Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Lymeward bound!

Going home for Christmas. That's what we generally do. There's songs written about it, movies dramatising the arduous journey. We expect traffic jams, violent weather, and delayed trains, as that's part of the tradition. I would always have way too many bags stuffed with elaborately wrapped presents for home and then a New Year in Cambridge. A massive M&S expedition would be on the horizon on arrival. I would be tasked with menu planning for the wider family party plus the more intimate festive fare, "never knowingly under-catered" was our motto!

My one regret is a lack of photos, from any of these lovely Christmases. But we always were a family of reluctant photographic subjects, so if I'd been attached to my camera as I am now, I'd probably have an artful, soft bokeh shot of the sprouts dusted with bacon slivers, and still not one of us!

A very early reoccurring memory is Christmas Day sat on the floor in front of the "visiting a children's hospital programme" in little Gran's front room (seemingly only used at Christmas), whilst I painstakingly ordered my new felt tip pen collection, yes there is a correct order! Even today I colour code my clients and arrange them in that very same order (my eight-year-old self would be very proud!)

Nowadays there's no home for Christmas for me, so I make other plans to celebrate the holiday. This isn't a cry for sympathy, just a fact. Of course I'm going to hark back to all those special times, the fabulously bedecked tables, the crazy obsession with canapés (that's you M!), the obligatory carols and festive films (D's domain), the first soft pfftt of a Champagne popping, the evocative aroma of M's Chanel No. 5, the patiently opening and admiring each present at midnight Christmas Eve before moving to the next, and the time we had a full Christmas lunch at 3am (and pretended it was normal!) A few ghosts of Christmas past, all treasured memories, surrounded by a train full of people going home for Christmas, I'm allowed a moment of wistfulness. And yes, secretly, I do wish that tomorrow morning I could set cross-legged in front of the TV, reordering my new felt pens!

But tomorrow there won't be any felt tips but I hope a delicious festive breakfast in my lovely hotel. I discovered Hotel Alexandra in Lyme Regis after a sadly slightly washed out photography workshop. Not that we hadn't had a great time and done fantastic photography but the weather really let us down. I stayed in the Alex, with the hatches firmly battened down but when the rain cleared I really enjoyed my time in Lyme. I figured it would make a great spot for one of my Christmas coast hotels but they haven't done a Christmas for thirty years. I checked them out again this year and fantastically they'd decided to lay on a Christmas package.

There's a fabulous warm welcome on arrival and I was delighted to hear of been upgraded to a larger room and more crucially, with a sea view. Immediately I set up my tripod and could try and capture the first seagull before a spot of afternoon tea. They've even provided a little robin ornament to decorate my room.

After a warm scone, the lure of the Jane Austen gardens and the distinctive lampposts had me wander out of the hotel grounds is search of my first sunset shot.

On returning, I added more sequins and headed down for a Christmas Eve dinner. I had remembered that the food is very good here and they don't disappoint. as usual there's the challenge of good photography on the ambient light in a dining room but I tried my best.

Feeling very pleasantly full, I retire to my elegant room and plan further photographic adventures tomorrow, no felt tips though!



