Last weekend I drove down to Devon to spend a few days around Dartmoor National Park. At the invitation of and in the company of others there wasn't much time to stop and set up shots, and the inclement weather seems to be following me around lately. But I managed to eke out a few shots.Once again, and increasingly so nowadays, it was more about enjoying the experience than taking photos, and to that end we all had a great time, particularly so hiking around Lydford Gorge, a few hours of which culminated in the impressive White Lady waterfall. We stayed at the same hotel that Charles Dickens had been snowed under at in the 19th Century, a nearly thousand year old building where he passed the time writing the first half of The Pickwick Papers. Dartmoor is know for the views from its many tors and we ascended perhaps the most famous, Brent Tor, where the small church at the summit was still open. Despite the cloudy end to the day there really were some stunning views. En route we had stopped in at Buckfast Abbey, a small but no less ornate example of medieval architecture. We popped down to Plymouth to visit the National Marine Aquarium. The charity does exemplary work in conservation and education, but I was somewhat disappointed with the aquarium itself, having only tow large tanks and scattered smaller exhibits. I realise its focus is on education, especially important given Mankind's impact on the oceans, but having visited the aquarium in Toronto last year that became a point of reference for me.Finally, we spent a sunny day in Torquay, a slightly more upmarket seaside town and marina, of which I took some unoriginal shots at sunset and dusk. Good views were had overlooking Thatcher's Rock.A good break with plenty to enjoy.
By some miracle Alpha Whiskey is still alive. When they told me to get lost I decided to go for another drive in Iceland. Life is short and it's important to do the things you enjoy before it expires and I happen to enjoy driving around Iceland. It was definitely more about the experience than the photos as the incessantly inclement weather on the planet's third windiest environment literally dampened the scenery. One particularly memorable experience was getting my 4x4 stuck in the snow in the middle of nowhere on top of a mountain for hours; a ridiculous problem to have given that I had just driven through a lake to get there. Adding to my predicament my phone decided to stop working too. But Lady Luck must have been watching over me. A couple from Germany turned up an hour later hoping the see the same waterfall, only to find me in their way. But they stayed with me for nearly five hours, trying every possible solution to free my vehicle. Eventually we got traction, jacking the wheels up and shoving under them planks of wood that we had 'borrowed' from a nearby empty barn. Everyone said their good byes and left and then came the scary part. The lake had become deeper after several hours of melting ice and driving through it completely alone with no point of reference and no feeling of any surface under the vehicle was an exercise in terror. I was basically steering a boat along what I hoped was the road below. If I became stuck here I was done. But the road finally crept up to meet me through the water as it joined the main highway and my vehicle clambered out. I made it. On this trip I stayed mainly in the south of the island, taking in sights I had seen before but capturing images that I hadn't managed to on my previous trip such as the mountain at Vestrahorn and tide trails around the ice on Diamond Beach. I had started at Geysir and finished at Kirkjufell in the north-west. A particular highlight was a glacier hike and the ice caves, with shimmering light undulating along their glassy walls. Anyway, here is a small sample. The overcast skies, rain fog and wind meant that I have processed these to have a deliberately moody look.
A typically dry first few weeks of the year, photographically speaking, but I did manage to squeeze in a brief trip to Sweden. Still didn't do much photography as the weather wasn't great and I was busy enjoying the company of my friend. But I did manage to eke out a few shots from time killed at The Universeum and The Volvo Museum.Photography isn't something I need and can easily live without it for long stretches of time. I have plenty of other distractions to occupy myself with. Nevertheless, as an opportunist snapper I usually take my camera with me on the off chance that I see a potential shot somewhere. But life is to be experienced and enjoyed first and photographed a distant second.
