The Owl, The Moon & The Checkpoint


There was to be no moon, no rain and no decent images. It would have been so much better had the moon been in view as we might actually have seen more than distant silhouettes and a faint burst of torch lights signalling the arrival of the first walkers. This was it, the scene was set for the Sue Ryder Wheatfields Starlight Hike 2013 at Temple Newsham, Leeds. By the way, we did see stars.

Temple Newsam is one of the most admired historic houses in the north of England. Famous as the birthplace of Lord Darnley, infamous husband of Mary Queen of Scots, Temple Newsam is a truly stunning stately home and is set within 1500 acres of beautiful parkland landscaped by the famous designer Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown in the 18th century. We had arrived a couple of hours previous in the chill of the late September air at the central area of Temple Newsham. Floodlights were set up on the main grassed land in front of the house along with a small stage and a few other tents. Elaine and I had volunteered to be marshalls for the event along with a handful of other kind souls giving up their Saturday evening in the name of charity.
1377369_10151888132440831_555344052_nAs the masses started arriving for the 10km walk the volunteers were taken by Land Rover to the various check points on the course. The route was a figure of eight taking in the full expanse of the grounds. Elaine and I were positioned at Marshal Point 1, 8 & 13. Before you start thinking that we did really well to spread ourselves over such a large area the route took a figure of eight which meant that the walkers passed us on three occasions.

Elaine and I were issued with a two-way radio and dropped off at our marshalling point; MP 1. Was this the best? was it the nearest the toilet? did it offer the best vantage point? In a nutshell, none of the above. As the vehicle drove away Elaine and I just laughed out loud. What in the name of all that’s holy was this all about. It was quite dark. In fact, that’s probably an understatement. I said to Elaine, don’t worry your eyes will get used to it once they have adjusted. Nope……

I began to unpack my camera to test the theory of photography in THE DARK. Just for the sake of posterity I decided to take a photograph using my phone of the fantastic view that bestowed Elaine and I hope you enjoy it as much as we did.

1382993_10151888226135831_1395007728_nOh this was going to be so much fun. I am unsure whether you will have seen the spin-off from Peter Kay’s Phoenix Nights called Max & Paddy’s Road to Nowhere. If you havent there is a scene in this comedy where the two main characters decide to camp in the woods as thier motor home has gone in to a garage to be fixed overnight. They spend all night by a fire, hungry and practically lost. Next morning in the hours of  daylight they find they have been sleeping only yards from a twenty-four hour garage and a hotel. This felt so similar I can tell you. What is quite funny though is the fact that I checked on Google Earth just now and our checkpoint was only 0.72 miles from the M1 yet no traffic could b heard. Then again, how much traffic would there be on the M1 at midnight on a Saturday?

Seconds later we heard a very distinctive noise. “Control to MP1” ah I thought! There is civilisation still out there. They were just checking we had arrived at our post for the next four hours. Yes, you read it right… we were going to be stuck in a forest that resembled a scene from Harry Potter & Chamber of Secrets for four hours… AT NIGHT !

Within seconds of our first radio contact silence once again fell upon us. That was until an Owl decided that despite the presence of Mark and Elaine Winterbourne it would continue the hunt for supper. You could hear the rustle of leaves on the forest floor, the sound of twigs breaking in the canopy above. What in the name of all that’s holy was that? I looked over to where I thought Elaine was stood. So Harry Potter.


Oh this was going to be so much fun.  Time passed and before long we heard on the radio that the masses had started their ten kilometre walk. Elaine and I were trying to mentally estimate how long it would take the slowest walkers to complete the full course. It was very hard to even estimate as walkers were of all abilities…..

Flickering lights could be seen through the trees in the distance, it looked like we had our first walkers and the time was already 22:20. I went to grab my camera out of my bag and aimed to shoot my first images. It was then I realised the problem that presented itself before me. The lack of light for photos was ok if you had a flash gun, but the infra-red beam that the flash sends out to enable the camera to focus was really struggling. I couldn’t even compose the shot in the first place let alone take it. It was like catching flies in the dark with chop sticks. It was totally impossible. I tried illuminating the subject with my torch just so the camera had something to grab hold of but it wasnt having any of it. It was to be a very dry night for my camera, not quite.

The walkers came and went and so did the night, by 01:00 when all the walkers had passed we found ourselves heading back towards the start line and the comfort of food and a warm drink. A big shout out to all the fantastic volunteers at Sue Ryder for a fantastic fundraising evening and to all the walkers who were awesome. Also, a huge thank you to the guy upstairs who controls the weather …. it stayed dry. Which is more than I can say for my camera gear that got soaked with condensation after being stood in the cold night air until 01:00 am.

We finally hit the hay at 02:30 this morning…….. zzzzzzzzzzzzzz


Me and Boo head for the Great North Run

After Elaine was kindly given her place in this years Great North Run by Sue Ryder (SR Wheatfields) things changed at Winterbourne Towers. Elaine started a savage training plan that would work right up to the week of the actual event. The training plan was a huge step for Elaine as running 5k and 10K was her normal target. I will never forget the day that we took that call, the call to say she had been offered a place in this years Great North Run. It was just sheer excitement. You can read all about Elaine’s experience on her blog “Boothie is doing the Great North Run” here.

So, what about my experience… well, As it don’t do running my contribution was only ever going to be through a lens. You know me by now, if I havent got a camera glued to my face something is seriously wrong. I wanted to take photographs of Elaine coming over the finish line but I knew this was a very remote possibility. For starters, actually catching her running over the line was going to be a chance in a million and that would depend on actually getting a spot anywhere near the finish never mind actually being able to obtain a photo.

