Sunday, 14 November 2021


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of photographs which show people and man-made objects the passage of time lends every such photograph a status as a historical document.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.

Sunday, 31 October 2021

Sheep, sheep, sheep

Two days of madness this week with a breeding sheep sale held over two days. 5000 plus ewes on day one, 300 plus tups on day two. The first day being a long one. I had flagged by two thirty and as much mentally tired as physically gave up, but the sale carried on for another four hours. no doubt one of the staff when asked how he was shortly before I left said he'd be all right by the following night!

I didn't arrive too early, knowing it would be a long day, the light would be rubbish early on, and that sheep would be arriving for a long time after the seven thirty start. I had plenty of time to get arrival pictures, something lacking in my files.


There were sheep everywhere, in all the available permanent pens, in the temporary pens and anywhere else they could be accommodated.

All the usual problems were to be overcome. Finding new ways to show things being the main one, but there were also technical problems like white balance variations and the lack of light. On sunny days there's some ambient light finds its way in and brightens the inside of the sheds. Two days of gloom were what I was up against.


I find myself using the flippy screen a lot to give my self a sheep-level view. And always struggling with the awful autofocus using the screen. It might be time to spend some money on a camera with better liveview focusing. Or I could get my knees replaced so I can get lower and look through the viewfinder!

Knowing day two would be less hectic I made a slightly later start. There was the usual stuff to see and the usual pictures to make. In the main shed I used my two prime lens approach, which is becoming my preferred way to operate if I can. Aside from the lenses being lighter than a pair of fast zooms the shutter sound seems nicer too. It probably isn't though.

28/50mm is a great combo, but I might try 20/35mm for a change some time. Even if it's only to see if I can live without the 35.

In the ring, which is much better lit, I ditched the long zoom and went with my all-purpose zoom. If it gathered more light I think I could live with it as my only lens. If only life was that simple!

Once more I find the pictures with lots in them the most interesting. I made an A3 print of one from an earlier sale and it 'works' much better than as a 1200 pixel wide jpeg on a screen. There's a pleasure to be had in looking at the expressions on the faces of the people around the sale ring as well as having a picture which works as a whole. Much more engaging than simple close ups of a few faces. For me at any rate.

Thursday, 28 October 2021

Changing gear

No, not physical photographic gear, but shifting subjects as the season's change. Autumn is when the sheep dog nursery trials begin and I went along to one on a dry(ish) day. for a couple of reasons I couldn't get into it at all. One was that I don't have a long enough lens to focus in on the that venue. The other was that I'd run out of ideas. I suppose it would be quite easy to fill the memory cards with files of cute sheep dogs. Not much of a challenge, or of much meaning no matter how many 'likes' they might get on social media. I left early thinking that I am probably done with the sheep dog scene.

When the weather's been fit, and I've has time, I've been back out wandering locally making more of my boring farmed landscape pictures. Something else I'm finding a bit tedious. I take fewer and fewer photos on my walks round the mosslands these days.

With darkness falling around tea time now it seemed like an idea to resurrect my nocturnal village 'project'. It was a full moon that drew me out the other evening. I was out of practice and had forgotten what settings I'd used in the past. It was also a dry night, and in the past rain or mist has made for more interesting pictures. With the full moon clouds might have helped, but the sky was clear.

On a rare sunny, and still, afternoon I had an aimless drive around some usual haunts and ended up at the nature reserve on the marsh. They never seem to stop tinkering with things there. Some fencing firm or other has been profiting recently.

On a second visit I spied some new signage. I'm a sucker for keep out signs, and these are particularly officious!

So that's it. Gear shifted to local subjects with no real direction to anything, and maybe a few auction mart visits, possibly a poultry show or two, and perhaps a sheep dog trial out of habit (when the weather is fair) to see me through the winter.

Sunday, 10 October 2021

A long day

Another Saturday, another show and sale day.This time it was two shows and two sales. In some ways more of the same old, but with a twist in the shape of a different breed. OK, so the first show and sale was Gritstones, which were again well represented by breeders on large and small scales. The second show (which I missed most of through being in ringside for the Gritstone sale) was of North Country Cheviots. A confusing breed for me as they come in two varieties - Park and Hill. I have no clue as to the difference!

This time I was better prepared in the lens department using my fast, standard, zoom for most of the time, switching to my versatile but slightly slower lens for the sale where the light is much brighter. I also used the faster lens when I wanted to go a bit wider. I also took my 85mm along to see if I need it. I don't. It's a lens I've never gelled with despite the focal length's popularity among the massed ranks of photography forum users. My plan is to trade it, along with my teleconverter, for a macro lens of some sort. Probably a 90mm. I don't often need a macro lens but it will get more use than the 85 and will at least do something my other lenses can't.

Some Cheviots.

Although there were more Cheviots being sold I spent more time with the Gritstones, and by the time the white-faced sheep came to the ring I was getting brain tired. Even so I did get some different angles.

Something I have noticed about my show and sale photographs is that I make a lot of pictures that have a lot in them. Whereas other 'sheep photographers' tend to go for more tightly framed shots. I don't know if this is good or bad. I do try to adopt both approaches, but I like looking for wider views with some visual rhythm to them, and also try to keep an eye open for random intrusions into the frame, odd croppings of figures, and other accidents. These seem, to me, to add vitality to the pictures which rigidly composed shots can sometimes lack.

Some Gritstone pictures.

Another thing that's been in my mind again (I've mentioned it in the past) is that my approach  to this sort of subject is less journalistic than it might be. Other photographers seem to manage to record the prize winning sheep and the ones which make the most money. If I any of those make it into my edits it's by pure chance - unless I'm asked to photograph them! I suppose I'm always looking for pictures that give the flavour of the event rather than the straightforward documenting of facts. As Tom Wood said, "When the stuff is too journalistic and documentary then it is journalism, if it is too conceptual and arty then that is another thing, but where the two meet - that is interesting." That's my excuse - and I'm sticking to it!