Aurora borealis in my garden, May 2024

So I have been to Iceland but did not see the Aurora Borealis as it was too cloudy.  I did fly from Portland, Oregon to Reykjavík and saw the lights somewhere over the Northern Territories and Greenland.  My next Aurora Borealis experience was a recreated one in Birmingham City Centre.  This event was really cool even though it was man made.

Aurora borealis in my garden, May 2024
Rays of light from above (iPhone)

The chances of seeing a full blown Northern Lights show anywhere outside of Iceland or Norway were going to be low.  Friday 10th May and the Aurora watch said chances were high but I was out for dinner and I was thinking of an early Saturday start to photograph the end of the bluebells season.  

Aurora borealis in my garden, May 2024
Beam me up Scotty (iPhone)

When we got back home, I went out in the garden and looked North as the BBC news channel instructions stated.  Sandy said I had North wrong and I should look more to my right.  I stayed out past 11.30pm and took a few pictures.  At first nothing seemed to be showing, possibly there was a faint green glow.  My camera showed some streaks on the right.  I reorientated myself to the North East view and took a picture.  At first I thought the camera was having a problem.  There were lines on the picture.  I took some more and as you will see there were some amazing rays showing up.  I looked with the naked eye and there was a white glistening cloud passing over the house.  The camera was recording pictures of an intense part of the electromagnetic storm that was passing overhead.

Aurora borealis in my garden, May 2024
Taken looking west away from the house. (iPhone)

The storm moved over the house from the East to the West.  I continuously took pictures with my iPhone and occasionally used my Canon D5mkIV.  The patterns were changing and at times the scene over the house looked like rays being emitted from a heavenly body.

Aurora borealis in my garden, May 2024
Burst of light from the sky (iPhone)

When I posted the pictures around midnight, I found the Socials were going mad.  Many of my photographic friends were posting pictures of the Aurora and I was entering a massive chatroom as everyone exchanged their views on photographs that had been taken.  

Aurora borealis in my garden, May 2024
Green for Oxygen molecules, red for Nitrogen. (iPhone)

Reflections.  I never thought that I would see the Northern Lights from my back garden and that it would be so spectacular.  I was so pleased to have the chance to see it and photograph the light show. I never made it to the Bluebells fields the next day!

Aurora borealis in my garden, May 2024
Intense red colours (Canon 5Dmkiv)

Technicalities.  All iPhone pictures were taken on a tripod which gave lots of detail.  Settings for the Canon were f/2.8, s15 secs and initially ISO1600.  The light was so intense that I dropped the ISO to 400 on subsequent photographs. The colours from both cameras were different with the Canon picking up a richer red colour to the lights.

If you want to see my Northern lights from a plane, I have a link.

Then there is Borealis, a recreation of the northern lights by the artist Dan Acher which was held in Birmingham.
Colwith Force, Little Langdale, August 2023

Our family holidays took place at Lowfield House in Little Langdale, the Lake District. I will cover several days out in the area and the first subject of my writing are my photographs of Colwith Force on the river Brathay. The waterfall is hidden in the woods behind the road leading to Little Langdale. There had been a lot of rain the night before and therefore the water was rushing down the river. In the morning, the family took a walk on the road side of the river and then in the afternoon, I crossed the road bridge to follow the woodland path where there were several good viewing points. Safety was the main issue and whilst these pictures look spectacular, I made sure that I was on firm ground and not putting myself or my camera into a dangerous position. These pictures are a mixture of long exposure with and without filters.

Colwith Force, Little Langdale, August 2023
Colwith Force waterfall after the heavy rain.
Colwith Force, Little Langdale, August 2023
The water flow slowed down by long exposure.

Settings with camera body Canon 5D Mark IV
Cover Picture – lens EF24-70mm f/2.8L, f/16, 2secs, ISO100
Picture 2 – lens EFLens EF 16-35mm, f/11, 20secs, ISO100 – Lees Little Stopper
Picture 3 – lens EF24-70mm f/2.8L II USM, f/11, 120secs, ISO100 – Lees Big Stopper


Links to the complete series of my blogs around our visit to Little Langdale in the Lake District in August 2023.

