Sunday, January 22, 2012

A Hungerford Photography Tale...

On Tuesday I said I wanted to tell a story about this stretch of the Kennet & Avon Canal and a photography trip I took there one evening. I didn't want to tell it while I was short on time and energy, so hopefully now I can do it justice.....

 It's an important story to me because it still haunts me to this day. It was the 12th December 2010 and anybody who lives in Britain may remember that it was a very cold time. One of the coldest on record in fact and after work that evening I had wandered into Hungerford, mainly to capture pictures of a 'Victorian Extravaganza' they were having in the town centre that night. It was about 4pm and with it being December, the light was already fading fast, so I decided to take a quick detour from the town centre and wander up the canal to see if there would be any opportunities for photographs there. I was about to learn one of the most basic lessons of photography, a very hard way.

The scene I came across on that stretch of canal was almost surreal. As you can see from this picture above, the canal is perfectly still along this stretch and in the winter the light fades in the distance beyond it. This picture however was very different to the one that presented itself to me on that cold December evening. That night I lost the opportunity to come away with a picture, that would easily have been the best picture I have ever taken and perhaps have given my work a massive helping hand of recognition. Because of the cold weather, and perhaps the warmer spell that had taken place during that day, the canal had frozen over, but not as a perfect sheet of ice. The canal had frozen and began to spilt up into many square blocks of ice. I have never seen anything like it and the pattern over the canal while the light faded in the background was simply magical. I knew I had a surefire winner of a photograph. So I took a few pictures of this scene and remained happy for the rest of the evening, knowing I'd already shot something special in the camera. But as I have already alluded to, this story is in photographic terms, a tragedy.

When I got home all excited about the pictures I had taken, I immediately put them into the computer. This is when the horror began. I had got the pictures on there but try as I might, I couldn't make anything good out of them at all. They were blurry, fuzzy, as unsharp as you can imagine and I realised the dreadful mistake I made that day. I hadn't brought along a tripod. I took the shots hand-held thinking they would probably be ok. Well they weren't. The light had dipped so much that the shutter had to remain open for at least maybe a second, still way too long to capture a sharp picture in dim light. I had created single RAW file HDR's before this day but had still not began bracketing my shots, therefore there was only one exposure taken several times of this scene. And none of them were salvageable. One of the most perfect scenes I had been in the presence of, had left me with nothing to show for it. Experience teaches a man all the lessons he will need to know. Having a tripod that day would have made me come away with the pictures I had imagined were so special in my head.

This experience has driven me ever since in my photography to always be prepared to get the shot I want and imagine in my head. I still make mistakes here and there of course but hopefully the hard (and yet simple) lessons I learn as described from this story, will come back round to treat me well when I am present in such an awe-inspiring scene again. I am determined to keep going back to the Kennet & Avon canal in Hungerford, until that picture presents itself again. But until then, Wherever I go, you can be sure my tripod is never too far away from me.


  1. Lovely image Pete. Serene. I have guest blogged recently about a recent acquisition of mine, a Gorillapod Focus. A good back-up to a full size tripod. I reckon many an aspiring photographer has learnt this lesson the hard way, thinking they can stay rock still to capture a long exposure!

  2. Thanks for the comment Tim! I actually purchased a gorilla pod last year, before I bought a serious tripod. I love it, doesn't go with me everywhere but definitely adds a new element and option to getting shots without setting up a massive tripod.

  3. An important lesson learnt the hard way Pete!
    This has happened to me too but the shots were not really special but it did make me dish out for a decent tripod.