We experienced an incredible week in Iceland. Each excursion gave us all an opportunity to improve our photography skills within a spectacular context. Pippa Sanger, our trip leader, is to be congratulated for the planning she did before the trip and her meticulous organisation during it to ensure everything went smoothly. The highlight of the trip for me however was the time spent with our students who embraced everything that was thrown at them (quite literally in the case of the weather). We walked in snow blizzards, wind and rain. We crossed rivers, climbed hills and got wet every day but the students remained interested in every aspect of the trip. It was a privilege to share the experience with them.
We started our trip with a bracing walk amongst mud pools and steam vents with dramatic views of the vigorously bubbling Gunnuhver, Iceland’s largest mud pool. We also had the opportunity to view Reykjanesviti Iceland’s oldest lighthouse.
The following day with the weather due to make a turn for the worse we headed for the magnificent waterfall of Skógafoss. It is one of Iceland’s most impressive waterfalls – with a wide, thundering curtain of water 60m high.
Onto Vik, a tiny coastal town, we walked down to the black sand beach and viewed the remarkable sea stacks – Reynisdrangar.
The weather made a turn for the worse and so our visit to the glacier was curtailed due to a snow blizzard. Sólheimajökull ‘sun house glacier’ has been retreating since the end of the 19th century at a rate of around 100m per year. The photographs captured were magnificent despite the inclement weather.
The weather continued to worsen and so that evening we missed what would have been a spectacular display of the northern lights. We headed off early the following day, driving through the storm before visiting Seljalandsfoss, this waterfall’s plume spills 60m over a former sea cliff. From Seljalandsfoss, we walked along the cliff base to Gljúfrabúi waterfall – it’s hidden inside a gorge and we needed walking boots and rainproof gear as we needed to walk through a river to enter the canyon!
Off to rainy Reykjavik for an afternoon of shopping and getting very wet. The coach at one point drove through what we thought was a river – it was simply the road!
The National park of Thingvellir is where Iceland’s parliament was established in 930AD. The site straddles the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, its rift valley forming where the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates pull apart at an average of 3cm a year.
Gulfoss are double falls, dropping around 33m then plunge into a mile-long gorge – one of Iceland’s most photographed waterfalls; we certainly took a few ourselves!
One of our favourite stops was to meet the Icelandic ponies.
The Geysir eruption was something to behold, if a little tricky to capture!
On our last day we took the opportunity for street photography around Reykjavik before flying back home. Alas the Aurora proved elusive although some of us managed to capture it with our cameras even if we couldn’t see it with the naked eye.
Student photographs from the trip:
I am very much looking forward to the forthcoming trip to Iceland to practise our photography skills. To read more about the trip have a look at this post: https://spwilliams13.wordpress.com/2017/01/21/iceland-gcse-photography-tour-2017/
I have written previously about what to bring on a trip to Iceland in the winter (https://wp.me/pRO7H-As) but here I want to go a little further.
This video is a time-lapse of hundreds of individual photographs taken one after the other and then combined to create a film which condenses several hours down to just a few seconds.
- Interchangeable lens camera. A compact or phone camera will not produce worthwhile results.
- Wide angle lens, with a wide aperture (f2.0 or 2.8 ideal). This will allow you to capture more of the sky and short exposure times.
- A sturdy tripod to keep the camera still for long exposures.
- Weather tight camera bag. If you have any silica gel packs this will help control moisture. If you have been out in the cold ensure you put your camera back in the bag before coming back inside, leave it there over night so that it warms up gradually, this will reduce the risk of moisture damage through condensation caused by rapid warming.
- A head torch with a RED LED. The red is better for night vision and will allow you to see more of the night sky. Once we are in a position all torches will need to be turned off in order that we don’t ruin each others photos.
- A spare battery which you should keep in an inside pocket so that it stays warm. Cold batteries lose their charge very quickly.
- A lens cloth to keep the lens elements clean and smudge free.
- A small towel in case your camera gets wet.
