Darron Mark Photography: Blog http://www.dmfoto.co.uk/blog en-us (C) Darron Mark Photography (Darron Mark Photography) Sat, 24 Feb 2018 17:58:00 GMT Sat, 24 Feb 2018 17:58:00 GMT http://www.dmfoto.co.uk/img/s/v-5/u23761446-o518528702-50.jpg Darron Mark Photography: Blog http://www.dmfoto.co.uk/blog 90 120 #VanLife: Blog #017 A lesson in how not to do customer service, Iveco Style http://www.dmfoto.co.uk/blog/2018/2/-vanlife-blog-017-a-lesson-in-how-not-to-do-customer-service-iveco-style When we bought the van last year, there were a few niggles that weren't major issues, but I'm a little OCD when it comes to having everything working as it should. If it has a function, that function should operate as it was originally intended in my view, if not, then lets fix them. It's just how my mind works and I make no apology for it.

The list of those niggles were:

  • Fuel Gauge Sensor - Put more than 30 litres in to the 60 litre tank, it shows it as being full.
  • Side Running Lights - The side door light didn't work at all, and the rear drivers side worked when it felt like it.
  • Side Door - This wasn't fully closing, and had a large visible gap at the top of the door letting in water when it rained.
  • Interior Heater Control Unit - The dashboard selector had only two settings left, then one, and then in the heart of winter, nothing.

New faults:

  • The Door Locking Sensors - The dashboard displayed that a door is open, also activating the interior cab light, when all doors are shut.
  • Handbrake Sensor - Shows up as being applied on the dashboard, even when it's not.

The plan was to get an idea of how much these things would cost and break it down into the quick wins based on the budget. Based on what I'd listed, they said Wednesday would be the best day to book it in. I dropped the van down to them on the Tuesday evening cause, well, work reasons.

Wednesday afternoon I followed up with a call to get an idea as to prices, only to be told that someone would ring me back, they didn't. I was still looking for an estimate of works.

Thursday I rang again, to be told that nobody would be able to get a look at it that day and I should ring back on Friday. I'm not even sure why they even book vehicles in to be honest!

Friday. Still no clue what's going on. I ring again, twice in fact, only to be told someone would ring me. I needed the van back as I need to make some trips in it that evening, so I said I'd just come and collect it instead at the end of the day.

When I get there, they gave me a limp apology that nothing had been done other than the side lights, the reasons being that they were busy, understaffed due to sickness and, well, they just didn't get round to it. Three fecking days wasted. I asked what was the likely estimate to be, and was told they still didn't have that worked out yet. But, they had fixed the Side Running Lights. Now, when they say "fixed" what they really mean is, replaced with new ones. Nothing wrong with the old ones, just a cabling fault, possibly a contact point issue on the sliding door. But no, their solution is simply swap it out, new for old, like some sort of insurance policy.

The main issue I have with this scenario is; they're probably used to dealing with only commercial operators of HGV's etc, where every invoice is picked up by the company accountant or written off as a business expense, tax deductible. However, I'm not a business that has that sort of cashflow to pick up big hits like this, I have to be cautious. So, as I'm sure you can imagine, I'm starting to panic a little here.

I ask what parts might it need, there must have been some sort of investigation at least? I was then told that the fuel sensor was on order costing £170'ish, and that the handbrake cable needed replaced, not sure why, cause it was fine doing handbrake cable stuff when I dropped it off? The list, that I initially reported was now lost apparently, so again, I had to repeat it to make sure nothing was left off, and again, asked for a breakdown of what the costs might be. I was told they'd let me know on Monday and that they'd make arrangements following that.

The van was at the rear of the premises in Claudy. I was told it was 'road worthy' if I wanted to take it away, which was when I noticed the new  light fittings, which look feck all like the old existing ones as the design has changed completely.

Warning: It gets a little Sweary Mary from here on in.

When I jumped in and started the van, I quickly noticed I didn't have a functioning handbrake. I might have missed that part of the conversation due to the descending red mist, I knew I needed one (apparently), but I'm sure he never said that they'd ripped the existing one out. So, in I goes again to have a word, to be told, that's what he meant, it needed a new handbrake cable, confused, and ready to kill dead things, I felt it best to just leave and consider my options. They said they'd ring me on Monday with the prices so I'll take it from there.

Monday comes, no phone call, I'm not even surprised anymore. I'm conscious that there's been no call but I'm too busy at work to do anything about it and forget to chase it again myself. You know what it's like sometimes right?

Tuesday. I make a phone call, because, lets be honest here, tradition dictates that they're not going to bother their arses! Customer service is simply not their thing.

I ask what are the prices likely to be for the parts and the work, to which they say they need to get it in again to work out, could I bring it in again for Thursday? Absolutely defeated, I submit.

Wednesday evening, as before, I drop it round because, well, I've work to do during the day and I can't take it to work to then leave down, because I've no handbrake suitable for street parking, and the side door doesn't even shut, because they've said it needs a hinge (how much that is, I have no clue) and in their investigations, it would seem they've broken the existing one even further. When I do leave it down, I wait in the cold and dilapidated servicing reception until someone can tell me what the fuck is going on (sense the anger yet?). There's not even a seat to sit on.

The list it would seem, is no where to be found! I get them to write it down, telling them that I want a list of the pricing so I know what's going on! The side lights are £14 each apparently, they told me that much, I don't know how much the handbrake cable is, and it seems beyond them to give me that price either,  I already know about the fuel gauge sensor (still not happy about that). So, in my mind, as they've fecked me about for two weeks, they'll at least have the decency to go light on the labour, at which, the servicing guys says "we won't be hard on you now" - Whatever the fuck that means? I'm thinking, maybe in the £300's for the repairs, possibly £400. I've the money sitting. It's tight, but I have it. I've said to them that I won't be down Thursday evening, as I can't get to them after work, it's just too far/complicated (it's not on my normal route home, and the wife's too busy anyway with her work to scoot me down), I'll plan on it Friday morning cause I'm off then anyway, and we'll see where we're at. All agreed, or at least I thought so.

Thursday. I don't get any calls, but that's okay, I did say I'd come down and collect it on Friday, so we'll chat then.

Friday. I leave a message to say to give me a ring, but hear nothing back (par for the course), and my Friday morning has gone a bit off plan, so I'm in no rush, next week will do.

I finally get a call back, I'm on another call, so return it just as soon as I can.

"Hi, it's *name* - We're just waiting on a part for the heater control switch, we think its either the resistor or the motor" It's not the blower motor I tell them, that works fine, it's the actual selector on the dashboard that's not working, so we'll call that a resistor fault. I then ask (at just after 1 pm) how much is all this gonna cost, so that we can work out a schedule?

*name* "Not sure, I'll give you a call back in 20 minutes.

Two hours later I get a call. *Name* "Everything else is done, but we're just waiting on that resistor part which won't be here till after 3pm and we'll not have time to fit it so is tomorrow okay?"


Me: "Sorry, what do you mean everything else is done? What's done? How much is this costing?"

*Name*: "The bill comes to £987, all in"

Me: "I was asking for a price for the work! I've been asking for a price for the work since I booked the van in! Are you fucking serious? A grand! A fucking GRAND!"

*Name* "Well, you asked us to repair the vehicle, which is what we've done, repaired it."

If I'd had been hit with gammer rays in my past, I'd have turned green moments ago and would be leaping tall buildings right at that very second.

Now, in my entire experience with working with garages, they always ring you with an estimate of works/parts and ask if you'd like to go ahead with the repairs. My previous car mechanic was sound, he operated pretty much that same way too, but he had the common sense to just go ahead if he thought that the wasn't going to be too tough on the wallet, my repairs typically ran to less that £150, anything a bit more, he'd give me a call. This however, was a grands worth! I've bought cars (lots of them) for less.

I think in the conversation that followed he grasped my immediate displeasure with the whole situation and reduced it by paltry £137, I guess this is what it feels like when they're not too "hard on you". I still felt like I'd been assaulted though, robbed in someway.

I posted a just over a year ago about how customer service here in Northern Ireland is absolutely shocking. That the way businesses treat their customers with absolute distain is nearly epidemic in nature. I would wager that there are more companies providing poor customer service than there are those offering good.

Whether they feel they're in the right over this is irrelevant in my opinion. This was not what I asked for, this was not what I was expecting from an approved Iveco Dealer (amongst other brands they cater for) and this is not how you handle customer service at any level.

I'll be picking up the van on Monday (if they have it ready) because it would seem that they weren't fully confident that they'd even got to everything on the list, as they couldn't remember (not surprised in the slightest). Will I be back? Not on your Nelly. I have a mechanic who deals with most of the heavy stuff very local to me, but as some of the faults were of an electrical nature, in this case, they just weren't his bag, so in my naivety I thought I'd give the main players a turn, as I'd heard good reports about them from the previous van owner.

How wrong I was. How very wrong indeed.

(Darron Mark Photography) brothers claudy county daily dealerships derry eakin ireland iveco life londonderry mechanics northern parts servicing van http://www.dmfoto.co.uk/blog/2018/2/-vanlife-blog-017-a-lesson-in-how-not-to-do-customer-service-iveco-style Mon, 26 Feb 2018 11:55:00 GMT
#WeddingPhotography: Blog #016 Why I'm giving up on Bark.com http://www.dmfoto.co.uk/blog/2018/2/why-im-giving-up-on-bark For those of you who don't know (and I suspect that might be a large chunk of you) bark.com is a professional services website that offer you the chance to bid for work from those who have a particular need that you're listed as providing solutions for.

I'm a wedding photographer and video editor, and those are some of the services I've placed in there as areas of interest. Now, when someone asks for any of those services, I get an alert on the app and in my emails detailing the specifics of that persons requirement. You can't approach them and ask for further information or clarity until you've paid for their contact details, which typically cost anything from £11 to £15 a go.

In return, you'll get that contact's phone number and email address, and they'll have received a notification of how much you're willing, or if you've asked for further clarifications to start the conversation. They say that to stand a better chance of securing any business from those in need, that you should really spend some time and effort on your listing. Which I had done. Now, how much interest in those profile edits actually occurs, I don't know, but needless to say, there's a lot of effort that needs to go into building your brand on this site.

Over the past few months I've literally spent a couple of hundred quid trying to get people to at least engage with me. One did, some tool from Essex who decided to use his neighbour instead having spent a whole weekend BS'ing me, telling me he would send the sample footage over. Beyond that, I've had 3 people in total chat to me, and then still decide not to bother to book, with no explanation as to why. Now, granted, I may not be the best wedding photographer in the world, but this bark.com seems a little over priced for it's return value, and the model is certainly flawed.

Firstly, no matter how hard you push to get your own site listed, Bark will be ahead of you, as they're doing their very best to pay for every type of keyword hit possible, and they've the budget to do it too, from suckers like me who are paying for leads that tend not to even get a response.

Those that submit their request for a quote from professionals like me don't have to pay a single penny. All the money generated comes from those who are providing a service, and it's not just for Photographers, it's for plumbers, dog walkers, painters, electricians, men with vans, you name it, they're hoovering it up (cleaners too).

