A Scottish castle by the sea

Have you ever stayed in a castle? Well now you can, thanks to the Landmark Trust, who restore beautiful old buildings and let them out as holiday rentals. I was lucky enough to spend a week at Saddell Castle in Kintyre, Scotland, in November for a family gathering.

Saddell Castle, Kintyre, Scotland

It felt such a privilege to spend time here, somewhere so rich in history - I kept wondering what stories the walls could tell.... The castle had been decorated perfectly - in keeping with its age, yet it wasn't a museum. It was comfortable -  you could sit anywhere without worrying about damaging anything and properly use the space and make yourself at home. This was a key aim of the Landmark Trust and I think they got it spot on.

The castle is nestled in Saddell Bay and is pretty well camouflaged.

Saddell Castle, Saddell Bay, Kintyre, Scotland

This is the view (below) from the dining room - pretty spectacular isn't it? Saddell Bay is beautiful, unspoilt and quiet - the perfect place for walking and contemplation. If you're looking for somewhere away from it all, then this is it. There is no wifi and very little phone signal -  bliss! (I think that is now advertised as a "feature" in today's over busy world).

Saddell Castle, Saddell Bay, Kintyre, Scotland

This is the view (below) from the ramparts - taken in the fading afternoon light.

View from Saddell Castle, Saddell Bay, Kintyre, Scotland
View from Saddell Castle, Saddell Bay, Kintyre, Scotland

I actually have shockingly few photos of the castle and its environs - highly unusual for me! The week we were there it rained - a lot! So the few glimpses you see were mostly taken in the few minutes when it wasn't raining, dark and grey. But the moody weather somehow suited the castle. And it forced me to unwind and relax - there were many afternoons spent next to a roaring fire, snoozing or reading or colouring in - absolute bliss!

Here are a few photos of the interior - please excuse the mess! I took these right at the end (I told you I was relaxed) when a burst of sunshine appeared and I thought - it's now or never.

This is the living room:

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The dining room:

And this is the bedroom we stayed in (again, please excuse the mess!). There were 5 bedrooms and most of them were huge and all were different and characterful. We could open our shutters and stare out at the sunrise over Saddell Bay and the Antony Gormley sculpture - a very special experience I shan't forget in a hurry.

We spent a lot of time wandering along the beach - I saw a heron most days, and a seal. This shot shows the Antony Gormley sculpture at low tide with some snow capped peaks in the background:

There is actually a heron in the shot below, but he's tiny. Sadly, my 24-105mm lens broke, so I had to fall back on my wide angle lens - not so good for wildlife shots!

This is Gossamer, our lovely furry companion for the week - we spent many a happy hour together snoozing by the fire. Our desire to get a dog of our own has never been stronger - watch this space!

The drive to and from the castle was just stunning (if rather hairy!) - we stopped as often as our schedule allowed. And typically, the day we left was filled with glorious sunshine - isn't it always the way?!

The following shots show sunrise along the west coast of Kintyre. I believe the peaks you can see are the "Paps of Jura", with Islay due west and Gigha slightly to the south.

My photos really don't do it justice (there wasn't time to get the filters out) - it was so beautiful. And there is even a seal in the shot below - you can just about see his head and a bit of his body in the water if you look closely. We saw lots of cormorants and oyster catchers too.

And a bit more November colour further along our journey back to Glasgow - can't remember the name unfortunately.

So there you have it - a very restful and very special week in a castle in the wilds of Scotland. I can highly recommend it! I think we're hooked now - having perused the (very well placed) Landmark Trust brochure in the castle, I've got my eye on a few places in Lundy next.... 

NB. This isn't a sponsored post, just an experience I wanted to share, that I thought you might enjoy.

