Saturday, 27 June 2015

Testing times

Summertime is filled with local events. Today was the village church's Rose Queen Coronation. Something else I've ignored for most of my life! Once more the brass band was in evidence, along with the usual amateurish PA announcements and performances by children that only their family and the terminally sentimental could enjoy. The man-sized teddy bear being raffled off was using last years label for a cuddly dog. Two great new attractions this year were bacon (?) and a poultry and water fowl display.

I felt sorry for the chickens. At least they wouldn't know what their transport boxes had previously contained. (Click the photo to get a better look...).

There weren't a lot of attractions, although the sponge throwing was popular and it was good to see that coconut shies are still going strong. Well, still going.

It's easy to see why these traditional, yet modernised, local events are so beloved of British photographers. It's the very amateurishness that somehow you don't associate with similar events in, say, the USA. I think it's the small scale that accounts for that. Where there is a large enough population to make a more professional event there isn't the same drive to run them. Where bigger events are organised they are a little more dull. England continues to live up to its reputation for eccentricity and bodging.

One thing that attending local events does bring home to me is how my natural shyness affects my lack of ability to do the kind of photography which is generally associated with this kind of day out. It's a problem I have with photographing people, although that's what I like to do. I know it's a confidence thing, and I'm always surprised that when I do point my camera at a stranger they usually let me photograph them. But that's one thing. Taking candid pictures is different. It feels more intrusive. I have no problem whatsoever doing it in the company of people I know well. A little more reticence with total strangers further from home. But when it comes to people who I know only by sight around the village there is a nervousness that holds me back. Of course, if they are having wet sponges thrown at them it's a different matter!

Timing action shots like this is difficult when you can't see when the thrower is ready and anticipate. Not even at many frames per second. Being left-eyed means I can't keep my right eye open to widen my field of view. I tried putting my right eye to the viewfinder, but it was like trying to write with my left hand!

If people are engrossed it's easy to snatch a candid. These days the mobile phone, especially when being used as a camera, consumes people's attention a lot of the time. That can make for reasonably interesting pictures, but I think sequences are more telling. Sequences, or at least pairs, of photographs are something I find tell more of a story than single shots in some instances. Not just sequential frames, but pictures taken over a longer space of time. More on this, perhaps, at a later date.

But is my inability to take the people pictures I'd like to take such a bad thing? If I could take photographs like a Martin Parr or a Tom Wood they would most likely be imitative. Instead I make pictures of bits of people, and continue to frame shots with large areas of nothingness. This latter stylistic tendency kind of annoys me because I know it breaks all the rules, and I'm not sure if it works. However, it is not simple laziness, it's a semi-conscious one. I frame the shot, think to myself that I shouldn't be doing it that way, yet do it regardless. I don't know why. It's something I seem always to have done.

After my dodgy lens experience I was using one which had functioning vibration reduction this time out. It didn't stop me taking blurry photographs, but as some managed to be sharp enough at full zoom I was satisfied to put the soft ones down to good old operator error. At least I managed to remember to pop the flash up for some fill when I photographed the lady wearing a broad brimmed hat. It's not often I remember technical things like that until I get home!

Continuing the technical theme I upgraded to Lightroom 6 the other day. The main reason being that it has a panorama stitching feature added. Quick trials with that seem to work okay. Apart from my old PC being dreadfully underpowered and it taking an age. One thing I did try was taking four shots in a grid, rather than a strip. The video tutorial said it stitches vertical panoramas, so I wanted to see if it would stitch vertically and horizontally at the same time. It does. Unfortunately that means it's creating a 96mp image if I use my latest camera! Nothing to show here, but I'll probably be playing with the feature in the future. The stitched image is saved as a DNG file, by the way. Plenty of scope for messing around. And if you are that way inclined there's an HDR merging feature too.

When I came to put together a gallery for today's pictures I found that LR6 no longer supports the Flash gallery I used to use. It does have a new gallery option which I must admit I like. I've uploaded it here to see if it works and embedded it below for similar reasons. Click on an individual picture to enlarge it, then scroll through either by clicking the arrows or using the keyboard left/right arrows. (Edit: to view the gallery in full screen it looks like you have to click the link, then the full screen icon which doesn't work in my browser from the embedded gallery.)

Wednesday, 17 June 2015

Catch Up

Once more I find myself wondering why I write this stuff. Bu hey ho, it's something to do on a dreary wet summer's afternoon.

Stuff continues to get in the way of me having enough time, at the right times, to get to grips with anything photographically substantial. Another flying visit to the sandplant revealed that work appears to be almost done there with most of the heavy plant gone and the major bunds removed. What was interesting was the speed with which the recently made piles of sand are being greened over, and how there are traces of the old hardcore surface still below the natural level of the saltmarsh. Even when reclaimed to its full extent there will be archeological traces of the original plant's footprint for centuries to come. More of the same here.

