Should you be banned from photographing beauty spots?

Bergün/Bravuogn, a picturesque village in an Alpine valley

From PetaPixel comes an intriguing story: the council in the Swiss village of Bergün has banned photography of its buildings and the surrounding landscape, lest viewers on social media suffer from the ‘fear of missing out’. It reserves the right to levy a symbolic fine of five Swiss Francs (£4). It’s a good way to garner some publicity for a very picturesque part of Switzerland – the story would be perfect as an April Fool.

Yet there is a serious point here. In spending so much time looking for the next ‘photo opportunity’, it’s so easy to forget to pause, stand back and take in the scene ourselves, rather peering into a screen or down a viewfinder. I’m certainly guilty of doing this myself. So let’s put down the camera or phone once in a while and enjoy the moment.

I can think of a few other places and occasions where it would also be good to ban photography: Paris, Venice, wedddings, meals out. But only once I’ve taken my shots, of course…

Triangulate employer event

Triangulate logo projected onto large purple globe in Romsey Abbey

At the end of February, I was pleased to shoot an employment event organised by Triangulate, Romsey’s local mental health charity, whose website I manage. It was the final event in the Abbey to feature The Light, a four-metre illuminated globe designed by Richard McLester and suspended from the Abbey’s vaulting.

The trustees of Triangulate were delighted to attract an audience of over 100. It included Cllr John Parker, Mayor of Romsey, members of the Chamber of Commerce and respresentatives from a wide range of employers. Richard Frost, from Mindful Employer in Exeter, endorsed Triangulate’s messages in a short talk.

The Abbey’s AV team projected a  series of films onto the globe. They included filmed conversations with Triangulate Trustees. Ian Cox spoke about the support Mindful Employer can give an employer, and Bridget Brook focused on the need for employers to treat mental wellbeing in the same way as they would physical wellbeing. The Vicar of Romsey, the Revd Canon Tim Sledge expanded the theme to include support for the whole person.

Informal discussions with Trustees, Richard Frost and his colleagues concluded this very worthwhile event.

Film projected onto The Light in Romsey Abbey
Film projected onto The Light in Romsey Abbey
Triangulate trustee Bridget Brook addressing their employer event
Bridget Brook
Composer Richard McLester addressing the Triangulate employer event in February 2017
Richard McLester
Mindful Employer representative Richard Frost addressing the employer event
Richard Frost
Revd Canon Tim Sledge addressing the audience at Triangulate's employer event in February 2017
Tim Sledge

Taurito Princess, Gran Canaria – hotel review

10 things you’ll want to know about staying here

My wife Rachel and I had long wanted to take a winter sun break; this year we took the plunge. The Canaries were the obvious choice. They’re easily accessible from our local airport, and offer reliably warm weather at this time of year. Having travelled with Thomson before, we booked our week with them less than four weeks from departure. We chose the Taurito Princess on Gran Canaria because it was in a quiet resort, all-inclusive and highly-rated by other guests. This is my review.

1. The hotel in general

Located right next to the beach, white marble is the architectural theme of this hotel.

Hotel atrium with white marble floor.
The atrium

The atrium is very light; the central staircase less so. The hotel comprises over 400 rooms over eleven floors. You have a bit of a walk and a slow but scenic lift ride to get anywhere if your room is on one of the upper floors. Members of staff are reasonably friendly and the hotel is very clean.

2. Rooms

We stayed in a junior suite on the second floor. It was spacious and included a desk, TV, sofa and armchair, two large single beds, generous hanging space and balcony. Other rooms in the hotel have yet to be refurbished, I believe.

Hotel bedroom, including sofa, desk and two single beds, looking towards the double windows.
Our beds
Hotel bedroom, including sofa, desk and two single beds.
The seating area in our room

There are four electrical sockets, so recharging multiple phones and other devices shouldn’t be a problem. Our bathroom was a very good size, and its shower over the bath was the hottest and most powerful I think I’ve come across in a hotel.

