© Gavin Parsons. All rights reserved

© Gavin Parsons. All rights reserved

Sunrise is a romantic time so they say. Poets pontificate about it, writers get all lyrical describing the subtle hues and colour changes at the start of a new day. But when your alarm goes at 4.45am, the pontification and lyrical prose are far from the mind.

At 4.45am the world is a dark, cold, silent place. It’s not a time to be up and packing camera gear in the car. But off we set in search on the sunrise some 10 miles out into the English Channel. That’s roughly how far Portland Bill sticks out into the sea from the coastal town of Weymouth in Dorset. It is one of the haunts of my photo workshops.

Portland’s lighthouse is famous and it is so well photographed I could almost see the dimple marks of a million tripods in the rocks that overhang the rippling sea. But I set up my shot and waited. The sky was lightening and turning red and pink. It was a moment of anticipation, like waiting for a blind date to arrive.

It looked promising, like sitting in a bar watching the front door to see a stunning brunette walk in. But then metaphorically, the brunette stepped aside and behind her was my date who’d fallen out the ugly tree and hit most of the branches on the way down. All of a sudden, the wonderful sunset waned and vanished as a bank of cloud obscured the rising sun. What promised to be a marvel flicked and burned out within 30 seconds. I had grabbed a shot at the start, but it was not what I’d hoped for.

The cloud though stayed on the horizon and as the sun broke free from its shade the light gently kissed the lighthouse and rock face that tumbled to the sea. So we repositioned ourselves to make the most of the light and sticking on my 10 stop neutral density filter I made the most of the early morning light.

© Gavin Parsons. All rights reserved

© Gavin Parsons. All rights reserved

 

This well shot scene was never going to be a earth changing moment for me, but I do like to turn my hand, and eye, to many disciplines and the idea of a bit of landscape photography, was reason enough for the early morning.

I’d like to thank Samantha Dunnage for the suggestion of the early morning rise and I hope she enjoyed the excursion as much as I did.

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There really is only one surefire way of making a picture look like it was taken in the 1920s. You can forget Lightroom, Aperture, Photoshop or any other sophisticated sofware. The latest offering from Canon or Nikon won’t help you either. What you need to make and authentic looking picture from the 1920s is to use a camera from the 1920s.

I used an All distance pocket Ensign circa 1920s. It was made in England, takes 120 film (Anyone who started photography this century may have to look up what film is on wikipedia).

The pictures have a certain quality about them. The focus isn’t tack sharp and the clarity is softer than you’d get with a modern camera, and, in my opinion, all the better for it.

A steam train came through the village station last week and I took the opportunity to run a roll of film through the camera. A massive 8 shots is all I had, but I like shooting like that. Each shot needs to be considered. The trouble was the tiny viewfinder is reversed and framing will take some getting used to.

For a first attempt I don’t think I did too bad. More shots will be taken soon.

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Image

I’ve recently been working with a local fishing guide on a new selection of portfolio images. I hooked up with him and a couple of his guests on a beach near Weymouth a couple of weeks ago. The fishing conditions were challenging and so too were the photographic ones.

A sea mist was rolling off the English Channel and kept messing around with the light levels, light conditions and the drama of the setting, but over the course of the afternoon I managed to collect a decent set of pictures that I am happy with. You can see a few on my portfolio website at http://www.gavinparsons.co.uk/pages/fishermen.html

I liked the challenging conditions almost as much as scrambling over slippery rocks, wading through water a little deeper than my waders and swatting flies away from my eyes. (I’m serious I loved it all). It was a great afternoon and I’m looking forward to the next shoot.

Celandines

© Gavin Parsons. All rights reserved

© Gavin Parsons. All rights reserved

I apologise for the lack of a Behind the picture last week. I was too busy to create one. So sorry about that. This week’s behind the is a bit different as it is not from my archive, but rather a picture I took just a couple of days ago. This year the celandines in Dorset have had a bumper year. Last years incessant rain allowed them to grow like they’ve never grown before. They like damp soil and we’ve got a lot of that.

