Wednesday, 2 September 2015

Wild camping - Pike o' Blisco

Sunrise Pike o' Blisco

I've camped rough many times since I was in my teens mostly when I was cycling. I used to load up my front and rear panniers and set off for a week or so. Scotland the Lake District, Southern Ireland to name but a few. However, my trusty Macpac tent was a little too heavy if you wanted to put it in a rucksack as opposed to on the rear rack of a bike. I found that much out when I took it over to Eigg a few years ago.  Camera bag on my front and rucksack on my back, I certainly wasn't travelling light.

A few months ago I decided to buy a lightweight tent. They are not cheap so I started looking on eBay. My Macpac weighs in at 2.3kg and is luxurious for 1 so I wanted to try and find something as light as possible (around 1kg) but not too small, I didn't fancy sleeping in a coffin! After being pipped to the post in a number of eBay auctions I managed to pick up a Terra Nova Laser competition 2. I had read lots of reviews and being 6 3" wasn't sure I would fit in some of the super lightweight tents. The Terra Nova is actually a 2 man tent, how you can fit two people in is a bit beyond me, you would have to be very friendly indeed. Next purchase was a new sleeping bag, my current Snugpak weighs in at 2kg.  Back to eBay and I bought a new North Face Gold Kazoo (from Spain), rated down to 2 degrees c and just under 1kg. So far I had lopped a massive 2.1kg off my pack weight! A few more bits and bobs bought or haggled and was all set. 

It seemed an ideal opportunity while on holiday in the lakes to spend a night away on a fell camping wild with the purpose of trying to get some decent sunset and sunrise photos. After studying the OS maps I decided on Pike o' Blisco. I could park at the top of the Wrynose Pass and it was only an hour or so walk to the top, if all went horribly wrong it wasn't too far to retrace my steps to the car. All I needed was some decent weather. Here lies the problem in the Lake District, even in the summer! I decided on a day, but then cancelled, perhaps it would be better tomorrow? but then it was worse. I was running out of week, thankfully on the last day it looked like it would be just perfect. Not quite the cloudless blue skies and sun forecast, but a decent amount of cloud, light winds and great lighting conditions.

Finally I was on the road at 4.30pm, only to be stuck behind slow moving cars and loads of traffic. An hour later I was parking the car at the Three Shires Stone (top of the Wrynose Pass) grabbed my rucksack and I was off. Despite my lightweight kit my bag was still rather heavy, camping kit, camera, 2 litres of water, tea & breakfast, jumper, waterproof... it all adds up. As far as camera kit goes I decided to take just one lens on my 5D mk2 a Tamron 28-75mm, nd filters, cable release & tripod that was the bare minimum. 

Heading up the path my intention was to climb up to Crinkle Crags for sunset then head on down to Pike o'Blisco and find somewhere to pitch up. The top of Crinkle Crags were shrouded in thick cloud, so there was no chance of a sunset. However, I was hoping that I might get a decent view below cloud level from the flanks of Crinkle Crags down into Eskdale with Sca Fell beyond. Just beyond Red Tarn I passed two walkers on their way down, the last people I would see till my return the following morning. It's a great feeling being the only one for miles, peace and tranquillity. Continuing up the path I soon disappeared into the cloud. No photo opportunities here so I started traversing to the South dropping a little in altitude. Every so often there would be a glimmer of light shining through the mist, but within a flash it had gone. I decided it was time for tea so I set my camera up on tripod and pointed it in vaguely the right direction.

Waiting for the cloud to clear

If the mist were to clear I might get a shot or two. No sooner had I sat down there was a break in the clouds and I was rewarded with a view of Eskdale. 

Rays of light Eskdale

The clouds then descended again which at least allowed me less interruptions while I was eating. After sitting still for a few minutes I noticed the temperature drop and was glad I had brought some extra layers. Tea finished and a very slightly lighter bag I packed up to head down towards Red Tarn and then climb up Pike o' Blisco. Sunset didn't amount to anything which was a little disappointing just a very faint glimmer in the sky. Now I was focused on finding a suitable spot for camping close to the summit of Pike o' Blisco so I didn't have far to go for sunrise. The further I climbed the less suitable the terrain became. Towards the top it was much more rocky and any flatter grassy spots were completely sodden. I didn't want to wake up in a puddle! By the time I found somewhere the light was starting to fade, it was a little more exposed than I would have liked and not at all smooth, but it would do the job. The groundsheet in the Terra Nova is paper thin so I was a little worried it would stand up to all the tussocks I was trying to flatten, but it did the job. By the time I was pitched, bag unpacked, matt inflated and general faffing it was dark! The sky was now quite overcast so unfortunately there was no opportunity for star gazing. Alarm set for 4:45am it was time for lights out. I managed a few hours sleep once the wind died down, but it wasn't the most comfortable of nights.

