Cold frosty days

As we approach the last week of February, the long winter nights and dark mornings are gradually making way for lighter and hopefully brighter days and after last weekend’s rain filled days, a little sunshine would be more than welcome.

I am at Starcross, just after six fifteen AM, my intention to walk the few miles along the estuary footpath back to Exeter.
It is one of those very cold mornings where the chill nips at the fingertips but as the skies lighten, the blue hour is nearly upon us.

One of my first shots of today is a spur of the moment experiment, hearing a train in the distance, I set my camera up for a long exposure, not just to flatten the water but to hopefully capture the ‘ghosted’ image of the passing train, I will have just one go at this with the light as it is….

A 20 second exposure of the passing train was a spur of the moment idea.

I was more than happy with the resulting image, this would be my ‘photo of the day’.

This time of day may be known as the blue hour, with a camera in hand it feels like just a few minutes, as I take a few more images before moving on.



From the beautiful hues of blue hour to pastel skies as the sun greets the new day, the cold morning leaves traces of mist in the distance.

From here, the road follows alongside the railway track, to Powderham, Turf locks and back along the path to Exeter.
The railway offers a few images in monochrome, as the sun does its best to burn through a cloak of fog on the estuary.

With a mist on the water, inland, the frost on the bracken and grass offer more photo opportunities, until that is, the fog has a second wind and finds its way amongst the trees ahead.

By the time I reach Turf Locks, the sun appears to be winning the day, brighter skies above and a brisk pace mean my hands are thawing and I can shed the fleece I had on under my coat.


The last few favourites from today’s walk, before heading for the home stretch and a reward of a bacon sandwich and a rather large mug of tea.

The inadvertent project

I had no plans to start a photographic project during the first part of this year, with an impending house move and the current lockdown restrictions, my time would need to focus on more important matters.

As I write this first blog for February, I am surrounded by boxes, those I have packed, sitting with a pile of empties, awaiting the last minute items to be packed.

With most of my camera gear carefully packed away until next weekend’s move,
I have returned to a one camera, one lens set up once more, this time with the Fujifilm X00V.

I had traded my 100f last year, then noticed I had begun seeking out more lenses to fit the replacement camera, something I had tried to avoid but I love trying new stuff! (who doesn’t?)

I had spent some time after work last week packing the first few boxes, with a plan in the back of my mind, that should there be any good weather on one of my days off, I could spend a few hours away from box city and have a little shutter therapy.

Friday morning looked to be a good opportunity, according to the late evening forecast on Thursday, with a suggested less than 5% chance of rainfall.

As I left the house at just after seven fifteen AM, the less than 5% rain was falling quite fast, yet ever the optimist, I was certain there was a break in the clouds somewhere.







At just after 8am, the day begins to brighten, a still morning with still waters, reflecting boats and buildings onto the water,



Today’s walk is somewhat abridged, knowing that I still have boxes to pack, I have made 3 miles before making the decision to make my way back home.

It remains to be seen how long it will take to unpack everything once I have moved, in all honesty, I am enjoying the one camera set up a lot, so will probably continue the inadvertent project for the foreseeable future.

A cold start

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.

Atmospheric cloud and smooth water, the lights reflection make for a satisfying first image of the day
A patch of blue sky is quickly hidden by the spectre of cloud
Just a few minutes later, as the sky lightens the day, the mist rises from weir like a ghost

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.

Beautiful reflections and light as the sun makes a welcome appearance

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.

An elegance of swans have their photos taken/

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! ‘

Winter walks in lockdown

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.

First shoot of the new year

I did not bother to see the new year in this year, quite frankly, like many, I was glad to see the back of 2020, so let it slip out quietly while I dozed.

New years morning was like a proper winters day, a hoar frost had given a white dusting to all it touched, everywhere was Christmas card perfect, the air still.

A bowl of hot porridge and the usual two cups of tea would set me up for my morning walk, setting out at just before seven forty five, I would have a good couple of hours before too many others would stir.

With the conditions as they were, it was not hard to decide upon a route along the riverside, chances for reflections and maybe a few close ups of the frost but more importantly, glad of the opportunity to be out.

