Photography

Is it a bird, is it a drone...?

Commando Memorial two views Gary Eason

Two views of the memorial © Gary Eason

Colchester, 29 August 2017

A very well known statue, this: the Commando Memorial just outside Spean Bridge in the Highlands of Scotland. 

Three giant commando soldiers look out over the landscape that was their training ground in WWII.

The statue, created by the Scottish sculptor Scott Sutherland (1910 - 1984) using actual former commandos as the models, was unveiled in 1951.

An earlier photograph of mine created in 2010 is one of my best selling pictures. But the location is one I pass regularly on my forays into the far north and in sunnier weather four years later I made a few more photographs there. 

Striking though the location is, the sheer monumentality of the bronze on its plinth, at 17ft (5.2m) high and on an elevated paving platform, means that unless you stand a long way off then the view of it is very much looking upwards. 

I also wanted to try to get a more eye-to-eye depiction, which resulted in the second of the photographs at the top of this page. 

There are very many photographs of this statue but mine is the only one I have come across that offers this perspective on it. Here's how it was done.

I was on this trip to make landscape photographs so I had not taken along my monopod, but I did have my lovely Giotto GTMTL9271B tripod (which was stolen a couple of weeks later when my car window was smashed).

Onto that went the D700 with 24-70mm zoom set at 24mm, on its side, and the whole package was hoisted at arm's length into the air to get the shot, framed using live view on the rear LCD screen.

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Easier said than done. The camera, lens and tripod combination came to well over 5kg in itself. But this is a very exposed location at the best of times, and what you cannot tell from the sunny aspect is that it was blowing a hooley at this particular time. So hoisting the rig was one thing but holding it steady up there was quite impossible.

Incidentally, if you are thinking a drone would have made easy work of this job, there are two problems with that: I doubt it could have been launched that day because of the wind strength; secondly - I don't have one! 

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So it was a grab: I set the self-timer for 5 seconds, made ready, and hoisted just as it was about to fire. ISO 100, f8, 1/350. I got everything nicely framed and exposed, as the sun dodged in and out behind the clouds, on the fourth attempt, which felt like good going in the circumstances.

Finally however, if you compare the shot and published versions shown here, you can see that I tweaked the lens distortion, warmed up the colour balance - and removed the distracting vehicles from the background. 

For this portrait-shaped view I kept in the remembrance wreaths at the base of the plinth. There is also a wide version where the statue itself dominates the scene. 

I hope you like them. 

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

To get in touch visit the Contact page. Find Gary Eason Photography on Facebook, and on Instagram @gary.eason.


On the Colne crewing in Crow

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"We drifted out ... "

My previous sailing experience, from my own 14ft cruising dinghy through a bunch of AWBs to a former Volvo Ocean 60 racing yacht, has all been on Bermuda rigs.

So I was excited to be invited to take part in the Old Gaffers Association's East Coast Race in a gaffer with not only a big mainsail but also a mizzen sail – which in Crow's case furls around its own mast.

I never did get a straight answer to my enquiry, "What class of boat is Crow?" A hot shot. A one-off. A deck length of 38ft but drawing only 2ft with the centreboard - yes, centreboard - hoisted up. And certainly my host Bob Berk's pride and joy.

He commissioned her based on a Phil Bolger design and completed the topsides himself. The cockpit is deep, wide and as well as comfortable is a spacious and well-organised work area.

I was bemused to see that the  self-tacking jib had its own boom – swivelling a little way in from its front. This meant it could be hauled around to 'pole out' the jib when running. Cunning.

Slow going

Everything aboard seems set up to make it easy to manage short-handed, as it usually is by Bob, his partner Lena - and their salty sea dog Matey the 15-year-old terrier cross.

Originally sporting a hefty tiller, as you might expect from the type, Crow these days has a wheel, which is linked to the rudder through, of all things, a Land Rover steering gear. This is hidden inside a box at the rear of the cockpit – on which a saddle fits to steer from. It is unusual but it certainly works!

In fact the whole caboodle is so well organised I soon realised that instead of the non-stop action I had experienced the last time I went racing, in the pit in a Sigma 33, this was going to be an entirely more gentlemanly business.

Old Gaffers racing Gary Eason -9049I am assured things can get more hectic – but you won't need me to tell you that the 2016 East Coast Race was characterised by airs so light they were a meteorological phenomenon.

We drifted out of the Colne. A pretty gathering of painted ships on a painted sea.

We drifted – sideways, mostly – out to the Colne Bar buoy, the turning point for the shortened course. And we tried to tack just a teeny bit too early ...

Realising we wouldn't get round, we were going to put in another short tack to make up the few metres we needed. At which point what faint breeze there had been dissipated entirely. We began drifting backwards, in the company of a several other similarly stalled boats.There was nothing for it but to drop the anchor and have lunch.

