Sunday, 29 December 2013


Southport Potted Shrimps or Potted Southport Shrimps? When I was a lad the latter were the choice of the locals as they were guaranteed to have been caught off the Southport beach. The others might only have been potted in the town!

There are still some professional shrimpers working the area with the tractors and modified vehicles which replaced genuine horsepower decades ago. There are also a few people doing it purely for their own pleasure without mechanical aids. In fact two people I know have mentioned to me recently that they used to go shrimping in their younger days and have considered getting tooled up to do it again. Today at the beach I bumped into a couple of guys who had been thinking along the same lines and gone and done it.

I'd gone out armed with the telephoto and wide angle zooms, expecting to find the kite surfers out in force. Either I'd missed them or they'd gone elsewhere. The tide was on the way out so it took a while to get to the water's edge. After asking if it was okay to take some snaps I made an effort at recording the shrimping process.

What surprised me back on the computer was that I'd made more pictures with the longer lens and that it managed to convey the feeling of open space. Wide angle lenses get too much in for my liking when it comes to landscapes. They're better for getting in close as with the shot above. Once more I'm not concerned that the horizon is both curved and sloping. Some shots demand a level horizon, some don't. For me this one doesn't.

Putting together a set of pictures is always a challenge. There will be some good ones which have to be left out because they don't fit the sequence. The set below could probably lose one or two if I was being completely ruthless. It's a pity the shrimps weren't playing, though, as they would have finished the sequence off nicely.

There wasn't much to photograph on the twenty minute walk back from the low tide mark. Stranded starfish are not my cup of tea. A bit of broken plastic up near the high water mark is more like my preferred brew.

Heading for home I called in at the bird watching hide to avail myself of the facilites, wherein I made another abstraction. It's the sort of picture that could be used in a 'What is it?" competition!

Making abstractions like these two is all well and good, but I increasingly find making pictures to form a series interests me more. The series can either be a set of visually or thematically related pictures, or of a more documentary nature. I like the idea that the whole can become more than the sum of its parts. That even a slightly weak image can work in the context of the overall series by the way it relates to other images. The problem is that this demands a more concerted effort than I can manage in the spare time I have available, so things get done in a less than fully committed way, or take longer to bring to fruition. Which is frustrating.

Saturday, 28 December 2013

Double takes

After the rain abated on Thursday I ventured out. I'd gone for a wander the day before and seen something I fancied photographing. A I set off there were slate grey skies and a rainbow.  The afternoon light would be right for the subject and the sky would make a great backdrop. Of course, by the time I had driven four miles everything had changed on the wind and I was faced with the usual overcast flatness.

There were breaks in the cloud and with patience I go the light I was hoping for - with a blue sky in the background. This would have worked well enough but despite over thirty shots only a couple got close to what I'd had in mind before the greyness set in for the rest of the day.

I'd thrown the X10 in my bag as I was intending to take some comparison shots with that and the DSLR. As things panned out I didn't bother, but I did take some landscape shots with the little camera. Once uploaded to the computer I simply didn't like the colours. Compared to the DSLR they just aren't as rich - even when both are shooting in the same light.

One regularly executed photographic trope among hobbyist photographers is that of the lone tree. I guess there's something psychological, metaphorical or symbolic going on with the choice of this subject. It's hard to resist in the same way that a sunset is. Rather than make the tree prominent in the frame I semi-obscured it and kept it slightly out of focus. I also included the two other solitary trees which happened to almost mirror each other in the distance, making for a kind of symmetry.

Although the colours are pleasing I think the black and white conversion works better, drawing attention to the trees more strongly than the colour version.

Friday was a day of rain and gales which I spent watching photography documentaries on YouTube. I was full of ideas and itching to get out again this morning as soon as the sun broke through. The plan was to park up near the sandplant and walk towards town. Again the weather changed my plans. There was a wall of grey rolling in over the sea, so I began to make a circuit of the plant, adding a couple or so shots to the project when the light slanted across the outer bund and finding a couple more balls for that series. Then the precipitation arrived. Rain followed by hail. I beat a retreat downwind towards the birdwatching hide where I could get shelter to dry the camera out and wait for the cloud to pass. As I crossed the road something made me grab a frame. Maybe the combination of hail and sunshine. There's something about it I'm liking at the moment. Even the wonky horizon seems right.

