Adding to the blog

I've been building this site for about 10 years, over that time it's evolved from a place to just post pictures to having lots of thoughts and observations about travel and photography, and posts about the places I've visited.  There are now over 600 posts and despite the Labels block on the left hand side, it's not alway easy to find things.

So, I've now added a couple of extra areas to the site - there are links in the page header.

Place Notes.  These are notes about the logistics about getting to some of the places I've been to over the past few years.  Currently there are notes about the Arctic and Antarctic places I've been to and links to blog posts about the areas.

Popular Posts.  There's also a list of some of the more popular posts on the blog.

And I've added a new header too - this one is of Sumburgh Head in Shetland Islands taken from Scat Ness.

Changing Islands

Framing the Story
In the second-half of May I'll be showing pictures at Oxford Artweeks.

I've regularly visited - and sometime bought at - other peoples exhibits at Artweeks in past years, but this is the first time I've committed to doing my own show.

One of the challenges in putting any collection together is finding a theme.  At one level it's tempting to go with 'Really Nice Pictures I Have Taken' or 'Nice Places I've Been To', but while these might satisfy the photographer or artist putting the exhibition together it doesn't really do much for the visitor pitching up to see the pictures.

As I've been pulling together images for the exhibition, and based on experiences at the Jam Factory I'm going to have images in a range of sizes from 6 x 9 inches up to A1 (23 x 33 inches), I've been thinking about themes or stories that are going to mean something to people coming to look at the images

A while ago I decided that the broad theme was going to be "Islands", but within that I keep coming back to the idea of change within the various islands I've visited over the last few years.  On many of the islands I've visited there is a tension between traditional activities and change.  

On South Georgia the change at this point is all about habitat restoration. 

Orca - never a whalers target, and still
common around South Georgia
The island of South Georgia was discovered (probably) in the 17th Century, but it didn't really make it onto the radar until the early 19th Century when it was regarded as a resource to be exploited - over about 100 years sealers and whalers did their best to kill pretty much all the (mammal) wildlife either on the island and in the waters around it.  And the reality is that they didn't stop until it became uneconomic to carry on. 

Once the exploitation stopped the whalers (who were the last to leave), just abandoned the islands and went back home.  In recent years the push has been to help the indigenous wildlife recover.

The fur seals, who were driven close to extinction, have now reclaimed the islands and the beaches, and the penguins have also recovered very significantly.  The whale populations haven't recovered, and despite the recent move to out-law commercial whaling in the Antarctic (under any label) it's unlikely that the whale population will ever recover to the level it was at in the early part of the 20th Century.   On land, however, work is underway to return the island to close to its original state. 

Abandoned whaling station, Stromness Bay
Several of the whaling stations have been cleared completely, others have essentially been 'made safe', and the process of rewilding is happening.  

Rats were introduced pretty much as soon as ships reached the island, and over many decades had caused great damage to ground nesting birds (in SG, trees are pretty thin on the ground, so ground nesting is a big deal).  Over the last few years a project has been under-way to spread poison across the island to attempt to eradicate the rat population. There is limited window to do this work, which is only logisically possible because the island is currently divided, by glaciers, into manageable zones. Once global warming has forced the glaciers to retreat from the coastline, rats would have run of the island and any attempt at eradication would have been fruitless.  

Reindeer, Ocean Harbour on South Georgia
The second big project was to tackle a rather larger introduced species, reindeer.  In the early 20th Century Norwegian whalers introduced reindeer to provide meat at the whaling stations.  The landscape suited reindeer well, and when the whalers finally left in the 1960s the reindeer remained, and until recently roamed freely across the island.  At one level there was probably a temptation to leave them alone (killing 'Rudolph' is a harder sell than announcing that rat eradiction is underway), but the increasing population was doing significant damage to the endemic plants so it was decided that it was the right time to cull the herd and allow the island to recover.

I'm interested to see how far it's going to be possible to return South Georgia to its original state - there are relatively few places in the word where this is even possible, South Georgia might be one of them.

