Picturing Scotland

Picturing Scotland with Wiki Loves Monuments

By Sara Thomas, Scotland Programme Coordinator at Wikimedia UK and formerly Wikimedian in Residence at Museums Galleries Scotland. 

In 2015-16 I was the Wikimedian in Residence for Museums Galleries Scotland, training museum staff to edit Wikipedia, and generally being enthusiastic about open knowledge to anyone who would listen.  These days I’m continuing that work in my new role as Scotland Programme Coordinator for Wikimedia UK, working with all kinds of organisations to open up Scotland’s culture and heritage to a global audience.  And in September, that means Wiki Loves Monuments.

Wiki Loves Monuments is an international photo competition – the world’s largest – that aims to make high quality openly licensed images of the world’s listed buildings and scheduled monuments available to anyone in the world, through Wikimedia Commons.  And as you can see from this interactive map, there’s rather a lot of Scotland missing.  I’d like to turn some of those red pins blue.  Actually, I’d like to turn rather a lot of them blue.  Which is where you come in.

Picturing Scotland

There are prizes for the top 3 images in Scotland (sponsored by Wikimedia UK and Archaeology Scotland), as well as the top 10 images in the UK.  The latter then go forward to the international competition. Last year a Scottish image came second in the UK competition and I hope we can match that.

You can take a look at what’s already been submitted here.  Currently we’re holding our own against England, Wales & Northern Ireland, but there are still three weeks to go…

Why you should get involved

Encouraging the creation of openly-licensed cultural heritage resources is a natural extension of museums’ existing commitment to outreach. Helping to preserve those items for future generations.  The recent fires at both the National Museum in Rio de Janeiro, and the Mackintosh Building at the Glasgow School of Art are tragic reminders of how quickly key parts of our history and culture can be lost. The New Palmyra project has shown how valuable digital reconstruction can be. Wikipedia is encouraging people to contribute to the movement to digitally reconstruct the contents of the Rio museum, by donating images to Wikimedia Commons.

Images on Wikimedia Commons are licensed most commonly under a CC-BY-SA license. (Creative Commons Attribution Share Alike), which means that anyone can use those images, as long as they attribute them to the person who took them, and share using the same license.  This means that anyone – schools, students, and the general public, can access, learn from, and re-use these images for free. The images can also be used on any of Wikipedia’s sites – available in nearly 300 languages worldwide, and view-able by a global audience. Many museums are now releasing images of out of copyright works into the digital commons, like the Rijksmuseum, or the National Library of Wales (NLW) adding 10,000 images to Wikimedia Commons over the last 4 years. Over 455 million people have seen images from NLW that have been added to Wikipedia articles!

How you can get involved

Do you work in, or live near a listed building or scheduled monument? Have you visited any recently?  Is there a picture of it in our database? (Again, you can use our interactive map to check.) Pictures don’t have to have been taken in September – just uploaded in September – to be eligible for the competition.

All you need is a camera (or indeed, camera phone), and a Wikimedia Commons account (very easy to set up, and if you already have a Wikipedia account, you don’t even need to do that), and you’re ready to go. There are full instructions here about how to make your submission. Check out the video below from Wikimedia UK which shows how simple it is to take part.

Do you have a group of volunteers in your museum who are interested in photography, or perhaps you have a heritage walk of your local area planned? Are some of your staff are keen photographers? Is a picture of your museum in the database? If not, now is a perfect chance to add one.

 

“Am I a Monument?”

Some fun for the weekend. Play the classic 1950s get-together game Am I a Monument? – the “delightful thawing game”. Guess the monument that’s been pinned to your back by asking the other players yes/no questions such as “Am I a bridge?”

Am I a Monument? game
Am I a Monument? game

A bargain at only one shilling-and-tuppence three-farthing (including tax). Endless fun to be had by all!

Price label
Price label

Help us turn the pins green! [International map]

This post applies to the Monumental map – ie to the campaigns in countries that use the Monumental map based on Wikidata.

Help WLM contestants get the feedback they are looking for – turn the pins on the map from red to green.

On the map, monuments that aren’t yet on Wikidata show as a red pin. You can help those pins turn green as contestants upload pictures of ‘missing’ monuments. It doesn’t happen automatically, as manual checking is needed to make sure the image uploaded is actually suitable to be used as the primary Wikidata illustration.

To help, login to Magnus Manske’s newly-updated Wikidata File Candidates tool and make sure that the COMMONS and ON WIKIDATA options are selected.

Type in the Commons category you want to check, eg Images from Wiki Loves Monuments 2018 United Kingdom. Use the cog button to show/hide options, and the refresh button beneath to run the query.

If there are any candidate images to be added to Wikidata, they’ll appear in a list. On the left are Wikidata items and on the right are the potential candidates. First, make sure the correct WD item has been matched by the tool. If not, remove the line item by clicking the red button on the left.

Then, to add a new primary WD click on ‘Image’. You should normally select only a single best and most representative picture, but you can select several if really essential. If there is a good representative internal shot, add that as well using the ‘Image of Interior’ option from the Photo button.

