Living History

Roman Britain, Vikings & Saxons, Jousting Knights, Cavaliers & Roundheads, World War 1 & 2, the Victorians, to name but a few, the United Kingdom is not short of reenactment groups who give up their time and money to present us with living history.

For a photographer there’s some great opportunities, as most reenactors are happy to have their photograph taken, but it’s always best to ask.

Cartier-Bresson says he cannot take portraits of actors because they pose.

Personally, I like to ask them first about their history, because I like to hear the story behind their reenactment,  then later on ask about photographs and yes they do tend to pose.

The weekend of the 13/14 April saw me at Bodrhyddan Hall for a living history WW1 and 2 reenactment

Bodrhyddan Hall
Olympus OM-D E-M1 1/320s, f11, ISO200

Although I’ve lived in this area for about 10 years, it’s the first time I’ve visited the grounds, mainly due to the fact that the hall and grounds are only open at certain times of the year and I keep forgetting when.

This year the reenactment was taking place in a large field near the hall

Reenactment Village
Olympus OM-D E-M1 1/200s, f11, ISO200

and I was able to get some photographs from the grounds on my way there

Landscaped Gardens
Olympus OM-D E-M1 1/320s, f11, ISO200

Wandering around I came across this delightful gentleman who was painting in watercolours from old photographs of soldiers.

Olympus OM-D E-M1 1/200s, f5.6, ISO200

From the first World War, what was it Cartier Bresson said? We had a good chat, I asked about the photograph and he stuck his pipe in. It just made for a totally different photograph and I like it.

Olympus OM-D E-M1 1/320s, f5.6, ISO200

I didn’t stop to have a talk here as they were getting ready for a firing display in the arena.

Olympus OM-D E-M1 1/800s, f5.6, ISO200

In the arena we were going to be treated to a firing display of different types of weapons from WW2 and soon the reenactors filtered down.

Olympus OM-D E-M1 1/500s, f5.6, ISO200

Before the weapons were fired, we were given some history about the way they were used,

Olympus OM-D E-M1 1/400s, f6.1, ISO200

their effectiveness in battle

Olympus OM-D E-M1 1/1600s, f5.6, ISO200

and in some cases a comparison between opposing forces weapons.

Olympus OM-D E-M1 1/640s, f5.6, ISO200

And now for my lucky capture of the day.

Olympus OM-D E-M1 1/500s, f5.6, ISO200

During the demonstration they fired five mortars, I had the camera in burst mode recording 18 frames a second. In four out of the five all I caught was a puff of smoke.

Meanwhile around the arena various reenactors were watching the firing displays

Olympus OM-D E-M1 1/640s, f6.7, ISO200

The press corps, look at that camera

Olympus OM-D E-M1 1/320s, f6.1, ISO200


Olympus OM-D E-M1 1/1000s, f6.3, ISO200

The Big Boss!

Olympus OM-D E-M1 1/800s, f6.7, ISO200

Meanwhile back in the arena. Look at the front. They use blank charges in these weapons and you can see the remnants of that charge coming out the front. Just because it’s a blank doesn’t mean it can’t do damage to someone. So although this looks close I was shooting, excuse the pun, with a 300mm lens from some distance away.

Olympus OM-D E-M1 1/800s, f6.1, ISO200

A long time ago I used to do a lot of photo composites using Photoshop. Basically I would take a photograph and usually change out the background for something more interesting. So with that in mind I took several photographs of this reenactor.

Olympus OM-D E-M1 1/500s, f5.6, ISO200

A shape like that above is easy to cut out in Photoshop and then it’s just a case of blending it into the background which I obtained from a stock site called DeviantArt

My thanks to Nathies Stock for this beautiful painted background

After the firing display I took the time to wander around some of the static displays on show. If I remember rightly these guys represent Finnish troops.

Olympus OM-D E-M1 1/500s, f5.6, ISO200

You’ll notice they are sitting around a fire. Despite the fact that it was sunny day, there was a really cold wind blowing across the field and most static displays had a fire of sorts

Olympus OM-D E-M1 1/500s, f5.6, ISO200

All in all I had an enjoyable day and although the grounds weren’t officially open to the public there were a few people having a look, so I went for a wander before heading home.

Olympus OM-D E-M1 1/250s, f5.6, ISO200

I found a really nice area with this summer-house and lake but that was it for me. I was tired, hungry and it was time to go home.

