Saturday, 20 October 2018


This idea of taking photographs in the wood in black and white has given me a bit of direction of late. Even if my  approach is a bit arty-farty. I've been deliberately trying to avoid photographing 'views'. Scenes which might look nice in autumnal colour. Instead I've been deliberately looking for more abstract images. Plays of light where the light or shade is the focus of the picture. Also pictures which aren't in focus at all but just shapes of dark and light and tones in between. Or playing around with deliberate over or under exposure - and flash. I'm really not sure where it's all going. Which is probably why it's interesting me.

I've also gone through my archive of older photos from the wood, converting some into black and white.

I'm beginning to get a feel for what I'm looking for. With a bit more perseverance and a little luck I might manage to get ten or twenty pictures which make some visual sense when pulled together. Definitely not there yet,so I'll keep ploughing along when I get a spare half hour.

Despite concentrating on black and white in the wood I switch the camera back to colour when I leave it. Somehow my way of looking switches too and I start seeing colour pictures again. Low autumnal sun provides a warm, contrasty, light which can make things look rather Egglestonian to my eyes. Or maybe just more like Kodachrome.

In the world of sheep it's tupping time. The ewes are gathered together in small flocks accompanied by their would-be suitors. Chances to make any pictures have been slim, and I must admit the wood project has distracted me - probably because it can be engaged in more easily. When I have managed to get close enough to photograph sheep without trespassing I've been in black and white mode there for some reason. and in 4x5 ratio mode too, making sheepscapes.

Tuesday, 9 October 2018

More mono

Despite pretty well exhausting the possibilities at the poultry auctions I was back again on Saturday. The aim being to once more evaluate approaches to gear. What the day proved was what I'd already worked out! The Fuji is okay, but clunky to use and that a 'big' camera doesn't necessarily make you any more obvious than a tiny one. At least not when you stick a small lens on it.

Possibly the most difficult sort of picture to pull off well is the candid group shot. It's bad enough trying to capture the look or gesture of one person, but to get a number of expressions which work together, in an arrangement of figures which works, when you can't control any of them, is like herding the proverbial cats!

I also had my felling that for most 'documentary' photography the 28mm and 50mm combination covers most of my requirements, with the 100mm in reserve. Why not use a 24-70mm zoom? Because it is true that using single focal length lenses makes you think about framing more critically. You have to move. Sometimes, though, all you need is a snapshot - when any lens will do!

As I've mentioned a time or two before, the light in the sale ring is bloody awful for colour photography with the mixture of lighting. It's also a bit gloomy. Using the Fuji in there showed yet again why I can't love it. At higher ISOs the way it renders skin is 'unusual' to my eyes. Less natural than the big cameras.

Outdoors, in good light, photographing anything other than people, the Fuji is fine. Where I am coming to appreciate it is when using it to make black and white pictures. In fact it's the reason I'm dabbling in that style at the moment. Black and white might be the way to approach photographing in the sale ring.

It's certainly proving its worth when I wander round the wood in late afternoon when the sun is bright and low. My previous attempts in colour always seemed too cluttered, but a monochromatic approach is simplifying things. There might be a project starting.

Wednesday, 3 October 2018

Monochromatic interlude

I've been going against my aversion to black and white photography this last week or so. I'm not too sure how it came about, but I think it has something to do with the graphic subject matter, and the way Fuji files convert from colour. My excuse being that the photos haven't been of a story-telling nature. They're not primarily documentary, more poetic. Which sounds terribly pretentious.

Towards the end of last week I took one of my usual routes for an afternoon walk, which lead me past a field of maize. With it being almost evening the sun was low and made for contrasty patterns in the crop.

In the wood the same lighting applied and I actually switched the camera to black and white mode. This is one of the few benefits of an electronic viewfinder for me.

I worked quickly without over-thinking my framing and exposing or the highlights because I knew I wanted contrasty pictures with black blacks. Of all my attempts to make pictures in the wood these, while far from great, are among my more successful results.

