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Border Blue Sky

By |2019-05-17T13:13:59+01:00May 17th, 2019|Categories: The Test Strip Photoblog|Tags: , , , , , , |

East Coast railway train crossing the Royal Border Bridge at Berwick Upon Tweed in Northumberland.
East Coast railway train crossing the Royal Border Bridge at Berwick Upon Tweed in Northumberland.

It was a quick hop, skip and a jump over the Scottish border last weekend with blue skies high above. The weather couldn’t have been any better. It was far removed from the mist and rain of Edinburgh a few weeks before.

The last time I’d visited the borders was in 1992. That visit was part of a family holiday that achieved legendary status. In 15 days we visited various locations in Northumberland, moved into the border areas of Scotland and then finished the holiday in the Lake District. None of it had been planned.

Some twenty-seven years later I found myself travelling back along that same road heading north.

St Abbs (twinned with New Asgard)

A last minute booking found a rather nice old coach house near St Abbs, a beautiful Scottish fishing village. Just recently the harbour in St Abbs was seen in the Avengers Endgame movie as New Asgard – Thor’s new home. It looks and feels a lot like visiting a Cornish fishing village, especially if the weather is favourable.

St Abbs is a well-known location to divers. A boat full of divers were heading out as we arrived. Suddenly the alarm went for the lifeboat. Men dashed down to the lifeboat station, the doors opened and the lifeboat was lowered down to the water. Everything became clearer a few minutes later. Another diving boat came into shore at speed and it was only as it got closer that you could see someone on the deck performing CPR. Sadly a diver had got into trouble and had to be taken away by ambulance.

St Abbs may have been in a Hollywood movie but top billing had to go to the weather. Blue skies with occasional clouds floating by made the weekend feel more like August rather than May. The light was just perfect and reminded me of the quality of light you get in Cornwall. I was only away for the weekend but it felt more like five or six days. It’s always good to recharge the old batteries.

Bass Rock

Further up the coast is Bass Rock, a huge domineering piece of rock that was a prison at one point in its history. The photograph of the rock was taken from the impressive Tantallon Castle. It took some time for the ship to get into the frame as it made its way to the port at Leith.

At first, I thought there were small marks were debris on the camera sensor. Only later, when I was viewing the image in Photoshop, did I realise it was hundreds of birds in the air around the rock. The rock is home to over 150,000 gannets as well as shags, guillemots, razorbills and seals.

The lighthouse is built on what remains of a castle but the key role that the rock had during the 16th and 17th century was that of a prison. James I of Scotland sent his political enemies to the rock during the 15th century and later covenanter martyrs were sent there after Cromwell’s invasion of Scotland in the 1650s. These days the only residents are the birds.

Bass Rock - a bird colony, a site for a lighthouse and, in the past, a prison.
Bass Rock – a bird colony, a site for a lighthouse and, in the past, a prison.

By the River Tweed

Berwick Upon Tweed is a town I’ve passed through on the train quite often, but my last actual visit was in 1992. Where do the years go?

The River Tweed runs through the town and the three bridges crossing the river are iconic. The Royal Border Bridge is a very impressive piece of architecture dating from the 1840s. The railway bridge is so well engineered and constructed that very little adjustment has been needed for it to handle the heavier, modern trains. The only repair work required by the bridge took place in the mid-1990s. A nice recent addition (2009) is a lighting system that can illuminate the bridge in a variety of colours.

The photograph at the top of the post was taken along the fantastic riverside path running next to the River Tweed. The viewpoint for photographing the bridge and trains crossing was perfect.

Up and Away

With the weekend over it was back to base. The plan is to have more quick weekend visits to other areas close at hand. Spur of the moment type trips. Lindisfarne, Kielder forest and more Scottish border locations are just a short drive away.

From the Archive: The Colwyn Bay Print

By |2019-04-19T12:53:10+01:00March 19th, 2019|Categories: The Test Strip Photoblog|Tags: , , , , , , |

the seawall at Colwyn Bay, North Wales. In the background is the pier that was demolished in early 2019
Colwyn Bay, North Wales, July 1991

Background

North Wales has an important place in my photography history. It was where I purchased my first camera and also where I started taking my first pictures. A few years later, North Wales would also play a role in my quest to get a black and white print I was happy with. The image and subsequent print of the seafront at Colwyn Bay became an important technical milestone moment. I was finally starting to see my improving technical skills as a photographer and darkroom printer.

The image dates back to the summer of 1991. It was a fun and exciting time with plenty of photography experimentation. At the time I was a keen amateur photographer about to head away to art college. Nearly thirty years later it could be argued that, like most photographers, I’m still
trying to perfect my photography skills. The perfect image and print still appear to elude me, although I do think I get pretty close at times.

The image above, a photograph of a print I made in 1992, was the first strong indication that I was heading in the right direction. It was taken along the seafront at Colwyn Bay in North Wales in July 1991, but not printed until the following year. An interesting side note is that the pier seen in the background was demolished in 2018 after years of disuse. Originally built in 1900, the pier had been rebuilt twice due to fire. By the 1980s, however, the condition of the structure had started to seriously deteriorate. A new pier is due to open on the same site in 2020.

