Tuesday, 13 October 2020

Mission 11.01 - Lockdown & The NHS


As we came out of national Lockdown in June 2020, it was a relief to think that life was beginning to return to normality once again. Since March of this year, the world as we know it had been struck down by Coronavirus, with over 50,000 casualties. The NHS faced unprecedented times, as they were stretched to the limit and beyond. For weeks on end, lockdown affected everyone and life was very different, with an ever increasing threat that we all faced, as Coronavirus ripped through the world.

As we came out of lockdown a semblance of normality began to surface.We were no longer tied to the confines of our homes. It was an uplifting feeling to be able to do the normal things in life once again - things that we had maybe taken for granted, at times. I headed out one night to the Tommy statue (Mission 11.01) at Seaham Harbour, County Durham. Their was no plan, other than to get some fresh air and hopefully pull in a couple of decent shots. The backdrop that was an NHS sign seemed to be the perfect exceuse to get out of the car and record a snapshot of these very strange times. After all, if it wasn't for our NHS, god only knows how worse the death toll would have been!


Saturday, 10 October 2020

Isle of Wight Astro Photography (Part Two)


Welcome to the second installment of my recent astro adventures on the Isle of Wight. It was another clear night sky on the island, so it normal service resumed as I headed out once again with the camera. Tonight was a revisit to Blackgang Chine Adventure Park, following last years visit with my son Chris, to shoot more of the milky way. As mentioned in my last blog post, this was the location that I saw and photographed my very first milky way, back in 2015, so it was quite nostalgic to find myself here once again, for more of the same. It was a 20 minute drive from our base in Newbridge, along the military road at west wight. Once again, it was an eerie kind of experience, as this place is usually crawling with people during the day, but desolate at night, as you would expect. As I stood at the main entrance I reflected for a minute, almost hearing the noise from the crowds and the unmistakable sound of the white knuckle rides whizzing past. The time was 9pm and it was still warm with no breeze at all - ideal for night photography, although the temperature was quick to drop as the night wore on. 

So here I was, back at the place where it all started. The genre of astro photography was new to me back in 2015 and I've pulled in many a shot since that introduction, but Blackgang Chine will always be the reason why I got hooked on this kind of photography. With no experience at all, I managed to pull in a memorable shot of the smuggler, with the backdrop that was the galactic core. It could've went wrong, but I managed to hit the sweet spot with those camera settings. The rest is history ha!

Again, the galactic core was there to be shot at. An amazing spectacle, with amazing foreground. I 'd lost count of how many times we'd visited this place as a family. It's a special place with special memories. I parked up and quickly got to work, firing off a few shots of the big man, then it was time to pack up and head off. 

Technical info - Canon 5D4, Samyang 24mm lens @ f2.8, Shutter 20 seconds, ISO 3200

Next stop - Compton Bay Car Park...stay tuned!


Isle of Wight Astro Photography (Part One)

CASTLEHAVEN COVE (12th September, 2020)

As coronavirus played havoc on our everyday lives, what turned out to be a cancelled holiday to a Greek island, turned out to be a week long holiday on another island. From Santorini to the Isle of Wight...

After the disappointment of learning that our Santorini holiday in mid-September had bit the dust, my wife suggested we book another holiday on home shores. Not wanting to waste an opportunity to get away, we booked a caravan holiday in Newbridge, on the Isle of Wight. The island had been the destination for many a previous family holiday, beginning in 2003, when our kids were young enough to enjoy everything the island had to offer. In fact, this was the place where I saw, photographed and edited my first ever milky way, back in 2015. I remember the night very well and it began what was to become a completely new genre of photography to me. I remember standing in awe, looking at the milky way on a clear, moonless night, with the smuggler of Blackgang Chine in the foreground. It really does seem like yesterday!

And here I am again, back to this small island - an amazing location for dark sky photography. And luck was on my side once again, as I just happen to visit during a full week of clear, moonless skies, once again. Well, an opportunity to walk those night time paths was here again and even better that it is September, when the sky would be dark enough to photograph at 8.30pm!!! September is traditionally one of the best months to photograph the milky way, as the galactic core is visible in all its glory at this time of year, so photogenic opportunities were in abundance. 

