Frosty Stratford

Yesterday I was due to hand in the first draft of my dissertation, although uni’s definition of ‘draft’ differs from everybody else’s: they wanted a finished chapter, an outline, an introduction and a bibliography. I only found this out a couple of weeks ago, by which point I’d written two thirds of the whole lot. Still, it’s been sitting in my conscious mind for a long time now, and I was looking forward to reaching a milestone.

So on Tuesday I got up, ready to finish things off, and opened the curtains to see the overnight hoarfrost. Every tree in sight was completely white. Now, we’ve had very little snow here. Not even enough to build a snowman – it’s been most disappointing. But the hoarfrost was new, and I’d never seen anything like it around here. Wow.

But no. I knew I must stay in and work. And I did, for an hour, until the sun came out. See, look, I’m doing a photography course. I think this gives me an excuse – I’m sure they’d understand that no photography student could possibly resist glistening branches and blue skies. So out I went.

Frosty Stratford #37 Frosty Stratford #38
Frosty Stratford #06 Frosty Stratford #31
Frosty Stratford #10 Pretty out there Frosty Stratford #15
Frosty Stratford #08 Frosty Stratford #13

It was really lovely out there, but tricksily cold. Obviously it felt cold, but there was no wind, and the sun was out, and it somehow didn’t seem too bad. Until after 40mins my fingers stopped working. I was in plenty of layers, but after another 40mins it was actually a bit worrying – I was starting to feel weird. Most shots at this point involved slamming my fingers into the appropriate buttons anyway, which isn’t conducive to good photos, so I got home as fast as I could, then promptly went dizzy with the temperature change. Very peculiar. Still, I’m pleased I did, as I quite like the photos (full set here).

I got the dissertation finished by midnight, and it’s all handed in. Hooray! Now in limbo waiting for the feedback to arrive, which is great. Obviously can’t do any work on it until then. I might be on entirely the wrong track, for all I know.

I was also excited about finishing the draft as today promised to be interesting: last week I applied for my dream job, and I was due to find out today whether they wanted to interview me. I’ve spent the last week cycling between I’m-probably-a-contender and don’t-be-ridiculous-you’re-obviously-not-qualified. As it turned out it was the latter, and I didn’t make even an interview. Makes perfect sense and not at all bitter, just feeling a bit naive and embarrassed. But I guess I wasn’t to know. Well: I really should have, which is kinda the problem. Still, had to try.

Everybody’s asking what I’m going to do after I graduate. Argh. Can’t put them off forever. Thought I’d know by now.

Anyway, my dissertation is all outlined! Woohoo! The relief of not having to think about it for a bit is remarkable. Straight run to Christmas now. Tree tomorrow!

Advent Calendar 2010

It’s a little tradition of mine to have a bloggy advent calendar, and I am never one to ignore tradition. Wait. Yes I am. Still though, advent calendars are nice, so I’ve set up the 2010 one just now. It’ll show festive pictures from Flickr that I like. Starting off with this lovely shot by Terri (I.hope.you.dance).

There’s a special page here, and the daily picture will appear in the sidebar too. They’ll also be in my Google Reader / Buzz feed (RSS).

Brian Cox photos

I’ve just uploaded the photos from the Brian Cox lecture (higher quality Flickr set here), and I’m happy they turned out ok. It was the first big gig I covered with the 7D, and I needed it – five minutes in they turned down the lights to make the projected image brighter, and the rest of the stage plunged into darkness. It was…challenging! My old 400D would have imploded, I think. I concentrated on photographing him framed by the projector light, but for the wider shots I was saved by very high ISOs and the Lightroom 3 beta. I love technology.

Snow!

Ho hum. When I got up this morning I had a number of reasonably important things to do, and tonight they’re all still there, waiting for me. I got a little distracted by the snow:

Henley St. in the snow Stratford snow 2010 #16 Curious water/ice boundary

Stratford snow 2010 #26 Stratford snow 2010 #32 Stratford snow 2010 #17

Snow swan Stratford snow 2010 #27

Stratford snow 2010 #30 Stratford snow 2010 #2

I was well impressed by the snow-swan. A young couple spent a long time making it perfect, while I and various other becamerad people hung around waiting for them to finish.

I tried a few macro shots too:

Snow macro #4 Snow macro #1

These were fairly tough, and the larger images aren’t as sharp as I’d like. That said, it was pretty cold, and there was a wind, so I should probably be glad I got anything at all. I also tried to make a new Boris, but by this point my fingers had morphed into Callipos (by the time I got home I was changing functions on my camera by generally swinging my hands in the direction of the button and hoping for the best), so Son of Boris is pretty basic, but looks happy:

Son of Boris

He’s a pale imitation of his father, but is at least in the same spot.

The full set is here. Right. I’d best go catch up. It’s only twenty to eleven, after all.

Visiting Brighton and the Labour Conference

Brighton #02Last Tuesday I headed down to Brighton to take some photos at the Labour conference. Both the town and the event were new to me, and it was a fun day.

