Photographer of weddings and people around Birmingham and the Midlands

Life moves up a gear, the next big announcement…

Anyone who knows me, or is at least friends with me on facebook, will have already heard this news by now. It has so far had a massive response from friends and family, and Clare and myself are over whelmed and very excited by it all.

After what has felt like an eternity, we can finally leave it up to our daughter to reveal our (not very well kept) secret…


Yes, that’s right, in case you hadn’t guessed, she is going to be a big sister in around 28 weeks time! We went in for our 12 week scan yesterday and can confirm that we have one apparently healthy and very active little wriggler in there! The wife was adamant that there was either a) a problem or b) twins, and we are very happy to say that neither of these is the case.

So yeah, if you thought you’d already seen enough baby photos on one blog to last you a lifetime, then you may want to unsubscribe or stop reading this… there are far more to come!

I’d like to thank all my friends, especially all those who have shared their love on facebook, as the response was immense. Your support has been truly appreciated, and Jr will be happy to meet you all when they get here in February!

Life is about to get hectic all over again!

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Woosh! Week one of the six week holidays is gone in a flash, like a getaway car at the scene of a robbery, its left nothing but a trail of dust behind it!

I had, and still have lots of grand plans to make the most out of the holidays, to see lots of people, and be uber productive… yet a week has gone by already and I feel like I have done so little! Still, the importance of planning is not to be overlooked here, and anyone who knows me will know how much I love making lists. Lists are the only guaranteed way I will get things done, and done in a timely fashion. Without them I am prone to missing dates, deadlines and sometimes forgetting things altogether! The wife has already sought out chores for me to do, most of which I had plans to get done anyway, but now with the addition of a dry wipe white board in our kitchen, there is a never ending list of chores that gets updated anytime I complete anything off the list. It appears that I will not be without jobs to do over this six week break! I still need to make sure I find a little time for myself, just to put my feet up and relax, as I don’t tend to be very good at this and can end up feeling burnt out, sometimes I just forget to stop! I’m pretty sure the wife would disagree wholeheartedly on this one, but when I say I am “busy” its not necessarily doing housework or jobs that she had planned for me, it can be any number of things, editing photos, or emailing people about photos, working on the website, prepping my camera equipment for a shoot, or a hundred other things that clearly aren’t related to housework that the wife is probably blissfully unaware I even do! Trying to find the time to keep this blog updated is another very time consuming activity, and even though I started it for something completely different, I soon saw the benefits of keeping it up, even if I am now only posting once a week instead of the twice a week that I originally intended to. I can’t just type this blog up in 20 minutes, and I like to make sure I don’t miss anything out especially now I am only posting once a week. Its also virtually impossible to update the blog while I am looking after my daughter, she is almost two years old now and demands an increasing amount of attention. She can’t just be left to amuse herself with shiny, noisy things! I can usually pacify her for 15 minutes or so with an episode or three of Peppa Pig on the TV, unless she’s really tired and she may sit for a bit longer, but otherwise I have to do this thing called ‘parenting’ and apparently try to entertain the little person! I don’t always like to blog while the wife is still awake, as I feel a little antisocial sometimes, especially as I often haven’t seen her all day if we’re both at work. As she is often in bed before me, this gives me a small window of opportunity to get some typing done, although I do have to make sure I am distraction free, leaving the tv on is often enough to stop me from focusing on what I am supposed to be doing! Just lately I seem unable to focus properly beyond 10:30pm which is a little odd for a night owl like me, but my brain just begins to shut down and trying to formulate any kind of flowing thought which I can type up into something worth reading feels something like this…

So what has been happening in the last week? Well, there was a fantastic start to my holiday when we all met our good friends in Cannon Hill park with our little ones so they could run around and play together while we had a catch up. These were friends we had met at our antenatal meetings, and so our girls are only a few weeks apart. We had a slow stroll around the park,  and enjoyed the sunshine with the little ones taking in some fairground rides, before moving on to the Garden Tea Rooms for a rest in the sun, a quick drink and a bite to eat. It was a lovely way to spend a Saturday afternoon, and we ended up staying for a few hours, longer than we’d originally anticipated, and with nap time rapidly approaching we had to get Olivia home before she fell off the cliff and the inevitable exhaustion fuelled melt down started, not uncommon when nap time is late.

Sunday we had a 3rd birthday party to go to, and with the mixed weather we’ve been having, it felt like a stroke of luck that we were able to enjoy another day of sunshine for it! Thankfully I still managed to squeeze a morning run in before it with my friend, and it was good to get out and pound some tarmac again as we haven’t run for a number of weeks and I’ve really missed it! All in all, a great start to the day, and a lovely afternoon with the party, but of course, as always Olivia’s nap time means we had to head home and let madam get her much needed sleep.

Then around rolls Monday again, as its the holidays there is no alarm clock thankfully, but the wife decided to unleash her chores list on me. I made no promises, even if Olivia was still in nursery two days a week! Suddenly, in the blink of an eye, the first week is over, its all done and dusted. I’m not quite sure how it went so fast, if it had been a regular half term and only one week off I’d have been crying! Thankfully with five weeks still left to go, I can begin to unwind and appreciate the time off. With the second weekend already upon us, we have a day out planned courtesy of Olivia’s nursery, at Ash End House Farm. With our admission pre-paid, all we had to do was turn up and have fun! The day stayed warm and sunny, a huge blessing, and we got to enjoy a picnic outside at lunchtime. Olivia loved seeing the animals and  moved onto the playbarn afterwards, where she got to run around and let let off a little steam. After leaving red faced and a little warm, she certainly slept well that night!

