Friday, 30 December 2011

More studio stuff

With time on my hands, but no sunshine to lure me outside with the camera, I've been taking 'portraits' of some of my lure collection. The first one is another light painting attempt using black paper as the background. I found 10m rolls of paper in a range of colours in Staples that make good back drops for this sort of stuff.

The second shot was inspired by Eric Weight's use of flash in his recent fairy photos. The composition leaves plenty of space for text. (I have a cunning plan to use it in an article somewhere!)

This third photo used two off camera flashes and umbrellas. The white background is much harder to work with for someone like me who is unused to working like this.

While this kind of stuff is quite interesting to do, I don't think I'm temperamentally suited to the attention to detail that is required. Things like ensuring the surface the lures rest on are clean and free from dust and marks. And I can never be bothered making a note of what lighting set up I used. I think there might have been a sheet of white paper used as a reflector in one of the above photos...

Monday, 26 December 2011

Three photographs of a photograph

Saturday, 24 December 2011

Another look

I took another trip to Liverpool for a second look at the Mitch Epstein show at the Open Eye Gallery before it closed. Naturally I took my camera along with the versatile 28-105 attached. The first time I went I snapped a couple of shots of the tops of litter-bins designed for extinguishing cigarettes. I'm not sure why. There is something about words appearing in photographs that appeals in a Pop Art sort of way. It's akin to my fascination with road signs in the landscape. One of the shots is on the right here.

On my second trip I hadn't intended to use the bins as subject matter again but one caught my eye, then another, and eventually I went looking for them around the Albert Dock. Some sunshine would have improved matters and there's a degree of repetition but as an idea to explore it could prove interesting. The full set can be found here.

One good thing about the 'cultural centre' of Liverpool is that it is full of tourists with cameras. So no matter what you choose to shoot nobody bats an eye. Quite the opposite in fact, as after taking one of the Stub It Out shots a bloke with a camera moved in behind me and took a photo himself.

Saturday, 17 December 2011


I waited in until twelve thirty for a delivery from Amazon before heading out to take the newly acquired lens for a walk round town. By the time I got there (after a detour to the tackle shop) it was getting late. There was plenty going on with Christmassy market stalls set up, but the ISO had to be pushed to borderline levels. If only there was a crop sensor that could match the one in the D3s. Ho hum.

I must say the zoom range is useful for street photography, certainly on the crop sensor. It matches the lenses I used to use in the days of 35mm too, so should I ever take a full frame camera round town it should work equally well.

These next two leave me undecided as to whether the colour version or the black and white conversion works better. It was the colours and the lighting that made me put the camera to my eye, but it's the chap's expression (which materialised during the picture taking) that makes the picture.

So far the lens seems to be a handy piece of kit for the money. It'll certainly come in useful as a travelling light lens for fishing.

Thursday, 15 December 2011

The light

Can light make an everyday subject into something interesting? I took delivery of a cheap 'knockabout' lens before lunch so wasted no time attaching it to cameras, not to take test shots of walls or printed charts, but to see what it could do with regarding picture making. It's a 28-105 zoom that cost me £150 secondhand. I didn't expect top quality but I wanted a lens with a versatile range that I could use use on crop or full frame that didn't weigh a ton and had a useful close up facility. A lens I could stick on a camera to take fishing with me when catching fish was the priority rather than taking photos, or to take in the car wherever I go.

As luck would have it the winter sun broke through as I was having lunch. First shot on crop, second a while later on full frame. Two images that are far from superb, but certainly capture two effects of light.

Sunday, 11 December 2011

More commercial stuff

I've been following Pat MacInnes's Flickr and blog for a while. He works for an angling magazine publisher and takes product and editorial shots. He's a technical sort of photographer, whcih I am not, but in my real life I write about fishing and try to sell fishing rods to people, so his techniques do resonate with me.

One thing he recently blogged about was lightpainting against a black background. I could see how I could use that to make for striking adverts, so I cobbled some things together and gave it a try.

This was the result, after a few failures where the light I was using left visible trails.

With a little fiddling around it worked up into a full page ad. I shalln't be running this particular version, but hope to reshoot in future for a new project.

Tuesday, 6 December 2011


One from Liverpool the other week, and one from yesterday. Both have interesting aspects but leave me uncertain if they cut the mustard. Which probably means they don't.

