Monthly Archives: July 2009


I can’t believe that I have now been writing this blog on a regular basis for almost 3 months and that people are still visiting. Many thanks… Maybe this is the time to take stock of what I have achieved (if anything) during this short period of time. Firstly, I would like to thank all of you who have taken the time to give me encouragement and feedback. It really is appreciated.

So as well as being cheered up by all the feedback what else have I achieved? I do feel that I have improved as a photographer, certainly in terms of which lens to use when, the importance of using a tripod, shooting at night, etc. Not sure if the improvement is visible from post to post but I certainly feel it. Since May I have seen one image published on a greetings card, have won a local photography competition and come second in the Guardian’s garden wildlife poll. So all in all I am pretty pleased with progress thus far. I have had a couple of rejections from greetings card companies but both were complimentary and promised to keep me on file (and expressed that I should keep in touch).

From the comments and feedback I have received it seems that many of you feel that my talent (?) might lie in macro/landscape photography and I must admit this is what interests me the most. Although, that said I haven’t really done enough portraits as it’s a bit of a legal mine field (or at least seems to be). Self portraits are all well and good but you would soon get tired of my face staring out at you. I think pictures taken of people at events are OK to post but the sort of close-up intimate portrait that I need practice in really needs willing victims … sorry models… who don’t mind their faces posted on t’internet. That said I have take some pictures of friends children that have been well received and another portrait of a friend that has joined a band (in moody black and white) also went down well (for making him look cool and not the middle-aged old giffer that he really is).

So all in all, probably a B+ sp far. But could do better… Future plans? Well I have entered more competitions and it has also been suggested that I should self-publish some of my flower pictures as greetings cards – this I will need to look into as cost is going to be a primary concern and I’m a wee bit skint at the moment.

And today’s picture? Well, it’s Friday isn’t it. I took this at Glastonbury with the trusty 50mm prime lens referred to in previous posts. These guys were standing on top of one of the stones in the stone circle ‘raving’ for want of a better word (apologies for the 80s language). As it was night time the shutter stayed open for a second or two – to let as much light as possible in – which means I got this great effect of light trails from the glowsticks they were waving.

All comments are welcome as always.



Industrial landscape

Not long ago the UK Met Office made a much trumpeted statement predicting a BBQ Summer. On the basis of this, and also due to the continuing credit crunch, many people made the decision to holiday at home this year rather than fly to sunnier climes. Oh how they must be kicking themselves now… As I type the rain is hammering down outside. It is the 29th July. We British are obsessed with the weather to the point of distraction, probably because we never have a clue what it is going to do from one day to the next. A Met Office spokesman on the radio this morning stated that they only ever said that there was 65% chance of a hot Summer; however, this was not reported the press (as is their wont) deciding to run with many different variations of ‘phew, it’s a scorcher’.

The more alert of you will remember that this is a topic that I have posted on before. Maybe I am just as obsessed with the weather as everyone else, but maybe I have cause…? As you know, photography is all about light so, as a sweeping generalisation, a fair amount of light can be considered a good thing. I am starting to come round to the idea that the UK weather actively conspires against the photographer. Overcast grey skies do not an interesting subject make and rain brings a whole different set of problems. Changing a lens in the pissing rain is not easy, neither is keeping the rain off the front of the lens (even with a lens hood). Of course rain and Summer temperatures can lead to fogging and high humidity is not good for a camera’s inner workings.

A friend of mine on Flickr has taken some wonderful photographs in Calabria, Italy and I am envious of the light, the warm sunshine, the amazing colours, etc. Of course, the UK really does have some stunning natural scenery too but when it’s hidden in a bank of mist or set against a slate grey sky the beauty is somewhat diminished and as a photographer you are limited in what you can capture.

This weekend I had a couple of hours free to go and take some photographs but as usual it was raining. On consulting a book I was bought for Xmas by Scott Kelby ( it gave the advice that in bad weather you should shoot pictures that are enhanced by the conditions – derelict buildings, industrial landscapes, etc. With this in mind my son and I climbed Helsby Hill with a view to getting some ‘grim up North’ landscapes. Helsby Hill looks out towards the industrial sites of Stanlow and Runcorn, not to mention the M56 motorway. Despite the pouring rain, I am quite pleased with the results. More of the photos are on Flickr but I particularly like this one because of the juxtaposition of the greenery (wild blackberries in the foreground) with the industrial site and steely sky of the background. Let me know what you think.

