Starling murmuration, Redditch, February 2023

The message went out.  “There is likely to be a starling murmuration on Sunday night.  The venue will be the roof of a shopping centre car park in Redditch, Worcestershire”.  This message was sent out on social media by Jim Panda who knows a thing or two about wildlife.  A few years back, he had organised a meeting where over 100 people attended a starling murmuration in the same location.  Now Jim let the social media world know that the murmurations were back (if they ever had been away).

Starling murmuration, Redditch, February 2023
A starling murmuration at its peak.

On a Sunday afternoon people gathered on the top of the shopping centre car park. The time was just after four o’clock.  The evening was beautiful and whilst there was initially some light rain, the main event for a while was destined to be a beautiful rainbow.  People had answered Jim’s call and were turning up to see the murmuration.  As we stood overlooking the southern aspect of the car park, very little was happening.  Two pigeons were spotted and even a couple of seagulls flew by teasing the assembled photographers and onlookers.  Besides this nothing else was stirring.  Jim remained calm and reassured people who asked that the starlings had been here for the last few nights.  The waiting did have its advantages as it gave many of us the opportunity to talk to fellow photographers. We caught up with the news and gossip in our local photographic community.  Behind us a beautiful sunset was gathering pace and the colours in the cloud began to deepen.  Occasionally one of two starlings flew past, teasing us as we waited for the main event. 

Starling murmuration, Redditch, February 2023
A rainbow was the prelude to the main event.

Without knowing how or when it happened,  a flock of around 10 starlings flew by.  Then a few more groups just happened to appear and the birds started to coalesce.  Then magically a larger group of starlings was in front of us with more birds joining the main group all the time.  The murmuration was in full flight.  Everyone lined up on the southern wall and watched the birds fly back and forth.  Everyone had their iPhones, cameras and eyes on the birds.  

Starling murmuration, Redditch, February 2023


The colours in the clouds from the sunset produced a spectacular backdrop for the movement of the birds.  At last, I understood why it is called a murmuration. The spectacular flypast was accompanied by the noise of the flapping wings.   The event was mesmerising and a few times I stopped taking photographs and just watched the birds fly around. There were several good photographers on the roof and this was demonstrated by the excellent videos and pictures that have been posted after the event.

Starling murmuration, Redditch, February 2023
Starlings against the backdrop of the sunset clouds
Starling murmuration, Redditch, February 2023
Golden wings as the starlings fly away from the sunset.
Starling murmuration, Redditch, February 2023
The dramatic skies provided the colour to the silhouettes of the starlings.
(This picture was shortlisted in the Fotospeed #fsprintmonday competition – 21st Feb 2024)

I took some snippets of video for the family back home. I had my trusty Canon D5 MkIV and used both my standard 40-70mm and 200mm lenses.  I experimented with some long exposures which did not get a great reaction from the family! See what you think.  The iPhone was brilliant as I was able to take several videos of the Starlings plus a few wide angled shots.  The traditional pictures of the birds against the clouds worked well.  From a story telling point of view, I wanted to show the photographers on the wall taking pictures of the murmuration.  There was a long line of people who were captivated by the event before them.  The birds make different shapes and I saw an arrow. Also there was a snake’s head eating the other birds although you may argue the shapes are something else.

Starling murmuration, Redditch, February 2023
My long exposure experiment.
Starling murmuration, Redditch, February 2023
Shapes – an arrow of birds
Starling murmuration, Redditch, February 2023
Shapes – A possible head and mouth which is consuming the other birds.

Time passed quickly and the birds were coming to the end of their fly past.  The car park has a line of evergreen trees at the front entrance.  Groups of birds broke away from the main group and suddenly dropped into the trees.  There was a lovely fluttering sound accompanied by the rustle of the leaves as they finally came to rest. This was repeated over the next 5 minutes leaving a few starlings still flying in formation.  Then this final group disappeared into the trees and the murmuration was finished.  


Dusk had arrived and taken a firm grip of the last light of the day. The dark of the night was just around the corner.  We made our way back to our cars and drove off chatting excitedly about the event and rushing home to see and post our pictures. If you ever get the chance to witness a murmuration then you will understand that the words and pictures do not convey the atmosphere of experiencing one of nature’s great events.

Starling murmuration, Redditch, February 2023
A diagonal run of starlings.

If you want some photographic tips on how to photograph a murmuration then this Amateur Photographer article is very useful.

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Starling Murmuration – Metal print

Starling Murmuration – Metal print

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Borealis in the Bullring, Birmingham, February 2024

The Bullring centre is hosting a light show called Borealis for one week in February.  This production by the artist Dan Acher is on display every evening during the week.  With a mixture of dry ice smoke and laser beams, the “northern lights” are recreated in the centre of Birmingham.  The performance is accompanied by haunting music which sets the scene and cranks up the atmosphere. When you stand still and look up at the colours, you are transported to a magical place where the northern lights are happening. Borealis is a photographer’s dream. As the laser beams crisscross through the smoke, colours are created and these are highlighted by the surrounding buildings.  The gentle breeze in the area moves the smoke around leading to pleasing patterns against the backdrop of the Selfridges building and St Martin’s Church.  