If you'll pardon the pun it seemed like a good way to kick-start the New Year. When a friend invited me to her kickboxing class to indulge in some photography while she trained I accepted. Frankly I'm surprised it took me so long to get around to this subject; having reached 1st Dan in taekwondo in my youth I was always enamoured with the flexibility and physical expression these types of sport had to offer, enjoying less the pugilism and more the forms, aerial movement and speed. The various moves were always visually interesting and demonstrative of how capable human anatomy could be.Purists would argue that kickboxing is more of a martial sport than a martial art and perhaps they are right. But these guys certainly made it look artistic and to me these kinds of physical movement are an art form regardless of where the blow lands. And when captured in a photograph it summons Yates' assertion that the dancer is the dance.While taking these photos I cast my memory back to graphic novels and old martial arts movies, when camera positions and framing where just as essential to the visual experience of the audience as the exponent themselves. Indeed today camera angles and editing are what give the likes of Liam Neeson their particular set of skills, enhancing the visceral impact through clever choreography and positioning. Not that the exponents in this class needed any help on that score. I would shoot from ground level to lend more height to the kicks, sometimes tilting the camera to bring greater dynamism to the movements (a typical technique used in graphic novels). Combined with wide-angles lenses, shooting from low enhanced the scope and impact of some of the movements. I even used the good ol' fish-eye to deliberately exaggerate some of the kicks. And akin to graphic novel art the best way to convey a sense of motion from a still image seems to be to depict the very beginning or end of an action, i.e. the intention or the impact. So while I reeled off a few clicks with high speed continuous shooting I tended to select the images at the extremes to edit.When I had finished picking my teeth up off the floor I switched to longer focal lengths to capture more intimate portraits (at the punching bag). The lighting in the gym wasn't ideal; alas no rays of soft sunlight lancing through an overhead skylight and penetrating a fine mist as backlit silhouettes performed reverse roundhouse kicks on a wooden crate. And the background had plenty of distractions and objects that cluttered the scene, despite using fast lenses. Thus, in processing these images I opted to apply a slight gritty, urban look, which I felt was appropriate to the subject. May or may not have succeeded. And despite shooting these at fairly high ISOs I opted to reduce the noise (and grit).Anyway, maybe in future I'll have the opportunity to shoot some competitive contests but for now I hope these encourage you to go out and shoot some images of your own (or take up some kickboxing classes). I wish to thank Chloe and her trainer George, a world champion kickboxer, at the GTC Studio for their hospitality and the opportunity to take these images.
Are we here already? Well, don't say I didn't warn you this time last year about how quickly it goes. And it was another exhilarating year of travel, exploration, revelation and most importantly, fun.In January my dear friend Christina hopped over the North Sea for far too brief a visit but we had a wonderful time around London and Cambridge. The spectacular stained glass windows of The King's College Chapel and the river punt in Cambridge were a particular highlight. In March I spent a couple of days in Vilnius, Lithuania, including the island complex at Trakai. Vilnius is a small but colourful little capital that was easy to navigate. The end of that month I took advantage of an invitation to stay at Trump International Tower in Toronto from where I explored a vibrant and cosmopolitan city. I enjoyed many of the city's fabulous attractions, including the CN Tower and Ripley's Aquarium. A bus ride from Toronto took me to Niagara Falls where, as beautiful as they were even from the helicopter, I wasn't as overwhelmed as by other large waterfalls I have seen around the world. Over the course of a day at the falls, however, I captured shots in a variety of positions and light and even had time to visit the Butterfly Conservatory.The Easter break took me to see some friends in Wales, en route to the spectacular Snowdonia, a landscape crossed between Iceland and Colorado. While there we saw the uniquely kaleidoscopic town of Portmeirion and hiked a mountain to see a lake shrouded in fog. In May I enjoyed a relaxing respite in Cuba, a beautiful country of colour and contrasts. Poverty rations a friendly and welcoming population that shares its island with gorgeous valleys, diverse and abundant wildlife and spotless beaches. Havana, in particular, was a riot of colour and character, particularly the old American cars. Some domestic excursions in July included shooting with a Fuji camera loaned to me by my friend Parrish for a session in London; and the typically energetic displays of the Royal International Air Tattoo. In August Natalia and I chased the Perseid Meteors and the Milky Way, only to be partially thwarted by a blinding Moon. Still, being in the middle of nowhere in the dead of night watching the meteors tear through the sky was far more enjoyable than any photography. At the end of that month Natalia and I visited friends in Wales again who invited us to join them at the thrilling demolition derby of Bettws Banger Racing. September had us in the company of seals once again, and the most populated colony I have yet seen.In October we returned to Wales to capture the waterfall, Pistyll Rhaeadr, at sunrise and one of those images has since become a lovely canvas print adorning walls on both sides of the Atlantic. At the end of October Parrish and I executed our planned trip to Croatia where we ambled through the multitude of waterfalls emptying into the lakes at Plitvice. Finally, my final trip of the year was a wonderful trip to Christmas City Gothenburg to see Christina, who surprised me with a lobster safari in tumultuous waters that nearly had our seasick innards for jetsam. But what a thrilling experience.Well, the heart is still beating and the blood is still flowing so I cannot (and would never) complain. My life has been immeasurably enriched, not just by these adventures, but also by the kindness and company of dear friends. I thank them one and all. Photography is not something I need so I have no particular aspirations in that department for the coming year. My soul is not especially poorer without it and yet I do hope to continue encouraging others to enjoy Life, The Universe and everything in it. I suspect I may slow down a little myself but I do intend to experience a few more adventures. Life has been very generous and I want to enjoy it a little longer.I thank all visitors to this blog and from Alpha Whiskey Photography I wish you all a happy, healthy and prosperous New Year.
