You don’t need a fancy camera – photo quiz!

Hopefully this is proof that you don’t need a fancy camera to take great photos – I get fed up hearing of this!! Especially all of you that have I-phones!

As promised, I’m going to expand on the photographs of my last post and share with you some of my favourite images of the evening walking around Forvie NNR. I did take photos with both my phone and my camera. I still am impressed by the quality of the HDR mode of my Samsung S5 neo. See if you can guess which ones are which. Answers at the bottom….

 

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Old derelict green railway cart
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Evening sunset over the dunes

One of these following two is my £300 phone, the other, my £900 camera. Do I feel a little cheated?!

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Looking south over Forvie towards Aberdeen – 1

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1 or 2….1 or 2…?! Which one do you prefer?

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The old buried church

This was my favourite photo of the walk – but what did I take it on?

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Looking south over Forvie towards Aberdeen – 3
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Sunset over the dunes
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An old fence at the beach
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Evening through the marram grass

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Please leave your thoughts in the comments and share with your friends to prove a point 😉

Annette

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Reveal the answers:

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Days 5,6 and 7: 50 miles in!

Sands of Forvie

Walking and/or running 50 miles in 7 days isn’t too bad! I must say that my legs are feeling it a little though.

Days 5 and 6 of my John O’ Groats to Lands End Challenge went pretty well. A few miles walking round at work and a 6 mile run from the nearest local town home each day helped bring in a few miles. Cue sunset number one…

Ythan estuary sunset
Ythan estuary sunset

Day 7 took me on a beautiful evening through Forvie NNR this time with camera in hand. I’m just going to show a few photos here to give you an idea. I’ll write a longer post with more images at a later date, but this will whet your appetite hopefully! The advantages of getting outside are now becoming evident to me….

Looking south towards Aberdeen
Looking south towards Aberdeen
Sunset over the sand dunes
Sunset over the sand dunes

These photos on this page were actually all taken with my phone. I never cease to be amazed by the quality of photographs that phones can churn out nowadays. Despite the fact that I had my big camera on me, most photos I took were in HDR mode on my phone.

It’ll be interesting to compare them to those taken in RAW on my camera, especially the ones looking down the coast.

Hopefully you had some nice walks outside too over the last few days!

Annette

 

Day 4: A Day of Discovery

After yesterday’s very wet rather rushed walk, I decided to venture back again along the Forvie NNR coastal path. Initially I was going to loop back to the visitor centre but I decided instead to go further along to Hackley Bay.

I remember seeing it years ago as a student and wanting to go back to see it again. It’s a small sandy cove surrounded by marram covered cliffs. The only way to access it is to walk through the reserve. Although I was eager to see it again, I didn’t realise how much in awe I would be once I reached the damp sands.

The thick fog provided an eerie backdrop as it was just I and some early fulmars on the beach. That sense of isolation, dramatic edging and wide reaching sand has put it on my top 5 if not possibly top 2 beaches to visit (so far) in the UK.

I didn’t spend long as clothing was not something I had on in abundance, but I will be back with a book and a blanket and a snack or two. I also didn’t have any picture taking device with me so alas, sorry no photos. Yesterday’s photo will therefore have to suffice.

Hackley Bay, Forvie NNR on a soggy day
Hackley Bay, Forvie NNR on a soggy day

It’s one of those iconic type of beaches you imagine from the movies with people walking hand in hand or horses galloping through the surf….The picture above doesn’t do it justice at all (but it was pouring rain) therefore a camera will also be on my list for next time!

If you’re in the area, pop by for a visit – you will not be disappointed as its truly idyllic.

Today’s walk-run put another 10k on the clock for my John O’ Groats to Lands End Challenge.

Day 3 on the Virtual Challenge

A stylised photo looking out to see at Forvie NNR. Looks like it could be a lovely summers day!

I’m certainly racking up a few miles more than normal the last few days. Today’s big adventure took the form of starting out on a wet, but nice walk through Forvie NNR which ended up with me running in full waterproofs (two jackets), jeans and winter boots the last two miles in order to vaguely make a hair-taming appointment. Cue 10km added to my virtual challenge total. And cue ending up extremely embarrassed, sweaty, soaked through and red-faced whilst apologising profusely for being (at least) 10 minutes late for a 9am appointment.

Still the lady at the Ythan Waves hair salon was wonderfully lovely and cut my hair really nicely therefore I would not hesitate in recommending this hairdresser! If you can trust a review from someone who gets a haircut maximum once a year… The place was clearly well visited by the locals which is always a good sign.

I plan on going back to do this walk again, perhaps in a loop when the weather is nicer and when I don’t have to be somewhere at a certain time. Here’s a soggy pic of Hackley Bay. The scenery is fantastic, especially when you see the sandy beach stretching out in the distance. Forvie NNR is definitely somewhere you want to be in the summer evenings when the sun is low glancing over the dunes and there is a gentle breeze. Aah bliss.

Hackley Bay, Forvie NNR on a soggy day
Hackley Bay, Forvie NNR on a soggy day

 

My total today is just under 12km! Making progress on this one! Would love to hear about any nice walks you’ve been on today.

Annette

 

Day 2: John O’Groats to Lands End

The Ythan at Newburgh

I’m making some progress on this one! Despite having a fairly sedentary day in the office doing data analysis I still managed to make up 6.9 miles today.

We had a lovely wee walk at Newburgh, down onto the estuary when there are hundreds of seals – it’s well worth seeing if you are in the area. Apparently in the summer when there are thousands and the wind is blowing in the wrong direction the smell in Newburgh is pretty overpowering!

