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Falls of Feugh

We haven’t had much sunshine recently in NE Scotland but at last we had a fine day. Too nice to sit in programming so I went out for a wee dauner with my camera.

The Falls of Feugh (pronounced Fewch), near Banchory, are a well-known beauty spot, where people go to watch leaping salmon,  close to the confluence of the Rivers Feugh and Dee. There was nothing like the amount of water there must have been in the recent floods when the water came over the bridge but they were still pretty impressive.

I tried to capture the movement of the water here with a slow shutter speed.

The Falls. I tried to capture the movement of the rushing water here with a slow shutter speed

 

Falls of Feugh

Sunburst – River Feugh. The sun comes round so that by late morning it’s shining down the river.

 

The arch of the road bridge frames the power of the river

The arch of the road bridge frames the power of the river

 

I was reading a blog post recently which reflected on why we take photographs and some of the problems of digital photography (Alex Roddie: The photos you’ll never look at again). This is something that I’ve been thinking about myself and I’m not sure that I’ve come to any definite conclusion. If and when I do, I’ll blog about it.

But, for sure, one reason we take pictures is to capture memories of significant events in our lives – family events, trips and occasions. Sometimes we go back to these many years later, to share them with other people and to remind ourselves of those times.  We want these photos to be available for a long time but my concern is that our lack of understanding of digital permanence means that our grandchildren won’t have a record of our times.

When my father died we inherited a box of family photos and several boxes of slides. We had a young baby and had just bought a house so we had no time to look at these. They went in a cupboard for several years. But, when our kids were older and asked about the grandparents they never knew, we were able to dig out that box and talk to them about their family.  Although I’ve digitised the photos, we still have the box so when and if we have grandchildren, we’ll be able to talk to them and show them pictures of their parents and grandparents when they were their age.

But now the world has changed.  Everyone now takes lots of digital photos. These may simply be stored on a disk,  ‘thrown’ randomly into storage services such as iCloud, shared on Facebook or Instagram or, for the more organised, uploaded to sites such as Flickr. We have so many photos and so little time that these are rarely annotated with anything but the metadata recorded by the camera. So we know when they were taken, maybe the location but we don’t necessarily know who is in them or why they were taken.

When film was expensive, we were sparing with photographs and even prolific amateur photographers didn’t have thousands of images to manage. I got my first digital camera in 2007 and, until I started a major cull of these, I had over 30, 000 digital images. So my ‘box of photographs’ was unmanageably large. Of course, I did have a bit of organisation and did some photo tagging but this is not necessarily useful to someone else who wants to look through the photos and talk about the images. Pictures that we or our relatives may want to come back to, perhaps in several years time, are for all practical purposes unfindable in a morass of mediocre digital images.

Now imagine if my father had digitised all of his family photos and uploaded them to Flickr. Maybe I might have got his account details but maybe not – it’s not a priority when someone has cancer.  As far as I know, sites like Flickr and Facebook haven’t really addressed the problems of digital inheritance but it is going to become an increasing issue as their user base gets older.

But let’s assume that account access is possible. When we come back to look at the photos maybe ten years later, would the account still be there? Indeed, would the storage service still be there?  Would the account have been suspended because of lack of use?  The lifetime of Internet companies is short and we have no idea really how Internet giants such as Facebook and Yahoo will evolve and change.  Free services owe nothing to their users so there can be no expectations of data being saved or made available if financial problems arise.  The working assumption that we have to make is that any photos on photo sharing services such as Facebook, Instagram or Flickr are unreliable and impermanent and if we really care about photos we need to keep copies on our own media.

Then, of course, we run into the problems of representation and local photo management. My guess is that JPEG is now such an entrenched standard that it will be around for a long time. But the same certainly isn’t true for camera RAW formats so unless you also keep JPEG copies, the chances of being able to read these in 20 of 30 years time are pretty small.  But how long is a long time? I guess the oldest photos I have were taken in the 1930s but some families have pictures that go back to the early years of the 20th century. Will JPEG still be around in 2115? Will we remember to convert the thousands of digital images that we have inherited into the new format before the convertors become obsolete? If we use software such as Lightroom to manage our photos, how long will it exist? Will we think about converting inherited repositories before it’s too late?