As an aside, my photograph of a snail in my back garden (which as regular readers will know was voted second best in an on-line Guardian poll on garden wildlife photography) was on Monday reproduced as part of a centre spread in the Guardian newspaper. Unfortunately, I didn’t buy a copy but have managed to get a back issue… This is now the second of my photographs to have been published in a national newspaper so I am feeling a bit buoyed by it all. But don’t worry fair reader I am sure that another crisis of confidence is looming, especially if it keeps on bloody raining

Simple is often beautiful

Poppy head, originally uploaded by Zardoz67.

Hello regular readers (and it seems that there is a small but growing number of you so thanks for reading)! Sorry for not blogging for a couple of days, but the weekend was a busy one and I just didn’t find the time. It is that dreaded time of year when the kids are off school for 5 or 6 weeks and seek constant attention. Thankfully, I can still go to work but unfortunately my wife is not quite so lucky as she is a teacher and therefore shares her holidays with our beloved offspring. Finding something for them to do all day can be trying and expensive, especially with a demob happy 8 and 6 year old, no matter how much you love them and no matter how wonderfully witty and intelligent you think they are. So anyway, this weekend mostly revolved around getting out and about with the kids so my other half could take a small amount of rest following a week of family-based activity.

Of course having friends with kids is half the battle as, providing the weather is nice, you can meet up over a BBQ and a glass of red wine while the kids go mental in the garden. Today’s picture was taken in a friend’s garden a couple of Saturday’s ago. She has recently taken up garden design as a hobby (there must be an in-built gene that triggers at 40-something and screams ‘DO SOMETHING WORTHWHILE AND CREATIVE NOW!’) and is using her own garden as her template. Anyhow, she is obviously very good at it and I’m not sure how she fits it all in around her day job (which is creating and maintaining a website on how to keep the bored children of Cheshire and its surrounding counties happy all year round:

I have taken to taking the camera everywhere of late (even if it’s just in the boot of the car) just in case and so decided to take some pictures. Unfortunately, most of them were hampered by various youngsters sticking their heads in shot and pulling faces (bless ’em) but I managed to get a few good images including this one. At first viewing it was another of those images that didn’t look good in the preview window but which really came to life once I looked at it on the computer. It’s a really simple image, dominated by a single colour but I think it shows that simple can sometimes be fantastic. It also reflects the beauty of my friend’s garden which, despite being in a city suburb, is an oasis of calm and tranquillity (except when the kids are on holiday).

Please feel free to comment and suggest the sort of images you would like to see on the blog. My stats tell me that one day last week I had 100 separate views which may not seem much in the scheme of other blogs but will do for me. That 100 people visited this blog on a single day is pretty amazing all things considered (i.e. that I have no idea of how to publicize it more). I get a certain amount of traffic via Twitter, Facebook and WordPress itself but I now appear to be getting visitors via Google searches also. Obviously the key is to give the post a current trending topic as a name. Sadly, I think my stats leapt last week because of my picture of Nantcol falls which featured tragically in the news last week. So, if you see a post titled ‘Michael Jackson’ you will know it’s a shameless attempt to pull in more punters.

Thanks for reading!

Mark (Zardoz67)

Is there an entomologist in the house?

Hoverfly, originally uploaded by Zardoz67.

So, I’m back after 2 days of working darn sarf in our London office. Deliberately didn’t take the camera with me as it was too much to carry and I didn’t think I would get the opportunity to take any pictures – which proved to be right.

Since I started this blog a lot of people have sent me details about photographic competitions of various different types and subjects. I have entered some pictures into the amateur categories of the British Wildlife Photography Awards and also a couple of landscapes into a landscape photography competition. My mother-in-law also sent me details of this years Countryfile photography competition which closes in September… Now I can’t say I have ever watched Countryfile, although I hear it has gone ‘all trendy’, but my in-laws watch it religously. This years competiton has the theme ‘Wild and Wonderful’ and the remit is as follows:

… entries must have the natural world at their heart. You might choose to photo British wildlife (which includes animals and plants), landscapes or even the weather. Pictures of domestic animals (eg pets and livestock) and cultivated plants are not eligible…

so its open to interpretation, which to be honest makes it a bit difficult. Also, digital manipulation is forbidden so my HDR landscapes are out (and besides sheep count as domestic animals). I am thinking of entering the image of Nantcol falls (see previous post) and maybe the bee picture of a few posts back and I also really like today’s picture. Unfortunately, I don’t have a clue what it is – it’s not a wasp or a bee, although it has been suggested that it might be a hoverfly. If anyone can shed any light I would be very greatful. Although it’s a uninspiring image flower-wise, I like the symmetry and the contrast of the insect’s wings against the yellow of the flower.

