Sunday, 18 August 2019

Surprise sheep show

Yesterday I decided to give the Gargrave Show a miss in favour of a sheep dog trial at Barbon. The reasons being that while the Gargrave Show was enjoyable last year I fancied going to see somewhere new. As I approached the entrance to the trials there was a banner advertising the event as a trial and a sheep show. Bonus!

This is a local sheep-only (apart from a sticks) show concentrating on local breeds. Rough Fells were the 'stars' with Bluefaced Leicesters and Mules also in evidence. There was also a high percentage of people with cameras in evidence.

As I'd arrived quite late judging was well under way. With all these other people taking photographs in and around a small area I felt quite restricted by trying to avoid being either in the background of other people's photos or getting in their way. I was also struggling to find anything fresh to photograph. It was more of the same old stuff.

The sheep dog trial was up a short but steep hill and less popular with the photographers. It was a struggle for the competitors with uncooperative sheep. This made it a struggle to get any action shots around the pen, which was close enough for photography.

With a stiff and chilling breeze blowing it was another day of people sheltering in their vehicles to keep warm meaning that, once more, there wasn't much going on around the field to photograph either. That forced me to start looking for anything at all that might make some kind of picture.

Now it seems that sheep shows have become another event for photographers (think Whitby Goth Weekends) I think it might be time to start looking elsewhere after this show season is over as I'm not into competing for pictures. Although having looked at other people's sheep show pictures I do seem to select 'different' things to point my camera at than most people. I'm not sure if that's a good or a bad thing!

Monday, 12 August 2019

A long, wet, weekend

You might imagine that the first week of August would be a safe bet for some hot summery weather. It looks like climate change doesn't mean global warming after all. Sure enough Thursday was red hot. Sure enough I was stuck in waiting for a UPS van to arrive. Which it did after five pm... Unlettered I'd used my idle hours to chase a butterfly around the garden with nice, but uninspiring, results.

I could have been at the half-day before the first day of the English National Sheep Dog Trial. By the time I was free it was all over. There were three days to go, however. Unfortunately with a weather forecast conducive to saying in bed. Rain, wind, and more rain. Oh well, nothing ventured nothing gained.

With the action starting at 7.30am I was never going to go for a full day and I arrived around lunch time on the Friday. When  Igot there it was still hot and sunny but turned showery and warm. I went with the versatile two consumer zoom combo. It worked well, as it always does when there is sufficient light.

There was a respectable crowd and quite a bit going on to photograph. I concentrated less on the action than what was going on around the trial field.

There was a sheep clipping demonstration on for the benefit of non-farming folk and a shearing demonstration planned for the weekend when it was hoped the publicity would draw in people looking for a cheap day out. Alas Saturday's weather was so bad the shearing was abandoned, and I almost gave it a miss. With nothing else to do after getting the washing out of the tumble drier I gathered my waterproofs and swapped to my 'pro' zooms which are more weather resistant.

Being such a grim day it was a case of the dog people staying in their vehicles or under canvas most of the time. The car parking field had turned to mud with overnight rain and the general public were mostly staying away. A great shame for the traders in the craft tent, and not much good for finding stuff to photograph. I came away with less than 200 frames, and only a handful worth processing.

I'd had great plans for Sunday. I was going to hit teh Trawden Show in the morning then head over to the trial to watch and photograph the final day's climax - the run-off for the individual English National champion. Like an idiot I forgot to check the internet after breakfast to see if the show was still on. There'd been no hint of a cancellation by the time I logged off on Saturday night. I thought it odd that I didn't pass any livestock trailers on my way to Trawden. The 'Show Off' sign confirmed my fears. What a pillock! Back home, have an early lunch, and go see if the forecast for an improvement was right. Lazily I slapped on the superzoom to save messing around swapping cameras.

The wind had dropped overnight and the rain was easing off. The kiddies train ride had cut its losses and left. The crowd was a bit up on Saturday but still thinner than I expect it would have been if the sun had shone brightly.

Around the judges' portacabin was a fenced off area for officials, competitors and the ladies and gentlemen of the media. I'd find it dispiriting to have to sit in one place taking the same pictures of fifty dogs every day for three days. Imagine if you were doing it for money and missed getting any pictures of the winning run because you you were photographing red collars taken off the sheep in teh exhaust pen...

I was quite surprised to find myself still hanging around when the run-off started around six. Once the initial hunger pangs passed I'd stopped feeling the need for food! As the first handler took the field the crowd was filled with anticipation.