My walk towards St. David’s station was brisk, where I intend to join the riverside is just the other side of the station, yet it was the station that gave me my favourite shot of the day, the rails and platform coated in the frost, giving an incongruous beauty amongst the functionality of the station.

A dusting of frost giving a festive feel to to the station

It is rare that we have winter days such as this in the south of the UK, so I was keen to capture as much of the mood as I could, all too soon the normal service of grey clouds and rain will resume.

To the few others I meet, Happy new year exchanges are made, talk then turns quickly to the cold start, how very British!


For the short distance I walked, I found a treasure of photo opportunities, trying to capture the mood of a winter’s day in both colour and monochrome.

While the legacy of 2020 will continue for some time, travel to places further afield remain on hold, but who needs to travel far with this on their doorstep?

December sunrise

It is the penultimate Saturday before Christmas, many of us will be having to entertain thoughts of heading into towns or cities for some Christmas shopping, fortunately I am not one of the many, instead I shall be heading out for a morning hike, with the hopes of catching the sun as it rises along the way.


Setting off at just after seven fifteen AM, darkness still hangs around like an unwanted guest, I have about 45 minutes before the sun begins its morning ascent into northern hemisphere skies.

A little rain is still in the air but today is forecast as mainly sunny until later in the day, one of the reasons I have chosen today for my outing.
I have about a mile and half before reaching the well trodden riverside path that follows the River Exe to the Exe estuary, it is when I reach this path that I spot some orange hues in the sky as the morning awakens.

I reach one of my favourite spots along the footpath, close to the Double Locks pub, the sun breaks through the cloud in all its golden glory, what a start to the day.




After the light show, I decide to capture a long exposure shot of the river as it looks back towards Exeter, the serene stillness broken only by the melody of the avian chorus.

Another five minutes and the stillness of the river is broken by the first of many early morning rowers, their sleek boats cutting through the water like a knife through butter, as they glide so elegantly by.

From here, the path takes me to Countess wear, one of Exeter’s main arteries out of the city, where I will cross the already busy main road to join the path on the other side, another 3 miles will take me to Turf Locks, another of my favourite photographic venues.

I am not alone on my walk, the river bank has seen overnight fishermen hoping for their catch of a lifetime, the predator anglers seeking pike in one place, while down river the carp anglers have set up their temporary base, sandwiching a solitary Tench angler making his first cast of the morning.

While the conversation with them all is about their piscatorial prowess, the one thing we all have in common, is the joy of watching the morning sunrise, where we are all agreed that the early mornings are the best part of the day.

A little way along the footpath, it splits into two, a narrower path following the river is ideal for walkers, the wider path below takes the cyclists, as I join the narrow river path, I can take in the views at my leisure.



Making my way to Turf locks, the clouds above start to thicken hiding the sun for a few moments before it appears once more casting that wonderful winter light upon the landscape.


With the light changing rapidly, I try to keep up with the moody skies, grey and threatening one moment, then back to sunny landscapes as the sun escapes from its cloudy cloak.

Reaching Turf locks, the skies begin to darken and in the distance the clouds shed their cargo of rain, tide in or out, this part of my walk is just so photogenic.

I take a couple of in camera monochrome shots to capture the drama of the changing light, the exposed mud flats add more to the mood.

Having decided that I would catch a bus home, I take a road I have not walked before, looking at possible new routes and footpaths along the way.

I walk about another mile and a half before hearing the traffic pass on the main road ahead, as I reach the junction a convenient bus stop is just on the other side of the road, I have approximately 15 minutes to finish my flask of tea before the next bus arrives.

The ride home gives me a chance to look through my mornings photos, I am pleased that I made the effort to get out when I did, as Sunday’s weather is looking pretty hopeless.

New technology, old methods

As technology in digital cameras becomes ever more advanced, the inquisitive part of me looks forward to reading about the latest features in new cameras, yet my inner luddite  feels that the technological roundabout is going too fast and I want to get off.

Since acquiring my first digital camera, I fully appreciated the way that settings could be changed on the fly, I embraced the way that I could experiment with composition more, as I was no longer restricted to a maximum of 12, 24 or 36 exposures per roll of film, I could also see my image in an instant, rather than having to wait for my last roll  to come from the developers via the post.

