I’ve been making a start on archiving a collection of colour slides taken by Richard Brook(1943-2017), for many years the Conservation Officer of the Wakefield Naturalists’ Society. He photographed the East Ash Lagoon at Leventhorpe from the lagoon’s northwest corner on Sunday, 2 September, 1973. Pulverised fly ash was pumped from power stations into lagoons and left to settle out.
Richard could see the potential of these lagoons as nature reserves and he documented every one of them – along with subsidence flashes and sand quarries -within five or six miles radius of Wakefield, so his collection of slides form a unique record of post-industrial West Yorkshire.
Dust & Scratch Removal
I’m gradually learning my way around the slide scanning option of my SilverFast scanning program and also learning easier ways to remove specks of dust and other blemishes from the slides.
In Photoshop CS5, I’ve just discovered the Dust & Scratches filter, which is hidden away in the Photoshop Filter Menu under the heading Noise.
It’s a lot quicker than using the Spot Healing Brush to individually remove blemishes, although that has it’s part to play too: Dust & Scratch Filter for the whole sky, Spot Healing Brush for getting into more detailed parts of the image.
Distant memories can be seen through a golden glow or, in the case of my earliest recollections of the 1950s, a somewhat muted and bluey grey – although I think that the 50s probably were muted and bluey grey thanks to the tail end of rationing and all that coal smoke – so it’s been a real memory-jogger to revisit familiar domestic scenes of 1964 in live action in colour-soaked Kodachrome.
We’ve just had our family cine films from the 1960s and 70s transcribed to digital format and I’m impressed with the quality, considering that this was all Standard 8 film with a frame size, allowing for the sprockets, of just 5 mm, less than quarter of an inch.
We’re lucky to have plenty of family photographs from that time but, for me, browsing through the old cine films brings back the era more vividly than any photograph album.
Me, aged Thirteen
I’m intrigued by this shot of me, aged 13, taken by my Dad as he tried out the interchangeable lenses of his Leitz Leicina.
I’m sure that expression isn’t genuine, so perhaps at the start of my teenage years it’s supposed to signify a combination of worry and hang-dog; if so, that was good practice for me, as that’s the default state of mind for most of us who choose to become freelance illustrators.
But it could have been intended to represent diffidence and scepticism: a useful attitude for anyone who makes a living from looking at the world.
The Garden Path
Our garden looks so verdant and I realise that having that as my backyard made a huge contribution to the person I became, as a resource for inspiration and as a sheltered habitat for concocting waywardly creative projects.
Behind a prolific row of raspberry canes, the runner beans are just starting to climb their canes. Partially hidden by an old Keswick cooking apple tree there’s the timber summerhouse that had been built by the former occupants of the house, the Baines family, in the 1920s or 30s.
My Dad, Robert Douglas Bell, Doug to his friends, appears in this early reel, picking gooseberries. If he’d still been with us, he’d have been celebrating his 100th birthday in October but as he died 28 years ago after a steady decline with dementia, it’s good to be reminded of him in his prime.
Mum, slightly older, would have been a hundred last Monday, 26th February, so we met to remember her in the place that she’d suggested, should she make it to that milestone: Charlotte’s Ice Cream Parlour, a favourite place with her for coffee and scones. She appears in the 1964 film, characteristically, putting the washing on the line.
Standard Vanguard Estate
This Standard Vanguard Estate, with a registration, RHL 777, that I wish we could have kept, was my favourite of all the cars we had. Its headlights had been painted yellow for a summer holiday in France. Note the AA badge and the badge of the Institute of Advanced Motorists, which my Dad was rather proud to be a member of.
I was wondering where my Dad would be going, in his collar and tie and with a cigarette in his hand. My sister tells me that at that time he worked for the Coal Board in Wakefield and he would have come home for lunch, so he’s heading off back to work. Because of the traffic today, you’d be hard-pressed to get to and fro between Wakefield and Horbury during a regular lunch hour.
Also appearing, Vache, an English springer spaniel, kennel name Chastelton Merrylegs, my Dad’s gun-dog but in fact the perfect family pet, a remarkably laid-back spaniel. There are brief shots of him ambling across the lawn; sitting half in and half out of the back door; pricking his ears up when he thinks a visitor is arriving and rolling on his back as he enjoys being fussed over.
