Steve Walton UK Landscape & Travel Photographer bio picture
  • Steve Walton UK Landscape & Travel Photographer

    Professional photographer, author, traveler, tour leader, mentor.

    Steve is a Fellow of the Master Photographers Association, Fellow of the British Institute of Professional Photography, Fellow of The Royal Society of Arts.

    Owner and tour leader at Wild Light Phototours and Managing Director of Steve Walton Photography Ltd, he has been nominated three times as UK Landscape & Travel Photographer of the Year at the professional showcase MPA/BIPP joint British Professional Photographic Awards.

    In 2016, Steve Walton is President of the Master Photographers Association.

Elgol on the Isle of Skye is well-known to most UK landscape photographers.  As is the case with so many other popular landscape photography locations around the British Isles, Elgol was probably catapulted into it’s popularity by Joe Cornish.  Staithes, a small fishing port on the North Yorkshire coast, is another example where photographers will attempt to photograph from the well-known viewpoint above the village.  It was interesting on this particular morning at Elgol.  I had arrived late the previous evening after a long drive from the Midlands and as my van is outfitted for stealth camping I was able to get a few hour’s sleep before setting the camera up for some sunrise photography.

I had the beach to myself and I was later to find out that this is a definite bonus.  A later conversation with another landscapist friend about his experiences at Elgol was quite shocking.   He had been verbally abused by a pair of late-arriving ‘photographers’ who insisted on setting up directly in front of him, ruining his composition.  It saddened me to hear this story, serious UK landscapists are traditionally a close-knit and invariably friendly group.  Even when some of us have never met, we generally have heard of each other and this incident is a disappointing turn.  I’m optimistic that it’s an isolated one and not evidence of a trend.  The popularity of Elgol became clear to me some time after sunrise as more photographers began to arrive.  That was my cue to put the big Fuji GX617 away and enjoy the peaceful tranquility of the place,  fortunately the photographers who turned up on this morning were cooperative with each other!

Looking across to the spiky Cuillins with their remaining dusting of winter snow was an inspiring sight.  Elgol is an evocative place, even the name has a certain mystical mystique about it and it’s sobering to remember that we are the guardians of these places.  There’s no room for selfish competitiveness here.  There is far more to being a dedicated landscape photographer than that.  Elgol, Staithes and so many more locations have been beautifully photographed by household names.  It’s right that we landscape photographers should be inspired and encouraged to find our own voices, but these locations should be considered and appreciated first and above all for what they are before any ambition to ‘own’ them.

Elgol, Isle of Skye.

Elgol 001

Fuji GX617, Fujinon SWD 90mm, Fuji Velvia 50

Watching the incoming tide demolish and erase a sandcastle is endlessly fascinating.  It’s a reminder of several things, a leveler in more ways than the obvious.  I watched this process until the sandcastle was gone forever and the outgoing tide would leave a blank canvas once again.  Building on sand isn’t the best plan and and since time and tide waits for no man, there came the inevitable, irresistible point when I had to pick up the tripod and retreat back up the beach.

We can play with our surroundings for the purposes of such simple pleasures as building sandcastles.  We can change and influence nature’s forces, sometimes for the better and often for worse.  In the end, though, nature seems to have an irrepressible ability to repair and renew, eradicate and remind.

A pristine beach, unmarked by sandcastles and footprints is a privileged find.  It’s a joyous and timeless place to be when devoid of human intrusion.  A place where we can watch the tide, whether mild and innocuous in character or ferociously aggressive in it’s work.  Either way,  we will love the fresh start the turning tide reveals and we will be reminded once again that we should learn the lessons that our environment and nature provides for us.

Life is about choices and lessons to be learned.  The choices we make dictate how we individually and collectively live our lives.  It’s up to us to decide if we should learn the lessons that the effects of our choices present to us.   Building on sand is not the best plan!

Watching the incoming tide demolish the sandcastle gave me something to take away and think about.  The cleansing and renewal was uplifting, but recognising the lesson was a profound privilege.  I can’t wait to revisit this place!

Sandcastles built on Sand

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Hasselblad 503CW, 50mm distagon CFi, Fuji RVP 50

 

Luskentyre, Isle of Harris by Steve Walton.  From our Wild Light Outer Hebrides Photography Workshop, October 2015.

Luskentyre, Isle of Harris, photography workshops Outer Hebrides Steve Walton Wild Ligh

Inspirational Photography Tours and Workshops

Our 2016 Wild Light Outer Hebrides landscape photography workshop is almost fully booked with only one remaining place available.  We will be based at the excellent Harris Hotel in Tarbert from 17th-21st October.  Accommodation, breakfasts and evening meals, tuition and transport to locations on the tour are included.  The cost is £1299 per person.

