Back to Black (and White)

Reflections in Stonydelph Lakes.

Reflections in Stonydelph Lakes.

When I started out with a camera, an embarrassingly large number of years ago, I managed to scrape enough money to buy a basic Eastern Bloc SLR with TTL metering, but everything else was completely manual – aperture, shutter speed and focus. Nevertheless this was a big step up from a Kodak Instamatic (remember them?). However I was a bit pushed to pay for colour film (slides or prints) and the developing costs were very high too, particularly as I was still at school.

So it was that I came to shooting black and white film by default. It was much cheaper, you could buy it in bulk, load your own cartridges, process the film in your own darkroom, and even equip your own darkroom with a basic timer, chemicals and enlarger for not too much money.

Shooting in black and white was my life until well into my time at University, when I started to splash out a tiny bit on some colour slide film. But it taught me a lot of things, and in particular how to look for tonal contrasts in images. It also taught me a lot about how to use filters and what the effects of those magic squares of plastic might be on the image.

In recent year, concentrating on macro and wildlife photography, I have let my use of black and white slide a bit. However in recent weeks, I have re-ignited my love of black and white landscapes, which can be quite magical when combined with beautiful low, slanting winter light, and ever-changing skies.

There are some images where colour is important, or even crucial. But using black and white forces you to look at how light and darkness interact in each image: Where are the light and dark bits, how can the be linked together using pathways of similar or contrasting tone, what textures are there and how can they be portrayed?

I always shoot in RAW these days, now my computer is up to it, and then convert the image from colour to black and white afterwards. Shooting black and white JPEG in camera really does limit your options. I then process it, usually in Lightroom, sometimes with some tweaking in Photoshop. This allows you to change the colour balance and apply digitally the filters that I used to carry round in my camera bag – a red filter to darken the sky, a green filter to lighten the grass and so on.

If anybody hasn’t tried black and white, it really is worth a go. When you go back to colour, the sensitivity to the amount of light and dark in the frame will persist, and it will make you think about how to frame a photograph in a different way. You will also learn what scenes look great in black and white, and which ones really don’t lend themselves to black and white. I’ve started shooting a lot more images with the primary aim of conversion to black and white. I love the feel of these images. I hope you do to.

Lakeside Path

Lakeside Path

A walk by the lakes

A walk by the lakes

Here comes the rain!

Here comes the rain!

Sunshine and Showers over Betty's Wood

Sunshine and Showers over Betty’s Wood

Boardwalk at Claybrook Marsh

Boardwalk at Claybrook Marsh

Wet Path at Claybrook Marsh

Wet Path at Claybrook Marsh

Winter Woods

Winter tree canopy

Winter tree canopy

Winter has a reputation for being long, dark and wet, but to my mind it is one of the most photogenic times of year. In winter you can see every detail of the tree canopy. The fractal beauty is outstanding, and completely obscured during the summer.

Then there is the winter light. It has a lovely watery quality, a cool beauty. It comes in from a low angle all through the day. Like a perpetual sunrise or sunset, it illuminates the tree trunks and branches with a stark contrast to bring out the true structure of the tree, branches, bark and twigs.

Even in the rain, and in dull weather, there is beauty in the hazy wetness of the woods, a lovely softness that you get at no other time of year.

The woods in winter have a true grandeur that is hidden in summer. They are definitely worth a visit.

Our woods on a damp winter day

Our woods on a damp winter day

The plantation in winter

The plantation in winter

Birch woodland path in winter

Birch woodland path in winter

Birch Wood Path

Birch Wood Path

Canal trees in winter

Canal trees in winter

Along the canal in winter

Along the canal in winter

Flooding

Surreal Bench

Surreal Bench

We recently visited Derwentwater for a family wedding.  On the Saturday morning, the lake was already flooding over its banks, but by Sunday, there was a full flood including the hotel car park. Fortunately we had moved our car, but a few people were caught out.

Some lovely moody, atmospheric and slightly surreal photos to be had though!

Flooded car park

Flooded car park

Derwentwater

Derwentwater

Derwentwater - flooding begins

Derwentwater – flooding begins

Jetty at Derwentwater

Jetty at Derwentwater

Derwentwater

Derwentwater

Winter Light

Glade in the mist

Glade in the mist

As the seasons change, autumn brings not just a change in colour, but also a change in the quality of the light. Summer light is bright and harsh, and the golden hour is either very early in the day or very late. As winter approaches it changes completely – now the sun is low all the time, with long shadows and a wonderful pastel, watery quality. The golden hour is at a civilised hour. The weather is interesting too – storms, clouds racing across the sky, and by way of contrast, perfectly still mornings and evenings with frost on the grass and mist rising in the river valley.

Don’t get me wrong – I love all the seasons, including summer – but winter light is probably the most photogenic.

These are just a few shots of the woods in winter light – low light through the trees, mist, stormy skies and mist rising at sunset. Perfect!

Mist rising at sunset

Mist rising at sunset

Mist through the trees

Mist through the trees

Storm approaching

Storm approaching

Ray of light with stormy sky behind

Ray of light with stormy sky behind

Mist through the trees

Mist through the trees

Mist and golden trees

Mist and golden trees

Main path in the mist

Main path in the mist

Gentle yellows and greens of oak woodland in Autumn

In Praise of Restraint – Autumn in the Woods

Gentle yellows and greens of oak woodland in Autumn

Gentle yellows and greens of oak woodland in Autumn

Gentle yellows and greens of oak woodland in Autumn

Gentle yellows and greens of oak woodland in Autumn

Dew on the woodland floor on an autumn morning

Dew on the woodland floor on an autumn morning

I keep going on about Autumn, but I make no apology for it.  It is my favourite time of year.  The spring flowers are magical, and the Summer meadows glorious, but there is nothing quite like the fungal smell of autumn in the woods.  What I particularly like is how oak trees don’t “shout” about autumn like many other species.  Maple and cherry have been particularly loud this year – flaming orange and yellow, and stunning reds lighting up the trees along the roadside.  Almost all the trees in the ancient part of our woods are oak, which takes a more restrained approach.

