Tag: photography

San Sebastian, aka Donostia

Once again I travel for work, more specifically to a NewsReader project meeting in San Sebastian, or in the Basque language, Donostia.

My trip there was mildly stressful, Easyjet fly direct Manchester-Bilbao but only on three days of the week – the wrong days for my meeting. Therefore I travelled via Charles De Gaulle Airport, which made a 1.5 hour transfer rather tight and led to me being obviously irritated with an immigration official. I should add that Charles De Gaulle Airport was the only stressful part of my trip.

Once at Bilbao it is a little over an hour on an express bus to reach Donostia. And it’s a rather odd experience. I’ve only visited Spain once in the past, to Barcelona and the rest of my knowledge of the country is from trashy TV about Brits on holiday and art house films (and books). The Basque country reminded me of the transfers from the airport to the ski resort I’ve made across the Alps. Steep-wooded valleys, chalet-style buildings scattered across hillsides with orchards and hay-meadows. Small towns wedged into the bottoms of valleys, apartment blocks creeping up the hillsides in the manner of the French rather than Austrian Alps. The only oddity is the occasional palm tree.

There is a fair amount of geology on display, I didn’t catch any photos from the bus but you get a hint of it from this photo of the bay at Donostia.

San Sebastian, the bay

It was unseasonably warm whilst I was in Donostia, I remarked that I’d consider the temperature normal for Spain to one of my hosts, who replied; “You’ve made two mistakes there: (1) you’re not in Spain…”.

Once in Donostia, it is strikingly reminiscent of the North Wales coast and Llandudno! Fine buildings along a bay with a steep promontory looking down on the town.


The quality of the street furniture is rather better, and the buildings have a rather more wealthy feel. The local vegetation also reminds you that you’re not in Llandudno.


Apparently the Spanish royal family used to holiday in Donostia at the Miramar Palace, not really that palatial but it has fine views over the bay and the grounds reach down to the sea:

Miramar Palace

I wonder whether they used this rather ornate beach house:

Bathing hut on the sea front

The town hall is pretty impressive too:


I failed a bit on local cuisine only making it out one night of three, to the Cider House. Apparently a typically Basque thing. The dining room is reached past large barrels of cider, which are the main event. The cider drinking scheme is as follows: at regular intervals the patron shouted something, and the willing and able followed him to a selected barrel. He opened a small tap producing a two metre or so stream of cider, projected horizontally. The assembled drinkers catch a an inch or so of cider each in large plastic beakers. Points are awarded for catching the stream as far from the barrel as possible, and once started the drinker moves up the stream. The next drinker aligns themselves to catch the stream when the previous drinker moves out of the way. The result is quite splashy.

Between drinks there is a fixed menu of bread, cod omelette, cod and greens, the largest barbeque steaks I’ve ever seen, finishing with walnuts, quince jelly and cheese.

Aside from this my colleagues were keen on pintxos, the local take on the more widely known tapas.

I stayed at the NH Aranzazu which was very nice, not particularly expensive and very convenient for the university but not so much for the town centre.


Normally travel for work is a less than enjoyable experience but this week I’ve been to Trento*, and it was very pleasant. Sadly I only had my mobile phone to take photos.

Trento is in the north of Italy, the bit that is positively Germanic. The second language appears to be German and the cuisine is more alpine than pizza. It’s a small town with a substantial university. It sits  in a broad, bottomed steep-sided valley an hour on the train from Verona on the line that heads up to Bolzano, the Brenner Pass and Austria. I’d not heard of Trento before, I’d heard of the Council of Trent (which refers to the Ecumenical Council of the Roman Catholic Church which was held in Trent between 1545 and 1563).

View on the walk down from Povo

A short walk from the railway station and you are in the heart of the old city, narrow streets with marble pavements faced with buildings which in large part seem to date from the 16th century. The majority of the shops, restaurants and bars embedded in the lower floors are rather swish and classy looking.

Chiesa di Santa Maria Maggiore

The heart of the old town is the Piazza del Duomo, featuring the city’s cathedral, the fountain of Neptune and other fine buildings.