Now obviously I have plenty of time to decide what images to select to send to John Craven (and I may take some obviously better ones between now and September) but if you have any favourites so far that fit the category or can suggest and ‘Wild and Wonderful’ things and places that I can photograph then I would love to hear from you. Thanks

Wide open spaces

Fence line, originally uploaded by Zardoz67.

In the UK there is a general impression that the country is overpopulated and overcrowded and, granted, in our larger cities and some areas in the South this is undoubtedly the case. However, the further North you go the greater the access to wide open spaces – even the urban conurbations of Manchester and Liverpool give way to green fields and rolling hills within the space of a relatively short drive.

I work in a modern, open-plan office in a renovated Victorian mill and yet today’s picture was taken within a 15-minute drive of my place of worked. Now where I work is not a place of huge urban sprawl but it is a relatively busy, well-populated Cheshire town. Therefore it amazes me that I was able to take such a striking picture with such little effort in my lunchtime.

This is my favourite of the HDR images that I have taken so far. I’m not sure why – it might be the perspective and depth, it might be the detail of the barbed wire and grass, it might the the juxtaposition of the landscape and sky. Whatever it is, I think it works and I hope you agree. There is a lot of argument at the moment as to whether HDR photography is ‘proper’ photography, indeed some photography groups on Flickr have a ‘no HDR’ rule. Admittedly, you do need a piece of software to merge your three exposures together but once merged I find that the image requires very little digital tweaking to get a stunning HDR image. Compare this to a ‘proper’ photograph submitted to Flickr but Photoshopped to within an inch of its life and I can’t see much of a difference. In essence HDR is an exaggerated form of the image captured – the shadows are more ‘shadowy’, the highlights more ‘highlighted’ and the colours more vibrant.

If you look at some of the images in the Flickr group ‘My first HDR’ you will see all sort of candy-coloured monstrosities where the photographer quite clearly hasn’t grasped the concept of what HDR is about (indeed you may feel the same wayabout my image here) but done with subtlety it can produce an image that improves on the original exposures and approaches something more like art. I lay no such claims on this image, other than to re-state that it’s my favourite of the HDR images I have taken so far. It’s far more obviously a HDR image when compared to my picture of Liverpool but sometimes the hyper-reality achieved with HDR works in the image’s favour, which I think is the case here… I mean, given that it’s a picture of a wall it’s pretty interesting. Isn’t it?

Wild South West

Wild west, originally uploaded by Zardoz67.

Sorry for not updating the blg for a couple of days but work and the weekend have conspired against me. When photography is a hobby it’s sometimes difficult to find the time to a) take pictures and b) blog about the pictures you have taken. Whilst I did manage to get some some good shots this weekend they were at a friend’s birthday BBQ (most of which was spent huddled under an umbrella) so probably won’t be of that much interest.

As you know, I upload some of my images to Flickr the on-line photography site. I registered for Flickr ages ago but until recently had not really used it. Then, I entered a competition which required me to upload photographs to Flickr and now I am hooked. Not only does it enable me to get feedback on my images it also allows me to comment and ask questions of other, better, photographers. Also, you can join various groups, depending on the image type, which provides other good opportunities to give and receive feedback.

Another thing I like about Flickr is that you can see how many people (not including you) have viewed a particular image. This can be both depressing and elating; images that I really like have been hardly looked at and others that I perhaps am not so keen on have been viewed many times. I suppose it all goes to prove that we all have different tastes. This image is a case in point. I thought it was just OK when I first reviewed it and it was touch and go whether I kept it or resigned it to the recycle bin – when shooting in RAW hard disk space is at a premium and although I back up all my images, even my back up drive is almost full.

