Keeping An Open Mind

Last Friday afternoon saw us heading for Whitby to deliver some stock to the Art Café. It was a lovely evening, so after a walk along the cliff top, we treated ourselves to a bar meal sat out in the sun in the beer garden at the Hart in Sandsend.

The sun sets just behind Kettleness Point in August and I had a couple of locations I wanted to try in mind, so we decided to stay and see what the sunset had to offer this evening. I had a different angle on the beach huts I wanted to try in low evening light, but sea spray from the high tide meant the shot wasn’t going to work that evening, so I headed for the pier instead. As I sat waiting for the sun to set, a heavy bank of cloud gathered over Kettleness Point, so my chances of getting a good sunset were rapidly diminishing. However, conscious that it never pays to leave a sunset location too soon, I decided to hang on and see what developed. As sunset approached it became clear that the sky over Kettleness wasn’t going to play ball, but I could see that the sky behind me was showing a faint hint of pink. It’s well worth remembering to keep an eye on the sky behind you, as you never know what might be happening.

As the pink in the sky over the abbey strengthened, I decided it was time to shift my attention to that direction, so I gathered my gear and relocated to the end of the pier. I set up my tripod and camera and was just reaching into my bag to get my filter pouch when someone tried to squeeze past me. As I leaned forward to give them some room I caught my filter pouch on the lid of my bag and watched in horror as the pouch flew out of my hand towards the sea! Seeing 9 filters at roughly £80 each head for the sea below didn’t bear thinking about! Luckily the pouch hit the railings and landed on the woodwork, so all was well. I even managed to get the shot too.

I know I’ve written about this before, but it’s one thing having an idea about what you want to shoot, but it’s important to bring an open mind and work with the conditions you are presented with. It’s also a good idea to hang on until at least 15 – 30 minutes after the sun has set, as you never know how the afterglow might develop and you really don’t want to see a great sunset in your rear view mirror as you drive home do you?!800-1-12917-RB

Familiarity

I’ve just read an interesting article in “On Landscape” magazine by Richard Childs, where he is encouraging people to get to know the controls of their camera and it reminded me of a fascinating interlude I had at Staithes festival last year. We’d been exhibiting our images in one of the cottages throughout the day, then later that evening after dark, I ventured down to the harbour to shoot some of the evening activities. I set my camera on the tripod and started taking images, after each frame I would review the histogram and adjust the exposure compensation accordingly. After a few minutes I sensed I was being watched and it turned out that indeed I was! A gentleman was standing behind me fascinated that I was able to make all these various adjustments to my camera in the dark without the use of a head torch. I explained to him that I was so familiar with my camera, I knew where the buttons were, so I didn’t need to be able to see them to operate the camera.

Thinking about this later, I realised what a big advantage this is when trying to compose an image. My mind can be fully focussed on the image making process because operating the camera requires so little conscious input. I have a work flow, developed over many years of practice which means my process of image making is repeatable.800-1-9099-R

I also realised when I thought about it further, that I’ve stuck to very similar cameras over the last 20 years, so very little has changed for me. I bought my first Nikon camera, an F801 in 1994, before finally going digital with a D70 in 2004. This has been followed by a D200, a D700 and now a D800, all of which follow a very similar layout, so I haven’t had to learn anything radically different over the years.800-1-9101-R

Admittedly, the images I was shooting that evening were only record shots, but you get the idea just how useful being fully in control of your equipment can be. It frees the mind to concentrate on the image making process, so the next time I’m on a beach an hour before dawn, I know that I can happily work in the dark knowing that operating the camera is the least of my problems.

In Search of the Machair

It’s the same with us at the start of each year. “Where shall we go this year?” “Where can we go that’s different?” We’d been to Harris a few times and fancied a change, though we normally don’t go to Scotland in the summer to avoid the dreaded midges, but we fancied trying North Uist in summer to see the machair. We found a cottage to rent and set off with a little trepidation in our minds. Despite our love of simple images, this was going to be a very sparse landscape and it was going to test our abilities to do it justice.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Machair at Balranald

We travelled north over a couple of days and arrived on North Uist in glorious sunshine, but it wasn’t to last. Our cottage was on the edge of the Balranald nature reserve, a place renown for it’s machair, but on exploring that evening, it proved that we had arrived a little too early for the machair to be at it’s height. The swathes of buttercups were beautiful, but the poor weather in June meant the clovers and orchids were yet to reach their peak.

