Category Archives: photography

Dumbing Down Reaches Photography

Yesterday, I took Mark on a belated treat for his seventh birthday – a tour of Wembley Stadium. We had a wonderful time, with a knowledgeable and witty tour guide called Dominic.

I took my camera gear, and have posted photos for my Facebook friends and for friends and family on Flickr to see. (Sorry, but I don’t usually make pictures of our children public on the Internet.)

And I got annoyed. Later with myself when I realised I’d been careless with the focussing of some shots, but earlier I seethed inwardly when going through the security check at the stadium. As the officer checking my bags noticed I had a LowePro camera bag and that I had a DSLR camera with interchangeable lenses, he gave me a friendly warning.

“Don’t change your lenses on the tour, or the guide will think you’re a professional photographer, and they’re banned from the tours. Choose one lens and stick to it.”

So now you know. Amateur photographers don’t use SLRs. Clearly we only use our phones, or at best a compact.  Is that the level we’ve sunk to?

Some Health News And Some Links

Tomorrow is a big medical day for me. I’m nervous, but I shouldn’t be. I have the pre-op assessment prior to my nasal surgery on the 19th. I’ve been taking blood pressure readings all week at home, in case I do my usual of getting hyped up when I see a doctor or nurse and inflating my score. Then I’ve been called to see my GP, because a routine blood test has shown my cholesterol is still high, and the receptionist muttered something about the renal score, too. However, it is a routine appointment.

Today has been unspectacular. We’ve had the new cats speyed and microchipped. I’ve been starting to get some things ready for return to duty from Sunday onwards. Amongst other things, I’m going to be hosting several groups of children from a primary school at one of my churches – about ten half-hour slots in a day – talking about ‘my job’ as part of their RE Week.

Here are a few more links that might interest you.

The Evangelical Alliance issued a press release in which it encouraged churches to set up networks of ‘flu friends’ if swine flu takes hold. They suggest partnering with local surgeries and other appropriate organisations. Note, the full text is a Word document download.

One of my circuit colleagues, a URC minister in charge of an ecumenical church, has begun blogging today. Welcome to the blogosphere, Nigel Warner.

N T Wright on parallels between Luke 2 and 24.

Lots of blogs on men and singing in church, following a Daily Mail report. Here’s one to start you off.

Read-Write Web reports on the United Methodist Church listening and responding to social media.

The 150 best Hubble space images ever.

The best take on the introduction of ID cards in Manchester?

Sabbatical, Day 85: Random Links And Thoughts

 There’s not a lot to report today on the cat front. Debbie had a long phone conversation with a woman who runs what amounts to a clearing house for people who cannot keep their pets. We’ve expressed an interest in two separate pairs of cats, and now await a call back regarding arrangements to visit them.

In the area of church and sabbatical, there is also little to say today for delicate reasons.

So instead of the usual, I offer you a pot-pourri. (No, not popery, Mr Paisley.)

Here are some interesting links I came across. 

Some Video Fun 
How about Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody played on old school computer equipment?

(Via the weekly Mojo magazine email.) 

Here’s a parody of the Christian worship – ahem – ‘industry’:


Jesus Stuff 

Not a link, but a couple of great quotes from an interview with J John in the Summer 2009 issue of New Wine magazine, pages 10 and 11:

If we are all witnesses, does that mean we are all evangelists? 
Not everyone is an evangelist, but everyone is a witness. In a court of law, you have a lawyer who takes the facts and presents them in a convincing manner. As an evangelist, that’s what I do. I take the facts and try to get people to the point where they are convinced that Christianity is true. An evangelist will communicate much more of the substance of Christianity.

But if you are a follower of Jesus, then you are a witness. And a witness in the court stands up and says, ‘Well I don’t know very much, but let me tell you my story.’ Everyone that’s a follower of Jesus has a testimony of what Jesus has done for them. Therefore everyone can answer. It’s not hard at all.

How do you approach people of other faiths? 
I don’t get defensive. Rather, I ask questions such as: in what way does your faith help you in your life, give you confidence for the future or help you face death? I reveal cracks in their philosophy and show them that in Christ, we have a confidence and a hope. But I wouldn’t ever put people down. All we have to do is lift Jesus up.

(This material copyright New Wine Magazine and used with permission.)

