2016 In Review

chris gilbert peak district landscape photography worklshops coursesA day of misty, long shadows today but shadows that are a tiny fraction shorter at this time of day than they were yesterday. That’s one of the nice things about doing an end of year review. The days have already started to lengthen, although in Oxford where we were for Christmas the Snowdrops were already out so it will be interesting to see how this Spring unfolds. It was all a bit crazy in 2016 and I suspect 2017 will be similar.

2016 was a very busy year, with lots of interesting projects on the go. All of it very enjoyable. As always the tuition side of what I do has been endlessly entertaining with some great workshops run and new friends made, some of which I have been lucky enough to see more than once this year. It is always a joy and this year I have run more training days than any other year since I have been doing this. The weather even co-operated occasionally.

One of this year’s highlights is a new working partnership with Plas-y-Wern holidays on the Cardigan coast. We’ll be running two new workshops with Alex and Ellen this year. One in Spring and another in autumn. It’s a beautiful landscape with so much to offer and – in my opinion – badly overlooked photographically although there is a small band of enthusiastic locals who do well to bang its drum. With Snowdonia just up the road and easier to get to the holidays will be a hard sell so it will be very interesting to see how things go. The images that I create when I am there are a key part of this.

Artistically I have sensed a change in myself this year and this has been down to my using my lovely 70-300 more as a landscape lens. It takes a while to learn a new tool but one of the reassuring things is that by applying the same composition principles that I do with shorter lenses the longer lens is just as straightforward to work with and in the process creates an almost entirely different look and feel to the shorter lenses. All very satisfying – but does any of the new work find it’s way into this year’s hit list ? …..

Another very mild winter, with a small amount of snow in January. We went through a spate of fairly cold and snowy winters in the early 2000s but that all seems to have gone away now. The shot I have chosen for January actually comes from a workshop. I do like to use the Roaches on workshops if I can because the landscape interacts really well with the weather as it approaches across the Cheshire Plains and so it proved. This black and white conversion really caught my eye …

chris gilbert peak district landscape photography worklshops coursesFebruary
I do like exploring. I’ve been exploring the Peak District since 1988 and still have yet to walk in some of it’s harder to get to and remote locations. Stanage North End Quarry is place that I took an instant like to many years ago. It isn’t really overlooked by anything else so it has a real out-of-the-way feel to it. It was a pleasure to be able to visit it again with the camera in February …

chris gilbert peak district landscape photography worklshops coursesMarch
We had another quick blast of snow at the beginning of March and everything was very pretty for a day or so. The weather then settled down and it was warm with quite a lot of misty days. My favourite is this dark study of Hope Valley cement works. I was struck by just how colourful the site was but of course this colour is only revealed by a long exposure …

chris gilbert peak district landscape photography worklshops coursesApril
My favourite April shot found it’s way onto my calendar for this year. I’ve been up to Bleaklow Stones quite a few times over the years since first visiting in … hmmm …. 1994, I think. You rarely see anyone up there. It can be approached in 4 different directions and this was the first time that I had followed the ‘Stake Path’ from Bleaklow Head. I wouldn’t want to be following it in bad weather, that’s for sure and as it was I only got 30 minutes at Bleaklow Stones to make a shot before I had to head back otherwise I wouldn’t have made it back to Snake Summit before dark. A 12km ’round trip bog slog with 30 minutes of photography in the middle. Worth every minute ! 😀 …

chris gilbert peak district landscape photography worklshops coursesMay
May was a very colourful month. April had been quite cool and a lot of the early flowers kept on going. At one point we had Snowdrops, Daffodils, Primroses and Marsh Marigolds all in flower simultaneously. Really quite something to see. This year’s Bluebells, while not the best we’ve had in the Peak District this year by some margin, still contrived to produce my favourite shot from the month …

chris gilbert peak district landscape photography worklshops coursesJune
We managed to get away for a few days in June and walked the Cardigan Coast Path, which is beautiful. We stayed at a farm called Plas-y-Wern and very quickly realised that my love of running photography workshops coincided very nicely with Alex’s plans to develop the site beyond simply being a place that people go on holiday. The germ for the Cardigan Photo Holidays was sown that week and this shot from Llangrannog perhaps illustrates the potential I feel the area has. As an aside, I was initially irritated when the girl walked into the composition at just the wrong time but then came to realise later that she is probably the most important part of it …

