Category Archives: Photography

POTY 2014

I enjoy photography. I can totally lose myself in it as a hobby and I love the creative side of it. I’ve been a ‘photographer’ for about 5 years now – maybe 6 – and in that time I’ve narrowed down my favourite subjects to macro, zoo and wildlife photography. This is fine, but it is also nice to branch out and try new things. In 2009 I did a ’52’ whereby a theme is drawn each week and a group of us all took a photo to the theme and posted it for critique. The results of that little venture can be found here:

The 52 Weeks of 2009

It was hard work and looking back on some of the pictures makes me cringe a bit – but I really enjoyed doing it and got a great sense of achievement at the end of the year. So the following year I set myself a new challenge – an A-Z of animals:

A – Z of Animals 2010

I didn’t quite make the full set – but I think the quality of the photography had improved which made me very happy. Since these two projects I have taken lots of photos of zoo animals and pets, but I havn’t successfully finished any kind of challenge. I have set myself projects but they’ve always fallen apart. I tried to do a reloaded ’52’ in 2011 but only got 7 photos in before giving up – and I wanted to do a Local Wildlife project in 2013 but just couldn’t sustain it what with the chemotherapy etc. I didn’t even bother pretending to start anything in 2012. Lets just say I lost my creative mojo.To be fair I have had other things to contend with – but I don’t like failing at all. Especially on something I have set myself. So I have been a bit reticent to set myself any challenges this year – life is challenging enough! – but an email arrived in my inbox inviting me to participate in the Photographer of the Year competition on the forum Talk Photography. This is the same forum that I did my ’52’ with.

So I decided to give it a go.

Basically it is one photo a month to a specified theme and or style… I can do that right?

The themes looked ok.

12 photos isn’t too taxing.

Good way to get my mojo back surely…

So I am 2 months into this challenge and so far it’s been a bit of a mixed experience! Results are in for January and I didn’t do too badly. February’s picture has been submitted but it wasn’t great. Actually, the picture was ok, it is just crow-barred into the theme! One of the rules of the competition are that the entries cannot be displayed anywhere else until judging is completed – and judging takes about 3 weeks – so you’ll have to wait to see that one. I can show you January’s though…the theme was Nature and the style was Macro / Close up – you could choose to take your photo to either / both. I decided to try for both – and think a little bit outside the box. This is what I ended up with – it is called “A Titanic Force of Nature” and it was taken with a 90mm Macro lens:

A Titanic Force of Nature

It came 25th out of over 40 entries – so not a terrible start. Could be better but frankly, just doing something a bit creative was a win for me! February’s theme was Winter Landscape which has been a nightmare as all it has done in February is rain. I very nearly didn’t submit anything but decided I’d rather enter every month – even with a rubbish entry – than miss any. A lot of the other participants have said the same though so it’ll be interesting to see everyone’s efforts. March should be a bit easier – theme Architecture, style Monochrome – again, you can pick either or try to cover both. Not sure what I am going to do yet but we have a trip to London booked in a couple of weeks so I’m hoping to find something good to photograph there.

So far I am happy that I’ve started this project. I really want to improve my photography – I am very out of practice – and I am determined to see this particular project through to the end!


The Muse…

For some reason I have not been that into my photography recently. I’m not sure why. To be honest I struggle to settle on anything currently (reading is proving particularly tricky) BUT, yesterday Albie inspired me to break out the camera again. He’s just so damn cute!!  Thanks for being my therapy kitten Albs – I enjoyed picturing you 🙂

I have to manually focus the lens I was using which is more difficult that it sounds – so I was quite pleased with these…

Albie 13 20130810

Albie 17 20130810

Albie 16 20130810

Albie 14 20130810

He’s changed so much since he first arrived – and I think he’s growing into a very handsome little man!!

Flowers and Froggies

Has everyone had a nice bank holiday weekend? Mines been a bit up and down but overall I am quite pleased by how productive I’ve been.

