Tuesday, 24 April 2018

Let there be rain...

It couldn't last, and it didn't. Fearing the worst I decided to go fishing on Friday night as there was rain due over the weekend. The fishing was poor so I messed about with my fishing cameras when the sun began to rise. Both have good features and bad. The one with the zoom has great controls but is sluggish to focus and has poor low light performance. The one with the fixed lens has a great sensor but poor controls and is equally slow to focus. If only there was a compact camera which did everything right. But then the manufacturers would never sell any top end DSLRs.

Every time I make a landscape picture I like I can't help but think that 99% of the task is being in the right place at the right time. The technicalities are pretty darned basic. The subject ain't going anywhere so there's plenty of time to get them right.

Nice as they are to look at the majority of landscapes are little more than wallpaper. The shot above is currently my computer screen's desktop picture. I'll be tired of it soon enough and swap it for something similarly vacuous.

Sunday was sunnier for longer than predicted and I managed to find some sheep in the evening. The clouds soon rolled in and put paid to the photography though. So not much was gained from the exercise.

I did manage to find a mule which posed quite patiently for me while the sun was out. As per usual out of the many exposures I made the frame which had the most satisfying was the only one which was slightly out of focus. The next best is below. Strangely, after looking at it one and off for a few days it seems to have improved. Or maybe I've forgotten what the better one looked like?

Apart from the evening light helping the picture I was able to get into a perfect position without having to either bend my knees or lay on the ground. Shooting from slightly below sheep, and no doubt other animals, makes them look more impressive. As this one was stood on top of a flood bank my task was easy. This viewpoint also tends to put the sky as background, which is good for 'portraits' when it is blue, and because it is far away the clouds go pretty much out of focus no matter how small the aperture of the lens is. Lots of the sheep in focus and much less of the background. Another bonus.

Whether or not a picture of a sheep dropping with dung flies on it will prove useful for inclusion in a sheep project, I'm not sure. But I have one now!

Sure enough the sunny spell didn't last and rain returned after the weekend. Today I got the urge to make some prints, which necessitated a trip to town to pick up some ink. I didn't hang around but the X100T got a damp outing. There were few dogs being walked, but plenty of umbrellas getting an airing. Every once in a blue moon I get lucky, and the shot I see forming before me gets 'spoiled' by something better. Maybe not much better, but people's faces are more interesting in photographs than the backs of their heads. Although it was the umbrella which had initially caught my eye the woman stopping and turning just as I clicked the shutter and the passing cyclist made something more interesting happen. At least it suits my ideas of loose compositions in street photography having more life than the cleverly composed shots which a lot of people aim for - go in search of even.

And finally... After a winter when it was hardly fit to visit the beach I've abandoned my Beach Life project. I might pick it up again later in the year, but I doubt it. So this is about it.

Thursday, 19 April 2018

Let there be sunlight!

The lack of motivation continued. I'm sure due to the relentlessly dour and depressing weather. An enforced visit to town on a rainy day saw me snapping aimlessly with the little camera. I seem to haev a quite a few photographs of umbrellas in my archive. It could become something to concentrate on when the rain falls.

The following day was supposed to be warm and sunny. It was warmer and briefly sunny. I stopped off at the sandplant, which hadn't changed much from last time. It looks like the work is pretty much done on tidying it up. Can I face putting my pictures from there into some sort of order? Probably not!

The weather continued to fail in meeting expectations. A dry afternoon turned showery when I visited the marsh. However, I did get to add a sheep's skull to my collection of both photographs and found objects.

What I always seem to find with small cameras is that on overcast days they don't render landscape colours the way I like. And I can't get them right on the computer either. I also find that they can be too sharp for my taste. I don't know what it is. There seems to be too much detail, with too sharp edges. maybe there's some unknown trickery going on in the firmware.

With no clear aim in my head I have been trying, once more, to bond with 85mm as a focal length. I've done this by sticking the lens on a body and taking nothing else. It's kinda working. But the bloody thing will never focus close enough for me.

Yesterday the weather did as it was told. Later than I should have, and without planning for food and drink, I set off in the heat and bright sun for the forest. I had nothing in mind, just wanted to get out and clear my head. All I did was park up at a few spots and photograph stuff close to the road. It was just practice really.

I wasn't brave enough to risk the 85, but did resist the temptation of the superzoom. Which meant that I saw lots of faraway things that might have made pictures. Like sheep with lambs.