Eventually the air did stir. And in fact we had a cracking sail back up to Brightlingsea, hitting a giddying 5.8 knots at one stage.

As the tide was still against us Bob used Crow's shallow draught to hug the shoreline. I well recall seeing 1.2 on the depth gauge.

Where did we finish? I have no idea, and frankly I'm not sure anyone cared much. On such a day the achievement lay just in getting round the course.

And it was all done with a maximum of good humour. It was very obvious that everyone on the boats around us knew everyone else and the relaxed pace of the race meant there was a good deal of banter to pass the time.

My hosts were delightful company. They apologised for the lack of action, but they needn't have – it was a terrific day out and if they are looking for volunteer crew again I'll be first in the queue.


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.

To get in touch visit the Contact page. Find Gary Eason Photography on Facebook, and on Instagram @gary.eason.


Duvet weather

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Assynt. Photo © Gary Eason

Assynt, 3 October 2015

This comes to you via my mobile phone, dangling by an internet thread. I am in a campervan in the north west of Scotland, where I had a few days of superb weather and made some glorious landscape photos.

Now though what I call the duvet has descended: thick low cloud lying across the landscape. Not only does this flatten what little light permeates the gloom, it also obliterates the tops of the mountains.

Those big beasts are what I came here to stalk. They are hiding and will not be out to play for another few days at least, according to the Met Office. By that time I will have flown back to my desk in the south.

I'm pleased with the photos that I do have to process, and also looking forward to working on some new Flight Artworks commissions.

But for now, once again, I'll duck back under the duvet.


Magpies in the garden

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Picture: © Gary Eason 

A larger than usual number of people have been getting e-mails from me this month containing invoices.

They now know more about copyright, if they claim not to have done so before, and my income has gone up somewhat. 

What am I complaining about: after all, don't I want people to use my pictures? 

Yes but that is how I pay the mortgage and feed my children (and the cat). So this does mean people  need to pay for a licence if they are going to reproduce them. Otherwise it is a breach of copyright law. This not only lays them open to a claim for damages, even if they acted without any malice, but can actually be a criminal offence (something I had not realised myself until I was reading up on this). 

If you just copy something without licensing it I suffer a direct loss of income. That's obvious. But also, a picture without any attribution is at risk of becoming 'orphaned' to use the technical term. People say they "just found it on the internet". Then the next person who reads their website will do the same, and so on and so on.

My picture, which is the result of my hard work, is then being used to attract internet traffic to someone else's site from which they potentially or actually gain revenue and reputation. The corollary is that if it is not connected to me, I am deprived of those. 

It seems to me it is also unfair to genuine customers who do pay for a licence. 

Reverse image search

For those for whom an appeal to 'play nice' is a joke, there is something else to bear in mind. You are increasingly likely to get caught.

The internet search technology that has made it easy for people to find and 'lift' images they like can now be used in reverse to search on an image and find the various instances of it, independent of the text around it and even if (as is likely) the metadata has been stripped out.

Incidentally I can tell you that photographers all over are now realising this and using it, so copyright infringers can expect more knocks on the door. 

Oh come on officer - look, all those other people are speeding too. Why are you picking on me? - Well I guess it's just your unlucky day, sir. 

The 'copy and paste' screenshots and 'view source' facility that have made it easy to steal pictures make it just as easy to take a precise record of abuse. 

Not so hidden

The wonderful Internet Wayback Machine (did you know the web has an archive? Give them a donation) means copyright holders can dip into history and log when something was first used, how prominently and for how long - even if the infringing material is no longer there. 

And goodness me doesn't that intraweb thing just get everywhere these days? The internal US university undergrad newsletter from six months ago which has my picture on page 13? Thanks for posting the PDF on your departmental server for search engines to index - oh and thank you very much  for licensing it! (even if I did have to invoice you first). 

The conference presentation slideshow you loaned to someone else which they put on their firm's website. Lovely picture on page seven - or that's what I thought when I made it. Click here to license it. 

The blog editor who 'just found a nice picture' and decided to use it even though it wasn't actually relevant. Yes, international bank transfers are fine, thank you, here are the IBAC details. 

To sum up, please follow the simple rule: if it is not your picture, do not use it - unless you get the proper permission first. 

Believe me, photographers and digital artists would much rather be making pictures than chasing down copyright infringements: but market forces do have a tendency to take us where the money is to be made. 

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For the avoidance of doubt: this article is  © Gary Eason 2014 even if it doesn't say so


Head in the clouds

 Ah, the magic of flight

One of the most important keywords in my catalogue of working pictures is "cloudscape". Searching on that term produces hundreds of images. 

Most - though not all (as we shall see) - are taken from on board aircraft. Yes fellow passengers, I am that sad soul who craves a window seat, preferably in front of the blurring hot exhaust from the engines, and spends much of the journey clicking the shutter button, pathetically trying to shade the lens against the reflections from the double windows. 

