The Day in the life of Tony Cliffe

The blog that's full of discussion, advice, travel and ramblings!

Tag: Photography

Autumn is around the corner. My four likes and dislikes of this season.

The nights are now getting longer, and thus, the days are shorter. There is a noticeable coolness to the winds that flow in off the Atlantic now, the first detectable signs of change in the colours of the leaves. Autumn is just around the corner.

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For some, autumn brings people joy and cheer, a change in the season, those turning colours of the leaves a welcome sign to usher in the colder weather as a respite from the summer. Not that we’ve had a particularly good end to the summer! It’s felt more autumnal in August this year than it does in November! Autumn, or fall, if you like saying words wrong, if I had to rank it, I’d place it at number 3 on my list. Spring is by far my favourite season when everything is warming up, nature is coming alive, and there is an excitement for the summer ahead, the longer days, the hot weather, and days out in the sun. Beautiful! Autumn, however, don’t get me wrong has its perks, way more than winter does (god I hate winter!) but it’s not as good as spring or summer. So, before you can say pumpkin spice latte, autumn will be here. So here are my four not so favourite things about this season and my, to its credit, four things I do like about this season.

Dislikes

I’m aware that many of my dislikes for autumn are probably some of your favourite things about it. You’re wrong, but that’s fine, I can live with that. Oddly, some of my dislikes have an alter ego side to them and form the basis of some of my likes for this season. All will become clear, I promise!

  1. The Long Nights and the Weather

In at number one is my number one dislike of autumn. The shorter days and long nights. It does my Seasonal Affective Disorder no good at all! The long days of summer, I pine for, the bright blue azure skies and the twilight of what little darkness hours exist in the summer. Autumn that all changes. You get up in the dark and by the time you get home from work, it’s nearly dark. It makes me feel like I’m trapped in a lightless cardboard box. Grim. I’m the type of person who runs hot to touch, which means I always feel cold, so I dread the colder weather coming in. At least now I don’t look out of place wearing jumpers and gilets, so silver lining I guess! I love the weather, but I suppose you might have already figured that out if my social media posts are anything to go by. Sure, I love storms they’re exciting, especially thunderstorms but in autumn the heat and the energy in the atmosphere dissipates, the high pressure forms low pressure and we go from clear blue skies to occasional epic thunderstorms, to an endless conveyor belt off of the Atlantic of cold wind, torrential rain, and endless days of cloud. If you’re lucky it might be spiced up with some fog or as they say in Newfoundland, Canada, you’re blessed with a million-dollar day. Which basically means it’s a blessing when you get a sunny day.

Wind and endless rain and no blue skies makes S.A.D. worse. How anyone can enjoy cold, wet and grey weather is beyond me, I think you need to be sectioned. There is nothing fun about it at all, and I cannot fathom why anyone prefers that over warm blue skies!

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Sunset and raindrops

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  1. Everything is a variety of Pumpkin

I get it, a critical autumnal event is Halloween and the tradition of pumpkin picking and carving is I admit, a fun thing to do. Pumpkins are there to be carved, have a candle shoved inside of it for one night and then disposed of into the compost heap because that’s where these weird orange balls deserve to be. They smell horrific when you’re carving them, and they taste as good as they smell. Awful. In recent years and I can only imagine this is the U.K.’s attempt to become more mainstream America (we have kids graduating with cap and gowns now from Nursery now, so why the hell not, next we’ll be buying guns in our supermarkets and blaming video games for mass shootings) that autumn signals retailers to add Pumpkin Spice to ordinary things. Pumpkin does not belong in coffee, how dare you tarnish the wonders of that beautiful hot bean juice with that filth! A delicious blueberry muffin is replaced by a Pumpkin Muffin. Candles are sprinkled with Pumpkin spice, Pumpkin bread, Pumpkin, Pumpkin, Pumpkin! I don’t actually think anyone actually enjoys a Pumpkin spiced anything, they just say they do to look like they’re cool Autumn Hipsters. Sorry, I feel I may have needed to get that off my chest.

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Cliffe pumpkins

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  1. Excuses for public transport

Granted, hopefully, this year now that I’ve passed my test and will have a car that this won’t be such a bugbear of mine, but as the seasons change, I can hear that big fat book of public transport excuses opening with a thud. Autumn brings in the wonderful excuses for those who operate public transport, (not naming names or pointing the finger here, well known North West train company *cough*) to cover up for their lack of service providing.  “What shall it be today, John? The 16.45 is cancelled because we forgot to staff it”… “Meh. Autumn? Oh yeah! Leaves on the line! Remember, it’s the wrong type of leaves! Don’t forget to tell the passengers that!”

“So this week we’ve had, the wrong rain, the wrong ice, the wrong wind, the wrong frost and now the wrong leaves? They suspect nothing!”

Autumn just gives people an excuse to cancel things, cancel plans and gives everyone the perfect excuse, just blame it on the weather!

  1. The changing of the leaves

Number four is one of my likes for a different reason, but here I will address why I dislike it. I hate it because I find it so incredibly sad! Spring and summer are so full of life and autumn is a swan song for all the plants and animals. Some creatures only survive the summer before dying, and the leaves on those big old mighty Oak show off with their most dazzling and spectacular colours, all that pizazz just before they lose it all.

One reason I absolutely despise winter is that everything is so bare and dead. Lifeless trees, lifeless light and gloomy clouds. Eugh! I just always feel despondent in autumn when the leaves change, the exotic birds fly back home leaving our shores, and bird song which is so loud in summer is replaced by the odd chirp here and there. Depressing!

Likes

Admittedly, those four dislikes above used to be a lot more, but as I’ve grown older while autumn will always remain firmly in 3rd place, I have grown fonder over the years of it. So, here are some of my most liked things about the season.

  1. Photography

Mirror of the lake

A passion of mine is photography and autumn to me, is the best time of the year for it. Sure, summer you can get out more to photograph things, but often it’s the wrong type of light. Summer sun can often be too bright, too harsh, which ruins your contrasts in shots and it has a cool feeling to it. Plus, landscapes are often very monochromatic, they’re just blue and then bright green for the leaves. Autumn is full of colour, the sky changes to a different blue, the green of the trees changes to deep reds, oranges, purples and pinks and the light is softer. It gives a photographer a treasure trove of photographic opportunities.

Sunrise on the canal

I love autumn for the colours it gives you, while it does make me sad I take comfort in capturing natures beauty before it goes super bland in winter.

Fisherman on the Leeds Liverpool Canal

  1. The Sunsets and the night sky

In a similar vein to Number one, my favourite time of day is twilight, always has been. There is something extraordinary about everything being backlit and silhouetted against the sky. In autumn, twilight gets dragged out as the angle of the sun gets lower, and due to this, before nightfall in autumn often offers up the most spectacular of sunsets and sunrises. With colder, denser air and the low angle of the sun, more light rays get scattered, giving me one of my favourite sights, Mother Nature, at her most glorious. Autumn offers up the most amazing colours you could ever see in the sky, and that makes me happy! Long after the sun is set, the night sky often has a deep soft glow to it before turning purple and then black. Stunning.

Those of you know me well know that a big passion of mine is Astrophotography. Astrophotography for me starts to come into its own in autumn. Yes, technically winter is the most perfect time for it due to it being the clearest of skies in the atmosphere and the most exciting in terms of what to see, at least autumn offers some form of warmth. I can spend a good few hours outside in the autumn photographing the stars compared to maybe an hour or so in the winter.

Norwegian Winters night in the forest

In summer, there is often too much haze for clear night sky photography, not to mention that this far north that you may not know this, but in Liverpool, we don’t officially have night time from about Mid-June till September.

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We stay in Nautical and Astronomical Twilight, so it’s often not dark enough to photograph stars. While it may seem dark outside to you, the camera still looks like it’s almost day time. So hurray for night time, never hear me say that again in any other context!

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Caught a satellite tonight!

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  1. The Cosy Feeling, cold weather and warm jumpers

The weather, oh, we’ve been here before, right? Obsession alert! While often the weather is pants in autumn, it does usually offer up some of the clearest and bluest of skies. Not to mention those sunsets and star-studded skies I love so much. But, there is also something incredibly cosy and special about autumn that, as I’ve got older, I’ve grown to look forward to. While nothing will ever replace the feeling of warm sunshine and wind on my skin, I love wearing shorts and t-shirts! I must admit that I secretly look forward to wearing chunky knit jumpers again. I love wearing big thick boots, warm jeans, gloves, scarfs, mix and matching many blazers and coats in an outfit and above all, the cosiness of a beanie hat.

Plus, it’s the perfect excuse for me to go full Geographer and wear boots, fleece lined walking pants and various fleeces and waterproofs. Yes! Love the adventurer look!

There is something special about that nip in the air, that cold that stings your cheeks when you get inside, the smell of the fire crackling or the warm caress of the heating, the crunch of the frost underfoot and that no better feeling of when it is frosty outside or the wind and rain is howling against your window, and you look outside from the warmth of your bed. Bliss!

There is something also about autumn that brings the kid out in you. Piles of leaves on the floor are impossible not to kick, pumpkins have to be picked, and fireworks set off. Autumn still awakens that little kid in me, the one who knows that just around the corner is winter and winter means Christmas. Yay! Autumn is super cosy.

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Crunch of the frost

  1. The food

With colder weather means a better appetite. Throw out those salads because you no longer need a beach-ready body, you need a hibernation ready body! Jumpers and thick coats hide a multitude of sins and food is just way better in autumn and winter.

When it’s too hot, you turn your back on cosy and comforting foods for salads, B.B.Q.s and vegetables. In winter, there is nothing more comforting than a giant bowl of chunky soup and crusty bread to dip into it. Hearty meals like scouse, stew and pies become the go-to on a cold day. Drinks all suddenly appear to be mulled, and I get to drink my favourite autumn/winter drink, Hot Ribena.

Yaaaas! I’m ready for it! While summer isn’t over yet (did it ever really start? Am I right?!) There will still be the occasional hot spell for us to enjoy, but the inevitable is just around the corner. Autumn is nearly here, the long nights, the pumpkin spice and the big coat season is fast upon us!

Is Autumn your favourite season or is it your worst? Let me know in the comments and why!

 

My 2019 so far: January to July

A blog I tend to do every year is an end of year blog and a mid-year blog where I look back through my Instagram and reminisce about the highs, the lows and some of my favourite shots of the year so far. As we head into August and get closer to the darker nights, the crisp cool air and the twinkling of frost on the ground, I thought it would be an excellent time to review 2019 thus far!

