About the author: Jane Burkinshaw is a professional photographer and passionate about all things photography related. Jane specialises in portrait photography and runs photography courses.

Pampering, Posing and Prosecco by Cheshire Photographer Jane Burkinshaw

Once the new studio was completed I wanted to organise a shoot that would be fun for friends and allow me to try out the space before I started using it for real. So two weeks ago I invited four friends over as guinea pigs and another friend, Sue, who sells a range of skincare and make up products (Arbonne - promised her a plug!). Our numbers grew when we decided to add a make up artist, Claire  and then Mhari with her gorgeous Stella and Dot jewellery (plugs all done for now!).

The girls - Debbie, Nicky, Kaarin and Lucy arrived with changes of clothes and nervous smiles. We gave them a bit of a pamper with some face cleansing and face pack products (always good for a funny photo!) and then they all had their make up done and jewellery chosen to complement their outfits.
Pampering and gossiping time!
Time to add the stunning bling.
We gave some advice on how to stand for a full length shot as no one ever knows how to do it and what to do with their hands! This pose, demonstrated by Sue, shows how it's much more flattering to stand at an angle, weight on the back leg, front leg forward. I call this the Cheshire Ladies pose as everyone always does it at weddings and events!
Cheshire Ladies pose. But make sure you're facing the light for best results. We turned Sue to face the other way for the actual shot.
I love Nicky's more casual take on this pose. Looks really natural and relaxed.
Everyone had a go at a full length pose, including Mr T - what a posasaurus!
As you can imagine when eight women get together it's very noisy and at times very silly. Nicky might not ever get a job as a reflector holder!

None of them normally enjoy having their photographs taken but all did extremely well, with lots of different poses - standing, seated, lying down. I still haven't had time to edit them all but here's my favourites of the four models.

Sue Cobb of Arbonne, modelling Stella & Dot jewellery.
Huge thanks to Sue Cobb and Claire Fulton of Arbonne and Mhari Oakes of Stella & Dot for giving their time and skills on the day. Thanks to the four models for their sense of humour and willingness to do something out of their comfort zone. Boudoir shoot next time, ladies?!

Thanks to Nic Burkinshaw and Abii Burkinshaw for the catering (a lovely spread of quiche, home made bread, salad and home made cookies, accompanied by Prosecco for a little extra sparkle!)

Almost forgot to mention the star of the show - Bella, Lucy's daughter and my great niece.

Make up (none), clothes and accessories all model's own!


A very special wedding album. By Cheshire Wedding Photographer Jane Burkinshaw

Chris & Maria's Wedding 22.02.14
Remember when I did my Wonder Woman imitation and photographed a huge wedding (250 guests) with just half an hour's notice? Well, today I delivered the wedding album to Maria and Chris and thought you might like to see it.

Before I do the Big Reveal, I want to share with you a bit about its quite complicated gestation, as it was far from straight forward. My photography of the wedding started at the moment Maria arrived at the top of the aisle on her proud Spanish father's arm. I dashed along the side of the pews, caught my breath and grabbed my camera. From then on in, I captured all the key moments of their big day and really enjoyed watching it unfold. If, like me, you love weddings and didn't read my blog about their wedding you can read it here.

A few weeks later I met with Maria and showed her the photographs. She was thrilled with them and we started to discuss albums, a conversation I would usually have had months before the wedding. Maria and Chris wanted a traditional leather bound, matted album, which of course I was happy to create for them. The challenging nature of this album lay in the fact that I had not been present at all the events that unfolded prior to Maria getting to the church and, therefore, had no images.

We both wanted to have an album that told the full story of their wedding and set about sourcing images from guests. Do you know how many guests take photos at weddings these days? All of them! We were inundated with literally hundreds of pictures, in varying qualities, sizes and formats. Thus began a long job of sorting through them, getting to a short list and then editing them so that they would sit seamlessly alongside my images.

But there were still big gaps - no good shots of Maria getting ready at the hotel with her bridesmaids, none of Chris and the camaraderie between him, the best man and the ushers. Then we had a brainwave! Use stills from the video! We received some gorgeous shots but realised with a sinking heart that they were low resolution and couldn't be printed large. I contacted the album supplier and was advised to get some prints done. Phew! They were fine up to 5"X7" so we were OK.

To cut a long story short, we got there in the end, with a few more edits and reviews than normal, but this hadn't been a normal wedding for me or the bride and groom. From the outset I was determined that their day should not be affected in any way by the no-show of their booked photographer. As I showed Maria the finished product today, I knew that I had succeeded and that she loved the album. I'm quite proud of it myself as I know what hurdles we had to get over to create it.

So here it is, just a glimpse anyway. I like to imagine that Chris has just got in from work and is looking through it with Maria, with a glass of wine, laughing and remembering their wedding day. (Keep that wine away from it though!)

By Jane Burkinshaw. Share this post by clicking on one of the Share buttons on the right hand side. I'd love to hear your comments too!

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New year, new look blog

It's been a while since my last confession post... I fell out of the blogging habit last year, largely because I spent most of my free time on a project to take and post a photograph every day during 2012. (Separate post on this is simmering away in my brain and will come to the boil soon).

I've really missed writing and have made it a resolution for 2013 to do more. I'm planning to combine all my blogs into one - it was getting confusing for me never mind anyone else. So top tips on photography and posts about recent shoots will all nestle here alongside tales of our exploits as a family.

I've given my blog a bit of a facelift - it took far longer than I expected to do a few simple changes to the background and header - but I'm pleased with the overall result. Feels a little friendlier than all that serious black and green I had before. And it seems more appropriate to feature my lovely children and dog in the header too!

Ferb, the dog, is a new addition to our family and he will no doubt be the star of the show for the foreseeable future - he's so darn cute and extremely photogenic. He even has his own Facebook page if you can't wait between posts to see his little hairy face.

Also set to feature a fair amount is our new (to us) caravan. With two successful outings under our belt (we won't mention the encounter between our gatepost and a caravan window!) we're planning holidays up and down the length of Britain this year.

I've already got a long list of ideas for blog posts and am itching to get started. With heavy snow supposedly heading our way I can forecast lots of photo opportunities and lots of time sitting in front of a roaring fire, blogging away. Hopefully they won't just languish unread in the ether somewhere - at least I know my other half reads them and points out where I've used apostrophe's (sic) in the wrong place and embellished the truth somewhat, in order to be more entertaining!

By Jane Burkinshaw. Share this post by clicking on one of the Share buttons on the right hand side. I'd love to hear your comments too!


Magical Autumn Family Portraits in Cheshire

Autumn is my favourite season by far! Nights start to draw in, with a nip in the air there's an excuse to have a real fire and dig the scarves and hats out. True, this autumn has been a little strange so far with frosts few and far between. But the autumnal colours have been spectacular especially over the last week or so. And in just a few short days the trees and bushes could all be stripped bare of their fiery glory - it will only take one gusty day or a sharp downpour.

With the ephemeral nature of Autumn in mind I have packed several photo shoots into the last couple of weeks. Of course the backdrop of scarlet, gold and burnished yellow leaves is perfect for outdoor portrait sessions but so is the light at this time of year. The sun is lower in the sky, shadows are softer, the light is kinder and if you can work quickly in the magical hour between 2.30pm and 3.30pm you can maximise all of this, resulting in stunning images.

