Hunting for autumn colour in Sussex and Surrey

Since we moved to East Sussex from Oxford two years ago, I have been on the look out for the best places to find autumn colour, and more specifically, Acers. Acer leaves are my favourite thing to photograph in the autumn - there's something so pleasing and special about their shape and the huge range of colours they display as the season moves on. The best collection of Acers I have ever found is at Westonbirt Arboretum. However, this is now quite a trek for us and most certainly not a day trip anymore. So I've been on the lookout for the best Acer collections closer to home....

Winkworth Arboretum

This year, we visited Winkworth Arboretum in Surrey (The National Trust's only arboretum) for the first time and I wasn't disappointed, even though we were probably a couple of weeks away from the peak colour. It was blissfully quiet as we visited on a week day and I'm sure this considerably added to my enjoyment!

Winkworth is a large place, so be prepared for lots of walking, some of it steep. The visitors map suggests three different routes - we opted for the "Challenging walk" with steep steps of approx. 3.6km that took in most of the arboretum. We soon strayed off track, though, as I got distracted by the leaves, so I'm not sure how much of this we completed. There's also an accessible 1km route with no steps, and a shorter "taste of" walk that is 1.6km.

For us, it was definitely a whole day trip (but bear in mind there are frequent stops for photography - I can spend a LONG time with my head and camera stuck in a single beautiful tree!) and I'm very glad we took a packed lunch with us. There is a small cafe, but the lunch options are limited and it's located at the entrance, so it's quite a trek to get back there.

Since adopting our rescue dog, Misty, one of our additional requirements this year was to find places that allowed dogs to visit. Quite a challenge, it seems! A big tick in the box for Winkworth, though, even if the "short lead" rule seemed a little unnecessary.

I think Misty enjoyed the trip, but got rather impatient with our frequent photography stops! With such a beautiful backdrop, I just had to attempt some portraits. I had grand visions of some beautiful shallow depth of field shots of Misty, with leaves gently falling around her. Reality, however, didn't quite match-up.... Photographing pets is clearly an art form and I have a lot to learn. We had fun, though!

I also got a little obsessed with photographing the seed pods. I love the bright pop of red that really catches the light. Such a brilliant distribution system!

All in all, a thoroughly lovely visit - I look forward to returning next year!

Sheffield Park and Garden

I think the best place for autumn colour and Acers close to home, has to be the National Trust's Sheffield Park and Garden in East Sussex. It really comes alive in the autumn. But with it, of course, come large visitor numbers. If you can, I would try and get there for opening time on a week day. Unfortunately we were restricted to visiting after 1.30pm as this is the only time you are allowed to take dogs in the garden. We visited a couple of times this year, once on a Friday (busy, but still pleasant) and once on a Sunday (jam-packed, noisy and very hard to get much photography in without other people in your shot!).  Still worth it, though, as it's a stunning place with a beautiful Acer collection and one I will most definitely return to next year.

My lens of choice for autumn photography is my 100mm macro lens as it allows me to get nice and close with a decent background blur (and also a good way of avoiding other people in your shots!). All the photos in this post were taken on my macro lens.  One thing I love to do is to try and line up a contrasting colour as the background for my leaf shots - for me, the background is what makes or breaks the shot.

If you'd like to read more about autumn photography you might like my Photo tips: capturing autumn/fall colour post.

One of the great things about Sheffield Park is that there is a lot of concentrated autumn colour in a relatively small space, so you don't have to walk far to take in a lot of beauty. But I guess that's the reason it's so popular and busy....


Other places to visit

Do you have any suggestions for other places to visit for autumn colour not far from East Sussex? I'd love to hear them. Other places I've visited include:

  • Nymans - a beautiful place, but best in the spring and summer I think - there was a little autumn colour, but nothing substantial. Plus, no dogs allowed in the garden.
  • Standen House and Garden - I was very disappointed when I visited here last autumn - hardly anything to see - so I haven't returned since.
  • Wakehurst Place - I love it here and there are quite a few Acers as I recall, but sadly no dogs are allowed, so we haven't visited recently.

Beach huts and sand dunes at Littlehampton, West Sussex

We had a wonderful staycation back in September, exploring a bit more of our local area in East and West Sussex. Since moving to Seaford two years ago, there's definitely been less need to go away on long trips as there is so much loveliness a short drive away (coast and country). In fact, this was one of the main reasons we decided to move.

Sandy beaches are a rarity in these parts, however, so when I found out there was a sandy beach and some sand dunes at Littlehampton, I had to visit, especially as I remembered there being rather a lovely lot of beach huts nearby too....

Littlehampton has two beaches, either side of the River Arun, East Beach and West Beach.

West Beach, Littlehampton

West Beach is a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) with a local nature reserve, sand dunes and a sandy beach (with a fair amount of shingle too). We had a lovely time there, splashing in the sea and relaxing on the beach, followed by a wander through the sand dunes. Our little dog Misty absolutely LOVED the chance to roll around in the soft sand!

NB. there aren't many facilities here as you might expect from an SSSI - but there is a small cafe and some toilets (there are lots more across the other side of the river at East Beach).

We were lucky to have some lovely weather, so just enjoyed pottering along slowly soaking up the sunshine and blue skies and eating our picnic on the beach. And did I mention paddling in the sea? Such a treat for us to have some soft sand to walk on, as all our local beaches are shingle.

East Beach, Littlehampton

East Beach is the busier one, with lots of things to do. There is a very nice Cafe right on the beach (it's shingle here, rather than sand), plenty of parking, a family amusement park, kitesurfing.....and lots of beach huts.

The beach huts are managed by the local Council and are colour-coded in uniform rows of green, yellow and blue. I love to wander down the beach away from the crowds to find the older huts, which are much more characterful, with peeling paint. I was particularly lucky to have the most perfect blue skies with little fluffy clouds whilst I was there, so I got a little trigger happy - I hope you'll forgive me....

