On one side of the M1 is Warwickshire, on the other is Northamptonshire. Most of the time, I am in Warwickshire visiting my daughter and so Rugby is my final destination. Google maps is a wonderful tool for browsing and looking for new places to visit. Often, I use canals as my compass and it was following the Grand Union canal along Google maps that I was intrigued not only by Cracks Hill but also the surrounding area. I discovered the Friends of Cricks Wood web site and learnt about the good work being done by the community there. Close by is Cracks Hill which was formed by a retreating glacier during the last ice age. Running through this area of natural beauty is the Grand Union Canal. This looked like a good place to photograph especially if the conditions were just right. The one ingredient that is needed is good light and on an evening in December, it looked as if there would be a good sunset. I packed my camera gear and set off to the woods. On arrival, I spent some time in the Jubilee woodland as the sun was setting. The colour on the leaves in the light at the end of day was something to behold.
The next place to visit was the summit of Cracks Hill. It was not disappointing and I was pleased that I had brought along my Canon D5 Mk4 with tripod. The windmills were fascinating to watch at such a distance and at a height. I was also taken by a lone tree on the side of the hill. Needless to say the tree featured in a few photographs. So it was a successful day and I made my way back to the car.
As I reached the bridge over the Grand Union, I met a dog walker and I let him pass. He moved onto the bridge and started walking into the embers of the sunset. I fumbled but I got my Fujifilm x100v just in time to capture a picture of the walker on the bridge. The resulting picture was dark but I used my editing suite to bring out the colours of the sunset. So part capturing the scene and then relying on a preset edit to produce the scene that I observed over that bridge and far away.
The final part to this series of photographs is the selection of the walker over the bridge by England’s Big Picture. It was my second feature of the year on the BBC site. I was very pleased with the outcome.
The University of Birmingham has a major economic impact on Birmingham and the West Midlands region. The University educates students, is a major employer, a research leader in all sectors and a gateway bringing in global connections that benefit the city. Even though the University has a beautiful campus at Edgbaston, a physical footprint in the city centre has long been on the University’s wish list. The old Municipal Savings Bank began to look an interesting project. Especially with the location of the bank on the new look Centennial square.
The former Municipal Bank is a Grade II listed building and has historical links with the University. Joseph Chamberlain was founder and first Chancellor of the University of Birmingham. Neville Chamberlain, the son of Joseph Chamberlain was behind the building of the Municipal Bank on Broad Street. It was first opened by Prince George in 1933 and has a long history of underpinning the wealth of an ambitious city. However, the bank closed at the turn of the century and the last 20 years has seen the building empty with no tenants. It was famously portrayed as the AC-12 base in the BBC series ‘Line of Duty’. The iconic safe deposit boxes in the vault were used in a Chanel advert amongst the various roles that the bank filled in these barren years. In 2018, the University negotiated a long lease of the building with Birmingham City Council and the renovations began.
I was fortunate in my University of Birmingham role to see these renovations firsthand in October 2019 before the pandemic. During my visit, I took a series of pictures on my iPhone. I had no idea which room I was photographing, although I remember the vaults where the safe deposit boxes reside. They are so interesting to see. Rows and rows of metal doors with numbers on them. One can only begin to imagine what was contained within them. The building was being gutted and there was so much to do from floor to ceiling in each room.
Fast forward to October 2021. Hasan Patel who is part of Communications Team at the University of Birmingham invited me to coffee at the Exchange after his Marathon Run. (Follow Hasan on Twitter to learn how to sponsor him on his running diary). We spent an enjoyable couple of hours putting the world to right. Hasan introduced me to the University team at the Exchange and we visited several rooms in the building.
Not long after my visit with Hasan, IgersBirminghamUK announced an Instameet at the Exchange. Immediately I signed up and went along. This Instameet is a friendly collection of photographers. We were given access to all areas including the Board room and the former bank managers office which I did not get to see on my first visit. The other interesting feature is the balcony where the bank manager opened the doors and looked out onto the banking floor to check that the bank was running smoothly. During the Instameet, this was a favourite spot for all the photographers.