January

Sadly, 2019 didn’t get off to the best of starts. The second half of 2018 was slowly sliding into a pile of crap compared to the first half, it accumulated in one of the worst Christmases in living memory, and I had high hopes that 2019 would be a fresh, new, positive start. A reset. Well, that didn’t go to plan. My beautiful feline best friend Tammy sadly passed away after being my cat of over 21 years. I was absolutely heartbroken. She had gone rapidly downhill in December and only saw the first week of 2019 before moving on to a better life. I still miss her terribly. Tam was my cat, she hated everyone else but me! She’d greet me at the door, she’d sleep on the pillow next to me every night, and I dearly miss having my furry little hot waterbottle to fall asleep to every night. You were a massive part of this family and me for 21 years, a beautiful little thing.

While the passing of Tam was a tough one to take, at least the PhD was on track. With the deadline of June looming, I had worked hard over Christmas, and on the 11th of January after so much hard work, I finally had something tangible, a first completed draft of my thesis. This was a huge mental milestone in the PhD life, the first glimmer of hope that I might actually finish this mammoth piece of work. While I knew I had months of editing and rewriting to come, to finally have all those bits of work into one document is the official beginning of the end.

On a freezing January day, a nice change of pace and excitement from PhD life when I arrived at Altcar military training base to view some special forces Chinooks and other assets as they departed after a special forces exercise in the area. Huge shout out to Altcar for allowing me on base to photograph these awesome machines and crews!

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Wokkah!!!

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While I hate winter, I do love the crisp, clear nights for stargazing. This January we had some exceptional clear skies and a few ISS passes I managed to catch on camera!

 

February

Feb was a quiet month as I worked away on my PhD edits. The only notable things were spending some downtime outdoors in new landscapes and photographing such exceptional star-studded skies!

I spruced up some personal home décor with a lovely addition to the bedroom!

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New plant for the bedroom!

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Love my Bonsai!

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In Feb, I discovered a hidden gem of a nature reserve that was only a five-minute drive from my house. A super place for photography, wildlife (particular bird watching), with rivers, woods and wetlands to explore.

March:

March, well everything got a bit real. The end was finally in sight! My thesis was printed, bound and ready to hand in for submission.

My few words on International Women’s Day. It’s 2019, and you still get taxed on essential lady things, absolute fucking disgrace IMHO! A huge shout out as always to all my awesome, amazing, beautiful, dedicated female friends!

When life just likes to troll you. I was so close to getting 10k a month but was one ball away each time. Absolutely livid and I still am to this day!

March got a lot brighter when my yearly meet up with Han and Dan, or should i say Mr & Mrs Watson, came about!

It was also my first ever Escape room! Han and Dan being veteran escapees we absolutely smashed not one but two escape rooms! They are my new favourite thing, they’re so fun, and I think we absolutely nailed our teamwork!

It was all well and good surviving an escape room, but I’ve not known fear like getting the viva date confirmed. D-Day now had a date, a very very near date! The day every PhD student dreads the final battle, the 3 hours where you either fail or succeed. The battle of the Viva loomed.

To take the fear of the viva away, I was still spending my downtime out in the countryside photographing nature at it’s best. This is one of my favourite pictures taken this year, I love the road leading you down to the lake and the gloomy storm approaching in the background. I felt as the viva loomed that I was walking that path towards the impending storm!

Best mothers day card, ever.

April:

Mark, my awesome cousin from Canada, popped in for his first visit to the UK and Liverpool after a European business trip! So great to spend the day with him showing him around this beautiful city and keeping those close family ties across the pond. Just a shame Liverpool decided to give him a welcome of torrential rain and wind! Hope to see you again Mark and thanks once again for taking the time to come visit!

My favourite shot of the year!

However, all things must come to an end, and I had my final day pre-viva in the office, a building that had been such a huge part of my life for the past 2 and a bit years.

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A lovely last day in the office today before my viva next week. Time to leave the comfort of H105 and have one final epic battle. V-Day fast approaches! Just under 3 years worth of hard work, 250,000 words, stress, imposter syndrome and over coming numerous failures and an unhealthy amount of coffee all comes down to a 3 hour viva where i have to defend every word and every decision made in those years to a panel of experts. PhD or no PhD all rests on that. The PhD has been the most intellectually and emotionally challenging thing i have ever done, it's been one epic journey that's made me grow as a person more than i ever have. I've made friends for life who without them life and the PhD would have been so much worse! I've been fortunate to travel to new countries and new cities and I've ticked off my life long goal of getting a CAA approved pilots licence ( i know it's no PPL!). PhDs are not about how clever you are, they're about how resilient you are and how stubborn you are to not give up when you're in a research world where it keeps knocking you down and you have to keep getting back up. A journey i hope next week i can end on a high otherwise it's been for absolutly nothing 🤣1st of September 2016 i started this journey to get the highest academic award possible. I set myself the stupid personal goal of finishing my PhD under 3 years and before my 27th birthday because no one sets more unattainable goals than my stupid brain. Now I'm days away from it all coming together. I want to do but i also don't because the viva if it goes well is the end. The end of the PhD, the end of my long life as a student. An end to an identity I've had for so long and is a part of me, i always want to learn and achieve more. It's also most likely the end of me in academia as I've made the decision that I'm unlikely to pursue a career in it. Forget the avengers, this is my end game! No pressure. In the words of Leeroy Jenkins, "Alright. Lets do this!" . . #PhDchat

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The battle of the viva was brutal, difficult, challenging, but ultimately rewarding! After just over two and a half years after starting the PhD, I had survived! I had made it to the end, the end game of being Dr Cliffe had been achieved! April 24th, 2019. What a day!!

May:

I may well now be a Doctor, but that didn’t earn me any more respect from my family, as evident by my birthday wrapping paper.

This badge was a fun joke given to me by my sister, but I was so unbelievably proud to wear it! Fun fact, the head of the Doctoral Academy loved it so much that they put an order in for them, so all new Drs will get one! A lovely little legacy!

Each weekend me and Ro would go an explore new places to visit and walk and we stumbled across another little local nature reserve. It was quaint!

I was given three months to do my post viva corrections to my thesis, but I completed them in 3 weeks. It felt so good but also sad to finally finish!

I discovered a Llama/Alpaca in my coffee cup! Little did I know in a few weeks I’d be surprised by my family to go walking with them in the lake district!

May saw me heading down to RAF Duxford to watch some preparations for the 75th D-Day anniversary. A brilliant event, so many Daks on the ground and plenty of warbirds!

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Ready for D-Day anniversary para drops

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June:

Well, June started with a win, a massive win! 6 times, baby! European Champions!!!

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Yaaaaaas!!!! #LFC

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The PhD was officially confirmed and approved. I had finally done it!

Visiting the Philharmonic is always special, but listening to John William scores of Speilberg films was another level!

In June, one of my favourite night time phenomenons occurs. The rare Noctilucent cloud formations! Formed a few weeks either side of the summer solstice, sunlight below the horizon lights up ice crystals high in the atmosphere turning night time into daylight. It’s an exceptional sight to see, I was lucky to have a few days of it, but this particular night it lasted for hours and was such a strong showing of them!

I travelled down South to just North of London to go to one of my all-time favourite humans and one of my closest and dearest friends wedding, Chloe’s! I also had to screenshot my Insta story of that day, which sums it all up!!

chloe

From one end of the country to the other! I was back in the Lake District, one of my favourite places in the UK! Spending a few days away with the family was a perfect little getaway and something we haven’t done together for so long!

I was surprised by my family with a two-hour walk with Alpacas. BEST DAY EVER!

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What a day! Alpaca walking ❤

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Nice few days away with the fam

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July:

Graduation day arrived!!

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Time to graduate!

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Graduation photos have arrived!

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Mission Accomplished!

This family are awesome!

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Great afternoon with the fam!

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A week on from officially becoming Dr Cliffe, I went and passed my driving test after only 18 hours of driving! Yaaaas! Some people thought this day would never come but just shows you when I set my mind to something, it gets done!

So far *touches wood* 2019 has been a good year and I’m excited for what lies ahead for the latter half of the year! Where will the adventure take me?!

 

 

 

My last academic trip to Bergen, Norway

PhDs are a journey and like all great journeys, they’re punctuated by moments, stages and turns. It felt surreal and a very long journey to on the eve of heading off to Norway for my final international and what was to be my last official conference as a PhD student. In my university at least, PhD students are expected to present their work at faculty and university level but to prove yourself you need to present on the world stage. You’re expected to present at both national and international conferences during your term as a PhD student. I’ve been fortunate to present at 4 national and 3 internationals both in the UK, Croatia (which can be read here My visit to Split, Croatia) and finally, here in Bergen, Norway.

What made the final conference trip special was not only was it in a place I’ve always wanted to visit, but for the first time, I’d be presenting twice. Alongside my PhD and my many hobbies, I work as an Editor for the International Journal for Students as Partners. It’s been a fantastic project I’ve been involved in from its inception, and while I still feel like I shouldn’t be there (good old imposter syndrome again), it’s very much been one of those amazing opportunities that I couldn’t turn down. It was most definitely when the opportunity arose to say yes and to learn how to do it later! To be an editor as a student and at this age is unbelievable and so rewarding, despite the amount of voluntary time it takes up in what is a busy schedule. I’m fortunate to not only work on a fantastic and vital journal with world-leading experts in SaP literature but to work with them on the editorial board. Despite the 9pm meetings with colleagues in the UK, Canada, USA and Australia and with the new addition of Hong Kong and Malaysia, it’s been a rewarding and challenging experience. Ruth, my longtime mentor (I’ve gone from being her student to her RA to finally my colleague at IJSaP, we share co-editor responsibilities for all Case Studies the journal receives) was presenting at the ISSoTL 18 conference about the journal alongside her work. What made it special was other colleagues on the board would be presenting too and after years talking to them via a computer screen in our meetings, I’d finally get to meet them all in person!

“The ability to present what was most likely my last academic conference with my mentor, where it all started. It had a nice full circle feel about it.”

It’s felt like a long journey from my first ever international conference in Amsterdam when I was an RA for Ruth. Way back then the world of conferences and most certainly at International level was a whole new and confusing world. However, Ruth has been and continues to be an excellent mentor, she guided me through that first international and even allowed me to present solo in that. Throwing you in the deep end was the best way to learn. Therefore, I felt proud and thankful that (a.) I arrive in Bergen comfortable at International Conferences with a few under my belt and (b.) The ability to present what was most likely my last academic conference with my mentor, where it all started. It had a nice full circle feel about it.

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Great opening at #issotl18 so far!

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Bergen in Norway was a place that always looked so beautiful, charming and at times, rugged. Nestled in the Fjords with it’s delicately painted shop fronts I was so excited to finally go and a fitting place it was for my final jaunt as a PhD student. With my laptop, camera and the all-important USB stick with my presentation on, I was off to the airport. I flew with a new airline this time (SAS) and on a brand new aircraft type for me, the Airbus A320 NEO (Avgeek win!). Getting to Bergen isn’t that easy! I had to fly from Manchester to Oslo, wait for two hours and then fly onwards to Bergen.

