La Serenissima

Venice – the legendary most serene city. Alison and Greg, with only months to go before she emigrates to New York, leaving him forever, spend their first and last holiday together. It’s a romantic trip, but once it’s over they know that they need to make the most of their remaining partnership.

Before that though, we see another landmark event as Tom retires and hands over the shop to Greg. Unknown to him, Alison and Greg have decorated the shop with balloons and greeting cards from past customers, many of whom visit during the day and sharing memories. That evening, another surprise awaits Tom. The couple have conspired with Tom’s wife, Norma, to book a surprise meal for him at an upmarket Chester hotel. Katie and Geoff are among the guests.

The following day, though, Greg and Alison are hard at work. The shop is closed for the day. A new sign is being installed above the shop window reflecting its new, more comprehensive service. Greg is going to take the shop into a digital era (by now the storyline has moved on to 2006). Alison stocks the shop window with a display of selected cameras. Greg works on the interior to showcase the new range of merchandise. A shopfitter will complete the makeover in a couple of months time – and our couple have booked their Venetian break to coincide with that taking place.

Today’s featured photo does depict a scene in the chapter that I’ve been working on today. Coincidentally, the Venetian storyline is set as being in the same year as this snapshot. It looks across gondolas moored on the Venice’s Grand Canal, close to the Piazza San Marco towards the Church of San Giorgio Maggiore. I took this shot while on holiday in 2007, using a Panasonic Lumix DMC- FX50 compact camera. The EXIF data are shutter speed 1/125 secs at f/10 and a focal length of 8.1 mm. The ISO was 100.

The best laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men, Gang aft agley

From Robert Burns’ poem ‘To a mouse’, which, in its penultimate verse, concludes, ‘ The best laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men, Gang aft agley, An’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain, For promis’d joy!’

Today, after telling Alison about his discussion with Tom about the future of the shop and outlining his hopes, they talk through some of the implications. He then asks her whether she has any long term plans for her wedding planning business. She drops a bombshell.

Alison has enjoyed the buzz of working with Greg and Katie in their three-way business, but she sees the future of her own enterprise as being online, yet with a personal touch, in America. He is shocked. He asks how long she has been planning this, how imminent her leaving will be and how it leaves them and their relationship.

She admits that the idea itself is quite recent – that such a possibility has only arisen recently – and that she hasn’t really fully explored how to go about it, let alone when her plans could come to fruition. Regarding their relationship, she tells him that she loves him, but realises that a time could come when she’d wish that she’d followed her dream. If that were to come to pass, she might finish-up frustrated and blame him for holding her back. She hopes that he wouldn’t begrudge her looking for continued self-fulfilment.

Greg is upset, but he realises that she is right – that, if she really wants to do this, it would be selfish of him to try to stand in her way. She asks whether he’ll want her to leave – for them to split up now, rather than later. They agree to continue as they are for the time being. He loves her, and can’t see himself stopping loving her. He hopes that they can keep in touch, but understands that she’ll probably meet someone else in the States.

Meanwhile, how are Katie and Geoff getting on in their marriage? More tomorrow.

The featured photograph today is one that I took this week in my garden. It celebrates autumn colour during lockdown and shows an Acer Palmatum Dissectum Atropurporeum – a drooping red maple with finely cut leaves. I took the shot with my Pentax K-1, 36 MP full-frame camera mounted with a 24-70 mm f/2.8 lens at 70 mm and f/2.8. The ISO was 100 and the shutter speed 1/30 secs. The camera was tripod mounted.

Three’s company

Greg and Alison have moved into the flat and, while their parents have helped tremendously, the couple are grateful to have their independence at last as they start their new lives. Mums and Dads might be looking forward to grandchildren, but this cash-strapped couple are looking ahead.

Meanwhile, the talked-of, three-way, cross-referencing deal between Alison, Greg (per pro Tom) and Katie’s salon has started paying dividends with sixteen group customers during the first year – in addition to any other walk-in business other than planned weddings.

I haven’t had as much time to write today – for various reasons – but, I’ve added about 1300 words. I concluded the day’s writing with a short chapter in which Tom speaks of his retirement plans and asks Greg for his reactions. As Tom had hoped, Greg does want to take over as tenant if he and Tom can fix it with the landlord, but both of them are aware of the costs that Greg and Alison will have to think about in the three years before Tom leaves for his retirement.

