Autumn Sunsets

Last week turned out to be a nice week for sunsets, and this week promises more of the same. Alarmingly with the way that my roster is working at the moment I got to see a halfway decent sunrise this morning too, which is something I normally fight hard to avoid – but it did look nice and have some potential for early morning shots as well.

The roster is making things tricky at the moment as I’m working all hours at the moment, but work last week gave me a good chance to catch the first visit of a rather nice biz-jet landing at Cranfield at the very last knockings of the days sun. The Citation X is a beautiful machine and I’m still hoping to take the camera around it before it departs, but a silhouette against the orange sky worked out rather nicely…

C750 landing from Moscow

A Citation X on short final to runway 03 after a flight from Russia.

And the sunsets didn’t stop at Cranfield either. While I’ve spent most of the week at Cranfield I also ventured across to Hinton-in-the-Hedges Airfield near Brackley with the aim of photographing a friends Piper Cub in the setting sun. Traffic meant I was late arriving though and as a result didn’t get as long to play with the blue skies, but did get a couple of good shots of Damien doing some low passes over the airfield and approaching the runway.

GBVAF on final

The Cub on short final to  Runway 06 at Hinton in the late afternoon.

Damien got a great picture of his Cub sitting on the 06 threshold at Hinton while waiting for me to arrive, this can be found on his Flickr page. It’s a great shot and had the cloud cover not spoiled the end of the sunset I’d have had some more time to try a similar shot, and maybe experiment with flash or a bit of light painting on the aircraft too.

Sunsets always look better with some interest silhouetted in the shot in my opinion. It just so happens that this week both sunsets I’ve caught have included aeroplanes – albeit with each aircraft at either end of the aviation spectrum. Another shot I’m pleased with recently was at Pitstone Windmill as the sun set, great skies and something interesting in the foreground – a perfect recipe! Here’s hoping for some more nice skies over the coming weeks.

 

Be social!

The internet is a social place these days, sometimes almost too much so. Facebook. Twitter. Google Plus (if anyone actually goes there). Tumblr. Reddit. Flickr. So many different social networks. So many ways to keep in touch, to get involved, to comment and like or even dislike an image. This website is just the same, although perhaps slightly more subtly than some of the big sites.

My aim is to get this site to be more social, to provoke thought and debate and comment on my pictures and musings. Facebook is pretty good for that – I get lots of comments on there which are all great. To see more comments on here would be even better.

You can comment on the blog or on individual images through this website, and the site provides links to share images or blogs that you like as well through traditional social media. On the blog it’s easy – the comment and share links are at the bottom of each post. On the main photo pages it’s a little more subtle though, because I’ve always wanted the pictures to fill the screen without too many distractions. As a result of this you have to dig a little bit deeper to find the links, and it really is simple…just look to the bottom of the image and the toolbar.

Social Media options on the Photo page

The toolbar has a variety of options. On many of my pictures will be a summary of the image, which is hidden until you click the up arrow by the title on the left. On the right are the social buttons. You can share to Facebook, G+ or Twitter. You can email the image or get a link to it to embed in your own blog or Facebook or Tumblr. Next is the Comments button, which will allow you to post a comment on the image – the dialog box pops up (shown above on the left). Liking images is a very Facebook thing, but works just as well here – just give it a thumbs up with the button.

Further information on the image is available with the Info button, and you can also view the various image sizes that are stored on the website if you want to see something bigger. Finally there is the Add to Cart button, which allows you to purchase the image. No obligation to do so, but I’d be very pleased if you did!

So, the website is as interactive as you want it to be. I hope you enjoy looking through it and want to be part of it, it’ll be a better place with more involvement from you all. Thanks for being part of it!

 

The addictiveness of competition

My second year of entering the Buckingham Camera Club Photographer of the Year competition is drawing to a close, with round eight beckoning next week and my entries already selected for the competition and ready to be submitted. It’s been a tough second year in reality, and while I’m close to the position I achieved in 2012 on the final table in terms of points and success levels I’m well behind.

