Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Photographing water reflections

click photo to enlarge
"It looks like it's swimming in paint", said my wife, when she saw this photograph on the screen of my computer. And so it does. Yet, when I took this shot of the cygnet (not far off adulthood) on the canalised stretch of the River Witham in the centre of Lincoln, my eye saw little of these striking colours and patterns. The wildly distorted lines of the river-bank buildings and the blue sky were lost in the flickering sheen of the water's surface. However, the photographic experience that I've gathered down the years told me that the camera would present the water in a way that made a bold, colourful, semi-abstract backdrop for the swimming bird.

In the past I've photographed reflected branches, clouds, tree trunks and even steel fences. The way that the shutter freezes movement that the eye doesn't see, or echoes the tangible intangibly, is something that I like, and I make a point of looking for good water reflections whenever I'm out and about with the camera.

photograph and text © Tony Boughen

Camera: Nikon D5300
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 66mm (99mm - 35mm equiv.)
F No: f8
Shutter Speed: 1/125 sec
ISO:100
Exposure Compensation: 0.33 EV
Image Stabilisation: On

Saturday, July 26, 2014

The Odeon's classical origins

click photo to enlarge

Cycling along the promenade at Great Yarmouth, Norfolk, a few years ago, I passed a building called the Hippodrome. I assumed it was a theatre of the early 1900s, but I was wrong. It was built in 1903, but as the permanent home of a circus. Today it is used in a way much more akin to a traditional theatre featuring shows, etc as well as a circus. The theatre was reasonably well-named because the original hippodromes were ancient Greek stadia for horse and chariot racing, a building type adopted by the Romans who extended their use (as circuses) to animal spectaculars, historic re-enactments etc. The British and American hippodrome theatres of the early 1900s also featured animal spectaculars but eventually became theatres for variety artistes, and after their day passed, the buildings often served as cinemas.

Cinemas themselves sometimes adopted classical names too. In London and Dublin there are Adelphi cinemas: Adelphi is Greek for "brothers". However, the most commonly found classically-inspired cinema name is undoubtedly the Odeon. The original buildings of this name were found in Athens, Sparta and other ancient Greek city states. Their purpose was to accommodate musical competitions, poetry readings and the like. In the late eighteenth century the name was resurrected for a famous Parisian theatre where, in 1784, the play, The marriage of Figaro" was premiered. When cinema came along Odeon was frequently the name of choice in Europe and the United States. Today it is so closely associated with the movies that its origins in antiquity are all but forgotten.

Today's semi-abstract photograph shows a detail of the foyer ceiling of Lincoln's modern Odeon cinema, a building of the twenty first century. With its swooping curves and blue neon tube detailing the ceiling seeks to combine with shiny stainless steel detailing and glossy escalators to inject glamour into the cinema-going experience.

photograph and text © Tony Boughen

Camera: Nikon D5300
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 30mm (45mm - 35mm equiv.)
F No: f8
Shutter Speed: 1/50 sec
ISO:500
Exposure Compensation: 0 EV
Image Stabilisation: On

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Hydrangea arborescens "Annabelle"


click photo to enlarge
The same flower photographed under different lighting conditions can produce photographs with quite different qualities. The other day I was photographing Hydrangea arborescens "Annabelle", the most popular cultivar of the Smooth Hydrangea of eastern North America, a variety that is quite hardy and valued because of its large white blooms. It grows in semi-shade in our garden near a large willow tree and at this time of year it gets intermittent direct sunlight.

My shots were taken with a 100mm macro lens and the camera was mounted on a tripod. The main photograph was taken when the sun was out but the bloom was in shade. Here the bright but diffuse light was above and the shade from the tree helped to reveal the detail of each petal. The smaller photograph has the camera lower down, shooting upwards, with the light behind the petals. A sheet of white vinyl gives the white background and reflects a bit of light onto the subject. The aperture on that shot is f4 against the f16 of the main photograph and the shallower depth of field adds to the "dreamier" quality that it exhibits, something that I think complements the brightness.

photograph and text © Tony Boughen

Photo 1
Camera: Canon
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 100mm macro
F No: f16
Shutter Speed: 0.8 sec
ISO: 100
Exposure Compensation:  -0.33 EV
Image Stabilisation: Off

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Tewkesbury Abbey stylistic juxtapositions

click photo to enlarge
I've heard it argued that Gothic architecture i.e. the medieval style that features pointed arches, was the first stone-built style of Northern Europe. During the so-called "Battle of the Styles" in the nineteenth century, when the design of large public buildings in Britain was often decided in competition, Gothic was frequently chosen because it was seen as a native style in contrast to the Classical style which was deemed, rightly, to be Mediterranean in origin.

