Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Castle Howard, York

Castle Howard is a stately home in North Yorkshire, England, 15 miles (24 km) north of York. One of the grandest private residences in Britain, most of it was built between 1699 and 1712 for the 3rd Earl of Carlisle, to a design by Sir John Vanbrugh. Although Castle Howard was built near the site of the ruined Henderskelfe Castle, it is not a true castle, but this term is often used for English country houses constructed after the castle-building era (c.1500) and not intended for a military function.Castle Howard has been the home of part of the Howard family for more than 300 years. It is familiar to television and movie audiences as the fictional "Brideshead", both in Granada Television's 1981 adaptation of Evelyn Waugh's Brideshead Revisited and a two-hour 2008 remake for cinema. Today, it is part of the Treasure Houses of England heritage group.

Castle Howard has extensive and diverse gardens. There is a large formal garden immediately behind the house. The house is prominently situated on a ridge and this was exploited to create an English landscape park, which opens out from the formal garden and merges with the park.
Two major garden buildings are set into this landscape: the Temple of the Four Winds at the end of the garden, and the Mausoleum in the park. There is also a lake on either side of the house. There is an arboretum called Ray Wood, and the walled garden contains decorative rose and flower gardens. Further buildings outside the preserved gardens include the ruined Pyramid currently undergoing restoration, an Obelisk and several follies and eye catchers in the form of fortifications. A John Vanbrugh ornamental pillar known as the Quatre Faces (marked as 'Four Faces' on Ordnance Survey Maps) stands in nearby Pretty Wood.
Four shots, taken on a red hot day - just what ya want, really. Ideal conditions - not to be sniffed at!
Not too much to say that hasn't been mentioned above, apart from a great day that was had. Came back home a shade of Lobster Red - it didn't half sting the next day. Sun cream is for pussies!


Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Houghton le Springwatch - Part 2

And it's more Nature shots, as Spring well and truly kicks into gear once again. There's a few new shots in the bag, after one or two recent outings with young Mr Corr, aged 11. He's at that age when an interest in Nature, particularly Birds, takes a bit of a hold on these mild warm nights, so we head round the corner to Rainton Meadows Nature Reserve to check out the latest movements of a family of Mute Swans. These birds have been nesting for a month now, and the eggs were ready to hatch, so off we went. Some of the following photo's were taken at another nest site, at Herrington Park, opposite Penshaw Hill. Both clutches had six eggs in total and on arrival at both locations it was clear that the eggs had hatched as no swans were sitting - both were on the water, with their cygnets. Once again, a loaf of bread came in rather handy when coaxing the birds towards the camera - one shake of the bag and over they came. The parents were happy to feed on the bread, but the cygnets weren't interested at all. It was probably their first sighting of bread and they weren't too impressed. A few minutes in and the parents were off - back on water and out of reach for the bog standard lens holder that was me. Aye, but there was a nifty little 300mm telephoto job tucked away in camera bag - well equipped as always! So here they are, a selection of Nature shots, taken on the doorstep, and I'll be back with more at a later date, including Wren's and Blue Tits...

Cheers, Ash


Thursday, 17 May 2012

Painting With Light - Part 1

Venue - Penshaw Monument, Tyne & Wear

As mentioned at the end of my last Blog entry, here are my latest shots which involve the art of Painting With Light. Very much an experimental exercise, this was my first attempt using very basic tools, such as string, an egg whisk and a small bag of wire wool. Naturally, a box of matches was needed, otherwise I'd still be at the location now, waiting for something to happen! In the run up to this experiment I'd visualised the finished shots, so a few days prior to the event I started putting the 'Ingredients' together in my head, so that when the day eventually arrived I was ready to put things into practise. First things first - I needed a location to carry out my little experiment, and not just any location - I wanted a backdrop that would compliment the drama that would unfold as I attempted to paint with light. One location that stood out in my mind immediately was Penshaw Monument, a place I know very well and which I visit very frequently. I've taken dozens of low-light shots at this location, although the walk up the steep hill doesn't get any easier when you're in your mid-forties. So Penshaw Monument it is - my location was decided on and it was now a simple case of waiting for a clear night sky and it would be 'All Systems Go'. An overcast or dull sky wouldn't offer my shots much colour, as opposed to clear skies giving a nice blue hue, so I checked the weather app on my phone and my preps were almost complete - Saturday 12th May was my night. All that remained was to gather a few bits and bobs to guarantee I wouldn't go up in a ball of flames, like a baseball cap, goggles and fire retardant clothes and gloves, which I had already 'Aquired'.