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Aurora Borealis – Poster

Aurora Borealis – Poster

So I have been to Iceland but did not see the Aurora Borealis as it was too cloudy. I did…

Pedestrian Footbridge, Great Charles Street Queensway, Birmingham, March 2023.

As you hurtle down Great Charles Street, Queensway, heading south out of the city, you will emerge from one of the tunnels keeping your eye on the traffic filtering in from the left. As you are concentrating on the road ahead, you will most likely miss the blue footbridge crossing the road. Constructed from concrete and steel this pedestrian bridge links Church Street and Ludgate Hill. When you stand in the middle of the narrow bridge, you can feel the structure vibrate from the traffic pounding the tarmac below.

Pedestrian Footbridge, Great Charles Street Queensway, Birmingham, March 2023.
Standing on the footbridge looking up to the lights on Ludgate Hill.

The bridge is best visited at night especially if you are a photographer. There is a super opportunity for a long exposure as you look south. The symmetrical road structure with the tunnel ahead of you makes for an ideal canvas for car light trails. Cars peel off to the left and if you time the traffic lights correctly then cars filter in from the right. Using my x100v resting on the flat metal railing, I am ready for the long exposure. Camera settings of ISO160, f/16 and shutter speed of 30seconds will give good results. The north view is also interesting but does not have the same symmetry as the south.

Pedestrian Footbridge, Great Charles Street Queensway, Birmingham, March 2023.
Looking north with the light trials from the traffic.

Whilst I was taking photographs, a group were running over the bridge and this allowed me to take a few street shots as they came down the ramps. I am sure there will be plans to replace this metal structure with a larger one and a search on the web mentions this is being explored. Until then, it remains a great place for those long exposure pictures.

Pedestrian Footbridge, Great Charles Street Queensway, Birmingham, March 2023.
Running over and down the bridge.
Pedestrian Footbridge, Great Charles Street Queensway, Birmingham, March 2023.
Looking towards Church St.

If you fancy a walk around Birmingham then be sure to follow more of my blog entries. The link below is a good starting point.

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Aurora Borealis – Poster

Aurora Borealis – Poster

So I have been to Iceland but did not see the Aurora Borealis as it was too cloudy. I did…

Loch Lomond Weekend February 2023

Scotland is a wonderful place to always visit and I was fortunate to have the opportunity to spend a weekend on Loch Lomond in February with Sandy.  Having flown up on the Friday morning, we picked up our hire car and made our way to Duck Bay on the bonny shores of the Loch.  A magnificent rainbow greeted us set against the backdrop of Ben Lomond.  I knew then that it was going to be a lucky weekend.  

Loch Lomond Weekend February 2023
A rainbow at Duck Bay with Ben Lomond in the background.

So much to see around the shores and following Duck Bay, we headed over to the east side of the Loch. When we arrived at Balmaha, the low sun was reflecting off the water creating beautiful light reflections.  I love visiting such places out of season as the places are quiet and you have the place to yourselves.  Balmaha houses the Loch Lomond coffee house and the pub serves a tasty bowl of soup. After a stroll around the Lochside we drove back to Balloch.

Loch Lomond Weekend February 2023
The lovely view over Balmaha on the eastern shores of Loch Lomond.

Our destination for the end of the day was Loch Lomond shores. Whilst it is very commercial and more concrete than aesthetics, it is redeemed by the views of the Loch. Also I saw that renovation of the Maid of the Loch steamer was gathering pace and that the paint work had been stripped off and the metal was showing.

Loch Lomond Weekend February 2023
Loch Lomond Shores
Loch Lomond Weekend February 2023
The Maid of the Loch under restoration.

Saturday morning threw up some colours in the sunrise and an early morning photographic stroll allowed for some interesting long exposures.  We were staying at the Cameron House hotel and the grounds gave excellent access to the loch shore.

Loch Lomond Weekend February 2023
Early morning view of Loch Lomond.