So, I’m going through a process of rethinking my photography – reducing digital detritus and making sure that photos can be shared without reliance on external services.

I’m becoming more selective about the photos I take -it is pointless to take several pictures of the same bog on a rainy day when you are walking in the hills. In fact, I’m not sure taking even one picture of a bog on a rainy day is worthwhile. I’m going to be even more ruthless in deleting photos that aren’t worth keeping. For family photos that people might care about, I’m going to create a ‘digital shoebox’ where I’ll make sure that my children have copies on their computers.

And I’m going back to paper –  I’ll spend time creating printed photobooks of things I think we might want to remember or even just printing some photos at home and sticking them in a box. I like the idea of my great grandchildren playing with these, wondering about the people in strange clothes and the places that may have irrevocably changed by then.

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Last weekend, I had my first winter walk – snow on the Borders hills. But yesterday, summer temperatures returned to the north-east of Scotland.  I am lucky that I don’t have to work full-time so, although I had  earmarked this a work day, I decided that it was too good a day to spend it at a computer.

I was a bit late getting started so didn’t have time to go far.  The choice was either Clachnaben or Bennachie. For me, Clachnaben is a Christmas holiday walk (and I was there on the TGOC) so Bennachie it had to be.

I took my Paramo jacket and a fleece as it was November, but it was unnecessary. I started off carrying the jacket but by the time I got to the top, I was carrying both of them. I thought back to Lochnagar in July when I was absolutely freezing and wondered what our weather is coming to. Cold summer days have been normal as far back as I can remember but I can’t remember a late November day in Scotland as warm as this.

Bennachie is a fine wee hill, an easy walk that is the exemplar of the phrase that ‘size isn’t everything’. It has the remnants of an Iron Age fort on the top and once you get away from the main top (the Mither Tap), you don’t meet many people. I’ve written about it before so I’ll say no more but just include a few photos.

The rocks are the remnants of an Iron Age hill fort on the summit of Bennachie

The rocks are the remnants of an Iron Age hill fort on the summit of Bennachie

Aberdeenshire from the summit

Looking over Aberdeenshire from the summit of the Mither Tap. Only the long shadows indicate it’s November

Clachnaben and Mount Battock

Clachnaben and Mount Battock

The Mither Tap (on the right). A granite tor on the summit

The Mither Tap (on the right). A granite tor on the summit

On the summit of Oxen Craig

On the summit of Oxen Craig

Sunny weekends in November in Scotland are a bit like hens’ teeth and I thought that I was pretty lucky to have such good weather on my last outing to the hills in Wester Ross. I didn’t expect to have another this month.   Storms Abigail and Barney suggested that the usual November weather pattern had been established. But, last weekend, in between dreich days, we had a bit of snow and sunshine and I had a wee trip out to the Borders Hills.

We had planned to stay in Edinburgh this weekend but the women in the family were making wedding arrangements, with men thankfully unwelcome.  So I took the opportunity of a day out to meet some Corriemulzie pals who were staying at Stanhope bothy, near Broughton in the Borders.

There was fresh snow overnight and the early morning drive from Edinburgh took a bit longer than intended but I arrived just as folks were emerging from the bothy. The plan was for a round of the hills above Stanhope Glen – Taberon Law, Middle Hill, Dollar Law (the highest at 817m), Dun Law and Cramalt Crag.

It was cold! Although the sky was clear, there wasn’t any warmth in the sun and we were wrapped up, even for the walk up the first hill, Taberon Law. Like other Border’s hills, this isn’t dramatic but you can get high quite quickly then stay high for the rest of the day. Ideal, when daylight is short and, if you’re like me, too lazy to get out of bed to set off in the dark.

Figures in the landscape. Between Taberon Law and Middle Hill

Figures in the landscape. Between Taberon Law and Middle Hill

There had been a few cms of snow overnight, which had drifted in places to be quite substantial. Frost crystals made a remarkable fringe to a hill fence.

