The little stream that runs through our grounds, which was almost dry during the late summer, has been a raging torrent for that last month of continual rain. It’s quite a sight now. After about another 700m down the valley, it gushes over the cliff top on to the beach at Tintagel Haven, just next to Merlin’s Cave. You walk towards the Tintagel Castle access, but go down the steps on the beach before you reach the English Heritage section – the beach is all public access, of course.
This was the stream a few days ago, looking like a proper waterfall. It was mid-afternoon but the late autumn sun was already getting low in the sky, leaving the cove itself quite dark with just the fading sunlight on the cliff tops. This shot was taken at 28mm, f/8, 1/160s and ISO 160, with a WB of 7,000K due to the shady conditions. I’ll need to go back and get some longer exposures with an ND filter too, to match my other waterfall images.
Shortly afterwards, and only a few metres away on the beach, we went in to Merlin’s Cave for the first time. There are three caves in the face of Tintagel Island, but only the one on the left is really accessible. This is Merlin’s Cave – you can walk all the way through the cave to the other side of the Island, but only for a short time at low tide. As it was indeed low tide and a clear sunny day, the light was fantastic. The setting orange sun in the South-West was lighting up the whole of the inside of the cave with lovely reflections and starbursts on the pools of water. Not in this photo, but you could also see the crashing surf at the end of the cave, as the tide started to come inside from the other side. This image was taken at 34mm, f/8, 1/125s and ISO 200, with a higher WB of 7,500K.
What treasures to have on our doorstep! You could go down there every day for years and get a different picture each time.
This pheasant just appeared in our garden yesterday, right by the front door. Expecting it to be a bit anxious about being photographed, I got my 200-500mm f/5.6 on a D500. It turned out, instead of fleeing, it wanted to walk towards me all the time – expecting food, presumably? There is a tame pheasant in a field nearby, but we have never seen it venture in to our garden before. It’s a male common pheasant (Phasianus colchicus).
So, instead of needing my usual 500mm focal length, the shots were all taken closer to 200mm. The first close-up on the gravel driveway was at 200mm, f/5.6, 1/400s and ISO 450 (using Auto-ISO). It was even more shady for the other image on the lawn, needing nearly 2-stops more light. This picture of the whole bird was taken at 270mm, f/5.6, 1/500s and ISO 2,200.
Having not seen much wildlife in the grounds since we moved here, we also saw our first hedgehog last week, walking around at dusk – a very chubby sight, fattened up before winter hibernation. And, I saw a peregrine falcon dive-bomb a pigeon a few days ago too. I just caught a flash of its distinctive grey-brown, delta-shaped tail, before it peeled away, while the pigeon just about escaped by flying around the house.
Finally now getting out to explore the area a bit more, though it has been very wet for the last few weeks. You do get some lovely breaks in the cloud however, especially on windy days. These two shots were taken quite early in the morning a few days ago – it wasn’t stormy but the sea was quite rough.
The first image shows the island of Tintagel itself, with the ruins of the old castle on it, and just on top on the far left is the modern statue of King Arthur holding Excalibur (though it’s not very clear on this smaller website image). On the right is the new footbridge to the island, which is positioned in the same place and level as the original footpath over the former isthmus that connected the area to the mainland. This isthmus, or land bridge, was intact up to about 500-600 years ago, but finally collapsed due to erosion by the sea and storms. You can see the slightly older footpath on to the island marked by the lower line of fencing. In the foreground, you can also see the charred remains of bracken that was burnt on the clifftops over the very hot and dry summer, which now seems ages ago! The photo was taken at 31mm on my 24-70mm f/2.8 at f/11, 1/200s and ISO 125.
Just north of the island is Tintagel Haven, a little cove that you can get to by climbing down the steps from the South West Coastal Path, just next to the English Heritage area. There are three caves on the island side of the beach – the one on the left is Merlin’s Cave! You can walk all the way through this cave to the other side of the island, apparently, though we haven’t had chance to get down there yet. It’s only accessible at low tide, meaning you do need to know the tide times each day. Bottom right of the frame is a stream and waterfall down on to the beach – this is the same stream that runs through our garden, just up the hill! The shot was taken at 27mm using f/8, 1/160s and ISO 160.
I did get more shots of our dovecote over the weekend – one as the sun set in the South-West and one later as the full moon was in the South-East.
The low sun version was taken hand-held at 26mm using f/8, 1/100s and ISO 125, while the night shot was taken 6 hours later on a tripod at 22mm, f/8, 20s and ISO 100. Both have lovely starbursts, which is great feature of the 9-bladed diaphragms on these professional lenses. The bright “star” very close to the full moon is actually Jupiter.
The images were processed quite normally in Lightroom with a WB of 6,500K for the sunny picture and of 5,000K for the night one, which was more controlled by the colour temperature of the floodlight on the tree than the moon. The moon itself is usually closer to about 4,000-4,500K.
Only been in Tintagel a few weeks and haven’t done much besides empty boxes and get our utilities resolved, or not in the case of BT. Only cut the grass in the grounds once so far, which took all morning – out on our front lawn though, we have this spectacular medieval dovecote. It’s a Grade II* listed ancient monument, comprising a stone circle with a corbelled stone roof, housing 247 dove boxes inside. Some say its 13th century, but Historic England feel it is more likely to be 16th century. It’s an impressive structure at about 6m in diameter and around 8m tall.