Is it me just being a little bit bitter? Probably. Could I have spent my funds better? Sure. I think with sites like this (and yes I'm registered with another one that has yet to bare fruit) it's a lottery. How many of us have had wedding bookings from brides that have done some homework and checked out the local competition? How many of us will ever know if we've missed out on someone because of that one picture that they didn't like the look of, but you think is awesome? I guess it's just the lottery of this type of business.

What have decided though, is to come off Bark.com, delete my account, cut my loses, and channel those funds I seemed to willing to part with back in to my own Google Adwords and take my chances out there.

What are your thoughts on sites like Bark.com? Have you had a better experience than me, or have you felt the same level of frustration? Leave a comment below.

(Darron Mark Photography) bark bark.com editing local photography portal services video wedding http://www.dmfoto.co.uk/blog/2018/2/why-im-giving-up-on-bark Sat, 24 Feb 2018 11:29:08 GMT
#MusicPhotography: Blog #015 New YouTube Channel http://www.dmfoto.co.uk/blog/2018/2/-musicphotography-blog-015-new-youtube-channel I've been a busy little bee these past few months, so apologies if you've been checking your inbox/RSS feeds every day for a blog post from me, I've been slacking on this front, so again, I'm sorry.

"What have I been up to?" I hear you say!

I've been working on my video skills alongside some awesome bands and singers from the greater NW area, and I have to tell you, the talent in this region is epic!

The equipment I've been using has included the versatile DJI Osmo, GoPro Hero 3, for some of the more static based shots giving it that multi-camera angle feels, as well as taking full advantage of my Zoom H4n Pro Handy Recorder, which has solved all my major sound recording issues. I've had to buy some additional connector cables to cater for the different sound mixers out there, but so far, it's been easy peasy.

The video work has also lead on to some more commercial projects, working with a huge retail chain, which involved me recording the footage, but also fully edit it within 24 hours, ready for first draft preview.

Connecting social media platforms in a syncronised way has been a bit of a challenge, especially when you're trying to do all this on a budget. Yes, there are platforms out there that will do this for you, but they tend to come with a hefty monthly subscription, but you can also do it with free systems if you're willing to put the effort into sorting out the triggers. Whilst going through some of these solutions, I found a really handy way of distributing the audio for my band recordings into iTunes. So now I'm a fully fledged podcaster. Feel free to check me out on there if you fancy some new music poured into your earholes. The last upload was from the lead singer of Foreign Owl and you can see the video recording below if you fancy it? Apologies for the audio on this one, because, even though I recorded it perfectly, I accidentally deleted it (cause I'm an idiot) and had to use the on-camera audio recording instead. I know! I'm only as good as my human imperfections. Lesson learned.

In the coming weeks, I hope to be recording a new session with Arbuckle and McCormick, who recently paired up to put their creative heads together having worked independently for some time. Their music is a mix of indie/folk with catchy riffs and smooth laidback lyrics. Needless to say, I'm already a fan, they're already on my channel if you want to check their first gig together out? On the YouTube front, I have now managed to secure a unique link, which basically means I can type out the channel name with letters, instead of a random string of numbers: www.youtube.com/OpenMicNights

So, if you know of any band/singers who are looking for some coverage, send them my way, I'm always happy to help out where I can.

(Darron Mark Photography) and arbuckle darron dji emily foreign gopro h4n handy itunes mark mccormick mic nights open osmo owl podcast pro recorder robert soundcloud youtube zoom http://www.dmfoto.co.uk/blog/2018/2/-musicphotography-blog-015-new-youtube-channel Mon, 05 Feb 2018 11:45:00 GMT
#MusicPhotography: Blog #014 Expensive Purchase Alert! http://www.dmfoto.co.uk/blog/2017/12/-musicphotography-blog-014-expensive-purchase-alert Firstly, I just want to start off by saying "I have an awesome wife!" - That's it, it's out there, I said it.

Probably one of the most unique ways of starting off my blog today, but, with good reason. I've been editing the videos I've captured at a few gigs I've also photographed, and one of the major issues I've tried desperately to tackle was audio.

Let's face it, if you're going to attempt to film bands performing, the key thing you have to get right is the sound. It goes without saying! The problem I've been experiencing is that with all the various cameras I use to film with, none of them can handle a drummer going full pelt.

That's not the only issue, the audience. They insist on talking and laughing and clinking their beers, and just generally ruining the whole video recording process, why can't they sit in silent reverence to appreciate the gig? Ban them, ban them all I say... I'm joking obviously, it is what it is, bands typically play in pubs.

I've tried plugging into the soundboard, with varying degrees of success, well, no success if I'm being honest. One attempt was totally blown out by the electric guitar, another by being plugged into an in-port so I recorded nothing but static, which I didn't find out about until the next day. So yeah, something drastic has to be done.

There's been a spell where I've actually not needed anything, not wanted anything, not even casually browsed for things to spend money on. That was until this week. I just had to solve this audio crisis, it was driving me insane.

Here comes the wife to the rescue!

She says I have a habit of 'planting the seed' when it comes to wanting 'stuff', but in this case, she fully understood my plight. Since she started coming to gigs and festivals with me, she now has a higher appreciation of what an artist/band goes through to produce good quality music. She's picking out the various skills musicians perform for their fans through with their craft, and she absolutely loves it. The last gig we were at was in Derry's Nerve Centre watching Rosborough perform, and he was amazing.

I've done my best this week to find the most functional and best quality recording device that won't make me sweat clicking on the buy it button. It has to come out of the family budget, with the understanding that any returns on investment will obviously be ploughed back into the coffers.

So, tonight, she gave me the green light to buy a new Zoom H4n Pro, 4 Channel Sound Recorder. It features the same high performance, low-noise mic preamps as their acclaimed Zoom H5 and H6 Handy Recorders, with recording and playback at resolutions up to 24-bit/96 kHz. The improved noise floor (-120 dBu EIN) captures audio at lower volumes with less noise and fewer artefacts.

It's basically recording 4 different things at once, but on individual tracks so I can pull what I need from the audio when I need it. I was also talking to a recording engineer tonight about this device, and he said I wasn't to forget about that ambient noise that the audience throws out, as it's an important element from a live event, that you, the viewer, also hear that there's an audience in there too, so I've to factor that into the edits, not that you wouldn't notice anyway, as they have this annoying habit of walking in-front of the camera to go get a drink or relieve themselves of earlier drinks.

The small form factor is really going to help in transportation too, as I'm positive I can squeeze it into my main vlog camera bag beside the JVC camera I'm using.

Zoom H4n ProXLR InputDirect sound deck feeds Zoom H4n ProBlue Digital DisplayThe H4n Pro isn't just improved, it's superior in every way. With advanced X/Y microphones, incredibly natural-sounding preamps, and a super-low noise floor, you can record everything from the Indy 500 to the fluttering of a hummingbird with extraordinary realism. Zoom H4n ProStereo Mics

Anyway, now that this is on its way to me, and I should have it early next week, I'm even more excited about being out and about, not only photographing bands but also filming them at the same time. Even if I just manage to get one song from each act, I'd be happy with that.

As I've said already, the editing has been ongoing this week, as I want to clear the 'to-do' list on that front now, so I can then focus on getting that all important family holiday video done, as there's an opportunity hidden away in there that I'm keen to exploit early next year.

Check out my YouTube Channel to see my new playlist 'Open Mic Nights', where you'll see amazing talent from the likes of Sean O'Hagan from a band called 'The Pragmatix' singing songs like this amazing tune:

Hopefully, from now on, the audio will be much much better. So watch this space!

P.S. Thank you again Mrs Mark - You're awesome!


(Darron Mark Photography) acts amazon audio bands blog darron h4n ireland mark music northern ireland photography pro recording sound the pragmatix video youtube zoom http://www.dmfoto.co.uk/blog/2017/12/-musicphotography-blog-014-expensive-purchase-alert Mon, 04 Dec 2017 11:45:00 GMT
#VanLife: Blog #013 Seats, Seats, More Seats! http://www.dmfoto.co.uk/blog/2017/11/-vanlife-blog-013-seats-seats-more-seats As some of you may already be aware, I bought seats for the van. They're great seats, and I had every intention of using them in the layout I had in mind for the rear living space. However, as luck would have it, I found a double passenger seat for the front of the van that is out of another Iveco, the same as mine! I saw them pop up on my other favourite site, Gumtree (my favourite site obviously being this one!). I got in touch with the guy who had them, and set about for another road trip to Newtownards, again!

Saturday mornings it would seem, are slowly becoming 'Road Trip Time' but with one destination, Newtonbloodyards.

I have recently seen listed a mint caravan that I'd have loved to gone and bought, for carcass purposes. The problem being is, I've other things to pay off first *boo*. Such as the three European holidays we've taken this year for starters. Now we're kicking into the Christmas season, we have that to get out of way.

However, as with most things, the van build needs new tools, lots of them. Tools I've never needed for before, such as custom drill bits like these Zacro 3 pcs Titanium Step Drill Bit Set that comes with an automatic centre punch.

Step Drill BitsAvailable on Amazon Why do I need this? Well... I couldn't find a 19mm drill bit that would carve out the hole I need for my switches that are going to control the rear cameras. The little nubbin one didn't have the strength to withstand the 5Amp load going through, but to be fair, it was only rated at 3Amp, so that's my fail, not the switch, but damn it looked cool.

Thankfully, I bought a load of 3 Pin LED Rocker switches I'm going to have to use instead a few years ago, and they've been sitting in my electrical tool bag gathering dust for ages. So in a way, I've been sort of preparing for this build without realising it.

Now, as I'd bought new blanks for the van, and I've already set about tearing a hole in one of them, which is now useless, I needed more blanks. I have a search alert for scrap Iveco's on Gumtree and a new donor vehicle had come on the market, which meant last weekend was a side road trip to Mayobridge, in County Down, which was handy as I was down visiting family anyway.

The parts on my shopping list are currently:

  • Circular Dashboard Blanks
  • Instrument Panel Rectangle Blank (sits to the right of the steering wheel (RHD))
  • Rear Door Restaining Hinge
  • Side Door Original Interior Light

What I managed to get from the donor vehicle was 3 circular blanks and the rectangle, all for the princely sum of £5, considering I paid £10 for just the two circulars a few months ago, that's a win. Everything else in the van was long gone, but hey-ho, no big deal.

Mechanic's CreeperAvailable on Amazon The other 'tool' I needed was a Mechanic's Creeper so that I could slide under the van with ease and feel like a proper mechanic. There's a fair bit of wiring that I want to channel under the chassis, and this is the best way to get around. The build quality is fantastic, and I will probably keep it for other maintenance jobs, or sell it on, who knows? What I do know is, the first job it's going help me tackle is to replace the single passenger seat with the newly purchased double. This is obviously going to impede access to the front of the van from the rear (and vice versa), but I'd much prefer more seats up front, cause it's of little use at the moment with only two people capacity.

I'll do a video of me attempting this, and post it on my YouTube channel. There will probably be a lot of blood and cursing! Be warned.



