Saturday, 29 November 2014

The Fog

Welcome back to my blog page, where more recent photo's lay in wait, along with a short write-up of how the photo's were made. Todays entry concentrates on a foggy morning two weeks ago and the amazing view from the top of Penshaw Hill, Sunderland. I was in two minds whether to make the short climb to the top, but after deliberating for a minute or two I decided I had nothing to lose by taking a look up top, just in case there was a chance of pulling in some good shots. A wise decision in the end and one that paid off well, not only as I managed to bag the shots, but also the views on offer were like nothing I'd ever seen before. A thick blanket of fog covered the landscape, with only a few outcrops of land exposed above it, plus the tops of pylons and wind turbines.

After a while the fog began to lift, then it dropped, changing within a matter of minutes. I had hoped to grab a shot of Penshaw Monument with the foggy landscape as a backdrop, but this proved quite difficult. The further I backed off to include the Monument in shot, I compromised the landscape below by losing it almost completely in the frame. I managed to pull in what I could under the circumstances, although I never quite captured that magical shot. Never mind - you can only do your best I suppose. The panoramic views across the landscape was immense. Here are a few shots from the foggy session on Penshaw Hill, including one of Mute Swans in flight. The big birds were constantly circling, seemingly confused and struggling to identify water to land on. Not a surprise as the fog made visibility very poor and all forms of water were temporarily out of bounds.

Back soon with some more star trails, Ash

Thursday, 6 November 2014

Simple Minds, Alnwick Pastures, Northumberland

And so to the main event, and a band that was the sole reason for me attending this gig - Simple Minds. My early musical roots included an album that I remember receiving as a Xmas present back in 1982, the sublime 'New Gold Dream 81-82-83-84'. To this present day I still like Simple Minds, but I would never pass myself off as a big fan after losing interest and focusing on other bands in the mid-eighties. Nevertheless, the Minds always seem to put on a great live show, even though I've only attended four of their gigs since my introduction to them back in '82. So here we were once again, waiting for their stage entry at Alnwick Pastures, with a big crowd in attendance to see this headline act rip it up.

And they came flying out of the blocks with a handful of up tempo classics that the crowd lapped up from the very first note. Frontman Jim Kerr led the line very well, as always, backed up by Charlie Burchill (lead guitar), Andy Gillespie (keyboards), Ged Grimes (bass), Mel Gaynor (drums) and Sarah Brown (backing vocals). Rock royalty took to the stage at Alnwick Castle pastures and proved that they still reign supreme. Creating an electric atmosphere can be tricky outdoors, but the band and their support act Toploader made sure the iconic Northumberland venue was charged with excitement from start to finish.
Simple Minds’ set list did not disappoint, catering for the die-hard fans with songs from their very early days and also belting out an array of their big, anthemic numbers like Don't You Forget About Me and Belfast Child. The crowd were jubilant and responded well, despite the light drizzle in the air. If anything, that added to the atmosphere, as the eye-catching beams of stage lighting were highlighted by the raindrops.
As the night wore on, there was a festival feel with lots of dancing and revelry, and a relaxed, free-spirited vibe befitting the outdoor setting. After a solid gold, hit-laden set the crowd demanded more – and what better encore for this enduring act than Alive and Kicking? A brilliant gig from start to finish...
Set list -
01. Waterfront
02. Broken Glass Park
03. Love Song
04. I Travel
05. Imagination
06. Hunter And The Hunter
07. Promised You A Miracle
08. Glittering Prize
09. The American
10. Dancing Barefoot
11. Dolphins
12. Let The Day Begin
13. Someone Somewhere In Summertime
14. See The Lights 
15. Don't You (Forget About Me)
Encores -
16. Alive And Kicking
17. Ghostdancing
Cheers, Ash

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Toploader, Alnwick Pastures, Northumberland

Following on from part one of the Alnwick Pastures trilogy, here is the middle instalment of my Summer 2014 live music photography. Toploader was the warm-up act that followed opening artist Ella Janes onto the stage in this picturesque countryside location near Alnwick Castle. I have absolutely no familiarity with this band other than the well known chart single they released back in 1999 (Dancing In The Moonlight). The forty minute set went down quite well with the audience and the band certainly enjoyed the experience. An insight into the bands career was copied and pasted from the Wikipedia page and can be found below...

