Category Archives: Photography

Portugal

After many hours I’ve finally finished editing all my photos from our recent Portugal trip, I took over a thousand! Don’t worry, I won’t inflict them all on you now but I have selected my top 33.

This was our first time in Portugal and our primary reason for being there was, of course, my sister’s wedding (see my previous blog). But aside from that joyous occasion we also managed to get out and about, including one trip to Sintra and two to Lisbon, so here goes.

We stayed at Cascais (pronounced Cashcaish – just think Sean Connery and you’re halfway there) which is a seaside town just west of Lisbon. It has a Goldilocks quality to it, in that it’s not too big and not too small- just right in fact. The beaches were clean and the amenities plentiful, there were plenty of bars and restaurants but it never felt too commercial or sprawling. We had great weather too with clear skies virtually every day, the hot sun made the beach even more inviting and the water was lovely, once you got over the initial cold shock of the Atlantic chill. I found I was acclimatised pretty quickly except for my hands which seemed to take forever to warm up. For about five minutes after diving in I found I was swimming with my hands held aloft out of the water, which must have looked pretty strange.

Sintra is a 30 minute bus ride north of Cascais and was the summer retreat of the Portuguese Royal Family. There are several sites to visit but we only had time for two; the Palace de la Pena and the old Muslim Castle.

The Palace sits on top of a hill and when we got there it was shrouded in cloud, which only seemed to make it more magical – we later found out that it’s common for cloud to mystically cling to that particular hill and the locals refer to it as the Queen’s Fart!

Imagine you asked  an eight-year-old girl to design a palace with a set of brightly coloured crayons, the Palace de la Pena is that design on steroids. It really is amazing, with no expense spared and a real sense of palatial extravagance gone mad.

A short walk away is the old Muslim Castle. This was the opposite of the Palace as it had a strong military reason behind it, was bare stone and pure medieval functionality. It is impressive though and has a fascinating history. The low cloud robbed us of the supposedly best view of the Palace, but added a real sense of mystery and mood to the brooding towers and precipitous walls.

In Lisbon, we hired a Tuk-Tuk and held on for dear life as we raced through the steep streets, stopping at a variety of different Cathedrals, Churches and viewpoints. It was a great way to see the city if you don’t have much time. We also managed to fit in the Timelife Market and the Elevator, which is an old viewing platform, squeezed in between the buildings and reached by a rickety lift. Apparently the whole thing was built by one of Gustave Eiffel’s (of tower fame) apprentices, and you can certainly see the influence – it’s beautiful, quirky and the views from the top are great as long as you’re okay with heights.

Lisbon is a beautiful city, especially the old sections we explored.

From Lisbon we caught the underground Metro and travelled further out to the Oceanario, the second biggest aquarium in Europe. Incidentally, once you get there the whole area has been developed into a very futuristic seafront and you can also see the longest bridge in Europe snaking 17km off into the distance.

The Oceanario didn’t disappoint, with sharks, manta rays, penguins and even two gorgeous sea otters – Clare could get over their “little hands”.

My overriding memory of Lisbon is one of a beautiful place, with warm friendly people, obviously it’s hard to get a real sense of a place on a short holiday, especially when you consider I probably had at least two drinks in me at any given time. But, from my brief experience there, it’s great place and I would heartily recommend it. We had a great time in Portugal, especially magic with the wedding and the time spent with our wonderful family – usually ending the day here, in the Duke’s pub in Cascais.

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So much to see and so much we missed, I suppose we’ll just have to go back.

Chris

 

Manchester: A Week After the Bomb

This Bank Holiday Monday was exactly one week since the Manchester Arena bomb that killed 22 people and injured many more.

Lady Hughes and myself had arranged to go into town with friends a while back, and this was the first time I had been into Manchester since the bomb. I was curious what the mood would be and I was also keen to visit St Anne’s Square and pay my respects.

Getting off the bus in Piccadilly I was pleased to see that it was business as usual. Children were playing in the fountains, getting soaked and upsetting their parents, who would now have to take them into Primark to buy them some dry clothes – we did the same when our lads were smaller.

The Northern Quarter was still busy and bustling, but there were signs and street art showing their support for the victims and a desire to stand strong.

Walking through the streets, we found the police cordon very much still in force but people and the police were smiling and helpful in directing us around it.