Chopping down the Sunday tree: radical thoughts on how to approach a potentially dying church from Graham Peacock. HT: Maggi Dawn.

Mr Tweet recommended Mike Todd on Twitter to me. I found his blog, Waving Or Drowning, and among a feast of riches I found in this post a brilliant quote from Brian McLaren about what Christians might consider to be a proper view from the economic crisis. Do read it. He says that we might contemplate recovery in the way an addict does, in which case we don’t want recovery to be a return to our old addictive highs, but a facing of the addictions.

1st Web Designer: 28 Online Photo Editing Sites To Have Fun With – via@problogger.

Read-Write Web has great first impressions of Wolfram-Alpha, not a ‘Google killer’ search engine but a ‘computational knowledge engine’ that will cross over into Wikipedia‘s domain. TechCrunch reports there will be a public preview on Tuesday, streamed live from Harvard.

Sabbatical, Day 77: Of Sausages And Crosses

Today, I’d like to apologise to the entire German nation. Every single one of you. By common consent, you make the finest sausages in the known universe. And I’m sure you agree.

But my kids don’t. They think I’m a liar when I tell them that German sausages are the best, and that nothing beats a bratwurst.

Why? Because today, we visited Cressing Temple for its annual St George’s Joust event. It is a wonderful celebration of all things medieval, including crafts, early musical instruments, falconry displays, York versus Lancaster battle re-enactments, and the famous joust with witty script and terrific stuntmen riding the horses. (Oh, and that other medieval theme, the Napoleonic Wars.) 

Having paid our entrance fee, we walked through the gift shop, out into the grounds and there we were greeted first of all by a series of catering concessions. I noted the existence of The German Sausage Company. I pointed it out to the children, and Debbie realised I had set my heart on a snack from there, even though we had brought a picnic. We made it our last call before leaving a highly enjoyable day.

Well, if I’m feeling charitable I have to say we might have caught them on a bad day. I also have to admit that we didn’t complain. But bratwurst doesn’t usually have the texture of half-cooked rubber. I have never seen Mark give up on a sausage so quickly. He could live on a diet of them, if we let him.

And if you ask to have bacon well done, you don’t expect it to pale pink. Because Debbie likes everything well done. She’d have ice cream toasted, if she could. The first time she met my family was for a meal in a French restaurant. She ordered a steak. When the waitress asked how she would like it cooked, she replied in one word my family has never forgotten: “Cremated.”

To add insult, Debbie recognised the brand of orange juice I had been given. “How much did you pay?” was her question.

“A pound,” I said.

“You can get six of those for 99p in Lidl,”she withered. Profit margin is one thing, but that’s – what shall we say? Optimistic? (A little research suggests it might actually be five for £1.29, but it’s still a steep mark-up.)

Now I have to say that – being British, not German (but so were they) – I of course didn’t complain at the time. Perhaps I should have done, but since all the sausages came out of the same container, I don’t think anyone else got a better brattie than we did. So, dear German friends, I am sorry my children now have the wrong impression of your great delicacy. 

It was a disappointing end to a fun day. Rebekah and Mark talked to a woman demonstrating weaving on a medieval loom. We found a company selling dried meat, mushroom and fruit snacks. Their website doesn’t mention the fruit, but we can recommend the dried strawberry and the dried blackberry and apple. 


Fighting between Yorkists and Lancastrians in battle re-enactment

Fighting between Yorkists and Lancastrians in battle re-enactment

Furthermore, the afore-mentioned battle re-enactment was not only lively and fun, it was presented with an educational slant. Along the way, we learned all sorts of things about the nature of medieval warfare that were possibly surprising to many hearers.


Lancastrian archers in the re-enactment by the Medieval Siege Society

Lancastrian archers in the re-enactment by the Medieval Siege Society





To our surprise, Rebekah and Mark had their attention kept all through the half-hour presentation. We had to reasure Mark that the soldiers lying on the ground weren’t really dead – we’ve had a lot of death talk from him since Good Friday. But apart from that – and there’s nothing the re-enactors could have done about that – it was superb.


