Friday, 21 December 2012

"Ice on the rabbit's paw"

Christmas is a time for traditions and one I grew up with was the annual attendance at one of the Liverpool Philharmonic Carol Concerts (now known as the 'Spirit of Christmas' concert). These were always wonderful, moving occasions and, in the last few years, we have started going again. Over the years, we have seen many different presenters such as Richard Baker, Peter Ustinov, Roger McGough, Lesley Garrett and John Suchet. Like James Bond and Dr Who, there can be debate as to who is the best but, for me, it has to be Richard Baker, the former newsreader who presided over the concerts for many years.

These concerts have their own traditions; they always end with a closing sequence usually consisting of one of John Rutter's beautiful carols followed by a reading, a mesmerising rendition of 'Silent Night' by the choir and, finally, everyone stands to belt out 'O, Come All Ye Faithful' . Always, the reading was 'Christmas Landscape' by Laurie Lee and it never failed to bring tears to my eyes. Until last year, that is. Last years concert was particularly magical with that single exception - it just wasn't the same without that particular reading. A friend (who's family were also regulars at these concerts) once told me that, for his Mother, Christmas began when she heard the words "ice on the rabbit's paw" and that pretty much sums up how I feel.

Sunday night we will go once more. Sadly, this year, it will just be me, J and my Father but I know we will have a wonderful evening and, just in case they leave it out again, or you've never come across it, here is that wonderfully evocative poem in full although the reading always ended at "The blessed babe is laid".

Let Christmas begin!

"Christmas Landscape" - Laurie Lee

Tonight the wind gnaws
With teeth of glass,
The jackdaw shivers
In caged branches of iron,
The stars have talons.

There is hunger in the mouth
Of vole and badger,
Silver agonies of breath
In the nostril of the fox,
Ice on the rabbit’s paw.

Tonight has no moon,
No food for the pilgrim;
The fruit tree is bare,
The rose bush a thorn
And the ground is bitter with stones.

But the mole sleeps, and the hedgehog
Lies curled in a womb of leaves,
The bean and the wheat-seed
Hug their germs in the earth
And the stream moves under the ice.

Tonight there is no moon,
But a new star opens
Like a silver trumpet over the dead.
Tonight in a nest of ruins
The blessed babe is laid.
And the fir tree warms to a bloom of candles,
And the child lights his lantern,
Stares at his tinselled toy;
And our hearts and hearths
Smoulder with live ashes.

In the blood of our grief
The cold earth is suckled,
In our agony the womb
Convulses its seed;
In the first cry of anguish
The child’s first breath is born.

Saturday, 15 December 2012

Planning Isn't Everything

In a previous post I mentioned a talk I prepared for Frodsham & District Photographic Society in which I described my planning and preparation for a landscape photography outing. To be honest, there is no rocket science involved; it's mostly about considering the weather forecast, sunrise and sunset timings and, where appropriate, tides. In preparing for the Thursday just gone, I had done all of these things and settled on a plan which consisted of starting the day at Llyn Tegid (Bala Lake) and, when done there, heading over to Cwmorthin near Blaenau Ffestiniog. My reasoning for the former was that the expected still morning offered the prospect of interesting reflections in the lake and you can see from the picture above that things worked out pretty much as hoped; the sunrise wasn't dramatic but I was really happy with the soft, pastel tones that materialised.

I spent a couple of hours by the lake before packing up to head off for Cwmorthin. This is a hanging valley extensively scarred by industry in the form of slate quarrying. The ruins make for an interesting photographic location but one of my main reasons for heading there on this occasion was the knowledge that the sun barely penetrates the valley at this time of year. That may sound strange but, given the cold forecast, I anticipated plenty of frost and ice and this is what I wanted.

I didn't make it there....

As I headed out of Bala, I discovered an extensive hoar frost in the area surrounding the Afon Tryweryn and, after driving a short distance further, I decided to abandon my plans and turn back. A quick review of my map indicated that a path ran alongside the river and this became my new objective. After all, I reasoned, it was frosty conditions I came for, and here, frosty conditions I had. The rest of the morning was spent happily pottering along the river bank where there were many opportunities for frosty pictures.

The moral of this tale is that, although planning is important, you should also be prepared to adapt to what's before you. I will never know whether there were even better conditions at Cwmorthin but I am happy with my morning's work and don't regret changing my mind. I think I need to update that talk.

