Bletchley Park

At some point last winter we paid a visit to Bletchley Park. We live close enough to this fascinating site that, frankly, we were ashamed to have not visited before. Particularly when you consider how much can be seen there, and that your entrance fee covers as many visits as you may wish to make in a year.

Bletchley Park, for those not familiar, is the site of secret codebreaking operations during WW2, the biggest & most famous being the breaking of the Enigma code. This was also the birthplace of modern computing, and the workplace of Alan Turing, Tommy Flowers and sometimes Ian Fleming. Due to the Official Secrets Act, the park was close to being bulldozed due to the fact no-one was legally permitted to speak of it’s history, and it is only in recent years that the 50 year silence was finally allowed to be broken. It is now run as a sort of massive visitor centre and museum, and in the last few weeks has secured Government and Lottery funding to continue to preserve and restore the site.

Many of the buildings – huts, in fact – where history was made are currently still boarded up and derelict in appearance, something which excites me the most when I have my camera. I know they need to be invested in and restored to preserve the history, but I have great affection for looking at places like this and knowing that what I’m seeing has remained largely untouched and undiscovered since monumental things happened there.

Needless to say, I cannot recommend enough that you pay a visit. These photos were taken on our second trip, as this time I knew to bring the camera with me.

21mm, f/8.0, 1/80 sec, ISO 100

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London 2012 – a love letter to the Olympics and my time as a Games Maker: Part 3

Apologies for the break in service. Life and its many associated friends intervened for some time, as you may have noticed.

How can I accurately sum up being a Games Maker? It’s near impossible. From that first day, on the back of all the months of waiting and the training sessions and the doubts and worries and unknowns, it couldn’t have been clearer that the experience was going to be as good as I’d hoped. The first day passed in a flash: no matter how well trained you may be, there’s always an element of ‘in at the deep end’, although my first assignment (going on a break) turned out to be more of a paddle in the kiddies’ pool. What was my role? Well, about 80% of my entire time as a Games Maker was devoted to getting the spectating public to divest themselves of all their phones, keys, coins, wallets, belts, watches, liquids and jewellery into grey plastic trays which I pushed into the X Ray scanner. Just like the airport. Exciting? Not really. Fun? Surprisingly so. We worked with both the Army and a now-infamous private security firm, both of whom ran the machines, did bag and people searches that we were not qualified for. Naturally the Army were better at this by the nature of their profession, but most of the individuals I came in contact with from the other firm were people interested in doing their job well. Occasionally there would be a break from trays and I’d spend a bit of time out in the queuing area, handing out bags for coins and keys and enjoying a bit of banter with the public. It was the banter, wherever I was, that really kept us all going and it was rare to have anyone through who didn’t want to engage at all.  Continue reading

London 2012 – a love letter to the Olympics and being a Games Maker: Part 1

Readers, I am going to ask that you indulge me for a post or two. Maybe more at the pace I am writing them. This may be a photography blog, as indicated by the subtle and imaginative title, but I have some writing I need to do. This is not to say there will not be the odd photo here and there, but for two weeks I took photos so they stood as memories rather than any form of art or technical ability.

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Wistman’s Wood

36mm, 1/100sec, f/8.0, ISO 100

Wistman’s Wood, still on Dartmoor, is somewhere I’d heard about and never been, so as we were looking for another walk of a not enormously taxing nature, we stopped here for some exploration and for me to argue with my camera about white balance. Continue reading

Around Dartmoor

Whilst in Devon, we took a day out to go onto Dartmoor (which I initially mis-typed as Dartmoooor & now sort of prefer). Having family in the area, we’re fairly familiar with the moors although not in a navigate-through-the-mires sort of way, but it’s been a couple of years since we actually ventured out. This being April (erm, well it was then) we went equipped for all weather eventualities and I had high expectations of good -as I have come to know it – cloudporn.

