Adding interest to travel photos

Feeding the pigeons in January in London’s Green Park.

I had a comment on a recent post regarding this photo of a woman feeding the birds in Green Park, London. She said that she loved to watch people feeding birds in parks and watching the reactions of children. My response was “It’s for moments like this that I try to keep my camera in my hand as much as possible even when just walking through a park or down the street. These are the photos that add more memories and more interest to the travel photos than just buildings or famous sites which I take in abundance, of course, and I realized I had a good topic for a blog  post.

I take lots of photos of lots of things when I travel. I like to take photos of the famous things I see like the Eiffel Tower or the canals of Amsterdam or the Colosseum in Rome. I take photos of nice buildings or beautiful landscapes. I also like to take photos of close up details like doors and windows, carved moldings and details on statues, the overall and the in detail views. My trips are full of memories of architecture, gardens, landscapes, sometimes people.

But the thing is, people do add so much to a photo. It can really help tell the story. Most photographers that give you tips on how to take great travel photos advise you to take photos of local people and ask first, of course, offering to give them a copy if you can. I have done it but rarely. I have to admit, I’m a bit shy to ask to take a photo of a person in a shop or a market stall or other similar situations. When I have photos of people in my travel pictures, they’re generally taken from a distance, an angle or from the back, with the zoom lens rather than as a portrait face-on. I don’t take too many photos of children where their faces are identifiable because I know parents aren’t comfortable with that.

Travel photos of buildings and statues or landscape vistas, etc, are only half the story. The random photos of something in a market stall, or a shop window display, a funny sign, an odd looking vehicle, the night lights, or of someone feeding the birds in a park, people flogging merchandise to tourists on a bus, those are all travel memories, too. Performers, someone demonstrating a craft, a guide, people in parades, all of those expect their photo to be taken and I do. I do try to take photos with people in them, even if just anonymous crowds on the street. I’d love to take portraits of a colourful market stall owner, or a friendly restaurante server, but I never seem to have the nerve to ask them outright. Thus, the clandestine shot from 20 or 30 feet away which isn’t always as good, even cropped in closer.

The other thing I do is try to keep my camera, a point and shoot style, in my hand or in an outside pocket as much as possible when we’re out walking around. Moments like the bird feeder shot come up quickly as you stroll by. P&S cameras can take a pretty good photo quickly rather than  having to stop and fuss with the exposure and focus and lose the moment. If at an event with action like sports or a fast moving street performer I will sometimes put my camera on the setting that will take multiple shots in a row. You might get a lot of motion blurry ones but it can also get a shot of something that you might otherwise miss. And having a bit of motion blur in the photo can add to it, not take away from it. Don’t discard it just because of that.

Here is a gallery of some of my people shots. Some are street performers or craft demonstrators and thus were aware of the camera. Some were candids. The one of the lady serving tea outside the church in Lostwithiel could have been so much better had a asked her if I could take her photo. She would have been looking at the camera and, one would hope, smile, surrounded by her tea cups and silver urn and cakes. Maybe next time.

Travel Theme: Winter

I don’t do a lot of traveling in winter. It’s too easy to get delayed or cancelled flights due to the Canadian winters. The few times I have ventured out in mid-winter were not to destinations away from the cold but to England where it wasn’t always a lot warmer. Still, over there, the grass is still green in January even if covered in a dusting of snow now and then.

Feeding the pigeons in January in London’s Green Park.

Manchester Christmas markets.

Manchester Christmas Markets which I wrote about here are a sure sign of winter. European style Christmas markets are increasingly popular all over. I’d love to go to the ones in places like Vienna, Prague or Munich.

Slightly wintery looking Coronation Street set, ITV studios (now moving to a new location in Media City, Salford

There’s more winter over at Ailsa’s challenge post here.

Memories – Exploring Warwick Castle

Warwick Castle

Warwick Castle

I’m a big history fan and love to visit castles, cathedrals and old abbeys, whether ruins or fully restored. Back in 2001, during my visit to England, including stays in London and Manchester, I stopped overnight in Redditch where a good friend of mine lived. I’d spent a week in Essex with some other friends, going into London every day while my friend worked. On the weekend, they drove me up to Redditch for the next leg of my journey.

It was really raining when we got up and loaded the car this morning. The drive to Redditch took about 2 and a half hours plus a bit of time to find CJ’s place. Time to say goodbye! I really enjoyed my week I London and my visit with Dave and Nikki a lot!

I got checked into the B&B where the room turned out to be quite pleasant overall. A large room with a double bed and a single bed, en suite for £50 including breakfast. We dropped the luggage and headed off down the road to Warwick which, surprisingly we found without any trouble. Yes he’s been there before but that really means nothing. CJ’s sense of direction didn’t come out of the box in one piece I don’t think!

