Extremes

“Me! Me! Take a photo of me!”

As a photographer, I often hear the opposite. “Don’t point that camera at me” (usually followed by a giggle and a pose). One exception is Rufus, who realises that the time I spend taking photos is time that is not spent throwing stones or sticks or reaching for the treat bag. But yesterday, as I was taking photos of the flowers in the garden, one bee decided it wanted to be part of the image. If you look in the top left corner of the image of the purple flowers, you’ll see it diving into shot. Later, it demanded modelling fees.

I was taking some more macro photos of the tiny world in my garden. Half the challenge is finding a suitable subject and another significant problem is wind. Stop sniggering at the back there, I mean natural wind that blows flowers and leaves around. It can prevent insects flying, disturb them and make focusing well nigh impossible. Focusing is critical with close ups, as the amount of the picture that is in focus is tiny and the slightest movement can create blur.

I was using extension tubes, which move the lens away from the body of the camera. The ultimate effect of this is to reduce the closest distance that the lens will focus on, making the thing you are photographing very large in the final image. At one point the front of the lens was less than an inch from the leaf I was trying to photograph. Although I was using a ring flash at this point, which gives an even light across the subject, my shadow and that of the camera was falling across the leaf and had already disturbed a small fly I had originally spotted on it.

Fast forward about 9 hours and the same camera, with a different lens, was pointed skywards in the hope of catching a Perseid meteor. These are the tiny fragmented remains of comet Swift-Tuttle, the tail of which we pass through this time every year. For a brief moment they flare as bright as the moon before burning up and finally settling on the earth as a fine dust. I’ve seen figures that suggest around 60 tons of meteorite material falls on the earth every day. Don’t quote me on that, though, as it’s from the Internet.

So from trying to focus on a leaf around 2cm from the lens, to trying to capture the flare of a meteor at an altitude of around 80km, it’s been a day of extremes.

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Hopalong Hound

At 9 years old, (63 in dog years), the last thing Rufus should be doing is chasing rabbits. Unfortunately, when the rabbit calls, Rufus is honour bound to answer. Thus it was on Betws Mountain last Tuesday night, as we were returning to the car after watching the sun set over the distant Mynydd Preseli. A rabbit popped up out of nowhere, surprising Rufus and I and before I could stop him, he was off chasing it. Rufus kept within a couple of feet of the rabbit until it started turning to throw him off. As I stood trying to call Rufus back, they circled me. At one point the rabbit was heading directly for me and I had an image of Rufus crashing into me and us both going over. But the rabbit swerved again and Rufus followed. This must have gone on for about 30 seconds or more – it felt like minutes. In a straight line, I think Rufus would have caught the rabbit but the turns were too much for him.

Suddenly, I heard him yelping and he pulled up, limping to favour his back right leg. I did a quick check over to see if there was anything obviously wrong. In particular, I was worried about a fracture as I would have to carry him back to the car. But he let me examine his leg and there was no obvious injury. So we slowly made out way back down to the car and judging by the way Rufus was reluctant to leave, pulling on the lead to follow the scent of the long departed rabbit, it wasn’t too bad an injury. I assumed an overnight rest and some TLC would sort it out.

The following morning, he still wasn’t right and I could tell he was in pain as he tried to walk. So a trip to the vet was in order. Rufus struggled down the steps to the car but still wanted to go for a walk along the street. At the vet, he was diagnosed as have torn his cruciate ligament. It’s the bit of us that holds the knee joints together. I had a similar but less serious injury of this ligament which forced me to postpone my Kilimanjaro climb.

Although there was an option to rest it and let it heal naturally, this would take a long time and risk damage to the joint. Rufus is an active dog and keeping him quiet and inactive for the healing time would be difficult. And every time he didn’t rest, it would risk making it worse. So I agreed for him to have an operation on Monday to repair the ligament.

