It’s long been a surprise to me that people complain about the clocks going forward and ‘losing an hour’. We are both ‘larks’ and always wake early (mostly too early), so when the clocks go forward, its actually a relief, as instead of being up and ready to go at 5am, we move to 6 for a while!
The first morning of British Summertime 2018 saw us both wide awake at 6am and, after a brief discussion with our under the bed Alexa, we decided to get up and go out to try and photograph a sunrise.
First surprise of the morning was how cold and frosty it was – the car needed de-icing, everywhere was white and very misty and it was very cold. We had decided to go and see if we could capture anything interesting from one of our regular walks looking out to Winter Hill and Rivington Pike and, after the sun had appeared, walk down to the United Utilities owned reservoirs at Worthington Lakes.
In what is becoming somewhat of a pattern, we were once again dressed incorrectly for the weather conditions. Standing in a field at 6am shrouded in mist before the sun came up was very, very cold – oh, how I wished I had remembered some gloves!
We spent 40 minutes standing watching the sun arrive and what a spectacular sight it was. Our cameras never stopped as we were surrounded by mist, eerily hanging round the trees, and the fields were all white with frost. Beautiful.
Once the sun arrived, the view was transformed with golden light now shining on the mist and illuminating the surroundings.
We walked the 4k route around the lakes, passing fishermen and runners and even some early morning dog walkers. The air was peaceful apart from the early morning birds singing and surprisingly the two lakes appeared to be in two different climates. The larger lake was bathed in golden sunshine with spectacular reflections of the trees and the wildlife. As we approached the smaller lake it was like stepping back into the artic – completely shrouded in mist with a watery sun just appearing. We met a friendly Robin – they are such a tame bird, photographed Canada geese drifting through the mist (my favourite photographs of the morning) and captured fishermen and walkers who were barely visible.
We took over 400 photographs in just over an hour and a half and, unusually for us, we loved almost all of them. Newly purchased Luxe Lens pre-sets for Adobe’s Lightroom kept Chris busy for most of the day. The pre-sets allow you to enhance your photographs in minutes at a very reasonable price. So, apologies to all our Instagram followers as our Instagram feed might get very repetitive for a few weeks!
Twitter is a tool we’ve not really got our heads round yet – easy to use and interesting to read but somehow not as easy to interact with your followers and ‘digital friends’. What it does seem to be better at is interacting with businesses –somehow a ‘disgruntled’ tweet seems to get a much quicker response than an email. Can’t remember ever seeing a customer service complaint on Instagram!
We do have Twitter to thank though for our recent (very small!) piece of good luck when we won two tickets courtesy of Fujifilm UK to a presentation of our choice on the Super Stage at the Photography Show 2018. Great excitement when Samara from Fujifilm contacted us to give us the good news – free tickets to anything are great aren’t they? We did have to buy the tickets to get in and buy the train tickets but definitely worth it – just don’t ask about what else we bought (should have left our credit cards at home!)
It is many years since we have been to the NEC at Birmingham. (Birmingham again - its becoming a pattern…) . The last time we were there was before we were married – probably 30 years ago - to watch one of our favourite bands at the time The Cure. Hard to believe how far we used to have to travel to see a concert. Thank goodness for the arenas which have sprung up in most cities. Back then we had an hour and a half drive down the M6 which in these current days of horrific traffic would probably take much longer, but thankfully from Wigan trains go direct to the NEC in just over an hour and a half.
The train was very busy and great fun. There were three large shows on that day the Photography Show, a Sewing and Crafts show and most excitedly Birmingham Comic Con! Time for a game of passenger bingo – who was going where? The Comic Con cosplayers were easy to spot in fantastic costumes many of which looked home made – maybe they were doing a 2 for 1 with the sewing show? We had two characters behind us dressed in Final Fantasy costumes and one who appeared to be carrying what had once been an ironing board and had a new life as some sort of sword. As the train pulled into Birmingham International it was standing room only and the addition of the ‘ironing board’ into the queue to get off caused endless laughter amongst the passengers. It was a real life game of tetris as we all tried to get in position to get off or just get out the way!
The entrance to the exhibition halls was dominated by colourful characters and it was a pleasure to see how much effort people had put into their costumes. Our camera was in our bag but we’re both a bit shy at photographing people so there it stayed. I do wish I had been braver as I am sure the photos would have been amazing.
