I’d taken evening shots on the west side (from Ludgate Hill) of St Paul’s Cathedral in the autumn of 2017, and had been meaning to go back and get some similar images from the east side, which I did a few weeks ago. Pictures from this side not only show Wren’s dramatic main dome (completed in 1708), but also allow some views of the sky as the sun sets in the west. The best location in the end was at the junction of Cannon Street and New Change – a little too close to stationary traffic at the lights, but you cannot get any further back without losing the view of the whole cathedral.
As ever, the best time is from about 30 minutes before sunset to 30 minutes afterwards. The earlier times pick up the glowing orange of the sunset, while the later times pick up more of the city and traffic lights, while there is still some nice light in the sky – the blue hour, although it’s much less than an hour! These two images were on my 16-35mm f/4 at 31mm and ISO 64. The first was 10 minutes after sunset with a 5-stop ND filter to lengthen the exposure to 20s with f/10. The second was then 20 minutes later when the light had dropped to EV 5 – I could then take all the filters off the lens and use 10s with f/16. I never use apertures less than f/16 on my FX D810 to avoid any softening issues with diffraction.
In Lightroom, I dragged back the Highlights and Shadows a fair way (-85/+85), while also using a Graduated Filter (by half a stop with a Luminance Mask) on the lighter sky of the first image. The first shot then needed a White Balance adjustment (due to the ND filter) of 7,000K, while the second was back to normal at 5,500K. Finally, I cleared a lot of the street furniture detritus out in Photoshop!
I’ve also now added some of these to an updated set of St Paul’s images in my Cityscapes Portfolio.
There were incredibly clear, blue winter skies a few weeks ago at Bodiam Castle in Sussex. It’s a 14th century moated castle built in 1385 by a former knight of Edward III, notionally to defend against the possible French invasion during the Hundred Years’ War. The waters of the moat were so still and clear that the reflections are almost perfect, which you can particularly see in this second image.
Both were taken with my 16-35mm f/4 wide-angle lens. With the sun behind me in the first image, I didn’t need a polarising filter (and it wouldn’t work anyway) – the blue skies were simply stunning on their own. It was taken at 19mm, ISO 100, f/11 and 1/125s. The second photo had the sun to my left side and I used a polarising filter to improve both the sky and the clarity of the reflections on the water. The filter took the light down by nearly 2 stops, for which I then used 23mm, ISO 200, f/11 and 1/80s. 24mm is the commonly used widest angle before the polariser starts to give banding issues in the colours of the sky.
The only tweaks that I applied in Lightroom, besides the usual adjustments, were to reduce the Luminance of the blues (to darken them more) and increase the Saturation of the oranges – both just a tad to highlight the overall feel of the pictures.
Only downside is that I can’t sell any of these images on Alamy, as the National Trust building is clearly private property – which is a great shame as, even though I say myself, they are lovely pictures!
I took some pictures at the beginning of the year at St Michael’s Mount, which is just off Marazion, near Penzance in Cornwall. The famous causeway, which allows access to the old Benedictine monastery at low tide, is a common feature in many images of the island, as it provides a wonderful lead-in line. The earliest buildings on the summit date from the 11th century, although the main chapel is from the 15th century.
Even though the shortest day is on 21 December, the latest sunrise is actually a few weeks later in early January. I was there on the beach from about 9.30am, knowing that the tide was on its way out and, with the sunrise being so late at 8.20am, the sun was still low in the sky. Actually, the sun didn’t appear from behind the clouds until mid-morning, but the images all still look like early morning.
As I was taking images in to the sun, the light levels were equal to those of a bright sunny day at EV 15 – the first image of the causeway just opening up (as the tide receded) was at 18mm, ISO 64, f/16 and 1/80s. I had the 16-35mm f/4 lens on my D810 on a tripod. I didn’t need it to be necessarily mounted on a tripod but I was also doing some longer exposure shots with ND filters at the time, although all my preferred pictures were taken without any filters.
The second image was about an hour later on the beach itself. The crepuscular rays (aka God’s rays!) were very dramatic for quite a while with the sun shining right down on to the church and island, with some great reflections on the beach itself. This was also exposed at about EV 15, using 32mm, ISO 64, f/13 but now hand-held at 1/125s. This image worked better with the island a little more like a silhouette, with a bit less detail of the church and slightly more of the sky.
I’ve also now added six images of St Michael's Mount to my Landscapes Portfolio.
I hadn’t been to Knole before, but it was another lovely winter’s day, with low sun and long shadows. I didn’t spend much time around the house as I can’t really sell any photos from the property due to National Trust restrictions – it is private, of course. The current house was built as an Archbishop’s Palace in the 1450s, but is now partly National Trust owned and partly still occupied by the Sackville family - Vita Sackville-West (of Sissinghurst Garden fame) grew up here. It’s always the grounds that are of the greater interest to me – lakes, hills or woods.