The Romanesque style with its rounded arches, that preceded Gothic, can be viewed as a debased version of classical architecture, though that is not the whole story by any means; the timber building traditions of the Anglo-Saxons and the decorative sculpture of the Norse peoples are two stylistic threads that are also very evident. Something that I always found interesting was that the Romanesque style merged into Gothic rather than becoming a purer version of the styles of Ancient Greece and Rome. That had to to wait until the Renaissance.

Today's photograph shows part of the nave and more distant crossing and chancel at Tewkesbury Abbey in Gloucestershire. What always strikes me when I enter this building is the contrast between the plain, solid columns and rounded arches of Romanesque period, surmounted by the lighter, ornate vaulting of the later Gothic period. It is not uncommon in many English cathedrals, but at Tewkesbury the dissonance the pairing produces seems more pronounced than elsewhere.

photograph and text © Tony Boughen

Camera: Nikon D5300
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 18mm (27mm - 35mm equiv.)
F No: f5.6
Shutter Speed: 1/30 sec
ISO:2000
Exposure Compensation: 0 EV
Image Stabilisation: On

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Reflecting on broad beans

click photo to enlarge
As I stood podding broad beans the other day I reflected that the reward for the tedium of the activity is the shiny perfection of the individual seeds as they multiply in the dish, along with the prospect of eating this simple but wholesome food, freshly picked, and during the coming months from the freezer. There are those who are somewhat disdainful of this "peasant food" and others who are insistent that after podding the skin of each bean must be removed. Those are not views that I share. In fact, the broad bean is a favourite of mine, one that I relish eating in the summer months, with its skin intact. That they are easy to grow, crop heavily, add nitrogen to the soil, and look appealing would be reason enough to grow them. However, I like the taste and texture when raw and cooked, and that's why we've grown them for forty or so years.

"Broad bean" is the English name for Vicia faba, but elsewhere "fava bean" is common. In Britain the plant is grown for human consumption. A smaller variety, usually called the field bean, is grown for animal feed. It's interesting to note that this inexpensive food of the common people gave its name to the Fabian Society, the organisation that created Britain's Labour Party. The Fabian Society called itself after the Fabii of ancient Rome, a family that Plinius said derived their name from the humble bean of today's reflection.

Whether its the satisfaction that comes from growing your own food or the pristine nature of freshly picked produce, I often feel motivated to record it on camera. The other day it was broad beans of the varieties, "Bunyard's Exhibition" and "Red Epicure", but over the years I've photographed mixed vegetables, sweet peppers, plums, bay leaves, strawberries, and much else.

photograph and text © Tony Boughen

Camera: Canon
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 100mm macro
F No: f16
Shutter Speed: 0.8 sec
ISO: 100
Exposure Compensation:  -0.33 EV
Image Stabilisation: Off

Friday, July 18, 2014

Mill Bank, Tewkesbury

click photo to enlarge
It was an overcast day when we stopped off at Tewkesbury, Gloucestershire, on our way to Herefordshire. We walked around the abbey, the town and by the riverside, and in the course of our perambulation I took this photograph of these houses, raised above the water near the weir and the Abbey Mill. It's a picturesque row that to many people shouts out "Merrie England". The warm, orange brick, painted render, plain tile roofs, heavy chimney stacks, timber-framing with jettied first floor, and the pleasing individuality of the houses, each determinedly different from its neighbour, make a picturesque and pleasing scene. They are the sort of houses that many would wish to live in, residences with history, presence and character.

However, all is not quite so "chocolate box" quaint or jigsaw perfect as it seems. Living in houses by the rivers that flow through Tewkesbury requires a certain fortitude because flooding is no stranger to the town. In recent years there have been times when the area around the abbey has appeared to be an island or a peninsula in a large, irregular lake, and at the fringes of the island, and beyond, houses have their feet and sometimes their knees in water. Yet, despite this inconvenience and disruption, a feature that afflicts the area periodically, and has done for centuries, people still vie to buy the old houses that grace the streets. And consequently they continue to make a fine sight for visitors such as me and my camera.

photograph and text © Tony Boughen

Camera: Nikon D5300
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 30mm (99mm - 45mm equiv.)
F No: f8
Shutter Speed: 1/250 sec
ISO:100
Exposure Compensation: 0 EV
Image Stabilisation: On

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Death, dignity and helium

click photo to enlarge
The popularity of releasing helium filled balloons and watching them float away into the wild blue yonder shows no signs of abating. It's now reasonably widely known that the earth's supply of helium is finite and dwindling (despite it being the universe's second most common element), and that more pressing uses for the gas exist e.g. in medical MRI scanners, welding and industrial leak detection. And yet, every year races involving hundreds of helium balloons are organised, often to support a charity, and millions of party balloons are inflated with the gas. It may be that mankind, one day, finds a substitute for helium, but until then many scientists advocate a more responsible husbanding of this important resource.

