Dinorwic Quarry and Crib Goch

dinorwic quarry mount snowdon

A key lesson learnt during this mini trip to Snowdon: Taking all of your camera gear up the side of a mountain is a dumb idea.

Apart from this key lesson learnt, this was a nice little jaunt up to the hilly north of Wales. It was also the first trip I took with the D800, which arrived the morning we left.

Day 1 involved exploring Dinorwic Quarry. Dinorwic is a former slate quarry that closed in July 1969 due to a decline of the industry. Slate is difficult to quarry with only about 1% of quarried material taken to market. From my understanding the reason for this is that dynamite is used and slate is a brittle rock. The waste material also caused issues with falls in the quarry. An enormous fall occurred in the Garret area of the quarry which was the final nail in the coffin for commercial operations. Dinorwic is the second largest slate quarry in Wales and in the world. The area is a fascinating explore, from the abandoned workhouses to the tunnelled cutaways. The views west across to Llanberis and Mount Snowdon are also stunning. And from this side of the valley the view of Crib Goch was clear, and made it very small. Which, well, it wasn’t.

Day 2 involved a climb up and across Crib Goch before proceeding to Crib y Ddysgl, before progressing around to Snowdon peak. Crib Goch is a knife-edged arête with the highest point on the arête at 923 metres (3,028 ft) above sea level. During winter the route is considered a mountaineering route and during summer it is classed as a scramble. Fortunately the weather was good when we attempted it. The route starts off at the Caffi Gorphwysfa Cafe and then heads up the pyg track before taking a savage right turn up what I called at the time Mount Doom. Now, it isnt a hard ascent, but when you bring all of your equipment instead of what you actually need then it turns into a savage workout. I almost turned back until the other offered to take some weight off my shoulder, for which I was extremely grateful. Lessons were learned. Stopping at the top of the first ascent and having lunch is one of the most epic places to eat food. You can see everything. We were also very fortunate to be there on a quiet day. I’ve seen photos of the rote packed out and it looks like a horrific experience. After you pass over Crib Goch its then onto the Crib Y Dydsgl. The climb up this peak is significantly less difficult. We stopped for some photos at the top before heading onto the Snowdon peak. Now, before I started I was conflicted about the café at the top of the mountain. When I got there I was grateful for a cup of coffee, even if I had to scramble for cash because of the card fees. The walk down was a little difficult. Im not used to having my toes jammed into the front of my shoes and half down I was ready for bed. Before making our way back into Llanberis we stopped off at Penceunant Isaf .
As with all activities of this nature please exercise caution and common sense. If the weather deteriorates on the ascent, do not continue. Even the easiest of routes up a mountain or through an abandoned quarry can be dangerous. If you do want to attempt Crib Goch go with a small group and take your time. UK Scrambles have a guide covering Crib Goch should you require extra information.
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Urban Exploration – Italy

urban exploration photography from Italy urbex

A whole bunch’o’photos from the slog around Italy. Would it stop raining? Would it stop being 40 degrees centigrade? Who built a wall where I want to drive the car? All important questions, no logical answers.

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Some of the wordpress plugins I use.

recommend wordpress plugins

I’ve been using wordpress for a number of years now and it’s safe to say I have a small of love for it. Aside from a few issues it’s a super useful platform that gives you a large amount of control over your site and has a boat load of plugins that support it. I have used many…….many plugins for different reasons and to different degrees of satisfaction. The below list is something I wanted to put together for any curious soul and categorised in the functional use. There is only one plugin that I think everyone should have kids with…you’ll find that further down the page. So below is the current list of plugins that I use on this site and the reasons why I use them. Some are premium but most are free.

ADMIN SECTION WORDPRESS PLUGINS

Admin Collapse Subpages

If you have multiple pages and posts that sit underneath a parent category and you don’t want to use the default filtering system inside of wordpress, then this plugin gives those categories a collapsible + and – sign. It has made shifting through pages/posts a lot easier as there is substantially less pagination to deal with.

Duplicate Page

If you need to duplicate a post or a page, this does exactly that. Handy for posts and pages that have similar setups and saves you time recreating those setups.

Link Checker

If you have a large site with many internal and external links, manually checking links to see if they work is an impossible task. Link checker does this for you and gives you a list of broken links and where they are on your site for you to fix. Will save years of time. Download it, use it.

Envanto Market

If you own wordpress, then you more than likely will have an evanto account. This plugin links directly into your account and allows you to install purchases directly on your site as opposed to download and then uploading them. A simple time saving plugin.