My first night of astro took place at a small fishing cove near the southern tip of the island - Castlehaven. I'd done my research earlier in the day, as my wife and I drove down to St. Catherine's Lighthouse, before walking along the coastal path to nearby Castlehaven. We walked through a small caravan park that overlooked the sea, before arriving at the small cove, which we had to ourselves. I scouted the place out, realizing there and then that it was an ideal spot to photograph the night sky, facing south-west, towards the milky way. There was a few small boats dotted about, which would add good foreground interest, so I bookmarked the place in my mind, before we headed off to the nearby Buddle Inn, for a well earned drink. The dirt track up to the pub was very steep and bumpy. I knew I'd have to drive back down this road later on, in pitch darkness, but it was the only access road to Castlehaven Cove, so it had to be done.

A few hours later, I was in the car and heading back to Castlehaven. The dirt track to the cove was every bit as bumpy as I'd expected. What an experience. It was like riding one of those mechanical bulls you often find in foreign pubs. Oh aye, I got flung all over, even at 10mph. Not a soul around. I eventually parked at the bottom of the track, next to three other cars. I made my way down the very short ramp towards the cove, with the help of a handy Poundland torch to light the way forward. I switched off the torch and allowed my eyes to adjust to the pitch black conditions... and it was as dark as I'd ever imagined...but what a night sky....amazing!!!  The milky was was ideally positioned, so I quickly scouted out a position behind a few small boats, knowing this would offer a good composition with interesting foreground. The waves lapped in slowly and the temperature was a welcome 16 degrees. I was still wearing shorts and t-shirt! 

I must have only been at Castlehaven for a matter of ten minutes or so, grabbing the shot I wanted, before heading back to the car. I was mindful that I still had to get back up that bank and out of there. If anyone else had parked up on the bank I was knackered - no way out. Luckily enough I had no real problems in negotiating a quick exit, so the night had got off to an excellent start and it was only 9.30pm - still time to head off to more locations, for those elusive astro shots!  

I was hoping to fit in Blackgang Chine Adventure Park, before finishing off at Compton Bay Car Park, for a spot of car photography. One of three planned visits was now in the bag...let's get to Blackgang Chine, for more of the same...and to tick off location 2...

Coming next (stay tuned!!!)


Thursday, 2 January 2020

The Ducket, Northumberland - A Hidden Gem Of All Gems

Not often do you stumble across a place that has you gazing in awe and amazement. Well, one dark night in February 2019 is exactly what I found myself doing, after taking a wrong turn whilst driving my car, in the sticks of Northumberland. It was meant to be an aurora chase, under a clear sky on a freezing cold night, but mother nature failed to put a show on, so I made my way home after yet another wild goose chase. But, not before I had stumbled across The Ducket - an 18th century stone tower looking out to sea. My wrong turn in the car actually turned out to be the highlight of an otherwise unproductive night. As I took the wrong turn, I stopped to do a U-turn and noticed the tower, on my right. Curiosity got the better of me, so I parked up and stepped out of the car. It was certainly a sight to behold, as the tower stood under a moonless sky, filled with billions of stars. Wow - that's all I could think! I stood for a minute or so, taking it all in, almost able to hear a pin drop. This place was definitely one to revisit, so the memory was placed in the bank, so to speak - one for another day...
The very next day I decided to do a bit of research on this 'Hidden Gem' and found that The Ducket is actually a holiday accomodation and available to rent all year round. You wouldn't have imagined this place has actually been restored to 5 star status. Within an hour of discovering this, I had made a booking, to visit for 3 nights in October, which was 8 months away. Seemed like an age, but it came around quickly enough. I mentioned to my wife, who was equally as excited about our weekend away, that it would be brilliant if we managed to get at least one night of clear skies, just like the one in February, when I made that wrong turn in the car. I'd mentioned to her how the night sky was amazing that night, so fingers crossed we would be treated to similar conditions again. As luck turned out, the moon phase over this particular weekend fell in our favour, as the moon would not be present during the earlier hours of darkness!
On our second night (saturday), the sky was clear and we found ourselves underneath the stars, taking it all in. What an awesome sight, but very cold at the same time. After a short while we headed back indoors. The Mrs began to watch 'Strictly' - not my cup of tea, so I headed back outside to shoot the stars. I set one camera away to catch a star trail, facing south-east. Then I headed into the nearby lane to point my second camera towards the north. What happened next was surreal. As I checked my first test shot I was amazed to see the Northern Lights, dancing behind The Ducket. I remember a shiver ran up my spine. This couldn't be happening, surely. Who would have thought this would happen, when I booked The Ducket weekender, 8 months ago!!!! WOW!!!  The light show went on for over an hour. I was completely gobsmacked. I rang the Mrs and told her what she was missing, lol. A night that will live in the memory for a very long time.
The Northern Lights experience was the icing on the cake of what was without doubt, one the best weekends we have had. As for The Ducket itself, well, this building is a complete one off. As quirky and as unusual as it may look on the outside, the inside was as impressive as you could ever imagine. Five floors of complete luxury, set in a peaceful part of Northumberland that is hard to beat. From first light, the surrounding pastures, covered in a thin layer of mist, made us feel like we were indeed in a very special place. The huge bulls in the next field, sat watching us, with not a care in the world. Crows flew around the tower, which was a sight to see from the indoor warmth of our surroundings. We never saw a single soul all weekend, apart from the farmer, who arrived on his quad, to check on the cattle. I was flying my drone around the Ducket, at the time.
And that was that - the weekend was over in a flash, but not before we'd enjoyed visits to Holy Island, Alnwick, Seahouses and Bamburgh. An amazing part of the world and a place that we'll be revisiting at some point in the not too distant future. Would I recommend The Ducket? Well after experiencing all we did on a weekend in October 2019, it would be impossible to say no. We had it all and more. Thanks once again to Outchester And Ross Farm Cottages for an amazing weekend in hidden Northumberland. Here's to the next one...
Coming soon...