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I arrived there just as the sun was setting and the golden hour followed by the blue hour provided a changing backdrop to the scenes being created.  The hypnotic music added to the atmosphere.  The smoke adds to the surreal atmosphere and produces a haunting appearance to the area which is part dreamy and romantic at the same time. As it is half term week there are many people in the city shopping.  The area around St Martin’s was packed with onlookers gazing into the sky. There was one child dressed in white who seemed to be leading the crowds in a service for the Borealis. The imagery could be appreciated either close up or at a distance allowing everyone to take in the spectacle.    

Borealis in the Bullring, Birmingham, February 2024
The lights over St Martin’s Church with a construction crane leading the dance of the colours.
Borealis in the Bullring, Birmingham, February 2024
There was a golden sunset that enhanced the colours of the laser show.
Borealis in the Bullring, Birmingham, February 2024
There were packed crowds along St Martin’s way.
Borealis in the Bullring, Birmingham, February 2024
The show caught the attention of everyone even this child who is leading the crowds.

Using both iPhone and my Fujifilm x100v, I had fun taking pictures before heading off for an evening meal in town.  After dinner, I dropped by to see Borealis on my way to the train, the night was dark and there was a different take to the light show as the powerful laser colours shone through the smoke layers.  I stayed around for a few more pictures. Even at that late time, there were people out and about enjoying the show.   

Borealis in the Bullring, Birmingham, February 2024
The light show created a calming atmosphere with the lights and the music

Here is a link if you wish to know more about the work of Dan Acher.

The last light show in Birmingham that I visited was in February 2020 when the world was still very young and the idea that a virus would force us all indoors was a fanciful idea.  My record of the festival light from 2020 is outlined on a previous blog. 

About the picture taking.
I was fortunate to have a dinner booked in town at 6pm. This gave me time to see the Borealis early and late in the evening. I always have my iPhone with me and wherever possible my Fujifilm x100v. When I arrived, my mind already starts to think how can I tell a story about the show. There were several things that caught my eye. The smokey atmosphere was one. Standing at the top of St Martin’s Walk looking downwards to the Church is a popular vantage point and captures the haze above the crowds. I moved closer to take in the sunset and the source of the smoke and lasers. My photographic mind is thinking about the big picture and then the smaller things that make up the view. What amazed me were the crowds of people, so I knew that I wanted them in the picture. I swap from iPhone to compact camera when taking my pictures. The iPhone is so good but I find that it wants to adjust the shadows and compensate for the darkness. Meanwhile the x100v requires a very high ISO and wide aperture to let the light in. Fortunately post processing is done with Lightroom and the “denoise” button is a dream to use. This has rejuvenated my night time use with the Fujifilm and I am not afraid to crank up the ISO. Selecting images proved a challenge and I limited myself to just 8 pictures. As always on social media, there were some very good pictures taken by other photographers. Seeing them, I think to myself, if only I had taken that photograph but I know that they also challenge me to adjust my view of the scene when out taking photographs. A selection of them may be found on the Beautiful Productions Instagram page.

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Starling Murmuration – Metal print

Starling Murmuration – Metal print

“There is likely to be a starling murmuration on Sunday night. This metal print is a dimensional and high-quality piece…

The Ringway Centre, update February 2024

The decision has been made to demolish the Ringway Centre.  Birmingham council’s planning committee reconfirmed the approval of the planning application by the Commercial Estates Group to replace the Centre with three high raised residential buildings.  This was a reconfirmation of the earlier decision to demolish the Centre which had been contested by the Twentieth Century Society who campaign to save outstanding British buildings.  The Ringway centre on Smallbrook Queensway is a fine example of the Brutalist architecture that defined post war Birmingham.  Similar buildings have now disappeared including the former Library of Birmingham in Paradise Circus.  Others remain such as the Rotunda and the New Street station signal box, both preserved for future generations.  The Ringway centre will not be a survivor. 

The Ringway Centre, update February 2024
Glassware to go
The Ringway Centre, update February 2024
Soon to be a walkway through to Smallsbrook Queensway.
The Ringway Centre, update February 2024
The sweeping structure.

Having already done a blog on the centre in early October 2023, this photo montage was taken with the Commonwealth games banners removed.  What is revealed is the concrete patterns and the light boxes.  At a distance, the sweeping structure looks majestic, closer views reveal the general wear and tear of the building.  Such problems are seen from the Southside view where the structure is disintegrating.  The new proposal will have new walkways from Chinatown and yes it will be shiny and bright.  The contractors will be replacing concrete with glass and steel buildings.  They will look nice in the short term but I am unsure whether they will be as majestic in 62 years’ time which is how long the Ringway building has been present in Birmingham. 