Piazza del Duomo

The cathedral seems to date to some time around the start of the 13th century. It’s been well conserved and the square itself is largely in character. The most similar British cities I know in terms of old architecture are probably Wells and Canterbury most other British cities either never had substantial buildings of such age, or they were replaced at some point since.

The fontana del nettune is quite blingy:

Fontana del Nettuno

Next door to my hotel, Chiesa di Santa Maria Maggiore:

Chiesa di Santa Maria Maggiore

Alongside the ecclesiastical buildings are some fine townhouses. Romeo and Juliet was set in Verona, an hour down the railway line – I wonder if this is how the balcony Juliet stood in looked:

Palazzo Quetta Alberti-Colico

This is the Palazzo Quetta Alberti-Colico. There’s also the rather nice Palazzo Geremia (pdf)

Palazzo Geremia


On the edge of town, close to the bridge over the river, the Torre Vanga, erected originally in 1210, is palimpsest of masonry and brick.

Torre Vanga

And as well as that there are some impressive entrances:

Duomo di TrentoChiesa della Santissima Trinità39 Via Rodolfo Belenzani


Definitely worth a day trip if you are in the area, and great if you have business as the university!

*Unsurprisingly the Italian wikipedia entry is much more extensive.

Photographing Liverpool

I’ve been working in Liverpool for a few months now, I take the Merseyrail train into Liverpool Central and then walk up the hill to ScraperWiki’s offices which are next door to the Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral aka “Paddy’s Wigwam”.

Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral

The cathedral was built in the 1960s, I rather like it. It looks to me like part of a set from a futuristic sci-fi film, maybe Gattacca or Equilibrium. Or some power collection or communication device, which in a way I suppose it is.

Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral

To be honest the rest of my usual walk up the Brownlow Hill is coloured by a large, fugly carpark and a rather dodgy looking pub. However, these last few weeks the Merseyrail’s Liverpool Loop has been closed to re-lay track so I’ve walked across town from the James’ Street station, giving me the opportunity to admire some of Liverpool’s other architecture.

As an aside, it turns out that Merseyrail is the second oldest underground urban railway in the world, opening in 1886 and also originally running on steam power according to wikipedia, which seems to contradict Christian Wolmar in his book on the London Underground, which I recently reviewed. (Wolmar states the London Underground is the only one to have run on steam power.

Returning to architecture, I leave James’ Street station via the pedestrian exit on Water Street, there is a lift up onto James’ Street but I prefer the walk. As I come out there is a glimpse of the Royal Liver Building, on the waterfront.

Royal Liver Building

Just along the road is Liverpool Town Hall, for some reason it’s offset slightly from the centre of Castle Street which spoils the vista a little.

Liverpool Town HallDown at the other end of Castle Street we find the Queen Victoria Monument, she stands in Derby Square in front of the rather unattractive Queen Elizabeth II Law Courts.

Queen Victoria Monument

On the way I pass the former Adelphi Bank building, now a Cafe Nero. I like the exuberant decoration and the colour of the stone and domes.

Former Adelphi Bank


Raise your eyes from ground level and you see more decoration at the roof line of the buildings on Castle Street:

Buildings on Castle Street Once I’ve passed the Victoria Monument it’s a long straight walk down Lord Street then Church Street which has a mixture of buildings, many quite modern but some a bit older, often spoiled by the anachronistic shop fronts at street-level.

61 Lord Street

I quite like this one at 81-89 Lord Street but it’s seen better days, it used to look like this. It looks like it used to have a spectacular interior.

81-89 Lord Street


Further along, on Church Street, there is a large M&S in a fine building.

35 Church Street


35 Church Street


By now I’ve almost reached my normal route into work from Liverpool Central station, just around the corner on Renshaw Street is Grand Central Hall, which started life as a Methodist church.

Grand Central Hall

It’s a crazy looking building, the buddleia growing out of the roof make me think of one of J.G. Ballard’s novels.

Grand Central Hall

We’re on the final straight now, heading up Mount Pleasant towards the Metropolitan Cathedral. Looking back we can see the Radio City Tower, actually we can see the Radio City Tower from pretty much anywhere in Liverpool.

