Tag Archives: Places

Incoming tide

Incoming tide, originally uploaded by Zardoz67.

Apologies for the shortness of this blog post and for old photograph. I am running some batch processing on the wedding photos from Friday and it looks as if it could take a while; therefore the computer is tied up and I don’t dare stop it mid flow. In other words I am posting this from Flickr. I have neglected my Flickr photo stream of late and to be honest I’m not sure if I will be going back to it. There are several reasons for this. First, I am finding Society6 a far more user friendly interface. Second, Flickr is very arbitrary; the feedback you receive is only as good as the groups you join. Whilst Flickr is great for sharing pictures with friends I am not sure of it’s value once you enter the lower slopes of ‘proper’ photography. I am not for one minute suggesting that this is where I am, far from it, but I have found Society6 to be far more supportive, unjudgemental and it also helps to have sold some prints, which does wonders for the self confidence.

Good day to day in terms of family fun. My daughter had a joint birthday party with a friend at a climbing wall just over the border into North Wales. Everyone seemed to have a good time and I can easily seeing us going back. That said I ache all over from both climbing and holding the rope as various children showed their complete lack of fear. It’s nice to be trusted but at the same time when you have someone else’s child on dangling on the end of a rope several metres above you, with only you to save them from death it tends to sharpen the mind.

Normal service will resume tomorrow but it shows yet again how little I know – it’s obvious that Photoshop would allow you to batch process images but lord knows why I haven’t thought to learn how to do it until now. I think I’ll still process most images manually but with 700+ wedding photos to get through, this should lessen the pain a little.


Lazy Sunday

Heading home

Because we didn’t go camping yesterday, it’s turning into a bit of a lazy weekend. Brownie points earned yesterday being put to good use today so I am off to take some pictures this afternoon. Not sure where but locally as we have an invitation out for tonight. Looks like we made the right decision anyway; awoke to the sound of rain this morning and it is very windy. I’m definitely a fair-weather camper, too many wet Glastonbury’s have tainted my outlook.

This is an old image that I decided to have a little play with. Its the pier at Llandudno and the nearest figure is my son stropping off somewhere. I have cropped it to square and decided to go with black and white to get the best out of the winter sea and sky. As I have said before I have 1000s of photographs backed-up that I am slowly revisiting as my processing skills improve. With many of them it is genuinely surprising what can be rescued and I am daunted by the fact that I am only scratching the surface in terms of what can be achieved with a little knowledge and a lot of practice.

Heading homeI have also attempted a version of this with an old-fashioned sepia tint and vignette – what my wife calls ‘The Bagpuss Effect’, for obvious reasons (at least obvious to those of you that are as old as me). This was just for fun really but I think that this sort of treatment works well for Victorian settings. Perhaps I should remove the boy in the puffa jacket for ultimate authenticity but you get the idea.

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Above us only sky

Liverpool, originally uploaded by Zardoz67.

Hopefully, this should be the last of these on-the-fly blog posts. PC is fixed and I can pick it up tomorrow. Apparently an important file had been inadvertently deleted. Neither child is owning up. But, given that I once found fridge magnets attached to the computer casing then anything is possible. So, an old seascape for you. This is the city of Liverpool, my university city, and the nearest major city to my home. To the right is Birkenhead. Obviously taken with a wide-angle lens (Sigma 10-20), this image was taken from atop the concrete tidal defences on New Brighton beach as the tide was coming in, which is why it looks as if I am hovering in mid air above the sea. The clouds are pretty special in this picture and the blog title is self explanatory. Hopefully back properly tomorrow…

Choppy waters

Shipping lane, originally uploaded by Zardoz67.

OK. Many apologies but the blog may have to be short and sweet for the next few days. They say that old people and computers do not mix but the same can be said for inquisitive children. Got home today to find that the computer is kaput after the kids have been using it… This will necessitate repairs as it won’t boot at all or, in a worst case scenario, a new PC. Not ideal. Thankfully all my pictures are backed up and I can upload to the blog via Flickr using the phone, but it’s unwieldy and I can only access old photographs that are already on there. Normal service will be resumed as soon as possible but please bear with me and hopefully enjoy some pictures that you might not have seen before. Sorry!

