Another great day spent with Sal, who I rather naughtily wrenched away from her pressing dissertation in order to attend medieval shenanigans at Berkeley Castle. But we both had a terrific time at the Berkeley Skirmish, enjoying everything from cannon and handgun demonstrations to sword-fighting to jousting to a bird-of-prey display. The event was very busy and many people turned up wearing medieval garb!The events were not only enjoyable themselves, but the organisers and participants ensured that people were informed and educated about the various activities, and how they related to the history of the land. The falconry display provided a fascinating insight too into the origin of many English phrases.A thoroughly enjoyable day out and well worth the trip from London!I shot mainly with the Nikkor 70-200mm VRII, but also with the Nikkor 50mm F/1.4. I must thank Sal for taking the photos of me!Afterwards, we retired to Sal's house where I lazed in her fantastic hammock. :)
In all of my 5 trips to Bulgaria, I have not yet experienced its capital city Sofia. But I have had the privilege of seeing much of its second city and cultural capital, Plovdiv, also where my friends Genka and Petar happen to live.A city of great energy and contrasts, Plovidiv is both a modern city with all the amenities one can expect, and at the same time one of Europe's oldest continuously inhabited cities. Its history dates back some 6000 years, and since becoming a Roman city has retained many of its old Roman structures and buildings, including its famous amphitheatre. To this day many events and festivals are held within the amphitheatre. And just outside the city is a 2 mile long Olympic rowing canal that is a beautifully serene place.Overlooking the city on one of the seven hills surrounding it, at a place called Alosha, is a statue of a Russian soldier, from where the views of the city are spectacular.I have posted photos from several of my visits, and yet they only scratch the surface of what is an fascinating and wondrous city.
Had an absolutely amazing time riding horses in the Bulgarian mountains and forests. Five of us went - myself, Genka, Petar, Donka and Genka's brother Encho.We had two excellent guides at Wild City Asenovgrad, Emo and Todor, and as I was the only member of our group with any horse-riding experience, they gave me the largest horse, a four year old stallion called Mark! Now I have to tell you, as beautiful as Mark was, he was very excitable, especially around the other horses, so controlling him was a real challenge. But somehow I managed it, even if he did decided to go off galloping in a completely different direction to everyone else!We started our trek overlooking some stunning views of the countryside, especially of the Sushitsa Reervoir. We continued along a stream where we stopped to allow the horses to drink. Unfortunately, my stallion, Mark, decided to lie down and take a quick bath while apparently forgetting that I was sitting on top of him! Needless to say I got a little wet! But in the 40C heat, drying off took just minutes.We trekked up into the forests until the horses could go no further, and then we continued hiking on foot. A surprise awaited us - a beautiful lagoon with a lush waterfall! I spared no time to rip of my clothes and dive in! I even stood under the waterfall and drank the crystal clear water. Heaven!!We hiked back to our horses and continued back to the stables, all agreeing that it was one of the best adventures any of us had had. On the way back, Petar kindly stopped the car to let me take some photos of the Sushitsa Reservoir.I must thank Genka for the idea and opportunity to do the horse-riding trek, and for organising it for everyone. Another winning excursion!It was too hot to carry my camera backpack while riding, and I didn't want to risk damaging anything, so all the photos you see here (except for the last two) were taken with my phone, the Nokia N8.
During my stay in Bulgaria last week, I was lucky enough to be taken by Genka and her brother Encho to a place called Kalofer, where there was a beautiful forest and river. The four of us (including Genka's friend Kamelia) went hiking up through the forest, coming to rest at a stunning lagoon where both Encho and myself dived in to experience the lush cool water, a welcome relief from the 40C heat. The forest had many precarious bridges and walkways, which only added to the sense of adventure. We encountered many massive butterflies and lizard, but alas none of the bears or snakes that the forest signs warned us about.When we had finished our trek, we came to the small town, which hosted a statue of national hero Hristo Botev, as well as a war memorial.
No trip to Bulgaria, such as my fifth and most recent last week, would be complete without watching my good friends Genka Zlatanska and Petar Atanassov dancing salsa!! They have both danced on national television and at salsa festivals, and watching them both is a mesmerising experience. They both help many enthusiastic students at the Poco Loco Salsa club, from where most of these images come from, and then typically dance the night away at Casa De Cuba in Plovdiv! Capturing the thrill of the dance is difficult with a photograph, so I would urge as many people as possible to at least go along and watch, if not participate in the dancing! You will be amazed!
Spent a lovely Sunday with my good friend Sally in Gloucestershire, in spite of the overcast weather. One of the places we visited was the beautiful Painswick Rococo Gardens, which had a stunning array of foliage and flowers, as well as a maze and small ponds. The first few images show views of the gorgeous Gloucestershire countryside, taken by the side of the road, and the last three images are from Sal's own garden. Everything else is from the Rococo Garden.I would definitely recommend a visit!I used primarily just two lenses, the Nikkors 35mm F/2 AF-D, and 50mm F/1.4 AF-D.
