Before & After Manchester Volume 1 – Video slide show documenting change in Manchester

This is the first in a series of video slide show presentations on the theme of ‘Before & After’. From my archive, I have selected photographs of buildings and locations in Manchester and photographed how the same scene looked a few years later. The changes are the result of demolition, restoration, new construction.

Locations featured in this slide show include the Hacienda night club on Whitworth Street, the Rochdale Canal, Elizabeth Gaskell’s House, Piccadilly Basin and the Whitworth Art gallery.

I’ve tried to match up the viewpoint as closely as I can, but it’s not always possible.

‘Then and now’ is one of my central themes as someone who is interested in the local area and how it is changing. I’ve done the ‘now’ photos for several ‘Then and Now’ books, including Manchester and Liverpool.

I have taken a large number of photographs since 1996 and what I find visually fascinating is how places change, often in unexpected ways. In some cases, locations become worse, not better. I have campaigned to save buildings under threat and prevent bad construction, with mixed success.

I have written subtitles in both English and German. This is because my main activity is now language trainer and I want to provide clear German language material for my students based locally, as well as English material for people in Germany and beyond. I often give local tours to people from other parts of Europe, including Germany.

Please comment via my @AidanEyewitness Twitter account.

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Why Manchester should be called: ‘City of Libraries’

They incorrectly call Manchester the city of rain, but I think it should be called City of Libraries, as there four major historic libraries in the city centre. They are open to visitors and I went to all four libraries in one day in order to research this feature and take the photos.

John Rylands Library Manchester

At first sight, the John Rylands Library looks like an ancient cathedral but it is a relatively modern building.

in the first year of the twentieth century and was one of the first buildings in Manchester to be fitted with electric lights. After John Rylands died in 1888, Enriqueta Rylands founded the library in memory of her husband.

A modern extension was added to the rear and as you walk from the entrance up the stairs and into the original building, there is an interesting transition from bright modern to dark neo-Gothic. Many exhibitions are held at the John Rylands Library and anyone can go in and work there, I sometimes do.

It’s part of the University of Manchester Library. One of the locations in my Anglo-Chinese novel Stargirl of the Edge is a library inspired by the John Rylands.

There is unfortunately one negative aspect: The modern low energy light bulbs are less photogenic and atmospheric than the clear light bulbs that were used from the early years of the library until around 2013.

www.library.manchester.ac.uk/rylands/

John Rylands Library facade

Interior of Chethams Library, Manchester

Chethams Library is the oldest public library in the English speaking world and is housed in a 15th century building that’s part of Chethams School.

The library is a perfectly preserved time capsule from centuries ago, and is full of the atmosphere of the past, with its dark wooden walls and corridors. It’s not difficult to imagine Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels sitting in one of the alcoves by the window.

The Chethams website showcases many of the hidden treasures of Chethams Library. It is a remarkable place. Anyone can visit during opening hours. You just need to go to the main entrance to Chethams school. It’s best to check the opening times on the website and to phone up to make sure there are no events happening.

Go to www.chethams.org.uk

Chethams Library 2004

Interior of the Portico Library Manchester

The Portico Library is located on Mosley Street in a building with a Greek style portico which gives the library its name.

I’m impressed with its mission statement ‘The Portico Library is open to all and aims to enhance and develop life-long learning by providing and promoting access to knowledge and education in Art, History, Literature and Science.’

The Portico Library is located on the corner of Mosley Street and Charlotte Street. To enter, just ring the bell on Charlotte Street. You go up the stairs and when you get to the top, you will be amazed at the beauty of the interior. It’s virtually unchanged since the early 19th century.

The Portico Library has a friendly, homely atmosphere. The staff are welcoming and very helpful. It’s possible to become a member, and support the work of this institution, that has been a part of Manchester for over 200 years.

www.theportico.org.uk

The Portico Library on the corner of Mosley Street, Manchester

Restored reading room in Manchester Central Library

The Central Library is my favourite building in Manchester and like many, I used it during my schooldays.

It was opened in 1934 and apart from the cleaning of the exterior, remained mostly unchanged until the renovation of 2011-2014, which transformed the interior. The magnificent main reading room was restored but the book stacks below it were taken out to make way for a circular reception area with a cafe which is now a regular haunt of mine.

The Archives+ area is a high tech facility combining the local history collection with the North West Film Archive and other resources. The reading room has been restored and looks almost exactly as it did before the renovation.

The new Central Library has lost some of its 1930s character and eccentricity, its distinctive smell and the tiny lift. Now there are fast lifts housed in a glazed lift shaft. The building meets present day standards and is a striking mixture of old and new. The floorspace is much bigger than it was, extending under Library Walk into the neighbouring town hall extension. There are meeting rooms and spaces for events.

