Saturday, 30 December 2017

Last Post of 2017 - Mondays

One thing that I tried to do this year is participate in the twitter Monday competitions, #Wexmondays, #Sharemondays and #fsprintmondays

My success has been mixed.

In March I was fortunate to win #Sharemondays with the above image.

The prize was to judge the next week competition. This may sound more of a burden than a prize, but I was and am honored to do that. While the responsibility was heavy, I did actually enjoy sorting through the images. It also helped me define my thoughts on what is a great photograph (and at the same time the realization that its only a judges opinion) 

The same photo also scraped onto the #Wexmondays shortlist, putting me for the 1st time on the leader-board.

Here I go I thought and re-doubled my efforts to enter when I could every week. In the end, no other image got on the shortlist and  I missed the top slot by a measly 750 points. Sigh, so close :) (Many congratulations to Neil Burnell for winning, but you know I was robbed :) )

 Fsprintmondays for whatever reason decided to ignore my images...boooo!

Strange thing is, reviewing my entries to all competitions, a lot of them now appear contrived and if i had the chance again I would not enter them today. 

There are  number of reasons for this. The fact the image has to be taken the week before, means that part time photographers like me, are always under pressure to process the images taken on the Saturday and Sunday, filter them and choose the best. Often it was 11:50p.m on Monday that I had to bite the bullet and decide on which of the 5 or 6 image contenders I would to choose.  If I had a few more days to decide, no doubt the image would of been a different one, but hey, thats the rules of the game.

The bigger issue was that after my early success, I started trying to game the competition and choose images that i thought would suit the judges, rather than the ones I liked most. This is an easy trap to fall into, and if there is one thing I have learned from the experience,  it is to photograph for yourself, not others. True, the results may well be the same, but in the end at least you can say that you liked them.

So in the end, yes it was an effort and burden, but ultimately fun.

It also has kept me taking and processing photos.
It has made me look at other images and think about photographs and what distinguishes a good photo from a great photo.
It has giving me some great ideas on taking images.
It helped me discover some fantastic photographers.  
It also allowed me, for a brief instance, to share the same air as many photographers I admire and respect.

Even if this is my high point in photography, the final point is one I will cherish for years to come.

Saturday, 23 December 2017

Advent 14 - Flow

I have lived for a large period of my life on or around the Peak district.

When I lived in Manchester the dark peak was basically on my doorstep. When I moved further south, the white peaks became my playground. While not perhaps as instantly photogenic as the lakes, its darkness and varied landscapes  make it harder, but in some ways more rewarding to get a good image out of it.

As my interest in photography has grown I have found myself trying to find more days to go into the peak district and explore some of the more less well known areas.

Despite believing I knew the peak district well, for some reason the area around Padley gorge  escaped my notice, until I went on a photo trip with Verity Milligan and Rich Jones. Now it almost always my goto place when I am not feeling adventurous, providing a unique combination of rock formations, heathland, views and waterfalls. Basically everything a landscape photographer could want.

So when I managed to wangle a 24 hour pass from my nearest and dearest in November, it was of course the 1st place I headed for.

However the challenge is to find a photo which has not been taken before in such a heavily frequented spot. There is the obvious shots of milky water on the water falls

But the truth is, these have all been done before and better.

I was taken by the rock formations and although the sunrise never really arrived, i got this  shot which I was happy with as the sun poked around the top of the rock

However this one intrigued me more. It is just 3 spindly silver birches. However their isolation in the rugged landscape spoke to me in a way more than just another waterfall.

However the shot i really liked was this one which I call 'flow'

It basically consisted of me throwing piles of leaves into a fast flowing part of the stream and then  taking a 10th second exposure. However to me it symbolizes the movement and flow of the stream more than a milky photograph. Its very ambiguity and vibrancy also appeals to me more than a realistic but static representation of a landscape.

Friday, 22 December 2017

Advent 13 - People

I like to think I will try my hand at most photography, but probably the one i fear the most is people photography.

While i'm quite happy to try and catch a candid photo of someone with a zoom lens, the idea of coming up to a stranger and asking to take their phot is something very alien and un-British (after all I haven't been formally introduced :))

It is some thing that every year I hope to conquer as I sit in awe as people show me images they have taken at Steam punk fairs and other similar events, but so far I have never built up the courage to do

The one class of people I have less of an issue with taking photos of children, but of course that raises other issues. In the UK, there has grown up a culture of suspicion of anyone with a camera around children and of course this needs to be treated with respect, however ill founded . On the other hand I find friends and family are generally happy with me taking photos of their loved ones especially as more than happy in sharing the results with them.

