About Rachael

Photography enthusiast.

Wave monsters

newhaven waves 2


This winter, I have managed to make it down to the coast at least once almost every week. We’ve had some big seas and interesting light, but not at the same time. Until this Tuesday, that is…

wave monsters-8

Horned monster

High tide and winds whipped up the surf, creating wave monsters backlit by rays bursting through low clouds.

wave monsters-6

No hands!

What a thrill! One of the best photoshoots I’ve had for a while.

wave monsters-5

White horses

Like most Brits, I am half-obsessed with the sea; if I could only photograph one thing for the rest of my life, it would be the sea.

wave monsters-11


I live in a landlocked county but, happily, the coast is an easy day trip away.  Back again next Tuesday!

wave monsters-4


For the curious, these images were all taken in Newhaven, East Sussex with a shutter speed of 1/800 to freeze the waves.

wave monsters-2


I hope you enjoy meeting my wave creatures.

wave monsters-3


“My soul is full of longing
for the secret of the sea,
and the heart of the great ocean
sends a thrilling pulse through me.”

-Henry Wadsworth Longfellow 

A new year, yet another new start

When I first started this blog, back in April 2012, I had a particular reason.  An injury meant that I was not able to get out with my camera to make new images.  Blogging gave me an outlet for my frustrated creativity and a new lease of life for images I had already taken.  Nearly 4 years later and the injury is still troublesome, but I have learned to live with it.  The brain is amazingly good at learning to live with things, even pain. The problem no longer stops me doing what I want and what I want hasn’t changed – I still love (am obsessed with) photography.

misty minimal picture from Venice

‘Five’: Venice

As I slowly returned to making new images, this blog became more and more sporadic. In the end, I will always choose to go out with my camera rather than spend time at the computer.  That is not going to change, but I would like to see if I can combine the two more effectively.  So I have signed up for Blogging 101 with good intentions.

Norwegian landsape

Still morning, Hamnøya, Lofoten Islands

Perhaps paradoxically, since starting a photography blog, I have obtained a Masters Degree in Victorian Literature and Art from the University of London. Yes, I like to read and write! Accordingly, I never intended Focused Moments to be a picture-of-the-day kind of blog. (Nothing wrong with those, by the way, just not what I intended.) Looking back at the early days, I see the posts that were most enthusiastically received usually had plenty of words as well as images.  A good example is my article about the relationship between photography and mindfulness.  So I plan to make time for more posts like that. I am also interested in exploring how the literature I enjoy and have studied may influence the images I make.



Standard blogging advice is to write about oneself, to ‘make it personal’. I am not so sure about that. I am quite a private person and this is a public blog. The images will always be the heart of Focused Moments; I hope they are more interesting than me! Nonetheless, there are aspects of my photographic life that might merit more exploration. I enjoy exhibiting and have already written about some of my experiences in that area. Some readers want to know more about other things, my role as a camera club judge, for example, or what it is like to lead photography workshops. More on those, and other ‘stories’, will follow.

wey navigation

Frost on the Wey

2015 was an epic year for me photographically. I hope that 2016 will be equally exciting and, if any of you share at least part of the adventure with me here at Focused Moments, this blog will have succeeded. It is up to me, now, to make it worth your time.


Aurora over Skagsanden


Chalk and sea

One of the clients on my most recent workshop pointed out to me that it has been a long time since the last post on this blog! Shame on me!  So here’s a little summary of what I have been up to in the last few weeks, and some of my latest images.

desert island

Priory Bay, Isle of Wight

In my last post, I shared some pictures from Birling Gap, and I have been back there, as well as other locations nearby, a few times since.  My eye seems to be particularly drawn to chalk cliffs at the moment. Having been brought up on the south coast, they are very much the landscape of my youth and I now enjoy rediscovering them with my camera.

