Tag Archives: night

Boat noir

Boat noir

Awful pun, but then you’ve probably come to expect it from me by now. Another old picture that I have attempted to do something different with; one of a series I took in Coniston last year. The picture I took immediately before this one has just become my most popular on Society6 but that was landscape and this was portrait and try as I might I just couldn’t get it to the level of the landscape version; it just wouldn’t work, primarily due to overhanging trees which required removing from the top portion of the image. So because I could not replicate what I achieved with the previous picture I decided to go to the other extreme i.e. black and white, dark and grainy. Same place, same subject, taken just a few seconds later, yet an entirely different feel to it. It’s nowhere near as good as its better-looking sister but in the right place I think it could hold its own. As my confidence has grown in terms of processing my photos I am slowly realizing that a single photo can have a multitude of lives depending how you process and crop. The file sizes on my new camera, when shooting in RAW mode are HUGE: about 25 MB per image; this means that when I take a picture now I can crop it down pretty small and still get an image of a decent size. So one picture may yield several different and distinct images through careful cropping. It opens up a whole load of possibilities. So today is not so much an image rescued but an image repurposed for a different aesthetic; I’m not sure than grain and landscape go together – it’s a much more urban feel – but I quite like it. Rules are there to be broken.

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Competition fail

Albion Inn

I have recently entered some photographs for a competition (fingers crossed) and was with most photo competitions there were various categories under which you could enter. All of my entries were accepted bar this one. The category was ‘Local Britain’. What better way to illustrate this I thought that with a traditional British ‘local’ (for overseas readers, vernacular for a public house). Even better that said local is called The Albion Inn. But no. The image was rejected. Not because it’s a bad picture (for the record I think its pretty good) and not for the fact that it did not meet the stringent image criteria – it is the right orientation, size and format. It was rejected because it was deemed to be ‘advertising’. Now with all the will in the world I’m not sure how this can be the case. There are no logos, no brewery signs, nothing promoting anything at all. It’s just a typical British corner pub. So in other words my picture is deemed to advertise a pub rather than being a picture of a pub. I find this quite amusing and I would be intrigued to know how many other images are falling foul of this rule. I obviously have to consider these things more carefully Winking smile

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Sleepless nights

Treetop moon3

I am 43 years old and in reasonably good health. I’m happily married and have a good job and two lovely children. So why do I frequently feel unhappy with my lot in life? I’ve had a long, hard think about it and I feel that a lot of it stems from a feeling of guilt that I have pretty much wasted most of life so far by arsing around. No less a man than Kurt Vonnegut posited that we are here on earth to fart around and that we shouldn’t let anybody tell us any different; I find it hard not to agree. However, despite the fact that our lives are ultimately insignificant, there is no escaping the fact we are all made of star dust; it’s a contradiction between this insignificance and the wonder that any of us are alive at all that I frequently struggle to get my head around. I blame Professor Brian Cox.

What has brought this on? Probably the current bout of insomnia that I am currently afflicted with. This is not a long term problem; I have gone through brief periods of insomnia throughout my entire life. Such inability to sleep is undoubtedly linked to periods of stress – exams at school, work-based conflict, pregnancy (not mine of course but you know what I mean) – and this current malaise is no different. I lie in bed at night thinking mostly about death, but strangely enough not in a morbid way (if that is possible); it’s more a feeling that I don’t want to die yet, or at all if I am to be brutally honest, as there is so much stuff left to do. OK, this ‘stuff’ may well be more farting around as Vonnegut would have it but I happen to like farting around – with the kids, friends, with the camera, with my parents – and death tends to get in the away.