The making of great pictures isn't always important. record shots have their value, but even those can be lifted above simply snappery with a little thought. Trying to include some context and detail helps a documentary picture even if it's something and nothing.

Sometimes I just can't get things right. This barn, or rather these two barns, have seen me before. I know the picture I want to make, but never quite manage it. The first one below has the closest barn breaking the skyline. Which is good. Unfortunately because of the focal length the distant barn is rather insignificant in the frame. The viewpoint needs to be further back and the focal length longer to provide more compression.

Unfortunately at 85mm the topography put me too high and the closest barn no longer breaks the horizon. Ideally I'd prefer a longer focal length too. I should have taken the superzoom, and knelt down...

It's a few years since I first visited this barn, but there were the remains of a sheep inside. This time was a repeat. I doubt it is the same sheep, though.

By the time I had done at the barn I was regretting my lack of planning and hunger decreed that the last few hours of daylight would have to be ignored as I headed home for food and drink. At least  an afternoon in the sunshine cheered me up and got me planning some proper, focussed, sessions in the near future.

Sunday, 8 April 2018

Situation normal

This morning I processed yesterday's pictures in colour. Despite thinking I liked the black and whites, I find the colour ones more to my liking. Certainly those where the white balance isn't all over the shop. In future I shall restrict my use of monochrome to places where every picture has mixed lighting temperatures, and when I want to be 'arty'. So nothing much has changed!

I must admit that I should really try to remember to set a custom white balance in lighting situations such as the auction sale ring. Two things hold me back. I forget, and I can never remember how to do it...

Something interesting happened when I'd processed all the files. I made a different selection for a gallery to that which I made with the black and white pictures. even though I was selecting from the same batch of images. Not wildly different, but different enough - here.

After lunch I ventured out to look for the promised sunshine and sheep. Sheep I found, lambs indeed, but the sunshine didn't show itself until I'd given up and had the kettle on back home. While motherly ewes are protective of their offspring and take them away from the first sign of unknown humans (mostly), lambs are inquisitive. They'll stand and stare at you for long enough to get plenty of shots of them. With no blue sky for a background I wasn't able to make any decent pictures from my favoured low vantage point of lambs on an old flood bank.

One ewe was quite confiding and didn't rush away from me. She still refused to strike any photogenic poses though. At least one more shot added to me 'square sheep' sorta-project.

Saturday, 7 April 2018

Breaking my own rules

Quite where my aversion to the contemporary use of black and white photography has come from, I'm not sure. In part at least it's probably a result of reading about how documentary photography changed from black and white to colour in the 1980s, or thereabouts. Partly, also, from years of shooting colour for slide shows and magazines. Not least because it seems to me that black and white doesn't tell the whole story. When I look at old monochrome photographs these days I find myself wondering what colours things were.

Having spent much of today at the photography auction with my cameras set to black and white (shooting raw so I maintain colour originals but see a black and white preview on the screen) I have realised why some people eschew colour photography. It makes it much easier to make photographs. It simplifies the composition process. It's more graphic and less visually confusing.

It was purely by chance that I started using black and white. I'm not in the habit of checking every frame I take on the back of the camera. In fact much of the time I don't review shots straight away. That's why it took me some time to realise I had the white balance set to 'cloudy'. All the pictures were orange! When I switched back to auto white balance something made me swap to black and white too. probably the contrasty lighting.

What I did find myself doing was making pictures like the ones I used to make when I shot HP5. I was thinking more of making standalone images than pictures which would work together to tell the story. Even so I managed to put a small gallery together - here.

While black and white eliminates the horrible white balance issues in the sale ring, some of the pictures I took only make proper sense in colour.

Although I was mostly using a 'proper' camera I also had the Fuji with me. Yet more inattention to detail saw me ruin a load of shots with that camera. I'd forgotten it was set to electronic shutter. This didn't matter in the big shed where the lighting is a mix of natural and tungsten. In the sale ring there is a crazy mix of lighting, which includes fluorescent. Electronic shutters and fluorescent tubes can result in dark horizontal bars across each frame. That's exactly what happened. A couple of decent pics were ruined. Bugger.

I took the scenic route home. Despite the rain having abated, the dreaded white sky was back in evidence.

Friday, 6 April 2018

Old gate, no gate, 'new' gate

Thanks to my mania for photographing things over and over and over I can now reveal the story of the missing gate. The gate had been removed for repainting. And in the process it had the sign moved. That's it. No mystery!