You might think I was mildly deranged; you probably would not think that I was working. But for me each flight is a photo opportunity and really there is no such thing as a bad view - in fact ironically, good weather can be the least rewarding.

I am talking about the backdrops for my aviation artworks. The air is the element in which I operate. The more altitudes and angles I have available, the better. Anywhere that passes for southern England, France or Germany is at a premium.

On the rare occasions that an airliner tilts to the side to any appreciable degree, revealing the landscape tableau below, I am in a frenzy. That said, it can mean a long stint in Photoshop getting rid of polytunnels, bright yellow rape fields, motorways and white vans in farmyards - I think I have complained about this before. 

It's all about the light

When I first began making the pictures I was severely constrained by the available canvases and had to confine myself to subjects that fitted what I had in store. Increasingly though it is the other way round.

If I need (say) largely clear air at 20,000ft over the Franco-German border, chances are I have it. I have a growing range of cloudforms and weather moods and it is not too much of a twist to layer these where necessary - combining and blending to build up the sky.

As always the light is the key. If it is supposed to be midday then long shadows are out; flatly lit white clouds at day's end just look wrong. While some tweaking is possible, it is a very uphill struggle to repaint an entire sky so it has to be more-or-less right to begin with. 

Situations now arise where I come back with a haul of skies and cannot wait to get stuck in. A recent trip to Edinburgh (for the Fringe) was a classic example - see video above. Such riches, there and back! I can become almost paralysed for fear I might waste a splendid slab of upper air on an inferior composition. 

Happily, it often works the other way round and an available cloudscape prompts a picture. And it does not have to have been taken up above. My latest creation uses a sky that I shot when squally rain was about to stop play at a 'bagels and baseball' knockabout in the park with some American friends. 

I have used it in a day-for-night way. I'll leave you with ... Bomber's Moon: 

Lancasters-at-night-FB

From elsewhere: Discussion of rules regarding photos on commercial flights 


Busy, varied week

Polphail: for sale

Everything this week from school prom ball gowns through beach huts, a poetry reading and the dropping of tens of thousands of poppies over central London, to a ghost village.

The ghost village - Polphail, in Argyll and Bute - you might remember from a previous post last November. I stumbled across this extraordinary place by chance while on a Scottish tour, and naturally made some photos of it.

These caught the eye of the SWNS news agency, who'd heard that the place was about to be put on the market. As a result my pictures ran alongside their news story in The Sun, the Mail online and odd blogs etc.

I made the photos because it interested me pictorially but I'm pleased that they kicked off the week by earning their keep too.

Boats

Being in Essex was a pleasant interlude as always. I spent some time mooching around on Mersea Island; buying scallops, admiring Dawn's new paint job and making compositions around beach huts.

And Wivenhoe Poetry Society hosted a very enjoyable double reading by Jane Routh and Mike Barlow. Enjoyed chatting with them about boats, and navigation, and Shetland.

Moving target

The overflight of Green Park involved the only Lancaster bomber still flying in this side of the Atlantic, PA-464 of the (misnamed) Battle of Britain Memorial Flight.

_GE01554_blogIts role on Thursday was to mark the unveiling of the Bomber Command Memorial. This was a rather convoluted way to get many sackloads of symbolic red paper onto the sunlit green grass of the park, in which the memorial stands.

Photographically a tricky subject. A longish lens would be the obvious choice - except that the red ribbon of falling poppies predictably made quite a trail across the sky. So in fact I used the 24-70mm and ranged its zoom lengths to encompass the airborne scene, shooting on manual to manage the brightness.

In fact the hardest decision was where to shoot from. I knew the route would be in from the east, over the Houses of Parliament. I had no press pass for the ceremony itself - though in any case that did not seem the obvious choice, being directly underneath.

I checked with the excellent The Photographer's Ephemeris just to be sure and, at 1230 on June 28th, knew I did not want to be shooting southwards into the sun - although I did consider that, in fact, as so often, this might make the best shot - but in the end erred on the side of caution in my planning.

Once there, it was all too easy to confirm just how many trees there are in and around, um, Green Park. So I lined up alongside Buckingham Palace with a clear line of sight up over the foliage  canopy. I was happy enough with the shots I made, although with hindsight I reckon the best came from those who'd positioned themselves to the west, further down the track, catching the aircraft head on. Those who weren't lucky enough to be in a helicopter, that is!

Anyway all very moving. But not half as moving as seeing your daughter in a fabulous ball gown heading out to her final school prom.

 


Open

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Setting up

I am taking part in my first Open Studios, in Buckinghamshire. This is an annual event in many areas, in our case with two weeks in June during which artists of all kinds throw open their studios (or similar) to the public to come in and browse and, maybe, buy.