I think the sky blue ones might just be my favourites :)

Rustington

And on the off-chance that you haven't seen enough beach huts, if you wander eastwards along the beach until you reach Rustington, you will be rewarded with some very lovely numbers. In fact, I think these might be my favourites (apart from West Wittering, of course). But be warned, parking by the beach is pretty much non-existent here, so you are probably best to park in Littlehampton and walk.

The huts here are full of variety, but I do think their owners must collaborate as there are lovely rows of pastel ones and colourful ones, and then the blue ones...

Despite the strong light and harsh shadows, they made such a lovely backdrop, so we had to get some portraits with little Misty.

It was very hard to drag me and my camera away...

So there you have it, a little wander around the sandy beaches and beach huts of Littlehampton and Rustington - they make a lovely day trip. And if you're in the area, West Wittering, a little further west, is a beautiful sandy beach well worth a visit (and also full of pretty beach huts!). And then there's the historic town of Arundel with it's beautiful castle and gardens, Chichester, and one of my favourites, West Dean Gardens. I'm looking forward to some return visits already!

Now just in case you're a fellow beach-hut lover, I must mention my 2017 Beach Huts Printable Calendar, which features some of these beauties from West Sussex :) You can find it in my Etsy Shop.

Oh and you might like to follow along with my new Pinterest board, Beach Hut love. I shall be filling it with as many pastel and colourful pretty beach huts as I can find.

Printable 2017 Calendars now in my Etsy shop

Well hello there folks! It's been a loooong time since I last blogged. I've been super busy with my Etsy shop and learning all about brush lettering and how to use Adobe Illustrator. I'm thoroughly enjoying the process and still have so much to learn, but I have missed this space. Hopefully, I'll be back a little more regularly now I've (sort of) found my feet - I've got quite a few photos to share before the end of the year!

I set myself the goal of creating a series of inspirational quote prints using my brush lettering - the kind that I would love to have on my walls to gently uplift and encourage - and enough to make a calendar, before the end of the year. I'm happy to say I got there! I even managed to create a couple of photography calendars as well.


Inspirational Quotes Printable Calendar 2017

First up, I'll show you my Inspirational Quotes printable 2017 calendar, so you can see what I've been up to:

NB. All the inspirational quotes you see here are also available as printable downloads individually in A4 and 8"x10" format.

The beautiful floral artwork I have licensed from the very talented Lisa Glanz and arranged into unique compositions to suit the quotes. In time, I hope to be able to include more of my own illustrations and patterns, but one step at a time :)

I've designed the calendars in multiple formats so you have a choice of:

  • A4 (wall calendar)
  • A5 (desk calendar)
  • US letter (wall calendar) and
  • US letter 2 months per page (desk calendar).

They are all designed as printable downloads for you to print at home - it means you save on postage costs, AND you can print them as many times as you like - perfect stocking fillers :) I've been really happy with the results from my very standard inkjet printer, using a nice 200gsm matte photo paper. I'll give you three guesses what Christmas presents I'll be giving this year!

Although they're not bound, you can display them in lots of different ways. My favourite is simply with a clipboard or pretty bulldog clip and a bit of cardboard - you can prop them up on your desk or hang them on your wall. Or you could hole punch them and thread some twine or ribbon through. Or simply washi tape a page to your wall each month. The choice is yours!

Given that I'd invested quite a bit of time creating all the different calendar formats, I thought I'd create a couple more versions using some of my favourite photographs.

I always have a calendar on my desk as I'm constantly checking dates as I plan my life, and it's so lovely to have some cheery images or uplifting quotes staring back at me every day. And I just love that feeling of turning over a new page in the calendar for a shiny fresh new month, don't you?


Beach Huts Printable Calendar 2017

You may have noticed that I have a bit of a thing for pretty pastel beach huts. So, I just *had* to make a Beach Huts Printable Calendar 2017:


Beautiful Simplicity printable photo calendar 2017

And finally, I really wanted to make a Beautiful Simplicity version of the calendar, with my favourite soft, dreamy, light-filled seasonal images from the year. It's always so hard to choose, but I eventually whittled the selection down to these:

So there you go! I hope you like them.

To celebrate their launch, along with Small Business Saturday here in the UK, I'm offering a 20% discount code off everything in my Etsy Shop from Friday 02 Dec - Mon 05 Dec 2016. This will be the only discount I offer before the end of the year.

Use code TAKE20DEC16 at checkout.

Go, go, go >>> www.zoepower.etsy.com

 

Which apps I use to edit my Instagram photos

I've been meaning to write this post for a while now. I always find it fascinating to hear which apps others use to edit their photos on their phones for Instagram, so thought I'd share my preferences. There are 4 apps I use regularly (often in combination), depending on the type of photo I want to edit. I use these both for photos taken on my iPhone itself and for photos taken on my DSLR that I have transferred to my phone over wifi (brilliant for editing speed as it means I don't have to put my computer on!).

  • Snapseed - for landscapes and general use
  • VSCO - for tonal highlighting and finishing touches
  • PS Express - for flatlays and still lifes
  • A Color Story - for lightening and brightening and punchy colourful images

I'm not intending this to be a tutorial as such, but rather an overview of my process and the thinking behind my choices. I'll include some links for some more in depth tutorials in case you are interested.


Snapseed - for landscapes and general use

Snapseed is the app I've used for the longest and it therefore tends to be my default option for some initial edits. It offers a good selection of basic editing options including Brightness, Contrast, Saturation, Ambiance, Highlights, Shadows, Warmth and Sharpening as well as the ability to crop, and rotate/straighten. 

I find it works particularly well for landscapes and outdoor shots where you tend to get lots of contrast and the sky is often much brighter than the land or sea. The Ambiance tool is the one I use the most in these circumstances as it simultaneously brightens the shadows and reduces the highlights, balancing out the light in the contrasting areas.

What it lacks, though, is the ability to add tonal highlights or do more creative editing, so I usually use it for an initial edit and then take my edited photo into another app for some final tweaking. It does offer filters, but they've never really been to my taste.

The photo below was taken on my iPhone in low light just after sunset and you can see that the sky is much brighter than the sea and the shore.

