16 Sep 2015

The English Lake District in September

By all these lovely tokens September days are here, with summer’s best of weather and autumn’s best of cheer.  Helen Hunt Jackson

We have just had a lovely holiday in our favourite spot in the English Lake District. We had pretty decent weather and got to walk out every day.  We had occasional torrential rain, but fortunately, not at any times when it interfered with our plans.  Some of the days were a bit grey and flat, which makes for lacklustre photographs, but we also had some spectacularly beautiful days, with bright sunshine and haze free, clear views, which more than made up for the rest.  Some of the areas we visited looked as fabulous as I’ve ever seen them.

So this post is pretty much just about the photographs, so I’ve set it up as a gallery.  Please click on any of the photographs to see a larger view.  I’m trying a new gallery feature for such image-heavy posts, so the images all open in a simple pop-up ‘lightbox’.  If you want to view them all in sequence, simply start with the first one and scroll through them using the left/right arrows at the edges.  I have set it to display the images at random, so if you refresh the page, they will appear in a different order.

There are captions with the photographs that explain where they were taken etc.  The lightbox re-sizes to a proportion of your browser window, so if you want to see them larger, go to full screen and they’ll possibly increase in size, especially the portrait images.

Lake District Panoramas:

Some of the vistas in beautiful places like this are very hard to do justice in a mere photograph, so I love creating panoramas by stitching together multiple individual and overlapping photographs to make a single very wide view.  This requires the individual frames to be taken very carefully, with everything set manually (including focus and white balance), so details don’t change from one frame to the next to get a consistent join. If you’re interested in creating your own panos, I wrote a tutorial some years ago about my own technique, which is still pretty much how I do them now.

I note with each one how many frames form each image.  The original master images are all in excess of 50 megapixels.  In this gallery, they’ll open at the width of your browser window, even though they’re actually larger than you’re likely to see them, but if you want to see more details, there are links below to even larger versions which will allow you to scroll around the image to see more, as you’ll be seeing the image in the browser at exactly the size I uploaded it.

Larger versions:

If, like me, you like looking at the details in large panoramas, I’ve also uploaded a bigger version of each image too – I’ve put them separately so that they don’t load unless you click the links, in case you’re on restricted data.  They’re all in the region of 2.5 megapixels and around 3000 pixels on the long side and around a megabyte in data size, so they will take a moment or two to load. They’re in the same order as posted in the gallery above.  Depending on your browser and settings, they may well load initially at a reduced size to fit the window, but can probably be clicked or swiped to enlarge and allow you to scroll to view it all.

20 Aug 2015

Take 2 on my camera considerations

Consulting the rules of composition before taking a photograph, is like consulting the laws of gravity before going for a walk.   Edward Weston

Photograph: a picture painted by the sun without instruction in art.    Ambrose Bierce

Further to my previous post on camera choices and image processing workflow, I had a change of mind.  I decided to go ahead and buy the small DSLR I wanted (Canon 100D), to replace my rather large and heavy model (Canon 20D), which I’ll sell privately to off-set the cost.

We struck an especially lovely evening in our favourite spot, which gave me chance to test the new camera.
We struck an especially lovely evening in our favourite spot, which gave me chance to test the new camera.

In my defense, there was some degree of rationale in my thinking.  I’d bookmarked the camera at several retailers and as a replacement model has been rumoured, I was monitoring prices, expecting there might be a reduction if a new model was announced – I’d picked up previous cameras at good prices in such scenarios.

I love that taking photographs allows me to notice things that I otherwise might not, like the fabulous structure of this scabious flower.
I love that taking photographs allows me to notice things that I otherwise might not, like the fabulous structure of this scabious flower.

At one retailer, they suddenly dropped the price a little over 10%, without any mention of doing so and the unit at that price didn’t seem to appear when searching for it independently on their site.  If I hadn’t bookmarked it, I might never have seen that price.  So I monitored it over a few days and it fluctuated several times by odd, small amounts, like 67p.

