Photography ... astronomy ... art ... design ... technology
(... and the odd rant)

All of these make my world go 'round, to some extent, and they will all be found here at some time or other. Some of the photography can be purchased from my Redbubble site. I can also be found at Tempus Fugit (no longer being updated).

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Watch the birdie

About 25 years ago, I bought an old camera in an antique shop in Edinburgh. The owner was tinkering with it as I walked in, and I knew straight away it was mine! It was nothing flash, but the design intrigued me.  It was made in an age when glass plates were still the standard medium for taking photographs. When I later sought an idea of the camera's age, it was suggested around 1870, predating the Eastman Kodak company by a decade or so. However, the design of the camera means that only dry plates would have been usable (it was designed to hold a stack of plates, so plates made with the wet collodion process would have been entirely unsuitable). Dry plates were in development during the 1870s, culminating in George Eastman's success in developing a machine process for mass-producing dry plates. So, I'd say this camera was built somewhat later than 1870.

Camera front; 1 cord for instantaneous exposure, 1 for time exposure

Red cord is for cocking the shutter

I have thought on several occasions that I should try to take a photograph with it, but the design made it a less than trivial task to do so, and I put it to the back of my mind until very recently. I have been tinkering with paper negatives for pinhole cameras, to get the development right for use as a negative, and with this foundation, it was an obvious step to using the old camera, using a small sheet of enlarging paper in a suitable cardboard holder.

Back end of camera
Inside of camera back, showing mechanism for lifting next unexposed plate
I had already established a nominal ISO speed rating for the paper, so with a hand-held light meter (a Weston Master III, since you ask…), measurement of the f/ratio of the lens (about f/14 or f/28, depending on which of the 2 aperture stops is in use) and the 'B' or 'T' shutter setting, I was able to give a long enough exposure, as required. Shooting indoors, in a large antique shop, I decided on 45 seconds - manageable by the sitter I had 'engaged' for the job (the shop owner). The resulting negative was somewhat underexposed, as it turned out - possibly the light had changed after I took a reading, and before making the exposure - but with careful digital post processing after scanning the negative, I was able to get a good enough result. I'd like to compare it with any of the plates taken with the camera soon after it was made, but will have to be happy with this modern product.

Now, if I can make a rollfilm adaptor (taking 118 film, perhaps…), I might have something really usable.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Fishy capers

We don't eat as much fish as we should, so last night a piece of barramundi seemed in order. Eschewing the frying option, I went for steaming it on a bed of vegetables, accompanied with noodles.


  • 500g barramundi or firm fish of your choice
  • 2 largish carrots, shaved, grated or finely chopped
  • 2 sticks celery, chopped
  • 1 large onion, chopped any way you please
  • good handful of shredded cabbage
  • 3 cloves garlic, crushe
  • sweet soy sauce (about a tablespoon)
  • malt vinegar (ditto)
  • oil for frying
  • small amount of water or stock
  • instant noodles or rice
  • fry onion in a large pan 'till soft
  • add garlic and fry another 2-3 mins
  • add carrot and celery, plus water/stock (I used 1/2 a stock cube)
  • lay fish on top of vegies, add salt & pepper to taste, cover pan and simmer for 10-15 mins, or until fish is just cooked
  • stir in soy sauce, adding more water if necessary
  • cover fish & vegies with cabbage, and steam for another few minutes, until cabbage is soft
  • start cooking noodles while cabbage is steaming (or if using rice, start cooking rice 5 minutes ago...)
  • when noodles are done, the rest should be ready
This works well using a dry white wine instead of water/stock; with a curried preserve instead of soy sauce; with zucchini, shallots/green/spring onions, fresh asparagus, etc.

Was looking forward to leftovers for lunch, but No. 1 Son decided he'd have some after all - and declared it to be very good - success!

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Click #2

A moment seized; a fleeting glimpse. Click.
Contemplation. Possibilities; subtle details, obscure even. Click.
Clearer now, focus sharper. New perspective; comes to life. Click.
Different light, shadows new. Chiaroscuro changes mood. Click.
Quiet thrill; a frisson. Tones, texture; composition gels. Click.
Now from here, lower. Detail isolated, highlighted. Click.
Turn a ring; focus narrows, draws the eye. Click.
Close in, tighter frame. Rule of thirds? Break it. Click.
Nailed it.


