Greetings from Dartmoor
Merry Christmas to you all and I hope you have a Happy New Year.
The first thing I have to do is apologise to you as I have not included any photos in this blog because my computer, with all my photos, is at the doctors as it will not boot up. I am writing this blog on my wife's laptop.
Well in fact the first part of this blog is not from Dartmoor, in fact it is from Swanage in Dorset, England. Why am I here you ask, well I have been invited, along with about 40 other people, by Canon to attend an “Experience day” with them and a Canon Ambassador, the famous Landscape and Travel photographer David Noton. How could I refuse when I am in awe of this man’s photography. This is the second “Experience day” I have been on, the first being a “wildlife” day with Canon Ambassador Danny Green which was great. To be invited to attend one of these events by Canon you have got to be a member of Canon Professional Services, CPS. The membership of CPS is free but you have to have the right Canon equipment in order to qualify. The right equipment includes Canon semi-professional cameras, Canon professional cameras, Canon lenses, Canon flashguns and Canon converters. You can even join CPS by having Canon video equipment. Depending on the amount of equipment you own will depend on whether you are a Silver, Gold or Platinum member. To be a Silver member you need to own 2 qualifying bodies and 3 qualifying lenses. To be a Gold member you need to own 2 qualifying bodies and 3 qualifying lenses and to a Platinum member you need to own 3 qualifying bodies and 4 qualifying lenses. For more information please visit http://cpn.canon-europe.com/content/services.do if you live in Europe. In America it is slightly different and I believe you have to pay but you receive some "bits and pieces" from Canon which you don't in Europe. For more information please visit www.cps.usa.canon.com/about_cps/about.shtml if you live in America. You can use the CPS to carry out a top quality priority repairs or servicing on your equipment, including a sensor clean and AF adjustment, but other benefits include, access to CPS support at major international and local events, a news letter sent by email to keep you up to date with everything that is happening in the Canon world, hints and tips, training on your type of photography and being invited to “Experience days”. These “Experience days” are themed for different photographical experiences including photographing models on a catwalk during London Fashion week, “Wildlife” photography at the British wildlife centre, Landscape photography, Astro photography and Light painting photography to name a few, so there is a variety and a subject to suit every photographer. During these “Experience days” there is a Canon Ambassador and they are available to assist you and your needs, answer any of your questions and give two talks on the given subject. This “Experience day” was going to cover landscapes, Astro and light painting photography.
Last month I mentioned in my blog that if you wanted to turn professional then you need to be able to speak to people and to ad lib during the talk. David Noton is a superb speaker with a wealth of photographical knowledge gained during his 32 years as a top professional photographer. He was in the merchant navy before this so how come he only looks about 35!!!!! It must be all the good living and the wine!!!!! There seems to be a trait here because Ross Hoddinott is married, got kids, has been taking great photos for years and still only looks about 25!!!!!! There must be some hidden ingredient, in photography, that these great photographers are not telling us or maybe they are just so happy in their work and this is how it reveals itself. I’m not jealous, honest, OK only a little bit, but I digress so back to David’s speaking. The tones and pitch of his voice and the content makes you want to sit up and listen to him. This is aided by his passion for his work which really comes across during his talk and whilst examining his fantastic images.
We, my wife and I, arrived at the meeting location at 11:45hrs, 15 minutes early, I’d rather be early than late. We were greeted by a pretty lady who guided us into a car park before showing us into a hall where a cup of coffee and a huge slice of cake was waiting for us. It was a moist sponge with cream on top and strawberry jam on top of that, really delicious. Whilst eating and drinking we registered our name and had a look at some brand new photography equipment that was there for us to view. This included Canon cameras, including the new Canon 5D mk iv and the Canon 1Dx mk ii (I still wants it my precious), tripods from Manfrotto and Gitzo and filters from Lee filters. There was also a stand with HDbook, a photo book that Canon do using some fantastic paper. You can download the software, make up the book using your images and words, send the information to Canon and they will make up the book and send the finished article to you. If you go through to the Park Cameras website they are having an offer at the moment https://www.parkcameras.com/hdbook . There were staff from CPS on these stands to help you with any questions. When everybody had arrived we were ushered to another hall, passing the few cakes that were left (I should have had another one, did I tell you how good it was?), where we took a seat and waited for David to begin his talk. Before his talk started we were given a brief introduction to what the day entails by another pretty lady (this must be a requisite to work for Canon). After this David spoke and gave a digital slide show, for about 45 minutes, about landscape photography. If anybody does not get inspired for landscape photography after seeing his work then there must be something wrong with them. Photography is all about capturing the “decisive moment”, well with landscape photography you set the camera and tripod up choosing the composition you want but the “decisive moment” is when the light in the scene is just right. Wildlife photographers do not have this choice about light because the “decisive moment” is when the action happens. You can go out for sunrise and just after in the morning or late in the afternoon just before sunset to get good light and if it happens in then great, but if it does not, as is so often the case, then c'est la vie (my goodness, writing French in my blog, I am expanding my language skills). Landscape photographers can wait for hours or days to get the right light and David is no different. He waits for ages and is rewarded by recording and producing fantastic images. During a chat with him I stated that I could not wait for hours to get the right light for a landscape photograph. He replied that he could not wait for hours in a hide waiting for wildlife to show a bit of action. We both laughed but it showed that we might both be photographers standing behind a camera and lens but we will only wait for our individual passions to be ignited before we press the shutter release.
