Archive for the ‘ Photoshop ’ Category

Just a walk up a hill

One of the reasons I started this blog was to chart my progress taking photographs, while also trying to get into the habit of writing regularly for pleasure. I hoped I’d develop my own style of writing along the way.

As it’s turned out I haven’t done much blogging about photography, though I have usually managed to squeeze in a picture or two. This one won’t be any different!

Usually I don’t know what I’m going to write about. Sometimes, as a result, I end up confessing some deeply held opinion or thought, and can end up exposing myself more than I intended to.

Today I’m going to write about going for a walk. Can’t possibly be anything confessional about that, surely?

Can I warn you at this stage that this was not a special walk. I’ll go further – it was quite an uneventful walk. In the grand scheme of things, it probably wouldn’t even make it into my top 1,000 walks ever.

I did not go to the North Pole, or Everest. I didn’t walk a marathon (that’s in May). I didn’t walk on a tightrope or while balanced on an elephant’s trunk. It was just an ordinary walk up a hill and back down again.

I didn’t bump into Robert Plant again, or share a beer with Johnny Depp (again?). I didn’t fall over, or happen across a family of leopards drinking milk out of urns of gold, or anything that I’d tell you about if we met up for a drink.

But sitting here and reflecting on my little ramble – on the things I saw, the people I met – I realised how blurry brilliant it had actually been.

I like facts and bullet points, so here’s that walk in bullet points.

  • I exchanged greetings with 10 people, including six dog walkers.
  • I had conversations ranging in length from 30 seconds to five minutes with a total of eight more people, all of them strangers. They included a widow, a former steeplejack, a historian and a former Scout leader. I learned these things in the course of our brief chats.
  • I discovered that a beautiful stone tower that could be just seen through the trees was a folly in the grounds of Hagley Hall that had just been repaired. It could be visited when the hall was open.
  • A woman, I think called Elly, had been found hanged in a tree near the folly in the 18th century, and graffiti nearby referred to her as a witch. The graffiti keeps being redone, no matter how often the authorities scrub it off. Spooky.
  • Apparently a shop in Selly Oak would do me a great deal if I wanted a new settee. I can’t remember its name.
  • I saw a bird of prey scouting for food. It was gliding on the thermals nearby, the only thing visible in the sky. Apparently it was a buzzard.
  • I walked 4.5 miles in just under two hours. Obviously this would have been more if I hadn’t stopped to talk so often. Or take photographs. Or just have a rest.
  • I stroked four dogs, including a dalmatian and a westie. One of them was particularly excited to see me and left a big paw mark on my nice skirt.
  • I saw a tractor, two pushbikes, a plane and a helicopter.
  • I had one wee. In a bush. Nobody saw me (that I know of).
  • I carried a camera bag with some lenses, a bottle of water and a banana, my phone and some cash. I drank half the water. I ate all  the banana.

So, an ordinary little walk? Mmmm – maybe not.

I happen to think that, on reflection, all that interaction – with other humans, with nature, with animals – is pretty amazing and wonderful and good.

I used to take human interaction for granted. As a journalist all I ever did was meet and talk to and write about people all day, so the only people I wanted to spend time with outside of work were my nearest and dearest. My outlook has definitely changed now I mostly work and play at home. I’ll happily talk to anyone!

I’m one of those people who always chat to everyone who crosses my path. I know my milkman, which pub he goes to and the state of his marriage. I know that my postie was an ex footballer forced to give up his beloved career because of a knee injury which still grieves him. I have a cup of tea with the window cleaner when he calls round. (No, I’m not a desperate housewife and no, I’m not having affairs with any of them…I just have the time to share a few words these days!) It’s nice. People are nice.

So, back to that walk. I’m pretty sure that if I was working again in a busy office, and had snuck off for a walk up Clent Hills for some peace and quiet, I would have found the people who initiated these brief conversations intrusive and annoying. Instead they touched my life, however briefly, and I probably did the same to theirs.

