Archive for category Photography

2012, The Year In Review

So, another year over and a another reflection on what has been achieved (or not).

Things I’ve done this year

  • A single LARP
    • Victoriana. It was great fun and I can’t wait for this year’s game, although it’s probably a good thing that it’s not until September, as I still have lots to make for it.
  • Dress-making
    • I did enjoy this, but I didn’t like the deadline, the amount of work required, and more than anything I found I’m just not interested enough in clothes. Although, no doubt I’ll find it a very useful skill at times.
  • Underground Tour
    • This was really interesting and ticked off an item from my 101 list.
  • Fire marshalling
    • Technically, an ‘Evacuation Marshall’. I failed to step back quick enough when someone came around work looking for volunteers. So far though, we’ve only had a couple of evacuations, and as a bonus I get to shout at students.
  • First-aid
    • I was fortunate to get onto the work provided ‘First-Aid at Work’ course over the summer. This means I am first-aid qualified again for the next couple of years. The downside is that I have to be on-call for first aid incidents at work every four weeks.
  • Gardening
    • We have achieved a small garden. At one point it had tomatoes, strawberries, thyme, rocket, spinach and sunflowers. However, it was a terrible year for ripening fruit, so there was very little to eat and foolishly I didn’t make the most of the leafy veg when it appeared, so overall very little got eaten, except by the slugs.
    • I grew three Sunflowers for the Turing’s Sunflowers project. Sadly, I wasn’t able to count the seeds, mostly due to slugs, but it turned into a nice little photography project. More about it here.


I’ve put this into a separate section, as I’ve done a fair amount of travelling this year, with Paris being the highlight by far. It’s an amazing and friendly city, with so much to see and with a fantastic hotel to come back to at the end of each day (27th floor, woo!).

I missed not going to Centre Parcs last year, but I’m hopeful that a trip will be organised this year (and before anyone asks, I’m far too lazy, um I mean busy, to do it myself).


  • New phone
    • My contract expired and I kept running out of space on my old HTC Desire, so I now have a very shiny One S and a cheaper monthly bill.
  • New monitor
    • This has been an absolute necessity for editing photos and it has made a huge difference. Chris now has my old monitor with its slight blue colour cast.
  • Aftershot Pro
    • For the first time in many years, I’ve actually purchased a piece of software. I’m really pleased with it so far. It’s lacking a few features compared to Darktable, but its rendering of raw files, especially the shadow areas is much better. It’s also very fast and lighter on resources, and I can still use Darktable for the occasional photograph.


This is probably the biggest and most time consuming thing I’ve been involved with this year (as everyone who knows me has no doubt noticed).

Thanks to Ste Manns, I was given the opportunity to help out on a couple of studio photo shoots this year, where I had lots of fun and learned a huge amount about many aspects of photography.

I’ve started studying again, with a course by the Open College of the Arts. As a result I’ve:

I’ve also completed the 52 weeks project. The full set of photos are here:

52 Weeks

A couple of the photos were featured by the Guardian in the Flickr group, which I’m really pleased about. Also, a few of my sunflower photos were chosen for the Turing Sunflower gallery at MOSI and Manchester Art Gallery. I’m not sure yet whether I want to continue with another 52 weeks project this year or do something different..

Aims for 2013

Get fitter

I’ve not really done any regular exercise since moving to Denton. I want to get into a regular running routine this year and work my way up to 10km (I don’t think that will happen this year, but it’s a long term aim). The British Army Fitness book is lying around waiting to be read, and having had a brief look through, it seems to be just what I need.

Finish the Art of Photography

My progress has been much slower than I would have liked on this course. I really want to get my head down properly and finish it this year.


This year, Chris and I intend to visit Berlin. I would also like to visit a few other places (maybe as part of an extended German holiday). It would be nice to go back to Bletchley Park and London, and well, most places I’ve been this year, as well as exploring new ones.

What else?

I’m not sure what else I want to achieve this year, there’s a few smaller items, but generally it would be nice to see people more often and maybe do more table-top or LARP (but nothing too time-consuming or expensive or requiring too much kit, so this seems unlikely).

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Turing’s Sunflowers

This year marks one hundred years since the birth of Alan Turing, and in Manchester especially, there are lots of activities happening to celebrate the anniversary. I’m taking part in one such activity, along with thousands of other people and the Manchester Science Festival.

Before his death, Turing studied the growth of plants, as part of his research into morphogenesis. He noticed a tendency for seeds in flower heads to be arranged in a Fibonacci sequence, but never had enough data to prove this fully. So the Manchester Science Festival have designed a crowd-sourced experiment involving sunflowers to finish his work. This should help our understanding of how plants grow.

Alan Turing is well-known for his work in computing and for his part in code-breaking activities during the second world war. However, he also made contributions to other fields, including biology, where he looked at morphogenesis. This is the study of the processes that cause an organism to develop its shape; from the structure of a single cellular organism, to the arrangement of cells in a larger organism and even the structure of flower heads.

