Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Exmoor Day 3 - Highland cattle & cream teas all round

We rose to another hearty breakfast that set us up for the day before driving to Winsford, with its beautiful old thatched pub, and which according to them, is one of the most photographed inns in England. I don’t doubt it at all, but unfortunately the weather, yet again, wasn’t with us, so we contented ourselves by looking at it through the rain splattered windscreen.

After that it was onto Dulverton where we bumped into a flock/pack/herd? of ducklings all huddled up against the miserable morning air, and Sarah met up with a local photographer with a view to possibly setting up some more workshops, both here in the UK and overseas. Meanwhile I had taken myself up onto the moors of Winsford Hill to see what I could see, and thankfully it was quite a lot. The sun had decided to get his hat on and it was warming up a treat.

Taken at 200mm, as I couldn’t get too close without agitating mother who was watching over them, I had to up the ISO to 800 and stop the aperture down to f/7.1, so as to avoid camera shake as my 70-200 has no Image Stabiliser, so unfortunately at that depth some of the ducklings fall way out of the focus range which wasn’t ideal.
This was taken up on the moor after the rain had lifted and the low, low clouds were beginning to drift up and away. Shot on a tripod, with a shutter speed of 1/30 and an aperture of f/18, using a bit of the old hyperfocal focusing, I could keep the foreground grasses and field strewn landscape beyond in focus.
Using the same 24-105 lens as before, I zoomed in from 40mm to the maximum length, to get closer to the drifting clouds as they scuttled across the farmland below. I made sure to include a fair bit of foreground so I could bring the image into line with that rule we all know and love; the rule of thirds.

As I drove I spotted a couple of trees I fancied having a go at, so I parked up and set off across the moorland to get a good position. After trampling through the drenched ground for a while, and still not finding the best location, it soon dawned on me that I was pretty much heading back to where I had come from, and actually I should have gone in the opposite direction, which was useful. But it just goes to show, it’s always worth having a look around before you take a picture, and not just setting down the tripod at the first place you see. As it happens, in this case it wasn’t, I just got wet feet, but generally it is.

As you can see, just that little bit more height would have given me some space between the tops of the trees and the boundary hedge behind them. It was taken with an aperture of f/10 and a shutter speed of 1/200, so it could have been done handheld, as the lens focal length was only 145mm, so there wouldn’t have been any camera shake, but because I wanted as much control as possible with regards to where each element in the picture was placed relative to the frame, the best way to do that is with the camera on a tripod.

I took a few shots but I just couldn’t isolate the trees from the hedge in the background, which would have made for a stronger image, so I squelched back to the car (I discovered one of my shoes had sprung a decent sized leak the day before, and was still suffering from water retention), with a view to bringing it over so I could use the roof to gain a bit of height. But before I could do so I was somewhat distracted by a line of trees I could see in the distance and the shadows they cast, so I stopped to see what I could do with that, and by the time I’d messed around there it was time to head back to Dulverton to pick Sarah up. They would have to wait for another time.

This was another case of using the tripod to enable me to be as precise as possible when framing the image. I wanted the lines of trees to reach almost to the edge of the frame without encroaching onto it, and using a 70-200 lens hand held just wouldn’t have provided that stability. Also the importance of decent light here is obvious, the sun was in and out, and with no light it really was a nothing picture, the shadows cast by the trees and the bright green in front under the brooding sky really lifts the image above the mundane.

Had a very decent coffee in Dulverton then made our way to Tar Steps, a clapper bridge, which comes from the Medieval Latin ‘claperius’ which means ‘pile of stones’, that crosses the river Barle and is one of the most popular sites in Exmoor. It is reckoned to date from around 1000 BC with each of the stone slabs weigh approximately 1-2 tons, so it was quite an achievement to construct, and the fact it still carries many thousands of tourists a year, means it was obviously built to last. They don’t make them like they used to, and all that.

Thanks to the time of year, and the time of day we arrived, it was pretty busy, so trying to grab a shot was a bit of a waiting game. I’m not completely averse to getting people in shot, this is a tourist destination after all, but why does everyone seem to favour bright red or luminous pink garments, they are at Tar Steps, not a step class! Heh heh ahem, anyway. I got a handful of shots in the end, and probably my favourite was a portrait image which has a lot of stone in the foreground to really give you an idea how massive and bulky these things are.