Clent Hills, where I took my walk, is just a little mole’s bum of a mount, jutting up about 300 metres over the West Midlands conurbation. It’s hardly Ben Nevis or Mont Blanc.

If you look eastwards from the top, it is said you could (if the earth wasn’t so curvy) see all the way to the Urals in Russia, as there is nothing bigger in the way. I’m not sure I believe this, and can’t be bothered to google it to find out.

It’s a really easy place to get to on foot, with car parks on two sides which leave you just a 15 minute walk from the top. As a result there is always a slow but steady stream of dog walkers, families with little kids and people who might struggle to climb anything bigger.

To the north and east, the city of Birmingham and the Black Country towns around it are spread out. To the west, the Malverns and the rest of Worcestershire are hazy shadows. The Wrekin and the Long Mynd hills of Shropshire are clearly visible from here too.

There are high rises, factories, smoke-gushing chimneys, street upon street of terraced homes, grand country estates, retail parks and four lane highways.

There are also miles of countryside; of trees of every hue and shade; fields of crops; historical buildings and ancient rocks.

There’s a wooden seat I like to sit on, just below the standing stones that guard the view.

Whenever I sit here and look out over the homes and workplaces below, I like to think of all the thousands – no, probably millions – of people, beavering away at their computers or stuck in traffic, watching their telly or doing the hoovering. This usually makes me smile to realise I am up here and not down there, among them.

I also think about the babies breathing their first breath, and the poor souls gasping their last. There are at least six hospitals down there, so there will be lots of both.

I also usually take out my camera about here. On this little sojourn I managed somehow to take about 100 pictures. None were of the people I met (I’m not that brave yet).

Some were of the views, some of the standing stones, some of the toposcope. I played around for about 20 minutes trying my damnedest to get a picture of the standing stones reflected in a little pool of water on the toposcope, 20 metres away. I don’t think I quite succeeded – longer legs or a step ladder might have made it possible; more technical skill would have certainly done the trick.

I’ve attached a few of my favourite images of the day. Just like my walk, on first inspection none of the images are all that special. They won’t grace the cover of a calendar or the walls of Ikea. But they make me smile. They capture a moment. They’re just part of everyday life. Like all those strangers I met.


Here Comes The Summer (Or Was That It?)

Sunflower in a field, Dienne, near Poitiers, France

So, that was summer then. Farewell, dear thing. You were rubbish. Again.

We went to France for our hols this year, visiting the Loire and Brittany. The weather was a mixed bag – some cloud, some rain, some perfect blue skies, but mostly the temperatures were on the right side of 70 and it was dry, which is all I need for a great camping holiday.

We returned last Sunday, pulling in to Portsmouth quay to lashing rain, misty grey dampness and news bulletins awash with flood warnings. The sun has since deigned to poke its way through the clouds occasionally to give a last blast of heat, but otherwise it’s been overcast and a bit chilly.

Fortunately, I’ve been stuck indoors for the best part of the last two days, working my way through mountains of washing while also transferring the contents of my kitchen out of storage boxes and into freshly fitted new cupboards.

Today I finally felt I’d earned a break, so took the kids bowling before beginning the long trawl through the too many photographs I had taken on our gallic sojourn.

I had briefly fallen out of love with photography as a pastime earlier this year, but really enjoyed snapping away during this holiday. I still find the task of sitting at a computer and post-processing them all a really boring chore. As a result I have limited my “photoshopping” to some amateurish fiddling about with a few sliders to increase or decrease the contrast, colours and brightness, plus a bit of cropping.

That said, a few of the pictures I took this trip are, I think, in their current unadulterated form, among the best I’ve ever taken. They are mostly of my beautiful boys but also of some of the places we came across, including “the most visited tourist attraction in France outside Paris”. But more of these another time.

In the first batch I went through today I stumbled across a set of sunflower pictures.