After breakfast, we set off for Inveraray to visit the prison museum.  This attraction was excellent and gave an insight into the past society and the harsh life people led in the Highlands especially if they broke the rules.  There was a restored black Mariah which Bill one of the staff, showed us and also provided an excellent account of life at the prison.  It was an enjoyable drive along the Loch. After every turn on the road, there was spectacular scenery just asking to be photographed.  

Loch Lomond Weekend February 2023
This is Bill dressed up as one of the prison guards at Inveraray Jail
Loch Lomond Weekend February 2023
Bill telling us about the Black Mariah prison transport.
Loch Lomond Weekend February 2023
Inverary on the Loch Fyne shore.

My favourite picture of the day was stopping at the layby “Rest and be Thankful”.  There was a glimpse of the sun which lit up the valley and highlighted the old military road and the roadworks on the side of the mountains.  I just stood there for several minutes taking in the beautiful scenery.

Loch Lomond Weekend February 2023
Rest and Be Thankful.

On our last morning, the weather was dull with a great deal of cloud cover.  As I wandered along Duck Bay looking for photo opportunities, I passed by many people huddled together talking in low voices. I wondered what they were doing.  Undeterred, I found a good spot on the Loch shore and set up for a long exposure.  I found an interesting stone in the water and lined it up with the island in the background.  A very peaceful scene.  As I was taking the photograph, two women in wet suits ventured into the loch and I found out that they were freshwater swimmers.  They agreed to have their photograph taken.  Whilst they were well prepared for the cold waters, a man followed soon after and he looked unprepared and a likely candidate for hypothermia from the low temperatures.  

Loch Lomond Weekend February 2023
A Sunday morning swim in a cold Loch Lomond.

On my way back I then realised that all the people who were standing in huddles had transformed into swimmers.  I realised that a favourite Sunday morning pastime is to venture into the cold waters around the Loch. This is not something that I would enjoy.

My final picture is from Firkin Point which I had not stopped off at before on my visits to Loch Lomond. I discovered the lone tree over the Loch. The afternoon had closed in and so the picture leant itself really well to a black and white processing.

Loch Lomond Weekend February 2023
The lone tree at Firkin Point.

I you enjoyed this account of Loch Lomond then be sure to read these as well.

Starry Night, Swinmoor House, Herefordshire, 2022

Living near Birmingham, any night sky photography is severely limited due to light pollution.  During lockdown there was the chance to undertake star trail photography and I featured this in a previous article on my website “Stars in the Sky”.

In 2022, our family holiday was deep in the Herefordshire countryside at Swinmoor House, Madley.  We were blessed with several clear nights with little cloud cover.  I had never seen so many stars up above for a long time.  Such clear nights were a great opportunity to get back into taking pictures of the stars.  I use the StarWalk2 app which has a virtual view of the night sky.  

Setting up the camera on a sturdy tripod, I am considering 3 settings.  For the aperture, I wish to get as much light as possible, so I set my camera at f/2.8.  For the shutter speed, I need a long exposure and 25 seconds is selected.  Any longer and I would start creating star trails which would show the stars as lines. I will come back to this later.  To allow sufficient sensitivity, I set the ISO at 800.  My camera is a Canon D5 mark IV and the lens is a Canon EF16-35mm f/4L.  The wide angled lens captures a broad viewpoint which is useful when featuring the sky in the photograph.

Firstly, I do a few test shots with the ISO set at 32,000 to provide viewable pictures of the scene and allow me to compose the picture with a strong foreground object which in this case was Swinmoor House.  Also, I turned off as many lights in the house as possible but balanced the need for some to provide a focal point for the picture.

Starry Night, Swinmoor House, Herefordshire, 2022
The Ursa Major Constallation in the night sky.

The first picture is of Ursa Major which was very bright and identifiable in the sky.  It is also nicely framed by the surrounding trees and the house.  The second picture was the night sky looking out over the Sagittarius star cloud better known as the Milky Way.  Unfortunately, there was some cloud cover and light pollution in this direction.  However, you can make out the milky way in the picture. These were the best pictures I could get during the week of the Milky Way due to cloud cover.

