Friday, 14 November 2014

Cornwall event

This is a tad short notice but I'm doing a slideshow tomorrow night with climbing legend Johnny Dawes, in Newquay, Cornwall. Johnny is also doing a climbing masterclass so not to be missed if you're in the area.

The event is to celebrate the opening of Deadpoint climbing wall, details on their Facebook page here:

Pressure Drop, E3, Speke's Mill Mouth, North Devon

Sunday, 7 October 2012


BB starting up the South Howser Tower, Bugaboos, Canada

I'm doing a slideshow this Tuesday evening in Heaton Moor, Manchester (9th Oct). Life has been a bit hectic for blogging of late, so if you want to catch up with what I've been up to on the grit and further afield, this summer's highlight being the Bugaboos with Ben Bransby, this might be your best chance!

The night is organised by the Rucksack club and non-members are welcome.
Time: 7.30pm
Members and under 18’s: £2.00
Non members and guests welcome: £4.00
Raffle and prizes.
Venue for all Meets: Heaton Moor Sports Club, Green Lane, SK4 2NF, GR 879 912 Directions: From the “Glass Pyramid” at the M60 junction in Stockport take A5145 Didsbury Road, 0.66 miles to B5169 Moorside Road (traffic lights); in 0.3 miles turn right at traffic lights into Green Lane. The Heatons Sports Club is 0.25 miles along on the left.
More info at the Rucksack club's website.

Thursday, 26 January 2012

2011 in pictures

Finally had chance to review last year's photography and thought I'd pick out a few favourites, and one near miss, that might be of interest.

Hazel Findlay, Apaloosa Sunset, E3, Five Clouds, January

One of those perfect Peak moments - the end of a great day and a reminder why we endure the rain. We started the day with a long drive to Bosley Cloud in middling weather, and after bagging some long-held ambitions on the Secret Slab, headed over to the Roaches and a clearing sky. Hazel went on to have an incredible year, climbing E9 in Devon and freeing El Cap. But for me this image is all about home, and the fact that it doesn't get much better than a sunset soloing session with a few good mates, on perfect rock, with a view as big as your smile. I've made several versions of this shot of over the years, but none have quite ticked all the boxes like this one. Shot on medium-format film, the detail and colours are amazing and I look forward to making a really big print.

Ben Bransby, Gathering Sun, E7, Nesscliffe, late March

What a place – Nesscliffe is an incredible crag. We made our yearly pilgrimage in late March, on one of the first warm days of spring, before the leaves shade the crag and slow its drying. Conditions were perfect. Jason wanted to headpoint this route – Gathering Sun, nowadays considered E7 but for many years (including during my own formative teenage visits) it was a benchmark E8. Having belayed Jase for a while, Ben felt he had the measure of it and set off on a flash attempt. Reading the moves perfectly, he climbed strongly to right below the top, only to be stopped by the very last move - a reach an inch further than he could make. With a bit in the tank he tried every which way until his arms gave out and he took the ride. Not the sort of ascent that gets reported, but its making attempts like these that build climbers like Ben up to another level.

Buttermilk country, Eastern Sierra, California, April

I'd heard plenty of good things about Bishop, but was totally unprepared for the sheer beauty of the landscape - on so many scales. Stopping by for a couple of days on our honeymoon, I never put my climbing boots on but spent hours wandering through the tor-studded sagebrush with my camera. I suspect spring may be the most colourful time of year, but I'm surprised the Buttermilks aren't just as popular with photo workshops as they are with climbers.

Red Grouse, Burbage Valley, October

Very occasionally, male members of the Grouse family suffer from a curious hormone imbalance that causes them to lose all fear and defend a territory against all odds. There are instances of Capercaillies in Scotland attacking people, dogs and even vehicles. Thankfully Red Grouse are somewhat smaller, but I still had the strange experience of feeling intimidated by a normally shy animal. The bird's confidence allowed me to get a great selection of straight portraits, but this image felt like it went in a little deeper, giving a Grouse's-eye view of the world as a covey creeps through the heather.

Dan Varian, Bewilderness, 8b+ (!), Badger Cove, June

Probably Peak's hardest boulder problem, I was blown away by the difficulty and quality of Dan's line. Limestone bouldering is rarely the most photogenic subject, and although Badger Cove is about as impressive as it gets in the Peak, it still needed some careful lighting to project the height and depth into a 2-D image whilst trying to retain a natural feel. This was published in Climb magazine over the summer, though heavily cropped removing much of the impact of the original.

