Sunday, 26 February 2017

Moving pictures

With the rare sight of sunshine coinciding with a few free hours on Friday afternoon I set off for the beach. Unfortunately I had to get back home before five meaning I'd miss sunset. However there was a bit of action going on at low tide. Out towards the water a guy was pumping lugworm among the wading birds.

He was finding few worms as they were well down, which meant I didn't get much chance to take the sort of pictures I'd have liked. I wish I'd thought on and made a better effort of getting a sequence to show how teh pump works. I'll hope I get another chance some time.
I've never worked out what conditions the professional shrimpers prefer, but I guess they were right because there was one working the beach where I was, one other came past and returned to join another further north. A combination of a stiff breeze and too slow a shutter speed possibly account for the slightly soft pictures I came home with.

Saturday was as wet as the forecasters predicted, but Sunday turned out better than anticipated. I was down at the beach around nine, just in time to see a van full of racing greyhounds leave. That might have been interesting to see. The sun was trying to shine and the wind was blowing enough to get the sand moving in places. The tide was racing in reducing the width of the beach at quite a rate. There weren't many people around, and once more I was too slow to get a useful photograph of a bike rider on one of those fat bikes. I wasn't feeling too god either, so I beat a hasty retreat.

By two o'clock I was feeling perkier and the sun looked like it might be shining over the beach. Sure enough it was. The wind had picked up considerably and the sand was really running hard enough to sting bare skin. In the morning I'd tried to get some video footage of the incoming tide but hand holding a camera in a strong wind was hopeless. In the afternoon, with even fewer people around, I decided to get the tripod out of the car and use my compact to shoot some video. Even on a lowish tripod the wind was buffeting the camera and causing wobbly footage.

I doubt I'll get into making video seriously, although I can see some attractions to it. It needs better editing software than I have, and a much more powerful computer. Both of which would mean me doing something I hate. Spending money!

As with photographs, the footage with people in is more engaging than that without. Even when the person is me...

Sunday, 19 February 2017

Inattention to detail

Saturday morning I got some work done early then headed out to deliver a repair. I took the coastal route so I could see if there might be anything interesting to photograph for my beach project. I was too late to know what the chap putting his quad bike on a trailer had been up to, and the horses I could just about make out were well out on the sands. By the time I'd dropped the rod off, had a brew and got back on the road the horse boxes had gone. I almost went home but having nothing else to do I pointed the car south.

There weren't many cars parked up when I got to the beach but I took the camera for a wander regardless. I could hear a faint buzzing noise at the side of the dunes and as I got closer I saw it was a bloke playing with a radio controlled buggy. One he'd put together over four days from a kit. 

I managed to mess up the picture though. I'd dialled in some over-exposure to compensate for the sand fooling the light meter but that resulted in the sky burning out beyond recovery. I really should check the screen for blinkies, but I tend only to look at framing and focus. Not always focus... There wasn't much else going on so I let my stomach dictate my next move.

After lunch I dragged a load of weed out of my pond and considered giving it a proper spring clean before the frogs get down to spawning. Something made me swap lenses on my camera and head back to the beach instead. Although there were more cars there and the ice cream van had arrived everyone seemed to be walking dogs. I was thinking of calling it a day when I spotted someone laying out a kite. The wind was good for kite flying but the light had deteriorated for photography. It was worth as try though. 

This time I managed to not only slightly overexpose the sky, but completely cocked up the framing - which is usually the one thing I get right. In the end I made a horizontal crop from a vertical frame. Having twice as many pixels to play with as I used to have I'm still left with sufficient for a bigger than A4 print, and more than enough for a Blurb book. The overall lesson is to pay more bloody attention.

Despite messing up the portrait (which I hadn't realised at the time as I thought it would work vertically) I spent the best part of two hours watching and learning how to fly two stunt kites at once.

I made over 300 exposures, over 250 of which were only fit for deletion. But it was an interesting experience and I now know where and when to go should I ever want to take photographs of kite flyers.

Flying kites is a family affair for some. David's wife came to see him and bring him a hat, then joined in the
coordinated flying.