People are taking part in the experiment all around the world and at the end, the seeds from the thousands of sunflowers will be counted and recorded. The results will be announced during the Science Festival in the autumn.

I’ve documented the growing process of my three sunflowers from seed to flower..

Now, all I have to do is keep fighting off the snails until the sunflowers have finished flowering and the seeds can be counted.

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Turning Thirty

I’m not sure what most people do once they turn thirty, but so far I’ve returned from a holiday abroad, (joint-) hosted two house parties, been to the zoo, explored the hidden depths of the city, started a (admittedly small) garden, learned dressmaking, discovered how to fight fires, been to a live-action role-playing event and signed up for a university course.

I wouldn’t mind but its only been a little over two months. At least I think I know why I’m so tired now..

I’ve got some annual leave coming up and plan on spending at least some of it getting some rest!

Now to go enjoy the sunshine..

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Why I Take Photos and what Next?

For a while now I’ve been pondering the question of why I take photos. I don’t mean snapshots, I mean the thousands I’ve taken of birds or flowers or landscapes or museums. The ones that are pre-planned or taken as part of a day out. The ones that take hours to process in full, and may, if I’m lucky, get one or two views on Flickr. Surely there are more interesting and productive things to do with my time?

Well, I’ve come up with a few points of what photography means for me and why this (self-indulgent) hobby is important in general.

First, why do I take photos?

1. To make the ordinary seem extraordinary
Photography provides an opportunity to take a mundane object and make it look special. It also gives an excuse for looking at the world through a fresh set of eyes rather than walking blindly through the everyday. It forces us to actually look.

2. To remember
I have a terrible memory. Photography records things better than I ever could and means that I can look back on events with (near) perfect detail.

3. Creativity / beauty / art. Instantly.
I’ve tried learning to draw and I’m not bad, but it’s hard work and very slow. With photography, you get instant feedback and an instant result. Okay, so it may take hours to achieve and need processing afterwards, but it feels more immediate than other art forms.

4. Expanding knowledge.
You have to understand the subjects you photograph. For example, I’ve learned more about birds since I started photographing them than in the 29 years prior. Partly, this is by identifying the species after photographing them, but also partly by observing the birds, their behaviour and researching their habitats, so I can be in the right place at the right time.

Less personally….

Photography, and indeed art in general, often seems self indulgent to me. A bit of a waste of time, when there are other, more useful things potentially to do. But aside from simply being nice to look at, photos can have a positive impact on the world around us in many ways. For example:

1. Increase awareness (wilderness protection, endangered animals, deforestation, wars and famines, etc).

2. Inform us (medical, space, Google street view, weather, traffic, wanted posters, etc).

3. Help give a voice to the overlooked.

The purpose of this self-examination has been to think about what I’m doing, why and what I’m going to do next. It was triggered by realising that I have only a matter of weeks to apply for a higher education course before the tuition fees become prohibitive. I’ve not been in any rush to get back into studying, but I always figured I would do one day. After some research and consideration I have enrolled on a degree course in photography at the Open College of Arts. It’s a distance learning course, with, I think seven modules, each taking around a year to complete. The first module, ‘The Art of Photography’ is designed to get everyone up to speed on the subject and is a good standalone module, so even if I decide not to continue afterwards I will still have gotten something out of it. It’s also possible to gain a certificate or diploma if I decide not to go for the entire degree, which I have to admit at this stage is fairly likely.

I’m hoping this will provide me with more of an aim when taking pictures and mean that I can achieve something with this hobby.


Venturing into the Archives

I’ve been sorting through old photographs recently and found a few that I am quite proud of.

My first camera was a small, red Snappit, rather like this. I managed to take these photos with it, on a family holiday to Cornwall in 1988 (I was six years old) :

Cornwall 1988

Looe Harbour 1988

I’m not sure what camera I used to take these, but they were taken in 1989.

Giraffe at Longleat

School Trip

It’s strange looking through old film images. There’s a warmth and comfort about the photos that even the best Instagram filters can’t match.

Anyway, I’ll be posting some more recent photos soon!

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Photography: Manchester Below, An Underground Tour

There is a vast collection of tunnels underneath Manchester city centre and I have long wanted to explore them. In fact, the Manchester Underground Tour was on my 101 list of things to achieve. Finally, last weekend after booking a ticket months in advance, Chris and I went on one such trip.


The tour was two hours long and covered the area around the Midland Hotel, Manchester Central and Castlefield. The first hour of the tour consisted of a gentle walk above ground, while we were introduced to the Guardian Exchange and a number of canals and waterways used to transport cotton in the 19th century.


Some of the canals went underneath the city and it was one of these canals that we got to explore on the second half of the tour. The canal had been drained in the early 20th century and then used as a public air-raid shelter during the second world war. We were allowed to explore several sections of the tunnel.

It was dark and muddy and an interesting experience. It was possible to see leftovers from the tunnel’s history both as a canal and as an air-raid shelter. I was very glad to have a torch!