Up Helly Aa, Lerwick
In the Shetland Islands change has been a pretty common theme over the centuries. The islands, unlike South Georgia where there is no resident human population, have been populated for over 6000 years, and over that time have seen many changes.  It's not clear what how rapid the changes were for the first 5000 years, but over the last 1000 they have been significant and accelerating.  The Vikings undoubtedly 'encouraged' some changes (still celebrated in Up Helly Aa each winter).  There was a fairly serious tussle between Norway and Scotland over ownership and Hanseatic traders were a big deal across the North Sea throughout the 17th Century, including allowing Shetlanders to become traders for the first time.  

After 1707 there were still more changes. The blocking of Hanseatic trade brought significant depression to Shetland, as did the constant switching of land ownership and the occasional suggestion that Shetland should return to being a part of Norway.  

Shetlanders have historically relied on the sea as, at least, a major part of their livelihood and that continued right through until the mid-1960s when the final few Shetlanders stopped doing the regular trips down to South Georgia for the whaling, and oil became a major aspect of Shetland life.

Oil brought huge changes to Shetland.  It brought many incomers to the islands, the population jumped by about 5000 in a relatively short period of time, and many of these incomers (Sooth Moothers, since they arrive on the ferry through the South Mouth of Bressay Sound) and their families have stayed.  The oil also brought huge amounts of development to the islands, from roads, to health centres, to leisure centres.  

Camouflaged accommodation barge, Lerwick Harbour
At the moment there is further wave of construction work underway to develop infrastructure around gas extraction in the North Sea off Shetland.  That's brought a mini-boom all of its own.  A new hotel has been built up near the new gas plant, and it feels like every harbour is filled with floating accommodation for the construction teams.  

Not everyone is happy about the huge influx of temporary workers, but any anxiety around this is as nothing compared to the tensions around the proposed development of wind farms on Shetland. 

Burradale Wind Farm
There are a limited number of solitary wind turbines around the islands  mostly powering single houses or farms, and one slightly more substantial wind farm (with five turbines) at Burradale just outside Lerwick.  The tensions surround a proposal to build a wind farm with over 100 turbines about 15 miles north of Lerwick.  This proposal has divided the island community and is being chased up and down the Scottish legal system at the moment.  The other energy source that being explored, to take the place of oil and gas, is wave power.

Plenty of power in the Shetland Waves
Shetland has plenty of wind, it's probably the weather feature that the visitor first notices when the car door gets ripped from their grip.  The other natural, renewable, resource that Shetland has in abundance is wave and tide power. There is due to be an experimental wave turbine tested off the west side of Shetland, it certainly won't be as obvious as the wind turbines are but it is based on experimental technology. In the last couple of days I've also read about a suggestion that a hybrid bridge-tidal-turbine could be constructed across Bluemell Sound between Yell and Unst at the northern end of Shetland.

I think it's fairly inevitable that as oil and gas production ramp down we will see renewable resources come further to the fore.  I wouldn't like to bet on whether that's going to be based on wind or water, but whichever it is, I'm guessing it's going to involve more change on Shetland.


I love the wildness of Esha Ness.

I don't think I've ever arrived at Esha Ness, and not immediately gone "wow".  Sometimes at the car-door ripping strength of the wind and always at the sheer grandeur of the volcanic landscape.

If you stand at the Esha Ness Lighthouse - it's a little lighthouse, it can afford to be little since it's on top of a 200 ft cliff - and look out to sea, you feel like you are on the edge of the world.

If you look North, aside from the little bump that is Muckle Oss and Little Oss, there's nothing else in that direction, until you start going down the far side of the world

If you look West there's nothing until you hit the southern tip of Greenland.

Carry On Blipping

I was interested to find a paper this week from blippers Fotomatikus and EveF about Blipfoto and it's place in everyday routines, and it made me think about why I blip on a daily basis.  It was particularly interesting coming just at the point when I had decided to sign up for life membership of Blipfoto.

