Category Archives: photography

August Flowers

IMG_2678 IMG_2679 IMG_2680 IMG_2681 IMG_2682When I was little, the house on the corner of our street had a hydrangea bush in the garden. I have distinct memories of the little boy who lived there doing a wee up against it. I can’t have been more than five, but I found it very disgusting. Now I live in France, I am used to men, boys, girls and yes, even ladies, taking a wee in public. I have even seen people get out of their car at the supermarket, take a pee in the carpark and then go into the shop. It always makes me wonder whether they really can’t make it to the very nice toilets in the supermarket, only 50 metres away. 

Anyway, it’s not just the memory of the young boy taking a wee up against said hydrangea, but the fact that I was utterly convinced the bush was made of toilet paper; It was just that shade of pink that made it look like loo roll. That thought stayed with me for forty years and I have never been enamoured of the pink/blue standard hydrangea. 

Now, though, I have changed my mind. Look at these glorious flowers. 

IMG_2678 IMG_2695 IMG_2696 IMG_2697 IMG_2698The hollyhock is probably the flower I associate most with summertime France – they are everywhere. The ones in my garden start small and end up like triffids, towering two metres high or more. It has been so wet, the wisteria has had its second bloom. The roses are still going strong and the roadside flowers are everywhere


The Charente in summer

I’m all out of sync and backed up, but I have been out and about. A week last Sunday I took the dogs down to the river at Lichères for a play. There is a gorgeous church in Lichères, right at the top of the hill. Right now, it is surrounded by sunflowers. It is chocolate-box Charente at its best. Then we went for a bit of a splash around just upriver in Bayers. The river is wide and gentle at both bits, shallow enough for paddling. Amigo had a great time chasing the fish.

licheres licheres2 licheres3sunflowersunflower2IMG_2693

Tomorrow… or sometime in the near future…  I’ll upload the photos I’ve been taking in my garden. Lots of beautiful flowers.


Quoi de neuf?

It feels like ages since I have been here, properly. Save the odd 52 Mondays post. (See, I can stick things out!)

It is fair to say I have been busier than ever. What with exam build-up from April, then marking in June and July, it’s a four-month slog to the top of the mountain. I still have some clients here and there, but I actually have one whole week off from now until next Monday. One whole week! And a bank holiday as well! I bet I’m twitching by Monday evening.

Mostly, my life has been work & dogs. Work and dogs. Work and dogs. The weather is unspeakably cool for July (shhhh! I’m kind of enjoying it. 23°C and sunny is just my type of weather for outside work!) but it has been a busy time trying to finish things off.

In between, I’ve been spending a lot of time at the refuge trying to capture photos of the dogs there. One of the boss ladies was even getting a bit specific the other day. “Can you get some dog poses like this, or like that?” she asked. In my head, I was thinking, “They are dogs. You get what you get.” especially since the whole purpose of me taking them was that often the dogs only got photographed on entry from the pound, and then really for ID purposes, not for promotion purposes. Now I’ve done so many of the dogs (a good sixty or so have had a ‘re-looking’ – the French for a makeover!) everyone’s a critic.

I do notice that. I wonder if all people face the same thing? People who have a cheap point-and-shoot and no particular photography know-how whatsoever saying ‘you should do it like this…’



I took this photo.

Last week, a lady with a cheap point-and-shoot said “Don’t try and take a photo of them from above.”

Err…. why not? Little Jo looks wonderful for his ‘from above’ shot.

To be fair, you get what you get. Some dogs are happy to sit and pose for a photo. I found the easiest dogs are ones who will sit for a biscuit and look at you when you are doing it.

Like Victor.


Do I have any tips for it?

Get down to the dog’s level if the dog won’t sit and look up for a treat.


Put your camera on a low f-stop like 6.3. Not lower. Then you get the nose in focus, but not the face or eyes. Or you get the eyes in focus but a blurry nose. Then put it on a quick ISO, like 1600 or 3200. Anything less and even in sunlight you aren’t likely to get a clear shot. Zoom in fairly close, and you have to use auto-focus, because manual takes too long and they are gone!


Clean the dog’s eyes of sleep and yuck. I am always forgetting to do this. See above.

Have a good partner. One lady I walk with really loves walking the dogs. But the only time she is still with them, she has treats straight out. Her hands are in all my shots, or her body, or she says “this dog is bored!” and wanders off. Bless her. She means she is bored, of course! If you have someone with you who understands photography, so much the better. They’ll keep hands and legs clear. If you have a certain assistant, she will elicit the kind of looks of blind adoration from dogs that give you super winning shots.


If you are doing it on the lead, hold the lead fairly tight (not straining or pulling – that makes the dog look like a lead fiend!) about a foot away from the dog’s head. The dog’s movement is restricted but they look free.

Take photos after a walk, if possible, so they are happy and a little less energetic. If you have a ball of energy like I had with Rosalie, my toughest dog yet, you may have to find a bit of space and give them ten minutes to tire themselves out off-lead. Every single shot of Rosalie, she was moving too quickly to capture. Plus, she has zero recall and zero interest in treats. Plus, being on a lead is stressful. She has serious and sad weals that you can feel with your fingers where she has been restrained for long periods of time.


