Saturday, 29 October 2016

Autumn Still Life With Brassica And Rose Hip

I have struggled a bit with my autumn still life this year. There is so much to choose from in terms of props, and maybe that is why it can be difficult to come up with an interesting composition that works well. My heart was set on using brassica, a cabbage-like plant that appears at florists and supermarkets at this time of year. My first instinct was to photograph it in a vase, but it just didn't look right and it was hard to team up with anything else. I decided to cut the thick stalks short and lay the flowers down facing the camera. There are brassicas with different colour centres - cream. pink, purple....I chose purple ones to add a new colour to the colourful autumn set up.
When I think of autumn things to include in a still life image red berries always come to my mind first. They are pretty, simple, but striking too, and they will go with virtually anything else. I found these lovely rose-hips, the type I have not used before, in the local Aldi, and used them as a "link" between the other elements of the image.

I know that simplicity always works a treat, but I am a lover and emulator of classic, old masters still life, and usually lean towards using at least three, often more elements in my images. Here I went for my green vintage outdoor oil lamp, a relatively new acquisition that I have not used before. I like to use lamps in autumn still lifes because they evoke the sense of nights drawing in, and look nostalgic just like autumn does in my opinion.
There is also a red pomegranate that echos the colour of the rose-hip; and a persimmon fruit adding yellow - autumn's prime colour, its leafy calyx kind of mirroring the brassica leaves.
The textures I used in postprocessing are Jessica Drossin's Wuthering Heights textures, the only textures I have been working with lately.

Wednesday, 26 October 2016

Rosehill House Hotel, Burnley, Lancashire

The weekend I visited Gawthorpe Hall we stayed at the Rosehill House Hotel for one night. I wanted to stay somewhere in character with the sort of place I came to Lancashire to see, which meant an old hotel/B&B with traditional decor and original architectural features; somewhere to satisfy my love for interiors photography too. Rosehill seemed like just the place I was looking for, and I was not disappointed.
Originally a Victorian manor house built by a wealthy cotton mill owner in 1856, Rosehill House was converted into a hotel in 1963. It is run as a family business and it looks and feels like a home that belongs and is loved by somebody.

The hotel is tucked away inside surrounding walls, and between trees which makes for a charming approach to the house.

The driveway, and the Victorian conservatory which is modern, in contrast with the rest of the house. It is part of the restaurant and functions as the breakfast bar too. We loved sitting here in the morning next to the window eating cooked breakfast and admiring Italian tiled floors and a hand painted mural.

The entrance is very inviting and gives an impression of an interior full of character and charm.

The quaint and beautiful reception.

The stairs to the two floors and 31 rooms.

We stayed in an executive suite with a four poster bed. It was my first sleep ever in a four poster bed. It was very comfortable and cosy.

I omitted to take a shot of the little sitting room which was part of our suite, so here is a photo courtesy of Rosehill House Hotel.

Loved the vintage wash basin stand in the bathroom.

The lounge and the bar. In the evening we had a drink here sitting on the sofa against the wall on the left.

The beautiful art deco lamp on the border of the two lounge rooms.

The ceiling in the lounge. Rosehill's original ornate ceilings are probably the most beautiful feature of the hotel.

Dugdales restaurant with its lovely period wood paneling,....

..........hand painted gold leaf ceiling,......

.......and Italian marble fireplace. It was early Sunday morning (I took all the pics in the morning, after breakfast), not very cold, and yet the fire was cheerily flickering in the fireplace for the pleasure and comfort of the guests.

The restaurant's door caught my eye. We would have loved to dine in the restaurant on Saturday night, but it was booked by a wedding party. We did have an option of room service, but we didn't want to eat in our suite despite it containing a dining table in the sitting room. We needed the adventure of going to a restaurant.

One of the many antique pieces around the hotel.

A member of the friendly breakfast staff told me where to go to find an old red post box, and of course, I had to take a shot.

We had a lovely time in this relaxing and welcoming hotel, but G was down with a bad cold. He was unlucky because it was also his birthday on the Sunday, and it would be a lie to say his cold didn't spoil our stay a bit. But we made the most of it. We were just grateful he was well enough to go away for the weekend at all.

Tuesday, 18 October 2016

Gawthorpe Hall and Charlotte Bronte

As a big Bronte Sisters fan I am on a mission to gradually visit and photograph all the places of connection with the sisters, both with their life and their work. Living in West Yorkshire where the sisters lived and wrote, I consider myself very lucky to be in a position to do so. It also makes for a special pleasure of marrying two loves of mine - the one for photography and the one for the great literary sisters.
The weekend of 8th and 9th October was reserved for a trip to Gawthorpe Hall in Lancashire. The Kay-Shuttleworth family who lived at the Hall in the 19th century came to hear about Charlotte Bronte, who was becoming a well known author, and invited her to stay, which she did on a couple of occasions.

Gawthorpe Hall is a beautiful, early 17th century Elizabethan mansion, and is the last stop on the Bronte Way - a 43 mile long footpath that starts at Oakwell Hall near Birstall. Charlotte described Gawthorpe as "grey, stately and picturesque, a model of old English architecture".
On the Saturday it was mainly cloudy and overcast so I thought I'd take advantage of that sort of lighting to create a desaturated, "vintage wash" effect photograph of the Hall.