Last year was my rookie year, and on the final night of the competition there were three or four of us who left genuinely not knowing whether we’d won or not – it was that close. I ended up third, just two points behind the winner and one point behind second place. It really was that close. This year after seven of the eight rounds I lie in fourth place, 5 points behind my finishing position last year. The big difference between 2012 and 2013 is that currently I am 27 points behind the leader. No way will I be making that gap up. As a result my thinking has for the most part changed for the end of this years competition and I’m not necessarily entering my best images – why bother? I could keep them back for 2014 and hopefully get a better result.

But it’s not all about the Photographer of the Year competition. The Club has a variety of other competitions through the year – the Versatility Challenge I managed to win (see Versatility Assured) and we’ve got Colour and Monochrome Prints trophies coming up soon too. It all makes for an interesting challenge for me to see how my work stacks up against the other club members.

On top of that the Club selects the best images from all members which are then entered into regional competitions, and we’ve had mixed success with that – although a new way of selecting the images from the club pool is starting to bear fruit. I’ve had a few images in regional competitions, and one or two have scored very well. Ironically the ones that have scored well are ones that don’t seem to have done so well in the Photographer of the Year competition – and vice versa. And this is this crux of competitions – it is unlikely two judges will have the same opinion of the image. The next external competition I’m entering is XRR Visions, where I enter as an individual but the Club selects three members to represent it for the team trophy.

So, how else to get your work looked at? I’ve been experimenting with “Salons” – an International competition where your image is judged by more than one judge – which should help to give a more balanced view. I’ve so far had work judged at one salon – the Midlands International Salon – and have entered two more where judging has not yet taken place. There are several categories in each Salon, I’ve so far only entered the digital categories as the expense of sending prints in doesn’t seem worthwhile at this time. How did I do at Midland? I got one acceptance out of twelve images. The one acceptance I had wasn’t granted any awards, but as an accepted image was shown at the exhibition in the Summer.

Curious about the scoring I emailed the Salon Chairman, who kindly explained some more detail to me. Each of the three judges could score from 1 to 5, and an acceptance was 11 points or greater. He also pointed out that entering the Nature section requires a very different sort of photography – much more of a record shot, and no “cute” titles. One image I submitted was titled “Reach Out and Touch Someone” and scored very low. It wasn’t felt to be proper nature, and also the title wasn’t to the judges tastes – in Nature categories the judges prefer the title to be more about the animal – rather than a storytelling title. Good image, but not appropriate. Live and learn – I have a much better idea of what is required now for that specific subject.

So now I await the results of the Swansea International Salon, and later in the year the Smethwick International. Acceptances is my target for now, I’d be happy with more of those and that will only push me to try and make better and better images in the future. I hope.

My Club competition entries can be found here once the competition has taken place, and the external competitions are here.

Lighting the Nude – the results

Lighting the Nude. Almost a year after this competition title was announced the day has dawned, the entries have been submitted, and the scores dished out. And the final result? A mixed bag for me, but could have been far worse.

Of the eight titles for Photographer of the Year in 2013 this was the one that filled me with the most unease. I’ve never worked with models with clothes on, let alone without. How do you direct the model, decide the poses, discuss the shots? How to edit the picture afterwards and a myriad of other questions all ran through my mind. In the end it wasn’t so bad. I went on the Abbey House Gardens Art Nude course (see Nude in the Gardens) and the Camera Club ran a day in Padbury Village Hall where we got expert help from both the Chairman and the ever-patient models. So in the end I had a reasonable bank of images to select my final two from.

This round of the competition was a printed round, so as usual the prep took longer as you have to have the images printed and framed on mounts so they can be displayed for judging. I order my prints directly from this website and they are printed by a printshop called Loxley. The quality is always spot on, never yet have I had a print anything other than perfect. These days I also do my own mounting using card mounts purchased from Cotswold Mounts. Takes a little bit of time and I’m still perfecting the technique but saves a bit of cash and looks pretty good.

Mirrored Forks - Lighting the Nude / Open entry

My top scoring image in Round 7 – a 20 for my forks!

So how did my work fare with the judge this month? In the Nude category I had what I thought was one strong image and one weaker one. I love my Stairway shot from Abbey House of Suzanne, but the judge quite correctly pointed out a blown highlight in the pictures in the background, and also the bannister finial on her upper arm was distracting. The score was 16. Ironically the image I wasn’t so sure about – Curled – was complimented highly for its simplicity and use of negative space and was held back to the end, where it scored 19.

