Photo stories: In Step

22 April, 2015

In 2009 I went on a holiday to England and Wales with my wife. We hired a car from Heathrow Airport, and began our trip by driving directly away from London. The plan was to do a loop through Cornwall, up to Wales, then across and down to London via the Cotswolds. We hadn’t booked any accommodation in advance except for after we got to London, and we spent two weeks driving to wherever took our fancy and finding a place to stay for the night.

In step

After several days we ended up in Shrewsbury, just on the English side of the border with Wales. It’s a lovely city, with the famous Shrewsbury Abbey just across the river and outside the walls of the old medieval city. We liked it so much we stayed thee two nights, giving us time to spend an entire day walking around and absorbing the architecture and atmosphere. The weather was intermittently drizzly, and at one point in the early afternoon the rain got quite heavy. We took refuge in a cafe which served gelato, and spent half an hour or so sitting and eating the sweet treat.

While sitting, I watched the people walking past outside. As this couple waked by, sharing an umbrella, I grabbed my camera and took this candid shot. I have no idea who these people are, but this is one of my favourite photos from that trip, as I feel it captures something about the couple, and the way they quietly work together to withstand the British drizzle. Whoever these two are, I hope they are still happy together.

Photo stories: Piazza San Marco

15 April, 2015

I took this photo in Venice, on my first trip to Italy in 2001.

Piazza San Marco

Venice is an amazing place. Sure, it’s hyped up, but for me it lived up to the hype and then some. It is pedestrian-oriented and there is something amazing and interesting around every corner of the maze-like warren of streets and canals. It buzzes with activity, but even though many of the people you see are tourists, there is a definite local atmosphere if you just head a few steps off the main tourist strips. Piazza San Marco (St Mark’s Square) is of course as far on the tourist strip as it’s possible to get, but this also makes it a colourful and fascinating place. It gleams at night with lights and people and sounds – it’s something to just immerse yourself in.

I took my Canon T70 35mm film camera on this trip, with a small selection of lenses and a cheap aluminium tripod. I am very glad I took the tripod, because I took quite a few shots at night, requiring slow shutter speeds – this being one of them. Being film, I had to estimate the exposure with a bit of help from the camera’s light meter and then hope that the pictures turned out okay when I got home and had them developed.

I set up behind the tables at this cafe, aiming at Basilica San Marco on the right, and the opera singer with small group of musicians on the cafe stage at left. The photo turned out better than I hoped. I like the blur of the moving people in the square, which adds some of that atmosphere of activity which you feel when really there.

I scanned the digital image from a print of the negative. This is one of my most viewed photos online. A while back I was contacted by the Victorian Department of Education (from the Australian state of Victoria), who requested permission to reproduce this photo in an exam paper. Since it was for educational purposes, I granted them permission, and they sent me a copy of the paper. It appeared in a geography paper, with questions about the use of land and buildings in this area.

This is not actually my favourite photo from that trip to Italy. Maybe I’ll tell the story of that one another day.

Photo stories: Fujin noodles

9 April, 2015

Since I started talking about individual photos with my latest photo, I thought for the second one I’d go to the other extreme in one sense, and show the first photo I uploaded to Flickr:

Fujin Noodles

I took this photo in January 2006, just a few hours after landing in Tokyo on my first visit to Japan. This was my first business trip with Canon Information Systems Research Australia, the company I’ve been working for ever since. Being a subsidiary of Canon, we have plenty of contact with the head office in Tokyo, and staff often take business trips over there.

I was travelling with a co-worker (that’s him blurred on the right, holding the spoon) who had been to Tokyo before, so could rely on his experience in getting around, and in finding a place to eat on the night we arrived. Being January, it was very cold – much colder than I am used to even in midwinter at home. There was snow on the ground. We caught a shuttle bus from Narita Airport to Shinagawa, where our hotel was. After checking in, we were hungry and so ventured out to find a place to eat.

My companion spotted a random ramen restaurant not far from the hotel and we managed to squeeze into some seats at the bar counter you can see here. The meal was hot and delicious, freshly made by the cooks behind the counter. I took this photo with a compact IXUS30 camera, which was the first really decent quality digital camera I owned. (I actually bought it for my wife before I started working for Canon.)