(Darron Mark Photography) amazon build conversion darron derry drills ireland iveco londonderry mark mechanic creeper northern seats tools van vanlife http://www.dmfoto.co.uk/blog/2017/11/-vanlife-blog-013-seats-seats-more-seats Tue, 28 Nov 2017 11:55:00 GMT
#VanLife: Blog #012 Bunk Bed Solution http://www.dmfoto.co.uk/blog/2017/9/-vanlife-blog-012-bunk-bed-solution With the power of Gumtree Alerts, I wake up every morning to a couple of emails pointing me to objects that are relevant to my quest of building this van on a budget. After a slight adjustment to light, my scanning through the various caravan parts that have come onto the market in the last 24 hours begins. One peeked my interest recently, that being a collapsible bunk bed.

Bunk Beds UpBunk Beds UpGumtree Picture Bed DownBed DownBunk Bed Down

As you may already know, this van conversion is for the sole benefit of me, okay, and the wife, not forgetting the two dogs (if I still allow one of them to live that long (see the previous blog)). However, a few hints have been dropped by 'She who must be obeyed' that it would be nice to have extra sleeping space in the van to cater for the two girls to tag along. With space being so tight at the minute (in my mind, cause I've yet to spec this out properly), I didn't want to add another double bed into the limited space, or put permanent bunks in either, so having this collapsible bunk frame was going to be a win.

Arrangements were made between myself and the seller, Anna, and a drive was on the cards for the next Saturday.

Finding Anna's home was easy enough, a mix of GPS and handy notes had me gingerly driving up her narrow drive in my mahoosive van. I would have been tempted to reverse up it, but since I'm now blind at the back thanks to Milo, that wasn't gonna happen! Anna's having a clear out and she has an old caravan she's stripping for parts, none-of-which took my fancy, as I'm after something more compatible with a hot water system. Her son was kind enough to give me a hand shifting the frame from the rear garden to the van, and a nicer fella I have yet to meet. A few shekels changed hands, and I was blindly backing out of the drive back onto the main road with no clue as to whether I'd get creamed by a lorry. Thankfully traffic stopped for me, making me even more determined to get these cameras fixed, and soon!

Rather than bringing the bunk bed straight home, I called out to Mick, my welding hero from Ballykelly. The reason I needed his skills was that the bunk beds are 73" wide, and the space I have for them is only 71".  I could say I knew this in advance, but I will freely admit that it wasn't until we loaded it into the van that I then thought to measure them. Another rookie mistake! But, I was confident that Mick would be able to solve it, and solve it he did. He took a section of the springs out, cut the side supporting poles down, a little bit of nip / tuck to wedge them together, some welding, a bit of red oxide paint, done! They're prefect.

The only thing that remains for me to do now is, sand them down, thin a bit of Hammerite paint, then give them a quick freshen up.

My wife didn't understand why I had to buy them straight away until I explained that when hunting for bargains that are actually relevant to something you've an interest in, you can't just wait until you have the money or the time to sort it out. Who knows when an item you might need will come up again? It's not like I can just go into my local store and ask for this stuff. I probably paid twice as much in fuel getting it, but hey-ho, I have it now, and they'll factor into the design of the van build.

As for the design, this is where the awesome product Sketchup Make comes into play. I'm now trying to learn 3D modelling, which is a whole other level of head melt. It has to be done though, there's just no escaping it. I'm going to be that dude that always has a tape measure stuck to his arse, for that 'just in case' moment...

(Darron Mark Photography) blog bunk bed camper campervan conversion darron mark iveco daily motorhome northern ireland stealth van van life http://www.dmfoto.co.uk/blog/2017/9/-vanlife-blog-012-bunk-bed-solution Tue, 26 Sep 2017 10:55:00 GMT
#VanLife: Blog #011 Puppy Problems http://www.dmfoto.co.uk/blog/2017/9/-vanlife-blog-011-puppy-problems It's that age old adage that if something can go wrong, it will go wrong. I pretty much live my life by it. So much so, that it drives my wife and kids insane at times. I'm the guy that will reposition your glass if you've placed it too close to the edge of a table, because if I don't, I know for a fact you'll knock it off, or at least I've convinced myself that I've prevented that from happening, so we'll never actually know.

I've seen a problem in the van from the moment I picked it up that I knew would need addressing, even a quick preventative measure would of done, but I just never got round to sorting it and as I predicted, it's happened!

My sodding dog has chewed through three sets of cables in the back of the van!

Milo the cable chewer.MiloHis 'Butter wouldn't melt' look. Don't be fooled. The guilty party is called MILO, and right now, he's a c*nt in my eyes. Sorry for the language, but he is! I've removed some of the panels and shelving that was in the rear compartment as it''s not going to be used, which allowed me to start putting the dogs in the back of the van, as is it's future intention anyway, half of the space is purely set aside for the both of them when we go away. It means that when they get all 'mucked-up-to-eyes' they can just chill in their own kennel and dry off, and not wreck the living area in the centre.

The bigger of the two, Lucky, she just loves the water. She can smell a river from miles away and just makes a b-line straight for it, no matter how dirty it is, she's got to be in it. Milo, whose a Pug/Jack Russell mix (JUG) is a comical little sh1t. But when he's bored he chews.

Lucky and MiloLucky (left) and Milo coming up the rear.Lucky and Milo on one of our walks. One of the rear door panels is missing, it just so happens to be the lower one and Milo has already eaten through the door locking mechanism cable and I had to fix that this weekend. I even took the time to hide it from him so he couldn't get at it for another go. Last night however, he found the CCTV ones that link the rear cameras to the front display and had a good auld chomp on them. I know its him, he's got form for it. Lucky, although she's a complete pain in the arse on a lead is essentially a loving and placid pooch. Milo, you need eyes in the back of your head for.

There's two cables for both cameras, one of them is already knackered (see previous posts) and I already have a cable sitting in my amazon shopping cart for when I've the wood panels all out. I didn't want to buy it till I can properly feed them through the channels in the roof space. I hadn't planned on tackling that for a while yet, you know, cause of funds and stuff. Milo has put paid to that now, cause he's eaten both of them, so I've no way of gauging distances properly around the town trying to park.

So, instead of just chilling this weekend, I've now got to start the strip out process, so I can channel the cables through from the back to the front of the van. Joy...

I'll put a video from the my exploits later. I've already put one up from my mishap with trying to swap out the camera switch, which you can see now below.


(Darron Mark Photography) blog cables camper cctv darron dogs iveco mark modifications parking rear van conversion http://www.dmfoto.co.uk/blog/2017/9/-vanlife-blog-011-puppy-problems Fri, 22 Sep 2017 11:00:00 GMT
#VanLife: Blog #010 Battery Problem Resolved http://www.dmfoto.co.uk/blog/2017/8/-vanlife-blog-010-battery-problem-resolved Yey..! YouTube videos have given me enough knowledge to understand battery technology to such a degree that I've resolved the dead battery problem Having a leisure battery directly connected to your starter battery is never ever a good idea. Which is what I've discovered with this vehicle, and why it kept flattening the battery to the point I couldn't even get a dashboard light. I'd only had it running 3 days earlier too, but it was as dead as a dead thing at it's funeral.

I've now got a battery switch relay on order from my good friends over at Amazon, however I've had to bin the existing leisure battery, because if a leisure battery falls below 12v it has serious consequences for it's longevity. It's safe to say to say, that this one is fooked. I'll replace it as part of the re-build at some point up ahead.

The van in the past few weeks has just been sitting at the side of the house, as funds for the build are on hold whilst we get my wife's new business established. Her beautician had decided to move to the US and start a new life out there as a Nanny. This has provided an opportunity too good for the other half to pass up on. We've bought the business from her, well, when I say "the business", we've bought everything that the business has, and re-purposed what was my studio office to 'Kitty's Parlour'. The van has been sitting full of products and furniture from the previous owner, until I got all of my gear out.

Iveco & The MournesIveco & The Mournes It made sense to turn it in to something more productive, as my plan to strip back everything to the basics has meant that all I need is a laptop and some cameras. The upgrade from my previous laptop has also allowed me to work in 4K in a more travel friendly environment. Added to the fact that I don't need a mini-server farm anymore to host all my many years work of photography, I can simply store them on Amazon's vast cloud infrastructure once I've finished working on them.

During the move, I've also been able clear out the roof space. I had nearly £600 worth of photography books up there. I read everything when I first started out. Learning from the pro's and industry leaders who had bothered to publish their knowledge to print for people like me to pour over. The books unfortunately went for pennies. Hopefully someone will benefit in the future. I'm now adopting a very strict rule of;

"If I haven't touched it in 6 months, I obviously don't need it, so sell it or bin it, or donate it to charity."

A lot of gear has gone the way of 'Cash Makers', which is a local pawn shop here in Derry. I spied a lovely little iPad Mini 2 the other day as I walked past the other day on my way home.

Sitting neatly in the shop window on a Friday afternoon, I thought if it's still there on Monday, then it's meant for me. Sure enough, come Monday morning as I walked up past it again, it's still sitting there. There was a very decent iPad Air next to it, but I feel that's probably too big for my needs, the iPad Mini will be perfect for my drone work, offering much better views that I'm getting from my iPhone 6s (can't wait for the 8 to come out).

So, the last tech clear out commenced. First to go was the Google Nexus 7 Tablet. This was supposed to be the tablet of choice for my drone, but it was just half and inch too small for any bracket to actually hold it, even with the bigger case surrounding it. Plus, it had problems connecting to my GoPro's when I really needed to see what the camera could see, like at the wedding I did in Portugal. So I wasn't a fan. I'd only had the damn thing 2 months (bought in the same way as the iPad I'm hoping to get), and the way this trade-in thing works, you lose 50% of what you could sell it for if you were prepared to wait. So £90 quickly turned to £50. 

The next to go was the last Dell Monitor I had left. The plan was to keep it as a second screen, but that wouldn't have made sense inside the van, I'd need something more multi-purpose. Something I could HDMI into with the laptop. So no longer fit for purpose, £15.

Hard Drives, cleaned and ready to go. I'm always wary of letting hard drives leave the house without some sort of hammer being their last experience, but these are still great 1TB Wester Digital Drives, someone could use them. I'd scoured the web for a way of overwriting them to the point that no data would ever be recovered. Found this great Windows program called Eraser, which does a Department of Defence level wipe. It took nearly 9 hours to perform on each of the three I was selling, but it did the job. Gone, £20 each.

Last to go was a great video tripod with dolly wheels. People where offering to buy them from across the country, with free shipping and discount. Jokers. Sold it to a guy who flies drones professionally and runs a security company too. He asked if I'd be so kind as to drop it up to a friend's of his locally, which I obliged. Money in to the auld PayPal account, and the iPad was mine. Not a penny spent from out the bank, and more space cleared.

I've done some walking back and forth up that Shipquay Street in Derry (those that live here will know it's some hill) I can tell ya! Even the staff know me by name I was in it that much recently. This laptop I'm working on right now came from there! It's an Aladdin's Cave of stuff. Picked up a cheeky little stereo for the missus too.

My wife asked me the other day was there anything else I wanted for the photography business, and I can honestly say, for the first time in a very long time; No. Nothing. I have everything I need to do what I love doing, which needs less of it.