Wild Camping Lake District
Room with a view
Next morning I parted the flysheet to be greeted by a thin orange strip on the horizon (always a good sign). I got dressed, grabbed my camera and in less than 5 minutes I was set up checking out possible compositions. Only having one lens (28-75mm) did limit me a little, but sometimes you just have to work a little more imaginatively to get the shot. Panoramic shots were certainly going to capture the best of the cracking view. 

18 shot panorama: 6 portrait images wide (-2, 0, +2ev) blended in TuFuse then stitched in Microsoft ICE
An hour or so after sunrise, a leisurely breakfast (2 eccles cakes and half a pint of milk!) I was all packed up. Heading down towards the car I noticed two or three other cars parked up at the top of the Wrynose. Maybe other people had also spent the night wild camping? 

Was it worth the effort? Yes I think so, I certainly had spectacular views and it was really nice to get away from it all, the peace and tranquillity was priceless. I'm looking forward to my next wild camp I just need to do some location planning.

Camping equipment:
Tent: Terra Nova Laser Competition 2 - 1.25kg
Sleeping bag: North Face Gold Kazoo - 938g
Sleeping mat: Karrimor X Lite Inflatable Air Mattress - 330g
Pack: Karrimor Hot Earth (40 litre)
Cooking kit: None, I did miss a cup of tea in the morning, but I was travelling light

Friday, 21 August 2015

Northumberland Landscape Photography

I have just spent a week up in Northumberland on a family holiday. It's been two years since I was last there and that was only a fleeting visit en-route to Scotland so it was good to be back for a longer stint. I stayed in the same holiday cottage in Embleton from six years ago. It hasn't changed much just new sofas! it's ideally placed for early morning sunrise shots of Dunstanburgh Castle which means that even with early summer sunrises I didn't have far to go. 

Embleton bay
Embleton bay 4.25am - an early start

First morning of the holiday (Sunday) I was up at 4am and down on Embleton beach it was a beautiful morning. Not much cloud so sunrise was a little non eventful and with the clear skies it was quite chilly almost needed my hat & gloves in July! I wandered along the deserted beach and then over to the castle picking up a few shots. By 6.30am I was back in bed to catch another hours sleep before the family were up for the day. Later in the day we all enjoyed a visit to Alnwick Castle gardens, but by mid afternoon the skies turned grey and the sun didn't make another appearance until Wednesday. 

Dunstanburgh boulders long exposure
Dunstanburgh boulders - making the most of the grey skies 

Frequently checking the BBC weather app meant I didn't even bother setting my alarm until Thursday. This time I decided to try and get a sunrise shot from the south side of Dunstsnburgh Castle (Craster end). It was quite breezy with quite a bit of spray so I decided not to venture too far from the castle due to reduced visibility. I was rewarded with a reasonable sunrise nothing spectacular, but worth getting up for. 

Dunstanburgh Castle sunrise
Dunstanburgh Castle sunrise from the south.

Later that day I spent an hour or two taking shots on Lindsfarne in the old harbour while Julia and the kids did some sketching. It's certainly my favourite part of Holy Island and generally doesn't get too busy. We had hoped to get across earlier in the week when the tides would have prevented crossing just after 10am, but the weather wasn't up to it. As a result the causeway was open till gone noon and by that time Holy Island was getting quite busy.

Holy Island harbour boats
Holy Island harbour boats

Thursday I set the alarm again, but instead of uncannily waking up ten minutes beforehand I was dead to the world at 4.12am. I poked my head behind the curtains and there was already a thin orange strip bound by dark clouds. 45 minutes before sunrise! I pulled my clothes on and jumped in the car and headed north to Bamburgh. The orange strip started fading so I stopped off briefly at Beadnell Bay. 

Fading orange strip - Beadnell Bay

Would I make it to Bamburgh or not for sunrise or was that it? I jumped back in the car and tried my best not to glance to my right. Head down and forge onwards. Thankfully it's less than a minutes walk to the beach and I made it just in time as the bottom of the clouds were starting to light up. 

Bamburgh Castle sunrise
Good morning Bamburgh - 4 portrait images stitched with PTAssembler

A nice sunrise over the Farne Islands and not a soul out to enjoy it. Three surfers and a lone dog walker did make it down onto the beach at 6am, 45 mins after the sun first popped up. 

Friday night I ventured over to Low Newton and managed a bit of a sunset (tricky on the east coast ) and then a fabulous moon rise over Embleton bay. 

Moonrise Low Newton
Moonrise from Low Newton

Alarm set again for Saturday morning, third time in a row, but after parting the curtains at 4am to be greeted with grey skies I returned to bed for a much needed lie in!

All in all a great week I was a little disappointed at the start of the week with the weather, but as ever persistence paid off.


Thursday, 30 April 2015

A day in New York...

