Tuesday, 22 March 2016

Sunday, 23 August 2015

Reflections on my 30 days photohiking the Thames Path - both ways

In September 2013 I set out to photohike The Thames Path. As with my previous photohike along the full length of the Cotswold Way my aims were twofold - to satisfy my enjoyment of hiking for outdoor exercise and whilst doing so to seek photographs for my personal portfolio. And again, as with the Cotswold Way, both have been amply fulfilled.


My favourite image
When I hike for my photography I almost always do so alone, unless it's with another photographer with whom there's a mutual understanding of the unpredictable stop-start nature of the hike. Imagine the frustration for a non-photohiking companion when I suddenly stop to explore one more photographic possibility and don't get back to hiking again for, say, 45 minutes. It suits me to hike just one day at a time - not on consecutive days staying overnight on route - so my photohiking days are often separated by 2 or 3 weeks. Hiking alone raises another matter, what to do at the end of the day about getting home. I solve this simply by hiking out from my start point for about half a day, then hiking back to the day's start point, where I left my car. This has one huge benefit for me as a photographer ... I get to see the route in the opposite direction, at a later time of the day, in different lighting, often in different weather, and in a different state of mind. It surprised me when I first did this to find that often the return hike was, photographically, more productive. One of the disadvantages of having to travel to each day's starting point in the early morning and then home again in the evening is that often some of the best lighting for photography is shortly before and after dawn and dusk. At the start of the path I had an hour's journey each way whilst at the London end it was 2.5 to 3 hours each way. So, almost every day's hike (there were a couple of exceptions) was in full daylight, so missing out on the 'Golden Hours'.

In December 2013 we had almost unprecedented rainfall in southern England giving rise to dramatic flooding in many areas, including along much of the shallow wide Thames Valley. This put paid to hiking for several months due, initially, to the path being well under water, and then latterly by impossibly thick sticky mud as everything slowly dried out. Add to that some other personal commitments around the time the path became walkable meant that after my first 5 hiking days I then had a break of 9 months before resuming for 25 more. It was good to get back to it.

I thoroughly enjoyed the hiking and photography right from the start until I reached the outskirts of London where the Thames Path became very urban with long stretches dominated by residential properties which are of little photographic interest to me. Prior to that, whilst there were obviously many (shorter) stretches through urban areas, such as Reading and Oxford, they didn't have the effect of dulling my photographic instincts. The rural nature of the first 150 miles of the path was where I felt most comfortable photographically, but perhaps that was too easy and a challenge of the unfamiliar was called for. The outer London stretch as far as Westminster was difficult, but, from there to the end at the Thames Barrier was an eye opener. Perhaps it was helped by my having recently acquired a 70-200mm zoom for my Sony A7II providing me with a new angle on my imaging. In 50 years of photography this is the first time I've had a lens longer than 135mm (and that was last used many years ago). The last 15-ish miles was a fascinating mix of things to photograph, from the benign of the riverside parks, through fascinating political, historic and industrial landscape, to the street entertainers and food stalls to attract tourists on the South Bank.

After hiking the Cotswold Way in 2009 I noted some statistics from the project. Here are some from this project, but this time I'm able to make a comparison which reflects the changes that have taken place in my own photography over the last 6 years. [TP – Thames Path; CW – Cotswold Way]


  • TP : 386 miles over 30 days of walking – 13 miles per day – ranging from 6 to 16.
  • CW: 204 miles over 23 days of walking – 8.8 miles per day – ranging from 4 to 14.


  • TP: 30 days of walking over 100 weeks – averaged 1 walk every 3.3 weeks.
  • CW: 23 days of walking over 24 weeks – averaged 1 walk per week.


  • TP: Average of 6 hours per day walking – averaged 2 mph (including all stops).
  • CW: Average of 7 hours per day walking – averaged 1.25 mph (including all stops).


  • TP: Exposed 0 B&W negatives – 0 per day.
  • CW: Exposed 113 B&W negatives – 4.9 per day.


  • TP: 93 B&W images published in the blog – average of 3.1 per day.
  • CW: 53 B&W images published in the blog – average of 2.3 per day.