Just a few jobs left to do with my wife's beauty parlour, which reminds me, must put the tool's batteries on charge, as I've a bench to cut to size.

The site is going to be going through a revamp too, as I'm cutting back on the things I'm going to be photographing professionally focussing more on just Music and Weddings. I'll be doing a lot more on the filming front too. First band booked in already, expect some 'Summer House Sessions' coming down the pike. Also, the van build is going to be designed to host some 'post gig' interview sessions with bands across the country, so I need to have great lighting options and plenty of seating space to allow for a few guitars and singers (sorry drummers, you'll have to slap the walls).

(Darron Mark Photography) blog blogger conversion darron darron mark derry ireland iveco londonderry mark northern northern ireland photo photographer photography travel vanlife wedding weddings http://www.dmfoto.co.uk/blog/2017/8/-vanlife-blog-010-battery-problem-resolved Tue, 29 Aug 2017 11:00:00 GMT
#MusicPhotography: Blog #009 Why do I do it? http://www.dmfoto.co.uk/blog/2017/8/-musicphotography-blog-009-why-do-i-do-it There's something very intimate and exposed about music photography, and I'm talking more about the new starters, the ones putting themselves forward in front of people to be judged at the very beginnings of their careers, not the big stars.

I've photographed some of the most famous names in the world, there's a confidence to those performers that comes with time and obviously practice, lots of it. The same can be said about photographers I suppose, your confidence and repertoire grow with each and every shoot you do, you can spot the newbies a mile off. I remember my first wedding shoot, I was so nervous. I obviously didn't show it, but it didn't help that the bride was nearly two hours late, and most of the guests couldn't find the tiny chapel in the middle of borderlands of Armagh. I'd only found it by accident when I'd gone to scope it out the week before. Tucked away in a little dip in the middle of nowhere, no phone signal and very little in the way of signage, a tense time.

Roll on 10 years and I'm still at the wedding photography, but I'm really getting more into the music end of things now, and the reason is simple; you get to see some real talent emerging from this small corner of the world. One of my favourite covers I've seen played was done by a guy in a dark little bar in Derry. Sean O'Hagan's own version of Whitney Houston's 'I Wanna Dance With Somebody' below...

Pragmatix's Sean O'Hagan singing, I just want to dance with somebody.

One of the reasons I don't do this, and that's for the money. Nobody gets rich photographing musicians unless you manage to get a tour contract and travel the world with these top flight stars, like a hero of mine Mike Lerner is doing. He freely admits he only managed it through luck and good fortune, simply starting out photographing a little-known star at the time known as Katy Perry, who we all know became something of a household name eventually. He's now running around making Justin Beiber look good.

The real reason I do this is to get off my arse of an evening, marrying my love of home grown musical talent and at the same time, getting back to my roots in photography and just doing it for the love of it.

Interestingly I spoke with a bassist a couple of weeks ago, of a great band and he said something that struck a chord with me (if you'll pardon the pun) and that was "Since I started playing in a band, I practice a lot less than I did before. Before I was playing 5 or 6 times a week, just for the fun of it, but now, I only play when we gig".

Coming back to the photography, it was the same with me for a while. I would be out photographing anything and everything, then when I started working full time for the papers, nothing was for just me anymore. Wedding photography is slightly different because I just love doing that anyway and it's always an honour when some one puts their trust in you to cover that most precious of days. I don't get an opportunity to do it as much as I used to, simply because of the competition out there now in wedding photography, especially this neck of the woods. Everyman and his dog is a wedding photographer it would seem!

Music photography is different, you have to push yourself, you have to sometimes negotiate with venue providers to let you in the pit at the more formal events. The pubs and clubs are a challenge in themselves too just from a lighting stand point. They're always underlit and you'll never have the space to work in cause they're pubs! But, I'll still go out and support local talent where ever I can find it.

Who knows, maybe one day I'll be flying coach tagging along to one of these as yet undiscovered gems in the near future.

Check out my Music Portfolio if you want to see some of the names I've been fortunate enough to cover.

(Darron Mark Photography) blog darron mark derry ireland lerner londonderry mike northern northern ireland photo photographer photography weddings http://www.dmfoto.co.uk/blog/2017/8/-musicphotography-blog-009-why-do-i-do-it Mon, 14 Aug 2017 11:16:31 GMT
#VanLife: Blog #008 Why Is It Never Easy? http://www.dmfoto.co.uk/blog/2017/8/-vanlife-blog-008-why-is-it-never-easy The quest for additional safe seating (as in, seats that have integrated seat belts) started almost immediately after I purchased the van.  I wanted to be able to have passengers for the day to day runs, like trips to the shop or taking the kids with me when we walk the dogs by the beach. Or, god forbid, if we do ever decide to include additional sleeping quarters to the rear, bring the kids with us on short breaks.

Alerts have been set on Gumtree.com for anything Iveco related in terms of parts here in Northern Ireland. I could do with swapping out the driver's seat as its padding is a little worn, hard left turns are a little unnerving cause your arse muscles have nothing to push off against to counter the bends. You get a feeling like you're going to fall out the driver's door at any moment.

The priority, however, is getting some seats in the back for when I start moving forward with the rebuild, which as yet is still a non-starter due to funds being allocated elsewhere. Mainly on holidays to be honest. My wife has this tendency to buy cheap flights to far off places cause, well, they're cheap. The problem is though, the accommodation costs and spends don't seem to factor into her thought processes quite at the same moment. Two flights to Malaga last year cost £81, return. Bargain right? The total cost of the holiday? About £1,700. For a week! Don't get me wrong, it was a cracking week in the sun getting shit faced and mooching about the streets of Torremolinos, just not economically thought through enough.

Same with this year, bar the first holiday. I was sabotaged on that one by a bride. Good friends of ours decided that they would be getting married in Portugal, in the expensive part, the Algarve. Flights were booked (for me) last Christmas Eve. I was drunk and Sarah (the bride) took my phone and set about finding us a good deal on flights, which basically translated to the only flights that covered the days we'd need to be there. So I woke up on Christmas morning £480 lighter. I really do need to get a grip on this seasonal drinking lark!

We're not long back from it actually, it was a bloody good holiday/wedding, and I've an amazing tan and a bit of video from the day if you're interested below:

It was also roasting the whole time we were there. Nonetheless, we had a fantastic time. The knock-on effect has been that I still can't start the van conversion, cause, well, I'm skint. Not 'skint' skint, just nothing left to spare to buy anything other than food. I sort of knew that was gonna happen before we left, which is why when my Gumtree.com alert notified me that there were some suitable seats on the market, it was time to strike.

Now these aren't Iveco seats, which would have been awesome, and in all likelihood if they had been, they would have ended up in the front cab. No, these were from a Ford Transit, which was recently converted from a mini-bus into a plaster's work van, and the guy had them spare for selling.

Transit seatsTransit SeatsRear passenger seats with fitted integrated seat belts.

Granted, there's nothing flash about them, they're just seats. Looked okay on the picture (above) and he was only looking £120 for them. Not as cheap as I'd seen in adverts further afield, but at least they were in Northern Ireland. Every other set of seats I'd seen have all been in Scotland, mainly because Gumtree likes to spread its area of search a little further when it can't find what you're looking for locally. I wish I lived in Glasgow sometimes, cause everything for this van seems to be in that city, never in Northern Ireland!

As typical face-to-face buying methods go, we arranged to meet at a suitable place for both of us. I was actually heading to Newry for the weekend, so we agreed to meet at a Roundabout off a busy road like a couple of crooks. He wanted £120, but when I saw how tattered the backs of the seats were, I said I wanted a tenner knocked off. The seller agreed, but as he didn't have a ten pound note to swap for my £20's, I ended up giving him £100. I didn't tell him I had two tenners as well, where's the fun in that?

Thankfully they have the top mounting plates, though they will need two further underside plates made to secure them through the floor.

This is where it starts to get to be a bit of a pain in the arse.

I'm gonna have to take the fuel tank off so that I can get to the underside of the van I actually want them on, because that's where the tank sits. Also, I can't do that until I've obviously removed the cupboards inside, and once that happens, I have to start with redoing the floor. I sort of knew this going in, but again, the quick fix of having extra seats isn't a quick fix at all.

The enormity of this job isn't lost on me, it's just the amount of time and effort it's going to take, as well as the lack of funds, cause you guessed it, another holiday looms. We're away again in 8 weeks on another 'cheap' holiday, then two weeks after that, the big family holiday!

It looks like this project is going to have to be mothballed until next year, only this time, there will be no 'cheap' flights being booked anywhere.

In other news, the van likes to drain its batteries if left unattended longer than 3 days!

Also, it seems I'm not supposed to remove the tachograph (see previous blog) just in case I decide to use the tow bar to tow anything, cause then I have to have the tachograph going too!

Anyone wanna buy a van?

(Darron Mark Photography) blog blogger conversion daily darron mark iveco iveco daily northern ireland seats van van life vanlife http://www.dmfoto.co.uk/blog/2017/8/-vanlife-blog-008-why-is-it-never-easy Tue, 08 Aug 2017 11:00:00 GMT
#VanLife: Blog #007 Failing at Fault Checking http://www.dmfoto.co.uk/blog/2017/8/-vanlife-blog-007-Failing-at-Fault-Checking When you're buying anything second hand, you're trying your best to remember everything that the seller is telling you about your purchase, the good bits, and especially the bad bits. You're trying to catalogue items that either you're gonna need someone to help you with, or simple things you could probably do yourself. You don't always retain the bad bits, cause you're caught up in the exciting buying experience, but one thing I did manage to remember that was faulty, and that was the reversing cameras at the back of the van.

With a vehicle of this length, I'm gonna need some help parking in tight spaces. Lorry drivers tend not to have to worry about on-street parking, cause they're either driving or parked up in a dedicated bay suitable to their needs. But when your van is over 7 meters long and takes up two parking spaces, knowing what's going on at the arse end is invaluable, especially if you don't want to be going about the place cracking front number plates for other car owners.

I'm fortunate, I've two cameras mounted to the back roof. One points directly down to the rear step plate and tow bar, giving you an accurate guide as to how close you are to something, the second (when operational) should be pointing to the traffic behind me, providing me with information about whether or not it's safe to overtake, so I'm not surprised by something sneaking up behind me in the blindspots, of which there's a gaping one in the side mirrors, as it's nearly caught me out twice so far.

As you've gathered, it's the second camera that's not working. So the hunt was on for a replacement on Amazon.

There are a number of cameras of this model shape out there, however mine has a four pin connector which allows for the powering of the camera from the main 12v source at the other end of the connecting cable. Much less hassle than those other composite types, which need you to provide a separate power input. It took some finding, and really focussing on the connections in the sellers pictures, just as much as the camera, but I found one, and they're cheap enough new, around the £20 mark.

CMOS Car Parking Camera, Rear View Backup Reversing Camera with 18 IR LED lights Night Vision Waterproof for Caravans DC 9V-36VCMOS Car Parking Camera, Rear View Backup Reversing Camera with 18 IR LED lights Night Vision Waterproof for Caravans DC 9V-36VThe right camera for the job! Now I just have to wait patiently for the order to make its way to me, a whole 24 hours!

