Friday, 31 May 2013

Day 151 : up on the roof

After a first preview of an intriguing little horror short AL’s friend is starring in we head over to Milk and Honey for a bit of rooftop action. It’s a balmy evening and after battling through the Friday night revellers in the street below it’s lovely to be in this tranquil oasis, sipping cocktails amongst the chimney pots. After we’ve exhausted the Chim Chiminey Chim Chiminey references inspired by the location, I think Dick van Dyke may have made an appearance at one point doing the ’old bamboo’, we tucked into awesome mini sliders and other yummy stuff washed down with their usual delicious cocktails until it went dark.

We carried on the chilled evening in the “harking back to a speakeasy in the prohibition” Red Room. Our waiter recalled (some of) us from Easter when we plied him with gold wrapped Lindt chocolate bunnies, really the only way to treat your waiter! We were joined briefly by the star of the horror short film from earlier and the elusive and a little tipsy girlfriend of our mysterious companion, let’s call him Charlie Bravo!

They ordered a couple of cabs for us to get home when it was nearing 3am and we were struggling to stifle our yawns. Our cab driver, I think, had recently left the KGB charm school, and after dropping everyone else off we broke down and he intimidated me into waiting for the engine to cool down. It never did recover and eventually I was able to secure a discount on the fare, despite him accusing me of doing a runner (what in these shoes!) and totter off hoping to find a black cab. Luckily, despite the roads being beyond deserted at 4.30am, I secured a ride for the rest of the journey and could finally collapse in bed. All those rooftop shenanigans sure are tiring!


Thursday, 30 May 2013

Day 150 : see-through bus

Just for a change and to prove I'm not just a one-trick-close-up-filters-pony I'm playing with shutter speeds instead. The buses whizzing past seem the perfect subject. I do rather like the effect where it appears the bus is transparent revealing the building behind.


Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Day 149 : webbing

To continue the theme, the close-up filters are still firmly screwed onto my camera and I have a little time to kill. I want to see if I can photograph a cobweb.

This ended up being my favourite because of the small circle in the desig . I think the web could be enhanced with raindrops on the silken threads. At this exact moment there is no rain, though it will soon I suspect, with our schizophrenic weather of late, I won't have to wait long. Alternatively I could add my own raindrops as I have a little plastic bottle and eye dropper in my camera bag for just that purpose. Next time, I will give it a try.


Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Day 148 : still getting close

Back home and the rain continues to fall. Embracing the attitude of my mini French holiday of working with rain I found an obliging leaf decked in diamonds of raindrops and yet again am whipping out my close-up filters. These +4 B+W (not black and white, but Biermann and Webber, originally a Berlin based company that manufacture quality filters from Schott glass) filters are fast becoming some of my favourite pieces of kit.


Monday, 27 May 2013

Day 147 : trailing a snail

It just seems so appropriate to capture a picture of a snail to add to my portfolio of French memories. But this innocuous desire was more challenging as armed with my close-up filters, I have to get pretty close. And definitely closer than the snail wants me too. As I try and sneak up on it, first one eye stalk disappears, then the second, followed swiftly by the head...and I'm left with a shell. I wander away to check at the roses, and feeling braver Monsieur Snail, or possibly Brian the, emerges again. But as I approach again, I am thwarted. I really just have to remain practically on top of , barely breathing until he feels safe again. Eventually I got my close-up. Obligatory French image...done!


Sunday, 26 May 2013

Daisy chain

After returning from our morning ministrations and steak frites lunch we have some free time to review the latest photographs, grab a siesta or hang out with the other guests and continue some of the lively conversations from lunch. My shutter finger isn't sated yet and today is a more beautiful day than yesterday. So I thought I'd take the opportunity to enjoy it, we've been suffering such a dearth of sun recently.

The garden is very tranquil and I can revisit some of the shots I took yesterday which I didn't think quite worked. I have a groundsheet in my bag, so handy with all the rain as the ground is sodden in places. I always try to pack a bit of groundsheet, I'm not very fond of plonking myself down on mud and/or soggy greenery and I'm always reminiscent of a favourite quote (mentioned previously in case you're an extraordinary keen follower of my blog!) “Observe my foresight. I never venture forth without my mackintosh squares. At any time, one may have to sit on damp ground or cold marble." uttered by the incorrigible Eleanor Lavish in the Room with a View film, an improvement on E. M. Forster’s prose perhaps!