Friday, July 10, 2009


Brass, turning. Click.
Gut drawn tight. Click.
Rhythm punctuates silence. Click.
Drum moves relentlessly. Click.
Tooth meshed with tooth. Click.
Cast iron drops. Click.
Glint of sun on silver. Click.
Shadow sweeps downward. Click.
Motes settle on oak. Click.
Governor spins. Whirr.
Bell rings out. Ding.
And thrice more. Click.
What time is it, Grandad? Click.
Steady beat of time. Click.


Wednesday, July 8, 2009

A serene cacophony

Behind me, a fridge door repeatedly opens and closes, punctuating the clink of crockery and utensils. Quiet chatter and bustle.The urgent sound of milk being forced into action for a capuccino. And again. In the background (it's all background), the chatter and gossip of birdlife, the interlocutors hidden among shadowed paperbarks. They conspire occasionally to drown out the culinary commotion, then retreat into quiescence.

Midmorning traffic, intermittently trying to lay a post-industrial veneer over the placid scene, but not being entirely successful. The lagoon in front of me is receiving attention from a young man; he is corralling weeds on the surface with floats and net. Steadily, with unhurried pace, he skims the weed-strewn surface, until the unwanted flora is contained in a small enclosure one one bank. Carefully, intently, he draws it in to leave a clear surface once more. Finishes the task with rake and barrow.

A midmorning Virgin, headed south, momentarily disturbs the peace. It passes quickly, leaving its avian role models in charge once again.

The water surface, calm just moments ago, is now a frenzy of interwoven ripples, as myriad insects go about their routine. Busily, they skim and skate in an invisible free-form choreography betrayed only by the undulating boundary between open air and aquatic obscurity. The human chatter has now built to a modest hubbub, as the tables, once empty and quiet, fill with twos and threes seeking a morning break. Two toddlers, restless; mum stands watch - her attention divided between dancing insects and her diminutive dynamos - cajoling, controlling. The arrival of carrot cake and coffee seems to calm the little ones. Baby chocaccinos work their magic, and mum can relax. For now.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

RIP Kodachrome

A couple of days ago, on the northern summer solstice, Kodak announced the end of an era. Kodak: the very name is synonymous with photography, and Kodachrome is a substantial part of the name. Used by professional and amateur photographers the world over, and valued for its many qualities, including colour accuracy, sharpness and archival permanence; immortalized (if it could be any more than it was) in song by Paul Simon, the film that was manufactured for 74 of the 121 years that Kodak has been in business, is history.

Kodachrome was a unique film, requiring a long and complex development process that but a few labs could provide. I knew it only casually, shooting relatively little transparency material, but there was a special thrill in receiving the little yellow boxes in the post, full of card-mounted (as they were then) slides. Now, the advance of emulsion technology, not to mention digital imaging and sheer cold commercial necessity, has brought an end to this venerable icon, as the production lines cease to roll. It's not the first, and certainly not the last, photographic material to reach its use-by date, but it's arguably one of the most poignant. Kodachrome, Cibachrome, Dufaycolour ... when will we see their like again...

Many are wondering whether digital images will be as enduring as those made on this fine material. Only time will tell, but I wouldn't be placing any bets about digital longevity.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

More kitchen capers

With SWMBO intent on combining leeks and potatoes in the time-honoured soupy fashion, I thought the least I could do would be to make a damper to accompany it. I have a few standard recipes that I am comfortable with (although arguably, increasingly unfamiliar...), and this is one such. It caught my eye in that great British entertainment organ, the Radio Times, many years ago, and it has provided sterling service since then.

I confess to being a member of the KISS school of culinary arts: one pan, if possible; as little mess and fiddling as possible; flexible in the cooking process (ie, 10-15 minutes either way is OK).

