Tuesday, 12 May 2020

Travel By Canal - The Leicester Ring - Part 3 - Fradley Junction To Tamworth

white pub called the swan next to canal
The Swan Pub Fradley Junction
Fradley Junction to Hopwas
As the birds started to sing, morning got underway in our little floating home with a filter coffee to kickstart the brain which was still feeling a little exhausted from the previous days of activity, thinking, planning and concentration.

As the caffeine started to take effect so did Lola's breakfast, a small bowl of unappealing dried food with a little bit of warm water to bring out some flavour and make it more appetising. I don't think she really cares as she seems to enjoy her food in whatever form it takes.

After catching up on any important messages or emails and allowing her food to settle it was off around the Fradley Junction nature reserve for a gentle stroll and to breath in that refreshing, clean and crisp morning air.

We took a walk up to the canal junction just to make a mental note of what we had to do as we changed from the Trent and Mersey to the Coventry canal which involved a rather deep lock and then an immediate left turn and through a single boaters nightmare - the dreaded swing bridge.

Fortunately all looked reasonably straight forward and I was hoping the volunteer lock keepers would have started their shifts to coincide with my passing through the locks to save me any embarrassment of making a mistake in front of any spectators.

A sign post next to the canal showing the direction to Coventry, Great Hayward and Shardlow with a bicycle leaning against the post and trees and water in the background
Fradley Junction intersection where the Coventry and Trent & Mersey canals meet

After our walk it was off to the Laughing Duck cafe for a coffee and cake and to have a look at the Nicholson guide for what we were likely to encounter during todays journey.

There are several types of guides for the canals but I prefer the Nicholson guides as this is what I am familiar with and have always used. I find the maps are detailed and accurate and they're certainly helpful for knowing what hazards you may be approaching rather than being caught off guard or unprepared. This is especially useful when there are powerful weirs with strong currents which can pose a serious danger to boats in difficult and dangerous conditions.

a wooden table at a cafe with coffee and cake on a tray and a guide book for the canals opened and ready for reading
Coffee and cake as well as my trusted Nicholson canal guide

With cake and coffee safely in the belly it was time for another wander around, exploring this beautiful place and watching as the early morning boaters start their movements onto their next destinations. I also visited the Canal & River Trust information centre next to the Laughing Duck as they are always very helpful and can provide some useful information about the local area and the canal network.

By this time Lola was getting a little restless as I hadn't given her any of my cake and she was making her disgust at this selfish act known through her impatient behaviour, repeatedly prodding my waist with her nose and using her paw to tell me to get a move on, leaving the inevitable scratch marks down my leg.

a boat passing a signpost pointing to the coventry canal
Sign post pointing to Coventry canal at Fradley Junction

To keep her happy we took another gentle stroll around the beautiful nature reserve before getting back on the boat and starting up the engine preparing for the next stage of our journey onto the Coventry canal.

I started to regret my slow start to the morning as a sudden influx of boaters suddenly brought the canal to life with various people jumping on and off boats, preparing locks and generally creating a hype of activity around the lock I was about to travel through. Not wanting to get caught up in all this rushing around, I switched off the engine, put of the kettle and made another coffee until things hopefully quietened down.

a beautiful lake surrounded by trees creating a very tranquil environment
Fradley Junction Nature Reserve

An hour or so later, completely overdosed on caffeine an opportunity presented itself and I untied the lines and motored towards the lock as a boat was exiting which allowed me straight passage in through the open gates making things a lot easier. To my delight, the volunteer lock keepers were still assisting so all that was required of me was to stand there and and use forward and reverse throttle to prevent the boat from banging into the gates as they filled the lock with water.

Sometimes I'm never quite sure whether lock keepers prefer you to be up helping them with the gates or to remain in the boat while they do all the work so I always ask as I'm more than happy to help but the usual answer is to stay on the boat. I think this may be because I am a single boater and getting in and out of the boat is sometimes more of a hinderance than a help to them.

black and white image of an information centre building and a cafe table and chairs with a canal boat in the background
Fradley Junction information centre and facilities

Exiting the lock it was an immediate left turn onto the Coventry canal and through the dreaded swing bridge. Fortunately a passing walker had already noticed I was turning onto the canal and kindly opened and closed the gate for me making my passage through this busy little section a stressless experience.

a man on a canal boat manouverring the boat as walkers on the towpath walk past
Fradley Junction coming to life with boaters and walkers

By now I could see boats coming in from all angles but I was clear of anything that could cause me any delays and I was now leisurely cruising down towards my next destination of Hopwas as Fradley was starting to get really busy.