It did brighten up towards the end of the day and there was even some late sunshine around, however short-lived. The two ladies lingered in the grounds for a long time clearly enjoying each other's company and pleasant evening. Up until fairly recently I would spot out any people in my photos of this kind, but then I realized that you can actually use people to an advantage.

This is a view of Gawthorpe from the east. In 1849 Sir James Kay-Shuttleworth commissioned the architect Charles Barry, a personal friend, to undertake a major restoration and improvement of the Hall, including redesigning the grounds. Barry worked exclusively in an Elizabethan style, intending any new work to enhance the old.

The Drawing Room. Unfortunately, photography is not allowed inside the Hall, so here is a photo courtesy of Gawthorpe Hall. When Charlotte visited the Kay-Shuttleworths for a first time in March 1850, she sat on the green sofa just visible in the photo "enjoying the dialogues (perhaps I should rather say monologues, for I listened far more than I talked) by the fireside". Charlotte was so very shy that it does not come as surprise when she says she didn't talk much. Her hosts were the heiress Janet Shuttleworth and her husband Dr James Phillips Kay whom she married in 1842. Sir James Kay Shuttleworth is the celebrated Victorian educationalist, now regarded as the founder of public education in England.

West entrance to the grounds. Autumn had arrived at Gawthorpe Hall. I was delighted to have got some autumn shots from the visit too.

The pretty gate of another entrance to the grounds - by the steps past the Estate Building.

The North Parterre. Charles Barry's 19th century radial parterre, with its shaped stone kerbs, gravel paths and stone parapet spiked with obelisks, has largely survived intact.

The ornamental flower beds are planted with blocks of golden privet, edged with dwarf purple-leaved berberis and punctuated with dots of common privet.

It was a glorious autumn Sunday morning; the Hall had not opened its doors for the day yet, but there were already quite a few people around soaking in the beautiful ambiance of the place.
Charlotte Bronte visited Gawthorpe for a second time with her husband, the Rev. Arthur Bell Nicholls, in January 1855 . She was eager to have a stroll around the grounds, and seemed to have caught a chill there. Her health seriously deteriorated afterwards, and, sadly and tragically, she died two months later.

On either end of the parterre terrace there are armorial stone seats of Elizabethan style designed by Barry's son Edward. They looked lovely in the autumnal surroundings.

The Great Barn situated in the Estate Yard. It may be hard to believe, but this spectacular aisled barn of 1603-5 is larger than the Hall itself, and is the largest aisled threshing barn in Europe. The barn is an important survival of a type uncommon in Lancashire. Aisled barns provided much greater width than the normal cruck-framed barn in order to accommodate cattle and farm equipment in addition to enormous quantities of grain, straw and animal feed. Today its interior is a versatile space for events.

The Coach House. It was built in 1870 onto a corner of the Great Barn. Its architectural features suggest a military Gothic style which is not otherwise seen at Gawthorpe. It is now used as a tearoom.

The west side of the Hall and the passageway toward the Lancashire County Council offices. The LCC manages the property on a day to day basis. A passing figure of an elderly man in a suit fits in well with the setting.

Behind the Estate Building there is a charming little picnic area. It was a lovely, mild and sunny, autumn morning, and all the tables were taken by people enjoying the last of agreeable weather.

Along the stone walls of the picnic area there were some delightful autumn blooms. I sneaked around the occupied tables to take a few shots.

Despite its awe-inspiring beauty Gawthorpe Hall is little known today, probably because of its location on the edge of industrial Lancashire, better known for its mills and factories than historic houses. It has belonged to the National Trust since 1970.
There are a couple of more things that must be mentioned when talking about Gawthorpe: it has a fine collection of 17th century portraits on loan from the National Portrait Gallery to represent family members who once populated the Hall.
And it has an amazing worldwide textile collection on display, created by the last family resident at Gawthorpe, Rachel Kay-Shuttleworth.
There is a temporary exhibition space too, currently occupied by a very interesting "Literary Lions" Exhibition that explores Charlotte Bronte's visits to Gawthorpe and her relationship with the Kay-Shuttleworths. This exhibition is part of this year's bicentenary celebrations of Charlotte's birthday, and finishes on the 6th November.

Thursday, 6 October 2016

Autumn Strawberries

At the beginning of this summer I bought a red hanging basket with a strawberry plant in it from the local Aldi. There were only leaves and a couple of tiny pink flowers on the plant. I thought it was something different to hang on the garden fence and was looking forward to seeing how the plant evolves. Well, it has been flowering and producing sweet and juicy strawberries all along. At the end of September I was surprised to see it was still going strong with new strawberries springing up. I decided it was high time I took some photos.
I had a choice of taking some macro shots of the fruit hanging from the basket, or cutting up a few stems for a still life image. Not being a huge fan of macro photography I opted for the latter. I feel still life work gives me more scope and flexibility in creating an interesting image. I found my vintage wine bottle, put the stems inside and arranged them so the strawberries form an appealing composition and the single pink flower faces the camera. For a touch of autumn feel I placed a couple of withered and dried fruits on the table in front of the bottle.

