new Red Lenses Instagram feed

Now giving Instagram a go – hopefully without the excesses of filtering which seem to spoil (for me) a lot of these. There are some great feeds in amongst the dross, and I’m going to be looking out for more. Let me know if you have any favourites amongst them, please.

red_lenses Instagram feed now up

red_lenses Instagram feed now up

You can find me on there as red_lenses so pop over there and see what’s happening.

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www.redlenses.co.uk/ … new commercial photo-site

So, with my passion for photography, some years of perfecting my craft, and an existing client-base, I am now separating my commercial photography work from my other freelancing work, in order to be able to promote it more readily.

Please take a look at my new site, and if you feel able to recommend me to others, pass along the link too. It would be very much appreciated at this end, that’s for sure!

http://www.redlenses.co.uk/ is where I can be found, hope to see you there.

Note that this blog will continue as normal, as I like having my own, separate space to write about matters photographic.

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Playing with Trains photo-set, Elsecar Heritage Centre

A chance visit to Elsecar Heritage Centre a few days back caused me to want to return as soon as possible with my camera gear, to play with trains (and other features there) for a few hours. Thankfully, the volunteers who operate the place were happy to allow me access (suitably attired in a hi-viz vest for safety), and spend time chatting with me about the place itself and their involvement.

A well-oiled Mardy Monster!

A well-oiled Mardy Monster!

A very interesting place, and I hope that the sun brings them plenty of customers over the coming months. Anyone fancy a footplate-ride? Go on, you know you want to!

So, sit back and see how much fun playing with trains can be! …

Playing with Trains photo-set, Elsecar Heritage Centre

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More solargraphs, a mere 13-day exposure!

As I collected my last set of solargraph ‘cameras’ – see here – I decided to put out some more, but this time, for a much shorter period of time. The idea was to show more detail in the surrounding landscape. It was partially successful, and I got a lovely image of a feature in the grounds of Wentworth Castle, Barnsley, called the Rotunda.

Wentworth Castle Rotunda, after a mere 13-day exposure!

Wentworth Castle Rotunda, after a mere 13-day exposure!

However, part of the fun of this process is the unpredictable nature of it, from whether the ‘cameras’ will still be there, to what kind of image has formed, to how much I decide to play around with post-processing. Even the above image looks a little surreal, but sometimes, I decide to play around more, just to see what happens, using a few techniques of my own.

Rotunda as 'little planet', taken to the extreme perhaps?

Rotunda as ‘little planet’, taken to the extreme perhaps?

Sometimes, the surrealism is added during the exposure itself. Below, the b&w paper I use as ‘film’ had got slightly bent as I pushed down the lid of the film-tub, causing the light to reflect around inside it some. The main building and chimneys can just be made out, just right of centre on the skyline:

Distorted sun-trails due to bent 'film'

Distorted sun-trails due to bent ‘film’

This time, the building is angled – centre-shot – as the ‘camera’ was tied to a hawthorn branch, as I was running out of plastic twine! A bit of false-colour was added, but I quite like the result.

More abstract due to the odd angle, and some false colour

More abstract due to the odd angle, and some false colour

So, a bit of a mixed bag, but I’m happy with the results. There are a few more to see on my photo-website…

Wentworth Castle, Barnsley, solargraphs from the parkland

As an aside, 35mm film-canisters are now becoming so hard to get hold of that I have had to buy a batch from ebay. Managed to get 50 at a decent price, so that should last me for a while, I hope!

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Solargraphs: Summer solstice means six months wait is up!

… ok, six months and one day, to be pedantic, since I left my home-made pinhole cameras ‘in the wild’, as described here.

Of the five deployed, the two shown in the final photo of that previous blog had been removed, leaving only the bit of wood. A shame, but given they are next to a well-frequented part of the park, I guess some losses were inevitable. The other three were fine, leaving me two images from 35mm film-tubs and one ‘medium format’ black pepper-corn tub. The latter, despite my best attempts to seal it, always gets water inside, adding artistically to the image in some ways, and meaning some gentle dabbing at the paper with kitchen-towel and a few minutes in the airing cupboard to avoid marking the scanner-glass. But the 35mm film-tubs remain dry as a bone, with no additional sealing.