Click on the red cross on the left to tell the tool that you won’t be using the other images of that monument (this prevents those images being re-displayed to you later). If there is no suitable representative image at all, ignore the suggestions and just click the red cross.

Sometimes the WD item already has one or more images, in which case they will appear under a horizontal red line in the left column. That may be because the WD item has been changed since the tool did its last data-collection run, or because the existing image is, for example, an internal shot and the tool is presenting possible options for an additional representative image.

Once you’ve added one or more images to WD, the corresponding pin on the map will change from red to green within a few minutes.

Many thanks to  Magnus for this wonderful tool!

Help us turn the pins blue!

This post applies to the WLM UK interactive map – ie the campaigns in Scotland, Wales, England and Northern Ireland.

Help WLM contestants get the feedback they are looking for – turn the pins on the WLM-UK map from red to blue.

On the interactive map, monuments that aren’t yet on Wikidata show as a red pin. You can help those pins turn blue as contestants upload pictures of ‘missing’ monuments. It doesn’t happen automatically, as manual checking is needed to make sure the image uploaded is actually suitable to be used as the primary Wikidata illustration.

To help, login to Magnus Manske’s newly-updated Wikidata File Candidates tool and make sure that the COMMONS and ON WIKIDATA options are selected.

Type in the Commons category you want to check, eg Images from Wiki Loves Monuments 2018 United Kingdom. Use the cog button to show/hide options, and the refresh button beneath to run the query.

If there are any candidate images to be added to Wikidata, they’ll appear in a list. On the left are Wikidata items and on the right are the potential candidates. First, make sure the correct WD item has been matched by the tool. If not, remove the line item by clicking the red button on the left.

Then, to add a new primary WD click on ‘Image’. You should normally select only a single best and most representative picture, but you can select several if really essential. If there is a good representative internal shot, add that as well using the ‘Image of Interior’ option from the Photo button.

Click on the red cross on the left to tell the tool that you won’t be using the other images of that monument (this prevents those images being re-displayed to you later). If there is no suitable representative image at all, ignore the suggestions and just click the red cross.

Sometimes the WD item already has one or more images, in which case they will appear under a horizontal red line in the left column. That may be because the WD item has been changed since the tool did its last data-collection run, or because the existing image is, for example, an internal shot and the tool is presenting possible options for an additional representative image.

Once you’ve added one or more images to WD, the corresponding pin on the WLM-UK interactive map will change from red to blue within a few minutes.

Many thanks to  Magnus for this wonderful tool!

A judge’s eye

Our judge Andy Chopping reflects on the 2017 shortlist and offers some tips for this year’s contestants.

September is upon us, heralding the start of the Wiki Loves Monuments photography competition. And I’m delighted to have been asked once again to help judge this excellent competition, which last year saw a remarkable 14,000 entries from across the UK.

I thought that this year’s entrants might benefit from some constructive ideas based on the 200 shortlisted photographs that we were asked to judge last year and why the 10 finalists succeeded in capturing a judge’s eye.

So, what makes a great Wiki Loves Monuments photo?

In no particular order I’d suggest that subject, viewpoint, composition, lighting and focus are all key elements.

Subject

Well, monuments obviously. But consider the vast number of visitors who have photographed England’s well-known castles, cathedrals and stately homes. You can be fairly certain that we will receive hundreds of thoroughly competent images rehashing the same old subjects. Might your efforts be better used in photographing something less mainstream? Given my interest in archaeology I was surprised to find that of last years 200 shortlisted images only 3 captured the monuments which were built by our early pre-Roman ancestors. And equally delighted that this one made the top ten:

Avebury henge and stone circles, by Paul Adams
Commended 2017: Avebury henge and stone circles, by Paul Adams, Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 4.0

Last year’s shortlist also surprised me with its paucity of photographs showing building interiors. Less than 15% of the entrants attempted to cover this area, and only one made the final cut. So the key to finding something new, and possibly success in the 2018 competition, might be as simple as moving indoors!

East Building Of Central Market, London, by Stevekeiretsu
Commended 2017: East Building Of Central Market, London, by Stevekeiretsu, Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 4.0

Viewpoint

Try to avoid the classic ‘postcard views’; no matter how perfect your image might be it will struggle to make an impression if it’s one of several dozen almost identical photographs. A great many of our monuments are so well known and so heavily photographed that even if we haven’t been to, say, Salisbury Cathedral/the Clifton Suspension Bridge/Stonehenge we will already be so familiar with the monument that we already know the viewpoints that by public consensus are reckoned to be the best.

And this is where the challenge lies. Walk around the monument, look at it through fresh eyes and find a viewpoint that avoids the ordinary and illustrates the monument in a way that others will not find so familiar, and will ideally never have experienced. Last year’s entries included a number of photographs made by photographers who had certainly found new viewpoints, working with UAV or ‘Drone’ camera platforms. Sadly none of these aerial images made the final cut. This year might be different. I know from my professional life that, used well (and legally), this technology can be a tremendous asset, but it’s essential to remember that it’s not enough to have an unusual viewpoint. Composition and lighting are also key to success.

