52/2013 Week 49

52/2013 Week 49

52/2013 Week 49

Bit late with this one which is from last week. Due to the storm I was unable to post as we were without broadband and telephone for two to three days.

The outage made me realise how much I use the internet to research information for my photographs, to maintain my blog and keep in touch with other photographers via Facebook and Google+.

If it came to it I could probably do with out it, but could you?

Cefn Viaduct

Weekly Photo Challenge: Grand

For this weeks challenge I wanted to show you a man-made structure set against a background of nature. As luck would have it, I was in Ty Mawr Country Park last week to photograph the Cefn Viaduct which carries the railway across the park and the River Dee.

Cefn Viaduct

The viaduct was built in 1848 to carry the Shrewsbury to Chester Line, also known as the Severn–Dee Mainline (after the rivers on which Shrewsbury and Chester stand), across the River Dee. The engineer for the line was Henry Robertson, a partner in locomotive builders Beyer Peacock, while the contractor was Thomas Brassey in partnership with William Mackenzie and Robert Stephenson.

Cefn Viaduct

For all it’s size and importance I was unable to find out much about the Cefn Mawr viaduct.

Cefn Viaduct

Thomas Brassey, on the other hand was an English civil engineering contractor and manufacturer of building materials who was responsible for building much of the world’s railways in the 19th century. By 1847, he had built about one-third of the railways in Britain, and by time of his death in 1870 he had built one in every twenty miles of railway in the world.

Storm Surge

Whoo Hoo, I’m Back

Storm Surge

Gale force winds from the sea, an extra high spring tide and a storm surge all  served to breach the sea defences in my little part of North Wales.  Some homes were flooded, fortunately ours wasn’t, the only effect on us  was no telephone or broadband services for a few days

We knew we were in for difficult conditions, the weather services had been predicting for days of the coming storm. Natural Resources Wales had issued flood warnings to approximately 4000 homes in low-lying areas.  Now stormy weather here is nothing like the hurricanes or typhoons experienced in other parts of the world. Our storms are not as violent and generally our sea defences are pretty good at coping.   But for some reason, the heavy seas breached the defences and so more than 400 residents were forced to take refuge in Rhyl Leisure Centre after their homes were left ruined.  It was the highest storm surge we have had in twenty years.  I feel sorry for those whose houses were flooded, especially as we are approaching Christmas. Within minutes of the defences breaching,  the sea was pouring into their houses, ruining everything. Some news reports showed people standing in water up to their waist.

The photograph above was taken an hour before full high tide. You can see the sea is up to the level of the wall and has already topped it. The area in the foreground is a car park. Just out of picture secondary defences were hastily being erected to stem the flow of water.

I’ll come back later this week with some more photographs showing the storm and the efforts to protect against flooding.

 

Weekly Photo Challenge: Let There Be Light

Weekly Photo Challenge: Let There Be Light

I saw my first Christmas Tree with all the decorations in a house window yesterday and neighbours are busy slinging lights around their houses. The shops as you would expect are in full Christmas mode and even SKY News has a Christmas tree in the studio background.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Let There Be Light

So it looks like I need to get with it and start joining in the holiday fun. It’s too early. Christmas shouldn’t start for at least another two weeks, don’t you think?

I was sent this a couple of years back and before I decided to publish it here I thought I’d better check copyright etc. Doing a search  for the first sentence led me to a whole host of sites on the web where this has been published so it will be very difficult to find the original copyright holder. If it’s you let me know and I will either withdraw the post or attribute it to you.

I wanted to send some sort of holiday greeting to my friends and colleagues, but it is difficult in today’s world to know exactly what to say without offending someone. So I met with my solicitor yesterday, and on advice I wish to say the following :

Please accept with no obligation, implied or implicit, my best wishes for an environmentally conscious, socially responsible, low stress, non addictive, gender neutral celebration of the winter solstice holiday practiced with the most enjoyable traditions of religious persuasion or secular practices of your choice with respect for the religious/secular persuasions and/or traditions of others, or their choice not to practice religious or secular traditions at all .

I also wish you a fiscally successful, personally fulfilling and medically uncomplicated recognition of the onset of the generally accepted calendar year 2012 , but not without due respect for the calendar of choice of other cultures whose contributions to society have helped make our country great (not to imply that Great Britain is necessarily greater than any other country) and without regard to the race, creed, colour, age, physical ability, religious faith or sexual preference of the wishee.