This is perhaps the best of the three solargraphs, with good detail showing in the landscape

This is perhaps the best of the three solargraphs, with good detail showing in the landscape

Then, as previously described, the tweaking begins: Reversing the negative image, flipping it laterally and removing the blue cast are the main stages, and after that, it varies more, depending on how the individual image has turned out: Some tweaking of levels was done, and the medium-format image was put through my pseudo-HDR processing, as the original was a little dull, and it also seems to bring out the colours nicely.

Same location as the previous image, but angled slightly differently. Nice sun-trails but less landscape detail

Same location as the previous image, but angled slightly differently. Nice sun-trails but less landscape detail

As I was collecting the cameras, I also left a few more. This time, the intention is to leave them only one or two weeks, in order to show more detail in the surrounding landscape (and reduce the chance of them being removed). So, more to come shortly, I hope.

'Medium format' tub always gets water inside, but this adds a certain artistic quality

‘Medium format’ tub always gets water inside, but this adds a certain artistic quality

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Live music and cameras: A bad combination?

In the words of the great Tom Waits, I want to pull on your coat about something: Taking photos at gigs. Everyone does it, seemingly, and I’m also guilty, grabbing a few snaps on my phone to say I was there. However, for me, this is a tiny part of the event: I am there to enjoy the music; more than that, I am there to get absorbed by it, let it take me where it will, enjoy the entire experience of seeing my favourite artists performing, perhaps with some stunning sound and light show, or maybe some minimal surroundings and a smaller, more intimate feel.

Rush's Geddy Lee enjoying some Malignant Narcissism

Rush’s Geddy Lee enjoying some Malignant Narcissism

However, there are so many people who seem to be glued to cameras or phones throughout the gig, taking both still images and video. You can’t miss them, the glow of the screens being obvious as they film their heroes. As anyone who takes photos knows, this activity will somewhat change your experience of any event you try to capture: Now, you are no longer just idly participating, but concentrating on framing the subject, best camera settings for whatever result you are after, and all the other things which go with being a photog. And this changes the experience, puts you slightly more at a remove from it. Generally, this is something I do not mind, but for music, as I already stated, I want nothing to stand in the way of this particular experience. So, I grab a few quick photos from the phone, and then get on with enjoying it in a fullest way I can.

This means that my photos are only snaps, nothing artistic about them at all. And not particularly good quality (although even camera-phones can turn in some pretty good results). However, I am fully aware that there are some compact cameras out there with long lenses, HD video, image stabilising, decent low-light performance and a host of other features which make them capable of getting great results. That is just as well, because if I try to take my DSLR and long-lens in, without jumping through hoops to get permission, I know exactly what it going to happen. Is this fair, considering that the gap in performance is much narrower than it was? More than likely, given the rigmarole people go thorough even with the smaller, permitted cameras: Imagine more of the audience blocking out the view holding up pro-quality DSLRs and video cameras. It would become crazy!

Did I say ‘become crazy’? It already is at times. Mostly, people seem to recognise that we are all there to enjoy ourselves, and don’t try to keep their cameras held right up (or maybe they simply don’t have the upper-body strength?!). But I still find the screens a distraction. The guy right in front of me last night at Sheffield City Hall had thoughtfully turned the brightness right down on his, but I saw lots of big-screened phones around me (the Galaxy S3 seems very popular!), and numerous compacts shooting video, being held up for entire songs. I did have to tap him on the shoulder at one point, when he held the thing right up in front of me though. At a Porcupine Tree gig in Poland some year ago, all photography was banned, and the people who tried were taken outside (I’m not sure that anything nasty happened to them, as they seemed to reappear, and I can find YouTube clips of that same gig!): This was presumably at the request of the artist, and I can understand their annoyance, although people now do seem to have found out how to turn off the flash! It could be commercial reasons too, I guess, but the images and video are generally not going to rival that from the pros down the front, even though they are catching up. So why do people do it? As I said, I come at this from the standpoint of wanting to just get absorbed by the music. OK, if you are going to have a record of the event, have a good one, perhaps: This is certainly something I try to achieve with a camera the rest of the time. And certainly people seem happy to have their videos up on YouTube, as a search for a specific band or track will reveal, especially during a current tour. I guess what I’m saying is, be considerate if you must do it, but maybe also try putting the camera or phone away and just see if it allows you to enjoy the gig more. Go on, what’s the worst that can happen? And do you really look at all those photos you take that much after the event?

