Saturday, 16 September 2017

Video Killed the Radio Star (YouTube if You Want To)

First off, a confession; the picture accompanying this post has nothing to do with the text. I'm not actually writing about my photography this time but still wanted to have some sort of image to brighten things up. The photograph above was taken with a fixed lens camera I like to carry with me when walking the dog (perhaps a subject for a later blog and a very tenuous link to the subject of this post).

When deciding to revive this blog, I had serious concerns about how relevant it would be in the light of the YouTube based community of vlogging photographers which has sprung up in the last year or so. Then I decided it didn't really matter since no-one reads this anyway and it's just a platform for self-reflection or the first sign of madness (talking to myself). However, it is impossible to ignore the fact that these vlogs are so much more effective in educating, informing or simply getting a message across than a collection of still images and text could ever be. I am in no way a novice photographer but I am finding that I can learn and be inspired by the often excellent output being produced by an ever increasing band of vlogging photographers. Fortunately for you dear reader, I am just not inspired to take up the medium myself (a face for radio and no-one wants to hear me pontificate about photography - not even my family).

I bet you can feel a list coming on - I am a man after all.

Just in case there is still anyone out there who bothers to read blogs, I am going to share my favourite landscape photography YouTube channels with you. If you are interested in landscape photography, you really should check them out. This is not a paid endorsement.

Thomas Heaton : This was where it started for me. I actually didn't bother with YouTube for anything much more than following Casey Neistat (who, imo, set the gold standard for daily volgs) but then stumbled across Thomas's 'Landscape Photography Fail' vlog. It was a revelation. Here was someone experiencing the kind of struggle I have faced so many times myself. This was different. I caught up with his older posts and have followed him ever since. It has been interesting to see how his channel and presentation has evolved but, at the heart of it, you have an engaging individual who takes some really excellent images and who isn't afraid to show his travails.

Simon Baxter : Simon doesn't blog regularly but his posts are worth waiting for. The production quality is excellent and his use of the drone is in woodland is stunning. He tends to concentrate on his local area and, although he does live close to interesting and varied landscapes, he particularly focuses on woodland. Simon also has a secret weapon in the form of his dog, Meg, who often steals the show.

Adam Gibbs : Adam is based in British Columbia and has access to some spectacular scenery but, like Simon, he does seem to enjoy photographing forest scenes. He also doesn't post regularly but I eagerly await his new vlogs which make me long to go back to Canada.

Nigel Danson : Nigel is the only person listed here who I know personally. We were both members of a local photographic society for a while and Nigel regularly beat me in competitions. I bear him no ill feelings for this as he can't be held responsible for the dubious tastes of competition judges. Nigel is quite new to the vlogging scene but his enthusiasm is infectious and he makes some beautiful images.

Having made the odd timelapse and had a little experience of filming video with a GoPro, I can't help but be impressed by the time and effort these guys must put into their YouTube posts. They are all seriously good landscape photographers with a wealth of experience which they are happy to share via their videos. I believe they also either already run, or are planning to run, workshops and I feel sure it would be worthwhile for anyone wanting to learn more about the art to spend some time with any one of them.

Of course, I am sure that they would all agree that the most important thing is to get out there with the camera and practice and not spend too much time living vicariously through their vlogs.

Thursday, 31 August 2017

Working the Scene

It is that time of year when we landscape photographers find it hard to resist the lure of heather in bloom; it adds so much colour and interest to a scene. The closest location for me which has a really good display of heather is the National Trust owned Thurstaston Common on the Wirral Peninsula; it is just under a 30 minute drive for me and has the added attraction of bearing many good memories from my childhood - as well as being the place I proposed to my wife some 31 years ago.

The two images above were taken there almost exactly a year ago. I was fortunate to get a fine evening with some lovely, late evening light on the tree and was able to find two quite different compositions by moving just a few feet. Unfortunately, I didn't manage to get back there again but kept this spot in mind for another time; that other time being a year later.

This time I wanted to see what I could make of the same spot at sunrise so I rose at 5am last Friday and headed out there. The views above were east facing and it quickly became apparent that the conditions were not going to suit this. However, simply by turning 90 degrees, I was presented with the scene below.

Although it was in no way a spectacular sunrise, it was clear that the sun was eventually going to light the scene and create more interest; it was just a question of waiting for 20 minutes or so.