Seven Sisters evening

Seven sisters at dusk

While beguilingly beautiful, the South coast can also be dangerous, as I was reminded on one of my recent trips to Birling Gap.  I was, fortunately, standing out on the sand at low tide, when a huge chunk of the cliff came crashing down. No-one was hurt although there was a group of very shocked foreign students on the beach at the time. It was a sobering sight and, from now on, I will be more careful about heeding warnings not to stray too close to the cliffs.


Seven Sisters

Last week, I spent a few days in another chalky place, the Isle of Wight. Although the weather was trying, to say the least, there were some moments of good light and, let’s face it, it’s hard not to get a picture when at the coast.  It will take me a while to get through all the images I took, but here are a few ‘tasters’.

In other news, I was delighted to find out that one of my pictures has been selected for inclusion in the Outdoor Photographer of the Year book.  It is a year since I first submitted work to Outdoor Photography Magazine, easily my favourite photography publication. Since then, the magazine has published several of my images and commissioned a short article.  I have been bowled over by the enthusiasm and support I have received from them.

Fistral 1

Fistral beach – selected for Outdoor Photographer of the Year book

Regular readers will already be familiar with the work of my friend Jenifer Bunnett, who continues to be a great pal and enthusiastic companion on our photographic expeditions.  If you haven’t seen her work before, you can access her website by clicking on her name above.  I have also recently enjoyed outings with two other photographers, Sarah Medway and Lorraine Heaysmon, both committed landscape shooters with impressive portfolios. Photography can be a solitary activity and, while I really enjoy that solitude, it is also nice sometimes to share the adventure.

tog on the shore

A capture of Jen capturing a seascape on the Isle of Wight

My spare time (what spare time?) continues to be filled with judging at Surrey camera clubs and giving talks.  I recently presented a new talk,  ‘From Canal to Coast’ to Guildford Photographic Society which was well-received.  As a judge I am obliged also to compete in camera club competitions, which is fair enough when you think about it.  So, last month, I was pleased to win the Best Image trophy at Surrey Photographic Association’s 2015 Open Print competition.  I have shared the picture here before but I think a second airing is justified.


Of course, this is also the main season for f11 Workshops and we have had some great days out with our clients.  Our last workshop of the year was in West Sussex and, although the weather seemed determined to be gloomy, our persistence was eventually rewarded with some really special light.  My business partner, Tony Antoniou, and I will not make our own images when leading workshops, so I have no picture to share, but I have seen a few of our clients’ shots and am glad to say they did it justice.

east head sunset 2

The location of our workshop, but taken on another occasion.

Finally, Jen and I have had a couple of productive meetings about our pro bono project with the Basingstoke Canal and there will hopefully be some big developments on that front in the near future.

Phew! What a busy few weeks it has been!  What has been your best photographic adventure so far this winter?  Feel free to share in the comments below. :)

Birling Gap

birling gap pastels
I have spent the last two Tuesdays at Birling Gap in the South Downs National Park.
Gentle shore
Although I love discovering new locations, there is also a joy in revisiting known places.incoming tideThe light is always different, the seasons and weather change and, at the coast there is always the added variable of tides. chalk and pastels_The first Tuesday, a low tide revealed sand that reflected the cliffs and interesting sky:jen at birling gapOn my return this week, the tide was shallow, never uncovering the sand.  This created a very different mood:
Birling Gap 2I grew up in this part of the country so photography trips to the South Downs National Park always feel like a coming home.  seascape
The chalk-based landscape is really quite special and, at Birling Gap, I love the way grey rocks sit on the chalky base below the white cliffs…
chalky sea 2 …and the chalk makes the sea bright against a stormy sky.  chalky seaI am heading down to Sussex again tomorrow.  As always, I hope for interesting light.  But I know that I will enjoy this beautiful place no matter what the weather brings.

NiSi filter review, part II

Last week, I shared my first impressions of a filter system that NiSi had asked me to test. As promised, here is the second part, with my experiences of using the individual filters. NiSi sent me three slot-in ND (neutral density) filters: a .9 (3-stop) soft grad, a .9 reverse grad and a 10-stop long exposure filter.