Again, for me, they evoke his character more effectively than the stills we have of him.
My Dad gave him his everyday name, Vache, not because his liver-and-white markings resemble those of a Friesian cow but because my Dad bought him when he was attending a course at the Vache Coal Board staff training college, a country house near Chalfont St Giles in Buckinghamshire.
Grandma & Grandad
One of the reasons that I was so keen to get the films transcribed to digital format was so that we’d preserve a rare snippet of my grandparents on my Dad’s side.
Jane, Bagshaw as was, and Robert Bell met at the celebrations for Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee, on Tuesday June 15th 1897 at 3 o’clock at Serlby Park, Nottinghamshire. He was then aged 19, working as second coachman to the Galways at Serlby.
When he arrived at the celebrations, Fred Bagshaw, who worked in the stables, asked him “Would you like to take a girl on the swings, Bob?”
The girl, Fred’s sister, Jane, was already in service at the age of 14. She and Robert married some years later.
I’ve still got the invitation in our family archive. I guess that I wouldn’t be here today if Bob hadn’t taken Jinny (as he called her) on the swings that day.
It’s amazing that we caught them on film.
Grandma is chuckling as she puts on her white gloves and I can see that, before setting out, she’s popped one of her favourite sweets, a Nuttall’s Minto, in her mouth.
The Street of Many Fools
One final blast from the past: in the August of 1967, my Dad, my sister Linda and family friends Betty and Alf Deacon, emerging from the arched entrance to The Street of Many Fools on the backlot at Pinewood Studios, Buckinghamshire.
Carry On, Follow that Camel, had just finished filming, so Phil Silvers, Kenneth Williams, Jim Dale and Joan Sims had probably walked that way in the previous weeks.
Knowing of my interest in films and stage scenery, Betty had arranged with a friend who was a scene painter there to give us a full tour of the studios.
Aliens, Agents and Flying Machines
By then, my brother Bill and I had already made a couple of sci-fi shorts (with my sister playing the monster), a war film, a spy film and we’d made a start on shooting our most ambitious five-minute feature, Those Magnificent Boys in their Flying Machines, with a spectacular disaster filmed on location in Horbury Quarry.
We learnt a lot from our tour of the studios and greatly improved our technique in the next scene of the film, in which a remarkably lifelike mannequin of my brother plunges on a feather-winged bicycle from the top of Storrs Hill.
Like the Pinewood Team, we took a cast of Bill’s face – in our case in plaster, making the mask from papiere mache. To tell you the truth, it turned out to be better-looking than Bill himself, so we’d leave it sitting around in odd corners of the house, which confused my Mum on her rounds and she’d ask it, over her shoulder “Bill, haven’t you started your homework yet?!”
It’s that time of year again: Apple have updated their operating system – from Sierra to High Sierra – which is great except that my scanner, a CanoScan 8800F, won’t work with the new system, not surprisingly because it’s four years since Canon updated the driver. Luckily, I’ve come up with a solution . . . Continue reading “Scanning the Horizon”
Late afternoon and I pull in at the viewpoint to photograph the cloudscape as we cross the moor top between Hawes and Langstrothdale.
“I think those clouds are caused by air rising as it moves over a hill,” I suggest to the man who has pulled in just behind us to photograph them on his iPad, “I’ve been reading The Cloudspotter’s Guide, but I can’t remember what they’re called.”
“That’s right; you are a cloud spotter?”
“No . . . just nutty!”
Just as I’ve got myself back in the car and out of the cool breeze, I notice another cloud-spotting feature to the left of the lenticular cloud that is hanging above Ingleborough and I grab my camera.
“Have you seen the sun-dog?” I ask the man with the iPad; “They’re caused by ice crystals in high clouds refracting the light and they always appear at a certain distance from the sun – I think it’s something like 23 degrees.”
“I wonder if that’s because we’re at 53 degrees north?” He surmises.
