Tuesday, 12 December 2017

Advent Day 11 - Spider, Spider

Sometimes you plan with great detail about where and how you are taking a photo. Sometimes it is just a spur of the moment thing.

This one was definitely the latter. I was about to drive off, got in the car and then noticed that a spider had decided to take up residence in the car, web and all.

The sun was just catching the web, so I grabbed my camera, put my 90mm macro on and started taking shots.

The sun just catches part of the web. It is a very minimalist image, but to me stands out because of that.

(The spider was later released, no harm done)

Monday, 11 December 2017

Advent Day 10 - Barley

One of the challenges of holding down a full time job in the Midlands is that it can be difficult to travel very far. while others go for long trips into the Highlands or the lakes, I have to be content generally with what is in my local area.

Late summer I got quite interested in fields of barley. As a midland lad, I have a fascination with waves but it is rare I get a chance to take photos of them.

However when a wind blows across a wheat or barley field, sometimes I imagine  it as a wave spreading across the field.

I became quite obsessed with taking images of a local barley field and tried a number of different views. Backlit, IR, close-up, etc.

However the closest I got to my vision was when I used ICM to represent the barley movement

This is my wave of barley. Not as impressive as Rachel Talibart perhaps, but a lot closer to home

Saturday, 9 December 2017

Advent Day 9 - Stiper Stones

We were lucky enough to use someones house in Church Stretton over the summer holidays.

Church Stretton is a pretty little village just outside Telford nestled in a range of hills called the Long Mynd. It was an  area I already knew pretty well, having camped there 7 years earlier and I was looking forward  to doing some landscape photography there if the family and weather gave me the opportunity.

The long mynd is one of these places overlooked as people transit from one area to another. In this case it is only an hour from the West Midland conurbation and well served by a motorway, but generally either people head North to the peaks or the lakes, or pass it by on their way to Wales and Snowdonia.

Which is a pity, because although perhaps not have the grandeur of Snowdonia or the majesty of the Lakes, it is more accessible than either of those and has its own charms.

The Long Mynd itself is a ridge of hills going North to South and dominates the otherwise flat landscape. In fact to me it looks akin to a large sleeping dragon with Church Stretton nestled in its paws.

There is a road that goes up and over the Long Mynd and my hope was on a clear night go to the top and try some astro photography.However after doing the single track road on the day, the dearth of passing places and lack of barriers on one side totally put me off that idea. Doing it in daytime was scary enough, doing it at night was unthinkable.

So I contented myself with just taking pictures where and where I could.

It was only on the last day that I found the Stiper Stones. Again it is a ridge that runs parallel to the Long Mynd. To get there you either  have to go around the Mynd or over it (which i would not recommend), so although close as the crow flies, it takes a good while to get there.

The stones themselves are a set of grit stome outcrops. However unlike the Mynd they are quite walkable.

Also the weather, which up to this point had been 'changeable'  was fantastic. Of course this was the last day of the holiday.

Stiper Stones

One of my big regrets was I did not get a decent sunset or sunrise shot. In truth the height of the Mynd and Church Stretton's proximity means the sun is hidden until quite high. However the Stiper Stones would make a perfect sunset location.

In fact this was proved because as we went back home on the last day, all I could see in my rear view mirror was one of the best sunsets I have ever seen.

 Ah well, the photographic gods have to have their little laughs

Friday, 8 December 2017

Advent Day 8 - Chelsea Flower Show

It was my wife's significant birthday this year and as a treat I took her to the Chelsea Flower show. 

She had been an avid watcher on TV for years and one of the favorite family events was 'lets play criticise the show garden's.

Anything in London, especially Chelsea is always going to be expensive, and this was no exception. However my big surprise was how compact the site was. In the TV, it gives the impression the show covers acres, but actually it is no bigger than a couple of football pitches.

As always my camera came with me, however I was mindful that my wife's wishes were to come 1st.

Unfortunately, this year was a poor one for Chelsea with a big drop off of the number of the larger show garden. Also in events like this you are always fighting with the crowds. Tripods and unhindered viewing angles are always going to be impracticle.

However I did get these two shows, that I like for different reasons

This one was taken in the large Marque. It was a set of roses on a slate. We were on the last day of the show, so obviously some  of the exhibits were past their best. However the decay to me represented the fleeting point of perfection and the inevitable decline and demise of all things (I know, cheery eh!)

This second one was one of the smaller gardens. I love the simplicity and the blocks of colour. I have been trying to get an image like this for ages, but I would be lying if I could say it was planned. My only issue is where I crop. I have tried with and without the plant, but neither are totally sastisfying, but in the end i prefer this crop best.

Wednesday, 6 December 2017

Advent Day 7 - Birmingham Minimialism

In theory I am native Brummie. I say in theory, I was brought up in Sutton Coldfield, which despite being now part of city of Birmingham, has never truly accepted its role as part of the England's self designated second city.