The sun did eventually make a brief appearance, which coincided with another guy with a camera turning up and plonking himself right in the middle of my frame as I tried to get some shots of the kites highlighted against a lowering sky. If he hadn't been wearing bright yellow wellies it wouldn't have bothered me at all.

Then he came round and got between me and the kite flyer, got him to fly the kites over the ice cram van so he could take some pictures of them there at ten frames a second and buggered off. Still, I got a picture of a photographer with a daft white lens for my project!

After that the sun disappeared again and it began to get chilly. The kites were grounded and dismantled. We both called it a day.

Today the weather was what I think the Scots call dreich. It was grey and mizzly all morning. I stayed home doing some boring work and clearing up the pond a bit more. When the sky looked to be brightening I almost didn't bother taking the camera out, but this beach project has become something of an obsession. It looked brighter still to the south with the prospect of maybe some sunshine. It was not to be. I hadn't been there long before the top of the gas rig disappeared under low cloud and the rest of it began to fade from view.

The tide was on its way in, driven by a moderate wind that was making small breakers. There wasn't anything going on apart from the inevitable dog walking. I walked out to the water's edge to try and find the breakthrough that will help me make pictures about the incoming tide. It remained elusive.

Dogs make great subjects for photographs. They make great shapes when they are chasing balls. It's something I might get round to doing something with. In the meantime I think I'll try to get some better pictures of people and dogs by the water's edge. It's all about the shapes, some call it gesture, which suggests the action which is taking place. We read the outline, the silhouette, and don't need the detail or colour. That's why the frame below doesn't quite cut it. The throwing stick isn't clearly visible and the dog is an almost shapeless lump. Other than that the composition works okay. I'm sure some would prefer to see the figures on the 'third', but they'd be wrong. That wouldn't show enough sea to give the sense of scale and place.

Close to the water I found some rose stems and close to them a patch of petals. I'm sure there's something of a metaphor to be made about them strewn with a footprint pressing them into the sand.

Near by 'MUM' had been scratched into the sand. I wondered if there'd been a memorial service or a scattering of ashes recently. I took the liberty of moving a rose stem and taking a photograph. By now they'll both be washed away.

Friday, 17 February 2017


I rarely make plans, preferring to take opportunities. Spotting opportunities is the hard part. Tuesday afternoon I took an opportunity to go see what was happening around the pier. The day had 'gone off' and was duller than it could have been for the time of day, and hazy too. But I like being at the beach when the sand, sea and sky merge into one. I didn't expect to find much to photograph and had stuck the macro lens on one camera and my 'consumer' wide zoom on the other.

As luck would have it I think the lack of a lens that went any longer than 100mm actually got me a reasonable photograph. Had I been able to zoom in more I'm sure I would have made the returning coal picker larger in the frame. As it was I had no choice in the matter. The result gives a much better sense of scale and space than a closer framing would have done. I think the gulls also add to the scene.

That picture was made on my way back to the car after I'd spotted a metal detectorist working his way along the shore under the pier. Although it wasn't all that late the lights were coming on on the pier and I saw the chance to make something of them reflecting off the wet sand. If I could get a shot with the detectorist between the stanchions, and in a pose that shows what he was doing, it would be more than a nice picture of the pier. Perseverance and luck (I call it chance when something happens which I hope will) paid their part. I had to crop the shot slightly, but I'm getting over my dislike of cropping.

Getting an exposure that makes the picture look the way the scene appears to my eyes is problematic at the beach. Most of the time the big sky, pale and often reflective sand lead me to increase the exposure from what the camera' meter suggests. At dusk the situation is reversed and under-exposure is required. Although I don't consider myself a technically minded camera user exposure is something I do pay attention to. Being able to check things on a screen straight after taking a shot is revolutionary for an old fart like me.

Chatting to the detectorist I found out he was more interested in finding old things than valuable ones.While I was there he found neither. Just one ten pence piece! I made a few documentary type pictures and an environmental portrait for the developing series.