40mm, 1/500s, f/5.0, ISO 100

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I am a big fan of the iphone. Not enough to do the insane queueing business, or to pay completely through the nose. And I didn’t get on the bandwagon until the 3GS (I now have a 4S, applying my own rule about skipping every other generation). I wouldn’t be without it now, and one of the reasons is the camera. I love the fact that the iphone now means I always have a camera on me, and a camera that is capable of producing something more than a pixelated grey blur. One of several reasons I upgraded my DSLR was because I realised my phone had more megapixels than my ‘proper’ camera – think how ridiculous a thought that would have been only a few years ago.

On top of the camera, there’s also the pleasure (and occasional pain) of many photographic apps. My collection of these runs to 8 at present, although being honest I really only use two or three on any kind of regular basis. But my absolute favourite is Instagram. This allows you to import previously taken photos, apply a filter and then share it. Fairly basic in many ways, but a simple idea that works very well combined with some really good filters. Collected below are some of my Instagram photos.

Brief getaway – Part 1

February is a pretty grim month – the weather is always grey and mostly cold (although today it happens to be freakishly warm), it’s right in the middle of the toughest few months at work, and it’s still dark when I get up and dark when I get home. So for the last few years we’ve been in the habit of disappearing off somewhere for a couple of days in the middle of February. It actually works very well: everywhere is comparatively cheap because it’s off-season, you see places in all sorts of weather conditions and with fewer people around.

This year we went to Suffolk, somewhere that we return to on a nearly annual basis. It’s not too far from us, is relatively untouched, and has wonderful big skies. I know many perceive  ‘flat’ to be ‘boring’, but it’s one of my favourite landscapes. As such, you’d think that I’d have taken a few more photos of it, but I didn’t. Well, we weren’t in that sort of location for much of our time, instead staying in Framlingham and travelling out to the coast at Southwold (nice) and Lowestoft (not so nice). I am sure we’ll be back though, if for no other reason than I have certain photos planned to show off the scenery. In the meantime though, this trip also offered me the opportunity to really test the new lens in anger.

I re-learnt the important, and very first, lesson of photography at the beginning of our visit: always take your camera with you. When we stopped on the way in at Bury St. Edmunds with the notion of finding a park to eat our lunch in, I stupidly decided to leave the camera in the car on the basis that we probably wouldn’t be long, it was cold, and Bury looked to be mostly housing estates and a bus station. WRONG. Wrong wrong wrong. Step up, iPhone camera.

That lesson learnt, we moved on to Framlingham in time for the magic hour of low light before dusk. As you can see from the photo above, we’d been lucky enough to get a clear day compared to the many overcast, flat ones of late. Where we were staying was a very short walk from Framlingham Castle, a 12th Century fortress in remarkable condition. We were too late to actually get inside, but the moat and area outside the walls is open to roam at will.

ISO 125 / 18mm / f7.1 / 1/125 sec

ISO 125 / 200mm / f5.0 / 1/60 sec

The second photo here was using the 70-300mm lens, and I battled a little with it over the course of time we were out in the evening. That makes it sound like a negative experience, which it wasn’t. It was a very productive session when it came to learning how it can be best used and where the weaknesses lie.

ISO 125 / 300mm / f5.6 / 1/20 sec

My biggest struggle was with autofocus in the low light conditions, which was to be expected I suppose. You can see an example above, which wasn’t helped when the bird wouldn’t keep still (no consideration, wildlife). It really didn’t want to play ball – the lens, not the bird – and I have a selection of photos which didn’t look too bad on the camera LCD but viewed in Lightroom demonstrate this fairly obviously. I switched to manual focus a bit too late to really capitalise on the light on this occasion, but better late than never.

ISO 125 / 200mm / f5.0 / 1/30 sec

ISO 125 / 70mm / f6.3 / 1/320 sec

The few images that came out well did encourage me though, as the clarity and the colours are good, and it’s nice to have the focal range back again. I particularly like the closer image of the grasses above, something about the colour against the dark background along with the sharpness is very satisfying.

More to follow in Part 2, as this is long enough for the time being…

(You might have noticed we now have technical info! Lightroom is now up and running, and I am also now linking images from Flickr. It’s not ideal as yet, and I’ve not linked to the bigger versions which is my plan for the future, but it’s all a step in the right direction I think.)