John Webb's windmill

by Alan Godfrey February. 10, 2021 125 views

The biggest boost to date of my photographic journey was joining the local Camera Club. Through Autumn and Winter they run a weekly series of events, competitions, and general get-togethers; but through Spring and Summer they organise a programme of photowalks and activities around the local area to make the most of the (usually) good weather to get out with your camera.

(* which, unfortunately, didn't go ahead through 2020 for obvious reasons *)

I joined the club Summer 2019. One of the first events that I attended was a photowalk around the village of Thaxted, Essex. It was timed so that we arrived in the early evening, explored around the village itself for an hour, and then aimed to get to the main focal point - John Webb's windmill - just before sunset.

Despite living relatively nearby, I had never been to Thaxted before and hadn't seen this windmill or the surrounding area; so beyond turning up prepared to take a nice photograph, I hadn't thought any more about the image that I would take.

However, the minute that I arrived and saw the field of wheat lying in front, with tractor trails sweeping up and down, I could visualise what I wanted. That hasn't happened often to me. Most of the images that I take are captured in the moment and very rarely do I picture what I want first. I know that this will come more, the better I get.

If I recall, I had been reading an article about leading lines earlier in the week, so it's no surprise this immediately came to mind.

John Webb's windmill, Thaxted, Essex. Bishop's Stortford Camera Club Photo of the Month, June 2019.

John Webb's windmill, Thaxted, Essex. Bishop's Stortford Camera Club Photo of the Month, June 2019.

Having visualised what I wanted, it became my sole focus. I was a man possessed.

Conscious of being respectful of the location, and the farmer who's field I would be stepping in to, I sought out the entry and exit points of the tractor trails to avoid jumping through the wheat itself. These turned out to be at the bottom of the field, down a moderate slope. With the sun setting rapidly, camera in hand, I raced down the hill and back up to find the right location for this shot.

There is something about the fact that I had pre-visualised the image, and had to actually work for it, that adds to the personal value and makes this one of my favourite shots to date. I was also thrilled to win the club's "Photo of the Month" with it, which was a delight so soon after having joined!

As is often the case, I revisit images that I have taken at a later date and on reflection occasionally re-edit or adjust images with the benefit of hindsight.

In particular with this image, I can't completely make my mind up on the composition. The image above is in 3x2 ratio, with the windmill centred, and the horizon at the top third.

In the below image, taken seconds early, I have opted for a panorama, with the horizon splitting the image in half, and the windmill on the right third. I can't get over the empty space on the left and the tractor trails leading to nothing - but otherwise for some reason I think I prefer it ...

John Webb's windmill, Thaxted, Essex. June 2019.

John Webb's windmill, Thaxted, Essex. June 2019.

Those leading lines - the tractor trails that had me so excited at the time - are in hindsight my main frustration with the ultimate image. They are so nearly right, but at the same time not ... they lead 'almost' to the windmill, but not quite, and yet draw the eye out of the image to nothing on the left.

Not much that could have been done really - but perhaps on another day at another time I'd be able to improve on the composition and find a better place to stand. This is why you get to know your local area and return to a location again and again isn't it?


As alluded to above, I'd like to return to this location on more occasions - not just to seek out new compositions and angles; but to take the scene in a variety of seasons and weather conditions. It would be good practice if nothing else.

These images were taken handheld (and out of breath!). They don't show it, which is pleasing, but at the same time a tripod for a future session would help to slow me down and allow me to work on composition further.

Both images were taken with a full-frame Canon EOS 6D and EF 24-105mm f/4L lens @ 24mm, and at ISO 100 and I am pleased with the resulting quality.

The first image was taken 1/80 sec at f/5.6; the second 1/10 sec at f/11.0.

Considering they were taken seconds apart (with the second image taken first...) I can see that I've tried to keep ISO at the best setting and use f/11.0 for the best chance of front-to-back sharpness with the wheat and windmill; but been worried that the slow shutter speed would result in camera shake, so pulled back to f/5.6.

Since I wasn't crouching low into the wheat, I needn't have worried. At 24mm I was always going to get good sharpness through the frame provided I focused properly. If anything, it shows my instincts to make sure the shutter speed was fast enough was the right one.

Ultimately, for once, not particularly critical of my camera settings here, and a reminder to bring a tripod with me in future!

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