Monthly Archives: February 2010

Gelli Hir Wood, Gower Peninsula

View of the pond in Gelli Hir Wood

Gelli Hir Wood is a prime example of a wet woodland and is owned and managed by the Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales. I always find woodland difficult to photograph as there is a sense of chaos to a woodland. As a result it is difficult to find pleasing compositions when in the wood. Most views of woodlands are taken of the edge of the wood as seen here, but every now and then you come across the work of other photographers that show it can be done and that I need to try harder. There are usually a few woodland/forest images in the Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition that I find useful to learn from.

Gelli Hir wood is quite quiet, with the occasional dog walker, but it is surprisingly quiet in terms of wildlife. I always thought that the pond would attract more waterfowl than it seems to, plus there seems to be less than in the past. I’m not sure if this is due to the reed beds expanding and leaving less open water in the pond or as the pond is filled from run off water from the nearby farm and fields, there is an issue with the water quality. In the past I have seen Kingfisher, moorhen, mallard, tawny owl, buzzard and woodcock but recently I have seen very little. Gelli Hir will always be one of my places to visit as it has provided me with my best British wildlife experience to date. After 3 months of hard work I was lucky to reach a stage where a vixen would sleep 2 metres from me while her 3 cubs jumped over my outstretched feet, and badgers would wonder through on their way to feed. Unfortunately my photographs of this were poor due to it all happening in a very dark location, plus they were taken on my first digital SLR and they seem to have vanished into nowhere with the transfer of data to various hard drives and new computers etc. One day I will redo this project, as long as the animals are still there. The really interesting this with this location was that the vixen was sharing a part of a badgers set that wasn’t well used, and seemed to be tolerated well by the badgers.

Tree detail, Gelli Hir Wood, Gower

Due to the visual chaos of the woodland I retreated into my usual mode of picking out detail images. Apart from the colour, this tree trunk caught my eye as it had a great twisted pattern running up the trunk. Unfortunately to see this fully in an image I needed to use a wider view. This then introduced more distracting elements into the photo, which in turn distracted from the trunk. I reached this compromise image, but the full twisting effect of the trunk cannot be seen unfortunately.

Cloudscapes and test images

Cloudscape over Pendine Sands

After the sun had set at Broughton Burrows, I tried a few a few images of one of my favourite subjects: clouds. The colours were great and the shapes of the clouds allowed lots of variations to choose from. I kept the land outline in the image to get a sense of place to the image and it seemed to help make the images more interesting than the images with no land in them at all.

Test image of Blue Pool Corner, Gower Peninsula

As the light had gone with most of Broughton Burrows in shade, I made this image as a test for a later date. I think it will look better with the headland lit up, and according to my sun position compass a sunrise in June should be the best time to try and get this. A low tide will allow more of the arch to be seen as well, so it is time to start studying the tide time tables for June to pick a date to return. I sometimes use images to act as a visual diary to help me through out the year, so I can work out the best times at various locations and getting the framing of the image previsualised.

More from Broughton Burrows, Gower Peninsula

Worm's Head from Broughton Burrows 3

The blue sky didn’t last for long before a bank of cloud rolled in. I wanted to make an image with a graphic quality to it here, utilising the dark rocks and the silhouette of part of Burry Holm as some foreground interest, but in the above image it is a bit stuck in the middle of where I wanted to be; it is neither graphic enough, with too much detail in the foreground and not enough detail for a regular image. This image may work with further adjustments in post processing, but then does the image actually justify the extra work? Probably not.

Crows gathering at sunset

While at Broughton Burrows, the crows started to gather before their night time roost, and it was amazing to watch the swirling motions of the birds as they drifted over the dunes as they gathered. I attempted some video of the gathering, but as they drifted backwards and forwards over the dunes, it was difficult to keep up with them. I managed a few still frames, and this image gave the most pleasing arrangement of the birds. I always find that with flock images you have to take quite a few images to give you a better chance of getting a pleasing distribution of birds in the frame. It is impossible to get it right in one frame only.