If you have read the story on Elaine’s blog “Boothie is doing the Great North Run” then you will understand the reason behind the sponsorship and her attendance at the run. In return for Sue Ryder offering her a place at the event I decided to offer my services as a form of “my personal contribution” As you will probably have seen if you read my blog regularly, I am already familiar with offering my services to charity as my good freinds at Cancer Support Bradford & Airedale will tell you. Sue Ryder and the staff at Wheatfields were very happy with my offer and that the way it was left, right until a couple of weeks before the race. I had assumed that by offering my skills I might actually gain access to a number of prime locations, I was wrong. Fortunately, I found this out before the day and the very kind staff at Sue Ryder suggest I apply for press accreditation as I was actually representing them. I went on to the website of the race and filled in all the necessary fields, click, click and lo and behold the following morning guess what arrives in the post.

photoWell, what can I say… it would be rude not to, wouldn’t it? I mean, come on guys…front row and press access. This got me all giddy to be truthful. My vision was to get a shot of Mo Farah racing to the finish line…I started drifting away, dreaming of him posing for me with his signature “Mo-bot” at the finish line…woken by the telephone ringing I realised it was all in my dreams. Yes, just a dream. For the next two weeks I lived in hope, hope for the shots and opportunities and hopes for the weather. I guess that was really selfish of me to be truthful, after all the main reason I was going to the north-east was for Elaine. Moral support and all that.

Time flew by, the next ten days actually merged in to what felt like three days. Seemless days and nights that were only separated by a few dark hours. Those hours were spent sleeping and Elaine spent them wide awake like an owl, worrying and fretting about the Great North Run. In hindsight that was the difference really, I knew what I was doing and my confidence at taking photographs enables me to be put in any situation and have the ability to turn something out. Elaine on the other hand was on a whole new grounding. She had never been to Newcastle let alone the Great North Run and this showed the Friday before Sunday’s race. As much as people say they are not worried, I could tell she felt uncomfortable.

Bags were packed on Friday; this was to allow time for checking and double checking. I thought my process of checking camera equipment was thorough but it took on a whole new level when a runner is in the same trip. Clothes for travelling, clothes for going out in, clothes for pre-race, clothes for race, clothes for post race, clothes for travelling home in. That was just the start…knickers, socks, you name it. Every item for every weather possibility. I’ve got to give Elaine ten out of ten, she had it sussed. I went through my usual check list of batteries, cards, sensor cleaned, lenses cleaned etc etc…job done.!

Saturday came and we tried to stay in the same routine. Saturday breakfast is always a treat day and a quick visit to our local patisserie for some french pastries for breakfast. Elaine was working at lunchtime which meant she wouldn’t get home until at least 14:30. This was a good thing, the work would keep her mind off the impending run and stop the nerves getting to her. I think I was wrong. Elaine was never going to stop a customer coming in the shop and shouting on exit “Good luck tomorrow Elaine !”. This is the sheer consequence of putting up a poster asking for sponsorship; everyone now knows when the event is as they get a subtle reminder when ever they go for fish and chips. This made the whole thing so much worse for Elaine. I had spent all week trying to keep her calm and less than twenty-four hours prior to the race the nerves started to tingle. I spent Saturday lunchtime checking the camera gear, you know the routine…Camera 1 …check …Camera 2 check…and so on followed by a lengthy attempt at loading the car. It was quite hard to believe how much luggage was required for a twenty-four hour visit.

Our very good friends in Newcastle Stuart and Tracey had kindly offered to put us up for the evening. This meant a night out and a good catch up was in order. For weeks earlier Elaine and I had discussed her dietary requirements the night before the race. A curry at a local establishment was our friends request and who would refuse that…? Elaine did. Indian food was far from conducive to running the next morning, almost on a par with alcohol. After a few telephone calls to the restaurant Stuart managed to convince the chef that if Elaine brought her own food would he be willing to cook it. Well, that was one hell of an offer wasnt it? Afterall, the event the following day was in a good cause . So, the scene was set for a big reunion. We hadn’t seen our friends for a couple of years since they attended our daughter Aimee’s eighteenth birthday party so there was a lot to talk about.

After many checks that all relevant bags were loaded we were ready to depart. Separate bags had to be packed so Elaine could change at the race start and dispose of her clothing accordingly. All was going well northbound on the A1 until we saw a road sign that said Newcastle 46 miles. It was then that I turned to look at Elaine and realised she had turned fifty shades of white. She looked quite ill. She slowly turned to face me and it was then that it came to me, Elaine had just faced the reality of the situation and the next twenty-four hours raced before her eyes. Yes Elaine, you are running the Great North Run tomorrow morning.

We made a very impromptu stop at Washington Services for obvious reasons before heading back on to the northbound A1 for the remaining ten miles to Blaydon on Tyne. I think the last ten miles were the worst of all. Elaine’s nerves were jangling as more and more signs showing advertisements for the Great North Run began appearing. It got worse the nearer to the centre of Newcastle we got. until the grand finale …. a mile marker !! They think its all over…well it was now. I think by this time Elaine had gone beyond being nervous.

We had a great night out at a very nice restaurant called “The Spice Garden” in Winlaton (link here), We chatted and laughed with old friend and met new friends too, had a laugh, told tongue in cheek jokes and soaked up the “Geordie” humour. We headed back to our friends house before closing time feeling that an earlier night might be best considering a six o clock alarm call was planned the following morning. By the time you get back and sit and have a coffee time really ticks by and before you know it bed is calling. So it was goodnight and as much as we said we could make a stealth departure in the morning our hosts were not having any of it and insisted on getting up with us and even cooking us some breakfast. Something that my dearest wife had already planned and had brought with us from West Yorkshire. A cooked breakfast was okay for the photographer but the runner needed a slightly different menu…Porridge was the order of the day. Elaine loses out again.

Sue Ryder had asked me to cover the finish line and document finishers racing for the charity. This meant my departure for South Shields would be around 7am. My drive would be about twenty-five miles as there were no direct roads. Stuart had therefore agreed to drop Elaine off at the start as it was not too far away from where they live. As I woke I could hear that familiar sound of rain hitting windows and felt like closing my eyes believing it was all a dream. It wasn’t a dream; it was raining…heavy too. This was all I needed, I wasnt too fussed about getting wet but photography in the rain of sporting events is not ideal. Action photos need fast shutter speeds, and fast shutter speeds need light. Something there seemed to be a lack of this morning. Breakfast was eaten, and after a quick photo of Elaine we said our goodbyes with a promise to call back on the way home and I set off on my way.

