#16 – A London Winter

When the days grow short, and a chill fills the air, it can be hard to get out with your camera. I’ve certainly found it a challenge over the last few weeks. Even once you are out and about, getting chance to follow up an excursion with a post is even more challenging.

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That said, winter can provide unique and interesting opportunities to try out new skills and styles. In the last few weeks, London has turned into a city of Christmas lights and log cabin markets, each boasting character unique to themselves.

We are lucky enough to live in Greenwich, and this year we chose to explore our new haunt and visit the Greenwich Winter Time Festival, a smaller, less well known Christmas market. We managed to visit on an evening after work which posed one of the primary problems I find shooting in the winter; just how dark it is.

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Before we even got to Greenwich, it was dark as pitch and the difficulty in balancing the shadows with the bright lights was something I was acutely aware of from the outset. So I armed myself with the 50mm prime lens, the fastest lens I have. The problem with the prime lens is that there is no adjustable focal length, what it makes up for in speed, it lacks in versatility. However, shot composure is something I struggle with, and a fixed focal length forces you to think more deeply about the shot you are taking. It also allows me to shoot at a lower ISO and still get a crisp shot at a shutter speed suitable to avoid handshake.

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The Greenwich market and the surrounding town provided the perfect situation to shoot in, and even threw up a few surprises of themselves. I love contrast and colour. I like to fill my images with it, and the houses around the Royal Naval College – hosting the festival – were lit up against the dark like candles in the cold. By the time we made it to the Winter Time Festival, Hannah and I were more than ready for a mulled wine.

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The ice-rink was the main reason we visited the festival; it was another skating location we could tick off our list, but by the time we left, it wasn’t the reason we’d go back. Almost as soon as we had arrived, a drumming grew from behind the cabins.

As it drew closer it was apparent that it it came from 5 figures entirely clad in white. They had painted skin and skin-tight suits contrasting with some very standout face-paint. More notably though, they were utterly oblivious to everyone around them. They cut through the streets of the festival paying no attention to anyone but drawing more and more people closer; people caught by mix-match of curiosity and intrigue.

This performance of music and unnerving discipline led everyone around the whole festival, unknowingly leading us all to the largest tent at the centre. There, as they gathered on stage, eyes dead centre, staring at nothing, everything went completely silent.

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What followed is hard to explain and, but if anyone has ever seen the scene from the voodoo party in Live and Let Die with Roger Moore’s James Bond, it was a bit like that.

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All five of the members suddenly burst to life. Their white suits exploded into an array of colours, most unsettling was the fact that while before they ignored everyone around them, now they locked eye contact and refused to let go. If they caught your eye they would drum right up to you with a swagger, their face contorted into a misshape that even the strongest poker face would have difficulty facing up to. Then they would be off in another direction entirely, or playing out some roleplay with other members.

We later learnt that the group were well known, and went by the name of Sparks, you can even book them for events. Honestly, they were quite impressive. They held the attention of Hannah and I to the point where we nearly missed our ice skating session.

The remainder of the evening left Hannah nursing a bruised thigh after a spectacular, if inelegant, fall during skating, a concert of carols, an ice dancing show, and a second round of Sparks – this time mixed with stilted dancers dressed as reindeer; all very Alice in Wonderland.

The 50mm lens was in overdrive that night, and worked a treat. I think the shots I got capture the colour without the tell-tale grain of shooting in the dark.

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The same weekend was followed by a trip to Richmond Park with Elliott. It was another bitterly cold afternoon, but while the winter nights are a problematic, if unavoidable situation, the days can be the complete opposite. With the sun never really rising to any great height, it provides a light that preserves colour compared to a whitewashed sunlight you get at the height of summer.

Given the deer and other semi-wild creatures are in abundance in Richmond, it was a day for the 70-300mm, the largest in my collect.

Wildlife photography is something I love, and a discipline that I find extremely challenging. The main area I find most difficult comes when trying to bring animals to life. A deer stood in a park is an image taken a thousand times, so you need to give it a personality, something very difficult in a still image. The way I manage this is I try to pick out the quirks of a specific animal. All creatures have a personality and by isolating it, you can make them interesting, at least I think I can.

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To do this you have to have patience, or there have to be so many animals around that the chances of picking something different up is greatly increased. Richmond provides the second point. For this reason I find it a great place to learn.

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I love Richmond Park, and it is a great place to spend a day whatever the weather, whatever the time of year. It was a bloody cold day though. That said, from squirrels to ravens, and parakeets to deer, there was plenty of chance to pick out a quirk or two here or there. Not to mention the abundance of places to pick out some cracking landscapes.

The 70-300mm lens really does excel in these circumstances. Barring a personality quirk, my number one objective for wildlife photography is to get a keen focus on the eye of whatever you are taking the photo of.

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That is unless you are taking a silhouette. I guess there is never a set in stone rule for photography…

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Anyway, here are my best. The photos of my were taken by Elliott, between us, I think we are doing alright, and learning every time we get our cameras out.

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