Whilst we were in the vault, we were also given access to a utility room where many of the safety deposit boxes were stored. Now many of the boxes are placed strategically around the building and are a feature of those rooms which are used as teaching spaces and meeting areas. This basement room had many of the old boxes and proved to be a fantastic place to take photographs. There were still some stickers remaining and on one of the boxes the notice stated that this box could only be opened in the presence of a solicitor. Once again one could only imagine what was kept in these boxes over the years.
We finished the tour and adjourned to the Distillery Pub next to the Roundhouse. This is another interesting place to visit and includes a wall mural of a canal horse painted by one my favourite street artists, Annatomix. The Roundhouse was used to care for the canal horses that pulled the boats and has been renovated as a historical place of interest. There is even one of the horse stables on view.
This was a day taking pictures of historical buildings that have been brought up to date in a city that is rediscovering its roots and moving forward. Thank you to the team at IgersBirminghamUK for organising the tour and The University of Birmingham for opening the Exchange for this Instameet.
I have also included a blending of the old and new photographs in two of the rooms to show how the building has been modernised between my two visits.
Pictures taken with iPhone 11 and 13, camera Fujifilm x100v
We spent a great deal of time during our holiday visiting this beautiful village on the banks of Loch Lomond. Luss is Gaelic for herb and the village was so named after St Kessog. As Irish missionary to Scotland, he was martyred, and the legend is told that herbs grew on his grave.
The village of Luss is characterised by the neat row of cottages that once belonged to the slate quarry workers that worked in the surrounding area. The appealing thatched cottages built by the Laird around the village have slate roofs, as timber was in short supply. Now they are a popular tourist attraction, and the main street leads down to Luss pier.
This is the focal point of the village where there are ice cream vans and holiday makers taking advantage of water sport activities. There are also beautiful views of the Luss Hills and Ben Lomond with their peaks reflecting on the water. Luss church is away from the tourist track and has a quiet atmosphere as it sits overlooking the water.
A feature of Luss is the nearly developed Faerie trail which my granddaughters loved and takes in the nearby forest and river valley. You buy your tickets from the Airstream trailer in the Luss overspill carpark before heading off into the forest and meeting the Faeries. Luckily no Trolls can be seen as they are all in School learning how to behave. Luss is a delightful place to stay and is a perfect base for exploring Loch Lomond and its surroundings.
Many years back we visited Loch Lomond and our group climbed Ben Lomond. Not all of us made it to the summit and only Natasha, my middle daughter, was successful. Twenty years on, we were back. This time, Siân and I wanted to make it to the top and Natasha was keen to do the double. The weather was warm and sunny when we arrived at the base car park in Rowardennan on the east side of the Loch. It is directly on the opposite side to where we were staying but took a good 45 minutes to get there by car.
We set off in high spirits. Straight away, Natasha found the going difficult and I was worried for her. After her initial worries subsided, she got into a routine and was determined to carry on. As soon as we had come out of the forest, the views of Loch Lomond were beautiful and the higher you got, the more spectacular they became. As the pictures show the day was ideal for viewing the scenery as we moved towards the top.
The path has both step sections and then long parts which have a lower incline allowing some respite during the climb. There are several false dawns as you think you are reaching the top only to realise there is another part of the Munro to climb. The cloud lingered around the top but when we finally saw the Trig Pillar, we knew we had achieved our goal.
For Rob and Jim this was their first Munro that they had bagged. For Siân and I, we had finally done what we had not achieved during our last visit. For Natasha it was a personal achievement especially considering how she felt at the beginning of the trek. We took our pictures, had our lunch, and then set off down the trail. It was quicker going down, but it also involved and stretched different muscles. On the way down we met some rangers who were repairing the path and we remarked how fit they must be on their walk to work half-way up Ben Lomond. They quickly replied that it did not worry them, and they will sign us up tomorrow for the work! After 5 hours, we were back at the car, weary but very pleased with ourselves. For me, it had been a great opportunity to photograph the day and I hope you enjoy the pictures.