Sunset at Traigh nam Faoghailean

Sunset at Traigh nam Faoghailean

More bad weather meant we were confined to a bit of recceing the south of the island over the next couple of days, but no sign of machair in the south, then on the Wednesday we ventured north and bingo, loads of machair at Malacleit and Traigh Ear. Not only machair, but sparse bays that were just crying out to be shot as minimal monochrome images. Suddenly we were in our element and inspired, but time was running out and the weather was limiting our opportunities, before we had to leave the island on Friday to travel to Harris prior to leaving for home.800-1-12080-R

However, we’ve found a cottage overlooking a bay that holds huge potential for us to do our thing and large areas of machair close by, so we don’t think it won’t be too long before we head back to North Uist once again.

Gearraidh Iain cottage at Ceann a Bhaigh

Gearraidh Iain cottage at Ceann a Bhaigh

 

Connecting with the landscape

I’m very conscious that I’ve ignored the blog for far too long again, but I had hoped I’d be writing an extended piece about my experiences on St. Kilda at this point, in fact I’ve even started two articles, but the weather has beaten me one again.

Loch Alsh from a viewpoint near Kyle town

Loch Alsh from a viewpoint near Kyle town

I had also planned to write a piece about shooting the machair on Uist, but something remarkable happened while we were there.

Black house at Carinish

Black house at Carinish

I’ve read several articles by much respected photographers like Bruce Percy and David Ward about “connecting” with the landscape and I’ve always been aware of this, but despite the weather we experienced on Uist, we’re both surprised just how much we connected with this unique landscape. We went with quite a lot of pre-conceptions about what we would shoot and how we would do it, but we’ve come away with some totally different feelings. Despite our love for simple, almost minimal images, we felt we were up against it with the sparse landscape of Uist, but as it turned out, we really connected with this empty landscape. We both feel we could do so much more with it photographically now we’ve been and seen and had time to absorb it. Some islands we’ve visited such as Arran, we just didn’t “get”, but Uist works for us, so even though the weather wasn’t kind to us this trip, we really fancy going back and trying some of these ideas we both have swimming around in our heads.

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Spurn Point Photowalk With Karl Holtby

Spurn point is one of those places we’ve always loved, but rarely had any luck with the weather when we’ve been down there. It always seems like someone turns the lights out when we arrive and it’s traditionally been as dull as dishwater. We haven’t actually been to Spurn for several years, though we did have a visit planned just before the storms overwhelmed the causeway in early 3013, so seeing that Karl Holtby was organising a photowalk in conjunction with the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust was just the excuse I needed.

We arrived at the meeting point on what proved to be a bright, blustery, changeable day and all clambered aboard the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust’s Unimog truck to transport us the 3 miles down to Spurn Head. The tidal surge in early 2013 has completely destroyed the road for about a mile, so it’s a case of walking, or take the truck to get to the end. I was keen to have a chance to take some photos of Spurn, but my main reason for going on this walk, was to assess the practicality of getting to the end of the spit for future visits. Walking over 3 miles on soft sand to shoot a dawn would mean an awfully early start!

800-1-10747-ROnce down to Spurn Head, Karl had organised an office as a nice cosy base, allowing us all to get a coffee and a warm up whilst he gave a short presentation. This was followed by a walk to the newly refurbished lighthouse, where we were allowed to go up to the light room at the top. I can highly recommend anyone trying this trip, as the view is well worth the £4 the Trust charges. The light room gave us some fantastic panoramic views of the spit in what proved to be some lovely light.800-1-10784-R800-1-10762-RBOnce we’d all finished in the lighthouse, we adjourned back to the Trust’s office to have our packed lunches, before venturing out into the wind again. Karl took the bulk of the party off to give them some tuition while the more experienced of us were left to wander off and do our own thing. I wanted to reprise my infra-red image from 2006, but was immediately sand blasted by the wind, so I adjourned into the dunes to seek some shelter.