Turning around, and moving to my left a few feet, I had a view over to Thor's Rock framed by the heather and trees:

I was pleased with these images but felt there was more to be had from this particular spot and so, with a favourable looking forecast for Sunday morning, I headed out once more for sunrise. The sky looked far more interesting this time and I was determined to get a panoramic version of the same scene. Unfortunately, although the sky was better, the sun was quickly swallowed up by low cloud shortly after rising and never quite managed to light up the foreground as before:

Finally, moving a few feet forward and adopting a portrait format, I sought to emphasise the sweep of the heather in the centre - this being the main feature that attracted me in the first place:

At this point the cloud spread and my morning of photography was over but it was an enjoyable break from a weekend of decorating.

If it isn't already obvious, the moral of this story is that it is worthwhile spending time at a location as it is often possible to find a variety of compositions simply by moving a short distance, looking around and changing height and angle of view.

Wednesday, 30 August 2017


I have neglected my blog before now, but never to such an extent as this. My last post was in January 2015 - more than a year has passed since I began writing a new post (which never saw the light of day). The reasons for this are many but the two main ones are (1) I worry that I don't have anything to say that people will be interested to read and (2) it is just so much easier to post new images on my Facebook page. Analyzing each of these in turn:

  1. I'm sure it's largely true but I don't need to let that stop me
  2. The Facebook page allows me to get my images out there much more quickly than if I have to think of a theme to fit them to and write a blog post. That is good; however, it isn't really a particularly good platform if I want to expand on a subject (see 1 above).
My Facebook page was never intended to replace the blog but I guess I've got a bit lazy. That changes here! I am reviving my blog and, although I am not foolish enough to promise posts at regular intervals, I will endeavor to post fairly frequently. Expect my first 'real' post to follow soon.

Sunday, 1 February 2015

And now, a word from our sponsors

I wish! Of course I don't really have any sponsors but, despite the fact that I benefit in no way from doing so, I would like to sing the praises of Paramo. Landscape photography often involves walking distances and standing for long periods in the cold and yesterday's trip out to the Clwydian hills was a perfect example; although the walk up Bryn Alyn was not particularly long, it was a useful 'leg stretcher' and, once on top, there was an icy gale blowing which made photography very difficult.

Wearing decent gear on such an occasions makes a huge difference and I am now fully invested in the Paramo range having found nothing better. This is what I have:

Taiga Fleece -  This was the first Paramo garment I purchased. It was not particularly cheap and is certainly not the lightest fleece but it is water repellent and has extremely effective wind proofing. It is, quite simply, the warmest fleece I have owned. It is virtually indestructible; I've had it for around eight years, wear it all year round (in all but the hottest weather) and it still looks good.

Alta II Jacket - This is a waterproof jacket which has all the features you would expect from a good hillwalking jacket; wired hood, ventilation, adjustable cuffs, articulated shoulders and sleeves. Most importantly, it keeps you dry, is comfortable and, like the fleece, provides an effective barrier to even the coldest winds. It is also very soft and quiet - the latter possibly being more relevant for wildlife photographers but I have never liked noisy jackets.

Cascada Trousers - These waterproof trousers are incredibly warm and comfortable and, like the Alta II, keep you dry. They can be worn over other trousers but I tend not to do this as they are no at all like typical over trousers. One of the knees of my pair was ripped by a nasty fall on some rocks but, for a very reasonable cost, they were quickly repaired by Paramo and there has been no loss of integrity. I can happily crawl around in wet grass to get exactly where I need to for that photograph.

Torres Smock - Possibly the warmest thing I've ever owned. It is fantastic for those really cold mornings waiting for sunrise. Light but not compact - I carry it in a compression sack when not wearing it. This also proved to be a godsend when I used to watch my daughter's riding lessons - I'm convinced the 'indoor' school is one of the coldest places on earth.

Gaiters - Again, not the lightest but very easy to get on and off, breathable and pretty much bombproof.

I also own a couple of base layer shirts which, combined with the various jackets, ensure maximum benefit from the system and, while I can't claim to have tested these garments in the most extreme conditions possible, I have found them to be the best of their type I have ever worn; they keep me warm and dry and show no signs of wear. In these days of disposable goods, it is refreshing to find a company that places so much stock in producing hard wearing goods. As I've already mentioned, Paramo aren't the cheapest but still represent good value. I've not gone as far as buying the underwear yet but never say never.

Sunday, 16 November 2014

Square Mile - A Confession

I was slightly embarrassed a couple of weeks back when a friend asked me how I was getting on with my 'Square Mile' project. The truth is that I have done nothing since that second post back in February. It's not that I haven't been doing any photography as, hopefully, you will have seen from my Facebook page. I have not, however, spent any time taking photographs in the immediate vicinity of my home as planned.

