Grey Days

Saturday

We knew it would be raining on Saturday morning and sure enough, when Rufus persuaded me to take him out into the garden for his pre-breakfast stroll, it was drizzly. After a brief discussion, we decided it didn’t matter. So we had breakfast and then off we went to Rhossili, up we went onto Rhossili Down, it rained, we got wet and some of us got muddy paws and heather tangled in their fur. We explored the old radar station, watched a huge flock of sheep depart en mass as we approached and made friends with several horses and a couple of foals.

Rufus had to have a shower when we got home. He doesn’t like the shower but I think it’s more about dignity than dislike. I make sure the water isn’t too hot and the spray isn’t too strong. He made a show of trying to escape; he understands the word shower and I spent 5 minutes rounding him up. In the end, he curled up on his bed and pretended to be asleep. But once in the shower, he wasn’t too bad. He tends to grunt and huff a lot, but if he really wanted to get out he could. Instead he allows me to wash under his paws and under his chin. The water was brown running off him, and I probably could have planted a small heather patch in the garden with all the bits that came off him. I don’t have a selection of hair care products, so he had to use the same Head&Shoulders Itchy Scalp hair shampoo that I do. Other shampoos are available and Rufus doesn’t endorse any particular products.

Sunday

Back in the day, I went to the Polytechnic of Central London. As soon as I left, they changed the name to the University of Westminster in the hope that I wouldn’t return and that they could purge all records of my existence there. In fact, I did pop back in December, but that’s another story.

I enjoyed my three years in London. I liked being self sufficient, I liked being in a place that really didn’t seem to stop, day or night. I was fortunate enough to live for the first year in halls of residence just off Oxford Street. It was fantastic. The course I took – Photographic Sciences – was an eye opener and confirmed my interest in all things photographic. Although I did become a little jaded at the end and took a break from photography (ironically, just as I started working as a photographic technician in the local further education college).

The things that held my attention most on the course were the experimental and technical photographic techniques. Some of the most interesting techniques for me were macro, high speed photography and filming, and infrared photography. This was a long time ago and everything we did was on film and we developed everything by hand. I remember right at the end of the course being shown a new little chip that was one of the first image recording sensors – the forerunner of today’s digital camera innards.

Since I left college, I’ve carried on with some of those techniques as best I could. While I was still using film, I used to use Ilford’s SFX emulsion. It had an extended red sensitivity that, with the right filters, could give some infrared effects. It took some handling though (you couldn’t load it in daylight) and gave grainy results. It was great! I got back into macro photography a couple of years ago, and I bought an infrared enabled Fuji S3 just over a year ago. I’ve used it a lot since, experimenting with the effect and finding the best combination of lens, exposure and subjects. I love the effect and have posted some results here int he past.

Last week, after some weeks of trying, I realised that no one wanted to buy my old D300 body. So after some research, I contacted Protech in Uckfield who quoted me a good price to convert the D300 for infrared photography. The company was great. I had a conversation with Jo, who gave me some advice about what lenses could and couldn’t be used. I sent the cameraq off at midday on Thursday and around 11am on Saturday it was back with me. A combination of a fast turnaround at Protech and great service from Royal Mail made that possible. Thank you both.

So for the rest of the weekend, apart from last night’s gig, I’ve been playing with the D300. There are a couple of immediate differences between it and the S3. The main one is that the infrared filter is different. GEEK ALERT – Do not read further unless you can handle nanometres without any side effects.

The filter on the S3 blocks light with wavelengths shorter than around 665 nanometres, that is, light in the visible part of the spectrum. In practical terms, (because filters aren’t perfect) this means that some visible light is recorded and the recorded image before processing appears a deep red colour. The filter in the D300 blocks light from about 720 nanometres, which means much less visible light is recorded. The recorded image takes on a more purple hue. The D300 allows for a custom white balance to be applied, which means that the review image on screen is very close to the black and white final image I would be looking to get. The D300 is a more advanced camera, it has better resolution and low light capability and is a more robust camera. The metering and focussing is better, too.

GEEK ALERT OVER. It is safe to continue reading.

So I’ve been trying lenses and subjects and all sorts of combinations to make sure it’s all working well. And it is! Bearing in mind that it’s been raining non-stop for the last two days, I think I’ve got some interesting shots. I’m certainly happy with the camera’s performance. The only think I haven’t been able to test properly is a sunlight landscape. Below are a few of the test shots. They’re not meant to be works of art.

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Blowin’ in the wind

It was raining as we headed off to Rhossili. Grey clouds filled the sky but I could see they were moving quickly and over to the east there was a glimpse of sun and blue sky. With any luck, I thought, it would clear by the time we got there. And it did. At Rhossili, the rain had stopped and the sky was definitely lighter. We set off through the lanes to climb on to Rhossili Down. By the time we’d got half way up the wind had picked up to a point where it made walking against it hard. At the trig point, the wind was strong enough to unbalance me, and Rufus was being pushed sideways as he walked. All his fur, left to grow long for the cold weather, was blowing over to one side. When I faced the wind direction, it was hard to breath.

I love being on top of Rhossili Down. The view is spectacular for miles in every direction. Today I could see over to Llanelli and Pembrey. A rainbow hovered over the coast between Llanelli and Burry Port. The sun shone on the ridge of Cefn Bryn and the farm land around it, highlighting the fields and hedges. The same sunlight shone on the sea off Oxwich bay. It was rough and the sun reflected off the white water. Over the village of Rhossili, Worm’s Head was lit up by a shaft of sunlight to stand out against the darker see. White waves crashed up against its side.

We moved on, battered by the wind until we left the crest of the Down and dropped into the shelter of the col where the radar station was sited. This provided a welcome break from the cold and we stopped so I could take some photos. I could see surfers in the breakers on Rhossili beach and the waves looked good. You can see our route here.

On the way back, the wind was coming from the left, and I felt the cold in my left eye for some reason. Rufus was off chasing crows, who simply floated above him on the wind, just out of reach. Negotiating the slope down, which was slick with watery mud, was tricky but I managed it without falling. At the bottom, both of us were still feeling energetic so I decided that we’d drop down to the beach.

The path down to the beach leads through the site of the Medieval village of Rhossili, now lost to the sand. Humps and bumps in the ground, along with the occasional glimpse of stonework, indicates where the village was. A small stream flows through the area and is slowly eroding the earth bank away. A few years ago, several human bones were washed out of the earth as part of the early church graveyard was uncovered by the stream.

The beach was pretty much deserted. The occasional wind gusted across, blowing sand and spray along with it. In the breakers, one or two hardy surfers remained. The wind took the spray off the tops of the waves, blowing it back out to sea. A faint rainbow appeared each time this happened. Rufus and I walked along the base of the cliffs towards the surf. Sheep grazed on the hillside, in seemingly impossible places on near vertical strips of grass. We passed the wreck of a small ship nestles, sheltering, in the folds of the cliff and half buried in the sand.

At the water’s edge, it was very windy and I couldn’t tell whether the tide had turned and was coming in or not. Not wishing to be stranded, we turned back for the beach again and we headed on to the wreck of the Helvetia. I’ve been back to this many times over the years; it features in iconic images of Rhossili beach and I’ve snapped it myself loads of times. Today, as I took photos, we were both sandblasted by the wind as strong gusts blew along the beach.

It was getting cold and dark clouds looked as if they were heading in our direction, so we climbed up the earth bank near the little stream, and plodded our way back along the rough track to the car. I chatted to a couple of surfers who had spent the early morning in the sea. They said it had been a great morning but now the wind was up, it was getting harder to ride the waves.

Back home, Rufus decided to use me to help him dry off, and he fell asleep on my lap as we watched TV.

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