MainWP

If you run multiple sites outside of multi-site setup, you will know the pain of keeping everything updated. This plugin allows you to create a multi-site like setup that will check for out of date plugins, themes and wordpress versions. It’s a bit hit and miss with reliability but it has made updating the sites I run a much easier and less depressing task. It just requires some stability work to be done and it will be a download and use recommendation from me for people in the same boat.

Simple Local Avatars

Having to create a gravatar account for each user to simply have an avatar for that user is just pointless. If you have a small portfolio based site like mine and you dont want yet another account to password protect in your browser then this plugin will be of use to you. Apparently it has some SEO benefits, but I suspect it only benefits larger more established sites who became established because of their content, not their gravatar account. This plugin allows you to assign an avatar to a user profile in the user tab in admin. It is simple and it works.

Email Log

A straight forward plugin. This lods all mail activity that goes on in your wordpress website. It is useful as it allows you to see if emails are sending to your webmail client, which can help hugely with mail based problem solving.

Post Type Switcher

If you are switching to, or operating with custom post types and want to switch content to a new CPT, then this tool makes that process easy. It can found in the publish bloc on all post/pages.

Taxonomy Switcher

Another tool for managing CPT switches. If you are using taxonomy tags with your posts then these will also need to be transferred to the CPT. This little plugin helps with that process. It can be found under tools and has a very basic interface that makes using it easy.

Show IDs

In order to make the above tool easier to use you will need to know the post taxonomy ID. This isnt displayed in an easy to use way in wordpress (you have to hover over the tag and read it from the url reveal in the bottom left of the browser) which makes life much harder when trying to transfer  a large number of tags. This plugin adds the the tag ID to page interface which makes the process of switch tags to a new CPT much easier.

CONTENT CREATION WORDPRESS PLUGINS

Elementor

Elementor, essentially, is a bloc based page builder. I used to to use WP Bakery (which I used as an editor page based visual builder) but I made the switch when I changed theme from Jupiter 6 to Jupiter X. I have installed elementor multiple times and then uninstalled it. I didnt really understand the workflow relative to WP Bakery, so i figured I would force myself to learn how to use it with the theme switch. What made the process easier for me was using the flatsome ecom theme visual editor which is almost like for like in functionality. I found it easy to transfer knowledge across to Elementor with greater ease. 

So, is it any good? Yes. Once I moved past the teething problems, learnt where everything is and how to use it with the theme (still a bit of a work in progress) I have found that it is a step up compared to WP Bakery. It still suffers the built in padding and margin quirks all page builders seem to have and advanced functionality is locked behind a monthly paywall. But on the whole it is a solid tool that will add to the type and look of pages you can create.

JetPlugins for Elementor by Crocoblock

Prior to using Jupiter X I had never heard of crocbloc or their JET toolset. And to be honest, if I had not been trying to achieve a specific look for the main section of these content posts I probably would never have looked in to using them. I am not an advanced user. Things like Custom Post Types and Advanced Custom Fields were for the next level user. Im still not fully up to spec on a lot of those features, but using JET Engines features has help considerably in solving many of layout and functionality problems I have had with using wordpress as a CMS. I would even go as far to say that learning how to use JET Engine, along with elementor, has actually increased me enjoyment in building webpages and presenting content to be viewed.

Now, you dont need these to plugins to get your own site up and running. I would describe these as a next level tool set that will add to your websites functionality.

All of Crocoblocs tools are paid for, but you will find them bundled with Jupiter X at a fraction of the cost which will give you a solid introduction to their tools and their use.

Classic Editor

Guttenberg, the new block based editor/page builder from wordpress was supposed to give a ‘visual composer’ like experience. The reality for me is that it fails miserably as the layout of tools and options are confusing and hidden. It’s a good idea, but with extremely poor implementation. My first issue with it is it takes over new post/page creation which does get in the way of my own particular established workflow for pages. The classic editor plugin gives you the ability to select the classic editor from the point of both page/post creation and editing.

iframe

Iframes are generally old methods of presenting content on pages. The method is now largely obsolete. I use it for very select reasons as creating an iframe in-code on a page/post can be a chore. This plugin creates a short code and does the work for you should you need an iframe.

This plugin appears to have been abandoned by the developer. Use at your own discretion. 

PanoPress

This plugin is used specifically to display the virtual tours I have produced. Its years out of date, but it still works.

TinyMCE Advanced

This plugin adds functionality to wordpresses classic text editor by adding additional controls to what you see in the navigation section. It’s a staple of many wordpress sites.

