Landscape photography is a bit of an oddity; unlike wildlife, landscapes tend to not move while you’re trying to photograph them (and if the landscape did start to move, I don’t think having to use a faster shutter speed would the greatest of your worries…). Composition and light are the two factors that I always emphasise to clients on our landscape photography workshops and bespoke tuition sessions, and Tuesday afternoon gave me the opportunity to do that in one of Northumberland’s most iconic settings – the Holy Island of Lindisfarne.
I met up with Pat mid-afternoon and we headed towards the harbour. Perhaps a cliched location but with so many boats, so many viewpoints and the ever-changing sky and lighting conditions, there was plenty of scope for playing with exposure, composition and shooting angle. As Pat took a series of images using her own lens and a couple of mine too (12-24mm f4 and 105mm f2.8) I scouted out different compositions and shooting angles for her to experiment with.
Northumberland has so many iconic locations for landscape photography that you could visit a different location every day and never get bored or take the same image twice. If you’re a relative beginner and want to learn how to use your camera equipment to the best of it’s ability, or a more experienced photographer and would like to explore Northumberland’s rich opportunities with a local guide, give us a call on 01670 827465 to see what we can do for you
In an ideal world, a bespoke photography day with a client involves arriving at our chosen location, discussing techniques that will be required to achieve the desired image and then waiting for the perfect light to fall on the subject…
I arrived at Church Point on Sunday afternoon to collect Gareth for his bespoke photography trip. My task was to deliver locations that would provide the opportunities for landscape or wildlife photography, and give advice on technique when needed. In advance I’d planned a route through Druridge Bay, southeast Northumberland and the Northumberland coast that would provide a series of landscape opportunities. So, discovering that visibility on the coast was poor was a bit of a spanner in the works My backup plan was some nice close, obliging wildlife…swifts, swallows and martins were the ideal subject for the afternoon. Difficult enough to test the abilities of most photographers, but usually obligingly consistent in their feeding, bathing and drinking behaviour.
As Gareth honed his ‘birds in flight’ skills we had an unexpected bonus in the shape of four Otters! A writhing sinuous mass of muscle and menace, they twisted and turned in the water before climbing onto the bank and one of them munched contentedly on the fruits of it’s labour – a large Eel.
Displaying Redshank, typically unobliging Little Grebes and a ghostly Barn Owl drifting across a reedbed as dusk approached all added to the wildlife experience as Gareth shot lots of images of Swallows as they twisted, turned and stalled just a few feet away from us. I managed a few shots myself, as we compared the effect of different camera settings, focal lengths etc.
Saturday 03:30 and the alarm clock starts ringing. After eight long days out of the office, things were going to be topped off nicely with an early start for our ‘Dawn on the Coast’ Beginners Photography session. I arrived just ahead of Dave, and met up with Steve who had arrived early. In the shadow of Bamburgh Castle, with the North Sea washing close to our feet, we worked our way through the holy trinity of photography (shutter speed, aperture and ISO) and various compositional techniques as the approaching dawn illuminated the landscape around us. Snow, driven by a strong northerly breeze, passed by almost horizontally and the broken cloud to the east produced intermittently good lighting conditions. Red-breasted Mergansers and Fulmars flew by, Common Scoters and Eider were riding on the swell, Purple Sandpipers crept around the base of the rocks and we finished our session as less amenable weather approached from the east.
Having lived on, or near, the Northumberland coast for 15 years (apart from my 6 month sojourn to Texas and Arizona) it’s a location I return to time and again with my camera/binoculars/telescope/camcorder/sound recording gear (delete as applicable depending on my mood and/or aim for the day). The coast is my favorite location for one-to-one photography tuition with clients too (although the North Pennines AONB runs it pretty close!).
