Photowalks

I’ve not done a long photowalk for ages, and today seemed to be the day for it.

I cycle a lot, and earlier in the week, a friend and I tried to get along the old Louth to Grimsby rail line – closed by Beecham in the 1960’s – it started OK and we got a fair way down the track, but didn’t make it to the far end as the undergrowth looked too deep.

Today, I had this really good idea to approach it from the other end, and on foot – so armed with camera, and trusty dog companion – we set off.

It started OK

The track was a bit overgrown, but manageable, and dog was having a good time – lots of new stuff to sniff, and rabbits to look at – we even saw some roe deer.

Moving on towards the next village though, saw the track get more and more overgrown – the nettles got taller, and the brambles more treacherous with their trip hazards. Dog started to get a bit miffed, and complained about treading on spiky things. He was only mollified by getting a few blackberries to chomp on as we went along.

The grass got deeper and deeper, and I decided that no person had walked that way in years…. it was pretty obvious why….. It was a wonderful wildlife corridor though, with lots of butterflies. (Should have had a macro lens with me – hey ho).

Anyway, after about 45 minutes of trudging, we got to a point where we just couldn’t go any further – the trees / bushes / nettles etc were so close together it was just impassable, unless you were a rabbit.

After a brief rest in a field – we set off back the way we had come – dog happier now we were going back.

We stopped to have a drink, and watched some harvesting going on, and then turned our noses to home.

Much easier walking now – till we got to a stile that is a set of steps over a wall – Dog refused… so we had to go back – another return trip.

Anyway – job done – walk complete – both of us exhausted. Hard walking – but I was determined to get the camera out for a bout of fresh air……. Some mobile phone pics got taken too, as I needed the rucksack to carry everything the dog wanted to bring…..

It’s a bit frustrating this photo walk business…….

Light, and the Edit

Last night, I went out and was able to take some photographs of Tawny Owls.  Sat there, in the dark, unable to speak for fear of scaring them away, low whispers and pitch black in the hide, staring at the pole on which we hoped they’d land – before moving across the area where a couple of flash guns were set up, to land on the target.

I’d envisaged what I wanted – the subtle background of trees in the dusk – the owl in flight moving across the glade on silent wings – me with the remote clutched in my hot hands – staring at that first pole, as the light fell, and fell – a tiny light illuminating the top of that first pole so I’d be able to make out the owl as she landed. The strain of the eye – was that a landed owl, or was I imagining things?

The picture was in my mind – but the reality was twofold.

  1. The owl landed on the second pole straight away – took the bait and cleared off.
  2. The owl went straight for the food and didn’t land on anything.
  3. (OK, threefold then), the owl landed on the first pole, flew to the second as planned, but did it not in a straight line, but in a curve, and so was too small in the frame.

It’s so frustrating – nature at its very best, I love it.

Then the conversation later about how to tackle the low light, the bird, and the background.  One point of view was to keep everything as dark as possible, as tawny owls hunt at night (unlike barn owls which I see fairly frequently in daylight hours). On the other hand, they do hunt at dusk, so some background would be inevitable.

Shooting with flash (and that’s the only way to illuminate the bird), means the background is black anyway.  So what’s the answer.  Maybe a second light on the background permanently, so as to illuminate both things at the same time……… or

Two images, one of the background with a longer exposure, but still dim, and the second of the bird, in flight, or stationary on its post.

OK, well the downside to this is that I can’t use a composite image in a nature competition.  The rules generally say I can’t do this, so back to plan A.

The reality of things like this, is you have to take an image to please yourself, and not for the competition. If you like it, then that’s all there is to it – but in the meantime – here’s a couple of owl images that I like, and you can work out for yourselves how I did it…..

 

RAF Stenigot

At the top of my blog page is a photo of the radar dishes left at RAF Stenigot.