The cruel sea

storm clouds

Being British, as I am, I have a bit of an obsession about the weather. We all do. Mainly because it’s so unpredictable. Just as you think that Spring has finally arrived it then leaves again as if it has remembered that it has left the oven on at home. Regular Glastonbury goers will discuss the weather for months in advance; it has become a communal experience. Weather prediction websites are pored over, even though there is nothing we can do about it. A wet Glastonbury can be hellish – think the Somme with vegetarian food – whereas a hot Glastonbury also has its problems, namely peeling skin and sun stroke. Weather plays a big part in the life of this sceptered isle I call home.

It has to be said though that certain parts of the country are hardier than the rest of us. This picture was taken on Bamburgh beach in Northumberland. Last August. Yep, that’s British summertime distilled right there. Sitting on the horizon you can just about make out Holy Island. But wait, what’s that over to the left. Could it be that two people are actually making their way into the sea? One with a body board. When I was working on this image my wife suggested getting rid of the people to provide a straightforward seascape with foaming waves and angry clouds but I felt it better to leave them in. They add scale and context. They deserve praise and recognition for venturing into the North Sea under that sky. Despite it being August, I myself was wearing wellington boots, a fleece and a waterproof jacket. The thought of swimming never crossed my mind. But then I am not from the North East but the North West and it has to be said that they are hewn from sterner stuff. Maybe it’s conditioning? If you are forced into the North Sea enough as a child on regular occasions perhaps your resilience builds up; much like Grigori Rasputin made himself immune to arsenic poisoning by taking small doses himself at regular intervals so it is with the North Sea. Anyway, I think they deserved to be left in the picture.

And why am I banging on about the weather? Because today’s planned portrait shoot today starring yours truly was postponed due to the rain. It rained all morning. To be fair, this afternoon was brighter but by then the decision had been made to cancel. It’s going to be re-arranged for March, when hopefully Spring will have remembered to come back, and remembered to lock the door behind it.

This photo was originally a 12 x 8 standard size with much more beach and cloud. On cropping to a square though I felt that it got a little bit more claustrophobic which is what I was after. It’s another one of those pictures that I had forgotten about, so its nice to do something with it. The sea is lovely and green but its the angry clouds that make it. Believe it or not it rained soon after. Who’d have thought it?

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Messing about with boats


There is nothing – absolutely nothing – half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats. Kenneth Grahame, The Wind in the Willows

OK. It’s Sunday night. We’ve all got work in the morning. Shall I just make it brief? Although what you’ll all be doing now that Lark Rise to Candleford (or LR to the C as my brother calls it) has finished I don’t know. Tonight is definitely going to be an early night as I am absolutely shattered. The building of the garden fence took most of weekend and I have to say that working all week in an office followed by two days manual labour is not really how I saw last week panning out. Given that it’s Sunday and I’m pretty sure that no-one will be reading this I thought I’d do something a bit more avant garde today. Usually, when I play around in Photoshop the response is less than enthusiastic but in the absence of any real training I quite often like to explore and mess about. And to paraphrase the above quote there’s nothing quite like messing about in Photoshop for a photographer.

This is a photograph I took of the marina that leads onto the Pontcysyllte aqueduct. I thought that the life rings in the foreground made for an interesting image and liked the lines that the narrow boats made into the distance. However, when I viewed it on the computer it was a bit washed out  and no amount of processing could lift it ; the sky in particular was overexposed. Knowing me I probably forgot to change the camera settings… I am trying to get better at this. When a camera has such a huge amount of functionality you really do have to plan each shot. Often though I will take a picture and then forget to change the settings back. Thankfully most cock ups can be put right in the digital darkroom.

So for this image I decided to make it simpler using one of Photoshop’s ‘Artistic’ filters. This was the result I liked best. I suppose you could argue for hours over whether a photograph made to look like a painting is still a photograph but as far as I’m concerned the only  thing that matters is whether it works or not. I hope this does but you may of course disagree, as many of my reader’s quite often do; its certainly an improvement on a not particularly impressive photograph but you’ll have to take my word for that. Comments welcome is anyone is around to read this. But if you are slumped in front of the TV, glass of wine in hand, trying to blot out the fact that work starts again tomorrow then I don’t blame you if you haven’t got the energy. I know exactly how you feel. Anyone know a good remedy for blisters?