By accepting this greeting, you are accepting these terms:

This greeting is subject to clarification or withdrawal. It is freely transferable with no alteration to the original greeting. It implies no promise by the wisher to actually implement any of the wishes for her/ him or others and is void were prohibited by law, and is revocable at the sole discretion of the wisher. The wish is warranted to perform as expected within the usual application of good tidings for a period of one year or until the issuance of a new wish at the sole discretion of the wisher.

Best Regards (without prejudice)

Name withheld (UK Data Protection Act 1998)

 

Mud Flats

The Dee Estuary

The Dee Estuary, on the North Wales / North-West England border, is one of the United Kingdom’s premier birding locations for wetland and shorebirds. But I wasn’t there primarily for birds, although they do feature in this blog, mainly because you can’t miss seeing them if you visit the estuary.

Bird Flock

According to the Dee Estuary website there were 1,700 Black-tailed Godwit, 300 Bar-tailed Godwit, 15,000 Knot, 12,000 Oystercatcher and 5,000 Dunlin on the shore at Caldy/Thurstaston this morning.

Map picture

In the photograph above you can see Mostyn Docks on the Welsh side of the Estuary. It’s from here that the Airbus A380 wings are shipped to Toulouse in France for aircraft assembly.

One of the reasons I was on the English side of the estuary was to photograph the Cockle pickers as they worked out on the mud flats.

Mud Flats

Out there on the flats it soon turns from sand to thick gloopy mud and I wasn’t able to get too close to this boat because of this. Fortunately I had the Sigma 150-500mm attached to my trusty Pentax K-30 and using this combination I was able to get a reasonably close photograph.

Meanwhile I could see I was too late to catch the Cockle pickers in action; they had already harvested the days catch….

Cockles

…. and I was only able to photograph them going out to retrieve it

Cockle Pickers

It’s not something I would like to do. It’s muddy, cold, tiring. These guys were struggling to drag the inflatable across the mud. Look at what they are wearing and see how muddy they are. One other interesting point about this photograph. If you look in the top right hand corner, you can just see a splash of white against the blue sky. This is Talacre lighthouse which features in many of my posts.

As well as the Cockle pickers harvesting shell-fish a few tourists were also trying to get in on the act, including this Oystercatcher.

Oyster Catcher

Because they eat cockles Oystercatchers are vulnerable if cockle beds are overexploited. Oystercatchers can be seen on almost all of the coastal areas of the UK.

I’ve seen a lot Redshank on the coast in the last two weeks and I wasn’t going to show this photograph because I’ve written about the Redshank before.

Redshank

But on reflection (excuse the pun) I really liked this one myself and thought you might as well.

Finally, the all-black Carrion Crow is one of the cleverest, most adaptable of UK birds, they are quite fearless, but often wary of man. When searching for food Carrion Crows exercise caution initially, but are quick to learn when it is safe. They will then return repeatedly to take advantage of whatever is on offer.

Carrion Crow

Well that’s it for this post. I hope you enjoyed this brief visit to England with me and maybe we could do it again, sometime.

But before you go, here’s on more great little bird for you. As I was walking back up to the car this little Kestrel was hovering over the cliff tops, searching for small mammals or birds. It wasn’t that much higher than me which enabled me to get a few photographs before it flew away. Definitely my catch of the day.

Kestrel

Kestrels are found in a wide variety of habitats and are a familiar sight, hovering at the side of motorways, or other main roads. Preferred habitats are moors, farmland, even urban areas.

Fishing Boat

52/2013 Week 48

Fishing Boat

This week I was on the Dee Estuary, English side. The River Dee flows through the estuary, which at it’s widest point is several miles wide. The estuary opens into Liverpool Bay and forms the boundary between the Wirral Peninsula in north-west England and Flintshire in north-east Wales.

The estuary is a major wildlife area and is one of the most important estuaries in Britain and amongst the most important in Europe for its populations of waders and wildfowl.

There are some important natural fisheries in the estuary, including Salmon and Trout which swim to and from the freshwater river, as well as sea-fisheries and shell-fisheries, especially Cockles.