Sir Odious the Black Knight and his Swedish counterpart in the joust

Sir Odious the Black Knight and his Swedish counterpart in the joust



As for the joust itself, that was pure entertainment. Some might not like the fact that the baddie was dubbed the Black Knight, but it seemed not to be about race and more about a pun on ‘black night’. Or it could have been to do with the Black Country, since his punishment when he finally lost was to be sent to Birmingham. Nothing worse, surely.



A small falcon flies high above the falconer in the falconry display

A small falcon flies high above the falconer in the falconry display


Seeing a falconry display gave me an opportunity to educate the children as to the origins of our surname, which was originally something like Falconer. We were the plebs who looked after the falcons on the Laird’s estate in Aberdeenshire. The name is first found in that county around the 1200s. Medieval times, indeed.

My father has long been convinced (through a story his grandfather told him) that we came from Scotland in recent generations. To that end, Dad supports the Scotland rugby and football teams. Trouble is, we come from a part of the Auld Country called … Lincolnshire. All the way back to the early eighteenth century, there is no sign of the tartan, still less of ‘our’ clan, the Keiths.


Mark dressed for his photo in front of a painted backdrop of a castle

Mark dressed for his photo in front of a painted backdrop of a castle

If I can be serious about one final thing, though, it was the tragic reminder of seeing the Cross everywhere as a symbol not of suffering love but of violence and oppression. Mark and Rebekah posed in borrowed costumes for pictures in a photographer’s tent (and very good they were, too, for the price). Here, you can see Mark in knight’s garments, with his cross. I thought about the wickedness of the Crusades, their perpetration of Christendom by cruelty, and what they did to peoples who should have been shown the love of God in Christ. 

Then I thought there were hundreds, if not thousands of people at the show, and only few of them would have had that thought. Of the few who did, a good number of them would have seen it as further evidence to prove the wickedness of Christianity.

Most of the rest, though, who would have given no thought to the symbol of the cross at all. Like someone who works for our local Schools and Youth Ministries charity said at a meeting last year, most young people haven’t rejected religion. It just isn’t on their radar in the first place.

And that may be the biggest challenge facing the British church today.

Sabbatical, Day 72: Easter Is A Time For Spending

Bank Holidays can be full of energy, frustration or inertia in my experience. Today has fallen into the last of those three categories. Eschewing the idea of going somewhere big after a bad experience trying to get to Colchester Zoo one previous BH, the children suggested a return visit to Wat Tyler Country Park. However, this morning’s rain put paid to such plans and we ended up taking our picnic into Chelmsford town centre – not quite so picturesque. Some of that same picnic ended up with the pigeons and ducks courtesy of the children. OK, only the bread – nothing else.

Becky got a chance to spend some more birthday money. Like her mum, she adores that well-known craft shop, Poundland. She picked up some arty things there. She also bought an adaptation of Heidi in Waterstone’s. She loves that story. Meanwhile, Mark and I had boys’ time, heading for Camera World. I bought some camera cleaning gear and began a conversation about a first camera for His Nibs’ fifth birthday in August. Sounds like we’re heading for a Praktica.

Other than that, it’s time for things to break at present in our home. Over the weekend we had to buy a replacement DVD player and today it was the turn of our inkjet printer. The local Tesco Home Plus had a great deal on end of line stock and I picked up a Canon Pixma iP4600 for £44. No box or other packaging, with mains lead, ink cartridges, CD of software and manual all stuffed in a scruffy broken envelope. But who cares? That’s half price.

Everything goes in threes, Debbie says. The third item after the high-tech of the DVD player and the printer was, the, er, pepper mill. However much I like gadgets, I resisted the idea of a battery-powered model. Having been let down quickly by one from a supposedly reliable make, Cole and Mason, bought from Debenham’s in a sale, we went down market for a Tesco own brand.

So we seem to have spent the Easter weekend spending money. It doesn’t quite feel like an appropriate way to mark the death and resurrection of the Lord of life whose kingdom is countercultural, but we haven’t gone looking to do any of it and will have to balance the bank account later. Or seek divine assistance to that end!

Sabbatical, Day 67: Jesus Is Anointed With Perfume

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Above you will see the fourth Damaris Trust video for Holy Week. Rob Parsons talks about an anointing in Luke’s Gospel which has parallels with a similar situation that occured in the days leading up to Jesus’ death. He discusses the ideas of love and forgiveness presented in the story.


