a 365 day project – day 1, new year fireworks in Brussels

I may come to regret this but in writing this down I’m committing to attempting a 365 day project, where I take a picture every day for a year. I did a 52 week project in 2012 (one photo a week, the clue’s in the name) which to be honest was hard enough, but because I’ve taken photos so far every day this year, I thought I’d give it a go. I know I’m late posting them up, but I have been taking pictures every day so far – as if that’s some achievement. It’s only day six. Let’s see about the next 359 days…

Seriously though, I’m hoping making myself take a photo every day will (this sounds like a list of objectives, maybe it is):

  • Let me see patterns in the photos I take, given the volume of them over a relatively short period of time, so I can challenge myself to work outside my usual ‘range’
  • Make me focus on what makes a good photo – not just on what the right settings are (not that I’ve really sussed either out yet)
  • Encourage me to use my camera phone more – because as much as I like my DSLR, I know I can’t take it everywhere as it’s not always practical – I think this will help me be more spontaneous
  • Mean I’m using my camera (DSLR or phone – just photographing stuff) more often
  • Get me experimenting with different techniques more often (I’ve already tried doing some time lapse stuff for the first time which I’ll post up shortly)
  • Challenge me to quickly spot photo opportunities because of the urgency of having to take a photo every day (this was a challenge enough once a week, especially on a Sunday night when I ended up in the kitchen or garden in desperation again. I’m not sure what every day is going to be like)
  • Improve my photo composition
  • Document things I’d have forgotten if it wasn’t for doing this project
  • Generally improve my photography skills.

That’s not a bad list really, is it? If I manage to get anywhere with this maybe I’ll revisit this post again and see whether doing the project did actually help. With the best intentions, and with three alarms a day set to remind me to take a photo, what are the chances I’ll remember to do it every day anyway? And there’s no point cheating and taking two the next day is there? I guess we’ll see…

Anyway, here’s day 1 which was taken during the new year celebrations in Brussels. The rest to follow, along with a separate page for the project so they’re all in one place…

001 new year fireworks in Brussels resized


a portrait with a homemade pinhole camera

Ever fancied making your own pinhole camera and then taking and developing a photo with it? I’ve just got back from one of the ‘Thursday lates’ at Manchester Art Gallery, where I did just that – I  made a camera from a coke can, cardboard and masking tape. Love it!

Pinhole cameras work by allowing a small amount of light to hit the photo paper or film inside the camera (or can in this case). The paper is covered with a layer of crystals which are sensitive to the light hitting them, and the varying levels of light (i.e whether parts of the image are lighter or darker) react with the crystals to create an image on the paper. Because the hole is so small, the exposure time has to be quite long – the picture I took (below)  was 1 minute 50 seconds, and the first one I tried was 1 minute 30. With the first one I could have sat there for 10 minutes for a good exposure though, and it wouldn’t have made any difference, as the pinhole was blocked so no light got in – oops.

Once the picture is taken you develop the negative in a darkroom. The gallery had a tent set up for this and you could go in and watch your photo developing. The paper we used today – rather than film – needed a soak in a liquid to develop it, and as it’s soaking the image starts to appear, as a negative. Once it’s ready, you have to stop the crystals from reacting to the light by putting the photo into another liquid (two different ones actually), then drying it out. The photo just looked like a blob to start with and I didn’t think it had worked, but once it had been scanned into a laptop and inverted from the negative, amazingly I could see the outline of my shoulder and face. I turned my head half way through the exposure in the hope that I’d look like I had two faces, but I probably should have stayed still, I don’t think the exposure was quite long enough.

That said, I like the picture. It’s a bit odd, which makes it interesting. And there’s something quite exciting about making a camera yourself using such basic materials and creating an actual, physical photo with them. I rarely get my photos developed these days, and when I do – recently that’s only been when I’ve used film – it’s quite exciting picking them up and seeing how they’ve turned out. Creating an image like I did tonight is better as you get to see the photo  as it’s turning out, not just when it’s done. You really feel like you’ve made the photo, in a different way to shooting digital, or even film. It’s a bit of a gamble about whether it will turn out, it takes a while, it’s a bit fiddly, it’s not perfect, and it’s not predictable (at least, not until you’ve made yourself a decent camera), but that’s why it’s also so much fun. If I can suss out how to create a darkroom at home I’ll definitely try it again.

a lorra, lorra parrots in Loro Parque

A few weeks ago (I’ve been meaning to write this post for a while!) we went on a last minute holiday to Tenerife for a bit of sun and relaxation. As much as I enjoy a week of sunbathing, reading, drinking cocktails and occasionally jumping in the pool to cool down, it doesn’t make for much of a blog post, but in the middle of the week, we actually left the resort to visit Loro Parque in the north of the island, home to over 4,000 different parrot species. Having a bit of a thing about parrots – and by extension, birds generally these days – this was the highlight of the holiday for me, and the one thing I wanted to do all week. Just as well, it pretty much was the only thing we did…

