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View of the City May 2021

Queensway is a busy arterial road in and out of Birmingham so there is always a high volume of traffic thundering along the tarmac.  With my telephoto lens and 24 to 70 mm lens, I went about taking different pictures of an area that is already very familiar to me.  New building projects are always happening in the city centre and the area between the Cathedral and the Canal was an old factory site.  It has been repurposed into city dwelling flats that are being built close to the canal.   

The area is also a magnet for different kinds of people and as I was taking pictures, I was hassled for money, so I quickly moved on.  It is something I am wary of when I am in the quieter parts of town.  I know that I do have to be careful of my own safety.  Still the lure of  taking a few photographs around the buildings on either side of Queensway won through.  I took pictures of St Chad’s Cathedral and also with my telephoto lens up past the Snow Hill buildings.  After that I made my way into town for a lunch time meeting. 

Parking on the top floor of Selfridges Car Park opposite the store provided skyline pictures of both the City and Digbeth, and the skyline bridge linking the two is always fun for a picture or two.    I love the new covering on the Selfridges which is being put in place whilst they replace the discs on the outside.  The covering is designed by Osman Yousefzada,who is a multi-disciplinary artist working in association with the IKON gallery. the pink and black geometric shapes are in contrast with the grey architecture.

It was a day of sunshine and showers and whilst I was outside there was a terrific downpour. 

This then led to the bonus of several puddles for a bit of reflective photography.  The puddles around Selfridges are still there and lend themselves to some nice reflections of the building as it is being renovated

On my way to New Street, there were other interesting images to capture including the queue outside Zara and the photographing of the Electric Cinema.  I lingered around the reflective roof of the entrance to New Street Station. I also took a few pictures of the trams passing through which is something you have to do when in Birmingham. 

So enjoy the pictures and it is good to see Birmingham as it emerges from the pandemic.  The only down side is the weather which is atrocious rain and so unlike May.


Tree reflections

Everyone loves a picture that shows a reflection. The unique view is fascinating, and it gives a different view of the world by suggesting further new worlds. Unusual angles or taking the picture from a low viewpoint. There is symmetry around a reflection that everyone loves to see. This may be caused by mirrors, a shop window or a puddle formed by the recent rain fall. The iPhone is great for taking pictures of reflections and you can get quite low or even dip the phone into the puddle to get that perfect shot. Care is needed with the exposure as the reflected light from the puddle is less intense than the direct light from the unobstructed area above the puddle. Even on some of my best loved pictures there is overexposure of the upper part of the picture. If I had my large camera with me then I may be able to put a filter on it to stop down the light but then I may not be able to get as low as you can with the iPhone. Adjusting the exposure is easy when you are standing up but not so straight forward when you are crouching down. Probably the best idea is to lie down so you can control the exposure at your leisure. You certainly get some funny looks if you do get down low.

Selfridges reflection
Selfridges with reflection of covering whilst the discs are being replaced. It is designed by Osman Yousefzada

So I have put together some reflection shots for you. My tips are to get down low and either bend the knees if you can or even lie down to get a different view. Always try and think differently as that is what will make the photograph attractive to the viewer. They will have some familiarity with the scene but will also be intrigued with the reflection and part of the fun is to work out what they are being given to look at. Once you start getting into reflections then you will see them everywhere and your photography will take on a new life.

Red canal boats
Red boats on the Canal near Knowle (featured in Birmingham Live Instagram post)
Black and White view
Black and White view from Knowle Church to Elderberry Black Cafe
Trip to the Curry House
Trip to the Curry House (featured in Amateur Photographer)
This reflection of Selfridges was liked by the designer of the scaffolding multidisciplinary artist Osman Yousefzada and was featured by @IgersbirminghamUK on Instagram

Finally Englands Big Picture featured the headline reflection of the small park in Knowle, Solihull

Tree reflections
Tree reflections (featured in BBC’s Big England)

Travel agent working from home

Keeping life varied is the key to getting through the Lockdown and night time walks add a difference to the routine.  I am fortunate to live in a typical English village with a high street and local shops. During Lockdown the traffic flow has decreased although the cars do travel through at speed.

Knowle High Street at Night
Knowle High Street at Night
Car lights in the High Street
Car lights in the High Street
Waiting for someone
Waiting for someone
Bus with a few passengers
Bus with a few passengers

Many of the village shop lights are on and there are a few people moving around.  The busiest places are the chemist, the 24 hour convenience store and Tesco.  All the restaurants are offering takeaways.  A click and collect meal may make a difference to breaking the monotonous existence of lockdown.  However, it is an expensive one, compared to making your own meals at home.  A feature of the weather is the amount of rain that we have been having. The rain has been intensive leading to major puddles in the street.  My new camera has a tilting screen making it easier to take photographs with when bending down.  The iPhone does a great job but with absence of a flip screen you have to get quite low to see the screen.  These days I find one of the problems is getting back to a vertical standing position after crouching down. 

