Sunday, 17 November 2019

Out of adversity?

The lack of ideas continues, as does the repeat visits to places in the vain hope that I'll find something worth photographing. With the weather still refusing to settle any sunny day has been seized as chance to get out with a camera. Even though I know I'll be wasting my time as far as getting anything useful goes.

I drove to the auction mart a week ago and didn't even get the camera out of the car. The sun was making a rare appearance so I headed to higher ground. For once I found some sheep action of sorts. But not enough to make more that casual shots. Although the tup's bum picture has something going for it. I determined to stop going on these wild goose chases.

A couple of days later the sun made another appearance as did the undomesticated geese. It's strange that I find it impossible to make decent pictures of places I like being in. There must be a project to work on about the moors, but I'm buggered if I can find a ket to unlock the box it's in. You might imagine a neolithic burial site would kickstart something, but it's just a ragged pile of stones. The best I could do was contrast the ancient stones with the transmission masts which also echo the dead pine trunks in the middle distance.

Friday had another sunny afternoon, which is short at this time of year, and I ended up at the sandplant.where nothing much had changed. I'd set out intending to look for sunset sheep and only had the telephoto zoom with me, which limited my options. There are no sheep at teh sandplant so what made me go there is a head-scratcher.

I found some sheep elsewhere, but the sun decided to set behind clouds and the light was grim. The sheep weren't playing ball either. I got home earlier than intended so dropped the big camera off before going for fish and chips. I stuck the Fuji in my jacket pocket and tried it for some night time pictures. Where there was a bit of light it worked OK. While I'm not a big fan of its files as a rule it does do black and white conversions I like. This messy picture (with self-portrait) has given me some ideas for the future.

On Saturday morning it was a struggle to get out of bed and go to the poultry auction and show. I really wasn't in the mood. Repeating myself at the auction wasn't going to happen. My daft idea of shooting the show entirely in vertical format was forgotten. It was hard enough to see any pictures. Arriving after most birds had been penned might have had some bearing on that. I did manage to get a picture which gives a better idea of a chicken being put in a pen than any I've managed before. Which was a small victory.

I still like using the flippy screen for low angles. Rather belatedly I have realised that the focusing issue is best overcome by prefocusing and waiting for action to come to me. The hit rate is much better that way.

Not being interested in the auction I was resigned to getting pictures of the judging. Despite the much increased entry for the show over previous years there didn't look to be as many judges! This can be a subject where the longer zoom can be useful to blur a background.

In this case there wasn't much background to blur.

Pictures like this are very much dependent on gesture and expression  of judge and bird to lift them above being ordinary.

Although these sort of pictures are nice enough a wider lens used closer, as always, draws a viewer into the scene. In most judging situations the best place to be would be in one of the pens looking out!

A better opportunity came after the judging was concluded and one judge was mentoring someone else. I rattled off a lot of frames on this, always trying to file the frame with shapes and gestures.

I even tried the flippy screen , but I think the eye-level pictures worked better in terms of engagement.

When it comes to detail shots it's pretty much impossible to find anything new. Variations of repeated themes from past shows are inevitable.

There can be novel effects of light and shade though.

I might not have been in the most enthusiastic frame of mind for taking pictures at the show, but I still managed to come away with some that are worth adding to the files. A larger selection can be found here.

One thing I did want to record at the auction, if nothing more, was the new line of cages in the cattle pen section. Poultry sales must be doing well for the mart to add more permanent cages. I tried to take some pictures of the sale in this area but it proved tricky. Getting in position before the throng arrived would have been the best plan.

Perhaps the lesson from this is that if you stick to it and take enough pictures some of them will be OK. Another manifestation of the 'working through' a period of being stuck. If you don't take any pictures none of them will be any good!

Saturday, 2 November 2019

Demotivation - with a twist

Having become stuck with my long term projects, going over the same old ground, I decided to back off on them despite having nothing to replace them with. As a sort of last hurrah I managed to drag myself out of bed at silly o'clock on Friday to get to the sheep dog auction in time to catch dogs having their microchips scanned.It was dark, cold, and poring with rain when I left home. I really wished I was still tucked up under the cosy duvet. At least there wasn't much traffic on the roads.

After a quick look round I started looking for photographs. This time I had left the temptation of a focal length longer than 100mm at home. That way I wouldn't get side-tracked by the dogs running on the field or sniping pictures of 'characters'. With my rainy day standard zoom I would be forced to get in close. This worked well for the scanning. Although I didn't get any really strong pictures I did manage a few which showed the green light of confirmation a-glow. Not all the dogs are keen on big sticks being waved around them!

With the main purpose of the mission accomplished I wandered up to have a chat with the chap taking the sheep off the field and see what picture opportunities there might be from a vantage point I'd not sought out in previous visits. This was where a longer lens would have been useful, but I settled for some dog pics.