For more details of how to get to and climb Ben Lomond, then there are several good sites including “walkhighlands”and “Visit Scotland”that give a range of resources.
The Malvern Hills are on our doorstep but surprisingly I have never walked over them. As our family holiday will be based in Loch Lomond, Scotland for a week in August, it was time to get some practice hiking done. In preparation for the walk, I purchased some new hiking boots and I wanted to break them in for a few climbs in Scotland. My daughter, Sian suggested the Malvern Hills and so together with Jim her husband we picked a Saturday morning in July. The spell of hot weather had broken but the forecast for the chosen weekend was rain and thunderstorms which was a worry. Fortunately such weather conditions never materialised bar a few occasional drops of rain.
Our plan was to get up early and head for British Camp which is in the southern stretch of the Malvern Hill chain. The car park was empty when we arrived and even the Malvern hills Hotel over the road was very quiet. I was advised to start with this area of the Malvern Hill as some consider it to be the most interesting hill because of the large iron age hill Fort carved into the area. It is a quick hill to climb and once on the summit you have a commanding view of the surrounding geography. Looking North you see the hills in the following order, Black Hill, Pinnacle Hill, Jubilee Hill and Perseverance Hill. In the distance you can make out the highest of all the hills which is the Worcestershire Beacon. British Camp provides a super view, and my camera captured the scene well.
My camera for this adventure was the Fujifilm x100v. It is weather proofed, and ideal for the conditions on the hills over the weekend with the occasional drops of rain. The camera as you will have discovered is very versatile and produces excellent pictures as you will see from this blog. I had looked through many pictures of the hills and I had seen many postcard views. Also I knew that I would have difficulty matching any of the drone fly throughs or pictures that have been published. As always, I use my pictures to tell a story. The main story was the hiking over the hills and therefore some classic “here we are” people pictures are used in the story telling.
With the Malvern Hills having been photographed many times before, I was interested in seeking out different views i.e. low down or interesting close ups. Any landscape pictures taken including points of interest in both the foreground and the background. The camera was set on Aperture priority and swapped between f/4 for closeups to f/11 for the landscape views. The sky was a touch gloomy but there was the occasional sun that broke through. Furthermore once you are up on the hills then you can see for miles and miles. The Fujifilm camera is ideal for this story telling as it allows quick pictures of the scene to be taken. It is not ideally suited for landscape photography but you can see if used within its strengths then you can get a good view.
Back to the walk, leaving British Camp we hiked up Black Hill with its steep incline and then onto the other peaks. The Malvern hills offer wonderful vistas of the surrounding countryside and on this walk, the air was clear, and you could see well into the distance. It was good hiking over the hills, but I was not fully fit for this type of activity. By the time we got to Perseverance Hill we were very tired, and we could see the Worcestershire beacon in front of us. We made the decision to turn back and the beacon would have to wait for another weekend. Coming back I took several pictures of the wild flowers and the views over the different counties on either side of us.
Back at the car it was a relief to sit down pull the boots off and get ready for the journey home. The Malvern hills are a must as they have everything you need for a good hike. Luckily the weather was just right and we did not get too hot walking over them. We will be back not only to scale the Worcestershire Beacon but to visit the pretty town of Malvern on the side of the hill. Enjoy the pictures and would love to hear about your experiences of hiking over the Malvern Hills
Welcome to my series on cameras, lenses, advice and taking those all-important pictures. So which camera do you use? This is a common question that I am asked when someone sees one of my pictures. It is if the camera took the picture not the photographer! There may be an element of truth in this, although there are a lot of factors that go into taking a picture and the camera is only one of them.
To kickstart this series, I am going to talk about my ‘go-to camera’ which is the Fujifilm x100v. The story is that I wanted to buy myself a new camera to replace my Sony RX100 V. My requirements were many. Simple to use but requiring the level of complexity below the surface when needed. Weather resistance was a desirable feature. I have had several compact zoom cameras over the years, and they have worked well. Often the zoom mechanism has not been robust despite the camera quality with grit getting into the zoom mechanism. Therefore, a fixed lens appealed to me. As I grew up on 35 mmm cameras, like many reading this blog, I love the idea of owning a Leica, but the cost is prohibitive. More realistically, I looked at alternatives and in early 2020, the release of the Fujifilm x100v came with positive reviews. I did my homework and researched it. My decision was made after I looked at pictures people had posted and read reviews on the camera in the photographic magazines.