Saturday night arrived soon enough. Twenty years ago I would have spent most Saturday nights 'On the beer' yet here I was 'On the wool' - how times have changed, he he. I made my way up Penshaw Hill, noticing how ideal the conditions were - clear sky, with a slight breeze that became more than slight as I reached the top of the hill. Ideal for fire spreading quickly. Jesus - I sound like I'm ready to commit arson - Reeves Corner, Pt 2 !!! Just a lil' experiment folks, nowt ti' worry about about, knarr worra mean like? I had the place to myself, which was ideal - didn't want the local chavs coming over and saying 'Ere Mister, what ya deein like' before asking 'Giz a gan Mister, gan on - Giz a gan'. The tripod was in place and the 7D was hooked up, along with remote sensor on the hot shoe. I dialled in some settings to begin with, and tinkered with along the way before hitting the mark. Next the gear came out the bag and I stuffed a ball of wire wool into the egg whisk, which was attached to a piece of string. I lit the wool and it took hold immediately. I then fired the shutter remotely before spinning the contraption in my left hand. As expected, sparks were flying, but I was well covered up. I ran off a six second exposure to begin with, followed by another at 13 seconds. I was well chuffed with the results, shown here. The first shot (top) was a straightforward swing in a stationery position, but the second one was more complicated, as I was constantly on the move to create a 'Spiral' across the columns of Penshaw Monument. Painting with light - Part 1 - hope you like them as much as I did. Not a bad effort for a rookie 'Wool Burner'.

I'll be at it again at a later date. It's quite addictive!
Cheers, Ash

Sunday, 13 May 2012

Black & White Shots

I really need to revamp my Black & White Gallery at as it has been rather neglected over the last year or so. I used to set aside some time for mono conversions, but that appears to be a thing of the past for no particular reason, other than my photography interests lying elsewhere. Sometimes it's wise to have a break from specific areas of photography, then when you revisit it brings out that creativity again, which reflects in the results, and here I have one or two examples of what I am getting at. The first shot was taken outside York Minster on April 23rd, 2012. The weather wasn't anything special that day - the sky was overcast and there was little or no sunshine to be had, but that didn't deter this photographer, as I planned to convert any decent shots into Mono (black & white). I spent 90 minutes inside the Minster, grabbing a batch of photo's to complete my York Minster Gallery, which, for the record, are all colour images. Upon leaving the Minster, via the Gift Shop, I crossed the road towards the shops and stopped to take a photo which is shown here (image one). The reflection in a shop window caught my eye immediately and out came the camera once again. I used a 10-22mm wide angle lens to cram as much content as I could into the frame, plus the use of a CPL filter on the window next to me, which made the lettering more prominent, when rotated to suit. I later edited the image in Photoshop CS6, which is the latest 'All singing, all dancing' software from the Adobe stable (a class bit o' kit!). I altered the levels and grey tones to suit, before converting the image to HDR (High Dynamic Range), which always works a treat with ancient stonework, and I think I pushed this one to its limit and brought out the best in what was a fairly 'Flat' image to begin with.

My second Mono shot, shown here, is another one that got the HDR treatment. Taken at a location that I have visited so many times - it's Penshaw Monument, on the outskirts of Sunderland, Tyne & Wear. I remember this visit very well - a freezing cold February morning, and there I was attempting my first ever Sunrise shots from the top of Penshaw Hill. Another one to forget though, as the sun only showed for a matter of seconds before departing behind a bank of low cloud on the horizon. I made my way back down Penshaw Hill after this non-event and stopped half way to photograph from the steps, which were well frosty, almost having me flat on my arse a couple of times. The 10-22 wide was paying for itself once again as it put itself to good use, with the pathway and steps offering the perfect 'Lead-In Line' to the shot, with Penshaw Monument once again providing the focal point for another Black & White effort. HDR came into play again, with two bracketed images instead of the single RAW file I used on the Minster shot above, tone mapped and aligned to create what is shown here. I've got this one printed on Ilford Galerie Satin Paper (280 g/sm) and mounted in textured white board, then framed in black - I have to's a winner!    

