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…

Winning photograph Westside BID calendar 2023

Westside BID organised a celebratory evening around the photography competition for the 2023 calendar.  We all gathered at the Flapper Pub near Cambrian wharf where we met our fellow winners and local business people.  There were councillors from Birmingham City Council present as well.  The pictures were hung around the room and the MC interviewed each photographer in turn.  Then the food was served and there was a chance to meetest people.  The evening sun shone over the canal allowing us the chance to soak in the warmth.  The last few weeks have been very wet, so the sun was welcome.  There were interviews to be done and pictures to be taken.  My picture was the overall winner and is shown above, although any of the other ones could have won as well.  The two videos plus the story of the night provide a great memory of the event.  Thanks to Westside BID for the support of photography through the calendar. 

The Flapper Pub, Birmingham, 2023
A beautiful evening for the WestsideBIDS celebration evening

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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…

Hanbury Hall, National Trust, 2022

Visiting popular National Trust destinations does have its challenges if you are a keen amateur photographer.  Hanbury Hall is so photogenic and countless pictures have been taken over the years.  I would guess each season throws up wonderful views not only of the house but the impeccable gardens as well.  Usually, before I visit a well-known property, I check over the web sites and look at other people’s photographs to find out which are the best views.  As it happens for this visit, I did not get myself organised, so I went to Hanbury Hall not knowing what to expect.  

Hanbury Hall, National Trust, 2022
The commanding entrance to Hanbury Hall.

Arriving by car you pass the front façade of the house and catch a glimpse of the striking architecture.  Walking back to the house from the carpark, the entrance approach provides post card picture views.  The property is operating a timed ticket entrance which limits the amount of people.  This favours the photographer as in this case there are only a few people and not the crowds that may interrupt the pictures.  

Hanbury Hall, National Trust, 2022
Lots of tubs with tulips

First stop was the interior of the house, and I met a volunteer who in a few minutes gave me all the information I needed.  Also, I found out that she was a good photographer and took a picture of me on the grand staircase with the beautiful paintings as a backdrop. The building is interesting and there was much activity happening in the house.  The volunteers did not mind having their photographs taken included one dressed up as the former owner of the house, Thomas Vernon.  The staircase is beautiful and the wall to ceiling painting by the English painter Sir James Thornhill has so much to see.  I spent some time moving around using my iPhone for the pictures finding that the wide-angle lens was very useful.

Hanbury Hall, National Trust, 2022
The beautiful painting that highlights the staircase.
Hanbury Hall, National Trust, 2022
An upward view
Hanbury Hall, National Trust, 2022
A volunteer dressed up as “Thomas Vernon” former owner of the house.
Hanbury Hall, National Trust, 2022
Preparing the table with the silverware.
Hanbury Hall, National Trust, 2022
There are some beautiful rooms in the house.

Following that important mid-morning coffee, it was time to set off and explore the grounds of the house.  I am always amazed how the National Trust find gardeners to tend and cultivate their extensive properties.  They are so creative and design wonderful garden designs.  The apple orchard was symmetrically laid out and the trees were just beginning to blossom.  

Hanbury Hall, National Trust, 2022
The beautiful apple orchard.

The Orangery was a particular favourite of mine.  The sun was shining in through the large windows accentuating the orange glow of the brick paintwork.  I leant that this grade II listed building has red Flemish bond ashlar brickwork which gives the characteristic colour.  There is also a tiled floor. One of the tiles has a dog paw print caused by a disobedient pet wandering around before the cement had set 250 years ago.  

Hanbury Hall, National Trust, 2022
The Orangery
Hanbury Hall, National Trust, 2022
The inside of the Orangery
Hanbury Hall, National Trust, 2022
The 250 year old footprint!
Hanbury Hall, National Trust, 2022
A pheasant greeting

The symmetry of the Pareteer garden was beautifully coloured by yellow tulips.  The Encyclopaedia Britannica describes “a Pareteer as the division of garden beds in such a way that the pattern is itself an ornament.”  It is like an Elizabethan knot garden and was fun to photograph.  Linking the gardens is Snob’s tunnel which returns you to the back of the house.  The tunnel allowed servants to move around without being seen by guests of the house.  

