Monday, 13 August 2018

Diminishing returns

The weather forecast for yesterday was less than favourable. Despite the promise of rain up in the hills I was half hoping the rain would fall as it should have made for some variation in my pictures in this sunny summer. As things turned out the rain stayed away, save for a very few light drops. The show in question was celebrating its 30th anniversary, unusually young for an agricultural show, but it is a reincarnation according to the show catalogue.

From attending last year I was expecting a good turnout of hill sheep, and I wasn't disappointed. There were lots of Lonks and plenty of Gritstones. That's not to say there wasn't a host of Euro sheep, a healthy rare breed section and a fair few Blue Faced Leicesters. Why some people take the piss out of BFLs for being ugly I don't know. I think they are noble looking creatures with plenty of character. Thankfully those cartoonish Herdwicks are a rarity at most of the shows I go to!

This year the poultry section was back but it was a very small affair which I didn't spend much time looking at. My mind was focused on the 'big' sheep. Unfortunately the layout is one of the worst for photographing from the sidelines once judging is under way. Nonetheless I got one or two shots of sheep being washed and groomed before the serious business got going.

Then it was on to repeating the inevitable sheep-grip and judging shots. This one I converted to black and white just for the hell of it really.

Followed by more attempts at out of focus sheep in the background of pictures of something else.

As part of my plan for a wet day I'd taken my fishing compact along so I could keep it dry in a jacket pocket. Also because it has a nice flippy screen and doesn't look 'professional'. The idea being to use it for 'candids' and low angle shots. It has the disadvantage of a silly aspect ratio, but despite a crop to 3:2 reducing it's pixel count it can produce detailed frames which match up well enough for on-screen display to pictures made on larger sensors. At low enough ISO values the results print well enough too. Maybe it's because it's  Nikon that the files match those from my 'proper' cameras in terms of colour and tone regardless of sensor size.

When inspiration completely fails it's time to snipe a character picture or two with the longest focal length.

If you can't get near the judging you can at least get close to the penned sheep. of course they never hold a pose that suits what you have in mind. It took a lot of failed attempts before I got a picture of a horn brand which I was happy with. Maybe if I wasn't so set against cropping frames on the computer I might have got it sooner!

You might imagine that taking pictures of a sheep's wool would be simple. But I think it would be better to do it under more controlled conditions if large prints were the intention.

Although the breed classes are held between the pens and awkward to photograph the group  and interbreed classes are held outside the pens. Here it's the gathered crowd of spectators which get in the way.

For the junior shepherd class there was even more of a throng. I didn't want to get in the way of any proud parents offering encouragement, but managed a few shots using the flippy screen.

While the super-zoom I use is useful for both long shots and detail shots I'm thinking I rely on it too much. As with all 'people doing things' pictures being in close with a wider angle lens makes for more engaging results.

Perhaps I should give my old 50mm and 28mm combo an outing at the next show. With the zoom in the bag just in case!

Sunday, 5 August 2018

Sheep galore

Photography has been a write off since my previous post. I had hoped to get to the English national Sheepdog Trials but was thwarted by work commitments which also scuppered another trial. I could have gone to the second day of that one yesterday but went to the agricultural show I'd been looking forward to instead. I knew there'd be plenty of sheep, and there was a poultry section. Arriving a bit late I missed out on the poultry action and the sheep arrival and primping. But there was lots going on and the sheep judging was soon under way.

 As the poultry marquee was at the opposite end of the show field to the sheep pens I passed the main ring a time or two. When I spotted a woman holding a cow balloon watching the cattle I hoped there might be a picture to be made. For once I stuck around and didn't settle for the first picture I took with the balloon and a real cow in the frame. I got lucky with the eighth frame when the ballon cow floated into line with the real calves.

And so to the sheep. There were some three hundred entered into the various classes, which included a fair few Euro sheep, a selection of minority breeds, and plenty of Blue Faced Leicesters and North of England Mules. The BFL entry was the largest ever at the show. Disappointingly the interbreed champion was a Beltex, although the reserve was a Swaledale.

This time I had gone armed with a wide angle zoom and my loathed 70-200. It wasn't a great combo. Or maybe I need to get used to it. The wide angle I find useful, but the range of the 70-200 bugs me, even though it does produce images which are super sharp.

With the wide angle I made use of the flippy screen on my camera to get low angles without having to bend my knees or kneel down. A touch screen would be a big help for positioning the focus point when there is action involved, but the depth of field of the wide angle often compensates for that.

Even at eye level I found the wide angle a help when it came to getting the large groups of sheep in the frame. I've not seen sheep judged en masse before. How the judge reached his decisions in selecting the sheep to make the final selection from, and how the entrants recognised their sheep when they were indicated, I don't know!

 Finding different pictures is never easy, and sometimes I start taking snapshots of anything that catches my eye without thinking about what I'm doing. Other times I take a snap, try to improve it, and end up thinking the first snap was the best!

Other times I keep on snapping until things work out a little better. maybe not great, but better.

The sheep section at this show is well organised with the officials having their own polo shirts, and there are plenty of trophies.

There is also a strong turnout for the three age groups of young handlers. Not all shows manage to get numbers of entrants for this. The youngest handler this year was just 14 months old, complete with white coat and flat cap. And a little bit of help from a very placid sheep and mum! All the young handlers get a rosette.

This time, partly because I was lacking ideas, I did take a few 'character' shots. Trying to capture a judge pondering is difficult from both the timing and the positioning sides of things.

The low angle approach provided for some unusual opportunities, but the slight delay between prossing the shutter release and the shutter firing made timing tricky.

An enjoyable day out with some half decent pictures made, far too many of which can be found here.

 I still came away wondering what the point of taking these photographs and writing this nonsense is.