 The “new’ architecture of the City is one of skyscrapers.  Will we be like Manchester where we create wind tunnels for people in the city whilst inside the buildings the amount of glass may resemble living in a greenhouse.  Time will tell whether such cities will thrive.  Meanwhile enjoy my pictures.

The Ringway Centre, update February 2024
Underpass.
The Ringway Centre, update February 2024
Sharp angles
The Ringway Centre, update February 2024
A last view.

I am now done with my photographs of the centre for a while. I know that many more people will be taking pictures of this area which will provide a lasting legacy to this brutalist icon. I have added a few web links which add to the debate about the Centre. However its fate is now sealed and we wait to see what the replacement will look like.

The loss of Birmingham’s Ringway centre is bad news for heritage net zero and the wider city.

Birmingham Council planners vote to demolish Ringway centre again

Birmingham brutiful years brutalist buildings book

Kevin McCloud backs campaign to save Birmingham’s Ringway Centre ahead of decisive vote

This is my previous post when the Ringway Centre was cloaked with the Commonwealth Games banners. The fate of the centre was just about to be decided.

The Ringway Centre and the legacy of brutalist Birmingham

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Starling Murmuration – Metal print

Starling Murmuration – Metal print

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Poppy Fields, Leamington Spa, 2021

The Leamington Spa poppy field sprung up in June 2021.  At the time I was just so happy that the field was near to home.  I remember going to the field one barmy summer’s evening to take photographs.  The light was beautiful and the field was so colourful with the poppies swaying in the gentle breeze.  I stayed there late into the evening well after sunset taking many pictures.  I wrote a blog about my time there.  One of my pictures was of several poppies standing proud against the colourful sky.  One picture from that evening at Leamington Spa became a slow burner.  I had two requests from charitable organisations wishing to use the picture to advertise their remembrance day activities.   In 2023, I decided to enter the International Garden Photographer of the Year (IGPOTY) award.  Many of my poppy field photographs were appropriate for the Wildflower Landscapes category.  I entered pictures from my visits to Worcestershire last year and with one entry to complete, I selected the Leamington Spa poppy field picture.  I was surprised and pleased that this was the picture that was shortlisted.  Then I was more pleased that the picture was highly commended in the final judging. This slow burner of a picture had done well and is now included in my slowly increasing portfolio of competition successes.

Well done to the winners and all the other entrants. This link opens up the Wildflower landscape awards section of the competition.

Reflections on my success.  

I can remember taking this picture and the composition was different to my normal views of wildflowers. I had deliberately taken a low down viewpoint and used an onboard flash to pick out the flowers. Initially I was unsure of the picture and almost disowned the view. However, common sense prevailed and I posted the picture on my blog and social media accounts.  I was taken aback that I had requests from different charitable organisations that wished to use the picture in promoting remembrance day events.  When the time came to enter IGPOTY, I chose to add this picture to my portfolio.  Even though the picture was taken two years ago, I thought it may catch the eye of the judges. The picture received a highly commendation award and I received many good wishes from friends about the picture.  What can I say about providing advice about your photographic work.  Never give up on your work. Most of my pictures are taken for personal enjoyment. I also enjoy the feedback from family and friends who enjoy seeing my pictures. Also remember that what you may think is not ideal may strongly resonate with other people.  Finally think differently. By all means take the pictures that look like they are from a postcard but they do not necessarily win competitions. Something quirky or a scene that has not been photographed before will generate interest. Such pictures are more difficult to find but if you keep looking you will find them!

This is my original post from the poppy field in Leamington Spa. A special evening.

Poppy Fields in Leamington Spa

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Starling Murmuration – Metal print

Starling Murmuration – Metal print

“There is likely to be a starling murmuration on Sunday night. This metal print is a dimensional and high-quality piece…

Draycote Water, January 2024

My previous visits to Draycote water have focussed on the visitor centre and watching the sailing club activity on the water. The reservoir has many wildlife visitors and I have enjoyed photographing their presence.  As I had some time to myself during a visit with my daughter who lives in Rugby, I took the opportunity to visit Draycote Water. I wanted to explore parts of the reservoir that I had not visited before. To approach the Eastern tip, I walked from Dunchurch over the M45 and then down Toft lane where there is a public footpath entrance.  This approach to the reservoir is from a high hill and you get an overview of the landscape before dropping down to the arrow point of the water.  Severn Trent are doing work on the tow path towards the east part of the reservoir so I realised that I would not be able to do a full circle. Therefore I started walking and took a chance that I could get to the valve tower at the dam wall.  

