Monday, 23 November 2015

Still Life With Peruvian Lily and Figs

My task this time around was to create a still life with elements that are autumn related but are usually not used for conventional autumn images. I happened to have some lovely supermarket bought red alstroemerias in my vase. I googled them and found out they are commonly called "Peruvian lily" and  that they flower till November, which makes them very much an autumn flower. This is one of the things I like the most about blogging - learning through research. I learn something with every single post and that fills me with a great sense of purpose.
Figs I was reminded about over on the Little Birdie blog. Jen, who is one of my favourite bloggers, was making a cake with figs that were in season. I love the colour of this sort of figs - beautiful deep purple on the outside and lovely coral red inside. I thought they went really well with the red Peruvian lily both in shape and colour.
Since my last still life was quite a complex one I decided to keep this one simple and concentrate on the light. I decided to try something different, so instead of the usual set up against the wall with the light streaming in from the window to the side I placed the tabletop at an angle in front of the window so my subject is partially back lit.

The curtains I have in the room are patterned which I did not want in my photo so I covered the one behind the vase with a white sheet. I am fairly pleased with how the lighting came out. I like the contrast between the light and shadow and the overall softness of the light.

I have now Lightroom 5 installed on my computer. I had wanted to use Lightroom for a long time and am so happy the time has finally arrived. This is the first image I processed in it. I just gave it a basic edit and then applied a couple of presets in

I still need to learn how to install presets in Lightroom and which ones would be best for my work. It is so exciting learning something new, especially when it comes to photography.

Saturday, 14 November 2015

Autumn on the Haworth Moor

When we left Ponden Hall on Saturday morning, 17th October, G was ready to go back home, and I could not wait to wander around Haworth and go for a walk up on the moor. It was around 10 o'clock and the village was still quiet and sleepy. I had never been to Haworth that early in the morning. I am not an early riser and it takes me an hour and half to get here from Leeds. I watched how the streets slowly filled with people - locals taking their dogs for a walk or just out on errands; visitors like me; tourists who are abundant in Haworth at weekends....
My main intention was to take some autumn shots. It was a mild, a little damp and overcast morning which meant diffused, easily manageable, but plain lighting. My first destination was, of course, the Parsonage Cemetery. It was quiet. Even the crows were not to be heard. The only sound came from recent rain drops falling off tree branches and from drifts of fallen leaves whirling around on tomb stones in the light wind.

This image communicates the lovely melancholic feel of the Cemetery in autumn time. Love the look of the old tomb stones sprinkled with red leaves and the Parsonage and Old School just visible through the autumnal foliage.

It was a relatively early autumn time so I had to have my eyes peeled for concentration of autumn colours. This spot seemed to be the most colourful of all in the cemetery and had the greatest amount of fallen leaves on the floor. The path on which I was standing runs along the bottom edge of the cemetery and dips at this spot so I easily got a low viewpoint with leaves and branches attractively backlit directly in front of me.

Up on the moor I was amazed at a most beautiful, deep and rich amber colour of grass speckled here and there with the red of withering fireweed. There were expanses of this wonderful colour as far as the eye could see. I have recently watched the 2011 Wuthering Heights movie and was completely awed by the photography in it. The light and colours on the moor were glorious. On cloudy mornings and late afternoons there were these incredibly beautiful misty shades of green, teal and "duck egg" hues. I wanted to emulate those tones in this image. Hence the greenish hue of the sky that complements the dark gold of the grass and accentuates the broody nature of the moors.

It soon began to drizzle. I was preying it did not turn into proper rain, I so did not want to have to put my camera away. I just had to get the shots. A male figure came into view on the horizon his collar up, his step getting faster because of the, click, click quick.....

It did not rain for long. My prayers must have been heard. Very soon the sun began pushing through the travelling clouds creating a fine, hazy light down in the valley and over Haworth. The landscape slowly assumed some lovely warm chestnut brown shades.

Then the sun was out while the sky was still laden and grey. The light kept changing and yielding some fleeting, magic moments. I stood still on top of the hill, completely dazed by so much beauty before my eyes.

Now the clouds were not ominous anymore but light and white, and fluffy, and the sky became a deep blue colour. Nice weather ensued for a while. I came out onto the road and was greeted by this straggly little young tree. I love such lone surprises on the moor. Random makings of nature that break up the bleakness here and there.

It was such a great time spent walking the moor. In fact, I always enjoy it even when the weather is not so good. I personally am not worried about getting wet or cold or anything, but I do worry about my camera. It must not get wet so I definitely would not want to get caught up there with it in torrential rain. But as long as it is mainly dry I love being up on the moor. I love the openness, the bleakness, the sweeping distant views and the exhilarating and liberating feeling the whole place gives me. And I love the constant wind that brings along so many changes in weather conditions in short spaces of time. It is such a good and welcoming thing for both photography and the soul.

