And Shoot...

Welcome to my blog; my take on all things photography, travel, wildlife and a few other things too.

Hope you enjoy it.

Sunday, 3 August 2014

Shooting Blind

In March I had the pleasure of shooting a wedding at Matfen Hall in Northumberland.
It was a beautiful venue; lots of stunning architectural details to capture.

Even the room in which the evening reception took place was in a quaint little cavern underneath, which I assume was originally an underground cellar. There was exposed brickwork, pillars and beams and certainly different to most reception rooms.

However, for all it's quirkiness, this also presented me with one major drawback; the level of darkness.

As a professional photographer, dealing with low lighting is nothing new. However, I can't ever remember having to shoot quite such difficult circumstances; in particular 'focussing'.

State of the art digital SLR cameras are designed to be able to handle well in low light. Take a photo of the moon at night - no problem. Even a poorly lit church can be captured and transformed into a bright and striking image, with a few tweaks of your camera's settings. But when you are trying to focus on a groom in a black suit, moving at speed around a dancefloor against a blackground, even they will struggle. Not even my camera's auto-focus assist light could save me.

The pressure was on; the first dance had already begun and so it was time to improvise. Switching to manual focus, I took several test shots at various focal lenths and distances from the bride and groom. Reviewing them on my LCD display and then moving closer or further away,  accordingly, I managed to narrow down the optimum distance for a sharp enough focus. Then I had simply had to maintain this distance from the happy couple (and latterly the other guests) as they moved around the dance floor in their own little worlds, oblivious to my difficulties.

And that of course is the job of the wedding photographer; to find a solution for each and every key moment, without troubling those at the centre of them. This wasn't the first (and certainly won't be the last) time I have found myself in a tricky situation - but hopefully I pulled it off. Check out the photo below and see if you agree.


Monday, 10 February 2014

Bricks and Martyrs

It has taken so long to build these walls. 

Walls that are built upon foundations a hundred million dead bodies deep. Each new brick carefully laid to rest like a lost loved one; fortified by unshakeable faith and cemented together with the mortar of martyrs.

And walls like these cannot be pulled down overnight.

You cannot hope to simply knock them down by attacking them. They are too big and steadfast they will remain impassive. Nor can you kill their constructors. They are too numerous and those you fail to kill will redouble their efforts with renewed vigour to maintain them, strengthened by the souls of the murdered.

No, they will only begin to collapse when the faith of each individual mason has been eroded away from within. When they themselves choose to renounce the wall support, remove their own bricks and toss them disdainfully into skips of scepticism.

And it will take a long time, as with all great walls, for enough bricks to be removed, before we all finally crumble into atheism.

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

The Great British Weather

As a photographer who loves to work outdoors, I feel privileged to live and work in the UK for one reason above all other; the weather!

It is a decidedly British thing to moan about the weather and especially our lack of sunshine but I think we have got it lucky. Sure it would be nice to have a slightly longer and more intense summer but for me, this is a small price to pay if it means we get to keep our four distinct seasons.

Personally, I feel the length and variation of the seasons in the UK are perfect. Just as I start to yearn for something different at the end of each 3 month period, a new season ‘springs’ into effect, bringing its own unique beauty and change. If I lived in a part of the world with only a wet and a dry season (or worse still, the same climate all year around) I really would feel I was missing out.

There are countless challenges and experiments to have fun with when taking photographs in the changing climate of our country and I have to say I find it difficult to choose a favourite. The dawn chorus of spring, summer nights, autumn twilight or winter mornings; each create their own inimitable feeling and mood and I love taking photographs in each. 

Rain, wind, snow, frost, mist or fog can all be more exciting than the sun, all of them bringing their distinctive colours and conditions to your photography – not to mention the different flora and fauna on offer in each part of the year.

So next time you find yourself moaning about the weather – get out there and embrace it instead – and you might find yourself surprised at how much you enjoy it.

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

War, Huh – What is it good for? Absolutely Something!

Like many of you, I have watched on in horror and sadness in recent months at the events in Syria. I I heard all of the arguments for and against military action, often both passionate and well-reasoned and was delighted when the situation abated and came to a relatively peaceful conclusion, for now. However, the more I have reflected on this, the more I have come to realise that there is one school of thought on war that I simply cannot abide; the argument that there should never ever be any action, no matter the cost.