Modern cameras all have state of the art video capabilities, they allow us to see how our images will look within the viewfinder, perfect for the fast paced society we live in today, where we want everything yesterday, each new camera boasts faster autofocus but it is too easy to become reliant on the tech and forget the art of photography.

My enjoyment of ‘old school’ photography has perhaps been rekindled by the ability to use manual focus vintage lenses on mirrorless cameras, a reminder of when most SLR cameras only came with a 50mm lens and we were perfectly happy.

It was with this ‘old school’ mindset that I decided to set myself a challenge on yesterday’s outing to Budleigh Salterton and Sidmouth.
Since my X100f has both an electronic and optical viewfinder, I set the camera to OVF only and switched the rear LCD screen option to viewfinder only, relying only upon the camera’s meter reading for exposure ( a bit like the original X100).

For the first few shots, I had to resist the urge to look at the rear screen but soon got into a ‘wait and see it later’ frame of mind, it was then that I began to realise how much more care I was taking in each shot, if I wanted each one to count, I had to be more patient.

Back at the car, while enjoying a hot cup of tea, I took the opportunity to look at the images I had taken, it was almost like opening that package of developed photos for the first time, it was a pleasantly rewarding exercise that I will continue with on future shoots.

First February foray

One of my favourite local walking routes, is one that goes from Exeter to Topsham, following the ‘estuary trail’.

There is a choice of routes, one of which is to follow, a popular walking and cycle route,or my preferred route where the path follows the shoreline but where the timing needs to be right for this one, as parts of the path become submerged at high tide.
As it happens, the water was just starting to lap the path edge as I was passing, clearly I spent too long taking photos on the way.

Today is one of those perfect walking days, a keen wind, yet mild, overcast skies but the prospect of sunshine later in the morning.
As I reach the estuary path , it is surrounded either side by reeds, offering a natural wind break, they sway like a pendulum as the wind whispers through their midst.
It is here that I get my favourite photo of the day, just as the sun is about to emerge from below the clouds, sunrays appear like torch light into the skies, the reeds in silhouette as I shoot into the light

sunrise

The path passes a boatyard to my left, the loud buzz of a sander on the hull of a boat, sounding like a bee on steroids as the boat is being prepared for its new coat of paint.

The sounds and smells from the boatyard evoke memories of me helping my dad on his boat during the winter months when I was a boy, I always got to clean or sand in preparation, rarely to paint, from what I remember.

By the time I reach Topsham, I have done around four miles, time for some refreshment.
Thankfully Topsham is one of those towns that have resisted the clutches of the chain brand stores, instead, offering a good selection of independently owned restaurants, cafe’s and other retail outlets.

It is from one such cafe, I take a window seat and watch the world go by, the nearby church bells chime, announcing the wedding taking place later that morning, my box office seat is perfect to see the wedding guests arrive in their finery.
It was just a few moments earlier that I had seen the groom being directed into a series of poses by the wedding photographer, keen to have the estuary back drop as his composition.

From Topsham, I have arranged to meet a friend and head to Exmouth for a few more photos, Exmouth is one of those seaside towns that seems perennially busy throughout the year.
With the car parked, a walk towards the waterside once again, where windsurfers are fighting against the wind in their pursuit of speedy forward motion.
The wind changes direction suddenly, snatching the sail from the surfers grip. Splash!

With the tide just reaching the ebb, I can take a favoured route along the shoreline to the sea front, here the beach is a perfect shelter for more boats undergoing the winter restoration work, while one or two have been left neglected.

I leave the beach for now and walk along the concrete footpath, beside which a large development of residences have been built, striking in their vivid hues of Yellows, blues, reds and oranges, wooden decked balconies overlook the estuary. Watching the sun set from here must be worth the substantial asking price alone.

Typical of so many seaside towns, the familiar smell of fish and chips hangs in the air, mostly from the hardy souls choosing to eat their lunch sat on the sea wall, the more prudent finding one of the many shelters away from both wind and opportunist gulls.

I join the many in returning to the beach, pristine sand uncovered by the receding tide, solitary shells left high and dry, abandoned to their fate.
The cafes by the shoreline are doing a brisk trade today, as the hour ticks to 1pm, it is hungry ‘O clock.
Ticket number 27 raises his hand as his number is called, this moments winner of culinary bingo, he receives his reward for his patience, fish and chips for him, a burger each for the rest of the family.