Beautiful light on the edge of the wood

My chosen location for these recent shoots has been Marbury Park but I imagine any park with decent stands of trees would be as good, as long as you've scouted out a few good spots first. Woodland can be tricky - if the canopy of leaves is too dense then it can be a tad too dark and flat but if you can find somewhere towards the edge of the wood the light can be wonderful.

The birdhides made an unexpectedly great place to take portraits, as the viewing slots allowed my subjects to be lit naturally from both sides and the green wood of the hide was a very complementary backdrop.

Kids love messing about in woods and no more so than when there's an ankle deep carpet of leaves on the ground. I adore the fun of the piggyback shot but just look at that light in the background!

The other thing I love about Autumn is that the colours all go together so perfectly - Mother Nature never makes mistakes with her seasonal palette! I particularly like the fact that in my last shot here the family dog also matches in so well!

So don't hang about - you've got about a week at the most (don't hold me to that!) to get out and about with your cameras. We will have the magic of that cold Winter light next but it's not quite so pleasant doing a shoot then and kids' noses have a nasty habit of turning red and a bit runny!

Thanks to the families who have allowed me to share some of their images - these kids were wonderful - very photogenic and really fun to work with!

By Jane Burkinshaw. Share this post by clicking on one of the Share buttons on the right hand side. I'd love to hear your comments too!


A digital photography class for beginners at Davenports Farm Shop, Cheshire

I ran another course for beginners in digital photography today and had such a great day. It really doesn't feel like work - sharing something I love with other people who go away so enthusiastic and excited about what you've told them. Today I trained a former colleague, Catherine, who last knew me as the foot expert rather than the photographer - although she remembers me jumping up and down in excitement about buying a new camera lens too. And flogging flower photography calendars up and down the office! Talk about moonlighting - the writing was probably on the wall way before I was made redundant.

So, anyway, there I was today teaching her and her two friends how to take better photographs with their new SLR cameras. They were typical of the people I teach - they know how they want their pictures to look but get frustrated as they don't know how to achieve it. They consider their good pictures to be lucky snapshots. As ever, they are hard on themselves and have usually got a good eye for a nice image. Husbands and dads have tried to explain about apertures and shutter speeds but somehow the penny has never dropped and the camera has stayed on the fully AUTO mode (little green square).

By the end of my training sessions people usually tell me that I have cut through all the jargon and made it all make sense. Catherine commented today that she hadn't known what anything on the screen on the back of the camera had meant and that she was going away able to interpret it all and say what ISO setting she was on and why and what shutter speed and aperture she / the camera had used. Things like Auto White Balance and Exposure Compensation now made sense.

On week days I train at an amazing venue - Davenports Farm Shop at Bartington on the A49. The staff are very friendly and accommodating, giving over an entire room free of charge  in the Alice in Wonderland themed tea rooms to me. The choice of tea and coffee is dizzying but Belinda will guide you through and select the best one with you and all the food is locally sourced and freshly prepared by Belinda and her husband. The cakes are to die for - I drooled so much over the miniature cakes served to two ladies nearby that they donated the ones they couldn't quite manage to us!

I combine the classroom sessions with practical exercises outside and Davenports has oodles of interesting subjects. Today we concentrated on the outdoor chess set, practising using the Av mode to set different apertures to increasingly blur the background and also seeing how zooming in compresses perspective. On previous courses we've photographed the ostriches and alpachas, flowers, fruit and veg, old fencing - the opportunities are endless.

If you like the sound of it get in touch and we'll sort out a convenient date. I can tailor the courses to suit particular interests e.g. portraits / close up flowers etc. All in all I am always told that it's a great day out and very informative and practical.

By Jane Burkinshaw. Share this post by clicking on one of the Share buttons on the right hand side. I'd love to hear your comments too!

New Digital Photography Taster Courses for 2011

If you want to take great pictures you need a lot of expensive kit and you need to understand all the technical stuff - don't you?

No, not necessarily. Of course great quality cameras and lenses and an understanding of how to use all the settings can help you to produce fabulous images. But if you don't know some basic rules or tips then it doesn't matter how good your kit or technical knowledge is. Occasionally I leave all my SLRs, lenses etc at home and just take my Panasonic DMC-FS12 compact with me to remind myself of the basics. I also like to demonstrate that you can get some really good shots with a compact camera.

All these shots were taken with a compact camera

This led me to thinking about how easy it is really and how everyone can take good shots if they just have some simple tips and techniques.

That's what's inspired me to run some taster courses in 2011. I love running courses - so much so that I'd do it for free if I could, but I have bills to pay, cosmetics, shoes and clothes to buy!

The idea of these taster courses is to give people some completely non-techie knowledge that they can go out and put into practise straightaway and see an immediate improvement in their photographs.

If this sounds like it's for you please get in touch. I'm running two courses - one in June and one in July. Details are on my web site. The taster courses are just £20 per person for two hours.

If you're ready for for the next step - getting off the AUTO button and finding out what all the different settings do then take a look at the workshops and small group courses I offer.

To book or find out more contact me on 07868 750505 or via http://www.picture-it-big.co.uk/

By Jane Burkinshaw. Share this post by clicking on one of the Share buttons on the right hand side. I'd love to hear your comments too!


Slipping through my fingers...

Schoolbag in hand
She leaves home in the early morning
Waving goodbye
With an absent-minded smile
I watch her go
With a surge of that well-known sadness
And I have to sit down for a while
The feeling that I'm losing her forever
And without really entering her world
I'm glad whenever I can share her laughter
That funny little girl

Slipping through my fingers all the time
I try to capture every minute
The feeling in it
Slipping through my fingers all the time
Do I really see what's in her mind
Each time I think I'm close to knowing
She keeps on growing
Slipping through my fingers all the time

(Lyrics from by Siobhan McCarthy & featured in Mamma Mia).
I don't always know exactly where my daughter is sometimes and I don't like it one bit! She has been glued to my side (or her daddy's) or in the care of someone we've handed her over to ever since birth. How am I supposed to let her go her own way without worrying myself into a nervous breakdown?

To put this into perspective (I'm just clinging onto some) she is 10 years old and has started to call on friends and meet them in the local park. I know I can't stop her going and although I can warn her about stranger danger I can't terrify her with stories of kidnappings and worse. She came home half an hour late today - it wasn't really her fault, she ended up going to pick up her friend's brother with their mum. And I can't go ballistic at the mother who is much more laid back than me as she's been through it once already. I limited myself to two text messages and five bitten nails - I'm saving the other hand for tomorrow when she'll no doubt want to exercise her new right to freedom again.

But this isn't a blog about how to let your children go out on their own without worrying yourself sick (I have an inkling that will only happen when senility kicks in). It's more of a realisation that this time is so precious and so much of it has already slipped by so quickly.

I didn't find motherhood easy and I think I have only recently become completely comfortable in my role as mummy. I had postnatal depression and spent the first five months on a rollercoaster of emotion - "yay I'm a mother and my daughter is absolutely gorgeous"! Then five minutes later "oh my god what the hell have done, what was I thinking of?! I'm rubbish at this, everyone else is coping so well, they have lots of other mummy friends, I'm the only one on my own all the time". It all happened again when I had my son 2 years later and redundancy and stress related problems didn't help me settle into motherhood either.

