At home in England, on the north side of the small village of Hibaldstow, North Lincolnshire, stands St Hybald's Church. Within the sanctity of the structure, opposite the buttress in the south wall lies a stone coffin, the final resting place of of the 7th century saint from which this church (and two others in the area) take their names. The original tower of the church collapsed in 1875 and as the chancel was being rebuilt in 1876 the coffin containing the remains was found, and later reburied with full ceremony.
As the more observant readers will see, the clock shows 11:45pm, almost the 'witching hour', fortunately for me I don't believe such nonsense and I was still roaming the grounds when the bells struck midnight. For the record I saw no witches, demons or ghosts as I circled the church attempting to find a location from which to shoot, one that avoided the plethora of street lights and security lights now illuminating the surrounding pathways.
I finally settled on a number of shots, this one being a firm favourite. The street lighting behind me illuminates the old headstones with their varying shades of lichen, and the lights beyond the church fill what would otherwise be solid black with some detail, so in this instance I made use of the lighting. Balancing the bright spots on either side of the structure prevents them from being over distracting, but I couldn't help but imagine the scene without them. If I find myself in this area during a power failure, I'll hurry back and try again.
My wife and I were reminiscing today about our life in Oklahoma in the early 2000's. That conversation got me trawling the archives again, pouring over tens of thousands of images until I found one from the place that, for me, epitomizes the Oklahoma prairies which I loved so much.
The Tallgrass Prairie Preserve is an exceptional area, largely untouched by the endless advance of humanity, it remains a beautiful oasis of the wilderness experienced by the very first humans in this area. There is only a long dirt road leading to the visitor centre, other than that it is pristine, and was a real favourite of mine throughout or time in the state.
The buffalo herds that roam the grassland and the howling coyotes that follow along aimlessly just add to the feeling that you are experiencing the land as its first human population did, so many years ago. The Preserve might initially seem large at 45,000 acres, indeed it is the largest section of protected Tallgrass Prairie remaining; but when you put it into perspective, it is merely a remnant from the 142 million acres that previously stretched from Manitoba Canada to Texas USA.
In such a chaotic and crowded world, the silence and emptiness of this place is a tonic for the soul. I visited frequently and stayed beyond sunset many times. The elusive buffalo were difficult to catch on camera at sunset, and though I did manage it once or twice, I still come back to this shot. The colours, the clouds (which are a rarity in Oklahoma) the bison and the rolling hills, perfectly capture my experience of this magical place. I hope to return again when travel is back on the menu, until then I'm happy with this wonderful scene.
As soon as I stepped out of the truck at the car park for Upper Kananaskis Lake this week, I knew it was going to be a tough day. Storm clouds often make for the most beautiful images, so I had made the decision to head out to Kananaskis in the hope of finding some methane bubbles in the ice. The car park is sheltered by tall fir trees, but even from my sheltered position, I could hear the wind howling across the top of the dam, and see the clouds of spindrift being transported east to the lower lake.
Once booted up I scurried down to the lakeshore where my micro spikes bit into the frozen surface. I opted to hike the southwest shore where I have previously found plenty of methane bubbles. Unfortunately the ice was not clear enough for any significant finds, so I continued on into the teeth of the wind that swept the surface of the lake.
I did find numerous subjects and made a number of images along the way, all of which might be mistaken for black and white shots straight out of the camera. The storms overhead and resulting low cloud robbed the landscape of almost all colour. I did find a couple of shots where the light refracted enough to give some of the broken ice on the shore its usual turquoise blue, but overall every shot appeared in black and white straight through the viewfinder.
As a result of this effect I needed to find some strong image anchors to hold the eye and contrasting light to lead us though the shot, I think this one meets both criteria. The island in the midground almost merges with the mountains in the background, leaving quite a distance between the foreground anchors and the island. By lowering the camera position I was able to close the gap and magnify the dark ice 'anchors' in the foreground. While the image is not going to make the portfolio, I'm am happy with it given the circumstances on the day.
In keeping with my previous prairie theme, I recently called into the small hamlet of Rowley about 2 hours north east of my home.
