Durham Cathedral – a different view

I’m not a big fan of Chris de Burgh, but he was right when he sang “Timing is Everything” – I feel sure that Henri Cartier-Bresson would agree, the Decisive Moment.  This shot turned out to be about timing in more ways than one.  More after the jump…

As I wrote in my Durham project kick-off post, I’ve been on the lookout for some different views of Durham.  I want to differentiate my images from those which have been taken by other people (as much as I can in a heavily photographed, picturesque place) and I’m aiming for my shots to include:

  1. less common viewpoints of the classic city views (some of which inevitably involve the Cathedral)
  2. more common viewpoints with spectacular lighting
  3. details from the city that are “typically Durham”.

Macro Timing Factors

This shot lives in group 1.  I had already worked out that I needed three factors to coincide for me to be able to get the shot:

  1. Early sun just after sunrise
  2. Not being on my weekday commute
  3. Not having another prior commitment

I’ve been watching for an opportunity all summer and one recent Sunday morning the three fell into place.  I took my chance.

Micro Timing Factors

My viewpoint was New Elvet Bridge (grid reference NZ276425), looking approximately south-west over Old Elvet Bridge and up to the Cathedral tower.  I arrived at sunrise and found the precise position I wanted to shoot from, framed my shot and set everything up – camera in portrait orientation on tripod, spirit level in place and checked, remote release in place, camera settings chosen and checked.  Then I waited for the light.

It turned out that although there wasn’t much cloud (as forecast), most of it was at low level in the east, so for the first 40 minutes or so the light was nothing special.  I noticed that the cloud was moving through pretty quickly on the brisk wind, so I decided to wait.

As the sun started to filter through the thinning cloud, I discovered my next timing issues – I didn’t want people crossing Old Elvet Bridge and rowers or scullers on the river in my shot.  So the next 30 minutes or so consisted of me watching the river, the sides of the bridge and the clouds to try to hit the optimum timing to catch the light without the people in shot.  Sunday morning was probably the ideal time to try this shot as there weren’t many pedestrians around at that time.  I think the scene works well as an autumn subject and with that timing it’s inevitable that there will be rowers on the river around sunrise as the University students are in residence.

I’m glad to say that my patience paid off:

Durham Cathedral - Elvet river view
Durham Cathedral – Elvet river view

You can also see it in the gallery.

At one stage, while a large cloud was passing, I decided to break out the polariser and I’m glad I did because it brought out more detail in the sky and enhanced the colours in the trees.  I was also shooting bracketed sets each time so I could compare my standard shots with a “light” HDR and choose the version I preferred during processing.  I’m trying not to be obsessed with HDR, but my thinking is that if I take the exposures at the time I can decide later.  I’m not going to say which version this is, because I don’t think it’s important – the final result is what matters.

Looking Behind You

Once I had decided that the sun had climbed enough, I packed up most of my gear but kept my camera out.  I had been following my own advice and wanted to capture some of the autumn colour on the banks of the River Wear from the other side of the bridge.  Rowers are such a big part of Durham life that it seemed right to make them a significant part of this shot.  This was my favourite:

River Wear - Autumn rowers
River Wear – Autumn rowers

This may become the main subject for me to shoot another day.