2016 in photos

Sunset over the mudflats of the Couesnon estuary by the Mont St. Michel

Woman in black dressThis year, armed with a new prime lens and a softbox, I took my photography in a new direction: portraiture. With Southampton-based model Helen Stephens I got great photos outside the city’s Guildhall. A month later, I worked with Gemma Wilks in Romsey, who subsequently cut a striking presence in red for me on a windy evening in the New Forest. Also in August, I got some lovely photos of two teenage sisters in Romsey’s Memorial Park.

Woman holding hands with little boy and girl, walking through sunlit New ForestBroadening the age range still further, my camera and I joined Gemma and her two young children on an autumn walk in the New Forest. The light was ideal for seasonal colour.

Wide-angle shot of Mont St. Michel as night approaches

Three travel experiences stand out in 2016. In September, my wife and I paid a 24-hour visit to Normandy. I was amply rewarded with ideal weather and a beautiful sunset and sunrise at the Mont St. Michel.

Three months earlier, I shot the sunrise in Clovelly. The north-facing coastal village only catches the full sun early in the morning near the summer solstice. Luckily for me, the clouds parted just after sunrise and, apart from a couple of fishermen, I had the harbour wall to myself. Read the story on Adobe Spark – a great platform for story-telling if you don’t have a website of your own.

The third one is the main holiday Rachel and I took to the Lake District in early October. We enjoyed great weather here, too, so my camera got lots of exercise. Unfortunately, higher priorities meant I haven’t yet had a chance to process and share my photos from Windermere, Ullswater and elsewhere. Maybe in the New Year…

Managing the Facebook accounts for Romsey Abbey and its choir is one of these major commitments. I post on Twitter, too, but that it’s format inhibits meaningful user engagement. I chronicle services and events throughout the year with photos; despite Facebook’s algorithm restricting exposure to page posts unless you pay to ‘boost’ them, they help my posts regularly reach many more people than actually follow the Abbey’s pages.

Large orchestra rehearsing in Romsey AbbeyAs well as services, I also shot a few concerts, including one by the largest orchestra the Abbey has ever hosted: the Charity Symphony Orchestra, specially enlarged to play the spectacular Alpine Symphony by Richard Strauss. I hope to work with more musical ensembles in future; here are suggested shots that work well.

Instagram has been my focus in terms of social media activity this year. I have acquired just over 500 followers since joining late last year. My photos regularly get well over 100 likes. I think this follower/like ratio compares very well with other people with much larger followings. I was also invited to be an Instagrammer of the week for Ordnance Survey (my employer) in October and, earlier in the year, to be featured in the #swisbest 2017 calendar, which came out in November.

A couple of my photos were also used in the artwork for Adoration, a CD released earlier this month by the Choir of Romsey Abbey (I’m one of its tenors) It’s great to be getting recognition like this.

And so to 2017. My resolutions are to:

  • continue to develop my photographic style, particularly in terms of portraiture;
  • blog and network more effectively;
  • be the best person I can be.

I wish you a very happy New Year, and look forward to working with current friends and many people I have yet to meet.

South West is Best 2017 calendar out now

Calendar cover

I’m delighted that one of my photos is featured in the South West is Best 2017 Calendar. It’s beautifully produced by Bowline Communications and features a range of landscapes and landmarks from across the region.

My photo of cows in a field is the lead image for September. It was taken at dawn one beautiful morning close to the Highgrove Estate, near Tetbury in Gloucestershire:

Who are you looking at?

The founders of the popular Instagram account @swisbest asked to use it after seeing it in their image feed earlier in the summer. You can read about the story behind the calendar in the Wiltshire Times. It’s possibly the first ever calendar of images sourced from Instagram users.

The calendar is available to order online for £9.99 plus post and packing. It’s an ideal Christmas present.

Buy yours now

Top tip: use Instagram hashtags

If you use Instagram and would like your photos seen by other users, use hashtags. By including the hashtag #swisbest – for example – in the description of an outdoor image you post, your photo will appear in results when somebody searches on Instagram using this hashtag. This makes your photo more visible and makes it more likely that your photo will get likes. The chances are that people who like several of your photos will then follow your account, so they’ll see – and like – more of your photos in future.

For a chance for your photo to be featured on @swisbest, you must follow this account. Your photo must also  have been shot somewhere in the region. There are many hubs like it on Instagram; they’re a great way to help raise your profile as a photographer.

10 tips for photographing the Mont St. Michel

Wide-angle photo of Mont St. Michel at dusk (blue hour) with a small boat in the foreground

Last weekend, my wife and I enjoyed a mini-break in France. My main objective was to photograph Mont St. Michel, having been inspired by stunning images by Serge Ramelli and Scott Kelby.

I was lucky with the weather, the tides and much else besides, meaning that I too came away with great images. It’s so beautiful there that it’s hard not to do so!

I hope my images will inspire you to do likewise. To improve your chances of success, here are my tips for making the most of your visit.