It looks great during the day, but takes on a special air at night next to the floodlit tree. I was trying to get the moon up in the top left corner too, but it’s actually hidden behind the trees. I’ll see again on Sunday, when it’s a full moon, if I can get them both in the same shot.
It was taken at 26mm on my 16-35mm f/4 wide angle lens, using f/8, 25s and ISO 100.
I’ve been waiting to capture a waning moon with about 25% illumination for nearly two years now, but there have not been clear skies at the right time of the month for ages. It only occurs once a month, of course, and the quarter-lit moon is only high enough in a dark sky around the autumn equinox. You need to capture it several hours before the sunrise looking in the East – I took this one at 5.15am.
It was taken with my D500 and 200-500mm f/5.6 lens at 500mm, which has great quality wide open at f/5.6. I used the native ISO 100 and a hand-held exposure of 1/60s with VR. You need to take 20-30 photos to find a couple that are pin-sharp enough and in good focus.
I’ve been preparing a panoramic image with nine moon phases at 10%, 25%, 50% and 75%, waxing and waning, plus the full moon. I have used the same Lightroom settings throughout (with a White Balance of 4,250K) and then made the composite picture in Photoshop. This final waning phase at 25% is 2nd from the right now. So, the whole panorama is complete at last, with images from 2020 to 2022, some in London, some in Penzance and now this final one from Tintagel.
The full-size overall picture is 12,000 by 4,000 pixels, but is only a 6MB file, as it’s mostly black, of course! It could easily be printed out at high-quality at around 2m wide, which would look great on a wall. The extra contrast and defined shadows that you get on the edge of the moon facing away from the sun in each phase is fabulous – an area known as the terminator. It’s the line between day and night on the moon, aka the twilight zone.
I tried another shot of the Milky Way (MW) over St Michael’s Mount last night. This time the mount was not floodlit and the MW was more prominent, although there was still a very bright light on the horizon just where the Galactic Centre (GC) would have been! This looks pretty dramatic in the image, almost as though the MW has exploded in to the sea, but it did wash out that lower section of the MW. I also moved further round Marazion Beach up towards Long Rock, to get a different perspective. St Michael’s Mount is now on the left, with Saturn as the bright “star” above it.
This picture was taken at 10.15pm, just after the end of the Astronomical Twilight - the GC then set 1.5 hours later at 11.45pm.
As last time, the photo was taken using 10 stacked images using my 24mm f/1.8 wide-angle prime at f/4, with a 15s exposure and ISO 6,400. By using multiple images, the noise from the high ISO is virtually eliminated. I then processed the image quite strongly in Lightroom, where you can adjust it all to suit the final style required, and finally finished it off in Photoshop.
We're moving to Tintagel next week and won't be down here in the far South-West quite so often. So, less Norman church and medieval castle, and more Arthurian legends!
I have been trying to get this image since the beginning of August, but first the moon was up and then it’s been very cloudy recently. Last night was the first night that was clear skies with no moon. Unfortunately, St Michael’s Mount is now floodlit, which looks great, but rather washes the skies out again, like a full moon! This shot was taken from Marazion Beach looking south at 10.30pm, just after the end of the Astronomical Twilight, ie with the skies fully dark - the Galactic Centre (GC) then sets 2 hours later at about 00.30am.
The Milky Way (MW) is very clear in the photo (though not in real life as it was too bright in that direction), starting to the right of St Michael’s Mount and climbing almost straight upwards to the left. The constellation to the left of the MW is Sagittarius, while to the right is Ophiuchus. The bright cluster in the MW is the M8 Lagoon Nebula, with the GC itself just below it. The bright object to the very left of the frame is Saturn. Even when you cannot fully see the MW, until your eyes adjust, you can best spot where it is by noting that it passes through the Summer Triangle. Vega sits above it, Altair just beneath it and Deneb is pretty much in the middle of it.
As noted in my previous MW blog, this was taken using the median value from 10 stacked images, using the Starry Landscape Stacker. Each photo was taken using a 24mm f/1.8 wide-angle prime on my D810 at f/4, with a 15s exposure and an ISO of 6,400. By using multiple images, the noise from the high ISO is virtually eliminated. You still have to process the images quite heavily in Lightroom though, where you can adjust it all entirely to suit the final style of image required.
Once we get in to September, the time between it being dark enough and the GC setting gradually disappears, as the GC then goes below the horizon for the winter months, not really to be seen fully again until next April.
You can hear them first, always in pairs and always calling to each other with a very distinctive mewing call. That means there are fabulous Buzzards (Buteo buteo) around, and they have been pretty common over the summer skies, hovering on the thermals. In general, they do fly very high though, much higher than Kestrels or Red Kites. I have seen them lower in the winter though, where they are often sat on telegraph poles, though never when I had a camera to hand. Jil startled one by a stream in the woods a few weeks ago – they are huge, with a 1.5m wingspan!
This shot was taken with my 200-500mm f/5.6 lens on a D500, giving an equivalent 750mm at full zoom. Even then, you still need to crop quite hard to fill the frame with the image. The sharpest crop that I do is to 3,000 by 2,000 pixels, as 6MP is the smallest picture size that Alamy accept. This size would still produce a lovely A4 image. It’s been very hot with really clear skies here for over a week now – so, the contrast against the blue sky was great. It was taken at 500mm, f/6.3, 1/2000s and ISO 400. I usually take all these sort of images at f/5.6 – occasionally, I will stop down to f/8 to get a bit more depth of field (DoF). At a focus distance of about 50m though, you still get a DoF of around 2m. This would increase to around 3m at f/8.
