Iron Bridge Road in Tongwynlais - A Photo by Stuart Herbert

View these photos as part of my Merthyr Road set on Flickr. Or, if you prefer, view a map with everyone’s photos taken in the same area.

Although many folks around here know about the remains of the old Glamorganshire Canal preserved at Forest Farm, I doubt that many folks know that there’s still a small stretch of the canal still in existence by Tongwynlais, cut in half by the M4 motorway as it heads west from Junction 32 and the Coryton Roundabout. The route down from Tongywnlais along the Taff Trail and then back to Tongwynlais via the Coryton Roundabout makes for an enjoyable – if very muddy! – circular walk that can be done in an hour or two.

Aim Of The Shoot

Page 144 of the award-winning The Glamorganshire and Aberdare Canals – Volume 2 by Stephen Rowson & Ian I. Wright (ISBN 1-903-59912-1) has a photograph of a steam train crossing a bridge at Middle Lock. The note accompanying the photograph states that the remains of the bridge still exists beside a section of the canal cut off by the M4 to the north and the Forest Farm Industrial Estate access road to the south.

I was out to find and photograph this section of the canal.

Thoughts On The Day

Either last year or the year before, Kristi and I cycled the Taff Trail from Taffs Well down to Cardiff and back. At no time did we realise that there were any remains of the old canal nearby; we certainly didn’t know that at one point our path took us to within 100 yards of a surviving stretch.

You can actually see the stretch on this Google map. The Taff Trail comes south down Iron Bridge Road, under the A470, and then turns north-west (right as you look at things) following Iron Bridge Road around a local playing field. However, after emerging from under the A470, if you turn south-east (left as you look) instead, the path beside the picnic area leads straight to a section of the canal, I’d say no more than 200 yards from where you emerge from under the A470. This section runs maybe 3-400 yards in length before disappearing underneath one of the slip roads for Junction 32 of the M4. At that point, you’re forced to turn west, and follow the embankment down to the River Taff and back to the Taff Trail. (When you get to the Taff Trail, it’s well worth turning right and heading north up the Taff Trail a short distance to the Iron Bridge. Alas, there’s no plaque that I could find to provide any details about the bridge, but it does afford a good view of Castle Coch in sunny weather).

The section of the canal to the north of the M4 seems to be completely invisible on the satellite view on Google Maps. But what is still visible is the clear outline of a railway embankment running north west beside the canal. If I have my bearings right, this is part of the old Cardiff Railway which once ran up to the coking plant at Nantgarw – and is just to the north of the bridge and canal section that I was out to track down on this shoot. The old railway line is (at first) impossible to trace on Google Maps as you move south of the M4. The trick is to go to the other endCoryton Station in Cardiff (where the line ends in this day and age), and then follow the route of the old railway west by north west back up to Long Wood Drive. (The old railway line makes for a nice walk too; I’ll be covering it in a shoot later in the year when we have blue skies once more). Between Long Wood Drive and the M4 lies the remains of the railway bridge that once crossed the Glamorganshire Canal at Middle Lock – the railway bridge from the photograph in the book.

How to find it? As you head south on the Taff Trail from Iron Bridge, you pass under the M4. The Taff Trail continues straight ahead (almost due south) along the bank of the River Taff. There’s another path immediately heading off to the left. Take the path to the left, and follow it along until it ends at another path (which runs west-east along the north side of Longwood Drive – not that you can tell when you’re actually on the walk!) Turn left, heading pretty much due east back towards Coryton Roundabout. The path takes you straight to the section of the canal mentioned in the book, right before it climbs up to the Esso petrol station and the Asda supermarket. The remains of the bridge can be seen to the north of the path, and to the left of the surviving stretch of the canal.

To be honest, there isn’t much to see. This stretch of canal is much more overgrown than the section by Iron Bridge Road, although it doesn’t appear to be anywhere near as silted up. The retaining wall that the bridge must have sprung from can be clearly seen, but nothing else remains at all. Still, I got a bit of a thrill from seeing such a well-hidden remnant of the past – especially as about 100 yards to the south lies the northern end of the Glamorganshire Canal Local Nature Reserve, which is much more frequently visited (probably because it’s nowhere near as overgrown). I’ve already made one (very short) trip to the Glamorganshire Canal Local Nature Reserve; I need to make another visit before I have enough photos to publish as a complete shoot.

