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.

Evening photography at the Sky Garden

Last week, I paid another visit to London, taking my camera with me. Late in the afternoon, I went down to the Thames and captured long-exposure shots of the Shard from the north side of the river:

Tower and light cloud
The Shard

Then I paid my second visit to the Sky Garden (my first was earlier this year, when sunset was before 6pm). Here’s what it looks like inside:

Interior of the Sky Garden
Interior of the Sky Garden

Interior of the Sky GardenLast time I was unable to take any photos across the city because of all the reflections from interior lights, but this time I came prepared.

As with virtually all indoor visitor attractions nowadays, tripods aren’t allowed, so I didn’t even bother getting mine out. Instead, I cradled my camera on scrunched-up bubble wrap atop a low window-sill. Exposure-bracketing combined with my camera’s self-timer yielded a series of shots that I could combine using Lightroom’s new HDR feature, and manual exposure-blending in Photoshop. Unfortunately, the skies failed to clear, as I had hoped. Even so, as dusk fell and the city lights came on, I secured a series of memorable shots westwards across the London skyline and, before I packed up to catch my train, eastwards towards Canary Wharf.

The start of dusk in London
The start of dusk in London
The lights start to come on in London
The lights start to come on in London
Night falls over St. Paul's Cathedral
Night falls over St. Paul’s Cathedral
Night falls over Canary Wharf
Night falls over Canary Wharf

Photography from the Emirates Air Line

Having shared photos from both the Shard and the  Sky Garden at the Walkie-Talkie, Iet me encourage you to take advantage of the fabulous views afforded by the Emirates Air Line. Opened in June 2012, it’s a cable car that spans the Thames between the Royal Docks and North Greenwich.

From it you get unforgettable views of the O2 Arena (formerly the Millennium Dome) and Canary Wharf to the west, the Thames Barrage at Woolwich, London City Airport and the whole of east London. I made the round-trip a couple of weeks ago in the early evening. The skies were overcast and dusk was yet to fall, so the light wasn’t great and my most striking image was a high-contrast conversion to black-and-white:

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My other images are in colour and intended to show you what’s possible. I took the photo above shortly after my ride started from Royal Victoria Dock and that’s where you get the best view of the Arena separated from Canary Wharf by the sweep of the Thames; this is the colour version:

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Further across the river, the former tends to eclipse the latter:

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Here’s a close-up:

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The cable cars themselves lend interest to views in either direction. This is looking back towards the south-west (Greenwich Royal Naval College is just distinguishable beyond the gasometer):

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And this is the noth-easterly view over the Royal Docks, towards Newham:

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I would be the first to say that the view would have been much better an hour later when the city lights were coming on (I finished my evening near Canary Wharf, capturing said skyscrapers from closer quarters). Taking useable photos , however, would have been a lot more difficult owning to reflections created by lights inside the cabin; the same would also be true, although not from internal lights, about taking shots on a sunny day. I shot between F5 and F8 to minimise reflection issues but, even then, still had to crop quite a bit to remove such distractions.

Getting to the Air Line is surprisingly easy; it’s just a couple of hundred yards on foot from Royal Victoria DLR station in East London, making it about half-an-hour from the City of London on this service. Alternatively you can take the Jubilee tube line to North Greenwich and start at the Millennium Dome end of the route.

It’s also not as expensive as you’d expect. You get 10 minutes in the air in each direction, for which you pay £9.00 return (or just £6.80 if you have an Oyster card or travelcard). Nor is it as busy as you might expect; I got a cabin to myself in both directions, enabling me to get the best angles without tripping over anybody else.

So if you’re thinking about your next photographic mission in London, take to the Air Line!

Day trip to the heart of Tuscany

No less beautiful than all the architecture in cities like Siena and Lucca is the countryside of rural Tuscany, as we found on our ramble through it from Pisa. In fact, we liked it so much that we went out on two trips.

Assuming that you have only one day spare, though, I’d suggest an itinerary like this.

From Pisa, take the FiPiLi and turn off at the first junction after your spur from Pisa has merged with that from Livorno: follow signs for Ponsacco. Strike south-east towards Volterra through Capannoli and La Sterza.

Beyond there, follow signs to Saline di Volterra rather than those for Volterra itself. We took the direct road and, with little warning, it became very steep, winding and difficult to drive. It’s from the road to Saline that you’ll enjoy views of the rolling fields that epitomise the classic Tuscan landscape.

From Saline, turn left and climb towards Volterra; there are some steep hairpin bends on the final approach from the west, too. Volterra dates from Etruscan times and has been continuously occupied for nearly three millenia, so there’s lot to see, especially if you’re interested in archæology.

From Volterra, continue east along the main road towards Poggibonsi; it’s not as steep or winding as the one you’ve just followed. There are some gorgeous views to be enjoyed along this road, not least a mile or so down the hill from Volterra, just before a hairpin bend.

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After 15 km, turn left off the main road at Castel San Gimignano and head north towards San Gimignano. Pause and enjoy some of the lovely rural views along this route, if you can.

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Another of the highlights of Tuscany and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it is dominated by a dozen mediæval tower houses. Its historic centre is pedestrianised and thronged with tourists, probably for much of the year. We were fortunate to get to its main square when a historical re-enactment – watched by a newly-married bride and groom – was in progress.

There are various car parks dotted around the outside of the city walls but finding a space must be quite a challenge during the summer months. It’s only a fairly short, albeit steep, walk into the town centre from most of them. We parked in the one off Via Ghiacciaia on the north side of town; the charge was €2/hour.

I particularly wanted to get some good sunset photos of the city from the west and found a good vantage point a kilometre or so along the SP69. I found that the sun sets more quickly than in England.

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From here, follow the road north-westward  towards Forcoli, Pontedera and eventually back to Pisa. It runs through woodland for much of the time, with very few villages along the way, so it’s not a great place either to break down or run out of fuel.

Day trip to Vernazza

Vernazza al crepusculo
Vernazza at dusk

One of the villages of the Cinque Terre, a rugged stretch of Ligurian coastline to the west of La Spezia, Vernazza is among the most photographed locations on 500px.com. It was therefore on my bucket list for this holiday and part of the reason why we chose to stay in Pisa.

My major concern with this trip was the last leg of the journey. The road to Vernazza from the autostrada looked to be narrow, steep and winding – unforgiving to somebody unfamiliar with it like me – so I found a very good alternative.

My top tip for you is Continue reading →

Photo of Romsey Abbey – Popular on 500px.com

Whilst I have photographed Romsey Abbey and the services, concerts and events held there many times over the past few years, this is my best shot so far of its interior, dominated by round Norman arches.

Romsey Abbey
The nave of Romsey Abbey

It was taken after the Choral Evensong that concluded this year’s Ethelflaeda Festival. Incense had been used during the service and, bringing into relief the beams from the powerful lights that illuminate the building, it created a magical, almost mystical atmosphere.

I shot a single 13-second exposure at F14 and 100 ISO, then processed it in Lightroom 5 to bring out shadow detail, level it (the new Upright tools in Lightroom are ideal for this) and boost clarity a little.

Shortly after upload, the photo trended as Popular on 500px.com – the first of mine to do so.