Tag Archives: location

In the beginning

I think my journey towards learning to see rather than look really started to take shape during a holiday in Norfolk which turned out to be the hottest week of the year. I couldn’t face lugging my heavy rucksack stuffed with camera gear around with me all day in sweltering temperatures, but what I wasn’t going to leave behind was, of course, my phone. Seeking out shady places, I could sit to admire the view, watching holiday life ambling by. With my phone camera it was easy to take impromptu snaps and the seafront provided endless opportunities for creatively composed shots. Mind you, given that half the time all I could see was my own reflection in the screen, much of my success was entirely serendipitous!

My evenings were spent selecting filter effects, adding hashtags and uploading my shots to Instagram. My technophobia extends to post-processing the thousands of images languishing on my hard drive, so this immediacy was as liberating as leaving my camera bag behind. There are some amazing images on the Internet and it’s been really inspiring to see what other people all over the world are doing with their photography. Exploring hashtags reveals whole communities taking images of everything from pets and sunsets to weird and obscure aspects of our world; there are tags for barbed wire, rust, decay, and my favourite, #hingelove, a whole tag just for door furniture! I am not alone!

Since then, my interest has not waned. Living in a city and being interested in photographing nature has often seemed less than ideal and I have tended to plan days out with my camera rather than looking for subjects closer to home (other than the garden of course!). My new-found love of photo-sharing has opened my eyes to my everyday surroundings and I am now drawn to record details I wouldn’t have previously given a second glance to. By looking outside my self-imposed box my creativity is blossoming as I am finding ways to make the most of what is available instead of sighing over unobtainable images of fabulous mountains and seascapes in magazines. Beauty is all around us, if we take the time to see…

Photowalk: Bluebell woods

Each year I make a point of going to a local woods which is carpeted in bluebells in May.  It’s a lovely place to visit at any time, but the bluebells turn it into a magical experience. Here are a few pictures from my recent visit.

This year the bluebells seem to have been particularly amazing.  It was a still and warm afternoon, and there was a subtle sweet fragrance in the air, coming from the mass of blooms.

Visiting this woodland reminds me of the wonder of the cycle of life and the transience of everything in the universe.  These amazing flowers lie dormant under the soil for much of the year.  And yet, if you visit in those couple of weeks in April or May, the ground beneath the trees is completely transformed.

Although we call them bluebells, the ones here are mostly shades of lavender through to a dark purple.  I always find them quite difficult to photograph as the camera never seems to do them justice but the images still stand as a reminder to the spectacle, until it is time to visit again next year.


Light is a directional resource, whether from the sun or a lamp.  The shadows it creates can dramatically change a scene from the mundane to the eyecatching in the time it takes for a cloud to drift across the sky.  At times my attention has been captured by the shadow in its own right.  Other times, it is the way it enhances another object that takes my fancy.  In an environment where there seems to be little worth taking a picture of, shadows can save the day.

Watching shadows offers a powerful meditation in its own right.  Watch them change from long, soft and glancing in the early part of the day to short and crisp when the sun is overhead.  See them fluctuate as clouds drift by; a subtle cloud cover that softens definition, or the dramatic passing of bigger clouds across the sun on a windy day.  Consider how we depend on the sun for light and warmth.  Let shadows be our reminder of the life-giving energy from the star that makes our very existence possible.

To take the most dramatic images involving shadows we need to be out and about early or late in the day, when they are at their longest. A bright sunny day will give the strongest shade, but we can go shadow chasing at any time of year.  The urban landscape can offer many opportunities for fascinating shadow –hunting, often creating stark abstract images through the interplay shapes formed by buildings and shadows

On a smaller scale, strong sunlight can lead to beautiful images of birds and other animals.  Although accepted advice is that flowers should be photographed in diffuse light, I also enjoy playing with the shadow patterns they make around them.  Oops, breaking the rules again!  I have also spent many of hours squatting under bushes to record the effect of shadowplay on leaves and toadstools.  But then I think I am a little odd…

Exploring…the Severn Valley Railway

A day out on the Severn Valley Railway is one of my favourite excursions from Birmingham.  This historic line dates back to 1858 and it originally ran for 40 miles between Hartlebury and Shrewsbury.  It closed in 1963 but The Severn Valley Railway Company reopened the line to passenger services in 1970 and now operates between Bridgnorth and Kidderminster.

