Carrion Crow

Weekly Photo Challenge: Unexpected

Friday was a beautiful autumnal day. Blue skies, some wispy clouds, a warming sun, perfect for photography and so I decided to take a little trip into the Conwy Valley.

Now in our little part of North Wales we are sometimes afflicted by unpredictable weather, especially during the winter time. It can be sunny on the coast and blowing a blizzard in the mountains.

Low Cloud

On Friday it was low lying cloud. Lots of it, covering the Conwy Valley. Not what I expected. So it was time to change plans and with a quick diversion I ended up at the RSPB Bird Reserve at Conwy. Time now 10:03

RSPB Bird Reserve

Not good at all, the lagoons were empty, not a bird in sight. I mean I’m on a bird reserve for goodness sake, there should be birds. Totally unexpected (there, I’ve said it).

Walking around the reserve I caught this Blue Tit. Great little birds, they’re common in woodland, hedgerows, parks and gardens.

Blue Tit

I’ve got two who regularly visit my garden, trying to avoid the Robin which gets aggressive at the feeders. Blue Tits can be found across the whole of the UK except for some of the Scottish islands.

But here’s the thing I can photograph Blue Tits in my garden, I want something different…….

If photography is about anything it is the deep surprise of living in the ordinary world. By virtue of walking through the fields and streets of this planet, focusing on the small and the unexpected, conferring attention on the helter-skelter juxtapositions of time and space, the photographer reminds us that the actual world is full of surprise, which is precisely that most people, imprisoned in habit and devoted to the familiar, tend to forget. – John Rosenthal

….and as luck would have it along came this Female Reed Bunting.

Female Reed Bunting

Now that’s more like it, something unexpected (that word again). The Reed Bunting is predominantly a farmland and wetland bird but sometimes in winter they will stray into gardens.

I’m totally useless at identifying birds so I have to rely on my good friend Steve Ransome to help me identify most of them. Check out his photostream on Flickr.


The Dunnock more often than not is seen on its own. Nervous birds and never really straying from cover, they will creep along the edge of a flower bed or near to a bush.

The RSPB reserve is situated on the banks of the Conwy estuary and walking around you can get magnificent views of Snowdonia and Conwy Castle.

Conwy Castle

You would also expect to see birds that are at home in the water but they were noticeable by their absence.

Little Egret

Except for the Little Egret standing alone out on the mud flats and this lone Teal which was rooting amongst the vegetation growing along the banks of the estuary.


The UK is home to a significant percentage of the NW European wintering population of Teal and many who winter in the UK come from around the Baltic and Siberia.

It’s 12:30 and the tide is starting to turn. More water is flowing into the estuary, maybe now some birds will return to the lagoons. And I’m not disappointed.

In Flight

Suddenly they fly into the lagoon in large numbers. It’s looking like I might be able to get some reasonable close-ups.


Still a bit of a distance away so I had to do quite a severe crop to get the Redshank to fill the frame. No prizes for guessing how the Redshank gets its name. The biggest groups of breeding birds can be found in parts of Scotland and north-west England, up to a half of them may be from Iceland.

Like I said I’m not really a bird photographer I much prefer landscapes. They don’t move. Not like the next bird in my photograph. One second it was there, the next it was gone. I managed to take two photographs, neither of which was great.

Water Rail

The Water Rail is fairly common but not often seen inhabitant of freshwater wetlands.  A highly secretive bird you’re more likely to hear them than see them. That was an unexpected find….. there’s that word again.

It was getting time to leave Conwy RSPB, I’d run out of coffee for a start, had munched my sandwiches, so I set off walking back along the estuary. heading towards the car park. Sitting on a tree was a big old Carrion Crow and I knew it would fly off as I got close. So camera up, to my eye I started walking towards the Crow, waiting for it to fly off.

A slight digression. Any Doctor Who fans out there? Did you see the 50th Anniversary show last night? Anyway, there I am with the camera and that big 500mm lens and lens hood attached to my face, need I say more.

It was worth it though.

Carrion Crow

Must admit I quite like this one and it helped that the sun was low in the sky helping to accentuate the eye.

I was almost back at the car-park when this female Chaffinch landed on the branches near me. Too good an opportunity to miss.