What actually happened, however, was a technical fault with the NEO meant that after a severe delay sitting on the plane, what was meant to be 2 hours turned into a 15-minute dash across Oslo airport including passport control, another security check and then a 2-mile run to catch my flight to Bergen! However, the landing in Oslo was terrific, as was the landing in Bergen! There is something special about flying after sunset across the frozen north, I was tired but filled with excitement for the next few days ahead.

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It's a bit cold here.

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After what felt like a very long day, I arrived in the cold rainy airport of Bergen, Norway, in the dark. After 40 minute tram ride I arrived into the city for the first time, the clatter of my Case behind me. My hotel was near the central train station of Bergen, and through the drizzle and low cloud, I could just about make out one of the three giant mountains that flank this small city. The glow of the street lights that crisscrossed up the mountain disappeared into the darkened sky. Cool, really cool, I thought. My hotel was a typical Scandinavian style, small but well equipped even if it did take me 5 minutes to work out how to turn the lights on! I was on the 8th floor with a giant wall to floor ceilings which made the room feel bigger than it actually was but good luck finding a big hotel room in this part of the world! After a shower, I was off to sleep.

The next morning I awoke to an amazing buffet breakfast and joys to me, free coffee! Nordic countries know how to make super strong coffee, which is just to my taste. The conference weirdly didn’t start until the welcoming ceremony in the evening, so it gave me a full day to go and get a feel for this city, a place I’ve wanted to visit for a long time. Within moments of walking through this city, I fell in love with it, it had that rustic charm that I found so endearing on my time on the maritime coast of Canada.

This place reminded me so much of St. John’s that all the memories came flooding back, it was just as cold as that place too! I loved the cobbled streets, the brightly coloured wooden shops and houses. In this part of the world, the sun rose late and set early, so I was out way before sunrise, but as the sun rose as I explored the city, I had a big travellers grin on my face!

As followers of my travels will know, I always go and climb the biggest thing there is in any new place I visit. What’s bigger than a mountain top? After a pleasant walk around the city, I put on my hiking boots and set up on the climb to the top of the mountain. After a fantastic walk through streets which turned into gravel tracks lined by dense Norwegian spruce forests, which then cleared away to reveal the city and the Fjords below. Simply stunning and well worth the effort of getting up here, a just reward indeed! I scoped the top of the mountain off for photo opportunities with my camera, and I went for a hike through the forests. I love hiking, especially alone in new places as it has that relaxed adventure vibe that I love. Plus, it’s a new challenge to get the best shots out of this stunning scenery in front of me. I came across dense forests and little lakes with tiny waterfalls. I loved it!

Waterfalls and rain Walkway to the mountain through the forest

However, I couldn’t spend too long as it was down the mountain on a train, which was cool! See the video!

Before it was back to the hotel to shower and change for the opening night of the conference, after all, that’s why I was here! I was presenting as part of the IJSaP team the next day and my PhD work on the final day of the conference in three days. So I devised a plan that evening and the following day I’d spend at the conference. The Friday, I’d go explore more and take a cruise around the Fjords (how could you not when you’re here!) then the Saturday was another conference day before I had a final free day to explore. I won’t talk too much about the conference but wow, what a conference to finish on! A genuinely supportive and enjoyable event to have been a part of. I loved meeting loads of new people, I loved presenting my own work and as part of a team, and it was great to finally meet my fellow colleagues! It truly was a super ending to my time as a PhD student on my final ever international conference.

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Time for a Fjord cruise!

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Away from the conference, however, I skipped a few sessions (don’t judge) to go and explore more of this beautiful city and the surrounding fjords. In between, my two days of presenting, I took a day off from the conference to go and explore the Fjords (I wasn’t the only conference attendee to do so either that day!). I looked online the night before due to the first day with no rain forecast since I got here, for around £60 a cruise would take you out for three hours into the beautiful fjords, I couldn’t turn down such an offer!

My mind casts back to when I sailed out of the river Mersey in torrential April showers with the Battle of the Atlantic fleet, all 26 warships heading out into the wild Irish Sea was a fond memory, but, a distinctly cold one. I’d never been so cold, until this cruise! Walking to the harbour, there was a crunch of ice underfoot as the rising sun glinted off the frost on the ground. I thought I’d get to the boat 30 minutes before departure, but It seems everyone else had the same idea, so I was already far back in the queue. Annoying too as I really wanted to get on the top deck. I was aware of the potential for, but how could you sit inside a boat when you were surrounded by all this beauty! Living in a Norwegian Fjord

Morning in the Fjords

I watched as our ship pulled alongside and before long everyone was boarded and I found a really nice little spot on the top deck. As we trundled out of the city and past the giant ice breaker resupply vessels, it was decidedly calm as we crossed the harbour wall and out into the fjords. Well, that illusion was shattered as the captain opened the throttles, and as the waves and speeds increased, so did the biting icy wind. I had thermals on but I might as well been wearing a t-shirt that’s what it felt like! The pain of the cold and particularly my fingers curled around my camera soon disappeared as I got lost in the beauty of it all. Morning fog hung in the valleys of fjords and the island like a fluffy blanket, the sun now lost behind a thick grey layer of cloud. I couldn’t stop myself from taking hundreds of pictures as I slowly watched the bridges and the fjords loom out of the mist, to then watching the mist swirl and form different shapes and then finally, the sun broke through clearing the mist from the water to reveal stunning peaks and troughs, snow-capped mountains and cascading waterfalls.

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😍

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This has to be the most beautiful place I have ever seen. I get it now, I really get why people put up with the cold to go cruising around the Fjords. As an avid World War 2 follower with history, I was brought to the thoughts of what it was like for both allied and axis ships patrolling such waters in horrific weather and especially the Bismark and Tirpitz who would hide out in the Fjords. Such idyllic location for such a war to be fort, the juxtaposition of the best of mother nature and the very worst of humankind. After three hours and well over 500 pictures, we arrived back on dry land. I could barely move, and my muscles ached from the constant battering of -25c wind chill. I exited the boat and walked straight across the harbour to a coffee shop. The heat inside wrapped around my chilled bones like a much-needed hug. Weirdly, in Norway, everyone’s English accent is well, weird. I’ve heard South African vibes, I’ve heard American and in front of me serving my long Americano was a quintessentially British woman. “Ah, you’re from Liverpool?” I guess my accent was a give-a-way for that. “Yeah, where in the UK are you from?”…”Oh I’m not, I’m from Oslo, I go to university here”. That messed with my head!

“I spent two hours drinking coffee, wrapping my hands around that lovely hot bean juice as each sip thawed me out.”

As you know, I am a fond coffee lover, and I’ve sampled many coffee shops all over North America and Europe. There is something about coffee shops, their vibes, the music, the constant chatter and often that cosy feeling. This little coffee shop that looked out into the small busy cobbled streets of Bergen with the harbour glistening behind me was much like the fjords, perfection. I spent two hours drinking coffee, wrapping my hands around that lovely hot bean juice as each sip thawed me out. I chatted to the locals and tourists and flicked through my pictures. What a fantastic morning! Back in the hotel, I got the hottest shower I could cope with and got in bed to edit my photographs.

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Coffee views!

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After a sleep and some food, I headed back out into the city to climb that mountain again. Despite still feeling a little frostbitten, I was so amazed by the photo opportunities in this city that I just had to get back out there for a sunset and some star photography. I think whatever you do in life you have to go watch a sunrise or a sunset from the peak of a mountain for you to truly appreciate natures beauty. As always on my trips, I’m often fortunate for mother nature to gift me such epic and truly wonderful sunsets.

After the sun had set and the thermometer dropped well below freezing I ended up hiking through the forest in the pitch black to find a nice spot for some star photography. I felt completely safe here but its possibly not the best idea to hike through a mountain forest with no map or torch, in the pitch black. Not my best idea, but sometimes you have to risk it for a great shot. Of which after stumbling upon a little lake, I was so glad I didn’t turn back. However, out of nowhere, the fog from this morning rolled back in, and I could barely see my own feet.

Nighttime on the lake

Star spangled forests

I used my phone camera to light the way, and suddenly I heard footsteps behind me! I was ready to use my tripod as a weapon, but what it turned out as it passed me in a blur was a local, obviously very used to the weather fell running at night! What a crazy Mofo and I certainly nearly had a heart attack! As soon as it came, the fog went again and the summit cleared to the twinkling lights of Bergen. I sat on an ice-cold slab of concrete with no one else around gazing at the stars and the views of the city far below. I reflected on what a fantastic final conference it had been and how far I had come. My journey as a PhD student was ending, but as I sit looking down upon high, it had been one hell of a journey!

Full album of pictures can be found here: https://flic.kr/s/aHsmmmE7Rj

My visit to Split, Croatia

One of the reasons I wanted to do a PhD was for the opportunity to go travelling, all expenses paid to different parts of the world. I was fortunate to go on two such trips this year, the first one, to an international conference in Split, Croatia. Not bad that as part of your proving to become a Dr that you’re expected to present your work at an international conference. I’ve been fortunate to present at two internationals this year, but this was to be my first one. First one as a PhD student anyway. Ironically it was the very last week in my old job before I became a PhD student that I was in Amsterdam presenting RA work at my first ever international conference!

Weirdly enough last year Croatia was on my list as I attempted 12 different holidays in 12 months. I had planned out a possible trip to Dubrovnik but in the end, shelved that idea when I went on the North Atlantic adventure to Iceland and Canada. Croatia, however, I’ve always wanted to visit, in brochures it looked stunning and anyone who’s been who I’ve talked to have always had high praise for it.

My supervisors forwarded a conference to me about UAVs in the environment, and as my PhD is in that realm, I submitted my abstract, got selected and I headed out to Split for a fantastic 3-day conference presenting my work. You’ll be thankful that this blog won’t go into the technical details of the conference (it’s heavy going!), but all you need to know is my first international conference as a PhD student went great! However, this blog will instead talk about my fantastic time in this beautiful part of the world.

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Conference time!

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Flying out from Manchester on one of the first flights in the morning is never fun. While I did plan on sleeping on the plane, I decided to sip coffee while listening to Matt Monroe’s ‘On days like these’ as I flew over the Alps a much better use of my time. I did, however, have that horrible moment as a window seat passenger when you really need a wee (coffee goddammit, why do you always do this!), but your fellow two passengers are asleep. I tried at first to say excuse me and got progressively louder, but no, the two of them were not waking up. I gently tapped her on the shoulder as to not come across as a creep and I asked if I could get out to go the loo, what would have happened if they said no I’ll never know! Sorry. I must have apologised about 30 times for waking them up and being that window seat guy.

