Despite being here for three months now, and having thought for some time that Newark is a place with a lot of potential photographically, I’d never actually gone out with my camera here. I used to find this in Canterbury, too – if you live in a place there’s always shopping to do or errands to run, and juggling a heavy camera along with bags of food and library books just doesn’t work. One day last week, however, all I was planning to do in Newark was to meet someone for a quick coffee, so this time I took my camera with me.
I had no particular idea in mind, but thought a stroll along the river might be interesting. I’m drawn to water and I’m even more drawn to reflections so I began, rather idly and with no real purpose, to shoot the reflections in the river. I did my usual thing and created a number of abstract shots, but then I found myself shooting reflections of whole buildings. I’ve ended up with quite a few without really planning it that way (plus one of the river tour boat), and it’s given me an idea for a little project on Newark’s river frontage through the reflections of its buildings and other constructions on the banks.
Next time, I’d like to do it a bit more deliberately and get some more carefully thought-out images, but I’m quite pleased with the ones I’ve got so far. One thing I do like about them is that there was some interesting texture created by the huge amounts of duckweed that were floating downstream that day.
This rather strange picture is one of the more adventurous images from my Lincoln Cathedral visit. There was a reflection in some plastic that lay between the black railings and the window, and it produced this rather interesting distortion when photographed. I’ve shared quite a few photos already of the wonderfully coloured light that streams through the stained glass windows, but in the following few it combines quite interestingly with the rows and rows of plastic chairs set out in the nave.
The blues and purples in the next image look completely false, but I promise you that’s what it looked like. I’ve even toned the colours down a little to try and make it look less artificial!
I liked the curly pattern of this screen anyway, but curly pattern plus shadows? – love it.
And finally, this one is more conventional but I liked the way the light – mostly ordinary white light this time – played on the stones and the inscription.
I’ve just had a visit from Eileen, and I’ve decided I’d like to keep her in a cupboard and bring her out every time I need inspiration or a dose of the Muse. I’m never sure how it happens, but every time I meet up with her I get better photographs than I get most of the rest of the time. I wasn’t even going to take my camera out with me this time – at that point I didn’t have my newly fixed computer back, and the lack of ability to process in RAW was leaving me feeling a bit apathetic about photography in general. ‘Take it!’, Geoff said, ‘it’s Eileen – you know you’ll want to take pictures if you’re with her’. And he was right.
We went on a visit to Lincoln, which has to have one of the most gorgeous old town areas of any mediaeval city in the UK. We had plans – we intended to see an exhibition called Colour Love, on at the Usher Gallery. But before that, we thought a visit to the Cathedral wouldn’t go wrong, and it certainly didn’t, but we were a lot longer than we thought we’d be and by the time we’d thoroughly photographed the Cathedral and had some lunch, it was 4.00pm – which turned out to be the time that the gallery closed. (On a Saturday! – that’s the Midlands for you. If you live in London or the South-East, you get used to things being open most of the time.) So we missed the exhibition, but we did have a very good time anyway.
It was a very bright, sunny day and the light in the Cathedral was wonderful, with vividly coloured splashes of it filtering through the stained glass windows. I’ve got loads of shots I’m very happy with, and haven’t finished processing all of them yet. I wanted to share these with you for the moment, and I’ll follow up with the rest in due course.
Something interesting happened while I was processing – the first image below seemed to call out for the pillars to be left in bright coloured light, with a very dark/black background that would eliminate most of the background detail and throw the attention onto the columns themselves. I tried various ways to do this in Elements, but in the end I added a solid colour Layer of black and then used the Soft Light blending mode to blend it with the original. That gave me the effect I wanted, and then I wondered how that would look if I did the same thing to the rest. Surprisingly, it worked very well on almost everything, and it gave me the feeling I wanted, which is of vivid light and colour in a very dark space. I wanted to recreate the dim, soothing, womb-like feeling of old churches and cathedrals with the contrast of the astonishingly bright light streaming through the coloured windows. I’m sure there are other, possibly better, ways of doing this, but I’m pretty pleased with the results.