October is a fantastic time of year in the Outer Hebrides, daylight hours are still long enough to spend full days photographing at all of the locations on our itinerary and the light is often dramatic due to the rapidly changing north Atlantic weather systems.  You can expect that wonderful soft blue light of those quiet, overcast coastal days as well as stormy, dramatic sunsets which are the October precursors of  winter storms to remind us of the changing season.  Sunsets on the western side of Harris & Lewis are magical with soft white sand beaches and tourquoise sea.   You will  be asking yourself if we really are this far north, especially during periods of high pressure when temperatures can be positively balmy in October!

There will be many opportunities for those Hebridean iconic images from locations at Luskentyre, Callanish, Dun Carloway, Seilebost etc, but we will visit many lesser-known locations on the islands.  Spontaneity and fun are guaranteed on a Wild Light Photography Workshop, but the emphasis as always is on learning new techniques and improving upon those you already have with friendly guidance and tuition by professional landscape and travel photographer, Steve Walton.

Join us on 17th-21st October 2016 for our next Wild Light Photography Workshop in the Outer Hebrides for a great time with a small group of like-minded photographers.  All abilities are catered for with equal patience and encouragement and groups are restricted to a maximum of four attendees for plenty of individual tuition.

Whatever the weather, the light is always amazing on the Outer Hebrides in October.  Come and explore the Outer Hebrides with us, learn, improve your landscape photography and have some fun too!

Changing moods of Luskentyre, by Steve Walton.  Soft, overcast blue conditions,  from our Wild Light Outer Hebrides Photography Workshop, October 2015.

Inspirational Photography Tours and Workshops

Inspirational Photography Tours and Workshops

Changing moods of Luskentyre, by Steve Walton.  Balmy heatwave,  from our Wild Light Outer Hebrides Photography Workshop, October 2014.

FineArt landscape photography

Inspirational Photography Tour and Workshops with Steve Walton

-ooOoo-

The Faroe Islands  have long been on my ‘must visit’  list of destinations, Gasadalur waterfall is spectacular and probably the most iconic image of the islands.  My time on the Faroe Islands coincided with static high pressure and settled weather, the complete opposite of what I had expected.   I had not packed any sunblock because, this is the North Atlantic and the weather is either wet, windy and foggy and you don’t usually need sunblock do you.  Wrong this time!

Inspirational Photography Tours and Workshops

High pressure and settled summer weather is not ideal for the kind of long exposure, moody, misty blue-toned north Atlantic seascape images that I had expected to create. Calm conditions like this, with a clear blue sky and hot sun  are more in-keeping with Mediterranean destinations, but you have to work with the conditions and the Firecrest 16 was utilised to smooth out the already flat calm sea with a 15 minute exposure. The image above does illustrate the truth in Formatt Hi-tech’s claim that the Firecrest coating is neutral!

A side benefit of the long exposures I was making was the opportunity to sit and watch the seabirds.  Puffin, guillemot, razorbill and fulmar were all active in the cove and watching their behaviour was a perfect way to pass the time.  It was simply idyllic to sit and absorb this place and I probably spent more time here than I might have done if the weather had been more like I had expected it to be!

I will say the climb back up the very steep old and broken steps from my rocky viewpoint is less problematic than descending them.  Hauling camera gear and tripod down those steps required quite a bit of care, there are a lot of loose stones and gravel and a slip would be a serious incident.  That said, the effort required to climb down is worth it for the better viewpoint.

Gasadalur waterfall is a mesmerising place, everything I had imagined and I look forward to returning to make more images here.

 

On location review of the Vanguard Alta Pro 283CT carbon fibre tripod by Steve Walton.

Coumeenoole, Slea Head, Dingle.  From my Wild Light Photography Tour of Kerry & Dingle in April 2016

Coumeenole 001

Vanguard 283CT tripod with Hasselblad 503CW, Zeiss 50mm f4 distagon Cfi, Lee .6 soft nd grad, Lee 6 stop nd

A good tripod is a key component of my photographic equipment.  I have owned quite a few tripods over the years, invariably Gitzo or Manfrotto and all made either of aluminium or carbon fibre.  The Manfrottos have been used mainly for studio work and the Gitzos for landscape and travel and  when I was invited by Vanguard to review two of their flagship tripods, I accepted with great interest.  As with most photographic equipment, materials and manufacturing processes are continually being improved and the middle ground is now very advanced in terms of quality and innovation.  After all, a tripod is just a tripod, isn’t it?  Well, that certainly isn’t the case these days!   For many photographers, Gitzo and Really Right Stuff are considered the benchmark for the highest quality tripods available, and with good reason, but, as with all things, this level of quality comes at a serious premium in financial outlay and for many people these products are either out of reach or difficult to justify the cost.

