Leeds sunsets

It was three years ago that I started a new job in central Leeds. This was my view.

view over West Leeds

It’s brilliant being that high up over the city. Leeds really has some fantastic architecture (along with some fairly hideous modern stuff. And some fairly brutalist 60s tower blocks).

The best bit about being up that high? You get to see sunsets like this.

Leeds sunset

I took that one not long after I’d started, and I had it on as my computer desktop background for ages. One of my colleagues saw it one day and remarked “you don’t get sunsets like that in this country!”

I pointed out of the window. I’m not entirely sure they believed me.

A succession of spectacular sunsets followed over the years and occasionally I had my camera with me to capture them.

Leeds sunset

Just to prove it’s not all about the camera, I took this one with my little £40 Canon point & shoot. It made it into Flickr’s Explore, which I’m still enormously proud of.

sunset

There’s something about that skyline which I just love.

sunset

It’s not all sunsets though. Sometimes you get some pretty crepuscular rays. This one made Flickr’s explore too. Looks like it’s not just me that likes that skyline.

town hall

And recently we’ve moved to a new building. The window behind me points in the opposite direction, over towards the south east.

I’ll just have to make do with sunrise photos.

sunrise

It’s a hard life. 🙂

attention-seeking

I spotted this out of the window yesterday. Crepuscular[1] rays of sun on the Town Hall in Leeds.

town hall

Grabbed camera, took the shot. Quick tweak and upload to Flickr.

Cross-post to Twitter, bounce it up to Facebook, schedule a couple more tweets across the evening. Watch as the likes and favourites ping up. Retweets happen. People like it.

Woke up this morning a flood of emails from Flickr as the photo hits Explore. Tweet about it again. More interaction, more people like it.

Then ask myself the question. Why?

I took the photo because I like taking photos. The light was spot on[2] (and indeed was gone thirty seconds later) and I could tell it’d make a nice photo.

Why share it on Flickr?

Well, I’ve got a lot of friends on there, and I thought they’d like to see it. I like taking sunset photos, and the Town Hall looks ace.

Why Twitter? Someone commented that they’d seen the photo a *lot* on there.

Again, I’ve got friends on Twitter, some of whom live in America. They might like it too, so I’d post at different times, to give them a chance to see it.

Facebook?

Friends and family who live on Facebook. Surely they’d like it?

It becomes clear. It’s all about the attention. And here I am, blogging about the attention, drawing further attention to it.

So, why crave the attention? Would I go up to someone in the street and show them the photo? Pester someone in the supermarket or coffee shop?

No, of course not. But here I am, sharing it to the world at large.

It also raises the question of why blog? I’m sure we do it to amuse, entertain or even educate, but ultimately isn’t it all about showing off, even just a little? Here’s what *I* think of stuff. Here’s a nice photo *I* took.

Look at me, look at me, look at me now. Listen to what I have to say.

I’m not like that in real life, so why am I so garrulous online? There’s an advert on television at the moment which shows a guy in real life versus his online counterpart. His online self is slimmer, fitter, a better dancer. Online, we can be who we want to be, rather than who we are. I’ve written about this before.

Or are we just two sides of the same person?

Thoughts, comments, questions are, as ever, welcomed.

Are you the same online as offline? Do you blog, tweet, share photos? Why?

 

[1] and isn’t that a brilliant word?
[2] no pun intended

Ten simple ways to improve your photos

Over the years I’ve seen dozens of variations of the ‘top ten things you need to know about photography’. Some have been good, some bad, some interesting, some not. I thought I’d write my own. It’s also an excuse to show off some of my photos. 🙂

As a bit of background, I’ve been taking photos with a digital camera for about ten years. I started with a tiny little 1.3Mp digital camera which had a viewfinder but no screen. It was cheap and cheerful, but was essentially a portable webcam. As time progressed, I moved up to a 2Mp Nikon Coolpix before buying into the heady world of the DSLR, with a Nikon D50 in about 2006.

Time passed, my lens collection grew, my wallet complained and the bag I used to cart it all around in got bigger. Cameras on phones got better and I started taking more photos with that. I’ve experimented with film using an SLR donated by a friend. I’ve got an old Holga 120S, with its crappy plastic lens held on with tape. I’ve tried pinhole photography (huge fun), gone to a couple of Flickr Photocamps (and ran a session at one of them). Recently I bought a cheap & cheerful little Canon Powershot for £40, which goes with me everywhere.

So. I do like my photography. I’m by no means or measure an expert, just an enthusiastic amateur, but I do enjoy taking photos.

With that firmly in mind, may I present to you my list of Ten Things You Should Know About Photography

1. It’s *not* about the camera
It really isn’t. I’ve lost count of the times that someone has seen a photo of mine online and said ‘oh, nice photo. You must have a really good camera’. The camera is not the most important thing. The bit behind the camera is the most important. You can have the best kit in the world and still take terrible photos.