With one day of the weekend taken up trying to sell things to people and the second recovering from six hours of motorway driving come Monday it was a surprise to find the maize had been harvested. I had hoped to make some more pictures of the standing crop, but I was unfazed. There were still pictures there in the aftermath.

I didn't spend much time on my first visit, and even reverted to processing in colour. Which worked when there was bright colour in the pictures, but less so when they were already monochromatic.

The second visit saw me concentrating on graphic pictures in black and white, even though I had the camera set to colour. It was mostly a case of making Jackson Pollock style compositions over the entire frame. I even made a four frame grid.

 Details weren't disregarded, but again I tried to make something which had a rhythm to the image.

The idea of contrasty, abstracty, pictures had got in my head as I made my way home across the football pitches. The white goal posts and nets have always drawn my eye for some reason.

These are the sort of rubbish photographs I take when I don't have anything more interesting to point a camera at. The kind of pictures I've been making since I first picked up a camera in anger when I think about it. I'm sure a psychiatrist would have a field day analysing why I take these pictures!

Tuesday, 25 September 2018

The official end of summer

On Sunday I ventured to the forest for a bit of a nosey and had to stop the car, possibly on the wrong side of the border, to snatch a shot or two of some weather. My usual hand-held landscape snappery. I might have overcooked the result on the computer in the quest for dramatic effect.

Monday was the day for the final agricultural show of the year on my calendar. It required another sortie into enemy territory, which is always nerve wracking. Still, I wasn't the only invader at the show. One stalwart from my local poultry society was judging and commentating on the pig classes. Doing  a grand job of entertaining the crowd too.

Being held in the Dales I wasn't disappointed with the turnout of sheep. There were lots of the expected breeds and a goodly showing of some rarer ones too. Not just Yorkshire breeds. As I'd arrived not long before judging commenced I didn't find much to get interested in until I started to look for details. Although I did manage one judging picture which I like for its black-and-whiteness.

The light was bright, but with the sun being lower in the sky than in high summer it was bringing out texture. Unfortunately I had gone ill prepared for the sort of pictures I ended up looking for. If I carry on attending shows in the future I may well embark on making a series of shots of horn brands.

Once more it was a case of boredom with the same old subjects which led me to start taking pictures in a random way, often not looking through the viewfinder or at the rear screen. Doing that got me this.

At other times I did use the viewfinder. Why it takes me almost all day to get into a zone where I start to see pics I can only surmise. It's probably because I'm not taking photos every day. The more you practice, the luckier you get. As the saying goes. You can't go wrong with a frame within a frame.

The majority of the sheep pictures I took were pretty run of the mill as you can see for yourself here. The same can be said of my feeble efforts from the show's sheep dog trials. Apart from not being well equipped for the task, deliberately so as I hadn't intended photographing the trials, I wasn't in the right frame of mind by the time I left the sheep alone. Whether a 'better' lens would have made any difference I really doubt. I'm not sure I can go anywhere with the sheep dog thing, if I'm honest.

The people and their dogs, rather than the action, seems to be the more compelling aspect from a picture making point of view. Maybe I just need to change my approach.

I was more fascinated by the exhaust pen full of sheep than with the trial action. Unfortunately it was in the shade, which was good for the sheep on a sunny autumn day but not so good for photography. Picking out compositions from a mass of huddled sheep kept me interested for a while. I didn't manage anything I was happy with that was technically satisfactory. Even by my low standards! So I buggered about on the computer to make a graphic image (as opposed to a photograph) out of one frame. Some might call it 'art', but it's not in my book. More the sort of thing you might put on a greeting card.

With the show season over I've got the Blurb book to finish off, and a wait for their next big discount offer before I get it printed. Typically there was 40% off until last Sunday. Not that I'm tight or owt, but I'd rather pay less than more for something!

Saturday, 22 September 2018

Back to boring

At a loose end on Sunday and with a deadline looming for an advert revision I took myself out or a couple of afternoon hours looking for a suitably watery landscape. It's a bit different taking photos when you know both what kind of subject you need and what sort of picture. In this case I needed a picture in portrait orientation with some space for lettering/text to go.