In my case, the 'studio' is an exhibition space created in the long conservatory at my friends Isobel and Andrew's lovely house: they volunteered the room and have been unflaggingly generous in helping set things up.

Mounting an exhibition is a significant undertaking in terms of the cost and time of printing and framing a number of pictures. In practice I've borrowed some of my prints from their owners' collections for the occasion. 

It is also an emotional investment, setting out your wares in such a bald fashion and being around to witness people possibly peer, frown, wince and leave quickly - always assuming anybody comes in the first place.  

Happily my first visitors have been interested, intrigued, chatty and apparently pleased with what they've seen. No-one has gone off with a big frame under their arm but I didn't particularly expect that: I think of it as chiefly a marketing exercise, and what people do go away with is leaflets explaining my techniques and referencing my website. 

St Paul's Thames panorama1-Edit_blog

Coincidentally, just as I was getting going, I sold online a 60in x 10in print of a River Thames panorama (above). I know it's a great image because I've seen its detail - but a significant shortcoming of websites is that they struggle to convey this with images that are such an awkward shape for screen display. 

So that's rather a leap of faith by somebody. I hope they are pleased with what they get. 


Celebrated author 'likes' my photo

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Castle Stalker, dusk - the picture chosen for Susan Cooper's fan page

The famous children's author Susan Cooper is currently using one of my photographs for her official Facebook fan page.

The iconic Castle Stalker, on the west coast of Scotland, features in two of her books.

My picture, selected from a huge range available on the internet, portrays the castle in bright late afternoon light but with a backdrop of very dark clouds.

It is a tone-mapped image composed from multiple originals. This is a technique that is used to handle the very wide range of light inherent such a scene.

Ms Cooper's Boggart books, in which the castle appears, are lighthearted. But she is best known for darker and more atmospheric fantasies based on English and Welsh legend and it was felt that the mood of the photo was "just perfect for her".

I think of her as an American because that is where she has lived for many years. But I gather she was born in Buckinghamshire, where I'm based, and apparently says High Wycombe is where she rode her bike as a child, so I guess she felt a sort of affinity.

The photographs from which the image is compiled were made during a very wet trip to Scotland last year. I made several from the same location, or very near it.

I'm absolutely thrilled they bought it.


Best new musical of 2012

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It's hugely exciting to be witnessing the birth of a very impressive new musical: VFTheatre's 1,000 Suns, An American Afterlife - many of the workshops and early rehearsals for which have been in my house. 

I also did the promotional photography for them, although they have been responsible for the final  publicity materials like the banner above. 

They are going to be performing the show at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe this summer. They have lined up an excellent centrally-located venue  on Northbridge from the 6th - 11th of August.

There's more info on the VF Theatre website, and on the Crowdfunder page they have set up to part finance the project - where there are some decent rewards if you are able to dip into your pocket. You can also follow developments on Twitter @1000SunsUK

 

 


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.


Feedback

A brief update, partly arising from my last post. The first buyer of a print of Tree trunks I, which I was writing about in that, is an academic in the USA. So it turns out that the canvas she bought is hanging in the Art Institute of Chicago.

OK it's actually hanging in her office in the School of the Art Institute of Chicago - but that's still a good place to be. She e-mailed me a photo of it there, and wrote: "... your work is officially on exhibit at the Art Institute of Chicago!  And I've gotten lots of compliments."

I'm really pleased that she's pleased. This was sold through my Fine Art America portfolio, by the way.

Separately, I was also sent a mobile phone picture message of another photo of mine hanging on someone's living room wall. She'd been given it as a birthday present and thought it was "lovely". It was an 18in x 12in canvas of this Scottish landscape sold through Photo4me.

I rather like this! Sometimes I get to deal with customers personally. This happened recently for example with a chap in Minnesota, who'd come across a sunset photo on my own website which (by chance) featured a spit of land on which he had owned a lakeside cabin for 10 years.

He had bought a royalty free download - but in a size that was far too small to print it, which is what he was trying to do. Incidentally I think that although the numbers are clear on the digital download page, I may need to spell out what they mean for folk who are not familiar with the notion of uncompressed file sizes or the implications of photo resolutions.

Anonymous

Anyway it all ended well. I refunded his money and worked with him on what he was looking for, which led to his purchasing a canvas through my FAA site.

Heron past Pinnacle BW _GE05363-Edit_pr_blogWhile it can involve more work, liaising with a customer about precisely what they want is rewarding.

But more often I have no idea even who has bought a picture online. I had a tantalising example of this recently when I made some black and white photos of landmarks in and around the City of London.

This is an ongoing project which includes some colour work - and a number of panoramas; it's hard to display those wider images adequately online, but that's maybe a subject to come back to another day.

I took the shots on a Wednesday, processed them over the next two days and uploaded them to my various outlets on the Friday. By Sunday, only one person had looked at this image of the Heron Tower (right) on my FAA portfolio. And whoever it was bought a 28in x 48in canvas of it!

