Staying local

As we approach the mid way point in the UK’s second lockdown, my recent photo walks have all been based around a radius of around seven or so miles, making the most of the many footpaths that follow the River Exe, from canal to estuary, or just a quick walk as far as the quayside and back again.

This weekend has been a case of the latter, grey, uninspiring mornings have allowed the luxury of a lie in but I always feel that I have wasted my weekend if I do not walk at least a few miles.

Walking towards the city centre at just after nine, it feels like a Sunday morning as ‘unessential’ shops remain closed, a permanent reminder of 2020’s legacy.

Normally at this time of year, the festive build up begins, the high street would be full of shoppers looking for gifts for family and friends, the cathedral green would be a mini village of chalets offering hand made gifts and such like from local businesses or a selection of foods from around the world, but not this year….

My ambling takes me to the Mill on the Exe pub, or at least its car park, where I will often stand and just watch the water flow past, the sound of rushing water has often been a source of relaxation, today is no exception.

My first images today are a few long exposures to capture the water movement, I must have taken this shot hundreds of times in my twenty years of residing in Exeter, yet I care not, I love to see the river in all its moods throughout the seasons.


As usual for a Saturday morning the canal path is used by many, runners, cyclists and dog walkers, all out for some fresh air, my progress somewhat slower than the others as I slowly mooch along the path looking for my next shots.

I spend a little time watching the world pass, as I enjoy a flask of tea I prepared earlier.
Refulled and ready to continue, I make my back to the main high street
as I head for home.

I miss the hustle and bustle of a normal Saturday, the groups of teenagers shopping for designer clothes, the buskers in their allotted places are missing, the coffee connoisseurs no longer sit at outdoor tables and catch up with their friends and family, no carrier bag laden consumers moving from shop to shop to spend their hard earned cash.

Today was not my biggest walk ever but am glad I have had my fix of shutter therapy while getting out of the house for a couple hours, I shall look forward to my next fresh brew, while I contemplate on how I may start this latest blog.

Another night time shoot

I had made the most of a bright and sunny Friday bonus day off to get out for my weekly photo walk, knowing that the rest of the weekend was likely to be unsettled.

Saturday was as forecast, wind and rain for most of the day but it looked as if there may be a break much later in the day, a chance for another night time shoot around Exeter city centre.

On a normal Saturday night at just after 7pm, the streets would be full of people having enjoyed a day out and looking for a place to eat, or those looking to meet with friends in one of the many city city centre pubs or clubs but this is 2020, a year that is far from normal.

With the second national lockdown going into its second week, the city is like a ghost town, more like a Monday night in January instead of a Saturday just a few weeks from the festive countdown.

For all the adversity this year has brought, a spirit of ‘the show must go on’ prevails, as the Christmas lights have been turned on, almost as an act of defiance in the face of covid, normally I would be the first to say that it is too early, this year I welcome the cheer that they offer.

The eerie silence is disturbed only briefly by the sounds of buses going about their business, virtually empty chariots going to places where nobody waits.

While taxis lie still at their ranks, it is the takeaway delivery driver that is king of the road, knights on two wheels, delivering Saturday night treats to the many, one of my favourite images of tonight’s outing being one such rider awaiting his next delivery.

With the streets empty of diners, this delivery driver waits for his next call

I seek out a few compositions for some light trails, but there is little traffic around of course but do manage one or two, so decide to turn my attention to some black and white shots around the city.

The black and white shots are pretty much straight out of camera Jpeg’s from the Ricoh GR3, the high contrast preset is a favourite of mine.

Returning home to the inevitable brew, I see that I have walked around 5 miles tonight, not bad considering I just intended an hour or so, that ended up as a 3 hour mooch.

I have found that seeing a place in the dark offers so many different ways of seeing the familiar, the speed of a car passing a zebra crossing, the shadows and light of a car park staircase are not things I would consider during the day.

With the longer hours of darkness here for the duration, I will look to embrace the chances they offer but I will still look forward to those longer, lighter days at the end of March.

A bit more milage

Unlimited exercise, the two sweetest words I have heard in a long time, two words that those of us that love the outdoors will be relishing.

Recently, these late spring mornings have dawned with beautiful blue skies and a freshness in the air that invigorates the senses, so with a licence to walk, I was keen to get a few miles under my belt.

