I have heard much about the Bluebell spectacle that adorns English woodland during Spring, but never had I realised what are marvel it was until this past week. Taking a stroll through Kings Wood, which is nestled between Sanderstead, Hamsey Green and Old Farleigh in Surrey has always been a relaxing time-out, but the emergence of the Bluebells has given the woodland an air of wonder. The bluebells carpet the woodland floor going as far as they eye can see. Below are a few photos from a series which I’ve taken.
For more photos in this series checkout the Bluebell Gallery.
An early December cold snap blankets the rolling hills of Woldingham in thick frost. Below are a few photos from the Chelsham and Woldingham areas. Note to self, invest in gloves, my hands were frozen after a short while. You can see more photos here Serene Surrey
Two weeks ago I was in Seattle for a work-trip. Given this was the 7th or 8th time I’ve visited (lost count really), I thought it was high-time I actually got to see some sights, albeit in the early morning or the evening. As it happened, Wednesday 24th September was quite a unique event in Seattle, in that for the first time in 20 years, a Harvest moon would appear – essentially a magnified moon would ascend above the Cascade mountain range at sunset. Alas, I was in transit at this time, so I missed seeing this phenomenon – but I did venture into downtown Seattle for some photos of the Seattle skyline and the moon – should cloud cover would hold off. As it happened it did, and I was blessed with a very clear night, taking photos of Seattle from the great vantage point of Kerry Park, in the Queen Anne hill district. Below are a couple of photos, which I took under time-lapse.
Seattle, Elliot Bay and Harvest Moon from Kerry Park
Seattle’s Space Needle is the skyline’s focal point.
Note the time-lapse contrail
I’ve said it numerous times in previous posts that it never ceases to amaze me the richness of urban wildlife in London and it’s surrounding boroughs. Well, at the risk of sounding like a broken record, I’m going to say the same again in this post.
To put this post in perspective, I must mention that I grew up on the south coast of NSW, Australia – a country, as you know, famous for it’s diverse & rather unique flora and fauna. Wildlife was never too far away from home, with national park bush-land being minutes away in the car – but despite this when it came to our back garden, a major mammal event didn’t go beyond our cat, Patchy, chasing an errant field mouse. Yes, there were encounters with a few reptiles, like the ubiquitous little skinks that zap too and fro on the porch, and to the less frequent, once in a blue moon appearance, of the slovenly blue-tongued lizard. Unlike other Australian households which encroached on bush, we didn’t have the privilege or annoyance of a possum in our roof or a visit from a wallaby. No, we were in the Aussie ‘burbs.
In the somewhat larger ‘burb of London, however, encounters with wildlife appear to be the norm. Last year, perhaps making up for the absence of a childhood “possum-in-the-roof” experience, I blogged my chagrin about the family of grey squirrels living in our eaves and breaching my loft. And that was in London. We recently moved further out into neighbouring Surrey, and the urban mammals have just gotten larger. Foxes! Red Foxes in fact.
For a while I’ve noticed an adult fox sauntering through the undergrowth at the sides of our house, and on occasion stopping to rest under the swings in our back garden, usually in late evening. I have been endeavouring to take a photo, as she seemed quite predictable in her movements, but alas, by the time I had camera in hand, she had scarpered under the hedge at the back of the garden. I did finally manage to get a photograph through the conservatory window a fortnight ago, in rather bad light, as you can see below. But, I wasn’t content with this shot. Light poor, far too much grain and not sharp. I was resolute to take better photos.
Foxing the Fox
The challenge become even more titillating, when last week, the fox numbers multiplied. My wife took a photo of the same adult fox, but this time with 4 young cubs (or kits as is the other name for a fox young’n). As the squirrels had invaded our territory in inner London, these foxes seem to have claimed our back garden as their own. The shot below was taken with a Canon Digital Elph point and shoot camera, through our kitchen window.
In observing them in the late evenings, these cubs turn our back garden into a veritable playground. They spend a good hour play-fighting and rooting through our shrubs, occasionally tossing one of our garden bed lights aside when it gets in their way. Then on the weekend, I happened to have camera to hand in anticipation and this vixen and two of her brood decided to play underneath our back garden swings in the late evening sun. Much better light, and they were quite relaxed. Below were two photos I took.
Vixen and Cub
I was naturally happier with these photos, but I know I’m not going to get sharper unless I get a longer lens, or indeed set up a camera on tripod with remote trigger. I may try the latter in the coming weeks. I’ll make the most of viewing their antics, as come later in the summer we plan a repair of the rear fence, which will end their back garden incursions.
It’s not everyday you get to see the leader of a country, let alone be one of a small audience that has the privilege of listening to a prime minister make the case for his re-election. So, when I heard that MSN UK were sponsoring an election briefing with Gordon Brown this week, I jumped at the opportunity. As part of MSN’s election campaign coverage they sponsored this event, which saw questions being directed to the UK Prime Minister from people on Twitter, the official Labour web-site and of course MSN UK. In addition, those in the audience had the opportunity to ask questions directly as well. It was fascinating to watch, but what made it extra special was that I was able to photograph him freely, just like the number of official press that were capturing the event.