With the action concluded it was a protracted wait for the results to be announced in traditional reverse order. Then with the squad for the international trials selected from the top runs over the weekend it was time for the team photographs.

An interesting three days which might not have resulted in a huge number of decent photographs, but enough to add to the files for it to have been worthwhile. Even if my feet were muddier than the dogs'!!

A wider selection, including some action shots, here and here.

Sunday, 4 August 2019

Another hot day

The weekend away from sheep and shows must have recharged my batteries because I was keen to get to Garstang on Saturday, even though the forecast was for another hot day. I took along the 35mm intending to use that most, with the superzoom available for its close focusing ability. In the end I took one picture (deleted) with the 35mm and used the do-it-all lens for most of the rest of the time. The exceptions being a few taken with the 20mm I always have with me. So much for my good intentions.

The more shows I go to the more difficult it becomes to find fresh pictures. I also have at the back of my mind a vague idea that my photographs might serve as a record of these events and as such shouldn't be too 'arty'. This has come about through looking at Martin Parr's pictures which, while they make a social comment, don't always explain what's going on. So I'm always trying to strike a balance between good pictures which work on a formal level and pictures which serve as records to tell a story. Of course there's flexibility allowed in this. Especially for 'detail' shots.

I started the day with the Jacob sheep, which always get a lot of last minute primping. Although I closed in on some details, which I've photographed before, I also realised that these preparations are a sort of group activity and had a go at capturing that aspect.

As I spend more time looking than photographing with the novelty factor wearing off I also do more talking, or maybe more listening, to sheep breeders. I don't know if what I hear informs my picture taking or not, but it is interesting to learn about sheep husbandry, the history of breeds and other aspects of the breed societies.

This show doesn't have a big Lonk class, in fact it was almost cancelled this year until some last minute entries made it worthwhile. The Gritstones were thin on the ground, only one pen in the any other breed section, and they were (rather unusually) halter trained.

The unloading of sheep still attracts my attention and this was when I used the wide angle. I guess I keep photographing some things on a regular basis in the hope of getting that one 'killer' image if I try often enough!

The same reasoning goes for photographing the judging. Although this time I made an effort to try and capture inspection of both ends of the Lonks.

Catching up the sheep after they've been 'let go' for the judges to watch how they carry themselves is something else that is likely to make for good pictures. And so it was I rattled off lots more frames destined for the waste disposal.

The flippy screen is handy for low level shots. Although there was a barrier between me and the sheep in the frame above, had there not been I could have got out of trouble faster standing holding the camera low using the screen than kneeling down using the viewfinder. However, I found the autofocus in liveview dismal - yet again. There's only one focus area and no option to let the camera pick where it goes. I might start taking my fishing camera along to use in that mode as it does a much better job of it.

By the time the sheep had been judged it was as hot as predicted and I was beginning to melt. My second plan for the day had been to look round the rest of the show after the sheep action was over, but I was too hot and bothered. I took a few shots on my way back to the car, but nothing of note. Maybe if I travelled a bit lighter I would survive longer in the heat. I might be more nimble, too, and more inclined to get lower for different angles.

Lots of options next week, midweek and weekend, which I'll take up remains to be seen. It might be a challenge to go to a less favoured show with just one camera and one lens of a single focal length. That would take me back to my days as an impoverished student who could only afford one lens!

Tuesday, 23 July 2019


I decided to give an agricultural show a miss the weekend after my expensive visit to the GYS. I couldn't get myself motivated to photograph sheep again. It was a show I've been two a couple of times before and didn't think there'd be anything either fresh or relevant to my sheep breed obsessions on the Saturday. While there would be rare breeds on the Sunday it was the cricket World Cup Final - and I wasn't missing that for anything!

Even so, by Saturday evening I was getting the urge to use a camera for something. Without much inspiration I went in search of potatoes. One day this might get to project stage, but at the moment it's all a bit random.

An unexpected bonus was to find some potatoes being irrigated. This is something I photographed many moons ago on a sunny summer evening as the sun was setting. The atmosphere was different this time. No backlit water jets, but a grey sky. I did a lot more processing to the files than I usually do simply because what I had seen and what the camera saw were not the same. I still managed to resist overdoing the clarity and sharpness though. Which far too many people do not these days.

Still lacking sheep show motivation, and with the Royal Lancashire Show the following weekend I took the plunge and ordered a new-to-me lens.The idea was to go to the show using just this lens (35mm) and the 70-200mm rather than rely on 'old faithful'. If I was forced to look differently I might see some fresh pictures. That was the plan.

