A Weekend on the Isles of Harris and Lewis

Recently I had a few days free in my diary so took the opportunity to head over to the Outer Hebridean islands of Harris and Lewis to check out various locations which I had previously discussed with my colleague Marcus. Living in Portree on Skye means I only have to drive 20 minutes to Uig where I can catch the ferry over to Tarbert on Harris, which is only a 1 hour 45 minute journey.

I arrived mid afternoon on the Friday and headed straight for the western side of Harris where I knew of a campsite that I could use as my base for the first evening. Before that I decided to do a bit of exploring before sunset which was around 22:30. As I drove along the A859, the main road which goes round Harris and up into Lewis I spotted what could be a nice composition looking down on to Seilebost beach, where there were some lovely curves in the sand, and to top it off two couples walking their dogs on the beach.

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My first main location was Bagh Steinigidh, a small bay which looked like it could work in lots of different conditions and tide heights. When I arrived it was around mid tide with the tide coming in, and there was lots of movement in the water as it came rushing up the beach.

I started by taking several shots of just the beach with the tide coming and going with the island of Taransay in the background, however knew I wanted a stronger composition. I walked round for a minute and watched how the tide interacted with the various rocks on the beach. With the shot below I liked how the tide moved around this huge rock structure and knew an exposure time of around one to two seconds would be ideal to capture this.

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Now, it had been mentioned to me before how much tripods hate Harris and Lewis, in that if you don't come away with the leg sections crunching in some way then you haven't been to the beaches there. Well, within 10 minutes of me capturing images here and as I went to extend the lower sections a bit further, upon closing the twist locks of my Gitzo, all I could hear was the crunching of sand inside. Anyway, I could sort it all out upon my return to Portree where it would be taken apart and cleaned.

My next location would be the beach at Seilebost. Now, thankfully I had no pre-visualised images in my head of what I could get from this location, so went in with a clean slate so to speak. As I headed toward the beach the upper dunes were covered in marram grass, so it was a case of finding a suitable composition. It was quite breezy so the grasses were blowing nicely. I wanted to capture that sense of movement so used a Kase 6 stop ND filter to slow down the exposure time. It was then a case of waiting for the light to appear and hit the land how I wanted it to and make the exposure.

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Down on the beach at Seilebost there are further dunes which have lovely patterns in the sand, and you can probably come here two days in a row and the patterns will most likely be quite different. I found a few compositions I liked, and again it was a case of waiting for the light to come out and cast shadows from the grasses and bring out the colour in the sand.

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It was starting to get late however I wanted to check out the beach at Luskentyre as I had seen many great images from this location. The beach at Luskentyre is vast, however the dunes there are pretty amazing and you could spend many hours exploring them. I didn't get anything that good upon this visit, however I was intending on returning in the morning and explore the area properly; so headed to Horgabost where I would set up camp for the few hours of night before sunrise.

The next morning I headed back to Luskentyre, however it was a bit dull and cloudy upon my arrival. I knew there were some white ponies here, however actually thought there was more than two. I was really hoping to find the ponies either down on the beach, or somewhere among the dunes, however they were not far from the main gate after leaving the parking area. I was able to position myself so that this particular pony had the beach showing in the background along with the island of Taransay in the distance.

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Upon reaching the beach the tide was quite low so I decided to explore the dunes and see what patterns I could find to photograph. 

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After a couple of hours at Luskentyre I decided to head back to the campsite to have some breakfast and take down my tent as I wanted to spend the rest of the day exploring parts of Lewis. My first location on Lewis was the lighthouse at Tiumpan Head. I had never seen photographs from here, so this was more of a scouting trip to see if it could work photographically. Unfortunately the lighthouse was a bit shabby and there wasn't really any compositions I could find up top which would work, so decided to go for a wander down the cliff below. Under the right conditions there are probably shots to be had from here as there is some great rocky shoreline, however the sea has to be agitated enough to warrant taking any photographs, so on this occasion I simply took some record shots.

