Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Flying high!

The Biggin Hill Airshow is quite a popular event in the UK, for those interested in planes. It seems to be getting bigger and better every year and I had heard quite a lot about it on photography forums. So, when Lasa suggested that we go to see it this year, I jumped at the chance.

We went for the Sunday show (28th June - they had it on the 27th as well) and the weather was looking promising. As can be seen in previous posts, our outings are normally delayed and we never leave at the time that we had initially planned. But this time, we were reasonably well off the mark on time (slight delay but negligible). However, after about driving 20 mts towards our destination, our absent minded, clumsy professor (me) gave out a exclamation of horror. After groping around my pockets I realised I had dropped my glasses somewhere while transferring equipment between the cars (I had my shades on at the time). So, to make sure that they were still in one piece, we had to turn around and go back. Fortunately, the glasses were found - tucked away quite safely in the car (/*sheepish grin*/) but our journey had been delayed by at least an hour - the "Delay Curse" had struck again.

We got to the place by about 10AM and we could see that the crowds were already pouring in and queues were forming. On the way up, we saw a couple of boards which were advertising "park and see" slots to see the air show from the side of a hill. The cost was about a 3rd of the ticket price (which was £21) but we decided to go for the main show as we will be able to see better. The air show was to start at 11AM and we spent some time going around the ground attractions which included some classic cars and some of the planes parked nearby.

When the show was about to start, we grabbed some food (there are several stalls around) and then made our way to the viewing area. It was pretty crowded and lots of people had erected tents, boundaries and brought chairs and umbrellas (experienced and smart). The only thing we had brought was a sheet to put on the ground :) But we made our way deftly through the crowd and we were able to find a vacant spot in the front. I set up my tripod and ball head (which turned out to be quite useful in capturing the action shots) and loaded my Bigmos (150-500mm lens).

Unfortunately, most of my shots turned out to be crap for several reasons
1) I usually use a CP filter with the Bigmos and unfortunately for some reason the focus was being thrown off because of the filter. This resulted in a lot of shots going bad as I struggled with the settings to get the proper shot.
2) Sun/light levels were constantly changing because of a lot of cloud cover especially during the early part of the day - getting exposure spot on while balancing a proper shutter speed was a challenge
3) When getting shots of planes you need to be quick with regards to shutter speeds - you need to get a fast enough shutter speeds to get the image sharp (a challenge with some of them at the speeds they were zipping by) but also slow enough to get a bit of motion blur on the propellers which would give the impression that the plane is flying (otherwise it looks as if it is a model suspended in air). It was also a challenge switching between the speeds of the older planes and the newer ones.
4) Its a whole new learning experience when you are shooting planes at such close range and at such speeds as you need to be quite good at panning and focusing. This was the first time I had started to pan and using AI Servo so the learning curve was steep but it was quite a useful experience.

I ended up taking about 600-700 shot altogether but only a very small percentage came out ok. But I think the keeper percentage will be much more the next time I photograph such an event as now I know how to handle it (reasonably). Just goes to show that however much you read, the best way of learning is to actually experience it.

Anyways, some reasonably ok shots -
World War II planes
Fokker triplane
The famed Spitfire
The jets were a real challenge
Loved some of the group formation stuff they did

The highlight of the show for me was when there was a special fly by of a Virgin Atlantic Boeing 747 flanked by the Red Arrows team, to the Virgin Airlines theme tune. Classic!

The Red Arrows gave great display as well with some great formations and some very funny commentary as well - with bits of comments/talk directly from the pilots.


And some obligatory portraits of our group - I am in there as well (if you look carefully) :)

Overall, a great day - much more fun and interesting than what I thought it was going to be. Highly recommended. Might even go again next year :D

Friday, July 10, 2009

Wildfowl and Wetlands

That might sound a strange title to anyone not familiar with the London WWT (Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust). In case you have never heard of it, the London WWT is a 42 hectare site located on the banks of the River Thames and is home to rare and beautiful wildlife with several hides and viewing observatories. We had been wanting to visit it for some time so when the sun came out (quite surprisingly) on a Sunday in late May, we decided to give it a go.

It was quite an enjoyable day. The WWT is pretty well organised and well laid out with pathways and signposts. In addition to a number of birds and insects, there are several interesting "sculptures" made out of recycled materials which we found quite amusing.

Fishing and biking
Fish and bike

Steely bird watcher
Steely Bird Watcher

There were a couple of these herons in different parts of the wetlands. They were not moving at all and were so still that many of the visitors thought they were sculptures/statues. Normally they would be like this when hunting for fish but this was not the case here - they just stood stock still without moving for long periods of time - very eerie.


