Monday, 28 February 2011


Shh. Don't tell anyone, but there is a Secret Garden somewhere around here. If you can find it, there's some nice flowers to photograph and some shady nooks to explore.... It's so hard to find, perhaps you will have it all to yourself.

Doh! Well that kinda blows it. What's the point of creating a Secret Garden, then putting up signs to tell people exactly where it is. Its a bit like all those signs in Cornwall directing you to the "Lost Gardens of Helligan". I mean. They are clearly not that lost :-)

Anyway, having discovered the Secret Garden by following all the signs, I can reveal that it is quite comely in summer. Here's a nice red and white counterpoint I spotted.

The Secret garden is in the grounds of this stately home on the Hampshire Berkshire border that featured in a recent popular TV serial.

I would recommend a visit, challenge yourself: See if you can find the Garden. As to the name of the place, I'm afraid I can't reveal that.

It's a secret.

Sunday, 27 February 2011

Toytown trick

This "toytown trick" is becoming quite popular. Its even appearing in TV titles these days. The image processing emulates those expensive tilt/shift lenes that no-one can afford and gives a strange miniature look to a carefully selected full size image.

The trick is to force a very narrow line of focus onto an image and put the rest out of focus. Your image takes on the appearance of a macro lens shot, and the brain therefore requires that the objects in the image must be small. This creates the odd and strangely compelling toytown look.

There are other refinements that are often applied. It works best with bright sunny shots, and if you raise the colour saturation it also improves the illusion.

I am happy with the mechanics of the trick, what concerns me is the psychology of it. Why does the brain interpret it as a small scale image. Is the idea that "shallow focus equals small" something we have learned through exposure to such images? Does the trick work better in the minds of photographers?

In that case, would this trick work on Amazonian Indians who have not already seen the required cliche macro photo? Answers on a postcard please...

P.S. The overhead shots of Newbury were taken on Provia slide film with a 300mm lens on Nikon film camera leaning out of the right hand window of a Cessna 172. A surprisingly cold and violent experience.

Saturday, 26 February 2011

Bosham Crypt

About three years ago I had just bought a 11-22mm wide zoom second hand,. I do like wide angle lenses for certain applications. Anyway, I found myself on the south coast. and made a point of visiting Bosham, an excellent little village that seems to float at the very edge of England, near Chichester harbour.

I photographed everything that day with the new lens (like you do) including these views of the ancient crypt under the church.

Bosham has links with Canute, Bede, the Bayeux Tapestry and Harold, so a little respect is due. It is also rather tidal and some of the roads and car parks have a tendancy to vanish twice a day. 

Be careful where you park...

These early attempts were shot with my first Olympus DSLR. No Image stabilisation, and I forgot to take a tripod. I did not shoot raw files then, these days I would bring back much better images. 

Ah well, we all learn by our mistakes :-)

Friday, 25 February 2011

Quality Glass

I do like my pictures to be sharp. I am a confirmed pixel peeper, where I wind up an image to maximum magnification to check if it passes my criteria. Sometimes I find self induced blur in my images, camera shake, or mis-focussing, but I that's OK. That is my fault, not the fault of the lens.

BTW, if you want to learn all about lens performance, this is a good web site.

So, some folks refer to a bad lens as being "like a jam jar" to describe poor performance... Let's just check what jam jar optics are like..

Oh dear, that really isn't very good. Clearly Zuiko optics are going to have to perform a lot better than that. 

Fortunately they do: Here is a picture taken with the Zuiko 50mm macro/short tele lens. This is just such a sharp lens. Even when peeped at, these pixels are close to perfect.

Well done Olympus, you make Quality Glass. So: don't walk away from your loyal 4/3 camera owners, replace the excellent E620 with something newer....

Thursday, 24 February 2011

Old Ford

After yesterday's gloomy post, let's have something a little lighter. Here we found ourselves on Kerrera, an island off Oban on the West Coast of Scotland. Here I discovered the bare bones of an old Fordson model F or N, picked clean by the local farmer and left as a heavy thing you tie boats to.

In fact, this was not the first abandoned tractor we discovered on Kerrera. Perhaps the climate is particularly harsh and takes its toll on internal combustion engines...

We also suspect that the sheep there eat shingle. 

BTW. Kerrera is a Gallic word which means dead farming implement and mimics the sound of a tractor that won't start.

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Resting Place

Here's a sombre image.This is a Victorian Cemetary in Halifax and it was, until a year ago, the victim of decades of neglect. The graves were half hidden in brambles. Full sized trees had grown and the whole place had become a kind of mad allegory about life and death. Gone but not forgotten?

Down in the town things are a little better. Here is a gravestone next to the town centre church. Here, the graveyard has been largely cleared, and the gravestones used to pave the courtyard near the church. It still feels a little disrespectful to be walking on the memorial stones.