The shutter speed of 1/2000s is a good option to get a sharp image for a moving bird. You should switch the VR off at this speed, as otherwise any delay in the VR activating might upset the shot. I use the Auto-ISO function too, which allows you to select the aperture and speed that you want, leaving the camera to choose the ISO. This is good as the exposure can change very quickly and if you stay with manual settings, which I do for the vast majority of my other images, you might get caught out.
The Milky Way (MW) is very visible again here in Cornwall as, after the two bright months of June and July, the real nights are back, with it getting properly dark again after the end of the Astronomical Twilight at about 11.30pm. The Galactic Centre (GC) sets though at about 1am – so, you get an hour and a half, but it’s best at the start of that slot.
In this shot, the GC was roughly SSW, with the main trail of the MW rising almost straight up, off to the SSE. The bright star at the top just to the left of the MW is Altair in the constellation of Aquila (the 12th brightest star in the sky). At the bottom near the trees is the bright cluster of the M8 Lagoon Nebula – this sits between the constellations of Sagittarius, Ophiuchus and Scorpius, with the GC itself just below it.
At long last, I have now worked out how to take high-quality images of the MW. Proper astronomers take very long exposures at low ISO using expensive tracking devices that move to follow the stars. But mere photographers use the other technique, which is to take shorter exposures (15s still) at much higher ISOs (ISO 6,400). To then eliminate the greater noise from that scene, you stack 10 or more images together. As the noise is random, once you take a median value from each pixel of every image stacked, the black sky becomes black and the stars become white, and you get no noise. Bingo! You still have to solve the issue of the stars moving between every shot, while the foreground stays still, of course, but there is easily available software that does this work very well for you. I purchased the most recommended app on my MacBook Pro, the Starry Landscape Stacker for only £35 – it works a treat.
The photo was taken using my 24mm f/1.8 wide-angle prime. It’s a professional lens, but the image quality only becomes really sharp throughout the frame at f/4. To avoid excessive star trails, I use a 15s exposure. I then use an ISO of 6,400. This is an exposure of EV -6, whereas the MW light is at around EV -6 to EV -7. I can increase the exposure by another stop in Lightroom, if required. With the FX sensor on my D810, this is no difference in quality in doing this adjustment, compared to using ISO 12,800, for example.
You still do have to process the stacked image much more than normal, with greater levels of contrast, clarity, saturation and vibrance. The white balance is best for me at around 4,000K, but you can vary it anywhere between 3,000K and 5,000K depending on taste. You still need to add more sharpness than normal and you also need some higher levels of noise reduction, even after the whole stacking process.
Anyway, the results are hugely better than from a single shot – I’d never go back to single images of the MW (or the stars in general) unless there was no other option. Off tomorrow to get a better overall composition, with St Michael’s Mount in the foreground. At this time of year, a picture from Marazion beach at 11.30pm, looking south, should be perfect? And, the forecast is for clear skies all week!
These are our last few months in the far south-west of Cornwall, as we’ve now bought a house up on the north coast, just outside Tintagel. So, as we probably won’t be right down here as much, we’re making sure that we’ve been everywhere! We have been to lots of gardens around here already, but not to Trengwainton Gardens before, which is odd, as it’s almost on our doorstep. Even in the middle of the summer holidays though, it was surprisingly quiet. It has a really good mixture of large walled gardens and a beautiful stretch of water and woodland gardens, which follow the stream that runs through the grounds.
I’m not usually a big fan of mid-summer, mid-day photography as the sun is too high and too bright – a long way from the long, mellow, and more dramatic, shadows of the golden hours during a spring/autumn/winter dusk or dawn. But the contrast here of the shaded woodland areas and the brighter sections away from the trees was good. The range of various grasses, the orange flowers of the Crocosmia, and the blue Daisies and Hydrangeas made a good foreground to the wooded backdrop. This image was taken at 34mm on my 24-70mm f/2.8 at ISO 200, f/9 and 1/160s.
Just in the grounds of where we were staying in Puerto Calero, were dozens of enormous cacti, many of which were in fruit or about to flower. I’ll need to properly identify them all before I put the photos up for sale on Alamy – it will need a bit of research on the internet to discover their proper Latin binomials. I believe, for example, that quite are few of them are not Cactus at all, but varieties of Euphorbia.
The bushy one was a Candelabra Cactus, I think, or Euphorbia ingens, possibly Euphorbia canariensis. It had red fruit (flowers?), but is probably the same plant as the close-up version shown in the second shot with yellow fruit. Mind you, it could also be the Euphorbia eritrea or abyssinica! It's also known as the Canary Islands Spurge. There were two types of single-stemmed and very tall cacti – one had spikes and bushy flowers, while the other was without spikes but had cylindrical flowers about to open, as seen in the third image. Turns out though that they are both, probably, the Organ Pipe Cactus (Stenocereus thurberi).
I took them all in the very late afternoon, just over an hour before the sunset, to get the richer light and the deeper shadows. The sky was a gloriously clear, blue too. I used my 24-124mm f/4 lens on the D810 at a variety of zooms, but generally with about ISO 100, f/11 and 1/125s.
