Druids and Viewpoint

Twice a year I get an invitation from The Druid Order through the post inviting me to their Equinox celebrations, and although I’ve now seen them a number of times both at Tower Hill in Spring and on Primrose Hill in Autumn, I still like to go. Its an interesting spectacle to watch and still presents a challenge to photograph, even more of a challenge to try and produce different photographs of. I’m not sure I succeeded in that second aspect this time.

D700, 16-35mm at 16mm, f9 1/320 ISO 640

Primrose Hill is certainly the more spectacular of the two locations, with the green grass a better surface and the distant view of London. Tower Hill has its historical associations, but the Tower is a little distant and the closer buildings uninspiring. In some past years they used to process some distance through city streets which had some visual possibilities, lessened now as they emerge from the church hall next door.

I also have my suspicions that the ancient druid rites may well have been very different to these rather dry and solemn occasions. Probably a much more bloody and drunken orgy than these carefully scripted routines following the book. But the ceremonies doubtless satisfy those who take part in them and surely encapsulate some truths about the relationship between us and the planet we live on that are essential to the future of the species. We have to respect the earth, not desecrate it, and to be aware of our relationships with nature.

D700, 16-35mm at 16mm, f9 1/320 ISO 640

This is one of the very few occasions on which I screw anything into the tripod socket on any of my cameras. I hate tripods. I’ve never found one that really suited me – either too heavy to carry any distance or too flimsy and short to be of much use. If I could afford an assistant to carry the tripod (and much more usefully in London, the umbrella) I might think differently, but probably not. Tripods get in the way and slow you down. I’d rather lose the imperceptible scintilla of sharpness in the odd image than use one. Most of my images are at least sharp enough.

D800E, 18-105 at 25mm (37mm equiv)  f14 1/800 ISO 800

I had to use one when I photographed the multiple image panoramas for the ‘Secret Gardens of St John’s Wood’ as it was essential to get the lens nodal point in virtually the same place for all of the exposures. Though I messed up the only ones I screwed the camera in place for, and generally worked just by resting my hand supporting the lens at the correct place on the tripod plate. I used one – a solid Manfrotto – for some of my film panoramics too, particularly with the expensive Widelux which had no viewfinder or spirit level, but soon abandoned it with relief once I was working with the cheap Horizon that came with both.

But for this occasion, what I took to Primrose Hill was a monopod. It’s relatively light but still won’t fit into my camera bag, which is a pain. I put it across the top of the contents and close the cover and it stays there until I open the bag to get something out and forget it’s there, and then it isn’t any more. Fortunately I’ve yet to drop it anywhere completely unretrievable.

Also in my camera bag is a long cable release, an electronic thing that fits into the fancy socket on the front left of the camera. I did experiment with a cable-less release, with a little box in the hotshoe plugged into the same socket and another with an aerial in my hand, but it seemed more fuss for this job.

The monopod screws into the tripod socket on the base of the camera, or rather it should, but I have a strap that screws in there, with its socket that I always forget and screw the monopod into instead. What I should do is unscrew the strap – and then use the quick release built into the strap to remove it from the camera – before screwing in the monopod.

In use it makes no difference, but when you come to remove the monopod, it comes off the camera with the strap, leaving the camera hanging from the other end of the strap only, and it takes a mole wrench to separate the monopod from the other end of the strap. Unless your assistant carries a mole wrench (if you have either) your only recourse is to screw the monopod back in and keep working with one attached to you camera. Which I did.

D800E 16mm fisheye, f16 1/1000 ISO 800

The purpose of this is to photograph the circle from a high viewpoint, particularly with the fisheye 16mm lens. But holding the camera high above your head you can’t see through the viewfinder. Live view puts the image on the rear screen, but it’s almost invisible from below with the sky reflected in the glass. The Nikons have a ‘virtual horizon’ feature which is a little more visible and I sometimes try to use, looking for a green line. But it still isn’t easy to see

It really is a problem trying to keep the camera level – and necessary unless you want a curved horizon. What I mean to take with me but always forget is a plumb line which ought to solve that problem. Until I do so I will just have to rely on guess work and taking quite a few exposures in the hope that some will be ok.

It isn’t too easy either to keep the camera pointing in exactly the correct direction, working very close to the circle even with the very wide angle of the fisheye.

Of course there are high-tech solutions to the problem. With the Fuji cameras I have an app that lets me control the camera and see the viewfinder image on my phone, which I might try another time. But I think I would need a cradle of some sort to fix the phone onto the monopod or to grow a third hand (or that assistant again.)  Perhaps better still would be a drone, though I’m unsure how well that would go down with the druids, especially were I to fly over the druids, and it adds another level of complexity. It would probably need to be used at a greater height, and I think the kind of view I’m getting from monopod level is probably the most interesting.

D800E 16mm fisheye, f16 1/1000 ISO 800

But perhaps I’ve already done enough on these druid ceremonies, and if I wanted to take the work further should look at it in some very different way. Though that – like the drone – is probably something I’ll leave to others.

D800E 18-105 at 42mm (63mm equiv) f13 1/640 ISO800

There are more pictures on My London Diary, in Druids on Primrose Hill and as usual the images, apart from the one on the ‘month’ page with the text are posted there in more or less the order in which they were taken, and are my attempt as usual to try and tell the story mainly through images, though some words of explanation are necessary to go with them. There are a few captions, but there just aren’t enough hours in the day for me to do this as well as I would like.  As you may appreciate it  is now less than a month to the winter solstice and I’m only now on this blog writing about the equinox.

I’ve included exposure details, though they don’t have a great deal of meaning. All were probably taken on P setting and with -0.3 stops exposure compensation. All on pattern metering, with probably all on autofocus. Generally the camera does it at least as well as I could, though I occasionally make changes when time allows.


My London Diary : Buildings of London : River Lea/Lee Valley : London’s Industrial Heritage

All photographs on this and my other sites, unless otherwise stated, are taken by and copyright of Peter Marshall, and are available for reproduction or can be bought as prints.

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