SOMERSET LEVELS 298 – WINTER MORNING, TADHAM MOOR (MONO)

 

 


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The view eastwards towards Tadham Moor, just before sunrise on a morning in winter.

Two pale lines arrow off into the distance.  On the right, a single track, tarmac road, covered in frost: Totney Drove.  And in the centre of the shot, the silvery gleam of a water-filled ditch, a rhyne (rhymes with seen), between the drove and the dark, rough pasture off to the left.

The background is the essence of the Levels: flat, misty, partly flooded country, waiting mutely and sometimes mysteriously in the dawn.

And finally, right below the camera, right in the foreground of the shot, are some upright sheets of corrugated iron.  Both the road and the rhyne turn sharply off to the left here, and the corrugated iron has been installed to strengthen the low bank on which the road sits, to try to stop it collapsing into the rhyne under the weight of passing vehicles.

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

Technique: X-T2 with 55-200 Fujinon lens at 84mm (equiv); 12,800 ISO; Lightroom, using the Velvia/Vivid film simulation; Silver Efex Pro 2, starting at the Dramatic preset; 27 Jan 2017.
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ARCHIVE 313 – TRACK, TADHAM MOOR (MONO)

 

 


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Track heading south across Tadham Moor, Somerset Levels; 29 Aug 2009.

I bought my first digital camera early in 2009 and, with what’s left of my mind, have been thinking that I made a total and immediate switch to digital, with my film gear and remaining films becoming at once obsolete (my last, unused films are in fact still in the fridge).

However, some images that I’ve found this morning, including this one, show that this was not the case – and I know why.  Because while digital colour pictures were fine, I just couldn’t get digital black and white to be anything other than bland, characterless and antiseptic.

Bland?  Yes, bland, and for two reasons.  First of course, I wasn’t yet aware of the editing software – most notably Silver Efex Pro –  that would solve these problems.

But second, I’d also had a thing for using fast black and white films – Fuji Neopan 1600 is the one here, but also Agfa Scala Black and White Slides – and then having them commercially push-processed.  Push-processing involves uprating a film’s speed during development so that, for example, if I’d exposed a 400 ISO film at 400 ISO, I would ask the processing lab to develop it as if I’d exposed it at 1600 ISO – and this sort of processing gave wonderful contrast and grain – its made the images really atmospheric, moody and gutsy.  (I push-processed colour slides too, most notably Fuji Provia 400X, and loved the results).

And so, when I found digital black and white to really not be doing the business, I returned for awhile to slamming away with push-processed mono film in my Nikon F6 – and this photo is an example of that.  I mean, just look at the grain in those clouds – was I photographing in a blizzard???  And the whole thing looks old – this is definitely not antiseptic newness.

But there is an irony here – and the joke is on me.  Because when I’d managed to get digital black and white doing what I wanted, via various editing programs, and then thought that I should use those programs on scanned versions of my push-processed film images >>> failure was everywhere in the air!

Because although these pushed films look good as they are, they simply do not contain the vast wealth of image data found in a full colour, digital Raw file – full colour, digital Raws are really by far the best jumping off points when converting images to black and white.

Technique: F6 with 12-24 Sigma lens at 12mm;  Fuji Neopan 1600 black and white film, push processed 2 stops to 6400 ISO, to achieve a grainy effect.  The extreme wideangle lens (12mm focal length = 122 degrees angle of view) captures detail from almost beneath my feet to the far distance.

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ARCHIVE 299 – CROW SCARING STARLINGS (MONO)

 

 

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Starlings are flustered and scattered as a Carrion Crow flies in amongst them; Tadham Moor, on the Somerset Levels; 1 Nov 2013.

There is another image from these moments here.

Technique: D800 with 80-400 Nikkor lens at 400mm; 1600 ISO; Silver Efex Pro’s High Structure Harsh preset.

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ARCHIVE 294 – CROW ON A FALLEN TREE (MONO)

 

 


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Carrion Crow perched in a fallen tree; Tadham Moor, south of Wedmore, on the Somerset Levels; 31 Mar 2014.

Early in the day, I pulled bleary eyed into the Magic Carpark, stumbled out of the car – and saw this crow.  Praying that it wouldn’t move, and all fingers and thumbs, I readied the camera, turned and – it was still there!  In fact it stayed there for sometime.

The tree is a casualty of the recent severe flooding.  It was probably not standing vertically before, but then its roots had been able to find sufficient purchase in the soil.  But, saturate that soil with floodwater for many weeks and turn it into something like blancmange or wet rice pudding, and the roots were simply not up to the task of keeping the great bulk of trunk and branches above them upright.

I went for a pure silhouette, with the sky completely burnt out, for simplicity – a Minimalist approach.  To me, the few branches entering the frame at upper right serve to balance the composition.  The adding of a blue tone takes the scene further away from reality.

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

Technique: D800 with 70-300 Nikkor lens at 300mm; 800 ISO; Silver Efex Pro 2, starting at the Classic Portrait preset, and adding a Cyanotype tone.
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ARCHIVE 293 – TADHAM MOOR (MONO)

 

 


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Misty morning on Tadham Moor, on the Somerset Levels; 10 Apr 2014.