Toploader are an English alternative rock band from Eastbourne who formed in 1997, with over two million album sales to their name and a string of top 20 hits both home and abroad. Their debut album, Onka's Big Moka, sold over one million units and remained in the Top 5 of the UK Albums Chart for over six months. However, they are recognised most of all for their cover of King Harvest's US hit "Dancing in the Moonlight" written by Sherman Kelly, which became a global hit for the band. Their second album, Magic Hotel, reached number 3 in the UK Albums Chart. Their 3rd album was released in 2012, their comeback single "Turn It Around" was released in 2013.
Toploader's live career began playing with Coldplay and Muse in small venues across the UK. They later went on to back Paul Weller, Robbie Williams and Bon Jovi, becoming the last British band to play the original Wembley Stadium.

The band had a huge hit with their first album, Onka's Big Moka, which was released in 2000. It debuted at number five in the UK charts. They released a second album, Magic Hotel, in 2003. The album was vilified by critics and failed to match the success of the first. They struggled with a backlash from the UK music press and their single, "Time of My Life", could only make it into the Top 40. They would soon be dropped by their record label S2. After an extended hiatus, Toploader signed a one-album deal with Underdogs Music for their third album, which was released in June 2011. The album's title was Only Human, and the first single from it, "Never Stop Wondering", was released on 14 March 2011. Another single, "A Balance to All Things" (featuring a remix from Ash Howes), followed on 20 June 2011.

The present band line-up contains four of the six original members; Joseph Washbourn, Dan Hipgrave, Rob Green and Matt Knight. 
On 8 April 2012, they performed at the University of Gloucestershire Student Union Summerball. They also performed at Aberystwyth University's May Ball on 11 May 2012. In May 2012, they played at Lakefest festival. They are also due to play at the Tiree Music Festival (TMF) July 2012. During 2012 the band agreed to act as patrons for a UK-based children's charity called 'Time Is Precious'. In November 2012 they are set to perform a gig in Frome, Somerset with all proceeds going to the charity, which helps ill children and their families.

In 2013, Toploader released a new single "Turn It Around", co-written with Eg White and produced by Andrew Green. The song is included on a four-song EP. In the summer of 2013 they headlined the LeeStock Music Festival in Suffolk and the AmpRocks Festival in Bedfordshire.

That's two down, one to go. My next blog entry features headline act Simple Minds, who played an excellent set once again! Coming soon...

Sunday, 2 November 2014

Autumnal Misty Morning

The opportunist photographer can often be rewarded with that special shot when determined to go that extra mile. I had one such moment last week, which paid off when I pulled in an autumnal misty morning shot at Joe's Pond, a nature reserve in Houghton le Spring. This location was often well frequented until I edged away from the nature side of things in favour of landscape and seascape photography. Appearances at Rainton Meadows and Joe's Pond are a rarity these days, which is something I'll be working on over the Winter months when I make more of an effort to revisit. Earlier this week I managed to get back round there, even though it was very much unplanned and a spur of the moment visit. I was driving home after a night shift at Nissan when my eyes were drawn to a thick blanket of mist on my final descent into Houghton, via the cut. Visibility was fine on this nippy Autumn morning, so the mist stuck out like a sore thumb around 7.20am. The mist was obviously lying on the surface of the water at Rainton Meadows, and although I've made this return journey home many times, it's quite rare to see mist forming as thick as this, so I just had to take a closer look.

