Monthly Archives: March 2011

Tintern Abbey Day Course 2011

Tintern Abbey is a visually stunning location, but a really difficult location to photograph. The light at the best times of the day to photograph is blocked out by the high valley sides. For the day course we had better weather than expected, but it was quite harsh and hazy for most of the day. This resulted in white skies for a lot of the day. When the sky did cloud over, luckily we were just taking detail images in the grounds of the ruined St. Mary’s church on the valley side.

To get a clear view of the abbey without walls, fences or lights, you have to get in very close with an extreme wideangle lens. Pointing the camera up causes converging verticals in the image with the appearance of the Abbey falling backwards. Adobe Lightroom has a correction tool to try and adjust image distortions which I used on the image above. You loose some of the image in the final crop, so it is worth giving the main subject some room so It doesn’t get cropped off later. The correction is not perfect, but quite impressive and much cheaper than a tilt and shift lens!

We crossed over the river to see if we could get a different view of the Abbey, but the light was getting very harsh at this point. The view of the Abbey was limited, so we concentrated on views of the river and details of the surrounding area. With less contrast and a more interesting sky, interesting images from this angle will be possible.

Spring was a bit more advanced in Tintern compared to Gower, so the Hawthorn flowers were starting to come out and most of the trees were in early bud. The image below of the hawthorn flowers with river reeds behind them is visually chaotic, but I like it. There is no real point of interest, but I like the patterns in it. This is probably one of those images that other people can either love or hate.

Suffering a bad back at Bracelet Bay, Gower – ideas for photographers with limited motion

As somebody who suffers from a bad back occasionally (currently on my 7 day of limited activity), I get an insight into what it would be like to have permanent problems affecting motion. This got me thinking on those locations in Swansea and Gower area that people with limited motion would be able to access to allow them to get some great photographs. The list does rely on having a car for some locations, but most can be reached by public transport. Please feel free to add your ideas in the comments below; here goes but not in any particular order:

  1. SWANSEA BAY – the path along the bay allows great views of Mumbles, sunrise in winter and spring, bird photography at Blackpill, Mumbles Pier and on the pitch & put course, plus spring flowers in the form of Daffodils and Crocus.
  2. PENCLAWDD –  great sunset location, some bird life close to the path, views over the Loughor estuary, images of horses on the marsh
  3. THE MARSH ROAD, CROFTY to LLANRHIDIAN – views over the marsh, birdlife on the marsh, grazing sheep and horses
  4. CASWELL BAY – the ramp down to the bay helps with access, this may depend on how close the sand is to the ramp. Occasionally there is a drop from the ramp onto the sand where it has been washed away. Sunset images in winter, fairly tame gulls, interesting rock patterns and rock pool life.
  5. LANGLAND BAY – the path along the bay allows some wider landscape images, especially if you can get to the headland buy the golf course, images of the beach huts, images of surfing on the higher tides
  6. SWANSEA MARINA – multi coloured buildings and some interesting architecture, the sail bridge, National Waterfront Museum.
  7. CLYNE GARDENS – the main entrance  has lots to photograph, from the Park Keepers house to flowers and birds. If mobility allows some of the other paths can be used to get further into the gardens.
  8. SINGLETON PARK – very tame squirrels, flowers, birds.
  9. WWT NATIONAL WETLANDS CENTRE WALES, Llanelli – access to hides is good, plus the captive bird collection is very tame.
  10. RHOSSILI – there are some good views from the car park and opposite the National Trust shop, have a drink outside in the hotel grounds with a great view of the bay.
  11. NATIONAL BOTANICAL GARDENOF WALES – easy access to flowers, birds, tropical house, sculptures.
  12. NORTH GOWER PATH, from Gowerton to Penclawdd – some of this is has a tarmac layer allowing access to trees, birds and views of the estuary, flowers and birds.