Starry Night, Swinmoor House, Herefordshire, 2022
The Sagittarius Star Cloud seen from the Garden.

Editing was done on the RAW files correcting the lens profile, adding contrast and bringing out the shadows.  Next I reduced the highlights and took the strong house lights down.  The Ursa Major stars were bright and I helped a bit with some dodging.  Finally I produced good pictures of the night sky.

Two nights later there was another clear sky and this gave me the opportunity to have a go at star trails.  The camera set up and composition was as before although this time the exposure was increased to 30 seconds.  The Canon camera has a built in intervalometer which I set at 1 second.  Therefore, the camera shutter would be open for 30 seconds, shut, quickly process for a second before opening again. This continuous cycle was possible as I had a fast SD card in the camera for the processing of the pictures. Once I was happy everything was working properly, I left the camera to take the pictures.  I was very tired and started at 10.30 and eventually after a few rounds of pool in the games room, switched the camera off at approximately 11.45.  I am sure I could have gone for a longer time period but it would have meant leaving an expensive camera unattended during the night.  The next morning, I collected all the jpg pictures (124 of them) into one folder.  I downloaded the StarStaX freeware software and pasted the pictures into the program.  I clicked a button and watched in amazement as the stacking software created the picture.  There were a few edits required to remove stray light and the picture was cropped to provide a pleasing result.  

Starry Night, Swinmoor House, Herefordshire, 2022
Creation of star trails above Swinmoor House, Madley, Herefordshire.

The resulting picture looked great.  A couple of satellite trails had crept into the picture and add some nice diagonals. I wish I had not gone to the bathroom during the picture taking as the light from that particular room is very bright.  Another wish is to have taken more pictures to get stronger lines for the star trails.  Then again, the pattern created is very eye-catching with a strong foreground image of the house setting off the trails nicely.  You can see Polaris the North star plus a couple of satellite paths moving diagonally across the picture. What is helpful is the large number of stars as they provide a denser number of star trail circles compared to my previous attempt.

Brum through a lens at Night

When the call goes out on Instagram for night time photography organised by the WestMidlandsPhotoCollective then you know it will be a good event.  Unfortunately, it was limited numbers, and I was unsuccessful. I put my name down  on the waiting list and promptly forgot all about it.  A day before the event, a call came through saying someone had dropped out and was I still interested?  No difficulties in saying yes.

Brum through a lens at Night
Brindley Place with reflecting lights on the Canal

We met at the Roundhouse Birmingham which is where the horses that pulled the canal boats were kept in the early days of the industrial revolution.  After a period of falling into despair, the Roundhouse is now restored to its former glory. With funding from the National Lottery Heritage fund, a partnership formed between the Canal and River Trust and National Trust has led to a community-based centre offering new purpose for the building.  Check out their web site to see what is on offer.

Brum through a lens at Night
Classic viewpoint of Gas Street Basin.
Brum through a lens at Night
Gas Street Basin looking towards the Black Sabbath bridge.

Jim and Sarah from the WMPC met us and outlined the walk.  We followed a community route called “Brum through a Lens”.  We were armed with our tripods and set out along the canals to Gas Street Basin to start taking our first set of photographs.  It is one of the highlighted stops on the Brum through a Lens walk. This classic view is immediately under the Cambrian Wharf wall, looking out over the basin towards the Cube.  I started having tripod malfunctions and struggled to get pictures.  By the time I had freed up the tripod, it was time to move on to the Cube.  On the way we passed under Holliday Street Aqueduct.  This looked an ideal spot for light trials and I lingered around the place taking what turned out to be my best picture of the night.  Several cars came through at once and I had the camera on the long exposure settings (25s, f22, ISO 100). 

Brum through a lens at Night
Light Trails under Holliday Street Aqueduct

Catching up with the group, I took a picture of the Mailbox.  Trying something different I went low and illuminated the train tracks with my torch.  The long exposure gave the water a milky texture and the background was the bright lights of the Mailbox. 