I think the fact that I never knew my own mum (she died when I was a few weeks old) also had an impact. Lacking a role model must have had an impact on how I would adapt. I think I've done an OK job in the end, I'm never sure if I'm being fair, over-indulgent, too strict, too much in love with every hair, mole, smell, expression - but I don't think that makes me any different to any other mum. I have a feeling I seek approval more than I should and can't believe that she loves me and looks up to me as much as she does. It amazes me that she wants to copy how I apply my make up, do my hair - I'm not a girlie girl and did not do this with anyone when I was young. Through her I think I have come very late into girliness and am so enjoying going through this stage with her. I'm making the most of it as it will be shortlived - she already tells me when I look naff and, when I let her, she applies make up much more adeptly than I ever did.

And did I mention that she is hilarious and a great mimic? When she's in her comfort zone she has attitude in spades and will hold us all rapt with her performances. I can't understand why her teacher describes her as "quiet" - are you sure you have the right child?

I feel as if we are in a magical time at the moment - her  inbetween girlhood and adulthood and me finally completely content with being (1) mum and (2) photographer. I want to freeze this time and not let it slip through my fingers.

When I went to watch Mamma Mia for the first time I had never heard the song "Slipping through my fingers" before and I absolutely sobbed during the whole scene. I still think it was more than just a chick flick weep - more of a cathartic moment when a lot of stuff hit home. I love the lyrics and feel as if they were written for me and Abbie. She, however, thinks they're really dumb and has taken out an injunction against me playing the song at her wedding along with a slide show!

By Jane Burkinshaw. Share this post by clicking on one of the Share buttons on the right hand side. I'd love to hear your comments too!
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Taking great pictures over Christmas

We had our first Wincham / Pickmere photography group last night and talked about how to get good shots over Xmas, without getting too technical. Hope you find them useful.

“The best camera is the one you have with you at the time”.

Always have your camera near you so that if something happens you are ready to grab the shot. Taking great photos often isn’t about knowing how to use all the different settings, but more about OPPORTUNITY and being able to SEE THE IMAGE.

Take a few practise shots, check the results, adjust settings if necessary and you’ll be well prepared.

The best shots of people are often the candid ones, especially children. Get them used to you taking photos all the time and they will be less self conscious.

For posed photographs help make people relax by talking to them, make them laugh. Try getting people to say “Cheeky Monkeys” or “Smelly Socks” and after you’ve done one shot get people to tickle each other or hug.

If you want a more informal group shot ask people to toast each other, meeting each others’ eyes rather than looking at the camera. This can also reduce red eye. (But don’t worry about red eye and don’t use “Red eye reduction” setting on camera as the double flash is off putting and it takes longer so you can miss the moment. Sort out red eye on the computer afterwards.)

Get people really close together, heads nice and close and all on the same plane (i.e. not some further in front or behind the others as you could risk some being out of focus).

Take several shots of groups in case anyone had their eyes closed.

Fill the frame when taking pictures of people. Use the zoom on your camera to catch candid shots of the kids—they won’t know you’re taking the shot and zooming in has the effect of blurring the background, making the person stand out.

Try different angles—get down to the same level as your children or shoot from low down or high up. Tilt the camera slightly and take the picture on an angle. Experiment.

At night time or in low light try using the night portrait setting on your camera to capture the lovely Christmas lights / candles etc behind or near your subject. Make sure the flash is on and select night portrait. The camera fires a quick burst of flash but then keeps the shutter open for a moment longer to allow light in. Hold the camera steady or you’ll risk camera shake. Rest the camera on a level surface if possible. Try taking pictures of the children by the Christmas tree like this. Or of the Christmas pudding as it is aflame.

If you want to take a picture of Christmas lights in a town or garden etc, rest the camera on a wall, make sure the flash is off and press the shutter. You can do this in AUTO mode. If the picture is too dark, use the TV mode (Might be “S” on some cameras) and slow down the shutter speed. Experiment until you are happy with the shot.

If you are taking pictures of people on a bright sunny day outdoors, use the flash to avoid harsh shadows. Overcast days are actually the best for photographing people. Snowy overcast days are great as colours of scarves, hats etc look really intense against the white snow.

On cold frosty days look for interesting details and zoom in close—use the MACRO setting. Frosted cobwebs, reeds, teasels etc look magical covered in frost.

Landscapes—use rule of thirds, try to lead the eye, have a clear focal point.

By Jane Burkinshaw. Share this post by clicking on one of the Share buttons on the right hand side. I'd love to hear your comments too!

Don't let your favourite photos languish on your hard drive - get 'em out!!

We returned from our summer holiday in Cornwall with hundreds of lovely photos of the beautiful cornish scenery, the kids playing on the beach, surfing in the sea - the usual stuff. I sort of had a plan right from the start of the holiday to do something special with the pictures when we got back, rather than leave them on the computer, never to see the light of day. We don't use albums any more (does anyone?) and we only print a few pictures out every now and again - in fact I think it's almost a year ago since we last did.

I've put lots of photobooks together for clients but never for ourselves, so this time I was determined to. As ever I took photographs every day and almost everywhere we visited and
from time to time I spent a little time in the evening jotting down a few notes about the day's events, anything funny the kids had said or the dog had done!

I was all set up when I got home to put the book together and couldn't wait to get on with it. I used Bobsbooks for the first time as they offered full double page spreads, nice quality binding and a full colour wraparound hard cover. They are not the cheapest around but I think you get what you pay for. I downloaded their software and over the next couple of weeks I did a bit of the book at a time. The software for all the different companies is usually pretty intuitive - each has its little foibles which can be frustrating at times but overall it's drag and drop your image into a standard template, move it around and resize it if you want, add some text and so on.
Well, I don't know about you but I was absolutely delighted with the finished result and was dancing around in excitement when it was delivered. The quality is great, lovely vibrant colours, thick pages and just fab! It's slightly under A4 size and now sits in pride of place on my new cabinet in the family room. Any visitors to the house get it shoved into their hands but I've not had any complaints yet!

So go on - get those pictures off your computer and do something with them. I'm already planning a lot of Christmas presents and had better get started as I'm sure they'll get busy soon, as photo books are becoming increasingly popular and are replacing the traditional photo album. (And Bobsbooks are not paying me - I just think credit should be given where it's due!).

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Made in Cheshire

Dinner, bed and breakfast at a luxury country hotel and kids on sleepovers – fantastic! As soon as offspring and dog were despatched, we headed off to Nunsmere Hall Hotel with a guilty sense of freedom and anticipation of an evening of fine food and wine.

This was likely to be a bit of a busman’s holiday for me, having promised to take a few photographs of the food, as it was a rather special event – a Made in Cheshire evening with all the food sourced from within the county, even including staple ingredients such as flour and salt. As people gathered in the bar and on the terrace in the warm evening sunshine, they were offered a champagne flute of locally made, chilled cider. I, in the meantime, was nipping in and out of the kitchen photographing Chef for the evening, Mark Fletcher, putting the finishing touches to the canapés of scotch quails eggs and welsh toast. I did find time to sample both the cider and canapés and was very pleasantly surprised by just how refreshing and enjoyable cider can be, as an alternative to the more traditional champagne.