Frost crystals on the fence

Frost crystals on the fence

We stopped for lunch out of the wind on Thieves Road – an old drove road which I guess got its name from the Border reivers using it in their cattle rustling.  Then, to the top of Dollar Law for a summit group picture in the sunshine.

A summit group picture on Dollar Law

A summit group picture on Dollar Law

Some folks decided to head back then but the rest of us carried on as the afternoon shadows lengthened. As always, we were an incoherent group making our way individually across the plateau.  This is something I really like – everyone makes their own pace with no need to keep up or slow down for others.

John approaching Cranalt Crag

John approaching Cranalt Crag

The last hill of the day (for me at least) was Cranalt Crag, which we got to about 2.40. The sun was starting to go down but there were great all round views. Cheviot was obvious but some wondered about about seeing the Arran hills and (more likely I think) Skiddaw and the Lake District hills in the distance.

Liz on the summit of Cranalt Crag

Liz on the summit of Cranalt Crag. Broad Law (with the mast) is the nearest hill but we speculated that the distant hills to the south-west were in the Lake District.

There was talk of going on to Broad Law but only Scott, intrepid as ever, went on. The rest of us decided that flogging down a heathery, snowy hillside in the dark was something we’d all experienced but never particularly enjoyed and had no great wish to repeat it.

Hill views in the late afternoon

Hill views in the late afternoon

We arrived back just as it got dark, after another great day on the hill. I headed back to Edinburgh, sadly missing a convivial evening in the bothy.

Today, it’s raining again and the snow is disappearing. But lucking out twice with the weather on November hill days has been absolutely fantastic.

All photos taken with my (newish) Canon Powershot G7.  All taken on auto as it was too cold to try and operate the camera without gloves.

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Scotland’s weather is notoriously fickle so when you head for the hills in November, you hope for the best but plan for the worst. Sometimes, the worst happens but sometimes you get one of these unforgettable days on the hill. Typically, you start off in poor weather wondering if you should have taken the ‘sensible’ option of a coastal walk, where you might actually see something. But then the weather improves, the clouds disappear, the landscape emerges and you know that you’ve done the right thing.

When this happens in Wester Ross, which I think has the most fabulous landscape in Scotland, then it’s just magic.  We had such a day this last weekend on Beinn Mor Coigach, just north of Ullapool. We were there for the annual dinner of the Corriemulzie Mountaineering Club. We first got together in the early seventies and, while it’s maybe going too far to say we are ‘still going strong’, we are still going, albeit rather more slowly than we used to.

We’ve been going to Ullapool for a good few years and most people have done all of the local hills. So, when Saturday dawned wet and windy, some of the group decided on low level options. A few of us (perhaps more optimistic, perhaps more masochistic) decided on a walk up Beinn Mor Coigach.

Beinn Mor Coigach is not a very big hill (height)  but, like all of the hills in Wester Ross, it feels like a mountain. We started from Blughasary, where there’s a good path that takes you over the bogs to the foot of the hill. As we reached the end of the path, there were the first signs on improvement in the weather.

Beinn Mor Coigach, Wester Ross, Ullapool. Corriemulzie meet

Low cloud on Beinn Mor Coigach

It was still pretty windy and we weren’t sure if our preferred route up Speicein Coinnich would be feasible. As we ascended, the weather was slow to change but, eventually, there were very definite signs of improvement.

Improving weather as the hill emerges from the clouds

Improving weather as the hill emerges from the clouds

Then, suddenly, it all cleared and we had views over Loch Broom to An Teallach on the way up the ridge.

Looking over Loch Broom to An Teallach

Looking over Loch Broom to An Teallach

I’ve been up Beinn Mor Coigach before but this was the first time by this route and I’d definitely recommend it. It’s steep and looks a bit intimidating but apart from a couple of places (as in the picture below) where there’s quite a steep drop on one side, it’s pretty straightforward.

Richard, John and Ian reaching the top of Speicein Coinnich

Richard, John and Ian reaching the top of Speicein Coinnich

From the summit ridge, the views north to the Wester Ross hills and Sutherland were just fantastic.

Looking north to Stac Pollaidh and Suilven

Looking north to Sgorr Tuath, Stac Pollaidh, Suilven and Cul Beag.