Until next time – Mike


In Search Of Bluebells

Thursday saw me at Bodnant Gardens, about 30 minutes drive from my house. The gardens are a National Trust property, spanning about 80 acres of hillside with formal Italianate terraces…


…and shrub borders stocked with plants from all over the world.


At first everything is on the level with well laid out paths.

Laid Out Paths
Laid Out Paths

You can follow these paths to meadows, dotted with daffodils in the spring

Late Spring Daffodils
Late Spring Daffodils

whilst in the late spring, bluebells carpet the shaded areas of the woods.


If you just want to sit and take in the splendour there are benches dotted around to sit and enjoy the view.

Places To Rest
Places To Rest

But as you walk through the gardens you have to start going downhill to see everything.

The Old Mill
The Old Mill

Once you get down into the Dell you can follow the river until you reach the waterfall.


Behind the waterfall is the lake. Normally it’s much higher than this, but surprisingly for North Wales we’ve not had a lot of rain this past few weeks.


I love this tree, hanging over the lake. It’s the one you can see in the photograph above, just up from the people sitting on the bench on the left hand side.

Hanging Tree

From the lake I followed the river, back towards the Old Mill.

Bridge Over Troubled Waters
Bridge Over Troubled Waters

Or if you prefer you can take a really steep path back up towards the family mausoleum by crossing the bridge at the waterfall.


It’s a nice walk and there a few good photo opportunities on the way.

Off The Beaten Track
Off The Beaten Track

Whilst I’m down in the valley a little more history about the gardens. First started in 1874 and developed by five generations of the same family, the gardens were gifted to the National Trust in 1949.

Although the family home is still standing on th estate it’s not open to the public, but the gardens around the house are quite interesting and that’s where we are heading now.

The House
The House

That of course means a climb back up the hillside to ge onto th eterraces near the house.

High Point
Rest And Be Thankful

Just as well there are some benches to sit and rest on the way up. But eventually I get there and this is where the gardens are most busy. Not all visitors venture down into the Dell.

On the terraces, probably the most photographed building is the Pin Mill and the Lily Pond. Been there, done that, read all about it here.

Just for a change I’m going to photograph it from a different angle. But first I’ve got to get there. so it’s up the steps of the terraces to where I want to go.

Stairs To terrace
Stairs To Terrace

Not there yet.

The House Reflected
The House Reflected

Still climbing….

Beautiful Steps
Beautiful Steps

…and climbing.

Too Early For Wisteria
Too Early For Wisteria

At last, I’ve made it. In reality, it’s a very simple walk up a few levels and it doesn’t take long at all. But hey, I’ve got to explain the photographs somehow.

Was it worth it, probably not. but the Lilly Pond was empty and there were too many people walking about to get a decent photograph, so here it is from an angle.

Another Angle
Pin Mill From Another Angle

The one thing I have missed, is the famous Laburnum tunnel, apparently the longest in the world.. It’s too early in the year for the Laburnum to be out, but when it is, it’s very hard to get a photograph with no one walking into the scene.

Laburnum Arch
Laburnum Arch

Another month and it will be out, so I’m going to try to get one this year with it free of people.

Before I go I have to show you my photograph of the day and it’s one of those you manage to capture purely by chance.

Male Pheasant surrounded by Bluebells at Bodnant Garden

After I had finished photographing the Pin Mill I decided to go back to the bluebells and catch them in the late afternoon sun. I started to take a few photographs and at first didn’t spot this male pheasant. Wrong lens. I’ve got the wide-angle 9mm on I need the 300mm. Don’t move, please stay there, please. Oh! No, there’s a couple walking through the bluebells towards the pheasant. He hasn’t spotted them yet but when he does…

Meanwhile I’m trying to gesture, stay back, change the lens on the camera and keep a sight of the pheasant. Eventually they stop walking towards him and I breathe a sigh of relief. Forty four photographs I took, only two were pin sharp around the eye, in my haste I’d forgotten to change my focus points to a tighter group. But I manged to get one. So for me the photograph of the day and that’s why I have submitted this post to the Friendly Friday Photo Challenge.

Holyhead Breakwater Country Park

Rugged cliff top walks, amazing scenery and with a little bit of industrial heritage., Holyhead Breakwater Country Park is a hidden gem that I knew nothing about until yesterday

Situated on the isle of Anglesey, North Wales the park takes in some of the coastline to the east/west of the Port of Holyhead (more about that in a later post).

Setting off from the visitors centre I followed the well laid out coastal path towards the cliffs.

Coastal Path
1/100s, F11, ISO 200

Along the way I found a nice wooden bench to sit and watch the world go by for a while.

