Sunday, 3 June 2018

Out of my depth again

It was a toss up yesterday whether to go to the poultry auction yet again and be guranteed to stay dry or take a chance that the weather would be drier up north at a Country fest which had a sheep dog trial as an attraction. The 'fest' didn't look too appealing, more a market for fancy goods and food. Apart from the sheepdogs I didn't expect much of it. However, I took the chance as I fancied a break from poultry. The first tent I saw that wasn't selling stuff was a poultry show!

I managed to resist the temptation to hang around there, but still rattled off a few frames. Mostly the same old same old, but a couple of quirky ones too.


With there being now sheep show I hadn't expected to see anything ovine away from the sheepdogs. The Rare Breed Survival Trust tent was a pleasant surprise, it being filled with sheep. I tried to get some moody portraits of a few breeds, but sheep being sheep most were camera-shy. The dim light inside the tent didn't help me get a decent depth of focus. The idea of the close crop has some potential .

The Badger faced sheep were particularly uncooperative!

I was amused to see a sign warning of animals moving about, more so when I almost bumped into one as I left the tent.

There was more sheepy interest in other places. Unexpectedly the pet tent which I thought would be as full of rabbits as Bishop Brennan's bedroom had a pen of the smallest sheep with their tiny, and ridiculously cute, lambs. The lambs were a big hit with the children - and the adults!

With the day being overcast the light inside the tents was a bit dim. On sunny days the marquees make great diffusers for photography, providing a bright enough but lovely and soft light. On gloomy days the light is just dim. Outdoors things are better and the harsh shadows of a sunny day are gone, the cloud cover providing the diffusion. That made photographing the sheep shearer, or rather the sheep being sheared, easier. Well, getting a pleasing exposure was easier, getting decent pictures was the same problem it always is. Juggling viewpoint, framing and timing being constants. More so when there is action which is new to you is involved.

For a change I had ditched my superzoom and was trying to stick to a shorter zoom. But as I also had my fast telephoto zoom with me I had got that in use. Reviewing the results from that lens back home I saw immediately why a lot of people use this sort of lens as their main choice. And why their pictures look the way they do. There's a visual appeal in the way that using a long lens at a wide aperture makes the subject look sharp. Makes the pictures 'pop' as the saying goes. It's not just down to how sharp these lenses are, to my eyes. What bugs me about the lens is that it doesn't focus close. That might also be a reason people like it as it means they don't have to (can't) get close to strangers they are taking pictures of.

At the trial field I stuck a x2 teleconverter on the long zoom. Pixel peepers decry this approach, but it's been good enough for me on static subjects. So long as I nail focus and avoid camera shake. This meant upping the shutter speed with the result that the ISO went up to 2000 and over. Not ideal for viewing at 100%, but if you aren't going to print or view the pictures much bigger than A4 only a nerd would notice the effect of the high ISO.

That was the easy part of this new challenge after taking a scene setting picture or two.

Maintaining focus on fast moving animals was the next, and harder part. Some 300 shots later I'm still not sure I sussed it. Things did improve as time went on, but the problem of framing shots well while altering the zoom and following the action was the real killer. It wouldn't matter much if I was in the habit of cropping my pictures, but I try to avoid doing that. Even so I gave in to temptation a time or two with my earlier shots.

As ever making pictures that helped tell a story or recreate the atmosphere of the event, either on their own or in combination, was my main preoccupation. Some managed to varying degrees. The shapes and expressions of dogs never cease to be attractive to photograph. The relationship between animal and human too.

Gradually I got tuned in to the pace of the runs and the points in the action where telling pictures might be made. One such moment is when the dog starts its outrun. There being no cues as to when this will happen timing is both difficult and crucial. I got one frame that was better than the majority - most of which were deleted immediately.

Sheep being driven towards the camera provide another opportunity. Here the challenge is to get something a bit different.

Then there's the penning where lots can go wrong and make interesting pictures. It's also a time where all three elements in the event can be framed together - sheep, dog, person.

Another problem I had to overcome at this venue was troublesome backgrounds. From one viewpoint the masses of parked cars in the next field were almost unavoidable, and everywhere looking down the field was the chance of traffic on the road at the far end intruding into the shots. Being aware of these restrictions soon became second nature.

Overall I ended up with some reasonable pictures (considering that I was out of my limited technical comfort zone and the new subject), not to mention some ideas for how to improve. I ended the day with a shot in my more usual style.

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