- It is worth downloading an app to forecast aurora activity (https://itunes.apple.com/gb/app/aurora-forecast/id539875792?mt=8) or use a website such as: http://www.aurora-service.eu/aurora-forecast/
Night Photography in winter
We are hoping to capture the northern lights during our photography tour and preparation for this is critical; if you plan to simply turn up on the evening and capture the northern lights, even on a very good night, you will be very disappointed with your results unless you have practised the techniques before.
The first thing to try is to go out somewhere that is dark during a cold winter night. You may need to persuade your parent to drive you, or if you live in a village a nearby foot path off the street or church yard are good places to start. We are all used to street lights and perpetual light wherever we are and it can be quite disconcerting to experience real dark for the first time, in the cold whilst also trying to take a good photograph. It is well worth planning ahead and choosing a cold, clear night which will be most similar to what we hope to experience in Iceland. The Met office (https://www.metoffice.gov.uk) will give you a very good idea of temperature and cloud cover before you set out to ensure the trip is worth while. You should plan to be out for at least an hour, this will allow you to test your clothing to ensure you will be warm enough in Iceland: layer up and avoid cotton (e.g. jeans) as this will get very wet, won’t dry quickly and you will freeze. The first thing to get cold will be your fingers (as you will need to use your hand constantly to take photos) and your feet so ensure you have good walking boots with thick socks and gloves or preferably mitts with a wool or silk liner (the mitts are much warmer than gloves and will allow you to slip your hands out quickly to change a setting more easily than heavy gloves will). In Iceland, if we are fortunate to get a clear night and a good display we might well be out for three or more hours, this practise is a good way to check to see if you and your clothing are ready.
The second thing is to try taking some photographs whilst out in the dark and cold without using a torch. Using a torch is an absolute no no as the light will ruin everyone else’s photographs. You therefore need to know where all the controls are by touch alone and to do this you need to practise many times.
In preparation for a night shoot, set your camera up in advance. The aurora may not be around for long and you don’t want to have to waste time setting your camera up or ruining everyone else’s photo by the need to use a flash light.
- Screw in the tripod mount base onto the camera so that you can simply slide the camera into place when in position.
- Set your camera’s ISO to 1600 or 3200. This will allow you to keep exposure times short. If you expose for more than around 20-30 secs the stars will move and you will have trails rather than pin-pricks of light. If we have good aurora a long exposure will mean a green smudge in the sky rather than the nicely defined dancing lights we see.
- Put your camera in manual mode and set the exposure time to 8-10 secs. You can fine tune this once you have taken a few photos. Use your camera’s histogram and check that you haven’t under or over-exposed, your LCD is much brighter than the photo will be on a screen, so don’t rely on it alone.
- During day light, set the lens to manual focus and focus it on a distant object, if possible tape the focus ring in position. If you have a focus guide on the lens the infinity mark will be roughly correct but temperature can affect this so best to take an image of a distant object and check it is sharp by eye. It can be very difficult when it is dark to focus accurately on stars or the aurora, this will mean you end up with blurry photos.
- Set white balance to day light but also shoot in RAW so that you can adjust later in processing.
A good photo of the aurora needs thinking about. What is the foreground, mid and background that gives the photograph an interesting composition? Mountains and trees make good mid ground interest. You could always partner up with someone else and use yourself for foreground interest and with a little light painting (avoiding contaminating other people’s photographs with your stray light) to illuminate yourself.
This photo has myself light painted for about 0.5 secs with a torch, a mountain range provided some mid ground interest with the aurora arching in the background. There is a little too much foreground in this shot but I couldn’t resist capturing myself in front of the aurora.
Are there any leading lines that draw your eye up to the aurora? Alternatively try shooting straight up and capturing a more abstract image of just the aurora and stars.
This image is three photographs stitched together to form a panorama. The road, fence and line of trees provide a leading line to the houses and mountain with the aurora stretching into the sky dramatically in the background. I’ve tried to keep to one-third foreground, two-thirds background to give the image some balance.
Try and avoid taking the same photograph hundreds of times. Move around try different shots, different angles and get a good range of photographs whilst you get the chance as you might not get another.
