Through the Looking Lens: No. 5

It’s hard to believe we’re on the 5th week of the challenge already.   Hope you’ve been enjoying the journey so far.

If you’re taking photos, you’ll very likely have some that are way too dark and some that are way too bright.  If you look at the whites in the photo, and there is no detail in them, then it is overexposed.  You’ll often find this on bright sunny days.  You have a photo where the end of someone’s nose looks like a beacon and they don’t thank you for it.  If you live where I do, the problem is more likely to be that the blacks in your photos have no detail at all and the overall feel of the image is that it is underexposed.

Here’s an example of an underexposed image, caused by the shadows of the trees, it actually was one of those rare sunny days.


This is one of my favourite places to visit and was my first pleasure trip on the bike when I got brave enough.  It’s Yorkshire Sculpture Park.

But I’m getting side tracked.  Look toward the right of the picture where it is darker and you’ll see an example of how the blacks lose detail.  The image is in RAW format, so I process it with the software programme Aperture as I’m currently working on improving my RAW file processing.

Yorkshire Sculpture Park Processed.jpg

This is a little more like how I saw it: more detail on the right side of the picture and the trees are a little warmer reflecting the sunshine of the day.  As I want the subject of the photos to appear stronger in the image, I finish with a final cropping.


What do you think?  Better?

But all this has taken some time, particularly as I don’t have much experience in processing images in their RAW format.  What I mean by RAW is that rather than taking the photo as a jpeg image, I’ve used an unprocessed format that retains all the detail and information that the sensor picks up.  It enables a great deal of flexibility in the editing stage.  Jpegs are processed in camera, and therefore lose some of that information.

It’s useful, so for example, if you end up taking an image that looks like this:

Sever underexposure, send to trash, or do something with it?

it is still possible to rescue it like this:

Pan From Almost Black.jpg
This is the same image as above, however, the information stored in the RAW format was still available to produce a picture showing the light that I saw when taking it.

As I’ve said before, prevention is better than cure, so how can you avoid over or underexposure when taking the photo in the first place?

You use something called “light meter”.

I’m able to see my light meter through my viewfinder.  It looks something like this:

light-meter.jpgYour camera might vary between -3 to +3.  It may also appear on your digital screen and/or in the information window at the top of your camera.

If you go to fully manual mode on your camera, you can see the effect of changing your aperture and shutter speed on the light meter.  If it goes to the left of 0 you’ll end up with an underexposed image and if it goes to the right of 0, it will be overexposed.  Try also playing with the ISO settings.  If higher, you’re likely to have an overexposed picture, but if too low, it’ll be dark.  You can usually find a good balance by playing with these three settings.  You need to decide first what is most important in your picture.  If you want a shallow depth of field then you need a low f-stop (e.g. 2.8 – 5.6).  Those settings allow in quite a large volume of light, so you may need to make the shutter speed faster to compensate.  If you want to freeze motion, you need a very fast shutter speed, so the f-stop needs to be low, and you might need to have a higher ISO setting.

Sometimes, it’s still not right, in which case, find a little +/- button on your camera, turn the appropriate dial and you can compensate for any under or over exposure that might be apparent when you play back your image.

The Challenge


Photography is the art of capturing light.  If there’s not enough, you have no picture, too much and you’ll capture a bleached imaged.

This week, notice how light is reflected from objects.  Aim to take a photograph, not of an object, but of light.   This is what the camera captures.  Try to improve your exposure through noticing good light conditions for a well-exposed image.

If you have a DSLR camera, try to control less than ideal light conditions making use of your light meter.

Challenge Response


My personal challenge was to take a photograph in completely manual mode making use of the light meter to achieve good exposure.   I’ve chosen the wonderful wine bottle stopper featured above to achieve this.  I’m working indoors with natural light and due to the time of year and dull weather, the light levels are low.  I’m close with this shot, but there are some less well lit areas to the right of the image where some of the wonderful detail in this sculpture is lost.


As he’s such a magnificent specimen, it’s worth a little more work to get that exposure right.   For the next attempt, I decide to make the most of the available light and ensure the full face is exposed to the window light.  This demands a change of background.  And I’m a little happier with exposure in this shot.


However, that detail is lost due to the shallow depth of field.  Some areas of the figure are in focus, others are not.  I really want to show the leaves making up his beard, without losing the detail in the face.  With luck, you can now see these more clearly.  I’ve cropped the image since to make it very clear what the subject of the photo is.


Looks like a museum exhibit doesn’t it?