We quickly visited Manchester Cathedral, lit a candle and signed the book of condolences before heading off to St Anne’s Square where all the flowers and messages were laid out.

The atmosphere here was very subdued and respectful, with people slowly shuffling around the square, reading the messages and taking it all in. I felt a bit self-conscious taking pictures, so I didn’t take too many.

There were police with machine guns standing around but they were chatting with people and looked relaxed. The media were still present but were keeping themselves to one end near the church.

It was quite sombre and emotional as you would expect, especially when you read some of the many messages, but still very colourful and vibrant with all the flowers and balloons.

On the way out back we past the entrance to a tattoo parlour where they were doing bee tattoos to raise money for the charity fund. One week later and people were still queuing down the stairs.

Liam Gallagher played a benefit gig in Manchester yesterday and he said, “normal business has been resumed“. Walking round Manchester, I think he might be right. We’re not knocked down, but we not forgetting either.

Chris Hughes

Portrait: Mark Jephcott

As you may be aware, I do like to do a bit of photography, and one of the areas I’d really like to develop is portraiture.

I’ve done a bit in the past, for friends and family but it seems the biggest struggle is finding willing victims subjects for me to practise on. That’s why I’m very grateful to my good friend Mark Jephcott, for allowing me to come over and flash lights in his face for an hour – he even gave us a few beers, so this was a real treat for me.

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Now summer’s finally arrived and the evenings are warmer, we relaxed in his beautiful garden and took these shots as the sun went down.

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I’d not used my lights for a while and it took me a good few shots to get my head around how to balance the exposure again, but it gradually came back to me. Luckily Mark has some nice lights hanging from a tree so these made a good backlight.

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Normally I’d use a telephoto for a portrait but I wanted to get the surroundings in so I used my wide angle lens (10-20mm). I only used one flash in the end, with a soft box to soften the light and a large golden reflector to bounce a bit of fill light into the shadows – apologies to all the non-photographers out there, for all the jargon, I’ll shut up now.

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Overall, I’m quite pleased with these, big thank you to Mark, but there’s plenty of room for improvement. I just need more subjects – time to start pestering again.

Chris

Full Bloom at Dunham Massey

It’s the weekend, spring is here and the sun is out. Lady Hughes and myself had taken a few days off over Easter with no great plans, so we decided to take it easy and go for a stroll around Dunham Massey.

Knowing the flowers would be out I figured this would be a good chance to practice my macro (close-up) photography on subjects that weren’t going to run away while I worked out what I was doing – though they do have a tendency to waft about in the breeze just as you’re about to take a shot, no matter how much I shouted at them.

Dunham Massey is stately home (and deer park) in Cheshire, not far from Altrincham, and only 15 minutes drive from our house so we know it well. As it was a sunny weekend, it was very busy with lines of people queuing up for ice creams and every inch of manicured lawn full of families playing football, throwing frisbees and trying to fly kites. We decided to head for the relative calm of the gardens.

Now my knowledge of horticulture if virtually non-existent, so apologies for the lack of information, but there were lots of flowers and they were very beautiful – if you want to know more, get a book.

Without getting too technical, macro photography can be a bit tricky. As your subject is usually on the small scale, your margin of error is pretty small too. I’ve found picking the appropriate depth of field particularly challenging, but I think I’m finally starting to get the hang of it now and I’m much happier with these shots – what do you think?

As I started to get more comfortable with the technicalities, I thought I’d try and move on from flowers and get some shots of the insects. You need to be quicker with these so they were a bit more of a test – I’ve found it’s very hard to get a bee to pose for you.

 

Chris

Three Shires Head

Hiking boots back on this Easter weekend for a lovely short walk with Lady Hughes, my Dad, my sister Bev and my nephews James and Matthew and my niece Libby, not forgetting our Ziggy as well.

Bev chose the walk, a short circular route from Clough car park, near Wildboarclough, to Three Shires Head and back round again. Three Shires Head gets its name as its the point where Derbyshire, Staffordshire and Cheshire meet. I’ve walked here a few times in the past but not but this route so it was familiar, but new – if that makes sense?

After a few minor mishaps, including losing Bev’s car on the way and someone forgetting their boots, we were soon off in the brilliant sunshine.