This was perfect, I could lie face down on the capacious groundsheet and get really up close and personal with some daisies. One of the major advantages of some dedicated time just you and your camera is that you can indulge in some serious self-study, oblivious to all other commitments. Armed with my close up filters I'd been determined to explore manual focusing on my camera. Now I could just lie here immersed in the world of daisies, blades of grass and insects mastering something I'd meant to do for ages. And the advantage is also that if I wanted to take a little snooze in the sun I could do just that. Who knew daisies could be so much fun.


Day 146 : popping poppies

There was me thinking I'd nailed poppies yesterday but looking through everyone’s shots last night American J’s photo of a couple of minimalist poppies against a blue, blue sky makes me hanker for just one more. We've been meandering around the village of Domme, I'm keeping my eyes peeled for the missing shot in my poppy portfolio but I'm thwarted as I can only find roses.

We break for steak frites, and it seems everyone apart from me has found the elusive poppies on high and are teasing me with their photos. There is a plot not tell me the location of the secret poppy stash but luckily for me, American J takes pity on me and takes me to spot.

The sky has dutifully become ever bluer and standing at the right angle I can avoid the few white fluffies around. Finally I can get my own somehow almost Miro-esque image. I might be able to stop obsessing about poppies. Well at least for today!


Saturday, 25 May 2013

Day 145 : poppy dreams!

When I was a little girl I wrote a letter to Jim’ll Fix it requesting the opportunity to walk through a field of poppies, in a white, floaty dress eating a Flake. I didn't get a reply and now, of course, I feel I had a lucky escape, but the desire to walk in a field of poppies has never deserted me. Before I came out to the Gareth Kirkland workshop, I'd checked out previous workshop participants’ photos and spotted some fields of poppies, I figured my poppy dreams may come true.

I may have mentioned this desire a few times to the other photographers and after our visit to Sarlat in sunshine, then rain, then more sunshine, then more rain, instead of returning to the gîte for some much needed snoozing we stopped off to shoot some poppies on a wall. We pulled into someone’s front drive, as it was the only spot we could on a little, winding road, a bit naughty but we were caught in the red poppy mist. I noticed their back garden was full of the hallowed red flowers so had to grab a few rain-splashed poppy pictures from the latest shower, despite it being a teensy bit trespassing!

We've chosen to locate an abundant crop of poppies on a wall so we can shoot then against the now cornflower blue sky. I can decide if I prefer a few lone poppies or a tangle of stems accented by one giant head. Or perhaps a few blooms against the dark wall. Ah, decisions, decisions!

After grabbing about 80+ photographs, enough even for me, we headed off and then ducked into Le Clerc for provisions and to escape the further rain. We've missed our siesta time, but now we’re setting off for our evening shoot. But Gareth has a surprise. Before we head for our vantage point to photograph the river glistening in the late sun we detour to an entire poppy field. I'm in pure poppy heaven! It’s just a sea of red. Behind the field there's a picturesque church nestled amongst the trees. I'm almost overwhelmed by finally being surrounded by these elegant, translucent, papery flowers blowing in the breeze. I'm spinning around, wide landscape shots, close up macros, long shutter speeds to capture the movement, crouching down low and then standing tall.

I'm not wearing a white dress but instead hiking boots, which is lucky as the on and off rain today has turned the clay soil to an icky, sticky mess. Rather than eating a crumbliest, flakiest chocolate Flake I’m welding a camera and very happy with that, though a Flake wouldn't go amiss! Gareth fixed it for me!


Friday, 24 May 2013

Day 144 : raindrops on roses...

Yet again I plan a workshop, or a long weekend photography expedition with scant regard for my beauty sleep. We'd been left to our own devices to get to the gîte in deepest Dordogne we’d be inhabiting for the weekend by 6pm today. I'd been to-ing and fro-ing trying to decide between the cheaper Ryan Air flight at stupid o’clock which would necessitate a humungous taxi cab from my place to Stansted Airport and the quite a bit more expensive Air France flight from City Airport at a civilised hour to which I could easily get too without a taxi. The latter was also taking me to a destination airport closer to our long weekend home than the Ryan Air one. Really they had me at Air France! I will concede the flight ended up much more expensive than I hoped, my procrastination had left me only with a first class seat remaining but hey, in the end I didn't have to fly Ryan Air, so bonus!

