Neutral Density

Ladybower Reservoir, Peak District by Neil Alexander

Ladybower Reservoir, Peak District

Before I made this trip in December, I had watched a short interview with Jonathan Chritchley ( Boy, that guy's work is good. And between his work and his workshops he manages to provide, and provide well, for his family all through pursuing his love and his craft of fine art photography. The guy really is an inspiration.

However, not all is quite what it seems. I can guarantee you that behind those lovely 6x6 black and whites is a team of marketing and sales people peddling his wares. What I would give to be able to transport my entire family to a part of the world that perpetually provides such awesome inspiration. 

So to Ladybower, I knew from previous trips that there images to be had here. Yet I also knew that the azimuth at which the sun was due to rise was to be far from ideal. 

I shot several different compositions before ending up here just as the sun was rising over my shoulder to the right. I used an ND grad to bring the sky into play and then my B&W 10 Stop ND filter to give me a 60 second exposure giving me that lovely calm silky feel to the water. Not a competition winner by any stretch of the imagination, but pretty nonetheless.

Tech specs: D300, ISO 200, F8, 61secs, Tripod (obviously), cable release. Nikkor 17-55mm F2.8 at 17mm.

This is an image straight from camera, shot at 1/30 sec with no filters - you can see the difference the neutral densitys make.

Anglesey Adventure - Part 2 by Neil Alexander

This post is the second part of a 2 part series. Part One titled "Angelsey Adventure - Part 1 - Planning Landscape Photography" is here.

Two bodies set up waiting for sunset, South Stack Lighthouse (Instagram)

Once I'd scoped out the lighthouse, worked out where the shot was going to be and how to get to a suitable vantage point to get the shot without falling into the sea, the next step was to find somewhere suitable to pitch my tent. I hadn't factored in that the camp sites would be so busy, and after about an hour's driving around I gave up and ended up checking in to the lovely Trearddur Bay Hotel.  There was absolutely no "business case" for me to stay in a hotel, and it meant that this was unlikely to be a profitable trip, but it was that or sleep in the car....

Quite conscious of time by now, I grabbed a lovely portion of fish and chips in the bar and dashed off out to get some shots around the various rocky coves around Trearddur and then headed up to South Stack. I got down to Ellins Tower which was as near as I could get to line the setting sun up with lighthouse without falling down the cliff and into the sea. Not ideal. Probably a shot for a slightly different time of the year - ideally I would have placed sun right behind or just next to lighthouse, and above the little island that it sits on, but this game's about making the best of what you're presented with, right?

South Stack Lighthouse, Angelsey

Stupidly, or rather lazily, I'd left my second tripod (a Slik) in the car, mainly because it's so heavy compared to my carbon fibre Giotto. So I clambered down with main tripod and a gorillapod should I want to set up two shots. And sure enough, I saw two images - one was quite a close crop of the lighthouse and a small part of the skyline behind, and another was a wider shot taking in the adjacent cliffs, the noisy boisterous gulls, and the spectacular cliff faces. I set the 70-200 on the tripod, and the 17-55 on the gorilla pod (see top image). What I hadn't thought about was the wind. It was howling.The tripod was stable enough, but the 17-55 on the gorillapod was bouncing around like nobody's business. This gave me some problems. Doing HDRs, the lowest bracketed shutter speed had to be around 1/125 to avoid getting any camera shake and the light was fading fast. To be quite honest, I would probably have been better off simply hand holding, but I had the composition set so I left it, and waited, and waited.

Cliffs near South Stack Lighthouse, Angelsey

Typically what started out as having potential for a good looking sunset never happened. About 10-15 mins before it dropped below the horizon, the sun disappeared behind a blanket of cloud, never to re-appear. There was a little pink in the cloud which I just managed to get in the frame with the wider shot. I stuck around for about an hour hoping to see a nice dark blue sky, but that didn't happen either. By this time it was around 10:30 / 10:45 pm and I was very very cold. I flipped round 180 degrees where the moon was now out, nearly full, very bright and shining down on the adjacent cliffs. There was a lovely bright light cast on the sea. I made a  few frames and then climbed back up to the car and headed back to the hotel for a beer and warmth.