I popped home, tired from an eight hour shift at the sweat shop and ready for some breakfast, I put that to one side and got changed, grabbed my backpack and headed for Rainton Meadows. I parked up and made the ten minute walk towards Joe's Pond, taking in the view of the mist on the nearby fields, which was very photogenic to say the least. Tempted to stop and grab some photographs, I reminded myself that the water was where I was heading and that any stop en route may cause me to miss what was on offer. Soon enough I was at the waters edge and it was a sight and a half. No one else around, just me, the swans and the mist. The sun rose above the tree line on the opposite side of the pond, making me realise that I had no time to lose if I wanted to bag the shot I was after. The Mute Swans were over to the left and out of shot. I needed to coax them over, but in a hurry to get over here I forgot to bring some bread. Never mind, I'll rattle that empty bread bag that some lazy bugger discarded on the floor. It worked well, although I wished I could have rewarded the Swans with some food as they drifted over, bang centre where I wanted them, right in the middle of shot. The shutter tripped!

An autumnal misty morning, accompanied with a website screen shot and a link to the TV weather
slot that featured my photograph, as well the feedback I received on one of the Facebook pages. It went down very well on Facebook, pulling in over 400 likes on three separate pages. And to think, I almost never bothered. I was soon back in the house and tucking into a nice cooked breakfast, before a bath and then bed. Job done!


Click here for video clip - ITV Weather (29/10/14)
Click here for Facebook feedback - Let's Talk Photography North-East

Saturday, 25 October 2014

Star Trails - Something a bit different

Hello again!
Following on from my fairly recent Milky Way shots is another insight to my new found interest in Astro Photography. I've captured some recent star trail shots that I'd like to share here on my blog page, including one in particular that couldn't have been captured any closer to home! Contrary to popular belief, it's not always essential to escape the bright light pollution of a built up urban area to achieve half decent results. Of course, a dark clear sky is essential for the most effective star trail shots, but if the conditions are less than favourable, you can still have a dabble to discover what the camera throws back at you. In this blog entry you'll find a set of recent shots (all from 2014) that were shot under a clear dark sky, with millions of stars on show. I've also thrown another shot into the mix that demonstrates what effect you can pull in when clouds unexpectedly appear and blow across the frame. I almost abandoned this particular effort, but decided to roll with it just to see how the resulting image panned out, and even though I couldn't see the stars at one point, because of the clouds, I ran off an extra 40 exposures just for the hell of it.

For anyone reading this, who has no concept of how star trails shots are achieved, the answer is a fairly straightforward one. As we look to the sky above and see the stars, they don't actually appear to be moving, even though they are. The North Star (Polaris) is constantly static, as is the South Star, and other stars rotate around it. So, if I take 50x 25 second exposures, continuously, then stack each shot on top of each other using photo software, each star will have moved slightly in each shot. The software basically tracks the movement of each star, resulting in a light trail effect, which is what you can see here. Obviously, the more shots you take, the bigger and better effect it will have on the end result. The shots shown here were captured over a period of around 60 minutes, apart from the garden shot which was a result of 130 minutes of shooting time. This was the easiest of all my 5 star trails efforts to date, as I simply programmed the camera and went back into the house to watch footy for a couple of hours. After the match I went back out to collect the images. Job done!

1. Angel Of The North (120 x 25 second exposures)
2. Groyne Lighthouse, South Shields (140 x 30 second exposures)
3. Our Back Garden, HLS (325 x 25 second exposures)
4. Souter Lighthouse, Marsden (120 x 30 second exposures)
5. Sycamore Gap, Hadrian's Wall (138 x 30 second exposures)

This type of photography requires at least two characteristics. Patience and perseverance. It's not too bad when you've got company and can have a bit of banter while the camera pulls in the shots. Time passes much quicker this way. When you're out on your own it's a different ball game however, even more so if you're in a very dark area late at night, away from home, and paranoia kicks in when you hear the trees rustling behind you, or an owl screeches over your shoulder and you almost shit yourself! And the one where you see a figure walking towards you in the distance and you wonder whether he's up to no good. You laugh about it afterwards, but it's not so funny at the time. Maybe I just nee to grow a bigger pair of balls, he he. Eeee eh, the things ya dee for a decent photograph!

And on that note I shall depart once again, hopefully returning with more photographs from God's Country. I wonder where I'll end up next time. Probably the coast. I feel another Seascape shot coming on. Hope it's not a false dawn. Ah well, we shall see...