Hotel bathroom with shower over bath and dark tiling.
Our bathroom washbasin
Hotel bathroom with large white sink unit.
Our shower over the bath

We paid €21 to use the safe for the week (this includes a €5 key deposit). The interior of ours was about 30cm tall, wide and deep, with a single shelf, so if you intend to bring a DSLR and lens or two, they should fit.

3. Food and drink

This hotel works on an all-inclusive buffet basis. Whatever your nationality, dietary needs or general preferences, I imagine this hotel caters for it.

Breakfast is served in the main restaurant on the ground floor. You can enjoy their version of the full English: egg, bacon, sausages (not really in the English style), beans and so on. I loved their scrambled eggs, in particular. A selection of cereals, fruit and yogurt are also on offer, along with cheese and cold meats for continental palates.

Bananas, melons, kiwis and other fruit on hotel buffet
The hotel’s fresh fruit buffet

Lunch is served in a smaller restaurant on the floor above. As many people do, you can take this meal out to the terrace around it. Rachel tended to stick to salads. I loved the chance to try different fish, like tilapia, hake and panga. Their ratatouille-like vegetable dishes are very good.

Dinner takes you back the main restaurant on the ground floor. It’s very busy early in the evening, so we tended to wait until about 8.30pm (it closes an hour later). Again, there’s a very wide selection and a griddle, where meat and fish is cooked throughout the evening. We found most dishes well cooked and delicious. Each night has a different theme – French, Italian, Tex/Mex and so on – with the restaurant decorated to match. Our stay coincided with St. Valentine’s Day, so each table acquired a balloon and other romantic decorations.

Tables in outside restaurant with red table decorations
Al fresco dining on St. Valentine’s Day

At lunch and dinner, dessert choices tend to be cold. Cream sponges featured throughout the week; fresh fruit and ice cream were also available. Expect to go home a pound or two heavier!

Melon, grapes, kiwi cream tart, cup cake
A mix-and-match dessert of mine from the buffet.

4. Drinks

Wine on tap was one of the highlights. I’m sure it’s just table wine, but it was very drinkable and spared us the extra expense of a new bottle every couple of nights. Beer and soft drinks are also available on a similar basis. Fruit juice is some sort of concentrate – the pineapple is OK – and hot drinks were dispensed from machines. I recommend the hot chocolate, but coffee with milk was weak. Cappuccinos seemed to be some sort of concoction involving chocolate – best avoided. Smoothies and cocktails are also available to buy at the poolside bar.

5. Wifi

This was disappointing. It’s €19 for the week, or €12 for three days, and only available in public areas on the ground floor. The hotel is closing in May for refurbishment, I understand; I hope it’s one service they’ll improve.

6. Outside

Built on the side of a cliff, the hotel makes the most of its small grounds. There are two main pools – one heated in winter – plus a couple of paddling pools for young children.

Swimming pool outside large white hotel, with beach bar in background.
One of the swimming pools

During our stay, they were only open between 10am and 6pm. Sun loungers are plentiful and patiently rearranged by the poolside team at the end of each day. Beach towels are provided. Reserving loungers them first thing in the morning is futile; hotel staff remove towels and items left on them.

7. Beach

There is a small beach at Taurito, with a lifeguard and paid-for sunbeds.

Beach, promemade, large hotel, blue sea and sky
Taurito beach

Its sand is volcanic: dark grey and moderately fine. Even in February, the water is warm enough for swimming. With currents coming in from across the Atlantic, breaking waves can be big. There are submerged rocks on the south side of the beach, so be especially careful here.

8. Weather

Average temperatures on Gran Canaria in February are about 21 Celsius, and a lot hotter during the summer. Half-way through our week, thanks to the Calima wind blowing in from the Sahara, they soared to 27C. We had lots of sun, one afternoon of cloud and a bit of rain in Taurito. We understand the weather was worse in the capital, Las Palmas, on the north side of the island.