The estuary of the Ythan river
The estuary of the Ythan river – all those ‘rocks’ on the other side of the river are seals!

There was also a small float (?) of eiders and some shore waders of which I weren’t sure what they were! Note to self – improve bird identification!

Lots of seals with those little grey wading birds in the foreground....
Lots of seals with those little grey wading birds in the foreground….

Once we got home, I dusted off the running gear and went out for what I’m going to call a run-walk up the coast a little. Unfortunately I hadn’t quite mastered the headtorch (i.e. I wasn’t holding the button down for long enough :/ ) so proceeded to walk back in the almost dark. It was light enough for walking but not enough for anything faster.

Therefore this was a successful second day, bringing my total up to …. 12.2 miles! Not too shabby!

 

Annette

Day 1: John O’Groats to Lands End

Sun setting

The virtual version….

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The Overall Challenge

Well Day 1 went OK. I was on my feet all day teaching an analytical lab class (not feeling quite so rusty after session no. 4 today) so a few steps were counted there starting me off with 2.2 miles. I did a longer walk than usual, which added on a mile or two to my usual saunter home. This brought the Day 1 total to 5.3 miles! Not a bad start.

I have 233 days to complete the challenge and at this rate I’ll be finished in 175! But I’m going to finish sooner than that aren’t I?!

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First submission – woo hoo!

It was a really lovely evening, warmer and calmer than it has been in previous days therefore it was a pretty pleasant affair.

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Moon over ploughed fields

Anyone fancy joining me on this journey?

Annette

John O’ Groats to Lands End

This may seem like a ‘thing-you-must-do-at-some-point-in-your-life-but-probably-never-will-because-it’s-too-much-effort/been-done-before-anyway-so-what’s-the-point’ kind of challenge but tomorrow I embark on this adventure. If you can call it that. You see I have like 6 months to do it and technically you don’t have to leave the house if you don’t want to. It’s all part of my works’ efforts to make their peoples more healthy and fit etc. But in the efforts of good spirit and enthusiasm I am going to give it a go and start. Expect a few weeks of feverish blog posting and then nothing for 6 months as i fail miserably to actually complete something vaguely worth achieving, again. 

However miracles do happen. Meet the vegan cheese scone which actually rose and I felt actually could pass as, ‘a cheese scone.’

That aside, lets see what happens. No promises of anything apart from maybe, failure?

Have you done any challenges recently? Any chance of some motivational ass-get-in-gear to keep me going for more than a day?

Annette 

Loch Lomond in Black and White

Black and white photo of Loch Lomond

It was a pretty grey uninspiring day when I took these black and white photographs of Loch Lomond on Saturday. They aren’t great but just thought I’d share them with you 🙂

Black and white photograph of the old jetty at Balmaha Loch Lomond
The old jetty at Balmaha Loch Lomond
Black and white photo of Loch Lomond with path
Tree looking out over Loch Lomond
Black and white photo of Loch Lomond
Misty views out over Loch Lomond on a grey day.
Black and white photo of Loch Lomond
Views out over Loch Lomond on a grey day.

I guess this kind of weather is to be expected in this part of the world – but don’t let it put you off walking The West Highland Way as even on a grey and rainy day its still beautiful!

Annette

Strawberry Jammin’

Fresh strawberries

I haven’t made much jam in the past – that which I have was either too solid or very runny. We ended up with a lot of strawberries (both fresh and in the freezer) so thought I could have another go at some homemade jam. I used this Silver Spoon sugar with added pectin and handily, a recipe for strawberry jam on the side!

What often puts me off is the cleaning and sterilising of the jam jars. I usually wash them with washing up liquid in the sink, then rinse them in hot water, then sterilise them for 15-30 mins in a sterilising solution (I currently use Milton tablets) and then into an oven around 100oC to dry off before cooling and then using. I find it takes about as much time as making the jam!

Nevertheless the jam was really simple to make. I followed the instructions exactly on the side, apart from maybe adding some more strawberries, an apple and some granulated sugar, but apart from those I followed it to the letter……

If I made it again I would probably puree the apples first. Because they were quite hard I ended up with whole chunks of apple in the final jam. It’s not really an issue as I chopped it quite small anyway.

I will definitely try using this Silver Spoon Jam Sugar again as it was great fun to make some propa’ jam. The packet sugar cost £1, the strawberries were all reduced and were past their best and I used a small knob of Vitalite. This amount would have made about 4 jars though I made a little extra because of the added ingredients. The jam set perfectly though and tasted great on some toast. Yum!

Homemade strawberry jam on toast
Homemade strawberry jam on toast

Annette

 

Another Vegan Brownie Recipe Tested

food.com vegan brownies

Doesn’t time fly? I have realised that since the beginning of August I have posted only six times – oops! Sorry readers. I have lots of photos ready but just haven’t done any writing. Well now that I am on holiday for two weeks I have less of an excuse not to write.

I did make a brownie recipe a couple of weeks ago and I forgot to add one of the ingredients therefore I didn’t think it would be fair to compare it. However I am very excited as it may have led to the most amazing vegan cookie recipe ever! Watch this space!

This ‘Rich, Fudgy, Vegan Brownies’ recipe comes ‘pollen’ from food.com. It tempted me because it said it was going to be fudgy and it had lots of coffee in it (do like a bit of coffee in brownies).

