Friday, October 26, 2012

Autumn photography - images that work, images that don't, and why

After taking a trip down to Westonbirt Arboretum the other weekend to check out the autumn colours I thought it might be interesting, if only to me, to look at some of the pictures I managed to get and to explore why some images work better than others.

Managed by the Forestry Commission, Westonbirt Arboretum is located near the historic market town of Tetbury in Gloucestershire, England, and is perhaps the most important and widely known arboretum in the United Kingdom.

Planted in the heyday of Victorian plant hunting in the mid-19th century, today Westonbirt Arboretum is one of the finest tree collections in the world, carefully laid out within a beautiful Grade One listed historic landscape.

It is this variation of trees that makes the place so interesting, especially during autumn, as the transition into colour manifests itself across the species, and combined with the endless shapes and structures of the different plants, means there is always something to catch the eye.

But despite the fantastical displays of colour and the incredible variety on offer, or maybe because of it, it’s not always straightforward to get a satisfying image, it still needs thought and patience to capture something worthwhile. Just getting an image full of colour doesn’t guarantee its success, sometimes the overabundance of colour can make us overlook the other aspects that make a picture work like composition and light.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Portugal Day 5 - Unpopular stones & a chapel of bones

Rose to a rather dismal morning that, with the usual turn of events, manifested itself into a rather dismal day, weather wise. Today we were heading to Évora, with its wonderfully preserved monuments and buildings of public interest that led UNESCO to protect it as a World Heritage Site in 1996.

Each age has left its trace on Évora. It was the Celts who named it Ebora and the Romans gave it its most famous landmark, the Temple of Diana. Dating from the 2nd century, it is one of the Iberian Peninsula's best preserved Roman monuments, raised on a 3m high stone platform, with 14 of the original 18 granite Corinthian columns still standing. While the whitewashed houses, arches, and twisting alleyways that characterise the town reflect the Moorish presence.

But before we got there, we were making a scheduled stop at The Cromlech of Almendres, scheduled because I had scheduled it, much to the dismay of everyone else, the philistines that they are. Dating from the Neolithic period, somewhere between 4000 and 2000 B.C they have been called "the Portuguese Stonehenge" and are the most important megalithic group in the Iberian Peninsula. Consisting of a huge oval of almost one hundred rounded granite monoliths, some engraved with symbolic markings, it is believed, due to its elevated location and orientation with regards to the cyclic movement of the sun and moon, to be a sacred place, although what its actual use was is still a matter of some discussion.

But before we even got there though we made another stop, this time of the unscheduled variety, because the road to the stones passed through a cork plantation, and these trees had been freshly harvested, so still had the deep red under-flesh, no idea if that is the correct term for the part of the tree that is beneath the bark, but it’s the term I’m using. The rich, red ochre of the under-flesh chiming perfectly with the green foliage of the canopies meant these were the cork trees I had been searching for, so I ordered a complete halt and I was soon out capturing them in all their glory.

Freshly harvested cork trees and their lovely under-flesh

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Portugal Day 4 - Rice, salt, grapes and a killer robot.

Headed out early into the paddy fields in case the changeable weather we were having would be on my side, but all it seemed to bring was cloud and a bit more cloud, add to this the fact I was battling a ferocious gale that whipped about my person like the thrashing skirts of an enraged flamenco dancer trying to wrestle me to the ground, it was not the most calming way to spend a morning, especially a morning feeling as groggy as I did.

The brooding, overcast sky bought out the colours of the vegetation

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Portugal Day 3 - In search of cork under an unforgiving sun

After a late start we rolled out of Comporta towards Santa Cruz, stopping along the way in one of the many cork plantations to see if I could get a picture of the partially stripped trees. I couldn’t get much as it was very sunny and the place itself was not very well looked after, which all combined to make it look a bit of a mess.

The cork tree itself is an evergreen oak tree which is grown in various parts of the African continent as well as in south west Europe but it’s in Portugal where they are most abundant, with the country accounting for about 50% of the world’s cork production. Cork oak trees, or Quercus suber are preserved and cutting them down is illegal unless it’s sanctioned by the forestry department. The harvesting itself is a natural process and it is estimated that the trees can live for over 150 years with the first cork yield obtained from its bark when the tree is about 25 years old and then harvested every 9 years for over a century.

None of which I particularly thought about as I stumbled through the detritus of vegetation, racking up scratches on my defenseless shins as one wickedly sharp thorn after another made a beeline for my delicate flesh.

I decided to concentrate on one tree as I liked the play of
light on the contours of its smooth trunk

Friday, October 5, 2012

Portugal Day 2 - Fish, whether they be salted, butchered or mammals

Up at 6.30 for a dawn shoot at Comporta beach, but it was not to be. The dawn came and went with nary a by-your-leave which I thought was most ungrateful, seeing as Father and I had made a special effort to greet it. I got a few shots off in the vain hope that they might turn out OK, but soon enough we had packed up and trundled back to the house for some croissants and coffee to assuage our restless disappointment. But that betrayal by the sun, that huge, blistering bastard in the sky, was soon forgotten as we motored to Tróia for our date with those aqueous clowns of the sea and their terrifyingly benign smiles, just like real clowns in fact, but without the red noses, tiny cars and tragic alcoholism.

As you can see there was a bit of colour in the sky but not a great deal

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Portugal Day 1 - Rickety boardwalks and ruining things for everyone

Arriving in Comporta, Portugal the evening before, after a dull and uncomfortable flight (aren’t they all?) where the stewardesses, sorry, customer facing service enablers, or whatever they’re called now, seemed to get annoyed with me purely based on the fact that the plane was far too small and their derrières were far too large. This disappointing paradox gave rise to the result that I was constantly being bashed about the shoulder every time they passed by, usually on their urgent need to distribute that beige, feeble cuisine that airlines specialise in. Needless to say, although I will say it anyway, I was glad to disembark.

We drove the hour and a half from Lisbon to Comporta in what can only be described as a nail biting excursion through the night. My Dad was at the wheel, and not being used to driving on the right, he seemed intent on guiding our automobile on a knife edge between the road proper, and the perilous gravel it gave way to. Hopefully the baleful whimpers I periodically emitted as the car drifted alarmingly towards our certain fiery demise didn’t distract him too much from the task in hand.