Thursday, 24 December 2009

Seven Sisters - Revisited

After even more snow I decided to revisit the Seven Sisters in Houghton-Le-Spring. This ancient burial ground is situated at one of the highest points in the town and today it overlooks hundreds of snow covered rooftops. As you'd imagine, the cold bites even harder up a height and today was certainly no exception.

There were a few local kids sledging off the burial mound but they left shortly after I arrived. I must remember to use deodorant!

Aye, this time I was well equipped. I had me wooly hat on and me digits were given a slight bit of respite from the cold in the shape of a rather nice pair o' mitts. Without a fully working set of fingers I might struggle to operate my camera settings so I needed to treat them with a bit of care. After all, they'd been put through the rings during the last few days during my regular photo outings.

Well, they certainly kept me fingers warm but they were nee good when pressing little buttons and rotating filters and the like. I got there in the end though.

The sun had set and there was quite a bit of after colour on the horizon. The Seven Sisters were once again threw into silhouette as I quickly got to work. I tried a few different positions (oo er!)
and grabbed a varity of shots, including a 3 frame panorama that I could later stitch with the help of Photoshop . I had experienced many a chill during my recent Christmas photography outings but none compared to this one. I had to sit in the car with the heaters on for a good ten minutes before driving back home. If I'd stayed out any longer I woulda' froze. You do some strange things to get the photo's you want. Some would say it's dedication - some would say I want my head checking.
What do you think?...he he.

Merry Christmas to one and all on this Christmas Eve 2009.

More Christmas Scenes...

Another visit to Gateshead's Angel Of The North - my first visit in the snow. Despite the clear blue skies and an appearance from Mr Sun, it was once again very cold here in the north-east of England. I was accompanied by my 8 year old son Christopher, as we had an afternoon sledging the slopes around the Angel. We had a good laugh, as did the others who were sledging next to us, before I grabbed a few photo's before we headed off home for a bite to eat. The sun came out from behind the low cloud cover at just the right time. The rusty colour of the Angel was now prominent so I done the necessary before it disappeared again. A few minutes later it was gone!

Someone had made a small snowman on a fence post nearby. The little fella wanted to destroy it but I quickly put him in his place...tut tut! It helped give some foreground interest along the pathway to the angel, as you can see in the photograph below.

After packing my camera away my son said 'Ok Dad, NOW can I bash the snowman up'.
I told him to 'Gerra Life' and leave the little fella alone...he he dropped his snowball and we made our way back to the car park (wink). Ee eh, the young 'uns today!

Until the next time, see ya,

St Michael's Church, Houghton-Le-Spring

The snow just wouldn't stop!
I don't ever recall seeing so much snow falling in my home town of Houghton-Le-Spring. The roads were awful, with many cars abandoned at the roadside in such terrible driving conditions. Radio reports confirmed that some of the major in-roads were closed and the very steep Houghton Cut was one of the casualties. I'd just returned by car from Pennywell, a journey which would normally take twenty minutes but actually took seventy! For the most part I was in first gear. Quite unbelievable really, but the roads were so bad that every car was at snails pace. No hurry though, as it was very much a case of safety first.

On my return to Houghton I headed up the road from Longacre to the nearby town centre and St Michael & All Angels Church. Another picturesque Christmas scened awaited and there I was with my kit bag and tripod, in search of those elusive Christmas card shots. On arrival at the church I noticed one or two people standing at a nearby bus stop. Surely they weren't waiting for a bus in these conditions! Long wait, mate! There were no snowball throwing 'Chavs' kicking about so I was quite relieved, now expecting an uninterrupted photo session. Mind you, I was quite in the mood to 'Scrub' a few of the local scruffs so in a small way I was a bit disappointed...he he. Ah well...

The snow was at least six inches thick as I trudged through the church grounds. It was still falling as I took my first shots of the church and my flashgun picked up a few flakes as they fell into the shot.

I was quite pleased with the results. I'll be definately offering them to the vicar in postcard form next Christmas. It's always nice to help out free of charge. I was only inside St Michael's Church a couple of days ago to see my son in his school nativity play and we will probably return in 2010. Who knows, my postcards may well be sitting in the rack alongside the others.

Thanks for reading. Ash

Christmas Scenes - Durham City

Durham City centre is one of those places you just never get sick of visiting. Steeped in history, Durham is also known as the 'Land Of The Prince Bishops' and Christmas time brings the best out of this idyllic picturesque setting, especially when snow has fallen.

I was up bright and early for this one. There was a thick covering of snow and I was looking for one shot in particular. Step back in time to August 2009, when I was in the grounds of Durham Cathedral taking a hatful of photographs. At the rear of the Cathedral, near Priors Hall, stands a large conifer tree. I was looking at the tree and imagining a snow scene with it's branches covered in thick white snow, with the perfect backdrop of Durham Cathedral in the shot. Just then, I realized it was a hot Summers day and that I would hold my idea in the memory bank, 'For future reference' as they say.