chris gilbert peak district landscape photography worklshops coursesJuly
Another break in July, this time to the far north west of Scotland on our annual trip to watch whales and dolphins from the Scottish coast. We were based at Melvaig and although the weather wasn’t particularly brilliant we did get the occasional break in the light and my choice for this month is from a lovely evening at Badachro, just near Gairloch. There’s a really good pub there and this was taken just around the corner from it…

chris gilbert peak district landscape photography worklshops coursesAugust
As the summer started running down and autumn approached the weather was settled and warm and the Peak District colours came to life. It was really quite extraordinary and this year’s heather was absolutely lovely – which is why I have chosen a moving water shot ! 😀 This was on a workshop with Emma. It’s one of my favourite locations in Padley Gorge and on this occasion the combination of the long exposure with the gentle green light filtering through the trees above produced a very surreal version of this shot …

chris gilbert peak district landscape photography worklshops coursesSeptember
The wonderful conditions continued into September with some really great results. We had another visit to Cardigan to generate material for the photo holidays and I got a lot of really nice stuff but my favourite shot from the month was without doubt this one taken one golden morning in Winnats Pass.  Also very satisfying because it was taken with the longer lens …

chris gilbert peak district landscape photography worklshops coursesOctober
Another glorious month and one where for some reason I found myself loitering around Chatsworth Park quite a lot. I had run a very good workshop with Buxton Museum which had included a quick visit to Chatsworth and while we were there I spotted a composition that I liked. I went back several times to try and do it but never actually got what I was looking for but instead came away with this one, which is probably better than the one I had originally imagined ! …

chris gilbert peak district landscape photography worklshops coursesNovember
If in October I had been guilty of loitering with intent around Chatsworth then in November I
committed the same crime around Ladybower but the colours were just so incredible this month that it was really very hard to drag myself away. And so it seemed all the way through the month as the autumn gales never happened and the colours just simply carried on and on and on …

chris gilbert peak district landscape photography worklshops coursesDecember
I’m going to take a flyer on doing a December shot even though the month is not yet finished. I may yet better this but the chances of doing so are diminishing. We haven’t had a huge number of frosty mornings this year but we got a great one quite early in December and I found myself overlooking a frosty misty Derwent Valley in the quiet calm of the morning and it was all really rather lovely ….

chris gilbert peak district landscape photography worklshops coursesSo there we have it. A small sample of images from a huge set with very few coincidences with this year’s calendar, which is actually quite pleasing. My top12 tends to be a bit esoteric while the calendars somewhat risk averse but I hope some of these make you smile 🙂

Have a very happy and prosperous 2017 !


More gimcracks and magic boxes

One of the things that I find endlessly fascinating about photography is the number of peripheral and associated devices that the discipline inspires – tubes, cables, filters, flashes, clamps, plamps, reflectors etc – an endless stream of creative ideas designed to overcome specific problems that photographers have encountered. Think of a photography problem and someone, somewhere will have invented a device to solve it.

I like making my own gimcracks and have talked about them before. Here’s a new one. It’s a variation on a previous creation.


Essentially it is a box that allows graduated filters to be used with a cameraphone. A lot of cameraphones – particularly the iPhone – allow HDR photography so this is not relevant to all cameraphones but in that HDR can flatten the colour and texture gradients this is a good route to preserving the dynamics of the natural landscape.

The box is made from 10mm foamcore. There are two slots attached to the leading edge and the whole thing is designed to take 10cm filters. The distance between the back of the box, where the camera sits, and the front of the box where the filters sit is enough to make the filtering effective. If the filters were closer to the camera then the filtering would be less effective. The inside of the box is painted matt black to eliminate reflections from the back of the filter. The base of the box has a hole through which it can be attached to the top of a tripod.

The rear place of the box is made from thick card to eliminate any intrusion into the frame from the edges of the hole, which is just big enough to expose the camera.


The camera slots into a socket attached to the rear place of the box, again made from 10mm foamcore.


The rear plane of the socket has a window cut into it to expose the screen and the controls to the camera. I haven’t yet seen a cameraphone that provides a histogram – I am sure that such a thing exists – but the Windows phone provides widgets for adjusting ISO, white balance and exposure. It also has a self timer enabling some pretty good photography, even in low light.

