Sunday, 21 January 2018

Fire In The Sky - Houghton le Spring

Hello once again!

Back for a brief update here on Blogger. With a folder full of backdated images to get through, I tick another batch off as I bring you my latest writings on all things photography. December 2108 and one of those 'Shall I' or 'Shall I not' pop out for an hour with the camera. It was a Saturday afternoon and the sky was brewing up quite nicely as sunset approached. I lost count of how many times I looked out my back window to check the sky. Each time I saw it I was nudging ever closer to grabbing my camera and heading out. With sunset looming I knew I wouldn't have time to go too far, so it would be another one of those very local trips like ... yeah, that ... the Copt Hill Barrow. Why not, it's in my own back yard and it's always a nice thing to pull in great shots from this location. I've lost count on the number of visits I've made, but hey ... two visits are never the same, let alone fifty!

And so it was to be ... the five minute car ride up the hill and across the field to those Seven Sisters. I got there around 30 minutes before sunset and the early indication was that this was gonna be a good one. Already the sky was taking on a colourful canopy - a one that would play an ideal role as backdrop for the Seven Sisters. Another photographer turned up, setting his gear close by. We'd met before. It was Ken Foulds, who lives across the way in Belmont, on the outskirts of Durham. Strangely enough, our first meeting was at this very same spot. Great minds think alike. I grabbed a couple of shots of Ken as I photographed his own scene, both of which are shown here. As the sky started to kick off I dotted around the Copt Hill, capturing the scene from various angles. The sky was definitely living up to its earlier billing, as the colour presented itself and seemed to linger for an age. This wasn't going to be a brief affair.

I was running with the Canon 5D3 for this outing, couple with a 16-35L lens and nothing else. No filters or remote, just the basics. I even   left my mitts in the car, which wasn't exactly the smartest move I made, as it was bloody freezing. Then again, we were into late December, so not to complain eh. I fired off around twenty frames in total, which definitely had a keeper or two amongst them, so I was looking forward to getting them onto my laptop to have a better look. So without further ado I said goodbye to Mr Foulds and headed off back to the car. By this time it would have been around 4.30pm. I had parked up in the Copt Hill Inn car park, which is a short walk from the burial ground that is Seven Sisters. I noticed there was still some lovely colour in the sky, which was odd, as the sun had actually set an hour ago. By this time there's usually no trace of red in the sky, but on this occasion there was still plenty to see. It was almost apocalyptic. Amazing to watch as it took on an almost surreal sight for sore eyes. Looking back now, I can safely say that the last photo I took (shown here, of the Copt Hill Inn) was by far my favourite one of the lot. Now, that was not part of the plan when I arrived, but sometimes those little surprises make the experience a whole lot sweeter. And so it was ...

Until the next time, be good


Sunday, 14 January 2018

Under The Radar - High Moorsley

Well, well, well ... two back to back blog entries in as many days. What on earth has come over me? Aye well, can't be complaining, eh. These things are indeed a rarity, if recent times are anything to go by. The truth is, I have a backlog of images that have been queued up for a while, ready for the blog treatment, so it would seem wasteful not to share the story behind those images. So here I am again, bringing you the latest spin on my photography exploits, with yet another night time outing under my belt and ready to share. Again, I was accompanied by Mr Spider, my brother and fellow astro photographer. We were rapidly approaching the end of the calendar year and seeing as I was on a two week break from work, now was as good a time than any to get back out with the camera, regardless of the cold weather. The plan on this occasion was to visit High Moorsley Weather Radar, on a trig point on the outskirts of County Durham - a 15 minute drive from my home in Houghton le Spring, Tyne & Wear. Star trails was the plan once again and this place is ideal for it. The weather radar sat high on metal framework, on the edge of a ploughed field and in wide open terrain.

