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July 2011

Special time

Kilchurn loch shore _GE05403-Edit_blog

It can take an age to get through the post-processing workflow when you have other claims on your time - so I'm only now finally getting round to making the most of the photos made in Scotland in early June. 

I've cleared the week's workload and gone from having a house full of people to its being more-or-less empty, which gives me the mental space to try to make the most of some of the lovely scenes I encountered.

One series I have just posted to my website was made in various locations on a misty morning, in that magical mood when there's no wind and the sun is climbing through a still, silent world of outlines and reflections.


Ladybird on boardwalk _GE08531-Edit_blog

Memo to self: don't forget to look down. 

I was in the 'Bear Woods' in Colchester, just for a stroll. I never tire of photographing the trees there. They are a mixture of oak and willow, mostly, whose limbs twist and intertwine in fascinating ways - and of course, being woodland, it has changed with the seasons almost every time you visit. 

I was on my way out when I made a conscious effort to study the detail of the wooden plank pathway that has been constructed along the potentially muddy trail, which has a chicken wire matting to reduce its slipperiness.

As I did, I almost stepped on a ladybird, stark red against the grey, weathered timbers.


Deer, Southern Highlands PB160106_blog

Deer, Southern Highlands

There are some jaw-dropping images in the  Veolia Environnement Wildlife Photographer of the Year contest - and this is not one of them!

Ordinarily I would not consider myself a wildlife photographer at all. However, my attention was drawn by the Landscape GB online magazine to the fact that some categories are about the landscape as much as the animals in it. So I had a quick rummage and submitted some recent photographs.

I returned from my sailing trip to find that the one above had made the 'semi-finals' - that is, the second of the three rounds of judging. So not a complete dud! I was chuffed about that. 

It was one of a series made on Rannoch Moor in Scotland during my wet and windy visit there last autumn, using the Olympus E3. I have several which show the deer in much greater close-up, but I felt this better fitted the category theme of animals "in their environment".

I cropped out a distracting patch of rock in the lower left of the frame, but left in the water on the right because I felt it balanced the snow in top left. 

UPDATE July 26: I was interested to know the numbers on this so - in the absence of information online - I contacted the competition organisers' press office. 

They say they received 40,490 entries in total, from photographers in 95 countries.  

As a matter of policy - interestingly - they do not reveal the specific number of entries in each category at different stages of the competition. (I submitted seven in three categories; clearly I suppose one's odds might be improved if you knew which were the less popular categories?).

However, approximately 12,000 images made it to through to the Semi-Finals and 1,000 images went on to Final judging. In other words, as I thought, "semi-finals" is not quite the same as, say, Wimbledon. 

Two "commended" images will be unveiled next month, and a further selection on 1 October. The winning images (category and overall winners) will be announced at an awards ceremony on 19 October.

The exhibition of images from the competition opens at the Natural History Museum, London, on Friday 21 October.

So now you know. 

Gang wars

The fateful moment when Romeo (right) intervenes in the fight between Tybalt and Mercutio

Hugely enjoyed the opening night of VFDrama's production of Romeo and Juliet at the Beacon Centre in Beaconsfield, Bucks - whose short run ends on Saturday.

An unquestionable highlight is the realism of the fight scenes. I say realism: I don't suppose many of us have any direct experience of sword fighting in the streets, but the energy expended by these young actors is phenomenal.

I know, having been there from day one, how much effort went into choreographing this action - essential, given how potentially dangerous it is. The swords they are using in the main fight sequences, by the way, are from the National Theatre's armoury. 

Anyway great fun to photograph too!  Nikon D3s with 70-200mm zoom at 1/125th, f4, ISO 6400, tweaked in Lightroom.

Rain and light


Rain and rainbows, Brittany

Very lucky to have enjoyed two weeks' sailing, from southern England over to northern Brittany via the Channel Islands and Iles Chausey - which chiefly accounts for the lack of blog posts recently. 

The Brittany coast is a fascinating sailing ground: pretty but fantastically rock-strewn and with an astonishing tidal range - typically more than 10 metres if you can imagine that. In other words when the tide is in it can easily swallow your average house, and then some.  

_GE06300_blog And when it goes out it reveals rocks that are ... bigger than your house. Navigation is more than ever by the numbers. 

We had great weather, for the most part: good breezes, and only one day's real rain - but some sharp late afternoon showers in the delightful little town of St-Cast-le-Guildo. This has a very new marina, with excellent facilities - albeit more exposed to (south-) westerlies than you might think from looking at the map. 

A five-minute walk away from the boats is a headland, with a huge cannon commemorating some famous battle they did not teach us about in school in England. Ah - probably because it did not go terribly well.

Anyway it has a marvellous view over the Pointe de Saint Cast and other headlands to the north, one with the magnificent Fort Latte, and beyond that, Cap Frehel with its lighthouses. 

As the heavy showers went through I huddled in the lee of a convenient large bush atop what was otherwise an exposed bluff, emerging to venture down the slope overlooking the sea to make my  photographs.  

The clouds were huge, the sun more-or-less broke through - and to cap it all, after about an hour's wait, a stunning rainbow (briefly, to the south, a double one) completed the scene.

I have a number of pictures from this location that needed minimal post-processing. I'm very pleased with them. 

We rounded off the day with fresh local seafood and a few pichets de vin rouge

His 'n' hers, back at the farm


Pigott's Farm, that is, with the VFDrama gang as they go into final rehearsals for their production of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, which opens on Thursday.

The main request was for 'family photos' - the Montagues (above), the Capulets (below) and the nobles, and separately our star-cross'd lovers.

I don't normally do wedding shots but that was what it most resembled, except that the producers wanted serious, even fierce faces rather than jolly ones. Stop smiling at the back!

Teeny bit of a challenge fitting them all onto my backdrop but it worked out ok. Lit by three strobes with only minimal softening. It's the harsh glare of publicity ... 


Day job


Spent a very pleasant morning photographing in a primary school on commission for an organisation that wants to remake all its promotional materials, printed and online.

They had asked my advice about imagery and I recommended they commission a photographer to shoot just what they wanted in a consistent style.  I think it's important to keep reminding people of the benefits of this in a world so swamped with stock images they sometimes don't even think of it - or do not realise how competitive the unit costs can be. 

The trouble with stock images is that they tend to look like ... stock images. In particular, in my experience, pictures of schools and schoolchildren have a tendency to look mid-Atlantic at best to British eyes. 

I'm pleased to say they entirely took the point and asked me to shoot in a primary school and a secondary school.  

The result was that they got dozens of images of real youngsters in real classrooms of just the sort they wanted, exclusive to themselves. Not only that but by arrangement with the client I am also able to offer a special deal for the schools involved. That's a win win win. 

Feedback? - "Thanks for this – the pictures really are marvellous."

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