Perch Rock Lighthouse, by Mark Warren 1973
Commended 2017: Perch Rock Lighthouse, by Mark Warren 1973, Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 4.0

Composition

Once you’ve selected the viewpoint for your photograph you’ll start the process of composing the image, finding the ideal way to frame the subject. The use of a tripod will help enormously, not simply by providing a stable base but more importantly by slowing down your actions and giving you time to consider fine adjustments.

Be aware of the classic guidelines of composition: rule of thirds, leading lines, and use of symmetry. But also keep enough background in the image to convey a sense of space and set the monument in context. Not only will the additional space give greater presence to the subject, it will also make the image more ‘useable’ and potentially more successful than the same view and moment tightly cropped.

Consider the use of human scale in your images. Less than 10% of last year’s shortlisted submissions featured people and in only 2 of those did their inclusion appear to have been deliberate. It’s undoubtedly true that a bus full of tourists can ruin an image, but one or two well-placed people can provide an added focal point for your shot, introduce a sense of scale and create a more engaging image overall.

De La Warr Pavilion, by Oliver Tookey
3rd prize 2017: De La Warr Pavilion, by Oliver Tookey, Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 4.0

Lighting

Lighting is almost everything in an image. Walk around your subject and predict how it might look at different times of the day or night. Consider the movement of daylight across your subject and try to plan the ideal hour to make your photograph.

Try to avoid harsh midday sun and exploit the golden hour. Light in the morning and early evening is much better suited to photography – long shadows accentuate texture and detail and the light has a colour and quality that can lift atmospheric quality.

But that being said, don’t be afraid of bad weather. People do their best to avoid wind, rain, sleet and snow. And as a result there’s a lack of photos of monuments in these conditions which immediately sets such images apart from the rest. The 2017 shortlist had only 4 images made in poor weather and 2 of them made it into the final 10.

Spectacular, or subtle and atmospheric lighting is sometimes encountered by accident, but more often by planning and effort. British weather is fickle and many attempts might be required before you find perfect moment to make your photograph.

Martello tower at Felixstowe Ferry, Suffolk, by Tony Lockhart
Commended 2017: Martello tower at Felixstowe Ferry, Suffolk, by Tony Lockhart, Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 4.0

Focus

If your camera allows it use selective focus to draw the observer’s eye into the frame, don’t simply let the camera determine what’s important. Selective depth of field can concentrate the observer’s attention where you want it, and can throw unwanted visual clutter into a soft un-distracting fore- or background. If appropriate, consider the use of long exposure to add a sense of movement to your image. Trees, clouds, flags, running water all lend themselves to this technique – but make your intentions apparent, there’s a world of difference between the apparently clumsy slight blurriness of water on the seashore and the mercurial silk like quality of a waves captured by a tripod-mounted long exposure.

The Derelict West Pier at Brighton, by Mathew Hoser
1st prize 2017: The Derelict West Pier at Brighton, by Mathew Hoser, Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 4.0

Finally …

If possible work with a tripod-mounted camera. Work slowly and make fewer, better images.

Try to see ‘the whole picture’. Many potentially great images don’t make the cut because they were ruined by a fleeting cloud shadow, or an unintended passer-by.

Shoot raw if possible and certainly use the tools available in your preferred processing program. But don’t overdo it; use your skills to finesse a good image, not to rescue a poor one.

Be critical of your own work; avoid at all costs submitting several slightly different versions of the same image; you might leave one stand-out image swamped by your apparent lack of confidence.

Your image should evoke an emotional response which demands more than a cursory glance. It should require a little work from the observer, drawing them into the frame, into a captured moment and place.

Ask yourself if your selected image will stand up to the ‘calendar test’… imagine it on your wall or desk for an entire month. When it’s time to turn the page a great photo still engages and entertains – will yours?

UK heritage Open Days 2018 – focus on interiors

East Building Of Central Market, London
East Building Of Central Market, London, by Stevekeiretsu, Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 4.0

There’s not long to go now until Wiki Loves Monuments returns in September 2018, when you can start uploading your photos of heritage monuments in the UK and try to win one of our prizes!

As we’ve been running the competition for several years now, we already have external photos of quite a few of the top tourist sites.  But we’re still missing images of many interesting local or lesser-known sites. And we have very few high-quality photographs of interiors.  With that in mind we thought we would write an update on last year’s blogpost on heritage open days to suggest places you can go to take photos of interiors.

England

For England, check out the Heritage Open Days website here. The open days this year are on 6-9 & 13-16 September and you can search for events in your area here or by region here. This is the first time that the events will be held across two weekends, as more and more places are participating.

This year there are a number of archives taking part, which you can see on this map, and there are lots of other suggestions on the website for outdoor events, family friendly events, museum events and much more. You can also read about National Trust properties which are participating in the Heritage Open Days programme on their website.

