Photo Expeditions

When things don't go according to plan... by Ian Clark

Another Time…something I wish I’d said to myself when I had the idea to head to Margate that morning.

Another Time…something I wish I’d said to myself when I had the idea to head to Margate that morning.

Ever have one of those mornings where you look around you and think “why didn’t I stay in bed rather than come out in these conditions and try to take photos”? Well, I certainly had one of those occasions walking past the Turner Contemporary in Margate last weekend. Not that I really looked around much. I was too busy trying to walk into the blustery winds to get back to the car. But, you know, the thought crossed my mind.

Like pretty much all other amateur photographers (I’m sure there are exceptions), the weekends are my one opportunity to get out with the camera and shoot some scenes. Normally this means spending all week checking the weather apps, hoping that there is an opportunity at some point. Maybe more than one. Let’s not get carried away though…

Sometimes this means buckling down and just going out no matter what to no matter where. It just so happens that last weekend that no matter where was Margate. Car packed, layers on, off I went on a 45 minute drive to the North Kent coast hoping that there might be a decent sunrise. Hmm…yes.

Margate is another one of those East Kent towns with a strong-ish connection to my past. Back in the day I worked in Cliftonville, just outside the town. There are a lot of things I could say about Cliftonville back then. Deprived and forgotten about would be two such things. I have a weird mixture of feelings when I go to Margate now. Great it’s been redeveloped, sad that (as per usual with such redevelopments) the locals find themselves priced out of the town as the middle class move in, buying up their second homes and turning the town into a “creative hub”, or whatever. But anyway, there is no denying that Margate has some amazing skylines. As I recall, some painter dude was quite keen on it too.

Sadly there was no glorious sunrise. There was cloud. There was wind. There was sleet. There was ice cold air. This is not what I came to Margate for. So I wandered around. Headed back to the car. Moved to another car park and waited. Then the rain stopped. Sort of. I mean, it was less of a sting on the face than it had been about 45mins earlier. Seemed like that meant it was a sign that maybe I should leave the increasingly misted up car, and head back to the coastline.

It was still cold and still windy, but I perservered. I also nearly lost my tripod and camera on two occasions as the wind lashed across the beach. So that was fun. Needless to say, I also fancied my chances of getting some nice long exposure shots with my 10 stop. Spoiler alert: 30 second exposures in strong winds are not wholly successful. That’s definitely being written in all caps in my photo notebook…

I snapped a few shots, none of which I was particularly happy about. I found I struggled for inspiration, as I often seem to do in Margate. I find the obvious shots, the obvious scenes, but I always feel I am missing something a bit special. Perhaps I need to spend more time there on a day where I don’t feel like I’ve been thrown into a washing maching on a real cold wash. I mean, that can’t hurt, right?

And lo…some two hours after sunrise, the sun…appeared. Too late for some good low light fun, but at least there was some interest in the sky. You cling to what you can get.

I’ve not quite figured out Margate, despite those connections. I guess I’ll get there in time. Definitely when it’s not as cold and miserable.

And so, with feelings of disappointment, I headed back home. Mind filled with what might have been had the conditions been right. Well, that and the dude who walked up next to me on Fulsom Rock wearing jeans and a hoodie, gave me a cheery “morning”!, produced their smartphone, took a snap and walked off. I looked at my tripod, my multiple layers and thought… ”yeah, I should have stayed in bed”.

St Margaret's Bay by Ian Clark

Winter sunrise down in the Bay

Winter sunrise down in the Bay

Last weekend I took a trip down to St Margaret’s Bay, just outside Dover. It’s a place that I’ve long had some sort of connection with. Of course it’s nextdoor to the town I grew up in, but I also have happy memories of spending time there in my twenties (ok, more in the way of hazy pub memories than scenics, but still…). It’s a place I keep finding myself going back to, taking in the views and enjoying the sea air.

There’s only a short promenade running along the Bay with either side cut off at high tide (checking tide times is essential if you are planning a visit). But it doesn’t really matter. With views of the White Cliffs either side of the Bay and the vast expanse of the Channel in front of you, the scenary is pretty spectacular. And when the light is right, it really is on another level altogether.

At this time of year, the sunrises are stunning when the clouds allow it (and fortunately, the car park behind the Bay is free in the winter!). The photo at the top of this post was taken just after sunrise on a cold January morning. The conditions were spot on. The tide was coming in, there was interest in the sky, and the light on the cliffs themselves was perfect and ever-changing - from pink to yellow to white.

With the waves crashing down ever nearer, and growing louder with each crash onto the shore, I set up my tripod and went for a long exposure shot with my 10 step ND filter (a Christmas gift). I was pretty pleased with the results. Needless to say, with the busiest shipping lane in the world in the scene, it was difficult to avoid getting blurry shapes on the horizon as the various ferries and cargo ships slid from left to right, or from right to left. But the timing was just right and I managed to get a good clean shot. Even looking at it now, I can feel the cold wind brushing my face and the sound of the waves getting more frantic, more aggressive.

