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  • Writer's pictureJoe Low

Me and My Camera - a walk around Netley, Southampton

There are times when even professional photographers find it difficult to just take photographs for themselves. This can be when there is too much work to do, or perhaps 'burn out' affects your mental health. I have recently experienced the latter and thankfully feel I am now coming out the other side of that. Evidence of this was my decision recently to go on a short walk to explore somewhere unfamiliar to me. I thought I would try visiting the 13th century Netley Abbey, which is an English Heritage site. So off I went with a camera, a heavy Nikon long zoom, and a selection of small Voigtlander lenses.

Having parked up, I walked to the site only to find it closed! Apparently the ruin suffered some damage during the recent storms, so remains closed until repairs are completed. On seeing a wood neighbouring the abbey I decided to explore in the hope I might get some sort of shot from there. I was able to find a gap in the trees and took my first shot. It was accompanied with some element of danger, as I had to precariously balance on a large fallen tree trunk, because I had to gain height in order to separate the railings from the building. The railings, together with the tangled web of branches, tell the story of the site's inaccessibility and the black and white image adds drama. Often in life, the things we want are just out of reach!

Retracing my steps back to the road, I then encountered the lychgate to St Edward's Church. This appears to have been built as a memorial to the First World War as it has 1914 and 1919 carved into the structure.

The parish church of St Edward the Confessor was built in 1886, designed by J. D. Sedding who was a known Victorian church architect and he was also an influential figure in the Arts and Crafts movement. The tower separately adjoining the nave provides a strong focal point for the viewer.

The church was locked, so unfortunately I couldn't explore inside. However on close inspection of the exterior I discovered a contemporary small sculpture that had recently been added to the small porch doorway. The sculpture depicts a dove atop a globe of The Earth, and is set into the niche above the door. Being new, it stands out against the weathered and worn Victorian stone. Care had been taken to position the sculpture precisely, so it was disappointing to have a loose wire dangling across the porch detail.

Leaving the church I headed down to the edge of The Solent. My first sight was through some trees of the industrial skyline underneath heavy clouds. Contrasting with this was the bright water, where the dazzling reflections sparkled. This drama of contrasting light is a photographers dream come true, so I wasted no time in turning the long zoom in that direction. Whenever these opportunities occur, seize them, as they are only fleeting.

Making my way closer to the water's edge, I came across a beacon next to the cricket field. Beacons were originally used to send messages from one part of the country to the other. They would appear on top of mountains, church and cathedral towers, castle battlements, along beaches and on cliff tops. They are now used to celebrate events such as Jubilees.

Creating a tight shot on the beacon's basket gives a stronger image. Including the whole height of the beacon would dilute the graphic impact of the image. Also using a longer lens for the shot highlights the industrial background, which would have been lost with a wider angled lens too.

In all that open space I was blown away by the impact of the amazing clouds. By taking a wide shot I could not communicate their full immense splendour. Breath-taking landscapes rarely photograph well as a panorama. How often do you look at a photograph you have taken where the scene was amazing, only to be disappointed by the resulting photograph? By analysing the scene and breaking it down to it's powerful elements, and then photographing those elements, you will end up with stronger photographs.

The other thing that can improve a photo, is to be patient and wait for something to happen. The little boat in this shot just adds some extra value to the image. I like the contrast between the calmness of the water, with the boat serenely cruising along, against the clutter of the chimneys at Fawley oil refinery behind. The clouds above add a pinch of menace, so the viewer has a range of emotions to tap into: calm - clutter - menace. Or it could be: nature - industrialisation - damaged planet. It's up to the viewer to interpret the image in their own way.

The previous shots were all taken looking into the sun, exposing for the highlights of the bright water. This produces high contrast moody images. Turning my camera the other way , with the sun behind me, gave me a nicely lit sunny day image. There were three elements I wanted to get across here. The twisted trees on the right arching over the beach. Secondly, the beach with people enjoying a stroll in the sunshine, and finally the Southampton cityscape in the distance. So the story here is you can escape the city without having to go too far.

Remember what I said earlier about being patient? I caught sight of two people walking their dogs coming along the beach. I had earlier scouted this slipway and marker as a possible shot. So I lined it up ready, and just had to wait until the walkers were on the left so the three elements, (walkers, slipway and marker), were balanced. Note here, how small the chimneys of Fawley are now I'm using a wide angle lens, (30mm).

Replacing the wide angle lens with the telephoto zoom at it's maximum range I took advantage of another boat passing the oil refinery.

Many people on the beach walk along looking for interesting shells or stones. There is such joy to be had from finding a keepsake of nature. The same feeling a photographer gets from capturing moments in time that tell a story.

Southampton is a busy working port. This little sailing dingy is an escape from work and a chance to be far from the madding crowd.

Walk over, and back at my car, I see one last shot to be had looking down Netley high street, again using the long telephoto. Who knows what could be round the next corner?

Please contact me if you would like to reproduce any of these images, or if you would like to order a print for display.

Copyright: Joe Low 2024

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