Focus Trek #10 Part 2 – A Yankee’s Guide to Driving (and vacation Photography) in Britian

Report # Photo:

“When preparing to travel, lay out all your clothes and all your money. Then take half the clothes and twice the money.”
-Susan Heller

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When faced with the undeniable historical coolness of what they are experiencing, children universally respond with a collective yawn and request to visit the nearest McDonalds.

This is Part 2 of 2. If you haven’t read Part 1, go here…

If you read Part 1, you’ve learned that there are a couple types of photography vacations. One is where you are alone to focus on the photography and the other is where your focus is family first, photography second. Well, focus on where the family is heading, then focus on the photography and before you lose them (or they lose you?), return to the family. Repeat as needed.

For the last 15 years whenever I have traveled, alone or with the family, my carry on has been my camera bag. I’m not checking it, ever. With the choice of losing my camera or my clothes, I’ll lose my clothes.

A vacation with the family requires an updated prioritization of goals. You still need to take shots of everyone in front of everything for the family records. But there are shots to be had on the periphery. Be ready for anything. “F8 and be there” as Arthur Fellig said. But “be there” is the most important part. In order to be there, you have to go somewhere. And that’s what we’re doing.

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My son called these “locals”. The pigeons in York are plentiful. They tolerate humans insofar as they can get a crumb or two from us. This was taken at Clifford Tower, where the National Heritage employee tried unsuccessfully to sell us a membership. I give him credit though, even after knowing we were leaving the country in a couple days and were not going to visit Stonehenge or any National Heritage site that we did not already have a pass for, he was still determined to sign us up. I silently questioned his grip on reality, but it seems it was a trait all the employees shared as the ticket seller tried to convince me that York needed more rain. (They had just had one of the worst floods in history and it had just rained more in the previous two days that in the whole year combined). I think she was, in fact, flirting with me.

On Wednesday night I drove up to Nether Poppleton to visit with the York Photo Society, one of the oldest photo clubs in the UK. That night they were having a review of member submitted photos on the topic of “decay”. I guess I could have entered the photo above. I showed up late and I had to admit it was because I was an American driver. I believe I was pardoned for this shortcoming. I really enjoyed the show and good humor. When asked what type of mushrooms were in her photo, the artist replied, “Why, red ones, of course!”. Thanks for the session beers, ladies and gents! And thanks to Allison, who helped me plan a productive photo tour of the next location, Whitby.


The York Photographic Society, formed in 1887, is York’s longest established photography club. I am just to the right of the projector.


To a photographer, Whitby is like a kid getting a puppy for Christmas. Nestled on the northern shores of England, It’s got everything you want in a quaint, colorful, old English whaling village. I negotiated this “away time” way ahead of time. Scott offered to take my family up and join me later in the morning. That would give me at least 4 hours to get around. I got up a couple hours before sunrise so I could drive up to Whitby Abbey on the Southeast side overlooking town for sunrise. Whitby Abbey is old and creepy and was the inspiration for Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Again, a lesson in driving in Britian, when it’s dark, it’s dark. The brights on my car were the equivalent of regular headlights in the USA. The regular setting lit up about 10 feet in front. The 60 mile trip up to Whitby from York was a nail biter not just because of that. I found the main road into town was actually closed, forcing me to drive down narrow dirt roads for the last 8 miles. With those headlights, a road closed sign comes up pretty quickly. Laying on the brakes, I came up about 10 feet short of unofficially opening the road back up.

And though it was cloudy for sunrise, the sky opened up very briefly and let me get the shot I was looking for.

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I ended up spending all my lone-photographer time equity at this one location in the vain expectation that the sky would suddenly open up. I didn’t, but I at least had the GoPro running, so I got to see a horse eat grass REALLY fast. Here is the timelapse I shot with the D7100 and the GoPro.

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The architecture here is a beautiful mish-mash of old and older. Imagine how boring our basic grid system in the US is to people who live here.

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1,000 piece puzzle anyone?


I want to thank Scott for suggesting Whitby as a day trip. It was hard not to find a good photo there, even faced with a cold and cloudy day. Having diffused light keeps down harsh shadows. Although I prefer having puffy white clouds, Having the opposite makes you look in more places for hidden gems.