Prints available from my website :

Saturday, 8 December 2012

In My Liverpool Home

Liverpool was my birthplace. I'm a Scouser although I probably don't sound very much like one having been brought up on the Wirral peninsula. I tell you this so that you know that I may be simply biased when I say that it is one of the finest cities in the world but I do believe it. Yes it is less than salubrious in parts and quite scruffy in others but there is some fabulous architecture to be found there. So, when my daughter said she needed to take some architecture photographs for her A Level, there was only one place to go (New York and Venice being rather too far). This was something of a treat for me since, although I go into Liverpool quite often, it is usually with a specific purpose (shopping) so it is a long time since I've taken the trouble to study the buildings. In many cases, it was a welcome return to an old favourite but I also did a little bit of research beforehand and discovered some new gems. The only pity was that we didn't have more time.

As the main aim was for S to get some pictures, I decided to travel light and take just the one, 50mm lens on my D800. I was able to make use of the camera's selective format offering to get some different looks from the one lens but every picture in the montage above was taken yesterday with that one lens. I am sure that some would benefit from judicious cropping but that's for another time. Only the central image deviates from the 3:2 format, having had a little bit of foreground water removed to give a better balance.

We began the day in Toxteth; an area known for cultural diversity, there is a mosque, a synagogue and a Greek orthodox church within a few hundred yards of each other. All were photographed but, sadly, we were unable to go inside any of them. The website for the synagogue does say that it is possible to arrange tours and interior pictures look spectacular but, from the outside, it is the least remarkable of the three buildings. We wandered around a little, taking in the 'drive thru' Nat West Bank (sadly, doesn't appear to offer this unique facility anymore) and Toxteth Library before making the short journey down the road to the Anglican Cathedral. Previously, you have had to purchase a permit to photograph inside the cathedral but the appear to have dropped the charge and we were even assured we could use a tripod if we wished. It was here that I received my degree and I still cannot imagine a more impressive setting. It really is a magnificent structure. The Catholic, Metropolitan Cathedral of Christ the King was our next main target; it is, of course, dramatically different to it's counterpart at the far end of Hope Street. Although it cannot match the sheer drama of the Anglican Cathedral, I have become increasingly fond of it over the years and the stained glass is exceptional.

I decided at this point to leave my car where it was and head down into the city centre. Our route took us down to St. Georges Hall and William Brown Street, then through the central business district to the waterfront before heading back up through Liverpool One to Bold Street and, finally, Upper Duke Street and back to the car. I had planned the route to take in many of the classic buildings but also some of the newer structures that have appeared over the last 10 years. In addition to the two cathedrals, the highlights for me were:

Oriel Chambers : Built in 1864, this Grade 1 listed building was the World's first metal framed building, the precursor of many of the early skyscrapers found in New York and Chicago. That in itself makes it special but, when I was young, for me it was the place where first my Father (with Gracie Beazley) and, later, my Mother (for a Solicitors), both worked.

India Buildings : Opposite Oriel Chambers in Water Street, you will find India Buildings. This has a more functional, 1920s look to it but the magic is inside where there is an elegant arcade of shops. Sadly, many of the shop spaces are no longer occupied (I imagine passing trade is poor these days) but it still retains it's charm.

Exchange Flags : It's a curious name for a building and it really refers to the area behind the Town Hall where trading was traditionally carried out. The buildings surround the flags on three sides and it has long been a favourite space of mine. For many years, the offices lay empty and, if I recall, there was a question over their safety but I'm pleased to say that they have now been renovated and are back in use. The other significant feature of these building is that they sit above the underground operations rooms used during the second world war for the coordination of the fleet activities in the Western Approaches. This complex is no longer open to the public - a real shame because, having visited it on a couple of occasions, I found it fascinating.

Port of Liverpool Building : Known more commonly as 'the Dock Office', this is one of the three graces on Liverpool's Pier Head and, for me, is the most impressive. Although the Liver Building gets the greatest attention, the Dock Office is more elegant and I urge you to go inside. Here you will find corridors radiating out from a central, octagonal hall beneath the dome. Maritime themes can be found in the mosaic floor, the stained glass and, most obviously, in the inscription which runs around the eight walls of the hall; "They that go down to the sea in ships that do business in great waters these see the works of the Lord and his wonders of the deep. Anno Domini MCMVII".