Before long the azure blue waters came into view of the Dalmatian coast, I could have been landing in the Caribbean for all I knew looking out of the window. After a spectacular landing (I’d hate to land in fog in this airport with the mountains so close!), I grabbed my bags and headed on the local coach to Split’s main bus terminal. There was a music festival on one of the islands from Split that was starting the day after I arrived and so the arrivals area outside the airport was full of the typical festival goers along with the walking stereotypical; ‘gap year’ or should I say gap yeeeahr people. Never have I sympathised more with Will from the inbetweeners!

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Time to relax!

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Unlike the gap year people who were probably sharing beds in a hostel and some other bodily fluids, I was staying in a 5* apartment in Split harbour, so I phoned Mia, my host with an ETA. After a 30-minute coach ride, I arrived into the cacophony of sound and people. When I entered into the heat of Split, I clattered my case through the busy palm tree-lined streets, dodging tourists and locals as I went. It struck me instantly how beautiful this place was. The water was unlike any colour I’d ever seen, luxury yachts and passenger cruises moored up, lapping against the waves all surrounded by old styled terracotta roofs. Brightly coloured stalls popped out onto the street next to packed bars with locals sipping coffee while waiters busily rushed around between the maze of people.

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Paradise

I was always a fan of the Alex Rider novels, and it felt like this was the perfect setting for one. Walking across the hustle of the main harbour with locals selling fresh fruit and vegetables with the scent filling the hot air, various accents lingering in the mid-afternoon sun, the vibe was exciting and adventurous as I walked towards my destination. Across the harbour I noticed two huge yachts, Silver and white protruding from the other side of the harbour like mini skyscrapers, glinting in the strong sunlight. As I followed the marbled path around the harbour, the ever-present clatter of my case behind me I neared my apartment. It became apparent quite quickly that this place certainly was the playground of the wealthy Russian and Eastern Europeans. Those two boats had armed guards patrolling their decks! (maybe this was an Alex Rider novel after all!).

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One of the many superyachts

After a quick haul up the ancient steps, I arrived to be greeted by a tall young attractive Croatian woman, Mia. She showed me around this fabulous apartment and then left, leaving me with 4 full days in this amazing place. The apartment was huge with two bathrooms, a living room, a kitchen but best of all, my very own balcony looking out onto the harbour. Oh wow, I thought. If only all conferences were like this! I spent plenty of mornings and evenings out on that balcony I can tell you!

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My home for the next few days!

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After a quick nap, as always it’s my aim in new places to climb mountains or the tallest thing in the city. For me, there was a mountain that loomed over Split, its giant Croatian flag visible from the summit. By now it was late afternoon, and it was 31c. Was it a wise decision to head straight up to hike a mountain? Nope. Was the hike and the views worth it? Hell yes, it was! The views were stunning, and I’d fallen in love with this place already. The heat, the colours, the wildlife and the greenery, it felt a long way from home, but my god was it good to be on my travels again!

After my hike up the mountain, I took a stroll around the port and the harbour as sunset started to fall, the temperature seemed to only get hotter as the humidity rose as the sun set into the sea. The streets had only quietened down a little which gave me a bit more space to explore this ancient harbour and the stunning and unique setting. I could see why this place was so appealing to so many people. As night faded and the street lights reflected off the sand coloured paving, the clink of glasses and conversation floated in the now still sultry air of summer night on the Dalmatian coast.

After plenty of pictures I stopped into a local supermarket, no one spoke English so trying to understand the woman who was asking if I needed a bag was a distinct and lengthy challenge of charades! I cooked myself some food, turned the air con on thankful for it as it cooled the beads of sweat that were ever present in the humidity, took a shower and went to bed, I was out like a light.

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The next day was the first full day of the conference, and it was late evening by the time I got back to the apartment, and so I went and had some grapefruit radlers on the balcony and practised my presentation for the next day. It felt fun to practice into the night and in the direction of the harbour. Waking up the next day I was nervous as always. I always get nervous presenting but even more so for my first international PhD conference! I had some toast, it’s all I could stomach, and I headed off in 28c heat for the just under 2-mile walk to the University. Thankfully, it went fantastically well, and I was super pleased with it! Now that my job was done I was free for the next few days to explore this city. By the time I got back to my apartment, it was mid-afternoon again, and I decided that after a stressful but successful day I wanted nothing more than to go exploring, find a beach and just relax, so it’s exactly what I did!

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Just one of the many stunning beaches

There are plenty of beaches in Split although they’re mostly made up of fine pebbles. However, what was the biggest surprise was the many naked and topless women that seemed to populate the beaches of Split. For once, it wasn’t the old heifers who were topless but stunning 10’s! After a three mile walk, I came across a beach that was tucked away in an alcove. I stripped down to my shorts, got comfy and just relaxed as the waves washed up against the rocks and distant music blasted from two small yachts anchored in the bay. This is the life. Especially when a topless woman decided that the rock that was in front of me was a perfect spot to do a topless photoshoot with her friend, hey no complaints from me!

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Epic clear water

Alas, those that know me well know that even with factor 100 on I still burn and after 2 hours I had had my relaxing time, and I headed back towards the city but not before being buzzed by a low flying Hind helicopter! (Avgeek win!). On the way back I walked around some abandoned buildings and explored some more beaches on my way, the colour of that water was something else!

After some food, I decided I wasn’t done with walking today, so I headed up the mountain (again) this time in the hopes of catching a sunset. Clouds had started to bubble up throughout the day and often that means some great colours in the sky for sunset, I thought what better way than a 5-mile hike onto of the 7 so far today than to grab a summit sunset. It did not disappoint at all.

I love my solo hikes in different countries because you barely see anyone and it’s just you and nature. That hike that evening and into the night was probably my favourite one yet. Every corner the forest gave way to spectacular views or old churches carved into the mountainside.

It was unlike anywhere I’ve ever been before and probably ever go again. The heat had eased, but the humidity had skyrocketed as night fell and the clouds covered the sky (so much for star pictures tonight I thought!).

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Sunset on the summit

Walking back down the mountain to the views of the city at night was just stunning. The horns of the ships leaving, to the hum of traffic drifted across the landscape. I sat on a bench for a while just listening and taking in the sights before heading back for a well-earned drink on the balcony and a shower, a total of 18 miles walked and a conference presentation given…not bad for one day is it?

The next day, my last day in this beautiful place I headed out of the city on a tour which worked out at about £20 for a couple of hours. I visited the city of Meereen (for you Game of Thrones fans), an ancient ruined settlement and coliseum and then I arrived in the stunning town of Trogir.

Trogir is a beautiful town a few miles from Split, and it had charm in abundance. From the turquoise waters to the ancient terracotta roofs, I enjoyed my few hours in the city. It was also a place where Doctor Who filmed their Vampires of Venice episode which was really cool to see. If you’re ever in Split, I highly recommend a visit to Trogir.

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Another beautiful town here!

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When I got back to Split, I took a good walk around this stunning city. Through the old fortress, through the marble streets, passed vendors selling shiny trinkets to walking in the underground bazaar where smells of food and music hit your senses from every angle. I must have taken over 500 pictures because everywhere you went you just wanted to capture it on camera. It surely has to rank up there with being one of the most ancient architecturally stunning places I’ve ever visited.

After food, I took one last walk around the harbour as people crammed themselves into the many bars and restaurants that spilt out onto the harbour to watch Croatia play in the Euros. It was quite something walking past all the bars when their national anthem was playing, everyone was singing it as loud as they could into the warm night’s sky. For me, I retired to my balcony, sipping on coffee and looking out onto the dark sea, listening to the cheers of the fans and gentle clinking of the yachts masts in the harbour.

My first international conference had been a success, and it had brought me so many memories and stunning pictures of this truly wonderful location. While it was my last night here, it was not the end of my adventure. The next day I headed off to Switzerland!

 

North Atlantic Adventure: Prince Edward Island

I’m half way through my two week adventure as i head to the wonderful Island of Prince Edward Island. A great part of my trip with fantastic weather, sunsets, views and friendly people!

Charlottetown not Charlotte’s town as I was calling it for most of my trip is a place for some unknown reason I’ve always wanted to visit. Not just the town but the island itself, the island that is known as P.E.I (Prince Edward Island). I’d love to say it was down to an advert where I was captivated by the deep red cliff and sands of the Island, the abundance of sea wild life and the stories of the many lighthouses dotted around the place. I’d love to say it was due to the famous book Anne of Greengables for which this island is most famed for but no neither of them. While I’d seen adverts, my curiosity and desire to visit this place was almost innate, a draw to this island for no particular reason. It certainly wasn’t the book, I only heard about it when I was doing my research for what tours to take while on the island and despite visiting her house on this trip, I’m still very unclear what it is about the book that has captured the hearts and minds of so many!

Today was a pretty long travelling day as I head south from St. John’s. Awaiting me was a 2 and a half hours flight to Halifax before waiting for an hour to catch a 30 minute flight on a teeny tiny plane across the Gulf and into the Island that is Prince Edward Island. More on that flight later!  The short taxi ride to the airport the skies continued to be grey and the thermometer hovered between 2 and 3 degrees above freezing. Before I left the hotel I checked the weather in Charlottetown, a lovely 25c! That weather was to stay for the rest of the week and was going to be in the 28’s in Toronto. Lovely! As a Brit we rarely get anything above 17c after the first week in September and after spending the past two days in -5 wind chill I was certainly looking forward to blue skies and warm sunshine.

The flight from St. John’s to Halifax was just as beautiful as my flight over, passing over tiny islands and plenty azure blue water. After a quick club sandwich in the airport café I went down and waited for my flight. I was super excited about this short hop over the Gulf for one reason….a reeeeaallly small plane! Jets are great and all but there is a thrill about getting a plane that only holds ten people and it’s so small there is no door to the cockpit so you can see right out of the front! That’s a very rare thing in today’s high security aviation world. Getting up close to the plane, the co-pilot greeted you at the door and this is an experience you just don’t get in the UK anymore and I couldn’t wait for those engines to spool up.

The flight was boarded up quickly and I watched as the propellers began to turn and the vibrations messaged my seat. It was quite the sight to see the pilots working through their checklists just before take-off. The noise on take-off was quite simply, deafening! I’ve been on many loud planes before, heck I’ve been hanging out of the back of a C-130 Hercules over the Bristol Chanel in my RAF cadet days and I thought that was loud but it was nothing compared to the ear splitting pitch of a Beech 1900D on take-off. If you ever do happen to find yourself on one of these tiny planes bring ear plugs or noise cancelling headphones, your ears will thank you for it! That to me though just added to the excitement of it all, real old school flying but I know it won’t be for everybody. Flying so low and slow across to the Island was a real treat and I greatly enjoyed what felt like a mini private flight.

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Like flying over the amazon!