I had spent some time chatting with Mark, usually the Sous Chef at Nunsmere, but very much in charge of the Made in Cheshire evening, and he had told me with some pride how he had personally sourced all of the ingredients from suppliers within a thirty mile radius of Nunsmere Hall. He came into the bar to welcome the diners and to talk enthusiastically and humorously about the menu, despite being much more comfortable behind the scenes in the busy, hot kitchen. I don’t envy anyone working in such a heated and pressured environment – it would be my idea of hell – but the kitchen staff seem to thrive on it. Behind the swing doors it was noisy with the banging and clattering of pans, instructions were shouted across the kitchen, there were people rushing about and all seemed rather chaotic to me. But then as a course was plated up and Chef shouted “service!” suddenly all fell into place, waiters and waitresses appeared as if by magic and calmly ferried the dishes out to the dining room. Mark took a gulp of tea from his West Ham mug (I promised to fit in a mention!) and then moved onto preparing the next course.

Out in the restaurant everyone was enjoying the gazpacho with a selection of breads made from locally milled flour. This was followed by a visually stunning goat’s cheese and beetroot dish, which brought out the geek in my husband: “it’s a cone bisected by a plane, which would create an ellipse if sliced across...”. Personally I just thought it looked amazing and tasted divine! Each course was accompanied by a different wine and we had a lively conversation about how hard it is to find wine that tastes as good as those in a restaurant. I think we were underestimating the skill required to match wine with food and then serve it at the right temperature in the correct glass. The goat’s cheese was followed by trout caught locally.

By now my fellow diners and long suffering husband were getting used to me dashing away from the table between courses – at least the presence of my camera reassured them that I hadn’t just got a very weak bladder! In the kitchen the medallions of beef were being plated up and Mark’s two young sous chefs for the evening were carefully adding the vegetables. The attention to detail in the presentation of food never fails to amaze me – as an artist bends in concentration, nose almost touching the canvas, so a chef leans over each dish, carefully positioning each item and then adding jus or sauce with a flourish like a signature. The end result looked almost too good to eat, but you could soon hear the scraping of cutlery on empty plates and the rise in chatter that signals the end of a course. We were enjoying the company of the people around us, the majority being strangers to us beforehand. The couple next to us explained that they had bid for the Made in Cheshire Evening (plus bed and breakfast) at a charity auction, with Steven, at the time, under the illusion he was bidding for a balloon ride and egging on his partner, Jane, to bid increasingly higher!

As we enjoyed a short break before dessert, we could see a figure with a torch roaming around the edges of the garden and eventually setting up a white sheet and bright lamp on the lawn. This turned out to be Fungal Punk, a familiar figure at Nunsmere Hall, preparing for a late night moth hunt. I don’t know about anyone else, but in my experience a restaurant dinner has never been followed by a midnight search for Lepidoptera (moths and butterflies to you and me), but more on that in a moment! Dessert was a fruit salad served with locally made elderflower ice cream , followed by a fantastic selection of Cheshire cheeses. I could have grazed on the cheese and sipped port until bedtime but the moths were gathering outside to put on a show for us. Actually it turned out to be a little too late and a little too bright (almost full moon) for them and they had to be enticed out with a mixture of wine and treacle daubed on tree trunks. We must have made a strange sight weaving our slightly tipsy way through the tree line along the edges of the lawn, stopping to peer at moths and spiders in the light of Fungal Punk’s torch (the only torch (!) and we lost a few diners along the way!).

Back to the bar, laughing about our midnight walk and a quick brandy before bed. This was a delicious, fun, and very entertaining evening and nothing like hard work for me.

By Jane Burkinshaw. Share this post by clicking on one of the Share buttons on the right hand side. I'd love to hear your comments too!

Perks of the Job

Actually there are two recent shoots which could warrant this title! The reason the first qualified as a perk is a bit sexist I suppose but I don’t think the clients will mind! The owners of the gorgeous and very friendly Bez (see earlier blog) gave my name to a couple, Stacey and Lee, with four month old India. I was really looking forward to this shoot, partly because I love photographing very young babies, but also because I knew they wanted a very stylised black and white look to the photographs. Oh – and how could I forget to mention that they also have a very handsome boxer dog called Kilo! Regular followers of my blog will know that we have a boxer too and that immediately pre-supposes that we will get on well with all other boxer owners – a bit like the Porsche owners club! (Although I don’t think Porsche would thank me for that analogy!).

Stacey had a very clear idea of what she wanted – very simple images of Lee with India primarily and then anything else was a bonus. With Lee stripped to the waist holding a naked India I set about capturing some special moments between father and daughter. We worked fast as babies have a tendency to mood swings and frequent calls of nature (India only peed all over Lee once!) and I could immediately tell that we were going to have some lovely photographs. It would have been a real shame for Stacey not to be in the shots as well and so I got a few great shots of all three of them. Stacey was wearing a strapless maxi dress and the final shots are just gorgeous, with no clothes to distract from the simplicity. The final challenge was to get some shots of Kilo and then of the family altogether. I have to say that Kilo was brilliantly behaved – are we the only people with a completely bonkers boxer dog?! What could have been utter chaos – parents with baby and dog – was really easy and painless; in fact the whole shoot had been very enjoyable, not like work at all!

Back to perks of the job – it wasn’t until I got back home and looked through the pictures that I realised I had been photographing a really hunky, half naked man. I was quite impressed with my own professionalism – not being distracted on the job as it were! Anyway, I loved the pictures and by all accounts Stacey and Lee are very pleased too. India is absolutely gorgeous and it was exactly the right way to photograph her, so that her beautiful baby skin, tiny toes and fingers and big eyes are the focus of every shot. To find out about the second perk read my blog “A night with a difference”.

Bluebell Cottage Gardens

 I don’t think a lot of people realise just how many beautiful gardens lie hidden around the Cheshire countryside. I often mention to friends that I have visited a particular garden and nine times out of ten they are oblivious to its existence, even when it lies only a few miles away. Occasionally someone will claim to “have seen the signpost” but have never diverted from their route to investigate. I am shocked at their “ignorance” and try to persuade them to go and have a look. I want to convince them that they are missing out on a lovely experience. Unsurprisingly I haven’t had many converts – my strange enthusiasm probably scares them off, but more than that I think I am guilty of forgetting everything my years in marketing have taught me about target markets. The majority of my friends just simply don’t seem to be the primary target consumers for gardens. When I visit gardens, particularly the less commercialised ones, I usually encounter lots of retired couples who are spending their well deserved leisure time strolling around, looking for inspiration for their own gardens, or just simply enjoying being there, in the fresh air, surrounded by nature’s bounty. The exceptions to this would be people like myself who are mad about garden and flower photography, and any keen young gardeners.

Bluebell Cottage Gardens is a beautiful garden that I have visited many times and feel everyone should know about. It’s a great “starter” garden if you’re a virgin garden visitor. It’s small enough to go round in half an hour and can be tied in with visits to other nearby attractions. It falls into the category of a smaller, non-commercialised garden although it does have a lovely, well stocked nursery – Lodge Lane Nursery – from which you can buy some of the plants you’ve seen in the garden and you will often find Sue Beesley, the owner, on hand to answer any questions you might have. You can’t miss Sue on account of her battered and well worn leather wide brimmed hat – I’m not sure I would recognise her without it!