Hanbury Hall, National Trust, 2022
Love the symmetry in the gardens
Hanbury Hall, National Trust, 2022
The house in a lensball.
Hanbury Hall, National Trust, 2022
Snob’s Tunnel
Hanbury Hall, National Trust, 2022
Beautiful walks surround the property.

On my way home I visited Hanbury Church which is adjacent to the Hall and has commanding views over the river seven valley.  

Hanbury Hall, National Trust, 2022
A window to the world

If you enjoyed this account of Hanbury Hall, then please visit my blog on Croome which is another nearby National Trust property. The official National Trust website account of Hanbury Hall provides more information.

National Memorial Arboretum

Instameets are friendly photographic get togethers where you meet like-minded people for a social chat and take pictures.  The meetings are also held at fascinating venues around the West Midlands.  My usual patch is IgersbirminghamUK or the Westmidlandsphotocollective. Both hold meetings at venues which provide a multitude of photographic opportunities.  Igers_staffordshire is a group that hold Instameets around the Lichfield area.  The venue for this meeting was the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire.  The Arboretum occupies a large swathe of land just North of Lichfield and is well signposted off the A38.  However, it is a place that I always pass by and think to myself that is somewhere to visit in the future.  When Igers_staffordshire advertised the event then I quickly signed up.  The meeting started in the car park which is one of the strategic places in the Arboretum.  Whilst entry to the site is free, car parking is strictly controlled and must be prebooked.  The entrance and the welcome buildings guide you through to the main body of the Arboretum.  I was greeted by the organisers and it is easy to work out who the photographers are as you will not miss the tripods, backpacks and cameras on display.  Once through the entrance we made our way to the most commanding monument which is the Armed Forces Memorial.  It is not difficult to miss as it sits as a raised structure with an attractive circle of trees.  We posed on the steps for the picture of the group and then started exploring.

National Memorial Arboretum
The inside of the Armed Forces Memorial

You find yourself pulled towards the Armed Forces Memorial, up the steps and into the inner parts.  It borrows heavily in architectural design from the Greeks and Romans.  It is impressive, and it was here that I met Kenneth who is a volunteer at the National Memorial Arboretum. We got talking about the Arboretum and Kenneth outlined some of the major features about the place. He showed me where a shaft of sunlight shines through the gaps in the southern walls onto the central bronze wreath on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month #Armistaceday. Kenneth does two days volunteering and is out in all weathers, greeting visitors. His welcoming smile and enthusiasm help visitors to get the most from their visit. Kenneth is one of many volunteers who I met during my time at the Arboretum. I explained to Kenneth about my ‘100strangers’ project and he agreed to being photographed. This picture shows him standing in the centre of the #ArmedForcesMemorial near the central wreath with the #cenotaph in the background.

Kenneth, Volunteer

Next, I set off to visit the rest of the Arboretum.  There were several memorials that I passed along the way including those to the Iraq war and The Polish War memorial.   I did like the Irish Infantry Grove.  The paving stones are set out with a map of Ireland.  From there, I wandered into the trees and was taken with the numerous discs with messages on them.  There is so much to take in and this blog only touches the surface.  I posted several sets of pictures on Instagram.

National Memorial Arboretum
Looking through and remembering

The first is a set of lines and colours that made an impression on me. The #shotatdawn memorial by artist #AndyDeComyn was particularly moving.  Consisting of stakes in the ground representing the young men shot by firing squad.  There are several other memorials captured here.

My other reflection from my visit was the numerous Connections in the Arboretum and this is the link for this series of photographs including pictures with permission of soldiers remembering people behind the names. The sun and the rain connect with the memorials to enhance their stories.

It was a moving day out and I covered a fair amount of the Arboretum.  There is still much more to see.  These are the best of the pictures although there were many more to discover. Several of the memorials have been cleverly designed to catch the natural elements such as the sun and rain providing reflections and opportunities for carefully taken pictures that bring out the best in their design.

Finally a big thank you to @igers_staffordshire for organising this instameet. I also met such great fellow photographers.  Follow #igersstaffordshire_nma for all the pictures taken by the group on the day.

