Remember the sequence of photos showing a mourning swallow'?

The commentary with it gushed all sentimental about a bird crying out in grief at the death of its 'wife' (sic ... and sick) when any half-way competent ornithologist could tell you that, in fact, it showed exactly the opposite - a deadly territorial battle between two males.

Such interpretations annoy me because there are genuinely extraordinary things that happen with wild animals, events that don't need us imposing our human views on them.

Here's one - a truly remarkable collection taken in the wilds of Canada's Hudson Bay. The photographer, Norbert Rosing, said that when the polar bear appeared he was sure he was going to see the end of his huskies ...

Extraordinary! And moving. I have no doubt that these are genuine. In the first image the dogs are aggressive (flattened ears) and the bear is wary. But, by the 5th image the bear appears to be grooming the dog. And in the last one - unbelievably - it is in a submissive posture.

Just a couple of things puzzle me. It looks like there are two bears shown here. Note the difference in shape and colouring of the muzzle between the bears in the first and second images.

Also, all the images appear to have been taken on the ice pack except for number 3 which has lots of grass.

An incredible sequence. But let's not get too sentimental about it.

I'd guess it was a well-fed bear (or bears).

We need darkness.

That may seem a strange thing to say in the depths of a Northern Hemisphere winter, just a few days after the shortest day of the year. It may seem even stranger, coming from a photographer. Photographers need light. Usually lots of it.

But I've been thinking about it these past few days.

I'm writing this from the depths of a valley in rural Wales. The valley is so deep that I cannot get a signal on my mobile phone unless I drive up the side and out. And at mid-day the sun can barely hoist itself above the treetops. At night, when I walk the dog, it seems to be pitch dark. But ...

Many years ago I was camping with my family in the depths of the Namib Desert. There was no other dwelling for hundreds of miles in any direction - probably no other people. Before crawling into my sleeping bag I lay on my back on the sand and gazed up at the sky. It was breathtaking. All around me, right down to the horizon, were billions of stars, swirling galaxies and constellations. Meteors streaked through the darkness. Planets wandered their own unique paths. There was even a comet. An infinity of other worlds. It was like some awesome presence surrounding me. It made me feel very humble and small.

When I look up into the night sky from this Welsh valley I can see many more stars than I can from home, but it's still nothing like the the Namib was. Lights from a farm on the hill, from a distant highway interchange, even the lights of Swansea town, 50 kilometres away, all spill up into the sky, ruining the view

There's almost nowhere we can go in Europe to see the true splendour of the night sky - just one place at the moment.

I'm glad my children have been in the Namib to see it properly because, if they'd grown up here, they would not know.

And it's something everyone should see. We need more darkness at night.

Star trails above Gland, Switzerland.
A long exposure taken over a period of more than 2
½ hours ...
and the light pollution shows.

This is it!

At the dead of night of the 11/12th December, 1602, a French army, led by the Duke of Savoy, tried to invade the Swiss city of Geneva.

They didn’t get away with it.

Some alert guards raised the alarm and an old woman on the ramparts, who happened to be cooking vegetable soup in a cauldron, poured the boiling mix of carrots and potatoes and heaven-knows-what all over the attackers. Apparently she managed to kill one of them, and the rest fled, further raising the alarm.

Ever since then, on the weekend closest to the 12th December, the Genevois celebrate the ‘Escalade’ (as it is called) with the largest military re-enactment in Europe. They don 17th century costumes and march about the old town of Geneva to the sound of pipes and drums. They fire cannons and muskets, drink cups of hot vegetable soup (trying not to pour it over anyone) and break chocolate cauldrons, called ‘marmites’, filled with marzipan vegetables to loud cries of "Ainsi périrent les ennemis de la République!" (Thus perish the enemies of the Republic!)

It is a very photogenic event.

And I was there, taking photographs of the festivities ...

But I was also watching the spectators. Two little girls were sitting on their daddies’ shoulders, high above the crowd. And then it happened. Their fathers moved off in different directions and ...

I consider it the best shot I got all day.

Capturing instants like that are what makes photography special for me.

Sometimes you get lucky

The prizewinning image in the previous blogs was one I worked at.

In fact, I have identified other places along this autoroute where it may be possible to photograph interesting traffic trails in different patterns. When the weather conditions are right I'm going to go back to them.

In landscape photography you have to work at it. Consider yourself lucky if you find yourself standing in front of a stunning view with the light ... and the clouds ... and the season ... and everything else, just right.

A few years ago, on a bitterly cold and icy winter's day, I was with family, walking around Cradle Mountain lake, a Tasmanian beauty spot. We passed a photographer with his camera set up on a tripod.

A couple of hours later, on our way back, we passed the same photographer, in the same spot. He hadn't moved a millimetre.

"Hasn't he taken a photograph yet?" someone asked in astonishment. "What's he playing at? He must be frozen stiff."

It turned out the man was a professional, with a large-format camera, who was photographing for postcards and calendars. He explained to us that he was waiting for the light, and the clouds, and the ripples on the water to be just right.

"Geez!" my brother-in-law said. "I prefer my office."

