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Bristol Channel Shipping

Over a number of recent visits to the coast I have become increasingly interested in shipping movements. Vessels on the sea add tremendous interest to the scenes I have shot. I have had ships appear at fortuitous moments in my image making in the past, but had never planned to make specific photos of ships.

Black Nore Point, Portishead, at high tide with the old lighthouse in the background. (Doug King)
While shooting the images for this large stitched panorama, a vessel steamed into the perfect position on the horizon. I was so busy aligning the shots that I didn’t even notice at the time

Recently, through various internet searches I have found a source of real time shipping movements in the Bristol Channel and have started to incorporate these into my shoot planning. Getting out and watching the shipping in the Channel and River Severn has given me a real appreciation for the skills of the Masters and Pilots that manoeuvre these vessels through one of the most challenging waterways in the world.

 (Doug King)
Saga Welco receiving assistance from tugs on the approach to Avonmouth
The cement freighter Arklow Raider arrives on a dawn high tide at Sharpness Docks on the River Severn (Doug King)
Arklow Raider manoeuvring to enter Sharpness Docks

I have always been interested in photographing the man-made structures of our coastline. Now being able to include shipping makes much more sense of their purpose. The combination of weather, water and now shipping will, I hope, make for even more dynamic and unrepeatable images.

Sharpness Dawn

I know that I have not been getting out enough when I arrive at a location more than an hour earlier than I planned for my shot. This morning I decided to watch a ship arriving at Sharpness Docks on the River Severn. I hoped that its navigation plan would have it arrive at high tide, which was at 8:05, coinciding with sunrise. To give myself a little leeway, not knowing much about shipping, I planned to be set up to start shooting at 7:30. I actually arrived at Sharpness at 6:40, which gave me plenty of time to wander around the docks themselves and catch this shot of the light rising in the sky behind the dock buildings and cranes.

Sharpness Docks Before Dawn (Doug King)

Located in Industrial Landscape

Gower Peninsula

Sunday’s forecast for light clouds or clear skies encouraged me to venture just a little further in search of some sunrise interest and I settled on the Gower in South Wales. I did my calculations and reckoned that, with sunrise so far south at this time of year, I should be able to catch the rising sun side-illuminating the Mumbles Lighthouse. Whats more this would occur over a more or less high tide in the adjacent Bracelet Bay.

In the end things turned out just as I hoped, or maybe a little better with the colour palette of rock, water and sunrise light all working together beautifully.

Bracelet Bay at sunrise. Mumbles, South Wales (Doug King)

After fortification with strong coffee and a picnic breakfast I travelled a little further along the peninsula’s coast to the rightly popular Three Cliffs Bay. I find myself less and less interested in shooting during normal daytime hours, but in this case the low altitude sunshine provided really dramatic relief to this rugged landscape. I found myself a viewpoint and simply watched the changing shapes in the water as the waves interacted with the now falling tide. When pleasure boaters showed up to make shapes in the water, my day was complete.

Three Cliffs Bay, Gower, South Wales (Doug King)

Photos located in Sea and Coast Gallery

Osmington Mills

Yesterday, to mark the end of lockdown, I arranged for some work to take me to the south coast. I left in very good time for my late morning meeting (just before 5am) and headed down through Wiltshire and Dorset

The weather in Bath had been perfect when I left, with wisps of stratus and some convective cloud, but the moon shining through. However the cloud became thicker the further south I got, contrary to the previous evening’s forecast. That blew out my idea of a skycape over minimalist sea, and instead I decided to head to Osmington Mills, somewhere I hadn’t visited before. 

Cruise liners at night

Arriving in total darkness at 6:30 I was amazed to find that the sea was flooded with light from half a dozen cruise liners anchored in Weymouth Bay, extending the line of lights from Weymouth and Portland across the horizon. By the time I had a coffee and got kitted out, a sliver of red light at the horizon suggested that there might just be a minuscule chance of sunrise.

In the end the sunrise was really quite special. The thick cloud cover gave a light that was even bluer than usual pre-dawn. Then for about four minutes the sun rose, filled the clear gap at the horizon and then disappeared again for the rest of the day. During those brief moments a blade of intense golden light sliced across the scenery, creating a range of hues from deep blue through purple and red. 