Sadly the luck we’d had with the weather over the previous seven days didn’t last for us, and unfortunately on the one day we’d actually planned a bbq for some friends, it rained… ALL day! There wasn’t even a break in the rain where we could sneak outside and get the bbq on. We had no choice but to remove the problem of bad weather and cook everything indoors. Its not what you want when you’ve planned a bbq, but grilled burgers are better than no burgers at all!

So that was the first week of the holidays done, its gone in a flash and I am not sure where.

Exciting news to come soon, big announcement due. I’ll leave you guessing for a little while though!

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Another year draws to a close

Yet another summer term ends, and while we still have one more day tomorrow, it is for staff only as the pupils get to start their holiday at the end of today.

It has been a year full of trials and difficulties, some challenging pupils and some difficult staff issues too, and I will be very glad to see Friday afternoon roll around. At the same time it will be quite sad as our headteacher of some 25 years finally retires. I’ve known him myself for almost 20 of those years, which is actually over half my life, and quite a crazy way to think of it! It really is the end of an era, and he is leaving behind some pretty big boots to fill, a rather daunting job for any new potential head teacher!

So what is the summer holidays actually going to look like in the Vokes household? Well, we’re keeping Olivia in nursery for her two days a week, as we have to pay for those anyway. It gives me an opportunity to get other things done, plus she enjoys it anyway and gets a great deal out of it, so why deprive her of that? She is starting to make friends and learn social skills with the other children, a valuable lesson that she just can’t really learn at home, no matter how much I try to teach her. The other three weekdays it’ll be just me and little missy, so I am hoping to take her out to see friends and family, or go for some walks as she loves being outdoors… but for those rainy days where we have to stay at home I intend to but some kids paint and let her have fun painting and get totally messy! Kids need to explore, they need to be free to make a mess without worrying about consequences, and this is exactly the reason we had laminate wood floor put in when we were sorting the house out before we moved in, rather than carpet downstairs. Pretty much everything, including the sofa, can be wiped clean with little effort!

Then of course I am lucky to have Clare off work for a week and our trip to Torquay planned! I am very excited about Olivia’s first holiday, it’s going to be great, even if the British weather does treat us to a downpour, I am fairly confident we won’t care that much!

What has been happening more recently? Well there was the leavers prom that I always attend around this time of year. The kids looked fantastic and all the parents were keen to get their hands on some prints!

I have been going for a few years now, and have taken some nice photos along the way, but I knew I was on a time limit this year, and had to get back home as early as I could. So it was a case of rattling through the photos and trying to make the ones that I took really count. With my 85mm lens and a beautiful yellow flowered bush conveniently located on the school grounds, it all came together pretty well. Thankfully, the practical upshot of this was that I did not need to put up my background and lights this year, which saved me a lot of time and meant I was able to get home to the wife, who wasn’t feeling well, and be able to put Olivia to bed instead of her doing it.

The weekend was a busy one, and I had been asked to photo graph my friends little girl who was almost seven months old, and naturally I was delighted at the opportunity! As she was still only in the sitting stage, and not moving very far, this gave me an instant advantage, it meant I could be more flexible and move around to get a better shot. Just before we finished, we took the shoot outside and got a few photos in the natural light, under the shade of a tree in a local park.

Having such a cute little model always helps to make things easier though, and after a big snooze and a feed just before we started, she was in a fantastic mood and didn’t complain once about the camera being all up in her face either! I can’t wait to capture her again at 12 months and see how she has changed. These are the kind of photos I want to be doing more of! They are far less time consuming and far more stress-free! Of course I still do weddings, but I keep it low-key until friends ask me to help out, which I am always happy to do.

Of course, the blog wouldn’t be complete without a new portrait of my beautiful little daughter. I have taken so many of her since she was born, it was easy to get carried away, but now its time to start taking some proper portraits, especially as she has learnt to at least pause and look at the camera briefly now. I am not trying to get her to pose, or turn her into some kind of child model, but these are memories we will treasure when she has grown up and moved out. That day may seem like a long, long way off… but it will be here one day!

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You’re not held up by people cycling – you’re held up by other people driving (and yourself)


A great piece on why cyclists aren’t your problem!

Originally posted on As Easy As Riding A Bike:

Imagine a street that carries 14,000 cyclists a day, on the street itself. That equates to around 1,500 people cycling along the street per hour, or 25 every minute.

Imagine driving down that street. Surely a nightmare for any self-respecting driver who wants to make progress. A miserable experience. You’d never be able to overtake, what with all the cyclists trundling in front of you, often two or three abreast, taking up the whole road.

Well… no. Actually overtaking in a car on this street is pretty easy.

Screen Shot 2015-07-06 at 20.09.47

Screen Shot 2015-07-06 at 20.10.34

Screen Shot 2015-07-06 at 20.09.08

Screen Shot 2015-07-06 at 20.10.46… It’s even easy to overtake with people cycling two abreast, in both directions.Screen Shot 2015-07-06 at 20.10.17Screen Shot 2015-07-06 at 20.10.58Even a very wide three abreast doesn’t present a significant problem.

