As a bit of an experiment, I’ve added a new link to the bottom of each photo of my walk along the route of the Melingriffith Feeder. When you click on the link, Google Earth will open up and will take you to where the photo was taken. You’ll need to have Google Earth installed, and if prompted what to do with the KML file, tell your browser to always open the file using Google Earth.
This uses the FlickrFly service.

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I’ve updated the Merthyr Road project page to include a list of planned articles too, so that you can see what’s going to be coming up over the coming weeks. There’s only time each week to publish one article in the set, but I normally find myself coming back from each trip out with photos for two or three articles at a time. I guess it’s one of the advantages of how all the routes between Cardiff and Merthyr – historical and modern – are intertwined.

The original plan was to spend just one year – the whole of 2007 – on the Merthyr Road project. With the photos I’ve already taken this year, I have enough material today to publish articles right the way through to August. Maybe things will change as the year draws to a close, but today it’s looking like the Merthyr Road project will take up a good chunk of 2008 too.

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My Merthyr Road photography project can see me walk 6 or 7 miles a day on weekends, travelling parts of the route between Cardiff and Merthyr Tydfil in South Wales taking a closer look at the many interesting things that are easily missed when you go whizzing by in a car. Lugging a camera bag full of different lenses has quickly become a drag, as has stopping to change lenses.

For most of March, I tried going about with just the one lens – my trusty Sigma 15-30mm. It’s a great lens (so long as the sun is behind me!), and in the four years or so that I’ve owned it, I’ve taken many pictures with it that I’ve been very happy with. I bought the lens whilst on holiday in Snowdonia with my Nikon D100 back in 2003. It was the first time I’d been on holiday with a digital SLR, and I learned the hard way that none of my existing lenses gave me anything approaching a “wide” image, because of the 1.5x focal length multiplying effect. I dragged my poor wife around North Wales, looking for a camera shop, just so that I could take this shot of Dolbadarn Castle in the Llanberis Pass at the foot of Mt. Snowdon.

Whilst 15mm has been handy to have, I’ve found that only having 30mm on the zoom end is very restrictive when I’ve been carrying only the one lens. So, fed up with the situation, I decided to trawl through the Nikon SLR Lens Talk forum on Digital Photography Review, as well as the reviews on, to find myself a single walkabout lens.

I’ve settled on Nikon’s 18-135mm DX lens, which is the standard kit lens for the Nikon D80 SLR. When attached to a digital SLR such as my Nikon D200, it’s the equivalent of a 27-200mm lens on a full-frame 35mm SLR. It doesn’t have the advertised reach of the Nikon 18-200mm lens, nor the built-in VR-II image stabilisation technology, but unlike the 18-200mm lens at least you can buy one today.
There are plenty of folks online who report that both the 18-135mm DX lens and the 18-70mm DX lens (the kit lens from the Nikon D70) produce images with exceptional sharpness – much better than the 18-200mm lens. Some folks prefer the 18-70mm lens because it has a slightly faster aperture at the zoom end, or because it has a metal lens mount ring (the 18-135mm DX lens has a plastic mount ring), or because it has a rubber weather seal (which I must admit appeals to me!). Folks who prefer the 18-135mm DX lens online all seem to focus on the extra convenience of having that extra reach on the zoom – which is exactly what I wanted from my next lens.

I’ve used this lens on three shoots so far, including half of the images from my shoot at Melingriffith (the other two shoots will be published later in the year). Despite a concern about the build quality, which I’ll come onto in a moment, overall I’m very happy with the new lens, and it certainly fits my need of having a single lens I can use for walkabouts. I’m extremely pleased with the sharpness, colour and contrast of the images I’ve taken so far – three areas where I had no complaints about the Sigma 15-30mm lens that this replaces.

The only problem I’ve had with the lens has been with the focus ring. This year I’ve started shooting nearly all my shots using manual focus instead of relying on the D200’s excellent automatic focus system. The majority of my lenses are made my Sigma, and if there’s one thing that Sigma have consistently gotten right on their lenses, it’s the working of the manual focus ring. On Sigma lenses, the focus ring is always nice and tight, and as you get towards the infinity end of the focus range, it certainly feels like it takes more movement of the focus ring to adjust the focus – giving me the feeling of a very precise control. Unfortunately, the focus ring on my new Nikon lens is very loose. All I have to do is touch it and the focus shifts substantially, and I’ve found that I’d often knock the focus off just by catching the focus ring against my hand when raising the camera to my eye. I’ve gotten used to it, but I don’t like it, and I’m debating giving Nikon a call to see whether they will adjust the tightness of the focus ring for free or not.

