I’m opening up today’s post with a few final photos from last week’s photography course at Lee Abbey. All of these were taken last Thursday, on the final full day of the course. This is Lee Bay from the rear of Lee Abbey. It’s wonderful to look out on this view every day when you come down for an early morning cuppa.
Here is a seat in the grounds of Lee Abbey, where you can relax. They chose the right email address for general enquiries: it’s relax AT leeabbey DOT org DOT uk. (I am not being paid for all this promotion of the place! I have simply been there five or six times over the years, and it is one of my favourite ‘thin places‘ in the world.)
I spent Thursday afternoon in Lynton and Lynmouth. I took the Cliff Railway down from the former to the latter. It is another reason why I would like to take Debbie and the children there. We did visit the area for a few hours one day some years ago when Rebekah was tiny and we were on holiday elsewhere in North Devon, but I think the kids would love an attraction like this. Especially since at the bottom in Lynmouth there are some great shops for clotted cream (Debbie would love that) and clotted cream ice cream (we’d all love that). Not only that, there is a fish restaurant that sends the most wonderful aroma into the local atmosphere.
Lynmouth itself is small, but pretty. There is a river which runs through the town and out into the Bristol Channel, as depicted here. I also caught various scenes of the river flowing under bridges and houses and hôtels built on the steep bank between the river at the bottom at Lynton at the top.
But at this point, I think I’m going to leave my memories of the Lee Abbey trip, at least so far as the blog is concerned. I might have wished for further ‘input’ on the course in terms of some theological reflection or some further inspiration on technique (although it was specifically advertised as not being a ‘technique’ course), but overall I am glad I went.
On finally tonight to some personal news from today. I wrote in January about an out-patient appointment regarding my nose and sinuses, then earlier this month about the CT scan I subsequently had. Well, today was the follow-up appointment. I agreed to have the surgery, called septoplasty. It will happen some time in the next three months, involve an overnight stay in hospital and two weeks off work. The scan also showed some information I need to relay to my dentist, because the surgeon quite thought my sinuses were being interfered with by a tooth on the right of my mouth!
I got back from Lee Abbey last night. As I expected, there was no Internet access, let alone wifi, for guests, but the place is as beautiful and spiritual as ever.
Setting off on Monday morning after the school run, the weather got progressively poorer the further west I drove. The most direct approach to Lynton and the Valley of the Rocks where Lee Abbey is situated requires slogging along the A39 and tackling two 25% (1 in 4 in old money) hills, one at Porlock, the other at Lynmouth. The latter is also combined with a hairpin bend. I chickened out, looking forward to a drive instead across the rugged beauty of Exmoor.
What a mistake. As the rain increased, I found myself driving through low cloud, in fog-like conditions. The 1 in 4s would have been less problematic!
After an initial welcome on Monday night (and my by now customary poor first night’s sleep – this time waking at 4 am and not slumbering again), the course kicked off on Tuesday morning. Our leader was Paul Judson, communications officer for Durham Diocese and editor of their online newspaper. A trained artist and photographer, he is ordained and married to a vicar. His theme, based on the Emmaus Road story, was ‘And their eyes were opened’. Each day, he took a theme from a Paul Gauguin painting and gave us just a few thoughts to set our fingers twitching on our shutters.
So it was that on Tuesday I walked down from the back of Lee Abbey to the rocky cove at Lee Bay, shooting whatever I fancied, and inspired to look more closely at some features. I found some surprising features.
Here, for example, is a collection of stones I liked on the beach. I didn’t move them about or do anything fancy with filters either on the camera or in software, they just looked like this and I found the arrangement appealing. I hope you do, too.
And I liked the colours here, too. This branch and the green net appeared to have been washed up in the bay. What had made the wood go orange, I wondered? I’m sure there is a simple answer, but again, I have applied no digital trickery to the shot. This is more or less just how I saw it.
But whatever I say about the lack of any software manipulation, I hit a severe problem that night when I reviewed my shots for the day on the laptop. A couple of marks that I could see in the viewfinder, and which I had thought were just dirt there, appeared in every photo. I didn’t have any blower, brush or lens cloth with me (and I knew it wasn’t a lens issue, because they appeared regardless of the lens I was using). I borrowed a blower and a brush from someone else the next day, but didn’t think I’d got rid of them. Someone else kindly offered to lend me his laptop that had the latest and greatest Photoshop CS4 on it.
I was rather nervous about playing with such high powered and exalted software, and explored other solutions – although I felt at one point like jacking in the course and coming home, because I thought all my pictures were going to be ruined. I thought that especially when I also noticed that shots from Rebekah’s birthday party last Saturday had also been afflicted. Debbie suggested on the phone that since that party had been at a pottery painting studio, maybe clay dust had got into the camera. That would have explained the difficulty in removing the dust, because it would have been more moist. Worse, given the lime component in clay, such dust could have been a nasty irritant inside the camera. The friend who loaned me the blower and brush found an advert in a magazine for Colchester Camera Repairs, and suggested I visit them on my return.
Meanwhile, leafing through my Nikon manual, I thought I had found a solution. I had never installed the accompanying Nikon Capture software. The manual said that if I took a reference shot of white in RAW format and took all other shots in RAW, then the software could compare the two and remove the blemishes. It wouldn’t solve Tuesday’s photos, which I had shot as JPGs, but I could prevent problems with future pictures. So I installed it onto the laptop from the CD. Problem: it needed to be version 4.3 or later, and Nikon had kindly only given me 4.2.
So I thought that on Wednesday, I would drive into Lynton with the laptop, install mobile broadband and download an update. Problem – big one: mobile broadband was so slow that the update would never have completely downloaded before my laptop battery would have expired. I gave up, and decided I’d download when I got home.
Meanwhile on Wednesday afternoon, Paul gave a lecture on using Photoshop. Now Photoshop is far too expensive for us, although we have Photoshop Elements 6 on the desktop here at home. I didn’t have the latter on my laptop for licensing reasons, but as Paul talked about the ‘clone tool’ that will take a colour from somewhere in a photo and apply it over something you want to remove, I wondered whether I had anything like that in any of the free or open source software I had put on the laptop.
Step forward to the rescue, The GIMP 2.6.4 and IrfanView 4.23! Both have such a tool. I removed the marks from all of Tuesday and last Saturday’s images. You wouldn’t know now they’ve had a problem. And although I said I hadn’t engaged in digital trickery for the photos above, both of them were doctored with The GIMP’s clone tool to remove two blemishes.
Maanwhile, none of Wednesday’s pics seemed to have the marks on them at all. So maybe my friend Sedge’s blower and brush had worked, after all.
More on Lee Abbey in tomorrow’s post.