I wasn’t sure which camera lens I’d be best with on the day, so I took a couple with me but only used my 70-300mm all day – not much call really for a wide angle lens in an animal park when you want to fill the frame with a bird! I’m still using my kit zoom lens (Tamron) though, so an upgrade is definitely needed. I recently upgraded my standard 18-55mm to a Canon 17-50mm and it’s definitely made a difference; one for the Christmas list perhaps…

It’s worth saying a couple of the pictures were taken through glass, and you can see some flare in the photos. But it was great to get up close to some of the birds, like the Eclectus, the beautiful green one above, especially in the treetops aviary, a covered (with a net) outdoor area where the birds fly around and sit on the walkways as you walk around and past them. It’s great to see and hear them so close up.

As well as birds the park is also home to other animals like chimpanzees, meercats, tigers, dolphins and tortoises (which I also have a thing about – they had giant torts too; amazing animals, they’re like dinosaurs when you see them up close, but weirdly just like super gigantic versions of my Horsefield tortoises).

Of course, homing 4,000 different parrots, they had African Grays like Kev. Which generated a lot of ‘hello’s from the pair of us when we finally found them (chatting to them as though it was actually Kev and his girlfriend – to be fair, I’d recognise Kev in a line up of Grays, but only because he has funny feet, otherwise I think he’d have to start talking to be sure it was him). We probably looked like a right couple of tools trying to talk to all the birds. But sod it, we were on our holidays, you never see these people again do you…

Some of the birds definitely had a sense of humour – as well as some we saw deliberately winding each other up, one in particular kept dancing at us as we walked past – and went a bit crazy with some strange body-popping head moves when we stopped at his cage; he seemed to be loving the attention (he got a few ‘hellos’ from us as well as the Greys).

A bird-stravaganza on Inner Farne

It’s peak breeding season for many birds on the Farne Islands in July, so if you take a boat trip from Seahouses out to Inner Farne as I did this weekend, expect to be dive-bombed by territorial Terns as soon as you step foot ashore – their nests surround the pathways. Take a hat or hood to avoid a direct peck to your head, or failing that keep wigging your hands near your head – not enough to scare the birds, just enough to stop your head looking like an easy target!

The island is home, at least at this time of the year, to literally thousands of nesting birds of several different species, including various Terns and Gulls, Guillemots, Shags, and Kittiwakes, amongst others. Seals bob around in the water around the islands but weren’t easy to photograph; maybe they were camera shy. And of course there were the puffins.


The puffins were the best bit of the trip for me. Bright legs and parrot-like beaks (they are known as Sea Parrots – and have the interesting nickname ‘Tommy Noddy’ locally), portly stature and waddling gait, they are a magnificent sight. More so because of their numbers; there are around 40,000 pairs currently nesting on the island. Visitors can see them sitting contentedly on the island’s rocks and walls, as well as in burrows on the ground, and then flying around across the sea. They can fly so low they sometimes look as though they’re only just managing to stay above the waves, before bringing fish back to their burrows (borrowed from the local rabbits who must be evicted at this time of year) and disappearing down them to escape a mugging from the gulls while they eat.

I haven’t finished editing yet but here are a few initial photos from the 550+ (!) I took in what was basically a day and a half in Northumberland, visiting Dunstanburgh Castle and Inner Farne…glad I took so many though, because birds can be challenging to photograph so there was a bit of experimentation with shutter speeds and framing, which means there are quite a lot which didn’t turn out. But enough that did, which is the main thing. Being a bit trigger happy has its benefits sometimes, it would seem.

getting in close

I took a few pictures in the local woods this weekend. For once I have a few pictures I’m quite happy with, which is unusual as I usually find that despite my best efforts, photos are either slightly out of focus, not quite framed the way I expected, or have something distracting in the background which I didn’t notice when I took them.

I think the common theme for the pictures I’ve taken this weekend is getting close to the subject. Often, I end up taking pictures of paths and woods without really focusing in on something specific, leaving me with images which look pretty boring when I get home. I’m finding that getting in really close to your subject – which might (rather un-intuitively) involve standing further away with a zoom lens – can sometimes yield the best photos. At least that seems to be the case for me anyway.

I also tried looking up and down more in these shots, to get a different perspective in my pictures. Reflections in puddles can be turned into nice photos, while crouching down a bit and looking up can give you a new angle for photographing flowers.

I think I should experiment more with lenses too. I don’t tend to use my zoom lens (70-300mm) very often, but several of these shots were taken using it proving it can be worth carrying it around as an alternative to my usual 18-55.

