A city wakes

Just over half way into 2020, yet it seems this year has already outstayed its welcome, a year to remember for all the wrong reasons.

Cities have been reduced to ghost towns, devoid of the usual hustle and bustle of the lifestyle we take so much for granted.

I am not a ‘crowds’ person but even for me, this extended and enforced silence has been an uncomfortable one, only the passing buses and open supermarkets offering a semblance of normality during these strange days.

After this week’s opening of non essential shops, small seeds of optimism have been sown, there is a feeling of cautious hope, as the city I call home slowly wakes from an unwelcome slumber.

Of course, ‘normal’ will not happen for some time to come, as bright yellow 2m signs on the pavements remind us,to keep our distance, as well as attempts to make either side of the street one way for pedestrians which have thus far failed miserably as the public go about their business.

During lockdown, I had felt disinclined to document the silent streets, a feeling that taking a camera around seemed somehow indulgent but today I wanted to capture the first Saturday after the easing of lockdown measures, to capture the essence of the shackles being lifted from months of constraint.

While the streets were not overly busy, there was a buzz, as shop doors were once again open to welcome us in.
Taxi ranks were full for the first time in weeks and I even had a complete stranger stand in front of my camera, wanting his picture taken, which I was of course happy to do.

No trip to town is complete without a walk to the quay and riverside, how pleasant again to see a number of businesses open once more to satisfy the need for a drink and snack to eat while enjoying views of the Exe.

Today was not the sunniest of days as we begin a slow and careful transition but frankly, I do not think any one of us cared, it was good to be out.

Focusing on 50

I have not set myself any long term photographic projects for this year but over the last few weeks I have been giving myself a mixture of small challenges on my days out.
One of my recent ideas, was to turn off the EVF of my X100F and compose all photos in the optical viewfinder and expose with the camera’s meter reading, not allowing myself the option to view the images on the screen once I had taken them, until I got back home.
At first, it was hard to resist the temptation to ‘chimp’ but as the day went on, it became second nature.

Today, as I began to pack my camera bag, I decided on a one camera, one lens day, the camera, my Fuji XE2, the lens, a recently acquired Fuji 35mm f2 (52mm equivalent in full frame terms).
An early browse of train timetables and a decision was made to head to Plymouth for some street photography for a few hours.

Arriving in Plymouth just before 10am, the skies were a characterless grey wash of bland nothingness, at least my chosen focal length would allow for tighter crops in my subjects today.

I would normally head straight towards Plymouth Hoe, grab a few shots of the Sir Francis Drake statue and Smeaton’s tower, this morning I would head for the main shopping areas first, then work my way towards the Hoe and Barbican area.

Conscious of the fact that my last visit to Plymouth was not that long ago, I plan a route to avoid my normally well trodden path, attempting to find more varied shots, something different for the archive, while making mental notes for potential shots on brighter days in the future.

Once again, I find a level of satisfaction in using just one lens, at no point today have I wished for a wider focal length, instead, really enjoying working the image with what I have.

I break my normal routine of finding a cafe for a cup of tea and to browse my days work, I will wait until I am on the train back home, there are just a few shots I want to try and get on the way to the train station….

 

Bristol rediscovered

I last visited Bristol for the first time in a number of years just before December last year, on this occasion I had walked the usual day trippers routes and attractions but promised myself another visit to photograph some of the city’s iconic street art in the not too distant future.

That day was yesterday, since once again, the weekend weather was somewhat underwhelming, I spent the time productively looking over coach or train timetables for places to visit.

With my coach ticket booked in a matter of minutes, I then began to scour the internet to research the locations of the most popular street art, that I could hopefully find within the time I had before my return journey, with so much to see, there will be a few more visits in the coming months.

As usual, I prepare my camera bag ahead of time, I will be taking my XE1 and XE2, with 18mm f2 and 35mm f2 lenses respectively, (27mm and 52mm in full frame terms) and of course, a  couple of spare batteries.

My coach leaves at 06:15, I arrive as usual, far too early but I cannot be that person who leaves it until the last possible moment, arriving just seconds before departure time, or worse, arriving as the bus leaves without them.

As the bus starts the 2 hour journey in darkness, I dig out  the weekends cryptic crossword I had brought with me, finishing it just in time to see the first sight of sun in seemingly weeks, it’s a good start to the day.

In Bristol by just after 08:20, my first port of call is to find somewhere for my second cuppa of the day and a bacon butty, here I plan the first couple of hours before meeting with my cousin Louise, for the first time in years.
As the meeting place is an area I have not previously visited, I allow plenty of time for my usual time consuming detours into alleyways and side streets that are adorned with vibrant, eye catching art, the cobbled streets give some added interest to the amazing artwork this city has to offer.

 

While the artwork is striking, so is the diversity and number of independent businesses that appear to be thriving, it is here that I enjoy my self promised mug of tea and sandwich, in a family owned cafe, where I arrive as a stranger and leave as though I have been visiting the place for years, perhaps my request for the owner to turn the music up as he brought my food was the catalyst, but Buddy Guy and B.B King just have to be turned up to eleven!