Female Chaffinch

So there you have it. An unexpected trip to Conwy Bird Reserve at first looked like it was going to be a total washout. However, some unexpected photo opportunities made what could have been a wasted journey a great photo day out and helped me put together this weeks challenge post.

There’s lots of bloggers writing about unexpected so here’s a few you might like to visit and support.


52/2013 Week 47


Five weeks to go until the end of the challenge and I’ve managed to keep on track throughout. Amazing.

This week I bring you the “Winter Warrior” a Robin who visits my garden in late Autumn and stays until early Spring.

The Robin is probably the UK’s most favourite bird. They might look cute, yet they are aggressively territorial and right now this one is defending the bird feeders against all-comers. However, the Blue Tits have a master plan to counter the Robins tactics. One flies to the feeder to distract the Robin and whilst the Robin is chasing it off the other Blue Tit flies in and gets a quick feed. Then they reverse the roles.

Both male and female Robins look identical so it’s impossible to tell which is which.

Talacre Lighthouse

Weekly Photo Challenge: Layers

I use Photoshop layers a lot in my post-processing of HDR images. Usually they will come out a bit flat after the tone-mapping and need a contrast boost. I may do a bit of dodge and burn and sometimes a soft warm glow. Oh! and don’t forget sharpening, all of which are done on their own layers.

Talacre Sunset

But I always feel there is room for improvement. In 1995 Tim Baskerville conducting an interview with Michael Kenna, an English photographer best known for his black & white landscapes, asked the following question;

Do you like to work through things that way; to go back again and again photographing the same places. …

Kenna’s reply was;

Yes. The first time, I usually skim off the outer layer and end up with photographs that are fairly obvious. The second time, I have to look a little deeper. The images get more interesting. The third time it is even more challenging and on each subsequent occasion, the images should get stronger, but it takes more effort to get them.

I’m like that in many ways. I first visited Talacre Lighthouse in 2010 when I moved to North Wales. At the time I was experimenting with the more extreme techniques and settings of HDR. Looking at the photograph above I can see I was making a real mess of it. It’s not only the HDR, it’s the composition as well.

By 2012 I was still having these indescribable urges to go really quite extreme with the HDR processing. Not all of the time, maybe about 25% of my photographs would get that extreme treatment.

Talacre Lighthouse

I mean, nothing is as blue as that and you can see the halo around the lighthouse. Although I have to say I think the composition looks a little better. Everything about this image screams HDR and overdone at that.

Then in 2013 I started to see the light (excuse the pun). Landscape photographs should be natural looking, or at least the ones that I publish, will be.

Talacre Lighthouse

So what does this have to do with layers? I think Michael Kenna was right. The first image I literally arrived on the beach, set up my tripod and took the photograph. With the second one I knew roughly where I was going to take the photograph from. But the third was completely different. Talacre beach is tidal. The only real constant is the lighthouse and even that is changing to some degree because the paint is starting to peel. The biggest change is the beach. Sometimes there are pools of water, sometimes there will be tree branches, or like in the photograph above you can see erosion. Nowadays when I’m photographing, I walk around looking for foreground interest, leading lines, light and shade etc. Mentally I’m composing the picture before I even set the tripod down and attach the camera.

OK! Here’s where you come in. Please take the poll. I’d like to get your view on HDR in landscape photography.

Orange Carpet

Orange and Green

Orange Carpet

On the way back from Valle Crucis Abbey we took a wrong turning and ended up high on the hills overlooking Llangollen. I say a wrong turning but sometimes I like to get off the main roads and follow some of the narrow farm tracks that criss-cross the hills and moors in this area. Why? Because I get to see some amazing scenery, if you stop, you don’t hear the sound of traffic and more often than not you can find some good photo opportunities.

This one caught my eye. The patch of green, with the little white dots of sheep, surrounded by the orange colours of Autumn. I used the tree to break up the dark sky and provide a little framing.

Valle Crucis Abbey

52/2013 Week 46

Valle Crucis Abbey

Hot off the presses, so to speak. Not long been back from Llangollen and Valle Crucis Abbey. It was a beautiful day and the autumn colours are getting deeper and deeper. I’ve featured the Valle Crucis before but for those of you who haven’t seen it here is some information about the abbey.