I wanted to team up the red of strawberries with some interesting colour background, so I went for a grey background which I then turned into teal blue in postprocessing. I have recently been drawn to the still life work by Delph Devos. Delph has been my Flickr contact for a long time and more recently a Facebook friend too. I particularly love her dark still lifes, and the dreamy, soft haze her subjects seem to disappear into. The low key tones of my image were inspired by Delph's work, but for my own work I chose a bit more contrast and clarity.
I am quite happy this rather unusual autumn still life came about; and in the last moment too, as I am sure very soon there will be no more strawberries.

Saturday, 1 October 2016

Haidi, My Niece & Portrait Photography

It has been many years since I last did some portrait photography. The reason for that is not that I am not interested, but the fact that there is very few possibly willing and suitable models around me. Majority of people don't like being photographed, or if you do persuade them and manage to actually do a shoot with them, they just appear stiff and uncomfortable in photos no matter how much you tried to put them at ease. Well, not my niece Haidi! She sees modelling as fun and challenge, and is so natural and easy to work with. In not so distant past I photographed Haidi three times. Being a yoga teacher she wanted me to take photos of herself in some yoga poses. You can see my favourite pics from that shoot here. When I was in Zagreb back in May Haidi asked me to take photos at one of her yoga workshops. Then, soon afterwards, she visited me with her boyfriend Bruno here in Leeds, and we grabbed one afternoon for a little indoor photo session.


This is quite a heavy crop from a three quarter length portrait shot. I avoid severe crops and always try to compose my image in the viewfinder, but here I ended up with a shot I didn't like and wanted to salvage somehow. I noticed that I actually really liked Haidi's face, and the fact that even though she is looking down all her facial features including her lips are nicely visible. I was also pleased with the softness and creamy tone of her skin I managed to get in postprocessing. All in all, the shot that I nearly discarded and deleted became one of my favourite images in the end.

If you are taking photos of a person I feel you have to do at least a couple of straightforward head and shoulder shots. Haidi was on holiday while staying with me and decided not to wear any make up for the whole duration of her stay. I was really pleased as I wanted her as natural as possible. I did, ever so slightly, though, enhance the beautiful blue colour of her eyes in this image.

We bought the dress earlier that day without actually planning to buy any new clothes for the shoot. But the dress was perfect for the sort of pics we were going to create and was "screaming" at us to buy it. This is one of the first shots I took, and Haidi was already confident and relaxed in front of the camera.

This pose was Haidi's idea. She asked me if I had a toy she could hold and I immediately thought of my Winnie the Pooh teddy bear. He was just about the right size and of a suitable look.

A quick moment of respite, relaxation or simply daydreaming .........

I like the resigned, a bit sad facial expression here, and thought a dreamy processing would do it justice.

Another high key edit. Haidi didn't need a lot of instructions as to posing; she would stir up sentiments in her mind and spontaneously change her countenance. I see a lot of verve in this shot.

Perhaps this image looks a bit far fetched, but I had to satisfy my need for a bit of creative experimenting. I do like its painterly look and the beautiful sleeping face.

This image and the one below are the sort of images I first had in mind for the photo shoot. I love these romantic, story telling portraits. The expectant look on my model's face is perfect.....

...........and so is the one of curious admiration in this image.

It is such a shame that Haidi and I live so far apart. If we lived closer to each other I trust we would create some extraordinary portraits - her with her talent for modelling and natural beauty and me with my desire to learn, improve and produce some stunning portraiture.
As my images show, what I am interested in when it comes to portrait photography is celebrating natural beauty; conveying emotions and telling a story; creating striking mood and atmosphere, and perpetuating those fleeting moments.

I would like to mention a few photographers whose work I greatly admire, derive inspiration from, and from whom I hope to learn. By sheer accident they are all women photographers. However, the first portrait photographer whose work I fell in love with was a man - Robert Mapplethorpe.

Nikaa - I have been admiring Nikaa's work for a long time. I am particularly attracted to her soft, romantic and dreamy presentation, "faceless" models and her inclusion of flowers.

Rosie Hardy - an amazing and very versatile photographer. She always has a model ready at hand and never needs to look for one - she does selfportraits. Her ideas are original and flowing at an incredible pace. Her photoshop knowledge and skills are very admirable too.

Ewa Cwikla - I came across Ewa recently and was immediately taken by her interesting but natural models photographed both indoors and outdoors. There is a lovely vintage/past times feel to many of her images, and I love her tendency towards low key processing.

Carolyn Mendelsohn - a Yorkshire award winning photographer based not far from me, Carolyn won me over with her ordinary people portraits, beautifully shot and processed through tasteful use of actions in Photoshop. They are simple portraits yet very impactive, each telling a story.

Jessica Drossin - I have bought a lot of postprocessing material from the very creative and resourceful Jessica, and I intend to make further purchases from her wonderful store. As to her photography, I love the remote locations, beautiful light and marvellous postprocessing.