sets and changes in textures, interesting lampposts (as in not the boring grey metal ones you so often see) and it sits on the part of Jersey closest to the rising sun. So why do we not see thousands of artistic images of this fantastic man-made structure? Go on, type “St Catherine’s Jersey” into Google and click the “Images” tab to see what I mean.

I’ve had an image in mind for some time now. Each time we visit my wife’s family in Jersey, I take my camera and hope to sneak over to St Catherine’s for a sunrise and move this image to my memory card instead of my imagination, something I’d not yet managed over the preceding decade.

On this particular holiday, we had been blessed with still weather and lovely blue skies. It was April, so temperatures weren’t great, but we made it onto the beach a few times and had a great time. But still weather and lovely blue skies are the bane of most landscape photographers; yes, we’re a fussy bunch and never 100% happy. I guess we’re a bit like fishermen and the sunrise we see driving home with no camera to hand is like the carp that was so big it snapped the line and got away so nobody else saw.

With all this photographic blandness I was running out of time. We were due to fly out on the Sunday, and it was now Thursday night and I’d only captured family and friends so far (which is no bad thing of course!). Thankfully, Friday morning’s forecast hinted at light cloud and a breeze around sunrise – good enough for me!

Filters cleaned, batteries charged, bag packed, time for bed and a very early alarm call. Even though I was keen to go for it, 4:15am came around very quickly (yes, I know that sounds  daft) and I dragged myself out of bed. Ten minutes later I was in the car and taking the coast road from Grouville through Gorey and past Archirondel to St Catherine’s.

As I neared my destination, and the distant sky started to brighten, I was very pleased to see some clouds overhead. There weren’t many, and they weren’t my favourite cirrus formations that can light up so spectacularly with the rising sun but hey, they were clouds!

Pulling into the car park, my heart sank. Everything was looking promising – except for the gusting wind! As you can imagine, a huge jetty poking out into the sea tends to be on an exposed corner – and it was very exposed on this particular morning, with boat’s lanyards whipping and the car rocking wildly in the wind.

On the plus side, this was moving the clouds across the skies and creating some movement in the surface of the sea; two necessary items for my intended image. On the downside, how do you keep a camera still in high wind during the relatively long exposure I was going to need to employ…?

If I’d had my sturdy Manfrotto tripod with me, I’d have been a bit happier, but airline baggage limitations don’t always allow Manny to travel, so I had my travel tripod with me. This is about 12″ tall and you can bend the legs around fence posts etc to get a decent viewpoint, and I’ve used it to great effect before. I tried the tripod wrapped around the railings, but with the filters attached, my camera was vibrating wildly in the wind. Time to find some shelter!

A couple of metres away from where I was standing was a 2m tall chunk of Jersey granite. From the shape and position, I presume it’s a memorial of some kind, but I wasn’t planning on using valuable time to check for plaques, all I saw was a very solid windbreak. But this left me with a very short tripod, and my intended image needed to be taken from chest height… Time to improvise!!

Looking around, I spotted the bins outside the nearby ice cream kiosk. Normally, in the UK, such bins would be overflowing with rubbish and firmly chained down. Thankfully, Jersey folk are more trusting and far cleaner, so I now had a very clean (and portable) base to use – and they’d never know, it was still 3 hours to opening time and I’d be done and dusted within the hour.

So I now had a chest-high camera position, sheltered from (most of) the wind, so I could thankfully turn my attention to composition, light, filtration and capturing an image. Having arranged my lead-in lines, disappearing point, lampposts and foreground into a pleasing composition, I tripped the shutter. I liked the captured image, but it wasn’t what I was looking for: too short an exposure, and there was hardly any movement in clouds or water. The 0.9 Neutral Density Graduated filter attached to the front of my lens was balancing the exposure nicely, and the Circular Polariser was controlling reflections and cloud detail quite nicely, but my preferred aperture of f/11 needed changing to stretch time.

Having dropped two stops to f/22, I had taken the exposure out to 30 seconds and tried again. Despite my best efforts to find shelter, the wind was still blurring my exposure, so I turned my back to the wind, took a firm hold on the base of the tripod/top of the bin, and tripped the shutter again. I had my image! And not only had the drop to f/22 lengthened my exposure to add movement, it had also given me the starburst effect on the lamppost. A nice touch!

While I’m very happy with this image, I still can’t help but wonder what I would have captured with a 0.9 Neutral Density filter attached, which would have pushed my exposure out to 4 minutes, but there’s no way I could have kept things perfectly still for that length of time in those conditions! Oh dear, we’ll just have to go back to Jersey and try again…

It’s behind you!!

A Moment Of Colour (asp100-4952)

A brief splash of colour on an otherwise very grey morning.

It’s quite apt that I should choose this image for my next post as I’m typing in the height of pantomime season – but more of that later!

While landscape photography is a solitary pursuit in the main, it’s always nice to head out for a shoot with friends. 2013 seems to have been a hectic year for myself and my usual photography buddies and we haven’t had many joint outings this year – in fact, we haven’t had that many solo outings either! Guess what one of my New Year Resolutions is?!

