We all need an escape from the treadmill of our daily routine,that personal haven that offers a little peace from the damands of a hurried and frantic world.
My escape is Dartmoor, three hundred and sixty five square miles of vast open landscape of which I have barely scratched the surface of.
Home to ancient oak woodlands, towering granite monoliths and custodian of countless tales of folklore and fable.
Quarrymen, farmers and miners have toiled in this unforgiving landscape, their legacy the scattered remains of farmsteads and buidings for the inquisitve to explore.
I love Dartmoor in all it’s moods, serene summer days where skylarks swoop and soar, the landscape painted with the purple and yellows of heather and gorse, even those frequent wet winter days of mist and greywashed skies have a beauty of their own.
To me, Dartmoor is a source of constant inspiration for my photography and word craft alike, as well as an enormous sense of well being and gratitude that I live so close.
As I edge ever closer to the finishing line of my 50 days project, I am keen to reach my goal by the end of this weekend, so decide to get out for a rare week evening outing, for a short stroll with my Pentacon lens
The evening is still rather warm, temperatures have been in the mid to high twenties celcius this week but at just after 7pm, the harsh sunlight has gone.
I decide to take in one of the public parks / gardens, about a 15 minute walk from home, just to see what nature shots I may find.
Using a 50mm lens for this length of time has brought me a lot of pleasure and I have truly realised the versaltility of this focal length.
I have always enjoyed macro photography, but this old lens can focus close in to capture the finer details of nature without the expense of a dedicated lens.
Back in the late spring, I visited a forest that to my shame, I had not really explored that much, despite being just a few miles from my doorstep.
I blame my preoccupation of Dartmoor and the nearby coast for my lapse but today, I intend to fulfil a promise I made to myself after the last trip, which was to become more familiar with my local forests and woods.
Immersing myself within this beautiful landscape is not hard, listening to the stonechat just ahead of me, interrupted very rudely by the screech of a jay, neither of which I see, just knowing they are here is good enough.
I choose once more to use my manual focus 50mm lenses (50mm takumar F1.4 and Pentacon F1.8), as I find the act of twisting a focus ring so much more pleasurable than pressing a button, that same feeling goes for changing aperture value on the lens itself, rather than through a screen.
Hopefully the enjoyment I had here is evident in my selection of photos in the gallery below, I will also ensure my next visit will sooner than the autumn.
In the years that I have spent on my photographic journey, it is clear that in every photographer’s repertoire, certain iconic images are sought by amateurs and professionals alike.
The row of coloured beach huts lining a seaside beach front, the colours of morning sunrises and evening sunsets and those late spring woodlands carpeted in bluebells, just to name a few.
It is the latter that forms a variation on a theme for day 32 of my 50mm challenge, bluebells.
There is a popular location on Dartmoor where it is possible to capture these beautiful spring flowers in all their glory, a place that I have not visited for over two years because of lockdown, so I was looking forward to this walk immensely.
Unsure of whether there would be the sea of blue I was hoping for, there is plenty here to photograph, it’s just that the bluebells really add that something to any image here.
Its a short stroll from the car park to my destination, it is clear that although it is just after ten AM, there is plenty of other photographers already here, toting huge wildlife lenses, their prey, a pair of redstarts nesting in the vicinity, as well as a pair of elusive cuckoos.
I try to keep a distance from these photographers, so as not to disturb the subject they may have waited some time for already, I work around the scene skirting my main objective.
One of the photographers takes some to chat to me, he has already photographed the redstarts, he also shows me some wonderful images of the stonechats and wheatears he has captured today, I admire his patience, he admires my discipline in shooting one focal length for a long period of time.
Once they have moved on to other locations, I am able to work closer to the old barn that adds such a lovely contrast to the verdant grass and of course, the bluebells.
Once again, I have my favourite vintage 50mm attached to my camera, manually focusing is a more deliberate and enjoyable process than half pressing a shutter or back button focusing, I am an integral part of the image making, not a bit part player.
In the space of an hour, the location is filling with more walkers and photographers, it is time for me to make room for them to get their shots of spring time glory.