Timetable Responsive Schedule For WordPress

I use this particular gem of a plugin on a client’s site. It’s a responsive timetable plugin that lets you create a singular shortcode based timetable that degrades nicely from PC format to a usable phone size format without the you having to create two seperate instances of the same code. I use it specifically for class times but its has considerably more features including bookings and payments. It’s the best timetable plugin I could find but it is extremely clunky under the hood with creation of events and the timetable itself split into multiple sections in admin. If the devs swing past this page and read this the plugin needs workflow consolidation. It also lacks in depth visual customisation features that would allow someone like me to truly customise the appearance to the clients overall brand. Despite these gripes it does the job and does it well.

SEO WORDPRESS PLUGINS

Rank Math SEO

Note: I am not an SEO expert. Its a magic art of all things web and do need to dedicate more time to it. That being said I have been using this plugin on a pro level for a while now and based on its features I have managed to improve rank position for several sites and reduce bounce rates. The features I appreciate the most include: sitemap and redirection features which mean I don’t need separate plugins for either. The sitemap itself also does not list wordpress core pages from what I can tell, which means the next plugin in this list is not negatively affected by it; It works relatively well with page builders and the default classic editor, allows you to establish a keyword(s) for a page, correct/edit/add content based on its checklist of recommendations; You can also tailor which image is to be displayed on social media sitesl and it provides default editable schema format for multiple types of post specifically aimed at search engines.

Download it, try it, let me know how you get on with it.

SECURITY WORDPRESS PLUGINS

Wordfence

Wordfence is one of the more well used security plugins. It allows me to lock login attempts to a fixed number and permanently ban (including myself on occasion) any ip attached to a failed login. Since I started using this plugin hacking runs on my sites have virtually disappeared. I also use the Wordfence Login Security plugin which adds additional featurers. There is a free version and a paid for one. If you are running a larger business on the wordpress platform then the paid version is worth the money.

WPS Hide Login

Security. The default wordpress login page is known by anyone who has ever installed wordpress: sitename.xxx/wp-login.php. Leaving this in place creates backdoor access for those wonderful arseholes, hackers. 

There are three things you should always do when creating a new wordpress site:

1) change the default database table name to anything other than ‘wp’.

2) set a nickname to your main admin account that isnt the username (WordPress has a tendency to display usernames).

3) Change the url of your login page (the function of this plugin).

There are several odd decisions wordpress core devs make, and not allowing you to easily define the url name of your login page during setup is one of them. 

This plugin mixed with a login limit/ban plugin will beef up the security of your site. There are other ways in, but good security plugins will start to patch those holes that should be patched by the devs.

Website Optimisation WordPress Plugins

SG Optimizer

This is specific to anyone using the Siteground hosting platform. It’s an epically wonderful plugin that boosts your site performance by tapping into siteground server features. If you are on Siteground this gets auto-installed with each wordpress installation. 

Ive tried many other plugins to optimise wordpress sites in the past and the core crux of site speed comes down to the localisation and quality of your server host above all other things. Optimisation plugins cannot improve a rubbish server. 

Stop Generating Unnecessary Thumbnails

Thumbnails. Holy f*****g christ. 

I didn’t know about wordpress’s obsession with thumbnails until I downloaded the media library from my old wedding site. WordPress will allow every plugin on your site to create any and all sizes of thumbnails the plugin authors think they need in order for their plugin to operate…….just….just why? Admin sections need one reference thumbnail in-order to operate correctly. This single aspect of wordpress will fill your site server allocation up faster than anything else. In some instances I had 60 replications of a single image on a site that had thousands of images. Once I had sorted everything out I worked out, wordpress and the authors of all the plugins i use (except this one, this person is a god to me) had turned 2 gigs worth of images into around 26gb.

26 gigs. Let that sink in.

This entire aspect of wordpress will ruin your server performance and severely limit your site if it’s based, like mine is, on large numbers of images. This one single plugin is the most important one for me when using wordpress. It does exactly what it says, it stops wordpress and the plugins you use from filling your server with unnecessary images. Every time I upload an image it creates a single 160×160 thumbnail for use in the admin section. I have not noticed any performance issues since using this plugins, and the plugins themselves all work fine. So, dear plugin authors your plugin does not ned 20 different sized thumbnails in order to operate correctly. It just needs one.

So stop what you are doing, download it, use it, praise it, make a shrine for it……marry it.

 

MEDIA LIBRARY MANAGEMENT

WP Real Media Library

WordPress out of the box is absolutely useless at organising images. By default your images will be put into a month/year folder order that you can see via some ftp software. Logically this gives ‘a’ structure to image storage that prevents replicated url’s but it provdes no url structure for seo or any type of structure to logically manage all of your image files. This plugin (along with the next one on the list) gives you the ability to organise your media uploads into a file category similar to how you would do on your computer. If you produce a large number of images that follow a sequential numbering system, then there is an option to organise those images by that number system which makes adding them to posts or page en masse much easier. This plugin is essential for media heavy sites like portfolio based sites and ecom stores.

