Monthly Archives: August 2010

Holy island Batman!

Holy Island

Of late I have barely had time to catch my breath on the photography front; first there was the holiday in Greece, second there was the small matter of a wedding to photograph in Northumberland, then there were preparations for Westfest in Didsbury and the chance to do some food photography for a Chinese restaurant which is having a radical makeover. On top of this I need to dig out a load of Glastonbury photographs for a friend whose laptop has died and also need to sort out some photos of a wedding I attended as a guest. Given the day job there are currently not enough hours in the day and prioritising is proving somewhat problematical. Not that I’m complaining, just the opposite – being so busy with the photographs helps me to get a little taste of what it might be like to do this full time, should such a miraculous event ever come to pass. Indeed, it has been suggested of late that I need to change the title of the blog – the argument being that it only takes one piece of commissioned work for you to be no longer considered an amateur.

I myself am not so sure about this. Whilst some of my photographs please me a great deal, others are consigned to the trash bin pretty much immediately. Now I’m sure that this also applies to pro photographers also but, to my mind, I will always be an amateur until I am able to use the camera properly and understand all its functions without recourse to books and software. I still can’t shake off the fact that at the end of the day I am only dabbling. In other words the title may stay a while longer. That said work has started on constructing a proper website on which I can perhaps present a more professional face to the world so watch this space!

So, as mentioned above, last weekend saw me photograph my second wedding on the Holy Island of Lindisfarne. Once more I was very lucky to be presented with a stunning location (see pictures) and perfect weather. As posted previously, both the weddings I have photographed have been low-key, informal affairs where my brief has simply been to lurk about capturing the happy day and doing a few group shots to keep the traditionalists happy. Northumberland is probably my favourite place in the UK. It has miles of empty beaches, great food, great beer, an abundance of castles and some of the most unspoiled countryside in England. Unlike, say, the Lake District, Northumberland still provides tranquillity and a feeling that you are there on your own. Yes there are other holidaymakers but relatively few compared to the UK’s other vacation centres. In my opinion, and it is just that – a personal opinion – I would much rather visit Northumberland that Cornwall or The Lakes or Pembrokeshire. It’s a special, unpretentious place that has an air of magic and history, which is difficult to shake off.

Boatshed panorama

As a wedding venue Holy Island is pretty difficult to beat (although only if you are planning a small wedding). And, as the wedding photographer, it would be pretty difficult for even me to cock up such is its beauty. So, I am now in the process of looking through hundreds of photographs, weeding out the rubbish or the unflattering whilst still trying to capture the fun of the day. It’s a difficult and time consuming job and I have utmost respect for wedding photographers who do this for a living; it is stressful (even when photographing an informal occasion) and the spectre of ‘doing something stupid’ looms large. That said I have learned from my last experience as to what works, the importance of backing up, the respect given to you by guests when informed that you are ‘the photographer’. Who knows if I will photograph another wedding? But at least I can say that I did it and did it to the best of my abilities, with a lot of help from the natural beauty of Northumberland.

Castle boats B&W 

In other news, a photograph of mine has been blown up to giant size to be used on an empty shop front in Didsbury for Westfest 2010 http://www.westfest.org.uk/. This strikes me as being kind of cool and the sort of thing that hopefully shows that I am moving in the right direction. Having input into the design and providing the image has let me be creative in a way that the day job isn’t able to. Once its up I should be able to post an image to the blog so you can see it in all its glory. It really is great to see local business coming together and presenting a united identity in the face of ever-encroaching Tescos, Weatherspoons, Starbucks, etc, etc [delete as applicable]. I am going to be around in Didsbury on the weekend of Westfest to take some pictures and hopefully sell some prints so do say hello if you get the chance to attend.

I am of the opinion that some of the landscapes I took in Northumberland last weekend are among my best. I know I say this a lot and I said it about the pictures from Coniston in Easter this year but I suppose this shows that I am improving; I have certainly become more technically proficient. However, I am very aware that I need to get my ass in gear with regards to self promotion, self confidence and building up a body of work that stands on its own. Some way to go yet but, as I have said before, to be where I am now is quite staggering considering where I was less than one and half years ago. The difference is doing something that I genuinely love, something that I never get bored with and something that excites and interests me in equal measure. When I first bought the camera I half expected photography to be another hobby that I would pick up and then throw aside in anger when it transpired that I couldn’t do it. This hasn’t happened (even though I really couldn’t do it for a long period in time) and I’m not sure why – it’s expensive, it’s technical, it eats up hours and hours of my time. Maybe, at the age of 42 I have found something that I am OK at. There’s hope for us all. Comments welcome as always.