The theme of this year’s event is Extraordinary Women to mark the centenary of Women’s Suffrage, and there are a number of places to visit that tell the stories of great women such as Gertrude Bell and Marianne North.

Other events giving you a rare look into heritage sites in September include Open House London (22-23rd September).

Scotland

In Scotland the website to look at is Doors Open Days. You can see the list of events here. For more ideas, see this page.

Wales

Events in Wales are organised by Cadw. See the list of events here. For more ideas, see this page.

Join us

If you are planning on taking photos at one of these events, why not get in touch and let us know? If you are a member of Wikimedia UK (only £5 a year! Join us here). You can also borrow photographic equipment for free to help you take photos for the competition. Don’t hesitate to get in touch if you have questions about how to get involved or submit your photos!

John Lubbock

10 Tips for Architectural Photography

From our judge James O. Davies, Head of Photography at Historic England.

10 Tips for Architectural Photography

You’ll need to read James’s article to see the example images, but here are his tips, in brief:

1. Before taking a picture, walk all the way round the building, acquaint yourself with the site.

2. Decide exactly what you want to say about the building, what it is you want to communicate through the photograph.

3. Use the ambient light and time your photograph accordingly. Watch how a building responds by the way light changes from dawn till nightfall.

4. Try to keep the composition simple. Try not to over complicate the frame. Remove unwanted clutter and remove superfluous items.

5. Look for even illumination across an elevation and beware the elevation that’s half in shadow. Try to shoot either early morning or late evening when the the light is more sympathetic.

6. If shooting whole elevations, don’t truncate the building, step back, use space and let the building breathe.

7. Photographs don’t always have to taken from eye level, look for elevation, this will give a better sense of proportion.

8. Keep looking. Your initial ideas and viewpoint may well encompass everything you want to say, but don’t rely on it. By changing position and watching how the light changes other shots may present themselves.

9. Be persistent. Successful photographs take time, so slow down and never rush a photograph. If the conditions are against you don’t succumb to the act of taking the image, return the next day, the next week; the building and architect deserve the best.

10. Shoot RAW files, use a prime aperture, use a tripod and endeavour to keep verticals true. Use your eyes and feet to compose the image before setting up the camera.

© James O. Davies 2015

Wiki Loves Monuments is back for 2018!

We’re very pleased to announce that the UK is taking part in the Wiki Loves Monuments photo contest again in 2018. Eligible subjects for you to photograph include all grades and categories of Listed buildings, plus Scheduled Monuments. See our eligible subjects page for details.

Photos for the contest can be taken at any time, so get shooting now ready to enter your images in September!

Exploring WLM: mills

When someone mentions mills you might think of picturesque windmills or massive textile mills of the Industrial Revolution. Both are often protected historic sites in the UK, and Wiki Loves Monuments has plenty of impressive photos.

Herringfleet Windmill” by Fuzzypiggy is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.

Herringfleet was built in the early 19th century and today is a Grade II* listed building.

C Station Pump House” by Msemmett is licensed CC BY-SA 3.0.
Derwent Valley Mills East Mill Belper” by Danielloh79 is licensed CC BY-SA 3.0.
Elstead Mill” by Ainslie is licensed CC BY-SA 3.0.
“Hartford Mill Oldham” by RevDave is licensed CC BY-SA 3.0.

North West England is particularly well known for its role in the Industrial Revolution.

Jesmond Dene Mill” by PaulTurner is licensed CC BY-SA 4.0.
Bridge over Hebden Water at Gibson Mill” by RevDave is licensed CC BY-SA 4.0.
Thames Tunnel Mills” by King of Hearts is licensed CC BY-SA 4.0.
Tone Mills Dyehouse” by Msemmett is licensed CC BY-SA 4.0.

Tone Mill in Somerset was part of the largest woollen mill in South West England.

Abbey Mill from north” by Rodw is licensed CC BY-SA 3.0.
Saxtead Mill” by Kevinwailes is licensed CC BY-SA 3.0.
Water Mill, Ludlow, Shropshire” by Vincemc is licensed CC BY-SA 3.0.
Mapledurham Watermill” by Msemmett is licensed CC BY-SA 4.0.
Broadstone Mill, Reddish” by Stevekraken is licensed CC BY-SA 4.0.

Find out what historic sites are just round the corner and take part in the world’s largest photo competition!

From beginner to prize winner in a few months

Albert Memorial in Kensington Gardens‘ by Sarah Ellacott is licensed CC BY-SA 3.0.

In October 2013, I received an unexpected email. A photo I had taken of the Albert Memorial and submitted to Wiki Loves Monuments UK had placed in the Top Ten as a Highly Commended photo.

I was shocked. Never in a million years had I expected one of the four photos I had submitted to the competition to place in the Top Ten.

The reason why – I was an amateur photographer, who had only received their first DSLR about six months earlier. I was still learning how to use certain components of the camera and my editing skills were shaky at best.

