2 Oct 2011

Autumn scenes and a heatwave

As those in the UK will already know, we’ve had a glorious Indian summer period this week, with record breaking temperatures and wall to wall sunshine lasting several days. A fabulous and much-appreciated treat.

Please click on any of the photographs for a larger, better quality, view.
I just love to see sunshine filtering through trees – which can be quite a challenge to do justice to photographically – your eyes are much more efficient at taking in the subtle nuances of the lighting on the scene than the camera can manage in a single shot.

We didn’t want to waste the opportunity yesterday of the last fabulous day forecast in this run, so we dealt with our errands in the morning and packed the picnic basket and set off to get some much needed fresh air and to stretch our legs.

I don’t know much about them, but I do love taking photographs of wild fungi – maybe because they grow in my very favourite environment, so are synonymous to me with being in places I love.
I think this particular photograph was my favourite of the day – I like taking low level macro shots and especially with a slightly wide field of view to give a hint of the wider scene for context.

It was rather incongruous to be walking through very autumnal woodland, with dry golden leaves underfoot and some trees already almost bare, yet for it to be sweltering hot and us to be glad of the shade under the trees and the gentle breeze. We often get a lovely period at this time of year, which is why we’re usually away on holiday at this time, but it was incredibly hot for the first day of October.

We chuckled when we remembered doing the same walk in August in fastened up coats, scarves and gloves when the brisk wind was too bitter to eat outside and we retreated inside the car for lunch.

This tiny emerging fly agaric mushroom was about 6 feet away from the clump I photographed and posted recently – no doubt part of the same colony, which grow on the roots of trees and these are the above-ground fruiting bodies.

I can’t resist little scenes like this where a natural detail is highlighted in a shaft of sunlight, emphasised by areas of shadow behind.

I took this frame, then as I turned the camera to take a more vertical shot from the centre, the sun vanished behind the trees and was gone for the day.

I don’t have much else to report this week, I’ve been dealing with things that are beyond the remit of my blog and not very interesting, but I’ll try to add something more worthy and interesting next week – I really should address some of the many tutorial or technical subjects I have as ‘works in progress’.

In closing I’ll add a couple more photographs from the first of the nice days earlier in the week before it got quite so hot, but I managed to get a nice walk in during the day – after all, I can work when it’s dark and it’s a shame to miss out on such nice – and rare – opportunities. This is one of the lovely advantages of being self-employed, you can at least manage your time in this manner.

I’ve taken this standing in the local park and looking towards a field that usually has several horses in it, but they were out being ridden at the time. One of them at the fence would have finished this off nicely. I took this particular series of shots using an in-camera film simulation (Astia) which tends to give a rather yellow tone to images, thinking that it might work well with the colours on this particular day.


I posted a similar frame of this scene last week, but the light was rather better on this occasion and I made a better job of metering the scene and it has some additional warmth from the film simulation used too.

7 Sep 2011

Fungi and Blackpool Illuminations – it must be autumn

I don’t have a particular theme to this post, but I’ve accumulated a few photographs, so it will end up a bit random.

Further to an earlier post about trees starting to change, it’s become evident that autumn is well and truly here now – the weather has been appalling for a week and I have the heating on as I type. My garden, which never truly flourished this ‘summer’, is looking distinctly end-of-the-season and the torrential rain today won’t have done anything to improve that.

Please click on any of the photographs for a larger view.

We went for a walk through some of our favourite woodland recently and there were many clusters of fungi at the bases of trees, a sure sign of autumn approaching. I certainly like autumn well enough, what I don’t like is when it arrives before you feel ready for it – when you don’t feel done with summer yet. Once it’s evident that autumn is here to stay, then I’m as happy with it as any season – it certainly preferable to winter – although that has its merits too.

I liked the abstract of this view with the assorted curves and vertical lines. The photograph makes it look a little more cheerful than it was in reality – the sky was black and threatening and it was positively breezy. It was about here that it started raining.

We also had a trip to Blackpool this last weekend – it’s the area we both hail from and were over visiting family. As it had been a better day than forecast, we decided to get a walk along the Prom between dinner and coffee whilst we had the chance. The sky wasn’t quite as cheerful when we got there as it had looked from the window and whilst the temperature was just nice for walking in shirt sleeves – it was soon raining and we did get a little damp.

Even from a distance, you can hear the riders of the Big One scream (and the brave ones raise their arms aloft) as it drops from the highest peak.

The scenes along the Prom further reinforced the autumnal feel as the Illuminations were switched on a couple of days earlier – an event that signals the end of summer, going back to school and nights drawing in.

