Flashback Friday: Topkapi Palace

One of the places I would recommend to anyone visiting Istanbul is the Topkapi Palace, a gorgeously luxurious palace-slash-museum with some seriously gorgeous artifacts, and several buildings and gardens to wander around and admire. I love looking at historical pieces, and there were several from different eras of the Ottoman Empire, but the best thing about this place was wandering around the different gardens and palace buildings and seeing the work that went into each of them.

Wherever you wander, there’s blue tiles, gilded gold walls and beautiful arched doorways to walk through and explore, although I think my favourite place was a small clearing on the side of the palace which lead to a view of the sea – serene, peaceful and somewhere to think about the history of this palace and its legacy.

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Inside a Giant Puzzle

I love mazes, I always have – they represent a manifestation of those puzzles and games I’ve always played in games, computers and in story books. It’s not often I get to see one, I’ve probably been through about four mazes in my life so far (and one of them was a really rubbish one at Disneyland which was more aimed for small children rather than my lumbering feet).

I’m still on the look-out for more mazes around the UK (I don’t think I’m ready for the World’s Biggest Maze yet, though), but I am looking forward to wandering around some life-size puzzles and discovering the secrets behind the hedges (sounds like a rubbish teen horror book, doesn’t it).

If you haven’t been to a maze and would like to in the future, I will give you some warning – if you get lost it can become very frustrating, tiring and boring to wander around in circles! Try and keep a sense of your direction (eg. walk north, walk towards the sun etc) and try not to get too confused!

mazeAlso part of this week’s Weekly Photo Challenge: Inside

Weekly Photo Challenge: Let there be Light

I’ve posted before about the values of light in photography, and I haven’t really changed my opinion since my last post. I though I’d focus this post on landscapes and castles (especially since I’ve been to a few beautiful castles in the past!) to show how light can be importantly, although this depends on how you use it and the end effect it gives.

I find that castles give interesting variations

1. Rochester Castle
This was a fun castle to visit, mainly because of of all the rocky places to climb and the dark hiding places. When I visited, the weather was pretty overcast so gave all of my pictures an overall gloomy, dark look. I think this went well with atmosphere of the castle, so I chose to go with my ‘no-flash’ philosophy here and liked what I ended up with – the dark crevices and corners were just as dramatic and effective as the rocky walls and open windows. So i think this is a great way of showing how light can also be effective when there’s not a lot of it.

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2. Hever Castle
I liked this castle because of how green and lush everything looked (although it helps that I visited in summer time). I haven’t edited these pictures at all, because there was no need – everything looked beautifully colourful and the lighting for these landscapes are just perfect to me – they set off the colours well and the shadows are still part of the picture of make it more ‘3D’. This is opposite to the pictures above where the focus is shadow, here light is more illuminating and brings out the colour more.

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3. Leeds Castle
I visited this beautiful place with my family, and have a lot of fun memories here, because there is a lot of atmosphere, beautiful peacocks and a giant maze to discover. The pictures below show a mix of light and shadow, and again are unedited, which has an almost romantic effect on the features of the castle. I also like the fact that the light doesn’t hide the flaws of the castle, like it’s cracks, but uses the shadows and lines to add a bit of character.

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Over the years, I’ve gotten into the habit of not using the flash on my camera to make use of the light and atmosphere in a landscape – and the pictures above only show my why this works for me. I’d like to play around with flash lights and colours to see what I can end up with, but I think for me, no-flash will always be the way to go!

Part of the Weekly Photo Challenge for this week

Spooky Cathedral Mondays

Okay, this isn’t really a spooky cathedral, it’s a bunch of trees in front of a monument-type thing, but I loved the dramatic effect I got from the bright, blinding sunlight, and the silhouette of dark trees and haunted buildings. I didn’t take this with my proper DSLR camera, so picture isn’t as clean as I would like it to be, but I like it!

Now, to photoshop some ghosties in…

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Pics & Tricks: Colour me pretty

When it comes to my photography, I try not to tamper with the natural colours of the image (and most of the pictures you see on my blog are unaltered…except the Instagram ones of course. Those are over-exposed and warped beyond the original just to make them super funky, as the Instagram Overlords intended.) Following on from my post about lighting, I thought I’d show the difference between an unedited image and it’s colours, and play with colours to enhance them without ruining them.

There are a lot of programmes and software out there to edit, like Photoshop which is a popular one, but personally I tend to use Picasa editor, which is simpler to use, and which offer different ways to edit without over-complication. It’s also a good programme for beginners, as it very easy to find your way around it.

