Monthly Archives: June 2009

Glastonbury sunset

Glastonbury-57, originally uploaded by Zardoz67.

Hello readers… I am back from Somerset with a hangover and a suntan (no honestly – apart from Thurs night/Fri morning there was no rain). I decided to treat the festival this year as an unpaid (obviously) photoshoot. So instead of the usual pictures of the backs of heads and very small famous people (it’s difficult to get to the front with an SLR bag and various lenses – pro photographers have it easy) I decided to get out and about on the site and try and capture images that will hopefully give you an idea of the sheet scope and diversity of the festival. And I hope to share the best of the pictures I took with you in the coming weeks.

This picture was taken on Wednesday night (my first day there). I walked right to the back of the site above the stone circle and waited for the sun to go down. Those of you who have followed the blog since day one will now be familiar with the effects of camera shake so this picture was taken in the fading light with a tripod, remote shutter release and a 20s shutter speed. Thankfully the people in the foreground must have decided to stay very still and take the view in as well.

You can quite clearly see the tepee field and another field of tents behind that. Hope you like the image. More will follow

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Holding pattern

mud2 (1 of 1)

Right. I am off to Glastonbury in the morning so will not be posting to the blog for about 5 or 6 days. As of now, or rather the BBC weather forecast of 5 minutes ago it looks like it might pan out thus:

  • Wednesday: Sun
  • Thursday: Sun
  • Friday: Deluge of possibly biblical proportions
  • Saturday: Sun and showers
  • Sunday: Sun

So, although not all bad if it does really piss down on Friday then we return to the quagmire of yesteryear (i.e. 2007). BUT, and it’s a big but, if there is some sunshine and it doesn’t rain all the time, then it should dry out pretty quickly. In 2007 the rain was constant before, during and after so hopefully the experience will be slightly more comfortable. If the last few days have taught me anything it is that the weather in this country is beyond prediction.

This photo was taken in 2007 and may well be what I am experiencing when you read this. I will be trying to twitter (if battery and liver hold out – follow @Zardoz67) and the twitter feed on this blog should update accordingly with photographs (via twitpic) so you can see just how good/bad things are. I hope to get some good photos to share with you on my return.

I am just going out. I may be some time – Captain Oates

Just be thankful I haven’t shared my pictures of the naked rambler with you…

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Bird of prey

owl in flight (1 of 1)

First of all – many apologies for not posting for a few days, but unfortunately there is the day (ie real) job to contend with as well as packing for Glastonbury. Today’s picture was taken last weekend at Norton Priory, Daresbury, Cheshire. The priory itself is long gone but as well as the visitor centre depicting the priory layout and what it might have looked like in the Middle Ages  there is also a more recent, but still pretty old, Victorian walled garden. The garden is great for getting pictures of flowers (being walled there is less wind to contend with) but on this occasion there was a falconry display. This particular image was taken as the owl left the stand to fly to the glove of its keeper and despite not using a tripod I think it has turned out quite well. It does not take a genius to work out that it was taken in continuous shooting mode – the only way to shoot something that’s moving. So while this image turned out OK there were many others left on the floor of the digital darkroom. That’s the great thing about digital photography.

I must admit I have always liked owls. Unlike most birds I find them utterly alien (I mean is it normal to be able to turn your head 360 degrees and cough up the bones and fir of what you have eaten). In literature of course owls are always depicted as wise (Winne the Pooh) or magical (Harry Potter), and sometimes terrifying (The Owl Service) but when you see on up close you realise what they really are –  a very efficient killing machine.

One of the first books I ever read on my own was Jill Tomlinson’s ‘The Owl That Was Afraid of the Dark’ and that perhaps is why I have such a fondness for them. I have read this book to my children and they both love it. It tells the story of Plop the barn owl and the encounters he has over several nights (old lady, astronomer, boy scout, cat) that convince him that the dark is nothing to be scared of and is actually fun, exciting, etc. If you have kids (or even if you don’t) I highly recommend it . So here it is – an owl in all its glory. Marvellous isn’t it?

The day after tomorrow I will be heading off to Glastonbury so will not be posting for a while (many apologies again). Tomorrow night I am going to post one of my favourite images from a past festival as a sort of holding image but when I get back I hope to have a lot of new images to share with you from this most wonderful of events. While at Glastonbury I will be twittering (follow @Zardoz67) and my posts and attached images will appear in the twitter feed on the blog. Please bear in mind that these images will be taken by my phone; my camera images will only appear after I get back. If you are a regular visitor I hope you enjoy this blog. Please do comment and  let me know what you think…


Kiss Kiss Bang Bang

bang your dead (1 of 1)

Good evening all (or morning or afternoon depending on when you are reading this). In a previous post titled ‘Nifty Fifty’ I spoke about the 50 mm prime lens that I recently purchased – don’t worry I am not going to bore you again – and how it had an f-stop number that went as low as 1.8 which meant that the aperture in the camera is very large. If you have been following closely you will know that the larger the aperture the more limited the depth of field. This is perfectly illustrated by today’s photograph.

