Tag Archives: nature

What lies beyond

It’s a grey, wet miserable day and I am not out shooting. So, by way of a break from the boring but necessary admin work, here’s one from the archive.

mountains, landscape, clouds, vista, valley


This is a favourite of my landscape shots and is one I keep returning to. I just love it. This was shot on 20 September 2008 during a special trip to the French Alps. It’s one of those completely serendipitous unplanned shots. My wife and I were returning to our hotel in Chamonix from a visit to Evian on the shore of Lake Geneva when we stopped for a break at a service station. I was aware that there was a degree of elevation where we were and headed, more in hope than expectation, between the parked-up lorries to see what kind of view might be on offer. At first, I was met with a very dull scene but, very quickly, the clouds started parting and the revelation was simply breathtaking.

I love the theatrical nature of this image, the clouds being drawn back like curtains to reveal the main attraction. Honestly, you could have sold tickets for this.

Apart from the memories this image evokes, I really like the composition of three main elements: the cold clear crispness of the mountains; the softness of the cloud  and the lush verdant valley below.

This image also works for me on a philosophical level and is a reminder that there is always something better lying beyond the clouds that face us at any given time.



Making the most of it

For the past three days I have been pretty much snowed in, thanks to the so-called “beast from the east”, a weather system originating in a polar vortex, apparently, which has brought sub-zero temperatures and very strong winds driving a dry powder snow. There are, therefore, lots of snow drifts. Where I live, in Fife, there have been no public service transport services these three days as we have gone from the Met Office issuing an amber warning to a red warning and back to amber. It can sound dramatic, but you just have to be sensible and in the midst of this I have a dog which needs to get out for exercise and “comfort” breaks.

This morning, whilst the wind was still strong there was much less snow in the air, so I decided to take my camera along for the walk to see what might be around and worth shooting. I was, if I’m honest, hoping to see some deer and other wildlife but, sadly, all I saw were some tracks in the snow where the deer had been. And so we pressed on with the walk and I started looking around for something in the intimate landscape that might be worth shooting. To be honest, the wider landscape was a world of grey and white, made all the more blurry by the now blowing snow.

Here though are a couple of shots I took this morning which I thought I’d share with you and say something about them.

trees; dead wood; winter; intimate landscape


This is the first of the shots I though worthy of doing something with. It’s one of those compositions that just appeared unexpectedly. What I liked was the contrast of the bare wood from the dead tree against the darker background. With the snow being blown across the scene, I felt that a shutter speed just fast enough to minimise camera shake (I had to hand-hold and I was cold) but slow enough to slightly blur the flakes would potentially add some interest. I’m quite pleased with the result which is very close to what I envisaged at the time. For me, the effect of the snow adds a kind of impressionistic painterly effect to the shot which I find rather pleasing and the dead wood seems to stand defiantly against the elements. The two broken inwardly pointing branches also add a kind of framing and connection to the composition.

The route that I took this morning follows the line of a disused railway and I was still reflecting on the deer tracks and bemoaning not seeing any when I came across the railway; “aha”, I thought “tracks in the snow”…

railway; tracks; winter; landscape

tracks in the snow

Here, the old railway tracks were visible being in a more sheltered location. There was little colour on display here so, from the outset, I envisaged this as a monochrome composition. I did, as  always though, shoot in colour so that I had full control in post over how this rendered out to mono. I like the leading lines of the tracks taking the eye through the composition as they curve off towards the top of the frame. One of the challenges in getting this shot was keeping the dog out of it and having pristine snow laying between the rails.

In post, I decided to add a slight blue colour cast to the image, just to add to the  wintry feel of cold steel meandering through the snowy landscape.

Between taking these shots and getting to work in Lightroom, there was the small task of digging out the car and clearing the drive, but I think I managed to make the most of it.

Getting a bonus shot

Today I set out to explore the landscape on the Falkland Estate where I’d heard there was a waterfall you could actually walk behind.  Sure enough, after getting directions from an information point and a hike uphill, I found the Yad Waterfall.

waterfall, water, cascade, smooth, landscape, nature

The Yad Waterfall

This was too good to miss, so I was pleased to have taken the camera bag and tripod on what was just going to be a recce. It was very quiet and I had planned that if I found the waterfall I would go for a long exposure to soften the water. This was achieved using an ND filter and shooting on ISO 100 at f11. Some gentle editing in Lightroom gave me a couple of final images I am pleased with.

waterfall, water, landscape, nature, softened, smooth

Yad Waterfall

Feeling pleased with what looked like a potentially good outcome from this little trip, I headed back down to have some alfresco lunch at The Pillars of Hercules where I was joined by an unexpected guest.

robin, bird, nature, wildlife


This little robin was extremely bold and nearly got onto the plate with my toastie. Still, he made for a good model and a bonus shot for the day.



The art of preparation

Sometimes you get lucky – the trick is to be ready for it.

Heron by the river


First the disclaimer – I am not a wildlife photographer for two principle reasons:

  1. I don’t have the infinite patience it needs
  2. I don’t have the specialised kit for it

So, with that out of the way, on with the story.