Radio City Tower

A little before we reach the Metropolitan Cathedral there is the YMCA on Mount Pleasant, another strange Victorian Gothic building.

YMCA Mount Pleasant

I struggled to get a reasonable photograph of this one, I was using my 28-135mm lens on a Canon 600D for this set of photos. This is a good walking around lens but for photos of buildings in dense city environments the 10-22mm lens is better for its ridiculously wide angle view – handy for taking pictures of all of a big building when you are standing next to it!

So maybe next week I’ll head out with the wide angle lens and apply some of the rectilinear correction I used on my Chester photographs.

By Jupiter!


Jupiter (From video acquired on Celestron NexStar 5SE, Baader Hyperion zoom eyepiece at 8mm,Canon 600D, 1/30s at ISO800 stacked in Registax6)

This morning I managed some photos of Jupiter through the telescope, a Celestron NexStar 5SE.

This was helped with my latest purchase: a Baader Hyperion 8mm-24mm zoom eyepiece – this gives me more magnification and allows me to attach to my Canon 600D camera via a couple of mounting rings (here and here). Previously I could only get low magnification on my camera, or high magnification via a 3x Barlow lens.

The Baader-Hyperion is a nice bit of kit, instructions are minimal though so working out how to attach the camera was a case of twisting various bits of the eyepiece to find out what unscrewed – I did this in the light a couple of days ago. The only small problem is that once the camera is attached to the eyepiece it rotates when the zoom level is changed.

I left out the Star Diagonal for these images, this is Celestron’s right angle bending device which gives better naked eye viewing because you can look through the eyepiece from the standing position rather than crawling around on the floor. However, it does seem to introduce some chromatic aberration. The Canon 600D has a rotatable LCD which gives a reasonable viewing position even without the Star Diagonal.

I had a rather disappointing try at Jupiter a few days ago, disappointing because the night started clear but had clouded over almost completely by the time I got my telescope out; then the neighbours started letting off fireworks; then I couldn’t remember how to work my camera in the dark and then it started raining! On top of all that my Baader Hyperion eyepiece hadn’t turned up.

The useful thing I got out of the evening was a fair idea of appropriate ISO number and exposure times to use – Jupiter is surprisingly bright and needs something like ISO800 at 1/50s on my ‘scope, even at high magnification.


Jupiter, single image Celestron NexStar 5SE, Baader Hyperion zoom eyepiece at 8mm, Canon 600D, 1/50s at ISO800

Jupiter was one of Galileo’s first targets for his telescope in the early 17th century, importantly he observed the four brightest Jovian moons (Callisto, Io, Europe and Ganymede). Significant because they orbited Jupiter, not the sun or the earth and they changed from night to night – at the time the stars were supposed to be immutable and rotate around the earth, or at least the Sun.

You can see these in two photos I took, on 5th and 10th November – the moons have moved quite obviously.


Jupiter and moons on 5th November at 8pm (Celestron NexStar 5SE, 1/4s at ISO6400)


Jupiter and moons on 10th November at 5am (Celestron NexStar 5SE, Baader Hyperion zoom eyepiece at 16mm?, 1/50s at ISO6400)

Actually, it’s not quite that simple: the photo from the 5th was taken in the early evening with Jupiter in the east whilst that on the 10th was taken in the early morning with Jupiter in the west. Jupiter appears to move between these two locations because of the earth’s rotation and this also means the orientation changes. Not only this, my telescope was configured differently on the two occasions: the Star Diagonal + camera combo flips the image vertically whilst the direct eyepiece view flips both horizontally and vertically. I’ve rectified the images appropriately, and labelled them following Stellarium.

I also took some video on the 600D. You can see it here, the juddering at the beginning and end is the result of me poking buttons on the camera. The rippling of the image is the “seeing”, it’s caused by the atmosphere. The point of taking video is that it can be used to mitigate the effect “seeing” by averaging frames, I did this using Registax 6 but first I had to convert the video from Quicktime to avi format using ffmpeg:

ffmpeg –i filename.mov –sameq filename.avi

ffmpeg can do anything with video, if you give it the right incantation, in this case it recognises that I want to convert an input video from mov (Quicktime) format to avi format, the –sameq flag tells it not to drop the quality of the video as it does so.

