2014 Articles

Dartmoor in Winter

29/12/2014

I spent three fine, crisp winter days between Christmas and New Year on Dartmoor. Each morning I ascended a different Tor at first light to benefit from the best light and deep overnight frost. As dawn approached, the sky turned softly pink and when the sun finally rose at 8.19am, it turned granite to gold. My favourite image was made 20 minutes before sunrise on Great Mis Tor. I like the way soft dawn light highlights the frosted foreground boulders and the sense of depth as the eye is led through the image to Great Staple Tor in the background and the green lowlands beyond. There are further images in my Dartmoor Gallery. ...more

Winter solstice

21/12/2014

At the winter solstice, the sun rises at its most southerly point, giving lighting angles that do not occur at any other time of year. I captured sunrise on the morning before the solstice through the south-facing arch of Durdle Door under a stormy sky as a wave breaks through the arch. A few moments later a wave filled my boots with water. ...more

Meteor

13/12/2014

The Geminids are the brightest, most consistent and active annual meteor shower, peaking annually on 13-14 December. I negotiated agreement from English Heritage to lead a small group of astrophotography enthusiasts to Stonehenge on a freezing evening to try and photograph meteors over the stone circle. We composed with the most impressive sarsen trilothons and the bluestones as foreground, looking towards the meteor radiant in the constellation of Gemini, including the bright stars of Orion and Sirius in the frame. To try and catch a meteor, we made a series of 15 second exposures, during each of which I lit the stones by torchlight. Eventually on the 97th frame out of 125 (by which time hoar frost had formed on my camera and tripod), I was rewarded with a bright meteor heading straight out Gemini toward Sirius. I also made a one hour sequence of thirty second exposures of the whole monument looking towards the pole star, which I combined to make star trails (see my Star Trails Gallery). ...more

Jurassic Coast from the Air

06/12/2014

Having explored every part of the Dorset and East Devon Coast on land, I have long wanted to view it from the air. My thanks to Mark Richardson for piloting and Sarah Harvey who arranged it. From above, the geomorphology and landscape takes on a whole new dimension, revealing the processes that have formed this diverse array of coastal landforms. Highlights included the red sandstone of Devon in low winter light, the truncated half-dome of Golden Cap, the entire 29 km length of Chesil Beach, previously unseen seaward side of Durdle Door and the perfect symmetry of Lulworth Cove. Images of all these can be viewed here. ...more

Moonrise, Glastonbury Tor

05/12/2014

There are just two days each year when the full Moon rises far enough north to shine through the doorway of St Michael's Tower on Glastonbury Tor. I worked out that from a distance of 2.8 km, the height of the tower would appear smaller than the diameter of the Moon. My ephemeris told me that it would take the Moon 22 minutes after rising to reach the same elevation in the sky as the Tower. I chose my location as a meadow that allowed for quick movement in all directions, in case the calculations were not exactly accurate. Using a 400mm lens I was able to isolate the Tor from the surrounding landscape, creating a simple composition of Tower, Moon and the top of the Tor. I made the image at F/22 to give enough depth of field that the Tower and the Moon, a quarter of a million miles beyond it, were both sharp. At this magnification, the moon moves quickly across the field of view and it was only centrally placed behind the tower for a few seconds. The presence at that precise moment of a single figure in the doorway, silhouetted against the disk of the Moon, was pure luck. I wonder who he or she is? ...more

Roman Wall

04/11/2014

I planned this image of Housesteads Crags on a fine July evening in 2013 and decided it needed a crisp, frosty dawn before sunrise to make the lighting and colours work harmoniously. Setting out along Hadrian's Wall as soon as it was light enough to see, I soon found myself enveloped in thick mist. Fortunately as I reached my chosen location, the mist parted to reveal exactly the scene I had in my mind's eye. The composition uses the wall as foreground, gently lit by the brightening sky in the south-east, leading the eye through the image over the impressive crags towards a misty horizon. I like the way that a perfectly positioned cloud illuminated by the as yet unrisen sun picks up the colour of the bracken and balances the image. ...more

