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.

Monday, 26 July 2010

The Longest Day

Sorry to pinch the name of such an epic event as D-day for the title of this piece, but Tuesday 20th July 2010 was my personal “longest day” in more ways than one and will forever be etched on my mind till the day my maker calls on me. It was a day that had been anticipated with relish for a couple of months, it was the day full of promise, it was the day I was due to make a visit to Bass Rock.
Although the trip had been organised for several weeks I still wasn’t sure that I would make it right until the last possible moment. In fact the trip was still in doubt just ten hours before the train was due to leave Wigan station at 6.28 am on Tuesday 20th July. I had two major obstacles, one was a complicated family matter, and the other was the vagaries of the good old British weather. Britain was sinking under a huge low depression with the rain bucketing down and flooding many areas of the country in the process (just as well then that United Utilities had a hosepipe ban in force). Surprisingly the only bright spot on the weather map for the 20th was East Lothian the very place I wanted to go. So I rang Maggie who manages the trips, she confirmed that the weather was set fair and the skipper had said the sailing was going ahead.
The Plan - I hadn’t booked my train ticket nor had I arranged any digs. I had downloaded as many train timetables that I thought useful and a few B&Bs and hostel telephone numbers in Dunbar and Edinburgh. It wasn’t going to be a problem getting to Dunbar in time for the one o clock sailing, but there were major problems in getting home as the boat was only due back at the harbour at 6.30pm thirty-five minutes after the last train left for Edinburgh which in turn would get me the last connecting train back home to Wigan. As far as I could make out a later train out of Dunbar would afford me a grand tour of Scotland before depositing me back in Wigan around five in the morning. I decided to get there, and then work out the best way to get back or go for an overnight stay.
So there was a plan of sorts, but the plan was so flexible it was pure improvisation.
5am Tuesday - The alarm was going off on the phone, but I was already up and dressed and preparing breakfast. Sue my neighbour picked me up at six and drove me to the station in plenty of time for the 6.28, but I still wasn’t sure I was doing the right thing as dark threatening storm clouds billowed overhead. However, there was no time for second thoughts and before I knew it I was onboard my first of six trains that day heading for Lancaster. I had arrived at Lancaster on a very palatial and empty Virgin train, my connecting train to Edinburgh was a two coach Trans Pennine commuter job and although comfortable it was a little overcrowded with no space for my bulky camera bag, my only luggage by the way. Eventually I found a space between back to back seats and managed to squeeze it in, but not before knocking other passenger’s belongings off their tables, I felt a bit like a bumbling Mr. Bean, but everyone took it in good spirits. The rest of the trip was uneventful as I drifted in and out of some welcome sleep. Edinburgh Waverly Street is a huge station, a city within a city, as I had half an hour spare before the 10 o clock to Dunbar I went for a wash and brush up, grabbed a coffee and sat on a bench and phoned home to give a progress report, Margaret asked if it was still raining, but when I looked up through the glass canopy all I could see was blue sky and it was surprisingly warm. I was the only passenger on the Scots Rail commuter train to Dunbar so the guard sat and chatted with me, he told me the weather was going to be wall to wall sunshine in-between the thunder storms, he was joking – I think. I took advantage of my new found friend to see if he could work out a route for me to get home after 6.45pm, I reckoned it would take me quarter of an hour to get from the harbour to the station; the best he could come up with was the 6.28pm going down the east coast to Newcastle, but I had the wrong ticket for that trip and it was too late anyway, so it looked odds on that I would be staying in Dunbar for the night.
10.45 found me walking down the high street of Dunbar towards the harbour with a couple of hours to spare before the sail to Bass Rock. I have lots of images to process, but not a lot of time, they will appear here and my web site in due course, along with a report on the trip out to the rock.

Tuesday, 6 July 2010

Shopping Again

"Can we go to Southport to do a bit of shopping" asked her ladyship. "Not a problem" I replied. I love shopping at Southport, I'll rephrase that, I love my wife shopping at Southport. Now lets get this straight, what actually happens is that I drop Margaret off in Lord Street then I head off for Marshside, after five expensive hours or so I meet her at the Swan chippy and we've both had a good time. Margaret has a few bag from M&S and I have a few images of Sedge Warblers.
Simply put I love shopping at Southport.