A brief history of Warwick Castle: William the Conqueror built a motte and bailey fort in 1068 overlooking the Avon River with a timber stockade. The castellan family became the Earls of Warwick and the castle passed through many generations of the family. The towers began to be built in the 14th C during the dynasty of the Beauchamp family and held fast until the middle of the 15th C when the Neville Family married into the title. Richard Neville was better known as Warwick the Kingmaker for his ability to back the right monarchs during the Wars of the Roses. The Castle was expanded and improved as the centuries went on with the grounds being landscaped in the 18th C. by Capability Brown. Most of the current State Rooms are 18th C. with restoration after a fire in the Victorian years. The Taussaud’s Group bought the Castle in 1978 and several impressive exhibitions featuring their famous wax figures have opened since then. The website is very good and contains a lot of history both of the Castle and of the inhabitants.

We didn’t have too much trouble finding the Castle, there are clear signs leading through the streets and we found a space in the car park guided by one of the attendants.  We bought our tickets but the first order of business was a film for Chris and lunch for the pair of us in order to be property fortified to scale the… er… fortifications! The tickets are bought at the old stables buildings which also house the toilets, a cafe and a shop. On the way from the entrance, we saw a notice on the green just outside the castle gates promising an exhibit at 1:30 on “Deadly  Skills’! You just can’t argue with Deadly Skills!

That means we have an hour. We bought a pre-made sandwich in the cafeteria which is in a vaulted 14th C undercroft, nothing special there. The cooked food might have been better, I don’t know. Chris wanted to start with the Ghost Tower which was the next tower along and is one of the oldest still standing parts of the Castle. Unfortunately it was pretty naff. It was all recorded “spooky” music and the lighting was bad. There was a bedroom filled with antiques but you couldn’t see them and the audio over top of the music told the story of  Sir Fulke Greville who was murdered in the tower by a servant. Upstairs (downstairs? I forget) there was another dark room with a gauzy curtain. High above you was a glowing face of Sir Fulke, in reality a spotlight on a painting behind the gauzy curtain. I kept expecting Dorothy to appear and click the heels on her ruby slippers!

I wanted to go up on the castle walls so we headed across the esplanade to Guy’s Tower, the tallest of the towers along the wall. I started up and Chris brought up the rear, warning me about the sign at the entrance, advising folk that 500-odd steps could be tiring. Gulp. But it was a one-way system so you couldn’t turn around and go back out once you were in. The staircase up into the first tower was a narrow stone spiral and there were others coming up behind. It wasn’t 500 steps though, but by the time you finished the trail and landed back on the ground I suppose it would have been that in total. I took my time and a few brief rest stops and made it to the top of the tower.

It’s now a lovely sunny day with a bit of a nice breeze, blowing a bit stronger atop the castle walls. You can see over the town of Warwick and the Avon Valley. Following a few flights of stairs down you walk along the curtain walls to the Gatehouse and Barbican guarding the castle’s main entrance. Up a few flights of stairs to the top of that. There is actually a drawbridge over a dry ditch and a huge portcullis. We made our way up and down the next set of steps and walls leading into Caesar’s Tower where the guard house was located, and down to the grounds again just in time to go over to a roped off area on the green to see the Deadly Skills!

Archery. The man that did the demonstration was dressed as a yeoman soldier from the medieval era complete with longbow, sword and “bollocks’ knife. He was probably a better comedian than he was marksman but he put on a good show all the same. He had three sticks with little heads on them and placed them on a platform as a target by only hit one of them by the end of it all. He was pretty funny though as he explained what it was like to go to war in the 1400’s and how you would train all your life from childhood on with the longbow. It looked like quite a skill to master. He asked for a volunteer from the audience and proceeded to demonstrate the various methods of hand to hand combat with his sword and knife on the hapless fellow who just stood there looking a bit white around the gills with the blades thrusting about his body.  Deadly, indeed! We were satisfied with the show and ambled back to the castle grounds to check out the dungeons next.

That *was* creepy. They only let a few down into the dungeon area at a time as there wasn’t a lot of room and the passage was low and narrow. The walls are stone, the floor is dirt. There is graffiti scratched into the walls that must be 500 years old though I don’t know what they would have used to do it with as I’m sure the prisoners wouldn’t have been given sharp implements. There was a suit of chains hanging from the ceiling which purported to send shivers down the spines of the prisoners threatened with it’s cutting edges. We saw a little hole in the ground where you might be dumped if you were in particular disfavour, the “oubliette’ where you would be forgotten and left to die.