Brighton sights

I went to Brighton last week for a conference with work where I ran a workshop on how to be creative; the workshop was quite playful compared to the rest of the (rather more serious and business-y) agenda, and covered key questions like ‘how do you put a giraffe in a fridge?’ It was good fun to run and big thanks to all the people who came along. People seemed to really get into it, and I gave everyone a contract to sign at the end to say which practical tip they were going to take away with them. Might seem like a bit of a gimmick, but not one contract was left on the table afterwards, so everyone took them away. I take this as a good sign and hope we (I was ably assisted by a colleague, Mark) managed to spread a little bit of creativity around some workplaces.

While I was there I had a couple of hours to walk round Brighton. I’ve never been to Brighton before, so not one to miss the opportunity – despite already having several bags to drag across the country with me – I took my camera and thought I’d have a nosey round (I also took my lomo but haven’t had the film developed yet). It was fairly overcast, but at least that meant the sky didn’t blow out – I tend to find this a problem even with a permanently attached UV filter. I must be going wrong somewhere.

I tried to be a bit more selective in setting up my shots than usual, as I’m conscious that I often end up with too many pictures where the subject isn’t clear. I tried framing a point of interest in the foreground with a wide aperture, to blur the background, which worked okay.

I thought I’d try a couple in black & white while I was editing them, or in the case of the lamp post, just tweaking the contrast, as it looks b&w anyway. I should experiment more with b&w shots. I’ve only recently learnt that if you shoot in b&w in raw, you can always convert to colour in post-processing, so there’s no excuse not to really, you can always change your mind later.

I’ve learnt to take more pictures of odd things which I might not necessarily think would make a great picture on first glance. I quite liked this sign, and decided to snap it. I like the resulting juxtaposition of the poster (and its message) with the couple walking past in the background as I took the shot. If I’m honest, this was accidental, but I’ll take it! The composition could be better – the couple could be in focus, and the post in the background is distracting – but if you ignore that, there’s something about it. Just shows an ‘interesting’ picture could appear at any moment.

I think the ones below are probably my favourites.

Lomo learnings

Fortunately the broken lens doesn’t seem to be broken or to have affected the fisheye pictures. Phew!

Films two and three have gone better than the first one, although I only ended up with 37 out of a possible 72 prints, mainly because I ruined the film by opening the back of the camera – as I mentioned in my last post – but also because I took (or tried to take) several pictures with the lens cap on. Oops.

Again these are unedited, and although there’s some way to go before I can say I have some great shots, there are a few things I’ve learnt about using a fisheye lens like this, which is part of the reason I’ve posted up some of the ‘mistakes’ here rather than filtering them out…

1. The wide angle lens is WIDE. I know this sounds obvious, it being a wide angle lens and everything, but it seems to be much wider than I give it credit for when taking pictures. It’s hard to judge until you see the photos afterwards, especially when you’re used to having a digital display on a DSLR, so I think this one’s going to take a while to conquer. You can see this in the pics below where some of the framing is off (like the photo I thought I’d taken of feet, which also includes heads!), or where the subjects are too far away. 

2. Even fast films (like the ISO 800s I’ve been using) produce poor quality pictures when the light is fairly low. The ones I’ve taken on bright days have been the most successful, so sunny days = good fisheye days. Low lighting? Probably best not to bother, unless you have plenty of film and are willing to take a chance. I can’t say I’ve used the flash much apart from in the first film, indoors on a dimly lit day. I think I was a bit close to the subject though as I just ended up with glare. Another learning.

3. If you want 800 film, it’s not that easy to get hold of. I’ve tried a couple of places in Manchester like camera shops, Boots etc. and they don’t stock ISO 800, only 400. When I bought my camera from the Lomography shop in Manchester (which I think has since closed), I paid about £9/10 for a pack of three colour 35mm ISO 800 films. The Lomography website is out of stock at the moment, and to get films for the £9/10 mark, I’ve just ordered some from the US (maybe I got them really cheap initially?). They’re expired films so we’ll have to see how they turn out in another blog post.

4. Handbags are not the friendliest places for camera lenses. Again, probably obvious. More obvious when you think you’ve broken your lens – I’ve been lucky! (That said, I was having a clear out the other day and found an old film camera which I think I got for my 18th a few years ago, and I can see that going in my handbag as soon as I get some new film, it’s really small and handy. There’s nothing like ignoring your own advice!)

5. It’s easy to take photos (or not) with the lens cap on. I’m used to a camera which doesn’t let me take photos with the lens cap on, so I suspect this will take some getting used to. I’ve annoyed myself several times by doing this so I hope I can train myself to remember to take it off every time (or at least most times) soon!