Draycote Water, January 2024
An overview of Draycote water.
Draycote Water, January 2024
Shadows by the fence

Immediately I discovered that around here, the geography of Draycote water was interesting and varied.  The water level was high and many trees were partially submerged in the water. There were glimpses of the wildlife swimming in between the tree trunks.  This part of my journey took some time but this was self-inflicted by my desire to take photographs of the different views amongst the trees.  There were also many different birds on the water surface.  In the air, I saw kestrels and helicopters – quite divergent aerial sights.  One had to be careful of the cyclists and runners who were buzzing past you on the roads and footpaths.

Draycote Water, January 2024
The water levels are high
Draycote Water, January 2024
Colours amongst the trees

I also met Bob who is an avid birdwatcher and was armed with his binoculars and scope. He also had a bridge camera with him. We struck up a conversation and learnt a lot about each other. We exchanged our family stories. Then we discussed the birds around Draycote water including the Great Northern Diver. This was a species that Bob was keen to see. We spent a good 15 minutes passing the time of day. We even acted as tour guides as people stopped to ask us about the path around the reservoir. 

Eventually I arrived at the Valve Tower and took several pictures of this feature of Draycote water.  The signs were now telling me that I could not go any further.  There were three kestrels circling around and I was hoping they would come closer but instead they moved further away into the surrounding countryside. There were several birds on the water to photograph and then it was time to head back to Dunchurch to get a lift from my daughter. 

Draycote Water, January 2024
Cyclists on their way
Draycote Water, January 2024
The view towards the valve tower.
Draycote Water, January 2024
The valve tower on the dam wall.

Enjoy this photographic journey of Draycote.  A place I will return to especially in the Golden hour of sunrise/sunset.

Draycote Water, January 2024
Taking life slow.

Severn Trent have a visitor site that provides up to date information about what is happening at Draycote Water

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Starling Murmuration – Metal print

Starling Murmuration – Metal print

“There is likely to be a starling murmuration on Sunday night. This metal print is a dimensional and high-quality piece…

Visit to Bletchley Park, Bletchley, January, 2024

Bletchley Park is conveniently situated between London, Cambridge and Oxford.  This is a strategic choice as Bletchley Park is on the intersection with the Capital and the bright minds of the Oxbridge Universities. Mathematical geniuses were recruited to help the war effort by breaking down both German and Japanese codes. All this activity took place at Bletchley Park which is an inspirational place to visit. The amount of work carried out was on an industrial scale which was needed to break the complex German Enigma and Lorenzo coding machines. How this was done is an amazing story. The codebreaking work that took place is said to have shortened the war by nearly two years.  One of the famous code breakers was Alan Turing who was an influential figure in computer science and the early development of artificial intelligence.  His presence and those of the other people who lived and worked at Bletchley Park are felt in every part of the Park. Whilst there is a male narrative about the work, Bletchley Park looks to correct this and highlights the important role of women. Bletchley became reliant on a female workforce which outnumbered the males by four to one. One of these was Turing’s close friend and confident Joan Clarke, who was immortalised in “The Imitation Game” by Keira Knightley.

Visit to Bletchley Park, Bletchley, January, 2024
The entrance to the museum.

When you arrive at Bletchley park, your first sight is several rows of the regimented army buildings.  Entering the welcome area, you are briefly introduced into the work that took place and how it influenced the war efforts.  The museum recommends that you head over to the Mansion and then work your way back through all the huts and exhibitions.  This account is of my photographic journey through Bletchley Park.  Links to the history and the museum are set out at the end to take your interest further.  

Visit to Bletchley Park, Bletchley, January, 2024
The Bletchley Park Memorial to all the people who took part in the operations.

As I walked up to the Mansion, I encountered the lake which is set in front of the house.  The display boards provide rare pictures of life at Bletchley Park.  Due to the secretive work, very few pictures were taken.  The ones that survived provide an interesting backdrop to the human element of code breaking.  I particularly enjoyed the views of the lakeside in the winter. I took some time taking my own reflective photographs of the lake with the buildings surrounding it.

Visit to Bletchley Park, Bletchley, January, 2024
The lake where many people took the opportunity to relax and escape for the arduous and tedious work of codebreaking,
https://bletchleypark.org.uk
Block A reflections in the Lake.
Visit to Bletchley Park, Bletchley, January, 2024
Reflections of the Mansion in a puddle on the steps.

Before entering the mansion, I visited the wartime main entrance at Wilton Avenue.  I tried to imagine how it would be arriving to work and passing through the gates.  The mansion is impressive with large rooms, stained glass ceilings and various other rooms mocked up to show what life may have been like.  I was not able to get good pictures of the mocked up room due to the number of visitors and I was more taken with the interior design of the building. Next to the house is the stable yard surround by several cottages. These houses are where the more prominent personnel would have resided.  As you leave this area you pass through several blocks and huts.  There is much to see and difficult to absorb all in just one visit.  