Saturday, 24 October 2015

A Stay at Ponden Hall, Haworth

Friday, 16 October was one of the most memorable days of my life. G and I stayed at the wonderful Ponden Hall, a 17th century house with lots of Bronte family connections. It is situated above the Ponden Reservoir, in my beloved Bronte Country. It is a private home but the owners Julie and Steve generously decided to open three rooms for bed and breakfast over a year ago.

G and I arrived to Haworth very excited about 12:30. It was too early to go and check in so we had lunch in the "Cobbles and Clay" and wandered around a couple of shops before we made our way up to the Hall. I had met Julie before when I went for a "Tour and Tea" she organizes for those wishing to just have a look around the house rather than stay. And yet I did not expect us to be regaled on arrival with tea and home made Victoria sponge. It is not what you normally get when you check in to a B&B and is just one of  many kind things the lovely hosts do for their guests.

After a good chat during which we felt like we have known Julie and Steve for a long time we went to our marvellous room called the Earnshaw room. It is named after Catherine Earnshaw, the heroine of the "Wuthering Hights" novel, because it features the window which is believed to be the model for the window in Emily's book at which Cathy's ghosts appears asking to be let in. A while ago Julie and Steve had had a boxed bed made around the window that resembles the one Emily describes in her book. And it is these fascinating features of the room that made me decide I must stay in the room and sleep in the box bed. Of course, there are other things that give the room its irresistible, charming character like mullioned windows, log burner that was lit for us before we arrived, period furniture and breathtaking views over the reservoir.

By now it was already past four o'clock in the afternoon and the light was fading fast. This was the time I had to take my photos. I needed to work quickly, so using the tripod was out of question. I pushed the ISO settting in my camera to 1600 which allowed me to shoot at shutter speeds just fast enough to avoid blurry shots due to camera shake. I had to leave the room lights on to help me with the amount of light I had on my hands. The lighting in my photos is a mixture of available and artificial light which is not a conventional type of lighting at all but I do like it as it conveys the cosy atmosphere of the early evening in the room. For me it is also a precious record of the room as it was at the time I stayed in it.

In the evening we went for a meal to The Old Silent Inn . What an amazing and fascinating country pub this is! It is said to be haunted by several ghosts and it was fittingly and lavishly decorated for the upcoming Halloween season. The food was first class, really delicious.
While we were out Steve had thrown a few more logs into the burner so the room was lovely and toasty when we got back. We relaxed in front of the fire and I read a few random pages of "Wuthering Heights".
I woke up in the middle of the night to look at the Cathy's window inside our cosy box bed. I sat up and peered through the small pane. There was a faint light in which a shadow of a small branch with leaves was bobbing up and down in the frame. I waited.....but that was ghost..... I saw nothing scary.

In the morning we rose to an inviting smell of fried bacon wafting up from the kitchen where Julie was preparing our breakfast. We ate it in the beautiful Hall, at the huge oak table that once served for cloth cutting ( the ancient Hall tenants were cloth merchants). It was one of the heartiest, yummiest English breakfasts we have ever had, clearly made with love and care. At the table we met a nice couple from Essex, staying at the Giddings Room. For G and me it was soon time to leave. But not for good. I shall most certainly be back to see again this gorgeous place and our new friends, Julie and Steve.

A few shots of the outside of the house (I was lucky there happened to be no cars parked there as we were leaving) and of a very pretty walled front garden looking so charming in its autumn edition, and we were on our way back to Haworth, very happy and filled with most pleasant impressions we will always cherish.

Tuesday, 13 October 2015

Sunflowers and Autumn Fruit Still Life

I am one of relatively few amateur photographers who do classic still life photography. I am not sure how or why I developed the passion for still life. It may be the extra dimension of creativity it offers a photographer in that he/she creates the image from scratch rather than merely takes a shot of a "found" scene. Or it may simply be a fine sensitivity to the aesthetics of a harmonious interaction of objects put together. Whatever it is, I regularly feel an urge to create still life images and I do not think that will change for as long as I take photos.

The change of season we are just going through - the end of summer and beginning of autumn - automatically saw me looking for inspiration and subsequently conjuring up a still life composition in my mind. There were so many colourful fruits of nature to choose from. I pictured the cheerful, rustic sunflowers in the old earthenware jug as the main focus of my image. A few stems of the orange red crocosmia flowering in the car park outside my house served to give some volume to the bunch of sunflowers, and the supermarket bought autumn fruits added more colour and enhanced the season's theme.

I always shoot from different angles and camera heights and normally find the 90 degree (straight on) angle with eye level viewpont most pleasing. On this occasion, however, I felt the slightly higher viewpoint with the camera to the left of the set up worked better. I thought it made the positioning of the elements look more natural and casual.