Brum through a lens at Night
Mailbox with old tracks in the foreground.

The final stop was Centennial Square with the Big Wheel and the Star Flyer.  I looked around for a vantage point.  Many of the photographers were setting up underneath the Star Flyer and I saw their pictures after the event.  It was a unique viewpoint.  I decided to stand back and get a good vantage point with both attractions in the viewfinder.  After a while I got an idea of how the Star Flyer was moving up and down.  I had a few efforts with the long exposure and then there was one session where I captured the movement from top to bottom.  The flyer had illuminated struts with people suspended in chairs out into the heights.  It looked quite scary and the movement made a good subject for the long exposure. There were also plenty of screams as well to accompany the long exposure.

Brum through a lens at Night
The Star Flyer looks like a lollipop after the long exposure treatment.

The group moved back to the Roundhouse to take part in some light painting.  Both fairy lights and long neon tubes were used for the light sources.  It was a different light display and made for some dramatic effects as shown.  The circular structure of the roundhouse allowed it to be very dark with little stray light.  An ideal location for light painting.

All the walking combined with the photography made for thirsty work.  The remaining photographers made their way to the Distillery pub for some well-earned refreshments.  There was talk about those pictures that were successful and those that got away.

Thank you to West Midlands Photo Collective for organising the meeting which was very enjoyable giving many of us an opportunity to wander around the City. Being in a group reduced concerns about our safety with all of our equipment and we were able to concentrate on the photography.

All these long exposure pictures were taken with a Canon D5 on a tripod. I used a fast zoom lens 24-105mm. The camera settings were on manual with an ISO 100. The aperture was set at either f/11 to f/22. The timings were around 30 seconds for the light trails and the Star Flyer. At the Roundhouse, I adjusted the timings to be around a few seconds due to the intensity of the light.

There are many photography projects to do during the Lockdown and Star Trails is one that I fancied doing. I have an App on my phone called Star Walk and it shows the sky at night. There are many stars out there but with light pollution is not possible to get particularly good images. I have always liked seeing the stars and wondered if there was a simple project to get started in this area. Star trails looked just what I needed. Using a long exposure technique it is possible to record the moving stars. I read my Digital Photographer magazine and also looked over several articles on the web. I discovered that my Canon 5D had an auto setting that would continuously take pictures. So I set up the camera on a tripod and using the Star Walk App located Polaris the North Star. I took my wide angle lens Canon EF 16-33 mm and used the largest aperture of f/4. The focus was set at infinity. The camera was pointed directly towards Polaris and the neighbour’s house and my Magnolia tree were used to frame the picture. The exposure was set at 30 seconds. Also the auto was set to take a picture every 30 seconds. There were a few false starts and then once I was happy, I let the camera run on automatically. Then 167 pictures later it was time to go to sleep so I processed all the pictures in the morning in a program called StarstaX which blends them together. I learnt a new synchronisation technique in Lightroom as well. The final picture was very impressive although there is still a lot of light pollution around as the trails should be more intense. The picture got a lot of interest on Social media and I was pleased with the final result. I will have to go out again and do some more picture taken of the stars!

I was asked to a conference in Cologne and whilst doing the necessary preparation for work, I also get ready and planned my photographic journey for the trip.  When researching photographs of Cologne a few areas were highlighted.  The Cathedral and the River Crane Buildings were prominent in the Google pictures search.  The journey fro Birmingham was plane to Dusseldorf and I arrived into Cologne over the railway Bridge that spans the Rhine.  As the train passes over the large steel bridge into the station you get glimpses of the cathedral and the markets.  As soon as you leave the station, you walk into a square and the camera has to be taken out. The cathedral takes your breath away with its grand structure.  

There were Christmas markets around the Cathedral.  These were very pretty selling many different gifts from stars to wooden puppets.  The markets were lively with music, laughter and singing.   They are nestled in pockets around the narrow streets of the city.  