This was a challenging capture. It is 12 photos stitched together. I liked the leading curve of the edge of the lagoon to the mountain range and then growing out of that the vast arch of the aurora. It is perhaps missing some perspective – a single person – at the bottom would have given the viewer a greater sense of just how vast this scene is.
In this photo (a single frame) I built on the composition above and added the person at the bottom who was stood taking a photograph, this gives the image the sense of scale but in the process I lost the vastness of the aurora from the shot above. Landscape photography is often about compromise as the different elements of a mountainous photograph cannot be easily moved!
The following shot was my favourite from this trip. I loved the way in which the shore line led to the mountain, helped by the reflections of the aurora which also lead the line to the mountain with the aurora erupting out it like a volcano – this image is the one I choose to print for my living room wall.
We start the new academic year in a celebratory mood following another successful year. Our ethos is one that embraces the whole person, not just what they accomplish in lessons but everything else that ensures they are ready for the challenges of the adult world. The success of Catmose cannot be measured by examination results alone but more in the way we help to transform our nervous Year 7 into confident adults who have the qualifications, experiences and character to navigate an increasingly complex world.
Our electives programme continues to be at the heart of our curriculum – offering students the opportunity to learn something new whilst developing their character and cultural understanding. The programme continues to grow with courses such as learning traditional carpentry at Oakham Castle, conversational Italian and street dance appearing alongside long-established courses such as the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award and musical productions, amongst 100 or so others. We will also be introducing electives that will prepare students to make the most of their visits abroad including the Iceland tour, Ski trips and the Sumatra expedition. The electives programme in our recent surveys remains the most successful aspect of our curriculum for our students.
The range and variety of trips and visits this year has continued to grow, offering students very broad experiences outside of the classroom. The return of exchanges to Germany, Spain and France have given Languages real impetus and have contributed to 70% of students opting to study a language at GCSE this year. We saw every student in the College take part in at least one trip or visit – a massive but important undertaking.
Our Sport teams continue to impress, alongside winning the Rutland and Melton Varsity Competition for the fourth year running, we won 26 of the competitions outright, a new personal best. We have also competed at a County level with our Year 10 Girls’ Netball and Year 10 Boys’ Rugby winning the Leicestershire competitions. We now have over 130 students on our elite sport programme having been awarded sports scholarships with additional support through a nutrition seminar, training at Leicester Tigers and coaching by Olympic Basketballer, Drew Sullivan – some of the highlights this year. Catmose is the best school in the local area for students interested in competitive sport.
The Performing Arts Team continue to offer a diverse and exciting programme of events. Over 180 Year 7 students watched a live performance of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, rehearsed the production and then performed it live to their families in the summer. Our school production this year was ‘High School Musical’ and we are already starting rehearsals for Madagascar. We also saw trips to New York where students experienced Broadway shows and took part in drama workshops. A group of KS4 students watched ‘The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time’ in London. Our students have also performed at the Royal Albert Hall, supported the charitable work of the High Sheriff alongside a number of performances for our community at Christmas and in the Spring. This year we introduced individual drama lessons, similar to those that we offer for musical instruments and we extended our scholars programme to drama.
The College’s examination results also continue to impress. In a period when many schools have narrowed their curriculum, offering a limited range of subjects, Catmose continues to offer students a very broad choice. This challenges them academically but also allows them to fulfil their future ambitions. Students are able to opt for the separate Sciences of Physics, Chemistry or Biology, Music and Drama GCSE, the full range of Arts courses, GCSE Sport, Philosophy and Ethics, applied courses, which sit alongside the core academic subjects. Our examination results remain very strong with over 80% of students achieving English and Maths with very high attainment for our most able and strong progress across all subjects for every child.
With increasing numbers of students going on to study the most academic A levels they leave themselves well placed to do exceptionally well in the next stage of their education. 47 students leave with 5 A or A* (or 7, 8 and 9) grades and 20 of these students gained at least 8 A or A* grades, these were:
We have seen over the summer the building start for a new catering facility, which will further extend our in-house food offer, reduce queues and increase seating capacity. We have also converted the old nursery building into a conference room and offices that will house our central services team (finance, publishing, data and site) which will free up much-needed space in each Federation school. In January the area currently being used as a children’s centre will revert back to the College and this too will be reconfigured to provide additional space for teaching and offices.