Vegan brownie mixture
Vegan brownie mixture

However, sorry to say, I was a little disappointed. They just didn’t have the depth of flavour required. They turned out very well, with a really good cakey texture, with a bit of fudgy-ness but they were a bit bland I found. I definitely need to consider coffee in my perfect recipe as an added flavour profile, but now I’m convinced more than ever that the recipe needs to have real chocolate and not just cocoa powder. I’m also tempted (Christmas list hint) to get some really good quality cocoa powder and investigate the impact that that has on the flavour.

Vegan chocolate brownie after cooking
Vegan chocolate brownie after cooking

I’m eager now to find something awesome that will blow my socks off! I’m thinking I might make something with some more complex ingredients…

Vegan brownies from pollen @ food.com
Vegan brownies from pollen @ food.com

Here’s my verdict for these:

So the verdict:

  1. Cakiness: 10
  2. Gooiness: 6
  3. Crispy top: 3
  4. Chocolateyness: 5
  5. Sweetness: 7.5
  6. Ease of making: 8
  7. Ingredient complexity: 9
  8. Overall taste: 6

And some others you should try:

Interested in the others I’ve made so far for comparison? Click on these links!

 

And finally it was our four year anniversary this week, so we went for a walk around Balmedie and the sand dunes. It was a very foggy day.

Balmedie sand dunes, Aberdeenshire
Balmedie sand dunes – could be in the Sahara desert, it was so misty

 

 

Ta ta for now,

Annette

Black and White Photo Study

The intimate nature of a Gunnera leaf

Here are a few black and white photos I took last weekend. What do you think?

A mallard duck paddling into the distance
A mallard duck paddling into the distance
Close-up of a chunky post
Close-up of a chunky post
Gunnera leaves
Gunnera leaves
Eryngium alpinum flowerhead and bracts
Eryngium alpinum flowerhead and bracts
Backlit head of an Umbellifer
Backlit head of an Umbellifer
Gunnera leaf with rain droplets
Gunnera leaf with rain droplets

Black and white photos can be so soothing. Not all photographs will work as black and white but I think these do. They are particularly good when there is texture involved and that texture has many shades of grey.

Do you take black and white photos?

Annette

7 More Ways to Change How You Take Photos: Part 3

Astrantia peering over a log

With Part 1 and Part 2 out the way, this is my final post on how to change the way you think about taking photos. Hopefully through the three posts you will be inspired to go and take photos. I’d love to see what you have taken – feel free to leave links to your photos below in the comments section.

Nineteen: Use your fellow photographers as models

Although photographers don’t always make the best models, feel free to grab someone you go out photographing with and get them to pose for you.

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Using models for photography

Twenty: Look for complementary shapes

I don’t think this is a great photo but I love how this Allium head reflects the clipped ball Buxus in the background.

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Allium, Buxus and Araucaria

Twenty-One: Be empowered by archways

Archways are so photogenic.

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Archways can add a frame to a photo

Twenty-Two: Look for repeating patterns

Repeating patterns can look great in a photo often in black and white.

The pattern of these leaves is repeating but adds a nice balance to the photo
The pattern of these leaves is repeating but adds a nice balance to the photo

Twenty-Three: Shoot flowers

If it’s a grey day, then it’s perfect for photographing flowers. Don’t worry if you can’t get close, photograph them in their surroundings.

Honeysuckle - Lonicera
Honeysuckle – Lonicera

Twenty-Four: Give an idea of environment or context

Find something interesting in the foreground and allow the background to fade out into the distance.

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Astrantia on the river edge

Twenty-Five: Take a ‘frothy’ image

I’m in love with this style of image at the moment. The style where nothing in particular is in focus, but the frame is filled with lots of a similar thing. Great for background images with a blurring filter.

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Frothy Cow Parsley

That’s it for just now. I’m sure I will share some more images and ideas in the future. This is where we visited. Why not go down to your local park with a few interested friends or colleagues and have a go?

Annette X

 

 

Seaton Park, Aberdeen – As Beautiful as Ever

Grass heads in front of a rose

Despite there being lots of works on at the moment to improve the park, which at first glance may seem messy and destructive, Seaton Park, in my opinion, is looking as beautiful as ever. All thanks, of course to the hard work and patience of the gardeners, the local council and The Friends of Seaton Park. I hope these photos do it some justice.

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Seaton Park by the River Don
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Umbels beside the river
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View up the River Don from Seaton Park towards Donside Village
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Slate river effect
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Flowering Cornus (Dogwood)
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White-edged Hosta is reflected in these airy white flowers (Crambe?)
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Lady’s Mantle and this Nepeta work well together
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Lady’s Mantle glowing
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Grass flowerheads
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The formal walkway in Seaton Park
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People enjoying Seaton Park
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Views towards St Machar Cathedral from Seaton park
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The hanging basket display at Seaton Park
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Vibrant red Begonia
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Clipped box line the path to the fountain
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Memorial for the fountain
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Festuca and this old rope work well together
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The many colours of Carex
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Rope fence detail
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Driftwood and grass planting towards Hillhead
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Catching the light
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Glowing umbellifer
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Glowing fern

 

9 Ways to Help Change How You Photograph: Part 1

White-edged leaf hosta in black and white

As I mentioned previously some friends and I recently went on an evening after work taking photos. I thought I would share with you some of my top tips when it comes to taking photographs and how I consider different aspects of a scene. This will be Part 1 of 3, so I hope that you will also join me for the next parts on Monday and Wednesday.

The idea is, if you’re just getting into photography to suggest some things to think about to change how you take photos and for those more seasoned experts, maybe some inspiration. In my opinion none of these images are going to win any competitions but they were all taken within a couple of hours and they demonstrate perfectly how photographers can see things differently.