Now, to some of my non-photographic friends this seems an alien concept. They seem to think that I’m colluding with “the enemy” and don’t understand why we would want to venture out together when we’re all vying to make the final step from semi to full-time pro photographer. But, put three of us in a line with tripods virtually touching and you’ll still see three quite different resulting images as we all impose our own style. That always sounds quite grand, and almost pretentious, to me, but it’s true, we would all put a very different spin on the same location and moment in time. For example, one friend would look for the classic composition hidden in the scene, another would massively exaggerate the perspective and aim to distort time while I would probably shoot vertically and emphasise the foreground so you would almost feel your toes at the base of the frame.

Also the fact that I run workshops through the year teaching other people how to take better photos makes them think I’m training up the competition but then I’m fully aware that photography needs a lot of thought and input to make a success of it, and an afternoon or two of training, even with the best pro in the world, will only make you a more thoughtful and considered photographer and not an overnight professional.

The part that always makes me chuckle though is how secretive people will be about locations. If you look at my followers and friends on Twitter, Flickr and Facebook, the majority are photographers. No surprise really, but what does amuse me is a nice image pops up online and usually one of the first three questions is “where is this” which is usually followed by some squirming and question avoidance by the captor of the image as they try not to give the location away. Personally, I’m not that bothered about revealing locations. I started making a lot of images at one particular location in the New Forest and couldn’t help but notice the plethora of other images of the same venue that started coming online not long after. Were these new images down to me? The first four visits to this particular location I was on my own all morning; the latest visit I was in the presence of about eight photographers all hustling and bustling to get “the angle”. I just grinned, bade them all a good morning and carried on to see what I could conjure up around the next bend in the track. Now, this rise in popularity could partly be down to me, it may not, but if I was really worried about revealing the location I wouldn’t have used the word “Mogshade” in any of the image titles from my first shoot!

Which brings me back to me featured image, “A Moment Of Colour” – and before you ask, it’s near Ellingham, just off the A31 running though the heart of the New Forest. As I mentioned before, a friend is an exaggerator of perspective and stretcher of time, and he had seen an image of mine of a dead tree with a lovely shape. This dead tree is also all on its own in a great big clearing, so quite easy to isolate. We decided to visit the venue together a) because we hadn’t seen each other for ages and b) so I could show him where the tree is.

With busy schedules, we finally fitted a morning in and arrived in plenty of time before sunrise. Unfortunately, the forecast appeared to be letting us down and the promised light cloud that could light up with the rising sun was quite thick and grey. Undeterred, we threw bags on our backs, switched on headlamps and headed off into the forest.

Once at the dead tree we recce’d our options and consulted the Photographer’s Ephemeris to make sure we were pointing in the right direction and how long we had before sunrise etc. The sky seemed even greyer, and a colourful sunrise was not going to happen so we went off in search of other possibilities around us. While my friend kept going back to the dead tree to try different angles and perspectives, I ventured off in other directions looking for other trees and subjects that might be useful on other days in better conditions.

As I turned a corner and headed off in a new direction, I saw a patch of blue had appeared in the sky – at last! The clouds were moving quite nicely, and the patch of blue was drifting along almost teasing me. I needed a composition and quickly!

As I turned to head back to my gear, I spotted the Scott’s Pine pictured here and liked the colourful foreground so started looking for angles and composition options that I might be able to use. Looking around, I found the almost pyramid shaped patch of more orange coloured heather, which I thought could be used as foreground interest with the angled edges acting as lead-in lines to draw the viewer up and into the image.

So…

Foreground? Check.

Distant nicely shaped tree? Check.

No discarded crisp packets or empty Coke cans? Check.

Blue sky / white cloud combo? No, not yet.

Turning back to where the blue patch had been, I caught sight of my buddy again, this time lying prone in the grass using a telephoto lens to presumably shorten perspective and isolate the dead tree more from the distant backdrop. Thankfully, my patch of blue was getting bigger and still heading in the right direction.

The foreground / sky lighting difference was negligible due to the grey blanket, but I opted for my 0.6 ND Grad filter in the knowledge that the patch of blue would make a bigger difference, and I wanted to enhance the foreground colour. To minimise movement in the image, I opened my aperture a full stop to halve the suggested shutter speed and I was ready to shoot. The blue patch passed behind my chosen tree – click – I had an image. I tried another composition, but the blue had already passed by and the sky was returning to grey.

From spotting the blue patch to capturing the image had probably been no more than two minutes – and a good reminder why I teach the importance of knowing your camera inside out. I instinctively know which dials to turn to change settings so I didn’t need to take my eye from the viewfinder in case I missed the “moment”.

Meeting up with my photographic buddy again, he was completely oblivious to the colour with only mono images on his memory card and was wondering where I’d got the colour from. As I said earlier, you can take multiple photographers to the same location but they’ll come away with quite different images!

Exposure information: 1/6 sec @ f/8, ISO100

Filters used: 0.6 / 2-stop Neutral Density Graduated Filter.

Post processing: RAW file processed in Lightroom with small Contrast boost.

