2020 July

Collage for July 2020
A collection of images posted on Flickr this July 2020

And so we moved into July, with summer, and all that usually implies. But it is month 5 of lock-down, and we were still rewriting what we mean by ‘normal life’.

I had been driving regularly since May, re-learning (or remembering) the skills, and gradually building up the muscles and the stamina that I need to drive. From a few miles from the the village I built up the distance I could comfortably drive.
So, on July 1st I made my first trip to Inverurie and back, to take glass to the recycling point at Morrison’s supermarket. That’s a round trip of over 30 miles – so I was well pleased!
Throughout July I drove through rain, low cloud, poor visibility and a growing level of general traffic. It took a toll on my energy (which is always limited by PVS/ME) and that meant there was little left on many days. I drove early in the morning, to minimise the heavy traffic and farm vehicles on the roads, and often needed a cat-nap mid morning.

car key
The key to more than my car!

But it was (and still is) essential that I can drive again. Other options such as taxis and lifts from neighbours are no longer possible in Covid times, and public transport has always been virtually non-existent in rural Aberdeenshire. So, with the increased vulnerablity to life-threatening infection that we both face, I can’t afford not to be practiced, skilled, confident and proficient once more! Although my little Fiesta is 12 years old now, it is the key to my freedom, and ability to function in times of need.

pink rhododendron
First shots with the Helios lens on the Canon 70D – pink rhododendron

At home the summer was blooming with the the garden full of flowers. I always shoot the rhododendrons as they bloom in sequence, the white first, then the red, and finally the one small bush of pink. My attention was still focussed on the Canon 70D and the problems of shooting in Manual Mode with only an Optical Viewfinder. I decided to concentrate on the garden and immediate surroundings, as I could keep going indoors to read the LCD screen and try to find the right balance of settings to stop over-exposing or under-exposing my shots. It made for slow and frustrating sessions with a large failure rate! I knew I had to master the Manual Mode for the in-camera multiple exposures I wanted to achieve, so I continued to use the old Russian Helios 44-2 lens. After all it was one the lenses I wanted to use (along with the Lensbaby) so I might as well stay with it!
The shot above was taken close to the house, using the Helios lens, and I think it was the 4th attempt at getting the exposure right!

The most wonderful aspect of July was that finally National Trust Scotland opened up their gardens again! After months struggling to find anywhere to walk, we could return to Fyvie Castle grounds! A real breath of fresh air, bringing a sense of optimism and freedom.

sunshine in the park
Fyvie Castle grounds, and freedom to enjoying the summer sunshine!

Here, shot with my iPhone, a boy lying contentedly on the lawn in the sunshine! It seemed to sum up our feelings of relief and delight! The grounds were sadly neglected, and it will take years to repair the damage the lock-down inflicted. But these lawns close to the castle had been mowed, and it was a joy to see them and walk our familiar routes round the small loch!
Later in the month we drove up the coast to Cullen.

Cullen beach
Cullen beach on a bright but cold morning. Freedom from lock-down at last!

And climbed up the cliffs above Cullen bay to see way across towards the Moray Firth. Just visible in the distance is a blue shape on the horizon – the far hills across the Firth!

The view across Cullen Bay
On the cliffs above Cullen Bay – such a sense of freedom!

It was this we had been pining for! We never meet many people on our rambles with our cameras. So with open air and so few possibilities for encountering the virus, we felt that it had been misguided to deprive us of exercise and a sense of well-being! The months of absence and deprivation had impressed on us how essential these outings are to us. We were both quite exhausted after each visit. How quickly our muscles weakened even when we had had our own garden to walk in. What must it have been like for those trapped in small flats in tenements or high rise blocks!
July gave us back some joy and delight, and through the joy came some hope.

And a final look back on July must include the onward progress towards my watercolour painting goals! I had started by copying Cezanne watercolours. I found about his customary palette of just 6 colours, and the few brushes he used. I was making progress! But now I wanted to expand the colours I used, to paint trees closer to Scotland’s palette rather than southern France! So I took out all the paints (tubes and pans) that I had acquired years ago. And I found I needed to re-learn everything … the names on the pans had faded. And I couldn’t remember the properties of the colours – were they translucent? opaque? staining?

watercolour paints and charts
Beginning to organise my watercolours!