After a short drive we arrived at Marstrand on the west coast, a picturesque little island town whose aesthetic was somewhat subdued by the wet, overcast weather. The colours still reminded us how vibrant and busy this town could be in the summer and the large fortress presiding over it was due our visit. During December the island was essentially in hibernation with barely a soul to be found on its cobbled streets. But Christina had a surprise for me. And after a short fika she led me to the harbour to reveal it.We met our skipper, Mathias, from Havsservice, whose strong fisherman's grip welcomed us aboard his charming English vessel. A fine mist saturated the billowing wind but both he and his vessel were veteran sailors, indifferent to the weather. The sturdy deck, polished by rain, greeted our boots in a symphony of thuds. We were not so hardened, Christina and I, our bodies shivering and our teeth chattering as we took our seats inside the cabin.As the engine spluttered into life the surprise dawned on me. It was just the two of us. The only passengers on this boat, a private charter arranged well out of season by a resourceful Christina.The boat retreated from the harbour and began to carefully slice through the icy water. Casual observers gorging on their fikas could only watch from the colourful buildings planted at the water's edge. They may have wondered if it was just one person or in fact two, tightly pressed against each other, both crazy enough to brave a lake in the dead of winter. They were super curious, Christina would say, only her adorable accent would call them 'super couriers.'Ripples rolled out into the sheet of water before us, our boat the only disturbance upon it. But the water would not forgive the intrusion. Wind and rain lashed at the vessel and the livid sea threw a tantrum, smacking us with powerful waves that finished as foaming crests on the rocks behind us. Mathias and his boat were utterly unfazed, confidently bobbing through the turbulence like weightless flotsam. Photography was now beyond a luxury; staying vertical was the priority.Mathias invited unto the see-sawing deck to reel in the cage that was dragging the sea under the boat. He introduced us to the trio of creatures in our catch. A small jet black lobster, a large crab, and then something quite exquisite; a magnificent electric blue lobster with giant claws, its long tentacles probing our jackets as Mathias ran his fingers overs its orange segmented underside. A female, he said, with two mouths like a cinematic alien and small white horns projecting from all over her body. Even he was amazed to find such a rare catch that looked like a CGI concoction newly escaped from a Jurassic Island. After a futile attempt at some photos we laid our catch down and braced the churning sea as it hurled our boat onto its port and starboard sides. Both Christina and I had to hold onto the rails at the side of the deck and focus on the horizon. She was expecting to gift me with a pleasant, tranquil cruise around Marstrand Island and yet here we both were trying to stay alive on this bucking bronco with a our guts reaching for the nearest exit. I guess it was a surprise for her too.But despite the nausea each of us relished the exhilaration and we couldn't be more grateful to our captain for his skilled stewardship and hospitality on this unexpected adventure. There's probably a reason why he doesn't normally provide this service so late in the year and now Christina and I are somewhat the wiser.During a calmer season this would be a terrific excursion but even in a cold and wet December, and in addition to our stunning catch, we still collected some exciting memories.
I know I’ve sent you postcards from this city before but I thought I would use this post as an excuse to wish everyone some seasonal cheer from a city that loves Christmas. And the invitation from my friend Christina was too good to refuse.Every city likes to imagine that it has the monopoly on festive glamour. My very own London is a gaudy glitter fest of massive baubles swinging in the gusts funnelling through the annals of seasonal markets. The Christmas tree, donated to The United Kingdom as usual by Norway, stands erect and gleaming like a proudly decorated sentry in Trafalgar Square, subservient only to Lord Nelson towering above. But Gothenburg is nowhere near as ostentatious. Her decorations are a tastefully understated celebration.Streets were cosily wrapped in coruscating Christmas lights, lending greater vibrancy to an already luminescent city. The Burgers (Gothenburgers) were even more tightly packaged in fur and wool as they skittered from one freezing alley to another. The bitingly brisk air, perfumed with chocolate and chestnuts, seared into lungs and escaped to a dancing mist of pale breath. A snowman floating in front of a waterfall distracted patient queues outside Liseberg Amusement Park from the chill as they snaked around the block all the way to the Universeum. A choir of young singers regaled an engrossed audience with familiar carols.The sea god, Poseidon, guards the plaza at the summit of main boulevard Avenyn. His lithe, naked form was a defiant rebuke to the bitter cold as he watched his meeker subjects weave in and out of shops and restaurants looking for shelter.At the other end of town, Brunnsparken was a busy hub of numb commuters jostling for room on numerous trams undulating past each other like giant blue eels. The famous lion sentinels watched the sheet of ice forming on the canal, undoubtedly knowing that the temptation to skate across it was far outweighed by the fear of drowning with a crushing hypothermia.The statuesque Barken Viking, gently rocked in the bay, her reflected lights shimmering through the marina in front of her. Tall masts poked into the morning sky, sampling the passing breeze on its way to meet the Lipstick Building (Lilla Bommen) behind her. Across the marina the sharp angles of the grand Opera House knifed through the chill. Christina and I spent another morning in the suburb of Molndal, where she introduced me to the incredible Molndal Falls emptying out of old industrial buildings. On occasion, and when cold enough for long enough, they freeze over into a stunning array of icicles. But on this occasion they were merely engorged and rumbling towards us with a deafening roar.Another day was spent in the coastal town of Marstrand where we embarked on a lobster safari. But that was an unique adventure that deserves its own post and I will write about that soon. My final day was spent ambling around Gothenburg, a city I’m so familiar with and yet still surprises me. After a delicious salad lunch with Christina I took the ferry to Eriksberg where I sat on the edge of the dock to watch the sunset over my favourite bridge. I must thank Christina for her typically kind help and resourcefulness, chaperoning me around and sharing the seasonal fun. Merry Christmas.