This picture was taken of a child of one of my wife's relative on a hot summer day during a fun bubble fest. While it is not perfect (the background could of been clearer), the story it tells in the joy of childhood is written across the face.

Catching fleeting moments like these with the camera is one of the joys of photography and one of reason I enjoy it so. This image is for me the synthesis of summer 2017 and could never be repeated

Thursday, 21 December 2017

Advent 12 - Istria

I my head I have this idea of throwing a few cameras in a backpack and a spare pair of underwear, hitching up at the local airport (2 minutes away in my case), jetting off to some location spending 5 days photographing the sites and selling my award winning images.

In reality I have to rely on fitting my photography around family holidays with all the pressures that entails.

This year we decided to go to Istria, part of northern Croatia.

Why there? well because a) it was cheaper than Italy b) we could get there from our local airport so cutting out the most tedious part of the journey and c) it fitted our brief of being different without being too different.

Apart from that my knowledge of Croatia consisted of 1) it was a former member of the former country of Yugoslavia and b) in recent memory it had been involved in a war

Apart from that the country, people and culture were a total mystery. So after we booked we started a intense internet search campaign to work out what we were going to do when we got there (I know a little late for that).

And here comes the issue with my opening statement.

The best way to get around in a foreign country is hire a car (and generally cheaper than the package tours as well). Therefore I had plans to where we could go. The Plitvice National Park looked stunning, Lake Bled, just over the border in Slovenia was a place I had seen photographed many times and seemed on the map close by. Venice a place on my bucket list was just over the other side of the Adriatic  and was surely somewhere we should visit.

However I always make the same mistake. Living on a cramped island where you can throw a brick in any direction and hit some tourist attraction I had misunderstood the scale. Plitvice was a 5 hour car journey, Bled a similar distance (with the complication of border crossings). Venice could be accessed with a 3 hour catamaran ride. That would give us 2 hours and then 3 hour back. Not my definition of fun.

Not only that, but while competent, I am never totally comfortable driving on the 'wrong' side of the road. even with 3 pairs of eyes on me telling me when i am about to dive to the side of the road i am most comfortable I always feel a pressure to keep my wits about me at all time.

In the end we had to pull our ambitions in and have a limit of two hours driving time. This  meant we
only got to see a small part of what is a vast country.

But what a country it is. Unlike Crete, our other Mediterranean excursion, Croatia is verdant and well developed. We were based on Porec, but the toll road was well built and amazingly from a UK perspective virtually empty allowing us to go up and down the Istrian coast.

Inland, we started hitting these little fortified hill towns, perched on top of rock outcrops. My only complaint was  that Croatia road builders are not keen on laybys or viewing spots meaning that it was never easy to stop and take photographs.  My personal favorite was Grožnjan, a small hill town, taken over by an artistic community. An eclectic mix of new world and old world cultures.


Vintage cameras in Grožnjan. They must of known I was coming...

Hum - apparently the worlds smallest town

However it is the coasts which Istria is famous for. Rovinj is called little Venice and it is easy to see why. A bit touristy for my taste, but the combination of narrow streets set against a blue harbour makes it a stunning location. The only pity was that I could not be there during sunset.


And sunsets are what makes this coast so  remarkable. The sun goes down across the Adriatic sea, and coming from a country where you may get 5 or 6 decent sunsets in a year, I was stunned to find a place you were virtually guaranteed a sunset event each night. In the end my family came quite used to me slinking out of whatever harbour side restaurant we had decided to neat at that night to capture the sunset, together with a small audience staring in silence as 1.989 × 10^27 tonnes of gas again slipped below the horizon.

Another average sunset

I took many photos of that event, but the one I liked most was this one using a tripod to scan across the horizon as the sun went down.

So how do I sum up Istria, from a photographic point of view?

Istria is a bit of a undiscovered country photographically, with most photographers going North to Slovenia or south to Dubrovnik. However there is a lot there and I wish I had the time and the courage to explore further inland. For example, the Ucka mountains were just out of reach and looked interesting and a potential great hiking spot.

And that is the problem with photography on holiday. However much you travel, you only just scratching the surface of a place, leaving you with maybes and what ifs. 


Tuesday, 12 December 2017

Advent Day 11 - Spider, Spider

Sometimes you plan with great detail about where and how you are taking a photo. Sometimes it is just a spur of the moment thing.

This one was definitely the latter. I was about to drive off, got in the car and then noticed that a spider had decided to take up residence in the car, web and all.

The sun was just catching the web, so I grabbed my camera, put my 90mm macro on and started taking shots.

The sun just catches part of the web. It is a very minimalist image, but to me stands out because of that.

