Nine and a half years later.

Back in 2011 I was exploring the country taking photographs for a book – Wales at Waters Edge – about the Welsh coastline. It wasn’t landscape, or wildlife, or documentary; rather a combination of all three. It took me a long while to realise it, but what I was doing was creating a natural and social history of the coast of Wales. On 2nd July I found myself in Tenby and discovered that there was a sandcastle-building contest on South Beach that afternoon. It sounded like a good photo opportunity.

So I duly turned up and took a series of photographs of the event. As it happened none of them was used in the book and most have long since been deleted. But a more interesting idea was forming in my imagination – to come back after the contest was over as the tide was rising. I thought a series of images of disintegrating sandcastles might illustrate sea-level rise and the consequences of global warming. So I returned to the beach about six in the evening – armed with my tripod – for some long exposures. It was deserted and the waves were beginning to lap around the first row of sandcastles. I quickly selected one, set up the tripod, and took a series of images as it collapsed. Focal length was set at 50 mm and exposures ranged between 1.6 and 4 seconds at about f11. I must have been using a neutral density filter as it was still broad daylight. I ended up with 35 images taken over a period of 11 minutes.

They then sat on my hard drive for nine and a half years! But in January I discovered that the Mid-Wales Art Gallery (near Caersws) was inviting entries for an open exhibition on the subject of global warming. I went back to my Tenby long exposures, selected ten of them with a view to making a sequence and began processing them. I made a whole series of minor changes to them all in an attempt to standardise the colour saturation, and cropped them all square. I sent a preliminary set to the gallery, who approved the idea, and suggested that I should have them printed on aluminium. Although this is an expensive medium to print on it avoids the need for framing.

I found a printing company online who do aluminium prints and provide layouts for dropping images into, including a 3 x 3 grid. Arguably a horizontal or vertical strip of single images might make the message clearer but the square format is much easier to deal with for both me and the gallery. I’ve just sent the work away for printing.

The exhibition will be at Mid Wales Arts, Caersws, Powys; provisionally from April 2nd > May 17th. Tel: 01686 688369

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Repeat until it gets dark……

Porth Ysgo (recent)

In summer 2011 I discovered Porth Ysgo, a tiny cove near Aberdaron at the tip of the Lleyn peninsula. I was working on Wales at Waters Edge, my book about the Welsh coastline. It took me a while but eventually I noticed that the beach was littered with extraordinary rocks. It wasn’t so much their shape – although there were some interesting ones – but their colour; when wet they were pitch black. I used a heavy ND filter to slow down the wave motion and create a frothy foam which contrasted strongly with the solidity of the rocks. One picture appeared in the book and I vowed that one day I would go back.

Porth Ysgo (from Wales at Waters Edge)

Well it took more than six years but I finally made a return visit last week. I met up with my old friend Brian Boothby, a very fine musician and photographer, and it was with a growing sense of excitement that I descended the steep steps down to the beach. Conditions were just about right – a receding tide with a fresh onshore wind.  On this occasion I didn’t mind the cloud cover. I put the camera on the tripod immediately, fitted the ND filter and started shooting long exposures. I very rarely use it otherwise but live-view is brilliant in this situation. It gives an “actual exposure” simulation while the image in the viewfinder is virtually invisible thanks to the heavy filtration.  It all went well for a while until I noticed that I was getting some massively under-exposed images. I checked all the settings but still no joy. Then I realised what the problem was. Having set a two-second self timer to prevent camera shake, I then took my eye away from the viewfinder. Light entering the viewfinder during an exposure of several seconds was affecting the automatic meter reading by about two stops. In other words, it was cutting the exposure to something like a quarter of the correct one. It seems odd that this should be possible. Can someone explain it?

So the solution was simple. Once you have found your location and accepted that it is usually pot luck with long exposures, this type of image is actually quite easy to create:

Use live-view to compose the image.  Set the self-timer. Wait until a likely looking wave begins to enter the frame. Place the thumb over the viewfinder. Press the shutter. Repeat until it gets dark.

In fact, Brian had been exploring and found another tiny cove nearby with more extraordinary black rocks.  This time they were larger, more sculptural, and placed randomly on the shore, almost like surreal chess pieces. There were also some massive square-ish blocks, each the size of a small car, piled on top of each other well above the waterline. But salt spray was filling the air.  I managed a few more long exposures, then began to enjoy the sheer exhilaration of the conditions as darkness began to fall. Who needs photography on an evening like this?

Edit: but it’s always nice to come back with a trophy or two………

 

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