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Sunset, Cricks Wood and Cracks Hill, Northamptonshire

On one side of the M1 is Warwickshire, on the other is Northamptonshire. Most of the time, I am in Warwickshire visiting my daughter and so Rugby is my final destination. Google maps is a wonderful tool for browsing and looking for new places to visit. Often, I use canals as my compass and it was following the Grand Union canal along Google maps that I was intrigued not only by Cracks Hill but also the surrounding area. I discovered the Friends of Cricks Wood web site and learnt about the good work being done by the community there. Close by is Cracks Hill which was formed by a retreating glacier during the last ice age. Running through this area of natural beauty is the Grand Union Canal. This looked like a good place to photograph especially if the conditions were just right. The one ingredient that is needed is good light and on an evening in December, it looked as if there would be a good sunset. I packed my camera gear and set off to the woods. On arrival, I spent some time in the Jubilee woodland as the sun was setting. The colour on the leaves in the light at the end of day was something to behold.

The next place to visit was the summit of Cracks Hill. It was not disappointing and I was pleased that I had brought along my Canon D5 Mk4 with tripod. The windmills were fascinating to watch at such a distance and at a height. I was also taken by a lone tree on the side of the hill. Needless to say the tree featured in a few photographs. So it was a successful day and I made my way back to the car.

Sunset, Cricks Wood and Cracks Hill, Northamptonshire
The soft light on the surrounding countryside
Sunset, Cricks Wood and Cracks Hill, Northamptonshire
The colours of the sunset from Cracks Hill.
Sunset, Cricks Wood and Cracks Hill, Northamptonshire
Loving the Windmill silhouette.
Sunset, Cricks Wood and Cracks Hill, Northamptonshire
A lone tree on Cracks Hill

As I reached the bridge over the Grand Union, I met a dog walker and I let him pass. He moved onto the bridge and started walking into the embers of the sunset. I fumbled but I got my Fujifilm x100v just in time to capture a picture of the walker on the bridge. The resulting picture was dark but I used my editing suite to bring out the colours of the sunset. So part capturing the scene and then relying on a preset edit to produce the scene that I observed over that bridge and far away.

Sunset, Cricks Wood and Cracks Hill, Northamptonshire
Over the Bridge and far away. On the Canal bridge over the Grand Union walking towards Cricks Wood

The final part to this series of photographs is the selection of the walker over the bridge by England’s Big Picture. It was my second feature of the year on the BBC site. I was very pleased with the outcome.


In the present lockdown situation, there has been the opportunity to take up different photographic projects that due to a busy lifestyle you would not normally have the time to complete.  My photography revolves around my job which is travelling to conferences, my daily commute into Birmingham and the growing family.  I have tried my hand at other forms of photography but not really had the time to look at it in detail.  I belong to a photographic group which is part of the BritshTechNetwork and the convenor Ewen Rankin, a professional photographer has been setting us photographic tasks (https://www.britishtechnetwork.com/category/photo).  These have been included water droplets and colourful reflections on the top of bubbles. 

The one that I found fascinating was oil on water.  I have revisited the technique a couple of times and I was very pleased that one of my pictures was selected in the Top 4 of a recent #ShareMondays2020 competition on Twitter.  I therefore decided to write up how I obtained the colourful picture and show you how straightforward the technique can be.  If done well it does produce very striking colourful abstract photographs.

Equipment

The set-up is fairly simple.  You need a sturdy tripod with a horizontal arm that can help position the camera over the water.  A good deep bowl is needed, here a glass Pyrex water jug is used.  I have a small raised table that I use for my laptop work.  The jug is placed on a colourful background on the table.  In this case I have used a well-known children’s book and there is a patchwork of different colours that will provide an interesting background.  A strong light source is needed and I have placed this to lean into the jug.  Please be careful as there is a mix of electrical wires and water so do take the necessary precautions.  The continuous light was provided by a Rotolight NEO2 set at an angle.  My work table has some grooves which allowed the light to be stabilised at the base.

What is needed – Tripod, washing up liquid, Camera with macro lens, NEO2, Olive Oil, Colour background, teaspoon and water jug and small table to place jug on.
Positioning the light against the jug of water placed on the background

Technique

A small amount of Olive oil is placed in a teaspoon and dropped onto the surface of the water.  It is often difficult to make out the oil on the water so it is with careful trial and error that the macro lens is positioned to focus on the water surface and the oil.  The teaspoon is also used to gently stir the water although later we agitate the surface more vigorously.  

Camera settings

The camera used was a Canon D5 with a 100mm macro lens.  The focus was set at f/2 which throws the background out of focus.  I used a fast shutter speed (s/250) as the oil droplets will circulate quickly as it gets stirred up more and more.  Using live view assists with the focussing.  I upped the ISO to 800 so that I got a clear image on the back of the camera. I adjusted the set up so that I could bring a chair up close in order to sit comfortably and just concentrate on the photography.  Manual focus was used throughout to ensure sharp pictures. 

Advanced technique

After the oil is photographed then the next steps include adding washing up liquid to the water.  This changes the surface tension of the water and introduces more shapes.  It also creates more bubbles which can once again be guided by the teaspoon.  Changing the firing mode to continuous shooting allows you to capture different combinations as the water moves around following stirring/agitation.  Also remember to move, position or change the background to get different colour effects.