National Memorial Arboretum
A rainbow brings hope and joy

We have never been to Ragley Hall in our time in the Midlands, so when my daughter Natasha suggested visiting on one of the open days then I was easily persuaded. We only signed up for the gardens as we had my grandson, Noah but it was still good fun. The grounds are expansive and there is a lake with forrest. The bluebells were past their sell by date and the path was not passable in places. However, the gardens were in immaculate condition and the Scott Garden with statues was beautifully laid out. We enjoyed the lunch in the cellars at the Hall and next time I must go and visit the state rooms. Hope you enjoy all the pictures that I took 🙂

This is a great community who are active in many different parts of Birmingham life. It is about celebrating inspired people and the success of different communities in the Birmingham area. One are of celebration is in photography. The good people of Birmingham have featured 10 of my best photographs as portrayed on their web site

It is interesting to me what other people like with my photographs. All the pictures taken were featured on Twitter @birminghamweare and received numerous likes.

Taking concert pictures is not easy for me as I am not as young as I used to be and do not like being squashed at the front of the concert. The chance to take some close up pictures came when I went to see Steve Gunn, a guitarist and songwriter, who is prolific songwriter. Steve’s style is influenced by blues, folk and rock and he is a pretty good guitarist as well.

The first song is done

The Hare and Hounds in Kings Heath, Birmingham is an intimate venue and there is the ability to move through the audience and get very close to the artist. I had my Sony RX100v5 camera on manual settings with a shutter speed of 1/200, aperture f/2.8 and ISO 2000. Getting close and taking the pictures meant that the lighting was a little easier to control. I expect I could have changed the settings a bit more but I am generally pleased with the results. Also we got a selfie with the man himself after the concert.

Lets get to the microphone

The concert had some great music. He was good to listen to and he is an excellent guitarist. The small venue meant that the sound was good and the different parts of the band came together well\\. The guys sorting out the sound were not so happy but it was a good night all round.

The band is working well
I have a few guitars to use yet
Thanks for coming along tonight
Putting that song over
Tuning up
The light garden at the Hare and Hounds
Andy, Steve Gunn and myself

I have started to take my wide angle lens out with me when wandering around Birmingham. I usually do this on a Wednesday morning as I have a clinic in the City Centre. I plan different routes around the city but today I went for a route from Snow Hill to Brindley Place. Along the way I took several pictures and at around 7.30am arrived at the NIA. The Iron bridge over the canal is a photogenic leading line and I started experimenting. It was then that a noticed that a colourful sunrise was starting to happen. I overcame the lack of tripod by using the canal wall. The manual settings of the camera were as follows shutter speed 1/13, aperture f/20 and ISO 400. I use live view to check the scene. I also ensured that I focused part way into the picture to find the hyperfocal length thus ensuring all would be in focus. I took a few more pictures and then went to one of my favourite coffee houses Tom’s dinner in the Mailbox. Browsing through the pictures and this one caught my eye. Processing is a mixture of Lightroom – up the exposure, drop the highlights, touch the shadows and a heavy vignette. I use a LUT (Lookup Table) add on to bring out the cinematic effect. Then into Photoshop where I use an unsharp mask followed by adjustment of the levels as the final adjustments. The picture looks good and I have also included some of the other pictures that were taken on my walk.

Cube spotting
Another view of the sunset
Long boat and windows

There will be many visits around the country in the coming few years as I am part of a research grant with 4 other universities (Glasgow, Leeds, Southampton and Edinburgh). The lead institution is Glasgow University and that is where the kick of meeting began. There was a Burns supper the night before the meeting proper and a chance to photograph in and around the University buildings. The University is very photogenic and has commanding views of the surrounding Glasgow area. The building is also impressive and the central area is called the undercroft. The University have left the Christmas fairy lights in place and it makes for an impressive site. There had been some rain the night before and this added to some of the street reflections seen in the pictures.

The Undercroft
Stairs in the Building
The lights
End of the night
Fairy lights
Always fun to look at
Snowdrops and path
Imposing facade
There was time for a Gin in the Hotel