My own rule when it comes to colour is to take pictures in as natural light as possible, or in not that, then clean, white light. While this isn’t always possible (goodness knows how many times I’ve sworn at the yellow-ish lightbulbs which make me feel half blind in my house), it’s easier to see what the colour of an object or landscape is meant to look like when the light is as clean as possible. In cases where you can’t get a good light or the colours come up funny, then you can try to edit it to get there instead.

#1. Making a picture warmer can make all the difference in making it ‘pop’. This is an image of some bright orange flowers I took in a park sometime last summer, which looked a lot more vibrant in real life that they did on my camera. While I managed to get the focus on the flower at the front, the colour looked too faded and dull in the original image. I enhanced the colours slightly to make it a richer, warmer orange, which had the automatic effect of making the flower at the forefront appear sharper, more vivid and defined, while the flowers at the back added to the composition so that the image looked summery. The difference in the images below is quite striking, I love how by doing one simple thing to the image, it looks very different and gives a much more professional look – the orange in this just looks almost unrealistic (and that was the real-life colour of the flowers!)

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#2. Alternatively, an image can be too bright and may need to be toned down. I sometimes play around with different looks and colours to see what effect I may get.  I took this image on a really sunny afternoon, which really lit up the flowers in my mum’s garden, but then also had the effect of making the colours look almost neon and unrealistic. By toning it down a bit, and adding some shadow , the flowers look a bit more intense, and the sky is less painfully blue on the eye! To be honest, I rarely have to tone down or darken my images, because I like my photographs to be bright and colourful (I’m a bit blind, like that) and also because it’s not often that I get decent colours on a photograph unless I’m standing under a sun beam. But it’s nice to go for an arty look though – the edited version below reminds me of something Andy Warhol-ish, for some reason.

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#3. This is another flower picture I took, which I really liked because of how clean the outline of the flower looks, and how sharp the petals seem. I decided to brighten up only sections of the image, mainly the grass at the back and portions of the petals, to make the image feel more vivid, and the difference is quite notice-able. The grass looks beautifully  (almost edible!) green, and the petals look slightly whiter – although I tried to keep as much of the purple rims on the petals as possible. In hindsight, I think the petals should be less power-white-bright (for example, you can’t see the water droplets in the second image), but it still looks quite effective in the second, edited image, compared to the duller-whites and lilac tones of the petals in the original image.

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#4. Then there’s the over-saturation, which you have to be quite careful of. Sometimes enhancing the colours of a photo can make it look too obviously edited, and has the opposite effect – the colours can look a bit too crude and bright, and the focus of the image feels a bit messy. I edited the image below to make the blue-ness of the sky more vivid, which it certainly did, but it also looks very unnatural and garish. The original image has softer colours and the outline of the buildings against it complements the images – in the edited photo, the buildings look slightly comic-like, and the softness of it is completely lost.

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#5. Here’s a mix of colour-editing I did to show the various differences you could get from the same image. The first photo (1.) is the original picture, which I wanted to jazz up as it looked a bit dull. Image 2. has a very bright, fiery look, but it also looks very over-saturated in colour and there is no focus of the image – because the colours are so bright, they all seem to blend into each other, so that nothing ends up standing out. Image 3. is the opposite, by dulling the image even more, the details of the bangles in the tray and way it has been put together becomes finer. If I had turned the image into a black and white one, the details would look even more striking, but of course, colour-wise, the beauty of the colours would be lost. Image 4. was my final edit, and what I thought was the best enhancement of the original picture – it was slightly warmer so the colours jumped out a little more, but not too much that the finer details and the ‘real-life’ colours were not lost. To me, this is the most flattering and realistic tone, and it also shows me to be wary in editing colours – in these kinds of cases, sometimes little is more.

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So while I’m a big fan of keeping your editing to a minimum, it’s also easy to see why sometimes the photograph may need a slight helping hand. I would definitely recommend playing around with colours, and even trying out different effects (sepia doesn’t sound that attractive, but it’s always worth a look at least once!) And these days, there’s plenty of mobile phone apps to do half the work for you (I already have about twelve on my phone) which are always worth trying.

And sometimes, you may get lucky and not need to play around with colours at all – below is a photo I took at Hever Castle a few months ago on a rare sunny day. The angle, lighting and intensity of the sun were all perfect in getting the colours of this image just perfect, it’s one of my favourite shots of that day and it looks like something that could be right out of a travel magazine!