They were taken in Dienne, a small village 20km south of Poitiers, on a gloriously sunny morning. The temperatures here regularly hit the high 80s, and sunflower fields abound.

In this particular field, most of the flowers were already beginning to wilt and drop their pretty yellow heads. But from the roadside it was easy to see that one or two of the flowers were at their most majestic. I climbed across a ditch, camera in hand, to get up close to this particular specimen.

I love the way its head is straight and proud. One could almost believe it knew it was king of the hill, top of the heap. A bee buzzed in to join me in my admiration.

I’ve reproduced two of the images here, but also had a play around with those sliders in Photoshop to produce a couple of alternative super-saturated images, which appeal to the pop-art fan in me.

I hope they serve as a reminder that summer was here, if only briefly – and, fingers crossed, it might yet make a comeback before August is over and done with.

A New Beginning – and Golf Balls

I tend to write my blog while I’m either a, overtired; or b. slightly inebriated. Tonight I’m both. I’m guessing this can affect the quality of my ramblings, so I apologise. This too will be a disjointed affair.

I have spent the evening contemplating my future. This is a very useful exercise while feeling upbeat and optimistic. At times like this I remember that my potential is immeasureable; that I am capable, bright, witty and confident; and, with effort and derring-do on my part, I can accomplish anything I set my mind to. I vow to always seize the moment; to act, not procrastinate; to live, not exist.

This activity is less useful when in a melancholy mien, when the unknown, the unfamiliar and the challenging become things to avoid, run from and make excuses about. If I’m honest, I think that’s what I’ve been doing recently – looking for the easy option, rather than opting for something that will truly test my ability, my stamina and my guts.

It might all go pear-shaped, might all end in tears, but this time I’m going to ignore the naysaying section of my brain and focus on the bright and breezy zone which tells me to go for it; nothing ventured, nothing gained; and my favourite lazy cliché – feel the fear, and do it anyway.

So, with thanks to input from trusted friends and some very helpful mentoring from someone who has been there and got the t-shirt, I have taken the first steps today towards launching a new internet-based venture. Not much to tell at this stage but I have bought some domain names, sketched out some logos, straplines and content ideas, and have a clear idea of what I want to achieve. Now I’ve just got to knuckle down and make it happen.

At the same time I’m also speaking to “people” – they are suitably shady – with a view to turning something else I’ve been doing in a voluntary capacity into something more substantial. It’s all looking good and could be a really positive beginning, so right now I’m feeling scared, apprehensive, doubtful – but mostly excited, excited, excited!

I’d forgotten what it was like to do something for myself, all by myself, and I can’t wait to really get started. Financially, both of these ventures could flop – but I believe in both of them, so here goes!

My other half Richard is being his usual supportive self and is not remotely concerned that pursuing these ideas might mean I won’t be financially contributing to the household for a while, despite our tight budget. His first question to me is always: “Will it make you happy?” If I say yes, I think so, he will go out of his way to help me make it happen, whatever it is. If I waver before answering, he tends to suggest I think about it again. To Richard, life is pretty much black and white; it either makes you happy, or it doesn’t – and if it doesn’t, what are you doing it for?

We all have to endure some things that don’t fill us with joy, of course – much of life is mundane and routine after all – but his point is that if it isn’t taking you to a happier place, or doesn’t allow you time to enjoy the good things in your life, then you really are wasting your precious time. Management gurus refer to the “golf balls and sand in a jar” effect. For those of you who’ve never had to endure management bulls**t seminars, it goes like this: the golf balls are the good things in life that you love doing (spending time with your kids, playing football, going to the seaside, dancing to loud music, whatever…) and sand signifies the “rest” of life (household chores, being at work (unless this is one of your golf balls), washing the car, doing the shopping, etc). If you put the sand in first and try to squeeze the golf balls in on top, you won’t get many in the jar. The trick instead is to cram as many golf balls in as possible, and let the sand trickle in between. I’m sure you’ve got the message, but just in case: fit the necessary evils around the good times, not the other way round.