BEFORE - ORIGINAL IMAGE

BEFORE - ORIGINAL IMAGE

AFTER EDITING IN SNAPSEED

AFTER EDITING IN SNAPSEED

This is what I did to edit it in Snapseed:

  1. Launch Snapseed and tap Open in top left, then Open from device to browse your photostream. Select an image by tapping it and tap Use in top right.
  2. Click the pencil icon on the bottom right to open the editing tools. Then tap on Tune Image. Swipe your finger up and down the photo to see the different editing options available, e.g. Brightness, Contrast etc. and then swipe right or left to increase or decrease the setting you've selected. Once you've finished editing one setting, simply swipe up and down to choose the next setting you want to edit, and swipe left/right again to adjust. I often go back and forth between them, as editing one setting obviously has an effect on the others. Once you've finished, tap the tick icon in the bottom right. This was my recipe:
    • Brightness +65
    • Saturation +12
    • Ambiance +80
  3. Click the pencil again and then Details if you want to add any Sharpening or Structure to your image (Structure seems to work like the Clarity setting you might be familiar with in other applications). This works the same as with Tune Image, so swipe up and down to choose between Sharpening or Structure and swipe left or right to adjust the settings and then tap the tick when you're finished. This was my recipe:
    • Structure +5
    • Sharpening +10
  4. Once you've finished editing, tap SAVE top right. I usually choose the Export option as I rarely come back to re-edit in Snapseed and I like to keep the original image just in case I want to edit it in another application.

Although I'm happy with my edits, the image for me is not yet complete and I've left it purposely under-done as I know I want to edit it further. The next step is to take it into VSCO and apply a filter to add some tonal highlighting (you may have noticed I have a thing for pink highlights!). See below for what I did next.


VSCO - for tonal highlighting and finishing touches

I really like using VSCO for the creative filters it provides, and the ability to refine them. In particular I like to use filters that play with highlight and shadow tones. For me it doesn't work so well for basic editing, as I find the scale on the brightness and saturation options too harsh - I prefer to make subtler adjustments. Hence the reason I usually edit first in another app.

NB. Although VSCO comes with a few filters, most of the filter sets have to be purchased as extra. I think I've now bought most of them, but usually end up using the same old ones!

AFTER EDITING IN SNAPSEED

AFTER EDITING IN SNAPSEED

AFTER EDITING IN VSCO

AFTER EDITING IN VSCO

So let me talk you through the adjustments I made to the image above left in VSCO, that I first edited in Snapseed:

  1. From your library in VSCO, tap the + to import an image from your photostream. Once you've selected your image, tap the circle to add it.
  2. With the image you want to edit selected, tap the slider icon (2nd from left) to open the filters and editing options.
  3. Scroll along the bottom to see the filters and tap to apply one. Tap again to show the sliders that allow you to adjust the strength of the filter and tap the circle when you're done.  
    • For this image I used the C3 filter at strength 8.
  4. To refine the settings for the filter you have chosen, tap the upward facing arrow at the bottom, and then tap the slider icon (2nd from left). You can then tap any of the editing tools and then use the slider to adjust their strength. Again, click the circle when you're done editing each one. When you've finished, tap the upward facing arrow and then the circle to return to your library.
    • For this image I increased the Tint to +2 (I love the pink highlights!), the Shadows Save to +1 and the Highlights Save to +1.
  5. To save your image, tap the 3 dots on the right and then choose Save To Camera Roll and Actual Size.

If you'd like to see a more in depth tutorial for using VSCO then have look at the brilliant video from Me and Orla: Instagram Tips: A beginners guide to VSCO.


PS Express - for Flatlays and Still Lifes

Photoshop Express is another brilliant all purpose editing app. I use it for a wide range of photos, but especially for flatlays and still life shots. I have the lovely Cristina Colli to thank for introducing me to this app via her post How I edit my iPhone photos

Whilst it offers filters, I haven't found any I really like, so I use it exclusively for the individual editing tools. One of the features I really like, though, is the ability to save your edits as a custom filter that you can apply to future photos. This saves me a lot of time as I pretty much always brighten my images, so I have a few filters saved that lighten and brighten shadows and add a little tint to varying degrees.

I usually find that editing in PS Express is enough to create a finished image, but sometimes I can't resist a little further tweaking in VSCO (see above) or directly in Instagram (I'm a big fan of applying a little dash of Clarendon - but have to stop myself over editing on occasion - when is enough, enough?!!).

So let me take you through the edits I made to the following image, taken on my iPhone.

ORIGINAL IMAGE, TAKEN ON MY IPHONE

ORIGINAL IMAGE, TAKEN ON MY IPHONE

IMAGE EDITED IN PS EXPRESS

IMAGE EDITED IN PS EXPRESS

FINAL VERSION, TWEAKED IN INSTAGRAM WITH A DASH OF CLARENDON

FINAL VERSION, TWEAKED IN INSTAGRAM WITH A DASH OF CLARENDON

This is how I edited the image in PS Express:

  1. Tap Select Image From > On my iPhone and browse and select the image you want to edit by tapping on it.
  2. At the very bottom of the screen, select the icon with the sliders (third from left) to access the editing tools. You can then tap each of them in turn and adjust the slider to increase or decrease the setting. This is the recipe I used:
    • Clarity +8
    • Sharpen +5
    • Exposure +35
    • Contrast +5
    • Highlights +20
    • Tint +22
    • Vibrance +6
  3. If you want to save your edits as a custom filter to use in future, tap the filters button on the bottom far left and then MY LOOKS. Tap the + in the blue square on the far left to add your "look"/filter and give it a name. When you next edit a photo, you can then tap on the filters button to come back to your filter and even use a slider to adjust the strength you want to apply it at. You can still then click the slider button to access the editing tools for further tweaking.