I do like how they’ve improved the Prom (and are still working on it) – at least at the South Shore end where we usually walk – there are frequent large art and sculpture installations, wide flat, safe areas to walk with plentiful seats, even some under cover for days just like this. See my earlier blog with photographs of the sculpture by Peter Blake.

“They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?” – Blackpool’s record breaking glitterball with 45, 000 individual mirror tiles. Named after Sydney Pollack’s 1969 film about a dance marathon.

Last time we walked this section, this particular item was missing whilst it underwent refurbishment. It’s the largest glitterball in the world, tipping the nod to the ballroom dancing heritage of Blackpool. It’s called “They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?” and features 45, 000 individual mirrors. It turns gently and the scene and sky around it are reflected as a glittering mosaic from the surface – although I’m sure it works much better with a more interesting sky.

My work this week:

Over the last week or so, I’ve finished a number of pieces and am just working my way through a mountain of photographs of them so that I can get them listed in the next couple of days.

The earrings above and the bracelet below are made from the same basic chain link structure. I’d had a gold chain that I wore until it got so thin that a link snapped and it wasn’t worth even trying to repair – every link was hanging by a mere thread of gold and it’s now been scrapped in – possibly for more than I paid for it.

It had an unusual alternating link design that looked like a knot between the links and I wondered if I could mimic something similar and had a bash – but from memory! When I’d done and actually went to get the chain out to compare it, my version was less like the original than I’d expected, but I’m really happy with how it did turn out and I’m sure it will soon become a favourite to make – it’s fun to do, although a bit hard on the fingers. I thought that the long earrings, with their circular joining link had rather an Arts and Crafts feel to the design, with the long elegant shapes so typical of that design movement.


Further to previously posted Sterling silver nugget single piece earrings, I wanted to try making an articulated pair that would move a little more. These are quite large molten nuggets, soldered with a little loop on the back which in turn hangs from an earwire. I also made some much larger single piece nugget earrings and a very large molten nugget pendant – which is already proving tricky to photograph well.

A pair of earrings featuring fully oxed copper ovals, wire wrapped with dangles of turquoise magnesite.
18 Mar 2011

Mother Nature knows how to cheer us up

I apologise for yet another blog lacking in worthy literary content. I have been working and concentrating on other things recently and need to get back to my usual routine and thought processes and get some of the draft tutorials I have in the works actually finished. So in the short term, I’m going to fob you off with some photographs and hope it serves as a suitable distraction from the lack of actual information.

Please click on any of the photographs for a larger view.
There is a dense patch of tiny tete-a-tete daffodils in the corner of the park – how could that fail to lift your spirits.
I’ve always had the idea that Mother Nature knows everyone is a bit fed up after winter and in need of something cheering and she came up with daffodils. Isn’t she clever?

It was a totally gorgeous spring day today – wall to wall sunshine (well, almost; the scant clouds always seem to know just when I’ve got myself into a preposterous position to take a photograph), deep blue sky and whilst the air was decidedly nippy and the breeze quite brisk, the sun was warm and I could hardly wait today to finish some tasks I needed to, so I could grab my hiking boots and head out for my lunchtime walk.

One thing leads to another – I stepped towards the railings along the river to see if there were any nice views to be had and as I looked carefully where I was standing to prevent me crushing any plants coming through the leaf litter, I saw a little cluster of small brown fungi – the structure of the gills is quite beautiful and clearly arranged in patterns of ascending size – you needed to get low to appreciate the structure, the photograph was taken on the ground. It was only around 25mm (1″) in diameter and the same sort of height. Whilst I’m bending down taking photos, I spotted my gnarled root photo prop.
I believe this fungi to be a Winter Twiglet – Tubaria hiemalis – apparently there are few traditional mushroom shaped fungi this early in the year and it certainly has the gill patterns which would identify the species.

That makes it sound like I scaled some strenuous peak, where in reality I walked a loop to the next village, tickled a cat, threw sticks for a gorgeous auburn coloured boxer dog, caught up on the family gossip with an old friend out tending her horse, took some photos and found a fabulous bit of dried gnarled root for a photo prop. As previously mentioned, I always have a tie handle bag in my pocket for the collection of such treasures. Dangling from my camera bag it must make passers-by wonder where I lost my dog, but I care not.

The house that faces this view is currently up for sale. I’ve looked at it a couple of times when it’s changed hands over the years, but I don’t think my pockets are anything like deep enough.

As I headed back, I got the flashing red icon to indicate that my camera batteries were going. I had spares with me, but didn’t want to bother trying to change them with cold fingers and without my glasses to see which way in they go. I managed to squeak a couple more out of these primroses.

I really should have made more progress on my to do list, but tickling cats, talking to boxers and old friends and sharing my day with pretty fungi, daffodils and primroses was far more agreeable. I can work when it’s dark.What on earth are they doing?