Picking up a takeaway
Picking up a takeaway

The shop windows are pretty, and some still have the Christmas decorations in them as people are not inclined to do much during the pandemic.  The lights at night are fun to photograph and some of the shop windows like the travel agent remind you of times gone by.  I also walk towards the level crossing at Bentley Health and the footbridge is a perfect place to take pictures of the trains going into Birmingham.  I tend to go out walking with the dog and he does not always appreciate the waiting around for the trains to go by. The picture I took was of a train into Birmingham.  The term “Night Train” came to mind and I saw that Steve Winwood had a song by that name on one of his albums. 

Footbridge over the railway
Footbridge over the railway
The night train to Birmingham
The night train to Birmingham
Train approaching the level crossing
Train approaching the level crossing

There was a picture that I saw on Instagram from one of my contacts taking pictures of petrol stations and wondered why would they being doing that?  Here I am taking pictures of the Shell petrol station at night. 

Esso Petrol station at night
Esso Petrol station at night

I have to say it does have an interesting almost timeless atmosphere about doing such photographs.  The bright lights against the black sky give it importance.  A staging post of interplanetary travel maybe?  I found the change of time for my lockdown photography made the difference.  It was a different challenge taking the pictures at night. No light trails in this set of photographs but I will look to do some later in the month.

Photographic tipThere were two or three pleasing photographs.  The reflected puddle one was interesting as the woman came out of nowhere and made the story.  I am not sure if she did have the takeaway with her.  The night train picture was after a lot of hanging around waiting for the trains to appear.  The petrol station was an idea that I copied from someone else.


An angel wings mural

With this Lockdown, I am planning more varied walks.  Openmap is a clever tool as you can draw a radius on the map .  I am exploring what I can within 5 to 6 miles of where I live.  This is a distance that I can manage walking.  The weather has been cold and damp for most of the week and I planned an early morning walk into Solihull.  Having my camera with me, the aim was to capture the centre of Solihull and then compare this to the previous Lockdowns. 

Post box on Widney Manner Road
Post box on Widney Manner Road

My planned route took me via Widney Manor Rd into the town centre.  At the back of Touchwood shopping centre, I took a picture of the derelict building that used to be Rosie’s nightclub.  A delivery driver passing by wanted to know why I would be taking a picture of it.   Interesting conversation on why I was taking pictures of buildings in Solihull. 

Rosie's nightclub has seen better days
Rosie’s nightclub has seen better days

I moved through the main shopping streets Into Mell Square.  Here I found that there were many people just sitting around.  Some were chatting over cups of coffee, whilst others were just sat around starring into space.  Surely the present lockdown guidelines are not to linger and to treat the time you leave your house as exercise.  The place looked drab and people were listless.  The Angel murals lightened my mood although there was no one around to photograph by the mural. I will come back to take one when life is normalised.

A lone person is welcomed back
A lone person is welcomed back
People sitting around in Mell Square
People sitting around in Mell Square
Another lone person reflected in the water
Another lone person reflected in the water
Masks are worn all the time
Masks are worn all the time
People sitting around drinking coffee
People sitting around drinking coffee
Shops offer sales with no customers
Shops offer sales with no customers
Solihull High Street is virtually empty
Solihull High Street is virtually empty
Buses everywhereMasks and buses
Lots of buses but not many passengers

I moved into Tudor Grange park where it was much brighter as the sun started to break through the clouds.  I took several pictures here including one of the duck pond.  The reflections of light made it look very attractive and the picture I took made the Midlands today weather bulletin.  The change of mood was palpable and there were more people moving around.

Walking into Tudor Grange Park
Walking into Tudor Grange Park
Happy walkers in the park
Happy walkers in the park
BBC Weather Watchers with Shafali Oza
BBC Weather Watchers with Shafali Oza
Tudor Grange Park
Skateboard Park, Tudor Grange Park

Feeling more cheerful, I made my way back home through the Monkspath housing estate and then onto footpath over the M42.  During this lockdown, I am being more adventurous with my walks and seeing more of the countryside.  It was an experience seeing the town centre and how people were coping with the lockdown.  With my camera, I hoped that I documented a day of Lockdown what I saw in Solihull was not pretty and was depressing.  However the parks and the countryside part of the walk cheered me up.

A couple of friends I met at the end of the walk
A couple of friends I met at the end of the walk

Photographic tip.  Documenting the lockdown is not easy.  You can get drawn into what is happening around you.  I took the pictures carefully and tried to ensure that people were not identifiable.  I did also want to convey the difficulties that people find trying to keep to the lockdown.