He’s a fit and healthy dog and I’m not too worried about him. I’m more concerned with his ability to let the leg heal. Since he’s been to the vet (and is on pain meds so in no discomfort) he has gone up and down the stairs with little problem, discovering the best way to balance and in the process giving me heart attacks as he wobbles and threatens to take a tumble. He won’t wait for me to go down in front of him. He hops up and down the garden, ensures I know when he’s hungry (which is all the time as I’ve reduced the amount of food he has as he’s not exercising, and I want his weight down so that his one good back leg has an easier time). The one thing I can’t do is take him for a walk, although he dragged me down the steps to the street on Thursday night and we did stroll up and down the pavement for a couple of houses either side of mine.

He follows me out into the garden too. I like to keep an eye on him but he’s getting his confidence back and I don’t really need to be there. This morning, I took some macro photos of the insects on the hedge but Rufus got bored and went back in to rest.

I suspect he will be a difficult patient after the initial post operation period is over. The vet will give me a 6 week recovery programme of exercises for him to do. I haven’t explained this to Rufus yet – I’m waiting for the right moment.

Post script – by Rufus

I could have had the rabbit. Easy. I was toying with it. But Dave yelling at me distracted me. The knee hurts, but hey – wounded in action! When he took me to the vet, they gave me weird drugs and everything went psychedelic for a while. When I came to, I was back home. I love watching Dave’s face when I charge down the stairs. It was hard getting used to the balance at first, but now I know what I’m doing, I even fake a wobble now and again to hear him swear. I think I might enjoy the next few weeks!

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Happy New Year

Happy new year everyone, I hope 2015 year brings you all the things you wish for and for some of you, the things you deserve!

2015 is a science fiction year. When I was a kid, I read any science fiction story I could lay my hands on and a lot of them talked about the 21st Century (Gerry Anderson’s company, the one that brought us the original and best Thunderbirds, was called 21st Century TV). We have now passed George Orwell’s 1984, we are about half way through Wells’ “Shape of Things to Come” and we’ve passed two of the Arthur C Clarke Space Odyssey novels. We have devices that fit in the hand and connect us with all the knowledge of the world (although you still have to know how to access it). The only thing we haven’t got right yet is the interface to that device.

Of course, we also have people who claim to be experts in making the most of this device and its ability to communicate with the world. The world has filled up with experts, gurus, leaders in their field, and there are so many fields. There are so many of them that 2015 is likely to become the year of the expert expert and the guru guru. Who knows where we’ll be by 2016, but a speaker at a recent conference I attended said that the people who claim to be experts are undermining the professions to which they associate themselves because no one can know everything in enough detail to make that claim.

This time last year I was talking about exercise and I was in the last few days of training for my climb of Kilimanjaro. On 26 January, I made it to the top of Kibo – 5895m – and what a fantastic experience that was. But since then I’ve let the training go a little and although I now have a Rufus to keep me active, it’s not quite the same. And since, for he second year running, I have not given up chocolate, I suspect there is more of me than this time last year, particularly around my middle.

My photography stats

I ‘only’ took 12720 photographs in 2014. That’s almost 4000 down on the year before. I suspect (I hope) it’s because I’ve been a little more discerning and taken my time over each picture rather than machine gunning the views. That said, I took 1775 images on the Kilimanjaro trip alone. But almost a third of those were RAW copies so they don’t count!

Apparently, the photos in my catalogue for this year have been taken on 22 different kinds of camera, although some of those will be other people’s and some are HDR or panoramic images processed on the PC and designated as some unknown camera. Once again, 30% of the images have been taken with one camera – a Nikon D7100 – and 67% of those were taken with the excellent Tamron 18-270mm lens.

Understandably, given the trek, January was my most productive month with 2236 photos taken. I must have taken it easy while recovering in February when I took only 321 images. Looking at them, it was a month of bad weather so I guess I have an excuse. Most of the photos  from February were of huge waves crashing in at Bracelet Bay.

I took 399 macro shots, mostly with a Tamron 90mm macro lens. I think most of those pictures were of spiders in the garden!

All the best for the next 365 days!

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It’s all relative, really.

In between the showers today, we managed to get out to Broadpool for an hour’s walk but the whole time we were there, I was watching the dark clouds massing over Cefn Bryn, waiting to drench us. No sooner had we got back to the car than the heavens opened again; we were fortunate to miss getting soaked.

