Torridon, deer and a long awaited cafe

Posted 15th October 2016

How lucky am I? I managed to spend three days alone, with my camera in an absolutely stunning location, Torridon. Where? Well, it's in the West Highlands of Scotland, approximately 8 hours drive from home. On arrival I was greeted by breathtaking scenery comprising mountains, lochs and the changing colours of autumn. Not only that, the weather was good - clear skies, sunshine and not a breath of wind. Wow! After such a long drive, I found my B&B and took the opportunity to rest for half-an-hour or so before heading to Torridon with my camera.

Firstly, I was struck by the loch - it's a sea loch so is tidal and had the distinct smell of the seaside. It was apparent that I wasn't at the seaside because I was surrounded by various mountains (none of which I attempted to pronounce) including Liathach, Beinn Alligin and Beinn Eighe, all of which are over 3,000 feet high. The village of Torridon was dwarfed by the sun-kissed mountains. Various sea birds waded through the waters lapping the sea-weed-adorned rocky shores as they scoured the rich pickings that had been washed ashore.

The sun was in throes of lowering in the sky and turning the foliage on the mountains a golden colour. It was time for me to find a suitable location where I could capture the beauty of the sunset. I was spoilt for choice! Up on the lower slopes of the mountain? Down by the side of the loch? Both? Best get moving as I had only 20 minutes before sunset. Using my tripod and a wide-angle lens I firstly set up on the side of the loch and took some shots as the sun continued its journey to darkness. Right, move quickly, up to the lower slopes of the mountain - blimey, that was marshy! Once again, setup the tripod and take the shots, time is ticking and it's getting darker and darker. The featureless sky didn't add anything to the sunset but the loch and surrounding mountains provided the visual interest. One last dash, back down to the loch side to capture the sun's final offering for the day. Beautiful! Right, off to the pub. A warming steak and ale pie was washed down with a pint of the local brew - lovely, now it's bed time.

If I was expecting a peaceful, quiet sleep I was in for a rude awakening. It just so happens that the mountains that surround Torridon are full of Red Deer - and October is the height of the Red Deer rut and breeding season! So, being woken up by the guttural sounds of randy stags calling out to each other across the valley was an experience I wasn't wholly expecting. If you haven't heard the noise made by a red deer during the mating season then I suggest you check it out online - suffice to say it's a bit disturbing. It sounded like I had a stag just behind the B&B. Let's just say, sleep was at a premium.

After not the best nights sleep I woke to bright sunshine and the sound of birds - the deer had casually drifted back to the higher parts of the mountains and were probably having a well earned rest! For me, the plan for day two was to visit Sheildaig and then drive to Applecross on the coast. I was hopeful to capture some pictures of red squirrels as Sheieldaig Forest is a red squirrel conservation area - sadly, during my walk around the area it seems Tufty and his mates must have been playing hide and seek as I didn't catch even the slightest glimpse of the litte red rodent. A quick stop for lunch before heading off to Applecross.

Having input my destination into the sat-nav I was informed that I was only 20 or so miles from Applecross and it would take me approximately 40 minutes to get there. What my sat-nav didn't seem to take into account was the following; the whole journey was via a single-track road with passing places every 200 metres or so; a traffic jam caused by a herd of highland cattle being walked down the single track road for approximately two of the 20 or so miles and; the stunning scenery which caused me to stop quite regularly to set up my camera and capture the beauty and vastness of the area.

Nearly three hours after setting of on my 20-or-so miles journey, I arrived in Applecross. A stunning, peaceful part of the world with views over to Raasay and the Isle of Skye. I chose not to drive the winding route I had taken to get there, instead, I went up and over the mountains - and when I say up, I mean up. My car climbed, and climbed and climbed. The views became more and more stunning - sadly however, there was very little opportunity to stop and take photos owing to the winding, narrow road not having any parking spots aside from a viewpoint right on top of the mountain. The view was outstanding but the position of the sun prevented me from capturing an image. By the time I'd returned to the B&B I'd spend far too long driving so I decided my final day in Torridon would be a walking day.

The audible onslaught from the red deer didn't desist during the night but I was so tired, and, half expecting the noise, I managed to sleep through it this time. Up early, a short drive to Torridon and then my plan is to walk to Inveralligin, just over 5 miles away and back again. So that's what I did, parked the car, got my camera out and put the remaining 10-kilo camera bag on my bag and set off.