Looking out

The beauty of a trip on the railway is that there is always something to photograph, whatever the weather brings.  On a warm sunny day there are walks from stations along the line and if the day dawns cold and wet there is always the option to stay on the train!  I can spend hours engrossed in the details from a bygone era that you find on the platforms.  I love the milk churns, trunks and quirky advertising signs.

Sweeping statement

The trains themselves can offer a challenge to the hopeful photographer as the combination of black shiny paintwork and bright white steam can exceed the dynamic range of the camera, resulting in blown highlights or dull shadows.  If it’s not a day for taking in the big picture I focus on the smaller details and no matter how often I visit there is always something new.


My last visit turned out to be a lovely day.  Just after arriving at Kidderminster Station, I rushed to get my camera out of the bag.  You might have assumed I was about to photograph the approaching steam locomotive, but no, I wanted to record the reflection in a nearby puddle before the sun hid behind a cloud.  The time before that the forecast said dry but the rain never stopped.  As a result I came home with pictures of rain-splattered platforms and reflections inside the carriage.

When we journey with an open mind there is always something to entice us to explore further.

Exploring…Flamborough’s cliffs

They say a break is as good as a rest and I think I can testify to that after spending the half term holiday in Flamborough, on East Yorkshire’s coast. Why Yorkshire? I hear you say.  Well, at this time of year the breeding season for seabirds is in full swing and I booked a week there in hope of seeing my holiest of grails; the puffin.  You have to admit, they are seriously cute!  Flamborough Head is a Site of Special Scientific Interest and home to a variety of birds, plants and other beasties that thrive on the exposed chalk headland.  The cliffs are the highest in the north of England at 100ft and at this time of year there are kittiwakes, fulmars, razorbills and guillemots crowded onto every available ledge.  The puffins prefer to nest a little higher up, making burrows in the earth above the chalky outcrops.


I was lucky enough to see puffins the very first evening.  They are fascinating little birds, and quite elusive amongst the chaos of the breeding season.  However, once I had spotted one it became easier to pick them out; their orange feet are something of a giveaway when they are in flight!


Just along the coast at the RSPB’s site at Bempton Cliffs there is one of UK’s major breeding sites for gannets.  These huge birds (6ft wingspan, no less) were truly amazing to watch. As they came to the cliff tops to gather nesting materials, just a few feet from the path, the use of a telephoto lens was almost redundant.


My week in Yorkshire provided just the impetus I needed to motivate me to get out more with my camera.  Although there is so much to photograph on anybody’s doorstep if you look carefully enough, changing places for a week works wonders!

Exploring…under the pier at Weston super mare

This Easter I managed to grab a few days at the seaside, at Weston super mare.  From my current base in Birmingham, it’s the closest place I can go to see the sea.  Now I am living in Britain’s second largest city, I find that I really miss the sense of space and openness you get at the seaside, and the positive effects of being near water always make me feel refreshed.

Although we tend to think of piers as something to walk on, I like to spend some time underneath them as well.  Ok, perhaps I am a little odd but I am resigned to that now!  These structures take an enormous battering from the sea, and it always amazes me how they withstand these forces on a daily basis.  Exploring the pillars and strut allows me to indulge my desire to photograph rust and decay, visible at every turn!


I am also frequently fascinated by the structure of the pier, which offers plenty of potential to frame geometric compositions based on shapes and lines.  It’s generally dark under there, so allowing the highlights to blow out deals with any awkward background details that might distract the viewer from the main attraction.


Under the pier is also a good place to lurk if you fancy capturing some street-style images, as the ironwork supports of the pier also provide an interesting backdrop to those taking a stroll along the beach.


And of course, this being Britain, under the pier is the perfect location to while away some time taking photographs on a rainy day!

Exploring: Edgbaston Reservoir

Despite having lived in Birmingham some 14 years now, I have not previously found my way to Edgbaston Reservoir.  Given that I was visiting on one of the first really sunny Sundays of the year, I should have expected the car park to be busy!  The path around the reservoir’s edge promises to provide a level walk of just under 2 miles; ideal for an afternoon stroll. Having managed to grab a parking space, I turned right, towards the dam at the reservoir’s eastern edge.

Built by Thomas Telford in 1827, the reservoir still serves as a source of water for the Birmingham Canal Navigations, and indeed, the Icknield Port Loop curves close to the reservoir’s dam, serving the British Waterways maintenance depot.  Beyond the port, an industrial view of canal heritage and modern developments create an historically-varied vista across the city.   The skyline beyond the dam is dominated by the BT tower, with the new Library of Birmingham glistening in the afternoon sunshine and a local temple adding in to create the bizarre mixture of architecture I have come to expect of Birmingham.  According to Wikipedia, “Birmingham City Council has plans for the regeneration of the area, including moorings, 1,150 new homes, shops, park and playground, and a ten-storey hotel”, so this derelict remnant of canal history may soon be remodelled, to change the view below the dam yet again.