Worm’s Head from Broughton Burrows

A view towards Worm's Head from Broughton Burows, Gower Peninsula

Having posted recently that I am not a great fan of blue sky images, I decided to challenge myself to try harder and produce a few images that I like, and that are not the typical postcard style image. This view of  Worm’s Head is a different view from the more familiar angle taken from Rhossili itself, and I think that it works quiet well. Luckily, by the time I found this framing some clouds had moved into the clear blue sky to give some interest above the headland. I think I need to tune my eye a bit more for images like this, so it is still work in progress.

Worm's Head from Broughton Burrows 2

I tried one of my ususal detail images with a slight graphic look in the above image. Unfortunately the haze in the sky has weakened the colour and looks a bit washed out. The use of a polarizer and later adjustments in Adobe Lightroom brought out some more colour and definition, but it is still too pale for my liking. I tried a few closer images of the wet sand and sea to try and isolate some patterns there, but these didn’t seem to work either.

Broughton Burrows, Gower Peninsula

Broughton Burrows at sunset

I always find the grass covered dunes around Gower difficult to photograph well. As they are covered in grass, they all look the same and it is difficult to get an interesting view point. I think that this image taken a few days ago is my best attempt so far, but I would like some more interest within the scene to hold the viewers attention. The light was great as the sun started to set.

I haven’t walked around Broughton Burrows for ages, but at this visit it was really quiet due to the Rugby internationals being played at the same time. This was deliberate on my part to try and get some quiet time on Gower. The caravan site  near the bay was empty of people as well, so there were quite a few rabbits around to make images of if you wanted to.

Sunset at Broughton Burrows 2

This was an earlier attempt at making an image. The sun lit dune first caught my eye, then the three bands of different colour. I’m not sure if this image actually works though as there isn’t really enough to hold the viewers attention. Next time I will try and herd a few grazing sheep into the image!

15 Minutes at Caswell Bay, Gower

Caswell Bay sunset

I haven’t been out taking many images recently, the office work took over for a while and a few events conspired against me. I managed to escape for a quick 15 minutes and even though I had missed some of the evening light, some images were still available. This is a pretty standard sunset image that doesn’t require much skill, just a few neutral density graduated filters to bring the exposure for the sky into the exposure range of the foreground. I tried to keep the filtration lighter than maybe I would usually choose as I feel that sometimes I over filter the sky even though the images look ok.

Rock, sand and sky

The above image was an attempt to give a sense of space and freedom. There was a great mix of colours to get in the image, but due to a malfunctioning cable release the bulb exposure was incorrect, which although the RAW processing software can correct it, produced some noise in the image. The horizon splits the image in half, which normally doesn’t work too well but I feel that it works ok here as both the top and bottom of the image is dark.

I was hoping to get some alternative angles of this scene, but a couple of dog walkers walked in front of my position leaving a great trail of foot prints. Time to go home anyway as it was getting too dark.

Ahh! Robin in snow – a good old cliche image

Robin in snow

I found an old tree trunk in Clyne while I was watching a Marsh Tit in a nearby bush. I thought it would be a great place to make some images of a few birds, but with nothing apart from the Marsh tit around I didn’t think much more of it. While my back was turned, this Robin came down to investigate the trunk for food even though I was only about 2 metres away. That’s the great thing about parks, gardens and winter, the birds are relatively used to human presence any way but the cold make s them even more tolerant as the search for food is more important than ever. Typically in this situation I had my wide angle lens fitted to the camera and was carrying my rucksack on my back. Amazingly the Robin allowed me to take off my rucksack, attach my Wimberely sidekick head, mount my 500mm lens and camera and assemble and mount my flashgun, extra battery pack, flash extender and flash bracket without being scared off! I didn’t use fill in flash with this image mainly because having mounted the flash etc. I found that the batteries in the flashgun were dead and I didn’t want to push my luck and change the batteries as well while the Robin was hanging around! I don’t think the image suffers for not having the flash, although it does help remove colour casts. This is my first image of a Robin in snow, and although not a prize winner, it will now be added to my Christmas Card image list.

The light really started to go, but I kept making images even though I thought I was wasting my time. That’s the beauty of digital, failed images don’t cost anything to try. My shutter speed had dropped to 1/40th of a second at 800 ISO, which with a 500mm lens normal means blurry images, but fill in flash just picks out all the subject details and keeps them sharp. Also by waiting for the Robin to keep still even though it was singing I managed to get the image below.

