A walk in the park

Yesterday was a washout, both literally (I don’t think it stopped raining all day) and metaphorically (as we had to stay in most of the day). I managed to get lots done on the photobook from our visit to Krakow last year but really both Rufus and I were feeling a little stir crazy.

We woke up this morning to more of the same weather and a forecast that said it would be wet all day. Faced with the prospect of another day stuck in the living room, we took an executive decision to go out regardless of the weather. After a second fortifying coffee, I got ready and got Rufus ready and without knowing what the weather was doing, we left the house.

It was raining, a steady, drab, grey rain accompanied by warm, humid air without a breeze to cool us off. The worst kind of rain in my opinion. We headed off to the local park as I hoped there’d be enough trees to give us some form of shelter for much of the walk. I’d forgotten how difficult the parking was and we circumnavigated the park looking for somewhere to stop. Eventually a space appeared and we dived in.

Usually the park is full of dog walkers and wouldn’t be my first choice of venue but my assumption that the rain would put many off was borne out and we had the park pretty much to ourselves. One or two dedicated walkers passed us with cheery smiles which helped in the grey morning. All the dogs we met were older and slower and like their owners, they were at their retirement age. I liked the idea of having somewhere to go for a gentle walk and it reminded me that Rufus is slowing down a little now, as am I.

The bluebells and snowdrops under the trees were still bright and fresh and some of the purples were strikingly deep and rich. The grass was a bright green too, and like the blades in my garden, were growing fast despite a recent cut. Trees were blossoming and despite my use of the the word grey and drab to describe the day, there was a magnificent range of colours in the park to brighten the day up.

Birds were taking advantage of the lack of activity and singing loudly. Several robins crossed out path, used to human activity and not at all concerned by Rufus’ presence. Crows pecked at the ground to lure worms to the surface and blackbirds darted about the tree branches, taking advantage of the new leaf canopy and the shelter it provided.

I’ve been going to Singleton Park for years. It formed a regular route as part of my daily training for treks and I’d often be seen there with camera and telephoto lens snapping away at the squirrels and other wildlife. I remember watching a man trying to coax a bird of prey out of the trees. When I asked, he explained that he’d made the mistake of feeding it before he’d exercised it and now it was sitting in the branches taking a post luncheon siesta. I’ve played gigs in the park as part of bank holiday events, once drowning out the next door ‘Its a Knockout’ event with our excessive volume. Early band publicity photos were taken at the modern stone circle, erected at the beginning of the 20th Century as part of the Eisteddfod celebrations.

Back home, both of us were soaked through to the skin but only one of us got a reward for allowing the other one to towel dry him. Life is unfair sometimes.

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The ones that got away

We had a lie in this morning to allow the bad weather to clear, so it was a relatively late 10am when we left the car to walk through Cwm Ivy woods out towards Landimore. The sky was still grey and there was a threat of rain, as the shower we passed through get here proved. It was humid, too, and probably the most uncomfortable kind of weather to be walking in, too. But we both needed a long walk to stretch legs, bust some stress and breathe some fresh air.

I always have a camera with me and this time it was a small compact that I could hide away if the rain came. But it’s slow to start up and so I’m prone to miss fleeting snapshot opportunities with it. Today, I’d regret that.

First regret was not getting a photo of the grey squirrel that ran over an overhanging branch while Rufus watched, open-jawed. He was aware that there were loads more around, judging by the nose up, stand still attitude he adopted several times. But from my slightly higher viewpoint, I could see them hopping and scurrying around in the vegetation, occasionally darting up a tree.

Then, as I was concentrating on the squirrels, I failed to notice the cow by the side of the path. In my defence, so did Rufus. But I didn’t fail to spot the thick copper ring in his nose. Finally, just before I chose retreat, I noticed the thin metal wire of a fence between us and the bull.

We wandered on, both a little more wary of our surroundings. Although there were a lot of leaves on the ground, there was very little Autumn colour in the trees, which was disappointing. But I was in a black and white mood with the camera, so I didn’t miss too much.

The sea wall path is still closed because of damage following the storms earlier this year. So today, we took a different path across the marsh and heading off towards Landimore. It was very muddy, as I expected, and there were great pools of water from rough trenches cut into the marsh. Of course, Rufus managed to explore most of them.