90-1424-RThe big trouble with locations such as this is you’re like a child in a sweet shop, you’re spoilt for choice of where to go and what to shoot. The other problem with the location is that you are tied by the tides. If you can get in, then inevitably you are going to have a low tide and I had a few images in mind that need some water. By now time was knocking on and the tide was receding ever further out, so I headed for the tide line. Shooting long exposures in a howling gale was never going to be easy, but I set my tripod low and used myself as a windbreak.

800-1-10806-RBpsdWith a couple of shots in the bag and it was time to go walk about again. Time was ticking away and I still had masses of ideas I wanted to try, but the high wind precluded a walk round the headland, so I headed back to the office for a change to the infra-red camera. With the marram grass and big skies, this was infra-red heaven, then all to soon our time was nearly over and I joined the rest of the weary group to wait for the truck for our return ride. I have to say that after several hours up and down the dunes, the thought of walking back 3 miles over soft sand had little appeal!

90-1423-R90-1421-RAs we drove back along the sand, loads of great photo locations came into view and the light was getting really lovely by the time we got back to the car park. I’d really like to thank Karl Holtby and the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust for organising this photowalk, as it was a great day out. This is a wonderful location, with lots of photo opportunities, so Janet and I will definitely be back again very soon. For anyone considering going to Spurn, the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust runs the truck 3 times a day on selected days throughout the season, so have a look on their website for dates and times. You’ll not be disappointed and I’m sure they’ll be glad of your custom. 800-1-10829-R

Infra-red, the story so far…..

As well as my passion for the stark winter mono images, I’m also very fond of infra-red photography.

Although I had been aware of IR photography for some time it wasn’t until around 2002 that I became more serious about it. I won a competition in the now long dead “Digital Photo Art” magazine and part of the prize was a trip to the New Forest to meet a lady called Kathy Harcom who specialises in infra-red photography. I thought her work was wonderful and it inspired me to have a go myself.

IR photography opens up a new dimension for photographers and offers a ‘different’ way of looking at the world around us.
It offers us the opportunity to explore the world of the unseen.
Why “unseen”? Because our eyes cannot see IR light, as it lies just beyond what is classified as the “visible” spectrum which human eyesight can detect.
When we take photographs using infrared-equipped film or cameras, we are exposed to the world that can often look quite different from that we are accustomed to seeing.
Colours, textures, leaves and plants, human skin, and all other manner of objects can reflect IR light in unique and interesting ways.
Like any form of photography or art however, it is a matter of taste.

Here is a comparison between colour, monochrome and digital infra-red—–

052As you can see from the comparison of the church taken in colour, monochrome and infra-red, that the IR picks out different detail from the others, look at the foliage in particular, it’s almost white with a soft glow that typifies IR.

After doing a bit of reading and talking to people who used IR film I bought a roll, loaded it into my camera and was ready to go.

My first trip out was to York Cemetery which is a fantastic overgrown place with lots of potential for any kind of photography.

As you can see the film is very grainy but it has a lovely glow which I like a lot.

054 053The process is quite tricky as the film has to be loaded and unloaded in compete darkness, so any light leaks and the film is ruined. The film also had to be bracketed 1 stop either way to make sure of getting a good exposure, so out of a 36 roll of film you got 12 images. The exposure is quite hit and miss, so you are lucky to get more than two or three good pictures out of a 36 roll of film.

055This was on the Isle of Mull while we were there on holiday and the only decent picture I got from 5 rolls of film, so it became a very expensive image!

We went back to that location a few years later to retake the previous shot with the digital camera, which I’ll talk about later, but the boat had disappeared, though I suspect this is it on the shed roof!

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UNCONVERTED DIGITAL CAMERA AND IR FILTER

Another way of doing IR photography is by using an R72 IR filter that attaches to the front of your digital camera’s lens.
The IR filter prevents visible light from passing through while only allowing IR light to strike your camera’s sensor.

As your sensor has an IR blocking filter in front of it, very little, if any, IR light reaches it.
The combination of the IR blocking filter and the IR filter on the front of your lens requires very long exposure times.

