We stayed a few days near Aldeburgh on the Suffolk coast – it was during a very windy Atlantic storm, which was strange for mid-summer. I’ve seen poor conditions on the UK’s west coast, but the only times that we’ve been on the east coast, it has always been calm, with little or no surf. That was definitely not the case this time on Thorpeness Beach, as the surf was very strong and spectacular.
Strangely, the waves were also coming in at 45 degrees to the beach. This coast has lots of areas of longshore drift that carries sand southwards, forming spits – the River Alde at Aldeburgh actually runs parallel to the shore for miles southwards, contained by a very long shingle spit, at Orford Ness. The prevailing wind that causes these movements is from the NE, and so waves often come in at an angle to the beach, but this weekend, the Atlantic storm had moved the wind around to coming in from the SE. Either way, it looks very odd.
This photo summed up the whole scene, looking north up the beach towards Sizewell (just out of shot). It was taken on my 16-35mm f/4 wide-angle lens at 18mm (not fully extended, to avoid the slight increase in softness at 16mm), ISO 80 (for quality), f/11 (for depth of field and quality) and 1/200s (to freeze the crashing waves). In Lightroom, I held the sky back by one stop and decreased the Saturation of the oranges (-20), as the sea was full of sand too.
Later that day, I captured a beautifully orange sunset, with the sun setting behind a tree and a gate to the rain-soaked field acting as a nice lead-in line. This was taken at 35mm on the same lens, ISO 200, f/11 and 1/80s. I don’t usually hand-hold at less than 1/160s on my D810 (with the “standard” 24-70mm f/2.8), but was able to drop the shutter speed as this wide-angle lens does have good VR. I still wouldn’t trust it to drop to 1/40s though – better to have a really sharp image at ISO 200, than one not as sharp at ISO 100! Again, I held back the sky, by 1.2 stops, but this time I boosted the Saturation of the oranges (+20) to improve the drama of the scene a little more.
Further north from Puos d’Alpago, we ventured up in to the Parco Naturale Dolomiti Friulane – we didn’t know what was there beforehand, but it looked close and interesting enough. What we found was staggering. As we first entered the park, there was a huge dam, but only a small lake (Lago del Vajont) behind it. The whole landscape looked very strange with what appeared to be a huge rockslide from the mountain in to the valley behind the dam. We discovered later that this was the site of a very major disaster in 1963. The 260m high Vajont Dam was overtopped by a 250m high megatsunami when the whole side of Monte Toc fell in to the lake and valley, sadly killing nearly 2,000 people.
We then drove up the valley to Cimolais and went up a dusty and very quiet track alongside the Torrente Cimoliana. We saw only two people all morning, but came across waterfalls, rapids and white water galore, all within this desperately steep-sided gorge with snowy mountain peaks in every direction. This first image is at one large waterfall where the road finally crossed over the raging river below. It was taken at 26mm, ISO 100, f/11 and 1/250s. Even though it was midday sunshine with an expected white balance of 5,500K, all these mountain images needed an adjustment to about 7,000K to get rid of the remaining blue cast, especially on the rocks.
We then tried to get up the next valley, and corresponding Torrente, by the village of Claut, but the road/track was closed off. Pressing on through Claut, we got caught on an extremely steep and winding track that just got higher and higher, but eventually broke out in to this plateau of a dry riverbed up in the mountain tops. The valley gorge was immensely steep and this riverbed clearly breaks out in the spring in to a huge waterfall that must crash hundreds of metres down to the valley floor. This serene and deserted photo was taken at 27mm, ISO 80, f/11 and 1/160s. We then followed the track around the other side of the top of the gorge to get back to Claut. This took several hours as the track disappeared to almost nought with trees and boulders all over it – the poor hire car got very bashed around, but amazingly nothing showed on the outside bodywork by the time we got back to civilisation!
Following on from my recce a few months ago around the Bank of England, I went back there at dusk to capture the traffic trails and lights on the building just after sunset – the blue-hour. When I arrived, the Royal Exchange was covered in scaffolding and so I had to re-compose my expected shot to exclude it. Last time, Cornhill was also closed to traffic, enabling a great view looking NE. This time though, with the Royal Exchange out of bounds and the sunset in the west, of course, I changed the composition to one looking NW. Sadly, the sunset turned out not to be as dramatic as I had expected and the area was full of people hovering around! Nevertheless, I got some good images.
