Nature

Deja vu for the campervan cameraman, with a weird twist

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Storr in cloud

We have been here before. What a huge difference the weather can make to the landscape photographer's lot.

On my last visit to Skye there was such a storm that I could scarcely stand. I was in real fear of losing my camera - if not my life - photographing the Mealt Waterfall plunging over its 60m (197ft) basalt cliff.

The River Sligachan was thundering along with such force I could imagine the old stone road bridges being swept away. The Cuillin beyond were scarcely visible in the murk.

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Fast forward to this last trip - and the bridges were basking quietly in the morning sunshine, as you can see from the comparison shots, while the mountains strutted their dramatic stuff in the background.

I had however just spent more than an hour looking at clouds. Don't get me wrong: I like clouds, and with another hat on they are splendid grist to my mill.

On this day, pouring over the top of a rocky escarpment in a fluid arc they were majestic. It is when they don't quite clear the object of your desire beyond that frustration begins to set in.

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As I made another cup of tea on the campervan stove I had plenty of time to reflect on the fact that, as an adult with a camera, I have never seen the Old Man of Storr. I have to reach back more than four decades in my memory to my first glimpse of them. They loomed frighteningly out of the descending dark above the little boy in the back seat of the car.

Now, sipping my campervan tea, re-checking the camera settings, I watched the tourist minibuses disgorge their selfie-stick packs onto the path up the hillside.

Good luck to them. Sadly I was nursing - in a very real sense - an ankle agonisingly wrenched on the first day of my trip. It was fortunate that my transport had an automatic gearbox and that it was my left ankle I had damaged, otherwise I would have had to abandon the tour before it had really started and summon roadside assistance to get me home.

But there was no question of walking 50 yards let alone going up a hill. So I was essentially stuck with this vantage point. After more than an hour it was obvious that the weather was, if anything, getting worse.

Depth of field

I packed up and headed south to the Skye Bridge. As I drove, the sun burst through the overcast and I enjoyed one of the finest days of my trip, stopping to make some pictures along the way - including some featuring the quiet trickle of water beneath the stone bridges at Sligachan.

Rock shapes Gary EasonMy overall objective on this tour of the North West was a little grassy outcrop topped with rocks much further up the coast.

My mission: to reprise some pictures I had made there before - in a storm force wind - when I did not quite nail the depth of field I needed.

What I had seen and photographed then, as I paused at a natural vantage point, was that the rocks in the foreground, ice-scoured by the look of them, echoed the shapes of the mountains beyond. Not uncannily so, but sufficiently well to make an interesting sinuous harmony of a composition.

Unfortunately through tiredness and the difficulty of doing anything in the Force 10 - and frankly, with hindsight,  incompetence - I did not select sufficient aperture to have both foreground and background in sharp focus. To an extent this was not a bad thing, but the background was just too far out for my liking.

In practice, with the 200mm lens I had been using to get enough compression to make the composition work, the required depth of field might not have been attainable. But I theorised that I could in that case bracket the focussing and come away with the goods.

All that way ...

There was virtually no wind on this occasion. Unfortunately however, the long road there was taking me steadily back into the bank of clouds hanging narrowly along the coastal fringe. (See: Duvet weather)

Rocks on the River Coupall below Stob Dearg Gary Eason _DSC4044-EditBy the time I arrived, the pretty pink little geological feature that was the object of my desire and the foreground subject of my picture was just a pile of dull grey stones not worth a second glance: which is interesting in itself, because it had been the sunlight splashing on them first time around that had given me the whole idea.

I remember reading in Colin Prior's Introduction to his book of stunning mountainscapes, High Light, A Vision of Wild Scotland (Constable, London, 2010), that he plans his pictures with military thoroughness. But he says that in spite of all the preparations, "I frequently return without having taken a single shot", and might have to revisit over two or three years to get the image he had envisaged.

