SOMERSET LEVELS 356 – IT FELT GOOD TO BE ALIVE

 

 

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I’d driven down to the end of the little, single track road – Allermoor Drove – that runs out westwards onto Aller Moor, on the Somerset Levels.  It wasn’t actually the end of the drove as that continues onwards as a rough track, but my days of driving saloon cars off-road are long past and, indeed, far away, on another continent.  But, anyway, I’d turned the car around ready for departure, and was downing hot, sweet coffee while demolishing a thick, brown, bitter marmalade sandwich.

And beside me was a water-filled ditch – a rhyne – dense with summer’s lush growth.  And from that ditch was coming the loud, reeling song of a Sedge Warbler Acrocephalus schoenobaenus if you want to know.  That small bird had flown – probably mainly by night – all the way from sub-Saharan Africa to breed in this little, wet ditch in Somerset.  Probably, it had bred in this ditch last year too and, if it survives, it will be here next year to do so again.  The Germans have a word for this, it is ortstreuer, this almost fanatical attachment to one small breeding site on a vast continent.

And as I stood there listening to that loud, reeling song, the bird shot up into the air several times in his fierce, hormone-driven, territorial frenzy, before dropping back once more into the safety of the ditch’s lush green depths.  And of course I know Sedge Warblers from before – those I encountered seeing out the northern winters in Africa’s warm, dense, insect ridden lushnesses – and those long before that, 50 years and more ago now, when I first started looking at birds, here in Somerset.

And as I stood there listening to that loud and lusty song, it felt good to be there with that bird, it felt good in fact to be alive, and I found myself talking to him – “Yes, come on, do it, go for it, go for it!!!”.  And that felt good too.  But then I often do such things when anything like in contact with the natural world.

Beside the ditch there was a field gate, with a long strand of orange bailer twine hanging from it, being blown about by the breeze, and a carpet of white wildflowers stretching out beyond.   And as I photographed that gate, the first, uncertain splashes of rain were cool on the back of my neck, and suddenly they were a downpour.

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I ran for the car, hunched over the camera, trying to shield it from the streaming water.  And so into the car, slamming the door, but the ******* electric window was down and I couldn’t find the car keys to switch the ignition on to raise it again – a plague on electric windows!!!  The rain poured into the car.  I cursed savagely and pulled my backpack over the two cameras on the seat beside me, trying to keep them dry.  The keys appeared, the window closed, I cursed some more, and the downpour drummed on the car.  And as I looked out through the streaming windscreen, the view before me – the trees, the sky, the little road – came alive and dissolved into a living, moving mass, and picking up the X-T2, I photographed that too.
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And, amongst all of that Nature, raw and real, it continued to feel good to be alive.
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Click onto each image to open a larger version in a separate window, and click onto that image to enlarge it further.

Technique: X-T2 with 10-24 Fujinon lens; 100 ISO; Lightroom, using the Velvia/Vivid film simulation; Aller Moor, on the Somerset Levels; 14 June 2019.

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SOMERSET LEVELS 355 – TREE WITH BROKEN BRANCH (MONO)

 

 


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Casualty of recent unseasonally windy weather, on a decidedly damp and dull morning in what we Brits have known, in the past at least, as “Flaming June”.

Technique: both of the cameras that I now take to the Somerset Levels – the Nikon Z 6 and the Fujifilm X-T2 – have the facility to process their Raw files internally to produce jpegs that can be downloaded alongside the original Raw files to (in my case) Lightroom Classic.  The processing possibilities are quite extensive – including adding “looks”, cropping, changing exposure, white balance, etc etc – and I find this a great aid to creativity.  I find the Fujifilm X-T2 a little better at this sort of processing than the Nikon Z 6, but even in the latter it is still a very useful process / add-on.

Thus a typical day is an early morning visit to the Levels, followed by an afternoon slumped in an armchair feeling totally shattered, sipping the golden Belgian beer Duvel that is my favourite tipple, and – for greater or shorter periods – looking through the day’s images on the two cameras, trying out various edits, and saving as jpegs those that look promising.  Then, the same day if I’m not too far Duvelled – or the next day if I am –  I can download BOTH the original Raw files and my manufactured jpegs into Lightroom >>> so that I can look at both my original photos AND the prompts towards potentially useful processing methods.  I can only say that I find this a definite aid to creativity and that anyone whose camera allows in-camera Raw processing should explore its possibilities (the Duvel is of course optional, but wholeheartedly recommended all the same!).

Another point here is that mirrorless cameras like the Nikon and the Fuji allow review of images via the viewfinder as well as the rear screen, and that the viewfinder often gives a better appreciation, especially in bright ambient light.