Lake District Photography Weekend

02/11/2014

The fifth weekend landscape photography workshop I have organised for Devizes Camera Club was the best attended yet, with 27 participants. It was scheduled to make the most of autumn colour. With four leaders we undertook excursions to Derwentwater, Castlerigg, Butterrmere, Haystacks, Grasmere, Loughrigg Tarn and Langdale Pikes. As expected, we enjoyed and were sometimes challenged by a variety of weather and lighting conditions. At its best, fleeting light provided magical illumination under stormy skies. More of my images from this workshop can be seen in my Lake District Gallery. ...more

Flight of the knot

11/10/2014

Some 50,000 knot spend autumn on the mudflats at Snettisham in Norfolk. High spring tides cover the whole mudflat, forcing the birds to leave the shore to roost around the margins of a nearby lagoon. Taking their Latin name Calidris canutus from King Canute, the knot try to defy the rising tide and wait until the last patch of mud is inundated. Just after dawn has broken they take off in a succession of great flocks. Equally spectacular is the tightly packed huddle of birds at their high tide roost. I waited a couple of hours until the tide was falling and somehow the knot knew the mudflats were exposed again. They took to the air as one, a flock so dense that no chink of sky can be seen between the birds. Imagine making this image into a knot jigsaw. ...more

Devil's Den

20/09/2014

Devil's Den is a reconstructed Neolithic burial chamber in a remote corner of the Marlborough Downs. Because it is well away from artificial light pollution, I thought it would make a good subject for astrophotography. Once the sky was fully dark, I composed with a view of the sky between the stones and the north pole star in the top right corner of the image. Over a period of 24 minutes, the earth's rotation carried the stars in arcs around the pole star. I captured the star trails by making 48 sequential images of 30 seconds each, then combining them all as layers in Photoshop using the Lighten mode. For more images of this type, see my Star Trails Gallery. ...more

Dartmoor in Summer

06/08/2014

Staple Tor is perhaps the most dramatic granite tor on Dartmoor. I chose to photograph it at sunset, with one rock pillar as foreground and another beyond. The image was made in the first week of August but in this exposed location, 455m above sea level, there is nothing to suggest summer. I returned before sunrise the next morning for a composition looking east but was rewarded only by thick mist enveloping the Tor. ...more

Wiltshire from the Air

15/07/2014

A commission from Wiltshire Life magazine to photograph the county's iconic sites from the air provides a wonderful new perspective on Wiltshire's glorious countryside, revealing patterns and hidden features not appreciated from the ground. I was expertly piloted by Mark Richardson of Bustard Flying Club in a Cessna F172M, providing the perfect platform for aerial photography as the wings are above the cabin. This image of Westbury White Horse was made in golden light 40 minutes before sunset. I composed to include the whole of Bratton Hill Fort, which cannot be successfully photographed from the ground. Getting a sharp image from a light aircraft requires a fast shutter speed and a steady hand, I was shooting with the aperture wide open at ISO 800 to achieve 1/500th of a second. For me, the picture is completed by the small group of brightly clothed picnickers beside the horse's ear, giving scale to the whole image. For more aerial photography, visit my Wiltshire from the Air Gallery. ...more

Seabird Photography Workshop

24/06/2014

I led a group of 14 photographers for three days of seabird photography on Skomer. One of the best wildlife sites in southern Britain, Skomer is especially good for puffins and the workshop was timed to coincide with them bringing sandeels to feed their chicks. Staying on the island, we made the best use of dawn and dusk light for both birds and landscapes. In all, 40 species of birds were recorded by the group, including three auks, three gulls, two waders, two owls and five Corvids. A particular highlight was photographing Manx Shearwaters returning to their burrows in the middle of the night. For a selection of my images taken during the workshop, see my Skomer Gallery. ...more

Land's End

17/06/2014

For a few days around the summer solstice, the setting sun shines through the rock arch of Enys Dodnan at Land's End. I composed to frame the image with granite rocks and include some late-flowering thrift as foreground. By taking three bracketed exposures, I was able to assemble a final image that correctly exposes the high dynamic range of the scene, ranging from the sun to areas in shadow. Minutes later the sun sank into the sea. ...more

Glastonbury Tor

13/06/2014

To make the most of June's full moon, I photographed from dusk to dawn, taking in Clifton Suspension Bridge, Clevedon Pier by moonlight, Burnham Lighthouse by moonlight and Glastonbury Tor. My favourite image, under a dawn sky, was of the Tor viewed across mist arising from the marshes around Glastonbury. I chose a position with a clear view through the doorway of St Michael's Tower, conveying an immediate sense of place to the image. ...more