And that is how it was for me, after flying from Essex to Glasgow then hiring the means to drive for hundreds more miles.

A wasted trip? Of course not. Along the way I saw and photographed Rannoch Moor looking more tranquil than I have ever seen it; Stob Dearg and its streams in brilliant sunshine; parts of Skye that had previously been under a tumult of foul weather; Bealach na Ba in glorious shafts of late afternoon sun; Skye again, still in cloud but, from a distant vista, its peaks like islands in the sky.

I met some lovely people: the good folk at the curious, community-owned little Glenelg-Skye Ferry that seemed unchanged since I had last used it some 40 years earlier, a thrilling ride through the swirling, 8-knot tide; the woman who stopped to admire a view with me and wished me well on my travels; the former actor now selling his award-winning ice creams from a retro-look silver caravan in Applecross; the hitchhiking artist who had been to see one of her paintings exhibited in public for the first time.

How weird is that?

I had the freedom of travelling by mobile home, essentially unconcerned at where I might wind up and thus  able to make the very most of the shortening autumn days.

So to end where I began: I'll be back.

A footnote: I had the most eerie of experiences driving south again. On my way I passed Glen Affric. I contemplated a detour to visit, as it is one of the most beautiful places I know. But the light was going, I had been driving all day, and I was anxious to get to the camping ground I had earmarked on Loch Tay before nightfall.

So I drove past. I parked up in my allotted space alongside Loch Tay, got the dinner on, poured a glass of wine and sat down to check e-mails on my phone. Quite bizarrely, as I had been passing Glen Affric a man in Germany had been ordering a print of one of my views of it on my website.

When I got into conversation with him on e-mail, it turned out that he knew it because relatives of his had lived there, in one of those cottages, before they were modernised. Now, if you know Glen Affric, you will appreciate just how random this is. And if you don't know it, suffice to say there is only a handful of habitations there.

This coincidence is so spooky I have been telling the story ever since. As you can see!

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 TO BUY PRINTS  of any of my landscape works please visit the Places galleries on my website.

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A winter field foreseen

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Winter field, panorama

I'd had this image in mind for weeks and weeks. I love the way the field sweeps down to the woodland here on the outskirts of Penn (we're in Buckinghamshire). All I needed was the right light. And today, I had that too.

For ages it feels like we've been living under a monotonous grey duvet of cloud. Mild enough, I grant you, but depressing all the same.

This morning was different. Sunshine! At one point when I looked out of my study I could also see  dark slate grey cloud off in one direction. This combination always means dramatic landscapes, so I grabbed my camera and headed for the countryside - which, where I am, is less than a mile away.

I had to hang around for a while, getting rained on intermittently. But it was so worth the wait, as swathes of brilliant sunshine rolled down the ploughed field and sloshed up against the beeches in Common Wood on my left. Such a beautiful scene.


Landscapes and light lines

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Tree trunks I, diptych, 2011

Of the various images I have sold copies of these past few days, the one above is the one I'm particularly pleased about. 

A discerning customer in the US has bought a canvas print of it - and unwittingly becomes the first person to have acquired the first example of a new departure in my photographic work.

With hindsight I can see that I began thinking along these lines (as it were), and working on these photographs, some time ago. They are a convergence of various key ideas:

  • I have always liked lines in landscapes, the incongruous juxtaposition of straight edge and fractal - as typified by, for example, architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater house. 
  • Photography is ultimately about light. This is so obvious it may seem banal but is worth restating, as so many people seem to think that framing a scenic view is what constitutes a landscape - whereas without good or suitable or dramatic light, it is at best just a postcard. The essence is the light.
  • So, why not reduce the landscape image to its essence, in lines of light?  

Two works illustrate the way these thoughts have been developing. The first, Tree Lines I (below), depicts a line of trees in silhouette on the edge of a lake - in fact the sea loch, Loch Linnhe, in the west of Scotland.