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A feat of engineering

Aqueduct waterfall

Another week of blogging ends and I can’t quite believe that I am past the half way point of February already. It seems that I may well be getting the hang of this blogging lark. There’s still a long way to go (and I have the potential hurdles of Glastonbury and family summer holiday to navigate yet) but I am feeling more confident now than when I first decided on the lunacy of posting to the blog every day. The rewards though are becoming obvious and I am not talking about increased blog traffic and more comments (although both of these are true). The best thing that I am getting out of this is that it is forcing me to take photographs and to think on my feet; and what’s more to take different photographs and experiment a bit. Last Saturday’s trip out has yielded some good material and I had some particularly good feedback on yesterday’s post.

The feat of engineering here though is not this blog (although it sometimes feels that way) but Pontcysyllte aqueduct. More than 200 years old it towers above the River Dee near Llangollen at a height of 125 feet above the river. William Jessop was the chief engineer responsible but it is his supervising engineer that has gone down in history, one Thomas Telford. It was Telford that decided to build the aqueduct out of cast iron. The structure was officially opened in November 1805. A band played Rule Brittania and approximately  8,000 people were at the grand opening ceremony. Among the first to cross the aqueduct were The Earl and Countess of Bridgwater; they led a procession of boats which traversed the aqueduct and , appropriately for North Wales, returned with coal from the local pits.

I am hoping that my pictures are giving an impression of what a grand structure it is. It’s still popular today both with canal boats and walkers/cyclists although walking across it is not recommended for anyone that does not have a good head for heights. Although the walkway side has a cast iron hand rail, the canal side has nothing – just a steep drop into the churning river Dee below.


I’m not too bad with heights but certainly think that if I were to cross on a canal boat I would probably stay inside or get out and walk. In stark contrast with Valle Crucis abbey (which is less than 5 miles away) this is an entirely modern structure, despite its age, and no less impressive. More than 10,000 boats cross the aqueduct every year and it is under consideration for world heritage status. Also, the views from the top are pretty spectacular, as are the views from below.


Debate still rages over who was primarily responsible for the Pontcysyllte aqueduct. Telford took all the glory and it is his name that adorns the plaque at the canal side; Jessop did not even attend the opening ceremony but apparently was a more modest individual without Telford’s gift for self promotion. Jessop was certainly better known canal engineer though, with Telford best known for roads and bridges. Either way, its a masterpiece of 18th century industrial engineering. Let’s put it down to a joint effort.

Anyway, have a great weekend; as usual I will be posting but the posts may be shorter, and not necessarily sweeter. Besides I am sure that most of you have better things to do than read my meanderings anyhow. Until tomorrow…

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M-O-O-N, that spells moon

Moon arch

So says Tom Cullen (a lot) in Stephen King’s post-apocalyptic masterpiece ‘The Stand’. There’s nothing post-apocalyptic here but, as remarked on earlier in the week, when was taking photographs of Valle Crucis abbey I suddenly became aware of the moon being very visible in the daytime sky. There have been occasions in the past – few and far between – when I have been aware of the moon being out during the day but I have never questioned it before. The moon on Saturday was so bright though that it seemed to be an unusual occurrence; nearly everyone I met commented on it. When I started to think about it, it started to bug me even more. If the sun was out shouldn’t the moon be on the other side of the Earth? Isn’t that how it works? Surely, if it’s daytime here and night-time in Australia then the moon should be doing its thing over there. It seems impossible to me that we should be able to see the sun and the moon at the same time – after all, when the sun sets its gone.

On doing some research though I have found that my reasoning is flawed. Apparently, the moon is NOT always visible during the night. Depending on which position the moon is occupying in its lunar cycle (which lasts about a month as all good werewolves know), it may be visible during the day, or the night, or both. We puny mortals notice it more at night, purely because it contrasts much more brightly with the night sky. However, it seems that the moon is in the sky during the day just as much as it is in the night. Also, if we can see the moon in our sky (day or night), people on the other side of the world can’t see it (night or day). But why?

Science bit:
Sometimes the moon is close to the sun forming a thin crescent. At these times, it therefore rises and sets pretty much at the same time as the sun and is visible in the sky all day (even if we don’t notice it) and not in the sky at night (Who knew that the moon is sometimes not in the sky at night – not this thicko!). On these occasions (i.e. when close to the sun and in its crescent form) the moon is hard to spot in the day. Other days, the moon is further from the sun, and may be on the opposite side of the sky. Now, the moon appears full or nearly full on account of its position relative to the earth and to the sun, the moon’s source of light. Since the moon is on the opposite side of the sky at these times, it rises in the east at more or less the same time that the sun is setting in the west. Therefore, when the moon is further away from the sun it stays out all night and sets in the west as the sun rises in the east.