Basically:

  • A larger aperture (low f-stop number) = more blur = less depth of field (more blur in front of and behind subject).
  • A smaller aperture (high f-stop number = less blur = more depth of field (less blur in front of and behind subject)

Depth of field in simple terms is therefore the area in front of, and behind, the subject in focus. Hopefully from the above it becomes obvious why portrait photographers shoot with a larger aperture and landscape photographers shoot with a smaller aperture. Of course there all sorts of aperture sizes in between and choosing the best one for the image you want is one of the key milestones on the road to ‘getting’ digital photography. This is why photographers tend to shoot in aperture priority mode (AV on my Canon). In AV mode you control the size of the aperture and the camera handles the shutter speed. Of course there is also another shooting mode (imaginatively titled shutter priority mode) where the opposite is true.

This picture was taken in a friend’s garden last Sunday at a BBQ and features my 8-year-old son. When he was born, my wife and I decided that we were going to ban toy guns and we vowed that we were going to stick to this maxim come what may. This worked OK when he was little but there came a time, i.e. when school reared its head, when the subject of guns, war, tanks, fighter jets suddenly became of great interest to him. He started to pick up sticks at first or use wooden spoons or chopsticks in lieu of not having a toy gun. Then of course, in Summer he wanted a water pistol or super soaker. As soon as he could read proficiently he became obsessed with the actually very good ‘Horrible History’ series of books, particularly the ones on the First and Second World Wars. We are regularly dragged to the Imperial War Museum in Salford. Slowly it dawned on us that this is actually what little boys are like and so like all weak parents we caved in. That said, he is a sensible and actually quite sensitive child and knows that guns are bad and hurt/kill people but playing at soldiers never did me any harm (that I know of).

So when looking at this picture, take it for what it is. It’s not a hard-hitting depiction of broken Britain. It’s an 8-year-old child with a toy gun. That said, the plaster on the finger is a nice touch and if only I could have persuaded him to wear his hoodie. By the way if you are wondering where the title of the blog comes from it’s a reference to James Bond. Just as I did, my son is just discovering the Bond films. His favourite: You Only Live Twice (funnily enough with a screenplay by Roald Dahl) featuring Donald Pleasence as the definitive Blofeld (and also the template for Dr Evil in the Austin Powers films).

As for depth of field, this picture says it all. The hands and the toy gun are the focal point of the image (obviously) with the foreground and background blurred. This was shot with the aperture the largest it would go for this lens (f1.8).

As always please leave comments and let other people know that this blog exists if you feel the need. In the meantime, don’t have nightmares…


Red and green should never be seen

damsel fly (1 of 1)

So after a brief bask in the sunshine of actually achieving something photography based it’s back to the blog proper and another macro image. When you set up a blog in wordpress you get a really handy back end (no sniggering at the back) which provides stats on how many views a day the blog gets and what people searched on to get here, etc. Now I’m not going to lie to you re visitor numbers as it is still early days but I must admit that traffic has not been overwhelming and a lot of it has been generated from my facebook page (so thanks to all friends who visit regularly). That said, I am getting regular visitors and have had comments from outside my circle of friends (thanks to you good people too) which is encouraging.

What has become clear from my stats is that my most popular blog posts so far have been the macro images that I have posted. Now admittedly I do feel that this may be where what negligible talent I have lies. I love taking pictures of flowers, insects, bugs, etc. I find it challenging (see previous posts on camera shake) and fascinating as I think it captures a world so far removed from our own. A world where a lifetime can last a matter of weeks, days or even hours. This feeds into a point that I have previously touched on, that photogrpahy is all about capturing a moment that will not happen again, ever. Isn’t that amazing in itself? One click and something is frozen in time forever (or at least until my hard drives crashes).

Thanks to work I have been able to practice my portrait photogrphy (thanks Cally and Richard) and this is improving too – although I would not dream of posting the images here (certainly not without permission from the subjects themselves). I am hoping that Glastonbury will give me a perfect opportunity to get some more people shots (two weeks today I will be there).

