The Magical Land of Cornwall

Since going to the butterfly park and using it as an opportunity to shake the dust from the camera I’m afraid the camera went straight back in the bag again. Fortunately this time it wasn’t through another crisis of confidence or deluge of doubt but for a much happier reason – I was married to the most incredible woman in September and the weekends had become just a little full to be able to take the camera out!

For our honeymoon we had decided to hire a camper van and tour Devon and Cornwall. I went to University in Cornwall and don’t get to go back there enough, and this seemed like a good excuse to show my wife the places I loved, and to find new ones. One of the first stops however was one of my partners childhood holiday haunts, Ladrum Bay in Devon. The weather wasn’t the best for the first few days, but we still tried to make the most of the time there by going for walks in the villages and beaches.

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The beach was stunning – after the run up to the wedding it was a perfect place to just relax for a few days. I’ve got two lenses for the camera – a 17-85mm and 60mm macro. I don’t know what made me put the macro lens on given there was plenty of wildlife and landscapes which the 17-85mm is the best lens for. But there was so much detail, texture and a richness in the macro photographs that just wasn’t there in the grey day landscapes.

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The next stop was a must-see if you are in Cornwall. The Eden Project turned an eye-sore of an abandoned quarry into one of the best attractions in Cornwall. The focus points are two biomes – giant greenhouses which are split into a Tropical Section and a Mediterranean one. Both are full of plants and certain animals which we would never normally be able to see in the UK! All visiting photographers are spoilt for choice – and if you are as lucky with the weather as we were you can’t help but to get some decent photos!

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The biomes really are incredible, but if you only see the inside of the two biomes you really are missing half of the fun. From outside art installations to diverse and intricate wildlife gardens the surrounding area is a must see. There’s minimal signposting – you just have to keep moving and explore.

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I couldn’t have asked for a better week to keep the momentum going for the return of my photography mojo. I think i’ve even started to develop a macro dependant style. I really am pleased with the results, and there will be another post soon with the rest of the week. I’m just trying to work out why I deleted this post twice and its taking so long to hit the “post” button…

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Re-engaging

It’s been a while since I was on here. Truth be told, its been a while since I’ve felt I’ve taken any photos worth your time. There are many boring reasons for this, but the most prevalent is that I don’t feel I’m getting anywhere with photography. I can take photos, edit and then I send them off to the ether of the internet and bar a few ‘likes’ from family the feedback is always muted. On a positive mind day I’ll put the instagram failures down to timings or tags, on a negative mind day its because the photos just ain’t good enough. It’s been about 2 years since I first tentatively started putting some images up for sale. 2 years later and I’m still waiting for the first sale. So, given my ego can only take so much of a beating I stopped looking for photo opportunities. I stopped looking for what was on at the weekends, and started making excuses about lack of money, time etc. When that goes on for a while you tend to believe it, and run away from the truth that it was easier to not try then to try and fail.

I wish the next lines could be the fairytale bit, where suddenly things start to pick up and I become better. Unfortunately that would be a lie – I’m still at the running away stage. But (there’s always a but!) I did pick the camera up again. For my birthday my parents and partner took me to the wye valley butterfly zoo nr Symons Yat.  From the moment I walked in I knew there wouldn’t be a better place to try and re-engage with the camera and photography.

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The place was incredible. So many incredible colours – both from the butterflies and the plant life that was as much of a feature as the butterflies themselves. I’d put my 60mm macro lens on the Canon 60D, selected manual and just started having fun.

b16The conditions weren’t exactly challenging. Butterflies were practically fighting each other to get in front of the lens. But I started seeing good images flash up and for the first time in a while started to get excited again.

b25After I ran around like a headless chicken and trying to get a photo of anything that moved I remembered to calm down and try to get the different shots, not just the ‘touristy’ ones.

b53And then a photo made me laugh, I love putting the humour in photos but its something that I haven’t managed to do recently. ‘Cos is it just me – or does this butterfly think he’s batman?

b63And then the better photos started to come in. Don’t get me wrong – I know that in the grand scheme of things these photos are small fry and average. But seeing them pop up on the computer  made me happy.