Saturday, 20 December 2014

It was a damp and cold night

Every time I plan to visit Kent I'm convinced it's further away than the last time I ventured forth. And I suppose to be fair, Reculver is on the coast, just outside Herne Bay and perhaps further than previous Kent forays. The plan was to converge on a coastal car park for 2pm, armed with waterproof coat and trousers, warm hat, scarf and wellingtons. After I completed my three hour plus epic (bus, train, train, train and taxi) journey I was encouraged to wear all my spare clothes rather than carry them as its too windy on the beach to take extra items. Having eschewed waterproof trousers, I thought I could protect myself from the freezing, damp, gets into your bones sand with a groundsheet. But the aforementioned wind had other ideas. As try as I might to create a small zone to protect my camera bag, set up my tripod and perch upon, a cheeky breeze would whip it up showering new camera with damp sand and ensuring the merest movement would ruche up the edges until you're sat unprotected sand anyway. I may have to give up and succumb to waterproof trousers. Once the photography was over I still had another four hours before arriving home and able to get into dry clothes. Hmmm. Luckily the photography was pretty good. I've been dying to put the new baby Leica through its paces, perhaps a long shutter speed with a big stopper and ND grads. This seemed to be the perfect spot to play with the dramatic skies. But the Leica was like a sulky toddler. It had mysteriously acquired some sort of limiter that prevented a slow shutter speed, you could have as fast as you like but not slow. Robert suggested I reset back to factory settings to see if that would resolve the unknown issue, but I was determined to fathom it out. I had to just ramp up the more impressive ISO and clean up the resultant noise in post. Very infuriating! The train journey back I could see what was wrong but not how to resolve it. The shutter speed menu setting I wanted to alter, was greyed out so after going round in circles, been totally unable to reveal the hidden menu options, I restored back to factory settings. Annoying I don't know how it happened in the first place, or how to fix if it manages to get into a similar state again.
I'd been meaning to get on one of Robert Canis's workshops to Reculver, we'd been hoping to get our own private group together as a successor to Dungeness. However, the perfect storm of Robert's schedule, all our diaries, the tides, the sunset times and the prerequisite of it being a non-school night hadn't occurred, meant it had been impossible to organise. Luckily a spot became available for this Saturday, which I snapped up just for me and I can try to organise it for the group next year.
The ruined tower of Reculver makes a perfect focal point and I was surprised at what we could capture in the inky darkness after the sun had set and we walked to the other side of the tower. The advantage was that we were sheltered from the wind by said tower and in my case, could try and fathom why everything was so dark. Removing the polarising filter from earlier certainty helped that, but with the shutter refusing to consider the new "bulb" setting, it was all about ISO! I think I managed to whittle down 182 photographs down to a reasonable representative 5. Now to pick my next workshop!

Monday, 1 December 2014

Photo slices

I've been a huge go fan of business cards since I first saw them. I have the original rounded corner cards, I also created postcards and then also Christmas cards. But whenever I see a stack of the skinny Moo cards at the London Photo Festival, I wish I had some of those too. On the spur of the moment I reviewed a slew of photographs seeing if they'd work as slivers. And I guess I must have had some good feelings about some of them because I ordered 34 designs and when Moo whisked them to me, I decided I couldn't resist immediately ordering one of their special frames to display 20 of them. I also tweaked some of the colours, especially the B&W ones, that have a tendency to be gloomy if unchecked. And I added one more photo, hot off the press from our new building balcony. The frames are great because as long as you have an even number of portraits and landscapes, you can keep changing the pictures around. The only downside is that the frame seems to attract every teeny iota of fluff and dust floating about, and it's very attractive to fingerprints.

The plan is to stand the photo frame on my desk at work to inspire me to get of the office at a reasonable time, and throw myself into more photography. I know I crave the creative succour I get from immersing myself in what I truly love, I just need to do it more often.



Wednesday, 26 November 2014

New baby!

I wish to announce the arrival of my new baby Leica, weighing in at 405 g. Owner and baby are doing well, very happy and looking forward to their first photographic adventure.

I might be busy for some time.


Sunday, 21 September 2014

Poppies, poppies, poppies, poppies, POPPIES!

Ever since I saw the first pictures of the ceramic poppy art installation at the Tower of London, I was determined to spend some quality time there with my camera. It's an ambitious project, called Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red, the moat around the tower is being filled each day with handmade ceramic poppies assembled and "planted" by volunteers. When complete, on November 11th, each of the 888,246 poppies will represent a British military fatality during WW1.

A year and a half ago our office was very close to the Tower of London and I could walk past there several times a day. I would have loved the opportunity to capture the poppies in every available light in the morning and evening. But we're based over in Bloomsbury now and the Tower of London is not on my normal route. I was lucky to be able to swing by after a visit to a client and circled the path around the tower trying to find the best vantage point for my first poppy photos. Of course it starting raining almost immediately but I was still able to capture some of the splendour of the burgeoning red carpet.