The results have been very interesting …

The coupling of the camera to the tripod is without doubt a great success. Images as sharp as the camera will produce and at the lowest ISO/Highest quality. My cameraphone isn’t really very good as far as these devices go – tiny lens, only 4MP – but it will produce something that will comfortably print at A4. Being able to bully a long exposure out of it for moving water is also good but with landscapes it is noticeable that the filters confuse the analogue-digital conversion process in the camera and produce a cast, which is a bit of a disappointment and quite unexpected. But then at the end of the day this is a phone, not a camera.

A very enjoyable experiment. Someone may like to try this out.

Landscape Photography Courses in the Peak District National Park

Shadow Boxing

Shadows can be pesky things, particularly when it’s your own ! My approach to sun position in landscape means that I rarely shoot with the sun behind me and while the presence of the photographer’s shadow in the shot may not particularly bother some folk for many it’s an impediment  and prevents the viewer from projecting themselves into the image. Here’s a technique for removing them on those rare occasions they invade.

It’s a tripod technque and requires two identical frames. One lit, one not lit. Process both RAW images identically and load them both into Photoshop…

Copy the lit image and paste it into the unlit image as a new layer. Make sure the two layers are precisely aligned.


Now very carefully delete the unwanted shadows from the lit layer, exposing the unlit layer below..


Finally tweak the brightness, contrast and saturation in bottom layer. The dark patches where the unwanted shadows were should disappear.


This is just a quick and dirty demo that took me no more than five minutes to do. Even with this little care the results are sufficient to fool the unknowing eye. Just a small amount of practice can yield impressive results.


Landscape Photography Courses in the Peak District National Park

2015 in review

Sorry, it’s that time of year again !

If there’s one thing that I have been strongly aware of this year it’s the fact that I have not been blogging much. I have just been so busy and while I do feel a modicum of guilt for ignoring it I have to also be grateful for the fact that there are very good reasons for this.

My most abiding memory from this year will be the number of workshops that I have been privileged to run. From the end of March to the end of October my feet barely touched the ground. It really has been a most extraordinary year and it has been my pleasure to work with over 70 people this year on workshops and 1:1s. Thank you all for coming. Were it that I could be half as busy again next year !! As it is I already have bookings for 10 guests. I hope the weather co-operates !

The work with Peak Gallery has been very good this year. As well as hosting a number of excellent exhibitions we have also contributed to two ourselves. ‘Re-versed’ featured the poetry of Helen Mort illustrated by our photographs while ‘Samuel Rayner’s Haddon Hall – Revisited’ featured photographs taken by us of Haddon Hall echoing the work of Samuel Rayner, who illustrated the Hall in the mid 19th century using very early lithography. ‘Re-versed’ is currently on tour around the county libraries and will exhibit at Edale visitor centre in the new year.

Haddon Hall from the courtyard by Chris Gilbert

Haddon Hall from the courtyard by Chris Gilbert

I have to also mention at this point that I was shortlisted for another national photography competition this year and while the ‘shortlist’ for Outdoor Photographer of the Year was actually a very long list it was still pleasing to  be on it. Particularly given that my work has been somewhat compromised this year by other commitments.


Blencathra from Latrigg – OPOTY shortlist

Photographically my year has been dominated by the needs of the ‘Guide to Photographing the Peak District’, on which I am working on behalf of FotoVIEW in conjunction with fellow Peak District resident Mick Ryan, who also works for FotoVIEW. I must confess I have found it something of a double-edged sword. The book is deliberately ambitious and has required considerable effort to catalogue and while the exertions have been without exception brilliant experiences it does mean that my efforts have been directed at specific needs for content. Very little of my work this year has been freestyle and without direction. Interestingly I felt a very strong urge to change my style and explore new formats. Although this is undoubtedly a good thing the timing could be better ! The book needs to be illustrated and now is not the time to be venturing into alternate depictions. That will come in time. After the book is published I will be thinking carefully about where I want to go visually.

So on with the visuals. As always there is tension between the needs of my annual Calendar and my review of the year. I try to not replicate the contents of one when doing the other. Thankfully this year has been so productive and has created so many unusual images that there is much to choose from and few of these got anywhere near consideration for the calendar !


