Category Archives: History

Home town tilt shift

Home town tilt shift

OK. I know. It’s been a long time. Far too long in fact. But after posting every day for 7 months the freedom of giving up overtook me and I went in the opposite direction. I swore that that this blog was not going to die and the fact that I am writing this at is means that this may well be true, although I am still not convinced.

I know at least one person who has missed this blog (she knows who she is) and who keeps asking when I am going to post again so here I go. One post for the whole of September is pretty shameful but I have not been idling. Honest. I have been adding more and more photos to my Society6 page and it is beginning to bear fruit in terms of recognition, feedback and, yes, sales; which sort of explains why the blog has been quiet of late… It’s a case of priority and being able to fund the photography. So whilst I have been attempting to live up to the tag ‘artist’ I have also done some commercial portraits that have been well received and left me thinking that maybe I would like to do more. I have now had enquiries about four (!) weddings – all next year – as well. There are good reasons why the blog has been through this dormant period.

It’s now pretty clear to me that word of mouth is a very powerful thing, especially from friends. And it also seems that after 2 or 3 years of plugging away I am starting to see a little reward. Since this blog was about logging progress maybe it has run its course but not quite yet. Are you still an amateur if people have bought your photos? Does amateur solely refer to professional status or is it ability to use a camera? These are questions I need to find an answer to.

However, this blog has always been less about photography and more about me pouring my thoughts out onto the page (you may have noticed). The writing has been just as therapeutic as the photography if truth be told and its something that I enjoy. So, moving forward, it may just become a depository for random news, the occasional rant, the odd blatant plug before being integrated into a wider on-line presence. Grand designs, etc…

And why today? Well for a long time now I have been attempting to create some tilt shift photography. A technique by which you make cars, people, etc look like toys. When done well it can look stunning. I have been attempting and failing for a long time and this picture is the first time I have got remotely close. It’s not great by any stretch of the imagination but it’s a start and signals that I may at last have got the hang of it.


Softly, softly, catchee monkey


Back off holiday and another blog post for August. It seems odd having only blogged once before this month after blogging every day for 7 months but I do feel that a weight of expectation has been lifted. As usual Northumberland did not disappoint and I am somewhat daunted by the sheer number of photographs that I took. Of course some of them are family shots and will therefore never see the light of day on this blog but there are still several hundred others to prioritise and get through. Processing all the wedding photographs recently has finally opened up my eyes to the blindingly obvious fact that my old PC is not really up to task in terms of speed or capability. It has become a chore and I spend a lot of time just sitting, with the fan whirring, waiting for it to do something.

For many years I have harboured a dream of upgrading to an Apple Mac, primarily because I don’t know a single pro photographer that is not Mac-based. So I have now made the decision that any income made from photography – meagre as it is – is going to go into a savings fund to trade in the PC for a Mac at some point in the future. This may well take more than a year given my current incomings.

I am more than pleased with Society6 in terms of generating income as it is the first outlet for my photography that has actually worked, and lord knows there have been many failed attempts. I’ve never had a photography sale via this blog or the website I set up for example. The sums involved from selling via Society6 are small but growing and I can see a steady increase in interest. In addition, it’s nice to be seen as an artist by a community of other artists who have no idea who I am.

Also, I have had three more enquiries about photographing weddings; this I am noticeably less excited about, primarily because I find them very stressful and as word of mouth takes them away from friends and friends of friends to complete strangers then my stress levels can only increase further. Nonetheless, it is heartening to be getting word-of-mouth recommendations even if it is only as a cheap and cheerful option. Whether I will do them or not is an entirely different matter.

And what other news? I will continue to add images to my Society6 store and this may well become my primary focus over the blog (to be honest it already has) as operation Mac continues into 2012. I know have three images for sale via the Urban Outfitters print shop (again via a deal they have with Society6) and it is obvious from my stats that it is these images that are selling the most, though the commission is lower. So I suppose my strategy should be to try and get more picked up by Urban Outfitters. The three images they have picked up so far are not my best – in my opinion anyhow, which may be worthless – and are undoubtedly all images where I have consciously attempted to do something quirky or ‘arty’. Again, maybe there is a lesson to be learned here? And this opens up a wider question. Why is it that the photographs of mine that are rated the highest by other artists hardly sell at all? It’s an interesting conundrum and I only wish I knew the answer.

I had a very good meeting with a PR-oriented friend of mine who insisted that I do something or anything to promote the photography and I now have a list of actions, some of which I might actually do something about if things didn’t keep getting in the way such as holidays, first Northumberland and Edinburgh to come. That said, in Edinburgh I am taking some photographs of friends for their company’s website so will be combining business and pleasure (and ticking something off the action plan).