It has been some time since my last ‘one frame’ blog but as I have been going through my images from the last couple of months, I have picked out one of my favourite images from just a couple of weeks ago.
A walk around a local forest had started off with dull clouds smothering any sunlight but gradually the cloud disappeared, offering small areas of light for brief periods of time.
With the untrodden areas of woodland, a carpet of verdant ferns surround the base of the trees, this particular tree, catching the light as it finally escaped its prison of cloud.
With my vintage 50mm lens at an aperture of F2, I wanted to capture the detail and texture of the tree bark with its adornment of ivy, while leaving a softer out of focus background.
My last few Saturdays have been early starts, as I have been keen to catch those late spring sunrises around the local coastline of Dawlish and Teignmouth respectively.
Day 30 starts with grey, overcast skies with brighter sunny spells later in the day, so decide that a trip to a local woodland just a few miles away may be an idea, after all, I have not visited this one for a couple of years.
Ashclyst forest is owned and maintained by the National trust, just on the outskirts of the village of Broadclyst in East Devon and a stones throw away from Killerton House.
As with any location on one’s doorstep, I Have not visited Ashclyst as many times as perhaps I should but I am certainly looking forward to exploring the myriad of trails and footpaths that make any woodland and forest so enjoyable.
Even if I were not involved in my current 50mm project, a 50mm lens would be my choice for today’s venue, the wider aperture of a 50mm prime lens is perfect for those out of focus backgrounds in woodland, as well as plenty of scope for those close up shots that have become a part of my photographic repertoire over the years.
There is something very calming about ambling around these forest trails, the pure joy of hearing the birds singing, their melodies undiluted from traffic noise and other man made interruptions.
I take a little time to experiment with some ‘intentional camera movement’ (ICM) shots, as I stand in a clearing, facing a copse of fir trees, a three stop ND filter attached to my lens gives me an exposure time of around two seconds, enough to create some abstract images of the scene before me.
After a number of attempts., I have a couple that I am happy with, it is this type of experimenting that keeps me wanting to get out and trying new (to me) techniques.
With patches of concealed bluebells just waiting to be found, the paths are a riot of late spring colour, with buttercups and celandine offering a vivid contrast to the campion that sways gently in the pleasant May breeze.
Dandelions lie in various states of undress, some with their full Afro of pappus, others semi bald, their party crowns long since stolen away by the breeze.
Even among this spring time palette, traces of the ochres and browns of winter can be found, oases of fallen ferns and fir cones, lying forgotten as last years Christmas toys, yet still beautiful, even in decay.
It’s the half way point of my 50 days of 50mm project, something that began as a seed of an idea for a long term project as 2021 came to a close and commenced on my first outing of the new year.
Shooting with a Canon 5d MKII body, I have allowed myself a little indulgence, in that I will occasionally use one of my vintage 50mm manual lenses, the go to lens for this is a Pentacon 50mm F1.8, a lens that had been left forgotten in my collection of old lenses but has become a regular passenger in my camera bag.
This project so far has changed my approach to my photography, before I would have a large camera bag with perhaps 3 lenses, filters and a tripod, these days I rarely take the tripod and the only filter I tend to have with me is a polarising filter.
The simpler set up is clearly lighter but with minimal options in terms of gear, I am thinking more creatively with my compositions, the lens choice dilemma that would sometimes creep into my shot making no longer exists, can only I use what I have.
Today’s venue was to be Stoke Woods, pretty much on my doorstep but my first visit here since autumn last year, I will be hoping for a few bluebells somewhere along the woodland trails but just being around nature is all I need after a busy working week.
I have decided to use the Pentacon lens once more, I am learning to use the corner softness of this lens to my advantage, rather than see it as a flaw.
I have remarked in previous posts how using a manual lens has made me feel more a part of the photographic process again, the 5d body is the same, with no tilting screen, I have to physically get as low I need in order to get the low angle shots, but it is what we all did before, so why not now?
The route through the woods zig zags gently down to the busy ‘Exe valley’ road, where just literally across the road from the woodland trail, is a footpath that leads to some pretty rural villages just on the outskirts of Exeter.
