Over the last few months, the subject of ‘climate change’ has once again come to the fore and the number of unsolicited posts on social media asking me to ‘like’ or ‘share’ them has increased accordingly. These posts either put forward the anthropogenic global warming (AGW) position or denigrate those who do not agree, or do both, and with the BBC, Channel 4 and the Guardian newspaper in the vanguard, mainstream and social media, politicians, bureaucrats and environmentalists are once again in full flow, peddling their message that AGW, driven by human emissions of CO2, is destroying the planet.
Over 160 years after Foote we’re still not very good at measuring the planet’s temperature, and the margins of error used are so large as to make any definitive figure meaningless. However, what primitive measurements we can make indicate that the planet is warming. But then it has been warming for fifteen thousand years. The last ice age came to an end when something triggered the current interglacial period and, despite variations and even some reversals in the rate, the trend in temperatures has been up ever since.
The main problem with the AGW argument is that neither the scientific nor the empirical data support the hypothesis. There isn’t any evidence that CO2 has been a driver of climate in the past, and there isn’t any evidence that it is driving the climate now, despite a concerted effort over the last 40 years by the world’s scientists, and with a budget running into trillions of dollars to find any. I have yet to find a published and pier-reviewed scientific paper which demonstrates the mechanism by which CO2 drives the climate.
People tell me that definitive proof is not needed; that there is a huge amount of circumstantial evidence, and that the science is ‘settled’. Science is never settled. Science doesn’t care about circumstantial evidence, majorities, reputations, probabilities, consensus or even Swedish schoolgirls. Science is the search for truth and it’s the very essence of science that it continuously asks questions of the current paradigms and theories, and that we adhere to the scientific method which has served us so well since Pythagoras.
“To make our photographs come alive it may be necessary to prevent ourselves from being invested by the complex knowledge of photography and our love for technique. Instead, we may be better off by concentrating on our love for the subject matter and on the feelings we hope to reveal”
Per Volquartz. Photographer.
I rarely buy photographic magazines. Maybe once a year for a holiday read is about it. As a member of the Royal Photographic Society (RPS) I receive their magazine every month as well as the RPS visual art group magazine, and whilst I have issues with some of the content as ‘photography’ the work published is usually superb.
Part of my abstention from the main-stream photography press is due to the fact that they are obsessed with equipment (which keeps advertisers happy) and with technique (which, I suppose, keeps readers happy). Lots of ‘how ‘and little ‘why’ is the norm, which is to say that there’s little discussion or critique of the aesthetic and creative attributes of an image. This if fine if you want to buy a new piece of kit, need to understand ND filters, or are looking for a promising location, but useless if you want to understand why a particular image works so well.
Another reason for my abstention is that, in this digital world, there are so many more ways of finding the information and inspiration I’m looking for. However, the problem here is that the new wave of bloggers, vloggers etc are simply aping the hard copy magazines. Equipment and technique are still paramount to the point of banality. Why anybody would want to make a 10 minute video about un-boxing a new camera, or why anyone would watch it, is beyond my understanding.
Last weekend I spent time looking at some landscape vloggers work on Youtube. I watched eight vlogs by six different ‘landscape photographers’ (inverted commas intentional), and errors, mistakes, poor technique, and resulting images (when displayed) which were, quite frankly, rubbish were in abundance. One vlogger was disappointed when he found himself on the wrong side of a valley at sunset! Wrong place at the wrong time; difficult for a ‘landscape photographer’ to get it more wrong then that.
There are many facets to landscape photography which are not apparent in the finished images. An understanding of weather patterns, tides, the movement of the sun, the variations in water levels in lakes and rivers, timing of seasonal events, to name a few, are crucial. Research is also important, as an understanding of the background of a landscape feature can (and maybe should) have an influence on how you photograph it. Studying the work of other photographers and artists is crucial, and viewing as much work by as many different photographers and artists as possible provides a good foundation to your own work.
‘Landscape photography’ is not about photography; it’s about the landscape. You can teach someone the basics of photography in a few hours, but an understanding of the landscape can’t be taught. It has to acquired through experience, and that takes time. Only when you have developed some empathy with the landscape can you start to explore your response to it through your images. My best images often come towards the end of a visit, as if my photography head needs time to tune in to a particular landscape.
