Monthly Archives: January 2010

Your name in lights

Your name in lights, originally uploaded by Zardoz67.

More of a fun post today, although I am well aware that this could be construed as shorthand for ‘that photo’s a bit rubbish. The ‘fun’ part comes in the form of my new photographic assistant, Mia (7 and a half – that half is very important) and the fact that this is my very first attempt at ‘light painting’. When done well this is a photographic technique that can yield some truly stunning results and I have always wanted to have a go at it. I suppose that light painting correlates quite strongly with actual painting in that you need a steady hand and an artistic flourish, which I simply don’t have. But hey, at least I gave it a go and as a first attempt it’s OK.

So, on to the explanation… Most SLR’s have a ‘bulb’ mode which means that you can open the shutter for as long as you like. Of course, for light painting it needs to be dark so you shouldn’t even attempt it without a tripod for keeping the camera perfectly still and a remote shutter release. Basically, you take a really long exposure in bulb mode (this one was about 50 seconds) ¬†and using a light source (here, an orange carrier bag elastic-banded over the end of a torch) you can move about and ‘paint’ with the light source. Here, my glamorous assistant attempted to stay still for the allotted 50 seconds (a miracle in itself) whilst I traced her outline and then wrote her name above her head. Because of the long exposure, the ‘painter’ (ie me in this case) does not have time to register on the camera sensor, but only as long as he/she keeps moving. I suppose the other thing to mention is that it EATS battery power like no tomorrow, so if you are going to attempt it keep a spare battery handy…

And with that I have ticked another technique of my list. Admittedly, it’s somewhat crude and the picture isn’t that great but it was certainly fun playing about…


Full steam ahead

Glastonbury steam boats3, originally uploaded by Zardoz67.

Hi there readers, it’s another post from your friendly neighbourhood photo blogger. Cutting to the chase, I need to apologise because this is an old photo; not that old you understand (it’s from June of last year) but old in terms of how far I’ve come. I really agonised about what to blog about today; writing this blog is undoubtedly one of the hardest things I’ve done because I thought I might paint myself into a corner. I mean there is only so much you can write about photography and photographs isn’t there? Which is my my posts tend to ramble and go off topic slightly.

Until yesterday, I thought that my ramblings did not reach beyond friends on Facebook, family members and the odd poor soul that wandered in unannounced from Google but I have been proved happily wrong. Last night I met up with some very kind people from Didsbury-based WeAreLifeUK who had read this blog after a friend of mine retweeted one of my posts on Twitter (Diana aka @uncouthamerican, I owe you a drink, as well as that print that you have asked for). It was strange to meet people I don’t know that a) not only read this blog, but b) actually enjoy reading it, like my photos and, furthermore, would like me to maybe do some photography work with them – starting with a mini exhibition in their Didsbury office. This has really blown me away. Of course I give thanks to all those very good friends, you know who you are, that have said positive things about my photos and supported me through the crippling self doubt that has occasionally surfaced. Who knows what will come of this meeting but it feels like a step in the right direction.

So, in other words, I might soon have some other things to waffle on about. In other news I have also been asked to photograph a friend’s sister’s wedding which is taking place in Devon in June. Thankfully, they have hired a professional wedding photographer to get all the family shots, etc so I have a roaming brief to capture the other things that are going on. Which sort of leads me to this photo… The wedding idea was first mentioned last November but as I hadn’t heard anything I thought the bride had quite rightly thought ‘no I don’t want some amateur idiot ruining my big day’. But again I was wrong. Over Xmas my friend showed her sister some of my Glastonbury images on Flickr and they convinced her that maybe I could do it. I’m already looking forward to it as it means that I will be able to practice my portraiture in an arena where people are expecting to have their picture taken; also it will let me be creative without having to shoulder the huge responsibility of being the official wedding photographer.

So this is a Glastonbury photo. And why this one? I think because it’s intimate (this was a tiny stall selling candle-powered steam boats), it’s colourful and it’s not your typical Glastonbury photo. Hopefully I can bring the same intimacy to any new projects that arise this year.