 As it was a lovely evening I called in at a nearby lake for a bit of fish spotting that turned into angler watching. I had my cameras with me, the light was golden. Who could turn down a photo opportunity?

There was a temptation to boost the saturation over to the left of the sky to give that orange which is apparently the norm in sunset photographs, but which isn't how it appears in reality. The ability to manipulate digital files so easily has created a new aesthetic and expectations for what photographs should look like. Bright and contrasty. It's all easy to fall into line. Maybe this is one reason I prefer to take photos on dull days? It stops me making pictures which look like all the ones which get 'liked' on social media!

Last Saturday saw the village Walking Day come round once more. I was in two minds as to taking my camera out, but when I had nothing else to do I went out with a different plan from last year when I had followed the procession using one lens. This time I decided to stick to a few locations and use two cameras. The bad move was the second camera with the longer zoom. For this I chose my fishing DSLR and a lens to suit. It was a bad move because I later found out what is wrong with the lens. I bought it used and didn't think to check that the image stabilisation worked. Turns out it doesn't. As a reuslt most of the pictures taken with it are blurred to some degree. The combination also doesn't lock focus as quickly as a better combination will. So I got a bit frustrated by that. A pity because part of my intention was to take more close-ups of people. On first appraisal I wasn't too happy with my results. comparing them to last year's efforts I realised I'd got a similar hit rate of decent pictures. Around three!

Something the afternoon did bring home to me is how difficult it is to keep up with a fast moving event and get decent pictures. Even though the procession is at walking pace moments worth capturing are still fleeting. Hats off to those who do that sort of thing for a living. Of course, if I had been doing it seriously, instead of as a bit of fun on a Saturday afternoon, I would have used more appropriate equipment and concentrated harder. But that's by the by.

After the walk was over I wandered round the fair. This is not what it was when I was a lad. Where have the air rifle and dart throwing sideshows gone? It's all rides for kids of every age, fast food and a hook-a-duck stall. Set up on tarmac in the village centre car park means the smell of trampled grass is no more and the atmosphere isn't the same. Times change I guess. More photos from the day here.

I wonder if any of the photographs in this post are anything more than snapshots? I'm not sure I care any longer. I'm becoming more and more interested in good photography than good photographs. By that I mean the single picture which is carefully composed and processed interests me far less these days than sets of pictures that provide a record of something, telling a story about it even if the individual pictures are a bit sloppy. The ideal, I suppose, would be sets of carefully crafted images which coalesce to make a unified whole. But there is the fact that a picture which might be somewhat weak on its own can gain strength from being associated with the right accompanying pictures.

This is not to say that every time the shutter is released the intention isn't to make a great picture. My aim is always to try and frame things so they work aesthetically as well as telling the story. Rather than the  usual advice to simplify I try to condense as much information into the frame as possible. I use my time fishing to experiment with making pictures that tell the story, getting all the elements arranged within the frame while providing context with as little wasted space as possible. It's rather like writing conscisely. Which is a good a cue as any to wrap this up!

Thursday, 4 June 2015

Messin' about

Nothing much to report owing to work and fishing. At least the fishing was slow, allowing me to play around with some 'selfies' and other stuff for a bit of fun. Taking photographs in the dark certainly finds the limitations of your gear and my fishing DSLR is a bugger to focus with when there's barely any light. For the first shot I hung my head torch on the brolly, zoomed in on it using live view and focused manually. I used a radio remote to take the shot.

In daylight things were easier, except for some reason the camera used face detection to pick the focus point - even with the distant face - when I wanted the reels sharp. Once more the best shot of the bunch was the one with the dodgy focus and the ones where the focus was on the reels were rubbish because the light had changed.

Next time out I tried some light painting using my head torch as an experiment to illuminate the rods. Difficult to pre-visualise the results at first, but I find it far easier than using flash. You might think that spending twelve hours in one spot trying to catch fish would mean I had a high boredom threshold, but I gave up on the photography long before the moon moved round to the perfect place in the frame because it became tedious!

At dawn I spotted (ho, ho) a four-spotted chaser waiting to dry off and warm up before taking flight. So I pestered that with both fishing cameras. The best results coming from the compact. Not great by most standards, but acceptable for unplanned pictures. Especially as the only flash I had was the one built in to the camera.

Using the flippy screen I was able to get better angles than the awkward ground allowed. I'd have got a dunking had I tried to use the viewfinder for framing. Rather than go for the usual out of focus background I was trying to make environmental pictures. Even so I could have cleared some of the dead reed stems out of the way as the insect wasn't going anywhere. Again I gave up before I got a really good shot. I don't have that urge to pay attention to every detail and strive for perfection. Story of my life really. Near enough is good enough for me most of the time!

Despite this lackadaisical attitude I have learned a few things. So maybe one night, or day, I'll be able to get some better results from the gear. If I do some pre-planning. Which is unlikely...