I just want to tell you that things are going rather well here. For the previous two years or more I’ve despaired at how much has gone wrong, but since we moved here just about everything is going right. Of course, there are always small problems and difficulties (one of them being the insurance company’s refusal to pay up for my broken computer), but the big picture is all rosy pink. I love our new rental home, Geoff’s enjoying his new job, I’ve already made some promising contacts and potential friends locally, and I’ve been feeling happier than I’ve felt in a very long time. It’s so very enjoyable to be walking around with a smile on my face and a lightness in my heart – there are times over the last years when I’ve wondered if I’d ever feel like this again.
The icing on the cake is that I’ve just come back from a week’s holiday in Canterbury. I had a wonderful time – spent quality time with friends, some of whom I hadn’t seen since I left, visited places I know and love, and spent a whole day on the beach at Sandwich Bay. This is my top up of sea and beach and it will probably have to last me for some time. It was a perfect day – warm and sunny but not too hot, a nice breeze blowing, and a warmed-up sea to swim and paddle in.
Sandwich Bay is one of my all-time favourite places. It’s a long, empty beach with no facilities other than some toilets at one end, and if you want to go there by car you have to pay a hefty toll charge. Even on a hot August day there are very few people there. It can be bleak in the wrong weather, and it’s always windy, but the feeling of space and expansiveness is amazing. There’s a lot of sky and a lot of empty space, accompanied by that wonderful rattling sound you get when the sea sucks pebbles back into itself.
I didn’t do much to speak of, mostly just lying on my back gazing at the sky and listening to the waves, and feeling as limp and relaxed as a strand of cooked spaghetti. I did take a few pictures, though. The play of light on the sea was quite breathtaking and produced stripes of constantly changing colours, and the sky was amazing, with some beautifully soft feathery clouds and then, shortly before I left, a spectacular display of cloud and light.
We’re only thirty minutes away by train, here in Newark, from Lincoln. I’d been to Lincoln many years ago and remember liking it a lot, so I went there last week for a look round. It was a lot bigger than I remembered, with a shopping centre that’s very pleasant but no nicer than many other places. However, once you walk through the main shopping streets, and further uphill a little, it suddenly changes to one of the loveliest little places you’re likely to find. I spent hours there taking photographs, and I’ll be sharing some of them in another post, but this time round I’m posting a few that I took right in the middle of the High Street.
The River Witham cuts right through the centre of town, and with the sun shining as brightly as it’s been doing lately, there were some great reflections in the water. The one above shows the reflection of a riverside building that houses a shopping mall. I liked this well enough, but then some swans swam right through the reflections and everything went wild, and I liked that even better.
Since this one was so brown, I experimented with inverting it to give it a more watery look:
And this is the straightforward view of where I took all these, with the reflected building on the left-hand side and a rather nice piece of sculpture over the water:
There’s a village near here that we always intended to move to, called Hawarden, and one of the reasons we liked it so much is that you can access some wonderful woodland walks right from the centre of the village. I took my friend Eileen there recently when she came to visit and we spent some time taking photographs just inside the woods, where there’s the ruins of an old cornmill and the stream that used to power it. (You can see Eileen’s wonderful shot of the cornmill here; none of mine came out half as well.)
One of the unusual things about this stream is the colour of it – it’s a bright rust-red that has to be seen to be believed. There’s also a strange, natural chute where the water slides over the rock really fast – you can see it in the picture above. That’s Eileen sitting on the rocks and I’m so glad she wore that red coat – it works beautifully with the rest of the colours.
As always I found that my most successful shots are the close-ups and the abstracts, but because of the single strong colour they can get a bit ‘samey’ quite quickly, so I’ve interspersed them with a couple of bigger views. My favourite is the last shot of sunlight making patterns in the water. It’s about as abstract as it gets and I didn’t hold back on the processing, although I haven’t enhanced the colour in any way. When the sun shone through the water the strength of colour was quite extraordinary.
My constant yearning for the sea led to a trip to Talacre Beach last weekend. Of course, the tide was out – a long way out – but we walked the several miles to get to it (just kidding) and it was enough to keep me happy for a little while. Unfortunately, at low tide there are pockets of quicksand/mud that you start sinking into very rapidly. It’s impossible to know where they are – one moment everything’s nice and firm underneath you and the next you’re up to your ankles in it, as this picture of Geoff’s shoes will demonstrate – a bit like life, really.