The Bling Bling Building : I include this not just to prove that I like modern architecture as well as old, but also because I actually didn't know of it's existence before yesterday. It is quite embarrassing to admit it but the truth is that I never really go near Hanover Street these days. It certainly is a curious building but I really do like it, particularly looking up School Lane where the protruding pod seemed to balance perfectly against the (closer) pub sign.

St Luke's Church : Our final 'stop' on our tour was the bombed out church of St Luke's. The Church was struck by an incendiary bomb on 6th May 1941 and was completely gutted by the fire that engulfed it. It remains, maintained as a ruin, a memorial to those who died in the war.

The day ended with the short drive through the Birkenhead Tunnel (another marvel of engineering) to the Woodside Ferry Terminal where I made the final (central) picture of the day. Unfortunately, the warm, late afternoon light had been swallowed up by cloud so I had to make do with this four minute exposure. I did make a couple of even longer exposures but this was the most successful. All told, I was there for about half an hour in the company of a very interesting man who regaled me with interesting facts (some true) and fairly tall stories. And so, the montage - my tribute to the architecture of my City - each one taken yesterday. I must have another day like that soon.

Monday, 3 December 2012

Featured Photograph for December 2012

I do have a confession to make; this picture was not made in December. However, I don't necessarily think that I have to feature pictures in the month they were made and, anyway, this is surely a depiction of what we all want December to look like.

This is a picture from a couple of years ago when we had a rare episode of very heavy snowfall here in west Cheshire. I can only recall two or three times in the last 25 years when this has happened so I made sure I made the most of it with a trip into North Wales. This, however, was much closer to home - Frodsham Golf Course in fact (I wasn't trespassing, there is a footpath across the course - see below). It had only just stopped snowing and I went in search of just this kind of scene. I wanted something simple, that was all about the shape of the tree and really needed to find a tree I could position against the skyline with nothing else to intrude. Once I had found a suitable tree, making the photograph was relatively simple.

I had initially planned to make this a silhouette. Indeed, given the dynamic range involved, I expected it would have to be a silhouette as I exposed for the sky to ensure it was pure white - a bit like a studio background. When processing the picture, though, I discovered I was able to retain the white of the sky and snow whilst bringing out some detail in the tree and this, I decided, looked better then a silhouette would have.

Friday, 30 November 2012


I am something of a traditionalist, I like to have a camera to take photographs with, a phone to make phone calls with and an iPod to listen to music with - ok, not such a traditionalist that I cart a gramophone around with me wherever I go but you get what I mean; the right tool for the job. Why on earth would I want to take photographs with a phone when I have one or two excellent devices purpose made for that job? Then there's those pointless 'ready meal' type processing packages like Instagram - what is the point of using exactly the same effects as anyone else?

Rant over - glad I got that off my chest.

Except, I've modified my opinion somewhat.

I'm sure you knew that was coming (would have been a very short post otherwise) but I'm quite vexed by it to tell the truth; there is something gratifying about dogmatic certainty. Don't get me wrong, I've no intention of disposing of my cameras but I have realised that you can have some fun through the combination of a phone camera and Instagram and you can still put your own stamp on the final result. I'm even quite pleased with a handful of the images I've made this way. Sometimes it's hard to be a grumpy conservative (with a small 'c').

Friday, 23 November 2012

Stopping TIme

I had a couple of specific photographic aims on my recent visit to Scotland; one was to have a go at stitched panoramas (a topic of a previous post) and the other was to use my Lee Big Stopper filter. For anyone wondering what on earth that is, in simple terms, it is a filter which enables you to make really long exposures. For anyone wondering why on earth you would want to do such a thing, consider the effect of blurring anything that is moving, water for instance.

Clearly then, the ideal situation to use this filter would be one in which there was plenty of movement to affect. Unfortunately, this was not such an occasion. The picture above was made shortly before sunrise on a very still morning when the only movement was in the clouds and even they were only moving very slowly.

This, however, was a 16 minute exposure. Really! 16 minutes! Now, a word of warning if you plan to try this yourself - if using a digital camera with a long exposure noise reduction facility, do turn it off beforehand. I didn't and that meant that, following the 16 minute exposure, the camera spent another 16 minutes processing the file. That is an awfully long time to be standing around for a single exposure and, worse still, there was nothing I could do while I watched the sky turn a subtle shade of pink.