As an FYI, this is a paid for plugin but it is worth the money.

WordPress Real Physical Media: Physical Media Folders & SEO Rewrites

The meat on the bones of the above plugin. This is not required for the above plugin to work but if you want to give your media folders a physical structure on your site for seo and ftp organisation then it is need required. It has moved from being free (there is still a free version but it is out of date) to a paid for version, but as with the above it is a solid investment.

Plugin Types I don't Currently Use

Back-up plugins

I don’t use a backup plugin as my host does daily backups, and i don’t post daily to the site so if it was ever brought down, running a backup from sitegrounds web tools is an easy task. HOWEVER! If you run a site that is generating content daily or uses woocommerce as an ecommerce platform, look into the multitude of back-up options available. Most of them now link with one of the many cloud storage options available. Having data redundancy is key when operating a website that is pivotal to your businesses operation.

Revision & Database Optimisation Plugins

Revisions occur whenever you save a page or a post and they get logged in the database. The more pages and posts you have, the more revisions there will be and the more your database becomes bloated and slow. Ive just started using WP Sweep to clean revisions from the site and clean up the database in general. But, if you do use one of the many database optimisation plugins make sure you back your website up first because some of them have been reported to break peoples sites.

I am also trailing a code edit in the wp-config file 

“define (‘WP_POST_REVISIONS’, 3);”

I will assess if this is effective in the future.

As with all plugins, install them one at a time and test them. WordPress is notorious for plugin conflicts causing sites to break. Installing one at a time allows you to see if the new plugin causes are any adverse effects to your site. 

Do you have any wordpress plugins that you use that you couldn’t live without? Post them below in the comments section and let us all know why you use them and what makes them so god damn awesome.

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TUTORIAL – Basic Camera Settings

getting to know your camera header image

All of the examples I will be giving are aimed at dSLR’s, but most top end point-and-shoot camera’s and mobile phones have all the basic functionality of a dSLR so most of what is written below can be used. It is important to have your camera setup correctly for the task/job at hand. This makes creating photographs and editing them an easier process, allowing more time to be spent on creative editing, and less time on corrective and re-constructive editing. The tips below are general tips I use 95% of the time. There are certain jobs where you would want a camera setting to set differently.

The initial settings you will be changing are:

  • Set Your File Type To Raw.
  • Set White Balance To Auto.
  • Set The Colour Space To sRGB.
  • Turn Off In Camera Noise Reduction.
  • Set All In Camera Image Optimisation Settings To Zero.

Set Your File Type To Raw

The two main file types you will see all cameras use are RAW and jpeg.

RAW FILES have all of the image data captured by the sensor stored in them which means that data is accessible when it comes to editing. If  RAW files will give you greater detail and more options when editing.  They do serve a purpose in some workflows but in general try to avoid using them.

JPEG FILES are a compression format file type (even when that JPEG is classed as lossless) and are used to present image data in as small a file size as possible. When you use JPEG as a capture file type in your camera, all of the settings the camera is currently running will be applied to that file. You will not have access to any other data that may have been in the file as that has been removed to reduce file size. 

RAW FILE SIZE / JPEG FILE SIZE for the same image.

You will read on many sites or watch in many videos covering the subject that you should always shoot in RAW. Practically speaking this is incorrect. The type of file you use is determined by the type of job you are shooting. 

Shooting with JEPGs can be used if you

  • do not have access to a computer to edit the image but there is a need to use the final image quickly.
  • are uploading images to social/news networks for immediate use.
  • are printing directly from the camera. 
  • or if you have limited hard drive storage.
  • are shooting jpeg as a back-up for fast consumption, but you want to have a RAW file for later use.

RAW files on the other hand will be used when 

  • you have time to edit the shots.
  • when image quality and increased control over the editing process is the required.

This can be for almost all types of job including weddings, landscape, fine art, portraits or any type of commercial work (product, real estate etc).

The main advantage RAW files have for me is the greater degree’s of exposure recovery control available when editing and the increased control I have with the colour of an image. There are times when I want to deliberately underexpose a photo so I can increase shutter speed to increase the sharpness of the subject being shot, this usually applies when that subject is moving. A RAW file will allow me to pull the exposure back in editing without suffering the same degree of noise degradation that you would get if you shot in jpeg in the same situation. The colour aspect I will cover below.