In the 1920's Rowley was a bustling little town with over 500 inhabitants, all enjoying the neoteric agricultural boom in the area; less than 50 years later it was almost empty. This unusual little hamlet without water or sewer services now clings to life as a tourist hotspot in the guise of a 'ghost town'.
In the late 1970's, the few locals still remaining began restoring some of the old derelict buildings, by the 1980's Rowley was back on the map as a film location and heritage stop on the railroad that passed through the town. Unfortunately, in 1999 the railroad closed and a steady stream of 'leg stretchers' who might part with a few dollars was taken from the community again.
Still, here we are 100 years since it's heyday, Rowley and its 12 remaining inhabitants remain defiant, this tiny, stubborn little hamlet clings to life as a ghost town just 2 hours north east of a 21st century city that shares the same wide open prairie and spirit of defiance.
My image today shows the setting sun lighting the old grain elevators on the southwest outskirts of the town. I made some lovely images in the low light leaving me a choice of several for the blog today, but the simplicity of this image and its portrayal of the prairie cathedrals of Alberta was the one that finally shouted the loudest.
Yesterday I set out to find, as promised, something different for the blog. The obvious choice was to head east away from the majesty of the rocky mountains. Within no time at all after turning east, the foothills fade to flatlands, and the wide open spaces of the prairies open up in all directions.
It is a staggering juxtaposition as I head south on highway 22, to my right the bulwarks of the rocky mountains tear at the low cloud formations creating 'rivers' in the grey blanket overhead. To my left, the skies are so far out of reach that all things below them seem compressed by the weight of that heavy blanket.
I love driving the empty, arrow straight roads of the prairies, my own soundtrack accompanies the epic, slowly changing scenes beyond the windscreen, and I am cocooned in 21st century comfort as beautiful vistas offer themselves for consideration. The most obvious choice for anyone seeking images of the prairies are grain silos, and I did shoot some of those, but none that I felt were good enough for varying reasons. The second most obvious choice must be the abandoned homes and barns along the way, abandoned by humans at least, but still providing the most wonderful accommodation for all kinds of prairie wildlife, their value to the whole eco system should not be underestimated. Hence the title of the blog today, these beautiful old structures are indeed sanctuaries for many, long may they continue to be so.
My favourite sunset location by far is Lower Kananaskis Lake, there are so many options during the golden hour it is often difficult to know which one to take. Personally I like to shoot some wide shots with reflections providing such great perspective to a vanishing point way off at the far end of the lake. But, even as the wide angle sits on the tripod, ND graduated filter strapped to the lens, you'll see me stalking around with the 70-200 mm 'picking out' shots from the huge mountain ranges opposite.
Isolating sections of the illuminated ridge is always great fun, finding shapes and compositions that work does not come as easily as you may think. Finding a front range mountain that is sitting below the alpenglow helps provide real interest to the shot, as well as depth. Then an interesting shape such as this undulating 'snake' illuminated behind the dark foreground as the main topic and middle ground, then finally a little sky to provide a background.
This is the same ridge you see on the blog header, and on the home page of my site as well as repeatedly through my portfolio. But each image differs from its predecessor, different light, a different shape, different lenses all go into making new images with each visit.
So with sunset at the lower lake following on from sunrise at the upper lake, I feel I need to shoot something different for the next blog post, macro perhaps, or some night shots.....watch this space.
After 3 months of home renovation in the UK, and 14 days of isolation on my return to Canada, I was ready to get out of the house this morning. I awoke very early, 2 hours before my 05:30 alarm, immediately my head was chasing images around kananaskis. Is the Wedge Pond frozen over, could I go early and shoot some stars before sunrise, will sunrise be blocked out by low cloud, what is the temperature........
There was no point trying to get back to sleep, I was awake and mentally at least, ready to get moving. I think physically I would have rather stayed in bed a few hours more.
After making tea, grabbing my camera gear and heading out, I got a couple of kilometers up the highway before reaching for my tea and realising it was at home on the counter top, not a great start, but I had time to turn around and go back for it.
