Saturday 10 May 2008

Witches flying high...

Well it seems that things are finally looking up for the Witches. Following the loss of Skipper Chris Louis - possibly for the remainder of the season - the boys have pulled together and turned in a string of excellent results at home, disposing of Eastbourne, Peterborough and most recently Wolves in fine style. The shot here shows young German Tobi Kroner team riding home to a maximum heat score with stand-in Captain Steve "Johnno" johnston on Thursday night. Tobi faces his first big test in his Witches career from our next meeting as due to some inbalances within the team regarding averages, he moves to a "heat leader" position within the side. Until now he has ridden as a "reserve" - giving him easier rides in most of his races, however, he's aquitted himself well and beaten many riders far more experienced than he is, so we don;t think he should have too many problems making the step-up. A lot of it is in the mental attitude, and young Tobi has his head firmly screwed on - I can't see him letting the pressure get to him too badly. Good luck Tobi!

Sunday 4 May 2008

All the fun of the fair

Ben and I added a new piece of kit to our bag yesterday with the purchase of a second-hand Canon EOS 20D. It's pretty much a carbon copy of my 30D - just without spot-metering and third-stop ISO adjustment, and with a slightly smaller screen. For a while now we've noticed that we tend to have our long lenses on the cameras a fair amount when we're out and about, leading to us missing shots which could have been better captured with a shorter focal length. We also had a bit of a scare with the D30 the other week - now sorted out - which left me feeling that I would be "safer" with a more up to date body as a back-up. The intention is that as well as using the 20D as a shared body when we're both out, I can use it as an additional at speedway, saving me needing to change lenses as often - not a bad thing in such a dusty environment. MPB Photographic of Brighton impressed me a huge amount - they were easy to deal with, and their kit is exactly as described. I'd certainly use them again in the future. Having picked up the camera, I took it for a wander along Brighton Pier in order to check it out and get all the custom settings sorted out - judging by this shot, it certainly handles colour well enough!


Wednesday 30 April 2008

The nifty-fifty project - part 2.

I had to go into London on Friday - some site visits to be done, so as is my usual habit I tucked the camera into the bottom of my bag. Well, you never know what you might find, do you? I decided to attach the 50mm f1.8 to have a go at stage 2 of the project I've set myself - namely to spend some time with ONLY that lens to use, in order to make me think more about composition etc. Actually, that's a lie. There wasn't much space in the bottom of the bag and the nifty was the only lens that would comfortably fit whilst still allowing me to carry notebook, toe-capped boots etc.....
As lunchtime beckoned I found myself on the way back to Kings Cross to get back on the tube - it seemed like the ideal opportunity to spend an hour working on another little project I've been thinking about for a while - a wander around St Pancras (St Pancras International as I believe we are now supposed to call it). St Pancras is probably my favourite building in the capital. The outside is stunning - OTT architecture at its very best. The inside has been fairly sympathetically treated - heavy use of glass doesn't exactly suit the character of the building but does at least enable you to see through to the finer parts of the structure from almost wherever you are in the upper part of the station. The brickwork is now as clean as the day it was built and the roof-supporting ironwork has been restored to it's sky-blue painted glory. That is presumably what John Betjeman's statue is regarding - and well he might as it's quite a sight to behold. Betjeman has a special reason to look in awe though - he was in part responsible for saving the magnificent building from being demolished when the idea was mooted in the 1960's. Good on you Sir - I'm very glad you did!

Sunday 27 April 2008

Macro again...

Thought it was about time the 100mm f2.8 Macro lens saw some action again, and buying a couple of plants for the garden yesterday was all the inspiration I needed to get me going! I love doing macro stuff, but, as I have commented on before, often seem to lack the patience that it demands. Insect photography is beyond me for that reason, if no other - after the little bugger flying off for the fifth time just as I was ready to shoot I'd give up and go in for a cup of tea! These two were both shot using manual focus - AF with the macro lens doesn't really work so well. Settings for the first were f5.6, 1/60th second exposure , and the second - F11, 1/10th second exposure. ISO was 200 for both, as the light wasn't as good as I would have liked.

Anyway - the two pictures posted are both of Aquilegia - but quite different flowers as you can see. I also have a beautiful mauve and white one which I may try and do some shots with in due course. I did try a few this morning but got nothing that I felt was up to standard. Now all I have to do is to decide which of these two images I'm going to use as my pc desktop.....oh, and plant them in the garden, of course!

Sunday 20 April 2008

Bath time...

