Amazingly, I have not written a blog about the German Christmas market in Birmingham. I have taken pictures of the Christmas markets but many of them are single photos on my social streams. My first observation is that the markets are set up way too early. The present one opened up on the 2nd November 2023. This is crazy yet when I visited the city centre a week after the opening, there were many visitors enjoying the early experience of Christmas. Over the years there is a pattern as the markets extend more and more. However, there was a grand reset in Christmas 2020 with the Pandemic but now the markets are back to their former self.
In Centenary square, there is the Big wheel, an ice skating rink and other spinning attractions. The pedestrian link to Victoria square is more subdued as it is private land although the restaurants in and around Chamberlain square are doing well.
The real noise and excitement starts in Victoria square and this is with you all the way down to the Bull Ring. Shops selling food and drink. The prices are very high considering there is standing room only. The shops also sell other items such as candles, jewellery and gifts you never knew you wanted. I expect most of these gifts will be put away or recycled after Christmas.
My purpose for going to the early Christmas market was to take pictures. Every photographer in Birmingham has to post a picture of the market on their Instagram account. I did not want to be left out so armed with my iPhone and x100v, I braved the crowds on a Thursday night. Taking pictures with the iPhone is straightforward although I hold onto it firmly as I do not want it snatched away from me. Taking a camera out and then putting it on a tripod does generate some attention so I used the tripod sparingly and looked for convenient surfaces to rest the camera.
My plan for photographs including taking pictures of spinning things including the beautiful carousel in Victoria Square. I was also keen to capture some of the atmosphere and fun that people were having by being around the market. Taking pictures is not easy as people get in the way and are not posing for you. Therefore at different places in the market, I grabbed what opportunity that I could and moved on. I also walked back from the Bull Ring via Gas Street basin which was less crowded and therefore easier for photographing.
When I got home, I was initially disappointed with my pictures. I am always like this as I want every picture to be a winner. I know that is never the case and I was just hoping that I had captured some good ones. I am always surprised by the pictures that look good and were opportunistic rather than the ones that I had planned in my mind.
So this is a snapshot of the Christmas market in Birmingham 2023. I am sure that I will look back on these in a few years time and cringe at them. There is still another Christmas market to open around the Birmingham Cathedral which happens to be more picturesque. Maybe some photographs of this market will feature in my future blog postings.
Walking back along the canal to Gas Street Basin, there was the opportunity to take some long exposure pictures. I liked this one of Stop Lock Bridge on the Old Birmingham Canal.
Such great news. My picture “Reflections in Floodgate Street” was highly commended in the 2003 UK Landscape Photographer of the Year competition. This year I had two pictures and I was also commended for my picture “Fog in Gas Street Basin“. Both pictures feature in the Cityscapes section of the competition. This is the second year running that I have made the UKLPOTY book and I am very pleased with my achievement. I have written a fuller account of the background of both pictures together with some photographic tips and reflections on entering Landscape Photography of the Year.
Reflections in Floodgate Street
A classic picture of early morning on Floodgate Street in Digbeth. Not many people are stirring at this time and the lights do not turn off until 15 mins before sunrise. These old industrial buildings are a mixture of small businesses during the day and lively nighttime venues at night. The area is also well known for its street art and many artists have put up murals on the walls. The street got its name from the use of two “floodgates” that were used to stop any flooding from the nearby river Rea. This area of Birmingham was known for its wells and springs hence the street name.
This early morning picture was taken during a chance visit to Digbeth, Birmingham. I took advantage of the rainswept streets which provided reflections of the old industrial buildings and street art. I love the warm streetlights contrasting against the blue hour sky.
Post production notes – Straightened, contrast, highlights and shadows adjusted: texture, vignette and unsharp mask filter applied, levels lifted
Taking pictures of Urban landscapes
Go low for the picture is always great advice, a smaller camera or phone allows you to do this. The low viewpoint with a slight upwards angle provides a different view of an everyday scene and gets the viewer’s attention. I will sit down or kneel to see the viewfinder, as phones and some older cameras do not have a tilt screen.