Following an hour or so at this location the plan was also to include a visit to Tanfield Railway - a graveyard of trains and carriages, situated between Gateshead and Stanley. Again, star trails was the thinking behind the second part of tonight's photography outing, so I was looking forward to both visits. We landed at High Moorsley around 7pm, after parking the car a few yards down a public footpath that led to the weather radar. I'd scouted out this location a couple of weeks previously, so I knew how to find the place. I remember the initial visit very well, as the temperature was at zero degrees and my face felt like it was frozen solid by the chilly wind. I remember thinking that it would be even colder standing around while the camera pulled in the shots. My recce visit was done and dusted in ten minutes flat, as I quickly headed back to the warm refuge of the car. Tonight however, although it was still a tad chilly, it was nowhere near as brutal as it was on my recce visit, so that was a welcome sign, as we prepared to stand around in a snowy field for 90 minutes!

I ran with two camera's once again. Firstly I set up the Canon 5D3 next to the radar, lining up the North Star (polaris) above the golf ball like structure. Once the camera was up and running, I positioned the Sony a7s further down the field, as I noticed some nice lead-in lines in the snow. It was here where we stood and chatted while the camera's done their thing. An hour in and Mr Spider suddenly started vomiting. He said he felt ropey and didn't dare fart in case he shat himself!!!  Well, well, well ... we best pack up and head off. The cold chill may have played its part and won the day. We decided to give Tanfield Railway a miss, which was a bit disappointing, but when you feel like shit, you feel like shit. We headed back to the car and warmed up, before heading home. We had the radar shots in the bag, so the night wasn't a complete loss. I dropped Mr Spider off at Skinhead Towers, telling him to get his feet up and take it easy. I do hope he made it up those twelve floors in the lift without filling his boxer shorts.

After dropping Spider off I decided to head off to Seaham Pier to attempt a star trail. The night was still young, so why not. With Mr Spider now in more friendly surroundings, I was about to stay out in the cold a little while longer. Best make the most of the night before heading off home ...

Till the next time, catch ya later ...


Saturday, 13 January 2018

Planes, Trains & Automobiles

Hello again and welcome to another rare blog entry - my first of 2018. I've had some recent issues regarding signing in to my Blogger account, but hopefully they are now a thing of the past and I can reignite this page once and for all. This is easier said than done, however, but I'll get my act together one of these days, trust me.

And so it continues with more writings. Planes, trains & Automobiles - an account of a recent visit to a train graveyard in the North-East of England. An ideal place to practise some more night time photography under a sky full of stars. Make no mistake - this graveyard is one hell of a place to visit with the camera. Without doubt a place of unending interest - a place where your thoughts can very easily be transported back in time to an era that you never actually experienced. I stood there, surrounded by trains, carriages and trucks from a bygone age, all ancient and disused. This was a museum of relics, most of which were standing idle on short sections railway lines, accompanied by a platform, a station, a turntable, amongst others. As a photographer of the night sky, this place was a gold mine of foreground interest - an absolute gem of a place that I was wanting to bring into my photography. The scene was set. All that was now required came in the shape of two camera's on tripods and a boat load of patience from myself. Put the two together and the results are shown here.

Me and our Chris had visited this place three months ago to attempt a star trail. 40 minutes in and some unexpected clouds drifted across and closed things down. It was a disappointment, but not to be derailed, it was a case of waiting for another opportunity to eventually tick this one off. Three months had passed before the opportunity presented itself. This was New Years Day, 2018. Clear skies were here once again. Factor in a 20 minute drive to this location and it was game on once again. Let's get this party started. Upon arrival it was quite chilly, with a slight wind thrown into the mix. Once parked up we went through the gate and headed down the ramp towards the graveyard. Once down in the dip there was a very noticeable temperature drop and the wind that was is suddenly no longer. Looking above it was a sorry sight. Cloud cover was claiming at least 70% of the sky and certainly not what the weather watchers had forecasted earlier in the day. Hmm, looks like we'll have to wait it out. Have faith in the weather watchers and thou shall be rewarded.

