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

Never Trust A Weather Report

It’s Tuesday, night and I’m at home planning a trip to Llanddwyn Island for the following day. Being tidal I need to check the tide times, Low Tide is 09:15 and High is 14:38, More than enough to get on, have a wander round, take some photographs and get back without getting my feet wet. Now for the weather. Cloudy with sunny intervals, not great, but workable. At least it’s not raining, because Llanddwyn is open and exposed with almost no shelter.

Next day finds me at Newborough Forest and it’s howling a gale, wind speed gusting up to 50 mph, dark skies and looking like there’s going to be a downpour at any moment. That’s the problem with driving to a location, You’re sort of isolated in the car and not entirely aware of the weather outside. It looked so good when I was passing by the mountains of Snowdonia. Well I’m here now so I might as well get on with it.

Way To The Beach
Wooden walkway leading to the beach

Parking for Llanddwyn is in the Newborough Forest Beach Car Park, currently it ill cost you £5, I don’t know if it goes up in the summer months. Once you’ve parked, you can choose to take the boardwalk on to the beach or walk through the forest to get to Llanddwyn Island. I chose the forest route because the sand was being whipped up by the wind and didn’t half sting exposed skin.

Using old trees and fences. sand, driven by the wind, can form new dunes

Walking through the forest is quite eerie, apart from the wind, whistling through the tall pines I didn’t see or hear another person until I got onto the beach, near the island. Come to think of it, the car park was pretty empty when I arrived. Maybe people knew something I didn’t.

A Walk In The Forest
You can walk through the forest to Llanddwyn Island

It’s a fair old hike, about 20-30 minutes through the forest but eventually you come out onto the beach and then it’s a short walk across to the island. When the tide is out, you’d never know you are on an island. When the tide comes in I’ve been told as long as it’s not an exceptionally high tide, you’d still be able to get across and maybe just get your feet wet. But with the high winds driving the waves onshore I decided to allow myself three hours to get some photographs before making sure I was off the island. That’s more than time enough, because if you are reasonably fit you should be able to walk around and visit the important sights in about an hour. Of course stopping to take photographs can take longer.

Celtic Cross
Perched on a rocky outcrop, this is the first monument you can photograph

Once your on the island the first monument you see is this Celtic Cross. It stands in an elevated position at the side of the path. It’s nothing fantastic, twice I’ve photographed it but never got anything I would consider putting on a wall.

Just across from the Celtic Cross stands the ruins of Saint Dwynen’s church. She is considered to be the Welsh equivalent of Saint Valentine

The Church Of St. Dwynwen
St. Dwynwen is the Welsh patron saint of lovers, making her the Welsh equivalent of St. Valentine

There are two classic views for photographers to the island. This is one of them, include a sunset or the stars at night and you’ve got a real seller. Just be aware the car park closes at 23:00 and wardens come around to check. Apparently you are not allowed to stay overnight in the car park but I don’t know what would happen if you did to get that nigh time photograph.

Cross and Bench
One of the classic views from Llanddwyn Island

The most classic view is probably this one which includes the cross and the lighthouse, maybe even get the bench in as well if you’ve got a wide enough lens.

Cross and Lighthouse
This is considered the classic photograph from Llanddwyn Island

From the island you can see right across the Menai Strait to Snowdonia and Caernavon. Well you can if you’ve not got grey skies and low-lying cloud.

Snowdonia View
Looking over the Menai Strait to Snowdonia and Caernarvon

On the island there is a small terrace of cottages, which between the 17th and 19th century housed the Menai Straits Pilots. The pilots guided the many ships, carrying Welsh Slate to the entire world, through the narrow and dangerous Menai Straits. In the photograph above the straits look nice and wide but they soon narrow as you get closer to Bangor before widening out again near Penmon Point.

Cottages on the island, I’ve never seen anyone in them

It’s time to leave the island. I’ve still got plenty of time to get across to the mainland and the forest which you can see in the photograph below.

At the start of the island there is an information board and shelter

This little building is the only real shelter on the island so I was lucky that the rain held off. Slowly but surely the tide will come in and creep up the beach until it meets up with the tide coming in from the other side of the island.

Anyway, a nice walk through the forest for me, something to eat and a cup of coffee when I get back to the car and then time to head home.