  • TP: Exposed approximately 7000 digital photographs – average of 230 per day.
  • CW: Exposed 1133 colour digi-snaps – average of 49 per day.


  • TP: 101 colour digital photographs published in the blog – average of 3.4 per day.
  • CW: 60 colour digi-snaps published in the blog – average of 2.6 per day.


  • TP: 3400 miles driving – an average of about 130 miles per day + 4 return train journeys.
  • CW: 1500 miles driving – an average of about 65 miles per day.

The obvious differences are almost all accounted for by my transition from photographing with a large format 5x4 field camera with monochrome film to using an APS-C DSLR digital camera to now using a full frame mirrorless digital camera. Everything is now far lighter weight and much faster to make exposures allowing more time to contemplate image making and, if required, to cover longer distances hiking with far less back and knee ache! Digital technology has progressed to the point where all of the debate between film and digital has been won hands down by digital. Some disagree, but for me it's over.

Digital technologies have encouraged my exploration of colour photography, but not at the expense of abandoning black and white image making. I do both with only the image suggesting its treatment. I'm no admirer of the over-saturated treatments of images which are now so common, so all of my colour images are reasonably close to how the scene actually appeared. On the other hand, I do love totally desaturated images, i.e. monochrome.

I’ve devised a type of image manipulation that I call a Symmetrograph. Each one is derived wholly from a single image file. A few of them derived from Thames Path images are included in my blog but my statistics (above) exclude them – they’re just a bit of fun.

Occasionally I'm asked if I'm doing my photography to document the Thames Path. The question is usually asked to see if I'm doing a sort of travel guide. What interests me personally is not related at all to place but to shape, form, texture, contrast, juxtaposition, ambiguity. And there's no commercial angle to it; it's all for my own personal interest and enjoyment. So, not a documentary. I seek out anything that interests me, and, as evidenced by the images I've published in this blog, very few of them give any hint that I've been hiking by The Thames.

So, was it all worth it? Most certainly, yes.
Steve Gledhill 
My website is at www.virtuallygrey.co.uk 
My photoblog is at www.virtuallygrey.blogspot.co.uk 
My now complete Cotswold Way photo-hiking blog is at www.thecotswoldway.blogspot.co.uk 
On Twitter - my photography - nothing more - @virtuallygrey

Friday, 21 August 2015

Day 30 - 17th August 2015 - Tower Bridge to The Thames Barrier (one way) - THE END

My final day Photohiking The Thames Path was most enjoyable and was dotted with a few photographs that please me. And it was with mixed feelings of satisfaction and relief to have now completed the project I started 23 months previously. I started hiking around midday at Tower Bridge getting to the end at The Barrier at around 5:30. I then treated myself to a ride on a Thames Clipper to Westminster - to see at least a short part of the Thames from mid stream rather than the embankments - where I met my son (who works in London) for a meal. A good day all round.

I’ll make one final post here in a week or two in which I’ll reflect on what I’ve done, on what I’ve achieved, and what I might do for my next photographic project - besides the one or two that are already in progress.


Click on any image to see full size views of the day's set of images. 
Steve Gledhill 
My website is at www.virtuallygrey.co.uk 
My photoblog is at www.virtuallygrey.blogspot.co.uk 
My now complete Cotswold Way photo-hiking blog is at www.thecotswoldway.blogspot.co.uk 
On Twitter - my photography - nothing more - @virtuallygrey

Start of the last day ...
Shard
Shard and Tower Bridge
Lock Controls
Cutty Sark on exit from Greenwich Foot Tunnel
Cutty Sark and Reflected Southern Greenwich Foot Tunnel Exit Dome
Derelict Crowley's Wharf
The Thames Barrier - The End - I
The Thames Barrier - The End - II

Wednesday, 12 August 2015

Day 29 - 8th August 2015 - Westminster to Tower Bridge (one way)


In the same way that the south bank offers amazing variety, the north bank between Westminster and Tower Bridge does too, but it's different in character altogether to the opposite side of the river. There are several of the same types of photographable things as on the south bank but additionally there are many more historic buildings juxtaposed with modern office blocks and interesting cross river views. This day's set of photographs is very different to my usual 'natural' subjects, largely comprised of buildings or other man made structures. I'm particularly pleased with "Life by the River". I spent about 3 hours dawdling between Westminster and Tower bridges, and in that time I achieved by far my highest success rate in terms of photographs-that-please-me-per-mile on the whole of The Thames Path!
Click on any image to see full size views of the day's set of images. 