So I had to spend time online researching, and I discovered that the range of watercolour tints and types had changed and developed massively! So I began to familiarise myself with the colours I had, and added a few more too. It was a re-learning experience in itself …. and there was more to come in August too ….

On to August ……
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Flickr holds Elisa’s online Photo Gallery
© 2020 Elisa Liddell

Apple blossom time!

The apple blossom
The apple blossom sways in the gentle Spring breeze. Shot with the Helios 44-2 lens

May starts, and the apple blossom is in full swing. We have a large crab apple tree – no use for apples in the autumn (even the bird and insects avoid the fruit)
But in the Spring the garden is full of the almond scent of the flowers, and the tree is a mass of pink buds and white flowers. A true joy!
My album of apple blossom shots is on Flickr
Flickr holds Elisa’s online Photo Gallery
© 2019 Elisa Liddell

“I can see clearly now …

… the rain has gone”
Last summer (2018) we had a long hot dry three months. The impact was felt all over the crop growing area of the N E of Scotland, where a great deal of the local barley crop was stunted and shrivelled. Personally it was our garden we struggled to save, taking every drop of usable water out to help the plants survive. In the cool of the evening we could be found with hosepipe watering cans … and of course with cameras too! My favourite for catching the water droplets on the plants was an old Russian Helios 44-2 lens that I found in the back of a cupboard. The lens is frozen at F2.8 but it is such a delight! Serendipity, on Flickr tells more of that story.
So here is the original shot I took of the late light catching the leaves on a miniature acer

Raindrops on miniature acer in colour.
Raindrops on miniature acer in colour. Helios 44-2 lens at F2.8

The slanting light, the water droplets on the leaves, and the light yellow of the entire bush – they are all there. But how will it change if I take away the colour, and transform it into B+W?

Raindrops on miniature acer in B+W.
Raindrops on miniature acer in B+W. Helios 44-2 lens at F2.8

I did crop the right side of the image, which brings the leaves and the water droplets closer. But the overall effect of the change, for me, is to draw the eye more immediately to the sun falling on those leaves in the foreground, and to emphasise the cast shadow in the bottom right corner. There is more light and shadow, and more sense of the sun touching the leaves in the foreground. I feel that both versions are equally strong, and complement each other very well.

There’s more on “taking the colour away” here
Flickr holds Elisa’s online Photo Gallery
© 2019 Elisa Liddell

Flowers for Springtime

plum blossom with bokeh
Helios 44-2 lens shooting plum blossom with bokeh

There’s nothing quite as beautiful as the tiny delicate flowers of the Japanese plum tree in March and April. The wind may be cruel and cold, but the fragile blossoms cling to the swaying branches with such determination. Even overnight frost cannot defeat them. Spring will endure!
I shot this with my favourite lens. It is an old Russian Helios 44-2 lens, from way back in the 1960s. It creates the most wonderful gentle colours, and a stunningly beautiful bokeh too.
There is an album of photographs taken with this lens here on Flickr. The close-ups are with this exact lens; the longer shots with a second LOMO Helios lens (yes – I eventually got two!)

Flickr holds my entire online Photo Gallery
© 2019 Elisa Liddell

Chasing the light

Gladiolus petal in the sunshine
Close-up of a gladiolus flower in the late sunshine

When I was writing this I thought of it as “Chasing the late light at F2.8” or “3 cameras and 1 flower”. But both of these titles were a bit unwieldy as URLs, so I simplified it. But there are three lenses in this playful tale, and all are indeed set at F2.8. So, to begin…

The way my house is laid out, the front gets the sunlight in the morning, often until the early afternoon. A big south-facing bay window makes it the best place to shoot. Then it gets tricky … by late afternoon the sun has moved round to the side of the house; then there is a small window of time, and a small physical side window where I can sometimes catch the light. There are trees in the way – so, especially if it’s windy, there is a constant flickering of light and shadow. Then the sun moves round to the back of the house, and sometimes there is the late light shining through a willow hedge right into the kitchen and onto a dark blue Formica top of the breakfast bar. This the story of chasing the late afternoon light with a lovely salmon pink gladiolus stem, trying to get some photos using just the natural light! And as two of the cameras were already set on F2.8 I shot the third on F2.8 too.
Note: I always shoot on full Manual, especially indoors – I’m so used to it I never even think about it. And the White Balance remained constant on ‘cloudy’ or ‘daylight’ on all 3 cameras for this shoot.

