2020 Roundup

Green Bee-eaters - Sri Lanka
Green Bee-eaters – Sri Lanka

Working on the website recently it struck me that I haven’t blogged for some considerable time. In fact it was July last year, but the subject was our trip to Sri Lanka undertaken in mid-February. Time to do a 2020 Roundup then.

Sri Lanka was actually our last foreign photography trip and the catalogue of cancellations is still mounting. The latest one is a trip to the Maasai Mara this month that has already been postponed from last June and again from the rearranged date in November.

With all these cancellations it’s easy to think that we haven’t been busy, so I was surprised at New Year when I set up my 2021 catalogues to see just what we had managed to do.

Back in January, there were no Covid-19 restrictions in place and indeed we were only just beginning to be aware of it. There were never any doubts about the Sri Lanka trip going ahead and when we arrived there, they only had one case in the country. Temperature checks at Colombo airport were all we encountered.

On return from Sri Lanka, I made the decision to change camera systems. My reasoning was based on a belief that mirrorless cameras are the future and research that suggested Sony were the leaders in the field. I was planning to use my Canon lenses via an adaptor and that led to some test sessions on the local RSPB reserves.

While the results were good, I soon became aware that for a number of reasons, using only Sony lenses was the way to go and I haven’t looked back. It’s well documented that the menu system is less intuitive than Canon and I don’t disagree, but the effort in overcoming the issue is well worth it. The Canon gear is all packed away and could find its way on to a For Sale site in the coming months. I never saw that as being something to feature in a 2020 roundup.

We had been asked to get involved with a project promoting Dorset tourism and that gave a number of opportunities to get out and try something new. It started in January with a couple of misty and frosty dawns on West Hill at Corfe Castle, the second of which produced the hoped-for conditions.

Winter dawn at Corfe Castle, Dorset
Winter dawn at Corfe Castle, Dorset

Moving into March, attention moved to Hambledon Hill looking for a sunset landscape. It was the first time out with the Sony kit and I came away more than pleased with the results. It was the second location where a need to climb a steep hill was involved, but good fortune gave us the shots we wanted on the first visit.

Next time out with the Sony kit was to Weymouth Beach on a very windy Saturday afternoon in March, when the kite surfers were really enjoying themselves. I learned a lot that day, but just two days later we entered the first national lockdown and the project was suspended.

Kite Surfing - Weymouth Bay
Kite Surfing – Weymouth Bay

Naturally not a lot happened while we were under restrictions, apart from using exercise sessions as fact finding for future shoots. At this point I was thinking there would be no need for a 2020 roundup. One of the unusual effects of the pandemic was the need for various companies to anchor their cruise liners in open water. Aside from the sheer cost of laying them up in port, there just weren’t enough berths to go around. As I write this there are still three moored in Weymouth Bay and another off the West coast of Portland in the lee of the North-easterly winds. There have been as many as ten moored off Weymouth at a single time.

Exercise along Weymouth seafront and also walks on the coastal path have given some great opportunities for shots and as the lockdown eased more vantage points could be used.

Queen Mary 2 - Weymouth Bay
Queen Mary 2 – Weymouth Bay

We don’t get a great deal of wildlife in our garden, so things were very limited there and virtually the only other chance I got involved a previously untried genre. Aviation photography is something I have thought about doing and when I heard that two US Air Force V-22 Osprey Tiltrotor aircraft were due to refuel at the former naval air station at Portland, I decided to have a go.

I wasn’t alone, there were plenty of spectators and a few ‘spotters’ and I could see why. They are impressive and noisy aircraft, but it was a pleasure to see and photograph something that to me was unusual.

V-22 Osprey Tiltrotor - Portland, Dorset
V-22 Osprey Tiltrotor – Portland, Dorset

I was able to spend some time adding to my portfolio of Abbotsbury pictures once lockdown eased in June and I hoped to photograph brown hares at the same time. Despite several early morning visits, I failed in the latter task through lack of both available access to fields and focal length. Still work in progress on that one.

Next in the 2020 roundup sees us moving into July. Things really ramped up, as the project restarted with a dawn shoot at the Beech Tree Avenue near Blandford and the re-staging of the Hovis advert at Gold Hill in Shaftesbury. For me the highlight was the re-starting of steam trains on the Swanage Railway post lockdown.

A day was spent scouting locations and a plan put together for the actual day. It was an early start and as the sun was rising the chance to take some ‘different’ shots of Corfe Castle without being run over. The weather was perfect all day, which allowed shots to be taken from all of the previously researched locations.