Elan Valley Day Course 2011

I planned this day course to take advantage of the drier weather in the valley and the chance to have some water flowing over the dams still. Well the weather was even drier than expected and no water coming over the dams!  So much for planning. At least we weren’t getting soaked. We all met at the visitors centre and then moved on to the various locations. 

A perfect leading line! The sunny weather created a lot of contrast, which made life a bit harder, as we would often find that one side of the valley was in heavy shade and the other well lit. Everybody knew that it was postcard weather and we would have to see what sunset would bring.

The water level was lower than my last visit, so the normally full chanel and waterfall were far less photogenic than normal. The river rocks had some interesting shapes and textures, but the high contrast made it challenging to photograph.

The Elan valley has a great mix of locations from wooded valleys, to open moorland and great man made dams divided by rivers and resevoirs, all in easy to reach locations by car. For those photographers who would like a little bit of the wilderness feel to their photographs, but either don’t have the time or inclination to trek out into it over a few days would be advised to check out the Elan Valley.

We waited for a sunset, but cloud rolling in from the west killed off any chance of interesting light, but some good images were made by the group to north as the only patch of sky with  some colours other than grey appeared for a few minutes. I would like to thank the group for a great day. Next course Tintern Abbey on Saturday26th March!

Coed y Bwl Reserve, near St Brides Major, Vale of Glamorgan

I hadn’t been to this reserve before, but is located in a delightful valley not far from St Brides Major. I specifically wanted to photograph the wild daffodils and didn’t know quite what to find even though I had checked out my Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales Reserve Handbook. I was hoping to get some wide-angle, close up images of the daffodils, as opposed to my usual technique of long zoom to telephoto lenses. Close up wide images bring in a lot of background information to the image, which can make it look quite cluttered in appearance. What I would be looking for is a group of daffodils, close to the path with a fairly organised and visually appealing background.

This proved harder than I thought, as there was quite a lot of distracting visual elements around the Daffodils. I started out trying to eliminate these by resorting to a longer zoom lens, but then returned to my original idea, even though it was proving harder than I thought. The lighting had not helped. Originally the weather forecast was for some sun followed by rain later. Unfortunately the rain came earlier and the sky went very grey. It was so dark that I had to switch to a high ISO even with wider apertures to get a reasonable shutter speed to freeze the slight swaying of the daffodils.

Usually overcast weather is the best for making images in woodland. Strong sunlight can produce harsh shadows and the images have high contrast, which normally makes them visually unappealing. Because I knew the wider view I wanted would have some visible sky in it, a blue sky would have helped, plus the colour contrast of blue and yellow in an image is a good way to get a viewers interest in it. In a way the very dark sky helped me; it was less distracting  than a lighter white or light grey sky would have been. As the images were quite busy visually with all the distracting elements of the wood, I decided to dispaly in an image what I saw. The image below shows how the majoritory of the woodland looked, with bare stems of young trees and shrubs scattered among the more mature trees, with the daffodils spread out amongst them.

Elizabeth & Rowe Harding Nature Reserve, Gower Peninsula

I had a quick visit to the reserve just to see what was going on a few days ago. The stream on the border of the reserve is quite full which has produced a mini waterfall at the ford. Although not much taller than a foot or so, it was producing fantastic patterns and reflections. I spent quite a while working out a few angles on my way out of the reserve and as seems to be my way of working at the moment, I used just the one lens; a 90mm macro even though I didn’t need the macro element for the images.