Carved Bench
1/100s, F10, ISO 200

Except I didn’t see a soul whilst I was there. Peace and solitude, except for the calls from the gulls on the cliffs.

Wooden Gate
1/60s, F11, ISO 200

Can’t sit around all day, so through a wooden gate, onto a more rugged path, to be met with a rich carpet of yellow and purple.

Purple and Yellow
1/80s, F10, ISO200

I’m almost  at the cliffs, part of the reason I’ve headed this way is the warden told me there were some really good views from the cliffs.. I’m a bit disappointed at this point. I’ve seen far better in the Snowdonia National Park, but hey, I’ve got my camera and I’m enjoying the walk.

1/100s, F10, ISO 200

The warden told me once I reached this point, I could take the path further on along the cliffs and complete a circular route back to the visitors centre.

High Path
1/80s, F10, ISO200

Seemed a good idea at the time, when he suggested it, but from this point the route gets really rugged with a walk along the cliff edge. On the Horizon, almost dead centre you can see one of the ferries from Ireland heading to the port of Holyhead.

Cliff Edge
1/160s, F10, ISO 200

Nearly all day the sky had been pretty grey and flat, now the wind was starting to get up as well and I felt pretty exposed out there on the cliffs. In the end I decided discretion was the better part of valour. I was out on the narrow cliff path with no one around, if I had an accident I could be in trouble.

Don’t get me wrong here. I didn’t think I was in any trouble but I’ve always said “no photograph is worth putting yourself in harm’s way to get”. It probably was safe to go on but the path was getting more rugged and starting to climb steeply up the cliff side.

Dark Sky
1/100s, F10, ISO 200

So I turned back. I still had the industrial side to look at and the way that sky was getting darker I was worried about rain.

Luckily it stayed off and I was able to carry on wandering around the park. There were some ruins hidden away in the undergrowth.

1/60s, F10, ISO 200

Not much of them left. the walk through the yellow gorse was of more interest.

Yellow Gorse
1/60s, F10, ISO 200

Near the visitors centre are the part remains of a brick works, here at least some of the buildings remain a bit more intact.

Brick Kiln
1/20s, F10, ISO 200

Everything is fenced off though. You can walk around but you are not able to touch. Does mean you have to shoot through a fence, but I can work with that.

Steel Fence
1/160s, F10, ISO 200

Well that’s it. I enjoyed the walk out to the cliffs, the industrial heritage was a bit of a disappointment. There’s far better buildings that you can get at throughout the Snowdonia National Park. I can recommend Dinorwic Slate Quarry or the National Slate Museum, both of which are at Llanberis if you want to see real industrial heritage buildings.

Later this week I’ll post about Holyhead port – Mike

Goodbye Adobe

For some time now I have had the feeling that Adobe Camera Raw is not doing justice to the files hat come out of the Olympus E-M1 Mk2. Straight from the camera with Adobe’s RAW conversion (Lightroom or Photoshop) they always look noisy and over saturated and usually I have to do some work to get them back to something that I like. Sometimes though, it takes more time than I want to spend on a photograph, occasionally I’m still not satisfied with the final result.

Last weekend it all came to a head when I noticed that everything I had shot at High ISO (3200 – 6400) looked incredibly noisy, as for the skin tones,  I thought they all had jaundice.

Default RAW Conversion from Adobe Lightroom

Just recently Olympus released a new version of their RAW Converter, the previous one was incredibly slow and clunky, so I never used it. Lightroom has always been my goto software for developing RAW files, I’ve been using it since version 4.

Interestingly Olympus were demonstrating their Workspace software at the Photography Show last weekend and it did seem a lot faster with a better designed interface.

It had to do a better job than Lightroom so I decided to give it a go to see if it could do anything different with the files from the E-M1 Mk 2

Default RAW Conversion from Olympus Workspace

Definitely a marked improvement, not as much noise, maybe not quite as sharp as the Lightroom version. But I can always add sharpness far easier than I can take noise away.

So with that in mind I decided to process a few photographs from the photography show at the NEC.

Male Model
Olympus E-M1 Mk2 & 75-300mm. F6.3 1/250s ISO 3200

A little background though. The models weren’t posing for me. They are there to work for companies who are demonstrating lighting equipment, techniques, etc. Usually lots of photographers will gather around these demonstration, camera equiped with a telephoto lens and take some photographs. You’re not close to the model, lighting and angles might not be ideal, but it’s a good opportunity to photograph something different. In the main I’m a landscape photographer.