This was it then - my only attempt with the filter so far and not the most dramatic effect. It has, though, resulted in quite a pleasing image which seemed to lend itself to black and white.

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Featured Photograph for November 2012

This is to be the first of a regular series of posts featuring one of my photographs, giving some sort of insight into how or why it was made. I was tempted to call this 'Phil's (or Fell's) Featured Photograph' but felt that was perhaps too much alliteration for one blog. I hope you enjoy it.

This month's image was made in November last year, shortly after the sun had risen. The location is Llyn Crafnant in Snowdonia. I had been asked to do a talk about landscape photography for the local photographic society (Frodsham & District Photographic Society) and decided that it would be interesting to base it around a single day; the planning, preparation, execution and even the trials and tribulations involved. The day was obviously chosen with reasonable expectations of decent climactic conditions (part of the planning) so didn't represent a huge risk but the location was one I had not visited previously - it looked promising on the map. As is usual, I planned to get there around 30 minutes before sunrise and worked backwards from that time to calculate how early I needed to leave home - in this case, around 5am. In truth, I had been hoping for some light cloud cover but the day dawned clear and cold, a light frost covering the ground - just as good. The far end of the lake was shrouded in mist which, as it was burnt off by the sun, created a wonderful glow separating the land from it's almost perfect reflection. I spent a magical few hours at Llyn Crafnant that morning, in perfect peace with not another soul around but reluctantly dragged myself away in order to expand the scope of my planned talk. As it happens, heavy cloud interceded around midday and the increasingly gloomy light in the afternoon offered little in the way of photographic inspiration - but it didn't really matter; the morning had surpassed my expectations, I had some images which looked promising and all the material I needed for my talk.

Prints are available from my website:

Friday, 2 November 2012

Stitched Up

It is hard to deny that I came late to the digital age; for a long time clinging on like a dinosaur to my medium format camera and Velvia. And so, while I still believe in trying to create my image 'in camera' as far as possible, I am beginning to come round to the idea that tools like Lightroom and Photoshop can be used to improve an image without altering the essential truth. One such example of this is the creation of panoramic images from a number of individual pictures stitched together and this was something I decided to try out in earnest whilst in Scotland recently.

6 images, 105 mm, portrait format

This picture of Glen Finglas dam was one of my first attempts and illustrates an important early lesson. One of the things that attracted me to this scene was the wonderful curving road which draws you in and helps create an impression of depth. Unfortunately, I composed the individual images to tightly - fine on their own but, when stitched together, the necessary crop all but eliminated the road. Such an important part of the composition, I had to resort to cloning a large area of foreground grass in order to retain more of the road. It's ok but, sadly, not what I had hoped for.

6 images, 58mm, portrait format

For the second picture shows Loch Achray shortly after sunrise and is the second of two attempts. At first, I used aperture priority feeling that it would allow me to operate more quickly but I realised that the changing exposure might make stitching seamlessly more difficult. The second attempt, therefore, was made using manual exposure ensuring a balanced exposure.

5 images, 70mm, portrait format

The final scene is also of Loch Achray, again just after sunrise but on a very different day. It is, I think the most successful of the three but might have benefited from a slightly wider angle to allow a bit more room.

I used the D800 for all three of these pictures which makes for some huge files (each one created a TIFF file in excess of 1Gb). Consequently, you need to be very patient - the processing is very memory intensive. What does help, is to make as many adjustments on the individual images before stitching and this is where Lightroom is a boon since you can make the adjustments to one and then sync the changes made to all of the others.

In addition to creating a wider view than normally possible, you avoid the distortion from an extreme wide angle lens and end up with an incredibly detailed and very big file which, in theory, should enable you to produce a really big print. The only problem I have now is paying for that big print and getting it mounted - oh, and the inevitable new disk to house all the huge files.

Sunday, 28 October 2012

Reflections on the D800

This is only going to be a very short post. I have just begun processing pictures made during a week in Scotland with the D800. It was my first decent spell of landscape photography with the camera. As expected, the detail captured is astonishing. However, a less expected outcome of combining small apertures with such a highly resolving sensor is that it shows up every blemish on my aging filters. A fair amount of cloaning has been required to remove the telltale signs of filter abuse. I have a horrible feeling I'm going to have the expense of replacing my most often used 0.6 and 0.9 hard ND grads!