Of late I seem to have concentrated of late on wide open spaces, landscapes, etc and a lot of this is due to the hours that I have spent playing with my wide angle lens. This photo serves as a reminder that I can do small and intimate, that I can do depth of field and that I have other lenses in my camera bag that I should use more often.

Finally, I need to take more photographs. Always difficult with family commitments and even more so this weekend (son’s 9th birthday party and dad’s 70th). Also, the weekends are taken up with swimming lessons, rock school and other extra-curricular activities the likes of which just didn’t exist when I was a kid. In these modern times when your children can’t disappear outside for the whole day (as I did growing up in the 70s) most interaction with their peers comes from other, organised activities. I suppose I’m jealous really. My son is growing up learning how to play the guitar and the drums, my daughter is learning jazz and tap dance. But then again I had long, hot summers, bike rides for miles, jumpers for goalposts, scrumping for apples, throwing stones at greenhouses and setting fire to the railway embankment. See, I’ve wandered off again…

There is a light

God light, originally uploaded by Zardoz67.

OK, so my last post was quite divisive. Some people really liked the manipulated lighthouse picture (my wife included who is thinking of putting a print in the bathroom) and some people didn’t. Unfortunately, the ‘didn’t’ included a friend who is a professional photographer, his opinion being that spot colour should be illegal. Some you win, some you lose [secretly I still like it though but don’t tell him].

So I am stepping away from the digital paintbox today and heading back into the arena of pure, unadulterated photography. This picture was taken on Crosby beach, Merseyside during the same shoot as all the Anthony Gormley pictures. It serves to show that even though ‘Another Place’ is undoubtedly impressive it can’t hold a candle to the natural world. After working my way out from the shoreline to those statues that were only revealed when the tide went out it was a long walk back to where I parked the car. As it became too dark and my second camera battery began to reach critically low levels this brief break in the clouds let through some fading light and I was able to get this shot.

In my opinion seascapes can be just as rewarding as landscapes and I really like this picture; certainly it’s composed quite well – the eye is drawn towards the light by the reflected clouds and the pole in the sand in the distance leads the eye out. Also, the light is great and although it’s not a particularly colourful image I do think it’s striking.

Not much else to say other than I hope you like it. In other news I am heading over to Didsbury in Manchester tonight to talk to some good people that like my photographs and more of my pictures have made it on to the Photolibrary Wales website. So, reason to be cheerful mostly. I have also entered some of the Crosby pictures in to the Renaissance Photoography Competition 2010 in the ‘Reflections’ category, so fingers crossed…

Playing around with spot colour

Lighthouse, originally uploaded by Zardoz67.

Today has been a funny sort of day… I learned for the second year running that I have not been successful in the RHS photography competition. I am not disheartened, it’s a major competition open to professionals and amateurs and has 1000s of entries. It’s more a case of trying to figure out what the judges were after when making their final decisions. Looking at the winners and the runners up there are some very good pictures, but at the same time I feel that, knowing what I entered, some of mine were just as good. Am I being big headed? Probably, but regular readers will know that that’s unusual for me; self-doubt is my usual default mode. Last year, one of my unsuccessful images was picked up as a greetings card so you never know…

As a flip side to this, today is the day that some of my pictures went live on the Photolibrary Wales web site. Of course, it’s very early days but if people start using them then it will become a handy source of income to fund the photography. So the usual swings and roundabouts as far as my photography career goes. But this success begs another question – as I am listed as a ‘photographer’ on this website does this mean I can drop the amateur prefix? Maybe the blog should be renamed ‘confessions of a non-professional photographer’ or does that make me sound rubbish. Amateur for me means that I don’t make any money from my photography; it’s a hobby that I love but I still have a day job that pays the bills, clothes the children, etc, etc. So by that definition I am certainly still an amateur. But am I in term of technique? To be honest, I am unqualified to judge. I know I am getting better, I know that I am not about 75% along the road in terms of what my camera can do and it’s limitations. So does that mean I am no longer an amateur? Is the word ‘amateur’ a tacit admission of defeat? Answers on a postcard please. Until I have sold an image, managed a commission or been hung in a gallery I think I will keep things as they are but I would be interested in hearing any views on when one ceases to become a beginner and moves up to the next (intermediate, semi-pro?) level.