Sources

OpenMap for drawing radii from your location


Black and white reflections in the river

The foggy weather and the cold have led to some excellent conditions for atmospheric shooting. I have been taking out my cameras to get the best range my compact and big camera. I just don’t want to miss the perfect shot but then again I have the confidence in my picture taking that I will come away with a picture that suits the camera.

Reflections on the River Blythe
Bridge over the M42
Bridge over the M42
A man walks past a tree in the fog
A man walks past a tree in the fog

This walk took me along the river Blythe into Brueton park and along the way the bare trees cast wonderful reflections in the river. I also saw lone trees and traffic streaming along the M42. The sun came and went and most of the colours were drained from the day. So it leant itself to black and white photography. I went for some low and high key processing of the pictures.

Low key processing of the foggy scene
Low key processing of the foggy scene

PhotoTip – black and white photography can certainly bring out the contrasts and character of the subject. On a foggy day, the colours are drained and therefore black and white becomes an obvious choice. Some of these pictures may have stayed as colour and these are shown side by side to give an example of what they may have looked like.

Comparison of pictures #1
Comparison of pictures #2

If you like Black and White Photography then I have done some other blog posts that you may like.
Black and White – featuring pictures of Birmingham
Black and White at the Mill – featuring pictures of Chesterton Windmill


Coombe Abbey Lake

Coombe Abbey Country Park is to the east of Coventry and both the gardens and lake featuring designs by Capability Brown make this a must visit attraction. Even though this is on my doorstep, it is nearly 10 years since I lasted visited on the occasion of a wedding. The family decided this was the place to visit on a Saturday afternoon in December. I got my camera gear ready. I am now well practised at taking photographs under family pressure. Those lovely views by the lakes are only available for a few minutes as I am asked to hurry up and stay in touch with the family walk. In some ways that makes it fun as you have to get your settings right and take the picture quickly.

View of Coombe Abbey
View of Coombe Abbey from the top pool bridge

The park is picturesque and lends itself to photographs. The downside is that even on a late Sunday afternoon, there is a lot of people around. Making sure that they do not feature in the photographs is difficult as well. My tips are to look for different views of the well known pictures that are taken. Coombe Abbey Country Park is photographed so often that it is difficult to find that different view.

The endless lake of Coombe Abbey Country Park
The endless lake of Coombe Abbey Country Park
Paths through the woods
Paths through the woods

One tip is the timing. The family decided to visit after 2pm on a December afternoon. The weather was good and the sun was starting to come out. The Golden Hour beckoned. There were some delays along the way when we got there. The birds had to be fed by the grandchildren and other small holdups, such as splashing in every puddle that we saw, made the walk slow. In many ways that was an advantage as it gave an opportunity to take a few more pictures.

The Grandchildren posing for a picture
Entertaining the Grandchildren
Places to run
Places to run
Puddles to splash in
Puddles to splash in
Buildings to see at Coombe Abbey
Buildings to see at Coombe Abbey
Two swans in the top pool
Two swans in the top pool

Finally on the way back the sun started to set very low and it lit up the classic view of the Coombe Abbey Hotel from the footbridge that separates the main lake, Coombe Pool, and the smaller Top Pool. There is a lot more to see and when Covid-19 restrictions are finished then there will be a return visit to the park. Meanwhile enjoy the pictures!

Sunset at Coombe Abbey
Sunset at Coombe Abbey

Do you want to know more about Coombe Abbey Country Park? Then visit the Coventry City Council website which will get you started
Coombe Abbey Country Park

There is also the City of Coventry nearby if you want to make a weekend of a visit to the area with your camera
Send me to the City of Coventry


Sunset glow over the water

Surprisingly I have never been inside Sutton Park.  Why not I ask myself, having lived in Birmingham and Solihull for over 35 years.  I have been to Sutton Coldfield many times but not to the park.  With some meetings cancelled, I planned a visit and got there around 45 minutes before the sun was to set.  I timed my walk to be at Bracebridge pool when the sunset was due to take place. 

Bracebridge Pool at Sunset
Bracebridge Pool at Sunset

It was muddy on the trails and I did get distracted by Blackroot pool on the way as the tree lined avenue next to the train line was glowing in the setting sun.  Eventually I arrived on the shore of Bracebridge and I sat down to admire the colours of the sunset.  I had debated whether to bring my tripod with me and I therefore played around with the ISO and left it at 400.  The colours were beautiful, and I lingered a long time around the pool. 

The shore at Bracebridge Pool
The shore at Bracebridge Pool
Reflections in the water
Reflections in the water
A bench with a view of the sunset
A bench with a view of the sunset

It was dark getting back and the prospect of negotiating the woods alone but luckily I met a couple who were disorientated and wanted to get back to the same car park.  The park does get very quiet when the sun goes down.  I came back and processed my pictures.