These are two shots from that day – both were taken outside the Royal Exchange, enabling me to capture the traffic trails going up and down Threadneedle Street. The first image was about 50 minutes before sunset with a cloudy sky but a good number of buses passing by, outside the Bank itself. It was taken at 17mm (on my 16-35mm f/4), ISO 64, f/16 and 5s, using a 5-stop ND filter. The second photo was then about 10 minutes after sunset, with a definite blue sky and the building/bus lights just coming on. This one was also taken at 17mm, ISO 64 and f/16, but with a 15s exposure and a 2-stop ND filter. Within a few minutes more, as it got darker, I had taken all the filters off.
In Lightroom, the white balance varied from 6,000K at the start up to about 8,000K and back down to 3,500K at the end, although these two pictures were both at 6,000K. Besides the usual Lightroom adjustments, I held the sky back by about 0.4 stops with a Luminance Mask on the Graduated Filter, boosted the Saturation of the reds (+30) and oranges (+15), and reduced the Luminance of the blues (-20). There was then quite a large amount of work in Photoshop to remove the ugly street furniture and signs, various bins and piles of rubbish, and a fair number of surprisingly stationary people!
After driving up the mountains on the north side of Belluno, we ventured further down the Piave valley towards Ponte Mas. There we crossed the huge Torrente Cordevole – such a peaceful location down by the flowing river, with actually quite a lot of water in it compared to many other Torrentes that we had seen. We then drove up in to the Lago del Mis valley with its very “fjord” like quality, similar to lakes that we had seen a few years back in the Canadian Rockies. We cannot have seen more than a handful of people all day around here. It was so quiet and serene. This first photo captures that serenity, although the light was very dull and somewhat hazy. The lone canoeist is almost identical to a picture that I took at the famous Lake Louise on the Icefields Parkway in Canada (the most photographed lake in the world, apparently?). This one was at 60mm, ISO 125, f/11 and 1/160s.
Then further up the valley, and only by chance, we stumbled across the Cadini del Brenton series of waterfalls, with about a dozen individual falls dropping down each time in to a gloriously clear (and green) circular pool, before spilling over in to the next one. I guess that they must be hugely spectacular in the spring but even with quite a small flow of water they were quite mesmerising. This second image captures one of the pools, with a huge boulder just sat there and the expanse of the scene described by the mountain peaks in the distance. Oh to spend more time there at different times of day and season, and with a tripod to capture some longer exposures! Notwithstanding, this image was taken at 27mm, ISO 160, f/11 and 1/125s. Sadly, we then realised, after having got back to Puos d’Alpago, that we had missed another spectacular waterfall, the Cascata della Soffia, just opposite!
After the heat of Venice, we went up in to the wonderful Dolomites, where it was still over 30 degrees! We used Puos d’Alpago as a base next to the Lago di Santa Croce. This first image was just above us – an isolated church among the trees, with the start of the mountains behind. It was standing out in the early morning sunlight, with the shades of green moving from quite dark on the mountain to much brighter in the foreground. Nice and simple with my D500 using the 70-200mm f/4 lens at 100mm, ISO 100, f/11 and 1/200s.
Second photo was taken from up on the Nevegal (after driving around to Belluno and climbing up to the top), looking down over the Lago di Santa Croce itself. The lake has that same glacial aquamarine colour that we’ve seen before in the Canadian Rockies, due to the very fine silt that gets washed down the mountain. We were up at about 1,500m with the lake at about 400m. The lower Dolomite peaks around here are at about 2,000-2,500m (with a few bits of snow left) before getting up to around 3,000m as they merge in to the Italian Alps.
I did take quite a few panoramic shots around here (merging 3-4 photos in Photoshop to get 180 degree views). These produce wonderfully detailed images that are about 15,000 pixels wide, but this single view is still my favourite – taken on my D810 with the 24-70mm f/2.8 lens at 27mm, ISO 100, f/11 and 1/160s. The huge water channel in the centre, which passes Puos d’Alpago and several other towns, is the Torrente Tesa – presumably it’s a raging torrent when the snows melt in the spring?
