Monday, 31 January 2011


I recently praised my Zuiko 11 to 22mm wide zoom, one of my small selection of favourite lenses. It is a pro grade lens and quite expensive to buy new. 

Today let me recommend the much cheaper Zuiko 70-300mm long zoom. On an old film camera this would be the equivalent of a 140-600mm zoom. It isn't a pro grade lens, and there is some suspicion its actually a Sigma design for Olympus, but it is surprisingly sharp.

This opening shot is a local horse with fly guards last summer. I took this at 70mm wide open.

OK, now check out this crop from the centre of the image: For a kit level lens I say that is a most worthy performance.

Aha, I hear you say. This is a fiddle. A crop from the centre of the image eh?  Very well, lets look at this longer shot. This was taken with the same lens at 140mm and f8, hand held of course. Its an old coffee house on the high street in Newbury taken as the sun dipped below the buildings opposite.

And here's a crop from the right hand edge of the frame.  The tiles are covered in a fine black net to keep the birds off. This lens still delivers the goods well enough for my purposes, provided you don't push your luck.

If that seems good performance, then I draw your attention to the Zuiko 50mm macro lens. Now that's just about the sharpest prime lens I've ever used. Its a curious design, the front element is concave. More on this lens anon.

Sunday, 30 January 2011


Big shots.

There are times I can't resist the temptation to take a sequence of pictures with the intention of making a panorama out of them at some point in the future.

They usually spend months as near neighbours on the disk without being stitched together,awaiting that time when I feel motivated enough to do the work.

Here's a simple two image panorama of Coverack harbour from last spring.

The Coverack pano was stitched using the picture merge feature of Photoshop CS3. This seems to work rather well, and in fact does a better job than I can manage with manual methods.

This next image of Tarn Hows contains around five images. The extra width has created an aspect ratio that would prove difficult to print and display.

Now this next pano is formed from eight images from an Olympus 8080. It shows the west Berkshire countryside from one of by favourite vantage points near Coombe Gibbet. The original is around eighteen thousand pixels wide and is unlikely to get printed or displayed at all. It is nice to roam around it full size on the computer monitor, but its frustratingly difficult to view in its entirety.

Finally this twenty five thousand pixel monster was the result of a midsummer sunrise project. This really has reached the point where the end result is unusable. I calculated it would make a print 15 feet by 9 inches... Try mounting and framing that.

I must ask myself if this is perhaps a futile exercise next time I am tempted to make a giant panorama image. You can't print them full size, you can't view them full size conveniently, and as you can see: You can't even post them on the web full size either...

Step away from the view and put the camera down...

Saturday, 29 January 2011


Turn it up to Eleven, its January.

Three years ago this month I bought my 11-22mm wide zoom from a member of the UK e-group forum. What a great lens it has been, wonderfully wide and free from corner vignetting faults.

Here is an early skyscape I took using it at the 11mm end. This is dawn, January 2008 and the first week I had the lens.

This is a year later. Here is a moody shot from January 2009, on the way to work and taken straight into the sun through the mist. I am well pleased with the lack of lens flare in this. It was taken at the 11mm end of the zoom range.

Another year. Here's a floodlit Saxon church. I took this one foggy evening after work in January 2010. This also uses the 11mm end of the zoom.

Finally, from just last night, a pleasing tree and dusk shot, once again using this lens at its widest end, 11mm. 

Do you see where this leads us? Yes, I am an incurable wide boy and if I always use this zoom lens at 11mm, why bother buying a zoom at all? Good question. I suppose the answer is "just in case"...

PS, It's also good at the 22mm end as well, I just forget it can do that as well..

Friday, 28 January 2011


Like so many of the Saga generation, we are members of the National Trust. It is a fine organisation and what could be better than a nice day out at a stately pile with a tea shop...

Here's a wide angle shot at St Michaels mount, a NT property. When we visited early last year I discovered that certain NT properties have relaxed their baffling No Photography Inside rule.

Later that week we went to Lanhydrock, an excellent house with wonderful gardens. Once again I was allowed to use the camera (no flash please*) indoors. I do approve of this enightened approach. Here, as an example of the memories I could take away, is part of the extensive kitchens featuring the Large Cleaver....

I never did understand the photography ban. What was the logic? You may not take pictures inside but perhaps you will buy some of our NT postcards. I don't think that's going to happen. My pictures end up on disk, so how will a paper postcard help me? it's as if the National Trus don't trust us.