So to start with, as this blog post is aimed at beginners, set you capture file type to RAW. 

nikon d750 file type menu settings

Set White Balance To Auto

White balance is a huge area of photography, especially when it comes to colour sensitive photography like product imagery.
Cameras have a white balance setting (measured in Kelvins) so they can render colours and neutral tones correctly in a given colour light environment in an attempt to keep what we think is white, as white. Hence the term white balance (sometimes called grey-balance). Pure white sits between 5000K to 6500K. But correcting white to that level will often involving setting the white balance level to a different number. Your camera will have a manual setting (which you can tune the camera to), and auto setting and various settings for different source light types (tungsten, sunny, cloudy etc).

The only two settings you really need to ever use are the manual and auto setting and their use will fall into one of two main colour situations:

  • Fixed colour environments.
  • Variable colour environments.

Fixed colour environments are those where you will more than likely have complete control over the light source and a lot of time to capture a photograph. This can include studio work, landscapes and real estate. As you have more time to capture an image you can set white balance using a grey card or macbeth colour chart.

Variable colour environments are those where you don’t have control over the light source and where you may not have a lot of time to capture the photograph. These include weddings, PR and event work. The better option to go with is to let the camera set the white balance using to auto setting.

But you can find situations that sit in between the above as well. Indoor sports events for example are usually shot under fixed lighting allowing you to get manual white balance measure before you start shooting.

In hindsight from my experience I would say obsessing over white balance is something you should try to avoid, but at the same time be conscious of. Shooting in RAW gives you freedom to manually correct white balance after a shot has been taken. This means that as you develop your style, technique and areas of interest you can revisit older shots and fix and colour issues caused by white balance. When you are starting out the only person you are shooting for is you, so you don’t need to be as concerned with white balance. But, if you are shooting for a client who needs a colour controlled images then the need to capture the white level accurately becomes important. Generally the later will involve more than just setting the white balance on your camera, you will need to control colour through out you entire editing workflow.

So to begin with, set your white balance to auto.

set the cameras white balance to auto

Set The Colour Space To sRGB

Any device that produces an image, including your camera, uses a mathematical model known as a colour space to help interpret the captured colour in an image for use on displays so that those colours are accurate relative to the colours you perceive. In your camera these are based on red, green and blue colour values as camera sensors consist of red, green and blue photosites. Most cameras will allow you to choose the colour space in a menu buried somewhere deep in its menu system (if you dont know where it is have a look and find it now). Usually you are given a choice of sRGB or AdobeRGB.

Adobe RGB is a specialist colour space that compresses colour values and requires specific software to uncompress them. It has roughly 35% move colour available to it than sRGB but comes with some major draw backs most notably that no major publishing platform uses it. But, it has a larger colour spectrum available which makes it ideal for printing.

sRGB is the world standard for digital images and is used in printing and on the Internet. It has also been around much longer AdobeRGB so all the standards used in modern display technology uses this colour space.

So Adobe RGB will give you more colour to work with in your image as long as you have a monitor/printer that supports the display those colours. So if you are shooting from print specifically, the Adobe RGB would be the optimal option for you.

As most of your photographs will end up on the net on instagram, 500px, facebook, deviant art or some other photo community then setting your camera to sRGB will allow it to produce images that reproduce the colour and tone that is supported on most modern displays (monitors, tv, smart phones etc). As you progress and if you start to shoot for printed reproduction then switching to AdobeRGB will be a more preferable option.

set the cameras colour space to sRGB

Turn Off In Camera Noise Reduction

You will see noise (digital noise) in your photographs in certain exposure situations and can be caused by both internal and external factors to the camera. To summarise in a very condensed way most noise occurs on the pixel level of your camera sensor and is the result of the conversion of the analogue voltage of the photosite to its digital representation. When it occurs, your image will look ‘grainy’.

If you want to known more detail then the following article by premiumbeat.com covers pretty much everything you will need to know.

Noise is something you won’t be able to avoid in every photo you take. You can mitigate its appearance and that is done by either using a low ISO exposure or by reducing its presence in your final image by using in-camera noise reduction or noise reduction in editing software.

In camera noise reduction has its uses and those mainly relate to astro photography. I’ve never given in camera noise reduction much credit, but for astro it helps to reduce noise so you can distinguish between digital noise and stars.

Noise reduction in editing software will generally just apply a blanket setting based on the algorithms used in said software. In camera noise reduction will apply a reduction based on the image taken.

As I rarely shoot long exposure night time images my own preference is to turn noise reduction off so i can temper the amount of broad reduction in effected photographs.

SHOW AN IMNAGE WITH NOISE REDUCTION AND NOISE REDUCTION OFF

As i will discuss in part two of this guide series, I move between trying shoot with low ISO settings and shooting with auto ISO.

