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A night of IPA at The Dove, Bury St Edmunds

This is an attempt to divert my attention from photography for one moment, and to recall that FR is actually a blog concerned with all manner of good things, including cycling, beer and travelling as well as taking pictures.  In this spirit, I am pleased to post a short account of my Saturday night, which was very enjoyably spent in good company at The Dove, Bury St Edmunds’ finest beer house

The Dove is one of a rare breed – a ‘proper’ pub which is run by a beer enthusiast, the impressively bearded Roger Waters.  Dating back to the mid-1800s, the pub has, probably by virtue of its rather out of the way location,  managed to remain unaffected by the march of lager, jukeboxes and fruit machines, remaining a basic, bare-floorboarded two room bar which does not have gastro pub pretensions, but instead concentrates on serving six real ales at all times.  In recent years there have been a few ventures in the town that aim for a similar purpose – The Old Cannon being one, The Beerhouse being another.  Both of those pubs are also micro breweries as well, and the Cannon is very firmly in Gastro Pub territory.  But they both just miss the ‘real pub’ ambience – they just seem to be too self conscious in their attempts to be the real thing, and end up looking like they are trying too hard.

Our arrival saw the pub in a nice, half full state, with locals already enjoying the available ales. We were sharp enough to bag one of the scrubbed wooden tables, which was a shrewd move because the bar soon filled up with drinkers.  The ales that were ‘on’ constituted an interesting choice.  Woodfordes Wherry and Crouch Vale Brewers’ Gold are always available as the staple beers, but in addition we also noted Nethergate IPA at 3.5 percent and a very interesting 5.2 percent bruiser from Lowestoft, Green Jack Mahseer IPA.  One for later, I thought.

We began almost unanimously on the Nethergate.  All the beers here are kept fastidiously, Roger being apparently something of a font of beer related knowledge.  The pint was clear, amber-coloured and had a lovely frothy white head.  At this relatively low strength, it didn’t pack much of a punch, but had a nice, malty flavour and a reasonable finish of [apparently fuggles] hops.  As somebody who used to live in Huddersfield, now the apparent real ale capital of the UK’, you do get somewhat used to a certain style and the northern hop-monsters do make you a little blase when tasting anything else.  In order to have something to wash down with our beer, we also bought a pint of pork scratchings from the bar – not the plastic bags of Black-Country rind you often get in pubs, but big, majestic bits of salty crackling which were ideal for producing a continued thirst.

The problem with a sessionable beer such as the Nethergate is that you are tempted to drink it very quickly and then want another one.  This was the case and so I suggested to my fellow drinkers that we move on and try a pint of the Green Jack, a much more formidable beer.  The bar, although now full, was being served efficiently and waiting doesn’t seem to be a problem like it is in some pubs.  The other thing that I noticed, first with surprise, but then delight that such a reactionary step could be taken, was that The Dove has no lager taps on the bar.  Now I did not trouble myself to look into the fridges behind the bar, but I am sure a meagre supply of bottled lager may be available.  However, what a statement, and what a great one at that.  If you want to ensure that your pub is kept free of the kind of person who quaffs Carling habitually, then here is your template.

Now as I mentioned, The Dove does not ‘do’ food.  However, a short chat with landlord Roger later on revealed that a bespectacled stranger sat at the bar was, in fact, also a local butcher, and his pork pies were available from the bar, wrapped individually in greaseproof paper and with a little mustard sachet included.  We felt we had to continue our beery patronage of pork in its many, manifest forms, and so a pie each was procured.  They were quite excellent – firm, meaty, with good short pastry and little jelly to distract from the taste.  What a great drinking accompaniment – and luckily the Green Jack Mahseer IPA was strong enough to cut through the fatty pork.

Mahseer is a really great pint.  It tastes like all of its 5.2 percent strength – you feel a sense of respect for it in the mouth.  It is a strong, amber coloured pint with a creamy, tight head and a very long, almost American IPA kind of finish – probably because it has both English and American hops in the brew.  I would place it close to Adnams American IPA for taste and strength.
And so the evening carried on – although we were generally sensible enough to swap back to the sessionable Nethergate after one Green Jack.  Full marks to Roger and his team at The Dove.

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Photo of the Day: La Rambla, Barcelona, 7pm

This shot of passers by was taken in the still oppressive heat of early evening by a busy news stand (oh how witty – I didn’t know a news stand could take photos!!!). It was shot in RAW format and then given a pop in Topaz Adjust to bring out all those details from the flagstones to the myriad clothing styles worn by these people.

