June 26, 2016

Canada 2015 - The City of St. John's

My Canadian holiday last year was split between two cities - St. John's followed by Toronto.  St. John's is a city on the east coast of Canada, about as close to the UK as you can get and just five-and-a-half hours flight from London.  In fact you can fly directly to St. John's Airport.  It's where my friends live, who kindly offered to put me up for eight nights and show me the sights before heading onto Toronto.

Surrounded by the natural beauty of Newfoundland, pronounced 'Newfinland' by the locals, St. John's is built around a harbour and overlooked by Signal Hill.  It was my first experience of Canada and the North American continent and it definitely lived up to my expectations with wide roads, big cars, and friendly people.

The city itself sprawls from the harbour to the countryside, with the downtown area being a hub of offices and shops.  It's quite different to a UK town or city, as the 'centre' doesn't have a high street with full of commonplace stores, they tend to be on retail parks and malls dotted around the city.

I explored the bars, restaurants, and shops downtown.  What made it stand out for me was colour of the jellybean row houses, the sight of arriving cruise ships, and the views from Signal Hill.

I also used St. John's as a base to explore some of Newfoundland, and even with a week in the area I only managed to cover a small part of what Newfoundland has to offer (the part known as the Avalon Peninsula) getting as far as Come By Chance.

If you get to visit St. John's I recommend visiting these places...  Tim Hortons for amazing coffee, Quidi Vidi for lovely walks and a local brewery, Signal Hill for views over the City, The Bagel Cafe for the best breakfast known to man, the Johnson Geo Centre for some entertaining education, George Street for endless bars and the opportunity to be screeched in, and The Yellow Belly for Canadian Poutine.

My first night in St. John's gave me the opportunity to get to the top of Signal Hill
and look down on the city and harbour.
St. John's is famous for its brightly coloured Victorian 'Jellybean Row' Houses.
A cruise ship comes into port, viewed from Signal Hill.
You can see the downtown offices and how the suburban areas of the
city reach into the countryside.
An evening ghost walk around St. John's.
An early start to catch a cruise ship entering port, with Signal Hill to the left.
A sculpted newfoundland dog and labrador dog watch over St. John's harbour in the
province of Newfoundland and Labrador.
Cruise ships like the Eurodam tower amongst the buildings.
Coinciding with the arrival of a cruise ship, a military parade marches through the
centre of St. John's.
Caught in reflection, the clock tower of the St. John's court building.
Literally built into Signal Hill (see the rock in the backround!) the Johnson Geo Centre
has lots of great exhibits, including a Canadarm used on Space Shuttle
missions to manoeuvre payloads.

June 22, 2016

Canada 2015 - Niagara Falls

Over the last few weeks blogging has sadly taken second place to work.  A project I'm working on has taken me around the UK, giving me lots of opportunities to photograph some great places (photos coming soon!) but no time for anything else.  So for now a return to my series of photos from last years Canadian holiday with just ten photos from Niagara Falls.

I visited Niagara Falls on the last day of my holiday; hiring a car in Toronto and driving one-and-a-half hours around Lake Ontario to spend a couple of hours exploring this natural wonder, before driving back to Toronto's Pearson Airport and flying back to England.

The falls themselves are simply amazing, the sheer size and the roar of the water is stunning.  I was hoping for clear blue skies but was confronted with a dull rainy day which doesn't make for the best photos.

What I hadn't realised before my visit is that the town of Niagara Falls is split in two by the Niagara River - one side in Canada and one in America.  I was on the Canadian side and didn't have the time to get over to the American side - although checking the location (geotag) information on my photographs I can see that I did technically get into America without using my passport due to the country boarder running right down the middle of the river!

The Canadian side definitely gives better views of both the Horseshoe Falls and the American Falls, but once you're aboard a boat (Hornblower from the Canadian side, Maid of the Mist from the American side) you get the same experience.  

Before you board a boat from either side you get given a waterproof poncho to wear.  Obviously the falls produce a lot of mist, but I wasn't prepared for just how close the boats go to the falling water!  Despite the poncho both me and my camera got soaked - luckily I could get changed after, and my Olympus EM-1 camera is weather proofed.