I stayed overnight in Dorking – a couple of hours drive from Stratford – and headed into Brighton at just gone 07:00. Traffic was surprisingly light, but parking was difficult. I was hoping it’d be as easy as when I photographed the Dawkins event at last week’s Lib Dem conference: I parked outside the hotel. This wasn’t possible in Brighton due to tank-proof concrete barriers and men with frankly-excessive machine guns1. I swung up into town to find a car park, and the first had a large queue as the police searched every body/car. I figured I didn’t need that hassle, so eventually found an extra-expensive NCP multi-storey and walked down to the seafront. It was a lovely morning, and I found myself wondering – as always, when I’m outside at that time – why I don’t get up early more often.

I was there to photograph the BHA’s no-prayer breakfast – with secular pastries! – and it went pretty well. There was a good turnout, with A C Grayling, Lord Macdonald and Kelvin Hopkins MP answering questions amiably as everyone indulged in probably too much chocolate for that time of the morning. It was also nice to see blogging chum Mr Skuds in the audience, and we had a chat afterwards.

I was done by 09:30, so wandered around for a bit. I hadn’t been to a party conference before – not inside the secure areas, anyway – so everything was new. The hotels are crammed full of booths owned by all sorts of groups and organisations, all trying to attract Labour members and MPs. They often give stuff away (although I hear the real goodies are found at the Tory conference this year) and at the Terrence Higgins Trust booth I was handed free condoms – those’ll be handy – as well as a frisbee (with a disappointing lack of tossing jokes). I also had a go in their STI tombola and was pronounced clean of infection, so there’s no need to wash after reading this. Despite this I was curiously ignored by most booths, probably because I was carrying a large-ish camera and looked like one of the many professional photographers milling around, so was free to walk around unhindered and peek into the conference hall (my pass wouldn’t let me in, sadly) where Gordon Brown would speak later that day. It’s odd to see these important, glamorous tv-locations first-hand – it’s just like a big room. This is possibly not the most profound observation ever.

Eventually I ran out of things to see, so I left the secure zone and walked up the rocky beach for a while, taking the occasional photo but mostly just enjoying the quiet. I eventually started worrying about sunburn, though, so headed into town in search of food. It was only 11:30 by this point, despite feeling like mid-afternoon, but once I’d decided where to eat – there were about a billion possible cafes, all of which were perfect for me – the resulting fish and chips was most welcome.

In a curious fit of culture, I next decided to visit the Brighton Museum. This immediately proved a mistake, with the main hall displaying varying furniture styles from 1800-the present. This was, well, dull as shit, and I wondered how long I could pretend to myself that I was having a good time. Then, through a doorway, I spotted some Egyptian sarcophagi. Now you’re talking. Turns out some dude born in Brighton excavated lots of Egypt, so the museum has a fair bit of the resulting loot. This was better. Hieroglyphics, weaponry, mummified kittens…this is what museums are for.

My faith in culture was completely restored until I exited the exhibition and saw this:

Crap painting

It’s like a Photoshop Disaster of the 1800s. What the hell is going on with his right leg? No wonder the dog looks nervous. Why would you hang this up anywhere? Why?

Anyway. By this point I was somewhat sleep-deprived, so had a doze in the car for a couple of hours before heading down to the sea for golden hour. I walked up the almost-deserted pier as the sun set, then headed back to the beach for the final rays. I’m quite pleased with some of the resulting photos:

Brighton #16 Brighton #15

Brighton #18 Brighton #20

After that it was off to a Bloggers4Labour meetup, which just happened to be on the same day. The very friendly Andrew, Mr Skuds and Tom were there, and I finally got to meet Damian, who I’ve been communicating with electronically for years. I hadn’t been to a meetup for a few years, so it was cool to see people in person. I couldn’t stay for too long, sadly, as I didn’t want to be too tired on the ~3hr drive home, but I’m glad I hung around town.

  1. seriously, what’s that going to achieve that a handgun isn’t? Are the BNP trenches going to go over the top? []

Moving on, and leaving behind

For months, people have been warning me about this day. You see, this afternoon my parents moved out of the family home, and I apparently needed to prepare myself for the serious upset this would cause. I got this a lot.

I am not upset.

Sure, it’s a touch sad. I lived there for 23 years, after all. Yesterday I stood in my old bedroom for a minute and let my thoughts wander to the birthdays, Christmases, girlfriends etc. it had seen. But things change, and these days I worry far more about getting stuck in a rut than I do losing the reminders of pleasant times.

I occasionally consider what I’d be upset to lose if I came home to find my flat on fire. It’s not much. In a flat *full* of stuff, I’d hate to lose 8 years of digital photographs, and that’s pretty much it. Everything else is nice, but I can re-make nice. The older I get, the less I care about places and the more I care about who’s around me.12 So I don’t find myself too bothered about leaving somewhere with nice memories.

It also helps that my parents have downsized into a lovely canalside cottage. They’ve loved the canals since I was a kid, and the new place is perfect for them. They’ll probably think this is funny, but it’s nice to think they’re sorted – I don’t need to worry that they’re not happy. Admittedly the new house is slightly more problematic: it’s far more exposed, needs some work doing, broadband is much more difficult, and reaching them now requires driving down 500m of towpath riddled with potholes that can only be the result of NATO bombing exercises. But hey – it’s boring to be boring.