In the meantime here is another image from that hot Bank Holiday Monday we had recently. I thought it was a dragon fly but my wife informs me that it is in fact a damsel fly (I am not sure of the difference). There is an old adage that goes that ‘red and green should never be seen’ in terms of colours that go together. On this occasion I beg to differ. If you like the picture please leave a comment on the blog.

In the meantime, and in order to generate a bit of interest/traffic I thought I might open the blog up to you – the readers. If you would like to add a topic or a mood or emotion (as a comment) I will then do my best to take a photograph that illustrates said topic/mood/emotion. One word will do… e.g. happiness, sadness, anger, cheese, potato, hair. And I will try my best to capture an image that conveys the word. The idea is probably doomed to failure but it’s worth a go – I am very aware that the images I like might bore you senseless. Till the next time…


Normal service will be resumed

Those of you who have persevered with me from my very first blog entry will know that one of the things that inspired me to write this blog was that the greeting card company Medici asked if they could use one of my images on a greetings card. The image was entered in the RHS photography competition and although I didn’t win it was wonderful to get some recognition. Anyway, my sample cards arrived today with my picture and credit on them. I can’t tell you how much this means to me and although it’s not the first time I have had a picture in print (see blog post on Mud and Glastonbury) it is the first time that I have had a sense that maybe, just maybe, I might have the ability to capture images that are good enough to licence (ie sell). So many apologies for today’s uninspiring picture but realise that it means a lot to me…

card (1 of 1)

The card is assume now available for retail (I assume) and although I do not get any royalties I would love to hear from you if you see it in any shops/outlets for purchase. I have several other images under consideration now by three greeting card companies. Unfortunately, the process appears to be a slow one but I will let you know of any progress that I make. In the meantime, normal service will be resumed tomorrow


The sound of leather on willow

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Well its June 7th and the hot weather of the May Bank Holiday seems like an eon ago. As I write, the rain is lashing the window and the wind is blowing a gale. In other words a typical English Summer… Today’s photo was taken on that hot Bank Holiday Monday at Cholmondely castle and I suppose is a bit of a picture postcard view of what we expect the English Summertime to be like. It was taken at the top of the hill near the castle looking back down towards the cricket pitch and as you can see there was a game going on.

If you are as old as me and can remember the Summer of 1976 you are probably afflicted by the same skewed childhood version of Summer that it was always hot. However, the mind plays tricks; the drought of 76 was so unique, so out of character that the 6 weeks of the school holidays seemed to last forever. A lifetime of Summers was packed into those weeks and when I think back to my childhood it is always 1976 that looms large. Water fights in the street, long bike rides into the countryside, setting fire to railway embankments and yes, lots and lots of cricket. Once, when cycling home from the playing fields with cricket stumps under my arms I dropped one into the spokes of the front wheel and went over the handlebars, head first onto the road. Maybe this is where my cricket ambivalence stems from…

You see, I have to admit that cricket is lost on me; as a game I find it unfathomable and as a sport I find it unengaging. People who watch cricket often say to me that watching it is ‘not about the cricket’ and I agree to a certain extent. I did attend a Test Match once at Old Trafford (and had a great time) but no-one appeared to be watching the match that was unfolding inexorably before them. It was primarily an excuse to get drunk, wave inflatable bananas around, sing Abba songs and shout abuse at policemen. But if it’s ‘not about the cricket’ why have it all? Surely any game that can go on for 5 days and still end in a draw is, ultimately, pointless?

That said, there is something to be said for the sound of a game of cricket on a village green on a hot Summer’s day. Especially if you can sit outside a pub with a pint of beer in your hand with good friends. My sport of choice is football (or soccer if you are not of these shores) and I realise that to many football is equally unfathomable. I therefore don’t want to knock cricket as I know it brings joy to many (especially Australians). Looking at this photo I can almost get why some people find it so engrossing: given good weather, good company and good beer there is no better soundtrack that the sound of leather on willow.


And the winner is…

Just a quick blog update as a follow on to my post about giants and green men. Today I went to pick up my prize for winning the Lord Mayor of Chester’s photography competition from the Apple store (and very nice too). Also had my photo taken for the local press (not so nice) so will be keeping my head down next week. Anyhow, I have been given the OK to show you the winning photo on the blog as copyright rests with me (yay!) and they are only going to use the photo to publicize the competition. A copy is also being sent to Apple (as suppliers of the prize) so let’s hope Steve Jobs recognizes my genius 😉

So here is the photo submitted on the theme ‘The Communities of Chester’. Not much to say about it really other than it was taken at the Midsummer watch parade and I have obviously done some post production on it involving spot colour. To be honest I didn’t think I had a cat in hell’s chance of winning and this sort of image (monochrome with a colour element) has been done to death recently (by companies such as Venture). All I can say is that the Lord Mayor liked it – not sure what that says about my image or his taste but, heh, who cares?

