It has been a grey and moody December and January to say the least, but these conditions are favourable for any photo walk on Dartmoor, the bleak,sultry days are fitting in this harsh yet beautiful landscape.
This recent snapshot is taken at Combestone Tor, one of Dartmoor’s more accessible and subsequently popular destinations but on arrival today, there are just a couple of other cars in the car park.
With a strong wind the cloud above scuttles along at a fair pace, mostly fifty shades of greyscale with just an occasional glimpse of escaping light penetrating the gloom.
The muted colours of winter browns add contrast to the cold grey of these granite sentinels, the solitary tree amidst its rocky haven, testament to the desire of nature to adapt and survive against the elements.
This for me, is Dartmoor at its very best, in its beauty and brutality, just one of the many reasons that keep me going back for more.
One of the ways that I try to remain creative with my photography, is to set myself personal challenges while I am on a photo walk, it could be that I shoot only in the square format, using the in camera 1:1 aspect ratio option, perhaps when I am in town running a few errands, I may set myself a time limit to find a few images but most frequently, I like to shoot with just one focal length.
After using the Fuji X100 series for a good few years, I am more than familiar with the 35mm focal length, so much so, that I would now not see this as a challenge, especially since a long term project from a couple of years back, was to use just this one camera for a whole year.
A more recent project to use older cameras is still very much in progress, the realization that I do not need the latest and fastest may have come a little late along my journey but I am enjoying taking this latest path with my photography, in the form of a Canon 5d Mark II.
It was as I was packing this old beast into my bag for a Saturday foray on Dartmoor, I made the decision to take just one lens, the classic ‘nifty fifty’, Canon’s 50mm F1.8
The last time that I shot this particular focal length in anger for any length of time, was when I had purchased my first film camera back in the 1980’s, a second hand Zenit camera, most likely armed with a Helios 58mm lens.
My destination is Fernworthy reservoir on Dartmoor, near the village of Chagford, a chance to capture the remains of the autumnal colours and a rather pleasant walk skirting the edge of the reservoir and surrounding woodland.
A damp start to the day sees mist and drizzle set for most of the morning but as I see this as an opportunity to capture the area at its moody and melancholy best.
The autumn colours are all but a faded memory, yet the rust browns and dark green of the local fir trees offer a muted colour palette that adds more atmosphere to the scene.
Occasional glimpses of diluted sun find their way through the murk, only for this curtain of grey to close the gap and bring a little more drizzle.
The morning’s walk may be damp but my mood is quite the opposite as I enjoy looking for my next image, it has taken little time to become accustomed to my chosen 50mm, so much so that I wonder why I have not done this more often.
The walk around the reservoir is just about 5 miles, by which time I am ready for my flask of tea and a welcome hot pasty from a convenient mobile café that had set up for the days business in the car park.
With the pasty devoured and tea drunk, it’s time to head home, good timing as the drizzle is now more constant rain, now to look forward to viewing this latest days foray.
As mid December approaches, the countdown to the yuletide festivities is in full swing, Christmas markets, shopping for gifts and winter wonderlands will occupy the minds and time of many over the next couple more weekends, while I endeavor to make my purchases during the quieter part of the week after work, leaving my weekends free to continue my regular amblings on the moor, or by the sea.
At just after nine AM, I am heading away from Teignmouth railway station and heading for the beach, where remnants of the darker hours linger in the sky above, moody clouds with just a hint of the morning sun’s attempts to paint a little colour on the horizon.
It is a given that I will take a few shots of the pier, a few from either side of the structure as I capture the moodiness of the moment, for once, I do not even consider the normally mandatory long exposure shot, as I see other opportunities a little further away.
A lone fishing boat works a little out to sea, chaperoned by the opportunist herring gull population, looking for a free breakfast, a rare decision to bring a zoom lens, enables me to get a little closer than my normal 35mm focal length.
The changing skies add a little more mood to the scene, affording me several varied looking images.
One of my favourite shots of today is a father and his young daughter walking along the water’s edge, hand in hand, as they explore the shoreline for sea shells and other coastal treasures.