1. Shoot at sunset

It’s an oft-quoted adage that landscapes always look at their best at golden hour (sunrise and sunset) but nonetheless true. Here, the last rays of evening sunshine are illuminating the west side:

Mont St. Michel during golden hour with a rowing boat in the foreground

The estuary is also worth shooting while you’re there:

Sunset over the mudflats of the Couesnon estuary by the Mont St. Michel

And in the evening, there’s the added bonus that the Mont is floodlit between dusk and midnight, which makes the view even more special:

Wide-angle shot of Mont St. Michel as night approaches

If you arrive after 7pm, parking is free (use of the shuttle bus to the Mont is also free).

2. Come back before sunrise

At this time of day, because regular tourists are either still in bed or having breakfast, you’ll have the Mont largely to yourself. Unfortunately, on the day I visited (and probably on most days), several delivery vehicles were parked near the entrance:

Mont St. Michel at dawn with delivery vans parked outside

Quite a while with the clone stamp and other tools in Photoshop successfully removed them:

Mont St. Michel at dawn with a pretty pink sky

If you get a largely cloudless sky at sunrise, as I did, the rising sun will turn the buildings on the east side a lovely honey colour for half an hour or so:

Mont St. Michel glowing gold in the early morning sun

Parking first thing in the morning is €4.30 for two hours, versus €6.30 for two hours after 11.30am.

3. Aim for low tide

When the sea recedes miles away, you get a real sense of the size of the estuary and a wider choice of vantage points. At high tide, you’ll get great reflections of the Mont in the water around it, but you’ll be restricted to the bridge that replaced the old causeway and the concrete apron at the end of it.

4. Choose the right time of year

I’d say that March or September, around the spring and autumn equinoxes, are the best time of year to visit and get great photos. At the height of summer, the Mont is over-run with tourists during the day and sunrise is much earlier than 7.30, when the shuttle buses start running. Conversely, in winter, while there are fewer tourists overall, they will still be around at sunset during late afternoon. The weather is also likely to be worse, with fog and damp conditions in the estuary more likely.

5. Explore the Mont while you’re there

Even though the view of it is better than the view from it, most people do go there to do just that and it’s worth climbing at least part-way. Lack of time meant I didn’t climb all the way up to the Abbey, but here’s a shot of the main street:

The narrow, cobbled main street on the Mont St. Michel

Here’s a view from the ramparts:

The ramparts on Mont St. Michel in early-morning sunshine

And this is the post office just inside the main gate:

The post office on Mont St. Michel with beautiful timbered buildings opposite

6. Work the angles (a little)

If you’re wearing stout shoes, I found that it’s possible to walk out a few yards onto the mudflats on the west side of the bridge. Note that we’re talking about mud here – fine, grey, alluvial estuary mud – rather than coarse beach sand. It squelched a little bit for me, but my feet didn’t sink into it. And as luck would have it, there was a dinghy laid up on the mud, lending foreground interest to some of my shots:

Wide-angle photo of Mont St. Michel at dusk (blue hour) with a small boat in the foreground

7. Don’t take stupid risks

Elsewhere, the mud was deeper, wetter and more treacherous. Please heed local warnings and stay out of it. In particular, don’t be tempted to stride out into the estuary on the north side of the Mont. You don’t want to be that person the coastguard has to rescue!

8. Go wide

In terms of lens choice, this is an occasion when a wide angle is ideal. I’ve got Canon’s 17-40mm F4 L. Attached to my Canon 5D Mark ii, I found that this lens was wide enough to fit the whole of the Mont in the frame when shot from where the bridge meets the apron:

Wide-angle close up shot of the Mont St. Michel

From further back along the bridge, my 24-105mm F4 L worked fine:

Mont St. Michel at sunrise casts reflections in the estuary that surrounds it

9. When shooting at midday

Perhaps you’re on a coach tour and can’t choose when to visit. If so, my advice would be to bring a lightweight tripod, a timer and a ND filter to blur the sky (ND 4 or 10 in strength depending on the time of year), then go black-and-white with your images in post-production for the fine-art look:

Black and white image of the Mont St.Michel at dawn, with delivery trucks near its entrance

10. Stay at the Mercure

Perhaps my only regret was my choice of hotel. Having last visited the Mont nearly 20 years ago, I hadn’t realized just how much it has been redeveloped over the past few years. The old causeway, with its car park that stretched all the way into the estuary, has gone completely – replaced with a huge onshore car park from which you catch a free shuttle bus to the Mont:

A Mont St. Michel shuttle bus (navette) on the approach road to the Mont

There’s now a little holiday village, with hotels, restaurants and a gift shop or two, where you reached the coast. Whereas Rachel and I stayed at the Ibis near Avranches for £65, for another £10 or so, we could have stayed on-site. This would have saved me two eight-mile journeys.

Bonus tip: Time your visit to coincide with the wine fairs at major hypermarkets

Each Spring and Autumn, the likes of Auchan and E. Leclerc hold wine sales with some great offers. This for me is another good reason to visit at these times. Even with the fall in the value of sterling in the wake of the Brexit vote, their deals are still good value compared with the price of wine in English supermarkets.