Sunday, 1 July 2012

"Early for a Thursday"

I often struggle to come up with titles for things like photographs and blog posts so I make no apologies for stealing the title for this post from the three young people shown above; after all, the post is largely about them. They are the Jaywalkers and the photographs here were all taken last week at the launch of their new CD at the Chester Music Theatre, the title of which is "Early for a Thursday". You might be wondering what contrivance I can possible come up with to make this fit with the title of the blog and all I can say is that it is more about the 'light' than the 'landscape'.

These three incredibly talented musicians are Mike, Lucy and Jay and they play a mixture of folk and bluegrass music. Now, despite having what I consider to be a fairly eclectic taste in music, folk and bluegrass are two genres that I have never really paid much attention to; in fact, I would go as far as saying that, until recently, I would simply have dismissed it. However, I was predisposed to giving the Jaywalkers a chance since Jay is a good friend of my eldest daughter. K had often told us that her friend had a wonderful voice but I wasn't really prepared for just how good or that she was such an accomplished fiddler (so to speak) and guitarist. I first heard them when I borrowed K's copy of their first CD, "16 Miles" (I've bought my own now) and was, frankly, surprised not just by how good they were but also how much I genuinely enjoyed the music. Then I saw them live and was blown away! There is a whole different level of appreciation which comes from seeing the Jaywalkers live and I think it was only then that I truely realised how talented they are. I can't honestly say whether I now like folk and bluegrass of whether I am just a Jaywalkers fan but I do know that I will be far more open minded as a result of seeing and hearing them. I would also urge everyone reading this to go and buy their CDs and, if you get a chance, see them live. You won't regret it.

And so to the boring bit about the camera. This was yet another opportunity to test out the D800 - this time in low light. All the images here were handheld at ISO 6400, the highest native setting on the camera. As with all my observations, there is nothing very scientific about what I have to say but it certainly appears to be every bit as good, if not a little better, than the D700 in terms of noise. The exposure was good - a little overexposed when using matrix metering but perfect when I switched to spot - to be expected considering the dark background and spotlighting (a bit of a lesson for me in gig photography). I also had a bit of a play around with the formats available; the nature of the seating meant I could only really use my camera from where I was sat (about half way back and to one side) or from the back of the hall. I was fairly comfortable that the resolution would make cropping very easy but I also discovered that switching to DX format allowed me to effectively crop 'in camera'. The pictures here are a mixture of formats and both approaches have worked well.

Saturday, 16 June 2012

The Dorothy Clive Garden

I did say in my last post that I would be doing a series of reviews of my new camera but, despite this being my first trip out with the camera, I don't intend to say much about it.

For a relatively small country, it is a little surprising that you can so often stumble upon somewhere or something new to delight; it is probably a sign of my advancing years that gardens would probably feature prominently in my list of such places and the Dorothy Clive Garden is the latest.

J and I took the somewhat unusual decision to venture out on a Bank Holiday a couple of weeks back (mainly due to the fact that it was the only day with a decent forecast during the week) and headed out to Powis Castle as it had been a while since we had been there. On arrival, we discovered that there was a Jubilee event on and the place was heaving - not at all the quiet day out we had envisaged. So, we turned around and headed back into Staffordshire as I had made note of a couple of gardens which I thought might do as fillers. The one we settled on was the Dorothy Clive Garden and what a delight it was.

If you've not already followed the link I can tell you that the garden was designed in 1940 by a local landowner who wanted somewhere for his wife, Dorothy, to exercise as she suffered from Parkinson's disease. Sadly, she died 2 years later but he continued with his plans and set up a trust so the gardens would, instead, remain as a memorial to his wife and it is hard to think of a more beautiful tribute.

The garden is situated on a hill with the pond (above) being situated at the bottom, adjacent to the car park. There are a series of paths and lawns which take you up the hill to a point about halfway up where you find the cafe and small shop (more about this shortly). The whole garden is very peaceful but the I particularly liked the planting in this section referred to as the Hillside Garden which is comprised of a mixture of shrubs and borders with what seemed to be an incredible variety of flowers and a riot of colour.

Despite all of this colour, I was impressed by an area predominantly planted with white flowers which was surprisingly effective.

