From Dawn to Dusk (2)…

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Sunrise, Market Drayton – iPhone XR & Moment w/a

I’ve been taking at least one photo a day so far this year for my 365 project, but these have nearly all been iPhone shots. This morning started off pretty cold and frosty, and although I took the Sony A7iii for a spin, my iPhone did a pretty good job of capturing the morning light just across from our house. I love the wider perspective that the Moment 18mm wide angle lens produces. Good as a decent compact camera is, I reckon they have been been rendered obsolete by this latest generation of smartphones. For me, it’s either my iPhone, or for more ‘serious’ photos, the Sony.

So after that we went for a steady walk into Market Drayton (it’s about a 4 mile round trip).  In 1245 King Henry III granted a charter for a weekly Wednesday market, giving the town its current name, and although the market was on (today is Wednesday), it was pretty quiet overall.

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Farm hand, Market Drayton – iPhone XR

Bumped into the local farmer on the way back home – they have 700+ dairy cattle and his pickup truck already bears the scars from contact with the cows. The Land Rover they used previously had lasted some 30 years – somehow I don’t think this pickup will last as long!

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Sunset, The Roaches – Sony A7iii & 16-35mm

The promise of some decent clear skies, and the fact that I haven’t used my Sony camera in earnest for several weeks encouraged me to nip up to The Roaches in time for sunset. It’s a fairly brisk 1/2 mile scramble from the road to the 1st level, but the views even from here are amazing (better still from the top). Pretty impressive colours in the sky tonight! Managed a few decent shots, for once using grad filters to balance the key and foreground. It’s a bit of a faff using them, but it really makes a difference. The Sony has amazing dynamic range, and it’s easy to extricate detail from deep shadows, but somehow getting the balance right in camera still yields a better result.

All in all a busy photo day…

Dawn to dusk…

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Peatswood sunrise

Even though I’ve been retired for some time now, it’s not often I choose to go out taking photos all day – I’m not that keen on going out on a group trip, and other interests tend to take precedence, so its usually only a few hours at a time.

Yesterday was therefore a little unusual. I got up early, and could see some nice colours in the early morning sky, so popped out, literally through the front door and across into the field opposite, for a few pre-sunrise photos using the trusty Sony A7iii. Compositionally this spot is limited, but I do like the way the track recedes towards the trees.

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Vendor – Street Market

After a few jobs around the house we went out for a bike ride, and noticed that there was a mini food festival on in town, so nipped back afterwards to see what was worth photographing. I’m not a great one for street photography – I think it can be quite intrusive, and I’m so so bored with the ‘person looking at their phone’ shots which seem to make up most street photo shots I see on-line.  Nevertheless it was chance to try my new (to me) ‘travel camera’ – a Sony A6300. Although it’s much smaller than the A7 series, it works in much the same way, and usefully I can use my A7 lenses on it, so it will make a good backup should anything go awry with the beast. I quite like mono for street photos, so it was a chance to see how that worked out.

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Ramshaw Rocks

Back home after an hour or so, and chance to do some cooking and other bits and pieces (usual Saturday stuff…) but I could see the sunset promised to be decent, so late afternoon headed off to one of my favourite spots – The Roaches and Ramshaw Rocks, which are the closest part of the Peak District to us.
The sun was already low in the sky when I got there, so decided to go to Ramshaw Rocks as its only a couple of minutes walk from the nearest parking – the decent spots at The Roaches all involve a good 20 mins walk and I was afraid I would miss the best light if I attempted that.

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Ramshaw Rocks and The Roaches

Anyway, Ramshaw was fairly quiet – just one other serious photographer there, standing on one of the outcrops, and I got a couple of decent shots with him in the frame – a human adds a nice sense of scale to landscapes.  Then just a few minutes to take some shots of the rocks and the last of the heather as the light faded, before heading home.  It’s almost an hour each way to get there, but well worth it for the scenery at this relatively little known spot.

Home in time for a late dinner, and a well deserved glass of wine, before editing the photos from my 3 photo sessions of the day!