I had been discussing with the tutor that whether delaying this workshop (due to the Wildflowers workshop in Kent being pushed back due to the tardy Spring) might mean I could encounter poppies in France. He didn't seem so sure but as my little plane landed at the tiny, so quiet airport I espied a lone, delicate, papery, red poppy just off the runway. It looked promising!

I was the only person about when I arrived at our gîte, a couple had arrived early and were out exploring and some had yet to materialise. I took the opportunity to photograph my environs, might as well start flexing my shutter finger.

The garden had a pool (way too cold!), a huge lawn, an abundance of roses, Californian poppies, and a variety of pink fluffy flowers I didn't recognise. It’s not too long however, before it starts raining, rather a lot. I could take shelter but instead decided to explore the transformation the rain had made to the garden. I'm on holiday, so of course don't have an umbrella, but I so loved the raindrops on roses (and whiskers on kittens later in the evening coincidentally) so just chose to ignore it. As long as my camera doesn't get too drowned, I figure I can dry off later!


Thursday, 23 May 2013

Day 143 : green and purple?

Luckily some of my clients have unusual flower arrangements in their reception just waiting for me to whip out a magnifying filter and getup close and personal. These ones are alarmingly green with the deepest of deep purple leaves as a counterpoint.

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Day 142 : once bitten...

AL suggested that we hit Richmond after work for a spot of night photography. Her camera has recently returned from the Nikon hospital and she was keen to give it a bit of a workout. I had a hard stop at 10pm for a work conference call, the city never sleeps blah, blah, blah.

There were some possible shots towards the railway bridge especially when a pair of ducks paddled back and forth in the reflection of the golden tendrils of the setting sun. But we were being utterly plagued by midges. When I examined the resultant photographs, all those taken at the edge of the river are just speckled with swarms of annoying midges. Ironically AL's camera has been under doctor’s orders as it had sprung an oil leak and splattered the sensor with black smudges. And on it’s first trip out the same effect can be achieved by insects. Thankfully stepping back slightly from the river to get the tree to frame the shot, the buzzing little midges weren't so interested. Funny we both toted our tripods around all days and never struck them at all. The light wasn't brilliant, clearly the flying creatures were beyond irritating and the lure of a Pimm’s changed our plan. It made a nice change, no matter how little photography was achieved!


Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Day 141 : simply does it

Somedays it’s just a simple striking juxtaposition of pink and blue fuzzy flower heads bobbing in the dappled morning sun that catches your eye.


Monday, 20 May 2013

Day 140 : on the buses

My daily commute has really changed with our office relocation. Previously I'd start the journey from home by bus, opt for a tube all the way, or train and tubes. Now we fall in between two tube stations, neither on my line so after the mainline train it's back on a bus. It’s a bus-train-bus sandwich, I thought that would be a train sandwich but I guess when bread isn't the before and after you have to be more specific.

I thought this would be the worse, a bus sluggishly crawling through the morning traffic stopped constantly to avoid the swarm of commuters streaming across the roads. But actually it’s been much pleasanter than I could have imagined. Thankfully, the buses are more frequent than I anticipated and even though the queue snakes past another two bus stops somehow the double decker bus is capacious enough to squeeze us all onboard.

The buses start their journey in the street parallel to the station. You can either take the escalator under the street, climb the utterly packed steps and walk back the end of the queue or walk the main station steps, dodge the Boris bikes whizzing past, through the first arch and inevitably join the end of the bus queue. I favour the latter. And one determining reason was the beautiful mosaics directing you to the buses or conversely to the trains. They didn't have to be so decorative, but I cannot help but applaud somebody’s vision in deploying the Venus de Milo arising from shell to indicate the route to something so prosaic as a bus stop. It makes my heart soar to see art conquer the boring and the bland, and long may it continue.