It was one of twenty Chain Home radar stations, stretching from the Isle of Wight to the Orkneys. They were built as part of the air defence network of the United Kingdom, and were critical to the aerial response during the Battle of Britain. Construction of the base actually preceded the commencement of the Second World War in 1938, with the station becoming operational in 1939.  The Chain Home programme was the world’s first operational air defence radar system, and was capable of detecting incoming aircraft flying at 35000ft, from a distance of 180 miles, and thereby helping to direct fighter aircraft to intercept. The system comprised a transmitter block, shielded by blast walls, to broadcast the radar waves from four tall transmitter towers, only one of which now survives.  The returning signals were gathered by a number of wooden receiving towers (none of which now survive), and then passed to the receiver block for analysis. The receiver block was located at the northern end of the station, and was built to a similar design as the transmitter block, also being surrounded by blast walls. Further ancilliary structures, including a standby set-house, underground armoury, petrol store and guard post, were located on the site. The station is believed to have typically employed around 120 people.

Duplicates of the transmitter and receiver blocks were constructed at the station after heavy enemy attacks on the south coast Chain Home stations on the 12th August 1940. These back-up facilities were entirely buried underground, to enable the station to continue in use should enemy bombing damage the original structures. This buried reserve is believed to have been located towards the eastern end of the station, and in fact there is an entrance to an underground chamber on the site).

Further buildings were added to the site in 1942, when a station of the GEE Navigation System was established at the base. This system helped to guide allied bombing missions in raids on the continent up to 1945.

Military use of the site continued during the Cold War, when a relay station of the ACE High tropospheric scatter communications system was installed on the site, and operated for NATO by the Royal Corps of Signals. The facility was built within its own fenced compound inside the former chain home radar station, with construction work being completed in 1960. The relay station consisted of a large, single-storey central electronics building, flanked by two pairs of parabolic dish antennae. Each dish measured 60ft in diameter, and was supported on seven lattice legs made of steel girders, anchored to large concrete blocks. One pair of the dishes pointed north, to pass signals to the next relay station near Alnwick, Northumberland, whilst the other pair pointed south, to pass signals to the relay station near Maidstone, Kent. The station included a number of ancilliary structures, including a generator house, fuel tanks, and a police house and guard dog pens near to the entrance on the sourthern side. The entire site was surrounded by floodlights. The system continued in operation until the early 1990s, when new forms of communication technology rendered ACE High obsolete.

So, if you got this far, you’ll find now a photo of the site as taken some time ago by Andrew Appleton, who sent this photo to a friend of mine – Vicky.

IMG_7215

As you can see – they’ve gone, but I can’t find any information on line as to when.  I did find a video link on uTube dated August this year, so the removal was really recent.  Another landmark bites the dust….. RIP Stenigot……

Update

Construction firm J E Spence and Son have confirmed that the radar dishes were “chopped up” and sent to a scrapyard in October 2018.

Only one radar dish remains at the site after the construction company, working for the landowner, began the process of taking them down on October 16.

A spokesperson for J E Spence and Son said: “I’m guessing they’ll be melted down. They have been chopped up and sent to a scrapyard.”

 

It all takes time!

I think that photography and writing are similar in many ways, in that both need to draw the reader / viewer into the artwork.

A little while ago, I went to a gallery in Manchester to see the Vogue 100 exhibition.  It was very busy, with a lot of people moving around to see the exhibits (which were stunning by the way!)…  I watched the people looking at the photographs there, and in a moment of interest, timed roughly how long on average they were viewed for.  Mostly it was for no more than a few seconds – but for some it was minutes.  Seats were placed for those who wished to ponder, but were mostly a waste of time, as people stood in front of them.

It crossed my mind that each of those images had taken a long time to make – from conception to publication could have been weeks, and here we were now, giving them the most cursory of glances.

Sometime later, with this in mind – I went to see a small exhibition at Cleethorpes library, put on by a friend of mine as part of his degree project.  I had seen some individual images earlier, and hadn’t been very excited by them.  However, seeing them all together, as a collective body of work, tied together by a theme, was enough to make me realise that not all photographs can stand in isolation – they need the rest of the work around them – much like a good novel does.  If the opening chapter doesn’t grab  your attention, you are unlikely to read the rest of the book, or if you do, you do with some small bias.  His body of work, I found extra-ordinary.  Images of paths wandering through trees, with sometimes no way out.  His work, called “Shul” can be found HERE.

Like the writer, the photographer has to have something to say – and it must be compelling enough to keep the viewer engaged.  The measure of success is based on how well the photographer would have you believe in his own world.  Minor White is quoted as advising us “to photograph not only WHAT it is, but what ELSE it is”.

