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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
As we reach the middle of May, it has to be said that it has been a little more than underwhelming on the weather front, it appears that the usual April showers overslept and are now playing catch up.
I was not entirely surprised to see that this weekend was not looking much better but I was determined that I would get out for a few hours on at least one of my days off.
Saturday morning just after 5am and the familiar sound of rain falling gently on the windows, I make my first brew of the day and ruminate over the weather forecast apps, each one telling a different story but decide to head out regardless.
I board the train to Topsham at 6:15 am, but for the driver and ticket inspector, I am the sole passenger arriving at Topsham about 20 minutes later. This is one of my favourite local walks, where the footpath runs alongside the estuary but the whole path is not always accessible at certain points at high tide but today, after checking tide times, I have timed it well.
As the gentle drizzle turns to a more persistent and heavy rain, I think at first that I have rolled the dice and lost but after a few minutes, the distant horizon appears to brighten up.
Often on days such as this, there is the possibility of some dramatic cloud and light as rain and sun fight for aerial superiority, I was not to be disappointed as I make my way along the path, a huge grey cloud attempts to smother a rainbow, what a great start after all.
The seven mile walk back home was to be interrupted only a handful of times with rain showers, I am happy that I made the effort today, even happier with some of the images I took along the way
As we begin a considered easing of lockdown rules over the coming weeks, I look forward to treading once more the hallowed turf of Dartmoor, to reacquaint myself with the joys of roaming this vast and wonderful landscape, to marvel once more at the majestic tors, standing tall and proud, sentinels of the landscape, to enjoy each breath of its invigorating and inspiring air and every footstep made along its many paths.
This enforced absence has made me appreciate even more, just why I enjoy taking a camera with me on my walks, looking through photographs of previous visits evoke a memory of that particular day, or time of the year, in some cases, remembering how hard it was to keep the camera steady as a strong wind blew across the moor, or just how quickly that rain cloud appeared just overhead, ready to drench the unwary walker with its cargo.
Over the last few months, I have slowly and somewhat belatedly started to catalogue my photos, a long overdue process that is still a long way from completion, as I seem to make more and more reasons to get out and take yet more photos. I had dreaded this sorting process, but it has been an interesting insight in to my personal photographic journey, as well as a sobering reminder of the cameras I may have bought, sold and purchased again along with all the ‘necessary’ accessories, yet I have not regretted a single second of this process.
It was looking back at recent trips to the moor that inspired me to pick a few favourites from the archives and sow a seed of optimism that it may not be too much longer before I am there once again.
Photographers are an inherently fussy breed, in pursuit of the ‘perfect’ light we abhor those insipid grey washed characterless skies and take exception to those cloudless azure blue skies with equal measure.
To capture the mood of a rainy day requires adequately weather proof camera bodies and lenses, lacking both or either requisite we will keep our gear safe from the elements but moan that we cannot get outside.
For some the midday sun is to bright while an overcast night sky for an astro photographer is about as welcome as a bill from the tax man!
The nature of our hobby is such that not all conditions will suit everyone but my own addiction to shutter therapy means I will try to get out at any opportunity.
Of course, shooting a landscape in the harsh sunlight of mid day is not ideal, but take those same conditions to a busy city, where contrasting light and shadow may be found, it is only a matter of time before people will walk into these areas of light and some interesting shots can unfold. The same may be said of those rainy days, reflections from the wet ground offer some good monochrome shots.
For most of us, the ideal conditions are those days with cloud leaden skies, where the sun escapes through the occasional gap to fall upon buildings or the ground below.
For me, this recipe is best served around the coast at low tide, the mud flats or shallow tidal channels reflecting the light and cloud. I was fortunate enough just recently to have the weather gods on my side just a few days ago, the gallery below are a pick of the many and varied shots I took that day, inspiring the title ‘for the love of clouds’
As we hit the middle of March, there are welcome signs of spring, with the hours of daylight increasing slowly but surely, day by day.
Spring is a time of change, as we shed the siege mentality of those often wet and windy days that keep us indoors and look to spend more time enjoying the first prolonged warm days outside.
With Saturday offering nothing better than frequent rain showers, I looked to make Sunday morning my day of lockdown exercise along the river path, so just after five thirty am, I head out before the city wakes from its slumber.
How nice at this time of day to see the sky beginning to lighten already, instead of the black velvet shroud of darkness, as I reach the quayside, pink clouds of candy floss sail along blown by the chilly wind.
For now, I have the quay to myself, in a few hours it will be the destination for those looking for a warming takeaway drink after their morning constitutional, I will probably be back home by then, a reminder that I practiced social distancing before it became a ‘thing’.
A mile or so along the riverside path, the morning sun begins its ascent into the dawn sky, its light painting clouds with bright, warm hues, one of the reasons I love watching the new day come alive.
Days such as these, bring the senses alive, the feeling of familiarity of this path during lockdown dissipates into appreciation of the place I am fortunate to call home.
Reaching the end of this stretch of the path, I could cross the busy main road at Countess wear and join it again to walk towards the Exe estuary, this idea is trumped by the knowledge I have promised myself a bacon and egg roll when I get home and with the hunger pangs making themselves known, I begin the walk back along the opposite path.
Heading back towards the quayside, I have walked a healthy six and a half miles, and with the sun radiating some rather pleasant light, I grab a few more shots before the home straight.