As it was less than a week until the manufacturers cash back offer was due to end, I decided to go ahead.  It might well come down if another model does come out soon, but I’m still pretty happy, coupled with the cash back offer, that the price was as good as I was hoping for anyway.  As I’m going on holiday soon, it would be a shame to miss the opportunity to take it with me, so the decision was made.

I was actually pretty happy to see that the price went back up again the very next morning, even before mine had been delivered, so my timing had thankfully been spot on.  I have a slight suspicion that the lowered price might even have been a mistake on their part as it made it very competitive.

The light is always gorgeous on sunny evenings in ths spot, so I regularly try and catch it through the car windscreen as we drive.
The light is always gorgeous on sunny evenings in this spot, so I regularly try and catch it through the car windscreen as we drive.

Having got the rather diminutive camera I have also decided that I’ll probably sell my one pretty decent lens, an ultra wide angle that looked as sexy as hell on my larger DSLR, but is very front-heavy and unbalanced on the smaller body.  That, as such, wouldn’t bother me, but it is wide enough at the front that when you put the camera down, it rests on the wide front of the lens, not the base of the camera body.  I’ve not used it as much as I expected, so selling it, with the other body, might well cover most of this new camera.

Whilst I love my Fuji HS20 bridge camera for a lot of reasons, I’ve always missed not using a DSLR – the gorgeously creamy smooth shots, better detail in features like grass and foliage and especially the great quality at higher ISOs and the speed of reaction, from establishing focus to taking the shot.

The digicams, on the other hand, seem to think about it for a while, then decide if they feel like taking the shot – at least that’s how it feels if you’ve just spotted a barn owl flying past you at eye level 15 feet away, as happened recently.  The tree shot above left is a good example of the lovely lighting I see regularly as we drive along the single track road and have failed to capture many times because the camera couldn’t get focus on a moving target.  I often take photographs out of the moving car window (as a passenger I hasten to add) and the speed of a DSLR is much more suited to this practice.

As the coast is 20 miles to the left of this scene and the ground drops away dramatically, sunset seems to fill the whole area with the uninterrupted glow of sunset light.
As the coast is 20 miles to the left of this scene and the ground drops away dramatically to sea level, sunset seems to fill the whole area with the uninterrupted glow of sunset light.

I have always liked to develop my own images from RAW files (the camera just saves the raw data of the image and you use software to turn it into an image on a computer subsequently) and I like blending exposures from tricky scenes beyond the dynamic range capability of the camera.  Our eye/brain combination is so clever, that a camera is really up against it when trying to capture a dramatically lit scene in an instant single frame, where our eyes scan it rapidly and make complex micro-adjustments that form the whole scene we ‘see’ – complete with details in the fluffy clouds and also under trees, deep in shadow.

The sunset scene above and the banner shot at the top are such examples.  I know that those images now represent how the scene actually was, as the sun set and left the land bathed in the most fabulous golden glow, just before the colour left it almost completely.  It was too dark to see much of the landscape detail within minutes of taking the shot.  It’s a fleeting light show that’s hard to capture and the camera wasn’t able to catch all of that subtlety in one frame, without my help.  It didn’t help that I was trying out auto white balance and it corrected that orange glow for me, rather defeating the object, which is why I rarely use it – cloudy or shade white balance is better for sunsets as it tends to leave the colour largely alone.

I've always been fond of doing wide landscape vistas, with a piece of foreground interest.
I’ve always been fond of doing wide landscape vistas, with a piece of foreground interest.

What I like to do is develop 2 versions (or more) of an image.  One – as in this case above – to capture the sky as it was and another with more detail of the land, bringing back the detail in line with what I’d seen.  With lighting that dramatic (and it was possibly a bit darker than it might look) it’s not possible to get both looking good in one frame without some post-processing assistance.

I then blend them together in one composite image to get the best of both.  Ideally, if I had my tripod, taking two separate images, one exposed for the sky and one for the land would no doubt give a better result, but this is an intermediate way of getting almost that result.  I don’t see it as any different from dodging and burning in the darkroom under the enlarger, which I’ve also done.  I’m going to try exposure bracketing next time to see if I can get the individual frames close enough on alignment, hand held, for it to work, it might be a good compromise.