Greg has told Tom that renting the shop with its current goodwill and great passing trade would be a dream come true – but he’ll want to make changes. For a start he’ll want to get rid of the darkroom and the film-based photography so loved b y Tom. Even in 2002, Greg knows that he’ll have to be ready for a digital world. Additionally he wants to use one room as a portrait studio, another as a gallery and a third as a video-editing suite. He wants to start selling digital cameras and accessories and will need to display and store them properly. Lots of shopfitting to finance then.

Today’s featured photograph is of Windleshaw Chantry in a section of St Helens Cemetery, reserved, in its time, for Roman Catholic burials. The Chantry Building predates the reign of King Henry VIII. I chose this image because it seems suitably spooky as we approach Halloween.

I took the shot using my old Pentax K-50 mounted on a tripod. I used a film vintage 35 mm f’2.4 prime lens at 35mm with an aperture of f/22, ISO 100 and shutter speed of half a second.

A new start

Today, I decided that Greg needed a girlfriend to tide him over until Katie becomes free at last to recognise his qualities as her one-and-only. Alison is a wedding planner. They meet at a wedding. Greg has never met a wedding planner before. He thought that she was a guest. They exchange business cards and arrange to meet for coffee. The meeting gives rise to a date, and soon she is helping him to photograph Katie’s staff doing the hairstyles for the upcoming competition.

Afterwards, before they leave, they sit and talk to Katie who is now five months pregnant. She asks them about their relationship. It’s going so well that they’d like to rent a house together but can’t really afford it. Katie has a brainwave. (I was struggling to help them until she did.) She and Geoff are living in the flat above the salon, but the flat won’t be big enough for them and the baby so they were waiting to move into a new house on an estate nearby. This means that the flat will be empty. They could rent it from her. The rent would help her and Geoff with their mortgage. (Serendipity or what!!)

In the meantime, the three of them, Greg, Alison and Katie have recognised the synergy of their businesses. They can cross-refer each other’s clients. Alison will get the early warning of a deal with a prospective bride and groom, she’ll recommend Greg and Katie as photographer and hairstylist respectively and everybody will be happy. Meanwhile Greg and Alison look as if they’ll be living happily ever after. What did John Lennon say about plans? ‘Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans’ or something. Wait and see.

Today’s featured photograph is of the South Stack Lighthouse on Holy Island, off the North coast of Anglesey, North Wales, UK. I took this shot two years ago with my old Pentax K-50 16 MP crop sensor camera using its 18-55 mm f/3.5 to 5.6 kit lens at 18 mm and f/11. The ISO was 100 and the shutter speed 1/125 secs.

We’re off!

I’ve made a start writing Greg and Katie. I don’t mean the couple of chapters that I mentioned yesterday. I’ve decided that I didn’t like the structure I’d planned, so I started again, cannibalising bits of the original chapters and storing some others for later use.

After a brief prologue to establish the theme of wedding photography, Chapter One is a flashback to the childhood of the two main characters – Greg and Katie – in their days at junior school in the mid nineteen eighties. In this chapter we see how Greg is already developing an interest and skills in photography.

Chapter Two, set in 1990 when the two are now fifteen years old, sees them in Sunday School Bible Class with other teenagers discussing the Miners’ Strike. Greg now has a Saturday job in a Wedding Photography shop. Katie is looking forward to meeting her boyfriend Geoff after the class.

Chapter Three moves us rapidly on ten years or so after Greg has graduated and Katie now has her own hairdressing salon. Greg and Tom – Tom owns the Wedding Photography salon – photograph a wedding together. It’s the wedding of Katie and Geoff. During the course of the evening Greg and Katie have time for a chat.

Subsequently, Greg arranges to do some hairstyle photography at Katie’s salon as preliminary work for a hairstyling competition and asks Katie whether she’d model some clothing to help him break into product photography.

Quite a lot of progress today using the new structure – about another 2,500 words. I also enjoyed using Doctor Google to find out about product photography, hairstyling photography and food photography – well, you never know. As an amateur landscape photographer with no experience in any of the above fields, it was fascinating stuff.

Today’s featured photo is of the lake at the Cleveley Mere holiday resort in Lancashire. I took the shot early morning in February, 2017 using a Pentax K3ii 24 MP crop sensor camera coupled with a 16-85 mm 35-5.6 lens at26 mm and f/11. The shutter speed was 1/13 secs and the ISO 100.