On Saturday I went for a walk along the river looking for insects to photograph and ended up half buried in the bank of a local lane photographing the celandines. I’m not one for just straight flower photography, I find them a bit boring, so I like to get in among the flowers and look for interesting angles with lots of out of focus elements to create an ethereal feel to the image.

This one I was pretty pleased with as it is more like a painting I think than a photograph.

It was shot with a 60mm macro lens along with a ZigView viewer which, as I;ve said before, means I can get the camera at a really low angle without lying in the mud.

 

Plankton babies

Copyright: Gavin Parsons. All rights reserved

This week’s Behind the Picture is a bit of an odd one. While working on a survey of the plankton in the Mediterranean Sea I was asked to photograph some of the specimens the vessel collected.

This had to be done before the samples were sealed ready to take to the laboratory. Basically when the plankton net was hauled aboard the sample in the back of the net was poured into a chemical preserving agent. Before that I was given a small amount in a glass dish and asked to photograph whatever was in it.

One of the key species being looked at was the Blue Fin tuna, one of the world’s rarest fish. Adult fish fetch huge sums of money in the fish markets of the world. The reason is the complete disregard for the species by fishing nations. The fishery for blue fin tuna is an utterly disgusting race to the bottom with pure greed and profit as the driver for the trade. Because the less fish there are in the sea the higher profits.

There is an unseen fleet of tuna purse seine vessels that roam the Mediterranean, particularly around Malta and Cyprus catching as many fish as possible. They are then fattened up in massive seapens, which generally means they are caught too small to have bred. In my opinion it is one of the most stupid fisheries in the world.

Knowing the number of juveniles is particularly important for scientists trying to advise governments on how best to safeguard the species. So tuna were the target. We found quite a few other juvenile fish species in each sample, lots of eggs which can be identified in the lab back on shore and of course a lot of zooplankton species such as copepods, which only get to a few millimetres in size.

Every so often a tuna species did turn up, (you can see one on the middle of the three fish in the picture) but not in the numbers I’d hoped for. It was, to my untrained eye, quite a depressing sight seeing as so few juveniles make it to adulthood. Even so I photographed each sample that was produced. It wasn’t easy as the ship was moving and I didn’t have the option of a microscope as this was being done of the fly at the back of a working ship. Around me were coils of rope, bins, tools, chains and all manner of industrial paraphernalia. It was not where most scientific photographers would like to work.

I strapped all the extension tubes I had between the camera and my 105mm macro lens. I didn’t have a tripod as when I joined the ship I had no idea I’d be doing this kind of photography. Luckily I did have my off camera flash radio control so could get the light right where I wanted it.

I sat the glass dish on a black t-shirt to get a dark background and then set up the exposure with the flash. It was then a case of shifting my movements up and down ever so slightly to get the samples in focus when I pressed the shutter.

To start with there was a lot of trial and error and most of the pictures were slightly out of focus, but eventually I managed to get a technique, which improved my technique.

I thoroughly enjoyed this adhoc scientific photography session and soon I’ll be looking to do some more, but with a much more scientific and controllable set up.

To see more of my work, book on a training course, buy a print or book my for a talk please see my website at www.gavinparsons.co.uk

A dive back in time

 

© Gavin Parsons. All rights reserved

© Gavin Parsons. All rights reserved

This week’s ‘behind the picture’ apart from being a day late (Bank holiday in the UK) is a shot I took while on a commission for the Port of London Authority. It was, surprisingly, taken in the Docks area of East London. The Docklands Museum was having an events day and the Port of London Authority and the Historical Diving Society collaborated to create a commercial diving attraction. They had modern commercial divers going in the water and historical divers as well.

The old Siebe Gorman helmet was synonymous with commercial diving through a great deal of the 20th century, but now very little of the working kit remains in use.

This was an opportunity for me to get an unusual shot. The water beneath about 5cm from the surface was pitch black so I decided on a half and half style shot. Although, in the end, I settled more for a ¾ ¼ image as the few centimetres had just about enough visibility.

I wanted to portray the diver just before he submerged which was what I got. It wasn’t quite so difficult as this was a volunteer from the audience who, understandably, hesitated before he finally stuck his head under.