I have been to the gardens several times over the last three years, both as a visitor and in a professional capacity and have had the pleasure of seeing it in different stages of maturity. I love seeing it in the springtime, partly for the bluebell woods (see earlier blog,) but also because it looks all neat – like a fresh short hair cut on my son – and you just know that it’s waiting to burst forth at the first sign of warm sunshine. I am always struck by the marked contrast when I visit later in the middle of summer, as I did on Sunday. The crisp, neat edges of the flower beds are softened and hidden in a profusion of colour and texture. Grasses which were just a few inches high now bob gracefully in the breeze at waist height and the trees in the orchard are laden with plums and apples. This year Sue has sown wildflower seeds beneath the trees and the effect is wonderful as you look up or down the gardens through the orchards.

I particularly like the fact that despite its relatively small size, there still feels like there’s a lot to explore and see. On Sunday I went to the gardens with my niece, great nephew (doesn’t that make me sound and feel old!) and daughter. Abigail loved walking across the lawns, holding hands with Joe Jack and leading him through into the different areas. They spent a lot of time rolling around on the grass and trying out all the different seats around the garden. I was left free to watch them from a distance and get some lovely portraits of them. It’s when I look at the photographs later that I wonder why more “non-core” target consumers don’t know what they are missing out on! Surely playing and exploring in such beautiful surroundings would appeal to almost anyone? There’s the added bonus that it’s a really cheap day out and there are usually tea rooms too! At the weekends you can partake in home baked cakes, locally made ice cream and of course a pot of tea in the basic but charming tea rooms at Bluebell Cottage Gardens. It’s a refreshing alternative to a soft play centre or MacDonalds and yet I bet the kids would have just as much fun, if not more!

By Jane Burkinshaw. Share this post by clicking on one of the Share buttons on the right hand side. I'd love to hear your comments too!

A really secret garden

You could easily fail to spot Walkden Gardens right towards the bottom of the list on the Cheshire Garden's web site and, equally, you might drive or walk straight past it on your way through Sale. Indeed many locals are probably unaware that there is a secret oasis right in the middle of the hustle and bustle of a busy suburb of Manchester. I was purposefully looking for a garden to visit in the vicinity of Altrincham where I was working in the morning and Walkden Garden's own website promised "a beautiful and peaceful hideaway" and "a magical place". I met up with the rest of my little clan in the FREE(!) car park and we entered the gardens (which are also free to visit!), drawn immediately to the fairytale-like dovecote, originally built around 1840 and a now a grade II listed building. Wild roses climb the red brick walls and it was a wonderful spot in which to take a lovely photograph of Abigail, proudly wearing her new maxi dress. At the end of this blog I explain how I shot this. You can sit awhile and admire the dovecote from a bench built into a drystone wall in a modern curving wave form - the first sign for me that these gardens have been thoughtfully developed by people who care about design and natural materials and who want visitors to really enjoy their surroundings.

From the dovecote you walk towards the very striking Compass Point, made from granite and sandstone, with pebble mosaics and ceramic edgings. The compass marks the heart of the gardens and points towards the different areas, from the Woodland Walk, the Field of Hope, Japan, the Theatre Lawn, Wisteria Arch, The Raft Birch Walk and the Dovecote. Again this is a beautifully designed and crafted feature, that speaks of a team of dedicated supporters. From the compass you can explore the intersecting gardens, all very different to one another. Lawned walks edged with flowerbeds and clipped neat hedges dissect the centre of the garden and beg to be explored and run along. "Doorways" through the hedges lead to amongst others, the fuchsia garden the theatre lawn, the mini arboretum and - a real treat - the Japanese garden. We were constantly surprised and pleased by what lay around each corner, at the end of a path, through a gap in a hedge. The laburnum arch must be breathtaking when it's in flower, but the kids enjoyed running through the dark leafy tunnel it creates now. In fact they loved exploring everywhere, dashing through the maze, climbing walls, posing on rocks, tumbling across lawns, running through the meadows and woodland and cartwheeling across the compass.

The gardens are impeccably maintained and lovingly tended - there wasn't a single piece of litter, no signs with DOs and DON'Ts, just discreet litter bins and the freedom to enjoy and relax in beautiful surroundings. We only saw a handful of fellow appreciators, strolling slowly around, despite it being a warm and sunny Saturday afternoon.

The main challenge I think I'm going to face is not getting around all of Cheshire's Gardens of Distinction, but resisting the urge to return to the same ones time and again. I already want to see the Japanese Garden in the autumn when the acers be will fiery red and purple and the idea of a summer's evening spent on the Theatre Lawn watching an al fresco performance whilst sipping Pimms is very, very appealing.

The gardens provide the ideal location for a photo shoot and Abigail enjoyed being my model. In order to get the above shot I asked her to lean against the wall - a great way to get people to relax and not look awkward - and I made sure that from where I stood the climbing white rose would edge the left side and bottom of the shot. I then zoomed in and focused on Abigail, ensuring that she would be clear and sharp, but the roses in front of her and the background behind would be soft focus. I also checked that she was in shade rather than direct sunlight. The resulting portrait is evenly lit, nicely composed, realxed and romantic.

By Jane Burkinshaw. Share this post by clicking on one of the Share buttons on the right hand side. I'd love to hear your comments too!

Make photos while the sun shines

 This sunny weather is fantastic but it doesn't half make photography tricky! Have a look at a few of my simples DO'S and DON'T'S of sunny day photography.

DO... Use your flash if the sun is high in the sky when photographing people who are in direct sunlight. Chances are they will have dark shadows across their faces which will look even darker on the photograph. make your flash fire by popping it up or switching it to "Forced flash on" depending on your camera type. (Don't forget to switch the flash off afterwards as your next shot might not need it). In the shot of Abbie and Sam on the statue at Kew I used the flash.

DON'T... make your subjects squint into the sun. Get them to turn sideways slightly.

Do... look for shady areas - umbrellas, shade of a tree etc and get your subjects to pose in the shade. You don't need the flash for this and your pictures will look very natural. In the ice cream pic and the tunnel one the kids are in natural shade and the light is nice and even.

DO... take photos in the late afternoon / early evening (or early morning if you're mad as it would have to be about 6am currently!), as the light is fantastic - the sun is lower down and the shadows are less harsh. In the photo of Abbie on the beach it was late afternoon - you can tell from her longer shadow. No flash was required and the colours are lovely and saturated.

Although mid-day can be a tricky time for portraits DO take landscape shots as the blue sky / green grass / azure seas etc lend themselves to picture postcard shots - no flash required and make sure your horizon is straight. Many cameras have a grid display on the LCD viewer that you can switch on, or you can straighten the shot up easily in PICASA and other software.

So, go enjoy the sunshine, put your suncream on and try out all these techniques. Meanwhile I'll be mostly found in my hammock with a chilled glass of wine!

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By Jane Burkinshaw. Share this post by clicking on one of the Share buttons on the right hand side. I'd love to hear your comments too!

