I am not sure if I will still have any readers after offering extensive thoughts on the art of cricket commentary in my last post, but if anyone ever reads this then please know that I am most grateful for your patience.
Having left Snowdonia behind I made my way north and west to spend a few days on the island of Anglesey. Anglesey is a significant chunk of rock (about 715 square kilometres in area) just off the west coast of the Welsh mainland and it can be reached by road using either the 19th century Menai Bridge or the 20th century Brittania Bridge, both of which cross the Menai Strait just to the west of the city of Bangor.
The first location i visited was Penmon Point, at the eastern extreme of the island, here you can find fresh air, sea views and pleasant walks while the Pilot House Cafe can satisfy all your on-site refreshment needs.
Lighthouses can make for interesting photographic subjects, often providing the vertical element in an otherwise level environment and frequently positioned in slightly wild locations, surrounded by rocks, cliffs and crashing waves. This would not be the only lighthouse of my time in Anglesey.
When planning my trip I had decided that two nights would be spent in Anglesey, meaning that I had an arrival day, a full day and then a departure day. My full day in Anglesey just happened to coincide with the arrival of a major storm. There was fairly persistent precipitation to deal with but the bigger photographic difficulty was caused by monumentally strong winds (67mph = 107kmh =30m/s).
Tentatively I headed out into the storm, slightly comforted by the fact that the chances to get my destinations to myself were significantly higher on a day like this.
After a completely miserable "sunrise" at Penmon and a restorative breakfast the first location of the day was the old copper mine at Parys Mountain. At a location such as this, a massive open cast mine, there can be some challenges to understand how to capture the character of the place in a photograph... in essence the location is just a huge shallow hole in the ground. To me the most interesting aspect of the scenery was the amazing colours of the soil and sediment, caused (as far as I can find out) by the presence of metallic oxides.
The wind was far too strong for even a heavy tripod and the driving rain was an impediment for shooting in many otherwise possible directions so I was reduced to capturing quick hand-held shots inbetween attempts to clear the moisture from the front element of my lens. It is both a benefit and a matter for some regret that i have had so many opportunities in 2019 to develop such techniques.
Despite the weather Parys mountain was a most interesting place to visit. I do enjoy being out and about at interesting locations no matter what the weather conditions may be and I expect to encounter a variety of conditions over time, 2019 has however been remarkable for a lack of variety as heavy rain and strong winds have been a constant companion. I shall endeavour to ensure that my posts contain something of interest (ok, ok, no more cricket stuff) in addition to complaints about the weather.
My journey continued and I drove towards Holy Island (a 39.4 square kilometre island located just west of the island of Angelsey, which is located just west of the British mainland which is an island just to the west of the European mainland) from where I intended to photograph the lighthouse at South Stack... which is located on a tiny island just to the west of Holy Island.
The path leading down the cliff side to South Stack from the car park is completely exposed to the worst of the elements. The stone walls to the side of the path protect you well from any accidents, but the wind made shooting of any kind exceptionally difficult, 95% of my attempted pictures ended up as a blurry mess.
I resolved to return at sunrise and try again, despite the fact that I would need to set my alarm for 0345.
I made my way back in a southerly direction along the east coast of Anglesey, towards a place called Llanddwyn Island. The island can be accessed on foot along the nearby beach but it is cut off from the mainland at high tide so some sensible planning is required in order to reach it and leave it again without having to wait around for a few hours at either point. This island and surrounding area have many paths which lead through the beautiful dunes and you can also find yet another lighthouse, the Twr Mawr lighthouse, built in 1837.
The afternoon weather was at least slightly more pleasant, the strong winds persisted but the rain finally gave way to a mixture of sunshine and cloud which can be an attractive combination.
I did make it to South Stack the following morning, well before the sunrise, but I was not rewarded with anything particularly interesting in terms of light or colours. It was at least much easier to stand up and importantly to use a tripod seeing as the storm had finally moved on. I believe that sunset might be a better proposition at this spectacular location on a suitable day.
Leaving Anglesey behind I continued my journey, a few days in South Snowdonia, based in a small village near to the town of Harlech. The weather took a temporary turn for the better and as I had a look round the town of Barmouth in the afternoon it was possible to believe that it really was August in Wales and not November in the Arctic.
Harlech itself is a nice old town perched on a hillside with a very beautiful sandy beach which stretches for many miles and a mountainous landscape of dunes covered with marram grass.
