Photography

Back to Kew

palm house curves
Yesterday I was delighted to attend the 5th Tips From The Top Floor London GTG (’Get ToGether’). I’d been to the first two GTGs in 2006 and it was great to meet up with friends old and new once again. We returned to Kew Gardens for the event, a place brimming with interest for the photographer.

There is the obvious attraction of all the exotic and colourful flora of course, but on top of this there is some wonderful architecture and that tends to inspire my photography more.

The photo at the top of this entry is an abstract shot of The Palm House at Kew. Walking inside there on a cold, wet February day was something of a shock to the system - and the camera’s lens. We were all waiting around for ages for our glass to de-mist.

Once again, I really enjoyed the day and I came home with some photos that I’m pretty pleased with.

palm house guardian

pagoda


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Kirby Hall

lit stairwell
Another lovely January day here so I headed out with my camera this afternoon to try and make the most of it. Kirby Hall in Northamptonshire was the target. It’s a place I’ve visited many times over the years, but I always enjoy myself there with my camera. I tend to feel particularly inspired around old buildings. As a member of English Heritage I get in for free, and it’s not a long journey, about 25 miles from home.

Although I wasn’t conscious of it during the visit, it seems that I was concentrating on light shining through things just about the whole time I was there. I guess the sun was ideal for that today, low in the sky and bright. The shot at the top of this entry was taken on the ‘Grand Staircase’, where I spent several minutes playing with different compositions. I think this shot was my favourite of the day. I loved the way that each pane of glass in the windows had a slightly different effect on the light shining through them, and in this case I loved the way that the patches of light wrapped around a corner.

Some of my other shots from today will show what I mean about concentrating on light shining through things.

grand hall

missing roof missing windows

through the doorway


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Mr Blue Sky

Sunday morning started out well. I got out of bed and pulling my jeans on, noticed that the belt wanted to move on another notch! Woohoo, that’s now three notches further in than I was before I started doing the walking commute.

The next thing I noticed was that it was (gasp!) a sunny day! I can’t remember the last time we had one of those on a weekend. I had to get out somewhere with my camera - quickly! Getting my gear together I headed to Leicester’s Welford Road Cemetery - well, where else to go on a nice sunny day like this?

The decision was partially influenced by having recently bumped into an old friend, electronically at least - not seen them for several years and before last week I hadn’t heard from them in as long. I stumbled into them on Flickr and found that they had taken an almost identical shot to one of mine at Welford Road Cemetery. The world can be such a small place! I had also told myself to ‘come back soon’ during my last visit.
I was hoping that with a few more leaves off the trees a bit more light might fall where I wanted it.

I had great fun tramping around this magnificent Victorian sepulchral landscape for about a couple of hours. The sun stayed around and I found myself concentrating on carvings of angels. There were a couple that particularly captivated me during my last visit so I returned to give them both a slightly different treatment to last time.

With the first I decided to pull out my lovely Sigma 10-20mm lens. Holding the camera as close as I could to the ground and at arms length I managed to shoot the following image (and several other similar ones).

 

angel from the floor

I do love this lens. Great value for money and it can get you some incredible results. It’s the only ‘digital only’ lens I’ve bought. The focal range of 10-20mm becomes 16-32mm when used with my Canon 20D (1.6x effective focal length magnification) and the shot above was taken at the 16mm effective focal length end of the range. Makes me want to get a fish eye!

Although this lens is digital only, it does actually use the Canon EF mounting rather than the EFS, so you can fit it to a full frame camera - just expect some pretty heavy vignetting!

The second statue that had really caught my eye last time was another female figure, looking all romantically mournful as she clung tight to a cross. This time around, with some better light, I was able to get right in on her face and really pick out some details. I love the weathered texture on this statue.

 

weathered and mournful

Shot using a Sigma lens again, but this time the 70-300mm APO, another good investment that I made not long after I got the camera.

Oh, and today I have mostly been listening to Arctic Monkeys, following a recommendation from a friend on Friday night. We had this conversation during which I realised that I have remarkably little music from this century in my collection. Something that needs rectifying, especially now I’m staring down the barrel at the big 4 - 0 later in the year!

Possibly not the right music to listen to whilst trying to process photos taken at a cemetery, a bit too upbeat for that, but it fitted with my mood. A good day!

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Oh, it’s 2007?

weathered sandstone 2

The Christmas and New Year period passed without me posting here. Well, it was full of all the things that you normally do at that time of year. I did have a week or so off from work, but the weather was dismal and the only places I could think of to visit were closed.

So, I’ve been spending quite a bit of time reading (H.G. Wells) listening to music (Genesis, Nick Drake) and processing photos I took a while ago.

I’m into my second week back at work now though - just don’t know where the time has gone to. And speaking of work, my resolve seems to have crumbled a bit on the walking commute front. I’m blaming the Christmas break myself. After a week of comfort and staying in bed as late as I liked (within reason) it has just seemed like such hard work to get out of bed and go walk. I only did 2 days out of 4 working days last week and this morning I woke up and just couldn’t shift myself. So, got to get back into a routine starting tomorrow. One good thing, on the days I did walk last week I felt like it was easier than ever. It’s not putting the effort in which is a problem for me with this - it’s dragging myself out of bed early enough to be able to walk 4.5 miles in time for work.

