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.
Growing up in a small seaside town has ensured a love of the sea and coast have been indelibly etched into my DNA, so any opportunity to visit the many seaside towns throughout Devon will rarely be missed.
In the eighteen or so years that I lived in the beautiful town of Salcombe, I rarely walked the coast path, my enjoyment for coastal walking, indeed walking of any kind had not yet manifested itself, my time being spent fishing with my father, or enjoying the freedom a racing bike can give.
It was my regular cycle rides to the coastal village of Hope Cove, just a five or so mile distance from Salcombe, that made this charming postcard perfect place one of my favourite places to visit even to this day.
With my tendency to start my photo walks at an early hour, it often gives an added bonus of having a beach or town virtually to myself, for at least a couple of hours, a chance to photograph a pristine beach maybe, or to just enjoy the solitude for a few moments.
A lot of my enjoyment with photography, is the way that looking back at images will evoke a memory of that day for me in a personal sense, another is that with the ability to share images to social media, my photographic adventures can be shared with old friends and new, far and wide.
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’
Friday and Saturday had been a complete wash out in terms of any plans I had of getting out for my weekend photo walk, can there be any rain left to fall I ask?
Sunday morning and much of the same, as I enjoy my first brew of the day and a bacon butty, the skies are a grey wash of mediocrity, the gentle sound of rain against the windows, is this to be another ‘stay in’ day?
As I finish breakfast, I look out to see that there appears to be a break in the rainfall, without further ado, I decide to get some fresh air, even if it is only for a brief time.
The rain may have stopped but the sky still shows intent, so I set a brisk pace as I head towards my undetermined destination.
It is on these spontaneous forays that I find myself becoming more creative, looking for shots that I have not taken before, which in a city I have lived in for over twenty years, can be a challenge.
A lot of today’s shots will be black and white, to capture the mood of the day, but keep an open mind.
It has been my intention this year, to spend less time editing my photos, attempting to capture the mood with in camera presets or ‘recipes’ I have been creating over the last few weeks.
With today being such a dull day, monochrome and desaturated colour images, with contrasty shadows are the order of the day, with only a little cropping as needed done in post processing.
Despite the short duration and distance of today’s jaunt, I feel that I have salvaged something from this weekend and look forward to my next outing.
Last weekend was the first weekend in a long time that I did not manage to get out with the camera, my days off were spent unpacking boxes and settling into my new abode, so no opportunity for the usual shutter therapy.
My hopes for a bright and sunny Friday and Saturday are to be dashed by two days of wind and rain.
Ever the opportunist, Thursday evening is at least dry, so decide to head out for an hour or so, just around the city centre for some night time photography.
As I walk past St James station, I realise that I have lived in Exeter for twenty years and never taken a photo here, in daytime the small station is one of the many smaller ones along the Exmouth railway route but the lights reflecting on the platform catch my eye enough to take a photo.
In all honesty, I have no plan in mind for tonight’s impromptu foray, as with the station image, it will be whatever catches my eye, as I make my way into the city centre.
I love the way a city seems to take on another persona at night, the way light reflects onto other buildings, or onto the street, offer chances not seen during daylight hours.
While I do not consider myself to be a ‘crowds’ person, I look forward to times when the city streets will be busy once more, where the hospitality and retail industry can open their doors once more and to see my home city getting back to business as usual.
Most of my exercise walks in lockdown have followed a well trodden path away from the main city centre, strolls along the riverside are a brief respite and a reminder of the normality that we once had before this ever present threat of covid.
As much as I enjoy capturing the beauty of a sunrise or the mist rising from a river on a cold winter morning, these strange times have a story of their own, the following words are observations and images, taken over the last couple of weeks, on my brief incursions into a city in lockdown.
The city streets are bereft of bargain hungry shoppers, a melancholy silence hangs above the city, where even the faintest sound will drift between empty alleyways.
Shop window displays remain unchanged, last season’s merchandise that nobody can buy, only essential shop doors can welcome the customer for now.
An optimistic gull perched upon a street light waits for morsels that rarely appear, once easy pickings have become a drought, so he files to another spot, where he is quickly dispersed by a rival already close by.
Lone souls find a place in the winter sun to drink a welcome hot tea or coffee while others patiently wait for their buses to take them home.
I think we have become a little more sociable these days, while we have spent a lot of time at home, the company of a stranger is a welcome yet brief chance to make each others day a little more pleasant.
I was asked recently if I found it more difficult to enjoy street photography with so few people around, to a degree maybe but I look to find other subject matter within the streets to photograph. rainwater on a bench perhaps, colours and textures lit by the sun as they cast patterns, shadows of people against a wall offering an abstract take.
For as long as the current lockdown remains in place, I will continue to make my observations but I am looking forward to the days when my images are of a city free from the necessary constraints, where we can meet once more with friends and revisit those places we have missed.
It seems like the five hundredth day of January, as I wake this Friday morning. just after 6am.