Autumn colour at Westonbirt Arboretum

Have you ever visited Westonbirt Arboretum in Tetbury, Gloucestershire? If not, I can highly recommend it - most definitely one of our national treasures. It is ablaze with colour in the autumn and has the most extensive and beautiful collection of Acers I have ever seen. It's become something of a birthday tradition for me to visit - luckily for me, my birthday tends to fall at the peak of the colour :)

Despite moving to the coast, I couldn't miss out - Westonbirt in the autumn really is one of my all time favourite things to do. So this year, we made a little mini-break of it and stayed a few nights in Lacock, a very pretty village in the care of the National Trust, about 30-40 minutes away. We enjoyed visiting Lacock Abbey and its beautiful grounds. We also managed to fit in a visit to Bath on a rainy Saturday, and a leisurely visit to Courts Garden. We found Lacock the perfect base - considerably cheaper than staying in Bath and very well located for Westonbirt. If you do plan a visit to Westonbirt next year, it is so much better to visit on a week day if this is at all possible - it gets very busy in the autumn and the car parks get jam packed on weekends.

I make no apologies for the amount of photos in this post! We spent a very happy day wandering around Westonbirt, and believe me, I can take a LOT of photos in a day ;) It's a very popular place for photographers, so you will sometimes find yourself elbow to elbow with fellow snappers. I remember smiling to myself as I took these photos - I think there were about 8 or so other women around me, with their heads in the trees and cameras glued to their eyes and it was completely silent - apart from the sound of shutters.....

Westonbirt is HUGE. It is split into two parts - the old arboretum, and the new arboretum. My favourite part is the acer glade in the old arboretum - but there are so many paths and collections and Acers everywhere - so it's very easy to get lost. But lost in a good way! Dogs are only allowed in the new arboretum, which is vast - perfect for long walks. You'll find a greater variety of trees there, but still a good smattering of Acers (did I mention I adore Acers?!!).

The colour seemed especially good this year and I found myself drawn to the reds like a moth to a flame. The beautiful leaves make a wonderful background as well as a foreground.

If you're interested in the lenses and settings I used to capture these photos, you might like to take a look at my recent post: Photo tips: capturing autumn / fall colour.

And just to prove it's not all about the reds, here are a few other colours I managed to capture :)

And finally, I just had to include a few favourites from my visit to the very beautiful Courts Garden. We got there early, before it opened, so enjoyed a lovely walk from Courts to Great Chalfield Manor and back. And ended our visit the perfect way, by stumbling across a super lovely cafe nearby called the Old Glove Factory - bright, light and spacious with delicious food and comfy chairs for reading the papers. Oh, and superfast wifi. A most happy Sunday indeed :)

These giant heart shaped leaves came from a vine - just amazing!

Heart shaped leaf at Courts Garden

We were even treated to a few bursts of sunshine whilst we were there - most welcome indeed, after a very grey weekend.

Next to Acers, I think these gorgeous giant leaves from the Tulip Tree (Liriodendron tulipifera) have to be my absolute favourite. They really are a perfect tulip shape. I spent rather a long time playing with these, alongside the toddlers ;) If you'd like to see a few more, have a look at my video on Instagram - but I warn you, it's a bit spinny, spinny!

A bunch of yellow Tulip Tree leaves (Liriodendron tulipifera) from Courts Garden

You'll be relieved to know that's it from me (for now) - well done on reaching the end!

I'm shortly off on a lovely break away somewhere with no wifi, phone signal or tv - bliss! So things will be a bit quiet on here for a while - but I promise to return with plenty more tales and photos.

Printable Desktop Calendars for 2016 now in my Etsy shop

I'm delighted to say that some new printable desktop calendars for 2016 are now live in my Etsy shop. To start with I've designed two variations: an Inspirational Quotes version and a Blythe version.

Moving into the printables markets is a new venture for me, and one I'm pretty excited about. I think buying digital files that you can print yourself at home is such a great idea. You save a lot of money, especially postage (great for international buyers) and there is no waiting for items to arrive. Plus you can print them out more than once and gift them to friends. Have you bought any digital items for printing before? I'd love to know what you think.

These calendars are available as a 7 page PDF file (both A4 format and US Letter format) with two months per printable page, plus a cover and a back page. You simply print them them out and then cut them in half.

They're designed as Desktop Calendars and look great sat on a plate stand (the one I've used in the photo below is available from Amazon here) or on a clipboard propped up on your desk. 

If, like me, you don't have a clipboard, then a bit of cardboard with some pretty paper (from Flow Magazine) and a bull dog clip works very nicely :) Plus, you can change the paper to suit the photo - cheap and very cheerful!

Here are the complete designs. First up, my Inspirational Quotes 2016 Calendar:

I'd love to know what you think. What other designs would you like to see? I'm pondering a beach hut version, or maybe some seascapes or a nature themed one. I'm also wondering whether people might like an A4 wall calendar version as well?

Do let me know in the comments - thank you so much!

Oh and here is the link to my Etsy shop: https://www.etsy.com/uk/shop/zoepower

Photo tips: capturing autumn / fall colour

Autumn is my absolute favourite time of year to photograph - the landscape turns red and gold, leaves sparkle like jewels in the autumn sunshine, changing colour almost before your eyes. Is there anything more beautiful than watching a swirl of golden leaves spin and float gently down to rest on a scarlet carpet? There is magic everywhere - look up, look down, look all around.

Yet this autumnal magic can be surprisingly hard to capture on camera, so I thought I would share a few tips that have helped me. I should say that I am not about traditional shots or wide vistas of lots of trees. I hate HDR (High Dynamic Range) shots with a passion. My photography is all about softness and simplicity and my macro lens is my autumn lens of choice. So read on if you are interested in capturing autumn the beautiful simplicity way.


1. Position yourself to best catch the light

This is probably the single most important thing you can do. Observe which direction the sun is shining (even when there's lots of cloud cover) and walk around the tree you are photographing to see where the leaves are best illuminated. Sometimes, this means standing underneath the tree to get to the underside of the leaves (but obviously taking great care not to damage it). You will usually find that in one direction the leaves look flat, dull and lifeless, but from the opposite side they are beautifully lit, with strong vivid colours.

If you're lucky enough to have a day with some sunshine, it's worth waiting for the sun to come out and illuminate your shot - it's amazing what a bit of patience can do.

And make sure your flash is turned off - you won't capture that autumn magic with artificial light.


2. Use other trees for background colour

The joy of autumn for me is the beautiful medley of rich colours - definitely a case where the sum is greater than the parts. To take advantage of this, position yourself so that a brightly coloured tree is in the background of your shot, ideally one that is a contrast to the leaf or tree you are focussing on. Sometimes it's the background that makes the shot.


3. Don't shoot against the sky

The sky is usually much brighter than the landscape. If you are trying to focus on some leaves or a tree with lots of sky visible behind them, your camera will struggle to get the exposure right - you'll find your shot will either be far too light (exposed for the leaves) or far too dark (exposed for the sky). Even with lots of post-processing, it's hard to get pleasing results. You would be better to change your angle of view so that you have other trees/leaves in the background instead of the sky.

Of course, there are always exceptions to this rule. If the sun is behind you and the sky is bright blue, you might find your exposure is nicely balanced. And sometimes shooting directly into the sun provides some interesting sunflare - but it can be very hit and miss. As always, the key is to experiment, and check your results.


4. Look for fallen leaves & small details

As well as photographing the leaves whilst they are on the trees, don't forget to look around for other details as well. There is so much richness of colour and texture in the autumn landscape. A few ideas to try:

  • Fallen leaves, perhaps on a branch with some interesting moss, or floating in a stream.
  • Water droplets.
  • Reflections in a puddle or lake.
  • Ask a friend to hold a collection of autumn finds in their hands, or hide behind a leaf bouquet, or make a leaf headdress.
  • Find some colourful leaves for a backdrop for some portraits. Action shots can be fun too - try jumping off a tree stump or throwing some leaves in the air (put your camera into continuous shooting mode for this one, so you can capture as many frames as possible - hopefully one of them will be "the one").
  • Look down at your feet - the autumn carpet can be pretty special. 
  • Bring some props out with you to photograph, such as mini pumpkins/gourds, or in my case, dolls :)
  • Collect some fallen leaves to take home with you and arrange them on a simple background (but work quickly, before they dry and curl).

Don't be afraid to move things around either - I will often collect together some of the most beautiful fallen leaves and place them on a branch or a tree stump and arrange them to look as if they had fallen there. I'll also remove anything that looks dead or diseased from the shot (always without causing damage to anything - always respect your environment).


