Category: Trips

Clifton: One to Avoid

Back in 2013 I made a night-time visit to the Clifton Suspension Bridge in Bristol, and spent a bit of time photographing the bridge designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel which spans the Avon Gorge between Avon and North Somerset. A truly impressive piece of engineering, considering it is a century and a half old. Lots of angles to shoot the bridge from – from river level, from bridge level and way up at the Observatory so plenty of opportunity to shoot the bridge and get a good image.

Fiery Sunset

A fiery sunset shot from the base of the east tower.

Travelling southwest to Bath last week we thought we’d take the opportunity to head to the Clifton Suspension Bridge and catch sunset there. Spring is finally upon us, the trees are becoming green and the weather looked like it would co-operate, so why not? 3hrs on the road no problem, we could then have dinner in Clifton before heading into Bath and our hotel for the evening before the LRPS assessment day the following morning.

Normally I would check out a shooting location beforehand on Flickr or similar, to see what angles might be available or if there was anything unusual to watch out for (good or bad). I didn’t with Clifton, what could possibly go wrong with a 150-year-old bridge in Bristol?

The answer in one word: Scaffolding. LOTS of scaffolding. Completely covering the eastern tower of the bridge. Wasn’t expecting that. Doh. Speaking to the security guard the scaffolding has been going up for 7 weeks and wasn’t finished yet. When finished the summer would be spent re-pointing the tower and doing work on the lighting system before the scaffolding comes down in November. BUT. Then in February next year they’ll be starting the same work on the western tower – so that’ll be under cover for the best part of 2016 too!

So, a word of advice. As nice as the Clifton Suspension Bridge is don’t head there for a year or two expecting great pictures of the span because it looks a little off with a tower covered in scaffolding!

Back from holiday, back to reality

Well it was a good three weeks or so while it lasted but last Saturday the inevitable happened and we had to board one of Mr Branson’s jumbo jets and return to the UK. We returned to what was described as a heatwave so I guess that goes some way to absorbing the shock of the return – normally when we get back from holiday in early February there is snow or frost on the ground in the UK.

While out in the USA I had the MacBook with me and tried my best to keep on top of the photo editing in the evenings and when time permitted, but didn’t want to delete any of the original files until I got home so ended up filling about 250GB of hard drive space during the holiday…holding the original files in Lightroom and then exporting the edits to Aperture also increased the disk space usage somewhat, but it seems to be a workflow that is working for me at the moment so I’ll stick with it. I also haven’t published many images at all yet, I tried to choose a picture of the day and uploaded that one completed to Flickr. The rest will have to wait…

Splash Mountain

…and by the rest there isn’t actually that many. We’ve been out to Florida enough by now that I was aiming to get some good shots of Megan, and some of what I described to myself as “Wow” or detail shots from around the parks. Wow shots were shots of the quality I see on Flickr from so many of the photographers who are lucky to call Walt Disney World their home, and are able to visit regularly – different angles and shots that tourists may miss. How did I do in this challenge? Meh. I got a few good shots, but only three or four of my pictures of the day really stand out for me as images I’m really proud of – one of which is the shot on the right of Splash Mountain at night. You can view my other Pictures of the Day by clicking that image to move to the gallery of all 24 images.

Numbers wise it is surprising to see how many shots I took. I took about 6,500 shots in total over the 3 1/2 weeks we were out in the USA. Of those I have kept just 380 to be published, or synced to iPhones/iPads for display. While that number seems small I took 42 shots which were converted into 3-shot HDR images and a further 21 keepers were converted from 7 or more shots into HDR, so you could say in total I’ve kept about 650 shots. Ironically that tallies with my normal average of keeping about 10% of what I shoot – I’ve wanted to improve this average for some time but have never managed to for whatever reason.

