Travel

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.


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.

Sligachan Gary Eason _DSC4177

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.


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: 

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From elsewhere: Discussion of rules regarding photos on commercial flights 


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. 


Island time

At Borden Lake MN_pr

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?

 


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