Don’t forget to share how you’ve been getting on with any of the challenges.  Would love to know if you learn anything new and if you find anything useful.

Next week, we’ll be looking at controlling motion in your photographs.


The Bare Essentials

When my son was 14 and my daughter was 9, we took off on our bikes and cycled the Loire valley (France) with little more than camping gear and a very tight budget for 4 weeks.    I realised how little we really need to live.  However, the weather was sunny, with a thunderstorm and accompanying shower almost every evening, admittedly we didn’t have to cope with cold extremes.  During that time, I enjoyed my only problems being deciding what to eat and how to navigate correctly so that you don’t find yourself circling an apple orchard for an hour.  We did things families should do – we sang, chased lizards, ate pastries in the shade of a tree (hmmmmm French pastries), laughed over our attempts at communication with the locals, had competitions to see who could catch the most mosquitos before we zipped up the sleeping bags at night, raced to keep ahead of the clouds, so we could get the tent up before that inevitable evening storm, and cycled around an apple orchard for an hour.

With just 7 months to go before we move, discussions are less about the dream, and more about the practicalities.   We’re having to make some realistic and sometimes harsh decisions about the use of our precious savings.  Questions about the bare essentials are now foremost in my mind.  How little can we really live on?  Could we live a moneyless life?

I’ve found Rachel’s blog especially helpful to get the process started.  For instance, she composed a list of food stuffs for an average adult in a year, and more recently listed essential kitchen utensils.   Inspired, I set about calculating what we’ve been eating over the last year.   The permaculture project would be designed to create a sufficient yield to meet these needs. I’m going to need to grow a lot of tomatoes and give up tea!  Although, it may be possible that with biodiversity in the forest garden, there will be lots of substitutions within this scheme.

Note: in the list, an item may be covered elsewhere.  E.g. butter calculation would be not only for sandwiches, but also for baking.


3650 tea bags

48 l soya milk

730 9-bars (seed bars)



10 kg butter

730 fruits (apples/pears/bananas)

122 days worth of sandwich fillings:

  • 36 kg cheese
  • 6 jars chutney
  • 26 kg hummus
  • 5 kg sprouts
  • 5 kg rocket
  • 26 cucumbers
  • 104 kg tomatoes
  • 156 eggs

122 days worth of soup:

  • 24 marrows/squashes
  • 78 leeks
  • 52 kg mushrooms

122 days worth of salad

  • 7.5 kg salads/lettuce
  • 8 kg olives
  • 1 kg sundried tomatoes
  • 26 cucumbers
  • 26 red & white cabbages,
  • 26 celery bulbs

356 loaves of bread:

  • 40kg brown rice flour
  • 40 kg buckwheat flour
  • 30 kg millet flour
  • 30 kg soya flour
  • 44 kg tapioca starch
  • 12 kg chia seed


13 kg risotto rice

13 kg basmati rice

156 potatoes (inc. sweet)

104 parsnips

26 swede/turnips

156 courgettes

52 aubergines

450 onions

78 garlic bulbs

26 lbs spinach/kale


26 l olive/rapeseed oil

52 peppers

104 chilli peppers

36 kg varied cheeses

26 kg beef

26 kg chicken

26 kg salads

10 kg lentils

10 kg chickpeas

10 kg beans

7 kg peas

52 kg pasta (and variants)

26 Ginger roots

1 kg fresh coriander

5 kg powdered or whole spices (turmeric, cayenne, garam masala, coriander, cumin, cardamon, mustard, fenugreek, cinnamon, nutmeg)

10 kg Herbs (coriander, marjoram, basil, oregano, rosemary, sage, mint, lemon balm)



5 kg salt

6 kg sugar

12 jars honey

10 kg seeds (sunflower, sesame, pumpkin, fennel, celery)

10 kg Nuts (pine, walnut, pecan, hazelnut, almond)

4 kg Coconut oil

26 kg oats

520 yoghurt servings

I have omitted the weekend crisps, peanuts, chocolate and ice-cream – we’re planning to get out of bad habits (?!?!)

In the meantime, I’m going to be working out how much of this we could become self-sufficient in and will report back later.









My Safar


Mistake sounds negative, but mistakes contribute to learning and have more value than always getting things right.

Many of you will be familiar with or have visited the virtual environment of Second Life.  If you haven’t, give it a miss, it is highly addictive and could ruin your life.  I spent the better part of all my leisure time there for almost 5 years.

