September 22nd, 2013

Firstly an apology. It’s been far too long since I’ve posted on here – sorry! I’ve returned to find that every post has several thousand comments, so if you are looking for cheap designer handbags or Viagra, I’m your man 😉

Because of all the spam, I’ve changed some of the settings. I hope this doesn’t prevent any of lovely friends from posting – if it does, let me know via Facebook or Twitter.


Anyway, on to the matter in hand……….

I’ve given up smoking. Hurrah! Finally after 29 years, the tobacco is in the bin and I am not missing it one bit. My secret? E-cigarettes (or “vaping” to those in the know). Instead of burning tobacco leaves to get my nicotine (along with carbon monoxide, tar and numerous carcinogens) I’m inhaling nicotine contained in a non-toxic vapour instead.  Apparently the vapour is the same stuff they use to make stage smoke in theatres. I am in danger of becoming a bit of a boring born-again vaper. So I’ll restrain myself to just saying that:

  • its much cheaper than smoking (I’m saving £20 a week);
  • its much healthier than smoking (scientists struggling to find any health impacts at all);
  • its harmless to those around me (general scientific consensus on this);
  • you can choose the flavour (I’m trying apple at the moment);
  • my sense of smell and taste has returned;
  • my lung capacity has returned;
  • I can still go out for “smoke”, have a “smoke” break, have a “smoke” with a beer (indoors in some pubs) and best of all it feels like smoking (but nicer);
  • its more convenient (charge the battery overnight, fill it up in the morning and its good to go all day);
  • there are gadgets involved 🙂

As you can imagine I’ve been working Google pretty hard on the subject, and it turns out there’s a big debate going on between the vaping community and the health professionals. The heath professionals including the BMA argue that e-cigarettes  could be a new exciting route into nicotine addiction for children; the doomsday scenario being a whole new generation of nicotine addicts vaping or moving on to traditional smoking (“analogue cigarettes” is the delightful term coined by the vapers). They seem to be fixed on every nicotine addict quitting and for nicotine use to die out altogether. So the argument from the health professionals is that e-cigarettes should be licensed as a medicine for treating nicotine addition, just like patches etc. Sadly, its not hard to predict the future if they get their way (plastic packets only available in chemists after medical advice with ridiculously low nicotine doses; massive increase in cost; destruction of an emerging industry; and many of the 1.3M vapers in the UK returning to smoking). One has to wonder (and the vaping community does) whether the interests of the government (tax revenue) and the big pharmaceutical companies (who make big profits from nicotine replacement products) are at play here. However, being a regulator myself, I just think that the BMA and their like just can help regulating things. For several decades millions of pounds have been thrown at the smoking problem (with little success) and they just can’t get out of the old mindset.


The inconvenient truth is that nicotine on its own isn’t actually that harmful at the doses found in vapour (or a cigarette), its the combustion products that kill people. Now, I’m not sure I swallow the line that nicotine is no more harmful than caffeine, but I’ve read a few academic articles and its very definitely much, much better to vape rather than smoke. Vaping is going to save many, many lives over the coming decades; but only if it is allowed to flourish and become established. The point constantly missed is that many smokers don’t really want to give up nicotine. I don’t. I just don’t want to die early.


The whole issue is being considered by the EU at the moment, and its getting scary. If you see a petition on the subject please take the time to get involved and if you (like me) oppose the over regulation of e-cigarettes put your name on a petition. You may just help save some lives.


There’s loads of fascinating stuff on the subject on the internet:


This article talks about nicotine addiction, smoking and vaping:

This article speculates on the motives of the BMA:

This video by a lovely lady who goes by the tag “Caerulea Sea” really resonated with me:


Anyway,  I’ll let you know how I get on.






Grey Snow?

February 5th, 2013

Ever taken a picture in the snow and experienced the disappointment of it turning out all grey?

The automatic exposure meter built into your camera works on the basis that most scenes have roughly equal proportions of light and dark tones; the average being a mid grey tone. So, left to its own devices the meter will choose an exposure which produces grey. In most situations it works pretty well, but not when the scene being photographed is predominately light toned (or predominately dark toned).