A Color Story - for lightening and brightening and punchy colourful images 

A Color Story was created by the colour-loving team behind A Beautiful Mess. It's a powerful editing tool and is great for lightening and brightening and creating punchy colourful images with some cool effects. But it's also very easy to over-do it with the filters, which are very contrasty and saturated at full strength. I probably use this the least of all the apps, as I find it can be hit and miss to get the results I want, and requires a lot more fiddling than PS Express. But for some images it has produced results that none of the other apps have been able to (and of course, now I can't remember exactly which images those were!!).

A Color Story allows you to add filters, adjust the strength of them and layer other filters on top without having to save your image and reimport, as you have to do with the other apps. It also offers a range of interesting effects such as sun flare, bokeh, light leaks and colour fog (although most of these you have to buy as extras). And finally, it offers a wide range of editing tools, including Curves, which I haven't seen elsewhere (I found this rather fiddly to use with my clumsy fingers though - very easy to drag the points totally off kilter). Have a browse through the @acolorstory Instagram account to get an idea for the amazing results the app can produce. And if you want to learn more about it, there's a great video tutorial by Xanthe Berkeley and an overview on the A Color Story website.

The creators of the app recommend that you don't edit images before bringing them into the app as the filters do a lot of brightening and have been designed for images straight out of camera.

So first of all let me show you the before and after:

ORIGINAL IMAGE - TAKEN ON MY IPHONE (far too contrasty and warm - the light was too strong!)

ORIGINAL IMAGE - TAKEN ON MY IPHONE (far too contrasty and warm - the light was too strong!)

IMAGE EDITED IN A COLOR STORY

IMAGE EDITED IN A COLOR STORY

This is how I edited the image above in A Color Story:

  1. Tap Photos from the home screen to browse and select the photo you want to edit by tapping on it and then press CONTINUE.
  2. Tap FILTERS bottom left to browse the filters you want to apply. Filters are grouped in Sets. Some basic sets are free with the app and then others you have to buy. Tap the filter you want to apply and adjust the slider according to your taste and tap the tick when done. Tap Back to return to the Filters so you can apply more. I used the following:
    • Lite Bright from the Essentials set (free) at 49%
    • Chroma from the Chroma set at 52%
    • Light from the Chroma set at 31%
  3. I then tapped the TOOLS button (the spanner, 3rd from left) to access the individual editing tools. Tap the slider button called ADJUST to edit a range of options. I tweaked the Curves to brighten the shadows and increased the Brightness, Saturation, Tint, Exposure and Contrast.
  4. Finally, I tapped DONE (top right) when I was finished and then SAVE & FINISH. If you like, you can also save your edits to apply to future photos by tapping the green SAVE EDITING STEPS button.

I think the main reason I find using this app more fiddly and time consuming than the others is that there are SO many options and SO many settings you can adjust - I find I rarely get the results I desire from just the filters and then spend ages tweaking the individual settings.


So why don't I edit in Instagram itself?

I tend to use Instagram just for some final tweaks (a dash of the Clarendon filter or a tiny bit extra brightness). I think the main reason is that I prefer to edit and save my images to my photostream before I upload them, so I can compare them to other images I've taken for consistency,  and sometimes to multiple edits of the same image to see which one I like best. I also like to edit photos in advance of posting them, so I usually have a little queue of edited photos ready to post when I have time. I think the editing tools in IG have come a long way, but I'd rather save before I post!


So there you have it - the 4 main apps I use to edit my photos for Instagram. I'd love to hear which apps are your favourites and why? Do let me know if you'd like me to go into any more details with any of the apps in a future post.

West Dean Gardens revisited

I was very fortunate to visit the beautiful West Dean Gardens near Chichester, West Sussex, for the second time last month (you can read about my first visit in West Dean Gardens through my macro lens). They are an independent charity (NOT National Trust) and the site is also home to West Dean College, which offers courses in creative arts and conservation, including lots of interesting gardening ones.

Dogs on short leads are welcome, which is fantastic, as it meant our recently adopted dog, Misty, could come with us. There is a lovely cafe/restaurant and some very picturesque seating areas if you want to bring your own picnic. We spent the whole day here and still didn't manage to see everything!

The gardens are huge - there are 100 acres of garden and parkland in total, including a 50 acre arboretum. My absolute favourite part is the walled cutting garden and the 13 Victorian glasshouses. I visited with my family and am very lucky that we are all (mostly) keen photographers, so stopping every minute or so to marvel and snap away was no problem. I even got to do one circuit with my macro lens, and then a second with my 50mm f1.4 lens and my sister :)

So let's start with the cutting garden shall we? An absolute riot of colour and full of bees and butterflies. Hard to pick favourites, but I fell in love with cold frame (above) full of succulents and a marvellous Geranium collection outside. And the Larkspur and Cosmos and Cornflowers and Nigella and Dahlias and.....

Beautiful isn't it? Shall we move on to the glasshouses now.... First up, is one entirely devoted to Geraniums and Fuchsias in every shade of pink and red you can imagine. Just divine!

And just next door is the potting shed, full of old tools and books and the prettiest cut flowers from the garden.

And next up another huge favourite of mine - the fern glasshouse. An absolute dream! I would have loved to have spent some time in here with my sketchbook. The details on the leaves are just incredible...

There are several tropical collections as well. I think this guy was from one of those...

The fruit and veg glasshouses are inspirational too. And now on my wish list ;) There were an abundance of chillies in every colour, size and shape imaginable as we visited shortly before the chilli fiesta started.

I hope you're not bored yet? Apologies for the picture heavy post, but there's so much to see!

I also loved the kitchen gardens, right next to the cutting garden and bursting full of healthy, colourful looking veggies and, of course, lots of flowers. The Californian Poppies are just so cheerful.

And I must just mention the incredible pergola, designed by Harold Peto in 1911 and restored after the 1987 storm. It's 300 foot long and wrapped in the most beautiful climbing plants. The Roses and Clematis were blooming when we visited and provided a lovely pop of colour. I can't imagine how much work must have gone into this and all the careful training and pruning. I'm in awe!

So that's it for now - well done if you made it to the end! I really hope I get to return soon - there's still so much we haven't seen.