In the Open category I’d entered two images which I’d had printed for a while but not entered up to this point. One image I wasn’t sure about and figured wouldn’t do well, the other was a print where I had a choice of two for an earlier competition and this one wasn’t used. As expected the Blazin’ Blues shot was criticised for the “HOUS” on the left, and scored just 14. Not unfair, I’ve been looking at it for ages and had it been a projected image I’d have cloned it out. Mirrored Forks came as somewhat of a surprise to me. The judge commented that he enjoys coming to clubs to judge because sometimes he sees something he really wants to try – and this was it. He loved the lines, the  simplicity and the symmetry. Normally when a judge likes an image it is held back to the end and then the top images are compared again. Not this time – a straight 20! Very impressed with that, given that this image had been rejected for use earlier in the year by me!

As for the table in the competition little has changed. I’ve climbed one place into fourth, but two people that were ahead of me didn’t enter this round so in reality I’ve moved back a place. I’m five points off third place now which is the position I achieved last year but with just one round to go I am 18 points behind second place and 27 points behind the leader. With just one round to go I can’t see this changing and me bettering my achievement last year – fourth is probably the best for me this year. With the power of statistics the average score of the leader this year is 17.6 points, last year the title was won with an average of 17.53. My average score this year is 16.6, well down on where it should be. Last year my average was 17.47 – I came third and was just two points behind the winner. This year I have not come anywhere close despite me feeling my work is better than I submitted last year.

The final round this year is Reflections. I’ve got some good images for this category but I’m quite reluctant to use them when I have no chance of winning, so will enter some more “maybe” shots and see what happens. Then I can save what I feel are my best images for next year. Roll on 2014!

Star Trailing

The sky at night is a magnificent place, no more so than when out in the countryside on a clear night. Much of the United Kingdom suffers from light pollution to a varying degree, but you don’t have to go far for the sky to clear significantly of this pollution – and then the myriad of stars become much easier to see once the eye has adjusted. The sky is incredibly active at night – look up and you will see satellites faintly illuminated moving around in orbit and if the orbit is right the International Space Station is visible and incredibly bright as it streaks above the Earth with it’s crew of astronauts. At certain times of year meteor showers are very active, this year the Perseids were incredible in August – even if the camera missed them.

I enjoy taking pictures of the night sky, although living in Milton Keynes the opportunities are a little bit more restricted because of the light pollution from the street lamps and other sources. It doesn’t stop you from viewing the sky, but move out into the countryside away from the cities and you’ll be amazed just how many more stars become visible. Having been in the depths of Suffolk at Elveden Forest last week the opportunity arose to point the camera skyward and try and get an epic star trail shot from within the forest. The result was probably my best yet.

What are star trails you ask? I’m no astronomer so the explanation will be somewhat simple, but the sky isn’t still basically because of the Earth’s rotation on its axis, and all the stars will appear to move around the celestial pole – which in the northern hemisphere is very close to the star Polaris. Using long exposure photography or taking many continuous shots of the sky will allow you to build a star trail photograph.

This short video shows the skies above our lodge moving over an almost 4hr period on Thursday evening. The sky was mostly clear but you see high clouds whisking through with an orange tint from the light pollution. The video is probably best viewed full-screen as the compression affects the stars somewhat. I used the individual images recorded for the star trail shot for the time-lapse video – 433 images shown in just 30 seconds, with the obligatory music obviously…!

So what do you need to shoot a successful star trail? A sky free of clouds and light pollution is a good place to start obviously. A sky without the moon is also useful as the moon is tremendously bright and will wash out stars and the final image.  I also like to have some form of foreground interest – a windmill, a telescope, a derelict stately home perhaps – so the image isn’t just stars. In terms of camera gear I use my Nikon D600 on a sturdy Manfrotto tripod. In Elveden I used my 24-70mm f/2.8 lens as it was the widest lens I had with me, but if you have wider then great. Attached to the camera was my cable release, and that was it. The other essential ingredient is a lot of patience…!

