Welcome to the blog of the Frustrated Photog.
I am not a professional, not even an expert, just an enthusiastic enthusiast. I will share my mistakes and tell you how NOT to do it. For anyone like me who has limited time and opportunities out and about, I'll share what I can to help you maximise time behind the lens and also my photography adventures.
If you like an image in the blog that's not in the shop, send me a message!
The Frustrated Photog.
Glastonbury s a very special place for many people. Rich history, both pagan and Christian, and a long association with the spiritual. Just walking down the High Street you can get a sense of how people from countless backgrounds mix together. Shops selling books on Wicca, Earth Magick and the Earth Goddess rub shoulders with the world religions. The great thing is, its all peaceful, friendly – as it should be!
The town has so much history, too much for me to cover here. So here’s a link to a history page! I will just mention some highlights. One of the earliest Christian sites in England. A ruined abbey torn down by Henry VIII during his Dissolution of the Monasteries. The abbey claimed earlier to have found the grave of King Arthur and Gwenıvere in its cloistered grounds, then moved the remains near the altar in the main church. Two streams on the island from the iconic Glastonbury Tor. One bearing red minerals, the other white; both having strong symbolism in pagan cultures. The Tor itself is believe by some to be a gateway to the Celtic Underworld. Last but not least, the area was once an island, until the Romans drained the shallow waters of the Somerset levels for farming. The boggy land often causing mists that made the hills on the island disappear. Legends abound that Glastonbury is the mythical Isle of Avalon of Arthurian legend.
It’s undeniable that the town has a peculiar atmosphere, a air of reverence, silent worship and,perhaps, expectation and hope. The island has other names, Isle of Glass, Isle of Apples and of course, Avalon.
It’s true, I love the place and in my youth I spent many weeks staying in the 15th century coaching inn (haunted – naturally) that once gave board to Henry VIII. A great atmospheric place, especially if you can get a room in the old part, not the modern annex. The George & Pilgrim. I used to scribble poems in my notebook while sitting among the ruins of the abbey, up on the Tor, or in the bar at night. Strange thing is that I wrote about a monk haunting one of the rooms even before I found out that it was that very room that was haunted...by a monk. Coincidence?
Anyway, to the photography!
I’ll post separately about the abbey, for this post, let’s give the Tor the attention it deserves. I mentioned earlier that it is iconic. Is it a natural hill, or man-made? Either way it’s shape, which some claim from a particular angle resembles a lady in the pose of giving birth (I kid you not), not really seen that angle myself but apparently so – further enhances the pagan connections. And, literally, to top it all, the ruined tower of an old church on the summit. Long ago the Church of St Michael’s was seriously damage by a massive earthquake in the 13th century, a new church was built that was then torn down during Henry VIII 16th century Dissolution of the Monasteries, the tower is all that remains and was later restored. Why does the UK’s Royal Air Force refer to the hill as ‘the nipple’? You decide! Anyway, a link to a bit more of the history!
Back on one of my trips, 1999 I think, I took a photograph of the Tor with my Kodak digital camera. My first digital. 3.2 mp I think it was! I wasn’t into photography at the time, it was just a camera to me. But the photograph had to be printed. It was taken in early December on one of those bright crisp winter days that we get in England. About 10 in the morning and the sun was low. I was walking across one of the bridleways across a field next to the Tor with the sun silhouetting the shape of hill and tower. I lined it up...snapped the shot. The effect blew me away when I saw the image on screen later. The sun haloed like some spiritual burst of power emanating from the Tor. Yes, this blog post could get very, very poetic! I’ll try and hold it in.
Sadly the image is far too low resolution and quality to do anything with now but it still serves as an inspiration whenever I think about going back to Glastonbury. The weather conditions, my location, the time of year were all perfect for that shot. Now that I am just an opportunistic travel photographer who takes what he can, I don’t believe I will ever catch those conditions again. I will visit Glastonbury again, I have to, but it will be rarely. Such a shame!
Here then is the image, taken back in 1999. Low quality but what can I do?
A spiritual power?
The great thing about photographing the Tor, is that the shape, Mother Nature or man-made, has done most of the work for a photographer. There’s some much to use compositionally that in most weather conditions good shots are possible. The bright day shot, see above. Night shots, there are many online of the Tor backlight by blood moons, super moons, thunderstorms, fireworks...you name it!