Visit to Bletchley Park, Bletchley, January, 2024
The war time entrance to Bletchley Park via Wilton Road.
Visit to Bletchley Park, Bletchley, January, 2024
The interior of the Mansion showing the beautiful stained glass ceiling window.
Visit to Bletchley Park, Bletchley, January, 2024
Another view showing the large rooms.
Visit to Bletchley Park, Bletchley, January, 2024
The magnificent ballroom that may be hired out for functions.
Visit to Bletchley Park, Bletchley, January, 2024
The adjoining cottages where prominent codebreakers resided.
Visit to Bletchley Park, Bletchley, January, 2024
Sideview of the Mansion.

Hut 8 was where Alan Turing was based, as he sought to break the Naval Enigma code.  He concentrated on the Naval Enigma code as this was more difficult to break and he came up with different techniques to achieve this. The reconstruction of his office showed the basic conditions that the code breakers worked in for many hours of every day. On the other side of Hut 8 was the codebreakers wall with the names of the personnel at the site who were instrumental in the work.

Visit to Bletchley Park, Bletchley, January, 2024
Hut 8 which contained Alan Turing’s office.
Visit to Bletchley Park, Bletchley, January, 2024
Alan Turing’s Office.
Visit to Bletchley Park, Bletchley, January, 2024
The codebreakers wall.

A block and B block gave details of the work that was done and included some rare archival film of the workforce.  So much information to take in and for me one of the highlights included the memo board.  The communications covered some important and some of low priority messages that passed around the Park. It amused me to show that even then the British do love their administration and red tape.  The maps of the world where the code breaking had been successful brought home how relevant the work at Bletchley Park was to the war effort.

Visit to Bletchley Park, Bletchley, January, 2024
A wall of memos and some of them are hilarious but do make you realise how much we love administration.

The computing museum contained the statue of Alan Turing and ever since I saw pictures of this statue then I knew I had to be there and take a photograph for myself.  This stunning statue of Alan at Bletchley Park was created in North Wales slate by Stephen Kettle in 2007. I found it a mesmerising memorial which was surrounded by details of his achievements. The rest of the museum outlined how codebreaking that took place and the construction of the Colossus computer were the forebears to the advent of AI.

Visit to Bletchley Park, Bletchley, January, 2024
The story on the walls
Visit to Bletchley Park, Bletchley, January, 2024
From quiet Bletchley to the cold North Sea of WWII

Then I was back at the entrance.  I took some lunch and then went back to the Mansion and the huts for some more pictures.  The living wall and the bicycle shed were the focus of my pictures including some of the memorials.  Back to the shop and I came away with a bottle of Station X beer specially brewed for the Bletchley Park museum.

Visit to Bletchley Park, Bletchley, January, 2024
Brewed specially for Bletchley Park

This photogenic journey will be like many others who visited the museum with their phones and cameras.  My visit allowed me to take a set of pictures which add a small part to the story of Bletchley Park. Whilst I was there I was fascinated by the architecture and I do love symmetry in my pictures. Similar to the beauty of well written code, the structures in Bletchley Park had a beauty to their symmetry. Here is my photographic homage to the symmetry of Bletchley Park.

Reflections on my visit. I have been fortunate to have visited many World War II sites during my travels. These include Pearl Harbour – Hawaii, Colditz Castle – Saxony Germany, Auschwitz-Birkenau – Poland the Normandy Beaches in France, and the inadequate defences of constructed prior to the fall of Singapore. I have been to several museums associated with the war. Bletchley Park is a place where the full horror of war and the evils that people inflict on each other seeps into you in a slow but effective trickle. This includes the injustice that society imposed on Alan Turing and how his death left a void in the progress of computing. I left with more questions than answers and a desire to return at a later date. If you wish to visit Bletchley Park then further details may be found on the Bletchley Park website.

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Starling Murmuration – Metal print

Starling Murmuration – Metal print

“There is likely to be a starling murmuration on Sunday night. This metal print is a dimensional and high-quality piece…

Pro Palestinian Rally, Birmingham, Jan 2024

There have been many demonstration marches across the country calling for a ceasefire in Gaza. A large Palestinian demonstration march for the end of hostilities in the Isreal-Gaza war took place in Birmingham in January 2024. These are my pictures of the march as I watched on as the demonstrators passed through the streets of Birmingham. The march came through Digbeth and finished at the end of Edgbaston street near to the Indoor market.

Pro Palestinian Rally, Birmingham, Jan 2024
Flags flutter in the wind.
Pro Palestinian Rally, Birmingham, Jan 2024
A father with his child at the demo

The war between Israel and Hamas has led to innocent civilians being killed on both sides of the conflict. My only wish is that there is peace and this is done by diplomacy not by the bullet. Whatever happens people will eventually have to sit around a table and negotiate. The January demonstrations in Birmingham on behalf of the Palestinian people show the depth of frustration. This anger will spill out into other areas of life both here and aboard. Rather than looking for peace, the spectre of further warfare will remain.