Up close with a creepy critter

We came across this hairy beast on the boardwalk by Pickmere Lake - I'm amazed that Daisy didn't spot it and it therefore survived her passing by. The light was great - sunlight filtered by the high reeds and also bounced back up by the bleached wood of the boards. My first shot is a bit typical and although in focus and correctly exposed, it is, well, just boring!! So I decided to try another angle, which involved me lying down. The caterpillar wasn't going anywhere - frozen to the spot in fear of a strange giant - so I thought I'd play around a bit with camera settings. These shots are all taken with my compact camera - Panasonic DMC-FS12 - so no fancy lenses or kit. I set the camera to its Macro setting for a close up shot - just select the flower setting to do this. I then put the camera on the boardwalk, rather than hand holding it. This was partly to get right to eye level with my hairy model, but also because I was lying at an awkward angle and wanted to ensure I didn't get camera shake i.e. blurred picture. Then I took picture 2. This has started to look quite interesting but the point that is in focus is the middle of the caterpillar's body (where the + is).
When you select the flower / macro setting it gets your camera to start doing some quite clever things. Wherever you focus with the little square in the middle of your screen will be in focus but other areas will be out of focus - this can be a really nice effect and is called "shallow depth of field". But you really want to think about which bit of your picture is going to be in focus and which bit is blurred. In this case it would look better if the caterpillar's head were in focus. I decided to change my angle again for picture 3, looking along the length of the caterpillar and making sure I focused on its head - I actually wasn't sure which end was which so I may have focused on its bottom by accident! I still put the camera on the ground and just pressed the shutter to avoid camera shake. This is a much more interesting shot and I really love the blurry grey of the boardwalk and green of the reeds.

So next time you meet a hairy critter that is willing to model for you have a little play around with your macro / flower setting and don't be afraid to get up close and personal!

By Jane Burkinshaw. Share this post by clicking on one of the Share buttons on the right hand side. I'd love to hear your comments too!
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Look for a different angle

Give your photos a bit of interest and add some quirky humour by shooting at a different angle. In this shot I lay on the ground at Abigail's feet and shot up through the tree branches. The tree in question is a Canadian Redwood, a baby admittedly, as these can grow spectacularly high and I wanted to emphasise the height and the fact that the kids were fascinated by them. I also made sure the flash would fire so that Abbie's face wouldn't be in dark shadow. The flares across the picture are from the high sun coming through the branches. If this had been coming directly into the lens it would have ruined the shot and I would have changed my angle. As it is I quite like the effect here.

By Jane Burkinshaw. Share this post by clicking on one of the Share buttons on the right hand side. I'd love to hear your comments too!

Zoom, zoom, zoom!!

I love my zoom lenses because...
  • I can take candid shots without the subject being aware. Little Mathilde had no idea I was catching this lovely moment as she crouched to examine the flower she had picked.
  • It makes people less nervous when you are further away. It can be very off putting when someone points the camera right in your face (Nic - please take note!)
  • Zooming in blurs the background and isolates the subject. Background objects become less distracting and the blurring can create a very pleasing effect - the blues and greens of the bluebell wood in this shot.
I used a 70-300mm f4-5.6 Canon lens for this shot - it's a good lens to use for candid portraits as it has a good zoom range letting me get close up shots from a distance and has image stabilisation - a must if you want to avoid camera shake. (Imagine using binoculars to look at the moon and it seems to jump all over the place?) This lens is at its best when it's nice and bright but I have to watch out if the light is a bit low as f4 does not let a lot of light into the camera, so the shutter speed can be slow, with the result that movement can be blurred. In the shade of the trees it was occasionally too dark to get sharp shots of Mathilde running. I have my eye on a telephoto lens with a wider aperture (lower f number) but you wouldn't believe how much the cost jumps up for this sort of kit!

Many compact cameras now have great zoom lenses. My Panasonic DMC-FZ20 has a 12X zoom (i.e. a lot! equivalent to 36-432mm on a film camera) and also has built in image stabilisation. Be careful about "optical" zoom and "digital" zoom when you use your compact camera to zoom in. The optical zoom uses the lens to make the subject closer. Digital zoom isn't really zoom - it's actually just magnifying part of your image, a bit like zooming in on a picture on your computer screen to look at it closer. Image quality isn't as good once you start using the digital zoom so I usually avoid it. I can set my compact camera to only use the optical zoom but on some compacts the digital zoom kicks in after you have zoomed in as far as the optical zoom lets you. There's often a slight pause and you have to click/ press to zoom digitally. If I've lost you, then just look it up in your manual and have a go with your camera.

Otherwise, just get zooming, fill the frame and enjoy getting some lovely candid shots!

By Jane Burkinshaw. Share this post by clicking on one of the Share buttons on the right hand side. I'd love to hear your comments too!

Mad dogs and english men...

... out in the midday sun! Phew! We've had an arctic Spring so far and then suddenly we're sweltering in mediterranean temperatures with no chance to gradually acclimatise. I've been on the verge of complaining that it's too hot but have caught myself in time and just made the most of it. I'm never more certain that I made the right decision to work for myself than when the sun is shining, I no longer have to commute to work and I can choose to be outside whenever I want. This week I've done several outdoor shoots - watch this space for more on twin boys with a lively puppy and a Weimaraner called Bez who took rather a liking to me! I've also been to three different gardens - 2 in Cheshire for my Picture It in the Garden Challenge - and one in Derbyshire.
If you are a keen gardener or visitor of gardens then you'll know that the flowers of the moment are azaleas, camelias and rhododendrons. Yesterday we went to Lea Rhododendron Gardens with Nana Maggie (the nanas in our family have to adopt the name of their dog to help the children know which one we are refering to and Maggie is a black lab owned by my stepmum Ann). We last visited Lea (nr Matlock) about 10 years ago and Nic has never let me forget that I shoved him (gently!) in the back and caused him to go head over heels down a path. Steep paths wind their way down the hillside through rhodendron bushes as high as single storey buildings and laden with stunning blooms of every hue. The kids really enjoyed exploring, hiding from each other and occasionally calling out "I'm down here, you numpty!"

Back to almost complaining about the weather - it was stinking hot in the gardens with hardly a breath of fresh air but luckily lots of shade under the rhodendron bushes and plenty of little shady benches to sit awhile and drink in the view. Shade was a scarce commodity in the tea gardens though and pensioners are particularly spritely when they spot a table with an umbrella suddenly becoming vacant! I'm usually a champion at elbowing my way over to a free table before anyone else but I was no match for this bunch.

We've enjoyed the sudden arrival of Summer in lots of other ways. The kids have almost lived outside and the hose pipe seemed to be a good substitute for a paddling pool (which fell foul of Daisy's claws last year). We've all had a lot of fun - me especially - with a bubble set which created enormous irridescent bubbles. We've spent ages swinging in the hammocks - until Nic and Daisy somehow put their feet / claws through the big one - it now has a yawning hole and I'm replacing it at Tatton in July (Nic's paying!). And we spent an interesting hour or so at the lake which has become a mecca for people far and wide on sunny afternoons.  The heat did get the better of us by the end of the afternoon and we came back to find shade in the garden. Anyhow, I'm really not complaining and it's not often I can blog outside at 9pm - it's been idyllic this weekend and long may it last (as long as it cools down just a bit!)

By Jane Burkinshaw. Share this post by clicking on one of the Share buttons on the right hand side. I'd love to hear your comments too!

Danger - crocodiles!

