Favourite Photos

Well what a surprise; it’s a gloriously blue sky day here in sunny Leeds and I was NOT expecting that after the gloominess we had yesterday.  It’s quite warm too so after lunch I went walkies for an hour and it was lovely. I walked along lanes covered with colourful fallen leaves and with the sun shining on those remaining on the trees, it was a wonderful walk.

I was instantly taken back to 2003 when I took a series of photos in Roundhay Park here in North Leeds as the autumn colours were just stunning.  I wanted to find those photos and in doing so, I had an idea for a few blog posts.

I’ve taken well over 100,000 digital photos over the years and I have 74,832 on one external drive alone.  So why not post a few of them and give a short explanation as to why they are my favourites ?  Sometimes it’ll be the quality, sometimes the moment, sometimes the people, sometimes the place…..but always the memory.

So to start with, here is one of those autumnal photos taken across Roundhay Park lake. I’ve always remembered it as it was my first attempt at taking a panorama shot. As this was taken back in 2003, there was no easy panorama setting on the camera so it was done by me slowly swinging around taking 2 photos and then stitching them together in my first fumbling session on Photoshop. No tripod was used in the taking of this photo !

Fall Panorama

One of my favourite trips out is to go up into the Yorkshire Dales and I often end up at Aysgarth Falls. Timing is important as like with most waterfalls, they look so much better after there has been a lot of rainfall.

Back in March 2007, the timing was perfect and the falls were in spectacular form. I was playing around with camera settings as my photos all looked a bit standard and frankly boring. I experimented with shutter speeds and finally got the shots I wanted……to slow down the water flow over the rocks to such an extent that it took on the appearance of silk or satin.  This is my favourite of those shots.

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Still at Aysgarth Falls, I wandered a little further along the banks of the River Ure beyond the rocks and came upon a scene I desperately wanted to photograph just as my eyes were seeing it.  This isn’t as easy as it seems as your eyes are amazing at capturing images that a camera struggles to record accurately……at least in my hands !

It was a sort of cross between a fairy grotto and the home of a Hobbit. I loved the way the tree roots were above the ground and laid out like tendrils across the earthy river bank. At a later time of day, with the sun having set and darkness casting its blanket over the area, it could have been quite a frightening place to be on your own.

But right then it was a magical place and despite not exactly capturing what my eyes were seeing, I’m happy with the result and as always, the photo is enough to remind me what I actually saw that day.

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14 miles to the north of my house, is the very touristy town of Knaresborough. I’ve been there many times and always take visitors there as it’s a very pretty place with some classic chocolate box top views.  The most popular views are from the castle looking down to the River Nidd and on to the railway viaduct that fills the background.

So this photo is nothing special in that many thousands have stood in my shoes (explains the wiff) and taken the very same shot but this is MY shot and it also reminds me of another time when I took a very similar photo.

Many years earlier (late 70’s or early 80’s) I took my parents to Knaresborough Castle on one of their rare visits to England and I took a pre digital photo of them from this spot. Sadly I’ve lost that printed photo but this one still reminds me of that day and that’s what takes it into this collection.

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Before you think I’m posting hundreds of photos in this post, I’m not.  I’ve just picked 15 at random as I think any more will have people skimming down them to get to the end and I’d like to think each one deserves a bit more than a quick glance. But that’s asking a lot !

Next up is a memory of the only time I’ve ever gone out to take a photo based on seeing the view in a travel book. I’d been reading a massive tome about places to visit in Britain and the middle pages showed a view looking down on the picturesque fishing village of Staithes over on the East Yorkshire coast, just north of Whitby.

Once there, I had to clamber up a steep hill and struggle across a grassy bank until I decided I was in the exact place where the photographer had stood to take his photo which made it into that book. It was only then that I realised I’d made a boo-boo timing wise. The photo in the book was taken with the tide in and all the brightly coloured fishing boats were floating on the water and looking very cute indeed.

When I was there the tide was out and all but one of the boats were becalmed on the mud and not looking very cute at all, I still took the photograph and resolved to go back another day, at high tide, but I never have been !

So the story makes the memory and makes this photo a favourite.

Staithes Harbour

And now for a complete change……

Photos of grandparents and grandchildren are always special and although I’ll never be one myself, I can still enjoy the look on a proud grammy’s face as she holds her first. Back in February 2008, I took a series of candid photos when my US friend Debby was holding Cole, her first grandchild. I used my 200mm zoom lens so I could be far enough away to not be a distraction but could still get in close enough to try and capture some intimate moments.