Pro Palestinian Rally, Birmingham, Jan 2024
If you look carefully not everyone was happy. Luckily the incident did not escalate.
Pro Palestinian Rally, Birmingham, Jan 2024
The stewards maintain control and the demonstrators move on.
Pro Palestinian Rally, Birmingham, Jan 2024
Many signs asking for the world to listen.

I was in Birmingham for another meeting which finished in time for me to take pictures of the rally. My pictures are in black and white. Why did I do this? When I first saw my pictures, the colours of the Palestinian flag whilst so important to the story telling swamped the visual appearance of the event. By using black and white, I was able to concentrate on the people and show their frustrations. I left the rally with one thought, there must be a ceasefire followed by diplomatic negotiation.

Pro Palestinian Rally, Birmingham, Jan 2024
Flag on my back.
Pro Palestinian Rally, Birmingham, Jan 2024
All right bab!
Pro Palestinian Rally, Birmingham, Jan 2024
The mannequins look on
Pro Palestinian Rally, Birmingham, Jan 2024
Marchers with flags.

Whilst I did publish Black and White photographs, I do have a cheeky colour picture of two police officers. Just as I was taking the picture, one of the officers turned around and looked at me. I had been clocked.

Pro Palestinian Rally, Birmingham, Jan 2024
I have been clocked!

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Starling Murmuration – Metal print

Starling Murmuration – Metal print

“There is likely to be a starling murmuration on Sunday night. This metal print is a dimensional and high-quality piece…

Digbeth, Birmingham, January 2024

Digbeth is known for streets of light and the area looks it best when the sky is dark. But not too dark.  An ideal time to take photographs is during the blue hour.  The warm yellows of the streetlights reflect on the colourful buildings.  I watched a PhotoPills YouTube video on the Art of Travel Photography. The guest photographer was Scott Stulberg who said if you want to get the best pictures then you have to go out at night. So my first blog of 2024 is all about Digbeth in January.

Digbeth, Birmingham, January 2024
Early workers walking down Gibb Street

The blue hour is great but you must get up early and that is not easy unless you plan to go out in January.  The sun rises at around 8 o’clock and therefore you can get into the city early and be ready for the golden hour.  The rewards are many and I know this, as last year my photograph of Floodgate Street taken on an early January morning was “Highly recommended” in the Landscape Photographer of the Year awards in 2023.  Making sure I was there at the right time helped.  If you are lucky enough to be around after a night of rain then the streets light up with multiple reflections.  My aim as always is to be different but also to fit in a few of those classic views.  

Digbeth, Birmingham, January 2024
Iconic Digbeth

Arriving in Digbeth early in January I was hoping that Floodgate street and Trinity Street lights would be on but I was disappointed.  The lights were off but I guess it was a Monday morning.  However Gibb street was ablaze with lights and this is where I concentrated my efforts on my picture taking. I walked up and down Gibb Street looking for pictures of the shop windows and the street art.  There were a few people moving around and coming into work at the Custard Factory.  My cameras were the trusty Fujifilm x100v and my iPhone 15 proMax.  I set up my mini tripod for some of the pictures with the x100v and went for high ISO to catch the people moving around.  I did move around Floodgate and Lower Trinity Street to take pictures as there were still some neon lights on to assist  early risers to find their way to the Custard Factory. 

Digbeth, Birmingham, January 2024
Shiny Digbeth

Lingering and loitering is a good plan as I waited for people to pass through entrances.  I aimed to catch their silhouettes against the street art.  Some photographers advise to have your camera on burst function so as to capture several pictures.  In this way you capture the moment.  However, I like to take in the surroundings and press the shutter button when I am ready.  Yes I miss a few pictures but I am generally happy with what I get.

Digbeth, Birmingham, January 2024
Changing Street Art – this is Mike Skinner and the Streets by Robbie Jeffcott. Those eyes…..
Digbeth, Birmingham, January 2024
Details on the railings.
Digbeth, Birmingham, January 2024
Details on the walls
Digbeth, Birmingham, January 2024
Blinking of an eye on Floodgate Street

The neon lights throw up some strong colours as my pictures show.  I took many more pictures before the daylight overcame the night.  The buildings reverted to a grey colour and Monday daytime was beginning.  The time had come to move on and find a hot cup of coffee to warm me up.

Digbeth, Birmingham, January 2024
Looking back along Gibb Street

Postscript – This is another of my Digbeth picture series which are a popular read.  Please check them out below.