As far as I’m aware I can use these photographs for my blog as I’m not making any money from it. If you are one of the models featured here and want me to take the photograph down I will. Alternatively if you would like me to add your name to the photograph I’m quite happy to do this.

Olympus E-M1 Mk2 & 75-300mm F6.3 1/80s ISO 6400
Olympus E-M1 Mk2 & 75-300mm F6.3 1/80s ISO 6400

My process was to do the RAW Development with Olympus Workspace with finishing touches completed in Affinity Photo from Serif. My contract with Adobe is due to end in May, so I’m looking to drop them altogether and continue with the Olympus/Serif workflow.

Olympus E-M1 Mk2 & 75-300mm F6.3 1/125s ISO3200

After years of using Lightroom I find it quite strange and not so intuitive but it is early days. I must say though, there are some things I am used to doing in Lightroom that just can’t be done with this new workflow, so I can see some compromises coming. And here’s one that evident straight away. Some of the photographs are missing a watermark. In Lightroom it’s automatic. With Affinity Photo I have to remember to brush it on, and as you can see I’ve forgotten to do it in several instances

Olympus E-M1 Mk2 & 75-300mm F6.3 1/80s ISO 6400

In the photograph above I was 5 metres away from the model so had to zoom in quite a bit. The image was soft but a double pass of High Pass Sharpening around the eyes and lips makes it look a lot sharper. I don’t normally sharpen everything, otherwise you bring out all of the blemishes on the skin.

Olympus E-M1 Mk 2 & 75-300mm F6.3 1/160s ISO 4000
Olympus E-M1 Mk 2 & 75-300mm F6.3 1/160s ISO 4000

Lighting on this was terrible. The Queen of Hearts, was walking around one of the big camera manufacturers demo stand for their cameras. There was harsh overhead and side lighting, lots of shadows were there shouldn’t be and she never kept still, walking from one side of the stand to the other.

My final photograph. I used the same technique described earlier to get the photograph ready for publishing. but in addition I used the Glamour Glow and Darken/Lighten filter from the old NIK Color Efex to soften the skin and adda bit of a vignette.

Olympus E-M1 Mk2 & 75-300mm F6.3 1/160s ISO 6400
Olympus E-M1 Mk2 & 75-300mm F6.3 1/160s ISO 6400

So that’s it from me. I really need to work on using this new software and see if I can create a new workflow that I’m happy with.

Until next time – Mike


The Sunset That Never Happened

Well it did; the sun did set but the sky never lit up as expected. This past week we have been experiencing some glorious sunrises/sunsets and I had hoped that last night would be no exception. Sadly it was!

Frith Sunset
Olympus E-M1 Mk2 using a 3 shot HDR base exposure 1/13s at F11 ISO 200

As soon as I got down the beach I could see that big bank of cloud right on the horizon and knew it would dull any sort of real sunset. But I decided to hang around just in case

I was right. The sun has just about set and it was a very mediocre sunset compared to some of the ones we get here.

Olympus E-M1 Mk2 using a 3 shot HDR base exposure 1/3s at F11 ISO 200

Still it got me out for an hour or so whilst “she who must be obeyed” watched the Cup Final on TV. It also allowed me to keep practicing with the 9-18mm wide-angle that I bought a few weeks back.

The Watkins Path

Another day out in Snowdonia, this time on the Watkin Path, considered to be the most brutal of the paths to the summit of Snowdon. But I wouldn’t be going that far.

The path starts with a  wander through the woods and for photographers there are some good photo opportunities. Moss is growing on everything here, rocks, trees, small stones.

I suggest to really appreciate the photographs you click on them to see a larger size version.

Moss Bank
Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mk2 1/6s at f11 ISO 200

Once again the weather wasn’t that fantastic, low-lying cloud, grey skies and just before I pulled into the car-park it was raining quite heavily. You might ask, “why go out if the weather is that bad,” but where I live on the coast, it was nice blue skies, with lovely wispy cloud…and the weather report for Snowdonia was for similar conditions.

Woodland Path
Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mk2 1/15s at f11 ISO 200

Anyway the grey skies didn’t seem to be muting the colours and I was having a pleasant walk through the woods.

Wooden Bridge
Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mk2 1/10s at f11 ISO 200

There are two wooden bridges across small rivers tumbling down from the hills above. With the rain, the rivers were flowing quite well but I know from past experience that there are better waterfalls further up the path.

