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Featured Photo - Winter's Morning at Penmon Point

Featured Photo - Winter's Morning at Penmon Point

Do I come here often?

The famous 'senior moment' chat up line, and also a relevant question to ask me about this place.

The brief answer is 'yes!' Penmon Point, on the south eastern tip of the island of Anglesey in North Wales, is one of my favourite places to visit, and not just for photography.

I live about an hour and a half's drive from Penmon, and usually make two or three visits a year to this spot. Even the drive from my house in Mold to Penmon is filled with visual delights as the A55 sweeps along the coast at Colwyn Bay, goes around the dramatic cliffs at Penmaenmawr and then over the bridge onto Anglesey. The road to Penmon then leads you past the suspension bridge over the Menai Straights, through Beaumaris with its castle and onto Penmon. As you approach Penmon Point you pass through a monastery as well, so by the time you reach the actual location you've already experienced a sensory feast!

Dawn is definately the best time to be here, as you usually have the place to yourself and can experience the tranquility that comes from listening to the waves breaking on the rocks, the cry of the seabirds, the smell of the salt and seaweed. For me it's a place to sit and soak in the peace, pray and watch as the dawn light tracks across the sky, tingeing the high clouds with the first streaks of pink that herald the approach of the sun. Of all the places that I photograph regularly, Penmon is the one that affects me most deeply while I'm there, so, of course, I keep coming back!

What about this photo?

I normally photograph at Penmon during the two weeks either side of the summer solstice. That is so I can get there, photograph through sunrise (4.45a.m.) and leave around 6a.m. so I can get to work for 8a.m. Around the summer solstice the sun rises in the northeast, which means it pops up from behind Puffin Island which you can see in the background on this photo. This gives rise to some dramatic skies over the lighthouse but once the sun has risen it's game over for taking pictures in this direction.

However, on this occasion, which was in the middle of winter, I'd booked a day's holiday from work so was under no time constraints. Sunrise was at the much more amenable time of 8.20a.m., but more importantly at this time of winter the sun rises to the southeast, at about 90 degrees to the direction I wanted to photograph in. This gives lovely sidelighting to the lighthouse and Puffin Island, both of which end up as sillhouettes when photographed in the height of summer.

Another advantage to winter photography at this latitude is that the angle of the sun above the horizon is less than 30 degrees all day, which means that the light is always coming from a shallow angle which highlights textures and forms in the landscape that would be obliterated by harsh overhead light during the summer months. Add to that a good dose of dramatic clouds and occasional rain squalls and you've got great conditions for landscape photography.

Path the eye takes around the image

On the morning of this visit I took over 100 images with a variety of compositions, tide states, lighting effects, cloud formations and wave patterns. Photographing at the coast is great as so many things can change over a short period of time. I love the dynamic nature of coastal photography, and I love being able to shoot as much as I like in digital. A far cry from my days of shooting film when I could only afford a couple of rolls a month. (Click here for more info on my photographic past.) Of all the images I took there are about four that I would say express something of the feel of the place, with this one being the strongest in terms of content, composition, lighting and emotion. I especially like the way the old rough path leads the eye through the image, past beds of seaweed and round a rockpool up to the lighthouse, which is the focal point of the photo. The eye is then free to take in the clouds and finally come to rest on the island in the background before returning to the start of the path again.

Camera set up

To take this image I used my Canon 5D digital full frame camera, fitted with a 17-40mm f4 'L' series Canon zoom lens used at 17mm focal length.
Aperture was f16, exposure was 1/5 second and ISO rating was 100. File format was RAW, to allow for maximum post processing latitude.
A Lee 0.9 (3 stop) neutral density graduated filter was fitted to hold back exposure in the sky and lighthouse.
The camera was firmly rooted to a Manfrotto Magfibre tripod, with mirror lockup enabled and a cable release fitted to minimise vibrations.

Image processing

To me, this image looks deceptively straightforward, but in reality it was anything but straightforward to process from the original raw file to the final image.

If you check out how I organise my workflow you'll know that I use Photoshop .psd master files with multiple layers to produce my final images. Well the master file for this image has 15 separate layers, which is a lot for me!

I had to make two conversions of the raw file at different exposure settings in order to prevent blowout of the highlights on the lighthouse and to preserve shadow detail in the seaweed beds. These two conversions were blended together using layer masks rather than HDR.

I then busted a gut trying to make the image work in colour. I very rarely convert to black and white but in this case the colours in the original image just weren't adding anything to the feel of the photo. In fact, they were detracting from the emotional content I was trying to portray. I tried targetted hue and saturation adjustments but to no avail, so in the end out of sheer desperation I added a monochrome channel mixer ajustment layer and WOW! All of a sudden the image came alive and spoke to me. A few tweaks on the channels (heavy on the red, light on the blue) and I had my final image!

Original RAW image file Colour version Final black and white version