Arriving at the arranged venue to meet with my cousin Louise fifteen minutes early, I order myself a drink and go through my photos so far, already up to just under 80 shots, 81, as a perfect opportunist shot presents itself in front of my eyes, as a fellow customer is engrossed in her mobile phone, the natural light from the window table she sits at was too good to miss.
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With the family catch up complete, I am armed with good advice on which buses to catch for my next graffiti goals, so much to do and the day is passing like an express train….

With just four hours before I need to be back at the bus station, I realise that I will get probably just a third of my list of artwork, I make a decision to slow the pace a little and head for St Nicholas market, to hopefully capture some images during the lunch time rush.
I am not to be disappointed, the array of culinary aromas drift on the breeze, well before I arrive at the market place, which is filling by the minute, healthy appetites waiting to be tempted by a myriad of  gastronomic goodies.

As with my previous visits, I end up walking to the harbourside, where the forecast rain has arrived ahead of schedule, there will be less photos taken this afternoon but I have pretty much got what I came for.
Those I do take are taken under some sort of shelter, making me look for different ideas for the last few shots.

Back at the coach station I drink a well earned cuppa, the beginnings of a blister on my left foot reminds me to check how many miles I have walked, a grand total of eleven, according to my phone app, note to self to wear thicker walking socks on my next day trip.

This may have been a return visit, yet I still feel that I have barely scratched the surface of what Bristol has to offer, perhaps some night time shots on my next return and a longer stay is in order.

Am I over G.A.S ?

By mid December last year, I was two weeks away from completing my one camera project, shooting with my Fuji X100F exclusively for my personal photography.
I was looking forward to rediscovering my vintage lens collection and a newly acquired 16mm F2 Fuji lens to use on my XE-2.

My 100F was given a well earned break during January, but just recently, I am finding once more that it is the sole camera I am choosing to take on my days out.
I really like the 16mm wide angle lens, I also like the ‘character’ of my Helios and pentacon vintage lenses, but I think the key word here is ‘like’, because with the  100F, I WANT to take photos.

My camera bag too, has become more basic, where I may have carried a couple of filters and a small tripod, I am beginning to care less about long exposure photography, after all, how many smokey water shots does one need,besides which, carrying extra gear ‘just in case’ is losing its appeal.

All the above appear to be pointing to the fact that my G.A.S (gear acquisition syndrome) is finally on the ebb, the final nail in the coffin, just this week, with the announcement of the shiny, new X100V, a camera called by one ambassador for the fuji brand as ‘refined’.

Yes, there is no doubt in my mind that I would love to buy the new model, but a modicum of sense has crept into my thought process and simply asked, ‘Do I NEED it’, the answer is quite simply, no.
Fujifilm got a lot right with the ‘F’, enough to make this once serial camera changer happy to continue shooting with what I have.

 

 

 

Plan B or even C

About half way through my working week, I look at the weather forecast for the coming days, especially Sundays and Mondays, my days off.
The last few weeks have been nothing more than grey murk or rain, so seeing the possibility of some welcome sunshine, I had planned to take a hike to some local woods, to capture what may be left of the autumn colourscape and a serene walk enjoying nature.

My usual Sunday routine after getting home from my nightshift just after 6am, is a couple hours nap, then up and at it, but a busy week and barely 3 hours sleep the day before saw me sleep through my wake up call and beyond but was still keen to get out with the camera.

As I enjoy a light brunch, I look through my notebook of photographic ideas, and the notion of a themed shoot of patterns and textures seems my likely course of action, a walk into the city will provide more than enough subject matter.

Guess who forgot that it was the not only the first Sunday in December but also payday weekend?
The High street was heaving, yet there was a real buzz around the city, the local buskers were out in force, the Christmas market was in full swing, it really was looking a lot like Christmas!

Up until a few months ago, I would have wanted to get out of the crowds at the first opportunity but today I embraced the atmosphere and started to look for opportunities.
I am not the most prolific of portrait photographers but today was different, I wanted to capture the smiles on the faces of those watching a brilliant dance group that were entertaining in a local shopping centre.

I have never enjoyed street photography as much as I did today, chatting with the onlookers and the few other photographers that were there, it was a very rewarding few hours.

I may have missed my date with the woods today but plan C has given me some very happy moments to remember.

Another Monday meander

Monday morning, I am up at an early hour after having a rather lazy Sunday, I have good intentions to get out and about for the day.

The day is set to be cold and bright, so set about looking at train and bus timetables.
Just twenty minutes later my train tickets paid for online, my destination is Plymouth, a chance for some street photography and another excuse to walk around the historic Barbican area of the city.

I am travelling with minimal gear today, just the 100F and a couple of batteries, no tripods, no filters, Plymouth always offers plenty of photographic opportunities.

Arriving at the train station, the sun casts some interesting shadows around the platform, the day is under way.

It takes about an hour from Exeter to Plymouth, passing through Newton Abbot and Totnes, it is a very pleasant journey passing through the countryside until reaching my destination.

