Tony McLean's East Yorkshire Wildlife Diary

Wildlife photography in East Yorkshire

Archive for the tag ““Black & White””

Saturday night in Alta

Alta - Cross

Yesterday it snowed. I knew from the weather forecast that there would be little chance of photographing the aurora, so apart from a little essential food shopping, I festered. At this time of the year daylight is scarce. The polar nights are long and it is far too easy to succumb to a morbid malaise.

I struggled to find the enthusiasm to venture outside. I alternated between surfing the net on my iPad and staring at the falling snow through the window. Eventually, I gave myself a proverbial ‘kick up the arse’, stuffed my Mono with its 35 mm lens into my pocket and strolled into town.

It didn’t seem like a Saturday night. The snow-covered streets and city centre were deserted. I wandered around for an hour, stopping briefly to take the occasional photograph and shaking the snow from my jacket and camera. Strange I know, but it was actually quite fun. Finally I decided it was time for a beer. I found one bar that was open and relaxed in the warmth over a couple of very expensive beers.

The place appeared to be patronised by the over thirties so I guess that I did feel rather conspicuous. I stayed for an hour or so until the bar became busy and a rather large lady, whose laugh resembled the call of a Kookaburra, became too much to bear. I wandered back through the streets to my bed and some very strange dreams.

Alta - Globe

Alta - Off-shoot

Alta - Spectacle

Alta - Two cars

Alta-Street Lights


It’s Hip to be Square

Wolds-Tree and Storm Clouds

I’ve always liked the square format ever since I borrowed a friends old Rolleiflex 2.8F TLR back in the early nineties. Since then I have owned several square format cameras including a second-hand Rollei SL66 and a chrome Hasselblad C. I still own the Hasselblad and use it whenever the muse takes me, though I must admit that I fell in love back in 1978, when I first saw one on the cover of Elvis Costello’s ‘This Years Model’ album. Now, in the digital age, nobody makes a square format SLR, though a square digital back can still be had for the price of a small family car.

There’s something I find so precise about the square format; it sort of forces you to study your viewfinder in order to achieve the best possible composition. There is a danger of producing images that are actually too formal if you don’t take care but I find it most useful to use the square format with wide and ultra-wide lenses. So as you may have gathered, I enjoy using the square format and have employed it in many of my latest landscape and seascape images. Though it may not always be apparent, I usually spend more time deciding on the position of the post-capture crop than I do with the rest of the processing of my image. Here’s a few examples from the past couple of week that you may enjoy:-

Wolds-Wheat Field and Sky

Wolds -Tree and Barley

Abandoned chapel and tree

Of course, there are many occasions when a square format will just not suit. I tried it with this image of the Sir Tatton Sykes’ monument, but eventually settled on this rectangular crop. I encourage you to check out the wonderful rich detail in these images, so please feel free to click on them to see a larger version on my Flickr page.

Tatton Monument-Sledmere

The more astute of you may also have noticed that these images are all a rather strange colour! Yes, I used Nik software’s Silver Efex Pro to convert the colour files into black & white and then I carefully toned them to match the mood of the moment of capture. I used to do an awful lot of dark-room work in the pre-digital days and I was always very particular about the toning of my images. Most of the time, I did not wish to create a full sepia effect and I hated to see prints that had the colour of a ginger biscuit. I found that if I carefully diluted the bleach, it provided me with much greater control of the toning process and I could achieve quite subtle effects; tones that I have tried to emulate some of the images below with Photoshop.

…and then here are times when I feel that a full-blown sepia effect is warranted. Most of these photographs were taken within an hour of sunset and in the images below, I tried to match the rich warm glow of the arable fields of the Wolds.

Wolds---Cloud and Field

Wolds-Car and Clouds

Thanks for your continued support and I hope to post another blog entry soon. Meanwhile, enjoy the rest of the summer and your photography.

An early morning stroll with a compact camera.

North Woods, Tophill Low

I’m often asked if I could recommend a camera or lens for nature photography. It’s a question that usually fills me with dread as there’s no simple answer. Of course, if your ambition is to photograph small birds, then there really is only a limited and expensive choice of equipment. However, I maintain that wonderful and evocative landscape images can be made with just about any camera. You’ve just got to be aware of both your own and the cameras limitations.

Saturday morning saw me at Tophill Low an hour before dawn. The walk through North Woods was a little eerie and I could only just about make out the path. North Marsh hide was cold and damp and the early morning mist was lying over the surrounding marsh and fields. Rory and his Mum turned up at sun-rise and with a little trepidation, I handed over the big camera and lens. I arranged to return at 9:30 and set off with my trusty compact camera. I use a Canon PowerShot S95. A decent enough compact by modern standards but with the ability to shoot in both Raw and Jpeg.

The light was fantastic. A low mist shrouded the base of the trees and the grasses were gloriously back-lit by the early morning sun. I spent over ten years of my life developing and printing in monochrome, so I was eager to see if I could reproduce some landscape images in this digital format. I have always maintained that a great black & white image should show subtlety of tone and I tried my best to capture nuances of the trees and grasses. I didn’t use a tripod and left the camera’s ISO at 400. The picture below of the grasses is a fine example. There is no obvious focal point within the image—just a wonderful combination of grasses and dew-covered spider webs.

Webs and Grasses, Tophill Low

As the sun rose above the horizon, I wandered slowly through the woods towards the newly excavated Hempholme site . The pile of logs from Sergeant-Major Woods looked interesting. I focussed on the logs and positioned myself so that the composition linked to the fence posts and the moon in the background. These trees will probably end their life as wood-chips but perhaps fence posts would be another end-product too.

Logs in the Mis, Tophill Low

I then turned around and made a couple of exposures of the excavated site with the sun peeping through the mist. You can just about make out two piles of earth but there is plenty of shadow detail.

Misty Sunrise, Tophill Low

Even the humble thistle looked interesting, wrapped in their dew soaked cloak…


I returned to North Marsh hide at 9:00 am very satisfied with my little adventure. One thing for certain, I will be repeating the exercise very soon—maybe with a larger camera and tripod. Nevertheless, I hope this inspires others to try something a little bit different. There is a lot more to Tophill Low than Kingfishers, super-long lenses and crowded hides. Why not give it a go? You may well be surprised at the results you can achieve with a humble compact camera and a little imagination.

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