Throwing light on the Lower Cretaceous

The house painter who has been working on some redecorations came in the other day with his paintbrushes and with a lump of rock which his 8-year old son had picked up in the family garden in Faringdon, Oxfordshire, UK. George, the son, had spotted what he thought were patterns in the rock and between them they worked out that these patterns may be fossils and they thought I may be interested.

Looking into the geology of the inland area in which they live, it seems that the local rock is Gault clay, formed in a deep marine environment in the Lower Cretaceous period, about 100 million years ago, and the fossils are of sponges and other marine creatures which lived at that time. The  holes which can be seen are the result of fossil bioerosion which would have taken place at the time these creatures were alive.

Using a suitable macro lens I lit & photographed the rock and, of course, let George have some prints for himself. For those interested in such matters, as my small studio space was full of equipment and kit used for another project, the lighting was just a couple of small battery-powered LED lights.

Tripping the Light Fantastic (Part 1)

I don’t photograph weddings. I’m happy to leave that to people who specialise in that field, but I couldn’t resist family appeals to take my camera when my beautiful step-daughters’ weddings happened recently.

A little while ago I attended a family wedding – my step-niece and Paul Panting, the actor. It was an informal reception & disco in a local gastro-pub with a small band and was very lively with more laughter than I can remember at any previous wedding I’ve attended.  Paul & Sophie had asked me to take some personal photographs, but as I wasn’t the principal photographer, I was just able to shoot informal images & especially liked the atmosphere of the First Dance  by the young couple.

Both my step-daughters know my dislike of shooting formal weddings, so had asked me to perform a similar function of informal shooting when they married. In each event I made a special effort with the First Dance as it seems packed with almost as much emotion as the slipping of the ring onto the bride’s finger at the Ceremony – and is much more accessible and with dimmed and moody lighting makes for more interesting pictures.

Many amateur photographers (or their automatic cameras) will take one look at the lighting and think – this needs flash – and in using flash will swamp the lighting which is helping to create the romantic atmosphere they think they want to capture. However, most automatic cameras are now able to operate at a higher ISO than the standard or default setting, so if it is possible to utilise the existing or ambient light in this way then it becomes easier to convey the atmosphere of the moment.

Here is a selection from each wedding (Tripping the Light Fantastic Parts 2 & 3) – in the one it was more romantic and intense and the other was almost a dress rehearsal for Strictly Come Dancing. Each needed a slightly different approach – see if you can see which is which!

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TTLF (Part 2)

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TTLF (Part 3)

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Yorkshire light

As an expatriate Yorkshireman I like to get back on home turf when I can. A few weeks ago I visited the Royal Horticultural Society’s garden at Harlow Carr near Harrogate for the first time. It was that magical time when summer was giving way to autumn (fall, to our American readers) and the light was clear , warm & mellow. Lots of amateur photographers snapping away at each flower and bed but, in my analysis of their viewpoints, taking no note of how the light was falling – with soft shadows subtly shading into saturated  colours and the lower sun than in high summer giving shape and form to statuesque trees, or backlighting the foliage.

A few days later, staying with friends at Marske-by-the-Sea in what is now called the County of Cleveland but which was for centuries Yorkshire, a walk on the dunes made me look at the light bouncing towards me from the sea and beach. It made me reflect (no pun intended) on the old instruction, when I had my first camera – Get the sunlight over your left shoulder & you can’t go wrong! – but no-one said – Get the light anywhere except over your shoulders, and you may go wrong sometimes, but when you get it right, it’ll be worth it!

Seeing the surgical light

On a recent project at Southampton’s Western General Hospital, illustrating the role of the ODP (Operating Department Practitioner) in UK hospitals, I noticed two instances of new types of lighting in use.

In one operating theatre, where a heart bypass operation was taking place, the hot, directional light from one of the big round traditional operating theatre lights had been replaced by banks of low-power bulbs which had been internally filtered to be blue, green and clear. This bright, diffuse mixture gave a light which was cool in temperature and cool in appearance and evidently reduced stress on the surgical teams and if I were being operated on, I’d be all in favour of my surgeon not being stressed by being under hot lights.

The other instance was in a theatre where Dr Woo was performing a lobectomy (removal of a lobe of the lungs). The surgeon was wearing a new fibre-optic head-light which gave a concentrated and directional beam of light just where it was needed – deep in the patient’s thorax where the illumination from the traditional light was less effective.


A while ago I went to Manchester to photograph a physicist called André Geim, who had discovered a remarkable new material which he called graphene. Most people know that graphite (as in pencils) is pure carbon and many know that the molecules are formed in sheets or layers which rub off by friction (hence pencils). Professor Geim has developed a method of isolating layers of the graphite which have a thickness of only 1 molecule and which he calls graphene. Potential uses range from gas detection to transistors and integrated circuits. The good news from my viewpoint was that Prof Geim and his colleague Konstantin Novoselov were awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics last year and I have been supplying images of André Geim to publishers all over the world ever since.

Here is a cutting of the full-page pic from the prestigious magazine ‘Russian Reporter’.