Most Viewed Image
My photo-a-day habit predates my membership of Blipfoto by several years.  In October 2004 Joe Tree had the bright idea of setting up a website to record (and share) a daily photo – this became Blipfoto. I had a similar idea a few weeks later when I bought my first digital camera in November 2004.  My solution was to set up a blog where I could share my pictures for a year starting on 1st January 2005.  In fact I got impatient for the project to begin so started on 24th December 2004 by talking a photo from my office window at the Open University in Milton Keynes. I subsequently added a few scanned film and digital images from earlier in 2004.  My online photo-a-day project lasted as I had intended until 31st December 2005, and at that point I stopped taking and posting a photograph each day, but I didn't stop taking pictures. Having got into the photo-a-day habit I just kept going, and I have just kept going.  In 2010 friend and blipper CathrynG encouraged me to join Blipfoto, and on 28th July 2010 I shared my first blip (and 2043 photo-of-the-day).  As of yesterday, I've managed a continuous run of 3382 images since 24th December 2004.

So why blip? I'm using this as short-hand for taking and sharing a picture each day.

The Stuff of Dreams
My initial idea was to become a better photographer, and more critically become more observant about photographic opportunities around me.  Always having a camera to hand becomes second nature, occasionally that means just my phone, but more often it means I make sure that I've got a ‘real’ camera somewhere in a pocket or bag or the boot of the car.  The requirement to take a photo each day means that there is a sense of worry until you’ve got one image for the day.  The need to find a ‘decent’ photo each day also ensures I get away from my desk for at least a few minutes, and when life is busy that's probably no bad thing.  This doesn't mean that there aren't days when emergency blips are needed.  I have a recurring dream of seeing a clock tick round to mid-night and struggling to take a picture before the second hand reaches the top of the dial (it’s always an analog clock in the dream). I guess there are worse recurring dreams.

Aside from becoming a better (or at least more observant) photographer, there are two other reasons for blipping.

The first one is personal. Over the years the images, and in some cases the commentary, become a rich personal diary.  If I'm asked about a particular day I will more often than not refer to the image from that day to jog my memory.  The image may well tell me where in the world I was and what I was doing, but more than that the mood of the image (or words) may remind me what sort of day I was having.  I've never been successful at keeping going with a traditional diary (although I do keep a travel journal when I'm away from Oxford), but an image-based journal seems to work for me.

Most 'Favourited' Image
The final reason for keeping going is social.

Blip provides a platform for sharing pictures with other people. The one image a day model keeps the playing field level.  On platforms like flickr or twitter, which have no restrictions, quiet voices get flooded out. Yes, I have unfollowed people on twitter just because they tweeted too much, drowning out the other voices in the stream.

Within my Blip community there are a number of people whose images I look forward to seeing each day.  Some live in interesting places, others have interesting lives and others are just good photographers.  A few manage to score on all three counts.  There are people I follow on Blipfoto who I've never met, but who I feel I know well, and I definitely appreciate the interaction, feedback and discussion from those who look at my photograph each day.  And if someone I follow stops blipping without warning, I do worry about why.

I have no plans to give up blipping. If you’re passing, do drop in and see what I’m doing.

Size Matters II

A theme seems to be emerging in my recent blog posts and conversations - it's all about size.

I blogged about moving to bigger prints for exhibitions (which is a good thing), I waxed lyrical about how modest my camera bag was, at least in comparison to Samuel Bourne's (again a good thing) and most recently I got into a conversation with a fellow photographer about big lenses.

In that conversation I found I kept coming back to the weight of kit that was involved.  I did, at one time, have a 400 mm lens but kept leaving it behind because I didn't really want the extra weight that the camera represented or the big tripod that it demanded. Time after time I've found that I want to limit myself to kit that can be hand-held, and that doesn't require weeks of extra gym work before I can move it.