Stars before and after editingI set the camera up in daylight to ensure the focus and framing was OK for the trees, then left the tripod outside and returned after dark. With the camera in full manual mode, I experimented to get the correct exposure settings for a little while, the idea is to get as high an ISO and as wide an aperture as possible in a 30sec exposure. I eventually settled on ISO 800 and f/5.6, I could probably have dropped the f/ a little bit more in hindsight. It’s all a trade-off between noise and the number of stars the camera records, try just one shot and you’ll be amazed how much more the camera sees from what you can with the naked eye. Once happy with the settings I covered the viewfinder (prevents light leaking onto the sensor as the long exposure records), set the camera to Continuous High-Speed shooting, and pressed and locked the cable release trigger. And off the camera goes.

Well I say off it goes but there is a “gotcha” to all this…if you are a Nikon user the continuous shooting mode cuts off at 100 shots. Hence why I set an alarm for 45-50mins and go out and reset the camera after that time. Simple enough to do, just unclick the cable release, wait for the shutter to drop, then reclick the cable release. A tad annoying though. Some Nikon cameras (mine included I think) have built in intervalometers these days which may allow you to take more than 100 shots, but I haven’t experimented with this.

When all was said and done I ended up with 433 star trail images. Above is a “before” and after split of how I edited them all up – it takes a bit of experimentation to get the settings right and a lot of it is purely down to personal preference. I shot all the images for this star trail in JPEG format, but I may have had more control on the editing had I stuck with RAW format – I had thought it would save space on the card, but in hindsight I doubt it would make much difference.

The finished star trail

Almost 4hrs of celestial activity above Elveden Forest. Wow.

So, what edits did I make in the end? I adjusted the white balance (reduced it slightly to make the sky less yellow/orange), nudged the contrast up a bit and desaturated the image slightly. By increasing the contrast I lost some of the fainter stars that were recorded on the unedited image, but it helped to make the final image better in my opinion. I then applied these settings to all 433 images and exported them from Aperture into a folder on the desktop.

That then leaves me with lots of images to combine into just the one.There are several ways of doing this – you can use Photoshop to stack the images, or one of a number of different free applications to do the same trick. There is a free app for the PC called “startrails.de”. and I use a free app on the Mac called StarStax, and it really is that simple – load the images in, select “Lighten” mode and let it work some magic. Job done, one star trail created.

You will notice that the foreground interest is much clearer on the finished product than on the individual image. This is due to the fact that I have stacked 433 images on top of each other using the Lighten blend method, so the finished image will be clearer definition. The stars are always moving so won’t get significantly brighter, but it helps the foreground for sure.

The final steps I took on this image were to turn the image black and white and to place a border on it. Why monochrome? It’s a matter of taste really, but I find that 9 times out of 10 the image looks better that way. Believe it or not but the stars are all slightly different colours – some are more blue, some are yellow, some are pure white. On a star trail with as many stars I caught in Elveden it all tends to end up a bit of a mish-mash, so monochrome neatens it up.

So that’s a star trail in a nutshell. It is a lot of work for a single image, but can make for a very interesting image and a completely different view of the sky and stars we may just take for granted gazing skyward at night sometimes.

Click on either image to go to my Astronomy gallery and see the images full-size, including some other star trails. 

Competition title carnage

The titles for the 2014 Photographer of the Year competition at my camera club have been announced. Oh boy.

For a while now I’ve been wondering what the titles were so I could begin working on them, and at club night on Wednesday we finally came up with them. From an original list of 66 titles submitted by the members we randomly chose the eight competitions to be used next year. They are, with the text that accompanied them as they were announced:

1. Signs of the Zodiac. Taking the literal and being creative the image should be based on something astrological not astronomical.

2. Objects of Desire. Perfect porcelain, pretty pearls, or tabletop with an exquisite attention to detail.

3. Pie R Squared. The area enclosed by a circle so anything round and flat (but not a circle!!!)

4. Mash ups. An image made up of several other images or elements. The image can be made in camera or in processing.

5. Bridging the Gap. The architecture of bridges, tunnels, even dams – if it is man-made and spans a gap it’ll fit in this category.

6. Patterns. Any image which demonstrates a pattern, from the close-ups on interesting architecture to a neatly mown sports field.