The photo that had placed, had been taken on an early June evening as my daughter and I wandered around Kensington Gardens, ahead of a performance we were to be attending at the Royal Albert Hall. I had noticed the tourists walking around the monument and taking photos, but I didn’t want to take the typical tourist shot, I wanted a different perspective of it, I wanted it to be different.

I couldn’t tell you now, what led me to that spot or even why. All I know was I saw an opportunity at that point for a different vantage point, a different perspective. With the branches and leaves of the tree framing the memorial and the low evening sun behind it, I took my chance and got the shot.

In my eyes, the photo wasn’t anything special. It had been shot on Auto and in JPEG as at the time I was too new and too scared to try to use manual or any other file type. Even so, I was pleased with the photo I had captured.

However, it seemed the judges of the UK National competition of Wiki Loves Monuments did think it was something special.

Knowing this, it gave me a boost in my confidence in my skills and potential as a photographer. It also gave me something to focus on, an interest in which to take photos – architecture.

Since 2013, I have continued to pursue my interest in photography, slowly improving my skills. I have also continued to partake in the competition, which led to one of my photos placing second internationally in 2014. I have had many of my photos which I have submitted also used across Wikipedia, despite them not placing in the competitions.

My message to those amateur photographers who are too nervous to compete against professionals, please don’t be. I am proof that someone with limited knowledge of photography can create a special shot and place within a competition. However, even if your photos do not place, you are helping to build a collection of images of important historic buildings and an amazing resource for future generations.

This is even more important than ever with wars and natural disasters threatening and destroying historic architecture across the world. A prime example of this is the partial destruction of the Old City of Aleppo because of the Syrian Civil War. Thankfully, Wikipedia has numerous photos of the beautiful city from before its destruction. Therefore, if you can capture a photo of a Listed Building, then please do. You never know how important that one photo will be.

War memorials, Wikipedia, and why you should care

The First World War caused carnage on a scale not seen before or since. In its aftermath, thousands of memorials were erected in Britain as in the other countries involved. They started as a way for communities to mourn their dead, given that the vast majority of bodies were never repatriated, and became a focal point for local remembrance ceremonies which continue a century on.

I have been editing Wikipedia since 2009 with a particular interest in military history. About two years ago, I was looking for a project related to the First World War centenary and noticed that Wikipedia’s coverage of war memorials was patchy. I decided to start with the works of Edwin Lutyens.

Lutyens is probably best known today for his country houses, but the war profoundly affected him and much of his work from 1914 onwards focused on commemorating the casualties. He designed around 50 memorials in towns, cities, and villages across England as well as one in Wales and dozens of memorials and cemeteries in France and Belgium. His most famous memorial in Britain is the Cenotaph on London’s Whitehall and this served as the model for many of his other works, including memorials in Southampton, Rochdale, and Manchester. I began by creating articles for those of Lutyens’ memorials that didn’t already have one, starting with the Gerrards Cross Memorial Building.

Gerrards Cross Memorial Building” by Harry Mitchell is licensed CC BY-SA 4.0.

I started there because I’d been to Gerrards Cross with a friend and fellow Wikipedian Chris McKenna and because it’s an anomaly among Lutyens’ memorials (it was the only war memorial he designed with a functional purpose). Being a perfectionist and having a full-time job, it took me a few months but all 43 of Lutyens’ free-standing war memorials in Britain now have a Wikipedia article and I’m working my way through those that already had articles. These are taking longer because they tend to be big city centre monuments with a lot of detail to cover. So far I’ve taken five war memorial articles (Northampton, Devon County, Spalding, North Eastern Railway, and York City) to featured article status, the highest level of recognition an article can be granted by the community, which comes after months of detailed review and criticism. Eventually, I’m hoping that those will be joined by several more and that these can be showcased on Wikipedia’s main page, hopefully on major anniversaries.

Ayscoughfee Hall Gardens” (Spalding War Memorial) by Richard Croft is licensed CC BY-SA 2.0.

So how can you get involved?

Well, war memorials are everywhere. Even tiny rural villages often have a war memorial and in my opinion these are often more poignant than many of the memorials in big cities – in some cases, you can see more names on the memorial than houses in the village, which truly shows the scale of the First World War. The simplest and easiest way to get involved is to take a photo of your local war memorial or any other war memorial you pass. The good news is that many of them are listed buildings and Historic England are listing more throughout the centenary, which means you can enter photos of them into the Wiki Love Monuments Competition. It is the world’s largest photography competition, and was started to share images of our heritage. If you add your photos of war memorials near you, you are helping the whole world share in this important part of history.

Lindisfarne War Memorial” by Iain Lees is licensed CC BY-SA 2.0.

For the more adventurous, many of the listed memorials will be notable enough that you can write a Wikipedia article about them. Memorials in big cities or by famous architects will probably already have an article but there might be new information you can add. There are over 1500 memorials currently listed and Historic England are aiming to list another 1000 – there will presumably be dozens or hundreds more in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland – so the chances are you won’t have to look far from home for inspiration.

Use the Wiki Loves Monuments map to enter photos into the competition.