After the talk we drove to the chosen “Landscape” location which was a few miles away. We then had some sandwiches and drinks before moving outside for the sunset shoot. Just before we moved outside we were given the chance to loan some Canon equipment from CPS, cameras or lenses to test during the sunset shoot. I borrowed a brand new 16 – 35mm f2.8 lens and found it a very nice lens to use. I already own a 17 – 40mm f4 lens which I like, but the f2.8 lens would be better for Astro photography. Other people borrowed other lenses including a 300mm f2,8 and cameras including the Canon 5D mk iv and 1Dx mk ii. I did have another look at the 1Dx mk ii but decided on a lens rather than a camera loan. This is the only thing I find a bit odd about these days. You get to try some really good equipment, maybe like it a lot, but you cannot buy anything on these days. I feel that Canon are missing out and they should strike while the iron is hot but there must be some “red tape” stopping them doing this. When the sun went down we wandered back into the building to get warm, hand back our loan equipment and have our second digital slide show with David talking about Astro photography. This is where I learnt about using the 300 rule in Astro photography. The 300 rule is to get still images of stars and not star trails, white dots (stars) rather than lines.
Once the talk was over we were given a very welcomed hot meal and a drink. When the meal was over we could get another loan, this time I borrowed a 24mm f1.4 lens, and we went outside to carry out some light painting and Astro photography. We were given some basic settings for the light painting photography and each photographer had to adjust them to suit their camera. We then had a 40 minute session with Lara who informed us of when to press the shutter and how to set our focus using Live View. During the exposure she would walk along with a light bar creating some stunning light work. I enjoyed this, as it was a break from the norm, but I doubt if I will pursue it any further. My wife, on the other hand, will because it is her kind of thing.
When we had had enough light painting we made our way to the Astro photography area. I have never tried Astro photography before but I have a few images in my head that I want to bring to fruition and they all involve Dartmoor locations and Astro photography. What is the 300 rule I hear you ask. Well you take the lens you intend to use for your Astro image, say a 17mm f4 lens. You divide 300 by 17 = 17.6 and this gives you your shutter speed in seconds, you can try 17 or 18 seconds to start with. Your aperture is f4 so your lens is wide open. Those two settings of the exposure triangle are your starting position but you still have to set your ISO. Start in the region of 6,400 and go up or down to suit. I varied my ISO settings, and was pleased with my results at an ISO of 3,200. There was some light bleed from other photographers, there were about 40 of us after all, and Swanage but I just wanted to “fiddle” around and then take this new gained information back to Dartmoor where the real images will be taken. The hardest thing was focusing the lens but David did the “Mannequin” challenge with a torch and all was fine.
The day finished about 21:30hrs but we left at 20:00hrs because we had a three hour drive ahead of us and I was at work the next day. (Always gets in the way doesn’t it). Overall it was a fantastic day, meeting David, borrowing, and using, new Canon equipment and gaining some new photography knowledge. If you have Canon equipment and are not currently a member of CPS then sign up and join, it’s free, if you live in Europe, and you will not be disappointed. Thank you very much CPS.
Back to Dartmoor.