I've never made bread as such, because it involves tedious things like kneading and proving, and that just puts me off. Call me lazy if you will. Call me Henrietta if you must (but I'll take no notice). Damper, however, is another matter, and suits my style very well. This one has a twist or two, in that it includes potatoes, cheese, and one or two other items of vegetable matter. Here's the lowdown:


  • 6 oz (175g) SR flour
  • 6 oz (175g) grated potato
  • 6 oz (175g) cheese
  • [doesn't really matter exactly how much - just make the quantities roughly equal (but perhaps less cheese1)]
  • 2-3 shallots (spring/green onions)
  • pinch of thyme
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1-2 tblsps water
  • sprinkle of cayenne (optional)

  • Plonk flour in large bowl (sieve it, if it gives you satisfaction)
  • Mix thyme and salt into flour
  • Grate potatoes and add to flour; stir well to break up clumps of potato
  • Mix chopped onions into flour & potato
  • Add cheese2, cut into lumps, and mix in well (easiest to use hands at this stage)
  1. I find this too much cheese, and usually use half this much
  2. the original recipe said mix in half the cheese, then press the other half on the outside of the bread before cooking, but that's just unnecessary mucking about, if you ask me; decide for yourself.
By now, you will have a pretty dry, loose mix, but there should be just enough moisture in the grated potato to soak up all the flour. At this point, add the extra water, just enough to keep the dough together.

Finally, place on greaseproof paper on a tray, and bake in a moderate oven (about 180oC) for about 45 minutes.

I generally make a double mixture and split into 2 portions, because one just isn't enough!


The original recipe called for goat's cheese (or more precisely, goats milk cheese), and as I try to avoid bovine milk products, this suits me fine. Today, I'm using a sheep feta for the first time, so wait the outcome with eager anticipation.

[Later... verdict: it's quite delicious, as was the soup.]

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

A bit hazy

I've seen the term bokeh bandied about for some time now, but only just recently came to understand what it's about. Whether that's a statement about me, or about the folk who wrote descriptions that I couldn't follow, I don't know. Whatever the case, it still has me a bit bemused - at least regarding the degree of fascination it holds in other photographers. Having spent many years away from serious photography, this term seems to be quite prevalent, even among relative 'happy-snappers'.

For those who aren't aware, it's a term descriptive of the appearance of out-of-focus detail in a photograph, and is derived from the Japanese for 'blur' or 'haze'. Is it smooth and 'creamy', or rough and unappealing... or something. When I went to look through my own image collection to see how my bokeh compared, it appeared that I had no images that showed bokeh - and then I remembered one that would:

I'm somewhat surprised that I don't have other examples to hand, as the ability to use wide apertures and selective focusing is one of those little tricks that I value (and which is sadly lacking in a wee digital point-and-shoot).

Judging by the comments I've seen elsewhere (such as in the Manual Focus Forum), my bokeh isn't especially good. However, I shan't be losing much sleep over it; nor shall I be going on a quest to find a set of lenses that
does produce good bokeh - yet. Who knows what may happen in the future?

Monday, May 4, 2009

Beautiful woodwork, tiny little hole

I have been known to mess around with homemade or modified cameras, all in the name of satisfying an urge to indulge in pinhole photography. There is a certain pleasure to be had in building or rehashing something which then draws light through a hole that may be as small as 0.15 mm - and then capturing that light on good old silver halides; kind of thumbing my nose at modern technology.

I've lately been dusting off a mailing tube camera that I made about 12 years ago. As I lack a darkroom, it's been dormant almost since it was born, but I've been making do and occupying the bathroom to produce wet bits of 5x7 paper with ghostly images on them. Yes, the pinhole muse seems to be back, in fine form.

Using different materials than I used to, I've so far just been establishing the right exposure and processing parameters, but I'm getting there. At the weekend, I recorded myself eating lunch on the back verandah. Not a classic photograph, but it's a step on the way.

It looks like I'm sitting by a rounded corner, but this is an artefact of the curved film-plane and the position of the pinhole. One of the reasons I like pinhole is that it gives you the ability to create images that can't be made with a conventional camera with a flat focal plane. Coming later will be a different curved-plane camera, one with less disturbing image geometry.