Reflections are always fascinating for the viewer and so look for windows, puddles or shiny surfaces. The time after a spell of rain is a good time for mirrored views. However, combining both the low viewpoint and water puddles may be challenging for the photographer and camera!
Fog in Gas Street Basin
On a foggy day in January, I was lucky to find myself at Gas street canal basin in Birmingham City Centre which is a popular place for photography. The fog had created a ghostly backdrop around the area. The water was very still providing a perfect reflection. The old buildings stood out and the flash of yellow strips on the canal boats provided some welcome colour in the fog. The modern hotel in the background is faded providing an interesting background canvas. The eyes are drawn to the trees in the centre of the photograph and their reflections in the water. If you look carefully, there is a lone person in the picture admiring the view. This was an opportunistic photograph as the fog rolled in changed the nature of the scene.
Post production notes. This was taken on my iPhone and there was adjustment of the highlights and shadows and small minor changes of contrast. Some dodging of the colours on the boats was done to lift them out of the fog.
More reflections on UKLPOTY 2023
My second successful year in the LPOTY competition and I realise which of my photographs are getting the love and why this is the case. I dream of being successful in the classic view category. Pictures of beautiful mountains, gorgeous light and a lead in that takes your eye into the picture and beyond. However it looks as if my skill set is photographing the city. I love nothing more than wandering around the streets with my Fujifilm x100v and my iPhone. Also the best time to be out and about is at daybreak or sunset. Why is this? The light is magical at these times of day. The trouble is that cities are very quiet in the morning and staying safe is important. At night they are crowded but the quieter spots are where the light dwells. Again staying safe at night is key.
Try to be different in your picture taking. Even just thinking of taking a different picture starts you thinking on how to photograph an urban scene. Often this may not work out and you can go home frustrated. It is easily said but do not despair as that next picture is just around the corner. Be ready for it and when you see the scene, grab the opportunity.
I also enjoy looking at other people’s pictures and also where possible watch how they take their photographs. Learning from others is important. Any advice helps and I always listen to what people say. I have two photography friends, who have taught me the following. First, exercise patience and wait for those opportunities to arrive as they will. Secondly always look out for the small things as they matter and you have to be ready for them.
The window dressing at Selfridges is always amazing and in October the windows were designed around phrases and images. The phrases were very catchy and if you placed people in front of them then they made for some fun street photography. As I was taking photographs, people did not look at me but rather the windows that were the subject of my pictures. Therefore I was able to take some candid photographs of people as they walked past. Enjoy this selection of the windows of Selfridges in Oxford Street.
Carchitecture is the architectural term where buildings and cars influence each other on the design of a city. Birmingham is a prime example of this form of architecture planning. The city suffered extensive bombing during the war and there were opportunities to plan a new streetmap. The car was correctly predicted to be the vehicle of the future and construction techniques such as reinforced concrete allowed for new approaches to building design. First off, I am not an architect and secondly I only arrived in Birmingham with my family in 1985. My first impressions were not favourable as car journeys into the city centre were stressful. Walking around the city was a challenge as you were faced with many pedestrian underpasses designed to allow the car priority.
Over the years Birmingham has improved greatly and I love many of the new buildings especially the Library of Birmingham and Selfridges. However, there are still remnants of brutalist architecture and one of these is the Ringway Centre on Smallbrook Queensway which connects Bristol Road with the Bull Ring and New Street. Birmingham is always undergoing change and there is a Facebook page titled. “Birmingham, so good when it is finished”. This change has now involved the Ringway Centre which has been the focus of local news. The city council has narrowly decided to demolish the building and replace it with several residential towers not made from concrete but with glass and steel.
The intense debate gave me an idea for a personal photographic project. I would go along and photograph the building and area over a couple of hours early in the morning. I looked back through my photographs and realised that I have few pictures of the Ringway Centre. This was a complete surprise especially as I have travelled through there many times.