(The spider was later released, no harm done)

Monday, 11 December 2017

Advent Day 10 - Barley

One of the challenges of holding down a full time job in the Midlands is that it can be difficult to travel very far. while others go for long trips into the Highlands or the lakes, I have to be content generally with what is in my local area.

Late summer I got quite interested in fields of barley. As a midland lad, I have a fascination with waves but it is rare I get a chance to take photos of them.

However when a wind blows across a wheat or barley field, sometimes I imagine  it as a wave spreading across the field.

I became quite obsessed with taking images of a local barley field and tried a number of different views. Backlit, IR, close-up, etc.

However the closest I got to my vision was when I used ICM to represent the barley movement

This is my wave of barley. Not as impressive as Rachel Talibart perhaps, but a lot closer to home

Saturday, 9 December 2017

Advent Day 9 - Stiper Stones

We were lucky enough to use someones house in Church Stretton over the summer holidays.

Church Stretton is a pretty little village just outside Telford nestled in a range of hills called the Long Mynd. It was an  area I already knew pretty well, having camped there 7 years earlier and I was looking forward  to doing some landscape photography there if the family and weather gave me the opportunity.

The long mynd is one of these places overlooked as people transit from one area to another. In this case it is only an hour from the West Midland conurbation and well served by a motorway, but generally either people head North to the peaks or the lakes, or pass it by on their way to Wales and Snowdonia.

Which is a pity, because although perhaps not have the grandeur of Snowdonia or the majesty of the Lakes, it is more accessible than either of those and has its own charms.

The Long Mynd itself is a ridge of hills going North to South and dominates the otherwise flat landscape. In fact to me it looks akin to a large sleeping dragon with Church Stretton nestled in its paws.

There is a road that goes up and over the Long Mynd and my hope was on a clear night go to the top and try some astro photography.However after doing the single track road on the day, the dearth of passing places and lack of barriers on one side totally put me off that idea. Doing it in daytime was scary enough, doing it at night was unthinkable.

So I contented myself with just taking pictures where and where I could.

It was only on the last day that I found the Stiper Stones. Again it is a ridge that runs parallel to the Long Mynd. To get there you either  have to go around the Mynd or over it (which i would not recommend), so although close as the crow flies, it takes a good while to get there.

The stones themselves are a set of grit stome outcrops. However unlike the Mynd they are quite walkable.

Also the weather, which up to this point had been 'changeable'  was fantastic. Of course this was the last day of the holiday.

Stiper Stones

One of my big regrets was I did not get a decent sunset or sunrise shot. In truth the height of the Mynd and Church Stretton's proximity means the sun is hidden until quite high. However the Stiper Stones would make a perfect sunset location.

In fact this was proved because as we went back home on the last day, all I could see in my rear view mirror was one of the best sunsets I have ever seen.

 Ah well, the photographic gods have to have their little laughs

Friday, 8 December 2017

Advent Day 8 - Chelsea Flower Show

It was my wife's significant birthday this year and as a treat I took her to the Chelsea Flower show. 

She had been an avid watcher on TV for years and one of the favorite family events was 'lets play criticise the show garden's.

Anything in London, especially Chelsea is always going to be expensive, and this was no exception. However my big surprise was how compact the site was. In the TV, it gives the impression the show covers acres, but actually it is no bigger than a couple of football pitches.

As always my camera came with me, however I was mindful that my wife's wishes were to come 1st.

Unfortunately, this year was a poor one for Chelsea with a big drop off of the number of the larger show garden. Also in events like this you are always fighting with the crowds. Tripods and unhindered viewing angles are always going to be impracticle.

However I did get these two shows, that I like for different reasons

This one was taken in the large Marque. It was a set of roses on a slate. We were on the last day of the show, so obviously some  of the exhibits were past their best. However the decay to me represented the fleeting point of perfection and the inevitable decline and demise of all things (I know, cheery eh!)

This second one was one of the smaller gardens. I love the simplicity and the blocks of colour. I have been trying to get an image like this for ages, but I would be lying if I could say it was planned. My only issue is where I crop. I have tried with and without the plant, but neither are totally sastisfying, but in the end i prefer this crop best.

Wednesday, 6 December 2017

Advent Day 7 - Birmingham Minimialism

In theory I am native Brummie. I say in theory, I was brought up in Sutton Coldfield, which despite being now part of city of Birmingham, has never truly accepted its role as part of the England's self designated second city.

However despite my reticence of being categorized as Brummie, it is still the city I know best and I still have deep roots with it.