Wednesday, 1 January 2020

Another Moonrise Attempt - St. Mary's Lighthouse

Hello again!

Another short write up, about my September visit to the outskirts of North Tyneside and another well known landmark - St. Mary's Lighthouse, near Whitley Bay.

It was another one of those full moon occasions, when you rely on those trusty smartphone apps to give you a few pointers regarding location, weather conditions, tide times, etc. It was a Friday evening and I headed off with good intentions of putting together a vlog (video blog), which is something I don't usually dabble in, but on this occasion I thought I'd give it a bash. I set up my GoPro in the car, en route, finding myself prattling on about the task ahead. The journey to St. Mary's lasted around 35 minutes. I parked up on the cliff top, near Old Hartley, which is a five minute walk to the rock shelf below, where I intended to shoot from. Only thing was, I hadn't given myself a great deal of time to prepare, so I ditched the GoPro and got myself down the steps and onto the beach, as the moon was about to rise. Ideally I should have set away earlier and gave myself plenty of time to continue my vlog as I set up my gear, but alas my planning was rather piss poor, so I stuck to the task of concentrating on my photography instead.

I grabbed a couple of shots as the moon rose on the horizon, then I shuffled around for the next 15 minutes, positioning myself in the ideal spot to get exactly what I wanted. Obviously the main objective was to align the lighthouse with the moon, which I managed to do before the detail in the moon burned out. It was another one of those 'Blink and you'll miss it' moments, or so it seemed. These occasions fly by in no time.

Again, I 've uploaded a screenshot from my Photographers Ephemeris app, which shows the location and moonrise, in relation to where I was standing to land my shots. This app is worth its weight in gold for tasks like this!

Thanks again for visiting!


From North To South - Moonrise @ Groyne Lighthouse

Hello again!
Making the effort to revive my blog page with a few short entries to get things underway in 2020.

Kicking off with this one - a moonrise attempt from Fiddler's Green, North Shields, across the River Tyne, towards South Shields. It was Saturday 20th July, 2019 and a full moon was about to rise on a clear sky summer evening, around 23.15. Conditions were on my side, so it was a case of wait and see. The Sigma 150-600mm lens made another appearance, doing what it does best, on nights like this. The clouds were approaching from the west, so I was hoping to get this one done and dusted before they drifted across before the moon had risen. Check out my prep screenshot, courtesy of that trusty old app known as The Photographers Ephemeris. Earlier in the day I consulted TPE app to give me a clue as to where I should be standing as the moon rose. Yeah, I was hoping to catch it rise behind the little red lighthouse, on the south side, near Little Haven. I was in luck! Turned out to be a wise move and everything came together nicely. I'm getting a taste for these moonrises. Hopefully more to follow...