Sunday, 1 April 2018

Laid up

It's been difficult for me to get out and about this last month or more. If it wasn't the Beast from the East making it unpleasant to be out, and closing roads in sheep country, it was the bug I contracted which immobilised me for the best part of three weeks. By the time I felt like moving around the weather had turned bad again. It's only in the last week I've felt like getting out with a camera when the weather took a turn for the better. But with nothing in mind to photograph the results have been poor.

I've been on the hunt for lambs, it being springtime. But the poor little things are living in mud and are far from photogenic. Not that I've managed to spot any when the sun has been shining. I've had to settle for sheep that haven't lambed. Not that I've managed anything worthwhile on that front.

On the days the sun has shone when I've been out the sheep have avoided me. When stuck for a subject recording 'stuff' passes the time.

Recently a barn owl has been making frequent appearances over the field behind my house. barn owls being corpuscular this means light levels are low. The owl also tends to stay well away from my back fence. At least it does when I have a camera in my hands. This results in noisy pictures of a far off bird. In the spirit of 'fixing it in post' I take the opposite path to most photographers. Instead of improving the image quality I degrade it. Convert to monochrome, add more grain in an attempt to add atmosphere. I'm not sure if it succeeds.

No need for computer trickery to add atmosphere when it's misty. Of course I left it a little too late to go out in the fog. By the time I got anywhere I might have made some interesting pictures the sun had burned the mist away. So I was stuck with this. At least I can add it to my file of gate pictures. Where the gate has gone, remains to be seen.

Coincidentally, not long after making the misty picture I read a blog post praising the 'dehaze' feature in Lightroom. It's some sort of contrast boosting feature that saves you using a combination of the other features to get a similar effect. I avoided using too much contrast or clarity in the misty picture because it stopped looking misty. The before and after shots used in the blog post shared that trait. To my eyes the un-dehazed picture looked more interesting than the treated on. Sure the dehazed version had more punch. But the scene hadn't been punchy, it had been hazy. Photography is getting dumbed down through a combination of digital trickery and lack of understanding. It's that bloody 'wow factor' again. I shall continue to refrain from giving my pictures punch!

It being Eastertide I was loathe to leave home today. But the lull in the biting winds and hints of sun tempted me out. last week I'd been reading a book about the derelict farmsteads on the localish moors. It explained to me what the piles of stones I've seen over the years are. I thought I'd go and revisit a couple armed with my newfound knowledge. Once moor the light thwarted me. Although making pictures of moss covered rubble isn't easy no matter what the light is like.

White skies are the bane of any sort of landscape photography, perhaps with the exception of minimalist themes. However, modern sensors capture more detail in such skies than the eye perceives. The problem is recovering that detail in a way which looks 'right'. It's all too easy to end up with a landscape that is in colour and a sky filled with black and white clouds. It's a look that is quite common these days. It's awful. I prefer the white sky. Also, if the sky is darkened too much it simply looks 'wrong' The sky is always brighter than the land.

Being stuck indoors has given me time to read and to think. The former is good. I'm not so sure about the thinking bit though! A friend leant me a book by one of the celebrity shepherds a few weeks back. It clarified some thoughts I've had. Twitter and Instagram are giving alls sorts of subcultures a chance to expose their worlds to the general public with their own photographs. This could be seen to negate the need for 'real' documentary photographers to cover such subjects. Subcultures have long been a source for documentary photographers. Are they now out of a job? I think not. If anything I reckon they are needed more than ever.

In the shepherd's book, mostly his own phone photographs interspersed with brief notes, he makes the point that people (by which I assume he means the non-farming folk who follow him on Twitter) don't want to see dead sheep. This is self-censorship, or (more acceptably?) self-curation. It fits Martin Parr's view that "all photography is propaganda". A documentary photographer would, again I assume, photograph dead sheep.

This has given me encouragement to stick at photographing subjects which seem to be well photographed. I guess it's about having faith that one's own 'vision' is capable of spotting the unexpected, the unusual, the stuff that is kept hidden. Not necessarily in order to expose the unacceptable. Just to record the facts. That's what a document is at it's best - a record without comment. Although there is always the element of interpretation on behalf of the photographer and the viewer. There is also no guarantee that pictures are used without comment. They can be appropriated and have a twisted interpretation placed upon them. It's a muddy area. Photographs are not innocent.

