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Moorland streams on Christmas Day – how to do things the hard way.

Moorland streams on Christmas Day – how to do things the hard way.
A small stream Dunsford Wood, Teign Valley, Devon, England.  This is a long exposure images taken to produce a fluid, surreal look to the flowing river. Colin Munro Photography

A small stream Dunsford Wood, Teign Valley, Devon, England.

Like all photographers I am sometimes asked how I created certain images, and how difficult getting certain pictures were. The answer in most cases is ‘not that difficult provided you’ve planned it and are well prepared’. But sometimes I just make things difficult for myself.

The above picture is a long exposure, 30 seconds in this case, used to blur movement (in the above picture the flowing water) producing a milky, fluid and slightly surreal look to the flowing stream. Obviously the amount of light hitting the camera sensor has to be limited to compensate for such a long exposure. Stopping down to a very small aperture helps but will only get you so far, rarely all the way to 30 seconds exposure. Stacking neutral density filters in front of the lens is one way, but a simpler way (especially this time of year when days are short) is to shoot at dusk, when light levels are naturally low and long shutter speeds are not merely desirable but also necessary.

Late Christmas Day I made a snap decision to get out on to Dartmoor, go for a walk and get some nice images. I left in a rush, trying to multi-task ineffectively as usual. The moor was not inspiring – low grey cloud and steady drizzle do not make for great pictures, so I turned around and reluctantly headed home. Light was fading fast when I found this little stream in the steep, wooded valley of the River Teign. I pulled over and decided to try and get some shots. This was where my rushing and lack of preparation came home to roost. I realised I had left my walking boots by the entrance to my boat and had only the city shoes I was wearing with me. Worse still, upon opening my tripod case (not checked before I left) I discovered that somehow the tripod head had snapped in two (I’ll be writing to Manfrotto shortly). Luckily I also had a small, six inch, tabletop tripod with me, but that meant actually getting in to the stream and perching it on top of boulders if I were obtain any useable shots. By the time I found a suitable spot along the stream it was about 4:15pm and getting gloomier by the minute. A quick scan around confirmed that there were no suitable boulders at the edge of the stream on which to mount the tripod; there was no alternative, shoes and socks had to come off and I had to wade out in to the middle of the stream. Thirty minutes later I stumbled to the side. The light had well and truly gone, so it was time to pack up. I had by then also lost all feeling below the ankles. It was not until i started driving home again that feeling began to return to my feet, doing so in painful waves as flow returned to constricted blood vessels. I had ample time to reflect on the stupidity of my lack of planning. My first actions the following day were to buy a spare tripod and place wellingtons and thick socks on the boot of my car in readiness. Hopefully that is at least one mistake I won’t repeat. Meanwhile I have now place some of these images in my art images of Devon Landscapes Gallery. This can be viewed (and prints purchased) here. Hopefully it was worth the effort. Colin

The Port Royal Pub, Exeter historic quay, at night.

The Port Royal Pub, Exeter historic quay, at night.
The Port Royal bar reflected on the River Exe at night. Exeter historic quay, Exeter, Devon, England. Image MBI000910.

The Port Royal bar reflected on the River Exe at night. Exeter historic quay, Exeter, Devon, England. Image MBI000910.

 The Port Royal bar reflected on the River Exe at night. Exeter historic quay, Exeter, Devon, England. image No. MBI000910. Please email me, quoting this number if you’d like to license use of this image or purchase a fine art print.

I took this pic a couple of nights ago. The last of the revellers had staggered home and the quayside was quiet.  It was warm and perfectly still, with a clear starry sky overhead.  Perfect for this type of image. So a little after midnight I pulled my gear together and climbed out of my boat’s saloon.  For a pic such as this, relying solely on distance sodium street lighting and faint starlight the iso needs to be cranked up a bit, but not so much as to make the image very noisy, and, obviously, the shutter speed way down.  Depth of field is not an issue as everything in the picture is distant, so the iris can be (and was) wide open.  I used an old 20mm prime lens, a favourite of mine.  The sodium lighting gives the pub and adjacent buildings an unearthly yellow hue.  I rather like  it this so did not atempt to change this, feeling it added to the rather surreal look.  Clearly the stars and buildings differ massively in brightness. To acheive useable exposure of both required melding two images at very different shutter speeds (four stops difference if memory serves me).  Some post processing of the starry sky was also required. The image was converted in to a grey scale image to remove colour noise, then reconverted back to an RGB image before melding.

Exeter historic quayside at night

Exeter historic quayside at night

Exeter historic quayside at night. Cafe live on a warm summer night, Exeter, Devon.

Exeter historic quayside at night. Cafe live on a warm summer night, Exeter, Devon.


Feels like summer has finally arrived. We’ve had a few great days recently, and for once it’s co-incided with schools half-term so I’ve had the chance to take get the boogie board out with my son, rather than watching DVDs as rain lashes the windows (the norm for holidays!). I’ve been playing around with High Dynamic Range images a little bit recently. I’m not always keen on the effect, sometimes it works for me sometimes its just too lurid.