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Tree lines I, 2011

The scene was virtually monochrome to begin with, as shot; the pattern of light and waves in the foreground water lent itself to an extrusion into lines.  I freely acknowledge this as my own response to others’ efforts to scrape or ‘smudge’ elements of a suitable digital image into lateral lines. My own technique is different and I prefer it. 

The second work I would identify as central to my thinking is the one at the top of this post, Tree trunks I. I took this, predominantly vertical, representation of a pine wood and distilled it by abstracting a line through it that picks out all the various colours and tones. The natural and abstract images each stand alone quite readily, but work best side-by-side I feel.

The initial abstraction of Tree Trunks was essentially (not entirely) random. I have since pondered taking the image apart, one line of pixels at a time, and rendering each line into a separate abstraction. These could then stand as a series of some 3,000 discrete images (the original is a 3,296 pixel high crop). I may be getting ahead of myself - but I shall make more of these, because I'm fascinated to see what comes out

Reeds-266x400Thinking about it, Reeds in the mist (right), which I made a year ago, naturally prefigures all this. It is a figurative image that I especially liked precisely because it is so naturalistically abstract.

Now, I'm no historian of photography or art but even I can understand that other people have been here before. I can see that this might be a form of geometric abstraction in a long line through Mondrian and Bridget Riley, for instance. I don't know how Bridget Riley's work has evolved - I shall find out - but to me it doesn't matter because I got here independently, which is what interests me, or as independently as anyone can who functions in a highly visual world. 

All this thinking predated the record-breaking sale of Andreas Gursky's The Rhine II. I did not know that image until it hit the headlines, but I have to say I love it; I find it mesmerising. If you've persevered this far you can probably see why I might. 

Pleasing 

Talking of sales, which is where this post began, I've just had an unusually good week. It is peculiarly gratifying when people come along, by whatever route, and buy something that you have created - and I am duly grateful. 

So I'll end with a photograph I made on a very unpromising morning on the north east coast of England. I had gone to Saltburn by the Sea - which is where I grew up, as it happens - to see what the dawn would be like. Not hugely interesting, in fact, because of the relentless 'grey duvet' that had descended on the landscape and stayed throughout my visit to the area, in September. 

But, looked at optimistically, there was a certain liquid charm in the early morning light. I made a few photographs overlooking the shoreline, and a few more half way along Saltburn's pier - just at the line where the limpid little waves began flopping onto the beach.

One of them, looking up the coast towards Teesside's industrial outpourings, has just been bought by somebody - which makes me very happy, because it's a subtle image and I'm glad they appreciated it. I hope they like it when the print arrives. You can find it here in my Photo4me portfolio.


One that got away

Cock pheasants fighting PB071126-Edit-Edit_blog

I'm rather pleased with this new photograph of mine showing two cock pheasants knocking seven bells* out of each other.

It was taken in a country lane on the pretty Cowal Peninsula in Argyll & Bute during my recent photographic trip. I came round a corner in the car and there they were, right in the narrow road, squaring up.

I stopped as quickly as I could and first grabbed my D3s. On trips like that I normally have both the Nikon and Olympus ready, one with a 24-70mm zoom on for close and middle shots and the other with the superb 50-200mm Zuiko and 2x teleconverter for as much reach as I can muster in case it's needed (at full stretch it's the full frame equivalent of almost 800mm/f7).

I got off a few shots through the windscreen with the Nikon. Here's the scene:

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I then switched to the E3 and took a few more, before carefully opening the driver's door and getting the lens into the angle. It was a very quiet lane and it was safe to stop right where I was.  I checked the camera settings, upping the ISO to 1000 which was giving me about 1/500th speed on a fairly wide aperture.

The birds seemed oblivious: eyeballing each other, strutting and circling, occasionally rushing - and then every now and then having a full-blown dust-up. These actual physical encounters were momentary and of course as the shutter fires, you can't see the image briefly.