Back above ground, we proceeded to the rooms that had the torture instruments. They even had a full sized rack and a lot of medieval contraptions that, when explained were even more chilling than the dungeon. We’re talking things like leg clamps with spikes on the inside into which, once on your leg, would be poured boiling oil! There are an awful lot of devious ways to extract information by causing grievous bodily harm to another human being!

The armory exhibit is titled Death or Glory and traces the history of body armour through the centuries. We examined the many suits of armour, from various eras and countries, along with loads of armaments, swords, early guns, axes, right up to things used in the Napoleonic Wars. Ooh the creepiest thing on display here was a plaster death mask of Oliver Cromwell!

I think it’s time for a little “sweetness and light’ after all that gruesome cutlery. We headed to the main palace part where the Chapel, Great Hall and State rooms were. The Great Hall as it stands today was built in the 17th C and restored in the 19th C after a fire. There is a marvelous hammer beam ceiling, portraits of Earls of Warwick and their families line the wall along with dozens of stag horns and a few impressive suits of armour including two full set of horse armour, one 16th C Italian armour and one 16th C German. There is a huge 500 year old cauldron and a miniature suit of armour made for a small boy. The state bedrooms and reception rooms are decorated very much over the top, having been embellished over the years by the inhabitants. No photos allowed in this section.

We continued on to the display called the Weekend Party which features the Taussaud’s figures set up as if it were a late Victorian weekend function. The guests are in the dining room, salon and various bedrooms. Photos are allowed here and the figures were very realistic. We followed the queues through the exhibit and examined the old photos along the walls. The rooms have been able to be set up exactly as they were 100 years ago because there are existing photographs taken at the time. Two of the more famous houseguests portrayed are the Prince of Wales, soon to be Edward VII and a very young Winston Churchill.

I’m going to fudge a little here. We somehow missed the Kingmaker exhibit which shows how a medieval household would prepare for war during the 15th C. There are apparently a few wax figures in this too. We were in and out of buildings and towers and missed the entrance to this which is near the dungeons. Once we emerged from the castle buildings, Chris wanted to climb up the mound at the end of the grounds, where the original motte fort would have been built 900 years ago. Dear God there are a lot of stairs in this country! Chris goaded me good naturedly into trekking up the (ahem) “gentle incline’ and indeed it wasn’t so bad walking up the sloping ramps. Again a lovely view over the valley and river from this vantage point. I took lots of photos today, as expected and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed this Castle. There’s a lot to see and do even if it’s somewhat commercialized. In the summer there are jousting events on the tiltyards and they have events all year round including themed banquets. Check the website for events and updates. It’s well worth it!

We had a little look in the peacock garden by the conservatory and left the castle around 4:30 I think and had a look through the town of  Warwick. We found an old old building called Lord Leycester’s Hospital, a leaning half timbered structure with a chapel that was very old and in Elizabethan times owned by one of her favourites, Lord Leycester and turned into a hospital for old soldiers. There’s a little museum in here but we were a bit tired of walking so we just went to the lovely tea room for a hot drink and tea cake to tide us over.  The town of Warwick is very pretty and very old. There’s a market there but it was packing up by the time we arrived. There are lots of B&B’s within spitting distance of the castle so if you’re thinking of visiting, you should be able to find a room as a base.

Travel Theme: Still

The theme this week from Where’s My Backpack is Still. The Still of the night, or of dawn. The stillness of a watchful animal. Still life photography. Water as still as a mirror. Here are a few of my “still” photos from my travels:

Still as a statue: Hans Christian Andersen in Copenhagen.

Long Loch at Arrochar, Scotland

Quiet canal in Venice

Trentham Monkey Garden, near Stoke, England. This fellow was sitting by the side of the path, very still and looking very poorly. We were told he was one of the older monkeys and was indeed not feeling well.

Still life in Lanhydrock House, Cornwall

WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge- Community

This week’s challenge from WordPress is “Community”.  Rather than photos from my travels, this time i’m featuring a gathering that celebrates the Canadian First Nation bands of the Mi’kmaq community here in the east coast of Canada. It’s a weekend-long celebration and powwow that they have held here several summers in a row. These are photos from the grand entrance and competitions that were held the day I went. The community comes together and it’s all ages and generations carrying the traditions onward.

Young Spirit drummers

Traveling through the Movies – Tuscany

under_the_tuscan_sun_verdvdUnder the Tuscan Sun was a book written by Frances Mayes and depicted her experiences moving to the Tuscany region of Italy after a divorce. A movie starring the lovely Diane Lane was made, based on the book, 10 years ago. It’s definitely what you’d call a “Chick Flick”. There’s romance, heartbreak and a happy ending though not the ending you would expect, at least, I didn’t, because I didn’t read the book. I’ve no idea if the book ends the same way as the movie but I won’t say anything either way in case you haven’t read/seen it!