Friday, 23 February 2018

Pastures new

In the spirit of research I went for a look at a sheepdog auction today. Not being sure what to expect I packed light with the Fuji and its two 'lenses'. This proved to be both good and bad. I'd been in two minds about making an early start to beat the rush hour traffic or setting off late. I knew parking might be difficult if I took the latter option but not the extent of the difficulty!

I don' think I've seen so many 4x4s in one place before. I saw number plates from Belgium and Finland, and heard accents from all of the home nations. Even at my age there are surprises to be had about what goes on in this country. The divide between the urban culture which the media promote as that of the nation and rural culture is a large one.

It took me a while to ease myself into taking photographs. I wanted to get a feel for the place and the event first. One of the early shots, among may which were quickly deleted, provided the crop below. Another happy accident which I find I like despite all it's technical and compositional 'flaws'.

Once in the mood it was a case of trying to find the sort of pictures I like making which tell part of the story and require careful perusal to see all that is going on. This is the challenge which fascinates me at the moment. I found some pictures by a well knows street photographer taken at country shows the other night. They were the regular fare of tightly cropped or uncluttered pictures. Good, but sort of what are expected.  Not that I''m saying my photos are better. Most of the time I miss the target.

Trying to time the release of the shutter so that three elements make visual senses at once is nigh on impossible for me. I wanted the auctioneer in the young dog ring to be making a visually interesting gesture, the young dog to be in the frame running round the penned sheep, and also the sheep and dog being exhibited at work on the field behind. I'm not 100% sure but I think a DSLR would have made that easier. There was a definite shutter lag with the Fuji, even when pre-focussed on where I expected the young dog to appear. I ended up putting the camera in burst mode and trying to predict when it would come round the pen. The chap consulting the catalogue was a nice framing bonus. If I had nailed this shot I'd have been overjoyed. Close but no cigar this time.

There were lots of dogs about,and lots of people. Sniping character shots with a long lens would have been a doddle. They always lack that all important context to me. Whether a small, silent camera really is an advantage when working close to people is still something I'm unconvinced about. I do think having a small lens on a big camera helps. Maybe that just helps my self-consciousness though? Probably the biggest help is having an air of purposefulness about you, and not looking shifty!

Another thing that frustrated me was having to keep swapping 'lenses'. It wasn't that I missed having the crutch of a zoom lens. Using just two focal lengths works well enough for me. Two cameras is the (expensive) answer...

Overall my haul of pictures was pretty thin. To be expected on an exploratory visit for someone as slow to learn as me. However, learning the limitations of a camera is valuable. I also learned something about setting the thing up. Reviewing pictures on the back screen I was convinced they were all over exposed, even though the histogram (something I never usually look at) was telling me otherwise. There was also a strange icon on the screen when shooting. I had no idea what it was.Lacking the manual a deep dive into the menu was called for. It turned out that switching off the automatic brightness control for the back screen made the pictures look perfectly exposed!

Sunday, 18 February 2018

Sheep, dogs and hens.

With one thing and another (mostly horrible weather) I've not had much chance to try out the teleconverter I bought a while back. Although the light was good enough the other day the wind made hand-holding a long lens steady difficult. That meant I didn't get any further with discerning if the thing is any use. Most of the photos were blurred from camera shake. I did manage a couple that seemd to be okay when I braced myself against a fence post. The best thing to come out of that afternoon wander was seeing a field of lambs, most of which were sensible lying down and huddling with each other to lessen the wind chill effect. More experimentation required with the teleconverter.

Latter in the week I was frustrated by work and set off to revisit my dog town project to relieve the tension. I didn't really get in the zone but found that the change of small camera does the job. The colours are much better than those out of the 'toy' camera. All I have to do for consistency is crop the frames to 4:3. This project is liberating as I'm quite sloppy, in a controlled way, about composition. That's the easy bit. It still requires a lot of photographs being taken to get the handful that rise above being snaps. The crucial factor is what's going on beyond the obvious subject. Distant dogs which need searching out in the picture are one element I like to include, and the 'bit part players' are also important. Making the edit is quite subjective, but I know what I'm looking for when I see it. Certainly seeking out pictures with dogs in them makes roaming around town more interesting than idly snapping away in what passes for a lot of street photography.

One good thing about the local bantam society is their show hall is about ten minutes drive away. Although that makes it hard to resist visiting on show days...

Last year's avian flu has had a big impact on the show scene. Birds are now routinely inspected on arrival, and carriers have to be of a certain specification - which has been a boost for manufacturers of poultry carrying boxes! I managed to get to the show early enough to get one reasonable picture of the inspections. A pity they do it under a blue gazebo.