The only negative aspect of the renovation is the controversial modernist-style glass link building, which in spring 2015 is not yet open.

Apart from that, the Central Library is in my opinion the best public library in the UK and remains my favourite building in Manchester.

www.manchester.gov.uk/centrallibrary

Manchester Central Library exterior

So there we are, four major, historic libraries in one city centre, all open to the public and free for everyone to use. Definitely a reason to visit Manchester.
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Review of the Strawberry Studios exhibition at Stockport Museum

Stockport Market Hall and St Mary's Church What’s Stockport famous for? It’s the last stop on the West Coast line from London Euston to Manchester Piccadilly, it’s seven miles south east of the city centre and it’s my home town! But what else is it famous for? Oh yes, it’s the home of a groundbreaking recording studio that existed from 1967 to 1993, Strawberry Studios.

So what made Strawberry Studios different? The first thing is that it wasn’t in London. The music industry has been mostly based in London – it still is. But in the mid-sixties, a visionary group of people wanted to set up a studio in the north.

The driving force was Peter Tattersall and Eric Stewart. It was named after Eric’s favourite song, Strawberry Field, which was released in 1967.

It originally started in another location but moved to an industrial building on Waterloo Road in 1968. Incidentally this is just by the location of the Stockport air disaster of 1967.

They wanted to provide a recording facility to match those in London, but close to Manchester. They offered cheaper rates at night so that local bands could afford to record there. They made full use of the latest recording technology.

Strawberry Studios exhibition

The band 10cc were closely involved in the studios and they recorded many classic songs there, the most famous of which is “I’m Not In Love”, which featured groundbreaking use of tape loops to create rich layered vocals. It was a number one UK hit in 1975 and reached number two in the US. Many other artists recorded at Strawberry, including Paul McCartney, Neil Sedaka, the Bay City Rollers and most notably, Joy Division.

Despite the success of I’m Not In Love, 10cc split in 1976, continuing as two separate entities. The studio sadly closed in 1993, but the name survives both as a legend of music and as the name of the building.

In the seventies I lived just 10 minutes from Strawberry Studios and though I was active in music in the eighties, I never had any involvement there. The achievements of 10cc and Strawberry Studios are a source of local pride in Stockport and so in the year of the 50th anniversary of the setting up of the studio, it was natural that there should be a commemoration and exhibition.

It opened on 27 January, 2017 and though I couldn’t make the opening, I attended in late February. It’s housed in Staircase House in Stockport’s historic Market Place. The house contains exhibits about the history of Stockport on five levels and I can highly recommend it.

For me, the high point of my visit was entering the 10cc exhibition in the basement exhibition area. The two adjoining rooms are packed with many fascinating objects, musical instruments, photographs, videos and audio recordings.

Strawberry Studios exhibition Eric Stewart's Semi acoustic guitar

Eric Stewart’s Gibson ES 335 semi-acoustic guitar is proudly placed in a display cabinet. The guitar was used on all four 10cc albums.

The exhibition is packed with lots more artifacts, including 45 rpm discs, badges, amplifiers, music cassettes, brochures, post cards and the original sound equipment used by producer Martin Hannett.

Strawberry Studios exhibition

I was intrigued to see an original Marshall Time Modulator, and another piece of equipment which had the name ‘Martin Hannett’ inside the case. There was also an example of the ‘gizmo’ a device invented by Kevin Godley and Lol Creme. An electronic copy of the studio bookings diary from 1980 to 1981 contains many famous names.

I was overwhelmed by just how many fascinating items of memorabilia have been crammed into such a relatively small space. I found it all fascinating and absorbing.

I was lucky enough to meet the curator of the exhibition, music historian Peter Wadsworth. He told me that the exhibition was an extension of his PhD thesis, which is on the subject of Strawberry Studios.

For anyone who is interested in the history of music in the Manchester area, this exhibition is a must-see. And if like me, you lived through the Strawberry Studios era, and remember the artists and songs of that time, it will bring back many happy musical memories.

I am in Love – runs from 27th January 2017 until 29th January 2018. Stockport Museum is open Tuesday-Saturday 10am-5pm and Sunday 11am-5pm. Entry to the exhibition is free. Stockport Museum is located at 30 Market Place, Stockport, SK1 1ES.  

Stockport Story / Stockport Museum

StoStrawberryExhib

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Why the Bootle St plans (St Michael’s) must be rejected

Bootle St police station facade

There is a petition to express opposition to the ‘Black Towers’ which are an integral part of the Bootle Street plans. Please sign the petition here

 

After the police moved out of the 1930s Bootle St station, the property was purchased. Initially the impression was given that the old police building was to be converted into a hotel. In 2016 the present plans were announced. They are shocking in their scale, destructiveness and lack of respect for the surrounding area and must be rejected. Here are the reasons why.

