Instagram

For a few months I have been posting new pictures to Instagram and odd videos on YouTube. Just don’t take this as evidence of any burgeoning social media strategy, let alone of any ambition to be an “influencer”, or whatever. It’s just proof that I am still alive, if anyone is wondering.

Daily protest

Every evening the SODEM pro-EU protesters go to the gates outside the Houses of Parliament and tell MPs what to do with Brexit.

This is with the Fuji X-T2, shot at 4K, and yes, I know I overcooked the sound. As I have been doing more video, I acquired a Rode VideoMic microphone last week and this was its first outing. In this case though, I don’t think the blown out sound (not sure what the tech term may be!) seems too wrong.

Yellow vests in Whitehall

On Saturday I was in central London just as a protest march approached the Cenotaph in Whitehall. It turned out to be a “yellow vest” protest mixing chants about Lee Rigby (the soldier murdered in Woolwich by Islamist thugs), prosecution of soldiers for alleged crimes, and in favour of Brexit. Once you’ve got the idea, I would recommend turning the sound right down – the singing doesn’t get any more musical!

The British way

This morning I was already recording some close-up clips of flags fluttering in the sunshine (for use in other videos) when the Brexiter started shouting. He then recognised the elderly former Conservative MP John Gummer and started ranting at him – until a passerby intervened…..

It’s only a short clip and at the time I was so wrapped up in the comical Brexit supporter. But since when did shouting at frail old men belong in British politics?

Guy Verhofstadt visits SODEM

On Friday May 10, 2019 the former Belgian PM and now head of the EU Parliament’s Brexit committee Guy Verhofstadt was in London to help kick off the Liberals’ campaign for the EU elections. Hold on a second, I thought the EU was supposed to be undemocratic? Anyway, as part of his trip, he arranged to meet Steve “Mr Stop Brexit” Bray and the SODEM protesters who campaign for the UK to remain in the EU.

As before, it’s a combination of Fuji X-T2 stills processed in Lightroom, and video shot on an iPhone8, all assembled in Premiere Pro.

Extinction Rebellion

I’ve just added a couple of new collections of pictures to the site – one on the Brexit protests and another on Extinction Rebellion.

A year ago I remember telling a German friend how I have never really felt at home in London, even after 30+ years and how I’ve always thought that in 5 years’ time I would be elsewhere. I’m a European first, from Northern England, and I always react if anyone refers to me as a Londoner. My friend loves her adopted city in the Rhineland and she was surprised and saddened by my comment, as was I, and it was one of those conversations that has just stuck in my mind. Surely I should find something to like?

Unconnected to that conversation, shortly afterwards I began taking long daily walks, not missing a single day for over a year. I mention this because part of the motivation has been how much I have enjoyed rediscovering the city. Sometimes I stay close to home in Dulwich and have learnt to appreciate nearby Brockwell Park or I explore elsewhere in London such as the paths along the river towards the Isle of Dogs or Greenwich, places I used to go when I first started taking pictures. Another aspect of this re-acquaintance with London is the interesting stuff that goes on in this huge and varied city. I feel that’s why I am doing more “street” photography, and it also explains my project on the Brexit protests.

So photographing April’s 10-day-long Extinction Rebellion protests was interesting and was the good exercise that I need. They blocked roads and bridges, preventing buses from south London reaching the centre, so they certainly stretched my daily walking routine. 16 km on a single day was an exception though – and it’s really not the kind of thing Londoners do.

The videos were just shots on the iPhone, normally handheld but using a sturdy Gorillapod 5K for the timelapse.

Musical Monday

Almost three years after making the country an international laughing stock, the Brexiters still don’t agree what Brexit means and Theresa May has failed to force through her “Brexit means Brexit” on March 29.

So protesters remain outside Parliament, Brexiters alleging betrayal and treason, Remainers more hopeful that Brexit can be reversed. It’s busier when there is a major vote or on Wednesdays when Theresa May attends Prime Minister’s Questions, and recently Mondays have become more lively as regional Remain groups swell the numbers for “Musical Monday”.

As before, this is a combination of hand held iPhone 8 video and Fuji X-T2 stills. One photo shows Jacob Rees-Mogg arriving at Parliament in a taxi, protesters on either side, and gives an interesting but misleading idea of the scale of the demonstrations. I am sure I’ll miss this when it’s all over.