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Highs and Lows and a Santorini sunset

 

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Well I did promise you a sunset from my holidays so here you go… Santorini is famous for its sunset, especially from the northern town of Oia where this was taken. One of the cardinal rules of  photography is not to take pictures of the sun for all the obvious reasons but of course you have to if you are going to capture a sunset and, as my professional guide told me on our whistle stop tour of the island, sometimes you can get some good results doing what you are not supposed to do. Sometimes the harsh glare of the sun which all photographers seek to avoid can work in your favour. Hopefully this is the case here. I have literally 50 or 60 sunset pictures (it was hard not to keep snapping) from different vantage points on the island. I chose this one primarily because a) its portrait and every sunset you will ever see including most of mine are landscape in orientation and b) because I just love the colours in this one, coupled with the vast expanse of sea and the headland of Oia in the foreground. If you look very carefully you may be able to see the people lined up along the cliff edge. Hundreds of people flock to Oia every night for this spectacle and it really is standing room only. With regards to the picture, sure the sun is blown out (its the sun after all) but I think it works in the picture’s favour and I hope you do to.

The great thing is as well that depending on where you watch the sunset it’s different. Here the sun is setting directly into the sea (there was a huge round of applause when it disappeared) but in the picture below it is setting behind the volcano which lends it an angry red as opposed to the blazing orange above.

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The second picture was taken from Pyrgos, a village that sits atop the islands highest point. Same sun, same island but the colours are different. Plus the heat haze and fumes rising off the volcano means the sun disappears before it actually hits the volcanic crater, which is pretty cool (at least to me).

Anyhow, promise no more sunsets for a while but I hope you like these ones… As for highs and lows, its been a strange week. On Monday I received a string of e-mails stating that (just as last year) every single one of the photographs that I had entered for the landscape photographer of the year competition had failed to make the grade. This was expected, especially when looking at the competition, but I console myself with the fact that this year’s pictures were better than last and hopefully, next years will be better still. This did of course lead to some crippling self doubt as usual. However, not for long. Tomorrow I head off to photograph my second wedding on Holy Island on the stunning Northumberland coast, something that has only come about thanks to the gorgeous sunny wedding that I photographed in Devon in June. And, tonight I have received my second commission from the good folks at Didsbury life. All a bit hush hush at the moment but ‘project GT’ as it is dubbed is very exciting and involves an array of talented individuals so hopefully some of it will rub off on me.

Incidentally, if you are around the Manchester area on the 4th and 5th September you could do worse than attend Westfest 2010 http://www.westfest.org.uk/. The local community and its business will be out in force championing the joys of local initiatives and highlighting the community spirit that brings all the businesses together. Even more importantly I will be there in and around the offices of Didsbury Life to exhibit (and hopefully sell) some of my photographs alongside those of another infinitely talented photographer Steve Campbell http://www.stephencampbellphotography.co.uk/. He does moody black and whites and rock photography, I do poncey landscapes. It will be an eclectic mix. Hopefully I will see you there and all may be revealed about project GT. Catch up with you soon, hopefully with some stunning views from Northumberland (fingers crossed for the weather).

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Tilting at windmills

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Yep I’m back off holiday! During my recent (although it already seems far away in the past)  holiday to Santorini in Greece I took the opportunity to take a photo tour of the island with a pro photographer called Olaf. Expecting a bronzed Scandawegian, Olaf turned out to be a genial New Zealander and for about 5 hours we drove about the island with him filling me in on island history and taking me to some off-the-beaten track places (such as a  a string of ruined windmills straddling a ridge near Perissa [pictured]) that package tourists like myself don’t usually get to. Yet again I learned a great deal about my camera and my technique and an even greater deal about lens envy. I’m pretty sure Olaf thought I was a bit of an idiot, as I was spectacularly unprepared and even left some vital pieces of kit at home because of the luggage restrictions imposed by the weight of my camera bag. Nonetheless if I were to give advice to other amateur photographers it would be to try and spend some quality time with a pro, even a few hours; you WILL learn things and you WILL improve as a photographer. The tour was fast and frenetic and to be honest a slower pace and longer day would have been preferable but given the conditions – 96 degree heat and the permanent heat haze from the evaporating ocean that surrounds the island – it was pointless starting out much before 4.30 in the afternoon.