I wasn’t too far out, it’s 22° but the phenomenon is a halo effect caused by tiny ice crystals in translucent cloud, so the effect is independent of latitude.
Sunset over Langstrothdale
Half an hour later I take the opportunity to photograph sunset over the top end of the dale from the first floor window of our barn conversion accommodation at Nethergill Farm.
It’s the first time that I’ve tried the ‘sunset’ setting on my camera. It might have warmed up the colours a little but it’s more successful than the camera’s default setting which attempts to adjust the exposure to make the scene resemble regular daylight.
It so good to be back in my studio and working again. I’ve just e-mailed my latest Wild Yorkshire nature diary off to the Dalesman, so it’s high time that I caught up with this online diary, which provides most of the raw material for my Dalesman articles.
It’s a month since my studio floor was taken up but there’s been a lot of work for me varnishing the new tongued and grooved timber floor and putting back my plan chest, art materials and book stock just as I’d like them (and there’s been even more work setting up our new kitchen in the room below, which is looking great).
The ‘Goldilocks’ Sketchbook
Improvements in my studio include these four Ikea Blecka hooks (above) for my small, medium and large art bags, which are hanging there ready for me to grab when I set off on a small, medium or large adventure, each complete with a selection of art materials and an A6, A5 or a square of the narrow side of A4 (that’s 8 x 8 inches) Pink Pig sketchbook. Like Goldilocks, I tend to feel that the middle sized bag is ‘just right’.
On the fourth hook my new digital SLR is hanging, plus a camera bag holding my new macro and telephoto lens. It’s an Olympus OM-D E-M10II which has great possibilities for nature photography. I sold my trusty pocket-sized Olympus Tough muji on e-Bay and I’m missing it already but I’m holding off buying the latest Tough to replace it as I want to get thoroughly familiar with my digital SLR.
The drawing is in bamboo pen using Winsor & Newton black Indian ink. I wouldn’t pack this combination in my art bags as the ink, where it has formed a blotty pool, takes days to dry.
My new camera, the Olympus OM-D E-10 MarkII, a mirrorless ‘micro four thirds’ which is a sort of lighter, scaled down version of a digital SLR, a middle of the range camera but with almost all the features of its big brothers. It has a smaller sensor but there wouldn’t be any problems printing out a photographs at A4 size. You can film HD video and even 4K on a time lapse setting.
Jessops are currently doing a deal on a kit that includes the camera body plus an everyday kind of zoom lens and another that is more powerful, which I look forward to trying the next time we visit a bird reserve. I’ve also treated myself to a macro lens as at least 50% of my photography involves close-ups of flowers, fungi and fossils.
It’s certainly one up on my previous bridge camera, which has given me a useful way of getting into more serious photography over the last three years.
When it comes to throwing the background out of focus, for instance in this close-up of germander speedwell taken with the new camera on our front lawn, the bridge camera was rather limited as you were given a choice of only two apertures. You need a wide aperture, which lets in more light but gives you correspondingly less depth of field, and a faster shutter speed to isolate a subject in this way.
I was inspired to take the plunge and finally go for the camera by our walk around Askham Bog with members of the Wakefield Naturalists’ Society last weekend. Several of the Nats had flip up viewfinders on their cameras which made photographing a flower at ground level a whole lot easier. I was using my little Olympus Tough, which is the size of a bar of soap, on the day and, with the viewfinder hidden down amongst the grass stems the process involved a lot of guesswork. My bridge camera was also lacking in this respect.
The viewfinder/touchscreen also tilts downwards so that I was able to hold the camera above my head and take this close-up of a clump of moss on the garage roof.
The Olympus E-10 also gives you the option of a regular viewfinder. When you put your eye to the viewfinder it switches on and the touchscreen viewfinder on the back switches off. Perhaps holding the camera braced against my eye will help me keep it steady.
I feature that I’ve yet to drill down through the menus to activate is the 5 way image stabilisation, which is reviews suggest works even better than the 3 way image stabilisation in the previous model of the E-10.
Nostell Priory Lake: A pair of mallards makes careful progress over an expanse of ice between two areas of open water. After a minute or so the female decides that it will be quicker to fly.
