Tag Archives: monochrome

It’s not grim up North

Holga island

After my last post on the 1st August I said that this blog was not going to die so here is another post just to prove my point. I will admit that not blogging has been a blessed relief for the last couple of weeks, although during those two weeks it seems that England (yes, England NOT the UK as news outlets would have you believe) has gone to hell in a handcart. This blog is not going to try and understand why the recent riots happened but I do I find it very sad. A lot of lives and livelihoods have been ruined and even lost but I think last week’s events have been coming for a long time. Our culture is now obsessed with the accumulation of goods and the cult of celebrity then it should come as no surprise when those that have nothing decide to take what they don’t have. The violence cannot be condoned and those involved must be punished but at the same time those at the other end of society – bankers, MPs who were economical with the truth expenses wise, huge corporations avoiding tax – must also be seen to be punished. But that will not happen. Indeed, our current Prime Minister, and the Mayor of London, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer were members of an exclusive club at university (the Bullingdon) that used to regularly behave badly, smashing windows and trashing restaurants. Of course in their case they could pay for the damage and it was only ‘youthful high jinks’. Similarly, the Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has admitted to setting fire to a greenhouse full of rare cacti in his youth.

It’s very sad that a student – with no previous convictions – walking home from his girlfriend’s house who stole a 3.50 bottle of water gets 6 month in prison and does not deserve a second chance; conversely, Andy Coulson, the Prime Minister’s disgraced communications chief did deserve a second chance despite allegedly overseeing widespread criminality at the News of the World. Of course the majority of the rioters deserve to go to prison for a very, very long time but for a government obsessed with fairness this seems to be in short supply. Knee jerk reactions are almost always wrong and there seems to be no proportionality.

But enough hand-wringing. I never meant to write all that but got carried away a little. Despite the news coverage coming out of England this week, its still a beautiful country and today we are heading up north to my favourite place, Northumberland. From a photographer’s point of view I find the landscapes of Northumberland, where it seems you are never that far away from a castle, a rugged coastline or mile upon mile of empty sandy beaches, to be inspiring. I am hoping to get lots of good pictures that I can share as the blog progresses at a more sedate pace.

This picture was taken in Northumberland, on Holy Island, last year at the same time as I was photographing a wedding. Of late I have been experimenting a bit with different effects and tints and this was an image that I liked but which in its colour form was bleached out by the sun rising over the headland. This seemed to work and prints are available from my society6 shop.

In other news, the last set of wedding photographs that I did, which I agonised over for so long were delivered to much praise (phew) and as a result I have had an enquiry about shooting another wedding next year. Sales are picking up slowly on the society6 site and a friend in PR has decided to take me by the scruff of the neck and put a plan in place for promoting my photography more widely. We’ll see how that goes. But first a holiday… Back soon

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Sad day today. As I believe I may have said in a previous post we have been keeping three urban chickens for their eggs and have had them for about 18 months. However, it now seems that we have an urban fox and we awoke this morning to find one decapitated chicken in the coop and the other two gone, amidst signs of a great struggle. I know this picture is of pigeons, call it symbolic. Besides I always failed in my attempts to photograph our chickens; they jerk their heads (when they had heads) too much. Flippant this may be but I was always keen to stress to the children that the chickens were not pets but livestock; of course being children they ignored me and are bereft so its RIP to Flamey, Chatterbox and Foghorn. Both the kids are distraught and I think that this may well prove to be the end of the chicken adventure. Once a fox knows they are there, keeping them out will be nigh on impossible without construction of a Fort-Knox style chicken coop enclosed on all sides.

Of course being the alpha male of the house I was charged with disposing of the headless chicken. To be honest, I’m not particularly good at disposing of dead things and since having children this is something I have had to do a lot. Not that the children are feral, more that we have had a succession of goldfish and two rabbits buried in the garden, together with a mouse, two blue tits (cat-related deaths I think) and a squirrel that decided to die under our shed but leaving its tail sticking out so we knew it was there.