I was pleased to find this autumn leaf adding colour to the soot blackened sandstone. In fact, the whole church remains in its black un-cleaned state, while all around it has been reinvented as fresh sandstone, as mentioned in an earlier post. As a result of this strategy the church now stands out as black amongst gold...

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Where we live

While re-scanning and cataloguing some old pictures I found myself thinking "What must it be like to live there?"  Here's a nice example, its Gold Hill in Shaftesbury. This much photographed tourist spot has a lovely organic feel to it. There is the impression that the houses slid gently down the hill until they came to rest in their present comfortable jumble, each leaning on the next.

While it must be nice to live in such a picturesque location, I imagine the constant flow of tourists and their clicking cameras must be wearing, and the practicalities of living on such a hill when winter brings snow and ice must be quite a challenge.

And here is a set of Victorian Alms Houses. I wonder what its like to spend your final years here. Is it like being in a Trollope novel, perhaps? I suspect the reality is not quite so idyllic, but I must admit the honey coloured uniformity of it does look appealing.

Now from appealing to appalling: This is the upper East Side in Manhattan. We stayed here for a few days, and proved the old adage that "New York never sleeps" to be quite true. No matter what time of night you look out of the window there were taxis, cars and ambulances driving to and fro. It never became quiet.

It struck me if you are born and brought up here, then this is what you consider normal... As a country lad, I found the whole Manhattan experience deeply alien.

So, the question remains: Which is home? The urban canyons of Manhattan with every convenience you might need within two blocks, or the shambling slopes of Shaftesbury?

I know which I would chose :-)

Monday, 21 February 2011

Choc Box Shot

Here's a thing, how do you feel about chocolates? Can you take or leave them, or are you a  chocoholic? 

I ask because I am fascinated by the little booklet thing you find in each box. Some people reach for that first and study it in great detail before making a careful but informed choice from the tray of goodies. Others, like myself, ignore it and just pick a random chocolate.

I guess I am not that bothered which chocolate I eat, its only a chocolate after all... I am  also happy to eat just one then put the box away. As a result of this general indifference I almost never read the flowery description of the contents.

When it comes to choosing beer - now that is a very different activity, however...

Tech note: This choc boc shot was taken on a curved white background using bounced off camera flash.

Sunday, 20 February 2011

Two Bristols

Here is a Pair of Bristols for you. We paid the city a visit on a cold and dull February and wandered around the older part. Finally we went up to Clifton to look at this:

Yes, the Clifton Suspension bridge: Completed in the 1860s to I.K.Brunel's design (although they didn't fit some of his more exciting decorative features). Its a tribute to his skills that it carries a vast amount of traffic these days, far more than the foot passengers and horse carriages it was expected to serve.

In the older part of the city and dating from less than forty years later - 1900 to be precise - is this wonderful Arts and Crafts tiled front on the Edward Everard printing works.

Whereas the Clifton suspension bridge was exactly what I expected in the place I thought it would be, the result was a lack lustre dull view. Down in the city we stumbled upon this unexpected and colourful gem in a totally unexpected place.

I would also recommend Sn Nicholas market, it's rather like the Lanes in Brighton...

Saturday, 19 February 2011


Fog and low cloud seem to be the Winter bill of fare in the hill top village where I work. When its a dull day five miles away, the village might be in the cloud.

If there's very little wind, then all this humidity can build up on wires, gates and twigs to give a nice effect, if you like drips that is...

Here is the gate leading to the sports field. There's no-one playing football today, as usual.

Here 's the farmhouse as context for a roadside twig complete with its watery passenger.

Friday, 18 February 2011


Where I work, up on the Hampshire downs, we get to see a lot of Red Kites. I'm sure these used to be a rare species, but now they almost as common as crows.

We regularly get them circling low over the village peering intently on the ground below. Given a nice Westerley breeze, they sail silently, effortlessly over the scene below without so much of a flap of the wings.

You would think it would be easy to get a really great shot of this magnificent bird, but it is proving very difficult. Generally I fail to notice them pass overhead. If I do spot them, they seem to sense when I have finished swapping from wide angle lens to telephoto and glide gently away, effortlessly....

Thursday, 17 February 2011

Bad Bargain

We all like a bargain don't we? I know I do. I'm guilty of scouring ebay for some little gem that no-one has noticed, or some broken item that I think I can fix.

Here's an example. This is a Tamron SP90 macro lens I bought some years ago. It had a focusing fault, and I had to dismantle it completely to locate and fix the problem. Re-assembling the twin helicoid was a massive task and took several evenings work. In the end I had a splendid lens that I used for a year and eventually sold to fund another purchase.

Perhaps I should get out more, but I do like repairing and re-using things. Its a sort of technical recycling I guess.