Even though the sea is mostly AWOL, I do like this beach – it’s such a huge, open expanse that seems to go on forever. It’s the very opposite of feeling trapped, claustrophobic, and limited, as I have been prone to doing recently. Geoff’s temporary job comes to an end in a couple of weeks and he has no interviews lined up or any other prospects. This situation we’re in can easily make us feel powerless, immobilised, stuck, and fearful for the future, so being in a place where the space is huge and horizons expanded can help bring back some balance.
My friend Eileen mentioned a book called The Old Ways, by Robert McFarlane recently, on her blog. She quoted something that stood out for her, and also intrigues me: “The two questions we should ask of any strong landscape are these: firstly, what do I know when I am in this place that I can know nowhere else? Secondly, what does this place know of me that I cannot know of myself?” McFarlane has claimed elsewhere that “cognition might be site specific” and that we think differently in different landscapes. He even wonders whether it’s possible that “certain thoughts might be possible only in certain places”. This idea took hold of my imagination when I read it, and I’ve always meant to go back and ponder on it a bit more.
I wouldn’t know how to answer these questions in any depth, but it does seem to me that we are enabled to think differently in different kinds of spaces. Positive thoughts are harder to come by in miserable environments, and being in a huge open space like this beach helps get things into proportion – perhaps by making us realise how small and unimportant we are in the total scheme of things (in a good way, of course). It also seems to me that being in a big space could naturally lead to bigger, more expansive thoughts. Aesthetically-pleasing natural surroundings help us in some primitive, physiological way, too. There have been numerous studies that show that hospital patients in rooms with a view of trees get better and are discharged more quickly than if they’re looking out onto concrete. Seems obvious to me, but it’s nice to have it confirmed.
But now, on with the photographs – first off, I had a couple of Gursky moments (wish I could get paid as much as he does for them):
For the rest, I just wanted to capture the feeling of space and the wonderful clouds and sky and water.
And then there were these amazing ripple patterns in the sand:
And finally, my favourite shot of the day. Turned upside down, it takes on a rather surreal look:
I had all sorts of plans for yesterday, all of them involving sitting at my computer writing, but it was a glorious day out there and I couldn’t resist it. The weather forecast said we’d be back to rain from today, so I reckoned there’d be plenty of opportunity to get some work done while that was happening. I really could feel spring in the air yesterday, despite the continuing chilliness, and it lifted my heart.
I’ve had a yearning to spend some time by the sea lately. I’ve never lived anywhere that’s so close to the sea while at the same time having gone so long without actually seeing it. It’s out there somewhere, but this is a coastline of very flat beaches and shallow water and estuaries, and when the tide’s out it’s really out – you can’t even see where the water is. I was going to go out for the day whatever, so I didn’t bother checking the tide tables before I went, and of course all I saw when I got to West Kirby was miles of empty sand.
When we first moved here I wondered why they’d built a marine lake at West Kirby – it’s basically a very large, fenced-off piece of sea with a path round it. It seemed perverse to me to make an enclosure for the sea when you could be out in the whole airy expanse of it. I assumed it must be for safety reasons and that perhaps there were dangerous currents and tides. Now I totally understand – it’s the only way there is of keeping some water at hand so that people can windsurf or sail, because for most hours of the day that would be impossible otherwise.
The Marine Lake does make for some interesting photo opportunities – it can look almost as if people are walking on water from a distance, as in the picture at the beginning of this post. It works best when there’s only one or two and it was a busy day for promenaders, and I’ve got some closer shots that show just how many people were having a stroll round it. Doesn’t look nearly so mysterious from this angle, does it? – who says the camera never lies!
The upside of the tide being out is that I was able – for the first time – to walk out to one of the Hilbre Islands. At low tide these three small islands become accessible to walkers. I’ve thought about doing this before, but you’re supposed to check when high water is, and then set out at least three hours after it and come back at least three hours before it, with extra time for higher tides and some weather conditons. All very sensible, but it begins to feel as if it needs a lot of planning and of course that’s not what I did at all. I couldn’t see the notice board with the tide information on it, although I found it when I got back, and I hadn’t intended to walk out there without knowing what was what, but there were plenty of other people walking to and fro and the sea was nowhere in sight. I thought I’d just walk a little way. And then I thought I’d just walk a little bit further. And then I thought I might as well just go for it, so I did, while keeping a slightly nervous eye out to make sure I wasn’t the only person still left out there. This is probably how people end up needing to be rescued.