I'm writing this sitting in Newark International Airport. Having missed my flight I've got a few hours to kill. Phil and I have been visiting New Jersey on business and had the opportunity to extend our stay over the weekend. This meant we could spend a day in New York, taking in some of the sights and sounds, but more specifically taking lots of photos.

Although I've described it as a day in New York we did indeed catch the train in on Thursday evening and visited the Empire State Building at sunset and then dropped down into Times Square.

New York - Empire State Building
New York from the Empire State Building

The Empire State building was quite impressive, it took us about 20 minutes to get to the top, the queues weren't too bad, in fact they were much worse coming down so we opted to take the stairs for part of the way back down from the 86th to the 80th.

Photo opportunities were good from the top. Understandably they don’t allow tripods or from what I've read even gorillapods, but initially hand held seemed to work, I was taking 3 exposures for each shot and pulling out the sharpest one. When the light dropped off further and all the city lights came on, it was a case of finding a bit of wall to balance your camera on or trying to wedge it as tightly as possible into the railings.

By the time we had made it down from the Empire State building the sky had turned an inky black and despite the vast amount of light given off by the advertising hoardings in Times Square the contrast was just too great to get any decent shots.

Skip on to Saturday and a nice early start saw us sitting on the station platform Edison station at 8am in the morning.  The train didn't leave till just gone half eight and already it was starting to get quite warm. I hadn't anticipated such warm weather and as it turned out it was the warmest day since the previous September hitting about 26 degrees C or 80 Fahrenheit. To start the day there wasn't a cloud in the sky, not ideal for photos, but thankfully by lunchtime we did get some wispy clouds appearing, which provided a little more interest, but didn't provide any respite from the blistering sun.

We arrived in Penn station at about 9:30am and started walking up towards the Rockefeller Centre, we stopped off en-route to take some impressive skyscraper shots, looking straight up. 

Reach for the sky

When we reached Rockefeller I was surprised to see skaters out on the ice. I had chosen to travel light bringing just my 50mm zuiko and canon 17-40mm. I was glad of the extra wide angle even at 17mm I was only just managing to get a whole skyscraper from top to bottom into shot. After the Rockefeller we headed on to Central Park. Boy was it busy, a bit of sunshine certainly brought out lots and lots of people, there was no avoiding them.  After taking some shots at the Meadow and looking across the Lake we had lunch at the cafĂ© and a much welcomed sit down.

Central Park
The Lake Central Park

After lunch we continued walking this time down to Grand Central station and managed to take quite a few shots across the concourse. We didn't even attempt to get our tripods out instead using the tops of the balustrades to set off a long exposure. Again going wide was an absolute must here, Phil could only go down 27mm with his crop camera.

Grand Central Station
Hand on hip, Grand Central Station

After Grand Central we jumped on the tube down to Wall Street and set off towards Ground Zero. Passing Trump Tower and few other very tall and very impressive buildings. The wispy clouds from earlier had dispersed with just the occasional small puffy cloud to add interest in an otherwise brilliant blue sky. Ground Zero was very impressive, but even at  17mm I struggled to get a good composition including the water and skyscrapers beyond. From here we set off towards the Brooklyn Bridge having a much deserved rest in a nice square which was shaded by buildings.

After a brief sit down and an opportunity for Phil to take some shots of the Tulips we were heading over Brooklyn Bridge. It took us about an hour to cross over, it was very busy indeed lots of people going both ways, walking jogging, cycling, you name it it happens in NY.  We took a few shots of the bridge and also the padlocks fastened to lots of available spaces, some had been there quite a while and had even had a mandatory coat of beige paint added to them!

By the time we had walked over the bridge and down the other side we grabbed some tea at the Shake Shack, the queue for the toilets alone was almost out the door. Thankfully we got in when we did, because by the time we got our food it was even busier. After tea we headed over towards the infamous old jetty posts in Brooklyn Bridge park overlooking Lower Manhattan.

Get ready for sunset, if you can find a spot!

I've never seen so many photographers and tripods in all my life, probably around 30 or so all lined up with their expensive DSLR’s. Still 20 minutes to go till sunset. We managed to jostle into position and get a good spot, foolishly the people down to the left had to abandon their positions on the rising tide. It was also quite telling that the line thinned out about 5 minutes after the sun went down. Did people not realise that the best colours were still to come when the sky had darkened and the lights had come on. Oh well who am I to complain.

Brooklyn Bridge Park - Posts lower Manhattan
Long exposure shot of the "Famous posts"

While there was still quite a lot of contrast in the sky I tried some long exposure shots with my B&W 3.0 nd filter (10 stop) and then 30 minutes after sunset made use of a 0.6 Soft ND grad, 0.3 soft ND, and then unfiltered as the light levels dropped. Once we had taken lots of shots of the posts and as the light was starting to go we moved round a little further back towards the bridge to get some shots for stitching of the Manhattan skyline.

