Tag Archives: B&W

Deception Island, Antarctica.

Whaler's Bay, Deception Island, Antarctica.

Deception Island: Even the name sounds mysterious.

You can’t be a proper movie super villain without having a secret base and if I were ever to become a super villain Deception Island would be mine. It sounds like a place straight out of fiction and already you may be thinking of pirates or smugglers or some other ne’er-do-wells. But no, it is a real place and one that happens to be one of my most favourite places on Earth.

Whilst it is real, having been first discovered in 1820, it is hard to shake the thoughts of make believe, especially when you read more about it. First what we see as an island is really the top of an active underwater volcano with high cliffs on the shores making any attempt to anchor dangerous. At 12 kilometres in diameter you may even ignore it altogether but if you did you would miss Neptune’s Bellows, the only gap in the high cliff walls at a mere 230 metres across, created by a previous eruption, and leading to a secluded bay which, at 9km by 6km, occupies most of the inside of the island. Of the land that remains, over half is covered by glacial ice. Oh, and most of the entrance is filled by Ravn Rock that sits a mere 2.5 metres below the surface, waiting to wreak havoc on the hull of any passing ship. Yes, as a naturally fortified, evil-super-villian secret lair it will do very nicely indeed.

Whilst I could have happily spent two or three days just wandering around you’ll likely only get about 90 minutes and so thankfully it is one of those places where you do not have to work hard to get good compositions, especially if you like working with minimalism and negative space. Even colour seems optional in a landscape dominated by black volcanic rocks and white ice and snow.

You can read more about this wonderful island over on Wikipedia.

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Hvitanes – The British Occupation of Iceland.

Most people have heard of World War II. Involving thirty countries and approximately 100 million people it is still – perhaps thankfully – the largest conflict the human race has waged upon itself. Estimates are vague but somewhere between 50 and 85 million people lost their lives which at best means that one in two people involved died; at worst 85 per cent of all those involved never saw the end of the war. And the catalyst for such widespread destruction? Germany invading Poland.

But did you know that on the 10th May 1940 Britain invaded the neutral country of Iceland?

The British were well aware of the strategic importance of the North Atlantic and were keen to not lose their control of the area. At the time Iceland was a neutral country but after the German occupation of neutral Denmark, Churchill became increasingly concerned that Germany would next invade Iceland providing them a worryingly strategic base for submarine, naval and air command. Britain sent an offer of assistance to Iceland but this was rejected, presumably as a stance of neutrality was still seen as preferable, so Churchill ordered the invasion of Iceland to ensure that it did not fall under German control.

It was a “quiet” invasion and were it not for the fact that it was an act of war, the accounts of the half-baked planning, misunderstood orders and the fact that everyone in Iceland – including the German consulate – simply accepted it, would perhaps make it a worthy light-hearted war film.

The key reason for the occupation of Iceland was to ensure the continued British control over the North Atlantic and so a number of naval bases were constructed, including one in the deep-water fjord of Hvalfjörður, for the resupply and repair of naval vessels. This pier, and others like it, played a significant – and seldom recognised – part in the continued British control of one of the most important fronts of the war. The war eventually ended and the base, its purpose served, was abandoned to the Icelandic weather.

This shot posed a number of challenges. I wanted a long exposure – in the order of eight minutes to remove details in the sky and the water – but the only way to get this angle was to climb up on the other part of the pier and balance the tripod (and myself) on the middle steel girder. It was windy although not impossibly so, however the mist you see in the distance between the peaks was the real issue – wave after wave of rain! So taking this photograph meant starting the exposure and hoping the next rain shower didn’t arrive within eight minutes and that the wind did not pick up so much as to affect the image. When the rain arrived I had to pack up, retreat along the narrow girder to one of the derelict naval huts behind me and wait until the rain passed. Then try again. It took a good couple of hours.

The remains of the pier of the British naval base at Hvitanes.

The remains of the pier of the British naval base at Hvitanes.

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Deadvlei, Namibia

If I had to choose one location in Namibia that I enjoyed shooting more than the others it would be Deadvlei.

Once a marshland (vlei translates as marsh) the shifting sands of the desert isolated the area around 650 years ago. The intense desert sun baked the clay ground into a rock-solid block whilst the trees blackened as they slowly desiccated. What remains are the ancient skeletons of trees, self-made gravestones, surrounded by some of the highest sand dunes on the planet.

Despite being an hour’s drive from the nearest human population followed by a half hour walk across the dunes, Deadvlei is one of the most popular locations in Namibia. As such it does not take long after the first visitors arrive for the pristine sands, uniquely sculpted by the wind each night, to soon become a discordant jumble of footprints.

But we were lucky enough to be there for some night shoots – something not typically possible due to the national park gates closing at dusk and opening at dawn – and so we were the first people to see Deadvlei at the start of a new day. In fact if you look very closely at the photograph you’ll notice something odd about the foot prints: They are leaving the vlei. Despite the apparent silence we experienced from our arrival at 3AM the wind had quietly blown our footprints away leaving us a blank canvas when we departed at 7AM.

Dawn at Deadvlei

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Kjalvegur, Iceland.

Meet my Icelandic nemesis, the Kjalvegur route that winds its way through the central Highland plateau.