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Don’t blink

 angel (1 of 1)

Today’s photo is a lovely slice of gothic Victoriana. It’s a monochrome image taken in the churchyard in the village of Christleton, Cheshire. Now apart from photography one of my other great passions (or obsessions as my children would have it) is ghost stories, both in print and in cinematic/televisual form. There’s nothing like a well-written ghost story to chill the bones and I must admit I much prefer the subtle dread of the best ghost stories to overt horror. The Victorians and Edwardians were particularly good at ghost stories whether its the creeping dread of MR James ‘O, Whistle, and I’ll Come to You, My Lad’ which was marvellously adapted by Jonathan Miller for the BBC in 1968 or the sinister unease of Charles Dickens’ ‘The Signalman,’ filmed in 1976 as one of the BBCs Ghost Stories for Christmas. My top ten films of all time contains three ghost stories – The Innocents (aka Turn of the Screw), The Haunting and Nic Roeg’s ‘Don’t Look Now’. Also, as I write, I am looking at the signed pictures of Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee that I have on my study wall…

In most ghost stories the location is almost important as the characters… and churchyards are tailor made. In Bram Stoker’s ‘Dracula’ the count first attacks Lucy Westenra in the churchyard on Whitby’s East cliff. The Victorians were also great believers in the paranormal, hence their interest in seances, ouija boards and the like. Sherlock Holmes’ creator Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was a great believer in spiritualism and championed many mediums despite many (all) of them being exposed as charlatans.

The great thing about Victorian churchyards is the monuments themselves. The angel depicted in this picture must have cost a small fortune to sculpt given its size. The fact that it is erected in the memory of a small child gives added poignancy –  it is a telling reminder of the things we take for granted today. Little 100 years ago, death was a still a major part of Victorian life. Of course to my son, a huge Doctor Who fan, this picture is one of the weeping angels from the episode ‘Blink’. Hope you like the picture whether you see it as an example of Christian iconography or something altogether more sinister. And if you catch something out of the corner of your eye, it’s probably just a shadow.


Giants, a green man and some progress?

Well today has been a good day. A couple of months ago I went to the Apple reseller in town to buy a case for my phone. At the till point they put a leaflet in my bag promoting the Lord Mayor of Chester’s Giant Photographic competition. Basically, they  were looking for images that depicted the ‘Communities of Chester’ and there were two prize categories <16 and 16 and over. There was a strict one entry per person rule so I had to choose just one picture to represent that theme. After consultation with my creative advisor (my wife) she suggested that I should look at the photographs I took during the midsummer watch parade last year. This tradition dates back to medieval times and involves a large procession through the city centre with bands, costumes, floats, puppets and – most importantly – giants (hence the title of the competition).

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So, I trawled back through the photos and chose one that I felt best fitted the criteria. Today, after completely forgetting that I had even entered the competition I heard that my photo had been chosen as the winner (and not in the <16 category). Now forgive me for not posting it on the blog but I don’t want to tempt fate and I also want to be fair – the image is to appear in local publications and on-line. However, once it goes on-line I will update this blog post and supply a link to the image. I have to go the the Apple shop on Friday to have my photograph taken and receive my prize which is a point and click Canon 10 mp camera and portable photo printer. It’s all very exciting. In the meantime I thought I would post a couple of my other favourite images from the Midsummer watch. The giants I have already mentioned and they feature in the picture above. Post parade the giant costumes were parked in the square next to the cathedral and I though they were quite imposing in this gothic setting, especially when you have the people in the foreground to emphsise their height.

The picture below is one of the parade’s figureheads – the Green Man. The midsummer watch is an odd hotch potch of pagan and Christian and of course the green man reflects this perhaps more than any other part of English folklore. He appears throughout Europe and is a sculpture, drawing or other representation of a face surrounded by or made from leaves. Branches or vines may sprout from the nose, mouth, nostrils or other parts of the face and these shoots often bear flowers or fruit. Green Men are frequently found on carvings in churches (like York Minster) and other buildings (both secular and church). “The Green Man” is also a popular name for English pubs. Found in many cultures around the world, he is a symbol of rebirth representing the cycle of growth each spring. Perhaps he also represents my growth as a photographer…? Gosh that’s cheesy but hey I’m in a good mood. To be honest I find the green man a bit creepy (it’s all a bit Lord Summerisle to me) but I like the photo nonetheless.

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