So, on to the tearoom where we enjoyed an excellent cup of coffee and shared a generous slice of orange and cranberry cake - a combination I've not come across before but it really was delicious. The tea room itself is clean and fairly spacious with an outdoor seating area at the back which is perfect for people with young children having a mini playground with the softest flooring I have ever come across. However, the best feature is the lawn at the front where you can sit and relax with wonderful views across the garden to the countryside beyond. It was here we witnessed three robins striving for territorial superiority; it made for an entertaining interlude.

The garden extends beyond the tearoom, up the hill and takes on a very different look with a gravel garden, waterfall and a mass of rhododendrons and azaleas. We caught these when they were just passed their best but they still gave a fabulous display of colour and were a magnet for bees. From the very top of the garden, there are more views across the Staffordshire countryside and a path leads you down into a secluded area where you find a laburnum arch - not as spectacular as Bodnant but very effective.

A brief note concerning the camera at this point; this image did need a bit of tweaking to bring the highlights down because the camera's meter failed to cope with the contrast. However, given the extreme dynamic range, I seriously doubt any camera would and the detail is still there to be recovered.

We spent a very enjoyable few hours wandering around the garden and would happily have stayed longer had we not had to get back home. We are already planning our next visit in July when we intent to take my Father (well, I did intimate it's an old man thing to like gardens).

Sunday, 27 May 2012

Something New

I'm not doing too well with my promise (threat) to blog more regularly. The problem is that this year has, so far, offered very little opportunity for landscape photography and that is what I primarily set out to write about. Luckily for you (ahem), I have decided to broaden my scope and the impetus for doing that come from the purchase of a new camera - the Nikon D800. What was wrong with old camera you ask? Perhaps you don't but I'm going to tell you anyway - nothing! At least, nothing beyond the fact that it had a relatively low resolution compared with many pro-spec cameras today (the D700 has a resolution on 12.6mp). That, however, is not the reason I have bought a new camera. When photographing weddings, Julie and I carry three camera bodies between us; Julie has two DX (cropped sensor) cameras and I have the (full sized sensor) FX format D700. This combination works fairly well and provides some degree of backup in case of failure but, for a while now, I have been feeling that opportunities are being missed with me having to change lenses os a regular basis. It might also be considered a distraction by a registrar or minister while photographing at the front of a church. Consequently, I felt it was about time I got a second body and, ideally, this needed to be FX format. I could have simply bought a second D700 but I suppose I was always a little bothered by the resolution when it came to landscape work, despite the excellent high ISO performance of the camera. D4? I simply couldn't justify the expense. So, it was a happy day when the D800 was announced - particularly given the modest price difference between it and the D700. The one thing that did concern me was whether the high ISO performance would match that of the D700 but numerous reviews convinced me this was the case so the decision suddenly became very easy - if you can ever call spending that amount of money easy.

My new camera arrived just under a week ago and a busy, non-photographic week has made for little chance of testing it out properly. However, I have had a dabble around the house and garden and will offer you my very early first impressions. All of the photographs shown here were taken using what is quite possibly my favourite lens, the Nikkor 105mm f2.8 micro. It might be considered an odd choice given my love of landscape photography but it is just a fabulous lens and one that I use extensively at weddings - I hope you can see why.

This then is one of the first few images from the new camera. After the battery had charged, I just looked around me for subject while I sat at my desk. It was taken at ISO 800 and f3.2. the lighting is possibly trickier than it appears as the ball is in shade but is lit directly from the window behind it. Exposure is good and needed no adjustment. At the point of focus, the detail is astonishing.

Taking the ball outside, I gave the camera an even harder test in terms of exposure. and it coped well.

So then I cast around for even more difficult subjects:

In each case here, the exposure was again very good but, given the tonal range, they did all require a little tweak in Lightroom to take the highlights down. However, they were very minor adjustments and the detail is certainly there to be found. So, all good so far and certainly encouraging with regards to usage for weddings - the D700 has always had a slight tendency to overexpose which can be managed through fine tuning of the metering but is something I found a little irritating.

The next thing was to try it with skin tones as it will get a lot of use here. The photograph, of my youngest daughter, has not been altered at all for exposure or tone and, again, the detail is impressive:

Next I decided to experiment with an alternative crop factor. Having come to DSLR from a medium format camera, I still find myself missing that format, especially for portraiture. The D800 offers a simple menu selection of 5x4 which is much closer to the format I was used to and I was very pleased with the results:

All of the remaining images here were taken using the 5x4 crop and I am certain it is an option I will get plenty of use out of. It is true you can simply crop afterwards but I am still a little bit of a dinosaur I think and I like to do as much in camera as I can.

