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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.

Subjects to explore

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 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

Subjects to explore

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!

Subjects to explore

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?
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.

Take better photos

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.

Take better photos

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.

Take better photos

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.


Why are we doing this?

This article was originally posted to on 29 December 2012 by , one of the international organizers.

In the past year, we’ve often had the question “why are you doing this?”. Many people outside the Wikimedia movement assume at first that this must be a professional job for me, as one of the organizers – and when you explain that we’re doing this almost fully by volunteers, and hundreds of them, people are often flabbergasted.

Volunteers who helped organize Wiki Loves Monuments. Photo: Pierre Selim, CC BY-SA

Wikipedia is written by volunteers, and Wiki Loves Monuments is primarily organized by volunteers. In that sense, both are very much the same. But Wiki Loves Monuments doesn’t stand on itself as a project, like Wikipedia does. So when people think about why volunteers are working on organizing this mega photo contest, they first assume that it must be about all the photos we’re collecting – because we all love photography.

And of course, that plays a role. But there’s more to it. For example, it is a great way to develop more skills and enthusiasm in our chapters. Wiki Loves Monuments is a well documented initiative, which makes it easier to organize. Some infrastructure is already in place, and it is a good excuse to get in touch with potential partners who are into cultural heritage in their country. The combination of promoting local cultural heritage, a competition element and Wikipedia has proven to be a golden one.

But more importantly, as a movement we have been working to get more people involved in contributing to Wikipedia and its sister projects. And that is just what Wiki Loves Monuments is: an easier and nicer way to contribute content to Wikipedia! You can upload photos which you know will be useful, and you can see the result of it rather quickly. The interface is simplified and if you get the hang of it you already know a topic you can move forward. We get in touch with people we’d normally hardly meet: people who love cultural heritage you can find on the streets: houses, churches, temples, castles or other tangible heritage. Some of these people, often a bit older than the average Wikipedian (27 year old man), might become more interested in editing on cultural heritage topics on Wikipedia.

But maybe the key reason why we’re doing this all is awareness. Making people aware that Wikipedia is run by volunteers. Making people aware that Wikipedia can be edited by anyone. Making people aware that they have much valuable material that can be shared under a free license. Making people aware that they can choose for their photos and writings to lie on the shelf, unused, or to be published under a free license, be re-used by others and built upon. Working, step by step, to that world where every person can share in the sum of all human knowledge.