To make snow look white, the photographer needs to instruct the camera to apply more exposure than the meter recommends; typically 1 or 2 “stops” (each stop is a doubling of exposure). The exact amount will depend on what proportion of the photograph is snow, and the particular characteristics of the camera’s meter. How you achieve this in practice depends on your camera. Some models have a “snow” setting which adjusts the exposure by a set amount. Better cameras have an exposure compensation feature which allows the photographer to manually dial in an increase in exposure, and adjust it as they go along. DSLRs and some high end smaller cameras allow full manual exposure control.

I like to work in manual in snowy conditions like the example below. Usually the sky is overcast, and the light is very even and consistent; which means that I don’t need to adjust exposure every time I take a picture. In fact I can sometimes leave the camera on the same exposure setting for hours.


This picture was one of a series I took of Merlin in the snow. I particularly wanted to get some action shots, so I choose a high shutter speed (to freeze movement) and a large-medium aperture (letting in plenty of light); raising the ISO setting until the exposure was correct i.e. the snow was white not grey. My camera has an aid to help find that point. The blinking highlight display on the LCD shows me when something in the picture is so white that no detail is recorded (i.e. I’ve gone too far).

Once I was happy with the test shots I could snap away all afternoon without changing anything 🙂


It’s been a long wait……

December 13th, 2012

I have a list of future photographic assignments in my head. Some of them are promises made to others (I owe the next door neighbour some portraits of her children); some are creative ideas inspired by other photographers work/magazines etc; and some are specific locations I’ve visited in the wrong light, or in the wrong circumstances.

For the last 15 years or so I’ve driven past a particular field containing a solitary tree on a reasonably regular basis. I forget when I first recognised it’s potential, but for some time I’ve been meaning to find half an hour to stop off and take a picture. It’s right by a dual carriageway, with no obvious means of access, so one evening a few months back I looked up the location on Google Earth and worked out how to reach it from a back road. Finally, on Wednesday morning a cancelled meeting gave me the opportunity to stop off briefly and take a few pics. Here is my favourite one:


Unlike many photographers, I tend to prefer muted colours and often choose to partially desaturate images. Half way between black & white and full colour can be quite atmospheric. When I was processing this one I stumbled across a new way of achieving subtle colour. I transformed the image to black & white and then used a removal tool to partially reverse the process radiating out from the position of the sun. So in the completed picture the right hand side has some colour and the left hand side has less. It’s rather as if the colour is being applied by the sunlight.

I like it. I hope you do too.

I can’t get no……

December 3rd, 2012

Photographic opportunities have been in short supply lately. I’ve been really busy at work and at home (fixing broken fences, doors, tumble-dryers etc), and I’ve largely failed to make the most of the beautiful autumn colours.  It can be really frustrating watching lovely sunsets/sunrises from an office window 🙁

I was determined to press the shutter a few times over the weekend and on Saturday took the girls up to Ditchling Beacon. I managed to get a couple of OK shots, but nothing really new or spectacular. It left me feeling rather unsatisfied.  

On Sunday I delayed the dog walk for late afternoon sun, but alas the weather let me down; so I tried taking a few extreme wide-angle portraits of Merlin instead. The results were wacky to say the least. Here’s an example taken at the widest setting (10mm):


The distortion is extreme so close up, and I have other pictures where he seems to have no body at all!

Getting him to stay still was a real challenge, and achieving successful focus was hard (lots of trial and error). It might not be immediately obvious from the photo, but his nose was less than two inches from the lens! I made use of some left over roast chicken to coux him into posing.

 For this shot I bounced the flash over my left shoulder to soften it; but the light hasn’t turned out as even as I would like. Still; I’m rather pleased with the result 🙂

Looking up ^

November 19th, 2012

Autumn is my favourite season for photography. As the days are relatively short, the best photographic light (just after dawn and just before sunset) occurs during normal waking hours; meaning I don’t have to try (and fail) to get up early or stay up late. Here in the UK, the sun is relatively low in the sky all day during winter, and from autumn onwards daylight is so much more attractive than it is in summer.

However, what I like best about autumn is the display provided by our native trees. I never seem to have enough time to do it justice, but over the last couple of weeks I’ve snatched a few walks in the woods and captured some of the display. I’m still happily playing with my new wide-angle lens, and have enjoyed pointing it straight up at the tree canopy. At the moment the oak trees seem to be the last to lose their leaves, and here is a shot of a solitary oak taken from below. 


The surrounding beech trees have caused it to grow very tall and thin with all the leaves at the top. I like the way the wide-angle lens makes it look like the beech trees are all leaning in. 

