Sunday, 21 January 2018

Fire In The Sky - Houghton le Spring

Hello once again!

Back for a brief update here on Blogger. With a folder full of backdated images to get through, I tick another batch off as I bring you my latest writings on all things photography. December 2108 and one of those 'Shall I' or 'Shall I not' pop out for an hour with the camera. It was a Saturday afternoon and the sky was brewing up quite nicely as sunset approached. I lost count of how many times I looked out my back window to check the sky. Each time I saw it I was nudging ever closer to grabbing my camera and heading out. With sunset looming I knew I wouldn't have time to go too far, so it would be another one of those very local trips like ... yeah, that ... the Copt Hill Barrow. Why not, it's in my own back yard and it's always a nice thing to pull in great shots from this location. I've lost count on the number of visits I've made, but hey ... two visits are never the same, let alone fifty!

And so it was to be ... the five minute car ride up the hill and across the field to those Seven Sisters. I got there around 30 minutes before sunset and the early indication was that this was gonna be a good one. Already the sky was taking on a colourful canopy - a one that would play an ideal role as backdrop for the Seven Sisters. Another photographer turned up, setting his gear close by. We'd met before. It was Ken Foulds, who lives across the way in Belmont, on the outskirts of Durham. Strangely enough, our first meeting was at this very same spot. Great minds think alike. I grabbed a couple of shots of Ken as I photographed his own scene, both of which are shown here. As the sky started to kick off I dotted around the Copt Hill, capturing the scene from various angles. The sky was definitely living up to its earlier billing, as the colour presented itself and seemed to linger for an age. This wasn't going to be a brief affair.

I was running with the Canon 5D3 for this outing, couple with a 16-35L lens and nothing else. No filters or remote, just the basics. I even   left my mitts in the car, which wasn't exactly the smartest move I made, as it was bloody freezing. Then again, we were into late December, so not to complain eh. I fired off around twenty frames in total, which definitely had a keeper or two amongst them, so I was looking forward to getting them onto my laptop to have a better look. So without further ado I said goodbye to Mr Foulds and headed off back to the car. By this time it would have been around 4.30pm. I had parked up in the Copt Hill Inn car park, which is a short walk from the burial ground that is Seven Sisters. I noticed there was still some lovely colour in the sky, which was odd, as the sun had actually set an hour ago. By this time there's usually no trace of red in the sky, but on this occasion there was still plenty to see. It was almost apocalyptic. Amazing to watch as it took on an almost surreal sight for sore eyes. Looking back now, I can safely say that the last photo I took (shown here, of the Copt Hill Inn) was by far my favourite one of the lot. Now, that was not part of the plan when I arrived, but sometimes those little surprises make the experience a whole lot sweeter. And so it was ...

Until the next time, be good


Sunday, 14 January 2018

Under The Radar - High Moorsley

Well, well, well ... two back to back blog entries in as many days. What on earth has come over me? Aye well, can't be complaining, eh. These things are indeed a rarity, if recent times are anything to go by. The truth is, I have a backlog of images that have been queued up for a while, ready for the blog treatment, so it would seem wasteful not to share the story behind those images. So here I am again, bringing you the latest spin on my photography exploits, with yet another night time outing under my belt and ready to share. Again, I was accompanied by Mr Spider, my brother and fellow astro photographer. We were rapidly approaching the end of the calendar year and seeing as I was on a two week break from work, now was as good a time than any to get back out with the camera, regardless of the cold weather. The plan on this occasion was to visit High Moorsley Weather Radar, on a trig point on the outskirts of County Durham - a 15 minute drive from my home in Houghton le Spring, Tyne & Wear. Star trails was the plan once again and this place is ideal for it. The weather radar sat high on metal framework, on the edge of a ploughed field and in wide open terrain.

Following an hour or so at this location the plan was also to include a visit to Tanfield Railway - a graveyard of trains and carriages, situated between Gateshead and Stanley. Again, star trails was the thinking behind the second part of tonight's photography outing, so I was looking forward to both visits. We landed at High Moorsley around 7pm, after parking the car a few yards down a public footpath that led to the weather radar. I'd scouted out this location a couple of weeks previously, so I knew how to find the place. I remember the initial visit very well, as the temperature was at zero degrees and my face felt like it was frozen solid by the chilly wind. I remember thinking that it would be even colder standing around while the camera pulled in the shots. My recce visit was done and dusted in ten minutes flat, as I quickly headed back to the warm refuge of the car. Tonight however, although it was still a tad chilly, it was nowhere near as brutal as it was on my recce visit, so that was a welcome sign, as we prepared to stand around in a snowy field for 90 minutes!

