Sunday, 14 December 2014

2014 in images

It's always a good idea to look back at your photographs at the end of the year. I decided to pick a 'Top 10' by creating a Smart Collection in Lightroom, with a capture date of 2014 and that I had given 5 stars. I then chose my favourites from these, adding them into the Quick Collection.

I struggled to get the collection down to ten but was happy enough with twelve and have decided to present them here in the ways of a 2014 calendar.

January


Shoveler at Elmley RSPB Nature Reserve, Kent

 February


Lone tree near Sheepstor, Dartmoor, Devon

 March


Seascape at Porth Nanven, Cornwall

 April


'Over the last' - Aldington Point-to-point, Kent

 May


Redshank, Elmley RSPB Nauture Reserve, Kent

 June


Common Spotted Orchid, Bonsai Bank, Kent

 July


Elika

 August


'Painting the moor' near Gidleigh, Dartmoor, Devon

 September


Mark Cavendish leads the peleton on the Dartmoor stage of the Tour Of Britain

 October


Red deer, Richmond Park

 November


Sea Hurricane at Old Warden, Bedfordshire

 December


Helen



Thursday, 11 December 2014

Rochester Dickens Festival 2014

One of the Rapscallions

Last Saturday (7 Dec 2014), Phil and I went back to Rochester for the Rochester Dickensian Christmas Festival. It really doesn't seem a year since I last wrote about this – you can see last year's account here. The big difference was that the weather was more difficult: windy and rainy for much of it, in the light was variable to murky. Nevertheless, I had a great time photographing the characters.

The people who dress up for this festival are truly wonderful: they're always willing to chat, and they put enormous effort into their costumes. The Seven Dials Rapscallions had an area cordoned off, as last time, where they set up camp. They were wonderfully co-operative for pictures; I also got some photos of some of the individuals out on the street later on. I didn't have much of a chance to talk to the steam punks this year, although, as before, they were out in force. Nevertheless, Phil and I did chat to one of their members who gives every impression of being the older brother of one of our street photographer friends, who also happens to use an Olympus camera.

As well as the characters the Fabulous Fezheads were playing. I've added a couple of wide-angle shots of them at the end of this post. I'd not heard them play before, and they were absolutely brilliant. They describe themselves as “England's Premier Sand Dance Illusionists”: imagine the Nutty Boys crossed with a 1920s music hall act crossed with Morris dancers and you would not even be close to what they are ;-)

This time, in addition to getting portraits of the characters isolated using the 105 mm f/2 DC lens, I wanted to get in close to some of them with wide angles. Some of the pictures you'll see below were taken with either my 35mm lens or Phil's 24 mm f/2.8 AF-D. The idea was to get some pictures with an exaggerated perspective so as to give an almost cartoonish effect. I think that many of Dickens own characters are so intensely portrayed in his writing that an exaggerated perspective is the direct way of portraying them. The pictures were all taken on my D700, using auto ISO with aperture priority. Simply processed through Lightroom as normal.

A sing along with the crowd before the parade
Fagin leads the parade

Mr Mayor, I presume










The Fabulous Fezheads, Victorian characters and mobile phone photography - all at once!


Saturday, 15 November 2014

Deer rut at Richmond Park

Back in mid-October I visited Richmond Park with a few friends with the aim of photographing the red deer rut. We arrived sharp at 7am to coincide with gate opening and within a few minutes we saw a number of stags near the side of the road, before parking up in one of the designated car parks.

The light levels were very low, which gave us time for a coffee before we headed off into the park. Quite by chance, we appeared to be in quite a good location, with a number of groups of hinds being guarded by stags (or harts as they are also known). There was little activity early on, with most animals sitting down, which gave us some opportunities for group shots and to familiarise ourselves with their behaviour.

Red deer and jackdaw

After a while, and as the light improved, I became aware of some activity about 500 metres away in one of the open areas. There was a small group of hinds and a couple of stags in close proximity so we headed off in their direction. As we got within a few hundred yards I took some shots of them in the long, autumn-coloured grasses.




At this point we spotted a couple of young stags posturing and starting to lock horns. It was not a violent interaction - just a couple of 'teenagers' sizing themselves up.


By now the light had improved and there was more activity as other stags made their way into the area. At one point a stag trotted over from the distant woodland but, when it got within 20 metres of one of the dominant males, it turned and ran away.

Despite a lack of real clashes between the stags, there were still lots of photo opportunities.



We spent the next hour or so photographing a stag and a group of about eight hinds as be worked his way around them to ward off others.

My two favourite shots of the day are of the hart bellowing against the autumn colours of the trees.


With the last one I was lucky enough to capture the moment when a pair of starlings decided to settle on the stag's back.


All in all, a great couple of hours photography and something that I would like to repeat.






Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Nikon D810 – some follow-up thoughts

Juvenile marsh harriers at Elmley: deep crops from the D810/200-400 VRII. See text below. Click on the image to see it at full size.
Just a quick follow up to my previous post on the Nikon D810. I said that the look of the prints would be an important deciding factor. So, I got some 18” x 12” prints made (by Proam, who I think are excellent). Alongside the D810 images, I got some “control” D700 prints made from pictures of similar aircraft taken earlier this year.