After travelling a few miles we passed through a very dark shaded area of woodland with warning signs of "Danger" due to the canal running alongside a Ministry of Defence firing range. Due to the dense canopy of leaves from the old trees, this area is in constant shade and it creates an eerie atmosphere, the kind of place as a child you would tell ghost stories and scare your friends half to death and all end up running for your lives spooked by the slightest of noises.

On this occasion we were going to stop just beyond in the small village of Hopwas and then take a walk back into the eerie woodland and go for a walk through the grounds of the firing range which is open to the public when not in use for training. The walk through this woodland is very peaceful although not the kind of place I would like to find myself lost as darkness was closing in.

After a little leg stretch it was back to the boat and onward with our journey. I know from previous visits to this village that The Red Lion was the only pub that allowed dogs inside as the other two pubs both turned us away. A real shame because I liked the look of the food menu in a pub called The Tame Otter but it wasn't to be. The Red Lion was friendly and served a good beer and was very welcoming giving Lola several dog biscuits from a jar behind the bar much to her delight.

Hopwas to Tamworth
As we continued our journey, the next section was open countryside before coming into Fazeley Junction where there were some undesirables hanging around looking like they were up to no good so I just stopped for a quick top up of my water tank at the service point and then continued on my way rather than leave the boat to venture into town.

cana boat travelling through an urban area with boats and houses either side
Approach to Fazeley Junction

I always go with my gut feeling on these types of situations and if something doesn't feel right then i'll just move on. I actually prefer being in the open countryside well away from towns and people as these days I'd rather deal with a disgruntled duck or angry swan than drunk and hostile groups of youths out to cause trouble.

Looking on my map and seeing Tamworth was the next town on my route with no countryside stops in between and getting towards the end of the day I started to have a bit of a panic setting in.
The last place I wanted to be of a weekend was moored up in the middle of a town and with limited light left I had to get a move on.

To my relief as I entered the urban section of Tamworth I was pleasantly surprised at how pretty and well kept this section of canal was. I also noticed there was plenty of nice houses overlooking the canal and straight away I realised this would actually be quite a nice and safe place to moor for the evening and would give me the opportunity to take a walk into the town in the morning for a coffee.

After mooring up, we went for a walk along the canal and came across The Gate Inn pub which was dog friendly with a pleasant atmosphere so we had a quick pint of beer and packet of crisps before deciding it was getting too busy for us and headed back to the boat for a film and early night.


A view of Tamworth Castle. A stone castle up on a hill with surrounding grounds and trees with people enjoying the grounds
Tamworth Castle

As we were brought out of our slumber by the birds morning chorus and the increasing light as the sun rose above the surrounding houses, it was breakfast and coffee and the usual morning activities followed by a mid morning walk into Tamworth town.

We walked along a stretch of river and then came to the site of Tamworth castle and took a walk up and around the exterior of this impressive and dominant land mark. Then having worked up a bit of a thirst I had an ice scream and sat down watching the people pass by getting on with their daily lives.

a solid ornate stone building near the entrance to Tamworth castle
Ice cream shop near the entrance to Tamworth Castle

Happy we'd seen enough of the castle and grounds we wandered into Tamworth town centre, a pleasant little town with a mix of shops and friendly people. We stopped for coffee and some people watching before heading back to the boat as the temperature was getting a bit too warm for the dog. I also wanted to get to our next destination with plenty of time and light to spare, especially with it being the weekend.

A view from the hill of Tamworth Castle of the surrounding grounds and gate house
A view From Tamworth Castle of the surrounding grounds

Untying the lines, we bid farewell to Tamworth and motored on, not quite sure where we would get to but definitely wanting a pleasant and safe mooring for a Saturday night.

Generally, most boaters tend to moor up where there are other boats as this provides an element of security in numbers but for many people who have opted for this lifestyle, including me, I prefer isolation, quiet locations and to be left well alone to meditate and work on my photography. I enjoy complete silence interrupted by nothing more than the singing of the birds and the sound of the wind in the trees.

When I travel on the canals or walk, I have been surprised at how difficult it is to find a place with nothing more than the sound of nature. It seems wherever you stop, there will nearly always be the sound of aeroplanes, cars, people and motorways which can actually be heard from miles away.

There are very few places I have visited in the heart of England where I have managed to find complete tranquility.

canal bridge over canal with a white boat moored up next to some nice houses
A pretty section of the canal in Tamworth

Join us in Part 4 for the next leg of the journey.....

