22 May 2011

A hidden gem we’ve walked past many times

I’ve just realised that this is my 100th blog post here – I had intended to mark the occasion with something more in keeping with the milestone, but it’s nearly midnight on a Sunday evening and to be blunt, my imagination and flair has totally deserted me, so apologies that it’s not something more worthy.

Please click on any of the photographs to see a larger view.

Whilst we were away over the Easter period the Fuji bridge camera I had been given for a recent big birthday to use as a walk-around camera when I didn’t want to be weighed down with the bug guns, had developed assorted faults and is currently back with the manufacturer to be looked at, under warranty. There is clearly something amiss with the sensor and a whole collection of small, somewhat intermittent, but increasingly frequent, niggly problems – like it won’t switch off or on, won’t change mode etc. At first I put them down to quirks of the model, but when you lose shots because of them, or get home and find that several frames you took that day were totally out of focus, something really has to be done with it.

The fabulous gardens as Sizergh Castle in the Lake District – I have already published a photograph of this scene from a JPEG file – but having opened up the RAW file and seeing how much better the tonality of it is, as well as how much further detail I have been able to bring out, it has made me question my workflow all over again.

I had been happy with my Easter photos until I opened the ones taken with my DSLR. But considering this camera and lens combination cost about 7 times the amount of my new camera, it jolly well should show it up.

None of the very many photographs I took of this scene with different cameras really did it justice, with the low early evening sun filtering through the spring foliage and warming up the fragrance from the bluebells.

So whilst I’m without it, it has given me the opportunity to work on some photographs I’d taken recently that I hadn’t done anything with yet and to give further thought to some of my concerns over the image files I get from it – and my perpetual quandary since getting it on how best to use it – I’ve never quite been able to get colours right in landscapes (which I think my Easter collection helped me to make decisions) and can’t settle on just working with out of camera JPEG image files, or to do the extra work of using RAW files which give better results, but are more work – and the software provided for doing so is rather clunky to use, somewhat discouraging that approach and the frustration it invariably brings.

Bluebells nestled amongst bright spring green emerging foliage – one of my favourite things.

I was pretty happy with the photographs I took over Easter (largely as JPEGs) until I worked on both some images I took with the much larger and heavier DSLR (which at the time of buying, the cost – with the ultra wide angle lens I like to use – cost about 7 times this other newer camera, so it jolly well should show it up) and also some of the frames I took with the bridge camera in a RAW format and developed into images myself using software – a slightly tedious process, but certainly yielding better results.

So whilst I’ve been tinkering and trying different post-processing settings, which has been a really worthwhile process for me, I found a series of photographs I took before we went away at Easter and had temporarily forgotten about. We moved to this area about 29 years ago when we got married – we commuted to the area for work for 3 months initially, whilst we looked for a house and planned a wedding, moving here properly when we returned from honeymoon.

The area surrounding the reservoir was once farmland with assorted cottages and farms and it’s always fascinating to see the gateposts and walls remaining from such previous occupiers. I wonder how many modern gateposts would withstand the passage of time in this manner

On the moors above us is a reservoir which has a 2Km walk around it and we do this lap very often, having walked it many, many times in those 29 years. And regular readers will know how much I love walking in woodland and how important being amongst trees is for me.

Off to one side is a steep narrow path disappearing into the trees and we only recently set off up that path to see where it took us. I’m actually now pretty cross that we’ve walked past it dozens of times without ever realising that it adds an extra loop into the walk through a most unexpectedly gorgeous wooded area.

It just goes to show that even little gems like that can be right under your nose without you knowing, or appreciating it. I can’t see us missing out that loop many times in future – although I think it might be tricky walking if it’s especially wet or icy – which it often is when we do that walk.

The leaves were just emerging when we were up there in April, but I hope to be back there very soon when I expect that the green will have exploded from what you see in these photographs. I’m really looking forward to it – and to my camera coming home too – I’m sorely missing it.

Turquoise dyed magnesite beads with double coiled antiqued copper. I wanted something with smaller beads to match the large chalk turquoise beads I use in necklaces, for those that prefer a more discreetly-sized earring.