I never had pets as a child, other than fairground goldfish that lasted days rather than weeks. I think there’s a lot to be said for this course of action, especially as Ziggy the guinea pig is reaching old age…

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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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I’m a sucker for a reflection (you may have noticed) and this week’s shorter snappier blog posts have yet to feature a black and white image so this image kills two birds with one stone as it were. Again, taken at Ness Botanical gardens on the Wirral. The full image has the rest of the tree in it but as it was one of those dull cloudy days I felt it looked better cropped down to just the reflection on the pond.

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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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Still The title of an album by Joy Division and now the title of a blog post by me. Muse still not to be found tonight so I started trawling back through the back catalogue of photographs that currently reside on my back-up hard drive. Easter last year saw the family going away to the Lakes for a week (you may remember) and I took literally hundreds of pictures. Many of which have been not even looked at before, primarily because I never have the time and also because I fall into the trap of basing the photographs that I choose to process based on the thumbnail image. This is obviously a stupid thing to do as it meant that I opened this image for the first time this evening, nearly a year after it was taken.

It was taken at dusk, on a tripod and  as a long exposure, hence the glass-like flat surface of Coniston water here. In fact it was taken in conditions that were probably too dark – the colour original is pretty much purple in terms of colour. I have mentioned before that I always shoot in RAW format as this gives me more control in the digital darkroom after and, after much tweaking, this is what I came up with. Given the original was pretty much all one colour anyhow I decided to go for something a bit more sepia tinged for this picture and I think it works pretty well.

As it was a windy night there is movement in the reeds in the foreground, hence the blur, but not enough wind to disrupt the surface of the lake, which is why it has that lovely even sheen. Also, the lights are on in the house across the water; two pinpricks of light in the distance like eyes.

Again, its one of those pictures that immediately transports me back to the moment I took it. This jetty is where the Coniston steam ship stops on its way around the lake. It’s also one of those images where a square crop works in its favour. Although I have, if truth be told, struggled with blogging every day it has at least led me back to forgotten or abandoned images that reside in the darkest recesses of back up. I hope you like it.

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Urban landscape

Ginnel, originally uploaded by Zardoz67.

The good news is that the PC is back and fixed but I am less than motivated in terms of setting everything back up and then starting to process some new photos. So…. This is another old photo and I promise to get back on he ball tomorrow. Besides I like this picture as I think it proves how black and white photography can add detail and bite to a pretty everyday scene, such as this alleyway near my house. The lines to the horizon are pretty sharp; its definitely an image that leads you in. I also like the crumbling brickwork to the sides. The trick to this photo was lying on the floor to take it. I have said it before and no doubt will again but sometimes the best angles are to be found by crouching low or shooting down from on high; certainly I try and avoid eye level where I can.

This week without the computer has given me an idea of how I will be able to blog when on holiday to keep the postaday2011 flag flying. Also, posting direct from Flickr is very quick, pain free and surprisingly simple – a godsend when you are typing on a phone touchscreen.

Clowns are evil


In my 43 years on this planet I have seen one dead body. That is in the flesh so to speak, and not via a news medium. It is a very vivid memory for me. I was maybe six or seven and was playing in the back garden of our modest 1960s new-build semi-detached house; the house I grew up in. Our next door neighbour was watering his garden, specifically his flower beds. I think I was on the orange monkey swing that hung from the eaves of the upstairs window. I remember the neighbour, who at the time seemed like a very old man (although he was probably only in his 50s) making a strange noise, clutching at his chest and falling to the ground. Headfirst into his flowers. The hose pipe kept going. There was then a few seconds of near silence, broken only by the gurgle of running water. Then there was screaming as the neighbours wife ran out into the garden.