1640s timelapse

After experimenting with the iPhone’s standard timelapse feature at the Brexit and Extinction Rebellion protests here in London, I thought it might suit a historical re-enactment that I was going to over the Easter weekend. The phone was left on the tripod while I carried on photographing, and the files were automatically imported into Lightroom Mobile and synced to my computer.

Though I am able to assemble the movie in PremierePro, it’s not very high tech. And it is fun.

Another day in Brexistan

The scenes outside Parliament continue to fascinate me, and on a nice day it’s too tempting to continue my daily walk round Dulwich and carry on the 4-5km into central London, or I’ll just catch the bus up to Westminster and spend an hour or two there. This was a Wednesday, usually more busy thanks to Prime Minister’s Questions, but it was particularly significant as Theresa May was due to travel to Brussels later that day to request another delay to the UK’s departure date.

The movie is a combination of iPhone video and stills taken on my Fuji X-T2. Some video is 4k 60fps, but the timelapses were shot with the phone on a Jobo Gorrilapod which fits nicely into my small “walkabout” rucksack. It was assembled in Premiere Pro which I am slowly feeling more confident using. It still takes me hours to put something together, and there are only so many times you can listen to some of these demonstrators’ voices….

Brexistani Times

The video does have a few rough edges, but I hope it gives a good impression of the scenes outside Parliament every day. It’s a combination of stills taken on my Fuji X-T2 and video from my iPhone.

Ploughing on….

Shire horses ploughing ground to make a wildflower meadow in Brockwell Park, South London

One morning last week I got home from a brisk walk around Dulwich, pleased to have done my daily exercise and ready to spend the rest of the day working.

But I was straight back out of the door soon after turning on the computer and seeing that a local pub had tweeted a video clip of Shire horses ploughing in the park. It’s not something that happens often in the 21st century, certainly not 4-5 km from the centre of our capital city, so the shoes were back on and 20 minutes later I was in Brockwell Park.

It turned out to be a perfect afternoon with clouds coming right out of a John Constable landscape. The horses belong to Operation Centaur and were breaking up ground that’s going to sown with wild flowers.

This is pretty-well straight out of the camera – just cropped a little. Weak pun intended.

 

 

2017 has been and gone

I knew I was struggling to keep the blog going, but I just realized that I hadn’t made a single “real” post in the whole of 2017! I am still alive, I do tweet, quite often, I still help people in forums, occasionally exchange harsh words too, and Facebook a little too, which I am told is a verb. But for some reason, I’m just not as communicative as I used to be!

Brooklands

I did in fact have a long post lined up, but just never got round to publishing it. It was about the Fuji X-T2 which I did get in September 2016, days after they released it, and it was going to be “3 months with the X-T2”, then it got pushed back to 6 months, then a year, and I still intend to unleash it on the world!

In short, the X-T2 wasn’t content to remain as a second camera to my Nikon D800 and pushed it aside for almost all types of photography. Mid way through 2017 I added the 100-400mm lens to my kit bag and while I still have my Nikon I barely paid any attention to its replacement the D850. I’m happy with the switch, if that is what it is, and all three of my favourite images from 2017 were shot on the X-T2.

The first picture here isn’t perfectly-sharp but I love the subject and the expression of the boy in the passenger seat. It reflects a bit of a change in my photography as I’ve slowly been getting into vintage motorsport since encountering the Vintage Sports Car Club 5-6 years ago in the Lake District. I’d only been to a few events, but in 2017 I “went for it”. This was at the old Brooklands circuit and I had no idea what this car was. Its shape is freakish, and the engine noise is like no car that I’ve ever heard. But in fact it it quite well known, a one-off special built in 1911 by FIAT to beat the land speed record, and it’s powered by an aircraft engine. Just watch this video if you want to know why it is named “The Beast of Turin”.

HastingsMy second favourite was taken in late October at the annual re-enactment of the Battle of Hastings. My re-enactment photography began in a small way 12 years ago when I had nothing to do one weekend and went to an event nearby. But as someone who studied history at university and who still reads academic works on the subject, I imagine it was always likely to attract my interest. I am still not a re-enactor and nothing would make me want to dress up and go into battle, yet as a photographic subject I still find it presents interesting challenges and enjoyment.