Screen Shot 2015-07-06 at 20.10.04This doesn’t compute, surely!

How on earth can it be easy to overtake when there are so many bloody cyclists in the middle of the road?

The answer is quite simple – the reason drivers can overtake easily…

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Sick of being sick

I’m not one of those people who gets sick often, but working in a special needs school makes it hard to avoid when you are constantly surrounded by snotty kids who have no concept of covering their mouth when they sneeze, or just regularly wipe their nose with the back of their hand before grabbing your arm. This last few weeks have been the worst though, first there is the virus/throat infection which knocked me out for a couple of days, and just as I feel like I am back to full health, it comes back and hits me again. I had to be over it by the weekend, it was time for our three peaks challenge, and the last time I was ill was during our practise walk up Scafell Pike, and it ruined me! I wasn’t really in any state to be pushing myself up a mountain, but I am stubborn and determined… yeah, in hindsight, I may not be so cocky next time! I was a right mess coming down, my legs could barely hold me up, and it was all I could do to stop myself from just falling over! Getting back to full health for the three peaks challenge was a priority, so rest and plenty of fluids was needed. I took it easy, tried to eat well, and tried to get myself stronger.

The weekend took a lot of planning and preparation, and the guy who had arranged it, lets call him B, seemed to be bearing the brunt of it, everyone had signed up and almost immediately abdicated responsibility expecting everything to be done for them, leaving pretty much everything up to B to organise. I couldn’t sit back and watch, so I stepped in to help him, as it wasn’t really a task for just one person.

I’d like to say that the weekend went without a hitch, but it really didn’t! We travelled down to Wales on the Friday after work, with the intention of setting up the tents, eating at a local pub, and then climbing the first mountain the following morning, followed by the second one later that day. As it happened we were late getting to the pub to check into the campsite and had to eat as we’d reserved a table and ended up pitching our tents as it was getting dark. By this point the wind had picked up, rain had started to fall, and the sky, although it had suddenly gone dark with the heavy clouds that had rolled in, was being illuminated by flashes of lightning all around us! It was good to finally be in our tents and getting ready to sleep. One of the group had decided that our strict schedule to keep us on track and ensure we had time to do all three mountains was just “no fun”, so decided to get quite drunk and keep everyone awake. It came as no surprise that we were unable to rouse him in the morning.

The showers were actually quite pleasant for a campsite, and better than I had imagined, so actually it wasn’t that bad pulling myself out of a tent at 6am so that we could pack up and get moving for 7am! Our drunken sleep friend was still no where to be seen at this point! It was a tough call, but he knew the deal and so we eventually had to leave him behind as we headed up the first mountain. The weather was pretty bad, and no photos were taken on this walk, as the wind and rain would have just killed any non-waterproof electrical equipment! We still managed the first mountain in a good time though, the lead group that I was in managed to get up and down Snowdon in 3 hours and 6 minutes. A good start as we’d got 15 hours to do all three mountains. The slower group unfortunately got lost and ended up setting us back 4 hours while we waited for them. With our driving schedule being strict to fit all the mountains in, we knew we’d blown it waiting for the second group. There was no way we could get to Scafell Pike and climb it in daylight now. We weren’t prepared for any night walks and couldn’t take the chance, especially as we’d agreed to rise at 4am to travel to Ben Nevis! We regrouped and weighed up our options. We agreed that as we were timing each mountain, there was nothing to stop us doing Scafell Pike as agreed and then doing Ben Nevis on a different weekend to continue to get a time for it and complete the challenge, and so thats what we did. We set up tent in the Lake District, and went out for food in Keswick before climbing Scafell Pike the following morning, knowing that Ben Nevis would get done on a different weekend and the challenge would still get completed.

It was certainly a learning curve for me. I have never done much camping in the past, and haven’t had much experience of helping to organise anything like this. I’d like to think that we will do it again, and be able to learn from this. We can make many improvements next time around and be better prepared. It was definitely fun, and I am just disappointed that we couldn’t get all three mountains done, but it was quite nice to get home a bit earlier to be able to see Olivia and Clare for a while and spend a bit of time with them.

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How to photograph your kids Russian style!

Never work with animals or children, that’s what they say isn’t it?! When you photograph kids, that’s kinda tricky. Any of my friends on facebook will know how many photos I take of my daughter, and in fact anyone who has read this blog for any length of time will also know. Russian mom Elena Shumilova takes it to the next level and shows you how she does it. This post is courtesy of the guys and girls at Smugmug, thanks for bringing this talented lady to our attention!

How to Photograph Your Kids

This famous mom photographer shares her secrets.

Last year, Elena Shumilova took photos of her sons as they played by the Russian countryside. She uploaded the photos online, then they started getting shared, and shared again… until they became a viral sensation, with over 60 million views.

These photos hit something magical all across the Internet — a sense of nostalgia for a childhood past. She even started getting letters from people in their nineties, saying the photos moved them to tears.

As parents, we instinctively want to take photos of our kids. We’re trying to preserve this brief slice of time before they grow up. But when we take our kids to professional photo studios, the results can end up looking stilted and unnatural.