1) The area doesn’t ‘urgently’ need redevelopment.
It’s said the site needs to be redeveloped. This is not true. The site is one of countless parts of the city centre where a building has been vacated. The urgency lies with the developers, who obviously are keen to see a financial return on their investment. It’s perfectly okay for the site to remain as it is for the time being. Better to wait a few years for a better development that suits the location than to rush ahead with an inappropriate one like this.

 

The Abercromby pub July 2015

2) The Abercromby pub will be destroyed
Pubs have a special status, especially when they are of historical significance. They are often the only buildings to survive from the earlier city. That’s certainly true of the Abercromby, which was first built in the early 1800s. It has connections to the 1819 Peterloo massacre, a key development in history. Not only that, it is a successful business and a well-loved watering hole in the city. 4152 names are on a petition to save the Abercromby. People come to Manchester for its uniqueness and historic character. That aspect will be degraded if the pub is destroyed. The developers have tried to downgrade the value of the pub by saying that some parts were built in the 20th century. That argument is not valid as other parts of the pub are original. It’s the name, significance and role in the history of Manchester that’s important. If the development goes ahead, people will never forget that a well-loved pub was destroyed to make way for it.

Manchester Central Synagogue

3) The Reform Synagogue will be demolished.
There’s an attitude among planners that dictates ‘If it’s in our way and not listed, demolish it.’ The result of this tendency is for scores of interesting buildings in the second and third category to be lost. It’s not just the highest grade of historic buildings that help to define the character of the city. Many less remarkable ones do as well, and they should be kept wherever possible. The Reform Synagogue may not be in the highest category as regards architectural merit, but it is still a place of worship and deserves respect. It was one of the first buildings to be constructed in Manchester city centre after the war (completed 1953). Just imagine the significance of a new synagogue in Manchester after what happened in Europe only 10 years previously. It must have encapsulated a sense of hope, rebirth and optimism. And now it is to be demolished. I’ve been aware of it for many years and have photographed it quite a few times. It has an austere elegance that’s far superior to the architecture the planners want to replace it with. They say a new place of worship will be provided – along the lines of Cross St Chapel – but a new facility can never replace the history and aura of the original. The building is certainly run down and in need of renovation, and so it should be renovated. And in passing, the developers have chosen the name “St Michael’s” as he is the patron saint of police officers, whose former building they are going to demolish. But co-incidentally St Michael is also protector of the Jewish religion.

ManPoliceStnSouthmill-F710

4) Bootle Street police station façade will be destroyed.
The police station was built in the 1930s and served the city through the war years and the decades that followed. It was in use for around seventy years. By the end of the period it had become unsuitable for a modern police force. It’s said it was like working on the set of Life on Mars. The police have moved out, but that should not be the end of the story for this building. I wouldn’t advocate keeping the brick built part, but the white stone eastern façade is a striking piece of architecture: stolid, traditional, neo-classical and not fashionable with today’s planners and architects. One of the superb aspects of the façade is how it fits in with the streetscape. Looking along Southmill Street, the Victorian brick-built façades alternate with the white stone facade, followed by 19th century façades leading to Albert Square. The interplay of styles, colours and materials is an essential aspect of the area. All that will all be lost if the planners get their wish and the façade is wrecked. And there’s another aspect to keep in mind. Now that the police have gone, the façade functions as a monument to their work over the decades. In this sense the façade functions as a memorial, and memorials should be kept. Some people criticise ‘façadism’ but there are many successful examples of it in Manchester.

5) Development is inappropriate in a ‘quiet zone’.
Cities don’t have to have to be ‘developed to death’. Cities should have light and shade. They should have busy parts, quiet parts and this is a quiet area. Bounded by two community assets: the synagogue and the pub. They are close to a historic concert hall façade – the Free Trade Hall – a superb piece of ‘façadism’, and the site of a memorable event in history – the Peterloo Massacre. It is already designated as a conservation area. The construction of a brash, destructive, materialistic commercial development like this is completely out of character with the area. The Friends Meeting House dates from the early 19th century and is a place of quiet contemplation. The new development with its towering blocks, bars and restaurants will just a few feet across the street from the rear of the Quakers meeting house.

6) Towers too high, too close to the town hall
One of the most damaging aspects of the plan is the imposition of two massive towers. They stand too close to the town hall. From the town hall balcony they will screen a significant part of the view to the south west. Viewed from the south west they will obscure the town hall clock tower. They will diminish and encroach upon the character and atmosphere of the mid-Victorian square. It would appear that the developers have had to resort to oversized towers in order to fully realise the commercial potential of this rather limited site. I’m a fan of tall buildings but not in a location like this. Make Architects already have a controversial development in their portfolio. 5 Broadgate in London was nominated for the Carbuncle Cup. An article on BDOnline states: “Make’s building arrogantly ignores the existing urban context.” The same looks to be true of this proposal. The black shiny exterior gives them a high-tech quality, reminiscent of a science fiction film and totally out of character in the Victorian setting.