Back to the Writing Blocks

Back on October 8th, in my last post about my most recent novel, Sixty Years, I said that I had re-read it and couldn’t spot anything major. I didn’t look at that draft again – until yesterday. With new eyes, I saw whole sections that were incomplete, that I hadn’t fully thought out. I also noticed a number of ‘howler’ errors, such as referring to a boyfriend as a girlfriend, to a vet as a vat, to Norman as Barbara. There were punctuation errors and date errors. I’ve had to spend today correcting these before anybody else does. My usual proof editor is  still busy and likely to be so for a while.

I haven’t spent any time rewriting the Persephone story. The night before I’d intended to start, a whole new storyline occurred to me. It won’t be a full-length novel this time – but longer than a short story, if you see what I mean. It’s about a hairdresser and a wedding photographer. Even then, the time that I’ve spent on it has been restricted by the time I’ve needed to put into writing the photography posts.

Anyway, now that those posts are finished, I should be able to make some progress on my new story. I’ve written a couple  of chapters and I’ll post about those in the next few days.

One more thing to say. Up to now, I’ve been trying to find photographs to use, as featured photos, only ones which have a bearing on the day’s written content. I don’t think that I’ll be able to that for much longer – if at all. It’s not that I’m short of my photos to post – I have a few thousand of those banked. My problem is that, because I’m shielding from Covid-19, I just can’t get out to take bespoke photos. So, for example, writing about this hairdresser and wedding photographer, I have no photos relating to either type of work. I don’t want to use stock photos, because the whole idea of my site was to showcase my own work. I hope, therefore, that anyone reading my posts will forgive my shots having no relation to my writing.

Tomorrow, I’ll make a start.

For the time being, todays photo is one that I took in Aberystwyth, Mid Wales, UK in 2014, while on holiday. I just liked the leading lines. The settings were: ISO 100, shutter speed 1/1600, Aperture f/3.3 and focal length 4.3 mm using a Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ60 compact camera.

Checklist for when using ND photographic filters on site

Probably the worst thing that can happen – through your own fault at least – is to arrive on site and find that you’ve forgotten to bring something. For example – you remembered your tripod bit forgot to mount an L-bar or arca swiss tripod plate on your camera. The checklists below might help to prompt you when preparing.


  1. Clean Lens & filters
  2. Charge batteries – camera and phone
  3. Check space on SD card/s.
  4. Replace with new cards if necessary
  5. Check tripod legs firm/adjust as needed


Pack as below:

  1. Camera plus charged battery/ies
  2. Clean Lens/es
  3. L- Bar or swiss arca plate or equivalent
  4. SD card/s
  5. Phone with charged battery
  6. Filter holder
  7. Step-up adapter/s
  8. Clean Filter/s
  9. Blower / Lenspens
  10. Microfibre cloth/ lens wipes
  11. Remote cable shutter release if available
  12. Torch/ head torch if planning night shots
  13. Food Change for meters?
  14. Clothing/ footwear for conditions
  15. Bag for litter


  1. Check viewpoint OK?
  2. Foreground/Midground OK?
  3. Check scene for composition?
  4. Remove portable distractions
  5. If necessary move elsewhere
  6. Set up tripod securely/firmly
  7. Attach camera firmly to tripod
  8. Remove lens cap and store safely
  9. Check camera set level to horizon
  10. Attach remote cable shutter/ self-timer
  11. Focus
  12. Take a base shot
  13. Check Preview for focus, exposure, and white balance
  14. If necessary change settings, take another shot and check
  15. Note shutter speed, aperture, ISO
  16. Tape lens barrel to lock focus
  17. Switch to Manual Mode
  18. Enter the aperture and ISO


  1. Set High ISO Noise Reduction OFF
  2. Set Shake Reduction OFF
  3. Set Mirror Lock UP
  4. Enter base shutter speed from test shot into app to calculate settings for ND filter being used
  5. Enter shutter speed for that ND filter onto camera if less than 30 seconds
  6. Attach Adapters and Filter/s
  7. Use gaffer tape on viewfinder (and lens exposure window) to seal against stray light entering camera during exposure
  8. Do not re-focus: Change mode to Bulb if recommended shutter speed more than 30 seconds
  9. If using more than 30 seconds set Long Exposure Noise Reduction ON
  10. Check filter still clean
  11. Use calculated time to start timer and TAKE SHOT


  1. Allow time for Long Exposure Noise Reduction activity
  3. When finished remove filter/s and adapters & pack securely
  4. Replace lens cap and lens hood.
  5. Fold tripod
  6. Check that you are leaving nothing behind
  7. Check that your backpack zips etc are closed properly
  8. Pack and leave

I think that with this post I’ve now covered most of the trickiest things that anyone new to photography needs to know. If anyone reading this blog wishes me to cover a different aspect, please let me know. Otherwise, my next post will revert to my writing hobby.