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Upon landing I thought they had landed at a local flying club rather than an airport but no this was P.E.I’s airport. Again, tiny. Advantages of that is I was waiting for a taxi with my bag 4 minutes after getting off the plane. As the airport is so small there was only taxi and the next was not going to arrive for another 10 minutes but “more were on the way” I was assured by a woman who I’m pretty sure offloaded my bags and was checking people in! Behind me in the queue where two Canadian businessmen with their brief cases talking about if they’d make the start of their conference in time, I turned to them and offered them to take the next cab rather than me as I was in no particular rush at all. They declined politely and instead asked where I was heading and if I was visiting judging by my accent. I explained about my travels and he welcomes me to his Island and says jump in the cab with us and I’ll make sure the driver drops you off at your hotel first, you’re a guest to Canada I’ve got it. What a lovely gesture! Turns out they’re JCB type truck owners and there is a big conference at one of the hotels on the island in Charlottetown where I was heading. He was one of the biggest sellers on the island and it was really cool chatting to both of them! They both had family in Missagura where my family live and they had family from England so it was nice swapping stories for the 20 minute drive into the town. I shook their hand and thanked them as I departed the cab and walked into my very grand hotel which was apt considering it was called the Holman Grand. It was fancy! Check-in was a breeze and I headed up to my very comfy and lovely room which had a super view!

I dropped my bags off into the room, grabbed a shower then headed out for something to eat and grab somethings for the room and for tomorrow’s tour. As always I just head out aimlessly to explore a new location. I wanted to head towards their waterfront as I had read there was a nice boardwalk that went around this part of the Island, so off I went. It was late afternoon by time I had arrived the warmth felt so lovely after such a cold few days! Every street I turned onto I felt I had to take a picture of. Yet again this was a place like no other, a common theme on this trip. This place had captured my heart instantly. From the amazingly presented quaint old wooden houses, to the bright flowers to the old gas lamps to the friendliness of the people I was blown away. Everyone said hello. Everyone. Young or old it didn’t matter. It had that small village feel to it despite it being a town, quite possibly the prettiest town I’ve ever been in that’s for sure.

After a few pictures and walk along the waterfront I ended up on the main high street which was oddly full of red bricked buildings, something I really did not expect to see. I shouldn’t have been so surprised with this being the oldest part of Canada, in fact this place is exactly where Canada as a nation was born! Lights hung across the street, flowers and manicured vines went up the side of buildings, bunting fluttered in the wind. Simply stunning. I wandered into an Irish bar called the Old Dubliner which to be fair to them actually looked and had the vibe of an Irish pub. After a whiskey or two and a steak I was suitably refuelled. If you find yourself in Charlottetown which I hope you do, I fully recommend it! I stopped off at a convenience store before I headed back to my room. I was going to relax and have a quiet evening after all the travel but I noticed some clouds around and they were beginning to change colour. I had a great feeling about the weather and had that photographers feeling that this sunset would be good. I slipped my shoes back on, packed my camera gear and headed towards Victoria Park that hugged the water via a boardwalk just outside of the city. It was only a short walk and I was ultimately captivated by it all. It was so incredibly peaceful and Mother Nature gave me one of the most spectacular sunsets I have ever had the pleasure to have seen. The birds chirped, owls hooted, the waves lapped the shore. A moment in time I’d love to replay constantly. Ultimate at peace with the world, yourself and everything!

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P.E.I Sunset

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I had my tripod set up and people kept saying hello, chatting about the sunset and two people came next to me to ask about camera settings. All locals, all incredibly friendly. I cannot express enough how warm everyone was I have never and I don’t think ever will visit such an incredibly friendly city as here. The walk back to the hotel as night fell was surreal. Walking through leafy gas lamp lit streets as the moon rose above the city. I stopped on the corner of a street and just paused for a second. I had fallen in love with this place and I felt like I had come home. I had no idea why I’d always wanted to visit this place but here I was thousands of miles away from home in a place that had captured me like no place other. I was home. It felt like a part of me needed to come here and here I was. I’ve heard stories of people saying they’ve found their place in the world or reciting stories of places that they’ve left a part of themselves in. I’ve loved many places I’ve visited but I always thought that was people being melodramatic. Now I understood. If I was to ever move to Canada, it would certainly be this place and I have missed it every day since I left!

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Nice sunny day on P.E.I

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After a great sleep and breakfast the next morning I headed out onto a pre-booked tour. It was me, a guy from Australia, a mum and daughter from Oxford and two old American couples. One of which was so incredibly loud and for some reason the guy decided to befriend me. He was this giant of a man called Bob Johnson from Chicago. He was so loud! I got talking to him while we waited for the bus to arrive and he loved Victorian England history and visited “CornWaaaall” where his wife’s family lives every other year. He decided to refer to me as “Hey England” for the entire 6 hour tour. I didn’t mind, he was funny and cool and his wife was just as mental. I would say mental but realistically they were just American. The tour took me to a little shop in the middle of the Island that made a variety of Jams and Chutneys. They had so many and I was well full after trying so many samples! After a short drive we headed up North to the area of Cavendish where the famous red cliffs and sands are before visiting and having an hour around Anne of Greengables house.

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Anne’s House

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Lovely setting and this was the reason everyone was on the tour. For me it meant nothing so I just explored the forest instead! After there we stopped at a few fishing ports and learnt about the Lobster quotas and listened to a local fisherman explain how they catch them before heading back to the city. The tour guide Roddy MacLaine was a fantastic tour guide. So much so I asked if he did private tours and he did. I gave him some cash and he said he’d take me on a tour of the Island tomorrow! That evening I went and tried out some Fish and Chips which was very good but not as good as St. John’s before taking some fantastic sunset pictures again in the evening.

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P.E.I sunsets are unbelievable!

My final day on the Island was a private 8 hour tour of the Island. Roddy was a really cool old Islander who had so many stories and was such a joy to spend time with him. Such a personalised tour was very special. We visited one of the longest bridges in the world the confederation bridge that spanned the gulf between the island and the mainland. I suppose a when in Rome moment did occur on this tour. He knew all the store people well and he explained that many of the tourists literally come to this store to get their picture taken as Anne from Anne of Greengables. After a mini protest I thought fuck it and proceeded to dress up as Anne. Why the hell not! No regrets. I think I suited it to be honest.

My personal highlight however was ending up in a small town called Victoria on the coast which had a lighthouse dominating the view. Roddy knew the owner of the lighthouse, a guy who made candles for a living who shipped these fantastic pieces of art all over the world! He opened the lighthouse up for me and gave me a tour. What an experience! You just simply would not get this kind of experience anywhere else! I really enjoyed my time on this tour and of the Island. Not one place was not beautiful, not one place you would not wish you had more time to explore in.

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Private Lighthouse

This didn’t feel like Canada at all, it was very unique and a place I highly recommend you come visit. I can honestly see why this is seen as one of Canada’s jewels in the crown and why so many people sing its praises. It’s a mystical magical island of red sands, dripping in history and surrounded by friendship and warmth from the locals. It was unlike anywhere I have ever visited and I wish I could go back. It was a real highlight of the trip!

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Real treat to be invited into his home workshop

I was sad to leave this warm beautiful Island as I took one last stroll as the sun began to set on my time here and it gave me one last unbelievably stunning sunset. I sat on the rocks and watched the birds roost as the moon rose and the waves lapped on the shore. I had found paradise and I long to return.

Tomorrow I start my final leg of this epic journey as I head to Toronto, one of my favourite cities and I finally get to meet up again with my beloved Canadian Cousins for my first Canadian Thanksgiving. The thought of that softened the sadness of leaving this place.

Flight Videos for you avgeeks

St. John’s Departure: 

Halifax Arrival: 

Halifax Departure: 

Charlottetown Arrival: 

 

 

North Atlantic Adventure: St. John’s, Canada Part Two

Part One: North Atlantic Adventure: St. John’s, Canada Part One

In this adventure i explore St. John’s and the surrounding areas. I visit the most Easterly edge of North America, i climb a windy mountain, eat fish and chips and hide from the cold in a museum!

After a very comfortable night’s sleep and being completely unaware of the 80+ mph winds that battered this part of the world overnight I woke up, had my shower, and headed down to breakfast. The breakfast was served in the bar area of the hotel that was adorned with a giant picture of Mick Jagger while easy country rock drifted across the empty tables. I was greeted at the entrance by Lindsay, a really lovely and chipper server who looked after me for the following three days. Always nice to have breakfast with a smile and one day just sat down to have a chat as it was quiet!

After bacon, eggs, sausages and blueberry jam (yes together they taste good!) I grabbed my things and headed outside to await my tour. I booked onto it when I arrived on the Island for $80 for a half day trip, the reviews looked good and they were very accommodating letting me join the already pre-booked tour at short notice! The hurricane that had passed through had left not a cloud in the sky but a brisk wind. Stepping outside to wait for my 9 a.m. pick up the hat and gloves were very much needed at 2 degrees! A man sat down next to me and started smoking before taking a phone call while I watched the odd car in the distance. This part of the world for a city at 9 a.m. was pretty quiet! Not before long McCarthy’s tour bus arrived, a fancy looking mini bus to where the driver, John, got out and gave me a huge firm handshake and a welcome on board! He reminded me of your typical North American Dad! He was from the word go a legend and throughout the tour his passion for this part of the world, his jokes, his humour and his honesty was something that made this one of the best tours I had ever gone on. He introduced me to the rest of the tour who were all here as part of a conference. They’d all come up from Toronto and they all made me feel very welcome to. He let me sit upfront with him. As I buckle myself up he goes “Holy Mackerel where you just sitting next to Anthony Bourdain!?” I give him a quizzical look as I didn’t know who that was “Ah you guys my wife will go nuts! She loves him. I’m going to go ask him for a picture I’ll be right back”. And away he went, inside the hotel to get a picture with Anthony Bourdain. I ask the rest of the tour who he was to which they tell me he’s a very famous Chef, especially in this part of the world. Sadly since writing this blog I know he died recently which is a shame!

He came back and sent his wife a picture and that was a running joke for the rest of the tour! Our first stop after a beautiful scenic and informative drive was to Cape Spear. The most Easterly edge of the North American Continent. To mark the location is a large lighthouse that warns seafarers of land ahead after many miles of open harsh Atlantic waters. I love anything like this and I loved walking around the area, especially when it was so quiet at this time of the morning. It felt a lot like Cornwall! I like visiting the far edges of places I always think it’s pretty cool!

After half an hour we headed around the coast to a little fishing village called Petty Harbour. This was your typical postcard Newfie village and it was impossible not to see why some people call this rugged part of the world their home. Nestled up on the rising cliffs where the brightly coloured houses that are so famous in these parts, their colours a juxtaposition to the dark waters of the bay. Seagulls called and fishermen shouted as they pulled in their days catch. In summertime this harbour is a good place to watch Whales. Maybe I’ll come back this way one day!