However, on Flickr this image has had quite a lot of attention and looking at it again I am starting to believe that actually it’s pretty good. First off it was taken at night with a large aperture and high ISO so I didn’t need a flash. Second, I think the colours are really good and there was the happy accident of the subject exhaling smoke just as I took the picture. It was taken at Glastonbury and shows the balcony of a Wild West-themed bar. I assume the girl in the picture was working (unless she dresses like that all the time) but what I really like about it is that it could almost actually have been taken in the 1890s. I thought about converting it to sepia but didn’t want to lose the colours. Hope you like it.

Into the great blue yonder

Glastonbury-164, originally uploaded by Zardoz67.

Under my regime of trying to get out every day and take some pictures I went out to a local reservoir yesterday. I didn’t have much time and to be honest only a couple of images were worth sharing. As these were more flower/insect/landscape pictures, I didn’t want to get stuck in a rut so today I was determined to show you something a bit different. On reviewing my images, I realise that there is one type of picture that is not represented that well: the action or sport shot. Not sure why that is, but I do think moving objects are the most difficult to capture, certainly in terms of animals and people. I need to read up on capturing this type of image and then hopefully try and introduce more. Despite all the kind words many of you have posted about my pictures I am (as the title of my blog states) very much still an enthusiastic amateur. I am getting better but I need to study things and absorb the information before I feel confident about getting out there with the camera (It took me a couple of weeks and several failed attempts to get a grip on HDR)

So here is an action shot and other Glastonbury picture for you, although perhaps you wouldn’t know from looking at it. In recent years, the Glastonbury festival has had to introduce all sorts of security measures in order to keep its licence, the newest of which is the super wall that now surrounds the site. In the olden days (when I were a lad) just as many people came over or under the fence as paid for tickets – this led to chaos. Many people bemoan the fact that the festival is now a middle class preserve, in that if you haven’t paid you are not getting in and to a certain extent this is true. Today’s Glastonbury goer is the 30- or 40-something year old escaping from the horrors of the day job, the young, single and moneyed 20-something or the teenager with rich parents (or the tenacity to save for a ticket). Of course a lot of the old hippies still attend, but the vibe is a lot different from when I first went in 1987. On the one hand, of course it’s more commercialised now, but on the other you no longer see packs of dogs roaming the site or have all your belongings (or even tent) stolen.

But I digress… the fence that now surrounds the site is virtually impregnable and its perimiter is patrolled 24 hours a day. However, where there is a will, there’s a way. We were sitting at the Park Stage on Saturday afternoon when we heard a buzzing noise in the sky and this guy appeared on a paraglider. He did several loops above our heads before landing somewhere near the stone circle (to huge cheers).

It’s quite a simple picture with not a great deal of colour but I think the reason I like it is the cloud. To me it looks like a tidal wave about to engulf our intrepid hero. I hope you like it.

Honey bee

Honey Bee3 (1 of 1), originally uploaded by Zardoz67.

Regular readers of this blog will know that a few posts ago I had a bit of a wobble, a crisis of confidence if you will. After being told my several people to pull myself together and following some constructive comments I decided to turn over a new leaf. A friend (a writer) posted that the only way to get better is to keep going, keep doing, learn from mistakes and, most importantly, don’t expect to get anywhere without putting in the hours. I have therefore made a pact with myself to take as many images as possible every day and to learn as much as I can – the recent HDR images came about after seeing some examples on a friend’s Flickr account and researching into how it’s done (and what settings on my camera, a Canon EOS 400D, would help me achieve it).

I have also invested in a new tripod, one that did not cost a tenner from e-bay. My previous tripod broke when I was in Liverpool last weekend so necessity dictated that I needed a new one; however, in photography ‘you get what you pay for’ is a maxim that always hold true. Being a bit skint at the moment (apres Glastonbury) I went for a mid-range purchase and am pretty pleased so far – it was used for all the recent HDR images.

In my previous post on the perils of macro photography I talked about the dreaded camera shake and the difficulty of taking the image of a bee whilst handholding the camera. Whilst I was pretty happy with the result it was a bit blurry round the edges. I took today’s image in my back garden a couple of days ago after getting back from work and this was taken using the tripod to reduce camera shake. Hopefully, if you compare the two posts you will be able to see the difference. I like the composition of this shot as well… I was once told (by a pro photographer) that odd numbers often work best in photography, even can appear too regimented, too staged. The three elements in this picture – the two flowers and the bee – counterpoint each other quite well. I also really like the colours. As always, let me knoe what you think.