Robin singing

Detail images of Clyne Gardens in snow

Backlit brances and snow

This image is one of those images that one minute I like and the next I go so what! It appeals more than I dislike it, although overall it doesn’t have much too it. There are a few small trees close to the top entrance to the gardens off Mayals road, and with the sun back lighting them, I found them quite challenging to make images of.

Fern in snow

Fern leaves always make great subjects, so it made a change to get pictures with some snow on them. In previous years the ferns had been protected in the Winter from frosts etc. but for the last couple of years they seemed to have coped quite well with the conditions. I believe that the ferns originally came from New Zealand, but I don’t know if they have snow in the part they originated from. I will have to wait till the spring to see how they respond. It would be a shame to lose one of my regular subjects, but I suppose something else would come along.

Tree roots and snow

The patterns that these tree roots make always get me trying to make an image all year round. I still don’t think I have got the ‘one’ yet, so I will keep trying. I originally was planning to convert this to black and white, but for once the colour image worked better. A little filtration was added in Lightroom to tone down the bright sky between the trees at the top of the frame, but overall it was quite a straight forward image to make if you know how to understand the histogram on the LCD screen on the camera and how it translates in your RAW processing software. What a lot of people don’t realise is the the histogram displayed on the LCD screen is actually that of a JPEG version of the image, and that there is a little bit more leeway with the actual RAW file. The other little known fact is that with the same image in front of the camera the histogram will change with the white colour balance setting you use. Some people go to great lengths to produce an accurate histogram to reflect the RAW exposure range by creating custom profiles to match it. The trouble with these is they tend to make the images get a green colour cast which then needs to be removed later. More time in front of the computer!

More from Clyne Gardens

View down the small valley in Clyne Gardens

As the path close to Mayals road reaches the house half way down the gardens, the view of the small valley opens up. This was  a popular spot on my Clyne day course last year, and was originally spotted by Trevor, one of the participants. In winter the view opens up more with the lack of foliage, but as a view point it works all year round. The main problem with this view is that there is normally quite a high exposure range and I needed 5 stops of neutral density soft graduated filter to bring the sky into range of the sensor. Even with that help I still needed to add an extra 1 stop of graduation in Lightroom to totally balance the sky and trees. I suppose another option would be to take two exposures; one for the sky and one for the undergrowth and then combine them later on the computer. This involves to much computer work for my liking, so I will stick to the filters, even though they may not be as subtle or accurate as the merged images.

Snow covered ferns

Most scenes allow some extra images to be made from a wider view by switching to a longer lens and selecting some details of the view. If you watch movies, you will often see that they make a wide image of a view, but rely on long lens detail images of the view to show more of the landscape for the next few scenes. This is where stills and video differ so much. In still photography you are trying to capture the essence of a scene in one image, unless you have the luxury of being able to use multiple images to tell a story in an article etc. With video, multiple scenes can be interlinked to allow you to build up an impression of a place, and where as individual scenes in themselves may not be remarkable, due to the input of the other scenes you develop the essence of the place. I took quite a lot of video while in Clyne, and I hope to get a short film together which I will try and post on the blog, or at least a link to a website page with it on.

Clyne Gardens in the recent snow

Clyne Gardens in the recent snowfall

Once again we had a surprise with a small sprinkling of snow last weekend. I decided to stay a bit more local and ventured into Clyne Gardens which has some great features in it. With the sun starting to melt the snow quite quickly I decided to stay close to the small stream that runs down through the gardens as I knew that the sun wouldn’t reach the snow there as much. This would give me some time to explore before making some images.

The way the snow had stuck to some of the branches on the trees caught my eye, but I found it quite difficult to make an image that showed this really well. I tried detail images, partial images of branches but none seemed to work as well as the pretty straight forward image below. I liked the pattern of the branches and the way they spread from the tree. I was careful when walking around the tree to make sure my footprints wouldn’t show in any potential images, but anybody who studied them later would probably be a bit confused as to my movements!

Snow and branches