Catch ya later, AC

Saturday, 18 October 2014

Banks Of The River Wear, Sunderland

Going back a few months in time to June 2014 and my visit to the banks of the River Wear, Sunderland. The exact location where this batch of photo's were taken was the rooftop of the National Glass Centre, near the University Campus on the north side of the water. It was an ideal day for photography, with blue sky and broken clouds, just the ticket for some picture postcard shots of the city's East End. It was a Saturday afternoon and the area was quiet, give or take the odd fisherman, although a fair few cycle riders went past on the final hurdle of the classic Coast 2 Coast route.

The roof of the National Glass Centre wasn't an easy one to negotiate, especially when you're not too keen on heights and you can see directly below through the plain glass you're walking on. Oh dear, my walk across must have provided a laugh or six for anyone who was watching. I've took on far worse heights in the past, so this was a doddle in comparison. Well, maybe not, he he. Once in position, I ran off a few frames and was satisfied with the results. My vantage point was by far the best position along this stretch of the river at this particular time, and even though I got the shots I wanted, I wasn't done yet. From the roof to the ground, I was soon on a comfortable footing and scouting about near the Uni Campus for more shooting positions. This location has been on my list of places to visit at night too, so I'll be heading down there again during the darker evenings that are round the corner. Not long now. So, until then, here are a few shots to be going on with...


Thursday, 16 October 2014

Ella Janes, Alnwick Pastures, Northumberland

A rare Live Music blog entry. Late August 2014 and a journey north up the A1(M) to the historic town of Alnwick, the venue of an outdoors Summer concert, featuring Ella Janes, Toploader and headline act Simple Minds. The stage was set up on the pastures near Alnwick Castle, which proved a very picturesque backdrop and one that wouldn't be forgotten in a hurry. Around 5000 people attended the show, although only a fraction of that amount were present when opening act Ella Janes took to the stage. It was a cloudy day with occasional sun and a slight breeze, but this was to change later in the evening when the rain fell, although it seemingly never dampened the spirits of those who chose to party on regardless.

20 year old singer/songwriter Ella Janes grew up in the historical town of Winchester, moving to Exeter to study French Literature. Due for release on Sunday 4th November, Ella’s debut EP ‘Leave It All Behind’ marks her move from the Devon hills to Nantes, where she is currently spending a year writing and turning French ears to her intricate fingerstyle guitar playing and warm whispering vocals. Ella writes and performs her own music, sometimes on guitar, sometimes on her ukulele and recently supported fellow nu-folkers Ellen and the Escapades on their UK tour.

Not much to say about the music, to be honest. Not my cup of tea, but listenable I suppose. Ella's performance seemed to go down quite well with the crowd and she smiled throughout, enjoying the whole experience even though she was drafted in at the last minute, so to speak. The 35 minute set was a warm up before Toploader took their turn on stage. Alongside Ella were Fifi Homan (cello & vocals) and Matt Hurst-Smith (bass & vocals). I emailed a couple of my shots to Ella after the gig and she replied, saying they were beautiful photographs! She uploaded one to her Tumblr page, the very first shot that appears, which you can view by

A nice note to end on. Back soon...Ash

The Kelpies, Falkirk, Scotland

Across the border and into Scotland for my latest low-light shots. The location was Falkirk, home of The Kelpies, the largest equine sculptures in the world. The Kelpies are 30-metre high horse-head sculptures, standing next to a new extension to the Forth and Clyde Canal in The Helix, a new parkland project built to connect 16 communities in the Falkirk Council Area, Scotland. The sculptures were designed by sculptor Andy Scott and were completed in October 2013. The sculptures form a gateway at the eastern entrance to the Forth and Clyde canal, and the new canal extension built as part of The Helix land transformation project. The Kelpies are a monument to horse powered heritage across Scotland. The sculptures opened to the public in April 2014. As part of the project, they will have their own visitor centre, and sit beside a newly developed canal turning pool and extension. This canal extension reconnects the Forth and Clyde Canal with the River Forth, and improves navigation between the East and West of Scotland.