Osmington Mills Dorset (Doug King)

Halloween Moon

I love it when a plan comes together …

One of the pleasures for me of landscape photography is figuring out when natural events, such as tides and full moons, will occur in specific locations and being ready to photograph them.

For a while now I have been hoping to photograph a full moon rising against a well known landmark. I have in fact planned several possible locations for particular seasons when the moon will be in a particular location in the sky. Today, Halloween 2020 that place was to be Glastonbury Tor.

As usual I spent much of the day watching the weather forecast and agonising over weather the moon might or might not be visible at dusk. In the end I made the trip down to Glastonbury and boy was I glad that I did.

The moon rose veiled in light cloud which diffused its light and added some interest to the sky. The group of Halloween celebrators on the top of the Tor gave some added interest and the one person that stood still and looked directly at the moon for the duration of the exposure was a superb bonus.

The full moon rises on Halloween 2020 veiled by thin clouds. A group of people watch it rise from beside the tower of St Michaels Church on Glastonbury Tor. (Doug King)

This is a blend of two exposures, one for the surface of the moon and one for the tower of St Michaels Church. Shortly after this, the moon disappeared behind much thicker cloud, signalling the end of my evening.

Coate Water Dawn

Generally by the middle of the week I am starting to get an itchy shutter finger. So, Thursday morning saw me make a quick dash up to Swindon to check out the old concrete diving structure at Coate Water. This was followed by an equally quick dash back again in time for a 9am client meeting.

The old diving structure at Coate Water is now simply a home for roosting pigeons. (Doug King)
The old diving structure at Coate Water is now simply a home for roosting pigeons. (Doug King)

Not my finest accomplishment perhaps, but much needed light therapy. At this time of the year we need to take whenever opportunities arise as who knows when the weather will allow again.

Porlock – Salt Marsh Skeletons

 

Porlock Marsh is a SSSI allowing the study of the transition of habitats, as the salt poisoned the existing vegetation and salt tolerant species took over. (Doug King)

I have wanted to make this photograph since I first encountered this tree, nine years ago. Unfortunately many other things have gotten in the way in the meantime and, on the rare occasions that the conditions might have come together, I was unavailable to travel down to Exmoor. Anyway, this weekend looked like it was lining up to present me with the shot and I was free.

The salt marsh in Porlock Bay is a new and evolving piece of landscape. Originally farmland with freshwater marshes, this low lying area had been protected from the sea by an extensive, natural pebble bank. This bank was breached by a storm in 1996, inundating the land. The authorities decided to let nature takes its course and the site is now a SSSI allowing the study of the transition of habitats, as the salt poisoned the existing vegetation and salt tolerant species took over.

So, yesterday morning involved a very early start from Bath to get down to Porlock well before dawn. As I arrived on location I was surprised to find that, with nearly two hours to go until High Tide, the water was already rising over the ground. Well, I shouldn’t have been surprised, I had deliberately chosen one of the highest tides of the year in order to ensure an uncluttered foreground. 

I found a convenient mound to stand on, hoping to stay above the water for as long as possible. The composition presents itself, so even in near total darkness I was able to frame the silhouettes of the trees. The race was now on, would my perch hold out, or would I have to escape the rising tide before getting my shot? Such is the nail-biting excitement of landscape photography!

The light arrived at almost the same moment that the tide rose above the last grass stalks, presenting an unbroken surface to the horizon. Perfection. Unfortunately the tide was running fast enough to ripple the surface and my exposure times were initially in minutes, so it was not possible to get sharp reflections. As the light came up I could capture shorter exposures, down to half a minute at the end. A couple of test exposures and then I got my shot. 

All this time I had been carefully watching the water rise around my rapidly diminishing perch and, more importantly, behind me on my route back to dry land. By the time I got my shot the water was already over the toes of my boots. I quickly returned my camera to the safety of my bag, as I could see that I was going to want my tripod as a support for a tiptoe wade through deep water. Once again, I was so glad that I invested in a really good (and tall) pair of wellies. I was just in time to wade back to shore with dry feet, but literally on tiptoe with the water lapping at the top of my boots.