Packing up at the end of the day we caught the tube back to Penn and then the 10.07 back to Edison. Just turned 11pm we arrived back at the car for a short drive back to the hotel.

A long, but enjoyable day we walked 13.5 miles in total and I've got a spot of sunburn to show for my efforts. Who ever said you can’t mix business with pleasure.

Mandatory yellow cab shot!

Flickr - New York Album

Friday, 27 March 2015

Grantchester Meadows - 7 years in the making

Grantchester Meadows is one of my favourite landscape photo locations close to Cambridge. I've now managed to "get lucky" with the weather on a few occasions and I thought I would share a few photos taken over the last few years.

Dec 2007 was my first early morning visit, nice frosty morning, but not much in the way of cloud cover.

Grantchester trees
River Cam

After some heavy snowfall in Dec 2010 I visited mid morning.

Snowy Grantchester

Winter wonderland

Jump forward to Jan 2014 and a near perfect morning. Frosty with some light cloud cover which picked up the sunrise colours really nicely.

Fire in the sky Grantchester trees

Frosty ditch

Long exposure shot of the sun rising

Frosty molehills

Jan 2015, after carefully studying the weather forecast I made a good call and was lucky with conditions again, nice frosty morning a little cloud cover and a bit of mist rising off the fields.

Classic Grantchester meadows
Glowing tree

Sun's up

Looking through my shots over the last 7 years is quite interesting.  My equipment has changed very little, a camera upgrade from a Canon 5d to a 5d mk2, but my lens selection (for all the shots above) has stayed the same. Another change is my switch to Lightroom in 2012, but probably more significant than these minor adjustments is my ability to learn. I certainly feel my style has developed and improved over the years and that's what drives me on in photography. 

I look forward to doing a similar review in another 7 yrs time, now that's a scary thought!

Saturday, 31 January 2015

Cambridge Fire Station - Art on the walls

Parker's Piece and Cambridge Fire Station

Back in August last year I was contacted by Cambridge Fire Station to see if I would be able to provide some images "To adorn the rather dull expanse of magnolia corridors in the Parkside Fire Station". I had assumed that they would simply want a handful of shots, but after a few emails had been exchanged it transpired it was 36 large framed prints they were after. A few weeks went by while we were agreeing on image selection, print size etc. and then the order was placed. 

The only slight problem was the time scale. "As discussed, the fire station is taking part in the Open Cambridge event on the weekend of the 13th and 14th Sept, so it would be great to have at least some of the prints ready to display for this." This gave me one weekend and a few evenings to mount and frame 36 photos. A mild panic ensued. First off I ordered the pictures, frames & some additional mount-board. The frames were the first to arrive at work on a pallet, I couldn't believe how big the box was. Even after unpacking all of them I only managed to fit 30 in the car in one go! The photos arrived the next day closely followed by the mount-board. Once I had transported all this home the lounge looked like it had turned into a factory. 

Cutting card, with logan cutter

First off I produced a template for the cutting the card to the right dimensions. I usually measure, mark then cut each mount by hand, but I needed to speed the whole process up. Template complete, card marked I started cutting away in earnest. After cutting all 36 mounts I decided to take a break and started sticking the pictures down onto the self adhesive backing board. 35 photos stuck then the 36th got a bubble in which turned into a crease. The print was discarded and photo re-ordered. 

I then started fitting the photos behind the cut mounts, the first one was a little too big, oh dear, then the second, then the third. At that point I was getting just a little stressed, the template I had cut was right on the edge, a millimeter one way and the mount was just a tiny bit too large. Major panic having just cut up 36 sheets of card! A big lesson to learn, check, check and double check. Thankfully I was able to salvage around 20 mounts, just as well I had ordered more mount-board. 

work in progress....

Next job was fitting in the frames, I had chosen Nielsen Apollo black frames and decided to opt for 70x50cm so that the mount size was a little broader than I normally cut, this gave the photos a  bit more "breathing space" which I feel worked really well. After about 18 hours in total (I kept a tally of my time) I was all done. I just needed to fit them all in the car so I could drop them off at the Fire Station. This time I managed to fit all 36 in spread between the back seats and the boot, it was a tight fit and I did drive rather cautiously on the drop off.

Although I made the open day deadline I'm not sure they were all hung in time. The official opening by Princess Anne happened a week ago and I've only just been along to take a few snaps of the final photos on the walls.  

Some of the final framed photos hanging on the wall
the walls aren't curved, but it's tricky to get a shot!

My largest single order to date, just a shame the Fire Station isn't readily open to the public. However, you can see quite a few shots if you peer in through the doors and I'm sure if you mention my name you can get in and have a quick peak down the main corridor. I have provided digital images of all the photos which I'm told will be displayed on a large digital screen some time soon.