The rain continued steadily for the next few hours but a few minutes ago, I noticed the sun shining through the curtains and sure enough, there was blue sky above and the sun was quite warm. So out into the garden we went, eager to take advantage of any break in the rain. Rufus explored the garden, checking for intruders, and I grabbed my camera and went in search of things in the tiny world.

Bored with photography, Rufus left me to it and headed back to the sofa. I found two spiders remaking their webs, and started snapping away. It got me thinking though. My thoughts when I saw the rain this morning were around avoiding the inconvenience and discomfort of getting wet. The big garden spider I watched remaking it’s web was more concerned about getting it’s source of food set up again after it had been destroyed by the wind and rain.

The last photo I took was just after the spider got fed up of me snapping away and retreated under a leaf. I decided to leave it alone after that, to give it a chance to complete it’s housework before the next shower.

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If you go down to the woods today…

…in theory, you would find a bunch of like minded souls on hands and knees pointing cameras at bluebells. That’s what I thought as I’d planned to meet up with some friends and colleagues from work to go hunting for photogenic bluebells. But, typical for me, I got the directions wrong and ended up in a completely different car park. With no phone signal to check where everyone was, I waited a few minutes after our rendezvous time and then headed off to where I thought the bluebells would be.

Merthyr Mawr car park is right next to Candleston Castle, a fortified manor house dating back to the 14th Century. It is in ruins now and is the home to ivy and other creepers. Not far from the castle, I came across a large area of bluebells and set about snapping away.

The danger with Bluebells is that they can end up looking pink or purple in a digital image because they reflect so much infra red light. So it pays to bracket exposure to try some slight under exposure. I added a polarising filter too, although this seemed to make little difference. As I was crouched down n the ground, I went to lean on a small branch only to notice a line of ants marching along it. A closer look revealed a veritable motorway system complete with streams of ant traffic moving in both directions. I went to fit a macro lens on the camera and saw that my camera bag was right in the middle of another ant highway. I looked around for a place to safely deposit the bag but everywhere was crawling with ants. I was reminded of every film where ants attack humans and I was waiting for the inevitable biting and tickling that would signal my being carried off to some underground nest.

But instead, I found a clear space for the bag and took some macro shots of ants carrying food back to the nest. I had to use the ring flash as the light levels were too low under the canopy of trees to allow a decent depth of field and shutter speed fast enough to freeze their movement. I was pleased with what I got.

I explored the woods for a while, sheltering from a couple of short but sharp showers under the trees. Then I slowly made my way back to the car, stopping once again to get some close ups of the bluebells, now looking their best in the sunshine.

Shortly after I left the car park, I got a couple of text messages telling me everyone else had arrived there.

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Relearning

This blog started off a few years ago as a place to talk about and showcase some of my photographs. Over the years, I’ve found it’s wandered a bit and has become a place where I write about anything I feel like. That’s okay by me (and judging by the hits, likes and comments, it’s okay by you, too). But over the last few weeks I’ve been thinking about things in general, and perhaps starting up another blog dedicated to travel, and one dedicated to photography. Plans within plans.

Anyway, that line of thought made me realise that over the last year or so, my photography has become little more than snap-shooting. I know what that is; the preparation of the Kilimanjaro trek meant that every spare moment was taken up with training and I didn’t have the luxury of going out, making time and taking photographs. Almost all the photos I took during the preparation time were little more than snapshots. On the trek itself, a similar situation occurred. There were so many things going on that I had very little time to look and contemplate a scene before taking a picture. Perhaps the only time I was able to do this was at night when I was taking long exposures of the night sky. And that’s the nature of the Kilimanjaro trek; time on the mountain is expensive and trekkers are whisked between camps with little spare time. The time you do get to yourself is mostly taken up with preparing kit of the next day and resting.

