Flying above Knole Park

A set of stormy drone shots:

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Bristol

Bristol is one of the great regenerated cities of Britain. Somehow, over years of brief visits, I’d never really realised what a great place it is until I was stuck on a course there a couple of years ago. My hotel then was close to the canal, and each morning, I would take a walk before breakfast along the waterside into the city.

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I loved the place so much that over Christmas we decided as a family to repeat the visit at leisure.

Even before we got there, on our drive down, we had our first great surprise- Lydiard Park- near Swindon of all places, was a brief afternoon stop:

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Then as we toured Bristol itself after sundown, we visited first the Cathedral:

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As before, it was an early morning walk that really opened up the city to me:

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The church in the background, St Mary Redcliffe, is even more impressive than the Cathedral:

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Then finally a drive out to Clifton to visit the famous suspension Bridge. First, looking back from the wonderful restaurant at the Avon Hotel we got this view over towards the city:

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Then up to the Bridge itself:

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And finally to the viewpoint looking over it:

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Burgundy Flowers and the Strange Art of Digital Chiaroscuro

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I don’t too often write about technique for the simple reason that as a self-taught photographer, most of what I know about how to use a camera or edit photographs has been learnt from others online who can have already explained things pretty well themselves.

Recently, however, I’ve been playing around in photoshop in some ways that are new to me at least, that I thought were worth a share. I am not going to do a laborious point by point demo here (although I am thinking of making a video at some point to demo this more clearly)

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My original technique starts, of course, with someone else’s idea. The great french photographer Jean-Michel Berts in one of his own training videos explains a method where you add an adjustment layer to an image and in this layer take down the brightness of the picture until it is nearly black. You then use a brush to gradually paint back the light.

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This was a revelation to me as it allows me actually to control the mood and lighting in any image to an unprecedented degree. When messing around like this, I started to be influenced by the dark and contrasty pictures by the original inventors of chiaroscuro (painting with light and shadow) such as Caravaggio.

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At the same time I had been experimenting with using layer modes in photoshop and this is where my own bit of special sauce is added. If you make a copy of a layer in photoshop and then change its mode to multiply, you create a very dark and contrasty version of the original which also has highly saturated colours. you can then apply a mask to this layer and start to paint it out as Berts suggests.

_dsc4913-copyIn many of my recent images, I am using this technique which I then experiment with further adding layer on layer and painting out different parts of the image. I also mix in more traditional techniques such as dodging and burning.

In the flower pictures that have filled this page, taken in Burgundy in France, it has allowed me to either create these very dark backgrounds or more subtly light the flower and shift attention away from the rest of the shot.

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Lost Cruising the fjords part three- Can I talk to a Norwegian yet?

After two days in Norway, and having learnt to at least enjoy the Norwegian scenery, I had decided that day three would be the day that I actually talked with someone who lived here.

And I did! Serge our lovely Spanish tour guide on the coach from Olden had been living in Norway for three months now and was able to fill us in on loads about the local way of life.

The scenery would have to do- fortunately it was quite special. We’d woken up in Olden to some quite cloudy weather which while magnificent, could go either way:

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We soon headed off in the coach to the valley of Stryn where the clouds lifted to this view of the lake:

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In the distance, at the back there, you can just make out the shine of one of the local glaciers which taunted us during the day. One of the features of a cruise is that on each day on land you have to choose your tours from a number of options and I had selected a long drive through scenery rather than a shorter glacier visit. Having visited an Icelandic Glacier earlier this year, I did know what I was missing and how amazing it might be.

Our next stop was way up in the mountains at Dalsnibba where we were actually able to look down through the clouds onto the Geraingerfjord:

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On our way down to the mouth of the fjord, we passed traditional Norwegian houses where they grow grass on the roof. They used to keep goats up on top of the houses to mow it- why on earth did they stop?

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In Gerainger, there was a magnificent waterfall:

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And then we were onto the fjord itself using a car ferry rather than a tourist ship to go along its length:

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A car ferry of course meant ordinary Norwegian passengers to chat to, but no it was just more tourists in their hired cars! More great views, though:

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We stopped next briefly at the lake of Horindalsvannet.

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With no time to further explore the lake itself, and no obvious Norwegians around to talk to, in what appeared to be a ghost town, I did enjoy seeing an appealingly run down hotel:

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And then we were back on the cruise ship sailing along our final fjord, the Nordfjord. The light was more than promising at first:

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The people in the farm house in the middle of the next snap came out to wave just after I took it- at last some in depth contact with actual Norwegians! I had achieved what I wanted and could get back to taking pictures in the gorgeous light:

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But as sunset approached, it was getting much plainer than the day before:

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Finally, in the twilight at the end of the day, we approached our last Norwegian wonder of Hornelen.