On the Welsh side of the estuary is Mostyn docks which provides one of the stages of transport for Airbus A380 wings on their way to Toulouse.

The wings are manufactured at Broughton in North Wales, then transported by barge to Mostyn docks, where a RORO ship adds them to its cargo for onward transportation.

Todays photograph was taken with my trusty Pentax K-30 and the Sigma 150-500mm lens.

 

Carrion Crow

Weekly Photo Challenge: Unexpected

Friday was a beautiful autumnal day. Blue skies, some wispy clouds, a warming sun, perfect for photography and so I decided to take a little trip into the Conwy Valley.

Now in our little part of North Wales we are sometimes afflicted by unpredictable weather, especially during the winter time. It can be sunny on the coast and blowing a blizzard in the mountains.

Low Cloud

On Friday it was low lying cloud. Lots of it, covering the Conwy Valley. Not what I expected. So it was time to change plans and with a quick diversion I ended up at the RSPB Bird Reserve at Conwy. Time now 10:03

RSPB Bird Reserve

Not good at all, the lagoons were empty, not a bird in sight. I mean I’m on a bird reserve for goodness sake, there should be birds. Totally unexpected (there, I’ve said it).

Walking around the reserve I caught this Blue Tit. Great little birds, they’re common in woodland, hedgerows, parks and gardens.

Blue Tit

I’ve got two who regularly visit my garden, trying to avoid the Robin which gets aggressive at the feeders. Blue Tits can be found across the whole of the UK except for some of the Scottish islands.

But here’s the thing I can photograph Blue Tits in my garden, I want something different…….

If photography is about anything it is the deep surprise of living in the ordinary world. By virtue of walking through the fields and streets of this planet, focusing on the small and the unexpected, conferring attention on the helter-skelter juxtapositions of time and space, the photographer reminds us that the actual world is full of surprise, which is precisely that most people, imprisoned in habit and devoted to the familiar, tend to forget. – John Rosenthal

….and as luck would have it along came this Female Reed Bunting.

Female Reed Bunting

Now that’s more like it, something unexpected (that word again). The Reed Bunting is predominantly a farmland and wetland bird but sometimes in winter they will stray into gardens.

I’m totally useless at identifying birds so I have to rely on my good friend Steve Ransome to help me identify most of them. Check out his photostream on Flickr.

Dunnock

The Dunnock more often than not is seen on its own. Nervous birds and never really straying from cover, they will creep along the edge of a flower bed or near to a bush.

The RSPB reserve is situated on the banks of the Conwy estuary and walking around you can get magnificent views of Snowdonia and Conwy Castle.

Conwy Castle

You would also expect to see birds that are at home in the water but they were noticeable by their absence.

Little Egret

Except for the Little Egret standing alone out on the mud flats and this lone Teal which was rooting amongst the vegetation growing along the banks of the estuary.

Teal

The UK is home to a significant percentage of the NW European wintering population of Teal and many who winter in the UK come from around the Baltic and Siberia.

It’s 12:30 and the tide is starting to turn. More water is flowing into the estuary, maybe now some birds will return to the lagoons. And I’m not disappointed.

In Flight

Suddenly they fly into the lagoon in large numbers. It’s looking like I might be able to get some reasonable close-ups.

Redshank

Still a bit of a distance away so I had to do quite a severe crop to get the Redshank to fill the frame. No prizes for guessing how the Redshank gets its name. The biggest groups of breeding birds can be found in parts of Scotland and north-west England, up to a half of them may be from Iceland.

Like I said I’m not really a bird photographer I much prefer landscapes. They don’t move. Not like the next bird in my photograph. One second it was there, the next it was gone. I managed to take two photographs, neither of which was great.

Water Rail

The Water Rail is fairly common but not often seen inhabitant of freshwater wetlands.  A highly secretive bird you’re more likely to hear them than see them. That was an unexpected find….. there’s that word again.

It was getting time to leave Conwy RSPB, I’d run out of coffee for a start, had munched my sandwiches, so I set off walking back along the estuary. heading towards the car park. Sitting on a tree was a big old Carrion Crow and I knew it would fly off as I got close. So camera up, to my eye I started walking towards the Crow, waiting for it to fly off.

