Early Sunrise on Bardag Lake

Early Sunrise on Bardag Lake
Early Sunrise on Bardag Lake

Thursday, 21 March 2019

Photographs for Posterity

I've always been interested in comparing old street photographs with the present day, in seeing how things have changed or, in some cases (fewer, it has to be said) have remained the same. And I sometimes just spend some time wondering what has gone on in those places in the meantime.

Which is why I am a bit addicted to photographing what to most people would seem mundane and even a bit boring. I often have my Point-and-Shoot camera with me, which is great for capturing street scenes when the DSLRs would only push somebody's Let's Take Offence For No Logical Reason Button. I've even been known to use the dreaded phone camera from time to time.

The Horace Cowlin Memorial Shelter on 15 February 2019
F/3.5  ---  1/500 sec  ---  ISO 100  ---  24mm
I took this photo just recently, (with my DSLR as it happened) in Valentine's Park, Ilford (London Borough of Redbridge for those who are interested). At first glance, it's just a park shelter, and a bit incongruous as it is the only one in that park. On closer inspection, I discovered that it is actually a memorial to a local man killed during the Battle of the Somme in 1916, and has been there since 1917. It's in pretty good nick for its age. I know it has been refurbished but other than that I know very little.

So that got me wondering about how he, Horace Cowlin, must have walked around this very lake, possibly on the day before he shipped off to France for the last time, maybe with his wife and family. What was he thinking about? His jewellery shop, maybe? How his family would get on without him? Whether he would come home and how things would be if he did?
And then I thought, why was this shelter put on this spot? Was there one there before? Was it a favourite spot of his?
I guess I could research these things and maybe one day I will. The records exist. But for now, I am content to be fascinated by the multitude of possibilities that this shelter presents.

Almost certainly, my own grandparents, who were sweethearts during the First World War and who moved to Ilford during the Second World War, walked in this park and maybe they sat together in this shelter. I wonder if they knew about Horace? They are no longer with us, so I guess I'll never know. 

So this is my photograph - just an addition to many that have been taken recently. Oddly enough, I can't find any earlier ones, and that's a shame. Maybe in a hundred years' time, somebody may look at this and compare it with what they can see then. I hope so.

Saturday, 23 February 2019

Mobile Phone Cameras

I'm not intending to rant, so if this comes out as such, I apologise.

In case you are unfamiliar with one of my particular prejudices, let me tell you what I think of Phone Cameras.

Not much.

It doesn't matter what electronic wizardry you pack inside the things, how much editing software you include (in what is supposed to be a phone) to con an increasingly gullible and materialistic public into spending unrealistic and obscene amounts of money, at the end of the day, they have:

(a) lenses and sensors which are smaller than and old-fashioned toothpaste cap.
(b) screens which you can't see properly in anything other than pitch darkness.
(c) the most awkward camera controls ever invented.
(d) a huge attractiveness to morons.

In the photographic food chain, mobile phone cameras are, in my opinion, plankton.

But that's not to say that they don't have their uses.
Stitching up innocent people for example.
Turning the world into 1930s Nazi Germany by recording everyone's slightest movement and reporting it to anyone who will listen so that all right-thinking PRIVATE citizens live in fear of so much as breathing at the wrong time...

Well anyway. Back to topic.

Yes, they do have their uses, as this picture shows. Sunsets wait for no-one and if the phone is the only camera you have handy, then they fill a gap.

f/1.9  ----  1/500 sec  ---  ISO 40  ---  3.6mm

ISO 40? Even my DSLRs can't get ISO 40 at f1.9! But then, with decent size lenses letting in a proper amount  of light, they don't need to.

Still. It was an amazing sunset, worth capturing.
But don't be fooled. This picture took a fair deal of post production, just to bring the drab in-camera image back to something approaching the glorious scene I was trying to record. It'll do, but that's about all, in my opinion.