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My Top 4 pictures of 2023

Looking back on my photographic year, 2023 was an exciting one and there were several achievements including making the Landscape Photographer of the Year book. Two pictures were featured and these are described in my blog. Therefore I decide to choose four pictures that summed up my activity over the year. I love sunrises and sunsets in the golden hour. I have included a few of my favourite locations including Moor Street Station, Digbeth (including the Custard factory), Normandy Hill in Houlton near Rugby and the Lake District. My photographs have strong themes in the areas of Cityscapes and Street Photography. I do like a good reflection and trying to be different with my pictures. Let us take a look at my selection of photographs.

Sunrise at Birmingham Moor Street offers many street photography opportunities. Arriving early to take a picture of the sunrise, I looked around for a good view. The first London train was about to leave and another commuter train was just leaving. This scene made me think of the KLF song ‘Train to Trancentral’. The man pushing the button to release the doors, the sunrise and the golden train in the distance all came together at once. A very fortunate capture at Moor Street Train Station. (Taken with my iPhone 15)

Sunrise at Moor Street Station, November, 2023
All aboard, all aboard, whoa.

Normandy Hill is near Houlton in Rugby. The area of Hillmorton is nearby and the canal runs along the foot of the hill. The place used to have wireless masts for Rugby radio. The masts have been removed and the remnants of the bases are all that remain. When the conditions are right the hill has spectacular sunrises and sunsets. There are also views of the surrounding Warwickshire countryside. On a barmy night in July, I set up my travel tripod for my Fujifilm X100V. My camera settings were f/11, s 1/250 ISO 160. The sun was setting low and was just on the horizon. I pressed the button and realised that I had capture three people and their dog passing through the picture. The result was pleasing with the line up of the men and the sun outlining the shaggy coat of the dog. The rays of the sun were captured too. The atmosphere of the shot provides a permanent reminder of all the pictures that I have taken on Normandy Hill.

Normandy hill, Houlton, Rugby, July, 2023.
The last rays of summer sun on Normandy Hill.

Our family summer holiday was at Lowfield House in Little Langdale. Arguably, this spot is the heart of the Lake District and is the starting point for several walks. A place I wished to visit was Cathedral Cave, which is a short 45 minute walk from Lowfield House. Cathedral Cave is an impressive chamber. As a former slate quary, the cave is atmospheric with an open window in the wall allowing light into the cavern. There is a large slate cylinder that appears to be supporting the ceiling. There is a pool of water to the back of the cave which provided many reflections allowing one to appreciate the grand space of the cavern. Needless to say, I, like many photographers who visit this place, just wanted to take lots of pictures. The picture of Jim, my son-in-law, at the mouth of the cave proved to be a popular post on Instagram. Taken with the iPhone13.

Cathedral Cave, Little Langdale, the Lake District, August 2023
Jim standing at the entrance to Cathedral Cave. The surface water provided suitable reflections.

I spent a delightful Sunday afternoon wandering around Digbeth, Birmingham and came across @mr_h0spitalflip and his friends on the side steps of the Custard Factory. They kindly let me sit in and take a few pictures whilst they were skateboarding on the steps. I knew this was the best picture as soon as I viewed the result on the back of the camera. I was not using a burst on the shutter. Just one picture and I caught the skateboarder in the light doing the “Custard flip”. Taken with the Fujifilm X100v, ƒ/5.6, s 1/500, ISO 640.

Digbeth, Birmingham, October, 2023
The Custard flip

I also found my Top nine from Instagram and these show my most popular posts by the number of likes. The two UKLPOTY pictures feature heavily. There is a picture of Sandy and me. I was also pleased to see the blossom in Oozells square and my trip to the States feature in the high scores. All good fun!

My top 9 instagram posts in 2023.
My Top 9 Instagram posts in 2023.

Links to my Top 4 photographs of 2023. I realise that I do not have a blog about Normandy Hill and I shall write one up in 2024. I have also included my Top 4 ion 2022 for comparison.

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Two Houses, Packwood House, Christmas 2023

I am very fortunate to live within a few miles of two outstanding National Trust properties.  Packwood House and Baddesley Clinton are within walking distance of each other and during the summer I visit them on my bike.  Both houses have different charms.  Baddesley is a moated house in a picturesque setting.  The gardens are well laid out and are fantastic to see in the summer months when they are in full bloom.  Packwood house is charming and whilst it does not have a moat, there are other unique features.  Packwood has the amazing topiary called the Sermon on the Mount and a walled kitchen garden where one can follow the changes in the vegetation during the year.  There is little to choose between the two houses. 

Two Houses, Baddesley Clinton, December, 2023
The moat around Baddesley Clinton.

This Christmas both houses have upped their game and have really gone to town with their decorations.  You would almost think that there is a competition between the two properties on who could put on the better display.  Looking on the web, I realise that the majority of the National Trust properties enjoy putting up their decorations. This story of Christmas between these two houses is reenacted up and down the country.