I can remember running inside and my parents phoning an ambulance before going next door to help. I remember going upstairs and watching from the bedroom window as various neighbours tried to resuscitate the man on the ground before being told to move away from the window. What followed has prompted this blog post. One of our neighbours, a lady called Rose if I remember, offered my dad some tickets to the circus in order to get my brother and I out of the way. I have no idea how she got them. As a result, we were bundled in the car and went to the local Rugby club to see Billy Smart’s circus. I had never been to a circus before and have never been since. I can remember nothing about the circus at all; nothing that is apart from the clowns. They had a lasting effect on me. I knew they were supposed to be funny but they weren’t. I remember my dad sitting stony faced. I have always been uncomfortable at the ‘things going wrong’ style of comedy; it is for this that I have never got Laurel and Hardy and why ‘Some Mothers Do ‘Ave Em’ was a squirm-inducing  nightmare, despite my parents laughter suggesting otherwise. The clowns weren’t funny. I found them quite upsetting. And in my head they are always linked to the dead man lying in his own garden as the hose pipe carried on spilling water at his feet.

Since then I have never been comfortable with clowns. I am not coulrophobic (fear of clowns in case you were wondering) but nevertheless I don’t like them. After the childhood incident I was regularly terrified by Charlie Caroli on children’s television with his welcoming greeting of ‘Hello cheeldren’. Then there was Pennywise the clown in Stephen King’s ‘It’. More recently there has been Mr Jelly and Mr Jolly in Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton’s ‘Psychoville’. A clown also loomed large in Rob Brydon and Julia Davis’s superlative ‘Human Remains’. Having two children has meant that I have also seen my fair share of clowns at kid’s parties; most have been perfectly normal, genuine and funny individuals – one my children still remember because he shouted at them. So, I know I am not alone. Others feel the same. I know that this is an irrational thing. I know that’s its linked to the childhood memory described above. Once, a clown was on Radio4 bemoaning the fact that they had been saddled with this evil reputation when all they wanted to do was make people laugh. I believed him, but then I couldn’t see him. I suppose they also have the mythology of the ‘sad clown’ to contend with, the Pierrot. The idea that behind the big painted smile lies an unhappy past.

One of America’s most infamous serial killers, John Wayne Gacy (immortalised in song by Sufjan Stevens), used to entertain sick children at local hospitals dressed as a clown. And I think this is the crux of it. The sense that there is something else lurking behind the make-up. In terms of today’s photograph I took it at Glastonbury several years ago. I took it in the dark so the image was heavily grained and full of noise, not to mention out of focus. It was early in my journey to competency, before I knew about ISO and thought I could take pictures in the dark. The original picture is still not much cop but I decided to try and sharpen it up a bit. This didn’t work so I processed it using the fractalius plug-in. This was the result. It pretty much says everything in terms of supporting the words in today’s blog.

Apologies for the downbeat nature of today’s post but after all the landscapes I thought I’d try and do something a little different. Don’t have nightmares…

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The violets explode inside me
when I meet your eyes
Then I’m spinning and I’m diving
Like a cloud of starlings

Starlings by Elbow

An extract from one of my favourite songs. I was going to end the blog right there as its link to the photograph is pretty obvious. But I feel like I owe you more, or to put it bluntly I owe myself more. Blogging is a very solipsistic pastime. The only indication I get that anybody is reading this at all is the statistics that I glean from WordPress. A friend told me that you should only blog for yourself and never for anybody else and not to get hung up on readers but it’s very hard not to. As human beings we get hung up on what others think of us; we crave acceptance. Life, after all, can be likened to one long popularity contest. Writing as someone that has never been particularly artistic, this is especially true for me. On the face of it I am hoping that readers are going to like my photographs. But as time as progressed the words have assumed an equal importance.

What has emerged from nearly 2 years of blogging is that you can never second guess what is going to strike a chord with your readership. I find it amazing that my most popular post is the picture I took of my daughter’s makeover party. Admittedly this was helped by being picked by WordPress to appear on the homepage, but they must have seen something in it that eluded me. It was a post I rattled off in an attempt to post something, anything. Conversely, posts that I pour my heart and soul into (or at least put a lot of effort into) receive little or no comment – owl stretching time for example. It should probably serve as a warning: stop polemicising and stick to what you know; but some things just come and before you know it what started out as a post about liking owls ends up as rant against David Cameron. Because I attempt to promote this blog and my photography in general using social media I am aware that I am diluting my message somewhat. Quite often I have some really good comments via Twitter or Facebook that by definition don’t appear on the blog itself, I suppose because it’s easier to respond there and then within whichever media you are using.