Just to get the not so good side out of the way – I have stupid taxotere burns (it burns me from the inside out – an interesting feature!) down the sides of both my feet which makes walking a tad painful. Am also still a feeble weeble with steroid induced water retention and the limb strength of a ninety year old. Chemotherapy side effects are getting old now… so impatient to feel better. On the plus side my mouth is slowly improving. I am currently in the ‘everything tastes of 2p coins’ stage which is a distinct improvement on everything tasting of rot. Onwards and upwards. Anyway, the point is we haven’t really been able to do a whole lot this weekend. It would have been nice to go out for the day but not very realistic. I’m also really conscious that we are off on a week long zoo / safari park tour in just two weeks so I need to do everything I can to be feeling better by then – which means resting and putting a shit load of moisturiser on my feet every half an hour.

So what have we been up to? Well on Saturday morning it was horrid and grey so we went to the Cinema to see Oblivion. Less said about that the better as far as I’m concerned – I gave it a 3 out of 10. M didn’t dislike it as much as me but still only gave it a 5. I wasn’t expecting much… and my expectations were met!!

The rest of the weekend has been largely devoted to resting or gardening. I’ve been thinking about constructive things I can do while recovering from surgery and have decided that I am going to try to keep some plants alive in the garden. We rent and our ‘garden’ is all gravel, patio – and most of the time weeds and overgrown trees. For these reasons I am aiming for pots of things that we can take with us when we finally buy a house – assuming they live that long! So on Saturday afternoon I decided to make a start on tidying things up. I sat on the floor and did weeding and then got a bit over-enthusiastic and got the saw out. I quite enjoy sawing back our trees – I like how much impact you can have by lopping a branch off. Much more so than the never ending bloody weeding. Oh my god sawing is an energy sapping enterprise though – and weeding wasn’t much better. I had to stop when I realised I was just limply jabbing my trowel at a dandelion and the dandelion was winning. I had to have a lie down too. Pathetic! I made myself get up and go to the garden centre for a reckie though. Limped round and looked at lots of flowers – decided that a herb garden would be nice and then went home for my lying down. In fact I don’t think I got up again until Sunday. I did do my last lenograstim injection though – hopefully forever. Hurrah!

I ached like nobodies business on Sunday but I really wanted to carry on with the garden project – possibly not my wisest choice but I am stubborn. I did get up late and we had bacon sarnies and lounging around first – but then I spotted that the sun had come out and decided I should have a look at my container ponds and see if they needed any maintenance.  I first started my container pond in 2010 I think and I added another smaller one in 2011. This has actually been my one garden triumph to date – I have managed to keep pond plants alive and attract wildlife which was the original aim. I have had some plant mistakes – I am here to tell you that ‘water mint’ will try to take over the world if you don’t keep a close eye on it!! So on Sunday I pottered into the garden and took the plants out of my ponds so I could fish out all the dead leaves etc. It was while I was fishing around at the bottom of the larger container that I felt something slimy – and up popped a little friend… a froggie friend!

I love that I have managed to attract frogs into my simple little container ponds. There were actually three that I saw when cleaning them out on Sunday – two biggies and a little one. I didn’t want to disturb them too much so quickly finished grabbing all the leaves and put the plants back in. Spent the rest of my time outside  crawling around clearing the patio of weeds – which again very nearly finished me off! My back really really hurt actually and the arms stopped working again – I had to ask M to give me a bit of a back massage which did help thankfully. Lovely M – he is so good to me.

Which brings us to today. I promised M I would not do any weeding or sawing today as to be honest, I may have overdone it the last two days after all my talk of resting for our holiday. We went to the vet first thing this morning so our cat (who is called Weasel – don’t ask why!) could have her stitches removed. Bless her she has been wearing a cone for ten days as had an operation to remove a cyst. We also discovered recently that she has an overactive thyroid so she is now on pills every day. Anyway, we had the first appt at 9am and the stitches were removed along with the cone. She has been frantically washing ever since! After that we were off to the Garden Centre to have brekky in the cafe and so I could buy some pots and plants to put in them.