This was a cold, cold month with lots of snow and there were many candidate images, one of which got me the most views and Likes on Facebook of any image that I had posted to that point but I have chosen this one.


January 2015, on Lunch Lane

I like the energy in this one. It is taken just around the corner from my house on a day when we were snowed in and the only way to do any photography was to walk to it. It was bitterly cold and I think that comes over in the shot. Techincally it was quite tricky as well and turning out such a good shot under the circumstances was very satisfying. You must always be mindful of projecting too much of the experience into your own interpretation of a shot. The viewer does not share the experience of execution. The image has to be valid entirely within the frame and must not rely on the experiential dimension to make it so.


The snow continued into February and even once it had gone the month remained very cold. There were some days of very good light, however, and good light in February can generate some outstanding photography. I also got a new camera. The first in 8 years. As fond of the 5D1 as I was it simply wan’t performing any more and it had got to the stage where just about everyone who came to work with me had a better camera than me. It was embarassing !  February’s image is actually a revisit to a location who’s initial visit predated the 5D so it was great to get back here with the 6D.


This is taken on the edge of Combs to the west of Buxton. A fabulous location.


I’m staying over in the west of the Peak District for March and this shot of Windgather. Again a location that was first visited in the dim and distant past and which was on the list of locations to revisit for the book. It was blowing an absolute hoolie and I almost ruined the shot by not having taken the time to investigate how to get the best out of the new camera.


After this I took the time to set the camera up on a rig and do some experiments to see precisely where the best settings for the camera are. It is sad to say that the 6D seems to not be as good in many respects as the 5D1. The dynamic range is significantly better and the Autofocus is startling but in many respects the 5D1 produced better images. I should perhaps move to a 5D3 (or whatever the latest incarnation of the 5 is as and when I can afford to it).


I seem to have spent an inordinate amout of time this year in Bolehill Quarry, which in itself is not a problem at all as it is a superb place for photographic meditation. It is a bit like a set for a film. Quite surreal. It is also a very popular climbing location and the following image is of what the climbing community call Pool Wall.


Pool Wall, Bolehill Quarry

The pool is now significantly diminished, having sprung a leak but the image still pleases me and Bolehill has many, many other qualities that keep it a superb place to do photography.


May was a cold, stormy month with winter occasionally coming back to remind everyone that it wasn’t that far in the past. Even so there was a lot of good light. It was also our annual pilgrimage to Scotland, where we found ourselves once again on Skye and I spent a very enjoyable couple of hours exploring the gorges of the Allt Na Dunaiche, in the shadow of Blaven. Some of the spots that I found came with an element of risk. It wouldn’t have taken much rainfall on the slopes of the mountain above to dump a metre or so of fast-moving water on the rocks where I took this shot. Controlled risk is often very productive.



I have Mick to thank for June’s shot. We had both been out scouting locations around the Wye Valley and he’d noticed this attractive collection of hills and valleys around the bottom of Great Rocks Dale so I popped over one evening when it looked like the light would co-operate and the results were very pleasing. I do like shooting into the light this way and have developed a number of techniques to make the camera cope better with the required dynamic range. This one did make it into next year’s calendar !



In July the summer really started properly, with some very warm days. The long evenings also mean that to get the best of the evening light you have to stay out late. Mick and I took a long walk out one balmy evening to bag a location on a remote corner of Kinder Scout that had been on the list for long time. It was a very good one to get under such  excellent conditions. Another shot that found its way into the calendar.



The hot weather of the summer inevitably descended into a rapid succession of heavy storms in August but the conditions were consistently excellent, with some superb atmospherics. This is a shot from one sultry, stormy evening when Mick and I ventured out onto some remote moorlands. We walked out onto the moors in a terrific thunderstorm and after it had past the moors erupted into an ethereal mistiness that was eventually lit by some excellent late sun. Quite an experience.



The weather calmed down in September and returned to a very comfortable and settled, sultry  warmth – which is why Jane and I chose to go to the north coast of Scotland where the weather was absolutely rubbish !  The week was not a write-off however and in between the storms there was some great light, like on this day at Talmine. This is probably my favourite photograph out of what has been an excellent year for me with the camera.



As is so often the case in the Peak District October was superb. Settled, dry and immensely colourful but it was a trip to the Lake District with the Ockbrook Imaging Club that produced this month’s image.


