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Spaghetti Junction IgersbirminghamUK

With the famous spaghetti junction turning 50, the event has led to a flurry of media and photographic interest.  A rollercoaster of activity. Such a landmark event has already led to Heinz releasing a limited edition yellow-themed tin of Spaghetti pasta celebrating the anniversary  

I, also, found myself getting caught up in this rollercoaster of a celebration of the motorway junction.   Following on from my recent visit to the junction, IgersbirminghamUK organised a photographic meeting for the week of the celebrations.  Just under 40 photographers arrived on a Sunday morning to be briefed on the planned photographic walk under the M6.  The group photograph was a popular picture and was even featured by the national IgersUK Instagram page.  All the photographs taken during the walk may be found under the Instagram hashtag #igbuk_meet_spagjunction.   There are some very good pictures that show the relatively unseen world underneath the Spaghetti Junction.

Spaghetti Junction IgersbirminghamUK
IgersbirminghamUK participants
Spaghetti Junction IgersbirminghamUK
The quietness of the canal with the Junction in the distance (selected for the BBC England’s Big Picture).
Spaghetti Junction IgersbirminghamUK
A view of the columns holding up the Motorway.
Spaghetti Junction IgersbirminghamUK
Nature is reclaiming the area underneath the Spaghetti Junction.

The events of the meeting were recorded by the BBC and the report by reporter Laura Mcmullan featured interviews with me and other photographers.  Following the publication of the BBC news item, I was invited by the University of Birmingham to write an article on what lies below the Spaghetti Junction from a photographic viewpoint.

Although I was busy with the organisation of the meeting, I did have time to take a few pictures myself as featured in this blog.  I wonder what the place will be like in another 50 years.  Meanwhile, I know that I will be passing over the Junction in the future as I hurtle in and out of Birmingham.

Further links
BBC Midlands Today provides an account of the IgersbirminghamUK meeting
What’s underneath the Spaghetti Junction, Damien Walmsley, University of Birmingham.
My previous blog on Spaghetti Junction (50 years on) with more pictures.
Englands Big Picture 22nd May to the 29th May (my picture of the Spaghetti Junction)

Spaghetti Junction IgersbirminghamUK
The flyovers tower above you.

Water droplet Photography

Belonging to a 52 week project group on Flickr, I have different weekly challenges to complete.  The challenges throw up interesting topics including pictures of water droplets.  During lockdown I did become efficient at oil and water photography but attempts at taking pictures of water droplets splashing from a great height were less than satisfactory.  With the water droplet challenge, I decided to revisit this technique rather than the straightforward approach of water droplets on surfaces.  The aim of this blog is to provide some tips on how to do this at home.

Setting up – I quickly learnt from watching YouTube tutorials that this is key to your success when photographing droplets.  One of the best purchases I have made was a wireless off-flash unit which has added much needed flexibility. Having such a unit is a necessity for a water droplet project. In addition, I also needed to drip the water from on high. I searched on the Internet and hunted around the local supermarkets.  Luckily my oldest daughter, Katie, found a hard plastic jug with a small tap placed towards the bottom of the jar.  Perfect for making drops!

Water droplet photography
Droplet crown.

Then causing chaos with the family, I took over the kitchen.  Buckets of water, step ladders, pints of milk and food colourants were all assembled on the kitchen table.  The pictures show the various components that were used. The water jar was placed on the top of a step ladder with the water buckets underneath.  My camera (Canon 5D mkIV) and EF100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM are on a tripod.  The off camera flash is set up to fire at 1/32 which I learnt from a YouTube tutorials, was a good starting point to freeze the droplets. During my last attempts in lock down did not have all the bubble droplets in focus and so a small aperture was selected.  I started with f/11and did increase to f/22 for some pictures.

Water droplet photography
Droplet formation.

The milk (blue top for thickness) was placed in a dish.  To help with the focusing I used a Lego pirate figure which was placed under where the drip hit the milk.  Now I was all ready to go and it was very much trial and error.  I had a remote to activate the camera and this allowed me to also control the tap.  If you wish to get even more serious then there are special timed drop release mechanisms, but I just went for the manual option.  Experimentation with the food dye was not as successful and needs more practice.  All the pictures were in focus and looked satisfactory on the camera screen.  Around 60 pictures were taken and then it was all about the editing.

Water droplet Photography
A spectacular droplet on droplet collision.

Editing was in Adobe Lightroom.  I played with the colour sliders to bring out the red, blue and green colours.  One of my earlier attempts looked quite spectacular as an upcoming primary droplet hit a new one.  It produced a water halo effect.  I was pleased with this.  In my best other pictures, there was a droplet crown and a symmetrical water droplet.  I was rushed as the Sunday dinner needed to be prepared and the kitchen chaos had to be cleared away.  I have written this all up so that I know what to do next time.  I strongly recommend trying it out as if you have a good macro lens and off-camera flash then the other essentials are relatively inexpensive.  If you found this account useful then let me know and have fun taking photographs.