 

Just because I’m cute

© Gavin Parsons. All rights reserved.

© Gavin Parsons. All rights reserved.

The slow loris is a relatively small mammal found in South East Asia. If you do a Youtube search you undoubtedly come across a cute looking creature that looks endearing and comical to humans. Evolution has granted them big eyes to see in the dark and a soft, warm fur to protect their bodies. Perversely evolution has given humans a craving for creatures with big eyes and delicate features. I believe it reminds them of babies. The two species sadly are not compatible.

Slow Lorises are sold into the illegal pet trade in such numbers that all loris species are now on the CITES endangered lists.

That’s not the end of this one-sided story either. Evolution gave the slow loris a means to hunt, kill prey and protect itself. It laces its sharp teeth with a toxin. Obviously the traders cannot have their customers dying so they break the teeth with nail clippers meaning the hapless slow loris is sold not only as a living puppet, but also with a death sentence. If they don’t die of an infection due to their broken teeth, they die of starvation.

Buying a slow loris may seem like a way to get a real life Furby or a Mogwai (pre midnight fed gremlin), but the reality for the loris is so far removed from the pleasure people get from the experience that it’s perverse.

Thankfully for the slow loris there is help. International Animal Rescue (a British based charity) has the world’s only slow loris rescue facility. It’s based in Indonesia (where loris’ come from) and it rescues, rehabilitates and where possible, releases loris that have been sold on the streets.

One of the biggest hurdles for IAR is the treatment of the teeth. The head vet at the centre has developed a root canal procedure for loris’ which requires delicate handling and a very steady hand. I was allowed into one of these procedures and this image, I feel, is the most powerful as it shows just how vulnerable the slow loris is and how cruel humans can be. This loris is having the broken teeth removed  so they do not get infected. The teeth are tiny and the vet needs a very steady hand. The whole operation of preparing the animal for surgery and then performing the surgery is risky for the loris, but thankfully this one pulled through. So a happy ending of sorts.

If you are tempted to view a slow loris video on youtube or anywhere else, please let the owner of the loris know just how much suffering went into their delight and joy.

Heathfire rescue

Copyright: Gavin Parsons all rights reserved

Copyright: Gavin Parsons all rights reserved

This week’s ‘Behind the picture’ has a bit of a sad tale. In 2011 a massive area of low land heath close to Poole in Dorset was deliberately set alight. Low land heath is one of the rarest habitats on earth. Rare habitats are, by their nature, inhabited by rare wildlife. Upton Heath, as it is called, is home to smooth snakes, adders, grass snakes, sand and common lizards, raft spiders and a host of others creatures.

As you can see the fire devastated everything. Two days before that picture was taken the man would have been lost in a sea of ferns, gorse and shrubs. Even the trees where destroyed. The area looked like the surface of the moon and I wanted to show the complete devastation.

I followed one of the reptile rescuers who was looking for adders and stayed back a little when he got to this tree as I could see its potential as a graphic image. As he walked passed it, he glanced at the tree and that’s when I took to shot. The person now has a face, and therefore a personality, but the moonscape landscape is as dramatic as when I saw it.

We saved dozens of reptiles, amphibians and insects over a couple of days and other teams saved even more. I captured the whole thing. BBC Wildlife magazine ran a story on it, but sadly only showed one shot – not this one. The rest of the news media ignored the story. So I thought I’d share it with you.

 

 

The oceanic

Copyright: Gavin Parsons. All rights reserved

Copyright: Gavin Parsons. All rights reserved

This week’s ‘behind the picture’ is one from my archives. It was taken in the Red Sea, just off Big Brother Island in the early naughties. The reason I bring it to you today is because the oceanic white tip shark today received CITES protection. This is a bit of great news for this ocean going species, although extremely sad for the state of our seas.

When this picture was taken, oceanic white tip sharks were fairly common, especially in the Red Sea; now its numbers have been decimated. These are impressive creatures and deserve protection from over fishing, but it is not full protection. The species can still be targeted by fishermen, but there will now be enforceable laws on international trade.