I needed to use available light as a flash going off would’ve ruined these moments and as such, I think it helped that in the case of this particular photo, there wasn’t much light around Debby as this helped isolate her and Cole from a distracting background. It’s a favourite because it captures the obvious delight on Debby’s face, the classic tiny fingers gripping those (slightly) older ones and the Madonna & Child feel to the whole occasion.

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One of the earliest digital photos I ever took was when I went out to see the lock gates on the Leeds – Liverpool canal at Bingley, a few miles from Leeds.  Called the 5 Rise Locks, they are designed to drop the level of the canal by just over 59ft and as such are the steepest set of locks in the UK.

Again this view is nothing special but it is still a favourite of mine.  In fact it is one of only two of my photos that I’ve ever printed off and framed. It sits up on a unit in my living room and so I see it every day. I know, I should probably print off some better ones !

Bingley Five Rise Locks From Below

In my previous blog on Blogspot, I mentioned a few times about my sadness that these days, one cannot take photos with unknown children in them without feeling guilty about it. When trying to hone my photographic skills, children used to be favourite subjects as they would run and jump and skip and tax my ability to capture their movements.  They were also unpredictable and often had facial expressions worth recording forever.

One one occasion in Roundhay Park, when I’d actually been challenged by a park official when taking a photo of an ice cream van (some children were in the queue) which I wanted to send to US friends (the photo, not the van !), I was feeling both embarrassed and angry when I moved on to the nearby grounds of Tropical World.

I sat down on a low stone wall which held back a small pool containing ducks and other water birds. One Mallard had hopped up onto the wall a few feet from me and was watching everyone go by. A small boy and his mother came out from the Tropical World building and I sensed a photo opportunity was imminent.  I quickly glanced at the mother and with some basic sign language I ‘asked’ if it was ok to take a photo of the child. Taking her smile and nod as affirmative, I had barely enough time to frame and focus the scene before me and somehow managed to capture what I was hoping for…the look on the child’s face when he spotted the Mallard.

It’s a shame that such moments are getting harder to capture ‘thanks’ to the actions of a few. As such, this photo makes it onto my favourite list as much for the back story as the image itself.

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I’m always looking for somewhere new to visit within 100 miles or so of Leeds so that it can be done as a day trip. I’d never been to Lincoln and when using Google to decide where to visit within the city, the Cathedral literally stood out as a must see.

The Cathedral Church of Christ, Blessed Mary The Virgin and St. Cuthbert of Durham, better (and more easily) known as Durham Cathedral, is spectacular enough as a building but when you add in the River Wear running by below it, you get views so picturesque that you could use up a whole 36 roll of Kodachome on it alone…..to use old money.

Thank God for digital photography as I must’ve taken 50 photos of the views along the river with the imposing Cathedral looming majestically over it.  This is my favourite of all the photos I took that day, back in May 2007.

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I’ll group the next 2 photos together as they were both taken in the Lake District on the same day…..again back in 2007.

I’d never been on a steam train and I wanted a scenic location so I went on the Lakeside and Haverthwaite Railway in Cumbria. I got onboard at Haverthwaite and 3.2 miles later I was in Lakeside, aptly named as it lies on the southern end of Lake Windermere, the largest natural lake in England.  As a train destination, the views at Lakeside were pretty spectacular and not what a London commuter would ever see. The photo below was taken from the train carriage as it was preparing to take me back on the return trip.

The other photo was taken along the road on my drive back up to Windermere. The weather in the Lake District is very variable but when you catch it on a good day, so does everyone else and the roads and picnic area can be overcrowded. It’s still very pretty and so this usual view of the lake on a good, if busy, day makes it onto my list.

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4 more to go so take a coffee break if you like !

I do love visiting classic English villages although it’s often difficult to capture their quentessential Englishness on camera.  This was not the case when, in February 2004, I visited Thornton-le-Dale, near Pickering on the southern edge of the North Yorkshire Moors National Park.  With a population of just 2000, it is a true English village, complete with a little stream that runs along the main street. It then widens and wends its way past a traditional thatched cottage and the view of it from the road bridge has graced many calendars, jig-saw puzzles and chocolate boxes over the years.