Valle Crucis Abbey (Valley of the Cross) is a Cistercian abbey located in Llantysilio in Denbighshire, Wales. More formally the Abbey Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Valle Crucis it is known in Welsh both as Abaty Glyn Egwestland Abaty Glyn y Groes. The abbey was built in 1201 by Madog ap Gruffydd Maelor, Prince of Powys Fadog. Valle Crucis was dissolved in 1537 during the Dissolution of the Monasteries, and subsequently fell into serious disrepair. The building is now a ruin, though large parts of the original structure still survive.

Nostag 10

Weekly Photo Challenge: Habit

These weekly challenges are getting weirder and weirder. I mean Habit, this week, Eerie last. How am I meant to find a nun wearing a habit, let alone photograph her. That’s if she would let me. And where am I going to find an eagle in its nest. They’re not exactly in abundance around here.

Oops! Got that one wrong. EE not EY…but I digress. What about this habit thing?

If photography is about anything it is the deep surprise of living in the ordinary world. By virtue of walking through the fields and streets of this planet, focusing on the small and the unexpected, conferring attention on the helter-skelter juxtapositions of time and space, the photographer reminds us that the actual world is full of surprise, which is precisely what most people, imprisoned in habit and devoted to the familiar, tend to forget. – John Rosenthal

I must confess, I’m having trouble with this weeks challenge. Sure I’ve got lots of habits, some I won’t share here, but this is a photography challenge so here goes…..


No! That’s not my habit. A lot of my photographs are landscapes taken in the Snowdonia National Park. This week I’m going to break the habit and show you some photographs from the coast, but no sunsets or Talacre Lighthouse.

Yellow Marker

Zapcat races are run on short courses with repeating laps. Generally they are close to the shore, ensuring that spectators get a great view of the action.

Delta Jet

The origin for Zapcats was the early 80’s in South Africa where local crews competed against each other with inflatable boats. The races were held on rivers and along the coastline.


Since those early days the technology has improved and racing has spread to many countries including the United Kingdom.

Now for something a little gentler. Out to sea we have seen the growth of wind turbine farms. You can see them in some of the photographs above.

North Hoyle Wind Farm was Wales’ first offshore wind farm, and the UK’s first major offshore renewable power project. Situated in Liverpool Bay, it commenced operation in 2003.

North Hoyle covers an area of 10 square kilometres (3.9 sq mi), and is located approximately 7.5 kilometres (4.7 mi) off the coast of North Wales, between the towns of Rhyl and Prestatyn.

Have you ever wondered how they get those massive turbines out to sea?

Wind Turbines

This ship takes them out, you can see some of the turbine masts at the front. I think this is also used to install the masts into the sea bed.

Also off the coast, although some time back, was the Nostag 10 which is a cable laying barge.

Nostag 10

It was laying electricity cables between North Wales and Ireland as part of a power-sharing project.

Right that’s it for me. I hoped you enjoyed this brief break with my normal habits.

Autumn Colours

Autumn Is Here

Autumn has finally arrived in my little part of the world. It’s one of my favourite times of the year, only matched by Spring.

Autumn for me is when colour really comes into the landscape. Sure Spring has a lot to offer but the beautiful reds, yellows and oranges of Autumn far surpass anything produced by Spring. Where better to see it than they Gwydyr Forest which is located in Conwy county borough and the Snowdonia National Park in Wales. It takes its name from the ancient Gwydir Estate, established by the John Wynn family of Gwydir Castle, which owned this area.

Golden Valley

Occupying an undulating plateau and reaching to between 700 and 1,000 feet (210 and 300 m) above sea level, the forest is divided by the valleys of the rivers Llugwy, Lledr, and Machno, all of which are tributaries of the River Conwy.

Within the forest there are numerous lakes including Llyn Geirionydd which lies in a valley where the northern edge of the Gwydyr Forest meets the lower slopes of the Carneddau mountains.

Autumn Colours

Llyn Geirionydd is the only stretch of water in Snowdonia where it is permitted to use power boats or water ski. In all the times I have visited I’ve only ever seen these canoes on the lake.

The lake can be reached by car from Trefriw or Llanrwst in the Conwy valley, the lane passing through the hamlet of Llanrhychwyn, or from the road through the Gwydyr Forest. Access is not particularly easy by either route.