Work-wise this last week I’ve been a good girl and caught up a little on photographing my backlog of finished pieces. I can seemingly make much faster than I can photograph (that’s no doubt more to do with my motivation, making is so much more fun) and list pieces and I find the perpetual backlog really tiresome. But I set myself some deadlines last week and actually met them. I’m hoping to reward myself with some quality bench time to tackle some new ideas this week.

13 Feb 2011

The best I could manage on a damp February Saturday

Apologies for yet another post of little worthwhile substance, but it’s been a funny, disorganised sort of week and my mind hasn’t sufficient capacity left for writing anything sensible or of value this week.

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

On the perimeter of the reservoir are the remains of some workers cottages and farmsteads from before the valley was flooded. This shot was a blended exposure from two frames developed from the same raw image taken – it would have been impossible to get this much detail in the foreground shadow and good colour in the sky from a single in-camera image.

As mentioned previously, I got a new camera for my recent BIG birthday and haven’t yet fallen totally in love with it – it’s taking some getting to know and get the best from. I was concerned that there was actually a problem with it, I was getting a few totally out of focus shots, despite having focus lock confirmed, so I consulted fellow owners on a photography forum for advice.

After discussion of focus and exposure issues, I took it out for a walk yesterday – I needed to stretch my legs and get some fresh air and the 2Km reservoir walk we chose is local, has a good car park and provides just the kind of scene I’ve been having difficulty with.

So armed with some ideas to try and warm clothing I put it through its paces and whilst the scenery was very post-winter and drab looking and the weather very changeable – from bright low winter sunshine to big dollops of cold rain, I came away with a higher percentage of successful shots than I had been doing.

I shot these in a raw unprocessed format which is my usual practice with my DSLR and I think this will be the way to go, I was much happier with the image quality (at pixel level, in terms of sharpening, contrast etc.) and it fits nicely with my preferred work flow for post-processing images – I like working the images to my own taste rather than just accepting what the camera gives me.

My new camera has a wider wide angle than most digicams (24mm equivalent, where most are 36mm or 38mm) and this was one of the reasons I chose it, as I do like to take very wide angle shots like this. I use a 12mm ultra wide angle lens on my DSLR.

I did however have to question one previously published theory – that dogs always carry the largest possible stick they can lift with their jaws. I was passed by a golder Labrador with a very trim stick in his mouth – it was about 2″ in diameter and about 15″ long – with very clean saw marks at each end. I suspect his owner, fearing for the safety of their shins, or perhaps having already come off badly after an encounter with the dog’s favourite walk-buddy – decided to create a stick of his own that was perfect for carrying and throwing and ensured rather less bruising. Mr Boo and I both spotted it simultaneously and pointed, laughing; the owner must have thought we were bonkers!

There’s often little water in this race which feeds the reservoir, but after several days of heavy rain, the waterfalls were more lively than I’ve seen them before.
To paraphrase a quote by Ms Dolly Parton – ‘if you want to see rainbows, you have to put up with the rain’. You can just see that this was a double rainbow and actually was a full arc on both sides too.
29 Sep 2010

I can’t imagine life without trees

For me, for the most part, as long as I can periodically escape to some of my favourite spots outdoors and get some fresh air and stretch my legs, I can cope with whatever life throws at me. In tricky times, or with tedious things I have to endure, like dental work or waiting in unsavoury places for overdue buses, I imagine walking through some of my favourite tracts of woodland. It’s something I look forward to intensely when I know I have a trip planned. The mental images and memories of being in places such as the ones shown here, pop into my mind many times a day and I long to be there.

Please click on any of the photographs for a better view, they look rather dark here on the page.

Even on the treadmill at the gym, I position myself on one of the machines near a window where I can see a short run of screening pine trees they’ve planted to separate the tennis courts from the playing fields and picture myself walking through them into more dense deciduous woodland beyond. I just cannot conceive of life without trees and being amongst them. I’m totally comfortable in their company and more at peace than anywhere else.

