landscape

The Norfolk Coast (the unusual case of Britons wanting less sunshine...)

Ah, bank holidays.  Bank holidays are those wonderful British creations that are basically a permission slip from the government that excuse us from work (we won't mention the countless people that actually do have to go to work...sorry...).  The first bank holiday of May prompted a trip 90 minutes up the road to the Norfolk coast in the hope of creating some lovely landscape images.  We were at a slight disadvantage in that we would be on the coast at the worst time light-wise for photography but, hey, it made it more of a challenge.

First stop - Caister-on-sea

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Light was very harsh on the beach (unsurprising, but still annoying), so I first started looking for details instead of wider vistas.  The tide was rushing out (or in, we couldn't tell as every time we thought we had decided our feet were drowned) and using a Lee Little Stopper I played around with some extended shutters.  There were some nice colours, with the frothy white sea and the (very clean) sand dotted by dark pebbles.

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The only real option when shooting the horizon was a black and white conversion.  The colour raw looked OK, but pretty contrasty and full of shadows, washed out colours and  caused weird artifacts when processing to try and correct.  I'm not a massive fan of the image above, but I thought it was useful to show, not least for the fact that it reminds me to try and make something, even if the light is not ideal.  I do like the strong contrast and the movement of the sea, which was enough for me to include it here.  I used a Lee Little stopper and tripod to introduce motion (the Big Stopper was too much as you lost the pebbles on the left completely.  For some people that would have been preferred, but that's what makes photography great - do what you like!).

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There were a surprising number of sea fisherpeople (there was a woman too - surely you cannot call her a fisherman?) on the beach.  I think this person was actually in the process of fishing, but it was almost impossible to spot the line stretching into the water.  He had some friends to the right who were setting up, but I really liked how alone he looked, but also how happy he was to just sit and wait for a bite.  This conversion was actually done with the Nik Silver Efex software (which is now free - see Nik Collection) and it added some grain, a slight vignette (which I actually toned down) and a nice colour cast.

Second stop - NT Horsey Wind pump

The wind pump at Horsey is currently being renovated and so there's the little brick stump building, and not much else.  At least that's what I thought.

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You can walk either side of the waterway, and down the right side there is a trail that leads round a field full of wheat.  I really like this image (possibly my favourite from the day) as it appears as if the little boating hut has been flooded by the wheat.  The colours were also great due to the sun being softened slightly by some wispy clouds.  Again, the trusty Lee Little stopper was great for introducing the motion, which I really wanted here to add to the flooding concept.

There was also a very small boarded walkway through the field to that hut, but it was behind an old barbed wire fence along with the sign.  It seemed a shame that people cannot go and explore, but I can see why - the water snakes its way round and through the land here and you don't want to take a summer dip... I couldn't decide which image I liked more.  Maybe it is the landscape version (right) as it looks a little brighter, but maybe the vertical composition of the left one suits the foreboding sign and, you know, leading lines and all.

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Time was getting on, so just before we headed for home, we explored the other side of the walkway.  This side ends in a lovely seating area complete with benches and a little grassy jetty-like square.  I set up my tripod there (to avoid including lurking dog owners in the image) and again got to work with, you guessed it, my favourite accessory the Lee Little stopper.  I try not to overuse it, but not only do I enjoy shooting the motion it creates and I love the colours it produces.

So, that was our brief day on the coast.  It was a struggle at times to find images, but it was still great practice to get out and use my gear.  And it was fun, which is the point, isn't it?

Wandering in Wicken Fen

Finding time to go out shooting is usually my problem.  With limited free time, sometimes that motivation to go out with the camera is missing.  But every time you do, you remember why, and this trip to Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire was one of those times to remind you not only how enjoyable making images can be, but also that we are so lucky in Britain to be surrounded by such varied landscapes. Wicken Fen is a National Trust property between Ely and Cambridge.  There's a good variety of things to shoot, with an old wind pump, wheat fields, waterways and Konik ponies.

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The boardwalk around the marshy fens takes you around the old windpump.  A light breeze added a nice bit of motion to the wheat in the foreground of the shots I was taking of the pump.  Not being a full-time pro, it is a lot more difficult to get the (cliche?) sunset/sunrise shots, but luckily the April weather was being kind, providing some lovely clouds and rain storms on the horizon.  It was actually a blessing in disguise, as recently I've been trying to move away from the traditional thinking of landscape photography - the more you look on sites like 500px, the more the landscape shots begin to look the same!

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Looking to the skies also gave me some different looks.  The D750's much derided flippy screen is so useful when trying to get alternative perspectives...and without looking like a prat bending over in less than flattering positions!  Shooting at f/8 with the highly recommended Nikkor 16-35mm f/4, the images I was getting were brilliantly sharp with lovely contrast.