Photo Products on Zazzle

November 11th, 2012

create & buy custom products at Zazzle

A friend put me on to Zazzle; a site where you can create various products with photographs. I thought I’d give it a go, and much to my surprise have already made a couple of sales 🙂

Ash die-back disease (Chalara fraxinea)

November 3rd, 2012

I purposely choose a woodland walk today to see whether I could spot any signs of this horrible disease which has decimated Ash populations in Europe. Reports of it appearing in Suffolk and Norfolk are really concerning. Apparently Denmark has lost 90%  of its Ash trees to the disease.

I’m pleased to report that I didn’t find any obvious signs on the Ash trees in Stanmer Park. I did however come across this interesting fungus living on a dead branch:


The Forestry Commission website has lots of information about the disease here  including a guide to spotting diseased trees

Hidden Treasure

October 29th, 2012

We set about clearing out the the loft at the weekend and I came across an old air rifle.


Curious to find out a bit about it, I started trawling the internet. Unfortunately there are no markings to give any clue as to the manufacturer, just the numbers “11 31” on the breach.


Eventually after looking at lots of photographs on Google images I stumbled across the Vintage Diana Talk forum:

According to the resident experts its a Diana Model 32  .177 made in Germany and manufactured in November 1931 (hence the 11 31). Apparently its quite rare! There was only a short production run, and its barely mentioned in any of the surviving literature from the time. Garvin on the forum sent me this catalogue entry:


“Gezogenem Lauf” means rifled barrel, so it seems I have the 927 version which could be purchased for RM 34.

Its a bit battered and rusty, but still fires just fine. I’m going to ask the guys on the forum how to go about restoring it and replacing the missing front sight. I feel it deserves a bit of TLC having survived for 81 years!

Lucy Enjoying the Environment

October 15th, 2012

I’m very happy, as I found out this morning that this picture of Lucy has won the Environment Agency staff photographic competition 🙂

Lucy in the flowers

Judges’ comment: “This image is really engaging and strong both technically and aesthetically. The lovely low angle and short depth of field of the girl in the field with flowers works really well. It brings back memories of childhood summer days” 

My picture of Rachel on the rope swing (see earlier post) was also short-listed.

I only entered the winning picture because it was so popular on Facebook.  I’ve always liked it of course; but it’s by no means my favourite – I like the picture of Rachel better.  I’ve always found it hard to judge which of my photos will prove popular with other people.  I tend to like the ones which are unusual or were harder to create; whereas this one is quite conventional and was pretty simple technically.  One of the reasons I appreciate people’s comments/likes on Facebook, Flickr etc so much, is that they help me know when I’ve got a good one.  So thank you everyone!


October 6th, 2012

It was my birthday this week and Annie bought me a new lens; a 10-20mm Sigma ultra wide-angle 🙂 By far the widest lens I’ve ever owned!

So, I put it on the camera and started snapping away. The first thing you notice is just how much appears in the viewfinder. You really do have to think about making sure your feet don’t make an appearance! Objects that are 10 or 20 metres away become almost insignificant in size, and you have to get really close for an object to appear reasonably large in the viewfinder.

Getting that close introduces distortion, which can be fun! You can see it clearly in this picture of Poppy. The camera was less than a foot from her nose, and the enlargement of her nearest eye and ear makes her look quite sinister I think:

Wide angle poppy

Composition becomes is a lot more challenging than normal because there is so much included. Backgrounds definitely have to be clutter free (unlike the picture above!) A small change in camera position can change the image really dramatically.

Of course the classic use for an ultra wide angle is landscapes. I took the new lens out to the beach earlier today (complete with protective filter to keep off the salt spray of course) and took several shots. I just love the way you can get so much sky in!

Hove beach

As you have probably already guessed, I am loving my new toy. It’s such fun to use 🙂 Thank you Annie xxxx

In demand

September 27th, 2012

It’s been an eventful couple of weeks for me photographically.

Firstly I was contacted out of the blue by getty images asking if they could sell some of my photographs 🙂 It seems they have a team that trawls through Flickr looking for marketable photographs. The paperwork was a bit of a pain, but I now have 9 images on sale! I don’t think I’ll be giving the day job up just yet, but I’ll be pleased as punch if any of them sell, and a little extra income would be handy. Here’s one of the images in question:

Lucy at the Beach

Secondly, I took a series of portraits of my fellow managers at the Environment Agency for use on internal posters etc. It was my first serious portrait session involving non-family members and they turned out really well 🙂

Thirdly, I submitted some photographs to the internal Environment Agency photo competition. Should know if they are going to be used in a few weeks time, but I’ll be really pleased if one ends up on an Environment Agency publication at some point. Fingers crossed!