For high quality black and white images of our journey around the Leicester Circuit, please see the link below:

https://www.findlaybuchanan.co.uk/Travel-Photography/The-Leicester-Ring-Travel-By-Canal/

Wednesday, 6 May 2020

Travel By Canal - The Leicester Ring - Part 2 - Willington To Fradley Junction

large dog with its head looking out from the side of a canal boat as it travels along the water
Lola keeping an eye on what's happening on the towpath

Willington to Branston Water Park
After an early rise and a hearty breakfast, it was time to get motoring and start our journey to  interesting places, building our confidence and experience and managing the boat and ourselves well away from home turf, or water in this case.

Our journey started outside the Dragon pub in Willington, a popular pub with plenty going on and a good food and drinks menu. We headed West along a pleasant enough stretch of canal until we neared Shobnall. This is where we encountered our first stressful moment and potential for big problems.

I could see in the distance a gang of teenagers throwing rocks into the canal. Straight away my heart sank into my stomach as on the canals this is an occasional problem boaters have to contend with. Here however, I had travelled this stretch many times before and this was certainly an unusual sight, nevertheless it was a problem I was about to cruise straight into with no option to turn around or stop without becoming a sitting target.

Firstly, I slowed down to an absolute crawl in 'tick over', the slowest speed the boat will travel, hoping this would give them time to depart but as we slowly crept towards them it was obvious this wasn't going to happen. With my pulse rate increasing and a feeling of vulnerability, floating along in the middle of the canal making an ideal target for destructive youths, we were going to have to hope for the best but be prepared for the worst.

I sent my dog inside to give her some protection and slowly cruised past the gang who by now had stopped throwing rocks and were just looking directly at me and the boat. To defuse any kind of tension or hostility I just gave a nervous smile and a wave and carried on, waiting for the loud bang of a missile hitting the boat as my back was turned. I had the dilemma of whether to turn my head around and watch them as we continued to ensure nothing was going to be hurled our way which could create tension and an adverse reaction or whether to just carry on looking ahead but using all my senses to try and detect what was going on behind me. I opted for the latter as being the most appropriate in the circumstances and fortunately it worked and we came through unscathed but it was an uncomfortable few minutes of apprehension and nerves and not the best of starts to a journey.

canal boat in a lock with a bridge above and a man walking past
Manouvering our way through Dallow Lock near Shobnall, the first of many on our journey

A short time later we arrived at Dallow Lock which is directly under a low bridge and calls for careful manoeuvring across the lock gates directly under the bridge to avoid banging your head on the steel girders situated directly above. This lock is a nice and gentle one only raising the boat a few feet so nothing too stressful to worry about and no major inflows of turbulent water to bash the boat around if the lock paddles are opened too quickly.

Being a solo boater I always take extra care, doing everything slow time and thinking about what I'm doing one step at a time. When first approaching a lock I always make a quick mental assessment working out exactly what is required before I even start the process of getting my boat through. This is one of the reasons I always try to avoid joining queues at busy locks as there will inevitably be more pressure to get the boat through quickly so other boaters can get on their way. Fortunately, many who see you are a single boater will offer to help but this can either be a blessing or a curse depending on the lock and the experience of the helpful hand.

Safely through the lock, our journey continued past Burton Upon Trent with Shobnall Fields to my right, a nice little stop for a walk around the large fields on previous occasions but today I wanted to press on, passing through a couple more locks before reaching Branston Water Park.

several canal boat on the canal near Marstons brewery bridge.
A tempting reminder to stop for a pint at the next pub

The town of Branston, a 15 minute walk from the canal has a few shops and a delicious bakery where I often pick up a cake or two after lunch but today was just a quick stop for a walk around the water park which is home to a multitude of wildlife and wildfowl. There is a very gentle undulating path through the trees around the perimeter of the lake but be warned, if you are with a dog, this water reserve often has blue / green algae which is extremely toxic and can prove fatal, so do not let dogs drink or swim in the water.

