Constitutional chaos?

Even before the final result to the Scottish independence referendum had been declared, David Cameron seized the initiative first thing this morning by proposing devolution for the rest of the UK to settle Tam Dalyell’s decades-old Mid-Lothian question: ‘Why should Scottish MPs be able to vote on legislation concerning England when, post devolution to Edinburgh, the reverse is no longer true?’

This certainly wrong-footed Labour – Ed Milliband could only mutter later about a constitutional convention – and the Liberal Democrats were scarcely even part of the conversation. Ironically, it was an initiative in the mould of Mr Cameron’s ‘big, open and comprehensive’ offer to the LibDems on the morning of the 2010 election that propelled him into Downing Street a few days later.

Yet how did matters ever come to this pass? After an upsurge during the 1970s, Scottish nationalism went into abeyance after devolution failed to be implemented when the Labour government fell in 1979. It regained salience during the 1980s as heavy industry declined and, not least, in the wake of the introduction of the poll tax in Scotland  by the ‘colonial’ Thatcher government. Despite proportional representation, the SNP managed in 2011 to secure a majority in the Scottish Assembly  – the very result that its inclusion in the 1997 devolution settlement was intended to prevent – and began agitating for the referendum that has just been held.

Mr Salmond was allowed to choose the date – yesterday – the 700th anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn, and the franchise – those resident in Scotland for over a year and, for the first time, 16 year-olds and over – but not Scots born north of the Border who are now resident in England. The question on the ballot paper was also framed to favour his cause: ‘Should Scotland be an independent country?’ rather than ‘Should Scotland remain part of the United Kingdom?’. The vote yesterday almost went his way – opinion polls narrowed dramatically as the date loomed – but it’s possible that some of the antics of his more fanatical supporters, as well as his vague responses to valid questions about the currency that an independent Scotland would use, deterred floating voters.

For their part, the Better Together campaign was uninspiring: the Tories put up the cash and Labour the organisation, it was said, but neither are liked or trusted as they used to be. Alistair Darling, its soporific frontman, was usurped in the final days of the campaign by Gordon Brown, the man who drove the British economy off a cliff in 2008 and set the timetable for The Vow, to which all three party leaders put their names last Sunday. This promises inter alia to maintain a level of public spending per capita in Scotand that continues to be higher than in the rest of the UK. The SNP are now determined to hold them all to their word, as Alex Salmond emphasised as he announced his resignation this afternoon.

Naturally, Tory MPs are not happy and, I must say, nor am I. Whist it’s true that, due to lower population density in the Highlands and islands, it may be more expensive to deliver serivces there, the debate has largely focused on who was going to spend more public money – which we don’t have – on the NHS. In the land that gave birth to Adam Smith and from which entrepreneurs and civil engineeers emigrated to build businesses and bridges around the world, what place now its historical emphasis on prudence, thrift and self-improvement?

So, how this could all play out? Ed Milliband endures recriminations from his party over his lacklustre leadership on this issue but Labour grudgingly gives him a standing ovation at the end of its party conference next week. David Cameron gets a bounce in the polls from his offer but, shortly after the Tory party conference, a bloody nose from the Clacton by-election, in which Douglas Carswell becomes the first elected UKIP MP.

Parliament reconvenes and deliberations start over ‘English votes for English laws’ but deadlock is quickly reached as Labour refuses to contemplate losing its ability to enact social legislation South of the border without the help of Scottish MPs and the LibDems cannot decide who to support: with another coalition in prospect, who is most likely to offer them seats around the next Cabinet table? In all likelihood, then, nothing will be decided before the election in May next year.

Ironically, this scarcely matters, given that some 70% of our laws is now reckoned to originate in Brussels. Until we reclaim the sovereignty of Parliament in Westminster from the EU – and this will entail leaving, given its treaty-enshrined drive towards ever closer union – devolution within the UK will amount to little more than local government reorganisation.

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15 tips for getting your photo Popular on 500px.com

I’ve been a member of 500px.com for about 18 months and have seen many – but by no means all – of my photos ranked as Popular. One of them, Sunlit uploads, made it into the top 15 a couple of weeks ago. In that time, I have looked at the work of many other members and have gained a good idea of what gets to the top of its Popular and why.

Before I share my tips to help you rank higher, here’s a quick summary of Continue reading »

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Sunlit uplands on the Blackdown Hills

Nearly a month ago, I went out on a dawn shoot on the Blackdown Hills in Somerset. My main intention was to capture the sun rising over the Isle valley beneath its eastern escarpment.