My project started with a sunny morning and this helped as the low sun reflected off buildings onto the Ringway. The buildings are covered in a purple wrapping celebrating Birmingham and the Commonwealth games in 2022. Parts of this covering are starting to become torn and peeling away from the building. My journey started at the top of Smallbrook Queensway near to the Bullring and I walked down towards Southside onto Holloway Circus also known as “Pagoda Island”.
Along the way there is some amazing street art with much of the painting completed during Lockdown. This artwork is on boarded up shop windows and I remember some fine guitar shops being housed here in the past. The western part of the Ringway Centre is populated with convenience shops, barber salons and other food outlets. The building is named Scala house and on ground level there is the Birmingham LGBT centre and finally the Eden bar. One assumes all these businesses will vacate the buildings in the near future.
When we reached Pagoda Island, I took pictures back down Smallbrook Queensway.
There were several places where you can photograph behind the Ringway Centre, these include local car parks which back onto Southside and the China town area of the city. One picture that I had to take was of the circular fire escapes at the rear of the building. They have a unique design and are a favourite subject for local photographers.
On reflection the Ringway Centre has not featured prominently in my photographic journey until I decided upon this series of pictures. During my working days in the city, the dental school was based over by Aston. When the school moved to Pebble Mill, the 61/63 and the 45/47 buses went down Smallbrook Queensway but I have few pictures of the details of the place.
Other activities that have taken place inside the Ringway Centre over the years include a large gym overlooking the cross ways at the end of Hurst Street. The original tenants of the offices were connected with the railway industry but the spaces have long been vacated. If you are after a history of the Ringway Centre then Wikipedia is a great starting point.
Finally if you wish to buy a concrete model of the building then head over to the Space.Play site that has a concrete model of the Ringway Centre plus many other brutalist icons of Birmingham.
Camera Settings – Except for a couple of iPhone pictures, the majority of the pictures were taken with my Canon D5 mk4 and my EF24-70mm f/2 lens. I always have it on manual setting which is a throwback to my father’s tuition. I was taught manual and use priority settings sparingly. I have a polariser filter on my camera that stops it down and this sometimes catches me out hence the blur on the pink taxi picture. My big camera is fun to use but is a magnet for people staring at you when taking pictures in an urban setting. Post processing is a case of increasing contrast and upping the shadows. This is a trick I learnt from reading Scott Kelby photographic books as it brings out the colours. A few other minor adjustments are done as I try to keep the feel of how the picture was taken. As with many of my pictures, I love the stories associated with the photography and one of the reasons that I enjoy writing this blog.
Queen Mary University of London is on the Mile End Road and is adjacent to the Regent’s canal. Part of the campus borders the canal and there is easy access from the University entrance. I was at QMUL for a conference but took the opportunity when time allowed to explore the tow path. My first walk was in the early morning and I followed the canal down to Limehouse basin and onto the River Thames. My second walk was northwards up to Victoria park and took place in the late afternoon. Both walks allowed me to photograph people, boats, wildlife and buildings along the way. This is my photographic account from those walks.
From QMUL to the river.
I was up early for this walk and was moving on the towpath by 6am. There were still many people out and about at this time. The day before had been hot and whilst there was a morning coolness temperatures were forecast to rise above 30oC. There was a slight mist around the canal which diffused the light. Several species of birds were moving around in the water. The canal was heavy with algae and the ducks made tracks in the green covering. There is a mixture of old industrial decay alongside both modern designs of buildings. I took several pictures of the juxta positioning of the buildings and where the canal was algae free caught their reflections in the still water.
On the streets there were abandoned hire bikes. Colours were appearing as the early sunlight started to reach the taller buildings. I soon reached Limehouse basin and this coincided with the sunrise. The area has lots to see and quick decisions were made as to the best place to stand for the photographs. I used my phone to take a few quick pictures that let me quickly see and plan the pictures with my Fujifilm x100v. One of my first pictures worked well and set the standard that I needed for future views.
