Tuesday, 4 January 2022

In the bleak midwinter

I've never been one for making plans, so no New Year resolutions for me! It's a case of carry on doing what I do and hoping something interesting shows up. not that much did during December. Dog trials were either non existent or the weather was rubbish. This coming weekend is looking equally grim in that department. It's been a case of local wanders in search of something to photograph in order to keep my eye in.

That's pretty much what I'm doing when I go for a wander. Try to make sense of what I see within the frame. If what I come home with can add to any project it's a bonus. maybe one day there will be enough to choose from to make a collection of local pictures that stands up on its own merits?

As usual my 'landscapes' always contain some element of human intervention. A rare misty morning dragged me out to the moss. While I was out there the mist was just a bit too much and wasn't for burning off. As soon as I got close to home, however... I don't know if I'm just unlucky with atmospheric conditions or I don't have the patience to wait for them to change!


There have been a few sunny afternoons to tempt me out but they rarely seem to provide me with much. When I wait for them to turn into glorious sunsets they usually do the opposite and clouds form on teh horizon and it all goes to pot.

One sunny afternoon I was driving around looking for inspiration and failing to find it when I did what I often do when that happens. Go somewhere I have been lots of times before. In this case I wanted somewhere out of the wind and went to have a look at the sheep barn. It's in an even worse state now than my last visit.




Being a bit featureless it's a difficult structure to photograph, and the dark to light contrast of inside and out makes exposures tricky. It's a challenge, which is possibly why I keep going back.


Something made me think about why few hobbyist/amateur photographers do documentary type of work. It's not something that gets seen much on a photography forum I belong to. Most people take single images which fit one of the popular genres - wildlife, macro, landscape etc.

As I've always thought that wherever you live can be documented photographically it would be the obvious thing for people who take photos in their spare time to do. No need to travel hundreds of miles in the hope of the right weather conditions for a location, for example. Either pick your days, or hours, and pop out. Although given my track record of doing that maybe I'm being optimistic? That said, as with fishing, if you 'pop out' often enough you'll get lucky once in a while.

Then it dawned on me. The reason more people don't adopt a documentary approach is that it does actually take a lot of time. Not everyone can drop everything, any day of the week, and go take photographs for a few hours. I expect people with more ordered lives than mine find it easier to plan ahead to set a day aside for their photography. Even so that could still work for documenting the place you live. But all to often I see people say that where they live is boring to photograph, and familiarity breeds contempt. Maybe I just have a different way of looking at the world? I do think anything can become a subject for a photograph. It only needs putting into a context.

There also has to be a deal of commitment to carry on in the face of failure, a high degree of perseverance, to engage in documentary. Not qualities I'd ever associated myself with until someone on the forum said they admired my perseverance. I've always thought of it more as being a lack of fresh ideas. I stick with something because I can't come up with a better alternative, so my projects carry on!


Wednesday, 15 December 2021

I'm sick of photography for photography's sake

Like most in this digital age I spend too much time looking at photographs on-line. Either website galleries or YouTube videos. The more I look at 'photographers' pictures the less they interest me. As a comment I saw on Lensculture when doing this put it about photobooks; "Most photobooks these days seem to be made in the category: art for art’s sake. It unfortunately leads very often to much ado about nothing." That's how I feel about a lot of the photographs I see - from all areas of phtotography. be that the 'serious' art world or dedicated amateurs. They all seem to be making photographs which fit the ideas of their area as to what makes a good photograph. I've done it myself.

Back in the real world I tried to find a sheep dog trial on Sunday. It was supposedly signposted but I couldn't find the signs! The day wasn't as bright as I'd hoped, so it might have been a wasted trip in any case. As I climbed into the hills I climbed into cloud too, but that gave me hope that I might find something to suit my idea of landscape to show what the moors are like in that kind of weather. I'd hatched a Plan B by looking on Google maps and set off for a walk, intending to reach a broken down building. I didn't manage to get that far before the cloud lifted, which didn't matter because no sooner had I stepped on to the moorland track than I saw Lonks. I spent my time photographing them.

I left it a fraction too late to grab a shot of a raddled tup. He'd stood in a perfect pose looking at me as I approached, but as soon as I raised the camera to my eye he started to wander off.

 

 That's what sheep tend to do. Maybe I need to get a longer lens for sheep photography?