9. The resort

Enclosed within a deep canyon, Taurito is quite a small resort. It’s dominated by big hotels like the Taurito Princess. Apartment blocks, a waterpark (€15 for adults) and some bars and gift shops also feature. Probably its biggest attraction, at least for Rachel, were its resident cats. They now have their own Instagram account, @tauritocats!

White, ginger and tabby cats begging for food on blue and white paving.
Some of Taurito’s cats

10. Getting around

There’s a daily courtesy bus from the hotel to the neighbouring resort, Puerto de Mógan. To use this on a Friday – market day – you need to ask for a ticket from reception at least a day in advance. The resort styles itself ‘Little Venice’, although this overstates the case somewhat. Its beach, protected by a breakwater, is nice – and there’s a very pleasant grid of whitewashed houses behind the harbour.

White-washed cottages and palm tree beneath blue sky
Harbour-front cottages at Puerto de Mogán.

Local buses are plentiful and cheap. We took one to Puerto Rico, a few miles down the coast (€1.40 per person each way). The coast road is pretty hair-raising, so you can understand why millions were spent boring motorway tunnels a short way inland. Puerto Rico is a bigger resort than Taurito, but there isn’t much to see there.

Sandy bay with hotels behnd, captured from the coast road heading south of the resort.
Puerto Rico

We thought about visiting Gran Canaria’s capital, Las Palmas, but didn’t on this trip. There’s a semi-fast – and probably inexpensive – direct bus from Taurito.

Various excursions are available from the hotel. A tour of the island in an eight-seater people-carrier tempted us – but again, perhaps next time.

My verdict

This hotel is a great place for a week away from it all: good food; comfortable rooms and reliable weather. Unless you make a few excursions, you might go a little stir-crazy if you stay longer. Rachel and I would happily return, and use it next time as a base to see more of the island.

Other hotel reviews you might enjoy:

Sol Gavilanes, Menorca

San Ranieri, Pisa

Have you stayed at the Taurito Princess? Feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments below.

Friends of Romsey Abbey Music Epiphany Supper 2017

Choristers singing at the Friends of Romsey Abbey Music Epiphany Supper

Earlier this month, it was my pleasure to photograph the Friends of Romsey Abbey Music Epiphany Supper for social media and the Abbey’s parish magazine. I was chairman of the Friends for four years until 2016, and this is our annual fund-raiser.  Thanks to an outstandingly successful chorister recruitment campaign by our Director of Music, George Richford, we had outgrown our previous venue, the Abbey’s Church Rooms. The Vicar, the Revd Canon Tim Sledge, therefore kindly gave us permission to hold it in the Abbey itself for the first time.

The evening began with carols sung by the choir:

Choir singing at west end of Romsey Abbey beneath purple flood-lighting,, as the audience looks on

Candid moments at the dining tables:

Friends of Romsey Abbey Music Epiphany supper guests (1)

Friends of Romsey Abbey Music Epiphany supper guests (2)

Friends of Romsey Abbey Music Epiphany supper guests (3)

Even Sita, the Verger’s lucky black cat, put in an appearance:

Musical items followed the meal, including a rendition of the the Twelve Days of Christmas with enthusiastic audience particpation:

Friends of Romsey Abbey Music Epiphany supper guests in the Abbey nave

The Vicar spoke for everybody as he thanked the organisers at the end of the evening.

Canon Tim Sledge addressing guests at the Friends of Romsey Abbey Music Epiphany Supper

Nearly 120 people served from the Church Rooms, separate from the Abbey – a real feat!

If you need a photographer for your event, please get in touch.

8 personal reasons to be cheerful

Sunburst in a country lane

A New Year is a good time to look forward with optimism. There’s no better way to do so than by counting your blessings. This chimes in with the miracle morning routine championed by Hal Elrod, one component of which is ‘scribing’. While I’m not a natural early riser, writing down what you’re grateful for, what you’re proud of, and the results you’re committed to creating for that day is a good idea. Here, then, are my reasons to be cheerful.

1. Robust health

I’m very lucky to suffer from nothing more than the occasional cold. This underpins everything else.