I’ve been waiting to capture a waxing moon crescent with about 10% illumination for over a year now, but it’s never been clear at the right time of the month for ages. It only occurs once a month, of course, and the crescent moon is only high enough in the sky during the summer – in winter, it’s quite low in the sky. A full moon is on the opposite side of the earth to the sun – so, in winter when the sun is low in the sky, the moon phases are high. In the summer, it’s the other way around. The opposite occurs for the new moon, ie it’s high in the sky in the summer, as it’s close to the sun. The crescent moons will therefore be high in the sky in the summer too, as they are close to the new moon.
This image was taken with my D500 and 200-500mm f/5.6 lens at 500mm, which has great quality wide open at f/5.6. I used the native ISO 100 and an exposure of 1/10s, on a tripod, of course. It was nearly 11pm with the waxing crescent moon setting roughly in the West.
I’ve been preparing a panoramic image with nine moon phases at 10%, 25%, 50% and 75%, waxing and waning, plus the full moon, for two years now. I use the same Lightroom settings throughout (with a White Balance of 4,250K) and then make the composite picture in Photoshop – it’s currently got images from 2020 to 2022, some in London and some here in Cornwall. It’s almost complete, as below, but I need to refine the 25% waning phase, as I only have it at 17% currently! The best time of year to capture this shot is around the autumn equinox, in the East at about 4-5am -it needs to be clear as well! For the rest of the year, you don’t get sufficient time with it being dark enough, between the moon rising and the sun then rising.
Getting more connected to nature again! The Milky Way (MW) was very visible last week here in Cornwall – mind you, it was 1.30am on a very clear night with no moon. In the UK, you only see the Galactic Centre (GC, the brightest part of the MW, obviously) from April to August. April, May and August are the best times, as in June and July you don’t get any real (dark) night, because the Astronomical Twilight lasts all night long. At the end of May, it’s properly dark between about midnight and 2am, but the GC doesn’t rise until about midnight – hence my foray at 1.30am!
In the first shot, the GC was roughly South, with the main trail of the MW rising up, off in to the East. The bright star just below the Milky Way is Altair in the constellation of Aquila (the 12th brightest star in the sky). The photo was taken using my 24mm f/1.8 wide-angle prime. It’s a professional lens, but the image quality only becomes really good at f/4 – even f/2.8 is a little too soft for my liking. To avoid excessive star trails, I use a 20s exposure, which seems to work well. I then used an ISO of 3,200 to get the best light, which was fine for the stars, but meant that I had to increase the exposure in Lightroom by 1.0-1.5 stops to pull out the MW more clearly. In hindsight, I should have used ISO 6,400, or even my top ISO of 12,800, to capture the MW better. As always, it’s best to expose correctly, or Expose to the Right (ETTR) and pull the image back, rather than trying to lift out too many details in Lightroom – even with my D810 that has fabulous dynamic range.
You do have to process the image much more than normal too, with greater levels of contrast, clarity, sharpness and noise reduction, as well playing around with the White Balance, tint and saturations. The eye can only see hundreds of stars, but the FX sensor on the camera sees thousands.
The second picture was of the Summer Triangle asterism, which is made up of Vega in Lyra (the 5th brightest star in the sky) at the top and above the MW, Altair below the MW, and Deneb in the constellation Cygnus on the left, which sits pretty much in the MW itself, which you can see passing across the whole frame. This photo was also taken at the same settings.
I’ll try again around the new moon in August, when the sky will be even darker. At that time, the best shot should be around (a more civilised) 11pm, just after the end of the Astronomical Twilight, but before the GC then sets at about 1am.
On the edge of both the Los Volcanes Natural Park and the Timanfaya National Park is the beautiful Charco de los Clicos at El Golfo, or Charco Verde (or Lago Verde), charco meaning pool with lago obviously meaning lake. The clicos refers to the shellfish that used to be here, but which have now become extinct – so, it’s most commonly known today as the Green Lake.
The crater was formed at the time of Timanfaya in the 1730s, but half of it has been overtaken by the sea. You therefore get this gorgeous array of colours – the blue sky and sea, the black sandy beach and lava faces, the red/russet of the volcanic slopes and the deep lime/olive green of the lake, with the green being formed from the algae in the waters. The lake and the Atlantic Ocean are still connected by underground caverns. You can also easily find lots of smooth, round pieces of Olivine around here, an olive green, semi-precious gemstone.
Both these photos were taken at ISO 100, f/11 and 1/125s, with a 5,750K WB and the sky held back by 0.7 stops. The first is a single shot at 34mm, while the second is a panorama from three images at 30mm, giving a 59MP picture that is 14,000 by 4,200 pixels.
We took a wonderful trip around the Los Volcanes Natural Park during the week, with our own personal photographic guide who knew all the best locations. It was meant to be a tour with up to 8 people, but we were the only ones! The Los Volcanes Natural Park surrounds the more famous Timanfaya National Park, but has much more to offer photographers than the very prescribed routes that you can only take in Timanfaya.
This first picture is of the Volcan El Cuervo, aka the Caldera de Los Cuervos. When the whole area around Timanfaya erupted from 1730 to 1736, Volcan El Cuervo was the first volcano that exploded on 1 Sep 1730. As elsewhere on the island, I love all the range of earthy, ochre colours, especially with that contrast to the deep black of the ash slopes, and to the lime green of the spring foliage on the lava plateau. You can also see clearly that the caldera has a break-out section where the lava escaped on to the plains. I did several panorama shots here, but this single image was taken at 70mm, ISO 100, f/11 and 1/160s, with a 6,000K White Balance (WB) and the sky held back by 0.6 stops.