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b73And maybe thats what I need to focus on more. As long as I enjoy taking the photos and seeing the results, does it matter how much feedback I get? Of course it’s always going to be better with feedback – either positive or constructive. Perhaps I need to curb the ambitions and just focus on the having fun part. On the plus side – 3 butterflies landed on me when I was there and thats meant to be lucky!

Green Man Festival August 2013

A few weeks ago I was lucky enough to go to the Green Man Festival at Glanusk, nr the Black Mountains in South Wales. It was my first festival and to be honest I was very unsure as to what to expect. I had a look at the line up and bar Caitlin Moran (who’s talk was excellent) I didn’t recognise most of the names. What I did like the look of were the different areas, such as Einstein’s Garden full of Science stalls and talks, Nature Nuture where you can recover from the aches and pains caused by sudden airbed failures.

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So, laden with all the camping gear and thanking the stars for the trolley hire place we got the tents set up and started exploring. Now – time for the photographers excuse. I’d heard too many stories of gear being stolen from tents from other festivals, and the last thing I want to happen is to loose my prized canon 60D and lens’. So I took my old camera, the fuji bridge I was given for christmas 5 or so years ago. This meant I had much less control of the settings as even in manual mode I can’t change the ISO, I couldn’t shoot in RAW, no continuous etc. I’ll stop the excuses now – you get the idea that this wouldn’t be my first choice of gear. But, as the saying goes “the best camera in the world is the one you have with you” I decided to try and make the most of it – if I could remember how to use it with the buttons all faded!

The first thing you notice when you arrive at Green Man is the stunning scenery. As you can see from the photo above the mountain stage is aptly named. The second thing you notice is the incredibly relaxed atmosphere.

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Watching over the festival was the Green Man. He sits atop the high field, presiding over the festival. His baskets hold the wishes of those that attend and at the end of the festival he is set alight, and a new one will be created for next year. Until he is set light (and even then if you can get close enough) he provided some fantastic photo opportunities.

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Knowing that this fantastic sculpture would be set aflame at the end of the festival made me want to take more photos then I had memory cards for.gm15

I discovered that one of the great things about going to a festival where you might not necessarily know all the acts was that it gave me time to discover bands that I now love, to explore all of the attractions and zones to the full. One of the big finds for me was a band called “By the Rivers” playing at the Chai Wallahs tent.

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Now – I may have mentioned before using the old camera. One of the big disadvantages is that it is…well…truly pants in low light conditions. And while I love the shot above for the atmosphere, I really could have done with the option of adjusting the ISO. Putting the “what if’s” of bringing the other camera aside, I tried to make the most of what I had and try some more creative long exposure shots.

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The fire staff, fire poi and light up hoopla’s being demonstrated provided some fantastic long exposure shots.

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One of the things that I thought Green Man does uniquely is provide the space to do what you want. If you want to be in the full mix of the music there is the Mountain Stage, Chai Wallahs, Far Out etc to be immersed in the music. If you want to sit with a drink the beer and cider festival are more than apt. If you fancy regressing into childhood with fingers sticky with candy floss then the fairground is your place. The talking heads arena was so diverse with talks, comedy, quiz’s it would be impossible to fully describe.

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Now after getting some of these shots, I’m beginning to remember why I loved this camera so much. Lighter by miles than the canon, no swapping lens’ halfway through, and with the ability to lob it in the rucksack and not worry I’m beginning to think this might be a great festival camera.

Green Man was the first music festival I’ve been too. And I really cant wait until next year to do it all again. Things I have learnt though:

1) Bring a spare airbed. If it were not for some friends arriving the next day I think I would have been much grumpier at the end of the festival from sleeping on the floor!