2013-09-15 07.07.28My Sat-Nav was employed to direct me around unfamiliar territory avoiding the roads that were to be closed due to the race. The journey was totally event free and apart from a small jam just before the sea front at South Shields that delayed me about ten minutes I arrived in plenty of time. In hindsight it was probably a little too early but as the saying goes, better early than late. As I drove along the Sea Road the traffic slowed to a crawl and I asked one of the Car Park Marshalls where I could park…errrr he said, I decided to show him my Media Pass and he immediately waved me through the jam and directed me to the top car park nearest the start line. Joy I thought, things seem to be going ok here…having media access might have its plus points.

The rain on the windscreen told the story of the pre race opportunities as a photographer…none ! My camera didn’t actually come out of my bag until 10:37am but there was lots to see and people to meet prior to this. I paid a visit to the charity village where Sue Ryder had a tent. I knew there would be a couple of familiar faces here and somewhere I could drop some of my bags before heading towards the finish line. Time was ticking by and I thought it might be best if I made my way to the finish.

I took a wander towards media area to discuss my position with the events staff and the security personnel. As I approached the media platform I was asked for some identification and duly allowed on the stage. I really don’t know what I was thinking but I assumed that the best vantage point would be at the slightly elevated section at the back. The next person on the platform showed me the error of my ways and very kindly pointed out to me that the best place would be at the front. Now he didn’t have to do that and I suppose been the first here he had nothing to lose. We chatted about the subject for a while and he impressed on me how valuable that position in the front corner would be. He insisted that under no circumstances give it away to anyone, be that the BBC or local newspapers. I took heed of his advice and moved my gear right in to the corner and took up my position for the next few hours.

2013-09-15 10.03.50Well, what a view it was too….looking straight down the finish line. Maybe there was now the faintest glimmer of hope, hope that I might actually get my shot of Mr Mo Farah after all. As I waited patiently in my prime slot at the front corner of the media platform I observed the comings and goings of everything from BBC staff, Police Officers and Medical Staff to people wearing A-Boards and cheeky girls with painted faces. You name it, it was there…as the crowd began to swell all the prime positions at the barriers for the finishing straight were filled. The tannoy kept me fully informed about what was going on at the start making me more nervous for poor Elaine.

We had been keeping in touch via text since about 7:30 but this was to have its downfall as I was to find out, much later the very same day. I rang Elaine about twenty minutes before the start gun. She informed me that earlier on she had been very very nervous but now, and once people started arriving she had started relaxing more and more. In fact I got the impression she was really looking forward to it. This was good…I was so proud of her and all she had done.

At 10:54 the first athletes appeared over the horizon looking straight down the finishing straight. This was it..time to get my thinking cap on and start shooting. I had put the Canon 580EXII flash on top of the camera as it would come in really useful when the athletes arrive at the finish line.  The weather hadn’t improved much over the last couple of hours but at least it had stopped raining. For the photographically minded amongst you the only way I could achieve decent shutter speeds for sports photography was to shoot at the following settings.  ISO640 F4/F5.6 1/400th sec. I am sure you can now see the challenge I was faced with.

This left me with very little depth of field and photographing a moving subject that was heading towards me presented its own problems, with the focussing set on AI-FOCUS I hoped the camera would do the hard work for me.

The first to appear was six times London Marathon winner Mr David Weir CBE charging down the finishing straight in and completing the Great North Run 2013 in 43 minutes 06 seconds. The finishing straight was lined with British soldiers either side of the roadway. The possibility for a great shot using these soldiers for perspective compression was wide open…oh yes this was it…my big moment I started snapping away, composing and re composing my image to get the best that was available. The sound of shutters firing right next to my left ear was quite intense, not quite like gunfire but in my mind somewhat similar. I kept on looking for a single acknowledgement from David as he approached the finish line, just hoping he would raise his arms and roll the final few metres. My expectancy was right, my judgement paid off…as he approached the line he raised his left hand and put pointing finger in the air to acknowledge his presence..That was it, I had got my shot.


He rolled straight past my podium, now it was time to move on to the next finisher. The kept coming and within twenty minutes the wheelchair event was over. I took a huge sign of relief as I took a very brief look at my images through the camera back. YESSSS! They were ok…the lighting conditions were still far from ideal but as any good photographer will know, you have to make the best of what you have got in these situations… The next few minutes saw me preparing myself for the arrival of the elite women. I was happier now and this gave me time to reflect on where Elaine was and whether she was actually moving yet. I would later find out that despite the masses race starting at 10:40 she wouldn’t actually cross the start line until 11:05.

As expected, the first of the Elite women over the horizon was Priscah Jeptoo….here we go again Mark..just do what you are good at I kept saying to myself. It has been quite a few years since I have taken anything at this level and despite me questioning my confidence every so often, I was far from nervous. It was more a case of missing that most valuable shot. It wasnt going to happen…I was clearly confident about that.

Jeptoo appeared and I started tapping away at the shutter to get the shot I wanted. I was hoping for some kind hand gesture similar to what David Weir had instigated but it wasnt happening.


I zoomed back out and aimed for the finish line shot of Jeptoo. The weather was slowly brightening up and giving me a little more light to play with. In my head I was saying to myself…come on Jeptoo I want some sort of facial expression as you cross the finish line. I didn’t get the facial expression but she raised her arms quite triumphantly just before hitting the finishing tape. Yes, I got the shot….things we going well. What could dampen this day?


Time ticked by and the Elite women came over the line one by one, my initial assignment had been to shoot the Sue Ryder runners but this felt like it would just over shadowed everything. Next was the Elite men which according to the huge screens around the finish area looked to be very close affair. In between the gaps I could feel my phone vibrating in my pocket, I took it out to reveal 20 plus messages from friends and family..most just reading a few words “JUST SEEN YOU ON TELLY” …oh no, but I supposed this was to be expected. One in particular was a picture message which is shown below. Two points if you can recognise the photographer below? And no, his name is not Samsung.