Lots of flowers especially daisies. I tried to get some good bokeh and backgrounds - came out nicely I thought :)

Standing out in a crowd
Alone in a crowd

Daisy is all alone
Daisy all alone

Shining Light
Shining light

Saw several damselflies and dragonflies but had a lot of trouble trying to get them in focus. They were flutttering about too much. You need a lot of patience or skill (I lack both) to get a proper shot of these guys

Strangely, not many butterflies though. I would have expected much more than the 2 or 3 that we saw.
Common Blue Butterfly

Finally, this is a shot of some moss/plant growing the roof of a hide - do you see what I see? Hint: "Proposal?"

For a quite and relaxing day out, especially for taking some nice shots and practicing your photography skills, the London WWT is an ideal place to go to. Highly recommended.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Punting in Cambridge

So our adventures with Lasa and his wife Imal, continue - we decided to go out on a bank holiday Monday where the weather was holding up reasonably well. This time we travelled to Cambridge - the home town of the 2nd oldest university of the English speaking world... and yes... you guessed it - Oxford is the first. Apparently, Cambridge University was established in 1209 by an association of scholars who had left Oxford! 800 years old this year - that's ancient.

We went to Cambridge to visit an old friend - Gayan who is working in Cambridge in some very prestigious sounding job. After the inevitable delay and not leaving at the planned time, we drove using the TomTom as a guide. However, halfway through our LasLas decided to try and take us on a more "scenic" route which brought about some confusion but at least we got to Cambridge in one piece.

Parking in Cambridge, especially on a bank holiday, was a nightmare so we travelled a bit out of town to one of the Park and Ride places - you park the car and get a bus ride in to town for one price. As we were leaving the car park, Imal made an observation about the bus service stopping at 8pm and that we would need to get on a bus back before then. Our Cambridge town expert, Gayan, over rode this saying that the bus services run up to 10pm everyday (please remember this - it will figure quite prominently later on).

And so we went in to Cambridge - the town is looks exactly as you would expect it to look - lots of of old, ancient buildings including churches and libraries, with fantastic architecture and design; lots of students trying to sell you tours and rides; lots of tourists with cameras out pounding the streets; and lots and lots of bicycles.

We made our way from one end of town, through the market and to Cambridge's main tourist attraction, punting. It's a funny word but a punt is basically a flat bottom boat quite similar to the Gondolas in Venice. These punts are steered with a long pole, on the River Cam which runs right through the City Centre.

Operating a punt looks like quite an easy affair but I can assure it is NOT. However, Gayan was an expert, easily and efficiently gliding the punt along the river while we sat and soaked in the sun and the sights.

It was quite relaxing and there was plenty to see and we had great fun.

Lasa tried a bit of punting and after a bit of an effort, got the hang of it (sort of) but I was terrible at it - almost hitting Imal with the pole and zig-zagging rather than going in a straight line. The beautiful day, coupled with the Bank holiday, had brought out a lot of punters and needless to say we bumped in to quite a few on our way. Once we nearly capsized - now THAT would have been fun.

One of the more interesting characters we were saw was a bare bodied guy wearing a trilby. He was effortlessly gliding a punt along the river and we were quite curious as to who he was as he didn't fit the "tourist" profile. We went past him when he had stopped for a breather so I asked whether I can take picture and he kindly posed.

We had a very nice and heavy lunch of lamb, chicken and fries and washed it all down with cider. After another session at punting - this time the other side of the river - we decided to get back. This was a very cute wood sculpture that we saw in one of shop windows.

Of course, we had disregarded time as we casually made our way towards the bus stops, but it had turned past 6pm. Some of you might have guessed what's coming next - panic ensued when we realised that the bus services had stopped for the day. We turned on our Cambridge resident expert and punter and demanded an explanation. After a bit of running around and inquiring with several bus drivers, it came to light that because of the bank holiday bus services were stopped early, a fact that our Cambridge expert had not considered!!! So, there we were, stranded in the middle of Cambridge - tired, worn out, with aching legs with no transport back to the car park. A quick look around told you that not many taxis were operational either. However, after a bit of discussion, Gayan came to the rescue - he took Lasa to his bicycle which was parked nearby and then Lasa cycled all way to the park and brought the car back. In all fairness, it was done quite quickly too and after the initial downside to all this, we were finally able to get in to the car and lie back with a sigh of relief.

Even with mishaps, it turned out to be a wonderful day and we had a great time - all thanks to Gayan, Cambridge tour guide and punter extraordinaire, to whom we are grateful. So, if you ever plan on going to Cambridge, let us know and we will get Gayan to show you around - just remember to take a bus time table with you.....