Mud+snot+four-year-olds just seem to go together.
Today was a day full of both. All three, actually I should say (apart from the fact that all of my days are full of four-year-olds). I handed out tissues to catch runny noses and cleaned muddy boots before I lined them up neatly. I made snowflakes and drank pretend tea from tiny plastic cups. I praised and I scolded in equal measure. I drew fire engines, read story books about libraries and witches and potties. I mopped up spilled milk. I tidied up toys, endless toys. I opened drinks and sandwich boxes and coaxed little people to fill their tummies with just a few more bites. I built a pretend snowman and flew in the air, waving to the people and houses below. I cast magic spells on impish children who were frogs and trains and racing cars. I sang. I sing every day with a kind of forced, manic joviality that one must have around four-year-olds who are tired and grumpy and want their lunch or just want to go home and watch cbeebies. Songs about sheep and monkeys and stars. Always stars.

The rain fell. Hence the mud. The sky stayed grey.

I’m still waiting for the sun.

Maybe tomorrow?

I don’t think I have ever mentioned in my blog that I work with a girl who is visually impaired. Her favourite colour is yellow. Sunshine yellow. She chooses it every time over any shade of baby blue or girly pink or fire-engine red. I print all of her work on yellow because it seems that her searching eyes find it easier to rest on that gentle, warm colour than the stark glare of white.

(Last year I started a little series of posts themed around colour)

© images and content Emily Hughes and searchingtosee, 2013

The feathers

He arrived home with two dead pheasants on his back, and thought it would be funny to dangle them in front of my face as I answered the door.
I screamed.
The boy was amused. The girl less so.

He hung them in the garden shed in the dense, bleak night, and after the snow had begun to fall, and a snowmen had been made [two hazelnuts for eyes; a jaunty snow hat, and an elephant for a companion], he began the long, diligent labour of preparing the birds with his strong, adept hands. The snow had created a perfectly crisp white work surface for the task. He plucked the feathers (taking care to put aside the two longest, most elegant), then they were gutted and washed, cleaned, and finally, pink, bald and dimpled, were ready for the pot.

The girl looked on in growing disgust.
“I’m not eating that!” she wailed.

But she kept on watching.

When the day came to cook them she quietly observed him as he worked in the kitchen. Slouching in the door frame.
“Want to cook with dada?”
“Okaaaay” she relented (she never can resist)

Later, I went outside. The air was cold. The sky was dense, bleached white. It felt close, as though I could reach up and touch the clouds, heavy with snow. I found the stray feathers from the birds cocooned in the snow. Left where they had been strewn. They were graceful with strong supple whiskers. They were bold and colourful in rich auburn shades and a fine tiger stripe print. But they were also little wisps of silky-soft fluffy down-like bristles. Almost invisible. As I photographed them the snow started to fall, slowly, and softly, executing perfect pirouettes downwards towards the waiting ground.

They were so fine and delicate. So fleeting.

How can something so fragile and insubstantial be also something so solid and dense, so substantial?

The glistening flakes clung to the waiting feathers and gave them new form. It seemed like a fitting tribute to those birds to capture them there somehow in that moment. In the snowfall. All that remained of the plump weight of those birds; of the blood and the guts and the organs and the flesh, was those feathers.

And soon the snow will melt as the air starts to thaw. The feathers will turn to sludge and join the mud of the earth. Their proud, shiny plumes; soft tufty barbs and fine opaque quills will wilt and fade to nothing, or maybe be carried away to nowhere, on the gust of the next windy day.

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But there is still something.
There are still two.
One for a boy, one for a girl.
Strong and tall and vibrant.
The life, from the earth, which fed us.
A simple, hearty supper shared amongst friends.
And then, to the earth it returned.


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[And the girl?
Well, she ate, and enjoyed her meal.]

© images and content Emily Hughes and searchingtosee, 2013

My week with Nokia


So you thought the iPhone 4s was the best camera phone ever?

Well, I thought so too. But, a friend of mine recently lent me their Nokia 808 pureview to have a play with, so I spent a week with the Nokia in my pocket instead of the iPhone, and I have to say, I was quite smitten.

