Saturday, 27 October 2012

It's Autumn Once Again

Last year I brought you a selection of Autumn shots in two parts - the first instalment was here and the follow Twelve months later and there's more of the same, following last weekends all day outing which took me to Penshaw Monument, Lumley Castle near Chester le Street, followed by a journey north into Northumberland, where I visited Warkworth, Alnwick and Bamburgh. It was a bright, sunny day throughout, so it was up to me to find those Autumn scenes and to capture them on memory card, so after a diesel top-up I was off and running. Historically, mid-October often throws up the best colours, although there's still plenty on display near the end of the month and even into the first few days of November. I'll say no more. Here are the results...

1. River Aln, Alnwick, Northumberland,
2. Lion Bridge & River Aln, Alnwick, Northumberland
3. Penshaw Monument, Houghton le Spring
4. Lion Bridge & River Aln, Alnwick, Northumberland
5. Lion Bridge & River Aln, Alnwick, Northumberland
6. Lumley Castle, Chester le Street

Back soon. Cheers!


Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Red Sky At Night

Hello again!

Last Friday, around 5.00pm I noticed 'Layers' of white clouds above, which got me thinking there was a dramatic Sunset on the way. Being an amateur photographer who occasionally gets it right, but more often wrong, I grabbed my camera gear and headed to Rainton Meadows in the hope that I'd made a good decision, as my last two attempts were a complete waste of time. As is normal, I left with plenty of time to spare, even though the Meadows are only five minutes away by car. As the site gates are locked at 4.30pm in October I had to park the car on a back road near Chilton, which is a ten minute walk from car to water. Upon arrival it was the usual case of 'Spot the Swans' on the first pond (there are four separate ponds in total). There was a pair of Mute Swans on the water but there was little choice of ideal location at the waters edge because of the massive reeds around it. A simple break in the reeds, with the sun in front of me would have been perfect, but sadly, not on this occasion. So I walked to the next pond, a much bigger one and by far the biggest of all four. As well as the usual crowd of Ducks, Grebe's and Geese there was a family of Mute Swans - both parents and seven Cygnets. I photographed the Cygnets on the very first day they left the nest, back in early June 2012, flanked by the Cobb and Hen and they made there way across the field from Pond 3 (Nesting site) to Pond 2, where they've lived ever since. Four months later the Cygnets are almost as big as their parents and I was glad to see all seven on the water. Historically one or two will 'Go missing' during those first few weeks of life, but all seven were present. The Swans were at the top end of the pond when I arrived and the sun was about to set so I waited a few minutes before luring them towards my camera with the ever trusty slices of bread.

In the meantime I took a shot of the pond (see above) and once the sun was down the colours I had earlier anticipated were beginning to show in the sky. Maybe I had got it right this time! I was now into the last fifteen minutes of the Golden Hour (known to photographers as '30 minutes before Sunrise and 30 minutes after Sunset). By now I had tempted the Mute Swans over with the bread and the pink sky was turning red - everything was firmly in place. Red turned to deeper red as I fired off my first few frames. A very quick review of the shots put a big smile on my face so I wasted no time in taking more as the birds practically ate from my hand. The occasional hiss kept me on my toes and I was extra vigilant as one the parents came closer, leaving the water behind and stepping onto land. The Cygnets were pre-occupied on the water, feeding from the bed and not being at all concerned about the goodies on offer nearby. The red sky was at its most colourful at this stage and shortly it would be gone, so I made the most of my opportunity. No-one around but me and nature, which was ideal and just the ticket, no excuse for poor shots. Sparingly I passed over the bread until it was gone, making sure my last slice was used once the red sky had burnt out. It's all about timing. I had approximately a dozen shots in the bag by this time so my work was done, and I hadn't been clouted off the parents - sounds like a result, to me. Off I went as the light fell dramatically. On the way back to the car I was tempted to review the full set of photographs I'd just taken, but opted against it. I'm a bit sad in this respect as I always wait until I return home, put my feet up and then review them, with a cup of coffee for company. I must refrain from this and get myself a life, he he. Small pleasures, eh!

Bird photography isn't easy and requires much patience, but if you have that to your game you're half way there. The rest is what you'll learn as you go, but don't be put off with disappointing shots as I started off with plenty of them, albeit many years ago. It's trial and error and you'll see the results improve over time. You'll definitaly need an edge of 'Fearless Photography' as these birds can be quite unpredictable, even out of the breeding season, so be aware. You get a good idea of their tolerance levels after being in their company for a few minutes and obviously each one is different in this respect. You don't wanna beak in your eye, eh. Aye well, that's about it for now, folks. Hope you like the new shots. The following day was a good one - an 'All day' shoot along the 'Northumberland Coastal Route'. Some nice Autumn shots coming your way in the next few days, including visits to Warkworth, Alnwick and Bamburgh. As always...

watch this space! See ya soon.


