Wednesday, 28 July 2010

The Longest Day Bass Rock

I met a couple of photographers making the trip by the fast food stall on the harbour about 12.30, when Maggie turned up and ushered us to the boat where the rest of our party was gathered. After a quick briefing we were on board a heading out of the harbour past the kittiwake colony by 12.45.
The weather by this time was fair, but with clouds bunching up from our landward side, while out to sea towards The Isle of May it was wall to wall blue, the sea although not a mill pond, it was quite calm.

I busied myself setting up my equipment, putting my 70-200 f2.8 onto my canon MK3 and my 28mm lens in my pocket ready for a quick changeover, this was in anticipation of the chumming that was about to commence as we approached Bass Rock. This is normally a superb spectacle, but Maggie had warned us that the gannets hadn’t been performing that well of late; she reckoned that there was an abundance of food in the sea and the gannets wouldn’t trouble themselves for a few scraps. Sadly she was right, scores of gull’s descended upon our boat instantly, but I counted only eight gannets which circled the boat a few times before landing on the water and attacked there food in a doggy paddle fashion instead of their more illustrious eighty mile an hour kamikaze dive.

I tend to struggle with the light at sea, and it was no exception here, to make matters worse as the boat circled the sea colour changed from dark inky blue and a grey day aspect backdrop to a Caribbean setting of blue sea and skies. I was also mindful that I was photographing a white bird and didn’t want to blow the highlights thus burning out the bird; the process was also exacerbated with differing amounts of cloud drifting across the sun.
In general though the light was good to brilliant, but for the most part it was against me, so for the technically minded here are the settings I used :- ISO 200 all the time to get as much detail out of the whites with little to no noise / 3200sec was about right for the gannet with sun directly shining on it but a little underexposed on the bird against the light, but this was easily recoverable as I was shooting in RAW, when it shaded over I dropped down to 2000sec although I sometimes forgot in the heat of the moment, but found I could still recover the image without adding too much noise, I put this down the fact of keeping the ISO at 200 / I kept the aperture at f 5.6 throughout. Although I could have upped the ISO or opened up to F4 to achieve a faster speed I was happy with the balance I set myself as I could still hand hold the 500mm lens at these speeds.

And so onto Bass Rock, I am fortunate as this is my second visit to the rock so I knew what to expect, but even so it still took my breath away to be in the presence of such a colossal number of fantastic seabirds. The last time I was here I could walk a little way beyond the chapel, this time the gannets had claimed the ground right down to the chapel with a few pairs nesting on it, not only that they had also occupied part of the pathway approaching the chapel and with many more on the banks either side the concrete path/steps than previously encountered.
Time to start shooting, with only a light southerly breeze the gannets weren’t hovering above me as I would have hoped for, indeed, the majority zoomed in quite quickly from right to left as I looked out to sea, and this direction was against the light, so I immediately concentrated on the masses banked up on the terraces in good light. Searching for clean birds not too mudded up by the previous days rain. I noticed a pattern of bird approaching from the north some flying straight over me, but a few hover- landing on the perimeter rock, this meant using the500mm prime to get close shots; I might mention that although I had my converters with me I never felt the need to use them.

Some time was spent on getting images of chicks, but for the majority of time I tried to get intimate and behavioural images of paired gannets, but believe me three hours passed like three minutes and guess who was last man standing? – yep me.
The light had started to dim as the next weather front rolled in so I packed and joined the others on the jetty and tried to reflect on whether or not I had got all the images I wanted, I don’t think a photographer worth his salt would be happy with his days work without saying “If only this” or “if only that” but on the whole I thought that I had a pretty good shoot.

I was hoping for some shots on the way back to the harbour but the light had completely gone, May Island couldn’t be seen at all and the sea was quite choppy, so I packed everything for a fast getaway. We had left the rock by 5.15 and I reckoned we would dock by 6.15.
My thoughts turned to 6.28 train to Newcastle, wrong ticket or not could I make it..... I’ll tell you in the concluding report on the Longest Day......that’s a bit of a giveaway really.


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