When it did get here (within 24 hours) I kept it in the van for when I'd get some time to actually fit it to the roof. I was going to be visiting my kids at their Mum's that weekend, so I thought I'd get to it while they were sleeping through their Saturday mornings.

Up bright and early I got a lend of some step ladders to get me up top. Thankfully my ex-wife had a bit of a tool set which meant I could start getting the self tapping screws out of the camera mount, cause forgot to bring anything with me to help in this planned tasked, typical of me. I was going to leave the bracket and just swap out the main camera, but the screw heads were so rusted that it just wasn't going to happen, so the whole thing had to come off. The hole in the roof is shielded with a plastic screw 'thing' that was filled with silicone sealant, which I had to tear out so that I could feed the cables through to push the new one through.

The new camera was fitted perfectly, and the camera aligned and the cables that feed the signal through to the dashboard monitor were secured. A quick run through to the cab and the activation switch flicked to see what this new camera would look like.

Nothing..! Feck all could be seen other than the 'No Signal' display on the screen. A flicked it to camera One, and that was fine, but camera Two wasn't working.

A dash back to the rear, up the steps, I switched the leads around, down the ladders, back to the front, and boom! Camera Two is working, now camera One isn't..?

Back to the rear, up the ladders, old camera Two on to the working lead, back to the front and well feck me! It's working fine! There's nothing wrong with these cameras, it's the sodding connecting lead from the rear to the front! Why the hell didn't I just test this first?

I've probably described this little task like it was a quick swap out, it wasn't, it took at least an hour, and it had also started to rain just to add the to the bliss.

I decided there and then that dashboard console needs to come out so I can see what's going on here behind the scenes with these damn cameras, just to properly fault check it this time.

Unscrewing all the various nuts and bolts just revealed the years worth of dust and grim that has accumulated over it's lifetime as a builder's van. The fuse box panel and the kick panel were taken to the sink for a good wash, and a whole packet of car wipes were used to make it clean and presentable around the floor joins and air vents. The cables for the camera system were found, and again, just for shits and giggles, I swapped them to confirm that the fault lay with the font to rear connectors, which it did. I thought the while I was at it that I would try and remove the tachometer that I don't need, and the old battered Parrot Hands Free Car Kit that was now redundant. I failed to even get close to removing the tachometer, cause that need some serious skills, the Parrot however, was out in no time, clearing up the clutter on the dashboard.

As for the camera cable, well, that's going to have to wait until the refurbishment kicks off, cause it's currently fed through the rear panels of the interior. I might as well just deal with it as part of the wiring fit out.

Nothing ever seems easy with this motor. I'll get there though, cause I'm determined to make this van awesome!

But if anyone has any handy links on how to remove a tachometer, or knows someone in the NW who can deal with it, let me know. Next job, source some rear seats that have seatbelt already fitted. This is a whole other handling session, but I'll tell you about that, next time.

(Darron Mark Photography) auto daily darron free hands iveco mark northern ireland parrot photography reversing camera tachometer van life vanlife http://www.dmfoto.co.uk/blog/2017/8/-vanlife-blog-007-Failing-at-Fault-Checking Wed, 02 Aug 2017 11:00:00 GMT
#VanLife: Blog #006 Rebuilding what I broke http://www.dmfoto.co.uk/blog/2017/7/-vanlife-blog-006-rebuilding-what-i-broke It was a gloriously sunny 12th of July here in the North West, and I had a full plan of attack when it came to the camper van conversion. Just days away from the MOT on the 15th I thought I'd get stuck in and tackle some of those jobs that needed my attention.

First on that task list was the water flow situation. What was it that was stopping the water hitting the bog? In my previous blog I mentioned that even though there was power to the electrical flush switch, and the taps obviously worked, albiet for less than a second, there was no obvious reason why the water wasn't getting pumped through the pipes. Time to get all Sherlock and assess the rear of the van, as that's where all the plumbing was situated.

I unhooked all the pipes, and no water was to be found in any of them. I knew that it had been sitting dormant for a while and obviously drained of liquids over the winter period. Having filled the tank before we left, I thought that would been enough to get it going, seems not. I'm not sure of the capacity of the onboard water tank, I suspect it's in the in the 50ltr range, but even the pressure from it's high position had no effect. The only thing left to do, was blow into the pipe and see what occurs.

With the end of the blue water flow tube to my lips, I gave a resounding bellow of air that any bagpiper would be proud of.

After an initial slight resistance, the air got through into the water tank, and then came flooding back down the pipe. I quickly reconnected the pipe to the system only to then find that the pump was missing a filter, fecking water flooding everywhere over the rear the vehicle. I had to quickly pull the pipe out of the system and did my best to expel the water out the rear of the van. The tank obviously needed cleansed with a good dose of Milton, but I'm glad I've found out at this stage that I need to order a new filter. Now all I need to do is find the right one.

Okay, drawing a line under that drama, it was time to move back into the living space and remove all that fitted furniture.

Ryobi drill in hand and the settings in reverse, those screws were coming out. Feeling that it would be better to start at the top and work down, the first to be removed was the top shelving. A quick 'zurp zurp' of the drill and I'm 10 screws down, and the retaining ledge was out. This is going to be so easy!

Iveco Daily on a beach.A quick pit stop at Benone BeachFresh after it's MOT, I thought I'd take 5 minutes to take a quick picture.

Then it hit me! This van is classified as a camper because of everything that's currently in it! By me removing it BEFORE the MOT on Saturday, I would being ruining it's standing as a camper.

Sheepishly I retrieved the only piece of wood I'd just threw out, and tried to get it back into place. My whole day's worth of work was halted after only one piece.

Roll on to Saturday, and a quick visit to North West Motor Factors for some wipers, as the rubbers were done, and the washer jets (which are fitted to the actual blade) weren't letting wiper fluid through. They weren't cheap either, £35 for two blades, and with the help of a small stool, we had them on and fitted. However, as with all things with this van, there was a blockage in the pipes, which meant I was now sucking on tiny tubes to get the fluid though. I swear, I think this van is simply a perv.

Take it from me, washer fluid is not tasty substance, and takes some serious flushing out, but a few pins and pokes through the connector pipes we had them fully operational and I was good to go.

MOT's are stressful enough, but when you're putting through a DIY camper that you've invested nearly five grand into, it takes it up a notch. I was booked into a normal car bay, but the guys called me over to the HGV pits for my inspection. Too cut an already long story short, the only thing he asked to see was the sink. Everything else was a pass, with the only 'comment' (not documented) being there were still a few areas of concern, rust wise, near the passenger front wheel arch area. I'll have my welding hero look into that when funds allow.

The normal 'triumphant' text was sent to the missus, to let her know the good news, and quick stop off at the beach for a photoshoot (one shot, cause by then it was lashing with rain) and the van is back home, all ready for the next stage, the ripping out of redundant tech from the cab area, and the swapping out of the rear CCTV camera that's not sending video back through to the front.

More on that next time, cause all was not what it seemed.

(Darron Mark Photography) blog camper conversion darron darron mark ireland iveco iveco daily londonderry mark van life vanlife http://www.dmfoto.co.uk/blog/2017/7/-vanlife-blog-006-rebuilding-what-i-broke Wed, 26 Jul 2017 23:00:00 GMT
#VanLife: Blog #005 Two Nights In Dublin With Coldplay http://www.dmfoto.co.uk/blog/2017/7/van-life-blog-005-two-nights-in-dublin-with-coldplay We've done lots of camping over the years, many's a night on a beach, mountain sides, fields, forests, you name it, we've kipped on it. Having done the touring caravan thing we moved up to owning a motorhome, which was fantastic, the only downside was that it sat at the side of the house for 6 months of the year, off the road. Not through any mechanical issue, just, well, it's the weather here. It's shit!

It rains a lot here in Northern Ireland, and I mean a lot! But here in the North West of the North, it rains even more than the rest of the country. I've spent a morning in blistering heat in South Down (the East side) on one of those rare sunny days, then travelled up to the North West (NW) only to see it pissing down with rain, and I'm only talking 2 hours drive away. There must be something about that notorious Glenshane Pass that doesn't allow the clouds to pass, just stacking them up one on top of the other until they burst and flood back down all over us here in the County Londonderry region.

Where was I? Oh yeah, camping and motorhome ownership.

Why did we sell the motorhome in the first place? My wife says it's all my fault we had to sell it cause I was always a grumpy git on the first few nights away, intolerable apparently, I have no clue what she's on about! Maybe it was the thought of having to live in a tin can full of grumpy kids and two wet, smelly dogs that put me off, but we'll never know, despite what she says. Once we sold it though, we instantly regretted it. The finances of owning an all year vehicle and yet only using it 50% of the year spoke for itself if we were really being honest.

Dial forward 12 months, and we have a massive van at the side of the house that I'm planning on converting, but one I'm also going to be using as an all year round vehicle for the work commute and obviously as a base for my photography and videography work. It has to be able to hide in plain sight, which is going to be difficult as the thing is over 10ft tall. It also has to be comfortable enough for a weekend away for me, the missus and the two dogs. No kids allowed, they moan too much that they're bored, or that they can't get WIFI, plus they need feeding all the time, so no.

Anyway, our first few nights away in the as yet, unfurnished to my plans (which I've still yet to draw up), were upon us. Coldplay were playing in Croke Park, Dublin and my wife has been wanting to see them since she missed out over 8 years ago. We've been together the last 7, and I promised, come what may, I'd get her there. That meant not chancing fate, and going the night before.

Coldplay at Croke ParkColdplay at Croke Park

Friends are going to be meeting us down their on the Saturday, so we found a decent enough spot to park using Google Maps. Less than 15 minutes walk from the stadium, and less that 4 minutes away from the hotel our friends would be staying in. All I had to do was make sure the van was ready.

We'd essentially be camping inside the van. As I said, it's not what you would call homely. The previous owner just slept in it when he was done for the day working on a building site across England, so it was practical for his needs, and comfort wasn't high on his list.

There's plumbing in there for hot water for a wash and shower, and there's also a toilet with an electric flush, all very practical. I filled the internal fresh water tank at the back, and got the air beds ready, the wife got the blankets and a Camping Grab Chest, which is a chest that contains everything you need to eat, sleep and cook with. It's even got various lights in there, so we're sorted on that front. The 12v fridge was lifted down from the attic and packed with drinks and snacks, as we knew we'd be enjoying a few meals out, so cooking wise, that wasn't going to happen inside the van this weekend. Once all set up, we set off down the country for a 3 and a half hour road trip, with a quick pit-stop to see my kids at their Mum's.

Driving something of this scale is almost like driving a lorry. The road view is amazing. I keep forgetting it has 6 gears and kick myself when I cotton on I've been coasting in 5th for while without realising. The wipers are shite, so another thing to add to the list of replacement parts. The washer jets are actually on the blades, but only one of the 6 spray holes work. When will this list ever end?

It's holding a 60ltr fuel tank, and with the way the prices are on fuel, we tapped out at £60 in filling it up. It must have had a few sips left in the almost empty tank.