Such geometry can be found in images produced by the Pinoramic 120.

This is a panoramic camera handcrafted - with other similar models - by Kurt Mottweiler. They combine the delightful wacky world of analogue pinhole photography with woodworking and design skills of the highest order. When I have bolstered the bank account back up to a healthy level, I shall acquire one - either that, or chew off one of my hands with insane frustration...

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Old words

I've been having fun playing with the new toy again, and decided to go back into history for some inspiration. Arbroath is an unassuming little Scottish town, famous for its smoked haddock (the Arbroath Smokie, of course). Its greatest claim to fame though, is its association with one of the best-known documents in history: the Declaration of Arbroath. A bold statement, firmly nailing Scotland's colours to the mast, as it were, it sets out a compelling case for the Pope to deny Edward I's claim to the Scottish throne. There is but one original in existence, decorated with the seals of Scottish nobility. Now, however, you can own a modern interpretation of this most stirring document. It's history Jim, but not as we know it...

Monday, April 20, 2009

A Wordle in your shell-like

Today I voted for Redbubble in the Webby awards (go to Websites and then Community - RB will love you for it). While I was there, I noticed the Wordle reference, so went over to investigate. I'll say no more, except that I have had fun feeding in words, phrases, etc. Here's how this blog looks, when Wordled:

The possibilities are endless.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Kitchen fumbler

When I flew the coop, nearly 30 years ago, my culinary abilities extended to boiling eggs and making beans on toast. Finding myself in a foreign city (OK, Edinburgh) after leaving college, with no family to call on for sustenance, I had to find my own way. Initially, this meant a lot of badly-fried eggs, savoury rice from a packet (which was sometimes enhanced with a bit of chicken, and called risotto), and - when my willpower evaporated - something greasy from a chip shop.

In talking of chip shops, I feel I have to mention that great Scottish delicacy, the deep-fried pizza. Deep-fried it certainly was, but pizza... well that's debatable. Consisting, as it did, of a disk of dough covered with the barest smear of tomato paste, and sprinkled with a few herbs and possibly a bit of onion, it was nothing short of a travesty. Most of the flavour came from the frying, in both the flavour of the oil remaining in the dough and the slightly browned nature of the thing itself. I'd run a mile from one now of course, but in those days, it was a different matter. Perhaps they have improved by now, but I doubt it.

Anyway, I gradually moved on to higher levels of kitchen trickery (having finally mastered the method of frying the perfect egg), daring to cook various forms of meat, and managing to produce a meal with which I'd be quite happy even now. This was achieved largely by guesswork and trial-and-error, until some kind soul gave me a copy of Delia Smith's One is Fun. This was not, as friends later speculated, a sex manual, but excellent guidance for someone whose sole reference prior to this was the Be-Ro cookbook presented to me by Dear Mother upon my leaving home. The only thing is, I decided that I hate working from recipes; I'd much rather look in the fridge and cupboard, then make something from what's available. If I am forced to refer to a recipe, I usually end up tetchy and frustrated from going backwards and forwards between the book and the cooker, as I try diligently to follow the instructions.

In the end, it took a long time and a few "ah-ha" moments for me to become yet more adventurous. As it is, I'm more at home with tried and tested favourites, such as mince & tatties* (even if I do modify them now with the benefit of experience), but every now and then I like to try something different. If I do, there's a chance it will be slightly odd, or under-tasty, and the rest of the family might not appreciate it. Recently though, faced with a pack of mince and dinner time looming, I decided to experiment a bit.

* I discovered recently that this - boiled mince and steamed, boiled or mashed potatoes - is not a universally-recognised dish, so perhaps I'll post my recipe later.