This was taken at a focal length of 28mm and in portrait view to enable a lot of foreground to be captured, which helps draw the eye through the picture. The shot was hand held as I had to be quick, what with so many people wandering to and fro along the steps, and with a shutter speed of 1/40, the IS really helped negate any unwanted camera movement. I converted to black and white in post processing as I wanted it to be quite a graphic looking image, there were also a lot of bright highlights to deal with on the steps themselves, and because a B&W image can take a lot more contrast than a colour one, it helped deal with these. I also added a heavy vignette at the base of the picture, purely to help move the eye into the image.

After that it was onto Withypool with its attractive 6 span bridge where I struggled to fit all 6 spans into frame, so settled for 5, before heading to Exford and getting a splendid cream tea, which by the way, is the law of the land round here, you can’t leave without having one.

With a shutter speed of half a second to help give the water a nice blur, this was a tricky picture to take. If all 6 spans were included then there would have been too much sky, which by this time was looking white and bland, or too much river, which was a dark, murky brown, so a compromise had to be made and this meant excluding one of the spans, or at least most of it. So although it’s not a great picture anyway, it would have been a lot worse if I had been more stubborn about including the entire structure.

We then drove the Porlock road through some beautiful moorland, stopping to get some pictures of the local highland cattle. A couple of them had young so were bedded down amongst the vegetation, the only clue to their calves whereabouts was a small clump of unruly hair protruding above the grasses.

This was a single shot with a 1/200 sec shutter speed and no filters. The image straight off the camera had an almost correctly exposed sky but the foreground was quite dark. Thankfully I managed to bring back a lot of detail when processing in Camera Raw. One of the main reasons for shooting RAW rather than JPEG - there is a lot more information in the image that can be recovered if it isn’t possible to get a correct exposure at the time of shooting.
This young lady was warily keeping an eye on me as I was taking pictures, so using the 70-200 lens I was able to get close enough to acquire an image of her suspicious look under that unruly fringe

We then headed back to Robbers Bridge via the steep, hair pinned road that goes through some amazing old mossy woodland. It was still fairly dim by the bridge as it’s overhung by trees, so a tripod was a necessity, especially when using a polariser. There wasn’t a great deal of room down on the banks of the stream, and wellington boots would have been useful so I could’ve got in and taken some shots from there. I got an image utilising an old moss covered tree which looked quite interesting, before switching banks and getting some wider shots to include the movement of the water. It’s not the easiest place to get a good image but it’s worth taking the effort as it is a beautiful spot. I found the darkness of the surrounding vegetation and the brightness of the flowing water under the bridge were too much for the camera to record in a single image, so as I had it on a tripod and could keep the scene fixed in place, I bracketed the shot which could then be blended together later.

Here you can see the issue with collecting enough information for a correct exposure in one shot, even with three exposures, ranging from 6 to 10 seconds the image is still slightly over exposed under the bridge. I used an aperture of f/16 to make sure the tree trunk and the bridge were all in focus and thankfully, even though the thick canopy of trees did block a lot of light it also had the effect of reducing bright highlights on the ground, the sort that normally occur as sunlight filters through branches and can sometimes leave a picture looking a mess.
Here is another set of long exposures that were blended together afterwards in Photoshop, to try and get the most detail out of the scene, and work around those blocked shadows and blown highlights that one single shot would have produced. The long exposures needed in this situation have given the stream a nice glassy effect as the movement has been smoothed out. Even though I had a polariser on, unfortunately it couldn’t deal with the reflection of the bright sky on the water, most likely due to the angle of the camera to the light source.

As time was getting on we started to head east, stopping for a few final landscape shots of this incredible scenery, and finally at Horner Woods, an ancient oakwood near Luccombe, where we had a bit of a wander and got some pictures of an old packhorse bridge that takes you into the woodland. Then it was back on the motorway in the direction of home, the 3 days had gone really quickly as there is so much to see in this relatively small area, it certainly is a place to come back to.

A nice wide view of the moorland as it gives way to fields and the ocean beyond, taken at a focal length of 24mm at f/16 to retain sharpness throughout the image, with a polariser fitted to bring out the sky, and a neutral graduated filter to bring the exposure of the sky into line with the ground, producing a shutter speed of 1/15.
I didn’t have my tripod to hand for this shot, so I had to have an aperture of f7.1 and ISO of 4000 to give me the 1/40 sec shutter speed I needed to get a useable picture of this packhorse bridge under a canopy of branches.

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