Noise wise, it has it's issues. Plenty of rattles and squeaks, which I'm sure I'll be able to resolve with a new cab carpet, and finishing off some of the insulation on the sliding door. When just idling it's grand, not a peep, only when we're moving does it play the song of it's people.

A quick stop to see my daughter who was over visiting her Mum from Scotland, hug from the other kids after a bit of craic, and we're motoring again all the way to Dublin, avoiding the toll roads, cause I'm a cheap skate, and I didn't have any Euros on me yet.

I found the road I was hoping to park on easily enough, and with the benefit of rear parking cameras I managed to squeeze the van into a parking space with inches to spare and we got settled for the evening.

When you're finally forced to live in the space, only then do you start finding other faults that you previously never gave any thought too. The first being: No toilet flush. It just wouldn't work! There was water in the tank, the water pump was working, and when you pressed the toilet flush switch, the lights dimmed a little, yet no water appeared. Thankfully I brought along some spray bleach to help wash anything down that needed washing down. The taps in the sink gave a quick burst of water, then they too stopped working! No water at all coming through anything. Fine... I'll deal with you when I get home! Ever the cub scout, I had bought water on the way down, so we were grand for a quick wash if we needed too go beyond the baby wipe shower.

We had the company of a few spiders dotted around the place, which were quickly despatched the following morning, and I also noticed that the sliding door doesn't sit flush against the van. I've since tried to adjust it, but to no avail, as there's no more give in the guides to pull it in further. I'll seek expert advice on that later.

The previous owner had fitted a TV aerial to the roof, but then when he'd bought his new wagon, he transferred that aerial to it. Leaving us with the pole housing and a hole for good measure. The second night's rain managed to find it's way down the pipe. A bung is now needed for that to stop that happening again. I might even get that welded over and sealed up when I go see my favourite welder again.

Camping lightsFirst night in the camperNot wanting to drain too much from the leisure battery, I used our camping lights.


The next thing I found was that although we do have a leisure battery fitted to the rear of the vehicle which takes a charge from the starter battery, it doesn't appear to have a working switch isolation relay. I found that out after we got back from the concert. I'd left the 12v fridge running to keep the beers cold for our return, only to find everything dead, including the starter battery. Back to cub scout mode, I'd packed jumper leads for this very event. As I said in a previous blog, there are way too many leads coming off that starter battery for me to run any risk.

After a few minutes of me trying to flag someone down to help me jump start the van, a kind Polish gentlemen stopped and got our engine going. Which meant I had to sit in the van not drinking whilst it was charged itself up for a bit. Needs must I suppose. It was still good to go the next morning, but back to that shopping list we go - New Switch Isolation Relay.

The drive back was uneventful, I think I've learned a lot about the space we were in. It's given me a few structural jobs to think about, a bit more welding (roof) and I'm going to have to bite the bullet and sort out that wiring, but the interior has to come out first for that to happen. Anything that needs power from the starter battery will be handled by a main switching panel so I can turn off any and all unnecessary items for fault finding.

I worked out the water situation this week, but I'll tell you more about that next time, and how I nearly shot myself in the foot with the official camper classification.

Oh, Coldplay, I forgot to mention, they were amazing! Just look at my wife's wee face!

My wife's dream come true!Coldplay were amazing! Just look at the amount of people...

(Darron Mark Photography) battery camper camping coldplay dublin fuel iveco northern ireland sleeping toilet travel vanlife water pump http://www.dmfoto.co.uk/blog/2017/7/van-life-blog-005-two-nights-in-dublin-with-coldplay Mon, 17 Jul 2017 11:00:00 GMT
#VanLife: Blog #004 The Mechanics http://www.dmfoto.co.uk/blog/2017/7/van-life-blog-004-the-mechanics Okay, so where do I begin in this latest #VanLife update?

Well, the truck mechanic has been all over the breaking system. Swapping out drums, discs, shoes, pads and the handbrake. He even managed to get the horn working longer than I did, as my repair only seemed temporary, like, to the bottom of the road temporary. The side effect to the horn working is - when you open the doors the indicators flash five times, like the alarm system has been triggered or something. Not a major thing, but just something else for me to think about when I'm trying to get to sleep at night. He couldn't get the nearside front marker light to work, the one on the side door itself as it needs a part that connects the door electrics to the van electrics through a contact plate. Which means the door has to come off it's runners to fit it. I could do that, just need a second pair of hands to handle that big bugger, cause I can see me getting crushed once it's released, I'm no Hordor.

Iveco VanShe's not yellow, and as yet, she's not named.My big red bus, but what should I call it?

I did manage to forget one fault when I dropped it off, as is typical with my approach to all things faulty (out of sight, out of mind), that being the fuel gauge sensor. I think it's only reading as a half tank. I was warned about it, but complete forgot, and it only ever comes into my head when when I'm starting to run low on fuel, cause the dial starts dropping from 'full' to 'near empty' in no time. Again, something for another day.

Now that I've gotten all that sorted and paid for (£380), it was time to seek out that elusive welder.

Plenty of people have referred to "Yer man from Ballykelly", they all know his name, but not one of them knew his number. Really frustrating I can tell you! I have trawled the interwebs for him. On social media I found one or two blokes with his name, but it turned out they weren't him. In desperation I started reaching out to local engineering firms to see if they would take it on as the clock is ticking with the insurance company to get this sorted for MOT. Even they pointed me back to "yer man". Thankfully, one of the firms I did contact was one that "yer man" bought metal sheeting from, they asked him if it was okay to send out his details to me, which he obliged, and a call was made straightaway.

We spoke on the phone briefly and I did my best to describe my woes and he gave me a very rough estimate of £200 over a weeks worth of labour. I thought this was a bargain, having no clue as to the dark art of vehicle welding and repair I was expecting a lot worse. I picked up the van on the Friday from the mechanic, and had it on the door step of the welder on Sunday evening.

"Yer man" is actually called Mick, and a lovely fella he is! He's not into all that "internet stuff", being in his 50's/60's he's no interest in it, which is why I couldn't bloody find him. He's taking life at his own pace, and fair fecks to him for it!

He works from a yard not far from his home and it didn't take him long to get on his back to take a peek under the van, and start poking holes in the rust. The job was getting bigger and bigger as more and more prodding was taking place. I was starting to get that feeling of dread that the £200 quote was slipping away from me.

Now Mick isn't a fan of the Ford Transit. If I'd had tipped up with a White Tranny he would have sent me home with my tail between my legs. He thinks tin foil is thicker than what those wagons have to offer, and he'd told me on the phone he refused to work on them. My Iveco met with his critical approval, and the quote still didn't change once he got back to his feet, still £200. This gave me a sense of relief, this guy knows his trade! My only stipulation was that it needed to be ready by the following Friday, as the wife and I were for Dublin that weekend for a Coldplay concert, and the wife wanted to be within walking distance on the Saturday, the actual night of the concert. Mick was confident it would be ready before then, he just had to get some metal ordered and he'd be good to go.

Iveco - The Task at Hand.Quick Snippet of a much longer video to come. Whilst Mick was plying his trade, I got back on to the insurance company and told them the craic. It's still not technically on the road, and I'll need an extension on their stupid 14 day deadline, cause stuff on this scale takes time. They were happy enough with that, I've now got till the 17th of July to get it sorted.

Mick, true to his word, managed to get the welding done and finished by Thursday. The supports for the axle were rotten, and around the side door step needed completely replaced, as well as the some of the panel joint structures too, which were really noticeable even to my untrained eye ! A few flicks of red oxide paint were applied and he even found a rubber gasket for the gaping circular hole that was in the front cab area. I decided not to have it welded over, as I think I'll use it a handy channel for some electrical cabling I've got planned.

The best part was, it only cost £160 to do! I love this man, I don't care how hard he is to find, he was well worth the effort. I've got him saved in my phone for future use if anyone round these parts needs him. I've a bit of fabrication I think he can help me with over that hole in the cab area up ahead once we're moving further forward. Honest and hard-working tradesmen are hard to find, so I make a point of keeping them close.

The van now back on the drive with great breaks and a few less cancer spots, all we had to do now was; prepare for our two night stay in Dublin, and I'll tell you more about that, next time.

(Darron Mark Photography) ballykelly blog blogger darron darron mark ireland iveco iveco daily londonderry mark mechanic northern ireland photographer truck vanlife welding http://www.dmfoto.co.uk/blog/2017/7/van-life-blog-004-the-mechanics Fri, 14 Jul 2017 11:00:00 GMT
The Table Selfie Has Arrived http://www.dmfoto.co.uk/blog/2017/6/table-selfie

The UK’s largest Photo Booth manufacturer, Photobooths.co.uk, have released the Table Selfie, the upcoming “must have” table centrepiece for weddings and special occasions. It’s completely brand new to the market and has never been seen before!

Abolishing the need for disposable cameras, the Table Selfie is a sophisticated turntable camera device that elegantly sits and spins on the centre of a table amongst other table decorations. It captures instant photos and displays them by connecting with a mobile phone.

Table Selfie are perfect for use at wedding breakfasts or evening receptions. Not only do they provide great entertainment for you and your guests, but they also capture unforgettable moments throughout your special occasion for you to treasure forever.

Table SelfieTable SelfieWifi Hotspots Table SelfieTable SelfieWifi Hotspots Table SelfieSmartphone compatibleTake selfies, and trigger other table's cameras from your smartphone.

Guests around the table can connect to a Table Selfie via their mobile phone to trigger a photo. Once a picture is taken, guests can save, discard, or even print their photo to a local printer. You can even have even more fun by triggering the Table Selfie camera on other tables!

All photos produced by the Table Selfie can be fully branded to your event with custom templates, colours, and messages.Hire is currently exclusively available from photobooth.co.uk and pictureblast.co.uk starting from just £249 for 3 hour hire. The Table Selfie can be hired singularly or in multiple numbers.

What are your thoughts on this new concept? If you are getting married, would you hire these for your event? Let me know in the comments below.

(Darron Mark Photography) blog booth darron darron mark derry ireland londonderry mark northern northern ireland photo photobooth photographer photography selfie table weather wedding weddings http://www.dmfoto.co.uk/blog/2017/6/table-selfie Wed, 28 Jun 2017 10:10:20 GMT
#VanLife: Blog #003 Insurance Difficulties http://www.dmfoto.co.uk/blog/2017/6/van-insurance-problems We've been away for the weekend recently, at our niece's wedding in the lovely Greyabbey, but we couldn't help but reminisce about the last time we were all there a few years ago in our motorhome. We stayed not too far away from the wedding location, and I even managed to make a quick video of our time whilst we were there:

Having made the decision to buy the IVECO, we're now starting to sort it out for our own needs. My wife and I have very different reasons why we bought the van. My wife is looking forward to just getting away with me and the dogs, whereas I'm looking forward to building out the interior specific to our (my) needs (AND spending time with the wife and dogs)!

We've had the vehicle for just over a week now, and there have been some issues, namely getting it insured. The previous owner was with the local National Farmer's Union, but because he had so many different business related insurances with them, they could give him a great rate, me? Not so much. It wasn't too bad, but I could save £200 by going with the main motorhome insurance provider here in Northern Ireland, and that was through Dublin based broker Dolmen. I've had my previous motorhome insurance with them and thought it would be an easy process going back to them, but oh no! 'Fecking Nightmare' springs to mind!

