Tag Archive: photography

Sep 15 2012


Rhiwgoch BachOur first holiday with Thomas, now aged 7 months, it promised to be rather different from previous ones! We headed for North Wales since it is close and has a seaside.

We booked Rhiwgoch Bach, a cottage above Harlech, proprietors Ieuan and Gwen Edwards. Gwen provides rather fine Welsh cakes (somewhere between a scone and a biscuit) as a welcome gift. Thomas fell asleep just before we left Chester at 9am and awoke as we arrived a little after 11am. The drive from Chester is straightforward and rather scenic although the final stretch is up from Harlech is a narrow, steep twisting lane hemmed in at both sides by high stone walls with limited passing places. This is the route provided in the instructions to get to the cottage, it makes for a simple description but there is an alternative, rather less exciting route.

The cottage has a large, well-equipped kitchen there is a little private garden – if only the weather had been fine enough to sit out in it. The views from the cottage are spectacular, out over the sea to the Llŷn peninsula, South to rocky Foel Ddu, surrounded by rough farmland.

View towards Porthmadog

Day 1 – Saturday

In the afternoon we visited Harlech, it clings to the side of a steep drop down to the sea with the castle sitting on a rocky promontory.

Harlech Castle (view from outside)

The weather was warm, mainly sunny. Sunset over the Llŷn peninsula was glorious.

Sunset from Rhiwgoch

Thomas helped us with some stargazing by waking us a couple of hours after he’d gone to bed. In a perfectly clear sky, with little light pollution (apart from the cottage security lights), we saw the Milky Way.

Day 2 – Sunday

The weather more overcast today, in the morning we went down to Harlech beach, a huge expanse of sand. In the afternoon we walked up the road and headed to Foel Senigl, a little hill. We didn’t quite reach the top because the track from the road didn’t lead there. As the afternoon drew on the clouds came in and it rained, and was windy.

Thomas and Ian on Harlech beach

Thomas was happy in the cot until about midnight.

Day 3 – Monday

Rain menaced for most of the day, in the morning we went to Porthmadog to do some food shopping. The harbour is pleasant enough and there are a number historic railways. 

Building by Porthmadog Harbour

The rest of the town I found a bit grim.

In the afternoon we went to the beach at Llandanwg, this is closest to the cottage and on a rather more manageable scale than Harlech beach. It has rockpools but more comprised rocks on sand than rocks with holes in them. Behind the beach is a small church with a graveyard full of old slate gravestones, and some short-cropped grass leading down to an estuary.

St Tanwg Church at Llandanwg

Thomas has his first tooth, it’s one of his lower incisors – it isn’t visible but to the touch his gum feels toothy rather than gummy.

Day 4 – Tuesday

A little surprised to find the weather relatively clear, but very breezy. We headed down the road to Barmouth which is a Victorian seaside resort. It has a lengthy promenade to walk along and once again the harbour area is pleasant with some fine stone buildings, the town has some fine old stone buildings and a lot of shops selling seaside tat.

Barmouth Harbour

It seems to have a lot of tattoo parlours for its size, and a disturbingly named “arousal Café”, surely the result of a lost letter.

Arousal Cafe?!

In the afternoon the weather continued fine so we went to Harlech castle, this turns out to be a high value for money investment – the castle has a spectacular location looking out from a rocky promontory across the estuary to Porthmadog and the hills of the Llŷn peninsula. The castle itself is relatively intact, the outer walls almost complete but with most of the internal structure gone. It is possible to walk around the parapets. There is a small park along the road out of Harlech, going south, from which you get a good exterior view of the castle.

Harlech Castle

The sky was clear in the early evening so I had a go at some photography of the night sky, this worked surprisingly well, I have pictures of the Milky Way. I was held back a bit by not knowing how to use my planisphere, the unturn-offable security light and by the fact that constellation naming is more than a little random.

Milky Way

Day 5 – Wednesday

In the morning we went to see the Nantcol waterfall up the valley from Llanbedr. This involved a bit of rough walking, although nothing compared to previous holidays!

Nantcol Waterfall

In the afternoon the weather took a turn for the worse, the wind howled impressively around the cottage, we disappeared into a wet cloud and slept.

Day 6 – Thursday

Our last day in Harlech, in the morning we visited Portmeirion which was in the midst of preparations for the No. 6 festival. The village is bizarre but attractive it’s the sort of weird mock-Italianate style I might adopt if I had money to burn.


As well as the village the coast on the estate is very fine with views out across the estuary.

Portmeirion (view towards Porthmadog)

In the afternoon we went down again to a blustery Llandanwg beach.

We returned home on Friday morning, Thomas sleeping all the way home.

More photos here.

