Friday, 23 March 2012

A Very Close Encounter

In all the years I've been making photographs, I don't recall a time when I recorded a terrestrial event, on film, transparency or digital media. I had no interest in Star Trek and rubbish of that particular ilk - infact, the only stars I remember seeing were the ones spinning around my head after a heavy night out on the tiles during my earlier 'Social' years. Ahh, memories.
So before the skeletons threaten to burst out of my cupboard I dramatically swich tack and quickly return this blog post to a semblance of normality, in the shape of my first ever 'Close Encounter'. No, I won't pretend I was recently abducted by aliens or any such nonsense - this was an event that I recorded on memory card, and I'm ready to share the results. Let me aquaint you with the details of my search for the planets in question - A search that didn't take long, in all honesty. A look over my shoulder during a meal was when the TV grabbed my attention. The local weather bulletin on ITV , presented by Philippa Tomson, informed viewers that during the last two weeks of March 2012, the two planets, Jupiter and Venus appear to be at their closest point in the sky, approximately 3 degrees apart, and a clear night time sky would offer the ideal opportunity to view this 'Close Encounter' when looking West. The two planets have been travelling in a westerly direction across the Northern Hemisphere and the phenomenon is known as the 'Venus & Jupiter Conjunction'. It is however, an optical illusion!
The whole world can see the two bright lights in the west after sunset now, but, for the Northern Hemisphere, mid-March 2012 presents the best time to see a Venus-Jupiter conjunction in the evening for years to come. At mid-northern latitudes, these two brightest planets – Venus and Jupiter – stay out for nearly four hours after sunset. That’s about the longest period possible at these latitudes. No matter where you are on Earth now, you can’t miss these two worlds in the west as darkness falls. In the opposite direction at nightfall – looking east – you can’t miss the ruddy planet Mars. This world won’t be so brilliant in our sky again until April 2014. Mars shines from dusk till dawn, whereas Venus and Mars set four hours after sunset at mid-northern latitudes.
And what better location to photograph this event - the summit of a fairly steep hill in my neck of the woods, with a well-known iconic landmark thrown in for good measure. Yes, it just has to be Penshaw Monument, illuminated and displayed in all its glory - visible for miles and dominating the Wearside skyline. Let's go!
I was up the hill for a good hour, from the fall of darkness, to the point where the sky was black and my job was done and dusted. I had the place to myself - even the previously ever-present cattle had gone AWOL, adding to an already definate sense of isolation at the top of Penshaw Hill. It was nippy, as expected, but when you're in concentration mode you tend not to feel the cold too much. Two fleeces and a body warmer kept the chill at bay. I must have stood in at least a dozen piles of cow-shit as I switched shooting position on the hill top - aye, you just know what's under foot when your boots slide about, here, there and everywhere. I must have spent an unnecessary 5 minutes wiping me boots on the grass before getting back into the car. All part and parcel of 'Shooting In The Field', so to speak. It was worth it though - very satisfied with the shots I pulled in. Here are a couple of them...
I'm planning to photograph the 'Venus & Jupiter Conjunction' again over the weekend, at another well-known site in the North-East. Coming next...

Clay's Garden Centre, Washington

March has been a month of few updates at I did manage to get out with the camera on a couple of occasions, and the results will come your way shortly, but most of my spare time has been used on expanding my customer base throughout the North-East. Next week will see me follow up two more opportunities to display my photography in well known outlets, so stay tuned for more news about that as and when it announced here on my Blog.
Over the last week I have been negotiating with the director of Clay's Garden Centre in Washington, Tyne & Wear, in the hope of selling my wares through this popular, and rather busy outlet. Good news - Clay's are NOW stocking my work. A quantity of limited edition mounted prints are now available to purchase, along with a selection of postcards, all featuring a local scene that I captured during the different seasons of the calendar year.
Firstly, the mounted prints - initially available in two sizes only, 14x11 inches and 10x8 inches. Mounted in either Ivory or Textured White mountboard (acid free) and signed by myself, the mounts are numbered and available as limited runs. Various scenes can be purchased and they include most of the iconic landmarks in our region, such as Washington Old Hall, Angel Of The North, Penshaw Monument, Durham Cathedral and Roker Pier, amongst others.
The postcards - well, these originally kicked off as a ten card set, after I was commissioned by the Tourist Board in Sunderland to produce 10 different scenes in this format. My postcard collection now stands at 33, all matching and printed on glossy media, which are currently selling in a number of outlets in our region. Clay's Garden Centre are now stocking 15 different postcards from my collection and plans are afoot to display my cards on the front of gift packs, such as biscuit boxes, confectionary, etc. Again, more details on this to follow, as and when.
So, if you're in the region, why not pop along and get yourself through the doors of Clay's Garden Centre. There's a nice coffee shop on the premises too, so sit yer arse down and admire those postcards and prints you've just bought (wink). No shame, have I? he he.
Until the next time - see ya,