Not far from the Volcan El Cuervo is the Montana Colorada (coloured mountain, of course). It’s another volcano and classic caldera, but its far side is covered in a gloriously red colour from the iron oxide in the ash sediments. It was still quite cloudy/hazy when we got there, but the sunlight came through a few times to really pull the colours out. Standing quite close to the volcano, I took two images at 28mm and merged them in Photoshop to form a panorama of the whole peak. The photo was taken at ISO 80, f/11 and 1/125s and ended up at 9,800 by 4,600 pixels, ie 45MP. The best WB was still 6,000K but I held the sky back a tad more at 0.8 stops.
We got away for a short break to Lanzarote last week – everywhere we’ve been recently, there are volcanoes! New Zealand, Iceland and now the Canaries; and Jil was up in the volcanoes of Rwanda earlier this year too (with the mountain gorillas). Lanzarote was very similar in feel to Iceland though, but whereas Iceland was barren, cold and very wet, Lanzarote is barren, hot and very dry. There is no water on the island at all – no lakes, no rivers, no waterfalls. And, all their drinking water comes from desalination plants.
This image is a panorama of three photos, looking from Puerto Calero, across to the village of Playa Quemada, surrounded by the volcanic remnants of the island’s formation 15 million years ago, although the most recent major volcanic activity, in Timanfaya, was only 300 years ago. The island of Fuerteventura is in the far distance. I love the range of those earthy, ochre colours on the mountainsides, ranging from yellows to oranges to reds and purples, all of which were on display in the intermittent sunshine poking through the clouds.
I generally use my 24-120mm f/4 lens when I travel light as it gives a good focal length range in a single, high-quality lens. These three images were taken at 32mm, ISO 80, f/11 and 1/160s before being processed in Lightroom and then stitched together in Photoshop, giving an image 13,100 by 4,400 pixels. I used my regular adjustments in Lightroom with a White Balance (WB) of 6,500K, while holding the sky back by 0.6 stops with a Sky Mask. I also added a bit more Dehaze at +20 and darkened the blues a tad by adjusting the Blue Luminance to -20 (this is almost equivalent to a polarising filter).
This second image was a single shot taken the next day of the volcano peaks in their glorious colours, using 27mm, ISO 80, f/11 and 1/160s. I used similar settings again in Lightroom, but the WB was lower at 6,000K.
We went inland too to the Los Volcanes Natural Park a few days later, but more of that in the next blog!
Another beautiful, clear, crisp, windy spring day at Cape Cornwall again – this time just a tad further up the coast at Botallack. The famous engine houses, The Crowns, are located precariously on the cliff edge, making them very photographic. As in the rest of this area, the mines have been worked back to Roman times and before, back in to the Bronze Age. The lower granite building housed a steam pump engine to de-water the mine – it was built in 1830, replacing an older engine from around 1800. The upper building housed a steam winding engine to lower/raise men and materials – it was built in around 1860. Staggeringly, the mine was 400-500m deep and went both inland and out to sea by about half a mile! The mines were closed by the 1890s though, as the world price of tin dropped due to a more plentiful supply from Malaysia, in particular.
The first, wider shot was taken at 24mm on my 16-35mm f/4 using ISO 64, f/9 and 1/160s, whereas the closer, but wider, image was taken at 19mm, ISO 64, f/10 and 1/160s. The optimum White Balance this time was at 6,000K.
You couldn’t pick a brighter, fresher spring day on the coast. This time we were just west of St Just and north of Land’s End at the fabulous Cape Cornwall. It’s a cape as it’s where the North Atlantic Ocean splits in to the Celtic Sea and the English Channel. It’s also in a UNESCO World Heritage Site, showcasing the historic tin mining in the area, along with some copper and arsenic mining.
The first photo is right on the top of the western edge of the cliffs with the chimney of the Cape Cornwall Mine dating from 1864, sitting against a stunningly clear, blue sky. It was taken at 25mm on my 16-35mm f/4 at f/11, 1/160s and ISO 64. You’d normally expect the White Balance to be Daylight at 5,500K, but that made the image far too blue – in the end though, it was most natural at Cloudy with 6,500K. I didn’t have my polarising filter on, but you can get some slightly similar effects by reducing the Luminance of the blue (only to -20) – this darkens the blue a tad more, although it really was a deep blue!
The second image is looking down in to the adjacent cove of Porth Ledden. The surf was rolling in to the cove, while on the far side on top of the cliffs are the remains of Kenidjack Castle, an Iron Age promontory fort. On the right, is the steep-sided Kenidjack Valley with numerous chimneys, mine shafts and abandoned buildings, which are all part of the tin mining heritage. This was taken at 28mm, f/11, 1/160s and ISO 64. Tin has been mined around here since the early Bronze Age (c 2200BC). The rare tin oxide mineral, Cassiterite, was found extensively around Cornwall, within the igneous granites that intrude in to the overlying sedimentary deposits. Amazingly, the Cornish tin was being traded with Eastern Mediterranean copper from that period onwards. The resulting bronze is an alloy of copper plus about 10% tin, which makes a stronger, harder and more ductile metal, much more suited to swords and shields, for example. It’s difficult to imagine the area, and the peoples within it, from nearly 4,000 years ago!
