So, two thirds of the way through my autumn programme of photography workshops. Just two more to go – Exmoor in Autumn, and Dartmoor in Autumn. The first is supposed to be happening tomorrow (21st Oct), but with Storm Brian soon to sweep through the course has been postponed to Sunday. The Dartmoor workshop will follow next weekend, on 28th October. After that, apart from the occasional personalised one-to-ones it’ll be the winter ‘recess’, until the courses kick off again next spring.
Meanwhile, here are a couple of photos from two of the courses I’ve run in the past few weeks – Jurassic Coast landscapes on 7th Oct, and Wildlife Photography (which I ran for the Royal Photographic Society), on 14th Oct. I hope you like the photos.
At last the cold, dark winter days are past, and things are definitely improving quite rapidly. I can actually get up in the mornings now, which is always a sure sign that spring has arrived, aided by the wonderful songs of the robins competing for space in my back garden.
With all the new activity and lengthening daylight hours there are fewer and fewer excuses for not getting the camera out, dusted off and charged up. There is just so much stuff waiting to be photographed, I hardly know where to start.
There are plenty of views that work all year round, views such as the dawn or dusk on the coasts and across the moors, surf rolling across rocks, moorland and woodland streams splashing downhill over and around boulders. All good stuff at any time of year. My tip when photographing moving water is to put the camera on a tripod and slow the shutter speed right down. The resultant blur in the water really puts over the sense of movement.
As we come further into spring, the difference now is that – having just past the spring equinox – the sun is rising and setting further and further to the north, changing the lighting angles at different times of day, and allowing sunlight onto those awkward north-facing subjects, at least early and late in the day.
At the end of March and into early April these are still looking a little wintery, but that won’t last a whole lot longer. By late May the trees will have leafed out – even on Dartmoor – putting a magnificent cloak of irridescent green across our landscapes. This is a time for some great woodland photography, both landscape views and leafy details (the latter particularly when the sun is backlighting the leaves) greatly showing off this new life.
Until then, concentrate on the woodland floor, and plethora of flowers that will be taking advantage of the early spring light, before the woodland canopy closes over. Slowly drawing to a close now are the wild daffodils and wood anemones. When photographing either of these these (or indeed any ground-level flower), don’t just stand over them and photograph from the upon-high human perspective: get down low and intimate with the flowers, to really home in on their beauty and detail. You might get wet knees or a soggy bum, but you’ll have images that really capture the flowers’ loveliness.
In a few weeks’ time bluebells will carpet many of our woodland floors, a hazy layer of blue-cum-violet mixed in with the vibrant greens. Again, get down low to get a flower’s ‘eye-view’ of their world and shoot across the tops of the flowers. You may want to use a telephoto view in order to crowd the flowers together in the final image. Although this results in a narrower view of the woodland, it enhances the sense of a dense carpet of flowers. Use a wide view and you’ll see a lot more of the woodland in the image, but the bluebells will appear to be much more spread out and fewer in number, losing the sense of a dense blue carpet.
The back garden
Finally, never forget your own back garden. Not only are those robins singing like crazy, but they and a host of other birds are getting quite frantic with feeding, territory, courtship and nest-building. The activity in the garden can be quite amazing, particularly if you have bird-feeders set up, and many of the birds will be so busy they’ll hardly notice your presence, provided you sit still and quiet. Having the camera at the ready on these occasions can result in some great, surprisingly intimate shots of all this spring activity.
These are just some ideas for all the nature photography you could be doing in the coming weeks. So, get that camera going, get your walking shoes on, and get out to enjoy the spring weather and nature’s new life!
The images in this blog are part of Nigel Hicks’s Wild Southwest project, a book about the landscapes and wildlife of southwest England.
My latest book Wild Southwest: the landscapes and wildlife of southwest England, has been doing quite well since its publication in October. We’re certainly getting some very good reviews in the press, particularly in southwest England, not surprisingly.
I’ve put together a collection of some of the reviews on our website, so to see these click here…>
Naturally, I hope you’ll like what you see. Wild Southwest is widely available through all good bookshops. In southwest England it is stocked by all branches of WH Smith and Waterstones. Online you can buy it on Amazon or click here…>
Aquaterra Publishing is my own publishing company, which published Wild Southwest.
The included images are sample spreads from Devon Life magazine and the Western Morning News.
You may, or may not, remember that last autumn I promised to run a prize draw for everyone following me on Twitter or Facebook at the end of 2016, the prize of course being a signed copy of my latest book, Wild Southwest. Well, pulling all the names together proved to be a gargantuan task, but I got there in the end. So the prize draw has finally happened.
And the winner is…. Paul Steven, an amateur photographer in Somerset. I will be personally giving him his signed book tomorrow – as luck has it we’ll both be in Taunton at the same time. I hope he enjoys the book.