Finally I was underway, scooting along the almost empty TransCanada Highway toward exit 118 and highway 40 into the beauty of K Country. I stopped in at Barrier Lake, the stars overhead broke through crystal clear air, so much so that I could make out the Orion Nebula unaided, just a white haze with the human eye but welcome nonetheless.
It was -12 at the lake with wind so strong I didn't believe the tripod would stand it to make a shot of the stars, and to be honest I didn't fancy setting up in the freezing temperatures. It was enough to see the lake still liquid and my hopes rose for The Wedge Pond and it's wonderful sunrise reflection, but that wasn't to be. Stopping at Wedge Pond I found the surface frozen over with a covering of snow on top. It didn't matter too much because I have, for some time, been looking for an excuse to go to the Upper lake for sunrise.
I've never seen sunrise here but light direction always suggested that it should work. Online searches show very little, perhaps it's just too far for people to travel for sunrise. The heat in my vehicle was enough to convince me to get back in and travel further, besides I still had well over an hour to sunrise.
On arrival at my chosen point the wind howled across the water and brought with it every degree of cold from the -19 now reading in the cockpit. Even if the sunset was forthcoming there would be no reflection today, heavy waves and mist rising into the freezing air would see to that.
I sat in the truck waiting, engine running, heater on, looking for signs of light on the summits all around me. Generally sunrise can be seen on the summits well before the actual sunrise time, but not today. Today I suffered the agony of seeing the sky behind the summits light up red with no sign of light on the tops. I was worried for a while, but as you can see in the image below, I need not have been. Just a few minutes after 'official' sunrise the summits illuminated, slowly first with deep reds, then orange, and finally yellow, before the white light of day ended my session.
I never stopped the truck in all the time I was there, leaving the heater running and hopping in and out to keep warm. It was great to be out, even if it was so cold, and I learned something new about these wonderful mountains. The images from the session were nice, but I can get better with calm water and a slightly different location I already have one specific shot in mind that should be a stunner, until then you'll have to make do with the shot below.
As I sat by the window of the living room last night, the incessant flashes of lightning outside kept on catching my eye. Mainly 'sheet lightning' away behind the cloud, illuminating that foreboding sky as it crept slowly across the horizon.
After a good 20 minutes or so, streaks of lighting suddenly began darting through the air between the horizon and the clouds. At first I just watched, but as they become more frequent and, in some sense at least, more reliable; I got the camera gear out and set up for very long exposures using the tripod, timer and some heavy manipulation of the aperture, ISO and shutter speed to capture multiple strikes. I 'lost' the sky and city to burnt out highlights as expected, but simply took another two much shorter exposures to capture them correctly, later merging them to make one correctly exposed frame.
Not my usual thing but worth shooting, not just for the photography practice but for the impressive number of lightning strikes too. I stayed dry on the balcony with my camera gear, in humid heavy air getting bitten repeatedly by passing mozzies....worth it I think. .
6766 years ago, our ancestors watched the last pass of Neowise; the retrograde comet currently illuminating our night skies with the most wonderful, languid orbit. Obviously, the comet would have had a different name back then, and it would have brought along with it, great foreboding for those few homo sapiens observing it's progress across the night sky. Thankfully we're no longer tied to ancient ritual and superstition, says I, with tongue firmly planted in cheek.
Fortunately for me, last night the horizon was also filled with noctilucent clouds, I have seen these several times but never understood exactly what they were, until a few weeks ago when I looked them up. They are comprised entirely of ice crystals in the upper atmosphere and only visible during astronomical twilight, so, as they say in Canada, this is a twofer.
My image today isn't anywhere near portfolio work, it's a memory, and a wonderful one at that. As I have said repeatedly, this is why I love photography, the ability to capture a moment and keep it forever is still, to me, a genuinely remarkable thing.
Here is a comet made of dust, rock and ice, hurtling through space 250 million kilometres (150 million miles) from our great blue planet, which is itself, hurtling through space. This remarkable waltz on an infinite dance floor, is visible from earth only every six and a half thousand years or so. Yet, this evening, from my own balcony at home, I have captured this once in a hundred lifetimes event. As I wrote some time ago when I made an image of mercury in transit across the sun, what a spectacular place we live in, and what wonders it provides.
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