Just a very quick post today I think. The 300mm f4 got another trip out today - by the time we'd finished doing all our jobs around the flat and building the new Ikea bookcase we got yesterday (what a mad place Ikea is!) we didn't have a lot of time so headed down to Rye Meads again to have a wander along one of the trails we didn't cover last week. We ended up sat in the Otter hide - although there were no otters in sight! Plenty of birds though - as well as this beautiful Swan we were watching Pochards, Gadwalls, a Little Grebe, Tufted Ducks, and a very quick glimpse of a Kingfisher! No photos from that encounter, but fingers crossed we might managed to get some at some stage...

Thursday 17 April 2008

The nifty-fifty project.....part 1

Well, as I mentioned yesterday, we had a walk around the South bank area on Sunday while we were in London. I decided on leaving the pub to head down that way that I was going to put the "Nifty" (50mm f1.8 for the uninitiated) lens on the camera and take the rest of my days shots using only that lens. All in all an interesting experiment. Being restricted to a focal length is strange for someone used to a Zoom. You have to work in a different way - rather than seeing a shot, you have to really look for stuff that will work, and rather a lot of what you frame doesn't, initially, you have to move forwards, or backwards, or change angle...... 50mm did, however, prove to be a lovely length for capturing some urban action from the skateboarders. This shot has been treated to a bit of "funky urban processing" also thanks to an old magazine article I've been carefully hoarding for just this eventuality!
I'm expecting this project to be ongoing, in fact I MAY even try some speedway stuff with it. ("It'll be too short to get anything decent" said Steve on Monday when I debated this possibility with him.....hmmm, best get thinking how I can prove him wrong, then!). Keep your eyes peeled.

Wednesday 16 April 2008


We went up to London on Sunday to watch - and photograph - the marathon. Mindful of the fact that the best pictures tend to be got early on, before the streets get too clogged with the "fun" runners, we arrived at Westferry DLR and walked along the route to our spot of choice, which was delightfully free of crowds and remained so for the entire morning! (no, I'm not saying where, you think we want everyone turning up there next year?!). As always the wheelchair race provided some great shots - as did some of the "Backroom" staff - more of those shots in due course, perhaps.

Kit-wise it was a pretty simple decision to settle on my standard kit. I started off with the 70-200 f2.8 - with which the shot above was taken - before switching to the 24-70 f2.8 when the course got busier and we started walking around. Once the bulk of the runners had passed us, we headed off along to the South bank (via a pub for a pint and a sandwich whilst my rather damp 30D dried out a little and all its buttons started working again!) and the nifty-fifty got an outing shooting the grafitti and the skateboarders down there. I also got some new shots of the London Eye using that lens - the first time I've shot it using that one, and it certainly put a different perspective on the subject and made me work a bit harder for the shots!


Saturday 12 April 2008

Ducking and diving...

Today I finally got to play with my new lens! Having enjoyed a dabble with Bird photography while we were away, I found myself thinking more and more about my planned "future" purchase of a longer telephoto. I've had the idea in mind for a while, and at our speedway press day I had a quick play with my friend Brian's Canon 100-400mm lens - mainly so I could get straight in my head what my ideal focal length would be. That confirmed to me that 300mm would be an ideal length for me to go for. A quick browse on eBay on Tuesday turned up a Canon 300mm f4 L IS lens at a decent price, and 48 hours later it was in my hot little hands!

Anyway, today we finally got around to a visit to our extremely local RSPB reserve - Rye Meads - and what a lovely place it was. There are various different "trails" to walk, with hides along the way so you can get a closer look at some of the birds. We saw lots of different species, although sadly the Kingfisher was making himself scarce today. I did get a glimpse of a Great Spotted Woodpecker though - forst one of those I've ever seen. Also got another look at the little chap above - he's a Little Grebe, and we first saw one just a few weeks back on the Loch at Carinish.

All in all I'm delighted with the lens - even once I'd added the 1.4x Teleconverter the IQ seems to be superb, and the Autofocus is lightning fast. Definately money well spent!


Wednesday 9 April 2008

Time to experiment a little...