We want to remember our kids as they actually are — not with the forced smile a stranger coaxed out of them at the studio, but with the real smiles and giggles they share with us every day.

How can we capture natural photos of our kids, the kind Elena seemingly has a magic touch for?

Photo by Ivan Makarov

Elena has mostly been quiet since her photos have gone viral, undistracted by all the media attention. Instead, she focuses on raising her kids and continues to photograph them every day.

Photo by Ivan Makarov

Given how quiet Elena has been, we’re excited to share a behind-the-scenes look at her in action. She invited us onto her farm in Russia, where we asked her to share how she captures these beautifully nostalgic photos.

This is what she had to say.

5 Tips to Get Better Photographs of Your Kids

by Elena Shumilova

Watch a video of Elena demonstrating these tips.

1. How to get your kids to look natural, not “posed.”

So you catch your kids in the perfect moment — they’re outside playing and laughing, the lighting is just right, and you see this perfect picture you want to capture. You rush to get out your camera, but then…

They see the camera. They stiffen up. They start posing. The moment is lost.

What do you do?

When photographing children, the single most important thing is to photograph them often — every day.

You can’t just do it sporadically, or they’ll freeze up as soon as the camera comes out. Consistency is key. That way they’ll be comfortable around the camera.

It’s these everyday scenes that you want to capture — the ones you’ll remember best when they grow up.


To get the most genuine photos, I try to catch them in the moment — when they’re playing with each other and have completely forgotten about the camera.

Here they’re playing “airplanes,” a game we also play together at lunchtime when they’re feeling picky about their food.

Watch Elena explain how she captures her nostalgic photos:

2. The types of clothes that work the best.

I follow a pretty simple rule: clothes shouldn’t be distracting. They shouldn’t take attention away from what’s happening in the photo.


For such a simple rule, it’s harder to follow than you might think. Kids’ clothes today are designed to grab your attention—with bright colors, cartoon characters, and writing all over them. In photographs, all this takes attention away from your kids.

When I started pursuing photography seriously, I actually replaced all their outfits. This took quite a while to do, but now I know that anything I pull from their closet won’t interfere with the photo.

3. How to best capture kids of different ages.

A lot of parents have asked me about this photo — how did you get your one-month-old to look so calm? Infants are notoriously difficult to photograph because they’re often crying or fidgeting.

Here you’ll have an advantage as a parent. I’m his mom. I’m around him 24 hours a day, and I know when he cries and when he doesn’t. Let your parenting instinct help you choose the right moment.

The Golden Age: Ages 2–4
Something I noticed while photographing many children, including my own, is that there seems to be a universal age when kids are the most photogenic.

That seems to happen between ages two and four.

Kids around this age behave very naturally. They don’t care that someone is looking at them, they don’t care what others think, and they don’t care that a camera is pointed at them.

They aren’t yet self aware. And so, they’re free.

Ages 5 and Older
It gets a bit more difficult when they’re older. As early as age five, they start to become more self-conscious when the camera comes out. They start to pose.

The key here is to be very patient. Let them play while you disappear into the background. My best photos always happen at the end of a photo shoot, when my kids have forgotten all about the camera.

Photo by Ivan Makarov

4. How to get good photos of your kids with pets.

Just like people, every animal is different. Some pets like to be photographed, and others don’t.

Because every pet is different, there isn’t a magic formula for this. I spend hours observing our farm animals, figuring out how they move and what angles work best for them — just like I would for people.

I’ve also tried bribing pets with food, but it doesn’t work. It’s almost impossible to get a good picture when they’re chewing or licking their paws. So I’ve learned the hard way not to feed our pets during photo shoots.

With animals, you have to rely on a bit of luck — and constant patience.

5. Don’t give up.

This is the most famous photo I’ve taken. It’s been viewed over 10 million times — but I almost didn’t bring my camera that day.

Before I took this photo, my confidence was at a pretty low point. I had tried for a photo of my son and dog 14 other times — not 14 other photos, but 14 full photo shoots, all failures.

I was convinced that my hands were too clumsy, or my dog was not the right dog for it, or my kid was not the right kid for it. I was just feeling desperate that day and didn’t even want to bring my camera.

But something told me to bring it. And on that fifteenth day, it all just came together.

This dog of ours is now famous — but he’s not all that photogenic from most angles. He’s actually a pretty difficult dog to work with. From the previous 14 photo shoots, I’d learned what angles and body compositions work for him and my son.

It‘s easy to get discouraged. It’s easy to think, “Oh, why bother, it won’t work anyway.” And it may not for the first 14 times. Those 14 photo shoots weren’t failures though, because I learned from them. And they’re what made the fifteenth one possible.

Don’t give up.

For when you get frustrated.

Photo by Ivan Makarov

When I was first starting out, I got frustrated easily. I used to create these elaborate setups — I’d bring my kids to a special place, in special clothes, at a special time with the lighting just right. I’d arrange it all. And naturally, I started to feel like they owed me a good photo.

But I started getting better photos when I realized: no one owes me anything.

If you get frustrated, your kids will sense it and won’t want to participate anymore. Which just creates a vicious cycle of more frustration. When I stopped feeling entitled to a good photo, I was more relaxed. It was more fun for me and for them.