I'm always mesmerised by the diversity of different grasses that grow wild in this area, a myriad of different structures.
I’m always mesmerised by the diversity of different grasses that grow wild in this area, a myriad of different structures.

On the down side of going out and about again routinely with a DSLR (I’d stopped carrying the other one, purely because of its weight and size), I’m having to re-acquaint myself with the geometry of the much shallower depth of field achieved with the significantly larger sensor in a DSLR.  I’ve got rather spoiled by not having to worry about it, due to the tiny sensor in my other compact cameras and at the moment, it accounts for several less than stellar results with the new camera.  It hadn’t taken me long to stop giving it conscious thought as I worked – a habit I quickly need to re-learn.

It is, of course, also a creative bonus too – allowing the subject to be isolated from the background, like the grass to the right and the deep red scabious flower above, dropping distracting details and texture from backgrounds, or just leaving enough to give the frame context.

But none of this has addressed my earlier workflow concerns, far from it, it has opened a whole new can of worms and the battle continues.  I love working from RAW images, but can’t afford the best software for doing so, so I’m trying to settle on something that will work for me with minimal outlay.  I have two pieces of free software at the moment, each of which has its merits, but neither is an outstanding winner in addressing the way I like to work and the things I photograph. I think this is partly due to my lack of expertise with them.  The software is much more sophisticated and capable than when I first started tinkering with RAW files about 15 years ago, so I see another learning curve to climb ahead of me.

My work this week:

Quite a bit of my time of late has been taken up with working on commissions and re-working older designs that still sell well.  I occasionally re-visit pieces when I come to make them again, to see if the design or methodology can be improved upon and this necessitates the taking of new photographs and re-writing the product description where the item changes.  This can seem as though I’ve not made much, but it’s a perpetual process of keeping on top of designs and ensuring that as my skills improve, so does what I offer my customers, just as it should be.

I do have two new silver pieces from my recent period of working with silver clay:

Silver ivy leaf earrings with integral Sterling silver earwires.
Naturally contoured silver ivy leaf earrings with integral Sterling silver earwires.


Large lavender coloured Cubic Zirconia wrapped in a swirl of solid silver.
Large lavender coloured Cubic Zirconia wrapped in a swirl of solid silver.  This one was a treat for myself.


7 Jul 2011

We managed to eat lunch al fresco every day

I apologise for my posting tardiness of late, but between work commitments and a recent holiday, I haven’t been able to find the time to do it justice – or if I’m honest, I’ve not really had anything much of interest to say.

So, for now, I’ll just post some photographs from our recent ‘summer’ stay in the Lake District. Incredibly and unusually, after our lovely spell there over the Easter period, we also had largely gorgeous weather this time too. There were odd periods of rain or occasional showers, but they never happened when we were actually outside and it didn’t divert us from our plans.

Please click on any of the photographs for a larger view.
Sea Thrift growing along the shoreline at Arnside in Cumbria, one of my favourite spots to feel the breeze through my hair – and on this particular evening, there was a lot of breeze to feel. Combined with dampness it made a right old mess of my hair.

We can always get a snapshot of the success level of a holiday with regard to weather by how we eat our lunch – we are almost always out for the day, with a recent habit of doing our walking when we arrive at our chosen location, taking a snack to eat with us at a suitable spot part way along our route, returning to the car for lunch, which is often quite a bit later than lunchtime by then.

The goldfinches just loved the seeds from the thistles growing in the orchard beside the caravan.
I’ve seen Mum doing this, how hard can it be?

Sometimes we eat where we’ve parked, often we move to a favoured spot where we know a good sheltered or quiet place to park or where there are picnic tables. If there are no picnic tables, we have a system of setting up a ‘table’ in the hatchback of the car and eating lunch there standing up. It probably sounds a little odd, but it works really well and we’ve practiced and perfected a technique that really suits us. We also have an [unfortunately] practiced technique for eating inside the car where conditions outside are unsuitable.