The shots I took there were nothing special but on the way, I noticed that the Otter valley on the other side of the ridge was filled with early morning mist. Rather than driving home again, therefore, I took a small detour and found a lane from which I was able to capture several stunning views of the sun rising over the mists. This was the stand-out shot that I uploaded to 500px.com:

Sunlit uplands
Sunlit uplands

In terms of post-processing, I made global adjustments in Lightroom, cloned out some distracting lens flare in Photoshop, applied lens corrections in Dfine 2 from the Google Nik Collection, then finished it off with a soft glow effect in Perfect Effects 8.5 from OnOne. Before doing any of this, though, I added keyword tags and a geo-tag in Lightroom, for the reasons I set out in my recent post for Ordnance Survey.

Very gratifyingly, thanks to hundreds of Likes and Favourites  – with lots of reciprocal appreciation of other photos on my part – it made it into the top 20 on 500px.com, with my highest ever final ranking of 99.4.

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Guest blog today for Ordnance Survey

I guest blogged today for my employer, Ordnance Survey. My topic is using maps in photography and I explain how I use maps to decide where to shoot, how to find good vantage points and, on my return home, why and how I use Lightroom to geo-tag them.

I hope you enjoy it; do share your thoughts with me either here or on the OS blog.

 

 

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Dawn shoot in the Cotswolds

Whilst on a family weekend away a few weeks ago, I crept out of our hotel at something like 4.30 am to take advantage of the soft dawn light. Driving away, mist was rising from the fields, which would have made a great shot in itself, had I been able to stop – unfortunately, I was on a main road and couldn’t. Either way, it was great to be out at that time of day.

My first stop was Tetbury, a lovely little market town boasting some fine Georgian architecture:

Long Street, Tetbury
Long Street, Tetbury

Other highlights include its church with a tall spire and a very unusual Market Hall on stilts:

Tetbury Market Hall
Tetbury Market Hall

Not a soul was stirring, so I had no problem with stray people in my shots. In fact, you could argue that it was too empty: people going about their business do bring towns to life.

Just nearby is Highgrove House, country seat of HRH the Prince of Wales. High walls and security meant that I couldn’t get a view of the house from the road, so I continued on my way. A few minutes later, I drove past a herd of cows in a field and, with the sun just having risen, spotted a lovely pastoral scene:

Cows ranged behind a gate at dawn.
Who are you looking at?

I didn’t hang around too much for fear that their mooing would bring out an angry farmer out with a shotgun!

On to my intended destination, Frocester Hill Nature Reserve which offered a commanding view of the upper Severn Estuary from the escarpment. Mist was rising from the river in the distance as I captured a panorama of the scene:

The Severn Valley
The Severn Valley

A sharp bend in the road lower down the hill lent visual interest to another view towards distant Gloucester:

View of the Severn Valley from Frocester Hill.
Spring green

My actual final stop was the long barrow on Selsey Common, overlooking the Stroud valley:

Stroud from Selsley Common
Stroud from Selsley Common

By this time, the sun was well and truly up and starting to lift temperatures on would prove to be the hottest day of the year to date.

Getting up early at this time of year isn’t too difficult; I certainly recommend it as a time to take memorable landscape photos.

 

Have you taken photos at dawn? If so, where did you take them. Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below.

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Serge Ramelli – inspirational Lightroom post-processing

If you’re looking for inspiration in terms of new ways to post-process your raw photo images, I commend to you Serge Ramelli, ‘a French photographer living in the beautiful city of Paris’, as he always introduces himself in his bi-weekly YouTube broadcasts. He has certainly shown me how to get the maximum detail and conjure impressive effects from my image data. This is the episode that got me hooked:

I was seriously impressed by how he used Lightroom to transform a rather dull-looking evening scene into a one that positively glows. With over 120 photography, Lightroom and Photoshop tutorials to his credit, on topics ranging from landscapes to architecture, portraits to printing and much more, he has covered a lot of ground.

To complement his broadcasts, Serge makes the raw files he processes on screen available for download to those who sign up to his email list, enabling them to practice on it at home. He also regularly releases more in-depth paid tutorials. I bought one a while back about Lightroom 4 and found it very useful.

The best value option, if you can run to it, is the Photoserge complete package, which gives you download access to everything he sells – tutorials, Lightroom presets and sample files – for $340 (about £200) in one of his periodic 40%-off sales. Although some of Serge’s zipped archives are very large, the physical video files they contain are yours to keep once you have downloaded them; you don’t subscribe for a fixed period to watch online, as with some other tutorial providers.

Incidentally, I can vouch for his refund policy, since I took the plunge with the complete package a day after buying his long-exposure course and then asked for a refund on the latter, briefly explaining why. This he duly gave without quibble.

So, head over to Serge’s YouTube channel, enjoy his free videos, subscribe, practise on the raw files and take your photos to the next level, to coin a well-used cliché. My major challenge is finding the time to get to grips with the varied techniques he illustrates!