2) Don’t worry about bringing any food. The stalls are so fantastic I didn’t have enough meals to be able to try all that I wanted too

3) Don’t trust the rum shack to bring the rum.

4) I really want a photo pass!

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So my first roll of 120mm film has been developed…

A couple of weeks ago I blogged here about some old cameras and an even older guidebook. Last weekend, despite the shutter not working at anything less than 1/50 second I took my Granddad’s Rolleicord to a historical reconstruction event at Caldicott Castle. The event had battle re-enactments ranging from the medieval knights to second world war troops.

So, loading the film under the duvet to avoid any light leaking and shutting my thumb in the door I manage to load the film. Then I make my first mistake and throw away the silver wrapper. Rookie error! I take my normal camera so I can use that as a light meter and so I can take digital photos in case I ruined the film ones. Plus there was no way on earth I was going to be able to reload the Rolleicord on the move! Very carefully I start taking photos…

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Now I feel like a right fool admitting this but I was really shocked when they came out in colour! I had always thought that 120mm was only ever in black and white, all the photos I have seen in 120mm are black and white! So when the proof came out in colour… well lets say rookie error number 2!

I have to say though, I am pretty pleased with the results, and (apart from trying to line up the composition through a mirror image) the camera was surprisingly easy to operate. The event was a perfect time for a trial run – if anyone understands the fascination in getting old things working again its groups of battle re-enactmenters!

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Out of the 11 photo’s I got out of the roll, the shutter jammed on 1, 2 are a bit rubbish but the others are in the keep pile for sure. All the photos posted here are unedited – straight off the CD I had the images scanned onto. I have to admit I felt guilty wrapping the exposed film in a black plastic bag and 2 meters of packing tape to protect it after throwing the wrapping away. Which is testament to 2 things – the first is that I feel more relaxed about imperfect film shots than digital, and the second that I knew I only had 11-12 shots on that camera. I took longer to compose, longer to get the settings right and longer to think about my shots than I ever have done with a digital shot. Longer than I have with a 36 roll of 35mm film as well!

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Now I know I am now officially in love with the Rolleicord, even if it does make me feel a bit seasick trying to frame images! And I think I have more interesting photos, more considered images from those 11 than I did from the 200 I took with the canon. So thats my lesson. Treat every shot like I only have 5 left. Treat every series of images like its gonna cost £10 to get developed and scanned. The ability to take as many images as I would like with instant feedback is priceless. But every now and again maybe I need to put a price on my images.

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Gems from the past

Hidden in my Nan’s attic there was a leather suitcase, as there are in many attics. In this one was a jumble of old cameras. And I mean old cameras! There are ones with bellows, ones with clockwork and ones that I have absolutely no idea what they are or how they work.

For the time being I have decided to concentrate on possibly the newest camera in the box – the Rolleicord. I’ve never used 120mm film before so I decided that there was no point trying to get the really old ones to snap away until I had learnt the intricacies of shooting on 120mm film. So, full of “how hard can it be?” bravado I brought some film, a light meter and  opened the film wrapping.

Which in itself, showed just how much of a numpty I was being. 120mm film doesn’t come in canister as 35mm does. So in unwrapping the film and trying to work out what all the paper it was tied up in I instantly ruined my first roll of film. A great start!

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So, after that first disaster I decided that I needed a little help, and turned my attentions to finding a guide or instruction book. And what a guide book I found! Titled the “Rolleicord Guide”, published in 1957 (5th Edition) it defies explanation – the best I can do it is sneak you some quotes.

Starting with the first sentence, it gives you a clue that there is some comic gold in this manual “The chief merit of the Rolleicord – and of the whole Rollei family, including a large number of illegitimate children of very similar parentage but different industrial parentage…” Right. Not a paragraph in and it’s got me questioning what the camera did to pass the time in that suitcase!