But it will happen! This shot took 30 minutes to get, including walk!

If you can take a photo without treats and toys, so much the better. Then they won’t strain at the lead and the pose looks more natural. A miaow is the best way to get most dogs’ attention, especially refuge dogs who don’t know their name. The camera click can give you the money shot… head on one side out of curiosity, and great focus.


Don’t take the shot in full sunlight… it is too contrasty. (see above) Shade is great, though you need a faster ISO and shutter speed.


And it is best if you know the dogs a little, to try and capture a little of their character. When you can catch a little old guy having a rest, it’s fab

usty2I am a big fan of uniform backgrounds. Doesn’t matter if it’s a grey one, a stone one, a path or a load of greenery. But not too much of everything. This is true of body shots as well as close-up portraits.

julietta3And of course, for every Rosalie that takes a half-hour for one decent shot, there are hundreds who give you smiles and eyes and happy faces.


There are also some who are out-and-out posers.


As well as some who are camera shy, who are so upset by the camera that you have to give them a bit of time to do their best

havilaIf you are lucky, you get some great ‘before’ and ‘after’ shots that capture the different aspects of the dog on arrival and after they know they are safe.



This is Chance. He was saved from euthanasia in another pound. Here he is a couple of days into his stay. (above) And a couple of days after (below)


And even…


So this is what I have been doing two or three afternoons a week. Oh, and then the evenings, I spend editing. It’s not just a case of take a photo and bang it up on the website. I haven’t time to do a lot of editing, but a simple crop, colour adjust and balance adjust will usually make the most out of most images.

Though I would like to say, yes, animal photographers make it look incredibly easy. But whoever said you should never work with children or animals was right. Especially animals.

So what else? Not to mention a lot of walks with my own beasties. Amigo, my refuge dog, took some time to settle in – that’s another (not very traumatic) story – but he can now come on walks with my own two as well.

IMG_1626And there has even been a little of this:


And some of this:


What a busy few months it has been!








In love

Possibly my friends with bigger and better cameras will chortle at my innocent raptures over my new camera – an “entry level” Canon – though I have been using my old lenses and filters the last couple of days – but I am absolutely and utterly delighted with my new Canon 1100D. I can’t tell you the joy with which I’m now going out on dog walks – it’s like a new lease of life.

Of course, I am no stranger to SLRs and I did endless hours of night school learning how to use apertures, shutter speed, depth of field, cross-processing, cropping, composure, close-ups, lighting, pinhole cameras, push processing, developing toners and filters. There is something magical in developing your own film, in choosing the temperature at which to develop the negatives, the chemicals, things that could forever alter the tone of your negatives. The darkroom magic of developing a great image was less about chemistry and more about art, though old-fashioned photography – like cookery – was a good combination of both. And like cookery, it was easy to ruin a thing.

But the most important thing? A good eye.

I remember doing a landscape project and going up to Scotland. I got lucky because it was good weather, but I still ended up lugging my tripod and all my filters, as well as b&w and colour film at 50, 100, 200, 1600 and 3200 with me. Life is not like that these days. If I want 3200, I only have to press a button (though I am yet to see the golf-ball-sized grain I’d get from Neopan or the joy of Kodak 400 TMAX.) That was the best thing about photography back then – it was a geeky little club of niche artists who had preferences for Superia or TMAX, Ilford or Kentmere – and even the best prints had flaws, no matter how much dodging or burning you did. You never expected perfection and it would drive you mad to chase it – sending you over the edge and ruining what you did, not unlike an artist who puts one stroke too many on their painting and ends up overworking it.

Of course, it is not like that now. It is no longer a club of geeky cagoule-owning darkroom experts. It’s been taken over by men obsessed with your zoom length and F2.8 aperture, by techies who know how to get the best out of Photoshop. All the sins you could commit back in the day are no longer an issue. Bad lighting, not cropping enough, too wide an aperture – all easily resolved in Photoshop. Got a speck of dust on your lens? Clone and replace. Lamp-post in the wrong place? Move it. Sky and landscape not suiting each other? Take two images and cut them out, make a collage and stick them back together again.

And let’s not talk about what they do to models and actors and musicians.

Anyway, I have put aside my borrowed digital instant camera and got out my big boy camera these last two days. Nothing stunning yet, but lots of stuff that is just quite nice. That’s the joy of photography – digital or not – you can’t predict when you’ll get one of ‘those’ images – the ones that make you cry with artistic joy. That’s the final element. Serendipity.



Oh super-fine detail and F29 with ISO 3200, how I have missed you!


Oh, depth of field! Oh F4, how I have missed you!

IMG_0020Oh polarising filter, my best friend of all, how I have missed you!

IMG_0021Oh extreme close-up with pin-sharp detail, oh Manual Focus, how I have missed you!

IMG_0026See, even France looks lovelier with your joyous abilities.

♥ Canon.

♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥ my DSLR

♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥ birthday presents from family