A Chilly Day at Cotswold Wildlife Park

The day after visiting Westonbirt Arboretum (see blog post and photos here) I popped along to Cotswold Wildlife Park.  The weather was much chillier than the previous day and it was interesting to see how the animals outside were coping with the weather.  Some seemed to try hibernation and just slept, and others seemed to be active to keep warm.

The red pandas were particularly active.  So much so that they’ll get their very own blog post as I had so many photos of them.  Keep an eye out for that post coming soon!

For animals who were behind glass my Lens Skirt came into its own.  It really helped to cut out the reflections from the glass and get clear shots.  In the monkey enclosure the monkeys seemed intrigued by the Lens Skirt and came right up to the glass to take a look.  Unfortunately they were too close for the lens I was using at the time.

For this visit I was using my backup camera body, an Olympus E-PL3, with my normal lenses.  I’m very pleased with the photos I got from this body, and it goes to show much of the quality comes from the lens you use rather than the body.  The two drawbacks for me were the lack of viewfinder (using just the camera screen was quite awkward at times) and the body was too small to get a good grip of.  

The reason I had to use a backup body was that my Olympus OMD E-M1 and shiny new 25mm f1.8 lens were off for repair – the body was suffering from intermittent shutter lockups since fitting the new lens.  This was really annoying as it happened on a weekend away and left me with very few photos.  Luckily the E-M1 came with a Service Plus warranty and when I called about the issues I was having, Olympus picked up the camera and lens, zoomed it to Portugal for repair, and a few days later it was back in working order.  Great service!

Circus photography with Damian McGillicuddy and Olympus

Last week I went to Giffords Circus for an event organised by Olympus.  Since moving from Canon to Olympus I’ve been impressed with how they market their products, and this is a great example… 

Olympus arranged for one hundred photographers to go to the circus where we could try out pretty much any camera body of lens from their OMD range with a few circus acts making for great photographic subjects.  The event was brand agnostic, there were many folk with Canon, Nikon, and other camera’s.  And this wasn’t even a sales pitch!

Damian McGillicuddy, Olympus UK’s principle photographer, was there to talk, give some hints, and show how us how he’d do a model photo shoot.  I’ve never specialised in any area of photography and was simply in awe of Damian’s knowledge, gained through years of experience in producing award winning images.  Damian was also a great presenter and thoroughly nice chap.

After the event we were all treated to tea and cake, and even got a goody bag to take home.

I hope to get to go to similar events in the future, a great way to learn some new tricks, meet some nice people, and practice photography in a fun environment.

Scotland (part 2 of 2) – Edinburgh

This post is the second in a series of two about a recent trip to Scotland and is focused on Edinburgh.

A day trip to Edinburgh as part of the break allowed for just five-and-a-half hours exploring this amazing city.  It was the day before the Edinburgh Festival Fringe started, and so there was a real buzz and the city geared itself up for a month of fun!

After being dropped near Princes Street with limited time available I decided that Edinburgh Castle should be the first port of call (after a coffee, of course!).  The Castle, on the edge of the Old Town part of Edinburgh, overlooks the New Town part and beyond with spectacular views.  The famous One O’Clock Gun was a great photo opportunity, so I picked a place with a good view for photos and despite some rude tourists shoving to get a view I still got a good shot by holding my Olympus OMD E-M1 camera up high and using its handy tilt screen to keep everything in frame.

Leaving the Castle behind I went on an open top bus tour of the city to see the highlights.  Although I got caught by a passing shower (luckily the E-M1 is weather proof!) it was a great way to see the city and learn about some of its history.  

Time ran out on me, and I definitely plan to return to Edinburgh one day to see more of the city.  If I could combine it with a trip the Fringe, that would be amazing!

Gadget Show Live 2014

Each year the Gadget Show Live event takes place here in the UK to show off the current and future consumer technologies. 2014 marked my third visit to Gadget Show Live, and it was a great opportunity to take my camera along to get a few photos for the blog.

Gadget Show Live is a spin-off of The Gadget Show TV programme. Although I’m not a regular viewer these days, I have previously appeared in a couple of programmes when I was ever so slightly addicted to the show a few years ago. I first went along to take part in a Focus Group feature on remote control gadgets. It was great to play with the gadgets, including a remote control car with virtual reality headset, and I had a good chat with Jon Bentley about cars (Jon was previously a producer on Top Gear). I went back for another programme to look at outdoor party gadgets, and somehow got roped into a karaoke rendition of Summer Nights with Dallas Campbell (now of BBC science nerdery fame) and Suzi Perry (now of BBC F1 fame).

This year’s Gadget Show Live was on a smaller scale to last year, about half the size by my reckoning, but there was still enough gadgetry to keep me interested for a whole day. Walking around so much definitely made me appreciate just how lightweight my Olympus OMD E-M1 camera and lenses are compared to my old Canon camera set up!

I went along with my good friend and fellow photography geek Ryan. I’d been tweeting about my visit and as a result got invited to get photos of a couple of stands. Sarah Holburn, singer-songwriter extraordinaire, was doing regular live performances on the iT7 Audio stand. I caught one of Sarah’s performances which was simply amazing to hear, see, and photograph. The Vibe Collection stand was probably the best lit and brightest stand there, it was a great opportunity to get some close-up photos of their brightly coloured watches.

Each year seems to have its own themes – something that almost all the stands seem to be demonstrating or selling. This year’s themes were speakers, headphones, and quadrocopters. Speakers and headphones weren’t of much interest, but I was very impressed with some of the quadrocopters on the DJI stand. Their ability to zoom around so gracefully and hover still enough to get amazing photos and video from dizzying heights; definitely an addition to my future gadget list!

Something else for my list is a Go Pro camera. I’ve long been a fan of these robust little camera’s that you can attach to pretty much anything for photos, video, or time lapse. I was interested to see some similar products around the show, but nothing could beat the quality / price point of the Go Pro in my opinion. I was hoping for a show discount on the Hero 3+ Black edition, but no discounts were available and so my credit card remained intact… for the time being!

I also took a visit to the Olympus stand to play with the new baby OMD, the E-M10, and some of the lenses not in my collection. I was particularly taken with the 25mm f1.8 and 12-40mm f2.8 lenses, yet more things for my bank manager to be worried about. Whilst there I got chatting to Robert Pugh, a professional photographer and thoroughly nice chap who was on the stand and also runs some Olympus workshops. He gave me some great tips on how to get the best out of my Samyang Fisheye lens, and suggested I visit his YouTube channel for a few more tips – if you’re an Olympus user I’d definitely recommend a look. I plan to go on one of his workshops some time and will of course blog about it.

But for now, here are my top photos from Gadget Show Live 2014…

World Pooh Sticks Championships 2014

Anyone who grew up in the UK probably did so with tales of Winnie The Pooh, A. A. Milne’s teddy bear with a thing for honey. I’m sure the stories have travelled far beyond the UK too. As well as the Winnie The Pooh stories, there’s game called Pooh Sticks… it’s a simple game where you drop sticks into a river from a bridge, and the one who’s stick flows first to the other side is the winner.

What you might not know is that this game is famous in Oxfordshire, England, as the World Pooh Sticks Championships takes place here each year on the River Thames, attracting folk from as far afield as Australia! Luckily for me it’s right on my doorstep.

This was my third time at the Championships, and I’m glad to say that the weather was just right today for taking photos. Last years event was postponed due to snow, and the rescheduled event in November was nearly a wash out was it poured with rain.

I took along my camera and got the photographs you’ll see below. Some of the photos required a bit more risk than usual as I wanted to get photos from the bridges looking back at the competitors. I did this by mounting my camera on a monopod and holding it out at arms length over the water – nothing focusses the mind like several hundred pounds of camera dangling above a flowing river!

The monopod is actually one of the three legs from my Three Legged Thing tripod called Brian, the leg cleverly screws off and I’m able to mount the tripod head on this leg to angle the camera. This is where a lightweight camera, lens, and tripod are a real benefit.

The next challenge was to take the photo. My Olympus E-M1 camera comes with a rather neat trick for this, built in wifi that allows you to control it using a mobile phone app. So I was able to beam the live view image from the camera to my phone, and press a button when I wanted to take the shot. I set the camera to take lots of photos in quick succession, which meant that hopefully one of the photos would be the one I wanted. As it happens, I ended up with 196 photos which I’ve narrowed down to the 9 best.

You might notice that some of the photos look a bit curved – this is because some were taken with my 7.5mm Samyang Fisheye lens. This lens allows me to cram a lot into a photo, and does curve things a little. It’s certainly one of my favourite lenses.