I was particularly looking forward to trying out the reverse grad, as this is one filter I did not already have in my kit. This filter has its darkest area in the middle and is useful for sunrise and sunset shots when the brightest part of the scene is on the horizon. I headed down to Selsey for dawn at the RNLI Lifeboat Station. The first shot below was taken without using filters.


No filters.

The foreground is too dark because I have exposed to make sure the highlights aren’t blown. The dynamic range is just too high for a really nice even exposure straight out of camera without using filters. So I reached for the stalwart of my existing filter kit, the .6 (2-stop) hard grad.


.6 hard grad.

Now the sky is darker and the foreground lighter but it still doesn’t look right and the horizon and the light area of sea near it are close to being overexposed. This is where the reverse grad comes into its own.


NiSi reverse grad.

The exposure looks more balanced across the whole image, even though the sun has now appeared over the horizon.

I know some photographers like to create the effect of graduated filters in Lightroom. Personally, I much prefer to achieve a balanced exposure in camera. I don’t like sitting at a desk so I want to get as close as I can to the final image while I am out in the landscape. I will tweak exposure in Lightroom, but I prefer to start from a RAW file as close to the finished result as I can. I also enjoy the process; using filters forces one to slow down, encouraging a deliberation that often results in better images overall.

Yes, it is true that image quality can be degraded the more layers of glass or resin you put in front of the lens, just as it can the more you change it in post-production. This is why it is important to choose really good quality filters.  I was impressed with the quality of NiSi’s filters.  They are made from glass rather than resin. While this makes them easier to break if you are clumsy, they are also easier to clean. Speaking of cleaning, NiSi also sent me this nifty little device:


It comes with changeable ‘heads’, slips easily into pockets and cleans filters brilliantly. My only suggestion for NiSi would be to consider making one with a round head so that it is easier to clean into the edges of the polariser.

Back to the filters.  While I was at Selsey, I decided to take the 10-stop filter out for a spin and this is what I got:

BS, rev

NiSi 10-stop ND filter and reverse grad.

The filter slots very closely into the filter holder (see review part I for more information on the holder), which is useful for those photographers who have problems with light leaks. Unlike my existing Big-Stopper, the foam on NiSi’s is cut so that it must be inserted the right way up. Avoid my mistake; as I am used to using a 10-stop that is symmetrical, I absent-mindedly forced the NiSi filter in the wrong way round and the foam came unstuck from the glass.

One of the oft-cited drawbacks of extreme long exposure filters is that they tend to introduce a colour cast.  It hasn’t bothered me particularly as I adjust the white balance in camera to allow for it.  However, I know it is an issue for some, so I was interested to compare NiSi’s colour cast with that of my old faithful LEE Big Stopper. My next location was that great favourite of landscape photographers, Dungeness. As the sun set behind me, it was casting a warm glow over some fishing boats.  I set my white balance to daylight and got started. First, a shot using just the polariser:

no bs


Next, I used LEE’s Big Stopper.  You can see that the image has cooled down considerably:


Polariser and LEE Big Stopper.

Being a fan of blue, I quite like the look, but for those seeking verisimilitude, it’s a drawback.  So I was interested to see what NiSi’s 10-stop filter would look like:

nisi bs

Polaiser and NiSi 10-stop.

As you can see the colours are much closer to the original scene.  Other tests have confirmed that there is a warming cast with NiSi’s 10-stop filter (see below), but it is slight.

The third filter NiSi lent me is a .9 (3-stop) soft grad.  I will admit straight away that I rarely use soft grads. Most of my landscape locations suit a hard grad.  On my workshops, I sometimes encounter people who have only invested in soft grads because they imagine that hard grads will leave a hard line across all but the flattest horizons.  In fact, this is not the case and there is a drawback with soft grads in that the change is so gradual they do not actually offer much stopping power overall, making them less useful for balancing exposures. Having said that, woodland is one situation where a soft grad can be useful, so I popped down to one of my local woods and a favourite set of beech trees.