There are plenty of other lenses in this range that would also make good walkabout lenses. As well as Nikon’s impossible-to-find 18-200mm lens, Sigma has lauched an 18-200mm lens with built-in optical stabilisation, and both Sigma and Tamron sell lenses in the 18-70mm range too. I chose the Nikon lens because of the exceptional rating for image quality – and so far it’s proving to be a good choice for me.

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The Melingriffith Feeder, circa 2007
View the photos from this shoot as part of my Merthyr Road collection on Flickr.

When it came to working tin in South Wales, Treforrest was the undisputed King. But if Treforrest was King, further south down in the Vale of Glamorgan above Cardiff, the works at Melingriffith were certainly the Crown Prince. Built in 1749, the Melingriffith Tinplate Works sat on or near the site of an old corn mill that had existed as far back as the twelfth century. It was once the largest tin works in the UK, until the construction of the Treforrest Tin Works. The works closed in 1957, and today the only obvious traces that the works ever existed at all are the Melingriffith Feeder that runs down from the River Taff, and the restored Water Pump standing opposite Oak Cottage. The works themselves appear to have been completely cleared, and the site today is a modern housing estate.

Its mills were powered by water taken from the River Taff by the Melingriffith Feeder – a water course that doubled as a canal carrying iron from Pentrych Works until around 1815, when the Pentrych tramroad was completed. The tramroad crossed the River Taff over Iron Bridge. The Feeder lock was permanently closed in 1871 when it was bridged over, but traces of it remain if you don’t mind walking out into the (mostly) dry bed of the Feeder to look.

The Melingriffith Feeder makes its way to the old Glamorganshire Canal, where they run in parallel down to the Tin Works and out the other side at Melingriffith Lock. Where they come together to the north of the Tin Works, any overflow from the Canal was designed to flow into the Feeder. This is now the southern end of the Glamorganshire Canal Local Nature Reserve at Forest Farm, and all the water from the Canal now runs into the Feeder before disappearing into a water course that runs underneath the housing estate that has replaced the Tin Works.

At the southern end of the housing estate, the Feeder re-emerges from underground where the Melingriffith Water Pump stands. The Pump was originally designed to pump water from the Feeder into the Canal at Melingriffith Lock. Rowson & Wright’s “The Glamorganshire and Aberdare Canals Volume II” has an entire chapter devoted to the many disputes between the Tin Works and the Canal over the supply of water. As I understand it, the Tin Works ran entirely on water throughout its history – water that the Canal itself also needed, as Melingriffith was the last point where the Canal could gather additional water needed for the section down to Sea Lock. Today, the Canal has been totally obliterated (Ty Mawr Road has replaced the Canal here down into Whitchurch), and the Feeder just empties back into the Taff beside the Valley Lines railway bridge just south of Radyr Station.

Melingriffith is a great example of the huge contrast that exists between Cardiff and the Taff Vale in the regeneration of the former industrial sites. Most of the route of the Canal through Cardiff was industrialised, but today you wouldn’t know it. The Canal has gone, and the industry has been replaced by the housing estates of Melingriffith, Gabalfa, and Talybont, plus the regeneration of Cardiff Bay. In the Taff Vale, the Canal has mostly disappeared under the A470 trunk road, but where it hasn’t, the land has mostly just been left unused until you reach Rhydycar at Merthyr Tydfil and the site of the local Welsh Assembly Government office.

It’s a story that mirrors the growth of Cardiff against the decline of Merthyr.

Thoughts On The Day

I’d travelled through the Melingriffith housing estate a couple of years ago cycling the Taff Trail, but back then I’d never heard of the Tin Works, or the Feeder, or really of the Canal itself. I’d stopped at the Water Pump, and read the excellent tourist sign that goes with it, but without any background knowledge, I didn’t really understand what I was looking at. I didn’t know that Oak Cottage on the other side of the road was the old lockkeeper’s cottage from Melingriffith Lock, or that the road itself is where Melingriffith Lock once stood. I didn’t know that the Water Pump stands in the Melingriffith Feeder, whose route can be traced back up to the River Taff at Radyr Weir. And I didn’t know that the Feeder was also used as a canal – with its own lock on the River Taff itself – years before the Glamorganshire Canal was constructed.