On my last visit to Glastonbury, the last morning was my scheduled only time to walk up the Tor. Never enough! I could spend days up there! I woke to grey skies, not bright white flat skies, but moody dark ones which are perfect for atmospheric Tor shots. We had stayed two nights at the George & Pilgrim and this was our last morning. Generally, sadly – especially for my wife – the weekend had been a bit of a wash-out weather wise, it had also been chilly. The summer temperatures only in the mid teens and lots of drizzle that didn’t make Glastonbury, or the old small city of Wells up the road, shine – more 'shiver' actually. But for the climb up the Tor, I didn’t mind.
As I mentioned, the Tor has lots of connotations with myth and legend, as has the whole landscape of this area. Dark moody skies and that strange solitary tower atop the peculiar shaped hill can make for some great photographs. The other advantage of cool damp grey mornings: fewer tourists – which makes for a happier me (see my old posts for how shooting in public makes me nervous)! For the most part I pretty much had the hill to myself on the way up.
Going up the hill, you have two choices. The steep back path, or the long path (which is steep enough in places). It’s the long path angle you usually see in photographs given that the shape of the hill and the path work so well in compositions, leading the eye to the tower. Needless-to-say, I took this opportunity.
Avalon - Sun Rays on the Somerset Levels, f/11, 1/100, 15mm, ISO100
As is always the case when I plan to try long exposures to get water or cloud blur, I always line up the shot on my tripod without the filters first. I guess this is best practice, you have a better chance to see what you are doing without a thick piece of black glass in front of your lens. The clouds looked great, patches of sunlight and rays falling through on to the Somerset Levels beyond. Gorgeous. The pathway leading it’s way up to the tower. The tower so silent, obviously, but there is something about that tower, something magical...
LE’s had to be tried. The Lee Big Stopper was fitter and the tripod set as low as possible to emphasis the angles and shapes, and also to get some detail in the grassy landscape.
Portal? f/16, 30secs, 16mm, ISO100
I had to take my time, though conscious that figures were starting to appear at the entrance gate far below me, though they’d add perspective and scale, I wanted these shots empty and silent. Compositionally, spoit for choice. Which third do you put the tower, and the horizon? Or do you break the rules and stick it in the middle, to be bold and dominate the shot. The sun rays to the right, as in the second image above, emphasis the curve of the hill and path and capture the flat land to the left? The simple answer was...do them all!
Given the dark skies, mono was an obvious option for some of the images, but also I am liked the contrast given by the green the hill in the scene too.
I won’t / can’t post all the shots as I took so many. Each was captured as a single shot, but also bracketed just in case I needed to rescue some shadow or highlight detail. Portrait and landscape were also tried, perhaps the portrait gives more empahsis to the path, whereas landscape fits more of the sweeping scene beyond.
Ascension f/11, 1/160, 15mm, ISO100
Eventually I reached the tower. I took some close up momento shots showing the old carvings of abbots and bishops then sat on the stone bench inside the tower listening to the wind. It’s always windy up on the Tor. I’ve gone up many times and regardless how still the day is in the town below, the Tor will always be windy, is it the effect of a gateway? Or just a big hill surrounded by relatively flat land?
Tourists and dog walkers were now milling. That’s ok. I had got what I came for and was now just enjoying the sound of the wind and the air of the Tor. I waited. My family were all waiting down at the bottom, there was no rush, this time it was known that I can’t rush the Tor. I waited, peaceful, despite the milling people...most are respectful and silently observe the strange atmosphere and magical sense. If you’re quiet and calm, you can feel it.
Eventually, however, I had to leave. I descended by the shot path and took some handheld shots of the tower and hill from this angle, deliberately allow the perspective to distort the angles for emphasis.
Towering f/4, 1/320, 15mm, ISO100
I also couldn’t resist some long exposure side on shots, about 50 metres from where the shot was taken in 1999, but I didn’t cross the field via the bridleway, too muddy and my feet were not equipped for it. The shots though were not working as I’d hoped from this angle, the Tor was too dark and lost in the blurred clouds, even a normal exposure didn’t do it justice. The dark clouds were hanging above, but beyond the hill the sky was much brighter, even with bracketed shots, I wasn’t feeling it! It wasn’t right from this angle, not today, or perhaps it was just that I had such a treat on the way up, that now the shots just couldn’t compare.
Without doubt the Tor is one of my favourite places, if not my most favourite place, on this gorgeous planet of ours. If I could, I would spend days each season catching it in different light, from different angles, but sadly that isn’t possible. At least on this visit I was able to use the weather to get some interesting shots of a very special location.
Do you have a favouite scene or spot for a photograph? Share the shots and links here. I’ll be sure to comment and reply!
The Frustrated Photog.