I ran with two camera's once again. Firstly I set up the Canon 5D3 next to the radar, lining up the North Star (polaris) above the golf ball like structure. Once the camera was up and running, I positioned the Sony a7s further down the field, as I noticed some nice lead-in lines in the snow. It was here where we stood and chatted while the camera's done their thing. An hour in and Mr Spider suddenly started vomiting. He said he felt ropey and didn't dare fart in case he shat himself!!!  Well, well, well ... we best pack up and head off. The cold chill may have played its part and won the day. We decided to give Tanfield Railway a miss, which was a bit disappointing, but when you feel like shit, you feel like shit. We headed back to the car and warmed up, before heading home. We had the radar shots in the bag, so the night wasn't a complete loss. I dropped Mr Spider off at Skinhead Towers, telling him to get his feet up and take it easy. I do hope he made it up those twelve floors in the lift without filling his boxer shorts.

After dropping Spider off I decided to head off to Seaham Pier to attempt a star trail. The night was still young, so why not. With Mr Spider now in more friendly surroundings, I was about to stay out in the cold a little while longer. Best make the most of the night before heading off home ...

Till the next time, catch ya later ...


Saturday, 13 January 2018

Planes, Trains & Automobiles

Hello again and welcome to another rare blog entry - my first of 2018. I've had some recent issues regarding signing in to my Blogger account, but hopefully they are now a thing of the past and I can reignite this page once and for all. This is easier said than done, however, but I'll get my act together one of these days, trust me.

And so it continues with more writings. Planes, trains & Automobiles - an account of a recent visit to a train graveyard in the North-East of England. An ideal place to practise some more night time photography under a sky full of stars. Make no mistake - this graveyard is one hell of a place to visit with the camera. Without doubt a place of unending interest - a place where your thoughts can very easily be transported back in time to an era that you never actually experienced. I stood there, surrounded by trains, carriages and trucks from a bygone age, all ancient and disused. This was a museum of relics, most of which were standing idle on short sections railway lines, accompanied by a platform, a station, a turntable, amongst others. As a photographer of the night sky, this place was a gold mine of foreground interest - an absolute gem of a place that I was wanting to bring into my photography. The scene was set. All that was now required came in the shape of two camera's on tripods and a boat load of patience from myself. Put the two together and the results are shown here.

Me and our Chris had visited this place three months ago to attempt a star trail. 40 minutes in and some unexpected clouds drifted across and closed things down. It was a disappointment, but not to be derailed, it was a case of waiting for another opportunity to eventually tick this one off. Three months had passed before the opportunity presented itself. This was New Years Day, 2018. Clear skies were here once again. Factor in a 20 minute drive to this location and it was game on once again. Let's get this party started. Upon arrival it was quite chilly, with a slight wind thrown into the mix. Once parked up we went through the gate and headed down the ramp towards the graveyard. Once down in the dip there was a very noticeable temperature drop and the wind that was is suddenly no longer. Looking above it was a sorry sight. Cloud cover was claiming at least 70% of the sky and certainly not what the weather watchers had forecasted earlier in the day. Hmm, looks like we'll have to wait it out. Have faith in the weather watchers and thou shall be rewarded.

For almost an hour, we scouted out the best spots for our imminent star trail. Once decided, we killed time by photographing some of most eye-catching trains and trucks until the sky had cleared. In fact, some of this unwanted cloud was beginning to play a part in my first shots of the night. It was fast moving and a couple of five second exposures pulled in some great results. There was a full moon tonight, which was to play a big part in our star trails, as it sat in an ideal position behind us, lighting the scene perfectly. Don't you just love it when a plan comes together? Not a bad way to start a new year, with the pieces of the puzzle falling nicely into place. Neat.

Oh there was more than a few. Yeah, we were close to a flight path and the new year traffic was
in abundance. Nothing new there then. There would be some canny Photoshop wizardry going on tomorrow remove those plane trails.

Awesome foreground. Relics of interest. Dozens of them, adding to a scene that an astro photographer would lap up in no time. I've picked out some interesting foreground in the past, but photographing this stuff beats the lot. Even the abandoned aeroplane in Cumbria. Oh yes, it doesn't get better than this.

With heated seats! With the shots in the bag it was time to get out of this place. Heaters on, radio on and yes ... those heated seats, too. A quick stop off at our local kebab shop rounded off a great night.

And those star trail shots. Yeah, one lasted 100 minutes in total. After setting the Canon away I moved a few metres down the track to set up my Sony a7s. Ten minutes of preps and the camera was now set up and firing. This one would run continuously for around 90 minutes, after which time we stopped our camera's and packed up, before heading off site and into the warmth and comfort of the 'Automobile'. Another job done. I love nights like this. The images were collected and in the bag. 

Camera settings ~ (star trails)
Canon 5D3, Samyang 14mm prime, Aperture f2.8, 30 seconds x 200 exposures, ISO 500

Sony a7s, Canon 16-35L, Commlite Adaptor, Aperture f4, 30 seconds x 180 seconds, ISO 400

(single shots)
Canon 5D3, Samyang 14mm prime, Aperture f4, 15 seconds, ISO 500, with torch to light foreground

Until the next time, cheers