Exhibit A.
sunset
This photo is was featured in Flickr’s Explore, got a ton of comments and likes and is one of my most popular photos on Flickr. I took it with the £40 point and shoot I mentioned earlier.

Exhibit B.
clock
Took that one with my phone.

Now, I’m not saying you shouldn’t buy good kit. Good camera kit is very very lovely indeed, and you can spend a *lot* of money on it. It also depends what you’re going to do with the photos. That dandelion photo for example. You wouldn’t want to blow it up to A4 and put it up on the wall, for example. But to be viewed on-screen (as I do with most of my photos), it’s fine.

Similarly, if you’re taking photos in low light, or from a distance, you can’t beat a good lens.

2. It *is* all about the light
It took me a while to realise this. Photography is essentially all about light. You can have the best, most dramatic, perfectly framed shot, but if the light isn’t there, you’re stuck. You can fix some stuff in Photoshop, but getting the right light (or perhaps getting the right photo when the light is right) is where you’ll start getting great photos.

3 Get out there and take lots of photos
Can’t emphasise this enough. Especially now in these days of digital cameras and smartphones. Memory is cheap. Take lots of photos. Take photos from different angles. Get up high and look down on things:
X marks the spot
or look up:
Corn Exchange #Bettakultcha April 2011
Find the small things
Romanesco broccoli
or the big:
Rosebowl

Find something you love, and take photos of that.
Love, to the bitter end

4. Or get out there and take fewer photos
I know I’m contradicting myself somewhat (or indeed entirely). People zoom around taking millions of photos with their phones of any and everything. Once in a while, stop. Slow down. Think about the photo you’re taking. Take your time and compose the shot. Breathe. Find the perfect spot, wait for the perfect light. Then take the photo.

If you’ve got access to a film camera (and they’re dirt cheap on ebay these days), go out with a roll of film and make every shot count. Not having that LCD screen to check your shot after every click can be liberating.

5. Find photos you like and find out how they did it
Get some photography books from the library. Find and follow people on Flickr. Find photos you like the look of, and find out how they took them. I’ll bet that most people, when asked ‘how *did* you get that great shot?’ will be more than happy to tell you.

Flickr also lets you view the EXIF info on a shot (though it’s not as easy to find now they’ve monkeyed with the design!). The EXIF will basically tell you which camera they used, what aperture and exposure the photo was taken at, as well as thinks like focal length and ISO speed.

Oh, another suggestion? Find out what those things mean!

6. pay attention to what’s *behind* the thing you’re photographing
So many great photos are spoiled by having something going on in the background that you didn’t notice – a tree appearing to grow out of someone’s head, a random stranger wandering into shot, or reflections in shiny surfaces. When you’re taking your photo, take a moment to look around the frame and see if there’s anything there which shouldn’t be there.

7. keep it simple. Less is more
My favourite photos are those have a strong feature to them. Something to focus on. Too much clutter in the photo means you end up wondering what it was that the photographer was trying to do. But, that’s just me. Each to their own. But if you’re trying to take a photo, take a moment to see if there’s anything in there that doesn’t need to be. Bit like number six, above.

zen pebble is zen

8. It’s *all* about the composition
Ok, this one goes with 6 and 7. Basically, think about what you’re photographing. Try not to crop the tops of people’s heads off. Don’t just take photos with everything bang in the middle of the frame. Try new things. Look at photos you like, and see if you can write down exactly what it is you like about them. Is it the focus with the blurry background? Is it the lighting, the composition? Go and read up about the Rule of Thirds. Then work out when to ignore it!

9. Make *lots* of mistakes
But don’t just write them off. See if you can work out how the mistake happened, then find out how to fix it next time. Learn from the mistakes. Photo too blurry? Find something to rest the camera on, or tuck your elbows in. Too bright? Don’t shoot into the sunlight. Someone wandering through the background? Watch your composition. And so on.

10. Don’t listen to people who make up top 10 lists
No-one knows everything. 🙂 The main thing, as with so much in life, is to have fun doing it.
day 15 20SEP2009

So, dear reader. There you have it. My top ten list.

I’d love to know what you think – have I missed any crucial points? Do you agree, or disagree?

A is for…

I’ve been musing on a blog post series with an alphabetical theme – along the lines of A is for… B is for… then waffling about the particular subject. I’ve got a selection of the alphabet covered in terms of things to talk about, but was struggling with ‘A’. I remembered that I’d done this sort of thing before, on another blog. I went back and dug up the old post…

Yes, it’s cheating, re-using content. I know, I know. I’ve revised the content, so some of it is new.

I asked the twitter hiveMind and blog readers for suggestions and I got an… interesting set of responses (I would expect nothing less, mind you). I decided to play along and write something (anything!) about each…

Aardvark
Relatively easy one this – a while back I bought the domain flyingaardvark.com, though I’ve still not decided quite what do do with it. I go through phases of buying domains – I’ve owned, in no particular order:
dakegra.net and .com
flyingaardvark.com
splorfle.com
webzerk.com
and now, espressococo.com. One day I might even pluck up the $13 to change espressococo.wordpress.com over to espressococo.com. One day. Perhaps I should set up a donations bucket.