After getting some lunch in Stornoway I headed toward Traigh Ghearadha (Garry Beach). Less than half a mile from Garry Beach you look down on Tràigh Mhòr (Big Beach), which just looks like a large expanse of sandy beach, however I decided to head down and have a look. Here there are some rather high dunes which could potentially produce some nice images, however knowing I had other locations to check out today I headed straight down to the beach. The beach itself wasn't doing much for me, however over to the left it looked like there could be some potential shots amongst various rocks sticking out of the sand.

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I didn't spend too long here as noticed a bus load of children arriving so knew the beach would be covered in footprints before long. With this I headed back to the car and drove down to Garry Beach. The main feature at this beach are the sea stacks, which at high tide can produce great images. First, I knew I wasn't going to be there at high tide, and secondly, during my visit the winds were coming from the west, and with this beach being on the east it really is a place to visit at sunrise and hopefully along with easterly winds agitating the sea.

As the tide wasn't very high upon my arrival I headed through an arch to see what was on the other side. Here there were some nice rocks sticking out of the sand along with nice textured rock faces to frame images with.

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It was now late afternoon and I had to drive from the eastern side of Lewis, across to the western side to check out the amazing sea stacks at Mangestra, which took over four hours, having stopped again in Stornoway to pick up supplies and stopping off briefly at a couple of locations along the way.

The sea stacks are much more impressive in person and I was lucky to have the westerly winds agitate the sea nicely. Unfortunately on this visit there was no sign of an amazing sunset as there was a lot of cloud and no light, so I decided to make my image black and white.

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After a very long day it was a case of trying to find somewhere to camp near the Calanais Standing Stones, where I wanted to be for sunrise as the forecast was promising. Unfortunately on waking up thirty minutes before sunrise and looking out of my tent the sky was full of cloud and no sign of a break, so I decided to try and get a little more sleep and head to the stones a little later than planned.

This was to be my last full day on Harris and Lewis, so after checking out the standing stones I visited the broch at Dun Carloway and the Gearrannan Blackhouse Village before heading up to the natural sea arch at Stac a' Phris. The coastline up here is pretty amazing, however feeling a bit under the weather after having two rather long days and two nights of next to no sleep, I decided to head straight to the arch, which was around a twenty minute walk from where I parked the car.

Again, there was no light, however thankfully the sea was agitated nicely to produce some nice texture during long exposure shots. After taking the classic landscape composition I wanted to find a composition which I had not seen before. After walking around for a little while I was struck by the striations in the rock which I could use as nice foreground and lead in lines point to the arch in the background.

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I spent the rest of the day heading back down to south Harris, checking out Amhuinnsuidhe Castle along the way, visiting the salt flats at Northton and driving round the easter side before returning to Horgabost for my last night.

My first experience of Harris and Lewis was amazing, I am just ashamed it has taken me this long to visit, what with being on Skye for the past two and a half years. Hopefully I will be able to return before the end of my 2018 season on Skye or early next year when there will hopefully be some good stormy conditions.

Kase mobile phone lenses and tripod review

I first saw the Kase mobile phone lenses at the Photography Show, Birmingham in March. I didn't really get a chance to try them out, however immediately had an interest in them for two main reasons. First, at the Skye Photo Academy we run Phone Camera Workshops, so know these will be great for our customers to use to get some different from the norm shots with their phones. Also, my fiancée prefers taking photographs with her iPhone, and know she will have a lot of fun with them.

So I asked Andy at Kase UK if it would be possible to try the lenses out and do a review on them, and he instantly said 'yes'. He also mentioned that Kase did a tripod for mobile phones, and that he would be able to get hold of one for me to try out alongside the lenses.

Kase currently produce four lenses for mobile phones, a 7.5mm fisheye wich gives a 238° angle of view, a 16mm wide angle, a 10x magnification macro lens and a 65mm telephoto lens. When purchased as a kit, the lenses are stored inside a single zip closure case, whilst when purchased separately, each lense is stored in its own zip closure case. The lenses screw on to a clamp which then attaches to your phone, and have rubber/plastic attached to stop the clamp from causing any damage.

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They also produce a small travel style tripod which will hold your mobile phone in place for extra stability.