I like the perspective lines in this photo, and the balance between blue and red light across the two halves of the image. The slight tilt and the blurring of the motion of some of the people give it a sense of motion and busy-ness which matches my impressions of that meal. That, and memories of the hustle and bustle on this first night in Tokyo make this one of my favourite photos from that short trip.

Photo stories: Dee Why sunrise

5 April, 2015

I thought I may as well start with the most recent photo on my Flickr stream:


This photo is a result of my quest this autumn to catch a great sunrise. Sunrises and sunsets can be beautiful and can make fantastic photos, but you have to catch them with the right weather conditions. And for really good sightlines and scenery, you can’t beat the sun rising or setting over water. The problem is, I live on the east coast of Australia.

If you live on a western coast, you have the luxury of watching the sun set over water. You can have a leisurely day doing whatever you do, and judge the weather conditions to see if there will be a spectacular sunset, and then go photograph it at leisure. If you live on an eastern coast, you need to catch the sunrise. You need to wake up before dawn, peer outside to try to guess the weather conditions, then head out anyway because you can’t tell. You arrive at the coast in pitch blackness, while nearly everyone else is still asleep, and you hope that the sunrise will be worth it. And more often than not, the weather is cruel.

The best time of year to do this peculiar form of self-torture is autumn, just before daylight saving ends. The weather is still warm enough for early mornings to not be freezing cold, and the late sunrise means you only have to get up around 5:30, rather than 4am or so in summer. This autumn, I’ve made five pre-dawn treks to various beaches, hoping for that elusive golden sunrise. Each time I’ve been more or less disappointed.

I can still get some photos that I like and am proud of, and this photo is one from my most recent excursion, on 30 March. I think it turned out well, and is pretty good for the timing, which was about 20 minutes before sunrise. However, very soon after I took this photo, a storm rolled in from the south and thick cloud obscured that pink glow on the horizon. I never saw the actual sunrise at all, and I didn’t get the sort of photos I was really hoping for.

But still, no photographic trip is a complete loss if you look at it the right way. I still took some photos, of clouds and swirling ocean and wave-washed rocks. And I was up early and had the whole day to look forward to! I love cramming as much into a day as I can, so this was a good start.

Blog tidy up

5 April, 2015

I’m feeling inspired to post a bit more often here on other topics, now that the long haul of my last trip diary is done. As a first step, I’ve edited all the entries for the Morocco/Spain trip to hide most of the material behind “click here to read more” tags, so the front page of this blog looks cleaner and less bulky.

I thought something I could do would be to post the story behind some of my photos. So I plan to occasionally select one of my photos and explain some of the circumstances around where I was and what I was doing at the time, and what planning (if any) went into the photo. A sort of photoblog with background info.

Let’s see how long this idea lasts. :-)

Morocco/Spain diary: Day 22-24

30 March, 2015

Saturday, 4 October, 2014. 13:30

We are at Barcelona Airport, waiting for our flight to Dubai. We arrived here nice and early so have a couple of hours to kill before boarding.

We got up this morning at 07:15 to give us plenty of time to get to Parc Güell for our pre-booked 09:30 entrance to the monument zone. We showered and then went out to the Forn del Cel cafe again for a quick breakfast. The woman there recognises us by now, but we were too early today for the cañas to be ready after baking. M. got a cereal croissant with a little packet of peach jam to put on it, while I got a croissant with ham and cheese slices inside. The woman asked us if we were out for an “excursio” and we said we were going to Park Güell and then the airport. Clearly nobody in Barcelona gets up that early and has breakfast unless they’re doing something unusual.

View of Barcelona
View of Barcelona from Parc Güell.

Read the rest of this entry »

Morocco/Spain diary: Day 21

27 March, 2015

Friday, 3 October, 2014. 12:27

We have stopped for a drink in a small cafe, Cafe Reunion, just outside the marketplace of the neighbourhood village of Gràcia.

We got up at 07:30 to shower and leave early so we could make it to the Sagrada Familia cathedral in plenty of time for our 09:45 admission. We had a quick breakfast in the same cafe Forn del Cel as yesterday, this time ordering a caña each, a custard one for M. and a chocolate one for me, which was rich and sweet. My Spanish is slowly getting better, though of course they all speak Catalan here instead, so I’ve started to adapt to that, with “gra-sya” rather that “gra-thyas“. From the cafe we walked the additional block to Urgell metro station and caught the train to Sagrada Familia.

Sagrada Familia, nativity side
Sagrada Familia exterior.