I drove down to Wallsend to collect Mac for his day of photography tuition, and we set off along the coast of southeast Northumberland and Druridge Bay. I’ve always seen dilapidated farm buildings as ideal locations for Little Owl and Barn Owl, but one group of buildings made an ideal location to explore the reciprocal relationship between shutter speed and aperture, before we headed north and Mac added immeasurably to my knowledge of the opencast mining operations of the area. Next stop was on the top of the dunes overlooking the north of Druridge Bay and, as well as the impressive scene looking across the rolling surf out to sea, a high-tide wader roost was building up on the rocks below us. Redshank, Turnstone, Oystercatcher and Curlew were all arriving as the surf lapped at their feet. Then they all scattered. Sadly this didn’t herald the arrival of a Peregrine or other predator…but, instead, a jogger. As luck would have it, I was due at a meeting with a Lead Adviser from Natural England a few days later, to discuss coastal activities and wildlife disturbance. The conclusion of a brief discussion at that meeting was that jogging through a high-tide wader roost in a SSSI is mindless stupidity, sheer ignorance and possibly an offence. People really should know better.
Boats at Boulmer and Holy Island came under the focus of Mac’s camera before we arrived at our final location for the day. Breaking surf, rock pools and the Northumberland coast’s stunning edifice of Bamburgh Castle provided our last shoot before the sun dipped behind the dunes and out of sight, and we headed back south. The light wasn’t the best, although it was a good day to experiment with exposure settings, so here’s a shot of Bamburgh Castle in the sort of conditions that I really enjoy.
Tuesday was Christina’s second day out with us this week, and we had a very specific target for our afternoon and evening of birdwatching and photography, luckily I’d already spent a lot of time this year checking out breeding locations for the species concerned…
As the stunning weather illuminated the North Pennines AONB in beautiful light, Mountain Pansies and Cotton Grass were gently swaying in the breeze, Curlews and Lapwings were calling as they traversed the fellsides, Skylarks were singing from high overhead, Ring Ouzels and Mistle Thrushes flitted from tree to boulder to grassy slope and back again, a lone Woodcock (presumably with a faulty body clock) was roding in bright sunshine and there, on a fence post not 50 metres away was our quarry; stretching, posturing and delivering a haughty stare with piercing yellow eyes, the Short-eared Owl sat obligingly as Christina rattled off frame after frame of pin sharp owl portraits. The owl was just one small part of the whole experience, but it was the part that the afternoon had been structured to deliver and it slotted into its appointed place in the vast landscape and soundscape. Our wildlife doesn’t always perform to plan (and it would be rather dull and predictable if it did!), but when everything comes together perfectly it feels sublime.
Monday was an all-day Farne Islands Safari with Mike and Maggie, who I was really happy to meet up with again after their two trips with us last October.
All-day trips to the islands always face one particular hurdle – landing on Staple Island. Big tides and any appreciable swell make getting on to the island an interesting proposition and, after our boatman had looked at the swell and decided it wasn’t safe, we had a tour around the outer islands before returning to Staple as the tide fell. This time all were able to disembark safely, although a number of passengers were struggling to follow the very clear instructions they had been given by Billy and Bobby about how to get off the boat and on to the island!
Staple is always a popular island with our clients. You can get on with your photography without the constant aerial bombardment from the Arctic Terns that make Inner Farne such an exciting place to visit Mike has the same camera that I use so we went through the custom settings to make photographing birds in flight a (slightly) easier proposition, and I settled to spotting approaching photo opportunities while Mike concentrated on the scene through his viewfinder, with Puffins, Guillemots, Razorbills, Kittiwakes, Shags and Fulmars all performing well. Inner Farne in the afternoon was a different proposition altogether; early June is the time when the Arctic Terns are at their most defensive and aggressive - pity the visitors who turned up without hats Judging wind speed and direction, and the position of the Sun, led us to the right spot to photograph Puffins as they arrived back from their fishing expeditions and Mike was able to put his newly learned techniques into practice. After a day,which seemed much too short, we were on our way back to the mainland, and discussing Mike and Maggie’s next trip north and what we’d do next time. When the company of our clients is as enjoyable as the wildlife, it’s always a good day
Thursday was another day for returning clients, as I collected Louise from her holiday accommodation at Brockmill farmhouse for a bespoke photography trip to the Farne Islands. We began, as most of our Farne Islands trips do, with a visit to a mainland tern colony. As happens so often, the Little Tern colony had been washed out by a very high tide – with all 42 pairs having abandoned their nests. The 250 pairs of Arctic Terns was also a long way below the number that had been there, with the tides having washed away the majority of that colony as well. Lots of the Arctic Terns were displaying, so they may well manage to re-lay.