2. Supportive family

My parents have encouraged and supported me at every stage in my life, as has my lovely wife, Rachel, ever since we met.

3. Wide circle of friends

I’ve kept in touch with several people from university and, thanks to Facebook, I’m also in touch with old school friends.

4. Good standard of living

With dual incomes, my wife and I can meet our monthly bills and afford occasional luxuries. In material terms, we want for nothing.

5. Lovely place to live

Romsey, my home town for the past two decades, has a provincial market-town atmosphere, which I like. Being minutes from the motorway network, it’s easy to get to many other nice places easily. And around us, our immediate neighbours are always friendly.

6. Interesting job

Ordnance Survey is a good employer. I value my role in continuing to improve the content of its website. With the support of OS, I’ve also been able to qualify as a CIM Chartered Marketer.

7. Opportunities to get involved in the community

I’ve been able, moreover, to put this experience at the disposal of the wider community by designing and building websites for Romsey Abbey, Romsey Festival and a local mental health charity, Triangulate.

it’s a privilege to have been able, for the last 20 years (nearly), to sing in the choir at Romsey Abbey. As the choir’s in-house photographer, I have even more fortunate to document its activities and changing faces over the past decade, via social media and a book I produced a couple of years ago. And for four years, until 2016, I chaired the Friends of the choir, having in the past also written scripts for its annual Epiphany Supper pantomime and produce its termly Friends newsletter,

8. Opportunities to travel

With good health and access to transport, the world is our oyster for Rachel and me. We’ve been able to explore this country and travel around Europe over the years. In time, I hope we’ll be able to spread our wings still further.

So when life gets me down – as it does to all of us from time to time – I’ll use this to count my blessings and revive my spirits, then look outward and use them in the service of others.

Now, over to you. What makes you grateful in your life? Feel free to share your thoughts in the Comments below.

2016 in photos

Sunset over the mudflats of the Couesnon estuary by the Mont St. Michel

Woman in black dressThis year, armed with a new prime lens and a softbox, I took my photography in a new direction: portraiture. With Southampton-based model Helen Stephens I got great photos outside the city’s Guildhall. A month later, I worked with Gemma Wilks in Romsey, who subsequently cut a striking presence in red for me on a windy evening in the New Forest. Also in August, I got some lovely photos of two teenage sisters in Romsey’s Memorial Park.

Woman holding hands with little boy and girl, walking through sunlit New ForestBroadening the age range still further, my camera and I joined Gemma and her two young children on an autumn walk in the New Forest. The light was ideal for seasonal colour.

Wide-angle shot of Mont St. Michel as night approaches

Three travel experiences stand out in 2016. In September, my wife and I paid a 24-hour visit to Normandy. I was amply rewarded with ideal weather and a beautiful sunset and sunrise at the Mont St. Michel.

Three months earlier, I shot the sunrise in Clovelly. The north-facing coastal village only catches the full sun early in the morning near the summer solstice. Luckily for me, the clouds parted just after sunrise and, apart from a couple of fishermen, I had the harbour wall to myself. Read the story on Adobe Spark – a great platform for story-telling if you don’t have a website of your own.

The third one is the main holiday Rachel and I took to the Lake District in early October. We enjoyed great weather here, too, so my camera got lots of exercise. Unfortunately, higher priorities meant I haven’t yet had a chance to process and share my photos from Windermere, Ullswater and elsewhere. Maybe in the New Year…

Managing the Facebook accounts for Romsey Abbey and its choir is one of these major commitments. I post on Twitter, too, but that it’s format inhibits meaningful user engagement. I chronicle services and events throughout the year with photos; despite Facebook’s algorithm restricting exposure to page posts unless you pay to ‘boost’ them, they help my posts regularly reach many more people than actually follow the Abbey’s pages.

Large orchestra rehearsing in Romsey AbbeyAs well as services, I also shot a few concerts, including one by the largest orchestra the Abbey has ever hosted: the Charity Symphony Orchestra, specially enlarged to play the spectacular Alpine Symphony by Richard Strauss. I hope to work with more musical ensembles in future; here are suggested shots that work well.