As usual, I head towards Plymouth Hoe, with the intention of paying a visit to Smeatons tower, the predecessor to the Eddystone lighthouse, which was painstakingly dismantled from its location on the Eddystone rocks and reassembled on land in 1884.
My ideas of taking some high up shots of the Hoe from the tower are scuppered by the site of huge fences and scaffolding surrounding the tower,winter maintenance is under way it would appear.

From here, I walk just a short distance to one of the many small kiosks offering snacks and hot beverages, a cup of tea sat in the sunshine will do me nicely for a few minutes thank you.

Sun and shadow will be a theme in today’s proceedings, a day where opportunities present themselves willingly, a day where I will happily just meander to seek them out.

My time here in Plymouth is soon over but my day will continue back in Exeter, where the annual Christmas market is now under way.
The early part of the week will be a good opportunity to have a more relaxed wander around without the weekend crowds while I take a few more photos.

It’s beginning to look a lot like ….

With Halloween and Guy Fawkes night only just behind us, mid November sees the seemingly ever earlier build up to the festive season.
My home city of Exeter is no exception, the festive lights were put up before the end of October for last week’s official switch on.

While I feel hesitant to celebrate the festive season too early, I do look forward to the annual Christmas market, held in the grounds of Exeter’s magnificent cathedral.

As a self confessed and unashamed foodie, I love the atmosphere and aroma’s that come from the myriad of food stalls and of course, as a photography addict  I like to take my camera when I visit.

I like to arrive just as dusk approaches, the coloured lighting of the market stalls add a lot of character to potential images.

Armed with just my trusty 100f, I make a lap of the market to scout possibilities, usually lingering around the various food stalls, offering such culinary delights as Thai curries, chillies, wraps, burritos and bratwurst to name just a few.

The delicate spicy aromas of the curry shack hit my senses first, then the sweet smell of cinnamon from the mulled wine stall, then of course the strains of Christmas playlist can be heard over the PA system.

A few of the stall holders are more than happy to pose for photos, the simple act of asking for photos has been something I have done for the first time on a regular basis this year, in the past, I may have attempted more candid shots but been very self conscious, now I feel that I have earned a shot by asking, often offering to post on their social media accounts in return.

The market will remain until a week before Christmas, plenty of time for me to sample even more delights.

Into the mist

Six AM and I have just finished my night shift, my normal routine would be to get home for a welcome cup of tea and a few hours sleep but the city wakes, wrapped in a grey shroud of late October fog, too good an opportunity to miss, for some moody shots before the darkness lifts.

I am barely a few hundred yards from my doorstep when the first potential shot is seen, a central heating outlet throws warm air out into this damp, cold morning, creating its own fog into a side alley ….. click!
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Walking through the city centre, an opportunity perhaps, for the early buses awaiting their cargo of commuters, it seems strange to see the dormant Christmas decorations suspended above, it will be another three weeks before the annual switch on event, and the increasingly early build up to the festive season.

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I move quickly to a place where I had noted the potential for a good ‘mist’ shot in the past, the old iron bridge has some lovely old style street lamps, placed fairly close together, as I reach the spot, my hoped for shot is as there for the taking, as well as a couple of ornamental lamps on the nearby buildings.


I even manage to find a place to rest my camera for a long exposure shot of a passing car, my improvised tripod is a handily placed waste bin with a convenient flat surface, perfect!

At this point, I am not far from the River Exe, so decide to make a beeline there to one of the bridges I have photographed so many times before in low light conditions, I am here so why not?

On my way to the bridge, I am drawn to the way the trees are lit by the street lights, there is a moody feel to this shot, as with the rest of today’s images, they will be black and white.

The darkness is slowly conceding ground to daylight, the eternal tug of war between night and day slowly swings to night time’s advantage, more so this weekend with the changing of the clocks.

My walk along the river bank is broken up by a few sporadic shots of the mist slowly lifting away, it was the last of the night time shots I was out for, so am happy to make my way back home for a shower and a few hours sleep.


The spontaneous nature of today’s shoot, has made it all the more enjoyable, I have always admired the moodiness of these misty autumn mornings, to capture them is always a pleasure.

Going light

Since embarking upon my one focal length project this year, my faithful Fuji has been the perfect take anywhere camera, with no lenses to consider packing, my camera bag is considerably lighter than it ever has been, yet I still like to take a selection of filters and a tripod for my planned trips to Dartmoor and the coast, where I like to experiment with long exposures with the skies and water but I am beginning to wonder if I always need to carry the extra gear, just in case.

To elaborate further, I have found myself with just the camera and a spare battery when I am on errands in town, where I have really enjoyed having just the camera and no extras, minimalist photography.

A few shots from today’s foray into town, no contrasty shadows today with the overcast skies but I managed to find a few little gems.

 

 

Has this, maybe sown the seed for next years project, going light on all trips, just my chosen camera, no tripod and no extras, other than a spare battery or two?

If I am being honest, I am not sure I could do that for a whole year, I really enjoy all aspects of photography, the tripod and filters are part of what I enjoy about going on my outings, yet, it could be another steep learning curve

I am open to ideas on any future camera projects for next year, feel free to add any thoughts in the comments.