In the Garden

As promised in my previous post, ‘In the Mirror Pool’, the focus today is on the gardens at Upton House.

I had a thoroughly enjoyable time walking round those gardens, spotting the best specimens of Aster, Dahlia, and Geranium that populated the flower beds this late in the year. A couple of weeks earlier, the show would have been much more impressive. I had an idea as to how I would process these, and therefore I shot with care to avoid distracting backgrounds.

As well as semi-formal gardens, Upton House has a bog garden, which can thankfully be visited while retaining dry feet, and less formal wooded areas. In those places there were the first signs of autumn and I’ve included three images from there in the gallery below.

Back home I made a deliberate decision to follow the layout in an old encyclopedia of garden plants where every single illustration is square. For specimen flowers, there is something very natural in cropping to a square format around a circular single flower. And it was not hard to extend that concept to the remainder of the images

I hope you enjoy the gallery below. Click on the first image and then navigate through.

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In the Mirror Pool

Last week, stumped for new ideas for a day out, my wife checked through the National Trust handbook and found Upton House. She’s a good finder-outer. It’s a forty-five minute drive for us, just the other side of Banbury. It proved to be an excellent ‘find’ and one that we will be re-visiting.

Upton House became the country seat of Walter Samuel, 2nd Viscount Bearsted in 1927. Walter Samuel was the son of Marcus Samuel whose family business was the Shell Transport and Trading Company, although we know it better as Royal Dutch Shell.

The house is a treasure trove of Art and Porcelain, but on this occasion it was the gardens that we were interested in exploring. Set on steeply sloping land, the garden consists of a series of linked terraces that end in a small ornamental lake – The Mirror Pool – at the foot of the garden. The Mirror Pool, to quote a well-known advertising strapline in the UK, ‘does exactly what it says on the tin’. It reflects beautifully. On the day we visited, the water was mirror smooth, and I found a small spray of reeds that provided a rewarding image.

_DS81699The garden was just past its best, but even so we were surprised and delighted by what we saw. My wife ambled, I paused, shot, and hurried to catch up. We are like the tortoise and the hare at places like this.

Come back on Friday to see a gallery of images from the gardens.

Posted in Country Houses & Gardens | Tagged , , , , | 15 Comments

St Paul’s Cathedral

St Paul’s Cathedral is a dominant feature on London’s skyline. There are also lines of sight at ground level as you approach the Cathedral from a number of directions.

In addition to all that, local development has very cleverly employed glass so that not only is the Cathedral viewed directly, but also by reflection – in one instance, both at the same time.

Most people who visit St Paul’s Cathedral logically head to the main entrance at the west end of the building. And I am no different in that regard, usually. However, last week my route towards the Cathedral from the Bank of England brought me to the NE corner of the site, at the top of a street called New Change. Here there is a huge shopping development called One New Change. It’s described on its website as ‘a modernist building by Pritzker Prize-winning architect, Jean Nouvel, with 6,500 floor-to-ceiling glass panes in varying shades of red, grey and beige, flooding the floors with natural light’. What that brief statement fails to mention is that the glass also appears to vary in its reflectivity.

As I walked down New Change, looking up at this building, the Cathedral’s reflection hoved into view, and as a I walked further I reached a point where the building was slightly angled, resulting in a double reflection. The Cathedral appeared to be rising through layers of tinted mist. There are moments that momentarily take one’s breath away – and this was one of them.

_DS81603_2The day I visited was dull and overcast, and that has added to the ethereal quality of today’s image. But I look forward to visiting on a sunnier day to see how the image will change.

Modern Architecture really does have the power to excite the senses. It creates new inter-relationships – is it not reasonable to suggest that glass facades have the capacity to create a ‘fourth architectural dimension’?

Posted in Architecture & Buildings, London | Tagged , , , , | 22 Comments

A Leica, an Exhibition, and a Walk

Last week I attended a workshop at the Leica Akademie in London and not only held a Leica M but also spent an hour walking around Mayfair using it. That is likely to be an unrepeatable experience. And it was just the first part of a very long and rewarding day in London.

So, you are probably wondering, how did I come to be in the privileged position of being loaned a Leica M for an hour? The answer is that I’m a member of the Camera Club for retired fellows at the Royal Society of Medicine, and the club was informed that the Leica Akademie in London (as part of Leica’s centenary celebrations) was offering a limited number of three-hour workshops to experienced photographers wanting to have an opportunity to learn more about, and use, Leica’s unique top-of-the-range digital rangefinder camera.

LeicaMThis was too good an opportunity to be missed. So five of us took up this offer and gathered at the UK’s Leica HQ, discreetly tucked away in a quiet location in London’s Mayfair. As well as being the UK’s flagship store, there is also a café for Leica customers, and first floor facilities offering Akademie courses & workshops and also a small photographic studio. For details of other workshops offered by Leica click here.