Jun 11 2012

Beeston Castle

Beeston Castle sits on a promontory on the sandstone ridge which runs down from the Mersey estuary at Frodsham towards Whitchurch. The castle location has been a centre of human activity since the prehistoric age, with significant earthworks put in place during the Bronze Age. The castle is now run by English Heritage, and is entered through a fine Victorian gatehouse. This is the result of a later period in the Castle’s life, during the 19th century when it was owned by Lord Tollemache, and became a tourist attraction. A wall was built at the level of the Cheshire Plain at this time, in part to keep the kangaroos in.

Victorian Ticket office  It felt wrong to remove the notice board which spoils the picture a little.

Heading up the steep hill we come to the outer gatehouse, this was most likely built during the 13th century at the direction of Ranulf III, sixth earl of Chester (1170-1232) in common with the inner ward and other major stone workings. It was built as much of as symbol of his power as for any strictly defensive purposes.

Outer Gatehouse

Heading along the outer curtain wall, we get views of Peckforton Castle, which is a Victorian building commissioned by Lord Tollemache which picks up the character of the much older Beeston Castle:

View to Peckforton Castle

Still further up the hill we see the inner ward of the castle, after the initial work on the castle in the 13th century it was relatively little used although during the English Civil War it was fought over and its decrepit state is as a result of deliberate destruction at the end of the War.

The inner ward

The bridge into the inner ward dates from the 1970s, it’s a very steep climb!

The bridge to the Inner Ward

Crossing the bridge over the hand-cut stone channel into the inner ward we can see a fine view towards Chester and North Wales:

View towards Chester from the bridge to the Inner Ward

The inner ward is rather rough-hewn, no real attempt to level it has been made:

The inner ward

The well seen here in the foreground is very deep, 100m as recorded during investigations in 1935-36 with medieval masonry extending down to 61m.

The inner ward well

The gatehouse offers some rather sturdy masonry, and following the rain the floor of this guardroom was one big puddle:

Inside the inner ward gatehouse

You can some feel of the precipice on which the castle sites from this view looking towards Stanlow:

Looking towards Liverpool

As recently as the 1950s the castle hill was bare of trees but now it is thickly wooded, attracting wildlife such as the great-spotted woodpecker:

Greater-spotted woodpecker

And cute bunny rabbits:

Baby bunny!

The ox-eye daisies are pretty too:


And someone has woven a horse:

Woven horse

Close to the entrance there are caves, from which sandstone was quarried in the 19th century:

Red sandstone

A rather pleasant morning out with some spectacular views.


The wikipedia entry for Beeston Castle is quite brief (here), English Heritage has its own site (here) which has more detail although it is scattered about a bit. The English Heritage Guidebook is a quality production, a little brief but available for a very reasonable sum on Amazon (here)

May 13 2012

The sky at night!

And so after 10 days, I finally had a chance to play with my new telescope on Friday night! Optical astronomy requires at least a few gaps in the clouds but last night at 8pm it was completely clear – I was hopping up and down like an overactive child waiting for the sun to go down (scheduled for about 8:40pm) and simultaneously cursing the slightest wisp of cloud. It should be clear that I’m a bit new to this, so what I write shouldn’t be seen as in the slightest bit authorative.

Kindly folk at @newburyastro had suggested Venus and Saturn as targets for my first adventure into the night. Useful advice because, as a relative beginner I had little idea what I was going to see, or in fact when I was going to see it. Venus become visible at about 9:20pm towards the now-set sun, it turns out that pointing the ‘scope with the finderscope is much easier than the rather more hazardous enterprise of finding the sun without (something I describe here). In the eyepiece Venus appears as a small, bright crescent.

It was a breezy evening which meant that my view jiggled about a bit, it also jiggled about a bit whenever I touched the telescope. However I did manage a picture of Venus taken on my Canon 400D at prime focus. This is an uncropped view, and it’s upside down.


Venus (1/50 second, ISO200)


Mars made an appearance a little later at about 9:35pm along with a bright star which I believe is Regulus. This enabled me to get my telescope to work out how it was orientated meaning it could track to objects on demand and also tell me what I was looking at (very handy for a novice). My picture of Mars is a little uninspiring, I’ve zoomed in here as far as possible, in Mars’ favour it does look red and it isn’t a simple point.


Mars (cropped, 1/3 second, ISO200)


By now more and more stars were coming out, so I thought I’d try out my piggyback mount. This image is taken with a 10mm lens (i.e. really wide angle) with the telescope simply used as a camera mount pointed at Polaris, it’s a 30s exposure.


The Northern circumpolar region (Canon 400D, 10mm, 30s ISO200, f/4)



It took a while to get this because I had auto-focus on and the camera couldn’t find anything to focus on so wouldn’t fire – switching off auto-focus and focusing to infinity manually resolved this. It was at this point I wished I could remember how to switch the display on the back of my camera off because it was really bright, and remember which button was which without being able to see it. The thing that surprised me about this is that there are rather more stars than I could see with my naked eye and some of them are quite strongly coloured. I feel I should go about identifying the stars in my picture.