Prints of my images are available from my website.

All images are protected by Copyright Laws for Andrew Stevens Photography.

Rain, rain, go away…

Bratley View (asp100-1951)

Bratley View in full colour

After all the recent horrid weather we’ve been experiencing in the UK, we have finally passed a milestone moment. The annual shortest day of December 21st is now behind us, and summer is well and truly on its way!!

Ok, that seems quite an optimistic statement looking out the window at the quickly gathering storm clouds and darkening skies, but the days are lengthening by a few minutes each day and we’re now a few days into the New Year.

Which reminds me, Happy New Year to you all! I hope 2014 is good for you.

While stormy weather can bring dramatic lighting, and some of my best-selling images were shot in or just after rainfall, I’m sure we all prefer to shoot in the more pleasant conditions of the summer months – or the later summer months when colour palettes warm up and landscapes look ever-more appealing. Even in the summer, when shooting around sunrise as in the featured image here of Bratley View in the New Forest, coats and woolly hats are often required as it can get quite chilly standing around for ages before the sun rises – but it’s only a temporary thing and layers can soon be shed. But then again, I feel fairly naked photographing without my woolly hat regardless of time of day or month of the year!

Looking back at the featured image, despite the tell-tale late summer signs like the warm coloured heather and bracken in the foreground and distant temperature inversion so common during warm days and cool nights, this was taken the day after a period of torrential rain had passed. For several days before, we had all been cowering in our homes trying desperately not to have to go outside and get a soaking.

You can imagine the look on my wife’s face when I said “I think I’ll go and get some sunrise photos in the morning”. Don’t worry, I was also questioning my sanity at this point as I cleaned filters and charged batteries while trying to ignore the rain thundering against the window pane beside me. but, as usual, I had been obsessing over various weather forecasts and the weather front appeared to pass over in the early hours followed by clear skies and then a drop in visibility around sunrise – so pink skies and mist were on the cards.

Thankfully, as my alarm rang and I dragged myself out of bed just after 4am, the Met Office had got it right and the sound of rain had disappeared and there was calm all around. Now despite how much I enjoy shooting a sunrise, there is still a split-second sigh when I realise I do have to actually get up and head out into the world and can’t crawl back under my lovely warm duvet.

If you have read my posts before, you will know that I try to minimise my honey-pot location photography. Each honey-pot becomes famous for good reason, normally some fantastic image from a world-famous photographer which many try to emulate, but I generally try to shoot other views around these well-known subjects. This tree has been photographed thousands of times and the only “problem” with Bratley View is this great old tree is virtually in the car park! I had headed to Bratley with the intention of parking there and wandering the couple of hundred yards to Mogshade to capture colourful skies reflected in the still water.

As I changed my shoes for welly boots, pulled my hat down firmly and zipped my jacket up, I could see this image appearing out of the corner of my eye. Even as I walked away from the car park towards Mogshade, I kept looking back over my shoulder at the unfolding landscape image. It was no good, after a couple of reflections I had to turn back and set myself up for this shot.

For those of you who have never ventured out to Bratley View, there really aren’t that many compositions you can make of this tree. If the New Forest workers could kindly carry out some “controlled burning” (where they encourage new bracken and gorse growth by deliberately razing sections to the ground) then more compositions will open up (you can see the edge of the huge gorse bush to the right which we landscape photographers could quite honestly do without).

On arrival back at the tree, the foreground was more colourful than the sky, so the horizon compositional decision was made and I always prefer a tree to lean “in” to the frame rather than “out” so the point-of-interest compositional decision was also made. Now to find the right heather and bracken to offer contrasting colours as well as upright structure all contained within the immediate foreground frame to lead your eye up through the image.

The distant mist (or the temperature inversion I mentioned earlier) helped separate the Scott’s pine from the background, so it was just a matter of waiting for the clouds to move over a little to offer wider colour coverage to the sky. This probably took no more than ten minutes to realise, although it seemed an eternity as I fretted over all the colour disappearing from the sky before I had chance to trip the shutter.

During these few minutes, and don’t forget this is before 6am, I was quite surprised how many cars swung into the car park, cameras were pointed out of half open windows and cars roared off again like I was witnessing some kind of photographic treasure hunt. “Ok, I’ve got the colourful sunrise, now on to get the deer portrait” thoughts were passing through my mind as I visualised passengers ticking off a “to do” list. The odd person actually got out of their car and stood tall before shooting, but nobody really considered compositions or looked around them for a better vantage point – or came anywhere near the tree! Having walked the 10 metres to where they all seem to be stopping and shooting from, all I could see was a big patch of gravel car park and some pink sky. I stood there with the same bemused look on my face they had been using when looking at a sole photographer stood on a bank staring at the clouds with his camera looking in a different direction with a big tree in the way…

I could say the difference between them and me is I’m trying to make money and they were just capturing the “moment”. But then, I do my photography for the enjoyment factor and try to capture the best image possible at that particular time – or the best “moment”. The fact that people like my work enough to buy prints or hire my time for photography lessons is a huge compliment and bonus.