In perfect conditions, low ISO settings are preferred as there is enough light entering the lens to correctly expose a photograph. Should that ideal light level decrease you can either reduce the shutter speed or open up the lens aperture to a lower number to increase the amount of light hitting the sensor. Reducing shutter speeds will increase motion blur. Opening up the aperture narrows the depth of focus and can increase the chances of missing you focus point. You can also increase the sensors ISO setting and this allows you to maintain a usable shutter speed but the increased voltage at each photosite will amplify the base level of digital noise your sensor produces.

In camera noise reduction will affect both RAW files and JPEGs. For most situations turn in-camera noise reduction off as it will benefit you for both file types. If you shoot long exposures then turn it on.

turn off all in camera noise reduction

Set All In Camera Image Optimisation Settings To Zero

If you have set your file type to RAW, then all of these settings will not affect the RAW file that is produced as they can all be set during editing. These settings will affect jpeg files. So if you are shooting in JPEG then it will be trial and error to find the optimal settings for your particular use case.

These settings will also affect what you see on your camera’s display as the image you see on the rear screen is a jpeg interpretation of the RAW file. I use these settings, combined with screen brightness, to get as much light and detail out of the rear screen as possible. When you are working in a dynamic environment like a wedding or a sports competition, you don’t want to be fighting with the rear display to guess if you have nailed the photograph. Dropping the contrast will increase the amount of grey pixels in an image effectively flattening it out and increasing the brightness of the screen will allow you to see the photo if you are outside on a sunny day.

Reduce the contrast to the maximum negative number and then increase the display brightness to max (this setting is usually on a different menu option).

Nikon d750 set picture control
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Designing A World Cup Wall Chart.

South Africa 2010 world cup wall chart back final

A while back (2010) before the world cup in South Africa, I decided to give designing a wall chart a go for the then upcoming World Cup. I was tired of looking at all the usual charts that newspapers and magazines would pump out and I wanted to give designing a wall chart for the world cup a go. I also wanted to learn more about using the pen tool in photoshop and how to use it to create shapes and then colour those shapes in an effective way. On a technical level this sort of task should be done in either adobe illustrator or Affinity Designer. The reason for this is that these programs are vector based and photoshop is bitmap based. Now you can do vectors in photoshop, but they are outputted in bitmap formats and can lose their quality when being printed. Vector programs use mathematics to create the shapes allowing them to be scaled with no loss of quality making them better suited for page layout and design in general. When I did this project I couldn’t afford Illustrator and Affinity Designer was not even a thing. But I did have photoshop, so that’s what I used.

Tournament wall charts have to have two basic things: group & knockout stage areas and spaces to add scores and team names. Everything else is decorative.

The Characters

I based the idea of the chart on the now defunct weenicons character style, specifically the Captain James T Kirk design. The design style is 2D and very much South Park like in style. This is ideal for someone who has not drawn for years and is looking to learn new parts of a program. I opened up a saved image into photoshop and sketched over the top, trying to create each part of the character as a different section. Keeping the finished shapes as vectors allowed me to adjust the shape at a later point in time.
large player image assets

Something else I wanted to do was to make each countries character different. Obviously the kit has to be specific for the design of the actual kit at the time, but i also wanted to modify the look of the character based on a prominent player of that particular team. This added an extra level of basic skill requirement because I couldn’t copy an established design, I had to create it myself.

individual team characters

Building a texture for the background

Most world cup charts are a mishmash of player photos or are just really cluttered. Football is played on grass (most of the time) so I wanted to start the base of the images as a grass texture. I used a basic green vignette and then blended it with a random grass like texture using the ‘overlay’ blend mode. I then contrasted this further and added a white radial gradient to create a highlight. The section for the tournament details was a repeated leather texture coloured blue that was also set to overlay blend mode.

Specific Details

One thing I wanted to do was add some very specific details. Most of the charts you find in newspapers are created for workplace walls for sweepstakes or just to keep track of results. I wanted to throw in some additional information. I added a section detailing some facts about South Africa, the Stadiums and about the World Cup in general.

South Africa World cup facts
World cup winning countries get to display stars on their jerseys for the number of cups won. I wanted to add this to the teams names along with the year those stars were earned.
specific details

The Stadium

Soccer City Stadium (also known as The Calabash or FNB Stadium) was built in 1987 and renovated for the 2010 World Cup. The renovation took inspiration from the shape of an African pot called a calabash. Along with The Bird’s Nest Stadium it is one of the more unique looking football stadiums in the world. I created a vector image from a aerial image I sourced from google. I wanted to use this as a visual asset for the final. Two points to note here are the use of gradient layer styles to create more of a 3D perspective and using coloured noise to create the crowd effect. Everything else was just a sketch over the top of the base photo.