Blackroot pool in Sutton Park
Blackroot pool in Sutton Park

There was one I was particularly proud about and I received some interesting comments on it from Ewen in the British Tech Network Slackroom.

Sunset glow over the water
Sunset glow over the water

“So at that distance F10 to F8 is zero noticeable difference and F10 to F5.6 would have been a small enough amount for sharpening to reduce the difference. Handheld I expect myself to be able to shoot successfully at 1/15th There are trees there to brace against or you take off your shoe laces and tie them around the camera and hold the other end under you feet to get a taught line to pull against. All of these give you extra stops back to reduce the ISO. My first choice is always to maintain the lowest ISO and highest image quality as possible. Zooming in you already have excess grain in the water through the higher ISO and lower light level. Secondly, when adjusting the RAW file, use of ‘highlight’ slider to reduce the glare form the sun is the starting point as you need to get the ambient light on the rest of the image up. Your job is to balance the colours AND the textures. You’d nailed the textures but lost the awesome colours in everything but the clouds around the sun. Your next question is ‘what looks natural’ and when looking towards the Sun, your natural vision is ‘blown out’ in order to see the other details, so its ok to burn out the clouds around the sun a little more than you feel the histogram is telling you to. In that way you see more of the great detail in the trees and lake and you still get great colours in the clouds…just a little further away from the sun.”   

Always good to get such advice and thanks Ewen.

If you are thinking about visiting Sutton Park then there is a good website from Birmingham City Council which has maps and information.
Sutton Park, Birmingham City Council


Gas Street Basin

Now I am back in a work routine, I take the opportunity to park in the city around 7am and stay until 8am just before the car parking charging begins.  I set myself an area to walk around and aim to come away with 4 to 5 pictures that I can use over the coming days.  These may be for my 365 project or pictures that I can post onto Twitter and Instagram.  Gas street basin is a changing place and there is always something to photography during a walk on the tow paths.  On this visit, it was very still and quiet and there was a hint of mist.  The water in the canal was so still that it provided perfect reflections for my photography.  I had my trusty Canon 5D mark VI and my ‘go to’ lens EF24-70mm with me.  Initially I did not think I would get particularly good photographs but then as I got down low I started to see the photographic possibilities.   

Reflections in Gas Street
The still waters reflect the buildings of Gas Street Basin.
Birmingham - new vs old
Showing the new versus the old in Birmingham
Gas Street Sunrise
Golden buildings in the sunrise

With the reflections of the buildings, I saw that there were many different views.  I took around 20 to 30 pictures and then carefully selected around 6 photographs.  A selection of 4 posted on Twitter took off with many likes. At the last count it was over 20 thousand views.   I see so many excellent pictures of Birmingham and I am not here to say that mine are any better.  These pictures are my own personal view of the area and I am pleased that they make people happy.

Brindley Place
Venturing into Brindley Place for the reflections of the canal waters

Reflections in Digbeth

Should I be worried? Should I ditch my big camera? My most popular photographs are all taken by an iPhone. My most recent one of Gibb Street in Digbeth has been published by several outlets including BBCMidlands, Independent Birmingham, IgersbirminghamUK, Bhamupdates and Source investments. All very pleasing but I would like to talk about my aperture and shutter settings. The camera ISO and how I held it to take in the picture. No all I did was dip the iPhone into a puddle and the resulting picture then gets a life of its own. Getting down low certainly led to more impact to the picture. However, I am pleased that I can brag about my composition and that it caught the spirit of Birmingham!

Having done Digbeth, I felt brave enough to go into Birmingham again and look around both Gas Street Basin and Centenary Square.  My first difficulty was parking as car parks and on street spaces were either shut or there were traffic cones preventing you from parking.  I found a place and wandered down into gas street.  What I noticed was how many runners there were out and about plus cyclists using the tow path.  It is wide enough to do social distancing and it was being patrolled by two police officers as well.  

Some parts are locked up
The basin is still colourful
Many runners around

After Gas Street I went to Centenary Square and I had brought along my lensball as I thought it might give me some different and creative photography.  Sometimes the lensball is frustrating as it just does not add anything more to the picture.  In this situation, the shallow pool of water allowed you to place the crystal at the water’s edge and then lie low to line up a picture.  I was pleased with the result and it was well received on the social media.  I also noticed that whilst Broad Street is undergoing changes for the metro tram, there are social distancing notices all over the pavement.  The virus is still around and although walking around the streets of Birmingham has a normality about it, you do realise that we are sill in a state of crisis.

Work on the tram makes for lockdown pictures of the Library
The lensball likes being reflected
When will the Rep open for performances?
Centenary Square is quiet
Evidence of neglect on Broad Street
Changes and more Changes on Broad Street
It is a difference world
Social distancing on Broad Street