So, with summer on its way we can all look forward to the green shoots of spring and warm colours of summer heading our way. But then again, remembering this image was taken after a long spell of rain – and the forecast for Saturday looks to brighten after a storm on Friday and overnight rain. Perhaps the winter isn’t so bad after all and I need to look at potential weekend venues!

Exposure information: 1 second @ f/11, ISO100

Filters used: 0.9 Neutral Density Graduated

Post processing: RAW file processed in Lightroom with +10 Shadows lift.

Prints of my images are available from my website.

All images are protected by Copyright laws for Andrew Stevens Photography 2014.

Wait for it, wait for it…

Ebb

The receding surf at dusk, Hengistbury Head

On a recent workshop, I had a (small) Eureka moment!

Henri Cartier-Bresson called it “The Decisive Moment” while Charlie Waite describes being in “the presence of some wonderful alignment of events”. To me, this particular Eureka moment (a minute or two after the image above was taken) suddenly made perfect sense of these statements and made me realise that some photographers have “it” – whatever “it” might be.

Having led five budding photographers on a very enjoyable coastal workshop, we were spending the last few minutes of daylight capturing some final images. Having spent time through the workshop discussing and shooting lead-in lines and foreground interest, the question came up as to how would I suggest capturing the beach with just the sea and no foreground rocks, groynes or other objects.

With the sun about to set, I was hoping for some reflected colour in the surf at my feet – but the surf looked a little flat. Time for some manipulation – but I’m referring to physical manipulation and not the digital darkroom kind (if you don’t know my normal working style, any more than a minute of post processing is deemed a re-shoot required). Some chunky pebbles tossed into the sand provided disturbance to the surf as it turned and drew back out to sea. This seemed to work well and added some streaks and definition to the immediate foreground that would help lift the viewer’s gaze up into the image. I was too far away though and this new texture and interest needed to be nearer – time to get wet feet. Heading further into the surf, I pushed the tripod legs firmly into the sand in the hope that my camera wouldn’t try a cross channel swim.

So, I had a brooding sky, some interesting surf and a sun about to set any minute. I wanted to exaggerate the brooding sky and lift the light on the surf a little, so slid the 0.6 (2-stop) Neutral Density Graduated filter out and replaced it with my 0.9 (3-stop). I virtually always use mirror lock-up to minimise the vibrations through the camera body during capture. But when you need precise timing, and have waves lapping around the tripod legs, you can afford to turn the lock-up off.

Ok, time to capture the image. Having preached the benefits of aperture f/11 all afternoon, it was time to drop to f/22 to a) lengthen the shutter a little to add movement to the water and b) to make use of the diffraction often found at such a small aperture and hopefully capture a starburst around the setting sun.

Focused, composed and poised for action, all I had to do was wait for a wave to come right in past the limits of my viewfinder, let it turn and start to recede, count to two and hit the shutter. And by the way, this sequence had been perfected during the half dozen frames shot before capturing this image! Finally, the “right” wave came in, I watched it all the way in through the viewfinder, felt my ankles get wet, waited for the wave to turn and start to recede, one…two…click. Job done!

Now back to the Eureka moment. Having talked about what I was doing, and captured a pleasing image, it was time for my guests to do the same. Straight away, the difference in our positions was noticed; I was at the water’s edge (if not ankle-deep at times) while my guests were a few yards back on dry sand. Having advanced to the water’s edge and composed the view, it was then time to capture the image. Having talked through the capture process, I noticed the eagerness of my photographers to press the shutter and get a shot – too early, the wave was feet away from the bottom of the frame and no blur or lead-ins.

Next wave: “wait for it to turn and start to recede before shooting”. Here comes the wave close to the tripod… click. Too early again and static water captured at our feet.

Third wave: “ok, wait for me to say when”.

“Wait…”

“Wait…”

…click.

Too early again. Better, but still no dynamic water.

This is when my Eureka hit me. We can all have top quality cameras and lenses, and lets face it, there aren’t many bad cameras out there these days. We can all learn the capture process and understand aperture settings and their effect on sharpness, light captured and the relation to shutter speed and ISO. I could go on, but the vital element we don’t seem to all be able to grasp, is “it”.

At the start of this post I wasn’t 100% sure what “it” was. Having typed away for a while, I can only think that “it” is timing. My guests captured some decent images, and I’m pretty pleased with mine and the only real difference was I waited for the “right” moment before tripping the shutter.

I’m never going to rival Henri’s street photography or Charlie’s landscapes, but that one…two…click is putting me on the right tracks.

Exposure information: 0.6 sec at f/22, ISO100

Filters used: 0.9 Neutral Density Grad filter.

Post processing: RAW file histogram tweaked slightly in Lightroom, exported as TIFF and inspected at 100% for filter spots (sea spray etc.)

Prints of my images are available from my website.

All images are protected by Copyright laws for Andrew Stevens Photography 2013.

Time to reflect…

Pre-Dawn Reflections (asp100-3142)

Mogshade, New Forest, reflected perfectly an hour before sunrise.