The IVECO has been classed as a camper since 2007, it's been MOT'd as a camper, insured as a camper (even with Dolmen) but all of a sudden they want proof, and they even questioned the proof when received.

Here's the list of things they wanted:

  • Proof of my having insurance with another vehicle
  • A copy of my license
  • Interior Images:
    • Images of the gas fittings
    • Images of a cooker
    • Images of a sink
  • MOT Certificate
  • Utility Bill

Now, because it doesn't have a 'cooker' as defined by them (something with a worktop style gas / electric ring) they weren't going to classify it as a camper. The DVLA here in the UK state the following:

Motor caravan minimum features

In order for a converted vehicle to qualify as a motor caravan it must have certain minimum features:

  • a door that provides access to the living accommodation
  • a bed, which has a minimum length of 1800mm or 6 feet - this can be converted from seats used for other purposes during the day but must be permanently fixed within the body of the vehicle
  • a water storage tank or container on, or in, the vehicle
  • a seating and dining area, permanently attached to the vehicle - the table may be detachable but must have some permanent means of attachment to the vehicle. It is not good enough to have a loose table
  • a permanently fixed means of storage, a cupboard, locker or wardrobe
  • a permanently fixed cooking facility within the vehicle, powered by gas or electricity
  • at least one window on the side of the accommodation

If the vehicle has all of these features present, permanently fixed and installed properly, then it is a legal requirement to have it reclassified as a motor caravan on the V5C.

Our van has a microwave oven, this is a cooking facility in my eyes, not conventional I grant you, but still, it can heat stuff up. Having argued my case with them, they then came back with another stipulation, that I should get a new MOT. My current MOT doesn't run out for another 3 months, but hey, where's the harm getting that done? Just another hoop to jump through I guess.

My usual mechanic can't work on this bad boy, he just doesn't have the facilities to squeeze in a 2.6m high wagon through his doors, nor can he lift it with his current jacks as it's a 3.5t beast. Thankfully I have a local company; Greysteel Commercial Repairs who are less than a mile away from my door, who work specifically on trucks and lorries, so that's me sorted, as there are a number of faults that need looking at:

  • Rear Brakes imbalanced requirements only just met. It would appear that the braking system requires adjustment or repair. (3.7.B.5b)
  • battery loose (not sure on this one! I think it's solid)
  • Offside Front marker light not working (I fixed this yesterday)
  • Offside Rear marker light not working (working intermittently, wiring fault)
  • Nearside Front marker light not working (wiring fault, pain in the ass)
  • Nearside Inner Body has slight corrosion sill (6.1.B.2) (yeah, this is pretty bad, gonna need some welding)
  • Vehicle structure has slight corrosion (6.1.A.1) (agreed)

The engine bay was covered in dirt, so that's all been cleaned up yesterday. The rear step and tow bar needed a new lick of paint, again, got this done yesterday. I thought I'd tackle the underside of the van too but managed to get rust in my eye. Safety people! I did go in and find my goggles, but by the time I came back out it had started to rain, so that's for another day.

Other things I found were that the horn wasn't working, it just needed a fuse, so that's off the list. Plenty of grime was also removed from the front cab area and there's a circular hole in the floor that will also have to be sealed up, so might as well get it all done in one go.

The handbrake needs attention too, cause it only works when fully engaged. I was also getting coolant level warnings when I took it out for a long drive on Saturday. I topped that up when I was cleaning the engine, and painting some of the rust spots. The other niggle is that the fuel gauge is a little on the vague side, not quite sure what it's playing at, but I was warned about it (and promptly forgot) when we picked it up from Steve, the previous owner. Having sat and done the math, I've worked out that the 3ltr 16v engine does roughly 21mpg... Eeek..!

It's with the new mechanic tomorrow, so I'll update you with how that went when I know more.


(Darron Mark Photography) blog camper conversion daily darron darron mark derry dolmen insurance ireland iveco londonderry mark motorhome northern photographer photography http://www.dmfoto.co.uk/blog/2017/6/van-insurance-problems Mon, 26 Jun 2017 12:32:37 GMT
#VanLife: Blog #002 The Power of The Blog http://www.dmfoto.co.uk/blog/2017/5/van-life-blog-002-the-power-of-the-blog As you may or may not know, we've sold the Bongo. The official handover is taking place this weekend and the new buyer and his family will have oodles of fun in it, and good luck to them cause she's a great wee bus, just not big enough for our dogs, well, mainly the big heifer that is our Lab Alsatian cross.

Mazda Bongo on Benone BeachMazda Bongo on Benone BeachThe Mazda Bongo on the beach in Benone, County Londonderry in Northern Ireland.

We had embarked on a trip to hopefully go lift a rather appealing Merc Sprinter on the other side of the country, only to decide to walk away from what I felt was a wrong'un. Needless to say our journey home was a mix of disappointment and sporadic searches back on Gumtree to find a replacement vehicle, as I would soon be without a mode of transport after Sunday. We'd seen a former Church Minibus amongst other things, and the owner wasn't looking big money for it either! This was good news for us as it basically meant more money in the kitty for the conversion process, because that Amazon shopping list wasn't going to pay for itself!

Arrangements were made over the last 24 hours and a time agreed to go over to Antrim to see it, which meant another 3 hours on the roads of Northern Ireland.

I was kicking my heels whilst waiting for the love of my life to return home from her meditation class, when out of the blue a former client of mine from a wedding I'd done nearly 5 years ago got in touch to tell me they might have just the wagon for us and would I be interested. I was... I was really interested.

Now being a wedding photographer I've come to learn a number of things that always seem to ring true, one of those being: People do business with people they know, like and trust. Another one is: Word of mouth are the easiest ways to strike a deal. There's an inherent confidence in buying from someone you know, and I know Stephen.

Now I know it wasn't Stephen who reached out directly first, it was his lovely wife Barbara who must have informed him of my plight because Barbara reads my blogs, and I know this cause she told me a couple of months ago when I bumped into her at our local Tescos, it's nice to know that someone out there reads it at least! (Please validate my life by leaving a comment below if you've read this too).

Stephen & Barbara on their wedding dayStephen & Barbara on their wedding dayStephen & Barbara on their wedding day The van Stephen was selling was his own, and one he'd freely admit that it's functional in its presentation and design, but by all accounts it's in great shape, and has had a fair bit of investment pumped into it, albeit, functional. Which is great for us, as it means we can still put our own stamp on it and make it out own. A "fixer upper" if you will. It will undoubtedly put us months ahead in our plans to own a Stealth Camper and get back out there. 

The only downside is that it's currently in Devon as Stephen had been using it to live in whilst he was working in the South of England, but he's now bought himself and impressive multiple purpose vehicle, and it's basically the size of a house, more that suitable for his needs.

In short, we've put down a deposit, and he'll be away working again for a number of weeks and when he's finished, he'll be bringing it back to us here in the North West so we can get stuck in personalising it.

What did we buy? Well... An Iveco Daily (this isn't the actual vehicle, but it's one just like it) Long Wheel Base High Top:

Ives Daily LWB High RoofIves Daily LWB High Roof My wife admitted that she was tempted to offer something a little less to get that deal thing going, as she loves haggling but we definitely got the impression we were already getting a bargain to begin with, and it would have probably been a little embarrassing to have asked, as he's obviously done a great deal to it to make it work for his needs. Ours will slightly differ, in that we're going for a little more comfort, and again, we've to factor in the needs of our two dogs, one of which must have been a termite or a woodpecker in his former life, cause he fecking chews everything in sight, and he's also a Houdini style master at removing any form of muzzle.

Not only have we managed to get a fully kitted out 'Stealth Camper', but hopefully I've found an electrician to help me out with a couple of odd jobs I need done to get my workshop project started, as Stephen is quiet the skilled builder.

The power of blogging, solving problems!

(Darron Mark Photography) blog blogger camper camping conversion darron derry ireland iveco iveco daily mark motorhome northern ireland photographer photography reader self build stealth camping http://www.dmfoto.co.uk/blog/2017/5/van-life-blog-002-the-power-of-the-blog Thu, 18 May 2017 11:00:00 GMT
#VanLife: Blog #001 False Start http://www.dmfoto.co.uk/blog/2017/5/van-life-blog-001-false-start Tonight hasn't ended the way I had hoped. We're still without a useable van with which we want to convert into a stealth type living space for when we're out and about the highways and coastal areas of Ireland. We've been up and down Gumtree and Facebook listings for weeks, semi-stalled due to the fact we didn't want to take on anymore debt, so planned to sell my Bongo instead to part fund this new chapter in our lives.

Having finally managed to find a buyer to take the Bongo off our hands, we started to make a few calls to other vehicle owners looking to move on their various Long Wheel Base (LWB) vans. One in particular 'looked' promising and as soon as I got out of work today, I raced to pick up my other half to make the 4 hour round trip to see the below vehicle:

I even shared my excitement with my Instagram and Twitter followers, sharing some of the images I'd managed to get from the seller on their listing. We found the location okay, and the van was sitting ready for inspection in a yard where the owner had us meet him. Upon our meeting, he'd said that he'd read the message I'd sent him to say we were on our way whilst he was driving and unbeknownst to him, the police were right behind. He's now going to be in receipt of a £60 fine, and 3 penalty points on his license for his troubles, not my fault, but hey ho.

Now first impressions count with me, and all I could see was the various newly spray painted spots along the body work and joins. Obviously I couldn't have known just from the pictures on his listing, but it was plain to see, attempts had cheaply been made to tart this wagon up. The bottoms of the door frames were flaking off, the inside step was as brittle as pastry, it just gave off a vibe of don't look too closely. Which obviously I had no intention of listening too.

The current owner had said it had been used by the previous owner for the purposes of helping him in his business of carpet fitting, which the cargo area attested too. However, the current owner hadn't done one single thing to it to change it's purpose. Bits of carpet were still evident on the shelving, which if I'd had bought it, would have been removed promptly (with an angle grinder).

Another interesting thing I kept picking up on was, he seemed to not know anything about the van, as if he was creating an air of plausible deniability. I've just sold my Bongo, and granted, I've not had it that long I knew all it's features and it's weaknesses, and I openly discussed those with the buyer. This guy was just in denial about knowing anything!

I asked for the engine to be started so I could get an ear to it and look around for any leaks etc. Now, I'll freely admit I'm not mechanically minded, I'm more technically swayed in my understandings of the world, so looking under the bonnet of any car is the same as me looking into a chest cavity staring at a beating heart, I've no clue what I'm honestly looking at, but I can instinctively tell if something is wrong (or I'm deluding myself, who knows?).

As the engine was ticking over, all I could smell was exhaust fumes from the front. Alarm bells to my mind. The last time I smelt carbon monoxide from the wrong end of a car was when my own Mercedes decided that it had given up on life and was waiting to blow a valve rendering it scrap metal. When challenged, again, nothing known, hardly anything said.

