My Favourite 10 Photos of Birmingham from 2014 + Much Gratitude

It's been a rather tremendous year for Birmingham and as 2014 draws to a close, the city finds itself included in Top 10 polls. There's a huge perception change in progress, and it's really wonderful to witness. 

There have been plenty of photo opportunities over the year, and whenever I can I've been out capturing the city, from the outskirts to the centre. I thought I'd share my favourite 10 images that I've taken of the city this year and the stories behind them. I also wanted to take this opportunity to thank a bunch of people for their support.

Canon 6D + 70-200mm f/4. 0.6 Sec @ f/18. ISO 160

Winter brings fog, and at sunrise, when the conditions are right, the colour plays on the fog and gives atmosphere to industrial landscapes. My favourite part of this image is the street light in the bottom centre, it highlights the 'Islamic Relief' centre, a metaphor for Birmingham's diversity and good will. It was taken from the top of Moat St carpark, which has now had barriers installed, making images like this all but impossible to shoot through the railings.

Canon 6D + 70-200mm f/4. 1/200 @ f/13. ISO 250.

I often talk about my love for the canals of Birmingham. They are tranquil and beautiful, especially just after sunrise. The day I took this was a particularly beautiful morning, with the light streaming through winter foliage. Moments like this, they don't happen very often, so when they do, it turns a good day into a great day. This is a stretch of canal in Acocks Green, looking up towards Olton.                              

Fujifilm X-Pro1 + 18mm f/2. 1/30 @ f/8. ISO 1250

Speaking of things that don't happen very often, you can rank absolutely epic sunsets among that category. There are good sunsets (you might get one of those every month) and there are mind-blowing, drama filled sunsets and universally bind each individual who witnesses them together. The sunset above, that was one of those, and really, you might only every get one of these a year. Just amazing to watch, and a privilege to behold. I took this long exposure on my Fujifilm X-Pro1 in Fox Hollies Park, Acocks Green. This was before I'd invested in a ultra-wide for my Fuji system, so it was shot on an 18mm f/2. 

Canon 6D + 16-35mm f/2.8. 30 sec @ f/16. ISO 100.

Those lovely folks at Staying Cool let me stay at the top of the Rotunda so I could grab some shots of Birmingham from above. Apart from being a dream place to stay, the views were epic, especially at night. A perfect dusk descended over the city centre, with the lights of the New Street Development dominating the foreground. My favourite part of this image is still the red and green traffic lights reflecting on the platform.

Fujifilm X-T1 + 14mm f/2.8. 1 Sec @ f/11. ISO 200. 

The Library of Birmingham opened in 2013, and has rapidly become one of the most photographed buildings in Birmingham. I don't think this is a bad thing at all, as there's so much of the building to explore, from the Shakespeare Room to the outdoor terraces. I wanted to capture the footfall as well as some of the features of the building, and a long exposure really gave a sense of movement. It's a great space, and I hope Birmingham City Council reconsider the crippling cuts they're proposing.

Canon 6D + 80-200mm f/2.8. 30 Seconds @ f/14. ISO 200. 

Transition is part of Birmingham's persona, and this image is a stark example of this. In the foreground, the now obsolete Central Library spirals out like an upside down brutalist pyramid. In the background, the new Library of Birmingham with it's shiny facade. Soon the skyline will change forever when developers pull down the Central Library early next year. In 2005 I worked in the Local History department of the Central Library, often knee deep in microfiche, discovering other people's dead relatives. It was a transitional year for me back in 2005/2006 and the library was a home. I'll always remember it fondly, even the leaky roof.  

Canon 5D Mk III + 100mm f/2.8 Macro. 1/400 @ f/9. ISO 100.

In August, Brazilian sculptor Nele Azevedo brought 5000 ice sculptures to the steps of Chamberlain Square. The Minimum Monument, a tribute to the men and women who lost their lives during WWI, was possibly one of the most moving art installations I've ever seen, as each ice sculpture melted into nothingness. It was an honour to photograph, and humbling to witness.

Fujifilm X-T1 + 10-24mm f/4. 28 seconds @ f/10. ISO 400.