The famous golf course played over by the members, guests and visitors of Royal St. Davids Golf Club occupies some beautiful links land adjacent to the dunes and offers some nice views towards the other main highlight of the town, the castle.
There are a few possible vantage points within the town from where you can get a good view of the castle with the mountains of Snowdonia in the background.
Well, that's it for this time, tune in again next week for the final chapter of my report from North Wales.
In early August this year I spent some time in North Wales, a magical area for landscape photography. The area contains some beautiful scenery that reminded me at times of the English lake district and at other times of the west coast of Scotland.
As it was the height of summer my luggage contained both shorts and sunscreen, sensible and appropriate precautions, which turned out to be outrageously over-optimistic. On this trip, and indeed on every trip of 2019, I have been under a dark cloud (literally, not metaphorically) almost constantly.
I have learned over time to embrace whatever atmospheric conditions I am given and tailor my photographic activities to the weather, there are things that work even better from a photography point of view in conditions which you could not describe as pleasant.
When the rain pours down, as it surely did when I was in Llanberis, then the light conditions are often absolutely ideal for shooting waterfalls.
The highly diffused light which results from a blanket of cloud is ideal for this kind of scene whereas strong direct light would create very harsh highlights and overly deep shadows. The incessant rain helps to swell the flow of running water and gives an extra vivid quality to the green foliage, especially when a polarising filter is also taken into use.
The patterns that water makes while descending a steep rock face can often make for an attractive and slightly more abstract "intimate landscape".
I sometimes notice people that seem to equate landscape photography exclusively with grand vistas and wide angle lenses. I do often shoot more expansive landscapes but I have found it helpful to employ many different focal lengths on my landscape photography trips, trying to be thoughtful about how best to capture the things that interest me in a scene. For instance, during this 10 day trip I employed 75 different focal lengths from 18mm to 400mm, a fairly typical statistic for me on such a trip.
I have spent a lot of time in the UK this year (nearly 3 months in total), more than for any year since I moved to Finland 17 years ago, spending time in multiple areas of England, Scotland and Wales. I feel increasingly strongly that the remarkable past of these small islands is a defining factor in much of what is impressive, and also much of what is depressing, about modern Britain.
The huge amount of surviving castles and strongholds which decorate the British countryside are reminders of very different times and a tribute to the people who have made the decisions needed to ensure that they are still (more or less) standing after many tens of generations.
Before this trip I expected that the few days I had in Snowdonia would be my favourite part of the trip, the mountains in this area are not especially high (Wales has only 10 of the 350 highest peaks in the UK) but they are often quite steep and prominent compared to the surroundings which allows for some dramatic scenes.
The relentless rain made me reconsider some of the (not very serious) climbs that I might otherwise have attempted, muddy and slippery conditions make quite a big impact on both the safety of a route and the effort needed to complete it... but luckily there was still much of interest a little closer to the ground.
The various lakes in Snowdonia would have made for ideal photographic subjects in different conditions, but the high winds were killing all chances of reflections, just as they were for the entirety of my visit to the Lake District earlier in the year.
One of my days in Snowdonia did at least offer interestingly mixed weather during the day, with clouds racing dramatically across the sky, something I later realised would have lent itself rather well to timelapse photography.
Despite the generally grumpy weather the area was very well populated with hikers, tourists and the occasional other photographer, many car parks were full at locations across Snowdonia, but the vast open spaces seemed to manage to swallow the visiting hordes quite effectively and it was possible to find relative solitude by following the second or third most popular trail at a given location.
The following day the downpour resumed and I found myself seeking out waterfalls once again. I travelled to my third "Fairy Glen" of the year ( after the famous one on the Isle of Skye and the not so famous one in Rosemarkie).
At this location, I was completely alone and plucked up the courage to record footage for an instructional video with my thoughts about how to shoot such a scene... after recording multiple videos over the course of 45-60 minutes I realised that I really didn't much like the composition I had selected and was therefore making a "how to make make a bad picture" tutorial. Although that tutorial will likely never see the light of day I will try such things again in future in an attempt to get more comfortable on the other side of the camera as I think such content could be of use and interest at least to some of my photographer friends and maybe eventually to a wider audience. It is a challenge for a photographer to build an audience and I think that video content might be a way to expand my reach a little if it is done well.
I continued to another waterfall nearby, the very touristy Swallow Falls, two miles west of Betws-y-Coed.