Very very busy at the moment but it was too good an opportunity to miss when Nic suggested we nip out to another garden for a couple of hours this afternoon. My pangs of guilt quickly faded as we drove through the Cheshire countryside, air-con and sunglasses on and dog in the boot. I had selected Stonyford Cottage Gardens from the Cheshire Gardens of Distinction leaflet, as it was only a few miles away and quite small (in comparison to, say, Tatton Gardens). We had driven past the brown tourist sign pointing off the A556 many times but had never realised what a beautiful garden lay hidden down a quite unremarkable lane.

The car park gives onto a small grassy area with a few trees (perfect for providing shade for a dog) through which could be glimpsed the brand new timber tea room and patio area. We had come prepared with flask and sandwiches but I could have forced myself into tea and a slice of cake! We paid our £3 entry fee and received a very friendly and informative welcome. The garden is quite quirky and it is obvious that its character has been passionately developed by the owners. It really came home to us how much work goes into creating a garden when we were shown an area which represented what the land was like before work started.

I was really struck with the feeling of being miles from anywhere in this garden, despite the occasional noise of passing cars and trains. A small lake lies at the centre of the garden, with an island reached by wooden bridges. The transition from “mainland” to island is almost un-noticeable and the wooden bridges and walkways linking both provide pleasing curves and contrast beautifully with the plants. So much variety is packed into such a small area. The island is quite untended beyond the immediate vicinity of the paths and the feeling of being in wetlands such as the Everglades is reinforced by the signs warning us about crocodiles! The odd gem of a plant such as the extraordinarily vivid blue Himalayan poppy surprised us as we wandered along the paths through the trees. The rest of the garden is more structured and carefully planted. Purple Candelabra Primulas edge many of the pathways, particularly pleasing against the wooden boardwalks. Grasses, ferns, shrubs and trees provide lots of colour and texture and I can’t wait to see the masses of irises when they come into flower. We sat at the top of the garden on a bench looking across the lake, with the musical sound of water running down through the rockery to our left. Nic was quite happy to sit there awhile with his book and coffee whilst I roamed around with my camera. I also took the time to sit down and just soak up the atmosphere and sunshine and again felt as if we were far away from home and day to day worries.

But all good things have to come to an end and we wandered back along to the nursery at the entrance to the garden. Hens pecking around on the ground and drinking from a small fountain reinforced the informal and home grown feel. We retrieved Daisy from her shady spot under the trees and dragged ourselves away. But we'll be back as I have a feeling those irises will be stunning in a few weeks time and it'll be hard not to pop in when I'm passing by - and I'll definitely sample the tea and cakes next time!

By Jane Burkinshaw. Share this post by clicking on one of the Share buttons on the right hand side. I'd love to hear your comments too!

Jodrell Bank Arboretum

We've been to Jodrell Bank Visitors Centre several times but never to the arboretum. If you don't know about it you could park the car and rush off to admire the staggeringly immense dish, without ever realising that the site also has 35 acres of woodland with over 2000 species of trees. The word arboretum conjures up a vision of an area fairly heavily populated with interesting trees – Jodrell Bank offers this but within much larger grounds and having more green, open spaces than I imagined. The entrance is deceiving – you feel as if you are entering a small woodland, following a path which has several opportunities to explore alternative grassy paths. But suddenly (in the vicinity of Neptune!) you emerge from the trees into a wide open grassy area broken up and edged by trees. I’m no expert and would not like to start trying to identify any of the different species, but the overall impression is of a wide variety of trees, carefully planted to lead the eye and provide contrasting textures, colours and heights. Ornamental crab apple trees are a speciality of the Arboretum, as are cherry trees and there were some wonderful displays of blossom. Another sign of spring was provided by the seven ducklings darting about after their mother on the pond (with me chasing after them on the bank).

I was taken aback several times as I turned to look at the view behind me, back towards the entrance and the Lovell Radio Telescope (the dish!) dwarfed even the tallest of poplars. In the photograph at the top you can get a sense of scale from the wooden bench in the middle towards the bottom.

A visit just to Jodrell Bank Visitors Centre and the awesome telescope is a fascinating day out, but the Arboretum really finishes the day off. It’s an opportunity to get some fresh air and exercise as you walk through woodland, across grassy meadows, always surrounded by the colours, sounds and fragrances of nature. Children will love the Environmental Discovery Centre at the start of the trail, which tells them about the trees and wildlife they can expect to find. They can also become mini space explorers as they discover the planets in our solar system which are laid out in their correct positions along the Planet Path that starts by the telescope. If that isn’t enough to wear them out, they can swing like monkeys on the play area whilst the grownups take a break at the picnic tables (in warm sunshine like we did yesterday – hard to believe when I had to get hat and gloves on to walk the dog today!).

My one small gripe is that dogs weren’t allowed in the Arboretum. I completely support no dog policies in gardens where there are carefully tended flower beds and perfectly manicured lawns, but Daisy would have loved the woodland paths and the open spaces. We are responsible dog owners and would have kept her on a lead and picked up after her. I have to wonder what harm it could do to allow four legged friends to enjoy the Arboretum as well. We had to tie her up outside the car (it was slightly too warm at times to leave her inside) and then worry about her when she barked occasionally. However, that said, we all really enjoyed our visit and I look forward to returning again, perhaps in the Autumn (minus dog).

By Jane Burkinshaw. Share this post by clicking on one of the Share buttons on the right hand side. I'd love to hear your comments too!

Bluebell Cottage Gardens

I have to profess a strong bias towards this garden as I've got to know the owner, Sue Beesley, quite well and some of my photographs are on display in the tea rooms. I've taken lots of pictures over the last three years but I won't cheat - it will be treated just like all the other gardens and photographed this Summer once again. Today's visit was purely to the bluebell woods adjacent to Sue's garden. The bluebells have flowered late this year and I wanted to get them at their best. With the weather looking like it all goes down hill after today I thought I would make the most of a postponed job and some lovely Spring sunshine (typical that it wasn't like this during yesterday's bank holiday).

The bluebell wood is accessed by a path across a field by the carpark. This field becomes a wild flower meadow in early Summer and there are already signs of the pleasures to come, with little yellow buds visible through the grass. The garden and nursery are closed on Monday and Tuesday so I was completely alone in the woods, apart from the sound of boat owners calling to each other as they drifted along the nearby canal. I could just see their heads over the hedges as they floated past - I wonder what they made of me lying face down amongst the bluebells!

It's not that easy to get good pictures of bluebells, well I don't think so anyway. Wide angle shots of the woodland carpeted with blue can tend to look a bit messy, as bluebells grow in the wild and all sorts of other plants, weeds, branches and broken twigs litter the ground, unlike a carefully tended flower bed. I decided to select something else of interest in the landscape and show how the clumps of bluebells contrasted and complimented it. The wood has several spectacular fallen tree trunks, which have lain there for some time and have become part of the woodland floor, overgrown with moss. I also had a little play with my lens baby - this mimics the effect of a tilt and shift lens - keeps an area in focus whilst bending and blurring other areas. A bit like squinting your eyes and seeing the world a bit differently!

I find it much easier to shoot close ups of flowers, experimenting with different depths of field and playing around with the shapes, patterns and colours of the fore and backgrounds.

I really enjoyed my hour of escapism and can highly recommend a stroll through the woods at this time of year, with or without a camera. Bluebell Cottage Gardens is hosting a bluebell painting workshop tomorrow - be interesting to see the outcome of that.
Bluebell Cottage Gardens

By Jane Burkinshaw. Share this post by clicking on one of the Share buttons on the right hand side. I'd love to hear your comments too!