I saw this pub and knew I had to wait for the right person to walk in front. But as I was thinking that, the perfect person started to walk in front. This picture was 100% pre-conceived and I was lucky to get what I had in my mind. This needed to have 1) someone in stride, 2) and their profile not obscured. I ended up taking two shots, one with nobody in front and one with him in front, in stride and silhouetted by the window. I had to convert this to black and white since this was the “Black Horse”. The color version was good as well, but this one has more power. And I didn’t lose the family.


At one point I found my battery running out and needed to go back to the car for a fresh one. This was another good opportunity to keep my eyes open. Sometimes I catch something special, like a guy feeding his (or a stray) dog. This also started as a color image, but I think the color distracts from the emotion of the scene. In black and white, there is a more distinct path for the eye from left to right to the dog and man and back down to the left with the wall.

More from the harbor. Click on a photo to see a bigger version. Click on the left or right of the photo or use the arrow keys to move through the images.

Whitby us also a PERFECT location for playing with the “miniature” setting if you have one. Basically, this filter changes the color, contrast and fakes a very narrow depth of field to fool your eyes into thinking it was taken of a model a few inches away.

Our Thanksgiving lunch was fish and chips at the Magpie, a cool maritime themed seafood restaurant on the river. We were right across the alley from a storage building where a hungry seagull took pains to swallow a pilfered fillet whole as a immature friend circled around waiting for him to drop it. It was lunch and a free show. I apologize to the table next to me for having to listen to my shutter clicking away. I couldn’t miss this.

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Isn’t that just precious?

Wrapping up the Trip

We returned for our last evening in York for a “traditional” Thanksgiving Tapas dinner with our hosts at Ambiente Tapas Bar at Fossgate, or Goodramgate, er, one of the gates.

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Our final day was spent in London again and we had good enough weather that we were able to visit the places we were unable to at the start of the trip. That meant a mad dash from site to site, mainly the Tower of London where I got in my humor shot.

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And some additional street photography… 

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Bubble dining on the Thames

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What I enjoy about street photography is catching real emotion. Sometimes it’s people seeing me and thinking, “What’s this idiot doing taking a photo of a person taking a photo?” But what I saw was red shoes, red backpack, red coat. Their expressions were a bonus.

Here my family is debating where they can lose me next…

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And we ended with a cruise down the Thames and a ride on the London Eye, something that was only being built when we visited last.

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This is a 6 panel vertical panorama. Setting the camera for this is tricky, especially as it was hand-held. Starting at the left, you have to pick one manual exposure setting to use across the panorama. You will have an easier time blending the panels. The exposure needs to be set so it’s not too dark on the left and not blown out on the right.

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My phone camera is much better suited for handheld night photography than my DSLR is. It is naturally sharp front to back and in HDR mode, it balances out the light quite nicely (Samsung G6).

And so I conclude it IS possible to add to your portfolio even if you are along for the ride. There can be a combination of family time and photo time. They understand my sickness/passion and I think they accommodate me for the most part. Hey, I’ll take the pity, if I can just get one more minute. I need to wait for a seagull to fly into the scene…just one more minute…wait, I can still see one of the kids…no problem. All you have to do is keep your eyes and mind open and you will get shots that you were not expecting. You can’t go in thinking you will fail because there is always something interesting somewhere on the route.

Special thanks to our friends Scott Garman and David Sgarlatta. Your patience and hospitality are very much appreciated!

What did I learn?

  1. Seagulls are awesome pretty much anywhere you go, except Wal-Mart parking lots where you just pity them.
  2. Same goes with Japanese film crews
  3. You don’t get much of a warning when a road closes in England. Pay attention.
  4. Thanksgiving is Thanksgiving even if you celebrate with fish and chips and tapas. It’s not so much the food, but the company.
  5. Whose a good dog? Bunny is a good dog, isn’t she? Yes she is!

Thanks for letting me share this experience with you. If you liked it, comment and share! If you would like to know when more articles are posted, add your email below.

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