Saturday, 31 March 2012

More processing

It's interesting how different processing interpretations of the same picture alter the mood. This was a 'straight' shot with a 35mm lens. By no means perfect but a shot of a swing bridge (another subject I seem to have photographed a number of times) that would suffice as an entry into The Big Book Of Canal Swing Bridges.

Trying to make something more of it was beyond me today. I just couldn't find the right viewpoint. I have a feeling having something to stand on to elevate my eye level might be what is required. But that seems a bit like cheating! There's something working, but not enough, in the picture below, despite the drama an ultra-wide angle brings to an image. Of course it's easy to overdo the wide angle effect, but in the case of the bridges there isn't much room to work in to fill the frame in an interesting and meaningful way.

There's an 'X' to the composition which is good, but the bridge rails are too close to the horizon and the whole bridge is masking the farm behind making the focal point cluttered.

The design of the bridges certainly seems to suit the graphic qualities of black and white, although in colour the red and white stop signs work in the way Constable included small red items (often a waistcoat) to add vibrancy to his landscapes.

Thursday, 29 March 2012

A quick reprocessing job

So many different ways to manipulate an image. Even the noted previsualiser, Ansel Adams, wasn't immune to changing his mind.

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Learning by repetition

This is somewhere that I am sure holds a photograph, which is why I keep going back with a camera. It's all a question of the right viewpoint with the right focal length and the right format. Then there's the right light, weather and state of the tide to time to perfection to complete the picture. This landscape business is very trying.

What appeals to me about this spot is the curve of the river and it's confluence with the brook, the sluice gate and the other man-made objects breaking the horizon line, and the distant hill - the only one for miles. The most problematic area is the foreground, which contains nothing but grass.

Things are slowly crystallising as I look at the various attempts I've made. One day persistence might pay off.

Monday, 26 March 2012

Another gate, some TV watching, and a local camera club

This is far from being my best photograph of a gate, but it has made me wonder about why some things occur in my photographs time after time. Unlike the 'lost balls project' I don't photograph every gate I see when I have a camera with me, nor do I go round looking for gates. Yet I do photograph gates quite regularly, as I do tarmac and bicycles.

It would be quite easy to construct a 'gate project'. It would be easier to carry out than one on lost balls which are not something you can set out expecting to find. But if I were to put together a collection of sought out photographs of gates would the set end up looking contrived? That is one of the problems I have with that sort of art-photography. It's a bit easy to pick a subject, and as easy to make similar looking photographs - which often seems top be either the case or even the point of the exercise.

I prefer the chance nature of photographing things either when they are stumbled upon (as in the case of balls) or when one in particular looks like it could make a picture (as in the case of gates). Just as an experiment, however, I think I might try a conceptualised gate project one day - pick a lane or stretch of road and photograph every gate on it. Then again, I might not.

Over the last week or so there has been a flurry of photography related programmes presented by 'celebrities' on the popular TV channels. BBC2 ran its Britain's First Photo Album series with John Sergeant which proved to be more enjoyable than I thought it would. I even found some of Sergeant's photos to have something more going for them than I'd expected to.

The other show was a one-off on ITV1 with David Suchet revisiting places his grandfather, James Jarche, had photographed and using Jarche's Leica to make new photographs. Again it was a good watch and the presenter produced some really good pictures.

This is in contrast to my two visits to a local camera club's annual exhibition which I stumbled into by accident last week while in town with a camera. On my first visit I was as unimpressed as I always have been by the formulaic pictures on show. Maybe by lack of interest was picked up by the chap manning the display as I thought he gave me a bit of a black look!

On my second look round I found some less impressively presented photographs tucked away, They were then junior section and there was a mix of snapshots and more 'accomplished' efforts trying to emulate the same formulas the adults follow. There was one photograph, however, that I really liked. It had an unbalanced yet balanced composition, involved complimentary primary colours and captured the action well. It was of a little girl running or dancing to the right of the frame on a large expanse of grass with a red car in the background to the left of the frame. The car and the girl's clothing were red and green, I forget which was which.

The picture was simple and unforced. It's quite possible that the young photographer would have preferred to have the girl centrally placed, but then the vibrancy of the image would have been lost. It's elements of chance and accident that often 'make' photographs.

Saturday, 17 March 2012

Old school

Today I did something I've been meaning to do for a while. Stick the 50mm lens on the full frame body and see what happened. As a crutch I shoved a couple of zooms in my shoulder bag. I even switched the camera into black and white mode. As I was shooting 'raw' that still gave me the full colour file to work on if the monochrome proved a total failure, or I saw something that had to be shot in colour.

My first port of call was near a system of drains where I wandered around for a while seeking inspiration without reaching for a zoom until I got back to the car. As it turned out all bar one of the shots I took with a zoom got deleted on my return home. And the one that was saved has only been retained as a reminder of what could be done better. That said the other shots were pretty mediocre with only one working reasonably well as an over-processed black and white - which the blog software looks to have degraded somehow.

Next I ventured to town to wander round the seafront area. This took me back thirty years when I used to do the very same with a 50mm lens on a 35mm film camera. Again I didn't find the lack of a zoom too restrictive. A time or two it would have been handy to have had the flexibility, but I don't think I missed anything without using a zoom. I'm sure if I had seen something that really did require a different focal length I would have reached into the bag for a change of lens.

Two things I did notice: even the big lump of a camera wasn't annoyingly heavy with the small lens attached; I can't walk as far as I used to when I was 20 without my joints aching! When I got back home I noticed that the lens, while cheap compared to a fast zoom, is pretty sharp. Certainly sharp enough for me - and that included the shots I took focusing manually, which either suited the way I was framing or just seemed a more natural way to work.

Although most of the pictures I made were pretty average the walk along the pier provided a different viewpoint and I got one which, at the moment, looks like it might prove to be satisfying in the long term. Another is a picture that has to be printed out to work as it relies on fine detail for its effect. Even at A4 it doesn't give up its secrets too well. A few more are certainly contenders to be given time to consider and will find their way on to Sandgrounding.

I came away from the afternoon with as many questions as answers. Could I do everything I need to with maybe three cheapish single focal length lenses? Maybe not, but I'm sure I could make just as many good pictures with them. A 24, 35 and 50mm set would do a whole lot. Why not just use a 24-70 zoom? Well, those three primes would weigh less for one thing!

Could I do away with the 24-70 and manage with a wide and a telephoto zoom using a 50 to fill the gap? Almost certainly. In fact I'm not so sure that the wide zoom and my little 28-105 wouldn't do most of what I do.

However, as in any endeavour, as soon as you ditch a particular tool you find a need for it! So thing are staying as they are for a while longer.

One conclusion I have reached is that you only see the pictures the lens on your camera will let you see. Or very nearly so. In that respect lens choice is pretty irrelevant unless you are being asked to fulfil a brief.

Something else that today has rammed home is that my thoughts of downsizing to a smaller camera system (prompted by reading too much on the Internet) are well and truly behind me. There's no point. While the smaller sensor cameras are delivering great quality they lack important practical features. Viewfinders being the biggest missing feature, although this is changing. The size aspect is not as great as it could be. By the time you've slapped a decent lens on one of these small cameras it's nigh on as bulky as a small SLR. There's little to be gained financially either if you want to buy comparable lenses. For what I do I might as well stick with the old fashioned, but beautifully functional SLR. I'll be keeping the X10 handy for times when I'm not setting out to take photographs, but when that is my aim in leaving the house the SLR will be what I'll be taking.

Friday, 16 March 2012


Nothing to do with photography really, but the Firefox browser has just been updated. Immediately I noticed that right clicking on an image to view it centres the image in the window on a mid-grey background. Small things like this make me happy.

With this new feature and the FxIF add-on for spying on people's EXIF info I'm a happy picture peeper!

Monday, 12 March 2012


The apparent lack of anything in the local landscape has always frustrated me when walking with a camera. Yet the ditches and drains which abound are what make the land what it is. Martin Mere (not the WWT reserve which has appropriated the name) was at one time the largest lake in England. The flood plain of the local river would no doubt be largely marsh for most of the year.

I have photographed these watercourses in the past, but it was only recently when I sat down to consider where my photographs are heading that I realised that the constant need to drain the land around me could be something worth paying more considered attention. The same could be said of the contrary need for irrigation of the crops which grow on this land. There is an irony in seeing irrigation reservoirs built alongside drainage ditches, of watching farm-workers clearing field drains in winter and watering crops in the same fields come summer. It hadn't been my intention to progress this idea yesterday, but it worked out that way.

In my film days landscape always baffled me. For some reason digital makes it easier for me to see pictures in the landscape. Perhaps it's the ability to review things instantly, or perhaps the fact that trying shots out doesn't cost anything, so I am getting more practice. Probably a combination of the two.

On first review I preferred the black and white conversion of the picture below. The more I look the more it is starting to look somewhat over-dramatic.

The blogging software reduces the quality of photographs when it resizes them. They should look a little better when clicked on.

Saturday, 10 March 2012


No doubt Freud (Sigmund, not Clement) would have had a field (awful pun) day with my interest in taking photographs of gates. They are something I have always felt drawn to as subjects. Here are two recent ones.  Both converted to black and white for some reason, just like an earlier one in this gallery.

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

The Bay Leaf

Another brief wander round my village this afternoon.

The date over the original door was 1640 and the name of the pub The Ram's Head. Times move on and the building was extended and modernised to become a restaurant. It never lasted long under any management and has been boarded up for some time now. Black and white seemed to make sense when I looked at the pictures on the computer owing to the dull light and the subject matter. More here.

On a cheerier note a picture, from when the sun came out again, of the old warehouse between the river and canal - cornily framed by the canal bridge..

Sunday, 4 March 2012


With the wind blowing and the sun shining I headed to the beach. When I got there the wind was more than blowing, it was almost gale force. Dry sand lashed across the shore and the kiteboarders were leaving the water one by one. The wind was so strong I struggled to hold the camera still enough to get sharp shots at over 1/2000th of a second. I gave up trying for any action shots as the few remaining 'boarders were out of range. So I made do with scenics and suchlike. Even that wasn't easy in the wind, and all the while trying to prevent the filter on the lens getting sandblasted.

I tried to get a picture that showed the blowing sand, a kiteboarder on the 'horizon' and a kite in the background all framed in a satisfying arrangement - and failed. The shot below came closest. It's a slight crop and not razor sharp thanks to the gale. The idea was there though.

Back at the car I swapped to my cheap'n'cheerful 28-105 and came away pleasantly surprised at the quality of the files it produces. Sharp enough and contrasty. Best of all it's lightweight and compact. However, it's not a snappy focuser and it lacks the instant auto-focus override I find myself using a lot these days. A very useable lens nonetheless. I might seek out a wider c'n'c zoom to complement it. My reasoning is that I like to travel as light as I can, so a c'n'c lens in a pocket or small non-camerabag-bag, provides an alternative to the lens I'm planning on using most if another opportunity arises or things change as they did today.

The picture below is another almost shot. The light is great, the composition is okay but the 'action' doesn't add much. Given the lack of a lens hood, and the UV filter, which are both supposed to create ubearable flare, the lens seems to have managed alright. Sure I did a fair bit of work with the fill slider and other adjustments, but it made for an acceptable (to me) picture. Full set of pictures here.

What is and isn't acceptable is entirely subjective. I've been looking at black and white photos from the 35mm film era recently in my collection of photo books. I'm sure digital has made us all too critical of what is acceptable and what is not. There are loads of classic photographs which when enlarged beyond postcard size reveal huge grain, and many of them are actually either blurred (through the film forcing a slow shutter speed) or simply not quite focused.

Makes you wonder if all that is needed for 99% of photographic applications really is a compact camera. Let's face it, it's easier to get sharp shots with little 'grain' in low light from the X10 than it ever was with my Pentax and Ilford HP5. Good as it is, and much as I like using it, I prefer the general handling (and the viewfinder) of an SLR. If only they could be made smaller. Have I mentioned that before?

Thursday, 1 March 2012

Be yourself

I'm no landscape photographer by any means. I think I'm making some progress with picturing the countryside recently. In the past I was trying to make pictures like ones I'd seen and failing, instead of trying to make pictures of what I was seeing myself.

I find a lot of landscape photography tends towards idealised romanticisation of the world. There always seems to be an emphasis on the dramatic (as in theatrically overplayed). Typical subjects being mountains, ruins, and sweeping coastlines - lit by thegolden light of dawn or dusk, or featuring lowering cloudscapes. Even those that don't go for dramatic overkill are shot on sunny days with bright blue skies. But most of the world, most of the time isn't like that

I find I'm making a lot of symmetrical images, a lot with very low or high horizons and a good few with the horizon dead central or nearly so. There is a conscious effort to avoid using the deathly 'rule of thirds' when it comes to placing the horizon. Apart from it being a cop out, there are other ways to balance pictures.

Something else I am realising is a feature of my landscapes is the hand of man. All three of the pictures here illustrate that. They are from a walk this afternoon selected as examples of slight progress rather than fully realised picturing. The first and last are of ditches, the second includes two wind turbines and there are pylons in the first.

What I am realising about making pictures of the land is that it has to be a slow process. The precise viewpoint has to be found, and the right light waited for, or returned for at a later date. This is not in my usual way of operating. It's a discipline I think will benefit me in the long run. I made on picture the other day which has a composition I like, but the light is wrong. I shall return to try and improve on it. However, it is a picture of a mirror calm tidal river. To get the look I want will require the high tide, the right light, the right sky, and no wind. Of course there could be a better picture to be taken from the same spot under other conditions. I'll only find that out by trying.