AirToob Lightning
(Original post: December 21st, 2009)

Waddesdon Manor, near Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire, is one of the most attractive National Trust properties in England. As it says here:

"Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild, creator of Waddesdon, loved France and French art. With his French architect Destailleur and his landscape gardener Laine, he built this Renaissance-style chateau in a dramatic setting. Waddesdon has one of the best collections of French 18th century decorative arts in the world, paintings, furniture, carpets and curiosities, lovingly assembled over 35 years by Ferdinand to please his weekend guests. Outside, his creation includes an aviary, flamboyant bedding, winding walks, colorful trees and panoramic views."

We visited it recently for their Christmas event. When you arrive it's already very dark, and you feel like you are on the set of "Brideshead Revisited" as you make the long unlit drive up to the Rothschild manor, where on this occasion you can park right in front, in a long row of giant illuminated Christmas trees. You get to tour a wing of the house, beautifully decorated for Christmas (no words will do it justice), followed by a dinner in the excellent restaurant. For £55 this is perhaps the best-value Christmas event one can imagine!

We stayed overnight at the Five Arrows Hotel in Waddesdon village, planning to go for a walk in the Waddesdon estate the next morning. From our hotel window we had a view of wonderful tiled roofs like this one.

This is part of the long drive up to the Manor. It was a cold, beautiful day. The sun at this time of year is very low, making for interesting photography, and we had the place almost to ourselves (very unusual).

All the statues on the estate were shrouded against the weather...

Frost still on the grass

Some fun with Photoshop. This wasn't taken with a telephoto lens, it's the result of a blurred layer on top of a sharp layer, with the lower part of the blurred layer masked out.

My first-ever HDR photo. The upper and lower parts come from two different images at different exposures, with some blending in the middle. My little Lumix camera will take three photos in rapid succession at different exposures, and even without a tripod it wasn't hard to align two of the images in different Photoshop layers. I temporarily used the "multiply" blend so that I could see both images at once, and used the Move tool and arrow keys to nudge one layer a pixel at a time. There are fancier ways of doing HDR but this worked fine for me with Photoshop 7.

As with the previous picture and several others, I am experimenting here with a Photoshop curves adjustment layer. Dragging the cursor in a shadow area (say) shows on part of the graph as a moving pointer. Adjusting the slope of that part of the graph improves the tonal range and contrast in that part of the picture, while sometimes messing up other parts. Then you mask out the other parts, leaving only the improved bits overlaying the original image.

On the way out I saw these rather beautiful Christmas tree ornaments in the National Trust shop, which reminded me slightly of Faberge eggs (but a lot cheaper!). They are about 20 times too large for the tiny tree we have at home, but I asked my wife if she could arrange them in a kind of nest, which she kindly did! (There's a blur layer being used here in Photoshop, too.)

[My Photoshop page]