I’m sure there will be more learnings to come, so there will probably be a part two to this post at some point. In the meantime, here are a few more pics from Wales taken over Easter.

Shooting fish(eye)

I must admit I hadn’t realised it had been two months since I’d last posted. Note to self: must try harder!

Well, I did manage to get through a film with my fisheye lens (I don’t know why I make it sound like such a chore – it wasn’t), but unfortunately I have since broken said lens, probably as a result of having the camera in my handbag; while convenient for taking spontaneous pictures, having it in my bag seems to have also been pretty damaging. And in fact that was part way through my third roll of film…

I only got half way through the second film when I had a walk to Manchester Cathedral and just as I was about to take a photo, I realised the film must have come loose as it wouldn’t wind on. After a bit of fiddling, I resigned myself to having to open the back of the camera and sort the film out, obviously ruining anything I exposed, but I thought I’d take the chance as I didn’t have another film with me (and also it’s such a struggle to walk the whole 10 minutes or so from the office at dinner time to come and take a photo, that clearly I had to do something there and then). I couldn’t manage to get the film back onto the spool though, so I wound it back, thinking I’d just start again and do some ‘crazy’ double exposures on the first half of the film – ha ha, aren’t I clever I thought, until I realised I’d wound the film back completely and couldn’t get the end back out*.

So I now have half a film which hasn’t been developed, most of a film which I need to finish and which (obviously) hasn’t been developed, a broken lens on my camera and…a handful of photos.

The pics below were from my first film and taken in the Tame Valley (near where I live), around Manchester and in Buxton. ‘Where are the rest of the 36 pictures?’ you might ask. Well, even though I had a fast film (800), I took quite a few indoors in the Pavillion Gardens in Buxton and they didn’t really turn out because the light was poor (even with a flash). In my defence, the weather was awful and freezing cold and I wanted to use the film, but I couldn’t face being outside for too long. (Yeah maybe I’m nesh, but it was freezing!) The indoor pics didn’t really work, and some of them were just a bit rubbish.

Despite the fact that quite a few didn’t turn out, it was worthwhile as an experiment, if only to think about framing and how much I can get into a shot. I really do need to get on with finishing off this last film, although how it’ll turn out with a damaged lens I don’t know. Maybe it’ll add a touch of artful unpredictability. I can only hope so.


*If this happens to you, try making your own film-retracting gismo via this guide at Lomography.com. I haven’t tried it but I’m sure it will come in handy next time I do this!


A walk in the woods

These are a few photos from a walk in the woods near my house last Saturday (I still haven’t used up the film from the walk!). I went during the afternoon and by the time I was on my way back, the light was at its best as it was getting towards the end of the day, although I’m not sure I’ve really done it  justice. (These were all taken with my DSLR.)

On the water shots below (and the one above), I used a new variable ND filter, not something I’ve used before, so that was a bit of an experiment. I’m fairly happy as the ND was easy to use and definitely made a big difference, although don’t think the focus was quite right, and next time I’d probably try to get a bit more of the background in. But not too bad for half an hour spent fiddling. The picture on the left has a 13 second exposure, while the one on the right is only 3.2, which shows how much additional time you can expose for when you vary the ND effect. This will be great for long daytime exposures in future.

fisheye camera

First foray into film (for a while)

fisheye cameraI’ve been reading a bit about Lomography recently and although I haven’t used film for years (I had various cameras for holiday snaps in my younger days),  yesterday I bought myself a Fisheye One film camera from the Lomography shop in Manchester. It was a bit of an impulse buy as I only went to have a look around, but they had 50% off any cameras without a box, so the camera itself was only £22. Felt like it would have been rude not to buy one at that price! 

It’s green, doesn’t need batteries as it’s all mechanical (there is a flash which takes a pencil battery which I haven’t tried yet), and lightweight, so easy to carry around. Here are the stats, taken from http://microsites.lomography.com/fisheyecamera/

* Weight: 0.5lb (0.23kg)
* Format: all 35mm (color negative, slide, b&w)
* Field of Vision: 170 degrees
* Approximate focal length: 10mm
* Fixed Aperture: f/8
* Fixed Speed: 1/100

I’ve been out and about today to have a play around with it, and despite buying three films with 36 exposures each, I’ve only taken about 12 pics. To be fair, I had my DSLR with me as well, so I was more focused on playing around with the ND filter I also bought yesterday, to try out some long exposures. But having film did make me much more careful about what pictures I was taking. With hindsight this was a bit of a mistake, as the whole point of playing around is to see what works and what doesn’t, so next time I need to make sure I use up the film otherwise I don’t think I’ll find out what does work! Maybe I’ll do that tomorrow.

Time to get on with editing the long exposures first…