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Apr 13th 2015

A recent photography workshop that Lizzie & I led on the Kent & East Sussex coast offered up some pretty challenging weather.  The light is always fleeting in these circumstances but when it comes it usually comes good.

Following my return home it was obvious from the crunching in my Gitzo tripod legs that some serious cleaning would be required so I’ve put together my tripod cleaning tips later in this post.

Lizzie and I ran the tour together as part of our Tripod Travels venture and we took our group to a variety of locations to practice composition and location searching and looking at how to capture light on the various subjects.

A recce the day before our guests arrived offered some good, bright back lighting. Although high-ish and out of frame, the light casts shadows on the foreground grass that help draw us into the scene as subtle lead in lines. Coupled with a long exposure to emphasise the movement in the grass it captures the experience of being there nicely.

With a strong wind for most of the weekend I knew the gear would take a bit of a buffeting, especially as we spent some time on Camber Sands where a spectacular dune system offers some excellent potential for creative photographs.

We also went to Fairfield Church and Dungeness where very low, heavy cloud inspired me to use a multi flash lighting rig so we could use our own light to photograph the shacks and boats. 

This must be the most photographed abandoned shack in England...but I've never seen it lit with external, wirelessly triggered remote flashes before and the group really enjoyed seeing how this technique can be used to lift a landscape shot where the ambient light is so dark and flat.  EOS 5DMKIII, 24-70mm f8, ISO 100, 1/200sec, Elinchrom Skyport trigger, EX 560 flashes.

This approach is also more innovative than the usual shots we see from this location and was a big hit with the group.  Flash lighting a landscape shot, eh?  Whatever next?!

A more traditional view of the shack shot the day before with heavy cloud moving swiftly across the sky during a long exposure.  I'm a great believer that B&W needs 'good' light as much as colour so the tones in the highlights and shadows lent themselves to this conversion with a touch of infrared applied via the red slider in the B&W adjustment layer in Photoshop.

Back on Camber Sands we enjoyed an exciting transition in a weather front at sunset.  The skies broke up above us and the cloud took on a much moodier texture as it billowed above the dunes carried by the stiff breeze.

Finding a way for the viewer to move through the landscape given they cannot physically do so is my job as a photographer and I like subtle ways to draw the eye into the scene.  The fence is an obvious example here but it was not obvious as the group stood around looking for ideas until I pointed it out and showed them how it could work.  And lets not forget the grass on the left which pushes the eye back into the middle of the shot and upwards on the jourbey from bottom to top.  To borrow a phrase from my conversations with Charlie Waite it's an example of elements "shaking hands" with each other.

I will admit, I did change lenses a few times as I moved up the beach with our group shooting and tackling various subjects.  It’s a complete no-no of course but I find if I do it deep inside by camera bag with the back protecting the gear from the wind I can just about get away with it.  I know the horror stories, but I’ve not had a ‘sand in my camera’ bill yet….

Tripod Cleaning

My tripod is a completely different story!  A leg footing came loose and fell off just before the workshop started (after 10 years good service I forgive it) and sand poured into the whole carbon fiber system from every angle.

In addition, the coast (even if you don’t plant your tripod in the sea itself) is a tough, saline, environment to put your kit in so cleaning it after exposing it to this is essential.

I like the Gitzo because I can easily strip it down and reassemble it without any screws or nuts and bolts being required; it's all very simple plastic mouldings and carbon fiber that easily click back into place.

I put the whole lot in a bath of warm, soapy water and let it soak for a few minutes.  Then I use a jay cloth to scrub the legs and the various bits ‘n’ bobs that go inside them.  It can take a while but you soon realise it’s time well spent when you see how much crud gets in there…

Yes, all that was inside my tripod...What's lurking in yours, I wonder...?

To clean the inside the legs I have a wire coat hanger that I’ve cut and straightened into a rod.  Then with a pair of pliers I’ve made a small loop at the end so I can thread my cloth into it, like a giant eye of a needle.  With this I can rod inside the legs and remove the grease and debris in there too.

Once I’ve pulled the plug (and cleaned the bath before Mrs Hare comes home…) I set it all out to dry; outside in the summer, on a radiator in the winter.

Before I put it all back together I use some water repellent lubricant spray to coat the whole lot, inside and out.  WD 40 would be the same thing but it’s not as nice to smell or touch.  The stuff I use (GT85) is designed to clean inside cars and perform the same function as WD40 so it’s got a nice smell and does the job of making it all nice and smooth and shiny again.

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