Thursday, 18 October 2012

Dawn Breaks At Marsden

Just 24 hours after my early morning visit to Littlehaven, South Shields, I was photographing another breaking Dawn at Souter Lighthouse, just a mile or so up the road. This coastal location lies within the small town of Marsden and is a National Trust site and I have cut and pasted a brief description of it here...
Souter is a special place all year round and was the first lighthouse in the world designed and built to be powered by electricity. Opened in 1871, decommissioned in 1988, the National Trust acquired it and opened it to the public in 1990. Souter remains an iconic beacon, hooped in red and white and standing proud on the coastline midway between the Tyne and the Wear. The Leas is a two and a half mile stretch of magnesian limestone cliffs, wave-cut foreshore and coastal grassland. The cliffs and rock stacks of Marsden Bay are home to nesting Kittiwakes, Fulmar, Cormorants, Shags and Guillemots.

As is normal, I arrived at Souter with plenty of time to kill before sunrise as there's plenty of colour on show at least an hour before the sun shows, which gives the photographer ample opportunity to grab a few shots from different angles and various positions at the site. I dropped anchor in the empty car park adjacent to Souter Lighthouse and noticed how chilly it was as soon as I got out into the fresh air. I'm no stranger to these conditions though, after many Winter sunrise outings down the years, but I dare say October throws up the'Mildest' weather in comparison to that during the months of November, December and also January and Feb. Again it was double fleece all the way with a body warmer for good measure, plus a pair of Wellies, even though I was above sea level. The Wellies come in handy if Plan B gets the go-ahead, but luckily today my original plan fell into place so I left the Wellies on regardless. I always prepare the night before, making plans around the weather conditions, sunrise times, tide table etc, so should I not gain access to Souter for one reason or another, my Plan B would have taken me to sea level at Marsden Bay, just another short drive up the road. As it was, everything fell into place so my original plan went ahead. As I grabbed my gear from the car I couldn't help but notice the colours on the horizon, which were worthy of a photograph even though there was little or no focal point in the scene, other than a puddle of water and a gate (see photo 1, above). The moon added a little something to the shot, shining quite brightly in the crystal clear sky above. I was off and running.

As the colour diminished it was apparent that Sunrise was drawing nearer. A small bank of cloud sat on the horizon, just behind the Lighthouse, which was where the brightest part of the horizon was - the position where the sun was about to rise. It was obvious to me that I'd have to wait longer to see the sun as it would rise behind the cloud cover, but that wasn't such a bad thing. I had the pace to myself, which is always a good thing, no distractions from other photographers or dog walkers wanting to stop and chat about the current price of bacon. As you may have gathered...I don't like interruptions and prefer to work on my own - it's also known as being a fussy b*stard where photography is concerned, but I'm nice with it, just ask my missus! And so it was time to turn my attention to Souter Lighthouse, just before Sunrise. The sky was a deep coral blue, an ideal backdrop and exactly the colour I wait for in low-light conditions. Too light and it's lost - too dark and it's muddy. Running with similar camera settings I used at Littlehaven, I was shooting once again, with heavy emphasis on the ND Grads once again, which were a 'Must have' in these conditions. Highlights and shadows were evident once more, so the filters got another run out to balance exposure to suit. These bits of kit are priceless - what did I do before I bought them? At one point the highlights in the sky were so burnt out I had to stack (times 3) to retain detail. A full set of soft grads, 0.3, 0.6 and 0.9 done the job nicely. They're worth every penny.

My third shot (above) is possibly my favourite one of the batch. A brilliant sky and sun drenched walls of whitewash, adding to the overall shot - a typical picture postcard scene. The sun did eventually show once it cleared the low clouds, but due to its position I never included it in my shots as it was over to my right and out of frame. I pulled in lots of good shots of Souter Lighthouse from different positions, most of which can be viewed here, on a dedicated page on my website - Souter Lighthouse. My final shot shows my car, which contained a hot flask of coffee, so off I went, warming those freezing toes in the process. Heaters on full throttle. Job done.

