Wednesday 19 August 2015


So a couple of weeks ago saw us at Birdland, which sounds rather more like a non-politically-correct sort of place than it is in reality.  I (Ben) lived in Gloucestershire when I was younger, so visited here a couple of times.  Its a bird-themed animal sanctuary in Bourton on the Water, so because the kids love animals and we like doing animal photography every now and again,we went down as a family for the day with my parents and trainee-vet sister, and started by slightly baffling the poor girl on the reception with a bewildering array of vouchers to get us all in on a discount. 
P-p-p-pick up a penguin- Amy got some nice close-ups of the Penguins to start with, thus getting nice shots and taking care of this years Christmas Card in one fell swoop.


Not a bird!

Fluffy plants!

Yes, sarcastic captioning.  The birds were very tame and photogenic, the giant tortoise-i?  Not sure of the plural... but they were very entertaining to the kids, and reminded me of the pet tortoise we had when I was little.
Overall, good weather, nice tourist attraction, pleasantly eclectic animals.
We did think of trying to get some nice photographs of Bourton itself, but the village was (as ever) heaving with hundreds of tourists also photographing the myriad stone bridges and pretty houses, so we gave up and just hit the shops.
Not sure what to post next, we have muchos from Wales, but also a new project has just potentially kicked off... cannot say much yet, except it involves Daleks...

Tuesday 18 August 2015

Quick snaps and Recce visits- Coughton and Skipton


Just a little update tonight, two lots of what were effectively recce pics for possible future shoots.  They were also shot using the Underwater compact camera; it doesn't cope terribly well with non-watery shots, but then when your three-year-old has stood on your 'actual compact camera and shattered the screen, beggars cannot be choosers.

First one was a National Trust property, Coughton Court, near Redditch.  I (Ben) had visited this when I used to live for a bit in Gloucestershire, but then when you're little, one NT property pretty much blends into another.  The weather was pretty poor, but we snapped some images with thoughts that we might come back with a proper camera.

Couldn't resist a shot of the fake owl either.
The other few snaps were taken about a week ago, also using the underwater compact as it was all we had with us, also in rubbish weather, but this time trying to play to its strength a bit more as an underwater camera.  The location was somewhere which surprisingly we'd not been to before, the woods next to Skipton Castle, and we'll probably be returning here again with proper cameras soon.
Not that it worked though, using underwater pics, as the water itself was carrying a lot of sediment.
One idea to try again though, underwater within a duck pond, even if the lighting somewhat outfoxed the camera on this occasion...

Sunday 16 August 2015

Day and Night at Hirst Wood

For this blog update, another set which was shot a while ago, but in this case it wasn't lazy editing; the photos were shot by Ben as an entry for a photography competition, and part of the rules were not to put them anywhere else until after the deadline.  The competition was for trains in the landscape, and I (Ben) decided to return to an old haunt, Hirst Wood, but to shoot some deliberately abstract imagery in two different, distinct shoots.  The Day series would be mainly playing with reflections and slight motion blurs, then a night shoot extending the long exposure projects I shot at the Worth Valley at Christmas:

It was a surprisingly nice day, the river was calm, so two hours at Hirst Wood getting a variety of trains.   The first shot was just to get my eye in, as it were, with a straightforward pic of the Settle-Carlisle service crossing the river.

Along the path a bit, and another angle I've used before, looking back at the bridge, as a Skipton service races over.  This was something of a recce for the night shoot, and checking the angle would work.

Then back to the bridge for some reflections shots, but taken upside down (with some difficulty) to try and make it look like a more conventional image.  Above, the Tilcon quarry freight...

…and then, another Skipton-Bradford Train.

Last shot was a chance passing of two services on the bridge, typically I was just packing up and didn't have the camera on quite the right setting, hence the annoying motion blur.

As predicted the Day shots didn't quite capture what I was after, so it was back for the Night shoots a little while later.  Later than planned as it happened, as it was around the time when a number of fairly catastrophic thunder storms were hitting, and whilst arcing lightning would have been a good backdrop, standing with a metal tripod, in a forrest, during a lightning storm didn't seem a terribly good idea.

Annoyingly, the only free night I had to shoot the pics was still one of the lightest nights of the year, but then I was up against the deadlines somewhat.  On arrival I got the returning London train heading south, illustrating the somewhat light sky...

A little later and a little darker, at the same spot.  Interestingly I was concerned for my personal safety somewhat, as daytime trips to this spot usually feature big scary dogs running free, and evidence of drunken partying.  However, this night all that was about was the animal kingdom, including such unexpected hazards as a million snails to horribly occasionally crunch in the dark, and large toads climbing into the camera bag.

Back over to the riverside, for a shot which would probably all right with less foliage.  Whilst I was stood there, I kept hearing odd noises and feeling 'things' flying past.

I took one shot by accident with the flash on, and couldn't figure out what it was until I zoomed in whilst editing...

Mystery solved, the flying 'things' whipping past my head were bats.  So much for radar.

An attempt at the reflections shot, which worked nicely, but shooting upside down, clamped to a tripod, composing the shot was even more chaotic, particularly as the tripod was balanced on rocks in the river.

Back up to rail level, and shooting from the fence next to the tracks.  There was a long gap before anything came, but thank heavens for the Real Time Trains app, where I discovered a long empty-stock working heading for Carnforth.  

Annoyingly I bottled it a bit, and took two shots rather than holding on for a shot with carriage lights too, but hey-ho.