Gas Street Basin has been a recent discovery for me. I like to situate architecture in the context of the surroundings, like here The Cube is reflected in the water of the canal surrounded by the buildings and structures that were present long before it was built. This photo is a long exposure at sunset. Sometimes it can be tough because of the movement in the water, making the boats blurry, but during his attempt, it wasn't too bad. The great thing about long exposures is that they smooth out the water and yet the buildings remain stalwart and sharp.

Fujifilm X-T1 + 10-24mm f/4. 1.4 Seconds @ f/13.6. ISO 200.

The return of the Christmas wheel provides an opportunity to explore difference perspectives on the architecture and art that encompass the Library. "Real Family", a sculpture by Gillian Wearing, has done exactly what art should do by sparking a debate and getting people talking. Many people have spoken that they find it offensive that a male is not represented (although personally this is not my opinion and I in fact find the sculpture comforting), so when I took this shot I deliberately made sure there was the silhouette of a male figure standing off the left, looking away, absent but also present. 

Fujifilm X-T1 + 10-24mm f/4. 1/75 @ f/18. ISO 400.

I love sunrises. I love them because instead of chasing the light, the light chases me. From dark to light, from night to day, witnessing the beginning is a powerful thing. This winter sunrise, captured on a December morning, was a beauty. My camera was pushed to f/18 to capture the sunstar, but it was only when I looked at the image when I realised I'd caught not one, but three, reflecting in the iconic Selfridges building. 


It's been an amazing year for me. So many doors have opened because of my photos of Birmingham. It reinforces the notion that good things can only come from a places of passion, honesty, positivity and truth, and it's great to see that Birmingham is getting the recognition it deserves. It's a great city to live in!

Just wanted to use the end of this blog to thanks some of the amazing people and organisations who have promoted and supported me over the last year;

Brumpic - For always sharing my work, and encouraging me. It's ran by two brilliant people who have bought me numerous Gin & Tonics (thank you)! It was amazing to see the website go live and watch it grow. I hope 2015 is even better for the Brumpic team.

Birmingham Updates - For endless shares, encouragement and to Luke for being a stunningly awesome guy, always ready with a kind word. One of Birmingham's finest sons. 

#BrumHour - Such a great resource for Birmingham based *anything*. Again, someone who has supported, shared, encouraged and generally been amazing to me.

I Choose Birmingham - If you're Birmingham based and you're not subscribed to "I Choose Birmingham" you're missing out. Legendary e-magazine that brings the best of Brum to your inbox every week (one of the first places to feature my work, and kinda started this whole roller coaster year. Thanks Tom Cullen, you superstar!)

Impact Hub Birmingham - My Birmingham family. Doing amazing things, and set to be an great resource for the city. Currently embroiled in a Kickstarter campaign with some of the rewards involving photo workshops with yours truly. Have a look, pledge if you can - Impact Hub Birmingham Kickstarter 

Independent BirminghamAnother great Brum based organisation that has faith in my work and is doing amazing things for the independent scene! 

SomeCities - It was an honour to be part of the SomeCities 'Our City' exhibition earlier this year. Great organisation that has done and is doing great things for photography in the city.

Created in Birmingham - Great blog that is always worth a read for things going on in and around Brum. Huge thanks to the lovely Rob Green wrote an article about me for the blog earlier this year. Rob, I still owe you pint!

Birmingham Mail - For featuring my work in a double page spread. That was a pretty awesome moment!

BBC WM - For having my on the radio to talk about my work, and for sharing it whenever they could. Although, they're still not quite forgiven for making me talk to camera at 7:30am ;)

Thanks also to all the people who have RT'd, Faved, Liked, Shared and Commented on my images over on Twitter and Facebook. Hopefully I thanked you at the time, if not, my apologies, I can get a little forgetful at times. I'm truly grateful.

Also, check out these brilliant Birmingham based photographers who have inspired me over the last year:

Tim Cornbill Trail blazing Brum photographer. All round awesome guy. It's always a pleasure to chat with Tim, and I would like to thank him for constantly inventing brilliant hashtags, including #brumrise and #brumset. 