I often get my best shows away from the battle itself, either before when they’re lining up before entering the battlefield, or afterwards when they’re sweaty and knackered. So this picture was taken when the Norman army was beginning to assemble, and for a moment this French re-enactor gave me a look of such hostility. I don’t know whether he was playing up for me or was just annoyed at the big lens – this was on the 100-400 – being pointed in his face, but it’s the Norman version of Millwall’s “No-one likes us, we don’t care”.

Castle Crag
But my favourite picture of 2017 is, not surprisingly, from the Lake District. I was there a lot again – thanks to my brother and his wife – and got two particularly-great weeks in mid November.

This shot was taken using the 55-200mm late one afternoon from a spot just over Seatoller in Borrowdale. It’s not a scene I had ever noticed before but at that time of year the light falls beautifully along the line of the fells.

As so often with my longer-lens landscapes, I had been up there to photograph a different scene – Castle Crag itself. But isn’t that the beauty of photography? Planning is great, but reacting and improvising is so much more rewarding.

 

New Lightroom plugin – X-LR

X-LR is released

#2016top3 3/3 – Grange Crags

Grange CragsThe third of my #2016top3 favourite images, a birch and bracken on Grange Crags, has in fact already been on the blog.

The photo was taken in mid January, and what I like so much is that the scene was completely different when I first noticed its potential but developed exactly how I imagined it.

I had gone to Grange Crags that afternoon only thinking of taking a wide angle view in the opposite direction, a sunset across Derwentwater to Skiddaw. But as I waited I saw a line of birches in the sun that contrasted against the trees in the shadow of Grange Fell. There was one birch that I could isolate – I like compositions involving negative space – though I didn’t like how all the bracken in the foreground was in bright sunlight. But I spotted how I was in the shade and the shadow was probably going to move up the slope. From then on it was a matter of waiting and hoping the shadow would continue in that direction, nicely parallel to the slope.

I liked the photo so much that I posted about it earlier in the year, but I never got round to posting the photograph I had actually intended to take that afternoon. So here it is too, taken almost an hour after the picture of the birch.

Grange Crags

Sunset over Skiddaw and Derwentwater from Grange Crags

 

#2016top3 2/3 – Honister Pass

You’re looking up the Honister Pass from the Buttermere side, and the lights at the top belong to the quarry.

It’s a scene I’ve shot in daytime with the light coming down the valley and picking out the curves of the wet road, but the idea of shooting it at night has been in the back of my mind for a while. Usually in the evenings I just want to eat, read, review the day’s pictures, nip to the pub. In November though it was getting dark well before pub time and it was also very mild for the time of year, so this was an ideal opportunity to get the shot.

The first attempt didn’t turn out too well. The light trails were soft, and I’m unsure if it was because a tripod leg may have been slightly loose or because I was finding it too dark to focus with the Fuji. But helped me work out the rough exposure time – and prepare for long waits between cars.

It’s a combination of two 75 second exposures with my Nikon D800. I had already been waiting half an hour before a car appeared. It headed up the valley and then stopped half way, so that was the end of the first exposure. Almost immediately another car started coming down and this second exposure stopped just before the white headlight trails reached the red ones left by the first car’s rear lights. I did take another exposure which recorded the second car as it came all the way down, but I prefer them this way.

#2016top3 1/3 Rainbows

Double rainbow over Derwentwater from Ashness Jetty

In the last few days there’s been a Twitter hashtag going round, #2016top3, for your favourite 3 landscapes of the year, and as I had joined in I thought it was a good excuse to get myself back into posting to this blog.

I like to get up to Borrowdale early each November. It can be risky, and last year I got one day of sun and mist followed by a week of solid rain. Or you can be too late and a big storm has blown away all the leaves. But this time I really hit “peak Autumn”. The landscape was full of autumnal colour, and mist / fog / sun / snow had been perfect conditions for photography, but this picture came on the one day when it was raining and I was just taking it easy.

That morning during a break in the rain I spent an hour or so playing around with close-ups of the carpet of red maple leaves in the back garden. Sun kept breaking through, and I remember noticing a rainbow over Castle Crag, but it soon vanished and I would have been perfectly satisfied if those red leaves had been all I’d photographed that day. So when I set off for Keswick I wasn’t thinking of rainbows – it just seemed a good time to nip into Booths supermarket.