Focus on Teapots
We spot our friend Roger in the cafe, so naturally the conversation comes around to photography. Focussing on a teapot, I ask him how I can get over the problem that when I use my bridge camera, a Fujifilm FinePix S6800, on macro setting I have to get in so close that the proportions of my subject get distorted: the spout looks jumbo sized.
You need use a bit of zoom, suggests Roger. That works, the spout is now in proportion with the teapot, but, with my shaky hands, I’ve got a problem: the zoom magnifies any camera shake and the smaller aperture of the lens means that the camera will be selecting a longer shutter speed, again increasing the risk of blur.
I tell Roger that I’m considering upgrading to a camera with image stabilisation and he tells me that my camera probably has that as an option. He drills down through the menus and sets it to always use sensor shift image stabilisation. It’s a well hidden option and looking back through the settings menu, I can’t now see where he found it.
Depth of Field
But it works. I hand-held the camera for this shot of rosemary in a stone trough in the courtyard. Introducing a bit of telephoto to a macro shot results in a smaller depth of field than I’d get at the wide angle end of my zoom lens, throwing the background out of focus and giving more emphasis to the subject.
I use the photograph of the sage as reference for my sketchbook page for today. I’m reading a couple of books on botanical art so I decide to try drawing in 4H and then HB pencil before adding the watercolour, lightest shades first, which in this case is the pale yellow of the stipples on the leaves.
I’ve just replaced the Winsor lemon in my pocket watercolour box. As Winsor lemon is no longer available I went for cadmium lemon.
This green-leaved herb looks like marjoram or oregano. I cropped my original photograph to show this detail because I couldn’t get in this close with the macro. There’s a limit to how far you can zoom in before the auto-focus ceases to work. A red box marked ‘AF’ appears centre screen. I found that I had to zoom back out a little before the auto focus would work successfully.
I upload photographs from my little Olympus Tough or the FujiFilm FinePix bridge camera every couple of days. When they’re not on my desk connected with USB cables to the computer they’re in one of the bags hanging behind me.
This is the exposure meter that my dad used with the Akarette 35 mm camera that I drew yesterday. The Weston Master III Universal Exposure Meter was made in England by Sangamo Weston Ltd, Enfield, Middlesex and distributed by Ilford Ltd. This was model no. S141·3, serial no. T5385.
In low-light situations you flip out a filter at the back which is simply a plastic disc perforated with small holes. As you do this, the light scale flips over too. Taking a reading here on my desk I would have set the Akarette to 1/5oth of a second at f5 if I was using 64 ASA film, which is what I’d set the dial to when I last used this meter in the 1970s. ASA is referred to as ‘Weston Rating’ on the dial.
It was built to last, no batteries required and the photo-electric cell is still working fine, but I’m glad all of of all the exposure options that are built in to my current digital camera. The meter is bulkier and heavier than the Olympus Tough that I keep in my art bag.
This German Akarette with an Isco-Gottingen Westar 1:3.5/50 mm lens was my dad’s first, in fact only, 35 mm camera. It’s not an SLR so focussing involved setting the shutter speed and aperture then rotating the outer ring of the lens to select the estimated distance in feet. It focussed from 3.5 feet to infinity but for close-ups you had to allow for the parallax between viewfinder and lens.
You could switch to a second viewfinder if you fitted a 75 mm lens, which we never had. I believe my father bought the camera secondhand from Wallace Heaton, London. A big advance on our box camera.
It’s powered by clockwork, wound up every time you wind on the film, so the sound of the shutter is a retro delight. It also has a satisfyingly retro shutter delay of up to ten seconds. My dad once set it up to photograph my mum in a formal garden then had to leap over little box hedges and flowerbeds to get himself into the picture. I can’t remember now whether he quite made it into position but if he did it was by a hair’s breadth.
I more or less took over this camera when my dad started taking cine film. The most frustrating thing for me was its inability to take macro photographs. It travelled with me to Iceland on a college field trip (just me and my tent, I didn’t go with a group) but by then its days were numbered because I’d discovered the delights of using the Pentax Spotmatic – with macro lens – on the college photography course.