I never really envisaged selling ANY of my photographs when I started this whole adventure and I certainly never envisaged being seen as an artist, as previous blog posts will attest. I am not the most proactive of people – you may have noticed – but it seems to me that if you keep making small steps towards an achievable goal then that is better than making no steps at all. It has been a very slow build since my first blog post in May 2009 but I have come pretty far and learned loads – certainly I have achieved more than I thought I would. I catch myself getting impatient sometimes about the slow pace I am setting but then I think of the day job and the family commitments and overall I’m pretty pleased with my progress. I have also had a lot of support along the way from family and friends, social networkers and other photographers/artists too. So thanks all!

Sometimes I feel a bit like the Wizard of Oz and that any minute the curtain may be whipped away to reveal an old man pulling levers. I am still not completely convinced that I have ‘an eye for it’ and my ability with the camera fluctuates wildly; however, I am improving in terms of my digital darkroom skills and this appears to be half the battle. Sorry that this post is a bit disjointed; I’m not really sure what I am trying to say other than to reassure myself that the blog is still valid and worth updating. I still consider myself an amateur, albeit one that has managed to achieve a modicum of recognition as a tiny fish in a very very big pool of photographers that is growing all the time.

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The knights are drawing in…


I had it all planned… today’s photo was going to be current and I was going to attempt a review of sorts, which I still may do. This afternoon we had tickets to see the family play ‘Merlin and the Woods of Time’ at the open air theatre in Chester’s Grosvenor park and I intended to take some pictures for this evening’s blog. However, on arrival we were told that camera’s were not permitted. I have no problem with this, but it sort of scuppered the plans somewhat. Therefore to illustrate the blog I have had to go back to a picture taken at Warkworth castle in Northumberland and one that doesn’t really fit with the performance we saw this afternoon.

At this time of year you can’t move for medieval knights. It seems that ever castle – be in National Trust or English Heritage – is awash with volunteers dressed in armour. Indeed, Beeston castle, which is about 8 miles from where I live was having a 2-day medieval festival this weekend titled ‘Clash of the Knights’. And it’s not just knights… as a family we have seen Romans, Cavaliers, Roundheads, Highwaymen, Vikings, Gladiators, etc, etc. It has to be said as well that the various groups that dress up for the public and re-enact these golden periods of history (such as this knight pictured at Warkworth) take it very, very seriously.

This was not the case with ‘Merlin and the Woods of Time’. It’s probably the most spectacularly non-sensical and silly play I have seen in a long time. And its all the better for it. In fact, I loved it and so did the rest of the family. I’m not sure I can explain the plot – it did involve all the usual Arthurian characters but with a few more thrown in for good measure. And kazoos. Lots of kazoos. And time travel. And jousting commentators. Think Monty Python and Holy Grail – right down to Black Knight (and star of the show) Mordred losing his head at one point – and you are close. The cast are perfect and their are lots of laughs for both kids and adults. It is subtly smutty and yet exciting enough to hold the attention of the smallest of attentions. One running joke has a character speaking Welsh all the way through whilst the rest of the cast dismiss it as gibberish. The Welsh family sitting near us though roared with laughter and the fact that the Welsh speaker emerges as the heroine of the play (and the only sensible character) is commendable. A good time (and picnic) was had by all.

‘Merlin and the Woods of Time’ is running in conjunction with Shakespeare’s ‘As You Like It’ with the same cast doing both plays on alternate days until the 21st August. Pictures from the actual productions can be found here. Highly recommended if you can avoid the rain…

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From one old man’s name to another… Gerald to Edward. In this case Edward VII, Queen Victoria’s oldest son and a statue that sits on the Pier Head in Liverpool, as evidenced by the Liver Building in the background. Short blog post today as a) its Friday b) I’m going out and c) the baby sitter is already here. Have a great weekend and enjoy the sunshine while it lasts (assuming you have it wherever you are)

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Today’s blog is a little different as it is not actually here but here. I don’t think its cheating as the photograph and words are both mine. If you are reading this after 26th May 2011 you may need to scroll down. My entry is number 22.

The Scottish Play

Bamburgh castle

This evening I am off to the theatre to see Macbeth at the Liverpool Everyman. It is the last production to be staged at the Everyman before the theatre is pulled down and a new one raised in its place; it also marks the return to the stage after many years of the popular television actor, Twitterer and all-round nice guy David Morrissey. Morrissey started his career at the Everyman and it is is fitting that this final production should see once of its own returning, hopefully triumphantly. The Everyman is a great little theatre and I used to go there all the time as a student, given its proximity to the university; unfortunately most of the time I was there to drink in its famous cellar bar than to watch a performance, although I did go to many.