The hail turned back to rain but didn't make much of a job of passing over. When it eased I made my way back to the car and then home. Naturally enough the rain died away and the sun shone once more. A look out to the west suggested that was it for the day. After lunch I tried again heading out across the moss to the mere. Passing the pumping station I saw it was in operation.

One of these days I'll have a wide enough lens with me to get the 'perfect' angle. As it was I got as close as I have managed yet. Take a step back and the bridge rail gets in the way and the risk is run of being knocked down by a passing vehicle! Come summer and the leaves on the trees make it impossible to see the pumping station and the sluice from this viewpoint so it has to be shot at this time of year.

Rather more effective was the shot I took looking straight down from the bridge showing the pumped water racing past the almost still water in the ditch, separated by the pilings placed to prevent erosion. All photos tagged with 'drainage' to maybe make up a collection at some point.

Stuck for ideas I headed back to the beach, to the other end of the sea wall this time. I resisted the temptation to walk out on the shore to watch a motorbike and an off-roader being dragged out of a mud bank  by a tractor a short distance from the pier. Instead I photographed the concrete steps in the sea wall and sundry flotsam thrown up the beach by the gales the other week. I missed a couple of horses being ridden out from the car park when I arrived, and when I returned they'd been loaded in the horse box. Just my luck. There weren't many people around anywhere. The cold wind was no doubt keeping sensible folk indoors.

One or two hardy dog walkers were about. It's quite easy to take candid shots of dog walkers as they assume it's the dog you are interested in photographing. In reality it's the relationship between the animals and the  people I find interesting. Particularly when the dogs are on leads and there's an actual as well as a visual tension created.

Why I always spot interesting subjects as I walk towards the sun is a constant frustration for me. This pair looked promising from a distance as the dog was running along the top of the wall when I first saw them. I managed to get the camera set up in advance and fired off what I thought was going to be a burst of frames - but turned out to be the one. I'd not set everything up, obviously. It made no odds as I got my timing spot on with the woman's feet pretty nearly perfectly placed to suggest speed. What I can't decide is whether the crop works better than the full frame. It changes the dynamics of the picture, for sure. It seems more active.

Funnily enough I didn't like either option so much in black and white. Which is odd, because that's how I often seem to end up treating pictures of people with dogs. Maybe that's because there is little colour in this one, it being mostly shades of grey.

Sunday, 22 December 2013

Snapping and pre-planning

Despite buggering up my hip on last week's walk I set out twice yesterday to scout out some locations for the local series I have in mind. Naturally enough I kept getting distracted. What it is that fascinates me about tarmac I really don't know, but I often feel compelled to photograph it. To the extent I see some tarmac, walk past it, then retrace my steps to take a photograph of it. I need therapy!

On my way back home from the first walk I made yet another attempt at the view along the lane. The time has passed for this one. I should have taken more care over it the first time when everything was there to 'make' the picture. Another lesson re-learned the hard way.

Between walks I watched a programme I had downloaded to watch on iPlayer. While the programme is about how the (almost) ubiquitous phone-camera (I don't have one...) is altering news gathering and the way photo journalists approach their work it could also watched to see why pictures have impact. Although the pros talked of getting themselves in the right situations and making their shots tell a story it seemed to me that the amateur shots managed to do the same. Their being in the right place was purely fortuitous, and it's possible that their framing was too, but however those factors combined the result was the same.

The Holmes family taking refuge includes telling details and expressions with a flow in the composition which gives it a strength that others taken at the time lack. It also echoes a photograph by Horst Fass from the Vietnam war - which may alter some people's perception of it.

What the programme brought home to me is that photographs interest me when they are not pretty pictures. They interest me most as sources of information. Which annoys me as I make plenty of pictures which contain very little information - such as pictures of tarmac.

In an attempt to counter this my local project is to take a series of photographs of benches around the village. To this end, for a complete change of approach, I'm scouting out viewpoints and compositions, and planning times of day to get the most appropriate light. Rather than make the benches central or prominent. If I can do it right the benches won't immediately appear to be the subject of the series and it will seem to be a series of random views of the village. I guess that at these web sizes the information which lies in the small details will be lost.

Whether my butterfly mind will be able to cope with all this pre-planning remains to be seen. Something simpler and more immediate is bound to distract me.