I enjoy these winter beach walks, taking time to talk to other people, or simply to walk in my own little space, taking in the day.

My ‘step’ app tells me I have reached seven miles today, my longest walk so far this year, a gentle run in, but hoping for some much longer walks during the coming months.

 

50 shades of meh

Finally the last days of January are approaching, it feels like 233rd day of the month, two hundred and thirty of them having consisted of a combination of grey skies, rain and constant meteorological melancholy (or …..meh).

It is these constant grey days that make me crave for a ‘proper’ winter, crisp bright days when we wake to lawns iced with frost, and the serene stillness of a classic winter’s morning, where we wear more layers than a Mille-feuille as we set forth into the great outdoors.

I have attempted over the last few weeks to use the weather to my advantage and begin the process of cataloguing and sorting through many of my photos, my migration from lightroom to Capture one has given me the incentive to at least be a little more efficient in that regard, I have also began to build or replicate a number presets or styles with the new software to make my workflow a little easier when I want a certain look to an image.

This however, does not replace the enjoyment of being outdoors actually taking photos, so even on the dreariest of days, I will get into town to get my photographic ‘fix’.
Days such as these are when I decide to keep a monochrome theme, setting the camera so that the viewfinder is also monochrome, that way, I can see the way the image is exposed and alter as needed.

I always remember as a child, the Giles’ cartoon books, he had this way depicting wet days in his drawings with such drama and contrast, this is how I like to process my images when I do street photography, to try and pick out the mood and atmosphere.


The lack of any character in the sky makes me look for tighter compositions. close ups of the mundane that can end up looking more interesting because of the different angle, reflections from windows or using shutter speeds just fast enough to give the perception of movement.

With less people on the high street at this time of year, it keeps the mind active in looking for opportunities, pictures I may not have considered on brighter, more sunny days.

Above, is a selection of images taken from a trip into Exeter city centre, taken from a few of my favorite vantage points around the high street and vicinity.

Crisp winter days

Here we are, half way through January and I feel that we have not yet felt the icy fingers of winter, it could be the lull before what is now termed a polar vortex but used to be simply known as ‘a cold snap’.

Today, winter arrived but in one of it’s kinder moods, one of those cold, bright days where you wake to a dusting of frost on house roofs and the grass has turned white, as if through shock.

It is about an hour before the sun will rise, but through the lifting darkness there appears to be a blanket of mist in the distance, the omens are good for some more photos along the Exe.

As I head out, it would appear Jack Frost has worked overtime, painted icy swirls on cars  that are actually quite beautiful to look at, for me at least, not those that may have to spend time scraping it off if they need be somewhere early.

I reach the footpath to the river, luminous yellow jacketed volunteers have been out in force placing route direction signs for a fun run that has been organised today, it is not long before the serious runners appear in the distance, I will happily step aside as they pass, to a man (or woman) they keep a regular check on their watches in their pursuit of personal best times.

As the first group passes, I admire the serene beauty of frost laden brambles and other hedgerow flora and fauna, the stillness of the river and the eerie silence of the still heavy mist on the river.
Through the mist, I can just make out a heron, stood statue like by the waters edge, as the next group of runners pass by, it takes off effortlessly, and there he was…. gone.

The sun has made an appearance, just a milky glow as seeks to penetrate through the cloud but makes for some atmospheric shots as more runners appear in the distance, more shadow than portrait, I think these may just work.

I have a good half mile to go before I get to where I hope the best moody shots could be, I would really like the mist to hang around a while longer to get some shots of the scullers as they appear through the fog.
There is a pub nearby called the double locks, here they have a couple landing stages for the boats to be physically pulled in and out of the water to make progress in either direction.

My fears of the sun burning through the cloud are unfounded, here I get a couple of shots I am really happy with, anything else is a bonus.

 

I would appear to have something of a routine going these days, as I am about to head for home, I will find a place to sit, and enjoy the hot thermos of tea I made earlier, while making a few notes for today’s blog and a few ideas for my later photo editing.
What a great start to the day.