Quite separately, here’s another video. Some have suggested that ‘Stand By Me‘ began as a gospel song before co-writer Ben E King popularised it. See what you make of this ‘world’ version of the song. (HT: Gavin Richardson.)


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As to the sabbatical, it hasn’t been the most eventful of days. There have been conversations with friends, but they have been of a sensitive nature and I can’t therefore reflect on them here. I’ve read more Tim Keller, added to my Mark Heard collection by plugging some gaps at emusic, and cursed clouds that floated in front of the moon just as I had a nice photo lined up.

The other main thing I’ve done, you’ll see in tomorrow’s post. There is a synchroblog sponsored by Slipstream about the Resurrection, and I’ve typed some thoughts. I’ll put the post up in the morning, and update it later in the day with specific sabbatical news.



Sabbatical, Day 60: April Fools, Online Photos And Music, Tim Keller, Sojourners

This morning before school, we tried to explain April Fool’s Day to the children. They got the hang of it to a certain extent, and much enjoyed the collective prank played on all the pupils at their school today when staff told them they had to hop everywhere. 

Elsewhere, The Guardian claimed it was giving up ink and instead would entirely be published in sub-140 character messages on Twitter. Some might be concerned about dumbing down, I’d be concerned for the spelling – anyone remember the days of the Grauniad? I also received a Facebook message from the We’re Related application, claiming that one Barack Obama of Washington, DC had added me as his fourth cousin, once removed. I’ve never heard of him, so it can’t be true.

Meanwhile, Miss Universe described Guantanamo Bay as ‘fun’ and Alan Shearer became manager of Newcastle United. Oh no, those two are true.

Staying in the realm of truth, it’s been a bit of a techie day. I finally uploaded the Lee Abbey photos to my Flickr account today. I’ve organised them into three sets, all under one collection.

I’ve also been looking at some of the popular online music services in the last twenty-four hours. Yesterday, I downloaded the software for Spotify, but have been hampered by slow connection speeds. Some artists also had far fewer tracks available than I had hoped. I have also signed up for a free trial of emusic. I thought the offer of fifty free MP3 downloads was generous, but soon realised it would be easy to exceed that.

However, the emusic download manager has crashed tonight – whether that’s due to our slow connection as well, I don’t know. Certainly the problem isn’t limited to Spotify: YouTube videos only play a bit at a time, and the Flickr upload I mentioned in the previous paragraph took three attempts to complete. I’ve tried the usual tricks of rebooting and disconnecting the router for thirty seconds, but so far to no avail.

But if all the above sounds like trivial fluff, I have done some serious things today. Most notably, I have read three chapters of Tim Keller‘s ‘The Reason for God‘. To date, I’m impressed with the way he graciously exposes the weaknesses in contemporary objections to faith, especially Christianity. He manages to do so intelligently, without coming on like an intellectual warmonger. The book is definitely for people of a certain academic ability, and while I have the odd query about what he thinks everyone can agree on (immediately after he has exposed fundamental differences), I think this looks like one of the best works of apologetics I have read in years.

And here is a great article from Sojourners, about the increasing involvement in social justice issues by American Christian musicians.

Finally, just to say that Debbie is getting better today. Still washed out, but the fever has subsided and she has not been in bed. I’m relieved she’s improving.

Sabbatical, Day 58: Nosing Around


Lee Bay from the rear of Lee Abbey

Lee Bay from the rear of Lee Abbey

I’m opening up today’s post with a few final photos from last week’s photography course at Lee Abbey. All of these were taken last Thursday, on the final full day of the course. This is Lee Bay from the rear of Lee Abbey. It’s wonderful to look out on this view every day when you come down for an early morning cuppa. 

Seat in the grounds of Lee Abbey

Seat in the grounds of Lee Abbey

Here is a seat in the grounds of Lee Abbey, where you can relax. They chose the right email address for general enquiries: it’s relax AT leeabbey DOT org DOT uk. (I am not being paid for all this promotion of the place! I have simply been there five or six times over the years, and it is one of my favourite ‘thin places‘ in the world.)