A few years ago I hosted a one day workshop in Snowdonia, and those photographers who made the effort to meet me 2 hours before sunrise were rewarded with spectacular lighting. To this day, whenever I visit their club, they still talk about that morning. It was no accident that I took them to that spot at that time. True, the light was even better than I anticipated, but we were in the right place at the right time, which was a product of not only my experience and knowledge of the area, but of the efforts by everyone to get out of bed at silly o’clock.
Rather than being able to recite the attributes of the latest piece of kit, which will be replaced in a few months anyway, we should concentrate on the emotional, aesthetic and creative ‘why’ in our images. To understand why the photographer was compelled to make the image, and why, for example, the compositional decisions were made. What does the photographer ‘see’ in the landscape and how does it affect their response and the resulting composition.
Maybe what we need is a vlog which describes, in real time, the photographer’s thought processes in building a particular composition, or one in which a photographer discusses the attributes of a successful image. Any takers?
Over the last few years Parkinson’s Disease has made it increasingly difficult for me to carry my photographic equipment any distance.I was diagnosed in 2011 and as recently as 2015 I was carrying a 20 kg rucksack all day over all kinds of terrain, but then I started loosing coordination in my left arm and the difficulty was not so much carrying the rucksack as getting it on in the first place!
So I started casting an eye about for some means of carrying my gear, and eventually I bought the Monowalker.Designed for moving over rough ground, it is hitched to a harness a little like Scott’s method of man-hauling sleds!I used it without the harness (like a posh wheelbarrow) and it worked very well, although kissing gates and stiles presented a problem as I had to unload and reload it either side. However, towards the end of 2017 I was starting to have difficulty pushing or pulling it, and a new solution was needed.
The Monowalker loaded up for a night time trip.
I looked at some electric trolleys, mainly designed for fishing, but these had various drawbacks.They were generally big, heavy, and even secondhand ones were expensive.More importantly they would be difficult to modify them for carrying my camera gear.Then I hit upon the idea of converting an electric golf trolley.This was far more promising as they were light, folded up for transportation and had a good range.The big plus was that they would be easier to modify.After looking at many different kinds I eventually bought a secondhand ‘GoKart’ trolley off eBay for £50, and set about modifying it.
The ‘GoKart’ golf trolley before modification.
First I needed some method of securing my camera equipment, including the time-lapse motion rail.The first idea used four lengths of Unistrut fixed across the frame, but this added too much weight and was probably a bit ofover-design on my part.After a little more consideration I designed and fabricated a timber bed with a toe board and a cut out for the battery.This was fixed to the frame using ‘U’ bolts and has lashing eyes fitted for securing the equipment.It is also split so the trolley can still be folded.Initial trials of this went well, but revealed that the trolley was going to need bigger wheels if it was going to traverse rough ground.
I bought a pair of 20 inch bicycle wheels with disc-brake hubs, but in order to get these to fit I was going to need to replace the existing trolley drive shaft wheel hubs.I designed new ones using Autodesk Fusion 360 and the resulting models were used by a friend (Daniel) to fabricate the hubs from aluminium.
The new hub design. The grey part is the drive shaft spigot, the blue part is the wheel hub adaptor.
The new hubs were in two parts. The first, the drive shaft spigot, was designed to replace the originals, and fitted the hexagonal socket in the trolley’s drive shaft.Once screwed in place the spigot end was left projecting onto which the second piece would slide.
The second piece, the wheel hub adaptor, was bolted to the wheel via the disc brake fixing hub, and would slide over the trolley’s drive shaft spigot.It was then secured using a large spring pin.This arrangement meant I could remove the wheels for transportation and storage.
My principle concern was that the change of driving ratio due to the bigger wheels would mean the trolley would go too fast.(I had visions of me chasing it for miles along some Scottish beach!!!)I couldn’t do anything about the gearing as the gearbox is an integral part of the drive train.All I could do was hope that the slowest speed was slow enough !!
However, my fears have proved groundless.For its first trial I took it down to New Brighton beach so I could do some time-lapse work. It all went fine and when it started to struggle in the softer sand I just fed a little more power to the wheels. I’ll have to be careful how I load it up as the balance point is over the wheels but it works a treat. There are a couple of minor changes to make and I’m sure it will continue to be improved.
The finished item.
I have a long-term time-lapse project planned and the trolley is key to getting my gear to where it is required. This will test it’s abilities (as well as mine!) but for the time being I’m still mobile!
I did promise to report back on the first attempt at a dusk ’till dawn time lapse. Everything went ok except for two minor hiccups. The first, least serious, was that the cable from the battery wasn’t long enough to get me into exactly the right spot. Easily solved; buy a longer cable.