Golden Pyramid

26/05/2014

Blackchurch Rock, on the Devon coast near the picturesque village of Clovelly, is a remarkable pyramid through which the sea has cut two slices. I scouted the location mid-morning, deduced that evening light would show the rock to best advantage and that the tide would have fallen just enough by sunset to expose foreground strata. The weather prospect looked good so I returned at 8pm and waited for the tide to recede. Just twenty minutes before sunset the falling tide left this still pool, reflecting the top of the rock. At the same moment, evening light turned the pyramid face golden and raked across the foreground, creating a pleasing dynamic of leading lines and giving a sense of depth to the image. ...more

Sunrise Serendipity

14/05/2014

My plan was to photograph full moon setting over Stonehenge but construction fencing, newly erected by English Heritage, blocked that view. I therefore circled the monument to the opposite side and awaited the rising sun. Serendipity in the form of a pleasingly spaced flock of sheep provided my foreground. As the sun's rays highlighted wisps of mist around the sheep, I knew I had my image. ...more

Galapagos

19/04/2014

The Galapagos Islands are a renowned nature photography destination as most of their wildlife is unique and relatively fearless of man. A specific objective of this, my second visit, was to photograph the archipeligo's famous Giant Tortoises in the wild. I found this huge male in the highland forests of Santa Cruz Island. By mid-morning, the weather was overcast which was ideal as it avoided harsh shadows and unwanted highlights on the animal or the background. In order to get sufficient depth of field I needed f/11, which required ISO 1600 and gave me a shutter speed of just 1/60th of a second, presenting a challenge to get a sharp image of a moving subject. In order to get an eye-level shot and emphasise his size, I lay down on the ground ahead of the route he was taking and waited for him to lumber up to my lens. By the time he was close enough to notice me and his gait paused, enabling me to make the image, I could smell his breath, rich in tropical fruits he had been munching in the forest. For more images of reptiles and birds taken on this trip, see my Galapagos gallery. ...more

Cloud Forest

14/04/2014

Clothing the rain-drenched slopes of the Andes between 2000m and 3000m altitude, cloud forest supports exceptional diversity of birds. This habitat has more hummingbirds than anywhere else on earth and in just three days at Ecuador's Bellavista cloud forest I recorded 19 species. To photograph them I pre-focused on a space adjacent to a sugar-water feeder, selecting a diffuse background free of distracting branches and highlights. When this Green Violet-Ear briefly hovered in the viewfinder, autofocus tracking locked on. I pre-selected a shutter speed of 1/1250th second to freeze the fast-moving bird, but even so its beating wings are blurred. High speed synchronised flash brought the iridescent plumage to life. In order to record enough ambient light to give a natural-looking background, I used ISO 1600. For more hummingbirds, along with toucanets, barbets, antpittas, tanagers, trogons and the recently discovered nocturnal olinguito, see my Cloud Forest Gallery. ...more

Brecon Beacons

01/03/2014

Snow has been rare this winter but on the last day of February it fell over the Brecon Beacons. Leaving home early the following morning, my fellow photographer Richard Watson and I were able to get onto Pen Y Fan, the highest mountain in southern Britain, in good light before the melt got underway. My favourite image shows the forbidding north face of the mountain with a frozen pond in the foreground, weak sun catching the reed clumps, while a background of dark clouds adds drama. ...more

Porthcawl storm

01/02/2014

Early 2014 has seen a series of deep depressions track across the British Isles. The storm of 1st February coincided with spring tides so I travelled to Porthcawl seafront in south Wales for high tide, which coincided with sunrise. Facing directly towards the Atlantic, Porthcawl catches the full force of waves generated in the deep ocean, even before the storm reaches land. This one did not disappoint. Over the following week, I photographed more storms in Dorset and Cornwall, the results are in my Winter Storms gallery. ...more

Flooded Beauty

05/01/2014

Christmas and New Year rainfall has been exceptional even by the standards of recent years. An early morning sky check revealed textured cloud and a clear south-eastern horizon, giving the prospect of an exceptional sunrise. I decided that a reflection of the sky might do it justice and headed for the Kennett valley where West Overton church provides a focal point on the horizon. As expected, the River Kennett had overflowed into its flood plain. Wading through the flood waters I found a foreground of frosted grass. All I then had to do was wait until the sky reached its maximum colour. ...more