You know I mentioned at the start of this post that it looked quite good in Snowdonia, well on the way home I decided to divert into the Ogwen valley and see what it was like.

Ogwen Valley and the path to Cwm Idwal

What a difference, hardly any wind at the lower levels, the sun was out, some clouds over the mountains but they were moving quite fast, must be windy up there, But all in all, not too bad. If only, (how many times have I said that before after a day out) the weather had been this good on Llanddwyn Island

Well that’s it. I hope you enjoyed the photographs – Mike

Friendly Friday Photo Challenge – Inspiration

How convenient that this challenge has just started. After quite a long break from blogging on Say It With A Camera I’ve finally started to get back into the swing of things with some new posts.

Last week I took some time out to visit a place I have been meaning to photograph for years, Gwylfa Hiraethog, which sits high on the Denbigh Moors in North Wales.

Gwylfa Hiraethog
High on the moors above Llyn Brennig Gwylfa Hiraethog is reputed to be haunted

Abandoned now and a total ruin, the lodge is reputed to be haunted, not that I saw anything.


But a photographer friend of mine say visiting at night takes on a more spooky atmosphere. At 496 metres above sea level, the lodge in the late nineteenth century was considered to be the highest inhabited house in Wales, with some fantastic views of the surrounding countryside.

Not the greatest of photographs, taken with 75-300mm lens at 300mm this is the view from Gwylfa Hiraethog towards the Snowdonia National Park.

Looking from Gwylfa Hiraethog towards the Snowdonia National Park

And from another side you can see towards the coast.  Looks so close, thanks to the power of the 75-300mm lens but in reality it’s about 20km away.

Sea View
Looking from Gwylfa Hiraethog towards the coast

Now it might be lonely up there, but it’s far from quiet. This area is used by low flying military aircraft from RAF Valley, training future fast jet pilots. Gets quite noisy at times but I just saw it as another photo opportunity. More on that in another post.

Anyway, moving on. I love the moors, vast open spaces with the occasional tree to break up the featureless terrain.

Lone Tree
Lone tree on the Denbigh Moors

There’s also a lot of reservoirs on the moors. It’s cold up there as well so swimming is not advised.

Warning Sign
Swimming in cold water reservoirs can be dangerous

Being in Wales, we get all signs in two languages, Welsh and English. Can be confusing at times, especially with road signs, but you soon get used to it.

Well that wraps it ups for this post. I hope you enjoyed the photographs and all that is left for me to say is “thank you” to both Snow and Amanda for hosting the Friendly Friday Photo Challenge – Mike

A Look Back In Time

Way back in 2013 I wrote about the sea defences that protect Prestatyn and showed a series of photographs taken at sunset. When I look back at that post I realise how cringe worthy my photographs were then, mainly due to over enthusiatic use of HDR processing. Nowadays I would do those photos completely differently, so I thought it would be interesting to compare what was then and and what is now. In each case I’ll show the “then” first, with the second being the “now”

Sunset on Prestatyn Beach

When you look at these two, the difference is not too bad, although I do think the bottom one looks more natural. Cropping to the “rool of thurds” has put a different perspective on the bottom photograph.

Wide expanse of beach area at Prestatyn

Lets look at another pair from the same post.

Footprints in the Sand

Oh! My goodness what was I doing in the photograph above. Mind you, I probably wouldn’t even have considered this photograph for inclusion in a blog post today. It’s pretty boring and has no obvious point of interest.

2 Footprints
Footprints in the sand made by me

You can see where this is going. Nowadays I generally veer towards a more natural look for photographs. Yes, I still use HDR but not the pumped-up on steroids version of yester-year.

This one below was originally titled Blue Hour on Prestatyn Beach and so I pushed the emphasis of light towards the blue end of the spectrum, easily enough to do in Lightroom. But I was so into pushing the colours and bringing out detail from the shadows that I often forgot to take care of lens flares or dust spots.

Blue Hour on Prestayn Beach

This is probably another photograph that I would reject for use on the blog. But I do prefer the more warm colour.

3 Ripples
Ripples in the sand caused by tide action

Over the years I have tried just about every HDR program that’s available for PC. When I want something a little bit grungy, usually abandoned buildings then invariably I will resort to PhotoMatix from HDRSoft but I don’t push the sliders, like I used to do. Today I’m more likely to use Exposure Fusion than Details Enhancer. If you’re a PhotoMatix user you’ll know what I mean.