I used to role play in medieval fantasy sims.  You’d create a character, wander around the purpose-built environment, bump into other characters and then start typing something your character would say or do.

Safar as D'alfar2
Safar as D’alfar

I played dark, exotic creatures and worldly-wise warriors.  It was spontaneous story writing and I found it exciting.  It was like playing chess as you didn’t quite know what all the other characters were going to do next.  Sometimes your objective was to topple the king.  As my characters were often the queen, most players were trying to dispense with my invention.

Safar as Irel

When I look back, I spent 5 years making quite a lot of people frightened.  Not every roleplayer is able to separate their character from themselves and would respond to the game as if they really are one of the pawns.  I wasn’t creating a difficult situation for their character, but more for the person behind the character.  Emotions would run high and I’m glad not to part of it anymore, although I do miss the sense of immersion gained when entering a complete fantasy world of your own making.

Pasithea 2
The Dark Dreamy Landscape of Pasithea, complete with its own mythos.

Safar was one of those characters, except when I created her, she was meant to be a she-orc named Saraf.  I mis-typed the name when registering the avatar.  This orc was so stupid that a mage thought it prudent to give her the gift of wit.  This wasn’t a good idea as it was veritably dangerous during mating season.

my beautiful orc angel
Safar as Orc

A few months later, a player from Bangladesh started calling her Journey.  Safar is an Arabic word and you’ll recognise the Swahili variant as ‘Safari’.

When I commenced the journey that I’m now on, I began to embrace the name as my own.

My Safar

Safar has become adopted as a real name and in so doing, is enabling the transformational process I’m undergoing.  Like crysalis to caterpillar, caterpillar to butterfly, humans are equally capable of self-evolution, but all too often become labelled, boxed and fixed.

Green Banded Swallow Tail

Hopefully, Safar will journey from something dark and scary to a more inspirational source of wisdom.  I hope the journey has many surprises along the way.  More importantly, I’m living the journey now, taking time to peruse the hedgerows, veering off course and losing time by gazing at the sky.


I’ve been thinking about the Thistles and Whistles Take-a-Step Thursday event.  For the initiate, this entails writing a post about what has inspired you this week and what you are going to do as a result.

Inspiration is to be found everywhere: on these blogs, TED talks, the perfection of nature, and in nature.

I have plenty of brambles wildly meandering around the garden, so took advantage of the harvest.  From the periphery of my vision, I realised that a robin was close on my heels picking up anything I dropped.  Finally, he rested on a branch that was overhanging some grass clippings, so I threw a couple of the berries onto the pile.  He bravely lowered himself to participate in the pickings.

Earlier in the week, I joined Incredible Edibles to tidy up a couple of beds.  Some of the plants had mature seeds on them, so I brought home a little collection.  As an experiment I threw a few over a bed at home to see what happens, the rest I’ve saved.  That robin swooped in.  I pushed a few of the seeds into the soil just in case, but left the others on top and withdrew.  The robin payed no mind to the seeds, but followed me instead.  When I threw him a blackberry, he was suitably happy.

I love this life!

My thought for the week is that there is inspiration in doing.   Taking that first step, having a little success, or seeing some fruit or benefit of the action is inspiration to do more.  Days are becoming increasingly industrious by doing those things I’ve always wanted to do.  So here’s my safar so far!

Eight Blisters In

Blister One:  Steamed fingers

I bought a sewing machine and created a dress I even dared to wear out.

I discovered dress-making means ironing and steam scalded fingers was a product of the endeavour.  I’m now in the middle of two more sewing projects, so sustainable clothing for a community is a possibility for the future.   I did use to live in an artisan community in Ireland, where wool spinners and dyers created the best wool for knitting with.  Missing them now!  I’ve been sourcing natural, undyed fabrics and have become interested in the use of wild plants for dyes.  I’ve not yet taken the deep breath needed to potentially spoil very good fabric.  But I will.

Blister Two:  Creaking knees

The cause of this is t’ai chi.  Although I hope the problem is the solution.

The creaking knees are more due to being overly competitive at karate in the past.  The t’ai chi is helping to strengthen the muscles around the joints, which may prevent any worsening of the condition.

Video above: Safar’s aspiration

I’ve commenced by learning the 24 forms.  This was no small undertaking, but two hours have often gone by without me realising it.  I’m proud that I can now move from the opening form to the closing without forgetting.  I can’t explain the feeling gained from the fully flowing movement.  At times I am almost brought to tears.  It is simply beautiful.  And when outdoors, it’s like adding ice cream to an apple and blackberry crumble.