We did get out to Kenilworth Castle yesterday. It was dismal weather again, and it’s somewhere I’ve visited a lot, but it’s always good to be around old stone! I did take a few photos, and whilst nothing was spectacular (very dull and flat light) then I enjoyed taking them. The photo at the top of this posting was taken during the visit. The castle has some of the most wonderfully eroded sandstone I’ve seen.


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Bryter Layter - Later…

steve parker 3 bw

I’ve processed a few more photos from the Bryter Layter gig on Wednesday night and uploaded them to my Flickr account. I was quite pleased with the way the one above of Steve turned out - grainy and moody (apart from that tinsel).


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Bryter Layter

steve parker 2

Last night (Wednesday 20th December 2006) saw me back at my favourite local music venue, The Musician on Clyde Street, to see Bryter Layter. My old friend Kate Easton plays viola and sings in the band and for some odd reason I’d never seen them play, despite them having performed their ‘farewell concert’ a couple of years ago.

Bryter Layter perform a selection of Nick Drake (and more info here and here - just for starters) covers and their own compositions. The band consists of Steve Parker (voice/guitar), Kate Easton (voice/viola), Skatz (voice/guitar), Neil Segrott (wicked bass guitar), Nikki Cartwright (violin) and Andy Fitzsimons (percussion).

It was a great night, particularly as I’ve come to love the music of Nick Drake and Bryter Layter do such a good job of their renditions. Parker’s vocals seem perfect for the job, the guitar work is mind boggling to somebody like me who if given a guitar wouldn’t be able to do much more with it than chop it up for firewood. The ’string section’ supplements the guitars without being overbearing, which I think is all important with music as intimate as this. The same goes for the bass and percussion.

I took my camera along and fired off a few shots. I’ve yet to spend any proper time in processing them, just a quick crop and sharpen so far. I do find the lighting conditions at The Musician to be tricky for photography. I’d joked to Kate before the gig, asking if they could turn the lights up a bit. I stress I was joking - obviously it’s more important for the lighting to convey the correct atmosphere to the audience than to make life easier for an amateur snapper like me. Very low light, I was into ISO 3200 for pretty much all of the gig, even at f1.8 with my lovely little Canon 50mm. I did put a longer lens on with a smaller maximum aperture and I think it was worth it. I had the shutter speed way too low for the focal length I was using, but managed to get some acceptable close-ups all the same.

steve parker 1

kate easton 2

I just hate ‘noise’ (well, actually ‘noise’ in the way of grain can enhance a photo, but I like to decide when to add it for myself) - and shooting at ISO 3200 (got away with 1600 for a few shots) generates a lot of sensor noise. I might try a few black and white conversions, this can help to disguise quite a lot of the noise in shots like this. I’ve also played around with ‘Neat Image‘, but I always find it hard to decide between the noise or the smoothing effect that noise reduction software introduces.

I really enjoyed the music, even if I felt my photography didn’t come up to the mark (hey, I just need a faster long lens). It was a shame I had to leave before their second set, but there was work in the morning and I have to get up a bit earlier now that I’m walking to and from the office. I can only hope that at some point Bryter Layter will get together for another ‘farewell concert’ and that I’ll be able sit and enjoy the whole show.


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Remembrance Sunday

Okay, I’m a day late posting this!

Yesterday morning I decided to head down to Leicester’s Welford Road Cemetery with my camera. Now, I know some of you may think that’s an odd thing to do, but this isn’t just any old cemetery you see. Welford Road Cemetery was only the third of the great municipal cemeteries to open in the country. It has been described as ‘The Highgate of the Midlands’. There are lots of wonderful Victorian ‘gothicesque’ monuments and like most places of this kind, it’s a little green haven of peace and quiet in the middle of the city.

The main reason for my visit was to try and shoot some of those wonderful Victorian monuments. I’d walked around the place several times before although I hadn’t visited for quite a few years. I guess my memory was jogged as I now walk by here twice a day (I used to drive by, not quite the same) and I enjoy the little stretch of road with relatively fresh air and the smell of forestry.

Over recent years quite a bit of restoration work has been performed at the cemetery. The old wooden fence has been replaced by metal railings, all of the memorials have been checked for safety and many have been worked on, or are being worked on to restore the ravages of vandalism and time.

The site where the chapels used to stand (demolished in 1958) has been marked out with a series of 100 plaques which will in time be used to give details of 100 of the most interesting burials located within the cemetery.

In all, around one million pounds has been spent on the renovation work so far.

So, I started walking around and firing off shots like the one below of some of the wonderful Victorian masonry. I know some people will find this a little macabre, or just plain not to their taste. Others might question my motives in taking photographs of graves. I have to say that what went through my mind as I fired off shot after shot was what would the Victorians who commissioned these grandiose memorials think about images of these being visible to millions of people all over the world?

