Preguntas Hermosas

Geoff has got an interview in Chester (yay!), and I’m going with him and we’re spending a couple of days there.  I’m not sure if they have internet access in the hotel, so I might not get the chance to blog.

In the meantime, this little video is both visually gorgeous and has wonderful words based on poems by Pablo Neruda and Carl Sandberg. The last line is so beautiful: ‘Love, with little hands, comes and touches you with a thousand memories, and asks you beautiful, unanswerable questions.”


Preguntas Hermosas from Süperfad on Vimeo.



Making cards for Christmas: first find your photos

Queen Bertha

I’m drowning in photographs. I have so many on a variety of hard-drives now that I can’t remember where anything is.  A friend asked me last week if I could make her some Christmas cards using some of my photos, and I rather foolishly said that she should look through my Flickr stream and tell me what she wanted.  I only ever put low resolution images on Flickr, so I needed to find the high-res originals of the ones she chose.  Nightmare.  It took me all day. There’s one that I still haven’t found, and I gave in and used the version I’d uploaded to Flickr.  Fortunately it was a slightly higher resolution than normal for some reason, and it’s printed out very nicely at 6″ by 4″.

Here’s the problem: I have no obvious way of organising them. My memory stood me in good stead for ages but now there are about 35,000 photos floating around and I’m lost.  I’ve got Photoshop Elements, but I hate the Organiser that comes with it and don’t want to use it.  I’d like to get Lightroom, which I believe helps you organise very efficiently, but the operating system on my very old computer isn’t up-to-date enough to be compatible and I can’t afford to buy a new computer right now.  I can’t upgrade the operating system because the computer innards couldn’t cope.  Added to this, my computer won’t recognise one of my external hard-drives and if I want anything off it, I have to connect it to Geoff’s laptop and transfer what I want to a USB pen and thence (does anybody but me use the word ‘thence’ anymore?) to my machine.  My computer recognises my other external drive, but if I leave it plugged in when I boot up, it tries to boot up from the external drive and won’t start.  It’s times like these I wish I had money; it’s not always the solution to life’s problems, but it would be in this case.  Ah well, if I have to sell my car, which is looking more and more likely because I can’t afford to run it, I’ll at least put the proceeds towards sorting out my digital problems.

Anyway, one thing that was very interesting was to see which photos my friend chose. I’ve put them all on here.  A couple of them were obvious choices and would have been ones I’d have gone for myself, but a couple of the others were ones that I’m not really very happy with.  The reflection of the Cathedral in the leaded window (below)  is one that I’ve never felt good about; I like the idea but I didn’t feel I’d really pulled it off – I think it’s cropped a bit too closely, and the reflection hasn’t come out quite as well as I’d have liked.  I felt rather awkward while I was taking it, as people live in there, and it looked like I was trying to peer in through their window.  I think I rushed it a bit.

Cathedral reflection

The others, including the one at the top, are all places in Canterbury except for the blue angel at the end which is an obvious Christmas choice and one I’m rather fond of.  It’s been seriously Photoshopped and you’d barely recognise it from the original, which was taken in the cemetery next to Pugin’s house in Ramsgate.

Tudor houses under snow

Cathedral and rooftops

Canterbury snowmen


Huge and beautiful bubbles

Anyone who knows me well also knows that I love bubbles.  I had a bubble machine at my wedding and I fully intend that there will be one at my funeral.  And although I haven’t tried this for myself yet, I particularly love those mega-sized bubbles you produce with two sticks and a length of washing line.  So you can see why I like this little video, and it’s made better still by having Gymnopedies No 2 playing as the soundtrack – it goes so perfectly with the shimmering beauty of the bubbles.


Alone with my giant soap bubbles, by toubaboo

Camera shake blues

St Dunstan's window, autumn

I’m so annoyed at myself right now. So many of my recent photos have some slight camera shake in them – it’s very slight, and you probably wouldn’t spot it at the size and resolution on here but I know it’s there and it spoils the image for me.  I used to pride myself on having a very steady hand but at the moment you’d think I’d been hitting the bottle on a regular basis.

It’s got me thinking about the whole issue of sharpness. It seems to me that if you’re setting out to take a photo that relies on sharpness, then it should be perfectly sharp.  But unless you have very bright light, that really means using a tripod, and I hate them.  I hate them for a number of reasons but the most important one to me is that it takes away the spontaneous nature of shooting.  I took up photography in part because I’d spent too much of my life being academic and precise and terribly, terribly careful.  I wanted to break away from that.  I wanted to work intuitively, move fluidly, and lose myself in the flow of it all.  For me, getting all finicky about perfect sharpness is too much like being back in academia where everything felt so restricted and lacking in life and joy – no matter how interesting it was on an intellectual basis.  To use a tripod on a regular basis would take away much of the joy that photography gives me, but I don’t want to take poor shots either………

I’ve always been very drawn to any kind of lo-fi photography. I like the way you never know quite what you’re going to get and how there’s always a chance of a serendipitous accident that turns out to be your best shot.  And I like the softness and mystery the lo-fi approach creates. One of my recently discovered favourite photographers is Susan Burnstine; she makes her own (very lo-fi) cameras out of bits and pieces she picks up at car boot sales.  The resulting images are dreamy, mysterious, and full of story.  Sometimes digital can seem too hard-edged, too bright, too contrasty, for me.  I know it doesn’t have to be, but it so often is.