After spending time photographing the sunrise , I made my way along the final part of the canal to the Thames. This area is very popular with local commuters due to its proximity to Canary Wharf. The quality of housing is of a higher standard than where I started in the Mile End Road. The journey does take you through a range of housing. The Thames looked good in the early morning light and I took several pictures around Gordon Ramsey’s Bread Kitchen restaurant. I followed the commuters as they walked along the road and then onto the pedestrian walkway next to the Thames. This was a chance to practice some street photography as sharp contrasts between light and dark were created by the sunlight rising between the buildings.
After a while, I realised that I had a conference to attend and I made my way back to QMUL following the Limehouse Cut. This took me past the Sea Mission and I eventually caught up with the Regent’s canal again. The light had shifted and therefore there were different takes on pictures that I had taken on the way down. One picture that I enjoyed taking was of two swans who were tucked into a recess of the canal wall. The picture with the reflections in the background shows the beauty of this canal.
My final picture is of black and white architecture. I saw this block of flats as the canal turned after a railway bridge. The reflections immediately caught my eye. I converted the picture to black and white and I was pleased with the result. I entered into the weekly #fsprintmondays competition organised by FotoSpeed on Twitter and the picture made the top 4 for that week.
If you enjoyed this blog then there is an earlier account of my photographic journey from Kings Cross to Camden along the Regent’s Canal. This waterway has such a varied landscape which makes it ideal to satisfy my love for photography.
The Printworks on Fazeley street was the venue for this year’s High Vis festival. The event celebrated 50 years of HipHop bringing together Birmingham’s street artists and dancers. I went along on the Saturday afternoon and many of the street artists were nearing the completion of their street art. Printworks is on the other side of the railway bridge to HS2 and several artists were working underneath the bridge at the junction of New Canal street and Fazeley street. Security personnel from HS2 were present and a little bemused by what was taking place. The festival people were friendly and in good form chatting about the artwork and catching up with friends, some of whom were heading off to Birmingham City’s first home match of the season. The street outside the Printworks was traffic free thanks to the HS2 works although many of the signs were caught up in paint spray.
As with any street art, the colours are vibrant and the artwork eye catching. Inside the yard there was a large grinning face of Tempo33 looking down on the street art. Centre place was a caravan that was getting the Spray-paint treatment. The walls inside the yard were taken up with different artwork. Inside the building there was constant supply of HipHop music with dancers displaying their different skills. If there are any credits missing then please let me know via my socials. I have added (*) where I am unsure of artists.
All this activity was excellent for photography purposes and my Fujifilm x100v was put to good use. Outside the camera was on aperture priority with the colour balance set at daylight. For the hip hop dancing, I went for high ISO, f/5.6 and shutter speed 1/500. The dancers were fun to capture, with the freeze frame pictures. Their expressions tell so many stories.
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.
Cheltenham Paint Festival 2023 was on my radar when it was first announced earlier this year. Having photographed the street art in Digbeth, I have ventured further afield to Bristol and Leamington Spa to look at their street art. The Paint Festival in Cheltenham has a reputation of being well organised and attracting some of the top street artists from home and abroad. The festival director and artist Andy Dice Davies (aka dice67) had produced an audio map for the phone. I downloaded the interactive map and whilst there was a bit of a learning element on how to use the software, I found it very useful. I would love it if there was a narrative that I could listen to as a continuous streaming or even a podcast of the event. Still the interactive map was very good and I have used the app for reference for this blog.
North Place Car Park
Not knowing the geography of Cheltenham, I did my homework. I found on arriving that the town has NCP car parks and I needed their app to get a good rate of parking. I parked centrally and made my way to North Place Car Park. Many street artists were painting on the surrounding walls and the place was a hive of activity. There were many photographic opportunities as I walked around the walls. I struck up a conversation with one of the artists @mycutecreatures. Her work was only just being started but it was possible to see the design that was planned. I find it fascinating how the artwork develops as the artist is painting during the day. I moved down along the walls where other artists were working away. The murals were on different themes, with different images and most of all differed in colours and content. Certainly a feast for the eyes.