Nothing in particular made me stop as I passed Ashness jetty, just the thought that the day was short, but the rainbow appeared the very moment I went down the steps. The picture was taken on my Fuji X-T2 (I’m preparing a hands on review) and was only gently adjusted in Lightroom. At the time I was awestruck by the brightness of “the rainbow” and I didn’t even notice the second one. It just left me thinking that with photography sometimes it’s inspiration that comes looking for you.

Fuji XT-2 – an easy camera to like

X-T2_BK_18-55mm_FrontLeft_White-590x480I can’t be the only photographer whose head has been turned by the new Fuji XT-2, and this week I had a great chance to play with one at Fixation in Vauxhall. So if anyone else is wobbling or wondering – and if anyone still reads this blog – I thought I’d jot down my impressions.

Bear in mind that I’m not very familiar with Fuji bodies or indeed with electronic viewfinders (EVF), and my most recent hands-on experience of either was after the XT-1’s release. I was also limited to handling the camera and wasn’t let loose to use it in practice!

  • In the hand
    • Robust feel and it wasn’t too small in my big hands.
    • I didn’t particularly like the grip which felt angular and big – adding 50% to the body’s height.
    • I much preferred holding the camera without the grip and it felt very comfortable with the 18-55mm lens.
  • I was a little concerned about its heavy battery usage
    • This would be mitigated by getting the grip with its two extra batteries.
    • As 4K video is an attraction of the camera, I can understand why one would get the grip.
  • Electronic viewfinder
    • The updating speed made it barely noticeable – very impressive compared to when I last played with an EVF.
    • I liked how the EVF showed the effect of changing aperture, shutter speed or ISO. I imagine that comment is no surprise, if you’ve used an EVF much more than I have, but I felt myself thinking about how I would use it in practice.
  • Key controls
    • Liked the dials for shutter speed and ISO
    • Really liked the aperture ring on the lens – that takes me back!
    • Quickly got used to changing aperture, shutter speed or ISO without taking my eye from the viewfinder
    • Enjoyed the focus points – quickly figured it out
    • Liked the one click zoom in for critical focus
  • I liked the 3-way articulated LCD and felt it was sufficient for holding the camera high, low, or more importantly at waist level for covert photographs or for simply maintaining eye contact
  • No built-in flash – on the other hand, I’m an available light photographer
Sept 12th Update: Uh oh

Sept 12th Update: Uh oh

So will I get one?

Not sure, might do, but the doubt has little to do with the XT-2, which I immediately liked very much.

It’s really that I’ve no great desire to move from Nikon or change my D800, and I am unsure if I really want to carry a second camera body. It’s handy when you need different focal lengths, and I did feel that it wouldn’t be hard to use the Fuji and Nikon at the same event. Unlike using different bodies from the same camera maker, these two would be so different that I would never be confused. The other worry is if I would be able to limit myself to just an XT-2 and a single lens.

We’ll see.

Cumbria’s open for business

Grange Crags

Sunset in Borrowdale from Grange Crags

After my November trip to the Lake District, the weather seemed to get worse by the day. Shortly afterwards, my brother and his family were almost  cut off by flooding, and that was before the really serious rainfall arrived at the start of December.

Still, I was up there again in January. So early in the year, it was hard to gauge the effect on visitors, but don’t be deterred by what you may have seen on TV.

The closure of the main A591 between Keswick and Grasmere is both spectacular and devastating, and from a visitor’s viewpoint it means you can’t easily get between the Southern/Central Lakes and those in the North. So you choose one side or the other.

At a more mundane level, the damage is more subtle and inconvenient than you may think. So for instance, one location above Lodore Falls was unreachable because the footbridge was in a dangerous state, or Watendlath Bridge is spoiled by scaffolding and a temporary crossing. The flooding hit both of Keswick’s supermarkets, but as I say, that is inconvenient to the visitor and is little trouble compared to those faced by the poor people whose houses were flooded. That area of Keswick is dark at night, and some debris is piled up, but most places are open and they deserve support – so have that third pint you weren’t going to order!

This picture was taken on my second day when I was looking in the other direction and hoping for a sunset to catch the snow on Skiddaw. Looking around, I had noticed a line of birches in full sunlight and they contrasted nicely with those on the steep Grange Fell behind, but it was only once I saw how the shadow was moving up the slope that I started shooting pictures.

If I had been in any doubt about a trip in January, it was gone in those moments. And if you’re thinking of a trip, the Lakes are open for business. The fells haven’t been washed away, and the lakes are certainly not running dry.