Our workshop was led by Robin Sinha – a professional freelance photographer and Tutor at the Akademie. The workshop commenced with a brief history of Leica cameras starting with the Ur-Leica in 1914, through the celebrated M3, and on to the current Leica M (named in full as Leica M typ 240). Leica cameras are world renowned for their build quality, durability and superior optics. The current Leica M (a full-frame camera) should be seen as evolving from previous Leicas and that pedigree is perhaps best illustrated by two facts. Firstly, the Leica M includes backward compatibility with previous Leica lenses; and secondly, like all previous models it has not embraced auto-focus. It remains, unusually in today’s market,  a manual focus rangefinder camera.


Leica M, Summilux-M 35mm lens, F11, 1/180, ISO 800

We moved on to learning how to use the camera. It’s a surprisingly heavy camera when you first pick it up, but once you get used to the weight it can be comfortably cradled in the hand. It has a minimalist appearance: the camera is not studded with an array of buttons and dials. And internally the menu structure – compared with most other digital cameras – is refreshingly sparse.

The principal difficulty for the majority of us who are accustomed to the idea of focusing taking care of itself is having to master manual focus. That takes time, and in action, constant reminding. The manual focus ring conveniently has a projection with a finger indent that with practice allows single finger focusing. Looking through the viewfinder you will find a small central circle within which you will see two ‘images’ out of alignment. To focus, you rotate the focus ring until those two images become one. There is however a simpler way to manage manual focus. Leica lenses feature a depth of field scale for a range of apertures imprinted on the barrel of the lens adjacent to the focus ring (a feature that will be familiar to any of you who once upon a time used manual focus lenses in the film era). A glance at the depth of field scale will show what will be in focus for any given aperture. So, manual focus can be ‘managed’ by selecting an aperture of, for example, F8 or F11 and estimating distances – a technique known as zone focusing. I won’t go into any more detail. If you are interested to learn more, and see more images of the camera, then there is a useful review of the Leica M in Amateur Photographer: click here to read that review.

Leica M, Summilux-M 35mm lens, F1.4, 1/750, ISO 400

Leica M, Summilux-M 35mm lens, F1.4, 1/750, ISO 400

The introductions over, it was time to venture outside. At this moment, the rain that had been an intermittent feature ever since I left my house earlier, decided it would resume, but fortunately only as very light drizzle. It did, however, make proper street photography difficult. I did not feel happy walking around with the camera fully exposed to the elements, whilst trying some candid shooting-from the-hip photography. However an hour later we all returned, and so did the cameras, from our independent photo walks. The images were uploaded and all reviewed in Lightroom, and finally the best images from each of our shoots were rapidly and efficiently processed by our Tutor in Lightroom. That in itself was a valuable experience for me as a complete stranger to Lightroom.

Leica M, Summilux-M 35mm Lens, F6.8, 1/750, ISO 800

Leica M, Summilux-M 35mm Lens, F6.8, 1/750, ISO 800

I shot about 30 images, and the three I judged to be the best on technical quality are shown above. Remember to click on an image to see a higher quality enlargement – it is certainly worth it.

Finally, we have to come to the issue of cost. A Leica M body will set you back 5,100 pounds. The Summilux 35mm F1.4 Lens will cost an additional 3,850. Total cost: 8,950 pounds sterling. The economics tutor on my Business Management course would have said: think of the opportunity cost. In plain English – What else could you buy with that sum? Sadly such an iconic camera will remain beyond my reach, but it was a privilege to try it out.

And that was just Part 1 of that busy day. From Mayfair I hotfooted it to Tate Modern in half an hour to see ‘Henri Matisse: The Cut-Outs’.

Blackfriars - shot taken on the move, on a hurried walk to Tate Britain.

Blackfriars – shot taken on the move, on a hurried walk to Tate Britain.

This was such a refreshingly different exhibition featuring the unique output of Matisse in his twilight years when ill health and reduced mobility meant he was no longer able to paint. But he could still cut painted paper with scissors.

_DS81127All of us as children cut coloured paper with scissors, and pasted those shapes onto other sheets of paper and made patterns or collages. At one very superficial level this is the appeal of Matisse – it’s child’s play. We’ve all done it. But then you look deeper and longer and you see the beauty, the skill and the creativity that affected every aspect of what he achieved – from pre-visualisation, to colour choice, to cutting, to placement. The works on display ranged from his early, small, folio sized work (especially a book he created called Jazz), his Blue Nudes and finally his  monumental canvases that stretched almost across the full width of the exhibition rooms. I emerged from that exhibition, as I do so often from similar events, inspired by the work of a celebrated artist.

By that time it was nearing 4pm and I still hadn’t found time to eat lunch! A brief stop for a sandwich and a coffee and I then set out on the third leg of the day’s journey – walking to Tower Bridge.

This is a walk that I haven’t done for about five or six years, and is so often the case in London, development takes one by surprise. So much has changed on Bankside as that area is called. The whole area is rich in photographic potential. Over the course of the next two hours I shot just over two hundred images.