George Daley - George has an amazing eye for lines in architecture. His black and white work is particularly brilliant, and it's always a joy to see his latest discoveries pop up on Instagram.

Barbara Gibson & Marta Kochanek - Magnificent portrait work. Stunning aesthetics, bringing a different perspective of the city. Makes me jaw drop every time. Haven't had the pleasure of meeting the women behind the work, but it's great to see other women photographers in the city doing their thing and making brilliant art.

Ross Jukes - Another Brum based photographer out there doing his thing, showing off the city. Over the year Ross has just gone from strength to strength. I chased after him one Saturday to say 'hello', always good to bump into another photographer, especially when it's sunrise and they're carrying a Fujifilm!

52 Weeks in Brum - Great project from a lovely guy, trying to capture a different aspect of the city for each week of the year. Also, he was kind enough to offer me a camera when I managed to smash mine. Still bowled over by that act of kindness.

IGersBirmingham - Less a person, more an instragram account, run by McGoogle (I'm not sure of his real name, but I know that he's a Scot, which makes him awesome, not that I'm biased). Great place to look for other brilliant Brum based photographers.

My final thanks goes to my wife-to-be (I swear we are organising a wedding, we're just going for a reallllllly long engagement), who supports me, gets up early, facilitates my randomness, helps calm me down when I'm being ridiculous, reminds me that being a champion for someone is way better than being an opponent, and for buying pretty much every copy of the Birmingham Mail that I was featured in. Without Rachel there to share in all this, none of it would really mean anything.

If I've missed anyone, really sorry. You can yell at me in the comments if you like (although I'm a girl and I will cry).  

I'm hoping that 2015 will signal a change from 2014. More collaboration, more projects rather than single images, more helping other creatives. So, if you want to collaborate, if you need my help, or you just want to have a chat, get in touch, I'd absolutely love to talk with you, especially if you're a female photographer, because there has got to be some more of us out there... 

Thanks for the amazing year, Birmingham!

 

 

 

All The Fun of the Fair

Sometime in May the fair rolled into my home town of Corby. As a teenager, whenever the fair would arrive, it would carry an almost mythical status, and we would flock to it the blinking, flashing neon and thumping music like moths to a flame. Mostly a place for enjoyment, we'd lose at shooting games and take home goldfish (one of which lived for a staggering 15 years). It was also laced with danger; fights, scuffles and stolen kisses.

Fujifilm X-Pro1 + 35mm f/1.4 @ f/2. ISO 200. 1/3200.

Fujifilm X-Pro1 + 35mm f/1.4 @ f/4. ISO 400. 1/1800

Fujifilm X-Pro1 + 35mm f/1.4 @ f/2. ISO 200. 1/3000

I’ve always been intrigued by the people who ran the fair, traveling from town to town. I love the juxtaposition of their boredom compared to the fun experienced by their patrons. As children joyfully scream with excitement, whizzing round in on the rides, the ride operator looks off into the middle distance or plays on their phone, unaffected by the frivolity. 

Fujifilm X-Pro1 + 35mm f/1.4 @ f/4. ISO 400. 1/150

Fujifilm X-Pro1 + 35mm f/1.4 @ f/2.5. ISO 400. 1/1500

Fujifilm X-Pro1 + 35mm f/1.4 @ f/3.2. ISO 400. 1/1500

I only had a few hours to grab some shots, whilst treating my goddaughter to some of the rides, but I can see a wider project emerging focusing on the ride operators and owners. It was also one the final times I spent with my X-Pro1 before it met it's demise inside my camera bag. Everything was shot with either the 35mm f/1.4 or the 18mm f/2 and edited using Lightroom + Rebecca Lily Pro Set III presets. 

Fujifilm X-Pro1 + 35mm f/1.4 @ f/2.8. ISO 400. 1/1250.

Fujifilm X-Pro1 + 18mm f/2 @ f/2.8. ISO 1000. 1/500.

Fujifilm X-Pro1 + 18mm f/2 @ f/2.8. ISO 1000. 1/750

Fujifilm X-Pro1 + 35mm f/1.4 @ f/2. ISO 200. 1/300.

