Originally posted on The New Sylva:
Today – by chance World Book Day – the first bound copy of The New Sylva arrived in the author’s hands from Bloomsbury Publishing.
It is a strange emotion unwrapping and viewing for the first time the fruit of several years labour. A mixture of joy and pleasure, immense satisfaction, and a real sense that something has finally been achieved. It seems a good time also to reflect on how many people have supported Sarah and I in bringing this book to reality.
February 1, 2014
I will be speaking alongside co-author Sarah Simblet about the making of The New Sylva at the Oxford Literary Festival on 26th March
Originally posted on The New Sylva:
Both authors, Gabriel Hemery and Sarah Simblet, will be talking about the creation of The New Sylva at the Oxford Literary Festival.
The event is scheduled for 2pm on Wednesday 26th March. Full details have yet to be announced but will published on the Oxford Literary Festival website soon.
I’ve been enjoying some experimentation with night photography, focussing on my usual subjects of trees. The techniques are new to me and I’ve got lots to learn but nevertheless, I’m pleased enough with progress to share a few recent shots with readers.
Essential equipment for night photography is a camera that allows some creative control over images. Many compact cameras include night sky settings and these can work well. For more creativity however, a camera that allows you set shutter speed, aperture and film sensitivity is preferred. This usually means a DSLR or a micro four thirds (MFT) camera, such as the one I use. A tripod is essential to hold the camera still for long exposures. A shutter release cable or remote control will allow you avoid camera shake when you take the pictures. Most importantly a fully-charged battery and empty memory card are essential pre-trip checks. Make sure you wrap up warm and take a couple of torches: one for seeing where you’re walking, and a tiny penlight to help you see the camera settings.
Part of the fun of night photography is the technical uncertainty in terms of what works and doesn’t. Generally an ISO of 200-800 works best. Any greater then there will be too much noise or pixelation visible in the image, and it will also be smaller in pixel dimensions (meaning you can’t enlarge it quite so much on your wall!). A large aperture will allow as much light to enter the camera as possible, and this is where ‘fast’ lenses come into their own. Any lens with f2.0 or less is a great boon to night photography. It is the subject of shutter speeds where things get more complicated, as the results vary with focal length. If you want to capture stars as single points of light rather than dashes, usually an exposure of about ten seconds or less is necessary. The greater the focal length of a lens the more the star will move during the exposure – e.g. the star will move more with a 400mm than a 200mm lens. Before any reader feels tempted to correct me, note that the star doesn’t move but the Earth does, but it’s easier to envisage the former! A last note on shutter speeds: stars nearest the North Star (Polaris) in the northern hemisphere will ‘move’ less across the frame less than those further away. Finally, turn off autofocus – if the moon is present or a distant lit object, focus manually on it before turning your attention to the nightsky.
Allow your imagination to run free and you are likely to come up with some unusual and stunning images. Even travelling to your chosen destination for the shoot offers possibilities.
For photographing stars a moon-free night is best as the stars will be clearer. Clouds can also spoil plans although sometimes light wispy clouds scudding across a long-exposed image can add dramatic effects. The best locations are those well away from light pollution. Luckily for the tree photographer, many forests offer some of the best locations. Even close to towns and cities, shooting nightskies within a woodland can reduce some light pollution from low on the horizon. In December last year, 1500 km2 of Northumberland, including Kielder Forest, was designed a Dark Sky Park (see below), offering ideal conditions for night photography in the natural environment.
I explained above that exposures longer than about 10-15 seconds result in dashes for stars, rather than single points of light. You can see this effect in the 25sec exposure in the image of the Beech trees and nightsky (click to enlarge). If you wish to exploit this for dramatic effect you can leave the shutter open for long periods, even several hours, to create star trails. An alternative is to take many separate images and stack these together to form a single image. If each image is taken quickly enough following the previous image, then it has the same effect as a long exposure but without some of its disadvantages. For instance, a long exposure could be ruined by a low-flying aircraft, car headlights from a nearby road, or worse still, if your battery dies before the shot is complete the image will not be shared. This is an artform in its own right and one that I’m only just beginning to enjoy. I will save a fuller explanation for another time, perhaps when I have more experience.
There are many inspiring example of night photography available with a simple Google search, and I’ve lots to learn still. I’d love to hear from you if you’re an avid night photographer, and feel free to critique my images.
More of my tree photography and images can be found at www.theTreePhotographer.com
Wishing all my readers a happy and fruitful 2014.
New Year’s day was pretty grey and miserable in rural Oxfordshire. The forecast for this morning however was good, so I woke at dawn and visited a nearby landmark. Having planned beforehand using the Photographer’s Ephemeris, I headed straight to a predetermined location where I knew that the sun would rise directly above a prominent stand of beech trees. This image is one of a number taken in landscape and portrait as the sun rose.
