I have just spent 4 solid days covering 943 Miles, and at least 52 hours of travelling and working time with a Sony A7II camera. Why might you ask? Well, that’s somewhat of a long story or, perhaps I should say, an extended and ongoing one instead.
It all started with my desire to start shooting with a full frame sensor and also to switch to an upgraded and currently supported system. I did my research, spoke with associates and colleagues, and settled on what I thought was the right choice for me. I have been shooting with a mirrorless system ever since I got into photography and did not want to change that, so the Sony Alpha 7 series looks like the perfect shooting partner. I won’t bore you with the full details, but in the end an associate I was talking with set me a challenge. That challenge, in loose terms, equalled “take a Sony Alpha 7 camera and lens of your choice, and show what it can do in your hands”. Being committed and passionate about my work I took that idea and well and truly ran with it. I arranged to get my hands on a Sony A7II and the 16-35m F4 Sony/Zeiss lens. I set aside 4 days and started planning some locations. Living in the West Country, I wanted to shoot my favourite locations and also some new ones. This of course would be dictated by the weather, although I would have travelled anywhere in the UK to get great shots. The plan was set, I apologised in advance to my partner and explained I was going to be spending 4 days solid of my time concentrating on this little project. Luckily for me she is very understanding and supportive!
The camera arrived on the Friday before the last May Bank Holiday weekend. It was 3pm and having already read the instruction manual online I was happy I knew how to use the system. Batteries were already fully charged, my filters would fit, and I had procured a remote control. It was time to start my challenge.
Day 1 – Land’s End and Haytor = 246 miles and 13hrs Camera and Travel Time.
I set off to Land’s End in Cornwall. Having studied the weather for that evening already about 40 times that day I was confident it was going to be a pleasant and warm evening. All I hoped for was some nice high clouds to reflect the evenings sunset and give me the colours we landscape photographers want. I must confess what I hadn’t bargained for was the Bank Holiday weekend traffic, this made the journey down a little tedious but did not dampen my mood. Land’s End was a location that, oddly enough, I had never shot before or even visited. I have been within 10 miles but for some reason never actually there. I was looking forward to it; I knew where I wanted to shoot from, and where I needed to be to capture the setting sun. Luckily for me, mother nature played her part and as the sun started to set the whole place erupted in a golden hue. “Yes!” I thought to myself, “1st location and the world looks stunning through my lens.”
This is where a normal day might end for some, but I was full of energy. Planning on the fly, I decided to head up to Dartmoor and try the camera on some Astro Photography. For those ‘in the know’ that are reading this, you will be aware that an F4 lens might not be ideal for this, but it will work. It was as I climbed out of my car near Princetown on the moors that something started to catch my eye, random but almost constant flashing from skies to the south of me. Directly above and to the north the skies were clear. The flashing had to be an electrical storm and as I knew a weather front was heading up the country I quickly set about trying to capture the Milky Way before I got very wet! As it transpired, time was not on my side. The clouds started rolling in and I never did get a Milky Way shot. What I did get though was to witness one of the most amazing electrical storms I have ever seen in this country. With very little thunder and not a single drop of rain, the skies literally filled with almost constant flashes of lightning. By the time it was upon me properly I had changed location to an area called Haytor, it is a great vantage point.
I have never tried shooting lightning before and, being in the centre of this amazing storm, I was probably at a disadvantage. The skies were a constant mix of the occasional fork and the bright illuminated clouds of the storm. If you have never witnessed such a thing then I am not sure I have the words to explain just how impressive and foreboding was the raw power of the planet on display. My pictures, although I took many testing different settings and compositions, just don’t do it justice.
I was watching and shooting the storm until at least about 3am on Dartmoor and the idea of sleeping was still not appealing so I once again made a decision on the fly to head somewhere for dawn. But by now we were technically on day 2.
Day 2 – Lyme Regis and Boscastle = 189 miles and 12hrs Camera and Travel Time.
Having spent all night and the previous evening out with the camera, as I was still awake I headed to The Cobb at Lyme Regis for sun up. The Met Office said there was a chance that the weather front that had given me the amazing electrical storm would have cleared enough for some interesting morning conditions. Sadly this turned out to be wrong. It was just dull and overcast, not conducive to great photography. It was time to retire to my bed, both myself and the camera need our batteries recharged. I headed home, backed up all of the previous evening and nights captures, and climbed into my very welcoming bed.