I was done. Thanks, but no thanks. Four hours lost, £30 in fuel, but I was happy in my stance that I was not going to be taking on anyone else's bad choices. I can only speculate that he bought it recently and might have realised he'd bought a half dead horse, so he was gonna do his best to shift it on. Again, I just want to reiterate that I'm no mechanic, nor am I inferring that this guy was trying to rip me off, maybe the van was 100% sound, but my gut feeling is, it just wasn't right, needless to say, I was walking away.

So the quest for the start of our van life dream continues. We're looking at a Ford Transit this evening, not as tall as I would have liked, but we've decided for the type of travel we're looking to do, a shower really isn't the sort of luxury we need, so there's no need for the height space required to fit one. I might get one of those exterior solar ones in the future, who knows?

Follow me on Instagram or Twitter to see my day to day exploits, and subscribe to my YouTube Channel to watch my weekly overview of what I've been up to, and where we are with this van conversion, if we ever agree on the right van!

(Darron Mark Photography) conversion darren mark darron darron mark ireland mark motorhome northern ireland photographer photography travel van life http://www.dmfoto.co.uk/blog/2017/5/van-life-blog-001-false-start Wed, 17 May 2017 11:00:00 GMT
Phone Cases Now Available! http://www.dmfoto.co.uk/blog/2017/4/phone-cases-now-available New Phone Cases Now AvailableNew Phone Cases Now Available

Smartphone cases are now available in Europe! You can personalise your mobile phone case with your favourite photo from your gallery to create a stylish accessory to carry with them always. Perfect for personal use, or to give as a gift, these easy-to-create cases are sure to become a client favourite.

These cases are made in and shipped from the UK, and are produced using the highest quality materials, backed by a lifetime warranty that covers defects/product failure. These customisable cases are designed with access to ports for easy connectivity, and are created using processes that embed inks underneath the coatings so they last longer, resist scratches, and don’t fade or rub off easily. A three-step quality control process ensures a consistently great product that you can show off to the world.  

There are three different case styles for iPhone and Galaxy devices:

Tough Case

Tough CasesTough Cases

Vibrant hi-res imagery blends together with a clear, protective finish to prevent scratches and fading.

An interior layer helps protect devices against mild shocks and impacts to deliver a gorgeous and tough case that reflects your style and personality.

  • High-resolution decoration (300+ DPI print quality)

  • Dual-layer for extra durability and protection

  • 100% of outer surface is decorated

  • Made from lightweight, durable space-grade polymers and cushioned TPU (Thermoplastic polyurethane)

  • Created with industry-leading 3-D decoration systems, inks, and processes

  • Rich, vibrant colors embedded deeply into the surface of the case

  • Protective finish resists scratches and prevents image from fading, rubbing off, or blurring

  • Available in both matte and gloss finishes

Available for

iPhone 6

iPhone 6S

iPhone 6 Plus (only available in Gloss finish)

iPhone 6S Plus

iPhone 7

iPhone 7 Plus


Galaxy S6

Galaxy S6 Edge

Galaxy S6 Edge Plus

Galaxy S7

Galaxy S7 Edge


BakPak 3 Case

BakPak 3 CaseBakPak 3 Case








Pristine quality and vibrant hi-res imagery deliver a gorgeous case with a rear storage compartment that holds up to two items like credit cards, business cards, cash, or ID. Your can show off your style and personality, and travel light at the same time.

  • Sliding storage compartment in back allows user to carry cards, cash, and ID

  • High-resolution decoration (300+ DPI print quality)

  • Additional interior TPU liner offers added toughness

  • Created with industry-leading 3-D decoration systems and processes

  • Rich, vibrant colors embedded deeply into the surface of the case

  • Protective finish resists scratches and prevents image from fading, rubbing off, or blurring

  • Three-point quality inspection process

  • Available in gloss & matte finish

Available for

  • iPhone 6

  • iPhone 6S

Folio Case (satin finish)

Folio Case (satin finish)Folio Case (satin finish)

This gorgeous case offers an inspired way to express individuality while providing full-frontal screen protection and interior storage pockets. Decorated with high-resolution artwork that seamlessly covers both the front and back, the Folio becomes your personal art canvas. Printed artwork is not only high quality and sharp, it’s also clear-coated with a proprietary dual-layer satin finish that resists damage, scuffs, fading, and transfer of ink. A clear shell case protects the phone and attaches to the folio with an adhesive strip on the interior. This solution locks the phone in place, provides cover around the edges of the phone, and does so without leaving residue on the device.

  • Clear shell case included—can be detached or attached with folio

  • High-resolution decoration process on front and back preserves bright, sharp colors

  • Conveniently stores cards, cash, or ID inside interior pockets

  • Faux-leather material with textured surface

  • Three-point quality inspection process

  • Stand feature for watching media

Available for

  • iPhone 6

  • iPhone 6S

  • iPhone 6 Plus

  • iPhone 6S Plus

  • iPhone 7

  • iPhone 7 Plus


  • Galaxy S6

  • Galaxy S6 Edge

  • Galaxy S7

  • Galaxy S7 Edge

(Darron Mark Photography) Android European Galaxy Samsung Smartphone cases cell customers darron device for iPhone mark mobile phone phones photographer photography product protection update updates wedding http://www.dmfoto.co.uk/blog/2017/4/phone-cases-now-available Wed, 19 Apr 2017 08:29:40 GMT
Is Customer Service (in Northern Ireland) Dead? http://www.dmfoto.co.uk/blog/2017/2/is-customer-service-in-northern-ireland-dead Isn't it shocking the level of customer of service we typically receive from businesses here in Northern Ireland? Take the 'Home Improvement' market for example, more specifically the people out there offering their skilled services to assist you in your upgrades or repairs around your home. I think I've phoned roughly 4 local electricians, 5 Joiners, and 3 different gardeners to just get work done, only to be let down by most of them. Yet, it's only the older guys that seem to have shown up. That generation that knows what a hard days graft is all about. Those hardy few that will be there when they say they'll be there.

My late father was of that generation. A stereotypical man who just simply knew how to do EVERYTHING. Not only was he a dab hand around his own home, but he would be often called upon to help with other people's homes too. I remember he had a particular set of clothes he'd wear, worn jeans, checked cloth shirt, a trusty pencil, and tape measure. I wish I was half as manually capable as he was, I'd be a lot less reliant on others to do what I need to do that's for sure!

To be fair, we do have an amazing plumber on hand. No hassle, no mess, straight and honest pricing. He did charge me for coming to turn my thermostat up once, when the house wouldn't warm up following a warm summer, but we'll not go into that particular embarrassing story... I'll never forget the look he gave me, not my proudest moment.

My most recent exposure to the lackluster trades was when attempting to get our offices cleaned. A quick Google search for local commercial cleaning companies revealed that the choice was a little short to say the least (an opportunity there if ever there was one). I set about arranging for the first company to come and give us a quote for what we needed. A date was arranged (no specific time), date comes round, no show. No reason offered nor given. I did attempt to call this company back but was diverted to a residential home voice mail service. Having wasted a few days, I moved on to company number two. As before, a date was arranged, again, no time specified, and again... No show.

The next day an email was received to say they were sorry they didn't appear on the date they'd suggested. They then asked for me to give them an idea of what it was we wanted cleaning so they could give us a price, which sort of irked me a little because I don't know how these things are estimated. I refused to play and set about replying to their (Yahoo Domain) email address to tell them that it was unprofessional not to show up to a business appointment.

The email bounced.

Which was okay (well, not professional obviously), as I knew it would be delivered, because my first attempt to contact them had also bounced. I used the same email address published on their website.

What annoys me about companies with such low customer service levels is the manner in which they answer their business phone, usually with a basic "Hello?" Like you've called them at home and you've interrupted them. Wouldn't it be better to announce who you are and who you represent if you're taking business calls? Am I being too picky on this?

Can you imagine a Hotel Receptionist picking up the phone with just "Hello"?

It just gives off a more professional feel when you answer the phone in a business manner, which these two previous business owners fail to comprehend.

A vacuum cleaner on a carpet.Vacuum CleanerA demonstration of how hard it is to get anything done in Northern Ireland.


Cleaning company number three.

The telephone was answered in a professional and courteous manner (tick), a brief Q&A on who we were, where we were, and what we were after. Following which a date was set for them to come and see us, with a time! Imagine, making an appointment with an actual a time! I knew then we were on to a winner.

Sure enough, (nearly) on time (it's a tough place to get parked where I work) the arrived, gave us a great breakdown of their services and what they were offering and a contract was agreed, there and then.

I've worked in sales for getting on for 32 years (I started when I was 13, do the math) and I've some simple strategies that will get your business further ahead than any other amateur in your operating space will ever grasp.

  • Smile

    • Simple right? You'd think it would be, but look at some of the waiting staff in our restaurants. You'd swear they were under duress. The same goes with shop staff, would it kill you to look up and smile?
    • Smile when you're answering the phone too! It actually has an impact on how you speak to someone, especially when that person is wanting to give you money for your skills/services.
  • Telephone Manner

    • Confirm that they've actually called the right number by telling them who you are and who you work for. Even if you're the boss, let them know. For example "Hello, this is john here for Acme Cleaning Company, how can I help you?" (whilst smiling). If you're busy, or out at another job, always be prepared to write stuff down, have a pen and notebook with you at all times if that's the space you operate in, better still a pen and diary so you can set appointments and you'll always know where you have to be, and when. Don't rush to answer the phone, be prepared before you pick up first.
    • Ask questions, show that you're listening. It demonstrates that you know what you're doing, even if the caller thinks they know what they want, offer your advice if you know of a better suggestion, justify it with a story of why. Stories really help customers understand more easily.
  • Be On Time

    • If you've agreed a date and time, be there. Call ahead to confirm that the caller is still going to be there (they might have forgotten), that way if you run into traffic or can't get parked, at least they know you're still coming. If you're really struggling with punctuality then I'd say definitely call again, and see if they're still okay to wait.
  • Be Professional

    • I'm sure you can stand by your work, otherwise, you won't be in business too long, but go that extra step if you can. It's that little bit extra that customers will remember, it will also set you apart from your competition. Always be professional and courteous while you're a doing it.
    • Be honest about your costs. An honest price will see you get more customers through word of mouth, which is the ultimate compliment for any business owner. I'm not saying do a job cheap, as it will undervalue your services, I'm saying sit down and work out all your business costs and then add what you need to make a living and charge accordingly. If you do it too cheaply, you'll be out of business before you realise what went wrong.

There are plenty of other 'tips' I could throw in there, but I would say those four are the basics. It's what I've built my photography business on (that and my other unique selling points, which I'll not bore you with here), you'll see the feedback I get on my Guestbook Page (check it out if you haven't already done so), it's a testimony to the relationship I have with my clients.

It would be nice, just for a change, for business owners, restaurant managers, retail managers and anyone else out there just trying to do a good job, to take onboard some of these basic elements of customer service, we'd then find we all have a better experience as customers, and they, in turn, would have a better return on their profits from repeat and word of mouth referrals.

(Darron Mark Photography) blog blogger builders cleaners company darron handymen ireland manner mark northern poor sector service smile telephone tradesmen http://www.dmfoto.co.uk/blog/2017/2/is-customer-service-in-northern-ireland-dead Wed, 22 Feb 2017 11:55:00 GMT