In The Field

After receiving a set of lenses and tripod from Kase UK, my fiancée and I headed out into the field to try them out. On this particular day the conditions were not ideal, however I did get some shots of Clare using the kit. This shot shows the tripod legs fully extended, which is around 32 inches (81 cm), whilst with the centre column full extended it reaches a height of 39 inches (99 cm). Folded, the tripod measures 9.5 inches (24 cm) in length.

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To make the tripod compact when carrying, the legs fold in on themselves, so when you are ready to use it you simply fold them back to the normal position. The tripod legs are telescopic so you extend them simply by turning the bottom of each leg by around 180° and pulling the sections out, then turning the bottom in the opposite direction to dial in the height you want. The tripod height can be increased by firstly extending the centre column then twisting the head and pulling out a further section of the centre column.

The phone is attached to the tripod using a clamp which attaches to a ball head which you then use to adjust your composition.

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When attaching the clamp to your phone and subsequently attaching the lens to the clamp, you of course need to make sure the lens lines up with your camera. This can seem a little fiddly to begin with, because if you don’t manage to line everything properly, you will notice a significant loss in image quality. The best way I have found to do this is to attach the clamp to your phone with the lens attached, look down through the lens, and when you see your phones camera lens, they are most likely lined up. Of course the best way to make sure they are lined up is to take a test shot and check it.

I find it a bit fiddly to change lenses when the phone is attached to the tripod, so I usually remove the phone from the tripod clamp, remove the existing lens then screw the new one on with the phone screen facing down. 

Image Quality and Conclusion

Now, the main thing to mention here is that these lenses are being attached in front of the lens of your mobile phone, so there is bound to be some drop-off in quality. For me the image quality is acceptable with just a small amount of softness at the edges, which could also be caused by the lens not being lined up properly with the phones camera lens.

For me, the Kase lenses and tripod are great for someone who doesn’t have a ‘regular’ camera or simply don't want to have their 'regular' camera with them, and want to expand their mobile photography. The tripod isn’t exactly a necessity, however attaching a lens to the phone does add a bit more weight so you may find it more stable on the tripod. Also, you can get apps which allow you to take long exposure shots, so the tripod is pretty much a necessity for that.

My fiancée liked the lenses and tripod so much that I purchased her a set as an early birthday present.

The kit of four lenses, individual lenses and tripod can be purchased directly through my website here Kase Mobile Phone Lens Kit.

Below are some sample images taken using the four mobile lenses, along with an image showing the same scene without the lens attached in a couple of the examples.

 No lens attached

No lens attached

 Wide angle lens attached

Wide angle lens attached

 Telephoto lens attached

Telephoto lens attached

 No lens attached

No lens attached

 Macro lens attached

Macro lens attached

 Fisheye lens attached to get a wider angle of view

Fisheye lens attached to get a wider angle of view

 Fisheye lens attached, distorting the vertical columns in an already round shaped room

Fisheye lens attached, distorting the vertical columns in an already round shaped room

Kase filters review

A couple of months ago I was approached up and coming photographic filter manufacturer Kase UK, asking if I would be trying out some of their filters. Now, I had never heard of Kase before and currently use filters from Lee and Formatt Hitech, so thought it would be a good idea to see how these filters faired against the ones I currently use.

Not long after agreeing to test and review their filters I was sent one of their K100 Wolverine Master Kits.

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The K100 Wolverine Master Kit comprises of the following:

Leather case for storing your filters and filter holder

K100-X filter holder

Geared adapter rings: 77-86mm & 82-86mm

Step up rings: 67-82mm & 72-82mm

86mm slimline polariser

Wolverine 100x150mm soft GND filter GND 0.9 (3 stop Soft Grad)

Wolverine 100x150mm soft GND filter GND 1.2 (4 Stop Soft Grad)

Wolverine 100x150mm R-GND filter R-GND 0.9 (3 Stop Reverse Grad)

Wolverine 100x100mm ND filter ND 64 (6 Stop ND)

Wolverine 100x100mm ND filter ND 1000 (10 Stop ND)

Filter cleaning cloth

As the kit I received included the leather case, my review will also discuss my thoughts on that, as I already had cases from Lee and Lowepro. Upon opening the case you will find a pouch in the front which will store the filter holder and adapter rings. In the main compartment there are slots for the polariser and 5 filters, which is less than I am used to as the Lee holder takes 10 filters, with the Lowepro holder taking 10 square/rectangular filters along with extra room for a folder and polariser.