Overall, it would have been better if there were fewer people on the tour and if we had been able to see more of the underground tunnel system. However, it was well worth the £8 fee and muddy boots.

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Photography: Owning a DSLR, One Year On

It is nearly one year ago since I bought a DSLR camera. I figure I should finally write up the introduction to this type of camera that I promised back then.

What is a DSLR you ask and why is it such a big deal?

Well, a DSLR (or Digital Single Lens Reflex) camera allows the user control over the process of creating an image (they also happen to have excellent automatic modes, but where’s the fun in that?). It’s possible to control not only how much light enters the camera and how it enters camera, through the use of shutter speed and aperture. Due to a large sensor, it produces much better quality images than a simple point and shoot camera, it’s also faster, and being able to change lenses means I can experiment with macro, wildlife, landscape, sports and people photography (and more).

Of course, it’s never that simple.. the extra quality comes with trade-offs. For starters, it’s expensive; while a second-hand body doesn’t cost that much, having to buy various lenses quickly adds up. And that’s without mentioning the extras, like bags, flashes and filters. DSLRs are also nosier, bigger and heavier than point and shoot cameras. Not so good if like me you prefer to remain inconspicuous! There’s also the potential for dust getting into the camera when changing lenses, so careful maintenance is required otherwise you’ll be spending even more money at the repair shop.

The steep learning curve means that it’s worth getting a few introductory lessons when you first get a DSLR camera. I was helped by my friends at Quattrofoto and found their help and advice much better than if I’d just read a few books. I was also out taking decent photos much quicker too, which after all is the whole point.

Overall, I’ve learned much more with the new camera and had lots of fun!

Some useful links:

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Photography: Tethering to a Linux Netbook

So, I’ve been playing around with my Nikon D80.

Having been kindly given a tripod to play with I decided to practice with some still-life to help familiarise myself with the settings. To make things a little easier and to be extra-geeky, I decided to hook the camera up to my netbook. This should make viewing the shots easier and transferring the photos directly to a computer would save work later.

The expensive software by Nikon is not available for Linux, so I searched for something else and discovered GPhoto2.

GPhoto2 is an excellent piece of software. Commandline based with an optional ncurses UI, it is very simple but extremely versatile. It supports a huge variety of cameras, including full support for my D80.

I run Ubuntu, so installed GPhoto2 by typing:

sudo apt-get install gphoto2 dcraw netpbm gtkam gthumb

The last three being optional but recommended.

Next, I turned on my camera and set it to PTP USB mode (rather than the default mass storage mode).

Then it was just a matter of attaching the camera to the netbook with the supplied usb cable and asking Ubuntu not to mount it when prompted.

To take a photo simply type:

gphoto2 --capture-image-and-download

I found the following options useful to play with:

  • --force-overwrite Get rid of the annoying prompt asking if you want to overwrite an existing file (by default, files are always called capt0000.jpg)
  • --hook-script Customise the behaviour of gphoto by scripting some of the actions. In particular, to automatically open downloaded files. There’s a sample script at /usr/share/doc/gphoto2/
  • --filename photo001.jpg Provide a custom filename. Useful if you don’t want all your files to be called capt0000.jpg
  • --config A graphical menu of the many settings it is possible to customise.

The first photo always takes a bit longer as gphoto initialises the camera. After that it seems fast and reliable. Copying the photos to the computer and opening them in eog or gthumb was rather slow on my netbook though.

I found it simple enough to get the hang of and well worth having a play with!

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Photography: DSLR

Since getting a new phone nearly a year ago I’ve been taking photos regularly, helped of course by taking part in Project365.

I’m over halfway through Project365 now and while it’s been difficult at times, I’ve really enjoyed it at other times. It’s kept me thinking about photography and reminded me how much I like the hobby.

So, I’ve decided to get more serious and finally buy myself a proper camera. It was almost on a whim that I asked on Facebook about possibly getting a DSLR. The feedback I got since then (plus a bit of extra thinking and compliments about my photography) convinced me that I really should take the plunge.

After a week of intensive research, I have bought myself a second-hand Nikon D80 with a 18-105mm f3.5/5.6G ED VR lens. These are all words and abbreviations that meant nothing to me 9 days ago, but I’ve learned a lot since then and have been helped out by a number of friends. I’m still waiting for the lens to arrive, but I can’t wait to try it out.

I’ll be writing future posts on what exactly a DSLR is and how I get on with one soon.

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Project365: A third of the way through?

Right, so I have a dilemma.. I’ve been failing to take photos recently and have missed quite a few days in the last month. I’d still like to continue the challenge though. Question is, do I make it into a 365-day project or 365-photos? In a way the latter makes the most sense, but I prefer the former because it encourages me to continue trying to take a photo every day without it dragging on too much.

You can see the photos to date on flickr..

UPDATE: Since originally writing this post I’ve missed a few more days. I think I’ve accepted that it’s going to happen as my creativity and spare-time ebbs and flows. I still don’t know when I’ll finish the project, but most likely it’ll be when it ‘feels right’.

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