For the techy types amongst you, here is exactly what is packed into its 5 x 2.5 inch frame:

  • 38MP maximum resolution (in 4:3 aspect ratio – output size: 7728 x 5368 pixels)
  • 1/1.2″ CMOS sensor, pixel size: 1.4um
  • ISO 80-1600 (+ auto)
  • Five white balance presets (including auto)
  • Exposure compensation +/-4EV in 0.3EV steps
  • Carl Zeiss F2.4 8.02mm lens (26mm, 16:9 | 28mm, 4:3 equiv)
  • Focus range: 15cm – Infinity (throughout the zoom range)
  • Construction:
    • 5 elements, 1 group. All lens surfaces are aspherical
    • One high-index, low-dispersion glass mould lens
    • Mechanical shutter with neutral density filter
  • 1080p HD video (up to 25Mb/s) with 4X ‘lossless zoom’
  • Stereo recording with Nokia Rich Recording – rated up to 140db

In fact, this camera has the highest resolution sensor of any camera (not just camera phones) outside highly specialised, or certain medium format equipment.

It all sounds pretty impressive, but does it take decent pictures?

Now, I have to admit, I didn’t test it to its full capacity, and I didn’t use the video function and nor did I test any of the phone functions. Just the camera.

On useability I would score the Nokia pretty well. It sits nicely in the palm although it’s quite a bit heavier than the iphone. It’s easy to take pictures either using the touch screen, or via a shutter button on the side which is quite handy and the mechanical shutter gives a nice satisfying clunky click, like a real camera. The only negative thing I would say is that it is quite close to the button which switches between camera and video, and seems to be positioned in the corner where you naturally want to place your thumb, and I did find I accidentally switched it over to video quite a few times whilst shooting which meant I ended up with video clips instead of still pictures. It’s quite a sensitive screen and easy to do, but after a while I got the hang of avoiding it.

It is definitely not as user-friendly as the iPhone, but that is partly because it is a much more sophisticated piece of kit. The quality of the lens was the thing which intrigued me. Why put a lens that good on a camera phone? I guess you could argue it’s a crazy thing to do, and there is probably only a very niche market for it, but I was keen to see how it performed. As for the high resolution, well, I am not completely convinced it is entirely necessary in a camera this size, or that it makes an awful lot of difference to the image quality in the end, but I would assume (although I haven’t tried this yet) if you were to blow these images up to a larger size the quality would be much better than that of an equivalent iphone image.

The camera has three shooting modes: automatic for point and shoot; scenes for a bit more involvement in selecting settings (but the camera still controls the main settings for you), and creative for full control over the settings (however, you are not able to adjust shutter and aperture separately). I chose to shoot in creative mode. In this mode you can adjust the ISO setting (I kept this on auto most of the time); sensor mode (I used full resolution); aspect ratio (16:9 or 4:3 – the images below were shot in 4:3); JPEG quality (I went for superfine); colour tones (see below) and capture mode (there is even a bracketing mode in which you can adjust exposure compensation as listed above, and there is an interval mode and self-timer). There is also I flash, which I tested but didn’t choose to use very much. You can adjust saturation, contrast and sharpness too, although I chose to keep these on a medium setting as I like most people prefer to adjust stuff like this later on the computer.

One quite neat feature which I found very handy (once I had worked out how to do it): if you tap the screen in camera mode it brings up the focus mode which allows you to switch between infinity, hyperfocal, close-up and automatic. I should note though that I did find the focussing quite tricky and it was the one thing which put me off the camera a bit. It seemed to struggle a lot to focus at times, especially in low lighting conditions.

I did try out all the different colour modes, though most of my shots were done on normal. I found the colour tones were nice and subtle under the flat lighting conditions created by the overcast skies we had that week.


The sepia was a little too dark, and it had a slight green tinge which I didn’t really like, although in some shots it worked quite nicely.


The black and white was nice, if a little too on the grey side for my liking (I tend to prefer a little more contrast, which I could have added by adjusting the contrast). I did end up using it a lot though as it lent itself quite well to the dreary grey skies.


Vivid was quite good for adding a little punch to colours. Again, if you play around with contrast and saturation you can probably get the same effect anyway.


As I mentioned, I think most people nowadays tend to make their colour adjustments post shooting using photoshop or similar software, so I’m not sure of the benefit of these different options, but I guess they are fun to play with.

