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Wild boar and mussels

The ‘World Famous’ David Noton has just sent me an annoying text. He’s just arrived in France eating croissant and I’m in the office writing this! Still, these Newsletters make me search out images, usually those waiting to be processed, which bring back memories. I’ve just come across a pre dawn shot from the Charente region earlier this year. A family of wild, (yes they really were livid), boar scurrying away through the woods having been exposed to me first thing in the morning! Earlier, this trip had started in Brittany where the massive tidal ranges really gave us some sand to play with: from close up images of wild food – mussels, whelks, cockles, razor fish (the sea food really is the best in this region of France) to tidal patterns in the sand and abstract portrayals of the mussel and oyster beds standing guard at the low water mark. You wouldn’t think that just one bay would provide so many memories of photographic exploits.

The tidal range here is phenomenal, not as much as the Bay of Fundy in Nova Scotia but pretty close, and you’ve really got to get it right. Get it wrong and you will learn how difficult it is to swim with a fully loaded Lowepro on your back and a Manfrotto between your teeth! It will out run you. The other danger is quicksand. Enough said. H&S over with, one shot planned to coincide with the twilight and the low tide was of the patterns left in the sand by the departing sea. This vast expanse of wet sand, its rivulets glistening with the last rays of light which were striking it from an angle slightly forward of my position on the cliff overlooking the bay.

As ever, the position had been located from an earlier coastal path foray, as it happens, in the pouring rain. The time was late April so anyone with a predilection for the wet stuff was unlikely to be disappointed. In fact, I had been caught short earlier in the week while playing King Canute a good mile from a dry haven. That was also when I learnt about the speed of the incoming tide by the way.

Anyway, tonight was balmy. I knew the set up and was waiting. One’s tendency is to start shooting before the light is perfect. You always tell yourself that it’s ‘nearly there’, but in reality you know that the ‘right light’ is some way off, but you still try to force the image. That’s why, when I come to edit an evening shoot, I always start with the last shot taken not the first, working backwards through the take. I usually hit upon the shot quickly and can delete those first images. I had the Nikkor 24-70 f2.8 lens on and as the closest subject was some way away, working at F9. As usual, mirror lock up –- tripod and remote release were gainfully employed. Talking about mirror lock up, is this soon to be a thing of the past with all the new mirror-less cameras - I wonder? Back to the plot, I was not using any filters on this occasion as I had the far side of the bay to hold in the top of the image. Whilst waiting, I noticed a horse being ridden across the sands, the light silhouetting the equine against the sand. Checking the speed of the shot as set up, at 1/200th second, it was sufficiently fast enough to ‘freeze’ the rider. The horse wasn’t in perfect position, nor was it likely to move into it, but I had to capture it now or it would only move into a worse position. What this insignificant, leisurely but no doubt pleasurable act of horse riding did was to show, through a sense of scale, how expansive this wonderful bay was. The warm last light of the day on the sand was juxtaposed with the cool blue of the shadows on the far cliff adding to the aura. Perfect. Without the rider, the shot would have showed the patterns and colour but the rider gives the shot purpose. Yes, I could have cropped it tight, but by so doing, the holism that is the bay would have been lost. Being there enabled me to get the shot.

A month earlier I had been on the Isle of Skye on the northwest coast of Scotland for some peace to write the Elements of Photography, (available now by the way). Again the weather was, what is it they say? - changeable; Scottish weather I call it. Anyway, shower after shower had driven in across the Atlantic and Irish Sea and onwards to the Applecross Peninsula all through the night. Sleep deprivation through the noise and chill meant that I could only augment my discomfort by venturing out and onto the promontory above the sound of Raasay. It had to be done.

The wind was fierce, bitingly so and the driven rain stung my face. I know that there is no such thing as bad weather just poor clothing, but my face was exposed and it hurt! I wasn’t staying here for long, that’s for sure. The wind direction was flattening the waves but what I was after soon materialised. Being too windy and exposed for tripod use, this was going to have to be hand held, using F8 and 125th second. I was blessed. With Ben Tianavaig and the Trotternish range in the distance not one, but two rainbows appeared in the morning light. Exposed, image checked for focus and burnout then back to the warmth of the wood burning fire of the cottage, free range eggs dropped off by the landlady and a pot of tea. Job done.

We can all spend time surfing the internet forums to see which new camera has the best, worst, biggest, fastest, slowest performance. Likewise we can scrutinise the chatrooms to find what is the latest piece of software that will help to create that perfect Baryta printed monochrome? But be honest. Why do we take photographs? For me, other than it being my job, it is the pleasure it gives me. The effort that goes into the planning of the shot, not just in searching and exploring this wonderful planet we live on, but working with mother nature to produce hopefully a stunning image. Watching the fickle weather; timing the sunrise or set with the best tides; and then coping on the day. And afterwards, like now, revisiting images from a few months ago and remembering what it was like. What I had to go through to get the shot and the subsequent memories of a time of achievement. I know which I prefer. Get out there, practically hone your skills and relish the enjoyment at the time and afterwards. ‘JDI’ – Just do it.

Keep practising
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