After my soaking I headed back into town and I went up the Skylon Tower to get photographs looking down on the falls.  The views from above didn't disappoint, although they didn't last for long as incoming rain obscured the view.  

I didn't have time to explore much else of the town, although what I did see looked very touristy, almost resembling a tacky British seaside town with its endless gift shops and casinos.  But I'll definitely return some time for a longer visit in the hope of getting better weather for daytime photographs and at some night-time ones too.

Niagara Falls - with American Falls (left) and Horseshoe Falls (right).
American Falls with the American side of the town of Niagara Falls behind and a famous
Maid of the Mist boat in the river.
Horseshoe Falls with it's plume of mist almost hiding a Canadian Hornblower boat. 
Hornblower and Maid of the Mist together.
As you can see, the boats get quite close to the falls.
Ponchos are necessary... You still get soaked though.
This is how close you get... as you can see from the spots on the picture
 my lens and camera got a soaking too.
Viewed from Skylon Tower - American Falls and the American side of the town of Niagara Falls,
joined by a bridge.
The bigger Horseshoe Fall, with the town beyond being obscured by rain.
If I had a slightly wider lens I could have got both water falls in.

April 17, 2016

Oxford Instameet

Oxford has a very active Twitter community, and I've probably made more friends through Twitter than any other way since living in the area.  It won't surprise you to learn that many of my Twitter friends are also photographers (I feel a Venn diagram coming on...), and naturally Instagram has a growing community in Oxford.

So when I heard fellow Instagramers Natasha (aka Candy Pop) and Rosie (aka Oxford Rosie) were organising an Instameet, meet up of Instagram folk, I just had to go along. 

I met up with Natash, Rosie, and lots of people I'd never met before at the Jam Factory.  After a coffee we set off and walked along the canal and into the Jericho part of town.  I saw lots of bits of Oxford I'd never seen before - doing this with a group of people makes you feel a lot safer when you're walking around viewing the world through a lens.

Although Instagram is a mobile photography platform I decided to take my 'proper' camera to get the most out of the day.  So I packed my Olympus OMD E-M1 along with 12-40mm and 70-300mm lenses, knowing that I could use the wireless function on the camera to transfer photos to my phone for editing and uploading in the Instagram app.  

As Instagram photos are square (no, I don't believe in the new-fangled non-square formats!) I set my camera to take photos in a 1x1 aspect ratio so that I was composing correctly.  For the photos of flowers, below, I used manual focussing with the focus peaking function to get the focus and depth of field correct.

My ten photos from the day are below, and if you'd like to follow me on Instagram you can here.  

If you'd like to see the photos others took, search for the hashtag #oxfordinstameet or look up @shotatanangle, @candypop.uk, @ibasicallytravel, @jazza, @charis.magick, @annamundayox, @independentoxford, @kinshipofoxford, @benm.photo, @igersoxford, @makingforliving, @byvanessaleigh, @bazmund, @gemblina, @lifesasneeze.

A gang of intrepid photographers set off for a walk around sunny Oxford for #oxfordinstameet

We walked along the canal in Oxford for #oxfordinstameet,

the sunshine bringing out the colour flowers on this narrow boat roof. 

This photo sums up#oxfordinstameet for me - sun, photography, colours, friends. 

Using manual focus with focus peaking to get the sharpness and narrow depth of field

Jericho is a lovely part of Oxford, especially on a sunny #oxfordinstameet Sunday. 

Even the windows in Oxford are pretty.

Not the panning result I was aiming for, but funky all the same.

The Oxford Folk Festival coincided with #oxfordinstameet.

This joker was outside the Natural History Museum. 

The Morris Men danced to his tune...

A Morris Girl amongst the Morris Men.

April 11, 2016

Bye-bye MX-5

After four years together it's time for me and my 21 year old Mazda MX-5 to part company.  As I was preparing to advertise the car it occurred to me that I'd never got around to do a proper photo shoot... so in a brief break from the April showers I headed out, camera in hand.

This is my third MX-5.  Previously I had a 2005 mk2.5, and before that a 1999 mk2 version.  I love that MX-5's are fun to drive, sporty, stylish, and have legendary reliability.  My next will be a rare green mk3.5 Sporting Black edition, hopefully.