Most of the time I shot with the ISO on auto and the camera was fine, although in lower lighting it struggled a bit.The exposure compensation was ok, but annoyingly there is a long time delay between each shot, so it’s near impossible to get the same shot three times unless you have a really steady hand and a static subject. It’s a bit of an unnecessary feature really I think in a camera phone.

I thoroughly enjoyed my brief flirtation with Nokia. I’m not sure if I’m ready to swap it for my iphone yet, but it was fun while it lasted. Here are some of my snaps from the week (I didn’t adjust these in anyway so these are as shot):









For further information on Nokia pureview technology click here.

© images and content Emily Hughes and searchingtosee, 2013

Weaving magic

Once upon a time the photographer was thought of as something of an alchemist. A shadowy, enigmatic figure who spent far too much time frequenting small, dark, windowless spaces, wearing a faint aroma of ammonia and something like salt and vinegar crisps. He* would produce beautiful images, which would appear before your very eyes – as if by magic – from blank sheets of paper. He would spend hours squirreled away, honing his craft, proliferating prints. Working away tirelessly under the dim, seedy glow of a single red light bulb.

Perhaps it is because I am currently reading a book about magic, or perhaps it is because I am looking at a lot of magical winter photographs in blogs: skeleton trees towering eerily in winter mists; bright, crisp snowy scenes and macro shots of perfectly formed snowflakes glistening like frosted jewels against a backdrop of a perfect cerulean sky. In any case, I am occupied by thoughts of magic and fantasy. January is such a dull, frugal month. I am yearning. I need to believe. I need to find some magic – some wonder – to make it sparkle for me.

I discovered these charming images by French photographer Alain Laboile whilst browsing through the blog emorfes. When I looked at them I felt that little flicker of something I can’t explain…. you know that feeling you get when something connects with you in a positive way. It’s like a little jolt of excitement which progresses into a surge of recognition, with all of your senses immediately heightened in anticipation…

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images from the series Reflexion autour du bassin by Alain Laboile

… and then, afterwards, you feel a little bit more content than before and even a little bit changed. At the same time, you have understood something new about yourself. The magic has taken effect.

Perhaps it is something in the dreamlike world he creates, or the way he fuses childlike wonder with gentle humour and surreal elements. Or perhaps it is the quirky perspective; the water which casts a wobbly dreamlike haze, but which also threatens an element of danger to the happy family album: hidden depths, murky waters, a sense of foreboding…. Maybe it’s the big wide sky – more than just background it is centre stage in many images. Children while away so many hours looking up. Daydreaming. Spotting birds, aeroplanes; flying kites; climbing trees to get closer to the clouds, gazing at the moon and the stars and imagining other worlds and whether one day they might visit them. The wonder of the vast, unfathomable sky. It has the power to put us in our places on earth.

I have looked at these photographs a lot recently. I am not really sure why that is. They seem to me to re-capture a bit of that old photographic alchemy. They are not polished, or sophisticated. They are quite low-key, like snapshots, yet obviously considered. They are a constructed dreamworld. Eccentric, you could say. They have something of the air of the slightly mad, nerdy inventor about them – the one who cooks up crazier and crazier scenes whilst his excited wild children froth around him, egging him on. A kind of professor Potts of the photographic world. (I am sure I am completely wrong, by the way and this part is entirely my fabrication, but I do believe Laboile is also a sculptor, which would account for the sculptural elements featured in the photographs.)

Each picture, each little burst of magic speaks to me of its own story, weaving a narrative of a strange, fantastical fairy tale, in which dreams and imagination have leaked into our conscious world and taken hold. And the children – wild and free – are the kings and queens.

Oh, the fun they would have with our dreams.

© images Alain Laboile

© content Emily Hughes and searchingtosee, 2013

* of course, photographers can be females too 🙂

Ysabel LeMay’s Innovative Photo Fusion

I had to share because, wow, these are amazing, and actually gave me goosebumps looking at them. I can only imagine their impact “in the flesh”. Exquisite.


Ysabel LeMay’s Innovative Photo Fusion.

In the shadows

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© images and content Emily Hughes and searchingtosee, 2013

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