A few more from the BBC at Mediacity

Normally, when taking a batch of photos, I will pick out my favourites for post production and posting on the blog.  But after a few days, I will often then ‘have a go’ at some of the less notable photos, and see what I can do with them.  In this case, I have pulled out three which were less immediate but, having tweaked them a little bit, I still like them.

Above: The tram station at mediacity, where the long exposure has resulted in a little artistic blurring of the people on the platform.

Above: The CBBC studios.  The shot is not a great one, because I took it ‘straight on’ as opposed to at an angle.  But I like the lead in that the floor mounted lights give it.  It could do with a little straightening up as well.

Above: Aargh!! The evening I shot these pictures, it was quite windy.  Whilst I was using my sturdy Manfrotto 190 tripod, this shot is slightly blurred because the camera moved imperceptibly during the long exposure.

HDR of the Day: Future Beer

I took this some time ago; it’s an HDR rendering of the boilers in the brewing house of the Greene King brewery in Bury St Edmunds.  The brewery has dominated the town for as long as anybody can remember: when you are in the streets near to the site on a brewing day, you can see the clouds of steam from the boil, and the smell of malt extract and hops pervades the whole town.  This picture is shot in small yard in front of one of the main buildings, through whose windows you can see the vast boilers that are used to boil the ‘mash’ and the hops, which are added at different stages.  In the reflection on the window, you can see the tops of two of the vertical fermenting tanks that the finished, hopped wort is moved into, having been cooled, to turn, slowly, into beer.

Hello. My name is FiFi.

This is a picture I found in a set I took in the summer at the coast.  It was a cloudy afternoon, and the local lifeboat crew was doing a sponsored car wash for something or other.  The car they were cleaning was this little Fiat with the message ‘Hello. My name is FiFi’ written in pink on the back.  I liked the fact that the very manly, no-nonsense lifeboat guys were cleaning an effette little car called FiFi, but keeping a straight face about it.

Beached

My recent tour around England’s North-West took me in an exotic loop from Runcorn, through to Salford via a weekend at a friend’s house in New Brighton, just a short ferry from Liverpool across the Mersey.  I took some shots on the beach on a sunny afternoon, because the sea front has unique qualities.  The sea can retreat at low tide for maybe a quarter of a mile, leaving a vast sandy expanse; yet at other times it can seem as if it is trying to breach the sea wall and flood the [reclaimed] sea front. Here are some photos that I took with a no.8 graduated ND filter and my trusty circular polariser.  A couple are HDR’s, the rest just normal.

Above: The ‘Lifeguard’ hut is a great subject for a shot or two.  This is actually an HDR of four shots at varying exposures.

I love the way the clouds seem to radiate from the centre of this picture – it gives it some dynamism and almost makes it look as if I meant to get this effect!!

 

Above – testing out the depth of field technique of focusing ‘one third in’ to the picture.

Above” This is the sea wall and where I am standing is often under water – so the wall has acquired a nice patina.

Above: That rather dramatic sky again, captured in Black and White.

Above: Looking out to sea from the gap at the top of the steps, this is an HDR rendering of four shots taken at varying exposures, the given a ‘pop’ in Topaz Adjust.

An Evening Stroll around Media City UK

Much has been made in the British press about the BBC’s gradual move to Salford, near Manchester.  It has been explained as a cost cutting measure and also as part of the ongoing attempts to revitalise the provinces and draw some of the attention away from London.  Well that’s as may be, but I found myself temporarily relocated to Salford this week for a few days because of work.  One evening, me and my two colleagues decided to take a wander, and so I took my Nikon and my tripod with me too.  Not a great look for a casual wanderer, but it made for some interesting night time shots.  I also fell victim, for the first time, to the security guard intervention syndrome that so afflicts the urban snapper.  Luckily, this chap was quite nice once I explained myself as an amateur photographer, explaining that ‘we’re told to ask people, like’……

Above: The building works still continue, but the whole mediacity site does have something of a buzz about it.

Above: A shot of the Mediacity tram terminal at F16.

Above: The main square – the ‘Studio’ building to the right houses Childrens’ BBC and Blue Peter is also situated close by. My daughter was impressed by this.

Above: The quay looking towards the Lowry Museum.

Above: The sweeping glass facade of the CBBC studios, where you might meet actors dressed as unlikely, furry creatures.  Or a dalek or two.