A new lens needs testing, and the only way I know to do that is to take it out somewhere and snap away at all sorts of rubbish. Most of the pictures will get binned, but that's not the point. The idea is to get used to using the lens and to learn how it behaves. Also to find out if it has any faults when it's a used model. When in doubt, head for the sandplant! I didn't think it had changed since I was last there, but it had. Albeit subtly. I added a few more shots to the file, which I really must edit down to something concrete.

It was forecast to be wet on the Friday of the RLS, not quite so wet on the Saturday, and hot on the Sunday. This was another factor in my lens choice as the superzoom is less water resistant than the 70-200 and the 35mm. I gave the first day a miss as it was pelting down, and as there weren't any of my favourite sheep being shown on the Saturday I intended to look around other parts of the show as well as the sheep dog trial which was on all three days.

My first stop was still going to be the sheep pens. There I was surprised to see the Valais Blacknose owners I'd met at Great Harwood, and both pleased and surprised to see a picture I'd taken there as part of their show banner. It's odd that despite their cuteness I don't find myself spending much time at all trying to photograph these sheep. Cute and cuddly doesn't appeal to my aesthetic senses.

The sheep rings were well set up and gave reasonable access for photography. It's got to be a case of looking for pictures which are not the usual judging shots since I've got so many of those in the files. I still take some, but more on the off chance that one might be a little better than one I already have.

Juxtapositions often make for good photographs and when I saw a steward using an umbrella with photographs of sheep on I dashed to get closer.

Even though I spent some time at the sheep rings I didn't take many photos. I even got distracted by the nearby cattle rings for a few minutes before heading off to the trial field. On my way there I passed The Sheep Show. An amusing piece of sheepish entertainment, which is also informative, that was well attended despite the rain.

Next to the sheep marquee was the shearing demonstration. Also entertaining and informative. Popular as a place to shelter too.

As ever I found the 70-200 a bit too short when out in the big wide world. For photographing the falconry display from outside the ring I had to crop most shots to get anything close to a picture.

Knowing I was going to return on the final day I noted this display down as one to revisit and get a shot I'd 'seen'. When you stumble on something like this without knowing what it entails you often aren't in the right position, and/or have the wrong lens. Sunday I'd take the 70-300 and stand somewhere different. I even checked the timetable to make sure I didn't miss the display. Pre-planning!

It paid off. I still had to crop a little to improve the framing, but I got the pictures I'd hoped for. Maybe not perfect, but close enough for shots which aren't for anything special.


While this lens might be a slow aperture 'consumer' lens it's not a bad performer (by my less than critical standards). The biggest problem I have is not with lenses, but with focusing modes when it comes to fast moving subjects like birds of prey and sheep dogs. As the owl was flying towards me it was pretty straightforward, ut when there were falcons flying around I struggled a bit. I also struggled with the sheep dogs.

I'd had a bit of a go on the Saturday without much success. I didn't hang around the trial field for long though as it was raining. Sunday was drier and the grass dry enough to sit on (using my camera bag as a ground sheet). The lower angle made for a different look to the photos, and my position was quite good. Unfortunately the sheep were quite cooperative around the pen with the only chance for 'action' when it came to the shed when they were far from cooperative. Some action happened a bit too far away. In order to get a decent picture much cropping was required. Not something I like to do. It's fine for social media nd phone viewing, but not great for printing or full screen slide shows.

However, I am more willing to make slight crops when I can't get the framing right because the focus points aren't in the right place. My current camera doesn't have as wide a coverage of focus points in the viewfinder to keep the dog as low in the frame as I'd like most of the time. I still feel like cropping is cheating, but the guilt is lessening each time I do it.

When things are less fast moving I can focus and recompose, eliminating the need to crop.

One thing I have done recently is reduce the number of active focus points to make moving the one in operation around faster. It's helped a great deal.

In the sheep rings Sunday was a bit of a disappointment with fewer sheep and breeds than the show catalogue suggested. Quite a few Lonks though. So that was good. But not much in the way of different pictures. That meant looking around for other breeds and detail shots.

Over the two days I took more pictures with the longer zoom than the 35mm. The 35mm, however, felt as useful as a shorter zoom, though. Occasionally I wished it had been a little wider, but the gap between 35mm and 70mm didn't feel too long. The only drawback to the longer zooms compared to the superzoom is the longer close focus distance. That makes getting the kind of tightly framed detail shots I like pretty much impossible. I can see a 35mm/100mm combination working for me in dimly lit environments like auction marts.