Lynton and Lynmouth Cliff Railway

Lynton and Lynmouth Cliff Railway

I spent Thursday afternoon in Lynton and Lynmouth. I took the Cliff Railway down from the former to the latter. It is another reason why I would like to take Debbie and the children there. We did visit the area for a few hours one day some years ago when Rebekah was tiny and we were on holiday elsewhere in North Devon, but I think the kids would love an attraction like this. Especially since at the bottom in Lynmouth there are some great shops for clotted cream (Debbie would love that) and clotted cream ice cream (we’d all love that). Not only that, there is a fish restaurant that sends the most wonderful aroma into the local atmosphere. 



River and Bristol Channel at Lynmouth

River and Bristol Channel at Lynmouth

Lynmouth itself is small, but pretty. There is a river which runs through the town and out into the Bristol Channel, as depicted here. I also caught various scenes of the river flowing under bridges and houses and hôtels built on the steep bank between the river at the bottom at Lynton at the top. 

But at this point, I think I’m going to leave my memories of the Lee Abbey trip, at least so far as the blog is concerned. I might have wished for further ‘input’ on the course in terms of some theological reflection or some further inspiration on technique (although it was specifically advertised as not being a ‘technique’ course), but overall I am glad I went.


On finally tonight to some personal news from today. I wrote in January about an out-patient appointment regarding my nose and sinuses, then earlier this month about the CT scan I subsequently had. Well, today was the follow-up appointment. I agreed to have the surgery, called septoplasty. It will happen some time in the next three months, involve an overnight stay in hospital and two weeks off work. The scan also showed some information I need to relay to my dentist, because the surgeon quite thought my sinuses were being interfered with by a tooth on the right of my mouth! 

Sabbatical, Day 57: Lee Abbey Photography Course, Part 2


The Three Crosses at Lee Abbey: view from below

The Three Crosses at Lee Abbey: view from below

Wednesday’s expedition in search of photos saw me consulting a map of the Lee Abbey estate in order to find the location of the famous three crosses the community erected many years ago. They were not difficult to find. Unsurprisingly, several of us on the photography course took pictures of them, although nobody was there at the same time I was. I simply needed to let a group of pilgrims who were following some guided prayers around the land finish ahead of me.

For this first shot, I deliberately took the image from below, in order to include in the foreground the cow pat on the left and the treacherous hole in the ground on the right. Crosses are ugly and dirty, not shiny happy jewellery.


The Three Crosses at Lee Abbey set against a background of sky

The Three Crosses at Lee Abbey set against a background of sky

For the second photo I have included here, my aim was a little more pragmatic. You will see that again I am below the crosses with a wide-angle lens, but I have included a large amount of featureless cloudy sky. This was one of several pictures I took, thinking they might be useful as backgrounds for PowerPoint or SongPro slides. On the surface, that may not be the most spiritual reason, although I would like to think that if this is used in public worship, it will play a small part in enhancing people’s devotion. However, I castigated myself for moving on all too quickly from the crosses in order to take more images. I think I share the general weakness for moving on as quickly as I can from the foot of the Cross. I certainly did so last week.


Lost sheep among saplings in putative orchard

Lost sheep among saplings in putative orchard

This third shot is one I might use as a metaphor sometime. The sheep shown should not be in this field. It has escaped from the rest of the flock, and is roaming in a field planted with saplings that will eventually become an orchard. Next time I want a ‘lost sheep’ image, I may pull this one out.

The week was not all about the photography, though. On Thursday morning, one of the host team, Chris, recognised my name on my badge. I had thought he looked familiar, but he didn’t prove to be who I thought he was. Chris turned out to be the son of two people I had known in an ecumenical church in my last circuit. When I knew him, he was about eleven. Now he was eighteen, and spending a year in community while offering for the Anglican ministry. I must say, he looked a natural up in front of a large group of people from different backgrounds and generations. I gave him my email address before leaving, and asked him to tell me how he gets on.

Sabbatical, Day 56: Catching Up On Photography At Lee Abbey

I got back from Lee Abbey last night. As I expected, there was no Internet access, let alone wifi, for guests, but the place is as beautiful and spiritual as ever.

Setting off on Monday morning after the school run, the weather got progressively poorer the further west I drove. The most direct approach to Lynton and the Valley of the Rocks where Lee Abbey is situated requires slogging along the A39 and tackling two 25% (1 in 4 in old money) hills, one at Porlock, the other at Lynmouth. The latter is also combined with a hairpin bend. I chickened out, looking forward to a drive instead across the rugged beauty of Exmoor.