Storm Alex at Corfe Castle

I took a chance last night to try for a shot I had been planning for ages. All day yesterday I had been agonising over whether to make the four hour round trip to Corfe Castle. I was watching five kinds of weather forecast; from general forecasts and cloud radar to follow the advance of Storm Alex, to the aviation forecast for Gatwick Airport, trying to predict the height of cloud base above the horizon at sunset. In the end, I thought that there was a slight chance of a unique combination of conditions, and off I went.

I had left it quite late while still trying to determine the likely outcome and arrived with barely enough time to get to my planned shooting position. However, the moment I got out of the car I could smell the rain, and the race was on.

I didn’t get to my planned shot location. In fact I barely managed to get above the trees before realising I had but minutes. I hurriedly set up my tripod and snapped off seven shots in total. This was the fifth and the rain had just slammed into my back. By the seventh shot you could barely see the castle through the rain and I was getting thoroughly soaked. I spent all of three and a half minutes doing photography yesterday evening and I didn’t get even close to the shot I originally wanted. In the end though, I don’t think that I wasted my trip.

The ruins of Corfe Castle silhouetted against the last light at the moment storm clouds arrive overhead. Storm Alex, 1st October 2020. (Doug King/Doug King Photography)
The ruins of Corfe Castle silhouetted against the last light at the moment storm clouds arrive overhead. Storm Alex, 1st October 2020. (Doug King/Doug King Photography)

New Toy

 

New toys arrive in golden boxes, but what is in it – read on to find out.

Canon EOS cameras have been on a very clear trajectory of recent years, from DSLR to Mirrorless. Firstly we had the EOS R, which was widely panned by internet ‘experts’ who delight in comparing features between manufacturers. Most of the ‘features’ of the EOS R were irrelevant to me as I already shoot an EOS 5D Mark iv and the EOS R was basically the same camera in a different carcass.

Then came the EOS RP, a down-spec ‘consumer’ version of the EOS R, which wasn’t for me either. Like the rest of the world I was eagerly waiting for Canon to release a mirrorless upgrade to the current EOS 5D lineup.

Well this year we have seen the highly vaunted launch of the EOS R5 and R6, mirrorless successors to the EOD 5D and 6D. The fanfare of publicity and internet anticipation surrounding these cameras has been enormous. Finally Canon was going to deliver a high megapixel full frame mirrorless camera to catch up with Sony and Nikon. 

I started reading the specification rumours as they slowly trickled out, probably clever marketing on Canon’s part. Then came the launch announcement with full specification details, followed shortly by reviews from those favoured with pre-release copies. It all sounded like this might be the moment to move to mirrorless.

Then came the more in-depth reviews and more detail. It became clear that Canon had not necessarily designed a camera for stills shooters, but have tried to make a jack of all trades. Nearly all of the significant improvements over the EOS 5D-iv relate to video. I don’t need all this in a stills camera. I already have an excellent (Canon) video camera.

Sure there are substantial improvements to the autofocus and new in body stabilisation, but I don’t need these, as I am going to stabilise any high megapixel camera with a tripod. The increase in ISO sensitivity is less than a full stop and I am not going to touch expanded ISO levels. There are improvements in the sensor’s dynamic range that could be helpful, but I control dynamic range with graduated filters and a good understanding of how Canon cameras write their raw data.

Year

Mega Pix

Native ISO

FPS

Video

Battery

EOS 5DS / R

2015

50

100-6400

5

HD

700 shots

EOS 5D-iv

2016

30

100-32000

7

4K

900 shots

EOS R5

2020

45

100-51200

12

8K

320 shots

Then came the launch day and the price – £4,200 in the UK, nearly £1,500 more than the EOS 5D-iv currently sells for. 

Furthermore, there is the battery life. The EOS R5 is only able to capture one third the number of images from a fully charged battery. This would put a further dent in my pocket as I would need an additional three new batteries (total £225) to ensure I would have sufficient charge to match a long day shooting with my EOS 5D-iv. A further dent to my finances (£280) would be required by the change from CF cards to CF Express, as I like to keep a large capacity CF card in the camera whilst switching out SD cards frequently to keep as backup.