Nikon D700
If I flip open my camera bag today I'll find four cameras. They've all got Nikon badges and they've all got different sized sensors.  At the one end there is a D700 (full frame - 36mm,12MP sensor, well over 1 kg in weight), then a D200 (10MP, 24mm sensor and about 900g), then a V1 with a 10MP (13mm) sensor (but less than 400g) and finally an AW100 (for when the going gets really wet) with a 16MP 6mm sensor but well under 200g.  And the AW100 weight includes the lens, all the others need glass added.

So how would I rank the cameras, by weight or sensor size (which also reflects price)? By pixel count? Or by convenience, on the basis that the best camera is the one you have with you at the critical moment. Or perhaps we get into more esoteric measures like auto-focus or shutter response times. Is there anything more frustrating that pressing the shutter only to find that the event you want to capture has passed in the time it took the camera to respond?

My default behaviour so far, which perhaps reflects the financial investment, is that for serious photography I reach for one of the big cameras.  The big camera and big lens is part of the uniform; big camera, he's a real photographer.  Almost all the pictures I've taken for exhibitions or sales have been taken on the D700 or D200.  The AW100 is for fun, wet photography on zodiacs or on windswept beaches. The V1 is for trips or outings when photography is incidental.

I think it's time to give the V1 a chance to compete.

If I look back through my daily pictures on Blipfoto, I see that since I acquired the V1 in late 2012, almost exactly half of my daily pictures have been taken on that camera. I first looked at the V1 when it came out in 2011, and decided that it was too expensive and didn't have a good enough range of lenses.  A while later Nikon slashed the price just when I was looking for a compact-size camera that could take RAW images and I joined in, but have really just been using the V1 as a compact with the bundled 10-30 mm lens.  There was a period of time when I thought the signs coming out of Nikon were that the 1 series was an experiment that wasn't going well. At that time further investment in the few 1 series lenses that existed didn't seem like a good move.

Nikon V1
More recently however there have been additions to both the cameras and lenses in the range, including an all-weather camera and lens set, and also a couple of much better (for which read expensive) lenses. And there is much speculation about improved cameras and lenses to match in the near future.

So what’s the conclusion?  I was right that bigger prints are better. It’s certainly true that having camera kit that doesn't need a team of porters to move it is better, but what about the camera and sensor?

The physicist in me says that bigger pixels should be better, i.e. the image quality should be better on a big 12MP sensor than on a small 12 MP sensor, but that an experiment to see what this means in actual use would be a good idea. The wimp in me says that a lighter camera would be better.  The photographer in me says I need to get out and take pictures rather than think about sensor sizes.

So when I next head out to make pictures, I'm planning to concentrate on using the V1. I’ll be interested see the results.

Size Matters

Polar Bears,from the top A1,
24x16  inches in 50x70cm frame,
12x8 in 16x12 frame
I suppose I've been a bit cautious about getting big prints made from my photographs.

In the past I've tended to get prints made at either book size or a little bit bigger, and for the exhibition at the Jam Factory I had a lot of prints made up in12x8 inch formats.  These images look good in a household setting, and when framed it's not too hard finding a suitable sized bit of wall space.

However, in an office or gallery setting, images at this size can look a bit lost, and when I came up with the idea of putting some images outside for my Artweeks exhibition, it forced me to think about bigger images.

First step was a small batch of images printed up at 24x16 inches - these work fine, and mount up nicely in standard 50x70 cm frames (always good to get a healthy mix of imperial and metric into the same project).  But that still doesn't feel quite big enough for outside use.

Next step was to find someone to print up bigger images, and do them in a format that isn't going to need a big frame, and in a form that can cope with the vagaries of the British weather.  The Artweeks exhibition isn't until May, but I'm not putting any bets on the rain having stopped by then.

After a bit of investigation I turned to in Northumberland.  They've made up a set of A1 (840 mm wide) display boards for me, with the images printed directly onto a 3mm thick Forex substrate, then laminated.

These images look fantastic.  The colours look really bright, the images are very sharp and on first test at least I think these will be able to cope with May showers in Oxfordshire.  I think I've got space for four more images in my "outside gallery".

I wonder how much bigger I can go. Next step, renting an advertising hoarding somewhere?