Masked Boobies, Sula dactylatra, Redonda, Carribbean, June

A smaller tropical relative of our Gannet, these birds were nesting on the remote volcanic plug of Redonda in the eastern Carribbean. As well as hosting two other species of Booby - the Brown and the Blue-footed (no titters now!) - the island is also important for its colonies of Frigatebirds and three species of endemic lizard. Unfortunately the numbers are nowhere near what they should be due to the presence of Black Rats and Feral Goats, both legacies of a guano-mining operation a hundred years back. BMC chief exec Dave Turnbull and I visited the island to help Flora and Fauna International ascertain whether climbing or rope access techniques might be of use in eradicating the voracious aliens. Nice as 'tropical island' sounds, it was one of the most inhospitable environments I've ever experienced, and tackling the problem will not be easy. Whether or not climbers are required in the end, it was a huge privilege to visit such a remote spot, and I'm confident the island can be one day restored to its former status as one of the seabird wonders of the world.

Michele Caminati, Angel's Share, 7c (!!), Black Rocks, early March

Almost one of my favourite pictures from 2011, this frame captures the tiptoe dance that makes gritstone's blankest climb quite so special. Unfortunately there is just enough motion blur in Michele's face to prevent it quite making the cut. I have other sharper frames, but none quite capture the same atmosphere. There are a couple of good lessons to be learned here though: firstly, repeating the 'same' shot several times will often throw up something unexpectedly different - here the magic arises in the split second that sees both hands floating just off the rock, and secondly - 1/125th isn't quite enough to freeze even the slow sport of slab climbing. Here's to getting it right in 2012...

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Review: Asus PA246q monitor

Asus PA246q

Monitors are not the most exciting bits of photo equipment. I think most of us see them as a fairly uncritical part of the workflow that helps us to get from the exciting bit at the start - the camera - to the exciting bit at the end - the print. But in the process of buying a new monitor I've come round to a different view.

My last two monitors were hefty but reliable - CRTs from Ilyama's Visonmaster range. The original one I never bothered to calibrate, having compared it with calibrated monitors and various printed output. Then I upgraded to a bigger model, noticed a green cast straightaway, and got a man in. £25 quid well spent; Simon threw in a few Lightroom tips and assured me the calibration would be good for six months or so. A few months later and things started to go downhill, with flickers, blanks and a constant need to recentre the image. With a vague budget of £300, I started my research for a replacement.

All I knew initially was I wanted a bigger screen without losing any more desk space. That means LCD, but an initial search came up with a bewildering choice, especially at the cheap end. The first thing to narrow the search was technology: IPS (in-plane switching) vs TFT (twisted nematic). TFT can give higher contrast and a faster refresh rate, but at the expense of colours that can alter as you move your head in relation to the screen. Crisp as it is, I find the glossy screen of my Macbook very frustrating due to both this issue and reflections, so a matt IPS screen was what I was after.

With most of the cheap screens (under £200) being TFT, that narrowed things down fairly quickly. At the £200-250 mark were a bunch of similar looking 23" IPS screens by the likes of NEC and HP. Unfortunately they were all glossy and proportioned 'widescreen'. The 16:9 aspect ratio is popular as it fits the proportions of a film screen. But for photography it means a full-screen view of a portrait orientated image is much smaller than in landscape. Looking for squarer screens dropped the choice again quickly - 4:3 is pretty much restricted to 19" screens, any bigger are mainly 16:9 with the odd one 16:10. Most of the 16:10 screens were in the professional bracket running from £850 up.

That was more than I wanted to spend, ideally, but a bit more research narrowed things down: as of 2011, there is plenty of choice below £250 and above £850, but only two screens in between. Both of these are near identical 24", IPS, 16:10 wide-gamut models, around the £400 mark, by Dell and Asus. The cheapest similar 'pro' monitor is an NEC model (PA241W) - with an almost identical spec but more than double the price. After doing some reading on wide-gamuts (some will warn you it makes colour management a nightmare, with web-pages in fluoro colours) I went for the Asus, mainly on the basis that it was a newer model. Amazon delivered it within 36 hrs. Reviews warn of quality issues with dead pixels and uniformity issues, but a robust guarantee was some reassurance.