The scenery was fantastic. I was thankful that the sun wasn't as strong as it had been the previous two days, the cloud cover offered a cool environment for my 10-mile walk. The walk was flat, well, when I say flat, it was flat for the first 400 yards or so...and then the road started to climb, and climb, and climb. Had I bitten off more than I could chew? The weight on my back felt every gram of its 10 kilos - regular stops, remove the back-pack, quick rest, take a photo, move on and repeat. About 4 miles in I realised I hadn't brought any food or water with me...but that's OK, I'm only about 1 mile from Inveralligin, there'll be a cafe there where I can get a drink, perhaps a bacon sandwich and a slice of cake - there will be a cafe won't there? Surely there'll be a cafe! I arrived in Inveralligin, walking the last mile down hill into the cove. A very small cove. Yep, you guessed cafe, nothing! So my dreams of bacon sandwiches, coffee and cake would have to be locked's only five miles back to Torridon - I know they have cake there. I didn't care how heavy the bag on my back felt, it was time to up the pace and head back to Torridon...with a purpose. I was ravenous. After what seemed like an age, I made my way back in to Torridon, unloaded my heavy companion into my car and headed straight for the cafe. A long awaited, much-dreamed of, bacon and egg roll, coffee and carrot cake were dispatched quickly as the evening sun kissed the top of the mountains. The food was well earned and I was very grateful for it.

So, that was it. My three days had come to an end. I'd had a fantastic time. An early alarm call awaited me, so early to bed. Sadly I didn't get to sleep until about 1am - my alarm sounded at 5am! It was time to return home. Torridon, you're a beautiful part of the world - I'll be back, one day!

From folk music to squirrel pye

Posted 28th May 2016

What a delicious half-hour that was. I found myself with a little bit of spare time so headed to the Malton Food Festival. Saturday morning and the crowds were thronging - the streets of Malton we're packed solid and my senses were under attack. But they were under attack from some of the most delightful sounds and smells that have emanated from the streets of Malton in all its many years!

At every turn I was greeted with a new smell of food drifting on the gentle morning breeze; spicy chicken, sausages, burgers, curries, spices, all types of cheese, beer, wine, spirits - you name it my nasal passages we're given an absolute delightful workout. 

The multitudes were milling around the stalls, trying and buying the wares on offer did I really see squirrel pye for sale or were my eyes deceiving me? 

To keep the crowds entertained there was a steady stream of eclectic music filling the streets from all corners of the event from pan pipes to jazz, from acoustic to folk, whatever your taste you would have found something to your liking. 

What a great way to spend a spare half-hour!

Damaged cars and boys in pyjamas

Posted 16th May 2016

So, let me get this right. A load of grown men will be running around a local cricket field in their pyjamas? Oh, it's twenty/twenty cricket! Great! What a spectacle this will make.

The coloured kits of the two teams, Sheriff Hutton Bridge Cricket Club and Stamford Bridge CC greeted me on my arrival at the ground - it was 10:30 am and the sun was shining. What a great way to spend a day, in the sunshine watching cricket.

The bowlers bowled and the batsmen swung hard. In fact, one of them swung so hard that the ball flew over the boundary and bounced off my car. Thanks a bunch! On later inspection, my car took only a glancing blow, the land rover beside me took all the force of the initial impact - ouch!

The day was a real spectacle, the sun shone (for some of it anyway) and I was able to capture some great shots of the teams in action.

Easingwold School Fashion Show

Posted 9th May 2016

I was propositioned by one of the teachers! Yep, you heard me right, propositioned. Well, when I say propositioned, it went something like this

Teacher..."Would you like to come and shoot our year 10 and 11 fashion show that we're holding next week?"

Me..."Yeah, I'd love to"

So that was it, I was suddenly thrust into the realms of fashion photography. This is where my fast lenses (24-70mm & 70-200mm f2.8) come into their own. I know the school as both my children have attended so I'm aware that the hall where the show will take place is rather dimly lit.

Little did I know that the light in the dimly lit hall was further reduced by the closing of the heavy curtains which lined the right side of the wall. A couple of spotlights had been set up but they weren't producing a fantastic amount of light so it was up to me to make the best of the situation. Try different shutter speeds, different apertures, pump up the ISO until eventually I got a working solution.

The models were great, the costumes were great and I had a smashing time shooting the show. I just hope the results do justice to the fantastic outfits these students produced. All in all a great night!

A guest with a camera

Posted 10th April 2016

Of course I’d love to come to your wedding my dear sister! What? Bring my camera too? Oh, I’m a guest with a camera? What? Official photographer? Me? So, the biggest photography challenge to date came when my sister declared that I was to be the official photographer at her wedding.

Where to start? What to shoot (my sister for a start! photographically speaking of course!!). I’ve got four weeks to prepare, to learn, to understand, to plan. Ok, no problem. The internet is full of wonderful information, much of it contradictory I might add, about being a wedding photographer, oh no, wait, let me get this right, a guest with a camera. I read, I watched, I gleaned, I dismissed, I considered, I crammed as much information as I could to enable me to capture “just a nice picture of me and Gary”.