We came away with:

  • Three bags of compost (for the price of two… lovely!)
  • 40cm pot
  • 30cm pot
  • Brooklime – marginal pond plant, apparently good for covering containers which is supposed to help with algae as blocks the light
  • Slender Club Rush – oxygenating pond plant
  • 20 pack of ‘Lobelia Trailing Mixed’ – says it’s good for hanging baskets or window boxes… so I’ve put them in pots!
  • Spring Magic Blue & White Aquilegia – provides food for bees
  • A 6 for £10 deal on herbs and alpines – I got Rhodanthemum African Eyes, Erodium Bishops Form, Chives, Rosemary, Oregano and Thyme.
  • 2 pots of what I think were called African Daisies – they are pink / yellow and pretty!

The lot came to £57 which I didn’t think was too bad. I probably could have got pots cheaper elsewhere – to be honest I do need some more and I think I will be hitting up The Range for cheap and cheerful!

After the garden centre we stopped off at a place called Lockey Farm where they have some animals and a farm shop. We mooched round to look at the animals briefly and then got some cookies in the shop. Headed home after that and after a bit of a rest I have been outside potting plants this afternoon and taking some pictures of my handiwork.. and the frogs obviously.

SO… it’s time for some pictures…

First up – this is what the container ponds look like now:

Pond 6 20120506

That’s Norbert the dragon who guards the ponds for me.

If you look closely in this one you can see some of the residents:


… and a shot of all three of my little hopping friends. They seem to like the new Brooklime:

Pond 1 20120506

The smaller container on the right is 30cm I think and I’m guessing 60cm for the bigger one. They are just big pots intended for plants – but they have no drainage holes so work great for the ponds. I didn’t get frogs until I added the smaller container – and they do use both. The little pond has two plants and some free floating oxygenating bunches of what might be Mares Tail? I don’t know – I got it ages ago. The bigger one has the two new plants I got today plus two that I added in 2011. Who the hell know what they are called either!! Sorry I’m not very informative – I tend to buy stuff on a whim and see how it turns out. All the bits of tree are for allowing bugs etc to crawl out if they fall in – I don’t know if the frogs use them to get in, but I know they just jump off the edge to get out as I’ve seen them do it.

Onto the herb / alpine pot:


I honestly don’t know if I’ve picked things that work well together – I just picked herbs that I like to use in the kitchen and I though would smell nice. I plan to buy a nice comfy chair that I can recline in the sun and read a book after my surgery – assuming it’s sunny obviously – and I thought it would be nice to sit by a lovely smelling herb pot. The only thing I knew not to get was mint as apparently it is a space hog and is better planted alone. We’ll see how the rest get on together.

Then we have the flowers which I currently have in a random assortment of pots. I think some of them (the Lobeli-whatsit) are a bit crowded and I will probably have to get some more pots and spread them out a bit :



So that’s what I achieved this weekend – not bad considering my crippled state. I didn’t take a ‘before’ picture of the garden which is a bit annoying but I’ve made a good start and that’s the main thing. M and I both like the idea of growing tomatoes and strawberries but I thought it better to start small and add things later. The whole point is for me to do it after I’ve recovered a bit from surgery but am still off work. I will be off for at least two months and I’m hoping I won’t be a total invalid all that time. Not sure how realistic gardening is but I’m sure after a few weeks I’ll be ok for light duties. I’m also hoping that the plants bring the bugs and I can do some photography too.

On that subject – I did go out with my camera for an hour last week and I also took some close up froggie shots today… a selection:

Frog 1 20120506

Buttercup 2 20120502

Garden Flower 1 20120502

Garden Flower 2 20120502

Garden Flower 3 20120502

It’s been nice to get out in the sunshine this weekend – and I’m pleased to have done something constructive even though I am shattered. Now we have three days at work and then another long weekend as we have taken Friday off just to do something fun. Probably cinema and lunch out as my taste should be more normal by then. I have only 8 working days left until our week off and then surgery and I have a shit load to do at work. Should help keep my mind off things I suppose…

We’re going to the ZOO ZOO ZOO!!

Or I should say, we went to the zoo and we’re going again in three weeks time… for a week long zoo and safari park tour. We’re clearly not going to get a big holiday this year but I always enjoy our zoo tours and M has planned it so we alternate days at zoos and safari parks. As I am going to still be buggered from chemo (which incidentally I had the last session of yesterday – HURRAH!!) so I can’t really maintain a whole week of walking round zoos – the safari parks are so I can just sit in the car and have some more restful day.