4 hours later, my alarm went off. I managed to winch my weary limbs out of bed as far as the window. So far the forecast had been 100% accurate. They'd predicted improving weather all through the previous evening up until midnight, rain heavily overnight, and the next day was set to be grim. Sure enough, peering out between the curtains just after 4am, I was met with a miserable damp grey scene. I ummed and ahhed, weighing up my options, looked at the big warm comfortable bed behind me, and fell back into it. Having made the decision not to go chasing a probably non-existent sunrise I surfaced about 8 feeling well rested, had a lip-smackingly good full english breakfast, grabbed a few frames around the coastline again and then headed home.

All in all, a worthwhile trip but definitely in need of a re-visit.

Anglesey Adventure - Part 1 - Planning landscape photography by Neil Alexander

House on the cliffs above Trearddur Bay, Anglesey

 A couple of weeks ago, I had the rare opportunity of some time on my hands over a weekend. I knew it was coming but deliberately didn't make any plans right up until the Thursday. My first step was to check the proposed Met Office information for the three areas that I could make it to in the time window I had; the Lake District, the Peak District and North Wales. After careful deliberation, I concluded that Wales looked most promising, though not ideal.

It was then a case of narrowing down specific locations. Lately I've been rekindling a long lost relationship with Anglesey, so what to shoot there exactly? I fired up the Flickr Studio iPad app which has great search functionality aided immensely by people kindly not removing the GeoTagging information from their images.  I stumbled across a bunch of images of South Stack lighthouse which brought back some childhood memories, and an interesting jetty in Beaumaris on the opposite corner of the island.

Once I had ballpark locations, it was then a case of working out the best times to shoot there. Using The Photographers Ephemeris app I plotted sun angles, though to be honest I could probably tell you off the top of my head where and when the sun sets at most times of the year, analysed the forecast and concluded that South Stack was a sunset shot, and then over to Beaumaris for dawn the next day.

My time was limited, so I decided quite early on that I was going to focus on landscapes only. It would have been nice to incorporate some travel / environmental photography too, but I decided not to dilute my efforts.

I chucked all my camping gear, along with a recently sourced inflatable mattress (I discovered to my detriment that the ground can actually be sleep deprivingly hard, and really is nothing whatsoever like a memory foam king sized mattress) into the car and headed off with a very loose plan. A thoroughly enjoyable 2 hour drive ensued listening to Bill Bryson's "A Short History Of Nearly Everything" - very interesting indeed.

Once crossing over the feet of engineering that is the old Menai suspension bridge, designed and completed in 1826 by Thomas Telford, it's only a short drive through to Beaumaris. I drove through the town, passed the castle and found my little jetty. Concluding that this could well be a worthwhile location for some great photography, in the right light - dawn / early morning, I continued on to recce the South Stack lighthouse.

Waves crashing onto the cliffs by Trearddur Bay, Anglesey

Anglesey really is a very pleasant little part of the country. It's not heavily populated and other than 1 or 2 main arterial routes that criss-cross the island, the large proportion is made up of single track roads which are lovely to drive on a good day. Until that is you come across a blockage. At one point I came across a pick-up stopped on a blind bend facing the same direction I was. The driver (a farmer I presumed) reached out the window and gestured. This I thought was to get me to squeeze passed. I slowly edged along side and dropped my passenger window. Leaning over I asked him if everything was alright. In an outburst of expletives he pointed down the road to a woman in an Audi pointing in our direction pulled over at the next bend and informed me that they'd been stopped there for about 15 minutes, neither able to get passed and neither prepared to back up to allow the other the room to do so. He was adamant, and he was right that she could just about squeeze through next to him, but there was no way whatsoever he could get passed where she was. Complete and utter stalemate. The farmer was furious to the point he looked like he was going to burst, and I dread to think what the atmosphere was like in the Audi. Weighing up my options, I quickly decided to drop into reverse and backup for about a mile to the previous intersection and bypass the whole ugly situation. I bet they're still sitting there now!

Part Two next week.....