Swanage Railway - Corfe Castle Station, Dorset
Swanage Railway – Corfe Castle Station, Dorset

Astro photography is a subject I’ve tackled a few times, but never been pleased with the results. Consequently, it’s not something that I aspire to doing very often. It seems to me that the best images are taken using a tracking device of some description and my general lack of interest in the subject prevents me from purchasing one.

With that said, I felt I had to have a go at Comet Neowise and we both ventured up to Hardy’s Monument to get it. It was a popular location and the bunfight involved in getting a shot wasn’t a great deal of fun.

One of the locations I had checked out at the beginning of the month was St Aldhelm’s Chapel, where I planned to shoot the Milky Way. So a couple of nights after the Neowise shoot we ventured down there and got some nice pictures. It’s a long walk along a rough track to get to it from the car park and for a while we had the site to ourselves. However, we were disappointed to see a fellow photographer turn up in his car, which he promptly parked in our shot. Why do people do that?

Milky Way Over St Aldhelm's Chapel, Dorset
Milky Way Over St Aldhelm’s Chapel, Dorset

Fortunately, in July we were also able to make a return visit to Tom Way’s Fox hide in Buckinghamshire. We’d had a beautiful sunny day there in 2019 and witnessed the part completion of a new hide, so really looked forward to our return visit. Cometh the day, cometh the rain, but undaunted we shot a fine collection of wet Fox images that contrast nicely with last year’s results. The new hide was a great improvement too. Only downside of the day was the rain wiped out the Buzzard and Red Kite activity we had enjoyed in 2019.

Red Fox - Buckinghamshire, UK
Red Fox – Buckinghamshire, UK

August saw us getting involved with another photographic genre when a friend asked us to photograph her grandchildren. Actors always say never work with animals and children, but being as animals are what we do, children shouldn’t be too much of a problem. It turned out to be an interesting afternoon resulting in a more than satisfied ‘client’, so maybe actors have got it wrong. I hadn’t expected to be writing about portrait photography in my 2020 roundup.

August also saw us manage our second campervan trip of the year. Our first had been a washed out cycling weekend in the New Forest, but this was a photography trip and the weather was glorious. Maybe too glorious. We’d never visited Glastonbury Tor before so decided that would be our first stop, a popular choice for the day it seemed. The following day saw us at Ham Wall, another popular spot on the day but little wildlife out in the hot sunshine.

Glastonbury Tor - Somerset, UK
Glastonbury Tor – Somerset, UK

The next part of my 2020 roundup takes us to September, which normally finds us in France celebrating my birthday and for two weeks of cycling in the Pyrenees. Instead we found ourselves closer to home with a trip down to Dancing Ledge on the Jurassic Coast near to Swanage. Despite all of the travelling we have done, this was yet another location neither of us had visited before. A definite spot for a future landscape shoot, when the conditions are right. The bright, sunny weather with a clear blue sky was great for a day out, but not for an interesting landscape picture.

That left just one more shoot that arose near the end of November and gave another chance to try my aviation image capturing skills. I was told that a Hawker Hunter was due to make several low-level passes over the old naval air station at Portland, so had to have a go. I decided that my best chance was likely to be to shoot from outside the entrance to the Verne prison, but arrived nice and early to check things out. I had time to relocate if I was wrong about my position, but that proved unnecessary. The weather when it arrived at 3pm was reasonable, but at that time of day in late November the light was never going to be great.

In all there were 10 passes over the next hour as the light gradually faded and the 20 frames per second rate of my Sony A9 grabbed me plenty of material. But it was a case of saving the best until last. After each pass the pilot banked the plane to starboard and flew around the outskirts of Weymouth to eventually approach from the east each time. However, after the final pass he banked to port and flew around the island of Portland. It was pretty gloomy by now, but my tenacity was rewarded when it flew straight overhead on its way back to Yeovilton.

Hawker Hunter Over Portland, Dorset
Hawker Hunter Over Portland, Dorset

That rounded off my photography for the year, but looking back at it now, I seem to have done more than I actually thought I had. It has been a useful exercise doing a 2020 roundup. At present this coming year isn’t shaping up too well, but at the moment our June and November trips to the Maasai Mara are still going ahead. The rest of our plans are quite fluid, but the vaccine programme will hopefully result in a more productive year than 2020.

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