Monday, 26 December 2011

Some of this years favs

 This was taken in St. Ives last February, the first Wonky outing.
 This  is what I do,  a layered image using one or more images blended together.
 Barbara Hepworth's studio.
 Taken in London Covent garden .
 Anthony and Martin on the far left.
 Street photography london.
 Martin and I had a day in London
 Margate late summer.
 A shot from the body painting festival in Folkestone.
Early morning near Wormshill.

Thursday, 22 December 2011

Cheeses for Christmas (or any time)…

Plain and simple: (clockwise from top left) Gorwydd Caerphilly, Winterdale Shaw, Stichelton and Canterbury Cobble

It is no secret that I have a weakness for cheese. So assembling some cheeses for Christmas is one of my self-imposed tasks - not a job, just a pleasure.

One of our nearby foodie destinations is the Goods Shed in Canterbury. Chief among the delights to be found there, as far as I'm concerned, is the cheese stall run by Cheese Makers of Canterbury. It was set up originally by a wonderful Dutchman named Tom, who had a passion for English cheeses. He introduced me to many fabulous cheeses I'd never come across before. He's now retired and the stall has passed on to our local cheese makers.

So the picture at the top of this post shows some of my favourites that I've bought for Christmas this year (and actually only some of them). Having said that, the reason for taking a picture of them today is that not all of them are likely to survive until Christmas. You'll notice that the Winterdale Shaw cheese (top centre in the picture) has been got at already: this is my daughter's favourite, and, between my predations and hers, most unlikely to make it past Christmas Eve.

Top left is Gorwydd Caerphilly, made from raw milk. You can see in the picture the slightly creamy texture under the rind, with a crumbly interior. This distinguishes it from the standard Caerphilly you might get in a supermarket. Absolutely delicious, very approachable and with a slightly lactic tang.

Top centre - Winterdale Shaw, made in Wrotham, Kent. This is an unpasteurised variety in the Cheddar style, and is so good it has won Gold in World Cheese Awards. It is matured in muslin in a cave dug into the North Downs. I can't recommend it highly enough.

Top right - Stichelton. When the traditional Stilton makers went over to using pasteurised milk in 1990, many saw this as the death of true Stilton. Even so, I'm very partial to a nice piece of Colston Bassett, despite its texture seeming different to an unpasteurised blue Stilton. Nonetheless, my preferred blue Stilton-type at the moment is Stichelton. It has quite a full flavour and a lovely buttery texture. Being made with unpasteurised milk, many see this cheese as a "true Stilton" despite the fact that being made with raw milk means it can't be sold under the Stilton name. Another cheese I can't recommend highly enough.

Lower, centre - Canterbury Cobble. A local cheese made by Cheese Makers of Canterbury. Semi-soft and just right with waterbiscuits and a late evening whisky.

You'll notice that all these cheeses are made from raw milk, and also that I have no problem with my children eating them. My personal view is that the risks of eating raw milk products made in the UK in the 21st century are extremely low. Selling such products requires the highest standards of hygiene and care all the way from handling the animals that provide the milk through to the point of sale. Not only that, but the cheeses retain a deliciousness that the pasteurised form can't match. Sounds like a good thing all round, and despite the risks to my waistline, something I'm more than happy to support with my wallet.  

Wednesday, 30 November 2011


Sunset afterglow, Trebarwith Strand (25/30)

Last Sunday, I presented my portfolio of 10 photographs for the award of CPAGB – Credit of the Photographic Alliance of Great Britain. The PAGB is an umbrella organisation that represents all the photographic societies around the country; it has a series of Merit awards to recognise achievement by members of photographic societies. You're put forward by your own society or club to your local county federation; county federations put you forward to the PAGB providing there is evidence of contribution to federation activities. In my case, I've submitted pictures to and have had them accepted by the KCPA Annual Exhibition over the last three years.

