Monthly Archives: December 2009

When the sun hits the snow

When the sun hits the snow, originally uploaded by Zardoz67.

And so Christmas is over for another year! To be honest, I am beginning to realize that the very best thing about Christmas is not the presents, or seeing family, or the beaming faces of small children on Christmas morn – it’s the break from work (even the work goblin lingers in background memory twiddling its moustache and pointing at a flip-chart of all you have to do when you get back). Having the break is nice and, of course, if I did not take the time off work there would not be anything to do anyway as the world and his wife are also off. This Christmas has actually been one of the best in living memory (despite the disappointment at the shark jumping of the Doctor Who Christmas special) with snowy weather, no illness, both families at our house so no travelling to be done. All this and a Christmas dinner cooked to perfection…

So what did Santa bring me? The usual array of t-shirts, socks, aftershave, male grooming products of course but also a blu-ray DVD player (I have resisted for long enough) and my only photography related gift – a monopod, much appreciated after the previously blogged broken tripod/hole interface, the bruises from which are now spreading down my whole leg. I still need to buy a new tripod for long exposure shots but a monopod is also really useful for avoiding camera shake when taking pictures in daylight.

So another suitably wintry picture here, again taken in Bollington during last weeks snow. Those snowy pictures have been quite well received and I have been contacted by another blogger asking if they could use my frozen canal picture (see last post) on the Bollington photography blog. I’ll post the link when it’s up. I hope that everyone that reads this blog has had a good one and wish you all a stress-free New Year!

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My Christmas card to you

Frozen canal, originally uploaded by Zardoz67.

Seasons greetings to everyone that has taken the time and effort to visit my blog during the last 8 months! To be brutally frank I am surprised I am still going. Haven’t been able to post much of late due to work stuff but I thought that I would try and get in a post before Christmas to say thank you for all the support and nice comments. I don’t know about you but I definitely think that I have improved no end this year in terms of technique and composition. The recent photos that I have taken have been among my best and I end 2009 on a semi high. There have been disappointments along the way but I am still learning the craft. I’ve also had some minor successes – the most gratifying of which has been friends asking for prints of my photos to put on their walls at home. I don’t think there is any higher praise. So again, thanks for the support during all my ups and downs.

I hope to post a few more images over the Christmas period as I should have some spare time in between the turkey, port and stilton. Christmas is quite a frugal one this year in terms of photographic equipment. having bought the 10-20mm lens for my birthday (which was used to take this picture by the way) I need to start saving again for my next purchase, hopefully a dedicated macro lens.

So today’s photo… taken yesterday during a lunchtime walk in which I fell down a hole and broke my tripod (not a euphemism). Taken on the canal side in Bollington Cheshire, the canal was completely frozen apart from a small stretch. Obviously, this was where the ducks congregated. This was my first real crack at photographing snow; it’s not as easy as it looks as all that white leads to the camera under exposing the image. Therefore, exposure bracketing is required to override the camera’s desire to make the snow grey. I think it’s turned out OK; suitably wintry and hopefully Christmasy. While this weather is glorious to look at, getting about in it is another matter but, for once, I was glad I made the effort to get into work on Monday. Amazingly, there is no snow where I live, less than 40 miles from where this picture was taken. Comments, as always are welcome and encouraged. Cheers and have a lovely holiday!


Rescuing a bad photo

Figures and columns, originally uploaded by Zardoz67.

A break from the lighthouse today and a post that shows that I still have an awful lot to learn in terms of photography. Just as I was getting all full myself after the pictures I took on Talacre beach…

Last week the whole family went to Newcastle-upon-Tyne to see Madness (my 8 year old’s favourite band for all the obvious reasons); even more importantly we went to see some old friends (best man at my wedding and his wife) and their children. Although I took the camera there was not much time for photography what with eating Tapas, drinking red wine and staying up far too late listening to Sally Maclenane by The Pogues and other songs from our mis-spent youths. I couldn’t take the camera to the concert (according to the rules on the ticket) even though camera phones were being used aplenty, although my son did take his point-and -click.

So, a good weekend was had by all and on Sunday morning, to clear the cobwebs before getting on the train, we climbed to the top of the Penshaw monument (or rather two of us did while everyone else went for tea and cake). It was not the best day for photography – grey, overcast, dull light but I took a few pictures as we climbed up the monument. Blackened by years of coke production this Greek-style folly is huge when you get up close. Apparently, you used to be able to get up to the top but health and safety has now deemed that option to be not appropriate. The few good pictures I took can be found here but at some point I made a schoolboy error and must have knocked the dial on top of the camera from aperture priority to shutter priority mode. This was a ridiculous thing to do – you should always check the settings before taking any pictures – and because we were chatting (and getting a history lesson from an ex-miner) I didn’t notice.