When I began to mull this over, I realised it was largely because it's hard to make really interesting photographs out of what is, in truth, a very ordinary village. I knew this at the start so it simply means I have not stepped up to the challenge I set myself - a big fail on my part.

With a little time on my hands this afternoon, I set about correcting this and went for a walk around the village. To make things even more challenging, it has been a very dull day so I didn't even have the benefit of some nice light to work with. Here, then, are the results of that walk.

This is a section of Old Chester Road, heading up to Helsby Hill. There is not a great deal of autumnal colour left on the trees but this hedge drew my attention with it's blend of browns and yellows. Having taken a couple of very 'straight' photographs, I used a variable Neutral Density filter to allow some intentional camera motion during the exposure in an effort to abstract the colours and textures.

Walking down into the centre of the village, I came across a tree with only a small number of leaves hanging on and adopted the alternative approaches of front and back lighting.

It was when I reached the village centre that I had something of an epiphany. As I mentioned earlier, there is nothing very exceptional about Helsby. It only has a handful of businesses, one of those being a Post Office and it struck me that there is no way of telling how much longer we will have that Post Office, or the red phone box. It occurred to me then that, although I may not be able to create amazing images within my square mile, I can record aspects of the village which may not be there forever. Why it has taken 26 years to come to this realisation, I cannot say.

My final photograph is of the window of Helsby's newest business, a very pretty looking tearoom. Reflected in the window is Helsby's defining feature, it's hill.

More to come!

Friday, 5 September 2014

To Bin Or Not To Bin

It's been quite a while since I last posted a blog entry and, although that's a fail on my part, it is perhaps appropriate given the subject of this post; that is, the rediscovery of long forgotten images and how they can be given a new lease of life.

I recently had cause to go through my back catalogue of files and came across the image below. This was a photograph I took in 2007 and had never bothered doing anything with, feeling it lacked any real interest; but, having a little bit of time on my hands, I did a quick edit to produce the image you can see here:

Both the software I use and my own editing abilities have improved over the years and I feel that I am able to make a lot more of a photograph than I could back in 2007. It remains, however, little more than a record of the scene - an interesting subject photographed in the middle of an overcast summer's day. With so many grey tones in the picture, it did strike me that this might make a suitable subject for black and white and, with a little help from Sliver Efex Pro, I came up with this:

By removing what little colour there was, I am left with a moodier scene which is much more representative of how I think I probably felt on the day.

So the moral of this story is that you should never throw photographs away as you never know when they might come in useful. Or is it? If I never deleted anything, I would have run out of disk space a long time ago, my catalogue would be huge and filled with rubbish and I would have constant reminders of just how rubbish my photography can be at times. So I do delete. There are (far too) many images which never see the light of day because they are irredeemable; either because of rookie mistakes (not sure I can really get away with calling myself a rookie - 'stupid mistakes' might be more apt) or because an experiment simply failed. The trick, I guess is to recognise images which might just be useful in the future and not delete them just because, at that moment, they disappoint. In this instance I did at least have a picture which had an interesting subject and a reasonably good composition. All it needed was seven years of software and skill enhancement.

Sunday, 16 March 2014

Match Day - Part 2 - 'That's What We Do'

Time for an update for one of my ongoing personal projects. I have continued to concentrate on images of the build up outside the ground and was pleased to see the return of the police horses for the last two home games. I chatted to one of the police riders and made the observation that I hadn't seen them around much this season and he confirmed this suggesting there has been a change of policy. I'm sure it is a reflection of how little trouble there is these days (a good thing) but can't help wondering whether our two latest opponents at home have anything to do with the reappearance of the horses (West Ham and Cardiff in case you are interested); I hasten to add that both games passed off peacefully.

There has been much discussion of new stadiums over recent years and, although I am very well aware of the limitations of Goodison Park and admire the fantastic modern facilities of other clubs, I know it will be a very sad day if Everton ever leave this grand, old place; the surroundings are so much more characterful than some of the much nicer, but rather sterile new stadiums.

As for the photography: Well, I admit to still feeling a little uncomfortable pointing my camera at people in the street and some of the pictures have captured the odd suspicious look. However, match day has been so much a part of my life that I feel passionate about recording it. This time, however, I've also tried to find some more unusual compositions. I will leave it to you to decide whether or not they stand up.