What to do? I have to rekindle my interest in photography and make time to get out and do one of the things I love the most. I re-read two influential books that I bought years ago when I was using film. “The Making of Landscape Photographs” by Charlie Waite is a great inspiration. In it, Waite displays and talks about around 150 of his photographs. He explains the thought processes behind the pictures, and discusses why they work or, in some cases, what could have been done to make them better. I like that approach as I find learning in the actions and experiences of others.

The second book is “Light in the Landscape” by Peter Watson. Another book of examples and discussion, this one follows an calendar year and explores the effect on the landscape of the seasons. Both tomes have fantastic photographs and buckets of thought provoking comment.

You never forget how to take photographs, and with today’s technology, you are almost guaranteed good results. But for consistent images that you can be proud of, it takes time and thought and patience. These things I need to relearn, and I’m working on it.

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I must go down to the sea again…

I have a confession to make. I spent the morning looking for bathroom tiles. I’m sorry. I should have been out climbing mountains, racing cars or saving kittens. I don’t know what came over me. Promise you won’t think any less of me? Please?

But this afternoon, despite the driving rain and storms lashing … er, well some light drizzle, I headed back down to Mumbles to get some more photos of the beach and waves. I had nothing in mind, and in fact I was feeling decidedly uninspired as I walked up to Bracelet Bay. I’ve been feeling a bit under the weather so I guess it was that. But as soon as I’d made my way down to the beach, I started to see picture opportunities and the camera therapy kicked in. I spent an enjoyable hour snapping away at anything that interested me. 

I’ve said before that photography is a means by which I find relaxation and it’s one of the ways I de-stress (not distress, which would be wrong).  Today was a classic example of how it can take over and lift my spirits. Not that I was particularly down. I just need a bit of a lift. Maybe it was because I couldn’t find the tiles I wanted… er… I mean couldn’t do the football-drinking-man things I wanted to do.

I was particularly fascinated by the waves breaking on the shore. I was using my ultra wide angle lens (10mm at the wide end) and getting the camera down close to the water. So close, in fact, that there were splashes of foam on the lens that I had to keep cleaning off. I managed to avoid getting it (and myself) soaked, though. You can see from the photos below that there was a lot of ‘oh, that looks good, I’ll snap that’ randomness going on. Sometimes that’s how it goes.

I have another confession to make. I’ll probably be out looking for tiles again tomorrow. Be kind in your judgement. 

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That and this

Rufus allowed me a lie-in on Saturday morning. Of course, he checked on me several times between 5.30 and 6.30, just to make sure everything was okay but he didn’t insist I got up until just before 7am. After all, there was sunshine to take advantage of and he had to make sure the garden was still there.

After we’d patrolled the grounds and breakfasted, we set off for Broadpool. It was a bit windy for the dragonflies and damselflies I was hoping to take photos of but it’a a nice spot and there’s plenty for Rufus to explore too. Conscious of the last time we visited here, when Rufus managed to find and roll in something too horrible for words, I kept him away from the second pond and we contented ourselves with a stroll around Broadpool itself. In the distance, two riders took their horses across the road and up towards the ridge of Cefn Bryn.

After our circumnavigation of the pool, we crossed over to the other side of the road and I threw sticks for Rufus to chase. He tends to keep them for himself and the only way to retrieve them is to find another one because, as we all know, the best stick is the one just about to be thrown. So we progressed along, stick by stick. I managed to satisfy Rufus’ exacting standards as measured by the lack of barking. Only once was I reminded that stick throwing must be carried out quickly and efficiently.

On the way home, we stopped at the wood on Fairwood common for another little stroll. This one was amongst long grass and ferns and Rufus managed to get the equivalent of a shower just by walking through them. There were hundreds of blackberries and I regretted not bringing a container to put them in.

With Rufus safely home for a rest, I got ready to play in the band in the evening. This was a christening booked by people who had seen us play in a pub. From previous experience, not the best recipe as how we play in a pub is rarely appropriate for parties unless the audience is a pub crowd. We can turn our hand to most things, but we don’t really want to as it’s not what we do best or what we enjoy the most. Nevertheless, the night went well and it was a welcome earlyish finish.

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This and that

What do you do with a week off and doctors orders to rest?