If you liked this account then take a look at my Oil and Water blog.


Brindley Place, Birmingham

If you see me walking down the street
And I start to cry each time we meet
Walk on by, walk on by
.”
Song and Lyrics composed by Burt Bacharach, with lyrics by Hal David

The following images should be viewed when listening to the song by Dione Warwick although there is the alternative version by Isaac Hayes which is worth a listen as well. These pictures were taken in Brindley Place, Birmingham using my 70-200mm lens on my Canon 5D IV. The rising sun casts a shadow against the brick wall and as people walk by it appears as if the shadows are making an arrow. Add in the bonus reflections and it makes for a superb place for street photography. Enjoy the following set of 5 pictures.


Jephson Gardens, Leamington Spa

Royal Leamington Spa is long associated with the family. We used to visit in the late 1980s and think it was so exciting with the Parade and the Parade and the Royal Priors shopping centre. Returning over the years, the town still looks impressive with the Georgean and Victorian buildings looking clean and impressive in their whitewashed coatings. The opportunity to do a photographic walk around Leamington Spa was organised by my fellow photographer buddy, John Bray.  I arrived in the town inbetween two storms, Dudley and Eustace. The sun came back during the lull which whilst welcome, created strong shadows during our morning walk.

Royal Leamington Spa Bowls Club
Royal Leamington Spa Bowls Club
Blossom on the trees, Leamington Spa
Blossom on the trees along the River Leam, Leamington Spa.
Bandstand, Leamington Spa
The Bandstand in the Royal Pump Room gardens.

Our first stop was the home of bowls, Royal Leamington Spa Bowling Club. The groundsmen were preparing the greens for spring and the greens looked beautiful. Our walk followed the river Leam and we passed through the Royal Pump Room gardens with the impressive Bandstand.

Moving over the river again we headed past All Saints Church where there were some opportunities to take reflective photographs. We went onto Mill Road and then Mill passage lingering on the impressive iron pedestrian bridge over the river. It was here that we encountered our first street art with a mural of elephants painted on an electricity substation hut near to the entrance to the bridge.  This work was painted by the Brink Contemporary Arts group and makes a feature of three elephants who used to live in Leamington

The river Leam was full following the recent rains and there was a strong current under the bridge.  There was also a fine mist of the spray from the waterfall crashing over the weir.  Having photographed the bridge and the river our next destination was the Grand Union canal.

Our walk took us through the streets of the town and we commented several times at the hidden gems of architecture.  Just before the canal there is a mixture of light industry and new buildings that leads onto an old factory where the Brink art group has facilitated more street art.  The pedestrian canal bridge has curved steps and provides views of the street art.

Pedestrian Bridge over the canal
It is in this area around the Pedestrian Bridge over the canal that the Leamington Spa Street Art is concentrated.

A selection of the murals is featured in my next blog.  My favourite was a mural painted by @n_4_t_4 on the side of the canal.  There were several others that are featured and part of the Brink Art group.

Street art by N4t4
Street art by N4t4

Making our way back to Jephson park, we stumbled upon a small oasis of crocuses in bloom showing that spring was well on its way.  Following on from Jephson park, we took in coffee in the city centre before heading off to Clarendon Square where many films are filmed including Upstairs, downstairs.  The latest TV series to be filmed there is “Stonehouse” based on the MP who faked his own death. 

Clarendon Square
Clarendon Square

Royal Leamington Spa is well worth photographic attention as there is much to see from the beautiful architecture to the contemporary street art. All the pictures were taken mainly with my Fujifilm x100v compact camera unless otherwise stated.

If you found this interesting then please take a look at the following site for more information about Leamington Spa
The street art in Leamington is overseen by the Brink Street Art Group.


Hillmorton Locks

Look up any reference on Hillmorton Locks and they are quoted as being the busiest along all of the UK canal waterways.  Found on the outskirts of Rugby, they are a hidden gem as accessing them is not straightforward.  From the south, the locks are approached via a narrow entrance tunnel under the West Coast Railway line.  Once through this, then there is parking available at the local parish church St John the Baptist.  There are three sets of locks and the lower lock has a workshop and a few bridges.  Nestling on the banks of the canal was a small inviting coffee shop which is getting ready to open. 

Hillmorton Locks
Hillmorton Locks

The locks themselves are unusual in that there are two side by side.  This was to ease congestion due to its position on the canal network as being the main highway south to London.  The second of the locks is after a gentle curve in the canal and this is different as the lock beams have letters carved into them.

Hillmorton Locks
inscriptions on the lock gates

Locklines consists of a poem of which four lines are on the lock gates at Hillmorton.  At first I wondered why they had been placed in the gates but then it made sense reading the article on them.  They are interesting lines

WORKING WATER
CAPTIVE FOR A WHILE
CLIMBS CAREFULLY DOWN
THIS DOOR MAKES DEPTH

There were three poets involved and one designer and the weblink provides more details on how it all pieces together.