I was excited when I knew I'd taken a great shot as they both jumped several feet into the air, claws out, wings flapping. Fantastic!

Or not. Imagine my disappointment when I checked afterwards and found this:

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As I was pressing the shutter release they had jumped above my framing! Ho hum. You learn something every day.

Still, I did also get the marvellous one above. In fact it's the better image I think, on reflection, because their tussle was so quick - such a blur of fluttering feathers - that it is only in the stilled moment that I could see that one of them had turned completely upside down.

So, maybe fate was looking out for me after all.

- - -

* Where does that expression come from I wonder?


Pure sky

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You probably know that I have a thing about sailing, but my first love was flying. It's just that circumstances over the years made it less accessible. Less accessible but not inaccessible.

I was at John Lewis buying a vacuum cleaner (can I get some product placement dosh here please?) and emerged to the most fantastic late afternoon cloudscape as heavy rain showers rolled across the South Buckinghamshire landscape.

What has this to do with flying? Well, Booker airfield - properly, Wycombe Air Park (EGTB to pilots) - is just around the corner and I figured it would afford an open vista. Which it did, as you can see. The clouds really were something to behold. It is unusual to have a backdrop so dark that you'd think I must have walloped a hefty filter over it. But no, this is unretouched apart from standard tidying up.

The plane taxiing for takeoff, by the way, is a Robin DR 300-180R,  a French design made by Avions Pierre Robin. This particular one, registration G-BLGH, is used as a glider "tug" by Booker Gliding Club. In other words it tows sailplanes to altitude then releases them to realise their true function.

I made several photos over a cup of tea at the airfield cafe, then headed along the ridge a little way to the outskirts of Flackwell Heath and contemplated the landscape there. Eventually I made up a panorama of that view too.


Bad pun

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You know how in the autumn you get those photography contests with titles such as "Fall color" (this would be American - it only works in American English).

Anyway I was combing the beach along the East Mersea shore in Essex - really looking for some magic in the light over the polder scheme, which was not forthcoming - and of course the striking feature there, and the reason for the polder scheme, is the erosion of the low cliffs.

So there you have it: my entry for, ahem, fall colour. Sorry.


Mind boggling

Gary at the Grand Canyon DSC04132

Photo: Alice Eason

I have been pondering what to write about the landscapes of the Southwestern United States, or what little I saw of them on my recent flying visit. 

My difficulty is that words fail me, because what does come to my mind is the rather scary sense that photographs also failed me. Just how do you convey, in a necessarily small image, something on the scale of the Grand Canyon? Of course I had seen photographs of this wonder, but that's just the point: no photograph can prepare you for the sheer vastness of it - or, therefore, it would seem, bring away a proper sense of it. 

We stayed on the higher North Rim, at the only lodge on that side within the national park. From the terrace there, or adjacent trails, you cannot see the bottom - not even of the side canyons it overlooks - because they are so deep. The far side, the more populous South Rim, is some 10 miles away. Between, huge ridges, buttes and pinnacles are ranged across the abyss. Your mind cannot comprehend the scale of it. You can make a photograph of it, or of part of it, I should say - but somehow it feels like a pitifully inadequate representation of what's before you. 

So I felt overwhelmed, frankly. At least to begin with. We were there for only a few days. It would easily be possible to spend weeks just gawping at it, not least because it is constantly changing as the light flows across from east to west. In August, in the late afternoon, great thunderstorms would build, sending flashes of lightning into the void as sheets of rain swept through the canyons. A fantastic spectacle that often goes on into the night. 

Gradually I began to come to terms with this immensity and to start trying to make sense of it photographically - though of course, as always, the visiting photographer is at the mercy of the available light. Some people spend a week there and never really see a thing because the canyon is shrouded in fog, I was told. In that respect we were lucky, but I was aware that it was not as magical as it might have been. Trips out are constrained by the available time and photographs have to be made, if they are going to be made at all, in less than ideal conditions. 

