Monthly Archives: September 2009

The giant spider invasion

Garden spider 3, originally uploaded by Zardoz67.

According to the papers at the weekend, the weather this year has been perfect for spiders and the UK is now experiencing an explosion in the spider population thanks to the relatively warm (?) and temperate weather. Fortunately, I am in no way arachnophobic and I actually quite like them; however, my daughter is absolutely terrified of them and refused to go into the garden at the weekend after spotting the star of today’s picture sitting in its web strung between two garden canes.

In size, this spider was about the size of a 50-pence piece so quite a large specimen. Therefore, before removing it to a place of safety (as much for the spider’s benefit than my daughters) I thought I would try and capture it with my telephoto lens. As I have discussed previously, I don’t have a dedicated macro lens (but hope to in the next 2-3 weeks or so thanks to birthday and Christmas card winnings [should they ever turn up]) but my Sigma 70-300mm lens does have a macro function. I also used a tripod to take the picture as the spider was not moving and macro photography, more than any other form, is liable to dreaded camera shake.

It’s quite a clean image with not a great deal of colour but I do like the water droplets clinging to the web and the spider itself (it had been raining). Also, because I took it with a large aperture (f/4.0 for those that are interested) the brickwork behind the spider has blurred to a rather pleasing background colour. Comments welcome as ever.


Buddha panorama

Buddha panorama, originally uploaded by Zardoz67.

Sorry for not updating the blog of late. I have been really busy entering competitions! Unfortunately most of them won’t announce a winner until later in the year but fingers crossed! Of course all my successes and failures will be documented here.

This post is a bit of a cheat and I apologize in advance. This picture was taken in 1997 on my Honeymoon in Thailand using a disposable camera so I suppose what I want to convey in this post is that sometimes the use of software can rescue pictures and help you to create the look you were originally after.

This picture was originally two images with washed out colour that we had stuck one on top of the other in a photo album stuffed on a shelf in our study. I had wanted to get the whole image in but with a disposable that was impossible so I attempted to take two pictures that I could print and line up in the album. Of course there was no smooth join and the whole thing was a disjointed mess.

Fast forward to 2009 and thanks to a scanner and the magic of PhotoShop I was able to finally create the image I wanted. Of course the quality of the original photos was not great but in PhotoShop I was able to seamlessly join the two images together, crop to get rid of any disjointed sides and boost the colour. So here it is, a rescued historical artifact from 12 years ago that for the first time approaches what I was aiming for with my disposable camera.

Calm reflection

Canal cottage, originally uploaded by Zardoz67.

Yay. Ear infection on the wane at last and starting to feel myself again after 7 days. It’s been a funny and depressing week, probably because I’ve been ill but also because I have realised that I have not been successful in some of the competitions I have entered. It’s swings and roundabouts really – I was thrilled to be a runner up in the Photobox christmas card competition (and incidentally my entry was the only photograph chosen, the rest were all graphical images) but a bit pissed off by my failure for the second year running in the Countryfile photographic competition (curse you John Craven!). Whilst, the finalists are undoubtedly very good I would like to think that I was not far off; the thing with competitions is that you never know how close you have got.

So I have dusted myself off and set to work focusing on this year’s RHS photography competition in which I had a minor success last year. Choosing which images to enter proved really difficult so I let friends and my wife do it for me. Thankfully, some sort of consensus was reached and I’ll be posting my entries off today. Winner announced in January 2010!

So, a period of calm reflection has been called for. Last time I had a crisis of confidence I received some very good advice from a friend who is a writer and that is to keep going and focus on the positive. The last image I posted of Dinas Bran castle has had such a nice response on facebook and flickr that I’m pretty sure it’s a pretty good image – it’s certainly a picture that I would not have been able to take this time last year so progress is being made. I am also very close to being able to afford that new lens I keep banging on about but still not sure whether to go macro or wide angle (can’t afford both).

Speaking of calm reflection, today’s picture was again taken in Llangollen on the way back down from the castle. It’s a cottage on the bank of the canal (Shropshire and Union I think) and it’s a pit picture postcardy but hopefully in a good way.

Comments as always are welcome

Night sky

night sky, originally uploaded by Zardoz67.