Joe Satriani and some Unstoppable Momentum

Joe Satriani and some Unstoppable Momentum

At least the pros are relatively unobtrusive: At Sheffield Arena, the stage is high enough that you don’t really notice them along the front, and they did get some amazing shots of the Rush gig I was at. At Sheffield City Hall, they are allowed to be at the front only during the first song, which also means a minimum of disturbance. Perhaps this idea could be extended to the entire audience as a trial, just to see if people then actually enjoy the music more? Just a thought.

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Bieszczady Mountains & Cracow, Poland photo-set

A long-awaited trip to Poland (again), a favourite destination of mine. I had wanted to visit the mountains of the south-east, so had originally planned a week hiking in the Tatra Mountains then another in the Bieszczady Mountains, with a little time in Cracow also. However, a bout of ‘flu beforehand forced me to make the hard choice to forego (for now) the first week to make sure that I was fully recovered.

So, with flights rearranged, I headed for the Bieszczady region, in the bottom south-east corner of Poland, just a few kilometres from the Ukrainian border, knowing a little about the region from guide-books and history books, but unprepared for the full scale of the beauty and lush-green tranquillity to be found there.

playing with reflections in a church window. Love the mosaic of the tree in it.

playing with reflections in a church window. Love the mosaic of the tree in it.

That is not to say that this was an easy vacation, as I had wanted to do plenty of hiking, and that is exactly what I got: Five to eight hours of activity most days was somewhat tiring, but in the company of a friend, plus professional photographer (and first-time tour-guide), Włodzimierz Biliński, the time passed very pleasantly. We were all rather exhausted after a week of this, with some early starts for wildlife-watching, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. Włodzimierz has his own gallery here, if you would like to see more of his work.

At times, there was a trade-off of photo-taking time in order to cover greater distance, and this is a compromise I enjoy at times, as it feels good to hike and see a new place properly, on foot. If this means grabbing shots as I go along, that’s fine with me. And wow, did we cover some ground! Sunrises, sunsets, wildlife-watching, up and down hills and mountains … sheer, exhilarating bliss. And ending the days with great food and my favourite Żubrówka vodka too.

… This is probably a great point to thank also our friendly hosts for the week, Urszula and Krzysiek,  for the amazing food and also for setting us up completely one evening: My friend and I were taking a short stroll, had been given a map and a good place to see the sunset, and walked for an hour or so to hear a Land Rover roaring up the track behind us. Krzysiek (for it was he, a 4×4 fanatic) proceeded to run us up the hill to the best spot (plus some extra off-reading afterwards), and put the kettle on (yes, he has everything in that Discovery!). A little later, a quad-bike could be heard, and Urszula arrived with cake fresh from the fridge! Thanks guys, that was a very memorable evening and a great way to make us feel like special guests. Their little piece of tranquillity can be found here, if you ever want to get away from the crowds in an amazing part of Poland.

So, lush green hills and mountains, with the low cloud on the first day in Bieszczady giving some wonderful atmosphere to the photos. After that, it cleared to give stunning views for walking, with the Sanok open-air folk museum providing a welcome break after the first strenuous day! Given my status as an armchair-archaeology fan, I recognised some of the long-houses and other buildings, which are not recreations but have been taken from the surrounding area and carefully rebuilt. Yes, that’s the difference, these kinds of buildings not only exist but are still in use in some rural areas. As for the history of the area, that’s another matter entirely, too long to touch on here, but ‘turbulent’ hardly covers it.

Amazing to spend one night in a mountain hut (walked up to after an already long day of walking), in order to get both sunrise and sunset next morning. Only a few hours between the two events, with some vodka getting in the way of sleep. Fortunately, being slightly drunk in charge of a camera is not yet an offence, and I made my descent very carefully, with that and the tiredness.

There was more, of course, with wildlife to watch, silliness and fun to enjoy, and beautiful views both of and from hills and mountains to be appreciated, and the week sped past much too fast.

And as for Cracow, a beautiful city, but I probably owe them an apology! (this is becoming a habit!): It is never my intention to try to make a place look ugly, but I do find myself drawn towards industrial aspects of a place at times (including pylons!). But the more traditional architecture is also stunningly beautiful, and I love looking for small details amongst it all. Finding the bridge of padlocks inscribed with names of loved-ones was a tender moment, and a lovely tradition.

So, sit back for a few highlights of the trip now, without the effort …

Bieszczady Mountains & Cracow, Poland photo-set

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Vlahi and Kresna, Bulgaria photo-set

Well, things have been a bit quiet on here of late. I figure there’s no point posting unless I have something to say. That, plus work and bad weather here in the UK keeping me from getting out with a camera much. But I’ve had chance to install the DSLR Controller app (Canon only!) on my Galaxy S2, which I shall be playing around with more when I get the opportunity. And purchased the Nik Collection of Photoshop plugins for what seems a bargain-basement price: Used the Sharpener Pro 3 tool and started trying out the Silver Efex Pro 2 (b&w) today, and very impressed so far.