One of my favourite local walks, is one that takes a path along the River Exe and on to the town of Topsham, via a footpath that runs alongside the estuary, with high tide a couple of hours away, I will have chance to walk the path before it is cut off by the tide, the alternative route being close to a main road and the incessant roar of traffic.

It is one of those very tranquil mornings, not even a breeze disturbs the water, so what little reflections there are at low tide are perfect mirror images.
Since it has been over three months since my last walk along this route , it feels as if I am seeing it all for the first time again, constant reminders of how picturesque the area I am privileged to call home is.


Keen to retrace the path I have walked before high tide, I save my other favourite places in Topsham for another day, as it is, today’s walk is just over 11 miles, a good start to my day.

Small world

I remember my first experience of looking through the eyepiece of a science lab microscope at school and being immediately captivated by the details that were previously kept hidden from my inquisitive mind.
Of course I had seen images in the children’s magazines of the day, (look and learn being a particular favourite) but to see these images in the real world made me want to look at the world in a different way.

The fascination for these miniature worlds has never left me, I count macro photography as one of my favourite subjects, typically it is fair to say I have bought and sold a few dedicated macro lenses over the years but it is possible to get close without spending a fortune.

These days, rather than lugging an expensive and often heavy lens around, I use one of my vintage 50mm lenses for close up work, while not a dedicated macro lens, its close focusing ability allows for a much lighter camera bag and some decent results.

The lens is question is one I mention often in my musings, a Pentacon 50mm 1.8 lens, available very fairly priced on online auction sites.
These lenses are often the of the  M42 screw mounting, popular with many of the SLR cameras of the day, for around £10-£20, an m42 mount adaptor can be bought for most makes of camera.

Focus is manual only, aperture is controlled from the lens aperture ring, focus from the lens ring, just like the good old days.

In the current ‘stay home’ directive, take a little time to look around the garden at things that we take for granted, take pleasure in the things that we can see, not those that we can’t.

 

Close to home

Walking has always been something I have enjoyed, from an early age growing up by the sea, I took great pleasure in discovering the miles of coast path around the picturesque south hams.
It has only been in the last 10 years that a camera has become a part of my continued exploration of old and new places, what better way to record the changing of the seasons in those favourite haunts?

More recently, I have endeavoured to travel further afield, with day trips to Bristol, a 3 day break in London, other venues were due to follow this year but for the Covid spanner being thrown into the works.

The moving of the goal posts has been the same for all of us, it is how we respond to new challenges that can make us more creative, or perhaps in my case, to appreciate all the more the opportunities that are on our doorstep.

For the last couple of mornings, I have taken an early walk around the River Exe, watching the day unfold but this morning I was keen to see what I could find closer to home.

With the morning spent doing the few jobs I had set out to do, it was unusual for me to set out after lunch but with ideas in mind, it was a favourite 50mm vintage lens that was put onto the camera, the pentacon 50mm 1.8, which offers a close focusing ability.

There is something about the rendering of colours from vintage lenses that I really like for this type of close up image, as well as the fact that manual focusing gives you the feeling of taking the shot, not just point and click.

While I only took a fraction of the photos that I would on a ‘normal’ photo walk, I was happy with the majority of them, just going to prove we should not ignore, or take for granted the beauty than can be found close to home.

 

Lockdown photo walks

It’s five am, the first morning of the second three week lockdown, but my intention is to make full use of my exercise walk today.

With an early morning chill in the air, I am hoping to capture the mist on the River, before the sun’s rays reach out to melt its ethereal shroud.

My relatively short walk to the river path is barely interrupted by the roar of normal weekday traffic, in the words of the Morrissey song, ‘Every day is like Sunday’.
On reaching the footpath, the nearby playing fields have a coating of low cloud suspended above the grass, floating islands of mist, with a subtle pink tinge in the sky above, the first image of the day is bagged.

As the sun begins its dawn ascent, hues of orange light the underbelly of the clouds above with its fiery palette.
Watching the sun rise has always been a pleasure and a privilege I have treasured, under current circumstances, my joy in watching the day unfold is seen with a new appreciation.

The River has dropped somewhat from my last walk here in early February, it is possible to take picture from the waters edge in places, taking shots from previously inaccessible viewpoints.

From my new vantage point, I watch the mist slowly fade in the embrace of the sun’s warmth but not before I have a few more photos in the bank.

