'The Beast From The East' and the pressure to cash in

Well, that was an interesting few days wasn't it??!!

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Last year I think collectively everyone had a bit of a moan about the distinct 'lack' of wintry conditions in the UK (certainly in England anyway) however this time round there can be no such complaints. 'The Beast From The East' and also the snowfall that preceded it a couple of weeks earlier has for the most part delivered something for pretty much everyone, and given us all the opportunity to create some fantastic snow-themed imagery. I must mention though to spare a thought for all those affected by this weather and perhaps don't share our love of the snow, and the strain it puts on emergency services etc - no photo is worth putting your own and others lives at risk. It was certainly at the forefront of my mind when going out and made me turn back from several situations where others less sensible would have carried on.

One thing I wanted to touch on which I think we all feel a bit is something of an underlying pressure to 'get out' in these conditions and milk them for all they're worth, rather than actually enjoying just being out full stop - i'm no different in that sense however I was determined that with only having one full day to shoot these conditions I was going to just embrace and enjoy the day in some fantastic surroundings irrespective of what I produced. It would be easy to fall into the trap of chasing a certain image at a certain place when the snow falls but for me if I'd done that I'd have probably come back with some very average images (you may think the ones I've posted are also lol)

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The only slight downside to shooting the places I like to go (very much off the beaten track usually) was most of the roads to them were impassable, so something more straightforward and reachable was loosely planned. Myself and friend first had a walk around the shores of Derwentwater as the main roads to Keswick were fine, we found some fantastic shapes and textures to be had along the shoreline. Then afterwards we headed towards Ullswater where again roads were pretty treacherous so a meander around Matterdale shooting the desolate, wind-blown landscape was the alternative.  The snow around the Ullswater area is always usually much deeper and plentiful due to where it's situated, it's just a shame we couldn't get down to the lake side explore that area. The plan here was to make a rough track towards Great Mell Fell but the wind was absolutely crazy, making progress across the growing drifts extremely difficult. In the end we got to the foot of the fell and decided it wasn't worth going any further, with visibility down to about 50 yards and a real risk there might have been an issue with where the car was parked if we'd left it there for any longer. 

Could have been Lapland in that forest!

Could have been Lapland in that forest!

We had a mooch round some trees in the Matterdale area then true to form decided to take a 'shortcut' round and through some forest which once in the middle of could have literally been anywhere - never mind a short drive from home. I knew nothing I'd shot was going to be particularly great but on the walk back it was worth reminding myself that it's just great to be out in such conditions, certainly makes you feel alive and is better that being in front of a TV or a Computer screen! It was a memorable day and for me, that'll do.

I don't want to ramble on as this blog is more about sharing a few images I've pulled together from the day and also from the wintry conditions the past couple of weeks, it's been thoroughly enjoyable seeing my local landscape transformed by the snow, but right now I think I'm ready for spring!

Thanks for looking folks see you on the next one......

Shooting Local

Thought I'd write a quick blog while I'm having a quiet (ish) time with the camera of late. Just as a side note, where is bloody autumn?? I went into this period full of a hope yet it's rapidly being extinguished by heavy rain and wind, most recently Ophelia which has winged its way into town to blow more leaves off the trees! Ok perhaps that's a little dramatic, i'm a firm believer that you can still make great images in less than perfect conditions, you just have to work a little harder. So those grand vistas with sweeping autumnal colour might require a rethink, to something a bit more subtle which I'm more than willing to do. But hey, a wee break from the rain and gales would be nice!

I've been quite quiet lately with the camera (I've still gone out, just not as much) as I've been having a bit more time thinking about what direction I want to move in with my photography. For the most part I consider myself to be something of a reactionary photographer, i'm quite happy just chasing the conditions around in my car much like a dog with a frisbee would, with only a general idea of what I'd like to shoot on a given day. This in turn has led to some images I've been really pleased with and with which I have a more personal connection to, probably much more so than if i'd gone out to a 'location' on a more structured shoot. I still have a few favourite spots I like to go to now and again like anyone else does, however as much as it's fantastic living in the Lake District for photography, the choices of 'location' can be somewhat overwhelming at times, which seems crazy on the face of it but for me personally if i'm not getting anything out of the wider experience I don't feel I enjoy shooting the images as much. This led me to thinking a bit more deeply about what really drives my photography. In the end I've come to the conclusion that at this stage I really feel like I gain more by shooting locally. 