That's what I call a result - but all I know is that they live in Essex, England. It would be great to know what they liked about it and where it is hanging, all nine square feet of it.

So keep those feedback messages coming please: www.garyeasonphotography.com/contact.

Urgh: I have a streaming cold ....

 


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

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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?


Spooky

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There is something fascinating about the urban periphery. I don't mean shanty towns; in fact I mean the opposite. Instead of people crammed into makeshift habitats, I mean habitats that were fully intended to be peopled, but are not.

I can remember, when I was a boy, exploring in some local woods with our pet dog and coming upon, first, lots of rhodedendron bushes among the woodland, a sign of cultivation, then the back of a big old mansion, all derelict and smashed. Spooky to wander around and peer into. (Years later it was done up and became the Rushpool Hall Hotel, and very splendid it is).

On the Costa Blance in Spain some years ago, I remember driving and walking around an abandoned holiday resort: roads all laid out with drains and lamp posts, but overgrowing with grass. Deserted buildings; an empty swimming pool.

Today I happened to turn down a side road on the Cowal Peninsula in Argyll and Bute, just to see where it went, and stumbled across Polphail. Cordoned off, after a fashion, with temporary site fencing, it was easily visible from a concrete access road along which a public footpath was signposted.

What a weird place. It looked to be fairly modern - 1970s, maybe; concrete-built two-storey accommodation blocks, with all the windows smashed and a few wall-sized graffiti cartoons of people.  Spooky as hell - especially when I heard, from within one of the darkened rooms, a deep, guttural, hacking cough.

Signs say bats live there. Apt.

My camera's GPS metadata places it at this lat/long: 55.87047667, -5.30587667.  Here's the place on Google's Streetview, although the caravans at the entrance have now been moved some way further back. There are warning signs on the fencing that it is an offence to disturb the bats.

I thought it might have been a holiday home project that had failed. But, searching later, I found that it had been built in the North Sea oil boom as housing for workers who were going to construct concrete rigs in a huge dock excavated nearby. But the rigs never got made so it was never occupied. Here's a BBC News report.

The demolition promised a few years ago clearly has not happened; however, a smart new marina  promised in the old dry dock is now up and running, and very swish it looks.

Here's a Scotsman report on the graffiti project, and of course I have some photos on my site. There is a much fuller set of photos on Flickr.

Interesting, turning down side roads.

 


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.


First sight

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We peeked inside the firstsite art museum in Colchester - one of those places with a silly name that you're supposed not to capitalise. Or maybe they just can't write English properly.

Anyway, fabulous space. Designed by Rafael Viñoly Architects, probably its most striking external feature is a golden cladding - actually an alloy of copper and aluminium - which catches the light in a lustrous fashion. Inside, the space is essentially a long banana shape - in plan, not unlike a scimitar. The curving wedge of the roof is highlighted - literally - by long strip lights at intervals, as you can see. 

This fine, uplifting effect helps to mitigate the ugly outlook at the back of the building - which is primarily over a bus station. The tussle between these two public spaces has been something of a controversy locally.

I offer this photo as a sample, taken before I was told, "You can't take photos in here". Oh dear oh dear. You can however find numerous fine pictures of the place taken by Richard Bryant. All the others I took - whoops what a giveaway - will have to remain secret.


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.


Depth

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Autumn brings with it very ambitious plans by Eason Jnr for the next season of productions from  VFTheatre, beginning with Frank McGuinness's tough play about Lebanon hostages, Someone Who'll Watch Over Me.

I'm very pleased to get the call to provide photos. The shots above used a single bare tungsten light, aiming for a stark look. Photos by me; art direction and poster creation by Joe Oliver Eason.

I like working with actors. They mostly just 'get it' when you ask for a look. OK so do models, but with actors there's an emotional input that goes beyond surface appearance. As should good photos.


Mind boggling

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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. 


Island time

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By the time this is published I should be on my way to America for a couple of weeks. 

To Minnesota first, to stay in a cabin on an island in a small lake (above).  That photo was made a couple of years ago on our first visit. It's not bad quality, as long as you don't look too closely, considering it was on a little Sony A200. (If you do look closely there's some horrid chromatic fringing along the vertical edges!) 

Then down to see Lawrence, Kansas, where my partner grew up. And then over to Arizona to stay on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, one of those wonders of the world that I've not been to before.

I won't have a huge amount of time there and let's remember this is purely a holiday, not a series of location shoots. I'd like to hope I might get a chance to make some decent photos while I'm there, but in practice I have already begun thinking about making another trip purely for photographic purposes. Even the most understanding and encouraging companions get a bit fed up when every time they turn round you are way back down the track fiddling with some camera setting or other. Conversely, being on your own gives you all the time you want - subject to the usual constraints of weather and light, which are plenty enough to have to think about. 