A slight digression. Any Doctor Who fans out there? Did you see the 50th Anniversary show last night? Anyway, there I am with the camera and that big 500mm lens and lens hood attached to my face, need I say more.

It was worth it though.

Carrion Crow

Must admit I quite like this one and it helped that the sun was low in the sky helping to accentuate the eye.

I was almost back at the car-park when this female Chaffinch landed on the branches near me. Too good an opportunity to miss.

Female Chaffinch

So there you have it. An unexpected trip to Conwy Bird Reserve at first looked like it was going to be a total washout. However, some unexpected photo opportunities made what could have been a wasted journey a great photo day out and helped me put together this weeks challenge post.

There’s lots of bloggers writing about unexpected so here’s a few you might like to visit and support.

Robin

52/2013 Week 47

Robin

Five weeks to go until the end of the challenge and I’ve managed to keep on track throughout. Amazing.

This week I bring you the “Winter Warrior” a Robin who visits my garden in late Autumn and stays until early Spring.

The Robin is probably the UK’s most favourite bird. They might look cute, yet they are aggressively territorial and right now this one is defending the bird feeders against all-comers. However, the Blue Tits have a master plan to counter the Robins tactics. One flies to the feeder to distract the Robin and whilst the Robin is chasing it off the other Blue Tit flies in and gets a quick feed. Then they reverse the roles.

Both male and female Robins look identical so it’s impossible to tell which is which.

Talacre Lighthouse

Weekly Photo Challenge: Layers

I use Photoshop layers a lot in my post-processing of HDR images. Usually they will come out a bit flat after the tone-mapping and need a contrast boost. I may do a bit of dodge and burn and sometimes a soft warm glow. Oh! and don’t forget sharpening, all of which are done on their own layers.

Talacre Sunset

But I always feel there is room for improvement. In 1995 Tim Baskerville conducting an interview with Michael Kenna, an English photographer best known for his black & white landscapes, asked the following question;

Do you like to work through things that way; to go back again and again photographing the same places. …

Kenna’s reply was;

Yes. The first time, I usually skim off the outer layer and end up with photographs that are fairly obvious. The second time, I have to look a little deeper. The images get more interesting. The third time it is even more challenging and on each subsequent occasion, the images should get stronger, but it takes more effort to get them.

I’m like that in many ways. I first visited Talacre Lighthouse in 2010 when I moved to North Wales. At the time I was experimenting with the more extreme techniques and settings of HDR. Looking at the photograph above I can see I was making a real mess of it. It’s not only the HDR, it’s the composition as well.

By 2012 I was still having these indescribable urges to go really quite extreme with the HDR processing. Not all of the time, maybe about 25% of my photographs would get that extreme treatment.

Talacre Lighthouse

I mean, nothing is as blue as that and you can see the halo around the lighthouse. Although I have to say I think the composition looks a little better. Everything about this image screams HDR and overdone at that.

Then in 2013 I started to see the light (excuse the pun). Landscape photographs should be natural looking, or at least the ones that I publish, will be.

Talacre Lighthouse

So what does this have to do with layers? I think Michael Kenna was right. The first image I literally arrived on the beach, set up my tripod and took the photograph. With the second one I knew roughly where I was going to take the photograph from. But the third was completely different. Talacre beach is tidal. The only real constant is the lighthouse and even that is changing to some degree because the paint is starting to peel. The biggest change is the beach. Sometimes there are pools of water, sometimes there will be tree branches, or like in the photograph above you can see erosion. Nowadays when I’m photographing, I walk around looking for foreground interest, leading lines, light and shade etc. Mentally I’m composing the picture before I even set the tripod down and attach the camera.

OK! Here’s where you come in. Please take the poll. I’d like to get your view on HDR in landscape photography.

Orange Carpet

Orange and Green

Orange Carpet

On the way back from Valle Crucis Abbey we took a wrong turning and ended up high on the hills overlooking Llangollen. I say a wrong turning but sometimes I like to get off the main roads and follow some of the narrow farm tracks that criss-cross the hills and moors in this area. Why? Because I get to see some amazing scenery, if you stop, you don’t hear the sound of traffic and more often than not you can find some good photo opportunities.

This one caught my eye. The patch of green, with the little white dots of sheep, surrounded by the orange colours of Autumn. I used the tree to break up the dark sky and provide a little framing.