Petty Harbour

Petty Harbour was a beautiful village

We drove back into the city and up Signal hill, the location of the first wireless message across the Atlantic, paving the way for communication as we know it today. Despite this historical significance, it’s actually called Signal Hill due to its elevated mountain position, the harbour could be forewarned of approaching enemy ships into the harbour by the signalman, hence the name Signal Hill. From this high up you could see out across the Atlantic for miles! I had a walk around the lookout tower and the views across the city and then the deep harbour nestled between the two giant mountains. I noticed one or two hikers and after talking to John he explained that instead of driving up there is a hike that winds its way from the harbour all the way up to the summit that some people like to do. That was my afternoon sorted then! As always I always find the highest thing in a city to climb, this is perfect for it!

Our final stop was a small village which had the peculiar name of Quidi Vidi! Again, another body of water nestled between two giant cliffs. It seemed like this was the norm here to have quaint pretty little fishing villages wherever they could! On the way back to the city he explained that the Duke of Duchess pub in town did the best fish and chips in the world. A bold claim.

Quidi Vidi

Quidi Vidi

After I got back to my hotel and put my hiking gear on I headed out to test this claim out! Even though it was Saturday afternoon the city was still fairly quiet but lovely as the sun beat down despite the wind. The pub was nestled up a side street and when I got to the outside it certainly didn’t look like an establishment that would serve the best fish in the world. Upon entering it reminded me of a classic old English pub with beamed ceilings and dull light. Liverpool FC were playing Newcastle United (my two favourite teams!) on a TV screen so I decided to plonk myself down and order my drink and fish and chips.

Well, it didn’t look like the best fish and chips in the world but my word it was AWESOME! Kudos to John for the tip. The fish is caught every morning and it showed. Excellent price and food. I watched Liverpool win and then suitably stuffed headed the mile along the harbour to the foot of the climb. I stopped into TImmies again (turned into a true Canadian now) and made my way to the start of the hike. The hike was stunning if not a little scary at times! They had built walk ways and bridges but some parts of the hike you had to shimmy along tiny ledges and hold on for dear life!

The views as you got higher were amazing and I find nothing better than being in quiet alone up a mountain. It gives me so much energy and relaxation, I just love being outdoors and this mountain had it all. I took my time up it, taking pictures and enjoying the views and tried my best to not get blown off the cliff in the wind! After the final steep climb to the summit I arrived to stunning views.

Signal Hill

Signal Hill

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I found a little alcove and just sat for just over an hour watching the ships head out into the setting sun of the North Atlantic. The temperature had dropped as the sun began to set and the wind blew but the sky was so clear and so pure that I didn’t want to leave!

Heading down the mountain was a lot easier going up and helpfully giant red chairs where placed along the route to celebrate the birthday of Canada. I can think of far worse places to rest that’s for sure!

I headed back down the mountain and to my hotel just after the sun had set, a spectacular day. A day I enjoyed from start to finish and was one of my ‘perfect days’. I just loved everything about it!

The next morning the clear blue skies had given way to dark grey clouds and a wind chill of -5 degrees. The wind was biting, the wind that cuts right down into the bone. Today was most definitely an indoors day if possible. After a great breakfast again and with me wrapped up I went to go get my coffee. I spotted a little board walk on my way home last night and found it again this morning. I drank my coffee to warm me up as a large cruise ship entered the harbour.

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Watching a cruise ship come in the bay.

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I watched this beast manoeuvre itself before I headed back up the mountain again. I walked through the little walk ways I didn’t do the day before and I even headed into the Geoscience museum which as a geographer I found to be amazing! I spent two hours in there before venturing back out into the freezing cold to get some more pictures and my last look at this oddly captivating city.

St. John's in the Autumn

Autumn colours of St. John’s

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Geocentre

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I walked for 12 miles that day! I ended up in a place called “the rooms” which was an excellent museum of this part of the world. It was also an art gallery and a theatre all set into this very modern tall glass building. Completely at odds to the rest of the city. I decided to pop in to get warm and for only a few dollars it was well worth it and I highly recommend a visit.

By time I left it was mid-afternoon and the temperature really had that winter bite to it. It’s one of those days that feels like winter and gives you that special winter feeling! On my way back to my hotel I chose a nice looking bar in George Street and had a fantastic burger and fries to refuel after a long day walking in the cold.I retired to my bed early after one of the longest and hottest showers I’ve ever had!

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👌

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Tomorrow I fly out to much warmer weather, 25c in fact as I head to Charlottetown via Halifax. Tomorrow was to be a long day of travelling as I headed a few hundred miles south to an intriguing Island that has always been on my bucket list. I was super excited but I was also sad to leave this part of the world. St. John’s and Newfoundland touched me in a way I didn’t think it would. I had done a complete 180 since arriving. Those first few hours I was unsure of the place, its rugged and quietness, its weather and scenery I didn’t know what to think. As the days went on and the time I spent here I fell in love with its unique beauty, its harshness, its industrial but quirky feel, its bright coloured buildings and its stunning landscapes. I didn’t want to go. Above all else the people I had met in this place from John the tour guide to Lindsay the babe of a waitress to the many people who said hello in the street to the cashiers in the convenience stores who welcomed me to their town and asked about life in the UK. Everyone was super friendly. People in this part of the world clearly look out for one another, despite it being a city. They welcomed me with open arms and the well-known hospitality of Newfoundlanders was so evident to me.

Thank you St. John’s for a unique and interesting experience, a place I am never likely to forget in a hurry. That town nestled in that stubborn rock in the harsh North Atlantic Ocean that took a bit of my heart!

Next blog: If St. John’s took a bit of my heart, Charlottetown took the whole thing!

To catch up on the adventure so far:

Iceland:

North Atlantic Adventure: Iceland – Part One

North Atlantic Adventure: Iceland – Part Two

Halifax:

North Atlantic Adventure: Halifax, Canada

 

Editing Northern Lights Pictures: How do i do it?

So you’ve been out in the cold, you’ve followed my tips and hopefully you’ve got some great shots of the Northern Lights or the Stars! I hope you enjoyed it! Now it’s time to turn those good pictures into great ones! Using one of my own pictures I’m going to show you how to turn your RAW image from this…

Original Image

Original Image

To this…

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Edited Image

This tutorial is for Photoshop Elements which is a cheaper version of the full blown Photoshop. I’ve used elements for years as I find it easier and more user friendly to use than Photoshop and I find it brilliant for editing pictures.

  1. So firstly you’re going to want to go ahead and open up your image in your photo editing software. If you’ve shot in RAW then you’re probably going to be faced with something like this, with numerous sliders. These tools are what we’re going to use to enhance our image. While some may say its cheating I never think it is. Your eyes are far better seeing colour and definition than a camera is so all you’re doing is bringing that information from the camera up to the quality that your eyes see it. Plus i see photography as a form of Art and editing is like a painter painting! This image is straight from the camera unedited. It’s a pretty good photograph in its own right. However I want that reflection to really stand out, I want some colour and lightness in the shrubs and foreground and I want those stars and Northern Lights to really pop and show its beauty as i see it. So let’s go about doing that!

    Photo1

    Editing in Raw

  2. Exposure: The first step I always do with any night time shot is higher the exposure up. This brightens up the image and as you can see already the greens of the Northern Lights appear brighter and so do the stars.

    Photo2 exposure

    Adding Exposure

  3. Contrast and Highlights: For this I’ve lowered my contrast a little making the shrubs less black. If I plus my contrast that would make the shrubs blacker almost making a silhouette look. If you want that look then go ahead but for the purpose of mine I want them to be in colour. The highlight scale does as it says, it makes the brighter colours brighter or darker depending if you plus or minus it. I pulsed my highlights but not too much. The green really stands out now and still holds some important detail such as the swirl and the pillars of light from them. If I heightened the highlights all the way up the green would be really bright but there would be no detail in them so it’s a real fine line to walk!

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    Adding Contrast and Highlights

  4. Shadows: Shadow slider is the opposite of highlights, it will make your dark areas lighter or darker depending if you plus or minus. As before, we want those shrubs to have detail and not be a black silhouette so I’ve plus it and as you can see now there is detail and some colour in those grasses!

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    Brighten those shadows

  5. White balance: Increasing the white slider makes the image brighter and has the effect of making those stars and northern lights pop.

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    Increasing the white slider

  6. Clarity and vibrancy: Clarity changes the contrast and makes the image sharper at the expense of some noise. The shape of the Northern Lights is now more refined than before and the whole image looks better for it. Vibrancy increases the vibrancy of the colours in the image to make them stronger. Once that is done click open image. That image now looks much better than the raw image and that should make any image of the stars looking good!

    photo6 Clarity

    Clarity and Vibrance increase

I go one step further and get a little more technical for my final step. While I’m happy with that image as it is I still want to make that reflection look a little stronger and add a bit of light to that foreground.

  1. To achieve this I duplicate the layer, then add a new adjustment layer and crank up the brightness of the image along with reducing some contrast. The problem this causes is the whole image becomes brighter but you lose the detail as discussed before. So to stop this I open a mask layer, invert it and paint back in the brightness in the areas I want it. Such as the reflection of the lights, the top left Northern Lights and the red car light in the distance. Once all of that is done I collapse my layers, add my name and my final image is produced!
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    Duplicating the layers

    photo8 brightness

    Adding brightness before masking

    photo9 layers

    Masking in brightness

    And there we have it! A final edit picture!

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    Edited Image

 

Night Sky and Northern Lights Photography tips

So I thought I’d do a quick little photography blog tonight! Barb my awesome cousin in Canada is lucky enough to be off to the Yukon soon to hopefully see the Northern Lights and she asked me about what camera settings I used to photograph them in the heart of Iceland. A few people have asked me this exact same question, so I thought I’d do a little tutorial about how to photograph the Northern Lights or if you’re not lucky enough to go to a place to see them, then these tips will work for any starry night sky shot. Sure there are tons of other online tutorials on how to do this but I thought I’d offer an insight to what I did and what I found works for me. I hope this tutorial is easy to follow because while I like my photography I’m certainly no expert or speak much in expert speak!

What do I need?

Well firstly and well obviously you’re going to need a Camera! While any camera is capable to some extent of taking star or Northern Light pictures, yes even your smartphone is capable! Although they won’t be anywhere near as good as a proper camera. DSLR type cameras are the best for this kind of job. I’m a Canon guy although Nikon etc. are just as good. This tutorial will follow an outline for Canon cameras and although Nikon use different symbols, the process is the same. You can also use a compact camera providing you have the option to manually change the settings. The camera I use is a Canon 1200D which is a pretty solid but entry level DSLR and I bought that a few years ago for around £300. So you have yourself a camera? That’s a good start!

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My camera gear minus the tripod

Next you’re going to want a lens that has a wide focal length or field of view. Imagine that as a lens that can grab as wide a picture as possible. Most DSLR or compact cameras zoomed all the way out will have quite wide fields of view. The lens I use for night time shots is this stock 18mm to 35mm lens that came with my Canon 1200D.