Many apologies for not updating the blog in a few days. I have been laid low with an ear infection that has since spread to my throat and lungs. Spent the whole day in bed today and feel infinitely better this evening – maybe the antibiotics have finally kicked in. But like a shark is always swimming I am always on the look out for a photo opportunity. Took this from my death bed through the bedroom window this evening as the sky was simply stunning.

Hope to back to full fitness soon (and can’t wait until I can drink again).


Do you like Castles? A walk to Dinas Bran

Castell Dinas Bran, originally uploaded by Zardoz67.

For as long as I care to remember I have been going to Llangollen, either for day trips or passing through en route to somewhere else. This lovely Welsh town is only 30 minutes away from my home town of Chester and is well worth a visit if you have never been. Llangollen, as you may know, is also home of the International Eisteddfod.

On a hill overlooking Llangollen, Castell Dinas Bran (known as Crow Castle in English) occupies a spectacular position on an imposing foreboding crag. Looking at it logically, this was an ideal spot for a castle, you wonder how any enemy would ever have got up there, surrounded as it is on all sides by spectacular views. Any castle dwellers would have seen them coming in no time. It was home to the native Welsh princes of Powys but apparently only occupied the hilltop for a few decades before beginning to crumble. Maybe it’s location was too foreboding, a little bit too remote…

Certainly, even today, the site is difficult to get too but it is open to public exploration, although not protected by the National Trust or Welsh Heritage as far as I can see; in fact the fields around it are very obviously working farmland.

At the age of 41, and despite numerous trips to Llangollen as mentioned previously, I decided to climb to the top of Dinas Bran last weekend for the first time, accompanied by my 8-year-old son. Finding the route to the top is not easy unless you know what you are looking for but fortunately there are some guides on the Internet. On climbing to the summit you really do get a sense of what a difficult place it must have been to get to and to live in, especially in the 12th century. But once you get to the top the views are genuinely spectacular, at least they were on the day we climbed, thanks to last weekend’s Indian Summer.

So onto the photo. I am really pleased with this one. I think the sky looks amazing if hazy (it was a hot day). I took the picture on a tripod with an aperture of f/22 to get as much detail in as possible. I don’t know if it’s my best picture but it’s certainly one I am extremely proud of in a ‘I can’t believe I took that’ sort of way. The picture shows Castell Dinas Bran from the side, and I’m pretty pleased about getting the people in to give a sense of perspective. There are more pictures from our walk up to Dinas Bran on my Flickr stream, please take a look and feel free to comment.

Update: A good friend and proper photographer has suggested that this picture could do with a crop; namely to remove the dark area in the lower left of the frame and to lose some surplus space on the right. I have no doubt that he’s correct so I’ll have to tinker with it later. I think I just got so carried away that I didn’t want to change it in any way.

For more on castle Dinas Bran and how to get there you could do worse than look here

Gateway with fluffy white clouds

Gate view, originally uploaded by Zardoz67.

Another picture taken on my lunchtime wanderings today. We seem to be having a bit of an Indian Summer here in the UK; so just when I was gearing up to taking lot’s of night time pictures we have had a bit more glorious sunshine. The picture was taken on the hills around Bollington overlooking Rainow in Cheshire. It has been suggested that it could with cropping to lose some of the wall but I am pretty happy with it the way it is. There is a portrait version of the same view sans gate on my Flickr stream if you feel a desparate urge to compare.

Thanks to the sunshine last weekend I took loads of pictures and was up late last night processing them in Adobe Lightroom. I love this software as it is built especially for photographers – you can’t really use if for manipulating images like Photoshop but you can correct under and over exposure after the fact (ideal for those like me who are constantly forgetting to exposure bracket their shots). It also allows you to touch up colours, remove dust spots (the bane of a photographer’s life), crop using the rule of thirds and much much more. I believe that there is a similar (some say better) program for the Mac called Aperture but not having a Mac, and never being likely to afford one, I have no experience of it.

One of the photos I took at the weekend I am really pleased with; pleased as in I think it might be my best photo so far. So where is it? I am afraid I am stepping back from it for a couple of days to let the euphoria fade and the cold hard light of day to set in. Also, I am a bit jittery about sharing it as you might think it’s rubbish. On the other hand, if it is as good as think then I am also jittery about sharing it in case someone nicks it… Try as you might to protect your photos on-line it’s pretty easy for someone with a bit of technical nous to use them; even low resolution pics can be used on-line. It might be the case that I need to print it out large, frame and mount it and invite you round my house for a viewing.