So what is the point of this blog post? It’s all about salvaging. Without being too technical, my error meant that all the images I took after I inadvertently changed the settings were over exposed. There was not a lot I could do with them but this one struck me as one that could be saved. Through conversion to high contrast black and white and some careful cropping I ended up with this image which I actually really like. Of course, it wouldn’t work without the figures and the dog, which really give it a sense of scale. And the black and white serves to exaggerate the years of coal dust. Sometimes, you can snatch a minor victory from the jaws of defeat.


Footprints in the sand

To the lighthouse, originally uploaded by Zardoz67.

Last week I promised lighthouse fatigue by the end of the week but then got caught up in other things and was unable to update the blog. So, please forgive me for carrying over in to this week. In any case, it seems that I might be on to something in terms of this set of pictures being my best so far – lots of lovely comments on Flickr and Facebook, so thank you all. Given the good feedback I plan to head into the new year with a new attacking zeal. At the weekend I was harangued by some good friends that we were visiting in Newcastle that I should actually get my act together and start doing something with the photos other than just posting on the blog or Flickr. To back up their argument I was presented with a book of photographs of Northumberland which, to be brutally honest, weren’t that great. Not that I think my own are great (I am still my own worst enemy in that regard) but perhaps I need to be more proactive. This is not something that comes easy to me; certainly I am not very good at selling myself and clam up entirely at the thought of ‘cold calling’ someone.

But these recent set of photos has at least convinced me that I can do it and am getting better, which is a start. I certainly need to start printing and framing more of my pictures, if only to liven up the walls of our own house. Following my last post, a friend asked for a print of the picture, which has not happened before, so again this is something to take heart from.

Photography should primarily be done for oneself; it doesn’t matter what others think of your photos as long as you are happy with them. That said, to get encouragement from people you love and respect helps you to gain the confidence you need to go forward.

This year I have concentrated a lot on entering competitions with mixed success; maybe this is the wrong strategy? Recently I entered a competition in which the theme was ‘trees’. I entered my picture of Grosvenor Park that I have previously blogged here. This is the picture that won. I have to admit that I don’t get it. To win competitions maybe you have to think of something so off the wall that there is nothing else like it. Maybe it’s less about the photograph itself and more about the idea behind it. If I am to move on with the photography I need to start being proactive, keep taking pictures, build a web presence and work for myself. Competitions are all fine and dandy but sometimes I am at a loss to fathom what the judges are looking for.

But I digress, here’s another picture from my day on Talacre beach. Taken earlier in the day than the last post, this is another picture that people seem to like. The footprints (which are mine) lead you into the picture and I like the fact that their appears to be a defined footpath between the two wet areas of sand – this was not deliberate. Although now I think about maybe my weight on the sand caused the ‘footpath’ to appear. Again, this is not one of my personal favourites from this latest set but I am being driven by what other people seem to like – I am not the best judge of my own photographs. Also, I have not blogged a portrait image for a while so this seemed like a good time to change recent habits. Please comment if you feel the need and thanks for reading.


To the lighthouse

A footpath exposed, originally uploaded by Zardoz67.

Ok here goes. Do you remember in my Monday blog post I banged on about how I thought some of the photos I took on a beach in North Wales last Sunday were probably my best? Well now is your chance to judge for yourself. But first some background…

Thanks to the planets aligning (kids and wife at a party) I found myself with a free afternoon so I had a tough choice of going out with the camera in the rain or lying on the sofa eating biscuits and watching Terminator Salvation. Despite the rain I thought I’d take the former option and headed out towards the Welsh coast. Someone once told me that if it’s raining inland then chances are it will be clear by the sea and on this occasion the advice turned out to be right. I decided to head out to Talacre which is probably my nearest stretch of beach (about 30 minutes drive from home). Of course given my love to out-of-season holiday resorts this was also a good reason to go.

Near Flint, there is not much in Talacre apart from rows and rows of static caravans, an amusement arcade and a couple of pubs but I decided to head there because I knew the beach had a defunct lighthouse dating from the 1770s. I parked up behind the amusement arcade and headed for the beach which was pretty empty apart from coastal walkers and a few people with dogs. By the time I got there the sky was blue (although purple clouds lurked inland) but the tide was in and so the lighthouse steps were under water. I spent an hour or so taking pictures of the lighthouse and dunes, some of which I am pretty happy with but then something magical happened… it poured down. Not for long but when the sun came out I saw my second perfect rainbow of the year and you can see a picture of it here.

After this serendipity kicked in again. As the light faded the sky turned a wonderful pink colour, the tide went out revealing the lighthouse steps, and using a tripod and a wide-angle lens I managed to get loads of really good pictures – and I apologise in advance if you end up with lighthouse fatigue this week. This is actually not my favourite of the pictures I took but my wife is really impressed with it and wants a poster print for one of our empty walls, so that’s good enough for me.