Instagram has been my focus in terms of social media activity this year. I have acquired just over 500 followers since joining late last year. My photos regularly get well over 100 likes. I think this follower/like ratio compares very well with other people with much larger followings. I was also invited to be an Instagrammer of the week for Ordnance Survey (my employer) in October and, earlier in the year, to be featured in the #swisbest 2017 calendar, which came out in November.

A couple of my photos were also used in the artwork for Adoration, a CD released earlier this month by the Choir of Romsey Abbey (I’m one of its tenors) It’s great to be getting recognition like this.

And so to 2017. My resolutions are to:

  • continue to develop my photographic style, particularly in terms of portraiture;
  • blog and network more effectively;
  • be the best person I can be.

I wish you a very happy New Year, and look forward to working with current friends and many people I have yet to meet.

10 must-have photos from your choir or orchestra concert

Charity Symphony Orchestra in Romsey Abbey, viewed from the rear of the nave

You put a lot of time and trouble into preparing your performances. High-quality photos give you a fitting visual record of the concert and all the hard work that went into it.They’re ideal for your next concert programme and, of course, your website and social media presence.

The pre-concert rehearsal is where a good photographer should start. Shooting without an audience allows a greater variety of camera angles.

1. Zoomed right out. This is a good way to set the scene. Taken from the west end of Romsey Abbey, this shot shows its size.

Charity Symphony Orchestra rehearsing in nave of Romsey Abbey

2. Wide angle close-up. During the rehearsal, your photographer can get up quite close and convey the size of the orchestra. Here, over 100 players were assembled for the epic Alpine Symphony by Richard Strauss.

Large orchestra rehearsing in Romsey Abbey

3. The conductor and players. This composition puts the maestro centre-stage while showing surrounding players. Everybody is dressed casually but concentrating hard with the performance approaching.

Orchestra conductor

Now let’s look at shots of the performance itself.

4. Soloist close-ups. As freelancers, they need to build a public profile, not least via social media. Good-quality photos are help them build their following.

5. Orchestral climaxes. Sports photographers look to capture the ‘peak moment of action’. It’s the same idea with music.

Conductor with arms outspread in front of an orchestra

6. Sections of the orchestra. These help to tell the story of the concert. For example, the woodwind:

symphony-orchestra-woodwind-players

Here, a shaft of light illuminates a viola player:

symphony-orchestra-string-player

A shallow depth of field makes a flautist stand out:

Blonde clarinettist in the Charity Symphony Orchestra

And the brass section glitters under the lights, just as it cuts through the musical textures.

symphony-orchestra-brass-section

8. Behind the orchestra, if possible. This image conveys the size of the venue and puts the conductor centre-stage, albeit at a distance.

symphony-orchestra-musicians-view

9. Zoomed in on the conductor at the climaxes. Gestures from the podium convey the drama like nothing else.

symphony-orchestra-conductor-emotion

10. The curtain calls. These show most of the players, so they’re images they’ll want to see and share.

Conductor acknowledging applause at the end of concert

I’m grateful to the Charity Symphony Orchestra and their conductor, Craig Lawton, for permitting me to photograph their concert on behalf of Romsey Abbey.

If you’d like me to capture images like these of your concert, please get in touch.

Forest walk family photo shoot with Gemma Wilks

Woman holding hands with little girl and boy, walking through sunlit woodland in autumn

A couple of weeks ago, Gemma Wilks invited me to photograph her family on a Sunday morning walk. They live on the edge of the New Forest and this time of year is perfect for colourful shots in the woods.

Setting out from their village, we crunched over decade’s worth of dead leaves and beech mast.

Woman holding hands with little boy and girl, walking through sunlit New Forest

Their first stop was to look at some toadstools growing on a dead tree trunk.

Mother, daughter and son looking at toadstools on a tree trunk in the New Forest

It was also the occasion for hide-and-seek. I just love this expression from Gemma’s daughter!