On the way back, we took more notice of our surroundings. I wanted to try and get photos of the bull, particularly the copper ring, and the squirrels. I was hoping to get a photo of Rufus and a squirrel in the same shot. But the bull had gone and the squirrels were camera shy. But as we neared the little village of Cwm Ivy, I heard a commotion over in the fields on the right and I looked to see a buzzard chasing a heron low across the field, just above the heads of curious cows. I was so surprised that I didn’t even reach for the camera until they had both disappeared behind a tree. There was more commotions but I would be surprised if the buzzard got the better of the heron, as herons are big birds.

Any one of those sights would have made a great photos, one I could be proud of. I missed the lot. Time to give up the camera and pick up the crochet needles.

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Windswept

I went for a stroll to Singleton Park this morning. Although this weekend had been planned as a break from training, I actually like walking and so I have been out and about. Yesterday was quite a challenging afternoon. Today was the calm after the storm (I’m hoping that will be a new phrase like ‘the calm before the storm’ – remember, you heard it here first).

So off down the road to the park with the intention of photographing masses of brown Autumnal leaves and a few colourful trees. But the recent winds seem to have cleared all the newly fallen leaves, or other photographers have gathered them up for still life shots. I was left with the half rotten, dark brown ones that are slowly turning into mulch. Not photogenic at all.

But the sun was out and there were some colourful trees and I was happy. It was a lovely morning – I love the early part of the day before most people are about. It feels as if it’s special – mine – and only a few get to see it like this.

I was using the infra red camera a lot this morning and that really brought out the trees against the dark sky. I tried taking comparison shots with the normal camera and I’ve posted a pair here out of interest. I took a completely new route away from the main path; it surprises me how big Singleton Park is and I’ve lived near it for years.

I walked as far as the beach. There were several joggers and dog walkers and the tide was on it’s way out. Yesterday, driving along Oystermouth Road, the sand was whipping up off the beach and creating mini sandstorms along the dual carriageway. Today there was barely a breeze.

Back in the park, I started noticing storm damage. One tree had been stripped of it’s branches and stood like a might telegraph pole. It had clearly been done as a safety precaution as the job was too neat. Then I spotted a tree that had snapped off midway up it’s trunk. The sharp spikes pointed skywards. Finally, I found my usual route back blocked by a lot of branches. I skirted around them to find a tree completely uprooted. It was quite sad to see this massive and old tree pushed over as it if had been a sapling. I pass this tree every time I walk through the park and I always marvel at how big and sturdy it looks. Not being an expert in tree things, it looks to me as if it could just be pushed back into place, with a bit of mulching, and left to get on with it. But it is huge and I guess to get a machine that could achieve that would be expensive. I expect it will be chopped up for firewood.

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Frost and sand

Up late this morning, well for me anyway. I opened the bedroom curtains at 8am and outside was a beautiful autumn morning. So I decided to walk down to the beach before breakfast. One cup of coffee later, I was wrapped up against the cold and out through the door.

I haven’t done this walk for a while so it was nice to be off out with no particular goal other than to reach the sea and stretch my legs. Singleton Park was white with frost but the sun had started to warm things up and small patches were beginning to thaw. The trees carried golden leaves ready to scatter and were surrounded by more that had already fallen.

The tide was in when I reached the seafront so I waked along the sand occasionally having to step aside as a wave broke a little further up the beach. Dogs were splashing about in the water or chasing after balls and sticks; I wished I’d brought Rufus with me as he would have enjoyed.

I walked as afar as the old bridge, or more accurately, the piers of the old bridge as the metal span was removed and relocated further down the path because it was unsafe. I remember crossing that to go to the beach in years gone by, and using it to take photos up and down Oystermouth road when I first started taking photos of Swansea to document the changes.

Then it was time to head back and I walked through a now thoroughly defrosted park and home to breakfast.

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Waterfalls again

You’ve been here before, with us. I had a few ideas for photographs in my head and Rufus had stayed with me so we could set off early. I wanted to go to Ystradfellte again but this time for the woods and autumnal leaves rather that the waterfalls. We set off in the grey mist and low cloud in the hope that the weather forecast would be right and it would clear. It certainly showed no signs of doing so. The further we went up the Neath Valley, the more the mist turned to rain. But by the time we’d climbed up on to the Ystradfellte hill and parked the car, the mist had lifted. Perfect woodland photography weather.

We made our way down to the first waterfall and I found plenty of colourful leaves to offset the grey of the stones and the bright white of the water crashing over rocks. While Rufus investigated the water, I took some long exposure shots of the waterfall with golden leafed trees in the background. Then we made our way along the river, across the bridges and up on to the hill behind it.