There has been a quay in Exeter since Roman times; the main trade was wool and woolen cloth, with the Customs House being built in 1680 to collect taxes on this burgeoning trade. The square riggers and the trade has long gone but many of the fine old buildings remain, converted now to cafes, bars and craft shops. I took these two images while out bat watching along the river bank with my kid (an extra treat as way past his normal bed-time). Each image is a composit of three long exposure images (these varied from 1/8th to around a second, from memeory). I actually took around 10 images of each scene but selected only three for the final images.

Exeter quayside at night. Cafe life along the river Exe by Exeter's historic quay in central Exeter, Devon, on a warm summer evening.

Exeter quayside at night. Cafe life along the river Exe by Exeter's historic quay in central Exeter, Devon, on a warm summer evening.


Larger images (and additional images of Exeter) can be viewed by clicking on this link here. If there is sufficient interest I may produce some prints of these images for sale.

Spring is in the air. Seaslugs mating: Polycera faeroensis.

Spring is in the air. Seaslugs mating: Polycera faeroensis.
The seaslug, or nudibranch,  Polycera faeroensis mating.  Like all nudibranchs, Polycera faeroensis is a simultaneous hermaphrodite.

The seaslug, or nudibranch, Polycera faeroensis mating. Like all nudibranchs, Polycera faeroensis is a simultaneous hermaphrodite. Image MBI000678

Spring is in the air, the sea is getting warmer – slowly – and the birds and bees, and most things beneath the waves too. Polycera faeroensis is a very common seasulg in British waters, and although colourful is often overlooked due to its small size, large individuals are no more than 4.5 centimetrs long. Like all nudibranchs they are simultaneous hermaphrodites – possessing both male and female sex organs at the same time (sequential hermaphrodites have either only male or only female sex organs at any given time). Copulation works both ways (reciprocal copulation, as it is termed). As the sex organs always appear to be on the right side or their bodies, Polycera faeroensis nudibranchs copulate head to tail. The missionary position has not caught on in the nudibranch world. One might think this was already exciting enough for any mollusc, but some nudibranchs, (such as the related Palio dubia found around the northern Uk shores) add a touch of S & M to their sex lives. Unlike many nudibranchs, Palio dubia does not have a complete vaginal opening. Thus copulation occurs by hypodermic injection; the barbed penis (or penile cirrus as it is properly termed) simply punctures the body wall into its mating partner. Ouch!
As always my pics are available to license – if you’d like to use one just email me

Mute swans at midnight, River Exe, central Exeter, UK

Mute swans at midnight, River Exe, central Exeter, UK

Standing on the edge of suspension bridge crossing the River Exe in central Exeter a little after midnight attracts a little attention from passing dog walkers and late night revellers. Was I suicidal? Those that came closer breathed a sigh of relief when they saw my camera and tripod. No! I was obviously simply deranged; why else would I be pointing a camera down towards almost totally black water.

The swans of central Exeter are a glorious sight, skimming low over the water or congregating along the quayside to be fed by tourists, children, couples….pretty much everyone really. At night they float noislessly along the river like luminous ghosts. Sometimes they gather in large numbers, as in this picture, to squabble, converse, exchange ideas, debate, bicker, cogitate, fraternise and flirt – who knows? In early spring (as this was) the water is muddy and dark with suspended soil washed in from moorland upstream. At night the darkness enhances the already striking contrast between the pure white swans and the inky water.

Mute swans (Cygnus olor) gather at midnight, River Exe, Central Exeter, UK

Mute swans (Cygnus olor) gather at midnight, River Exe, Central Exeter, UK

Ice cold in Alex ….or Exeter

Ice cold in Alex ….or Exeter
Boats locked in ice at midnight, Exeter Canal Basin, Exeter city, Devon, England.

Boats locked in ice at midnight, Exeter Canal Basin, Exeter city, Devon, England.

Apologies to John Mills and co for the bad pun. By chance this next blog was going to be about Alexandria, Egypt (well, Abu Qir actually, a small seaport nearby). Things came up and I haven’t quite completed it yet. As temperatures plummet and my boat is once again locked in ice I somehow managed to prise myself away from my woodburner last night to play around with some long exposures and high dynamic range shots. Returning to the warmth of the saloon around midnight, after a couple of hours freezing my butt off, I decided I had suffered exposure long enough and a warming whisky was required. Feeling began to return to my fingertips and I felt reassured they weren’t frostbitten after all.

Reviewing the pics afterwards I felt reasonably satisfied my time wasn’t entirely wasted. The one I’ve attached is an HDR composite of three exposures, ranging from 30 seconds to around 10 seconds. In the end I decided to combine them manually rather than use software such as Photomatrix, layering alternative exposures and combining as looking pleasing to the eye (well to mine eye anyway).

I’ll upload more images as i get around to editing them. Expect a blog about Abu Qir soon too (possibly titled ‘Soaking wet in Alex’)