For more information or to plan your visit, see the West Dean Gardens website.

If you'd like to see more photos, head over to my West Dean Gardens Flickr Album - or you can click through the embedded album below.

West Dean Gardens, Chichester

How I manage my photos: a monthly process to stay on top of it all

How's your smartphone camera roll looking at the moment? Mine used to be heaving with thousands of images and it was really hard to find what I was looking for and I'm pretty sure I overlooked some lovely images as a result - not to mention hours of wasted time searching. The more photos I took, the more I dreaded downloading and sorting them all. But one rainy day I bit the bullet and started a mammoth sort out. Then I vowed I would never let it get so out of hand again....

NB. I use an iPhone and an iMac with Lightroom - but I think the same principles can apply to whichever platform you use.  

This is my process to stay on top of it all:

  • At the end of every month (or beginning of the new month), I download all the photos from my iPhone to Lightroom and then I delete them all from my phone. Yes that's right, I delete them all! I use Image Capture on my iMac to select and delete them from my phone.
  • In Lightroom, I have a folder for each year, and within that, a folder for each month, for the photos I have taken on my iPhone. This makes it much easier to find things and much easier to do the sorting.
  • I then step through all the images in Lightroom, deleting all the duds and similar shots. For the keepers, I use a colour label (green in my case) to identify all the ones I published to Instagram. This enables me to put a filter on and see my best images quickly at a glance. I then go through any shots I haven't edited and apply a preset to quickly brighten and improve them (see my photography workflow using Lightroom post for more info on creating and using presets in Lightroom). By now, I've usually reduced 500 or so images to 200 or less.
  • If there are any images I've taken that I really like, but haven't had a chance to upload to Instagram yet, then I apply another colour label to these, and export them to a folder on Dropbox. That way I can easily download them back to my phone if I need an image for a rainy day. This often happens with images I've taken towards the end of the month that I haven't had a chance to edit and publish.
  • I also like to export a few favourite images from the month to a folder on my iMac that I sync with my iPhone. That way, I don't worry about deleting everything each month and I have easy access to a lovely curated selection of my favourite images on my phone all the time.

One other big benefit of doing all this, is that it makes it so much easier when I come to put together my annual photobook, as everything is already sorted and edited. You can read a bit more about that process in my post on The modern photo album dilemma.

I also try and apply the same process to photos I've taken on my DSLR. Inevitably, I don't always manage to sort and edit them all in the same month, but I do try. I find things get on top of me really quickly otherwise and it feels like too big a job to even start. I also like sharing photos that are current, rather than spring images in summer - it just doesn't feel right.

I think the effort is in the sorting and deleting - the curating if you will - whatever platform you use. So for me, I think it is time well spent as the rewards are worth it - and it saves me time in the long run. I used to do the sorting and deleting on my iPhone, but I really struggled with it as the screen was so small and I quickly lost the will to live. I found it so much easier to do this on the big screen on my iMac.

Incidentally, I don't use Apple's Photos app or auto-sync my photos between my iPhone, iPad and iMac, as I found it stored all the things I deleted and it became even more impossible to find anything. Plus I didn't like the way it stored everything in separate folders for every date you'd taken photos. I'd be really interested to hear from anyone who has got it to work for them - it may well have moved on since I last used it.

So what do you think? Far too much effort? Or the way forward? I'd love to know what you do to stay on top of things. Any questions, let me know.

10 beautiful places to visit from Watergate Bay in Cornwall

I've been a regular visitor to Watergate Bay for the last 6 years. There's a a very good reason for this - it's a stunning place with accommodation right on the beach and it's perfectly located for visiting lots of other lovely places in Cornwall. This post has been a long time coming, as I keep getting asked for recommendations for places to go, but it's taken me a while to sort through the 1,000 or so photos I took on our last trip in April.... 

It's a long one, so why not make a cup of tea and get comfy first?

  1. Watergate Bay itself
  2. Cliff path walk to Mawgan Porth and Bedruthan Steps
  3. Holywell Beach
  4. St. Ives
  5. Godrevy & Gwithian Sands
  6. Sandymouth Beach, near Bude
  7. Chapel Porth & the tin mines near St. Agnes
  8. Cliff path walk to Newquay
  9. Fistral beach in Newquay
  10. Japanese Garden in St. Mawgan

Read on for lots more information and lots of beautiful photos....


1. Watergate Bay

Watergate Bay is a beautiful sandy beach not far from Newquay, popular with surfers and dog owners (dogs are welcome year round). I love to amble along, paddling in the waves, taking in the sights and sounds around me. Nothing quite like the sun on your face with a vast blue sky and glistening waves to lift the spirits. I think my favourite things have to be watching the surfers as the sun goes down (preferably with camera in hand!) and watching happy dogs running around after balls and frisbees. Although we have visited many, many times, I never tire of the beautiful view and love how different it looks depending on the tide and weather and time of day... And I'm really looking forward to heading back there with our very own (recently adopted) dog, Misty :)

If you fancy having a go at surfing yourself, the Extreme Academy offer lessons and hire out surfboards and wetsuits. Or if lounging and pampering is more your thing, the Watergate Bay Hotel offers spa days which includes use of their heated pool overlooking the beach. And there is of course the famous Jamie Oliver's Fifteen restaurant right on the beach if you enjoy fine dining.

We usually stay in Watergate Bay in self-catering accommodation with Beach Retreats (see their Blog for lots of useful info and ideas for things to do). It's a brilliantly central place to base yourself for visiting lots of other lovely places (see the rest of this post!) and I think there is nothing lovelier than actually staying right by a beach so you can pop down whenever you want - especially good when the weather is really changeable. We'll often go back to our apartment to crash out for a while then grab our cameras and leg it down to the beach when the sun comes out. The Waves apartments are very reasonably priced - we stayed for a week in April for less than £400 (although we always stay out of season to keep costs down), but there are lots of other options too. There are also lots of eating options if you don't want to cook or drive anywhere. My favourite is the Beach Hut, with views right over the beach. But there is also the Living Space at the Hotel and the Phoenix pub

The photo below shows the Fifteen restaurant with the Beach Hut underneath it (foreground) with the Hotel behind and the eco village behind that. To the right is the Waves apartment block.