Okay, my secret was out..No, seriously, it was no secret. I was loving this, things were really looking up. The weather was brightening even more now and it was time for the bit I was really looking forward too. As Mo Farah and Kenenisa Bekele rounded the bend on to the final straight they were absolutely neck and neck. Nothing separated them. This was going to be a proper sprint to the finish between these two. 400mm on the camera was not quite enough to capture the full expression at a distance of 100m but as they came closer the fight for first place became more intense. The image I am going to show you below isn’t a finish line image, but just 10 metres from the finish. I personally think this tells the story of the elite mens race and shows so much emotion. Mo Farah’s face says so much as he stares defeat while Bekele’s wry smile looks quietly confident.


Well, the shots I took in that final few seconds of the race to the line I was ecstatically happy with. Not perfect in terms of lighting but they really showed what this day was about. The mens elite athletes assembled just in front of the press gantry as they recovered from the final sprint. Mo Farah talked briefly with Kenenisa Bekele and as he turned away I took the initiative to shout his name. MO !  MO ! I shouted…I then mimicked his notorious “Mo-bot” to which he then turned to face me and duly performed the same “Mobot” by return. This was it…this was THE shot that I wanted. I was so glad I had put that flash on the top of my camera now…at a distance of three metres was my BIG shot. Yes, I got it….and I was damned happy with it. In a sheer fit of excitement I took a photo of the camera back and uploaded it straight to my Facebook page. I know, I know..its a little soft, but so what. I was excited, I had just achieved something that I could have only dreamed and hoped about a few hours ago.

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How could things get any better than this. Above is the “In-Camera” preview and below is my final edit of this shot. If only Mo had won the Great North Run then this shot could have been so much more iconic. The Red Arrows screamed overhead flying the length of the finishing straight and then splitting it in two with a fly by from the sea-side. The hairs stood up on the back of my neck, it looked fantastic. I was so glad I was here and to be part of this felt awesome.

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It was quite difficult to motivate myself after that. I had got what I really wanted, anything else would feel just second best wouldn’t it. However, like I said earlier..I couldn’t forget the real reason I was here. My task was to capture the Sue Ryder runners. This was more difficult than as first expected. For starters, once the Elite Men had completed the race they altered the finish line and diverted the runners off to the side in to lanes to make the processing of the masses quicker. This in turn, rendered the vantage point I had so gratefully obtained in to nothing more than a viewing platform for the sea front. If I was going to get a photo of my lovely wife I would have to find another location.  Myself and a couple of the other photographers repositioned to a spot just beyond the line where ropes spanned the road and diverted the runners. This was a good spot and would hopefully allow me a good view of the Sue Ryder runners and of course my lovely wife Elaine.

Things were not as clear-cut, the five or six lanes to the finish line were doing their job very well as there were no queues, however standing by lane six (the furthest away if you were a runner and the longest route to the finish) had its drawbacks. Simply put, very few of the runners were using it and in a bizarre twist every time they opened the far lane the Sue Ryder runners happened to appear. This left me with very little if any at all chance of getting a decent photo. Time moved on and the two-hour fifteen mark arrived since the 10:40 start….I was scanning the finish for my Elaine but no sign. Having never run the Great North Run before Elaine could only estimate her time and a two-hour fifteen was her guess.

It was another twenty minutes before I saw my lovely wife. She saw me too and turned and waved with a beaming smile. It was then that it hit me, the whole emotion of the day, the whole reason why she was doing this and the fact that we rarely spend three hours apart just came over me all in one split second.


She had done it ! Elaine had completed her mission to finish the Great North Run…she finished a little slower than expected but the sheer wet drenched her feet and subsequently gave her blisters, something she couldn’t have prepared for. Two Hours Thirty One Minutes and Seventeen Seconds of sheer hard work and I was so proud. So proud that I have the honesty to admit that I shed a tear at that very moment as emotion got the better of me.

I packed up my things and made my way down to the finish area which was way beyond the line. The weather had improved slightly but black clouds on the horizon looked quite threatening. I stood waiting for Elaine for what seemed like thirty minutes. My phone was almost out of battery but I decided to make the call. Afterall, she had no idea where my car was, she had no idea where I was so how on earth could we possibly meet up again. I spoke briefly with her and told her I would wait at the very end of the finish line where the St Johns Ambulance staff were. Thats ok, she said. I’ve just got to collect my rucksack from the baggage buses and I will come and meet you.

Nearly an hour and a half later and I was still stood there, by this time the rain was pouring down and my umbrella which had been conveniently stored along the back of my camera kit bag came in to use. One of the things that is probably a golden rule when arranging to meet up with someone is to never leave the place you agree. The chances are you will miss each other. Guess what? I decided to move. My phone had now switched off due to lack of power and I was left with two choices. Do I head for the car at the bottom of the hill and charge my phone or do I head for the Sue Ryder tent and wait there. I tried to think what Elaine would do, It was a no brainer really as she didn’t know where the car was. So I headed for the Sue Ryder tent.

It wasnt actually too far from where I had been stood. Once there It was nice to see familiar faces and sit down to shelter from the rain and have hot tea and biscuits. Time ticked by and I explained my predicament to the Sue Ryder staff…I was offered the use of a mobile phone and I tried ringing Elaine. Her phone must have run out of battery too….or to coin a phrase “died” as my grandson reliably informs me. As the rain continued to pour down as much as I was incredibly comfortable I began to wonder what had happened to Elaine. She had quite an area to cover if she was looking for me as the whole venue was a good five or six square kilometres. I will sit tight I thought. Within seconds of me contemplating a familiar face popped through the closed flap on the marquee. The words echoed out “Where the hell have you been?” I know….maybe I should have waited but nearly two hours had gone by since that phone call. The instant rage soon turned to cuddles, kisses and even a few tears. It was an emotional time.