In recent years the influx of swallows in late spring around the holiday town of Erdek has been something of a phenomenon. In previous years I hadn’t really noticed them, yes, I guess there were a few, but last year, and now too this spring, it was almost a proverbial biblical plague of the sprightly fellows flitting around...and as for when the fledglings, well, fledge, the skies and streets, become full of them!
The buildings of Erdek, like many in Turkish towns and cities are perfect for swallows. Doorways with empty plastered recesses that make it easy for the swallows to build their nests secluded from natural predators.
Nest of Singers f/5, 1/500, 175mm, ISO800
As a result, stand on any street and the birds will be swooping around. Stand too long photographing them...and prepared to be dived bombed! This actually happened to me. The shot below features an adult bringing food to a fledgling, shortly after one of the parents hit me on the back of the head. It seems they took offence at the sight of a 70-300 lens attached to a Canon pointing directly at their young ones – as any decent parent should!
Feeding Time f/5, 1/6400, 130mm, ISO1000
Previously, on many spring trips, I had tried to capture swallows, especially on the wing. Something about the shape makes them interesting subjects, but so difficult to capture. The autofocus on the 70D is not the most advanced, my technique, even less so! It proved tough, though in Erdek I managed a system of catching shots with the wings outstretched. It's obvious now, but the technique was to wait near the places they frequently perch upon...pre-focus and just wait for them to come and go. As you watch you’ll see the ticks and jerks they make just before take off, and the way they approach just before landing.
This summer the fledlings should be out again. The Tamron 70-300 has now gone, replaced with a newer, shorter Tamron 70-200 G2. Honestly, landscapes are more my area, so the better picture quality of the new lens appeals over the reach, perhaps I will invest in the x2 converter to lengthen the new – we’ll see.
I enjoy photographing wildlife and Sigma have a rather appealing, though not exactly cheap or practical, 650mm lens. One day maybe! At least these swallows, do not require a long reach to capture them as they fill the streets close to our heads. Speed is the nature of the game, not least to avoid dive bombing parents!
Ever had a wildlife attack you mid-shoot?
Share your tales!
The Frustrated Photog.
Villages can be wonderful places for a photographic scene. Unless you live in the middle of nowhere, or in the middle of a large sprawling metropolis, there’s a good chance that a village is fairly close. Of course, as I don’t have my own transport, and public transport to villages in this part of the world isn’t exactly in existence, finding a good village is a bit hard.
Yes, the intercity buses use the highways and pass by lots of them, but, as I have bemoaned before, bus drivers won’t stop! I wonder why?
Great Barford, Bedfordshire, is a pleasant little village. Perhaps fairly typical of many Bedfordshire villages. A pub, a church, a river, and surrounded by low rolling hills and fields. The River Great Ouse, (always pronounced 'ooze' in our house at least), flows through Great Barford and the old stone road bridge makes for a pleasant scene. My problem has been that each time I visit, the sky plain blue and devoid of interest, or grey...and devoid of interest.
I have seen shots of this scene in golden dawn colours with mist hanging over the water. How I would love to have my own transport to get here for that kind of light. I wish! As always, then, I must deal with the light and conditions presented to me whenever I visit...and make the best of it.
Undoubtedly the best view if looking across, following the line of the bridge to the pub and church tower, with trees on the left nicely balancing the shot.
To Church? f/8,1/800, 20mm, ISO800
The pub serves lovely food and a good pint too by the way! Canal boats use the river, so it’s not unusual to see boat pull up and the inhabitants getting off for a quick beer. There are other views. Such as this. Low down on the bridge shooting along towards the pub.
Or to the Pub? f/11, 1/100, 28mm, ISO400
In front of the pub there’s a small green. A great little spot for a picnic. I know...I’ve had quite a few good picnics there. The boats moor against this green and down on the tow path you can get a great low point of view of the bridge arches, combine this with a long exposure can give a completely different view of the structure. I used the Big Stopper here in order to get a long enough exposure in daylight, I then combined it with a faster shot so as to render the foliage normally without any blur.
Over the Ouse, f/11, 30secs, 18mm, ISO200
So bridges then. Although a view square on may be tempting to show ‘the bridge’, and maybe it does show it in it’s most completely form, it’s not necessarily the most interesting or dynamic composition, especially when dealing with fairly flat sky and colour. Finding more creative angles can lead to a far more interesting shot.
Take this image of the footbridge across a small part of the harbour in Bandırma, Turkey. A very low POV accentuates the shapes.