Don't worry, Alpha Whiskey isn't advertising anything. As Christmas will be upon us soon I wanted to make some canvas prints for friends and this seems like a convenient way for them to choose from a selection.I have selected these images from my abundant archives to satisfy a variety of tastes, from wildlife and street scenes to skylines and landscapes. It is subjective, of course, but any image can theoretically be made into a canvas print. However, not every image necessarily works. There has to be some artistic merit to the image to make it viable as a large print. It may the particular colour content or plethora of details; or it may be the simplicity or abstract forms; or it may simply draw the eye into the depth of a scene. Of course the choice of print will also be influenced by the recipient home's colour scheme.I have pasted each image onto a generic background of a sofa and side table to provide a semblance of what it might look like on a wall. But they would work equally well in a bedroom above a bed or on a naked wall. Of course, they would also work in the reception areas of offices, hotels and medical practices.
I thought I'd take a leaf out my friend Parrish's book and try a few long exposures in the city. It's fair to say he's a billion times better at these than I am but I had a go. Not many images in this set owing to several considerations. Firstly, I was looking to use the light around sunset and twilight and that was a limited window and I was skitting between different locations on the South Bank. Secondly, long exposures take longer to execute and there was some trial and error. And thirdly, these were taken with a DSLR, which I haven't used in a while being a micro four-thirds fiend, and reacquainting myself with the camera took time too. So these were shot with a full frame DSLR and a wide angle lens at 16mm, and also with a 35mm prime. I used a 10 stop ND filter on the lens to achieve exposures of 30 seconds or more. Focusing was done with the Live View function which uses contrast detection (like most micro-four thirds cameras) and is therefore more accurate.
As the last clusters of colour are shed from arboreal heights to leave denuded forests in a fading landscape I thought I would post a final hurrah for my favourite season. Avenues briefly gilded with golden leaves are now pale and unwelcoming. Iridescent fallen foliage clears away for the new season of monochrome and the air is cooler and brisk. The sun, fatigued with the task of diffusing through gathering clouds, cascades all too soon behind a lifeless horizon. Winter is upon us.And so I present a humble reminder of the autumn that now departs. These were all taken at Plitvice National Park, where pockets of seasonal hues were still radiant under the sun. The gentle breeze would nudge at trees ablaze with brilliance and bring leaves gracefully tumbling and fluttering around us. The clear, still lakes mirrored even more Technicolor dreamcoats of golden shades into our viewfinders and screens, and pockets of sunlight would kindle flaming spirals of red, orange and yellow on their way to the ground. Enjoy.
Before our visit to Plitvice, we stopped at this rather enchanting little town nestled in the company of several beautiful waterfalls flowing into a gorge. The waning afternoon sun filtered through the autumnal foliage to cast its rays upon the water, itself decorated with surrounding tinges of yellow and green. Curtains of silky smooth water draped themselves over rocks and rapids to find a gentle landing in the adjacent canyon where a delicate mist floated just enough above the bottom to glisten in the light. It proved to be a sumptuous appetiser for our main course at Plitvice. Enjoy.
Some more images from this trip to the lakes, arguably some stragglers, but no less picturesque in their own right. I have added a few more reflection shots in this set as well as some attempts at capturing the Milky Way over the lakes. A luminous partial Moon added a little too much light to our sky so bringing the galaxy out was a challenge. Some of the autumnal hues still remained and spotted the park as we walked through on our second day. Again, many thanks to my friend Parrish for his company and patience. These were all shot with Olympus.