Little Eye Island, Hilbre Islands, seen faintly in the distance
Walking towards Little Eye, Hilbre Islands, West Kirby, Wirral
It felt wonderful being out in this huge expanse of sand and sky with the sun – albeit winter-weak – shining dazzlingly over it all.
The smallest of the islands is very small indeed – not much more than a large rock – and there wasn’t a lot to see. There were quite a few rockpools but not the kind that have much in the way of marine life in them. I liked the way the sun was shining through the water onto these shells, though. (And incidentally, the Lensbaby worked surprisingly well here. I didn’t think it would, but it’s really helped concentrate attention on the central shells.)
I also liked these sand ripples.
This is the view looking back from the island towards West Kirby.
And finally, on the way back I saw this rather unusual reflection. It’s actually the houses on the shoreline, but they were still some way off and I still don’t understand why they were reflecting in a puddle this far out.
I find myself very lacking in inspiration right now, both in photography and in what to write about – the last one, at least, is unusual for me. I feel a kind of flatness that I think is a combination of post-assessment deflation and the horrible grey light and brown colours we’re faced with this time of year. I usually find I hit a low spot with photography around now, so that’s not unexpected, and it’s not so much I can’t think of anything to write about, but more that everything I’d like to write about is far removed from photography and this doesn’t seem like quite the right place.
Next weekend I’m doing some private tuition in London for someone who wants to learn how to use the Lensbaby Composer lens. For anyone not in the know about this, it’s a kind of bendy lens that gives you a blurred effect with one sharp area in it – you can bend the lens around to move the sharp bit wherever you want to in the image. That’s the theory anyway – in practice it’s quite hard to get it where you want it, and for anyone who hasn’t come across one of these lenses before, it’s best to bear in mind that ‘sharp’ is a relative term here.
It’s been quite a while since I’ve used mine. Some people reading this will know that I did my first Landscape assignment using this lens, only to be torn apart for it by the tutor I had at the time. It put me off a bit. I certainly didn’t feel like chancing it for another assignment, and the whole episode just took the fun out of it for me. (And it is a fun lens.) There’s also a bit of me that recognises that some of what my tutor said was undoubtedly right – it is easy to overdo the effect, and it’s easy to rely on it to make something interesting out of something that wouldn’t be, otherwise. I can see that, and I suppose I was waiting to find some little project that it would be absolutely right for, but that project has never made itself obvious.
Anyway, it was time it had an outing, if only to convince myself that I still remembered how to use it, so when the sun came out yesterday I headed for Chester to give it an airing. I didn’t get much time in the end – I was late leaving, and then I had to pick up a birthday card for someone, and then there was a gallery I wanted to check out, and then I was hungry so I had to go and get some lunch, and so it was late in the day by the time I managed to get my camera out. I decided to walk along the City walls, down to the riverside, and see what I could find.
I started with the obvious – the fantastically ornate clock that sits right in the middle of Chester. Then I went up on to the walls and, looking down from where the clock is, I got this cyclist. In terms of getting the focus sharp, this was probably my most successful shot of the day. I need some new glasses and I was really struggling to see whether or not I’d got things in focus – the Lensbaby requires manual focussing at all times, and I’m used to relying on Autofocus. It was more luck than judgement, but I do like the way the cyclist has come out really clear, with everything around him a soft blur.
Of course, once I got home I remembered that I should have adjusted the dioptre in my viewfinder to fit my deteriorating eyesight. This is something you only have to do once, or at least until your eyesight gets worse or you get new glasses or something, and I simply forgot about it. This morning I did the adjustment and found that it was quite far out, which accounts for why most of my shots are nothing like as sharp as I’d like them to be – well that’s what I’m saying anyway 🙂 Here are some of the more successful ones.
Another view of the clock, this time from on top of the walls
Up on top of Chester’s City Walls
A dog walker by the riverside, seen looking down from the Walls
Another view from the Walls
And another one…..