Orange Glow

On a small hill overlooking Llyn Geirionydd stands the Taliesin Monument, which commemorates the sixth century Welsh bard, Taliesin (c. 534 – c. 599), the earliest poet of the Welsh language whose work has survived. He was chief bard in the courts of at least three kings of Britain, and is associated with the Book of Taliesin, a text from the tenth century containing his poems. He lived in the area, mainly on the shores of Llyn Geirionydd, where he is also stated to be buried.

The Taliesin Monument

Descending from Llyn Geirionydd, heading for Llanwrst and Betwys-y-Coed (don’t you just love the Welsh place names, I know I do),  I came across this newly formed lake. It wasn’t there in the summer but now that the rains are starting to fall it has appeared. Seemed like a good photo opportunity……too good to miss.

Lakeside Colours

Betws-y-Coed was founded around a monastery in the late sixth century. The village lies in the Snowdonia National Park, in a valley near the point where the River Conwy is joined by the River Llugwy and the River Lledr.

In the centre of the village the Pont-y-Pair Falls cascade over rocks and under a bridge, best time to see the falls is after rain and on a fine day.

Now the good thing about these falls is they are free to view. There’s a small car-park nearby (50 pence/1 Hour) which gets busy at the weekend, so if you can, visit during the week.

Just a little upstream from the falls there is a small picnic area where you can sit and watch the river pick up speed as it heads towards the falls.


This will probably be my last landscape photography post for a while. Over the next few weeks I will be concentrating on trying to perfect my bird photography technique, something I really need to improve. I’ll also be working on resurrecting my digital artwork, incorporating some of my photographs and stock images, through the medium of Photoshop.

Mr Grumpy Visits Llyn Geirionydd

Mr Grumpy Visits Llyn Geirionydd

Mr Grumpy Visits Llyn Geirionydd

Mr Grumpy knows my routine better than I do. So when I started packing my camera gear this morning he knew I was going out for the day. Never one to miss out on a chance to get in a  photo shoot he parked himself by the door and gave me those Big Brown Eyes.

My plan had been to visit Talacre Bird Reserve. With a higher than normal tide and off-shore winds there was a good chance I would get some good photographs of visitors to the marshes as they were forced closer to the shore by the rising water.

All Change! Mr Grumpy likes fresh mountain air and somewhere where there are lots of trees that he can lift his leg to. If there are sheep around that’s an added bonus, because he can fall asleep in the back of the car dreaming about them.

Girl in Blue

Weekly Photo Challenge: Eerie (Again)

After the Red Monk I decided to have another go at putting together something Eerie for the challenge. Only this time not so dark.

The background choice was pretty easy this time as I had a photograph of three trees in a foggy field that I knew I could play with.

Girl in Blue

The next step was to get a subject and for this one I used a stock image from PersephoneStock on deviantART. The model was against a background of trees and bushes. For my image I wanted her isolated and that’s where one of my favourite Photoshop plugins comes in. Topaz ReMask allows me to extract bits of an image to use elsewhere. In this case just the model.

Using Photoshop Brushes I added the birds and the lightning. You know I think the lightning is too much. Maybe I could have done without it. What do you think?

To darken the image I used I used two textures from Shadowhouse Creations. Jerry creates some amazing textures which he freely makes available. If you are thinking of using textures in your artwork check out his amazing stuff and try his tutorials.

Of course there’s more to this image than the steps I just described, blending layers, cropping, resizing and most importantly my imagination all had a part to play in putting this together.


The Red Monk

Weekly Photo Challenge: Eerie

Occasionally I get in the mood to dabble with Photoshop and this weeks challenge seemed like a good time to have a go. Of course it could also be that with all the high winds and heavy rain we’ve been having I haven’t set foot outside the door with the camera. However……

The Red Monk

It’s a bit dark this one but in keeping with eerie I wanted to make it that way. I started off with a photograph of Gloucester Cathedral Cloisters, trust me it is there in the background, not obvious, but it’s there.  Often when I start something like this I will try different things, sometimes just letting my imagination run wild. Originally there was a map behind the monk and then I changed it for a clock. The monk replaced a wood nymph… get the idea, I hope.

Now I don’t have a ready stock of model photographs on tap so I am indebted to “Marcus J Ranum” for making his models freely available for use. I’d also like to thank “dead-brushes” for the use of the clock brushes for Photoshop. Both can be found on Deviant Art.