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The cliffs at Hornelen are the highest in Europe and we got in close, as the captain showed us a long fissure in the rock which will one day lead to the cliff collapsing into the fjord. With so much weight of rock this will almost inevitably lead to a terrible Tsunami along the length of the ford.

Getting in close to a cliff at night with a ship’s small flashlight strangely leads to only terrible photos which I will not show here!

As the last of the light disappeared, it was time to head out to open sea and slowly home:

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Lost Cruising the fjords part two- One Amazing Evening

In my last post you found me struggling to understand the point of a cruise, but that same evening I got a bit of a sense of why watching stunning scenery disappear out of reach could still be amazing.

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Clouds were descending as we left Flam in Sognefjord and headed up another branch of the fjord called the Naerofjord. This is meant to be one of the most stunning of all and is a Unesco world heritage site.

The cruise manager used the tannoy to tell us of the wonders ahead and briefly there was even a bit of a struggle for space on the deck as all the onboard entertainment paused so that we could take a look.

And then it started to rain and everyone went back inside.

They missed this:

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And this:

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The light kept changing as we continued on- sometimes just gloom over almost everything:

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At other times, pure magic as individual features of the landscape were spotlit:

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Later as we headed back along the length of Sognefjord and the sun started to go down, the show continued:

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At last the mixture of the changing light and the changing views made perfect sense- along with one other similarly insane photographer I was literally running the length of the deck from front to back to catch the changing views:

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Occasionally, I would rush back to see whether my dad needed another drink and then find that I had nearly missed a random rainbow:

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The wind was up at this point and at the front of the ship it was so strong that we had to take turns wedging ourself against the wall to stop ourselves being flung around, but it was worth it:

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Lost Cruising the Fjords – part One

I have never been at all keen about the idea if a cruise.

My idea of travel is to approach a new destination on my own terms and to get to know the locals and their character as I meet them.

Being shipped in to port after port with only a limited awareness of which one is which, has never had any appeal and yet a few weeks ago I found myself accompanying my 89 year old Dad on a cruise from Rosyth in Scotland to the Norwegian Fjords.

It seems pretty churlish when some people never get any holidays at all to complain about such a luxurious one, but on the first day I felt pretty grumpy.

There was admittedly a bit of excitement at the start as we approached the Forth Bridges (including the third one which is still being built:)

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But then, pretty soon, we were out at sea with nothing to be seen anywhere.

What interest I could get came from either watching the activity of the crew:

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Or an occasional encounter with something man made:

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But mostly I was bored and with my dad in tow, reverted a bit into grumpy teenage mode, waiting for something interesting to happen.

And then, on the evening of the second day, we made our approach towards the coast of Norway:

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Obviously, the light helped, but I could begin to see why so many love this kind of travel. Even though we were told the seas were quite rough, we felt little of this because of the size of the ship- there was something really majestic about our slow approach to the country.

I still could not shake the idea that we were not really out of the UK, though. On the second morning we woke up approaching Flam at the end of Sognefjord. This, I had read, was one of the most beautiful of the Fjords, but like all the rest of the passengers I had been asleep as we had travelled through the night up its 204km.

We disembarked for the first time and got into a tour coach to head to the Stegastein viewpoint. This is a platform which has been built into the mountains above the water so that cruise parties like ours can get a super quick view of the majesty of the fjords without having to do anything as prosaic as actually walking, before taking the coach back to the boat to the next spot.

What could be more artificial than this?

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But what a view:

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We got back in the bus and headed down to the town of Aurland to stretch our legs. Here was a bit of the kind of travel I was more used to. A nice small town with actually very few tourists clogging the streets and the chance to see actual Norwegians:

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There was a simple old church to explore:

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And an old house with fish drying outside:

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It had likely been left like that for tourists, but I could still persuade myself that I was properly travelling.

We headed back towards Flam itself and I again had some time to walk around this town. Flam itself is less appealing, being essentially a set of tourist shops selling expensive souvenirs, but it is easy to walk above and around the town for some awesome views:

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As I headed back towards our ship (in the distance in this shot) I had actually begun to feel I could enjoy this voyage even if I had not yet actually talked to an actual Norwegian.

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