One: Frame the photo with something

Leaves, a window, a building, a fence – it provides focus.

Seaton Park - The formal garden with view framed by leaves
Seaton Park – The formal garden with view framed by leaves.

Two: Zoom in – try and find things in the distance.

Zooming in changes the perspective and makes things seem closer together than they are.

The formal walkway showing plants - zoomed in view
The formal walkway showing plants – zoomed in view.

Three: Get down low

Look at what’s happening under your feet. A low perspective emphasizes size and scale differences.

Daisies and buttercups low view
Daisies and buttercups low view.

Four: Aim up high

Point your camera upwards or get a higher vantage point. It can give the impression of things towering above you.

Dappled sunlight in the canopy of a beach tree
Dappled sunlight in the canopy of a beach tree – looking upwards.

Five: Be quick to act to changes in light

Lighting is around 90% of a photo in my opinion so be quick to act when the light changes. Have locations in mind that you would like to return to when the light is better. Generally evenings and mornings are best but it depends what you want to photograph – cloudy days are better for flowers.

Cocksfoot grass
This Cocksfoot grass would have been boring had the evening sun not come out and back lit the stems.

Six: Look for unusual colour combinations

Sometimes the light or a different view can change the colours of things completely. Find a colour combo you like and try different angles to highlight them each in different ways.

Bronze-leaved sycamore
This dark-leaved sycamore at first looks bronze but the light shining through leaves made them look glorious yellow.

Seven: Go black and white

Black and white looks best where there is good contrast across the image. Red and green will look the same shade of grey hence why colour blind people can’t tell the difference.

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Black and white version of the bronze-leaved sycamore.

Eight: Use lead-in lines

Lead-in lines do just that – they lead your eyes into the frame of the photograph and leave to wondering what lies beyond them.

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Lead-in lines formed by the edges of the path. Also considers point ‘Three.’

Nine: Try an easy ‘fake’ infra-red filter effect 

If you are lucky enough to have photo-editing software, try converting your photo to black and white and lightening only the green tones in your image. What you get is a really easy way to make a ‘fake’ infra red effect which is where all the plant foliage goes white.

Easy fake infra red effect using photoshop
Easy fake infra red effect using photoshop

Want more ideas? Check back tomorrow!

Annette X

Plant Focus: Meconopsis (Blue Poppies)

On a recent visit to the Scottish Plant Hunter’s Garden (The Explorers Garden) in Pitlochry I was lucky enough to see their famed Meconopsis collection pretty much in full bloom. This post was a few weeks in the making as I had a few more photos to add.

Although also know as Blue Poppies, they actually come in many colours. Generally Meconopsis like cool, fairly moist, sheltered conditions and as such I’ve never had much success in my sandy, slightly windy garden. Some are monocarpic – that is they flower once and die, others will form perennial clumps. I should also note that the trusty Welsh Poppy (M. cambrica) also belongs to this group and is an easier one to grow.

Unfortunately I didn’t see too many labels, which, in a genus plagued by naming difficulties was a little disappointing. This could be because they were hidden or because I missed some. I thought I might be able to name some of them post photograph but there’s nay chance!

So you will pretty much have to mostly enjoy photographs of them which is fine because they are so beautiful!

Meconopsis napaulensis - yellow/cream version
Meconopsis napaulensis – yellow/cream version
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Meconopsis napaulensis – pink version
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Meconopsis ‘George Sheriff Group’ Crewdson Hybrids
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Dark blue against the stone wall
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I think this one was Meconopsis ‘Dalemain’ if my notes serve me correct!
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Meconopsis ‘Inverewe’
Meconopsis x sheldonii
Meconopsis x sheldonii
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Meconopsis baileyi ‘Alba’ (aka M. betonicifolia ‘Alba’)
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Such a beautiful range of shades on this Himalayan poppy. This is probably my favourite photograph.
M. grandis (2)
Meconopsis grandis – check out all those anthers!
Meconopsis Huntsfield 1
Meconopsis Huntsfield 1
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Gentle nodding head of a Himalayan Blue Poppy

It’s also worth looking at other parts on the plant in detail. Some have furry stems, others smooth.

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Furry stemmed. It’s amazing how many colours there are.
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Smooth-stemmed ‘Alba’ form

 

Plus how cute are these seed pods with their little waistline belts and furry jackets?

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Meconopsis seed pods

There were a couple which hadn’t yet flowered which is always interesting to know if you’d like to extend the season.

And some which are over such as Meconopsis quintuplinervia – how many times do you think I had to check that I had spelt this right?

As usual I like to give some ideas of what to plant them with.

Here’s some planting ideas mostly from the Scottish Plant Hunter’s Garden:

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They look fantastic under trees.
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I couldn’t get enough of these blue and white forms against the mossy stone wall.
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These Meconopsis were interspersed with Primulas.
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Meconopsis planting which looks straight out of a show garden.
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Look fantastic with bright yellows which highlight the rich orange anthers.
Meconopsis napaulensis and Aquilegia vulgaris
How lovely does this M. napaulensis look with these purple wild-seeded Aquilegia vulgaris?
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This Meconopsis was standing tall against a Tibetan Cherry Prunus serrula. Note the self-seeded Foxgloves behind too.
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A late-flowering Rhododendron makes for a great backdrop for these blue and purple poppies.