What I did notice initially about the leather case was its weight, especially as it only holds 5 square/rectangular filters, so decided to weigh it in comparison to my Lowepro filter case. With the Kase holder filled with 5 glass filters (3 grads and 2 ND's), the Kase polariser and filter holder, it came in at 867g. My Lowepro filter case filled with 5 glass filters (3 grads and 2 ND's), the Lee Landscape Polariser (heavier than the Kase polariser) and Lee filter holder came in at 823g; 44g lighter than the Kase set up.

The Filters

Like the Formatt Hitech system, the Kase system has the polariser attaching just in front of the lens via the lens adapter, whereas the Lee polariser attaches to the front of the filter holder. You may be thinking that if the polariser attaches to the lens adapter, and the filter holder sits on top of that, how do I rotate my polariser. Easy, there is a thumb wheel on the side of the holder which you use to rotate it independently of the positioning of any grads which you may have in the holder.

The filter that intrigued me most was the reverse grad as it is one I have never used before. The benefit of a reverse grad is when shooting into the sun at say sunrise or sunset when the sun is close to the horizon, as this area can be very bright. With a normal grad, the dark area is at the top, meaning that the grad isn't very strong at the horizon. However, with a reverse grad the dark area starts at the horizon and goes clear toward the top of the filter.

Some other things to note with these filters are that Kase claim that their ND filters (6 and 10 stop) are completely neutral, in that they have no colour cast, compared to that from Lee which have a blue cast; which of course can be changed when processing the RAW image.

They also claim that their filters are shatter proof, something I am not going to test here as they are on loan to me. Finally, it has been said that they have a coating on them which handles water droplets much better than other manufactures, making them easier to wipe dry. Well, I am in a prime location to put that to the test.

Field Test

Before I get to talking about how good or bad the filters themselves are, I will share a few of my thoughts from my first outing with this kit.

First, the writing on the filters telling you which filter it is, is on the bottom of the filter, which I don't like. Why is that such a big deal you may ask. Well, generally the bottom of the filter would be sitting at the bottom of the case, so you can't tell which filter you are pulling out, unless you know the exact order with which they are in the case. All other filter manufactures I have used put the name of the filter to the top, meaning that when I open the case, I can see exactly which filter I am pulling out (just in case they were put back in the wrong order last time).

I initially found the filter holder itself rather fiddly to work with in a few ways. I liked the fact that the holder screwed on to the lens adapter, compared to the spring attachment of the Lee holder, especially as I have recently had a client who knocked the holder causing it to drop off the front of his lens and into a river - over £500 of filters and holder never to be seen again. In reality, I think the fact that the holder screws on and once screwed in place is fixed, may slow me down a bit. When using grads with the Lee system I can easily push them up or down in to place whilst also placing it an angle should I need to. However, with my first use I thought I would need to get the angle right first, lock the holder in place, then move the filter down to the horizon. I have since realised that I can simply unscrew the holder by a quarter turn, which allows you to rotate the holder freely and lock once the angle has been chosen and the filter in place.

My main issue with the holder is it's shape. What I mean here is that the corners of the Lee holder are cut out and with shorter guide rails, whereas the Kase guide rails take up the full height of the holder, meaning the corners are not cut out. This means that should you have an ND filter in place with a grad front of it and want to change the ND, you need to take the grad out first, then the ND and put the new ND in place, followed by resetting the position of the grad. Since I first mentioned this to Kase UK they have been in touch informing me that they have made a new filter holder which is also 50% lighter than the one I have reviewed here. I have also been told that they have made a new range of filters, which are thinner (1.1mm thick, compared to 2mm thick which I tested), so are around 45-50% lighter. (Update 22/03/18: Kase are now producing 100 x 150 ND filters which means that you can easily swap them out without having to remove a grad in front first)

With regards the filters themselves, I am very impressed indeed. As claimed, there is no colour cast with the filters I have used, the clarity is brilliant and yes, they are a lot easier to wipe dry compared to some of my other filters.