Buttermere Reflections

It’s a cliche, of course. Buttermere on a calm morning is a landscape photographer’s dream but being there on that weekend at that time of year and getting that weather was just such an extraordinary fluke. A coincidence of factors worthy of inclusion in the list.


It’s not too long in the past so you’ll remember that November’s weather was actually incredibly mild, with temperatures and sunshine more reminiscent of September. OK it all went pear-shaped toward the end and the weather collapsed in a sequence of fierce storms but for a little while back there it was unbeleivably mild. November’s image is one of those where I have to be careful to not let my own affections for the circumstances outweigh the visual value of the image. This was a hard-won shot under trying conditions. I hope that when I come to look at it again a few years down the line and see it for its artistic merits only it continues to please me.



I’ve probably got one more day this year to bag another December image but I’ll draw a line under the year at this point for the sake of my blog. The weather this month has been dreadful. The succession of storms have delivered some amazing and dramatic conditions but they have been interspersed with the occasional patches of incredible light, as evidenced by December’s shot from Carl Wark.


So there we have it. Photographically a very, very pleasing year for me with the camera. It will be very interesting to see what happens next year. Photography is definitely changing – rapidly – and I’m not really sure how it will affect me or how the changes will manifest themselves. I do believe very strongly in the Helsinki Bus Station Theory as applied to photography and I will endeavour to source the changes internally rather than externally. We’ll see. Thank you for being with me this year and apologies for the relative dearth of blogging. I hope to be able to report more frequently next year.

Good health to you all and success in all your endeavours in 2016.

It’s all in the mind…

Back in the ’70s there was a series on TV that came in that gap between when you got back from school and before you had your tea (I’m northern. It’s tea, not dinner). It was called Horses Galore and I was never a huge bobbo fan but both my sisters were bonkers about them – Allie still is – so it was compulsory viewing for a while. What drew me to the programme, however, was the theme music. I’d never heard anything quite like it before and I’m still not sure how I found out what it was and who it was by. I don’t think it was listed in the credits so I probably rang up the BBC and asked them. I used to do that sort of thing, particularly when it came to music ( The Mighty Micro anyone ? Great tune. Paddy Kingsland. BBC Radiophonic Workshop. Genius ). Anyway, it turns out that this tune was called Pulsar and it was by a guy called Vangelis, who I’d never heard of before. That summer I got a pretty good job for a few weeks in a factory and after the first week I came home with a little brown envelope with more money in it than I had ever had in my life – and there was a record shop on the route home. I went in and bought the album, Albedo 0.39 – and then when I got home my stepfather promptly took my paypacket off me and gave it to my Mum, thereby permenently severing any connection I might have had between endeavour and reward. But at least I was left with my precious record, which I proceeded to play to death on my record player.


I was into Vangelis for quite a while and although I don’t play any instruments at all I found the images of him surrounded by keyboards extraordinarily evocative and captivating.  Eventually New Wave electronica took my attention completely and I went off in different directions but I am still very fond of his work. So much so I went firtling for him on Youtube recently and came across this excellent documentary, which came out in 2013. It’s a couple of hours long but if you have the time and you’re a fan of Vangelis then it’s brilliant viewing …

There’s many great things in the documentary but the one that blew me away was the fact that he does not and cannot read or write music, which considering the compositional complexity that his music exhibits is staggering. It all comes from his head, fully formed and fully orchestrated. When he composes for cinema, which he does a lot, he just allows the music to come from within and in response to the visual stimulation …. and this is where I come back to one of my own recurring themes – synaesthesia. I’ve mentioned in the past that in my opinion the artists that truly stand out from the rest and catch the attention are most likely to be synaesthetes because the way in which they pervceive reality and consequently portray their art is quite different to the way in which the less wired-up of us do it. Our brains’ own threat-detection mechanisms react to the differentness of the work of the synaesthetes, generating the happy hormone serotonin. To me Vangelis is without doubt a synaesthete and it has worked to his advantage in an outrageous and wonderful fashion.

I might also add here that aural synaesthetes have a much more powerful affect on our threat-management systems than visual syneasthetes, probably because the threat management circuits that the aural system fires off are more heavily weighted in the neural net than the visual circuits. You just have to consider how easily night noises fire off a rush of adrenaline to see the value of this. We’re vulnerable in the dark where the aural circuit is the most important and needs to be sharper than the visual circuit, with which the warning signals are easier for the brain to percieve. Understanding the relationship between the aural circuit and threat detection also reveals our deep and unbreakable relationship with music.