From these all too brief moments of perfect solitude, I am joined along the path by the few early morning runners, each of us respecting the other’s space, while exchanging polite ‘Good mornings’ ‘and thank you’s’.

My route home takes me back towards the quayside of the River Exe, the water lies still, with reflections of the riverside residences providing more camera fodder for yours truly.

 

Being creative

If this were a normal Easter weekend, I would look forward to a long walk at dawn to capture the sunrise, as I have done over the last few years, however, 2020 is far from a normal year.

With lockdown approaching its third week, I have resisted the temptation to take a camera with me on my daily walk, but have thought of alternative ways of being creative with the camera, while staying at home.

In one of my recent decluttering exercises, I found a few odds and sods that may enable me to make a rudimentary light box for some close up photography, that little seed of an idea was put into practice today, where I fashioned my basic cube from some sturdy packaging, and made good use of the black fabric of an old sports hold all  to make a simple backdrop for inside the box, with other coloured fabrics bought cheaply online.

For the light source, I have used two LED strips that were being thrown away, part of another light box that had broken but the LED’s still worked.

While I was happy with my fabric background, for the dandelion shots, I used the screen of a long since dead tablet, the glass offering a certain amount of reflection.

Above are the results of an hour of finding things from around the house and garden, no doubt there will be more to come.

From the archives

This is the sort of blog I would normally write during those dark winter days, a reminiscence of previous outings, a looking forward to the seasons to come, this however, could be the first of many ‘staying home’ entries during the unwelcome presence of the Covid – 19 virus.

I am using this time to catch up on those jobs that have been left for too long on the bottom rung of the task ladder, to read that book I bought last year and to have another attempt at sorting through terabytes of images taken over the last 5 years.

It was while I going through this process, a trip to Buckfastleigh steam railway, jumped out as being one of my best days out in the last 2 years.
It was not the most inspiring of days in terms of weather, a grey misty day with drizzle hanging in the air, but a trip to a steam railway could offer something out of seemingly nothing, in the back of my mind, I had the thoughts of some ‘film noir’ style images to create some interest.

Steam railways are places I could spend hours exploring, with platforms often furnished with vintage luggage trucks, old suitcases and coloured signs of the products of the time.
Old rolling stock often lies abandoned on sidings, not always accessible to the public but Buckfastleigh has little that is not accessible.

I enjoy the chats I have with the many volunteers that help keep these railways open, their love of keeping the steam heritage alive is evident, one of the reasons for my frequent visits here.

For those that are interested, these were taken with a Lumix G80 m43 camera with 25mm 1.4 lens (50mm in full frame terms)

When time allows, there will be many places to revisit, in the meantime, I had better crack on with the sorting ….

Strange times

Finally spring arrives, bringing with it a few days of sun, normally these would be days I would take full advantage of, heading out on a days photography but the current situation with Covid – 19 and the latest governmental decree, sees us all being told stay at home where possible.

Of course, the inner photographer would love to get out there and document the empty streets, hardly what would be called a necessary journey, so it is through these strange times that I must find other diversions to satisfy my low boredom threshold.

For the first time in years, I have rekindled my interest in the game of chess, probably the most used app on my mobile phone or tablet, in an attempt to shake the ring rust off my already below par ability, yet enjoying whole re-learning process as I do so.

As I have not had a television for over 4 years, my book cases are healthily fed with an array of different subjects, where once I was a fan of horror and science fiction, the shelves are mainly travel books or biographies, with a sprinkling of WWII and Roman history for good measure.

My enjoyment of the written word leads to my enjoyment of cryptic crosswords, there  is something very pleasurable in attempting to crack the enigmatic minds of setters such as ‘Portia’, ‘Aquila’, ‘Aelred’ and ‘Lucifer’ to name just a few, while listening to music and of course a cup of tea to lubricate the ‘little grey cells’ as Hercule Poirot would say.

More recently there has been an explosion of Japanese number logic puzzles featured in the daily press, starting with the standard Sudoku puzzles, there is also killer sudoku and kakuro (a numerical crossword of sorts), which I have begun to master over a period of time.

Finally, my interest in food has been retained, years after I came out of the catering industry, working as a chef, I still like to experiment flavours and try foods I have not eaten before.

Once these days of social distancing can safely come to a close, I will appreciate so much more, the days when I may amble at will across beach and moorland once more, until then, I shall keep trying to crack the Saturday Times cryptic in one sitting…