So I often find excuses to go and visit and Verity Milligan's exhibition  in Birmingham's jewellery quarter was just the impetus I needed. I also have a connection with this part of Birmingham as both our wedding and my wife's engagement ring were bought in the area (The shop still stands). It was also not hard to persuade my daughter to some with us, when they heard the word jewellery..

The plan was to visit the  jewellery museum (which is excellent) and then wonder around looking as bling that I could neither afford or aspire to. I also thought I could take some photos of the area.

Unfortunately the weather intervened and by the time we came out, it was grey and drizzling. However I always think in these situations that part of your education as a photographer is to make the best of all conditions, so I persevered.

These are the 2 photos that I came out with. The 1st one was a tree reflected in the pavement rain. What I like about it is its minimalism, something  I have been trying hard to master, In some ways it is simple, but the fact the tree is upside down means it catches the viewers attention (I think!)

The 2nd image is a reflection taken in an empty shop. I love the juxtaposition between the chair and the view of Hockley caught in the reflection. It is as if the chair is both in and outside the world.

These are images which are difficult to categorize. Are they good or is it pseudo intellectual rubbish. In the end it is not important. What is important is that they are images that please and intrigue me. If others feel the same way, all the better.

Tuesday, 5 December 2017

Advent Day 6 Bluebells

There is probably no time of year that excites me and frustrates me more than when the bluebels appear. It is my own little rite of spring as a I tramp to those secret spots, (which all photographers have) to take see if we have reached peak bloom yet.

The frustrating point is that each year the images are always less than I hoped. I mean how hard is it to take images of groups of static flowers, but somehow the results are always less than I hoped.

Generally I end up experimenting with different angles, ICM, anything to get that elusive shot.  Below are some of my more interesting attempts

However I the one shot that stood out is this one

I call it the last stand and it was taken using a flash and a large aperture on a 90mm prime to dim the background. It was taken late in the season as the flowers started to go over. I like the brooding menace of the forest encroaching and represents to me the end of spring and the start of summer

Monday, 4 December 2017

Advent 2017 Day 5 Swallows

Every once in a while I pretend I am a wildlife photographer and try my hand at taking pictures of birds.

While I have managed a few decent shots, one bird has always alluded me and that is the humble swallow. Every year they set up nest at on my neighbors house eave(not mine of course, that would be too easy) where I see them swoop in and out.

Attempts to get images have been basically failures, but with good reason. Swallows never stop. About the only point you can actually get an image is when the feed their young and even then you need to be quick.

This year I had more opportunities than most. We visited Stokesey castle in Shropshire. This is owned by English Heritage and when we visited, I was blown away by the fact they had swallows nests in the house, just above the visitors heads. So I rushed back to get my A6000, put the 210mm zoom on and waited.

However I could not spend long there, so the shots were disappointing.

My next opportunity however was when I holidayed in Great Strickland. We stayed in a nice pub and when I came out the swallows were clearly getting ready to go on their amazing journey to South Africa and were congregating on the telephone wires. Also for once I had my 600mm zoom on me, so I just stood their taking images with the handheld (while my long suffering wife tapped her foot as she waited to go to breakfast).

I got a lot of nice shots that day, but this one stood out

I call it departure gate, and it is my celebration of the awesome journey these little birds make each year. It is hardly believable that every year, the same birds make a journey from South Africa, to my small suburban road, to have chicks and then make the same journey back.


I had one more connection with these world travelers this year. I was inside when my wife urgently called me out. She said there was something under my car, so I looked under and there was Freddie, out neighbors cat, sitting and staring at a young swallow, who had obviously fell from the next doors nest. Fortunately it was just sitting there so confusing the cat, who generally pounces on anything that moves.

I quickly grabbed it (it did not move, swallows are not really ground dwellers) and took inside. We placed it in a large paper bag where it just sat and  tried to decide what to do with it.Feeding it ourselves was not an option. I'm not great a catching flies and there was no reason to believe it would take them from me anyway. Also we were not in a situation to do 24 hour care. We thought about calling the RSPB, but decided to see if we could get it back into the nest

By this time it was dark, the nest was a at the top of the house, and I'm not that good with heights. Nevertheless with the help of my neighbor, we set up a ladder and I maneuvered my way up, holding onto the bag with one hand.

At the top, I had no confidence I could hold the ladder and grab the bird, while stuffing it into the small slot at the top of the nest. Fortunately I managed  to grab the chick and when I presented it to the slot, it shuffled in, causing a racquet of what I assume was a mixture of relief and indignation.