Friday afternoon saw me heading to Liverpool and taking the chance to visit the Open Eye gallery to see the current exhibition; North: Identity, Photography, Fashion. Having read the blurb and seen the promo pics I wasn't expecting much of it. I got what I expected. I get the impression that the gallery has lost it's direction. Purportedly a photography gallery this exhibition seems to me to be part art installation (upstairs), part fashion display (the small room) and part photography (the main room). An example of an exhibition by curators for curators. A trend I have sensed before at the Open Eye. As an exhibition about Northern culture it was largely an urban, youth culture which predominated.

I hope the Open Eye can get back to being a gallery that shows photographs because the photographs were worth a look. At least the ones that weren't either fashion or music photographs.

I usually take a look at what's on at the Tate when I go to the Open Eye and this visit was well worth it. Not only did I get to see Tracy Emin's infamous bed, which I love for the way it winds people up like Carl Andre's bricks used to do, but the Constellations exhibition included an excellent and varied selection of photographs. This was an unexpected surprise. I shall be trying to get back for another, longer look. Pictures by Brassai, Cindy Sherman, Gursky, Bruce Davidson  and others. It looks like photography is being taken seriously by British art galleries now. Maybe that's why the Open Eye is showing art?

Early Cindy Shermans

Art galleries are great places for taking photographs, but all to often prohibit it. This does seem to be changing. I assume because it's all but impossible to prevent people using their phones to take photographs these days. 

Sunday, 12 February 2017

Another boat

Photographing the mundane, the everyday things we take for granted, can seem inconsequential. yet even if the photographs aren't 'good' they can, given time, become documents. Despite passing the same spot each time I go to the beach I'd forgotten that I had photographed a hut which is no longer there. So I took another photograph of where it used to be. When it was removed, I don't know as is the way with such things.


Today was my only chance this weekend to spend some time on the beach project, but the bitter north easterly wind was hard to bear, and was keeping most other beach users in doors by the look of the place.

I was half expecting the beach to be empty and had gone prepared to try and photograph the incoming tide. The cold must have frozen my brain because I couldn't think of any way to do it that was vaguely interesting. That, and the lure of lunch, drove me back to the car. Heading home I noticed something in the water off the seawall. Pulling in at a handy parking spot I saw it was the lifeboat. Back in the car and I managed to get parked up in time to photograph the lifeboat's return to dry land.

Had there not been a problem with the tractor which needed sorting out on the spot I would have asked if I could take some more formal photos, but with the situation as it was I thought better of it and settled for grabbing a few snaps, but still trying to give an idea of the location by including the pier and a sculpture thing familiar to locals.

Gearwise I'm still undecided how best to go about these beach photographs. The two lenses I had with me today worked well enough. I'm not sure if it was any better than one lens solution. Maybe I'll stick with it for a couple more sessions. Or I might get lazy and revert to type!

Sunday, 5 February 2017

Situation normal

The beach project continues to occupy my thoughts. Most photographers who operate outdoors get frustrated by the weather. That was my problem on Saturday. It was too sunny. It seems to me that the more interesting thing occur down by the seaside when the sun isn't shinning. When the clouds part on a weekend everyone and at least three dogs hits the sands. But they don't get up to anything out of the ordinary!

Friday had seen me on a cold and windy, but largely deserted, beach. While it was nice and dull mornings are proving more fruitful, but I could only nip out after lunch. So I tried to photograph the sea. With the right gear (a tripod and  a longer lens) I'm sure that a series coul be made of pictures of the gas rig in all the weather's moods.

Whenever I get bored I start messing around. For most people a muddy looking sea and a uniformly grey-blue sky probably wouldn't appeal as a picture of the sea, but I've always liked the colour combination. Throw in some tonal variation and a splash of white and I find it a pleasing combination.

The wind had dropped somewhat on Saturday and that blasted sun was shinning bright. As we've moved into February so the sun has moved higher in the sky. Once more I arrived after lunch. This time to a busy beach.