To complete the walk, leave the canal by the path that leads up the steps, and follow the path around the north side of the Esso petrol station. This path takes you over a footbridge onto Coryton Roundabout (which is fun to explore), and out the other side over another footbridge back to the A4054 and into Tongwynlais. Although all the paths in this section of the walk are modern and tarmac, I managed to lose my footing at one point – a combination of muddy boots and water running down the slope of the path. Once you’re off the roundabout and back in Tongwynlais, you should be fine.

Overall, the walk’s easy going, with no major inclines to worry infrequent walkers. There’s one set of steps immediately after leaving the canal, and the paths are muddy at this time of year. You get to see two surviving sections of what was once one of the most important canals in the whole United Kingdom, and the early heart of the industrialised South Wales Valleys before the trains took over, plus the remains of a bridge that used to carry one of those railways up into the valleys.

That’s not bad for a Sunday stroll.

Favourite Photo From The Shoot

Back To Nature - A Photo by Stuart Herbert Although the photograph of the Iron Bridge has quickly become the most viewed photograph from this shoot, I personally prefer this photo. Although it was hardly difficult, I’m still pleased that I managed to find some remains of the bridge that I set out to find on this walk. Further up the valley, there are many places where there isn’t a single trace of the canal or the bridges that used to cross it. Don’t get me wrong – the A470 makes a huge difference to folks like me who live up in the valleys – but there hasn’t been any noticable effort (apart from the Nantgarw Pottery) to preserve at least some memory of the industrial heritage of the 1800’s. Maybe even these few remains will be gone within my lifetime; it’s nice to have a record of what’s there today in case they’re gone tomorrow.

Three Lessons From The Shoot

Although I originally wanted to pick out specific photography techniques from each shoot, the truth is that I don’t pay all that much attention to technique when I’m out and about. I mind the basics – shutter speed vs focal length for sharpness and aperture for depth of field – and then forget about them. The section has never lived up to its “Three Techniques” name, so from now on “Three Lessons” it is.

Instead, I’ll be posting regular mid-week articles on individual photography techniques, which will include technical skills (starting with weening off automatic mode), ideas about composition, and the workflow I follow for getting my photos from the camera through Aperture and up onto Flickr. A separate article will allow me to really get into a single aspect of photography, which will help me learn a lot more about photography.

But that’s to come. For today, the three lessons from this shoot are:

  • When I set out on this walk, I didn’t know exactly where the remains of the canal were to be found. To lighten the load, I left the majority of my kit behind, and set out with the D200 and just a single lens. Although there were plenty of moments where I found myself missing one of my other lenses, I definitely enjoyed myself much more because I wasn’t carting a tonne of glass around on my back. For days like these, you can’t beat having a jack-of-all-trades lens. My wife loves her Tamron 28-300 for just this reason. Unfortunately, I don’t like the results from that lens when paired with the D200. I wonder if supplies of Nikon’s 18-200 VR lens have improved recently …? 🙂
  • If you’re going out and you’re likely to be photographing water, don’t leave your polariser behind. *Cough* I did, and I’m still kicking myself for doing so. On the bright side, it means that I’ll have to go back later in the year (preferably when all the mud has dried out …).
  • If the sign says go one way, try going the other. As I mentioned in the introduction to this article, I’ve been down part of this path before, but I had absolutely no idea how close I was to the old canal.

Post Production

I need to rethink the way I’m organising my photos in Aperture. I’ve decided that I hate keywording all of my photos. Even with creating a metadata preset before doing the import, it still takes hours to go through each individual photo and apply the right keywords for that individual frame. I don’t have that sort of time, so I’ve stopped keywording photos in Aperture, but I still manually tag photos on Flickr.

Instead, my photos go into a Merthyr Road project in Aperture. This project is divided up into several folders based on geography – Taffs Well to Treforest for example – and each folder contains an album for each major subject, such as the Glamorganshire Canal or the Cardiff Railway.

The only problem is, of course, that I’ve ended up with several Glamorganshire Canal albums and several Cardiff Railway albums. As the number of shoots racks up, I’d like to be able to look at all my Glamorganshire Canal photos in one place so that I can see how my coverage is doing and what gaps I need to think about plugging in future. I can’t do that with the way I’m organising my photos in Aperture today.

