Project 366 – finished

The marathon is over and I’ve just about managed to stagger over the finish line and collapse. Phew, what a year.

January - A foggy Millenium Bridge
January - A foggy Millenium Bridge

Unassuming beginnings

My daughter Rose, one day old
My daughter Rose, one day old

I started the ‘one photo a day’ project on a bit of a whim. I thought to myself that 2008 would be a pretty significant year, mainly because my first child was going to be born in May, and I reckoned project366 would be an interesting way of recording her birth and first seven months. In many respects I wish I’d given it a bit more thought, specifically with regard to choosing a theme or mini-projects. Part of the problem was that I’d assumed that taking just one photo a day would be so easy.

As things turned out, it was really tough and going into the third quarter I really hit ‘the wall’ and nearly quit. Now that I’ve finished, however, I’m really glad I persevered and got to the end.

New skills

Death comes to London Bridge
Death comes to London Bridge

I was really keen to increase my technical camera skills this year, particularly by getting the most out of my camera. Prior to 2008 I still mainly used the ‘auto’ settings on my 20D, which I’m a little embarrassed about. What finally got me out of this rut was reading the book ‘Understanding Exposure’ by Bryan Peterson. This book cleverly never mentions any specific camera or lens and therefore doesn’t really date. What it does do, however, is very simply explain how to get creative exposures, how and when to use minimal or maximum apertures and other ‘tricks’. I’ve really tried to have ago at many of these and it’s been really fun trying them out.

Raspberries
Raspberries

A big goal was to start shooting in fully manual mode, however, this has not quite happened. The reality is that I almost exclusively shoot with ‘aperture priority’, choosing ISO and aperture for each shot but leaving the camera to pick the shutter speed. Having to set up shutter speed in addition to aperture I’ve found takes that tiny bit longer and has put me off. I may have to roll-over this goal to 2009.

It’s notable that I only got one new lens this year, the classic EF 50mm f1.8. I’ve tried to concentrate on making the most of the equipment I’ve got before I get any more.

Variety of shots

Battersea Power Station open day
Battersea Power Station open day

Alongside the task of weaning myself off of ‘auto’ mode was the aim of taking a bigger variety of pictures and branching into new areas. When I first bought a DSLR camera in 2005 my sole interest was landscape photography. I got so blinkered for a while that I got a bit upset if any people at all were in my pictures.

In 2007 inspired by stuff I’d seen on Flickr I started to take more pictures of London and my local area. Project365 only increased this trend, particularly as a lot of the opportunities for photos in daylight would be on my way to or from my work in the City (for the record I do not work for a bank).

Ironmonger Lane, City of London
Ironmonger Lane, City of London

One of the new types of photography that I’m really interested in now is street photography. Carrying a camera with me nearly all the time has meant I’ve been able to take those improvised street shots when I see something interesting or unusual.

I’ve also been keen to increase my portrait skills and over the year I’ve been making an effort to get better at this. Something that really helped inspire me in this was going on a short lighting course. I’ve since been able to practice some of the techniques that I learnt and I’ve largely been happy with the results so far. This is an area I want to continue to develop in the future.

What have I learnt?

Rachel and Richard
Rachel and Richard

I have a much better understanding of the technicalities of photography, though this is far from complete. I’ve grown my ‘photographers eye’ into lots of new areas and I ‘see’ a greater number of shots than I did a year ago.

Whilst I feel that my lighting skills have come a long way it is a subject that I really hope to develop over time.

What now?

One thing I won’t be continuing next year is a ‘one photo a day’ project. I’ve found it rewarding, but also quite exhausting so I’ll be easing up a bit.

Also, other than generally hoping to improve my photography skills still further I have a few specific aims and goals.

Firstly, I’d like to upgrade my equipment slightly and get a full frame camera such as a Canon 5D. I feel that this will add some versatility and to an extent quality to my photography. I’ve no immediate plans to get an more lenses.

I’ve felt for a while that the ‘one photo a day’ project has held back a number of smaller projects that I’ve been thinking of doing and now I’ll be able to do them at my leisure. For one, I want to document my local area in greater depth. Secondly, as I have a bit of a fascination with cafes, I might do a small photo diary of the ones in my bit of London. I have a few more ideas sketched out, but we’ll see about them.