What a mistake. As the rain increased, I found myself driving through low cloud, in fog-like conditions. The 1 in 4s would have been less problematic!

After an initial welcome on Monday night (and my by now customary poor first night’s sleep – this time waking at 4 am and not slumbering again), the course kicked off on Tuesday morning. Our leader was Paul Judson, communications officer for Durham Diocese and editor of their online newspaper. A trained artist and photographer, he is ordained and married to a vicar. His theme, based on the Emmaus Road story, was ‘And their eyes were opened’. Each day, he took a theme from a Paul Gauguin painting and gave us just a few thoughts to set our fingers twitching on our shutters. 

So it was that on Tuesday I walked down from the back of Lee Abbey to the rocky cove at Lee Bay, shooting whatever I fancied, and inspired to look more closely at some features. I found some surprising features. 


Stones at Lee Bay

Here, for example, is a collection of stones I liked on the beach. I didn’t move them about or do anything fancy with filters either on the camera or in software, they just looked like this and I found the arrangement appealing. I hope you do, too.


Colourful branch washed up at Lee Bay

Colourful branch washed up at Lee Bay

And I liked the colours here, too. This branch and the green net appeared to have been washed up in the bay. What had made the wood go orange, I wondered? I’m sure there is a simple answer, but again, I have applied no digital trickery to the shot. This is more or less just how I saw it. 

But whatever I say about the lack of any software manipulation, I hit a severe problem that night when I reviewed my shots for the day on the laptop. A couple of marks that I could see in the viewfinder, and which I had thought were just dirt there, appeared in every photo. I didn’t have any blower, brush or lens cloth with me (and I knew it wasn’t a lens issue, because they appeared regardless of the lens I was using). I borrowed a blower and a brush from someone else the next day, but didn’t think I’d got rid of them. Someone else kindly offered to lend me his laptop that had the latest and greatest Photoshop CS4 on it.

I was rather nervous about playing with such high powered and exalted software, and explored other solutions – although I felt at one point like jacking in the course and coming home, because I thought all my pictures were going to be ruined. I thought that especially when I also noticed that shots from Rebekah’s birthday party last Saturday had also been afflicted. Debbie suggested on the phone that since that party had been at a pottery painting studio, maybe clay dust had got into the camera. That would have explained the difficulty in removing the dust, because it would have been more moist. Worse, given the lime component in clay, such dust could have been a nasty irritant inside the camera. The friend who loaned me the blower and brush found an advert in a magazine for Colchester Camera Repairs, and suggested I visit them on my return.

Meanwhile, leafing through my Nikon manual, I thought I had found a solution. I had never installed the accompanying Nikon Capture software. The manual said that if I took a reference shot of white in RAW format and took all other shots in RAW, then the software could compare the two and remove the blemishes. It wouldn’t solve Tuesday’s photos, which I had shot as JPGs, but I could prevent problems with future pictures. So I installed it onto the laptop from the CD. Problem: it needed to be version 4.3 or later, and Nikon had kindly only given me 4.2.

So I thought that on Wednesday, I would drive into Lynton with the laptop, install mobile broadband and download an update. Problem – big one: mobile broadband was so slow that the update would never have completely downloaded before my laptop battery would have expired. I gave up, and decided I’d download when I got home.

Meanwhile on Wednesday afternoon, Paul gave a lecture on using Photoshop. Now Photoshop is far too expensive for us, although we have Photoshop Elements 6 on the desktop here at home. I didn’t have the latter on my laptop for licensing reasons, but as Paul talked about the ‘clone tool’ that will take a colour from somewhere in a photo and apply it over something you want to remove, I wondered whether I had anything like that in any of the free or open source software I had put on the laptop.

Step forward to the rescue, The GIMP 2.6.4 and IrfanView 4.23! Both have such a tool. I removed the marks from all of Tuesday and last Saturday’s images. You wouldn’t know now they’ve had a problem. And although I said I hadn’t engaged in digital trickery for the photos above, both of them were doctored with The GIMP’s clone tool to remove two blemishes.

Maanwhile, none of Wednesday’s pics seemed to have the marks on them at all. So maybe my friend Sedge’s blower and brush had worked, after all.

More on Lee Abbey in tomorrow’s post.