Tag Archives: Northumberland

Inspiration comes from all sorts of places and given I was spending the week in Embleton I clearly had to try for a sunrise over Dunstanburgh Castle even with a 0430 start for a 0545-ish sunrise. Plus I wanted to do something different than my trip in January. Google surprised me with an image from 1797! Joseph Turner clearly spent sometime on the Northumberland coast and captured an image in his mind that he subsequently painted (I assume he didn’t do it at dawn?). Lilburn Tower from the North in my mind is the iconic view of the Northumberland Castle and I found this image quite captivating especially thinking of the image of a clear horizon but heavy cloud nearer the coast – I did think there would be some pink in the clouds but hey lets see … tides are not relevant for the shot so out comes The Photographers Ephemeris (TPE) on my iPad and it seemed possible – optimist.

Parking at Dunstan Steads on 19th August the horizon looked good and there was some cloud near the coast. As I got to the 13th hole on the Golf Course it became obvious the angle I was going to need for the sun was not the angle I wanted on the Castle the sun was going to come up too far south on the horizon. Plan B climb up to the castle – that is steep in the dark!

Even in the castle the sun is still going to be quite south for the Lilburn Tower. I took a few test shots and realised I was going to have to build a composite of several shots. I wandered down to the main part of the castle to explore angles. As the sun came up this is what I captured.

Dunstanburgh Castle, Northumberland at Sunrise in August

Time as usual was short and ran to the spot where I had lined up the test shots and here is what I could capture (8 shots combined in CS6) … not a Turner but actually watching the sunrise was more impressive than even my Zeiss 21mm captured. Those 4 orange-red rays that beamed through the cloud were utterly captivating. There was the predicted colouration of the cloud – I don’t know enough about Turner but clearly he wanted a muted pallet.

Lilburn Tower, Dunstanburgh Castle Northumberland at Sunrise in

As the sun came up I went for a ‘star’ shot with a tight f/16 and then there was a golden shot of the Tower and Embelton Beach. Looking back at the Turner as the sun comes up the colour shifts from red to orange and is more diffuse … but that’s only present in the vaguest of ways.

Sunrise at Dunstanburgh Castle Northumberland

Golden Morning Light on Lilburn Tower Dunstanburgh Castle Northu

Over the next few days I thought about where Turner got his inspiration so I pulled out TPE and found that in the coming year there is only 6 days (19-24 June 2014) when the angles are right – all not surprisingly around the summer solstice. Looking at the image from TPE the only warning is that the field you need to stand in is often flooded but this summer we haven’t had enough rain so its dry.

Tuner - Lilburn Tower 19-24 June 2014

I thought I would have a look at the map and see if I could get an angle on the whole of Dunstanburgh Castle and the sunrise and I thought there was – so off on the bike for a test shot. The shot below is taken from a second world war pillbox to get the height on the horizon (Map ref 247213 OS332 see map below) with a 70-200mm lens @ 100mm – unfortunately due to sea frets for the rest of the week I never managed the dawn shot. Also for the sun to be between the turrets it is 1-12 Aug with it in the middle on 6th Aug so I was too late! However I think to the right of the main tower maybe more balanced – 19th Aug? Maybe next year – if you have a go let me know.

Dunstanburgh Castle, Northumberland from the West

Map below showing parking and sites of shots.

Open Space Web-Map Dunstanburgh Castle

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So in the continual search for improving my wildlife photography I decided a workshop on bird photography would be good and Hawkshead Photography day on the Farne Islands on 11 June 2013 attracted me. I have to say it was great fun and Kaleel and Trai we both informative and really helpful.

Whilst I ‘sorted’ my autofocus issues (see earlier blog) I still hadn’t tested the ideas in anger. In addition I thought I would ‘test’ the Nikon 200-400 f/4 that Florian advised he used for 80-90% of his wildlife image and so I rented one from LensForHire (who I can really recommend – a great service). In discussion with Alan from Hawkshead beforehand I decided to use my D800 rather than my D7000.

Out of interest if I sound informed about the birds of the Farne Islands in this blog its because I bought Kaleel’s book Wildlife of the Farne Islands: A Guide to All the Major Breeding Species.Includes professional photography tips – its recommended.

The Puffin’s are what I had in my mind to photograph and I think I got some nice shots with many good take off shots – it was quite breezy and Trai pointed out a spot where the Puffin’s took off into the wind on a headland. I also spotted a nesting area where Puffin’s would come in with Sand Eels in their beaks.