7) It adds nothing new to Manchester
The development just adds more bars, offices and apartments to the city. There is no new cultural offering, no new significant piece of architecture, no new community benefit. It offers more of what Manchester already has an abundance of. Just one block away, the Great Northern and Bar 38 have provided the same type of amenities since 2000. Spinningfields offers something very similar just across Deansgate.

Bar 38 20 July 2000 Bar 38 and the Great Northern Piazza 20 July 2000 about 200 yards from the proposed development.

If the plan is approved, it will send out a negative message, further eroding the already tarnished reputation of Manchester City Council as regards planning decisions. The popular voice will be very harsh on St Michael’s: ‘They knocked down three buildings to make way for that? How could they do that? What on earth is wrong with them?’

If the development were located on a different site, further out of the city centre, and without the need for demolition of heritage buildings, I would have no particular objection to it.

But in this location, the development is inappropriate and harmful. I believe most local citizens will agree with me and for this reason, planning permission must be refused.

A petition has been started to express opposition to the towers. Please click on the image below and sign the petition.

Bootle St Black Towers petition

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Photographing lightning – Video tutorial

On a visit to North Wales I unexpectedly witnessed a spectacular lightning storm. I had my camera and tripod with me as I had hoped to take some photos of the night sky from somewhere in Anglesey.

A cloudy sky got in the way of that idea, but later in the evening, I saw lightning flashes in the distance. At around 1.30 in the morning, I was standing on the waterfront in the town of Beaumaris, overlooking the Menai Straits with a view towards the mountains, which were shrouded in darkness of course. Every so often, purply-blue lightning flashes lit up the clouds, silhouetting the mountain tops, including Mount Snowdon over to the right.

I had to photograph this, so I set up the tripod and placed the camera in position.

I have rarely photographed lightning and I needed to think on my feet.

Perhaps if I did a long exposure – say 30 seconds – I would be able to catch one of the flashes. The trouble with that is that during the long exposure, the glare from the street lights becomes visible.

I decided to set the camera to a slower shutter speed and to fire the shutter repeatedly. Sooner or later a flash of lightning would occur while the shutter was open.

But what about aperture and ISO?

I referred back to my simple approach to using the camera in Manual mode. The principle is: first set the camera to f/5.6, 1/60 sec and 200 ISO and adjust the shutter speed until the exposure is right. In this case the shutter speed needed to be much longer in order to capture a flash of lightning, so I decided on one second. With the camera pointing towards the dark sky, I began to fire the shutter repeatedly. Most exposures were completely black, but then I caught the first flash of lightning and looked at it on the screen. It was too dark, so I increased the ISO from 200 to 1600, three stops above the standard 200, and I continued to press the shutter.

CmLightning-G828-IMG_3134

I was very excited to see the first successful image of the mountains and the clouds all lit up in that eerie purply light. I continued to press the shutter resulting in lots of black images on the camera LCD, but in amongst them, I caught some spectacular shots of the lightning. As the storm developed, the intensity of the lightning increased, making it brighter and brighter, and I had to put down the ISO down to 200.

Finally I saw thunderbolts jumping from the clouds to the mountaintops and managed to photograph a couple of them.

It was exciting, and a great example of how photography enables you to see things you can’t see with your eyes alone. The burst of lightning, lasting just a tiny split second, is preserved in the photograph and you can study the mountains, the clouds, the boats and the reflections on the water.

LIghtning over Snowdonia - 2

Soon, heavy rain started to pour down, I put the camera and tripod in the boot and sat in the driver’s seat as the raindrops pelted down onto the windscreen.

Knowing what to do in this situation depends on having a good knowledge of the basic principles of photography and how shutter speed, aperture and ISO work together.

It doesn’t matter what genre, knowing the simple basic principles are the key to taking successful photographs.

I teach these principles in my one-to-one photography courses and (planned) online courses.

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Why Manchester’s Smith’s Arms pub should be saved

ArtSmithsArms-G831
 
There are few things more important in our lives than buildings. New buildings, old buildings, they make our world, they are a reflection of us as human beings. We live in them, work in them, shop in them and do practically everything else in them.

We travel the world to see them. We look at them in awe, pay a fortune to view them stay in them. Often we hate them and complain about them. Personally, I love to draw them (see image above).

The buildings people most appreciate are old buildings and not just the big, famous ones.

So why are we knocking so many of them down? In summer 2016 several significant, arguably iconic Manchester buildings are to be destroyed.