I have no idea if other people feel the same. It’s not something that we ever talk about. We all know that our end is coming yet it’s very rarely discussed. The comedian Richard Herring tells a story about how he meets up with his oldest friends every year and that every year he cracks the same joke that ‘this time next year of us will be dead’. As the years pass, the joke becomes less funny and more ominous because there will come a time when it is no longer a joke. This Friday is the 13th May. As an unwritten rule I go out with my oldest male friends every Friday 13th. It’s a tradition. We’ve been doing it for years. Even the wives/partners accept it as the natural order of things. Sometimes this happens once a year, sometimes three and once (memorably) four unless my memory fails me. We have already lost one of our number. To lung cancer at the age of 39. Yet, when we meet we invariably talk about nothing but football, films, beer, stuff that happened in our gilded youths, etc. I have no idea what these men, who I have known my entire life, with the exception of perhaps my brother, think about the fate that awaits us all. It still amazes me that at the funeral of the friend who is no longer with us, people were smoking; OK I get it that it’s an addiction but I think that such an event would have made me pause for thought; mind you I am viewing this from the rose-tinted spectacles of someone that has never smoked.

I still have both my parents. Some of my friends don’t and haven’t for a long time. Football, films, beer, etc. Farting around. I think this is probably a male thing. We are reluctant to let our true feelings show when in the company of others. I can weep at the drop of a hat when on my own on in the cinema – don’t get me started on the first 10 minutes of UP – but it’s almost unheard of when amongst a male group of friends. Unless of course a LARGE amount of alcohol has been consumed at which point bearing your soul is tolerated and put down to the beer talking. I realise that I am being very contradictory here. I want to fart around; I don’t want to die yet at the same time I want the comfort of knowing that other people feel the same way as I do. At heart I am an optimistic pessimist or a pessimistic optimist, never more than 1 or 2 percentage points one way or the other. It depends on how things are going.

At the moment I can’t shake this feeling that something important is going to happen or rather that I am waiting for something important to happen. I have no idea if this something will be good thing or bad thing but it’s keeping me awake at night. I have a feeling that I should be doing something but can’t pinpoint what that something might be. The feeling is a bit like going out and then having a nagging feeling that you have left the front door open. There is something that I have missed and all I need to do is place it again. If only I knew what it was? At the same time I ponder my own mortality, despite (touch wood) being reasonably happy and in good health. I realise that this makes no sense whatsoever but this blog is an attempt to work things out in my head and I know that many of you like these blogs where I talk bollocks and go off at a tangent. Maybe the fact that I am reasonably happy at a time when the country seems to heading back to the dark ages is the reason for my guilt? Maybe I regret how unfathomably angry I was about Roy Hodgson’s tenure as Liverpool manager? Who knows? I certainly don’t. I just want to snap out of it sooner, rather than later.

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Gimme the moonlight…

Gimme the moonlight

It’s Sunday night and it’s late. Another weekend closes. Slightly more sedate than last week thankfully. So no long rambling post from me this evening; just the moon shining through trees in Cumbria. Taken with a tripod (obviously) and a long exposure. I like its ethereal nature; failing that it could be a wallpaper pattern. Until tomorrow…

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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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The gloaming

Dinas bran

When the night has come …And the land is dark …And the moon is the only light we see

Stand by me, Ben E. King

This blog post follows on from yesterdays as it’s one of the images from Dinas Bran (or Crow Crag) castle that I was talking about. Obviously Dinas Bran is the Welsh, and original, name but I must admit to liking Crow Crag; I have no idea if the Welsh name translates directly to the English but either way is a great name for a castle, particularly one from the mid 13th century. As I said in the blog yesterday I have attempted to photograph Dinas Bran before with limited success. After two attempts I now realise that this is one of those rare occasions when an overcast day or an early morning is required as the castle is so close to the mountains that the sun sets behind that the sunlight in the afternoon is harsh and unforgiving, even when compensating for exposure. This time I got to the top of the peak where the castle is late afternoon, around 3.30 pm; even then the sun was still going strong. Being a lovely day there was a lot of people up there – walkers and photographers – but I decided to hang around and wait until the sun had finally disappeared beyond the mountains.