We sat and had a cup of tea, chatted about what we had both seen and since the rain had stopped we headed for the car and hopefully a bite to eat. By the time we got back to the car we were still exchanging experiences and happenings of the days events. The best sight of all had to be the Burger Van on the sea front. We both looked at each other, nodded and agreed…Food! We sat in the car and changed out of our wet clothes, the preparation was worth it in the end. After collecting our food we sat back in the car in comfort. It was then that an image unfolded in front of my eyes. It was one of those moments that should my camera be in my hand I would have rattled off twenty to thirty images. In front of my eyes was an image that really epitomised the whole day. Two young children were chasing on the beach with two discarded foil capes from the run. They were running up and down the beach flying them like kites as they ran. Against the back drop of the North Sea and the blue sky it looked fantastic. My camera was all packed away by now and in the boot of the car. I couldn’t move another inch, had I made an effort by the time I had changed lenses and got set up the moment would have been gone.

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There was one final image to take however, and it was left to my mobile phone to grab this one. Elaine with her finishers medal for the Great North Run 2013. As her husband I cannot tell you how proud I am of you. You can read all about Elaine’s quest on her blog here

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This is dedicated to in loving memory of Anne Eileen Fawcett, Daughter, Sister, Mother, Grandmother, Partner and Friend.
I love and miss you more everyday, but I know you never left me. xx
5/5/55 – 13/10/12

Well…it’s been a while..I think August got lost!

I took a holiday from No More Dead Pixels on the 28th of July this year. A WordPress holiday that was meant to coincide with our family summer vacation. This would mean lazing around in the Canarian sunshine, tanning and an occasional dip in the pool to cool off. Oh I forgot to mention the cocktails…but thats another story. I took the iPad along to watch films on the aircraft and to collect the occasional email but nothing else. I even added a WordPress app to be on standby, just in case I captured the image of the century. More of a hope than a probability, had I captured the image of the day let alone the century I am quietly confident that a quick splash in the newspapers would have been enough to make me want to phone home let alone want to write a blog about it.


I didn’t even take a DSLR with me. How is that for a shock? Well, flying Ryanair does have its restrictions in more ways than one. We decided not to take Mr O’Learys’ offer of hold luggage at £10 million per item each way and managed to jam pack four small cases that would conform to cabin baggage regulations. This in turn meant that my trusty DSLR would have its own holiday….safely locked away in a case at my mother-in-laws. Before you ask, yes I would miss it. The number of idyllic photo opportunities that would present themselves were beyond belief. I had to put faith in my reserve kit and a very “hand-luggage” friendly Canon Powershot G9. And thats where the image above comes from. Two Canon Camera Raw images stitched together and edited using Photoshop CS6. Not all bad then eh?

Lanzarote was fantastic though. Exactly what we had planned; a “family” holiday with no pressures and a complete chill-ax. Fantastic nights out with some lovely meals and visiting old friends. It feels really good to walk in to a bar and be instantly recognised then greeted with “Hello again….” or in some cases even called by name. A big thanks to all Danny, Lisa, Jamie & Lindsay at Sunset Beach Bar along with all the staff…as ever, you were fantastic.

Coming back home I managed to secure a window seat again. I had managed this on the inbound journey without contest. Booking a seat with Ryanair does have its plus points as once all priority boarders are all seated there then is an option to reconsider your current location and relocate somewhere better. Which is exactly what I did. On the flight to Lanzarote I had noticed some very large circular fields whilst cruising at 40,000ft over Portugal. I had decided to take a second look at these on the way back. I really couldn’t believe the size of these fields as some of them must have been at least a mile wide to be noticeable from the air. I wasn’t able to get a decent image of them as the wing was getting in the way but the first thing I did when I got home was to get straight on to Google Earth and try to find them.


Above is the screen grab from Google Earth. You can clearly see what I am talking about now… To answer my question and possibly some of your’s… these are created by something called large circular irrigation or centre pivot irrigation. Centre Pivot Irrigation is also called circle irrigation, it is a method of crop irrigation in which equipment rotates around a pivot and crops are watered with sprinklers. A circular area centered on the pivot is irrigated, often creating a circular pattern in crops when viewed from above (sometimes referred to as crop circles).Most center pivots were initially water-powered, and today most are propelled by electric motors. So there you go, we all need to learn something new everyday, this is my contribution.

The British summer was laughable wasnt it? Either side of our summer holidays the weather was atrocious, which is an understatement really. It was quite a culture shock to actually feel the heat of the sun on your skin on consecutive days whilst in Lanzarote. Something I could easily get used to….honest.  At the end of the eleventh day the flight home beckons and I begin asking myself questions…all of the answers reaching the same conclusion. Yes, I could quite happily stay on this island indefinitely should the funds were available. So if anyone reading this wants to support a mid-forties photographer to live on Lanzarote with his wife and family. In return  I will try  to turn out a nice photo once in a while…. then give me a call or drop me a line. I’ll give it a go…..honest.

Thanks for reading this far…only a short one, as I get back in to blogging I will write more. Trust me, I have a lot to say


What a week……I helped, honest I did. Oh, I even took a sunset

2013-07-25 21.33.54
Ive been on a Twitter diet, a photo diet, a WordPress Blog diet. Everything seems to be taking a back seat at the moment. Don’t get me wrong, this is not a formal complaint its just a statement. A very alternative way of saying that I have been quite busy. Moving on to the whole point of this post and as I already said in the title…what a week it was. I don’t think I have spent so many hours behind my computer for many weeks. Lets work in reverse and start with the sunset last night. What a cracker too ! I looked outside at the last-minute and saw the sky. In a very bad place at the moment with my cameras, think its possible they have both joined forces and fallen out with me. Neither have batteries in them, if they did then the would be discharged of all power and be totally pointless. Two Compact Flash Cards sit on my desk with 48gb of Data on them waiting for back up so that just says everything.

I went to collect my son Scott from his scout meeting and I saw the colours. It looked quite impressive with the naked eye and I hastily pulled up at the side of the road to grab a shot with my mobile phone. The above is an unedited panorama with a Samsung Galaxy S3.  Nice colours I am sure you will agree.