The Smith's Arms pub, Ancoats August 2016

The Smith’s Arms pub, Ancoats August 2016


 
One of the most significant among them is a former pub, The Smiths Arms in Ancoats. It’s over 200 years old and predates many of the industrial buildings Ancoats is famous for. It was in use through the 19th and 20th centuries, surviving many upheavals, including the industrial revolution, war and industrial decline.

Like many buildings in Ancoats, it’s been out of use but has great potential for reuse. All around are stunning examples of how old buildings can be given a new lease of life, most notably Halle St Peters, which stands next to it.

Restored Halle St Peters  Ancoats

Restored Halle St Peters Ancoats


 
Although run down due to neglect, the Smith’s Arms could still easily be restored.

So why has Manchester City Council decided it must be demolished?

For this article I am not interested in the design of the new development, its background, or the fact that it’s a consortium of Manchester City Council and a company based in Abu Dhabi, where I worked for four years.

I am only interested in the building with its façade reminiscent of an age so different to our own. I can hear the hammers of the construction workers who put it up in the late 18th century, the proud owner welcoming customers, the echoes of the people who went in there down years.

The Smith's Arms pub, Ancoats Manchester. Ornamental detail.

The Smiths Arms pub, Ancoats Manchester. Ornamental detail.


 
I can see the changing scene around it, in time lapse, at first open spaces and then a growing number of factories and commercial buildings, then dwellings and places of worship.

You can learn so much by focusing the bricks, the ornamentation, the typeface of “Smith’s Arms” lettering above the main door.

And there is an additional aspect. The Smiths is the name of one of Manchester’s most famous bands, although to my knowledge they didn’t have any connection with the pub.

The drummer of the Smiths, Mike Joyce, took part in protests to save the pub.

Now let’s move from the past into the future and let’s assume that good sense will prevail and the building is saved.

Scaffolding goes up, the builders get to work and when the covers come down there is a pristine building, unique, fashionable, a place to go and visit, hang out, contributing to the community spirit of the area. Inside much of it is new but there are some original features. It’s surrounded by a variety of other complimentary, a stimulating mix of old and new, quirky and imaginative. The new owners have made a connection with the name and there is a theme of ‘The Smiths’ inside, with photographs and memorabilia. It has become a magnet for fans of the Smiths.

Now let’s explore the alternative scenario. Manchester City Council gets its way and building is destroyed.

What’s there? Nothing. No bricks that have survived two centuries, no quirky designed lettering. It’s gone. It doesn’t exist. It never existed, or so it seems. And in its place?
Concrete, or maybe glass or maybe those awful terracotta tiles that can be seen on numerous other buildings nearby.

The Smith’s Arms and all its history, all the memories it contains, the associations it conjures up, has been destroyed to make way for an apartment building that may not last more than a few decades.

One less reason to visit Ancoats and Manchester.

The Smith's Arms pub, Ancoats 8 August 2016

The Smith’s Arms pub, Ancoats 8 August 2016


 
That’s the reason why we must preserve old buildings, not just the big, Grade 1 listed buildings but also the smaller less noticeable ones, like the Smith’s Arms. Because they are rich in memories and associations, because they have a power to fascinate, and that’s what most people like, both residents and visitors. Because they look good and add interest and quirkiness to the street scene.

Because they are better than anything that present day architecture can build.

And so to answer my question above, why did Manchester City Council decide it had to be demolished? I believe that the people taking the decisions don’t fully appreciate old buildings. They move within the corridors of city-based power, less visible and accountable than at the national level. The council is constantly short of money and is always looking for any means to increase its income. A crumbling old pub is just a minor barrier to be removed, and the people campaigning for it to be saved are standing in the way of progress, causing the inconvenience and expense.

The Smith's Arms frontage and lettering

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If the Smith’s Arms is destroyed, Manchester City Council will in my opinion have committed yet another act of civic vandalism against the city it is supposed to be caring for. People will complain about it in strong words. They will become further alienated from local democracy and how we rebuild and renew our cities.The damage will be irreversible and yet another piece of the mosaic of Manchester will have been ripped out.

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View from Tranmere – Story behind the image

Rodney Street Birkenhead looking towards Liverpool
One of the themes of the Eyewitness blog is ‘secrets behind the image’. In this post I am going to write about the creative and technical questions underlying this photograph of Rodney Street, in Tranmere, near Birkenhead on the Wirral.

About the location
I love to photograph cities. To be frank I find the man-made environment more interesting than the natural environment. I was driving through Tranmere, close to Birkenhead town centre, and glimpsed the view down a long straight street looking towards Liverpool.

The street is Rodney Street, Birkenhead, not to be confused with Rodney Street, Liverpool. The view is similar to the one in the famous photograph of the Ark Royal by the photographer Edward Chambre Hardman (1898-1988). He lived on Rodney St Liverpool and his home is open to the public. If you’re interested in photography I definitely recommend it.