The skies were largely blue with fluffy white clouds, which made a delightful change.
Perhaps if we took ready-made butties for lunch, life would be so much easier, but where’s the fun in that? We tend to take fresh bread and an assortment of cheeses, meat and pate and just have a little of whatever we fancy.

It has always been a bit of a challenge having to organise fresh bread or needing to shop every few days when you don’t have much of a freezer, but the last couple of trips we’ve used part-baked rolls that have a long use by date and can be baked fresh each morning whilst we have breakfast. We supplemented this by making our own bread too (an easy soda bread where we measured and took batches of the dry ingredients ready prepared and bagged and just combined with a carton of buttermilk), made life significantly easier and we don’t know why we haven’t thought of it before – it has worked like a charm and freed up that shopping time to be out in the fresh air. And saved us a considerable amount of pennies too – appreciated as this was very much a holiday on a tight budget.

So, judging by that criteria, the fact that we didn’t have to retreat to the inside the car for lunch any day we were away, makes it a pretty good holiday – weather-wise at least. It certainly adds to the pleasure when you’re blessed with sunshine in which to enjoy the gorgeous scenery.

I love the tilt screen on the camera that allows me to take low shots like this without getting muddy knees and eliminating the need for lots of trial and error using the self-timer.

I was extremely delighted to snag my first proper dragonfly photograph – taken with the maximum zoom as it was about 6 feet away down a steep marshy bank and I had no option to get any closer – largely as my husband refused to hold my ankles.

Further to earlier comments about my most recent camera, which turned out to be faulty, was returned and repaired, came back seemingly fixed, but wasn’t, was returned and I paid the upgrade fee to get the newer, now currently on sale, model. Thankfully, it performed flawlessly and I realise that my original camera was never right and the problems I had with it from the start were not the user error I blamed myself for, but it was genuinely faulty. So I’m much, much happier with it now and can concentrate on composition and creativity rather than trying to get the camera to focus properly etc.

We went past the pig farm that has an outdoor pen several times whilst up there and this little chap was by far the tiniest piglet in there and he saw me from right across the enclosure and set off to investigate, but was waylaid en route by another piglet wanting to play, so I never got to tickle him.
“OK, own up, who farted?”

On the lane up to the farm we stay at there was a little group of bunnies playing one evening at the field perimeter and we weren’t sure whether they were hares or rabbits – as we have seen hares in that spot previously. I was taking a few shots in far too low light levels, just to give me the chance to identify them properly, when this chap popped his head up out of the long grass – and disappeared again before I got chance to snag him. So I spotted where he’d been and pre-focused, hoping for a reappearance, which he made again briefly. Not the best image by any measure, but it amused the heck out of me.

And as often happens, we were delayed several times with holiday traffic jams:

And you can probably make up your own caption for this particular shot:

“Well, just come back over the same way you climbed over in the first place!”

Full gallery:

The rest of my holiday collection are in one of my on-line photo galleries.

Panoramic photograph of Tarn Hows:

One of the photographic areas that has always fascinated me is in creating panoramas and wide angle shots in general – you’ll notice that many scenics and landscape shots I take are at very wide angles.

I haven’t created a new panorama for a while – although I’m sure I’ve got lots of saved frames waiting for my attention – but I took a series of 5 overlapping frames to test out the new camera’s suitability for this process. Although the starting frames weren’t very good (some were a bit underexposed and dark for starters, due to the huge contrast across the scene), I’ve managed to do some work with them and make something good enough to reassure me that it will work well for me in future. Creating panos requires meticulous preparation when taking the frames to ensure that the individual photographs all have the same exposure and are focused in the same plane and positioned and overlapped so that they will line up carefully to give rise to an accurate and tidy stitch of the individual photographs when brought together.

This is Tarn Hows in the Lake District, from one of the less popular paths. 5 individual photographs stitched together.

If you click through from the image above it will give you a medium sized copy to view, but if you’d like to see it larger, this link leads to a larger version.

7 May 2011

The best holiday weather since 1996

That says it all doesn’t it – that I can actually remember the last holiday we had with really great weather – and not that recently either.