5. WHICH GEAR TO USE AND WHICH SETTINGS

As I mentioned above, my absolute favourite lens to use for autumn photography is my 100mm f2.8 macro lens. This is because I love to shoot small details, with softness and simplicity. I find you need a longer lens as the trees are often very tall, so it's the only way to get close enough to the leaves. I usually shoot somewhere between f2.8 - f4, trying to find the balance between shallow depth of field and sufficient sharpness of the subject I'm focussing on.

Another lens I like to use is my 24-105mm f4 zoom lens. I will mostly use this fully extended at 105mm with an aperture of f4 to get as much background blur as possible. It's also nice to be able to capture a few wider shots as well.

I also enjoy using my 50mm f1.4 lens. However, you need to be able to get reasonably close to your subject to produce the tight compositions and blurry backgrounds I love, so this has its limitations.

Finally, you might find a monopod or tripod helpful. The light can often be very low at this time of year with shutter speeds quite slow, so having something to steady your camera can be helpful. I have to say, though, that personally I prefer to shoot unencumbered - I'm forever moving around trying to find the perfect angle/light/background, going down low, shooting high. If I had to keep adjusting my tripod, I would be there forever!

Instead, I usually make sure my ISO is set to auto, so my camera can use higher ISO settings if the light is very low. I will most often shoot in Aperture Priority mode, as aperture is the setting I like to adjust most often. My camera will then adjust the shutter speed and ISO automatically, in accordance with the light reading.


6. Beware very shallow depth of field

Whilst I absolutely love shooting with the shallowest depth of field my lens will allow for maximum background blur, you do need to be careful if you are using a macro lens.  Shooting at 100mm focal length with an aperture of f2.8 gives you an extremely small range where your shot will be in focus (just a centimetre or two), if you are standing close to your subject. 

As the light is often low, it can be hard for your camera to focus and you can't be certain exactly where the focus point always is, unless you are shooting with manual focus (something my eyesight doesn't allow). I've come home and reviewed my photos after many an autumn photography session to find that most of them are blurry or the focus point is not in the right place and too much of the shot is out of focus (there's soft and there's blurry). 

I would suggest that you vary your aperture and experiment a bit with different settings, rather than using the absolute shallowest depth of field possible for ALL your shots (I typically work with a range of f2.8-f4, sometimes up to f5.6, if I'm using my 100mm macro lens).

The shot below was taken at f2.8 and I just about get away with it, but if you look closely, very little of the shot is in focus. This would have benefitted from increasing the aperture to f4. As the background is quite a distance away, this would still have allowed plenty of background blur.


For more information about aperture and depth of field, and the relationship to focal length and the distance from your subject/background, please see my How to get background blur in your photographs post.


7. Review often

This point goes hand in hand with the one above. To avoid disappointment, make sure you sit down at some point and review the photographs you have taken. Zoom in and check to see if they are sharp and if the focus point is where you want it. Is the exposure looking OK? You then still have time to re-shoot and correct any problems and try any other shots you want. It's also the perfect opportunity for a nice cup of tea :)


So there you have my top tips for capturing autumn colour, the beautiful simplicity way. If you'd like to see more photos, have a look at my Autumn Glory album on Flickr - I've amassed rather a lot of shots over the years!

Let me know if you have any questions and I'll do my best to help. What are your top tips? 


My Etsy Shop is open: inspirational quote prints for your walls

I'm delighted to say that my Etsy shop is now re-open and stocked with my new range of inspirational quote prints in A4 format.

Many of you will know that I have been battling with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) for several years. I left my full time management job a couple of years ago to rest and recover. I naively thought 6 months should do the trick. Two years on and CFS is still very much a part of my life. So, fed up with trying to plan for a future that *might* happen if I got well, I started focussing on the present.

The quote above has been very meaningful for me, and has led me to this point of re-opening my Etsy shop. I started focussing on doing what I can, with what I have, where I am now, at home. For me, this meant building on the photography that I know and love, and developing some design skills. My chronic fatigue has been (is) a great teacher, and I'm grateful for the many lessons learnt and ongoing. I wanted to find a way to share some quotes and phrases that have been helpful and meaningful to me on my journey to recovery, and hopefully find a way to inspire, uplift and gently encourage others.

So the idea for this range of prints was born. I'm hoping to add to the range over time, so do let me know if there are any particular quotes or phrases you'd like to see in poster format.