Fujifilm X-Pro1 + 35mm f/1.4 @ f/2. ISO 200. 1/340.

Fujifilm X-Pro1 + 35mm f/1.4 @ f/2. ISO 200. 1/170.

Fujifilm X-Pro1 + 35mm f/1.4 @ f/2.8. ISO 400. 1/3000.

Meandering on the Moors

Earlier this month I took a trip down to Exmoor and Dartmoor, two landscapes that I've often wanted to explore, both are uniquely different and yet share a certain wildness and beauty. Exmoor is the master of variety with its hills, heather and the moorland sweeping towards a pebbled coastline beyond. Dartmoor is rugged, with it's tors and sparse, expansive terrain. Both have wild ponies roaming the moorland, adding to the mystery and atmosphere, but my images of them I'm saving for a separate post. 

This photo set is all about the landscapes, captured on my Fujifilm X-T1 with my newly acquired 10-24mm. I hadn't realised how much I missed an ultra wide until I buckled and purchased this lens, and I'm so glad I did. The 14mm was sharp and beautiful, a prime to it's very soul, but the 10-24mm has a versatility that cannot be denied, and I really need that when I'm in the field. The weather was ideal, with the autumnal combination of mist and sunshine in the mornings at sunrise with the transitional colours of the moorland turning purple to orange. The evenings brought great light, but really, for me it's always about the mornings. I hope you enjoy.

Long Exposure on Porlock Hill, Exmoor. Fujifilm X-T1 + 10-24mm @ 10mm. f/22. 20 Sec. 

The Road up Porlock Hill at sunrise. Exmoor. Fujifilm X-T1 + 10-24mm @ 10mm. f/22. 1/18.

Sunset or Porlock Hill looking out towards the sea. Fujifilm X-T1 + 10-24mm @ f/22. 1/3.

Wind Weathered Tree. Exmoor. Fujifilm X-T1 + 10-24mm @ f/22. 1/10.

Sun breaking through the morning mist. Exmoor. Fujifilm X-T1 + 10-24mm @ 13.2mm. f/22. 1/8.

Diffused mist on the hills of Exmoor at sunrise. Fujifilm X-T1 + 10-24mm @ 15.9mm. f/22. 1/40.

Mist and light across Dartmoor. Fujifilm X-T1 + 10-24mm @ 10mm. f/18. 1/320.


Kinship: The Fusion of Formats - Rebecca Lily Pro Set III Presets


In this blog post I'll be reviewing Rebecca Lily's Pro Set III Presets for Lightroom 4/5. If you'd like to read more about how to install presets there is a simple tutorial here

All shots taken with the Fujifilm X-T1.


I'd like to start this blog with a small disclaimer (although it's not necessarily needed). I write from the gut. I tend to evaluate things from an very personal perspective, concentrating on my creative and emotional response rather than the more technical aspects, and I appreciate that might not be for everyone. I'd also like to point you, the reader, in the direction of these two excellent reviews of Rebecca Lily's Pro Set III Presets from Mathieu Gasquet over at MirrorLessons and also, Robert Paul Jansen, both of which I thoroughly enjoyed reading. For now, I'd be most grateful if you'd join me on this tactile and immersive journey into my own responses. 


I’m probably what you might describe as someone who ‘fiddles’ with her images. I like post-processing and it’s part of the joy that comes with photography for me. Lightroom has become an integral part of my post-processing workflow, and presets definitely play a part in this, especially as a jumping off point for further explorations, and I’ve regularly dabbled with VSCO, amongst others. They’re a time saving device, but also very useful for demonstrating different perspectives on an image.

Before

[RL] Pro III | Bright Color | Limoncello III + Soften Color I + Violet Tint + Outer Glow + Minor adjustments.

With this in mind, when I was afforded the opportunity to try out Rebecca Lily’s Pro Set III presets and tools, I decided to set myself a challenge; minimal editing, using only the presets and very small adjustments, to see what I could get from my images without compromising the original integrity of Rebecca’s filmic version. There is a certain quality to these presets that I haven’t really witnessed in others for Lightroom and each feels carefully crafted with love and a passion for the art form. 