Not all cameras are able to take infra-red images, as some have a stronger infra-red blocking filter on the cameras sensor than others.
There are a number of problems associated with using an IR filter attached to your lens.
The primary issue is motion blur because of the long exposures (Which we actually really like).

Also as the IR filter is very dark, you have to focus before attaching the filter to your lens which can be a bit of a faff.

However, the upside of using the IR filter is that you don’t have to convert your camera, so you can still use it for normal photography.

Back in 2004 I discovered we could take digital Infra-Red images using our Nikon D70.
This gave us exposure times ranging from about 10 seconds up to a few minutes.
The great thing about taking these shots digitally is you can instantly see if you have the correct exposure by looking at the histogram.

Unlike infra-red film, digital infra-red produces a very fine grained image which personally we like a lot.
This shows the image as a raw file straight from the camera and after it’s been processed

058059Spring is a great time for infra-red photography with all the fresh vegetation as it records particularly well.

As does the stonework in the dales walls, which can look very graphic and it contrasts well with the soft glowing foliage. I love nothing better than wandering round the moors and dales looking for interesting features in the landscape like these.

061This image was taken on the Hawnby moor road to Osmotherley, although it isn’t as apparent that its IR as some other pictures, but I love the depth and fine detail it produces. I’d had my eye on these trees and their roots for a while and had been waiting for the right conditions to take them. They are right at the side of a busy narrow road and you take your life in your hands taking this shot. It’s a place I visit regularly to have a look at, but I have never been able to better this image.

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ANOTHER OPTION IS CONVERTING YOUR DSLR FOR DEDICATED PHOTOGRAPHY

This option requires some specialist modifications to your camera, so this means it has to become a dedicated IR camera, but it does have the advantage of being able to shoot at more normal shutter speeds.
No more long exposures, no time spent pre-focusing, then needing to shift your focus mode from AF to manual and no more fiddling with IR filters on the front of your lens.

The IR blocking filter that sits in front of your sensor is removed, and substituted with one that allows only IR light to be passed through.
It is the equivalent of taking the external IR filter, and substituting it for the IR blocking filter.

The cons of using a dedicated IR camera are cost, the inability to use the converted camera for anything other than IR photography, and probably voiding your DSLR’s

warranty and also the problem of carrying an extra camera.

My trusty D70 died in Castle Howard lake a couple of years ago and I was forced into making a decision about which way to go next. After some research I opted to buy a modified D90 from Protech Photographic and I haven’t been disappointed.

It’s well worth a look on their website, they sometimes have converted cameras on there for sale.

Be careful what you buy though as some conversions only remove the IR filter from the sensor which means you still have to have the external IR filter and all the associated faff that goes with it.

I do tend to go out with the camera more in the spring because of the way IR renders the fresh foliage, although you can take good IR shots all year round. As you can see the infra-red is very effective recording the spring foliage and I really like the delicate texture it gives.

065Also when the conventional camera goes away for the day the IR camera comes into its own, around midday on a bright sunny day with a few clouds to break up the sky are IR heaven.

067Skies are almost as important as the subject you are taking I think. If you aren’t careful the sky can be too dark and dominant but a few fluffy clouds help a lot. Although on this occasion I think the clouds merge with the trees a bit too much.

068This image is the exception to the rule. On this occasion I think that the stark black sky actually makes the image.

069If you fancy something a little different, there is a way of channel swapping the colours in Photoshop to give you a blue sky which can be quite effective. Though I’m not too keen on the effect I’ve got with this image.

070I normally either convert to monochrome or tone the IR images but I liked the tones on this one of the Reading Room at Appleton-Le-Moors so decided to leave it as a false colour IR.

071As with this one, I have also converted this to monochrome but for some strange reason I prefer the false colour.

072Of course you can play with the colours in channel mixer and get some great effects. I took this by moving the camera up and down during the exposure then playing with the colours afterwards in Photoshop.

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In conclusion, Infra-red photography allows you the opportunity to venture into the “unseen spectrum” and produce some ethereal images that transcend normal photography and open up new possibilities to explore another world.

If you have been inspired by this, we are planning to run some infra-red workshops during the summer. Please contact us for more details or check the website (details will be available soon) www.rjbphotographic.co.uk/tuition.html