Let me state upfront that I abhor violence and suffering of any kind, but that is precisely why I believe in war. Just imagine for a moment if you can, that the Conservatives suddenly decided to engage in chemical warfare against the North of England for opposing them and voting Labour. Men and women, children and the elderly, all dying excruciating deaths in front of their families – with no doctors or nurses able to do anything to help. And imagine those that managed to survive the horror, living in constant fear that a second or third or fourth strike could happen at any time.

And imagine still further, if the rest of the world simply turned a blind eye and said ‘Oh I'm sorry we can’t get involved – we might make things worse’. Cameron could simply give the order again, whenever the whim takes him, without fear of reproach or retaliation or retribution. Silly analogy I know; ridiculous and far-fetched. Well this almost exactly what happened to the Syrian people.

Listen, I fully understand the concerns that the ill-fated forays into Iraq and Afghanistan have raised. I can entirely agree with the notion that a robust and well planned exit strategy (hell, even the bones of one) is required before putting more civilians and our own soldiers at risk. You cannot go in all guns blazing to these situations without firm proof and the risk of escalation should be minimized at every opportunity. These, of course, should be a given before any proposed action takes place.

But what really gets me angry is those who decry war whatever the circumstances. Those like American Senator Paul Rand ‘’War should occur only when America is attacked, when it is threatened or when American interests are attacked or threatened’’ or activist and anti-war protester David Swanson who said on Syria ‘’Risking a major war, no matter how slim you think the chance is, ought to be done only for some incredibly important reason. The White House doesn't have one.’’

But what really gets me angry is those who decry war whatever the circumstances. Those like American Senator Paul Rand ‘’War should occur only when America is attacked, when it is threatened or when American interests are attacked or threatened’’ or activist and anti-war protester David Swanson who said on Syria ‘’Risking a major war, no matter how slim you think the chance is, ought to be done only for some incredibly important reason. The White House doesn't have one.’’

Doesn’t have one??! I simply cannot believe they actually mean this. Are they saying that if we reached 6 million deaths like in WWII, they would still disagree that action was needed because America is not being threatened or because things might get worse? Surely not but if there is a red line of numbers, or circumstances then what is it?

I despise those people who take the tone of a moralist when children are being murdered. They have no genuine respect for the dead, neither for the civilian victims, nor those who bravely and selflessly fight to save others. I can only assume they have either not thought through the argument fully, or else are attention seeking; jumping on the trendy bandwagon of anti-war protesting to get themselves some notoriety. I bet they do not even wear a remembrance poppy.

Even the Pope is getting in on the act ‘‘violence and war lead only to death’’. This comment is na├»ve at best; war can also lead to the freedom and liberation of those persecuted by dictatorships and evil regimes. I wonder if the survivors of the Jewish concentration camps would agree that going to war with the Nazi’s was an immoral, foolish idea.

No. You must to strive to end the conflict. It is the duty of the strong to protect those who threaten the weak. Of course peaceful negotiation is the preference but news flash: evil people are generally not reasonable. So force is sometimes necessary and even if the violence does escalate, who is to say this outcome would still not be preferable to what would have occurred should we have done nothing? Who is to say an abstinence of action will not encourage even worse atrocities to take place in future? Only time will tell but the point is to try with the best of intentions, to help – this is surely far more forgiveable than doing nothing?

It is the teacher who tries to stop the school gunman. It is the plane passengers who try to bring down the terrorists. Who criticises them now, despite their failed efforts? I doubt you can ever reason with such individuals or groups but perhaps, just perhaps, if they had tried to do so instead of trying to overthrow them with force, there is a small chance they would have prevented further deaths.
But surely no reasonable person could ever hold that against them? I cannot imagine having any grievances with somebody who has tried to help but failed. However, I could very well have cause to complain against those who stood by and did nothing.

It is oh so easy to sit in your Ivory Tower, atop the moral high-ground, hurling names at those who fight beneath you. Just know that you will need more than sticks and stones if the hunters run out of elephants and their cast tusk-hungry eyes towards your own home instead.

Monday, 14 October 2013

First Impressions (music blog)

I am 9 years old. It is my birthday.