Here, there’s a medieval deer park that has been around for about 600 years - Henry VIII knew it well. They have two types of deer; the Japanese Sika and Fallow. The Sika deer males are larger, browner with pointy antlers, whereas the Fallow bucks are smaller, spottier with flat elements to their antlers.
I was using the 200-500mm f/5.6 lens on my D500 camera. With fairly still animals, I use 1/500-1/1000s, mainly to avoid camera shake than anything else (even with VR) – these ones were both at 1/640s. I then tend to use spot-metering (as that’s what I’m focussing upon) with the Auto-ISO function. This is great as the light can change enormously in moving from one shot to another. You simply fix your shutter speed and aperture, and then the camera selects the ISO – these ones were 320 to 640. I always used to use f/5.6, as the lens sharpness seemed highest here, but I’ve switched more recently to using f/8 – not for sharpness but for a little more depth of field. It’s nice if you focus on the face/eyes to also get the mouth and ears in focus too. For example here, using a 300mm focal length at about 20m away, f/5.6 gives about 1m depth of field, whereas f/8 gives you about 1.5m; just enough to get the whole head more safely in focus, without opening the ISO up too much.
The first image could be from the Scottish Highlands with a majestic Sika stag looking over the hills. He was actually stood grazing most of the time, completely oblivious to me! The second one is of a group of five Fallow fawns, skittering around like rabbits. It’s too early in the season for births this year, and so they must be fawns from last year, I guess.
Been to Cliveden quite a few times now, mainly as it’s a great location to see Red Kites flying over the Thames Valley. It’s always nice on a clear, crisp winter’s morning too, with blue skies and long shadows in the winter sunshine. Cliveden sits on the banks of the River Thames and has been a famous country home for various owners from the Duke of Buckingham in 1666-1687 to the Astors in 1893-1967. The grounds are now all National Trust, even though the House itself is still a private hotel.
The first image was of the snowdrops along one of the gravel pathways in the dappled woodland shade, taken on my D810 with the 16-35mm f/4 at 28mm, 1/100s, f/8 and ISO 200. The second shot is of one of the Kites squawking in the adjacent trees. There were four pairs of Red Kites flying around that morning. Cliveden House sits high on the top of the valley overlooking the East, South and West, with the birds mainly flying around the South and West, over the Thames Valley itself. Quite regularly, they come over the grounds of Cliveden and occasionally, rest in the trees at the top of the valley – this time it was on the East side. Being high up, you get a wonderful view of their movements – they are so calm, gently hovering, hardly flapping their wings at all. I still find it difficult to capture really good images of them in flight, unless they come in very close, as the auto-focus on my fabulous 200-500mm f/5.6 is not quite fast enough, even on my D500. Once stationary in the trees, it’s much easier to get a really sharp image – this one was at 500mm (equivalent to 750mm on the DX camera), 1/1000s, f/5.6 and ISO 720.
We drove up to Stowe last week, on a gloriously clear and slightly snowy winter’s day. Much of Stowe was designed by Lancelot “Capability” Brown, before he went on to really make his mark on many other country estates with his English Garden style, typified by rolling landscapes, serpentine lakes and structures. He rejected the very formal geometric French style of gardening, such as seen at Versailles, and concentrated on echoing the natural undulations of the English landscape. He was responsible for re-designing around 170 major estates and gardens over his life, many of which still survive to this day.
Everything was taken on my D810 with the fabulous wide-angle 16-35mm f/4 lens. I like to handhold with shutter speeds of 1/125s to 1/160s to ensure really sharp images – even on lenses with VR. As it was quite bright, I could then still get ISO 100 with f/11 for good depth of field.
The first photo is of the Shell Bridge – it’s actually a dam, not a bridge; one of the many tricks that he used with these sorts of watercourses and landscapes. There’s a higher-level lake just behind the “bridge”. The second shot shows the Temple of Ancient Virtue set in the wooded Elysian Fields. I’ve also now added some of these shots to my previous images from Stowe in to my Gardens – Places Portfolio.
Took the opportunity of a sunny winter’s day to take some pictures around the legal areas of central London. The wonderfully gothic Royal Courts of Justice was looking fabulous in the low sunlight of a winter’s day – glowing orange against a clear blue sky. It was opened in 1882 by Queen Victoria. It’s at the bottom of The Strand just before Fleet Street starts. There was quite a lot of clutter outside with various protesters and the like, and so I had to opt for upward looking shots. This was the best one of the main entrance and spire behind – it was taken fairly traditionally at 28mm, 1/160s, f/11 and ISO 100. I could have straightened all the verticals with the Guided Transform tool in Lightroom, but would have lost quite a lot of the frame in the process, and so I stuck with the converging lines, which look just fine.