You can see more of my photography at www.thetreephotographer.com
Late in 2013 I went on a pilgrimage to Sayes Court, at Deptford in East London. I have become familiar with the voice John Evelyn while I researched his major work Sylva, in readiness for my own book The New Sylva, to be published by Bloomsbury in April 2014. My book concentrates on Evelyn’s influence on the management of trees for the forest and orchard, and given the great scope of these subjects, I did not have space to dwell much on another of Evelyn’s great achievements: his gardens at Sayes Court. I thought it fitting to visit the place that he made his home on return to London after leaving the country during the English Civil War, and which made him a celebrated name in seventeenth century London.
A brief history
During the Interregnum, Evelyn travelled Europe, settling longest in Paris where he met Mary Browne, daughter and heir of Sir Richard Browne; English ambassador to the court of France. He married Mary in 1647, and four years later in 1651 Evelyn returned to Britain to live at the Browne family home, Sayes Court, opposite the Royal dockyards at Deptford.
Evelyn obtained a 99 year lease on the property from Charles II, and transformed the gardens into one of the most celebrated and influential gardens of the seventeenth century. It included miles of hedges, an ornamental lake with an island, a summer-house, orchards, terraces and avenues. The people of London flocked to visit.
In 1694, Evelyn left Sayes Court to move back to his ancestral home at Wotton in Surrey. Thereafter, a series of tenants soon led to the demise of the spectacular gardens. The first, Captain Benbow who took a three-year lease on the property, caused Evelyn to write in his diary: “the mortification of seeing everyday much of my former labours and expenses there impairing”. But worse was yet to come. Tsar Peter I of Russia was lent Sayes Court by William III for just three months and such was the dereliction caused by his tenancy, that the Treasury had to pay compensation.
The garden was broken up during the 18th century. Late on in the 19th century, Octavia Hill was approached by William John Evelyn (1822-1908), hoping that the property could be owned by the public. Together with Robert Hunter, she went on to form the National Trust but unfortunately its formation came too late to protect their inspiration; Sayes Court.
During the twentieth century a large part of the site was purchased by the War Department and bombs fell nearby, including a V-1 flying bomb, which destroyed a nearby Victorian terrace. After the second world war a part of the site was redesigned as a children’s playground including a swimming pool.
Sayes Court today
A tiny fragment of Evelyn’s original garden survives today at Sayes Court Garden, in the Borough of Lewisham. Nearby, despite a ‘protected wharf status’ to other parts of the original site, a Chinese investment holding company has applied for planning permission to build residential and commercial properties. Local people have opposed these plans. In late 2013, the site was added to the World Monuments Fund watchlist for 2014.
Visiting Sayes Court Garden
I travelled via the Thames on the Thames Clipper alighting at Greenwich Pier, next to the National Maritime Museum. From there it is just a one mile (25 minute) walk, heading west along the south bank of the Thames.
Soon, evidence that you are on the right track is apparent as you walk along Evelyn Street. Turning onto Sayes Court Street, the gates of the park become visible in the near distance, while underfoot, great cobbles in the street conjure up times when it would have been busy with people.
I was surprised by the beautifully designed entrance gates to the park from Sayes Court Street, featuring a lovely mulberry stem, leaf and fruit design. Beyond, in the tiny park, some majestic London plane trees dominate.
The park itself is quite well cared for, being clear of litter and not too much sign of dereliction, although the entrance sign had seen better days.
In the centre of the garden is an ancient mulberry tree, surrounded by a circular iron railing fence. Karen Liljenberg’s excellent blog about Sayes Court Garden, includes some specific comments and ideas for the actual origins of the mulberry tree that survives today in the garden. Karen argues that it seems unlikely that the tree is a remnant of the Tsar Peter I of Russia, as legend leads us to believe, as it is he that is largely blamed for the demise of the garden in 1698. Instead I would agree that it is more likely that the mulberry tree is a surviving remnant of Evelyn’s garden (read more). Earlier this year a large stem of the tree broke off (as evident from only recently wilted leaves) – perhaps a dendrochronologist could be persuaded to sample this stem and at least we would find out how old that part of the tree is. Naturally, it is quite possible that the very low main bole is older than all the stems that now grow from it, making the tree difficult to age accurately.
It is well worth visiting the garden, despite its small size and low-key presence. Even though there is not much to see, there is a sense of history, which is much enhanced if a little research has been undertaken before visiting the area. Let’s hope that some of the current ideas for celebrating the great heritage of the site (see more below) come to something.
With thanks to my friend Steve for his inspiration and companionship.
December 14, 2013
Originally posted on The New Sylva:
This week Gabriel Hemery has been at Bloomsbury Publishing in London, going over the final proofreading markup. It was a great to see a dummy of the book, complete with a cover, on the book shelves of Senior Editor Natalie Bellos (nee Hunt) alongside other recently published Bloomsbury works.
A sampler has been produced, which is used to promote the book to the press, book reviewers and others. It includes a few selected sections from the book (Contents, To the Reader, Of the Willow, Of the Hazel, and The Authors), wrapped in the cover and printed at full scale. We hope to show you a copy here soon.