As refereed to on a previous post, a design agency from Manchester approached me recently to say how much they liked my photos; furthermore their e-mail said that my pictures were better that some of those they had seen from ‘so-called professional photographers, which I take to mean photographers that are paid for their work. This sort of feedback is very heartening and makes me think that I am doing something right. 18 days into 2010 and I have made some inroads into turning my photography into something that is more than just a hobby. I would like to say a big thank you to everyone that has helped, supported and encouraged me thus far. Thanks for reading, its very much appreciated.

Oh, almost forgot today’s photograph. It’s a subject that you have seen before but as I was unable to get out this weekend to take any pictures (my long-suffering family finally putting their collective feet down) I was restricted to a couple of hours messing about in Photoshop. I am not a Photoshop expert and have had no training (something else on the list for this year) but I have a few basic skills based on magazine tutorials, asking questions at work & trial and error at home. Now don’t get me wrong I know that highlighting areas of colour in a black and white photo has been done to death and can sometimes be a bit tiresome (a certain high-street portrait photographer seems to be unable to do anything else) but with my limited skills it’s a major achievement. And sometimes, done subtly, it can turn out OK. Hopefully, this is the case here but I will leave you to judge if I have been successful or not.

Obviously, it’s one of my lighthouse pictures but with a black and white filter applied (high-contrast red) and the colour retained on the lighthouse itself. The filter serves to highlight the footprints, which got a bit lost in the original colour photograph. Comments welcome as always

Among my swan

Dee swans, originally uploaded by Zardoz67.

Have not had much time to blog of late as work has kicked back in so this will probably be a short place-holding post until the weekend. This is another of the pictures that I took last Saturday that I am happy with. I actually really like wildlife photography but being a city dweller have not had much opportunity besides bugs and insects in the garden and the occasional bird. It’s something that I intend to do more of but it’s a skill that takes practice, patience and a really decent zoom lens. I have a zoom lens but the motor is a bit shonky and it’s a bit difficult to get pictures with it as I keep having to manually adjust it. Top of the wish list then is now a decent zoom and a dedicated macro but who knows when I’ll be able to afford them?

In the spirit of proactivity I have entered some more competitions this week and I was also delighted to find out that a national photo library wants to licence 50+ of my images. Of course, this means nothing in itself; it’s all very well being accepted as good enough for inclusion but if the killer is if no-one buys your images. Still its a move in the right direction. Also, now the thaw appears to be in place I hope to get around to meeting up with that agency in Manchester I told you about.

So, to the picture. It’s of the same two swans that were sleeping in the previous post, their peace having been disturbed by a man in a motorised dinghy. I think its quite a nice shot with good perspective, a decent reflection – in the background you can see that the river is still frozen – and some subtle ripple effects. Hope you like it. And the blog post title? It’s an obscure music reference. There will be a prize for the first person to spot it without using Google or Wikipedia. Or then again maybe there won’t…

Sleeping swans

Sleeping swans, originally uploaded by Zardoz67.

So this weekend in the spirit of behaving like a proper photographer I got up very early on Saturday morning (6 AM as it happens) and headed off into town to try and get some pictures at that special time an hour before sunrise and just after. There was still snow on the ground and parts of the river were still frozen and I was emboldened by the great night’s photography I had experienced in the blizzard conditions of the previous Tuesday. Now, as regular readers will know, 2010 is the year of positive thinking but sometimes things just don’t go as planned. Don’t worry I am not going to descend into yet another pit of self-doubt but I got the general feeling on Saturday morning that something was not quite right.