Mother, son and excited daughter peering around a tree in the New Forest

She and her brother also loved my reflector:

Little blonde girl and her brother playing with a photograhic reflector in the New Forest

Little blonde girl in a pink coat looking up and smiling in the New Forest

A brief group shot on a log didn’t quite work in terms of getting the youngsters’ attention, but it was a nice moment nonetheless.

Woman with little boy and girl sitting on a log in the New Forest

Then it was on a rope swing, which both children enjoyed.

Young boy with glasses on rope swing with his mother

Young blonde girl in a pink coat on a rope swing in the New Forest being pushed by her mother

Their dog was clearly enjoying his run through the Forest, too!

Black and white dog wearing a red collar running through autumn leaves

The turning point in our walk was a road that Gemma suggested as a good backdrop. Here, the children are running towards me, clearly enjoying every moment.

Little boy and girl running through the New Forest on an autumn morning

A lull in traffic enabled us to get the shots Gemma envisaged:

Mother with her son, daughter and dog, smiling in a road in the New Forest

Then we turned back across the Forest to the road back to their village:

Mother with her son, daughter and dog, posing in a road in the New Forest

I got lucky as Gemma’s daughter skipped along…

Young girl with long blonde hair in pink coat skipping along a New Forest road

The children were keen to be photographed on the green. I was happy to oblige.

Young boy with glasses and young girl with blonde hair and pink coat running across a village green. Their mother is smiling in the background

It was a great morning out; I was pleased to spend time with Gemma and her children, not forgetting the dog.

If you’d like me to get some great shots of your family, please get in touch.

I’ve now created a Facebook page, where I share photos and articles that might be of interest to you. Please take a look and give it a Like!

Off the scale concert by OS Choir

Ladies singing in evening dress

Earlier this month, I shot a concert by my friends in the choir at Ordnance Survey, where I work. A lovely, friendly bunch, they’ve been going for four years now and call themselves Off the scale – a great play on words (map scale, musical scale, geddit?!).

An audience of over 100 people enjoyed the choir’s medley of songs, show numbers and sacred music, with mood lighting to match.

Choir singing in a concert
Off the Scale

 

Two women singing duet in evening dress
Gemma Harrison and Julia Maltby singing ‘I know him so well’

 

Blond man conducting with pianist in background
Sam Dando directing Off the Scale, Ordnance Survey’s choir

 

 

Woman in black singing next to blond pianist
Julia Maltby singng a solo

 

Choir singing in front of audience
Off the Scale concert from the rear of the hall at Ordnance Survey

 

If you’d like me to shoot your concert, please get in touch.

South West is Best 2017 calendar out now

Calendar cover

I’m delighted that one of my photos is featured in the South West is Best 2017 Calendar. It’s beautifully produced by Bowline Communications and features a range of landscapes and landmarks from across the region.

My photo of cows in a field is the lead image for September. It was taken at dawn one beautiful morning close to the Highgrove Estate, near Tetbury in Gloucestershire:

Who are you looking at?

The founders of the popular Instagram account @swisbest asked to use it after seeing it in their image feed earlier in the summer. You can read about the story behind the calendar in the Wiltshire Times. It’s possibly the first ever calendar of images sourced from Instagram users.

The calendar is available to order online for £9.99 plus post and packing. It’s an ideal Christmas present.

Buy yours now

Top tip: use Instagram hashtags

If you use Instagram and would like your photos seen by other users, use hashtags. By including the hashtag #swisbest – for example – in the description of an outdoor image you post, your photo will appear in results when somebody searches on Instagram using this hashtag. This makes your photo more visible and makes it more likely that your photo will get likes. The chances are that people who like several of your photos will then follow your account, so they’ll see – and like – more of your photos in future.

For a chance for your photo to be featured on @swisbest, you must follow this account. Your photo must also  have been shot somewhere in the region. There are many hubs like it on Instagram; they’re a great way to help raise your profile as a photographer.