Special photos and Open House

Royal Albert Hall – Central View 169” by Colin is licensed CC BY-SA 4.0.

The Royal Albert Hall is best known for hosting the “BBC Proms”, a summer festival of classical music concerts. Opened in 1871, it stands 83m wide by 72m deep and 41m high, with capacity for over 5000 guests. As fitting for Victorian Britain, the hall is ornately decorated, with red and gold the dominant colours. The fibreglass acoustic diffusing discs, normally beige, are here coloured by violet LED lights.

The building is only open to the public when attending a concert or on a guided tour, neither of which afford the time or opportunity to take high quality photographs. Fortunately, the RAH takes part in Open House London, an annual architecture festival where over 800 buildings are opened for free to the public over one weekend in September.

As a photographer in London, Open House is one of my favourite weekends of the year. The focus of the event is architecture, both modern and historical. Some buildings have extremely limited access, with a ballot run to award tickets. For example, access to 10 Downing Street or going up the BT Tower, but this also includes many small places that could not handle large crowds such as private residences. Other buildings are extremely popular, with huge queues to access. The Gherkin (30 St Mary Axe) is a prime example, as it can only handle 30 visitors at a time. Many though are more reasonable in terms of queues and volume of guests.

I decided to visit the Royal Albert Hall on Open House Saturday last year and joined the relatively short queue to enter at 9:30. Guests were guided round a set route which took in most areas of the building, including access to selected areas of seating on most levels. Photographically, this was a big advantage as the downside to Open House is that fellow visitors crowd in front of the camera, providing not only a distraction to the eye but also making long-exposure photography very tricky. Here, though, it was possible to photograph the hall without visitors appearing in the frame.

The image above is not a single photograph, but is stitched together from 21 frames. In fact, I took around 40 frames that cover a wide and tall area, and this is just a crop of the full stitched image. In order that the frames align correctly without parallax errors, one needs to use a special panoramic head on top of a tripod. This equipment ensures the camera rotates around the “entrance pupil” of the lens, which is where the light rays cross before being focused onto the sensor. The frames are stitched together on a computer, using a software package called PtGui.

One problem with photographing interiors is the extremes of brightness from the dark corners to the bright lights or windows. This is too much for a single photograph to handle with current technology. To get round this, I took three photographs for each frame, at 1/3s, 1.3s and 5s. These three exposures are combined by PtGui to produce a High Dynamic Range (HDR) image. This is then converted back to a standard JPG file with Photoshop Lightroom, using a technique called tonemapping.

The result is an image with far higher resolution, much lower noise, and better lighting control than could be achieved with even the most expensive camera in a single shot. It is time-consuming both to take and to develop afterwards, but this effort paid off with second prize in last year’s Wiki Loves Monuments international awards.

Open days in the UK 2017

Heritage sites are opening their doors around the UK during september, giving you a chance to see some quirky, iconic and hidden places that the public does not ordinarily get to see. Most of the events are free to attend.

Around the UK, the open days are slightly different. In Northern Ireland the events take place this weekend, on the 9th and 10th of September. Over 300 properties are open during the weekend, and you can check them out here. They include Dunlace Castle, Greencastle, Drumalis country house and Rams Island.

Dunluce Castle in c.1888, from the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland with no known copyright restrictions.

Open Doors in Wales is run by Cadw, the Welsh heritage body, and you can browse the events on their website here. Events run throughout the month of September, so check to see when particular places are open. Many events are on the 9th and 10th also, such as open doors at Ruthin Castle hotel, Aberdulais Tinworks, Penrhyn Castle, Dharmavajra Kadampa Buddhist Centre and Tredegar House.

Tredegar House” by Celuici is licensed CC BY-SA 4.0.

In Scotland, the open days are the 23rd and 24th, and the Doors Open days website has a list of places you can see during the weekend. It has a handy map so you can browse places nearby:

Around England you can search for events on the heritageopendays.org site. Events run from Thursday 7th to Sunday 10th September. Open buildings include Nottingham’s Victorian police station, Wren Library in Cambridge, Alderman Fenwick’s house in Newcastle and the Tees Transporter Bridge in Middlesbrough.

In London, Open Doors takes place on September 16/17. You can apply to visit Downing Street, Gray’s Inn and Lancaster House as well as the lesser known Buddhapadipa Temple, Crystal Palace Subway, National Liberal Club, Valence House and Stationers’ Hall. There are over 800 buildings open to the public in London alone, which you can browse on the Open House London site.  

Of course, all this creates an amazing opportunity for people to go and take photos of heritage for #WikiLovesMonuments 2017! So what are you waiting for? Don’t forget to add your images with the Wiki Loves Monuments online tool.

Mythology and Landscape

Gwal y Filiast” by Karen Sawyer is licensed CC BY-SA 3.0.

They say every picture tells a story… well, this is mine. It’s about the relationship between myth and landscape and my connection with a 5,000 year-old cromlech (or dolmen) in Britain that goes by two names; Bwrdd Arthur (‘Arthur’s Table’) and Gwâl y Filiast (‘Lair of the Greyhound Bitch’).