The first print out of the pack was the Vulcan shot. It was one of those “Wow!” moments – it looks terrific. And the rest of the D810 shots looked terrific. Then I came to the D700 shots … err … they looked terrific as well. Actually, the differences in quality at that size print are pretty small. I showed them to Phil and asked him to guess which came from the 12MP camera, and which from the 36 MP camera. After a bit of humming and hahing, he got it right, and without any prompting from me.

So, yes, there are discernable differences between D700 and D810 pictures as 18” x 12” prints, but they are very slight. A bit more edge acutance, perhaps, but not much. Better tonality on a dull day, I think. Maybe if I got some bigger prints done, it would be clearer, but for normal pictures, normally framed and not excessively cropped, it is not a big deal.

In any case, that Vulcan picture was taken in portrait orientation as the aircraft banked rapidly: it is cropped on the left and right hand sides, and represents a crop from a full print equivalent to about 27” x 18”. The concept of making a print that size, pin sharp with wonderful tonality is stunning.

On the Sunday I had the camera, I headed off to Elmley Marshes NNR. Not a great time of the year – very much in between seasons. However, Elmley is such a magical place, there’s usually something worth seeing. Trundling in the car slowly along the track, I saw a small shape in the far distance on the ground. I pulled over on to the side of the track; a quick peek though binoculars confirmed it was a raptor, as best I could tell it was a marsh harrier. Before I could get the camera set up, pointing out of the car window, a second bird flew in the direction of the first – another harrier. Here is the full frame of the first shot (at 400mm, 1.2 crop).
Juvenile marsh harrier at Elmley: full frame
Of course, this is just a quick grab – not the right lens, fieldcraft or anything. However….

The new arrival made a beeline for the one on the ground, and they started to play. I grabbed a series of shots, just letting the camera go at 7fps for as long as they kept at it. Fairly quickly, one flew off and I lost sight of the other. I followed the one that flew off with the camera: it kept the focus – never wandered – and kept shooting, without the buffer filling up.

They are too far away for exhibition purposes, but at smallish size, suitable crops look great.  The opening image is a compilation from that series of shots.

What was really impressive was the focusing. To lock on to a small moving subject that far away, and never lose it is simply amazing. This is with the group AF, and AF-C setting. The long and short of it is that I could never have got that series on the D700. The focusing would not have been good enough, and the resolution would have been inadequate. A big win for the D810.

Since then, I’ve been to a couple more airshows – the Duxford September show and Shuttleworth Season Finale at Old Warden. I just used the D700 as usual, and I got a bunch of pictures that I really like. Both airshows featured unique opportunities for aviation pictures: the Canadian Lancaster at Dux; two (yes, two) Mew Gulls and the DH88 at OW. The D700 was great to take along because I’m now very familiar with what it can predictably do in my hands. I got some pictures that I’m delighted with. But it hunted for focus once in a while, and I lost most of one series of pictures because the focusing wandered off an aircraft as it accelerated to take off, focusing on the background instead. A low rate of loss, for sure, but I didn’t experience that at all with the D810.

So, for my purposes – and your mileage will definitely vary on this – I think the D810 is the best general purpose camera available.

Is it worth £2400 (roughly the price at present) to me? And what about the D750? Hmm ….

I’ve not shot with the D750, so can’t comment specifically. Before I’d known about the D810, I’d probably have said it was the camera for me. 24MP, 6.5 fps, top of the range AF, tilt screen (excellent for those low down pictures), great low light performance (both the latter being just the job for aircraft nightshoots), about £650 less expensive at the moment: what’s not to like?

Well … Glenn Bloore, an excellent aviation photographer, states the buffer is very small. If he says so, I believe him. Ever since I sat next to Kojak by Derwent Dam as the BBMF Lanc flew over, and he missed the absolute key shot because the buffer was too small, I’ve promised myself I’d never get a camera with a small buffer. I like the idea of the 1.2 crop as well: it turned out so well at Shoreham getting 25 MP on 240-480 mm equivalent. And 36 MP when you need it.

So, if it ever comes to it, the D750/D810 dilemma is quite acute. It is theoretical for the moment, in any case; the piggy bank needs a lot of fattening ;-) .

The trouble with male GAS is that it is never truly rational. I got my LRPS, ARPS and CPAGB with D300 pictures. The D700 is better than the D300.  If I could not get to the next stage of my (extremely slow and intermittent) letter hunt with my current gear, it is not the gear. I don’t doubt that spending £2400 on a trip somewhere exciting would see me closer to the next set of letters. But GAS is like a determined guard dog: once you’re bitten, you stay bitten.

Saturday, 20 September 2014

Tour of Britain 2014 - Stage 5

Planning


Having booked a cottage in South West Devon for early September, I subsequently discovered that Stage 5 of the Tour Of Britain was passing very close by. Starting in Exmouth and finishing in Exeter, the 110 mile stage crossed large parts of Dartmoor. This was a photo opportunity not to be missed!

