A friend of mine recently complained that she wished winter would hurry up and end so she could get out and start taking photographs again. No, no! I contradicted, winter is a fantastic time for taking photographs; all those heavy, brooding skies, the low sun, those stormy seas and frost-coated landscapes. It’s true I’ve never been a fan bright sunny scenes; give me grey, moody, atmospheric vistas any day. A sun high in the sky rarely makes for great photographs, even in summer landscapes generally appear more interesting shortly after dawn or close to sunset when the sun is low.
Dawn over Cockwood Harbour on a frosty December morning.
In winter the sun follows a lower arc across the sky, thus a greater proportion of the available daylight produces what is, in my view, a more interesting light. A corollary of this is that the sun rises later and sets earlier, thus one does not have to drag oneself out of bed at five in the morning, or hang around until almost 10pm, to get those sunrise and sunset shots. It is true that some wildlife shots become trickier when one has to work with slower shutter speeds and wider apertures, and sometimes one has to rely on a tripod, not exactly condusive to high mobility for stalking some flighty subject. However, on the flip side, many animals become markedly less wary in winter, when hunger overrides normal timidity.
A long exposure shot of Teignmouth Pier on a winter’s afternoon. Teignmouth, Devon.
I have always been fond of long exposure shots of moving water, producing beautiful soft, fluid and slightly surreal effects on waterfalls or waves on the beach. This does require low light levels entering the camera though, and in summer (even at minimum apertures) one must either stack neutral density filters in front of the lens, or get up really early or wait really late to get those shots around dawn or dusk. In winter it is so much easier, light levels are much lower anyway and as the sun rises and sets at a more acute angle to the horizon so the period of gloomy light lasts that much longer. This can be crucial if you are rushing between spots to try and find the best angle for you ‘money shot’. So dig out the winter boots and woolly hat and make the most of these chilly and gloomy landscapes. If nothing else it’s such a great excuse to eat lots of chocolate and warm up in a pub afterwards.
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 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.
Steps Bridge, River Teign, Dunsford Wood, in mid-winter
This has turned out to be one of the coldest Christmas days on record here in South Devon. Living on a boat, this has not escaped my attention. I haven’t been moving too far from the woodburner stove at night. For the second winter in a row I’ve been locked in ice for weeks on end. Around 2a.m. this morning I was woken by a loud bang and the whole boat shuddering strongly. It was around minus 10 Centigrade (~14deg F) and Maria had shifted as the ice thickened and expanded. Maria weighs around 30 tons. I climbed on to deck to check the thickness of the ice. A few hard thumps with an old wooden oar succeeded only in sending gunshot-like sounds ricocheting through the night and splintering the blade of the oar. I gave up and retired to bed. Maria is very stoutly built with oak frames at 11″ spacing, she wasn’t about to be crushed. I just don’t want the ice to get any thicker.
River Teign partially frozen, Dunsford Wood, South Devon, UK.
Christmas day was perfect: clear blue skies and crisp white snow underfoot. So after doing the family stuff in the morning I decided to take my son Calum walking in the Teign Valley through Dunsford Wood. It would certainly give us an appetite for Christmas dinner. Dunsford Wood is owned by the National Trust and Managed by the Devon Wildlife Trust, with footpaths through the woodland and along the riverbank open to the public. In summer it is a great place to see huge wood ant colonies and the rare High Brown Fritillary butterfly. Year round it’s a great place to walk; light open oak, hazel and ash woodland on one side and on the other the river lazily gliding past (or thundering past, depending on season). As it happened, the river was doing neither along much of the walk on Christmas Day; or if it was drifting past it was doing so beneath a carapace of ice. We were lucky enough spot a couple of dippers (Cinclus cinclus) as we walked ( a first for my son). We watched one for several minutes as it skipped between sheets of ice-covered river, occasionally slipping beneath the surface where it found ice-free water. Unfortunately the sun was already low and the only long lens I had with me was way too slow, so I didn’t bother getting it out. As the sun set and the temperature plumetted we headed back to the landrover hoping that the stove would still be going when we got back to the boat.
River Teign partially frozen, Dunsford Wood, South Devon, UK.
Snow-covered upland oak woodland along banks of the River Teign, Dunsford Wood, South Devon, UK.
As always my images are available to license and as fine art prints. If you’d like to use one of my images for publication please contact me. If you’d like a print of one of the images drop me an email stating image number and print size (costs for prints can be found on my fine art prints pages, e.g. Fine Art prints of Devon
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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.
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.
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
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’)