There are numerous warning signs but sometimes depending on where you enter the perimeter path it can be easy to miss a notice and the lake can look very inviting for a thirsty dog on a hot day.

black and white image of canal boat in a lock not far from Branston water park
Travelling through the lock surrounded by open countryside, a short distance from Branston Water Park

After an unnerving start to the journey with the rock throwing gang and after a calming walk around the waterpark late in the afternoon I decided to call it a day and stay put for the evening, enjoying the peace and tranquility of this little stretch of canal next to the waterpark. To celebrate our journey finally getting underway, I took my dog to The Bridge pub which allows dogs in the beer garden and they do fantastic Italian food, their garlic bread with cheese being mouthwateringly delicious. A relaxing beer helped quench the thirst and then it was around the waterpark again for our final evening walk at sunset and then back to the boat to prepare for bedtime.

a black and white photograph of a lake with trees and long grass. A tranquil and picturesque scene of Branston water park
The beautiful Branston Water Park which takes about 30 minutes to walk around the lake

Something that always fascinates me about the differences of dawn and sunset is the way you can really 'feel' nature is either closing down or waking up for the day. I can't quite put my finger on it but there is a subtle difference even though the light and sounds at these times is very similar. For a photographer, they are the optimum times for most types of photography, the hour after sunrise and the hour before sunset, often referred to as 'the golden hours'.

Branston Water Park to Fradley Junction
I awoke early as an inconsiderate boat shot past at a rapid rate of speed, maybe 4mph or more causing my boat to rock and bang against the canal wall and several items to fall from the shelves. I then prepared a quick coffee, fed the dog and caught up with emails and messages before setting off for another walk around the waterpark.

Although 4mph sounds like a very slow speed, due to how passing boats affect stationary ones on the canals it can be a little frustrating and annoying when people won't slow down. Usually no harm is done and the boat just rocks around and makes banging noises as it collides with the bank but it sounds and feels unpleasant when you are sitting aboard and you can often see the offending boats operator looking straight ahead completely oblivious to the mayhem they've just caused aboard your boat.

After our walk, we set ourselves adrift and continued with our journey, passing Barton marina which allows 4 hours free mooring and is definitely worth a visit with its nice little shops and places to buy food and drink. Then onto the river section after making sure the river was not in flood, observing the information boards and water level markers next to the locks.  By now we were winding our way through pretty sections of countryside ever more apparent we were getting further away from roads and noise into a more rural and tranquil setting. Next came the pretty village of Alrewas with it's narrow section of canal with lots of boats moored up along this popular stretch making passing difficult if you encounter an oncoming boat.

Cruising through the pretty little village of Alrewas

I will always try to make things easy when passing boats and never rush to beat an oncoming boat to a gap or through a bridge. Due to the generally polite nature of canal users, many people take the same approach and sometimes it can take a bit of frantic waving of arms to get one or the other to accept the offer of passage through a navigational hazard. The general rule is the person closest to hazard has right of way but there are occasions where common sense might dictate otherwise.

After a few more locks we arrived at the very popular and on this occasion very busy Fradley Junction where we decided to call it a day and moor up and spend the afternoon and evening at this very beautiful and interesting location full of character and charm.

a black and white photograph of a canal boat being manoeuvred into a space at Fradley Junction
A boater manoeuvring at the very busy and popular Fradley Junction

Fradley Junction
A real gem of a stop where the Trent & Mersey canal meets the Coventry canal, Fradley Junction is a busy and popular place but despite its popularity it has a tranquil feel and is surrounded by countryside with a hidden but very beautiful nature reserve and lake behind the trees right next to the canal. The main focus for most boaters and visitors to the area is the fantastic Laughing Duck cafe with its friendly and helpful staff which is run by the Canal & River Trust and serves delicious food and cakes at very reasonable prices. There is also The Swan pub opposite the intersection where the Trent & Mersey meets the Coventry canal. This cosy little pub often gets very busy and they serve great food and a good pint of beer.

The Swan at Fradley Junction

Due to Fradley Junction's bustling activity with boats transiting through the locks and changing canals, the area attracts what is known in the canal world as "Gongoozlers", a strange term which refers to members of the public who often surround locks watching boats going through. This activity certainly piles on the pressure for inexperienced boaters and even experienced boaters uncomfortable with a large number of people watching your every move. Inevitably for some unfortunate souls, the pressure can prove too much and concentration can slip causing them to end up making mistakes much to the amusement of spectators.

A canal lock with a bridge over the canal and a pair of lock gates with trees in the background
One of a number of locks at the iconic Fradley Junction

Fortunately, Fradley Junction frequently has volunteer lock keepers who assist with operations and help keep everything running smoothly and reduce the likelihood of an embarrassing situation for a flustered or inexperienced boater.