After I had completed my Associateship panel in Bath last month – the judges all left the room to have some discussion…. in that time, a few people turned around to offer congratulations.  However, the first question I was asked, was “How long did it take you to complete the panel?”.  My instant answer was “6  months”, but when I thought about it afterwards I realised that although ‘these’ images had taken 6 months – the actual concept had taken much, much longer.  I had been flirting with multiple exposures for a number of years, and it was only in this year that the project had come together in the way it did.

I feel sure that writers are similar – plots and sub plots must mature in their minds before pen is even put to paper, and once they start, further ideas, will flow, and changes will be made as output increases.

Going back though to the time people spend looking at photographs.  I belong to a tiny group of photographers, who will critique each others images, and spend time looking at them.  Recently, we developed a scheme where we ‘borrow’ each other’s images, so we can spend time at home with them, and I have found that some images ‘grow’ on you with time – rather like music can.

My Associateship panel of 15 images was looked at in detail for about 15 minutes by five people – and I suspect that’s the longest anyone has looked at them, apart from me, and my mentor(s).

Which brings me to the whole point of this blog post – which is about time, and about text and titles.

When I judge photographic competitions (which I love doing), not only do I look at the image, I have to rely on the title the author has given it.  In providing a title, the things photographed can take on an entirely new context.  They can encourage me to view the image in a different way.  This is especially true when the theme of the competition is a complex one.

I’d like to challenge photographers out there, to write a short piece about one of their images – explain why they took it, and what story they are trying to tell. Just a few lines.  I’m totally convinced that photography generally can be improved once people slow down, and think about what they are trying to say with their images.

I’ll start, and it would be nice if anyone commenting on this blog could do the same.Oz 1
Taken recently in Western Australia – where the locals think nothing of driving hundreds of miles to get to the supermarket.  I wanted to show the long straight roads of the country, with nothing there – no traffic.  I wanted the viewer to feel the sense of isolation and remoteness for which WA is known.  It’s about feeling, as much as it is about the view.

Thoughts, as always are welcome.

 

 

On Being too Easily Pleased

When I lived over in Cheshire, in fact about 16 miles out of Manchester, I was not too far from Lyme Park.  A National Trust estate famed mostly for the house, and the large herds of red and fallow deer that roam free on the estate – as well as its starring role in Pride and Prejudice.

There’s a tree – I’m not sure what kind, (maybe a Maple?) but it’s a great shape.  Every time I went over there, I photographed it.  From all angles, and at all times of day – sunrise, sunset, bad weather, good weather.  Different cameras, different light, different viewpoints.

While in the midst of shooting this tree (again) during the Red Deer rut, a cyclist stopped next to me.  He gets off his bike, looks at all the gear I have spread around (I was shooting deer really don’t forget), gets out his little pocket camera – takes one shot, and rides away – with me staring after him,

I watch him go, and I think that I’ve been looking at, and shooting this tree over the years.  He’s taken one shot, and I think he’s probably happy with it.  I wonder if he’s happier with that one photo, than I’ve been after 2 years of messing…….  I’d love to know.

Here’s my version of “That Tree”….

Lyme Park Tree

Bird Photography

It’s been a while since I got out and sat in a bird hide – but finally I’ve been able to manage a half day – well actually not even a full half day – really just a few hours.

Bluetit-1Having said that – it was frustrating to travel down to my favourite hide, as the Christmas traffic was terrible.   Arriving though was a great relief, and the pools and hides were as fantastic as I remember them – it seems a long time, but in reality it’s only been about 2 months.  The birds were co-operative, and it was good to watch as well as photograph them.

I was most impressed by the Great Spotted Woodpecker, a youngster turned up a couple of times whilst I was there, and didn’t even immediately fly off when I came out of the hide.  He was full of confidence, and so handsome.

DSED8263There are around 140,000 breeding pairs of woodpeckers in the UK, though I don’t see them very often, and this one was a delight.

The cold of the day, and the knowledge that I had an appointment in the evening, and ‘work’ to do eventually made me leave, though reluctantly.  Hoping to return between Christmas and the New Year.  Already I can’t wait….

The Rut of the Reds (Cervus elaphus)

Red deer are our largest mammal in the UK.  Stags weigh anything from 90 – 190kg with females 63 – 120kg. The number of branches on antlers increases with age. Up to 16 points in native animals – who can live typically 18 years.

