Escape to Dartmoor

For the first time in a few months, I have managed to have a sneaky Friday off, a chance to enjoy a quieter day on Dartmoor, now that the summer holidays are over.

Today’s outing will include a pleasant stroll around Venford reservoir, a quick trip to Coombestone Tor and another visit to a favourite of mine, the Powdermills ruins.

I will write more about Venford in another blog, today is more about my enjoyment of exploring the rocky outcrops of Coombestone Tor and fascinating landscape of the Powdermills.

Coombestone Tor is very popular, given the ease of access to its location, the car park being a stone’s throw away from the main attraction, which on an overcast day such as today, looks as dramatic as ever.

The bracken surrounding these outcrops are taking on an autumnal tinge, greens and rusty browns add contrast to the cold grey monoliths.
The views from here are nothing short of breathtaking, just a small reminder of how lucky I am to have this barely an hour from my home town.

From here, the destination is Princetown, home of Dartmoor prison and a handy village store where a welcome bite to eat is enjoyed, before the third part of today’s outing.

Powdermills ruins are the remnants of a gunpowder manufacturing facility, the explosives being used for the quarrying of the granite on Dartmoor, with several of the well separated buildings still standing, apart from their roofs, they serve as a poignant reminder of the areas industrial past within this unforgiving landscape.

I have visited this location on much brighter days but for me, the overcast conditions add a little more drama to this desolate moorland, a place that I will continue to visit time and time again.


A trip to Piles Copse

It has been a while since my last blog entry, a busy August has left little spare time to write, however there are a few entries in the offing.

The first of these is a first time trip to Piles Copse, the third and less well known of the ancient oak woodlands of Dartmoor, situated on the banks of the River Erme, a few miles from Cornwood and Ivybridge.

I have visited Wistman’s wood and Black a tor copse before, both of which are breathtakingly beautiful and popular, Piles copse has a less defined footpath so a map is pretty much essential.

Arriving at just before 7am, the sun is making its way into the sky, my first photo of the day is a copse of fir trees silhouetted by the morning light, a truly inspiring start to today’s outing.



Just a few steps into today’s walk and this is my view

With my need for some urgent shutter therapy and the outstanding natural beauty of the landscape, the hike towards Sharp tor takes a while, and upon reaching the tor, the view below is second only to the local equine population atop the hill.

My first photo of this little beauty was from some distance away, but I sat quietly on a rock and she slowly but surely came closer to satisfy her curiosity.
The view from Sharp tor down to Piles Copse

From this vantage point, to the woods below is a steep zigzagging route weaving a path around the dense vegetation, it is clear that this is not a well used path.

The copse itself is owned and managed by the Howard family, who thankfully allow rights of access through the woodland but camping is not allowed with the area being designated site of scientific interest status.

Like Wistman’s wood and Black a tor copse, one could be forgiven for thinking that you had come to middle earth, the lichen and moss coated trees and rocks, and twisted tree limbs looking so beautifully other worldly.


I find my usual photographic fodder of back lit leaves and dappled sunlight through the trees, a spiders web shimmering in the gentle breeze that whispers quietly as it passes by.

The route out of the copse is as hard as the one in, yet for this, I feel a sense of reward, nothing as beautiful as this should be easy to reach, the total distance of just under six miles feels more like ten but I feel privileged to have completed the Dartmoor triumvirate of ancient woodlands.

Woodland wanders

Summer arrived this weekend, its suitcase packed with blue skies and temperatures in the mid to late twenties centigrade, the first prolonged period of decent weather for some time.

Not wishing to sound ungrateful but I will not be one of the many seeking sand, sea and surf, instead I will seek the shade of a woodland walk, while continuing with my series of vintage lens shoots.

Today’s lens of choice is a Helios 44-2 58mm lens, bought some years ago on an online auction site, these lenses are known for their swirly bokeh wide open at F2, with a decent sharpness throughout the focal range.