Last week I had my first ever request for a print of one of the photographs from the blog. This is another small step towards building up my confidence and is a genuine cause for celebration. I have sold images before but that was in an exhibition environment. I know I need to publicize myself more and I have actually been making some efforts in that direction, but so far with little success. Also, although I have signed up to blogging every day, I can’t help but wonder if I am diluting the message. Posting every day is very good for discipline (that badge on the right hand side is a constant reminder) and for improving my written communication but won’t there come a point where I, and almost definitely you, the reader, will become tired of it.

As you can probably tell, this blog is developing into one of my semi-regular spirals of self pity. I am very aware that I do this but if I am to write this for myself then I need to be honest; I am hoping that I can look back at this post a year from now and think ‘what an arsehole’; just like grown adults look back at their teenage diaries with a mix of humour and horror. I have never written a diary. This blog is the closest I have got. I did get a diary one Christmas and vowed to keep it up to date but it didn’t last very long – it mostly recorded details of what I had for tea (mostly beef burgers or Findus crispy pancakes) or posed the age-old question of why a certain girl wouldn’t go out with me to which the blindingly obvious answer was ‘because you never asked her’.

I feel that my whole life is at a crossroads and it’s a feeling that I’ve had for quite some time; I have alternating periods of boredom and panic that I can’t seem to shake off. Am I depressed? I don’t think so and I hope not. It has been suggested by those who love me that maybe I should go and see a doctor for a chat but I’m pretty sure that this wouldn’t help. I certainly have no desire whatsoever for medication – the only drugs I have ever taken are paracetamol, aspirin and ibuprofen (obviously not at the same time before anyone rings the Samaritans). The thing is, I know exactly what the problem is, at least I think I do. It’s the whole idea of getting older and a sense that I have not achieved a great deal that nags away. It’s also a very real sense that there is a better time to be had doing something else, but then again I don’t know what or how to go about achieving it. I am 100% sure that I am not alone in feeling like this but it’s not something people ever talk about. We go about our daily business, commuting to and from work, going to the gym, doing the housework, gardening (I hate gardening, did I mention), cooking, writing blogs, updating statuses, drinking, reading, sleeping. It’s almost as if life only gives you the tools and the confidence to be happy in your own skin at the point at which you are too old to use them. Does that make sense? Probably not but I can’t think of a better way of putting it. I think the best way I can describe it is a general sense of malaise or maybe even wistfulness.

I have no idea what drives it. It’s certainly not problems at home and work is fine also. Maybe it’s the weather or seasonal affective disorder (SAD)? Maybe it’s the rumours the Glastonbury headliners are U2, Coldplay and Beyonce? Maybe its the fact that we had the family car serviced today and it cost us £680. And 20% of that was VAT. For a long time I blamed it on Roy Hodgson but things are looking up in the football department too. What it probably is, however, is that I want the moon on a stick. I want to be a gentleman of leisure, travelling the world with my family and taking stunning photographs in stunning locations. If anyone has any vacancies please let me know.

Spookily, a good friend of mine re-tweeted the following on Twitter yesterday from someone called @zard [I’d like to think there’s an @oz67 out there too]:

You know what will make you feel better about your life? Hating fewer things and liking/loving more. Try it?

I have no idea who @zard is but given the above its probably the best advice I’ve heard in years. I still hate gardening though. And Chris Moyles.

You may be wondering what any of this has to do with starlings. Well the answer to that question is ‘not much’ I took this picture on my way home from work this evening. My office car park abuts onto a cemetery that is home to hundreds, if not thousands of starlings. Up until recently I only heard them as it was always dark on leaving work. Now the evenings are getting lighter you can see massive flocks of them swooping and diving. I was going to write about Ted Hughes and a poem I remembered from school about starlings but then it turned out the poem was actually about thrushes and that’s not really a good title for a blog. Thankfully Elbow game to the rescue. We’re all spinning and diving like starlings but thankfully although I am, as the song puts it, ‘a horse that’s good for glue’ I do have plenty of love to see me through. See you tomorrow…

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