Why take so many you ask? Good question, and I wish I didn’t. Some of it was down to experimentation – I’ve never managed to get good shots in the dark rides for example, but this time armed with better knowledge and camera skill I went in to the rides with a plan to get more shots. I got some good images in The Little Mermaid and Winnie The Pooh for example, but didn’t manage to get much in the likes of Peter Pan or Pirates of the Caribbean – both are significantly darker than the first two mentioned. Each time I went in a ride I tended to snap off 50-100 images depending on the ride, and didn’t spend much time looking through the viewfinder but rather snapping and looking – so the results and throwaway images will reflect that. Fireworks are another example where I take a lot and keep just a few – we saw the fireworks at Epcot and Magic Kingdom, and I set the camera up and more-or-less let it shoot for the whole time while I watched. I then kept just a few because at the end of the day who wants to see 200 fireworks shots?! Shots of Megan were few and far between this time, she seems to be at a “reluctant” stage with camera posing right now, so we just let her get on with it and enjoy the holiday.

So overall a great holiday with great weather (well, except a couple of rainy days but we coped!) and some interesting learning with the camera, particularly in dark rides. I really wish I could spend a whole year just photographing the parks and areas around there, just the odd night simply isn’t enough time to nail the perfect shot, but what I’ve gotten this time I’ve pretty pleased with. In the coming days I’ll finally finish tagging the rest of my images and they will join Linda’s images in the Florida 2014 galleries. Thanks for looking!

 

Back in London

My trips to London continue, although probably won’t happen again between now and the end of May due to other commitments. Each time I visit London I devise a cunning plan, a list of targets and a theme I wanted to work on. This trip I wanted to do some long exposure work and have a play with my new 10-stop ND filter, so the plan was to start at Blackfriars Bridge before heading to the Millennium Bridge for long exposure, before a river boat ride to Docklands to meet Geoff. After a bit of time in Docklands the general idea was to head back to Parliament for sunset and finally get some night shots of Battersea Power Station. So a lot of moving around.

Now, plans are all well and good when they work and everything is lined up nicely. The timings and everything worked perfectly and I even hit the right train home, which was unexpected. The problem is when the weather or other circumstances don’t co-opearate, then the plan needs to be flexible. The weather was fantastically warm with a breeze which I was hoping for to get movement in the clouds on my long exposure shots – all good so far. Problem was there wasn’t so much cloud as a milky white sky. Meh. My mistake was to persevere with the idea of long exposures rather than diving off into street photography or something that wouldn’t matter so much if the weather wasn’t giving the effects I wanted.

Anyway, it still worked out to be an OK day and while I didn’t get as many shots as I thought I might I still got a few, and have had some ideas for places to return to and try something different – plus an interesting day out with Stuart and meeting Geoff, it wasn’t a wasted day at all.

Busy Busy

Commuters rushing around in Reuters Plaza beneath Canary Wharf. Click the image to view the whole gallery.

Le Touquet revisited

The small town of Le Touquet on the northern French coast used to be a fairly regular destination for Linda and myself as flyers. We’d go two or three times a year at least, so it’s hard to believe that the last time we visited was April 2010. Armed with a revalidated licence and with the added bonus of Auntie Nic looking after Megan for a couple of days it seemed the time was ripe to make another trip to the Cote d’Opale.

The Westminster Hotel

The Westminster Hotel. Nice, if a tiny bit pricey.

Of course, the plan wouldn’t necessarily work would it? The aircraft planned to fly turned out not to be available. Typical. Plan B was for us to drive and use the EuroTunnel, and it’s a bit of a sad indictment of my attitude to flying these days that I justified this by saying “well it’s only an hour or so longer door-to-door than flying”. At the end of the 5hr drive though was the promise of Le Touquet, some French sunshine, boulangeries and a night in the biggest hotel in town – somewhere we’d walked past many times but never stayed in.

Travelling down was a breeze – even the M25 was co-operating. This posed a problem in that we had a 90min wait for our train, but not really a problem. A coffee and stroll later and we were on board and under the English Channel – not quite what we had in mind, normally we are a minimum of 2000ft above it! Driving in France was OK and we were soon in Le Touquet and parked up at the Westminster Hotel.

Le Touquet itself hasn’t really changed in all the times we’ve been. They’ve done some work to pedestrianise sections, but that doesn’t seem to stop people driving down there. The streets are narrow and the array of architecture is bewildering to put it mildly. The seafront especially has an eclectic mix of high-rise concrete apartment blocks and historic townhouses, all sitting side by side.

La Poissonerie

The Fish Market was busy in town.