However despite my reticence of being categorized as Brummie, it is still the city I know best and I still have deep roots with it.

So I often find excuses to go and visit and Verity Milligan's exhibition  in Birmingham's jewellery quarter was just the impetus I needed. I also have a connection with this part of Birmingham as both our wedding and my wife's engagement ring were bought in the area (The shop still stands). It was also not hard to persuade my daughter to some with us, when they heard the word jewellery..

The plan was to visit the  jewellery museum (which is excellent) and then wonder around looking as bling that I could neither afford or aspire to. I also thought I could take some photos of the area.

Unfortunately the weather intervened and by the time we came out, it was grey and drizzling. However I always think in these situations that part of your education as a photographer is to make the best of all conditions, so I persevered.

These are the 2 photos that I came out with. The 1st one was a tree reflected in the pavement rain. What I like about it is its minimalism, something  I have been trying hard to master, In some ways it is simple, but the fact the tree is upside down means it catches the viewers attention (I think!)

The 2nd image is a reflection taken in an empty shop. I love the juxtaposition between the chair and the view of Hockley caught in the reflection. It is as if the chair is both in and outside the world.

These are images which are difficult to categorize. Are they good or is it pseudo intellectual rubbish. In the end it is not important. What is important is that they are images that please and intrigue me. If others feel the same way, all the better.

Tuesday, 5 December 2017

Advent Day 6 Bluebells

There is probably no time of year that excites me and frustrates me more than when the bluebels appear. It is my own little rite of spring as a I tramp to those secret spots, (which all photographers have) to take see if we have reached peak bloom yet.

The frustrating point is that each year the images are always less than I hoped. I mean how hard is it to take images of groups of static flowers, but somehow the results are always less than I hoped.

Generally I end up experimenting with different angles, ICM, anything to get that elusive shot.  Below are some of my more interesting attempts

However I the one shot that stood out is this one

I call it the last stand and it was taken using a flash and a large aperture on a 90mm prime to dim the background. It was taken late in the season as the flowers started to go over. I like the brooding menace of the forest encroaching and represents to me the end of spring and the start of summer

Monday, 4 December 2017

Advent 2017 Day 5 Swallows

Every once in a while I pretend I am a wildlife photographer and try my hand at taking pictures of birds.

While I have managed a few decent shots, one bird has always alluded me and that is the humble swallow. Every year they set up nest at on my neighbors house eave(not mine of course, that would be too easy) where I see them swoop in and out.

Attempts to get images have been basically failures, but with good reason. Swallows never stop. About the only point you can actually get an image is when the feed their young and even then you need to be quick.

This year I had more opportunities than most. We visited Stokesey castle in Shropshire. This is owned by English Heritage and when we visited, I was blown away by the fact they had swallows nests in the house, just above the visitors heads. So I rushed back to get my A6000, put the 210mm zoom on and waited.

However I could not spend long there, so the shots were disappointing.

My next opportunity however was when I holidayed in Great Strickland. We stayed in a nice pub and when I came out the swallows were clearly getting ready to go on their amazing journey to South Africa and were congregating on the telephone wires. Also for once I had my 600mm zoom on me, so I just stood their taking images with the handheld (while my long suffering wife tapped her foot as she waited to go to breakfast).

I got a lot of nice shots that day, but this one stood out

I call it departure gate, and it is my celebration of the awesome journey these little birds make each year. It is hardly believable that every year, the same birds make a journey from South Africa, to my small suburban road, to have chicks and then make the same journey back.


I had one more connection with these world travelers this year. I was inside when my wife urgently called me out. She said there was something under my car, so I looked under and there was Freddie, out neighbors cat, sitting and staring at a young swallow, who had obviously fell from the next doors nest. Fortunately it was just sitting there so confusing the cat, who generally pounces on anything that moves.

I quickly grabbed it (it did not move, swallows are not really ground dwellers) and took inside. We placed it in a large paper bag where it just sat and  tried to decide what to do with it.Feeding it ourselves was not an option. I'm not great a catching flies and there was no reason to believe it would take them from me anyway. Also we were not in a situation to do 24 hour care. We thought about calling the RSPB, but decided to see if we could get it back into the nest

By this time it was dark, the nest was a at the top of the house, and I'm not that good with heights. Nevertheless with the help of my neighbor, we set up a ladder and I maneuvered my way up, holding onto the bag with one hand.

At the top, I had no confidence I could hold the ladder and grab the bird, while stuffing it into the small slot at the top of the nest. Fortunately I managed  to grab the chick and when I presented it to the slot, it shuffled in, causing a racquet of what I assume was a mixture of relief and indignation.

I have no proof that the chick survived but a week later while working in the garage, a large group of swallows wheeled above me, then disappeared. That was the last time I saw them this year, and i like to think that it was a thank you   and au revoir :)