SOMERSET LEVELS 292 – EARLY IN THE DAY, JUST BEFORE MIDWINTER

 

 


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The first flushes of sunrise on 16th Dec 2016 –  just before the shortest day of the year.  I was heading towards the village of Mark, and looking eastwards across Binham Moor.

Composition: a noisy, grainy, blurry image – no more than an impression of what it was like being there.  And what was it like being there?  Well, it was ******* cold and, despite 1/250th and image stabilisation, I was lying across the outside of the car, hoping to high heaven that, shivering as I was, I could still hold the camera steady.  Did I have a tripod with me?  Yes.  Could I be bothered to use it?  Nope – but then that’s always the case!  This image is very much a series of horizontal layers, one on top of the other, the darkness of the ground moving up, in a series of discreet steps, into the first welcome tints of the day.

Click onto the image to open a larger version in a separate window, and click onto this enlarged image to enlarge it yet again.

Technique: D800 with 70-300 Nikkor lens at 300mm; 25,600 ISO; 1/250th, wide open at f5.6; Lightroom.
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SOMERSET LEVELS 291 – TADHAM MOOR, LOOKING EAST

 

 


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The day starts: star-rise, Our Star rising, Tadham Moor.

Click onto the image to open a larger version in a separate window, and click onto the larger image to enlarge it yet again.

Technique: X-T2 with 55-200 Fujinon lens at 305mm (equiv); 800 ISO; Lightroom; 27 Jan 2017.
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SOMERSET LEVELS 290 – THE SKY WARMS

 

 

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Looking east along Tealham Moor Drove, the faintly seen track at lower left, as sunrise colours start high in the sky above the Somerset Levels.

Technique: it was dark!  The human eye is a wonderful camera, able to see in low light levels, but it was clear that most things here were still heavily engulfed by the gloom.  And when I raised the camera to my eye – WOW! – even allowing the brightening sky to influence the reading, 25,600 ISO still only gave me 1/140th, wide open at f4.8 .  So, working handheld as always, image stabilisation helped, as did the fact that this camera is mirrorless, so that it has no mirror slap – there is more on mirror slap here.  Many photographers prefer not to use their lenses wide open due to reduced sharpness and definition, but I always go for it – if the light conditions demand it  (and also if I’m looking for as narrow as possible a depth of focus).  The bottom line being that its far, far better to be left with an image that is blurred and/or grainy, than to be left with no image at all.  This is a part of the great and ongoing debate about the respective importance of the technical quality of images on the one hand – sharpness, definition, colour rendition, white balance, etc. – and image content and atmosphere on the other.  I’m 101% with the importance of content and atmosphere.  Compositionally, the faint lines of the track and the much brighter, water-filled ditch lead the eye towards that single tall tree – and I’ve used this same composition, in this same place, before.

There are other images from this bitterly cold morning here (with context), here, here, here, here and hereEach will open in a separate window.

Click onto this post’s image to open a larger version in a separate window, and then click onto this larger version once more.

Technique: X-T2 with 55-200 Fujifilm lens at 305mm (equiv); 25,600 ISO; Lightroom; 27 Jan 2017.
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SOMERSET LEVELS 289 – FROSTY ROAD (MONO)

 

 

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.Kid Gate Drove, Tealham Moor, before sunrise on a frosty morning.

Thick frost, bitter cold and the bare landscape of winter; I’m looking back up the road I’ve driven down, some of the tyre marks are mine.

Technique: strongly converging lines draw the eye into the image, all the way up the road to those dark trees, and in particular to that tall tree – which (as open happens) reminds me of a bursting artillery shell or bomb.  And the backdrop, behind those roadside trees, is faded, ill-defined and grey, with thin, dark mist drifting like smoke overhead.  The use of a slightly bluish Selenium tone hopefully(!) adds to the image’s cold feel.

There are other images from this bitterly cold morning here (with context), here, here, here and here.

Click onto the image to open another version in a separate window, and then click onto that image again.

Technique: X-T2 with 55-200 Fujinon lens at 84mm (equiv); 12,800 ISO; Lightroom; Silver Efex Pro 2, starting at the Full Dynamic Harsh preset and adding a moderate Selenium tone; 27 Jan 2017.
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SOMERSET LEVELS 288 – CLOUDS AT SUNRISE

 

 

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Skyscape above Tadham Moor: 27 Jan 2017, at sunrise.