There are some very skilled people who produce some incredible shots using phone cameras. And I say, "Congratulations and Respect to them."
But for every one of those, there are hundreds of know-nothings who get lucky once in a lifetime. And for every one of those, there are millions upon millions whose useless talentless dross chokes social media and other platforms.
"Photographs" which, in the days of film (remember the Kodak Instamatics?) would either have been returned from the lab with a "Low Quality" sticker on them or been consigned to the bin. Or more likely, and more to the point, not taken in the first place.

It is the mobile phone camera, and its easy accessibility to everyone with a thumb, whether they know the front of a lens from the back end of bullshit or not, that has largely reduced the position in society of the serious photographer, (amateur or professional) to no more than dubious eccentricity.

These days, to film everything at random and invade everyone's privacy with a mobile phone is normal and even acceptable, whilst creating a carefully framed shot, recording a good-quality image for posterity using skills and experience gained over years with top quality equipment is likely to get you labelled as some sort of pervert.

And that, as you might have guessed, pisses me right off!

Thursday, 21 February 2019

Grad Filters

I got this shot in what some might describe as "the old fashioned way."
That is, the colour effects were done in the camera rather than in Post. It was a miserable day, leaden skies, grey river, drizzly. Generally not very nice.
I had a couple of graduated filters in my bag so I decided to experiment. Well, why not? I rarely if ever use them and this seemed like a good time to try.

Tacking across the Thames at Purfleet, Essex
f/6.3  ---  1/250 sec  ---  ISO 200  ---  70mm  ---  Yellow Graduated Filter from the top
I used a tobacco-coloured filter to begin with, but that is very brown and just made a dull day duller, so I went with this yellow one instead.
When I first saw the result, my reaction was "Yeuch!" but I have to say that it has grown on me since. It's interesting if nothing else, and maybe the colour has something to say about the air quality in Greater London.

Tuesday, 19 February 2019

Crush Yer Nuts!

Photographically speaking, I am not excessively proud of this image, but it serves to help me make a point - and it's not about photography.

Take a moment to look at this picture. You see a Sparrow about to make off with half a peanut.

Just look at the size of that nut, compared with the Sparrow's beak. Now he is a big boy and will probably be able to swallow that great lump. If not, his beak is well suited to giving it a good bash and breaking it up a bit.

But think of Sparrow chicks. Or Tit chicks. Or other kinds of small bird chicks. Already (second half of February) the Little Brown Jobs are starting to find places to nest. Eggs will follow and when they hatch, parents are going to be working in relays to feed their young. And although they do their best, they don't have the smarts to realise that a whole peanut, or even half a peanut, will choke their poor offspring to death in one meal. They are hard wired to feed their chicks at every opportunity.

So please, if you put out peanuts for the birds, as we do, start thinking about crushing them up, at least between April and September.

You really do only want a handful of nuts each time.
Otherwise it takes too long to chop them up and you're
left with more powder than nuts.
We use our blender for the job. But there's a method to doing that, that I have had to work out for myself. Because blenders are over-efficient for this sort of thing, if you put in too many at a time, and/or whizz for too long you'll end up with powder. So start off with just a handful. You don't even need to cover the blades. Then give three or four half-second whizzes. Let the nuts settle between times.

Of course, you'll have to do this several times to create enough chopped nuts to be of any use. Takes a while.

Okay, okay, but I never said it was a quick fix, did I?

We get some powder with this method, but there are still enough chopped bits to be useful. And it beats messing about with a rolling pin. You can use a colander to separate the powder out, and the bits can go in the nut feeder. The powder doesn't get wasted. We put it on a tray with seed and meal worms and it soon vanishes. But it does seem to put the birds off the peanut feeders, which is why we go to the trouble of separating it out.

Of course, you could just buy chopped or crushed peanuts. But that's the expensive way of doing it and anyway, where's the fun in that?

The powdery bits can be mixed with seed and/or meal worms, raisins etc and put on a tray or table, or they can be mixed up with beef fat to make fat balls,
or whatever you like that's good for the birds. And the crushed bits will go in your peanut feeder and help raise another generation of small birds.