I first visited the cromlech one fine spring day – April 28th 2010, to be precise – shortly after I’d decided to write a book about the Muse. It sits on a hillside above the river Tâf, in a liminal place between two counties in Wales – Carmarthenshire and Pembrokeshire – called Cilymaenllwyd, which means ‘retreat of the ancient stone’ (cil: ‘retreat’, maen: ‘stone’, llwyd: ‘ancient’). I was immediately enchanted by the place. Little did I know then that, three years later, I would come to live nearby and spend many, many hours here with my dogs, come rain (and snow) or shine, tuning-in and musing upon its original function and appearance.

There’s an old Welsh legend, The Tale of Taliesin, that tells of Ceridwen’s cauldron and her strange brew called Awen (Welsh for ‘Muse’). The story goes that three magical drops touched Gwion’s lips and he became wise (the name Taliesin means ‘shining intellect’). I was reading The Mythology and Rites of the British Druids (1809) by Edward Davies and nearly fell off my chair when he said that;

“…in the tale of Taliesin’s initiation, the table of Arthur is connected with the mysteries of Ceridwen, and in Llan Beudy [Llanboidy] parish, in Carmarthenshire, we find a monument which joins the name of Arthur with another name, which we can only refer to that goddess. It is called Bwrdd Arthur, Arthur’s table, and Gwal y Vilast, the couch of the Greyhound bitch.”

In the story, which took place during the days of King Arthur, Gwion turns into a hare and Ceridwen transforms herself into a greyhound bitch and chases him down to the river. Could this cromlech perhaps be the physical locale mentioned in the story? I don’t believe this was a burial chamber or passage tomb – not sepulchral, but chthonic. In the Mysteries of Ancient Greece, initiation took place underground in dark spaces overseen by the Muses. In a sense, Ceridwen was a British Muse; a teacher of these ancient Mysteries in Britain. The cromlech was originally covered by an earthen mound where one could, literally, ‘go within’ and receive insight and inspiration, just as monks retreated to their ‘cells’ and hermitages.

I continued reading: “… the period which was employed in preparing the mystical cauldron, the anniversary of its commencement would fall, of course, upon the twenty-ninth of April.” I looked at the date… it was the 29th April, almost three years to the day of my first visit (make of that what you will).

To me, this is more than just a photograph that I took one cold, winter morning as the sun rose through the mist – it’s about the genius loci of a place; a reminder that the Muse lives on… by a cromlech in a wooded valley somewhere in wild West Wales.

Bydded i’r hen iaith barhau.

~ Karen Sawyer.

To find out more about Karen’s forthcoming book about the Muse, you can connect with her on Twitter @impishkaren or email muse@arcconvention.org

Exploring WLM: prehistory

With 1.3 million visitors in 2014, Stonehenge is just about the most famous prehistoric site in the UK. There are some striking monuments which have withstood the elements for thousands of years, and some examples from the previous editions of Wiki Loves Monuments are below.

"Wayland Smithy Long barrow" by Msemmettis licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.
Wayland Smithy Long barrow” by Msemmett is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.
"Badbury Rings" by Dormouse14is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.
Badbury Rings” by Dormouse14 is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.

There are about 3,500 hillforts across the UK from the Iron Age and Late Bronze Age. They can be absolutely huge, as big as 20 hectares and you often need some distance to appreciate them.

"Gwal y Filiast" by Karen Sawyeris licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.
Gwal y Filiast” by Karen Sawyer is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.
"Silbury Hill,nr.Avebury" by Dave Yatesis licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.
Silbury Hill,nr.Avebury” by Dave Yates is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.

This prehistoric mound is part of a landscape designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site which includes Avebury and Stonehenge.

West Kennet Long Barrow – Interior” by Ark3pix is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.

You don’t often get to see inside a prehistoric monument.

"Ring of Brodgar, Orkney" by Stevekeiretsuis licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.
Ring of Brodgar, Orkney” by Stevekeiretsu is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.

Orkney is renowned for its prehistoric sites, including Skara Brae (a Neolithic settlement) and the ring of Brogdar, a stone circle.

"Castlerigg Stone Circle, Cumbria" by SusieAnnais licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.
Castlerigg Stone Circle, Cumbria” by SusieAnna is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.
"4 Ballynoe Stone Circle 1" by Irishdeltaforceis licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.
4 Ballynoe Stone Circle 1” by Irishdeltaforce is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.
"Woodhenge, Wiltshire, Inglaterra, 2014-08-12" by Diego Delsois licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.
Woodhenge, Wiltshire, Inglaterra, 2014-08-12” by Diego Delso is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.
"Stonehenge from the Distance" by ExtraMilePhotoUKis licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.
Stonehenge from the Distance” by ExtraMilePhotoUK is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.

And of course no trip through the UK’s prehistory would be complete without Stonehenge!