Their moving isn’t upsetting, it’s cool. New chapters, and that.

Anyway, this post was meant to be an excuse to show these pictures of my 22-month-old niece, who was toddling about all day as we carted boxes around her. I (unbelievably) forgot to take my SLR, so these were taken with my iPhone’s rather-sucky camera. The pictures don’t come out of the phone looking too great, but a bit of contrast processing in Lightroom can do wonders, and I’m quite pleased with the results:

Watching the ducks

Posing Aimee in her...bike-thing

  1. Don’t get me wrong – I’m not saying objects aren’t important. I am actually a militant materialist. I cannot stand the incessant whines of people who think consumerism is the worst thing ever. It’s like they honestly fail to understand that buying an iPod can, in fact, make you happier. Not in the same way as falling in love, no, but if you can now enliven a crappy commute by listening to music, that’s a good thing. In the materialism-haters’ world, said iPod owner is being duped by evil corporations, and their free will usurped such that their only desire becomes to out-do the neighbours by purchasing more stuff. Crap. I have yet to hear a convincing case that this is a genuine social problem. This weirdly prevalent ‘truth’ sounds suspiciously like part of the golden-ager, isn’t-the-world-going-to-the-dogs attitude I find so tiresome. Materialism-haters fail to appreciate that consumers are capable of introspection, and are not mindless slaves to advertising. Sure, advertising can be effective in subtle ways. Sure, there are probably people who do live to spend money. But nobody I know thinks shopping is going to complete their lives, and bring them every joy. They all realise it’s just one of a thousand tiny ways to improve things, and are perfectly capable of understanding and balancing a desire for new things. I hate that people are told they should feel guilty for buying stuff. []
  2. Ahem. Not sure where that came from. []

Ghost Towns

Ten ghost towns:

SAN ZHI: […] in the North of Taiwan, this futuristic pod village was initially built as a luxury vacation retreat for the rich. However, after numerous fatal accidents during construction, production was halted. A combination of lack of money and lack of willingness meant that work was stopped permanently, and the alien like structures remain as if in remembrance of those lost. Indeed, rumors in the surrounding area suggest that the City is now haunted by the ghosts of those who died.

But the pictures are the real story. Prypiat, the town built for workers at nearby Chernobyl, is particularly affecting. Via Ed.

Year 25 Project: Complete

Year 25 Collage - SmallThis evening I uploaded a picture taken on May 18th, and with that my Year 25 project is complete. I took a shot every day but one: an inexplicable m0rk on December 17th.

I have mixed feelings about the final result. In some ways it’s not what I intended. I wanted each picture to represent the day, and many don’t. Plenty were taken at 2330 when I got home and realised I hadn’t done anything. I intended the project to force me into taking pictures of places and people I don’t normally photograph, but this rarely happened. For example, I started uni in September, but there are no proper images of my fellow students as I never plucked up the courage to ask them – despite them also studying photography.

There are also way too many taken on my mobile phone. This always seemed like a good idea – usually because of some rationalisation about not getting my camera out of my bag due to safety/annoying people / whatever – then I’d get home and realise the results suck.

But, having said all that, there are still plenty of photos that do represent their day, and were taken with a proper camera. I’m happy with many, and am glad I actually managed to complete the thing.

I’ve also definitely improved over the year, and I can see the images evolve. I taught myself the basics of balancing flash with ambient light, I now understand the concept of formal image composition, even if I’m not very good at it, and I’m slowly getting better at predicting the look of the final exposure before clicking the shutter. I also finally sat down and learnt how to use Lightroom, and suddenly I could properly control the shadow and highlight points while editing – I think there’s a marked improvement in the image quality thereafter.

It’s also had the intended memory-bank effect. I checked over the set this evening – there were a few omissions / duplicates, and my pride at the final 365 total was dented when I realised it’s a leap year – and kept spotting and thinking about little events I’d forgotten, which is quite pleasant. My 25th year had sad days, happy days, scary-exciting days, celebrities, and plenty of monkeys – it’ll be fun to dig through in a few years.

So it’s a mixed bag. There are more than a few images that made me wince while uploading, and again now, but there are some that came out better than I remembered, and a few I’m very happy with. I didn’t learn as much from it as I hoped, but it wasn’t a waste of time either.

I’m going to make a Blurb book of the results. I don’t have a properly colour-balanced setup, so I’ll have to play the odds and just hope they resemble what I see on screen. I’m currently struggling to download all the images and keep them in order (I don’t have a local copy, sadly), but I’m sure I’ll find a way. However it turns out, it should make a neat little momento.

Is there a Year 26 Project? So far, yes. I’ve been toying with 52 Portraits or similar, but as I’ve got into the habit I see no reason not to continue for the moment. Objectives for this year:

  • Be brave
  • Take fewer, better shots, on decent equipment
  • Check and double-check the goddamn focus (I hate hate hate it when the focus is off)
  • Learn more about lighting, and put it into practice
  • Take more portraits
  • Be brave

I think that’s enough to be going along with.