Comments on today’s photo and my paranoia are extremely welcome. Cheers.

Time travel and still life

Time travel, originally uploaded by Zardoz67.

Busy weekend this weekend photography wise… On Saturday we went en famille to Chirk Castle in North Wales for know other reason other than the weather was glorious and entrance was free (National Trust open day). Walking round the castle, we came across a man in full chain mail who was talking about the castle and its history whilst also showing off an array of weaponry and helmetry (is that a word? It is now).

As a father to an 8-year old boy obsessed with all things fighting we duly spent a long time talking to the knight whilst the kids tried on helmets and waved swords. Whilst the knight was explaining some particularly gruesome torture to the gathered throng I noticed a collection of his other demonstration objects on the window sill. Without thinking I took a picture and didn’t think twice about it.

However, on getting home I was surprised to find its a pretty effective picture; certainly in terms of conveying the atmosphere of a medieval castle. I’ve never attempted a still life before that didn’t involve flowers and I’m pretty pleased how this has turned out. There was just enough light coming through the window to illuminate the objects and to negate the use of a flash. But at the same time the extremities of the image are in darkness (The Dark Ages? honk!).

Later on we walked through the gardens and I took some pictures of a pair of statues which I believe represented a Greek myth (but which I don’t know – any classics readers out there). Anyway, the statues struck me as interesting because not only were they incredibly life like, one of them was blindfolded and the other had her hands bound behind her back. Both statues were female nudes in, I think bronze. You can see pictures of them on my Flickr feed.

One of the things I like about Flick is that people can comment on your pictures and when you are an amateur photographer there is nothing better than unsolicited positive feedback. So, I was pleasantly surprised this morning to find that one of my statue pics had been added as a favourite by some one I didn’t know. However, on clicking on their user name it appears that here was someone with a ‘thing’ about blindfolding. It’s my own fault for naming the picture ‘Blindfold statue’ and it’s certainly getting some views but I now worry that this might be for the wrong reason. Certainly, said statues did not strike me as being particularly erotic, certainly when compared to some of the great statues of antiquity. So there you go, maybe I have found my niche at last 😉

All comments welcome as ever…

Cornflower blue

Cornflower, originally uploaded by Zardoz67.

Hello all. Just a short blog post today as I am a bit pressed for time. Decided to go for a flower picture, which always seem to be popular. Apparently, this is a cornflower (yes I had to ask). I shot it on the side of the road when I went for a walk at lunchtime earlier this week. Yet again I think it’s worth noting that the thing I love most about photography is capturing the moment. This flower may even be gone by now, yet I have captured it and it’s a pretty fair bet that no-one else did. In other words this picture is unique, which I find kind of great.

I’m not sure whether the whole photography lark has come about because I am at a time in my life when suddenly taking stock, noticing beautiful things and enjoying them has increased in importance. When you are a kid, and even a young adult, life just whizzes past you and it can be difficult to take it all in. This is why I gave the point-and-click camera that I won to my kids – I want them to be able to document the things we do and look back at them.

Anyhow, some good news yesterday – I was runner up in a competition to supply a design / photograph for a Xmas card run by the photobox website (which is where I get my prints done). Not a huge amount of prize money but another donation to the lens fund. Also, the person who won is a good friend of mine and a professional designer to boot so I’m pretty pleased to have won at all. My photo, which was of a robin will allegedly be turned into an Xmas card and be displayed in a London gallery (oooh swanky).

Until the next time, comments as always are more than welcome

The Corn Mill (Llangollen) at night

There is an argument to be had that the pub is one of the greatest inventions ever to come out of the British Isles. Leaving aside the problems of alcohol addiction and the booze-fuelled violence that blights our city centres (yes, I know I shouldn’t but as a middle-class wine-drinker I can’t really point fingers and pontificate) can you imagine the UK without pubs? There’s something magical about a good pub, something that cannot be replicated by a flashy American-style bar or a French café. In many places up and down the British Isles, the local pub provides a focal point for the community. It’s not just about having a drink; it’s a place of human contact, a place where local news and gossip gets passed on, a place of community for the lonely, and a place of sanctuary for the put upon. Pubs now serve as the only live music venues for miles around, and as post offices, libraries and, since the smoking ban, places to eat (and eat very well!).