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Dawn Breaks At Littlehaven

At the beginning and end of each year I dedicate quite a lot of 'Spare' mornings to one of my favourite areas of photography, low-light sunrises. As each year passes I gain more experience at this particular skill and I've pulled in some great shots, so the expectation level rises each year as I make further attempts to deliver the goods. You have to be quite dedicated when you have a choice to either lie in bed, or get out of it to basically freeze your balls off on some remote beach, waiting for the sun, that might not show. Some would say it's a no-brainer, but if you want those dramatic sunrise shots in your portfolio then you're left with little choice but to get off your arse and go hunting for them. The early starts don't bother me - I can always go back for a kip in the afternoon, he he. Of course, the whole experience is what you make it, so I always add a few perks to make the outing that little bit more appealing, like a flask of coffee upon arrival, to the ritualistic visit to the McDonalds drive-thru on the way home. Both are pre-requisites and all part of the experience, although I often 'Forget' to tell the missus about the McDonalds bit, which she often susses out when I refuse a bacon sandwich when I return home, he he. So off I went, leaving home at 6.00am, with plenty of time to spare before sunrise at 7.30am. Wearing two fleeces and a body warmer (and jeans, of course) I fully expected brass monkey weather. This is October and the beginning of a five month stretch of low-light photography, so the excitement builds as I make my first outing to Littlehaven Beach, South Shields, Tyne & Wear. Here I go...

The Groyne Lighthouse becomes the focal point once again, perched on the pier at Littlehaven, as the sun rises behind it. Here are four shots that include one before sunrise, one during and two shortly afterwards. All shots were captured on my trusty Canon 7D, with 18-135mm lens, Lee ND Grads 0.3, 0.6 (stacked), shot in RAW format using an ISO of 100, Manfrotto legs with ball head grip, fired remotely. Nuff said -

Until the next time, which hopefully won't be too long.


Friday, 12 October 2012

Ultravox - Sage Gateshead (8th Oct 2012)

This was the fourteenth and final concert of the 'Brilliant' UK Tour, which started mid-September. The venue was the trendy Sage Music Hall, Gateshead, just over the water from Newcastle-Upon-Tyne. We were late arriving at the venue due to other commitments, and after parking the Juke we headed across the way to the main entrance. I took a quick look at the Millennium Bridge to my right and couldn't help noticing how still the River Tyne was. The reflections were like nothing I'd seen before, but with no time to waste we entered the Sage and made our way to the concert hall. This was my first ever visit for a live show and I was looking forward to the acoustics that I'd heard so much about - apparently the sound is amazing. With literally five minutes to showtime we took our seats. In no time the band were on stage and belting out the opener, the title track of the new 'Brilliant' album, which sounded exactly that. The band looked a little nervous and full of concentration, which was evident during the first few songs, but as the gig wore on they seemed to get more 'Into' the occasion. The concert was split into two parts, with a twenty minute intermission in between, which was new to me but it seemed to work well considering the amount of songs Ultravox got through on the night. As well as tracks from the new album we were treated to many more songs from their extensive back catalogue, including many of the chart hits that they achieved during their heyday. The light show was eye-catching, with occasional visuals projected on the rear curtain. There were the usual sound issues here and there, but overall the band were tight and played an excellent gig throughout. Midge Ure's vocals were excellent on the night, as was the uber cool vocals from drummer Warren Cann on 'Mr X' and his backing vocals on 'Rage In Eden'. Billy Currie's antics behind the keyboards were very reminiscent of his early day and quite odd at times, like his crouching forward, arm swinging display was like that of an OAP at the local carpet bowls club. He was greeted with deserved applause each time he came forward to play Viola, especially during 'Astradyne' and the classic 'Vienna', amongst others. Chris Cross, on keyboards and bass, was stood very close to our seats in the front row, and seemed to enjoy the dancing queen in the row behind us. The least said about him the better, he he.
A great show from start to finish.

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Haworth, West Yorkshire - Bronte Country

Two weeks ago I was in the county of West Yorkshire, visiting a town called Haworth, a rural village in the City of Bradford and located amongst the Pennines, 3 miles southwest of Keighley and 10 miles west of Bradford. Haworth is a tourist attraction, best known for its association with the Brontë sisters. Charlotte, Emily and Anne Bronte were writers whose novels have become classics, a body of work that was inspired by their surroundings, a region that still holds its charm today. Haworth's main street was the focal point of interest for me - a bank of original cobbled stone, flanked by many  tea rooms, souvenir and antiquarian bookshops, restaurants, pubs and hotels (including the "Black Bull" - where Branwell Bronte's demise into alcoholism and opium addiction allegedly began). The character of this place makes it a 'Must see' for any photographer who is in the area, no matter what the weather is doing. And it wasn't doing much when I was there. I never even had my camera gear with me, just a pocket camera (Fuji 'Point & Shoot' job), which done the job ok. I have converted three of my shots to HDR, which are shown here, and the effect worked quite well, which it usually does on old stonework/facades. It's not often you come across places like this, so I'll be making every effort to get back down there soon, hopefully with better weather adding to better shots.

Back soon with more pix,