A Night at the Museum

Every landscape photographer knows that the best times to shoot landscapes are usually first thing in the morning before sunrise and just before or just after sunset.  I’m not a landscape photographer myself but I can still appreciate that the quality of light varies dramatically depending on the time of day.  When I heard that the Black Country Living Museum in Dudley were hosting “A Night at the Museum” and that tickets were half the normal price, it seemed like an offer not to be missed!

Canal Boats, Black Country Living Museum

It was a cloudy evening and spitting with rain as the doors opened at 6:30pm.  Thankfully for the visitors, the rain held off for most of the night although I was secretly hoping a swift downpour would render the old cobbles into a miriad of highly reflective surfaces.

A.Hartill Motorcycles, Black Country Living Museum

Right from the start, it was obvious that there wasn’t a lot of light so I bumped up the iso to 400 to prevent any danger of camera shake.  Later, I would have to switch to iso800 as the light faded.  With 1400 tickets sold, I felt that a tripod would not be welcome at the event and so it remained in the car all night.  I did have my trusty speedlight though for when the light levels fell below hand-held levels.

Castle Fields Boat Dock, Black Country Living Museum

I was surprised at just how busy it was and the number of brightly clothed visitors did make the business of taking photographs quite a challenge at times.  If I’m being honest, I didn’t get quite as many good photos as I hoped, and the lengthy queue for a cone of delicious chips and batter scraps was also a  distraction, all of my own making I might add!

Rolling Mill, Black Country Living Museum

One thing I definitely wasn’t expecting to see on the night was a fully working demonstration of a steel rolling mill.  This was probably the highlight of the whole  evening for me, although I could have done with a slightly longer lens with hindsight.  The men working the furnace and rolling mill actually do the same job in real life as they were demonstrating here, albeit with more modern equipment.  It was a great sight seeing red hot metal emerging from the furnace and being worked through the machines.  I feel very fortunate indeed to have witnessed the skill and expertise of these men first hand.

I finished the night at the funfair which was still going strong even after the official 10pm closing time.  I love using slow shutter speeds to record fast moving subjects but all I was getting from the roundabout was a coloured blur.  Enter the speedlight set to second curtain sync and with a shutter speed of 1/15th second to record movement prior to the flash.  This is the best of the shots I took.  It’s just a pity that the white safety barriers have caught the full force of the flash…

Funfair Ride , Black Country Living Museum

I really enjoyed my night at the museum and I will definitely look out for more night events at this venue.  To see more of my photos from this event click here


A First Attempt at Time-Lapse Photography

I just uploaded part of the time-lapse sequence I recorded on my visit to Lyveden New Bield last weekend.  I will be honest and say that it didn’t turn out nearly as good as I had hoped.

Although I am pleased with the movement of the clouds, I clearly made an error in shooting the sequence because I had the camera set to Aperture Priority auto exposure (or Aperture Value as Canon like to call it), whereas I should have set the camera to Manual Exposure so that each frame had exactly the same shutter speed and aperture.

The change from bright sunlight to shade caused by the passing clouds affected the exposure to quite a large extent.  I only realised this after loading the images into Lightroom and noting the change in exposure between the sunlit shots and those taken when the building was under cloud cover.  The difference in exposure varied from 1/3rd stop to 1 whole stop and that was sufficient to make the sky change from a deep blue to a much lighter blue between frames.

To counteract that effect, I have manually adjusted the exposures in Lightroom using the exposure slider to reduce the exposure by 1/3rd stop, 2/3 stop, or 1 stop according to each exposure.  In theory, all the exposures should now be the same, but in practice there is a clear colour shift in the sky on the frames that I have adjusted.

It’s a lesson learned…

Here’s the video any way:

Lyveden Time Lapse Sequence (YouTube)

Lyveden New Bield, Northamptonshire

One of my very favourite places to visit in Northamptonshire, Lyveden is a National Trust property situated between the historic town of Oundle and the village of Brigstock.   The dream of Sir Thomas Tresham, and built between 1595 and his death in 1605, the lodge and adjoining gardens were designed to entertain and delight the guests of his nearby manor house, the site of which is part of the estate.  The garden, which incorporated orchards, terraces, moats, and viewing mounts formed a journey from the manor house to the garden lodge (New Bield).  Unfortunately, the lodge was never completed but the fact that so much of it remains in such good condition after 400 years is testament to the quality of the construction.

Lyveden New Bield - Looking South

I visited Lyveden over the May bank holiday weekend in 2011.  It was a sunny day but with a cold and blustery wind, so much so that my camera was being blown about even on my fairly heavy manfrotto tripod.  I wanted to try some time-lapse photography to capture the fast-moving clouds for an audio-visual project I am working on.  I tried the location above looking South to begin with but the clouds were moving sideways which was not quite  what I was aiming for so later I moved round to the West side of the lodge looking straight into the wind coming from the East.  This was much better with the clouds now coming up and over the lodge and disappearing off the side and top of the frame.

Lyveden New Bield - Looking East

Finally, when I was happy that I had enough shots to complete my A/V sequence, I moved over to the garden to take a few shots looking across the moat.  I am reasonably pleased with the pictures I took.  It is a much photographed building and it is not easy to find a new way of shooting it.  It was late afternoon when I arrived and the evening light really helped to light up the stonework of the lodge.  Another time, I would like to stay a little later in the day, and also try some longer lens shots from across the water.