So yes. Tuscany is a beautiful, hilly part of northwest Italy, the region north of Rome and south of the Italian Alps. The largest cities in the region are Florence, Pisa, and Orvieto with lots of little hilltop walled towns and villages as well. The roads wind through hills that are blanketed by vineyards in many areas, with tall cypress trees lining the roads and lanes. The light is golden and the colours are warm with golds, oranges, soft greens, yellowy pinks and sky blues. Towers raise above town walls on distant hills. Villas cling to the sides of the hills or nestle into valleys.  Between the food, the wine and the scenery, You’d be gloriously happy here if you are a gastronome, a wine connoseur, an artist or photographer or just a lover of beauty.

The movie, Under the Tuscan Sun, was filmed in and around the towns of Cortona and Arezzo but with glimpses of Rome, Positano, Florence, Salerno and a few other locations around Italy as the main character, Frances,  travels about a bit. Frances buys a run down villa near Cortona and renovates it with the help of locals who may or may not speak English or even Italian. She makes friends and meets a lover. My favourite moment surrounds the fate of a washing machine!

The scenery is enough to make you want to move there to the next villa beside her or find a little apartment in the town. There are many beautiful areas of Italy but Tuscany is one of the most spectacular. See the movie. Visit Tuscany from home and then book your ticket!

Also see WordPress blogger Palladian Travel’s Insight tour through UTTS Cortona for photos around the real town of Cortona.

tuscan 2

Frances arrives at the run down villa


Grabbed this photo of Tuscany from Google Images. It looked very much like this when I stood on the walls of San Gmignano looking over a valley

Travel Theme: Symbol

I’m a bit late getting this in for this week’s challenge from Where’s My Backpack, just under the wire in fact. The challenge is “symbol”. Anything can be a symbol, people or things or icons or buildings. When you see a family building, for instance, you instantly know the location associated with it. Most of what I’ve got for you today are iconic symbols of major cities though the last photo is a symbol of time.

London, UK. Though the tower isn’t actually called Big Ben, which is the bell inside the tower, everyone things of it as that name. The tower is now named Elizabeth Tower. You know nobody’s going to call it that!

Her name reflects what she symbolizes. Liberty. You know you’re in New York City.

Even if you only see a small part of it you know it’s the Eiffel Tower representing Paris.

The CN Tower is synonymous with Toronto though only a relatively new addition to the city compared to the other structures above. It was opened in 1976.


If it's a gondola, it must be Venice

If it’s a gondola, it must be Venice

We see a clock or other time piece, we know it is a measure of time passing. This clock is in the old city of York, in England.

WP Weekly Photo Challenge – Grand

This week, WordPress wants to know what we think of when we hear the word Grand. Grand scale, a Grand Day Out, Grand = Great, or just that really grand photo, one where all the elements just work together perfectly.  I’ve got a lot of those, pictures that really came out well, a combination of composition and light, some unintended!

Anyway, here are some of my “grand” photos:

Wouldn’t it be grand if dinosaurs still roamed parts of the earth? from the Manchester Museum, Manchester, UK

Niagara Falls, Ontario

Chelsea Royal Hospital chapel, London

Two Grand Scale museums, one on an aircraft carrier and one with 17km of galleries

Flightdeck of the Intrepid Air, Sea and Space Museum on the USS Intrepid, New York City


Vatican Museums, Map Gallery. Rome

And finally, one of my favourites “grand” shots.

Blue Rocks, Lunenburg County, Nova Scotia


A Word a Week challenge – Shadows

This week’s Word a Week challenge is Shadows. Shadows are what happens when light bounces off one side of an object and the other side is dark, unlit. In the shadows lurks darkness, scary things, and, if you’re a Doctor Who Fan, you must always avoid the shadows because the Vashta Nerada live in them. According tot he Tardis Wiki,  the name means “the shadows that melt the flesh”. Just one more reason to stay out of the shadows!!!

Photographers love shadows. They give the picture depth and interest. Black and White takes particularly good photos featuring shadows (and textures). The best time of day for shadows is in the early morning or late afternoon when the sun is low and the shadows are long. Here’s a few of my favourites from my archives:

Maggie finding a sunny spot in in the shadows

Trinity College, Dublin

The Urbis building, built at the millenium, now housing a Football museum,  and the Victorian Corn Exchange housing designer shops

The Urbis building, built at the millenium, now housing a Football museum, and the Victorian Corn Exchange housing designer shops

Morning on Prince Edward Island


Lyme Hall orangerie, near Manchester, U.K.


Shadow of a lantern on a wall in Bruges

Wells Cathedral, corridor around the cloisters

Also Wells Cathedral