Sunday, 4 March 2012

Lee Filters On Test

Hello again!
More low-light photography comes your way after I made a recent trip up the coast to St Mary's Lighthouse, near Whitley Bay. This location was featured on my Blog not too long ago, and once again I have more Sunrise shots to share. The alarm clock called out at 5am and a cold wash had me awake in no time, before I necked a cup of coffee and left the house. St Mary's is approximately 35 minutes from home, passing through the new Tyne Tunnel before heading down to Tynemouth and coninuing along the coast road. Passing Cullercoats I saw the first colour breaking through on the horizon, which is what you hope for on a freezing cold morning like this. Not many folk around at this hour, just the odd dog walker and a couple of photographers with tripods - must be mad! Today though, it was time to give my Lee Filters a run out - something of a rarity, which I need to address after paying an arm and a leg for them. The set comprises of 3 Neutral Density Grad's - a 0.3, 0.6 and 0.9 - or 1 stop, 2 stops and 3 stops, whichever you prefer. Basically, each filter is clear at the bottom and dark at the top, the shading is graduated and fades out in the middle of each filter, allowing you to balance exposure between the highlights and shadows of your chosen subject. The filters are ideal for Sunrise shots, especially when you have a colourful sky at the top of your frame and darkened rocks at the bottom. Metering off the foreground rocks will expose perfectly for particular area of the shot, but will in turn burn out the detail in the sky. That's where the grads come in handy. After selecting the correct strength filter (based on the difference in f-stops between the dark and bright areas, the filter is then positioned over the highlights in the sky to 'Hold back' the detail in it. Just for the record, the filters are made of resin and are calibrated precisely to reduce the amount of light by either 1,2 or 3 stops - they measure 150x100mm and are dropped into a filter holder (Lee Foundation Kit) that is fitted to the lens. The dark portion of the filter is positioned carefully over the sky to retain detail. In the first two photo's shown here, the rocks and sky are exposed very well, but because of the big difference in f-stops between the two, I had to use two filters together, a 0.9 and 0.6 soft grad, stacked in the holder. Shutter speed was down to 5 seconds for these two shots, so naturally a tripod and remote release switch came into play. The tide was in when I arrived but it seemed to retreat quickly enough, allowing me to pick my spot on the rocks as I shot towards the Lighthouse. The sun rose over to my right, almost out of shot, but I managed to get some colour without panning to far across and losing St Mary's Island altogether.
Feet were stone cold, icicles began to form on the owld snozz, but there was work to be done so I persuaded myself to stop being a pussy and continue the task in hand. And no Blog entry of mine would be complete without a mention of food and drink at some point. As the sun came up and the colours faded I began to limber up for a pit-stop at McDonalds, on the nearby Silverlink. I could almost taste that double sausage n' egg McMuffin and the hot coffee!
Half a dozen photographers were scattered around me, as I packed up my gear and headed onto the sand. I felt I had the best spot out of all of us, so it was worth scrambling down the muddy bank onto those rocks, even though the tide was swirling around below. Fearless photography and all that - or am I just an idiot who puts his camera first? My last offering is a panoramic effort. Well, not strictly true - I simply cropped the top and bottom to create that format after deciding the bulk of the detail lay in the middle portion of the frame. Some nice subtle colour in the sky, coupled with the ancient groynes that add some interest to the right-hand side of the shot, with the focal point being St Mary's Island itself. And that's about all folks - another early start that saw me get to grips once again with those trusty Lee Filters. I feel that I haven't given them a proper run as such, and will use them heavily in the coming weeks and months, along with a new filter that I've just invested in - a Lee Filters 'Big Stopper'. For more details click here.
I ordered this one six months ago and have just recently received it, due to the long waiting list from the supplier. Most definately the most sought after filter in the world! Lets see what I can do with the 'Big Stopper', eh.
See ya soon. AC