Though it’s true that you need to be a little hardy to do it, the winter months can be one of the best times to photograph Devon’s coasts. Not only are they much less crowded than in the summer, but the low sun (when you can see it at all), gives great lighting angles and a rich golden hue. What’s more, frequent storms ensure that the sea is constantly in a rolling, roaring state, which – along with some ragged, wind-blown clouds – lend an appropriately wild and rugged feel to the scene and your final images.
Using the winter light
All too often in winter there simply isn’t any worthwhile light to use. I wouldn’t recommend coastal photography on one of those flat, lifeless days when the sky is a uniform, almost smooth grey sheet. Grey sky, grey cliffs, grey beach and grey water generally aren’t a good look! Strangely enough, even the opposite extreme can be problematic – a completely clear blue sky can in itself make for some surprisingly monotonous landscape photos. But definitely much better than the flat grey days!
The best kind of winter light, for landscape photography at least, is what follows a storm. The wind is still strong, but not too strong, the clouds are stormy, but broken and ragged, allowing plenty of sunshine through, and together they provide the suitable rugged, wintery conditions that go so well in coastal photography. This does mean risking the occasional shower, but the reward is the potential for some wonderful rainbows, the icing on the cake for some excellent coastal scenes.
Particularly if you’re photographing cliffs, it is generally easier to shoot when the sun is out over the sea, illuminating the cliffs with its golden light. If you photograph when the sun is over the land, the cliffs are likely to be in shadow, which is not always a great look. So, if you’re on Devon’s south coast that usually means shooting in the morning, reverting to the north coast for the afternoon. If you’re photographing a beach or dunes, this is less of an issue, of course, but it’s still worth bearing in mind.
A quick word on filters
A keen photographer will want to know about neutral density graduated filters, mercifully shortened usually to ND grads. These are a rectangular filter, with one half completely clear and the other darkened. Placed in front of the lens it allows you to darken an area of the scene that is much brighter than the rest. It’s a common problem in landscape photography, usually due to the sky being much brighter than the land or seascape. In coastal photography, the sea will always be much darker than the sky, and although it’s no problem for the human eye, it can be for a camera sensor, frequently exposing the sea correctly, but leaving parts of the sky too pale or even burned out. An ND grad filter will fix that problem. On top of that it can also make an already dramatic scene look even more so in the final pictures, darkening clouds and making them appear really threatening and stormy. It is one technique commonly used to enhance the mood in a coastal photo, helping to compensate for the loss of the three dimensions and all that wind, noise and spray that help create mood in real life.
When light levels are low
You don’t have to shoot only when the sun is above the horizon. Before sunrise and after sunset can be fantastic times to get really moody images. You will need to put the camera on a tripod (and it will need to be a fairly sturdy one to avoid vibration in the wind) because exposure times will be long, but the rewards will be great.
A slow shutter speed will of course blur the movement of the water, enhancing the sense of energy and movement in the final photos. The exact kind of effect will depend on just how long your exposure time is: something of about 1/8 to 1/15 of a second will blur rolling waves and flying spray to give the appearance of shards of flying glass, creating images with a very agitated, fast-moving, energetic mood.
With an exposure time of anything over, say, five seconds, the sea will completely blur out into a lovely silky smooth finish, all sense of the waves lost, the sea topped instead by what appears to be mist, wrapping itself around rocks like some ethereal gossamer blanket. Quite surreal and perhaps not terribly realistic, but highly atmospheric nonetheless.
The former exposure time is the type you might get on a very dull day or just before sunset, while the latter is what you can expect to achieve before sunrise or after sunset but while there is still some daylight.
This is the one technique that can lead to great photos even on one of those flat dull grey days. By homing in on the waves crashing over rocks and having little, if any, sky visible in the frame, you can use long exposures to produce fantastic shots of the water swirling around and flying across the rocks.
A word on safety
The coast is never a wholly safe place, especially in winter. Coast paths can be slippery, the waves (particularly following a storm) powerful and not always predictable. Take huge amounts of care. Check tide times before you head out, and use them to your advantage and to keep you safe. Avoid clifftops and shoreline rocks at the height of a storm – no photo is worth your life, no matter how stunning it is.
After any coastal photo shoot, and esecially if it has been windy, your gear will probably be caked in a layer of salt. So wipe off your camera and lens bodies as soon as you can. Lens faces and filters can be tricky to clean as the salty water just smears as soon as you try to wipe it. Careful use of warm soapy water will shift it. Wash off your tripod to get salt and grit/sand out of the joints and locking nuts.
Ready for the winter coastal photography challenge? Get shooting!!
Wild Southwest, a new book
The photographs used to illustrate this blog all appear in Nigel’s latest book, Wild Southwest, about the landscapes and wildlife of southwest England, published in October.