Well, that and what kit to pack. Why do all airlines have different size and weight restrictions for carry-on and checked baggage?

 


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

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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

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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. 


Gang wars

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The fateful moment when Romeo (right) intervenes in the fight between Tybalt and Mercutio

Hugely enjoyed the opening night of VFDrama's production of Romeo and Juliet at the Beacon Centre in Beaconsfield, Bucks - whose short run ends on Saturday.

An unquestionable highlight is the realism of the fight scenes. I say realism: I don't suppose many of us have any direct experience of sword fighting in the streets, but the energy expended by these young actors is phenomenal.

I know, having been there from day one, how much effort went into choreographing this action - essential, given how potentially dangerous it is. The swords they are using in the main fight sequences, by the way, are from the National Theatre's armoury. 

Anyway great fun to photograph too!  Nikon D3s with 70-200mm zoom at 1/125th, f4, ISO 6400, tweaked in Lightroom.


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


His 'n' hers, back at the farm

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Pigott's Farm, that is, with the VFDrama gang as they go into final rehearsals for their production of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, which opens on Thursday.

The main request was for 'family photos' - the Montagues (above), the Capulets (below) and the nobles, and separately our star-cross'd lovers.

I don't normally do wedding shots but that was what it most resembled, except that the producers wanted serious, even fierce faces rather than jolly ones. Stop smiling at the back!

Teeny bit of a challenge fitting them all onto my backdrop but it worked out ok. Lit by three strobes with only minimal softening. It's the harsh glare of publicity ... 

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Day job

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Spent a very pleasant morning photographing in a primary school on commission for an organisation that wants to remake all its promotional materials, printed and online.

They had asked my advice about imagery and I recommended they commission a photographer to shoot just what they wanted in a consistent style.  I think it's important to keep reminding people of the benefits of this in a world so swamped with stock images they sometimes don't even think of it - or do not realise how competitive the unit costs can be. 

The trouble with stock images is that they tend to look like ... stock images. In particular, in my experience, pictures of schools and schoolchildren have a tendency to look mid-Atlantic at best to British eyes. 

I'm pleased to say they entirely took the point and asked me to shoot in a primary school and a secondary school.  

The result was that they got dozens of images of real youngsters in real classrooms of just the sort they wanted, exclusive to themselves. Not only that but by arrangement with the client I am also able to offer a special deal for the schools involved. That's a win win win. 

Feedback? - "Thanks for this – the pictures really are marvellous."

Please drop me an e-mail if you'd like to know more. 


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. 


Something found

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Sometimes you find things in photos that you did not realise were there. On review, they grow on you and might even become the focus of the picture, as here. 

See the blue rope? No, I didn't at the time either. But there it is, curving like the branch, frayed and broken. Did it snap? Did someone fall? Did they get wet? Were they hurt? Who knows. 

I'm not even sure how to crop this, lest it be too obvious. Wide? Or square like this? 


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: 

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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.

 


Spring: the book

I am delighted to announce my first public photo book. It is an "as it happened" record of the initial production by the young VFDrama theatre company, the musical Spring Awakening. If you've been following this blog you'll already be familiar with that.

Spring book shot 1

We've had a proof copy which delighted all those who've seen it, and have signed off a final version with minor changes.

In more than 100 colour pages the book, called simply Spring Awakening: Photo Album, charts the course of the production from initial planning through various rehearsals to the final triumphant scene.  

It is available to order now from my website at a special introductory price - and with an unrepeatable special offer of one of the original promotional posters for the show, free, for the first few dozen orders. 

Spring book shot 5

Putting the book together was, let's say, an interesting process using the sometimes frustrating Booksmart software from Blurb. Having done it once I have a far better sense of how to do it again, and ultimately it was highly enjoyable. So there will be others. 


Dodging squalls

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Mike on bike: check out those clouds

I spent a very pleasant few hours on Thursday in the company of my friend Mike Baker, who'd commissioned me to make some cycling photos.

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We met at his delightful home close to the river in Kingston, south-west London - having taken the last-minute decision to go ahead in spite of an iffy weather forecast ("heavy rain showers").

Over coffee, I delivered a print of a frosted waterfront scene in Essex that he'd admired.

I explained that he was getting three for the price of one, in effect, because the photo had been made using a bracketing technique - merging three from five exposures taken at different settings to cover the wide light range in the scene.

It had been raining when I'd left home but was much brighter in Kingston - when I arrived, that is. By the time he'd got changed and met me down on the riverside, it had begun raining there too.

We stood for a while eyeing the gathering clouds then decided the better option was to invert our plans and have an early lunch, in hope the weather would clear somewhat. No sooner had we agreed that than a squall hit and the raindrops were bouncing three feet off the road. 