Above: The sail bridge, whose lighting, like that of much of the illuminated area, changes colour constantly.

Above: This was the view from my 15th floor hotel window.  On the first evening, before the sun set, I set up the camera and tripod, and took a set of images of this view at a range of -3ev to +3 ev.  Then I merged them in Photomatix to create this interesting HDR image.  My hotel room had floor to ceiling windows, which made me feel a bit uneasy if I went too close and looked down.  In the background is Trafford Park, which is a vast expanse of goods sheds, oil depots and container haulage yards that goes on for miles, and is the size of a small town.

Above: I took this from the 15th floor lift lobby in the Holiday Inn by setting up my tripod and camera right up by the window (which needed a clean!!!) and using a polarising filter to minimise reflections.  Luckily nobody came out of the lift to see me!!!

Two more from my night shooting

These two pictures were part of the set I snapped in Ipswich Marina recently, my first night time pictures.  I used a tripod and low ISO plus long exposure times for these.  I didn’t bother using the two shots below when I first reviewed my photos, because they were under exposed and unremarkable, but with some trickery using Camera Raw and a bit of cropping, I am rather pleased with them.

St Peter’s Building, Huddersfield – Wrong Time, Wrong Place

I have, I will admit now, posted words and pictures about this building before.  To the majority of you who will read this, I had better explain.  The subject of my study, St Peter’s Building, sits just off the ring road in the Northern town of Huddersfield in Yorkshire.  Now derelict, it sits in limbo while planners and developers argue about its future, the money that would have funded its restoration now almost certainly gone with the bursting of the property bubble.  But why this ugly building, you might ask?  Why is it worth a post of its own, when it is clearly a relic of a bygone age when taste and appropriateness had clearly been abandoned?

Let’s start with some history.

As I have already written, Huddersfield was one of the towns that benefited greatly from the industrial revolution.  Textiles were the things that made fortunes here.  The town was enlarged and great stone buildings prevailed, and they still impress today.  The vista looking up Northumberland Street [now a conservation area] towards the railway station is one of the finest in the town, flanked with muscular stone edifices that bear testament to the civic pride of the townfolk.  But in the early 1960s, in a fit of inspired modernist fervour, the YMCA in the town decided to extend their existing Victorian premises into the neighbouring Primitive Street by erecting a vast red brick edifice some ten stories high.  The work was completed in late 1964 and the building inaugurated in February 1965 by the late Princess Margaret.  With space for various commercial units on the ground floor, the next three or four stories were made up of class rooms, a vast sports hall, and stairs and lifts that gave access to the four stories of living accommodation that sat on the top floors.

When you look at the clash between the original building, in the foreground above, and the new one, it is something of a struggle to see how any architect could have been so crazed and delusional as to think that there would be any visual synergy between the two.  Forgive me again if I go a little Prince Charles here, but it doesn’t really fit does it?

I still marvel at the sheer inappropriateness of siting such a building where it is – not just in terms of its style, but also its size.  It is vast.  And it’s not just me – the architects engaged to come up with plans for a refurbished site in the last few years commented:

The St Peter’s building is an extraordinary structure entirely out of scale with its surroundings and unsympathetic to the neighbouring Methodist Church – a former YMCA. However it has been mellowed with age and accepted by the people of the town. “

When you look at the edifice, you do see some nice modernist touches, though.  The shot above, which I took standing on Northumberland Street, shows some rather pleasing details like the slightly recessed wrap around windows at the top of the sports hall.  It’s just that the sheer starkness of a massive wall of brick gives the eye nothing to focus on.

Moving into the 1980s, the YMCA’s requirements had changed and it was felt necessary to dispose of the building, with the original Victorian YMCA now being large enough on its own.  The Polytechnic then purchased St Peter’s for use as extra teaching rooms and student halls of residence – no doubt it was a highly desirable, conveniently located and probably cheap way of meeting their expanding needs.  And that’s where the great pile of bricks entered my life.  I still remember that September Sunday afternoon in 1986 when I, along with a few hundred other provincial teenagers, was dumped with my hi fi and my Smiths LPs in a modest student bedroom on the 6th floor of the building and left to fend for myself for the first time.  The communal kitchen quickly became a meeting point where we would gather after the sparse timetable of lectures had been dispensed with, and where over pasta and tins of beans, tall tales of towering sexual achievement and incredible female conquests would be trotted out to a disbelieving audience.  It was a great little community in the sky, really, and one drunken evening, which still makes me cringe when I think about it, I ended up walking on the flat roof a hundred feet above the sodium lit ring road for a dare, oblivious to the sheer drop a few feet away.  This post which I found on t’internet gives you an idea of the view.