Here’s one of my photos, inspired by his techniques:

Sunset over the New Forest
Sunset over the New Forest

‘School of Serge’, you might say…

Over to you. If you’re a photographer, who do you learn from online or from books and magazines? How do you balance learning with taking photos and managing your ever-expanding image library?

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Queen Mary 2 celebrates her 10th anniversary

Fireworks on 9 May 2014 Cunard marked the tenth anniversary of the naming of its liner Queen Mary 2 with a visit by HRH the Duke of Edinburgh and a firework display, marking the start of her next voyage. I previously captured her when she was last in Southampton and didn’t want to miss this occasion.

My wife and I paid the modest fee of £1.60 apiece  to walk out onto Hythe Pier and found that it afforded us a great view of the festivities, with Queen Mary 2 and her sister liners Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth facing us. I had plenty of room to set up my camera on a tripod but groups of people walking past made the decking wobble, which wasn’t so good for long exposure photography. The tremors were even greater when the quaint little train that trundles down to the end of the pier and back rumbled past!

When shooting the fireworks, I found that I got best results by taking the shutter speed back to about 2 seconds, with ISO at 100 and aperture on F16, to get good starburst effects without over-exposure. I brought out detail in the scene – there wasn’t much – mainly via the Shadows slider in Lightroom back at home.

In these photos, Queen Mary 2 is obscured by the fireworks, which were let off from a barge; to her right are sister liners Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth.

Queen Mary 2 celebrates 10 years
Fireworks over Southampton Water
Fireworks and the birthday girl
Fireworks and the birthday girl
Fireworks finale
Fireworks finale

As the fireworks died away, they all sounded their foghorns – sounding like beasts in some primaeval swamp – and then Queen Elizabeth led them in convoy down Southampton Water to start their next respective cruises.

Queen Mary 2 sets sail
Queen Mary 2 sets sail
Three Queens at night
Three Queens at night
Queens of the Night
Queens of the Night

If you’re within reach of Southampton and enjoy maritime photography, keep an eye on ABP’s Live shipping movements pages. You’ll find details there not just of cruise ship movements but also of mercantile traffic. With ships leaving for destinations such as Port Said Roads, Baltimore, Panama and Singapore, it’s a reminder of just how trade really does connect Hampshire with the rest of the world.

Did you see – or even just hear – the ships on Friday night? Have you sailed on them before? Do you have memories of older Cunard liners? I’d love to hear from you.

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Joe McNally: the location and the light

Earlier this month, I attended a talk, The location and the light, by the renowned documentary photographer Joe McNally at The Photography Show, held at the NEC. He gave a fascinating tour d’horizon of his career and his approach to photography, as well as some of the people he has photographed. Here are the lessons I drew from it.

1. Take the breaks you’re offered and be grateful for them

Having secured the opportunity to work for National Geographic by some judicious networking, he built his reputation as their go-to guy for assignments nobody else would take, flying off around the world at very short notice, shooting the core of a nuclear reactor and accompanying the man who changes the light bulb at the very top of the Empire State Building on his climb.

2. Gear and technique isn’t the last word in photography

Most photos he has taken, he thinks, probably have some small technical flaw in them. What counts at the end of the day are the stories they tell.

3. Be flexible and approach your brief creatively

One National Graphic story covered different aspects of the brain. Thus he attended an operation during which part of somebody’s brain was removed to capture a shot of the living organ; he also spent time with people suffering from mental illness to capture a different dimension. Projects, then, can and should involve multiple genres of photography.

3. Think big

He can spends several days and thousands of dollars setting up a shoot. For example, to photograph the Very Large Telescope in Chile, he hired a big crane and directed proceedings via walkie-talkie from 300ft aloft, capturing the right moment at dawn after a very early start.

4. Know your place

Even though, the shoot itself might be complicated and expensive, his day-rate is still on $650. Photographers, he suggested, are still the ultimate expendable resource for publishers.

5. Get to know your subjects, and keep in touch with them

Nowhere was this more true for him than the survivors of 9/11 who he met and photographed in the aftermath of the tragedy. Being the good shepherd of their images, as he put it, earned the trust of his subjects and created the opportunity to return to their lives ten years later and update their stories.

6. Catch the off-guard moments

The essence of documentary photography – his speciality – is capturing the face behind the mask: real emotion and natural behaviour rather than a pose for the camera.

7. Be humble, polite and interested in the other person

This lesson I took from his demeanour in front of us. A few minutes before he started, he entered the hall quietly and shook hands with everybody in the front row of his audience, whilst sharing pleasantries with them. Afterwards, he waited patiently behind to enable everybody who wanted a quick chat, an autograph – or indeed a shared selfie –to spend a moment with him.

Man signing autographs
Joe McNally signing autographs

To be one of the world’s leading photographers and yet still have time for the little guy: that is the mark of a true professional.

Over to you: which photographers particularly inspire you and what impresses you about their style?

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