Rather than creating high-pressure elaborate setups, observe your kids in everyday simple situations. Do it every day. Bring your camera along.

And then — when the right moment comes along — you’ll be ready.

See more of Elena’s photos on her SmugMug print site.

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The year ahead

Often I come on here and just don’t know where to begin.

Today is one of those days.

One of the biggest features of the last few days was a trek to the Lake District with some work colleagues, as we were planning to get to the top of Scafell Pike, the highest mountain in England. It was part of our training for our three peaks challenge, which for those of you that don’t know is: Scafell Pike – the highest point in England, Snowdon – the highest point in Wales and Ben Nevis – the highest point in Scotland, all done within a time limit. Usually this time limit is all three, including the driving, done in 24 hours. We have decided to go with the alternative option of all three, with driving time excluded, done in 15 hours.

Recently, as part of our training, a small group of us headed up Snowdon. It was useful in terms of highlighting a number of issues that even though we’d planned in detail, we’d still managed to overlook. So doing Scafell Pike, you’d have thought couldn’t throw any more surprises at us… but it did! Both myself and another colleague were particularly ill, and struggled with the physical effort involved in getting both up and down the mountain. Then there was the subject of where to stop for lunch, as quite unlike Snowdon, there was no cafe at the top, just a pile of rocks, surrounded by cloud and icy cold blasts of wind, It wasn’t somewhere you wanted to hang around long! Then the critical issue of no phone coverage! Yes, I know it sounds ridiculous, but it was a genuine, bona-fide problem considering I have almost totally given up my Tom Tom and replaced it with the rather amazing Waze app on my phone, a superb and somehow free app. The only problem with Waze is that you need a 3G signal or better to help it locate you and plan your route. Without a good data signal the phone does little more than make calls and send text messages, it certainly fails at being a sat nav by a long way! Then there was the fact that our original group split, not into just two groups, one fast, one slow, but into a further third group in the middle who didn’t to fall behind, but weren’t keeping up with the faster group.

So we had things to be thinking about before the actual weekend of the climb where we’d have much bigger group numbers, and no room for problems as we wouldn’t be heading home between mountains this time!

In this particular photo of myself, near the summit of Scafell Pike, I am smiling and look happy, although secretly I was dying and crying a river inside. The mind was willing, but the flesh was weak! I’d picked up yet anther virus and was struggling, really struggling on this climb. My body just wanted to curl on and go back to bed! I thought I could probably just push through it, but nearly collapsed several times on the way down as I got closer and closer to the bottom! My legs had totally given up, on what should have been a fairly easy walk! I was eventually able to rest them and stretch the muscles enough so that I could at the very least climb back in and continue to drive the bus back home, although it did highlight the issue of making sure we have enough drivers on hand that weekend to each do their stint of driving, rather than just relying on one or two people. The only mountain we didn’t practise is the only one I haven’t been up yet, Ben Nevis! On a plus note, we did get to test the walkie talkies I bought and they were a success!

If anyone is keen to help, we are all doing this challenge, and facing the elements in order to raise money for a local charity close to our hearts, especially considering the nature of our jobs, and that is Resources For Autism and you can help by sponsoring a small amount (or large if you’re feeling generous and its the right side of payday for you!) by going to our team JustGiving page. We’re still a long way off our target  yet, and would be grateful for every single donation, no matter how small!

The only available day to climb happened to coincide with fathers day here in the UK and sadly I couldn’t be in two places at once. I was treated to a very nice surprise when I got home from my walk though, the wife apparently knows me very well!


For my green fingered friends, I have been able to get more done in the garden recently and I am quite proud of the fact that I have vegetables growing out there and not just flowers, even though the flowers are very beautiful and doing wonders for the bee population! With the loss of the joint allotment I shared with my friend I was left with a lot of vegetable seeds, some of which I had already planted and had started growing. Now I have turned a corner of the garden into a mini allotment, which I thought the wife would protest at, but she has been very supportive about it. We have some cucumbers beginning to appear, the broccoli and brussel sprouts are doing very well and should be ready for late autumn, the cabbage is down and starting to grow, the french beans have found the garden canes and are starting to climb them, the strawberries are doing well and the first strawberry has even begun to appear, and the onions have finally gone in the ground. In the greenhouse the tomato plants look as if we are about to have a tomato explosion, although my habanero and cayenne chilli plants have massively failed for some strange reason this year! Oh well, you can’t win them all!

Olivia apple 1

The apple tree I planted at the top of the garden is coming on a treat, however, and has even started to grow its first apple this year! This will come as much of a delight to Olivia, who in the last 10 days has literally discovered apples and has pretty much announced them as her favourite food of all time, she just can’t get enough of them and will often hold onto one for several hours taking occasional bites from it just when you think its ready for the bin!

What have you got growing in your garden at the moment?

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Summer is just around the corner

Its Sunday night and I am hoping I will have time to get this blog started and finished before bed, without it being the middle of the night before I finish!