When I'd heard that AL had enquired about volunteering for herself and five friends, I was very keen to be part of the half a dozen early risers. I would have preferred not having to check in at 9am on a Sunday morning but for poppies I was willing to sacrifice sleep and knew it would be worth it. En route I was buoyed by the blue skies and hoped they would linger for our shift of ceramic gardening. I met a lovely woman on the tube who'd volunteered previously and promised I'd have a magnificent day. She also predicted the rain on Saturday would make the ground more amenable to our efforts. Due to the joys of Sunday morning travel I thought I might arrive late, but judiciously jumped in a taxi at Embankment and ended up arriving first, phew!

After checking in we're handed a red volunteer t-shirt and shown an instructional video demonstrating the ceramic poppies being made in the workshop and how we assemble each one in preparation for planting. First we select a rod of a variety of lengths. We feed a small washer, a larger washer and then a spacer, followed by an end cap onto the rod. This is much trickier than it sounds as the washers have to be a tight fit to do their job and even though I'm having to wear gardening gloves to shield me from all that rubberiness, despite the protection my fingers and thumbs are very quickly sore. The end caps are fiendish and all around you can hear the bang bang bang of the volunteers tapping the caps on the wooden assembly tables. When you're on planting duty, you have to remove the end cap (just as tough as placing it on in the first place), impale the rod in the designated location, place a ceramic poppy on top of the washers and persuade the end caps back on again, this didn't get easier. We each undertake a stint of assembly and planting. We rush through our shift quicker than expected and have some quality photography time amongst the poppies. And I was lucky with the blue sky, I just had to get under the tall poppies to capture the poppy red against the blue. I walked around and around shooting over 150 photos from every angle, the poppies against the lake walls of the tower, the red against the blue and the green, the poppies spewing out of the window, the sea of red, juxtaposed against the Shard and the skyline.

Thank you AL for getting us our "red ticket", it was a poignant experience thinking of the significance of each bloom and the tiny part we played in the piece. After 11th November, more volunteers will remove all the pottery flowers and send them back to the workshop for cleaning up and packaging up to send out to those who've pledged for one to support the six service charities that will benefit. I've already got my name down for one, I am sure it will be photographed as well.



Friday, 19 September 2014

Das Wesentliche

Day two of Photokina was more of the same, though I was able to tear myself away from Leica to check out other exhibits. I schlepped over to 3 Legged Thing (they were curiously far away from the other purveyors of tripods) to ask some questions regarding Brian, my new metal friend . En route they were countless opportunities to photograph motorbikes, models, pineapples (?) and Eagles.

Leica's philosophy is "das wesentliche" which I learnt was "the essence", hence the marked tranquillity of the Leica wing compared to their peers. Venture one step out of their sanctuary and you're assailed by pumping beats, flashing lights and gaudiness. Whereas Leica countered this with subtly lit photographs and a concert



Thursday, 18 September 2014

Love at first sight

Now I know how handy my hotel is for the main station and the cathedral (should I be so inclined)

I met my soon-to-be new Leica today...and it met one of my penguins. It was love at first click. I'd pores over the specifications when they were realised in Monday evening and I knew this was going to be something special. But the reality was even better, I love the weight and styling, the solid feel, the simple controls abandoning the A, S, M and P of old and replacing with a more intuitative approach.

First impressions of Photokina 2014. Nikon was very yellow and has cool show bags (might grab one for a Nikon owner) Canon, more red dots than Leica, loud music and female staff wear red bob wigs. Leica, cool, elegant and akin to a photography jewellery shop with shiny things in cabinets and gorgeous goodies at every turn. The Leica Galerie has wall to wall inspirational photography to scrutinise and interesting talks to attend. The Galerie theme this time was music and photography, so photographs of musicians and the general rock and roll lifestyle plus shots taken by musicians (Jamie Cullen, for example) The only downside of the day is that my new baby isn't due to be in my hot little hands until the END of November...sigh!


Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Eat, sleep, shoot, repeat!