It was dusk when I arrived at the site and the blue hour was almost over, so I quickly got to work while there was still decent colour in the October sky. Initially I ran with a Canon 17-40L lens, but soon switched to my brand new and as yet unused Samyang 14mm prime. The difference was immediately noticeable, not only with the extra wide angle field of view, but also the focus ring, which is manually operated and glides easily with just one finger. The Samyang 14mm is a rectilinear fisheye lens, which would be much smaller and less expensive, but also curves everything into a ball. Samyang is a Korean maker of security camera lenses -  Tamron does the same thing in Japan. Compared critically to Nikon and Canon's 14mm lenses, the Samyang 14mm f/2.8 is the least expensive 14mm ultra wide lens ever made and it attempts to keep straight lines straight.

But enough about the new lens, more of that will be revealed at a later date when I post more pictures and a review after putting it through its paces. To view 'The Kelpies' page on my website click here and go to Gallery 2 > Special Feature Galleries. Here is a small selection of shots from my visit, the first of many...
Back soon, Ash

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Tommy 1101, Seaham Harbour

September 2014 was a blank month as far as blogging goes, which is something I needed to address quickly. Facebook activity was the main reason for time spent away from my blog page, so I've decided to step back from that in order to regain my commitment to blogger. With quite a few photo's already in the bag, it gives me enough ammunition to step up my efforts in October, beginning with today's blog entry that features the 'Tommy 1101' sculpture that is situated in Seaham Harbour, County Durham.

The imposing metal sculpture entitled 1101 - owing to the fact the armistice went into effect at 11am on November 11, 1918 - stands 9ft 5ins tall and is built out of special corteen steel, was installed to mark the centenary of the start of the Great War and was only expected to remain in place for three months. But after winning the hearts of hundreds of visitors to the town, it could now be exhibited permanently. Around £72,000 has been raised to keep the 1.2-tonne statue in the town, and fundraisers are only £12,000 from their target. The Journal included it in its list of 100 great things about the North East - alongside more established landmarks like Hadrian’s Wall and the Tyne Bridge - and regular crowds are flocking to Seaham to take in the artwork. In the process, Ray Lonsdale’s work has been catapulted into the public eye and his journey from metal worker to fully fledged artist has been completed. He said: “There was always a big risk with Tommy because there was no sale for it. It was just a case of me biting the bullet and having hope that someone somewhere would buy it. There was no guarantee that it would have sold and it could have ended up sitting around for sometime. “Finally great things happened and they are just about there with the money now.”

The artwork, which was installed in May has attracted hundreds of visitors to Seaham, many of whom have donated cash to the Save Tommy campaign. A Facebook page called Mission 1101 has attracted more than 4,000 members with many pledging to support to Tommy, which is situated on Terrace Green. “I was surprised by the level of support 1101 got,” said Ray. “I’ve had a positive reaction to a lot of my work but not by as many people as this. The whole town has pulled together to put money in the buckets and raise cash to keep it here. That is a new experience.”
After leaving school Ray, 49, of South Hetton in County Durham, qualified as a maintenance fitter and began working at Coles Cranes in Sunderland, which closed in 1996. Following the factory’s closure Ray set up his own steel fabrication business, where he produced bins, seats and railings for local authorities and private clients. He always had an interest in art and at school he was always encouraged to go onto to art college. But it wasn’t until 2007 that Ray decided to start his career in art and changed the name of his business to Two Red Rubber Things. The father-of-two said: “In 2002 I got back into art and drawing on an evening and I decided to try and combine my work and interest. That’s when I produced my first piece. I got into a competition at the Biscuit Factory and I won the competition. “That gave me the confidence to try and do a bit more and over the next five years I completed more and more art work. There was a gradual change-over from steel to artistic steel work. “Someone told me that I would never stand a chance making it in the art industry unless I had a degree in art. I started college but I soon realised it wasn’t for me. “I decided to do things off my own back and that’s how I started and finally things were well received. “I didn’t feel I had time to do an art degree. It would take seven years and I felt I would be wasting opportunities. “I just wanted to push myself. I’m big on having a go and I never wanted to get to a point in my life where I would think ‘I wish I would have tried that’. “I kept the steel work going alongside the art work and it wasn’t until 2007 when I changed the name of the business and decided to take a chance with the art.”