I then walked down Fleet Street and up Ludgate Hill towards St Paul’s Cathedral – just on the left is Old Bailey, where the second image of the Central Criminal Court was taken. There has been a court here since 1585 although this somewhat austere building dates from 1902. The famous bronze statue of Lady Justice sits atop the dome – it seems gold to me? I liked the sunburst just peeping over the roof with the English flag fluttering to the left (although I did have to Photoshop the flag from a shot a few seconds earlier, as the best sunburst image had a flag that was drooping and almost invisible!). There’s a rather grand old main entrance on Old Bailey too, but sadly it’s not used – the one that you always see on the news is the very insignificant entrance further south, which forms part of the rather dull South Block that was added in 1972.
Finally, this was the day of the storm – not so much rain, but very windy, with big waves and lots of white horses on the sea. These two images were both again at Fistral Beach. The first was in the late afternoon with a lovely orange glow on the rocks as the sun got lower in the sky. It captures a smooth curve of surf as it broke in to one of the many coves around the headland. I love the aqua colours in the overall blue of the ocean, together with that swirl of sandy yellow as the breakers drag sand up the beach. I kept f/11 but increased the speed to 1/200s to freeze the waves, with the ISO going up to 160.
The second shot was only an hour later, looking in to exactly the same little cove. You can see the waves breaking a long way out – too strong and choppy for any surfing this time, even for the many experienced surfers that are usually here! This was taken at 1/160s, f/11 and ISO 100. All I did in Lightroom, besides the usual adjustments, was to add a Luminance Mask to the Graduated Filter to hold the sky and sun back by one stop. The clouds produced a good fan of crepuscular rays too, which I also enhanced by boosting the orange colours in the frame.
I took some photos of other Cornish sunsets a few days later, both again at Fistral Beach in Newquay. The first one was the day before a heavy autumn storm. With lots of surfers in the sea, it was taken using 1/160s, f/11 and ISO 200 at 50mm. The second one was the day after the storm, with quite choppy seas still and a beautifully red and orange glow as the sun went down behind the clouds. I didn’t have a tripod to hand and had to rest the camera against a wall to use 1/60s – I can’t hand-hold my FX sensor at anything less than 1/125-1/160s without it showing up on the image. I then opened the lens up to f/5.6 and the ISO to 400. With this wider aperture but the focal length at 28mm, and nothing in the close foreground, I could then focus on something about 10-20m away and still get everything in focus from 5m to infinity.
Only just got around to processing a lot of images from north Cornwall that I had taken last October. Many of these are now available on Alamy and I have also re-ordered a number of my Landscapes Portfolio pictures to suit these new additions as well.
The first few days were clear and crisp, with bright skies and a calm sea. These first two were at Fistral Beach in Newquay, both taken at 1/160s and f/11 on my D810 with the wonderfully versatile 24-70mm f/2.8 lens. The late afternoon view towards the headland at Towan Head (with the famous Cribbar Rocks beyond) is always good, working nicely at ISO 100, as the shadows start to lengthen. The second image was clearly just before sunset, needing an increase of the ISO to 250. It was taken from the Headland Hotel, where we were staying, looking down over the large number of surfers who continued to surf well past sunset. The crepuscular rays through the clouds are always a nice feature at this time of day too.
Further to my Blog - 2018, these are two panoramas from a few days later, using the same techniques to stitch three telephoto images together in to a single wide-angle frame. The cloud layer on the horizon made the whole feel of the photos quite different to the clear skies earlier in the week. This first one was at 6.35am with a brighter look due to the reflections of the pre-dawn sun from the clouds. As I wanted to keep the exposure time below 20s (as it was windy and the clouds were moving quickly), I had to up the ISO a tad to 320. The second panorama was 30 minutes later (but still 45 minutes before sunrise) with a very strong orange glow behind the dark clouds shrouding the city. It’s still a nice image but the power of the building lights was dropping very quickly as the dawn progressed. This one was taken at ISO 64, f/11 and 6s.
On balance, I much prefer the shots from earlier in the week, with the beautifully clear and slightly orange skies and the very bright city lights, taken an hour and 15 minutes before sunrise. I’ve just had the Hampstead Heath 41 – panorama, London 2018 photograph printed out and mounted at 180cm by 64cm, on glossy Kodak Pro Endura paper with a UV lamination on a wonderfully thin and frameless aluminium dibond backing. It’s exhibition quality and looks fabulous – now available for sale in limited edition at £1,200.