For almost an hour, we scouted out the best spots for our imminent star trail. Once decided, we killed time by photographing some of most eye-catching trains and trucks until the sky had cleared. In fact, some of this unwanted cloud was beginning to play a part in my first shots of the night. It was fast moving and a couple of five second exposures pulled in some great results. There was a full moon tonight, which was to play a big part in our star trails, as it sat in an ideal position behind us, lighting the scene perfectly. Don't you just love it when a plan comes together? Not a bad way to start a new year, with the pieces of the puzzle falling nicely into place. Neat.

Oh there was more than a few. Yeah, we were close to a flight path and the new year traffic was
in abundance. Nothing new there then. There would be some canny Photoshop wizardry going on tomorrow remove those plane trails.

Awesome foreground. Relics of interest. Dozens of them, adding to a scene that an astro photographer would lap up in no time. I've picked out some interesting foreground in the past, but photographing this stuff beats the lot. Even the abandoned aeroplane in Cumbria. Oh yes, it doesn't get better than this.

With heated seats! With the shots in the bag it was time to get out of this place. Heaters on, radio on and yes ... those heated seats, too. A quick stop off at our local kebab shop rounded off a great night.

And those star trail shots. Yeah, one lasted 100 minutes in total. After setting the Canon away I moved a few metres down the track to set up my Sony a7s. Ten minutes of preps and the camera was now set up and firing. This one would run continuously for around 90 minutes, after which time we stopped our camera's and packed up, before heading off site and into the warmth and comfort of the 'Automobile'. Another job done. I love nights like this. The images were collected and in the bag. 

Camera settings ~ (star trails)
Canon 5D3, Samyang 14mm prime, Aperture f2.8, 30 seconds x 200 exposures, ISO 500

Sony a7s, Canon 16-35L, Commlite Adaptor, Aperture f4, 30 seconds x 180 seconds, ISO 400

(single shots)
Canon 5D3, Samyang 14mm prime, Aperture f4, 15 seconds, ISO 500, with torch to light foreground

Until the next time, cheers


Tuesday, 24 October 2017

Man On The Moors - A Landscape Dream

Hello again,

A few weeks ago I brought you all a new blog entry that covered a recent recce visit to Castleton Moor, North Yorkshire. The exact location was just outside the tiny rural town of Castleton, a place which, until now, was unknown to me. What caught my imagination was the recent unveiling of a statue, high on the moor, overlooking another tiny village called Westerdale. I wrote about the background to the statue in my recce blog, so no need to revisit the finer details, but simply to bring you the photographs from my second visit. It was a fine summer's day and definitely one for a stroll across the moors once again. This time there was no rain and wind - the heather was in full bloom and it transformed the moors into a carpet of magenta as far as the eye could see. Blue skies and broken cloud were thrown into the mix, making for some fantastic landscape shots along the way. Another climb up the slope from the car to the statue - this time I had my other half keeping me company and she was enjoying the day out every bit as much as myself. We weren't alone however. People came and went, admiring the statue and the panoramic views across the vista that lay in front of us. Barely a breeze filled the air, so to say the experience was one to behold ... well, that was no exaggeration. Not often all things considered come together, but today was one of those rare exceptions when you simply sit there, say nothing and just take it all in. The beauty and splendour was all around us.

It was Saturday afternoon. The working week was behind us and weekends are meant to be exactly like this. A nice drive across the North Pennines, followed by a brisk stroll with some photography thrown in. Then another drive to a nearby pub for a well earned rest, a bar meal and a drink of real ale (That was the wife's tipple ... I was on the Babycham ... lol.) No, actually a pint of your finest John Smith's, please, bar tender. After basking in a beer garden to complete our day out, we were back in the car and heading back to the reality that is home. As far as spontaneous days out are concerned, this was up there with the best. A bit of everything. I would still be in that beer garden now had my wife not dragged me away!

And so to my next visit to the man on the moors. Yes, plans were already afoot to continue my photography of the seated man. The heather shots were now ticked off and all that remained was the small matter of bagging some astro shots. I had milky way and star trails in mind. Looking forward was again an understatement. This place was made for it and I couldn't wait to get back to Castleton Moor, under clear skies. An eye of vigilance was now in place and firmly fixed on those unpredictable weather forecast apps. Let's av it. Waiting ...