The view here looking roughly east north east towards the centre of Birkenhead, with north Liverpool in the distance. I love the effect of the long, straight street with the houses on either side and north Liverpool skyline in the distance.

We can see the ventilation shaft of the Queensway (Birkenhead) Tunnel centre right. It overlooks the River Mersey, which is hidden in this view. Just to its left is the Tobacco Warehouse on the Liverpool side of the river.

Technical info
The photo was taken with my new Canon 750D DSLR camera, using the Tamron 16-300mm zoom lens. (I’ll review this camera in another post).

I took the photograph in Program Auto mode, which I use in most situations. The camera chose the settings of 1/160s f/6.3 ISO100. This indicates the light level was plus two thirds of a stop. (If you’d like to find out more about light level and why it’s important, why not take a look at one of my walks or courses.)

The lens was at focal length 70mm so it is roughly mid-way in its range from 18mm wide angle to 300mm telephoto.

Previously I used the Tamron 18-270mm lens which was excellent. The newer 16-300mm Tamron is even better as it gives you slightly more wide angle and slightly more telephoto than the previous one.

In this case, I was able to frame or crop the view at 70mm. For comparison, here’s the view taken at 16mm wide angle. It’s clear that to get the best effect, you have to zoom in, but not too far. I zoomed in so the street and houses were visible, as well as the skyline at the top.

This photo was taken in the evening. The sun is shining from the west – off to the left – and lighting up the tops of the houses. The street was mostly in shadow. I lightened up the street slightly in Photoshop. I also rotated the image by about 1.5 degrees.

For the symmetry of the composition, it’s important to stand in the centre of the street.

In summary
It’s not a perfect image. Coming from the left, the light leaves the street partly in shadow – It would probably have been better to take the image earlier in the day with the sun directly behind. However I don’t take photos for the sake of technical perfection or to win competitions. I simply take photos to capture the striking views I see around me. Whether they are of interest to the viewer is up to them!

Here’s the same view taken at 18mm
Rodney Street, Tranmere, Wirral, Liverpool region / Merseyside

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Why I’m proud to be Civic Champion Number 2

At last! Finally! After all these years of documenting Manchester in photos and words, highlighting, writing, campaigning, I have finally gained some recognition!

On Thursday 7 July I found out that I had won second prize in the Manchester Shield Citizen Champion Award. In the number one position was Maxine Peake, Coronation St actress, and in third place, tour guide and writer Jonathan Schofield.

Manchester Shield Best and Worst

Manchester Shield Best and Worst – Aidan O’Rourke Second prize Civic Champion

 
I was very happy to receive this honour from Manchester Shield, a grassroots collection of people who care deeply about the development of our city, and are not afraid to express their views.

In summary what I have done is to use photography to document and showcase the city with the aim of providing a record for the future. By doing this I’ve also put the spotlight on how the development of the city has gone well in some respects but badly in others.

I have used photography to document and campaign. That’s different to most other photographers who use photography to help promote commercial clients, or who focus on newsworthy events or take photos with an eye to winning competitions.

I focus on the city, the skyline, the streets, the transport routes, bridges, canals and everything else you see around you. My photographs are not stock images and most wouldn’t win any competitions. They are just my view of the city. As a spinoff, many have been used commercially – most recently a photo of the Victoria Baths in the Observer newspaper. But most are taken just to capture what’s there today and might not be there tomorrow. My photos are always accompanied by words, which are often overlooked.

I have experimented with all kinds of photographic genres but the one I’m known for is photographs of the city, Manchester, also Liverpool and other locations.

My photos have been used in the media, including the Manchester Evening News, magazines, publications and many websites. If you go into Waterstones, you’ll find several local interest books with my photos on the cover and inside. A lot of people have told me they have followed my work over the years. I’m always pleased to hear those words.

I’ve been interviewed a number of times on radio and TV. But I’ve never received any official recognition from the authorities, least of all from Manchester City Council, but that’s not surprising, is it?

I’d like to say many thanks to Manchester Shield for nominating me and also to the people who voted for me. I hope to use this impetus to push ahead with some new projects – I’m not sure what – in order to continue to highlight local development, what’s gone well and what hasn’t gone well, maybe with a stronger and more confident voice than before.

In the pictures are 20 of the buildings / locations I’ve highlighted over the years. How many more will there be in the years to come?

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4 pieces of advice photographers should ignore

Manual Mode Graphic

Manual Mode is useful for a limited range of purposes

 

1) You need to use Manual mode all the time.

2) You must always shoot RAW.

3) White balance should always be set manually.

4) Only shoot cities in dawn or dusk rays.

This is the first article on my relaunched Eyewitness photography blog, now focusing mainly on photography and Photoshop. I will be dealing mainly with questions and issues that arise on my photo walks and in my one-to-one photography training sessions.