Helios 44-2 ‘Zebra’ lens

My introduction to the Helios lens was with my first film camera in the 1980’s, a Zenit TTL, at that time,it would be true to say that I did not appreciate what I had, equally, my relationship with photography had barely begun.

Today’s destination is Dane’s wood, owned by the National trust just a couple miles from the Killerton estate near the village of Broadclyst.

Normally, my woodland walks tend to be in the mid to late autumn months, capturing the changing colours of nature, today will be finding areas of interesting light, flora and fauna, looking for more abstract shots of the woodland.

It is a slow amble through the woods, enjoying the cool shade of the trees,while listening to the birdsong above as I look for my next subjects, of which there is plenty.
More and more, I am enjoying the more deliberate process of manual focusing, for sure, auto focus has its many advantages but for me it is not critical in capturing the ‘moment’ in an instant as it would be a journalist, sports or wedding photographer.

A two hour mooch around the woods seems like just a few minutes, it never ceases to amaze me how fast the time passes by on my camera walks.
Emerging from the woodland path to the car park, it appears that the world and his brother are looking for a parking space, it looks like a good few others have no wish to go the beach either.


Vintage nifty fifties

After moving house earlier this year, I had left a few boxes unopened and put to the back of various cupboards until just recently.
Among one of the boxes was my collection of vintage lenses, which have since found a new lease of life on my mirrorless camera.

A recent trip to Dartmouth saw me using a Carl Zeiss Jena 50mm 2.8 lens, a lens with very pleasing colours and image quality.
With a few errands to run in town last Saturday, I chose to take my Super Takumar 50mm 1.4 and 55mm 1.8 lenses for a little street photography.

One of the pleasures of street photography is not knowing what will unfold as you shoot, today’s best moment for me, was capturing a hen party as they were about to embark upon the day’s revelry.

The vintage lens project may have been a little late off the ground but will become a regular part of my photography this year, I still have a 30mm and 28mm lenses to spend time with, in the coming weeks, watch this space.

The pick of the days images are posted below, I would welcome comments, questions and feedback from anyone, especially if you were thinking of experimenting with older lenses.

A Welsh excursion

My first time in Wales was back in 2005, at that time, I had just dipped my toe in the waters of the digital photography world, my camera of choice was a Konica Minolta Dynax 5d, if I remember correctly it boasted an 6mp sensor, which in fairness was more than adequate for my needs and knowledge of photography at that time.

It had always been on my wish list to return, finally doing so in the last week of June.

With holidays having been a distant hope for too long, I was determined to make the most of the time I had there, getting a few early morning walks under my belt, while appreciating the time away.

The mornings started cool, ideal for walking, perfect for shots of low cloud around the mountains, there were also some pretty dramatic skies as the sun did its best to break through the clouds.

Just two miles away, Bala Lake was a certain destination for my bucket list, I made it on my final day, arriving at LLangower just after 7am, I had an entire lake to myself!

No words can amply describe the breathtaking beauty of Wales, but a pick of my favourite images may just give an idea of why I will be keen to return.


The vintage lens shoot

My last blog was about how I had rekindled an interest in using vintage SLR camera lenses on a modern mirrorless camera body, and how the more deliberate process of manual focus and controlling an aperture ring on a lens made me feel much more a part of the photographic process.

Up to now, I had used my vintage lenses for more creative compositions, the wide open aperture of my Super Takumar 50mm f1.4 allows for some lovely bokeh for close ups of flora and such but it occurred to me that I had never used one of my older lenses for an entire shoot.

As I am always keen to give myself new photography orientated projects, I decided that for my next outing, I would not pack my usual 20-60mm lens, instead picking out a Carl Zeiss Jena Tessar lens 50mm F2.8.

With a trip to the picturesque town of Dartmouth on the cards, I was looking forward to the first of these one lens only forays.

As I left Exeter, the morning sky was just a miserable mass of grey, in contrast, Dartmouth was bathed in a warm late June sun, with plenty of holiday makers determined to make the most of the day.