Continuing my theme of long exposure seascapes, I took quite a few over the last week down at our local cove. The first was at low tide, while the second was four days later at a mid-tide. Both are looking across to Perranuthnoe beach and village, with St Michael’s Mount and Penzance in the background. The first day was nice and crisp with clear blue skies, whereas the second day was still clear, but more hazy. You often seem to get haze on clear days of high pressure, whereas the visibility is generally much better on slightly cloudy, low pressure days. It’s partly to do with the ability of the air to hold water vapour. At lower pressures, the air can hold more, but at higher pressures, the water vapour condenses our more readily, forming a haze. The heavier and stiller nature of the higher pressure air also exacerbates the haziness.
Both images were taken at 18mm on my 16-35mm f/4 with a 10-stop ND filter and ISO 64. The first used f/11 and 10s and the second f/14 and 20s. I held the sky back in Lightroom by 0.5 stops and adjusted the White Balance (WB) to 13,000K to compensate for the blue colour cast in the filter. I have now just purchased a new Lee Filters ProGlass IRND 10-stop filter – so, no WB adjustments (or vignetting) anymore!
As noted in my last blog, I went back to the wonderful Kynance Cove a few days later to take some long exposure seascapes, which I have now finished processing! It was a gloriously sunny spring day again with clear blue skies, but still with quite a bit of dramatic surf.
Whereas with waterfalls, you take long exposures at around 1/8s to 2s (although, generally it’s best at about 1/8s to 1/2s), surf and seascapes work better with longer times. The sensible range seems to be around 1s to 20s, with the best images captured at around 2s to 5s. It all depends on the speed of the water – waterfalls being much faster falling need faster times, whereas breaking waves are slower, which then need slower times. It’s a fine balance each time – it’s obviously best to take quite a few shots at a good range of speeds (a sort of bracketing). It’s only when you view them all at full size on a big computer screen that you see what looks good anyway. Too fast a shutter speed and the image just looks blurred, whereas too slow a speed and the photo becomes too milky. I prefer a bit of milkiness but with some visible texture in the white water too.
The first photo was taken at 20mm on my 16-35mm f/4 with a 10-stop Lee Big Stopper ND filter, using 5s, f/9 and ISO 64. It’s looking down from the cliff top in to the cove from the east side looking west. The second image is from the opposite west side, a little lower down to the water, showing the waves breaking right in to the beach. It was taken at 18mm using 2.5s, f/8 and ISO 80.
Besides the usual tweaks in Lightroom, the only major adjustment was to get rid of the blue colour cast from the Big Stopper - this entailed boosting the White Balance to 13,000K and increasing the tint to +30. I really must get a new 10-stop filter - the old ones made from dyed glass have this issue (as well as some vignetting), whereas the new ones (ProGlass IRND) do not, as they are made with evaporated metal, with perfect colours and no vignetting.
The long exposure are a different aesthetic from images taken at 1/200s – sometimes the high-speed natural shots capture the moment and look great, and other times the longer exposures with the ND filters work really well. I haven’t done much long exposure work here in Cornwall, but will continue to use it more regularly, as long as I take my tripod and filters along, of course!
Having had weeks of warm, wet, windy days, the first gloriously, sharp, sunny days of spring appeared last week. We took the opportunity to go to the wonderful Kynance Cove on the Lizard Peninsula – we had been there about 25 years ago when our boys were very young, but not since. It’s a short trek from the car park to a really beautiful and spectacular cove. You might be in Iceland or New Zealand!
I used my 16-35mm f/4 wide angle zoom on my D810. The first image is looking across the cove itself from the west side to the east. It was quite windy still, though nothing close to any of the storms that we have had recently. Nevertheless, the sea was pretty rough still with great surf and waves, and it was getting close to low tide. You can see the black rocks of the Lion Rock on the right, while the rest of the mainland rocks had a rich array of greys and browns, but also deep red and purple colours. It was taken at 20mm, f/11, 1/200s and ISO 100.
The second photo was about half an hour later, as it got to late afternoon with longer shadows. This was taken from the east side of the cove looking west, across to the Asparagus Island, with The Bishop on the left and Gull Rock in the middle. Between the island and the mainland is The Bellows, which is open and sandy at low tide, but covered by the sea at high tide. The waves come in from all sorts of directions around here as they get reflected around the walls of the island and the cove. As this shot was looking more towards the sun, it was taken at 19mm, f/14, 1/200s and ISO 64.
I also took some long exposures at 1s with a 5-stop ND filter (using f/16 and ‘ISO’ 32), but realised later that I should have done them at 2-10s, using my 10-stop Big Stopper. I went back a few days later to capture those, but haven’t processed them yet!
After taking a photo of the Winter Hexagon in early January with a bright moon, I had been waiting for a night that was both clear and moonless. I took the image later in the evening, just before Orion set – in that case, Capella, which is often straight up, was rolled over to the side, enabling a landscape shot. I could then get the local trees in the foreground too, which I lit briefly with a torch.
There are six stars that make up the Winter Hexagon - Sirius, the Dog Star in Canis Major, and Rigel at the base of Orion, are just above the trees. At the top of the frame are Pollux (paired with its twin Castor to its right) in Gemini and Capella, the Goat Star in Auriga. Finally, in the middle frame, is Procyon in Canis Minor and the orange Aldebaran in Taurus. Note the Pleiades cluster aka The Seven Sisters on the right. The other asterism, the Winter Triangle is also very clear, with Procyon, Sirius and the red Betelgeuse forming an equilateral triangle.