Sometimes this goes all wrong. I have been trying to buy a Nikon SB28 flash gun. These have become sought after courtesy of the Strobist blog and prices have leapt up. I see plenty for sale in excellent condition but, having some Yorkshire blood in me, I can't thoil 80 to 100 pounds on the purchase.

So - I bought a non functioning one on ebay. To be honest, I paid a bit too much for it, convinced I could repair the basic fault described. 

When I opened it I discovered the problems were more widespread. Dead batteries had burst covering the inside with caustic film of electrically conducting crystals. These are death to microelectronics. So I have done some serious board and connector cleaning, and now the display operates and its little computer runs.In fact it does everything it should except fire the flash.

So, at the point of writing it has turned out to be a Bad Bargain. I have not given up just yet, but let's just say I am not too impressed.

Post Script. After two days of careful cleaning and testing I am unable to coax this into life, so I will have to sell it for spares. Oh well...

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Charity at home

For some reason, Newbury seems to have a remarkable number of Almshouses. I did a Google on the subject and ended up with this list:

  • St Mary's Almshouses, Newbury
  • Pearces Almshouses, Newbury
  • Coxedd's Almshouses, Newbury
  • Child's Almshouses, Newbury
  • Kimber's Almshouses, Newbury
  • St Bartholomew's Hospital, also known as King John's Almshouses, Newbury
  • Raymond's Almshouses, Newbury
  • Church Almshouses, Newbury
  • Essex Wynter Almshouses, Newbury
  • Mabel Luke Almshouses, Newbury
  • Robinson's Almshouses, Newbury
So, here are some examples of this ancient tradition:

This below is St Bartholomews Hospital, in Argyle street. The other entrance now faces a car park and looks very old indeed...

Part of the Upper Raymonds almshouses

Some are not as old as they seem. I think this below is a lot newer than its Tudor hints suggest. If you want to see the original and genuine item, I comment the Hospital of St Cross at Winchester, which appears in this earlier blog.. Why not call in there and claim your ancient right to beer and bread :-)

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Signs of life

Out for my constitutional walk yesterday lunchtime, I came across a veritable carpet of snowdrops in the churchyard. This is the time of year that they burst forth to lighten our dull winter lives. A local country house has vast areas of them, and it opens to the public for snowdrop addicts in February.

This begs the question: How to make an interesting picture of snowdops? What you need is a different and arresting angle. So: Here we have a ground level shot with narrow depth of field using my trusty 70-300mm lens.

Here is a slightly better shot in my optinion, because it includes some context to place the subject. Context is usually a good thing in a picture.

Monday, 14 February 2011

Wrong way round

A quick post about lenses.

A while ago I waxed lyrical about the 70-300 Zuiko zoom, the top left lens in the group shot above. This is not one of the Olympus Top Pro range or even from their middle ranking Pro range, yet it performs very well indeed as a telephoto up to about 200mm. Beyond that it seems to go very slightly soft. However, it can focus down to a meter or less, and at the long end, that qualifies it as a macro lens.

So, lets see how this telephoto-turned-macro performs against the excellent Zuiko 50mm macro, (bottom right lens above) which is simply the sharpest lens I've ever used. Surely a long tele zoom with a macro setting bolted on will be outgunned in this test.

Now that is a surprising result. The 70-300 has been holding back a secret. The 300mm end is optimised for maximum sharpness as a macro lens. Apparently I owe it a an apology.

While we are there, check out the ultra narrow depth of field from the 50mm macro at f2.8. It gets even narrower if you open it up to f2 ;-)

So, lets return the compliment: How does the 50mm macro do as a short telephotos? Here's a shot of our Town Mayor some years back taken with the macro lens.

Close examination shows that it does very well as a telephoto. So you can use both these lenses the wrong way round and get good results. You live and learn.

Sunday, 13 February 2011

The Waiting Room

Down the farm lane, in the Big Barn, next to the pile of large straw bales, I found several stacks of rusty metal chairs recently.

I suspect they are waiting to be used. Quite what metal chairs are doing in a working farm barn is a mystery. However, it is well known that farmers don't throw anything away, because "you never know", so maybe there's a plan...

Saturday, 12 February 2011

Grey on Grey

After all the drama of Sunrise and Dusk discussed recently, here is a more muted subject. Now we turn to those foggy days when it seems a wiser move to stay indoors. In fact mist can be your friend, obscuring unpleasant backgrounds and adding depth to an image. I know I've been here in this blog before, but I thought I would show some more examples...

Here's an oddity in a field. The housing estate in the background has almost completely vanished. The oddity is in fact a marker for the secret GPSS fuel pipeline that runs along the A4, installed before WW2 as a method of moving fuel from Bristol to Aldermaston airfield.

Here I have combined dusk with low cloud to add atmosphere to this end of the day riding session. The floodlight beams add a little depth to the composition as well. This shot required considerable exposure compensation to get the dark look I wanted.