Having has a brief look in the cathedral where mass was taking place, I headed out over the steel railway bridge looking for the classic view of the city.  A feature of the bridge is all the padlocks that have been added to the fencing between the railway tracks and the pedestrian footpath.  It is a twinkling mass of brass and quite something to see.  Eventually I arrived at the promontory on the far bank where there is a large statue of Keiser Wilhelm I.  It is here where I set up my camera to take the “classic” view of the cathedral as you look back over the Rhine.  I used my Sony DSC-RX100M5 on manual to take the picture.  I rested the base of my camera on my handkerchief as there was a low stone wall to use as support.  

The settings were as follows

  • shutter speed 10 seconds
  • focal length of f/2.5
  • ISO 100

The slow shutter speed allowed for the intercity train moving over the bridge to blur and line up with the other leading lines of the bridge.  The water from the Rhine began to have a slight silky appearance to it.  The contrasting colours came out well with the silver of the cathedral and the gold of the steel bridge.  I was pleased how it turned out.

The conference took place at the University of Cologne and after two days of an intensive workshop, we had a few hours spare before travelling back to Dusseldorf airport. First off it was the cathedral and the inside architecture is a sight to see. The long imposing nave leads to the Relics of the Three Kings. It is difficult with the camera to do justice to all the wonderful stained glass windows and other structures that are present in the cathedral. I will have to return again.

Impressive interior
Cologne Cathedral
Relics of the three Kings
Relics of the three Kings
Cathedral details
The beautiful entrance door

Also I wanted to see the three skyscrapers on the Rhine called the River City Cranes.  They looked spectacular from pictures on the web.  They were half a mile south from the train station but well worth the walk.  On the way I passed another Christmas market as well with all the people activity going on.  Getting close and personal to the large structures allowed for some great architectural views of them.  They reminded me of a Star Wars troop carrier with the anterior leg supporting an outstretched flat structure.  There were many opportunities for pictures and the wide angled view from the iPhone allowed for some rather good distorted views.  I walked out onto the nearby bridge to get a better view of the structures.  They were fascinating.  

The Riverside Crane Buildings
Pictures on a bridge
Traffic on the Rhine

Then it was back along the riverfront to take pictures of the picturesque houses with various local people taking in the end of the day.  The houses were set back from the river and the cathedral spires over looked them. They were a popular place for locals to stroll along the river or sit back and people watch others.

The locals walking by
Cathedral, Churches and houses
Relaxing by the waterfront
Sidestreet view

Overall verdict, an interesting city to photograph and one to which I will return.

During October, my daily commute starts when the morning is dark. Likewise in the evening if I am working late or at a function in the city then I am travelling again in the dark. It has also been raining many of the days and in spite of the gloom the conditions provide reflections of the lights on the pavement or in the shop windows.

Speeding Tram (featured on BBC Midlands Instagram page)

This is a selection of photos taken last week in the dark. There is a mixture of long exposures and opportunistic street photography of people interacting with both the City and the conditions. There are a couple of favourites in here and they have been picked up by other social media outlets. One was In Explore on Flickr for several hours. During this time it clocked up over 35,000 views and many likes and comments. The picture of the blue tram in slow motion was featured on the BBC Midlands Instagram site. It has been a fun week for photographing Birmingham in the dark.

This picture titled “Rainy City” clocked 35k views on Flickr
Cars and Pedestrians at Grand Central
The Zebra crossing to towards the Mailbox
More Trams taken with a long exposure
An umbrella is needed to brave the conditions.

The canal through Knowle is one of my favourite places to visit. If it looks as if the light will be good then I look for the opportunity to visit. There are always boats on the canal and the sun sets nicely on the top of Knowle locks. There are some water reeds at the top lock and for a few minutes as the sun sets, the light catches them nicely. I used my Canon 100-400mm lens to save me having to cross over the lock with all my camera equipment. Once that picture was done then I settled back to catch the sunset over the water. I always enjoy the picture taking here and also used my Big Stopper to see if that would give a nice effect.

Ripples, reflections, long boat and the tow path
Locking towards the bridge and Knowle Locks
Peaceful evening
Long exposure of the sunset
Sunset over Knowle Locks