Suilven

Suilven

 

Stac Pollaidh

Stac Pollaidh

Although it was sunny, the wind hadn’t dropped that much and it was a bit of a struggle to get along the ridge to the summit. Cajoling the group into a summit photograph was rather like herding cats, and this was the best I could do, especially as it was hard to hold the camera steady in the wind. Note the wide legged stances to avoid being blown over – Liz was the sensible one who sat down.

Liz, Richard, John and Ian on the summit

Liz, Richard, John and Ian on the summit

Time was getting on and the wind was uncomfortably strong so we decided against going all the way to the end of the ridge and we headed down the northern corrie. It was steep, grassy, a bit slippy and we had to contour round the hill to get back to the track.  We got a rather different view of  the hill from earlier in the day.

Evening, Beinn Mor Coigach, Wester Ross

Beinn Mor Coigach, Wester Ross

Saturday evening was eating, drinking and regaling each other with tales of the hills, not all of which were exaggerated.  Sunday was spend pottering but I couldn’t resist including this pic of Slioch, taken on the way home. It simply looked superb.

Slioch and Loch Maree

Slioch and Loch Maree

I love compact cameras. Having a camera that fits into a pocket means, for me, a camera that I can take out anytime, whatever the weather. They don’t swing on a strap on your shoulder and get in the way and they are light enough to carry even if the weather is very unpromising for photography. My first compact camera was a Rollei 35 (still working), bought in the early 1970s from savings from a student summer job and since then, I’ve always had a pocket camera. Phone cameras are, of course, the ultimate compact and they are catching up on quality but they don’t have the quality or the controllability of today’s high-end compacts.

I’d always had Canon compacts until a bit more than 2 years ago when I was seduced by the quality of the Sony RX100. It has a large sensor, which makes all the difference. I bought the RX100 to replace a Canon Powershot 100, which was pretty good, but which was suffered when I dropped it on rocks in the Cairngorms.

My RX100 worked well until about 10 days ago when, on a short break to Seville, something went wrong and it displayed this pattern on the screen.

Sony RX100 failure screen

Sony RX100 failure screen

I tried various things – resetting the camera, charging the battery, updating the firmware and nothing made any difference so I was faced with the choice of a hardware repair (£120) or a new camera.

My experience of electronic hardware that’s getting on for 3 years old is that once something starts to go wrong, it’s the start of a slippery slope to ‘beyond economic repair’. I may be biased but Sony computers have a bad reputation for this and I wondered if this was a characteristic shared by their cameras. So a new camera it was – an unexpected expense, about a year or so earlier than I’d intended.

The RX100 has a large, 1 inch sensor and for a couple of years after it was introduced, it had no real competition. Canon (and others) had cameras with a comparable sensor but they were all much bigger. But, in 2014, Canon introduced the Powershot G7X, a pocket camera, which uses the same sensor as the RX100. Head to head reviews of these cameras suggested that they offered similar quality. The Canon has a slightly wider range zoom and a touch screen  but poorer battery life and no electronic viewfinder.

I wondered about another RX100 but decided on the Canon G7X. This was partly a decision based on price (it’s cheaper) and features (I really like the touch screen focus) but mostly, I must admit, I went for the Canon because I was pissed off with Sony. I’ve had 3 Canon compact digital cameras and none of them have failed so I’m hoping this is indicative of better reliability.  It cost about £350 from Amazon – more than £150 less than the equivalent RX100 model.

The camera arrived today so, after charging the battery, I took it out for a quick test. It’s a wee bit heavier than the RX100 and feels very solid. You might think that a heavier camera is not so good for backpacking but if it’s more robust, the weight penalty is definitely worthwhile.

The weather was not good for photography – a flat, dull day with the light starting to go by 3 o’clock when I went out.

My first test was in my home office, where I photographed my bookshelves.

Test of Canon Powershot G7X. First impressions

Test of Canon Powershot G7X. First impressions. 1/30th @ f1.8, ISO 400. Wide-angle. Hand-held.