Our haven was the Boaters Inn nearby, with an excellent range of beers and fine food. And sure enough, that particular belt of precipitation did pass over. 

We set to, Mike making pass after pass in front of the Sea Scouts' boathouse while I fiddled with tripod, flash (strobe) - on a stand, to offset it from the camera - and medium and wide zoom lenses on the Nikon D3s.

Adding to the challenge was the wildly fluctuating light: changing every few seconds as the clouds hustled past in a blustery wind.  This meant it might drop by several stops as Mike began a run past me, going from bright high contrast to dull and flat. 

I did some straightforward panning runs then switched to wide-angle close-ups. These involve teasing a moment out of a movement, requiring sharp timing in the framing - ideally anyway. In that lies the excitement of the process. 

Mike looked incredibly well, I have to say. You can follow his progress against cancer on his special blog, here


Happenstance?

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On a whim, I revisited this shot from the car boot sale series I made last weekend. I like this crop; it doesn't quite work but there are internal symmetries. 

The gull that seems to be in the car boot is actually targeting litter this side of it, by the way. Now that would have been a photo .... But hey, I won't tell anyone if you don't!

Anyway the photo was a product of seeing a scene and working it to try to get a happy accident, and almost but maybe not quite succeeding. And it has had a little work done on it. That is, apart from cropping overall, I shifted the middle gull a tad to the right and removed an inconvenient bit of shrubbery on the horizon line. It's better for it. 

Unlike the one below, which is just as it came out of the camera. I was shooting at ankle level, having asked permission of the dogs' owners ( "Sure," said the man, "though I doubt they'll stay still for you." They did. )

At the time - and even afterwards when I first downloaded and ran through this set of images - I didn't notice the husky in the background - its absolutely riveted alertness being about as far removed as you could get in the dog world from the total sang froid of the bulldogs.  

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So there you go: a fruit of happenstance, and a fruit that isn't. Discuss.


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.

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 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.

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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

 


Bin day dog

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As I was setting out this morning, I noticed the sun highlighting this dog on guard over the street full of refuse sacks. I'll just bet he gives the collectors hell when they turn up, although they probably don't hear him. 

This is a test of posting to the blog by e-mail. [EDIT] It arrived and posted immediately, although putting the picture beneath the text, which would not have been my preference. I wonder if there's a way to keyword and categorise remotely? Something to investigate. 


Windy

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Sunday found me in convoy behind the estimable Dr Kilian Hochstein Mintzel in his 1940s Jeep, to a car boot sale of all things.

It was very windy, and gusty with it, which was making life difficult for those who were trying to ply their wares.

The amount of litter flying around was sad but inevitable - not that the gulls were complaining.  It did make for an irresistible image as Kilian’s son Julian scampered over to arrest some airborne boxes. 

Visiting a car boot sale makes you realise just how many things there are that you never realised you never needed. 

The Jeep of course does not have a boot, but then we weren’t selling - although I imagine the vehicle itself would sell very readily, rusty or not, given the amount of interest it attracts wherever it goes. 

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And they're off

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I’m delighted to have been asked to be the production photographer again for VFDrama, this time for their forthcoming version of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.

I got some initial shots on file from the first rehearsals this weekend.

The unlikely venue was Marlow Rowing Club, in a beautiful summery setting alongside the River Thames, hence the exercise equipment - though the way Joe and Greg were going at the sword-fighting practice (or bare metal pole fighting in this case) they were working up an appropriate sweat. This is clearly going to be a high-energy show.

 


Sailing trips revisited

I was sort of volunteered (!) to make up a photo display board to promote the Ariel Yacht Club, through which I do a lot of my sailing, as part of an open day for the overall BBC Club (social activities for staff and affiliates). Happy to oblige, I spent a very pleasant day sifting through photos from sailing trips in the Solent, the West Country, Scilly Isles, Brittany and the Inner Hebrides from the past few years, reliving memories of the people, places and weather. I pulled out 20 shots that I felt were representative of what the club is about. These I printed on A4 photo paper with short captions - figuring it was better to try to make a fair-sized impact for a display of this sort than have a hundred cluttered little shots. As you can see the overall result is generally blue. This is partly because the club’s constitution states that sailing must only take place in sunshine. Appropriately we were blessed with fine weather this lunchtime for the event, which took place on the greensward outside the White City building in west London. Our commodore, John Harmer (left in picture), had pitched us alongside the dinghy section, who had brought along two dinghies to promote themselves and by extension, he reasoned, other people who sail. As it would have been hard for us to have put a couple of yachts on there, the photos were at least better than thin air in helping to make a good impression and in fact seemed to go down rather well. So that was worthwhile. Thanks by the way to Christella Robertson and to Nick Watson who shot two of the pictures.

Sammy

Going, going …. 

So, back to that trip I made to Wiltshire last week, through those vivid yellow fields of oilseed rape. 

