Thursday, 28 April 2011

Sunset Over Rainton Meadows

A quick word to accompany the two photographs here in my latest blog entry. Another calm Spring night and a visit to Rainton Meadows nature reserve in Houghton le Spring saw me grab my first 'Mute Swan In Flight' shots, taken on my Canon 7D. I was lucky enough to have a 300mm telephoto lens attached as this Mute Swan flew by, crossing the sun on it's path. The camera was also set to Quick Burst, allowing seven frames per second, which was just the job for this type of shot. I ran off half a dozen frames as the big bird flew past, then picked the best two depending on the position of its wings, hoping for a nice profile, which I managed to get. I had literally four or five seconds to set the dial with a fast shutter before raising the camera to take a shot. I haven't attempted this type of shot before so I wasn't expecting anything special - mind you, I'm more than happy with the results and I'm already thinking about trying it again, soon. An hour before sunset should be the right time to start shooting, especially as the sun is quite low and gathering more colour as it drops towards the horizon. I particularly like the second shot, that has a feather shaped cloud at the bottom.

I had been photographing Mute Swans for an hour or so at the same location, but those on the water, not in the air. Infact, you don't often see many Mute Swans in flight at Rainton Meadows so you really need to take your chance when it presents itself. Flights of geese are not uncommon at the meadows, plus ducks and other water birds, including waders. Tonights debut was easier than some, as Swans are slower in flight than most other water birds, so I'll have a bash at the quicker stuff another time. The pond I was photographing at was calm and the weather was fine. I photographed a male Mute Swan as its mate sat on its nest in the reeds nearby. It was a little bit touchy at first, understandably, but as soon as the bread made an appearance it settled down. Aye, they're not daft these buggers! As soon as the bread was gone, so was the Swan!

That's all for now folks. Plenty of new photo's to come - just trying to find the time to upload them. Until then, see ya later,


Saturday, 23 April 2011

Sunderland Coastal Area

Following my visit to Mowbray Gardens I decided to visit the beach at Roker, Sunderland, while the sun was still shining. The broken clouds caught my eye, so thinking they could add to some decent seascape shots I drove across the Wearmouth Bridge and headed for the water. Having done a job in Mowbray Gardens I wondered whether their was similar shots to be had in Roker Park, but a brief stop off proved a waste of time as there was very little colour on show, so it was a case of driving the short distance to the seafront near Roker Hotel. I parked up and took a few steps across the road where my vantage point took in the whole of Roker beach and its well known 'Cat & Dog Steps.' The sands were quite desolate, which was somewhat of a surprise considering the nice weather. There were a fair few walking along the promenade though, towards Seaburn, which lies just along the coastal route, heading north. The tide was low, which wasn't ideal as I'd hoped for some shots with an incoming tide below my vantage point, but I wasn't complaining - I suppose you can only work with what's in front of you!
I was tempted to drop down onto the beach itself but decided against it as I was pushed for time. Anyway, the sea was calm so I wasn't missing much, as far as crashing waves are concerned.

From experience I've found that good beach shots are amongst the hardest to achieve. Last year I was commissioned by the Tourist Board in Sunderland to supply beach shots of Sunderland, which wasn't an easy proposition. I made a few visits to the Roker/Seaburn beach area and planned where to shoot the best scenes, which were mainly up top, overlooking the sands. It was around this time, October 2010, that I'd captured a few sunrise shots, so it was finally time to grab some daytime shots to go with them. I captured 5 shots which were later reproduced as postcards, which have sold well in Sunderland Tourist Information Centre, as well as further sales in the Winter Gardens and Cafe Bungalow, Roker. Examples of the cards can be found here - Postcards > ashley My latest beach shots, shown here, aren't commissioned work, although I do plan to reproduce one as a new postcard which will increase the set to 20. Beach shots are in demand, so I plan to test myself further in the coming weeks to add better shots to my portfolio. A good sky is a must have - get that and you're well on your way! Both beaches in Sunderland (Roker & Seaburn) are very clean and relatively tidy - unlike the beaches further south at Seaham and Easington, where decades of coal mining are still evident on their sands.