Technique: simplicity of content, with a theme purely from the Natural world – drifting clouds of water vapour lit by Our Star as it inches up above the horizon.  A Minimal image is some respects, although it does in fact contain quite a lot of intricate detail.  But to me quite a dynamic composition, with my eyes instantly drawn to that single cloud at upper left, and then rushing on towards the top right corner, only to be dragged down clockwise through the rest of the clouds to end up, in- or outside the image at bottom left.  That single cloud is at the intersection of the top and left thirds, a visual strongpoint – more on thirds here.  An alternative view would have our eyes entering the frame at bottom left, to whirl up around the frame’s peripheral clouds in an anticlockwise direction, and so back out to the single cloud which is on the intersecting thirds.  Westerners’ eyes tend to look at images from left to right (the same direction we write in) and top to bottom – there is more on this here.

There are other images from this bitterly cold morning here (with context), here, here and here.

Click onto the image to open a larger version in a separate window.

Technique: X-T2 with 55-200 Fujinon lens at 84mm (equiv); 800 ISO; Lightroom.
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SOMERSET LEVELS 287 – DAWN, TEALHAM MOOR

 

 

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The view across Tealham Moor, with the first faint flush of sunrise starting to warm the cold dawn light.

The single track Totney Drove, covered in frost, ice, and tyre marks, makes off eastwards towards the trees of Tadham Moor in the distance.  This thin strip of tarmac is at best uneven, but between the two nearest trees it bulges slightly upwards where, on a little bridge, it crosses a manmade waterway known as the North Drain, which empties water from this sodden landscape into the nearby River Brue.  This tiny bridge has metal railings on either side, and glint of the North Drain’s waters can just be seen to either side of them, near the left and right edges of the image.

The striking shape of the tree is the result of being cut back by mechanised shears mounted on the farmer’s tractor.  Adjacent to the drove, within reach of the cutters’ teeth, its profile has been cut back to a sheer vertical, but beyond the cutters’ reach – higher up, and on the side away from the road – it blossoms out in more natural fashion.

More context about this bitterly cold, early morning visit to the Somerset Levels can be found here, and there is another pre-sunrise image here.

Click onto the image to open a larger version in a separate window – recommended.

X-T2 with 55-200 Fujinon lens at 305mm (equiv); 8,000 ISO; 27 Jan 2017.
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SOMERSET LEVELS 286 – DAWN IN THE HEADLIGHTS

 

 

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Driving in the dawn along Kid Gate Drove, on the western fringes of Tealham Moor; 27 Jan 2017.

I’d turned off the main road and all at once the narrow lanes in the wetter, flatter country were white in the headlights.  Someone had driven down this road before me on this freezing morning and, like me, had no doubt driven with great care.  It was difficult to stand up on this icy surface, and the strange thing was that this ice seemed to be affecting only the roads,  the surrounding fields looked quite normal.

So I sat in the car, turned the headlights onto fill beam, and took this photo through the windscreen.  Dead, yellowing grasses on the sides of the road lead down to a road sign blazing white in the distance – the road turns abruptly to the left down there, and anyone speeding southwards down Kid Gate Road, especially at night, needs to know about that.

There is more about this bitterly cold visit to the Somerset Levels here.

There is another, very different, image illuminated by car headlights here.

Click onto the image to open a larger version in a separate window.

X-T2 with 55-200 Fujinon lens at 84mm (equiv); 25,600 ISO; illuminated by daybreak and car headlights.
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SOMERSET LEVELS 285 – OH IT WAS COLD!!!

 

 

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Yesterday, I left Bristol in the dark, something I don’t feel totally comfortable with now, my eyes no longer being in the full flush of youth.  And the blackness was cold but, at least, there was no frost or ice – which would remove a definite danger from night driving.  And the bulk of my journey would be on a large main road, the A38, which would (hopefully!) be less prone to problems than the small country lanes I usually infest.

So, driving down to the Levels – and on arriving there the roads suddenly started appearing white in the headlights.  And, slow mentally as I can be, I started wondering what this whiteness might be.  Well, you can guess what it was – it was thick frost and ice – and in emerging from the car for my first, before sunrise photos, I was hit by bitter cold and road surfaces I had difficulties standing up on.

But, what do you do?  Turning around and heading home would be unthinkable, and, as usual (and this is an article of faith for Levels visits), I had a flask of hot, sweet coffee and thick, bitter marmalade sandwiches with me.  So, nothing to think about really, just get on and enjoy the place, get the camera out and see what happens.

So I did just that.  And although the Levels no longer inspire me photographically as much as they once did – most probably because I’ve photographed them so vastly much – I did take a few photos.  And, as always on these visits, I had a pair of binoculars with me too – having been an avid (and, ultimately, professional) birder 1967-2002, birds are still very much in my soul.  So rather than going down to the Levels with the rather stressful feeling that I must somehow find images, I just wander about with the bins – Leica 10×42’s, waterproof, heavy, excellent, rubber-armoured, built like a tank – and if photos appear they do, and if they don’t, well, they don’t.