Puffin on Farne Islands Puffin Landing in Farne Islands Puffins on Farne Islands

Puffins in Flight on Farne Islands Puffin with Sand Eels on Farne Islands Puffin in Flight on Farne Islands

Before you get far off the boat however you have to dodge the Artic Terns who nest close to the path and are vicious. We had been advised about hats – I used my Tilly with extra padding in the crown and even then it hurt especially if they got their beak into one of the “eyes” in the side wall of the Tilly – next time I am going to craft something more robust. Kaleel likes using flash to capture the terns going for you I tried this with my Zeiss 21mm set to f8.0 initially though I used my D7000 with a 16-85 on without a flash. I like the flash idea although it has the consequence of a 1/250 shutter which is perhaps a little slow – I am sure there is a way to freeze the action more with the flash.

Artic Tern on the attack in Farne Islands

Artic Tern on the attack in Farne Islands

The other Auks other than Puffins are Guillemots with similar numbers they need a reasonable amount of ‘pulling’ in post processing as they are quite dark! There are also a few Razorbills.

Guillemots on Farne Islands Guillemot in flight on Farne Islands

Guillemonts-Prof Ian Purves-20130611-0942 Razorbill on Cliff in Farne Islands

Another ‘dark’ bird is the Shag and found a lovely shot of one on the nest with a chick – I used my Zeiss 100m f/2.0 Makro-Planner and the boken is great. I must do a blog on this lens I’ve been a bit slack recently.

Shag with Chick on Farne Islands Shag preening on Farne Islands

Shag on Farne Islands Shag with Chick on Farne Islands

The gulls are interesting I particularly liked the Kittiwakes but found myself on a cliff above their nests and the 200-400 is quite heavy to handhold I had been using my Safari monopod technique quite well with the Puffins but this was impractical when shooting below me. In retrospect I should have put my 70-200 f/2.8 on. The other gull of interest, and not that common, was the massive Great Black-backed Gull. There were more of the Lesser Black-Backed ones – though still not many. The Great does a nice line in eating young Puffin’s. I like the shot below with the Puffin’s ducking. Of note this shot had the x2 teleconvertor on (so 800mm) and it worked well with a central focal point.

Kittiwake in Flight onto nest with egg on cliff in Farne Islands

Great Black-backed Gull in flight on Farne Islands

The final shot I was ‘at sea’ with a rolling boat and the birds (Gannet’s) flying across us a 45 degree’s at some distance and hand holding the 200-400 – I got several sharp shots!

Gannets in flight near Farne Islands

Personal learning notes

  • The obvious thing I learned is about understand your “prey” – Scout out the lay of the land and observe behaviours. On the Farne’s wind direction and observation of take off and landing directions is important.
  • The Nikon 200-400 f/4.0 and D800 combination is amazing.
  • I don’t use flash so I need to read up about freezing action with flash. [Update 01/08/2013 see blog]
  •  Trai suggested trying to use the [AF-ON] button for focus and disable focus on the [Shutter-Release]  apparently Alan uses this technique but neither of us could work the settings out – I need to investigate and try it. [Update 01/08/2013 see blog]
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Can you believe it Josh got up at 0545 to go take photo’s – well done dude. He’s been talking about learning photography for sometime now and the start was this morning.

It was a cloudless morning so nice sunrise and catchlights.Josh Purves

Teaching Josh I managed to get most of my pre-sunrise (bar one) and actual sunrise out of focus I opened the aperture a touch and forgot to shift the focus anyhow as you can see I swapped lens just after sunrise and spotted the error when I stuck the Zeiss 21mm back on – what a numpty – I ordered new glasses last week!

Josh’s shots

 St Mary's Lighthouse at Dawn Old Harley

 St Mary's Lighthouse at Dawn North Pier Tynemouth

Not a bad start he even did his own edits in Lightroom going to pick up on some of learning needs tomorrow.

My shots

 St Mary's Lighthouse at Dawn St Mary's Lighthouse at Dawn St Mary's Lighthouse at Dawn

 St Mary's Lighthouse at Dawn St Mary's Lighthouse at Dawn -Prof Ian Purves-20130302-0825

The second of the right was my first shot with a Lee Big Stopper had to adjust white balance a bit – I must get round to that filter blog I keep talking about.

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Last week I had a spare hour in London between meetings so I thought I would go to Landscape Photographer of the Year exhibition at the National Theatre its on until 9th February 2013. I really enjoyed it – one of the images I liked was by Heather Athey “A bracing morning” and so I thought I stop by Tynemouth on the way home from Old Hartley to check it out – especially as there was a bit of surf. It turned out to be far more interesting than I expected.

