Monday, 13 November 2017

A Load of Bullocks!

Living just outside Chester certainly has its advantages; I can be in Snowdonia or the South Lakes in around an hour and a half. However, I find I struggle a little for interesting landscapes when I have less time on my hands. Take this morning for example: The forecast was promising with the possibility of a frost, little wind and, perhaps even some low lying mist but I had to work which, with sunrise at around 7:30, meant I had very little time.

The closest body of water to home is the River Weaver; not exactly the prettiest stretch of water but, in the right conditions, it has some promise so this was where I headed this morning. Sadly, it became quickly evident that there would be only the lightest of frosts and the mist which often sits over the Weaver valley at this time of year was absent. Still, I was out, so I pressed on. The next problem was the state of the path which looked like a herd of cattle had been driven along it after a heavy downpour. It would have been impossible to negotiate without wellies and wasn't much fun wearing them. Still I pressed on.

Next I encountered the culprits - four bullocks happily grazing on the path; the presence of a feed bucket betraying the fact that this was no accident. Presumably an attempt to deter walkers. It nearly worked for me but, with tripod at the ready, I passed them warily. The greater problem was that there was just nothing very interesting about the river in those conditions. Even the water seemed particularly scummy for a longish stretch. The one saving grace was the sky behind me which had clouded over. I felt sure this cloud would colour up nicely as it approached sunrise but I struggled to find any decent composition in that direction. The scene above was the best I could come up with. It wasn't possible to avoid the pylons but I thought I might clone them out. In the end I didn't bother because, unbelievably, I had failed to see the ugly concrete structure to the side of the tree. That said, there was no way I could have avoided that anyway. This, then, was my one composition of the morning and it's nothing more than a record - not really worth squelching through the mud and muck and risking my life with bullocks (yes, I know I'm exaggerating).

Just to prove the conditions make all the difference, here is an image from a previous excursion - taken a few hundred yards from the one above.

Tuesday, 31 October 2017

Dave Griffiths

This post isn't about photography. It is about my dear friend Griff who died earlier this year. Today would have been his birthday and I couldn't let it pass without mention although the simple truth is that I really do miss him every day. It is more than a year since he last sat opposite to me at work,  chatting with me about everything from photography to baseball (and, occasionally, even work itself) and there is a huge void in my life which his presence used to fill.

Griff was the kindest, most thoughtful and caring man you could ever hope to meet. This was never in doubt though I don't think I really understood just how much support and encouragement he gave me until it was no longer there; it was delivered in such a quiet and selfless manner. I know that one of my life's highlights will be the joint photographic exhibition we held a couple of years ago. I suppose you could consider it a vanity project but, to us, it was just an opportunity for a shared experience. I will never forget the two days spent setting the exhibition up.

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!