Please click on any of the photographs for a larger view.
On the Good Friday bank holiday we hit heavy traffic and were held up for some time – Herdwick ewes being moved into pastures closer to the farm ready to have their lambs. Mr Boo christened this photo “Where’s Woolly?”

This was taken over a week later, but only a few yards away so may well be one of the Herdwick ewes above being brought down to lamb. Each ewe only has a single black lamb.

We’ve just spent the extended Easter, Royal Wedding and May Bank Holiday period in the English Lake District and with the exception of one evening with a short-lived downpour – late enough that we’d already drawn the curtains and washed up from dinner, so it really didn’t trouble us – and one day that was grey and drizzly, we had wall to wall sunshine for the entire 12 days.

I’ve always had a bit of a fixation about sunlight through trees, it’s just one of my very favourite things.

Where we stay in a permanent static caravan on a working farm, the bedroom window is on the north east face of the structure and if I wake up with the sun on my face, we know it’s a good start. Unfortunately, that’s a somewhat rarer experience that I’d personally like. Every morning, bar one, the sun kissed my cheeks as the alarm went off. Fabulous.

Ramsen / wild garlic; the hedgerows and woodland were thick with it – the flowers just opening – it gives off a gorgeous sweet garlic smell if you brush the leaves as you pass.

But then you have to get up and to it quite promptly as long, static, metal caravans in full sunshine soon turn into baking tins and whilst the day might start with temperatures close to frost-inducing, the air warms alarmingly rapidly as the sun rises and heats the metal sides.

Our neighbour during our stay – taken through the kitchen window – this spot, nestled against one of the damson trees in the orchard, was a morning favourite as the sun warmed up. Soon after I took this, his brother sidled over and snuggled up next to him.

But it is fabulous to eat breakfast with the patio doors wide open and looking out onto the scenery with the spring breeze playing around you.

One of the very most important things to me is walking through woodland and it was just about perfect last week.

A rare moment of stillness in an otherwise very breezy period.

Walking through woodland along a lake shore and coming across small private (albeit rocky) beaches periodically to perch, catch your breath and admire the view, is about a perfect way to spend a spring day.

The weather was just about perfect for us, lots of sunshine, but cool air and on some days, a distinctly brisk and chilly breeze. Just ideal for getting out and walking, although our lunchtime picnics were a little more lively than ideal on some days. When your crisps blow off your plate and you have to hold bread down, you know it’s time to retreat indoors to eat. Al fresco dining; I love it.

I wish I could have captured the fragrance for you too. There are few things more perfect to enjoy than dappled sunlight on deciduous ancient woodland with masses of wild bluebells.

The trees pretty much fully opened from bud within the time we were there and there’s this short period each spring when the trees are this most magnificent luminous bright spring green – the foliage in the sunlight last week was breathtakingly gorgeous – beech trees especially are the most vibrant fresh colour. Foliage is pristine and un-ravaged by weather, disease or insects and at its most perfect – combined with the lovely clear air and sunshine, the Lakes were about as beautiful as I’ve ever seen them – and I’ve spent a lot of my life there in just about every possible set of conditions.

When we arrived, most of the ferns and brackens were unfurling and within a week, were all totally open

I wish I could share with you the fabulous fresh air, scent of the bluebells and the invigorating freshness of woodland in sunshine, but I’ll just have to leave you with the photos and your imagination will have to fill in the rest. There’s a more complete set of photographs in my image sharing gallery.

I love to sit on this seat around a tree and view the fabulous rock garden with its gorgeous maple trees at Sizergh Castle. I never tire of looking at it.

I love this scene in the castle gardens – the water lillies are just growing.

These flowers are less than an inch in diameter, yet fabulously complex geometric structures.

I was so excited when I came upon this pen of pigs – there must have been 50 assorted pigs of different breeds, colours and sizes, all sunbathing in a pile together – that I almost forgot to take photos – I was too busy trying to stop myself from squealing and jumping up and down in excitement.

Did I mention that I totally love walking through woodland and seeing the sunlight filtering through. I suspect I did.