For the CPAGB, the pictures are judged on a scale of marks from 2 to 5. 2 indicates that it is not up to standard, 3 a near miss, 4 is a pass, 5 is well above the standard required. (Clearly, they could be rated on a scale of 0 to 3, but it's more humane to give people a couple of points for just putting them in!) Marks are awarded by each of six assessors, so each picture is rated out of a total of 30 marks, and 20 is the pass mark. Since there are 10 pictures, the overall pass mark is 200 out of a possible 300 marks. The standard for passing is meant to represent "good club photography", by which they mean that the pictures might do well if selected to go into inter-club or inter-federation competitions.

The venues for the assessments move around the country: unlike the RPS, they do not have a fixed base. Last Sunday's event was held at Llanberis in North Wales. I turned up with my pictures at 9.28 a.m. – two minutes before the deadline, so well ahead of time by my standards :-) – all duly labelled according to PAGB specification and waited until all was ready.

51 portfolios were to be marked – a total of 510 prints. That seemed like an awful lot to me, and I wasn't expecting to get out any time before dark. However, when it came to it, it didn't take the judges more than five seconds to mark each print. They gave no explanation or commentary just the mark. Each print was displayed on an easel with good illumination in front of the judges. The prints had to fit into amount no bigger than 50 cm x 40 cm (mine were printed at 33 cm on the long side): although the judges were positioned well to see them, I was sitting at the back of the room and it was quite hard to tell anything about the quality of the image. As each image was displayed, after about five seconds the judges pressed the button for a mark, and the scorer announced the total for that image. I was quite surprised at how tough the standard is. A mark of 20 – the pass mark – really does represent very good photography. Although I could not tell if there were flaws in, for example, critical sharpness from where I was sitting, quite a number of what I would consider to be good pictures were not given pass marks.

The pictures come up in an order that is effectively random. Everybody's pictures were mixed together, but remaining in the order they were numbered; so, if your first picture was the ninth to appear for judging, your next one would be the 60th (as there were 51 entrants). There was somebody immediately before me who did record photography of church interiors, so I knew to look out for mine when I saw a nave or a pulpit. I kept a note of my scores as they came up, so knew roughly how I was doing. In the end, all my pictures were given passing marks, with one exception, which was given a 19 (and, naturally, it would be a picture that I like!) In the end, I had a total score of 222, a sufficiently comfortable pass that I didn't have any panic along the way. Of course it was helpful to know that my pictures were getting reasonable scores, but, nonetheless, I found it most enjoyable to sit and look at pictures for the morning. Having been awarded the LRPS and the ARPS in the last 18 months, I must be getting used to sitting anonymously in a darkened room having my work judged (hmm ... what does that say ...?).

The judges got through the marking at such a rate that we were done for prints by 1.10 p.m. Some going! I tried to give my own marks as the pictures went through, and found that for the most part I was giving a mark within the range that the judges must have been awarding. Occasionally they gave a 12 or 14 to a picture that I thought looked okay, i.e. they must have been giving 2 or 3 when I would have given 4, so I can only assume there were faults that were not visible from where I was sitting. Occasionally as well, I would give a mental 3 when they must all have given a 4 or 5 – I think that must be a matter of taste (for which there is no accounting, especially on my part). The sustained concentration from the judges is extremely impressive – admittedly it was not my job to do the marking, so I would probably survive the experience if required, but I could not help simply zoning out from time to time.

After lunch, the names of the successful candidates were read out; mine was among them.

At that point, it was on to projected digital image portfolios. They are, of course, projected much larger than the prints so it was easier to tell what was going on. I came away with a strong impression that there was a lower pass rate for projected images than for prints. I had seen this previously with the LRPS too. Although it's quite probable that people's screens at home are not calibrated exactly the same as the projector the PAGB uses, I can't help feeling that the extra trouble it takes to go to make a print means that the photographer has to take extra care to get the image exactly right, which is why prints have a higher pass rate than projected images.

At the end of the day, all the successful candidates were called up to get a blue badge. Bit of a waste on me – I don't do badges! Maybe I'll attach it to my camera bag. A certificate ought to follow in due course.