A while ago I came upon a shiny, red helium balloon that had attached itself to the metal fence that surrounds an electricity substation. It had clearly been snagged for some time because it was abraded and beginning to fade, the metallic coating showing grey beneath the paint. On the side facing me (upside down) I could read the word "dignity". Behind the balloon was a yellow warning sign, one of the many placed on the fence at regular intervals, warning of "Danger of Death": not unreasonable considering the high voltage apparatus inside. As I gazed on the fluttering balloon it occurred to me that this happenstance juxtaposition had put "death" with "dignity" in close proximity and that the three primary colours - red, blue and yellow - were also part of the photographic composition that was forming in my mind. So, reflecting that a "death with dignity" is something we all wish for when the end finally comes, I took my shot and continued on my way.

photograph and text © Tony Boughen

Camera: Sony RX100
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 20.9mm (56mm - 35mm equiv.)
F No: f5.6
Shutter Speed: 1/800 sec
ISO:125
Exposure Compensation: -0.3 EV
Image Stabilisation: On

Monday, July 14, 2014

Time-worn stone steps

click photo to enlarge
There are few things that indicate the passage of time better than worn steps. To gaze upon stone (or even wooden) steps that have been eroded into concavity by the repeated passage of hundreds, or more likely thousands of feet, is to experience a tangible understanding of years becoming decades and decades becoming centuries.

On my first visit to Wells Cathedral many years ago I made a point of having a look at the chapter house's stone stairway. I knew this from an architectural photograph by the English photographer, Frederick Henry Evans (1853-1943). The undulations in these stairs made by myriad feet add to the beauty of the shot and give it a quality that it would otherwise lack. The "sea of steps" makes you think of the people who have walked up and down them.

I've photographed steps regularly during my life though never with the success achieved by Evans in his shot. On one occasion, however, I took a shot of steel steps, but with added son's added feet and deliberate blur, and result became one of my favourite images. On our recent visit to Bolsover Castle I tried this subject again but this time without blur and  with time-worn steps. The result doesn't please me as much as my earlier shot with feet but I think it's not entirely without interest.

photograph and text © Tony Boughen

Camera: Nikon D5300
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 32mm (48mm - 35mm equiv.)
F No: f8
Shutter Speed: 1/30 sec
ISO:6400
Exposure Compensation: 0 EV
Image Stabilisation: On

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Ornamental yarrow

click photo to enlarge
The native Yarrow (Achillea millefolium), familiar from roadside verges and meadows in England, has several names. Milfoil means "thousand leaves" as does its Latin specific name. It was also known as Yarroway, Staunch Weed (for its capacity to staunch or stop bleeding), and Poor Man's Pepper (for its bitter and pungent taste). The Anglo-Saxons used it for these purposes but also for divination and as a charm against illness or bad luck.

Yarrow can be easily overlooked by the casual observer, following as it does, the Cow Parsley and Sweet Cicely, and surrounded by other white flowered umbellifers such as Fool's Parsley and Wild Angelica. However, its flat flower heads, once identified, are easy to spot and give it a delicacy that its similar brethren lack. It is usually white, but sometimes plants have a pink or brown tinge.

The other day I photographed a cultivated, ornamental variety of Yarrow that I initially thought was Achillea "Fire King" or "Coral Beauty". But it turned out to be one I'd not seen before, "Achillea "Feuerland". Its colour, not perfectly represented in my photograph, is red/orange. The characteristic that I particularly liked was the clustering of different, subtle shades produced by flower heads of different ages - again, not seen in my image as I saw it with my eye. This variety is one I'll look out for when we are shopping for plants.

photograph and text © Tony Boughen

Camera: Canon 5D2
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 80mm
F No: f8
Shutter Speed: 1/320
ISO: 100
Exposure Compensation:  -0.67 EV
Image Stabilisation: On

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Signal box levers

click photo to enlarge
There was a time, during the Renaissance, when scientists spoke of the "six simple machines". Building on ancient Greek and Roman understanding they identified these as the lever, the wheel and axle, the inclined plane, the pulley, the screw, and the wedge. Each of these uses a single force applied as work on a single load to produce mechanical advantage. All more complex (or "compound") machines, such as the wheelbarrow, windmill, trebuchet or shears, were seen as composed of multiples of the simple machines. The industrial revolution made this elegant, if somewhat basic, understanding insufficient as a way of describing machinery and forces. However, it retains a place in the teaching of physics.