"Aren't trees great, mummy!"

As promised we visited the Quinta Arboretum at Swettenham today. It took us a while to find it - DO NOT follow the SatNav - the guide book should definitely carry this warning. For the first time ever I saw a sign reading "SATNAV warning" at the entrance to the narrow, unadopted and, most importantly, dead end lane I was being directed down. Just head for Swettenham and the (eventually) well signposted Swettenham Arms. The Arboretum is equally discreetly signposted but unless you arrive early in the day like us, the steady trickle of visitors would give you a clue as to where to go. Payment is on a trust basis, which is really refreshing and it's very good value at just £2.50 per adult.

This informal approach is evident throughout the garden. There are no signposts to guide you, you just meander around, going wherever the fancy takes you and you're fairly sure to see everything. A map at the beginning would help - there were useful information points about the flora and fauna at key points and a map of the whole garden would ensure that you take everything in. We picked up a booklet about walks in the area in the pub afterwards and its map of the Quinta Arboretum revealed that we had missed out the "39 steps" and the Cockpit at the far reaches of the garden. I probably would have reached them had I been exploring on my own, but Sam's camera battery and his attention span had run out and we turned back just before this part.

Clumps of bluebells (my first of the year) provided splashes of vivid blue, white and pale lilac throughout the woodland. Although I love the traditional drifts of blue that carpet woodland at this time of year, the three colours compliment each other so well against green and the flowers are equally perfectly bell shaped and beautiful whatever their colour. The promised bank of bluebells (in the Cheshire Gardens Guide) was pretty, but hard to access to get any nice shots, so I just enjoyed looking at it instead.

But what really lifted my spirits and caused me time and again to raise my lens was the marvellous array of trees. All sorts of bark, knots, whorls, gnarled shapes, leaves, buds, imposing stance, delicate blossom, fragrance, scale, shape... so much to take in and so much to captivate. Sam, 7, exclaimed, "Aren't trees great, mummy. They help us to live and they are so beautiful!" Now Sam isn't normally given to girlie statements but he really seemed to appreciate all the different trees. We had armed him and Abigail with a compact camera each to keep them occupied and they enjoyed snapping away. The collages at the end are entirely their work. My particular favourite trees were a cherry blossom with bark the colour and sheen of gun metal (prunus Taihaku) and the veteran oak by the pond, with its huge gnarled protruberance the shape of a rhinocerous / cat / dinosaur (depending on your imagination).

The pond itself was a real surprise - perhaps it's nice not to see a map beforehand! It was a treat to suddenly come across this tranquil water edged by tall slender trees which were reflected in rippled lines on the surface of the pond. The sun was in and out of clouds today and the light changed dramatically from one moment to the next. I still haven't decided which shot of the lake I prefer. Both the same but with and without sunlight.

Sometimes I find it hard to step back and view a landscape - my personal photographic style is up close and I have to remind myself to step back and look at the whole picture. This was easy at the viewpoint at the far end of the garden, a wonderful view of the Dane Valley. I like to crop out sky if I can, unless it really adds something to the image, and I found myself drawn to the way the trees overlapped each other, colours and shapes contrasting and complementing each other, when viewed as a vista rather than as individual elements. Another very eyecatching vista was created by the thousands of dandelion flowers in the plantation. Some might say that these "weeds" have no place in a garden, but I personally loved the carpet of yellow heads stretching as far as the eye could see.
As we left the garden a blaze of vivid blue caught my eye - well you'd be hard pressed to miss it. It was a rhodendron augustini and was staggeringly gorgeous.

Our visit to the garden ended predictably in the pub - almost certainly like the majority of visitors - with a glass of wine, a huge plateful of triple decker sandwiches dripping with prawns and marie rose sauce - and a lively discussion about who had taken the best shot. Perfect!

I shall make a note in my diary to return in the Summer and the Autumn to see the changes during the seasons - a good excuse to sample more items on the menu at the pub too!

By Jane Burkinshaw. Share this post by clicking on one of the Share buttons on the right hand side. I'd love to hear your comments too!

Use flash when it's really sunny outside

This might sound like complete madness - why make it brighter when it's already very bright and sunny?

Have you ever taken a picture on a sunny day and wondered why faces are so dark even when they didn't really look that way? With bright sunlight you also get very dark shadows. We don't see the contrast as starkly as our brains are used to reducing the effect. If the person you are photographing is standing against a very bright background - sky, snow, beach, in front of a window - then their faces may be in dark shadow unless you use the flash. I used flash in the picture above to make Abigail stand out against the blue background and to reduce the shadows. This was taken with my Panasonic Lumix DMC-FS12 compact camera.

Depending on what camera you are using you may have to "make" the camera fire the flash. On a compact camera on your flash settings you should be able to select "forced flash on". On a hyrbid or SLR you should be able to pop the flash up.

Try the shot with and without the flash and see which you prefer. Don't forget to put your flash back on AUTO once you have finished.

By Jane Burkinshaw. Share this post by clicking on one of the Share buttons on the right hand side. I'd love to hear your comments too!

My lovely 50mm lens

(Sorry for the annoying centre alignment - it's refusing all my efforts to left align - some bug in Picasa I think!)
I've been battling with this lens a bit since I bought it a couple of months back.
I'm not sure if every one is the same but I tend to have a breaking in period with any bit of new kit. I've used it a fair amount but unlike my other lenses, the results have been a bit hit and miss - too many over-exposed or out of focus shots. I've finally worked out that shooting at such low f-stops -it's the Canon 50mm f/1.8 prime lens - was the main cause of the problems. I love shallow depth of field, closely cropped shots, so was tending to mainly shoot at f/1.8 - 3.2 - this needs a huge degree of accuracy and is not easy with fast moving portrait shoots. When I have a problem with a new piece of equipment I force myself to use it exclusively for some non-work photography. So over this last weekend, which incorporated Father's Day, a visit to the mother-in-law's garden and a trip to the seaside, I left all my other lenses at home and had a proper play around with this one. With no deadlines or pressure to deliver I think I've mastered it and have a series of images that I'm really pleased with. With no other lenses to hand I've shot close up and distant in various light conditions. Subjects were as ever the kids and flowers. My 60mm lens is my fail safe, amazingly clear and sharp portrait lens but too narrow for close ups of three people, so to get some great quality, head and shoulder shots of the kids & Nic was good news. My favourite picture taken yesterday at Llandudno was of Abigail blowing bubbles off the pier (in black & white above). I think it really gives a strong sense of place and almost nostalgic atmosphere (but perhaps that's just the G&T talking!).
Nic's mum's garden never disappoints at this time of year - the beds and containers are filled to over flowing with scores of different flowers and shrubs. I was, for the first time over the weekend, seriously regretting not packing the macro lens but soon realised that using the 50mm lens was forcing me to compose differently, look more at the whole plant. And the f/1.8 aperture was creating some seriously beautiful background effects. Astrantia is one of my favourite flowers for plant portraits - so small and delicate but very architectural and with lots of interesting markings. I've shot them lots of times before but with the 50mm lens have managed a different take on them.
So it's turned out to be a real little beauty and worth much more to me than the £75 I paid for it.
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