Step forward in time, to the present day - 21st December 2009. Here I am once again in the grounds of Durham Cathedral but there's no short sleeve t-shirt and sun glasses. Oh no, although the sun is shining once again and there's another clear blue sky, it's bitterly cold. But who cares eh, that imaginary snow scene that I picured in my head just a few months ago, well, it's standing right in front of me!

And there it was, just as I had imagined it. The conifer tree was covered alright, and the ground was a carpet of thick white snow. The backdrop of Durham Cathedral dominated the Christmas scene in front of me, and all things considered, this was going to make a lovely photograph. I was soon off and running, firing off at least twenty shots in high-resolution RAW format, each weighing in at a massive 28 megabytes!

With the shots in the bag I then made my way through the Cloisters and into the Cathedral. There is a strict 'No Photography Allowed' policy within the cathedral, which is a pity because I could have done some real 'Damage' in there with my camera. Never mind, you can't have everything. After leaving the Cathedral and entering the nearby Palace Green I was greeted by a Robin eating bread on a nearby seat. A quick pitstop and my short lens was replaced by a 300mm effort, which was more than capable of pulling in some decent wildlife shots. The Robin swiftly ate the bread before flying off and perching itself on a nearby branch. I fired off three quick shots before it flew off into the grounds of Durham Castle.

From Palace Green I headed off down to the banks of the River Wear for some more photography. I was surprised that the area was so quiet. I only recall passing half a dozen walkers on my way back to the car.

Once I was back in the car it was a case of 'Heaters on full throttle' to take the chill off me. I was bloody nithered! But hey, what's a bit of sub-zero temperatures between friends, eh!

Thanks again, Ash

Friday, 18 December 2009

Bitterly Bitterly Cold!

After this mornings visit to Penshaw Hill I thought I'd visit another local landmark in Houghton-Le-Spring. The snow had started to thaw, but as the afternoon light dropped, the cold well and truly set in. Well, the snow might be gone tomorrow so there was no time to sit around. It was around 3.30pm and I drove up to the Copt Hill Barrow, known locally as the Seven Sisters. It is a Neolithical burial ground with a bit of history behind it, as you'd expect.

I found a decent spot near a path that leads to the Seven Sisters, realizing this would give a nice lead-in line to my shots. I mounted my camera on the tripod and fired off a few frames using low shutter speeds. Yeah, they were ok. I waited until the sun had set before grabbing a few more shots, as the colours in the sky changed quite dramatically. The odd dog walker passed by, probably wondering what the hell I was doing up that hill in such cold conditions. He was right!

I started to ask me'sel the same question as I struggled to alter my camera settings when my fingers started to freeze. After half an hour I headed back to the car where I had to sit with the heaters on for a few minutes to ease my numb limbs. Ee eh, the things ya dee for a few photies! A must be rund tha bloody twist!

When I got back home the Mrs had a nice bowl of hot soup waiting for me. Ahh lovely. I tucked in like a starving dog, dippin' me crusty bread in and hoyin' it down me neck like there was nee tomorra. Then I sat on the sofa and showed the little one my latest photo's. He thought they were great! I thought they weren't bad either. Sometimes you've gotta push the limits to get the shots you want. Cold? what cold?

The snow is falling heavily as I type. I'm looking out the window (11.36pm) and there's a big fat covering. I might just be out again tomorrow. The Mrs wants to take me for a lunchtime curry. Can't see me knocking that one back. We'll see what develops, eh.

Thanks for reading, folks!

Snow Is Falling...

Yes, today saw the first snowfall of Winter 09/10 in Houghton-Le-Spring. It was an on-off affair during the early hours and that trend continued through the rest of the day. I was up bright and early for the school run as my annual Christmas holidays started a couple of days early. Once the little fella was safely into school I headed over to Penshaw, which was only a ten minute drive. My intention was to visit Penshaw Monument for the umpteenth time this year, but this time I was after those elusive snow scene shots that I've always managed to miss. Work and other commitments have denied me bagging this type of shot down the years but hopefully that was all about to change.

There was a fair covering of snow, not too deep, but enough to offer a photographer a chance to grab some nice shots. When I reached the monument I immediately parked up next to the gate at the foot of the hill. Just then, a stroke of luck! The sun suddenly lifted above the low cloud cover on the horizon and threw some great light across Penshaw Hill and it's monument. Time to set my idle hands to work. I knew I was onto something good when the backdrop to the monument started to clear and blue sky appeared with its picturesque fluffy white clouds. This was just what I wanted and although the light changed for the worst after only a few minutes, I was confident I'd finally captured my first snow scenes at Penshaw Hill.

I made the short walk through the gate and into the nearby field where cattle were grazing. They were obviously used to people as they seemed more than comfortable in my presence.

Having said that, I was standing literally a few feet away from a bull that was rather scarey with those sharp horns so I didn't hang around for too long. I think it's known in the trade as 'Your arse falling out'. Aye, that was me away and back in the car in no time.

It seemed like an age since I was last out with my camera. Too much work and no play makes AC a dull boy!