After a pleasant end to the day with a pint of delicious and refreshing 'Sunchaser' pale ale at the Swan pub, it was time for a gentle stroll around the nature reserve with Lola before settling in for an early night looking forward to breakfast at the Laughing Duck cafe and another day of gentle cruising and exploring..

dog standing on a wooden boardwalk looking out across the water of a nature reserve at Fradley Junction
Fradley Junction Nature Reserve
For high quality black and white images of our journey around the Leicester Circuit, please see the link below:

https://www.findlaybuchanan.co.uk/Travel-Photography/The-Leicester-Ring-Travel-By-Canal/

Sunday, 19 April 2020

Travel By Canal - The Leicester Ring - Part 1 - Planning & Preparation

train passing a canal boat with trees and water and a cloudy sky
The equivalent of the hare and the tortoise
The Adventure
The time was finally upon me, after much delay and many excuses for not doing it, I was finally going to set off in a little 36ft canal boat with my dog Lola, on my longest journey to date.

Intent on venturing far from the comforts and security of my home marina, this was a big step for me and something I had put off many times due to my loss of confidence and health issues.

I knew the dangers of a downward mental spiral if I got stressed and things started to go wrong. This could result in me feeling like my head was going to physically explode, a sense of complete helplessness and severely restricting my ability to function on any level.

This is not ideal when you are dependent on your own resourcefulness and are well away from friends or family I could usually call upon.

dog covering eyes and face with paws in exasperation and disbelief
Lola when it all goes wrong
The comforting fact was, I had my home with me and if things got too much for me to handle I could moor up at the side of the canal make myself a cup of tea and try to relax until I am in a better state of mind to deal with whatever stressful situation or problem had arisen.

This could be a matter of hours or days depending on the problem and what kind of mental state I had got myself into.

Anyway, facing my fears, the time had come to start that journey of exploration, learning and development, hopefully building myself into a stronger, more resourceful and independent person.

As I walked down the steps to the boat, I could feel that knot in my stomach tightening, wondering what I was doing about to set off on an adventure I wasn't sure I was ready for. At the same time I also had a feeling of nervous excitement that I was going away with my dog on a long and hopefully peaceful holiday, visiting beautiful countryside and interesting places.

Upon entering the boat I felt some of the nervous tension start to ease as I relaxed into my little sanctuary which would be my mobile home and place of safety during our adventure for the next month or so.

dog on canal boat supervising engine maintenance funny
Lola supervises the maintenance procedures
Preperations / Maintenance / Food
First things first, I wanted to know the boat was in tip top shape and ready for an extended tour which I anticipate could take me as long as a month factoring in bad days when I may not travel for one reason or another.

I knew I was going to be a long way away from my trusted mechanic and local chandlery for parts and spares to keep my boat moving which did fill me with a huge amount of apprehension.

My only option when out and about was to do what most people would do and contact mechanics to assist or do it yourself whenever possible.

Unfortunately, I knew if things started to go wrong with the boat and I got stressed, matters could rapidly spiral out of control and even doing simple things could become a big problem for me.

This would be my worst nightmare but I had to try and build the ability to be resourceful and confident again otherwise life will just pass me by and I will never do anything outside my comfort zone.

I knew instantly of an issue requiring my attention which was the 2 headlamps on the front of the boat, both totally inadequate due to the ingress of moisture into the bulbs.

They were fine for normal local cruising as I don't use the boat at night but there was a very long tunnel I was going to have to deal with called Braunston Tunnel which is 2,042 yards in length and has a clearance height of 12.3ft. With those dimensions I could safely assume it's going to get very dark, very quickly and not a place I would want to be with insufficient lighting.

4 batteries with leads positive and negative. Boat battery bank for a narrowboat
3 leisure batteries and 1 starter battery
At first I intended hiring an electrician to replace the headlamps but after speaking to the very helpful chandlery staff I realised it was a job even I could do so I purchased two new LED headlamps at an eye watering £54 each and set about detaching the old and fitting the new.
A simple job that ended up taking me about 4 hours as I checked and double checked everything.

Then there was all the usual checks such as oil and fluid levels, all regularly maintained to recommended levels.

All pipes and hoses were also checked and they too were in excellent condition with no sign of any wear or leaks.

I maintain my engine bay to an immaculate standard and dread the thought of a dirty or clumsy mechanic bungling around unsupervised so always like to watch any work taking place to make sure nothing is missed or damaged but also to try and learn how to do things myself to build my knowledge and experience in boat maintenance and repairs.

My next issue was whether to replace the old lead acid batteries (3 leisure and 1 starter battery). Whilst they are fine for the short trips I have previously done, I was not so convinced how they would perform on a longer journey especially if the weather was hot and there was a high demand of power from the fridge.