Next stop was the Holiday Inn to see both last year’s mural and the progress on this year’s wall. Last year’s mural is amazing whilst the present mural is facing towards the town. When taking pictures of the street murals, I always look to take a different picture and seeing the mural, I lined up the traffic lights with the face. This made for an interesting picture. Curtis Hylton painted the pea hen for a previous festival whilst the uncompleted work in my picture is by Epod3000. Check his Insta account to see the finished painting.
Previous Festivals Artwork
There are so many murals to visit, and I went to several places to find street art that had been completed during previous festivals. As you see from the set of pictures each mural tells a story. I visited on the Saturday and several works are incomplete. This just means that I will have to revisit at a later date! This blog provides a real time account of how the festival was taking place.
Whilst I was in the area around the Holiday Inn, I met Stephen Gledhill, a street art blogger, who runs the Natural Adventures blog. This covers street art up and down the UK. Stephen was looking at the stencil done by the Street Artist Pogo Stencils UK. Stephen explained that this artwork was a wonderful example of complex multi-layer stencils. There is good attention to detail, and it is possible on close inspection to identify the layers. I love the explanations to paintings in art galleries and was indebted to Stephen for taking me through the Street art. I took a picture of Stephen next to the street art that was painted at a previous Cheltenham Art Festival.
Frog and Fiddle
Stephen recommended visiting the Frog and Fiddle which turned out to be a real gem of a pub. Ordering myself a drink, the bartender gave me some of the background to the place and gave me permission to wander around. I went upstairs where there is another example of the stencil work of Pogo. The positioning of the partial face against the windows adds a haunting feel to the pool tables. At the back of the pub, @Dice67 has painted a portrait of Jet Black, the Strangler’s drummer who is sadly no longer with us. There were other street artists at work in this area and were happy to chat about their work. This festival does provide a buzz to the town.
Leaving the Frog and Fiddle, I walked up the high street taking some detours to see previous festival work by @Zabouartist and work in progress on a new mural by @liambononi. The latter artwork was above an entrance to a factory. The artist was painting on a motorised platform with air filter protection. The tools of the trade. Having marvelled at the artwork I returned to the path down the high street and came into the Church yard of Cheltenham Minster, St Mary’s. My destination was the Two Pigs pub, the HQ of the Cheltenham Paint Festival.
The Two Pigs
The pub was busy and had many artists working both in the back yard of the pub and inside. Many of the painters took time out to chat about their work and most were happy to have their photograph taken for my blog.
More Street Art
The festival experience is remarkable in that the murals have become an interlinked feature of the town. I passed beautiful streets filled with examples of Regency architecture. I walked around the Royal Crescent and then into the streets behind. Here tucked away in a car park are the Bayshill walls where there were examples of artwork from previous festivals.
Using Andy’s interactive map on my phone, I retraced my steps through an alley way to the Bottle of Sauce pub and Dodo establishments. I walked through the St Paul’s area, where the houses are predominantly white with some splashes of colour. My aim was to view an iconic piece of work by the street artist @whoamIrony. However, I went too far and found myself in Pittville Park. Here I discovered street artists painting on the Agg Pavilion. There were 5 artists at work, and I was pleased to meet @Titlegraffiti. I recognised his work at once having come across his work in Digbeth, Birmingham. My personal favourite was the intricate work being done by @faye.rai who explained that she was painting in a similar manner to a watercolour. Other street art at the pavilion included the painting of a Barbie doll on its side by @katiescott_creative. There were others there and I am hoping readers will fill in the artist blanks for me.
I did get to see the iconic wolf moon mural by Irony on the way back.
There were also some other artwork on the streets which were fun to photograph. I went back to the car park and came across @ n_4_t_4 with his colourful mural of a bird. I introduced myself to Nathan and he took time out to talk to me about his work. He is a well-respected street artist and this was one of my highlights in my travels around the festival. Around the corner @mycutecreatures was finishing her mural and several others were nearing completion. Members of the public were admiring the street art.