So, lets jump back a few months…August last year in fact. I offered to put together a wedding album for two friends and its been sat in the “waiting to do column” for quite a while now so I decided to pull my finger out and sort it. Phil and Jan got hold of an album and I duly asked them to provide me with the dimensions of the pages. So, on Monday the huge design process began. Weddings can be a daunting scenario for any photographer and I have been in that position but what is a very strange scenario is building a wedding album using images that you didn’t actually take because you were not at the wedding. Anyway, many hours later the task was complete and my lovely friends at Pro Am provided the printing services as well as dispatching via courier too.

It has taken me two days to finish this post. I think I’ve got terribly lazy and not spending enough time behind this computer doing what I love. Time to fix the problem..get out and take some images. Kind of difficult when the rain is pouring and thunder and lightning are singing from the skies above.

Patience is a virtue. Anyway, I got one photo…even if it is a camera phone shot.

Have a nice day all..

Who turned the heating up?… A Mozzie

It was 34′ in my car this lunchtime. Memories of the Top Gear Africa Special came flooding back……this is a nice change though isnt it? Afterall, this is what Summer should be like. We have had so many bad ones over the last few years I think we have all forgotten what Summer actually is.


I think the above image just sums up the last few years in a nutshell. Lets forget the weather for a minute and talk about its side effects. You may recall my insect bite last week that very nearly hospitalised me yet again. Seeing the little blighter hanging off my leg in hindsight I should have inspected it and then wrung its neck. However, a flick of the finger cut to the chase and sent it from here to oblivion in less than a second.

Years ago, we would have only associated Mosquitoes with the tropics and jungles of the world. Nowadays it appears these little menaces have become illegal immigrants and are now residing in our neighbourhood here in the United Kingdom. How rude and inconsiderate is that. So, have the British Summers been getting warmer? Well, it appears not…you only need to take a look at the statistics and see. So what about this little menace then….


Complaints of mosquito bites are on the rise in the UK. So should Britons brace themselves for a future mosquito menace? Hovering perfectly at ear level with a lingering, bothersome whine, mosquitoes leave you with bites that lead to itchy, swollen welts. In much of the world, affected by malaria, repelling them is a matter of life and death. In the UK they are a mere annoyance, interrupting summer holidays and barbecues.

Based on a survey of UK local authorities, reports of mosquito bites over the last 10 years are 2.5 times greater than in the 10 years up to 1996. NHS Direct statistics show 9,061 calls in England complaining of bites and stings from early May this year to now – up nearly 15% from last summer. Not all bite complaints are due to mosquitoes – many can be attributed to bedbugs, midges and fleas. But conditions in the UK, particularly in southeastern England, are increasingly hospitable to mosquitoes. “The wet weather through May and June this year, along with a warm summer, has affected the population because mosquitoes like the standing breeding water,” says zoologist Michael Bonsall at Oxford University.

It’s difficult to track mosquito numbers accurately, but the UK authorities are trying to do so. The Health Protection Agency has organised the Mosquito Recording Scheme to look into where and how mosquitoes live and breed. And the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health, with help from the HPA, has created Mosquito Watch, a voluntary reporting system geared towards collecting and analysing various specimens. Not only do mosquitoes swarm over pools of standing water, including bowls left outside for pets, they appear under man-hole covers and even travel on London’s Tube network.

But while mosquitoes transmit deadly diseases in many parts of the world, they do not cause major harm in the UK. They may spoil picnics in the park, but they are usually only a major problem when Britons travel to countries with malaria, dengue or other mosquito-borne diseases. But once upon a time, malaria-carrying mosquitoes could be found in the salt marshes of southeastern England.

It is believed that malaria – literally “bad air” – dates back at least to Roman times in the UK, and outbreaks occurred as recently as the years just following World War I. British doctor Ronald Ross, who discovered the malarial parasite living in the gastrointestinal tract of the Anopheles mosquito in the 19th Century, recruited teams to eliminate the larvae from stagnant pools and marshes.

Malaria in England had effectively died out by the 1950s, mostly due to the draining of much of the marshland where mosquitoes bred. But because of the growth of global travel, the number of imported cases of the disease in the UK has risen, with nearly 2,000 a year today.In many cases, live mosquitoes have been found on aircraft, or travelling in luggage, having been transported from countries with malaria. On rare occasions, people may even have contracted malaria in Europe and North America, dubbed “airport malaria”. Five of the 30-plus species of mosquito found in the UK are not native. One variety is coming alarmingly close to the UK. The Asian tiger mosquito – Aedes albopictus – known for its white and black striped pattern has been spotted as close as Belgium.

While the species does not carry malaria, it does transmit West Nile virus, Yellow fever and dengue. “It is possible that Aedes albopictus could make its way to the UK,” says Dr James Logan, medical entomologist at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine. “Because they lay their drought-resistant eggs in transportable materials, like used tyres, there is a possibility that they can be transported to a country where they are not normally found. “Some studies suggest that they could survive the UK winter, however, to date this species has not been found in the UK and the HPA are keeping a watchful eye on it.” Bonsall agrees and adds that predictive models show how malaria-carrying species could even make their way to areas such as the North Kent marshes, Essex, Norfolk and Suffolk.

Mosquitoes are becoming immune to the insecticides used to treat them – via spray or bed nets, according to a recent study from Senegal. Between 2007 and 2010, insects with a resistance to a popular type of pesticide rose from 8% to 48%. “This could be a big problem for future control,” says Dr Hilary Ranson, head of the vector group at the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine.But according to Dr Logan, the health infrastructure and access to drugs in the UK means malaria is unlikely to take hold and cause major problems. Unlike much of the world, the rise of the mosquito will be a nuisance in the UK rather than a serious threat.

And for me, well…..if you have Cellulitis like I do, then you have a constant reminder of them 365 days a year. They are definitely on my Facebook block list.

Thanks for reading.