A vetus diesel fuel filter on a sea otter narrowboat engine bay
Inside the engine bay
I checked the batteries and all were displaying a green light signifying good condition but knowing they are at least 3 to 4 years old it was at the back of my mind to replace them as they take an incredibly long time to get to maximum capacity when charged by engine alone and I do feel the leisure batteries don't perform as well as I would expect.

I made the decision to see how it goes as I know the main starter battery is fine and starts every time first time and if the leisure batteries let me down then it's just a case of warm milk for breakfast and not being able to charge my computer or watch my movies, something I could easily live without.

Before setting off I worked out there was a Mastervolt dealer approximately half way through the trip I would call upon if the batteries became troublesome and I needed to upgrade them.

The next decision when the time comes is whether to replace the lead acid batteries with like for like or upgrade to Lithium ion batteries which seem to be the preferred technology these days but are prohibitively expensive compared to the lead acid equivalent.

blue oil filter on a vetus engine on a sea otter narrowboat
Oil filter and engine
Happy the boat was in full working order and everything was topped up and ready to go, the next nightmare was trying to provision food for a 1 month trip so I didn't have to visit supermarkets for supplies. 

My reason for not wanting to go shopping when travelling is because I do not like leaving my dog unattended on the boat at any time.

There are a number of personal and safety reasons for this but mainly I don't like leaving the boat unattended at the side of the canal where it could be subjected to criminal damage, theft or worse and I don't like the thought of my dog being vulnerable to such acts when i'm not there.

Finally, boats can be just like cars and in hot weather they can warm up very quickly making them very dangerous for dogs to be left alone on a warm sunny day.

I am often surprised and disturbed at the way some people leave their dogs and cats unattended for lengthy periods on boats without adequate shade or windows and roof hatches sufficiently open to allow a cooling breeze.

dog on bed in canal boat in close proximity to her owner
Lola settling in for a good night sleep
The Plan
After a couple of days of preparations, maintenance and shopping for supplies it was time to sit down with maps, books and guidance to devise a rough and flexible plan of how we were going to complete this challenge.

The nature of the waterways means you need to have flexibility and alternative routes should your primary plan have to be changed for any number of reasons.

Occasionally when travelling the network there are unexpected closures of locks, canals and rivers due to emergency works or occasionally more severe and sometimes dangerous reasons as we would later find out in our journey.

After spending considerable time researching and taking into account the time available, I decided to focus on the main route of the Leicester circuit and would try to explore the occasional short branch canal as long as it could be done without adding more than a day to the journey for each detour taken.

The intended route plan was as follows:

Start - Trent & Mersey - Coventry Canal - Oxford Canal - Grand Union Canal (Leicester Section) - River Soar - Trent & Mersey - Finish

After making final checks and preparations we settled in for an early night exhausted from our busy few days. This was it, we were now ready as could be and our journey was about to begin.

Join us in Part 2 as we set off on our adventure.....

For high quality black and white images of our journey around the Leicester Circuit, please see the link below:

https://www.findlaybuchanan.co.uk/Travel-Photography/The-Leicester-Ring-Travel-By-Canal/

Friday, 21 June 2019

My Photography Equipment, Editing And Publishing

camera, computer, phone and ipad
Some essentials for basic photography, editing and publishing
My Philosophy
My approach to many aspects of my life is combining quality and reliability with minimalism and simplicity.
With photography, I enjoy spending my time searching for subjects, places and exploring the outdoors with my dog rather than trying to understand complicated technology and advanced features of many modern day cameras or sitting in front of a computer screen for endless hours editing images.

I keep things simple, focusing on the basics of photography such as technique, composition and camera settings, using and improving my skills in the field rather than relying on computer wizardry to create something from a badly composed image.

During my early years studying photography it was primarily monochrome and using good old fashioned film and dark room processing. This was before the advent of digital photography and home editing software which personally I find an absolute blessing with the flexibility and affordability it provides although there will always be people who prefer the old ways which admittedly there was something kind of special about developing your own photos in a dark room.

Back in the days of film and chemical processing it was an expensive hobby and my good photos were few and far between as I spent many  hours in the dark room trying to get my efforts just right and usually failing miserably.
Fortunately these days we have much more flexibility with digital photography and as long as you take a fairly decent image to start with, it doesn't matter how attempts with the processing you have, the only expense is the time and effort as there are no wasted chemicals, film or paper.

I see my photography as a way of focusing my mind in a positive, creative direction and if I can produce an income from my passion then I will feel a huge sense of personal achievement and be thankful that people are actually enjoying my work.