I was there to shoot portraits of five-month-old Sam, whose parents had baulked at the quality-to-cost ratio of a certain high street chain operation. 

We had two sessions interrupted by a nap (for Sam) and lunch outdoors in the sunshine for the grown-ups. He was very obliging even though he did have a tendency sloooowly

          to topple

        over

      sideways

  when unpropped.

Everyone was pleased with the outcome. So that was a good day out. 


Feeling bookish

Completed pushing shots of the Spring Awakening performances through Lightroom and handed off to the producers via Flickr, from which a selection has gone onto Facebook.

I’ve floated the idea of making up a photo book about the show, which I think would be a popular move. So watch this space on that one. But for now there’s too much other work to be done. 


May Day breeze

Shot through my study window - which, I know, could do with a clean and is like sticking a jam jar over the end of the 70-200 - but it’s early, I’m in my dressing gown! Lovely light and a frisky breeze catching the neighbours’ silver birch tree.

In the afternoon, the bamboo was also in motion:

OK, I cracked and finally got around to mowing the lawn too. Found the cat’s missing collar in the long grass. Birds safe. 

Otherwise it was a day spent mostly processing hundreds of performance photos from Spring Awakening. I love Lightroom. These are going onto Flickr for the kids, but not publicly at present. Most of them anyway:

Joe Eason as Moritz Stiefel, which is a great theatrical part


English landscape III

For this week’s third landscape shot I revisited a corner of Common Wood to continue a series begun last November with a merged image of leaves and trees.

The original sits splendidly as a large canvas print on a wall in my home and, in a modified crop, in The Stani Gallery. I love the depth of it. When I was last there, with the bare winter branches, I found it difficult to pinpoint the location to begin with. Now, with new spring growth, the distinctive spray of leaves in the right foreground made it easier to find. 

While I was in the area I also made some pictures of other bluebell glades - very different from those in Essex the other day: less dense, more mysterious perhaps, more subtle in the early grey light. 


English landscape II

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Driving through Wiltshire - for reasons I’ll return to in a later post - I found myself wondering when these swathes of brilliant lemon yellow became a quintessential part of the English rural scene?

When I was young such sights did not exist. Then there was a phase during which the planting of oilseed rape seemed controversial if only because of its howling visual impact. And now? It’s just another everyday sign of spring. 


Out and about

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Delightful day spent wandering about in West Mersea, with scallops and a glass of chilled white wine for lunch in the Oyster Bar.

Mersea Island, for those who don’t know it (my friend Alistair, who was asking) is indeed an island just south of Colchester, albeit with a very permanent causeway to it. It’s a great place for coastal walks with varying degrees of habitation and interesting photographic opportunities - sea-going boats, houseboats, seabirds, beaches, beach huts, erosion and reclamation and so on. And excellent fresh seafood. 

It was also my first opportunity to test my newly-acquired Nikon GP-1 GPS unit. Which tells us, with a single click out of the metadata in Lightroom, that this photo was taken here. Yeah, close enough.


English landscape I

We looked up “bluebell woods”, as you do at the end of April, and went for a walk in Hillhouse Wood near the charming little old village of West Bergholt, just north west of Colchester.


Wow. It is always an amazing sight isn’t it, so many beautiful flowers carpeting the ground almost wherever you look, punctuated with pink campion. 

Earlier, our friend Ruth had fashioned a bracelet made from some bluebells growing in Melanie’s garden, musing that it might be possible to craft something similar in ceramic. Good luck!


I was interested to see that the flowers’ stamens are a delicate shade of green. 


Totally f-f-fantastic

A scene from the final moments in the dress rehearsal for VFDrama’s production of Spring Awakening: A new musical, which opened on Thursday.

Shooting a live stage show is always going to be tough given the nature of shifting stage lighting. Much of this was on 6400 (as in this case) or 12800 ISO, the D3s coming into its own along with that fabulous 70-200mm f2.8 zoom. I scrabbled about doing my bit.

This one was really on the edge because of the light falloff where they were standing: 200mm zoom at ISO 12800, f2.8 and 1/60th. I’ve used a little noise suppression. 

This is challenging work but I love doing it and if any other drama groups are in need of a photographer I’d be very happy to hear from you.

I’ve been closely involved with this project from the start because it was conceived by my actor/producer son, Joe (below). 

He and his very talented friends (and younger sister, Alice) have expended blood, sweat and tears on it over the past few months. 

I’m not going to wax on about young people today, save to say that if you give them a chance they can do fantastic things. This lot are almost all teenagers and they have come up with one of the most energetic, intelligent, emotional  amateur shows I’ve ever seen anywhere. I’m immensely proud of them. Also delighted to pick up any reflected glory! - but it’s been all their work, helped in the last few weeks by expert guidance from director Matt Dye.