Presets encapsulate the preferences of another photographer in malleable form, designed for manipulation, the combination of personalities, the fusion of vision. This is especially prevalent with presets that emulate the beauty of film. On a personal level it immediately evokes an bygone era, a sense of powerful nostalgia; memories of long forgotten boxes of negatives where you see yourself as a child, surrounded by your family, caught in a moment of frozen encapsulated joy.

In the above images, the ice cream van is a perfect example of this sentiment. The Limoncello present softened the harsh blue hues in the sky, matching the shirt worn by the man buying his ice cream. The original image seems somewhat garish in it's starkness, but the adjusted image is softer, pulling the viewer into another world, the suggestion of a story and the willingness to buy wholesale into our own sense of time and identity.

Before

[RL] Pro III | Pastel | Candy III + Shadow Save + Outer Glow + Inner Glow

It was an early July day, warm in the best kind of way, when I wandered the streets of Cognac in the South of France, and I knew this would be the perfect set of images to test out the presets and unify the set of images into a coherent whole, documenting the day, visualising the adventure. Combined with the quintessential continental scenics captured the day before, the presets began to shine. Each preset comes with three versions that strengthen or reduce the effect, and I found myself often veering towards the former, opting for the strongest form due to my own personal preference for bright highlights.

The above image of the Cat in the box demonstrates the neutral, exquisite colour palette, pulling the lighter tones into the foreground, eroding the gritty, flat feel of the original. One of my absolute favourite features of the tools is the Inner Glow, which works so wonderfully well with the image of the cat above, pulling out the delicate tones of it's fur and the expression of mild distain flashing across it's face. There's a classical quality to the presets that brings something timeless to the image.

Before 

[RL] Pro III | Pastel | Candy III + Highlight Save I

If you've never experienced the amazing work of the woman behind these presets, I would urge you to visit her blog - Poems Without Words - and I warn you, keep something soft beneath your jaw, because it will drop. The sheer grace of Rebecca's work has been an inspiration to me (and no doubt many others). The symbiotic relationship between Rebecca and her love, Johnny Patience is the stuff of Hollywood movies from the 1940s. I see that affection, that mutual respect, shining through in these innovative presets.

The overwhelming characteristic of the tools and the presets is their subtle power. That might sound like an oxymoron, but it’s actually something rare and sought after in the photographic world. The effect on the image is minimal but it’s all the better for it in ways that you wouldn’t have noticed before. It's something that can be difficult to appreciate in these times of over-processing (something which I feel even more guilty of after this challenge of editing in a minimal fashion). In the view above, the small but effective enhancements emulate the darks and the lights without contrast taking over the whole scene. In the processed image there is a sense of a quiet, summer's afternoon. I can almost feel the sun and the breeze, hear the sound of local cafes and bars buzzing with the brilliant sound of lunching locals.

Before

[RL] Pro III | Mid Color | Kinfolk III + Inner Glow + Shadow Save

This photo of a cat in a window is possibly one of my favourite images I've ever had the pleasure to capture. It did not need too much adjustment as, to me, it was near perfect on it's own. Again the Inner Glow played it's part to highlight the cat, arching backwards in a bid to catch a few of the afternoon rays, the picture of bliss and tranquility. All I wanted was to make the image cleaner, and Kinfolk in the Mid Color range worked perfectly.  

I predominantly work with colour and the the bleached whites and blues of that summer’s day in Cognac beg to be presented in such a fashion. High in contrast, it’s easy to overdo such a delicate balance, but the presets shined with their empathy towards the available tones. For the street scenes, I tended to remain in the pastels, switching between Candy and Epiphany for the most part. These brought out the shadows and highlights just enough to satisfy me, and in the image below, the real power can be seen in the light that is cast across the gentleman's face, imperceptible in the original, but a focal point after processing.