The River Dee, from ground level this time
Every set of steps leading down to the river has these wonderful curvy railings each side
Playing now……not sure if the Lensbaby helps or hinders when it comes to this sort of thing, but the colours were too good to resist
The last image has a story. I saw this woman standing by one of the benches, lifting her face up to enjoy the sun, and just had to get a shot of her. Being my usual self-conscious and rather wussy self when it comes to photographing people, I sneaked it rather hastily – it did help that she had her eyes shut. I moved on, and was further along the riverside fiddling with my lens when someone came up to me and commented on it being a great day for photography. Of course it was her. It was sheer coincidence – she hadn’t seen me – and we had a good fifteen minutes of conversation during which we found that we had rather a lot in common. Her name is Christine, and next week we’re planning to meet for coffee! Strange how these things happen.
Returning to the Lensbaby, I’ve been doing some thinking about the kind of photography that suits it best. I think I like it best for people photography, whether that’s portraits or street stuff. It really focusses attention on the person/people and the surrounding blur is an effective foil. It’s not the easiest lens to use for street photography, everything having to be done manually and all, but I like the effect a lot. Where I don’t think it works so well is with abstract photography. Most of the time, there’s enough ambiguity about what you’re seeing to make the added blur a bit excessive, but I’m sure there are some exceptions to this.
I do love it for macro, although I didn’t do any the other day, because it brings out the most wonderful colours in things. I also have the zone plate/pinhole attachment for it and I meant to try out the zone plate, but I never got round to that. I’ve tried it once or twice before and find it very difficult to know what it’s good for. I bought the attachment for its pinhole capabilities but I’m rather ashamed to say I’ve never used it because it necessarily involves the dreaded tripod. The zone plate was a new one on me and I hadn’t heard of it before. Most people haven’t, so if you want to see what it does, follow this link and click Zone Plate on the Optic drop down menu towards the top right – http://lensbaby.co.uk/gallery-photos My Sunday student doesn’t have this attachment, so maybe we’ll spend some time playing with it……..
Preparing for my course assessment has taken up so much time since the beginning of the year that I haven’t had a chance to sort out any photos I’ve taken during that time. A few weeks ago I had a teaching job in London – it was the first for quite a long time and it felt great to be back in the saddle again. We did our usual photo walk round the City, part of which involves going down to the side of the Thames at Billingsgate. There’s lots to see down here – a bit too much photographically, sometimes – but we’re almost always faced with a dull grey-white, completely uninteresting sky. But this time was different. It was late afternoon, getting near dusk, and the sky was wonderful, with interesting clouds and sunset colours.
The Shard is one of London’s latest tall building projects and some of my favourite shots from that day are of it. As I took more and more shots, I found myself including less and less of the building in the frame, and the last shot here is my favourite – not much building and lots of that wonderful sky. Something else I noticed while in mid-shot was this: there were several planes flying past and I found myself feeling very uncomfortable if I took the shot while they were approaching the building. Since 9/11, it’s not possible for me to see a plane and a building in this sort of proximity without being reminded. I wonder if this is the same for everyone? So in the shot below, I had to wait till the plane was flying away from the building before taking it.
I’ve always loved the lampposts at Billingsgate, because they’re topped with little curvy fish to symbolise Billingsgate’s previous role as a fish market. Normally, because of the boring skies and more daylight than this, they don’t make for much of a photo but this time I managed to get a few decent shots.
The nearby river-side walkway and the light shining on the water made for another atmospheric shot.
We moved on after a while to Leadenhall Market – a wonderful place but one that I’ve never felt able to photograph in a way that satisfies me. One thing I hadn’t noticed before, though, was these air vents. They look like little creatures to me, perhaps arrived from some other planet.
It was a weekend of taking photos at dusk. After meeting a friend the next day, I had an hour or so to kill before I went for my train home, so I spent it shooting in Trafalgar Square. The weather was deteriorating fast, with heavy rain and wind that got stronger by the minute. I was handholding – as usual – and didn’t think many of my shots would be free of camera shake. However, these ones came out fine. Note the way the flow from the fountains is being blown to one side by the wind.