If you want to explore this area for yourself, I recommend parking at the southern end of the Glamorganshire Canal Local Nature Reserve. There’s a small car park there. Head north into the Reserve, cross the Canal overflow bridge, and follow both the Feeder and Canal until the Feeder starts to veer off to the left. Follow the Feeder all the way up to the River Taff. Here you can see the sluice gate mechanism that once regulated the flow of water into the Feeder, and the remains of the lock. Turn south, past Radyr Weir and its picnic area, and follow the Taff Trail down until it threads its way through the Melingriffith housing estate to Oak Cottage and the Water Pump. If you wish, there’s a muddy footpath down the Feeder’s east bankside that you can follow down to the River Taff and beyond, but that’s really a walk for another day. At the Water Pump, turn north, and follow the road (which lies on top of the old canal bed) back up to the car park. The whole walk will take an hour or two, and should be suitable for most people.

The Feeder is just one of the delights to explore in this area. There’s the Canal itself, which can be followed up to Longwood Drive (and further north up to Tongwynlais, as covered in another article). From Longwood Drive, there’s the disused Cardiff Railway route down to Coryton, which also makes for a great walk. And all of these walks are set in the Local Nature Reserve, which includes two purpose-built hides for watching the local wildlife without disturbing it.

Favourite Photo From The Shoot

Overflow Into The Feeder

From the two visits I made to Melingriffith, I came away with 305 photos, according to Aperture. Even allowing for the fact I now bracket every shot (so, divide that number by 3), that’s still a lot of photos. It was a tough challenge cutting it down to the 26 photos I finally uploaded to Flickr. Picking just one photo as a favourite was harder still.

In the end, this photo showing the Glamorganshire Canal flowing down into the Melingriffith Feeder is my favourite photo from this shoot. It’s a photo that’s a bit different, for a start. I’m willing to wager there aren’t too many other shots of this scene currently around 🙂 I love the colours too. I think it’s a great advert for what my new Nikon 18-135mm lens can do (more on that lens in a dedicated article later in the year).

Post Production

The photos for this shoot come from two separate visits to the area. Because you have the Canal, the Cardiff Railway, the River Taff and the Taff Trail all in the same area, some of the shots are going to be included in other shoots in the future. Rather than lump all these shots into a single folder, I decided to spend a lot of Mother’s Day tagging my photos in Aperture, with a view to building a set of Smart Albums based on the tags.

Aperture is a great tool, but if there’s one thing that Apple has overlooked, it’s the very simple operation of being able to add one keyword to a group of selected photos. I can use the excellent Lift & Stamp tool to copy keywords from one photo to others, but I can’t drag and drop a keyword onto a group of selected photos. When you try, the keyword gets applied to just one photo in the selection (the photo that you drop the keyword onto). It would be such a time-saver to be able to do this simple task – it would save me up to an hour a week.

Found On Flickr

A search for the term ‘melingriffith’ turned up two great shots of the Water Pump, but no shots of the Feeder at all, and no old photographs showing the Tin Works during their existence.

Maybe my search foo just isn’t good enough. I’m really surprised that there aren’t more photos up on Flickr covering the same subjects as my articles. These places are part of the Welsh heritage, as well as being historically important both to Wales and the UK.


The Canal Basin At Brown Lenox

My quest to explore the route once taken by the old Glamorganshire Canal recently led me to a surviving stretch of canal hidden in the shadow of the A4054 as it passes from Glyntaff to Coedpenmaen in Pontypridd.

Here canal boats used to load chains made at the Brown, Lenox & Co. Ltd. factory in Newbridge. It was Samuel Brown (the Brown in Brown, Lenox & Co. Ltd) who patented iron chains for securing ships to their anchors (replacing ropes), and with his cousin Samuel Lenox he established a highly successful company to manufacture these chains. Brown and Lenox built their first factory in Millwall, on the River Thames, but increased demand led to them constructing a second factory (the Newbridge Chain Works) on the west bank of the Glamorganshire Canal in 1816.

Brown Lennox and the Canal

Found on the Rhondda Cynon Taff district council’s website, this photo provides a great view of how the canal basin at Brown Lenox looked in years gone by. The bridge that still survives today can be seen just below the canal lock. The second bridge into the Brown Lenox loading dock no longer survives.