Sunday, 15 December 2013

Beets and beasts

Although I had intended to go look for the scenes I had in mind to use the X10 to photograph something sent me off in a different direction. The light was pretty dull and the wind chill made me wish I'd put gloves on.A few weeks ago, just as the light was fading, I saw a beet clamp being covered over with straw. It was too dark to get any shots at the time, but the clamp looked interesting.

Today I passed by it and spent some time trying to make pictures. Some worked better than others and I think the sixth frame in the slideshow below is the most successful at showing the structure of the clamp and making an abstract composition. The others are reasonable enough in documentary terms.

The vaguely orange and green theme carried over to some cud-chewing cattle

I continued on my way making more pictures as I covered what Google maps revealed to be a five and a half mile walk.

One problem with small cameras is small batteries. Before I had completed the walk the one battery I had with me was flat. Usually I carry a couple of spares, but this time I forgot them.

There's something going on in the picture of the flag that I like but can't pin down. It's a simple shot, with subtle tones and limited colour palette.

While it's great to have a camera which fits in a jacket pocket I still struggle to get on with using the rear screen for composing pictures. It's all a bit too wobbly and somehow imprecise for me. I much prefer bracing the camera against my face with my left eye to the viewfinder.

Bigger here.

Saturday, 14 December 2013

Different tools

In my (probably futile) search for a small camera I've come to realise that the variety of choice available today can be used in the same way that photographers used (and still use) 35mm, medium and large format film cameras for different functions. I'm not alone in this as I was reading of Eric Weight's thoughts about compact cameras the other day.

Sensors have moved on in just a few years, and the prints you can make from a compact camera are a match for those for prints from a DSLR in many ways. Even moderately high ISO values are perfectly usable. Maybe you can't get away with 8000 ISO from a compact (yet) but 800 ISO is fine.

The increased depth of focus which small sensors bring to subjects can be used to advantage when this is what a picture requires. With this in mind I thought I'd give my X10 a try for some product shots for my fishing blog. I'd made some decent efforts using a DSLR - having abandoned my attempts at using off-camera flash and simply bouncing the flash off the ceiling with the speedlite in on the hotshoe. Using the same flashgun in the small camera's hotshoe I got the photograph below. It might not be top notch, but for my purposes it is fine. There is plenty of the reel in focus, which wasn't the case when I used the DSLR.

I won't always want such depth of focus, but for some subjects it can be a boon to be able to use a wide aperture to enable a lower ISO while handholding the camera. This night-time shot from my back door being one such. The backlit steam from the boiler flue and the coloured Christmas lights made for an interesting effect - if not for interesting content!

While the optical viewfinder of this camera annoys me with it's parallax and framing problems it might now become my 'studio' camera, and I'll be trying it out for a series of local landscape pictures I have in mind.

The other camera I have a love/hate relationship with is the G2. In terms of how it handles I cannot fault it, but the colours and dynamic range are it's downfall for me. I mooted previously that it's okay when shooting black and white though. So I stuck it in that mode, set the aspect ratio to 3:2 and visited the tackle shop. The advantage the electronic viewfinder has over an optical one is that it shows you the output from the sensor. So when shooting in monochrome that is how you see the scene before you. No need to change the way you think to translate the colours into tones. By shooting RAW you still have the option to 'revert' to colour on the computer.

All I have to do now is find a project that demands being shot in black and white for the G2 to earn a reprieve. If I didn't have so many shots from the tackle shop which were made to work in colour that could have been the very subject.

This practical reappraisal of my cameras is making me question the search for a small camera from a different point of view. What do I want it for? If it's just for taking random snaps then, in reality, a phone camera would do. If I wanted a camera in my phone that is! For a snapshooting camera the X10 is all I really need, and it will do more should I need it to. Then again, I have got used to having a flip out screen on the G2.

A cross between the two would be ideal. Which is why I was looking at the Nikon P7800 the other week. Compact size, small sensor, flip out screen and EVF and colours which please my eye. For the time being temptation is being resisted. Not least because resale values of digital cameras makes them almost consumables and the 'drawer of unloved cameras' is full enough already. What's more there's the inevitable 'new adopter premium' to be paid if buying new.  The P7800 has only been out since September and has already dropped over £50 since I first had a look at one.

Another option is a small camera with interchangeable lenses and a larger sensor. But that's getting into the realm of DSLR duplication. Perhaps that's what I'm looking for deep down? Sometimes I think I ought to sell the whole lot and strip back to one camera and one lens like I had when I started taking photographs. It's pretty much how I'm taking photographs these days anyway. 28mm (or equivalent) and have done. It's not like I make my living from photography. One thing's for sure, nobody other than a camera nerd cares what camera was used when they look at pictures!

Thursday, 12 December 2013

Carrying on regardless

Confronted by lonely balls at the beach when I went to look at what last week's gales had done I couldn't resist. So the series continues!

High tides coinciding with the strong wind had caused some damage. The lifeguard's hut which I have photographed on a number of occasions, in the way I repeatedly photograph things in the hope that one time I'll do so in a surprising way, was missing from it's supporting framework. Once more, in documentary terms, I was reminded how it can pay to photograph the familiar in order to record it before it is changed or disappears altogether.

I tried to make pictures from similar viewpoints to those I had used in the past. The problem was that I naturally framed the shots around what was in front of me, rather than what had been there just a couple of days before. As I had also stuck a short telephoto lens on the camera, and it had begun to rain making changing lenses risky, my hand was forced in terms of perspectives.

The first attempt were fairly predictable, showing the framework in its entirety with something in the background for some context or juxtaposition. I even made one frame with the kite surfer positioned in the gap in the railings. But that was just too obvious.

It was only after walking along the beach and returning that I made my favourite picture of the metalwork. It's not always necessary to get it all in to provide an overall impression of something.

A couple of books arrived this week as early Christmas presents to myself - Why It Does Not Have To Be In Focus: Modern Photography Explained and Martin Parr: The Non-Conformists. The former being just one of the multitude of books about photographic appreciation, theory and history that is available today. A far cry from my student days when there was very little. This one is primarily about what I think of as photography as art, rather than photography as photography. In most of the examples discussed the idea is more important than the image. It's a much easier read than the previous addition to my library in this category, Photography: A Cultural History. Not because of the text, but because of the size of the book!

I was trying to resist The Non-Conformists on the grounds that it would be more of that black and white nostalgia, which it is, but I gave in. I'm glad I did as it consists very much of the the sort of photographs which I liked looking at at the time (see also Ian Berry's The English) when I started taking photographs with a 'proper' camera. It's a style of composition which is either of its time or of its place, I'm not sure which. Perhaps a classical documentary style influenced by Cartier-Bresson. At its best it's not obvious, but it is a style. A choice of subject matter as well as composition I think. Certainly when it comes to the British picturing the British.

At first glance it might seem like Martin Parr's current colour style has little connection to the early black and white stuff. But I see a clear transition, and obvious influences - even, at times, a reversion. There is also inevitable repetition in his 'mature' work - and an obsession with sausages which is either overplayed seaside postcard humour, or something deeply Freudian!

Sausages and all I found this film on YouTube an interesting watch which makes it clear how Parr uses his personal charm to both get, and get away with, his shots. For some types of photography there's more to it than the gear and an eye for a picture. Personality plays a bigger part than is often admitted when it comes to what people choose to photograph.

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Calling it a day?

Having photographed ball number 200 this morning I'm wondering if it's time to stop or if the 'series' should be open-ended. It's not as if it's a great hardship to stop and take a photograph or two of a ball when I stumble upon one.

This is the perennial problem with personal 'projects' that have no finishing line. Particularly for someone as indisciplined as me! I need deadlines otherwise I let things roll on, and on, and on. I finished at the quarry because spring arrived. The Gone Out project was time limited as it had to be done in one hit on the day I thought of it. Everything else seems to remain in a state of flux, getting dipped into now and then, abandoned, picked up again.

Part of the difficulty is that taking photographs isn't a full time occupation, it fits in around other things like work and fishing. And I can only concentrate on one thing at a time. If I get my fishing head on then it's fish or bust. When the camera head returns it's photographs or nothing.

At best I'm 'noodling' around with photography. I'm not committed, because such a commitment seems absurd to me. Just as when I noodle around on a guitar most of what's produced is junk. Repetitive or imitative junk. Just the same every now and then something original and surprising materialises. If I get lucky it can be worked into something more substantial.

That's not to say I'm not serious about my photographs, only that I can't take photography very seriously. It's as absurd as catching fish and letting them go. The important thing, personally and psychologically, is in the doing rather than the end result. Both involve problem solving in order to achieve an end. It's that problem solving process that engages and exercises the mind. That's where the interest lies.