The seaside area of Sunderland is buoyant during the Summer months, as expected. The usual run of pubs, restaurants and amusements lie along the promenade, especially at Seaburn, the central area of Sunderland's coastline. Seaburn's Marriot hotel is a popular resting place. Overlooking the North Sea, its easterly facing rooms give perfect views of the sea which often crashes off the nearby walls during the winter months. I remember one day last year when I was fortunate enough to witness the waves in full force, keeping a sensible distance from them and avoiding a soaking, as I took a few photographs. A gang of kids were dodging the waves as they crashed against the wall, but not one of them evaded a soaking. Quite funny at the time!

Once again, thanks for visiting. I'll be back shortly with my latest work - Ripon, North Yorkshire...more of those Mute Swans... Historic Durham...and more.

Catch ya then, Ash

Mowbray Gardens, Sunderland

A couple of weeks ago I visited Mowbray Gardens in Sunderland City Centre. My last visit was at least two years ago, as I remember taking a few photographs for a calendar I was contributing to at the time. During the Spring and Summer months the well maintained gardens are bouncing with colour, so the visitor count rises considerably during this time. The weather was fine so I had the perfect opportunity to get the shots I wanted.

Mowbray Gardens are situated behind Sunderland Museum & Winter Gardens - another place that's worth visiting if you're in the area. The Winter Gardens stimulate the senses with over 2,000 flowers and plants brought together in a spectacular showcase of the world's natural beauty. Here is a selection of shots from my recent visit, which lasted 45 minutes or so. Cheers, Ash

Friday, 15 April 2011

Where Spring Meets Summer

Hello again! The months of March and April are traditionally Spring months, although the end of March signals the official beginning of BST - British Summer Time. Todays blog entry combines the two seasons, so my latest photo offerings reflect those typical Spring/Summer sights that are fairly commonplace during this time of year. Flowers, such as daffodils, typify everything that Spring is synonomous with, so I was keen to capture one or two scenes containing daffs at the height of the season. My first shot shows blooming daffs at a local English Heritage site - Finchale Abbey, County Durham. I made a previous visit to the ancient site a few weeks ago but the daffodils had just sprouted so I was way too early for the shots I was after. A calculated revisit brought me better luck though. I knew I had to be there early to catch the sun hitting the abbey from it's 'best side', and in turn bringing the best colour out of the flowers. As I walked through Cocken Wood towards the abbey I could tell instantly that my preparations had paid off - the sun was shining brightly and a burst of yellow could be easily seen between the trees as I walked the approach path. I was now in the abbey grounds and determining what settings to run with when a massive cloud slowly passed over, taking the sun out of the equation - great (not)! After 15 minutes or so it had passed over and I was off and running again. Bright sunlight and no breeze - perfect conditions. Wide angle was the way to go, guaranteeing full coverage of the abbey facade and flower bed in the foreground. Infact, I was practically in amongst the daffs to begin with, shooting low angle up a slight incline. Handheld, with a small aperture, the camera delivered a pin sharp image from my first effort, which was the whole objective, and a quick review on the histogram and monitor and gave me the thumbs up. I took full advantage of the conditions and pulled in at least 20 good shots from different angles, in both portrait and landscape format. These daffs don't last too long so better to strike while the iron is hot. Don't think I'll be back here this year so it was a simple case of making the most of my opportunity. I submitted this Finchale Abbey image to Tyne-Tees Television and it was shown on their weather bulletin a few hours later. The footage can be seen here, by activating the video clip on the control panel. My second Spring shot, which also features daffodils, was taken at Staithes, an olde worlde fishing village on the North-Yorkshire coast. A viewpoint near Cowbar Nab, the highest point at Staithes, offers an excellent view over the rooftops and harbour, including the river that runs through the village. As far as photogenic fishing villages are, Staithes is as good as it gets in this part of the world. Exploring the tight streets throws up many photo opportunities too and the character of the place has been retained after all these years - it often feels like you're in a different age as you walk the cobbles. There's a nice watering hole in Staithes too - The Cod And Lobster, so a pint of Yorkshire Ale is a canny little option before walking back up the very steep hill to the car park. I'd recommend Staithes if you're in the area - it's well worth visiting. My next shot (three) was captured by simply being in the right place at the right time. I was in Northumberland, travelling back from my visit to Warkworth Castle during the lambing season. Another possibility for a typical Spring type shot. Parking off road was very limited as I drove through the country lanes, until I reached a junction in the middle of nowhere. I noticed a few lambs jumping around in the corner of a nearby field so I grabbed my 300mm telephoto, fitted it, then got out the car and headed across the road. At the edge of the field was a sheep, sitting minding its own business when Mr 'CameraGluedToHis Face' showed up! One of the lambs was sitting on it's mothers back, which is something I've never seen before. Now this would be a shot and a half! Just as I raised the camera to my eye the sheep stood up and I feared the shot would be missed, but it stood there for a few seconds with the lamb still sitting, so I took full advantage by firing off a few shots in quick burst mode. The sheep then walked away and the lamb slid from its back and onto its feet. This shots epitomises the phrase 'capturing the moment'. Finally, shot 4, taken in Mowbray Gardens, Sunderland town centre. This is the colour of Spring, jumping out at the camera. Beautifully maintained flower beds and lawns, with added features like water fountains, bandstands and statues - more of that to follow in my next blog entry. Here is a quick preview, taken early on an April morning when the place was quiet, give or take the odd person here and there. Gone are the wino's and stray dogs - Mowbray Gardens is on the up, judging by what I saw as I walked through its grounds for the first time in years. The adjoining Museum and Winter Gardens are quite picturesque too and I have some shots of these that I will add to my next blog entry, coming soon. Until then, catch ya later... Ash