Saturday, 3 December 2011

Back at the beach

Time to get out with the camera has been non-existent of late, but an e-mail from one of the kiteboarders I have got to know tempted me to the beach after finishing work at lunch. It was a day of high wind blowing in rain squalls. This made for difficult light to photograph the action in but fantastic for everything else. Owing to the rain I only took the 150-500 to the water's edge and was hand-holding at high shutter speeds and ISO values through necessity. So technically the land/sea/skyscapes aren't too hot, but atmospherically they are pleasing.

The action shots worked a little better. Taking endless frame-filling shots of jumps and spray coming off the edge of the board as the boarders speed along gets a bit tedious, so I try to break things up for my own amusement.

When I am at the beach doing the sports photographer schtick I am also quietly working on a loose project working around the kiteboarding theme.


Friday, 25 November 2011

My eyes have been opened

Although I drive past the newly opened Open Eye Gallery in Liverpool on a fairly regular basis I never seem to have the time to stop and call in. Today I made time. The space is disappointingly small. Not cramped, just small. I suppose this reflects on the consideration that is given to photography in general. It's a nice space nonetheless. The lack of space limits the number of prints that can be displayed, which is a shame.

Although I had primarily gone along to see the Chris Steele-Perkins show it was the Mitch Epstein photographs that I took most away from. The Steele-Perkins photographs were all pretty familiar. Seeing them printed large and framed behind glass added nothing to the experience of looking at them in books or even on a monitor. If anything the glass made viewing them more difficult and to my eyes, even close up, the prints were nothing startling. The Epsteins were a different matter.

Being stuck behind glass was still troublesome for viewing the pictures, reflections are the problem. What I wasn't prepared for was how the scale affects how the pictures act on you. I've always been well aware that an image's size has an effect on how it is perceived, and that looking at prints in books isn't always the same as seeing the real thing. In the case of the Steele-Perkins prints they were not much larger than they can appear in books. Certainly not large enough to make a difference. Seeing a photograph at a size that fills an A4 page is one thing, but seeing the same photograph printed at six feet across (or thereabouts) is another experience altogether.

What seeing these very large prints did for me was explain the benefit of large format film. At something like A3 the level of detail that can be revealed from any size negative or digital file is limited. At six feet across small elements in a large scene can be revealed. It is this level of detail that sometimes attracts the photographer's eye. By standing close to the print this detail is revealed, by stepping back the full composition is revealed - yet the mind retains the information from the closer viewing. The overall impact is much different to seeing the same image printed small.

My two favourite prints from the American Power exhibition were the Hoover dam picture and the Martha Murphy and Charlie Biggs double portrait. Both benefit from being viewed large to show. The former as it reveals the intricacies of the power lines and so forth, the latter because it allows you to examine the items in front of the pair, and the tattoo on Charlie's arm. I had never understood the point of making very large photographic prints prior to seeing these. I left the exhibition contemplating how not only the aspect ratio of a format can affect the photographs you take, but also the scale of the negative (or sensor) and the size to which the final print can successfully be made. My eyes had been opened to alternative photographic ways of looking and seeing.

Restricted to an APS size digital sensor I tried making some photographs that suited it as I made my way back to the car park.

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Colour or not

I only managed to get out with my new toy late on, with half an hour of light left, so I switched to black and white mode to concentrate on silhouette and texture. Had I had more time I'm sure I would have found some more successful pictures. When I came to look at the shots on the PC this first one seemed to work better in colour. I think this is because the cool blue adds to the wintry feel, and the limited palette retains the graphic nature of the shot.

On the other hand the second shot works better in monochrome because colour doesn't get in the way. Why I took the shot of waste polystyrene in a drainage channel I'm not sure. I don't think I was making an environmentalist comment, what attracted my was the curve the flat white shards make and the contrast of natural and man-made textures. So maybe there is an environmental subtext to the main visual one even though I saw it originally as shape and texture. It was a bugger keeping my feet out of the frame at 14mm!

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Who needs 'protection' filters?