Cheers, Ash

Lumiere Light Festival, Durham - 2019

Once again the Lumiere light festival rolls into town. 2019 marks the 10th anniversary of the UK's largest outdoor light festival and once again, it didn't disappoint. Having said that, the poor weather conditions put a massive dampener on the event, as rain fell continuously on the first three nights, scuppering any chance of me repeating last years feat, when I attended all four nights. Sadly, this year wasn't going to be anywhere near as productive, as far as photography goes, as I managed to attend one night only. I certainly don't mind a bit of rain, but when you're trashing through the city with expensive camera gear, it's not a good idea to invite water damage, despite your best efforts to avoid it. Been there, done that!

And so to Lumiere 2019...
I was a bit late to the ticket office this year. Shoulda had my arse into gear earlier for this one, but I slipped up and only managed to get my hands on tickets for the Sunday night. Never mind, I'll get me'sel along nice and early to get into the main 'peninsula' as they call it. Around 4pm I parked up at the top of Claypath and made my way down the bank and into the Market Square, where I was greeted by the first installation of Lumiere 2019. And what an introduction, it has to be said - a giant inflatable snow globe, named 'I LOVE DURHAM' … that dominated the square. As dusk was almost upon us, I fired off the first shots of the event, as the crowds began to descend on the city. Once the snow globe was in full flow it certainly was an eye-catching installation and with the blue hour sky as a backdrop … well, the show was well under way!

From the Market Square I headed up towards Durham Cathedral, which traditionally, is the main focus of the Lumiere event, with large projection visuals on the fa├žade of this historic building. This years Cathedral light show was called 'STONES' a shapeshifting video mapped animation composed soundtrack that constantly evolved. Near where I stood was a small tent, where limited numbers of visitors were invited to manipulate the installation by interacting with the stones controllers. It was next to the tent that I set my gear up to photograph this visual light show. When I ready to begin, I noticed a few visitors had gathered either side of me, throwing some nice shadows onto the ground, which made for some fine foreground detail. The browny red wood chippings caught my eye too. The whole of palace green lawn was covered in them, to avoid it becoming something of a mud bath. The light show and soundtrack was very, very effective, so I filmed a short part of it, while taking stills at the same time. To view my Lumiere 2019 video highlights … click here.

Moving on once again, I headed down towards the Count's House & Prebends Bridge, taking in more installations - THE STARS BENEATH OUR FEET...BOTTLE FESTOON and GEOMETRICAL TRACES. From Prebends Bridge we were guided along the riverside towards probably the most eye-catching installation of them all … FOGSCAPE !!  The riverside, near Fulling Mill, was transformed by plumes of ghostly water vapour, creeping through the trees on the riverbank and onto the river wear, itself.

We were swiftly moved along by the over keen event staff, who were adamant that no-one was going to stop to take photographs. Well they got that one wrong ha! Moving along the riverside at a decent pace, I found myself heading along towards Pennyferry Bridge, near the Radisson Hotel. It was here, on the river, where another popular installation was situated. MYSTICETE, a life-like 3D water screen projection of a colossal Baleen whale in an enexpected environment. As the crowds gathered along the waters edge, it wasn't easy to command a good spot to photograph from, so I had to wait until the next projection to get my opportunity. The water spray from the installation tried its very best to soak my camera's, but I was equipped with a plastic bag to fend off any chance of water damage. I think I done reasonably well, ha!

To end the night, I headed into Walkergate and over the Elvet Bridge, towards Old Elvet and the County Court area, taking in the following installations ...END OVER END, THE FRIENDSHIP TREE, HERON, CLOUD, WAVEFIELD VARIATION H and LIGHT TUNNEL, plus HELVETICTOC, THE NEXT PAGE, WASHED UP, FOOL'S PARADISE and THE STARS COME OUT AT NIGHT.

Considering I only had one crack at it, I was well happy with how much I actually managed to photograph. I didn't even stay till the end (11pm), as I had to be up early the following morning for work. I clocked off around 10.15pm. There wasn't even time for a bit to eat, which is always part of the game when I 'm out with the camera. No Bell's chippy this time round - the Q was out the door!!

So that's it for another two years, when the Lumiere bandwagon rolls into town once again. Was 2019 as good as previous events? Well, pretty hard to judge. There was, as always, the highlights of the event - plus the odd installation or six that made up the numbers, but all in all … can't complain - it is a FREE event, after all. I'll be back in 2021, no doubt. The moth is always drawn to the lights!

Catch u next time (wink)