Anyone who follows my work will know that my 'local' is the Wasdale area - it's not lost on me that it's perhaps easier to come to the conclusion of shooting locally when your local is Wastwater and the Scafells! However after spending so much time in this area I think in the near future the bulk of my work will probably be coming from an area no further than 10 miles or so from my home - there is so much variety here in the landscape (fells, lakes, tarns, woodland, coast) that I don't feel I have to go chasing it around further afield. It also means that my chances of capturing the great conditions I want are greatly improved with living so close. I could of course be talking absolute rubbish and be sitting here in 6 months time thinking 'what have I done' but for the moment I firmly believe the images I make will be improved through a better, deeper understanding of my surroundings.

Also just a quick congratulations to those awarded in Landscape Photographer Of The Year 2017 - I was glad to see a couple of my favourite images from other togs this year do so well and be recognised. I had a shortlisted image but didn't make the final cut, so maybe better luck next year.

Here's a few recent images from the past month which I've shot locally, all within about 15 mins of my home (give or take), it's a bit of mix of Mountain, Coast and Woodland. 

Catch you on the next one :-)

Using Progrey Filters

So, it's been a wee while since I last blogged (blog inspiration has been somewhat thin), although hopefully with Autumn just around the corner that will change - but for now you'll have to be content with something mundane - filter testing!

"Wow, tell me more" ..........................said no-one about filters, ever.

The G-120X Holder which fits my 16-35mm F4 Lens, plus 0.6 Grad pouch and 10 stop ND pouch

I kid of course, but in all seriousness, filters for many Landscape Photographer's are an integral part of their set up. For the past few weeks I've been using some filters from Progrey USA, trying them out in varying different conditions from nuclear sunsets to the rain pelting down sideways. First off I've absolutely no bias one way or another towards filter systems, I'm not a big filter user to start with anyway, preferring to use a mix of filter use and exposure blending in post depending on the conditions in front of me. What my blog will do is simply give you my impressions/results from the use I've given them, under a mixed set of conditions which I felt was the only fair and thorough way to test them. 

Unboxing

Filter Holder with 0.9 Soft Grad fitted

Well, first impressions from the packaging was that these products are of high quality. I own both Formatt-Hitech Firecrest Filters and LEE Filters, when I received both of those it was a bit underwhelming, especially the Hitech ones which come in rather clunky and impractical white plastic boxes, rather than the padded velcro pouches these Progrey ones came in. The holder setup comes in a handy zipped pouch which was good for me as I'm forever dropping things or bits falling out of places they shouldn't.

Feel

First off, these filters are big, much bigger than what I'm used to. The system I was using previously was the NISI V5 holder system, which hold my LEE grads at 120mm x 100mm, and my Firecrest ND's 100mm x 100mm - these Progrey grads are 120mm x 155mm and the ND's 120mm x 120mm. Of course to accommodate this, the holder needs to be bigger. While relatively straightforward to attach to my 16-35mm F4 using the lens adaptor (same setup as the NISI system, adaptor screws into the lens), it looks pretty large once it's on - this may not seem so big to users who are used to the ultra WA adaptors seen on the LEE system. To be clear, the 120mm size system is designed to easily accommodate my wide lens, and with the 120mm system it give photographers an option when using ultra-wide lenses instead of forcing them to go up to the bigger 150mm system (G-150Z), I should mention however that Progrey do sell a smaller 100mm size system should you require this. The main things for me which I look for in a filter holder is how practical it is to get on and off in the field (key), and also it's build quality/sturdiness. I'll talk more about this further on. The grads are resin, and feel very similar to the LEE's, whilst the ND's are glass, similar to my Firecrest's. One thing to note which pleased me was not having to attach the foam gasket to the ND's (this is to ensure it prevents light leak) where as with the Firecrest's the gasket comes separate (or it did on mine anyway) and needed to be applied by the user after purchase. Take note Formatt-Hitech, this is a pain and surely could be sorted at manufacture? Overall impressions initially for both holder and filter are that they feel on a par with their more established counterparts. 

So far so good.