Once having crossed to the far side of the reservoir, beyond the watersports club, there is a fabulous view across the open water to the city skyline beyond.  There is a real sense of space, something I find myself craving since moving to the UK’s second largest city.  To the east of the reservoir looms the imposing tower of Edgbaston Waterworks, thought to have influenced JRR Tolkien in writing The Lord of the Rings.  Close by is Perrott’s Folly, the second tower referred to in the trilogy.  This 29m tower was built in 1758, when it would have dominated the surrounding open countryside.   Today it is a Grade II listed building trapped in suburbia, reaching up for air and light as a woodland seeding might strive to survive.


I found myself fascinated by the reflections in the water, particularly the effects created by the partially submerged trees along the water’s edge and the repetitive lines of railings that protected inlet channels supplying water to the reservoir.  A pair of swans idling around the western edge of the water caught the late afternoon light to make the water droplets glisten on brilliant white feathers.  Almost back the car park, I was transfixed by the smooth surface of the water and the plaintive cries of seagulls jostling for sandwich crusts.  In my imagination the distant reservoir dam became a harbour wall and I was transported to the coast, drinking in the splendour of the open sea in this landlocked city of the middle shires.

Yes, I think I shall have to visit again.  There is more yet to see in this little oasis.

Exploring Eastside: the city park

In my search for Curzon Street Station I could hardly fail to visit Eastside City Park in Birmingham, given that the station building nestles on the edge of the new park, opposite Millenium Point.  As I only visit the city centre occasionally, this was the first time I had come across it. The park was officially opened in December 2012 and is said to have cost a staggering £11.75 million to create.  I found it to be a great location for photography.  The park is very ‘architectural’ in its design, with clean lines, formal water features and solid structures.  These are offset by swathes of grasses that add movement and perennials and colour.  As one who is not very fond of what I refer to as the ‘municipal planting’ favoured by so many councils, the absence of serried ranks of pansies or geraniums was very welcome!


Exploring the park I found myself absorbed in photographing aspects of it that are perhaps not the ones its creators would be espousing.  The gently waving grasses are perfect for a spot of ‘in camera movement’ to produce blurry abstracts and I was fascinated by the colours and patterns of the rust stains from the water spouts along the formal canal.  It is also ideal for a little street photography and the strong structures and pale paving offer great opportunities for photographing ever-changing shadows.  The fountains are a source of entertainment for both human and doggy visitors and I spent an enjoyable few minutes watching a Labrador attempting to pounce on one of the water jets.


However, despite all the attractions on offer the aspect of the park that fascinated me the most was the strange juxtaposition of the modern and the old.  Again, back to my recurring theme of this summer!  Alongside modern steel and glass high-rises squatted derelict and tumbledown buildings, with broken windows and railing roof tiles.  More little pockets of history holding back the inexorable progress of development.  I wonder how long they come to still be there, how they escaped the bulldozer and how long they will last before they succumb to redevelopment.  A strange city indeed.


Seeing change in street photography

Street photography, or the art of photographing life as it happens, is becoming increasingly popular these days.  New rangefinder cameras are being marketed as ideal for street photography due to their unobtrusive nature.  There is a lot of skill as well as luck in capturing special moments out of the life of a city and it’s an area well worth exploring.

When the photographer in me is dominant, I am hopeful of being poised to record ‘the decisive moment’ when it happens.  More often than not these moments are recorded by my mind rather than my camera, stored up in my memories to inspire me on to greater efforts next time.

However, I also like to use urban environments as a way of observing change.  Sitting on a park bench, or leaning against a wall alongside a busy street, you can bring stillness to your own self as you watch the bustle of life around you.  I like to focus on a particular scene and wait and see what or who will pass through it.  It really makes me aware of all the movement that is around me as the participants in my view changes; people, pets and wildlife pass through my window on life, briefly connecting to my day as they experience their own moments in time.    One moment the space is crowded, the next it is empty as fragments of the teeming life on this planet take it in turns to occupy the space before me.  I am reminded of a closely choreographed dance routine as the characters act out their roles in sequence.  All connected in time and space, part of the larger whole that is life on this planet.