Maybe you can help to educate me – I saw these chickens at a farm shop recently and was perplexed by their actions. There was a dusty hollow in some dry earth in the shadow of a wall and the chickens were taking it in turns to ‘bathe’ in the dust. That much I can comprehend, but after some fluttering action, they would lie perfectly still for a while as though in total ecstasy, with their heads on their side. Then jump up and saunter off, like the white one who was clearly ‘done’.

I was tickled that the white chicken standing has markings on its side like a boot print. I sincerely hope that is is just patterns on the feathers.
4 Oct 2010

It was a fungi sort of a day

As I posted about in my previous photograph-based blog, I love to walk in woodland and feel that trees are vitally important to my emotional and physical well-being.

We spend a lot of time in the English Lake District and have just spent some assorted days there over 2 weekends. This particular walk, Revelin Moss at Whinlatter, north west of Keswick, is another favourite and a more gentle walk than some we do and is consequently one we often do when we’ve either done something else earlier in the day, so have limited time, as was the case this last Saturday, or by its location, we often do late in the day, also the case this last weekend – so light levels were an issue for the photographs.

Please click on the photographs to see a larger copy, they’re rather dark here on the page.

The previous woodland blogged was well established and largely deciduous and in places mixed, where this one is more plantation style coniferous woodland and is owned and managed by the Forestry Commission. I have always felt that it has a slightly Alpine feel to it, it’s a little higher than other walks and the smells and atmosphere often transport me across Europe. It’s a looped walk designed for disabled access and pushchairs, so the paths are wide and well-maintained, so easy walking, albeit quite undulating. It also has a newly installed mountain bike route which crosses the path in places.

When you stop to look closely at the steep banks of moss and heather adjacent to the path in places where it carves through the hillside, you can see a massive variety of species growing shoulder to shoulder.

The last week has been both much cooler and some days have been incredibly wet – autumn arrived in no uncertain terms. Walks often have a theme to them – particular things are in season, or the weather highlights particular features. On Saturday the stand-out theme was fungi. The damp weather and changing season had caused all manner of woodland fungi to fruit and there were some fabulous specimens.

I had to take this from some distance and through foliage, and with a long focal length, as they were the other side of a stream from me and growing from the top of a dead tree stump.

I love to see them growing and think they’re fascinating things of great and diverse beauty, but I can’t claim to know much about them – I just like to see them, take photos and largely keep my distance. I would never know what might make good eating – it seems to me that the difference between and good meal and certain death (or at least an extremely unpleasant experience) is often a very subtle one, requiring serious expertise.

This was the largest patch of fly agarics I think I’ve ever seen, just nestled at the roots of some well established conifers. But the larger specimens of the group, off to the left and the size of dinner plates, were all kicked over and broken.

These large brown specimens seem to start very small and button shape, growing and opening until they curl upwards with undulated edges.

One thing that always saddens though is that I see so many kicked over and damaged. I’ve never known if this is people who are concerned by them for some reason, or just for sport, dogs routing around near them, or even wild animals like deer or badgers kicking at them to see if they’re edible. But it seems a common sight when walking in woodland, that whilst there are many lovely specimens – and some walks are especially good for the variety of species seen growing – there are always many that are broken up and damaged – and clearly not in a manner that suggests natural wear and tear or weather damage.

The dramatic looking red and white spotted fly agaric mushrooms shown earlier and above are perhaps one of the most recognised species and that is as many as I’ve ever seen on one day. Further along the walk I spotted three very new mushrooms just emerging from the ground at the base of a tree. One was barely breaking the ground and the other two were still tightly closed and only just above ground.

I had always thought that their redness was an indicator of their toxicity, but apparently they’re unpleasant, rather than deadly – you’d need to consume quite a lot of whole fresh mushrooms to actually be in real danger. But they are thought to have hallucinogenic properties when the flesh is properly prepared (and some of the techniques to do so are quite unsavoury) and the ‘fly’ of the name is less to do with insects and more to do with the likely resulting hallucination involving yourself flying.

There is even some speculation that their red and white livery is responsible for the traditional red and white attire of our modern Father Christmas / Santa Claus – thought to have arisen from the combination of many factors over time, from the fondness of reindeer to eat fly agarics (I wonder if they hallucinate about flying?), old stories of Siberian shamen spirits who visited yurts down the smoke hole bearing little leather bags of dried agaric pieces to tempt those below and their traditional appearance in fairy tales and folklore as a token visual and easily recognised mushroom – and often used as a decorative element around the festive period.

I think I prefer to see them nestled at the foot of a tree, just doing what nature intended.