As with anything you visit frequently it gets more and more difficult to find new things to photograph. Over familiarity makes it harder to keep looking with fresh eyes. But every now and then something different jumps out at you. Today it was an old set of scales. Most egg judges use electronic scales, but not today's judge.

I've found that with fewer things interesting me I'm spending more time on anything that does catch my attention. I must have taken ten or more shots of these scales, and a good job too because only three or four weren't either blurred or out of focus! I also spent quite some time trying to make the next shot work. I don't think I did in the end, but it's OK. If the people and poultry don't make shapes or gestures to 'finish' the picture there's not a lot that can be done about it.

Once again I was playing around with the small camera and once more found it very capable. Not without it's drawbacks but so far it seems to be the small camera I've got on with best. It's high ISO performance is acceptable, the smaller sensor is advantageous in getting more depth of focus for a given aperture, and I think it's leaf shutter overcomes the problems fluorescent lighting creates with white balance banding when using a focal plane shutter camera. I might be wrong about that last point but white balance was consistent across the frame no matter what shutter speed I used. No doubt I'll find something annoying about it eventually!

I didn't get many people doing things pictures for some reason. One being not many people were doing things, another being that I popped back home during the judging. There are a few which will be added to the useful file though, mostly detail shots like the scales. Small selection here

Saturday, 10 February 2018

More experimentation and decisions

A good feature about poultry shows and auctions is that they take place undercover. Which was handy today as it was yet another full day of rain. This gave me a chance to try out the new camera some more, in even more challenging light, and to make one final attempt to learn to love the 85mm lens. I also took along my huge, heavy and therefore neglected long zoom.

This time I was using the new camera with the wide angle adaptor attached. Unfortunately I had it's distortion correction set incorrectly at first. This is a feature of modern non-DSLR cameras with electronic viewfinders which compensates for less than perfect lens designs. Somehow or other the software manages to embed the corrections into raw files. The early shots from the day I took looked as if they'd been taken with a fisheye lens! I managed to correct the distortion in Lightroom without too much fuss. Luckily most of the pics were junked, but a couple were worth salvaging.

As can be seen in the picture above the quality of light at this auction mart is weird. There are at least two different sources everywhere, creating colour casts which can't be readily sorted on the computer. Black and white conversions remove this problem, and also cover up for the noise which is a result of the light also being dingy. This is the only time I don't mind making conversions. But they are no use to fit in to a project shot in colour. Ho hum.

Using the screen rather than the viewfinder made for taking lower level shots close up and discretely a doddle. But I find it a little sneaky.

Overall the camera did OK. But it was at its limit for low light handling. As soon as I started using a 'proper' camera everything got much easier. I was also reminded that a big camera isn't necessarily more obtrusive than a small one.

For the most part, when I switched to the longer zoom, I didn't use it to 'snipe' shots of characters. The main reason being that I don't like the perspective and 'look' that approach gives to the pictures. While most people love long lenses for the separation they provide between subject and background, it can also make the people look disconnected from their environment.I much prefer context.

My main reason for using the lens was to try to get a decent shot or two of the auctioneer in action. As well as using the neglected lens I also set the camera to it's highest frame rate to see if that would help catch a telling gesture. Although I rattled off plenty of shots (for me) I'm not sure I took enough.

I ended my day using the two focal lengths I seem to feel most comfortable with in situations like this. 28mm and 50mm. Why 28mm suits me I don't really know. It's something to do with having to get close to a subject to make it large in the frame, and when you do this there is a lot of background visible, and even at wide apertures it is in reasonable focus. All this without the perspective looking distorted. That is why I prefer to use the two lenses rather than a zoom which starts at 24mm - there's a tendency to use it at its widest when I need to go wide.

The 50mm feels almost like a telephoto (other people's 85mm lenses probably fill this role for them) and allows me to throw backgrounds out of focus a little. It focuses quite close too, which I like for shots such as the one below.

Although I might not have come away with many decent photographs, I have decided to get shut of the 85mm lens and use the zoom more often. I had thoughts getting another Fuji so I could use one with the 28mm equivalent adaptor and another with the 50mm adaptor, but for the sort of low light situations I tend to adopt that approach they are not a patch on proper cameras. Outdoors in summer they'd be fine, but then I'd probably have my superzoom in action! I'll be sticking with the Fuji for my 'street' camera I think. It's by far the best I've tried to date.

Gallery from the day here.