I used my Canon 5D2, and a 70-300mm lens. I favoured this lens as I wasn’t sure how close I would get to the Prime Minister to get some good shots. As it happened it was a good choice. I was photographing him and the event host from a short distance of 3m away. Additionally, I hadn’t brought a flash gun with me, as I wasn’t sure whether I’d be allowed given it may interfere with the coverage. So I opted to use a high ISO, ranging between 2000 and 2500 to capture the scene. The 5D2 revels here, and there is barely any discernable grain in the photos taken. I did some black-and-white post processing on a number of them too. There is something about black-and-white, which really reveals more of a subject’s character in the photograph.
Portrait of a Prime Minister
Of course the event concluded with the Prime Minister walking by me, so I took the occasion to shake his hand, and came out with the feeble “Thanks Gordon”. In retrospect, I wasn’t sure, what I was thanking him for exactly. But, I was certainly grateful for the opportunity to photograph and listen to him. I did find him very human and candid in his answers. And quite relaxed too, given the media onslaught he has had to bear in the last 12-18 months. No matter what your political opinion he does command a great deal of respect. All, I need to do now is think about who I’m actually going to vote for on May 6th. Yes, I’m still undecided.
While it is still barely the 25th January here in London, the 26th is well underway Down Under and of course marks Australia’s national day. To celebrate Australia day this year, I have a sister in London who is baking the enigmatic Aussie cake the Lamington, another sister in Birmingham who is baking Anzac biscuits (a bit early on that one), and as for me, well, I indoctrinated my 3 month old son, Ronan, into all that is Green and Gold this evening, by donning him in Wallabies kit, the official baby-grow for the Australian rugby union team. So as not to make him feel left out, Margaret and I also sported a Wallabies jersey. It was easier convincing Ronan of the merits of the Green and Gold, than Irish Margaret. But, my wife, will get her revenge on St Patrick’s day.
Happy Australia Day
I’d love to celebrate Australia Day with a schooner of Toohey’s New in the Australian bar in Covent Garden, but given my schedule and task list at the moment, I will be content with Vegemite on toast.
Today is the 28th September. A date significant in my family, because it marks the 41st wedding anniversary of my parents and also the 40th birthday of my sister-in-law, Meredith. It is also the day that seems to bring stunning crimson sunsets to London’s skies. This evening on my way home I noticed that the vault of the sky was cut by elegant wafts of orange and pink cloud. As I neared home, I caught the western panorama – and these clouds were scythed by the contrails of aircraft – and as you gazed towards the horizon, the clouds morphed into an undulating orange. It was truly sublime.
My initial thought with today’s photo was that these colours are quite typical of an autumnal sunset in London. This, because I had taken a similar photo last year. It was not easy to forget it, a stunning scene of crisscrossing crimson contrails. But after comparing both photos, I noticed that by pure coincidence that last year’s photo was also taken on the evening of September 28th – from the very same vantage point of my front bedroom window. Take a look at the two photographs. No doubt, the 2008 shot had more impressive contrails – but both are beautiful in their own right. One clear difference, is that this year’s shot was taken with a Canon 5D2 and a 70-300mm lens, and last years was a Canon 20D with an 18-55mm lens. Both photos have had very basic post-processing applied (levels and sharpness), so the colours are representative of the actual sunset.
In any case, it is a special day, so – happy anniversary Mum and Dad, and happy birthday Merrie.
I am often asked what kind of photography I prefer. In truth, this has been a difficult question to answer – because I get a real buzz from capturing a unique and striking image irrespective of whether it’s a stunning landscape, a wildlife shot, or a travel scene. My photography has evolved over the years, but my fires were certainly stoked from a young age by being able to capture some of the incredible natural scenery in south-eastern Australia. I still have the most amazing picture of an iridescent Fitzroy Falls in full thundering glory, which I took on a meagre Canon Powershot circa 1990. Nowadays, I still am drawn to nature photography, but this passion also extends to travel photography. In all of this, the underlying theme, is I like to observe something unique, and then capture it. I am the observer, and the camera the means to record it.
Recently though, I’ve felt I needed to up the ante in some areas of my photography and learn more about lighting, and specifically how to get the most out of my camera flash. While, I haven’t had much call to use flash in travel photography, there are times when I’d like to use it – and know when to use it – and get the best results. So, when one of my London Photography Twitter connections Carlo Nicora recently advertised a Shaping Lights Workshop in London, I thought “That fits the bill perfectly”.
I undertook this workshop last weekend. It was run by Carlo and his wife Fabiana – impassioned photographers who are as astute in their craft as they are creative. The first part of the day involved a couple of hours on light theory – photography lighting, that is, and not quantum physics, although Carlo did wryly inform that “Black Holes” are the only known phenomena to bend light. For the most part the theory reinforced much of what I had understood from reading, but it also gave me a better appreciation for synch speed and flash exposure. So come midday, I was chomping at the bit to apply some of these light learnings in a fully kitted out studio – something which I had not done before.