I couldn’t think of a different angle so my photo is as traditional at the subject but still a favourite of mine.

Thornton Le Dale 3 Darker Sky

A few miles above the National Park lies the fishing port of Whitby, one of my favourite destinations for a day out. With its links to Captain Cook and even Bram Stoker, the town is a magnet for tourists in the summer and I’m sure that they all climb the 199 steps up to Whitby Abbey which overlooks the harbour. It’s a steep climb for sure but well worth the effort because the views from the top are spectacular and of course you can always enter the Abbey as well !

Right at the top of the steps, before the Abbey itself, lies the Church of St. Mary.  Due to the record rainfall we had last year, the cliff face in front of the Church fell away and Health & Safety are currently working on restoring it as much as it can be restored !

I went across the harbour bridge, over the River Esk and up onto the other side to take this picture near to the statue of Captain Cook. It shows the view through the whale jaw bone arch to the opposite cliff with the church and the Abbey behind it. The original arch was erected in 1853 and replaced with ‘one’ from Norway in 1963 and this current arch was donated by Alaska in 2003.  Again it’s a common view but that makes it no less a favourite in my eyes.

Whale's Jawbone Arch At Whitby

For the penultimate photo, I’ve chosen one of the hundreds of photos of swans that I’ve taken over the years. They make wonderful subjects as they tend to glide imperiously along, making few fast movements so that sharp images can be captured. Of course it’s a different matter when they get onto dry land and you take close ups of them at your peril. Best to use a telephoto lens and have an escape route !

I’ve taken many more active photos of swans flapping their wings and even reaching up to take food from people……and children again !  I just like this one because of the look on the swan’s ‘face’ and the ripples on the water are cool too, I’m sure as I look through my folders for another blog post, I’ll find better swan photos but this isn’t supposed to be a definitive collection – best swan photo, best thatched cottage photo, best Cathedral photo etc – so I reserve the right to post another one when it comes along !

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I’ve thought a long time before including this final photo. It may seen a bit macabre but I see nothing wrong with putting up a photo of my mother on the internet. She’d have loved the idea.

The reason for it being a bit macabre is because it’s the last photo ever taken of her before she died.

In early 2003, aged 80, she realised she couldn’t live alone in her house anymore and didn’t want to be a burden on friends and relatives by needing their assistance. So she moved into a care home and loved it from the first day. The staff were wonderful and despite her small frame and minuscule appetite, I was sure she’d live there for many years.  I went over to N. Ireland to see her at the end of March, a few days before flying to America for 6 months. She was very frail (I had to feed her) but was very happy and alert and I left with her blessing and best wishes for my US holiday.

25 days later in America, on April 20th, I returned from Mass on Easter Sunday to be told I’d had a call from an aunt and could I ring her back immediately. I did and was told the news that mum had slipped into a coma and wasn’t expected to last another 24hrs. There followed a mad and extremely emotional dash to get a flight back home on an Easter Sunday but a few hours after that phone call. I was on an overnight flight to London and then on to Belfast to arrive in the early hours of Monday 21st without knowing if mum was still alive.

Explaining my haste, the very kind man at the car rental desk went out of his way to speed up the paperwork and get a car to me asap and when I mentioned I didn’t know if my mum was alive or not, he insisted I use his phone (I did not have a mobile in those days) to ring the care home and was so relieved to be told she was hanging on.

My US friend Debby had come with me so I’d not be alone and we sped to the home and spent the day and early afternoon with mum and various family members. Despite showing no movement for the previous 24 hrs, she squeezed my hand when I first spoke to her so I was happy she knew I was there. I’d like to think that’s what she was hanging on for.

After going to her old house for a much needed nap, we returned later that evening to sit with mum through the night. In the early hours, with everyone gone except Debby and myself, mum’s breathing noticeably changed and we knew the end was near. I took her hand, kissed her forehead and told her she could go to be with dad.  Seconds later she passed away.

So this is a very special photo and despite knowing what was to come a few short weeks later, it has to be a favourite. She was content.  She was happy.  And deep down I believe she knew she didn’t have long left.  Given her firm belief that she would soon be with dad, that was ok too.

Me & Mum

So there you have it.  15 favourite photos with stories to match.  When I started this I’d no idea the post would be so long so apologies if it was too much. I guess you could’ve stopped reading so if you’ve made it this far, I hope it was worth it.

Be warned……..there will be more to come another day !

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