Soccer City South Africa World Cup 2010
close up image of finals section

The Finished World Cup Wall Chart

South Africa 2010 world cup wall chart front final
South Africa 2010 world cup wall chart back final
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Creating the concept for a music albums artwork.

featured header image duncan woods album

A few years ago a friend of mine started recording an album with an Australian singer songwriter going by the name of Duncan Woods. My friend phoned me up and asked if I could take a few shots whilst they recorded for some promo stuff and perhaps do some quick artwork for an EP. I agreed, took a few average shots and line illustrated a Rabbit character Duncan had kept drawing as a signature.

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DEVELOPING THE CONCEPT

After developing the EP artwork, the guys asked me if I wanted to do the artwork for the album. Now, turning a sketch into a vector graphic and dropping it onto a layer in photoshop isnt hard. But creating the artwork for the album was going to require something a little bit more engaging. A quick bit of back story…..once upon a time I used to draw continuously from the age of when my memory first started to form properly (some would argue that has yet to happen) till about 16 when I left school and became an irresponsible delinquent heavily distract by all the things that distract a teenager. And for some reason I stopped drawing. Whilst this might be a random tangent, its leads onto the fact that for some reason I agreed to illustrate an album cover without ever actually really illustrating, well, anything before and having completely forgotten how to draw. But none the less I enjoy agreeing to do things I can’t do, then working out how I am going to do said thing.

The album was to be called “Together on the Road” and the motivations for the tracks stemmed from Duncan’s questions about life and the path we are all supposed to take. As it turns out the album name was a phrase that was lifted off of a bicycle boat trailer in Amsterdam, the top photo being that trailer (the bottom image was a idea for the front cover). The album name started to create an idea. I started to imagine the title as a description for the journey we take through life. From small upbringings, to the travels some of us embark upon in our late teens & early 20’s to our working life and eventually to our inevitable death. I wanted to cover many things with the artwork from innocence, multiculturalism, capitalism, perversion, domestication, religion and mortality. The rabbit Duncan had sketched for me for the EP artwork became a recurrent symbol of a divine entity in my mind, the mark of some form of religion or movement.

What I intended to create (and ultimately what proved to be too expensive to produce independently) was a folded album cover that people buying the album would unfold and then engage in. I went as far as to create small details on the CD of Chinese symbols representing messages of life and death, happiness and sorrow on the bases of the two sand timers. These timers were surrounded by smaller sand timers denoting the individual experiences we have in life and their durations, the idea being that they are all connected and have an effect on each other.

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together-on-the-road-initial-concept

DEVELOPING THE IDEA IN PHOTOSHOP

Because of my limited skill and the linear nature of the idea I decided to go for a two dimensional look. I started out by making a quick sketch of the idea I had in my mind before proceeding.

My tools of choice were the pen tool and the shapes tool. My first draft focused purely on trying to get my rough sketch into some sort of viewable shape. The colour palette I initially chose matched the beige paper that had been chosen for the EP cover, but after sometime I simply got depressed looking at it. It also meant that I was fairly restricted colour-wise with what I could use and I felt it was just too dark a tone for what the music was trying to convey. I was also not happy with the look of the Hospital and the small house next to it so I did some tweaking and made the whole piece less monochromatic-like and more colourful.

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The Characters

I developed the characters after the first draft using the pen tool and based them roughly around the ducks seen on the trailer.  Nothing too complicated, but I wanted to populate the illustration with more than one type of animal and settled for a Rabbit, a duck and a penguin.

together-on-the-road-characters

The Tree

The tree came after the initial sketch whilst I was creating the first draft. I needed something with a bit of impact that would allow the rest of the scene to unfold. I have always like the use of tree’s as being symbolic of life so the idea of juxtaposing it as an icon for death intrigued me. I found a stock illustration of a tree that had the right shape for the trunk and drew the branches out from this base image. The idea behind the different shaped leaves was to represent different religious viewpoints that all ultimately have the same basic ideological core (the tree) that there is some higher entity who guides us, based on a set of rules, into an afterlife of some type based on how we lived our current life.
together-on-the-road-the-tree

The Look of the Buildings

I based the look of the city on classic New York architecture. I have always liked the look of the tall roomed arched window buildings. The control tower of the air port was based on LAX’s control tower. The small cottages have a idyllic European countryside influence. With the Hospital I decided to go with a modern look with the impression of a large open entrance hallway.
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The Details

Developing from the first draft I decided to go full detail and fill in every last little point where something could happen. The taxi cabs are based on the classic yellow New York cab, shop names, a strip bar and even the various goings on in the hospital. I wanted to create detail that would cause a person to look closer at what was going on.