And just before I pop off for a bite to eat folks, I'd like to tell you I'll be back shortly with some more creative photo's that I recorded last night, with the help of some string, an egg whisk and a roll of wire wool. Strange, eh. You'll be surprised at the results though. Not long to wait...


Monday, 7 May 2012

Houghton le Springwatch

I don't update my Natural Life galleries as much as I'd like to, mainly because I'm either photographing the Landscape or indulging in more Low-Light photography. Having said that, when the Spring arrives, and also during the summer season, I tend to swap priorities and nature photography suddenly gets the nod over everything else. I'm lucky enough to live near some decent countryside and some of it is within walking distance, so decent nature shots are never too far away. In Houghton le Spring we have Rainton Meadows Nature Reserve - formerly the site of Rye Hill open cast coal mine, part of the vast Durham coalfield, Rainton Meadows has now been restored as a wetland site and is the headquarters of Durham Wildlife Trust. Lakes and ponds have been constructed together with re-seeding of native vegetation and woodland planting to create a habitat for a rich variety of wildlife once thought to have been lost from the area. Over 200 species of birds have been recorded visiting the site since 1996 and sightings of the rare water vole have been registered in the ponds. Dragonflies, damselflies and butterflies are seen in abundance with occasional migrant species being spotted.

One area known locally as Joe’s Pond was once the site of an old clay pit. This area was named after Joe Wilson, a former employee of Nicholson’s Pit who leased the pond from the National Coal Board and personally carried out much of the early tree planting and island construction. A designated Site of Special Scientific Interest, the area attracts many birds including long-eared owls, mute swans, grebes and ducks, is a popular breeding site for newts, frogs and toads. The surrounding wildflower meadows host a wide variety of plants including several species of orchids. It is also home to roe deer and foxes. A couple of years ago Durham Wildlife Trust built a brick hide on the edge of the largest pond at Rainton Meadows, although it has been vandalised on a number of occasions by the local chav population. From here, me and my son Christopher checked out activity on the water. He'd been itching to try out his new binoculars and they certainly came in handy as we spotted a Great Crested Grebe on its nest. I managed to get quite close to it before attaching a 300mm lens to bring it even closer. The photograph is shown here. The bird sat for a while, with no concern about the daft lad with the camera. This was the first time I'd seen a Great Crested Grebe at the nest site. The male fetched food for its mate as it incubated the eggs, swimming to and from the nest at regular intervals.

We passed three Mute Swan nests on our walk around the meadows. Birds were sitting at each site, until one left its nest and walked towards us, covering at least thirty feet, after it probably noticed the bag of bread Chris was carrying. As he fed the swan I nipped off and quickly checked the contents of the nest, which had a full clutch of six eggs. They are due to hatch very soon, as the Hen has been sitting for a month now. I took a couple of photo's before leaving the nest site, which was in the same part of the reeds as the previous two years - obviously built by the same pair of Swans. The Cobb (male swan) was busy getting fed by people further round the pond, which was why it wasn't fighting me off, as in previous years. Mind you, as I photographed the nest it suddenly appeared from the reed bed, heading towards me at a fast rate. Time to do one! We left the area and made our way to the next pond on Rainton Meadows, one of five in total. The Hen (female swan) ate the rest of the bread before returning to its nest, where the Cobb was waiting for it and guarding the eggs during its absence. Our first Springwatch outing of 2012 ended at Herrington Country Park, opposite Penshaw Hill. We decided to check out the Mute Swans and discovered another three nests, plus three Cygnets that were only a couple of days old, at the very most. With a few Mute Swan nests 'On our doorstep' we'll be keeping tabs on them in the next couple of weeks, in the hope of some more photography, so keep checking my Blog for future updates. Until then...

Cheers, Ash