So, the main event for today is the photo-set from Bulgaria: It has been two years since my last visit, way too long to go without seeing my friends both human and animal. Plus, the added draw of the second Spring Fair in Kresna. I had seen photos from the previous one, and wished I could be there. It surpassed my expectations, with so much to see (and hear, smell, taste … in fact, something for all senses here!). Once I saw the traditional dancers in the Karakachan goat outfits, I knew this was going to be something a bit special, and I wasn’t disappointed.

Driving out evil spirits with traditional costume and dancing. Kresna, Bulgaria. Spring 2013

Driving out evil spirits with traditional costume and dancing.
Kresna, Bulgaria. Spring 2013

My first day there saw a visit to the Large Carnivore Education Centre, in the tiny village of Vlahi, by some school-kids from Sofia. I love being there for these visits, watching the kids explore the exhibits in the Centre itself, and then head up the hill to meet-and-greet Vucho and Bayto, the wolves, and Medo, the bear. This will hopefully have a positive effect on the view of such creatures, which – as in many countries – have not fared well, even today with the additional protection which EU membership should offer. That is a whole other posting.

It was also the longest time since seeing the wolves, and wondering if they would remember me, I headed up the hillside ahead of the kids to get reacquainted. It took a couple of minutes, but we were soon back on our usual, friendly terms. I spend more time with these guys than any other wolves habituated to humans, and as a result, I trust them. That doesn’t mean I push it or take risks, but it does mean that I can get up close without any problems, provided I respect their boundaries and moods.

My friends were, as usual, very busy. On top of looking after their animals – they breed Karakachan dogs (for livestock guarding), horses, sheep and goats (also all Karakachan breed), have many projects on the go, and were also making ready for the imminent spring fair. I do what I can to help out when there, so happily took on the task of feeding the wolves and bear, always on the look-out for photo-ops too! The feeding in the photos is on lambs which had already died on the farm, so this is a good way of ensuring nothing is wasted. No apologies if you’re squeamish, this is the way in which wolves eat. Or in the case of Vucho, roll around in it!

So, up very early for the fair, although I seemed a little surplus to requirements as everyone busied themselves with final preparations. I used the time to get some lovely early-morning shots and visit with the wolves again. I never tire of this – someone did once ask me if I didn’t have enough photos of these guys. Well … I can never resist taking more, always after some new angle, or interesting bit of interaction, so I guess the answer would be a ‘no’. Also turns out that there was no-one to help walk the two Karakachan horses the 9km down to Kresna, so I got the job of horse-leader for the morning. Rather a nice, traditional way to arrive, I thought.

Once there, I was soon busy trying to capture the sights of the event itself. So much happening, and a splendid, sunny day meant that I also had to keep finding some cooler shade. But I made sure I saw as much as possible, enjoying all the dancing and music, goats and food, Olympic-standard goat-staring, and everything else going on that day. A great time was had by all, I think, and certainly by me. But by late afternoon, when things started to wind-down, I was glad to swap the camera for a well-earned glass of wine and sit down finally to chat with friends there, as the night fell and a bonfire was lit.

Hope you enjoy this varied set. It was so very hard to capture the different aspects of this latest visit to Bulgaria, but I worked my very hardest to produce some photos which I hope will give a taste of it.

Vlahi and Kresna, Bulgaria. Spring 2013 photo-set

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Film SLRs … where are they now? Oh, here they are …

I paid a visit to my local camera-store today, as thanks to the joy of modern social-networking, I had seen a post on Facebook that they were having a table-top sale. I was curious to see exactly what was there, in case there was any gear shouting ‘buy me!’. What I saw was, in fact, several tables, all full of old film SLRs, lenses, cases, motor-drives, flash-guns, batteries, filters, pretty much any bits you could imagine, plus some vintage cameras too.

Consigned to the bargain-bin, old film SLRs have definitely had their day

Consigned to the bargain-bin, old film SLRs have definitely had their day

… yes, all that lovely old gear that I would once have given my eye-teeth to get hold of, now going for an absolute song. OK, I cringed at all the lenses and bodies with no caps on, attracting dust, dirt and fingerprints, but I suspect that was not going to be a major issue in their immediate future, give how full the tables looked after almost a full week of the sale being on.

old film SLRs £5 each ... any takers?

old film SLRs £5 each … any takers?