After much scrabbling and slipping I found a likely looking spot and set about doing some of my hand-held landscapery. I ended up with two frames which were suitable from the dozens I took. Back on the computer one fitted the lettering better than the other. The 'reject' actually worked quite well as a standalone picture.

On the Saturday Lancashire got beaten in the first of the T20 semi-finals, so I went in search of moorland sheep to cheer myself up, even though it was cloudy and windy. On my way I snatched the photo below. I can't make my mind up whether it is absolute rubbish or brilliant. It's certainly not in between the two extremes!

On the moor there were indeed sheep to be found. Most were the flighty type with large circles of fear, fleeing before I could get within range. There was one which was braver. Keeping an eye on me all the time but grazing closer so long as I didn't move. Not quite the shot I was after though.

The week saw a return to spending my time working save for an hour's exercise walking round the fields and wood. There's not much left to photograph on my regular route save the changes in light. I find slate grey skies with brightly lit foregrounds all but irresistible.

During the darkening evenings I spent my time trying to put some order into my sheep show pictures. It's when I come to distil them into few enough to put into a Blurb book that I realise how bad most of them are. Then there's the matter of making them work alongside other pictures, which can sometimes help mediocre shots but also see some good ones dumped as they don't fit visually. I also come to see the pictures I should have taken, but didn't. The ones which would have made the collection stronger. Still, things are coming together. I might take some more next week at my final show of the summer - if I manage to drag myself there. The cover looks OK. Of course, I might change my mind about it yet...

Friday, 14 September 2018

Last minute change of plan

Having got tired of lugging two heavy lenses and a big bottle of water around at the shows I was going to revert to laziness and take just my superzoom yesterday, but when I opened the back door it was trying to rain.  The forecast was for it to be dry early on with rain later, by the time I'd be heading home. Rather than take a chance I went for a compromise of sorts. The now less than unloved 70-200 went on one body and my neglected 28mm on the other. I threw my 20mm and 50mm lenses in the bag as lightweight options.

Having been to the Westmorland Show last year I knew what to expect. Hundreds and hundreds of sheep of many breeds! I had also found out that there was a fleece competition. That was where I headed first, before the judging started. It was a bit dull. Just wool in boxes on tables. I'm sure the judging would be a little bit more interesting. I returned later to photograph the winning fleece, from a Teeswater.

This year I didn't spend much time away from the sheep pens. Being a big show it has a lot of commercial stands, and the poultry tent was cramped. A friend of mine, who told me last time he wasn't going to do another flycasting demonstration was back again. This time I got some slightly better shots of him. The fast 70-200 helped blur the background clutter more than the superzoom would have done. Not the ideal location, or light, for the subject.

The light had started off beautiful early on, low with an autumnal glow, as the sheep arrived and got primped but the day soon clouded over. Then again, with the sun being low in the sky it made some angles tricky as they meant shooting into the light. Atmospheric if it comes off though.

Low angle close-ups of sheep continue to interest me, but using the camera's live-view makes it a bit hit and miss. I can't get the focus where I want it all the time, meaning I've framed some nice shots that are out of focus. When the sheep are stationary it works much better. Perhaps I ought to read the instruction book? Of course I can mess photos up by using the wrong shutter speed. Can't blame the gear for that...

Being a Cumbrian show there was a predominance of Lakeland sheep breeds. Rough Fell, Swaledale and the inevitable Herdwicks were there in great numbers. There were so many Herdwicks I  broke my rule of ignoring them.

I'd guess that a majority of native breeds were represented including a lot which aren't usually a feature of shows in the North West. The prick-eared Border Leicester being one particularly photogenic example.

The task of finding different pictures continues, an often becomes a matter of looking for 'better' pictures of something previously photographed. Trying to get an agricultural photographer in the same frame as the sheep being photographed is a tricky one, the two being far apart. Filling the gap with something, or someone, else helps make a picture.