Not sure what I can put it down to… the ungodliness of the hour, the freezing conditions, the pissed-offness of losing yet more lens caps; a slight miscalculation in lens choice and camera setting; yet try as I might I had the overwhelming feeling that things weren’t going too well. This was confirmed when I got home to discover that of 150+ photographs taken there were only 20 or so that I was remotely happy with. I’m not going to lie and say I wasn’t upset about this but, in the new spirit of positive thinking, I began to reason that surely 20 or so good photographs is better than no good photographs; after all, don’t professionals take reels and reels of pictures to get the shot they are after?

I do think that I have a tendency to be over critical of my own efforts and I have an annoying habit of considering every photograph I look at on other peoples’ photostreams on Flickr as being better than a single one of mine. I don’t know if this applies to other amateur photographers but when it comes to my own pictures I have difficulty seeing the wood from the trees; I find it very difficult to critically appraise my own pictures and I have lost track of the times that my wife has said ‘oh, that’s good’ just as I was about to hit the delete button.

This post is not meant to be negative, in fact far from it – it simply serves to recognize (at last) that sometimes I have good days and sometimes I have bad and that even the bad days can produce images that I am happy with… such as this one.

Taken very early Saturday morning, the sun not yet risen behind the houses on the other side of the river. The two swans were obviously fast asleep, on a river that was half frozen. I got a few good shots of them before a man disturbed their peace my motoring up river in a dinghy and breaking the ice. I like the light in this picture and the houses reflected in the water but most of all I like the swans, totally at peace, tranquil and mysterious. Comments on any of the above ramblings welcome as always

On the outside it looked like an old-fashioned phone box

Winter phone box, originally uploaded by Zardoz67.

Many apologies to those that have seen this image before as part of the slide show I posted on Facebook and Twitter but I really like this photo and not just because of its vague resemblance to the new Doctor Who logo. On Tuesday 5th January we finally got the heavy snow that we had been expecting for weeks and so, in my new spirit of positive thinking, I went out in the dark in sub zero temperatures to try and get some pictures.

I am now starting to realise (and its taken me a long time) the importance of timing in good photography. Not only do you get better light at the start and end of the day, the ‘magic hour that I have referred to previously on this blog, you also have to be willing to do some stupid things for your art. Stupid things such as standing in sea water up to your knees on a North Sea beach in the dark as the temperature slides below zero. The old 2009 me would have taken one look out of the window and said ‘I’m not going out in that’. The new, intrepid 2010 me couldn’t wait to get out there – although this time I did have the sense to wear wellies.

Of course having an understanding wife is half the battle and now my pictures are improving I am starting to get a bit more leeway in terms of disappearing off with the camera [Thanks, Helen for all your help, support and encouragement even though you will never read this]. So, I spent a couple of hours trudging the streets and trying to capture my home city under 6 inches of snow. One thing I would like to comment on, related to the above, is that lots of other photographers were out on the streets as well; in fact it seemed that photographers were the only people out on the streets – I’ve never seen so many tripods in one place.

In my experience, the majority of other photographers I meet are a friendly bunch who are willing to chat, give advice and lend a helping hand. However, I would be lying if I said that there wasn’t a little rivalry… I tend to find that most other photographers I encounter are better equipped than me with better cameras, external flash guns and reflectors, a myriad of lenses and it’s difficult not to feel a certain amount of, shall we say, tripod envy. I am not for one minute suggesting that more equipment means better photographer – a friend of mine always stresses that some of the best pictures he has ever seen were taken on disposable cameras – but I do occasionally feel overawed. The trick is to get your head down and not bother about what others are doing. While others were taking pictures of the cathedral I was lying on the floor in the snow photographing a phone box. Of course I took pictures of the cathedral too but none of them are as good as this one in my opinion.

So, today’s lesson is an obvious one. Always try and capture the non-obvious and when photographing something that has been done to death try and think about a new angle or position that will bring a familiar subject to life.