The weeks are slipping by at quite a rate now, in the big countdown to the summer holidays. We have just five weeks left, and then the whole summer off, and I’m a little excited about this one. Olivia will be a much more fun age, we’ll be able to get out and about and do things and see people, and then of course there is the holiday as well! Four nights away in Cornwall with the family, I really can’t wait! We’ve been given a whole bunch of leaflets from a work colleague who goes there often, to help us plan our time down there. I don’t like to have holidays set in stone, and tick items off on a clipboard as we do them, but I do like to have a vague idea of things to do if its sunny, and things to do if its raining. When you only have a short time away with the family, its no good being sat around for half a day trying to work out what you’re going to do with whats left of the day. All we can really hope for is some nice weather so that we can keep all our options open, but this is Britain in August we’re talking about, the weather is no more guaranteed than the roll of a dice! August may seem like it should be hot and dry, but of all the weddings I have photographed, it is also the most temperamental month!

Thankfully, even though June has proved to be a bit colder than expected so far, at least it has stayed reasonably dry and the rain hasn’t caused too much of an impact on cycling, but when you are cycling home on a Friday knowing you have the weekend stretched out ahead of you then even a downpour wouldn’t really bother me that much! Friday evenings are all about kicking off the shoes, relaxing and letting the stress of the week just drain away. We put a pizza in the oven, poured a drink and put a film on. The latter part is always a gamble, trying to find a film that the wife won’t fall asleep through, or fail to understand. My choice this weekend was called Traffic, three separate story lines, apparently unrelated, all about the american futile war on drugs and how it effects different people. Not necessarily one I’d have normally chosen, but the imdb reviews all looked quite positive, and so I thought it was worth a gamble. It turned out to be quite a good film, interesting and a real eye opener, and the extra bonus is that Clare managed to stay awake through most of it.

Saturday was set to be a busy day for me, starting off first thing with 3 hours looking after J again, which was hampered by the rain, as he is quite energetic and loves getting outside. So it was time for plan B and  some indoor activities. From there I had to shoot home once I was finished and let the wife get ready to go out as she was meeting friends in town, while I took Olivia over to see my nan. As it has been a while since I saw my nan, far too long in fact, and I’d like to get over much more often, but for one reason or another there just doesn’t seem to have been the time recently. I feel a bit bad about it, especially with my nan at her age, as she can’t get about much like she used to and relies on people visiting, and obviously she’s no spring chicken anymore, you just don’t know how long grandparents will be around for when they start creeping towards 90! I really want Olivia to remember seeing her, and not just from photos that she looks at when she’s older. I really must make more of an effort to get over a lot more often. Once I’d left my nan’s it was time to head home and start getting dinner ready as we were feeding my sister and her boyfriend, who would be baby sitting Olivia for us later that evening while we popped out to a quiz. It was a good day, and the only problem with being on the go all day is that the day seems to go so much faster! In fact it actually seems crazy that we are pretty much halfway through the year, we are as close to putting christmas decorations up as we are to the last time we took them down! Where does the time go? Our little lady is two years old soon, and I’d be lying if I said we’d even begun to think about what we’re going to do to mark the occasion! If you want something really depressing to think about, this Sunday marks the longest day of the year, which means every day from them on is going to get shorter and shorter! I know, I really didn’t need to put that out there, but you’d have figured it out soon enough anyway, so don’t blame me for highlighting it! It has been lovely enjoying these lighter evenings though, I was even out tonight doing some gardening at 9:30pm because I could. The wife was in bed early and I never sit around and watch tv anyway, there is rarely anything on that I want to watch, to the point I do actually question why I pay so much for Sky TV each month. I have thought about getting rid of it, but the reality is that we get our phone line and broadband from them anyway, and the TV really isn’t that much extra, plus the wife always has the tv on, she’d never be able to live without it! Combine all this with the fact that we removed the connection from the living room for the tv aerial, meaning we wouldn’t be able to pick up freeview tv even if we did ditch Sky! In a way it feels a little bit like a drug habit, it costs us a small fortune and yet we can’t give it up! While we’re on the subject of Sky, we’ve recently had an upgrade to our broadband and taken up their Sky Fibre offer. They had recently put their price down, and made it a bit more appealing, but in reality I am not feeling the huge benefits from it that I had hoped for. Our line speed on the original broadband would quite often hit 16.5mbps on a speedtest, and the fact that I was promised 40mbps with Fibre would only have been encouraging if it had actually happened, as 40mbps isn’t bad, but still isn’t exactly the leap I’d quite hoped for. Some of my friends with Virgin have exceeded well over 120mbps without any issues! The fact that some of my first speed tests on Fibre gave me speeds of just 15mbps (on a service I am paying extra ££ for don’t forget!) was not encouraging at all. After a little research and playing about with some settings, I am not getting around 30mbps on the speed test, better, but still not great. The real bonus that I am not going to complain about though is the upload speed, which is 9x faster than the original broadband, crucial for times like when I am uploading several hundred wedding photos to the website, a job which frequently means leaving the computer running overnight, and just hoping that I wake up in the morning to the job being done, and not having paused halfway through for some unforeseen error. When I have been uploading stuff previously, it can literally feel like it is taking forever, so this is a huge bonus! Trialling their 25Gb usage cap to try and save a little money was a total waste of time though, as they emailed me within a week of the Fibre going active to say I’d burnt through the 25Gb in less than a week, (although I am still not sure exactly how we managed to do that, 25Gb in six days sounds a bit fishy to me!), but it looks like we’ll end up switching to their ‘unlimited’ Fibre plan instead and having to pay extra for it. Although I do feel a grumpy phone call coming on to complain about the line speeds and see if I can get them to waive the extra monthly fee as compensation. If you don’t ask, you don’t get… right?!