The prints are A4 in size and have been professionally printed on beautiful heavyweight 300gsm paper with a satin finish. The text is smooth and crisp in print (it can look a little jagged in the previews).

The paper is nice and robust and is well suited to putting up on your walls with washi tape, providing a lovely economic way of displaying it. I have a grid of 9 prints on the wall above my computer and they look fantastic. 

I'd love you to pop over to my Etsy Shop to see the full range. I'm offering my lovely blog readers a 10% discount on the prints with code LAUNCH10: www.etsy.com/uk/shop/zoepower (valid until 25 October 2015).

I'm also hoping to add the prints as digital downloads in the coming weeks, which might be a more economical way to purchase them for those of you who are overseas.

My Red Bubble shop is still operating and offers a wider range of my photographs in lots of different formats, including postcards, greeting cards, phone cases, tote bags, cushions, pouches and more. Red Bubble print to order and despatch items directly to you (usually from the USA), so this allows me to offer a wider variety.

I'd love to know what you think of the new inspirational quote prints - comments and questions are always very welcome.

Laura Ashley Guest Post: How to make a westie dog doorstop

Well hello folks and Happy Friday! I hope you've been enjoying this glorious sunshine. I'm just popping in briefly to let you know that I've written a guest post for the Laura Ashley blog today, showing how to make this lovely westie dog doorstop from one of their craft kits.

It's been a while since I've done much sewing (moving house rather does that to you, although that was, ahem, 10 months ago!), so this seemed like the perfect project to ease me back in. It was quite a novelty having everything I needed all ready for me in a box. I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed it and am pleased to report that my sewing machine has been busy whirring away again since then. 

You can find my step by step guide to making this lovely doggie door stop on the Laura Ashley blog. Dare I say it might be a possible Christmas gift idea?!!

Styling the Seasons: September

It feels like no time at all since I was writing my August post - and yet everything feels different. The nights draw in so quickly in September. It's the month to get cosy - to dig out the blankets and the hot water bottles. To nest, and start planning all those things you wanted to do over the summer but never had time for as you were too busy outdoors enjoying the light and sunshine.

This month I've styled up a little corner of my craft room / office. Since my July Styling the Seasons post, I've moved my room around and made space for an armchair. I can't tell you how happy this has made me! I've wanted somewhere comfy to sit and read for so long, and somewhere to rest when my chronic fatigue kicks in.

I've been hunting for an armchair for a while now, on a very small budget. Having looked around lots of vintage/antique shops, I concluded that the classic IKEA Poäng was my best bet. Whilst I would have adored a beautifully refurbished vintage number, they were all very much outside my budget. And the Poäng is SO comfy, which is really important to me. And I think it looks lovely in the Isunda Grey cover.

I've dug out some favourite crocheted blankets, to snuggle under as I read/snooze, and teamed it with one of my favourite vintage fabric cushions. My chair is tucked into the corner, right next to the radiator, for maximum warmth (although the heating is banned until October in this house, so I've yet to try it out!). Oh and please excuse the state of the walls - they will be painted a crisp bright white when I have some strength.

I'm watched over by a shelf of Jane Foster softies, made from some beautiful vintage fabrics - as you can probably tell, I adore vintage fabrics from the 60s and 70s.

I've been spending a lot of time in my chair this month, flicking through gardening magazines looking for inspiration for my planting plan. Now that we've had our rotten, collapsed fence replaced and ivy pulled out, we are in the process of having some raised sleeper beds put in the back garden, and I have the fun task of deciding what we are going to put in them! So when the weather has allowed, I've been out in the garden, digging and preparing. Nothing finer than September sunshine, especially when it is followed by heavy grey skies, downpours and chilly days, like today. September really is a month of extremes - a transitional month, as we let go of summer's warmth and ease ourselves into autumn.

I must confess that rather a lot of tea drinking goes on when the temperature drops - something so comforting about a nice hot mug of tea...

So that's it from me this month, my cosy edition of Styling the Seasons for September.