Anyway, here we are at Ashdown House near Wantage. In this case you only get access to the stairway and the roof, furthermore there's no tea shop. Nevertheless its a very nice looking building.

However the view from the roof is worth seeing, even though the garden is a touch minimal. No pictures from inside as these images date from the no photos era.

So, I am a supporter of the National Trust, and I suggest you join or at least visit these excellent properties. (In return for this glowing recommendation I hope I don't get hassled for placing images of NT sites on my blog).

*I agree with the no flash rule. I hardly ever use the flash on the camera, and I understand that millions of repeated tourist flashes could well fade delicate fabrics and pictures. Now we just have to get people to find out how to turn the flash off.

Thursday, 27 January 2011


Warning. This post is all about cars, so if you are not a car nut you'll be bored, dear reader... There 's a nice picture of a horse in this post instead.

Right. where were we. Ah yes, rewind three decades. In those days I was an avid car tinkerer. and bought cheap old cars and generally sold them at a loss or scrapped them. after a year. I'd had four BMC 1100s, then four Fiat 124s of various states of tune, then finally five Alfa Romeos. I think that qualifies me as a bona fide petrol head.

Well, I spent weekends with a mate who had the bug worse than me, and helped him with getting this thing back on the road...

This is the noisy end of a Porshce 911 2.4E coupe with the early Bosch mechanical fuel injection system. If you drove it carefully it would return eighteen miles to the gallon. If you  thrashed it you would get fifteen to the gallon. We figured you may as well drive it quickly in that case... (There is no legal proof that we got 140mph out of it one Sunday morning on the dual carriageway to Usk, for example).

So, I had some experience with the older 911s under my belt, thus twenty five years ago  I  found myself spending my weekends looking at this.

This is the angry bit in a 2.7Lux with the K-Jetronic injection system. This was almost as fast as my mate's old 2.4E, but it would give you 25 miles to the gallon and was rather more civilised. 

Here's how it looked to the outside world.

Making the jump from a twin cam Fiat 124 Coupe to a 911 was serious stuff. The only 911 I could afford was the dog at the back of the showroom. At eight thousand pounds, it was half the price of anything else in Nick Faure's* showroom. I bought this thing with no guarantee entirely on my own inspection and judgement. Risky stuff.

This was my only car, not some hobby project. I suffered all sorts of hassle during the seven years I owned it. I got stick from colleagues at work, yoofs repeatedly stole the badge off the front.  I had hassle from lads in hatchbacks. It even got spat on. Duh? It cost me the same as a new Vauxhall Cavalier saloon, so why all the attitude?

So here's to my old 911. You weren't a dog, more like an old friend. The only real sports car I've owned. Here's to the work I did on you. I re-aligned the suspension with laser and mirrors. I changed the exhaust system. I even changed the clutch on my own!

These days I avoid getting under my Ford, and I'm sorry to admit I pay other people to service it. However, I still look at old 911s and think of those glory days :-)

*Nick (historic Porsche racing driver) took me out for a drive in it which was an interesting and persuasive experience...

Wednesday, 26 January 2011


I have been visiting Halifax in West Yorkshire on and off all my life,  I can remember it when I lived there as a child. In those days we kids were told not to run our hands along the walls because they would end up covered in soot.

Yes, its true that just about every structure, every building bridge and wall was black in my memory. It was accepted as part of Industrial Britain.

Now that I am completely grown up I find these blackened walls just as fascinating, although this time from a photographic perspective. They are an endangered species. Ever since the early 1990s Halifax has turned the pressure washer on itself and street after street has emerged as golden grown sandstone and blinking in the sunlight. The transformation is remarkable.

Thus these grainy monochrome images from twenty years ago show historical traces that are becoming scarce and hard to find these days. 

Furthermore, there is also another technical problem. How do you photograph soot in sunlight? The result tends to be a slightly dark grey scene, rather than that rich black you are seeking.

Quite apart from the usual strategy of under-exposing to fool the camera light meter into making the right decision, one has to fight the impression that sunlight lends a certain optimism to the image. We were not after bright and cheerful, were we...

No, it seems the answer is to visit the town on a foggy November morning and take the HP5 film and the tripod. That way you might be able to portray the place as the gloomy and soot covered relic that it isn't any more :-)

Tuesday, 25 January 2011


Not just any old Bert, we're talking about Westonbirt here...

Westonbirt Arboretum is what you get when you put a load of fancy trees together. Its a bit like a designer forest. 