Time for a trip back to my favourite spot in the New Forest, Mogshade. In the run up to this image, I’d been keeping an eye on the weather forecast as we were getting in to prime temperature inversion season, and some New Forest water and mist was desired.

That sentence alone makes me smile. Not that long ago, we all talked about mist and fog in photos, now we seem to mentioned temperature inversions instead – a bit like the Computer Science I learnt at school has now become Information and Communications Technology in my son’s schooling. Times change eh?

Having been obsessing over various forecasts as usual, I was fairly confident that the warm late autumn days and cold nights of the previous few days would lead to the temperature inversion, or mist, that I was looking for. On this particular night, the overnight temperature was set to drop further than previous nights, and the detailed hour-by-hour forecast showed a dip in visibility right around sunrise. This drop in visibility would hopefully be the clear night filling with mist rising from the cold, damp ground…

So, batteries charged, filters cleaned, bag packed, photography buddy texted, I was ready for a stupid o’clock alarm call.

Arriving at Bratley View well over an hour before sunrise, we quickly attached tripods to bags, changed trainers for welly boots, threw some banter around and headed out of the car park towards the pond.

It’s at times like this that you question what you’re doing. Leaving a very comfortable and warm bed, creeping around the house getting ready so you don’t disturb your family, heading out with no breakfast or even a coffee, and driving to the middle of nowhere on the off chance that something interesting might happen.

It’s also occasions like this that you quickly realise just why you love landscape photography, and why the paragraph above is all well worth it! Arriving at the pond, we were greeted by the most serene view – cool calm skies, perfectly still fresh air, mirror reflections in the water, ponies wandering around… And the thought that we were the only two people to witness it all! The steadily increasing commuter traffic on the distant dual carriageway behind us made things even better when you remember they’re all rushing to an office, while we’re out soaking up the view and the atmosphere.

So, time to find an image! We still had a fair amount of time until sunrise and our intended misty shots, but there was not a scrap of mist to be seen yet. But, it was teeth-chatteringly cold, and I was confident that things would change when the sun started to rise, but I just had to make an image of the cold serene view in front of me, it looked too good not to. Thankfully, the image was already there waiting to be photographed – a group of trees perfectly reflected in mirror-like water, with a branch semi-submerged right in front of me for foreground interest. Sometimes, it’s just “there”.

Setting up the tripod, I quickly assessed the light levels and decided a 0.6 / 2-stop Neutral Density filter would effectively balance the difference in exposure between sky and water surface. A Circular Polariser was also fitted so I could control and maximise the reflection. Now to wade into the pond and wait for the ripples to dissipate so the mirror would return (always best to attach filters before walking into water!).

This gave me plenty of time to focus as the pond surface calmed again. Normally, I would focus hyperfocally for maximum depth of field, but that doesn’t always work with reflections. Next time you’re in front of such a reflection, try imitating an AutoFocus system with your eyes, and focus on the surface of the water – I’ll bet that the main reflection will fall just out of focus! It’s almost that you need to focus below the water’s surface, actually on the reflection your eyes see and not on the surface of the water.

So, filters lined up, image composed, focus checked, light looking good – time to trip the shutter.

The image you see here looks very cold. This is no White Balance adjusting trickery, this is just how the scene looked and how the light is that early in the morning – and yes, it really was that cold!

You may also be glad to know that as the sun rose, the freezing cold ground and water met the new warm morning air and turned into lots of lovely mist – but that’s a story and image for another day!!

Exposure information:   6 secs @ f/11, ISO100

Filters used:                       0.6 ND Grad + Circular Polariser

Post Processing:               RAW file converted to TIFF, checked at 100% for dust bunnies.

Prints of all my images are available from my website.

All images protected by copyright laws for Andrew Stevens Photography 2013.

Birthday treat

Durdle Door

Durdle Door one cold and grey winter’s morning

I often venture out for sunrise on my birthday for pleasure, with no real “need” to work a scene or a feeling of pressure to make a series of images. It’s usually more about last minute decisions and non-researched gut feeling outings. A sunrise outing also means I have the rest of the day to spend with my family, eat cake, open presents, get spoilt rotten etc. It’s a hard life but…

My birthday is mid-January, and this means the sun rises in a fairly southerly direction. I have seen some images of the mid-winter sun rising through the arch of Durdle Door, and fancied following the lead of others for a change – time for a honey pot location!

I arrived at Durdle Door about two hours before sunrise. During the winter months, the caravan park at Durdle is usually closed with a big, locked metal gate, meaning a bit of a hike is required before you even start descending down to the beach.

Walking down to the Door in pitch black is quite an experience, although not one for the faint hearted when you think you’re heading towards a rather high cliff, with crumbling edges, that only has one steep and narrow path down to the beach. Thankfully, my head light and torch were lighting the way for me very nicely. It’s quite something though to stop and pause, switch off all lights and just listen to the tide sweeping in and out on the pebbles below you.

The sky to my left was starting to turn from its current obsidian black, so it was time to head down the steps to the beach. I really must count them one day, but I can safely use the word “lots” to describe them. Once on the beach, I wandered around a bit until I had a clear view through the arch in the general direction that the sun would rise from.