I hope that this inspires you to grow some if you have the right garden or why not have a go and find out. If not get along to the Scottish Plant Hunter’s Garden in Pitlochry to have a look. Also the National Collection is held by Holehird Gardens near Windermere in the Lake District – now would be an excellent time to see them!

 

Annette

Photo Club Walkabout

We have a group of us at work who are all keen on photography. We went on a walkabout last night around the local park. I haven’t had a chance to go through all the photos properly yet but here are a few.

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Bronze-leaved Sycamore: I loved how the light caught these leaves
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Old rusty shipping container with paint peeling off: I do like dereliction photography
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Bamboo planted to try and hide this shipping container
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Having fun doing a quick modelling shoot!
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Archways can be so photogenic! Although this looks natural, it was completely posed.

Super Healthy Rice and Vegetable Rolls (Vegan)

Vegan rice paper, vegetable and herb rolls

Japanese-style food is always super tasty and usually super healthy too! These raw vegetable and herb rice paper rolls are no exception.

Last night I dug out some dry rice paper pancakes we had had for a while but had been waiting until I had loads of fresh herbs from the garden to incorporate in them. The great thing about these though is that you can pretty much add whatever you want. There is absolutely minimal cooking – all that’s needed is some hand hot water to soak the rice sheets in. There is time required slicing all the veg and rolling up the rolls but they are so satisfying that it’s all worth it.


Recipe for Super Healthy Rice and Vegetable Rolls

  • Rice paper sheets (available in Chinese supermarkets)
  • A selection of chopped fresh herbs – mint, basil and/or parsley are perfect
  • A selection of very thinly sliced vegetables – carrots, mini sweetcorn, pak choi, peppers, asparagus, cucumber, radish and/or celery are all great
  • Soy sauce and/or wasabi or maybe some chilli sauce?!
  • A large bowl of hand hot water
Rice pancakes and herbs
Rice paper sheets and fresh herbs
Thinly sliced vegetable platter
Check out this awesome platter of sliced vegetables!
  1. Place one sheet at a time for about 15 seconds into the hot water.
  2. You will notice that the paper collapses as it softens and becomes translucent. Try not to fold it if possible – you can peel them apart but they might rip (I’ve made a bit of a mess of this one as I was taking a picture). After the first you’ll be fine! Using two hands helps.

  3. Flatten out on a board and put your desired veg and herbs towards one side.

    Add your chosen vegetables to your spring roll
    How to make a rice paper and vegetable roll
  4. Start rolling so that the paper tucks in all the veg in a tight sausage. After the first roll tuck in the ends and then roll everything together to the end. The rice paper sticks to itself pretty well.
  5. Then eventually you’ll have lots of translucent-looking vegetable slugs!

    Finished rice pancake rolls
    Lots of translucent vegetable rice rolls ready to cut and then eat!
  6. To get a professional looking finish, slice them in half at an angle. Serve with soy sauce and wasabi.

 

Rice and vegetable rolls
Delicious rice rolls with raw vegetables and herbs
Soy sauce and rice pancakes
Perfect dinner to impress and so easy to make!

These are so easy to make. You could make them in advance but don’t keep them touching each other as they will stick to one another! They make a great idea for a meal starter or as part of a main meal. They are so colourful and healthy. My Super Speedy Sushi would go so well with these. Why not get some friends round to celebrate and have a Japanese evening?

Hope you enjoy x

Annette

Visit: Glen Tanar NNR

Vaccinium myrtillus and Calluna vulgaris undergrowth (Heather and Blaeberries)

I think that everyone has a list of favourite places to go or be. Glen Tanar NNR, near Aboyne, Aberdeenshire, is one of those places which is in my Top 10. I can easily spend a good few hours wandering up and down paths or a good day venturing further up the valley.

It’s a fantastic place to photograph especially in the evening when the mist starts rising through the trees. It was a glorious sunny day on Thursday – one of the best this year – when I had a wonder around. The harsh contrast between highlights and shadows makes it difficult to take pictures in such sunny conditions but I certainly enjoyed the walk and have a few images to share with you.

It’s a few pounds for the car park and there is a small visitor centre with toilets. There are well signposted walks of a mile or too or if you fancy there are also longer walks. For example if you fancy a munro, there is always Mount Keen, although be prepared for a 7 mile walk before you even start ascending it.

Church (1)
Chapel of St Lesmo
Church (3)
Glen Tanar green – all the houses are painted in this colour of green.
Church (4)
The bell on St Lesmo’s chapel
Undergrowth (1)
Sun dappled undergrowth
Tree stumps (6)
Views of Glen Tanar
Tree stumps (5)
Pignut and wood
Cows (1)
Cows grazing in the field.
Cows (2)
Close up of a young bullock.
Path (1)
Path alongside a field – this route follows the river upstream.
Loch (1)
Loch with boat house and private fishing – return in autumn for some amazing colour here.
Loch (2)
Ethereal loch at any time of the day.
Reeds (2)
Reeds with dragonfly zooming by.
Rhododendron
Rhododendron growing next to the loch.
Foxglove (2)
Foxglove – Digitalis purpurea
Purple Thistle and Bee
Thistle – Cirsium
Dragonfly lake
Smaller loch with loads of dragonflies and damselflies
Path (2)
Path dappled with sunlight
Sign post
Plenty of signposts are around
Broom (2)
Broom is everywhere and flowers in June
Tree stumps (1)
An unsusual natural tree sculpture
Path (3)
The view down Glen Tanar
Tree stumps (2)
Sunlight through the Scots Pine
Tree stumps (3)
Blaeberry and Scots Pine, Pinus sylvestris
Undergrowth (2)
Galium saxatile
Undergrowth (3)
Galium saxatile closeup image
Glider
A glider from the Deeside Gliding Club

I’ll share some autumn pictures with you at some point. Do you have some favourite places you like to visit as much as you can?