The second was a little more difficult to diagnose. Around 2:00 am the camera started failing to trigger, resuming normal operations around 3:00 am. This resulted in about 160 dropped frames in the middle of the sequence. I can only assume that the camera power connection was faulty. I will make all the connections more robust in time for the next attempt .
For the past few years I have been interested in the genre of timelapse photography.Of particular interest are those timelapse films which capture the transition from day to night or night to day.These are commonly called ‘holy grail’ films, the term having originated in the days of celluloid film when they were an extraordinarily difficult thing to get right.However, modern digital equipment and post-processing makes the whole process more accessible and over the last few years I have become reasonably adept at producing them.
Many holy grail films only feature the transition through sunset or sunrise, but I began to wonder about making a holy grail film featuring a sunset and sunrise in the same continuous film, which would also capture the beautiful night sky, so I decided to make it my project for the summer.
There were two main challenges which had to be overcome. Firstly I would have to find a suitable location and secondly I would have to provide power to the camera (Nikon D600), the pan and tilt unit (Emotimo Spectrum ST4) and other equipment for the duration.
The location needed a number of key attributes. First, there had to be an uninterrupted view to the horizon.Secondly, as the film features the night sky it would be preferable if the location was in a dark sky area of the UK.Thirdly, it needed to have decent vehicle access as I need to get the equipment as close to the location as possible. Finally, it would be preferable if the location was a lake or a body of water as reflections always make a film more interesting.
Based on my local knowledge and experience, and after a few reconnaissance trips I chose Llyn Conwy. The source of the river of the same name, it sits on a plateau of peatland bog known as the Mignient high above Blaenau Ffestiniog.Sitting at the highest point meant that there aren’t any hills or mountains overshadowing it, and the horizon is only just above the water level. It also had a small carpark at the southern end.
Now I had my location I needed to work out how I was going to power the equipment, and in order to do this I needed some information concerning timings.Consulting my favourite photographic app (Photo Pills) gave me the relevant information.
On midsummer’s eve (21st June) at Llyn Conwy sunset is at 9:45 PM and sunrise is at 4:45 AM. Allowing an extra hour at each end of the sequence for run-in and run-out this meant that the equipment would have to run for 9 hours. The compass bearing for sunset is 314° and the sunrise is 47°, giving an angle of 93° through which the camera was going to have to turn.I could have the camera remain static and rely on the angle of view of the lens to cover the 93°, but the 14 mm lens on my full frame Nikon has an angle of view of 114°, leaving only 10° of angle at either edge of the frame, which I thought was too close for comfort.
The Power Conundrum.
Having sorted a location and the astronomical stuff the next problem to address was how I was going to power the equipment continuously for 9 hours.I needed to power four pieces of equipment.First there was my Nikon D600 DSLR, secondly there was my Emotimo Spectrum ST4 pan and tilt unit, thirdly there was a Samsung tablet which controls the cameras exposure settings, and finally I was going to need to power the lens heater.After much experimentation I finally settled on running a 10 metre cable from the 12 volt leisure battery in my motorhome to the equipment location.The cable is fairly large so that the voltage drop along a 10 m length is minimal, and is fitted with an inline fuse.
Although the ST4 could run directly off a 12 Volt supply the camera required an 8 Volt supply.The solution to this was provided by a small voltage and current step-down power supply.This reduced the 12 volt to the required 8 volt and the amperage to the required 2 Amp hour max.This in turn was plugged into a dummy battery pack DC coupler which replaced the standard battery in the camera.I cobbled together a small box to house the power supply.
So now I had a solution.The camera, lens heater and the ST4 would be powered from 12 Volt supply from the leisure battery, and the tablet computer to control exposure would be powered from a 20 amp portable battery bank.This only really needed to run for the two hours around sunset and sunrise when exposure changes are needed. It could be switched off and recharged during the night when the exposure didn’t change.
The Timelapse Hypothesis.
Having got the equipment side of things sorted out I decided to carry out a full-scale test at home. However before I could do any kind of test I needed to sort out the actual timelapse timings, so here we go.
9 hours total at a 24 second interval = 1350 frames. Say 1400.
So 1 hour = 155 frames
Starting at 20:45 (an hour before sunset);
Static time :- 200 frames = 1 hour 17minutes.Takes us to 22:02
Moving time :- 1000 frames = 6 hours 27 minutes.Takes us to 04:29
Static time :- 200 frames = 1 hour 17minutes.Takes us to 05:46 (an hour after sunrise).