By now I was ready for home, I realised looking through Andy’s map that I had missed several other large projects such as buildings and carparks. Therefore, I will have to come back to Cheltenham and see the street art that I had missed and take pictures of those that were in progress. I did pick up on Instagram what was happening elsewhere and there is a good record on many Insta micro-blogging sites.
If you want to follow some excellent street art photography, then Max Johnson @Moxsblag is a must. Her documentation of the artists is first class and very detailed. Another insta blogger is @Streetartuk2023. Again, nice photography and documentation.
Many thanks both to Andy for organising the festival and all those artists that allowed me to take photographs of their work. I hope that I have got all the credits right and apologise if there are mistakes. I am happy to amend when I have the necessary information. Please contact me via this website or @dammodammo if there is anything that I need to correct. The featured image at beginning of this blog was by @sam_art_34. BBC Gloucestershire did a feature on the return of the event prior to the festival.
Camera use for all pictures was with my Fujifilm x100v except for a couple of iPhone pics. The x100v was on aperture control and colour balance daylight. For the artists out there, I was the guy in the hat wandering around with the silver retro camera.
If you enjoyed this blog then here are my Street art walks around Digbeth, Leamington Spa and Bristol.
I enjoy a photographic walk with my Fujifilm x100v camera around the streets of Birmingham. The early hours are best when few people are around and about. This series of photographs begins at Eastside where the HS2 works are taking place. Digbeth was next and I returned to Birmingham along the canal exiting again near to the HS2 works.
What is there to tell you about my walk? No surprises, as building in Birmingham has not finished and HS2 is still digging and putting up barriers. I took a few pictures and was interested to see BBC midlands covering the HS2 disruption in the evening news. Why is HS2 taking so long and why is there so much disruption? I do get upset with the blasé way they are undertaking the HS2 works. I am sure it will look wonderful when finished but is it worth the upheaval and time taken. The latest BBC item puts HS2 under the spotlight.
Digbeth was quiet for a Monday morning and since the pandemic there is less footfall during business hours. The nightlife is always busy but there is a definite change in activity during the day. My next observation is the encroachment of high rise living around Digbeth and the loss of character with the demolition and neglect of buildings.
There are several brownfield sites around the area that will become large skyscrapers. Other signs of change include the former Typhoo tea building which is starting to see activity around the relocation of the BBC to the building. Change may not always be positive and one of my pictures is outside what was the DigBrew entrance. Sadly this excellent brewery has ceased trading and artwork from the street artist Tempo33 marks the spot.
There is much chaotic colour around the streets of Digbeth and the morning sun brings out the light and shadows. The canalside is another area in Digbeth that is changing with several buildings undergoing renovation. How this change will progress will be interesting to document in future months.
My final picture was taken on my iPhone as I went past the Selfridges building. I went low and framed the iconic discs in the background. I was in luck as a woman walked past although she was confused by what I was doing. The picture turned out well but was also a reminder not to attract undue attention during my street photography.
Returning to the HS2 theme then there are more stories about the construction on my blog. I have been documenting 16 acre wood and the damage caused by HS2 around Balsall Common since 2020. Here is my account of this part of the HS2.
There is a tunnel in Utrecht that leads from the Ganzenmarkt to the Oudegracht wharves. I discovered the tunnel by chance after a late night in the town as part of the conference dinner. Walking back to my hotel, I passed by the restaurants and the bars. My eye caught a flashing light and I looked over the railing and saw colourful lights radiating out of a tunnel close to the canal. I walked down and found this colourful psychedelic tunnel. The lighting of the tunnel kept changing and there were three people dancing in what looked like a trance. They were oblivious to my presence and so I took some pictures and then headed home.
The next morning I retraced my steps to the tunnel. The location is a photographer’s dream site for pictures especially as the colourful lights are constantly changing on a regular cycle. The street art is colourful and the illumination provides a changing backdrop. I asked a colleague to return with me so that I could place him at the entrance then use his silhouette to provide a focus to the pictures. Enjoy the result. Sorry if it is somewhat self-indulgent but it was such a great place to photograph.