Wooden Bridge
Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mk2 1/13s at f11 ISO 200

Just after this bridge the climb starts in earnest so I was glad to linger and take some more photographs before heading on.

In preparation for this walk I had really lightened the load, equipment wise. My camera, one wide-angle lens, food, water, hot drink and waterproofs.

That's The Way
Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mk2 3 Exposure HDR 1/320s at f8 ISO 200

Once on the path proper, it’s pretty open and exposed. I nearly always carry my waterproofs, the weather in Snowdonia can change quickly, so it’s best to be prepared. I’m heading up the path to get into the valley. However I decided to take a slight detour to photograph an abandoned building and those falls you can see on the right hand side.

Abandoned Building
Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mk2 1/15s at f11 ISO 200

It was hard to photograph these falls as a fair amount of spray was gathering on the lens every time I turned to compose the shot. In the end I focused with my back to the falls, turned round and fired the shutter quickly.

Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mk2 1/125s at f11 ISO 400

The problem with taking a detour is you go off the marked path and down by the falls and that building the ground was quite boggy. The climb out back to the main path was steep, wet and slippery, but eventually I got back onto the main track.

Stone Path
Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mk2 3 Exposure HDR 1/200s at f8 ISO 200

Did I mention how hard it can be on your feet. This is boots country and yet I have seen people up here with trainers and ordinary day shoes.

Anyway, onwards and upwards until I finally reached the area of the valley where some of the ruined buildings are.

Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mk2 1/25s at f11 ISO 400

Now I’m walking along the side of the river as it comes tumbling down over the rocks giving me so many photo opportunities.

Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mk2 1/60s at f11 ISO 400

Well I’ve finally reached a level area in the valley and it seems a good spit to have lunch. I’m at an altitude of 260m, not that high really, but occasionally clouds swirls past coating everything in a fine mist. But it’s so peaceful up here, Yes there are some walkers about but the loudest sound is the river as it passes by the building I’m sitting by to eat lunch

Riverside Ruins
Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mk2 3 Exposure HDR 1/250s at f8 ISO 200

Some hot coffee, a sandwich and an energy bar and I’m ready to start photographing again. This is as far as I’ll be following the path as I’ve left myself two hours to get back to where my car is parked. Who needs a parking fine and they are keen here.

But I’ve spotted another waterfall I want to photograph before going back.

Green Pool
Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mk2 3 Exposure HDR 1/320s at f8 ISO 200

Right, time to start heading down, so over the bridge and onto the track.

Bridge Over River
Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mk2 3 Exposure HDR 1/200s at f8 ISO 200

But before I do I should show you an example of a typical Welsh Slate Fence, at one time very common in this area. After all, there was plenty of it in abundance, with slate mines and quarries all over Snowdonia

Slate Fence
Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mk2 3 Exposure HDR 1/1250s at f8 ISO 200

That’s where I’m going. Right down the path to that area of green you can see away in the distance.

Watkins Path
Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mk2 3 Exposure HDR 1/300s at f8 ISO 200

On the way down I spotted this lone tree, silhouetted against the grey sky. I really did want to stop and get closer, do it betetr justice but time was getting on and I was getting tired anywy. Maybe another time.

Lone Tree
Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mk2 3 Exposure HDR 1/800s at f8 ISO 200

OK! This is my last photograph. Instead of taking the path through the woods I decided to take another route which looked like it could get me back to the car quicker. On the way down I had stopped, probably more than I should to take more photographs, and time was getting tight.

I’m glad I did take what I thought was a shortcut (it was) because I found this amazing wall on the way.

Mossy Wall
Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mk2 3 Exposure HDR 1/160s at f8 ISO 200

Well that’s it. I hope you enjoyed the walk with me up some of the Watkins path – Mike



In The Studio

Last night I was in the studio plating around with lights. The idea was to set up some flash lights with different coloured gels and get the model to walk towards them in a criss-cross path. As she approached a light it would fire.

The Ghost
Studio set-up with flash lights firing as the model walked towards them

First of all got the model to pose roughly in the centre of the area were she would be walk and f11 was set as the aperture. This should ensure that from front to back of the models travel everything would be in focus.

To allow for the model walking across the floor it was timed at roughly 15 seconds so I set an exposure of 15 seconds in the camera. ISO was 200, the native ISO for the Olympus E-M1 Mk2. With such a long exposure the camera had to mounted on a tripod and to make sure blur wasn’t introduced when I pressed the shutter I also used a remote shutter release.

For a first time experiment I’m pleased with the results. It could have been better I agree but I got something I could use.