I’m still not sure I understand it that well. I assume though that the moon’s extrovert appearance on Saturday was a combination of being somewhere in the middle of these two cycles and the fact that the sun itself was so bright – the moon being the most reflective object in the sky. Anyway, as you can see here I took quite a few pictures on the moon on Saturday as it struck me as being very unusual, even though it apparently isn’t. The picture that heads the blog was an attempt to get the moon framed in one of the windows of the abbey. I took several versions of this picture some with everything in focus (like this one) and some with the moon in focus and the window blurred. I think this works the best though. A few  more pictures are below.

Clouds across the moon Treetop moon

Treetop moon2 Moon through arch

Comments would be lovely, if only to pick holes in my lack of astronomical knowledge. I think Professor Brian Cox’s job is safe for now. By the way if you somehow missed his ‘Wonders of the Solar System’ TV series get it now; highly recommended. Watching it as a photographer though only serves to highlight all the wonderful places in the world I’ll never get to go; until that lottery win anyhow.

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Get the abbey habit

Abbey columns

This week’s blogging is becoming a bit like a travelogue; the loose theme being that I have actually got out to take some pictures and that they are all pictures taken in and around Llangollen in North Wales. Yesterday’s pictures of Dinas Bran seem to have gone down quite well so thanks for all the nice comments via facebook, twitter and the blog itself. It really is much appreciated. I am staying in the 13th century for today’s blog post. If Dinas Bran was the political centre of the region then Valle Crucis (the valley of the cross) abbey was the spiritual centre. It was founded early in the 13th century by the Cistercians; the Cistercians arrived in Britain from France in 1128 and deliberately sought out locations that were in wild and lonely places – all the better for devoting your life to God. My degree is in Medieval and Modern History and I once wrote as essay titled ‘The role of the monk in medieval society’. Unfortunately I can’t remember much about it as a) it was so long ago and b) I was drunk when I wrote it. The fact that I remember it at all is because it’s the only essay that I ever got a first for. Go figure, I’m sure there’s a lesson there somewhere.

Anyhow, the ruins of Valle Crucis are still pretty impressive given how long they have been standing and are well worth a visit. Worth noting is that there is a charge to get it between April and September but it’s free in the winter months. Given that the Cistercians chose this location for its isolated location it’s disconcerting to see the fields around the abbey now contain static caravans and camping pods. However, I’m pretty sure that the abbey will still be there long after the caravans have gone. Like most Cistercian architecture it is built to last; they left a glorious architectural legacy as evidenced by today’s lead picture. This shows the vaulted ceiling in the abbey’s chapter house, the room attached to the abbey in which meetings would have been held. This picture was also taken using a tripod (it was pretty dark in there, despite the light coming through the windows from outside) and a very wide angle lens (10-20 mm). To take it, I got right into the corner and tried to get the whole room in, especially the flagstones and that wonderful ceiling. It is pretty astounding to think that this was constructed more than 800 years ago.

I processed two versions of this photograph; the colour one above and the black and white one below. I can’t decide which I like best as both work pretty well. I particularly like the green hues of the colour photograph, which I assume is due to lichen – there is no door to keep the wind and rain out.

Abbey columns b&w

The most striking area of the abbey is the west front (see pictures below) with its still-visible inscription, which apparently reads ‘Abbot Adams carried out this work; may he rest in peace. Amen’

Valle crucis b&w


Valle Crucis fell victim to Henry VIIIs dissolution of the monasteries and it was dissolved as a ‘lesser house’ in 1537 when it was already more than 300 years old. After that it fell quickly into its current state of disrepair. One of the great things about living in the UK is that history is all around, pretty much wherever you live. Although I am not a religious man I can appreciate the beauty of what the Cistercians left behind and the dedication and skill that went in to engineering such a wonderful building in the middle of nowhere. It has a timeless beauty that gives us a unique insight into another world. As a place of solitude I found it remarkably calming. Please comment if you feel the need.

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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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