Thinking about Richard’s simple outlook on life takes me back to the first time we met. Rock House was the journalism training centre in the heart of leafy Wolverhampton where we were both trainee journalists, aged 21 and 22.

We were among 12 wannabes who had been selected from more than 1,000 applicants for a prestigious year-long internship, in the dimly distant days when the newspaper industry had money to burn. Our number included a lovely ex-Wolves footballer Robert (if he ever made a mistake his first news editor thought it hilarious to storm out of his office and issue him with a red card); a vegetarian who only ate Pot Noodles laced with vodka; a religious zealot; a mad teenager who threw tantrums; and two old people (they were over 30).

For that first social gathering, one of our number, Sarah, sat cross legged on a pub table, espousing the merits of Marxism and how she saw it as her job to spread equality through journalism. Richard, an ex public schoolboy who lived in a country house with a swimming pool, suggested all nations would actually be better off under dictatorships and that all girls should be sterilised at birth, with a reversal only if they passed a state parenting test. The battle lines were drawn. I then spent an uncomfortable few weeks trying to deny any interest in “the fascist”, as he was dubbed.

Two months later he threw a fancy dress party at the house in salubrious Richey Street in Wolverhampton that he shared with his best mate, also Richard. They lived in the coldest house I have ever had the misfortune to visit. On entry I was always handed a jumper and told the heating could not be switched on “because we are on a budget”. I think the house was kept cold deliberately to encourage women visitors to get into bed. Funnily enough there was always enough cash for beer.

Anyway, I turned up at the fancy dress party as a pirate, complete with false beard, eye patch and false leg. By this point, our relationship had defrosted – I quickly realised he was a lovable wind-up merchant rather than the awful Toryboy he liked to imposter.

At some point in the evening we ended up in the same room, slightly drunk, my beard by now askew, my eyepatch lost. Romantic as ever, Richard chatted me up by post-it note. I still have them. He even asked to kiss me by post-it. Then someone wee’d into a sinkful of washing up and Bugs Bunny had a fight with Cleopatra and the moment passed.

Somehow, that innocent moment led us to where we are now – 20 years together, married, two beautiful kids. He still makes me laugh every single day. And he still occasionally writes me a post-it note, just for old time’s sake.

And finally…

As usual, this blog has absolutely nothing to do with photography, even though it was originally set up to follow my attempts to become a better amateur snapper. As probably every photographer and camera club in Wyre Forest and beyond knows already, judging by yesterday’s turnout, a field of poppies has burst into life along the Bewdley bypass, just beyond the West Midlands Safari Park. When I turned up there last night it was peopled by lots of folk with very fancy cameras, long lenses and tripods. My little lenses seemed pretty paltry by comparison, and I was bereft of a tripod and a zoom lens, thanks to foolishly breaking the former and dropping the latter (breaking it also). But I had an hour to kill so did the best I could. Hope you like one or two of them. More on my flickr account if you’re interested.

And finally, finally…come on Ingerland! Roll on Sunday. England into the last eight of the World Cup? That will definitely be a golf ball moment.

Field of poppies, Bewdley, Worcestershire

Field of poppies, Bewdley, Worcestershire

Poppies in field, Bewdley, Worcestershire

Why I Take Photographs – A Discovery!

Why exactly do I bother to post my photos online or show them directly to friends? I say it’s because I want to improve, I want to see how others judge my “artistic work”, and particularly because I want more experienced and talented folk to point me in the right direction.

I have realised that this is actually complete and utter rubbish. All I want – and I mean ALL I want – is for people to tell me a picture or set of pictures is great, fab, whizzo and wonderful. And, ergo, by association, so am I.

This sad reality dawned on me rather pathetically after I posted some pictures from my recent sojourn from Kidderminster to sunny Woolacombe. After spending quite a lot of time downloading and sorting through untold gigabytes of photos, I selected about 40-odd landscapes to put on my facebook page and on my flickr site to guage reaction. I was met by deafening silence.