Happy Independence Day to my American friends!This morning I attended the unveiling of a statue of the late great President Ronald Reagan outside the American Embassy in Grosvenor Square.I arrived early and got a good position from which to photograph. I managed to capture Secretary Condoleeza Rice, our Foreign Secretary, William Hague, California Senator Kevin McCarthy, our Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne, and Peggy Noonan - former speechwriter to President Reagan (I have a couple of her books).Also present was Robert Tuttle, former Ambassador to the UK, our Defence Secretary Liam Fox, and Secretary of State for Work and Pensions Iain Duncan Smith.President Reagan was and is a hero of mine, having changed the world for the better during my lifetime, and thanks to his efforts, more people are free today than once were. He continues to inspire leaders in both America and around the world, and this statue was a most fitting way to celebrate not only the centennial year of his birth but also Independence Day.
Not my green thumb, and I certainly couldn't name all these flowers. But they are photogenic!Why post them here? Well, I wanted to show that even with a non-macro prime lens, specifically the Nikkor 50mm F/1.4 AF-D, it is possible to take half-decent photos of flowers fairly close up. I have sold my Sigma 18-50mm F/2.8 Macro lens, not a true macro lens but it had very good close-up focusing, and a 1:3 reproduction ratio.This 50mm prime only has a close focusing distance of 0.45 metres! And yet it is still able to defocus the background with its fast aperture and produce some very aesthetic and very sharp images. It will never replace a true macro for close-up work, but for these types of images, it performs very well.
Often enough, there is enough colour and life in one's own garden to capture. A rare respite for me today in the blistering heat as I shot a few of the flowers in the garden. I used the Sigma 18-50mm F/2.8 HSM Macro. An excellent lens that I don't use that much and will therefore try to sell. I hope that it finds a more worthwhile home. The shots were mostly taken at a wide aperture, around F/4, where this lens is still very sharp. The backgrounds are especially unobtrusive. No filters were used.I tried to exploit the sunlight on the petals in some instances, in other cases, I simply tried to achieve a decent contrast with the background.
Despite the scorching heat, it was a great day out at Hatfield House, now celebrating its 400th year. The grounds are extensive and very well tended, and populated with many sculptures from the late Henry Spencer Moore. The main house did not allow any photography inside, but was thoroughly fascinating, with many historical artefacts, including one of the first copies of the King James' Bible (the most published book in the English language).There was also a terrific sundial, with directions to all over the planet, and a farm, with very tame goats and a very muddy pig.I used a number of lenses, the Tokina 11-16mm F/2.8, the Nikkors 50mm F/1.4 AF-D, and the 18-200 VR.
These are some of my friend Bizhan's excellent photos. Bizhan used both his Canon 70-300mm IS USM, and his 60mm F/2.8 Macro lens. He has captured the animals in some terrific lighting and especially the eyes are captivating.Enjoy!
My friend Bizhan and I visited Linton Zoo in Cambridge last week to get some animal photos. Striking a good balance between containing and conserving the animals and allowing visitors to fully appreciate them is undeniably difficult as we discovered at Linton Zoo. We didn't get to see the snow leopards or the lions, even though they were supposedly there. But we managed to capture a few shots of the available exhibits.I used my Nikkor 70-200mm F/2.8 VRII for all the shots, sometimes using a 1.7x teleconverter.
Lisa and myself have had quite a bit of experience photographing in zoos, and have visited some of the top zoos and animal parks in the world. A few days ago, Lisa and her friends went to Southwick Zoo in Massachusetts. Lisa managed to get some fantastic shots, typically placing the animal in a natural frame with very little, if anything, to suggest an enclosure. She demonstrates that the best way to photograph an animal in captivity is to carefully and judiciously frame the animal so as to place it in as natural a setting as possible.Lisa managed to capture not only the entire animal in its environment, but some stunning close-ups too. Sometimes, getting in close also makes a powerful image.I have edited a few of her shots in Aperture and presented them here.
Following on from Lisa's terrific butterfly shots in the previous post, my friend Bizhan has contributed his own exceptional butterfly images here. They were taken at Butterfly World in Hertfordshire, as yet unfinished, but once completed, will be the largest butterfly experience on Earth.Bizhan used only his 60mm F/2.8 macro lens and ring-flash, and it is a testament to his vision and ability that he was able to make such a variety of interesting shots with just the one lens.His careful use of the ring-flash has rendered the butterflies sharp and well isolated against the diffused background.
Lisa took some amazing photos in the Butterfly Garden at the Boston Museum of Science this past weekend. They are terrific shots and I have thus decided to post them here.Lisa managed to get close, carefully select her backgrounds and keep the eyes in sharp focus. She used the Nikon D5000 with the 18-55mm VR lens, which is not only pretty sharp, but has a pretty good close-focusing ability.