I have to admit to not really knowing how to use Registax, I simply let it do its default thing and the result looked okay:


Jupiter (From video acquired on Celestron NexStar 5SE, Baader Hyperion zoom eyepiece at 8mm,Canon 600D, 1/30s at ISO800 stacked in Registax6)

A fun half hour of imaging, I’d have moved on to another target if I’d planned ahead. The earlier, unsuccessful imaging session was helpful in getting me close to the right camera settings and spurring me to learn how to learn how to use the camera in the dark. The Baader Hyperion eyepiece is rather nice!

The Milky Way

Milky Way

The Milky Way (Canon 600D, 18mm, ISO6400, 30s, f/4.5)

Regular readers will know I recently bought myself a telescope, a Celestron 5SE Schmidt-Cassegrain reflector but this post covers some astrophotography conducted without the aid of a telescope almost the opposite in fact. I’ve been on holiday recently to somewhere with pretty good dark skies, unfortunately I did not have my telescope with me but I did have a tripod, a Canon 600D SLR and a collection of lenses although in this instance I just used the 18-55mm kit lens at the wide end (18mm). I also had my planisphere and a copy of the free planetarium software, Stellarium.

I’ve used my camera with a standard lens to take photos of the night sky before: to make star trails, so far my experiments in this area have been a bit disappointing. The aim with star trail photographs is to have nice bright trails showing the apparent motion of stars around the pole as the earth rotates, against a dark background. In my experiments I used 30s exposures at f/4, ISO200 on a 10mm lens which I then combined using a simple application called StarTrails.

Back to my holiday snaps – I started my evening taking photos as I had done for my star trails, I have to say this was all a bit disappointing – individual photos do show the stars in the sky and with some effort one can trace out the patterns of the constellations – you might just be able to spot Cassiopeia in the image below.

Towards Cassepoia

Cassiopeia (Canon 600D, 18mm, ISO200, 30s, f/4.5)

Getting a bit bored with this, I turned the sensitivity right up so I was imaging at f/4.5 ISO6400 with 30s exposures and suddenly this popped out:

Towards Casseopia

The Milky Way towards Cassiopeia (Canon 600D, 18mm, ISO6400, 30s, f/4.5)

Cassiopeia is in there somewhere but there are just so many more stars (and a few clouds). This opened the flood gates and I indiscriminately fired off shots along the line of the Milky Way, just visible in the image above. At this time of year, in the early evening in the UK the Milky Way goes from horizon to horizon passing almost directly overhead starting a little East of North and finishing a little West of South.

Now this is fun but now I have a bunch of images of parts of the Milky Way. Can I stick them together? It turns out I can, I used Microsoft ICE on the images I had acquired and got this mosaic:

Milk Way Composite

The Milky Way, 5 image mosaic prepared in Microsoft ICE (Canon 600D, 18mm, ISO6400, 30s, f/4.5)

This spans almost horizon to horizon. I was rather pleased with this, however I struggled to work out where I was in the sky, picking out constellations from the huge mess of stars is very tricky. It turns out help is at hand in the form of astrometry.net, this is an online service which takes an image of the night sky and works out which bit of the sky it shows and labels it all nicely. It can’t handle the mosaic image shown above, but can handle the individual images – you can see my images here. One of the formats in which data is provided is Google Earth’s KMZ format, so you can see the images projected onto the celestial sphere in Google Earth – my combined KMZ file is here, it’s 12MB.

There are improvements to be made in the process:

  • if I’d had it with me my 10-22mm lens would have been nice – it would give me more sky in one shot;
  • better familiarity with my planisphere would mean less indiscriminate firing off of shots;
  • ideally I’d have gone for a cloudless night;
  • there’s a bit of optimisation on the exposure settings, ISO6400 is at the limit of my camera and if you zoom right in there is some evidence of colour noise, also towards the zenith the stars are motion smeared – as in star trail pictures so shorter exposures would be nice;
  • compositionally it would be good to include some of the earthly scenery;
  • working out how to turn off the security lights of the holiday cottage we were staying in would have been good.

All in all a rather fun evening!