The gold medal winning (and People’s Choice Award too) CAMFED Garden, which Jilayne designed at this year’s RHS Chelsea Flower Show, is being re-located to the Eden Project near St Austell in South Cornwall. Jil and I went there last week to check out the new location – it’s a slightly different plot shape and size, but will feature in the Mediterranean Biome as from late October.
Eden is a private plot, of course – so, I can’t sell commercial pictures readily on Alamy. Occasionally, I can get abstract images that are OK to sell – this is a bit like that, but is still very distinctively at Eden! It was a lovely sunny day and the reflections of the sun on the roof looked interesting. This was taken at 60mm, f/14, 1/200s and ISO 64. The daylight white balance (WB) at 5,500K was far too blue and so I ended up using a WB of 7,000K. I then also decreased the Luminance of the blues to darken them a tad. No need to use my usual trick of darkening the sky with the Graduated Filter, as the roof was actually the brighter component of the picture.
We know the north coast of Cornwall very well, but not such much the south. It’s definitely calmer and less rugged/wild – much more sailing people than surfers! This second picture is of the Medieval Bridge at Lostwithiel across the River Fowey (pronounced Foy). The Normans first crossed here in the 12thcentury, but the existing bridge was built and re-built in the 13th to 14th centuries. Not the best time of day for a photo, but the reflections came out well. It was at 30mm, f/11, 1/160s and ISO 125 – besides the usual Lightroom adjustments, the only major improvement was to remove the unsightly telephone pole and wires in Photoshop, to make a better option for sale.
Interesting juxtaposition between the old and new – interesting too that the stone arches of the bridge have a distinctive Arabic shape to them, as opposed to the more common circular shapes of the later periods. Strictly of course, an arch with uniform load should have a parabolic shape, but circles were often easier to build. Any which way, as long as the line of the arch thrust stays within the middle-third of the arch itself, all will be well.
A couple more shots from the fabulous city of Venice. The first one was on a very bright day, which is never usually a good time to take pictures, at the church of San Simeon Piccolo. This is on the Grand Canal, opposite the railway station, next to the lovely arched bridge of Ponte degli Scalzi. The sun was directly ahead, over the copper dome of the building, and was shining beautifully through the fluttering Venetian flag (with the winged Lion of Venice and the six end strips to match the six areas of the city – the same reason a gondola has six metal strips at its bow). As always, there were huge numbers of crowds around – you either have to look upwards or spend ages removing people in Photoshop! This one was taken at 30mm, f/11, 1/250s and ISO 80.
The final shot is back at St Mark’s Square with the orange sunset glowing behind the Campanile di San Marco, with the Lion of Venice (again) on top of the column, and the Ducale Palazzo on the right. Oh, and a new moon in the top left corner! This was taken at 30mm, f/8, 1/160s and ISO 200. Shame I didn’t have a tripod to do it at even higher quality at f/16, 1/10s and ISO 64.
One of the better locations, away from the hoards of tourists, was along the waterfront at Riva degli Schiavoni, towards the Arsenale. It’s very quiet along there, even though it’s only a few minutes away from St Mark’s Square. You get a really good view of the whole front of Venice, from the Doge’s Palace and the Campanile, across to the Grand Canal and the dome of the Santa Maria della Salute, out to the island of San Georgio Maggiore, and then out across the whole Lagoon, with the Lido in the distance.
The view that I wanted was across about 135 degrees, which even my 16-35mm f/4 lens would not quite capture. Its widest view is about 105 degrees and I didn’t have it with me anyway! With my 24-70mm f/2.8 lens (whose widest view is about 85 degrees), I could have used the 24mm focal length, but would have needed 3 images, anyway. As this lens is a little soft at 24mm, it was better to use a nice mid-zoom length of 35mm. At this length, the view is about 65 degrees, which once you allow for about a third of the frame being overlapped, gives a working angle of around 45 degrees, i.e. 3 images still (of better quality than at 24mm). I then took the panorama using 1/200s, f/11 and ISO 80.