Annette.

Visit: The Scottish Plant Hunter’s Garden

Candelabra Primulas

I have been wanting to visit The Explorer’s Garden (aka The Scottish Plant Hunter’s Garden) for many years but have never found myself around Pitlochry to make that visit. It was made better therefore on the day I was able to visit, that the OH wasn’t there to be bored while I walked around. And finally what was ideal was that it was at the time of year when the Meconopsis, for which this garden is well known, were in full bloom. Excellent! Oh and on another note – it was not raining!

Camera at the ready I paid my £4 to enter which I regarded as an excellent price. I was fully expecting to pay over £10. There is not much you’ll get for less than a fiver nowadays.

So off I set with my map…after a brief hello to the cat.

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Map for The Scottish Plant Explorers Garden

The first section was a lovely little landscaped section planted up with Saxifraga sp. whose frothy white blooms complemented the grey slate coloured organic forms well. In fact there were many lovely planting combinations throughout the garden.

There was also some lovely Aquilegia and Alchemilla mollis planting as you walked under the trees towards the main section of the garden.

There was a strong Himalayan theme throughout the garden, despite many regions being represented, probably because many of these plants suit the Scottish environment very well. Most of the Rhododendrons were past but there was one I spotted in full bloom. At first I thought they all had a bout of rust on all the flowers but looking closer I saw that it was part of its design – nice up close but not so much from a distance! Some of the Rhodies had shed their flowers in recent days and formed these wonderful pink carpets underneath. A little reminiscent of Japan perhaps?

Dotted around the garden were works of art, all of which I though went well within their chosen settings. I love outdoor art when it works in harmony with the surrounding landscape and planting. I particularly loved the Perspex mobiles with the names of plants and skeleton leaves incorporated into them along with the wonderful pagoda roof.

I also loved the composting toilet! It was a little space age when you went into it. Next door to that there is a lovely little room which would be amazing for a small wedding. On the day I went they had a photography exhibition from someone who had gone on a recent expedition to the Himalayas. I left feeling that I know that region of the world just a little better and also how magnificent the Meconospsis look in their native environment.

Speaking of such, they didn’t fail to disappoint! They were in full bloom. I couldn’t get enough of them against the wonderful stone dykes they have built there. The colours are so beautiful. I was however slightly disappointed that there weren’t many labels about (although looking through my photos I realised there was a section I missed, sob). There were a few which I spotted but I would have liked to have been able to see more for my next Plant Focus: Meconopsis. Many more images will be available in that post to come later. I’ll also do another post with more flower images as I have so many! Here is one to whet your appetite….

 

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Meconopsis close up photograph

 

I’d say the garden is definitely at its best at this time of year or earlier when the Rhododendrons are also out. I’m not sure what would be out after around the end of July. It’s open April-Nov, every day 10am-5pm and well worth a visit if you’re near the area. There’s plenty of information boards around which tell you all about the parts of the world the plant explorers visited to bring back many of the plants we have in our gardens today.

 

 

Hope you enjoy your visit.

AnnetteX

A beautiful evening in Fort William

Thought I would continue with the Scottish walk photographs after Loch Lomond last night. These were taken a year or two ago at the start of the long distance Great Glen Way walk which takes you from Fort William, all the way up Loch Ness and up to Inverness. They also show the Caledonian Canal which also can take you along the same route but via water! You can see Ben Nevis in the background of some of the photos.

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Along the Caledonian canal
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Caledonian canal
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Black and white daisies
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Summer in Fort William
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Setting sun in Fort William
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Reflections over the Calendonian canal
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Sky over Ben Nevis
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Canal Reflections

Loch Lomond in Black and White

Just thought I would share three black and white photos I took of Loch Lomond, in previous years, tonight. They are taken just north of Balmaha a little along the West Highland Way long distance path. It is a beautiful route achievable over 4-5 days. You can even get people to transport your bags around for you so you can fully enjoy the walk. It takes in some of the best views in Scotland including those of the Loch Lomond National Park seen here. I would highly recommend it as a ‘thing to do.’ Hope you enjoy.

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Looking out over Loch Lomond
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Loch Lomond view near Balmaha
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Loch Lomondside

Annette X

Aberdeen Baker Hughes 10K – Race Report

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I’ve always wanted to run the Aberdeen Baker Hughes 10k. Well, when I say always what I actually mean is for a good few years since I knew it existed. However, I have always been away at the Cateran Trail 55 Ultra Race on race support duties. This year I decided to enter. On my fitness spurt back in December and January, I thought this would be a great idea. Fast forward a few months on and how does two weeks of training sound? Yup.

I wasn’t worried about running the distance but I was thinking I should have put a few more months into the training. Still as things worked out, I just wanted to enjoy and feel the atmosphere – that was all I ever wanted to do. It was my first proper city race and what better place to run than at your local one.

The night before I must say, I was apprehensive. Why, I’m not really sure. Maybe it was the sense of potential personal disappointment, the fact that I was going on my own (not that I minded at all, it was just the sense of the unknown) or the fact that I might sleep in and miss it. I almost felt more apprehensive with this than I did the night before I had to give a presentation I hadn’t yet finished to 150 people….strange. However this morning I was absolutely fine.