Camera Equipment
camera
Leica Equipment (Not the Leica I currently use)
The best camera I use is a first generation Leica Q with full-frame sensor and Summilux 28mm f/1.7 fixed lens which is relatively simple to use and delivers high quality results requiring minimal post editing.

The main controls are all easily accessible, shutter speed, focus, aperture and ISO, and any or all of these options can be set to automatic as and when required.

Depending on the circumstances, this enables me to prioritise certain aspects for manual control depending on the scene and allows the camera to work out the remaining variables. Very useful in a fast changing environment where speed is of the essence to capture an image whilst maintaining manual control over certain settings.

Although the Leica Q produces great results, I sometimes find it restrictive for certain styles of photography often finding myself being too far away from my subject with no way of getting closer. For this reason I need a camera with either changeable lenses or a built in zoom and therefore I am currently researching my next camera which I hope to be more versatile, simple to use and still produce high quality images. Unfortunately the M System Leica's are super expensive so I won't be getting one of them but there are cheaper options such as the Leica V-Lux which appear to be great all round cameras.

I find many of the modern DSLR's are overloaded with features and technology making them extremely complicated to use and detracting from the basics of photography. I will probably remain loyal to the Leica brand as I am comfortable and familiar with the menus and cameras but as with all well manufactured, respected and branded equipment, it comes at premium prices and for some of their top of the range equipment is prohibitively expensive for the average photographer.

I use my iPhone most frequently as it is often the only camera I carry with me on a daily basis and is always easily accessible.  The sacrifice for this convenience is obviously quality when compared to using my heavier Leica equipment but fortunately smart phone manufacturers are constantly improving phone cameras making them a great convenient substitute to DSLR's for everyday basic photography. I think it should be remembered that any camera is better than no camera when a photo opportunity arises.

I also use a Nikon Coolpix S9500 camera when I want higher quality than the iPhone but still want compact convenience of a carry anywhere pocket sized camera with good all round capabilities. This is my preferred camera for travel photography and I have been very happy with this great little camera over the years.

Editing Software
brown dog looking at computer screen sitting on bed with paws on keyboard
Lola hard at work editing and publishing
I really struggle learning new information and therefore prefer using basic software I am very familiar with and have been using for many years. I use Apple Photos for editing with all options enabled giving me a limited but useful range of adjustments to produce my final image. So simple even the dog can do it ;-)

I hope one day to be able to use Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop but at this moment in time it is way beyond my capabilities and I prefer to remain with what I know focusing on getting the image right in the first place with minimal post editing for most of my photos.

I don't often use RAW files as I prefer my Leica camera to process the image to a JPEG format and so far I have been happy with the results. RAW files are huge compared to a JPEG and when you have thousands of images this can ultimately occupy a huge amount of disk space or if using cloud storage could become quite expensive storing such large files.

I try to get the settings on the camera correct at time of shooting so the camera has all the information it requires about the scene and my preferences to produce the optimum image.

Maybe in time if I start to use more powerful editing software such as Lightroom then I will do more RAW file processing but at the moment I prefer to keep things quite simple as I still have a huge amount to learn and try to keep costs to a minimum.

Computer Hardware
My old 2009 Apple MacBook Pro computer is very dated but still serves me well and is sufficient for what I need. I am aware I will be forced to update my computer hardware eventually but this is something I absolutely dread due to my inability and reluctance to embrace and understand new technology. I'll just have to see what happens in the coming years on this matter but hopefully my existing computer will keep battling on and survive the efforts by Apple to make it obsolete.

My secondary computer I use purely for image editing is an extremely slow and virtually useless 2009 Apple iMac which is so slow I spend more time watching the spinning beach ball or a frozen screen than being able to edit images. However, I still find it beneficial using a large screen to view details on an image and therefore tolerate it's extremely slow performance for now.
Both my computers are slowly becoming unusable but for the moment they still function to varying degrees so I will continue to use them for as long as I possibly can.

Tripods
I use a Manfrotto Carbon Fibre tripod for its light, compact, quality design providing a simple to use secure platform for my camera. For the Nikon Coolpix I have one of the small GorillaPod's which is useful and convenient but I wouldn't trust it with anything heavier than my compact Nikon camera. 

Website
My website is the heart of my creative world where visitors can view and purchase my work in various formats and sizes. I struggle with very technical website design so instead opted to use the excellent online SmugMug portfolio building software which is user friendly and specifically designed for photographers.