As is often the case with tourist attraction locations such as this you are funneled (through a turnstile where they relieved you of a couple of pounds in this case) to a certain set of viewpoints and don't have a lot of choice about your shooting positions. Crowds of people also makes it a little harder to set up a tripod. Such places are often not ideal for landscape photography but if, like me, you also really enjoy seeing new places it is inevitable that you find yourself in such an environment now and then.
In this situation I usually try to capture the classic shot you are directed towards (such as the one above) and then look for something which can be more my own. It is always possible to find something that has not been done millions of times before, but it is not always possible to find something which is any good.
Looking at the scene above I thought that there would be a possibility to use a longer lens and capture a more intimate scene featuring just the overhanging branches on the far bank of the river and the cascading water of the falls.
For anyone that finds themselves in this location, the Swallow Falls Hotel across the road from the waterfall entrance provides a cosy place to shelter from the elements and hearty pub meals to restore your energies.
One common feature between this area and England's Lake District is the prevalence of slate mining as an activity. I took the opportunity to spend my final morning in Snowdonia visiting the site of the huge Dinorwic slate mine which is no longer active but at it's peak was the second largest slate mine in Wales and also in the entire world.
This sprawling site has numerous paths running through it and affords views across the valley to the peaks on the other side as well as views long the valley itself.
On this day the cloud cover percentage was reduced to only about 90% which is actually pretty ideal for daytime landscapes as there is the attractive possibility of the sun bursting through now and again and selectively illuminating the otherwise gloomy scene.
This morning also happened to be the first day of the 2nd Ashes test between England and Australia so I was able to tune in, by phone or by car radio, to the familiar sounds of Test Match Special for eight hours a day for the following five days.
The game of cricket, in all it's forms, but especially as a five day test match, lends itself like no other to the science and art of commentary, it is a sport which can be seen in vivid colour without needing to see any visuals. There are a number of reasons for this which are described below... for any heathens that do not already love cricket and are not prepared to be persuaded, I recommend skipping that part.
Back to the slate mine, where some of my fellow humans have seen fit to leave their mark for others to see, the result is an image full of detail and texture.
Well, I think that i will leave it there for this time, please join me next time as i continue to explore beautiful North Wales!
APPENDIX - Why cricket commentary is the highest form of the announcing arts
The first key factor in elevating cricket commentary to the peak of the announcing arts is the perfectly detailed set of definitions. The vocabulary describing field positions is one aspect of this, it is truly wonderful how concisely the positions of the 15 persons on the field (bowler wicketkeeper, 9 other fielders, two umpires, two batsmen) can be described at any time, these definitions work equally well as a reference at all the different cricket grounds in the world and in all possible permutations. Similarly all the bowling styles, behaviours of the ball, batting strokes and outcomes of a ball bowled can be described with perfect clarity (to anyone who also knows the definitions) due to a beautifully complete, but versatile and flexible, set of definitions.
This is already remarkable, but may not be absolutely unique among sports. The second ingredient which plays a key role in elevating cricket commentary to greatness is the element of time. Cricket takes ages!
In a world where everything flashes past at ever increasing speed and attention spans are measured in fractions of seconds (how many of you looked at each one of my pictures in this post for more than a second each?)... a single game of test cricket has the audacity to last for five whole days. Seven or eight hours a day for five days! This is already quite something, but after all that effort there is still (historically) a 30+% chance that no result will be reached and the game will end in a draw. During these 40-odd hours of play (including breaks) the actual activity happens in short moments, a second or two of action about 90 times per hour, with frequent and extended periods where the drama, meaning and excitement (yes, excitement!) is to be found in the relentless overall trajectory of the play and the narratives that are woven around the teams and players rather then any particular ball bowled having an individual meaning.
Cricket commentators might expect, in the best case, to spend noticeably less than 1% of the time explaining what is happening on the field and more than 99% of the time discussing other matters. Even these figures are over-optimistic, they assume that play will always be possible... but cricket is played ouside, often in England, and rain or wet conditions underfoot are fatal to the chances of play! It is quite possible for an 8 hour cricket commentary day to include not a single minute of actual cricket!
The cricket commentary team must therefore collectively be a master of everything that might happen in the specific game itself, everything related to everything that might happen in the specific game itself, and also a host of other things, some of which may even be completely unrelated to cricket. They also have an unparalleled opportunity for exploration of a wide assortment of topics. The best of them, among which the BBC's test match special team can certainly be considered, manage to excel in this seemingly impossible task with ease and in style, keeping the listener interested from start to finish, again and again.