DSED1606The breeding season, or rut, occurs from the end of September through to November.  Stags return to the hinds home range and compete for access to hinds by engaging in elaborate displays of dominance, including roaring, parallel walks and fighting.  Serious injury and death can result but fighting only occurs between stags of similar size that can not assess dominance by any of the other means.  The dominant stag then ensures exclusive mating with the hinds.

DSED6903Only stags over 5 years old tend to achieve mating despite being sexually mature much earlier (before their 2nd birthday in productive woodland populations).  In woodland populations hinds over a year old give birth to a single calf after an 8 month gestation, between mid-May to mid-July each year.

DSED1996Injuries do happen, and sometimes even death.

Red deer are active throughout the 24 hour period but make more use of open spaces during the hours of darkness in populations experiencing frequent disturbance . Peak times of activity are at dawn and dusk.

DSED7496ARed deer are widespread throughout the UK, and can be found in many parks and in the wild.  Bradgate Park in Leicestershire, Lyme Park in Cheshire, Tatton Park, Dunham Massey, and the Lake District.   Also common in East Anglia, and the South West of England.  In Scotland in the Scottish Highlands, Dumfriesshire.

 

The Damselfly

In my last post I talked about Dragonflies, and in this one, I want to talk about their smaller counterparts, the Damselfly, but first the differences between the two..

Dragonflies have eyes that touch, or nearly touch at the top of the head, they are stocky, and have different sized wing pairs.  When they perch, the wings are held open.

Damselflies have eyes that are clearly separated, one on each side of the head, they are long and slender, and have evenly sized wings, which are held close when they perch, as can be seen in the image below.

DSED0659
Blue Tailed Damselfly Perching

Damselflies are carnivorous insects that live and breed near a wide variety of freshwater habitats. They lay their eggs in water, and the immature damselflies spend the first several months or years as aquatic predators. These immature damselflies, called nymphs, have external gills that allow them to extract oxygen from the water. After undergoing metamorphosis, new adult damselflies fly away from the water for a brief period of several days to several weeks, after which they return to breed. Both adult and immature damselflies are predators whose diet consists primarily of insects. (Corbet, 1999; Silsby, 2001)

Damselfly eating an aphid
Damselfly eating an aphid

The mating behaviour of the damselfly is quite unique.  Males have two sets of genitalia.  To mate, the male must grasp the female behind the head, and curl his abdomen into a circle.  In this position the male and female are said to be ‘in tandem’ – if the female is receptive, she will curl her abdomen forward to join the tip of her abdomen with the male’s second set of genitilia, sperm is then transferred from one to another.  This position, called ‘the wheel’.  After mating, the female will lay eggs usually below the water line, often guarded by the male

Mating Damselfly
Mating Damselfly

The average Damselfly, probably only lives between 3 to 4 weeks as an adult, but the damselfly nymphs can spend months in this early stage, depending on food source, temperatures and so on.

Damselfly do need a minimum temperature at which to fly – in the early mornings, they can be seen spreading their wings to dry out the morning dew, and warm up.

Damselfly in morning dew
Damselfly in morning dew

Damselfly and Dragonfly populations are good indicators of environmental quality and population levels are a good indicator of the health of the area.

They are the most ancient of insects, with evidence of them being found as fossils some millions of years ago.

A Summer of Dragons

This week I was out walking with the dogs, and noticed a good number of Damsel and Dragonflies.  By Friday I had a bit of time, and decided to go hunting Dragons…. The majority I saw were Brown Hawkers…

Brown HawkerThe Brown Hawker (Aeshna grandis) is a large dragonfly about 73 millimetres (2.9 in) long. It is a distinctive species and is easily recognised, even in flight, by its brown body and bronze wings. At rest, blue spots on the second and third segments of the male’s abdomen can be noticed; these are absent in female.

It is widespread in England but commonest in the South East; local in Ireland and rare in Scotland. It is found on well-vegetated ponds, lakes and canals. It patrols a regular hunting territory around margins which is vigorously defended against intruders.

The flight time is mainly July to September. The nymph has stripes on the side of the thorax and distinct banding on the legs. (Text from Wikipedia)

Brown HawkerYou can get more information from the British Dragonfly Society
http://www.british-dragonflies.org.uk/