Are you stopping? ND filter strengths in photography.

In a post a few days ago, I mentioned the idea of Stops in the context of the Aperture triangle. When you use neutral density (ND) filters, the idea of Stops becomes a central issue. You use filters to reduce light entering the sensor in situations when using the shutter speed setting alone doesn’t fit the bill. ND filters are available in a range of strengths – these can be called by different names, but the easiest one to remember is the number of Stops of light which the filter offers. You have to choose, by looking at the situation, how strong a filter you want to use. If you are photographing a waterfall in bright light, perhaps 3 stops will do. If you are photographing waves then probably 10 stops would be your minimum – and you may want to stack a 10 stop plus a 5 stop. You are the judge. What you then have to do is to take the shutter speed that your camera recommends without a filter, and look it up in a table – such as that below, or by using a phone app – to find out what shutter speed you will need when you have a filter installed.

Powered By EmbedPress

So, if you’ve taken a test shot without a filter and the preview tells you that your exposure is OK, have a look at the shutter speed that you used, say 1/125 seconds. Now, let’s say you want to use a 6 stop filter, the table tells you that, with the filter installed, your shutter speed will need to be 1/2 seconds. At this point, you need to lock your focus, remember your settings and switch to Manual mode. Enter those settings – ISO, Aperture – and your new shutter speed (the 1/2 seconds one in this case), pop in your filter and you’re almost ready to go (I’ll say more about that tomorrow.

Powered By EmbedPress

I said above that filters are known by different names by different manufacturers – for example as a 6 stop filter, a 1.8 optical depth filter or as an ND 64 filter. The table above provides the equivalent types of naming for each strength. The table also shows the equivalent fraction of light that is admitted. So, a 6 stop filter admits only 1/64 of the light that would have been admitted without a filter. Think back to the first table. Without a filter you would have opened the shutter for 1/125 of a second. With the 6 stop, ND64 filter you will open the shutter for 1/2 second – ie 60/125 or roughly 64 times longer.

The table examples above are just to illustrate the principle. There are excellent phone apps, such as ND expert, where you just enter the base shutter time and the filter type and which also provide a timer.

Today’s featured image is of the lighthouse at Penmon Point, Anglesey, North Wales with Puffin Island to the right of the image.

This photograph was taken only slightly later with a 10 stop filter plus a 2 stop polariser. The light had also changed. The base shutter speed was 1/200 seconds, the filtered time was 10 seconds ie 2000/200 equalling a factor of 1000 (roughly 1024)

Tomorrow, I’ll provide a detailed checklist of everything you need to do to prepare for your long exposure outing.

Long exposure photography – filters.

I promised yesterday to say more about the various types of filter used in photography. As the featured image shows they come in different shapes and sizes: circular, square and rectangular. The square ones in the photo are 100 mm. For an ultrawide lens I would need 150 mm filters because of the diameter of the lens. They come in different strengths to block different amounts of light. They have different purposes, and while the circular ones screw into the internal thread at the front of the lens, the square and rectangular ones drop into a special holder that is mounted on the lens.

In the photo, from top left you see a filter holder with slots for up to three 100 mm filters to be stacked. Next along is an 82 mm NISI circular polariser lens next to a NISI 82 mm adapter for the polariser to screw into the filter holder. Below those three items are three 100 mm square neutral density filters – 1 @ 3stops, 1 @ 6 stops and 1@ 10 stops. Top right is a 3 stop rectangular graduated ND filter – darkest at the top and fading towards the centre. Below that is a 3 stop reverse graduated ND filter having a sharply defined area of darkness at the centre, fading towards the top.

Firstly, the circular filters. They come in different diameter sizes, so if you have several lenses with different diameters and you need various strengths of filter it would be expensive to have all the combinations. The workaround is to decide what will be the largest diameter that you are likely to need – say 82 mm, buy all your filters to fit that diameter and then buy one set of step-up adapters to convert your various lenses to hold your 82 mm filters.

Most photographers will own and use circular polarising filters. These usually block up to 2 stops of light. I say ‘up to’ because they have to be rotated to be effective. These lenses reduce reflections, reduce the effect of haze, increase colour saturation and make blue skies bluer but they only work when the Sun is at 90 degrees to you. A useful tip, though, is to look through your viewfinder while rotating the filter and you should notice when it takes maximum effect.