Visiting Packwood each December is a delight and this year the house looked very Christmassy inside.  Each room of the house has a Christmas tree.  The larger Christmas trees are naturally in the bigger rooms.  The Entrance Hall Christmas tree is decorated with handmade decorations and has a commanding presence.  The three adjacent rooms each with their own Christmas tree are set up for welcoming guests to dinner in the 1920s.  The place settings and the arrangement of the food on the table is carefully choreographed.  

Two Houses, Baddesley Clinton, December, 2023
The tree in the Entrance Hall at Packwood.
Two Houses, Baddesley Clinton, December, 2023
The room is set for a 1920’s Christmas dinner.
Two Houses, Baddesley Clinton, December, 2023
One of the many Christmas trees at Packwood.

When photographing National Trust properties, I always look for the small things and those details that you miss whilst looking around the room.  I am naturally drawn to the bigger view and as I entered each room, your eyes quickly alight on the brightly lit Christmas trees.  The polished wooden floors reflect the light from the trees.  For inside photography, I use my iPhone15 as the sensor quickly picks up the colours in the low light.  I did try and use a long exposure setting with my compact camera but there were too many people moving around in a small space. Plus the volunteers do become worried when you bring out the tripod even though it is a small travel one.  

Packwood has one room off the Long Gallery, that is set up with a minature town scene with skaters on white icelike flooring.  As the picture shows the lighting effect in the darkened room produces a magical effect.  

The Long Gallery has two more Christmas trees and the final room has a long narrow decorated table that leads to another impressive tree.  I counted 8 trees in all (I could be wrong).  Along the way there was a story being told as the place was set up for a Christmas masquerade ball.  

I did enjoy visiting the house, however, the place I loved the most was the kitchen garden.   Here the old tree near to the entrance was decorated with all types of decorations.  The afternoon light shimmered on the shiny lanterns.  Many of the decorations like those in the house were hand made.  There was continuation of the skating theme on the potting shelves.

My Verdict on Packwood.  The house is amazing with the Christmas trees that enhanced the beauty of the old building.  The best part of my visit was viewing the outside tree in the Kitchen Garden.

Baddesley Clinton is fully prepared for Christmas.  As you pass through the shop into the courtyard you, a Christmas tree awaits you.  Before entering the house, I walked along the garden paths and loved the large, big red ribbons and the decorations of the summer house with the story of the Holly and the Ivy.  

Two Houses, Baddesley Clinton, December, 2023
Lovely red ribbons.

The larger sloping greenhouse on the garden wall had orange slices hung up as decorations and there were pomanders (oranges with cloves) adorning the ceiling.  Recipes for making mulled wine and smoking Bishops were available.  I love the name of Smoking Bishop for an alcoholic drink.  The walled garden and the vegetable growing areas were being prepared for winter by the gardeners and my time slot for the house entrance was due.  

Two Houses, Baddesley Clinton, December, 2023
Decorated Greenhouse.
Two Houses, Baddesley Clinton, December, 2023
Entering the garden and house.

The walk through the house was a Christmas tour de force.  The kitchen was getting ready for a grand feast.  There was a Christmas card display to browse over before entering the grand Christmas tree by an open fire in the Great Hall.  The downstairs rooms were a delight to visit with preparations for dinner and carols being many of the activities being featured.  

Two Houses, Baddesley Clinton, December, 2023
Christmas time by the fireplace.

Upstairs the first two rooms were all ready for Christmas presents to be delivered.  Lady Chatterton’s Bedroom on the corner room overlooking the orchid was beautifully laid out and included a decorated tree.  The next room was the Great Parlour and there was a spectacular frieze of children skating.  This had the wow factor.  There were two Christmas trees, children skating on the ice and little owls watching the proceedings.  The final room had a frieze of a family singing carols.  In the room, the exhibit I found most interesting was of the glass ornament that had a model of the house in a large jar.

Two Houses, Baddesley Clinton, December, 2023
This display had the Wow factor.

After such an exciting visit to the house, I retired to the cafe and had a Turkey Bap with trimmings.  This was a Christmas dinner at a reasonable price.  Another highlight of my visit to the property.

Two Houses, Baddesley Clinton, December, 2023
My delicious Turkey Bap in the Stables restaurant.

My Verdict on Baddesley Clinton.  Great food, some wonderful ideas put into practice with the decoration of the rooms and a garden ready for Christmas.

So two houses, giving two versions of Christmas, lots of trees, decorations, and food.  Which of the two properties is better prepared for Christmas?  I would recommend visiting and if you read this at a later date, my answer is that they both have captured the Christmas Spirit in a brilliant manner. 

Thanks must go the National Trust employees and the volunteers whose industry at Christmas and throughout the year make these properties such fun places to visit. If you enjoyed this blog then I do have other entries of my visits to National Trust properties around the area. Click on this link to find all my visits.

I visited Packwood House at Christmas in 2021 and if you want to see what they did back then, the blog is below.

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Starling Murmuration – Metal print

Starling Murmuration – Metal print

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