Excerpts of Article from

Blemish here, a mole there….all in an edit


I think I may have become obsessive. Is there anything wrong with making everything correct down to the finest detail? I don’t know the answer to that to be totally truthful. I think I will come across as quite patronising if I say that I am totally obsessive because it doesn’t apply in every instance. I mean, if I sometimes forget to put my shoes in the cupboard I wont usually think twice. I can do methodical with obsession, I can honest. Here is a funny example that will show you more about me than I need to say really. A couple of days ago I offered to help my lovely wife Elaine clean up. The first thing I did was head towards my desk which amongst PC’s, printers and monitors  was cluttered with unopened envelopes and scattered notes of names and telephone numbers. I proceeded to remove the said rubbish from my domain which led to dusting and wiping. This in turn led to screen cleaning times two and before I could complete my simple task thirty minutes had gone by and Elaine had completed the whole house. Mmmm enough said.

Cleaning is not my obsession though. Retouching and editing however is; I started working through my images that were shot a couple of weeks ago on my “hat shoot” and realised that my attention to detail may not exactly be the same as someone elses attention to detail. Small skin blemishes, moles, awkward stray hairs, blood vessels in the eyes are all little things that could be left untouched would bug me and make me feel like the job isn’t complete. Like I just said though, not everyone sees things in the same light. The subject of the photo-shoot was the hats, okay, that hats were sat on top of three lovely models but that is exactly where I went wrong. The edits took longer and longer whilst I paid attention to every minor detail. I think the editing procedure went something like this….

1.  Exposure
2. Brightness & Contrast
3. Saturation/Hue
4. Levels/Curves
5. Spot removal (dust spots not face spots)
6. Cropping
7. Masking & Layering
8. Artefact removal
9. Noise Reduction

As you can see from the list that this can be a lengthy job and each image can take up to thirty minutes to complete. This amounts to a serious amount of time when you have a couple of hundred images to do let alone over a thousand. In an ideal world it would be lovely if Photoshop could identify these blemishes and spots, it does in its own way but it’s not the best. So, I revert to Lightroom and manual and edit how I know best. Have a look at a few images that I have finished and see what you think. In my opinion, I am very happy….not sure what the models think as I have only seen messages on Facebook. There is much to be said about-face to face contact. Hope you like the images, as always… comments are welcome

A huge thank you to Stephanie, Margaret, Jemima, Missy, Martina & Rebecca, your help is so much appreciated and I will never forget your patience.


Margaret Woodliff-Wright
Jemima Robinson
Missy Ellwood
Martina Peluso
Rebecca May

The dreaded Cellulitis…..

480426_10151718805790831_1601438609_n In 2007 whilst on holiday in Lanzarote I suddenly became mysteriously ill. It wasn’t like it was something obvious it was just a gradual feeling over a few hours. I recall coming back from a place called “Rancho Texas” and suspecting I had been bitten by a fly of some variety. It could well have been Spanish but as flies don’t speak I couldn’t really ask it could I? Whatever it was took a real fancy to my blood and within twenty-four hours I was flat on my back, sweating profusely and craving cold drinks. We were staying at Lomo Blanco Apartments in Puerto del Carmen and as far as I can recall with only two or three days to go until our plane ride home I did nothing but sleep. Much of this was down to heaps of Panadol kindly dispensed by my loving wife Elaine but with all good intentions she wanted to get me home. In hindsight she was right, ten days in the Leeds General Infirmary has a little more appeal than being stuck on your own in a Spanish hospital 1800 miles from home. I am sure you see where I am coming from here.

After getting me on the plane drugged up to the eyeballs I managed to get home. Looking back, two things spring to mind… firstly, I cannot even remember the journey home and secondly, how in the name of all thats holy did I get away with it? It would only have taken an eagle eyed flight attendant to realise how sick I was. Once home a call to “NHS Direct” for advice seemed the right things to do. When the call was made with all the symptoms it must have come across as a little misleading to the call handler and we awere advised that “deep vein thrombosis” was likely. I think the fact that I had just stepped off an aircraft may have swayed the decision in this direction to be fair. Anyway, that was not the point… Elaine was instructed not to panic and to get me to Accident and Emergency like…rapid. And thats exactly what happened.

My home for the next week or so was a darkened ward in the bowels of the Leeds General Infirmary called the “High Dependency Unit”. Here, I lay with my feet in an awkward postion much higher than my head and drugged up to the eyeballs much like I was in the final days of my holiday to the Canary Islands.

I was very lucky really, bites like this can be poisonous and if not treated can do real damage. Since then, my legs are painful and the skin is very soft and even the slightest knock will cause them to bruise quicker than an old tomato. The price I pay for this means I have to be careful, much like I wasnt the following year when back in Lanzarote when I scraped my leg on a the rough edge of a plastic sunbed and tore a hole on my shin. What I have managed to do is stay clear of flies and mosquitoes. Two more visits to the Canary Islands and I have stayed bite free. All down to special wipes, wristbands and a loving and caring wife who obvisouly doesnt want to see me in that state again. This was until last Friday…..when the unexpected happened…in Cottingley. Yes, Cottingley del Sol.

A beautiful summers evening and the last thing that was on my mind was the dangers of the British fly. I was at the Moonlight Walk hosted by ny good friends at Cancer Support Bradford & Airedale  — if you get a chance please take a look at the great fundraising and events the friends do…they are nothing short of fantastic.  They often ask me to take photographs for them and as its my passion I never turn down an opportunity. The event was to be held at Cottingley Fitness & Wellbeing Centre near Bingley. The place has fantastic grounds including a lovely water feature and open lawns. Ideal for an event of this kind I am sure you will agree. It also appears that it was ideal for an old friend of mine, one that was to come back an haunt me with a bang. The Fly !