The guide seems to believe that no female would ever be interested in photography – as all references and instructions refer to him, and the size of the images “are quite appreciated by people who like to carry the latest ones of their wives, children, pets and friends in their wallets”. Now I accept that this is a book of the time where this was acceptable, but it seems to be a pretty bad advertisement strategy to automatically eliminate half the market.

Now – I am a child of the digital age, there is no hope that I would have continued to take photographs if digital cameras had not been invented. I simply wouldn’t have afforded the continual costs of developing film to discover it was out of focus and underexposed. I only got to be half decent by making lots of very cheap mistakes and learning from that. Judging from the following excerpt – I think the author would have a heart attack to hear me admit that. ” The photographer who shoots haphazardly, relying on the latitude of modern films, just like a snapshotted with a box camera, does not deserve and will not get better pictures than that man with that instrument”.

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And so we come to the best quote of all – the one that had me and my family splitting sides. “(the Rolleicord) is hopeless in a crowd. The Rolleicord, of course, is equipped with special means for viewing at eye-level and can be operated even by holding it over one’s head. It goes without saying that none of these positions is a particularly comfortable or genuinely flexible one. The man who likes to make extensive use of them merely reveals that he does not quite appreciate the real advantages of Rolleicord photography at it’s best. Frankly – it is safer – because it ensures better definition – to stand on a chair, a table, a ladder, or hang from the rope of a barrage balloon, always holding the camera in the reflex position proper”. Tut. And there was my mum saying I should I’d never use that barrage balloon again and I should deflate it!

Finally – I leave you with the biggest selling point the author could think of. “If you are a good-tempered type, who likes a good-tempered pictures – choose a Rollei. It is a good-tempered camera.”


Does anyone reading this have a Rollei that they have got working and could give me some advice that doesn’t involve swinging from a barrage balloon? Even any advice on getting the best from 120mm film?

Thank you.

Self validation

As an amateur photographer do you know how well you are doing? We post photographs on the social media website of choice, friends say they like them and of course, so does your mum. You try Instagram and gain a couple of followers, but nothing like the numbers your ego was hoping for. Is this the sign to get grumpy and give it up, or is it developing the foundations for your photography ambitions? Image

For a while I thought that comparing my work to the professionals was a good thing, for ideas, for technique, for ability. It was not. Simply for the reason that I was trying to compare my work to people with seemingly endless kit bags, and more importantly with the time to spend hours getting shots and practising. And while the pro’s still shoot at a level that I aspire to, I have learnt to become slightly more realistic with comparing my work to the pro’s portfolio. Though as the recent New York Times front page showed, you don’t need the kit to be awesome, but you do need the time.

Around two years ago, I discovered some websites which allow anyone to upload their photographs, and (if approved by the moderators) members of the public could purchase prints, canvas wraps etc of your photographs. Photography peers can review, approve, decline and comment on your images.

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Unfortunately, as seemingly with everything that involves the internet there are internal squabbles, trolls and general foot stamping. But the biggest hit to my ego has to be that not one person has brought as much as a postcard of one of my photographs. And it’s not like I’m getting grumpy after a month or so. My photos have been up for around two years now, and still no sign of a commission!

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Now I shouldn’t really be surprised by this. Art, especially the art we choose to put on our walls is an incredibly subjective thing. What I might want to blow up and take pride of place over my fireplace would be something that my friends might wish to put in the fire itself! And who would prefer to spend their hard – earned money on a photo they have no emotional attachment to? But the fact is that people do. The website I use seeming sells products every day, and people choose what art to put on their walls alongside bedside tables in all sorts of shops, from fine art galleries to Ikea and Supermarkets, and everything in between.

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Maybe tomorrow I’ll wake up and find that 3 people have all brought something. Maybe the issue is more a marketing fault, as photography is not my day job and I don’t have the time to market it fully. Maybe the images just ain’t up to scratch yet. But that is ok. Because every time I post an image that doesn’t get a reaction, every image that doesn’t sell, every image that only gets “liked” by 1-2 people is an incentive. Its the “try harder, try again, try different” image.