Having got set up, checked for dead pixels and found none, a few things were immediately impressive. Firstly the size - both saving on desk space, and increasing screen size. Build seems very solid and the stand is great, allowing easy rotation from normal landscape to portrait orientation. Any wide gamut concerns are allayed with an easily implemeted sRGB mode, though with a colour-aware web browser like Firefox I've not used it much. Brightness was very high and needed turning right down to around 20%, with the only slight quality issue being a slightly 'hotter' area bottom centre. Overall colours looked very good and it was reassuring to see them change very little after calibration. So far so good, monitor replaced, back to business.

 a quick switch to portrait is a real boon

What I hadn't expected was the enjoyment boost from working with such a quality piece of kit. It reminded me of switching from 35mm to medium format film ten years back and suddenly spending hours over the lightbox. It also made me think a little harder about what is the end result of my photography. How much actually makes it into print - perhaps 2%? And when published, that's usually at less than A4 apart from the odd double-page spread, and bar scrutinising the repro quality I don't study them for long. With display prints, the big prints usually go out to customers fairly quickly, and there's not much room left in the house for new prints. Whilst having a good monitor aids getting the printed output up to my standards, I've realised its main role is far more important: it helps me enjoy my own photography and stay enthused about it. Having had this thought, and reflecting on how much use some of my lenses with a similar value get, I won't hesitate to budget more next time. As with many quality-based issues however, I doubt the double or triple cost of an NEC or Eizo display will deliver more than a 10 or 20% increase in quality, and for now the Asus feels like a bit of a bargain. Reccomended.

LINKS: - Sheffield-based colour management - the best source of monitor reviews, though not the Asus PA246q so far

Wednesday, 30 November 2011


On of the more enjoyable projects I've been involved with over the last fifteen months or so has been photographing a walking guide for Vertebrate Graphics. The book is now in print and we're all pretty chuffed with the result.

Original image here

It should be in local book shops soon, or buy direct from V-Publishing here.

The book is illustrated predominantly with landscape images, but shooting it was a very different experience from my normal landscape work. I normally go out for dawn or dusk with the object of getting one great image and ideally a few extras if conditions allow. All the books and magazines will assure you that 'slowing down' is an essential practice - the slower you go, the better the result. I've always been a little wary of this advice, but for this project it had to go firmly in the bin. With a budget stretching to about four days shooting, but no less than seventeen 'day walks' to cover (the author shot the other three, for a total of twenty), this was all about speeding up!

With the area being the North York Moors, it was important we got some great moorland shots. This meant catching the heather in bloom. Now with a book you have to work a fair way in advance - the book was laid out earlier this year in June, then sent to the printers in July. Heather blooms in August. So last August I got a rather hurried phone phone call offering the contract if I could get started immediately - before the heather went over. At that point the author hadn't written the text, so I had to work with was a list of villages the walks were loosely based around. Thankfully I managed to squeeze in a day the same week and the weather and my map-based guesswork came together... and we had some cover options in the bag.

I fitted in another day in autumn which got some nice moorland walks ticked off, though there were fewer trees than I'd hoped and autumn colour was mostly provided by bracken. Then time ticked by and we were into the new year. Late winter and spring are when the landscape are at its dullest, so I put the project on hold and waited for budburst. Carefully balancing a panicking editor and an improving landscape, I finally headed out in early May for a shoot that had to finish the job. Starting from Sheffield late morning, I shot all afternoon through to dusk after nine. A hurried drive to a chippy, then across the Moors to the coast and a short doss in the car saw me back up shooting sunrise at half four, followed by another full day shoot and back to Sheffield for dinner.

Sunrise at Boggle Hole

Shooting so intensively was a very useful experience which I'd wholeheartedly recommend. Its very easy when shooting for yourself to get into a perfectionist 'uninspired' frame of mind where nothing is quite right. Having an absolute need to get a publishable shot or three, and a limited time frame to do it in, really forces you to engage with the subject. Doing that repeatedly over a couple of days pushed me into a groove that became very productive. There were parallels with similarly sustained climbing trips I've had, where you feel permanently warmed up and get into a real rhythm - that combination of fast and slow that becomes 'flow', (or, as a mate quipped, 'medium') - above all effective, efficient and deeply satisfying.

Also out now is the JMT yearbook. Lovingly compiled in Bamford by John Beatty, its a must for every nature lover and makes booking dull business appointments somewhat more bearable. It's always an honour to be featured alongside the UK's finest nature photographers, but doubly so this year as John has used my image as one of the few used to promote the book. You can buy direct from here: