Sunday, 30 January 2011

Okay, I lied

I was tempted by some geese, and took some photos! Didn't manage to capture the image I had in my mind's eye though. It did make me reconsider ditching the wildlife photography. So I might carry on with it in a focused way. Rather than chasing after this and that I'm planning on sticking to a couple or three projects. Dull subjects that are often ignored - starlings and feral pigeons. Two birds that can be quite approachable. I love pink-footed geese, but they'll be heading north soon. Maybe next winter I'll get the shot I'm after...

Earlier I'd been to the beach and the dunes again where I got a lesson in composition. A figure, or figures, in a shot can help it a lot. Well, I think the second shot works better than the first.

Saturday, 29 January 2011

Content, technique, and style

Looking through the pile of prints I'd made I got to thinking about why my photos don't look like the ones I see in photo magazines. It must either be that I'm a happy snapper with no idea what makes a photo, or I have a style of my own. I can't decide which. Maybe it's not for me to decide. What I did notice was that in the shots I think work best there is a lot of space. Negative space. I think that's why I like shooting along the beach in winter - big sky, loads of empty sand. But it's there in other images too.

One thing that I find difficult to discern in my photographs is any trace of technique. That's really where I think my pics differ from those in photography magazines and camera club shows. When I examine the majority of those images all I see is the technique (graduated filters, slow shutter speeds and so forth). The content appears to be of secondary importance. They are images more about technique than subject. Surely all photographs should be about their subject and not, primarily, about the way they were made?

While musing on this over the last few days I found this article on Pixiq (one of my favourite photography sites) which makes a similar point.

I'd go further and say that a photograph works really well when subject, technique and abstract form combine in equal measure. But two out of three ain't bad.

I also picked up a photobook from the library, 'A Portrait of Southport'. As I flicked through it I saw a couple of shots that reminded me of subjects I've shot (Southport being where I roam the seafront). Getting the book home I realised that all they had in common with my images was the subject. And they weren't representative of the rest of the book. Almost every photo in the book had been taken on a bright sunny day in spring or summer.

Almost without exception the shots were picturesque. None had an air of gloom or melancholy. There was no untidiness. It was a book the tourist office would love. I was relieved. When I looked again at my collection of Southport photos they had a very different collective feel. Possibly because they were made in winter. Even so, I have shots of the public art similar to those in the book, but there wasn't a photo of a cracked window in the book!

The trouble with discovering your photos often feature a particular trait, is that when you next venture forth you might be conscious of it and try to overcompensate for it, or play up to it. This concerned me. Until I put the camera to my eye it concerned me. As soon as I started framing shots I automatically made them the way they looked right to me. When I reviewed them there was still plenty of negative space and off-centre subjects. Oh yeah, there were a few that had the frame cut in two by a harsh vertical too. Something else I seem to do without realising it. Picture postcards they are not.

Friday, 28 January 2011

Print out

In the digital age it's all too easy to neglect turning your images into prints. Yet the physicality of a print, even one made on a home inkjet printer, lends a different appearance to an image. One that, I think, helps you evaluate it better than when viewed on a screen.

Sorting through a pile of prints trying to order them for filing in an album also makes you more critical of the images. Doing this with a load of my wildlife shots the other day I realised that out of some 40 prints there were about four that were actually any good as images, yet in a similar sized pile of other photos the hit rate was higher.

This got me thinking. Do I want to carry on taking so-so wildlife photos, or try and take more of the photos that I can't pigeon-hole so easily? Two things point to the latter way forward.

The first is technical - the 'fast glass' I use for non-wildlife photography gives a much better 'look' to my images. This leaves me looking at a bird photograph taken with 'consumer glass' and feeling it looks flat and dissatisfying. Irrespective of any artistic merit it may have I know it would have been better if the 'right' gear had been used.

The second is more psychological - I find I keep going back to look at my non-wildlife photos and think about how and why they 'work'. They hold my interest for longer. My few good wildlife shots do this too, but they also fall into the category of 'non-wildlife' images.

So why was I shooting ducks in flight with an unsuitably short lens this afternoon, wishing I'd taken something longer but enjoying it? The ducks pics are okay for crops, but they're just duck pics. The pleasure wasn't in the image making, it was the technical challenge of panning and firing at the right time. I think I'd have been just as happy shooting those widgeon with a shotgun!

If it wasn't for the niggle that the big lens might come in handy for something I'd get rid of it immediately. If I can find a x2 teleconverter in stock then I think it will go. The birdies are going to take a back seat.

Sunday, 23 January 2011

Bad weather for photography?

It's been cold and foggy of late. Poor conditions for using a camera. So some people think. Maybe if you are after shots of small birds at distance it is, but fog and mist bring an air of mystery and an unusual quality of light. These conditions can also help simplify images by hiding background clutter and muting the palette.

I prefer it when the mist is being burned away by the rising sun, but even when a fog has settled in for the day all is not lost.



Wildlife photos can be found if you put some thought into looking for them. I spent a good few minutes watching these resting pochard slowly drift, waiting for them to form a satisfying pattern before the fog really closed in.

foggy pochard

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Look the other way

Driving to Liverpool this morning in strong sunshine, after ten, I had only gone about five miles when I saw mist rising across the flood plain. I almost carried on but as I had a camera with me and not being in a hurry I parked up and did what I could. I would have preferred a longer lens to make something of the mist over the fields, but the moored boat provided a focal point for the wider view. I wasn't completely successful in achieving a well balanced composition, and the sun was always going to burn out, but it's better to try than not.

canal mist

I crossed the canal to look for other misty framing options but there were no really inspiring ones. Not until I turned round to head back to the bridge. With the sun on the painted ironwork, the slate grey sky as a backdrop and reflections in the mirror calm surface of the water there had to be a picture. Getting everything in the frame in a satisfactory arrangement, while keeping my shadow out of shot, was tricky, but I managed one effort that satisfied me until I stared to inspect it too closely.

swing bridge

Late in the day I called in at a lake where wildfowl are fed in the hope of some tufted duck portraits. It was not to be. I was struck by the low winter sun shinning on a mute swan's raised wing feathers. The chance was soon gone as the bird quickly furled its sails. Again one reasonable image was made - or maybe two. A slight curves adjustment improved the tonality of the shot.

mute swan wings

Sunday, 16 January 2011


When the rain stopped I took myself to the beach again. I took a few of my usual bleak winter beachscapes, and some shots of the pier.



Then I took the plunge and asked a metal detectorist if he minded me taking a few pics. He okayed it. I slipped up by not getting any shots of what he found, but a ring-pull, a piece of coal and a length of copper wire weren't too exciting - although they would have made factual images. Anyway, some of the shots work on their own and the set works reasonably well. If my car park ticket hadn't been about to run out I'd have taken more. C'est la vie.

For some reason the following slideshow has messed up the running order...Click here to see it bigger in the right order.

Friday, 14 January 2011


Nothing stunning today, just some fun shots. I took my latest lens to show another Nikon user at his place of work and couldn't resist taking a few shots of his workmates. Handheld, available light, high ISO, slight crop from right.

Party animal:

Stopping off to look for barn owls on my way home I saw this sheep with its head stuck through the netting. It carried on eating, and laying down, and eating. That's sheep for you! Unfortunately the daft animal was on the other side of a wide and deep ditch otherwise I'd have tried to free it. Although if it was anything like sheep I've freed in the past I doubt it would have been grateful...

Stupid animal:

Sunday, 9 January 2011

Back again

It was sunny, windy and a Sunday. There were bound to be hordes of boarders out. There was one... This time I left the converter off and used my feet to get closer. It's not as easy as you might think getting good action shots. Catching the peak of the action is the crux. I got one I think works and missed out on a couple by a fraction of a second. Worse was the fact that I was being driven up the beach by the incoming tide. If I go for another bash I'll throw the chest waders in the back of the car!

Sun, sea, and spray:


If one of the bloke's ropes hadn't snapped I'd have got more shots I'm sure as he was playing for the camera. Hardly surprising as it turned out he's a wedding photographer - who likes the 70-200.

Leaving the beach I headed inland with no real plan, ending the afternoon with a peaceful polariser enhanced shot of a hazy West Lancashire Plain. A more 'interesting' cloudscape would have helped. But that's the way the cookie crumbles.

West Lancs Coastal Plain

On the beach

Took a trip to the beach yesterday. Not sure what I was expecting to photograph. The last time I went there was a big tide and I timed it right for high water so got some shots of waves (pretty poor) and some of waders flying over the water (not much better).

The tide was ebbing as I arrived but the sun was shining. I'd even attached a polariser to my short zoom, and I realised (as I do every rare time I use it) how much it can enhance photographs.





I roamed around trying to capture a decent dog walker image and failing, then turned to look into the sun and spotted some large kites. Looking closer they were kiteboarding kites (I think that's what it's called) A couple were on the waves and a few more on souped-up skateboards on the sand.

This proved quite tricky to photograph but was good fun. The closer I got the better the action pics. Unfortunately the wind was dying and they all started to pack up just as I was getting ideas and better practised. Still, it's something to go looking for on a windy day.

Moving on to the dunes I think I managed to get one shot, after quite a few attempts over the past year, that captures the mood of the place. I'll probably keep on trying for a better effort.
marram dunes

All in all not a bad couple of hours.

As a lurker on the Talk Photography forum I keep seeing the opinion expressed, in veiled terms and explicitly, that people who take thousands of shots to get a handful of good ones (or should that be great ones?) aren't skilled. This really is nonsense of the highest order. I defy anyone to shoot fast moving action of any sort to go out, take one frame, and it be superb. If they can then I reckon that will have been just as much the result of luck as the 'shutter bug' approach.

This attitude that how an image is captured matters is complete poppycock.  At the end of the day the image stands on its own merits. Nobody (in their right mind) cares what camera, lens or approach was used to get it. Memorable images are memorable images. Only people who lack a vision of their own give a toss how images are arrived at. Far too many amateurs judge their own work by the work they see in print, at camera club shows or as praised on the web. Unless their work has the look and feel of something they have seen before they feel like they have failed. Quite where that leaves my photos I don't know. I doubt any camera club would think much of the ones I like best. I hope not at any rate!

For what it's worth the first two shots here were taken using the 17-55, all the rest with the 70-200 with x1.7tc. The value of a telephoto for landscape work proving itself once again, in my opinion, concentrating the view and compressing depth to flatten the image for graphic effect.

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

Waxwing fever!

I have to confess that I've succumbed to waxwing fever, spurred on by the reports I've seen of these winter visitors, and some smashing photos of the colourful birds. My first trip out was a dismal failure. My second, to birds seen less than five minutes from home resulted in redwing and field fare, plus a lone and frozen waxwing. At this stage I resolved to ignore further  reports!


However, seeing as there were more reported just a few miles up the road, on a route I had to pass on my way to and from Liverpool today, I threw a camera in the car and decided to drive along the road they were showing in on my way home. They proved simple to spot. The congregation of waxwing worshippers gave their location away! Having seen a few perched on a TV aerial I almost drove on by. But the chance of photographing the watchers was irresistible.

waxwing fever

Only having the 70-200 with me I was a bit stumped for shooting the birders as the road is narrow. So I grabbed a few pics of the birds and some of the bloke blocking the footpath with his camera tripod before jumping in my car and heading off.

waxwing fever

The birds were quite approachable, and I can see the attraction they could have as they perform their acrobatics reaching for berries. But the location didn't inspire me to make the effort to get such images. The whole scene was quiet surreal - people with cameras and binoculars staring into an ornamental tree in a quite residential street. I might go see if they (the birds and the birders!) are there tomorrow - taking a shorter lens...

waxwing chimps