The enlargement of this photo (not a zoom) shows both the quality of the lens and the stabilisation, as it was shot hand-held at 1/30 of a second. I reckon it’s pretty good. I used the touchscreen to focus on the ‘High Fells of Lakeland’ book.

Test of Canon Powershot G7X. First impressions

Test of Canon Powershot G7X. First impressions

 

The zoom range is excellent from a 24mm equivalent wide angle to a 100mm equivalent telephoto.

 

Wide angle, 24mm equiv. 1/125 sec @ f4, ISO 800.

Wide angle, 24mm equiv. 1/125 sec @ f4, ISO 800.

From the same spot, 100mm equiv.  1/125 sec @ f3.2. ISO 800

From the same spot, 100mm equiv. 1/125 sec @ f3.2. ISO 800

One advantage of high-end compacts is that you can shoot in RAW mode so giving the opportunity for a wider range of computer processing options. I deliberately shot this leaf 2 stops underexposed (the light was really pretty bad) but you can see that lots of detail has been captured and processing in Lightroom has brought this out.

Underexposed leaf. 1/125 sec @f2.8. ISO 400.

Underexposed leaf. 1/125 sec @f2.8. ISO 400.

 

Bramble leaf, processed in Lightroom.

Bramble leaf, processed in Lightroom.

So, on the basis of 90 minutes use, I’m quite pleased with the Powershot G7X. The quality seems at least as good as the RX100 and the user interface seems a bit simpler. There’s lots still to explore, such as the wifi connection. Hopefully the weather will be better this weekend when it’ll get its first outing to the hills.

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I like to get into the hills and woods to enjoy the landscape and appreciate nature in all its forms (and in all weather) and one reason I take photographs is to communicate and share how I see the countryside. I don’t think it’s possible or desirable to try to be original with outdoor autumn photography. Basically, it’s about pretty pictures and if you don’t like this kind of photography, then look away now.

‘Peak autumn’ hasn’t reached us in Deeside yet. Oaks, beeches, sycamores and elms are still mostly green and only rowans and maples are reliably autumnal. So, photography isn’t about broad landscapes of colour but about detail – the colour and shape of individual branches and leaves and how these are changing with the season.

I had a great walk in the woods today searching out autumnal detail. The great thing about looking for detail is that you see things that you miss in the ‘big picture’. Colours are not all garish yellows and reds, but also more subtle hues. Leaves crinkle in interesting ways and paths are dappled with patterns of low sunlight.  I like to use a telephoto lens for this kind of photography as it makes it easier to isolate individual leaves and branches.

autumnleaves (8 of 8)

The oaks have not turned yet but hints of yellow suggest it won’t be long till they do.

 

autumnleaves (7 of 8)

Subtle shades in the leaf litter

 

autumnleaves (6 of 8)

A snakeskin leaf

 

autumnleaves (5 of 8)

Maples are reliably bright in the afternoon sunshine

 

autumnleaves (4 of 8)

Hanging on. Most of the leaves on this rowan had already fallen.

 

autumnleaves (3 of 8)

It was the subtle colours – from yellow to pink and purple that appealed to me here.

 

autumnleaves (2 of 8)

Crinkled leaf

 

autumnleaves (1 of 8)

I don’t know what kind of tree this is but I loved the russet and orange leaves.

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I’ve put together a list of blogs from 2015 Challengers – this is almost certainly incomplete so if you have a blog that I’ve missed, please let me know and I’ll add it. There seem to be fewer blogs this year than in previous years, which suggests that I’ve missed quite a few.

This year, I’ve ordered it by starting point.

Lochailort

Daunerin’ Aboot
Over the Hills and Far Away
Whiteburn’s Wanderings

Fellbound
A wee walk

Torridon

Eating snow around the world

TGOC 2013 and TGOC 2014 blogs

TGOC 2014 blogs

TGOC 2013 blogs

Other posts Challengers might find useful

Aberdeen to Ballater – A Short Guide to the Deeside Way
(I need to update this with info about the Ballater fire and the Aberdeen bypass route)

Information (with pics) about places to finish the Challenge between Aberdeen and Montrose

Aberdeen to Stonehaven

Stonehaven and Dunnotar

Crawton to Nether Warbuton

 

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This week we’ve had typical autumn weather. On Monday, we were blown off Ben Lomond and it didn’t stop raining all day Tuesday; but the last couple of days have been warm and sunny although there has been ice on the puddles in the morning. I’d earmarked today to do some programming but the weather was so nice I took some time off for a wee dauner in the garden with my camera.

