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Visit to Cardiff on a drizzly day in February with tips on taking photos in dull weather

Is it possible to see the main sights of Cardiff and capture some usable photos on a visit lasting no more than four hours? And on a drizzly overcast day? As I discovered on my 16 Feb 2007 visit, it is possible to get a real sense of Cardiff and take some usable photographs, if you stay within the city centre and choose your subjects carefully.

Travelling as I did by train, arrival is convenient. No need to get stuck in traffic, find a car park or pay parking charges.

As we walk out of the 1920s style Cardiff Central station we are aleady in the city centre and close to the shops and sights. Cardiff Central, Welsh Caerdydd Canalog, is in a beautiful 1920s style of architecture but could benefit from some renovation.

Soon we are walking up High Street, and Cardiff's most striking landmark, the Castle comes into view.

Cardiff Castle clock

Cardiff Castle - Castell Caerdydd wouldn't look out of place in Prague or Germany, with its medieval style tower, gilt clock face and painted figures. The castle is a major tourist attraction, but there isn't time to go inside today.

Tip: Buildings are more difficult to photograph in dull weather. Instead focus on details of the facade such as clocks, sculptures, architectural features. These often look better in soft, overcast light

It's starting to rain, but that's not a problem for shoppers in Cardiff due to the attractive covered arcades. In fact Cardiff is called the city of arcades.

We take shelter in the Castle Arcade and walk through to the other end. This Victorian arcade has an intimate feel with its shop windows, boutiques and cafes.

In this respect Cardiff reminds me of another city of arcades and medieval clocktowers, Leizpig Germany.

High Street Arcade Cardiff
Tip: If the weather isn't very bright, try taking photos inside. Outside it may be pouring down but inside the arcade it looks the same. Don't use flash and keep the camera still as light levels may be low.

Coming out of Castle Arcade we cross High Street and enter another one. It too is a well-preserved Victorian arcade with a mixture of shops. It's great to see so many original features still intact in Cardiff. I wish the same was true of my home city Manchester.

The arcades have sheltered us from the rain and taken us into the heart of the city. After crossing another street we enter their modern successor the St David's Shopping Centre. It's much bigger, with more facilities and shops, but lacks the architectural charm of the older passageways.

Now the rain has eased off, we go out onto The Hays, a street with an attractive triangular open space overlooked by beautiful facades. Shame about the standard of the paving and the presence of ugly and intrusive double yellow lines.

A new extension to the St David's shopping centre is under construction, so hopefully this area will be improved.

Tip: In overcast weather, the dull light makes the facades look dark and yet the sky is pale. To get around this, take photos underexposed so the sky detail is visible, then lighten the buildings in Photoshop.

Walking up Working Street and St John Street, we approach Queen Street, Cardiff's showpiece shopping boulevard. All the facades have recently been renovated, and a new surface has been laid out with contemporary style paving stones and black and white tiles.

I'm not always keen on contemporary makeovers, but this one seems to work well. The curved lines echo the gently curving path of the street.

There are many finely crafted facades from various architectural eras, including some in my favourite 1930s neo-Classical style. Some modern-style buildings have been juxtaposed into the streetscape, which offers all the familiar UK high street names.

Tip: In dull weather, use black and white for suitable subjects, such as statues. Use black and white mode if available on your camera, or remove the colour on the computer.

Statues on the theme of family life are an additional feature of the street. Taking pride of place at the western end of the street, looking toweards the Castle, is the statue of Aneurin Bevan, founder of the NHS. I loved the statue of the square-jawed Welsh mother with her child holding onto one leg.

Queen Street is far more attractive than Market Street in Manchester, mainly because both sides are still there. Sadly the facades along one side of Market Street and part of the other side, were knocked down in the 1960s to make way for the gigantic Arndale shopping centre.

The striking thing about Cardiff is that although it's a European capital city and seat of regional government - on the same ranking as Barcelona and Munich, much of it is low rise and more on the scale of a town. Just off Queen Street for instance there are some Victorian terraced houses like you'd see in Aberystwyth or Llandudno. The municipal area has a population of 331,000.

Cardiff is the capital of Wales, seat of the Welsh Assembly and centre for Welsh culture. The language is extensively used on signs, even in some shops, such as Boots. Other signs of Welshness and Celtic Heritage include a shop selling harps in one of the arcades.

And of course, Cardiff Arms Park and the Millennium Stadium, symbols of Welsh rugby and sporting heritage, are a stone's throw from the station.

Tip: Signs and symbols are an important part of the streetscape and can tell as much about the place as buildings. One possible theme could be 'Symbols of Wales' such as street signs, coats of arms, souvenirs in shop windows. These can be photographed in any weather.
High Street tourist signs Cardiff

After our brief walk around the Welsh capital it's time to hurry back to Cardiff Central for the train back home. In just a few hours, with a comfortable pair of shoes, a camera and a keen pair of eyes, we have come away with a wealth of images and impressions, far more to cram into this short article. And despite the weather, we have some usable photos too, one of which would be chosen by a client, that was the reason for my visit.

Cardiff is a pocket-sized capital with plenty of things to see in a small area. It's not necessary to go an an exhaustive guided tour to get an impressio of a city. And you don't need to bury your head in a weighty guide book. Better to look, explore, discover. You can check out the facts on information boards as you go along, or later when you're back home.

Written by Aidan O'Rourke
Posted/Updated 2007-08-28

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