An even longer time ago, before digital cameras ... or personal computers ... were even dreamed about, I was walking around Piraeus harbour. I looked over the wall and ...

I turned the camera a fraction to get the diagonal composition. But that was all.

That 'snap' shot has won me two prizes. Overall first in a national competition, and highly commended in an international one.

Sometimes you just get lucky.

But don't count on it.

(Technical note: This was taken with a film camera, on 35mm colour slide film, and has been scanned to digital)


Regular readers will know that, from time to time, I bang on about over-zealous police and security guards who seem think anyone taking photographs could be a terrorist planning an attack, even a 16-year old boy in school uniform, doing a school project.

Well, you'll be interested to know that the security services aren't always on the ball ...

Here's what the photographer writes ...

Today in BOS (Logan International Airport, in Boston), I arrived to find a TSA (Transportation Security Administration) agent sound asleep in a Spirit Airlines wheelchair, on the outside of security. After mentioning it to a ticket agent, she stated that he had been there for almost two hours. So I go back, and take a few pictures of it, one of which is great. There is nothing in the pictures that is security related at all, it is just him in the wheelchair against a wall.

A co-worker of his came over, woke him up, and told him that someone had just taken his picture. He asked who it was and I responded that it was me. He told me that the picture better be deleted, to which I responded that not only is it not going to be deleted, it is going to be copied, a few million times over. Next, he makes some slang remarks, and walks over to his co-workers that are at the security checkpoint.

I see them looking over, pointing, those kind of things. Eventually, the manager comes over and inquires about the picture. I told him that I had it. He leans into me and in a strong tone says, 'I hope you do the right thing with that picture, and we won't have anything to worry about'. My response was that I will do the right thing, and those involved should be very worried.

Fifteen minutes or so pass, I go through security to go to work, and am immediately intercepted by the manager already mentioned, and two people in suits. Only one person spoke to me, one of the suits. She asked about the picture, I confirmed it. She tells me that the individual has been reprimanded, and then inquires as to what I am going to do with the picture. I told her that I will do anything I want, it is my picture. She asks why I am getting hostile (which I was not). My last statement to her was that unless I am being detained, I have a job to do, and you can find me on flight #xxxx, and then I walked off. They did not come to the aircraft.

To touch ...

... or not to touch? That is the question.

Thanks, everyone, for your comments about my winter motorway image. I appreciate them.

One that I found particularly interesting came from someone called 'mollieb' ...

I love the touch ups you made on this photo. Especially making the signs the same neon color as the road, and highlighting the snow with the fence posts. Overall contrast made it work. Takes a good eye and lots of practice to see what can be done to a photo to enhance it's qualities. Right?

Do I detect a hint of scepticism there? Or am I misreading an electronic communication, which is easy to do?

Well ... yes, I did do some post-processing. All photography involves post processing. I was doing it years ago, in darkrooms, with film and the fumes of hypo getting up my nose, dodging and burning with strangely-shaped bits of paper on wire, under the dim glow of an enlarger.

Post processing is necessary because, no matter how good your camera and film/digital sensor, it's not as good as the human eye.

How much did I do with this image? Well, no 'touch-ups', that's for sure. I listed the processes in my reply to mollieb.

But, so as you can see for yourself, here are the two images side by side. The first one is exactly as it came out of my camera. All I have done is convert it from RAW to JPG, and reduced the size so that it will fit on this page. The second is the result after processing ...

But, it's an interesting question. How much post-processing is valid?

In my opinion, some photographers do go way over the top, producing images that bear little relation to reality.

However, I believe in getting it right in the camera, as far as I can. (It's also a lot less work.) What's more, if you start off with a lousy photograph, no amount of post-processing will make it better. You can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear.

Any others' thoughts on this matter?

Way- HEY!

Quiet celebrations at Château Scott.

I've been awarded first prize for the Landscape Section in the Charnwood Arts 2008 Photographic Competition, with this image ...

It was taken one winter's night, on the outskirts of Geneva, near the airport.

For those interested in the technical details: I used a Nikon D70s, mounted on a sturdy tripod, with a 19mm wide-angle lens. The exposure was 1/30sec at f5.

I was standing on a footbridge that crosses the highway, and I spotted its possibilities for a 'traffic trail' shot whilst I had been driving along this stretch a few days previously. (I know, I should have been concentrating on the road, but I find my 'photographic eye' a bit difficult to turn off sometimes.)

However, I suspected that there would be a problem getting the light right as, in winter, the trees are all a uniform brown so there would be little differentiation between the road and its verges. Maybe try the spot in spring?

Then, when it snowed, I realised the problem was solved. There was just enough snow to give an 'edge' to the bare trees and roadside, but not enough to bring traffic to a standstill. I jumped in my car, found my way to the footbridge access, and spent a freezing hour 'making' pictures. It was very icy.

At one point a man walking his dog passed and, from the look he gave me, he obviously thought I'd taken leave of my senses.

In the end the cold got too much, my batteries (both camera and personal) started to go flat. I retreated to sort out what 'd got - and I had quite a few photographs - back at home.

Apparently the competition attracted hundreds of entries from over 40 countries so I'm pleased with the result. You can read more details, and see the other winners, here.