Landscape Photography Courses in the Peak District National Park

2016 Peak District Landscapes Calendar

I think it’s fair to say that I’ve been so busy in recent months that I haven’t a great deal of opportunity to do my Blog, which is a bit of a shame because I’ve been doing so many interesting things that I should really be talking about them !

Anyway – any excuse is a good excuse so it’s very nice to be able to talk about this year’s calendar, which is now available to buy. This year’s images are in the following slideshow …

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You may be aware that for much of the year I have been working with those lovely people at FotoVUE to create a guidebook to photographing the Peak District and one of the side-effects of this is that I have created masses of images from across the entire National Park and often beyond it’s boundaries. This has made choosing the set to put in this year’s Calendar a little problematic !  As always Jane has been around to add some sense to the confusion and I think that what we’ve come up with this year will pique the interest of everyone – including local residents – who might not know where all of these places are but will hopefully go and seek them out. We do live in a rather beautiful place and it is well worth exploring.

The Calendars can be bought on-line via my Peak District Landscapes 2016 Calendar by Chris Gilbert

Going To The Dogs

It was very quiet, like nothing was actually happening. Just a couple of tents, a smattering of spectators and a line of cars pulled up to the fence. Ahead, a seemingly empty field. I had no idea that this was a tense, intense moment and a critical point of decision had arrived.

‘ It seems that the sheep aren’t going to co-operate this time so Val is abandoning this attempt’ came a voice over the tannoy. No reaction from the crowd. The only movement seemed to come from a few people way off in the distance near the top of the field who appeared to be chasing three white objects around.

I’d never been to a Sheepdog trial before so I really didn’t know what to expect. Drama ? Non-stop action ? Jeopardy ? In retrospect I suppose the truth would inevitably underwhelm – at first….

It seems that I had arrived at a critical point in proceedings. The point at which the sheepdog is supposed to disturb the flock from their resting position and start them on their journey down the field, toward the shepherd – what in parlance is called ‘The Lift’. This time the dog had failed to lift the flock properly and they had promptly panicked and dispersed, rendering the remainder of the exercise fruitless. So in some way what I had witnessed is what happens when it all goes wrong, which was actually quite useful because it helped me put into context what came next.

Let me just explain quickly what is actually supposed to happen.

IMG_0662-2The flock – a group of three sheep – is taken from a fold at the top end of the course and left a few minutes to settle. The shepherd stands with his/her dog at the start post at the opposite end of the course, which consists of three sets of gates set in a wide triangle, a cross-shaped arrangement of fences and finally a pen. The dog has to leave the shepherd’s side and move to the other side of the field, lift the sheep without panicking them and then manoeuver them through the three sets of gates, through the cross arrangement and into the pen. Easy to say, I suppose but mind boggling when you stand there, looking at the challenges and trying to imagine how such a thing could possibly be achieved – WITH SHEEP !

‘And next up is Len Paxton from Settle with his dog Sam’ announced the tannoy.

It was easy to find a position near to the start post at the audience end of the field. A chap walked past me with a small, black dog tight at his heel. He opened the gate and approached the start post. The dog sat down smartly and promptly next to him.

IMG_0601-2In the distance I could see that a new group of woolly victims was being extracted from the shielded pen at the top of the field, about 200 metres away by the handlers. They placed them in an open position and left them. After a few moments the dog leapt up and darted off wide, wide right. All the way to the field boundary. It then turned and ran up the field, seemingly as far away from the sheep as possible and still be on the course. It was so far away that it was almost too difficult to make out what happened next but one moment it was near the field edge and the next it appeared behind the sheep but rather than charge into them like some avenging angel it slowed and stalked them so that when they started moving it wasn’t in a panicked rush but a cautious avoidance of the dog. Slowly at first but then with more surety the flock came down the field, directly toward the shepherd. In doing so they came through the first gate. The shepherd hardly uttered a noise – just the occasional whistle. The dog knew exactly what it had to do. Next it moved the sheep around shepherd and post, out to the left, through the second gate, back across the field to the third before bringing them back toward the audience and the cross of gates – called the crucifix – through which it manoeuvred them, rather miraculously.

