Tuesday, 23 July 2019


I decided to give an agricultural show a miss the weekend after my expensive visit to the GYS. I couldn't get myself motivated to photograph sheep again. It was a show I've been two a couple of times before and didn't think there'd be anything either fresh or relevant to my sheep breed obsessions on the Saturday. While there would be rare breeds on the Sunday it was the cricket World Cup Final - and I wasn't missing that for anything!

Even so, by Saturday evening I was getting the urge to use a camera for something. Without much inspiration I went in search of potatoes. One day this might get to project stage, but at the moment it's all a bit random.

An unexpected bonus was to find some potatoes being irrigated. This is something I photographed many moons ago on a sunny summer evening as the sun was setting. The atmosphere was different this time. No backlit water jets, but a grey sky. I did a lot more processing to the files than I usually do simply because what I had seen and what the camera saw were not the same. I still managed to resist overdoing the clarity and sharpness though. Which far too many people do not these days.

Still lacking sheep show motivation, and with the Royal Lancashire Show the following weekend I took the plunge and ordered a new-to-me lens.The idea was to go to the show using just this lens (35mm) and the 70-200mm rather than rely on 'old faithful'. If I was forced to look differently I might see some fresh pictures. That was the plan.

A new lens needs testing, and the only way I know to do that is to take it out somewhere and snap away at all sorts of rubbish. Most of the pictures will get binned, but that's not the point. The idea is to get used to using the lens and to learn how it behaves. Also to find out if it has any faults when it's a used model. When in doubt, head for the sandplant! I didn't think it had changed since I was last there, but it had. Albeit subtly. I added a few more shots to the file, which I really must edit down to something concrete.

It was forecast to be wet on the Friday of the RLS, not quite so wet on the Saturday, and hot on the Sunday. This was another factor in my lens choice as the superzoom is less water resistant than the 70-200 and the 35mm. I gave the first day a miss as it was pelting down, and as there weren't any of my favourite sheep being shown on the Saturday I intended to look around other parts of the show as well as the sheep dog trial which was on all three days.

My first stop was still going to be the sheep pens. There I was surprised to see the Valais Blacknose owners I'd met at Great Harwood, and both pleased and surprised to see a picture I'd taken there as part of their show banner. It's odd that despite their cuteness I don't find myself spending much time at all trying to photograph these sheep. Cute and cuddly doesn't appeal to my aesthetic senses.

The sheep rings were well set up and gave reasonable access for photography. It's got to be a case of looking for pictures which are not the usual judging shots since I've got so many of those in the files. I still take some, but more on the off chance that one might be a little better than one I already have.

Juxtapositions often make for good photographs and when I saw a steward using an umbrella with photographs of sheep on I dashed to get closer.

Even though I spent some time at the sheep rings I didn't take many photos. I even got distracted by the nearby cattle rings for a few minutes before heading off to the trial field. On my way there I passed The Sheep Show. An amusing piece of sheepish entertainment, which is also informative, that was well attended despite the rain.

Next to the sheep marquee was the shearing demonstration. Also entertaining and informative. Popular as a place to shelter too.

As ever I found the 70-200 a bit too short when out in the big wide world. For photographing the falconry display from outside the ring I had to crop most shots to get anything close to a picture.

Knowing I was going to return on the final day I noted this display down as one to revisit and get a shot I'd 'seen'. When you stumble on something like this without knowing what it entails you often aren't in the right position, and/or have the wrong lens. Sunday I'd take the 70-300 and stand somewhere different. I even checked the timetable to make sure I didn't miss the display. Pre-planning!

It paid off. I still had to crop a little to improve the framing, but I got the pictures I'd hoped for. Maybe not perfect, but close enough for shots which aren't for anything special.


While this lens might be a slow aperture 'consumer' lens it's not a bad performer (by my less than critical standards). The biggest problem I have is not with lenses, but with focusing modes when it comes to fast moving subjects like birds of prey and sheep dogs. As the owl was flying towards me it was pretty straightforward, ut when there were falcons flying around I struggled a bit. I also struggled with the sheep dogs.

I'd had a bit of a go on the Saturday without much success. I didn't hang around the trial field for long though as it was raining. Sunday was drier and the grass dry enough to sit on (using my camera bag as a ground sheet). The lower angle made for a different look to the photos, and my position was quite good. Unfortunately the sheep were quite cooperative around the pen with the only chance for 'action' when it came to the shed when they were far from cooperative. Some action happened a bit too far away. In order to get a decent picture much cropping was required. Not something I like to do. It's fine for social media nd phone viewing, but not great for printing or full screen slide shows.

However, I am more willing to make slight crops when I can't get the framing right because the focus points aren't in the right place. My current camera doesn't have as wide a coverage of focus points in the viewfinder to keep the dog as low in the frame as I'd like most of the time. I still feel like cropping is cheating, but the guilt is lessening each time I do it.

When things are less fast moving I can focus and recompose, eliminating the need to crop.

One thing I have done recently is reduce the number of active focus points to make moving the one in operation around faster. It's helped a great deal.

In the sheep rings Sunday was a bit of a disappointment with fewer sheep and breeds than the show catalogue suggested. Quite a few Lonks though. So that was good. But not much in the way of different pictures. That meant looking around for other breeds and detail shots.

Over the two days I took more pictures with the longer zoom than the 35mm. The 35mm, however, felt as useful as a shorter zoom, though. Occasionally I wished it had been a little wider, but the gap between 35mm and 70mm didn't feel too long. The only drawback to the longer zooms compared to the superzoom is the longer close focus distance. That makes getting the kind of tightly framed detail shots I like pretty much impossible. I can see a 35mm/100mm combination working for me in dimly lit environments like auction marts.

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