And Shoot...

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

Hope you enjoy it.

Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Guest Blog... Charles Darwin.

Not only a great scientist but also a great humanitarian.

''I thank God, I shall never again visit a slave-country.

To this day, if I hear a distant scream, it recalls with painful vividness my feelings, when passing a house near Pernambuco, I heard the most pitiable moans, and could not but suspect that some poor slave was being tortured, yet knew that I was as powerless as a child even to remonstrate. I suspected that these moans were from a tortured slave, for I was told that this was the case in another instance.

Near Rio de Janeiro I lived opposite to an old lady, who kept screws to crush the fingers of her female slaves. I have stayed in a house where a young household mulatto, daily and hourly, was reviled, beaten, and persecuted enough to break the spirit of the lowest animal. I have seen a little boy, six or seven years old, struck thrice with a horse-whip (before I could interfere) on his naked head, for having handed me a glass of water not quite clean; I saw his father tremble at a mere glance from his master's eye.

... And these deeds are done and palliated by men, who profess to love their neighbours as themselves, who believe in God, and pray that his Will be done on earth! It makes one's blood boil, yet heart tremble, to think that we Englishmen and our American descendants, with their boastful cry of liberty, have been and are so guilty... ''

Charles Darwin 1839

Monday, 19 August 2013

Top 10 Tips - also available here - with Pictures!!

Top 10 Tips For Photography Abroad

1.       Respect Your Environment
Most importantly of all, look after your surroundings. Do not destroy delicate plant life, endanger or frighten an animal just to get a good shot. If you truly value the beauty of your subject, please take the time and care to protect it.

2.       The Earl Bird Catches The Worm
And the early photographer catches the early bird, catching the worm. Be prepared to put yourself out a little if you want to get that stunning shot. Really attention-grabbing or thought-provoking shots rarely fall onto your lap; you have to go and look for them.

3.       Dusk ‘Till Dawn.
Getting up early leads me nicely onto my next tip. There is a reason why photographers get up before sunrise and stay out after sunset; the light is soft and beautiful here. Unfortunately, there is nothing pretty about the bleached-out skies of the midday sun.

4.       Failing To Plan, Is Planning To Fail
Think about what equipment you will need to get a good shot that day. Simple things such as a fully charged battery, a waterproof cover or a tripod can be essential. I once forgot my underwater camera on an excursion to swim with Galapagos Penguins and will always regret it.

5.       The Eyes Have It
If you are taking photographs of wildlife, particularly head-shots, it is vital to get the eyes of the animal in focus. The eyes convey so much of the life and soul of an animal so when composing your shot, be sure to keep this in mind.

6.       Patience Is The Watchword
Photography can often be boring. There, I said it! Hours sitting alone, waiting for the perfect shot are not much fun, especially when nothing is happening. However, don’t give up - you will get many more hours of pleasure from a framed photo on your wall, than you lost waiting to take it.
7.       Practice Makes Perfect

Whether it’s a DSLR, a ‘point and shoot’ or even the latest smart phone, it’s important you get to grips with your camera’s settings before you heading abroad. Don’t miss that once in a lifetime opportunity simply because you couldn’t turn the flash on in time.

8.       People Power
Taking shots of the locals is often one of the most pleasurable aspects of photography abroad. Ask permission beforehand or gesture with your camera if you don’t speak the language. Don’t be afraid; I usually that find people are more than happy to do this and the worst they can say is no.

9.       Constructing The Perfect Photo
Architecture abroad can be fascinating, with no two countries exactly the same. Try getting up high or shooting from low down for more interesting vantage points and compositions. Look out for striking lines and angles or get in really close for that often missed detail.

10.   And Finally…
Don’t live your life through a lens the entire time you are on holiday. The scenes you see through a viewfinder do not compare to taking in the real thing with your own eyes. Use your photographs to remind you of the magic and beauty you witnessed but make sure you do witness it!

Sunday, 11 August 2013


I was recently having dinner with my in-laws, when the conversation drifted towards holidaying in Oceania. I have been lucky enough to have sampled all 5 of Australia’s states but have never been to New Zealand. My mother and father-in-law have been to NZ but not to Australia and my brother-in-law has travelled extensively in both.

During dinner my in-laws raved about NZ, 'one of the most amazing places' they had ever been. My brother-in-law stated he had nothing bad to say about Australia, apart from it being ‘too big’(!) but that it just did not compare with NZ. Perhaps jealous I haven’t yet experienced the country for myself, perhaps annoyed that I have sometimes observed elsewhere a snobbishness towards Australia (particularly when compared to NZ), I suddenly found myself asserting that ‘I would be astonished if NZ was better than Australia'.

