Astrophotography is good fun but living near to a city means only one thing – light pollution. Also you need to have very good weather as well. I had been telling myself that I need to take a picture of Comet C/2020 F3 otherwise known as Neowise. I read around the subject and realised that I needed a dark and clear sky clear of light pollution. I also looked at many different photographer’s pictures on Flickr including the Neowise group. Camera settings should include a large aperture to let as much light in as possible. The shutter speed is set at around 3 to 5 seconds. Any greater and the picture would be blurred by the trail of movement of the comet across the horizon. After that, the ISO is boosted to again increase the sensitivity of the camera. It goes without saying that a tripod is essential.
After a few abortive attempts locally mainly due to the amount of light around the village where I live, I made the decision to go further afield. Chesterton Windmill is a classic landmark for photographers. It is an interesting structure to include in your photograph and it sits on top of a hill with commanding views of the Warwickshire countryside. It is sufficiently far enough away from the city lights to provide a darker sky.
After the decision, there were delays due to the weather and then on Wednesday night it seemed that there may be a lull in the overcast skies. I took a chance. I recruited a friend to come along with me. Therefore Sean and I set off for the sunset at Chesterton Windmill hoping for clear skies. The sun was nearly set by the time we arrived with many people enjoying the mild evening. We waited for the twilight to arrive and then the night proper. Neowise is becoming very faint and is ranked at the lowest category of 3 in brightness. At the beginning of July it was much brighter but now you do have to hunt for it in the sky. Even though it is now closest to the Earth, it is rapidly moving away from the sun.
Gradually the skies over the Windmill become much darker and I was lucky that I had brought a very strong torch to help me move around. I did drop the camera platform bracket that allows attachment to the tripod. Luckily I found it amongst the undergrowth – much to my relief. There was a growing frustration as it was very difficult to locate the comet. My “sky at night” app informed me of its location but still we could not see it. The movement of the clouds over the sky were not helping. Eventually I turned up the ISO on my camera and I caught the comet. I was very pleased and then I was able to take a few more pictures. It was still a frustrating time as the clouds kept passing over just where the comet was.
The results of my photography are shown in this blog. Looking back I could have done a bit more with the picture taking process but there were people around to chat to and I was also looking at the sky with binoculars. I was just grateful that I could see the comet. The pictures may not be the greatest but the evening was exhilarating and fun as we chased the comet through the clouds. I now know what to do but there is unlikely to be another comet for some time yet. I may come back to do some star trails or even look for some meteor showers in the future.
So long Neowise and thanks for passing by earth on your travels.
Visiting Chesterton Windmill has been good for my spirits since the tough lockdown measures were lifted. As we visited the Windmill on a cold June Saturday morning, I wanted to do something a little different. This must go through the mind of all photographers as come back to places they have photographed on numerous occasions. So armed with both my 24-105 mm and 70-200mm telephoto lens I went to work. Interestingly both these are my goto lenses as well. So I add more photographs to a structure that has already been photographed many times.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
In no particular order here are 11 pictures that I entered into a competition. I was surprised that I was entering most of them into the Architecture or Landscape categories. An eclectic mix which I hope you enjoy.