I have no proof that the chick survived but a week later while working in the garage, a large group of swallows wheeled above me, then disappeared. That was the last time I saw them this year, and i like to think that it was a thank you   and au revoir :)

Advent 2017 Day 4 Mono chrome

This one was done for my local camera club competition. Every year a theme around one word is chosen for next year competition. In other years we had words as far part as Transport and Emphasis.

Mono Chrome

This year the theme was Monochrome. The problem with this was the picture was to obvious. Basically we would have a whole collection of B&W images.

Now basically when people jag left, my desire is to jag right, so the challenge was to come with an image that met the 'breif' but allowed me to experiment a bit.

So I decided to play with the term Monochrome (Mono Chrome geddit!) .

Basically the shoot consisted of a sheet of chequered vinyl. The Ball was the end of a curtain retainer I got for £2 at B&M.

The challenge was the lighting. The camera was on a tripod and the light was a LED light, which i tried at various angles. To get the fall off to the distance I tried a number of apertures and used black curtains at the end to create a black background.

The reason I like the picture so much was that it was a picture where the planning and execution came together.

One person asked whether it was real of computer generated, and in truth it might of been easier to generate it via computer (not sure what category that would come under in club rules).

In the end however, the judge did not get the joke, and in competition it was not a great success, but it was a fun project to do.

Sunday, 3 December 2017

Advent 2017 Day 3 - Diwali celebrations

I worked in Leicester for about 7 years at one point, and my wife hails from just outside the city. Despite my close connection to the city for some reason I had never gone to the annual Diwali festival, which is the biggest Hindu festival outside India.

This year however it fell on my birthday, and I resolved to go with my wife and youngest daughter (my eldest was already at Leicester university, but student socializing and the risks of being seen with her father, meant she decided to go later ).

To those who don't know it, Leicester sometimes gets a bad press, and yes it has to be said it is not necessarily the prettiest of cities. However I have always found it a fantastically vibrant and the melting pot of cultures goes a long way in driving that.

I wasn't sure what the festival would be like. Would I, a patently Caucasian  non-Hindu be welcome? Will be so alien I would be left gasping like some grounded fish?

As it was it was none of these. It was a party that all could join in and while some sights left you struggling to gain cultural insights, it was generally a joy to visit are partake.

In a a world where tolerance of differences and multiculturalism seem to be dirty worlds, it was a fantastic example of where acceptance and celebration of cultural differences rather than fear and intolerance made the world a better place.

 In terms of photography however it was a pretty disappointing night. I wanted to try my hand at street photography. Top tip guys. Street photography and towing your families along does not mix.

Not only that but the light was pretty poor, meaning I had to resort to the in-camera flash

However this shot stood out to me and summed up Diwali. It was taken late on. Although it looks posed, it was just taken with flash as I walked along and caught a young family eating a snack.

The thing I like about it, is that it represent a snapshot of the festival and the  mix of cultures.  It sums up for me the wonderful mix of cultures during the Diwali celebration which makes Leicester so special.

Saturday, 2 December 2017

Advent Day 2 - The adoration of the Magi

Somewhere deep down is someone who beleives that given the right access and equipment I too could be a great sport photographer.

Personally I blame Bob Martin. I have caught a couple of his talks and I always stunned by his images, and the way it makes it sound so simple. Of course seep down I know it5s not, and even if I managed get a front row seat at some major event, I would need to massively upgrade my equipment to even get anything close to his images and even then I would fall a  long way short.

But hey a man can dream....

The biggest issue to overcome is just gaining access. For example I live near a major race track, but the normal plebs are kept behind near opaque safety barriers, meaning the view are  pretty well non-existent. The only recourse generally is go to amateur or less popular events, but some part of me still yearns to be part of the big boys.

So to the photo. This photo was taken at Welford road, the home of the Leicester tigers. I managed to wangle a couple of tickets where I and my daughter, who despite being sports averse, has some strange fascination with the 15 man game.

Unusually we were not perched in the news large stand, but in the older south stand, where the view and proximity to the pitch made up for the hardness of the seats. Not only that, but this was a fantastic bright spring day, meaning even with my A6000 and a 210mm lens I could still get some great shots.

Below are just 4 of them 

Glory Awaits
I particularly like the one above, especially caught with the sign glory awaits, but it is the one below I keep returning too.

It is not your traditional rugby shot. It is not a try being scored or a tackle. It is very static in a dynamic game. So why this one?

It hit me later, that Iit is because I have seen this picture before. I seen the same positions in renaissance paintings in many galleries.

For example this painting by the Spanish 16th century painter, Sofonisba Anguissola

This photo has pretty well failed in all the competitions I put it in. The mistake is that I have named it wrong. Instead of 'Scrum' or a similar asinine name, I should of called it the 'adoration of the magi' :)