The pinnacle of achievement among cricket commentary must surely have come last winter when the BBC did not manage to secure the rights to describe the actual cricket part of the cricket. So "the cricket social" was born. In this format the cricket commentators simply skipped the menial task of describing the (1-2 seconds ninety times per hour) of actual cricket and the result was masterful, 100% pure, commentary. Wonderful stuff.
As this year has progressed I started to get the urge to spend more time by the sea with my camera. My happy childhood days were spent almost exclusively on seaside golf courses so maybe that partly explains why I often feel magnetically drawn back to coastal areas, I also find the seaside to be a most interesting environment for photography.
In order to scratch this growing itch I headed for the Northumberland coast in the north-east of England which has beautiful and varied beaches and various other points of interest.
When photographing scenes containing motion I think that the choice of shutter speed is the most important creative decision when it comes to selecting your camera settings for the shot. With a very short exposure you can freeze things in place, with an intermediate exposure you can blur the motion while retaining some detail of the path which things have followed through the frame, while with a very long exposure such as the picture above you can give a very soft and relaxing feeling to the whole image.
The area of Northumberland is full of historical interest, many castles and grand houses decorate the countryside - visual reminders of some very different times. Many of these fortifications are coastal and can be used as background interest in photographs on the nearby beaches.
While impressive structures can be of great interest, there is also a fascinating world in miniature on many of these beaches. Ancient geology, shaped by countless millions of tidal cycles, provides an infinite variety of shapes, textures and colours for the small scenes that play out at your feet..
At the start of the 1940's, as Britain stood alone (western europe being under the under control of the nazis) preparations were made on beaches and landing grounds along the whole of the eastern coast in case it was necessary to repel an invasion. In many places some remnant of these defences can still be seen today.
Compared to some of Northumberland's attractions, even the oldest castle seems like a newfangled creation. A drive to the middle of nowhere followed by a walk through the fields brought me to an ancient stone circle dating from the early bronze age some 4000 years ago.
The monuments we erect have certainly evolved over the last four millenia. Sean Henry's bronze sculture "the couple" at Newbiggin-by-the-sea features a pair of 5 metre tall figures staring somewhat impassively out to sea from their perch on top of a breakwater about 100 metres offshore.
The coast is an ever changing environment, often the day to day differences are imperceptable but as time marches on the cumulative change can be remarkable. In the town of Seaton Sluice there is a small sea stack, about 50m away from the beach, which is called Charlie's Garden. It is so named for the simple reason that it used to be a part of the mainland and at that time the plants on this piece of land were maintained by a chap called Charlie. If Charlie were around today he would find that the logistics of tending his plot had become somewhat more complicated.
The tides on the Northumberland coast are pronounced with a difference of over 4 metres between low tide and high tide. This makes a remarkable difference to many locations, especially where the sea is shallow close to the coast. St. Mary's Island, near to Whitley Bay, demonstrates this phenomenon quite clearly - at low tide you can walk along a narrow road to the island and it's lighthouse while at high tide it is a true island, about 100 metres offshore.
The remains of an old jetty can be seen near to the road which leads to St. Mary's Island, they seemed to make a perfect subject for a very long exposure (6 minutes in this case) image as the sun rose above the horizon, leading to a very minimalist composition. I have started to do an increasing number of very long exposures during this year, they require some small calculations as the camera does not take care of the settings automatically for exposures over 30 seconds, but when you want to get truly smooth seas then 30 seconds often isn't long enough. There is no other way to get this effect in camera, although it can be done absolutely convincingly in the computer by someone who knows what they are doing (and quite horribly by someone who doesn't).
Along the coast, near to Howick, it is possible to find another peice of history. In the 19th century Earl Grey (yes, that Earl Grey), who was the prime minister in the 1830's, built a bathing house on the rocks where he might spend time with his sixteen children. Earl Grey's bathing house still stands to this day and can even be rented as a holiday home.
There are many attractive little towns along this coast, but Alnmouth (at the mouth of the river Aln) was the highlight for me. I watched an unusually nice sunset from a vantage point on the other side of the River Aln, with a number of boats resting on the surface of the estuary waiting for the incoming tide to lift them up once again.
This was my first visit to Northumberland but I hope it will not be my last.
Until next time,
On my first visit to the Lake District my favourite lake, by far, was Buttermere. This relatively small, but very beautiful, lake is surrounded on all sides by steep fells which lead up to some interestingly shaped peaks. The lake itself has a long and thin shape which means that when you look across the water the peaks on the far side look comparatively imposing and immediate rather than sloping gently upwards into the distance.