Early in the walk, a well made path runs level along the lake shore, rising steeply away from it shortly.

If I were given the option to wish myself away to anywhere, it would almost certainly be to one of my favourite woodland walks. Ideally, on a crisp, still, autumnal day with clear blue skies, fabulous views and glorious autumnal colours – even better if the woodland is deciduous or mixed and has a good smattering of beech trees. This particular day it was grey and damp, so the colours are not at their best, but I’d rather be there in rain than most other places on a nice day.

There is a habit in more recent times in managed woodland, to leave some of the trees that have either fallen naturally, or been cleared for management, to rot naturally in the woodland as they would without intervention. This then becomes a habitat to a wide range of plants and insects, adding to the health and biodiversity of the woodland.

I just love the intense array of natural sculpture nature provides us with along the way, partly from human intervention as above, to the natural abstract of the materials of the forest, as below.

The weather doesn’t often play the game, but the venue is much more reliable. I don’t even mind less than perfect weather, sometimes it even has its advantages, well known spots tend to be much quieter, which is always a bonus.

I don’t mind walking in dampness – loving the English Lake District makes this somewhat a necessity – gentle rain certainly won’t stop us from setting off – but driving rain and wind do tend to just spoil things. To quote Billy Connolly, as I have many times; “there’s no such thing as bad weather, just the wrong clothing.” If you attire yourself accordingly, it doesn’t have to stop you enjoying the outdoors.

One of the few advantages of being that bit more mature, is that you can plan your holidays outside of school holidays when it’s generally much more quiet and often the only people you pass are other mature types taking un-seasonable breaks and local dog-walkers.

Being a lover of and regular visitor to the Lake District, weather does tend to be a factor close to your heart, but we’ve had atrocious weather in summer and lovely weather in spring and autumn, even winter, so the time of year actually seems to matter little – you get what you get.

We’ve just returned from a 4 day break there, it was supposed to have been the start of our 2 week annual holiday, but a whole batch of assorted circumstances meant we had to downgrade it to a short break instead this time. And after a recent health scare and resulting hospital treatment, I was a little below par and my walking a tad less robust, but it actually made my time amongst the trees even more precious, valued and needed. It did me a world of good – woodland rarely fails to restore me.

There are a couple of sweet chestnut trees along this particular path and at this time of year they’re just falling off and opening on the ground. They’re fabulous to look at, nestled amongst fallen leaves, but decidedly hostile for handling. Last year I made the mistake of putting some in a bag to use as photo props, but having strapped it to my camera bag was like a pin cushion when I got back to the car – those interlocking randomly angled spines are incredibly effective defensive weapons.

The photographs on this page were all taken on one walk on Monday along the western shore of Windermere – the largest lake in the English Lake District. The eastern shore is the main holiday area and the best know to most people, but we love the other side – it’s densely wooded and much quieter. This particular estate is owned and managed by the National Trust.

This particular favourite walk, of just under 3 miles, starts flat along the side of the lake and rises and undulates through mixed and established woodland slightly off the lake, dropping back to the lake after about a mile and a third or so – it’s rather more steep in places than the photographs would have you believe.

We have a habit of getting to the point where the path meets a small beach with lots of large rocks, where we perch awhile, watch the boats, feeds some ducks, take some refreshments and then return, whence we came, for lunch back at the car park.

I just love being amongst this sort of mixed and elderly woodland and it’s especially gorgeous in autumn where the mix of beech and oak amongst a whole selection of different spruce and pines makes it an interesting and varied scene.

9 Aug 2010

Summer raindrops – precious jewels

Everywhere water is a thing of beauty gleaming in the dewdrop, singing in the summer rain. – John Ballantine Gough.

We just had a weekend away in the English Lake District, to try and get some fresh air, time under trees and some walking done. The weather forecast didn’t look very promising and after several weeks of very poor summer weather, we were resigned to donning waterproofs and just getting out there and making the best of it. As it happens, it didn’t turn out that badly and we only got damp.