One of the things I enjoy most about photography are the spontaneous conversations that may be had with fellow photo hobbyists, I had a lovely chat with one gentleman who recognised the lens and said he had used one in the late sixties and early seventies on his Praktika film camera.
He was curious about using older lenses on modern cameras, he went away with the idea of rediscovering his older lenses that had not been used for some years, he was even more pleased when I told him that his current Sony camera was perfect for his needs, he just needed the adaptor. (His wife was even more pleased when she knew the adaptor would not cost that much!)

I was aware of how much more deliberate I was in picking my shots today, I was spending more time looking for something a little different, part of this, could be my familiarity with Dartmouth, I spent a very happy 5 or six years in and around the area, while I was working as a chef in the late 1980’s and early 90’s, it will always remain a haven of happy memories.

With just a 2 hour parking limit, there was no time to walk as far as Dartmouth Castle, that can be another trip for another day, back at the car a brief look at the images on my camera screen looked pleasing, this lens renders colours in a way I like, perhaps a little over saturated but not overly so.

On seeing my efforts on my computer screen, I was more than happy with the images from this lens, my only regret being that I had not used it that much before, there were a few shots where I had missed focus but the sharpness of this little gem even wide open was surprising.

There is no doubt that I have become used to the clinical sharpness of modern day lenses, so today’s outing has given me a eureka moment, realising that not everyone who sees an image cares about the sharpness,or what camera was used, more that for them it evokes a memory, or it reminds them of somewhere similar that they have visited, regardless, for someone else to take pleasure in a photo means that my job is done!




As I browse my vintage lens collection, I have another 3 50mm lenses to choose from, I am already looking forward to the next outing.

Old lenses, modern camera

As digital photography technology advances ever forward, camera companies are cramming more and more megapixels on to sensors, adding ever more features to make the photographic process more instantaneous.
Modern camera lenses are now clinically sharp, even the humble ‘kit lens’ offered with a new camera is no longer the cheap and cheerful offering it once was.

With a long time passion for photography, I have embraced all the above with vigour but I feel that sometimes I am forgetting one of the reasons that I got into photography in the first instance, the whole process of manual focusing a lens, learning how to read the light and expose correctly (more often incorrectly in my early days).
For all my mistakes, they were all part of the learning curve, just one of the many steps in my photographic journey.

Every now and again, I retrace these steps to an extent, by attaching an old manual lens to my mirrorless camera, I went through a stage of finding some cheap lenses through online auction sites, a few of which have become firm favourites and will not be parted with, others were not so good and found their way into charity shops.

Today was one of those days where I took out my Helios 44-2 58mm lens and an industar 50mm 3.5 – 4.5, both od Russian origin, both mass produced so incredibly plentiful and cheap.

The Helios wide open at F2 produces a swirly bokeh, ideal for shots in woodland where the background can be isolated from the subject, the Industar has a more muted colour palette which I like for street photography.

While a manual focusing lens may not be ideal for street photography, there is pleasure to be had in finding a spot and pre focusing, waiting for someone to walk into frame, with a small city such as Exeter, it is just a matter of time before someone obliges.

Maybe I need to spend more time with these legacy lenses, I felt more immersed in the process, rather than just being in charge of pressing a button!

Sunshine and steam

As life tiptoes cautiously back to a semblance of normality, today is a day I have been looking forward to for a long time, a visit to one of Devon’s steam railways at Buckfastleigh.

For as long as I have carried a camera, this has been a favourite destination and after an eighteen month absence, it is fair to say I am looking forward to it!

This small station always extends a warm welcome to its visitors, it is like being welcomed back into a long lost family, regardless of whether this is your first or umpteenth visit.

Regardless of how many times I have been to any steam railway station, the sight and sound of the steam locomotive arriving at the station never fails to bring out the excitement of the child within, grown adults with cameras around necks, almost running to get a good spot to take a picture.

