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National Memorial Arboretum

Instameets are friendly photographic get togethers where you meet like-minded people for a social chat and take pictures.  The meetings are also held at fascinating venues around the West Midlands.  My usual patch is IgersbirminghamUK or the Westmidlandsphotocollective. Both hold meetings at venues which provide a multitude of photographic opportunities.  Igers_staffordshire is a group that hold Instameets around the Lichfield area.  The venue for this meeting was the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire.  The Arboretum occupies a large swathe of land just North of Lichfield and is well signposted off the A38.  However, it is a place that I always pass by and think to myself that is somewhere to visit in the future.  When Igers_staffordshire advertised the event then I quickly signed up.  The meeting started in the car park which is one of the strategic places in the Arboretum.  Whilst entry to the site is free, car parking is strictly controlled and must be prebooked.  The entrance and the welcome buildings guide you through to the main body of the Arboretum.  I was greeted by the organisers and it is easy to work out who the photographers are as you will not miss the tripods, backpacks and cameras on display.  Once through the entrance we made our way to the most commanding monument which is the Armed Forces Memorial.  It is not difficult to miss as it sits as a raised structure with an attractive circle of trees.  We posed on the steps for the picture of the group and then started exploring.

National Memorial Arboretum
The inside of the Armed Forces Memorial

You find yourself pulled towards the Armed Forces Memorial, up the steps and into the inner parts.  It borrows heavily in architectural design from the Greeks and Romans.  It is impressive, and it was here that I met Kenneth who is a volunteer at the National Memorial Arboretum. We got talking about the Arboretum and Kenneth outlined some of the major features about the place. He showed me where a shaft of sunlight shines through the gaps in the southern walls onto the central bronze wreath on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month #Armistaceday. Kenneth does two days volunteering and is out in all weathers, greeting visitors. His welcoming smile and enthusiasm help visitors to get the most from their visit. Kenneth is one of many volunteers who I met during my time at the Arboretum. I explained to Kenneth about my ‘100strangers’ project and he agreed to being photographed. This picture shows him standing in the centre of the #ArmedForcesMemorial near the central wreath with the #cenotaph in the background.

https://www.instagram.com/p/CVqFBz6DwvR/
Kenneth, Volunteer

Next, I set off to visit the rest of the Arboretum.  There were several memorials that I passed along the way including those to the Iraq war and The Polish War memorial.   I did like the Irish Infantry Grove.  The paving stones are set out with a map of Ireland.  From there, I wandered into the trees and was taken with the numerous discs with messages on them.  There is so much to take in and this blog only touches the surface.  I posted several sets of pictures on Instagram.

National Memorial Arboretum
Looking through and remembering

The first is a set of lines and colours that made an impression on me. The #shotatdawn memorial by artist #AndyDeComyn was particularly moving.  Consisting of stakes in the ground representing the young men shot by firing squad.  There are several other memorials captured here.

My other reflection from my visit was the numerous Connections in the Arboretum and this is the link for this series of photographs including pictures with permission of soldiers remembering people behind the names. The sun and the rain connect with the memorials to enhance their stories.

It was a moving day out and I covered a fair amount of the Arboretum.  There is still much more to see.  These are the best of the pictures although there were many more to discover. Several of the memorials have been cleverly designed to catch the natural elements such as the sun and rain providing reflections and opportunities for carefully taken pictures that bring out the best in their design.

Finally a big thank you to @igers_staffordshire for organising this instameet. I also met such great fellow photographers.  Follow #igersstaffordshire_nma for all the pictures taken by the group on the day.

National Memorial Arboretum
A rainbow brings hope and joy

We have never been to Ragley Hall in our time in the Midlands, so when my daughter Natasha suggested visiting on one of the open days then I was easily persuaded. We only signed up for the gardens as we had my grandson, Noah but it was still good fun. The grounds are expansive and there is a lake with forrest. The bluebells were past their sell by date and the path was not passable in places. However, the gardens were in immaculate condition and the Scott Garden with statues was beautifully laid out. We enjoyed the lunch in the cellars at the Hall and next time I must go and visit the state rooms. Hope you enjoy all the pictures that I took 🙂

This is a great community who are active in many different parts of Birmingham life. It is about celebrating inspired people and the success of different communities in the Birmingham area. One are of celebration is in photography. The good people of Birmingham have featured 10 of my best photographs as portrayed on their web site

It is interesting to me what other people like with my photographs. All the pictures taken were featured on Twitter @birminghamweare and received numerous likes.

Taking concert pictures is not easy for me as I am not as young as I used to be and do not like being squashed at the front of the concert. The chance to take some close up pictures came when I went to see Steve Gunn, a guitarist and songwriter, who is prolific songwriter. Steve’s style is influenced by blues, folk and rock and he is a pretty good guitarist as well.

The first song is done

The Hare and Hounds in Kings Heath, Birmingham is an intimate venue and there is the ability to move through the audience and get very close to the artist. I had my Sony RX100v5 camera on manual settings with a shutter speed of 1/200, aperture f/2.8 and ISO 2000. Getting close and taking the pictures meant that the lighting was a little easier to control. I expect I could have changed the settings a bit more but I am generally pleased with the results. Also we got a selfie with the man himself after the concert.

Lets get to the microphone

The concert had some great music. He was good to listen to and he is an excellent guitarist. The small venue meant that the sound was good and the different parts of the band came together well\\. The guys sorting out the sound were not so happy but it was a good night all round.