For one I even used the camera's crop mode. 10 megapixels is plenty for most of my uses.

Back among the crowd I was struggling a bit. I was trying to carry on with the 'chaotic' theme from the poultry auction but was finding it difficult to find a position where I could get faces in shot. I even tried my 20mm lens for a while.

The wide end of the zoom was usually wide enough, though. Although the physical size of the lens, especially with the lens hood attached, annoys me. I'm sure that with a less bulky lens I would fare better in cramped situations simply because the chances of bashing someone with the lens is reduced! I have noticed that using a relatively wide angle lens up close to people tends to go unnoticed. I reckon because they imagine you are photographing something furter away than a couple of feet.

Partly because I'd hit the four hour wall when I run out of steam, and also because I wanted to get home in time to receive a delivery from the postman, I left well before the sale was over. Looking through the pictures in the evening I kept 'seeing' loads I should have stuck around to make. Armchair photography is always easy!

Saturday morning saw me just as reluctant to make an effort to photograph poultry as I had been to photograph sheep dogs. At least I wouldn't have far to go. Despite knowing that some of the best chances for making pictures occur as people arrive I didn't get there in time for it. I had an excuse. A lame excuse, but an excuse.

The next best chance for pictures is during the judging, and I'm fortunate that despite the sign I am allowed to enter!

This time there was something a bit different to see. One of the judges has a platform which attaches to the pens to stand birds on. Finding an angle was the only real challenge aside from usual technical limitation of the strip lights.

I've got enough pictures of poultry in pens, but every now and then there's something a bit unusual. I'd never had bantams down as climbers before!

I must be learning, at long last, to persevere when I see a potential picture. The bird below had all too briefly turned to face me smack bang in the centre of its pen, surrounded by rosettes and prize cards. Of course I missed theat shot because chickens don't stay still for long. On that subject the 1/100th maximum shutter speed the strip lights impose makes it really difficult to freeze chicken motion. I just hoped the bird would repeat it's position for me, framed the shot and waited. You can feel a bit of a fool standing in front of a chicken with a camera pressed to your face not taking pictures fro a few minutes. After some near misses it turned and looked at me. Not dead central, but that's OK. It's also almost in focus.

As judging progresses a silence falls in the village hall as the results are read out and show catalogues marked.

With all the judging done bar the selection of overall winner and runner up it's back to the show to feed and water the birds, and check on who's won what.

There's also the photographs of the winners to be taken. I've managed to wriggle out of that task. Which is a relief!

Listening to an interview with Daniel Meadows on the A Small Voice podcast it struck a chord when he said that he'd spent a lot of his life wishing that he'd taken pictures like Cartier-Bresson or Diane Arbus or Bill Brandt and that it took him a long while to learn that he’d actually taken pictures like Daniel Meadows.

Looking at pictures taken by people who win competitions or set up in business as photographers a couple of years after picking up a camera can be a bit dispiriting. How come they're getting recognised when your own stuff is languishing unloved by the great unwashed? When I look critically at these pictures and compare them to mine it becomes fairly clear. They've learned their photography by looking at different sorts of pictures to the ones I've looked at. They are influenced by pictures that win competitions or are taken by people doing work for hire. My influences have always been in other spheres - documentary, reportage, art. And I've never been interested in any photography which demands technical perfection or the mastery of lighting techniques. That's trained monkey territory to my mind.

Aesthetically, my pictures are rarely 'bright' or contrasty and colourful. The depth of field is rarely shallow unless I'm forced into using it because the light is gloomy. The people in my pictures are hardly ever posed, and very rarely smiling. It's not that I can't take those sorts of pictures. It's that I don't want to - most of the time.

All the above also relates to my 'landscape' pictures. I don't seek out the picturesque. When I try to I fail to make pictures. But give me an agricultural landscape I get closer. I guess I do have a style. It's just not a populist one!

Saturday, 26 October 2019

Endless rain

At long last I think I might have exorcised all ideas of doing 'landscape photography' from my brain. Certainly the practice of going places I like with the intention of looking for 'landscape photographs'.

Last Saturday had been so wet and my motivation so reduced that a drive to find a sheepdog trial was abandoned and I didn't even call in at either of the auctions I passed. On Sunday the rain eventually stopped and I headed for the forest in bright sunshine. Naturally that light disappeared as soon as I got out of my car armed with a map intent on exploring. The looking around didn't work out as on the ground things were less interesting than on the map. I did go a little off the beaten track, however, to look at what was marked as a rain gauge. A galvanised can in a field! I guess searching out and photographing more of these could become a landscape project if it wasn't for the treks over rough ground it would involve.Not at my age, with my knees!