All refreshed it was time to head out again. This time the weather forecast was not great in any part of the UK, let alone in the South West. The storm of the night before was still being felt all over the country. If there was to be any shooting on this night I surmised it would be on the North Cornish or North Devon coast. I absolutely love this large stretch of the UK’s coastline and feel blessed to live so close to it. So many options and so many beautiful places to visit and capture. It was going to be high tide around the same time as sundown, this tends to lend itself better to a sweeping coastal shot rather than getting up and personal with the sea. For those reasons I headed to Boscastle, little bits of blue sky and the odd patch of sun were appearing on my trip there. My hopes of something were soon dashed unfortunately as a huge bank of cloud moved in from the Atlantic and the evening turned out rather dull. You can’t win them all, and Saturday was not a productive day. Home I went and planned the next day…
Day 3 – Start Point, Shaugh Prior, Weston-Super-Mare, and Burnham-on-Sea = 246 miles and 12hrs Camera and Travel Time.
A 3am wakeup call and a drive down to Start Point on the South Devon coast is how the day began. The forecast looked good for some dawn colours. Start Point is a great location for sunrise; I like how you can get up above the lighthouse and watch the day begin. And wow! Did this day begin in a beautiful way?! All of Saturday’s gloom was replaced with stunning colours. I often have to remind myself not just to concentrate on the technical side of taking a picture. You just have to sometime sit there and take it all in yourself. Witnessing days starting and finishing is one of the things I really love about being a landscape photographer. The pre-dawn starts and later evenings really don’t put me off at all.
After the wonderful beginning, I had my energy back and wanted to carry on shooting. It was time to head to the edge of Dartmoor, and another wonderful location called Dewerstone, near Shaugh Prior. Here the River Plym winds through wonderful woodland valleys and over granite strewn paths on its way to Plymouth. An idyllic and, at 7am, peaceful place where you are almost guaranteed to find something to catch your eye and the sensor on your camera. I was hoping to use the morning light to my advantage.
That was it for that mornings shooting, once again it was time to return home, to recharge, plan and backup my captures.
The ‘great’ British weather was again against me according to the weather forecasters, it was to be dull and overcast. I don’t know about you, but when I see these conditions and want to shoot with the camera, I think ‘minimalist mono’. So that was my plan. I headed up to the North Somerset coast with the idea of doing some mono long exposure shots of the old disused Birnbeck Pier at Weston-Super-Mare. However, as much as I tried I just could not get inspired by this location; perhaps it was too dull? I had already thought of a back up plan, so I moved on to Burnham-on-Sea and its much captured, still in use, Low ‘Stilt’ Lighthouse. When the tide is right it looks exceptionally good just sat above the sea. I hoped the light quality of the evening would improve a little…
Well guess what? It did! In fact as I was shooting here, a gap opened up in the overcast conditions and gave me some wonderful light and colours.
It was time to head home again, but I did so with a contented smile on my face. I had some great shots so far and was loving using the camera.
Day 4 – Dartmoor Various and St Agnes = 262 miles and 15hrs Camera and Travel Time.
There was to be no amazing sunrise on the Monday. This made me start the last day of my challenge/adventures up on the moors again. Dartmoor has such a great variety of places to shoot. I headed to Venford Reservoir to visit a lovely waterfall on its outlet stream. As Venford Brook winds its way down the valley that has been dammed above, to create its namesake reservoir, it cascades and tumbles over some lovely features.
The rest of the morning on Dartmoor was spent casing out some future locations and also dabbling in a little ‘abstract trees’ moment. In one of my photo art moments I found some lovely illuminated trees, perfect for a style of image I like to produce.
It was my final day with the Sony A7II, I had to finish well. After another pit stop back at my base I choose once again to spend that evening on the North Cornish Coast. This evening it was to be Wheal Cotes and the abandoned tin mines and buildings. Wheal Coates is near the very nice village of St Agnes, a popular place for both those local to, and visiting, Cornwall. I grabbed a proper Cornish Pasty and other refreshments. Well, “When in Rome…” I thought and settled down to see what the evening’s conditions would bring. It soon became apparent that I was not going to get an amazing sunset with the wonderful colours of day 1 and Land’s End. It was, despite that, still a striking evening; the turquoise and blues of the sea were looking amazing and the clouds were zooming by above. It was time to get creative with the filters and the shutter times.
My 4 days were complete, but have I done enough? I had travelled 943 miles, seen 4 sunsets and 3 sunrises, roughly 2000 lightning strikes, and visited 3 counties. I had spent 52 hours in total travelling and taking pictures, stayed up for 1 whole night, consumed at least 10 cans of energy drink, and, let’s not forget, eaten 1 Cornish pasty, near a tin mine where they are alleged to have been invented for the miners. I know I was lucky with the conditions, and I would hope I have produced some top class photography. The Sony Alpha 7II was as good as I expected it to be, a pleasure to work with. Now I just need to do it all again with a Sony A7rII!