So you work with what you have. You're a tourist; accept it. I made a few images I was pleased with - Mount Hayden picked out in big splodges of slanting afternoon light through fluffy clouds after waiting for their shadows to move on. 

On our way back to catch our flight in Las Vegas we traversed Zion Canyon. More magnificent vistas that we really could only crane our necks to see on a whistlestop tour. Driving south, off to our left was the most wonderfully dramatic range of peaks. Imagine the Old Man of Storr on Skye - rightly celebrated as some of Britain's finest scenery. This range had a dozen such pinnacles. Yet it was just another part of the general landscape; I haven't even been able to figure out what it is called. 

I take my hat off to those who have been grappling over the years with the attempt to render these spectacles in paint and in photographs. I am also very envious of anyonewith ready access to such scenery. I hope to go back. 

Meanwhile ... here on Teesside, where I am this week, there is almost unrelievedly dull, flat, grey light beneath blankets of cloud. Ho hum. 


Special time

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It can take an age to get through the post-processing workflow when you have other claims on your time - so I'm only now finally getting round to making the most of the photos made in Scotland in early June. 

I've cleared the week's workload and gone from having a house full of people to its being more-or-less empty, which gives me the mental space to try to make the most of some of the lovely scenes I encountered.

One series I have just posted to my website was made in various locations on a misty morning, in that magical mood when there's no wind and the sun is climbing through a still, silent world of outlines and reflections.


Underfoot

Ladybird on boardwalk _GE08531-Edit_blog

Memo to self: don't forget to look down. 

I was in the 'Bear Woods' in Colchester, just for a stroll. I never tire of photographing the trees there. They are a mixture of oak and willow, mostly, whose limbs twist and intertwine in fascinating ways - and of course, being woodland, it has changed with the seasons almost every time you visit. 

I was on my way out when I made a conscious effort to study the detail of the wooden plank pathway that has been constructed along the potentially muddy trail, which has a chicken wire matting to reduce its slipperiness.

As I did, I almost stepped on a ladybird, stark red against the grey, weathered timbers.


Wild

Deer, Southern Highlands PB160106_blog

Deer, Southern Highlands

There are some jaw-dropping images in the  Veolia Environnement Wildlife Photographer of the Year contest - and this is not one of them!

Ordinarily I would not consider myself a wildlife photographer at all. However, my attention was drawn by the Landscape GB online magazine to the fact that some categories are about the landscape as much as the animals in it. So I had a quick rummage and submitted some recent photographs.

I returned from my sailing trip to find that the one above had made the 'semi-finals' - that is, the second of the three rounds of judging. So not a complete dud! I was chuffed about that. 

It was one of a series made on Rannoch Moor in Scotland during my wet and windy visit there last autumn, using the Olympus E3. I have several which show the deer in much greater close-up, but I felt this better fitted the category theme of animals "in their environment".

I cropped out a distracting patch of rock in the lower left of the frame, but left in the water on the right because I felt it balanced the snow in top left. 

UPDATE July 26: I was interested to know the numbers on this so - in the absence of information online - I contacted the competition organisers' press office. 

They say they received 40,490 entries in total, from photographers in 95 countries.  

As a matter of policy - interestingly - they do not reveal the specific number of entries in each category at different stages of the competition. (I submitted seven in three categories; clearly I suppose one's odds might be improved if you knew which were the less popular categories?).

However, approximately 12,000 images made it to through to the Semi-Finals and 1,000 images went on to Final judging. In other words, as I thought, "semi-finals" is not quite the same as, say, Wimbledon. 

Two "commended" images will be unveiled next month, and a further selection on 1 October. The winning images (category and overall winners) will be announced at an awards ceremony on 19 October.

The exhibition of images from the competition opens at the Natural History Museum, London, on Friday 21 October.

So now you know. 