Oh well, until the next time...

Thursday, 17 December 2009

Sunderland Echo - Part 2

And just to finish off my earlier blog - here, as promised, are the other 4 images that were published in the Sunderland Echo in 2009. Thanks! Catch ya later, Ash

My Work In The Sunderland Echo

Hello again folks!
Well, as 2009 comes to and end I thought I'd add a few more images to my blog. I've been very busy lately due to a demand for my framed images in the run-up to Christmas, so I haven't had the opportunity to get out with my camera. So, maybe this is the best time to take a retrospective peep at some of my 2009 images that I've had published in my local newspaper, the Sunderland Echo.

Every now and then they run an article called 'Picture Perfect' which displays photographs that have been submitted by readers of the newspaper. I've submitted eight of my own over the last few months and it was nice to see them all published. Some of them (shown below) were also published on the daily 'Letters Page' and I will be submitting more of my work during 2010.

I also intend to target one or two other local publications such as 'North-East Life' and my local 'Houghton Community Times' brochure. We'll see what happens about that in the next few weeks and I'll post any developments here on my blog.
Here is half of the images I submitted, with the other four to follow very shortly. Each one is featured on my website so feel free to pop over and view them in better quality. Cheers, Ash

Sunday, 13 December 2009

Simple Minds - Live At Sheffield Arena

When the house lights went down it was a swift move from Row 4 to the front - what a great view! The venue was packed and it was time for the headline act - Simple Minds. A huge cheer greeted the band as they made their way on to the stage, one by one. As expected, it was frontman Jim Kerr who was last to make his entry, as the opening song 'Sanctify Yourself' kicked off a great show. Simple Minds, who are Jim Kerr (lead vocals), Charlie Burchill (lead guitar), Eddie Duffy (bass) and Mel Gaynor (drums) were accompanied by Andy Gillespie (keyboards) and Sarah Brown (backing vocals).

It was hard to believe that we were standing in such a great position next to the stage, with the band performing just a few feet away. Every now and then Charlie Burchill and Eddie Duffy would swap places on stage so we got a close-up of each guitarist throughout the show. This was great for me, standing there with me little Fuji compact, waiting for those photo opportunities. There were plenty of them too. At times the light was low and this threw up the odd challenge here and there as I tinkered with the camera settings to get some good shots. There was an official snapper in the pit, just in front of me, and I couldn't help wishing I was in his shoes with my DSLR. I reckon I could have done some damage with me trusty old Nikon!

Once again it was a case of 'Do the best you can, with what you've got'. When I looked behind me I realised how lucky I was to be standing at the front. There were thousands of people and even the folks 'In the gods' looked like they were making the most of it. As the night wore on Simple Minds got better and better, churning out a string of well known hits with a sprinkling of new material in between. Highlights for me were I Travel, Moscow Underground, New Gold Dream, Waterfront & Someone Somewhere In Summertime, amongst others. The band played on and on.
I wasn't too sure what to expect before the gig. I'm not a big Minds fan to be honest, as I lost interest after the 1982 album 'New Gold Dream', which is still an all-time favourite of mine. Although I'd seen the band put on a great show in 2006, during the Black And White' tour, I wasn't overly excited about tonight's gig. However, on reflection it has to be said that this was one of the best concerts I've attended. I wish I'd bought a recording of show, which was available on memory stick in the foyer afterwards. Twenty quid they wanted. Kept me money for a kebab on the way home though. Aye, nowt gets in the way of me hungry belly, eh folks!

OMD - Live At Sheffield Arena

Orchestral Manoevres In The Dark, better known as OMD, were the support band for Simple Minds during their 2009 arena tour. Here at Sheffied Arena the venue was only half full when OMD began their 60 minute set, but they quickly got into their stride by belting out hits from their back catalogue. The band comprises of Andy McCluskey (vocals, bass & keyboards), Paul Humpreys (keyboards), Martin Cooper (keyboards) and Malcolm Holmes (drums).

The first couple of rows were taken up by die-hard OMD fans who managed to secure the best seats when their pre-sales tickets went on sale a day before the Simple Minds pre-sale link went live. Never mind, we were in row 4, dead centre, which could have been a lot worse considering the size of the venue. The overall sound was excellent and OMD played a great set, including Enola Gay, Forever Live And Die, Souvenir & Sailing On The Seven Seas. It was during 'Seven Seas' that the legendary 'Shirlo' (friend and long time Simple Minds fan) donned her dancing shoes and put in a bit of light entertainment nearby. Aye, a right laugh. Nice one Shirlo!

OMD returned to the stage later in the evening, joining Simple Minds to perform a version of Kraftwerk's Neon Lights, which was warmly received by the crowd. The support slot was a great warm-up for the headline act and OMD were every bit as good as the last time I saw them in Newcastle as part of the 30th Anniversary Tour. Andy McCluskey was showered with ladies underwear during the 60 minute set. I hope me missus doesn't go berserk when she realizes half of her knicker drawer has gone missing...he he (wink)!