Any-ho – getting back to the main point of this post, you might remember me saying we had special tickets to go and see London Zoo’s new Tiger Territory exhibit before it opened to the public. Well we did go and we had a good time despite it being some of my worst chemo recovery days. I took A LOT of painkillers and we took it slow – but I’m really glad we went. We also stayed in a hotel and went to Chessington the following day which was also good fun. I was absolutely pooped the following few days but it was worth it 🙂

So without further ado – a few shots from our trip:

This is Jae Jae, London’s new male tiger – he, and the female – are absolutely gorgeous. The new exhibit is good too. They have had to incorporate some listed building and feature (like a sea lion viewing platform that hasn’t been used since the 60’s) and they have done this well. The foliage needs to grow to give the tigers some hiding places but on the whole it is a massive improvement on the old enclosure.

Jae Jae 3 130321

Jae Jae 5 130321

Jae Jae 7(EDIT) 130321

… and for anyone who is wondering – the new residents of the old tiger exhibit are the pygmy hippos, not sure if this ir permanent or a temporary arrangement. They have made short work of turning it into a mud hollow though:

Pygmy Hippo 1 130321

I also really like the last new exhibit London Zoo put in – Penguin Beach. Sat here for ages watching the ‘guins and taking pictures. It is a huge area for them and they seem to enjoy it!

This is Rocky the lone rockhopper penguin that lives there – he has a huge personality and clearly loves any attention:

Rocky Profile 130321

…and some un-named swimmers:

Penguin Dive 130321

Penguin Surface 130321

As always the reptile house didn’t disappoint and I also enjoyed seeing the Galapagos tortoise too:

Galapogas Tortoise 1 130321

Monitor Lizard 2 130321

Mono Basilisk Lizard 2 130321

I realise this post is probably getting a bit picture heavy so I’d better save the shots from Chessington for another day. Here is the link to all the shots I have processed from London Zoo though:

Bird Walkthrough 1 130321

It was great to get out with the camera again and really looking forward to our trip in a few weeks. Fingers crossed for good weather and posing animals!!

Some mandarins have feet and beaks…

I’d quite like to get in more than one photography day in February but with chemo this Friday I’m not sure how realistic that is. Having said that I’ve been told they are giving me one hell of a dose of steroids so I might be bouncing off the walls!!

Regardless, I am happy to say I did make it to the nature reserve sunday just gone and it was a big difference to my January visit. First flowers are out – I managed to find some crocus and snowdrops. I also saw lots of Red Kites but no good shooting opportunities. They actually seem to fly lowest over the roads so I think I will just have to traipse around the cul de sacs until I’m in the right place at the right time.

Anyway – I actually went with the intention of trying some macro shots as the final peice of my bracket / bendy arm set up to hold my off camera flash finally arrived.

It was this connection screw.

This may not look like much but it caused me much excitement and I wanted to head out and try my new set up out straight away. But being a complete wally I managed to take everything I needed (including new charged up batteries)… apart from the off camera lead to attach the flash to the camera. Muppet.

I couldn’t be bothered to head back home to fecth it so I just used the flash on camera for a few macro shots of the flowers – worked ok but I’m looking forward to seeing how much improvement the off camera set up will bring.

Enough of me blathering about lighting… onto the shots. I still have some to process but this is the first set. Click on any of the pictures to see bigger versions:


Frayed Crocus:

Frayed Crocus 20130217


Not Frayed Crocus:

Crocus 20130217


First Snowdrop – not sure about the depth of field on this one and I always struggle with whites. I’d like to re-shoot this one tbh…

Snowdrop 20130217




Blue Tit – fast as lightening they are and never stay still… hope to improve on this over the year but I think it’s not a bad start:

Bluetit 20130217


…and finally two shots of a male Mandarin Duck – the most colourful bird on the lake. I prefer the one with the reflection – I had to be very patient to wait for him to float into the right patch of sun / calm water!