Before

[RL] Pro III | Pastel | Epiphany I + Highlight Save I + Soften Color I

When the light dulled, the black and white presets are called upon to provide some dynamic range and give an ernest and authentic feel to the image. The barrels below, shot in the historic vaults of Hennessey's Cognac distillery, present themselves as perfectly apt for exploration of the black and white options. In the distillery, the barrels lose, on average, 2% of their alcohol content per annum. They call this 'la part des anges', or the 'Angel's Share'. The invisible is sometimes more poignant than that which can be plainly seen. This sentiment is remonstrated in the beautiful rendition of black and white, the silent beauty of the colours fading into something more powerful -- the 'Angel's Share'.   

Before

[RL] Pro III | Black & White | Audrey I

I can imagine in the coming months these presets will be my absolute go-to when it comes to wedding photography. Their timeless and classical qualities will compliment the celebratory beauty often found on a couple's special day. 

The image below is from a friend's wedding. It was a day filled with poignancy, a celebration of life, love, loss and the indomitable human spirit. I caught Sarah, the bride, turning, moving in from the incessant drizzle that permeated the sky that day. In colour it seemed too bright, too warm, but the way Rebecca has designed the presets, especially with regard to the light, meant that the image took on a new quality when I applied the Black Jack preset. The perfect combination of dark and light to show a beautiful soul at her finest. Enduring. Amaranthine. 

Before

[RL] Pro III | Black & White | Black Jack I + Creamy 

My final foray textually into the majestic nature of these presets involves the ethereal beauty of Dartmoor Ponies, captured on a windy, overcast day, my first experience of these elegant creatures. In the examples below you can see how the use of different presets can dramatically alter the scene and the mood, the black and white demonstrating the diversity in tones, emphasising the celestial grace of the pony.

[RL] Pro III | Black & White | Orion III + Innre Glow + Highlight Save + Outer Glow

[RL] Pro III | Mid Color | Chardonnay I

[RL] Pro III | Pastel | Epiphany II

[RL] Pro III | Bright Color | Limoncello III

For someone like me, who fell in love with photography in the digital age, the eclectic beauty and timeless nature of these presets is simply wonderful. Evoking filmic tones and colours underlines the real potential of Rebecca's approach and I'm almost tempted to clear out my cluttered shed to turn into a rudimentary darkroom. Ultimately, the challenge I set myself has permeated into my creative consciousness. Less is becoming the new more.

Finally, the real triumph is that Rebecca has managed to forge a bridge between two close relatives, Film and Digital, who share the same blood, but always remained in tension with each other. Here, little of that animosity remains, just a gentle and overwhelming affection for both formats, combining without any pretentious or precocious undertones, a resplendent and pulchritudinous alliance.

Do please check out Rebecca's website, and thank you for coming on this journey with me!

[RL] Pro III | Pastel | Amethyst III + Highlight Save I

[RL] Pro III | Pastel | Innocence III + Highlight Save

[RL] Pro III | Mid Color | Avalon III + Outer Glow + Inner Glow + Shadow Save II


Running Wild with Dartmoor Ponies

In the 1930s there were nearly 30,000 Dartmoor ponies roaming the moors, now there are less than 800. Yet, as you drive through the landscape, they appear, windswept on the horizon, mythical and magical. 

In between bouts of permeating cloud, I waited for the light to appear, for seconds at a time, and captured some of the ponies, majestic in the their surroundings. Shot on the Fujifilm X-T1 + 60mm f/2.4 & 14mm f/2.8. Processed using Rebecca Lily Pro Set III for Lightroom, I've tried to stay true the the muted tones, and the dramatic setting.

Fujifilm X-T1 + 60mm f/2.4 @ f/5. 1/600. ISO 200.

Fujifilm X-T1 + 60mm f/2.4 @ f/9. 1/320. ISO 200.

Fujifilm X-T1 + 60mm f/2.4 @ f/9. 1/200. ISO 200.

Fujifilm X-T1 + 14mm f/2.8 @ f/10. 1/420. ISO 200.

Fujifilm X-T1 + 60mm f/2.4 @ f/9. 1/320. ISO 200.

Fujifilm X-T1 + 60mm f/2.4 @ f/9. 1/140. ISO 200.

Fujifilm X-T1 + 60mm f/2.4 @ f/9. 1/450. ISO 200.

Fujifilm X-T1 + 60mm f/2.4 @ f/9. 1/450. ISO 200.