So, for an outlay of around £4,700 the camera needs to offer me a substantial increase in capability over that which I already have. Sadly (both for me and for Canon – see below) the EOS R5 is, in my opinion, terrible value for money. The more reasonably priced EOS R6 doesn’t do it for me either. Instead of offering a stills shooters camera without the bells and whistles, Canon kept feature bloat and reduced the resolution of the EOS R6.

However, the launch of the EOS R5 did prompt me to buy a new camera body. Today I was delighted to receive my new EOS 5DS-R. 

Although this camera predates my EOS 5D-iv by a year, and has substantially fewer ‘features’ it actually suits my style of shooting very well. The biggest attraction is the lack of anti-aliasing on the high resolution sensor, giving me finer details in the RAW files and the option to apply anti-aliasing in post only if necessary. I have had my eye on this camera for ages, but had to wait to see if the EOS R5 range would trump it.

Interestingly, according to Canon Rumours, manufacturing of the EOS 5DS-R was quietly phased out this spring. I have noticed that fewer and fewer retailers have had this camera in stock recently. Now that the EOS R5 has started shipping, retailers are dropping the price of the EOS 5DS-R. I found mine from a European Camera Superstore, which has a UK website, for considerably less than half the price of an EOS R5, and I don’t have to fork out for any new peripherals either.

Today I am a very happy tog. I have a shiny new toy to play with, one that meets all of my aspirations for better performance (in my own context). It just isn’t the new toy that everyone else is raving about.

My new 5DS-R ready for an outing dressed in a sleek new RRS L-Bracket and paired with what will probably be its mate for life: my fabulous TSE 17

Don’t get me wrong, I am excited about mirrorless. I am already invested in the Canon EOS M series of compact mirrorless cameras. There are many features of the mirrorless systems, such as live focus peaking and zebras that I find extremely helpful and would love to have on my full frame cameras. One day I will buy a Canon full frame mirrorless camera, just not today.

I will now be investigating alternative means of achieving the capabilities I wished for. With a port of Magic Lantern being close to ready for both the EOS 5DS-R and 5D-iv, I may soon be able to access the features that would really make a difference, and which Canon could so easily choose to add through firmware.

I do feel sad though that Canon seems to have lost its way with the EOS 5 series. The original EOS 5D was groundbreaking and I sold my Nikon kit in order to shoot with it. The EOS 5D Mark ii was clearly an enthusiast camera, but didn’t try to compete with the EOS 1 range nor with Canon’s dedicated video cameras. However with the EOS R5, rather than making a camera that I really want to buy, Canon has instead, in my opinion, made a Jack of All Trades, Master of None.

My two camera body set up will now see me through at least the next five years, and probably many more, given my history of shooting until worn out. Unfortunately for Canon this means that I will not only not be buying the EOS R5, I am unlikely to buy the next upgrade of the R5 and probably not the one after that either. By overcharging for features that I don’t want or need, Canon has lost a pipeline of new camera sales.

Ghost Crossing 

I’ve been called mad now call me obsessive: 

This is a photograph that I have wanted to create for some time. I knew that there were piers for ferry services at Aust from the days before the Severn Bridge was built. Some of these relics date back to Roman times.

Severn Bridge at Night (Doug King)

Well last week saw spring high tides peaking at around sunset which were the conditions I needed. However the weather was lousy which nearly spoiled my plans. In the end it took four trips down to Aust Cliffs to get the shot.

When I finally did get this magical combination of conditions, I only had one chance at the shot. It was so dark I was using three minute exposures. The tide in the River Severn has the second highest range in the world and this was a spring tide. The tide was rising so fast that I had to guess when to start my exposure as the water had not even reached the last post in line. By the time the exposure had finished the water was up around my wellies and I had to grab my tripod and retreat. Fortunately I nailed it and caught the water starting to run into the little gullies and runnels in the mudbank where I was standing. 

That’s it. These conditions will not align again for a long time.

Final Tally:

  • 4 Nights (one spent sitting in the car hoping the rain will stop)
  • 7 Hours standing in mud in near darkness
  • 200 Miles driven in total
  • 1 Friend accompanied on 1 night
  • 1 Shot (well I did shoot a couple of others along the way)

I hope it was worth it.

Click on the photo to buy it or to see others in the same gallery.