On my last day in the Lake District I visited Buttermere for the fourth time, hoping that I could finally take some pictures.
The walk around Buttermere takes you past or through many working farms, mostly sheep farms, and it was very common to find sheep wondering around on the narrow roads leading through the village. Caution is needed when driving in this area and also if you are one of the many people who bring their dog to Buttermere for a walk, there are signs at multiple points on the Buttermere circuit telling of the danger dogs pose to newborn lambs and warning that farmers have the right to shoot any dog which is not on a lead and is bothering the sheep.
The weather was still a bit questionable considering it was early summer, but at least the wind had reduced to some extent allowing for some reflection shots and making it possible to do slightly longer exposures without the shots being ruined by movement in the trees.
The road which runs along the north-west side of the lake takes you past the lovely little church of St. James. The present church building is 180 years old but there has been a church of one form or another on that spot for over 500 years.
As you make your way around the lake the path is often close to the shore but in the nesting season there are some detour put in place to keep traffic away from areas containing young birds. These diversions take you up to the same level as the road and offer some different views across the lake. On the far side of the lake (away from the road) then the path sometimes takes you up into the forest and there is also a couple of waterfalls in the area - all in all there is plenty to see and a good variety of views at Buttermere.
I am happy that I was finally able to get at least some shots by which i can remember Buttermere, even though it took 4 visits and still the conditions were far from ideal, hopefully one day I will get the chance to be there again with a bit better luck.
I left Buttermere behind for the final time and headed for one final Lake District destination, the Rydal Waterfalls in the extensive grounds behind Rydal Hall. The hall is a grand old building, the former country home of the Le Fleming baronets. The gardens are very attractive and well taken care of and feature the lowest of the series of waterfalls as a highlight.
One unusual feature of this waterfall is that there is a small building known as "the Grot" which was erected for the sole purpose of comfortably viewing the waterfall.
As you follow the course of the stream up the hill from this lower waterfall you come to some minor rapids.
Above the rapids there is a nice looking weir with various choices of foreground interest...
... and finally at the top of the estate there is one last waterfall.
After my Lake District trip ended I had arranged to meet my parents in the seaside town of Grange-over-Sands, a place which I had heard mentioned many times but never visited before. When my father was a small boy it had been a tradition for his family to spend a few days in Grange as their summer holiday so it seemed like a suitable place to meet up and reflect on old times.
We spent a very nice couple of days there before they returned home to Scotland and I continued my photography trip by spending some time in Northumberland on the east coast of England. There was not much focus on photography in Grange over Sands, but I did manage to photograph my 204th different bird species, a Muskovy duck at the duck pond.
I very much enjoyed my first visit to the Lake District, despite the weather and the rather expensive "paying and displaying". I look forward to visiting the area again!
until next time,
For the last two years I have been travelling and shooting at a bit of a frantic pace, always impatient to move on to the next trip. During this summer I have been at home for a period of a few weeks and that has given me an opportunity to evaluate my recent efforts in a bit more depth and examine the progress that I have made while considering how I want to further develop as a photographer.
I took the opportunity to combine this period of reflection with an exercise to update my portfolio (a collection of images that I publish on this site in order to represent my work), adding some newer images that I felt merited inclusion, updating some existing images to reflect my current preferences and retiring some which no longer please me.
The updated portfolio can be viewed by clicking on the picture below, or by selecting "portfolio" from the site navigation.
In another new development I have partnered with Fine Art America in order to offer prints of each of my portfolio images in a variety of sizes and materials, with or without frames, as well as greetings cards featuring each image.
All printing, shipping and delivery is handled by Fine Art America who have a global network of locations each of which can fulfil orders. Having ordered some samples to test the quality and speed of their service I can report that I am happy with what they provided. My order from Finland was processed by their delivery centre in the UK and arrived in less than a week. Fine Art America offers a no questions asked refund policy within 30 days of ordering which provides some additional peace of mind.
For anyone who is interested in buying a print there is a "buy print" button in the larger view of each portfolio image, and there is also a possibility to see all the offered images by selecting "Store" from the site navigation or clicking the image below.
I hope that you enjoy looking at my new portfolio images, and I am looking forward to getting back into the field to capture future portfolio candidates. Please don't hesitate to contact me if you have any questions about prints from my store or if you would be interested in prints of any of my images which are not currently listed in the store.
Thanks for your attention, the next blog post will be back to my normal field reports.
All the best,
P.S. special thanks to all those people who gave feedback to me as I was considering the updates to my portfolio, your input was most useful.
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