Processing 

The pictures are uploaded into Lightroom for processing and you are free to follow your normal preferred settings.  There may be a need for creative cropping to get the best abstract picture.  I like looking at the shapes and the symmetry or just letting my artistic decisions rule my cropping.  Two tips for oil and water pictures.  Increase your saturation levels to a much higher setting than normal.  The water absorbs the light and your pictures will initially look dull.  Increasing the saturation compensates for this and gives pleasing results.  I also move the picture into Photoshop where I apply an unsharp mask and adjust the levels to give the best exposure.  

The saturation is increased to around 40 in Lightroom

Summary

This technique is straightforward and produces some stunning abstract photography that you will be proud to display on your monitor or on your wall.  It is easy to set up and is a useful introduction into macro photography.  Have fun and enjoy taking the photographs.

There are many photography projects to do during the Lockdown and Star Trails is one that I fancied doing. I have an App on my phone called Star Walk and it shows the sky at night. There are many stars out there but with light pollution is not possible to get particularly good images. I have always liked seeing the stars and wondered if there was a simple project to get started in this area. Star trails looked just what I needed. Using a long exposure technique it is possible to record the moving stars. I read my Digital Photographer magazine and also looked over several articles on the web. I discovered that my Canon 5D had an auto setting that would continuously take pictures. So I set up the camera on a tripod and using the Star Walk App located Polaris the North Star. I took my wide angle lens Canon EF 16-33 mm and used the largest aperture of f/4. The focus was set at infinity. The camera was pointed directly towards Polaris and the neighbour’s house and my Magnolia tree were used to frame the picture. The exposure was set at 30 seconds. Also the auto was set to take a picture every 30 seconds. There were a few false starts and then once I was happy, I let the camera run on automatically. Then 167 pictures later it was time to go to sleep so I processed all the pictures in the morning in a program called StarstaX which blends them together. I learnt a new synchronisation technique in Lightroom as well. The final picture was very impressive although there is still a lot of light pollution around as the trails should be more intense. The picture got a lot of interest on Social media and I was pleased with the final result. I will have to go out again and do some more picture taken of the stars!

Saturday was a glorious day so I ventured further afield to one of the Warwickshire country parks.  The one I was interested in was Burton Dassett Hills Country Park. There was no sign of the impending Storm Ciara and the skies were clear.  When I got to the park, I was a little annoyed as the payment machines took my £2.50 but did not give me a ticket to display in the car.  It happened last time I was there as well.  It just unsettles me but I put a note in the windscreen and set off with my camera and tripod.  Why I bothered with the tripod I do not know and I guess it just feels comfortable holding it.  I never used it as the light was very strong.  I brought my camera rucksack with all my filters and other lenses and the only item I used was a polariser that I put on the 24 to 105mm lens.  I do like this lens.  It is heavy but it does produce wonderful results.  I have really worked it in recent days especially as my Sony Compact has started to really play up on me.  

The sun was bright and it created lovely contrast of the underrating hill tops

The light was fantastic but I could see the impending weather change in the west and therefore I moved briskly around the park.  Burton Dassett Hills Country Park has an interesting history which dates back to Saxon times.  There has been a windmill on the site until just after the war.  The hill tops are uneven and with the strong light there were some wonderful shadows to be photographed.  It was very windy but not too cold.  Some of the hills required a strenuous ascent and writing the blog today my legs and other muscles below the waist are very sore.  

There are several high hills to climb and explore

I enjoyed the views and also taking photographs of several silhouettes of people walking along the hills.  I did not get a chance to go to the church but that will be my goal for my next visit.  Overall I was very pleased with myself and thought my photographs were looking good.  

The structures are interesting and can be seen for miles around
The sides of the hill still have the scars of the old Saxon style farming methods
Climbing the hills

I knew I was near to Chesterton Windmill and I did not want to miss the opportunity of not getting a quick picture of the magical place.  I set off and saw that the weather was turning.  There was less blue skies and more dark clouds coming in.  I took a cross country route to the Windmill and as I approached cracks appeared in the crowds letting rays of sun through.  I rushed to park the car and raced to the Windmill.  Two sets of sunrays were bathing the sails and it looked to my eye as a great opportunity.  Then indecision set in.  How should I  position the Windmill against the sunrays.  I tried several vantage points before the scene changed and I had to go back to my car to get my phone that I had left on the dashboard.  When I returned the cloud formation had really changed.  I took a few more shots and got home.

Sun rays coming through the sky

Burton Dassett Hills Country Park pictures looked great on the Mac and I tidied them up.  Imagine my surprise when I saw the Windmill pictures they looked amazing.  However I posted the Burton Dassett Hills Country Park pictures and left the others to the morning.  Even then I asked Sandy what she thought of them.  I was thinking everyone has seen a picture of the windmill before, this one will be no different.  When I posted the picture Instagram went crazy and scored many “likes”.  I have a slightly different edit for #WexMondays and I will see how that performs.  As it happens the Burton Dassett Hills Country Park ones did well on Flickr.

People around the Windmill add some interest to the pictures

A good day for photographing and I would never have guessed that I would come back with such a story about the pictures that I took.  

My Instagram picture

Epilogue for the Geeks out there.  Pictures taken on the Canon D4 with a 24-105mm lens.  All the pictures were taken on manual and the Lightroom/Photoshop was my normal run through.  Maybe that is another blog on how I process my pictures.