This means the camera will be static during sunset and sunrise. I’ve also allowed for a 150 frame ramp at either end so the camera eases into and out of motion.Simples!!
The Pudding Proof.
I ran the cable from the 12 volt leisure battery into the house and connected everything up. I started the sequence at 20:45 and left it to run. Checking the images the following morning I found the last one had a time stamp of 04:15. This equals 7 1/2 hours running time.
Now this may sound like a failure but a few factors meant it was actually ok. The first is that, on location, for the first hour and the last hour the battery will be getting some charge from the roof solar panel.So the battery-only running time is actually around 7 to 8 hours. Secondly I can adjust the motor settings on the ST4 so it uses less power, and I can turn off some settings on the camera as well.Finally I can run the engine for a short period a couple of times during the night to top off the battery, but this means fitting a second voltage/current regulator to protect the equipment from any surges.
So the power diagram looks like this;
So we’re now good to go. However as I write this it’s still 4 weeks to the shortest night and it may take a few weeks for the right conditions to come about but I’ll report back and post the results here. Watch this space!!
My local photographic society had a competition recently the theme of which was “Impressions”. There are, of course, many different interpretations of this but many entrants, myself included, chose to enter images made in the impressionist style. Unfortunately, the judge had a very different interpretation of what constitutes ‘impressionist’, insisting that an image should have a focal point; that the lack of a focal point meant his eyes could not come to rest within the frame, and that a focal point was one of the golden rules of composition.
I’m not one for rules. They are made for obedience by fools and the guidance of wise men, and whilst it’s good to have an understanding of and be able to use the so-called rules of composition, it doesn’t mean they have to be utilised in every image. However, once you have them in your skills set you often find yourself using them subconsciously, and they are good when you’re starting out in photography as they form a solid structure on which to base your images. However, as you progress and your ability grows you realise that other factors play an important role in composition.
This was first brought home to me when I started using a large format camera, where the image on the glass screen is both upside down and laterally reversed. It takes a little getting used to but eventually your brain stops trying to make sense of the image on the screen and this allows you to see the underlying structure of the image. This is not just the compositional elements within the frame e.g. a building or a person or a car or a rock, but also how the colours, tones, shapes, highlights and shadows interact with one another. You stop seeing the individual elements for what they are and are better able to perceive how they interact with one another.
The image above is one of my favourites, and one of my most popular, but the only compositional ‘rule’ apparent in the image is that it is broadly split into three, which was done subconsciously rather than deliberately, as it just felt right. Otherwise, the image doesn’t have any compositional structure to its elements as such and actually breaks a few of the rules. However, other factors are at work in the composition contributing to the overall look and feel of the image.
First there is the contrasting textures and shapes within the sand and water. The vertical patterns in the bottom of the frame contrast with the random marled effect in the shallow water and the strong linear shapes of the deeper water through the middle. Then there is the slash of warmth in an otherwise cool colour pallet to provide a contrast in the colour tones. Warm tones advance and cool tones recede so the warm light has an effect on the colour balance within the frame disproportionate to its size.
So this image (which was not entered in the competition, but is being used as an example) does not have a focal point, or lead in lines, has a dark line running through the centre, and has bright areas running out of the frame, but they don’t matter. It’s all about the contrasts; contrasts in shapes, textures and colours, and it is the way these elements are balanced within frame and add up to something greater than the sum of their parts, rather than any of the composition rules, which create an impression of Punakiaki.
My maternal grandfather, Adrian Allen (Bob to his friends), was not only a fine watchmaker but also a fine musician. He played a mean jazz guitar, and his main claim to fame was that he played the opening night of the cavern club in Liverpool. The band he played in was called the Ralph Watmough band, and although I’ve been able to find out a little bit about them from the Internet the pickings of been a bit thin.
So I am posting this image here in the hope that somebody out there can tell me something about it. It was taken we think around 1955, and shows a group of session musicians, including my grandfather front and centre with the guitar. This is not the Ralph Watmough band, but some of the musicians in this photograph may have played in that band.
Now I appreciate that the Liverpool jazz scene in the 1950s is a fairly specialised or specialist subject and that many of the people involved around that time will now be getting on a little bit, but if you happen across this webpage and can tell me anything about the photograph or the people in it (including my grandfather) I’d be grateful.