Anyway, didn't get anywhere with the competition, but there may be room to extend the project with some shots at a slightly more sociable hour in the winter.

Saturday 15 August 2015

Brownsea Island

Taking photos is fun, relaxing, and enjoyable.  Editing photos is a pain in the backside, hence why (along with a busy few weeks shooting, and being away on holiday), means this update is going up a while after the images were shot.  Anyway, back in July we ended up on Brownsea Island, which is not as fun as Tracey Island, but considerably safer than the Island of Dr Moreau.  It is run by a number of organisations, mainly the National Trust, but we were there as we're both Scout Leaders and this little island off the south coast can be considered the spiritual home of the movement, as it was the site of the first experimental camp.

Above, the experimental camp- a photograph of a model in the visitor centre, because it was a) interesting, b) a model and Ben is into miniatures photography, and c) we don't have a Tardis in the kitbag and so can not travel back to the early 1900's to photograph the real camp, so the model will have to do to give a flavour of the place.

Not too many pics taken over the week- mainly because we needed to travel light on the train, and therefore had to pack on the assumption that baggage would be lost, soaked, abandoned, or eaten to keep us alive during an inevitable delayed train or missed connection.  We only had the underwater camera, and an ancient Nikon for photos, and we were also rather busy being leaders most of the time, but it was nice nonetheless. 

A mammoth jouney from Yorkshire involved:  Car to Bingley, then car to Bingley station, Bingley-Shipley on train, Shipley-Leeds on train, Leeds-Manchester on train, Manchester-somewhere past Southampton by this point on a train with no air conditioning I was past caring where-That Place to Poole on train, Poole Station to the quayside on foot, Poole Docks to Brownsea by the last ferry of the day, then a trip in the back of a rusting LDV van to the campsite.  Some 11 hours, followed by putting up tents and cooking.

Lots of tame wildlife on the island, as no dogs or cats allowed.  The two shots of the nosy peacocks outside the tents are uncropped, they really did get that close.

Of course, Brownsea is also famed for its Red Squirrel population, who are also incredibly tame and steal food.  This relaxed attitude to the most deadly species of all, (play dramatic music) Man, may go some way to explaining their downfall as a race on the British mainland.

Despite being a very pretty little tourist trap, the island has a surprisingly industrial history, with such ventures as a pottery established on the sound financial grounds of: a complete lack of common sense, lack of proper geological surveys, and abundance of optimism.  Long gone now, but it means the beaches near the campsite are composed almost entirely of clay or smashed terracotta pipes (the clay only being suitable for pipes rather than fine dinnerware, a fact discovered by the soon bankrupt owner who fled to Spain to escape his creditors).

There was even a brief opportunity, on one of the few sandy bits of beach on our side of the island, for a bit of sculpture and artistry, with a sandcastle competition, made all the more tricky by only having one spade and no bucket.  The castle above was the rather arty effort by the Scouts...

Whilst our own slightly freelance interpretation of the castle in York featured a handily up-cycled brick.

Given the general weather of the summer up to the point we're writing this in mid August, we had it rather nice there to be honest, having taken the careful precaution of arriving on the island the week before the local school summer holidays started, which guaranteed both gorgeous weather for us, and inevitably awful weather for whoever arrived as we left.  It also meant that we had the campsite (and indeed much of the island) to ourselves after the last boats had sailed for the mainland at 5.

The old pier, which was plastered with signs saying it was dangerous.  I (Ben) treated these with a somewhat cavalier disregard for my safety, at least until I climbed down to water level and saw the state the woodwork actually supporting this thing was in...

Peace and tranquility were somewhat shattered by the military deciding to re-enact "Apocalypse Now" and buzz the campsite with Chinooks and Sea Kings, which was entertaining, though hard to photograph in the failing light.


The red squirrels became ever more tame over the course of the week, getting nearer and nearer, to the point when they stopped being a novelty, and in fact we became rather blasé about these significantly endangered creatures.  And then a tad annoyed when they started to raid the mess tent, breaking into supposedly sealed cartons and crates.  Who would have thought that Red Squirrels enjoy washing-up water, packets of custard, lemon+lime cordial, raw pasta, honey-nut cornflakes, and leftover curry?

Red Squirrels have good taste when it comes to tea however.

The tameness of the wildlife got a little silly towards the end of the camp, such as this deer which calmly wandered past within a few feet of us and the Youths.

We got to leave our mark on the site with another quick bit of improvised art, with Amy attacking a suitable bit of driftwood, and adding an unconventionally sparkly touch with some nail polish.

Finally back home, with a slight variation of the journey featuring us leaving the island by canoe (against the tide, into the wind, and across a major shipping channel used by dredgers, ferries, and the royal navy, interesting to say the least). 

 Above shows our first conveyance from Poole to Bournemouth, as the quality of the trains decreased along with the number of coaches the further north we travelled (featuring such highlights as a Cross-Country service with only 1 out of 4 toilets working, and 1 of the three standard-class coaches having no air conditioning, identical to the train we travelled down on a week earlier).  We ended on the clapped-out Leeds-Settle-Carlisle train which early evening on a Saturday was full of noisy, but very friendly, drunks.

Overall a damned enjoyable week; the Scouts were happy, we had fun, the island was pleasantly eccentric, and journeys could have been a lot worse.  A few opportunities for shooting pics, particularly landscapes and wildlife which we don't do a lot of these days, so that was a positive.

Next time, more from Wales probably.