Read the rest of this entry »

Morocco/Spain diary: Day 20

15 March, 2015

Thursday, 2 October, 2014. 20:12

We are sitting at the restaurant Bon Marisc on the Passeig de Joan de Borbo, which runs along the marina waterfront in Barceloneta, the seaside and beach suburb of Barcelona. We’ve spent all day walking to get here, and are about to enjoy some paella to finish the day off. The restaurants along here all seem to be open early, catering to passing tourist traffic, with spruikers encouraging anyone waking past to sit down and eat.

We began with the alarm at 08:30, giving ourselves a bit of a sleep in, since 07:30 felt really early yesterday. After showering, we left the hotel, deciding not to have the hotel breakfast, which costs something like 18 euro each. Instead, we found a small bakery/cafe called Forn del Cel, where we got a caña (a long roll of pastry filled with custard) and a croissant cereales (essentially a whole grain croissant), plus a cappuccino for M. and an orange juice for me, for a total of €6.90. I even used the right word for juice this time: “zumo”.

Pastry breakfast
Breakfast at Forn del Cel.

Read the rest of this entry »

Morocco/Spain diary: Day 19

19 February, 2015

Wednesday, 1 October, 2014. 11:33

We are on the train from Zaragoza to Barcelona, with just over an hour to go until we arrive.

We got up at 07:30 this morning, to give us enough time to shower and have breakfast before leaving to catch our train. This morning I had a fried egg on toast with mushrooms. The buffet has small elliptical glasses filled with yoghurt and Seville marmalade, which I tried, before some muesli and fresh fruit, finishing off with a hot chocolate and churros. There were also huge slices of rich looking chocolate cake this morning, but I avoided those.

We checked out and walked with our bags to the nearest bus stop, which was about ten minutes away. A number 34 bus arrived almost immediately to take us to Estacion Delicias. A stop at one end of the station was named Estacion Delicias Salidas, which I took to mean “exits” as in “arrivals”. But as we discovered when we stayed on for the next stop of Estacion Delicias Llegados, “salidas” also means “departures”. So we had to walk the considerable length of the station from the arrivals end to the departures end. We had plenty of time though, as the Barcelona train an hour before ours was just arriving as we entered the station.

We scanned our luggage through the security check and then waited on a comfy couch for our train, M. reading a novel and me reading up on Barcelona from our guide book. When we passed through the ticket checking counter to go on to the platform, the lady told us that our carriage, number eight, was right at the bottom of the stairs. We waited there and it turned up on cue, so we had no trouble boarding and getting our seats for the trip.

Although it was clear in Zaragoza, the countryside all around it appears to be fogged in, much as when we travelled from Madrid the other day. The sun is just breaking through now to reveal the Spanish countryside, with farms on plains scattered between lumpy hills and patches of forest.

Hotel Villa Emilia view
View from Hotel Villa Emilia, Barcelona.

Read the rest of this entry »

Morocco/Spain diary: Day 18

25 January, 2015

Tuesday, 30 September, 2014, 10:20

We are just finishing off our late breakfast in the hotel buffet. We decided to sleep in and eat late because the museums we want to visit this morning don’t open until 10:00. The breakfast buffet here is huge, with dozens of different types of meats and cheeses and pastries, as well as several types of both cakes and biscuits. There are churros and hot chocolate (to which you can add star anise or lemon slices or chunks of cinnamon bark), pancakes, frittatas, fried eggs, multiple different types of sausage, bacon, several bowls of fresh diced fruit, lots of different types of bread and bread rolls, five types of cereal (including muesli for the first time on the entire trip), five types of fruit juice, mineral water both con gas and sin gas, a coffee machine which makes seven different types of coffee at the touch of a button, and even a bottle of opened red wine. It’s enormous and would be very tempting, but at this time of the morning I really just want muesli and fruit.


We are taking a drink break at the cafe El Picadero on Plaza San Pedro Nolasco. M. tried to order a cappuccino but they didn’t make those, so she got caffe con leche. I tried to ask for an orange juice, but ended up with a fizzy orange soda. (I asked for “juego“, which I thought was “juice”, but looking it up I see that actually means “game”, so who knows what the waitress thought I was asking for.) After finishing the drinks we’ll order some sandwiches for a very late lunch.

Roman theatre stage
Roman Theatre of Caesaraugusta.

Read the rest of this entry »