I was a little disappointed that I couldn’t find the conditions I wanted but it was an enjoyable walk. The clouds were lifting completely and there was enough blue sky to raise the spirits – ‘enough to make a sailor’s shirt’ as my grandmother used to say. Rufus spotted a squirrel and was off, sprinting up a hill I could barely walk up. By the time I crested the top, he was bouncing around the base of a tree trunk, staring up into the branches. A squirrel was calmly making its way along the upper branches and Rufus was trying to figure out how to climb up. It was never going to happen.

On the way back, we had some quality time in the river and then it was off back to the car. Unfortunately, on the way Rufus was attacked by another dog. One minute they were sniffing each other quite nicely and the next it nipped him on the nose. Poor Rufus wasn’t sure what was going on and I quickly managed to grab him while four dogs ran around, barking and yapping. Rufus has such a soft nature that on the rare occasions that other dogs are aggressive, he is always taken by surprise. I had a few words with the owner, who was clearly not in control of the four dogs she had, but she was only interested in whether Rufus was alright. Somehow, I got the impression it was not for his welfare but to find out if I was going to make a big deal of it. I’d hate to think what would have happened if it had been a child that the dog had nipped.

Anyway, the most important thing was that Rufus was fine and there was no blood drawn. He recovered quite quickly and was back to his old self by the time we got back to the car. He got a nice treat when we got home, too!

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A world of their own

Around this time last year, I took my first serious foray into macro photography. Since then I have returned to it over and over again until I’m finding that it takes up a lot of my time. I enjoy the hunt for subject matter – it’s not as dramatic as stalking deer but the results can be just as rewarding. For me, anyway.

Partially as a result of recent events (see yesterday’s post) and partially as a result of recent financial good fortune (well, one gig), I decided to invest in a new macro lens. Note that I convince myself too easily by using the word invest – which suggests a return is likely – rather than spend. Photography is not a business for me, although I have made some sales and done some photography work in the past and even had an exhibition. And I wouldn’t rule out doing more if the right opportunity arose.

Invest, purchase, buy, barter… however you choose to describe it, I obtained a lovely Tamron 90mm macro lens. For a few years I’ve read nothing but good reviews about this lens. My existing macro is a relatively short 60mm focal length so the extra reach of the Tamron would enable me to keep my distance from nervy insects and spiders and still get the magnification I need. I played around with it last night and I was very happy with the results, although I need to refine my technique a bit. Used to getting in close with the 60mm Nikkor, I found myself bumping into flowers and a spider’s web with the front of the Tamron as it extends a long way forward as I focus closer.

This isn’t an advertising piece. The kit I use is largely chosen on cost, although I would not consider buying something without first having found some good reviews. Most of the less useful kit I’ve owned has, over the years, gone either to fund other kit, or in one or two cases to charity (look up disabled photographers – a worthy cause). I’ve stuck with Nikon since I started in digital nearly 10 years ago, so I have built up a nice collection of lenses. This collecting process means I have been able to upgrade and since I buy most of my lenses second hand, it hasn’t cost anything like as much as it looks. If I’m feeling particularly geeky I might list the kit at the end. If I’m really, really geeky, I might include a snapshot of them.

Particular bargains have included three ancient, second hand Nikkor manual focus prime lenses – 50/1.4, 85/1.8 and 180/1.8. They are built like tanks and they are heavy, but they’re great for low light situations and the 180 is good for wildlife. They cost me tens of pounds and I see that the autofocus equivalents are hundreds of pounds second hand. I grew up with manual focussing so that’s okay, and the viewfinder image is bright and easy to check sharpness. Exposure is also manual although I can programme the camera with several manual lenses so that it recognises them and can calculate the exposure for me.

I’m off on one again. Back to the macro photography. I was squelching through the mud in one of my favourite locations the other day and I suddenly realised that my perception changes as the nature of the subject changes. By that I mean that if I’m off after landscapes, I’ll be looking at the bigger picture. I’ll see detail, but as a part of the wider view. With large vistas, the detail tends to be less prominent the smaller it gets. When I’m in macro mood, I tend to start off trying to see the smaller detail but only seeing the bigger stuff until suddenly, as if a switch has been flicked, the little things begin to appear.

I love that moment as, without trying to sound too dramatic, a whole new world opens up. The hunt for subject matter is over.

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