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My Canon 1200D with a small lens on. Any DSLR or compact will do the job providing the lens is up to the job.

Most importantly though you’re going to want these two inexpensive items, without them it doesn’t matter if your camera costs that of a small car, you ain’t going to get any good shots! Those two items are a Tripod and a remote shutter. The first is essential! While I highly recommend you buy a remote shutter (£10 if that) you can get away with not using one proving your camera has a timer but I’ll explain why you should use a remote shutter later on. A Tripod though is fundamental! I have a good one from Amazon for around £15 that folds up neatly into my camera bag and that’s been on countless trips. They’re great for normal photography too! So invest!

If you have all those items then we’re good to go! Before you venture out into the wilds of Iceland you’re going to want to practice in your back garden and you’re going to want to use these settings! If you just want the basics without the explanation then here they are, below that is a more detailed explanation!

  • Manual Mode
  • Manual Focus
  • Lens zoomed out
  • F-Stop 3.5 or lower
  • ISO 800
  • Shutter Speed 10-25 seconds
  • Shoot in RAW

Settings

If you have a DSLR or a compact camera you’ll often have a little twist dial with different letters and pictures. On my Canon it is as shown below. Whatever camera system you use (read the manual if you have too!) you’re going to want to put the camera into Manual Mode. If you’re an avid photographer already then you’re probably well used to this mode however if you’re not then this mode can feel a little daunting. It allows you 100% control over whatever the camera does which is both scary but ultimately rewarding as it’s all about your skill to get the picture rather than the camera’s brain. It’s really important that you get familiar with this mode and not rely on other settings as in the dark the camera’s brain will work overtime and won’t produce what you want in your image! For me, my Manual Mode is designated by the letter M.

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Putting the camera into Manual Mode via the dial.

Now that you’re in Manual Mode firstly you’re going to want to zoom your lens all the way out for example mine goes all the way out to 18mm. Make your lens go as far as possible to the lowest setting. The second thing I want you to do and this may be a button on the camera or you may need to go into the camera settings once it’s switched on and turn your Focus to Manual Focus.

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Lens zoomed all the way out to 18mm. My auto/manual focus button is on the side of my lens.

Turning the camera on now it’s time to navigate the settings to get it set up for some night sky photography. There are certain things you’re going to want to change.

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Manual Mode Settings page. Here is where you’ll change the following settings.

Aperture

Aperture is a setting which tells the camera how much light the lens will take in, for night time photography when its well… dark you’re going to want as much light hitting those tiny camera sensors at the back of the lens as much as possible. In order to do that you’re going to want the lens to open as wide as possible. Imagine you’ve woken up at night and you’re trying to find the light switch. Your eyes will open as wide as possible to gain as much light as possible, that’s what the camera needs to do. On the flip side in bright sunlight your eyes squint because it doesn’t need as much light for example. Some lens and cameras can go lower than F3.5 but 3.5 is a good setting to use. Any higher and it doesn’t really work. If you look on your screen you’ll see a number with an F on it. Use your navigation buttons, highlight the F number and lower it to as low as it will go.

Shutter Speed

One of the most important things for night time photography is not only the eye to be as wide as possible to collect light but it needs to be open for a long time to capture as much light as possible. Between 10 and 25 seconds I find perfect for night time sky photography. Any longer than 30 seconds then due to the earth’s rotation the stars will begin to move and have a streaky effect across the sky. While that can be cool, we want nice sharp stars!

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You don’t need to head out to the countryside to photograph sharp stars! This was taken from my back garden in a town last summer.

If you’re unsure where to change your shutter speed settings then it’s usually next to your F stop and is a number with a / in it for example 1/1000th (Which means the lens will stay open for 1000th of a second. Of course that’s too quick we want 10 seconds at least! So change that until it reads 10. Usually it will go up in 5 second blocks). You may notice that mine says Bulb instead of a number. On my camera the bulb setting means the lens will stay open for as long as I let it until I tell it to close. This is one reason your remote shutter comes in handy. You may find 10 seconds is too dark, 15 seconds too light but 13 seconds perfect. So you have that control.

ISO

Out of all of the items so far you’re probably most familiar with the terms ISO and then seeing some numbers after it. I won’t explain the complexities of ISO numbers but set it as 800!

RAW over JPEG

Your smartphone and your cameras default shoots in JPEG. JPEG is an image were your cameras brain takes the information from the sensors and produces a picture. While this is perfectly fine, you’re very limited to what editing options you can do to it once you put it on your PC. I always shoot in RAW. RAW is an unedited version of what the camera sees so you have complete control over all aspects of the image in the editing phase. As you can tell us photographers are a controlling bunch! If you don’t want the hassle of editing in a software editor then use JPEG but be warned you can’t make your images really pop! You can set your camera to shoot in both however if you want to.

Other settings

If you change those three settings then you’re pretty much guaranteed to get a decent star or Northern Lights shot! So start out with those. However if you really want to go the extra mile, your camera may have a white balance setting. I usually use Cloudy to enhance colours of the Northern Lights but if you’re just shooting stars I recommend the florescent white balance.

Why use a remote shutter or a timer and a tripod?
So that question you ask yourself, why do I need a tripod and a remote shutter or timer? Well as mentioned above the camera will have the lens open for a long time. It’s impossible even for top Snipers to hold a camera for 15 seconds completely still! Any movement within those 15 seconds will make the image blurred and the light source streak across the image, ruining it. Tripods are excellent to make the camera nice and stable and free from movement. Even if you have a tripod, the very act of you physically pressing the camera shutter will move the camera body slightly, introducing movement. Even though it is brief it can cause that issue. That is were a timer or a remote shutter takes that movement away but with a remote shutter you have that finer control over the time.

Okay so you’ve survived that complicated set up…I hope you’re still following with me! Now it’s time to go outdoors and put all of this into action. Get the gloves, hat and coat on oh and your shoes and lets head outside.

So we’re outside, the camera is on the tripod and all your settings are in place, don’t forget to take that lens cap off! (I can’t begin to tell you the amount of times I thought my camera lens was broken only to realise I left the lens cap on). Doh!

With the camera switched on you’re going to want to manually focus your camera on an object. Be that a tree, a bush, a lamp anything! I always try to have something in the shot as it gives it a sense of scale and looks better.

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Night Sky is good to capture

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Night Sky Photography is far better with a landscape in the photograph or a foreground.

Take a few pictures and keep manually focusing until your images look sharp and in focus. Once you find that sweet spot do not touch the focus or the lens. Leave it as is and move the tripod around and snap away! You’ll want to change the shutter speeds each time to see what you get. On a night shoot I may take over 400 pictures and maybe 20 will be any good. It’s all about practice, changing things and keep trying! You have to keep trying and you will find at least one brilliant picture in there!

So good luck! I hope you get some cracking pictures of the northern lights or the wonders of the night sky! If you’re shooting in RAW and want some editing tips then follow this link to my editing blog post here: Editing Northern Lights Pictures: How do i do it?

 

North Atlantic Adventure: Halifax, Canada

I Travel from Iceland to the Maritime city of Halifax, Nova Scotia to explore this rich  historic naval city and the wonders of the Nova Scotia coast to Peggy’s Cove.

The peace and quiet of the Icelandic countryside felt a million miles away from the hustle and bustle of Keflavik airport, in fact I’d go as far as saying organised chaos. Keflavik was never designed for this many passengers, as far as major international airports go…this is very much on the smaller size. Tourism has boomed in Iceland in recent years (it’s hard to see why it took so long!) and due to the connecting flights with Icelandair, Keflavik has swollen with passenger numbers. Throughout the day there is a constant pulse of passengers. From about 4 a.m. to 6 a.m. all of Icelandair and WoWair flights arrive across the Atlantic from North America flooding the terminal with thousands of passengers in those short hours. Those planes then carry on to Europe and then return before 3pm swelling the terminal again before leaving back across the Atlantic to North America between 4 and 6pm. It’s almost like a lung expanding and contracting as the day goes on. The issue is plain to see, while security was quick to go through well relatively. Travelling with all your camera equipment is a bloody hassle having to unpack it and then repack it after the x-ray machines, it never goes back in the way you packed it beforehand. What the issue is, is a distinct lack of seats. My flight was one of the very last to leave Iceland that day to head across the Atlantic to Halifax, Canada. That meant that by time I got to the departure lounge everyone else was waiting for their flights to North America which were about to board. Despite the cacophony of sound it was still exciting. Even if I did have to walk around for ages to find a seat.

Funky Icelandic Departure Lounge

Funky Icelandic Departure Lounge

You can’t go to your gate in Keflavik until it is called and if your flight is to the UK or North America which are both outside the Schengen free movement agreement you have to go through to the D-Gates. To get there you have to leave the Schengen area and go through passport control. I found myself a seat in what is a pretty nice terminal building despite how busy it is. I bought two sandwiches, some water and some Haribo gummy bears remember you get no food on this flight and its 4 and a bit hours long. After a wait my gate appeared and I headed quickly through passport control and I’m grateful to still be a part of the EU which allows me to use my chipped passport to go through the self-service control points. The queue for the non EU passport control was so big that I’m thankful that I’m getting my Irish Passport to travel on as to keep that privilege of quick access to EU countries. I watched a flight board from my gate and before long it was my turn, a quick bus ride to the plane, one last look at Iceland before I boarded my 757 to Halifax.

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Next stop Canada!

I couldn’t wait to arrive in Canada again. The Cliffe family have a lot of history with Canada and my bike is adorned with the Canadian flag next to my name. I fell in love with this country a long time ago and I’ve visited many places in Canada, all except the Maritimes which I was to tick off on this trip. Last year’s trip to Toronto and then Edmonton was such a great trip to go back to Canada after far too many years away. Canada and the family ties are really what my love for Canada is all about. Halifax, my first stop was fitting as during WW2 as Great Uncle Wal an engineer in the Merchant Navy would crisscross the Atlantic and in Montreal is where he met his wife. It’s really down to them two that the Cliffe family have both a UK and a Canadian split. Barb and Betsy, their daughters always kept in contact with my Dad and kept that bond across the pond close. As Barb has had kids and obviously my mum and dad had me and my sister I feel it’s great that the new generation keep as close a bond as possible. It felt like meeting them all again for the first time and in some cases it really was the first time I’d met Becky and Sarah and Bob and Robin when I went to Toronto last year. They could not have made their English cousin feel any more welcome! I was super excited to see them all at the end of the trip in Toronto again! They’re all awesome! I also love Canada, I love the way of life, the people and the scenery. It’s no secret. Part of this trip was to really look at could I move here and live here once the PhD is done. Halifax is a city that has a close tie to Liverpool and the UK and it seemed like a great first port of call for my adventure of the Maritimes!