Monday, 23 July 2018

Tiring weekend

it was a case of in two minds again this weekend. Could I face a sheep dog trial the day after a country show? From a lazy person's perspective sheep dog trials are great because there is no real need to get there early! Unlike poultry and sheep shows where the interesting stuff happens first thing and sort of fizzles out as the day progresses, a sheep dog trial is steadier in it's activity. Having just about recovered from what turned out to be almost the full day at the Royal Lancashire Show I was able to face a drive over the border by ten o'clock the following morning.

Having checked to see that the gates opened at nine on Saturday for the show I arrived a little after that to find the gates closed. Elf and Safety were at work. There were still vehicles moving on the show field and the public were being kept out. I'd miss the early action round the sheep pens.

Unusually, the sheep pens were under cover, with the showing taking place in a ring lined by crowd control barriers. As it turned out I wasn't too late and managed to sneak in to the pen area and tried to get some different pictures using 'better' lenses than usual. The different pictures I got, the difference between the lenses was less than internet wisdom would suggest. Certainly not at the longer focal lengths. I might well revert to my usual gear next time out.

Once more the traditional sheep were outnumbered by the minority breeds. The difference between the two is quite noticeable. The minorities are better presented - sheep and handlers are well groomed. The traditional breeds, sheep and handlers, look much more like they have come straight from the farm!

Although outnumbered by primped and preened minority breeds presented on halters by handlers in white coats,  the eventual interbreed show champion was a Lonk tup almost straight off the fell. A proper sheep!

Despite the judging taking place in a ring style enclosure it was no easier to get a good angle on the proceedings. Mostly I didn't bother trying to repeat what I've done before and kept looking for something different. When photographing people engaged in some activity expressions can make pictures better. Even if the face isn't what is in focus.

Animals have expressions too.

With another slightly disappointing show of sheep I had a brief look at the shearing demonstration, which was popular with the public, but difficult to photograph without getting in their way. Again I tried to find unusual ways to look at the event. More sheep here.

And so, inevitably, to the poultry tent where it was a case of repeating myself before photographing the prize giving. It being the first time back at the show for a poultry section a big effort had been made with new cups (the originals, for all classes not just poultry, having been sold off when the show hit hard times years ago), distinctive rosettes, cage number cards and fetching red rose ties for the officials. A few more poultry pics here.

Sunday saw drizzle greet me as I had my breakfast, putting more doubt in my mind about the sanity of going to a sheep dog trial. The internet said it would be dry, so I took a chance. This trial was a bit more of an 'event' than the others I've attended. It had been publicised in advance with signs and posters along the road, promising the public free entry and home cooked food for sale. The trial is run as a fund raiser for the Gargrave Show next month. There were seats set out and the field had a slope which made for a grandstand view.

The way things were laid out meant that I was further from the action than I was expecting, so opportunities for pictures of the dogs in action was reduced. I didn't really get anything I was happy with. I'm not sure if my brain was still a bit frazzled, but I couldn't see pictures. Nor could I manage to get action shots in focus. These subjects which demand technical knowledge and masterful technique aren't for me! Cropping was the order of the day for action shots.

Overall I performed about as well as the sheep did. More often than not they failed to do as the dogs told them to and frequently ran off wherever they fancied. Which was entertaining for the crowd, but the cause of much muttering among the handlers.

As the afternoon wore on I did start to perk up and looked for pictures of dogs and handlers. With limited success.

A few more (mostly rubbish) pics here.

Saturday, 14 July 2018

Another hot Saturday

I'm not going to complain about the sun and the heat ebcause that might well be like doing a rain dance. The heat does make carting useless camera gear around a chore though. Once more, and for the final time, I tried the Fuji at an agricultural show. The focusing speed of the camera is agricultural. No, glacial might be more apt. For static subjects the camera's great, but even a slow focussing zoom on a 'real' camera beats it hands down. I know I'm slow on the uptake. On the other hand, carting a litre bottle of water around was worth the extra weight.

Although I had intended to concentrate on the sheep pens it just so happened that the poultry show was right by them, unlike in previous years. I couldn't resist. Even though I didn't spend much time in the marquee I did come away with a couple or three new ideas.

Because of the heat the organisers of the poultry section removed the front of the marquee to allow some breeze in. This allowed me to take the shot below.

Inside the marquee I played around with the patterns of light and shade from the stripes on the marquee's sides.

White on white is a tricky subject.

Even round the sheep pens I couldn't avoid poultry when one exhibit made a dash for freedom!

And so to the sheep and another disappointing turnout with booked pens empty. There were plenty of Texels and Beltex, but I'm more interested in native breeds. That didn't stop me photographing a Euro-tup having his make up done, or Beltex having its chin tickled.

Not to mention the classic Swaledale head-grip.

Other than that it was a case of looking for 'atmosphere' pictures. Sometimes I'm not sure if these are just snapshots. I do try to make them a little more than that, but I get the feeling I don't try hard enough.

 My more graphic pictures seem to work better as a 'different' look at sheep shows.

Having a 'good camera' does get me in over my head at times when people ask me to photograph their prize winner. So it was today. Except it wasn't one prize winner, it was two. I did at least manage to ensure I had the sun behind me, and remembered to get down to sheep level. I think I've got away with it. Of course my favourite of the shots is one where things aren't going to plan.

Next weekend I have another 'job'. This time it's my feathered friends. I shall probably mess it up completely because I'm intending to take my 'professional' lenses - and maybe the dreaded flashgun. More bloody weight to cart around. However, there will be sheep.

Here are a couple of half-arsed 'portraits'. I really ought to improve this side of my photography. Mind you, high noon sun and hats rarely make for great portraits.