The last week has seen me making a few journeys cross-country, where I’ve been based in Aintree on Merseyside. Of course I packed my camera, in the hope that I might have the opportunity to make a short detour to Crosby beach and find a new angle on Another Place, the collection (100 in all) of Antony Gormley sculptures which are installed along the shore here. Art and a beach? Seemed like a perfect combination for me.
Unfortunately a different combination of working hours and daylight hours proved incompatible, so that the only occasions where I had time on my hands were when it was pitch black. A speedlite might have illuminated one of the statues, and with a camera on a tripod and a long exposure I might have caught some ambient light in the sky, but I hear that the beach there is particularly muddy, so the tripod would probably have sunk as I did so. Another Place will have to wait for another time.
I still came away with some imagery from the trip though. Only a couple of evenings before a friend had promised me a picture of the willow tree in the grounds of the school where she works so long as it remained snowy until the Monday. (I’m assuming it didn’t JJ!). However on my way over the Pennines I spotted a specimen of my own just outside Kirkby Stephen. There was nothing additional in the vicinity which would make the picture, but it’s an impressive specimen anyway. It did however have the effect that having stopped to get the camera and tripod out, I was inclined to look for inspiration elsewhere. I had an inkling of where I would find it too.
The train station at Kirkby Stephen is located on the highly evocative Settle to Carlisle line, and is some way out-of-town on the road up to Ash Fell. I parked here and went exploring.
Apart from the newly constructed waiting room on one platform the place looks like it has remained unchanged for years, so I shot some interesting compositions, but again I felt I lacked a point of interest. Where was Jenny Agutter and her red knickers when I needed her?
The light was fading quickly now so I returned to my car and continued uphill when I found my point of interest. Not sure what the point of this structure by the roadside was, but it brings a whole new meaning to shoe tree!
Whilst I had some fun with people battling the wind on Friday, this was not my main objective in heading into Sunderland. I had it in mind to shoot a slow exposure image of a willow tree being thrown about, preferably with some water to catch its reflection, and a solid structure to provide a pin sharp background to the blur of the branches in motion. The slow exposure would allow the tree to become ghostly, whilst the ripples of the water would even out to provide a mirror like surface.
That was the theory anyway.
I was pretty sure I’d find a suitable combination of elements in the town’s Mowbray Park, but whilst I wasn’t entirely incorrect, the trees around the ornamental lake were either denuded by the autumn winds or too small to feature much in the picture. Nevertheless I thought the reflections might still make for some worthwhile imagery. What I didn’t count on was the wildlife.
On seeing someone at the water’s edge every duck and swan on the water assumes you are here to feed them and makes for your location. Ordinarily I wouldn’t be averse to including a swan or two in the pictures, but when shooting slow exposures any movement simply becomes a blur. In the 15 or so exposures there was one where a swan was still enough to be a feature of the shot, but the cygnet with it was not so cooperative and painted a swathe of grey across the foreground.
This of course is where digital imagery comes into its own. As each image is no more than a set of numerical data I was able to effectively calculate an average of those numbers by combing 15 files and producing the mean. Bingo, the ducks and cygnets were all gone and only a couple of paler patches remained in the area once occupied by swans. A quick application of the cloning tool set to darken was enough to sort that issue.
A little adjustment to the contrast to darken foreground details gives what is called the “Lorrain Effect” – check out J.M.W. Turner‘s Crossing the Brook to see how it is done properly!
Leaving the park I found another bird, ostracised by the more garrulous fowl on the lake. I was surprised how unperturbed it was by my presence, but glad of the opportunity.
Incidentally the building in the photograph, part of the Sunderland Museum is appropriately enough the Winter Gardens. Judging from the way Pat was wrapped up and warming her hands on her coffee, she’d already been.