And I didn't have to wait very long! Coming next ... those astro shots of the man on the moors ...


Sunday, 24 September 2017

Time Lapse On Tour

Hello again,

It's nice to get stuck into my blog on a regular basis after letting it fall by the wayside in recent months. There simply isn't enough hours in the day to cover everything, including work, family and other commitments. Quite often though, when I sit my arse down on the settee and there's nowt on the telly, I turn to my laptop and conjure up something to pass the time away. If it's photography related then that suits me fine, which includes writing about my outings with the camera and relaying them to Joe Public, via my blog page. Over the last year or so I've taken an interest in time lapse photography, after seeing one or two creations online and thinking to myself  'Hey, I wouldn't mind dabbling in a bit of that.' As visitors to my site may well know by now, it's not just still photography that interests me. I occasionally flirt with video, which is predominantly aerial, from my eye in the sky drone, plus the recent time lapses I've created with my GoPro action cam. It's the GoPro aspect that I'm gonna touch on today, as I bring you an insight with behind the scenes pictures and also direct links to the finished time lapse.

First of all, the tools. Last Christmas my wife bought me a GoPro Hero 5 (black edition), which was a big surprise - I certainly didn't see it coming. Well, it beats the obligatory pair of socks and a box of After Eights !!!  (Only joking Amanda, if you're reading this lol). I quickly got to grips with it and was immediately impressed at how much tech was packed into this tiny waterproof box. Although it's capable of pulling in some stunning 4K video footage, at 30 frames per second, I'm more than happy with the full HD 1920x1080p mp4's it delivers too, especially at 120 fps. The camera can be controlled through the GoPro app on my phone, which is a very handy side line, plus Bluetooth and Wi-Fi for good measure. The rear LCD touchscreen is excellent - a feature that is non-existent on previous incarnations of the GoPro cam. Also featured is a burst function at 30fps, Night Lapse and Time Lapse (photo and video). With advanced wind noise reduction, this piece of kit seems to have it all.

So off I went, with my little shoulder bag, armed with my GoPro, a tripod, and a  Rollei ePano 360 motorized swivel head, The swivel head would enable me to capture some motion time lapse, as it panned across my chosen scene. It's battery powered, with an internal rechargeable cell that would give me at least a couple of hours of shooting from a full charge. Setting up was fairly straightforward and the trickiest part, if there really was one, was levelling off the tripod legs and ball head. Keeping the panning head level as it made a 180 sweep was very important. Failure to level the legs and head correctly would almost certainly produce a poor time lapse with a bad horizon, so I double checked everything before I set the GoPro away. The pano head has a few different settings, including panning 360 degrees, panning 180 degrees from left to right and back again, plus a 90 degree pan with a 30 second pause, before panning again, pausing and panning again. No doubt I'll try all of these eventually, but right now I'm gonna pan from left to right at 180 degrees.

So, where have I visited? Well, I've ticked off a time lapse at Newcastle Quayside, the new River Wear Crossing, Seaham Pier, Sunderland's East End and Penshaw Monument, amongst others. I've put each time lapse into a compilation video and this, along with a few others, can be found on my YouTube Channel. FEEL FREE TO SUBSCRIBE !!!

This time lapse carry on is addictive and I'll be doing plenty more of them in the near future, so keep an eye out for them. Cheers.


Saturday, 23 September 2017

The Seated Man, North Yorkshire (Recce Visit)

Eyup!!!! ... and we're off to North Yorkshire ...

