Thursday, 20 December 2018

Back to the Peaks

At this time of year the alarm which wakes you for sunrise doesn't have to be early. Of course your chances of actually seeing the sunrise are somewhat diminished by the temperamental British weather, but that makes the nice ones all the more special. 

I had taken a day off work and decided that the best way to use my 'adventure day', perhaps ironically, was to go back to my old office; back to the Peak District National Park. I hadn't had a day to myself in the wild for a while and I wanted to make the most of it. To me 'making the most of it' means either out early or out late and with two children waiting for Daddy to come home the preference is always the former. So I set my alarm early enough that I could drive to Edale (which really is where my old office is) and hike up onto Kinder Scout in time to watch the sun rise. 

My plan more or less worked. I was a good way up the southern slopes of Kinder with a few minutes to spare until sunrise when I stopped at a vantage point below Ringing Roger. Overlooking Edale and the Great Ridge it was an ideal spot to watch the sun rise at the mouth of the valley, behind Lose Hill. It was great to be out in the fresh air, watching the world waking up for a short winter day - that never gets old. But my view of the sunrise itself was mediocre, there was just a bit too much cloud. As technically I shouldn't have been able to see it at all I didn't feel to complain too much - the weather forecast had been for thick fog. And anyway, this was just the start of my day.

I often forget how narrow the top of Kinder Scout is at this western point; only a few hundred meters from southern edge to northern lip. Having quickly crossed it, hoping across boggy patches and mini streams, passing the trig point on my way. Reaching the edge I turned west along the northern ridge to reach the head of a stream, Blackden Brook, which would lead my back down again.

A friend had previously remarked about how scenic Blackden Clough was, with its steeply falling stream and many waterfalls and cascades. Ever since that conversation I had been looking for an opportunity to see it for myself. This was my chance and it didn't disappoint, but like many beautiful spots you have to earn the sight. The descent along the stream required hands as well as feet particularly with the rocks slick from over-night rain. 

The tumbling water was clear and strong, the normal peaty darkness of the streams diluted by the freshly fallen. I followed it right down to the valley floor, to the Ashop River. I'd had a relatively crazy plan to make it all the way up to Alport Castles which I quickly realised wasn't going to happen that day - it was an extra 10 km or so, and I while I had been making a reasonable pace, stopping to take photo's and timelapses doesn't cover miles, and I wanted to get back at a reasonable hour to see the family. The long walk would have to wait for another time. 

I turned west and followed the river upstream, until I couldn't without getting wet! The valley slopes transitioned from steep to vertical and I backtracked to get up onto a passable grade. At another time of year, and with some company as a safety back up I'd have happily continued in the river itself, but not in December, flying solo and after a decent rainfall. After a few gentle kilometers, numerous dead sheep and dozens more mini-falls and cascades dropping off the steeply rising land to my left I crossed Fairbrook and started heading back up again. 

The weather up to this point had been changeable, the fog rolling in and out sporadically. As I started up the clough I could see Fairbrook Naze, and then I couldn't - the low cloud obscuring it from view, before breaking and flooding the hillside with sunlight. By the time I reached the top the fog was pretty well set it and remained for the rest of my time up on Kinder that afternoon. 

I crossed the plateau from the top of Fairbrook clough across to Kinder Downfall, a route I had taken before, but I was glad of the reassurance that the Ordnance Survey app on my phone gave me that I heading in the right direction as at times I couldn't see more than about 30 or 40 yards in any direction. I could barely see the downfall when I got there, having followed the Kinder river along its shallow gravelly course for a few hundred yards. The contrast between peat soils and sandy, gravel river bed has always stuck out to me - the Kinder plateau is a funny old place. If you haven't ever visited, I highly recommend it. 

The rest of the trip was really just a return to home. I followed the Pennine way south from the downfall along the edge of the plateau, veering off to pick up the second trig-point of the day and cut off the south-western corner before picking up the path along the southern edge and following past the Woolpacks and Crowden Tower to the head of Grindsbrook Clough. The path down Grindsbrook is a decent and a half, it's one that I have done many times and don't think I'll ever really get tired of it. 

Looking back up at Kinder along the flagstone path which leads you back to Edale and civilization I knew I had used my day off well. 


Sunday, 9 December 2018

Digital Photography without the computer.

This isn't a photography blog, and I don't think it ever will be. There are lots of people far more experienced and technically minded than me writing about photography and cameras. So many that I'm not sure there is anything I could add that hasn't already been said or written many times before. Having said that, photography does play a pretty big part in it. I hope the images I include help tell the stories as well as illustrating them, and maybe even light a spark inside somebody to travel a bit farther, dream a bit bigger. 