Photography Show 2018 was much quieter and we were soon inside and overawed by the sheer size of the hall and the number of exhibitors. We had a guide but no plan so decided to just wander up and down and ‘browse’. 2 hours and 5km later it was lunch time, we had a shopping list and we were very hot. Outside was -3 and snowing so we were dressed accordingly. Inside was toasty warm and obviously dry! Tip 1 – dress very differently to us!
I was surprised at what a male dominated world photography appears to be. Where are all the female photographers? There were some families which was lovely to see and the occasional woman but the hall and most of the stands were very heavily male. To cater to this audience lots of the camera stalls had young female models there to allow people to experiment with taking different shots and using their equipment. Well done to Fujifilm who bucked the trend and had a very regal Greek God on their stand the day we visited. Can’t help but wonder how these actors describe that job on their CV’s but well done to all of them I don’t expect they get paid too much and it must be a very tiring strange day.
For our free tickets we had chosen to attend the presentation on the Super Stage by Art Wolfe. Now one of us is not good at sitting watching things like that and was really just looking forward to a rest but how wrong could I have been! From the minute he started talking I was so engaged. His photographs were breathtaking but the story of his life was inspiring and just so interesting. I particularly loved the photographs he had taken of the tribes he had spent time with as well as the views from the mountains he had climbed. I sat in the auditorium trying to work out how we could get such photographs – I have to admit I have never been up a mountain. He overran considerably and still didn’t get to the end but it was an extremely entertaining way to spend 90 minutes and we loved it! Once again thanks to Samara (who we did go over and thank personally) we were very grateful for the free tickets and especially her help when we realised the day before we had booked the wrong date!
Overall we both really loved the show and of course didn’t come home empty handed!
So what did we buy?
There was another piece of kit we saw which we really loved but couldn’t find any excuse to spend £200 on. The Adaptalux Lighting Studio consisted of tiny very bright LED lights on the end of adjustable arms. If you’ve ever seen the original War of the Worlds film they looked just like the alien ships! The lights were available in different colours and allowed the photographer to cast colours on objects making very interesting and unusual macro photos. We loved them and maybe one day will get some of our own!
Finally there was a chance to get our hands on the brand new Fujifilm X-H1 a definite step up from our trusty pair of
X-T1s. It just felt so right and the performance was out of the park – definitely marked that one for the future.
Thanks once again to Fujifilm for the tickets, which gave us the impetus to visit the Photography Show. As first time visitors we learnt a lot on the day not just about photography and I am sure we will be back next year!
Competition comes in many forms including two of England’s most famous cities vying for the title of ‘second city’ after London. What attributes does this second city need? What would be the one thing that would propel one of the cities to the coveted second place? Would there be any advantage to being the official ‘second city’
Manchester is a very familiar city to us with strong family and work links. We socialise in the city, dine there, attend different sorts of events and frequently just wander around with our cameras uncovering hidden corners and hoping for exceptional photo shots. Conversely Birmingham is a place we’ve never really spent any time in other than to pass through on occasion and, in the pre-arena days, attend concerts at the NEC.
Our recent short visit to Birmingham gave us for the first time, and purely from a tourism view, the opportunity to see for ourselves the differences in the two cities.
Arriving in Birmingham late afternoon on a working week day was the first surprise – where was the city centre traffic? In fact, the whole time we were there we saw no traffic queueing in the city centre at all. Sadly, horrific traffic jams are part of everyday life all the time in Manchester. How does Birmingham achieve that?
Another notable difference was the skyline. Birmingham was surprisingly flat and even though the two cities have similar skylines filled with cranes and building sites, Manchester appears to be growing upwards at a rapid rate. The views are equally stunning but quite different.
Birmingham has a very compact shopping quarter including its very large markets, the Bullring and the Grand Central area around the station. Manchester is much more spread out with substantial distances between some of its main shops. Like most shopping centres now there is no real individuality to them with the same shops and restaurants offering the same clothes and food.
Birmingham’s New Street station is huge and feels more like an airport terminal with restaurants and food bars, shops and space. It has undergone a huge transformation in the last few years and now is part of the Grand Central shopping mall – or maybe the shopping mall is part of the station? Either way it is very central to the city and gives easy access to most areas. The Manchester stations both sit just on the outskirts of the city centre and are relatively small in comparison, but it is easier to find out where you need to be in them. New Street offers a bewildering array of platforms and lounges and there were so many different options for you to go through that it was a very confusing experience!