How green was my valley?

Valley sheep, originally uploaded by Zardoz67.

Hello blog followers. As you know I have been experimenting of late with HDR photography (see post ‘An Interesting New Direction’ for boring explanation) and I think today’s image is the best I have managed so far. This really shows what HDR can do in terms of image depth (look at the clouds) and colour highlights. I’m actually pretty bloody pleased with – even the sheep didn’t move as I was taking the exposures.

This image was only taken yesterday in my lunch hour. Where I work in Bollington, Cheshire it’s only a short drive over the border into Derbyshire and the Derbyshire Peak District. This image was taken on the way to Goyt Valley and in the 30 minutes that I was there I managed to capture 11 or 12 images that I am really please with. Again, I don’t want to bore you with a sucession of HDR images but if you are interested in seeing the other pictures, a couple of which I think are amazing then you can view them on my Flickr pages.

In future I am not going to bother banging on about whether a particular image is HDR or not – you will probably be able to tell by looking at it anyway. I will, however, continue to tag HDR images as such. As I have said before, I think it is a really exciting and useful technique that comes into its own with landscapes. I have yet to try it with portraits – I need a subject that can sit very still but I would be interested to find out how it works with flower photography; I would expect the results to be pretty stunning but that is an experiment for this weekend when I actually have some spare time for once.

For the rest of this week I am going to return to traditional photography as I have taken some flower and insect images recently that I am pretty pleased with. However, I do think that I am going to continue with HDR as a useful tool going forward

Liverpool revisited

Liver building, originally uploaded by Zardoz67.

This weekend I went to Liverpool to meet up with some old friends from university, some of whom I have not seen for 20-odd years. On Friday afternoon, before meeting up, I took the opportunity to hit the pavement and get a feel for the city where I spent some of the happiest times in my life in. I also want to get some pictures that I could create some HDR images from.

Now, even though Liverpool is only 30 minutes away from my home in Chester I don’t go that often. Certainly, in terms of culture – theatre, shopping, comedy, bands, etc – I usually find myself in Manchester. However, I sense that all of that maybe about to change. There was a certain ammont of sniping when Liverpool was the European Capital of Culture in 2008, especially from the other end of the East Lancs Road, but after this weekend I can say that the money that has been pumped into Liverpool has transformed the city. I lived in Liverpool from 1986-1989 and although I had the time of my life it would be fair to say that the city was not at its best – Thatcher’s Britain, etc, etc. It was a city that had seen better days living on the glories of the ‘4 lads that shook the world’ and it’s two football teams (yes I am including Everton – they were reigning league Champions when I went to university in 86).

The Liverpool of 2009 is a transformed city. The river front is awash with new, modern glass structures; the Echo arena gives the city the major concert venue that it never had and the Liverpool One shopping area is awash with trendy bars, shops and restaurants. There is a buzz about the place that was not there before. Liverpudlians have always been proud of their city but this is something extra.

Anyhow, I spent most of the afternoon discovering lots of new things, chatting to an old man (who was wearing slippers!) on the Pier Head about photography, and trying to get some good pictures using a broken tripod (in the end I had to bin it and buy a new one). Obviously, this picture is of the Liver building, with a new modern structure in the foreground that houses the ferry terminal and Beatles Story.

However, walking through the city and up to the university it did not take long to find the Liverpool that I remember from the late 80s. This was actually quite comforting for me as I was beginning to lose my bearings what with all the new buildings, but I must admit I would like to think that the city’s regeneration will continue… I took a lot of images of both new and old Liverpool and, to be honest, it’s the pictures of the old Liverpool that have come out best (flaking paint, boarded up windows, etc are far more interesting photography wise). But, I don’t want to re-enforce sterotypes… Liverpool really is a city on the up and well worth a trip or an overnight stay. There are still a lot of cranes and new building going on but by 2010 I think it will be able to hold its own both locally and nationally. You can see some more of my HDR photos of Liverpool on my Flickr page (follow link to the right of this post). As always, any comments would be more than welcome