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The Gardens of Hever Castle

There are some seriously beautiful flowers, gardens and sculptures to be found at Hever Castle, and it’s great fun to wander around and explore all the different places. And while there aren’t arrogant peacocks wandering like there are at Leeds Castle, there’s a lot of wildlife and beautiful scenery which really is a wonder to discover.

My favourite two spots was the hidden staircase waaaay back behind the castle, which led to a tiny waterfall and a great view of the Castle and it’s grounds; the second spot was the stunning view of the lake at the end of all the gardens, which had a seating area to relax and enjoy the moment.

And of course the flowers! There were colourful, beautiful flowers in abundance, which varied in shapes, arrangements and colour all over the various parts of the walkways, gardens, garlanded over statues and hidden behind nearly-secret gates which led to massive flowerbeds. Oh, and I was lucky enough to spot a mother swan with her seriously cute cygnet babies : )

Imagine playing hide and seek in this place!

Hever Castle in Kent

I love visiting historic landmarks and places with beautiful greenery, and Hever Castle in Kent is just one of those places – a beautiful castle, with a maze, some breathtaking gardens and a very peaceful, serene lake. Oh, and some really cute hedge animals which really made my day! I managed to take advantage of the random and sporadic sunny weather last week by visiting the Castle and it’s grounds, and it really was an enjoyable day out – there’s plenty of things to look at, and the fact that it was the home of Queen Anne Boleyn at one point gives an added romantic touch to it.

Perfect for the summer, and it’s a great place to wander around and discover hidden stairs, quirky mazes and beautiful gardens!

The Colourful Grotto Under the Maze

There’s a hidden underground grotto under the elaborate maze of Leeds Castle with plenty of pretty disco lights, carved figures and of grumpy Gods, wood spirits and a dragon to look for, made of various rocks, sea-shells and pretty pebbles all waiting to be found. There was even an odd brontosaurus-looking cave drawing made from sea-shells, although I suspect that it’s not an authentic masterpiece by the Neanderthals of millions of years ago.

Well worth a wander around the caverns and the rocky parts, if only to look at the pretty lights and take a bunch of giggly children along : )

The Girl in the Red in The Maze of Wonders

Featuring: My niece as The Girl in Red (special thanks to her)

One of the fun attractions at Leeds Castle was the deceivingly confusing maze, I’ve always loved mazes and puzzles, and I’ve always wanted to go in a proper one (seeing as the last one I went to was a really rubbish one in Disneyland which involved everyone just following the next person over hedges that was just ankle-high). And before you ask, it’s not cos of the maze scene at the end of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. Although that didn’t hurt either.
So it was great fun wandering around with the sisters and the niece, with all of us shouting out different ‘directions’ and er, trying not to cheat. Thank goodness it was a sunny day too, although we did worry about those mysterious puddles we found.

Looking at these pictures reminds me of those role-player maze games where you just keep clicking til you either find a door or get hopelessly lost. Or get eaten by a troll.

I also look like a bit of a stalker with these pictures but I swear I’m not. I mean, wasn’t. Oh, you know what I  mean.

Oohh, I think we’re getting a bit lost…(we were stuck in this maze for about an hour after laughingly saying it looked too easy. Fools that we were.)

Ooh! There she is! Let’s follow her!

Follow the follow the follow the girl in the red coat…

Eeeek! Dead end! Back to square one. Grrrr.
(By this point it was looking a lot less easier than when we first went in. I’m pretty sure there are skeletons in some dead-ends, or at least, some koalas nibbling on lost foreigners )

Okay let’s keep going, she looks a bit more sure this time…

Look! I sense the end in sight! Run, run girl in red, look at those fools going the wrong way!

Yaaaaaaayyy! There’s a rocky grotto to climb at the end of the maze. Now peer down and  laugh at all those fools still walking around blindly. No, not me, don’t point at me. Oh, fine.

We tried to cheat a bit (just a teeny bit) by trying to ask some of the people in the middle to guide us…but none of them could see us jumping up and down and asking for help. So we had to do it the long and boring honest way, and found our way at the end of the maze after a lot of whinging and going around in circles some good navigation and team work.

I think one of the things I loved best of all about the maze was just how neat and square all the hedges look. Even though I’ve never had a hedge in my front or back garden in my life, I can still appreciate a nice bit of greenery. Y’know?

Definitely worth a visit and a good wander around the maze if you ever decide to visit the Castle!