Aperture supports Smart Albums – albums that can automatically pull in photos based on their keywords. I think I need to restructure my Merthyr Road project to make the most of this feature.

Found On Flickr

There aren’t many photos of the Glamorganshire Canal on Flickr at all, and the few that I’ve found really belong with my upcoming shoot of the Local Nature Reserve section of the canal.

But I did manage to find a couple of shots that seemed appropriate to today’s shoot, especially welshlady’s shot of Castle Coch taken from the Iron Bridge, which looks nicer than my attempt at the same shot today.

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Graffiti Inside The Treforest Tin Works

View this selection of photos in my Merthyr Road set on Flickr.

The old tin works at Treforest were once the largest in the whole of Britain. Today they have long since closed, and the buildings have fallen into disrepair. Much of the site has been levelled, but what remains provides the faintest of hints of the South Wales Valleys at the height of their industrial glory.

Aim Of The Shoot

From the A470, I’ve often caught a glimpse through the trees to the west of the remains of old factories nestling in the shadow of an old railway embankment. Armed with a couple of bottles of Lucozade and a few bars of my favourite chocolate, I walked down through Pontypridd and Treforest, determined to finally find out just what this place is.

Thoughts On The Day

Walking across the cleared ground, and through the ruins that remain, it’s very difficult to imagine that this was once part of the most important industrial complex in Britain – and therefore the world, thanks to the British Empire. The chains for the Titanic were made just to the north. Coal for the Royal Navy came from further north, passing by using the canal and later the crazy rail network that once criss-crossed the valley. Iron came down from Merthyr. Just to the south lay the second-largest tin works in Britain – it’s claim as the biggest stolen by the works here in Treforest.

Now it’s just a handful of ruined sheds surrounded by a security fence that the locals pay no attention to, all buttressed up against the remains of a railway embankment that (it appears) used to end in a viaduct across the valley. There are no signs to mark its passing, save one – a modern sign proclaiming that the local allotments are called the Tin Works Allotments. Indeed, it’s left to the two bricked-up tunnels to the east of the ruins – and an open tunnel that lies immediately to the west that begs a return visit – to provide the only hint that this was once such an important site.

It isn’t just the old tunnels that are striking. The local kids have covered some of the walls (both inside the works, and on some of the buildings outside the grounds) with some great graffiti. I know that graffiti is generally considered an nuisance and a menace by today’s society, and I’m sure that there are plenty of folks who wish for less politically-correct days when they could just pack these troublesome miscreants off to one of the colonies … but at the same time, I think the ones I found in the old tin works are really good. Given a choice, I’d rather kids were drawing things than mugging old ladies 🙂
I’m going to save the photos of the site itself for another posting on another day. I took over a hundred and fifty pictures of the site, and I need time to sort through them and process the ones worth publishing.

Favourite Photo From The Shoot

Graffiti Inside The Treforest Tin Works - A Photo by Stuart HerbertIt feels like I’m cheating. By breaking up this shoot into several postings, I get to have more than just one favourite photo – even though it was all the same shoot 🙂 There were several pieces of great graffiti that I captured during the shoot, but my favourite photo has to be this one. I think it does the best job of getting that balance right between subject and context.

What’s your favourite photo from the shoot? Let me know in the comments below.

Three Tips From The Shoot

  • You can’t beat local knowledge. Families walking their dogs tend to know all the best routes, and where it’s safe to walk (both from a danger point of view, and from a avoiding-trouble-from-landowners point of view).
  • Speaking of danger … you can’t walk around these places with your eye glued to the viewfinder. Apart from the very real risk of tripping over something and cutting yourself on sharp things on the ground, you’re in danger of falling down uncovered shafts at any time.
  • Most photo composition comes down to showing a subject in a context. In this selection of shots, the subject was meant to be the graffiti, and the context was meant to be the ruins that the graffiti has been painted onto. I didn’t maintain the discipline required, and quite a few of my shots [example] ended up the wrong way around.

Post Production

Part-way through processing the images from this shoot, my workflow with Aperture began to take shape. Rather than post the full details here, I’ll put together some example images of the workflow in action and publish them as a separate blog entry in the near future. (I’d like to start posting technique-focused entries mid-week to balance the weekend shoots – this’ll make a good first or second article).

