Book launch – Tim Weaver, Never Coming Back

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The other day I had the great pleasure of snapping the launch of thriller writer Tim Weaver’s new book Never Coming Back at Waterstones in Bath. NeverComingBack1We’ve known Tim for years (he used to be the wife’s boss way back when, but they’ve forgiven each other now) and it’s fantastic to see him doing so well. Thoroughly deserved too, and if you’re a fan of murdery-stabness do take a look.

Personally it’s very pleasing to have been able to do this shoot for each of his books: there’s always a nagging fear that the folks a Penguin will decide this time they want a proper celebrity-snapper and rope in someone from Hello magazine, but happily (for me at least) he hasn’t reached those giddy heights yet. Mind you, now he’s made the Richard & Judy recommended list it can’t be far off (for those outside the UK, that’s like getting an endorsement from Oprah!).

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Still, for now at least I have the privilege of taking a few shots, and feel very fortunate to be asked.

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The most fun thing about this event is seeing someone you know surrounded by real, live, honest-to-god Fans. It’s profoundly incongruous seeing a whole bunch of people who’re genuinely thrilled to meet, well, Just Tim.

Goodness knows what it must be like for those around the properly famous, for whom George Clooney, say, is primarily the bloke who used to feed the cat when you were on holiday, but can’t do that any more because a) he now lives in a mansion miles away and b) he’s fed up of being mobbed by the neighbours. Must be very odd.

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Of course I’m as bad as anyone. Probably worse. I was like a child at Christmas when David Sedaris came to town, even if I did try to convert him to cricket in the 30-second signing conversation, which on reflection is not the most suave thing I’ve ever done. And I’ll be even worse over Bill Bryson later in the year (both courtesy of Toppings, incidentally: as fine an independent bookstore as you could hope for). No doubt they too have mates looking on in bemusement as people like me do the potty-dance of joy as we get that precious signature.NeverComingBack7

But with Tim at least I can feel ever so slightly cool and collected (a novelty at the best of times) while full-on fans become all giggly and shy.  And it has to be said he wears it very well. I can honestly say he expects no more worship and adulation than he ever did.

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All the fun of the steam fair

Carter’s Steam Fair is a proper old-fashioned travelling funfair with genuine vintage rides (many truly steam-powered) that gets dragged around the south of England in a fleet of equally lovely ancient trucks.

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Vintage trucks hauling vintage rides

It’s a tremendous day out and of course a photographic gem. Well that’s the theory anyway.

As it turned out, the day we planned to go coincided with Bath’s monsoon season. I know there’s a lot to be said for getting out in grotty weather but, call me a sissy, I’m not such a fan of huge metal things when the lightning’s having a boogie.

Grey skies. Boo to grey skies

Grey skies. Boo to grey skies

So we held off and went the following day. Dry, but flat, grey clouds overhead robbed me of the afternoon light I’d been hoping for.

Mind you, murky light did give me a chance to drag the shutter speed down a bit, which is always fun, especially on the carousel and the dodgems

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Compounding the issue, we ran into a lot of friends there as well. Now, I love my chums dearly but when you’re hanging round with a bunch of mates and their darling offspring, it’s kind of bad form to ignore them all for the sake of a nice shot.

So in the end I stopped worrying and just enjoyed myself. Of course I could have pushed on finding shots, making something of it, but this was a personal trip and sometimes it’s important to accept that it’s just not your day. Try again another time.

On which note, last year the weather was much kinder with no pesky socialising either. So we caught lovely late afternoon sun which was much more satisfying, and we stuck around ’til it went dark so I can’t complain really.

Stupidly I actually went on the DiveBomber. Though not at night

Stupidly I actually went on the DiveBomber. Though not at night

Sometimes you don't get the light. And sometimes you do

Sometimes you don’t get the light. And sometimes you do

Incidentally, the highlight this this time around was Voltini’s electrical sideshow which was splendid.

Sadly no photography allowed, which was a real shame because it would’ve made for great shots . . .

Not the best angle, but no photos allowed so I wasn't going to push my luck

Not the best angle, but no photos allowed so I wasn’t going to push my luck

. . . so if you want to see that you’ll just have to go along yourself. And I strongly suggest you do.