Mandarin Duck 1 20130217


… but then I do prefer this pose:

Mandarin Duck 2 20130217


So there we are – not quite what I was aiming for but I think that Mandarin reflection shot might make it into the final cut. I have been chatting to a very lovely person on a photography forum that I frequent this evening and received a bit of a tip off about where to find barn owls at our other local nature reserve which is exciting news! I hope I can get out and about at the right time to see one – and maybe even get some photo’s. I have also read about tawny owls visiting the area where I took the above shots and I think I spotted an owl nest box when I was there this weekend so that is promising.

I also picked up some decaying leaves to try out in the light tent / with the macro off camera flash set up. They are very interesting – you can see the internal structure of the leaf. Might give that a go tomorrow night if I get a chance. Or over the weekend if I’m not feeling too crap. Apparently the new chemo drug side effects might kick in a few days after it is administered rather than the puking frenzy FEC caused a few hours after. We will see.

Snowy Beaks and Woodlouse Feet…

I am a little bit proud of myself as I have started my photography project.

Been out the last two saturday mornings taking pictures and did a bit of work to add a Personal Projects section to my website too last weekend – with a link for this years project. I know my website isn’t great but it’s a work in progress and I’m learning!

Last saturday morning I got up early and walked to the local nature reserve in the snow and had a nice long walk around, stopping to take some pictures of the birds and plants. It was freezing cold and difficult photography conditions but I had a good time. I didn’t get many shots – birds are difficult subjects for me and I didn’t like any of the plant shots I took but never mind. My best efforts were of a blackbird that may have been frozen to the tree or just enjoyed posing for photos – love his snowy beak:

(Click on any of the pictures for links to larger sizes)

Blackbird Snowy Beak 20130113

…and one swan picture that I think has potential but I’m not sure I’ve cracked the post processing yet – tis a bit too dark I think:

Swan Mono 20130113

I want to keep it dark and moody but I think I might have taken it a bit too far. Undecided.

So, last weekend was moderately successful and I was pleased to get at least one shot that showed the snow a little bit. I was also pleased to get out of the house and get a bit of exercise after chemo recovery week. This plus the snow and the district nurse visit meant I only actually went into work on the Wednesday that week and was going a bit stir crazy by Saturday. M wasn’t particularly keen on me traipsing around in the snow and ice on my own but I promised to be sensible and not try to climb any trees or anything… and then I just left the house while he was still in bed so he didn’t try to stop me!!

This morning my actual intention was to collect any interesting leaves / stones / shells etc that I found and bring them home to photograph them in my new light tent that I got for christmas. I took the camera with me just in case and ended up poking around in the empty pots in our garden and found some woodlice… and a bloody enormous spider living in a bin full of garden cuttings that we never took to the tip. Abandoned the collection idea at this point and broke out my Raynox close up lenses instead. I did take some shots of the spider but they were rubbish. Had more success with the woodlice and I think this is my favourite shot of the day:

Woodlouse 20120126

I’m a bit annoyed with myself for not coming back inside to get my off camera flash – or even just a diffuser for the on camera flash. Definitely something to remember for next time. I can’t wait for proper bug season – shooting these reminded me how much I like macro photography. I really really want a dedicated macro lens now too and am serious considering a Nikon 105mm… which would leave me about £500 poorer if I got it second-hand. Other options are the Sigma 105mm or the Tamron 90mm which are a bit cheaper but more difficult to find second-hand. I’ve been lusting after the Tamron for years. Had always discounted the Nikon as too expensive but given recent events I’ve started I think I deserve to buy the best and treat myself!!

I’ve always been a bit of a scrooge with buying myself things but the end of FEC chemo is looming and you know, money isn’t everything. I could celebrate and reward myself with a lens couldn’t I? It’s a bit extravagant but it doesn’t look like we’ll be getting a good holiday this year. If we do go away it’ll probably be a zoo tour and then I could use my new lens… all round win!

Still – the cheapo Raynox set up works pretty well until I decide what I’m going to splash some cash on:

Woodlouse Bokeh 20120126

Woodlouse in a Pot 20120126

Woodlouse Walking 20120126

M calls woodlice ‘cheeselogs’ …. wtf?? He thinks this is totally normal.

I don’t.