I then started planning what type of shots I wanted to take. This was a slow process and over the preceding weeks a clear picture of what I wanted crystalised in my mind - the key aspects being:

  • a wide-angle view of a spread of riders
  • capturing the essence of Dartmoor
  • no distractions (cars, spectators, buildings etc)
I did think about doing a recce a day or two before to find some promising spots but I had no way of predicting which areas would be busy; the last thing I wanted was to identify a great location only to arrive on the day and find 50 other photographers there or lots of spectators on the opposite side of the road. I decided in the end to try and get to the Eastern end of the moor a couple of hours before and pick a spot on the day.

Finding a location on the day (12th September 2014)


The target area I identified was between Widecombe on the Moor and Haytor Vale on the B3387 and Julia and I set off around 9.30 in the morning, with the riders' ETA being about 20 mins after midday.

The first thing that struck us was the sheer number of local cyclists making a pilgrimage to The Moor for a brief glimpse of their heroes as they flashed by. My one regret of the day was not stopping to photography a chap on a penny farthing that we had just passed in the car.

The route as it passes in front of Hay Tor (checkpoint where road and horizon meet) as we arrived.

Hay Tor is one of the most popular landmarks on the Dartmoor, as it is the first major one that you see when accessing via the town of Bovey Tracey (known as the "Gateway to the Moor"). As we approached it in the car it was clear that this was going to be a key spectator spot. We pulled over onto the verge to weigh up our options and I quickly realised that where we had stopped was actually quite a good spot: it was on a bend, Hay Tor was in the background and there were no distractions in front of us.

The photography starts


The plan was to use two camera/lens combinations on the day. My 1D MkIV would be tripod mounted with the EF 16-35 f/2.8 and a cable release to capture the main action. I would then use my EF 70-200 f/2.8 on the 6D body for a few grab shots of the crowd etc.

So, having chosen our pitch, we then walked up the hill to the checkpoint area to soak up the atmosphere (and grab a much needed coffee).

It's important to bear in mind how far British road cycling has come in the last few years. From what was a minority sport, to domination of the track at the last two Olympic games and successive Tour de France victories. This in turn, has led to a huge uptake of cycling by the British public and it appeared that all of those from the South West had descended upon Dartmoor and the surrounding towns for the day, making for a fantastic and friendly atmosphere, which I've tried to capture in the next few photos.

Four mates discussing the issues of the day

Dreaming of future glory.

The ascent to Hay Tor about an hour before the riders were due

'Crowd control', with the two outcrops that make up Hay Tor as a backdrop

The sponsor's merchandising stand

Final preparation for the main event


Having returned from the top of the hill it was time to set up my gear to capture the main event. It took me about 30 minutes to settle on the exact composition that I was happy with, but even then, a lot of it was going to be guesswork, as I've never done this type of thing before and I had no idea how spread out the riders would be. One thing was sure: I was at the bottom of a hill and they would be going fast!

Once I had set the composition, I locked down the camera on the tripod and attached the remote release cable. The camera settings were: aperture priority; 22mm focal length; f/8; ISO 1600; auto white balance. This would give me shutter speed of 1/4000th and keep both the road and the top or Hay Tor in focus.

While I was setting all of this up a couple and a dog walker stopped opposite for a chat. Still, there was still about 40 mins until the riders were due so they would have moved on by then - or so I thought.

Spectators in my field of view...DISASTER!
As time ticked on, I had to make a decision: walk over an politely ask them if they wouldn't mind spectating out of my field of view or just hope that they would be small enough in the frame and hence dwarfed by the cyclists that it would not really matter. I opted for the latter approach in the end - most unlike me!!

Luckily, Julia had her compact camera with her and surprised me by 'photographing the photographer'. You can see the low viewpoint that I chose, with the camera at about 45 degrees to the direction of travel. I wanted the lead riders to be big in the frame an those behind to appear much smaller.

Bring it on!

The action


There was a succession of police motorbikes and official cars passing by and the atmosphere built as these became more frequent. Before I knew it, the lead riders appeared at the the top of the hill. With the preparation done, all that was needed now was to squeeze the cable release button as they went by and hope for the best!

A group led by three Omega Pharma Quickstep team riders
The next two photos are of the main peleton. The first is taken by Julia from the other side of the road at, what must have been, almost simultaneous to mine, below.

The main peleton sweeps down the hill


Mark Cavendish at the front of the peleton
Two frames after the above shot the buffer (26 images) on my camera filled so I could easily have missed the main men. (Sir Bradley Wiggins is instantly recognisable with the tattoo and union flag on his right arm).

The rear of the peleton
Well, it was all over in a flash. In less than a minute all the riders had swept by, followed closely by the team and event cars.

The Omega Pharma car

The Team Sky Jag

So, after the adrenaline rush, we walked out onto the moor for a picnic and watched the crowd slowly disperse.

It's all over!

Looking back


Now that the dust has settled and I've managed to process my images I'm pretty pleased with the results and that all the planning was worthwhile. Luck was of course on my side - I got Mark Cavendish and Sir Bradley Wiggins in the same frame and the spectators opposite me didn't adversely affect the shots.