In this article I’m going to take a look at four popular misconceptions about photography that I frequently encounter, and I would like to set matters straight with information and advice based on my 40+ years experience with photography, 20+ with digital photography.

First piece of advice to be ignored: You must use Manual Mode all the time

We’ll start that much quoted phrase ‘I need to get off Auto’.

Here there’s a misunderstanding about the true meaning of ‘Auto’. What is being referred to here is ‘Full Auto’, the one marked in green on most cameras.

It’s true that people should move away from using just Full Auto, but that doesn’t mean you must always use Manual Mode.

And incidentally it’s not true that professional photographers use Manual Mode all the time. They use the four main modes  -Program Auto, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority and Manual – depending on the type of photographs they are taking.

In Manual Mode the camera’s Auto Exposure is switched off. The scale in the viewfinder functions as a light meter. You have complete complete control over Aperture shutter speed and ISO.

Manual Mode is useful:
A) For learning about photography – My method of ‘Using the camera as a light meter’ is a very useful approach to using Manual and I’ll talk about that in another post.

B) When you need to take a series of shots the same exposure, for instance photos for an eBay shop where the background needs to be the same in every photo.

C) For taking photos in extremely dark conditions, for instance astronomical photography and time exposures of longer than 30 seconds.

D) When you need to choose exactly what Aperture, Shutter Speed and ISO you would like to have and have plenty of time to experiment.

E) In a photography studio where you are using studio lighting, either flash or continuous.

Manual on a digital camera is not suited to general photography. For instance if you are at an event or taking lots of photos one after the other, Manual Mode is simply not practical. It is too fiddly and time-consuming to adjust aperture, shutter speed and ISO for each shot.

The best general-purpose camera mode is Program Auto with ISO Auto.

I’ll explain this in more detail in another blog post.

As far as Manual Mode is concerned, I know what I’m talking about! My first camera, a film camera, only had Manual Mode and I used it successfully for several years.

Second piece of advice to be ignored: Shoot RAW! Always!

Diagram RAW Sliders

Some people can’t resist the temptation to ‘tweak’ the sliders when opening a RAW file.

 

I get very annoyed when whenever I read advice like this, because it shows that whoever wrote it doesn’t have a full understanding of RAW, nor of the different requirements of the varying lighting conditions.

First of all, what is a RAW file?

RAW is a family of file formats unique to each camera manufacturer. With a RAW file, all the picture information from each shot is stored. That information includes the colour information for each pixel, plus lots of extra data. RAW files are much larger than JPEG files because all the data is kept.

The JPEG format uses the information from the RAW file and compresses it, discarding the information the human eye can’t see. It’s the equivalent to the MP3 file in audio.

Often the finished image taken with a JPEG looks no different from an image taken with a RAW file.

So why do camera manufacturers include the option of saving in RAW? Because the RAW file gives you more scope to carry out adjustments such as changing brightness and contrast.

At this point I would like to highlight an apparent contradiction in the advice we often hear.

A) You must try to get the image right in the camera so you don’t need to carry out adjustments later.

B) You must always shoot raw so that you can carry out adjustments later.

The truth is probably somewhere in between. Another issue with RAW is when people become slider happy. When you open a RAW file you are presented with a set of sliders in the vast majority of photos taken in bright conditions they can be left as they are put money photographers can’t resist adjusting them often resulting in a less than satisfactory image.

The JPEG file is set to optimise brightness contrast from us images and underskilled “tweaking “of the raw sliders will result in a possibly worse over-processed image.

Okay so why should we use the raw file?

Those sliders, if skilfully used, can transform an image taken in difficult lighting.

Whilst cameras can make a good job of capturing scenes with a good range of tones, they have great difficulty in handling scenes combining very bright and very dark areas.

Please note there are limits to how much a raw file can be adjusted if the clouds are partially overexposed and you try to darken them by dragging the highlights later to the left you will get pure white patches.

Don’t get into the mentality of  “I have made a mess of the exposure but I can always correct it in RAW”

You can’t always correct it!

So my advice is:  Use the RAW file format whenever you need it and if you don’t need it, don’t use it!

Third piece of advice to ignore: Always set white balance manually!

White Balance Symbols

Auto White Balance – Tungsten – Cloudy – Sun – Shade – Fluorescent

 

All digital cameras have a white balance control and by default it’s set to Auto

But first, why do we need to have White Balance and what exactly is white balance?

White light comes in different shades but I rise are not able to distinguish between the shades for instance sunlight is at the blueish and of wight what is interior lights can often be at the more reddish side of wight are human eyesight adjusts to the different shades of white and the digital camera can do this also so if you taking pictures outside in bright sunshine the camera will adjust to ensure that the white shade of white is exactly right in the artificial lighting in doors the camera is also very well able to adjust to the shade of light to the shade of white of white light whatever the light source whether it’s halogen bulbs or low energy lightbulbs.

