Wednesday, 10 July 2019

A big day out

Twenty nine quid to get in to an agricultural show!!! Last year I baulked at the ticket price for the Great Yorkshire Show and I very nearly didn't bother this time. But I thought I'd take a chance on it being worth the drive and inevitable tedium of getting in to the site. Although the sheep judging wasn't due to start as soon as the gates opened I planned to arrive well beforehand. That proved a good move given the traffic. I even managed to get a parking space quite close to the entrance. While I'd made good time I still missed the early classes for the Gritstones, which was disappointing, and much of the sheep tarting up had already been done.

The GYS takes place on a purpose built showground complete with permanent buildings for all the livestock and show rings which give good access for the viewing public - and photographers. There are two huge open-sided sheep sheds with the rings in between them. All very handy.

As well as being big the show is also more formal than even the larger of the shows I've been to before. Exhibitors all have to wear a white coat, which is something only seen in the rare an minority breed sections of smaller sheep shows.

Continuing my concentration on Lonks I managed, rather surprisingly, to add a couple of pictures to my files which I'd been after for some time. Not great pictures but at least I've got records of these two aspects of ram evaluation. Ram lambs first and aged rams second.

As ever I photographed other stuff going on and made a few of my 'head scratchers' - pictures which are a bit off the wall.

Overall I didn't add much of value to my Lonk file. There were opportunities to look at other breeds as there were more there than at any other show in the country according to the PA commentary.

Whitefaced Woodlands continue to attract my lens, and Lincoln Longwools were a breed I'd not seen in the flesh before. Both breeds live up to their names.

Although the Lonks and Grits had been judged there were still more breeds to go, which meant that there was some preparation going on. At the small shows where the sheep are paraded between the pens I can't recall seeing a trimming stand in use. This show gave me a chance to get some photographed along with more shots of spray whitener in use.

Photographically I probably should have made more of an effort with the shearing competition. By the time I got there I was starting to flag and with their being a large crowd I didn't want to push in front of them.

Round the back of the shearing stage was the pens for the hundreds of sheep to be clipped. Again I could have done more with that. Instead I made a video clip of sheep being unloaded.

As at the Nidderdale Show there was a carcase/carcass competition. Behind glass in a chilled trailer so too difficult to photograph for a lazy git like me. However there was a lamb judging competition accompanied by displays of the various carcase/carcass categories. Like it or not, sheep breeding is usually all about meat. I like meat!

For a change I left the sheep and had a wander round. I even took a turn round the cattle area, but it don't hold much interest for me for some reason. It's not that I don't eat beef or cheese or drink milk, I just don't find cattle very appealing as subjects at the moment. That might change.

While the raison d'être for the show remains livestock competitions it has grown way beyond that to encompass general commerce and celebrity. I deliberately avoided the celebrity shepherdesses and vets, and did my best to avoid the general tat on sale. I did look at some sticks, but managed to keep my cash in my wallet. What little cash remained after paying to get in.

While the event was extremely busy the majority of the crowds were to be found away from the livestock. Most non-farming types would pay a fleeting visit to the show rings or stock pens then get back to their spending, eating and drinking.

Despite the expense and the journey I was glad I went. I met people I know, got one or two reasonable pictures for the files, and had a new experience. Inevitably I 'saw' loads of pictures I'd missed when I came to review the day's haul, and realised things I should have done - like get there even earlier. But that's the name of my game.

Technically I'd reverted to my superzoom because I wasn't sure what to expect. It struggled a bit in the sheep sheds as they were darker than I'd expected. A sunnier day might have been different. Outside it was fine and the flexibility is always handy. My fall backs were the old 20mm, which got used outside and in the sheds where there wasn't much space between the lines of pens, and the 50mm which helped gather light but was sometimes too long in the shed. For a lazy person uninterested in making super sharp pics, or pics which have creamy bokeh, the lens choices work well.

Something which occurred to me when pondering the fast lens mania is that here are two ways to avoid distracting backgrounds. One is to use shallow depth of field to eliminate background detail. The more challenging way is to move position in order to hide distractions behind your subject. do that and there's no need for fast lenses. Another alternative is to make the backgound part of the picture. Although that doesn't allow for the other mania of simplifying everything. It was the picture below which got me thinking about this.

It falls into my 'head scratcher' category as it's not conventionally composed, but it came about after doing the simplification thing. I expect a lot of people would have closed in on the sheep's head retained on the stand, trying to isolate it. That's what I did at first. When the background sheep appeared I realised that something might happen to make a picture.I'm not sure if it did. What I do know is that the shapes are interesting in an abstract way. Which is something I'm looking for more and more these days.

Sunday, 7 July 2019

Going round in circles

It really does feel like I'm repeating myself at the moment going to the same sorts of events. Both of this weeks outings left me feeling a bit flat at the end of the day. I didn';t think I'd come away with anything worthwhile at all. Although looking through the silly number of frames I taken didn't produce as large a selection to 'tell the story of the day' on either ocassion, I did  have a few pictures which could find a place in the sheep project as a whole. I should know by now that's the way with longer projects.

Friday was a sheep dog auction that was down on entries, so not many folk about. This time I resisted the temptation to photograph the dogs on the field using a telephoto and concentrated on getting in close with my little 'kit' zoom. I don't know if it's boredom or an experimental nature, but I keep playing around with less than standard compositions. A lot don't work at all and many I like raise the eyebrows of others!

Before I set off I was hoping to improve my record of the micro-chip scanning of dogs on booking in. But as there weren't many entries that was mostly over by the time I arrived, even though I thought I'd got there in good time. I got two chances and one 'nearly' picture.

I also wanted to get some shots of the trailer used as the on-field office. But again that didn't quite work out.