Monday, 11 February 2019


F/5.6  ---  1/800 sec  ---  ISO 640  ---  300mm
It seems to me that Starlings sometimes get a bit of a bad press in the UK. They are noisy and argumentative and have a reputation for chasing smaller birds away.
But I think they are charming and their plumage is absolutely stunning. Worth remembering too that native Starling numbers in the UK have plummeted in recent years. The world would be a much poorer place without these beautiful birds.

Monday, 28 January 2019

Garden Birds

This Robin has become a regular visitor to our garden
this year. We have seen the occasional Robin in previous
years but just lately this one has popped in every day.

f/5.6 --- 1/3200 sec --- ISO 500 --- 400mm
Well, just as I suspected, I haven't had the time to blog that I would have liked to have had. Well, never mind. I did say it was going to be occasional.

Anyway, here are a couple of shots that I took of birds in my garden the other day. They suffer from too-high ISO and the fact that I was shooting through a window, but other than that they're not too bad.


Blue Tits are among our most regular
garden visitors. We see dozens every day.
They're starting to nest now so it will
soon be time to chop up those peanuts.

f/5.6 --- 1/1600 sec --- ISO 500 --- 222mm


Wednesday, 16 January 2019

A Summer's Afternoon in a Garden

An old Victorian laundry wringer, now discarded and being overgrown in a corner.
f/3.5 --- 1/800 sec --- ISO 100 --- 24mm

I had a lot of fun taking these pictures. It was really my first attempt at "crawling around a flower garden."
I'm not as agile as I'd like to be and lumping a big heavy camera around didn't make for an easy shoot.
But the day was warm and there was no time pressure -  for a change.
I was going to say that I quite like dereliction, but that wouldn't be true. To be honest, for the most part, it's an eyesore. But photographically, it can provide some very interesting subjects.
This wringer for example.
It has been gently rotting away, broken and unloved, probably for decades. But just there, at that moment, in that position with the bindweed growing through it, I thought it was just lovely and I couldn't resist shooting it from every conceivable angle.
This was the final result and I have used it many times, both as it is and in monochrome.

Cabbage White on a Purple Flower
f/4 --- 1/1000 sec --- ISO 100 --- 70mm

Ah, the Cabbage White Butterfly.
Bane of kitchen gardeners everywhere. The hours I have spent trying to protect my brassicas from these little devils!
But actually, when you get up close, and you haven't got any cabbages to worry about, they are actually quite beautiful.
I don't have any dedicated macro lenses, so I couldn't follow my ethos of getting up close and personal with my subject. Apart from anything else, every time I pointed my camera at one of these insects, it flew away.
I don't mind admitting that I was getting pretty fed up with almost capturing one. So when this one managed to stay still for a whole five seconds, I didn't waste a moment.
The shot didn't look like much on the camera's little screen, but I hope you'll agree, the full-size result was very pleasing.

Eryngium Bee Magnet
f/6.3 --- 1/640 sec --- ISO 100 --- 70mm

I have discovered that using a decent telephoto lens can produce results that are very close to what you might achieve with macro.
The "middle" lens of my three USM II lenses is 24-70mm, so it is, technically, a telephoto or zoom. But the maximum focal length is relatively short so I still had to get in reasonably close. Which could have been a problem around bees.
On this particular afternoon, the Eryngium were in full flower, and the bees could not have been less interested in me if they had tried. Which is just as well as I am seriously allergic to pain and I didn't fancy getting stung.
There are beehives in the corner of this particular garden and so the flowers were, quite literally crawling with the little chaps.
I have, perhaps, still a way to go with insect photography but I was pleased with the contrast between foreground and background in this shot.

Pollen Collection
f/7.1 --- 1/400 sec --- ISO 100 --- 70mm

This was taken on a different day, and in a different place, but I have included it because, to date, it is probably the best shot of an insect that I have taken. I think I would have liked it to have been facing towards me but, well, he wasn't taking direction at that particular moment!