Picture No 1
This is taken on a short walk from home to Dorridge train station near Solihull of around 20 minutes. The walk is uneventful, but on this December morning, there was a colourful sunrise developing. We have also had a large amount of rain and I saw a large puddle to the side of the road. I knelt down close to the water orientating the phone so the lens was close to the water |(It is a good that the new iPhone is waterproof) . Two people passing by were intrigued but kept walking. The leaves and the resulting reflection gave the view added interest. There is a sense of moving towards the sun on the cold morning, It shows that a great picture is never far away even in the most unlikely of places. I am glad that I walked to my local station that day. Camera – iPhone 11 Pro back triple camera 4.25mm f/1.8
Picture No 2
The autumnal sun streams in and lights up the tunnel that connects Brindley Place with Gas street basin. This bridge has recently been renamed “The Black Sabbath Bridge” and on the busy road above there is a bench honouring the band. Also this year is the 250th anniversary of the Birmingham Canal Navigation and this canal tunnel sits in the centre of the network. I used my iPhone to take the picture as I saw the way the people lined up in the picture and the sunrise lighting up the interior. I wanted to capture how this bridge still reflects and impacts on people. This picture portrays not only the memories of the past but also shows contemporary life in Birmingham. Camera – iPhone 8 back camera 3.99mm f/1.8
Picture No 3
A long exposure picture of the Railway Bridge and Cathedral in Cologne before Christmas. The contrasting gold and silver colours of the bridge and the Kölner Dom are highlighted. I set up my camera to take the “classic” view of the cathedral as you look back over the Rhine. I used my Sony DSC-RX100M5 on manual to take the picture. I rested the base of my camera on my handkerchief as there was a low stone wall to use as support. The slow shutter speed allowed for the intercity train moving over the bridge to blur and line up with the other leading lines of the bridge. The water from the Rhine began to have a slight silky appearance to it. The contrasting colours came out well with the silver of the cathedral and the gold of the steel bridge. Camera – Sony DSC-RX100M5 – Long exposure
Picture No 4
This picture was taken with my mobile phone whilst at a Christmas party in Birmingham. I remember that it was a bitterly cold night and I went out for some fresh air. I knew that on a clear night that you can can often capture some good cityscapes from the high vantage point. However my gaze was drawn to the interesting colours and shapes as you looked down into the heart of the building. I held onto my iPhone as I did not want to drop it and took the picture. There is little editing and people who have seen it get drawn into it even though it is off centre and does not follow a normal composition. Camera – iPhone 11 Pro back triple camera 4.25mm f/1.8
Picture No 5
October brings dark early mornings and this picture shows a tram in Birmingham speeding into Stephenson Street towards Grand Central train Station. The colours created by the neon street lights add to the dramatic feel of the picture. It was raining and protecting my camera was uppermost in my mind. I rested it on a wet railing and waited for the tram to arrive. The use of long exposure creates the motion of speed whilst in fact the tram has to slow down for the corner. The tram stop on Stephenson Street is lit up in pink due to a neon advertising screen. The timing of the lights and the arrival of the tram made the picture possible in spite of the rain. It also shows the “new” Birmingham and the changes happening in the city. Camera – Sony DSC-RX100M5 – Long Exposure
Picture No 6
The University of Birmingham has undergone many changes over the last decade including opening up the centre of the campus creating a “Green Heart”. A few years ago this view of “Old Joe” clock tower from the North Gate, would not have been possible. Rain is a photographers friend and puddle reflections assisted in the composition. I settled my Sony camera into a rather large puddle formed overnight. The picture captures the new north gates that lead into the green area of the campus. The reflections have created longitudinal lines that incorporate the old gate house. Even the parking sign creates a complimentary line. The picture makes the viewer wish to walk towards the Chamberlain Clock tower and they will not be disappointed. Camera – Sony DSC-RX100M5
Picture No 7
The Selfridges building is so often photographed that it is difficult to find a different perspective of the building. The iPhone is very versatile and allows you to get close on reflective views. As I am often looking up for a photograph, I saw this reflection on one of the outside entrances. A simple conversion to Black and White makes it look like an eye or a giant clam. Camera – iPhone 8 back camera 3.99mm f/1.8
Picture No 8
This is a picture of two trams moving in and out of the City of Birmingham. They are a leading line to the development at Snow Hill. This is taken early in January and I used the railway bridge wall as my tripod. This was taken with my 40mm prime lens. It annoys me because I have to work at getting the picture I want from it not the picture it shows me. It is very frustrating as I have to move around to get the better angles. Why do I use it? As a prime lens, it can take a crisp sharp picture. After all that work, I am pleased with the picture as it shows the Birmingham Metropolis in all its glory. Camera – Canon EOS 6D with EF40mm f/2.8 STM