The photo shows my camera with a filter holder mounted and an ND filter and graduated ND filter in their slots.

The graduated filters are used to reduce the brightness of the sky area of the image and bring out cloud detail. These can be purchased as hard edge or soft edge versions. The reverse graduated ND is usually used at sunset where there is a straight horizon such as the sea. It’s purpose is to reduce the intensity of the light from the setting Sun.

Neutral density filters simply block different amounts of light depending of their strength, They are called neutral density filters because the coating should not cause a colour cast in your images. The may be square or circular. Different measures are used by different manufacturers – but they map across consistently. I only want to know how many stops because that’s what I’ll use when converting my base exposure to my intended filtered exposure. Let me explain that.

I’m in position to take my photo, my camera is on my tripod securely. The lens is focused, I’ve set my ISO as 100, chosen my aperture. I switch to Manual Mode. I check that the preview looks properly exposed and, if not, I adjust the shutter speed until I get a good exposure. I make a note of the exposure. I then look up the strength of filter I’ll be using against that base exposure and that tells me how many seconds I need to keep the shutter open for. I can now insert my filter. Because it’s stopping light, I won’t be able to see through the lens with my viewfinder, that’s why I did everything else first. If the shutter speed I need is 30 seconds or less, I can set that in the camera, press the shutter button and wait. Otherwise, I need to use Bulb Mode and time it myself.

There are aids available for much of what I’ve said. There are free apps for your phone to calculate shutter speeds if you input or look up the number of stops against your base shutter speed. There are also free interval timer apps also available for phones. Remember though, this is not an exact science. You’ve taken a test shot at a specific moment in time. At various times after that, before and while you’re shutter is open, the sun can go behind a cloud or appear from the cloud, messing up your assumptions. You need to judge the situation as best you can. Check your preview after the exposure has been taken. If it’s really bad, have another try adjusting the shutter speed up or down a bit. If its almost right, you can do some tweaking in software afterwards.

Tomorrow I’d like to say some more about stop sizes and filters.

Long exposure photography

Most cameras have a default maximum shutter speed of 30 seconds, so I guess the range of shutter speeds from about 1/8000 secs to 30 secs must be classed as the normal exposure range. By that reckoning any shutter speed longer than 30 seconds would count as a long exposure, but, for the purpose of this blog, I’m going to count anything longer than 1 second.

Why, though, would anyone ever need to open the shutter for longer than 1 second? One answer would be to take photographs in low light conditions where. Alternatively, say that you want to use a wide aperture in bright sunlight eg to blur the background behind a shrub that you’re photographing in your garden. In order to avoid the photo being over exposed you could use a neutral density filter (ND filter) to reduce the light entering the camera. Another would be to take photographs to smooth out movement – for example waterfalls, waves or clouds.

Compare this shot at Cleveleys beach, Lancashire with today’s featured photo in which wave motion has been smoothed to focus attention on the rocks. I took the photo on the left at 1/200 of a second but the featured photo at 8 seconds using a 9 stop filter and an aperture half a stop smaller.

I took this shot, mid morning on a bright day with a 10 stop ND filter. My shutter speed was 30 seconds at an aperture of f/8 and ISO 100.

This image was taken within minutes of the one above but the shutter speed was 1/60 secs at the same aperture and ISO. Notice how the movement of the water in the stream was blurred by using a filter.

I won’t be able to explain even the basics in a single blog post, so I’ll spread it out over a few days. Today, I’ll just show a couple of examples of long exposure. Tomorrow, I’ll say something about the various types of filter that photographers use. Then I’ll post a blog about calculating shutter speed for using different strengths of filter. Finally, probably, I’ll go into how to use filters.

Having said all that about filters, in low light conditions you won’t need them normally, your main equipment other than your camera will be a tripod to enable you to take a stable, steady shot.

For this photo of Liverpool by night I used a tripod but I didn’t need a filter. My settings were shutter speed 6 seconds, aperture f/8, ISO 100 and focal length 23 mm. Because I used a tripod I set the image stabilisation to off. Other than that, the effort was simply waiting until all the drivers were using their lights and that there were enough of them moving quickly between two sets of traffic lights.

I hope that these examples may inspire you to look at this blog tomorrow to learn more about the various types of filter.

Enjoy your day.