Found On Flickr

I haven’t managed to find any other photos on Flickr of the Treforest Tin Works at all. That’s a real shame, especially when you realise that the University of Glamorgan can be found literally just down the road.

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Tearing Down Cardiff

View these photos as part of my Cardiff set on Flickr.

It was a crazy week at work (I clocked up 56 hours last week, and I was by no means the only one), but there was still time to pop over a couple of streets to where the demolition of Bridge Street is well under way. The whole area is being cleared to make way for the St Davids 2 shopping centre complex, which is due to open in 2009.

Aim Of The Shoot

Although I’m currently looking around for a good urban landscape shot, the real aim of the shoot was to switch off from work for a few minutes and give myself a little recharge over lunch.

Thoughts On The Day

The demolition team have erected screens around the doomed buildings. Whilst they protect the public from stray bits of rubble (and some – but not all – of the dust created by the work), the screens also prevent photographers from seeing much of what is going on.

Fortunately, this is what car park roofs are for 🙂

The only downside was that the car park stairwells were full of beggars and junkies obliviously shooting up. The lifts were still in working order, but I think that the safest way to do this would probably be to drive up onto the roof.

Favourite Photo From The Shoot

Goodbye DillonsMy favourite photo from the shoot is a close-up shot of the muncher about the tear up a little bit more building. I think it’s an appropriate metaphor for the way that our worship of the great God of Commercialism continues to eat away at everything that has gone before. It is relentless in its pursuit of hoovering up more money. The thing that gets me, though, is that I’m not sure who is going to be doing the spending once all the new stops have opened. The shops aren’t replacements – they are additional units. There’s only so much money to go around, and folks can’t live off credit forever …

Three Tips From The Shoot

  • If you’re trying to photograph a static subject, keep an open mind on where you can move to to find the right view. At street level, everything was obscured by the safety screens, but by finding a high vantage point, it was possible to get a much better view.
  • To find the right pictures, pick a print medium (book or newspaper) and imagine what sort of photos would go in that medium. This time, I was trying to imagine what sort of photos would accompany an inside spread for a newspaper article. As I rarely read newspapers, I don’t have much of an idea about this, and I think that comes through in the photos that I took 🙁
  • The extra reach of a larger telephoto zoom is rarely needed, but there are times when nothing else will do. My Sigma 80-400mm lens takes up a lot of room in my camera bag, it’s heavy, the optical stabilisation drains the batteries on my D200 like nobody’s business, and most of the time there isn’t enough light to capture sharp images. But it stays for moments like this, when there’s only one chance of getting the shot, and I can’t get close enough to use a faster (or lighter) lens.

Post Production

Although I’d taken my camera in hoping that the damp conditions would improve, they didn’t. I ended up converting the photos to black and white in the hope of adding a little more depth to the images.

Unfortunately, this is one set of shots that it will be impossible to reproduce when the light does start to improve as we go into March and April. By then, Bridge Street should be cleared … but they still have to demolish the Central Library building 🙂

Flickr Favourites

I didn’t manage to find any other photos showing the demolition work going on that I liked, but here are a few other photos of Cardiff that did make it into my Flickr Favourites.

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Avebury – All To Myself

Posted by Stuart Herbert on February 11th, 2007 in Shoot.

Avebury

See the photos from today’s shoot as part of my Avebury set on Flickr.

When Kristi decided to visit old University friends living in nearby Wooten Bassett, there was no way I was going to pass up the chance to spend the afternoon wandering around Avebury once more. This was only the second time I’ve visited Avebury alone; the last time was back in 1999.

And I’m really glad I went, because to all intents and purposes I had the place all to myself.

I’ve been to Avebury many many times over the last ten years, in all sorts of weather, and I’ve never seen the place so deserted. I think that only two of the twenty five shots I’ve uploaded to Flickr this evening have people in. I’ve been there late at night well after sunset for a spot of night photography and still seen more people.

I just hope that the new car parking arrangements (which I’m definitely not a fan of) aren’t keeping people away.

Aim Of The Shoot

No matter how many times I visit Avebury (or maybe because it’s a site I’ve revisited so often!), I always come away wishing I’d done better. This time, I was determined to make the most of the freedom of being alone to finally bag more than just the odd decent shot.