The boating pond. I caught this view one cold and still January morning. We are right next to the Kennet and Avon canal, and a favourite spot for mist on cold days. In this case it has softened the town buidings across the canal and isolated the intended subject somewhat.

So there you go, mist and fog can be the photographer's friend...

Friday, 11 February 2011

Blue on Black

For avid blogwatchers, this is my 100th post!

There's nothing quite like a good dusk, a wonderful time of day. Show me a clear sky with that characteristic deep blue and the black silhouettes of trees and I reach for my camera.  There is plenty of scope to create an image with impact. Here we have an autumn evening where the blue sky is echoed by a nice blue Morgan.

Here's another dusk, but with an added element. A long shot includes the moon in the equation.

North Hampshire and late Summer. The sun has set over Watership down and the trees provide the focal counterpoint to the fading light.

One of the challenges with photographing dusk is the problem of exposure. It should be long enough to bring out the colours in the sky but short enough to avoid movement blur. This example stps over the line slightly, but it was very dark indeed. This is a rare moment when I would have preferred a big Nikon DSLR cranked up to high ISO. Blue on Black!

Thursday, 10 February 2011

Sunrise Strategy

When did you last see a great sunrise? By "see a sunrise", I mean standing in one place and waiting for the sun to appear over the distant horizon. Its a truly magical experience and a great photo opportunity.

To arrange to get a picture like this poor example requires distinct strategy.

First of all you need to have a particular site in mind that has an uninterrupted view to the East and North (or some other direction if you are in that other hemisphere). 

I can't help you there, you need to do some site scouting. Next you need to know exactly when the sun will rise and in exactly which direction. For these second tasks I suggest the Photographer's Ephemeris. Its a fancy bit of software that tells you where the Sun and Moon are in the sky at any time and place of your choosing.

Now you need to start paying attention to the weather forecasts. I start with a synoptic chart like this one. You are looking for a large high pressure settled over the country. Next you need to watch the TV weather forecast for tonight and tomorrow, and in this case you are looking for low wind, low overnight temperatures with clear skies and the warning of mist.

You get your gear ready the night before. Two cameras, a wide and a long tele lens, spare batteries, the Big Tripod. So you set the alarm for 04.30 BST, grab a quick cup of tea and get there in plenty of time. The best part of sunrise is the fifteen minutes before and sixty seconds after the sun peeks over the horizon. After that the light changes and it loses all the magic, so be prepared to work fast and work carefully.

For me, the best sunrise shots use a long telephoto lens to compress the landscape. However a good wide shot is worth taking, particularly if there is something you can place in the foreground.

If you are a fan of panoramas like me (see that second picture above) then you need special strategy, and I suggest you need to cheat a bit.  Here goes: Level the tripod and pick the camera with the long prime tele lens. I used the excellent Tamron Adaptall 200mm manual focus lens for that shot. I leave white balance on auto because I am shooting raw files, and I will look at colour balance later. I use manual exposure for a pano and set it for the brightest part of the image. Don't be afraid to let parts of the image go black... Check: Focus fixed, aperture at f8, exposure fixed, tripod level, camera clamped, mirror up delay two seconds. Now get the sequence of pictures needed to make the pano, allowing for some overlap. You will get a sequence of pre-dawn shots like this one.

Do this about 5 minutes before the sun is due to rise. There are nice colours to be had then. Now the clever bit. Keep the same lens on, change to aperture priority and prepare for sunrise. Bear in mind you need to get you best shots during those magic 60 seconds. You should get something like the first shot above.

Finally, you need to cheat and grab the sun from the sunrise shot and add it to the pano which didn't have the sun in it. Hint: Use layers in "Lighten" mode and see where you get.

You can't shoot a pano while the sun is rising over the horizon because the lighting changes so rapidly, so my solution is to shoot the pano just before sunrise, then shoot the sun using the sam lens aftewards....

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Last Leg

We had sunshine yesterday!  A strange bright light appeared in the sky and it made the world a lot nicer. So I went out for a limp at lunchtime to see nature stirring anew with spring in mind.

This lovely rounded shape is the handpost at the top of a footpath gate. There seems to be a race going on here. On one hand the wood is rotting away and losing its original shape. On the other hand the passing walkers are polishing the post to a whole new smooth profile.

Here's a gate which is also suffering from years of rain and sunshine. In this case it keeps the horses safely in the paddock aided by this aged piece of baling twine*

The neglected hedges sport this lichen covering. It softens the outlines and gives an attactive colour to the twigs. I am also told its a sign of a healthy environment with low pollution.

BTW, all the pictures in this post were taken between 70 and 300mm focal length...

*I developed a theory during my youth in the countryside that farms are held together by baling twine, six inch nails and the electric welder in the barn.