These included two semi-abstract, geometric, architectural shots; the green algae on the water in the dock surrounding a full-size replica of Sir Francis Drake’s Golden Hinde; a close up of HMS Belfast; an image of one of the fifty ‘Books about Town’ benches that I have just now finished photographing; and finally an image taken at the Tower of London of the poppy fields – a subject I covered in detail in A Sea of Poppies and the Roll of Honour. If you are interested in a very personally orientated commemoration of WW1, then do read that Post.

Enjoy the short gallery below. Click on the first image and then navigate through. There will be other posts from this walk in the weeks to come.

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The Tall Ships Festival

Yesterday, my wife and I went down to Greenwich to see the Parade of Sail – the finale to the five-day Tall Ships Festival.

The Tall Ships Festival is an annual event in London, but this year’s event has seen the largest fleet of tall ships assembled in London for 25 years. The vessels arrived in London after a race from Falmouth, Cornwall and have been moored across four sites: Greenwich Maritime, Greenwich Peninsula, West India Dock at Canary Wharf and Woolwich for the last few days. Over the course of five days there have been opportunities to visit many of the ships, and enjoy the festival atmosphere including live music, entertainment, stalls and other activities. And the weather has been fine.

_DS81347The finale was worth waiting for. Fifty-four ships assembled up-stream of the festival sites and as we arrived one of the stars of the show the Polish three-masted Dar Mlodziezy slipped her moorings on the Greenwich Peninsula and sailed past us to be positioned at the head of the Parade. When she returned a set of sails had been unfurled, and although all the ships were using motor power to proceed down-stream, all had some of their sails unfurled, which added greatly to the magnificence of the sight.

_DS81365The crowds were huge, there wasn’t a spare space in the front row of spectators and quite a few images were only possible by adopting the tactic of holding the camera above everyone else’s heads, employing live view, and ‘hoping’.

_DS81415The ships were of all shapes and sizes from the multi-masted square-rigged tall ships, to ocean-going racing yachts, and Luggers that once would have worked the coastal waters of the UK. And for this race and festival the majority of the crews on these boats were young people, many of them having their first experience of sailing.

_DS81444This was one of those events from which you come away and think: I’m so glad we were there to see that. Below is a gallery of images for you to look through. As always click on the first image and then navigate through.

Posted in London, WaterScapes | Tagged , , , | 16 Comments

Before and After Harvest

On the same day that I shot images of Wheat ready for Harvest (click here to view that post) I found Barley growing in an adjacent field. Barley seed heads have long awns (or beards) that project out beyond the seed head and are 2-4 inches long.

IMG_6388The awns give the appearance of hairiness (for want of a better term) that is so characteristic of Barley and make it appear as if the surface of the field ‘flows’. On a breezy day the effect can be magical giving the impression of a restless golden ocean. The seed heads tend to droop and that droop is never planar: that makes photography difficult. I didn’t make my task easy by taking just my faithful Canon G10 with me.

IMG_6381However, I am reasonable happy with what I captured. The second image above was an attempt to shoot over the top of the field to capture the waves of barley that are so characteristic of a field. Do try clicking on individual images to enlarge them.

Finally this last weekend I re-visited these fields now reduced to stubble. And this is how the Wheat field now looks.


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Having a Lie Down

I was in Tate Modern last Monday, and whenever I’m there I can’t resist standing on the first floor balcony that overlooks the massive old Turbine Hall and indulging in a few minutes of people-watching.

I spotted this man lying flat on his back montionless, and he just stayed there, his daughter alongside. I felt rather envious of him. It was gone four o’clock in the afternoon and I still hadn’t had time to eat lunch let alone have an after lunch siesta.


It’s been a manic fortnight. First there was the visit to see the Poppies at the Tower of London and the poignant listening to the Roll of Honour at dusk (click here to view that Post). Then I made a day trip to Compton Verney in Warwickshire to see an outdoor installation of Henry Moore and Auguste Rodin sculptures. That was a real treat for me and the camera.

And then this past Monday I had a truly memorable day in London that involved shooting with a Leica M, seeing the Matisse ‘Cutouts’ exhibition at Tate Modern, and a river walk. (More about all that next week).

Those three trips have yielded over 500 images that I’m slowly getting to grips with, and frankly I feel a little boggle-eyed from all I’ve seen.

So, I feel a little envious of this man lying flat on his back. I could do with a lie down just to refresh the brain. But I’m back in London this Sunday and then off to Greenwich on Tuesday to see the end of the Tall Ships Festival. And today there is news of another un-missable exhibition in London – Abram Games, the Designer ‘Designing the 20th Century: Life and Work of Abram Games’ from Sept 8 – Jan 4 at the Jewish Museum NW1.

Whoever thought retirement was the time to sit down and put your feet up?

Posted in London | Tagged , , , , | 14 Comments