This comment has since rankled with me, not only because it was a poor show of passive aggressiveness on my part - but also because I now realise it was completely absurd. So indulge me, if you will, while I go through the cathartic experience of describing just how truly ludicrous it is to believe one country can be superior to another.

Okay, let us try to do this scientifically. To begin with, there needs to be some set criteria. Let’s think about some of the things that people enjoy when travelling abroad: climate, scenery, wildlife, food, terrain, accommodation, cities, the locals, history, entertainment or adventure. Of course this is just a sample, there are hundreds if not thousands more and each will have sub-categories. Take scenery just for example - you could have savannahs, forests, rain-forests, cloud-forests, deserts, the tundra, beaches, mountains volcanoes, hillsides, rivers, oceans, lagoons, waterfalls reefs, fjords - the list goes on and on. And what is attractive to one traveller, is not necessarily attractive to another. Some people think volcanoes are ugly, some people don't like clubbing, some people hate the cold.

Somehow then, the world’s entire population needs to come to a consensus about which features of a country (and their thousands of subcategories) make them attractive to visit. Impossible, right? There’s no way we can get everyone to agree on every single category. Fear not, perhaps we can appoint a panel of 100 experts from around the globe to help us decide. A tough job but like a jury deliberating over a most important verdict, we won’t let them go home until they have come to a unanimous decision. Sorted.

Now that we have an agreement, we need to 'weight' each of these features. For example, we could stipulate that if a country has a forest it gains one point, if it has a desert it gains 3 points etc. Then we simply tally up the points for every country based on which features it has. We can then decide which county is indeed the best. Simple.

However, if one person feels a mountain should score 6 points, another person is sure to disagree and score it only 1. Back to the panel to decide then. There’s only 100 of them remember – surely they can come to a fairly swift decision.‘’But wait’’ cries the foreman, ‘’Don’t we also need to score each ‘individual’ feature, rather than a average?’’.

Silly me, of course they do. You can’t give Mount Rushmore the same score as Mount Snowdon for goodness sake! Or can you? Hmmm... Oh well, rather them than us.

Don’t worry, we’re nearly there.

We now have at least 25 billion individual features, each with an unique score that our panel of experts has kindly provided for us. Their work is done, they can go home now and feed their fictional fish. All we need to do now to verify all their hard labour, is save enough money and take enough annual leave to ensure we can visit every last feature of a particular country has to offer, followed by every single feature of another country.

Then I can climb the tallest ‘+3’ mountain I can find and shout with certitude ‘’Yes, I can confirm, Australia is better than New Zealand’’

There’s just one, teeny, tiny, final problem to resolve; the thorny issue of ‘experience’.

You see, there is another variable at work here; ‘luck’. Simple things such as a broken down coach or a delayed flight, a minor accident or even the weather, can all heavily influence our enjoyment or opinion of a particular place. I travelled to Bruges for a short break a few years ago and it rained constantly for 3 days. I didn’t really enjoy it at all. Yet I have no doubt thousands, if not millions, of other tourists think it is wonderful.

And then, I remember Noosa Heads in Queensland, Australia,

On this particular day, we had miscalculated the distance from the coach-stop into town and so walking uphill for what seemed like days, sun blazing overhead and carrying the heaviest backpack I had ever travelled with, we eventually happened upon a beautiful little hotel. Desperate to go no further, we were crushed to find that it was just too expensive for us to stay (we were on a very strict budget). Fortunately for us, it was out of season and taking pity on us, the owner gave us an incredible 70% discount to allow us to stay the night. Dropping our bags to the floor, we fell onto a king-sized bed and into laughter at the bizarreness of how quickly our situation had changed from oppression to opulence.

We spent the next half hour in an enormous, stone-tiled wet-room, soaking our sore and weary bones. Refreshed, revitalised and re-energised, we strolled down into town, hand-in-hand and never more in-love, basking in the glow of the warm evening sun and a soothing coastal breeze. We sat down in a pretty little sea-front restaurant, where we enjoyed one the most lovely evenings we have ever had together. And believe me, we had earned it.

This is just one of a number of immeasurably pleasurable memories I have from Australia and no expert in the world can assign a score to it, to tell me otherwise. I see now what I fool I was in suggesting it was better than NZ. I was completely missing the point that they both have incredible amounts to offer and moreover, they offer different things to different people. How presumptuous to imply that my experience should be the same as that of anyone else.

So yes, I will be astounded if I enjoy New Zealand more than Australia and I really hope I do... but it's clear to me now that even if this is the case, it will in no way, shape or form, mean that it is 'better'.