Flushed with excitement at my new found independence, I quit St Peter’s at Christmas after my first term to live in some run down terraced house where even the mice would freeze to death.  And I never went back.  Until this summer, when I happened to be in town for work, and I decided to go and shoot some pictures on a sunny afternoon for old times sake.  As you can see, the results are sad.  Abandoned for five years, the interior stripped to enable the demolition to take place, the building sits like a grounded ship; the development plans are stalled and mired in confusion, and so the building juts out on the sky line, having changed from a place full of life to a grave yard for the aspirations of the town, in stark contrast to its Victorian symbols which still, ironically, thrive a few hundred yards away.  The windows are broken and the relentless rain floods in.

I will keep looking out for St Peter’s as I pass through the town, which these days is seldom.  Thousand of people passed through the doors of this building, each with their own memories to take with them – memories of the highs and lows they encountered in their brief student lives here, the friendships made , the romances forged in these distinctly un-hallowed halls, with no doubt some inevitable resulting  break ups, and the eventual, inevitable moving on.

Photo Software that I Use

With the advent of digital cameras, there is one element of photography that has disappeared completely – the darkroom.  In many ways this is a good thing; the vast amounts of expensive kit that was required to process your own photographs meant that a whole room in your house had to be pretty much dedicated to the cause – I remember in the 70s my father getting the photography bug and buying from various secondhand sources the whole kit – projector, dishes for the various chemicals required, even an electric drying tray for the finished photos!!  He even made window blackout boards from sheets of chipboard painted black.  It was a massive hassle and didn’t last long, although I think it’s all still stashed in the attic, under a 30 year old layer of dust.

These days of course, all you need is a mac and some software in order to process the pictures you have taken.  Most computers come with free image handling software, although of course this is really only for viewing, and maybe also cropping, pictures, and little else.  If you get bitten by the bug, then you will quickly realise that you need something a bit more advanced.

I started my photographic journey off with Adobe Photoshop Elements, which is in effect the ‘light’ version of the Adobe Creative Studio Photoshop product used by professionals.  The logic is that, like most technical things, only 50 percent of the features will be used by 99 percent of the users, so they made it affordable enough for home users.  Photoshop in its various forms has become pretty much the standard tool for photographic manipulation.  The current version of Elements, version 9, has pretty much all the features you are going to need in an accessible user interface which lets you process all the existing image formats, including, crucially, RAW format which is what ‘proper’ digital SLR cameras can shoot in.  This is a file format which captures all the image data in a fully adjustable format, allowing vastly increased post – processing.  However do not forget that if you do wish to use this format of image, then Photoshop requires an added bit of Adobe software [which is free] known as Adobe Camera Raw, which is a RAW format processing toolkit allowing incredible alterations, such as the key one, exposure.

Because Photoshop allows the use of such tools as layers, which are multiple overlays on top of an image file that can be used for altering contrast, brightness, saturation and so on whilst still leaving the original image intact, it will let you do most things you will want to try in one suite of software.  However Photoshop’s real strength is that it is a platform that supports plug-ins – these being third party applications that are launched from within Photoshop that let you do specialist tweaking to your image files.

I have purchased a few of these plug-ins over the last year.  In one blog post it is not really practical to try and review such a massive range of functions comprehensively, so I will stick to an overview and if you want to explore further into the subjects I cover, then click on the relevant links.

But remember one thing: No software, however clever it is, will compensate for taking a poor photo in the first place.  What I have learnt is that the more effort you spend ‘in the field’ taking the photo, the more effective these tools become.  You can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear, as they say in Yorkshire.

1. Adobe Camera Raw

I didn’t really see the point of this tool at first, except that it solved the problem that a lot of people have when they begin to shoot in RAW format, and then find that Photoshop won’t open the camera’s native RAW format.