One thing I have never really bothered with is action photography so the following test is not a comparison with the D700 - I don't think I ever used autofocus tracking in this way with that camera. I was, however, very impressed with how well it worked. The flowers were blown by the wind quite a bit and the camera was hand held very close (they are very small flowers) and yet, in each case, the main subject is pin sharp despite me using a very small depth of field (f3.2):

So, hardly an exhaustive test and there are certainly many more detailed and much better appraisals to be found of this camera. I also suspect that of the very few people who stumble across this blog, even fewer will be remotely interested in the D800's capabilities. However, it has provided me with the motivation to start blogging again and an excuse to share my pictures. I hope, at least, that you like them.

Sunday, 1 January 2012

2011 - A Retrospective

I thought it would be interesting to look back at some of my favourite images from last year; if for no other reason than to consider whether I have actually progressed at all. The good thing about having posted so rarely over the last year is that only a small number will have been seen on here previously. Here they are (in no particular order):

In one of my previous blog entries, I mentioned that I had begun experimenting with a technique devised (as far as I am aware) by Niall Benvie. The technique involves using a white background and flash to create what is, in effect, a portable studio, allowing one to create studio like images of plants without disturbing them. I am far from perfecting the process but the image above is probably my best result so far; the subject suits the technique well. This is something I will continue to work on and that includes coming up with the most convenient combination of kit.

I believe I've written before about how much I love the Mersey Ferry. To me, it is the definitive symbol of my home town. It's existence has been threatened over the years but it continues to operate and now appears to have a firmly established role as a tourist attraction which should ensure it's future for many years to come. The ferry boats may have been refurbished and renamed but they are the same boats I travelled on as a kid when going to visit my Grandparents in Liverpool. It's easy then to see the emotional appeal this picture has for me and it has been my laptop wallpaper for much of the year for that very reason. For me, photography is still primarily about preserving memories and I can look at this photograph and remember vividly how I felt on that day and the kindness of the Mersey Ferries employee who invited me to stand beyond the barrier to get a better viewpoint as the ferry approached the landing stage.

This photograph represents a confluence of the desire to create memories and the development of my photographic technique. To begin with the latter; I've never really attempted much in the way of sports photography and this would undoubtedly have been improved with the use of a faster lens to throw the background out a little more. I also have other images where I have attempted to capture the relationship between the batter, catcher and umpire; these are ok but, again, a faster shutter speed would have helped. More practise needed so that means more trips to the States to watch baseball - shame! As for the memories; this was taken at a minor league ballpark during a wonderful family holiday in Florida. the batter is David Wright of the New York Mets; he was making his first rehab appearance after a back injury and it was pure chance that he was in the lineup for Port St.Lucie that evening. To be able to get to see him so close up was a thrill. Other things of note that evening; a lengthy rain delay where we got to hear just about every song about rain ever written, 'bark in the park' night where people were allowed to bring their dogs along and, last but by no means least, our first taste of Five Guys burgers and fries - simply the best!

I've recently expanded 'Landscape & Light' to include architecture; something I have always enjoyed photographing. Although most at home in a rural environment, I have always appreciated urban landscapes and there is a good deal of beauty to be found in architecture. A recent and, in my opinion, sympathetic addition to the Liverpool waterfront is the new Museum of Liverpool but, while it is striking from the outside, it is the interior staircase which really captures the eye. This is possibly the most obvious approach to photographing it although it's surprising how often people fail to look up. Incidentally, I am less impressed with the angular, black glass building now occupying Mann Island; it is not so much the building itself that I object to, rather it's position which has destroyed what had become an iconic scene from the Albert Docks across to the three graces.

Continuing the architectural theme, my next choice is this image taken from the Westminster Plaza hotel. This was actually taken with a compact camera (all I had with me at the time) and has not suffered too much as a result of that. The angle and the lighting provide a degree of dynamism with the main interest being provided by the contrast between the ultra modern hotel and the distant (double) view of Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament.