Exploring WLM: Romans

The UK is rich with heritage and the Romans left behind their mark on the landscape. Below are some striking pictures from the UK’s first two editions of Wiki Loves Monuments. Will you be adding your photos to the mix this year?

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Termas_romanas_de_BATH.jpg
The Roman baths at Bath. “Termas romanas de BATH” by Francisco Conde Sánchez is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.

Bath is a very popular subject for photographers, and it’s easy to see why!

Hadrian's Wall by Tilman2007
08-Hadrians Wall-034” by Tilman2007 is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

Marking the northern extent of the Roman Empire, Hadrian’s Wall stretches for miles.

Remains of the Roman baths in Leicester
The Jewry Wall in Leicester. “Remains of a Roman bath house” by Purusothaman is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0
Masonry of the Jewry Wall by Purusothaman
Masonry of the Jewry Wall. “Roman bath house232” by Purusothaman is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0
Banded masonry at the Jewry Wall by Purusothaman
Banded masonry at the Jewry Wall. “Roman bath house40-1” by Purusothaman is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

The Roman baths at Leicester have distinctive bands of red brick

North Leigh Roman Villa by Lolalatorre
North Leigh Roman Villa” by Lolalatorre is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.
A Roman capital reused as a font at St Andrew's Church, Wroxeter
A Roman capital reused as a font at St Andrew’s Church, Wroxeter. “THE FONT A RECYCLED ROMAN CAPITAL” by HARTLEPOOLMARINA2014 is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.
Two Roman columns reused as gate piers at St Andrew's Church, Wroxeter by HARTLEPOOLMARINA2014
Two Roman columns reused as gate piers at St Andrew’s Church, Wroxeter. “WROXETER CHURCH OF ST ANDREW” by HARTLEPOOLMARINA2014 is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.

Roman buildings provided a handy source of building materials, and the buildings were often dismantled for the stone to be used elsewhere.

Chester Roman amphitheatre by Emdee314
Chester Roman amphitheatre. “Roman Amphitheatre” by Emdee314 is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.

Every good Roman town needed an amphitheatre. There were at least 230 across the Empire.

York city walls with Roman foundations by Mkooiman
York city walls with Roman foundations. “York UK Wall Roman Foundation” by Mkooiman is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.

Roman walls made a good foundation for later buildings, as seen here at York.

The Roman lighthouse at Dover by Brendaannc
Roman light house Dover” by Brendaannc is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.
The Roman walls of the fort at Portchester, later adapted into a medieval castle. Photo by Johan Bakker.
The Roman walls of the fort at Portchester, later adapted into a medieval castle. “1229190-Portchester Castle” by Johan Bakker is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.

The defences of an abandoned Roman fort made an easily reused site for later castles.

The Roman town walls at Colchester by Maria
Colchester’s Roman walls. “The Roman Town Wall” by Maria is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.
The baths within the remains of Wroxeter Roman city by Stewart Watkiss
The baths within the remains of Wroxeter Roman city. “Wroxeter Roman City remains” by Stewart Watkiss is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.

Want to know more about Roman Britain? Wikipedia has a wealth of information about it, including a recreation of a Roman fort by Rotherham Museums and Archives. Get snapping ready for September!

One Million Images

Stockholm Palace. An entry from last year’s Wiki Loves Monuments. Photo by Arild Vågen CC-BY-SA 3.0.

One million images uploaded so far to the world’s largest photo contest – Wiki Loves Monuments.

In this year’s competition so far 150,000 images from 40 different countries have been uploaded. This means that since Wiki Loves Monuments started four years ago more than 1,000,000 photos of cultural heritage have been shared through Wikimedia Commons.

Wiki Loves Monuments is the world’s largest photography contest, and aims to collect images under a free licence for use on Wikimedia sites to document historic sites and monuments. Now in its fourth year, 5,000 people from around the world have taken part this month.

Volunteer Wikimedians organise the contest in each country, with the winning photos from national contests elevated to an international jury in November. The international jury will announce the top ten international photos and the overall best picture winner in December.

“With over one million free images of heritage sites across the world, Wiki Loves Monuments is one of the world’s most important projects dealing with history today”, says Deror Lin, the international coordinator of the competition. “Year after year, volunteers document hundreds of thousands of heritage sites across the world, upload the images to the Internet under a free licence, for the benefit of the current generation and the next generations. These people display the splendor of creativity and culture in their countries”.

The photos will be uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under a free licence, so they can be used by anybody, for any purpose, as long as the photographer is credited. Many of the photos will appear in Wikipedia, the world’s largest encyclopedia, and all will be available to download at no cost.

Common errors – camera handling

Please try to avoid these common errors, as they make your photographs much less useful.

Click on the right of the main image to step through the errors.

Common errors – auto settings

Please try to avoid these common errors, as they make your photographs much less useful.

Click on the right of the main image to step through the errors.

Common errors – subjects

Please try to avoid these common errors, as they make your photographs much less useful.

Click on the right of the main image to step through the errors.

The UK home of the world's largest photo competition