The Wheel and The Sphinx
Keep Out!
Life by the River
Bridges and Steps
Blackfriars Railway Bridge
St Pauls & the Millennium Bridge
Quercus Rubra
Reflecting Panes


Tower Bridge, The Shard and Girl with a Dolphin

The Shard

Tuesday, 11 August 2015

Day 28 - 7th August 2015 - The Thames Barrier to Westminster (one way)

The 12 mile south bank stretch between Westminster and The Thames Barrier is utterly different in character to everything upstream. Part industry, part housing, part derelict land, part building site, part entertainment venue, part sports arena, part farm, plus restaurants, theatres, street entertainers, art galleries, bars and pubs galore, a superb riverside shellfish stall, and so much more as the river widens substantially on its route to the open sea. And all of that is without looking towards the river! So, much of this is rather new to my lifelong primary focus on landscapes. But, it was a delightful and welcome change to what had become for me somewhat tedious over the previous few hiking days. I found all sorts of different images, several of which are, as usual, included below. I've not, however, been tempted by 'street photography' even though the opportunities are boundless. So, people tend not to be present in most of my work even though the summer crowds, particularly between Tower Bridge and Westminster are dense and hard to avoid.
Click on any image to see full size views of the day's set of images. 
Time!
Mind the Cranes
'The' Shopping Trolley
Quintin Lake has also photographed this when he hiked the whole of the Thames Path - see here.
Muddy Clouds

Green Rope
The Walkie Talkie Tower, The Cheese Grater, The Gherkin and HMS Belfast

Notes on the final stretch from Westminster to The Thames Barrier

I had planned to complete the final 12 mile stretch (24 miles total for the both ways that I hike) on two consecutive days (7th and 8th August). The 7th would have seen me hike from the Thames Barrier to Westminster along the South Bank and the 8th making the return trip along the North Bank to complete my ‘Photohiking The Thames Path’ project. And in one final post here I planned to record those two days. But after the first day on the 7th I concluded that my poor feet wouldn’t take kindly to another 15 miles. Although the distance is nominally about 12 miles each way, after all of the minor detours and too-ing and fro-ing it’s actually around 15 miles. So on the 8th I hiked just a short section from Westminster to Tower Bridge. Ironically this short stretch turned out to be very slow due to its being highly productive of photographs … and it would have made a return all the way to finish at The Thames Barrier a very long day. So, I still have one final day’s hike from Tower Bridge to The Thames Barrier which I’ll complete in the next week or two. After this post there will be four more - one for each of the three hiking days, and a final one summarising the whole trip. And maybe in a few weeks just one further entry, if, that is, my planned self published photography book “Photohiking The Thames Path - Kemble to Kemble via London” looks good enough. The post from the 7th and 8th will appear within a day or two.

Friday, 17 July 2015

Day 27 - 15th July 2015 - Wandsworth Bridge to Westminster

After a short delay whilst I’ve been getting over a strained back I’m now eager to complete this project. Throughout the day I felt somewhat disheartened about the images I was finding - to the point where at the end I imagined that I had nothing to show for the day’s hike. It’s an uncomfortable feeling when I’d anticipated from the start nearly 2 years ago that I’d find something to show for every single day that I hiked. I anticipated a hard time when I uploaded my files to my iMac. So, I was more than pleased that as I looked through and then worked on the images of the day I found, much to surprise - and huge relief - that I had several that I am very pleased with. I even have one where there are people within the frame … something that almost never happens for me! Two more days will see me through to the end of the project when I reach the Thames Barrier.
Click on any image to see full size views of the day's set of images.

Swan Bench
Eroded Steps
Houses of Parliament, Post Office Tower, and Sturgeon
Underpass
?
Water on Marble
Angelica
Plywood
Pigeon Netting
Way Out