We are not complacent however, and believe there is still much we can do to improve. We survey parents, staff and students each year and alongside this look at lesson observations, student forums and outcomes to focus our priorities. This year will be ensuring:
- there is a broader range of lower cost trips and visits.
- any absent teachers are covered by specialist in-house colleagues so that students are able to learn as well as they normally do.
- a continued focus on high expectations and no tolerance of persistent disruptive behaviour in lessons.
- all students, whatever their ability or background, make exceptional progress.
- the tutorial programme covers the topics that students are most concerned about and whose quality is comparable with our best lessons.
- introducing an electronic communication system that will allow parents to be better informed and able to engage more readily in a way that suits them.
This year, competition was once again intense for the positions of Head Boy and Girl. Students who applied submitted a video audition, and alongside this their academic progress, house points and attendance were all scrutinised to shortlist for interview with me and Mrs Macdonald. Everyone who applied did themselves and their families proud.
The Head Girl for the 2017 academic year will be Molly White.
“The past four of years at Catmose have been some of the best in my school career with hundreds of opportunities at my fingertips and fantastic learning experiences at every turn. Every teacher I have ever had the pleasure of being taught by has given their up most and I have learnt so much, both in the classroom and in extracurricular activities. I take great pride in my school and feel very privileged to wear the uniform around the campus and when representing the College out on trips. The school building itself is a great hive of inspiration and academic achievement and with many students also thriving in sport or music, celebration of students’ individuality and creativity in all subjects is a big part of the school ethos. The memories I have made at Catmose are some that will stay with me forever.
The wide range of opportunities at that I have enjoyed at Catmose varies from music to sport and from academia to art. I have completed my bronze Duke of Edinburgh and am working on completing my silver and I have been made a Duke of Edinburgh Ambassador for my efforts; I am an academic scholar and have previously been a sports scholar. I have done my Grade 3 flute and play the piano and outside of school, I volunteer. All of these things I would not have been able to do without the confidence Catmose has given me and the support I have from my teachers and my peers, even the subjects I take are very academic and require a lot of support from my teachers. For me, getting the best support and being in the best learning environment has always been crucial if I am to follow my aspiration and become a doctor and Catmose has provided me with just that.
Ever since I first started in Year 7 and I saw the then Head Girl, Francesca Kennard-Kettle, I immediately wanted to achieve, just as she did, and become a crucial part of the school that I’m so proud to call my own. I hope to use the opportunity of being Head Girl to inspire my fellow students to channel their own ambition into becoming something absolutely amazing and to utilize all the opportunities available to them at Catmose.”
“I applied for the duty of Head Boy and was successful in doing so. I am extremely grateful to have been offered the role and I intend to use to its full potential alongside my colleagues, Molly, the deputies and the rest of the team. I applied for the role for a very simple reason…
When I started Catmose College, I felt a bit stuck. I struggled to find anything that I was good at, or any area that I particularly excelled in. Since the beginning of Year 9, I decided that being in a school like Catmose College and wasting the vast opportunities that were available to me, was not worth it. Although confidence was still one of my weak points, I decided to push myself and it was only through the support of Catmose College that I was able to do this. I formed a band with my Maths teacher. I joined Youth Speaks and became one of the top 7 speakers in Britain and Ireland. I started teaching maths and music. I became a History and Music scholar. I started leading tutorial sessions. I started leading assemblies. I started to enjoy everything that was still on offer before but I had never realised that I could do it! I found my passions and expanded on them, bit by bit.
The support, the staff, the students and the equal value that we have here at Catmose, allowed me to find my feet and expand my skills to become the person that I am today. It is my duty to represent all students here in the Catmose Community and ensure that they too have those same opportunities that I did, to ensure that every student finds their feet and develops into a wonderful young adult, developing transferable skills to aid them in later life.