Update 22/03/18: I have been very impressed by how quickly Kase UK have looked at and addressed the potential issues I raised with them. Kase UK is run by photographers for photographers which makes their customer service first class.

Further information on the various filters and systems available at Kase can be found here.

Below is a selection of images I have taken with various combinations of filters in the kit I received.

 Polariser, Wolverine 6 stop ND

Polariser, Wolverine 6 stop ND

 Polariser

Polariser

 Polariser, Wolverine 3 stop ND Reverse Grad, Wolverine 6 stop ND

Polariser, Wolverine 3 stop ND Reverse Grad, Wolverine 6 stop ND

 Polariser, Wolverine 4 stop ND Soft Grad

Polariser, Wolverine 4 stop ND Soft Grad

 Wolverine 3 stop ND Reverse Grad

Wolverine 3 stop ND Reverse Grad

 Wolverine 3 stop ND Grad

Wolverine 3 stop ND Grad

Commended - Outdoor Photographer of the Year

I am extremely proud to have Glamaig Reflection featured alongside so many amazing images from around the world, in the latest Outdoor Photographer of the Year book; a competition run by the UK's Outdoor Photography magazine.

This is an amazing achievement, as the competition had over 17,000 images entered, from over 50 countries, with the book featuring only around 200 images.

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Overall Winner - The Scottish Landscape Photographer of the Year

On the 8th February, I received a phone call from The Scottish Landscape, Photographer of the Year (SLPOTY) organiser Stuart Low, informing me that I had been awarded the title of overall winner for the 2016 competition.

Last year I was awarded runner up, which was an amazing achievement in itself, what with it being my first time entering; so to be awarded overall winner this year, well this is on another level, of which words cannot describe.

With this being the third year of SLPOTY, and new categories being added to the competition; the number of entries increased incredibly. With the competition growing each year, I knew the standard of entries this year would be second to none. So, having submitted my own fifteen images, I had my fingers crossed that I would at least get one published in the book which accompanies each years competition.

An email followed the phone call confirming my award, as well as the usual wording which accompanies these type of competitions, informing me that I could not share this information with anyone until the official announcement was made today (22nd February).

It was hard enough last year, not being able to tell anyone, so you can understand how much worse it was this year. The past two weeks have been rather agonising, however I knew that telling anyone could jeapordise my award; so have remained tight lipped until now.

Below are the three images from my portfolio, which earned me the runner overall winner award, along with a little bit of information behind the image.

Glamaig Reflection

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This photograph was taken in April 2016, whilst doing some location guiding for a client of the Isle of Skye.

The weather forecast for this particular morning was suggesting that there was going to be next to no wind, so with some fresh snow atop Glamaig and the red Cuillin, I knew it would be a great opportunity to get reflections in this loch.

Initially as the sun started to head up to the horizon, all of the colour in the sky was to our left, which left the scene in front of us rather uninteresting; however patience was the key, and all of a sudden these lovely soft colours appeared.

Autumn Colours on Loch Pityoulish

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This photograph was taken at the end of October 2016, during a visit to the Cairngorms, in hope of capturing the autumn colours.

Arriving at Loch Garten for sunrise on this morning, I was greeted to rather low temperatures, and a lot of mist hanging over the water. After spending my first hour there, I headed toward Aviemore. As I approached Loch Pityoulish, which is a stones through from the road, the conditions were rather lovely. The mist was dancing above the water, and the sun was managing to break through to light up the grasses coming out of the water.

With this shot I knew at the time of capturing it that I wanted to crop it down to a square to focus in on the grasses and their reflections, with a small amount of autumnal trees out of focus in the background.

Autumn in Glen Affric

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This photograph was taken at the end of October 2015, whilst I was attending a one to one workshop with Mark Hamblin.

It was a damp day in Glen Affric, which allowed a small amount of mist to form in places, as well as boosting the autumnal colours.

As we drove through the glen towards Loch Affric, we would keep stopping to photograph various scenes in front of us. Here I was rather drawn to the various colours of the bracken and woodland floor, as well as that of the remaining leaves on the birch trees.

Runner Up - Scottish Landscape Photographer of the Year

Last Friday (5 February 2016), I received an email from the Scottish Landscape Photographer of the Year (SLPOTY) organiser, informing me that I had been awarded the runner up title for the competition.