The beach is golden sand and stretches for miles and miles down the French coast. Summer holidays were in full swing but still the place wasn’t too crowded. We wandered around, sat on the sand dunes, had an ice cream and headed back to the hotel for a swim before dinner in La Matisse which was as good as we remembered it.

Whilst in Le Touquet I was looking to shoot some numbers for an upcoming Club competition, but there wasn’t much to be found. I’ve got a few but nothing wow. I also wanted to try some minimalistic shots of the beachline and sky, which were good. Clicking on either of the images in this blog post will take you to the gallery.

After a leisurely morning in Le Touquet visiting the markets and stocking up on wine it was time to pile back into the car and head home. The only stress on the journey home was the carnage at Calais where both French Douanes and the UK Border Force conspired to make a process which took 30 seconds in Folkestone over 30mins. This time we were the last car onto the train and made it with 8 minutes to spare. Too tight for my liking but it was the only problem of the whole trip – otherwise we sailed through.

Overall the travel time door-to-door was just shy of 5hrs on the way home. This compares with a flying time of 1:20 as we used to do it, but when you add driving to the airfield and getting to the aircraft (40mins), pre-flight walkaround (30mins), post-flight admin (30mins), walk to the hotel (30mins) and not to mention all the pre-flight preparation to be done at home prior such as filing flight plans, checking weather etc. it was about an hour longer to drive. Hmmmm, not how I used to think but maybe I’m getting old and responsible now Megan is around…

Driving or flying though I’d receommend a day or two in Le Touquet. It has charm everywhere, lots and lots of restaurants, cafés and bars plus a sandy beach for the kids and lots of interesting things to see and do. Go take a visit!

On Safari…in Bedfordshire

Many MANY years ago I worked at Woburn Safari Park. With the animals? No. Well, sort of. In the kitchens in the restaurant/cafe area. Great fun when you are doing your A levels but not really my long-term vocation if I’m completely honest. Having left there at the age of 18 to begin my career in aviation I have never been back since, despite the fact that Woburn is only 15 minutes from my house.

With Summer having finally arrived in the UK and Linda being at work on a Saturday for an Open Day, it seemed like the ideal place for a Daddy-Daughter day out. Megan loves animals of all sorts, especially from a distance so sitting in the car seems ideal for a 2½-year-old. Being just me and Megan I felt the opportunities for photography would be limited by child-wrangling, so I traveled “light” with just my Nikon D7000, Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 and the Nikon 1.7x teleconverter, just in case I wanted to photograph the insides of a zebra’s nose. The D7000 wasn’t for the cropped sensor, although it did boost the zoom nicely – my D600 was in for a warranty repair with Nikon.

First off into the Safari and you are greeted by the Rhinoceros and other animals such as Zebra and Antelope. All seemed supremely unbothered by us pootling round in a car with Megan pointing and randomly hollering “Shoo” at them. Then it’s a trip into the largely fortified area home to the Black Bear and the Lions, before another fenced-off area with the cheeky monkeys. The number of times I’d hear people moaning about the monkeys eating parts of their cars, but following an Astra round with a monkey firmly clamped to the aerial just made me chuckle and be grateful I’d removed my aerial before we set off.

   

The central area of Woburn is much changed from when I was there back in the 90’s. The restaurant is the same building, but that is about all that is familiar to me. There are many more exhibits and areas to explore, and shows to see as well which I don’t remember from before. Megan as usual loved anything with a bouncy castle or a slide in it, so she was easily pleased – and we were even visited while we sat on the grass and ate lunch by a little marmoset monkey. Didn’t get a picture of him, he was off too fast when Megan started pointing and shooing.

If I have a complaint about the Park as a whole, it would be the lack of signs and signposting. The map they gave you was OK, but not the easiest thing to unfold and study with a toddler around. You could wander down a path and not know where you were, there would be an enclosure or an area but nothing to show what it was or how far it was to the next attraction. I guess part of this is that I’m rather more used to tourist attractions such as Disney which specialise in this sort of thing.

Overall it was a good day and Megan and I both enjoyed it lots (Megan will tell you she saw the lions on the second run through the Safari, but she was actually asleep!). I’ll certainly be heading back and spending more time with the camera – 24 shots is a pretty low haul for me on a day to somewhere new!