It had never crossed my mind when getting ready that on a beautiful summers evening I would be better covering up my legs or caking them in Jungle Formula Insect Repellent. Afterall this is West Yorkshire not the Canary Islands.  I had been taking photographs of the participants (below)

and all was going well. I was sat by one of the tables near the edge of the lawn when I felt a sharp pain in the side of my left leg. I looked down and to my horror saw a black humped shaped insect drawing blood from the depths of my calf. How rude ! Without permission too, surely that constitutes theft? With a swipe of my hand I tried to remove said creature from my leg but it was going nowhere fast. I had to physically pick it from the hole itself had created. I was left with a trickle of blood and a feeling of nervousness came over me. What if this brought back my Cellulitis?

After a few panic ridden text exchanges with Elaine I thought nothing else of it until the next morning. I woke with a slightly more swollen pair of legs than I went to bed with, a warmer and hotter (not in the biblical sense) pair of legs along with a nauseous feeling. This was the last thing I needed. Once again, thinking nothing more of it I carried on my normal Saturday morning routine and my lovely wife went to work. Within an hour of her departure something went wrong. It was almost like it was waiting for her departure to create this problem because the timing was just that. My legs started to swell and the skin started to stretch. I took evasive action and lay on the sofa nearest the window and propped my legs up on the window sill. It was there I stayed until Elaine returned home from work at two o clock.

She knew….Straight away. Women know when something is not right, they have this ability to detect problems it’s a seventh sense (lol). No matter how much I could have tried to hide it, it was never going to work. The proof was in the size of my body parts so without removing my legs I had no chance. We both mutually agreed that a trip to Leeds General Infirmary was in order….Oh no, here we go again.

Saturday afternoon at casualty is no fun, nothing compared to Saturday evening but still no fun. Five hours later and a number of potions later and I was allowed home. This was only because no matter how much they tried they could for the life in them get a drip in to me. This has resulted in numerous bruises in my arms but I’m not going to worry about that. I will have to look like a temporary addict for a few days and deal with it.

And here I am, its Wednesday and I am still sat with my feet up and resting. Top Gear has been the highlight of my week. Thanks foe reading my woes. Call back soon for more.

A rapid change of plan….


Model: Jemima Robinson

Occasionally I need a kick-start, but then again doesn’t everyone? Maybe if you were to answer this truthfully and actually say “no” then subsequently email me; I would realise the problem is actually me. Once again we are heading mid way through the month of July and the photo count is quite stale.

There was the faintest glimmer however, a friend of mine Stephanie got in touch last week and asked if could take some photos of the hats she had designed. Well, firstly I never turn down the opportunity to help a friend and secondly when given the chance to get in to the studio how could I refuse.

I was introduced to three lovely models Jemima Robinson, Rebecca May and a very nice lady that to this day remains nameless. A whole day shooting a subject that I can honestly say I have no experience in shooting before….Hats ! Yes, hats.


Model: Rebecca May

I have to say these models were absolutely fantastic at their jobs. They made 1500 images roll through my camera like a breath of fresh air. With a large space to work in, air conditioning and every facility you could ask for it was like a dream. A big thank you to Margaret Woodliff-Wright (Hats) , Stephanie Murie (Hats) and Martina Peluso (Make-up) for the assistance during the day and also a big thank you to the technicians from Leeds College of Art for the lighting and equipment.

I have now created a dilemma. As I know from many past shoots, the selection process is probably as hard as the shoot itself. Having said that, having never subjected actual hats before things weren’t as easy as first thought. It quite easy to drift “off-topic” and shoot the model for her qualities leaving the hat to fall by the wayside. It just took a couple of frames to knock me back on the right track, redirecting my focus on the hat as opposed to the glamour side of the photography.

All three models were fantastic at modelling the hats and gave the images every quality that was required.

If you have never photographed in a studio environment before it can be very nerve-racking. Throughout my years as a photographer I have used many studios and lighting set-ups but I have to say the crew at Leeds College of Art have got the dogs doo dahs of set ups. I took a couple of images using my phone of the studio setup, these are posted below.


Leeds College of Art, Studio

Leeds College of Art, Studio

Leeds College of Art, Studio

A great day’s shooting, somewhere totally different. Thanks for the opportunity.

Fundraising is a family affair for mum of three


My Vocation….Photography vs The Great British Summer

It might be time to head indoors and try the studio for some photography. I am a wee bit miffed at the number of opportunities that havent presented themselves of recent days. But then again, why would they, it hasn’t stopped raining for days. Having said that, as I sit here typing this blog the sun is out, just not in a way that would justify a camera-road-trip. No way Jose.

After getting bored I dreamed up a WordPress site called Streetographies which in all fairness has kept me busy for the last week or so. I’ve been trawling through images on my hard drives that may of otherwise being confined to the archives. Images that one decade earlier would have hit the cutting room floor. I even lowered myself by resurrecting flatbed scans of prints, monochrome ones at that.

Streetographies has done quite well; with only a dozen or so posts so far the new “column” approach looks quite appealing and the words that follow the pictures appear to be readable. Yes, I can quite categorically say that I am happy with whats going on over there. Like I just said, I have been trawling the old hard drives for applicable images and I found some too, seventy-nine of them so far which is a great start. I currently have sixteen of my favourite street portraits up there and the comments and viewing statistics have proved worthwhile. On the back of that I scanned my Flickr photo stream and my Lightroom catalogues and discovered another eighty candidates.

As for the paragraphs that accompany the images, well…. writing is another way of expressing my ideas just not with an image. I still have no idea whether it works or not and I am waiting for a few more comments with feedback to decide whether I should carry on. I already did a little research with regard to buying the domain name for the site and hosting it with 123-reg. That was a mistake, I don’t think I can really justify £120.00 to do this just yet. Afterall, its in its infancy and very fresh and wet behind the ears.

I think I maybe sitting back when it comes to grabbing more images. The knowledge that I have eighty to do kind of puts the idea of getting more a little less tempting. Maybe I should, that would keep a constant supply going. It definitely has had an impact on the number of posts here at “no more dead pixels” as I have spent more time thinking about images than I have writing.

I understand the weather forecast for the weekend is quite good. I will believe it when I see it.

Thanks for reading my moaning…..

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