Enjoying the Environment

September 4th, 2012

I’m thinking about entering the Environment Agency photography competition. There’s no prize as such, but I think it would be rewarding to take some pictures with a specific purpose in mind. The theme is “People Enjoying the Environment”.

I had a day off today to mind the children, so I took the girls up on the downs and tried a couple of ideas. I particularly like this one, although Lucy is rather small in the frame. If I get time I might go back again and try the same thing with a different angle.

Lucy on the downs

Nothing complicated about this technically. There was plenty of light; so I was able to choose a medium aperture; a high shutter speed to freeze the movement; and a low ISO for best quality. Ideally I’d have taken it later in the day, but from this angle the harsh mid-afternoon sun hasn’t harmed the image too much.

Trees in the wind

August 26th, 2012

I love trees, and my favourite place in hot weather is the woods, but I never seem to quite manage to capture the magic of woodlands with my camera.

For some time I’ve been a subscriber to an amazing internet forum frequented by many professional, semi-professional and serious amateur photographers. A few weeks back John Farrar, a photographer I admire greatly, posted a wonderful picture of some oak trees. He’d used a neutral density filter to blur the motion of the leaves, and had created a very powerful image.

It was partly his picture that inspired me to get the “big stopper” neutral density filter. Ever since it arrived I’ve been dying to point it at some trees, and here is my first attempt:

Blurry beech tree

So you can see the effect, here is the same view taken without the filter:

non blurry beech tree

The blurring of the leaves have made the branches of the tree really stand out and I’m quite pleased, but at the same time I can see ways to make this image much stronger. Watch this space for better pictures as I perfect the technique (hopefully) 🙂


August 24th, 2012

For one reason or another we decided not to book a traditional family holiday this year.

Whilst we have saved ourselves the money we would have spent on travel, accommodation etc; there was always the risk that we wouldn’t feel like we’d had a break. However, I am happy to say that as my return to work next week approaches, I don’t feel like that at all. Since my last full week at work I’ve (in no particular order):

  • been out for a meal for Annie’s birthday;
  • spent a weekend camping in Weymouth;
  • attended my dad’s 70th birthday party;
  • watched a lot of the Olympics as it happened;
  • spent the day on a London Sightseeing tour;
  • visited the Natural History Museum;
  • had two full days fly-fishing (one successful, one less so);
  • been to the beach several times;
  • caught up with old friends over a few beers;
  • entertained new friends over a few beers;
  • taken James and his teenage friends to Suffolk to watch Ipswich beat Bristol Rovers in the League Cup;
  • had several BBQs;
  • visited Drusilla’s zoo;
  • entertained relatives;
  • taken the girls swimming;
  • been to the cinema;
  • had lots of long dog walks in the woods and on the downs;
  • visited Raystede Centre for Animal Welfare;
  • taken lots of photos and tried out a few new techniques;
  • caught up on a few essential chores e.g. a little DIY / essential clothes shopping / school uniforms for the new school year; and most importantly;
  • spent lots of quality time with Annie and the kids

Still to come is the Medieval Festival at Herstmonceux Castle tomorrow ; and a trip to Thorpe Park on Tuesday with a car full of teenage boys (gulp!) for James’s 14th birthday.

All in all, not bad at all; and I reckon I’m just as brown as I would have been from a Spanish beach holiday 🙂


August 23rd, 2012

This afternoon we visited the Raystede Centre for Animal Welfare at Ringmer near Lewes.

What a great place! Very well organised, and lots of very happy animals – some with quite sad histories. Our favourites were probably these donkeys, who enjoyed being fed blackberries 🙂

Donkeys at Raystede

It was obvious the animals were being extremely well cared for and the staff created a lovely friendly atmosphere. I was half expecting that slightly unwelcoming snobby attitude I’ve encountered from certain individuals in charitable organisations in the past (mentioning no names R*P*A).

It was free to get in, so we spent some money in the cafe. I will certainly keep an eye on their website/Facebook page and consider getting involved in some fundraising at some point. Perhaps I could take some pictures for them?