This shot, as I said, was taken off the Brother Islands in the middle of the Red Sea. I was on a specific oceanic hunt and had already been to Elphinestone Reef, which was supposed to be a shoe in for oceanics, but I saw none. I’d hung off a line on the back of the boat for several hours missing two dives to try and find an oceanic. As we left I felt like I was doomed.

The next stop was Big Brother Island where I’d seen an oceanic white tip on a previous visit. But it was at the end of the dive and I had used my 36 exposures, so didn’t get a shot (It’s hard to imagine only having 36 shots now.)

The Brother Islands are perfect because of the deep water surrounding them. They are the only thing that sticks up for miles and are a draw for fish and, therefore, a draw for sharks. I spent pretty much all the time on board the liveaboard watching the water between dives for the tell tale shape of a shark on the surface. We’d seen nothing the first day and then just after lunch on the second day as I was changing film, a cry came from the stern of the boat. I grabbed my camera and hopped in the water.

I couldn’t see anything but blue when I cleared my mask and thought perhaps I’d scared the shark away. But then I just caught a white flash about 20 metres away. It was the oceanic white tip shark.

I was joined by a guy who had never seen a shark before and here he was jumping into a sea with the third most dangerous shark in the oceans. It was fairly wary at first though and circled us widely. But each time it got closer and closer. Within about ten minutes is was right up with us and as bold as any shark I have come across. So close in fact that my buddy had to raise his fins to keep the shark back more than once.

I was using a 16mm lens and watched the shark get closer and closer through the viewfinder. It was only when I could not make out all, the shark that I thought to look up and found it was pushing me backwards in the water. She wasn’t particularly threatening and not once did she open her mouth. So I felt as safe as you can be in an ocean with a big shark, but I thoroughly enjoyed the encounter.

When I got back home and had the film developed I was delighted with the results and this shot eventually won the BSAC travel photographer of the year in 2005.

A different view of the Taj

Photographed by Gavin Parsons. All rights reserved

Photographed by Gavin Parsons. All rights reserved

 

This week’s ‘Behind the Picture’ is a global icon. The Taj Mahal is probably one of the best loved and most photographed pieces of land in India. There are almost well worn paths to the best angles to photograph this stunning piece of architecture. Hawkers wait for tourists and offer to show you the best spots for the light in a sort of manual version of having a Taj Mahal mode in your camera.

I though wanted a new angle, one I’d never seen before. There are shots of the Taj from the front, from across the river, with trains in the foreground, from the side. In fact, it’s pretty much been photographed from every angle you can think of and several you wouldn’t dream of. Most of the Taj Mahal pictures are, of course, tourist snaps. And I did think it was fun to photograph people photographing the building. But that was more for my own amusement.

Ordinarily I would have researched the subject intensely before I got there, but on this particularly trip I had no idea whether I would see the place. I was on assignment photographing Dancing Bear rehabilitation and it I was in Agra only by chance.

So I took the opportunity and pitched up at the sort of time sparrows are thinking about getting out of bed and waited in a massive queue. When I got into the complex the sun was just coming up and the misty moody light was lovely. The Taj Mahal was almost lost in the background. In a way the light was sensual and seductive which sounds like pouncey photographer speak, but it’s the only way I can describe it.

So I walked around like a tourist selectively taking the usual types of shots and taking the advice of a few of the hawkers and then on my way out I looked back along the ponds and saw my picture.

No one else would be mad enough to lie down on the pavement in India and then to rest their camera so close to water you’d think some kind of alarm would go off. But that’s what I did. To help me see what the camera was seeing I used a ZigView digital display which screws into the viewfinder and allows me to see the picture without having the camera pressed to my eye. It’s perfect for ground shots or over my head shots. It’s a brilliant gadget.

I positioned myself slightly off centre to show the pillars sticking out of the water and then took a couple of frames. They required minimal post processing and the final image was so different to the usual, that I loved it.

You can see it larger on my website in the locations section. Also, if you would like to learn how to take better pictures you could join one of my monthly weekend photo courses. Again see my website for details.