By the way, this is not a sponsored post - I'm just sharing the things I love and have found useful.

I have so many photos of Watergate Bay (this is a tiny sample!), so if you'd like to see more, head over to my Watergate Bay Album on Flickr - or click through the embedded album below.

Watergate Bay

2. Cliff path walk to Mawgan Porth and Bedruthan Steps

Apart from running down to the beach as soon as we arrive, the first thing on the list to do is always a cliff path walk. I just love getting away from it all. The cliff paths are always so peaceful and the views are amazing. And there's something so lovely about leaving the car behind and exploring on foot.

The walk to Mawgan Porth (and onwards to the Bedruthan Steps if you have the energy) is my very favourite. One time, we walked all the way from Mawgan Porth to Harlyn which was amazing and took in so many beautiful places, but it was absolutely knackering! I still remember taking off my walking boots and dipping my walk weary feet in the sea at the end, to this day :)

I think it's worth choosing a sunny day for this walk as it just transforms the landscape into a technicolour dream. You'll pass green rolling hills and fields full of sheep as well as hidden coves with sheer cliffs and nesting birds, inaccessible by foot.

The view of Mawgan Porth from the cliff path is something very special indeed. You'll find toilet facilities as well as several eating places there (the local shop has a really nice deli and good coffee). But our favourite thing to do is picnic on the beach. You could easily spend a day here. If you fancy staying, there are a couple of hotels: The Scarlet Hotel and The Bedruthan Hotel and Spa - both also have restaurants.

If you want to carry on, cross the beach to join the cliff path heading towards the Bedruthan Steps, a stunning piece of coastline in the care of the National Trust, with huge rock stacks. There is also a National Trust Cafe here if you fancy some tea and cake. 

The cliff path walk is very straightforward, but if you'd like to read/see more, take a look at the South West Coast Path website:


3. Holywell Beach

Holywell beach, near Newquay, is a new discovery for us this year and an absolute hidden gem. We'd tried to visit on numerous occasions in the past, but for some reason it was always pouring with rain when we arrived, so we never got further than the local pub. But I'm so glad we persevered! 

Holywell is a stunning, vast beach, with huge sand dunes (one of my all time favourite things). There is also a shipwreck and caves housing a natural holy well (hence the name). It is under the care of the National Trust and you can pick up a brilliant booklet from their hut in the car park with some lovely walks. 

We had the best morning pottering along the beach and dunes in the sunshine with our cameras, marvelling at the huge amounts of pretty shells. The tide was low, so we got to see the holy well and the caves. And we met lots of friendly dog walkers who shared some tips with us. We followed the cliff path over to Porth Joke (above), which looked stunning. I'd have loved to have gone further, but our tummies were rumbling as we hadn't bought any lunch with us. Never mind, this is top of the hit list for a day long visit on our next trip! Hopefully we'll also make it over to nearby Crantock beach - there's never enough time for it all, is there?!

Below you will find some shell art I created with some of my beach "treasures". A lovely reminder of a super lovely day.

You can find more photos in my Holywell Beach Album on Flickr or by clicking through the embedded album below.

Holywell beach, Cornwall

4. St. Ives

Everyone knows about St. Ives, but I just had to include it here as it's such a special place. And very accessible from Watergate Bay - about an hour's drive. So well worth a day trip - but definitely best to visit out of season if you can as it gets VERY busy. We were blessed with a beautiful sunny (but quite cold!) day - anyone would think we were in the mediterranean from the photos. It's very easy to see why it's such a draw for artists. Some of my favourite things to do are:

  1. Potter round the beaches, ideally stopping to sit in the sunshine and have a paddle. My favourites are Porthminster beach and Porthmeor beach.
  2. Wander round the tiny streets, marvelling at the pretty houses and popping in and out of art galleries and independent shops (and then losing your way and ending up at yet another beach ;).
  3. Sitting in one of the many cafes, watching the world go by. I love Porthmeor cafe right on the beach (of course!).
  4. Eating! So many wonderful restaurants here. Favourites include Porthminster Beach Cafe (amazing views over the pristine beach), the Seafood Cafe for fish and chips on the main street, and Blas burgerworks if you fancy something other than seafood.
  5. Visit the Tate (currently closed until spring 2017) and the Barbara Hepworth Museum and Sculpture Gallery.
  6. Walk to Carbis Bay (and onwards to Porth Kidney Sands if you have time). You can always catch the train back - it's a really scenic route. See the South West Coast Path website for more walk ideas, including this one from Carbis Bay train station to Porth Kidney Sands, returning via train from Lelant.

For more photos, have a browse through my St. Ives Album on Flickr or click through the embedded album below.

St. Ives

5. Godrevy and GWITHIAN Sands

Godrevy is the iconic lighthouse made famous by Virginia Woolf in her novel To The Lighthouse. There are great views of it from Porthminster Beach in St. Ives. There is a lovely beach at Godrevy with some beautiful sand dunes (Gwithian Sands) above it. The land is in the care of the National Trust and there are some beautiful coastal walks here and plenty of wildlife to see. When we visited in April, we were lucky enough to see seals. I can also highly recommend the Godrevy Beach Cafe for coffee, cake, cream teas and lunch.


6. Sandymouth beach, near Bude

Sandymouth beach is at the Northern edge of Cornwall, close to the Devon border. It's about a 1 hour 15 minute drive from Watergate Bay, but I really think it's worth the trek. It's a huge sandy beach, with the most amazing pebbles (I have a bit of a thing for smooth round pebbles!), fascinating rocks, cliffs and caves. It's popular with surfers (there is seasonal lifeguard cover) and dog walkers (you can walk dogs year round). You have to clamber over lots of rather large pebbles to reach the sandy beach, so this is only one for the sure of foot. It's also really worth checking the tide times, as the tides vary enormously here and at high tide there is no beach to walk on.