I used my 16-35mm f/4 to get a wider angle for the single shot, and then used this at 18mm and f/5.6, where the image quality is very good – although it does need the exposure to be a tad longer. I usually use a 15-20s exposure on my 24mm prime, but increased it here to 25s on the zoom lens - anything longer generates much more noticeable star trails. You’re then left to adjust the ISO to suit - out in the country on a moonless night, the light is at about EV-4, resulting in ISO 1,600. It was very windy too, which put a bit more blur in to the trees than I had ideally wanted, but that’s fine for a long exposure.
On a cold, wet, windy day in Cornwall during February, it’s good to finish processing some macro garden images from last summer – these two were both taken last August in the back garden on our previous London house. A pinky-red Persicaria amplexicaulis ‘Firetail’ and the fiery orange of a Crocosmia ‘Orange River’, both with wonderful bokeh against the background of green ferns.
Both were taken using my well-proven macro techniques with the wonderful 105mm f/2.8 lens, all at ISO 64 on my D810.
With outside pictures, you tend to have a focus distance of around 500mm, giving a Depth of Field (DoF) of only 16mm, using f/22. This seems the best balance for most images, as using a wider aperture generates an even smaller DoF that requires quite a lot of focus stacking, while a smaller aperture, giving greater DoF, introduces a slightly softer image due to diffraction. Mind you, with this exceptional lens, even though the diffraction does get a little worse at f/32, it can still be better to have more DoF with some softness, than less (that also looks soft) with more sharpness. In the end, using f/22 at a 500mm focus distance, most images can be captured in one shot, although some, like the second image here, were actually focus stacked from two images.
In this case, I find it best to have one image for the majority of the frame, the background, and then to manually add the second image as a layer in Photoshop for just the very closest parts of the flower head, which are not quite in focus in the background picture. This takes a little bit of time, but gives a much better result than the Auto-Blend tool. This is because the flower head will have moved a tad between shots and generally, even with the Auto-Align feature, that movement causes problems for the Auto-Blend.
Outside, with a bit of wind and movement, you also have to use flash. I treat objects as one would in portrait photography, using twin flashes at 450 to the side and 450 upwards. You then set the shutter speed at around 1/200s, which blunts some of the ambient light, and use the flash power and distance to determine the best balance of light. You can usually only get the flashes placed about 400mm away, needing around 1/2 power for the main Speedlight and 1/4 power for the secondary, infill Speedlight.
Crocosmia are very common in the hedgerows around Cornwall too, but we’ll have to wait until this summer now to see more of them here.
With so much going on over the last 6 months, I have only just finished processing my dusk pictures of Lambeth Bridge, which I took last May. Lambeth Bridge is the last one that I wanted to photograph of the set of major (and aesthetically pleasing) London bridges from East to West. I had taken some here in 2019, but was waiting for the new lighting to be installed, which had only happened a few weeks before. Whereas Westminster Bridge has a wide spectrum of green lights (to reflect the benches in the House of Commons), Lambeth Bridge varies from orange to red to purple to reflect the red benches in the House of Lords.
I set up on the East side of the Thames on the Albert Embankment, south of the bridge itself and opposite the MI5 Building. This gave the best view of the bridge, with the Victoria Tower of the Houses of Parliament being the main element behind the bridge. To the right, you can also see the Elizabeth Tower (housing Big Ben), although most of it was still covered in scaffolding. Between these two towers, you can also see the top of the BT Tower, and to the left of the Victoria Tower, the top of Westminster Abbey is just poking through the trees too.
The first picture was taken 35 minutes after the sunset with quite a bit of light in the sky still. As usual, I had started the evening using a 10-stop ND filter, before moving to a 5-stop one. By the time of this image though, I had removed them all – this was taken at 20mm on my 16-35mm f/4 using ISO 64, f/14 & 20s. The bridge lights were an orangey-red. The second picture was then taken 50 minutes after sunset, with a darker sky, but with the bridge lights and water reflections being more pronounced. Here the bridge lights were a purpley-red, almost entirely purple in fact. The bridge lights are constantly changing in colour and intensity, so you do get a bit of a composite view with the 20-25s long exposures that I was using. This second shot used the same 20mm and ISO 64, but with f/11 & 25s.
In Lightroom, I was still holding the sky back by 0.2 stops for the first image, but by nothing for the second. The White Balance is very variable in the evening too – it started off close to 10,000K (even with no ND filters), with the first photo at 8,500K, but dropped closer 4,500-5,000K as the artificial lights became more dominant.
No more dusk lights across the River Thames for me any more – it’s all sunrises and sunsets on stormy Cornish beaches now!
With quite a few sunny days recently, it was a good time to capture some winter wildlife at our local, rocky cove. As well as the assortment of gulls and smaller coastal birds, we’ve seen Kestrels, Cormorants, Gannets, Curlew, Little Egrets and Oystercatchers so far, plus the occasional Grey Seal at high tide. A pair of Kestrels is nearly always hunting over the cliff tops, but never when I have my D500 and 200-500mm f/5.6 lens with me!
These two images show a pair of Little Egrets (Egretta garzetta) and a group of Oystercatchers (Haematopus ostralegus). Both sets of birds are very jumpy, meaning that you can’t get very close to them at all, and once they flee, they don’t come back for an hour, or more. They both seem to feed on things in the washed-up kelp, around the high tide mark.