Styling the Seasons is a monthly styling challenge run by Katy from Apartment Apothecary and Charlotte from Lotts and Lotts that anyone can join in. The idea is to style a surface of your home according to what that month means to you, and to share some photographs on your blog or Instagram/Facebook/Twitter with the hashtag #StylingTheSeasons.


Vintage Jumble & Prop Sale - 4 Oct 2015

The theme for Styling the Seasons this month is vintage, in honour of the vintage jumble and prop sale that Katy has organised with a group of other bloggers.

It will be held on Sunday 4 October 1.30-4.30pm in Lindfield, West Sussex, in the King Edward Hall

I'm happy to say that I am going to be a part of it and will have a stall, selling some of my vintage china (pictured below), vintage bedspreads and crocheted blankets, handmade vintage fabric bags, a few owls, some russian dolls, china dogs, sheepskin rugs and more...

Will you come? It would be lovely to see you. Please do spread the word - more information about the day and the other sellers can be found on Katy's blog post: Vintage jumble and prop sale. x


5 ways to improve your photography by forward planning and intention setting

How many times have you grabbed your camera on the way out of the door and spent the day snapping what's in front of you? I'm certainly guilty as charged. And there's absolutely nothing wrong with doing that, in fact it can be hugely pleasurable to wander along with no specific plan, observing and reacting to your surroundings. However, I've come home on many an occasion very disappointed with the photos I've taken - they're just not "me" or not particularly creative.

So, if you can relate to the above or feel like your photographic mojo has taken a little wander, why not try a little planning in advance and intention setting before you head out with some of the tips below and see if this helps? 


1. Time of day / weather / tide / Location research

If you are planning on doing some outdoors photography, have a think about what time of day would be best for the light you want to capture: do you want to avoid mid-day shadows? Are you after the golden-hour glow? Do you want to capture a scene when it is busy or empty?

Similarly, check the weather forecast before you go. Cloud cover might be perfect for some portraiture or macro photography, but it might not make for interesting landscape shots. Don't necessarily rule out rainy days - very changeable weather can provide a lot of drama in the skies and interesting light.

And if you are intending to photograph coastal areas, check the tide times! I can't tell you how many times I've turned up at a beach to find it's high tide and there's no beach to be seen - or it's a super low tide and the sea is miles away.

Finally, doing some location research in advance can be very helpful. I like to search on Flickr or 500px and Pinterest for photos of a particular place I'm going to shoot (that's how we tend to plan our holidays!). I look for interesting landmarks such as rocks or pretty walls or beach huts, and information on where exactly they are so I can find them, and where I can park.

When the right time, weather, tide and location come together, it can make for some magical photography. The shot below was taken just after sunset as the tide was coming in and washing over some striking rocks (providing a focal point), with just enough clouds to add interest to the sky. I used a tripod and some filters to slow the exposure down so I could capture the movement of the water.

I definitely need to get out and do more sunrise and sunset photography!


2. Choose a Style and mood

Have a think about what style of photos you would like to capture and what kind of mood you want to convey. Light and airy with shallow depth of field? Dark and gritty with moody light? Happy? Angry? Tender? Lots of detail? Then plan the lenses and settings you want to experiment with to achieve your mood and style.

For example, my style is all about beautiful simplicity (the clue is in the name of my blog!), which to me means light, bright, airy, pretty, soft. I therefore like to shoot with lenses that have a wide aperture to create a shallow depth of field, and a blurred, softer background (see my How to get background blur in your photographs post for more information about aperture and depth of field).

Sometimes it can help to take a look through your favourite photos or create a moodboard on Pinterest, and spend some time thinking what it is about the photo(s) that most appeals to you. This can really help you to develop your own style. Capturing the same style of photos can really help to unify diverse subject matter and provide a cohesive feel to your photostream or galleries.

If you're not sure what settings you need to use on your camera to achieve the style of images you love, it can help to take a look at the meta data behind the photographs. Flickr now displays some key settings information underneath each photo (although not all photographers permit this to be displayed). The meta data on the right is for the image below and shows what camera and lens I used, along with the aperture (f-stop), shutter speed, focal length and ISO.

Now keep your intended style/mood firmly in mind as you go out and shoot. Maybe even write it down and carry a notebook around with you.