No action this week at Ipswich, but I thought I'd post up a speedway pic anyway, with some background explaining how a "regular" night at Ipswich goes for me. I leave work as early as I can get away with, but realistically about 5.15 - 5.20pm. Hot-foot it up the A12 to get to the track as early as possible, and generally arrive at Foxhall Heath, home of the Witches, at around 6.45pm. First stop is off to get myself a quick bite to eat, checking in with my contact on the supporters club committee on the way to find out a little bit of info about the nights meeting mascot - are they nervous, is it a special occasion like a birthday, that sort of thing. Then it's down to the pits to get my kit sorted out and get a feel for the way things are going to go that evening. At about 7.15pm Nicola joins me along with the mascot for the night (they are usually between about 5 and 14 years old) and we spend a few minutes getting the kiddie at their ease if nervous, or calmed down if overexcited, before one of us goes off to round up their favourite rider for the first photos. The lads are all very good about it - and there's always time for a few quick words with the child whose big night it is before they have to get back to business. The tension then starts to rise - final adjustments are made to both bikes and cameras, before the riders hit the track for the pre-meeting parade, and we head off to the centre green. The riders line up for introduction to the crowd but prior to that it's the all-important coin toss to decide starting positions for the meeting - the two team Captains link up with the mascot for another photo and it's time for me to get it right - not something that can be re-done this one, no pressure or anything! A bit of banter with our Captain - Chris Louis - when I let the opposing skipper know that there will be two photos taken "Yeah, the first one never comes out does it!" jeers Chris with a grin, always making the mascot laugh which makes for a nice shot! Then the Mascot tosses the coin before it's helmets on for the warm up. Nicola and mascot head away out through the pits and I grab my bag and leg it down the centre green to change lenses and settings and get ready for the start of racing. I have "starting point" settings for speedway which I default to although these tend to get "tweaked" as the night wears on. Heats 1 - 4 are the most important for me - to make sure I get at least one clear action shot of each of the witches riders as early in proceedings as possible takes concentration but is essential before they get dirty with shale. Once I know I've got those in the bag then it's time to relax a bit - up to the interval (usually heat ten or thereabouts) it's a case of watching for any "handbags" with elbows flying as the riders jostle for positions, hopefully no crashes but got to be ready just in case, and generally reinforcing the action stuff with different angles, shooting positions etc. The crowd on the terraces know when the interval is even before it's announced as those of us on the centre immediately start heading for the pits as the riders cross the line. Time to go and see Pat in the tea-room for a much welcomed cuppa and, if we're lucky, a ginger nut or two! I usually spend the heat after the interval in the pits - saves me having to gulp down my tea and it's nice to get a feel for how things are with the lads. If I'm lucky there is space at the pit gate - the Poles usually shuffle along to make room for me and I watch the race from there - Robert says something unrepeatable in Polish as one of our reserves takes a tumble on the third bend, as the red lights come on the team all pour out of the pits to see if he's OK.....
Back out on the centre for the final few heats and for me this is time to play about a bit - hence the posted picture. I like to try to get something a bit "different" - the shot above was with the flash turned off, and shot at 1/80th, f2.8. Heat 15, and either jubilation all round as the witches rack up some vital points, or crestfallen faces and a downbeat atmosphere if things haven't turned out so well. For me it's time to get packed up before heading up to the bar for a bit of a gossip and the "post mortem" on the meeting. Then it's home (about an hour and a quarter for me!) and time for bed - none too soon!


Tuesday 8 April 2008


"Postcard" when translated from Gaelic! In the bookcase in the cottage is a great selection of books - from novels to guide books. The night before this picture was taken I had been browsing through a book of old postcards of the Western isles, so when at the end of road we'd just driven along, we found this little cottage with the sheep taking shelter from the wind in front of it, I knew exactly what I wanted from the shot! Processing was fairly straightforward - convert to Sepia, levels, and then a touch of grain added to give that "film" feel. Finally a quite search for just the right font for the wording.

Apparently I have a reader in the USA - Hello to Phyllis!


Monday 7 April 2008


Warning all Bloggers - if you receive a comment from user "Salar" DO NOT click on the link as it appears to contain malware!

Saturday 5 April 2008

Spring has sprung!

Went for a wander along the lane today armed with 30D and 70-200mm f2.8. To put you in the picture, it's a little lane that used to be a "proper" road but is now closed off at each end. It has a long narrow wooded area along one side, which is fairly quiet and as a result is a haven for all sorts of birds, and our local squirrel population. In the high winds a couple of years ago we had quite a few trees and large branches come down in there, and sensibly (for a change!) the local council has done nothing more than cut them up to remove obstructions to the path, and then leave the bits in situ to rot down naturally. As a result it's turning into quite a nice habitat down there.

It was the first time we'd really noticed the change in the season - buds are breaking all over the place and this back-lit leaf burst caught my attention. Meanwhile, the squidgers attention was being caught by the bag of Monkey nuts being carried by Ben......this little chap decided we merited a closer look!
No speedway this week so I will hopefully get the holiday shots finished and uploaded....... watch this space for the new Webshots address for those.
Finally, a mention for a blog I'm a regular visitor to now. Silversprite - the Librarian at the end of the World is written by a chap living on the island of Berneray but covers far more than just the subject of island life - go on, have a browse!