Now I know that this all sounds a little bit rose-tinted and I know that for every character-filled village/country/town pub there are hundreds of chain pubs and modern chrome and glass bars. However, despite this I think that life does not much get much better than being in a good pub, with a decent pint and the company of friends.

Rumour has it that the great British pub is dying; many are closing due to the introduction of the smoking ban (which as a non-smoker I am all in favour of), the credit crunch (people staying in rather than going out) and the rise of the supermarket. Many are being refurbished into the modern, trendy bars that now proliferate in our city centres just in order to survive. This is a crying shame. So what is my point? I’m not sure I have one. I certainly don’t have a solution to the current malaise. You could argue that lifting the smoking ban would help but I’ve had enough of smoke-filled pubs to last me a lifetime; you could pressurise the government to curb the supermarkets (which might also help with the binge drinking problem) but the supermarkets seem to be a law unto themselves driving prices down against each other and pressuring their suppliers to provide quicker and cheaper, whilst tying them in to exclusivity deals.

In the meantime I think we should celebrate the great British pub for what it is. A ‘public house’ that opens its doors to all and, in many instances, forms a core part of the local community.

All the above is preamble to today’s photograph, which (the more intelligent of you might have realised) is of a pub. This is another night photograph taken last week at the Llangollen hot air balloon festival. The pub in question is called The Corn Mill and sits on the banks of the river Dee with spectacular views of the river and the surrounding Welsh hills. I’ve had some pretty good feedback on this image both on Flickr and other forums so I thought I would share it with you via the blog. Hopefully looking at this image will distil the point I was trying (somewhat unsuccessfully) to make above.

Night glow (Lllangollen hot air balloon festival)

Night glow, originally uploaded by Zardoz67.

As previously posted, the nights are drawing in now so I am hoping to take some more images taken at twilight or later. This weekend provided the perfect opportunity with the annual Llangollen hot air balloon festival taking place; specifically Saturday night’s ‘night glow’, which is when all the balloons taking part in the festival put on their burners to provide a quite spectacular display.

We headed down to Llangollen (only 30 minutes away) late Saturday afternoon but unfortunately the weather was not good for flying so we only saw one hot air balloon in the daylight. However, there was plenty to keep us (i.e. the kids) amused until the evening what with fairground rides, falconry displays, etc. After a fish and chip tea in Llangollen town we wandered back up to the festival arena and it was here that my problems started.

Never having been before, it never occurred to me that the balloons would be fenced off (yes, I know its obvious what with gas burners, health and safety and the like) and unfortunately, being very popular, people had clearly pitched up early to get the best views. This included setting up tables, chairs, picnic blankets, etc. Since night photography requires the use of a tripod, I therefore had real trouble finding a position from which I could take any photographs at all as the perimeter fence was 3 or 4 rows deep with people.

I am not sure how many people I upset in my attempts to find a good spot – it seemed that wherever I stood I was in someone’s way – but finally by sheer luck I found a spot in one corner after a family left en masse just as I was passing. Of course, all the professional photographers were in the arena with the balloons so I was also limited in terms of what I could shoot. Having not done much night photography before I had attempted to read up beforehand as to what camera settings to use but the advice was so contradictory I ended up playing it by ear and for every good in-focus shot I got I had to delete 3 or 4 others. The truly great thing about digital photography is that you are able to do this – there is no such thing as wasted film.

The whole adventure was pretty fraught but in the end I am pretty pleased with the results (even if the resulting pictures are a little samey having been shot from the same position). The final challenge of the day came with taking pictures of the firework display that closed the festival… again something I have not attempted before. I also managed to take some pretty good night pictures in the town of Llangollen itself.

Since I made a pact with myself to try and take as many pictures as possible in order to improve I think that I am slowly getting there. If not in technique then definitely in terms of understanding how the camera works, which settings to use, etc.

I’ll be posting some more of my night pictures this week, please feel free to comment.