The walk was great, if a little boggy in places, with beautiful views of Shutlingsloe in the distance – the Matterhorn of the Peak, apparently.

One interesting spotting on the way was George Osborne, former Chancellor of the Exchequer and MP for Tatton, who we passed roughly half way round. He didn’t make eye contact and I fought the urge to stop and berate him for his part in the Brexit debacle – the things you see when out walking in the English countryside eh.

Chris

 

 

 

Manchester Macro

I’ve not posted anything for a while, don’t worry, I’m not dead – just getting a few things sorted, unfortunately not the kind of things that make great blog posts

So, to get the ball rolling again, I’ve done a little photography project.

My lovely wife, Lady Hughes, gave me a new macro (close-up) lens for Christmas and I haven’t had chance to try it out properly – until today.

I’ve always wanted to have a go at macro photography so I dropped various hints in the run-up to Christmas and Clare didn’t let me down. Many lenses have a ‘macro’ setting, allowing you to get a bit closer, but they’re not strictly proper macro lenses like this one – Canon EF 50mm macro, for the photographers out there. It’s not a microscope, but it allows you to get very close and still be able to focus.

The challenge I set myself was to go to the Northern Quarter of Manchester, a place I’ve photographed several times before, and try to get a new perspective with the new lens.

What I found was you start looking at the details, the textures, patterns and the abstract. It’s quite interesting walking round a place you already know and just focussing on the small. You also get a few strange looks from passers by, wondering why you’re taking pictures of a bollard from only six inches away.

Going through the photos afterwards, I realised that the wide open aperture I used gave me a very narrow depth of field, which was a bit tight on several shots – but hey, that’s a learning point for next time.

Here’s the rest of the pictures, see if you recognise any of the places, and feel free to give me any (constructive) feedback.

Thanks,

Chris

WW1 Battlefields

Part two of our trip to Belgium.

As we were in Bruges, and I’ve always had an interest in the First World War, I really wanted to visit nearby Ypres, an iconic location

Clare and myself decided that we’d make the journey by train on the third day of our trip, but as we weighed up the travel options we realised that it was doable but would take hours. When we mentioned this to the owner of the B&B she suggested we go with an organised tour company – Quasimodo Tours.

I was hesitant, not just because they were named after a famous hunchback, but it was a bit expensive and I was concerned it would all be a bit rushed. In the end we did opt for the tour as it meant we could relax about the travel logistics and we’d get to see more sights than if we were on foot.

After a few complications booking the night before we were picked up by taxi at 9am and driven to the pickup point – all part of the service.

The tour was extensive to say the least, lasting nine hours, we travelled around the area with our guide Phillipe giving us a constant commentary on what happened where and why. He really was excellent, with a genuine passion for the subject and a talent for bringing it all to life. We visited a lot of sights around the Ypres Salient including (thanks to Quasimodo for the info):

Langemark German Cemetery: the second largest German cemetery containing 44,000 bodies. Among them are more than 3,000 German students who died during the battle for Langemark, more infamously known as the “Massacre of the Innocents”.

Tyne Cot Cemetery and Memorial Wall: The largest of the Commonwealth cemeteries. Almost 12,000 soldiers are buried here and another 35,000 are listed on the memorial wall – soldiers with no known grave.

Walking through the sea of gravestones, reading the names and where they came from, the emotional impact was very strong, very moving. Especially as many I came across, seemed to come from Manchester.

Polygon Wood: two cemeteries here and two memorials. Most of the dead here are from Australia and New Zealand, but there was still several Manchester graves scattered around.

The Brooding Soldier at Vancouver Corner: Memorial to 2,000 Canadian Soldiers who lost their lives in the St Julian area during the first gas attacks in 1915.

Hooge Crater Cemetery and Museum: we had lunch at the nearby restaurant and explored the museum with its wealth of artefacts.

Hill 60 Preserved Battlefield (Messines): This was the site of vicious fighting including the detonation of two massive mines under the hill which killed 650 Germans.

Control of this strategic point changed hands several times, which can be seen by this British bunker, built on the remains of an older German one.

Ypres and the Menin Gate: The Menin Gate is a memorial to almost 55,000 men who fell during the Great War and have no known grave.