This is an amazing achievement, as the title award is based on a portfolio of three images, and I managed to get three images through to the final stage; having previously had six images shortlisted in the initial stage.

Although the competition is only in its second year, it is my first time of entering; and the level of entries will have increased immensely this year. In fact, you only have to see the images from other photographers who have shared their winning, highly commended, and commended images through social media, to appreciate the level of quality.

Below are the three images from my portfolio, which earned me the runner up award, along with a little bit of information behind the image.

Before The Rain

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This photograph was taken in August 2015, and looks along the Trotternish Ridge, in the north of the Isle of Skye. I parked my car at the Quiraing car park, and after a steep twenty minute walk, I reached my location for first light.

Unfortunately there wasn't much of a sunrise, so I had to sit and wait and hope that there would be a break in the clouds, which would light up the ridge. Whilst waiting, I also had to fight pretty strong head on winds, and light rain; which meant continually having to wipe the lens, or attach the lens cap.

Luckily, that break in the cloud eventually appeared, which provided some lovely light on the ridge.

Autumn In Full Swing

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This photograph was taken at the end of October 2015, during a visit to the Highlands, in hope of capturing the autumn colours.

This is a small loch which is in the Craigellachie National Nature Reserve, that sits just outside of Aviemore. Most of the loch is covered in grasses, so you don't actually see much water; however at this time of the year, the colours of the grasses compliment the colours from the trees and bracken rather nicely.

Finniestone Crane And The Clyde Arc

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This photograph was taken at the end of October 2014, whilst I was visiting friends in Glasgow. I had seen the Finniestone Crane in other photographs, and wanted to see if I could capture it myself; so we headed on down to the River Clyde.

Luckily for me, on this particular evening there was hardly a breath of wind, creating a near perfectly still river; which allowed for lovely reflections of the crane, the colourful Clyde Arc, and surrounding buildings.

Highly Commended in Landscape Photographer Of The Year

Back in July of this year I entered several of my images into the Take A View - Landscape Photographer Of The Year competition for the very first time. On the 23rd of July I received two emails informing me that I had an image which had reached the shortlist stage. These two images in question were 'Finniestone Crane and the Clyde Arc', and 'Sea of pink' (below).

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To have these images chosen by my peers to reach the shortlist stage of the competition is am amazing accolade. At the time of receiving the emails I was asked not to share this information on social media, hence the reason I have not mentioned it until now.

The winners have now been chosen, with emails going out Friday and Saturday of last week, and are being officially announced today. Saturday evening after following various tweets on social media, where people were saying that the winners were emailed on Friday, with the others being emailed on Saturday; I received an email from the competition organisers. I was a little apprehensive to open it as I thought it was going to be a "sorry you missed out" email, going by the chatter on Twitter anyway. Even it was I had two images shortlisted, and that was an achievement in itself.

The first paragraph of the email read "The judging of all shortlisted images in the Take a view Awards has now been completed and the final results decided.", so I was still in the dark, however the second paragraph was in bold and said "(Please could you keep the fact that you have received this email and information about your success confidential until Monday 19th October & not put it on web pages/blogs etc until then...thanks!)".

At this stage my heart was pounding as one or both of my shortlisted images had been at least commended by the new set of judges, which included professional photographers Joe Cornish and Charlie Waite (the head judge and competition oragniser), two people whos work I greatly admire.

The third paragraph of the email informed me of my final status, which was "We are pleased to tell you that 'Sea of Pink' has been Highly commended by the judges and has won a place in the Awards book and at the London exhibition.".

My heart was now pounding even harder, as this was an incredibly major achievement for me. Although I had been asked not to share the information until today, the email also informed me that there was a possibility of my image being included in The Sunday Times Magazine.

So, yesterday morning I headed round to the newsagent to get a copy of The Sunday Times, and upon returning home, quickly opened up the bag containing the various magazines. Flicking through the pages of the magazine, there it was on the bottom half of page 40, my image in print, along with other amazing images, one of which was the overall winning image.

My image will be part of the exhibition at London Waterloo from 23rd November 2015 until the 7th February 2016.