Once I got into MX-5 ownership and the enthusiastic community of the MX-5 Owners Club I knew that one day I'd have to have a mk1 with pop up headlights.  The most popular colour for that age of MX-5 is red, but I wanted white as something a bit different.

This MX-5 may be old, but with a mere 64,000 miles on the clock and having grown up in Japan before being brought to the UK, she has no rust and is in great condition.  She also appears in a post about the new MX-5 and a post to celebrate her 60,000 mile 'birthday'!

In photography terms it's one of the few blogs filled with photos using just my Olympus 25mm f1.8 prime lens.  A couple of features of my Olympus OMD E-M1 camera came in really handy... The flip-out screen meant I could get the camera down load and use live view to frame the shot.  And by mounting the camera on a monopod and raising the camera five feet above my head I could use the wifi function with the mobile phone app to live view, frame, and shoot photos from high up.

A classic sports car pose. Low down camera with flip-out screen to frame the shot.
I'll miss the pop up headlights - a childhood dream fulfilled!
Overnight rain left some puddles - great for some reflective shots.
The classic MX-5 interior, updated with a modern car stereo.
This MX-5 is actually a Eunos Roadster imported from Japan.
A rare grille gives the car a unique look.
Shooting from high up using the wifi feature and mobile app.
The high up perspective introduces the background too.
Another low down shot to show off the rear.
Twin exhausts add to the sporty look.

April 10, 2016

Canada 2015 - The food of Canada

Trying out local food is usually one of the enjoyable adventures on holiday, and this was definitely the case when I was in Canada last year.  I'd previously tried one traditional Canadian dish, poutine, which is essentially chips, cheese, and gravy... and that set the bar for some fantastic culinary experiences. 

The trouble with food photography is that usually I'm too hungry to worry about getting great quality photos.  Some of the photos here were taken with my mobile phone.  Enjoy the photos below and don't drool on your keyboard!

A few hours after landing in St. John'sNewfoundland I headed downtown and went to the YellowBelly pub...
This pulled pork poutine (pulled pork, fries, gravy, cheese curds) was my reward.  The food was great,
the service was excellent, and it was a great start to my holiday.  Definitely pay a visit if you head to St. John's.
Canada is famous for its' moose, and so I felt slightly guilty about ordering the 'Moose Mayhem' dish at
Chafe's Landing in Petty Harbour after visiting the aquarium.  It was fries topped with chopped moose sausage,
ground (minced) moose, onions, peas, and moose gravy.
It was very tasty but so filling I could have done with a half portion!
Luckily for the beaver community of Canada, Beavertails contain no beavers.
They're a fried pastry in the shape of a beavers' tail, available with various toppings.
Nutella and banana was my choice from this outlet in Toronto.
Another great place to eat in St. John's is the Bagel Cafe.
Lots of little booths to enjoy food with your friends, this waffle and bacon breakfast meant
I didn't need to eat until dinner time!
Sarah, my friend and host in St. John's, enjoys a clamato juice with her breakfast.
Clamato juice is make with tomato juice and clam broth, and at the Bagel Cafe was
served with a lobster claw.  
On another morning Sarah made blueberry pancakes with bacon and maple syrup.
Sarah's mum brings bags of home-picked blueberries to her when she visits.
When visiting Toronto a trip up the CN Tower is a must.
Visit the revolving 360 Restaurant at dusk for great food, like this sausage starter, and
amazing views across the city and beyond with a sunset that you'll remember for a lifetime.
I didn't associate Canada with BBQ's, but by the side of the road in Thornlea, Newfoundland, with
fantastic views out to sea there were a few seats and a BBQ that anyone could use for free.
Someone had even kindly donated a few longs to get the fire going!

I was parked up and looking at the hire car trying to figure out what the plug was on
the front bumper (turn's out it's where you plug the car in on cold nights to keep the car warm!)
when a local spotted me and came over to ask if everything was OK with the car and if
I needed any help.  Canadian's are *the* nicest people!
Back in St. John's, Freak Lunchbox, which calls itself a 'confectionery funhouse',
is a great place to stock on all kinds of sweets, chocolate, and other sugary goodness. 
A friend set me a challenge to bring back from Canada some chocolates that you can't get in the UK.
Mr Big is a chocolate bar, so called because it's the biggest chocolate bar Cadbury make in Canada.