I had the opportunity to photograph 3 models that afternoon – which was another first for me. But perhaps the biggest realisation that afternoon was that there is one area of photography I have only just scratched the surface of. It wasn’t so much about lighting, it was how to orchestrate people to get the best photograph possible. Carlo and Fabiana throughout the day, enthused the mantra, that the relationship between model and photographer was critical for success – and even more so being creative with your direction – and open about it with your subjects. This I found very challenging. All of a sudden, I was no longer an observer, but in essence a choreographer of sorts. I had to push myself at times to get the desired pose from the models, and on several occasions I found that I was struggling for ideas on what poses would work. This in itself, interrupted the natural flow of my shots periodically.
So, you can’t be just the observer when you want people to deliver the portrait you’re after. You don’t have the luxury of thinking through the optimal composition – you need to communicate, direct and give feedback to the people you are choreographing for your photo in real-time. Playing the lone observer will create uncertainty in your subject and will ultimately result in a lifeless image. While, I was pleased with a number of the photos I took, I can pinpoint the ones where I struggled in directing the models. Interestingly, I still managed time to nurse my comfort zone and play the observer. I took a number of shots of the posing models – not using flash – while other photographers prepped their shoot. Below, is one such shot and it required a high ISO of 3200 to compensate for the low ambient light.
Observing – Model: Christina
Appreciating the photographer skill in directing a subject was an unexpected but welcome realisation for the day. My initial course objective was met however. I gleaned a lot about lighting and how to get the most out of the equipment, and while my photography passion lies in travel and the natural world – rather than the studio – there are definitely things I would like to try with off-camera flash – as a result of doing this workshop. Of course, knowing how to take great portraits of people is a skill that any photographer should have in their arsenal – even if it’s capturing lasting images of family and friends. The behaviour of connecting with your subject – is very much something I will continue to develop along with my lighting skills over time.
Below are some shots that I took on the day – and you can see more photos from the lighting workshop on my official photography site here: StephenJKennedy.com
Lashes – Model: Pandora
Stop Press: One glitch I did experience with these shots was some vignetting. It would seem the lens-hood of my 24-105mm was creating shadow from the strong studio lighting – but nothing a Photoshop mask couldn’t sort out.
Margaret and I have been big fans of the ITV drama, Doc Martin for some time. In short the TV series is a rather quirky English comedy drama about an awkward doctor (played by Martin Clunes) coming to terms with himself and that of the fictitious fishing hamlet of Port Wenn, Cornwall. In actual fact, the azure cove of Port Wenn, is none other than the Cornish fishing village of Port Isaac. So, given we had been in Cornwall taking a break this past week, we decided to visit the place.
From the white washed cottages, to the steep paths to the town centre, to its opal harbour, edged by verdant cliffs, the village is instantly recognisable. What took us a little by surprise though was to learn that the filming for the 4th series of Doc Martin was underway. We had thought the series had finished, but apparently not so. Quite obvious really. Camera equipment and logistics crew were aplenty, and as too were the many tourists hopeful of a glimpse of the cast. And it was a fleeting glimpse – at least initially. Filming was underway in the playground of Port Wenn school (which actually is a small car-park outside an old school hall), and amidst all the flurry of film crew and school children for the scene, we caught the unmistakable pony-tail of Doc Martin’s love interest, Louisa (Caroline Catz). Only a glimpse as the Port Wenn school bus was obscuring most of the view from errant tourists like ourselves.
But, thankfully, we got to witness some filming at much closer quarters shortly after having a light lunch in the Mote pub. The landlord informed more filming was underway literally 10 paces from the pub right at the vertex of the town. So, Margaret and I ventured outside the pub looking for the outdoor set, just as the film crew began rolling their equipment down the hill. The landlord was right. Literally, filming was taking place metres from the door of the pub. Soon after, we recognised two more of Doc Martin’s cast. This time, none other than that of father-and-son duo Bert and Al Large. Bert is played by actor Ian McNeice and Al is played by Joe Absolom. As the prep for the scene unfolded, we were astounded as to how close we all were. While great care was taken by the film crew to ensure no tourist onlookers got in the way of the shot, we were still essentially a live audience. I can’t recall ever being on a movie-set before so this was a new experience, and thankfully one I was able to readily photograph.
I was really very happy with some of the shots of Ian and Joe I managed to capture, particularly Ian, whose face seemed to be churning out expression after expression as he immersed himself in character. Below are the shots I took. I decided to go with a monochrome finish, to give it that classic film feel.
I have to say I enjoyed the opportunity to act as Papparazzi for the afternoon. Not just because they were actors, but because I had the chance to practice taking some spontaneous people photos. It wasn’t just a case of point and shoot, but rather waiting for that opportunity where the subject gives an interesting expression or pose. I have to say Ian McNeice was an excellent subject for doing just that.
Oh and unfortunately, Martin Clunes was not around that day, so no pictures of the series draw card on this occasion.