Picture No 9
This is taken at one of the entrances at Grand Central Station Birmingham. The reflective ceiling provides different possibilities and on this morning the person sitting on the phone and the man walking down the stairs are lost in their thoughts. The ceiling looks as it is swirling around caused by the reflections. there are several lines pulling you into the picture. The iPhone allowed me to quickly capture the picture of everyday life. Camera – iPhone 11 Pro back triple camera 4.25mm f/1.8
Picture No 10
I was walking in fields around Berkswell, Solihull when a single tree sitting on the landscape caught my eye. There was an abundance of colour in the picture but I when I went for black and white, the solitary nature of the tree stood out. I find the view fascinating as the landscape is stripped away to a line with the Tree central to the picture. It was a bright sunny day and I did not have to use a tripod for the picture allowing me to take a spontaneous shot. Camera – Canon EOS 5D Mark IV EF24-70mm f/2.8L II USM
Picture No 11
Chesterton Windmill in Warwickshire is an ideal place to clear the mind. The windmill is well known locally and has been photographed many times. My picture was taken with the tripod low to the ground to give a slight upwards view to the sunset and the architecture of the structure. I used the wide angled lens to capture as much of the multi coloured sky. I looked to get the blades of grass into focus as they shimmered in the hues of the sunset. The Windmill stands as a guardian to the weather around it. I do find the place inspiring and if I am feeling down then a view of the windmill always makes me cheerful again. Camera – Canon EOS 5D Mark IV EF16-35mm f/4L IS USM
I sent my picture of Chesterton Windmill into BBC England to see if it would be suitable for their theme ‘clearing the mind’. Each day, Englands Big Picture feature an interesting photograph shared with them from across England. The week that I sent my picture into the site, the BBC were celebrating the Get Creative Festival with a special gallery. I love this picture of the Windmill and I was very pleased to see it featured on the site. The link to the picture is a permanent one and it is also my second feature since running my photographic blog.
The May Bank Holiday was not going to be like last year. The temperature was predicted to go down to around 2 degrees centigrade. I had in my mind that I wanted to photograph Chesterton Windmill on the Saturday evening. Was I mad? Looking at the weather forecast there was a good chance of a mix of sun and clouds. These were the ingredients for a possible sunset. Therefore I had an early supper and packed all the kit. I included hot drinks as well. Lots of clothing layers and also a pair of gloves. Goodness is this May!!!
You see the windmill from the road and already your excitement levels rise as it is very prominent and command lovely views. There are never that man people there in the evening so I parked the car and I could not wait to get the camera out and start taking pictures. My problem is that I get too excited about getting that picture. I looked to bracket some of my pictures for later HDR treatment and some of them came out very well.
At the windmill, I also looked for different pictures of the structure. This can be difficult for me as I tend to always see the larger details. However the golden light opened some interesting pictures.
Then after a couple of hours the sun has gone and there is just a warm glow over the area. The hot coffee back at the car was lovely and then it was back home to look at the pictures. I will also be back to take some more pictures in the future. Hopefully I will not leave it too long this time.
One of the most photographic structures near me is the Windmill at Chesterton. I had visited it for the first time earlier in the year and I wished to plan another trip where I could have my tripod with me. I contacted a good friend of mine, John Bray, and we planned the visit between Christmas and the New Year. To really appreciate the Windmill you need to have good weather especially if you are looking for a memorable sunset. As luck would have it not only did we pick a good afternoon, it had snowed the night before which gave an added plus factor to the photographic outing. John and I spent an hour and half at the windmill taking photographs as the sun slowly left the sky.
The sunset was a good one and there were lots of opportunities for pictures. Even the moon got into the act. The temperature dropped and whilst it was cold there was little wind. We took lots of pictures and soon it was time to leave as the sunset was nearly finished. Just as we were walking away John turned around and said look at that view. It is the old saying always look behind you when you are walking away from the picture. John is really quick on getting his pictures out on social media and they were excellent producing much reaction. Here are my views of Chesterton windmill on a cold yet ultimately rewarding photographic session.