I paid it a visit early one Sunday in October a few years back.  I wanted to get there early to catch the golden hour when the sun is low. They directed me to a parking field and popped my old 911* in the corner, paid my entry fee and followed the other half dozen folks into a fantastic riot of colour.

This was a first outing for my new Manfrotto tripod. This is a Big Tripod with large tubular aluminium legs, a proper rising column and support stays. I have this theory, you see. If you want people to take you seriously as a photographer, don't get a bigger camera, get a Bigger Tripod...

I have to admit the era of the hard core tripod didn't last long. The thing is a solid as a rock and beautifully made, but it's so heavy it now only leaves the house on special occasions such as my Annual summer sunrise trip*. 

I don't use a tripod as much as I should, so take my example as a lesson. There's a saying "Never buy a tripod that is heavier than your wife will carry"

So, at the end of an hour walking the grounds with my Nikon FE2 and the Manfrotto I had collected a roll of Provia with some really extreme colours on it. (The pictures here have been lightly processed with the Orton sandwich method to add a certain abstraction). When I got back to the car park I discovered the car park was full to overflowing and it was getting quite difficult to get shots of trees with no people in the way.

So there you go, Weston Bert... (no relation to Weston Master V)

*See future posts...

Monday, 24 January 2011


This close up of the Berkshire sod reveals a ploughed field. The smooth surfaces of the soil shows it has felt the touch of Coulter, Ploughshare and Mould board. These oddly named parts form a traditional agricultural plough, an implement that turns the soil over, exposing a new surface for planting and burying last years stubble to rot and add nutrients.

The traditional four furrow plough is an antique these days. Huge tractors now wield seven and eight furrow ploughs, which cover the ground quite quickly. However ploughing is not the only game in town. Sometimes the soil is not turned over,  just broken up.

This huge machine is treating a stubble field featured elsewhere in this blog. This is not ploughing, I think it is a spring tine cultivator or possibly a chisel plough. These do not dig so deep into the soil but require a lot of power to pull them. This mechanical beast was able to root up the old crop at running pace.

Its a far cry from the old shire horse and three furrows.

Sunday, 23 January 2011


I have had a good moan recently. I feel I'm on a roll, so here 's another one:

There are certain commonly used words that get my goat because (to me at least) they seem to be misused. Lets start with this Stunning sunset. Surely that which stuns is an experience so extreme it causes unconsciousness. Is that really what happened when I saw this scene. I don't recall passing out. So down with "stunning" as a word used to describe things that are in fact quite nice.

I will admit it was quite nice to watch the sun sink into the low cloud behind this screen of bare trees. That's why I took a picture of it :-)

What about this Awesome view? A colleague who has an ear for these things once reported a most inappropriate use of "awesome" overheard in a department store. "Hey, come and look at this awesome soap dish" Can a soap dish truly create awe in the mind of the beholder? If  so, they should get out more.

This rather nice picture was taken during the recent cold snap whan all our local trees were covered with the results of a whole week of freezing fog.

By the way. Both of these pictures seem a bit fussy to me and fly in the face of my stated aim of less is more. Sometimes you just have to photograph what you see. Awesome.

One last moan. The word "Commentator". These are not people in the media that "commentate", they comment - so they should be called Commentors.

There. I feel better now. :-)

Saturday, 22 January 2011


I do like my parallel lines. Give me a view with something straight that stretches away into the distance and I am happy. My picture of the lines of trees at Christchurch College meadow featured elsewhere on this blog is an early example of this fixation.

Thus I was pleased to see these excellent views out and about round the village recently. The low winter sun sharpens this view of the remains of last year's crop. Strangely, this stubble field has not been ploughed and drilled with new seed. I wonder what they plan to do? Build houses on it?

Here's another example. This time the low sun gives me a very convincing set of parallel shadows drawing the eye towards the outskirts of the village in the background. I didn't feel the colours were strong enough to support the image so I converted it to monochrome with a very slight tint.

Friday, 21 January 2011


Angle not Angel.. This corner shot of St Nicolas here in Newbury emphasises the angles of the stonework, aided by the diffuse sunlight from the south east. Our ugly friend in the top corner has appeared on these pages before, while the lion bottom right seems to have fallen asleep.

I assume stonemasons get bored with shaping line after line of straight edges and have  a craving for a carving which leaps out of the corners.

You can find this lovely luminous and angular experience under the entrance to the great house at Basildon Park in Berkshire. The deeply rusticated stone and the warm daylight combined to make a very tempting target on our visit one summer. This shot is a matter of timing. You have to imagine the place full of tourists. Catching an empty moment takes some planning and patience.