To finish a little update on the positive thinking. It appears to be working. Although I have had some help from a friend who works in PR (Soph, who probably will be reading this, you are a star) I feel like I may be getting my act together. I have some images under consideration at a large national photolibrary and yesterday I had some unsolicited contact with a Manchester-based design agency who took the time to let me know they like my work. Early days yet but I aim to continue the positive thinking into next week at least

Another Place

Seul contre tous, originally uploaded by Zardoz67.

So there I was. Saturday 2nd January 2010 on Crosby Beach, Merseyside. Sub zero temperatures. Water up to my knees, no wellies, no gloves, fingers so cold that I could not feel the shutter button to press it. Was it worth it? I think so. For once I am not going to waffle on. I am proud of this photo and if I take another one half as good in 2010 then I’ll be very happy.

Anthony Gormley’s ‘Another Place’ is an installation consisting of countless statues of the artist (although all are tagged and numbered) spaced out along a huge stretch of North Sea beachfront in Crosby. Some are always visible, others are almost always submerged and can be viewed only when the tide is out (like the one pictured). The location is industrial, with wind turbines and dock cranes at one end, but the effect, especially in fading light on a cold Winter’s day is magical. If you live in the North West and haven’t been then why the hell not.

Again I seem to produce my best pictures by the sea… maybe there’s something in the genes (my surname is Nelson after all). I hope you like the picture. Comments are welcome

View downriver on a Winter’s day

View downriver, originally uploaded by Zardoz67.

So, first blog post of 2010 and still no snow in Chester… My city appears to be the only place in the UK where no snow has fallen over the Christmas and New Year period. Inches of the stuff have fallen just 10 or 15 miles away but nothing here. That said, heavy snow is forecast for Wednesday of this week so I shouldn’t speak to soon (although the Met Office also predicted heavy snow for the week just gone which failed to appear).

2010. Blimey. 2009 went very quickly. I started blogging in May so am pretty impressed by the amount of posts I have managed to rack up and some of the pictures have been pretty good as well. During the Christmas break I have been beset by friends and family urging me to make 2010 the year that my photography takes off; however, I am not too sure on how to achieve this. I think the plan should be to start small, maybe try and sell photos at local art fairs, keep an eye out for local competitions and if possible find somewhere local that is willing to display some of my photographs – So, if for some reason you are a local business from Cheshire, UK (or even if you are not) and have stumbled upon this blog then please get in touch if any of my pictures interest you… Of course another route open to me is self publishing. Providing I can save some capital then maybe producing my own cards, calendars, postcards, etc may be a way forward.

I am not kidding myself that this is ever going to be much more than a hobby but, as I said at the outset, if I can at the very least finance some lenses and a camera upgrade this year then I will be made up. There have been some low moments this year so 2010 is going to be the year of not feeling sorry for myself, of enjoying my photography for what it is and of not descending into a pit of self doubt. I don’t make New Year’s resolutions per se but this is as close as I am going to get to one.

I also need to find new avenues to promote my photographs; Flickr is great but not particularly secure – many amateur photographers have had pictures stolen and with no recourse. Of course, as soon as you post something on the Internet then it becomes known in the public domain and despite the fact that I assert my copyright on all my images (even if no-one wants them) it’s not hard for someone with a little technical nous to appropriate an image. Most people though are thankfully honest and supportive, such as the wonderful people at the Bollington photo blog who kindly asked permission to use some of my images here. A result of which has been more contacts on Flickr interested in my pictures…

So the first picture of 2010, taken on a Winter walk along the banks of the river Dee in Chester (note the lack of snow). I like the sky in this one and also, perversely, the giant hogweed (which is apparently poisonous).

This weekend, both the children were at their grandparents so on Saturday I took the opportunity to get out and about. As with my lighthouse pictures, the set of images that I am processing as I type this is another step forward in that I am immensely proud of them. Hope you agree when I start blogging them later this week…

Comments, as always, are welcome and Happy New Year to you all.