I love to simply walk along the beach, enjoying the space. It often feels like one giant mirror, with a small film of water on the sand reflecting the sky, making it feel even bigger. And of course, there must be time to sit on the sand and play with the pebbles :)

There are some beautiful cliff path walks too. We really enjoyed the very scenic route to Northcott Mouth.

There is a National Trust cafe, toilets and car park near the beach, but otherwise no facilities. And pretty much no phone signal - so make your arrangements in advance if you're meeting people!


7. Chapel Porth Beach and the Tin Mines (Wheal Coates) near St. Agnes

Chapel Porth is another beautiful sandy beach, in the care of the National Trust (who also run the car park and small cafe here). The tides are rather extreme here too, so definitely check tide times before you visit. We timed it badly for several years, always arriving at high tide, and never got to see the huge sandy beach. It's another beach popular with dog walkers (although dogs are banned from Easter day until the end of September) and surfers.

One of my favourite things to do here is to head up on to the cliff path and walk to the tin mines (wheal coates) - the views are incredible. See the South West Coast Path website for information about walks in the area.


8. Cliff path walk From WATERGATE Bay to Newquay

The stretch of coastline between Watergate Bay and Newquay is very picturesque and the cliff path walk passes through lots of beautiful beaches, including Whipsiddery, Porth and Lusty Glaze (which now hosts events and weddings and has a restaurant). It's another get away from it all day, even more so if you take a packed lunch and don't venture into Newquay itself, which is very busy.

The walk is about 3.5 miles one way and you can return on the bus if you don't feel like walking back. For route details and more information, see iwalkcornwall.co.uk.


9. Fistral Beach, Newquay

Fistral is my favourite of all the Newquay beaches and is renowned as being one of the best surfing beaches in the UK. You'll find a surf school and equipment hire, as well as lots of restaurants and shops. It hosts events and competitions and is pretty much always busy.


10. Japanese Garden in St. Mawgan

The Japanese Garden is really near Watergate Bay and well worth a visit. It's always quiet and peaceful and a lovely place to come and reflect. You'll find lots of Acers and water features and serenity. It is also a bonsai nursery, with a great selection of bonsais and succulents for sale, with very knowledgeable staff who can advise you about how to care for them.  

For more photos, take a look at my Japanese Garden Album on Flickr, or click through the embedded album below.

Japanese Garden in St. Mawgan, Cornwall

And a few other ideas.....

...because 10 places is never enough!

  • If you have a wet weather day, head to Hawksfield off the A39 (a 20 min drive north). There's a fabulous Cafe there (I can vouch for the breakfasts!), plus some lovely interior shops and a deli. You could then move on to Padstow.
  • Padstow for foodie heaven and a spot of shopping - about a 25 min drive north.
  • Perranporth for a long sandy beach and more sand dunes (in case you haven't seen enough!); also dog friendly year round - about a 25 min drive south.
  • Marazion for the iconic St. Michael's Mount - about a 1 hour drive south (also worth a visit to Prussia Cove and Praa Sands whilst you're there)
  • Porthcurno beach and the Minack Theatre - this is a 1 hour 20 min drive south down some very hairy, narrow, windy lanes - but it's the most stunning beach with white sand and turquoise water. And watching the sun go down whilst watching a performance at the Minack Theatre is an experience you will never forget! But perhaps best visited if you are staying further South near Penzance.
  • The Eden Project (about a 40 min drive) and The Lost Gardens of Heligan (also about a 40 min drive). They are very close to each other, so you could combine both into a day trip.
Perranporth viewed from the cliff path

Perranporth viewed from the cliff path

St. Michael's Mount

St. Michael's Mount

Prussia Cove

Prussia Cove

Praa Sands

Praa Sands

Porthcurno

Porthcurno

Well, I hope that's been helpful. I'd love to know what your favourite places to visit in Cornwall are, especially any hidden gems - do let me know in the comments below :)

Monk's House: the home of Virginia and Leonard Woolf

Monk's House, the home (and garden) of Virginia and Leonard Woolf is located in the small and very picturesque village of Rodmell in East Sussex. I feel extremely fortunate to have this gem of a place not far from where I live - and I have no idea why it took me so long to visit. Virginia Woolf was the subject of my final year dissertation at University (a couple of decades ago!) so it felt extremely special and slightly unreal to be able to literally tread in her footsteps and imagine her living there.

I was equally enchanted by the garden as well as the 17th century cottage. It was clear that this was a very important space for the Woolfs and a source of inspiration for Virginia's writing. We visited at the beginning of May and I plan to return many times to see it bloom throughout the seasons.

I loved the colour scheme running through the garden - the pinks, purples and whites of the elegant tulips worked so beautifully with the Magnolia, which we were lucky to catch in bloom.

It was fascinating to visit the writing lodge in the garden and look out over the views of the South Downs that Virginia would have stared at, whilst she wrote. The garden is such a tranquil space in a perfect location - very easy to see why the Woolfs fell so much in love with it. It was grey and wet when we visited, but still so very beautiful.

The house is full of books and artwork and many other collections owned by the Woolfs. It has a very relaxed and lived in feel. It was a pleasure to chat to the very knowledgeable staff, who had many interesting tales to tell. You are also allowed to take photographs, which was very welcome indeed. I'll only share a few snippets, as I don't want to spoil it all for you.

I loved seeing vases full of fresh flowers from the garden all around the house.

I really enjoyed tiptoeing around Virginia's bedroom, the lightest room of the house, with the most amazing views of the garden.

Talking of the garden, let's return for a little more spring colour - very welcome on this grey summer's day in the UK!

And just to prove it wasn't all about the pinks, purples and whites, here is a little more vibrant colour. I just adore the shape of these tulips - so elegant. I used a combination of my 100mm f2.8 macro lens and my 50mm f1.4 lens to capture these photos.

If you ever have the opportunity to visit when in Sussex, I highly recommend it. It's just a short drive from Lewes, another wonderful place to explore. There are lots of events at Monk's House too, including some photography workshops - I hope I get the chance to attend some of these.