Shortly after taking this image the razor-sharp lava at the side of the road eviscerated a tyre when I pulled in to let a speeding 4WD past. When I managed to fit the spare – a job made more difficult due to the freezing rain, biting wind and the hire company not including all the tools in the toolkit – I soon discovered that it wobbled in a worrying fashion. It was only when I took the car to a garage that I found out that the spare wheel had a twist in it and I was lucky to have made it as far as I had.

So, round one goes to Kjalvegur but I will be returning for a rematch in 2016!

Kjölur 1600px


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Quiver Tree Forest, Namibia

The Quiver tree forest near Keetmanshoop in southern Namibia likely won’t win any awards for accurate advertising.

For a start, they’re not really trees – they’re aloe – although decades and, in some cases, centuries of growth have seen them rival trees in size and shape. Second, to call it a forest is a bit of a stretch and even the moniker ‘wood’ would be a little over optimistic. Still, you can wander between them and when I was trying to find a lone quiver tree to photograph there was always at least one lurking on the background somewhere. But they do quiver, although Wikipedia suggests that the name comes from the fact that local bushmen used their branches to make quivers for hunting.

We were out for our final visit to the forest with the aim of catching the light from the setting sun before settling in for an evening of astrophotography. As I wandered further away the already sparse trees became more isolated and I was immediately struck by a three-trunked tree close to the edge of a plain extending, empty and unyielding, into the distance. The light wasn’t great and the sky was a clear and featureless blue but I made a note to walk back past this tree in a couple of hours thinking that I could add interest to the sky by using a polariser to bring out different shades of blue and then convert to black and white.

Upon my return I have to say that I was pretty happy to find that the sun was now low enough to cast areas of shadow around the tree and light up the wonderfully textured bark. I was even more happy to see that not only were there finally some clouds in the sky but the wind was moving quickly enough for them to blur on a long exposure. In fact, I may have even performed a mini fist pump at my luck, but with no one to witness it, I still have plausible deniability.

The only downside of the 30 second exposure and the wind blowing the clouds across the sky is that I discovered the other reason why the trees are called quiver trees.

Quiver #1 1600px


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Kirkjufell & Kirkjufellfoss, Iceland.

As impressive as the waterfalls in Iceland generally are, you can’t help but getting a little blasé by the time you’ve marvelled at the first thirty or forty. In fact, barring a particularly deep-rooted passion for waterfalls, by the end of a couple of weeks you’ll find yourself largely not noticing them.

And so it would be with the rather unassuming Kirkjufellfoss, a modest waterfall just west of Grundarfjörður on the Snæfellsnes peninsula. Bluntly, after you’ve visited some of the other waterfalls on the usual itinerary, it wouldn’t really warrant a stop were it not for the striking presence of the nearby Kirkjufell mountain.

Despite nature conveniently placing the two next to each other it is a surprisingly difficult combination to photograph simply as (1) it has been photographed by thousands of photographers already and (2) there is always a hoard of photographers lined up trying to capture an interesting angle not already captured by one of the aforementioned thousands of photographers.

This shot was taken close to sunset on one of the few days where the cloud cover on the peninsula broke enough to allow shadows to dance across the land and illuminate Kirkjufell.

Kirkjufell 1600px

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The Clouds, Iceland.

Sometimes you look up from what you’re doing (driving in my case) and see a scene that so completely reminds you of something that you can’t see anything else. So it was when driving along route 37 in Iceland looking for a building with a shiny metal roof for a composition I had in my head. The moment I saw I it knew what I saw and now can’t see anything else – probably a testament to the state of my mind more than anything.  In fact, if Rorschach hadn’t opted for using ink blots I’m pretty sure he’d have used clouds.


The Clouds, Iceland

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Iceland’s Route 574

Route 574 on the Snæfellsnes peninsula in the west of Iceland. It’s a sparsely populated and barren area dominated by the central spine of high peaks ending in Snæfellsjökull volcano made famous by the Jules Verne novel Journey to the Centre of the Earth. Clouds gather and can linger for days. Not always great conditions for photography but it creates a great mood.

I’ve been after a decent “road” shot for a while and drove along this stretch a few times. The barren landscape and dark clouds dictated a black and white conversion, but I didn’t want to lose the yellow roadside markers so I added them back in after the conversion. I don’t like a lot of post processing (laziness can be a gift!) but in this case the image is stronger for it.

It’s a beautiful place…

Many tourists worry about driving in Iceland, but other than around the capital Reykjavik, this is as busy as the roads get.

Many tourists worry about driving in Iceland, but other than around the capital Reykjavik, this is as busy as the roads get.

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Northern Andes Mountain range, 2010.

A lone 4WD rushes to the only structure in the area – a stone-built refuge – at sunset as darkness spreads across the land. At an altitude of 4,300 metres on the Bolivian altiplano nightfall means -15°C temperatures.

Tocotacape, Bolivia.

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Coniston Water, Cumbria. UK.

Most of my portfolio comes from my travels across the planet, be it frozen wastelands, volcanoes or mineral lakes so toxic that NASA scientists research them in order to further their understanding of how alien life might exist “out there”. So it is easy to forget just how beautiful the UK is.

The sun eventually dips below the mountains as the storm clouds move in. Windermere may be the most popular lake in the Lake District but I prefer the quietness of Coniston Water.

The sun eventually dips below the mountains as storm clouds move in. Windermere may be the most popular lake in the Lake District but I prefer the quietness of Coniston Water. [Click to enlarge]

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