IMG_0616It was now darting around right in front of us. Then it would stop, settle, wait for a few seconds then dart off again to a new position. It was all action. A black and white blur while the sheep moved haltingly across from the crucifix to the pen, at which point everything slowed down. Clearly this point was critical and shepherd and dog now worked together, inching the sheep into the pen.

IMG_0613And then suddenly the sheep were in the pen and the shepherd swung the gate shut. Done. I was staggered by the skill of both dog and shepherd in what I had just seen.

‘And that’s a score of 89 for Len Paxton and Sam, which puts him in the lead’

It transpires that 100 is top marks for this particular game, with each stage gaining points. Clearly Sam had barely put a paw wrong and I suppose it was just luck that I had turned up in time to see this. The runs that came after Sam’s were significantly less skillful and put Sam’s performance into context.

IMG_0661Despite the poor coffee the whole thing was a fantastic experience. Very much a family occasion with lots of people who obviously know each other well using it as a good excuse to just meet up on their day off and have a good chinwag. If you’ve never been to a sheepdog trial then track down your local one and pop along with your camera. You may be surprised at what you see!

Landscape Photography Courses in the Peak District National Park

How to get great butterfly shots

Silver Studded Blue Butterfly chris Gilbert

Here’s a description of the techniques that I applied to catch my shot of the little blue butterfly that I entered into #WexMondays last week. I hope you all find it helpful in your quest for catching something similar, particularly at the moment, when there are so many lovely butterflies around.

I was exploring a new location for an upcoming book about photographing the Peak District, which I am working on with Mick Ryan for FotoVUE books. Here, a small pool is a magnet for bog plants and the invertebrates they support and I was delighted to find alongside the beautiful Damsel Flies, Orchids and Ragged Robin a small colony of Silver Studded Blue butterflies – quite a rarity for the Peak District. Despite the challenge of shooting a small, insubstantial winged creature in a stiff breeze the shot still had to be made.

In a shot like this the bokeh – the blurred background – is very important, as I will explain. Thankfully the camera settings will help you with this while a bit of thought on the shooting position will further add to it.

Shoot in Aperture Priority and open the aperture right up. This delivers a shallow depth of field and good bokeh and has the additional benefit of allowing more light into the camera, enabling a faster shutter speed. A longer focal length will give you the reach to make the shot without disturbing the butterfly and will also produce a better bokeh. In this case I was shooting at 300mm. Also find the minimum focusing distance that the lens will allow for the subject, this delivers the best bokeh with the aperture wide open. The shallow field that the wide aperture delivers needs to managed carefully and it is best to shoot the butterfly so that it is flat to the plane of focus. This gets as much of the butterfly in focus as possible for the delivered depth of field. For butterflies like the blue, which like to rest with the wings folded, this means shooting them from the side. With butterflies like Peacocks and Red Admirals, which like to rest with the wings open, that means shooting them from above. It’s worth spending a few moments watching the behaviour of the butterfly to help work out how best to shoot it.

Another important factor here is the shooting position, which in this case is low down, looking across at the butterfly rather than down onto it. This puts the subject clear of any background. I selected a subject that had some clear space behind it, not cluttered by unwanted grass stems. This clear space protects the bokeh and offers some flexibility over precise aperture value. The good bokeh means that there is no confusion about what the viewer is supposed to see. The only clear, sharp figure in the composition is the butterfly and the grass stem and that is where the eye of the viewer goes.

Shutter speed is critical here – or at least it was with this shot because it was quite breezy and the butterfly was being buffeted. The shorter shutter delivers better detail in the shot by minimising blur. The open aperture helps because it lets in more light but upping the ISO will get you into a suitably fast zone. As a general rule I look for a shutter speed of at least twice the focal length (eg 1/600 sec at 300mm) when handholding like this but with it being windy I was prepared to sacrifice a bit of image quality for shutter speed and settled for ISO 800 which delivered a shutter speed of 1/4000 sec – which seems ridiculously high but given the situation – windy, handheld, tiny subject, very good light – it was actually an easy decision to make and the delivered detail justifies it. The full-frame sensor managed the noise created by the higher ISO very well but it’s always worth testing your camera at different ISOs so that you know well in advance of this sort of exercise how far you can push your ISO before the performance drops below a level that you find acceptable.