Under normal circumstances you do not need to set the white balance manually for these or other lighting conditions.

In some circumstances the white balance can give inaccurate results, for instance if the subject is predominantly of one colour. Here the building is reddish brown in colour but the Auto White Balance has shifted the overall colour towards blue. In this case it is appropriate to switch to White Balance ‘Shade’. This is the setting that best matches the  light in the scene.

My general advice would be to use white balance  manually when there is one predominant colour that may cause the white balance to overcompensate. Or simply check on the LCD and if it doesn’t look quite right, try a manual White Balance setting.

Most of the time, however, it can be left on Auto.

Fourth piece of advice to be ignored:  It’s best to take city photographs in the rich golden light at the end of the day

Kendals / House of Fraser

Kendals, now House of Fraser store on Deansgate Manchester completed 1939

 

As a person who likes to photograph cities, I know that this piece of advice is wrong and for a simple reason: In pre-sunset light,buildings cast long shadows onto other buildings. In architectural photography, shadows on facades are not a good thing.

The other reason why I regard this as  incorrect advice is because in the period before sunset, there is a reddish brown hue to the colour of the sun. This can have an effect on the mood of the picture, it’s not always the best light to take photographs of buildings.

The best time to take photos of cities in sunlight is in the middle of the day when the sun is higher in the sky and there are fewer shadows. The higher position of the sun makes the buildings look better.

Well that’s the end of my first blog post in the reactivated Eyewitness photography blog and I’ll be doing another one soon

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Photo-impressions: River Liffey, Dublin

Here are some photographic impressions of a new symbol of Dublin, the Samuel Beckett Bridge.

The bridge exists to provide a link between the newly redeveloped Dockland areas to north and south of the river Liffey.

From the first time I saw it, I was very impressed with it. Its graceful, sweeping shape looks very pleasing. The supporting cables are eye-catching and I thought reminded me of something. Later I realised what it was: the harp, prime symbol of Ireland that can be seen on coins, government buildings and Ryanair planes.

Here are some notes and technical information on the photographs

Samuel Beckett Bridge at night

Samuel Beckett Bridge at night

This is a composite of two overlapping photographs. I rested the camera on a concrete post on the riverside and aimed the camera towards the left side of the bridge then the right. I merged the two in Photoshop. The shutter speed was half a second, that’s five stops below the standard shutter speed of 1/60th of a second. The aperture is f/8, one stop above the standard of f/5.6 and the ISO was 800, two stops faster than 200. So the overall light level in this photo is minus six. That’s exactly what we would expect for a night scene

Samuel Beckett Bridge looking from south to north

Samuel Beckett Bridge looking from south to north

This is a composite panoramic photo consisting of three overlapping images. I merged them in Photoshop Photomerge. The camera settings were 1/320s f/10.0 and ISO100. Going from the standard settings, these settings are plus two and two thirds, plus one and two thirds and minus one, respectively. The light level is therefore plus three, which is typical for a scene lit by bright sunshine. The angle emphasises the width and unique triangular form of the bridge, seen from this angle.

The Samuel Beckett Bridge seen from the west

The Samuel Beckett Bridge seen from the west

Looking east along the river Liffey through the Samuel Beckett Bridge towards the twin chimneys of Ringsend power station. Camera settings 1/250s f/9.0 ISO100. Plus two, plus one and a third and minus one respectively, the overall light level is plus two and one third, typical of a daytime scene in bright sunshine.

The Samual Beckett Bridge in 2009 shortly after delivery from Rotterdam

The Samual Beckett Bridge on 5 June 2009 shortly after delivery from Rotterdam


Camera settings are: 1/250s f/8.0 ISO100 plus two, plus one and minus one respectively. Overall light level is plus one. This photo was taken six and a half years before the photos above from a similar viewpoint. The bridge is about to be placed in its permanent position. There is smoke coming out of the chimneys of the power station. Since then the chimneys are no longer in use but have been allowed to stand as they are a such a familiar symbol of Dublin.

View of the Port of Dublin in 2006 prior to the appearance of the Samuel Beckett Bridge

View of the Port of Dublin in 2006 prior to the appearance of the Samuel Beckett Bridge


Camera settings 1/30s f/7.1 ISO800(estimatd) The camera was the Nikon D100, capture date 1 November 2006. The ISO wasn’t recorded but I would estimate it to be around 800, so the overall light level is minus three and two thirds. This moody and atmospheric view was taken from the ferry from Holyhead as it was about to dock in Dublin.

If you’re interested in finding out more about my very useful approach to camera exposure, why not come on one of my photo walks or book a one to one session.

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