‘Cos one day I will sell one. And I can’t wait to see how that will feel, but I know it will only happen if I keep trying and keep improving.

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A heck of a lot can happen in a year.

As we start a new year, many people choose to look back at the 12 months past. Personally, 2012 was a very mixed year but in photography terms – it was a fantastic one. In June 2012 I undertook my Christmas present from my parents, a 10 week Open University Photography course. I cannot understate the difference this made not only to my technical ability but also to my confidence. Unless I had done the course and got the mark I did, this blog would still be on my list of “things to do when I’m better”.

In December 2012 I had a great opportunity to test just how far I had come along with my photography. I ventured out of South Wales and headed to the bright lights of London to visit a friend, a trip I had also made back in December 2011. In 2011 I had taken some photographs of St. Paul’s Cathedral, and they were my best to date.

 

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But as the year progressed, I began to see the flaws. I had shot in jpeg, instead of RAW format. I hadn’t corrected the wonky horizons, and the highlights were blown. On the top photo I’d cut the bridge into the Cathedral dome. Don’t get me wrong, I still like them. But I was wondering if I would be able to do any better if I went back.

With that in mind, when I went to London again I dragged my friend back to the Tate Modern and made him stand in the freezing cold while I set about trying to better myself. The only thing I hadn’t done to help myself as that I had (deliberately) left the tripod at home. There is no way I’m carrying a heavy 40+ yr old tripod all the way around London! Instead I leaned the camera on the railings with paper jammed underneath to level the camera.

And I’m pretty happy with the results. But what do you think?

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So I guess the big question I have to ask is “How will my photography progress in 2013?” I have no idea how its gonna go, but I sure as hell am looking forward to finding out!

Thanks for reading 🙂

It’s this time of year again…

Currently I have a few spare moments – which this close to Christmas I’m feeling pretty smug about -and I thought I would share some of the most recent photos I’ve been taking.

Every year a managed forest called Westonbirt Arboretum located between Bath and Cirencester puts on a fantastic winter wonderland.

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After the typical food stall and a mini Christmas market the real show begins. It’s a little hard to explain, so bear with me. The organisers use lights, music and interactivity to set up a series of mini exhibits which show some of natures giants in an completely different way to usual. Whilst nothing can compare to the golden hours to show off the trees and forests or the blue hours for silhouette – the uplighting used by Westonbirt makes the texture of the bark pop like no other.

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The lights can bring out hidden features that I never would have noticed otherwise – now this may be just the fact that I have looked at this photograph for far too long but I’ll be damned if I can’t see an owl in this picture.

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And I’m pretty certain something upset this tree…

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There are all sorts of ways they encourage interactivity, from trees that light up when you drum on different tree stumps to ones that light up when you sing or play music into a microphone to – my favourite- one that fires smoke rings at you. All in all I was pretty happy with the way these photos came out. I had gone last year but didn’t have a tripod and was struggling to avoid camera shake, especially in the cold! But this year I took it with me but came up against a new problem – lack of time. We had been delayed in getting to the woods and hadn’t checked the closing time. So after we had only been in around 15min a group of very polite and apologetic volunteers came and told us that is was closing in the next 20min. Not ideal for setting up shots and tripods! So, I will go and try again next year, armed with tripod, gloves, remote shutter etc – and a list of the opening and closing times!

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On the same weekend, the town I live in held it’s annual Reindeer and Santa procession through the high street. Though I have been before, this is the first time I took my camera – and well, it was a bit of a disaster. From pushchairs and buggies blocking the pavements ahead to people ignoring barricades and standing right in front of my lens to the sheer numbers of people in high – vis jackets it seemed like everything was conspiring against me! Next year I get a high vis jacket myself and pretend to be an official photographer – there were so many “officials” there that it would be impossible to keep track of them all! Now I don’t want to appear rude to the organisers – it’s a great event and one that should continue for many years to come. In the end, I think I only have one usable photograph of the reindeer and none of the procession. I can’t blame the situation for that – the pro’s get shots of every even they go to and I must aspire to that.