As with all my still life images, I used texture layers extensively in post processing. I like how textures change the lighting, bring out colour tones and give a painterly effect to the image. Whilst I have been toning down the use of textures on many of my scenery images I continue to use them freely in my still life work.

Friday, 9 October 2015

Visit to Bronte Waterfalls, Haworth, 29/09/15

I woke up to a lovely early autumn morning. There was a fine mist up on the distant hills and the air was fresh and mellow. I knew the mist would give way to a beautiful weather later on. It was a perfect day for my planned trip to the Bronte Waterfalls up on the Haworth moor. G and I passed it on our way to Top Withins three weeks ago but it was a Sunday and there were far too many people around to experience properly the idyllic and inspiring spot. I made a mental note to return before bad weather set in. Now the day had come I could not wait to get ready and set off.

G gave me a lift to the Morrison's car park from where I took the 760 bus to Keighley.
It is an hour's drive, quite a long journey but I always enjoy it. The bus goes through Calverly, Shipley, Saltaire and Bingley, towns which are all of interest to me either from the photography or shopping point of view. I also spend some time reading on the bus and usually have a sandwich I prepare at home for breakfast. At Keighley I change for Haworth, another fifteen minute bus ride.

So I got off the bus at the Bronte Parsonage Museum and took the path beyond it to Cemetery Road from where my two and a half mile walk to the Waterfalls started. It was getting warmer with the sun pushing through some grey clouds and rising mist. The views from the road were stunning as usual, different each time you walk by, depending on the weather conditions and time of year.

My photos are shown in the order they were taken and are all processed with just a very quick and basic edit. All I did more or less is lightened them slightly because big expanses of sky tend to fool the camera into underexposure. Apart from that all the images are unadulterated and straightforward accounts of a beautiful countryside as it was on the day. Sometimes it is good to do just that - be less arty and just enjoy honest and pure shots.

All along Cemetery Road there are wonderful views over Lower Laithe reservoir. It is impossible not to take a picture or two no matter how many times you have photographed the reservoir from similar viewpoints. The fireweed, although fading now, was still a great pink colour and frames the shot well.

At the end of Cemetery road the route takes you onto the farm track that leads to the Waterfalls across open moorland. This is a view back towards Cemetery Road. I like the detail on the left hand side of the image and the defused light with just a hint of the sun trying to break through the clouds.

A photogenic ruined farmhouse with a lovely view beyond sits on a bend in the track making it impossible for a photographer not to take a shot.

The sort of view that accompanies you on your right the entire one and a half mile distance to the waterfalls.

There is a lot of lovely sheep around and I spotted this one being framed by the fence posts. I love their curiosity that so often makes them look at the camera. Such easy models!

This is roughly where the track narrows to a footpath just before a descent to the waterfalls. Now you can hear the sound of water and you can see the distant Top Withins on the horizon. Ferns most beautiful green colour make a change in the landscape around this area.

The first shot I took of Bronte Waterfalls. I was not completely alone there but it was not too difficult to take photos and have a quiet moment.

Sitting on a rock and reading Emily's poems with a soothing sound of the nearby waterfalls. A touch of bliss and magic!

By the time I was ready to go back, and now I felt well refreshed and revived, the sun has fully come out and was casting a beautiful warm glow on the idyllic surroundings. It was time to take a few last shots before crossing the bridge and climbing the very steep path up the hill.

At the top I walked across a field to Back Lane and then on to the lovely village of Stanbury. From there, after a quick refreshment at the Wuthering Heights pub, I took a bus back to Haworth where I did a bit of retail therapy. It is hard for me not to visit some of Haworth's unique, quaint and delightful shops every time I go there. And I always buy something from the Parsonage shop too for my ever growing collection of Bronte literature. One last thing I did (and usually do) before catching the bus back to Leeds is have a quick cappuccino at my favourite Cobbles and Clay cafe.

It was a most satisfying day filled with pleasure and inspiration. I do not ask for much more other than being able to carry on coming back to this wonderful part of the world.

Wednesday, 30 September 2015

Looking After Jasper

I love animals and I simply adore dogs and cats. We used to have two ginger and white cats but they both met the same mysterious death in the park adjacent to our house so we decided not to have any more cats. We could not face burying another cat and just could not forgive ourselves if another one died on us. We would love to have a dog but we feel there would be times when it would have to be on its own for too long and that just would not be fair on the dog.

So I was very pleased when my friend asked me if I would look after her dog Jasper just for one evening and the following morning while they were away. She asked me if I would just feed him but I said I might as well take him for walks too. I ended up having him overnight at our home. Jasper is a lovely crossbreed between greyhound and border collie. He is a very good-natured and well behaved dog. He felt comfortable with us and did not act any differently from how he normally does at his own home.