Macbeth is probably my favourite of all Shakespeare’s  plays, probably because I never had to study it. I know Lear, Othello and Hamlet inside out through constant appraisal at school but the first time I saw Macbeth it was not on the stage. My first Macbeth was John Finch in Roman Polankski’s 1971 film version and I think I saw it as part of Alex Cox’s much-missed Moviedrome on BBC2 some time in the mid 1980s. It was filmed in Northumberland – as was Polanski’s Cul de Sac – which is my favourite place in the UK and used the imposing Bamburgh castle as its backdrop (pictured). Whilst Cul de Sac used Holy Island as its striking location Macbeth used Bamburgh. Here was Macbeth as gothic horror film, which is probably why I like it so much and still do to this day. It is well worth seeking out, if only for the novelty of seeing a very young Martin Shaw as Banquo and an even younger Keith Chegwin – yes THAT Keith Chegwin – as Fleance.

I think I like Macbeth because despite its horrors it is also a very intimate portrait of a marriage and the very definition of the old adage that absolute power corrupts absolutely. Plus it fair rattles along, hardly pausing for breath amidst the carnage. The Everyman production has been getting good reviews so fingers crossed we are in for a good night.

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Empire State

twin towers

OK. Something a little different today. This morning I have been doing a little bit of Spring cleaning in our study. Years of accumulated books, CDs, DVDs, bits of paper, power cables, scart leads, etc, etc. The reason being that the study was looking increasingly like a charity shop (and not in a good way) and that we have guests coming so a three-line whip has gone out to ensure that everything is in its place. Also, I do need to get rid of a lot of stuff. There are boxes of CDs I never listen too, duplicate DVDs, even VHS tapes. I think a carboot sale looms in the very near future.

But I digress… As I was going through a folder of old bank statements and shredding merrily I came across a long, black, battered envelope from Boots the Chemist containing some photographs taken by me in another lifetime. These were my pictures.  I remember taking them some time in the early 1990s but these were from a time pre-digital photography. They were taken on a Kodak disposable panoramic camera – the sort which you used once and gave the hole camera to Boots to rip open and access the film.

I took the pictures in New York. I used to work for a US magazine publisher and on one occasion (never repeated) they paid for the whole UK editorial department to go over to the States for a training/team building session. The training was in Cleveland, Ohio but we got spend 2 days in the Big Apple. It seems like eons ago. I was February and I don’t think I have even been that cold. We did all the usual tourist shit including an open-top bus tour and, of course, a trip to the Empire State building.

There are nine pictures in total. Given the medium and the time of year (and the fact that they have been shoved in a drawer for almost 20 years), the pictures are grainy, flecked with dust and pretty much show that I didn’t know what I was doing. However, I am in the process of scanning them in and saving them for posterity. Given the poor quality of the images I have been experimenting with processing them in a way that is a little bit more interesting and, given their grainy nature, grainy black and white seems like the best way to go (although they also quite well as antique/sepia images – after all they are historical documents). This picture was taken from the top of the Empire State Building and to be honest has spooked me somewhat.

You see the original image is pretty misty/blurred/indistinct from about 1/3rd in out to the top of the image. It was a dull misty day and some of the other pictures show the Empire State Building looking up from street level, with the top of the building disappearing into the mist. When I was processing this, trying to add is some contrast and dodging a burning what should appear from the mist at the fringes of the image but the twin towers of the World Trade Centre. This picture was taken a good 10 years before the events of 9th September 2001 but the fact that the towers are there lends this image an added poignancy that would not be there otherwise.

I might post another image tomorrow as a companion piece to this one. It just goes to show that maybe, just maybe, any talent that I now posses as a photographer was lurking in the recesses of my brain just waiting for digital photography to be invented. This is just a tourist snap on a disposable camera but it works for me. I hope it does for you.

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Civic pride

Town hall toner

This is another late blog post following a fret about what image to use. This picture has eluded me for some time. I have several different versions of it – colour, black and white, sepia – but I have never managed to get it quite right. The problem was always the sky. Like yesterday’s picture it was pretty bleached out. This prompted me to finally try and crack Photoshop’s dodge and burn capabilities. Dodging (lightening areas of the photograph) and burning (darkening areas of a photograph) is a technique that used to be done in the darkroom but which now, thankfully, can be done digitally. Given my self-taught status it’s not something that I ever felt confident in doing but tonight I decided to give it a go after watching several on-line tutorials. Incidentally, this is another boon that the internet brings to the photographer – there is always a video somewhere that will helpfully explain what you are trying to achieve. So, in this picture I have tried to use the burn tool to make the sky a bit more interesting.