Just a final comment on choosing the pictures. I must acknowledge advice from JohnWigmore on this. He has sat on PAGB judging panels, so knows what they’re looking for. I had gone to see him a few weeks ago, with a pile of prints. Talking to him, I got a very good feeling for what was and was not likely to work. One other comment from him was that judges can get bored when they are presented with the same subject time after time, so I decided to do half aircraft and half other stuff. I chose some pictures from my ARPS portfolio that were somewhat pictorial, some others that had been accepted in exhibitions and a couple of new ones that I liked. 

I have put the resulting portfolio on Pbase. One picture from it is at the top of this post. It shows sunset afterglow at Trebarwith Strand. I'm particularly pleased this picture did well because it was taken in Cornwall in March at the time that Wonky Horizons came into being. (Incidentally, Martin got a much better picture than this at the time – being much braver than me at making his way over extremely slippery alginated rocks, he got a much better angle. Anyhow, the judges seemed to like this one well enough.)

In all, a most worthwhile experience. I have already told Phil and Martin that they should consider putting in for the CPAGB – I'm sure they've got plenty of pictures of the requisite standard.

Thursday, 24 November 2011

Images from the natural world

I've been busy at work recently but managed to get a couple of hours this morning to process some images for printing so I did some JPEGs too for the blog.

A reminder of warmer times

Starting off with one of the later flowering of British orchids - pyramidal. Taken early on the morning of 10th July at Park Gate Down. The added bonus with this image was the brief appearance of a hover fly adding some interest and colour to the scene.

At the time I was experimenting with using my 500mm lens and a full set of extension tubes rather than my standard 100mm macro lens. This one was taken at f/11, 1/80th second exposure, with the lens resting on a large bean bag. I managed to achieve the diffuse background that I had hoped for and will try to refine this technique further next spring/summer with other orchid subjects.

Pyramidal orchid with hover fly

Cotter Force (Yorkshire Dales)

I spent a week on the Yorks/Lanks border in September and took a few photographs of the Cotter Force waterfall. The first time I processed them I was not happy with the results so I had another go and it all worked a lot better.

The problem I had was that I wanted to keep the rocks nice and sharp and the water really soft and when I applied the final sharpening, the water lost its feel. In the end I did a very hard noise reduction with Topaz DeNoise to take out a lot of fine detail, followed by some aggressive sharpening which boosted up the rocks and foliage but left the water almost untouched. I'm sure there was a more elegant way of doing this but I got there in the end. Anthony will know...

Cotter Force
Hothfield Common 

The autumn colours have been fantastic and with a day off last Thursday I started off with a few hours at Hothfield Common. Yes, I know I should call it Hothfield Heathland but old habits die hard.

I used my 70-200 lens to pick out some detail in the woodland, with the bark of the silver birches to give some structure.

Autumn on Hothfield Common
Oare Marshes

After lunch I headed over to Oare Marshes to check out the wader situation to coincide with high tide.

The East Flood was hosting many golden plover and lapwing with a few ringed plover and dunlin as supporting cast. The light was fantastic and the winds were very light so I took the opportunity to get some reflections of the waders as they roosted up.

Roosting Lapwing
I did use a Topaz Adjust to give this a slightly impressionistic feel as it was a bit too 'in-your-face' in its native state.

Saturday, 12 November 2011

Trees in the mist

Philip and I got a couple of hours in this morning on the North Downs searching out some interesting trees in the mist.

Rather than the mist we had hoped for it was just foggy - none of that morning glow that can really lift an image. Nonetheless, it was still possible to shoot some soft monochrome images like the one below.

We bumped into a local farmer walking his dog and he was somewhat amused that a couple of guys would be up at the crack of dawn photographing in thick fog. Mad? Maybe - you decide.

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

From the Archive: In the Foothills of the Himalayas

Olympus OM2n, Zuiko 100mm f2.8 lens, Kodachrome 64
I'm slowly scanning pictures from my film archive. This is one I like from 1983 photographed while walking in the foothills of the Himalayas in Uttar Pradesh.