A typical Levels scene.  The water-filled ditch forms the boundary of the grassy field on the left of the shot.  Immediately left of the prominent tree,  a little bridge across the ditch allows access to the field.  The actual field gate is barely visible, at the left end of the two short lengths of fencing left of the tree.  These short lengths of fencing prevent animals in the field from edging around the sides of the gate, and so gaining their freedom via the bridge.

A single track, tarmac road, Totney Drove, is just out of sight on the right of the shot, at the top of the low bank immediately right of the tree.

I was first attracted by the tree’s reflection, but I also like the thin mistiness, both back behind the tree, and above the water in the ditch.  And the cloud above the tree helps the composition, being far preferable to having featureless sky there.

Technique: D700 with 70-300 Nikkor at 70mm; 200 ISO; Silver Efex Pro 2, starting at the Full Dynamic Harsh preset.

UPDATE: I will never stop loving this image, its as simple as that.
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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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ARCHIVE 285 – EARLY MORNING AT TEALHAM (MONO)

 

 


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Early morning on the Tealham-Tadham Moors, on the Somerset Levels south of Wedmore; 28 Aug 2013.

Rhyne (rhymes with seen) is the Somerset term for water-filled ditches that help drain the land and often, as here, act as field boundaries.  This rhyne’s surface is covered in floating waterweed and, in the foreground, are the tall, pointed leaves of wild iris, which love these waterside locations.

The two prominent trees are in the fact the ends of two rows of such trees that line the undulating, single track, tarmac road just visible lower right of them.  The two, pale sheets of corrugated iron set up against the rhyne’s bank on the right of the picture are held there by stout wooden stakes, in an attempt to prevent the road collapsing down into the mud and water. 

The point here being that there is no solid rock supporting this landscape.  Below this countryside are over 60 feet of sodden clays and peat – “rocks” easily demolished by your shovel if not by your bare hands – such that everything is soft, yielding and unstable.  Stand beside this road as a tractor goes by and you are suddenly rising and falling as if on some rural trampoline, which can be quite shocking for those unused to it.

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

Technique: D700 with Sigma 12-24 zoom lens at 12mm; 400 ISO; conversion to mono and split toning with Silver Efex Pro 2, starting at the Pinhole preset.

UPDATE: still a very favourite photo of mine, one that – in my eyes at least – will certainly stand the test of time.  No, it by no means depicts reality, but it is about a small, out of the way area of countryside that has a permanent place deep within me and, visually, it forcefully turns me on.  Technicalities?  Well, this image owes much to Silver Efex Pro 2 processing software, it would probably not have ended up looking like this without SEP2.  Reading about the photographic world, it emerges that SEP2 is very, very widely used by those with a love for black and white imagery.  And the other thing to mention here is my (now ancient) Sigma 12-24 zoom, which has facilitated this angle of view which is far wider than the human eye can achieve.  I call this lens ancient and, in digital terms it is – I first started using it with film cameras, shooting colour transparencies that I presented in slideshows – which maybe dates me a bit!  But since those far off days, Sigma has put this lens through two major updates, which have apparently improved image quality considerably.  The only downside to that is the cost of the latest update, £1600, which is significantly more than the cost of my recently acquired Fujifilm supercamera, the X-T2!  So I think I’ll just be sticking with my ancient 12-24 and, if it doesn’t give me “perfect” image quality, well, that’s just how it is – I’m not really into that degree of perfection, I don’t peer manically at pixels on screen, I’m more interested in the content of images, be it graphic or, sometimes, narrative.

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ARCHIVE 275 – CURIOUS, TOUSLED AND WET (MONO + COLOUR)

 

 

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Cow in the rain, up tight against a gate to see what I’m about; Tadham Moor, on the Somerset Levels; 1 Nov 2013.

The roads here are more or less single track so that, if you want to leave your car, you have to find somewhere to get it off the road – which ought to be easy, except that the roads are mostly bordered by very soft and slippery, grassy verges that descend (cascade, might describe it better) without warning into the rhynes – the glutinous, water-filled ditches that do duty as fences in this decidedly wet part of Somerset.

I’d pulled off the road onto the muddy grass leading in towards a field’s gate, when two farmers came running down the road with some cows – one leading the animals and the other bringing up the rear – which meant that I was not going anywhere until they’d passed.

Seeing me stopped, the cows in the field rushed towards me, stampeding forwards and setting up a tremendous bellowing as they caught sight of their cousins running in the road.  In an instant the whole herd was pressed tight up against the field’s gate and, as the rain poured down, I protected the big telezoom’s front lens with its vast hood and started firing at them.

I like this shot because of its semi-abstract nature, caused by the bars of the gate cutting across the animal’s face.  And that face is demonstrably wet and tousled, soaked by the downpour.

Click onto this image to open a larger version in a separate window – clicking onto the larger image that opens will enlarge it further.

Technique: D800 with 80-400 Nikkor lens at 400mm; 6400 ISO; Silver Efex Pro 2’s N 1.5 Push Process preset, with restoration of original colour.

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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 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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