Some are still quite green right now, others have a gentle yellow tinge, and others simply go brown at the edges and fall.  Against this restrained backdrop, the yellow of field maple, willow and hazel, and the shocking reds of spindle, cherry and some rowan leaves, as well as a gentle pinks and purples of elder can stand out.  Betty’s wood in particular with its greater variety of young saplings shines out in orange, red and yellow against the darkness of the old oak trees.  Oak provides a pastel and gentle canvas against which the other species can stand out.

Yellows in Betty's Wood standing out against the green oak and ash

Yellows in Betty’s Wood standing out against the green oak and ash

Cherry leaves turn orange red in Betty's Wood

Cherry leaves turn orange red in Betty’s Wood

On the forest floor, things are changing too.  It hasn’t been very wet this year and the fungi are yet to get going, but we have seen some amazing hyphae on one of our fallen logs.

Fungal hyphae form a net on a fallen log.

Fungal hyphae form a net on a fallen log.

The lichens are also coming into their own, forming a miniature forest with the various species of moss, topped off by the fallen leaves covered in dew in the early morning.  The grass also shines with dew, giving the woods an autumnal feel, and a softness that is missing at other times of the year.

Dew on a fallen oak leaf on a bed of lichen and moss

Dew on a fallen oak leaf on a bed of lichen and moss

A tiny forest of moss and lichen

A tiny forest of moss and lichen

The leaves are gently falling now and autumn is in full swing.  There is no sadness – nature is beautiful all year round.  Winter is round the corner, and with it the milky low sunshine and stark beauty and form of our lovely trees.  The turn of the seasons is something I really treasure.  For now, I will enjoy the restrained beauty of an oak woodland in the fall.

 

Farming Today

Presenters, producers and owners at Alvecote Wood.

BBC Radio Four Farming Today at Alvecote Wood

It has been too long since I updated this blog – and too many other things have got in the way.  But last weekend we were invited to take part in the BBC Radio Four Farming Today programme feature all about woodlands and forests.

The presenters and producers were extremely nice people.  They visited the woods, along with the Chairman of the Royal Forestry Society, and we recorded the whole programme from the woods, including links to other segments recorded on other days.

We were keen to point out the multiple uses to which woodland can be put, as well as its value for wildlife, and the importance of management.  Leaving it alone generally results in one or two species becoming dominant.  In order to maintain a variety of habitats, particularly in smaller woodland that has been affected by human activity in the past, you need to do some management.

The programme is available as a podcast and on iPlayer if you live in the UK.

Alvecote Wood on Farming Today.

Bugs (and weevils)

Curculio venosus - an acorn weevil

Curculio venosus – an acorn weevil

Bugs are often overlooked and ignored, and often misunderstood as well, but are really very beautiful and spectacular when you get in close. Yesterday, I was lucky enough to find a wonderful collection of several species of shield bug as well as two species of weevil on one small patch of nettles at the woods.

Shield bugs are flat bugs with a back that resembles a shield, and sucking mouthparts which extract sap from plants. They are also called “stink bugs” because they exude foul smelling and tasting fluid when threatened to deter predators.

Hairy Shieldbug

Hairy Shieldbug

Woundwort Shieldbug

Woundwort Shieldbug

Dock Bug

Dock Bug

Green Shieldbug

Green Shieldbug

Green Shieldbug

Green Shieldbug

Weevils also have a bad reputation as plant pests, with different species specialising in different plants. In our case, in an oak woodland, we found an acorn weevil, looking like a truly alien being – a bit like StarBug from Red Dwarf!

This set of photographs shows some of the variety and beauty of these overlooked creatures.

Bluebells

Bluebells

Bluebells

English bluebells. To me the are the English countryside in spring. We are so very fortunate to have a lot of English bluebells at our woods, concentrated in two main areas, but with patches scattered throughout the whole woodland.

This week they have really started to come into flower, just a little bit early this year thanks to the mild March and April that we have had. There are two main areas – an area we call The Plantation because of larch that was planted there, and the bottom part of the woods. Both of these areas have bluebells with bracken developing later in the year.

Over the last two years, the exceptionally mild winters have meant we had no frost under the trees, and this has led to brambles taking over, particularly in the Plantation area, because they have not been killed off by the frost. Letting them get a head start in the spring means that they dominate the bluebells, and last year the display suffered. This year we have cut back the bramble to allow the bluebells to recover.

We have not been disappointed by the display!

Bluebells

Bluebells

Bluebells on Woodland Floor

Bluebells on Woodland Floor

Bluebells on Woodland Floor

Bluebells on Woodland Floor

Bluebells on Woodland Floor

Bluebells on Woodland Floor

Bluebells

Bluebells

Bluebells on Woodland Floor

Bluebells on Woodland Floor

Bluebells on Woodland Floor

Bluebells on Woodland Floor

Bracken among the bluebells

Bracken among the bluebells

A Tour Around the Woods

Our woods are probably at their most beautiful during the spring. This week we welcomed the Royal Forestry Society here on a visit, and I filmed some video as we went round, adding some stills and a commentary afterwards. This really gives you a feel for the woods and their wildlife. It lasts about 11 minutes, but in reality it takes about an hour to walk round.