Water and it’s Moods

I was recently given vouchers for a photography course with Going Digital. Searching through their extensive range of courses I decided to go for something slightly different. In the past I have done raptor, macro and studio flash courses with various different providers but this time wanted to get out of my comfort zone as well as getting out into the countryside. The course needed to be within a few hours drive of home which ruled out the fantastic looking Lake District and Cumbrian landscape classes. I ended up opting for a course title “Water and it’s Moods”, based at the Seven Sisters Country Park for the day with an experienced tutor the course promised a great location and a chance to learn a whole host of new skills.

The Venue
The barn used for the classroom based parts of the course is perfect, a great space to talk photography with like minded people. Parking is easy with reasonable charges for the day, there is even a lovely tea room next door in case you need a cream tea before heading home.
The Seven Sisters park makes a fantastic location for taking shots of water, with one reservation. The opportunities for different water “moods” require quite a bit of walking.
Whilst there is water close to the barn on the occasion I attended the course was pretty stationary and provides limited scope for trying out the techniques discussed in the classroom. The sea is a 30 minute walk away and with plenty of waves and a fast moving tide the photographic opportunities are great, but once you take a hour of walking to and from the sea out of the day it puts a dent in your time behind the lens.
That said I have a fond spot for the Seven Sisters, having grown up locally I always love re-visiting the area. The scenery is picturesque and unusual without the remote brutality of the mountains.

Advice for attending the course is a DSLR, Mirrorless Compact System, Four-Thirds camera. Also to get the most from the workshop you will require a tripod (full height). Optional equipment was listed as – ND filters, polarising filter, remote shutter release.
I went armed with my D500 and Sigma 18-35mm f1.8 lens. In all honesty any camera and lens combination giving a 50mm angle of view or wider would work well, you will need to be able to manually adjust the camera settings. For the optional equipment I would say it it well worth borrowing or purchasing a tripod and filter set. One of the cheap ebay or amazon filter kits will be more than adequate but make sure it gives you a variety of ND filters as shooting in the middle of the day requires a lot of light blocking. A polarising filter is also pretty important if you want some control over reflections. A remote shutter release is in my view optional, I took one but you can easily use your camera’s timer mode to achieve the same goal of minimising camera shake.

This bit of equipment is essential, no seriously we had the fantastic Tish Hornsbury. Tish is very easy going and has an enthusiastic way of teaching the technical intricacies of the course. Tish’s experience with all sorts of camera equipment came to the fore as she expertly navigated through various different manufacturers menu systems to help people set cameras up for the day.

So what sort of images did I learn to take, well unsurprisingly they tended to involve water.

Salty Creek

Nikon D500, Sigma 18-35mm f1.8 taken at 30mm (45mm equiv.) – F16 ISO 50, 1sec

This was the first picture I took on the day. I had to utilise everything we had been taught to get the shot. The polarising filter to cut through some of the water reflection, allowing more of the cracks to the mud under the water to be seen. I then put both ND filters I had with me in front of the lens and stopped down to f16 to reduce the light reaching the camera as much as possible. This gave me the 1 second exposure that smoothed the surface of the water. I have to admit to adding a bit of blue to the sky in post processing (it was a pretty grey morning).

Nikon D500, Nikon 50mm F1.4G (75mm equiv.) – F16 ISO 50, 1sec

Things were gradually brightening up, which was making trying anything at longer exposures a real challenge. I simply didn’t have dark enough ND filters to allow me to slow the shutter down. This shot was a result of standing in a precarious spot to photograph an overflow sluice between the meandering river and the man made channel. Very much an exercise in trying out the technique rather than a compositional masterpiece.


Nikon D500, Sigma 18-35mm f1.8 taken at 18mm (27mm equiv.) – F16 ISO 50, 1sec

This image was taken down on the beach. The weather had turned out sunny by the time we made it to the beach and this was making things very difficult for the techniques we were trying to practice. I managed to block enough light for a 1 second exposure by using almost everything I had. Polarising filter, ND8 filter and the darker edge of a gradient filter.

I thoroughly enjoyed my day at the Severn Sisters Country Park and felt I really got to grips with some very useful creative techniques for photographing water. Was it value for money? Yes I believe so, going unarmed with my own filters would have altered my perspective on the day however and I really could have done with a big stopper to block more light. I still managed to get some pleasing results and look forward to putting my new skills to use.

Finally, after seeing some chalkhill blue butterflies whilst we were walking back from the beach, I couldn’t resist popping back with a big lens to capture some shots.

Chalkhill Blue

Nikon D500, Nikon 300mm F4 PF (450mm equiv.) – F8, ISO 800, 1/200 sec.


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