The band is working well
I have a few guitars to use yet
Thanks for coming along tonight
Putting that song over
Tuning up
The light garden at the Hare and Hounds
Andy, Steve Gunn and myself

I have started to take my wide angle lens out with me when wandering around Birmingham. I usually do this on a Wednesday morning as I have a clinic in the City Centre. I plan different routes around the city but today I went for a route from Snow Hill to Brindley Place. Along the way I took several pictures and at around 7.30am arrived at the NIA. The Iron bridge over the canal is a photogenic leading line and I started experimenting. It was then that a noticed that a colourful sunrise was starting to happen. I overcame the lack of tripod by using the canal wall. The manual settings of the camera were as follows shutter speed 1/13, aperture f/20 and ISO 400. I use live view to check the scene. I also ensured that I focused part way into the picture to find the hyperfocal length thus ensuring all would be in focus. I took a few more pictures and then went to one of my favourite coffee houses Tom’s dinner in the Mailbox. Browsing through the pictures and this one caught my eye. Processing is a mixture of Lightroom – up the exposure, drop the highlights, touch the shadows and a heavy vignette. I use a LUT (Lookup Table) add on to bring out the cinematic effect. Then into Photoshop where I use an unsharp mask followed by adjustment of the levels as the final adjustments. The picture looks good and I have also included some of the other pictures that were taken on my walk.

Cube spotting
Another view of the sunset
Bridges
Long boat and windows

There will be many visits around the country in the coming few years as I am part of a research grant with 4 other universities (Glasgow, Leeds, Southampton and Edinburgh). The lead institution is Glasgow University and that is where the kick of meeting began. There was a Burns supper the night before the meeting proper and a chance to photograph in and around the University buildings. The University is very photogenic and has commanding views of the surrounding Glasgow area. The building is also impressive and the central area is called the undercroft. The University have left the Christmas fairy lights in place and it makes for an impressive site. There had been some rain the night before and this added to some of the street reflections seen in the pictures.

The Undercroft
Stairs in the Building
The lights
End of the night
Fairy lights
Always fun to look at
Snowdrops and path
Imposing facade
There was time for a Gin in the Hotel

A good friend, Ewen, who is a professional photographer has written a great blog post “Your photography ….  Finish the job”

Your Photography…FINISH THE JOB!

His argument is that once you have taken a good photograph then it needs to be finished.  Ewen saw one of my images on Twitter and he messaged me saying the following: –

That one tweet led me into the world of the British Tech Network and I joined their Photo League.  It is led by Ewen and you submit your monthly photographs and receive constructive comments.  I have submitted my first few photographs and already benefited from the professional advice on how not only to compose but finish your image.  I was still intrigued about the finishing of the image and so I spent a day with Ewen at his studio.  He took me through several simple processes that make your images stand out.  A few simple exercises cleaned the “grey crud” from my images and then with some sharpening process I could see that my images immediately benefitted from his advice.  Here are a few images which have been processed in Photoshop and they have been enhanced.

My tips from that meeting with Ewen –

  • check your exposure,
  • add a touch of saturation,
  • look at the image and a touch of intelligent sharpening all add up to finishing your image.

Here are a few examples of checking your pictures and finishing them off.

Example 1 – this is a picture taken at Chesterton Windmill before Christmas.

 

The following is my attempt at processing 

This next one is finished  by following some simple rules and a bit of creativity.

These next two are the before and after with a touch of blur.

……and that picture that first made me realise that there is more to just taking the photograph.  Well here it is with a few added touches. 

One of the most photographic structures near me is the Windmill at Chesterton.  I had visited it for the first time earlier in the year and I wished to plan another trip where I could have my tripod with me.  I contacted a good friend of mine, John Bray, and we planned the visit between Christmas and the New Year.  To really appreciate the Windmill you need to have good weather especially if you are looking for a memorable sunset.  As luck would have it not only did we pick a good afternoon, it had snowed the night before which gave an added plus factor to the photographic outing.  John and I spent an hour and half at the windmill taking photographs as the sun slowly left the sky.

Many people gathered for the sunset

A lone sail against the sunset

Starburst against the Windmill

The sunset was a good one and there were lots of opportunities for pictures.  Even the moon got into the act.  The temperature dropped and whilst it was cold there was little wind.  We took lots of pictures and soon it was time to leave as the sunset was nearly finished.  Just as we were walking away John turned around and said look at that view.  It is the old saying always look behind you when you are walking away from the picture.  John is really quick on getting his pictures out on social media and they were excellent producing much reaction.  Here are my views of Chesterton windmill on a cold yet ultimately rewarding photographic session.

A high key view

Afternoon light on the snow

Light through the centre

Shadows of the sails on the Windmill

Looking towards the Sun

Moonshot

The sentinel looks towards the sun

Another moon shot

The end of the day

Two figures walking towards the Windmill

 

John’s Photographs are on his Flickr account.

The new Dental School and Hospital at Pebble Mill offers many photographic opportunities.  The sun rises and sets into the atrium providing various lights and shadows during the day.  I have posted many of these on my Flickr site but cannot resist adding a few more.

It is just not me that likes the building as it has won an award from the West Midlands Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS).  It came first in the category “Innovation through Design”  The judging panel liked the functionality and layout of the building. They highlighted the welcoming atrium, the open clinics and the world class research laboratories.

The Birmingham Dental Hospital & School of Dentistry will now go forward to represent the West Midlands in the national RICS Grand Final on 2 November 2017, competing against other projects from across the UK.

Meanwhile enjoy the pictures.