Being down below such high cliffs, my iPhone struggled for signal of any kind, but The Photographer’s Ephemeris app finally loaded and confirmed where the sun would rise and that I was in the right-ish place. Time to get set up!

For a change, I hadn’t studied the weather forecast to any great extent; just enough to know it wasn’t going to rain on me. I can only assume it had looked a fairly promising sunrise as a few other bleary-eyed photographers started to arrive with camera bags slung over their shoulders.

Two of them having arrived together, obviously didn’t like the prospect of “sharing” a location, and immediately headed back up off the beach without even saying hello or taking camera bags off their backs. Odd! So, sat waiting, all set up, all I needed was a lovely sunrise and a starburst around the edge of the arch. What I didn’t need was for the photographer who’d stayed to let his dog off the lead and fill my lovely clean foreground with doggy footprints! Doh!!

From my new footprint-free position a few yards down the beach, I didn’t have an ideal angle through the Door, so I was mentally going through options while trying to resist the urge to throw the dog’s stick 3 1/2 miles in the other direction to keep it off my foreground. But, we can’t blame the dogs and can only mutter under our breaths about the owners.

My new position gave me the more classic view of the Door that you often see, and I had contingency angles lined up should the sunrise be dramatic and doggy footprints suddenly less of a concern.

By this time, the sky to my left had started to colour up – all very blood red and brooding; I could feel my pulse quickening as I watched the light show develop. However, what slowed my pulse was a quick end to the light show before it had even got anywhere near the Door let alone be a starburst through the arch. I had some great stormy clouds, but they were monochrome and the sky was now completely devoid of any colour.

Ok, time for Mono then! I quickly switched my camera to Mono mode and tried a few of the digital B&W filters just to visualise the resulting image – I quite liked what I saw, so added a 0.6 ND Grad filter and liked what I saw even more. I always shoot in RAW to capture the maximum amount of image data, but using the camera functions to shoot a small jpg alongside the RAW allows me to experiment with B&W, even though I’m actually shooting in colour and will convert later in silver Efex Pro. The sun was hiding behind the clouds so I could have probably used a weaker 0.3 ND instead, but I wanted to use a stronger Grad filter so it would lift the detail on the Door, and darken the clouds a bit more.

I usually use Mirror Lock Up in conjunction with a 2 second shutter release delay to minimise camera shake during the exposure. Leaving Mirror Lock Up on, I disabled the timer delay so I could trip the shutter just when I wanted to – I was hoping to capture blurred waves running back out off the beach. f/11 didn’t give me quite long enough shutter speed to blur the water, so I dropped to f/16. This gave me 0.6 seconds, which seemed about right.

Now it was just a question of lining the clouds up. I knew I was going to have a bit expanse of grey cloud in the top right corner, and wanted to use this space a bit more without detracting from the Door and foreground surf. I spotted the brighter sliver you can see in the image, and thought it could be just the thing. It was above the Door when I first spotted it, and waiting for it to drift across the sky seemed to take an eternity. When it finally moved into place, it turned into a subtle lead-in line from the potentially boring corner back to the main point of interest, the Door. Perfect!

As the waves came in I pressed the shutter to lock up the mirror, then just as the wave started to recede I tripped the cable release again to start the exposure and capture the drawback. After a few attempts, I think I got the shot – nothing like I had intended to capture, but I rather like it.

Exposure info: 0.6 seconds @ f/16, ISO100 with 0.6 ND Grad filter.

Processing info: RAW imported into Lightroom and minor exposure tweaks made. B&W conversion using Silver Efex Pro.

Prints of my images are available from my website.

All images protected by copyright laws for Andrew Stevens Photography 2013.

Unplanned Outings

Corfe Castle (asp06-4036)

Corfe Castle amidst some dawn mist

My previous posts have been about new images, or at least those that are only a few months old. For this post, I’m going back a few years, back to 2006 to be exact, and for a good reason (or at least I think it’s a good reason!).

Back in my youth, I’d always enjoyed photography, and snapped away with a variety of film cameras, with most of the results being bog-standard snapshots. With my first “proper” job came a “proper” income, which opened up all sorts of new possibilities – like the ownership of an SLR camera! I took my newly acquired Pentax P30 (remember them anyone?), and headed off into my local landscape taking image after image. Living on the edge of the Cotswolds, there were plenty of great views and vistas for me to shoot – I just wasn’t really getting any decent shots. I could see the potential image, but had no real idea how to go about capturing and accurately recording the view in front of me. As is my usual way (being a little OCD at times), I devoured photography magazines and soaked up any information I could glean.

I may need to point out to some that the Pentax P30 was released many years before the Internet was available. Home computers and mobile phones were still glints in the eyes of inventors, so you really had to seek out information – magazines, trips to libraries, talking to photographers etc. It seemed to me that photographers back then were a bit more, how do I put this, “exclusive”?! When you did find a photographer, getting them to divulge information about how they went about getting a particular shot was nigh on impossible. I once tried joining a camera club, and was asked to present my portfolio for their consideration – I didn’t have a portfolio, I had a few snaps but I really needed their help to make a portfolio hence wanting to join!