Saturday, 9 April 2011

Many Thanks!

Many thanks to everyone who has visited my website. The hit counter has increased dramatically this year, even as recently as January when it was approaching 40,000. Since then, almost three months ago, has had a further 5,000 hits and counting. I aim to fulfil my promise of regular updates, not just in image form but in blog posts, which I enjoy adding each week. Already in 2011, has had 43 updates and that number will continue to rise throughout the rest of the year.

Thanks also to everyone who has purchased my work in it's various formats, not only through my site but also the local outlets where it is currently available. New ideas are in the pipeline and more details will be released soon, so be sure to revisit my blog for full details.

More photographs to come shortly. Thanks again.


Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Tyne-Tees Television (Parts 25-28)

It's time for another video clip, in the shape of some recent images I sent in to Tyne-Tees Television. I am a regular contributor to the daily weather bulletins as I submit my work that reflects our regional weather. Quite often my photo's are shown on the day I send them in, via email, which is always nice, and even better to be able to share them with visitors to my Blog. The screenshot (shown here) is the 25th photo that I've had shown on ITV's regional weather bulletin since I started last year - I accidentally deleted the footage for this one so it doesn't appear on the video clip below. Instead I managed to get a still image from the footage that has now been transferred to dvd. Not a clear image by any means, a similar one can be found here on my blog. Taken at nearby Rainton Meadows it shows a Mute Swan with a nice backdrop of broken cloud on a blue sky. A nice Spring image that I captured during a quiet Sunday morning at the nature reserve. That bird must be sick of the sight of my camera by now. Aye well, it aint seen nowt yet! The video footage below shows the following images... (1) Seven Sisters In The Fog....... (2) Angel Of The North At Night....... (3) Finchale Abbey, County Durham .......And that's all for now. I'm planning a visit into Sunderland tomorrow to grab some colourful shots in Mowbray Gardens, and if the weather is smiling I might try and squeeze in a trip to the beach at Seaburn and Roker. We'll see what tomorrow brings. Thanks again for visiting. Ash

Sunday, 3 April 2011

Copt Hill Barrow (Seven Sisters)

I wish I was given a fiver for each time I've visited the Copt Hill Barrow, known locally as the Seven Sisters. Only six trees are standing these days, plus a sapling, which brings the total back to seven after one tree was burnt down. The sapling is always vunerable to vandals although no-one has had a go at it to date (touch wood - no pun intended). As regular visitors to my blog will be aware, the Seven Sisters is situated in my home town of Houghton le Spring and it is literally five minutes drive from my house, so I often make visits outside of the Summer season. The reason I miss out Summer is simply for photographic reasons - nothing else. The Sisters are much more photogenic when they've shed their leaves so I'm a regular visitor during Spring and Winter when I can grab some nice silhouette shots. As you can imagine, I've made countless visits to this place down the years and the resulting images are always different. Here are two recent examples that perfectly illustrate the changing mood that the weather can bring.