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The CD cover

I had only developed the one rolling piece of artwork and actually did not take into account the CD cover or the CD itself. Once I got onto this stage I planned to give all viewable surfaces some details to look at. As the initial idea was too large to be cost effective for printing (this was all self funded by Duncan) I decided to shrink it down and use it as complimentary part of the rear sides composition.

There was some discussion as to whether or not to include the album name and artist title on the front of the CD case. In the end I put my foot down and put the title and Duncan’s name on the spine as having it on the front would detract from the front image.

The fairground I included just because. It started off as a doodle and kinda developed from there. The initial version was reversed allowing me me to put the Ferris wheel behind the CD so it was revelled when CD was taken out.

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The final product

Below are a few pictures of the CD and the cover:
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Finishing Things Up

As part of the Album launch I converted some of the specific parts into posters that were going to put up around the gig venue. I decided to add an additional piece, developing the Hitchinos Smoked Chicken restaurant into a chicken farm.
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After everything was tied up and finished I had a spare couple of hours on my hands and decided to merge everything together into one piece. I figured this was a nice way to tie things up and develop some of the atmospheric bits like smoke, smog and street lights.

the final artwork merge
the final artwork merge
the final artwork merge
the final artwork merge
the final artwork merge
the final artwork merge
the final artwork merge
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Yokkao mauy thai fight show in bolton photographs

For a few years as part of my work with Thai Boxing Store I was fortunate to photograph some top level Thai Boxing. I had previously photographed some local Thai Boxing shows that most of the time equated to enjoyable scraps in a Thai style but I never really had the chance to photograph a fighter with good form. When Thai Boxing Store started to do the sales stall at the Bolton shows I acquired a photo pass and proceeded to spend 12 hours at a time on my knees in front of the screaming crowd witnessing some truly incredible flights from ring-side.

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Zurich House, Portsmouth – Urban Exploration.

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Exploring Readings Rooftops.

urban exploration on readings rooftops at night header image

For most people a night on the town involves getting drunk at your local spoons and stumbling into a kebab shop at 2am. For some of us it means a night on the roof tops. For the past couple of weeks myself and a good buddy had been planning to have a look at a disused victorian underground reservoir simply because it looked like the Mines of Moria from Lord of the Rings. This plan was cut short when we found all the access points had been sealed shut by quarter of inch thick metal plates and anti-vandal nuts. So, I gave a friend a call to see what activities he was planning for the evening, and made a detour to Reading.

I make no secret of it, I love rooftops. The challenge and risk they can present getting on to them is half of the fun of a good urban exploration experience. The photography is simply a secondary activity most of the time. Our first port of call was just outside of one the car-parks in Reading Town centre. Access via some finely constructed scaffolding made the ascent easy. The climb up did highlight that I need to find a better tripod/bag solution to free up both hands as I had to put the tripod on the boards above me, climb up the ladder, pick up tripod and repeat which made for slow movement.

We spent about an hour up here, everyone grabbing a couple of shots and just enjoying the view for what it was. We then climbed back down to ground level and quickly headed to the nearest Tescos for some food (anyone passing through Bordon….dont buy a coffee at the machine in Tesco’s….warmed up crap!). We then darted around the corner, nipped down a side access road and hit the rooftops of the main high street. We walked, climbed and scrambled the length of the roofs for about 20 minutes before finding an open rooftop work room that provided some heat and a chance to dig my down jacket out.

About a year ago, I read an article about how to use ETTR (expose to the right) to photograph the Milky Way in a light polluted environment by Justin Ng. ETTR is a technique that involves exposing a frame so that most of the tones in an image sit towards the pure white range (right hand side) of the histogram without clipping the highlights. This gives you substantially more shadow data and allows you to bring details out during post that you could not otherwise see. Whilst your image may appear overexposed, as long as you have not clipped the highlights you can use a couple of editing techniques to bring the image back to a correct exposure but have sufficient data in the file to bring out the dark and shadow tones without too much noise being created. I used this technique on the shot below with the end result of my face looking like a beacon of glowing light. Good times.

After some more running around across icy roof tops we headed over to the highest peak in Reading. My friends previous attempts at access proved to be a fine balancing act on empty barrels before clambering over the main fence on to a staircase. This time round access was easier and a bit more fun, weaving in and out of walkways and car parks before making the hefty climb up what felt like 1,000,000 steps. I stopped off on a few floors and each was the same, trashed and dismantled with most signs of previous use removed in prep for demolition.. Had I not been so tired I would have grabbed a couple of shots, but it was the shot of Reading train station from an elevation I was after. On the way out we attracted attention of a NCP carparking attendant, not that it mattered, but it did make leaving a bit more rushed.

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