Anyway, it was very early, a time of day I really like – and which I’ve recently been photographing in Bristol too.  It was fiercely cold, but a delight being there, and I pressed on.

I fetched up at the Magic Carpark. a favourite place on Tadham Moor, and the sun was just about to rise.  I drank the coffee, ate the sandwiches and conversed with the tall tree – a willow – that oversees all my visits.  Thoughts of photographing the rising sun came to mind – but my fingers were by now so numb that I could no longer even feel the camera’s trigger let alone press it.

I think that, another time, I might put my fingers in the coffee to warm them up but, in this instance, I was driven to walking around this little, rough place with two fingers in my mouth.  I was a bit like sucking an iced lolly, and I could only be grateful for the fact that no members of the tabloid press were on hand to document this undoubted example of the hedonistic and bohemian tendencies of the retired classes.

Anyway, here is one of the resulting images – the sun rising on 27 Jan 2017 above Tadham Moor, with a partly frozen water-filled ditch, a rhyne (rhymes with seen), bringing light and a little of the sunrise’s warmth to the foreground.

Technique: capturing Raw files as I invariably do (see below), it would of course be possible to considerably lighten the shadows in this shot, and to end up approaching something like a High Dynamic Range (HDR) image.  But I value shadows, I think that darkness adds greatly to many, many images – and in this case I’ve aimed at something like the way the scene looked like to my eyes, rather than illuminating every leaf and individual blade of grass.  Chiaroscuro is a term in art (and photography is certainly an art) that describes the interplay of light and shadow, something of vast value in an image.  There is a link to chiaroscuro in photography – here.  Some pictures benefit from being totally lit, some don’t, its as simple as that.

Technique: Raw files are undoubtedly the format to use if you are contemplating anything like extensive post-capture processing of an image, i.e. rather than using the image straight out of the camera, or with minimal tweaking.  I summarised the fundamental differences between Raw files and jpegs here.

Those with an eye for detail will notice (below) that I was using a Fujifilm X-T2 camera, rather than my usual X-T1.  More on that another time.

X-T2 with 55-200 Fujifilm lens at 84mm (equiv); 1600 ISO.
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SOMERSET LEVELS 284 – MORNING MIST, TADHAM MOOR

 

 

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A misty and cold morning, along a rough track leading southwards across Tadham Moor; 16 Dec 2016.

A very simple place but one with great meaning to me, which has helped me through very dark days.  

Click onto the image to open a larger version in a separate window.

D800 with 70-300 Nikkor lens at 300mm; 3200 ISO.
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SOMERSET LEVELS 283 – ENTERING THE VILLAGE OF MARK, EARLY IN THE DAY (MONO)

 

 

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The road way back at Belluton Narrows (what a wonderful name!) being blocked for the time being, I now drive down onto “my bit” of the Somerset Levels along this narrow back road into the village of Mark.  And here are the village’s outlying buildings, its outskirts, with the church tower rising up behind them.

It was just before sunrise but, on this cloudy morning the light was still dim.  My 70-300, the lens I’m married to, has Nikon’s image stabilisation (known as Vibration Reduction or VR), but the high pixel (37MP) D800 is all too proficient at registering camera shake – and so to VR engaged, and then 1/250th, aperture wide open at f5.6, and ISO set to 25,600.

Having to take extra care when photographing with high megapixel cameras is not something camera manufacturers are keen to advertise.  They are keen to say that their latest megapixel creation will enable you to “take your photography to the next level” (whatever that means) and that you’ll now be able to capture the gnats on the Moon, but what they don’t say that all of these megapixels come at a cost – increased disk storage space for your images obviously, but also that you’ll also have to pay more attention to your camera technique, and there is also the point that if you want a camera good in really low light, then fewer megapixels are really the way to go – e.g. Sony’s flagship models.  Locking high megapixel cameras down onto sturdy tripods is of course the thing, but I for one find tripods very restrictive.

The D800 has been described as “a beast of a camera” and I can see the rationale behind that.  Its big and bulky and the shutter is loud, loud, loud.   And then there is the technique thing already referred to.  But then, for me, its very similar in layout to my D700, and I just have to remember to try, if at all possible, to keep shutter speeds that bit further up.  It used to be said that a “safe” shutter speed was the reciprocal (is that the word?) of the lens focal length – so that, for example, the shutter speed to prevent camera shake when using a 50mm lens is 1/50th second or faster, but I’ve recently read that high MP cameras need twice or even three times such speeds.

Anyway, back to more pleasant things: entering the village of Mark, just before sunrise, on 16 Dec 2016.

Click onto the image to open a larger version in a separate window.

D800 with 70-300 Nikkor lens at 300mm; 25,600 ISO; Silver Efex Pro 2 – and I’ve forgotten the preset I started out from, but I do recall adding a tone to the finished product.
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