In Lightroom, I used a 6,500K white balance, a bit of de-haze (+15) to help bring out the best tones, and then held back the sky by 0.5 stop using a Luminance Mask on the Graduated Filter. I then merged the three images together in Photoshop using the Cylindrical Mode. You cannot see any join marks, even when viewing at 100-200%. The final panorama is just over 60 megapixels, at about 14,100 by 4,300 pixels. With a final clean up of TV aerials, tower cranes and people, the whole image is excellent, with really sharp detail of every window frame and church spire/statue.
The second image focussed just on the busy harbour area, with the entrance to the Grand Canal in the centre and the two bell towers at the edges providing a clean frame to the picture. This was taken at 42mm, 1/200s, f/11 and ISO 64.
I’ve now added two new sections to my Cityscapes – World portfolio to encompass the wonderful city of Venice.
You can’t deny how wonderful Venice is as a city, although it’s very decrepit and large swathes are clearly more like a medieval theme park than reality, as so many of the residents have left (as it’s so difficult to get the “essential” features of a modern life in a city only served by water). And, there’s the huge problem of the enormous numbers of tourists around, including us, of course! In the classic areas around the Piazza San Marco (with the incredible Campanile di San Marco and the Palazzo Ducale), all you can do is to look up, to avoid the American and Chinese visitors being in shot, with their masses of selfie-sticks and smartphones and, actually, quite a large number of DSLRs too. They do all have their lens hoods on backwards and their cameras on Auto though, busily taking pictures of subjects a 100m away with their flashes firing too – probably best to stick to their phones!
This first photo has the late afternoon sun going down behind the statue of the winged Lion of Venice, with the Campanile and the Doge’s Palace to the right, taken at 28mm, f/16, 1/200s and ISO 64.
The second photo is further away from the crowds in the real heart of the old city, with its crumbling stonework and the evocative yellows and burnt oranges of the fading plaster. This was taken at 24mm, f/11, 1/160s and a higher ISO 400, with the setting orange sun highlighting the natural colours of the buildings. No tourists to avoid here, although I did clean up the image in Photoshop by removing some of the modern appendages, especially the ragged array of TV, phone and power cables.
Lots more to come over the next few weeks, as I process hundreds of images!
I was at a photography exhibition a few weeks ago in Shoreditch, and took the opportunity to take some pictures of the GE19 Bridge that my company Benaim had designed, and for which I was the Project Director. It was built for the East London Line (now TfL Overground) in 2008 and carries the twin-track mainline railway across the lines coming out of Liverpool Street Station, at quite a large skew angle too. As those East Anglia lines are in a cutting, the bridge almost appears to be at ground level, which is a little odd. Nevertheless, it is a large and impressive 84m span, requiring a 9.1m deep steel Warren truss, made from fabricated plate girder sections, with a total steel weight of 810t. It was launched across the railway using a front steel nose, temporary trestles, counter-weights and rear SPMTs (self-propelled modular transporters).
It’s rather industrial, but in keeping with other spans of that type on the railway. This image is the classically symmetric view with a train just sufficiently blurred to give the impression of speed/movement. It was taken at 1/160s, f/11, ISO 125 and 70mm. I used the standard adjustments in Lightroom, but needed quite a lot of work in Photoshop to get rid of all the graffiti! A lot of this Brick Lane area is famed for its artistic street graffiti, but the stuff on the bridge was much less skilfully done! The bridge has also been painted a few times to mask the graffiti - so, those patches are real, not mine from Photoshop.
Having to now start a separate page for this half of the 2019 blog, as the Chelsea Flower Show took up so many pictures in May!
These images are from the end of April at Flatford Mill in Suffolk, which was owned by the Constable family from 1742 to 1846. John Constable painted the famous Hay Wain in 1821, which is widely regarded as his best work. The first photo is of the mill buildings and pond, while the second is a facsimile of the Hay Wain picture itself, minus the hay wain, of course. There are also considerably more trees around the River Stour than were present in the 19th century. The river forms the boundary between Suffolk and Essex - the left bank is Suffolk while the picturesque landscape on the right bank is actually Essex. Both were taken at 1/160s, f/11, ISO 100 and 30mm, with little more than the normal adjustments in Lightroom.