A Day Trip To Morecambe
18th Mar 2015
After my long, enforced layoff from photography due to illness I am starting to feel strong enough to get out with my camera once again. Last week I spent an hour or two at Lancaster Cathedral with my good friend Ashley Barnard taking my first photographs for nearly 4 months - you can read about my trip there on this Blog post.
This week Ashley and I planned a trip up to Morecambe to do some photography, pre-trip research showed that there were some boats moored in a man made bay that might provide us with some interesting compositions. Full of hope and expectation we made the hour long journey up the M6 but wondering if we would witness a fine sunset as the weather forecast suggested we might.
We had chosen Morecambe as the terrain is flat and as the boats are close to the shore it wouldn't involve much walking, as I'm still not strong enough for long hikes. The sea front road has plenty of parking available and a few cafes and coffee shops where we could seek shelter if the weather turned nasty.
Thankfully the weather stayed dry however an icy cold breeze made photography tricky and rather torturous. I fixed my camera on my Kirk ball head, which in turn was attached to my Gitzo tripod, which provided ample stability in the difficult conditions. If you have made the effort to go out, found a good composition and waited for some agreeable light then the last thing you want is for your image to be ruined by an oscillating camera. I was using my Canon 5D MkIII and 24-105 f4 lens and screwed onto the front of the lens was my Lee Filters filter holder; this would allow me to use Neutral Density Graduated Filters and a polarising filter should I need them.
As there were plenty of clouds scurrying across the sky driven on their journey by a stiff northerly wind I knew the light would constantly be changing. Bright sunshine one minute followed by several minutes of shaded light and it was the sunlight I needed for making decent images.
On the left is the first image I made.
I used a polarising filter to help cut down on glare from the sand, water and even from the boats, a polarising filter also helps to saturate colours especially the blue in the sky and the red of the boats hull. I also used a neutral density graduated filter to darken the sky to retain detail in the bright areas and to balance the exposure with the foreground. I made a creative decision to cut the foreground boat in half which allows the viewers eye to wander through the image from the right hand side, up the footprints in the sand and explore the rest of the image from there. This isn't the convential way for western photographers to compose their images as we usually have the 'lead-in' lines on the bottom left of the image, so this one breaks the rules!
I walked around the boats trying to find a position where I could make some kind of order out of the places they came to rest after the last high tide. Rarely are objects in the landscape found in any kind of symmetry, it is up to us find a location that puts these objects in to a pleasing or balanced order. How do we go about achieving this?
1) Initially by deciding which objects to include and which to exclude, as a general rule of thumb I follow the principle that 'less is more'. Rather than try to include too many of these objects, I strive to include fewer.
2) Next we move around to see if we can create some kind of pleasing pattern or relationship between the objects, don't forget we can also move higher or lower, we don't have to photograph at eye level. The higher our position the more apparent space we create between the objects, the lower our position the closer together the relationship between out objects appears to be.
3) Then we decide on what focal length we feel is the most appropriate for our composition, the longer the lens the more we compress our field of view by bringing distant objects nearer but this comes at a cost as our depth of field is reduced and we may struggle to have all objects sharp (in focus). We may have to use very narrow apertures which could reduce image quality or we may have to focus stack (more about focus stacking in a future Blog, simply put it involves taking multiple images each focussed on a different object). Alternatively should we choose a wide-angle lens then we can ensure front to back sharpness at useful apertures but we also expand our field of view with objects close to our lens appearing large in the frame while distant objects become extremely small.
Once we have made all these creative decisions, set up our camera and are ready to go I would urge you to take a moment to check the edges of your frame. Look around to check for anything that might be distracting like a bright object or in this situation I wanted to make sure I wasn't cutting any distant boat in half. This would look like a careless oversight and could diminish the finished image in the eyes of a viewer or a club judge. Occasionally in very complicated scenarios like this mass of boats on a beach it might be impossible to find a position where none of the boats overlap each other, in situations like this we do the best that we can by ensuring our main objects don't overlap.
After such a long layoff I had to make sure I didn't make any mistakes in the image capture process so I took my time and went through a mental checklist before each exposure.
Composition - aperture, exposure, focus, rotate polarising filter, align grad filter, check exposure, re-check focus - take image.
For each new composition I repositioned the ND Grad filter to ensure the transition edge was in exactly the right place and the polarising filter was rotated to give me precisely the right amount of polarisation for my image. I consulted my Depth of Field App on my phone to confirm the distance I need to focus at, for my selected aperture to make sure my image was sharp from front to back. Zoomed in on my selected focus point using Live View and made sure the focus was spot on, procedures that I usually did without thinking had to be re-ingrained in my memory.
The sunny weather we had been promised by the forecasters didn't really materialise, the strong breeze kept the clouds moving across the sky at a pace that was fast enough to keep the rain at bay, well at least from us on the Morecambe side of the bay. It also gave us some interesting lighting especially when a storm passed along the west side of Morecambe Bay, its this light that can really elevate a good image to a great one.
For the image above I waited for about 20 minutes as the storm approached and was rewarded with a beautiful patch of light on my subjects while the rest of the image is bathed in the darkening light from the incoming storm.
We were even treated to a rainbow as the storm passed us, I zoomed my lens to its maximum to compress the scene and the apparent distance to the rainbow which made it appear larger in the frame. My 0.6 stop ND graduated filter and polarising filter were still on my lens and helped to darken the sky and reduce my shutter sped from an unfiltered 1/125 sec down to 1/30 sec. This slightly longer shutter speed helped to saturate the colours in the rainbow and give a slight blur to the rapidly moving clouds. It is my favourite image from the day.
Ashley and I spent 3 - 4 hours walking around the boats looking for likely compositions then waiting for some decent light in which to make an image. Not just looking at the bigger picture but also smaller details, I was really struck by a yellow buoy and its rusting chain which had a length of orange cord attached to it, in the storm light the colours really seemed to glow. So it's worth looking for more intimate images when out in the landscape rather than just the big view.
Eventually the sun began to set, the temperature dropped even further and we made our last images but sadly the wonderful sunset we had hoped for didn't materialise, a bank of cloud on the horizon meant the sun set behind that before developing its true colours. Oh well there is always another day!
As we walked back across Morecambe Bay an almost full moon rose, we couldn't resist unpacking out gear once again to make just one more 'final' image before heading home.