Thoughts On The Day

I’ve used the bridge at the northern end of the Brown Lenox basin many times as a cut through from Ynysangharad Road to the Brown Lenox Retail Park, but I never remembered seeing the canal basin itself there before. How could I have missed it?

In truth, there’s hardly anything left of the canal at this stretch – especially when you look at old photos like the one above. The canal has been completely filled in to the north of the bridge, and after less than fifty yards to the south the basin begins to narrow where the path has been moved to make way for the factory’s car park. Although today’s footpath is cement or tarmac its entire length, the path is surprisingly muddy in several places.

As you head south, the basin quickly disappears. The footpath ends up roughly where the east bank of the canal once stood, as the path squeezes past the shadow of the abandoned Brown Lenox factory. I walked the path south to its end and then back north; by the time I came past Brown Lenox for the second time, the path was obstructed with wooden palettes apparently being lifted from the Brown Lenox site!

Past Brown Lenox, the footpath crosses an ugly little bridge, and joins up with the old towpath once more. This stretch of the canal is quite a bit longer than the Brown Lenox basin, running past some cottages on the west bank before disappearing once more under modern concrete and cement. To the best of my knowledge, the canal doesn’t re-appear again until the pottery at Nantgarw, and can’t be walked along once more until Tongwynlais (see my earlier posting on that surviving section).

All the surviving sections of the canal that I’ve found so far all survive for three reasons. Firstly, and most importantly, they haven’t disappeared under the A470 trunk road; secondly, they haven’t disappeared under post-war housing estates or shopping (which is what happened to the canal from Melingriffith southwards), and thirdly, they’re south of Pontypridd.

This section hasn’t disappeared under the A470 because the A470 goes around the other side of the Brown Lenox factory. I took some photos on this shoot which show just how close the A470 is, and that the line of the canal south disappears under the A470 at Glyntaff. When Lord Bute finally bought the canal, he originally wanted to close it and use the route for a railway line. He ended up being forced to make a go of the canal against his wishes. Today, much of the route of the canal has been taken by the A470 … just has road has replaced rail as the main form of transport in the UK.

I wonder what will replace the A470 in a hundred year’s time?

Pontypridd sits in a bowl, surrounded by hills and mountains on all sides. The A470 squeezes through a narrow gap between the River Taff and the Brown Lenox site as it heads down to Treforrest. Between the three of them, they left no room for anyone to build over the canal with housing or shopping. However, standing on the surviving canal bridge, you can immediately see that this wasn’t the case to the north, where the canal, the locks and Canal Bridge have all disappeared under the Brown Lenox Retail Park and the A470 to its immediate north. The future of the Brown Lenox site isn’t clear. At least one out-of-town supermarket chain wanted to buy the site to use for a new store, but that appears to have fallen through. Whatever happens to the site, there’ll always be the threat that some modern development will seek to erase this section of the canal. If that happens, that’ll leave the section at Tongwynlais as the most northern surviving section of the Canal.

The canal north of Pontypridd fell into disuse in 1915, and north of Abercynon it fell into disuse in 1898 I understand. When you walk the Taff Trail up to Merthyr Tydfil, what strikes me is that, although the canal has been filled in, it isn’t as if the land has been reclaimed for any other use until you get into Merthyr itself. It makes me wonder whether the canal was filled in by human effort, or whether it just silted up and was eventually reclaimed by Mother Nature. (I suspect the truth is a little of both).

Favourite Photo From The Shoot

A Lost Right Of Way?I’m spoilt for choice from this shoot. I really like this quirky shot of the footpath behind the abandoned Brown Lenox factory. It’s an unusual shot, and one that seems to have a bit of energy to it. I also love this shot of the row of cottages at the southern end of this surviving stretch of canal, and this shot of the canal basin hidden behind Brown Lenox, and this shot looking north towards Brown Lenox from beside the surviving towpath.

But my favourite is this shot of the bridge and Ynysangharad Road beyond, taken from just inside the Brown Lenox site. Whilst taking the shot, I got chatting to a lovely old couple who could remember times when the canal was still in use. I really hope they’re successful in their work to have the War Memorial up on Coedpenmaen Common floodlit on an evening. That’ll make for a spectacular sight indeed.