Hillmorton Locks
Looking down from the upper lock

It is then a straight walk up to the third and final lock.  This provides nice views back down the locks and the criss cross pattern of the gates makes for some nice pictures of the canal.  The canal then moves onto run past a new housing estate that is built on the old radio masts that used to be a feature of Hillmorton.  I remember both as a boy and young man taking the train down to London and passing the Rugby antenna masts that were tall structures in the Landscape.  Little did I realise that many years into the future that I would be passing them again but under different circumstances.  Walking back down the locks provided different views including glimpses of the Church of St John the Baptist which were especially pleasing to photograph with the locks in the foreground. 

Hillmorton Locks
Details around Hillmorton Locks
Hillmorton Locks
Details around Hill Morton Locks
Hillmorton Locks
Details around Hillmorton Locks

I am glad that I lingered around the middle lock as my attention was caught by a signpost that had the directions Vaccine and New Normal.  There was even a strange red ball structure on the top that I realised was meant to represent a corona virus.  Further investigations revealed that there was a third sign with Way Out.  Clambered over the gate I looked around to see where it led.  Nothing to see until I turned around.  The back of the sign was inscribed with different lines about the Covid19 pandemic and these included

No Hugs
Mask uo
No PPE
2 metres
Clap NHS
Rule of 3
Bubbles
Home workers
Pubs shut
…..plus many others. 

The whole list maybe seen in the photograph and I have highlighted the post for clearer viewing.  It is great fun and it is still continuing I expect.

Hillmorton Locks
The post with a record of the pandemic written down.

Finally I had a quick look at the Church which was quietly sandwiched between the railway line and the canal.  Spring is starting and the blossom was just opening.  I will revisit when the leaves are fully on the trees and the lovely café is open for a cup of coffee or tea. Enjoy the pictures!

Hillmorton Locks
Church of St John the Baptist

More information
Locklines tells the story how the poem was put into the lock gates
The Canal and River Trust have lots of information about the area
My previous blogs on the Canals in the West Midlands
Walking along the North Stratford Canal
– Lockdown 3 walking along the Grand Union Canal


The pool in Brueton Park Woods

When the snow first fell the skies were overcast and whilst there was a some beautiful snow scenes, I longed for a blue sky to provide some colour. The next day the sun shone and there were no clouds in the sky. I planned my walk to take me over fields to Widney Road allowing me to approach Brueton park and the nature reserve from the west.

Lea Wood in the snow
Lea Wood in the snow

My first stop was Lea Wood nature reserve which I had not visited before on my travels. The wood used to be a tree nursery and the trees now fully grown are aligned in lines. This creates many leading lines along the paths in the wood. There were several walkers in the wood so I was able to compose some eye-catching pictures with leading lines towards the silhouettes of people . The low level of the sun also produced lovely light that I was able to shoot towards the sun with the trees as a backdrop. I hung around for some time fascinated by the trees and the patterns caused by the light.

Sunlight in the woods
Sunlight in the woods
Sunlight on the tree branches
Sunlight on the tree branches
A leaning tree
A leaning tree
Snow on the trees
Snow on the trees
Trees on the way to Breuton Park
Trees on the way to Breuton Park

Finally I moved onto Brueton Park proper. It was very muddy despite the frozen ground. When I got to the river Blythe, I made the decision to go into the old Wood on the west bank to the River Blythe. The place was deserted and following the muddy path, I threaded my way deep into the wood. I arrived at the north end of the water pool which interestingly is unnamed on the map. The sun was shining brightly but the thick canopy of the trees diffused the rays. The path led around to the south side and here I was able to get close to the water’s edge. With the light low, bright and just right a beautiful scene opened up. I was so pleased with the pictures of the water and the framing from the trees. It was a richly rewarding photo walk with many different variations of the snow lying on the ground reflecting the sun. It was a much different day than yesterday and very productive.

The river Blythe
The river Blythe
Path around the pool
Path around the pool
The pool in Brueton Park Woods
The pool in Brueton Park Woods

Photo tip. Don’t be hasty in taking your pictures and try and slow down. I was very excited at first especially in Lea Wood. Then with time I started to enjoy myself in the woods and came away with many different pictures. I had my iPhone, large Canon camera with lenses plus my Fujifilm x100v. Yes it was a bit over the top in terms of photographic equipment but I was glad that I had all of them with me.

More pictures of local parks can be found on my blog
The photographic delights of Umberslade Park
Coombe Abbey Country Park during the Golden Hour
Watching the sun go down by Bracebridge pool, Sutton Park

More information
Brueton Park and its sister, Malvern is on the Solihull Council Website
Malvern and Brueton Parks
or check out Trip Advisor



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

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