Both cities have interesting buildings, art galleries and museums – equal amounts of photo opportunities! Whilst Birmingham cathedral is interesting particularly the stunning stained glass windows, Manchester’s is exquisite. We return to it repeatedly and never fail to be disappointed. Manchester also has the beautiful Harry Potter like library inside the Chetham’s buildings and the equally stunning John Ryland’s library on Deans gate. Both free to visit and definite must sees.
And, in what is a very controversial subject up north, Birmingham has more than one Michelin star restaurant whereas Manchester has yet to achieve one despite several chefs having a try. That is not to say that Manchester has no Michelin quality food just that it never seems to fully meet the criteria. Does this matter – maybe, maybe not we could both recommend many a Manchester restaurant where you are guaranteed to have good food and service. However, for many the lack of a star in Manchester has become an obsession and having one would probably help lift the city out of what seems its focus on burgers.
The canal development around the Gas Street Basin area in Birmingham is another must see and something Manchester could learn from. Bars and restaurants, miles of well paved walking opportunities, well signposted routes – a joy to walk down and spend time in. Particularly attractive at night with many a twinkling fairy light and canal side seat.
Manchester has the previously mentioned Northern Quarter. Edgy and exciting, unusual restaurants and bars and a wealth of quirky, individual shops to visit including the famous Affleck’s. Ever changing murals appear on walls in the old-fashioned streets. Modern yet still having a period feel it’s a perfect film location– most notably being used in scenes from Captain America and Peaky Blinders.
Constantly trying to encourage visitors to the city, Manchester City Council are particularly good at events and themes – Chinese New Year resulted in a city full of red lanterns and decorations – Halloween saw the city turn green and giant tentacles above House of Fraser. Having never been in Birmingham for the equivalent it’s not fair to say who does it best. Think a visit to Birmingham’s Christmas markets will take place later this year for a brand new experience and to do some further research (as well as trying some more Michelin standard food!)
So, it’s probably too early yet for any final comparison, if one is even needed, and does it even matter who is first or second? Makes no difference to us. What we do believe very strongly is in the amazing cities we have in the UK. Go and visit them both you won’t be disappointed.
There’s a pretty good chance you have heard of the Terracotta Warriors – a collection of terracotta sculptures created to represent the armies of Qin Shi Huang, first Emperor of China. After being buried for over 2000 years 3 farmers uncovered the burial site in 1974, which stretched for approximately 98 square kilometres (38 square miles) and was ‘protected’ by the army of statues. It is estimated that the site held over 8,000 of the terracotta soldiers as well as chariots and horses. It is believed that the sculptures were designed to accompany the Emperor on his journey to the afterlife. He must have thought he was going to need a lot of help!
How wonderful it would be to visit the terracotta warriors in their original surroundings, but that is a dream for us at the moment. Great excitement then, when it was announced in 2017 that Liverpool’s World Museum would be hosting a Terracotta Warrior Exhibition during 2018.
We visited the museum with the two ‘grown ups’ on a wet Sunday morning – pre-booked tickets in hand. Train to Liverpool Lime Street and just a short 5-minute walk to the museum. We were all very excited by the prospect of viewing some of the original warriors and the exhibition did not disappoint. From the moment you walk into the exhibition, after an odd 3 minutes film, you are greeted by one of the warriors and a horse statue.
Visitors are allowed in in groups of 40 and actively encouraged to photograph the exhibition including selfies! Just one rule – no flash and if you are not sure how to take your flash off ask one of the staff! In addition to the horse and warrior as you enter, you will see other artefacts including smaller horses and chariots and miniature warriors (very anatomically correct –‘Mum those statues have no clothes on!’).
The highlight of the exhibition are the seven warriors standing together. Cleverly and very pleasing to us as photographers – the screen behind the statues changes to feature the warriors as they were when they were painted, screens depicting the pits in China and our favourite – plain grey which offered a perfect background for some very atmospheric shots.
We spent well over an hour in the exhibition and. although busy. it was never too crowded that you couldn’t get near to them. In these days, were everyone is a photographer, the room was full of cameras and phones and some of the photographs people were taking looked amazing – can’t help but look at their screens for inspiration!
Exit through the shop surprise, surprise where you could even buy you own mini set of terracotta statues or if you had £1500 to spare an almost full-size replica.
We enjoyed a lovely lunch in the restaurant downstairs and then a whistle stop tour of space, dinosaurs and Ancient Egypt before a mad dash to catch the train home.
Just need to save up for a trip to China now!
Life and other