This is supposed to be sunset and yet you can see every detail in those rocks below. There are no shadows to speak of and that’s what I was trying to achieve in 2013. Really.

Sunset on Prestatyn Beach

With the sun setting, those foreground rocks would never be like that. Come to think of it, even in broad daylight they wouldn’t be like that.

Hidden by the incoming tide, these rocks can be slippery when exposed

Halo’s around the groyne marker caused by pushing the strength slider in PhotoMatix far too high and then I think I added a touch of Glamour Glow from NIK Color Efex as it was then.

Groyne Markers on Prestatyn Beach

Compare this to the far more natural version of the same photograph below. I know which one I prefer.

5 Silhouette
Groyne marker silhouetted against the setting sun

Earlier in this post I mentioned the Detail Enhancer preset in PhotoMatix which if over enthusiatically used tends to give that grungy, way over the top look so indicative of HDR on steroids.

Thin Yellow Line

Compare that to the photograph below that, yes has been blened for HDR, but this time in Lightroom, then sharpened using Frequencty Separation in Photoshop. I hope you’ll agree it’s a vast improvent from it’s 2013 version?

6 Sea Defences
Concrete steps and a curved wall help protect Prestatyn against the sea

OK! My final photograph for this post. Oops look like I really went to town with this one in Photomatix.

Mind the Steps

I’ve alos learned how to correct perspective issues, which has been made so much easier in Lightroom these days

7 Warning
When the tide goes out the concrete steps can be slippery.

Well that’s it for this post. I hope you’ll take time to comment. Do you think todays version of the photographs is better than those from 2013. I really would like to hear your thoughts – Mike


The semi-final of the World Cup is on. England are playing Croatia and everyone says “it’s coming home” (the world cup that is). England last won it in 1966.

However as a Scotsman, living in Wales, I’m off out for a bit of photography at Talacre with a few other togs who couldn’t care less whether England win or lose. I later heard they lost. So perhaps we can get back to some sanity in my house where “she who must be obeyed” is not screaming “c’mon ref he’s diving” or my all time favourite “oooooooohhh, he’s hit the post”.

So anyway down on the beach, timed for sunset (we didn’t get one) and an incoming tide. More on that later. To get to the beach you have to walk through the sand dunes before finally getting a sight of the abandoned lighthouse.

Through The Dunes

As you can see the sky is grey, and pretty flat so in order to get some interest in the photographs I’ve decided to add a 6 stop filter, with an 0.6 ND Grad and shoot some long exposures using a tripod and remote shutter release to steady the camera.With the incoming tide raining the waves a bit , the ND filter will smooth out the sea and hopefully I’ll get some good effects. The ND Grad should help bring some definition into the clouds as well.

Talacre Lighthouse

I’ve always been an advocate of “if you go to the beach check the tide times and height” and I did. I also noticed that where I was standing to take this photograph was a sort of sandbar and behind me was a dip. Ideal conditions for the incoming tide to creep in behind you, and it did. So there I am, thinking “just one more at a two second exposure” and then I’ll head further up the beach. My camera buddies had already moved and where shouting me to shift. When I turned around, oops. Lots of water between me and dry land. Fortunately I did have my wellies on so was able to wade through the water which was rising pretty fast and was just about up to the top of my wellies.

In reality I wasn’t in any real danger, because I could have run further along the beach and crossed where it was still pretty shallow.

But the moral is “don’t be distracted by one more shot and always be aware of what’s hapining all around you”. How many times have I told myself “no photograph is worth putting yourself in harms way”, and yet…….

So my final photograph is another of the Lighthouse.


Last night was a bit of an experiment for me. I’m a proponent of shooting in RAW. I have been for years, but just recently I read an article about using JPEG if you weren’t going to be altering the photograph too much in Lightroom or Photoshop, which is generally true for me. Probably not ideal conditions for such an experiment but I decided to stick with it anyway. I’d also been reading about a different way of processing for Black and White and also decided to adopt that method as well. With the non, existant sunset and grey skies I thought that might be a good idea.

So there you are, a few from last nights trip to Talacre.