Camera and Film

The image was shot using my trusty old Pentax Program A with a 35-70mm Miranda zoom set at the 35mm wide-angle setting. The film used was TMAX 400 rated at ISO800 and developed in either Kodak’s D-76 or Patterson’s FX-26 Universal developer. I suspect it was probably D-76 by that time but cannot be totally sure as my darkroom notes from that period have been lost. At the time I was experimenting with a variety of different film developers trying to find a favourite. In late 1991, I finally came across Kodak’s TMAX developer that I’ve used ever since.

The Print

The technical aspects of the print itself have sadly been lost to the mists of time. It was definitely printed in the darkroom of the art college in 1992 but after that, the details get a little fuzzy. The photographic paper was either Ilford Multigrade resin coated paper OR Jessops’ own brand multigrade paper. I used both types of photographic paper during my college years. The Ilford paper was better quality but the Jessops paper was cheaper and produced good quality prints too.

Since 1992, the print has hung on a wall somewhere in the house as a fond reminder of those exciting early photo making years.

Creating Galleries with Block Gallery

By |2019-05-21T13:13:35+01:00March 7th, 2019|Categories: The Test Strip Photoblog|Tags: , , , , , |

At the end of 2018, the new Gutenberg block editor for WordPress was added replacing the classic editor. The block editor provides extra functionality for creating posts and pages with built-in options and additional functions that can be added via plugins. For this post, I’ll be looking at one of the new Gutenberg photo gallery block plugins called Block Gallery.

Block gallery is described as ‘The most advanced suite of gallery blocks for the Gutenberg block editor. Create stunning masonry, carousel and stacked galleries in seconds, with the brilliantly intuitive interface. Block Gallery is absolutely the best collection of native editor gallery blocks in the world.’

Currently, Block gallery offers three gallery options with more in the works. Adding a block gallery to a post or page is very straightforward and changing the gallery size and style is as easy as a mouse click. Custom styling options make it easy to alter the gallery to suit. A Pro version of the Block Gallery plugin is going to be released at a later date with even more gallery styles.

Each gallery has a panel of custom settings to alter background colours, add rounded corners and more. The carousel gallery, for example, has options for autoplay (one second to ten-second intervals available), arrow and dot navigation, column sizes and carousel height. Dragging and flicking can also be enabled on the carousel gallery for mobile devices and desktops.

Above is the masonry gallery layout option. Gutter sizes can be altered using a slider in the settings

Above is the stacked gallery layout option with rounded corners enabled

Block Gallery adds some much-needed variation to Gutenberg’s photo gallery layouts for posts and pages in WordPress. Its intuitive interface provides a fast and simple way to add a collection of images to post/page without the fuss of having to use code. Just drop a block into the article, add the photos and alter the gallery settings to suit.

If you’re a photographer using WordPress then it’s a must-have plugin. I’m certainly excited by the potential to expand the plugin’s options and will certainly consider purchasing the Pro version when it’s released. The free version though is perfect to test out the plugin on your website at no cost. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

The Block Gallery plugin can be found in the WordPress Plugin Directory HERE

Check out the website at https://wpblockgallery.com

From the Archive: Veil of Mist

By |2018-11-28T15:02:31+01:00November 28th, 2018|Categories: The Test Strip Photoblog|Tags: , , , , , , |

Not so much a black Friday as a grey Saturday for today’s image.

This photo was taken on a misty, rainy and grey Saturday at Eilean Donan Castle in the Highlands of Scotland. Not exactly the usual sort for weather for good photography.  But that was my first atmospheric visit to the iconic Scottish castle back in 2012. The dark weather seemed to add some magic to the occasion.

I was staying in Dornie so was able to walk down to the castle that evening. The rain had follow the car up through most of the Highlands and kept up throughout the evening. Walking down to Eilean Donan castle, there was nobody around apart from a couple of wet and tired backpackers looking for a campsite. Sadly i wasn’t able to help them.

The image was taken on an iPhone with a little bit of tweaking in Snapseed to add some contrast.

The whole Eilean Donan experience really starts at Glen Shiel, some eight or nine miles from Dornie. The mountains tower above the road as the road heads towards Dornie and the castle. The A87 route itself follows an old military road built by General Wade in the early part of the 18th century to create better access to the Highlands for the Army to maintain order.

 The A87 road, surely one of the best roads in Britain, had wound its way alongside Loch Duich with a veil of rainy mist gradually falling back. As the car travelled around a bend, the castle suddenly appeared through the mist. It was a timeless moment that felt like a scene from a movie. A perfect introduction enhanced by the poor but atmospheric weather. Just a shame i didn’t have a dash cam!


Eilean Donan featured in BBC TV identity slot from 1997 -2002

Eilean Donan ranks among my favourite places. It has a tranquillity about it along with a rich history – although the castle is not quite as old as it first appears. Over the years the iconic castle has been in a number of films including James Bond – The World is Not Enough and, one of my favourite films, Highlander. It was probably the castle’s scenes in Highlander that made me want to visit Eilean Donan. For a number of years the castle also featured in a BBC TV identity slot from 1997 -2002.

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