To quote Billy Connolly, “there’s no such thing as bad weather, just the wrong clothing. So get yourself a sexy raincoat and live a little”. For many years I was a fair-weather walker – if truth be told, I didn’t really like walking that much, in any weather. I just didn’t enjoy the process and how it made me felt. I was perpetually struggling to keep up with my significantly fitter husband and unfit enough myself to make it uncomfortable, combined with joint problems that simply made it painful.

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

But I’ve recently had to embrace a more active way of life, in a deal I struck with the medical professionals that manage my diabetes. I was on medication that made me thoroughly miserable, but it was a necessary evil for my well being and future prospects. I finally mutinied at the end of 2009 and said I would have to look at alternative methods to manage my health, I didn’t feel there was much point in living longer if I was totally miserable, and largely housebound, in the process.

So I was prescribed some initial gym sessions and told that if I’d get fitter, lose a whole chunk of weight, I might be able to manage it better under my own steam without the medication – they’d give me 6 months to achieve that – but it would need work. I was going to trade pharmacological control for personal effort.

The sky above Thirlmere looked incredibly ominous and it was very dark, but thankfully the rain was light and gentle and nowhere near as bad as we anticipated.

So as 2010 has progressed, I’ve stuck religiously with the regular gym sessions, taking out membership once my initial prescribed sessions expired. I’ve recently been given a revised regime, as I’d simply progressed beyond the original plans. I’m just about on target for my weight loss plan for the year and am significantly fitter than I was as the New Year started.

So now walking isn’t a chore and I really don’t care about the weather any more. What’s the worst that will happen – I’ll get soaked, need to wash my hair and require a change of clothes? I feel significantly better than I did on the medication and know that my health has simply improved for the efforts I’ve so far made and my improved fitness. It was a win-win trade I made. They thought so too, they’ve allowed me to stick with this plan.

One of the factors that significantly helped me, was deciding to try walking with a pole – my joint problems and a recent back injury meant I was always a little nervous and tended to guard myself as I walked, meaning that I never truly relaxed when walking on uneven ground, or got up a decent pace and was reluctant to try more challenging paths. I had the idea that being a tad clumsy already, adding a pole into the mix, along with the camera I always carry was just going to be asking for trouble, I would either end up covered in bruises, or more likely, my walking partner would. Or else I’d trip one or both of us up with it and end up with it confiscated on the grounds of safety.

But it simply didn’t prove to be the case. I took to using it much more easily than I expected and now wouldn’t set off without it. I’ve taken on steep paths that would have felt insurmountable a year ago and I can now walk faster and with much greater confidence than I ever have before. Such a simple change has been responsible for a massive improvement in both what I’ve actually achieved, but my willingness to even try. And yes, husband of mine, I can hear you crowing “I told you so”.

I love gawping into woodland – I cannot conceive of life without being surrounded by trees. Much of the woodland around Thirlmere is managed forest as a timber crop – and it never ceases to amaze me how quickly the land is re-colonised by young trees after an area has been cleared and you see new trees living alongside established ones. There’s a little waterfall running through this scene that I’d not noticed before.

Thirlmere is a reservoir owned by United Utilities and the public are granted permission to access the land. The large lake was originally created from two smaller ones adjacent to two villages, Armboth and Wythburn, which were flooded late in the 19th century to provide water to Manchester. Consequently, there is still evidence of rural life in the area and you can see stretches of dry stone wall and sometimes a lone gatepost amongst the dense woodland.

So come Saturday morning, we were determined to walk along Thirlmere, one of our very favourite spots and donned waterproofs and set off under the trees. The rain was light and gentle and the air very still, so whilst it felt very damp and humid, it was pleasant enough to walk in. The light texture of the rain seemed to cling on everything and all the small plants seemed to be bejewelled with the tiny raindrops. Heavier rain simply bounces off, but these tiny fine droplets clung to the hairs of fine grass seeds and mosses like diamonds. It was very certainly worth damp hair to see them. Unfortunately, due to very low light, they’re not as sharp as I’d hoped, but you get the idea.