Anyway, back to lots of reading and practice (and big film processing bills), and my images started to improve. Neutral Density and Polarising filters had started to creep in to my bag, people were now stopping and looking at images in an album instead of just flicking through, and I’d made some big prints and even sold a few. Happy days! Or so I thought…

As often happens in life, things get in the way… Life, work and sport took me away from photography for several years (at least 15!) and I swapped hilly North Oxfordshire for the equally hilly, with some coast thrown in, Dorset. After my sporting endeavours ground to a halt (and that’s a whole other story), I looked for hobbies to fill my spare time as I now had quite a bit of it what with no sports training or matches to play.

So having dusted off my Pentax, I started shooting the wonderful Purbeck hills and other parts of Dorset on my doorstep. Lugging a big kit around wasn’t always ideal, so I bought an Olympus compact – my first steps in the world of digital, and I was well and truly hooked! Instant feedback, quick and easy editing, home printing – what more could I want? Well, how about SLR control in a digital format?

Luckily for me, a landmark birthday was due to fall just after Christmas, so a DSLR was offered as a joint/big present – I couldn’t say no could I and risk offending my other half! So, I was now the very proud owner of a Canon DSLR and some rather nice lenses (thank you Tracy!).

So, being able to employ all those techniques I’d learnt with my Pentax, with the immediate results and feedback of digital, I was ready to take on the world (or at least capture some of the world on my doorstep).

So, what does today’s image have to do with all this? Well, while I was trying to improve my photography, we would venture out together in a joint “mission”. Tracy is from the Channel Islands, so I could introduce her to some of the lovely scenery we have around us while capturing some of it on a memory card. Corfe Castle and the Purbecks remain a favourite area for both of us and we still visit often. Around this time, Tracy had to go on a business trip to Moscow. Very nice I hear a lot of you say, but a trip to Russia can be quite daunting when you’ve never been before, speak zero Russian and have a very tight schedule that doesn’t really allow for hiccups or delays.

So, while Tracy was away trying to make sense of Russia, I was left home alone. On the first night she was away, I couldn’t sleep (cue the aahhh’s). I tried reading, watching TV, cup of (decaf) coffee – pretty much everything and finally drifted off in the early hours. Unfortunately, it was short-lived, and I was awake again at 3.30am – doh!! So, back to reading to try and tire my mind, but it was having none of it.

So, what to do? How about get out of bed and head of somewhere with my camera bag?! So, where to go? Corfe Castle of course!

Now, I normally meticulously plan my photographic outings; memory cards are formatted, batteries charged, filters cleaned and weather forecasts read, read and re-read. For once, I was heading out with no preparation;  all I knew was I was heading for Corfe Castle, and had no idea what lay ahead – I didn’t even know the camera would turn on, the battery could have been flat for all I knew.

Arriving at Corfe Castle, I had forgotten what a joy it is to be out in the wilds over an hour before sunrise. The birds were singing, including some very close-by owls, and the air was so clean and fresh. But I didn’t have time to linger, I had a huge hill to climb and a race with a soon-to-be rising sun.

The view was quite easy to decide on – a nice clean view of the castle with some wispy mist. I’m always hopeful of some pre-dawn colour, but didn’t expect what I saw on this occasion. There was a lot of mist around the castle (a lot more than you see here) and a light fog was rolling in from the direction of the sea. I was beginning to worry that I would have my view obscured, or my filters would mist up too, but just before the sun crept over the horizon, the fog thinned, the mist lifted and everything turned a lovely shade of pink. Time to fire the shutter and sit back to enjoy the splendour in front of me (this was the first time I ever “whooped” when looking at the LCD). It only lasted a few minutes, but every second was wonderful.

To this day, this remains my most popular image. That’s with me, my family, friends and with the general public. I’ve sold this image many, many times – in fact, at my first “proper” exhibition, I could barely keep up with demand as people bought fine art print and canvas versions quicker than we could hang them on the wall. You might even see it on the front of a CD as it’s been sold to two CD houses over the last couple of years (if you spot it, please tell me as I have no idea who’s using it as it went through an agency!).

I also use this image on my workshops. Not because it’s one of my favourites, and has sold so well, but the circumstances behind the image. Yes it looks lovely, yes it sells well, but it was a completely unplanned shot – and taken on my trusty Canon 300D! (You know, that 6.3MP DSLR that appeared to be so ground-breaking when it was released). Lots of people take comfort from the fact you don’t need to spend hours planning or have top of the range equipment to make a pleasing image.

Exposure Information.

1/4sec at f/13, ISO100.

0.6 ND Graduated Filter.

Post processing: RAW file converted to TIFF in ACR. Levels tweaked slightly.

Prints of all my images are available from my website.