However more recently I have really begun to understand the vital functions it allows – in effect you don’t really need much else to produce high quality photos and some professionals use nothing else – but it is safe to say that you have three main elements to the workflow.  Just remember that this is only of use with RAW format files.

a] The Main settings tab

This tab enables you to use sliders to alter the exposure of the image, which is a killer tool.  For example – say you under expose an image – not the end of the world, and certainly not as bad as OVER exposing it, because you can still recover hidden detail from an under exposed shot.  OK, so you increase the exposure slightly and use the very helpful histogram to see where the exposure is going.  You can the tweak other settings such as Fill Light, Contrast and Brightness, and these in combination have a very major effect on rescuing a photo you thought you had blown.  You can also set the Clarity [which defines the edges in the photo], Vibrance [which has a neat effect of increasing colour saturation but in a balanced way, without over cooking].

b] The Noise and Sharpness Tab

Much as the name suggests really.  You can increase sharpness, but be careful here.  By increasing sharpness, two by-products may occur. One is loss of fine detail, the other is the addition of significant Noise, which then means you have to over-use Noise Reduction software to compensate, and you may end up with an artificial, plasticky – looking end result.

You can also use Camera Raw for noise reduction, and should do so when the image is zoomed in to quite a large degree to see the effects you are introducing.

c] The Camera Settings tab

This tab allows you to choose presets from a drop down list in order to apply different values to the settings already mentioned, and also to save them.

2. Topaz Labs Adjust

Topaz Labs produce a range of plug ins for both Photoshop and Elements.  Adjust is a really cool toolkit which allows you to use pre-set values to apply vibrancy, exposure and colour changes in order to achieve that elusive ‘pop’ to your photos.  It really is very good – no doubt you could achieve most of not all of the effects using Photoshop, but this is a very fast, user-friendly workflow tool which lets you use a number of pre-sets, and to tweak them and save your own as well.  I tend to use it more discriminatingly now – when I first got it, I went beserk as it is very tempting to do, and overcooked a lot of my photos.

Adjust is a great tool for adding that ‘pop’ to a photo.  It’s all too easy to take a picture and not really capture the vibrance of natural features such as rocks, grass, sky and so on – and by simply increasing saturation it will not look any more convincing.  But you have a spectrum of pre-sets which you can use in Adjust, including the ability to apply an HDR-like effect to a single image.  The effect is not as convincing as if you did a ‘proper’ HDR, but is good nonetheless.

Below is an image made up of two versions of a RAW file I shot – one before Adjust, the other after.

3. Topaz Labs Detail

Detail is really more of a sharpening tool, to be used when the image you have taken would benefit from a little extra definition, either in places or as a whole.  Exactly the same kind of user interface as the other Topaz products is present here in Detail.  It does work – again if the base image is decent.  You can use its presets, or make your own and save them – to really pull out fine detail from a previously ‘flat’ photograph, and also gain depth from an image also.  It is explained on the Topaz website as a module which ‘internally separates an image into different parts: small details, medium details, large details, and color. ‘

I tend to use detail to expose interesting surfaces, such as the rusted paint work on the tractor in the above image.  I will also tend to use Detail and Adjust as ‘either or’ tools – I find that if you use both on the same image it can look rather artificial.  However as a helper tool, it really adds some life to photos.

Again, look at the ‘Before and After’ images below to view an example:

4. Imagenomics Noiseware [Standard and Pro]

One of the problems with images that are processed, especially with tools such as the ones listed above, is that noise can be added.  This is essentially pixels that appear on the image which show up as a kind of dark ‘rash’, causing the overall clarity of the picture to be destroyed.  The same artefacts can also appear when you take shots with a high ISO rating.  The problem you have is that all image processing software suffers from the restriction that it sees detail and noise as basically the same thing – and so you need a clever application to allow the removal of one without destroying the other.  Imagenomics is a clever toolkit, because, again based on presets that you yourself can add to, it allows not only different levels of noise reduction/retention, but also the ability to select certain areas of an image only – so you only apply the settings like a ‘brush’ to a defined area of the picture.

As you can see from the screenshot above, the ‘full’ setting has been used and a very strong noise reduction effect has occurred.  This is a very powerful tool and should be used with caution.  I have found that when I started out, I used a workflow which was to sharpen massively in Camera Raw, pop the image in Adjust, maybe then fry it using Detail, and by that time I had so much residual noise that I had to apply a strong noise reduction effect which rendered the image plasticky and unreal.  Now sometimes, this is a very cool effect to have. I think that, for example, very bright, light, modern buildings look great with this ‘artificial’ sheen on them; but for other styles such as portraits you are likely to be slapped around the head by your subject of you portray them as looking like a plastic surgery victim!

I’m intending to deal with specific HDR software in a separate article, coming soon.  But for now, I’d recommend that you try out some of these tools if you’re not already using them.

 

 

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