Sunday turned out to be a quieter day, although it did start early, with Olivia deciding that 6:30am was her time to wake up. She woke us both up, but it was Clare’s turn to go back to bed while I took madam downstairs and entertained her for a couple of hours until she’d caught up on her sleep. I wanted to get a few more portrait shots of Olivia in the garden as it was a dry day and it wasn’t too bright with the cloud cover breaking up the light a bit. Getting these weekly portrait shots is something I am keen to try and keep up, and she is changing so much each day, and now that she is on the move I find I am taking much less photos of her, as its harder to get her to keep still and/or look at the camera!

It was nice to get out in the garden, turn off the tv and enjoy some fresh air and natural light. It was also a chance to get a little gardening done. One thing I have learnt from owning a house with a greenhouse in the garden and growing things is that I need to be planning and planting stuff far earlier in the year than I am. I have left some flower seeds until May to plant, which doesn’t really give them much growing time! Being in the garden is definitely therapeutic, gardening and growing things is relaxing, and that is definitely something I need much more of. I don’t feel very relaxed at the moment, like my to-do list is never empty and I am always racing through it to cross things off. I like being busy, but sometimes I can make myself too busy, and that is not good for us. In fact I have just read an article on “The disease of being too busy” and do have my own views on it, but I will share those another time!

IMG_0107After a while in the garden, I thought I felt a drop of water on my hand, and it turns out that rain was most definitely stopping play this afternoon. The gardening equipment was in, the play sand covered up, it was time to head indoors, where we were to stay for the rest of the afternoon. There was a momentary break in the rain where I caught this shot of one of the foxgloxes with droplets of rain on it, and with the colours it made a very beautiful sight! The break in the rain didn’t last long though, and we were resigned to an afternoon indoors, although its never a bad thing when I get to spend an afternoon at home with my two favourite people!

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Falling way, way behind…

It has been a busy couple of weeks one way or another, and as much as I’d like to blog, there sometimes doesn’t seem like there’s enough time in the day! Time is already a premium, and this is something I am well aware of, but technically I already have a full time job, a part time job, a part time business, a family, my martial arts class… and all this before I have any down time, time for me! I recently read online about a family who gave up their reasonably well paid jobs and sold their home to buy a caravan and just travel around the country, living from one day to the next. Initially it sounded daft, but they put up a convincing argument that at the end of the day noobe judges us by the things we bought, but by the time we spent with them. Time that can’t be bought, or replaced, or regained if we waste it. Time is essentially a currency, it’s all we have, and when it’s gone it’s gone!

It’s made me think, and I definitely need to manage my time a bit better. Although I can be forgiven this week as I haven’t been well, and had to take a few days off work with a throat infection. I don’t like taking time off work, I always feel guilty, but sometimes you just have to let the body catch up and rest. It wasn’t a fun time, sure I got to watch films and eat ice cream (it’s all I could swallow, it the cooling effect helped my throat!). Previous weeks have been a little hectic though, take half term for example, the days just disappeared. Out of five days, Clare was off which left me with four, I looked after J for two of the days and took him out, this left me with two, one of which I had taken the morning to visit the Newborn Photography Show at the Botanical Gardens. Very inspiring, and an easy way to part with large chunks of cash if you weren’t careful! So yeah, now suddenly I am down to one day, and of course I have Olivia with me, which as fantastic as it is means I don’t even get to look at a to-do list, my day is pretty much mapped out for me with food and naps.

[some of the animals from the Birmingham Nature Centre taken whilst out looking after J.]

What else has been going on recently? Well we can’t forget last weekend where we met up with friends for a day trip out to Drayton Manor Park. Our friends had managed to get us some discounted tickets, which was quite honestly the only way we could afford to join them. Its a far cry from the Drayton Manor that I last visited as a child some 30 years ago, where we had to buy strips of tickets to be redeemed against each ride, or a wristband for the day getting us onto all the rides for a whopping £6, which, for a family of four, back in the 80s, was not the kind of budget we had for a day out! The prices have rocketed since, and it may still be Alton Towers poorer brother, but its still not cheap to get in and even then, there are still ways to part with even more of your cash once you’re inside! The rides have improved significantly, and there is now the added bonus of Thomas Land for parents of small children, an assortment of Thomas the tank engine related mini rides for the kids, which seemed to be very popular! It was nice that there was something for the little ones to do, and it wasn’t just a case of us running around the park from one big ride to the next, dumping the little ones on whoever drew the short straw. Don’t get me wrong, this did happen a lot anyway, but we still managed to give the little ones a chance to have some fun on rides more suited to them! We had decided to make a full day of it, and got there early and stayed right up until they closed and literally threw us out! We found time to sit down together for lunch halfway through the day, and really made the most of catching up with our friends. We did try to get around everything in the park, and found ourselves coming back to this ride more than once…

Aside from theme parks and being off work sick, we have also been out in the garden a bit, as the wind and rain is starting to disappear and leaving us with sunnier, slightly warmer days.