And yet another point is that Lightroom – dear Lightroom – removes things like Fujifilm’s excellent film simulations as it reads in Raw files, whereas it does not do this with other file types eg jpegs >>> so that all in-camera processing is preserved.

I couldn’t decide which of these images to present and hence both are here – I think I prefer the darker, more foreboding, more apocalyptic,  version above.
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Click onto each image to open another version in a separate window, and click onto that image to further enlarge it.

Technique: X-T2 with 10-24 Fujinon lens at 15mm (equiv); in-camera processing of the Raw file, using the Acros + red filter film simulation; no further processing; Great Withy Drove, Common Moor, north of Glastonbury, on the Somerset Levels; 14 June 2019.
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SOMERSET LEVELS 354 – AT ROSE FARM, LOOKING EAST 3 (MONO)

 

 


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This image is best viewed enlarged: click onto it to open a larger version in a separate window, and click onto that image to further enlarge it – recommended.

The view out across a misty landscape, early in the day.

Silver Efex Pro 2, which I always wholeheartedly recommend for black and white processing, gives the resulting image its take on the look of a Tin Type photograph.

There are earlier shots in this series here: 1 2 .

Technique: Z 6 with 70-300 Nikkor lens at 116mm; 400 ISO; Lightroom, using the Camera Vivid v2 picture control; Silver Efex Pro 2, starting at the Tin Type preset; at Rose Farm, on the Somerset Levels south of Tarnock; 3 May 2019.
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SOMERSET LEVELS 353 – LIBERTY MOOR, NEAR EASTERN MOOR BRIDGE

 

 


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Entrance to a field, in early light.

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

Technique: Z 6 with 70-300 Nikkor lens at 300mm; 800 ISO; Lightroom, using the Camera Neutral v2 picture control; Liberty Moor, on the Somerset Levels east of East Huntspill; 3 May 2019.
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SOMERSET LEVELS 352 – ANIMAL 3

 

 


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Click onto the image above to open a larger version in a separate window, and click onto that image to further enlarge it – strongly recommended.

Beside the road at Redlake Farm, on Queen’s Sedge Moor – see this link for an earlier image in this series, and much context; there is another image from this series here 2 .

Technique: Z 6 with 70-300 Nikkor lens used in DX (= APS-C) format to give 292mm; 1000 ISO; Lightroom, using the Camera Neutral V2 picture control; Redlake Farm, Queen’s Sedge Moor, on the Somerset Levels; 24 May 2019.

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SOMERSET LEVELS 351 – QUEEN’S SEDGE MOOR, MORNING LIGHT (MONO)

 

 


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Morning light on Queen’s Sedge Moor, with the higher, more thickly wooded ground around Launcherley rising in the background.

This picture, well, this picture …  It was a beautiful place on a fine morning and it reminds me of being there, but I just don’t have any deep feelings about it.  To me its getting over a little bit too much towards the picturesque – it could be a postcard.

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

Technique: Z 6 with 70-300 Nikkor lens used in DX (= APS-C) format to give 450mm; 800 ISO; Lightroom, using the Camera Neutral V2 picture control; Silver Efex Pro 2, starting at the Centre Focus preset and adding a split tone; Queen’s Sedge Moor, on the Somerset Levels; 24 May 2019.
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SOMERSET LEVELS 350 – ANIMAL 2

 

 


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Click onto the image above to open a larger version in a separate window, and click onto that image to further enlarge it – strongly recommended.

Beside the road at Redlake Farm, on Queen’s Sedge Moor – see this link for an earlier image in this series, and much context.

Technique: Z 6 with 70-300 Nikkor lens used in DX (= APS-C) format to give 360mm; 1000 ISO; Lightroom, using the Camera Neutral V2 picture control; Redlake Farm, Queen’s Sedge Moor, on the Somerset Levels; 24 May 2019.

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SOMERSET LEVELS 349 – ANIMAL

 

 

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Click onto the image above to open a larger version in a separate window, and click onto that image to further enlarge it – strongly recommendedThe lower image can be enlarged in this way too.

OK, let’s start at the bottom line: I love cats.  A cat named George, aged two, was present when I was born.  My mother told me that he used to get up on his hind legs and peer in at me in my pram – probably wondering if he was allowed to eat me I expect!  And I grew up alongside him and, as an only child, he was effectively my brother.  Quite simply, he was always there, he was always around, and he died when I was 13.  I have never owned a cat but, equally, I have never forgotten George and, indeed, over 50 years later he is still frequently – and warmly – in my thoughts.  And whenever I encounter cats these days, I look on them with much affection.

