Monday, August 13, 2012

Exmoor Day 2 - Getting wet & annoying the ponies

After a hearty breakfast and a game of one man and his dog 
with the hound at the farmhouse, in which I was think I was cast as the sheep and there was no man, we (Sarah and I, not me and the dog) revved up the car, turned on the wipers and headed across the moor towards Dulverton, under a leaden and generously leaking sky.

We took a drive to Simonsbath House Hotel to have a look around, and very nice it was too, we also had a chat with the owner and learnt about the varied and lengthy history of this 17th century building, some of which can still be seen in the wood panelling throughout.

Next up was Rockford, which is a tiny village deep in the heart of the National Park set along the banks of the East Lyn river, and is a great place to walk to Watersmeet from, which is where we headed to next, not by foot I hasten to add, we had too much to do. Stopping down by the river at Watersmeet we availed ourselves of a coffee and a piece of cake, as the sun splashed itself liberally about their beautiful tea garden.

As we were around that area we headed over to Lynton, which, with Lynmouth, is one of the most popular places on the Devon coastline, we wanted to see if the tide was in and get a few photos. As it happened it wasn’t, but the sea was looking an iridescent turquoise even though it was quite far out. We did get some photos, not many mind, as soon after setting up it began to spit with rain and within 5 minutes a downpour that could only be described a torrential was upon us, whilst the once turquoise ocean had disappeared in a haze of indistinct fog. 

I did get a few images looking out to sea as the mist and cloud began to roll in. There is something about a dramatic sky/sea image that I like a great deal. But before long my lens was getting wetter faster than I could dry it so I had to give it a rest. 

I liked the look of this tiny sailing boat floating under the folds of those dramatic clouds that seem to be ever threatening. I took this on f/14 at 1/60 sec with an ISO of 100, so even though the image looks quite dark, there was actually quite a good amount of light making its way through the lens. I desaturated it slightly to add to the oppressive feel and added some selective curves to brighten up the foreground rocks a touch.
I took this one shortly after and focused slightly to the left of the original image, the fact the clouds are banked up the on the right of the frame implies they are moving that way, leaving a glimmer of light behind, which is subtly highlighting the ocean below. Although the storm was just beginning, the image suggests otherwise. Here you can see the truer colours of the sea and rocks as colour saturation has been left as shot. 

After sitting in the car for what seemed like ages, waiting for the superabundance of water to let up, we finally drove to The Valley of Rocks, an inspiring place with high peaks of exposed rock and fern covered valleys which, in part, owe their contours to the glaciers of the last ice age.

Once the rain had stopped we jumped out the car and strode into the valley, the sun hadn’t come out yet, but as we didn’t know when the next shower was going to happen upon us, we quickly set up the cameras and got a shot, including one of the very few clumps of heather around this time of year, in the foreground. 

While the heather wasn’t exactly in abundance while we were there, the few tufts of colour there were adds interest to the foreground, and were well worth including. The sweeping paths, or more precisely, the line of ferns between the paths, coming in from the left, help bring the eyes into the image and direct them towards the towering rock that sits on the coastline and is the focus of the picture. The cloud bank does the job of balancing out the sloping ground on the lower right, and again, focuses attention on the diagonal that runs from lower left to the rock formation. This image was a composition of 3 bracketed shots (taken on a tripod), which were blended together using layer masks in Photoshop.

After that, we followed the path round, as it took us out along the cliff edge and presented us with a view of the ocean, Sarah got some shots of the dramatic coastline, but I was more interested in the huge bank of cloud rolling towards us from out of the gloom, seemingly with a promise that a proper drenching was on the cards. I managed to get a few shots before the spitting rain began to land again, so I was soon heading back to the car in search of an umbrella as, very intelligently, I didn’t bring any waterproofs with me. Needless to say, by the time I’d reached the vehicle I was somewhat soggy, so I grabbed the brolly, just as the rain eased off, and headed back. 

Here is a shot that has been edited to try and reflect the atmosphere of the moment. Straight off the camera it was pretty flat and lifeless, as most RAW files are, but I wanted to try and capture the bleak, barren cheerlessness of the sea along with the dispiriting relentlessness of the oncoming weather, which I thought would be fun. So I almost made it black and white, but not quite, there is some colour in there, albeit very muted, along with a healthy dose of curves to boost the contrast. I took it on an ISO of 100 as I wanted as little noise as possible, so that the image wouldn’t start to break up if I applied some strong editing to it. The columns of rain, as they spray onto the sea, became visible as I worked on it, which shows, there can sometimes be more information in a picture than first realised. 

By the time I returned there was a bit of sun peeking through the clouds, and what a difference it made. I wanted to get a shot of Castle Rock, one of the more imposing formations in the valley, as it loomed up from the fern covered ground. And now the sun was out(ish), the side lighting really brought out the definition in its shape and the detail in the rocks. So in-between being the object of much interest and amusement to a dog who was obviously enjoying its freedom, and whose owners were forlornly calling for it from somewhere far away, and a lot of waiting around, I managed to get a couple of shots when the light was looking, if not it’s best, certainly the best we’d seen so far that day. 