We have quite a small garden but the previous owner had put in lots of different kinds of plants and we continued the process through a policy of buying plants on offer and shoving them into the ground, wherever there was a space. As you might expect, this has had mixed success but given my gardening ignorance, it’s probably no worse than any other approach. So, there’s lots of variety for photography. At this time of year, what’s obvious is that the garden is in transition – some plants have given up for the year and are withering, some are still in bloom and producing buds and others aren’t sure and are doing a bit of both.  We haven’t got the full-blown Deeside autumn colours yet, but leaves are starting to turn.

 

Rose hips nestling amongst the leaves.

Rose hips nestling amongst the leaves.

 

The holly berries are just starting to change from green to red.

The holly berries are just starting to change from green to red.

 

Withered leaf. An early turner.

Withered leaf. An early turner.

 

No idea what plant this is but it's one of the successes of our 'shove it into a space' policy

No idea what plant this is but it’s one of the successes of our ‘shove it into a space’ policy

 

The wasps have gone but the hoverflies are still working hard. I don't know how fast their wings beat but this was 1/2000th of a second and it wasn't a fast enough shutter speed

The wasps have gone but the hoverflies are still working hard. I don’t know how fast their wings beat but this was 1/2000th of a second and it wasn’t a fast enough shutter speed

 

Fading rose

Struggling to get the last drops of nectar from a dying rose

 

Turning leaf

Turning leaf

 

Seedheads and buds

Seedheads and buds – is it  autumn or spring

 

Final flowers

Sweet peas – seedpod and fading flowers

 

The last of the clematis flowers

Even in the afternoon, the morning dew hadn’t dried up

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Because of the failings of my recently bought Rab Myriad jacket, I’m looking for a new hard shell with an external storm flap. My experience is that zips leak in driving rain and that the more you can do to stop water getting to the zip, the better. Robin Evans has written a good blog post on this.

I’ve been looking at reviews of jackets from journalists who offer comparative reviews in magazines such as The Great Outdoors and, frankly, most of these simply do not give enough information to judge whether or not the gear reviewed is any good or not. No-one mentioned the waterproofness or otherwise of the zip.

The problem is not the reviewers, who I’m sure exercise their best judgement, but the reviewing process. Magazines get a bunch of equipment sent to them and and the reviewer has to spend time assessing this equipment. But, when we read a review, we are not told how much time has been spent using the gear, the conditions under which it was assessed, the loads carried for rucksacks, the type of terrain, and so on. Estimates are sometimes made of durability but do the reviewers actually do objective tests on this?

With the best will in the world, reviewers cannot test gear in identical conditions and the inevitable deadlines of publishing (and the suppliers desire to get their latest models reviewed quickly) means that some products may be used for longer than others.  Sometimes the weather doesn’t cooperate – if rain jackets are reviewed and there’s a long period of cold, dry weather, it may be impossible to test all of them in driving rain before the publishing deadline.

So, I think it really is time for transparency in these reviews. For each product reviewed, the number of hours it was used and the weather conditions should be honestly stated. For footwear and rucksacks, the terrain should be described and comparisons should focus on critical attributes. For example, a recent review of mountaineering jackets I read simply did not assess how waterproof they were in poor conditions although it did say of one of them ‘it held out the rain’. Does this mean the others didn’t or is this journalistic filler – readers are simply not told?

All this means is adding a short description to reviews such as ‘Worn for 8 hours on a 2-day backpacking trip in the Lakes, heavy rain one day, dry the other’.  If rainwear leaks, if rucksack straps slip, if boots are uncomfortable or if other flaws are found, then the reviewer really must mention this, although advertisers may not like it and perhaps there should be a checklist comparing these critical attributes. Only then will reviews be really useful to readers.

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