Sunday 30 March 2008

The one that got away...

I tried to update this while we were away - honestly, I really did - sadly the connection I was on was a little twitchy and I couldn't keep a strong enough signal to get both post and photos to upload..... Anyway, as it's all written, here it is. More from the holiday to follow.....

I'm sitting here at Nunton Steadings writing this - as the wind howls round the building! Looking straight up I can see the clouds scudding overhead through the skylight, but the sky behind them is blue and the sun is it has each day so far since we arrived - lucky eh?! The first shot I have for you is the sunset on our first evening -

we walked from the cottage up to the road end at Sidinish, only a mile or so each way but a pleasant enough stroll to start us off - on the way back we were rewarded by this fabulous sunset in front of us - just what we wanted really! It topped off what was a rather special first day as we'd not been at the cottage more than a couple of hours when a glance out of the front window revealed Otters at play in Loch A Ghoill, just across the road from us. Amazing watching them - and especially considering all the time we'd looked fruitlessly for them previously, there they were just over the road. Didn’t manage to get any very clear shots of them unfortunately, but this one does at least prove we saw them! We've seen plenty of bird-life since we've been here too - seen Golden eagles several times now, and also a heron, whooper swans, black throated divers, Shelduck, Tufted Ducks, and the sweetest pair of Stonechats playing "kiss-chase" around us on our walk at Rueval (Benbecula) yesterday. Altogether so far we've seen 29 species of birds, and on the mammal front, seals (including yesterday evening on in the Loch at the back of the cottage!), rabbits, Red deer and of course the Otters

Finally - this is the beach on Berneray looking
splendid in the Sun - nothing like a walk on a white sandy beach to remind you that you're on holiday!

Saturday 8 March 2008

Hebrides Countdown....

This shot was taken on the Tuesday of our trip last year - we were heading home after a day exloring Eriskay and South uist, and had just turned into the Locheport road leading back to the cottage when, up on the hill ahead of us, we saw a herd of deer. We managed to find somewhere to pull in and sat in the car and watched and waited but they never really got close enough to us to photograph so we drove on. Lo and behold just a mile down the road there was another herd, this time right next to the road! Again we pulled in and I grabbed the only camera to hand - my old D30 which mercifully had the Sigma 70-300mm f4-5.6 lens on board already......I was desperately wishing at this stage that when we'd left our previous stop on South Uist I hadn't decided to put my camera kit into the boot, as I could definately have done with the advantages that my own 70-200mm f2.8 would have given me - notably IS (Image stabilisation) considering by the time that this shot was taken I was hand holding at 1/30th with only the car window-frame for support! It certainly taught me a valuable lesson about leaving the gear accessible!

Wednesday 5 March 2008

Hebrides Countdown...

This is Eilean Donan Castle, on the A87 shortly before you reach the Isle of Skye. You round a bend in the road and there, suddenly in front of you is this lovely building, and you know you're on the final stretch of the journey. By the time you get to that stage it seems almost rude not to stop the car, get out, stretch your legs and reach for a camera.......
This shot was one of the first I took with my 12-24mm lens last year - I ran really tight on time for getting it - it turned up literally days before we left and I was beginning to get more than slightly nervous! As soon as I put it on the camera all the stress and worry was worthwhile - it's a stunning bit of kit to use on the Digital cameras, but when you attach it to a full frame 35mm SLR it's phenomenal. The film camera gets so little use normally but every time I break it out with the super-wide lens attached I get totally carried away and shoot far more than I intended! I've little doubt that will change any this year.....hmmmm, that reminds me, I must remember to take the film out of the fridge.....!

Monday 25 February 2008

My "Macro weekend" continued yesterday when I documented some of Mum's jewellery too, including this beautiful gold & garnet ring. Lighting this time was via ordinary room lights - which actually worked really well to get a nice bright working environment, and my 550EX speedlite flashgun. The tripod has proved absolutely invaluable over the past few days - doing macro work without it is close to impossible due to the tiny depth of field with the 100mm macro lens. Having forgotten to pick up my remote release before we left home, I used the self timer for this shoot to avoid any risk of vibration from my hands affecting the shots.

Saturday 23 February 2008

An afternoon of macro...

Having little to do this afternoon, I resolved to complete the project I started the other week - that being to get a decent macro shot of my wedding and engagement rings.
The shot to the right was the final outcome, after initially shooting with the same white background I used previously, I posted the shots onto Talk Photography to get some feedback from the helpful folk on there. Someone fairly soon suggested that I should try with a black background instead.....
ISO200, f8, shutter 4 secs. Lighting was an LED torch, all other lights switched off, no flash.