At this point I thought I’d give Saturn a go, I must admit I thought it was hidden behind buildings and trees from my position in the back garden but I punched it into the telescope handset and it pointed me into the side of the conservatory, so I picked up the telescope and moved it one metre to the right, peered through the finderscope and tweaked my direction a bit and… the planet with ears popped into view!! This was really exciting! I only have one eyepiece for my telescope and it’s quite low magnification but through the eyepiece I could see my target was not a point, and it was not round – it was shaped like a flying saucer and there were slight gaps either side of the central body. Having marvelled at this for a bit I thought I’d try for another photograph:


Saturn (cropped, 1/4s, ISO200)


It’s not the best picture of Saturn taken last night but it is my picture!

The moon hadn’t risen before I went to bed, so when I spotted this morning I rushed out for a photo.


The Moon 9(1/500s, ISO400)


I’ve not done any astrophotography before these (apart from my shots of the sun, and a couple of shots at the moon through a conventional lens). I guess the thing I carried over from that was that the moon is a rock in full sun, so you need to set your exposure times accordingly, the same is true for Mars and Venus so I suspect I should be using shorter exposure times for them to which will also reduce any motion blur.

My first night of viewing has highlighted a need to have a better grip of how to work your camera, plan what you want to look at in advance and, as with an SLR camera, a telescope is simply a gateway drug for further accessory purchase.

Apr 22 2012


IMG_17062-3 weeks

What handsome chaps! Left is Thomas, aged 11 weeks – right is me aged 2-3 weeks.

Jan 29 2012

Chester Cathedral

Chester Cathedral from the North

After 7 years living in Chester I have finally gotten around to visiting the cathedral, actually it took a parental visit to get me over the threshold! It was a cold frosty morning in January when we visited.

I am an atheist, but culturally a Christian one, so in a sense I feel at home. I tend to see cathedrals as medieval moon-shots – endeavours of almost unbelievable scale for the time in which they were constructed. We approached the cathedral from the North, along the city walls. Passing along Abbey Street where we saw this rather skewed gateway:

A gate on Abbey Street

Charles Kingsley, author of “The Water Babies”, was canon at the cathedral and also founder of the Chester Natural Sciences Society. I will spare you the photo of the blue plaque from which I gleaned this information. On the way into the cathedral, the Cloisters.

The Cloisters

You’ll have to forgive me, I’m not too up on the nomenclature for ecclesiastical architectural features, here I am looking down the nave at the altar screen (probably). I’m having problems because of the large variations in light intensity within the scene. There is also some evidence for my problem of always taking photos at a tilt:

Looking East along the nave

A detail in the roof of the nave:

Detail of the roof in the Nave

Off the nave is the Consistory Court, this is the Apparitor’s Chair, or maybe it isn’t the information board hedged slightly on this point. The woodwork in the Consistory Court dates from the early 17th century.

Apparitor's Seat

This fabulous device is a Gurney Warm Air Stove, installed in the late 19th century. Sir Goldsworthy Gurney, the inventor of the stove, was an interesting chap.


Chester Cathedral was built in stages, based on a monastic Norman church built in 1093, there are some traces of this original building in the North Transept:

Detail in the North Transept

You can’t go to a cathedral without trying to photograph a stained-glass window:

Stained-glass window

The Choir Stalls, fantastically ornate and clearly difficult to dust:

Choir Stalls

Frustrated at trying to take photos of difficult to photo things, I thought I’d try something easier: the floor tiles:


That went well, I’ll do some more!


A detail of the ceiling in the the East Nave:

Detail of the ceiling in the East Nave

Stone detail in the Cloisters:

Stone detail in the Cloisters

Out into the Cloister gardens where there is this fine sculpture by Stephen Broadbent, from here we could hear the croaking of what sounded like ravens, however the little tinkers remained hidden in the heights of the cathedral tower so it was difficult to be sure:

Stephen Broadbent's Water of Life sculpture


I found cathedral photography rather challenging, the problems are that it’s dark and where it isn’t dark it’s very bright! The human eye-brain combination is terribly clever, it seamlessly accounts for enormous variations in brightness without any great degradation in the user experience. As a photographer this all becomes very obvious. There are workarounds: you can provide your own lighting or you can ramp up the sensitivity of your virtual film (increasing the ISO number), use a tripod (if that’s permitted) to allow longer exposure times, and take multiple shots at different exposures melding them into one shot (known as high dynamic range (HDR) imaging).

High dynamic range imaging and display are hot research areas. The problem on the display side is that if you display a picture of a bright window with a dark surround, even an HDR image, then the surround will “look” too dark. What you need to do is vary the brightness of pixels according to their surrounding pixels – it’s called “tone mapping”, precisely what algorithm you should use to do this is the subject of research.

Most of these shots were taken with my new Canon 50mm f/1.4 although a couple were done with the Canon 28-135mm. Next time I think I’ll try out my ultrawide angle lens: 10-22mm, handy for those smaller corners and perhaps a bit less prone to blur.

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