I want to ensure that the house system, electives and extra-curricular activities are beneficial to all and work effectively. I will ensure that all prefects are fulfilling their duty and will listen to every member of the Student Body, to ensure that everybody can bring their unique value to the community. I set out to ensure that the college has several effective committees, all run by students, for events such as prom and the year book. I want to be engaged with all students and staff at Catmose College and ensure that feedback is received and responded to on a regular basis.
My main aspiration with this role has two specific parts. These are things that I wish to pursue and I aim to be the building blocks for but for the students to make their own. I firstly wish to start a committee and course based on self-confidence, comfort zones and developing new skills alongside others. This is currently a work in progress and will be planned, as initially my personal project, by the end of summer – ready for the start of the next academic year. The second part is trying to increase the level of exposure, that we have in college, to politics and current affairs by starting a new extra-curricular activity and making sure that we discuss it in tutorial and assembly, when most applicable.
My time at Catmose College has most definitely been a life changing one. I am so proud to be a Catmose student and this will be shown in the commitment and hard work that I will show, in ensuring that every student has the same opportunities that I had, in finding those skills and developing them. The Catmose Community is a strong one and I promise to continue that, alongside my brilliant peers and I have no doubt that the current Student Body will be extremely well organised and the most effective that it can be.”
This is one of a series of posts regarding the College’s upcoming trip to Iceland, the introduction to this trip can be read here.
The weather in Iceland is incredibly variable – within an hour it can change from bright sun, to rain, snow and driving winds.
We will be travelling in February when the temperatures in Iceland vary from between -2 and +3 degrees Celsius – ideal conditions for snow but not as cold as you might anticipate given the proximity to the Arctic circle. At night however temperatures can drop to minus 7 degrees Celsius and standing round, as we will be, can make it feel very cold indeed. In London, by comparison typical temperatures in February are usually between +3 and +7 degrees Celsius.
February is also Iceland’s wettest month so there is a good chance of rain during the month, around 78% likely, so water proofs are essential for the trip.
The key is being able to layer up so you should choose clothes that can be worn on top of one another. This will allow you to add layers when cold and then if the weather improves remove them later. We are likely to be standing around for long periods in the cold and so it is best to be prepared.
- Thermal Wool or synthetic leggings and vest – avoid cotton which takes a long time to dry if wet and becomes a poor insulator (http://besthiking.net/cotton-bad-hiking/).
- Wool hat.
- Wool jumpers.
- Wool or fleece neck warmer or scalf.
- Warm gloves, or warm windproof over-mittens and glove liner. The latter works really well to keep your hand warm but allow you to manipulate your camera by taking off the mitt and using the glove liner.
- Walking trousers.
- Waterproof trousers and jacket (breathable best).
- Waterproof walking or lightweight snow boots (ones you can wear on the plane are best).
- Shoe grips (there is a lot of ice on roads, paths and car parks). I found these Yaktraks very good (https://www.yaktrax.co.uk) but any with metal studs will be fine.
- Walking boot gaiters – idea for on the beach or if we have heavy snow.
- Wool based warm socks.
- A warm coat – a down jacket is ideal but the waterproof coat must go over it.
- Head torch (preferably with a red light setting). The red light protects your night vision (https://briankoberlein.com/2015/04/08/blinded-by-the-light/)
You should avoid bringing jeans or other cotton based trousers as these stay wet and lose their insulating properties very quickly.
In order to capture the northern lights or to take night time shots a camera which can operate manually in respect of exposure, lens aperture and focus is needed. For most of the other photography any digital camera will be fine. The site www.dpreview.com is a good starting place if looking for advice about a camera. The College also has a number of DSLR Canon cameras and some tripods that can be loaned to participants; please speak to a member of staff who can advise.
- Camera bag (preferably waterproof).
- lens cloth.
- Ideally, a camera with an interchangeable lens. A wide angle lens, standard zoom and telephoto will all be useful.
- Tripod – Essential for night photography but also for landscapes to ensure a sharp image that is well composed.
- Rain cover for camera and for its bag (if not waterproof).
- At least two 32Gb memory cards for the trip as they will be hard to find and expensive.
- A laptop (optional) for editing images.
- Spare camera battery and charger (we will be taking a lot of photographs).
- All electrical sockets are European two pin so at least one adapter is essential.