The platform of course is the main stage but I take as much pleasure in exploring the sidings and workshop areas, watching the army of restoration experts and engineers bringing new life into forgotten heritage.

I am mainly using my Fuji X100V for this trip today, I have been experimenting with some film simulations recipes I am keen to try, two work really well while two more need a little tweaking but this for me is the joy of photography, more so that I am able to try in camera, rather than at a computer screen later.

With the second of my post lockdown trips ticked off the list, all that remains for me to do is post my pick of yesterday’s outing.

Film simulations with the ‘V’

Without doubt, Fuji’s X100 series of cameras have long held an appeal for me, the small form factor and image quality are now synonymous with most of Fuji’s crop sensor cameras but it is the film simulations and superb Jpeg engine that draw so many photographers of all levels into the Fuji fold.

I have mentioned in earlier blogs about my own reluctance to make the most of the Jpeg files with earlier models, the mantra of ‘RAW is best’ stuck in my mindset, that is until I really started to experiment, and appreciate just how good the images could be.

Every now and then, I make the decision to shoot just JPEG’s for an outing, today’s trip into town was one of those days, I just felt that I did not want to spend too long in front of the PC screen, I had already edited a load images from two previous outings from this weekend.

Don’t get me wrong, I do enjoy the editing process almost as much as the outing but occasionally, its good to let the camera do the work.




Only very basic edits were done to these images, a little added contrast, highlights and shadow adjustment and cropping / straightening where needed.

Outings such as this are a reminder of how much fun photography can be, it is all too easy to feel that even as amateurs we need to take a ton of gear with us and obsess over making every pixel count, instead of just getting out there and simply enjoying the moments we capture.

Foggintor revisited

It has been over nine months since my last visit to Dartmoor, so to say that I was looking forward to this visit is something of an understatement.

Foggintor has long been a favourite destination for my photo walks, the ruins of the quarrymen’s houses and the quarry itself are perfect photography fodder, especially on those rain laden cloudy days such as today.

It’s late May but a cold wind prevails, temperatures are just a little above 7 degrees, a little unseasonal perhaps but after a nine month absence, I do not care, it’s good to be back once more.

Today’s walk will take in Foggintor quarry, Kings tor and Swell tor, a route of about 6 miles, this is not allowing for my inevitable deviations to take pictures of remote gnarly trees, or anything else that may catch the eye.

At it’s peak, in the mid 1800’s the quarry employed over 300 people, the granite from this quarry was used in the making of Nelson’s column and London bridge.

As I amble my way at a leisurely pace, I can only imagine the brutal nature of the work here, more so, given the volatile nature of the weather here on the moor.

A good 2 weeks of rain are evident here, rainwater drains from the higher ground onto the footpath making it part path, part stream, not a complaint, just one more thing I love about this inspiring landscape.

A third of the way into today’s foray and the sky begins to show signs of light, as dappled patches of sunshine escape through the thinning cloud, perhaps I may even see some sunshine today.

Through the gusts of wind, the only sound to be heard are my own footsteps and the tell tale trill of the many skylarks dipping and soaring and for the first time this year, a cuckoo, heard but rarely seen.

I had honestly thought that my chance for capturing bluebells on the moor this year had well and truly gone but as I look at the path below, three adjacent fields are a sea of blue, such a contrast in this landscape of greens and browns.

Finding this riot of blue was one thing, finding that there is public access is a bonus, surely I must get a few images here?

As the last of the heavy rain clouds are blown across the horizon, blue skies emerge from under their drab grey cloak, sunlight bathes the distant landscape in its glow, just for a few fleeting seconds.

The end of today’s walk is near, approaching the car park that on arrival was empty, it is now full with a queue of four more looking to turn in and look for spaces that aren’t there and exit once more.

With a good few miles completed, I feel that I have had the best of the day, I am hoping my next visit will be a lot sooner than my last.