Sunday, 19 May 2013

Day 139 : messing about by the river

One of the many advantages of living not only in a beautiful place (and yes I will very much admit that it's appalling how little time I spend enjoying it) but also by a charming stretch of the River Thames, if your photographic and/or artistic bent turns towards boating paraphernalia or ducks, you're spoilt for choice. The barge built for the Queen’s jubilee regatta last year was crafted here. And later it returned for the fitting of the shiny funnel to bear the Olympic torch flame on it’s final journey to the fabulous opening ceremony.

Today there's nothing so grand as barge fit for a queen but they're beavering away in the boathouse and oars are stacked up against the large weathered wooden doors and a few of the overflow are propped up on the side of Richmond Bridge. Nestled close to the pink geraniums, casting their long shadows I thought they'd make an evocative shot.


Saturday, 18 May 2013

Day 138 : baby pink

I think if you're meeting a new born baby girl for the first time and the requisite bright pink cashmere blanket and deep pink bunny have already been supplied, it's only right to bring pink bubbles, pink cake (chocolate and raspberry) and pink lilies. The advantage of the latter is that I get to photograph them. Baby C was resplendent in pink herself, and of course I made an effort to match, so it was all very fitting.



Friday, 17 May 2013

Day 137 : memories of steam travel

Arriving into Victoria I caught sight of the distinctive brown and cream livery. That has to be the British Pullman train, part of the Orient Express family and was worth a walk over to the relevant platform to see more. Just seeing the carriage in all their glory brings back fabulous memories. I have been lucky enough to ride on several VSOE trains; this was my first – from Victoria to Folkstone. On disembarking to the refrains of a lively jazz band, we boarded a coach to travel the Eurotunnel. Then arriving in France we boarded the blue and gold liveried Orient Express which was to be our truly stunning art deco home for the meandering and ever memorable journey over to Venice and back. Later that year, I organised a surprise trip from Manchester to Bath on the burgundy Northern Belle. Though not strictly the same company, the what was named American Orient Express, then the Grandluxe, transported us in some style from Albuquerque to Tacoma in the summer of 2008.

My last indulgence in these hallowed carriages was in early 2010, a late Christmas present of a luxury lunch in a round trip from London being pulled by an enormous steam train in the snow for some people I once knew. It was beautiful day, especially chuffing through the winter wonderland that was the surrounding environs. Sadly I haven’t seen my ‘guests’ since that weekend, so maybe they didn’t enjoy it as much as I did!

I think to complete the set I should peruse the Royal Scotsman itinerary, hmmmm that’s food for thought!


Thursday, 16 May 2013

Day 136 : too much blue?

I really enjoyed cavorting amongst the bluebells today but there were a couple of times I just felt that everything was too blue. Apart from blue skies I don’t think blue features a massive amount in my photography, or even my life for that matter. I think the anti-blue stance stems from years of a navy school uniform that coincided with being a girl guide. Everything I possessed was blue, and I since then I have rebelled and pretty much banished blue. Now there is considerably more pink in my life than blue, but try as I might I couldn’t find a pink bluebell. In one of the bluebell woods I did spot some wood anemones, however. They should have been beautiful little delicate cups, but these were more blousy and overblown! It seemed apt to see if they’d make more of black and white fine art print rather than au natural. I think it was a good call, and it broke up the blue for a bit!