My race pack arrived around the beginning of May. I always feel a little odd receiving a t-shirt before the event as sneaky people could wear it unearned. However I was determined to wear it, even if it didn’t quite fit in my ‘what I’m going to wear so that I’m not too hot or too cold plan’. Temperature wise I would probably have worn a long sleeve top and capri leggings so in modification I decided to wear this over a long sleeve top (it is quite thin) and shorts with some sports boxers which MikeR no longer wanted. That was until I discovered that both pairs of shorts and 3/4 leggings had just literally been put in the wash. Ooops. Oh well leggings it was!

My next dilemma was what to wear to get to the Beach Boulevard where it all kicked off. So I picked my oldest paint covered trousers and yet another couple of MikeR throw outs in an attempt to reduce their attraction for someone else while they sat in the changing tent. Luckily this worked and they were still sitting there when I returned.

Breakfast was my usual piece of bread with peanut butter or cereal and a bowl of fruit. Except that this time I had both! Wasn’t a day to be planning on changing things much. I took a piece of brownie with me to munch on before the start which I ended up not having. Breakfast did me well.

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At shortly after 8am with everything I needed on my person or not worth nicking I set out to walk the 2.2 miles to the start. This was a great warm up, just enough to get the blood moving around but not enough to be tired for the race. It worked for me in the same way my walk to the gym does every morning. Luckily the weather was dry and it was a very pleasant saunter along the beach front. It was great as it was deserted because the road was closed. There was hardly a soul to be seen.

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View out to sea

I arrived with about perfect time. People were milling about and there were loads of blue race t-shirts! I had to nip to the vegan cafe (I know, amazing right!), Bonobo, to get some change to put in the donations tub for the changing facility but at least now I had a delicious vegan chickpea, mulberry and something else brownie to look forwards to at the end. Extra clothes jettisoned, it was time for the warm up which was a quick 5 minutes of stretching exercises to get the heart going. After that we headed for the start pens. I decided to optimistically and confidently go for the 56-60 minute one. Was this the right choice…..? Read on and find out!

It was about 5 minutes after the start/gun time before our group got to cross the start line. It was really weird because within about 0.5km of the start there was almost complete silence save for the pitter-patter of trainers on tarmac. With it being a city race I was expecting lots of people cheering. I wasn’t disappointed from this, it just wasn’t what i expected. Overall the race went pretty well. A stitch almost made an appearance just before the 5km mark but it disappeared fairly quickly, possibly helped by the water stop at that point.

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Around about 5.5km

I did feel bad taking water bottles and having only three mouthfuls before discarding them to the side. However, having filled 100’s of cups with water and juice as quick as is physically possible before I know that this isn’t an option! Smaller bottles might have been less wasteful but standard ones are probably cheaper.

Anyway. It was pretty fun running down King Street along the road then round through the flats in Seaton. Or that could have been because it was only 2.5km from the end. There was a small but mean hill coming up to the finish just after Pittodrie Stadium.  Generally though it’s a pretty flat course. At the finish I put on the gas for a last minute burst. It was just as well I did because I finished in 59 mins 59 secs! What a close one that was. I was aiming for under an hour and that it what I got – by a hair! We got handed a medal, goodie bag, banana and bottle of water in the finishing chute. It was really well organised and as far as I’m concerned it went very smoothly.

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The walk back again was a great cool down though my legs were pretty tired by the time I got home – I realised I had done about 11 miles in total! I think it would be good training for a long distance race to do a walk, do a fast race and then walk again. Again it was blissfully quiet as the beach road was still closed. I could smell the gorse and hear the birds which was really wonderful. If you don’t do the race just go down for the peaceful walk. It makes such a change from all the cars and people there normally.

I was surprised at the range of food in the goodie bag. I wasn’t going to post a picture of it, but then Suri decided to make herself comfy so the picture is actually of her….really.

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Having just discovered that there is a pop up vegan cafe in Aberdeen, I checked out their Facebook page. Unfortunately they didn’t do as well as they had hoped in terms of selling food and were trying to sell off excess. It worked out well for me though – I got an awesome range of breakfast burritos, brownies, slices and muffins delivered to my door for a fraction of the price earlier in the day! And it all tastes sooo good.

If you get the chance pop along, they are open on Saturdays 11am-4pm at Aberdeen Wellbeing Centre, McCombie’s Court. I definitely plan on going there when I am in town next time. The food I’ve had so far is really great. Check them out on Facebook.

Did you run it this year? How did you get on?

Annette

 

 

Kris Holechek’s Ultimate Brownies (modified)

Gooey, sweet, vegan chocolate brownies

Next on my list of brownie delights was a recipe I found in the book “The 100 Best Vegan Baking Recipes” by Kris Holechek lent from a vegan friend of mine. Any recipe which is called ‘The Ultimate Brownies’ is up for a challenge. Therefore I just had  to try these. What i am posting here is actually a Britishised and slightly modified recipe of the original. To be honest it’s quite rare that I follow a recipe line for line. One reason for this recipe being that I have great difficulty measuring out six tablespoons of margarine (who measures margarine in tablespoons?!). So here’s my modified recipe:

  • 60g dark chocolate
  • 100g magarine (I used Vitalite)
  • 25g cocoa powder
  • 2 tbsp ground flax seed
  • 1/2 tbsp ground chia seed
  • 80ml water
  • 200g sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla essence or better use 1/2 a vanilla bean
  • 100g self-raising flour
  • 1/4 tsp baking powder
  • 90g dark chocolate chips
  1. Preheat the oven to 175oC fan. Grease and line a small tray (I used a 7×9.5″ tray). On a side note, these trays from Ikea are amazing. We have the full set. I’ve personally given up on most non-stick products.
  2. Melt the chocolate (not the chips), margarine and cocoa powder over a bain marie.
  3. Add the chia and flax seeds to the water in a large bowl, allow to sit for 5 minutes, then whisk well with a hand mixer for a couple of minutes.
  4. Add the melted chocolate and whisk for another few minutes until well mixed.
  5. Add the sugar and vanilla essence and mix well ensuring the sugar has started to dissolve into the mixture.
  6. Add the flour and baking powder beating well for a few minutes to incorporate more air bubbles.
  7. Finally stir in the chocolate chips.
  8. Transfer to your greased tray and bake in the oven for about 32 minutes. Use a knife round the edge of the tray as soon as they come out the oven because these are sticky beasts.
  9. Cool in the pan for a while, cut into squares – I got 12, before transferring to a cooling wrack.
  10. Keep an eye on the cat.

 

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So… who’s getting the ones on the right?

These were really easy to make. Slightly more washing up than Jamie Oliver recipe but that’s mainly because I was trying to convert to British baking units. Most vegans will have all those ingredients. Next time I want to cut down on the sugar because these are just a bit too sweet for me. However the texture was pretty much fantastic – they were soft, gooey, melt in the mouth with a lovely crispy top. They have a slightly strange chewy base and I think that reducing the sugar a little may help with that. I would suggest dropping it to 150g.

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I did forget to grease the liner paper before I baked these but they separated OK. There’s always something. A little stuck but nothing too detrimental. So verdict time:

  1. Cakiness: 6
  2. Gooiness: 9
  3. Crispy top: 9
  4. Chocolateyness: 8.5
  5. Sweetness: 6 (too sweet for me but you may like it)
  6. Ease of making: 8
  7. Ingredient complexity: 8.5
  8. Overall taste: 8

I will no doubt be making these again unless another recipe usurps them! I want to try dropping the sugar and see what impact that has on them. Let me know how you get on if you try it.

In fact I’m editing this a few days on and I must say there brownies are pretty darn good. They keep well too which is always a bonus….if they get that far….

 

 

The silent field – Culloden

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The site of the 1746 Battle of Culloden
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The site of The Battle of Culloden

 

A cold wind flaps the red and blue flags which provide a visual stand post of the locations whereupon two great armies met; the Jacobite army weary and wild and the Government army drilled and disciplined. The Culloden battlefield now sits quiet, but upon the sharp wind is carried the desperate cries of soldiers locked in face to face mortal combat.

 

 

Today a few souls wander peacefully and listen dutifully to the audio soundtrack of the 16th April 1746 carefully prepared by the National Trust for Scotland.  But just under 260 years ago the site could hardly have been in more contrast with the screaming and fighting of battle-fueled men creating an almighty cacophony of death and destruction.

Where today stands a stone to mark a mass grave, then stood a soldier mauled by a Hanovarian bayonet.

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The memorial headstone for Clan MacKintosh
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Gorse growing atop the memorial

 

The site is boggy which then, as today, affected the efficiency of movement around the battlefield. Today though the deep dark waters can only represent the pools of blood which were spilt by both sides on that day.

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The black pools

 

In 1745 the Jacobite uprising had seen initial great successes but on this fateful day that quest was put to a bitter end. The Jacobites, who had dutifully followed the French Prince Regent, Charles Edward Stuart in his pursuit of the English throne, now frantically fleed from the forces of the ruthless Duke of Cumberland.

The conflict was over in less than the time it takes to walk round the site today. The site may be bleak but so is the reason why it exists there.

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Playing with fire..

Well, playing with smoke to be precise. I made these really fun images a while ago after seeing the technique in a photography magazine. What annoys me is I can’t really remember how I did them. I used a candle, though you can use incense as this can produce better smoke. You need a black background and a lighting source, a tripod and of course your camera. And that’s about all I remember.

I remember tweaking around with them in Photoshop a bit improving contrast and saturation to get the vivid, dynamic colours. Also I mirrored them all to get more interesting sames and patterns.

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An animal with long fangs or moustache perhaps? Slightly elephant like.
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A bent spine?
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Any ideas?
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A pelvis
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Two snakes about to take each other on, or two walking sticks….
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Who knows?

This is definitely a fun thing to do on a dark, rainy day. You don’t even need electricity! I’d love to see your images. I’d like to try these again on my new camera as I have some noise in these and each shape will always be unique – see how you get on!

Annette X

Spectra – a night of light

Prepare yourself for wonder with a four night spectacular of art and light installations across Aberdeen city. Marischal College, St Nicholas Kirk, Belmont Street and Union Terrace gardens have all been transformed by fascinating and eerie experiences from rather strange abstract artwork to rainbow displays on the side of buildings.

 

A spectacular display of images was projected onto the side of Mitchell Hall at Marischal College. This was combined with classical music and made for a very dramatic presentation.

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Rainbow windows

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Rainbow on Marischal College
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School children drew these – I loved the pikachu!

 

There was a very interesting collection of different displays. Some showed drawings created by local school children while others used smoke and lights to create a holographic ring effect. A particularly fascinating one was a series of projected lights creating an energetic ribbon effect. Photographing them never produced the same formation twice.

 

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Fascinating light trails

 

And to end with a common Aberdonian saying created in neon light tubes…..

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If you are in the Aberdeen area this weekend, it is definitely worth a visit – limited time only!