I grew up on good old British "boil 'till required" type of thing (sorry Mum!), and about 10 different "safe" meals. These days, I'm more than happy to eat things that my dear old folks would look at with suspicion (you know... 'foreign' food). So, having decided that tonight wouldn't just feature burgers or mince, I assembled the following list of goodies:

  • 500g good mince (I used beef, but take your pick)
  • 1 small onion, finely grated
  • 1 carrot, finely grated
  • 1/2 courgette, finely grated
  • 2-3 cloves of garlic, crushed/chopped
  • about a dessertspoon of tomato paste
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin *
  • 1 teaspoon paprika *
  • 1/2 teaspoon mint (I used dried mint) *
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt *
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup rice crumbs *
  • 1/4 cup oat bran *
  • * approximate measures - I just gave sprinkles that looked about right

After mixing everything together well in a large bowl, so that the consistency was reasonably dry, not too sloppy, I squashed some of it around skewers (it's kind of a Kofta kebab), and formed some into patties. Either way, a few minutes under the grill produced a tasty result, which I can hardly wait to make again. Not too bad for a fumbler!

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Distant shadows

Astronomical imaging technology has come a long way since I first looked at Saturn through a small telescope, some time around 1973. Pioneer and Voyager spacecraft brought us the Ringed Planet from a vantage point outside of Earth's orbit for the first time, and presented breathtaking views of ring details, strange 'spokes', new rings and extra Saturnian satellites. Lately, Cassini has taking an extended look, and brought more detail and revelations, including a backlit Saturn with new, diffuse very faint rings much further out from the main rings.

Currently, Saturn's rings are being viewed almost edge-on to Earth and the Sun, which happens only twice in each 29-year orbit. When it does happen, we can see things that are normally hidden by the rings, such as some of the smaller satellites (and their shadows) passing in front of the giant planet. From the privileged vantage point enjoyed by Cassini, we are able to look down on the planet and its ring system, as in this image. As well as the sheer fascination of seeing such fine detail in the ring structure and the shadow of a satellite, there's a new treat: shadows from the rings themselves.

Jagged Shadows May Indicate Saturn Ring Particles

Much of the ring system seems to be composed of flat, uniform rings of differing width and brightness. Some rings are known to appear like twisted rope, and are separated from the main rings, as they are affected by small nearby satellites. In this case, we seem to be looking at a ring which is directly adjacent to others, but which seems to have definite thickness and texture, and which splits in two. The thickness is evident from the lumpy shadow cast on the other rings, and is a reminder that even with something as well-observed as Saturn, new surprises are still lurking.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Word for the day

Refulgent, adj casting a flood of light; radiant; beaming


Just started reading "Building with Light - The International History of Architectural Photography" by Robert Elwall. It's a fine book, which includes some interesting examples of architectural photography from the very early days of the art, prior to the invention of the collodion process. While it's always interesting to see examples of work from those days, no reproduction of Daguerreotypes can do them justice. However, it is testament to the determination of those photographers using such processes, that they were prepared to expose their plates sometimes for days in order to get sufficient exposure on very slow materials.

Nowadays, just having to wait for a film to be processed, before seeing the results of your efforts, seems tedious in comparison with the immediacy of the digital process; I doff my cap to the pioneering stalwarts who had to prepare their own materials, lug around large and heavy equipment and then patiently wait for the picture to record. The nearest I have come to such endeavours (apart from long exposures of the night sky), is using a shoebox pinhole camera and slow blue-sensitive film, which required 15 minutes exposure or more. Leaving the camera unattended then left it subject to 'attack' by a comedian with too much time on his hands. I did get one half-decent result though: this image of the Royal Observatory, Edinburgh.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Sinful modern music

I confess I'm not an inveterate reader of other blogs - I daren't become hooked, and spend more time doing something unproductive. However, in an idle moment tonight, I looked at Fake Interviews With Real Celebrities, and found an amusing little game, that she borrowed from another blog. I have only the faintest idea what an Emo band is, but think that matters little. Just play the game, and see what happens.

First go to and take the name of that random Wiki article; this is the name of your band. Next, go to and take the last 4-5 words of the last quotation on the page; this is the album title. Finally, visit to find your album cover image - it will be the third image you see. Put the whole lot together in your favourite flavour of image-editing software, and voilĂ  - ready to put on your new opus mirabilis.

Here's my effort:


Happiness in intelligent people is the rarest thing I know. Ernest Hemingway (1899 - 1961)

I have to say, it all seems to gel...