Well 2016 has gone already and we are a full month into 2017, belated though it is, it’s about time I did a short 2016 summary, especially after the rewarding year I’ve had. I am blessed with many great things, mostly in my family life but also in work which results in very limited time for photography but we can’t always have everything. I certainly can’t complain though as my photography journey through 2016 has been epic. It goes without saying that we will inevitably improve with experience but I can honestly say that this past year has been like a breath of fresh air with regards to my photography development. Not just the technical side and post processing but also in my appreciation and understanding of photography as an expressive art.
Half of my year was spent outside of the UK in the South Atlantic Falkland Islands, so photography back home has taken a bit of a back seat while I enjoy some quality family time. Therefore this summary will predominantly be a summary of the six months spent in the southern hemisphere; including the images that have a very special place in my heart from there and one since returning home.
Six months on the islands that inspired me to join the forces was pretty much a childhood dream come true. It’s a place I’ve always wanted to go to since I was a child reading about the war in 1982. I’ve never been one for hot weather, in fact I’m quite the opposite I prefer colder climates and with a serious lack of decent winter conditions here in the UK over recent years I was confident of finally getting those iconic wintery mountain landscape shots. How wrong was I!!! The weather throughout the majority of my time there was mild to say the least, there was the odd snow shower here and there but due to the very high winds and changing conditions it rarely lasted more than a morning. I think it has been recorded as the mildest winter there in over 50 years (law of sod!). However the wind itself was like nothing I’ve ever experienced before; I even witnessed a large commercial metal weely bin tumble across a car park and it was full. So you can but imagine how bad it would have been on the hill tops. In fact the wind was more likely to cause road closures than snow and ice. With the unseasonably mild weather it seemed for a very long time that I would never get the snowy landscape shot that I was after.
What I didn’t expect to see but was very grateful for none the less was the milky way, with the passing of each stormy weather front there was often a very clear sky and due to the lack of light pollution it made for stunning night skies. It was a great opportunity to practice something that certainly wouldn’t be easy, maybe not even possible here in Essex. Capturing the milky way was relatively easy, getting anything interesting in the foreground was nigh on impossible; due to the location and time of year the milky way was practically overhead during the times I had available. It resulted in a post processing first for me in the form of my first composite. To be honest it left me with mixed feelings but in all honesty there wasn’t any other way apart from staying out the whole night which I just wasn’t equipped for.
The beach that was relatively accessible regardless of the weather was always a good backup when the roads were closed or transport was scarce. I had many great walks at either end of the day following the Commerson’s Dolphins along the surf or rather them following me, showing off riding the waves. I never really got any great images of them not portfolio standard anyway, but the memories will never fade. I also experienced a quiet moment in the vicinity of a large Variable Hawk on returning to my Land Rover. I definitely didn’t have the right lens (or the right light) to do this justice but yet again very memorable.
Several more trips up into the hills and battlefields that surrounded Port Stanley proved fruitless other than experiencing the very humbling reality of just how harsh it must have been to fight those battles over such relentless terrain. The amount of debris left over from the war was quite interesting, none more so than finding a bottle of foot powder that was still useable 34 years later AND it was past it’s shelf life when it was issued for use. It was actually bottled before I was born.
Nearly every trip to Stanley resulted in a visit to a little café known as ‘Shorty’s’ and in Shorty’s was Shorty’s naughty corner with the most amazing selection of specialised cheese cakes. Often I couldn’t decide on just one so ended up with a take out too. Bags of morale after hours in the cold winds.
I literally couldn’t believe my luck when I got the chance to join a South Atlantic Survey flight around the island of South Georgia for which I have already written a blog post so I won't expand on it here. It was an amazing experience and resulted in one of my images being shortlisted for Outdoor Photographer Of The Year (OPOTY), again a huge highlight and satisfying achievement for 2016. This left me on cloud nine for quite a while, at least until the second round of judging.
In the last week of my time there I was just starting to admit defeat on the snowy landscape front when I set of in the dark towards Stanley with yet another clear dark sky not a single cloud anywhere to be seen. Rather despondent I carried on regardless. My head torch picked out the many rocks as I snaked my way through the climb up the short incline to a spur that I had recced via the map. The problem with head torches is you only tend to see what’s in the beam and not what is ahead of it. So when I saw the first few snow flakes falling I was totally taken by surprise. The weather can change so quickly in that part of the world it literally came out of nowhere. Before I knew it I was rushing to get my full waterproofs on but that didn’t seem enough because with the snow came the wind and it was literally a white out for five minutes. I had to huddle down between some rocks to shelter myself as it blew over horizontally. I even had to turn the head torch off again because the light reflecting off the falling snow made it harder to see.
When the snow finally cleared I looked up to see twilight over the horizon behind Stanley with clouds appearing in the sky over the scene in front of me and a very nice carpet of snow surrounding a perfect foreground pond. It was like a parting gift from the islands, a reward for my efforts and determination. Certainly my most memorable moment of the time I had there. It literally made my trip and I was elated. But then the pressure was on to capture it and do it justice. I was on a huge high for the journey back and even pulled over to make myself a fresh brew by the side of the road and take in the amazing white scenery. As is always the way in this remote part of the world, practically every car that passed stopped to check if I needed assistance; I got a few strange looks. To be fair though not many people just stop in the middle of nowhere to get the stove out and make a nice cup of Yorkshire Tea.
I returned from the Falklands with a huge smile and great confidence in my technical abilities but even more so in my post processing. It was an all round amazing experience and it did my photography the world of good. However since I've returned, time with family has been priority and I've had very few trips out with my camera. My first trip to Southwold in Suffolk was probably the most successful resulting in a great sunrise which was nice after the long drive, but that was about it photography wise for the year 2016.
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