Rain and light

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Rain and rainbows, Brittany

Very lucky to have enjoyed two weeks' sailing, from southern England over to northern Brittany via the Channel Islands and Iles Chausey - which chiefly accounts for the lack of blog posts recently. 

The Brittany coast is a fascinating sailing ground: pretty but fantastically rock-strewn and with an astonishing tidal range - typically more than 10 metres if you can imagine that. In other words when the tide is in it can easily swallow your average house, and then some.  

_GE06300_blog And when it goes out it reveals rocks that are ... bigger than your house. Navigation is more than ever by the numbers. 

We had great weather, for the most part: good breezes, and only one day's real rain - but some sharp late afternoon showers in the delightful little town of St-Cast-le-Guildo. This has a very new marina, with excellent facilities - albeit more exposed to (south-) westerlies than you might think from looking at the map. 

A five-minute walk away from the boats is a headland, with a huge cannon commemorating some famous battle they did not teach us about in school in England. Ah - probably because it did not go terribly well.

Anyway it has a marvellous view over the Pointe de Saint Cast and other headlands to the north, one with the magnificent Fort Latte, and beyond that, Cap Frehel with its lighthouses. 

As the heavy showers went through I huddled in the lee of a convenient large bush atop what was otherwise an exposed bluff, emerging to venture down the slope overlooking the sea to make my  photographs.  

The clouds were huge, the sun more-or-less broke through - and to cap it all, after about an hour's wait, a stunning rainbow (briefly, to the south, a double one) completed the scene.

I have a number of pictures from this location that needed minimal post-processing. I'm very pleased with them. 

We rounded off the day with fresh local seafood and a few pichets de vin rouge


Wet sunset

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I was about to start watching Wallander on Saturday evening when I realised the sky outside was glowing as if there were a huge fire. 

Venturing out I found it was just the sun doing what it does when it settles beneath the cloud bank after the sort of downpour we'd had.

Nearby, where I know I can rely on getting a view of the western sky if I need to, the fields were dripping wet, the air bright and fresh with that vividness that comes from the clearing effect of a rainstorm. 

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Oh and yes I got to see Wallander a couple of days later. 


Lose some, winsome?

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Mist, Castle Kilchurn

_GE04304-2 So I spent most of last week in the west of Scotland with a view to some landscape photography.

I managed to miss the storms that had left trees uprooted, boats overturned and beaches debris strewn.

A walk up through Puck's Glen - dodging the damage to a footbridge - yielded various treasures by way of trunks, leaves and moss, tumbling stream and rocks, as always.

Here's a description of the place on the Walk Highlands website: "Deservedly the most popular short walk in the region, Puck's Glen is a dark and atmospheric defile. A tumbling burn, criss-crossed by bridges, is enclosed by rocky walls heavily hung with mosses and overshadowed by dense trees."

That about nails it, and on one level it is a target-rich environment for photography but I always find it a bit cutesy, somehow. 

Rock face and waterfall _GE04573-Edit According to the Forestry Commission the path through the glen was originally constructed by the Younger family at the end of the 19th Century - well, by some of their 40 gardeners, I presume - to lead to a folly on the hill (now in the Benmore Botanic Gardens on the opposite side of the valley).

It is a reminder I suppose that almost everything in the 'wilds' of Scotland is a product of centuries of human intervention. 

You could hardly find a more glaring example than on my trip further north in mid-week. I pursued the lonely single-track road through Glen Garry and on to Loch Quoich - reasoning from the map that it should have a good view with a mountainous backdrop. Which it does, though in not very inspiring weather when I got there.

So instead here's an unvarnished truth photo of what makes it a loch, with the largest rockfill type of dam in Scotland: 

Dam, Loch Quoich _GE04834
I have already posted about my gale-blasted washout tour of Skye. It did yield some fairly dramatic images of the frothing water chute variety - but not the mountains I'd intended, which were invisible in the clouds. That cliff waterfall near Kilt Rock is one of the scariest places I have ever been: totally deserted at 7.30 in the morning, with the wind moaning through the safety fence as I leaned over with the camera - a supermarket 'bag for life' (hah!) plastered flat against the railings by the wind and rain providing shelter for the lens . Shudder. 