The middle range of tripods that fall into the £200-£400 price band is probably of most interest to many photographers and the Alta Pro 283CT, the subject of this first review, is right up there in the thick of it with a rrp of around £299.99, although prices can be found considerably lower than the rrp with a little research.

Vanguard have been steadily improving and building upon their inventory of good value, well thought-out innovative products and now offer an extensive range of tripods to cover most requirements for stills and video photographers.  The Alta Pro 283CT is a carbon fibre three section tripod with twist lock leg adjustments, an innovative centre column mechanism and comes without a head as standard.  The invitation to review this tripod was timely and came just in time for my Wild Light Photography Workshop Tour of The Ring of Kerry and the Dingle Peninsula in April 2016.  I attached my Arca Swiss Z1 DP head to it before leaving and it was encouraging to discover that Vanguard have been thoughtful enough to provide an allen key for the grub screws in the head platform and a 1/4-3/8″ adapter bush.

 

In the box:

The Alta Pro 283CT comes with a reasonably good quality zipped and padded bag which is a welcome addition when a tripod is being carried inside checked-in hold baggage along with clothes etc when traveling.  As standard, the Vanguard Alta Pro 283CT comes without a head and is acceptably light in weight as you would expect with extensive use of carbon fibre in the construction.

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Another bonus with the padded bag is that Vanguard have made it long enough to accommodate a reasonably large ball head when attached to the tripod such as my Arca Swiss Z1 DP.  The tripod and head are completely covered and protected as shown in this image below.

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Also supplied is a very useful allen key for the three grub screws which are set in the head platform of the centre column to lock the head of choice in place.  This is a thoughtful feature which Vanguard should be applauded for.  Anyone who, like myself, usually has to spend time searching the shed or garage for the correct tool for the job will recognise the value in Vanguard’s foresight here.  Foam rubber grips on the legs are useful during cold or wet weather and give a secure surface area to grip.

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To remove the centre column, undo the collar locking bolt and pull the column upwards.  At the top of it’s travel, depress the sprung spigot, open the two stage lever lock and pull the column up and out of the central collar assembly.  The image below shows the column removed, the three grubscrews and the thoughtfully supplied hidden 1/4″- 3/8″ screw adapter for heads with a 3/8″ thread.  The column and platform are made of alloy and appear to be very robust.  There is the more or less standard sprung hook at the bottom of the column for hanging weighted bags etc to help stabilise the tripod in windy conditions.

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There is a double locking lever and a bolt set around the tripod collar and sprung levers set in each leg for splaying the tripod legs to three preset positions at 25°, 50° & 80° as well as intermediate positioning.

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The centre column can be removed from the usual vertical up and down orientation and locked in any position (pay attention to the weight of the attached equipment!).   I rarely, if ever, extend the centre column on any tripod and I prefer tripods to be three-section ‘legs only’, ie without a centre column with only two twist locks to extend the legs.  The obvious penalty for this is additional weight and bulk and longer folded height.   A tripod without a centre column should be tall enough for normal working heights and this will mean that there will be either additional leg sections or the tripod will be proportionately longer when collapsed.  The Vanguard Alta Pro 283CT carbon fibre provides an acceptable compromise of collapsed size, maximum height and optimum weight.

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To set any position beyond vertical, the centre column has to be almost, but not quite, removed from the tripod.   Open the lever and adjust the angle of the centre column, close the lever and lock off the bolt on the centre column collar.  It’s a very quick and secure method of working when the camera has to be outside the centre of gravity.  Even with the considerable combined weight of my Arca Swiss Z1 DP head and  Hasselblad 503CW attached, overall stability was impressive with no signs of creeping or drooping.  This feature would be very useful for macro photography.

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There is a bubble level set into the collar which is useful for preliminary tripod leveling before the camera is attached to the head and  leveling is fine tuned.  The collar assembly is a substantial alloy casting and has obviously been designed to withstand years of use.

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When the centre column becomes an extended horizontal or angled arm, the tripod is able to support the combined weight of the Hasselbald and Arca Swiss Z1 DP head very securely.  I carefully leveled the camera and locked-off all collars and bolts and left it like that for a few hours.  When I checked later, everything had remained level with no sign of movement.