 

 

Bad Trip on Derwentwater

splash screen

The ugliest Photoshop splash screen ever?

After the recent terrible flooding in the Lake District, you can see the region at its best or, thanks to CGI, at even more than its best in the new Star Wars which uses Thirlmere, Derwentwater and Watendlath for scenery. Well spotted, Colin Bell.

Unfortunately, part of Derwentwater is also used for the splash screen of Photoshop’s latest version which includes a view looking along the Keswick landing stages. You can see some jetty poles, and Hope Park and Skiddaw are in the background on the right (see location on map).

Without getting too deep, splash screens set one’s mood and perhaps one’s aspirations, and in the past Photoshop has featured feathers or raindrops or exploding crystals or other images that conveyed the amazing power of this application. This one, apart from desecrating a location I know well, seems to set the bar at the much lower level of Instagram or Snapseed? It must be the ugliest Photoshop splash screen ever, don’t you think?

It’s a shame because, for the record as they say, I happen to like the new features in Photoshop such as the new Welcome panel, Generator, and Libraries. These cloud-enabled features are now coming together and amounting to something that’s more than the sum of their parts. But when anyone asks me what’s new in this version, the first thing that comes to mind is this horrid splash screen.

Using the splash screen to showcase users’ creativity isn’t a bad idea, and in my opinion Lightroom 6.3’s current “blue face” is a great choice, for example. But isn’t it obvious that sometimes they are bound to choose an image that provokes negative reactions in some users? After all, if you let me decorate your office, it would be no surprise if sometimes you saw little virtue in my choice and would want to tear it off the wall. If you’re going to insert someone else’s idea of art into my daily experience, you’ve got to let me cover it up. if I choose.

Sadly unlike the office wall there is no simple way – and I have looked hard – for us to switch off Photoshop’s splash screen, revert to a generic blue rectangle, or substitute our own work – which you can do in Lightroom. While I’ve no doubt some people may like the image and find their creative juices rising like the Greta or Eden rivers, for the next 6 months every time I go into Photoshop I’m going to be confronted with this Bad Trip on Derwentwater, or whatever it’s called. You know, I’d rather see pictures of the floods.

Dog walkers

Rosthwaite

Dog walker crosses fields with dry stone walls on foggy morning in Rosthwaite, Borrowdale

Sometimes you just don’t mind people wandering into your landscape, do you?

I’m back from another trip to the Lake District. It was quite possibly the wettest two weeks I’ve ever experienced there, yet it had begun with a couple of glorious foggy days like you see in this photo. That morning I went out just as the fog was clearing and had only walked a few metres from the house when a neighbour suddenly appeared and walked into the perfect spot for me.

The rain began the next day, and it continued until even local people were complaining and sheep and cattle were lining up for the ark. There’s only one road through Borrowdale and the lake was pretty high, and in the following days some rivers burst and a few key roads were flooded. It was the start of a difficult time for the region.

For a photographer rain can be such a downer too, but I often think of a friend’s mantra about there being “no such thing as bad weather, just a bad attitude”, and one of my own sayings is that when something gets in your way, it’s probably just inviting you to photograph it. Without being very profound, such thoughts can just nudge the photographer into creative action when you might be tempted to cut a trip short or remain indoors. I have good rain wear and a ThinkTank cover for my camera, so if it wasn’t going to stop raining it would have to be the rain that I would go out to photograph.

And once you are out there, the “bad” weather does have the very great virtue of deterring most walkers and all but the most determined photographers. The landscapes are different, lakeside trees are suddenly in the water, fences cross flooded fields, the waterfalls are nice and full, and you have it all to yourself. When you do encounter another photographer you usually exchange wry smiles, maybe stop for a chat and hear what other locations are like.

But it seems a little different when you run into a photo workshop, don’t you think? You’re outnumbered, and it’s not hard to imagine why the workshop leader, if that’s what they are called, might not appreciate you chatting to his clients. It’s awkward enough when it’s dry, but I had been all alone at an almost-submerged Ashness Jetty when a one-to-one workshop arrived, and it was an encounter that reminded me of how you can feel in London when “professional dog walkers” use a public park to exercise their clients’ pets. Just as they can turn a space that’s supposed to be for everyone into their business place, on this occasion the water level left very little space for tripods, and yet I still felt it was me who was in their way, not them intruding into my scene. A single dog walker by himself is often welcome, of course.