And the weather did perk up eventually. I hugely enjoyed Loch Sunart, with its oak wooded shores, and would want to revisit it when I have more time. The light slanting under the clouds as I returned south via the Lynn of Lorne, silhouetting Castle Stalker, was just fantastic. I made a number of photos of which this is an un-processed sample:

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As an aside, though, the local council not only does not facilitate getting a view of this striking 15th Century castle, (made even more famous in the final scene of Monty Python and the Holy Grail), but seems to go out of its way to make it as horrible as possible.  You get to this point down a potholed track in the village of Portnacroish that leads to some recycling bins and a disused railway line, alongside a municipal yard containing road mending signs and piles of junk behind a mesh and barbed wire fence. Extraordinary. Contrast this with, say, Eilean Donan at the Kyle of Lochalsh. Most councils would give anything to have such a viewpoint on their patch and lay on signposts, decent access, a car park, visitor centre, tea room and souvenir shop and ... okay, maybe it's better as it is. 

I have also contributed a couple of snapshots to the Geograph open source web project, from a walk I made above Loch Eck. Here's one. This is a really useful resource which I found myself turning up time and again when trying to pin down locations in which I'd been making photos. The GPS data from my Nikon natively opens from Lightroom in Google Maps, which I presume is just a default browser response - but those maps are greatly lacking in place names outside urban areas.

Geograph "aims to collect geographically representative photographs and information for every square kilometre of Great Britain and Ireland". So my last photos from the week would be quite useless....

I woke early on Friday and peered out to find the weather forecast had been spot on: fog. I headed up Loch Eck to find some brilliant mist-shrouded reflections of the wooded shores in the completely still water. Further on, past fishing grey herons on the shores of Loch Fyne, another favourite location was quite invisible to begin with. I pulled on my wellies and tramped over the boggy ground to the shore of Loch Awe and could just discern the outline of Castle Kilchurn emerging from the whiteness as the sun began to climb.

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I made merry, although a few potential images were marred by the detritus of (sleeping) camping anglers who'd left rods and racks and wading boots strewn along the edge of the loch.

I was conscious of the debate I'd been reading only the previous night on pages printed off from the highly recommended Great British Landscapes site.

In an article (full version requires subscription), photographer Julian Barkway had kicked off a debate about the "wow" factor - you know, over-saturated landcapes and the "awesome capture!" school of Flickr commentary. Julian cited among other examples of images that he admired, at the other extreme, the Mist series by Swiss fine-art photographer Christian Vogt. 

"Not so much low contrast as practically no contrast – just shades of pale grey," he wrote.

"I remember being utterly captivated by the emptiness of these images and how brilliantly executed they were."

His article has prompted a lot of responses. In one, Philip Eaglesfield put himself resolutely "in the disagree camp".

He added: "I expect to be logged on in a couple of years absorbing a piece about how everyone is lazily and slavishly knocking out derivative versions of the close-ups of Nanven’s boulders, Vogt’s blank mist images and the reflected twigs which currently excite you."

Oh dear, and here was I the very next morning after reading this, knocking out twigs in the mist. Slavishly derivative? No, officer, I just got out of the car and there it was, honest.

In fact as Julian has subsequently been pointing out, he was not arguing for or against any particular style of photography, but for an honest engagement with the landscape. Well, I certainly felt that on Friday in the breathless mist.  A great end to the week. 

 

 


Wet, Skye

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Just while I'm downloading, keywording and backing up: a quick flavour of my time on the Isle of Skye this week. Not much of a view but an awful lot of water.