North Pier Tynemouth

You drop down the hill next to the priory entrance and park on the headland above the sailing club. Then walk towards the gated entrance to North Pier past the sailing club. On the left of the entrance is a viewing ‘terrace’ and some steep steps down to the beach. I arrived at 1000 with a tide of about 3.2m above datum – I guess you can get on the beach anywhere below 4m but there is a surge that caught me mid thigh a couple of times when I had been standing on dry rock (my new Paramo Aspira pants coming to the rescue) so be careful.

The view is amazing and awe inspiring. In early February the sun is south of the pier so you don’t get the light like Heather found – I need to check The Photographer’s Ephemeris to see when the light might be good.

North Pier Tynemouth

North Pier Tynemouth

Anyhow it seem the pier’s construction took over 40 years (1854–1895). In 1898 the original curved design proved inadequate against a great storm and the centre section was destroyed. The pier was rebuilt in a straighter line and completed in 1909. As a consquence there are foundations beyond the wall on the seaward side that cause amazing waves with heights you normally couldn’t possible stand safely as close as I was on the beach. Got to go back in a heavy sea.

North Pier Tynemouth

North Pier Tynemouth

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Three weeks ago I went to St Mary’s lighthouse with a low tide and noted a sunrise shot of St Mary’s Lighthouse was going to come from further north – probably around Old Hartley. So with a high tide at 0710 with 4.7m and sunrise at 0753 I thought it was good chance!

It was pitch black at 0700 when I arrived at the car park (see map below) and there was one photographer in the car park setting up (sorry forgot your name – let me know if you read this – he did mention Putting Photography First on flickr). Anyhow he pointed me at the dark line down the cliff south of the car park and said it was a set of steps.

Down the steps and I can say that its not a place to be with a tide 4.8m above datum! Also it wasn’t the view I was looking for initially – I’ll come back to it later (as I did about 0845 when the tide was 4.2m over datum and much more comfortable).

I walked south and attempted a few dodgy descents on the cliffs but finally found a low set of fence posts in an L Sr Mary's Lighthouse at Dawn with High Tideshape where the cliff had fallen away (see map) – its muddy and lose but you can scramble down to the beach where it was rocky and about 0720 when I got there – its probably safe with 5.0m above datum but there will be no foregound rock so 4.7m was ideal there are clearly other shots as the tide drops maybe as low as 3.0m over datum?

There was a dark cloud on the horizon and there was not going to be a horizon sunrise perhaps a cloud one. Anyhow by 0800 I decided to pack up and go to Tynemouth (next post) but predictably just as the tripod was on the bag the clouds changed pink – unpack 😉 – I also used my new Lee 100 system filters – a 0.9ND and 0.6ND Grad Hard.

Sr Mary's Lighthouse at Dawn with High Tide

Sr Mary's Lighthouse at Dawn with High Tide

By 0830 I set off back to the car park and on the way dropped down the steps to have a look – some great light.

Sr Mary's Lighthouse at Dawn with High Tide

Sr Mary's Lighthouse at Dawn with High Tide

Sr Mary's Lighthouse at Dawn with High Tide

I went onto Tynemouth – see separate post.

In post processing in Lightroom 4.3 I didscovered that the D800 is about 1.5 stop dark with the Lee filters – with my old Cokin filters I did notice this however the colour cast with the Cokin is not present with the Lee nor is the dreadful flare – this is a little flare if the filter is 90 degrees to the sun.

Personal Learning Notes:

  • Need to read more about filters and draft some notes on utilization of Lee filters

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Slightly abstract title so no one will ever find it! I have been exploring photograph ‘design’ by which I mean composition, exposure, colour, contrast, sharpness/blur and capturing the ‘readers’ attention. I guess I am using ‘reading’ as I want to distinguish passive viewing of an image from participatory exploring of an image which potentially finds meaning. As you can imagine this could be a big post!

Single tree on snow field Northumberland-Prof Ian Purves-20130126-1136-3

To keep this focussed – how can you keep the image open enough so that it isn’t immediately obvious? So far techniques I have come across are:

  • Subject bursting beyond frame
  • Vectors heading outside of the frame
  • Movement trajectory outside of the frame
  • Gateway in/out of the frame
  • Cropping tight
  • Dark areas of contrast with ‘hints’
  • Metaphor
  • Questions not answers

This last one about ‘questions not answers’ comes from David Wards book ‘Landscape Beyond’ – in which he proposes that images that are questions invite us to explore. The other three sections in the book are on simplicity, a sense of mystery and beauty. Anyhow when the snow stopped and it is was likely that I could get the car somewhere (I really need to get a 4×4!) I thought I would step out yesterday. I had a conversation with my son Josh about simplicity in photographs, gave the example of a single tree on a hill and found some examples on Flickr. However I said I wasn’t aware of any local ones – he told me about the three trees near Black Callerton.