My take-off from Iceland to Halifax

On long haul you never quite know who you’re going to be sat next to, of course I always book the window seat! It always pays to talk to your fellow neighbours on flights, last time flying back from Canada doing just that got me an upgrade to first class! I was fortunate enough to have two older ladies sitting next to me who I had a nice chat with across the Atlantic about their home city of Halifax which broke up the journey for a bit.

Taking off and waving goodbye to Iceland I headed out across the Atlantic, next stop Canada! I watched Death at a Funeral (the British original not the awful American remake) that brought back some memories of when I first watched that film! That life as a 17 year old seemed so long ago! I glanced away from the movie to see that we were flying over Greenland. Simply stunning place and I’m jealous my supervisor does research on the glaciers there, I keep dropping hints for me to take my UAV on research with him there but he’s yet to take my hints! Using the Wi-fi I live streamed our crossing over Greenland where icepacks gave way to Glaciers that fed into the sea. I thought it was pretty neat that I could live stream such an epic view! Again hurray for inflight Wi-Fi.

Greenland Ice

Greenland from 38,000 feet

Before long the sun had caught up to us and after filling in the Customs Declaration landing card for Canada I took photographs of yet another truly stunning sunset that I would take on this trip. Everyone knows Sunrise and particularly Sunset are my favourite times of day. Specifically the civil twilight phase when it’s not quite dark but not quite light and the colours are so intense. Being so high up that moment lasts far longer than down on Earth and I savoured the view as my sleeping playlist played on my headphones. Perfect.

Evolution of a sunset from FL380

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After an hour in darkness I had arrived in Halifax, it felt so good to be back in Canada again! Icelandair were flawless yet again. The dreaded Jetlag did start to kick in but that was more about tiredness. After only a few hours’ sleep the night before chasing the Northern Lights and now being awake for 19 hours with still 2 hours to go before I would get to my hotel, I was starting to feel pretty tired. Going through boarder control was easy. The guy asked a few questions, saw that I was in Canada last year visiting family, he welcomed me back and with that stamp I was officially back in Canada again! Wahoo! I waited 45 minutes for my bag which was annoying as it meant I missed my pre-booked bus to the hotel. Halifax airport is a 45 minute drive away from the city itself so with this being 10pm at night in Canada the only way is via a taxi or a cheaper pre-booked bus. As I always plan for delays I had booked the last bus out at 11pm just in case there was a delay.

While waiting for said bus along with a few passengers the man at the ticket office comes out and asks “Does anybody speak French?” Odd question and I didn’t raise my hand. Whatever his issue was I doubt my C in GCSE French was going to be much good. I can count to 10, order a Cheese and Ham baguette and tell them about my weekends going to the bibliothèque but I don’t think that would help much. A woman however bravely said “I do…a little but I mean a little”. The guy produces an old French woman almost out of nowhere, not sure if he could summon her from thin air but she appeared and starts rattling off French and this poor Canadian good Samaritan was trying her best to understand. The older woman was getting irate with this poor girl only understanding parts of it “I think her flight is tomorrow and…something about her daughter…I think!”

That’s it. I couldn’t sit by and let three people struggle nor could my tired brain bare the sound of constant French. This old woman obviously had an issue and not a word of English in her understanding so I thought I would help out, although I kept my poor French to myself. “Sorry to interrupt, I couldn’t help but overhear…I have a translation app, it’s not word for word but it’ll help” I offer to the three of them. They agree and with Google Translation app working pretty well…well the odd word threw me “My daughter is with a chicken”. Maybe she was with a chicken I don’t know but google translated it as such. The bottom of the story was her flight was delayed so she missed her connection to the French Island of Saint-Pierre to visit her daughter and the next flight was tomorrow morning so she needed a hotel to stay in but all the airport hotels were full. The Canadian lady and myself searched online to find suitable and relatively cheap hotels. We left some numbers with the ticket guy as before long we had to board the bus. The Canadian lady stayed behind a little longer to use her broken French to make sure she knew what she had to do. While driving through the dead of night the Canadian lady phones her partner about the events “You’ll never believe what’s just happened. I haven’t used French for ages and I had to use it to help some old woman. Me and some nice British guy helped her”. I’m not sure if she knew I was on the bus or not but being described as a nice British guy is a nice way to start your trip in Canada. The bus dropped her off at the main train station after a 45 minute motorway trip, she catches my eye and thanks me again for helping out. “Not a problem my dear” I reply. “Thanks again, I love your accent”. I wouldn’t get tired of women saying that to me over here on this trip!

I was the last one on the minibus and I finally arrived at my hotel at 12 a.m. and I had been awake for 23 hours. I was shattered. The check-in was quick, the hotel and room was huge, I got a shower and then it was straight to bed. What a way to start a new location. The hotel in question was the 4 star Hampton Inn by Hilton in Halifax Downtown and cost me £232 for two nights.

By time morning came I was already up at 6.30 a.m. with my body still 4 hours ahead on Icelandic time. After a shower I went down for breakfast, packed my gear and off I went to explore the city of Halifax on foot. I only had a day here so I had planned to walk around the city in the morning and then I had booked to go on a tour to Peggy’s cove, the most photographed lighthouse in the world in the afternoon. The air was cool and crisp but at least it was sunny. I took a walk down to the waterfront which fun fact for you is the second largest ice-free harbour in the world, only Sydney is larger.

I was tired and needed coffee so headed to Tim Hortons Canada’s favourite coffee house. In my last blog I wrote about the whole drip/filter vs Espresso. Don’t get me wrong it’s nice but it’s not a patch on European coffee. I bought myself a cup of Dark roast which is a new blend by Tim Hortons which is their strongest blend and tries to somewhat emulate an espresso. Nowhere near but it was good enough and I loved the cups!

Tim Hortons 150th Cup

Good old Tims with some cute 150th birthday cups!

I walked along the waterfront where it was peaceful and quiet, I watched a warship head out, a cruise ship arrive, I sat on a hammock and finished my coffee while the hum of traffic and the city skyscrapers loomed behind me. Again and not for the first time on this trip the city had a lovely vibe about it. Even walking through the concrete canyon of downtown Halifax felt laid back and chilled, despite its very steep hills at times. As usual I found myself walking up the highest point of the city Citadel hill to which Fort George stood. With this being Canada’s 150th birthday pretty much all of these attractions were free. I walked inside and wow what a place for free! From old guards, to one of the best military museums I have ever had the pleasure to walk through including a live cannon salute. One thing I had noticed is British Union flags all over the place along with the Scottish flag and a lot of people walking around in kilts. Halifax has such a close tie to Scotland (it sits within the province of Nova Scotia which translates to New Scotland) and the UK and actually a very strong link to Liverpool. This part of the world was the first for UK and Irish settlers to colonise and that history it seems lives strong in this part of the world. It didn’t feel like Canada at all, it felt like an extended part of the UK. It was lovely!

After walking around there and enjoying the views, I headed back into the city for my tour to Peggy’s cove. It was a five hour tour for what worked out as about £25. Bargain. I got on a giant Greyhound style bus and our tour guide was a very funny and full of puns old guy who loved his job. While boarding the bus he asked everyone’s name and where they came from. “Hi, Tony and Liverpool, England”….”Ah you know John then?” … “As in the Beatle who’s been dead for years? Yeah really well…good mates”. He laughed and so did the others behind me “Oh you Brits and your wit” he remarks with a laugh. I wasn’t trying to be witty I was being sarcastic as I was fed up of people asking if I knew the Beatles personally or the Queen! The drive out of the city for 50 minutes to Peggy’s cove was truly stunning and it did make me wish I could hire a car to explore more of it. There are so many lakes and rivers and forests in this part of the world, I’m sure he said there are 2000 fresh water lakes here alone! Cities are great but to me it’s always about the countryside and the wilderness. I passed so many lakes and tiny fishing ports that would have been so good to explore.

We arrived at Peggy’s cove. Just stunning. A typical Nova Scotia village. I was in love. I walked along the sea rocks, snapped away at the Lighthouse (I think going early morning would be best if you want to visit it without the hordes of tourists though) and I just sat, listening to the waves crash on the rocks by my feet, the blue waters meeting the blue sky. Amazing place to visit and I can see why this location is so highly photographed. You really should go!

Peggy's Cove Nova Scotia

Peggy’s Cove

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Peggy's Cove Lighthouse

Most photographed lighthouse in the world! My one to add to the collection of images!

The 50 minute drive back went a different way and was full of again, jaw-dropping scenery and full of funny stories and information from our tour guide. By time I got back to Halifax it was close to 4 p.m. There are a lot of Irish bars and pubs and on TripAdvisor this was the best in town so I popped in for a Bushmills Whiskey (my second favourite Irish dram after Tulamore) and tried their Fish and Chips. Seafood is huge on this coast and I thought I’d try Fish and Chips in every location to see who wins the battle of the best one. Even their best was not a patch on good old British chip shop Fish and Chips but this one wasn’t bad. It came second on my top 3 list this trip!

I walked back up the hill to watch the sunset, walked another 4 miles around the city at night before calling it quits to come back to my hotel just before 8pm. I was short on sleep, I had walked 13 miles around the city and the delights of Peggy’s cove so before I knew it I was out like a light. Tomorrow I would catch a 2hr 30 minute flight up to the frozen north of St. John’s for three nights.

End Notes:

I would have liked in hindsight to stay an extra day in Halifax. Halifax is a wonderful city and while it’s small it has a rich history, especially a maritime one. There were so many museums I would have loved to have visited, especially the Pier 11 immigration one and the transport musuem but just didn’t have the time. Halifax waterfront is one of the best waterfronts I have ever seen in a city and that’s coming from someone who lives in Liverpool! They have really developed this amazing board walk around the waterfront and the trail is superb. I think Liverpool could certainly take a leaf out of their books! The city itself however is pretty generic high rise concrete canyon North American city. The city itself certainly lacked the quirky charms of my next two locations St. John’s and Charlottetown but it was nice to see a lot of brickwork highrise rather than the steal ones. What it lacked in character certainly made up for in its surroundings. A drive in this place outside of the city is breath taking and that drive and walk around Peggy’s cove is an absolute bucket list must! Stunning scenery and every picture is postcard or magazine worthy. I would definitely hire a car and explore around this place for an extra day or two if I had the time, however the tour for £25 was very good value for money! Peggy’s Cove is as beautiful in real life as it looks in pictures and I would love to get a sunset or a sunrise picture there.

I was glad I decided to make this my first stop back in Canada and my tour of the Atlantic coast. I had fully enjoyed my day in this city and I was super excited to head north to St. John’s, a place I’d wanted to visit for ages!

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Look back on 2017 via Instagram: Part Two July to December

Okay so we finished the last post at the end of June, let’s dive in and see what other gems i can find for the back end of 2017!

Let’s start off with a little fun shall we? Laura was one of the first people i met while doing a PhD and since then i like to think we’ve grown pretty close as friends and by time July came i thought we knew each other well enough for me to do this and get away with it!