Saturday, 5 November 2011


On October 12, 2011, I presented a portfolio of 15 prints at the Royal Photographic Society in Bath for the Associateship distinction. I'm delighted to record that my submission was successful, and that I am now ARPS.

Here is the hanging plan for the portfolio.

Hanging plan for my ARPS submission
I've put the whole thing on the RPS website (they show them rather small, I afraid), so here is one that I like a bit bigger.

The Fighting Falcon Swoops: Nikon D300, Nikkor 200-400 f4 zoom
It is the Belgian Air Component F16 at Fairford in 2010. I was standing in a muddy field north of the runway. The Red Arrows had been up before, and had left some of their red smoke around. I liked that a lot, so made it a bit more obvious by pushing the a channel in Lab colour, and restricting the effect to the cloud with a layer mask. I also pushed the contrast, and added a bit of grain with a couple of Topaz Adjust layers.

Just a couple of comments about the ARPS process while I'm writing. When I was awarded my LRPS 18 months ago, I had hoped to be able to use those picture towards the ARPS. But on taking advice, only one of them survived into the final panel (#5 in the hanging plan). I went along to an ARPS workshop earlier this year - and that was extremely useful in getting a broader perspective on what it takes to get the A. If you're in the process of working towards an A, I strongly recommend booking in for a workshop (the same applies to the LRPS). I also took advice one-to-one from two members of A panels, and they were extremely helpful in their comments as well. In the end though, I was wary of taking too much advice: I felt I had to make my own mind up, and put together a panel of pictures in my own way. So the portfolio I presented encapsulates my own view of my work, which makes it especially pleasing to have gained the award.

Saturday, 15 October 2011

On the street, on the phone

People in or around Oxford Street, inseparable from their constant electronic companions. (There's always an exception of course....)

The exception: the photographer with his strictly non-electronic Leica M3

All pictures taken with a Nikon D300 and 35mm f2 AF-D Nikkor.

Friday, 7 October 2011

Margate - Light is everything

How many times have you heard a photographer say 'the light was really poor . . . ' as an excuse/reason for their images being flat or lifeless. It happens to us all!

There are however occasions when the light is perfect and then it's a case of making hay while the sun shines.

Philip and I went to Margate on September 30th to see the new exhibits at the Turner Contemporary. After our tour we grabbed a coffee and took some shots outside. The gallery building was resplendent, being bathed in the late afternoon light and there was no need to use a polariser to beef up the sky or to 'process to death in photoshop' - most satisfying!

People were in shirtsleeves outside the cafe
Abstract #1
Abstract #2

On the promenade

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Seal watching in Pegwell Bay II

As you can see from Anthony's post we were blessed with beautiful weather and great views of the seals.

Added below are a few more images from our day. Thanks to James and the crew at Dover Sea Safari for a memorable trip!

One of two outings made by the Dover Lifeboat, this one for a stricken yacht

Yawning - I think she got a bit bored watching us (watching them)
Even wearing shades, 'flick Phil' having to keep the sun out of his eyes

Our skipper, James
Dover just before we re-entered the harbour

Seal watching in Pegwell Bay

Pegwell Bay seals

Last Saturday, 1 October, Wonky Horizons and spouses went on a “Sea Safari” from Dover to see a colony of seals that lives in Pegwell Bay near Sandwich. For an early Autumn day, the weather was staggeringly good – not a cloud in the sky and very warm at nearly 30°C. The beach in Dover was covered in families sunning themselves, and there were even swimmers out in the harbour.

The Dover sea safari took us in a high speed inflatable up the coast, about half an hour’s drive (I think that's the word) at about 30 knots over a flat calm sea: an extremely exhilarating ride.

Almost in the shadow of the huge cooling towers at Sandwich and not far from Ramsgate, on the small estuary of the River Stour lay the seals. 

Seals, human transport and Ramsgate

We were told they were the females of the colony – the males like to go off to the Goodwin Sands. There were not many there, less than 10. Earlier in the Summer, 84 had been counted. Although the colony may have dispersed to some extent since it peak, many others were probably off feeding – the tide was exceptionally high, to the point where they could not haul themselves fully out of the water. 