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The absolute highlight of our visit to Wicken Fen was seeing the wild herd of Konik ponies.  These were absolutely beautiful animals who seemed completely at ease in their environment.  In the case of the stallions in the herd, perhaps too comfortable...The horses were curious to the point of following you along the fence, which made them great subjects for some portraits.  Of course, coming here on a landscape shoot meant I did not have anything longer than 35mm, but they got so close that ended up being the perfect focal length.

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Wide angle lenses can actually be great for unusual portraits of animals.  The image above is not right - the focus is on the middle of the snout and not the eye, and there's a hand on the right.  But, actually, there's still something charming about that horse.  If only the focus point had been in the right place...

3 rolls

Over Christmas I spent quite a lot of time with my film camera - trying to learn more about exposure, composition, contrast, and just how to work more smartly.  Because of course, every image costs in the film world.  This post contains some images from the first three rolls of film I have ever shot - I can't say how satisfying (and exciting) it was to see these images on the roll of plastic as I pulled out the developed film from the tank for the first time...

Roll 1 - Ilford HP5+

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I decided for my first roll to be a film classic; Ilford HP5+.  So many people had recommended this film as either their go-to, or a great beginner's film to experiment with.  It has a really nice grain that I personally think compliments black and white portraits.  It isn't too oppressive, but is noticeable, and it adds a nice mood to the images.  This film also had a reasonably pleasing contrast - the images above were not really corrected for exposure or contrast in Lightroom (dust and marks were removed).  If there was one thing hindering me when shooting that roll, it was getting used to the split prism-type lens focusing that the old Nikon lenses had.  Some images I thought would be nice and sharp just weren't (although, this might be due to the fact I was shooting pretty wide open because of the low level of available light!), but this hopefully will begin to sort itself as I get used to shooting this medium with this gear.

Roll 2 - Ilford Delta 3200

This was the roll I was really looking forward to shooting.  Some people hate it (too grainy), but I love the roughness of it, coupled with the quite strong contrast (...at least, heavier than the HP5).

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Perhaps counter-intuitively (or at least going against the grain of what people normally do with this film), I decided to shoot some candid portraits of my new nephew with my mother.  I actually found that the lovely contrasty tones made the highlights pop, giving the images some nice soft, dreamy character.  This worked well coupled with the bokeh being produced by the Nikon 105mm - I was pretty pleased with the results.

Also, I was onto my second roll and I hadn't messed up the developing yet...I'm not sure exactly how contrast and general film characteristics can be affected by the development temperatures and times used; perhaps something for me to look into in the future...

Roll 3 - Ilford Delta 400

My last roll over the christmas period I shot was a roll of Delta 400.  Delta is generally considered the Rolls Royce of pro films, so I was interested to see how this (more expensive) film compared to the cheaper, but identical ISO, HP5+.  I did shoot some more portraits with this roll, but I also took it with me when I was shooting in Snowdonia over New Years (see my previous blog post) as I was keen to see its potential and performance shooting landscapes.

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The grain is pretty similar between both films (maybe, if I squint, you could argue the Delta's is a bit finer...) but the tones across the board are in my opinion a bit more pleasing with the Delta.  This film also seemed a little sharper, and responded better to light sharpening in Lightroom.  As a film for landscape photography it worked pretty well - especially in dull conditions, it was useful to have that raised sensitivity.

I really enjoyed the whole process over the holidays.  Slowing down and properly considering a shot, then having to wait to see if I got it right, then the development steps themselves.  It is definitely something I will be continuing with, and I have already bought in some more rolls ready for my next outing.  I've even splashed out and picked up some colour negative stuff (some Portra 160), which should be pretty fun...

Snowdonia, New Years Eve

Usually on a christmas break (with jobs as hectic as ours) you would normally assume lie-ins and slow days, and you would be correct, except for when we are in scenery as striking as Snowdonia, North Wales. A wake up call at 6am on New Years Eve.  We were greeted by partially cloudy skies and some light rain, which immediately screamed great potential for a decent sunrise, and a restoration of my faith in the BBC weather service.  Tryfan was our destination, meaning a 90 minute drive was ahead of us.  Luckily no one else was as stupid was out and about, so we made good time.

Leading up to Tryfan, we passed through a spectacular valley, but unfortunately there was nowhere to stop and park, but this is a definite future shooting site (on the A5 just west of Capel Curig).  Tryfan itself has a small car park which was empty, and it also contains the start of the (very well looked after) trail up the mountain.

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100 yards up the trail you will come across a bridge.  There had been a lot of rain so the stream passing over the rocky hillside and running under the bridge was in roaring good form.  The image above was actually taken on the way back down - the sun had risen and promptly hid behind heavy, threatening cloud.  This left little option for me but to convert into black and white.  However, with the long exposure and the milky white waterfall, there was a nice amount of contrast.

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The path up the mountain is maintained by the National Trust and so was in really good condition.  It also cut a beautiful path up the hillside, creating some lovely leading lines of the grey rock contrasting against the greens and browns of the vegetation.  Up to this point the UK had not seen any cold weather.  At all.  But this high in Snowdonia there was a light dusting on the peaks, helping them stand out against the rapidly evolving sky.