0009

 

The drawback of most tripods with vertical up/down only centre columns is that the column interferes with ground clearance.  This is a reason why many photographers prefer ‘legs only’ tripods that have no centre column, as well as the arguably superior stability those designs offer over centre column models

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This is not a problem with the Vanguard Alta Pro 283CT as almost ground level shooting is possible with the centre column set to the horizontal position.  This is a great solution for macro and horticultural photography.

DSCF0011

 

Press the leg release buttons and the legs can be adjusted to any of the three preset angles as well as intermediate positions and this makes setting up the tripod on uneven ground very easy.

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There are rubber feet for interior and studio work.  The rubber feet retract to reveal stainless steel spikes that give improved stability outdoors, especially on slippery rocks and ice.  The threads are a wide pitch and open enough that they didn’t become clogged with sand and consequential binding.  A quick rinse in a rockpool cleared sand from the threads and the stainless steel of the threaded spikes is not prone to corrosion.00120013

 

The legs are each three sections and this does have the advantage of slightly faster set-up with less potential for parts to fail.  The twist locks work well with a half twist to lock and unlock the legs firmly in position.  I experienced no binding when extending and collapsing the legs.  Substantial rubber grips and chunky 28mm diameter tubes provide a good hand grip on the legs and twist locks.    My personal preference is for this kind of twist lock adjustment, I find that lever locks tend to need regular tightening to keep things secure and they are prone to creep when needing adjustment.  The downside is that twist lock threads can be prone to contamination from mud, dust and sand.   Sand did find it’s way into the twist lock threads, and did cause some grating every time I needed to extend or collapse the tripod and would clearly need attention, post trip.

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One key area that seperates the top end from the middle ground in tripod world is sealing against water ingress.  This is an important feature and one which you pay a premium for with tripods from Really Right Stuff and the new Gitzo Ocean Systematic range.  These models have sealed twist locks and leg tubes, whereas the Vanguard Alta Pro 283CT and most, if not all, of it’s competitors are not sealed.  Water, more importantly, seawater, will find it’s way into the leg tubes and twist lock threads if you set the tripod up in water.  I often photograph knee deep in seawater and after I returned from leading my Wild Light Workshop in the West of Ireland I had to take the Alta Pro 283CT apart completely in order to rinse everything before lubricating and reassembly.  It’s not a difficult task, but it’s one that needs doing with unsealed tripods.  Seawater in the tubes will eventually destroy the tripod, so don’t put off a thorough clean and overhaul when you return from a coast shoot.

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Summary

The Vanguard Alta Pro 283CT carbon fibre tripod is without doubt a good quality product and Vanguard have included features, materials and quality of construction that make it a serious contender against others with a similar specification within this price range.  If the £299.99 rrp seems a little steep, it’s worth shopping around.  As an example, Wex are currently advertising it (May 2016) at £209.

This makes it a very attractive option and worthy of serious consideration for anyone in the market for a relatively light, very well designed and constructed carbon fibre tripod with features that exceed most of it’s competition and which will satisfy most requirements.

I’m grateful to Vanguard for the opportunity to use and review this excellent tripod throughout my Wild Light Photography Tour of Kerry & Dingle.  I would have no hesitation in taking it with me on more adventures.  Moreover,  I would highly recommend it to my clients!

Derrynane 001

Abbey Island.  Vanguard Alta Pro 283CT carbon fibre tripod with Hasselblad 503CW, Zeiss 50mm f4 distagon Cfi, Fuji Velvia 50, Formatt 10 stop neutral density filter.

Pros

  • Top quality materials and well thought-out features at the price level
  • Reasonably light weight
  • Adequate height for most purposes without having to extend the centre column
  • Three section legs but acceptably short folded length means it will fit inside most checked-in baggage for traveling
  • Innovative alternative positioning of centre column, useful for macro work
  • Almost ground level shooting possible with centre column set to horizontal position
  • 1/4 turn twist lock leg adjustment is quick and easy to set up
  • Bubble level
  • Accessory hook on centre column
  • Retractable foot spikes
  • 1/4″-3/8″ screw adapter is included
  • Padded bag and maintenance tools included
  • Technical support

Cons

  • Legs not sealed
  • Some use of plastics in key areas

Specification

Construction:  carbon fibre with alloy, stainless steel, plastic and rubber fittings.

Height:  folded 64cm  extended: 170cm

Weight: 1.7kg (not including head)

Leg tube diameter: 28mm

Maximum load: 8kg

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