After all, who uses film any more these days? OK, at those prices, it may seem a bargain, but cast your mind back to how much the cost of film could be for a major vacation or expedition, or if you wanted to shoot the same number of frames that the pros did, with those bulk-film backs attached, like a couple of soup-cans strapped to the rear of the camera! And think how may frames you take now with digital technology  to be sure you ‘nailed it’, and how much that would cost. Maybe doesn’t seem such a bargain now, perhaps?

Old lenses and camera bits, all going for next to nothing

Old lenses and camera bits, all going for next to nothing

Still, there was certainly no shortage of choice, and I did find myself mentally assembling a new 35mm system or four whilst browsing. Or maybe something in a larger format, if you have the strength to lug it around …

5x4 plate camera ... any takers?

5×4 plate camera … any takers?

In the end, a little digging around unearthed all the SLRs I have ever owned (well done that member of staff for pointing out the EOS30 I purchased there a dozen or so years ago; now that’s service!). Total cost today? £20. Sob! … yes, a Yashica TL Electro and Canon A1 for a fiver each, plus the EOS30 for a tenner. Wow! That said, I still own all but the Yashica, plus lenses and other bits also. OK, I should probably have offloaded the EOS30 whilst it was still worth something, once I got my paws on a Canon 300D (Digital Rebel, in some regions), my first DSLR. But I retired the A1 and swore I would hang on to it, both for sentimental reasons and in case I ever had the urge to go back to 35mm for any reason. Hasn’t happened yet though. I do love digital, but never say never and all that.

all the film SLRs I've owned ... total cost today £20!

all the film SLRs I’ve owned … total cost today £20!

Whilst experiencing all that nostalgia, I was also aware of the convenience of taking my phone out of my pocket and grabbing these images, almost without thinking. Yes, the technology has certainly moved on apace, and perhaps no bad thing. I meant to ask what would happen to all the old gear left over after the sale, and presumably taking up valuable space in the store, but I didn’t have the heart. I think I can guess what the future holds for it, and it probably won’t be a nice museum display somewhere. Still, an interesting stroll down memory lane for sure.

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Going old-school

My first foray into urban exploration, or urbex, today. This is the exploration of human-built structures, generally abandoned or seldom-seen: I’ve been meaning to do this for some time, but the sites become less and less in number as redevelopment takes place. This is, on the whole, a Good Thing, but does rather deplete the possibilities for such work. It seems a logical extension of my industrial work, but given the nature of the sites, could possibly define me as either an adrenalin-fuelled thrill-seeker or perhaps some kind of foolhardy idiot. I’m neither, of course, and will apply reasonable caution to whatever I do. Just by way of comparison, I was on a white-water rafting trip last summer, way more dangerous than this!

Urbex - industrial photos with a bit more excitement!

Urbex – industrial photos with a bit more excitement!

So, my first outing for such exploration ended up being my old school: Once upon a time, very close to where I live, there was a reasonably respectable grammar-school called Broadway. This was not big enough, so a rather raggedy steel-breeze-block-glass structure was thrown up next to it. This was known as Charter School and was where I spent some [ahem] interesting years of my life. Later on, these two buildings were combined under the heading Kingstone School, which is now in the process of being demolished, a modern super-school having been build nearby. That said, a great deal of my school-life was spent in utterly awful ‘portakabins’, as I was part of the baby-boomer generation, and it was not felt that the expense of expanding schools further to accommodate this statistical ‘blip’ was worthwhile. Thanks, bean-counters: I sweated in summer and froze my arse off in winter because of you!

Back to the plot … the part formerly known as Charter School is now halfway demolished, and given that I am really not completely stupid, I decided to give that a miss and concentrate on the structurally-sound former-Broadway, brick-built and with a tad more character, perhaps. It also made it easier to avoid the on-site security presence, having found a gap in the galvo-steel fence along this edge (hey, I would have asked, but in these days of health-and-safety paranoia, who in their right mind is going to let me wander around a building site full of trip-hazards, and partly-demolished buildings?). So, that’s it really, an interesting hour or two spent exploring an recently-derelict building, developing my industrial technique a bit more two. Hoping to find some more places to visit in the near-future.

So, share the old-school visit with me …

Kingstone School Barnsley

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