7. Lines. An image where lines make up the bulk of the image, buildings, ploughed fields or contrails.

8. Character. An image that will show the character of someone or something, a face or animal or building or a character perception in the imagination.

Stunned would be a good word to describe this lot. I’m to blame for two of the titles – Patterns and Bridging the Gap – and I obviously quite like them. Unfortunately Lines will be more or less the same as patterns so that isn’t ideal, and as for the mash up one – well. I can use Photoshop, but I’m hardly an expert. My skills are limited to light retouching and some colour tweaks NOT building an image out of nothing (or many images). The final nail in the coffin of next years competition seems to be Pie R Squared. That just doesn’t even seem to make sense, so no idea where I’ll go with that at the moment. Objects of Desire might be OK given that I’ve got a fair few modelling shots left in the library from this year’s efforts.

We now await the ordering of the titles. It won’t make any difference to the work we’ll have to do but will tell us which ones are printed images and which are projected. We’ll also find out the order of the titles, round one is in February which frankly isn’t far away. I hope that one of the abstract titles isn’t first, I’ve got nothing in the library for that.

So overall I think its fair to say that it’s a mixed bag of titles for 2014. The titles were chosen from what the members submitted and in an open, fair and random way so it’s just the way the cookie crumbles I guess. Overall though I’m hoping my 16 images in the Open category through the year will all be high scorers, because frankly the set subjects aren’t looking too good for me…

Party Season

A little over three years ago we met six other couples in the same boat as us – about to crash headlong into parenthood. The NCT course helped a bit with the impending arrivals, but more useful was the friendships formed. To this day those friendships have stood and the kids are all friends too, which is great news. The original seven children have also been added to in some cases, so now we have an NCT group of eleven with a twelfth on the way.

NCT in their course-planning wisdom arrange for the courses with all the parents-to-be at the same stage of pregnancy more-or-less, which made perfect sense at the time as we could support each other and know what was happening etc. Of our group Joshua was the first to arrive on 4th September and our Megan was the last arrival on 12th October – and she should have been later than this – but we were caught between two courses so obviously had the earlier one (it would have been embarrassing for NCT had they booked us a course on how to be parents which happened after the birth).

Joshua at his party

Joshua playing Pass the Parcel with his Daddy

Now a bigger nightmare is manifesting itself: party season. Four weeks, seven parties – soon to be eight parties. The kids love it, lots of party time and food and games and time with their friends but boy is it hard work for the parents!

So far I’ve been able to attend two of the parties – my work roster has prevented the rest – and obviously the camera has gone along with me. Photographing children and parties is obviously an art form, and probably one I’m I’ll equipped for. Kids just don’t stand still!!! You can’t really use flash as its too intrusive and there are just too many people around so I’ve been experimenting with high ISO settings and using the 70-200 f/2.8 lens with the VR turned firmly ON!

I’m lucky in a way really. Having upgraded from the Nikon D7000 to the D600 a year ago I gained a feature on the camera called “Auto ISO”. It does exactly what it says on the tin, boosts the ISO to meet the shutter speed set. On the 70-200 it is generally 1/200th which has meant in a village hall the ISO has been as high as 5000, very occasionally at the top whack of 6400. And the noise is impressively low on the D600, with very little post-editing the pictures are usable. Not competition quality maybe, but some nice little gems have come out of the two parties I’ve done.

Of course the other way of guaranteeing a good shot is to take flipping hundreds of them. Generally if you squeeze off five or six shots quickly of a running child you’ll get one good one, so setting the camera shutter to “Continuous High-Speed” mode gives you six frames per second, and the possibility with the D600 to shoot upto 15 shots before it starts buffering. At both parties I found I got a hit rate of about 15% keepers. The rest were trashed.

Thinking back to how people used to use cameras, I have no idea how they managed. Stick one roll of film at a specific ISO in and then take just 36 shots and have to wait a couple of days for them to be processed.  Mad.

I’ve got one party left to attend – that of our own pint-sized terrorist in early October. The camera will be with me, but I can’t help but think I’ll be a bit busier at this one so will hopefully have some support there too… Then the presents and parties can go quiet for a while. At least until Christmas.

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!

Versatility assured

Whoops. I’ve only gone and won the poison chalice of the camera club I attend. Didn’t mean to do that, honest.