Travelling Heavy

Gear review – Lowepro Flipside 400

We’ve got a big trip later this year – we’re off to Burma, which is very exciting. And if you’re spending 20+ hours to get anywhere you really want to make the most of it photographically, so I’ve been bolstering my kit a touch in readiness but the thing I was really struggling with was a bag.

I narrowed the options down to 3 or 4 candidates but was dithering terribly for months when my wife – bless her – resolved it by getting me a Lowepro Flipside 400 for my Birthday. It’s a great bag – capable of holding all the kit I want to take, really comfortable to use, should (just) fit airline carry-on and – most importantly for me – the Flipside design means you don’t have to take it off to get at the contents: the opening is in the back of the bag and there’s a huge waist strap meaning you can just slip it off your shoulders and swivel round your waist to get access.

I’m a prolific lens changer and my bugbear with backpacks has always been the faff of taking it off and plonking it on the floor to get inside. And before that you have to spend 10 minutes trying to find a quiet corner free of running children, dog turds and stray lens-kicking feet in which to do it – by which time you’ve likely missed the shot anyway. The Flipside lets you do it in a few seconds with no fear of dog turds. With practice you can probably take out a couple of kids while you’re at it.

So the Flipside looked pretty much perfect, and a recent trip to York gave me the opportunity to give it a proper run-out. Well it just didn’t work.

Partly it was the size of the thing – it sticks out about a mile behind you. The first morning, I put it on in the hotel room and then found I couldn’t get through the door – I wedged like a long truck trying to turn into a narrow alley.

The crowded Steam Museum wasn't ideal for bulky kit

The crowded Steam Museum wasn’t ideal for bulky kit

Then we spent most of our days pottering around dinky streets, fighting through swarms of people (York is not short of tourists!), and nipping in and out of buildings; it was just too bulky to manoeuver comfortably. Burma I expect to have even more cramped situations in markets and temples and things so I started to wonder just how practical it’s going to be.

Dragging a full Flipside up 9,000,000 steps of York Minster's tower isn't the best fun I've ever had

Dragging a full Flipside up 9,000,000 steps of York Minster’s tower isn’t the best fun I’ve ever had

Also the weight got to me – it’s a big bag and I crammed in two bodies, five or six lenses, a flash (you never know), various filters and batteries and so on – so that should be no surprise. Worn properly across both shoulders with the waist belt done up it’s heavy but perfectly manageable, if hot (all that padding is wonderful for protecting my kit but within 100 yards my shirt back was soaked with sweat, which made for a soggy and somewhat fragrant day – though it did help secure space in crowded pubs). But given the bulk of it and the places we were going into, I tended to have it just slung over one shoulder – doesn’t make for a happy spine.

 

So at the end of each day I was just sick of carting it all around, and at least one reason I got no lovely night shots was the urgent need for beer to recuperate (the other reasons being all the less urgent beers that followed).

After a few hours, it's all I really wanted

After a few hours, it’s all I really wanted

The Lowepro is a tremendous bag for transporting a lot of kit around, and I can see it being great (if hard work) for landscape hikes, and it’s already done sterling work on a couple of kit-heavy events. But for Burma, for me, iI’m not sure it’s right.

Of course the appallingly obvious answer is that it’s not a bag issue at all, but simply that Too Big + Too Heavy = Too Much Damn Kit. Thing is, I used all of it.

So now my choice is clear: either take the full Flipside and live with being burdened and sweaty and cross, or go back to one of my trusty shoulder bags and sacrifice stuff I know I’ll need (or at least want). Luckily I still have a few months in which to dither.

Hello world . . .

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Hello there, and welcome to my new blog.

How long it lasts is anyone’s guess but we’ll just start off and see where we get to. The last couple of years have seen my photography increasingly occupied with “jobbing” stuff – specific shoots leaving little time or inclination to just indulge myself. So I’m hoping this will give me the excuse and motivation to just get out there and play a bit more.

In the process, with any luck, maybe I can provide a little amusement and diversion you as well, dear reader, and perhaps learn a thing or two myself.

Who knows, given time I might even end up with one of those Artistic Statement things I find so baffling, and which accounts for my sad lack of profile blurb.

In the meantime, here’s a bit of fun from the Waltz on the Wye 21012 steampunk weekend in Chepstow . . .

Cancan ladies from the Pink Kitten Dance School, Bristol