There was a chap flying a kite, one of the subjects on my list. Getting a meaningful action shot of a kite flyer is difficult. Thinking about it later I reckon using a longer lens from further away to compress the distance between flyer and kite might be the answer. Getting the wind and sun to align is always going to be a problem. So a bit annoying that it was just right yesterday.

It turned out that the kite flyer was one of around 500 bikers holding a weekend rally at Pontins. I discovered this after his kite attacked one of his friends, two more of which helped relaunch it after the untangling process.

Heading back I stopped off for a mosey around the pier area. Every day is a schoolday, they say. Recently I've noticed people riding bikes with fat tyres on the beach. Googling 'sand bike' (which seemed like a possible name for the things) I discovered that they are sometimes known as 'fat bikes'. I wonder if I should get one? It would make getting out to the water's edge quicker when the tide is out!

I have an idea in mind for a portrait of a bike rider. The difficulty is getting one to stop for a chat. They're either too far away when I spot them, and/or heading in the wrong direction. Always on the move no matter what.

I rarely let a chance to show the pier as it really is slip by. The tourist office never show this side (literally this side) of the pier in their publicity material. It won't be long before the marsh reaches the pier itself.

Sunday saw me up and out bright and early, by my standards. The beach looked almost deserted at first glance, but it wasn't. I've seen boat trailers parked up in the past but never been around when boats have been launched or retrieved. It was a pleasant surprise to see there was a chap readying his boat for launching. Unfortunately the tide was on its way out and had been for some time. However I had a chat with him, learning a bit about the process along the way.

When his two friends arrived with another boat I almost made a hash of the portraits. The first frame was pin sharp, but I had caught one of them mid blink. The second frame missed the blink but for some reason was soft. The third frame, which I took vertically as an afterthought, was better. It must be a lot easier taking portrait type pictures with some pre-planning. Doing things my way I never know what I'm going to be photographing, and so never have much idea how I'd like to arrange things. Lesson, thing ahead...

With everything ready, off they went into the distance. And another unaccountably not-quite-sharp picture.

There was a 10K run on during the morning, meaning the coast road would be closed. I drove in that direction and parked up thinking there might be something to look at. It turned out that there was bugger all. No runners, and because the roads were shut nobody much about on the beach.  I went home and did some work, had lunch and thought I'd chance my arm back at the launch site.

Although it wasn't as sunny as Saturday there were lots of folk about. Four horseboxes were parked up and the horse being put back in them Another opportunity missed by bad timing. I wandered out towards the water and spotted a women with two little kids watching the sea demolish a sandcastle they'd built. So engrossed in this, and the taking of phone camera pictures, that they hadn't realised the were on a sand bar that was being surrounded by the incoming tide. After I shouted out to them they paddled back through water deeper than their wellies. A few more minutes and it would have been deeper still. I've been glad of my chestwaders in the past when I've been photographing windsurfers. Some of the gullies are surprisingly deep.

With there being little wind I heard the boat approaching before I spotted it flying across the water. I might have missed out on getting launching pictures but I managed a few or the retrieval. Only one boat had come back. The other had engine trouble and had been forced to land down the coast. His trailer would be taken to meet him.

I'd almost decided to go home about an hour earlier, but watching the sun and the clouds I thought there might be a sunset worth wasting a few million pixels on. Standing on the tops of a dune it was intriguing to see the sky changing. The Welsh mountains and Cumbrian fells appearing and disappearing as the light and clouds changed. Looking south to the Mersey and out to the Welsh coast there's an uncounatble number of wind turbines. The closest ones standing proud of the horizon, the blades of those in the far distance cutting it. The seascape is changing.

One technical lesson learned over the last few days has been that when it comes to photographs which include the horizon my favourite multi-purpose lens is not so useful. It distorts the horizon a great deal. While this can be corrected on the computer it's a faff. using a 'better' lens pretty much eliminates this niggle. In future I'll be sticking with the less troublesome lens on the beach, I think. Although when the horizon isn't a major element in the picture it doesn't seem to matter if it curves a bit. Not to me at any rate. It's just that out very often it can be.