Blister Three: Achilles Heel

I started running about a year ago.  An activity I’ve often avoided as it is so hard.  But I followed a 5K training programme and was motivated enough to follow it fully.  I then decided to do a 10K charity run this coming November, and suddenly that little voice began to hassle me.

You know that little voice?

“Oh, it hurts so much”; “It doesn’t matter if you take a minute’s break at the end of this mile”; “you can go out tomorrow instead”…

It occurred to me during a recent run, that perhaps two hours of t’ai chi and a run in the same day is possibly why running IS so hard!  So I reduced the time spent on t’ai chi in the morning and did an easy 5K later in the day.

“You’ve done well so far, still got energy left, why not go a bit faster for the last kilometre?”

She’s back!

Blister Four:  Rolling Rs

Also about a year ago I invested in the Open University’s Portales six course books and CDs – a level 1 course in Spanish.  ¡Hablo español!  Well, not very well, but I’m understanding more than I did.  A sesión per day and book 1 now complete.

Blister Five: Grammar

English grammar that is.

As we’re going travelling and given my teaching experience, there’s a potential income earner for the future.  But I would like to know what I’m doing when teaching English.  So a TEFL course has now been scheduled for the period between t’ai chi and Spanish.

The rest of the day is not so well-organised.  I follow my mood and the weather.

Blister Six:  Following a recipe

The person before Safar had a blasé attitude to cooking.  It entailed a rummage in the cupboard, fling it all in a heavy-based pan, wait 20 minutes and hope for the best.

Safar on the other hand has followed recipes, or at least something similar to a prescribed recipe.  With Verd now gluten, egg, dairy and yeast free and with a severe tightening of the purse strings, free-from supermarket trips are no longer on the shopping list.

I figure that if I’m going to feed a community, I should know how to cook the food I grow.

Blister Seven: Stings and Stab Wounds

From the great British countryside.  A forager’s delight.  Wasn’t I saying something about mistakes?  Bring gloves and long sleeves!

Blister Eight: Mapping

I’ve created a world map and have placed markers indicating where a permaculture project is located that is looking for volunteers in exchange for accommodation and food.  I’m working on a country at a time, with a view to plotting a feasible route to undertake in the future.

Don’t try this at home!

It will greatly improve your geography.

Written for the the Take-A-Step Thursday, a challenge hosted by Thistles and Whistles. Do join in!

Take a Step, Take a Stance

I’ve turned into a squirrel.


No, I’ve not grown a tail and an insatiable appetite for nuts and hiding them. I have instead been gathering nuggets of inspiration, knowledge, skill and passion – wherever I can find them.

When you look, you often find what you are looking for.  Before I started looking, I had no idea how much I was steeped in inspirational treasure.  When we initiated our current venture, it felt as though we were doing something unusual, novel and certainly not mainstream.  How wrong we’ve been!  The gardening revolution is happening beneath our feet, it is now global, it is exponentially increasing and threatens to unshackle us from consumerist slavery and all the various forms of poverty it brings to each and everyone of our lives in terms of increasing ill-health, lack of community, family life and spirituality.  I’m sorry it took us so long to wake up.

I’ve recently written about two local sources of inspiration: Incredible Edibles and the Bedford Fields Forest Garden.  I was delighted to learn that Incredible Edibles has found a new home: in the nearest town to me.  As I took a short cut along the canal to catch a bus I saw the familiar boxes and beds of food with the Incredibles Edibles logo.  It cheered up my day and I volunteered to help out.  Circumstances seem to be keeping us local until at least March of next year, so I feel inspired to make that time count.  I’m excited about this volunteer work, as it is within cycling/walking distance of the front door.

The find led to my usual daydreamy musings to while away the time spent on the bus.   I sat on the top deck, giving me a good judgemental view of all the wasted gardens covered in vibrant green and well-cut and sprinkled lawns that I wanted to turn into picturesque food havens.  If only the residents knew!

I did catch my judgemental thoughts and gave myself a reprimand and instead kept an eye out for all that wasted public land.  A particular unmanaged woodland caught my attention.  I stored its location in memory and determined to bring Verdant along to ascertain its permacultural potential.

I was inspired indeed.  However, over a lazy breakfast I happened upon this particular TED talk that moved me to tears.  A believer in the power of storytelling, I could never tell this story quite like Ron tells his own:

Have I been inspired to action?  