Ypres itself was completely destroyed during the war and everything we saw was rebuilt afterwards, which in itself was amazing, especially when you looked at the great Cloth Hall.

There was a blacksmiths event on while we were giving Clare the chance to buy an Ypres poppy to go with our Tower of London one we bought a year or two ago.

The Yorkshire Trench and Dugout: These are the remains of the actual trenches, reinforced with concrete to preserve them.

Essex Farm Cemetery and Dressing Station: one of the original cemeteries and made up largely of burials from the dressing station on the site. One of the youngest soldiers to die in the war – Valentine Studwick, a 15 year old from Surrey, is buried here. Dr John McCrae, a Canadian, wrote his famous poem “In Flanders Fields” here in 1915.

Phillipe also took us to the Menin Road and Hellfire Corner, the most dangerous place on earth during the war. He also showed us some recent finds, dug up by local farmers. This ‘Iron Harvest’ of shells, grenades and assorted ammunition continues to this day and is a constant danger for the locals.

It may sound a bit depressing to spend a day visiting cemeteries and it certainly wasn’t ‘fun’ in the literal sense, but to actually stand where all these events happened, hear the accounts and see the names of those men and boys whose stories ended there, was something I’ll never forget. It was fascinating, enjoyable and very, very moving. Also, when we look at issues such as chemical weapons, long-term effects for communities and war in general, there are still lessons to be learnt today from places like this.

If you have an interest in history and the subject, I’d heartily recommend it.

Chris

Bruges

Finally found time to write up our trip to Belgium last week, and it was so good, I’m going to have to break it into three parts. So, with that in mind, here’s part one: Bruges.

The current Mrs Hughes and myself travelled to Bruges, via Virgin Pendolino to London (of course!) and then Eurostar to Brussels, before catching a 40-minute connection to Bruges itself.

We’d never been on Eurostar before and it only took just over two hours to get there. It would have been quicker to fly, yes, but this was travelling to be enjoyed, not endured. It was smooth, the service was good (though not as good as Virgin – of course!) and sitting in a comfortable chair, drinking wine while the countryside raced past was lovely – I recommend it.

The only downside to the journey, was Brussels Midi station. A dark, ominous, subterranean place, made worse by the heavily armed soldiers patrolling constantly. You can understand why they’re there, after the recent attacks, but rather than reassure, they just seemed to give the place the air of a warzone. Clare really didn’t like this place but, hey, we weren’t there long. We were later told by an English guy staying in Brussels that he knew two people who had been robbed in there. We didn’t experience anything like that, it was just a bit shabby and a bit tense.

Bruges is a beautiful medieval town, which has somehow managed to avoid the ravages of both world wars and stay intact. It really is a stunning environment, with cobbled streets, canals, chocolate shops, beautiful old buildings and picturesque bars and restaurants. The only noticeable hazard was the risk of getting run down by a bicycle, they’re everywhere.

We stayed in a gorgeous B&B (De Loft) just 5 – 10 minutes’ walk from the centre. It is part of a converted lace factory and our room was more of mini-suite. The owners were friendly and recommended various places to eat and drink and also pointed out a few to avoid.

We did a few tourist essentials, such as climbing the belfry (361 steps) and going on the canal tour, but we mainly just explored, chilled out and enjoyed ourselves – and drank some of the finest beers I’ve ever tasted!

The Belgians view beer in the same way the French view wine, and in fairness they’re very good at brewing the stuff. Each different beer seemed to have its own glass, which must be a nightmare for most of the bars. One of them, Kwak beer, is served in a glass which can’t stand up on its own and comes with a wooden holder.

The local people encountered were warm and friendly and it was great to talk to other visitors from all over the world, including Spain, Denmark, Australia, USA, Germany, Italy and even Taiwan (via London), everyone was having a great time and all were friendly – I suppose having over a thousand different types of beer can really help international diplomacy, maybe something there for the UN to consider?

There are lots of things we didn’t do and I’d definitely go back again, given the chance, but we had limited time and something else we really wanted to do while we were there – look out for part two.

Chris

Crawling Up Croagh Patrick

Croagh Patrick is a mountain in the west of Ireland, not far from Westport. It’s a holy mountain and a place of pilgrimage as Saint Patrick reputedly fasted on the summit for forty days in the fifth century. Well that’s the guidebook stuff covered – thank you Wikipedia.