This is a composite of two images; one for the sky and one for the ground, the use of a graduated filter here wouldn’t have worked as the ground rises very high into the clouds, so it would've got a healthy dose of the filter applied to it as well. You can see the sunlight has really made a difference to the vibrancy of the vegetation compared with the previous shot, and it works really well against the brooding sky behind. I was careful to position myself so the line of the foreground ferns didn’t cover the middle ground ferns, that ring of grass around the bass of Castle Hill helps to separate it from the surrounding landscape, almost as if it has been stuck there as an afterthought. 

When it was obvious that the sun had lost the battle with the clouds for supremacy, we got back in the car and drove up to the public conveniences, whereupon, yet again, an aquatic barrage descended downwards. It was so hard that the local goats that roam these moors took shelter under the building’s overhanging roof. So yet again we were sat waiting in the car, waiting for both the rain and the goats to clear, so we could make use of the facilities.

Why is there always a queue for the ladies?
Taken with my phone

Next we drove up to Lynmouth, where we got a cup of coffee and watched the sky trying to wring itself dry, before heading towards Malmsmead, settled in a valley, which along with Rockford, Brendon and Oare are at the heart of ‘Doone Country’. In fact the little church at Oare is where Lorna was shot on her wedding day. The author R. D. Blackmore’s grandfather was rector there in the first half of the 19th century.  

We stopped to get a picture of the packhorse bridge that leads into the tiny village and look at the inhabitants of the campsite next door, who were roaring around in a menagerie of soaking wet fancy dress costumes, literally the whole campsite was at it, but they seemed to be having fun if nothing else. The pictures of the bridge didn’t turn out that spectacular and I found it difficult to get an image I was happy with, as is sometimes the way. I realised later that the red phone box which is fairly prominent in the picture, and a bit of a distraction, was not in any other picture I could find of the place, so whether someone had put this old scarlet phone box there recently, or everyone else who took a picture had edited it out I wasn’t sure.

Our next destination was Robbers Bridge, a medieval packhorse bridge that gets its name from the fact that much of this area was dangerous bandit country in past centuries. So after driving out through Oare via narrow, winding, and thanks to the weather, grimy and muddy lanes, we reached the bridge, which is out in the middle of nowhere. It was far too dingy by now to get any pictures but it’s quite an atmospheric place, especially as we didn’t see another person our whole time there, so we made a note to return to the next day.

We then drove out on to the moor where the light was a bit brighter and decided to bother some of the local ponies, unfortunately they didn’t take to kindly to our cameras and generally got in a bit of a huff. 

As mentioned I didn't get a great of cooperation from the ponies, this was taken when we first got there, I managed to snap this one looking warily at me, before it wandered off.

Got this one as he was munching on a bit of grass, I had to punch the ISO up to 4000, with an aperture of f/7.1 to allow me to get in tight and still have a shutter speed of 1/640 to freeze movement. I did ask him to keep still, but either he didn't hear me, or he was being particularly belligerent, I suspect the latter. Afterwards I slightly cropped the image to remove any unnecessary elements.

This is representative of the usual pose I managed to capture from these beasts that evening – pointed disdain.

They may be one of the oldest breeds in the world and as close as you’re going to get to a wild horse in Europe, but they were pretty hard work, so, bored with that, I traipsed over to get some pictures of the lovely clouds that had formed over the smooth sea. Afterwards we drove back via Porlock Hill, stopping in Exford, to have some dinner at the White Horse Inn before heading back to the farmstead for a well deserved rest.
I really liked the formation of clouds in this view, the various shades and shapes, also the reflection on the ocean which really makes the image. This was taken hand held with the Image Stabilisation on, so I had to have an aperture of f/7.1 to get a usable shutter speed of 1/60, but that was fine as it was all in focus at that distance anyway.

Very similar view but I gave it a black and white treatment as it meant I could push it a bit further in the processing, to really get some dramatic contrast between the light and dark areas of the image. This was converted via the Topaz B&W plugin for Photoshop, which I find does a much better job than the native B&W filter. Again, using the Image Stabiliser I was able to keep the ISO to 100, which enabled me to get the maximum out of the processing without image degradation due to excessive noise at the time of shooting.

This image came out better than I had anticipated at the time, it was a 3 bracket shot, (1 for the sky, 1 for the horizon and 1 for the foreground) hand held in pretty low light, so I didn't expect a great deal from it. But using Photomerge in Photoshop, it aligned the images very well, you just have to remember to un-tick the blend images button when merging them, so it can be done with layer masks, allowing total control of the picture. I also managed to bring out some of that purple colour in the foreground which really gives the image a bit of pop.

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