So the weather is grey and overcast, with rain showers: a typical British summer! Don't stop taking photographs, just think a bit differently. Armed with my tripod, a variety of lenses and some soft cloths for wiping things dry, I headed over to Wallington Hall, the ancestral home of the Trevelyan family and a National Trust property not too far from Morpeth. Despite the rain showers, the conditions were pretty good for some macro shots of flowers and the soft light would prevent harsh shadows and bright burnt out highlights. When I arrived things weren't too promising, the light showers had developed into more persistent heavy rain and I didn't feel like getting too wet. So plan B; sit in the tea rooms, have tea and cake and wait for the weather to improve a little. It's always good to have a plan B, particularly where it involves tea and cake! A short while later, I headed out. My first port of call was a window box full of Pansies. The old window frame, with bottles on the inside and the soft light on the Pansies made a lovely picture.
I'm not one for looking around old properties, even ones as spectacular as Wallington Hall. I'd much rather be outside, wandering in the grounds, so I made my way towards the Walled Garden. On the way the path loops around the China Pond, where the lush green vegetation drew my attention. One of the problems photographing vegetation in wet conditions is the reflections off the wet leaves. To counter this you can use a polarising filter- yes even on a day where the sun is shrouded by clouds a polarizing filter can come in useful. For the best results, the sun should be at right angles to the direction you are shooting. Rotate the filter while looking through the viewfinder or rear screen to gauge the effect. In my case the sun was more or less straight ahead, so the effect would be negligible, but there was a slight improvement and I took a shot of one of the plants with my 70-200 mm zoom.
While it's possible to duplicate the effect of many filters in Photoshop; the effect of the polarising filter is almost impossible to duplicate successfully. While I stood by the waters edge, there were some Moorhen chicks walking across the lily pads, but they were just too far away for a good photograph, so I continued on. Once on the opposite side of the pond there was a lovely reflection of the trees and an old building in the water. While the scene looked very pleasant in colour, I thought it would also work well in black and white. One of the advantages of digital is that you can take colour and black and white images together. If you shoot RAW files, most cameras allow you to select a black and white mode, which allows you to see the effect. The RAW file stores all the colour information, so if you wish you can process the image into black and white later on. If you just shoot jpg files then you will end up with a black and white image stored on the cameras memory card and no colour version. I normally shoot RAW and jpg. The RAW files are stored on the compact flash card and the jpgs on the SD card. Not all cameras have two card slots though.
Just before the walled garden is another large pond, which was partially drained to allow for repair work on the dam. The lower water level didn't seem to deter a pair of Moorhens from carrying out a bit of DIY on their nest. They're probably pretty used to people walking along the path so weren't bothered by me as I took some photographs of their handiwork. Definitely a bit of the Lawrence Llewelyn- Bowens in there!
As a walked on there was a Moorhen chick walking across the lily pads. This one was closer than those I'd seen up at the China Pond and I couldn't resist taking a photo as it stood precariously on some floating vegetation. What huge feet!
Finally the Walled Garden. Out came the macro lens- a true macro lens is one that provides a 1-1 image on the sensor. Many zoom lenses have a "macro" option, but very few will give 1-1 images. It's more of a close-focusing option, but that doesn't sound as good in the marketing blurb! One of the critical issues when photographing things close up or at macro-scale is depth of field. It can be very shallow, only a few millimetres at best. So to try and achieve as much depth of field as possible you need to use a smaller aperture, but that means a slower shutter speed and potential problems with either camera shake or the subject itself moving. For one shot I couldn't get the tripod in the right position, so I increased the ISO to give me a shutter speed I could handhold.
The ISO controls the sensitivity of the cameras sensor. I increased mine to 1000, allowing me to use a shutter speed of 100th of a second rather than 10th of a second. In most cases I have my ISO set to 100 or 200. I then found some nice architectural flowers so I set up my tripod this time and reset my ISO to 200. I wasn't worried about keeping the camera still as it would be firmly fixed to my tripod and there was no breeze to move the flowers so a 15th of a second was fine. I also wanted to throw the background out of focus, so I chose an aperture of f5.6. This provided sufficient depth of field to ensure the main flower was in focus while allowing the background to blur. It's a good idea to either use a remote release or the self-timer on the camera when using slow shutter speeds. Even when attached to a tripod. The action of your finger on the shutter button can cause the camera to shake. Using a remote release avoids any direct contact, while using the self -timer allows any shake to die down before the shutter fires.
The last photo I took before heading back to the car was of a lovely Clematis. I set the camera up on the tripod again and closed the aperture down a little to F6.3 to get a bit more depth of field, set the self-timer and pressed the shutter. As you can see there is still very little depth of field, but critically the main subject, the stamens, are sharp.
So next time it rains, don't pack your camera away, arm yourself with some plastic bags, some cloths for wiping the lens and camera and get out there and take some photos.