There were a few sheep about and I tried to make some sheepscapes. This was the most successful.
At this time of year the afternoons are short and where there are hills can be even shorter. Taking a step too far into a bog was what curtailed my afternoon. I headed home to dry my boot off.

Amazingly thhe early part of the week which followed was warm and dry for a change. On Tuesday I put my dry boots on and went for a look around the wood with a plan in mind. That didn't work but I tried a few shots of the recently harvested maize fields on my way back. There's something to work on there, but I'm not sure I can be bothered looking for it. I can't help thinking that pictures without people in them have little value on their own. Perhaps in series they would work better?

Still having a feeling of disinterest about photography I made the effort to get out early for yesterday's big sale, not really expecting to do much more than tread familiar ground. The early arrival did get me some views of empty pens, and an increased entry form last year meant there were additional pens set up outside. Nothing startling, but 'paragraphs' added to the visual story.

Another step in the right direction was getting a picture of the electronic tag scanner lit up. Perhaps not as good as it could be, but it's been recorded now.

I tried a few eye detail shots but the light was dim and the sheep never stop still. The best way to take these sort of shots would be in full daylight with someone holding the sheep. Maybe at next summer's shows.

Once the sale started I divided my time between the main ring where groups of breeding ewes were being sold and the temporary tup ring. The main ring I have photographed often and there's not much new ground to be covered.

I was trying to get a picture from behind sheep as they entered the ring but timed them all wrong. The accidental 'sheep's eye view' of the open gate, on the other hand, seemed to work quite well for some reason.

Other than that it was low-level pictures of sheep and people, or wide views from up the steps to the café - as usual.

The temporary ring was different. The layout changed from last year for one thing, but mostly it's more intimate and busier. With that in mind I tried to make chaotic pictures. Some were OK, but none were outstanding.

After four hours my brain begins to fade and as I had to get to the Post Office in order to catch the last collection I left around two with the sale still having a long way to go. The rain had already returned long before then. More pics here.

Tuesday, 8 October 2019

Still photographing the same old stuff

The weather pattern appears pretty settled now. No two consecutive days the same. that said it does seem to be the case that a wet morning has a good chance of turning into a dry afternoon. On one such I set off with no plan other than to restrict myself to a 35mm focal length. Quite why I have bonded with the replacement for my fungus infected old lens is difficult to understand. But I have.

I thought the sandplant had undergone all it's transformations, meaning I was surprised to find the old opening to the road out to the sea which had been blocked had been even more blocked when I turned up. The evidence is more striking form the outside but less interesting to make a picture of being an infilling of the steep sided part of the path. There was more that had been done, notably the erection of even more fencing attempting to keep people off the marsh

That afternoon didn't stay dry and before dusk it was raining again. the next day was another one of rain so it was two days later when it faired up I went in search of more watery landscapes for my collection. Again I pressed the 35mm into action with no safety net. What the point of these two collections of pictures I keep adding to is as big a mystery as the weather.

The following day was warm and dry. hardly surprising as I spent it indoors photographing poultry and poultry people at the auction mart. Although I started out with the two 'pro' zoom approach, because I needed the faster apertures to cope with the dimly lit shed, I ended up swapping the 24-70mm for the 35mm and made a similar number of 'keepers' with both. The hated 70-200mm accounted for a few as well.

I was up against the old repetition problem again, but by dropping anchor in one spot and letting the throng and the sale come to me, shooting back towards the auctioneer, I was able to get faces in the frame. Faces make much more engaging pictures, and tell more of a story, than the backs of people's heads.

Two days later I was back at the mart, similarly equipped, photographing sheep. This time the zooms stayed attached all the time. The light in the main shed was as grim as it had been for the poultry sale, but in the other shed where the sheep were to be judged before being auctioned the light was much better. The nasty lights in there had been replaced with LEDs like in the sale ring.

All the sheep were penned in the main shed where they were first tarted up by their sellers and their lot numbers attached, then inspected by potential buyers.

From the pens they were guided to the next door shed where the show ring had been set up.

An indoor sheep show made a change, even though the procedure was the same as ever. It being a single breed show the classes, although fewer, were larger.

Following the show I had time to grab a plate of chips and gravy before the sale commenced under the lovely new LEDs.

I think another thing that photography has in common with fishing is that some people are happy to keep on doing the same thing, year in year out, and getting the same results, while others are always looking for a new challenge to keep their interest up. I'm certainly in the latter camp. In the past I have often got fed up of fishing a particular water after three years, sometimes four, regardless of whether I've got the best out of it or not. I've been photographing sheep for three years now.

One thing that used to keep my going ion fishing was finding new methods to catch fish on. That way there was always a challenge. That's why I bugger about using different lenses, to keep me thinking. What I need now, photographically, is a new challenge. Either a change of subject, or approach. Finding that is much harder than taking photographs.