Ray now has 30 life size statues under his belt and another six large scale pieces. These include The Big Dance at Gretna Green - a 14ft depiction of a couple’s hands - which was put in place in time for Valentine’s Day, a soldier on a bench at North Bay, Scarborough and the Filey Fisherman, in Filey.
Ray, who lives with wife Bev, said: “I like to create work that people can take something from it. Public art should be for the public. I don’t agree that it is an artist’s job to educate the public about art but if they like it then it’s been a success. “I like people to look at it and appreciate it and appreciate the work that’s gone into it. I also like them to look deeper into it and find the story behind it. Previously I would make seats, bins and railings. I had to get used to people buying my work for the way it looked rather than for its functional purpose. “It felt strange at first. I realised that people were having a positive reaction to my work and that’s something I got used to, which was nice.”
Ray is keeping quite tight-lipped about his next project but he admits he’s been approached by local authorities. He said: “I have completed a lot of drawings since 1101 and I’ve been approached by a couple of authorities with ideas but nothing has been finalised yet.” Leaving his full-time profession to concentrate on his dream to make it as an artist was a risk but Ray has not looked back since, citing his family’s support for helping make the leap. He said: “Bev has been fully supportive. She had a lot of faith in me when I didn’t. If it wasn’t for her I wouldn’t be any of this at all.”

It wasn't until the back end of September that I finally made the effort to visit Tommy. I had seen many photographs of him on Facebook and he certainly was flavour of the month for a while, which was half the reason I held back. Didn't wanna jump on the bandwagon and head over there simply because every man and his dog were doing it. I arrived at the site around 30 minutes before sunrise, hoping for some decent colour in the sky, and I wasn't disappointed, Another photographer stood alongside and we chatted for a short while before stopping to grab our shots. We chatted some more then the sun rose on the horizon, so the talk stopped once again while we pulled in some more shots. He was already set up when I arrived so he had the prime spot, which was exactly where I wanted to be, He obviously knew what angle to shoot from, and even though I was practically shooting on his shoulder, that extra foot or so to my left was quickly mine when he decided he'd had enough and retreated to his car. It was from this position that I had a perfect silhouette of Tommy, with the sun rising to his left (shown here).

As the sun rose further, losing it's orange hue as it slowly ascended, I decided to take a few close up shots of the sculpture. This photogenic piece of artwork will be the subject of more photography very soon. One visit is never enough. AC


Monday, 25 August 2014

Luss, Loch Lomond

After a nice week away on the Isle Of Wight, it was nice to make the most of my second week off work by paying a visit to Scotland. The main reason for our drive across the Anglo-Scottish border was to visit family in Livingston, not too far from Edinburgh, in a westerly direction. From Livingston we made the 64 miles trip to Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park, stopping off at Luss. The weather was fine, which is quite a rarity in Scotland, even in Summer. Our visit to Luss was a fairly short one and merely an exercise to get out and stretch our legs around the shores of Loch Lomond, taking in some fine views in the process. There were many tourists, like ourselves, and the coaches came and went every few minutes - Luss was obviously a popular place to tick off the list, judging by the sheer volume of people that were entering this small town. Apart from photographing the landscape around Loch Lomond, mainly from the pier, plus a quick walk around the nearby streets, I saw little else. That wasn't a disappointment though, as what I did see was more than enough and a taster of what else lay ahead. It was from Luss that we made a further journey North, up the West Coast towards Glencoe, adding another 60 miles on the clock. An hour and twenty minutes later, after being stuck in traffic on a very narrow road, we arrived at a very sunny Glencoe. Just what we wanted. Stay tuned for that and more, soon...
Cheers, AC