And as I wondered around the avenues I noticed a couple of things. Firstly, the rich and powerful still dominate even after death. Many of the ‘prime locations’ were taken up with enormous edifices that must have cost a small fortune to install. Secondly I started seeing small crosses bearing poppies on the graves of war dead.

Now I was aware that it was Remembrance Sunday, but I’d never seen this before. I found it quite touching to see these crosses with names, dates and details all meticulously and neatly hand written on them. It also drew my attention to just how many burials there were in this cemetery from the World Wars of the 20th century.

This seemed a little odd to me at first. After all, here I was in Leicester - far away from the battle fields of continental Europe. And yet here were soldiers who had fallen at the Battle of the Somme, and there were some who had died well after hostilities had ended. Then I remembered that Leicester had been home to a military hospital, indeed it had stood very close to the cemetery where the buildings of Leicester University now are. I’m sure that is the explanation for many of the graves I saw - these were the wounded who were returned home and sadly did not make it.

I visited the World War One Memorial within the cemetery. I shot a few photos of all the poppies (see image at start of this posting) and just stood and reflected in silence on the ages I was seeing on all these little crosses. 18 years of age, 22 years old, 37, 19… All of them younger than me when they were killed, some of them half my age or less. Sobering to say the least.

Near the end of my visit I dropped into the new ‘visitor centre’ and chatted with the warden there. He told me that this year they had put out over 500 of these little crosses all over the cemetery, a task that must have taken a considerable effort. And not only in the physical distribution of them all, but also in the research of all of the details for each casualty. Now, after Remembrance Sunday they will all be collected in again and the research will continue for more details of the war dead buried here. It seems like an enormous task.


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Botanic Gardens

Today was very likely the last chance I’ll have to visit Leicester Botanic Gardens this year. The gardens are about a mile from home and over the years have become a favourite place to walk, think, and take some photos!

For the last several years Leicester University (who own and maintain the gardens) have put on a display of sculptures in the gardens. These have proved to be great subjects for my photography.

I can lose myself in wandering between the sculptures, looking for interesting angles to take photos from. The light today was very harsh, it was an uncommonly nice day for September.

I really enjoyed taking this shot of a sculpture of a shark fisherman. I love taking wide angle shots, and I enjoy trying out odd perspectives. With this shot my camera was right on the ground, no way I could look through the viewfinder. So I just released the shutter and hoped. It didn’t come out too badly.

I’ll try to get back down there again next weekend, and then my next chance probably won’t be until next year. The gardens are only open during hours I’m at work during the winter.

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More Photo Fiddling

I’m still playing around with the photos I took at the gig on Friday night. My previous black and white conversions were lacking in contrast, so I upped that a bit.

Andy Griffiths and his band were also playing on Friday. I snapped this one from the side of the stage. Bloomin’ microphone stands getting in the way all over the place, but I’m pretty happy with the result.

Here Andy Griffiths can be seen (framed in angle of yet another mic stand) joining The Kate Easton Band for part of their set.

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Before Too Long

The evening of Friday 2nd June 2006 saw me down at The Musician in Leicester to attend the album launch of ‘Before Too Long’ by my friend, Kate Easton. It has been a long road to getting this CD out for Kate and I hadn’t seen her for getting on for a year I guess. I asked her for permission to take some photos during her set and she was very generous in permitting me to click away to my heart’s content. This was the first time I’d made an attempt at ‘concert photography’ and I was soon learning just how tricky
it could be. Not only do you have to deal with low light conditions, but there’s all kinds of clutter on the stage which ‘get in the way’ of the photographer - mic stands, microphones, monitors… And then you’re trying to capture a moment whilst not getting in the way of everyone else who’s come to enjoy the music. Did I mention low light? Okay, I was shooting with my Canon 20D set to ISO 3200 and with my 50mm f1.8 lens opened as wide as it can go. With that combination I was able to get shutter speeds ranging
between 1/60th of a second and 1/100th of a second. My 50mm lens when used with the 1.6 sensor size multiplication factor of the 20D gives an effective focal length of 80mm, so 1/60th was possible if I held very steady, but 1/100th was just fine.

I fired off quite a few from near the stage. Then realising that I was in need of another cold drink I headed towards the bar… only to find myself face to face with a friend I’d not seen for well… must be 10 years?! We’d not had any way of getting in touch with each other and I had no idea they were still in the Leicester area. After a frantic few minutes ‘catching up’ I endeavoured to return to the stage to fire off a few more shots, only to find that I had returned right at the end of the last song.

And how was Kate’s new album, ‘Before Too Long’? Bloody fantastic. I’m loving it to bits. Of the ten tracks on the CD, 6 are Kate’s own compositions. It’s hard to pin down favourites, they’re all so good, but if I had to single some out they would be ‘In Your Garden’, ‘Good Day’ and the title track, ‘Before Too Long’. The covers on here include a great rendition of ‘Loving You’ and ‘Which Will’ by Nick Drake. Kate does have a web presence on MySpace, although there’s
not a lot there yet. Not sure if she’ll be developing this in the future or not, but I thought I might as well link to it. She’s playing The Musician again on June 28th, so if you’re interested in some good music at a great venue then go take a look at their web site here.

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