A few more shots later, and I packed my things, munched on a flapjack and made my way back up the narrow, windy road away from the Bay and back into the village, through the streets that I hazily recall stumbling through in my youth, before heading back up the A2 to Canterbury. My trips to St Margaret’s may not be as frequent as I would like, but unlike the hazy memories of my youth, they are certainly memorable.

How do I decide where to go? by Ian Clark

Now there’s a big philosophical question to headline a blog. Tempting though it is to launch into a bout of critical self-reflection about my life choices, this is less about the paths I have taken in life and much more about how I make decisions about what location I am going to on any given day. How do I organise the locations I go to? What things do I consider before deciding where to head? How do I organise all the information to help me make those decisions? Well, that’s what this post is about. So, not quite mid-life crisis levels yet…

I haven’t got a huge selection of locations that I regularly visit, but there are a few recurring places that I head to that I am slowly getting to know. Each time I head to one of these locations I notice something new. Whether it’s the positioning of the sun, the different opportunities the tide brings or individual trees in woodland, there is always something different to remember for future trips. There are two main methods for recording these details, one a bit old school and one a bit more…21st century.

Something I have found incredibly useful is a Google Map i’ve put together highlighting some key scenes around Kent where i have found good compositions. The map features good sunrise and sunset locations, particularly good views and good spots for trees and woodland photography and also indicates the options for high and low tides. I find this really useful as at a glance it can really help me choose where to go on any given day (particularly if I can’t be bothered to explore new locations). This helps to make going out with the camera as painless as possible as I don’t have to waste huge time and energy trying to think of places to go to.

Photo location Google Map

Photo location Google Map

The old school method is a notebook that I have scrawled similar details into. The notebook itself is divided up into a number of sections: seasons, sunrise, sunset and locations. Within each section there are several blank pages of spaces to enable me to note down good locations for each of the seasons, good sunrise/sunset spots and good locations in general. For each I note a load of details (again, compositions with tides, specific elements) so that it makes it quick and easy for me to find locations and I identify potential compositions quickly and easily.

My notebook with handy tabs!

My notebook with handy tabs!

Of course, the problem with these things is actually updating them (full disclosure: I soon realised upon writing this post that I hadn’t updated either in a while…d’oh). But when up-to-date, they provide a valuable resources that saves me time and frustration.

There are a number of other things I use as well to help me make decisions as to where I should go:

  • BBC Weather app - for the obvious information on the…er…weather, as well as sunrise/sunset times.

  • Photopills - a great app for sunrise and sunset, could not do without this app, it’s invaluable in plotting compositions.

  • MeteoEarth - this one is great for cloud cover (it also has a website as well as an app). It gives me a good indication as to what the cloud wil be like in any given location (if it indicates heavy low cloud, then I know sunrise/sunset shots are probably a write-off).

I suppose I could split these things into two groups: the recorded information to choose locations I know about, the apps etc help with new locations (as well as the familiar ones).

What about you? How do you decide where you are going to go? Do you keep notes on locations? Share your tips below!

The Trip to Spain – Part I by Ian Clark

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I originally planned to write about our trip to Spain in one blog post, but the more I thought about it, the more I realised it would probably be a mammoth post. So instead I am going to break this down into parts. I have no idea as I type this paragraph how many parts there will be, but this is definitely part one of…a few. 

Let’s start with some background… 

Way back in 2002, in a former pre-library life, I met and fell in love with a Spanish colleague at work. We started dating and, after a couple of years, got married. For a long time, before we started having kids, we would holiday around Europe, visiting different countries and major cities (Lisbon, Prague and Berlin being particular highlights – I proposed in Prague so it’s a special place for us both), but also frequently going back to Spain and, in particular, Sevilla (which is where my wife is from, and where her family still live today). 

Fast forward a few years and we have a couple of daughters, one well established in school, one just started. As you might expect, holidays now are restricted to school holidays and, to make matters worse, my wife and I barely have enough leave to cover all the holidays between us. Consequently, we have one holiday a year now where we all go away as a family and just chill out. For the kids, this is an extended holiday in Spain as the trip also doubles up as part of our childcare arrangements (they stay out there for most if not all of the summer holidays, before my in-laws bring them back towards the end of the summer). This is undoubtedly great for them as they get fully immersed in the culture and really develop their language skills.

Anyway, these holidays are a chance to chill out but also, of course, provide me with an opportunity to go out with my camera and visit some fresh locations (instead of restricting myself to the usual places in Kent at the weekends). Of course, this has to be balanced off with time with the family in Spain and the kids, but it affords me opportunities I rarely have and it’s a chance for me to test my skills and try to take my photography further. Inevitably I come back with loads of photos to wade through, process and share. And, well, this holiday was no different.