As I left Photokina in 2012, I started thinking ahead to my next visit a whole two years later in 2014. It's a massive event, there were about 186K of us who made the pilgrimage from 166 countries two years ago. I was also convinced I should prolong my stay, there's a lot to see in one day so I should consider a two day trip instead. So back in May I started hatching my plans for Photokina 2014, I asked around to see if anyone wanted to join me but when I couldn't get a definite commitment I went ahead with my own plans. The Photokina had some partner hotels recommended but I struggled to find out their whereabouts. I tried to copied their details into the dreaded but useful Tripadvisor but so many weren't even there which didn't fill me with confidence. I ended up with a curious boutique hotel very close to the main station. My flight got me in late and luckily I'd noticed the hotel didn't have a 24 hour reception so made arrangements for my hotel room to be left in a combination lock box on the wall next to the Turkish restaurant. Due to leaving the station by the wrong exit, I was at the back of the station rather than the front, I was tantalisingly close to my hotel but I just couldn't locate it. I did however, pick up a creepy guy who started following me through the deserted back streets common to a typical main city train station. Luckily I espied a hotel with a similar name to mine that had a reception and took refuge within. Creepy guy followed me in hoping to tap us for money and find a place where he could spend that money on drink. I waited as long as I could without stumping up for another room and tackled the station again. I eventually found the front entrance and by luck found my hotel shortly after. I had tried to use Google maps via my earphones but frankly it didn't help, I suspect it made me just look more like a lost tourist and hence a target.But the room was bizarre but fine and I could get some sleep, dream of new cameras before hitting Photokina in the morning.



Friday, 5 September 2014

A juicy peach of a place

After our elegant pit stop we hit the meandering roads en route to the peach farm. I am not entirely sure I knew what to expect…except for perhaps peaches. But it actually transpired that the harvest had been early this year and peaches were now in surprisingly short supply, certainly on the trees. No branches heavy with perfumed fruit, though we did find some apples and luscious grapes whilst exploring the fields and orchards. Luckily they had held back a stash of their velvety peaches as they were certainly the finest peaches I have ever tasted. And they make rather nice subject for a photograph or two too!

Our tutor has family connections on the peach farm and they certainly rolled out the red carpet for us. They were so hospitable and invited us to stay for supper. I had been introducing the joys of miniature photography with Marcel the balloon seller to their lovely son, who was most keen to practise both English and photography. I didn’t have another Marcel to hand, but luckily I had my emergency back-up penguin (naturally) and could donate that to the cause of macro photography. Perhaps a rare occurrence of a penguin going to live on a farm!


After we had admired their photobooks, created from photos of a recent exotic holiday, it was time to take some more of our own. We checked out their impressive vintage tractor collection and fired off some shots of the fruit pickers at work. Then we went investigating the furthermost orchards, hoping for some late fruit, but the nectarines we found weren’t so photogenic. Undeterred we soon started to explore the joys of a dandelion clock, a gold/silver coloured framed sun-bounce reflector and the dying rays of sun.


Firstly we thought we’d experiment with the different effects achieved by flipping the reflector whilst ‘plamping’ the dandelion clock to have the sky in the background. But then we were struck by a desire to destroy every single dandelion seed head in the entire orchard by attempting to capture an action shot of the individual seeds parachuting away after blowing on the said dandelion clock. I cannot recall how many times we attempted to capture this effect in a single shot, in the end I had to resort to burst shooting and stacking multiple exposures in post-processing. Beyond frustrating! But on the bright sight, they won’t be troubled with dandelions for the rest of this year and possibly the next.

After our weed eradication we returned to the farm for the planned supper and join their other guests who had popped by. It transpired to be such an unexpectedly special and unforgettable evening. Only one of our group spoke French, but even without English we could somehow generally follow what was going on. We enjoyed fabulous cured meats courtesy of the twinkly eyes pig farmer (who, I suspect had better English that he let on!), lots of other delicious food and of course finished off with more of those astonishing peaches. What lovely people and a sublime, convivial evening. It was very hard to tear ourselves away to return to our rooms in Curnier for one final time. Tomorrow we have to leave all this and head home.