Once the sunlight has gone then time is of the essence. The sun may have disappeared but residual light still remains before it finally vanishes over the sea-level horizon. It is this residual light that enables you to take photographs at all during the magic hour or, to use a Middle English term, the gloaming. Isn’t language great? Gloaming is such an evocative word and fits what it describes so well. Here’s the dictionary definition:

gloaming [ˈgləʊmɪŋ] n

Poetic twilight or dusk

[Old English glōmung, from glōm; related to Old Norse glāmr moon]

For a 13th century castle this fits quite nicely, as does its description as ‘poetic’. Dusk is a great word as well (and the name of a much underrated album by The The), although ‘twilight’ is now saddled with far more sillier baggage. It may be a while before anyone can use the word ‘twilight’ again without conjuring up the world of fey, grey, bloodless, sexless, six-packed vampires.

As you know, it’s impossible for me to get too technical on this blog as I would quickly be exposed as not knowing what I am talking about but I would hope that it is now obvious to regular readers that you cannot take pictures in fading light without a) using a tripod or b) dialling the camera’s ISO number up really high.* For this image I used a tripod to ensure that no camera shake could be introduced and also so that I could shoot at a low ISO number. I do not have a particularly good tripod (that’s next on the list of expensive camera equipment I covet) but the cheap and cheerful one I do have is OK for the time being.

So, believe it or not, this picture was taken in the dark, the exposure lasting 8 seconds. This is why it looks the way it does. You can tell its dark as the street lights are on in the town of Llangollen below but the fading light has a really interesting effect on colours. The light hitting the camera sensor here is residual light still visible over the tops of the hills despite the sun having gone; in addition there is reflected moonlight – as I said yesterday the moon was out all day on Saturday and very, very bright despite only half of it being visible. The result of this is that the sky takes on those marvellous purple and blue tones and the grass is that mustardy green. This is the same technique I used to take my not-quite-award-winning picture of Chester cathedral. With that picture I just lucked out; I just happened to be there at exactly the right moment. This picture was planned and hopefully it shows. It also works marvellously well in black and white.

Dinas bran b&w

Here are a couple more images that I took at the same time; one has a nice little Star Trek vibe going on but without Joan Collins:

Town on the edge of forever

Arch 2

That’s it for today. Comments are very welcome (as always) as are requests for print quotes [shameless plug]

*Technical bit: The ISO number indicates how fast a camera’s image sensor absorbs light. Therefore, in low light, increasing the ISO number will mean that the camera’s ability to absorb light in the dark is increased. But there is a payoff. Increased ISO means increased noise (grain) in your images because to take a picture in low light the shutter needs to stay open for longer and, therefore, the slightest motion results in image blur. Put simply, when hand-holding a camera if the subject of your picture moves when you are using a slow shutter speed then they will appear blurred (assuming that is that you manage to keep the camera stable). If you don’t manage to keep the camera stable when hand holding then the entire photo will be blurred (also referred to as camera shake). So increasing the ISO helps to protect against blur but the higher the ISO number the greater the noise. Modern DSLRs are getting better and better at reducing grain at high ISO numbers when hand holding the camera but if you want true image sharpness then a tripod is the only way to go.

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Canal sunset

Canal sunset, originally uploaded by Zardoz67.

Here’s one I prepared earlier… Been out all day taking photographs in North Wales. Just back, then tea, then The Killing on BBC4 so just time to fulfill my blogging obligations. I am hoping that this picture speaks for itself. An amazing sunset spotted on my way home from work last week. One of those ‘stop the car’ moments. Not only were the colours really vivid, the reflections in the canal were too.