I think we are off to the cinema tomorrow so these will probably be all my shots for January for the project unless I get really enthusiastic and take the camera into work and have a mooch down the river before work or at lunch time one day. Realistically that probably isn’t going to happen though – but I’m still pretty impressed that I’ve made a start at all given the terrible weather and how tired I’ve been. I’ve enjoyed it too – feels good to be taking pictures again 🙂

I’m ALSO very excited about what we’re seeing at the cinema… Les Miserable – HURRAH!

I could be the most annoying person there as will probably sing all the way through, sob loudly at various moments and give it a standing ovation at the end… assuming it is as good as I’m hearing it is of course. I will report back.

Cameras and Insects and Birds – oh my!

Goodness, there has been a flurry of food related blog posts round these parts recently haven’t there?!

Time for a bit of variety I think… today I would like to talk about my photography project for 2013. To be completely honest it is the project that never materialised in 2012 because frankly, I was too busy trying to just get on with life following my dads passing… and then I got diagnosed with cancer which can really interfere with your hobbies.

Obviously I’m still dealing with this stuff but I really really want to get back into my photography this year. I have still been taking pictures on our zoo outings (we love a zoo!) but not so much day to day. I have done some personal projects previously:

52 Weeks of 2009

A to Z of Animals 2010

… and they really helped me improve and also gave a nice sense of accomplishment at the end of the year.

Having said that, I’ve got to be realistic. I don’t think I can maintain another 52, and I’m not sure I want to set myself anything too specific or challenging. It needs to be something flexible that I can fit around my treatment without feeling like I’m falling behind or letting myself down. With this in mind I have decided on a ‘Local Wildlife’ project for 2013. I feel like this can be as big or small as I want it to be. I can find local wildlife in my back garden and there are a number of nature reserves nearby that I’m sure will be full of possibility if I go looking for it.

I really enjoy taking macro pictures of insects so I’m sure that will feature heavily. I’ve been saying that I will get up super early and go butterfly hunting while they are still drying their wings for ages but I have never actually done it yet so that’s one thing for the list. I also installed a container pond in the garden last year which attracted some frogs so I’m wondering if this year we might see some frogspawn.. that would be fun!

Other subjects I think will be the waterfowl at the local nature reserves – I might even be brave and go sit in some of the hides. I actually enjoy my photography as quite a solitary pastime though so am a bit reticent to go where other people might want to chat to me. Call me anti-social but I find it relaxing to get lost in my picture taking and I don’t want other people intruding on that! I do hear a rumour that there are kingfishers nearby though so I could get serious about it and get a hide etc.

We have a lot of Red kites in the area too and so far I have failed miserably to get a good shot of one – that is definitely on the ‘to do’ list.

As I say, this project can and will be as simple or complicated as circumstances and mood dictate. The one thing I would like to end up with is a collection of photographs that I can make a photo book out of. I think the key to this is changing my ‘just go out and see what I can find’ attitude. I need to do research and learn a bit of field craft. I need to know the seasons / best times / habits for the wildlife I would like to photograph and then use this information to be in the right place at the right time.

There are no real rules to this project and at the moment the ‘brief’ is obviously pretty wide. I think I will set myself some specific mini challenges to get started and then see where this leads me. Or maybe once I’ve done a bit of research I could identify a ‘target’ species / topic for each month.

I’m not ruling out captive wildlife either – M suggested we could take a trip here which I am well up for. As long as it’s native, it counts – wild or captive… although obviously the wild photos will be more satisfying. Oh and by ‘wildlife’ I mean flora and fauna.

I think I need to start doing my local wildlife homework now…

The kit I will be using is:

Nikon D60 DSLR

Nikon SB600 Speedlight

Various Nikon AF-S VR lenses – my favourite being the 70-300.

Raynox DCR 150 & 250 close up lenses… unless I buy a lovely new ‘proper’ macro lens which is a distinct possibility!

Monopod – I never use this but maybe it’s time I started! I might get myself a good tripod too. I do have one but frankly it’s crap and heavy. Not ideal for toting around attached to my backpack.

Nothing too fancy but I think I can get some good shots with the above. Well, I am certainly going to try!



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