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