New Tracks

Soon Be Harvest (asp100-4911)

Making new tracks – or a new view of an old subject

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I try not to shoot “honey pot” images. You know, those that you regularly see on Flickr and on forums, and are actively sought out by photographers as “bucket list” locations, often shot from exactly the same angle as several thousand before them, many of whom are trying to emulate the world famous pro photographer who took the original image with masses of impact and wow factor. Now don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing bad about this, it’s just not how I prefer to operate. I sometimes refer to this in my workshops as “dartboard photography” due to the number of holes left by tripod legs just after a stunning image has appeared, and hordes of photographers seek out that exact same view.

Of course the world famous pro has a couple of big advantages over the rest of us; a) all day to seek out fantastic locations in the first place and b) all day over several days/weeks to get the exact right light to give the wow factor.

I’ve had a conversation with a world famous pro on this very subject. He found a particular location once while scouting around some well-known parts of France, worked out the best angle to shoot from, where the light should come from (and which parts of the vista should be illuminated, which should not), how high the camera should be (which required his “short stepladder”), aperture, focus point etc. etc. You get the drift; he fully explored the possibilities before even getting his camera out of the bag. After setting himself up and confirming he had everything exactly right, all he had to do was wait for the right light – this took four days to come! Four days stood up a short stepladder, with cable release in hand, waiting to trip the shutter!!

Ok, when he made his image it was spectacular, and remains a favourite image of mine, but we don’t all get such luxuries in life. With life and family commitments, most of us get to grab an hour or two here and there to dust off our cameras and make some images, which could explain the “bucket list” mentality of some photographers – if you’re only going to get a couple of hours out, heading to a spot you know you’ll get a great view from kind of makes sense.

The week before this particular image was made, my photographic buddy, Mike, and I had been out shooting a rather spectacular poppy field. While the field had been spectacular, there were thousands of flowers still to open, so while pleased with the images we’d captured, we vowed to return again soon.

Unfortunately, the following week was the hottest and driest in the UK for several years, and on our return the poppy field was rather dry – with lots of dead flowers! So, what do we do now?! With an hour to sunset, we needed a location, and fast!

Knowing the area pretty well, I knew there was a “honey pot” barn just up the road. This barn is normally photographed from a distance, surrounded by bright yellow oilseed rape crop with a bright blue sky above. In fact, why not try Googling “sixpenny handley barn” and see which images of this barn pop up? (Once you’ve finished reading this of course J )  While this makes for a pleasing image, I was determined to find a view and make an image unlike any I had previously seen of this particular barn.

When standing next to the field, I can see why it’s usually shot from where it is – the hill rises nicely behind the barn giving naturally pleasing curves, and it’s an easy shot without having to enter the field and risk a farmer’s wrath for trampling crops. It’s also easy as you can pull into the gateway, wander a few yards down the road and snap, the bucket list has one less name on it! Job done.

So, how to go about capturing a completely different image? Having carefully climbed a stile, I made my way to the barn to see what else was available for me to make an interesting photograph. As the wheat was nearly fully grown, the tracks made by the farmer’s tractor during crop spraying were very deep and prominent, so I carefully made my way around the edge of the field to explore these tracks as possible lead-in lines to the barn.

Having framed a few views from a distance, I knew I needed to get closer, like in amongst the wheat. Carefully retracing my steps, I found a way in to these big tractor wheel tracks. Should a farmer have arrived and questioned what I was doing, I had taken so much care walking through the crops that I feel confident I could have made a bet that they couldn’t have seen where or how I got so far into the crops (my family come from farming stock). I firmly believe that we should take great care while photographing – you never know when you might need to have a friendly word with a farmer to gain access to a potentially amazing view, so the offer of a business card and a print of their choice of their land has always gone down extremely well (and no-one has ever claimed the offered free print!). Much better than arguing over trampled crops I think – after all, the crops are hard cash to a farmer!

Once in the tracks, I just followed them round and kept turning to check the view. It didn’t take that long to get the lovely curve of the tracks leading up to the barn and beyond. My only problem now, was a completely bland sky. A fair amount of haze was appearing, and the sky was just turning a paler shade of blue. As I was facing about 110-degrees from the setting sun, I reached for my polariser to see if I could make more of the clouds. There was an improvement, but I wanted more.

Looking at the foreground in front of me, there was lots of contrast and texture, so my mind starting turning to B&W. The great thing about digital is I can just turn the camera to B&W mode, and instantly see the potential results. The sky needed boosting a bit more, so I added a 0.6 Neutral Density Graduated Filter to balance the exposure. The image on the LCD was looking better all the time – just a bit more contrast needed… Again, the great thing about digital is the ability to add B&W filters in camera, and see the results immediately. A quick press of the Red Filter button and voila! I had the image you see here!

Happy with my work, I tried a few more compositions, but nothing could improve on my already captured image. I’d expected to go home with some extremely colourful images of red poppies and sunset, but instead I had an exclusive view of an oft-photographed location, in  strong, high contrast Black & White – and a big grin on my face!!

Exposure information: ¼ sec @ f/11, ISO100

0.6 ND Grad plus Circular Polariser filters

Post processing: RAW file tweaked in Lightroom; B&W conversion in Silver Efex Pro (High Structure preset).

Prints of all my images are available from my website.

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