I think this was the first time I have felt like a real photograher. Spending a couple of hours on that empty beach really brought home to me the magic of photography. The conditions in which I took this photograph will never be exactly the same again and that what makes it special. The darkening sky, the pink, the battered walls of the lightouse, the reflection, the ripples on the sand – all these elements make this picture work. I now truly appreciate that to get stunning shots you have to go that extra mile and shoot during ‘The Magic Hour’ – that brief period at sunrise and sunset when colour is slowly introduced/withdrawn from our world. You may have to get up early or stay up late to achieve what you want but boy is it worth it.

Comments would be welcome. Hopefully I am finishing my first year of blogging on a high.


Illuminess

Illuminess 1, originally uploaded by Zardoz67.

I had a very good weekend photography wise this weekend and would go so far as to say that Sunday was the very first time I have actually felt like a proper photographer and that maybe the photos I took were among my best… But that is for later in the week as I have a couple of hundred photographs to sift through and process before I can share the results with you.

Today’s picture though was taken on Saturday (5th December) at Ness Gardens on The Wirral. Lots of places like to do something special for Christmas from ice rinks to continental markets but this year Ness Gardens is doing something different. Ness is the botanical gardens of the University of Liverpool (where I was a student many moons ago) and has a wealth of exotic and indigenous flowers and plant life to discover, particularly in the Spring and Summer months. In fact, many of my flower pictures have been taken at Ness. For Christmas this year (or rather from now until 13th December) Ness gardens is hosting ‘Illuminess’ (geddit), which is a night walk through the gardens that is strinkingly lit using coloured lights, lasers and searchlights. What’s more, all the lighting is solar powered so the whole thing is incredibly eco-friendly.

Although baulking somewhat at the entry price (£15 for adults and £10 for children) I am really pleased that we went as the effect is truly stunning and totally unique. On entry, you follow a path around the whole gardens and at every there is something new discover from a maze of lights to dancing fairies to illuminated fountains to laser drawings in water spray. I could have stayed all night but with two kids in tow we went early (6.30 pm) and left about an hour and half later. The kids were enthralled, as were the adults, and I can’t recommend it enough.

On Sunday I headed off to North Wales and ended up on a beach. In two and half hours I took several photos that I am incredibly proud of and I will be sharing some of these later in the week. But, in the meantime I hope you like the lights of Ness gardens. There are loads more photos on my Flickr stream.

Comments as always are welcome…

PS. For those of you in the North West, keep an eye out for the weather on NorthWest tonight. I have sent in a photo to provide a backdrop to Diane and Eno’s forecasting – if you see it please let me know!


Morning frost

Morning frost, originally uploaded by Zardoz67.

After the brief detour into the dark underbelly of Wilmslow I have another landscape for you today which was taken earlier this week on my way to work. This is the kind of weather I like – cold but bright, with frost on the ground and sparkling. The more observant of you will notice that it was taken in the same location as a previous post but a bit further back so I could get the hedge in. I like it because it has a lovely wintry feel to it and as we are now in December it seems appropriate to post it.

I think the key thing with this photo is the light. I leave home at 7.30 in the morning and at the moment am leaving in the dark. As I drive the 1 hour or so to work the sun comes up and when it’s not raining (such as on Monday when this was taken) the skies are amazing. I often find myself wanting to stop on the motorway to take a picture but obviously can’t without risking a potential meeting with Her Majesty’s constabulary. However, if I get the opportunity to stop when not on the motorway then I try to. As you can see in this picture, the sun is only just coming up to the left of the frame which has provided some wonderful light. This light is reflected in the frost on the hedgerow and the grass.

Hope you like it. Comments always welcome


A strange fear gripped me…

A strange fear gripped me, originally uploaded by Zardoz67.

First post of December and its going to be a short one as it’s getting late. I took this photo on the way home from work this evening in the underpass where the runway for Manchester airport crosses the main dual carriage-way as you head out of Wilmslow. As you can probably tell it was taken with the 10-20mm wide-angle lens and I think this photo really highlights what the wide angle can give you and how it can enhance even the least colourful of photographs. Apologies if the picture is a bit Morrissey but I suppose it reflects my current mood in that I’ve been busy at work and the whole driving home in the dark and getting up in the dark really gets to me. Don’t think I have full-blown SAD (seasonally adjusted disorder?) yet as I do actually quite like the Winter – I like big coats and boots and scarves.

I suppose this is also my second self portrait since starting the blog as the unidexter in the photograph is me. Anyhow, I think its turned out OK, if a little maudlin. Maybe it’s a sign of a new gritty urban direction but I doubt it, I have just been processing some Winter landscapes that I hope to share with you later in the week.

No digital manipulation here. I suppose I could have removed the cycle lane symbol (are cycle lanes gritty and urban? Especially in Wilmslow) but I like the perspective that the wide angle gives and the shadows cast by the lighting.

And in a darkened underpass I thought oh God my chance has come at last…