Saturday, 1 February 2014

The learning zone

Planning a first long-distance walk could be described as a huge learning curve. But a curve suggests a smooth and straightforward progression. Really it's more haphazard than that. There is much to learn in many different fields. (Mountain) hares are set running in all directions in pursuit of expertise: gear, navigation, weather, fitness, nutrition, logistics, route planning... Everything needed to be safe and successful, serious rather than half-arsed. Things that reams are written about and careers built upon.

Perhaps 'growing a tree of knowledge' is a better way of putting it (pretentious though!). Something complex but coherent. Making the decision to do this has revitalised many semi-dormant passions and interests. I'm amazed at how I'm suddenly able to find the time for these things, although on paper having less time than ever before, between a full-time job and children.

If you want something enough...!

It may not be as core as safety and survival, but making a good record of the trip, and how to do that, has been on my mind recently. Photographs will be fundamental, that's for sure. So, time to take control, switch all settings to manual, and try to stop being a point'n'clicking random chancer.

I was up and out before sunrise this morning for a first stab at putting recent book-learning into practice, down at my local bit of, ahem, wild land. Well, you can't tame a river. Not even this one.

Minutes before sunrise (bits of dust on the lens - tut tut, amateur!)
This is what starting at the bottom is like, and age doesn't make learning easier. No flow, no intuition, no muscle memory, no neural pathways. Cranking out the calculations, labouring the judgements. Fumbling around with a set of neutral density filters I got last week, trying not to drop everything on the ground or into the river. Only when I get home and download the pictures do I realise I missed step two (step one is taking off the lens cap!): give the lens a brush! D'oh!

A wonderful morning though. The sun grew, strong and swift, launching itself across the river. It was cold.

Messing about with the settings, not quite getting what I predicted, perhaps not knowing what I wanted:

Shooting with the sun behind is relatively simple but not as exciting:

The neutral density filters are possibly essential for landscape and nature photography, where getting the balance right between sky and whatever's underneath is difficult. All too familiar in my hillwalking pictures: nicely exposed foreground and washed-out sky; or too-dark foreground and beautiful sky.

For the two pictures below, I set the exposure for the river - exactly the same settings for both. The first picture was taken without any filter; the second is with a graduated neutral density filter reducing the intensity of the light entering the top half of the frame (the sky).

Without ND grad filter

With hard grad 2(?) stop filter
It sounds counter-intuitive, but control and predictability in using the tools can fire spontaneity and creativity. The more ingrained the mechanics, the more free of them you are: flow is the goal. I hope to be some way there with the camera by the time I start the walk.

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