Yes, it's a trip south, into North Yorkshire for a recce visit to a statue on a hill in the middle of nowhere land. It was a chance sighting of the statue that caught my eye whilst browsing the internet, one rainy Friday morning in August. I was sitting down with a cup of tea, trying to shake off my night shift jet lag, when I first noticed The Seated Man, in situ on Castleton Rigg, overlooking the tiny Yorkshire village of Westerdale. At first I was a little confused as to what the statue actually represented. All I could see was an elderly man sitting on a seat, with a brief case resting on his knee. His facial expression was one of deep thought - definitely a pensive mood going on here, I thought. And it suddenly struck me that he resembled Jeremy Corbyn, without a doubt. Well, well, well ... I need to visit this statue in person and I need to visit it soon. I originally had nightscapes in mind. Star trails, milky way, moon shots ... and this place seemed like the ideal spot, as it was in a dark area away from light polluted urban areas, that would and could have a negative effect. There was a carpet of heather surrounding the statue. I could only imagine how nice it would look during the day, when bathed in sunshine. That's it, my mind was made up - I'm heading down there, first chance I get. It's only an hours drive from home. That'll do nicely. Within 48 hours I was heading down there to check it out, in the flesh, with my brother Chris. The weather was poor, very poor in fact - certainly not a day to be walking on the moors, but what the heck ... this WAS a recce visit after all.

My satnav took me into the village of Castleton, before I headed out and across the moors road towards Castleton Rigg. From this vantage point we got our first glimpse of the statue in the distance. I parked up at the roadside and we headed through the heather and up the hill towards the main man, accidently disturbing a few grouse on the way. That was funny - not for me, for the grouse. I almost shat me'sel a few times over. Once we'd negotiated the incline, and the grouse ha, we were on the flat moor and heading towards the statue, which we could see directly in front of us, approximately 100 metres ahead, with his back to us. Within no time we were standing in front of this amazing statue. Amazement was my first thought as I stood in front and admired the artistry in front of me. This bronze statue stood around 3 metres in height and the detail was outstanding. All I could think about at this point was returning another day to photograph him in better conditions. The heather was in full bloom, although its colour was almost non-existent under this overcast lifeless sky. I wanted sun and lots of it. I wanted blue skies and broken clouds. I wanted perfect conditions. I wasn't asking for much, was I? Should those pieces of the jigsaw fall into place then it was down to me to do some damage with the camera, to complete the puzzle, so to speak. I was up for the challenge - just give me my conditions and I'll try to deliver.

Time to return home. Recce over. I already had the photographs in my head, but they were no good in there - they had to appear on my memory card, ticked off and uploaded to I was glad to get back to the car, to be honest. The rain kicked in as we left the site and the winds didn't help the situation either, but this was a recce after all. Groundwork done. Just a waiting game now. Come on Mother Nature, throw some sun at me and let's see the heather blooming in all its glory. I'M WAITING !


Friday, 22 September 2017

TV Aerial

Hello again and welcome to another blog entry, albeit a short one. I'd like to give you an update on the Aerial section of my website. Over the last week I've been editing lots of HD video footage from the SD card in my drone. Some of the footage was captured at the beginning of 2017, so as you can imagine, it was beginning to form a backlog and I didn't want to fall back any further with it. The upshot is, there's a handful of new video's on my site, all aerial, and there is more in the pipeline. I've got a tick list here and it has several locations on it, all of which I want to visit with the drone, during the next few weeks. I'll not give too much away though - that would be spoiling it, so if you would like to be informed of my latest video's, feel free to subscribe to my YouTube channel. You'll receive instant notifications of any new uploads from myself.

I still feel like a complete novice when flying, despite a good ten hours of flying time under my belt over the last year or so. I'm gonna have to become more adventurous with the joysticks and crank up the speed and flight paths of my Phantom 3. Most of the royalty free soundtracks I have preferred to use are fairly low tempo ambient affairs, which I love, so I like to match the tempo of the flights with it, which works well I reckon. As my flights become more intense, so will the music, to match, but that's all in theory of course. The proof is in the pudding. Let's see what I can conjure up during the next couple of flights. So many places to visit, and lots of ideas floating around, as long as I stick to the guidelines.

So stay tuned and I'll be sure to bring you any more developments on my aerial photography.

Chocks away!