Sunday, 3 February 2019

No business like snow business

At long last the grey skies have cleared, probably temporarily, giving way to snow and frost. Bad weather makes good pictures. Or it can do. Snow is often followed by cold, still, bright, days. So it was last week. I saw the distant hills clad in white and was tempted to drive over to  take a closer look. Two things held me back. An impending delivery to wait in for, and a lack of any real subject other than the snow.

The delivery failed to materialise until Saturday lunch time. By then it was too late to travel far so I set out on one of my usual local drive routes. Not having anything in mind to take photographs of I resisted the temptation to take the 'do it all' lens and fitted the consumer mid range zoom. If I'd taken something with a longer range I might have got some half decent pictures of unexpected lambs. I'd imagined it would be a week or two too soon to see any lambs in the fields, but I was wrong. Most ran away from me, and even the two that didn't required the image to be cropped to make a picture. C'est la vie.

In an attempt to make the best of what I had with me I tried some sheepscapes. Without much satisfaction.
Carrying on my journey I was passing a local fishing venue which I expected to be iced over. The sun was still shining so it was worth a look. I wished I'd got there sooner while the sun was higher and less of the lake was in shadow as there were some interesting patterns on the ice that I might have been able to make some abstractions from. I did what I could, but it wasn't much.

The new computer is now up and running, along with a new (and much better) monitor. It took me a while (and some money) to get the slide scanner to speak to the new machine, but that is running smoother than before now. Among the latest batch of scanned negatives I found my earliest sheep pictures. From 1979! They aren't up to much. Apart from me being new to taking photographs and visually naive they were taken over a gate. Even so in teh pictrue below I can see a hint of one way I still like to make pictures.

I like to kid myself that when I'm on form I'm a more sophisticated photographer these days. By that I don't mean I dress more stylishly! What I'm on about is the way I look for pictures and arrange the framing. There's still a lot of instinct involved, but I'm also considering what the picture has to say along with how it works in visually abstract terms.

This week's sheep dog trial was to be held on the Sunday rather than the usual Saturday. I was hoping all week that the snow, which had melted quickly here near the coast and sea level, would still be in evidence on the tops. It was. Apart from providing a different atmosphere to the pictures snow would serve as a cleaner backdrop in the same way that a sandy beach does when the subject consists of figures (human or animal). It's akin to the way many Lowry paintings look with almost silhouetted figures on a plain ground.

Hoping also that the sun would shine I took a chance on using two light weight lenses with variable apertures. They are both sharp enough for my uses. So long as the aim isn't to make large prints which will be inspected at close range by nerds most lenses are 'sharp enough' if you ask me. As it turned out my recently purchased lens performed better than expected in terms of focusing accuracy on moving targets. And on static targets it proves plenty sharp enough.

As anyone with a brain (and a good eye) will tell you subject separation by use of background blur is not just a function of aperture. Focal length, subject to background distance, and subject to photographer distance all play their part. With a bit of thought even slow lenses can do the job. There is also, for my way of working, a benefit of having less background blur. Too soft a background and context is lost. There are times and places for both approaches, of course.

Snow, again like a sandy beach, poses exposure problems. While I was aware of this and compensated for it I wasn't able to see the camera screen too well thanks to the bright sunshine. The histogram was as much use as it always is to me. That is to say no use. Mainly because the subjects were relatively small on large light backgrounds. All this meant that I was amazed to find that hardly any of my pictures needed the exposure altering when I got them on the PC!

The bright sunshine and the need to overexpose slightly from the camera's meter reading meant that I had the luxury of using fast shutterspeeds (1/1000th or more) and small apertures (f7 or smaller) most of the time without the ISO rising into the thousands. Great for freezing the action. I could so with more practice at photographing fast moving dogs though. Or I could if it were to be my livelihood. As that isn't the case I'll stay as I am!

Looking for different viewpoints is the continual challenge. Sub-framing can provide many opportunities. Doing it for the sake of doing it is just using a trick. If you can make the frame and the subject relate to each other contextually to tell the story it's much better. I'm not sure if the two pictures below count as examples of sub-framing as they are only partial frames.

The first one breaks the rule of never having anything large and out of focus in the foreground. Pah!

It took me a few shots to get one which worked reasonably well. Not perfectly. The right hand dog shouldn't be cutting into the frame edge for one thing. There are other flaws. The picture below is one I'm happier with. Again it wasn't the first or only frame I took. The first was a snap as soon as I 'saw' the picture possibility. I had to move to get the two figures lined up with teh dip in the quad's seat. Then i had to wait for the three dogs to all look to the right and then hope I got something reasonably interesting and 'readable' happening in the background. Much closer to a decent picture. I think the green quad works better than a red one would have too. More harmonious with the muted background colours.

For some reason I still find the pictures that aren't of the trials themselves more interesting. Probably because they are taken from closer to what's going on. This time I went up to the release pen and timed it right to get some shots of the sheep being driven back and into the pen. Being able to use the wider lens made for pictures which feel more like the sort I like taking.

The weather forecast predicted sleety rain to arrive around 2pm. It was bang on time. With just four dogs more to run I beat a hasty retreat. There's a load more photos to be seen here.

Today's experiment of using 'consumer' zoom lenses worked well. I often see photographers (I use the term loosely) moaning about the weight they carry. It amazes me when they list what makes up that weight. There's all manner of stuff they probably use once in a blue moon, but there are always far too many lenses, and always the 'best' lenses money can buy. Fast lenses are always heavy. Unless the fast aperture is essential (usually for light gathering purposes rather than 'bokeh' delivery) I'm coming to the conclusion that I can manage with slow lenses. Lenses that weigh a fraction of their faster counterparts. Indeed, most of the time I could manage with the 'do it all' lens. The reason I didn't take that route today is that when I did try it for sheep dog action it proved less than ideal. Even by my low standards. The new lens fared much better. Just as well because I had no back up!

There's more than one way to reduce your gear's weight than switching systems. Stop believing you always need 'pro' lenses and the cheap, plasticky feeling, 'consumer' lenses, and stop carting loads of useless junk around. Here endeth the lesson...

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