These thoughts came to mind as I stood in a railway signal box at Bressingham the other day. I think it was the first time I'd been in such a building. This particular example had been moved from Raydon Wood, Suffolk, to be used with the railway exhibits at the Norfolk gardens. I was particularly taken with the levers in the lever frame that the signal man used to control points, signals, gates etc thereby facilitating the safe movement of a train through the area for which he had responsibility. I'd often seen these through the window of a signal box. However, the elevated position prevented me noticing what I could see now - they are colour coded, numbered and each has its purpose described. By manipulating single levers, or combinations of them, the signalman determined the course of the train. Today this is done electro-mechanically but for decades muscle power, augmented by the lever did all that was required.

photograph and text © Tony Boughen

Camera: Canon 5D2
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 90mm
F No: f8
Shutter Speed: 1/80
ISO: 400
Exposure Compensation:  -0.67 EV
Image Stabilisation: On

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

The lustre of brass and copper

click photo to enlarge
A theme seems to be developing in recent posts - that of the "incidental" photograph i.e. a shot taken at a time when my attention was supposed to be on something else.

We recently had a day out at with a group of people at the splendid gardens at Bressingham, Norfolk. Before we set off I picked up the Canon 5D2, the 24-105mm lens and the 100mm macro. That seemed the best kit for the kind of shots that were likely to be available. And so it proved. The lenses gave the opportunity for general, wide angle photographs of parts of the gardens, sections of beds, small groups of blooms and individual specimens. However, the location also had a selection of steam powered vehicles and engines, some outside and some indoors, and it was one of these that drew my attention and prompted me to take out the Sony RX100.

Today's photograph shows a detail of the brass and copper cylinder, pipes, switches and dials of a fire engine of the 1890s. It was made, as its plate clearly and ornately says, by the London engineers, Shand, Mason and Company. Today we think of fire engines as motor powered vehicles with a cab for its firemen and the pumps and ladders/turntable behind. But, before this type evolved they were essentially pumps on carts that would be pulled or pushed to near the fire before being used to pump a water supply through hoses on to it. Shand, Mason and Co. were established suppliers of such devices to public authorities, large private houses, hospitals etc. A board next to the example shown above explained that it was installed at Crown Point, the mansion of Sir J. J. Colman at Whitlingham near Norwich, and that, fortunately, it never had to be used with serious intent.

I liked the lustre of the polished metal that positively glowed in the shadows of the dark exhibition room. I've photographed brass before for the same reason; see this lectern or this nameplate. And copper too has been my subject when seen in a dimly-lit room as with these pans in a country house kitchen.

photograph and text © Tony Boughen

Camera: Sony RX100
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 17mm (46mm - 35mm equiv.)
F No: f3.2
Shutter Speed: 1/10 sec
ISO:800
Exposure Compensation: 0 EV
Image Stabilisation: On

Sunday, July 06, 2014

The hawthorn

click photo to enlarge
I've always liked hawthorns. They are a hardy tree, able to grow in the widest range of locations from cliff face to lowland meadow, from derelict industrial waste land to city street. And wherever they grow they offer the same four attributes - stark and leafless in winter, green and leafy in summer, covered in white blossom ("May") in spring, and yellow/brown leaves contrasting with red berries ("haws") in autumn. Yes, they have thorns, and if  you want to trim or handle them then thick gloves are required. But that downside becomes an advantage when you plant it as a security hedge to deter interlopers. I have a hawthorn hedge that is impenetrable to all but birds, though cats have found a way through at the base. A further virtue, from my perspective, is that it only requires a single cut each year.

Hawthorn is a long-lived tree and happy to grow in solitary isolation. Many of England's Anglo-Saxon charters mention hawthorn trees as markers of property boundaries. Some significant specimens served as meeting places where villagers would gather to discuss matters of importance.In those long-gone days the new, spring leaves were nibbled by poor children to ward off hunger pangs. This spawned the ironic name for the young leaves of "bread and cheese". Today's photograph shows a lone, gnarled, hawthorn tree on an area of upland pasture and limestone known as Feizor Thwaite a couple of miles from Settle in North Yorkshire. The prevailing south-westerly wind is partly responsible for its shape, but it must also be the result of the attentions of sheep - rubbing and nibbling - as well as the restrictions on its roots imposed by the limestone.

photograph and text © Tony Boughen

Camera: Nikon D5300
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 66mm (99mm - 35mm equiv.)
F No: f8
Shutter Speed: 1/800 sec
ISO:100
Exposure Compensation: 0 EV
Image Stabilisation: On