Three Lessons From The Shoot

  • The Sigma 15-30mm lens is proving a joy to work with – provided it isn’t pointed anywhere near the sun. There’s a good reason nearly all these photos are pointing north! This lens flares very badly indeed when it catches even a glimpse of the old current bun 🙁
  • Take your time and say ‘Hi’ to the folks you meet. It really made my day chatting with the old couple who could remember back when the canal was still in use – and could recall when Canal Bridge just to the north still existed, before being lost under the A470.
  • Coverage (again)! When I got to the southern end of the path, I stopped. Grrr. I wish I’d gone further and taken some shots of the path beside the motorbike shop. Although I don’t live far from here, I’ll have to wait until the weekend for enough daylight to get the extra shots in the bag.

Post Production

Shock, horror – colour photos from me for a change! All of these photos look gorgeous in black and white (I always convert photos to monochrome in Aperture to adjust contrast and levels) but I really like the colours captured in the photos, such as this one of the cottages between the canal and the A470. I’ve started shooting using the AdobeRGB colour space, and mode colour mode II on the D200. It’s a much more neutral combination than sRGB + colour mode III (my choice throughout my time with the D100, and carried over to the D200 for the first year), and it’s often recommended online as being the best choice for post processing. With a little bit of green and blue boosting for landscapes, or red boosting for industrial ruins, I can see how the result is easier on the eye.

Found On Flickr

Unfortunately, I couldn’t find any photos on Flickr of this section of the canal – including my own! I’m really starting to doubt the trustworthiness of the map view on Flickr …


I went back up to Abercanaid this morning and shot some additional shots of the Graig Chapel Burial Ground. In my original diary entry, one of the lessons I learned was that I hadn’t shot enough coverage – I had no shots of the Burial Ground as a whole, nor really of how the Burial Ground fits in to the surrounding area.

You can see the four additional shots as part of my photo set on Flickr.

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Weaning Off Of Automatic Mode

Posted by Stuart Herbert on March 18th, 2007 in Technique.

They say that buses come in threes, and this month I’ve had three friends asking me how to take the first steps away from their cameras’ automatic mode (commonly called Program Mode on Nikon cameras) and start taking photos like “real” photographers. It seems like the perfect topic to start a new series of posts about photographic technique, so here goes 🙂

First off, just a disclaimer before I go any further. I don’t want anyone thinking I’m something that I’m not 🙂 I’m very definitely an amateur photographer. I’ve had no formal training, and I’m certainly not qualified to teach photography. If you want to know how things “should be done”, so to speak, then enroll on a course. I’m sure that there’ll be plenty of suitable night courses in your area, and, of course, there is always Amateur Photographer’s home study course. Or, you could pick up a good book by a real expert. I always recommend Michael Langford’s Basic Photography. What I’m talking about here in these Technique posts are how I work with the camera, and what works for me.

If you’re okay with that, then read on!

What Is Automatic Mode?

A camera’s automatic mode is exactly what it sounds like: you point the camera at what you want to photograph, and the camera makes all the other decisions for you. Most compact digital cameras only have an automatic mode. Larger digital SLRs all come with automatic modes, as well as the ability for you to take more control should you wish. SLRs have built in databases of many thousands of photographic scenes, and it’s often said that SLRs can make better decisions than many photographers.

Using automatic mode is point-and-shoot photography. And there’s nothing wrong with it. Don’t think for a minute that you’re not a “real photographer” just because you currently use automatic mode. I don’t even know what a “real photographer” is, or why anyone would want to be one. If you’re taking photos on automatic mode, and you’re happy with the results, then be happy.

What Does Automatic Mode Do?

There are two key decisions that automatic mode makes for you:

  • It controls the size of the iris (photographers call this the aperture) in the camera lens. The iris controls the amount of light that the camera sees, and has the side effect of controlling the angle that the light hits your camera’s sensor.
  • It also controls how long (in time) that the camera sees the light from the lens. There is a blackout screen inside the camera called the shutter. When the shutter is open, your camera sees light. The longer the shutter is open, the longer your camera sees the light.

A well-exposed shot is a combination of balancing the aperture size against the shutter speed. As the aperture size gets smaller, the camera needs to see more light (the shutter needs to be open longer) in order to get enough light to create a photograph. Equally, the longer the shutter is open, the smaller the aperture needs to be to prevent too much light ruining the photograph. It’s a balancing act between the two.

A lot of the art in photography comes from taking control of one (or both) of these key decisions from the camera, and putting that control into your own hands.