Friday, 15 August 2014

Planet Farnes, Northumberland

Our annual pilgrimage to the Farne Islands took place in mid-July, 2014. Once again it was an all day affair, courtesy of Billy Shiels boat trips, out of the harbour at Seahouses, Northumberland. Boarding the boat at 9.45am meant an early departure from Gods Country, at 7.20am, to be precise. We hit Seahouses just before 9 o' clock and headed straight to the local bakers shop, where we had breakfast, in the shape of a bacon and egg stottie. Just what the doctor ordered. Then it was a simple case of paying for our pre-booked tickets at the kiosk, although there's nowt simple about parting with £48 in the blink of an eye. That's the entry ticket for one plus one, and seeing that this whole affair comes around once a year, what the hell, let's get over to the Farnes and take it all in. And what a hive of activity it was, as expected, thousands of breeding birds in full flow, it was noisy and it was certainly smelly, and that was just my arse after scranning the bacon butty!!!!

And so we set off, heading towards the Farne Islands on a boat packed with people from all over the world. Again, it was camera equipment overload and there was a nation of it, worth thousands upon thousands of pound notes (or Euro, whatever the case may be). We were packed on board the Glad Tidings vessel like sardines in a tin, which came as no surprise really, it's like that every year we attend. Our tour of the islands was accompanied by the very informative captain, who's knowledge of the area and the breeding seabirds is well established. Then we hit the business end of the trip, our first landing, on Staple Island. From the boat we were led up the steep steps where the National Trust Rangers were waiting, taking payment from those who weren't holding a valid membership card. £6.80 for me and £3.75 for Chris! Ouch, and we had to do it all again on our second landing, at Inner Farne. Good job I was holding a pocket full of shekels!

Numbers of breeding birds were thriving, such as Puffin, Guillemot, Shag, Cormorant, Razorbill, Terns & Gulls. We saw a nesting Fulmar too, quite a rare sight on the Farnes. Our landing on Inner Farne had the customary welcome - the attack of the Arctic Terns, dozens of them! Well prepared for this as usual, with the baseball cap to take the sting out of those sharp pecking bills. If you stood still for more than a few seconds the Terns would have no hesitation in standing on your head, which was respite from their usual behaviour on the stretch of path leading to the Visitor Centre. And it was this area where activity was frantic, between the Centre and the toilets, where me n' Chris were dive bombed on countless occasions.

From here we headed off and over to the lighthouse, where dozens of Shags were nesting on the cliff face. I pulled in some decent shots here, including Puffins in flight. This was the last part of our visit as it was almost 3pm by this time. The day has flown by (no pun intended). I've added a few of my favourite shots of the day, all shot on a Canon 5D3, with 100-400mm L and a 24-105mm for close up shots. Hope you like them .Until the next time, catch ya later...

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Light Painting (War Of The Worlds)

Hello again.
Two blog entries in one day - what's that all about?
Well, I said I would write more regularly than usual, which at best is three or four times a month, so here I am again with my latest ramblings. Today's offering comes in the shape of another experiment as a novice in light painting. My recent Astro Photography got off to a good start when I pulled in some impressive shots of the Milky Way, as well as Star Trails. I appear to have picked that up fairly quickly and I expect to carry on in a similar vein during future midnight outings into the dark. But now, it's onwards and upwards into the world of light painting, another area of photography that until recently was as alien as Astro (no pun intended). With many years of experience in photography, this has springboarded me half way up the ladder in areas of photography that is new to me, as general knowledge of exposure settings and all round familiarity of the camera gives you that head overall start. You're already up and running, so it's then a case of acquainting yourself with the surroundings, lighting conditions and one or other minor factors that give you the main ingredients to throw into the mix. Trial and error plays a part too, as even the most accomplished photographer (not me, by the way) rarely gets it bang on first time. Nothing wrong with that, as we learn from our mistakes as we go along.

Anyway, enough of that. Here's my take on light painting with a simple torch. I tried it once at Hadrian's Wall, which again was quite challenging as it was completely new territory for me, but it came up trumps at Sycamore Gap. This time the location was a lot closer to home, at South Shields. The Groyne Lighthouse would be the location for this experiment, overlooking the mouth of the River Tyne, with the Groyne Lighthouse as the focal point. My first shot (above) has a slight Apocalyptic feel to it, reminiscent of a scene from 'War Of The Worlds', with the pod on legs and a dramatic sky as a backdrop. Well, maybe not quite in that mould, but that was what sprung to mind when I reviewed the processed images. So, without further ado...