The cameras to hand were:
1) Lensbaby Composer Pro with 50mm double glass optic with a +4 macro filter (essentially a fixed focal length)
2) A NEX-6 with my favourite Helios Russian lens (frozen at F2.8 so it is a fixed focus)
3) The Sony A77ii with the tele-macro 100mm lens (a heavy combination, but so versatile in the results it can achieve)

I moved a small round wooden table beside the side window with the swaying trees casting strong light then deep shadow. I laid the gladiolus on the wood and waited to catch the sunshine.
The tele-macro allowed me to zoom out and take in both the flowers lying on the table.

light and shadows on gladioli flowers
Sunlight casting strong light then deep shadow on my gladioli flowers. shutter 1/800 ISO 80 WB “cloudy”

I could catch the sunlight and strong shadow it cast; the graceful curved shape of the stem; and a sense of the wooden surface, with a slight reflection too. And using F2.8 meant that the background was nice and dark due to the shallow DoF.

Next I took the Helios lens. It makes a lovely and soft image, but F2.8 is the only option – which gives me a closer composition but with no flexibility to move in closer, or further away.

The Helios lens gives a lovely soft bokeh
The Helios lens is gentle and gives a lovely soft bokeh. shutter 1/80 ISO 100 WB “cloudy”

The light is softer, and there is a background bokeh and definite reflections on the table.
So – could the Lensbaby offer me anything different at F2.8 (the aperture ring was in place from a previous shoot)

Lensbaby and gladiolus flower
Lensbaby Double Glass +4 macro filter catches the light on the flower. shutter 1/2000 ISO 100 WB “daylight”

The light was much harder to control, and focusing took more time as the tree branches gave a strobe effect the table! But I did manage to get the Lensbaby swirl of bokeh around the petals, and the internal glow! Here I used a high shutter speed. I try to keep the ISO as low as possible – I find that my Sony cameras are best with low ISO, and get noticeable ‘noise’ at higher settings.

By now the sun was moving round the house and lower in the sky .. so to complete the process I waited until I could catch the light as it fell across the breakfast bar. I went back to the big tele-macro lens, as it can get closer in to catch the water droplets better than the the other two.

Gladiolus flower resting on the formica worktop
Gladiolus flower on the Formica worktop, shot in the fading evening light. shutter 1/80 ISO 50 WB “cloudy”

Against the dark surface, and with light slanting through the open door I took the final shots. This time the white of the freezer in the background stopped me achieving a matt black background. But there are nice reflections on the work surface, and it looks like liquid – a lens effect I hadn’t expected. And I can get in closer with the tele-macro than I could with either of the other two lenses.

I do spend a lot of time chasing the light – I guess many of us do! It is nice to be able to control the light in a studio setting – and I do that too. But natural light and the camera lens can make unexpected magic, with lens flares, bokeh, and a richness and variety of light quality that man-made lighting just can’t touch. I no longer have the energy or stamina to chase the light across the landscape and into the night …. but around the house can be quite a challenge too ;o)
On Flickr you can find my Album of Gladioli photos
Flickr holds Elisa’s online Photo Gallery
© 2019 Elisa Liddell

“Rough winds……

… do shake the darling buds of May”

A little out of season with Shakespeare, as it is only March! But the rough winds are shaking the delicate first flowers on our Japanese plum tree!

Japanese plum blossom
early morning sunshine catches the first flowers on our Japanese plum tree

One of the early signs of Spring here in northern Scotland is the plum blossom. It comes out before the leaves, so the tiny flowers make the branches look pink. Here a gale was blowing, and I used a Sony NEX-6 with my old Russian Helios 44-2 lens. It’s frozen at F2.8, but it takes lovely shots with a special bokeh. On Flickr you can find my
Album of Helios 44-2 photos