Every year Buckingham Camera Club holds a “Versatility Challenge”. The titles are announced just two weeks before the competition, the idea being that you have to have the images for the subjects in your photo library. Five topics are announced and the next week the images are submitted ready for the competition. It’s all a bit of fun really, but unusually for a club competition there is money riding on it…

…the reason for this being that the winner of the Versatility Challenge gets free membership for the next year. Brilliant you say? Yes, I’d agree with that. Every little helps. BUT. The winner also has to pick the five titles for the next competition. OK, bit of thinking needed but not the end of the world. The biggest BUT is about to come…the winner also judges the next competition. D’oh.

Now, judges in the world of camera clubs have the worst job ever. My image is the best image ever, it’s better than that one, and whatever is said by the judge will be wrong. Not just my opinion, but the opinion of everyone – which makes things tricky. After every competition night there is invariably a heated discussion in the car and on Facebook about how so-and-so was robbed, or why such-and-such comment was made when it was blatantly wrong. These judges travel the country for petrol money and have a hard time frankly – although being British we are always very reserved and polite to their faces.

So next year I have the challenge of judging the work of my fellow club members, and somehow have to manage not to p*** anyone off. No idea how that’ll work, but on the plus side I’ve already got a reasonable list of possible titles. But that is a year away at present, so no point worrying about it just yet…!

The Versatility Challenge was jointly won by two members last year – Neil and John. John is a judge already, with lots of experience. Neil is like me, quite new to the club and very keen to sit at the back and avoid controversy. Neil and John judged jointly this year, and it worked pretty well. The titles were good, the comments were not bad either. The only criticism I have of the pair of them was that they made me the winner!

The titles were Playing with Fire, Film Titles, Up Close and Personal, This Green and Sceptred Isle, and Have I got News for you. Lots of scope for interpretation, particularly with the film titles, News and Up Close. My entries are below with the scores, and were good enough for an overall total of 91 – four points ahead of second placed Pauline, who was the real winner of the evening – second place is the perfect position in this competition.

So next year the baton passes to me. Five subjects and lots of images entered by my club mates  to judge. It’ll be fun. Hopefully.

19/20

17/20

18/20

20/20

17/20

Hiroshima Memorial

August 6th sees the anniversary of the WWII bombings of Hiroshima in Japan, and the day is marked by a memorial service in Milton Keynes. Run by the monks from the Buddhist Temple on Willen Lake this is an annual event which sees a service at the foot of the Peace Pagoda and then the floating of lanterns into the North Lake.

Now, every year I say “ooh must put that in the calendar” and every year I forget. Yesterday was no different and it was only when scrolling through Twitter at 7:30pm that I realised the service was starting. At 7:30pm. D’oh. Anyway, camera bag was loaded and ready so I headed out to the Lake to see what was occurring. The first rude shock was that the North Lake car park is now pay and display – until 10pm. Really?! No cash, hmmmm. Best sneak off round to the play area near Willen Church and hope I can park there. Yep, one space left. Phew.

Click on the image to view the Hiroshima Memorial gallery

A chanting monk beats the drum as the crowd moves to the lake.

Last year the memorial service was held inside the Temple because of possible showers, this year the weather was set fair so was held under the shadow of the Peace Pagoda on the low stage there. A variety of speakers from a whole raft of faiths made speeches, and there was some music as well. Lots of people turned out to watch the service and it all went off rather well. It was sombre, quiet, reflective, but at the same time people seemed to enjoy themselves there.

As the sun set the Monks led people from the Pagoda down to the waters edge and the lanterns were passed down to volunteers and floated in the lake. I was surprised how shallow the lake is – people familiar with Willen will no doubt remember the posts in the water near the pagoda – well, you can walk out there at the moment up to your thighs only, a far cry from the winter when the water was lapping at the pub door.

The only failing of the evening was the weather – not rain, but lack of wind. The lanterns bobbed merrily on the water but unlike previous years when I’ve visited they did not drift across the lake rapidly but meandered slowly in the opposite direction close to the bank, so the sight of the lanterns wasn’t quite as spectacular as previously.

Still, a very pleasant evening remembering something very unpleasant from the past.