Belgrade, the capital of Serbia, is a pleasant if unspectacular city, whose friendly and laid-back atmosphere belie the fact that the country was at war a mere quarter century ago. The city is modern and developed, with a plethora of beautiful churches, the most dominant being the Saint Sava Temple with an as yet unfinished interior. The outwardly unassuming Alexander Nevsky Cathedral probably has the most beautiful and colourful interior, while the Ruziça Church on Kalemegdan has chandeliers made from bullets and swords. The city's history is exemplified at Kalemegdan, a large ascending park at the top of the old city whose summit hosts the Belgrade Fortress. The open military museum here allows one to walk amongst divisions of tanks and rocket launchers while marvelling at the huge dinosaurs in the Jurassic kids park nearby. The Victor Monument overlooking the confluence of the Sava and Danube Rivers provides a classic sunset venue. The long city streets are replete with bountiful shops and eateries, Skadarska being a popular evening destination with its cobbled streets and live music. Lots of museums too, we only had time to enjoy the impressive art collection, including many by Yugoslavian artists, at the National Museum. We thank the friendly and helpful inhabitants of Belgrade and their tasty food; it made our short visit enjoyable despite the oppressive heat.
Some real cars this time rather than the models. Another year, another display of pretty much the same old wheels and another challenge to shoot them from interesting angles. Thus, a lot of low shots with a wide-angle lens looking up to capture their imposition and scale, and processed with a slightly vintage look in keeping with their ages. The Corvette Stingray is a personal favourite of mine, hence the cover photo; they simply don't design them like that any more. Logos, wheels and even the exhausts underneath the vehicles were all fair game. And then it got a little too hot for comfort so I packed up and left.I used a variety of lenses, all of which had a polariser to cut out reflections, except the 45mm.
Always a safe bet for a good day out, Waddesdon Manor once again impressed us with its opulence and scale. Despite the heaving masses that clearly had the same bright idea as us, I managed to eke out a few shots absent of people. Possibly similar to ones I had taken before but this time all accomplished with one lens. Beautiful and ornate exteriors, well tended gardens and luxurious interiors are all characteristics of Waddeson Manor, built by Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild to display his art and to entertain his guests (a rather exquisite weekend retreat).Excellent guides, gardeners and volunteers made this visit as enjoyable as previous ones.
Enjoyed a great day in the sun with friends this weekend past at Hever Castle, the childhood home of Anne Boleyn, King Henry VIII's second wife. King Henry came into possession of the property after the death of Anne's father and then bestowed it upon Anne of Cleves, his fourth wife, upon the annulment of their marriage. In the early part of the last century, the castle was restored and used as a family residence by the American William Astor.The castle and grounds were grand and sumptuous, beautifully neat gardens and walks decorated the vast landscape within the castle's view. Particular highlights were the Yeomanry Museum and the Miniature House exhibition. The castle rooms were typically ornate and well furnished, including a bedroom for King Henry himself.Had too much fun to take many photos so here are just a few. Mostly shot with the Panasonic 8-18mm F/2.8-4.
My latest scale model project is a tribute to a classic vehicle stunt.The highlight in perhaps one of the weaker Bond movies, and the first stunt to be modelled by a computer, the Astro Spiral jump was a bona fide act of daring long before the modern era of CGI.Rather than copy the scene (or sequence) exactly, and it is possible to buy a model of the AMC Hornet used in the film, this was merely an homage, chosen because I love vehicular acrobatics (guilty of some myself!). And also because it was entirely possible to construct the two bridge halves and create a simple diorama around them. I used what I felt would be a slightly more exotic car for the period, the Lamborghini Miura. The bridge was constructed from strips of cardboard and mounted on a frame made from food skewer sticks. Everything was painted from a small tester tub of brown paint from a DIY store. Luckily, because it was meant to look dilapidated and collapsed, nothing had to be perfect, neither the construction of the bridge nor the paint job.The ground was a doormat made of artificial grass, cut in two to make way for a river of foil. The embankments in the background were made of folded flowerpot liners (!). There shouldn't have been any river banks but the cut doormat edges had to be covered so I lined them with breadcrumbs. My friend and frequent collaborator Brubaker helped me hang the car in various positions. The only things added to the scene in post were the sky, headlights and debris trails. I possibly could have added more to the background as it's a little empty but I imagined this bridge to be abandoned in a remote place and I didn't want too much clutter around the car within the frame.I wasn't originally going for a continuous sequence (you can see the lack of continuity in the colouring), hoping each image would work as a standalone pic. Anyway, maybe I should stick to 80s TV shows. Had a ton of fun doing it, though :)The video for this project can be seen here.
And now for something a little different.This will either invite complete ridicule or slightly less than complete ridicule but it sure was fun to do. My friends and I decided to have a go at making scale models look realistic, albeit with meagre and makeshift resources. And arguably this is as much about processing as photography but there don't seem to be many people doing this kind of work with scale or die cast models. Thus one evening recently we set up a makeshift studio with some lamps, blue canvas background and tin foil wrapped around cardboard for reflectors. To soften the light and dampen shadows the lamps were covered in material from that sheath your laptop comes wrapped in (told you it was makeshift). We used flour for snow or breadcrumbs for gravel.We started off with fairly easy shots, cars in the snow or in the blizzard. completely unoriginal but I figure I have to walk before I fly. Sieved flour in front of a small fan created the blizzard effect. Icelandic scenes in the background were taken from my own archives and added in post, as were headlights. Then we decided to get little sillier.Alas, we can't go back to the 1980s, the greatest decade in the history of world, so we tried to bring the 80s to us. We decided to ask the Knight Industries Two Thousand to turbo boost over the A-Team van, both scale models. We hung KITT over the van and used several practical effects: an e-cigarette provided smoke, exhaust trails and dust, a birthday cake sparkler gave us bullet impacts on KITT's body while oats. We shot the scene from two different angles. Each effect was shot separately and then blended together as desired using layers in Photoshop. A sky background was added from my archives. For solitary shots of KITT the e-cigarette wasn't giving us the right smoky texture so I inhaled an entire Cuban cigar and placed an LED light near the driver's cabin to create some beams.Then we decided to be little more ambitious, using smaller models to create Hollywood style action scenes. I initially used a firestorm action in Photoshop that I found online but it was buggy so I pillaged sections of an exploding galaxy and used that instead. Finally, we decided to blow up the world's most indestructible car. We hung KITT upside down with the detached sunroof sections hanging with thin black wires that could be easily removed in post. We used the birthday cake sparkler again on the body, and to get flames coming out of the bonnet and the boot we used lighter fluid and an aerosol spray (don't try that at home kids). We placed thin skewer sticks to mark the positions of the bonnet, cabin and boot and then removed the car so we could spray the flames at those locations. Alas, the results just weren't what we were looking for when merged with the car so the exploding galaxy was rehired. I'lll be the first to admit my post-processing skills aren't that great and I don't enjoy spending a long time in front of a computer screen (my sympathies for those with desk jobs). But life is short and rather than be tethered to just one genre I'm willing to try new things and gave this one a shot, so to speak. Feel free to point the finger of ridicule but you'll have to take a. number and get in line. Worst case scenario a bunch of friends had a fun nostalgia trip playing with toys; best case we created something a little different. Perhaps we'll try again sometime. I'm sure Airwolf is hovering over Street Hawk around here somewhere...
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.
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