Lloyds building, City of London
Lloyds building, City of London

I may have given up doing a daily photo, but I won’t give up a daily activity. I’m going to try to emulate, in a less ambitious way, an annual report in the spirit of that of Nick Felton. I heard an interview with him on the Boagworld podcast and it inspired me. If I manage to pull it off it should be an interesting, though slightly dweeby, insight into some aspects of my life.

Summary
This project has been hard work and a great chunk of commitment over the past year and at times I might have gladly given it up. I am, however, really glad that i’ve stuck to it and I feel that this has been a huge achievement that I’m really proud of. Pleasingly, thirteen of the pictures from this project were added to the ‘Explore‘ section of Flickr, something that shouldn’t matter but kind of does.

I’d really recommend this project to anyone wanting some motivation to do more photography but I would also warn anyone that this is a huge commitment.

It’s been an interesting and wonderful journey. It’s been emotional.

Triathlon – Swim Training #3

Ready for a swim
Ready for a swim

Following many weeks when for one reason or another I’ve been busy, I finally got to attend a swim training session. The triathlon club I’m in run three swim sessions a week, the Friday one supposed to be about technique and best for novice and intermediate level swimmers. I therefore thought this was the session for me.

I was a bit nervous about going as I’ve not had any swim coaching since school and even then I only got as high as ‘bronze swimming certificate’. I’ve been looking at other swimmers and videos on-line but I’ve been really keen to have someone watch and improve my own skills.

Once in the pool we were given a talk through of the days drills by the coach. This led me to my first problem which was not understanding half of the terms he used. ‘fist stroke’ and ‘single arm stroke’ I could kind of guess at but I had no idea what ‘catch-up stroke’ was supposed to be. We were then told a complicated series of combinations such as six foot kicks and then five normal strokes, then another combo on the next length etc etc. I was quickly bewildered about what I was supposed to do, but gave it my best shot.

I did get some useful instruction on my breathing and stroke. Apparently, I bring my head far too far out of the water and my arm is too straight on the ‘catch’ where it should be bent. I found it really hard to try and correct both of these as well as perform the drills all at once and I think I was all over the place. Still, it was good to have things to work on.

We finished the session after about 40 minutes with a little medley race where I at least didn’t embarrass myself and was on the winning team.

I did feel a little bit that I was thrown in at the deep end (pun intended) in that no-one spoke to me beforehand about my training needs, what the session was about or even ‘welcome to the club’.

I did get some positive things from this session and I certainly got a good workout, but it still wasn’t quite all I’d hoped for when joining a club.

The Square, London

My expectations were very high, The Square is, after all a two star Michelin restaurant and is exorbitantly expensive. In this case I shouldn’t have worried, my expectations were well met and almost exceeded.

Up to now my wife and I have not really had an opportunity to go out in the evening together and without our daughter Rose. This has meant that we missed celebrating in a big way either Deborah’s birthday or our anniversary. Now that Rose sleeps from 7pm through to 7am we thought we could risk a night out. The restaurant was booked, the babysitter was arranged, a new dress was purchased and we were set.

Cocktails
As often happens, my keenness not to be late meant that we got to Mayfair almost half an hour early. No problem I thought, we can pop into the Claridges bar for a quick snifter. We opened the door, but instead of a serene and stately scene of sophisticates, the place was heaving. I battled to the bar and got Deborah a ‘Somerset summer’ and myself a classic G&T. I’d hoped for a little sit down in some comfortable leather while we chatted about everything or nothing. In the end we stood by the (lovely art deco) fireplace and tried to keep out of the way of the waitresses. Then it was off to the main event.

Amuse Bouche
Our coats were taken and we were whisked to our seats where we could then really start enjoying the anticipation of a first class meal. Having already had an aperitif at Claridges we declined some champagne while looking at the menus. As ever in these places were were each given a small selection of ‘amuse bouches’ which were delightful, the highlight being a fois gras in a tiny cone.

We then got the ‘pre-starter’ of a very tasty glass of chicken jelly, foam and something else. Only two mouthfuls, but delicious. Apparently our starters were going to be slightly delayed, so we got given a little prawn on gnocchi with truffle thing (amazing) just to keep us going. We were offered some bread, which I would only rate as ‘ok’.