On this particular trip we decided to go away for a couple of nights, leaving the kids with their grandparents and getting some quality time alone and some time to just…relax. As well as overnight stays in Ronda and Zahara de la Sierra, we also made a trip to Cadiz (don’t tell my wife, but this is actually my favourite city in Andalucia - if not Spain) and had an extended stay in the middle of the Andalucian countryside. I’ll fill in more about our trips away across the next few blog posts (I’m thinking there might be, like, three more?). I guess we’ll call this “the context” post. Now for fleshing out the detail…

Upcoming trips, new gear and challenging myself by Ian Clark

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Those of you who know me personally will know this year has been a difficult year. It’s also been pretty full on in a work context for a variety of reasons. With that in mind, I’m very much looking forward to a break and, thankfully, one is not too far off in the distance and rapidly coming into view. And where there are breaks and holidays, there are opportunities to take my camera out and get shooting.

If you follow me on Instagram (*coughs* instagram.com/captureyield *coughs*) you may notice that I indicate my location as being Canterbury/London/Spain. Canterbury is where I live. London is where I work. Spain is, predominantly where I holiday. So why a holiday destination as my location? Well, my wife is Spanish and consequently, we tend to head there to visit the family a few times a year (although obviously not as much as we’d like thanks to school holidays and limited childcare options). Not only is she from Spain, she’s also from Sevilla, one of the most beautiful cities in Europe (ok, there may be a little bias creeping in there).

Sevilla is one of those places that you can never tire of. I’ve been lucky to have spent many holidays there over the sixteen years we have been together, and I always want to spend time in the centre, checking out the amazing buildings and grabbing a few photos. Well, ok, more than a few…a lot. But I also like to travel around and see more of Spain. Over the years we’ve done trips to Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia, Galicia and the Basque Country, as well as a number of towns and cities across Andalucia (my personal favourite being Cadiz, which I absolutely love).

This year we’ve booked a couple of hotels for just the two of us to stay in (thanks the in-laws!), one in Ronda and one in a beautiful little town called Zahara de la Sierra. The former for a bit of touristy wandering around, the latter for some scenic country chill out time. Both places we’ve been to before. Ronda about thirteen years ago, Zahara about three years ago. The latter we discovered when having a look around for little known places to visit in the south, and I was pretty blown away by the scenary when we arrived. I’ve wanted to go back for so long with my camera, and I can’t wait to try to capture the scene again. Well, as well as to chill out, read a book and chill out with my wife of course!

I’m not sure whether I will get to use it on this trip, but I do have one new addition to the camera bag that I am hoping to try out soon. For a few weeks I’ve had some money burning in my pocket, mulling over what I should get next. After a lot of mulling (other things that were considered included: extension rings, big stoppers for my wide-angle lens, a 35mm lens…) I finally plumped for a ND gradient filter kit. I had been unsure about getting one for a while, not least because you can achieve the effect in Photoshop/Lightroom, however, I’m getting to think that maybe it’s best to get stuff sorted in camera first, to minimise the time spent editing post-production. So I picked one up care of my local camera shop, a great place that has put me straight on a few things over the years and made sure I had all the bits I needed to make use of the ND filter kit (because of course you don’t just need a box with everything in it, you need the filters, the holder and the adapter for your lens).

At the time of writing I’ve not yet given them a run out, but I aim to do so soon. Maybe on the trip, but then again, you often find cloudless blue skies for days on end, so not sure it will help me that much, but I’ll take them with me regardless just in case. I want to keep pushing myself further so I figured getting an ND filter kit would be a step towards further developing my skills. Talking of which, there’s another thing I’m going to attempt to do when we are away…

Over the course of the past year or so, I’ve mainly been focused (I’ve got to stop using that word in this context!) on landscape photography. It’s something I’m comfortable with because I don’t feel any pressure in capturing the scenery. If it works, great. If not, it’s slightly frustrating, but not the end of the world. The one thing I have steered clear of is portraits. Particularly portraits of people on the street. But this is something I am aiming to fix. I’m going to be brave and try asking people if I can take their photo.

 

My Moo business cards...we'll see if I actually use them...

My Moo business cards...we'll see if I actually use them...

This is quite a big deal for me. I’m not the most outgoing of people, and I am particularly bad at talking to people I don’t know. But I’m going to give it a try. To help me, I recently bought some business cards with my photography links on it, with the aim of demonstrating that I’m (sort of) a photographer and you will be able to see your photo on this site. Hopefully that might help. Who knows. The cards, by the way, I’m really pleased with. Produced by Moo they are made from t-shirt off-cuts (no, really). They look great, and I hope they further reassure people that I’m asking for their photo for good reasons!