3. Try using a prime lens of fixed focal length

If I'm stuck in a bit of a rut, I find it can be really helpful to leave my zoom lens behind and go out and shoot with one of my prime lenses. The only zooming you can do is with your feet, so it forces you to focus on your composition. By stripping away the distraction of zooming, you are less tempted to feel you have to capture everything about a scene and can stick to the intention you went out with.

For example, the bluebell photo below was taken on my 85mm f1.8 lens. I wanted to capture softness and a dreamy quality, with a very shallow depth of field, and avoid too much detail.


4. Pick a Subject or theme: tell a story

Sometimes it can help to set out with a specific subject or theme in mind. This can help your photographs relate to each other and collectively tell a story, and stop you getting distracted by everything else. For example:

  • patterns or shapes
  • a specific object
  • reflections
  • shadows
  • a colour
  • abstract
  • long exposure
  • movement
  • seasons
  • take a prop out with you to photograph, e.g. a mirror or a balloon

The possibilities are quite literally endless, so choose something that you are excited by. If you are stuck for ideas, you could follow along with the themes/challenges suggested by various Instagram accounts such as @its_my_week or follow the main @instagram account for the weekend hashtag projects. It's fascinating to see how diversely other people interpret the theme.

Recently I went out with the intention of shooting images that are suitable for text, for me to use as part of a new series of inspirational quotes/words that I'm working on. This caused me to shoot in a very different way, as the images I was capturing needed to be secondary, more about colour and mood, with the focus very much to the side, to leave plenty of space for text. It's definitely still a work in progress. 


5. Mid point review

It's really worth stopping during your photography session to review what you've captured. It's best to do this inside, away from glare. It's the ideal time to stop for a cup of tea or coffee and revisit your list of intentions. Have you captured what you set out to? Has something not worked? Do you need to go out and shoot it again, in a slightly different way? There's nothing worse then getting home and downloading your photos only to realise that something's not sharp or the shot that was most important to you hasn't worked.


So what do you think? Do you forward plan - or prefer to wing it? What are your favourite ways to get out of a photo rut?

Styling the Seasons: August

Well, August, I'm not sure what to make of you this year. We've had torrential downpours, a little chill in the air and falling leaves, mixed up with bright blue sunny skies and baking hot days.

For my styling the seasons post this month, I was originally going to do an outdoor shoot on the decking. But the rain rather put a stop to that. And the fact that my garden currently resembles a demolition site as our old rotten fence is ripped out in preparation for a new one. No matter, on with plan B.

The surface I've styled this month is the mantelpiece in our living room. Here's the complete ensemble for context, then I'll get onto the details.

August to me is about being outdoors - in the garden and by the sea - and generally making the most of the light and the warmth and the colours before it all starts to fade.  

August is all about change too - the nights are drawing in, the colours are changing in the garden and in the landscape - everything is starting to look a little more golden.

Appropriately enough, the sun was in and out, in and out, as I was taking these photos. I rather liked the shadows it produced. 

I've gone for a very natural colour palette this month, to reflect the colours of the seaside, and to evoke a feeling of calm and quiet. I find August so busy and full of crowds - I always seek out the quieter, out of the way places. It's a time to rest and take things a little more slowly. A time to retreat.

The oatmeal coloured jugs are from the beautiful interiors shop in Hove called igigi. The canvas print is one of my photographs of Saunton Sands in Devon - a firm favourite, even though I've stared at it for years. The Scabious were from my garden - about the only thing that survived the recent rain battering. The beautiful Agapanthus came from my local florist, Church Lane Flowers. They remind me of summers in Jersey, where I grew up - there were Agapanthus everywhere - they flourished beside the sea. And the beautiful pebbles with wonderful textures and grain are from Westward Ho! in Devon and Sandymouth in Cornwall. Nothing quite like holding a warm pebble in your hands on a summer's day to help you relax :)

And just one last shot of those beautiful shadows, because I can't decide which version I prefer. I'm afraid you don't get to see any more of the fireplace - there's currently a rather horrid electric fire in place, which we want to replace with a wood burning stove when we have some pennies.

So there you have it - my August Styling the Seasons post, with just a few days to spare.