Back soon, AC

Monday, 11 August 2014

My First Bash At The Milky Way

The Milky Way. What exactly is it, I hear you say. Well, good question, as I never knew the answer myself until very recently. Chocolate bar isn't the answer, by the way. Copied and pasted from the ever trusty Wikipedia -

The Milky Way is the galaxy that contains our Solar System. Its name “milky” is derived from its appearance as a dim glowing band arching across the night sky in which the naked eye cannot distinguish individual stars. The term “Milky Way” is a translation of the Latin via lactea, from the Greek (galaxías kýklos, "milky circle"). From the Earth, the Milky Way appears as a band because its disk-shaped structure is viewed from within the Galaxy. Galileo Galilei first resolved the band of light into individual stars with his telescope in 1610. Up until the early 1920s, most astronomers thought that all of the stars in the universe were contained inside of the Milky Way. Observations definitively showed that the Milky Way is just one of many billions of galaxies.

I had seen one or two outstanding photographs of it on social media, which awakened a side to my photography that I never existed until that moment. Intrigue got the better of me, so I done some digging via the internet and decided I wanted to have a go at photographing the Milky Way. I hadn't even seen it before, let alone photograph it, but I knew that if I ever did catch sight of it with the naked eye, then there was every chance I could record it as a photograph. A perfect chance presented itself ten days ago, during a family holiday on the Isle Of Wight. A perfect Summer day ended with a clear sky, which is an ideal backdrop for Astro Photography, as cloud cover can ruin any attempt at photography. The Moon had set too, which was another major factor, as any light source (Pollution) can also detract from the shot. With everything on my side it was now a case of hunting for the Milky Way, which began with a midnight car journey along the Western edge of the island. There wasn't another car on the road, which wasn't a big surprise, as I drove further into the darkness. I decided to pull over and step out of the car, hoping to get my first sighting of the Milky Way. I switched the car headlamps off and it this point I was surrounded by pitch darkness. I looked across to my right, over the sea and across the horizon...and there it was, stretching high and arching across the sky and into the distance over the Chale landscape. It was a kind of Eureka moment, seeing the glowing band for the very first time, and it this point I realised it was 'Game On'.

I was back into the car in a flash and driving once again. It didn't take long to arrive at Blackgang Chine, an adventure park built into the hillside, overlooking the sea. I was here just a few hours earlier, mingling with hundreds of other families as the park went into full swing. In stark contrast the place was now desolate. I was stood at the entrance to the now closed park, where the statue of a giant towered over me. What a picture that would make, I thought to myself, with the giant in the foreground and the Milky Way as a backdrop. Adventure Land, it certainly was. I switched the car engine off, plus the headlamps, again rendering the area in pitch darkness, apart from the window light from the foyer, which offered at least some illumination. Out came the big torch, leading the way and proving a godsend in poor light. Paranoia kicked in once or twice as trees rustled, owls screeched and even a fox walked by at one point. Being alone in a strange place, in the early hours, in pitch darkness isn't for the faint hearted. But when you're presented with a sight like I was, you just kick into gear and get on with the task in hand. And that was the story for the next half hour, as I ran off a few frames, using my torch to help me focus the 17-40mm lens, which at first failed to lock on to anything due to poor light.

I was crapping myself to be honest. I was sure someone was lurking in the trees behind me. It's a wonder I never knocked me neck out judging by the amount of times I quickly turned my head to see what was making the noises behind me. The mind boggles as to what it was. Best not go there, eh. And not before long I packed my gear up and headed to the relative safety of my car, locking the doors as soon as I was sat on my arse. Job done. Great experience, despite the fear factor, which in hindsight, was all part of the fun. It was certainly a sight to behold though, and one I'd like to see again in the not too distant future. I do believe an addiction to Astro Photography has kicked in!
Looking forward to the next chapter already...

Back soon, Ash