I had the lenses, I had the flash guns, I had the camera and now, I had a little bit of know how. Let’s do this! As it was a only a small gathering in a single location, without any real formalities I broke the wedding into three parts: 1: Bride and groom preparing 2: The ceremony 3: The final shoot (group photos and photos of the happy couple) So, on the day, arrive early, check out the location and then meet up with Julie and Gary to get some shots.

The wedding took place in a small hotel set in 74 acres, most of which was inaccessible in 4 inch Jimmy Choo high-heels (my sister’s choice of footwear, not mine). Also, the place was undergoing renovation so it looked, in part, like a building site! On the day my sister was so relaxed, so chilled, that it ensured everyone else around her was relaxed, including me! Shoot the rings, shoot the bride and friends drinking champagne.

Next, the groom! Photos with best men. Quick adjustment of tie. Capture some of the guests (mostly at that time, my family who had located the bar with ease). Click! Now for the formalities.

The ceremony. I had been informed by the registrar that as the official photographer, no wait, guest with camera, I could go anywhere during the ceremony to take photos – it was going to be a quick ceremony so I had to move fast. Get the bride and my brother who was taking great pleasure in giving her away.

Capture the bride’s arrival at the ceremony, at the side of her soon-to-be husband. Move around, get some angles, get positioned for the ring exchange, the declaration and finally the kiss. What? The signing of the register? Oh yeah, I can do that. Now to move again as the happy couple leave the ceremony and get positioned as they are greeted by their guests.

Champagne time!!! But strangely, my hand remained empty of fizzy plonk but full of a 35mm digital camera. Now that everyone, apart from me, were quaffing the champagne, it was an ideal time to take group shots. With the help of my sister and others we quickly arranged various group shots, starting with everyone then whittling down to just the couple – at the same time we were attempting to complete the shoot before the heavens opened with a much-promised heavy shower. The large raindrops came down just as we were finishing the last of the group shots and the heavens then poured as we took shelter inside where I was finally presented with a glass of champagne!

Having enjoyed a sumptuous lunch, the rains cleared and that gave us all the opportunity to enjoy some sunshine in the grounds before the inevitable bun fight at the nearest bar! Candid photos of some of the guests followed by formal photos of the couple finally culminating in the confetti moment. And so, with that, the day as an official wedding photographer (guest with camera) had come to a close and I could sit and enjoy some time with friends and family after what had been a most memorable day.

  • Julie and Gary Coates
  • Julie and Gary Coates
  • Julie and Gary Coates
  • Julie and Gary Coates
  • Julie and Gary Coates
  • Julie and Gary Coates
  • Julie and Gary Coates
  • Julie and Gary Coates

York Light Trails

Posted on 16th March 2016

Last night I thought I’d go into York and spend a little bit of time trying to capture light trails. My aim was to capture the trails in recognisable areas of the city but also, of course, where there was a sufficient flow of traffic to provide the lights that would produce the trails.

My quest started at the Minster – well, not exactly at the Minster, I was more positioned near Lendal Bridge looking back towards the Minster. Traffic was busy so it was an ideal place to set up.

For this challenge, I opted for my 50mm lens and, once again, a sturdy tripod. Once I was setup and I had composed the image, all was left for me to do was to open the shutter and let it happen. I set as small an aperture as I could (F11) to provide a good depth of field and left the camera to decide on the shutter speed. It turns out that the vast majority of images I took during the evening had a shutter speed ranging between 10 and 30 seconds.

As a result of the varying shutter speeds, the quality of the trails varied markedly. From the Minster, I turned my attention to Lendal Bridge and set up in a similar fashion to previously described. Once again, the results varied! Overall, I was happy with what I’d captured and it was then down to how they looked on a big screen. Once loaded onto the computer, I felt that the images would look better in black and white with only the trails represented in colour. As with any photography, it’s all down to personal preference. Take a look for yourself.

Vintage Saltburn

Posted on 6th March 2016

My challenge this week was to capture some images of Saltburn, especially the Victorian iron pier which reaches into the North Sea. The pier, which opened in 1869, is the most northerly surviving British pier and is the only one left on the north-east coast. I spent approximately one hour at Saltburn just as the sun was going down on a cold clear winter’s evening.

The smell of fish ‘n’ chips wafted on the breeze as I searched for the shots I wanted to capture. The temptation to stop and enjoy a bag of warm food smothered with salt and vinegar was quickly dismissed as the sun was dropping at an alarming rate and the images were still to be taken.

Armed with my trusty 24-105 mm lens and my equally trusty tripod I set about capturing the images. My main focus was, of course, the pier but also the water-balanced Victorian cliff lift which rises 120ft above the pier.

With the images in the bag, I decided I’d like to create a retro look to some of the shots, thus reflecting (hopefully) yesteryear, including memories of my childhood (not Victorian!!). So, some of the images you see reflect a retro, vintage style, whilst others hopefully capture the essence and beauty of Saltburn.

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