In the hours after posting them I regularly checked the pages for updates and comments, perhaps even a personal message to say something like: “These are great, I didn’t want to sound too gushing on your page but they are the best photos I’ve ever seen in my life, have a prize.” Instead I found diddly squat. Nada. Nowt.

Eventually, like, HOURS later, a few people kindly commented on two or three pictures, and one even posted the link to my pictures on her own page (thanks Tanya!).

But (and this reflects very badly on me, people, not you) the damage was done. I decided the pictures that I’d thought would elicit gasps of appreciation were probably all just useless and dull after all.

For this confession I apologise. It is not nice to feel you are responsible for someone else’s happiness, particularly when you hadn’t even realised it! And, as I say, it reflects very poorly indeed on my own self esteem regarding my photographic talents that someone failing to click on a “thumbs up” button on Facebook could bring me down.

I would add that this feeling of Abject Misery passed very quickly and was indeed swiftly cured by my husband telling me in no uncertain terms to “get a life, facebook saddo” and pouring me a double vodka.

I have now revisited said pictures and realised they are, after all, just a nice set of holiday snaps at a beach. This is not me being self-deferential or putting myself down after the fact (indeed, I still think several of the shots are lovely and am even framing some to adorn my walls) but I now appreciate they are fantastic to me because I WAS THERE.

Just looking at them on my wall or on the computer transports me back to that beautiful beach, at twilight, any one of three nights we spent down there watching the sun set.

There was hardly a soul around except for the surfer boys in the ocean, trying desperately to catch the last tiny waves;  the odd dog walker; and my little family.

The boys were happy making a platform in the dunes from which to do somersaults and jump into the sky; my gorgeous hubby was happily cooking up a storm on the barbecue while sipping a beer; and I was contentendly snapping away with my camera, glass of red in hand. The chilly breeze forced us occasionally to huddle together behind the windbreak in a happy heap, from where we watched the sun tumble out of the sky into the sea. I had never realised before quite how dramatically the sun plummets at nightfall. It quite literally disappeared before our eyes – one minute a ball of fire, the next a purple haze trailing over the horizon.

So, that’s why I like photography, and why I want to continue to take photos. If I’m going to have cherished memories of a place or moment in time, the photograph that accompanies it may as well be as good as it can be! And the actual art of taking a photo is extremely satisfying – I like going off into my own little world to focus my mind on something specific.

And this realisation, dear friends, is a blessed relief. I feel like I have been released from a torment that was gathering pace in my soul.

For weeks I have been forcing myself out to take pictures of, well, anything really, in the desperate quest for a photo that would prove to me that I could make the grade, that I could be a contender, that I had a photographer’s eye, an artist’s instinct, a sensitive touch.

And now? Now I feel free, free, free! Now I feel that I can accidentally leave my camera at home when I go for a walk in the woods without suffering moments of desperate anguish that this might be the day I see “the shot”. I can spend under £100 on a new tripod instead of the £400 one I’d seriously considered as a “must have” if I was going to take this photography lark seriously. I don’t have to buy a macro lens so I can take pictures of little biddy insects and flowerheads that I can’t even identify. Ah, bliss.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m still going to take pictures and am still going to bore my facebook friends with the odd album of snaps. I’m still going to meet up with my new photography friends for the odd shoot. I’m still going to go along to my local camera club when I get the chance to pick up tips. And I’m still going to try to learn more, get better and have fun with my hobby.

But I won’t feel quite so desperate if it all goes wrong and, especially, if what I like doesn’t meet with the approval of anyone else.

It feels good, this freedom.

(To see the rest of my landscapes from Woolacombe visit my flickr page at  You don’t have to leave a comment!!!)


Daffodils in the breeze at Dudmaston Hall

Daffodils at Dudmaston Hall, Easter 2010 - original, untouched version

As Mr Wordsworth sort of put it, there’s nothing that screams “Spring is Here” here in the UK than a host of golden daffodils.