As I tend to shoot with the daylight balance setting on my camera, a lot of my shade and long exposures have a blue colouration to them. This is just a difference in the colour of the light and one I quite like as this used to happen with film unless you compensated with warm up filters. I processed the two images slightly differently, with one retaining more of the blue cast that was in the original file. With both images I tried to get the fastest shutter speed possible and as a result had to use quite a high ISO setting on the camera. As I have stated before, I am not the biggest fan of long exposures with running water; the white, detail-less, soft, mushy look just doesn’t look correct to me. I quite like a technique expounded by the late black and white photographer, Barry Thornton. He used multiple exposures of a scene of running water, all taken a fast shutter speeds to build up an image that showed the water motion, but had some sharp detail as well. The number of frames he needed to take depended on the exposure details of the scene and what shutter speed he wanted to use to freeze the water. For example, if the main exposure was 8 seconds, he would make 8 exposures at 1 second on the same frame. Barry actually used faster shutter speeds, so would end up taking more frames than the above example, but hopefully you get the idea. It is described better in one of his books, but unfortunately I can’t remember which one it is in, but check them all out anyway.

The central part of the reserve, which is the old quarry face, is quite sheltered from the elements. The trees are just starting to bud with a few young leaf shoots as well. Otherwise there is not too much happening at the moment. It made a nice change that I didn’t return with lots of insect bites, I don’t know why but in the summer months I always seem to get nibbled when photographing here. I don’t feel anything at the time, it is only the next day when I seem to notice them. It doesn’t happen to me anywhere else on Gower, but the reserve is always worth visiting anyway.

Shag on a Cliff – plus a Cormorant as well

These are just a few images of one of my on going projects at the moment. While making a few landscape images around the cliffs of South Gower I noticed that Cormorants and Shags were coming in to roost regularly on the cliffs. This spawned the project idea and so I have started to work a few locations that are relatively easy and more importantly safe to photograph. Being close to cliff edges with expensive camera equipment is a bit nerve wracking, especially when the wind picks up!

All of these images were taken with the same lens and at the same location, but I hope to start to introduce some variation with different lenses and other locations. The birds are very wary as they feel quite quite vulnerable when on land so it is important not to disturb them and as a result getting into photographic range takes time.

The first image I visualised for this project was of a bird coming into land and this is the closest I have come so far to realising this. The perfect image will have some cliff on the left, good lighting and a better wing position of the bird. I think there will be a few more visits needed to get close to this. That is the never ending challenge of nature photography and that which provides the joy, fustration and hopefully, satisfaction.

National Botanical Garden of Wales – Day Courses Announced

I’m pleased to announce that I will be running four day courses this year at the National Botanical Garden of Wales. They are designed to roughly coincide with each of the seasons so regular participants can build up a record of the garden as it changes throughout the year.

The courses are designed for photographers of all levels of experience and all levels of photographic equipment from mobile phone to DSLR. The courses will cover some of the technical aspects of photography but concentrate mainly on composition and how to get good flowwer photographs. There is a maximum of 10 participants each day.

The dates are:

Saturday 23rd April 2011

Saturday 25th June 2011

Saturday 24 th September 2011

Saturday 19th November 2011

If you are interested in joining one of the courses, all bookings are being carried out through the National Botanical Garden of Wales (website page HERE), but please feel free to email me if you have any questions.

Below are some pictures of the Gardens with more HERE


Clyne Gardens – starting to bloom already

I popped into Clyne Gardens as I had been meaning to photograph the Snowdrops. They were a bit passed their best when I arrived so I went for a wander instead. I always find it amazing that I seem to lug around a load of gear and then end up using just one lens! All these images were taken on a 500mm lens. It is often forgotten that long lenses can make good close up lenses as well, you will just need some extension tubes. The combination of the telephoto effect and the improved close focusing of the lens due to the extension tubes allows a close up view of your subject without physically having to get too close.

Some of the more sheltered Azaleas and Rhododendrons are already starting to bloom and with Crocuses flowering as well, the colour is returning to the Gardens. I just hope that it doesn’t finish before my day course in May when normally the garden is at its peak!

Bark patterns are always a subject of some fascination for me and as the gardens have a wide selection of native and imported trees there is no end of subjects to choose from. I think I will have to try and assemble a few together in a triptych and get it printed.

The above photo shows a hint of the colours that we are due to se over the next few months, I can’t wait!