In the field

Test 1: Finished image vs RAW comparison

The first test I decided to head to my local jetty on a rough, grey day - I'm lucky this jetty is some 300yds from my house as it makes a great subject, especially in choppy weather.

The image has been shot using the 7 stop Aurora ND Filter + 0.6 Soft Grad during midday conditions - obviously it's a wee bit underexposed and I've played with the colours a bit in post, but straight out of the can I couldn't really see any colour cast at all, impressive given i'd stacked two filters. The colours on the RAW file are pretty representative of a typical grey day. 

Ok, so far so good - in comparison with my Firecrest ND filters, these are at least on a par with them in terms of colour neutrality. They feel almost identical in the hand other than their size difference owing to the larger holder. They slide in and out of the holder nicely, not jamming in any way. The holder basically slides on to the adaptor and then has a metal clamp at the top which you twist to tighten when the holder is in place. Very straightforward, it feels a little tricky initially which could have been a failing on my part, however once you get the hang of it, it's really no bother at all.

Test 2: A typical fiery sunsey using the 10 Stop ND Filter + 0.9 Hard Grad

The second test I carried out was again at the beach, this time in totally different conditions, the classic nuclear sunset. Now we all love looking at one of these, it's ok to admit! I don't really shoot this sort of scene that much anymore although in fairness lately I've hardly seen one so it wouldn't matter anyway! This shot used the 10 stop Genesis ND + the 0.9 Aurora Hard Grad, again, a rather impressive colour neutral RAW file even with filters stacked, which allowed me to produce a vibrant, yet natural looking finished image.

The third and final test I carried out was at Wastwater a few days ago - the morning produced some rather spectacular stormy weather, however I carried out the test of the ND filters before this arrived as it would have been a bit of a faff carrying it out with rain constantly coming in.

This was done under the same conditions (auto WB, no grads) with the first shot on the left using a Formatt-Hitech Firecrest 6 stop, compared with the Genesis 7 stop ND filter on the right. As you can see from the image, there's been no adjustments made on the right hand panel, just a straight comparison using the 'as shot' white balance. The light in the scene had changed slightly between frames but at first glance I could tell little difference in colour, the Firecrest perhaps was a hair bluer than the Progrey although that could be the light playing tricks. I was expecting more of a difference given one is a 6 stop and the other a 7 but really, the Progrey was equal to the Firecrest in my test. 

Following this the rain really came in, squall after squall - however this was punctuated by some cracking bits of light, which enabled me to capture one of my favourite images of the year so far (below):

Now to be clear, I've absolutely no qualms about the quality of the Firecrest filters or the LEE grads I've been using to this point, all I can say is that from the evidence shown in these RAW files, the Progrey filters are clearly on a par with them (in my opinion).

The Passing

What I will say is that my only slight (if you can call it that) issue was that initially the filter holder proved tricky to attach to the adaptor. However after a few weeks of use I've found this to be no problem at all.

One thing I didn't mention earlier is that the adaptor can also house an integrated Polariser, much like the NISI and Hitech systems, enabling you to move the Polariser independently while attached. I didn't test this however I'll be looking to acquire one of these very soon as it's a vital bit of kit which I use alot, especially around water and rocks which really reflect light.

The system also comes with extra clips which can easily be attached using a supplied allen key should you wish to stack up to 3 filters at a time (I tend only ever use 2 max).

Summary

So, in conclusion, I'd have to say all in all the Progrey System is very impressive - the grads and ND filters produce impressive, colour neutral results which equal the Firecrest and LEE filters I currently own. I've in no way done any sort of scientific, forensic analysis into the neutrality of the filters, only by eye - but to me on-screen they look as good as what I had previously, which is good enough for me. The holder can appear somewhat bulky but this is to accommodate the increased size of filter which I've no experience with, however out in the field I had no problems swapping the filters about despite it being very wet and windy at times. What does this mean for you? Well, I'd certainly have no qualms about recommending them if you're on the look out for a new filter system which is probably better value for money than say, the LEE system. I didn't get a chance to try the polariser which is obviously something I'd like to get hold of down the line given it's a vital piece of kit in a Landscape Photographer's armoury, however based one what I've used so far the Progrey Kit is well worth a look.

Test 3: RAW Comparison - Formatt-Hitech Firecrest 6-stop ND (left) vs Progrey Aurora 7 stop ND (right)