Monday 18 February 2008

Hebrides Countdown...

This shot was taken on West Beach, Berneray, on the first day of our holiday last year. We always try to get in a beach walk on our first Sunday - it's the final step to totally relaxing and soaking up the advantages of being back in the Hebrides again. West Beach is three blissful miles of beautiful white sands and regardless of how far we end up going, it makes for a wonderful walk. On this occasion we went basically as far as you can see in this shot - right off to where you can see the sands curving round ahead of you.
Our planning for this years trip is coming along well now - the ferry tickets are booked and have arrived - next thing now is to sort out our B&B for our one night on Skye - thanks to the ferries being on the winter timetable still on the way over we have to be at Uig for 9.40am to get the ferry across!
Life has just been complicated by my wonderful 24-70mm f2.8 lens having developed a fault - it sounds nastily like a bit of grit has made its way into the AF motor as it's making a high pitched whining noise whenever the lens "hunts" for focus at the moment. It's going to be being sent off somewhere for repair tomorrow I think - whether that will be directly back to Sigma UK, or to somewhere like Fixation I'm not sure yet - I'm just desperately hoping I can get it back in time for press day - it will complicate things a bit if not!

Friday 15 February 2008

My Valentine.....

As it was St Valentines day yesterday, it seemed an appropriate day to get my Macro lens out and carry out a project I'd been promising I would do for a while - that being some decent shots of our wedding rings and my engagement ring/eternity ring. The shot above is an example - and a more simple set-up would be hard to imagine!
I used a chair, with two sheets of plain white A4 paper on it - one propped against the back of the chair curving round to meet the seat, the other lying along the seat and overlapping the first sheet slightly. Lighting was an anglepoise lamp behind and to the left of me, and hotshoe mounted flash dialed down to -2 compensation. I did experiment with bouncing the flash but direct actually worked better which surprised me a little. Initially there were a few awkward shadows just in front of the rings but these were dealt with first via levels to blow out the background as far as possible, and secondly by a little dodging where needed. The macro lens comes out so seldom it scarcely seems I can justify having it, somehow. Every now and again though I get the inspiration for a project something like this, and it just makes sense, and I love the challenge of using it. Not being naturally the most controlled and patient of people, I feel it must benefit my photography to accasionally slow everything down and use a piece of kit that actually demands a cool head and a little planning.


Saturday 9 February 2008

Hebrides Countdown 2008!

Time for this to start again I think - just under 5 weeks until we leave now and to say we're looking forward to it would be an understatement!
The beach to the right is on Eriskay - which is the small Island to the south of South Uist now linked by causeway. We've had some lovely walks up the hill this is taken from, and this day last year (when we were heading down to catch the ferry across to Barra, but missed it as we misjudged out timings!) is no exception. As ever with these shots I must point out that whilst its had the usual levels, curves and sharpness adjustments through photoshop, it has not been adjusted for colour at all and yes the sea really does appear this blue! Stunning, isn't it!

Saturday 2 February 2008

One from Sunday morning this time - as you can see once again the weather was kind to us - more beautiful blue skies! The cathedral itself at Sacre Coeur is stunning - a quite amazing building. I have to say that in spite of it being quite clearly false and trading off its reputation, I also liked the Montmartre area - tacky gifts shops, roaming "artists" and all! We were impressed that our regular metro tickets also worked for the furnicular railway running back down the hill - this is just the sort of thing that, in the UK, someone would be taking the opportunity to make a few more £££'s from the tourists!

Possibly still a few more of these to come....they are now on my webshots 4 album if you want to take a look though.


Saturday 26 January 2008


Oh dear - FOUR months since I've last been here? Oops. Sorry to anyone who's missed it (well, that's my Mum then!) and I promise to make the effort to post a bit more regularly from here on in.
No prizes for recognising the shot on the right - yes, we finally made it to Paris! It's somewhere I've always wanted to see, but it's taken me a few years to persuade Ben back as he didn't particularly like it when he visited before. I'm pleased to report that he found it a lot more enjoyable this time round - it must have been the company! Eurostar makes the journey so easy now - even for out-of-towners like us - particularly with St Pancras International being on the Victoria line it makes for a simple trip. We only went for a weekend, but we had the whole of Saturday and nearly all of Sunday to do the sightseeing we wanted to do, and I have to say I absolutely loved the place. One thing though, if anyone can tell me how you ask in French for a standard black coffee without getting an espresso, I'd be most grateful! ;-)
There will be a few more pictures from the trip to come on here I should think - and if you want to see the whole batch then keep checking on my "webshots 4" as they will all be up there before too much longer I hope.