Wildflowers in the wild of Kent

It's curious that I've chosen to indulge in photography as a hobby, a creative outlet and theme for most of my holidays. Curious because many photography workshops or travel arrangements to said photography events involve crack of dawn starts. And I'm just not a morning person at all, I'm more akin to being a creature of the night! I admit that I do love a good sunrise but it is probably no accident that so many of my dawn shoots are from my window, either at home or occasionally from a well positioned hotel room. It’s a major bonus that I can get some lovely shots without strapping on sensible shoes or anything waterproof. Maybe I need to dedicate my life to photographing owls and bats instead These thoughts are entering my head as on my precious day off when my alarm is set for a quarter to five. After one or two hits of the snooze button, I've packed my pink camera bag, donned a flowery dress and pink hiking boots (it seemed apt for today’s escapade), grabbed my tripod (thankfully not pink!) and headed for the station. I need to be in Sittingbourne Kent for 9am and I've realised that I'm being challenged by the various public transport operators to make the journey longer than necessary because of early morning schedules.
I have signed up for workshop photographing wildflowers in the deepest wilds of Kent with We’ve already had to postpone due to the terribly tardy Spring and the lack of flowers. After the protracted journey it really does feel like I'm in the wilds of somewhere. The other photographers have driven nearly as far as I've travelled and we all pile into Robert's jeep to head for our first protected wood.
In the total quiet of the wood, stood in the dappled light of the reluctant sunshine we're surrounded by purple orchids as far as the eye can see. First of all Robert shows us how it's done. We want a single, lone specimen set apart from its friends and conveniently close to our path. For our orchid supermodel we want a slender, upright stem, perfect petals and a background devoid of distractions.
After Robert has fired off a few test shots, we each establish our little station along the path. Tripods erected with legs splayed to ensure proximity to the ground, macro lenses screwed in, or in my case, macro settings applied we are ready for our first shots. The idea is to get this purple doyen of the flower world offset in our frame with a pleasing blurry bokeh of the surrounding greenery in the background.
After a handful of full-length portraits I'm now ready for our close-ups. In my case I prepared by purchasing some close up filters, something I had spotted on Robert's list of useful items to bring today. I had bought two close-ups +4 filters so I could stack then if desired. After my experiments with them at the weekend I knew that with them both attached to my camera I would have to get really, really close to my subject. Which can mean some awkward contortions so that you can see through the viewfinder and be the requisite distance from the subject. And also discovered that using autofocus wasn't always so precise when dealing with such a tiny area of focal point so Robert suggested that I tried manual focusing and after some experimentation I realise that this could definitely be the way forward, I can't believe I've never tried manual focus before but then it all seemed a little alarming. I wasn't aware of how to fine tune the focus (the button labelled ’focus’ doh!) but with a little practice it became easier. That's the beauty of a workshop like this, you've got the time to practice something you haven't done before to perfect a technique that you've always meant to experiment with but just did not have the hours to dedicate to such exploration.
After the full length and the close-ups, I experiment with some groups shots showing more of the environment and then I turned my eyes to the other flora in the area. Once I've got both set of close-up filters on, even a few blades of grass open up a world of possibilities, little tiny buds and insects attract my eye and I'm spinning around my little chosen spot finding more and more things to photograph. And then it's time to pack up head for the next wood and our next wild flower.
In the next darker wood it is the turn of the bluebell. We have a carpet of bluebells, mingled with the verdant green of the bluebell stalks and leaves.
We go for some long shots of the blue haze, some close ups (though I've managed to lose one of my filters somewhere) and then I try making a little “Monet” out of the bluebell wood.
I switched to shutter priority, extended the time a little and tried bowing with the camera. It’s hard to keep the camera steady so the results can be rather mixed. Robert explained that instead of one long movement, which often ended up quite jerky, a gentle nodding of the head would achieve better results. The effect is best when pointing the camera at some distinctly vertical lines already. The trees made the perfect backdrop and the bluebell and their stems the stripes of blue with flashes of green below and the lush green of the new leaves on the trees above. A little quirky, but fun!
After a very fine pub lunch we tackle cowslips. This entails laying face down on a ground sheet close to our chosen yellow victim and experiment with shots of the translucent petals against the background of the gentle green slopes dotted with the white fluffy sheep that seemed curious immobile for the entire time or the occasionally blue, blue sky.
It seems almost too easy to have a little post-lunch siesta but we manage to resist.
After photographing-out the cowslips, perhaps making use of the recumbent posture I had adopted, I turned my thoughts to the blades of grass. I had no shortage of material as we were very much in a grassy pasture dotted with delicate yellow cowslips. But these I think, after careful consideration, are my favourite blades!
Once again we head into the cool shade of a bluebell wood. I wasn’t immediately drawn to the view on entering, there was a bit of jostling for tripod space so I opted instead for the camera underneath the bluebell shooting up to the sky shot. It took a couple of attempts but I rather like the abstract and almost sinister nature of this one.
This wood is just full to the brim of old gnarly trees, fallen trees and decaying tree stumps covered in bluebells.
I started to feel like I was getting a little bit over the colour blue, personally I was hankering for a pink bluebell in the sea of blue but not entirely sure you'd ever find one. However once I spotted an albino bluebell I then concentrated all my efforts on finding the perfect white bloom to finish the day shooting.