Other Modes On Your Camera

Traditionally, SLR cameras have come with a total of four different camera modes:

  • Automatic mode – where the camera controls both shutter speed and aperture size.
  • Aperture priority mode – where you control the aperture size, and the camera controls the shutter speed.
  • Shutter priority mode – where you control the shutter speed, and the camera controls the aperture size.
  • Manual mode – where you make all the decisions, and all the mistakes 🙂

So-called “consumer” level SLRs also often come with additional automatic modes for landscape, portraits, sports, night photography, and so on. My camera of choice – the Nikon D200 – does not include these modes, and I won’t mention them any further here.

Why You Might Want To Move Away From Automatic Mode

Most of the people I know want to move away from automatic mode because they somehow feel that they are “cheating” by letting the camera make the decisions. Well, I’ve never yet met a camera that decided what it should shoot and when. A camera is a tool in the hands of a human photographer, simple as that. You’re already making many important decisions, even if you don’t realise it. If you’re getting photos that you like, then don’t worry about it. You’re not cheating.

The right reason to move away from automatic mode is to take more creative control over your photography.

Taking The First Step – Switching To Aperture-Priority Mode

When I first began taking photos, my friend Hugh had me start with aperture-priority mode. Although I personally shoot mostly in shutter-priority mode today, the majority of fellow amateur photographers that I’ve spoken to prefer aperture-priority mode.

By controlling the aperture size, you take control over the depth of field that can be seen in the final photograph. The depth of field is the term that photographers use to describe the area of your picture that is in focus. If you imagine that the item you’re focusing on is slap bang in the middle of the depth of field, then the depth of field extends in a straight line from there towards your camera, and also from there away from your camera. Items outside the depth of field appear blurred in the final photograph.

A larger aperture (such as F/2.8 – F/6.3) creates a smaller depth of field (photographers call this a shallow depth of field). The depth of field only extends a short distance either side of the area of your picture that is in focus (photographers call this area the focal point). This allows you to deliberately blur things like the background of a photograph, allowing the main subject to stand out a lot more than it would otherwise.

A smaller aperture (such as F/11 – F/22) creates a larger depth of field. The depth of field extends a longer distance in front of (and behind) the focal point of your picture. This allows your picture to include detail not just from the main subject, but also from whatever is around it too. Larger depths of field are particularly useful for landscape photographers looking to capture as much of the landscape as they can see.

As a rule of thumb, I find that an aperture size of F/5.6 creates a depth of field (very) roughly like what the human eye sees when looking at something up to 10 metres or so away, and F/11 creates a depth of field (very) roughly like what the human eye sees when looking at distance objects such as a wonderful landscape view.

Don’t Forget The Balancing Act!

In aperture-priority mode, the camera automatically adjusts the shutter speed for you, using information from the built-in light meter to ensure that your photograph is correctly exposed. As you change the aperture, the camera changes the shutter speed.

If the shutter speed gets too low, then the photograph you take will be blurred. The blurring happens because we are holding the camera, and we can’t hold the camera absolutely still. One way to solve this problem is to always use a tripod. Even the best tripods are cumbersome, have to be carried about, and the whole rigmarole of setting up the tripod just to take one photo can kill the fun of amateur photography. Another option is to make sure that the shutter speed is always high enough for shooting hand-held.

As a rule of thumb, I never shoot hand-held at a speed of less than 1/80 – that’s one eightieth of a second. With lenses zoomed in more than 80mm, the minimum speed goes up accordingly – so, at 400mm zoom, I’m looking for a speed of 1/400. It’s not always sunny enough to get that sort of speed, which is where lenses with built-in image stabilisation start to become very useful!

At first, you’ll probably forget to check your shutter speed, and end up with quite a few blurred photos. Don’t worry about it! Keep practising, and it will stick in the end. Until it does, you have the advantage that you’re shooting digitally. Just imagine what it was like when I started photography shooting on chemical film. Digital makes it much easier to practice new techniques over and over until you’re comfortable with them.

Making The Move To Other Modes

As mentioned above, I shoot mostly in shutter-priority mode these days. I combine that with the Nikon D200’s extremely handy auto-ISO mode to get as many sharp images as I’m able to. In my next technique article, I’ll talk about my one and only wedding shoot that I did back in 2003, and why the next feature you need to master on your digital SLR is digital’s unique ability to change the ISO setting between each shot.