So here are a couple of images I took yesterday on a bright sunny cloudless day with fresh snow and a freezing wind. Despite the simplicity of the images there are things to explore and do leave me with questions that I have no answer.

Just had lunch and my favourite photographic critic, my wife, who said about the images “well there alright” and so asked what the blog was on, she responded “blimey your getting a bit up yourself!”. I think I better publish this and tidy the loft.

Single tree on snow field Northumberland-Prof Ian Purves-20130126-1137 Single tree on snow field Northumberland

Personal learning notes

I was using the D800 and Zeiss Distagon T* 2.8/21 ZF.2 trying to get the foreground and tree in focus I upped the f-stop higher than normal as an experiment.

  • Diffraction (in softening of the branches) can be seen in the images over f/8.0 (especially f/16)
  • It was bright so I left the tripod in the car; so I couldn’t use mirror up – I can see a bit of mirror slap in the f/5.6 images (again in the branches) – don’t be lazy!


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Why did I go the forecast said it was –1C and rain! Anyhow I did go and there was a glow on the horizon from around 0730 – a couple of vaguely decent shot were to be found before it started sleeting and I couldn’t keep the lens free of water.

St Mary’s Lighthouse was built on St Mary’s Island in 1898 on the site of an old monastery which used to have a light to guide ships – a history of the island can be found on the friends site.. The current lighthouse is 38m (120ft) high and has a tidal causeway joining the island to the mainland. It was decommissioned in 1984 but acts as a museum.

I thought I might be able to get a sunrise from behind the lighthouse where there are some large pools which should be clear at mid tide. The tide today was 0944 so was going out whilst I was there. It isn’t possible to get pre-sunrise shots on the island and include the lighthouse so I focussed on the rangefinder which is behind the lighthouse. Looking at Flickr it would seem the car park further North near the mast (Old Hartley) it the best spot to be – though I might try again someday with the pools behind.

Personal Learning Notes:

  • I need to get a waterproof cover for camera and lens! [Note 14 Jan 2013:  Got a Storm Jacket SLR PRO Medium from Wex]
  • Check out Old Hartley [Note 2 Feb 2013: I did see post!]

Click icons to see car park and site
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Well having spent what remained of December editing Namibia photos and then cooking for the rest I thought it was about time I got out! Inspired by a couple of photo’s in one of my Christmas Presents Joe Cornish’s book First Light, having checked a) the weather (good … possibly a little fog), b) sunrise (0832) c) angles in the The Photographers Ephemeris and d) tide tables (high tide – neaps @ 0751) it all looked perfect! I got up at 0545 for a 50 minute drive (top down) and set off for Embleton – pitch black when I got there so thankful for the head torch I set off on memory of the path … took a detour along the beach 😉

I had in my mind silhouetted menacing castle high above me with matching menacing cloud pointing towards the doom in the castle! I wanted to pull in some of the round (cannonball) basalt boulders (random link to Namibia) to add to the metaphor and was hoping for a golden glint on the rocks that Joe had found. Sunrise at Dunstanburgh Castle, NorthumberlandAs an aside my wife loves these blurred sea scenes so I set out to add them as much as possible – as it stands she is my only critic! … and the kids will tell you … criticism is one of her specialities (she’ll never read this) …

To being with it was very dark stuck with 30 sec and f/8.0 and shifted ISO up. Unfortunately I had forgotten my glasses so I couldn’t trust my assessment of the liveview on close focus so broke a rule and shifted to f/11.0 and guessed focus (using my Zeiss 21mm). The feelings I had hoped for where present … did I capture them? As the light arrived I stuck a ND8 filter on to keep the shutter slow. Simon Owens arrived he’d been South first and decided the North was a better option, its great to meet people on dark beaches 😉 He gave me a great idea for tomorrow … you can wait!

- 20130105 - 075459 - Prof Ian PurvesSo having processed the images I think I got there … except the golden light (it was red). Biggest problem in post processing was the white balance. Especially the ND8 effect it was a real challenge deciding how to pitch it … go with the Lightroom dropper (Temp: 20,000 and Tint +50) or stay darker and more blue/green … I did the later. Interestingly so did Simon.

Also the filters created a slight vignette … I have known for awhile I needed to change my Cokin set … what to do Lee or Hitech Pro?

There are more photo’s in the Northumberland gallery and one image I took a different white balance approach is below.

- 20130105 - 083131 - Prof Ian Purves

Personal Learning Notes:

  • Explore colour balance when using ND filters
  • Decide which filter route to go down Lee or Hitech Pro

Click icons to see car park and site

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