And my feline odyssey goes a little further than that because, taking clients on safari in Kenya, I came into close contact with our moggies’ much larger cousins – Lion, Leopard and Cheetah.  Lions I could take or leave really, but I spent ages almost drowning in the deep, expressionless, amber eyes of Leopard and Cheetah.  And then there were smaller cats too – Serval and (most wonderfully) Caracal.

So what on earth has all this got to do with the Somerset Levels?  Well, recently, I was exploring on the southeastern edges of Queen’s Sedge Moor, when I hauled up at Redlake Farm – and promptly had two very pleasant experiences.  I’ll talk about the first of those experiences another time but, as I walked along the farm’s frontage there was a closed gate with six cats basking beneath it on the morning sun’s warm rays.  There is a picture – not a very good picture – of them below, but it gives you an idea of the scene.
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And, standing very still, I looked at these cats, they looked back at me, and – very softly – I started talking to them.  I certainly didn’t want to frighten them by getting too close and, anyway, looking at them, it was immediately apparent that these were not tame house cats, but rather working cats in a way, who earn their keep on the farm as fierce ratters and mousers.  Stroking one of these, even if I could get near enough, might not be a wholly joyous experience.

And so the camera went into APS-C mode, lengthening the reach of my telephoto and, from a distance, I photographed them.  And as I looked through the camera into those impassive and predatory faces, I was reminded of those much larger cats in Kenya long ago, and the title of this post came surely to mind.

Technique: upper image – Z 6 with 70-300 Nikkor lens used in DX (= APS-C) format to give 450mm; 1000 ISO; Lightroom, using the Camera Neutral V2 picture control.  Lower image: X-T2 with 10-24 Fujinon lens at 36mm (equiv); Lightroom, using the Provia/Standard film simulation; 400 ISO.  Redlake Farm, Queen’s Sedge Moor, on the Somerset Levels; 24 May 2019.

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SOMERSET LEVELS 348 – LOOKING ALONG THE LANE BELOW THE WHITELAKE BRIDGE

 

 


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Looking south from the Whitelake Bridge, on Hearty Moor.  A single track lane, its surface muddy and gently (i.e. characterfully!!!) undulating, disappears off amongst the shadowy trunks of trees.  Spring flowers line the sides of the lane, and trees bright with fresh, pale foliage overhang it.  A simple little scene, a lovely little place, a place in which to feel uncomplicated, quiet and at peace – except when the farmer comes through with his tractor or cows.

I’m not too sure where the point of focus is here, it may be down near where the road disappears, as the roadside flowers seem a little soft – but, well, you know, go with the flow.  If I’m trying to get myself off the hook, I suppose I could call this an impression of the scene and, in any case, I’m glad to have the picture.

A further point is that, much as I like mono, I had trouble here deciding on mono or colour >>> and so to both.  I think the mono has it >>> but what do you think???????

Particularly as, in the mono version, in my mind’s eye, I see that great bank of pale foliage on the right as the crest of a huge wave that is about to engulf this tranquil scene.  And although this may seem a rather fanciful vision (I never restrain my imagination), the latest forecasts for sea level rise due to global warming by the end of this century are two metres (about 6 feet), and if that happens then the Somerset Levels will be squarely in the firing line.  The Romans used to be able to get into the vicinity of this picture in sea-going ships, after all, so this is not science fiction.

Both of these pictures can be enlarged by clicking onto them to open a larger version in a separate window, and then clicking onto that picture to further enlarge it – recommended, especially for the mono version >>> those shadowy tree trunks just where the road disappears, to me there’s something from Lord of the Rings down down there!

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Technique: Z 6 with 70-300 Nikkor lens at 210mm; 400 ISO; Lightroom, using the Camera Landscape V2 picture control; Silver Efex Pro 2, starting at the Film Noir 1 preset and adding a moderate Coffee tone; Hearty Moor, northeast of Glastonbury, on the Somerset Levels; 26 Apr 2019.
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SOMERSET LEVELS 347 – LANDSCAPE 2 (MONO)

 

 


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The rising sun, at Rose Farm.

There is an earlier Landscape image here: 1 .

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

Technique: X-T2 with 10-24 Fujinon lens at 36mm (equiv); 400 ISO; Lightroom, using the Velvia/Vivid film simulation;  Silver Efex Pro 2, starting at the High Contrast Green Filter preset; at Rose Farm, on the Somerset Levels south of Tarnock; 3 May 2019.
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