 The previous image too very little effort to create. It was simply a question of being aware of my surroundings whilst waiting for the lift to arrive. This one, on the other hand, involved a considerable amount of effort. First, the planning; I was on a family holiday in Yorkshire and knew I had the following morning to myself as J and S were going riding. However, the forecast was for cloudy conditions so there was little point looking for open vistas and, on consulting my maps, I found what looked to be a promising river with falls. Finding it on the map was much easier than finding my way to it on foot and I ended up taking a circuitous route across high fells so that I could approach it from up river. This was far more exercise than I had planned for or desired but it probably did me good. When I arrived at this spot, the possibilities were immediately obvious but it was also clear that the ideal position would mean me standing in the river and, on this occasion, I was wearing walking boots rather than my wellies. I eventually arrived at a compromise which involved the camera being stationed rather precariously over the river on tripod with me sprawled across rocks to see into the viewfinder (now I see the point of those movable screens). Fortunately, neither me or, more importantly, the camera ended up in the water and the image was made. I would normally avoid what a wise photographer once referred to as 'dangly bits' but, in this case, I think the branches frame the waterfall nicely.

There are four or five images I could have used from this particular day in Snowdonia but I have settled for this and the following photograph. I had been asked to do a talk on landscape photography for Frodsham and District Photographic Society and decided that I should base this around a single day 'in the field'; my planning and preparation, approach and how I might react to changing conditions and other challenges. This was that day and, in many respects, it turned out to be ideal as the day started bright, cold and frosty but, by early afternoon, had turned overcast and gloomy. Not a surprise then if I tell you that this photograph and the one below were from the morning. I had never been to this spot before but it looked promising on the map and that was part of the story I was aiming to tell. I will certainly be going back. I was blessed with a beautiful morning although there wasn't a cloud in the sky and I spent more than 3 hours and made several pictures I am very happy with, without going outside an area measuring about 200sq yards. One thing I have discovered over the years is that it can be counter-productive to try to do too much and that you can often get better results sticking to a small area, particularly one you know well.

As I've already mentioned, this image was made on the same morning as the one above but it is a very different scene. I suspect the wider view above is more likely to appeal to most people but, personally, I get a great deal of satisfaction from capturing a more intimate view; something which might be easily passed by and missed. I love the detail of the moss on the tree, the bracken and the lightly frosted grass and this detail is reproduced beautifully when printed on a matt art paper rather than the high gloss I am more accustomed to using.

This isn't necessarily my favourite wedding image of the year although I am very pleased with it. There are just so many pictures to choose from a year in which J and I have been fortunate enough to be a part of a number of wonderful occasions for some really lovely couples. The picture I have chosen to represent all of these weddings is from our last of 2011; the couple were delightful, their guests friendly and generous and the location ideal. A very natural portrait of a beautiful, young bridesmaid - nuff said!

The last picture, and the hardest to pick. I had set myself a limit of ten and, as I've not planned this out in advance, I find myself with two or three to choose one from. I am not going to go back on any of my other choices so this is it. This was taken on a wet, gloomy day in Anglesey. There is not a lot to do on Anglesey when the weather is really miserable and one of the few indoor attractions is Plas Newydd so that is where we headed. As it happens, we spent a very pleasant few hours there and the rain eased enough for us to wander around the gardens. This was one of only two exposures I made; handheld at f2.8 and ISO 800. It is fine in colour but I feel the black and white conversion adds to the slightly mysterious and spooky atmosphere.

This, then is my top ten of 2011. I suppose I run the risk of you looking at these and deciding that, 'if this is the best he can do, he is not very good'. Still, it has been a useful exercise for me. As I said, this has not been planned out in advance and some of my choices have surprised me. The last one, for instance, might not had been included if I hadn't picked up a mounted print yesterday - the mount really finishes it off.When I started this post a few days ago, it was with the aim of seeing how much I have developed (sorry) over the year and, although I am not going to comment on my feelings about that here, what does interest me is what this choice tells me about my photography; it is clear to me now that, for me, photography is still a very personal thing and is about creating memories above all. There is only one image here (the first) which has been created for it's own sake; all of the others conjure up some specific memories of where I was and how I felt at the time. There is also, with the exception of the odd tweak, very little in the way of post processing to be seen. It's not that I think that is necessarily a bad thing; it's just not something that is important to me. If you like, for me, the means (photography and digital processing) is not more important than the end.