Bridge of Pies, f/11, 1/200, 15mm, ISO100
No doubt bridges can be interesting objects to photograph, but the challenge, as always, is to try and find a new way to shoot it...especially if, like me, you visit the same bridge many, many times!
Share links to your bridge pics! I’ll be sure to reply and comment!
The Frustrated Photog
If, like me, you're a frustrated photographer, you have to take every photo opportunity that you can get. Even if you've been to that location umpteen times before.
I'm not exactly sure how many umpteen is, but I've been to Kemer, Antalya (Turkey), many many times. It's a beautiful place on the coast, about 7 hours from where I live, so, for long weekends in spring or autumn it makes a fine escape. Unfortunately though, this means I have photographed the living daylights out of the poor little place. So...this spring, how would I do something different?
This is always a good creative test: to find a new angle, and new 'in' to capture the place. I must admit, this year...I was struggling.
Kemer faces South East(ish). There's never a sunset as the sun goes down behind the mountains long before it reaches setting time, but sunrises are nice. Not the greatest coastal sunrises I've seen, but nice. Again, unfortunately though, I've photographed the sunrise in Kemer every time I've been there. How do I shoot it a different way?
Well, I could find somewhere else in the town to shoot it from. True. But there are limitations to this. The coast is very samey. Pebbles, and pier platform for swimming here and there...and not a lot else. The only option could be an early morning walk to Kemer Bay around 4am to be in position by the headlands in time for sunrise. This means running the gauntlet of drunk idiots piling out of the nightclubs looking for all manner of who knows what! As in this year when I sat photographing a brief sunrise listening to the terrible broken English of a Turkish male trying (unsuccessfully) to chat up a Russian girl, chat up? No, nothing that romantic I am sure he wanted only one thing and chat wasn't it. Quote unquote, "You a lesbian, that ok for me!" Yes, he really did say that!
Anyway, back to the sun and Kemer. The coast near the hotel doesn't have any interesting rocks breaking out into the water. Also, whenever we visit, the sea is a proverbial mill pond. Ripples, hardly a wave. Regardless of the limitations and options...I was determined not to loose the photo opportunity, despite having taking it countless time. If I'm honest, being a little bit negative about my chance of getting something, I wasn't banking on my creative ability to find something new. The 4:30 alarm call also didn't feel encouraging. Ma nature saved the day!
Saturday morning...the alarm went. I looked out of the hotel window. Thick cloud. The forecast was for a mostly sunny day, but it looked like no sunrise this morning.
Saturday night...I would try again in the morning. Really? Do it! I even put the camera next to my bed as if the temptation of those smooth buttons would help me get up and get on with it.
Sunday morning...the alarm went. I looked out of the hotel window. Cloud, but some gaps here and there. A big sigh followed. Do it! I hesitated, bed, wife, cuddle, sleeeeeep. No! Do it!
I did. 20 minutes later and I am arriving at the private beach belonging to my hotel sitting on a sunbed, lining up. Private security were here...helping to keep the clubbers away. Would the early start be worth it. Lots and lots of cloud. Few gaps still...
Tripod fixed. No need for graduated filters to balance the sky as there was so little light. It was a fairly balanced scene. The sky was glowing from the sun that was trying to rise. A break in the cloud suggested the sun would make an appearance. A slither of gold was appearing on the horizon above the far distant mountains, across on the other side of Antalya's long coast. But for how long?
Little stopper in place, I framed up the pier that has been in many of my Kemer sunrise shots (from a variety of angles), and took a long exposure turning the already calm sea to glass.
Breaking the dawn, f/11, 20sec, 10mm, ISO100
The sky began to glow, firey orange below clouds that now showered large but sporadic rain drops. I shuffled back under the beach parasol, perfect cover, and took another shot. The fire had begun! What particularly made this shot for me were the bands of colour. Sea, mountains, sky, clouds. I could've tried to pan for a horizontal camera movement to blur and soften the colours into a dreamy abstract. I didn't. I erred on the side of caution and concentrated on the standard shot, I could rely on Photoshop to add the blur later. I may not get many chances to get it right, as it was going to be a brief sunrise. The stopper was removed to caption motion in the waves...
Silence is (before and after blur added) f/11, 1/6, 85mm, ISO400
I fired off some more shots. I always take too many of a sunrise and sunset. Each brief change of light is another stunning scene! The first time I took nearly 150 shots I think...this year I think I controlled myself a little better. A little!
The sun had appeared. Again, no filters. Lined up the shot, focused on the end of the pier and click. How long would it stay? I deliberately kept the shutter speed fairly slow to try and capture a little of the languid motion of this very calm sea.