In this and other locations I had to whip the camera level so as to minimise the raindrops spattering the lens - this being shot straight into a southwesterly gale. It rained - I mean really rained, heavily - for more than 15 hours from Wednesday into Thursday, then drizzled and showered on for much of the rest of the day. The wind was so strong I could hardly stand up. 

It was frustrating to be in some of the best scenery the British Isles have to offer and not actually see any of it above about 1,000ft because of the low clouds - and that's a severe limitation in this landscape. But it was also ... characterful. And maybe more typical than those lovely postcard shots. As the woman in the Jac-o-bite Restaurant at Ault A Chruinn, Kyle of Lochalsh, informed a holidaying family: "Oh, you should have been here last week. It only rained once. It began on Monday and ended on Saturday."

Anyway much more to follow about this week.

 


Metre high club

I had so much fun photographing the dragonflies recently that I went back for some more, partly to try to get some of the tantalising angles I had not got before and partly to try a different approach. 

I had a loose wish-list in mind along the lines of:

  • two dragonflies
  • mating
  • in flight
  • photographed through a wide-angle lens

This is how it turned out.

Pond kit phone IMAG0216_blog
 Kit for the day (Android phone picture)

On the previous occasion I had been using the Nikon D3s with the long end of the 70-200mm zoom and x2 teleconverter - giving, if switched to DX format as the camera can, the equivalent reach of a 600mm lens. Taking this to its natural conclusion with the available equipment, this time I took along my Olympus E-3 with 50-200mm zoom and x2 teleconverter - which, with the doubling effect of the Four Thirds sensor, gives an equivalent of 800mm. With a remarkable minimum range of just over a metre (about 4ft) that gives some pulling power. 

Also relevant in this sort of consideration - in case anyone is counting - is the way focal lengths shorten at close range, but that's one for another day. 

So, armed with that caboodle and plenty of warm sunshine, I made some pictures similar to the previous ones: close-ups of Four-spotted Chasers (heh, get me with the nomenclature). Here's one by way of example. 

P5240425_blogLibellula quadrimaculata, Four-spotted Chaser, on reed stem


P5240425-Edit-2_pr Just out of interest, I've also made a 250-pixel square 100% crop to give a flavour of the sort of detail that the Zuiko lens and E-3 are capable of picking up, seemingly unaffected by having a teleconverter in the train. This was from a range of about two metres (6ft 6in).

So far so good, but what about the wide-angle view?

What I felt was lacking from this kind of image, fascinating though it is, was a sense of context - a scene that would also have enough width and depth to incorporate the pond environment. Hence the "wide-angle lens" on my wish list. So I was also using the D3s and 24-70mm zoom to give me some flexibility in framing.

As for getting a pair coupling in flight, my wish was granted. I was delighted with a short sequence taken at about 29mm of zoom that caught exactly what I'd hoped for - giving a wide shot but with enough detail to be meaningful. 

Here's the one I like most in terms of the surroundings:

_GE03932_blogDragonflies mating in flight over pond


And (below) a 100% crop again. Incidentally the fact that this shows a smaller portion of the frame - which is itself cropped to a square - shows the difference between Four Thirds and FX formats.

_GE03932-Edit_pr

Frustratingly I then lost focus, and I'm still working out the best option to use - varying between manual, single-servo and continuous-servo autofocus and single spot (which I use most of the time) or dynamic area. It's interesting to me that I'm in sports photography territory here because that's not something I normally do.  

Still, mustn't be greedy, and overall it felt like a good afternoon's work.

And yet, and yet ...  really what I wanted was to get a stupidly close but wide picture of the insects. You might think this is a forlorn prospect by the way because surely the creatures would be scared away. But I have found that if you basically sit still and blend into the scenery, then once they have realised that the big black thing isn't actually going to eat them they become, if anything, quite curious. There was one point when I thought a dragonfly was going to land on or inside the lens hood. 

Well, I ran out of time trying and have yet to work out the best way to do it. More patience and more luck, probably. And wading boots. 

_GE03971-Edit_blogOne that got away