And as a big plus for me, I enjoy taking them; the process adds an additional enjoyment factor to the time I spend outside and makes me look longer and more intently at the world around me. So I thought I would take a few minutes to describe how my images make it from camera to my blog or social media posts - the ones that do make it that is, it is a relatively low proportion which do! 

First off a brief note on my camera equipment. At some point in the future I will write more about the various bits and pieces of my camera gear.

I use an Olympus OM-D EM1, I've had it for 2 1/2 years or so, and I bought it second hand from... Ebay - good old Ebay! By the latest standards its lagging a bit behind in some areas; but it was Olympus' flagship camera in 2013 and considered to be a 'professional' level camera at the time, and I am still pretty happy with the results I get from it. I've always worked on the basis that I'd rather have good quality old gear than cheap, brand new gear. I have a few different lenses for it, a couple of Olympus lenses and a Panasonic telephoto. I also have a GoPro (free gift with a new internet contract) which I am still getting to grips with - early days. Tripods come in useful now and again, and I have a couple for different scenarios. A few other odds and ends like a few cheap, second hand filters and a set of extension tubes make up the sum total of my photography gear.

So far, so normal - pretty standard story, pretty standard photography gear. But unlike many photographers, my pictures never make it onto a computer except to back them up for storage. I suspect I am only one of a growing number who work this way - I do all my image editing on a smartphone.

There are a few primary reasons for this: 
Firstly, the cost of decent editing software and the fast computers required to run it put me off. As I don't make a regular income from my photography I couldn't justify the price of a full suite of editing software. Plus, because I only ever tweak my images I simply do not need the full range of abilities offered by something like Adobe Photoshop.  
Secondly, I found a touch interface a far more intuitive and faster way to input edits than mouses and keyboards. I've never gone particularly heavy on editing, I never add things and only very rarely remove things from images. When I do it is small distractions not large components of the composition so inventive use of the 'heal' function for removing dust spots and similar is normally good enough. As such the free, or substantially cheaper editing apps available on the Android operating system suited my purposes (and I'm sure you could say the same about iOS as well).

After a fair bit of trial and error I've found a system that works well for me, as follows:
- I have an SD card reader which plugs in to a micro USB port, this allows me to off load images, including the RAW files, direct from my cameras SD card to my phone.
- I have a model with expandable memory so I can use a large Micro SD card as an image store and back up a decent number of images.
- I then add raw images for editing to Adobe Lightroom Mobile. This is a paid for app and costs a few pounds a month. It is more limited than the full desktop version but is also significantly cheaper and gives me most of the functionality I want at the minute.
- Having made initial adjustments on Lightroom I export the image and perform final adjustments in an app called Snapseed, a free app developed by Google, and then save a final version of the image. Snapseed has a few functions which Lightroom does not, otherwise I would stick to just the single application. 
- The final step in the process is to backup both original and processed images to an external hard drive. This is one element of my 'workflow' which still requires a bit of work. At present I have to back up via a computer, because I am using a standard hard drive as back up. With an SSD I could work directly from the phone. At the minute the cost of high capacity SSD drives are a bit on the high side for me. But they are coming down in the price all the time and I am sure that before too long they will be within reasonable financial reach.

The main players in this process are the two editing apps. There are pro's and con's to both. On balance I prefer Snapseed I think. It has an almost bewildering array of options of which I use perhaps 10%, but it is layed out very well and is very simple to use I find. Of course the perfect app would be a combination of the features and functionality of both, preferably with the price tag of Snapseed, i.e. none. 

So that's it. Start to finish; camera to Instagram and beyond without a computer. Of course these days smart phones are computers. I recently bought a 'new' phone - a Samsung Galaxy S7 Active (from Ebay again, but it is new to me) - the model is several years old and already superseded several times over but the processor in it has as much RAM as the laptop which got me through two University degrees! And it's screen has a higher resolution than any other device I've owned. 

The final advantage that I will mention of this work flow is that I can do it anywhere and have done it in many different places. Waiting in an airport, sitting on a bus, in bed, on top of a mountain. And so far as any watching is concerned, you are just like everyone else in the world, looking at a phone. Quick, fuss free and easy. 

Of course this method won't work for everyone. People doing extensive and complex editing on massively high resolution images for sale to high paying clients for example. But the last magazine article I had published used images I had edited in this way and the art editor didn't say anything about the quality of the imagery. I have yet to try printing large images edited in this way on anything other than canvas, but I will one day. In the mean time I will focus on the fact that I can afford to because I havent had to buy a new and expensive computer which I would only need to use for one thing. 

Hopefully this may give one or two people some food for thought. 


End result ready for sharing on social media or as part of a blog post.