Today, I spent the first part of the morning doing mundane shopping things and paying in my insurance claim cheque. I was very pleasantly surprised at the speed and efficiency with which my claim was dealt with – thank you Direct Group. My heart usually drops at the thought of dealing with this kind of thing – last time it was a claim for damage to my car by someone trying to park where I was parked. It took the best part of a week of phone calls to sort out and in the end I did most of the arranging rather than the third party company engaged to do it on behalf of the insurance company.

Back home, I was out in the garden taking some portraits of the local Garden Spider when I saw a bit of a life and death struggle between a daddy Long Legs and a smaller spider. In the end, the Daddy Long Legs broke free of the web and escaped and I was secretly pleased. I know it’s all part of nature but it doesn’t mean to say I have to like it.

Then, for the rest of the afternoon, I was going though and editing video taken at last night’s band rehearsal. Rehearsals are so rare these days that when one comes along, I always try and record it in some way. I took a video camera last night and managed to catch the whole of ‘I wouldn’t believe your radio’, a Stereophonics song we’re putting in the set. It has ended up on YouTube  although there is some clever editing to make it look as if I’m playing – in fact, I was videoing and if you listen carefully, there’s no bass guitar on the soundtrack.

Last day of the holidays tomorrow – not plans as yet but I’m expecting rain.

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Holidays!

I’m off on leave. I should have been clambering all over the Brecon Beacons  but that’s not happening at the moment. So I have to try and find things to do to make the leave worthwhile and that don’t involve creating dents in the sofa where by bottom fits nicely. It’s hard (no, not my bottom, finding things to do). But here goes.

Yesterday was taken up mainly with the bitty, tedious administration stuff that has to be done but doesn’t have to be liked. The car went for a service. I hate spending money and not getting anything for it and with a car service (or MOT) it’s just money that disappears. Rather like petrol and taxes and so on. I took it easy in the afternoon, cleaned, changed the bedding (bored yet?) and took a load of clothes and other bits and bobs down to the local charity shop. The house is looking a little more empty than it was.

Today was much better. An early morning phone call from the female equivalent of Stephen Hawking told me my travel insurance claim has been accepted and will be paid in full within 5 working days. What a bizarre call at 8am. They’ve obviously decided my land line is a mobile phone. Still, nice to know that I’m, not out of pocket for the trip. I only hope the record of my claim accurately shows it to be as a result of an injury, not a condition, so that I can get insurance when I do decide to do the next trek.

Happy with that, I headed off to the River Tywi at Nantgaredig to take photos of the bridge, hopefully with loads of mist, and then on to Dryslwyn and the castle. The bridge was mist free but looking east, some of the trees lining the river had mist as a backdrop. and I spent a few minutes trying different settings to make the most of the conditions. In my mind, I was thinking ‘high key’ and with a few straight shots as bankers, I played around with the exposure to lighten the scene.

Then it was on to the castle, which I could see on a hill top in the distance. At first, it looked as if part of the remaining wall had fallen away but as I got closer I could see that this was a trick of the mist occasionally covering the hilltop. At the care park, I wandered along the river bank for a few minutes, managing to disturb a heron in the process. Throwing all caution to the wind, I made my way up to the top of the hill – and my leg didn’t fall off! Unfortunately, the most was the wrong kind of mist – the type that obscures rather than adds depth – and the photos I’d imagined weren’t to be found.

Instead, I decided to head back home and to call in to the doctors to see if my X-ray results had turned up. They had and although I need to speak to the doctor, the receptionist said they were marked ‘normal’. Probably not mine then as little about me has ever been described as ‘normal’. Nevertheless, this second piece of good news made me reconsider going home to rest up, so I grabbed the camera and headed down to the Botanical Gardens in Singleton Park to get some close-ups of flowers. And I wasn’t disappointed. The dull conditions are ideal for macro as there are fewer shadows and the even lighting brings out detail. There was plenty of colour too, and I spent a pleasant half hour wandering around snapping away.

The day is still young, though, so once I’ve posted this I’ll probably be off to do some strimming in the garden. Not worthy of a blog post in itself, unless something dramatic happens.

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