Anyhow, enough material today to keep the blog going today including some pictures of the moon in daylight. It was really visible today, so I’m hoping these turn out OK. Hope you don’t mind these shorter blogs at the weekend but it stands to reason that relaxing comes to the fore. Plus I am usually less angry 😉

Night and the city

Statue b&w

There have not been that many photographic opportunities this week that did not involve fog (you may have noticed). It seemed to hang around for days, barely lifting. As already said fog lends itself beautifully to non-colour photography be it standard black and white, sepia, infra red so I make no apologies for another black and white photograph. When the sun returns hopefully I’ll have more colour to play with… This picture was taken near the race course in Chester from the centre of a roundabout. It’s a long exposure of about 8 seconds, hence the ghost car in the bottom right. I liked the way the fog shrouded the street lighting and the statue on horseback.

Can’t believe that we are already on 23rd January and that this is my 23rd blog post of the year. Blogging something every day has been really hard with some days harder than others, especially weekends when all you want to do is relax. As an experiment though its going pretty well and traffic to the blog has increased 2-3-fold so I must be doing something right at least. It seems that when I have something to write, the words come easier than the photography and other times (like today) I try and use the photograph to make up for my lack of words.

This weekend has been all about the birthday sleepover and I will admit to being totally and utterly exhausted. Sleep finally descended at around 12.30am this morning and they were all up again at 5. Needless to say, my son is now safely tucked up in bed with barely a whimper of protest. So, the sawn of another week and some big decisions to make; chief amongst these is whether to put myself forward as a school governor. It’s something that I would really like to do but don’t want to if I can’t give it the time and energy it deserves… I’ll let you know what I decide and if I am able to come up with the 100 words needed to highlight my suitability. In other news my wife is pondering jumping into the abyss of social networking; perhaps she has read my previous blog post from Friday, the result of which has been another interesting offer to help with ideas mapping a book! It’s all go.

But its Sunday night, work in the morning and a bottle of Rioja open so goodbye for now. I’d just like to say a big thank you to each and everyone of you  that has read, commented, subscribed to or liked the blog of late. It’s really appreciated. Cheers

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I found a greater truth,
At a godly altitude,
Won’t waste another day of my life.

OK, so I know that in light of the New Year’s resolution that yesterday’s blog post was essentially cheating but hey it was still a post and since WordPress gave me the opportunity to share it with you I though what the hell. To be honest I was slightly taken aback that the blog’s health was in the ‘wow’ category, especially since it tailed off towards the end of last year. Still 12,000 visits is not too bad, even if a lot of visitors stumbled across it whilst looking for something else. I have now realised that giving a blog post a title that can be easily Googled is half the battle, so apologies to fans of the romantic comedy starring Nic Cage and Cher who might have found themselves here.

The quote that heads up this blog post is from the song ‘Alan Bean’ by Hefner, one of the UK’s most underrated bands. I consider the now-defunct Hefner’s driving force Darren Hayman (now backed by The Secondary Modern) to be one of our finest songwriters and his 2010 album The Essex Arms was one of my top three albums of the year along with I am Kloot’s ‘The Sky at Night’ [another considered title for this blog post] and ‘High Violet’ by The National. So who is Alan Bean. As Hayman points out  in the lyrics, Bean was the fourth man on the moon; an astronaut that few have heard of and many could not name. I mean after Armstrong and Aldrin how many of us begin to struggle? What makes Alan Bean special in Hayman’s eyes is that his trip to the moon with Apollo 12 was such a life-changing experience (and, let’s face it, it would be to any of us) that he has spent the years since he returned painting the moon. Bean figures that as he is one of the few that have actually been there then he is uniquely qualified to document this on canvas. As Wikipedia states ‘He is the only artist in the world to use real Moon dust on his paintings’. How cool is that?

Given the task I have set myself for this year I am well aware that I may struggle taking a decent photograph every day. But it struck me recently that I had never attempted to take a picture of the moon. This picture, taken on a tripod with a 70-300mm zoom lens, was taken a couple of weeks ago during the UK’s descent into arctic conditions. Cold as it was the night sky was the clearest I have ever known it and given that the full moon looked so impressive I figured I’d give it a shot, telescope or no telescope. It took me a while. Trial and error and all that. The images I was getting were either too bright or too dark and it took me ages to achieve a shutter speed at which I could get the detail as seen above. It amazes me that I was able to take a picture of the moon at all, let alone one where you can actually make stuff out. After all the moon is 238,855 miles away.