I’m open to suggestions for what I might be able to do with any/all of the above. 🙂

Advice
I suppose that I was asking for Advice on what to do this post on, which is what I got!

Armadillos
Armadillos are cute. Especially baby ones. I think it’s the ears.
baby armadillo.
photo courtesy of danvas on Flickr. I hope I’ve read the CC licensing correctly!

Attentive antelope assassins, and advanced aerobatics
I can just see a bunch of black-clad ninja antelopes, cartwheeling through a high-tech lair past the traditional mesh of laser trip-wires. Actually, Ed has several books which feature either a set of super-intelligent time-travelling cows, or dinosaurs which fly spaceships. Perhaps ninja antelopes could be the Next Big Thing?

Awkward
Felt slightly awkward asking for help with this blog post, and for re-using the old blog post. Does that count?

Ad-hoc solution
… which is what this is. ’nuff said.

ADHD
Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. I’m fairly sure that I have a mild form of ADHD, without the H. P will be for Procrastination, I’m sure. Watch this spa… ooh, shiny things!

Annotated
I like annotating things[1]. Footnotes are awesome.

Asynchronous
Hmm. Had to look this one up. Asynchronous. Not really sure I’m any the wiser, to be honest. I quite like the word Plesiochronous though, which is derived from the Greek plesio, meaning near, and chronos, time, and refers to the fact that plesiochronous systems run in a state where different parts of the system are almost, but not quite perfectly, synchronised.

It’s the ‘almost, but not quite’ bit that tickles me.

Addlepated
Had to look this one up too, though wikipedia let me down. According to thefreedictionary.com:

ad·dle·pat·ed
adj.
1. Befuddled; confused.
2. Eccentric; peculiar
3. Senseless; mad

10 bonus points and a gold star if you can work it into a conversation today.

Agoraphobic
Fear of public places or open spaces. Not something I suffer from, thankfully. Though I do know a couple of people who do.

Apathy
yeah, whatever whatever.

Argyle
Assuming we’re talking about Argyll in Scotland, it’s a beautiful bit of the country. Various other uses exist though, the most familiar of which (to me, at least) is the argyle pattern of knitwear. I used to have several pairs of argyle socks, many years ago. See, don’t you feel better for knowing that?

Adams, Douglas
Famous for The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy, naturally. Wikipedia seems to be a modern-day version of The Guide, which when coupled with a smartphone or tablet will be virtually indistinguisable. Except The Guide in the TV series had cooler graphics. Which were all hand-drawn animation, I seem to recall.

My work desks over the years have, without exception, sported a jaunty yellow post-it note with the words Don’t Panic in large, friendly letters. And yes, I do know where my towel is.

I was looking for a suitable quote to go in here, then realised that you might as well just go and read the books. Certainly read H2G2, you could probably give the later ones a miss.

One quote which I did rather like is

The fact that we live at the bottom of a deep gravity well, on the surface of a gas covered planet going around a nuclear fireball 90 million miles away and think this to be normal is obviously some indication of how skewed our perspective tends to be.

And, on that note, we leave the letter A. Next up, B.

B is for…?

[1] like this[2]
[2] or this[3]
[3] sometimes it gets silly. 🙂 However, I *love* footnotes. You’ll see a lot of them on here, best get used to them.

It’s not a popularity contest…

or is it?

Yesterday, I posted a photo called Yet Another Sunset. It was a shot I took out of the window at work, looking over to the Town Hall in Leeds. I quite liked it.

This morning, I discovered that the original photo, posted up on Flickr, went into Explore at #47. And the stats went nuts. All day I’ve been getting flickr notifications. As it stands now, the photo has had 803 views, 78 favourites, and 22 comments.

sunset

Weirdly, it’s not my most popular photo, and currently sits in third place. That said, it’s only been up for a day!

In 2nd place (in terms of views), there’s Fractal Veg, with 1,025 views
fractal veg!

and in the top spot, What’s In My Bag, with 1,829 views
what's in my bag

No, I don’t get it either.

Do you follow your stats?

Corn Exchange

corn exchange
corn exchange by dakegra, on Flickr

This is one of my favourite photos of Leeds, and keeps popping up on my Flickr stats as one of the most views. The Corn Exchange is an utterly brilliant place.

Here are some more of my favourites:

The other end of the Corn Exchange, taken at night – the ceiling looks like it’s covered in stars!

Corn Exchange #Bettakultcha April 2011

This one is a panorama I took at one of the Bettakultcha events.
Corn Exchange #bettakultcha

And this is possibly one of my favourites – again at Bettakultcha, this time someone handed out balloons. Balloons are ace. You can make out the presenter of the talk (just about) through the balloon itself.
Bettakultcha Balloon