Use the centre focal point, focus on the eyes and use a focal length that puts the entire butterfly within the frame. Crop back to an asymmetric composition in your editing tool afterwards. I found AF-S performed best, waiting for a drop in the wind and shooting between buffets. With the butterfly constantly moving AF-C struggled with the precision required with such a shallow depth of field.

There is very little post-production in this shot although one aspect that is perhaps obfuscated is the amount of crop I have used. Even at the 300mm end of the lens and at the minimum focusing distance the subject is still small in the frame, as you can see here…

Full frame

The heavy crop promotes the role of the figure within the frame and turns it into a portrait of a butterfly. This also explains the quest for detail in the use of ISO to obtain a shutter speed that delivers detail. The detail was needed because the crop was always going to be heavy. The good bokeh also means that sharpening is more effective and noticeable on the butterfly, although of course a good selection in your editing tool can also be used to isolate the detail before applying the sharpening.

The equipment used in making this shot is a Canon 6D and a Canon 70-300 IS L lens.

Canon 6D + 70-300 L IS

Canon 6D + 70-300 L IS

These are both top quality products and delivered a fantastic final image but don’t make the mistake of thinking that it can only be done with this sort of kit. The older non-L version of this lens is also an excellent butterfly lens, even if the MTF falls away at the long end in a way that in the L version it doesn’t. If you don’t have that sort of reach and can’t afford a longer lens then consider a 1.4x teleconverter, which will extend your reach without robbing too much light.  The 4-stop image stabilisation in the 70-300 is a key factor in this shot. It enabled the handholding and the close approach. Using a tripod would have risked disturbing the subject. By handholding you can creep up on butterflies much more effectively. If you do not have image stablisation then shoot at the bottom of your breath – take a deep breath and gently exhale. Shoot just before you completely exhale. This is the position at which the muscles in the chest are most relaxed and the camera at it’s least shaky.

Be patient. This shot is just one of about 30 frames. A great opportunity like this is worth trying hard for. Inspect each shot and ask yourself if you can do better. If you can then have another go. Select the best frame when you get home and can look at them all in better detail on the computer. Don’t make your final choice in the field, on the back of the camera.

Enjoy your butterflies !

Photography Courses in the Peak District National Park

Rayner Goes Live

I blogged earlier in the year about an exhibition that myself and my colleagues at Peak Gallery have been putting together in collaboration with Haddon Hall. We finally went live this week with an open evening on Wednesday.

Open evening at Haddon Hall. Post event photo call.

Open evening at Haddon Hall. Post event photo call.

In the end we recreated 20 of Samuel Rayner’s original compositions. We found that some of them were almost impossible while some of them fell into place very quickly. These are displayed on panels around the hall complemented by nine large framed images.

Samuel Rayner at Haddon Hall by Peak Gallery

Samuel Rayner at Haddon Hall by Peak Gallery

Samuel Rayner at Haddon Hall by Peak Gallery

Samuel Rayner at Haddon Hall by Peak Gallery

Samuel Rayner at Haddon Hall by Peak Gallery

Samuel Rayner at Haddon Hall by Peak Gallery

Samuel Rayner at Haddon Hall by Peak Gallery

Samuel Rayner at Haddon Hall by Peak Gallery

Samuel Rayner at Haddon Hall by Peak Gallery

Samuel Rayner at Haddon Hall by Peak Gallery

Samuel Rayner at Haddon Hall by Peak Gallery

Samuel Rayner at Haddon Hall by Peak Gallery

Overall it has been an immensely satisfying piece of work, both in the opportunity to sit down and study a single subject in some detail but also in the quality of the delivered product. We set up on Tuesday morning and even before we left around lunchtime the visitors to the hall were already looking at the work carefully and taking time to read the material we had produced.

The open evening went very well with myself and Ian doing a presentation about the project and about the Rayner family to the audience gathered in the Banqueting Hall, an audience that included Caryll Green, Samuel Rayner’s great great grand-daughter. Both Lord and Lady Manners were delighted with the work as well so to-date it has been a highly successful undertaking.

We’ll be moving the exhibition to Bakewell later in the year but for the time being the show will be on at Haddon throughout the summer. See the Haddon Hall website for more details.

Landscape Photography Courses in the Peak District National Park