Bear in mind we hadn’t even got to the starters yet.

Starters
I went for the ‘Lasagne of Dorset Crab with a Cappuccino of Shellfish and a Champagne Foam’ and Deborah the ‘Scallops with black truffle’.

That crab lasagna was probably the most delicious thing I’ve ever tasted. It was incredibly rich with a strongly flavoured foam that went so well with the delicate crab. Stunning. Deborah’s scallops were top class too, although in my opinion they were ‘only’ very very good.

The only minor down point was the choice of an Italian Riesling to go with my starter. The wine was delicious in itself, but I think I could have done with something a little bolder, maybe an oaky white or maybe even a pinot noir. A demerit to the sommelier here.

Main course
For mains Deborah opted for the ‘Roast Saddle of Lincolnshire Hare with a Tarte Fine of Celeriac and Pear’ and I the ‘Fillet and Croustillant of Aged Ayrshire Beef with Cepes, Shallots, Bone Marrow and Red Wine’. The hare was sweet but gamey but yet quite delicate. It was on a bed of pastry and had a fruity sauce that was really appropriate.

Up to this point I’d thought that there would be nothing that was likely to top my starter, but my main may well have done. It was a real medley of meat. Apart from the main fillet itself there were what looked like little sausage rolls containing shreds of beef, cepes, pureed cress and an amazing sauce. Every single mouthful was astonishing and i’m sure I said ‘wow’ several times. Even the portions were fairly generous.

We both had lovely full bodied red wines with our mains and this time they went perfectly.

Dessert
To make sure we were eased gently into the dessert course we had a ‘pre-dessert’ of caramel, jelly and custard with a tiny doughnut on top. Again, only two mouthfuls, but wonderful. Normally i’d really go for the cheese board, but after two very rich courses I felt like something sweet.

There were many tempting choices, but eventually I elected to have the ‘Date SoufflĂ© with Burnt Orange and Almond Ice Cream’ and Deborah had the ‘Brillat-Savarin Cheesecake with Passionfruit, Mango and a Citrus Terrine’. I really like a souffle and this did not disappoint at all. It was light and tasty and the orange flavour was distinct yet delicate. Deborah’s cheesecake looked more like a modernist piece of art than food and it seemed a shame to have to spoil the look by eating it. Both of our desserts were really good, but we agreed that again mine edged it.

Petit-fours
By this time we were well satisfied, but there were still the petit-fours and coffee to enjoy. Next to other top class restaurants I’ve been to I thought the petit fours were fairly average and the coffee nothing special.

This only left us with paying the bill and a cab ride home.

Summary
Deborah and I have been to a fair number of Michelin starred restaurants over the years (although mostly for lunch) and I think this was the best meal I’ve had out of all of them. The bill was slightly painful, but considering the pleasure and wonderful experience we’d both had it seemed like a small price to pay. A very magical evening and a top meal.

Santa Run 2008

Following a last minute email from the triathlon club news group I thought ‘why not’. Why wouldn’t I want to dress up as Santa and run 5km round Greenwich park.

On the sunday morning, the beautiful winter sun was streaming through the window and I felt in the right mood for a race. Of course this wasn’t meant to be very serious, but I was still intrigued to see what my 5km time might be, particularly as I’d never run this distance in a race before.

Jason as santa
Jason as santa

It’s one of the more surreal experiences of my life to be one of almost a thousand ‘santas’ taking part in this race. The costume, which wasn’t of very high quality, was at least light and as the day was very cold I was almost grateful for it hanging round before the race.

Most people there seemed to be ‘charity runners’ as in people who don’t normally do any running, but would give it a go for their favourite charity. This plus there being no official time meant that hardly any serious runners turned up at all. Seeing this I tried to get near the front at the start as I could.

We were off and very quickly and without even doing much of a pace I found myself in the first 20 people or so. This continued round the whole of the course. Greenwich park was really very pretty on this slightly frosty, blue skied morning and it was a very pleasant view going round.

In a not particularly fast 28 minutes I crossed the finishing line and picked up my ‘goody bag’. No medal on offer here. We do get to keep the Santa suits though!

Thanks to my supporters Deborah and Rose!

The ‘fun’ was definitely in this ‘run’. Very enjoyable.