I used to love my Lensbaby for its lo-fi qualities but I pretty much stopped using it, largely because I got such a rollicking when I used it for a whole assignment.  I can see now that my assignment photos did leave a lot to be desired, but I still don’t think that was the fault of the lens.  Lensbaby images can be a bit gimmicky, it’s true, but when they’re done properly they can also be very effective.  However, it does have a very distinctive and identifiable look and that’s not always what I want, either.

I’m aware I’m rambling on here, so let me finish up and get to the point. I feel there’s a decision I have to make – go for sharp pictures, bite the bullet and use a tripod, or go in a different direction towards a more lo-fi approach, where lack of sharpness isn’t an issue in the same way.  I like the second of these better, but I’m going to have to think hard about how I want to do that.

In the meantime, I took these once I got finished teaching in London at the weekend.  They were shot in one of my favourite places, St Dunstan’s-in-the-East.  The light was pretty dull so I concentrated on taking little abstract-y shots.  Some are sharp, some aren’t………….but you might not notice.

Last autumn leaves

Bench with autumn leaves

Oak leaf


Leaves and pebbles

Autumn corner

Leaf stars


Feathers and leaf

Benches 2

Leaves on bench

Fountain and leaves




New ‘Free Stuff’ page

Doggy in the window

I think I’ve solved my problem – that’s the one about how to provide better value to my readers.  I’ve set up a page where I’ll have some how-to articles for download in pdf format.  At the moment, I’ve put three articles on there that I’d already written and which were published by the Mortal Muses site, but I intend to add more as and when I get time. You can find them under the Free Stuff tab at the top of the page.  I guess I’ll probably come up with some other nice things to give to people as well – I was thinking of doing screensavers.  I’ve never made one before, but I think it’s quite easy (I may regret saying that…..)

And the dog?  Well, I just think he’s lovely and I needed a picture to brighten this post up.  He was peering through the glass in the door of a pub in London the last time I led a workshop there.  And I have a real yearning to bring a dog into my life right now, and even though there are endless good reasons why I shouldn’t, the longing won’t go away.  But I can have one on my blog, can’t I?

Take your photos for a twirl

Dahlia twirl

I’ve just come across a really fun Photoshop technique that turns your images into fantastical, soft twirls. I use Photoshop Elements and you can find instructions for doing it in Elements here.  If you use the full version of Photoshop you can download an action here – just scroll down near the bottom of the page and look for Twirling Abstract Art.

I know it’s a bit gimmicky, but the effect is really lovely and reminds me of fractals.  I can see I’m going to get a bit obsessed with this till the novelty wears off!  I’ll no doubt be back with more.

If you want to see how it started out, this is the original:


Apple Harvest

Apple Harvest

“Every thought is a seed.  If you plant crab apples, don’t count on harvesting Golden Delicious.”

Not sure who said this, but I think I need the reminder right now!  I loved the light on these fallen apples; made me think of the rich colours of an old master painting.

Wildflower macro

Cow parsley 1

I saw this perfect bloom in a wildflower meadow and brought it home with me to photograph.  I’m not sure what it’s called, but I love the little circle of fronds at the base of the flower and the umbrella shape of the flower itself.  Somewhere I have a book on wild flowers and must find it and check out what this one is.

It’s a while since I’ve done any macro shooting, but we’re going to be musing on macro soon over at Mortal Muses and I thought I’d better get some practice in.  All I have to do it with is my Lensbaby with macro attachment – oh for a proper macro lens!  But this does a pretty good job.  The one at the top is my favourite, but here’s a couple of others.  I’m not sure the first one quite works; something about the composition isn’t right although I can’t put my finger on it at the moment.  And I feel the second is too dark, and the focus isn’t in the right place, although I’m happier with how it’s composed.

Cow parsley 2

Cow parsley 3

I thought I’d try a different version of the one at the top of this post, making it much softer.  I like them both, but think I probably prefer the sharper option.  It always fascinates me how you can take the same photo and make it completely different just by doing a bit of creative editing.

Cow parsley 4

Given my loathing of tripods, I rarely use one when doing this sort of thing but it does make it tricky.  Something I discovered that works well for me is to rock gently back and forth while looking through the viewfinder.  Just as I see the subject coming into focus, I press the shutter and take the photo.  If you’re shooting outdoors this can actually work better than using a tripod, as the flowers move in the breeze anyway.