 

Although sheep 'portraits' are well and good as the cloud lifted I tried to get some pictures which said more about their place in the landscape, and the place of farming in it.

The juxtaposition of the rural, yet worked, landscape and the urban, industrial areas not too far away is something I am always trying to encapsulate in photographs.



Then there are sheepscapes, where the sheep are the subject but they are small in the frame.


All the while I try to make photographs which work as individual photographs, but which will also form a body of work which can be accompanied by text. That's very much the way I'm thinking about photography these days. But not in the 'photograph as illustration' way, the pictures and the text should have equal weight - either could stand alone, but work together to say more. That's sort of what I'm hoping to achieve if I ever get round to putting a set of pictures together on this sheepy theme.


Wednesday, 8 December 2021

Winter

We've entered that dismal period of the year when there really aren't enough daylight hours. And the weather can be awful. Only rarely can I find time to get out after doing some work through winter, and then it never seems to coincide with anything like sufficient light. The lack of light on dark winter days is something I've decided not to contend with when there are sheep dog trials on. I've had enough of returning to find the majority of pictures are just mush on such days. I have no intention of spending the money required to get faster lenses than I have - not least because I'm trying to declutter my lens 'collection' rather than add to it! That's why I've not done much photograph taking of late. 

What little I have done has been very local and haphazard. I left it too late to catch the rams head in the process of demolition, meaning all I managed to photograph was a pile of rubble. Built in teh 1600s and pulled down to make room for yet another Aldi supermarket. 



The moss doesn't change much at this time of year, so I've not been out there much. Not that conditions have been favourable very often when I have had time enough spare. On one flying visit I noticed the water tank by the greenhouses had been pulled to bits. Another thing that was 'always going to be there' gone. Like the Rams Head I was glad to have photographed it when it was in place. It always pays to photograph boring stuff because there may well come a time when it's disappeared.

On that walk I'd taken my current favourite zoom lens and, for a wider option, my Nikon compact with it's 28mm equivalent fixed lens. The few reasonable photographs I came back with were taken using the compact. It's a bit of a clunky camera to use but it can turn out really pleasing pictures.

With no sheep shows to go to I've been at a bit of a loose end really. I can't get my brain into anything else. I think real life work is too much for me at the present! To take a break from the grind I have been out to clear my head to the marshes on either side of the river. They are different in character. The nature reserve looks far more like a worked landscape than the other marsh which looks more natural.


I hadn't been to the other side of the river for ages. It was a wild and windy afternoon and I didn't stop long. Maybe if the sheep had been within range I would have done! Can I be bothered going back again to work on some ideas I had? probably not. The landscape thing is far too dependent on the light conditions...

Somewhere else I hadn't been for ages was Southport, not since Covid kicked in had I made a visit with a camera for more than a few minutes. Last week I was booked in for a vaccine booster and made sure I had plenty of time on my car park ticket. The Fuji compact was in my pocket for a wander round before and after the jab. A few things had altered, but mostly I took record shots of closed touristy shops and attractions.





There's a 'new' mural in town.


Christmas is coming.

I'm not a great one for considering the 'look' different lenses or sensors give to photographs, but the Fuji seems a lot more clinical than either my DSLRs or the Nikon compact. It's not something I'm too keen on. There's sharp enough and there's too sharp to my mind. Which probably sets me apart form the majority of the digital photography word where super-sharpness and micro-contrast seem to be the most prized qualities - possibly after creamy bokeh!


Sunday, 14 November 2021

Keepers

The last big sheep sale of the autumn for me was held on Friday. I went along mainly because I've had so little chance to photograph anything this year and because there wouldn't be another big sale at the mart for three months or more. It was only a short visit too as I really should have been getting on with some work!

It was no surprise that my enthusiasm wasn't high, nor that I was stuck for ideas beyond more repetition. As often happens when I'm in that frame of mind I started messing about with oddball viewpoints and framings.



While I was playing about I tried a different setting for focusing using liveview. It made a huge difference to my success rate! It was far from 100% foolproof but it was much improved.

Although there was a lot of the usual stuff to see there was also a chance to get some photos of a large pen of sheep being put through the ring, which is not something I can recall photographing before. I wasn't in the best position, but it's something to mentally log for future reference.


