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Sabbatical, Day 56: Catching Up On Photography At Lee Abbey

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. 


Stones at Lee Bay

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.


Colourful branch washed up at Lee Bay

Colourful branch washed up at Lee Bay

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.

Sabbatical, Day 3

“Yes!” shouted Rebekah, hurtling her fist into the air as if into orbit.

There would be no school for a second day running. I had checked the BBC Essex website at 7:30 this morning. The children’s school appeared in the long list of those shut again today.

Even Mark was happy. Yesterday, Rebekah had been thrilled not to go to school, but Mark – ever the self-motivated swot at four years old – had been disappointed. Today, however, he was pleased. “I can play in the snow again,” he said, contentedly.

And that pleased me. So often he is like me. In my youth, I barely had a childhood, I was so serious. If Mark were actually learning to enjoy play, then that had to be a good thing.

Not such a good thing for my sabbatical studies, though. After sending a parcel back at the Post Office (we thought we were getting a bargain on a Wii console from Price-Drop TV but no, it was only accessories) and buying Buttercup Infant at the pharmacy, I joined the rest of the family at the Green for more fun in the snow. Debbie knew how to get me there: bring your camera, she said. Well, that would be better than yesterday’s frozen extremities.

It went well. I’ve uploaded a few photos to my Facebook profile for those of you who are ‘friends’ on FB, albeit without cropping or any other shenanigans in Photoshop Elements.

Mark on his sledge tray, 3rd February 2009

Mark on his sledge tray, 3rd February 2009

Not only that, Rebekah got invited back to our next door neighbour’s house for several hours. Result! 

So mid-afternoon, I got back to typing up my thoughts on The Starfish And The Spider. I felt rather tired, though, and even now around 9:30 pm I still haven’t finished. I’m at 2500 words, which all the more means that when I post this on the blog, it will be in a series of chunks.

Meanwhile, I’m wondering about the weather and the next few days. Today was supposed to be three or four degrees above freezing, but little of the snow has melted. There is still a lot of snow that has been compacted to ice underfoot. In particular, I’m not just looking at the five-day forecast for Chelmsford, but for the Peak District too. I’m due to be at Cliff College next week for a course. It starts at 9:15 am next Monday, and I’m hoping to travel on Sunday and stay overnight at the college beforehand. So far, I’ve emailed once and phoned twice but still not got it set up. But I hope the weather will have subsided sufficiently by then to make the journey viable. I shall need to take a fair amount of stuff with me, making a public transport journey impractical. dsc_0062

Anyway, the good news is that the school will be back open tomorrow, so I hope for fewer distractions then, apart from our weekly Tesco delivery. I’ve just sent in our order via the wonderful My Supermarket site. It allows you to compare prices with other online supermarket delivery services. You can easily check the cheapest version of the goods you want to buy. Also, you can find recommendations for lower calorie versions of your desired food. If they only added a tab to search out fair trade items, it would be near-perfect.

Anyway, that’s my shopping tip for the day, which is hardly the reason anybody reads this blog. So I think I’ll sign off and say, “See you tomorrow.”

Deo volente, of course.