In the first shot, taken without filters, the brighter area to the right of the scene is overexposed.

trees straight

No filters.

I added the circular polarizer, which effected a subtle improvement to the exposure and also boosted the colours.

trees cp


Finally, I inserted the soft grad diagonally across the top right corner; this improved the exposure without affecting the darker parts of the image too much. The effect is subtle, as soft grads always are, but it is still significant.

trees soft

Polariser and .9 soft grad.

Graduated filters are not only for balancing exposures; they can also be a creative choice.  For example, when faced with a dull sky, I sometimes like to use a soft grad to add a subtle gradient to the top, to hold the image in.  In this next and final set of before and after shots, taken at Winchelsea Beach, the first is taken using just the polariser:

winchelsea straight


I then added the 10-stop filter and soft grad at an angle to darken the top and draw the eye to the area where the light was hitting the bottom of the posts.  You can also see the slight warming effect that I mentioned above.

Polariser, 10-stop and .9 soft grad.

I have really enjoyed using NiSi’s filter system. NiSi’s filters are a high-quality product, firmly placing them among other manufacturers at the pro/enthusiast end of the market.  For me, the real joy of the system is the way they have incorporated the polariser into the lens adapter ring (see part 1 of this review). It is a pleasure to use and even after I had taken the images I needed for this review, I still found myself reaching into my bag for the NiSi kit.

Focused Moments, the exhibition

A5 flyer side 1

It is a year and 5 exhibitions since I decided to shift the focus of my photography towards the fine art side of things.  This time last year I was exhibiting a series of Surrey landscapes in a joint exhibition with my shooting buddy, Jenifer Bunnett, at The Lightbox in Woking. Then, in March, we showed some of the images from that exhibition alongside new local landscapes in ‘A Certain Slant of Light’ at the Guildford Institute. In August, I hung a panel in ‘Light on the Land’ at the Mall Galleries, and in September, five black and white pictures in ‘Mistresses of Light’ at the Oxo Tower.  It was a lot of work, and the learning curve was steep, but it was also great fun.  However, the climax of all this has to be my first solo exhibition, ‘Focused Moments’, currently showing at Arté Gallery in Weybridge.

exhibition bio

I needed a lot of images for this exhibition and I wanted to make sure I could offer something for all budgets and also remain true to my own style.  I must have spent a small fortune (I daren’t add it up!) trying different papers and framing options.  In the end, I went with three fine art papers in simple black frames and a few prints on aluminium.  I also decided to have two special books made for visitors to browse.  On the advice of the gallery owners, I have made these available as limited editions, and they seem to be going down well.

arte exhibition space

There is something really rewarding about filling a gallery. I have hung 60 images of which most are new pictures, taken in the last year, but there are some going back as far as 2009.  When planning the hanging in this intriguing space with several different surfaces, it helped to create groups of images that worked together and then it was relatively easy to decide the order of the groups so that the exhibition flowed.  I say easy – it still took us two full days to finish hanging the show!

arte exhibition pv

Of course, there had to be a party.  Many thanks to local lettings agents, Martin & Wheatley for sponsoring the opening.  In a bout of last-minute nerves, I worried that no-one would come, but I needn’t have fretted. In the end, the event was buzzing, and we sold seven prints and two of my limited edition books during the course of the evening. Phew!


I think it’s important to be present at an exhibition as much as possible; people like to be able to talk to the exhibitor.  I have had many interesting conversations at the gallery this week, some with old friends and some with new. And today I got to show my Dad around, which was really special.

arte 1

If you have ever thought of trying something like this, I heartily recommend it.  The experience has been amazing – exhausting, but amazing.  It’s nice to sell, but even if I had sold nothing, it would still have been worth it.  Many thanks to Mike and Sally at Arté Gallery for allowing me to bring my work into their lovely space, to my friend, Sam, for all the fetching, carrying and coffee and to my daughter, Maggie, for her excellent work as server and photographer at the private view.  I couldn’t have done it without you!