As with many others, I am longing to have the shackles of lockdown loosened as I contemplate which part of my home town I shall walk today, I would like to take an early train and catch the sunrise on one of the local beaches but respect the importance for only necessary travel on public transport and decide upon a circular walk following the River Exe once more.
It is another one of those still winter morning’s where the cold soon shakes any latent sleepiness from you, while hidden patches of ice on the pavements also help keep you alert.
A cold mist floats above some parts of the River, in my head the deep purple ‘smoke on the water’ intro plays in a loop as I look for my first shots of the day.
There are still traces of night lingering in the skies above as my first shots are taken, I love the moodiness of this time of day, the longer shutter speed turning the river to an almost smooth mirror, the star like light emanating from the street lights on the opposite pathway.
With the city behind me, I join the footpath to the Riverside valley trail, where the powerful gushing of the fast flowing weir is replaced by the first strains of the dawn chorus, a sound I will never tire of.
If the sound of birdsong was not enough, my reward is twofold, as I see the cloud begin disperse, their edges painted with the glow of the morning sun, how different from last Friday’s insipid, uninspiring blanket of grey.
This morning is offering photo opportunities at every turn, the river reflections and golden skies, the grass either side of the footpath dusted with a light frost, it is a day to treasure.
The highlight of today’s shoot, my picture of the day was an opportunist shot, taken opposite the Double Locks pub, where on the landing stage a young lady stands, taking photos of the local swans, who with their natural grace and elegance are as photogenic as ever.
With the sun adding a golden glow to the scene, I have my favourite shot of the day.
From a safe distance we exchange greetings and I explain that the shot was too good to miss and would she like a copy of the image.
The young lady’s name is Ama, she explains that under normal circumstances she would have been in Mexico, celebrating a friend’s birthday with them but instead, here she was in the middle of an English winter, making the most of the allowed exercise. Ama loves the picture, she says it will be a memento of lockdown she will treasure, I promise to send the image later in the day via email.
With a good few landscape images under my belt, I seek out the more abstract images I find so much enjoyment from, close ups of plants bathed in the glow of the morning light, ice crystals atop a fence post, bramble leaves seemingly candied with frost.
The smaller details are as much fun to photograph as the grand vistas, finding beauty in the every day has taught me not just to look but how to see the apparently mundane in a different light.
As I make my way back home, ideas for this blog begin to germinate, that initial thought of despair so early this morning of it feeling like the five hundredth day of January as the opened curtains revealed nothing but darkness has been replaced by ‘ the five hundredth day of January was a great day to be alive! ‘
After the expected recent lockdown measures, any thoughts of trips to the seaside or Dartmoor are out of the question for now, so my new January musings will follow familiar waking routes around the River and other local haunts.
I had considered starting another long term photography project this year that is on hold for now but still have one or two ideas for some themed photo shoots around my home city that can still be achieved during the lockdown period.
As usual, I had been checking the weather forecast for this weekend, hoping for a couple of dry days to get out for my permitted daily exercise, Saturday was looking good until Friday night, when the promise of sunshine was to be cancelled due to overcast skies.
Unperturbed, at just after seven thirty, I head out into the cold of the day to hopefully get a few shots. As I walk through the city centre, I grasp the chance of a couple of quick photos, before heading towards the riverside.
From here, a steady walk to the River, where slowly but surely the night gives way to daylight, albeit overcast, uninspiring skies.
While Saturday was grey and drab, Sunday started with some early mist and perhaps a little sunshine to come a little later, so with a new optimism I set forth once more.
I was not to be disappointed today, as a combination of the mist and the morning sunrise competing for attention were to offer some lovely images, so glad I made the decision to get out again instead of the lazy Sunday option I had considered.
The best bit of winter walks is getting home to the self promised hot cup of tea and bacon roll, while looking at the mornings efforts, then embracing that idea of a lazy Sunday.
I have been using Fuji cameras on and off for the last seven or eight years, I say on and off because I have had a tendency to chop and change gear, not because I think I will become a better photographer, more because I have simply enjoyed trying different cameras.
I have come full circle in the last couple of years, there is just something about these cameras that has drawn me back to the Fuji family, a combination of the physical the dials, a range of superb lenses and excellent image quality are of course a factor but for me, they are cameras that you want to pick up on days out.
Using my X100f for a whole year for a recent project, changed my photographic ethos, I was a long time member of the ‘shoot raw only’ club, until I began to experiment with the well regarded ‘film’ simulations, I will now happily shoot Jpeg only for my personal photography, especially as I feel less inclined to sit at a computer for hours clicking on sliders.
Yesterday was one of those JPEG days, knowing that I do not have a Raw image to fall back on, keeps me focussed on getting the exposure right first time, a discipline that I had become complacent with, given how forgiving Raw files can be.
A selection from yesterday, with minor cropping and straightening in capture 1, with a vignette added to the daisy image.