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At this point the sun was about to come above the horizon, and the sky was trying to work out if it wanted to show any colour.  The building clouds caught a little light, but the sunrise was not developing as nicely as early morning excited me thought it would.  However, with the promise of some great views regardless, we pressed on through the bitter winds.

Tryfan stream-1458

After about a 20-30 minute hike (including photography stops), we reached Llyn Idwal, the first of the lakes on the route to the mountains.  Again, a full stream was gushing out at high speed, adding a dynamic aspect to the image I managed to capture above.  All the images I shot this morning were achieved with the Nikon D750 and the 16-35mm f/4.  I continue to be mightily impressed with the amount of data the sensor can capture - this image needed a little help in Lightroom to bring out the shadow detail and the colours, but I think this really reflects our experiences of the morning.

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There's a different mountain ridge across the lake, again being cut in two by a stream running down from the lightly dusted snowy cap.  Only after I got this image back into the computer did I spot the moon cheekily placed above the left peak!

I also took my Nikon FM2n on this hike, and shot a couple of images on some Delta 400 - I will be developing this roll in the next few days and will include the images in an upcoming post about my first few rolls of film shooting...

The lake was as far as we were willing to go on this occasion - the weather was closing in and we chickened out decided to make our way back down safely.  However, a fantastic vantage point for Snowdon itself was only a 10 minute drive away, so we made our way there before the bad weather settled in for the rest of the day.

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This was one of the last images we managed to capture where the summit was actually visible (3 minutes after this image, a torrential downpour started, and didn't stop until we left the national park! Typical...).  I was in two minds about whether to keep it in colour, as the light was not producing very punchy colours.

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This last mono image was one of my favourites of the day.  The misty clouds slightly veiling the summit, along with the deeply dark foreground hills, cut through by a fast moving stream.  I think black and white works excellently in mountainous, poor weather terrain such as this, and this image rounded off a really enjoyable trip into the mountains of Wales.

Bedruthan Steps, Cornwall

Day 3 - the north Cornish coast.  After a brief visit to the impossibly busy Padstow, hunting down decent landscape images was back on the agenda.  Fuelled by a delicious chick pea and potato curry pasty, we headed along the coastal road towards the Bedruthan steps (find them here - http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/carnewas-at-bedruthan/).  Again, like many of the National Trust locations in Cornwall, there is parking, and as we arrived late in the afternoon it was free.  The north Cornwall coast is extremely breezy because of its exposed location, which is why surfers flock here in their VW Transporters.  But this breeze made it pretty tricky for us to keep the camera steady for longer exposures!  So after a mild period of quiet panic, we hooked the gear bag onto the tripod and started shooting... bedruthan-steps-1-0923

Once again (like many of my coastal adventures) I broke out the Lee filters - both the ND grad (2 stops) and the Big Stopper were used.  I just can't get away from blurring the motion in the ocean!  When setting up a shot like this, I always take a series of images:  first one is for checking composition only, next one checks the exposure using a ND grad, and then the next few I use to get the exposure time right for the right look in the water.  I would always recommend this approach, because sometimes I find that the image without certain filters actually appeals to me more.

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These two images were made right on the edge of a pretty fragile cliff (there were warning signs a little way along the soily edge to our left), but the platform was stable enough for the tripod.  The breeze was up, but there wasn't too much blur in the image from wind shake...we were lucky!

Heading north slightly, we made our way down a pretty steep (but well-paved) set of steps to the first lookout over the Bedruthan steps area.  The wind (and the spray) was picking up so we opted against going down the famous steps and instead stayed up on the cliff above the beach.  Avoiding some camera shake here seemed pretty much impossible and so the images from this location weren't as sharp as they could be, but the view was excellent.

Bedruthan steps

The beach was quite busy with people walking their dogs, but with the longer exposure their movement nicely compliments and matches the motion in the water lapping up onto the beach.  The colour of the ocean was fantastically blue, but it needed some help from Lightroom in order to make the images match what my eyes saw.  Generally though, colour reproduction from the Nikon is usually excellent.

Bedruthan steps beach

We continued on for another half mile or so (it felt further with the rolling terrain) till we reached the headland that had been a feature in the background of the images we'd produced so far.  From this position, we could also see Newquay in the far distance.  Combined with the rough sea, you could really see from this point why the north Cornish coast is a mecca for surfers.

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The sun was pretty much directly to our right in this location, so it was making the contrast a little trickier to control, and the colours of both the sea and the surrounding foliage was not quite as vibrant.  However, the new dehaze slider in Lightroom worked wonders to clear this up slightly.

Colour version

Monochrome conversion

Because of this weird side light and high contrast, a mono conversion seemed a good bet to combat this.  I have included both versions for you to compare.  With time getting on we decided to call it a day and start to head back to our rented cottage.  It would have been amazing to stay for a sunset, but this wasn't just a photography trip, and I owed my husband some dinner...