Mostly I was using the standard zoom having remembered it was versatile enough in the mart. The other option I had available was the new 90mm which I wanted to test out in the gloomy shed. As expected the focusing was a bit slower than it had been at the comparatively well lit poultry show. I coped though and in the sale ring it was fine.


A few days ago I read something (I think on The Online Photographer) to the effect that photographs can become more interesting with time. Up to a point that's true. However, it is content dependent. In the case of photographs which show people and man-made objects the passage of time lends every such photograph a status as a historical document. People age, fashions and designs change. These photographs show the past to the present.

I was considering this when reading a forum discussion about how many picture files people have on their hard drives and some commenters said they delete most of the photos they take and only keep the very best, some even going on to say there's no point keeping 'bad' photographs. Not everyone agreed with that extreme view. And again I think that is down to content.

If all you ever photograph are, let's say, macro pictures of insects then sure, keep only the most technically and aesthetically pleasing pictures. But if you photograph your family, friends or pets then pictures which are not going to win any prizes can still be personally meaningful. They may be 'bad' photographs, but they are valuable for other reasons.

The same can apply to photographs which are documentary in nature. They might not be well framed or focused but they might contain information which becomes valuable as time goes on. That could be something in the background which was insignificant at the time the photograph was taken but seen with the benefit of hindsight becomes more interesting than the main subject.

This is one reason I delete very few pictures. The only drawback for future generations is that these are all virtual pictures while they remain on a hard drive. A hard drive that will no doubt go to landfill soon after I pop my clogs!

I should use the lack of sheepy events and long dark evenings over the coming months to MAKE MORE PRINTS!! I wonder if I could turn my digital folders into print on demand A4 'contact sheet albums'?


Thursday, 11 November 2021

When in doubt, repeat yourself

There was a local poultry show back in September which I'd intended to go to, not so much to take photos, more to hand over a couple of books to someone. Unfortunately I felt dog rough and couldn't face even the ten minute drive let alone being cheerful and taking photos. The next show, and last for this year, was on Saturday gone and I went along there, making a late start through idleness. I didn't have a burning ambition to take more poultry pics to be honest. By the time I arrived most of the birds had been penned. I'd only have been repeating the usual pre-penning rituals any way




The only interesting thing was that since my last visit to the club's exhibition hall it had been extended. That at least gave me something new to record. Albeit in a fairly meaningless way unless the photos are put alongside 'before' pictures. The join can be made out in the outside shot.

Inside a store room and an office had been constructed.

The old photo 'studio' had been retained and mounted on the office wall. There's still no dedicated photographer to take 'professional' photos though. I'm not volunteering, even if my lighting skills have improved!

On the subject of lighting, I'd forgotten how awful the strip lights are in the hall. It took me a while to get back in the groove of keeping my shutter speed below 1/100th of a second to avoid the strobing colour changes. A shutter speed that isn't quick enough to freeze chicken twitches!

After a a short while fruitlessly trying to find a fresh angle on the judging I came home to await delivery of a new-to-me lens.


This interlude gave me a chance to change lenses on my cameras as something else I'd forgotten was how cramped the space is between the rows of pens. I put on a wider zoom as my main lens and pocketed the handy 20mm just in case. Then when the new lens arrived I stuck that on the second body to take it for a play.

Judging was almost over when I got back to the show but there was still nothing fresh to get me interested. I amused myself by seeing how the new lens performed. It's the first macro lens I've used which focuses quickly enough to use as a non-macro. And at 90mm it's a little bit more to my taste than the loathed 85mm I'd traded in for it. Even if I don't use it much as a non-macro I've got the close up facility back after parting with my previous macro lens. Not something I use much for 'serious' photography but it is useful for product type shots for my business. It worked OK on the chooks.

And outside.


Post show it was another case of the same old pictures of people putting chickens in boxes and carrying boxes.


The best I could manage was to get a slightly different angle. I'd actually taken a photo of the drinking cups because I'd not seen any old metal ones before, then I noticed birds being put in a box and went a bit wider hoping to time something right. I nearly managed it.

As a test for getting to know some new gear the outing was worthwhile. That's about all I can say though.

There won't be any more poultry shows, or auctions, for some time now. Avian flu has entered the UK for the winter and all poultry gatherings were to be banned until further notice two days after this show. This is hitting the show world hard with these bans becoming an annual occurrence as the two biggest national shows, and many big regional shows, take place at this time of year.