Anyone with an aversion to fall colours should probably look away now. Somewhere I had wanted to visit for some time, the famous Plitvice Lakes in Croatia were awash with vibrant autumnal hues reflected in crystal clear emerald waters. My friend and fellow photographer, Parrish, and myself both had the idea to plan and execute this excursion and it proceeded pretty much flawlessly.The Unesco site is comprised of a series of upper lakes connected to some lower lakes through a succession of streams and waterfalls, no less than 90 all told.I'm not sure what it is about waterfalls that draw me to them so much. I have seen some of the largest and most beautiful falls that this planet has to offer in places such as South America, Iceland, Canada and even Wales (still my favourite). Perhaps its the sheer power of the flow or the sound of the rush, or perhaps it's the simple beauty of seeing nature pour water freely over an edge. Many of the waterfalls in Plitvice are, of course, small, trickling affairs, while others have a more interesting aesthetic. The largest, known as The Big Slap, isn't really that large at all and is merely a trap for tourists wishing to capture it as yet another digital friend on their selfie sticks. But the entire national park is a pleasure to roam for a couple of days, hiking through its woods or clapping ones boots on its many boardwalks. While overcast skies are probably better for accentuating seasonal colours and limiting blown highlights the glaring sun, solitary in a cloudless, blue sky, reached its fingers of light through the canopy above and touched the leaves with radiant glows of red, orange and yellow. Tanned and ochre leaves pirouetted down around us, denuding their host branches to leave a ceiling of bare, black dendritic webs. Every corner turned would reveal a new waterfall or stream, the view often obscured by tall yellow reeds or wistful orange spots. As they gurgled into the waiting lakes lush highlights of crimson and gold would interrupt the green foliage at the banks and become twinned by the mirror of still water beneath. Our steps crunched along the caramel carpet of leaves under us, stitched together with patches of rose and amber.Surprisingly, around water, we saw very little wildlife but for the abundant fish and ducks. Fearless coal tits and nuthatches would flutter around us hoping for a morsel and the island in the main lower lake hosted a few cormorants. Branches and tree trunks often crowded our views of the waterfalls but in retrospect this added an authenticity to the unspoiled environment. En route to Plitvice Parrish and I stopped at Rastoke, a picturesque little town also populated by a series of waterfalls flowing into a long canyon. It proved a terrific appetiser for the main course and I shall post some images from there later. We finished our trip in Zagreb, a small but bustling city of trams and colourful cobbled streets. The Croatian people were generally helpful and friendly and we enjoyed driving through the country's vivid autumnal landscape. I thank Parrish for his excellent company and knowledge, and that's two polarising filters I now owe him. Please don't lend me anything else. There's still more to come from this excursion but for now enjoy the images below. All shot with Olympus and mainly the 12-40mm F/2.8.
Having visited this magnificent waterfall in August, courtesy of my dear friends Nat and Rob, I was keen to return to make a decent photographic study of it in the absence of other visitors. So thanks to Nat and Rob's hospitality once more Natalia and I ventured back up to Wales to see Pistyll Rhaeadr once again, this time in the early morning before sunrise. Gale force winds the day before did little to deter us as we braved the relentless bluster and rain to snake our way through pieces of felled trunk and branches. A tree in the road so close to our destination was quickly conquered as we dragged and cajoled it out of the way. Just like a certain starship captain I simply do not believe in the no-win scenario.We found ourselves once again dwarfed and deferential to the majesty of this waterfall, its engorged flow thundering down and punching into the stream below like a stampeding water giant. The howling winds bullied and shoved us, whipping up swirls of red and ochre leaves to swarm us like we were unwelcome visitors.But we would not surrender our solitude to the elements. Not a soul in sight disturbed us as I captured these images, until finally the risen sun would peer through clouds behind us and light the valley in our wake with shards of yellow autumnal light. The wind was too severe, even with my sturdy tripod, to allow for exposures longer than 10 seconds and most of these were between 2 and 5 seconds. A few shots of 1-2 seconds were taken hand-held thanks to Olympus's excellent image stabiliser.The inclement weather also prevented us from scaling the hillside to reach the top of the waterfall as we had done in August.Well I'm happier with these images of the waterfall than the ones I took in August. I hope you enjoy them too.
Natalia and I spent a lovely day at Hinton Ampner, a property managed by the National Trust. Although surrounded by beautiful and bountiful gardens and views, the house was the main attraction, comprised of lavishly decorated rooms and furnishings and exquisite ornaments. All images shot with Olympus gear.