This morning I decided to walk the dog along the river. The last time I was there, two days ago, I saw one heron and three deer. I decided, therefore, to pop the 200mm zoom lens on the camera before I went out, just in case. We’d walked well past where I saw the heron last time and my hopes were fading when I spotted it immediately across the river, no more than 15 metres away and well within range for my lens. Slowly and steadily, making as little movement as possible I began to lift my camera up, at which point it took off and flew away downstream. Perhaps my bright red mountain jacket had something to do with it – another reason I am not a wildlife photographer. I watched it fly low down the river and suspected it had landed not too far away. I therefore kept my camera on and up at the ready. Then I spotted it again, about 50 metres distant on the far bank. This time I stopped and took a shot from where I was before slowly edging forward hoping for a better opportunity. After twenty paces or so, it spotted the red mountain jacket again, and took to the air. This time I was ready, had the camera to my eye and followed it, getting the following shot.

Heron in flight

In flight

Although both of these shots were opportunistic, I had prepared for the opportunity. Not only did I have my camera with me, I had also decided to maximise my chances of a clear and successful shot by setting up in a way that I thought would work. I knew I would be shooting hand held so wanted to have a short enough exposure to overcome any camera shake and to freeze action. I also wanted to shoot around the sweet spot of the lens (between f8 and f11 for the one I was using). I therefore opted to work in manual mode, setting the shutter speed at 1/1000 sec and the aperture at f8. I then set the camera on auto ISO so that I would be pretty much guaranteed a good exposure. I also set the metering to spot, aiming to keep the subject centre frame with the intention that I would crop in and recompose in post – which is what I did with both images.

It’s pleasing that my preparation was rewarded on this occasion, despite the bright red mountain jacket.

A little further along the walk, and feeling optimistic about having grabbed a couple of decent shots I turned to look behind me and was struck by the way the marsh grasses and trees looked in the sunlight.

Grasses and trees


I’m still not sure quite why I like this shot but I was fascinated by the patterns created by the light on the boughs and branches, the resulting contrast and the apparent randomness of the patterns. This too is cropped in post to achieve the composition I envisaged at the time I took the shot. I also heavily desaturated the image, not quite fully, and added a slight colour cast just to help the mood. I like to think of this one as my bonus shot from the morning dog walk and the great thing is that landscape is not startled by a red mountain jacket so stays put while you take time to compose the shot; a whole lot more co-operative.

Coming and going

appearing and disappearing

coming and going

It was one of those days; cloudy, overcast and heavily humid producing a very diffused light. Well, having gone to Westonbirt arboretum with the idea of taking photographs it was time to be creative and not wasteful.

Walking through, my eye was caught by the meander of this path and the  conditions had me thinking of people appearing in to and out of heavy mist. That in turn led to the idea of someone walking into shot and out of shot as though appearing and returning from nowhere. Very quickly I had the idea in my head of a finished piece with two images of the same scene showing someone coming and going. It was then just a case of creating it.

I knew I would have to work with layers in Photoshop, so this meant shooting a consistent background by mounting my camera on a tripod. I then used manual settings for exposure, locked that off, set focus and switched off the autofocus. Then it was a case of taking a number of shots of my obliging model walking towards and away from camera. I made adjustments in Lightroom which I then batched to the other images to keep the scene consistent. The final effect was achieved in Photoshop using layer masks and different opacity settings.

I’m reasonably pleased with the result which is very close to what I first imagined.


An hour in Newbury

Encouraged by my hour in Wantage I set myself the challenge of repeating the exercise in Newbury. 60 minutes, one camera, one lens to do a shoot in the travel genre.

shop front

reflecting facades

Coming out of the car park, this was my first impression. Modern and reflective shop fronts presenting interesting angles, shadows and colours. But Newbury isn’t new…

Weavers walk, Newbury

a sign of history

…and this shot gives a clue to a possible traditional trade.

Distances from Newbury


Newbury seems happy to tell people how far it is to both Oxford and Bath. Both interesting places- perhaps a 60 min shoot in them sometime?

Corn exchange building

Corn exchange

Continuing the sense of history, the corn exchange building is a strong hint to an agricultural past. Sadly this building no longer carries out this function but accommodates more modern facilities including the obligatory cafe.

Old frontage

Old meets new

And right here, past meets present in a building displaying old rooftop signage and accommodating a rather more modern business.

Running through Newbury is the Kennet and Avon canal.

The Kennet and Avon canal, Newbury

passing through

Once carrying goods, the canal now caters for the leisure user and is home to swans with this year’s cygnets.

family of swans

swan and cygnets

And finally this traditional looking advertising on the side of the butchers beside the canal was really eye-catching.

traditional advertising

the writing’s on the wall


At the end of the day

sunset figure

at the end of the day

At the end of the day, this was a little tricky but it’s exactly the shot I wanted to achieve.

My daughter had suggested we take an evening walk up White Horse Hill near Uffington in Oxfordshire. Having taken a few photographs already, I spotted her crouching with her iPhone taking a photo. The setting sun was behind and I thought it would be interesting to take a shot into the light – the old contre-jour technique. I deliberately positioned myself so that the sun was mostly obscured. Of course, you have to be careful doing this, looking directly at the sun is really to be avoided even through a camera viewfinder.

I liked the effect of the back lighting in situ and wanted to capture as much of that as possible in the photo. It’s important to get as much right in camera as possible so I shot for the result I wanted so that post-production work was kept minimal. As ever, I shot in RAW and, in this instance exposed for mid-ground ie the near hillside. The editing consisted of using both Lightroom and Photoshop. In Lightroom, I made some adjustments for light clipping by reducing highlights and I also lifted the shadows a little to make sure there was clear detail on the shirt. I also made some minor adjustments to contrast and exposure. I then did some fine tuning in Photoshop where I also sharpened the image and enhanced some of the colouring.

This was shot at 1/125sec on ISO-100 at f/7.1 on a focal length of 35mm.