The first shot was taken in mid-March, on a cold foggy morning. I hadn't photographed the Seven Sisters in fog before so it was time to put that right by making a visit, with visibility being very low as I drove up to the Copt Hill Public House car park. I met a dog walker as I was in position taking my first shots near the path that leads you to the barrow from the top of the field. As she was heading over the barrow with her dog she kindly offered to pose for a short while as I took more shots. A big THANK YOU to Sue and Henry for making the first shot (above) possible. I love it - captured the moment nicely!

The second, and more recent shot, was taken just before sunset as we entered the last few days of March. I had been out somewhere in the car and was heading home along the A690 when I noticed how low the sun was, and also how full and orangey it appeared. Normally, just before sunset, the sun is so bright that the glow around it is blown out and it's shape isn't visible. Today there was almost no surrounding glow, just a perfectly round deep orange sun, on it's way down and quickly approaching the skyline. As I had my camera bag with me I made a quick diversion and drove up to the location once again. A quick dash from the car to the barrow gave me enough time to take half a dozen quick shots before the sun had set. I just made it in time. There were no dog walkers about today though - just as well as it must have looked odd seeing a grown bloke legging it over the field with a large back-pack bouncing up and down. Oh dear!

Anyway, no tripod involved in these two shots - both were handheld. I'll be uploading them to my website very soon, on a page dedicated to the Copt Hill Barrow (Seven Sisters), that's if there's any room left on the page!

Next up - I'll be blogging again with some accompanying Springtime shots.

Until then, thanks for reading.


Saturday, 2 April 2011

Bowlees, Middleton in Teesdale

Now and again I find myself photographing scenes that contain water, whether it be a seascape, a river scene or simply a waterfall, which are very few and far between in my neck of the woods. Waterfalls in the north-east of England are usually confined to an area approxiametely 35 miles from my home, in a place called Middleton in Teesdale. There's a few dotted about in this region - High Force is the best known, followed by Low Force and Cauldron Snout. On the approach road to High Force, the B6277, look out for the signpost 'Bowlees Visitor Centre, which is tucked away behind trees off the road. A short drive leads you to the car park which offers free parking all day. From here, follow the signpost that leads you to the wooded area where you'll find 'Gibsons Cave', a waterfall at the end of the route. The woodland path ends at Gibsons Cave but there's no fence stopping you from getting nearer to the falls so I took advantage and stepped over the rocks to find a decent position to shoot from. A couple of test shots later and I'd found myself a decent spot. Three legs down and the camera was then perched and primed.

My first shot (shown here) was taken en route as I walked through the woods towards the cave. It's a simple waterfall, with a drop of around 10 feet, and it's a taster of what's to come further up the path. I've visited Gibson's Cave on two previous occasions, the last being a couple of years ago around the same time of year. Depending on recent rainfall you'll see the main waterfall in different moods. As I reached the cave it was immediately obvious that the flow of water from the top wasn't as forceful as the last time I was here. There was plenty of water cascading at the top, before dropping below on the fairly still waters, but it definately wasn't as dramatic as before when it was in full flow after a heavy rainfall. Nevertheless these waterfalls always make for good photographs if you know your slow shutter speeds. A one second shutter gave me these two shots, together with a very small aperture to give max depth of field (that's front to back sharpness). I had me wellies on, so getting me feet wet wasn't a problem, just the slippery rocks I had to negotiate on my way into position. I was the only person at the site during the 30 minutes I was photographing, which was fine by me. From there I was back into the car and making my way back to Houghton, listening to the Wales versus England football match as I drove.

Pretty dull weather today. Ideal for waterfall shots though. Hope you like them. Catch ya later,