Work has been getting in the way of 'serious' photography of late. Well, work and fishing have. The fishing has seen more messing around with fill and balanced flash. Some results better than others. Also some playing with ideas for future adverts which has resulted in one shot that, when flipped, makes a nice background image to fit my existing text layout. This was taken handheld, manually focused with my 150mm macro lens. I find the lens pretty useful in non-macro mode when fishing - so it serves two purposes. Angling atmosphere shots are all fine and dandy, but I could do with catching some fish to shoot their portraits and get some abstracty texture pictures of scales and eyes and things.

Other than that my photographic opportunities have been thin. The 'studio' still not being ready and my trips to town scant I've been pretty much restricted to taking shots from home. So the theme has been 'modern landscape'. I find it quite rewarding to make pictures without leaving the confines of my property. And surprising that there is a variety of pictures to be made.

The topic of filters for protection hasn't been aired on Talk Photography for a while. I might bring it to the fore for a chuckle after today's event. How I managed to drop my D90 onto my slate fireplace, albeit from a less than two feet, I really don't know. It just slipped from my grasp and landed with a horrible crunching and cracking sound. I fully expected it to be dead. All that appears to have happened is that the filter ring got a severe denting and the filter glass cracked.

There's a slight chip in the plastic of the lens barrel, but very superficial. There were a few small shards between filter and front element, but no damage to the element itself. That seems to be it. The camera appears to function normally and the lens autofocuses. It took a bit of effort, and some cycle inner tube to provide extra grip, but the filter came off okay and a replacement has been bought and fitted.

I can't say for sure what would have happened had the filter not been in place, but the threaded part of the lens barrel would certainly have taken the brunt of the fall and suffered far more damage than it has done. They seem to build  Nikon's tough. For all the plastic construction this one has already survived sliding off the passenger seat of my car when I braked suddenly, and mysteriously rolling itself off the sofa. I'm sure I'll manage to kill it eventually!

Thursday, 3 November 2011

Studio shooting

Winter is here so it's time to start messing around indoors with the flash guns. I'm planning to sort out a better space and backdrops but for now I'm using some wrinkled A2 paper on a piece of plywood as a table top. So far I have invested in a couple of lighting stands, and some modifiers are on the shopping list.

Here's the result of a short play session using the camera's flash to trigger to more strobes either side. Nothing fancy as yet. The B+W conversion is to give a vintage look to the old reel.

Saturday, 29 October 2011

Final touches

Today I took the two photos required to fill the gaps on my advert. They needed to be graphic enough to show what they are of at a small size, so a shallow depth of field was ensured. The first shot was taken using available light and the 24-70. I tried the same set up for the ring photo but even at 70mm there was too much clutter in the background. Switching to the 150mm macro solved that problem and the addition of flash allowed me to play with the shutter speed and aperture to get the look I was after.

One problem I am having with using the DSLR kit for my product shots is that it is too good even dust and stuff on the rods shows up when viewed large!

Here's how they slot into the ad.

Thursday, 27 October 2011

It's not art

There are photographs for their own sake and there are photographs for other purposes. A new opportunity has arisen for me to promote my business and it's an ideal chance to combine photography, fishing and making money!

With a 'double page' spread on offer in an up-coming on-line magazine an idea popped straight into my head. Some of the shots I've taken recently would make eye catching visuals, but they were composed poorly to allow for text placement. I therefore knew the composition and the light I needed, all I had to do was be there.

For once my plan fell into place at the first attempt. Or pretty much so. I got the location right and the sunset was, if not magnificent, certainly pleasing enough. I'll admit that the flash would have been better off camera, and more diffuse (or two lights used), but it's not art, it's a functional photo to make people look rather than invite detailed critique.

Plenty of space was allowed for the text and some small images which I am working on to overlay. As a photo it works quite well as it is, as an advert it's coming along nicely.

As this is to be a graphic image rather than a photograph I had no qualms about cloning out the two midges that look like hot pixels in the sky.  Cropped to format the image below is where the ad stands at the moment. Two more small images are needed bottom right, and a few tweaks to the text and it will be done. It's ironic to think that I was advised to change my preferred career path as a graphic designer and study Fine Art because I was a messy worker. If only computer technology had been where it is now way back then I'd probably never have become a rod builder!