My own love of our coastline began at a similar age, exploring the shoreline at low tide while my dad would be working on his boat, I may have ‘helped’ for a while before the greater need to look for crabs under the carpets of sea weed took hold, or to find the biggest intact whelk shell amongst the shingle.
It was perhaps these sea shore foraging’s that unknowingly taught me the art of ‘seeing’ that would become such an essential part of my photography as I look to find that more unusual shot from the norm.
As I make my way back to the station, ideas for this blog are already forming in my mind, as I wait for my train, I type a few notes on my phone, a reminder of my thoughts at the moment I took a shot, or perhaps an observation I would like to share.
Often, a title eludes me, today it is easy, coastal contentment is what I felt as I meandered my way along the beach today… and so another blog is born.
As I set off for today’s photo walk by the Exeter quayside , in the back of my mind there was that nagging voice about trying to find new subjects on familiar walks, after all, having lived in Exeter for over twenty years, it is easy to take a place for granted.
Yes, I know Exeter pretty well but what I never know on any given outing is what may unfold as I follow my chosen route, what story can I tell with the camera today?
I would not have guessed that today’s favourite picture would be of a trio of pigeons, what the photo does not show, is the pigeon on my shoulder and one on my camera bag, looking for non non existent bird seed!
An excited cry of ‘That man has a pigeon on his shoulder’ from a giggling youngster who just seconds earlier was lamenting the fact he could not have another ice cream that day, along with some good banter with other walkers enjoying their Sunday stroll.
With my spontaneous pigeon camouflage, I have clearly made my way into this avian fraternity where I am able to get close to the trio already perched on the bridge railings.
Okay, an osprey plucking an unsuspecting fish from the water it is not but it was a moment that kept several onlookers and myself amused….
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.
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.
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 the painstaking process of cataloging years of photos continues, it has been interesting to see how much my photography follows a familiar pattern as the months pass by.
The winter months capture the bleak and moody landscape of the moors, or perhaps a walk along a desolate beach, the months of early spring capture the beginnings of new life, daffodils, snowdrops and tulips bring welcome colour to the bland browns of winter.
Summer brings the occasional trip to the seaside and for me, the season of classic car shows and steam rallies that are always a pleasure to visit, then of course, the colours of autumn, with a plethora of woodland walks.
This of course was during normal times, when the freedom of choice to catch a train or bus for a day out was taken as a given….. until last year.
Looking on the bright side, it made life very easy in planning my photo walks, “where shall I go this weekend? I know, lets do Exeter! “
Let me be the first to say that I consider myself lucky to live in such a historic and beautiful city, where walks by the river are just a walk away but I began to wonder if it was possible to take any more photos of a place that I have lived in for over 20 years.
The initial feelings of frustration and not a little resentment subsided into a more positive frame of mind, challenging myself and my creativity to find something different from familiar ground, after all, I was still able to get out, for many this was not the case.
With this renewed and more welcome mindset, I have looked to process familiar scenes in a different way, learning new editing techniques to keep myself motivated to keep getting out there and taking photos.
As the year passes by at an alarming rate, the early morning starts I regularly enjoy are getting steadily lighter, with sunrise at around six AM.
Being a Sunday, it is the one day I rarely set an alarm yet I am still awake at just after 4am, this morning however, I manage another hour before deciding to venture out for an early riverside walk.
It has been a week of clear blue skies with an abundance of sunshine, spring has arrived at last but there is still a chill in the early morning air.
The strong winds of the last few days have abated for a while, only a gentle breeze ripples the still waters and as the sun makes its first appearance, its golden rays paint the opposite side of the riverbank in its warm glow.
But for a couple of anglers, a dog walker and a brace of joggers, the riverside is mine, the peace and solitude only occasionally interrupted by an industrious woodpecker and a stonechat going about their avian business.
Today may not have been the longest of walks, it is more about getting out for a couple hours and grabbing a few snapshots along the way, for me, the perfect way to start a lazy Sunday
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.