I’ve realised that I should make food not the sustainer of my life, but the regeneration of my life.  Growing and cooking food is becoming an increasing obsession.  For someone who has actively resisted being tied to the kitchen, I’m spending a lot more time within it, creatively experimenting with whatever is available.  This week I baked for the first time since my teens (Scottish oatcakes) and during the writing of this post a gluten, egg and dairy-free banana bread emerged from the oven, looking strangely edible.


And there, in the kitchen, my daydreamy musings continue as I involve a like-minded community in the preparation of these glorious concoctions and my dream skips to the inevitable communal festivity where we share in the labour of our day and gorge in the evening sun.

Written for the the Take-A-Step Thursday, a challenge hosted by Thistles and Whistles. Do join in!

A different kind of to-do list

to do list
Kid’s to-do list. Photo by Carissa Rogers 

What does your to-do list look like?

You may be like I used to be, never needing to create a to-do list.  I had a memory the size of an elephant and energy to do my mental to-do list and more.  But the combined effects of ageing and chronic stress meant I needed to write to-do lists.

They looked a little like this:

  • Print politics worksheet
  • Prepare news quiz l/t
  • Talk to JR about his behaviour in DT yesterday
  • Input CAT1 results
  • Mark 12 mark questions in free
  • Update feedback list from Wed briefing
  • Order card sort with CSAs
  • Photocopy order  – abnormality booklets
  • Upload last week’s ppts onto the intranet
  • email absentees with work
  • put notice on door – room change p. 4
  • Dept. meeting pm
  • Email Ms G about the book list
  • Phone Mr R re JR
  • Prepare what to say to Mr D to keep it 15 mins not an hour or more
  • Collect parcel from reception
  • Phone home – change of plans
  • Receipt to business office
  • Check budget
  • Update the merit list – order certificates
  • Book prefect to organise form vote
  • Book netbooks thurs p.1
  • …. another page or two of activities not unlike the above
  • Set the alarm for 5 am

The last one was because I still had last week’s to-do list to do.  The ideal and actual versions of the to-do list never had much resemblance.  It made me feel inadequate.  I’d be such a good teacher if only….  My job was always a process of compromise and priority.  If I had included all those extra tasks, would they have made more of a difference?  Probably not, and even if I had completed them, I’d have dreamed up an even longer to-do list to try live up to the school’s ideal of ‘beyond outstanding’.

For three weeks my diary has had no lists. My rate of activity seems to be within my memory capacity.  Perhaps it will even improve now that it is free of the clutter of to-do lists yet to do.

But there’s some interesting happenings out there and I don’t want to miss the opportunity.  My to-do list looks a little more like this:

  • Sunday 16th August, 10:30 – 8.5 mile guided walk, bring packed lunch
  • Mon/Wed/Fri: 10 am workdays at Horton Community Farm
  • Thursday August 27th, 10 am – Ecotherapy group, bring milk cartons and plastic bottles.

And if the list gets longer, it means my life is getting more interesting.

That’s beyond outstanding!

What does your to-do list look like?  Feel fee to share and link to your blog.

Second Steps

Dandelion SeedsIt was a beautiful day, so I pottered in the garden after a tiring run.  The songbirds kept up their chorus throughout the day; a wren and robin followed the pickings that I left behind me.  The air looked like a snowstorm of dandelion seeds as the breeze picked them up in a steady stream of repopulation.Dandelion I have twice promised pictures of the heritage seeds as they progress to full plants (and hopefully the dinner plate).  I have a macro lens that I love, so the opportunity of the diffusion of sunlight through the leaves of the trees was taken.  As you’ll see below, they are faring reasonably well.

I had potted nasturtiums, but they became waterlogged in the recent rains and became noticeably discoloured.  I solved the drainage issue by transplanting to a larger ceramic pot with plenty of outlets for future showers or downpours.  I think they’ll survive.   Corn leaves are a bit of a delicacy for something with a small appetite, but they are not lost yet.  I’ve put some eggshells around them.  Other varieties are healthy and even thriving, I picked up just one snail from near the borage and placed it out on the flags as a treat for the thrush later.

Coriandrum SativumTo the left is a coriander seedling.  The variety favours late seeding, meaning more prolific leaf growth during the season.  You’ll see the distinctive leaf shape is now developing. Coriander is a favourite addition to many of my vegetable dishes, so hoping for a good crop this year.

To the right is magenta magic orach.  Magenta Magic OrachThis will be a new addition to the diet if it develops.  I will be experimenting with how it is best added to a meal.  This is my favourite photo of the day.

Dill, borage and chard are also thriving.  (Dill below).Dill