Sunday, 28 August 2011

Tales of a stressy landscaper

Tribley Farm in Grange Villa, County Durham is fast becoming one of my favourite spots of the year to shoot landscapes. What I like about it is the wide open views to the east and the west, making it ideal for shooting both sunrises and sunsets. In the morning you can turn you camera to the west and shoot the dawn light hitting the landscape as the sun appears above the horizon and for evening shoots, it’s great to swing 180 degrees and capture the last light of the day illuminating the fields to the east.
            On this morning I chose to shoot towards the coast and get the ball of the sun as it appeared, with the landscape below it. Quite a simple task usually- all you have to do is set-up and wait, shooting the pre-dawn light whist you do so. Dawn is absolutely my favourite time to shoot- it’s quiet, calm and I love the sense of solitude you get from being one of the few people crazy enough to be out of bed at such a ridiculous hour! However, at the same time I tend to find it stressful. I do it every time; get up with loads of time to spare (like- up to 2 hours before dawn, depending on where I’m traveling to) get out on location (which I’ve usually scouted out in the daytime to plan my shots) set-up my gear and then start the wait. Yet every time the sun starts to show up I start panicking! I know it makes no sense, but I always find something wrong with my equipment at that key moment, or I decide I don’t like my shooting angle after all- or in the case of this morning, I’m suddenly bugged by flare.
You are always going to get some flare when shooting into the sun like this, even with a lens hood and UV/Skylight filter, but this time it was rendering many of my shots unusable and I couldn’t find the cause. I Ended up running up and down the length of the field I was in, trying to get a different angle, but nothing was helping. Being of a nervous disposition, this wasn’t making the experience all that enjoyable- they probably heard me swearing in Penshaw (about 10 miles away or something!) Eventually I concluded that it was something to do with my ND Grad Filter and upon inspecting it I found a small scratch that was showing up like hell with the lens stopped down. It wasn’t a problem at other times of day, but with the sun this low and shining straight down the lens… I removed the filter, concluding that I will need to invest in a new one and shot the rest of my images bracketed, so as to merge them later in Photoshop. See some of the morning's shots below.
It was around about now that my blood pressure started to rocket

I loved the mist that started to roll in- there was literally that one patch infront of the sun

Shot wide open at f/2.8 to trow the background out of focus
Also shot with a 70-200mm lens

Cropped to 5 x 4 - I figured if I could pretend I was shooting larger format film it would make me feel like a better photographer. Eat  your heart out Joe Cornish!
 It would seem fitting that for future dawn shoots such as this I should take the advice of some of my friends (yes I have some…) and “Chillax.” The term, whist not sounding wholly dissimilar to something you’d use to treat an ice burn (or constipation), seems to have a lot of meaning these day, especially to a stressed-out landscape photographer. After all a dawn shooter is probably that above all else- chilly.

Friday, 19 August 2011

A slightly tricky sunset shoot

The other day I finally found time to head out at dusk for a landscape shoot. This time I headed to a place called Waldridge, County Durham and back to a location I’d been a few days before during the day. I’d thought then that it would be a good spot to shoot in the Golden Hours (dusk or dawn) due to its open views looking both east and west. Plus there was a lovely big cornfield which looked great in bad light; I knew it would look stunning in more directional lighting.
I arrived about half an hour before the sun was due to set (I would have liked to have been there earlier but it wasn’t possible that day) and got set up. I was using my Manfrotto 190XPROB tripod with ball head in case I wanted to take a panorama; this set-up is just that bit easier to use for panos compared to my Camlink system.
It was around about now that I could see my problem. The light wasn’t doing quite what I wanted it to this evening; instead of a nice bright sun on the horizon, sending long beams of golden light onto the corn in my foreground the clouds that had now turned up from nowhere were diffusing the light to such an extent that much of the landscape looked very flat. There just wasn’t any contrast to speak of. I walked up and down the width of the field and changed lenses/focal lengths numerous times, but I couldn’t seem to get a composition that worked.  What made matters worse was the fact I was distracted by a bold looking deer who was peering at me over the next hill with an expression that could only be described as amusement! Would I be paranoid to assume it was laughing at me? Probably.
Composed of 3 images manually merged in Photoshop using layers

I liked the geometric patterns the wires created and the gradation of colour from firy red to purple-blue in the sky

Not sure if there's too much empty space on the left side. What do people think?
Anyway, I eventually decided that the best option was to cut out most of the foreground and make the illuminated clouds my main subject. I chose a longer set of focal lengths between 100 and 200mm and focussed of the coloured sky with the line of pylons leading into the distance. I actually found that the masts made quite good subjects in their own right, silhouetted against the fiery colours of the sunset; my shots ended up with quite a Texan feel to them, except these were power lines rather than oil wells! They’re quite industrial-looking images which I think actually have a fair bit of impact. Pylons aren’t beautiful but they are intriguing. Compositionally these photos aren’t perfect, but all can say is at least I came away with something to talk about!      
I was shooting with my Canon EOS 7D and because I wanted to isolate the horizon detail I shot the whole time with a 70-200mm lens set at f/5.6 (this lens’ sharpest aperture) As usual I used a cable release and hotshoe spirit level. Since the light levels were low I stuck to manual focus for most of the time and used the magnified view in live view to confirm focus.
Comments are welcome.
See ya…!