The Fujifilm x100v was waiting for me on Christmas day morning. I unboxed it and started taking pictures. With a new camera, I oscillate between starting to take pictures and reading the camera manual. There are a few internet articles and YouTube videos that got me started. One of the first differences was the position of the buttons compared to my Canon and Sony. The tactile feel of the buttons gave me more control of my picture taking. The buttons are traditional analogue designs and not digital. Gradually I got the hang of the camera and then starting to use it in serious mode. I read the manual more and more discovering even more buttons!
I tried out the different colour settings and settled on the weak chrome colour. Using the camera in aperture priority, I worked through the options. My first pictures were a little hit and miss but the jpg quality began to impress me. My confidence grew and it started to come most places with me. In the morning whilst walking the dog, it proved to be a useful camera to record details on the high street especially during lockdown. It is not a replacement to the big camera (Canon D5-mkIV) but it certainly does its job of delivering remarkable pictures.
What I like In no particular order, here are my favourite things about this compact camera.
The flash settings are easy to use and understand. It gives good portrait pictures with the flash on. This is quite something considering it is a camera mounted flash. I use a manual setting of 1/64 sec often for a fill in. The flash does not create many red eyes either.
The exposure compensation button is easy to understand and is set up next to your thumb. I found this very useful and quick to select.
Some may consider it a gimmick, but the selective colour is so easy to set up and use. If there was one fun element to the camera then this is it.
The double exposure is straightforward and offers three settings depending on which picture you choose to be the main feature of the setting.
The jpgs are stand alone, high quality and need little adjustment.
The back controls are easy to use and the tilted screen allows for flexibility in the framing of the pictures you take. This includes being able to get down low.
Customisation The camera is also cool to customise. I added a thumb rest and changed the strap. I did add a shoot button but then found it much better for my shooting technique when the button was clear. The pictures also show a half case for the lower half of the camera body.
What I do not like
Connectivity is poor over the wireless and the app design is poor. So one is reaching for the iPhone if you wish to quickly upload pictures to BBC weather watchers or want to get that picture sent to family and friends as soon as possible.
It required an extra £100 to add the weather proofing and then I could not use the Fujifilm lens cover that came with the camera. So ended up having a black plastic cover! I wish I had brought the NiSi weather proofing as then I could have used the original silver camera cap that came with the camera.
It took time to work out the focussing and the switching between the settings. This is maybe the learning curve that I have got to get through including using the manual more.
My first picture that I published with the camera. It is a canal bridge in Acocks Green, Birmingham. Catching the two people under the arch added interest.
Hatton locks – All the lines caused by railings around the lock made for an interesting pattern in black and white. I did have the traditional picture of a boat going through a lock, but this was more intriguing.
Takeaways are doing well in the Pandemic and here is one customer on their way home. I was able to get down low for the reflections (the picture was published in the Amateur Photographer letters’ page)
The night train to Birmingham taken on a very cold night on the Dorridge footbridge. There is much to see and discuss and the colours and light add to the atmosphere. All picked up by the camera. The picture reminded me of the following song. Down on the night train, feel the starlight steal away, Use up a lifetime looking for the break of day Night Train – Steve Winwood 1980
The Support bubble of daughter and grandson and the camera produces some good details on portrait pictures
I was going to take a landscape photograph and came away with this dandelion clock. This is cropped from a much larger picture and then edited in Black and White. The effect is quite nice but the detail that remains after heavy cropping is amazing.
This picture is of the boats in Gas Street Basin and processed to bring out the colour. It is not designed to be a landscape camera but it manages such a scene very well.
Where did I buy it from WexPhotoVideo and their service is good. I am not receiving anything for saying this either!