Talking pictures, this one was pretty straight forward. I set the lens to its widest setting (18mm) and got as close as I could. I used a smallish aperture to get both donkeys in focus; although if you look closely the eye on the right-hand donkey is a little soft, so I should have gone one aperture smaller 🙁 We live and learn!

Big Stopper

August 17th, 2012

Last week I treated myself to a new neutral density (ND) filter. A neutral density filter acts like a pair of sunglasses for the camera, reducing the amount of light reaching the sensor. Most commonly they are used either: to allow the use of a larger aperture (lens opening) for reduced depth of field in very bright conditions; or to allow the use of a slower shutter speed for blurring moving objects.

In my case I had a very specific effect in mind – blurring the movement of waves and/or trees blowing in the wind. After a bit of research I decided to go for a 10 stop “big stopper”. Maths isn’t my strong point; but each stop is half the light so: 1/2 the light gets through a one stop filter, 1/4 through a two stop filter, 1/8th through a three stop filter etc. My new filter transmits only 1/1000th of the light striking the camera, and I had a bit of a shock when I held it up to the light. Nothing seems to come through at all!

Here is my first attempt at blurring the sea which I’m quite pleased with 🙂

View West from Ovingdean Beach near Brighton

Its a bit of a palaver to use because once the filter in in place there isn’t enough light to see through the viewfinder; or for the camera to calculate the exposure or focus. Using it means first setting up the camera on a tripod without the filter, then manually calculating the exposure after the filter is added.  This image needed 20 seconds, which was enough to turn the sea to mist.

The arresting power of flash

July 31st, 2012

My experiments to master my flash gun continue.

This weekend I tried a couple of different approaches to freezing a moving subject (Rachel on a rope swing). Firstly, using a fast shutter speed and high speed flash sync to freeze the scene, and secondly panning with a slow shutter speed to blur the background relying on the flash to freeze Rachel’s movement. I much prefer the second picture. Here is the result:

Rachel on the rope swing

Softly, softly, catchy Monkey

July 31st, 2012

I have concluded that you have to be patient and pick your moment when photographing teenagers.

Since I watched a Creative Live session on photographing High School Seniors I’ve been thinking about how I might get some contemporary portraits of James and/or his mates. Unfortunately, posing for photographs isn’t very cool (apparently).

Eventually, like planets coming into alignment; a pressing need for a new Facebook profile picture coincided with an early evening (nice light) trip into town on the bus and a lack of girls to be embarrassed in front of. This is my favourite picture from the ride:

James on the 22

Hot, hot, HOT; busy, busy, BUSY!

July 26th, 2012

Well, what a change in the weather! First we have drought; then we have floods; and now we’re having a mini heatwave!

Meanwhile its been a very busy period at work, particularly for correspondence. We generally have only a few days to respond, and if a few come in together or in sequence a lot of resource gets tied up writing replies. My department has had several this last couple of weeks on a variety of subjects. When we get bogged down and frustrated I try to remember that this is the price of democracy. After all, we are spending tax payers’ money and the public have a right to know what we are doing about issues that matter to them.


    July 15th, 2012

    One of the few good things about this wet and windy summer (apart from saving us from drought) has been some great skies for photography; and whenever I see an interesting sky I try to include it in my pictures. Today was one of those days. To the East were blue skies with wispy blue clouds, and to the West there was a mass of dark cumulonimbus clouds.

    Accurately recording the sky and land in a photograph has vexed photographers since film was first invented. The problem is that there can be a big difference in light intensity between the sky and the land. The camera cannot always capture the whole range in a single photograph, and when that’s the case, we are forced to choose whether we want the sky correctly exposed or the subject correctly exposed. It is possible to get both correctly exposed, but it requires some trickery on the part of the photographer. Essentially there are three methods:

    1. Reduce the intensity of the light from the sky hitting the sensor by placing a graduated filter in front of the lens
    2. Light the subject so that the difference in light intensity is reduced to a manageable range (e.g. with flash and/or reflectors)
    3. Take two or more pictures of the scene with a range of exposures (covering the sky and the subject) and combine them in Photoshop

    Lucy on the beach

    For this picture taken this afternoon I exposed for the sky and used my flash to illuminate Lucy. A little tweaking in software was all that was required to make the sky really dramatic.