I had a real scare this week. On Sunday 4th I took Murphy, my dog, and my binoculars out for a 3 mile walk on the moor. The wind was blowing so hard I could not get out of the car on the driver’s side so had to shuffle across and get out on the passengers side. I wrapped up well and started my walk. I could tell straight away that the binoculars I was carrying were going to be useless as there was no wildlife to be seen due to the very strong cold wind. The temperature, due to the wind chill, was well below freezing and I was the only person on the moor, well it was 7:30hrs on a Sunday morning, am I mad or what? During the walk I was getting slower and slower as the wind was so strong and my muscles in my legs getting stiffer and stiffer, even Murphy appeared to be struggling. Two thirds of the way round I just had to find shelter from the wind and try and warm up. I huddled up against a wall and put Murphy in my coat to share our bodily warmth. (I learnt that from a James Bond movie with Roger Moore but he had a beautiful Bond girl and I had Murphy, he’s beautiful but its not quite the same!) My hands were white even though I had fleece gloves on, my nose had a constant leak even though I had a fleece muff on. I was shivering, my eyes were struggling to focus and I can truly say that I was so cold that I think my body was shutting down. I stayed there for about 20 minutes rubbing my legs and arms to gain some heat from friction. I then moved off and went from shelter to shelter keeping mostly behind walls and out of the wind as much as possible. I got back to the car and switched the heater on. The “pins and needles” feeling I got whilst thawing out was excruciating as I have never experienced anything like that before. I can now understand why people die of hyperthermia because it would have been so easy to just to give up. Next time I will stick to the roads around my house as they have the high Devon banks either side.
As the weather was bright and sunny, but with very strong cold winds, my wife and I went to our nature reserve in the afternoon to carry on our work there. As the leaves are off the trees now we started coppicing them on the slope down to the river. Instead of cutting all the trees down to the ground I was cutting some, leaving about a metre to a metre and a half of trunk, in the hope that they would sprout and turn into bushes. I have several areas now where I have laid the branches on top of each other and this seems to be attracting insects which, in turn, attract birds. Robins, Blue tits, Great tits and Dunnocks are already using this new bounty.
On my way to work on Tuesday 6th I had to stop and view a hunting Barn Owl. I have not seen a Barn Owl around my area for a few months and find these birds totally mesmerising. It was hunting over the moor not far from Tavistock golf course. I kept my car sidelights on, facing the road, but switched off my engine to reduce the noise. It was still dark but I could just pick out the bird, with its white plumage, to my right. I could have used my torch to light it up but this ruins the bird's night vision and that can last for up to an hour so no matter how tempting it is, do not do this. This might be the only successful hunt it has all night and I did not want to ruin its chances. It did make a dive to the ground and then after a few seconds it flew off and landed in a tree. I could not see if it had caught anything but the actions it carried out would suggest that it did. With this conclusion I carried on to work thinking that I might go back later in the afternoon, an hour before sunset, with my camera. I did this for a couple of afternoons but the bird did not appear.
I went out early on Saturday 10th and sat in my single chair hide for three hours staring at a grey wall. This wall was not built of bricks or blocks but of fog which did not shift all day. This day must go down in history as one of the dullest on record. I’m sure that a single candle light would have been brighter. I don’t mind spending hours in a hide waiting for wildlife to appear but on this occasion I did not see or hear anything throughout my vigil. After three hours it started to rain, you know the very fine stuff that you think is alright but you get totally soaked, so with this I packed up and went home.
Today, Sunday 11th, I went out early with Murphy and walked up to the top of Pew tor on Dartmoor and waited for the sun to rise. I was sat on a large rock of granite and Murphy was sat on my lap. We were joined by several crows, a magpie, 5 buzzards but no other humans. The crows and the magpie were quite content to sit on the surrounding rocks but the buzzards kept on flying from grassed area to grassed area picking up grubs and worms. This tor has a really great outlook when the weather is favourable as it is today. When the sun rose to my right I could see the Staple tors haloed by pink clouds. Moving on round I could see the church sat on top of Brent tor. Behind Pew tor, in the valley, is the town of Tavistock. Well I think it is there because, apart from a church tower, I cannot see it due to the low lying valley mist. Beyond Tavistock I can see Cornwall. Further round to my left I can just make out the Tamar river and the road and rail bridge crossing it. Beyond that is the open sea and to the left Plymouth. The light and conditions were to die for if you were a landscape photographer. I really should take more landscape photographs. I put some of the effort in like getting up and out early enough and I know, and I am surrounded by, lots of great dramatic locations. Its just I know I would kick myself if I came out with only my landscape gear and witnessed some great wildlife action. Before you say it, NO I am not taking both, unless you want to carry it for me.
If you are still looking for a Christmas present or a birthday present for a loved one or treating yourself remember that I have now started photography workshops. If you want a workshop on photographing Wildlife including Birds and Red Deer, Post Processing in Lightroom or Photoshop or Basic Digital photography including Camera Settings and field craft skills then i'm your man. For more information please click on the workshops tab at the top of this page or if you want a specific photography workshop then contact me using the comment link at the top, under the title, or at the very bottom of this website page and I will try and accommodate your wishes.