The Farne Islands, once we arrived on Inner Farne following our journey on Glad Tidings, were as spectacular as ever. Guillemots, Puffins, Razorbills, Shags, Kittiwakes and the terns offered up many photographic opportunities and it was great to enjoy all of that with a client whose views on photo agencies, camera equipment and manufacturers are always entertaining. As we stood above lighthouse cliff on Inner Farne, the weather began to change – and not for the better…
Yesterday was a twice-postponed bespoke photography trip to look at the techniques involved in capturing autumn colours at their finest. I collected Norman from his home in Throckley and we headed towards the Northumberland coast.
Landscape photography tuition is something I really enjoy delivering. Just a few simple camera settings can make a huge difference, although not as big a difference as some nice light…
Autumn colour is a transient, and unpredictable, thing but we managed to get lots of trees in oranges, reds and yellows for Norman to try out a range of new techniques. At our first site, we enjoyed views of a Red Squirrel, and a young Common Buzzard, as we searched for the best viewpoint along the river, and for a brief spell there was enough sunlight to lift the colours from pastel shades of the riverbank. As we neared the finish of our day, at Howick Gardens, a thick blanket of cloud cover put paid to thoughts of a glorious sunset. Redwings called as they passed overhead on their way to roost, and we headed off ourselves as daylight faded.
I had 2 days in the North Pennines late last week; a one-to-one photography day and a birdwatching trip. Separated by just 48hrs, the days could hardly have been any different.
The photography day took place in gales that were so strong, I had to choose the direction of the car carefully when parked so that we could open the doors, and plan the route as we went along so that Michael would be in a position to get shots from his side of our mobile hide, with as little interference as possible from the weather. As well as serving up Black Grouse, Red Grouse, Golden Plover, Curlew and Short-eared Owl I had a stint as photographer’s assistant, holding my Cubelite in place so that it acted as a diffuser and windshield as Michael enjoyed having some of the area’s flora in front of his macro lens.
2 days later and I collected Mandy, Sara and Stevan from Jesmond and headed west again. As we crossed the remote moorland roads and walked in Upper Teesdale, we found Snipe, Curlew, Meadow Pipit, Skylark and Wheatear all displaying. We had excellent views of 2 Greyhens and a Blackcock was dozing in the afternoon sunshine. Common Sandpipers were flitting about across the water and the Mountain Pansies were glorious in the sunlight. All too soon, it was time to head back towards civilisation.
We put a lot of effort into finding locations for species that our clients are keen to photograph and we can apply decades of experience and fieldcraft…but we can’t control the weather. As we left the lowland coastal strip of Northumberland on Sunday, gaining altitude in a search for Black Grouse at some of our favoured spots in the North Pennines, the rain started to patter on the car windows. As the wind strengthened, and the pattering turned to a shower, this added another factor to our considerations; 1) find birds, 2) position vehicle so that a) client has a clear shot and b) lighting angle is good, were joined by c) rain isn’t drenching client With all of those achieved it just remained for Arthur to fill his memory cards with those species that the North Pennines produces such close views of; Black Grouse, Red Grouse (with chicks), Curlew, Common Snipe, Lapwing, Golden Plover (with chicks) and Short-eared Owl being the stars of the day. As we drove a steep remote road towards Weardale we even had excellent, and close, views of the often elusive Greyhen, and throughout the day we found several groups of Blackcock (including 7 in one field). To be honest, if we could control the weather…I’m not sure we would