A witch’s tale…

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Blake Mere Pool

Take the A53 north of Leek in Staffordshire, and then the first turning on the right after you pass Ramshaw Rocks and The Roaches, and along the road across Morridge moor you’ll find a small pool with a spooky story…

Officially known as Blake Mere, locally it’s also known as Mermaid’s Pool, and the legend tells of a beautiful young woman who rejected the advances of a local man named Joshua Linnet. Unable to accept the rejection, Joshua accused the woman of being a witch and persuaded the local townsfolk to drown her in Blake Mere Pond. With her final breath however, the young woman muttered a curse against Joshua and three days later his body was found by the pool, his life claimed by the ghost of the woman he wronged, his face covered with claw marks. It is said that her spirit still haunts the pool in the form of a demon mermaid…

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The Roaches after sunset

If you are not afraid of witches it’s a great spot for a photograph. From the roadside, there’s a clear view of The Roaches and Ramshaw Rocks, and on a still day, the skies above are reflected in the pool. In summer the sun sets directly in front of you, and at the twilight hour casts an eerie glow across the moorland grasses. Just don’t stay around after night falls – you never know when the mermaid will show herself!

For a spot of refreshment, carry on along the road towards Leek, and after a couple of miles you’ll arrive at the welcoming Reform Inn – a great pub with good food.

Zoom or Prime Lenses?

This week I’ve been following a lengthy thread on a photo forum about the merits of zoom vs. prime lenses. Quite heated at times, the arguments debate the convenience of zoom lenses (less weight overall, speedy change of focal length) with the quality of zoom lenses (wider apertures and sharper images generally). The zoom camp accuse prime supporters of being ‘pixel peepers’ – those only interested in the absolute technical performance of a lens rather than the ability to take good photos, while prime supporters maybe imply that zoomers are too lazy to walk backwards or forwards to best frame their photo.

Of course, these arguments are more or less valid depending on the situation; in a fast moving reportage situation the ability to quickly zoom in on action may be the difference between getting and missing a vital shot, while a landscape photo may benefit from a little extra sharpness that a prime lens can give if used carefully. One new argument (to me anyway) is that zoom lenses stifle creativity – its all too easy to just blast away without thinking about how best to frame a shot, and indeed if a subtle change of perspective will enhance a photo.

This got me thinking – since switching from a film camera to digital a few years ago, I’ve mostly used zoom lenses, and I have to say I haven’t always been happy with the photos I’ve taken.  Certainly the proportion of ‘keepers’ – those photos good enough for me to want to retain them even if they are not my absolute favourites, has dropped. Now of course one big factor is the negligible on-cost of each photo taken with digital, compared to the £1.00+ cost of each 6x7cm transparency – with film, you had to make every shot count, whereas with digital the temptation is to just blast away, and select the best later. But there’s more to it than that – even when I’ve taken a number of digital photos of a given subject, I’ve not always been satisfied that I’ve got ‘that’ perfect picture, even though I may have tried any number of exposure or focus combinations. It’s not necessarily that the images aren’t sharp or whatever, they just don’t quite work…

So maybe there’s something about using prime lenses that helps you take better pictures – perhaps its because you need to take time to frame the shot, moving backwards and forwards until the elements are just right, or maybe it causes you to look at a subject differently? So this week, to try and get a feel for this, I went out for an afternoon with JUST prime lenses to see how I got on. Subject was ‘The Roaches’ – a wind-carved outcrop of gritstone rocks in the Peak District National Park about 4 miles north of Leek, Staffordshire and 8 miles south of Buxton, Derbyshire. The weather wasn’t perfect – fairly cloudy for most of the afternoon, and also hazy following a few warm days.

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Anyway, I walked/climbed up to the summit, along the ridge to Docksey Pool and back – a couple of hours in total.  Armed with 14mm, 23mm (borrowed), 35mm and 60mm lenses, and a lightweight tripod which I didn’t actually use, I really enjoyed the more leisurely pace that shooting with primes enforces, in particular adjusting my position to best frame each shot, and taking the time to use a graduated filter to balance/darken the sky when needed.  I mainly used the 14mm wide-angle, but also took a few shots with the 23mm and 35mm, and have to say I was amazed at the sharpness and clarity of them.  I can’t claim they are masterpieces, but I’m sufficiently happy to want to continue the experiment. A few of my favourites from the day are here.