I liked taking Jasper out for a walk but did not want to let him off the lead. He would most probably come back to me when called but I just did not want to chance losing him. It was a nippy but beautiful evening and we walked down the path towards the new estate where the low late afternoon sun was creating some lovely light. Of course, I did not want to miss any photo opportunities but since I was holding the lead with one hand I only took my mobile with me.

I really like this shot. The colour tones and contrast between the colours and light are very good and appealing. The unusal pose of the dog caught from its side and looking away from the camera towards the distant houses works well and gives the image a storytelling quality. It was very easy to process this image, the only major step being removing the dog's lead.

This is just an experiment of shooting into the sun with my mobile. Not good quality, but it could be worse. Nice mood though.

A straight and simple portrait of a good boy to give him justice. It was lovely having him around.

Saturday, 19 September 2015

Top Withins, Haworth, 6 September, 2015

Top Withins (or Withens, both are correct spellings). What an incredible place! It is just a farmhouse ruin with a weather beaten tree next to it on top of a hill amidst windswept moors, but if you know anything about its history and background it becomes a most charming, evocative, inspiring and atmospheric place you can imagine. The farmhouse is believed to be the location model for Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights in her novel of passionate love and revenge. The novel is considered to be one of the greatest works of fiction ever written and even many who have not read it are familiar with the names of some of its characters and places.
It was a bit breezy but sunny, a perfect day to do the 6 and half mile circular walk on the bleak but beautiful moors above Haworth. From the photography point of view a grey and moody day would probably suit the location better in terms of creating drama and atmosphere, but I am sure it is more pleasant to explore such an untamed terrain in fine weather for a first time.

Pink heather that grows profusely on the moors at this time of the year must have been at its best or thereabouts. There were vast expanses of pink velvety carpets in the distance, and myriads of low lacy bushes brushed our ankles as we walked along the paths. An odd tree here and there added charm to the pink wilderness.

I took this image from the path at the bottom of the hill Top Withins is perched on. It is pretty much the sort of views you get standing next to the ruin too. Truly breathtaking and liberating!

As we were nearing the ruin, even from quite a distance I could see there was a lot of people around it. It was to be expected seeing it was a Sunday and a very nice day, and yet I felt a slight irritation thinking I would not be able to take any photos without people in them. I could already picture a lot of spot healing in Photoshop! Luckily, most people were lingering around the back of the ruin from where they could enjoy the views whereas the more photogenic front is facing just a hillside. So I managed to take a lot of shots from which I could choose a good one. Owing to quite mellow, even though direct September sunlight, I was able to produce gentle pastel colour tones. I like the shadows the tree and partition walls cast on the ruin. They give the image a nice contrast and a bit of depth.

While I was taking photos of Top Withins G was busy taking pics of me at work with his mobile. Well, I suppose it is good to have a record of that too. It also provides me with material for social media site icons, profile pictures etc.

G pointed out that people sitting in the long grass enjoying nice weather and lovely views make for a good shot themselves. He may be right. I agree people are not always disruptive with their presence after all. In fact, they are sometimes useful in creating a good composition and adding a dynamic dimension, if that is what you want to achieve.
In this shot, however, it is the sheep dog and the distant ruin that make it for me.

This was taken on the way back from Top Withins, in the second part of the walk. I love this photo. It is my personal favourite. I know most people will think it is nothing special or they will prefer other photos, but I really like this near to far composition divided by the lovely dry stone wall. It creates the sense of openness and vastness that makes your spirit feel so free. By the time I took this the sun went down a bit giving off a warm glow and yielding more becoming lighting condition.

One of the last photos I took towards the end of our excursion, near the village of Stanbury, where, a bit weary from the long but very satisfying walk, we stopped for some refreshment.
I like including sheep in my rural images. They are such a sweet sight in the countryside and they will often pose really well for you looking right at the camera for more than enough time to take a great shot.
For me this image epitomizes Haworth moors containing virtually everything you see when out and about in the beautiful Bronte Country.

A portrait of Emily Bronte in a painting by her brother Branwell. The framed print is hanging on the wall of the "Wuthering Heights" pub in Stanbury, right above the table we had our lunch at. Emily loved the moors and derived a lot of inspiration for her work roaming the moors. Her sister Charlotte wrote about her:
"My sister Emily loved the moors. Flowers brighter than rose bloomed in the blackest of the heath for her; out of a sullen hollow in a livid hillside her mind could make an Eden. She found in the bleak solitude many and dear delights; and not the least and best-loved was - liberty."
Well, I can understand that as I myself am falling deeper and deeper in love with the moors, and not just the moors, but Haworth and other places around it. For me too this is fast becoming an area of fascinating beauty and endless inspiration.