Styling the Seasons is a monthly styling challenge run by Katy from Apartment Apothecary and Charlotte from Lotts and Lotts that anyone can join in. The idea is to style a surface of your home according to what that month means to you, and to share some photographs on your blog or Instagram/Facebook/Twitter with the hashtag #StylingTheSeasons.

See you next month!


West Dean Gardens through my macro lens

I had the pleasure of visiting the beautiful West Dean Gardens (near Chichester, West Sussex) with my family last weekend. Luckily for me, we are all keen photographers, so dawdling along at a snails pace to allow hundreds of photos to be taken was permitted without (much) complaining! The site is huge (90 acres) - there is so much to see and explore. I'm already planning my return visit!

I was particularly enthralled by the cutting garden and the 13 victorian glasshouses, which have been beautifully restored. I fell in love with a new (to me) flower - Larkspur - and am already hatching plans to plant a swathe of these in our garden. Larkspur is essentially an annual Delphinium and comes in blue/purple, pink and white (the ones pictured are Larkspur Sublime I think). Apparently it is easy to grow as it self seeds - finger's crossed!

The Larkspur had been planted next to some Cosmos, another firm favourite of mine. All that frothy foliage provides the perfect backdrop.

There was colour across the spectrum in the cutting garden, but I always gravitate to purples/pinks and whites (sorry to the yellow lovers amongst you!). There were butterflies and bees everywhere, including clouds of Cabbage Whites - so pretty to watch!

I absolutely loved the wild meadow bed at the end of the garden, tucked away behind the glasshouses - I much prefer my gardens wild and rambling. Must try and introduce some poppies next year!

The beautiful victorian glass houses offered incredible variety, from temperate to tropical, ferns to flowers, fruit to vegetables.

I was fascinated by these climbing ferns...

And I loved the potting shed, filled with vintage gardening paraphernalia... 

And then we have the chillies - 250 varieties of them! I had no idea there were so many... All the different shapes and sizes were laid out and labelled for visitors to look at and there were several glasshouses full of them, along with other vegetables. Very inspiring to see what is possible. 

I loved being able to see the lifecycle of vegetables growing and discovering new varieties - I might even have to have a go myself next year! And a beautiful glass house is of course now on my wish list ;)

The fruit was amazing too. The walled fruit garden housed many, many apple and pear trees, shaped in different ways. And the glass houses were filled with figs and melons and grapes - the vines were quite incredible. It was hard to believe we were in the UK!

And flowers mixed with fruit, is always a good thing. There were beds bursting with flowers throughout the walled fruit garden (with a surprisingly lovely purple and yellow colour theme) and even in the entrance.

And now onto the kitchen gardens. A mighty fine display of vegetables in prime condition. I love my greens and was very tempted to take some of these home with me!

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The grounds at West Dean are very extensive and perfect for a picnic lunch. We found an empty table and chairs on the picturesque picnic lawn and ate our lunch under a giant willow tree overlooking parkland with grazing sheep (no decent pictures I'm afraid as I was too busy eating at this point!). They also have a lovely restaurant with seasonal dishes.

After spending most of our time in the cutting, fruit & vegetable gardens and the glasshouses, we thought we should explore a little of the rest of the grounds....

We were serenaded in the sunken garden by a couple of talented musicians, before wandering through a rather spectacular 300 foot long pergola, wrapped in the loveliest selection of climbing plants.

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It made a lovely backdrop for some portraits. Thanks to my brother-in-law, I even managed to get a rare photo of my husband and I without camera rucksacks or cameras dangling from our necks!

After the pergola, we had a lovely walk through the spring garden, but rather ran out of time and energy to explore the rest of the grounds. I'll have to see the Arboretum on my next visit... Dogs are welcomed on short leads, so when we finally manage to get our furry friend, this would be a perfect place to come.

I'll leave you with a few shots of the Echinaceas from what I think was the spring garden.

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Apologies for a rather picture heavy post - but believe me, I barely even scratched the surface of the gardens! I can highly recommend a visit if you're anywhere near West Sussex - find out more on the West Dean Gardens website.


I've add a few of my favourite floral images to my Red Bubble Shop in case you are interested - they make rather lovely greeting cards and postcards. Also available as fine art prints, phone cases, bags, pouches, notebooks and more :)