I will follow this path for a mile or so, just to take in some of the scenery that I have captured before including a beautiful old oak tree, however my last image of this arboreal beauty stood majestically in place last autumn, will be my last, as it is now nothing more than a mass of tangled timber, having become a victim of the recent winter storms.
It is just as I begin the return trip back along the path that the sun finally breaks through the cloud, hopefully I can capture some of that light through the trees as I make my way back through the woods…..
It has been a rather busy week one way and another, so I am later than usual in posting the second of last weeks camera outings, some may say better late than never.
Having spent Friday and Saturday visiting family, Sunday was my day to travel back to Exeter, taking in a photo walk somewhere on the way back.
That somewhere would be a visit to Staverton Steam railway and a walk along the woodland path, sandwiched between the Railway and River.
With bluebells gradually taking their turn on the botanical stage, it may be a little early to capture that carpet of blue in the woodland but I did find one or two images, a preview of the weeks to come.
Sadly, the full route of this footpath is no longer open at weekends but I understand the need to conserve these areas of natural beauty from the damage of erosion from so much footfall over the years.
I head back to the steam railway station where the first of the new season’s trips have commenced, these stations are kept so immaculately by the team of volunteers, the retro signage and paraphernalia are always an attraction, the photographer’s holy trinity of texture, colour and patina well represented with old sack trucks, travel cases and the mandatory vintage bicycle or two.
There is always a warm friendly feeling to these old stations, perhaps even,a yearning for the days when we were in less of a rush to do everything by yesterday.
After a couple of very pleasant hours, it’s time for a welcome brew before heading back home, where I look forward to seeing my weekend’s efforts and the new memories I have created over the last few days.
With Easter just over the horizon, this may well be the last of my three day weekends until late September, so I will be spending this weekend in Salcombe , first and foremost visiting family and hopefully a sunrise photo shoot on Saturday morning.
It’s 5am and day 22 of my 50mm challenge, sunrise is at just after six thirty, so I have a good hour to walk to a favourite place in Salcombe, the National trust footpath at Snape’s point, where I hope to catch the early light as it reflects on the town I once called home.
Too early for a full breakfast, I drink my first brew of the day and eat a slice of toast before heading into the last few minutes of night time, as I walk briskly towards my destination.
As the darkness fades, I have clear skies above, with just a hint of orange on the horizon, a promising portent for the day to come.
The early chill has been negated by my brisk pace but I will feel it more once I stop to wait for sunrise, as my favoured spot for today is at the top of a hill overlooking the estuary and various creeks.
It would appear that I have times my arrival to perfection, barely ten minutes later and there is a beautiful orange glow painting the sky, this is why I get out early on my days off, the sheer pleasure of watching a new day dawn will never fail to leave me inspired.
It comes to mind that this is the first time that I have come to this location for a sunrise shoot, this has always been a walk I have done later in the day, it is safe to say that I will definitely make the effort to return for another early start later in the year.
After a slow mooch back for a welcome bacon butty and the mandatory cuppa, I make my way back into town for a few more photos, this time capturing the town with a few more people around, especially on the estuary where I watch the local sailing yachts lining up for their next race, while taking a few photos of course.
If woodland walks in autumn are a bittersweet reminder of the shorter days and longer nights to come, those same walks in spring are a treasure trove of mother nature’s wonders, as new life slowly emerges from winter’s grip, we can look forward to the annual displays of snowdrops, daffodils and bluebells to add a splash of colour to the landscape.
A recent trip to steps bridge, just on the edge of Dartmoor was the perfect antidote to what felt like months of constant grey skies, as the sun’s rays made their presence known with a little spring time warmth.
The woodland path was a riot of yellow and green, as daffodils paraded their bright yellow bonnets for all to see, while trees began to show the delicate beauty of their early blossom, or the vibrant green of new foliage.
To spend just a couple of hours amongst nature, listening to the wind as it whispers between the trees and the sweet melody of the avian chorus revives the senses and shakes off that feeling of lethargy that winter can bring, as I sit by the riverside listening to the river rush by, I look forward to the months to come and my next trip to Dartmoor.