There are literally thousands of images of daffodils littering the internet at the moment, from masterful macros of every conceivable part of the daff, to bright and beautiful landscapes showing fields of waving yellow heads swooping off into the distance.

So when visiting Dudmaston Hall on the Shropshire/Worcestershire border for an Easter Sunday egg trail I just had to get down close and personal with a small patch of daffs on the hill just below the main house, blowing gently in the breeze, begging to be photographed.

The results were, I thought, okay in their original state, as shown here. But I decided to have a go at processing it using Photoshop, the most popular of the many post-process software packages for photographers.

Now as my use of Photoshop is in its infancy I merely tweaked the contrast, brightness, hue and saturation levels up and down a bit on the original Raw image, and cropped most of the bottom off. The end result is here. I think it’s marginally better than the original.

Had I been more skilled on the old computer, I could have further upped the yellow of the daffodils, got rid of the woman in pink had I so wanted – maybe even increased the number of daffs through some careful layering. I could have improved the sky – it’s a bit dark on one side. I could have even removed the tree altogether so it was just an image of bright yellow on green on blue.

But that would hardly, in my opinion, have stayed true to the original image. If I wanted to invent scenes then I would be practising my painting skills instead.

This will probably come back to haunt me once I am Photoshopping like a pro, but I want my photos to be a record of the life lived by me and my loved ones and of the places I visit, not a falsified version.

“Life isn’t all ha, ha, ha!” a friend’s mum once said, when my pal was complaining about the effort involved in sorting out some domestic task or other. Well, she’s right – and in the same way I want my photos to reflect, as closely as possible, the reality I viewed through the lens of my camera, for good and for bad.

That isn’t to say it’s not fun to create pictures as “art” once in a while. I also have no problem with people layering, enhancing and fiddling with the levels to their heart’s content, as long as they are honest about what they have done.

I went along to a local camera club one night for a competition night and was amazed at the quality on show. I got chatting to the gent who had produced a wonderful picture of the inside of a cathedral. He explained how he had used a long exposure and a small aperture to capture the detail in the ornate woodwork, and how he had carefully timed his shot to maximise the light coming in from the setting sun. I was keen to soak up as much information as possible, with a view to replicating his efforts myself.

I then asked if he had enhanced it much after taking the photo – and he revealed he had spent nearly two hours on this one image to get it “just right”. He had removed a fire extinguisher which had been on the wall, had layered out some shadows on the right hand side, had boosted the brightness here and reduced the contrast there. He had boosted the light from candles at the top of the picture. The result was lovely, and I’ve no doubt an improvement on the original – but is it still a photo or a piece of artwork? Does it matter?

Perhaps I’m just cross. When I adopted photography – or was it the other way round? – some months ago, I hadn’t realised how expensive it was going to be, what with lenses, tripod and a load of other paraphernalia that I don’t yet know I need. But I had also not appreciated how much time was going to be spent sat indoors on the computer, and it is slowly beginning to dawn on me what I have let myself in for.

I’ve been told about a professional photographer in Kidderminster who regularly exhibits his “as taken” shots, completely free of any post processing. They are downloaded and printed off with no additional processing. He instead spends a lot of time framing his shots just-so and ensuring the lighting and exposure are spot on to start with, instead of turning to Photoshop or its equivalents to sort out any anomalies when he gets home.

Whether I follow in his footsteps or go for the more travelled Photoshopping route, I am well and truly hooked on this photography lark. I can’t stop taking photos and feel bereft if I happen across a lovely scene and realise my camera is not by my side.

We are due to go on holiday shortly to the north Devon coast. Normally I would be happily researching places to visit for family entertainments, and checking out the best eateries and pubs . Instead I’m looking up photos on Flickr of the area we are visiting so I can head off to do my own take on an oft-photographed scene. I look forward to sharing the results – Photoshopped or not.