These are all plants I grew last year from seed, the sweetpea, the lupin and the foxglove. The garden is taking some work, but is starting to look at bit more colourful now, and hopefully over the next couple of weekends we’ll be able to tidy it up a bit more, especially as it feels like bbq weather is pretty much here, and its time to get inviting some friends round for drinks and food!

Its great finally having a garden, something I have missed having for so many years. I can’t even remember the last time I had a proper garden to look after, and although its not always easy finding the time to do what needs doing, it is very rewarding, and almost a little therapeutic whilst you’re doing it. There is always the greenhouse as well, of course, which is is currently full of tomato plants and more flower seeds, some of which will need planting out in the coming weeks! Then there is the beauty of relaxing in it, and Olivia being able to play in it, and of course firing up the bbq in it! My plan for this summer is to invest in some kind of sun lounger and spend at least a couple of hours here and there with my feet up, catching a few rays, and quite possibly with a beer in my hand. Sometimes life is all about the little luxuries!



Gotta love a bank holiday

Gotta love a long bank holiday weekend, nothing feels better than sticking two fingers up to Monday morning and turning off your alarm clock, and there’s still one more bank holiday left for this year as well! There are numerous ways to kickstart the weekend, and while I couldn’t be out propping up a bar with friends or dancing the night away, I had a suitable, albeit a slightly antisocial alternative… film night! The wife was out with friends for food and wine, so once the little one was fed, bathed, and in bed, I had the evening to myself. I already had the pizza and the beer, so now all I needed to do was find a suitable film to watch. On a normal weekend I have to be fairly selective in my film choices with Clare around, if the pace is too slow she’ll fall asleep, if its too complicated she will lose interest and fall asleep, if the film is too long she will fall asleep, too much sci fi going and she will probably fall asleep… you see a pattern forming here? In fact, if we manage to get to the end of a film and a) she’s still awake and b) says she that she actually enjoyed it, then I am secretly high fiving myself and mentally doing victory laps of the living room! Tonight though, I had no such concerns, I had the full spectrum of films available to me, and could choose to watch absolutely anything I wanted, so where to begin? Well, the obvious two choices are Netflix and NowTV, as I have subscribed to both and have them available through the Apple TV. I eventually whittled my choices down to just the one film, Edge Of Tomorrow with Tom Cruise, the IMDb reviews were good, and although I’d previously discounted this film as I think Tom Cruise can be a bit smarmy, I have to say it turned out to be a pretty good film and I quite enjoyed it.

Saturday started out as a bit of a slow day until I decided that I was going to treat Olivia to a new car

and so we headed down to Toys R Us to have a look around. We already knew what we were buying as she had enjoyed Oliver’s push along Mini so much, and we knew it was currently half price, I certainly wasn’t going to be buying it later on in the year at full price! She had a look around and a play in the other cars, but the battery powered ones were ridiculously expensive for childrens toys. After wearing herself out running around the toy shop it was straight home for her nap whilst Clare went out food shopping. After the shop and nap we headed around to the in-laws to show off Olivia’s new car, and ended up staying for dinner.

I even managed to grab a few beers in the evening with a friend at the local, although it seems a little odd that he has moved into our old flat and so now has the long walk up to the pub and its me who has the five minute walk. I didn’t really mind when it was the other way around, but I definitely prefer it this way round! Its good to catch up with him, and also reassure him that after knowing him for almost 30 years I am not going to jump on the bandwagon of people who have turned their back on him after his marriage broke down. He is definitely very grateful that after all this time our friendship has never changed, we have been through quite a lot together over the years after all. I just hate when not only friends, but couples whose weddings I have photographed also split up, only this week I found out about another separation, and I was at least pleased to hear it was amicable between them, both parties are happy and have moved on, but for me half of the enjoyment of what I do is getting wrapped up in the excitement and emotion of what should be the biggest day of the lives of two people! Often at least one side of the couple will add me on facebook, and so I do get to find out when the marriage didn’t work out. Obviously the couples that do add me and then stay together make me even happier!

Sunday was another grand prix day, this time around it was Monaco, and I was very excited about this race, as its one of the classics. Clare is really understanding about the Formula 1, its totally not her thing at all, but she makes no fuss of the fact it takes up an entire Sunday afternoon, as she is pretty grateful that at least I show zero interest in football, which I know can take up the majority of weekends, and even weeknights, every single weekend of the football season, which pretty much runs from the end of August until the start of the following August… in fact I am not actually even sure why they have those four weeks off!

I had just enough time to see the race and watch the cars cross the finish line before we headed out to our friends housewarming, which we wrongly assumed was just going to be a couple of us and a few hot drinks. Little did we know it would be an actual houseful and and full on bbq! We were supposed to be meeting some of Clare’s friends afterwards, which was nice, but it sadly meant leaving the bbq early. It turned out that they couldn’t make it in the end, which was a shame, but on a positive note we hadn’t left the bbq when we found this out, so at least we got to stay a bit longer!

And that was the weekend, normally by the evening I’d be thinking about Monday morning and returning to work, only this time I didn’t have to… half term baby! I am totally going to pretend I don’t have a toddler who will be waking me up early, and at least living the dream of a lie in, for a short while in my head anyway!

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