Anyway, not long to go now…let’s see how I get on and hopefully I’ll be able to post some interesting results in the coming weeks. Hopefully I will have plucked up the courage to take some portrait photos. If not, hopefully I will at least have some nice landscape photos to share!

Follow my trip on Twitter and Instagram at @captureyield.

Dungeness and Rye by Ian Clark

A couple of weeks back I took myself off to Dungeness and Rye with my camera gear for a birthday meander around the “only desert in the UK” (spoiler: this is disputed!) and then onto one of my favourite summer destinations. Well, the family were working or at school/nursery so I figured a little jaunt with my camera gear was in order.

I’ve been to Dungeness a couple of times over the years. The first time as part of a small trip that myself and a couple of friends had to organise for ourselves as part of our BTEC course (a fun trip that involved riding on the back of a stranger’s pickup truck on the way to Dungeness power station…). The second time was more recently, following a trip to the local nature reserve with the family. On the second occasion, I had packed my camera gear and intended to take a few shots of the scenery on the beach. I managed to fire a few off, but I was conscious my wife and kids were in the car patiently waiting for me to finish so we could head home. As a result, I wasn’t overly happy with the results so resolved to head back at some point and do a “proper photography trip”.

I’m sure by now you’ve heard or read many stories about Dungeness being a weird place with a strange and unique feel. It’s become almost a cliché about the landscape. However, no matter how cynical you are (trust me, I am very cynical), this sense of strangeness really does ring true when you visit. There is no denying it has a weird feel about it. Perhaps this was helped by my visit being during school term so I was virtually the only person on the beach. The lack of people and the eerie apocalyptic landscape came together to form a strange, other-worldly feel to the place. Well, it was either that or the nuclear power station…

A familiar sight at Dungeness...

A familiar sight at Dungeness...

I’d packed a few lenses with me, but mainly resolved to mainly rely on my recently purchased Sigma 10-20mm ultra wide angle lens. I’ve been quite happy with the results of this lens over the past few months, although I have found the auto-focus a little bit iffy at times – to the extent that I have almost permanently switched to manual focus. With Dungeness’ wide-open expanse filled with interesting objects, wide-angle seemed to be the best option to capture that sense of space punctured by decay and abandonment.

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I think many of the photos I took on the trip are pretty standard Dungeness scenes. There weren’t any new or alternative takes on the landscape, however my main aim on this occasion was simply to compose some good shots and capture the scene as it is. Yes, this has been done many times before by many enthusiastic photographers across Kent, but I was really unhappy with the shots from my last trip so I wanted to “do it properly” this time around.

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I was fortunate in that, as I mentioned above, there were few people around and I managed to get some shots of scenery without people in shot so it really helped to emphasise that apocalyptic landscape. I was also lucky in that although it was a hot and sunny day, the sky was broken up with cloud which really helped add texture and interest to the images. Clear blue skies, or flat grey skies really wouldn’t have helped. The sky needed some drama too to help with the composition.

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I did have one minor annoyance on the trip to Dungeness. Whilst wandering around between scenes, I heard some movement in the shingle off in the distance. I looked, and a ridiculously large hare suddenly appeared and sat up, surveying the landscape. I had my wide-angle lens attached so reached to get the zoom lens from my bag. No sooner had I put my hands on it, than the hare decided it was time to explore. The moment had passed. I can see now why people take a “spare” camera (although I don’t see any sign of me adding a second camera any time soon).

After a couple of hours in Dungeness, I made my way to picturesque Rye. I’ve been going to Rye for some time now for short day trips. I’m not a collector of antiques (or tat to be honest) but Rye has so many little shops selling all kinds of interesting items, you easily get sucked into checking your wallet and seeing if you could maybe buy that weird item sitting on the glass cabinet. Then there are the cobbled streets lined with Tudor-framed buildings, Rye is the very definition of a charming little town.

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And so off I pottered, wandering the streets, taking a few shots. Typically, as it’s Rye, there were plenty of people meandering around the little art and craft shops around the main centre. Unfortunately, one of the main streets of interest (Mermaid Street) was also spoilt by scaffolding around one of the beautiful old buildings that line the street. It’s hard to be too grumpy, the buildings aren’t merely there to look nice in photos after all, but it was a little bit disappointing that I wasn’t quite able to get the shots I wanted. Nonetheless, I got a few shots I was quite happy with before pottering off home.

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I really enjoyed and valued the time alone to wander around with my camera and think a bit more about the shots I was taking. I still feel like I crammed in a bit too much (Dungeness alone would have been fine), but I felt that the time alone was valuable in terms of thinking about composition a bit more. One thing I am increasingly conscious of is that now I have a wide-angle lens, there is a tendency to shoot all landscapes using it to capture the full scene. What I need to think more about is capturing specific parts of the scenery to make for more unique takes on the landscape. After all, anyone can capture a whole scene, picking particular elements of interest is far more subjective and, potentially, far more unique.