Thursday, 20 January 2011


Here we are back down the Farm Lane..... I am rather surprised this lady looks so sad. I know for a fact she just got a new pair of shoes. The mobile farrier called today and the characteristic tap tap tap rang through the office windows for a while.

Now by contrast, here's a horse who is proud of himself. Check out the G.T. paintwork eh?

This old guy feels the cold, can't see too well and is deaf. He can still raise a wag of the tail though...

Wednesday, 19 January 2011


We had a very pleasant week in Coverack, on the Lizard peninsular last spring. If you should find yourself on the Coastal Walk by the headland, you will pass between two fields containing modern sculpture. These are free to view (freeview?) works of art place there by the artist, Terence Coventry...

I thought these striking giant angular pieces were more satisfying than the slightly cramped and expensive Barbara Hepworth exhibition in expensive St Ives, with its expensive and inconvenient parking*. (Point made..?)

Nice place Coverack, especially out of season. If you are around there, go in search of this little hidden gem.

*Some towns and cities seem to send a message "Go Away, we don't need you". Top of my list is Oxford. It's a nice place, I know it well from my youth, but it is at war with the motorist. They involve you in their Park And Pay and Ride And Pay scheme. Park miles form the city centre. Pay for the parking. Get on a bus and pay to go into town. If there are 4 of you in the vehicle its probably cheaper to give the car away and buy a new one at a local garage. 

The signs in St Ives lure the stranger up a long hill to a distant and expensive car park in northern France. You can wait there for a bus or set about the long traverse into town. On the way you pass other hidden car parks known only to the locals. Grrr.

Oh - and there's the car parks in the Lake District. The shop owners may think the tourists are being tight this year, but when you just paid almost £3 for the minimum 2 hour stay in the packed car park and you only wanted a quick cup of tea - you feel disinclined to spend any more hard earned cash.

Well you do if you have Yorkshire blood in you :-)

Tuesday, 18 January 2011


On occasions I see something that is weird, and so I take a picture of it if I can. Other times I come up with a weird idea and make the picture happen. I think this is perfectly reasonable behaviour, painters do it all the time.

As to this first image, I will make no further comment:

Now this one I will explain. It's an object trouvee. The water in the bird bath froze overnight and the advancing ice squeezed long lines of bubbles out of the water in the process. The result was really rather striking, and I was able to get this image using my macro lens and some careful selection of background and lighting.

When you have a slightly odd view of the world, its nice to know you are not alone. Some unknown kindred spirit saw fit to place these on the wall of a restaurant in Marlborough. What a hero!

Here is an example of a created weird image. I call it "The road to St Remy" as a tribute to Vincent. There's a bit of grain in the image.

Monday, 17 January 2011


Three blooming pictures with black backgrounds:

This first one, of a poppy bud opening, was taken right at the end of the film era. I shot this outside in the garden under a cloudy sky with a black card behind the subject. The result was a Fuji Provia transparency, which I sent off in an envelope to the pro printers to get a Cibachrome 10x8 done. It still hangs on a wall 12 years later.

Printing direct from a transparency! We don't do things like that now. When was the last time I had anything printed without some serious Photoshop work? In fact the digital age has brought  other changes. I now take so many pictures that I very rarely have them printed. They all get their Photoshop treatment, just in case they ever get enlarged and placed on a wall somewhere.

This next one was taken with a DSLR, also outdoors, but this time the background was made black using an off camera flash to define the exposure.

This final minimal image was taken indoors with natural light from a north facing window and a black backdrop. This features my 50mm Zuiko macro lens. One of the sharpest optics I've ever had and a joy to use.

Sunday, 16 January 2011


Aah, the hand of the modern designer. They of the strange shaped glasses and weird beards... Sometimes they produce something of sublime beauty, but othertimes I have to scratch my head and wonder.

I found these in the window of a stylish Paper and Pen shop in Florence. They are clearly too expensive to warrant a price tag. (They are ball point pens, in case you are wondering)
I hope they are more comfortable in use than they look....

Sometimes its possible to stray over the line getween Stylish and Stupid. Just yesterday I spotted this in our local department store. They come in different sizes and colours. Yes, it seems to be a bowl with a perforated edge.

Well, I've never seen that before.

So what does it do? Is it a slimmers bowl? (If you put too much food in it, the rest goes on the table.) Perhaps you put it under a plant pot so that it fails to catch the water. Is it for the Dog's Breakfast?

What next. Plates with holes?

Huh! Designers!  :-)