With show season almost at an end it's time to start pulling a selection together into a Blurb book. I have the tongue-twisting-title sorted, but haven't worked out a format yet. Show by show, or aspect by aspect with show info as captions to each picture? All part of what keeps me thinking about photographs. It helps concentrate my mind on what I'm trying to do with the pictures too.

Extended album of photos from the show here.

Sunday, 9 September 2018

Suffering for my art

No matter how careful the planning any outdoor event is at the mercy of the weather. And weather forecasts, while accurate one or two days ahead are far less so one or two weeks in advance. Up until last Monday things were looking reasonably hopeful for a dry day on Saturday, but as the Hodder Valley Show drew closer that hope evaporated. Sure enough as I drove over the fell it was  was through low cloud and mizzle. Things didn't improve during the five hours I spend trudging around in my decreasingly waterproof waterpoofs.

The weather was a great shame for the show's organisers as it kept away a lot of casual visitors. The farming folk were undeterred. They spend half their lives in raingear anyway. The sheep shook it off. Although I'm pretty sure this one was taking shelter under an umbrella. Who says sheep are stupid?

The rain was a challenge as I wasn't sure how weatherproof my cameras are. I'd taken the precaution of fitting my 'pro' lenses and ensuring they had hoods on them. The hoods do a good job of keeping rain of the front of the lenses. Because I didn't want to take too many chances on camera stayed in the bag (which I now know isn't waterproof) while I spent most of the morning using the dreaded 70-200.

I must be getting used to this previously despised lens as I didn't find myself wishing I had something else. I didn't even miss my superzoom. That was at home because I know it can take on water, and because I thought faster lenses would be more useful on a day likely to be dull.

The show features an adjacent sheep dog trial, which I was looking forward to. Unfortunately it was on the other side of a beck, which I didn't fancy paddling through, or taking the  long way round. I still managed a couple of shots from across the beck, which give a feel for the conditions.

Despite my intentions being to concentrate on the sheep I don't turn up a chance to take a snap of anything else which catches my eye.

For those prepared to put up with it rain can make for good photographs. For me it gave me pictures which might be of the same activities but with a different look. There's something about the way even dull light plays on wet surfaces which is photogenic.

When it comes to sheep preparation rain can put people in unusual situations. And unsual situations make for good pictures.

Just as I was struggling to stay dry the stewards were having trouble keeping the rosettes and prize envelopes dry.

I persisted in my low angle shots using the flippy screen. It's not ideal as there's quite a lag between each frame even in burst mode. Focusing can be a bit haphazard too. That resulted in a 'nearly' shot. Generally speaking foreground objects ought to be in focus. That's the way we see the world.

I kept my finger on teh shutter release and somehow fluked a somewhat better picture. Not only is the focus improved, there's more going on in the frame. Still not perfect though.

Despite my reservations about using this approach through the rails of the pens I think it might actually result in better pictures than being on the same side of the hurdles. I'm certainly less likely to end up with four or five sheep on top of me! Previously I'd used a wider angle, but I was restricted to 24mm because of the lens I was using. I'd put the 70-200 away by this stage as an enforced change of viewing angle. I much prefer pictures of people taken from close in.

The compression and subject isolation which telephotos bring to pictures has its place, but it visually implies distance. For people it's more important to imply connection. Which is what moderately wide to 'normal' focal lengths do.They also don't distort figures at the edges of the frame like ultrawides will. I see that a lot in news and editorial pictures and it frustrates me. Ultrawides can also be used as a cheap trick to give pictures impact. I don't think such pictures stand the test of time.

I wonder if phonepics will stand that test?

Photographing in the rain was like photographing a new subject. I think that's why the album I compiled has a lot more photographs in it than usual. No doubt I could make a tighter edit once my initial enthusiasm for the 'new look' dies down. See the pics here.

Show season is almost over, but even if rain is forecast I'm hoping to be making it to at least one, maybe two or three, more before the month is out. Then what?