I have been given a cassette player along with a single cassette; a collection of classic 70’s and 80’s rock songs. It is the soundtrack to the TV game show ‘Gladiators’.

My father enters into my bedroom as I play my favourite track from my one and only cassette. ‘I have the full album of this downstairs’ he says casually.
‘What do you mean?’ I ask him in a state of confusion, verging on shock.
‘Bat out of Hell by Meatloaf; I have it downstairs'.
‘The full album?’ I ask, not even sure what an ‘album’ really is yet. I have only ever had one cassette.
‘Yes, it’s other songs by Meatloaf, not just this one’ he explains.

I follow him immediately downstairs and fidget impatiently and he takes forever to dig it out from his gargantuan record collection. He places it in my hands and I gaze down in wonder at the greatest drawing I have ever seen.

I am captivated; a man on a motorbike, long blond hair flowing behind him in the wind (and muscles bigger than even the gladiators themselves) bursts out of a gravestone. My adolescent senses overloaded, I stare entranced at the hero, my new hero, escaping the clutches of a giant bat from under a blood red sky.
‘Can we put it on?’ I venture nervously to my father.

I listen to it religiously. The adrenaline fuelled lyrics, the crashing symbols, the roaring guitars, the sweeping piano melodies. They penetrate my innocent ears drums, permeate my brain and saturate the blank canvas that is my musical taste. It is my first real venture into the world of music and it is one that will shape the very person that I become. Whilst my friends listen in their groups to the latest chart music down at the park, I listen to Bat out of Hell in my room, 25 years late. I pour over the lyrics printed on the album sleeve, trying to make sense of this strange new language.

I am 9 and a half years old.

It is my first day of the new term. We have a new English teacher; Mr Anderson. He asks us who our favourite singers or bands are. It is the start of an elaborate and ingenious ruse (at least to me) to get us to appreciate song lyrics, then by virtue creative writing… and inevitably, of course, English literature. I utterly stun him by announcing that my favourite lyricist is Jim Steinman.
‘Give that boy a flying coconut!’ he exclaims.

Mr Anderson is also our music teacher. He holds me back after the lesson and asks me to expand on my earlier comment. I tell him simply that it is true, Bat out of Hell is my favourite album and that ‘Paradise By The Dashboard Light’ is currently my favourite song (I neglect to mention it’s my only album and that Steinman is probably the only songwriter I know).

Mr Anderson asserts that out of the 520 children in my school, he is absolutely positive that I am the only one who knows who Jim Steinman is. He also tells me that Jim Steinman is one of the greatest song writers of all time and that I am incredibly ‘mature’ for listening to such music.

And there it is… the reward.

This small positive reinforcement by one old man, is all that is needed to lock away my canvas forever.
Paint still wet, isolated but proud, it stands in its sealed display case impenetrable to the other children who will try to paint over it, to the other musical genres that will try to cover it in their graffiti.

Accessible to me and me alone, I will of course add to it, build up its layers, change its brush strokes. From time to time I will introduce new tones and remove many when the passing fad is over. But it’s base colour, that gorgeous blood red and blood orange base colour, will never be eroded. My musical tabula rasa is no more.

Of such small quirks of fate we are all made. Initial exposures and first impressions I believe can count for so much. The first cut is indeed the deepest, to quote another classic.

I am 9 and a half years old and I am changed forever.

Saturday, 7 September 2013

In Defence of England

In a recent travellers vote I participated in, I found I was not allowed to vote for England as 'Best European Country'? Reason; it couldn't be classed a 'travelling'.

So allow me to state my case here instead.

England has some of the most fantastic cities, towns and countryside in all of Europe. We have such a relatively small country, most of which can be reached in a long weekend and yet us English all too often turn up our noses and turn our backs to it, in search of better lands.

Let me give you a few examples; London! The Cotswolds! The Lakes! The Peaks! Cornwall! Northumberland!

Coastlines, castles, cream teas, countryside, pubs, history that cannot be rivalled in any other European country. Just read Shakespeare's Richard II Royal Throne of Kings speech if you don’t believe me!

Not to mention the fact we also leave most other countries in our wake when it comes to infrastructure, transport, tourist info and healthcare, all of which are largely overlooked but can be so important when booking a holiday.

Yes, for some reason we very often think the grass is greener overseas - but let me tell you - I've been to Devon and it's not!