I'll leave you with a few shots from the pretty village of Rodmell - so many beautiful cottages - well worth a wander whilst you are there.

Pashley Manor Gardens Tulip Festival

I know summer is blooming all around us, but I would love to take you back to springtime for just a little while.... If you're a fan of tulips, then you would love the Tulip Festival at Pashley Manor Gardens - imagine 30,000 tulips (with over 100 different varieties) set in a beautiful garden on the border of East Sussex and Kent.

The festival ran from 22 April - 07 May this year (2016) and cost £10.50. This time I visited on a weekend and it was very busy, which made photography a little more challenging, as it was almost impossible to get a shot without someone in it! If you can, I would strongly recommend visiting on a week day - we visited the day before it opened last year as part of a staycation, and it was much more relaxed. But still 100% worth a visit, busyness and all.

The tulips are planted/arranged by colour and the complementary planting was just as beautiful. I'm a big fan of pink (no surprises there!), so let's start with those.

The tulips are all really clearly labelled, which is brilliant if you are looking for some inspiration for which tulips to plant in your garden - just remember to bring a notebook - or photograph the labels, as there are far too many to remember. You can even order the bulbs at the festival, whilst admiring a beautiful cut flower display (wish I'd left enough time to photograph this!).

If I had to pick a favourite, I think it would have to be Tulipa Angelique, which reminded me of peonies, but the tall slender West Point tulips (further below, in yellow) came a very close second.

Whilst the tulips were mostly planted in colour blocks, I loved the subtle combinations and two tone varieties, especially these ones.

I had the pleasure of visiting with my sister this year, another avid photographer, so we happily pottered around at snail's pace. We managed at least two circuits of most of the garden - one with my 100mm macro lens (my floral photography lens of choice) and the other with my 50mm f1.4 lens, to capture a few wider shots. Happily there are plenty of places to sit and rest your weary legs along the way - all very pretty too, so the perfect place for a few portraits. And I must just mention the cake! Food and drink are served on the verandah by the manor house and I was very impressed to see a selection of gluten free cakes.

Another beautiful place to sit is by the pool. You could be forgiven for thinking you were somewhere in the mediterranean (except perhaps for the temperatures!). Throughout the garden you will find lots of perfectly placed sculptures, all leading the eye to lovely viewpoints or planting. I think my favourites were the ones by the pool.

I loved this sculpture too - looking out to a beautiful Magnolia on one side, with the most amazing Wisteria behind it. I would love to have returned a bit later to see it in bloom - it looked like it had been trained in beautiful loops all up the wall of the house.

Although we were there to see the tulips, one of my favourite places was the glass house (of my dreams!). I'm currently rather obsessed with Geraniums and succulents, so this was heaven for me :)

And finally, we should return to the tulips! Let's finish with a little more colour for good measure.

A familiar sight, amongst the tulips - you'll spend much of your time avoiding all the other photographers and visitors, so using a shallow depth of field can be very helpful to blur out distractions. This is my sister, though, so this one was intentional (and I'll forgive her for getting in the way!).

I thoroughly enjoyed my visit and would love to return next year. There are also several other events throughout the summer - the special rose week is on this week - so hopefully I'll manage to return. You can read about my visit last year or see more photos on Flickr below if you fancy.

Pashley Manor Gardens

Do you have a favourite spot to visit for tulips or spring flowers? I'd love to hear - I'm always on the look out for lovely new places to visit.

Arlington Bluebell Walk

Well, hello there folks. My apologies for a rather unplanned blogging break - the result of lots of DIY and garden projects whilst trying to balance things with my Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. I'm learning to be kinder to myself and to go gently when I need to, and to ask less of myself when things are challenging - so I hope you understand. I've got lots of photos and places to share with you, so hopefully I'll be back in my stride (in a gentle way) soon.

First up, is the very beautiful Arlington Bluebell Walk. If you live anywhere near East Sussex, I highly recommend a visit during late April/early May. They have a website www.bluebellwalk.co.uk with helpful updates on the current state of the bluebells, so you can plan your visit when they are at their peak. There is an entrance charge (£5 in 2016) which is donated to several charities each year. I was a little sceptical at first about paying to see a bluebell wood, when there are many places you can visit for free, but this place is very special indeed and well worth every penny - I have never seen a carpet of bluebells quite like it. Magical is the only word for it.

It's a huge site, with wide paths accessible to wheelchairs around the parts where the bluebell planting is at its densest. There are lots of other walks on narrower tracks around the surrounding farmland as well, if you fancy going further afield. You will also find refreshments, toilet facilities and some farm animals to meet before you enter the woods.

There are lots of places to sit and admire the views and listen to the beautiful birdsong as you wander along. But if you're anything like me, you might get a bit twitchy with a camera in your hand and so many beautiful photographs waiting to be taken. Literally every few steps is a new picture and a new delight.

This year was my second visit and I enjoyed pottering around with my 85mm f1.8 lens on my camera. I love to shoot wide open for maximum background blur to try and capture a little something of that bluebell magic. Bluebells can be a really tough subject to photograph as it can be tricky to get the colour balance right, and if you are lucky enough to visit on a sunny day, you will find the conditions very contrasty. My style is light and bright so many of my shots are intentionally overexposed and shadows brightened just enough to try and represent that magical light and experience.

Before the bluebells emerge, the woodlands are carpeted in white wood anemones - a beautiful sight in their own right - but the combination is really delightful.

The woodlands are full of interesting tree stumps, piles of logs and bendy branches to add interest and focal points for your photos - and they can provide a perfect setting for some portraiture photos.

One of my favourite things to do is to try and capture the sweeps of light through the trees, creating beautiful sparkling highlights and interesting shadows. I was lucky enough to visit on a gorgeous sunny day, so there was plenty of magical light.

Have you visited before? What are your favourite bluebell haunts? I'd love to hear.

More photos can be found on Flickr below, if you'd like to see more :)

Bluebell magic