This then is the result. Or at least the one I am most happy with after nearly 3 hours of tinkering with a single photograph. Even now I’m not sure but I have reached the point where I have to stop for sanity’s sake. This is not a black and white image per se but a single tone applied to the whole image; here a very weak sepia tint which seemed to work well.

This building, of course, is Manchester’s spectacular Victorian town hall, an architectural triumph in my opinion and the very epitome of civic pride. I’m pretty proud of this photo too. Compositionally I think it works well and I think this image is ample illustration why, as a would be landscape photographer, the 10-20 mm lens is the best purchase I ever made (even it was also the most expensive after the camera itself.

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Several blogs ago I made a rash and stupid statement about not putting the horizon dead centre in landscape photographs. I then had to add the caveat ‘unless it works’ after I was rightly brought to book for making such an asinine statement – the sort of statement you read in digital photography books as one friend said. That friend [for the purposes of this blog we will call him Phil which also funnily enough happens to be his name] challenged me to take a photograph with the horizon slap bang in the middle of the photo. Et voila, here it is. Hopefully this does indeed ‘work’. Answers on a postcard please. Had to go black and white here too given the fact that the sky was almost white in the original colour image. If you have ever seen the poncey foreign film Last Year In Marienbad, then the look of that film was what I was attempting here; this was also almost the title of the blog but that would have been pushing things too far

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Ancient and modern


Tenuous link or what? Certainly in terms of the picture accompanying this blog. The ‘ancient and modern’ that I am referring to is your humble blogger as this is exactly how I feel this evening. Ancient, because that’s how I feel and modern because I am blogging about it. As a certain Prince of Denmark so eloquently put it ‘I have of late – but wherefore I know not – lost all my mirth’. I think I can put it down to several things. First, it’s Sunday and it’s back to work tomorrow. Even though it’s still the weekend I find the dread of returning to work starts to creep on me around lunchtime on a Sunday. Second, I have been on my own with the kids for three days; this has drained my stocks of tolerance to near critical levels and left me with an increased admiration for my better half – I am not an absent father by any means but as I work 9 to 5 and my wife doesn’t she inevitably spends more time with the children than I do. Third, the experience of having my portrait taken on Saturday has left me with an acute sense of how little I know photography wise and that I really am just playing at it. Finally, I have not been able to run for 4 days and this has left me depressed and worried about all the good work I have done this year. It can be no coincidence that no running plus a weekend of booze and stress and takeaway has left me facing Monday in a slough of despond.

To be honest I think I have bitten off more than I can chew and that it’s only a matter of time before something gives. And, let’s face it, the blog may be the first place to start. After all, if I’m not taking any pictures then I going to hit a brick wall at some point. I can’t work, run, blog, take photographs, fulfil family commitments, etc, etc without seeing some detriment to some/all of these components. I knew blogging every day was going to be difficult  but when I started I had no compunction to get physically and mentally fit at the same time. Also, blogging every day means that interest from readers wanes. This I have noticed. Or maybe the standard of the increasingly hurried words/pictures has started to drop. I have also taken on a couple of other commitments that I am struggling to stick too. And this can’t be good. So, what to do? I’m going to stick with it and see how it goes but if I miss a post I am not going to get stressed up about. I do need to start taking pictures again though. Of anything.

I have taken some pictures recently – some kid portraits for an old friend – and I think they are going to work out OK once I get round to processing them but I can’t use them for the blog. In other news my canal picture is in Cheshire Life but looks pretty rubbish – colours are far too dark in the print version. Also, it looks as if some photographs I did for a furniture shop are going to feature in a lifestyle magazine. So… it’s not all bad news but I need to give myself some breathing space.

Yesterday’s picture prompted a comment about how I should be focussing on doing some more flower photographs and that maybe this is where my talent lies. Unfortunately my macro lens has broken so I need to look into an alternative, either saving for a new expensive lens or investing in some cheaper extension tubes.

Sorry this is so downbeat; I’m sure you are used to it by now. I’ll probably be up again tomorrow but at the moment, despite all the positive encouragement, I am thinking about jacking it in and admitting defeat as life is too short and too precious to harbour pipe dreams. John Lennon summed it up perfectly when he said that ‘Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans’. Of late I have been making too many other plans. I need to concentrate on life before I get too ancient and less modern.

The picture by the way is the statue of Boudicca that is on Westminster Bridge in London, opposite the Houses of Parliament . It’s quite an old picture but again I have revisited it and had a play around to try and make it work. The warrior queen and the aeroplane. Juxtaposition. Ancient and modern.

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