Thoughts On The Day

Driving over from snow-bound Wales, we both thought that the blue skies and soft light were together going to make this a great trip. The weather gods obviously heard us tempting fate! By the time I got there, it had clouded over, and once the rain started it was in for the day.

I have a tried and trusted trick for dealing with the British weather. Shoot everything in colour, and then convert all the shots to black and white in Aperture when I get home. You don’t get the very best shots – the light under an overcast sky is just too defuse, ruining the contrast somewhat – but by God the shots look a lot better than the colour originals.

I’m still persevering with manual focus, and I’m still forgetting to use the right eye to get the focus right through the viewfinder. After ten years of shooting on autofocus, my technique’s still a bit unreliable, as you can see for yourself on this shot of a lone surviving snowman.

Favourite Photo From The Shoot

AveburyI wish I could pick them all. For the first time, I came back with a set of twenty five photos that I’m happy with, and that do a great job of capturing what I like about Avebury. (That’s a 1 in 3 success rate. Maybe I’m not being objective enough here? 🙂 ) But, I have to choose one shot above all the others. I could stand there for hours enjoying this view of a standing stone and tree and never get bored. It’s such a peaceful spot, and I’m already looking forward to going back to the very same place later in the year to see what it looks like at sunrise and sunset.

This shot of two huge standing stones and the local church comes a close second (and, I think, it’s technically the better shot), and I also really love this quirky shot of the fenced pathway just behind the Red Lion.

What’s your favourite photo from the shoot? List your favourites in the comments below.

Three Tips From The Shoot

  • The weather seals on the Nikon D200 rock. It wasn’t the wettest day of the year, but I wouldn’t have liked to have tried this shoot with my old D100.
  • Lens cloths also rock. I didn’t lose a single image because of rains on the lens, thanks to having remembered to stuff a lens cloth in my pocket before leaving the car.
  • Auto-ISO mode really helps put the fun back into a day of photography. My D200 is setup to prefer ISO 100, but it will adjust itself all the way up to ISO 800 if necessary so that I can keep the shutter speed that I want to ensure the sharpness of my photos. (Shame my focusing lets me down, but that will improve with practice!)

Post Production

I’m not sure it’s such a good idea to be staying up into the small hours just so that I can get my photos up onto Flickr and this blog entry published 🙂 But tomorrow is another day, and I don’t want to spend it finishing off the post production for today’s shoot.

Found On Flickr

I came across this beautiful shot of Avebury taken earlier today by jenny66. Now I want to go back and do a successful shoot in colour 🙂

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And My Money Goes To …

Posted by Stuart Herbert on February 7th, 2007 in Equipment.

With my Aperture trial having run out this evening, it’s time to decide who gets my hard-earned cash – Apple, or Adobe?

Both packages have a lot to commend them.

Aperture is the master of organising thousands of photos. In particular, the smart albums and light tables are a real boon when sorting through a couple hundred photos at the end of the day. It’s ability to stack different versions of the same photo really opens up your creativity. The support for a “disconnected” photo library allows me to keep my masters on Moby (my paranoid fileserver at home), but still have high quality previews on the laptop when I’m out and about.
Lightroom is already shaping up to be the master of adjusting your photos. It is lightning quick at this (Aperture is anything but quick, even on a top-of-the-range MacBook Pro), and it’s only a matter of time before there’s a booming third-party market in adjustment plugins.

If I was making this choice twelve months or so in the future, I suspect Lightroom would be the winner. I fancy that the community that Adobe will build up around Lightroom will add an overwhelming versatility that I doubt will be matched by Aperture. Apple, by contrast, have started opening Aperture with an API for export plugins, but it feels like too little to stem the coming storm.

But … I’m buying today, not next year. And I’ve really come to appreciate the way Aperture manages photos. The Lightroom betas have been really weak in this area, and the final Lightroom 1.0 (due within a fortnight) will feature a major overhaul in an attempt to provide a more realistic challenge to Aperture. Given time, I’m sure Lightroom will catch Aperture up.

Until then, at least, Apple gets a little bit more of my hard-earned cash.

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(This is the first in a series of favourite photos chosen by other Flickr members).

Llywelyn ap Gruffydd, Llandovery, Carmarthenshire

Nikon D100, 15mm, 1/500 sec, f/7.1. 13th November, 2004.

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