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In case I don’t get a chance to blog between now and then – I wish you all a Merry Christmas  and a very happy new year!

Kiting

I don’t do much sports photography. The idea of spending hours and hours waiting by the sidelines with your fingers turning so blue and numb that you can’t tell if you hit the shutter button or not doesn’t exactly appeal. But a beach in the sunshine? Now that sounds like my kind of sport. To briefly explain kiting, you use a giant kite to harness the power of the wind to enable you to travel. In or what you travel with is up to personal preference, some people kite surf, others kite board using a skateboard that looks like it’s been put on steroids, some in a three wheeled kite buggy, and pretty much anything else you can think of with wheels, including skates.

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I first started getting involved in kiting thanks to my mum. She started going along to the kite club meets, and I went along a few times too. After being dragged along a field by my face a few times I decided that it was pretty good fun!

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At first, I really enjoyed taking part. But after an unrelated shoulder injury made kiting difficult and my photography started to take off I started enjoying the photography much more than the kiting. Probably because I wasn’t any good at kiting in the first place!

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Kiting taught me a heck of a lot about photography. Shutter speeds, how to pan, depth of field but most importantly – timing. When I took alot of these shots I was shooting with a camera that did not take multiple images one after the other or high speed shooting. So in order to get the shot at the most dramatic point in time – you gotta learn the timings.

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Now if you will allow me a chance to teach you to suck eggs. Taking photo’s of people kiting is great and great fun, but if you are not careful it’s very easy for it to end up with an oops. Before you run to the shoreline – look at where the most people are flying and what lines they are taking. That way you can avoid the busy lines. Make yourself as visible as possible. And always keep an eye on the traffic and an eye out for any of the “Get out of the way!!!” shouts.

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So, if you do get any awesome kiting shots let me know! When I started taking wildlife and more creative shots everything that I learnt on the beach helped me immeasurably. I haven’t been kiting recently and I should. It’s a great sport with great people. And you should always take photos of different things. How else do you learn?

Breaking the rules.

I have a habit of not doing things the proper way. I tend to trial my own path, and learn from my mistakes. This is especially true with my photography. I take landscape photos in the middle of the day, when the pro’s in books and articles state that there is rarely a point shooting outside of the golden hours of sunrise and sunset.

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I’ll take handheld night time shots, taking 5 or 6 until I get one steady enough to use. 

Now, this isn’t due to any fierce rebellion or a refusal to learn from others – its driven by necessity. I don’t have all the kit I would need, I work shifts which make catching the golden hours difficult and often I’ve not gone out with the pure aim of taking photos, and can’t get bogged down or devote hours to a shot. There are in fact many shots I would never have dreamed of taking were it not for the instruction, inspiration and encouragment of expert photographers. It’s just that I believe we can become too restrained by the rules, with too much thought to the way it’s meant to be.  Sometimes you just have to grab the camera and start shooting with no ego, no fear, no pre-judgment. I don’t mind if it doesn’t work, I still learned from a mistake.

With this philosophy in mind I wielded  the camera on Saturday morning. I woke to find a fine frost covering every surface with its icy charm. I was in a bit of a rush to do other things so could only spend half an hour or so getting the shots, but I was pleased with the results.

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Again, most people would say that I should use a tripod and possible flash. Trouble is my tripod used to belong to my Grandfather and is well, old. There is no quick release and it takes a while to reposition. So while its great for some things – if I want to manoeuvre it around a flowerbed I think I’d do more damage than good!

Please don’t read this and take that I think I know more than the pro’s. I don’t. And I probably never will. But just as learning technique, rules of composition, rules of exposure and learning from others is important  – so is learning by yourself. Just you, a camera, and a way of viewing if you got the shot. Explore photography with a child like sense of wonder and naïvety. You might surprise yourself with the results of breaking the rules.

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