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The Graig Chapel Burial Ground, Abercanaid

View all of the photos from this shoot as part of my Merthyr Road collection on Flickr.

After the extremely wet weekend the week before, I was determined to get out and about this weekend, and to continue my exploration of the old Glamorganshire Canal route between Merthyr and Cardiff. Guided by the excellent Glamorganshire and Aberdare Canals book, I headed north to Merthyr and traced the canal route south from Chapel Row.

At Abercanaid, I came across the remains of the Graig Chapel burial ground (the east side of Graig Road, the whole section north of Anthony Grove). I’m not exactly sure when the Chapel itself was demolished; it appears to have been still standing in 1996, and it appears to have been demolished due to subsidence. Looking at the photos from 1996, it looks like the burial ground wasn’t adjacent to the Chapel, but without more research I don’t know enough to say for certain.

Today, the burial ground has gone to ruin. Many of the headstones either lie flat in the undergrowth, or have been vandalised and are no longer there. During my visit, I spotted about half a dozen headstones still standing, and I did my best to record the names on the surviving headstones.

Tomorrow, the headstones will be gone. Glenn Kitchen, represented by Hugh James Solicitors of Merthyr Tydfil, has posted notice under the Disused Burial Grounds (Amendment) Act 1981 that he will remove the human remains, headstones and other memorials for re-internment at Pant Cemetery, Dowlais, on 4th May 2007. It is his intention to “erect a building for residential use” where the burial ground currently stands.

Thoughts On The Day

As I came south along the old canal towpath into Abercanaid, it wasn’t the burial ground that caught my eye. On the opposite side of Graig Road stands a pretty detatched house, and it was that house that I originally stopped to photograph.

I’m not sure how I feel about the intention to turn the burial ground into a residential building. I’m not religious, and when my time comes I’d rather be cremated. I don’t particularly want my remains to go into the ground. But, on the flip side, there are plenty of other folks who feel differently, and I was certainly distressed that the local authorities had allowed the burial ground to end up in the condition it is in today.

It’s my intention to return to Graig Road over the coming months to make a record of the building that Glenn will build on this spot. I’m curious to see what sort of house ends up there. It’s not often you stumble across a small piece of history in time to record it happening.

Favourite Photo From The Shoot

House And HeadstoneThis photo showing one of the surviving gravestones, with the house on the opposite side of Graig Road, is my favourite photo from this shoot. I like the crispness of the image and the general tonal range of the shot (although the blown highlight of the side of the building lets it down a bit).

Three Lessons From The Shoot

  • Shoot enough coverage! Lord knows I didn’t. I only have one shot of the plot as a whole, and only one shot showing where the plot sits in relation to its surroundings. That simply isn’t enough. I’ll be going back as soon as opportunity allows to bag some additional shots to complete this shoot.
  • Pay attention to your highlight warnings. Most of the scenes that I shot of the weekend contained shadows and highlights that stretched my D200 beyond its limits. It’s easy enough in Aperture to recover information from the shadows, but blown highlights simply don’t contain any information at all. The usual technique for dealing with this problem is to fit a neutral density gradiated filter (aka an ND grad). I don’t have any ND grads to fit the large diameter of my Sigma 15-30mm lens. Instead, I stopped down by a third (or often more), to try and limit the blown highlights to just the open sky instead.
  • Don’t limit yourself to just one attempt at a shot. I’m not saying go snap-happy – I don’t believe in the idea of quantity over quality – but do remember that you’re shooting digitally. You can take as many shots as you want, and all it costs you (worst case) is a little bit of time to edit out the really rubbish ones on-site (to avoid having no room to take any more shots). If, like me, you prefer to shoot in RAW mode, 8 Gb cards are now very affordable. I reckon you could fit something like 600+ compressed RAW images on a single 8 Gb card.

Post Production

The workflow I briefly mentioned a few weeks ago is working out well for me. I’ve picked up a copy of ScreenSteps, and I hope to post a tutorial about this before the end of March.

Found On Flickr

I’ve been unable to find any photos of Abercanaid on Flickr for this week’s blog posting. As well as using Flickr’s normal search facility, I also tried looking at the geotagged photos map. Although the map insists that there are 9,500+ photos taken in the Merthyr Tydfil area, not a single one actually appeared on the map at all 🙁


Latest Photos

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The Wooden Gate
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Banner On The March: We ARE The People
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March 2007
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