Lyveden New Bield - View across the moat

As you can see in this last shot, the wind was breaking up the surface of the water and spoiling the reflection of the lodge, as well as moving the branches and leaves on the trees.  However, I do like the position of the shadow areas either side of the foreground grass with the brighter area in the middle.  I’m hoping it gives your eye a natural starting point before following the sweep of the moat to the lodge beyond.


Bradgate Park, Leicestershire

Last weekend, my good friend Janet and I got up nice and early (5am to be precise) and drove up to Bradgate Park which is near Rothley in Leicestershire.  We arrived just before 7am and despite the fact that we couldn’t park in the car park as it was still locked up, we both knew that setting our alarms early had been the right decision.

There was hardly anyone around at that time, save for the dedicated early morning runners and the occasional cyclist, plus the obligatory photographer complete with 400mm lens and tripod under his arm.  What made the journey and the bleary eyes worth while though was our first glimpse of the early morning mist that was hovering gently over the landscape.

View of the ruined house from the river

Old John, Bradgate Park, Leicestershire

We had gone in the hope of photographing the deer in a natural looking environment.  Sure enough, Janet spotted a herd of fallow deer over to our right almost as soon as we entered the park.  Further down the path she spotted a pair of red deer up on the side of the valley to our left, and then we saw another herd, this time grazing directly in front of the ruined house directly ahead of us (This is my header picture above).

We spent a most enjoyable 2 to 3 hours in the park photographing the deer and then walked up to the top of the hill to photograph the folly.  Then, around 10am, the mist quickly disappeared and as the park began to fill with families and footballs and dogs and sticks, we made our way back to the car, content that we had seen the best of the day.

Rocky Outcrop, Bradgate Park, Leicestershire

It wasn’t time to go home though.  A small diversion to the cafe at Rothley Station on the Great Central Railway for an all day breakfast was just the ticket, and suitable reward for getting up so early on a bank holiday morning.  We plan to go back to Bradgate Park later in the year, probably in the Autumn, and you can bet we will be setting our alarms for 5am once again.


A terrible thing happened…

New Year’s Day 2011.  A terrible thing happened to me that day – something that I am still struggling to come to terms with almost 5 months later.  I turned 50.  Not the end of the world, you might think.  Maybe not for some people, but it felt very much like it for me, and it still does.

So what’s the problem?  Why does 50 feel so very very bad when 49 was kind of ok?

I think there are several things going on here but a big part of it for me is the inevitable looking back over the last 10 years.  Whatever happened to those years?  What did I do?  What did I achieve?  If I am honest, I have feelings of regret over projects that never got started, ideas that never saw the light of day, and dreams that remain unfulfilled.  On a very personal level, the death of my wife Teresa to cancer in the Autumn of 2000 was another 10 year anniversary that just happened to take place only a few months before my 50th birthday.  If ever I need a reminder of how fragile life can be, I need look no further.

So what can I do now to make myself feel better?

Well, I had a cathartic experience (not in the medical sense I hasten to add) at the Focus on Imaging (Photography) Exhibition in March 2011.  I made a point of being present at the Royal Photographic Society’s stand when Wimbledon accredited photographer Duncan Grove FRPS gave a presentation all about his transformation from a camera club photographer (like myself) into an accomplished semi professional photographer, who not only has his place in the Centre Court, but also regularly writes for photographic magazines.

His presentation was a revelation for me.  Why? For the simple reason that he clearly and concisely took his audience through each and every step as he explained how he had taken his dream and turned it into a highly succesful reality.  Not only that, the software he uses to manage his workflow, and update his website turned out to be exactly the same software (Adobe Lightroom) that I have already been using myself for several years.

The result of all this?  Well, there’s this blog for a start.  Somewhere to note down my thoughts and track my progress as I travel on my photographic journey of discovery.

Then there’s my web site, the showcase for my own photography.  If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then Duncan should feel very flattered as I have attempted to follow his instructions as closely as I could.

Now all that remains is for me to furnish my site with images of a similar quality.  That is the big challenge…


A visit to the Usher Gallery in Lincoln

I was fortunate over the Easter weekend to visit the Usher Gallery in Lincoln.  The guest exhibition was called Food Chain and featured the work of documentary photographers Nick May and Ben Holland. The images and accompanying video footage portray the working lives of workers, many of them migrants, in the food production and packaging industries in the south of Lincolnshire.

I got a strong sense of the terrific work ethic of all the workers portrayed, especially from the descriptive notices accompanying each image, and the video footage.

What I got from the photos was a strong sense of the humanity and dignity of the workers, young and old, and their determination to do their utmost to support themselves and their families.

The role of the gangmasters, and that of the big supermarkets was also portrayed very clearly, a real eye-opener.  I found the exhibition both disturbing and uplifting at the same, uplifting because of the human spirit that shines clearly through the portraits of the workers despite the long hours, poor conditions and low pay they endure.

The exhibition runs until 30th May 2011

Click here for further information

My Photographic Journey

Welcome to the very first post of my blog.

I have titled it “My Photographic Journey” because I am planning to embark on a photographic journey of discovery which will (hopefully) improve my appreciation of photography in general and photographic art in particular.  At this stage, I’m not 100% clear on where the journey is going to take me (which is good), or what I ultimately aim to have achieved by the end of it.  What I do know is that I am looking forward to learning all about the great photographers of the past and present, and I am looking forward to challenging my preconceived ideas about contemporary art and the slightly mysterious (to me) world of fine art photography.  I am also hoping that a better appreciation of the art of photography will allow me to be more critical and objective about my own work, a process that will hopefully enable me to take my photography to a higher level.


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