The moon has always fascinated me and I think this is probably true of almost everyone on this planet. It’s always been there – probably formed when a Mars-sized object hit the earth and the debris aggregated in orbit to form the moon. It literally exerts a pull on us all, not only in terms of tides but also the approximate 70% of water that makes up our bodies. It has inspired folklore and literature and music for eons. Yet at the same time we take it for granted. It’s just there. I think that maybe it lost a little bit of its magic once Armstrong, Aldrin, Bean and co walked on its surface. Once you’ve been somewhere for the first time its mystique wears off right? I think that this is a bit of a shame. I can understand why we went but in real terms the lunar landings were akin to opening our front doors and making it as far as the doormat in the porch; As a technical feat it was ‘a giant leap for mankind’ but to find out it was not populated by H.G. Wells’ Selenites or made of cheese was a bit of a blow. And I don’t think the human race has ever recovered. The moon has become ordinary as science has taken us further and further into the heavens and we became aware of collapsing stars and dark matter and the magnitude of the space in which we hang.

Yet the moon endures. I find its presence comforting and still marvel when it is full and shining. The phrase ‘moonlight’ evokes magic and romance and elicit activity. Tonight the BBC is launching ‘Stargazing Live’ with Professor Brian Cox and Dara O’Briain and I bet the moon doesn’t get a look in. OK, its not a star but it his our closest heavenly body and I think we should all raise a glass and toast its endurance. Next time the moon is full, take a long hard look at it and marvel. It really is quite wonderful isn’t it?

And I watched the Eagle landing
On a night when the moon was full
And as it tugged at the tides, I knew deep inside
I too could feel its pull

Billy Bragg, The Space Race is Over

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Happy New Year!


New Year’s resolutions are always difficult to maintain. Mine are always the same – to eat and drink less, to exercise and to not worry so much over things that I have no control over. Invariably my resolutions last until the point at which I have my first bad day at work. This year I resolve to update this blog more frequently and to this end I am hoping to engage in an experiment which I can only fail in executing – that of updating this blog with a photograph taken every day of 2011. Now I know that this is doomed to heroic failure from the outset as there are bound to be times when I am unable to update it – Glastonbury for example. But, with my hand on heart I do intend to update it as regularly as is humanly possible.

This will obviously mean a drop in quality (what quality I hear you cry); some pictures will be phone snaps and some will be those I’ve taken on a rare planned trip dedicated to photography. You are bound to see the joins and I make no apologies. Some pictures may be old or recycled; hell some may not even be taken by me but believe me when I say that I don’t want this blog to die as it has been in danger of doing over the last few months.

I also intend to blog less about the photographs themselves and more to use the images to illustrate what I want to talk about. This may lead to some short, uninspiring blog posts (such as this one) but hopefully you will stick around for the long haul if only to see me fail heroically.

This blog was started to document my progress. I have improved. People have paid for my pictures. I have done some commercial photography work. All of this was beyond my wildest dreams when I started. So, going forward, I intend to maybe place more emphasis on the ‘confessions’ than on the ‘photographer’. I am 43 years of age and find that my head is constantly full of worries, crazy ideas, tales of missed opportunity, triumphs (my family being chief amongst these). It has been commented that this blog works best when I go off on a wild tangent or discuss something more personal; in other words when it’s not about the photography but about the things that concern, delight, appal and enrage me. I therefore intend to bring these elements to the fore and illustrate appropriately.

Happy New Year. Let’s make it a good one. no doubt all the above will turn out to be empty promises but it won’t be for want of trying on my part.

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