A brief moment, f/11, 1/8, 24mm, ISO200
Not long. Very shortly after, the sun had risen up in to the cloud bank. It made for some beautiful light and colour, but as I clicked a few more shots, it was clear the light show was over, but now nicely showing the pebbles beneath the crystal clear water of the Mediterranean.
End of another sunrise, f/8, 1/13, 15mm, ISO200
In some ways this turned out to be one of the better and enjoyable sunrise shoots I've had in Kemer. In the past, the long sunrise against an almost clear sky was nice, but that's all. Sun on clear sky doesn't make for a spectacular shot. This year I was treated to a gorgeous array of colour which, although brief, was well worth getting up for! Mother nature, you came through with the weather...I love you!
Have you ever had any problems fighting the comfort of the bed for an early shoot? Did you regret not getting up or getting up?
In my experience it's generally worth it. Even if you don't get a good shot, at least some peaceful moments in nature can be pretty wonderful...especially if you don't have to listen to a Turkish romeo trying every possible chat up line!
Share your stories, I'll be sure to reply!
The Frustrated Photog.
In the midst of Bedforshire there lies a forest. Ok, I know, Bedfordshire isn’t deepest, darkest Peru of Paddington fame, but the forest of the country park near the village of Heath and Reach (that’s one village by the way), is a beautiful spot of unspoilt woodland. Rushmere Country Park!
It’s a paid entry area, a privately owned piece of land that is very well looked after. It has ponds, a lake, a valley where herons nest, some marked walkways and a central car park, a picnic area, a dogs off leash area, and very tidy facilities. Indeed, the balcony of the Tree Tops cafe looks out over the tree tops on edge of heron valley, so you get the feeling you are in the tree tops. Cars drive in and out on the same road, exploring around the park must be on foot.
A visit in late January on a sunny, chilly winter’s day was a real treat. The sun was permanently low, giving wonderful light through the trees. The sun star shots had to be tried. Unfortunately I had to try this handheld, harder to get the composition right.
Star in the Forest, f/5.6, 1/60, 32mm, ISO320
There’s a mix of trees at Rushmere of the ever greens and the bare wooden limbs catching the sun beautifully. Trees are always beautiful, whether in blossom or in full leaf, but there’s something about a leafless tree, showing off its skeleton form, that is intriguing, not only for the natural shapes but also the metaphors. From the same balcony, with my 70-300 lens, I was able to pick out some moss covered tree trunks being hit by errant rays of the sun.
Deep in the Woods, f/11, 1/400, 209mm, ISO1600
An amazing fact about many of the trees in the centre of the park is that they are all very tall, and very slim. There was hardly a breeze on the day, but still you could see these peaceful giants swaying, every way you looked it was picturesque; looking through the symmetry of the trunks, the dappled soft sunlight and the blue sky beyond.
Through the Trees, f/8, 1/80, 50mm, ISO250
Composition choice were endless, the paths, the patterns, the chances of the intentional camera movement shots too. Like it or hate it! Selecting a narrower aperture and fixing the ISO at 100, ensured a long enough shutter speed for a bit of arty messing about!
Just an Impression, f/11, 0.5sec, 24mm, ISO100
The lack of a full leaf canopy of course meant that more sunlight was making it to the ground, this made the detail of the forest floor even more interesting than usual, again thanks to that gorgeous sunlight.
On the ground, f/5.6, 1/50, 35mm, ISO640
I tool a great number of shots that lunchtime around the forest in waking only a fraction of the many pathways, I could have taken many more. I will visit Rushmere again this summer, possibly doing a full circuit or going down to the pond at the bottom of heron valley, either way I look forward to it, though I know summer light will not be as intriguing as a crisp winter’s day.
My first visit to Rushmere was very brief, to check it out, last August. I think I counted upwards of 40 dogs, including a group of 10 old English sheepdogs. With all its beauty, its excellent facilities and being located within easy reach of many fairly large towns, Rushmere is a haven for families with dogs and, worse still, children (only joking) J My wife, who has a bit of a dog-phobia, together with my preference of having as few people around as possible, means that my visit this summer will be on a workday and before the school holidays start! Whatever I find this summer, I am sure I will also go back next winter. If ever I find myself back in England in autumn, I am sure Rushmere will be high on my visit list - the autumn colours must be amazing from the balcony of the cafe!
It’s a beautiful place, well worth the few pounds for a day’s visit.
What are the best forest areas near you for photography? How often do you get out to photograph them? What are your favourite types of forest or woodland shots?
Post me a comment and I will be sure to reply!
The Frustrated Photog.
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