When we arrived, the skipper cut the engine, and we just drifted by, giving plenty of chance for some pictures. The seals seemed completely undisturbed – the estuary of the Stour is busy with boat traffic, and they seemed not to care about humans being around at all. Nevertheless, we did not get too close, so I needed to use 400mm on the D300 to get the pictures shown here. Martin had his 500mm with the 1DIV, which I’m sure was a better option still.

That area of the Kent coast is a wildlife reserve, with little human activity off the water. In those few minutes we saw a wonderful variety of birdlife, with some of the largest flocks of oystercatchers I’ve ever come across. Heron, egret, curlew, a couple of brent geese, several varieties of gulls, terns, cormorants and more, and all seen without needing binoculars.

Oystercatcher, curlew and heron

On the was back, the skipper pushed the throttles right forward: the sea was a little rougher, so, if the ride out had been exhilarating, banging through the waves on the way back was even better. It even prompted Phil to have a Titanic moment! 

Not Kate Winslett!
Back at Dover, we had just nice time to have a couple of pints in the early evening sunshine, with the air still warm. The perfect end to a wonderful experience.

Back on shore, next to the boat
Thanks Phil and Martin for organising it!

Sunday, 2 October 2011

The food chain

At the end of September, my wife and I spent a week in Lancashire. We have driven through many times on our way to The Lakes and Scotland but never actually stayed there.

Our base was the week was Thurnham Hall which lies about five miles south of Lancaster. We did a walk every day, both in the local area and in the Yorkshire Dales that lie east of the M6, with Settle, Hawes and Ingleton within easy reach.

One of my goals during the week was to visit Leighton Moss RSPB reserve and, with it being only a 20 minute drive from us, we managed three visits during our stay.

One of the star species there is bearded tit and I never tire of seeing these fantastic birds even though there are a number of places nearby our home in Kent where they are resident. I did not manage any great photographs but one morning I got up early and caught a pair on the grit trays left out on the reserve. I shot some video on my 1D Mk IV / EF500 + 1.4x.

During the summer/breeding season, like many small birds, they feed almost exclusively on insects but, from mid-autumn to spring, their diet switches to seeds; in the case of bearded tit, reed seeds. To assist in the digestive process they ingest small quantities of grit to grind the seeds down.

Most RSPB reserves have a feeder station to attract (and of course provide food for) small birds. Leighton Moss is no exception and, in fact, it has the largest array of feeders I have ever seen! I spent some time photographing the small birds (including coal and marsh tit) although lighting conditions were not favourable as the feeders are under a large tree canopy.

I had worked out that the best time of the day would be mid to late afternoon so on our last visit set myself up behind the viewing screen at about 3pm. I found that the nearest feeder was about 12 feet away and my 500mm lens has a minimal focal distance of 13 feet, so I went back to the car and got a 25mm extension tube. Once fitted I could focus on the feeder and branch that suspended it. I had no intention of photographing the birds on the feeders - just on the nearby branches - but the birds rarely land on these, going straight onto the feeders before darting off with a seed!

After about 40 minutes I was aware of something flying past my left shoulder, shortly followed by the sight of a raptor hitting the nearest feeder and scattering the feeding birds to the trees. The invader was a male sparrowhawk which had attacked a greenfinch that was inside the cage of one of the squirrel-proof feeders.

I took a whole sequence of shots over the 90 second period that the bird was there. With the poor light levels I was getting shutter speeds of between 1/125th and 1/320th of a second with apertures from f/5 to f/6.3 at 800 ISO. Thanks to the wonders of image stabilisation technology, most were pin sharp.

The shots below are in chronological order.

Immediately after the strike
How do I get it out?

Squeeze and wait!
Trying to get it free
Do I need a 'Plan B'?
Shortly after this shot, the sparrowhawk managed to fly off with its prey in its talons. Quite a spectacle and, although there was not very much light, the quality and the even background helped to make for some very strong images.