I ended up taking loads of pictures during the holiday but I don’t want to bore you for weeks on end with my holiday snaps. No doubt a couple of my favourites, such as today’s picture, will make it on to the blog in the coming weeks but I don’t want to descend into ‘what I did on my holidays’ travelogue. This holiday was my first foreign holiday in several years so it was nice to get a change of scenery and some fresh challenges – the heat and the sunshine and the lack of clouds are not something you often have to contend with in the UK. So these photos were my first real attempts at travel photography… the sort of thing you see in holiday brochures, adverts and hanging on the walls in Mediterranean restaurants. I’m pretty pleased with most of them but the opportunity for some unique photographs outside the resort was limited to my photo tour and some other tours via the holiday company. Yes I could have hired a car but a) I have enough trouble driving in the UK and the thought of driving on the wrong side of the road amongst Greek drivers and tourists on quad bikes was a recipe for disaster and b) I was on a relaxing family holiday with wife and kids and did not want to spoil the relaxing family vibe by nipping off every day to take photos.

That said, I think I managed to get a pretty good impression of the island and its people. Santorini is a lovely place, and is particularly famous for its sunsets – most people go to Oia on the north coast but to be honest it’s pretty spectacular from most locations. No doubt a sunset will feature on the blog very shortly once I have sorted the wheat from the chaff. The whole of the island is built on volcanic rock (the beaches are black sand) and there are stunning views of the caldera (the still active volcano crater, most of which is under the sea) from pretty much everywhere. During the course of the two weeks – as well as relaxing by the pool, drinking fantastic wine, eating marvellous food (Saganki!) – we also climbed the volcano, went on the world’s scariest donkey ride, toured a ghost village abandoned after an earthquake, visited the capital city Fira (sunset!) and went shopping in the high-class, Brangelina-approved, cliff top town of Oia (sunset!).

When I was young I used to hate going on holiday, especially abroad and I put this down to being a particularly fussy eater. I still am to an extent – I still can’t eat many green vegetables (especially salad) without gagging – although I am a lot better now; this is mainly as a result of marrying a vegetarian. Also, I’m allergic to some seafood which has meant not wanting to try others. Looking back, taking me on holiday must have been a pretty miserable experience for my parents as for me the best day of the holiday was always the trip home. Not sure what happened to change my mind other than I grew up but thankfully my kids seem to relish holidays in a way that I never did. In Santorini I was worried that they might develop webbed feet for the amount of time they spent in the pool.

Photography wise I am actually quite glad that summer is coming to an end. I don’t really like all that harsh sunlight (don’t laugh UK dwellers) and the long days means that magic hour – that time just before dusk where the light is at its best – is quite late. I much prefer autumn with its rich colours and even Winter. Indeed the best set of pictures I’ve taken (those on Crosby beach) were taken on a freezing cold beach at 4.30 in the afternoon. Next Saturday sees my second wedding as a photographer – on Holy Island in Northumberland. Again this is unpaid (although the bride and groom are very kindly paying for accommodation for the whole family) but it is a really stunning location and provides a wonderful backdrop for a wedding and also for some more traditional landscape photography. Promise to update again soon now that I am suitably refreshed! Now to choose a sunset…

Comments welcome as always…

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Holiday snap

If this works I’ll be amazed… As you know I am currently on my hols and this is a picture taken today with my phone in Fira on the Island of Santorini in Greece. Tomorrow I am going out with a pro photographer called Olaf I have hooked up with (I know I can’t believe it either) so hopefully will have something worthwhile to show you when I get back. In the meantime hope you like this picture and I’ll be back soon to bore you some more.

Fira is perched on a volcanic clifftop and this view is the town overlooking the volcanic ‘caldera’. Basically, I’m sitting in the middle of a volcano but apparently it has been dormant since the 1950s. Back soon…