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

What a difference a day makes

One of the 'benefits; of living on the west coast is that the weather changes daily, and with it the light. Monet painted the same haystacks under differing lighting conditions. So I shall photograph a neighbour's roof under differing skies!

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Open Eye Gallery, Liverpool

I remember visiting the, as I remember it, pokey little and then two-year-old Open Eye Gallery in Liverpool when I was a student. Getting back into photography last year I was sorry to find it closed while being relocated to new premises in 'the heart of Liverpool's cultural centre'.

The website was also little more than a holding page, but I kept on checking it. Well, the website is now live and the gallery is due to open on the fifth of November. I'm looking forward to visiting it at the earliest opportunity. As I go to Liverpool on business at least once a month, often more frequently, that should be pretty soon.

Monday, 10 October 2011

Cliché revisited

The Online Photographer
When you know with a quiet but solid confidence that you truly like one of your pictures and you're not shaken in the least when someone says, "What the hell is the point of that?" or "I hate that!," you're there.
I guess I'm 'there' then!

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

A question of focus

Rain and street lighting always seem to make me reach for a camera. I don't know if this is pretentious experimentalism or good photography - the 'self-portrait' certainly has more than a touch of pretentiousness about it!. The green and reddish-orange hues work together as almost complimentary colours. 

The way our minds see things that aren't there, interpreting shapes as forms they don't actually depict, is always fascinating. Like seeing pictures in flames or clouds, or Christ on a piece of burnt toast I immediately saw a 'Madonna and Child' in the final frame here. Of course there is no religious connection, the Madonna and Child format was plainly appropriated as a powerful Christian image because of it's inherently powerful maternally human resonances. But when looking at pictures the reference back is often to art works of the past. And Christian imagery has a long tradition in western painting - which is where I usually make my connections.

Sunday, 2 October 2011

The great thing(s) about photography

Maybe not for everyone, but certainly for me, the greatest thing about photography is that it gives you the perfect excuse to look at the world like a child. How else can an adult get away with lying on the ground looking closely at something without appearing to others like a complete lunatic? Once you put a camera between the prostrate person's eye and the thing they are looking at they are justified in looking closely. You can look at the world in this inquisitive way without a camera, but photographs can help to show others how the world looks when you change your point of view - not just physically.

Children are naturally inquisitive, naturally explorative. As people grow older most seem to stop looking with wonder and awe - except at that which is considered wondrous or awesome. Everything has become familiar. Or more so they think everything has become familiar. A camera allows you to look with an altered perception to the everyday. I'm sure that all visually creative people retain a childlike interest in the way the world looks.

Another childish facet to creativity in any field is that it performs the same role as play does for children. This is not the same as an adult 'playing' football or golf, that's merely participation. Play is creative. It's about messing about with things and seeing what happens. Photography allows you to do that in a visual arena. You can approach picture making as a sport - following set rules, or you can approach it as play - fooling around with no rules. It depends how grown up you are...

So what if passers-by give you funny looks for taking photographs of abandoned balls, or milk-floats, or dogs on leads rather than sunsets when there are adventures in perception to be had!

Thursday, 29 September 2011

Too obvious

When I was at the beach yesterday the sunset was an unavoidable subject.  I took a lot of shots, most of which were rubbish, some of which were trite, a few that almost made it.

Partly as an experiment I posted a selection on a non-photography forum. I was interested to see if the ones which looked like a thousand other sunset photographs proved more popular. They did.

No prizes for picking the 'winner' from these two.

Sun off to one side, reflection on wet sand. If the horizon had been slightly higher it would have ticked all the boxes for approval. But I was trying to see if I could make a picture work with the horizon deliberately centred. It sort of does.

Sun all but invisible and central, very low horizon, hardly any subject matter. Ticks none of the boxes for approval. Placing the sun anywhere but on the centre line made no sense to me. That would have been composition by numbers.  In fact I should have taken a few more shots after the sun had completely disappeared.

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

The bait digger

Strictly speaking not a bait digger as he was using a more efficient pump rather than a spade. The light was fantastic and I managed a semblance of a story while being distracted by the setting sun and the afterglow.

All taken using the 70-200 with a x1.7 teleconverter. At 100% they are remarkably sharp. The 150-500 might be getting the heave-ho to fund a x2 converter.

One of my favourite 'scapes of the evening is below.