My chosen package includes a comprehensive fully automated sales service enabling me to get on with taking and processing images without having to worry about all the technicalities of web design and the time and effort of trying to run an online store. It works by allowing me to keep 85% of any profit which is far better than if I were to sell my images on stock photography websites.

Whilst SmugMug is very simple, logical and has a user friendly interface, it does still require time to title, describe, keyword and sort images into their appropriate pages, folders and galleries making it important to have some basic computer skills.

For those who are new to this, there is plenty of online support and videos to help with any difficulties in building a desired portfolio.

If you are considering building a photography website, please consider clicking on my referral link to save yourself 20% and I will also receive a small commission towards my annual website fees at no cost to you: SmugMug Photography Referral Link

Some of the images used in the design aspect of my website I purchased through Shutterstock which is an excellent stock image website when you need very specific images to meet your design needs.
For peace of mind I will always purchase and download my images from legitimate stock photography websites or I occasionally find suitable images on a site called Pixabay which I also contribute some of my work to for other people to use free of charge.

I would urge a word of extreme caution to anyone randomly copying and using images from the internet as this could land you in big trouble with the image creator for breach of copyright.

In terms of pricing my images, this was a very difficult area for me as I really have no idea what my images are worth. I know some of my images have been very popular when I have offered them on the Pixabay website so they are certainly enjoyed and used by many people but I don't know how to reflect that in the pricing on my own website. I therefore looked to see what other photographers are charging and my chin nearly hit the floor but I suspect their images are close to technically perfect and they have a reputation built up over many years to justify their prices.

For me starting out, my images will not be perfect and I just want people to enjoy my work at an affordable price and therefore set my fees at a very modest rate compared to many other photographers. I will review these rates in future but for the moment I feel they are very fair considering the time and effort I put into my work.

Filters
I use several filters with my Leica, the first being a Leica clear filter purely to protect the camera lens. Secondly, I use a circular polarising filter, mainly to suppress the glare on images containing water or to darken the sky. Finally, I occasionally use a Neutral Density (ND) filter for those longer exposure shots. I try to keep things fairly simple, lightweight and portable and seem to manage with just these three filters at the moment.

Conclusion
That's basically my entire arsenal in terms of photographic equipment, editing, website and computer hardware. As time goes on and I continue to develop as a photographer, there may be equipment I add to the list, but for now this is sufficient for my skill level and what I hope to achieve and I find it serves me well.
I hope I can inspire others to follow their passions and prove you don't need the latest most expensive equipment to create decent images. I feel patience, commitment and a belief in yourself can turn your hobby or passion into a success.

Maybe I won't achieve financial bliss from my photographic work but if I can create images and make a positive, creative contribution to the world whilst getting out with my dog and finding enjoyment in life then I feel it will have been beneficial to my health and will have been worth it.


Tuesday, 11 June 2019

Welcome To Me, My Dog And My Blog

Silhouette of man with camera standing next to his dog
I don't intend for this blog to be entirely focused on photography as this is only one way of expressing my creativity, passions and interests. I want this to develop into a journey of hope, challenge and inspiration for myself and others, enabling people to build fulfilling, rewarding and happier lives.
I aim to promote active, outdoor and healthy lifestyles, setting myself goals and challenges, encouraging me to explore new places, develop new skills and gain confidence by venturing outside my comfort zone.
Not really knowing how to start a blog, I have a good idea of what I want to write about and ultimately achieve so thought it best I just start writing and hopefully a natural rhythm will develop as I build experience and confidence.
Taking this first step is extremely difficult as I live a quiet, somewhat isolated life and find social interaction very difficult these days, preferring instead to spend time walking my dog alone in quiet rural locations, woodlands, hills and coastal areas.
A number of years ago, my whole life was shattered beyond recognition and I have since worked my way through some very difficult and dark periods trying to rebuild my life to where I am today. I still have a long way to go and struggle at times, finding it hard to keep focus on the positives, instead reverting to the downward spiral where everything becomes difficult and unmanageable and I feel overwhelmed and powerless to stop the descent into a dark and frightening world. Fortunately during these times I have my forever loyal, gentle and loving Estrela Mountain Dog called Lola as well as my close friends and family who are always there for me.
I made a decision several years ago to start a new career as a photographer to bring some positive changes into my life giving me some creative focus instead of all the negativity that has consumed my life for a number of years.
I am certainly no expert photographer and realise I have a lifelong journey ahead building my knowledge, skill and experience.
Recently I thought I would start this blog, not only to compliment and promote my photography but also to encourage discussion and learning, giving people inspiration and motivation to overcome difficulty and focus on positive new horizons.