Having travelled over to Ireland to visit family for years now, it had been suggested that we all climb the mountain together, on Reek Sunday, which is the one day of the year that thousands of people do it. We kept talking about this, but never actually got organised – until now.

Lady Hughes and myself flew over to Dublin and stayed with family in Slane before driving across Ireland to meet up with everyone else in Clifden. We had one brief stop half-way in Athlone where we met up with my brother Peter and his family for lunch and a quick look at the castle and the Shannon River.

In Clifden we all stayed in the same guesthouse, fourteen of us in total including four small children. It sounds hectic but it was actually very chilled.

On Sunday we drove through beautiful Connemara to the mountain, not really sure what was waiting for us. Most of our group travelled light, in running gear and trainers, but with my years of hiking experience I went prepared, with rucksack, boots, food, first aid and camera kit. This, along with the fact I’m really unfit, meant they all left me for dust within minutes. The only consolation was that they all got mild hyperthermia, waiting for me at the top.

Croagh Patrick is 764 metres high and the climb is classed as moderate. I found it fairly tough, mainly because the upper sections are steep and full of loose boulders as well as the numbers of people on the day going up and coming down – also, did I mention that I’m not very fit at the moment?

In some parts I was struggling to find a solid foothold and all the time people are stumbling and sliding around you. Having said that, the atmosphere was great, we were really lucky with the weather and the views were stunning.

One impressive sight was all the devout Catholics climbing the mountain in bare feet, some of them had painted their toenails specially for the occasion. A more depressing one was when I was overtaken by an 82 year old lady who was being held up by two men – but hey, she didn’t have a rucksack and camera to carry.

On the top there is a chapel and a priest delivering mass from, what looked like a bay window. On one side of the chapel there was a doorway for confessions and on the other a doorway for holy communion. By the time I got up there (approx. 2 hours – not bad going) the summit was shrouded in cloud and the rest of my family were shivering and keen to get moving again. Clare and myself put on our anoraks and settled down for a bite to eat as they all abandoned us for the warmer lower reaches.

As we recharged our batteries, the cloud lifted and we were rewarded with gorgeous views over Clew Bay with its 365 islands (one for every day of the year). I strolled around a bit and took a few pictures before we eventually packed up and started the careful descent.

Back in Clifden we had another great night out, celebrating our ascent and swapping stories about the various sights we’d seen, including the English mother, and her son who sat down and refused to move another step. She was trying to get him to stay with the mountain rescue, who had a team every hundred yards, but he was having none of it and they started having a bit of a domestic on the steepest section.

Driving back to Dublin, we stopped off in Athlone again for a bite to eat and a better look round the castle. We said our goodbyes and headed off to the airport.

It was wonderful to catch up with all the family, especially my sister Rachel, who had come over from Perth, Australia. Connemara is stunningly beautiful and we had a great time, especially climbing Croagh Patrick on Reek Sunday – that’s an experience I’ll always remember. I suppose we’ll have to come up with a new adventure for us all now – but I’ll just let my knees recover from this one first I think.

Chris

Salford Dog Festival

After Saturday’s hike around Cartmel, Lady Hughes suggested something a bit easier for Sunday – the Salford Dog Festival at Clifton Park. Dogs 4 Rescue, who we got Ziggy from, would be there, so she thought it would be nice to show our support and we could take Ziggy and Bobby along too – because everyone knows dogs love organised community events!

If you like dogs, this is for you. If you don’t like dogs, then you’d probably best avoid it as there was every type you could possibly think of – I’m exaggerating, but you get the idea, there was a lot of dogs.

I like dogs so I found it really interesting. Not just the dogs, but the owners too – again, all types, us included of course.

I used the experience to do a bit of ‘doggy’ street photography (is it my dirty mind, or does that sound wrong?), if such a thing exists? Looking for interesting shots of dogs and their owners, something to illustrate the relationships, the special bond that they have.

The easiest option was the obedience display as they were doing a great job entertaining the crowd whilst also making us all feel guilty about how badly trained our dogs are.

The weather was changeable but the crowds were out in force and it looked like the event was going really well. We finished off with a walk round the lake before making our way home – via the Wharf pub in Castlefield to make up for missing out on a pint the day before.

Chris