When it’s very sunny (EV15), you can use 1/1,000s, f/5.6 and still get the native ISO of 100. Once it gets overcast though, at around EV12, you need to boost the ISO to at least 800, which clearly loses some quality and generates more noise. The two Egrets were taken at 500mm, 1/800s, f/5.6 and ISO 400 (as the afternoon sun was starting to go down), whereas the group of Oystercatchers was taken when it was slightly brighter at 330mm, 1/800s, f/5.6 and ISO 180. I use Auto-ISO for these wildlife shots, as it allows you to control the aperture and the shutter speed, leaving only the ISO to be determined by the camera. Normally for all my other photos, I use Manual for everything, but with the need to take pictures potentially very quickly, the Auto-ISO is a great tool for wildlife. Obviously, I always use back-button focussing with the AF-ON button.
1/500s is a bit slow for most images, whereas speeds of 1/1,600s or more are only really needed for birds in flight – so, I tend to use 1/800s or 1/1,000s. Strictly, the VR should probably only be used when the speeds are lower than 1/500s and should definitely not be used at 1/1,600s or more. However, I find that the VR still works well at those intermediate speeds of 1/800s or 1/1,000s, even when using a monopod, which I often do. 3.5kg of camera and lens is tricky to hold still for any length of time!
The skies are darker here than in London, but surprisingly, not as dark as you would think – there are still enough major towns around to give some light pollution. Still, this time of year is great for viewing the asterism known as the Winter Hexagon or Winter Circle on a clear winter’s evening. It covers a big expanse of the sky, over six constellations, ranging from the horizon to almost straight up. This was the view from our garden last night – the waxing gibbous moon was also out (and at 85% illumination), which doesn’t help in viewing the stars, of course, but it does add some drama to the image though.
The six stars that make up the Winter Hexagon are:
1. Bottom, slightly right - Sirius, the Dog Star in Canis Major – the brightest star in the night sky;
2. Lower right - Rigel, the bottom right star in Orion - 7th brightest star, which is slightly blue;
3. Upper right, just below the moon - Aldebaran in Taurus, which is definitely orange;
4. Top, slightly left - Capella, the Goat Star in Auriga, which was almost straight upwards - 6th brightest star;
5. Middle left - Pollux lower down (paired with its twin, Castor, directly above it) in Gemini, which is slightly yellow; and
6. Lower left - Procyon in Canis Minor – the 8th brightest star.
Another asterism, the Winter Triangle is also clear - Procyon, Sirius and Betelgeuse forming an equilateral triangle. Betelgeuse is the top left star in Orion and is definitely red, while also being the 10th brightest star. Betelgeuse is a red supergiant that is likely to explode as a supernova shortly, i.e. within the next 100,000 years, by which time we’ll be able to see it on Earth during the daytime for several weeks, but as we’ll most likely also be experiencing the next Ice Age, we’ll be under 1km of ice! It’s Beetle Juice, of course, not Betel Gerz. Just above the moon, in the top right corner, you can also easily see Pleiades - a cluster of seven hot, blue stars, aka The Seven Sisters.
I started off using my 24mm f/1.8 wide angle prime lens on the D810, but the hexagon only just fits in the frame and it is very difficult to ensure that all the correct stars are in place. It’s quite soft wide open and so for night shots, I always use it at f/4. However, in the end I switched to my 16-35mm f/4 to get a wider angle for a single shot, and then used this at 19mm and f/5.6, where the image quality is just as good – although it does need the exposure to be bumped up a bit.
I usually use a 15s exposure on my 24mm prime, but increased it here to 25s on the zoom lens, using the 500-rule (exposure = 500/focal length) - anything longer generates much more noticeable star trails. You’re then left to adjust the ISO to suit. For very dark skies at EV-6, you might well need to use ISO 6,400, while normally out in the country at EV-4, you would use ISO 1,600, but with the moon out too, the best exposure was at ISO 800.
It is quite difficult to focus on individual stars, even with Live View – so, you just need to ensure that you have focussed on something more than about 5m away, as the hyperfocal distance at f/5.6 is only about 3m. Best to be safe and use something at least 100m away.
In Lightroom, the optimum WB was at 5,000K and you then have to really boost all the other settings to get a more powerful picture, with higher levels of contrast, clarity, sharpening and noise reduction to suit. I’ll try it again in a few weeks’ time, when the moon is not around to wash out the stars as much – but it does need a clear night as well, of which there have been very few recently!
Porthleven is one of the classic storm locations in Cornwall, where the huge surf can be very spectacular, especially when it crashes over the harbour church and clock tower at high tide - although it’s not actually a church, but the Bickford-Smith Institute. We had been there during the last named storm, Storm Barra in nearly December, but the tide was low at the time. So, we went back just after Xmas, on a very windy day at high tide – it wasn’t a named storm but the waves were enormous. The steep beach at Porthleven seems to really increase the height of the waves here.
The waves were not quite crashing over the Institute, but they were having a good go at the harbour pier and the main beach defences. The morning was beautifully bright and clear, and this first image was of one of the many huge waves bashing the end of the pier - this was taken at 62mm on my 24-70mm f/2.8 using ISO 80, f/10 and 1/320s. The most natural white balance (WB) was 6,500K and I held the sky back by 0.3 stops.
The second shot looking south along the main beach shows the maelstrom as the incoming waves hit the water rushing back down the beach from the previous waves – all very impressive. This was taken at 66mm using ISO 100, f/10 and 1/320s. Facing more towards the sun, the better WB was at 5,750K, with the sky held back a tad more, at 0.7 stops.
You can’t beat a good storm!