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Introduction

This post marks the the start of a brand new project “Explore the River Thames” and it’s the first in what will be a series of posts documenting my progress through this endeavour.

In another project I shoot cityscapes in London. However, I’ve done a fair few and inspiration for new images has started to become difficult. Now I could continue to bemoan the situation but rather than get stressed about it, I thought it better to have a break and think of something new. And so was born a new idea, let’s explore the River Thames! My intention is to document the more interesting and beautiful areas. Starting in the upper reaches, I intend to work my way down river to London and meet up with my cityscape project again.

Lechlade on Thames

Lechlade on Thames is a small village on the edge of the Cotswolds in Gloucestershire close to the Oxfordshire border. I ventured just south of Lechlade to St Johns Lock which is the farthest upstream lock on the River Thames. Just downstream is a charming footbridge I’d seen on Google images while researching my trip and it was this that attracted me to the area. The intention is to shoot during golden hour. (Golden hour is the hour before sunset or the hour after sunrise.)

I arrived in the afternoon at about 4.30pm and had time to kill so I took a few snapshots by the lock for an hour or so. I then made my way to the footbridge to have a look, but then went back to my car to get a jumper as the temperature was dropping. The beauty of this venue is that parking is easy and within 5 minutes walk. I’m glad I went back for my jumper as I noticed the light under the nearby road bridge and decided this was worth a shot. It was tricky as the foliage around the bank didn’t allow me much room and I had to lean out towards the river while holding onto a not very substantial tree. I had to do this several times before I could nail the shot one handed and in fear of falling in and ruining my camera, never mind about drowning. 🙂 Anyway, that was bonus image No 1.

Distant Steeple
Distant Steeple

Challenges

Donned jumper and made my way back to the footbridge to set up. There was a breeze blowing causing a ripple on the water in front of me which I didn’t like much. With camera on tripod, I tried a polariser in an attempt to remove the glare from the water but it made no difference, so instead I attached a little stopper (6 stop filter) which allowed me a much longer exposure to smooth out the ripples. I also set up bracketing as the horizon was obscured by trees and I felt a graduated filter may not be a good solution.

This presented a bit of a challenge as I wanted to capture a boat going under the bridge, and that would not work so well with this set up. That is because a moving boat would be motion blurred during a long exposure with a filter in place, and bracketing would be a hindrance too. Having given it some thought, my solution was to be prepared to quickly switch off bracketing and remove my filter (it’s a square filter kit held on by a thumbscrew, so not too difficult or time consuming). Then I can take separate shots of a boat and composite that with the longer exposure shots later in software.  As long as I was careful and didn’t move the camera on it’s tripod, then it should all work out and that was the plan.

Next thing the sun decided to hide behind a large cloud and I could not tell if it would re-appear before sunset. All of a sudden a couple in a small row boat appeared, so I quickly  took off my filter, switched off bracketing and started shooting. I waved and said hello as they sailed by. As it turned out that was the last boat I see that day, there was not to be a second chance, so I’m very happy I got that shot. Even though the light was flat, it was no matter, the direction of light was right and the shadows from the trees meant the highlights and shadows would match the direction of light from the sun should it re-appear.

And the waiting game begins. I wait for the sun to appear so I can capture the scene bathed in golden hour light. Then I look at the big cloud in front of the sun, and wait and wait some more. I start to get a little frustrated thinking, “I’ve made these plans, I’ve looked at the weather forecast, I’ve made this journey, all this effort and I could be going home empty handed”. I’m reminded of Thomas Heaton, a very inspirational Landscape Photographer who posts regularly on YouTube. He documents his adventures and they don’t always go as planned, he shows his disappointments and well as his good days, he keeps it real. I’m grateful for remembering that, and swear I could hear him say, “that’s landscape photography for you”. Check him out here, you won’t be disappointed.

Anyway, the low sun is threatening to break through the large and annoying cloud, I check to see if I’m casting a shadow? No! Oh wait, is that a faint shadow? No! This goes on and on for a bit and then then suddenly, like the sound of Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture, the sun burst through the cloud in splendid glory. It’s 8.30pm, bang in the middle of golden hour, the scene comes alive, I shoot and it’s perfect. Then more good news, the breeze has dropped and I notice the ripples have settled to reveal some compelling reflections.  There’s no need for long exposures so I remove my filter and take a few more shots. After getting home I’m able to composite the image together in Photoshop.

Row row row your boat
Row row row your boat

Well that was the end of a successful day, but there is more. But first I’d just like to take a moment to tell you that I learn much from some quality photographers on YouTube. There’s a top guy who shows screen-casts of his Lightroom skills. He has inspired me to make an image from what was a rather dull looking snapshot of this bridge from a completely different viewpoint. It has a touch of Led Zeppelin about it and that’s bonus image No. 2. But that’s a story for another day and it will feature in my next post.

Thanks for reading and would love to hear from you, so please feel free to leave a comment below….