Other than that it was more of the usual fare. dogs looking cute and general scenes.

When the sun was out it got warm and the ice cream van was well patronised. Seeing people licking their vanilla cones I put my Martin Parr hat on. His is not a style which is as easily mimicked as you might imagine!

The thing I'm constantly striving for is pictures which aren't 'record shots', or the sort of stuff you'd see reporting an event in the local free sheet or in Lancashire Life, but also not so 'arty' that the subject becomes irrelevant. It's a difficult balance to strike, making pictures which tell the story and give a flavour of what's happening and yet which stand as pictures on their formal structure.I suppose it's that challenge which keeps me going back for more. And back for more I was the next day at an agricultural show!

I wasn't really in the mood when I got there and the low turnout of sheep didn't help either. However things picked up as the day wore on. Even though I did spend a lot of time looking. This time I took the do-it-all zoom plus a 20mm and a 50mm in case I fancied being radical. The extra focal length of the DIA lens was useful round the sheep pens where access and angles were restricted. Not that there was much to catch my eye and I resorted to looking for detail shots plus the usual stuff like sheep tarting up..

It was a little unusual to see a priest judging the Suffolks. I thought I'd been transported to Craggy Island for a moment! I failed to get a shot which showed his dog collar clearly though.

Where I was slightly more successful was photographing the sheep dog and sheep shearing displays. The longer lens again came in handy for the former, and I got some better pictures than at the previous display I'd photographed. The waterfowl being more cooperative and the light brighter helped.

Having photographed the shearing demo last year I was in two minds about bothering this time round. Not only that but I'd put most of my gear back in the car and almost left for home because my bad foot was aching. However after a sit down I stuck the 50mm on teh camera and the 20mm in a jacket pocket and went back travelling light.

While I didn't get anything other than snaps doing it, I found myself more confident in taking pictures of people close up with these lenses. Very strange. As the shearing was about to commence I wandered over for a look. It was being held in the main ring so I imagined the lenses I had with me would be useless, but the barriers were moved and the public allowed into the ring for a better view. I joined them, kneeling down to get a more useful angle and allow people to look over me.

At first I thought I'd picked a bad spot as the sun was in my face but that nearly worked to my benefit as it backlit the fleeces as they were thrown up to spread them before rolling. There wasn't much time for the demonstration, which meant I couldn't develop ideas, but I got a couple of pictures which will fill a gap in the project for now.

What this episode proved once more is that limiting the gear you use forces you to think more creatively. With lenses that means viewpoint selection and framing. Dare I go to the Great Yorkshire Show with just my trusty 28mm and 50mm lenses? Or how about the 35mm and nothing else? Eek!

Wednesday, 3 July 2019

Stick to what you know

Originally I'd gone looking for sheep on the moors on Monday evening but as I wandered a sheepless landscape I came upon one of the abandoned farmsteads. The moors and their stonework always strikes me as worth photographing. Usually I'm up there in the middle of the day but this time I had evening light to deal with. While it adds warmth and contrast the contrast can be too much. You also have to contend with your own shadow getting in the picture.

While most people seem to go for the views without signs of human intervention I'm always drawn to the opposite. I think that these features make for some element of story telling, whether the buildings are extant or in disrepair. The he distant mill seen between the old gateposts symbolise, for me, the way the industry of the valleys was partly the cause of the abandonment of the hill farm itself.

It's difficult to believe that it was only in the 1960s when this particular farmstead was deserted and the buildings demolished. Why the outdoor privy still stands is something of a mystery.

Decaying buildings are often a subject for photography for some reason. Throw in some golden hour light and away you go. A kind of architectural romanticism.

I played around trying to get a good angle on the subject with the light more over a shoulder. I was trying to frame the outhouse with the branches while making the frame work as a whole. Back on the computer a mon conversion seemed to work better with the graphic nature of the stonework and branches. There were a couple of niggles though. The distant tree wasn't obvious enough and the smaller tree trunk by the wall to the right not clearly enough defined. With the weather set for the following day I decided to make a return trip armed with a wider lens.

While the light was similar there wasn't a cloud in the sky, and try as I might I couldn't frame the shot as I had envisioned it while I waited for the sun to slide into position. Giving up I started to look for a different viewpoint. I got one that worked, but the exposure was tricky and the cloudless sky annoying. I'll not be having a third try. I got bored out of my nut waiting for the light. I really shouldn't try to do landscape photography for the sake of one-off pictures. Although this subject does at least have a back story rather than simply looking nice in a frame. Which seem to me to be the aim of 99% of the genre.
On my unplanned first visit I was walking in hope of finding my way back to my car, not having planned a route and not wishing to retrace my steps. As I neared civilisation I spied some sheep within camera range at last and made a sheepscape.
On my second visit I had not only swapped to a wider lens I'd packed a longer one too in case I spied some sheep. It paid off. Not only did it give me something to look for while waiting for the bloody light but there were sheep in the area. Again I tried to look for some sort of story, or message maybe. The traditional land use for the moors of sheep keeping and the contemporary use of energy generation.

I took quite a few sheep pictures but most have been binned and the rest are just pictures of sheep looking sheepish among the rough grass and stone walls apart from some of sheep bones on the ground by the privy.

Having resigned myself to failure at the farmstead I turned for home. At this time of year the uplands are brightened by foxgloves. There aren't many flowers or plants which I get the urge to photograph, but foxgloves are one. I'm as good at flower photography as I am at landscape - so why I combined the two is anyone's guess! Technically these pictures don't stand up. Hand-held, of course, barely in focus and at high ISO they'd not win any prizes. But viewed small they look okayish.

I still maintain that photography isn't all about the light, but sometimes the light is be part of the picture and, more importantly, the story.

Hopefully I'll find some more interesting subjects soon and can revert to type.