Sunday, 16 February 2020

Rethink and more sheep

After another period of reflection I returned to the reedbed, and over the next few days made more short visits with a better idea of what I wanted to achieve. It's funny, but I've photographed phragmites on and off for years but having the zine project as a sort of motivator because there's a deadline I've got round to doing something more focussed about it.

For reasons of design I am cropping all the pictures (except the covers) square. It's an arbitrary choice. The cover pictures I'm cropping from horizontal to vertical for design purposes because I didn't take any in a vertical format, and at the size they'll be printed there's no loss of quality/detail.

With sufficient pictures to make a small zine needing only twelve it's all in the editing now. With over a month to the deadline, however, there is a strong temptation to tinker with the ordering of the pictures. That's one reason I've made four dummy copies before sending anything off for a proof. I'll try to be strong and resist any further fiddling!

I managed to take these photos before the storm arrived, although it was quite windy. That didn't matter too much as some of the pictures I wanted to have movement blur in them. What changed most over the few days was the elimination of the sky from the pictures. This was to give a visual consistency across the set of pictures. Initial ideas have to remain flexible.

With another storm scheduled to arrive on Saturday it wasn't hard to decide where to go looking for photographs on Saturday. Sheep dog trial in the hills? No chance! Poultry show? Not after last week's burnout. Sheep sale? That'll do nicely.

Once again it took me a while to get my eye in. It's as if I don't know what I'm looking for when I first arrive somewhere. One of the first pictures I took was to get a second chance at photographing a stick I'd messed up on at the last sale I went to. This time I did a better job and, although it's at high ISO, it is in focus this time!

The light levels were the usual problem in the main shed. Made worse by the cloud cover which was noisily dumping rain on the shed roof by the gallon. Being an in-lamb sale all ewes were being scanned. As last year the chap doing the scanning was tucked away in his crate, but one pen of ewes were scanned in their pen, which gave me a chance to try to record that. A couple of frames worked okay.

This was a sale of rare and traditional breeds. With a large consignment of mixed rare breeds I tried to get some record shots of those. The dim light and dark wool didn't help though.

There was a bit of showing taking place too. This was in the better lit new shed. Unfortunately I messed most of the action by being in the café eating a bacon butty... I still managed a few frames for the files. I'm not sure if I 'saw' this picture or it was down to chance, but I like the way it combines two things in the one shot, even with one being slightly out of focus. Had it been shot in teh fashionable super-blurry background mode it would have had no narrative to it, but as the background activity can be 'read', it does.

As usual I continued with my sub-framing approach. Again chance played it's part and I got two, maybe three, sub-frames in one shot if you can count the faces on the left framed by the ring structure and the ones behind the ring gate.

Either I'd settled in to looking or the butty and brew had kickstarted my imagination but I was now seeing pictures and reacting when something happened.

The prize winners' photo call is part and parcel of shows these days as marts are quick to poist to social media. A phone snap instantly uploaded beats a professional shot even a few hours later when it comes to promotion. It's become one of my habits to photograph the photo call, always trying for a new angle, but rarely succeeding. Choosing where to focus is tricky when light levels restrict apertures but this time I think I got it about right. Sub-framing again.

Did I mention sub-framing? A bit extreme this but I was trying to show the size of the crowd and give context by including a sheep. Otherwise it's could be a picture of a crowd of people attending an auction of anything.

I've been looking at other people's sheepy photographs again on t'interwebs, and again I see that mine often take a different approach. Not just to the technical aspects such as composition and processing, but purpose. While the documentary aspect is important, so are the formal ones, but most of all I try to avoid being journalistic without being arty to the point that the documentary aspect gets lost. Hence my liking for 'busy' pictures which many might consider cluttered. Then there's also my penchant for large areas of nothing. Which doesn't always work!

An uncurated over-long gallery here.

Saturday, 8 February 2020

Change of tack then back to the old routine

It's not like me to be indecisive or change my mind, but... After ditching the original reedy idea I went back to take a different approach. Then I went back again, and again. Gradually a direction was arrived at as I played around with focal lengths, shutter speeds and exposure. I think I have made progress to the stage where I should be able to sort out enough pictures to make a zine which is coherent. Because this is 'art' I am feeling free to crop and process the hell out of the pictures I've taken! This is a taster.

What I did find was that after an hour of playing around, sorry, experimenting with techniques, I started to tighten up. Hence the return visits over successive days. Even after my brain has frozen from pursuing one direction I can open up to other picture making chances. There is a stack of drainage pipes which I have photographed before, but armed with a 20mm lens I tried something different. It's landscape photography, but not as we know it.

All this messing about was just filling in time until today's poultry show and auction. After my experience at the sheep sale the other week I was determined to do this with the 28/50 combo and nothing else. I started out well enough using the 50mm to get this chicken pimping shot and a few others.

The 28mm wasn't getting much use, I reckon because there was a lot of space to work in. Despite this it was the 50mm I swapped for the dreaded 70-200mm. That lens works well for photographing the judging when there is room. Much as I wish it didn't!

I found it a struggle to get anything much I was happy with. No doubt I could have repeated picture ideas I'd done before, but that seemed pointless. If it was a paying gig to record the events then fair enough, do the greatest hits routine, but when the project is broader than the one day's going on I can't face covering the same ground.

After the judging was over I had a look in at the auction, swapping back to the 50mm. Again there wasn't anything fresh apart from a change of roles for some of the staff. I can't find a way to revitalise my approach.

Part of my difficulty, I'm sure, is the gloomy nature of the mart. There's never enough light to get enough depth of field for the kind of pictures I like to take. It's no problem for the fast-lens-wide-open-all-the-time crowd, but for the "f8 and be there" mob which I belong to it's hard to get to f4 most of the time without either losing shutter speed or the ISO hitting five figures. It's not too bad in the sale ring with its new lighting, but in the other sheds it's a nightmare.

I've a choice of poultry or sheep next weekend. I think the chickens will have to do without me. Then again, I've got a bit stale of the sheep front too. How do some people manage taking photographs of landscape all the time?

Thursday, 30 January 2020


It often happens that when I'm bored I decide to write some drivel that nobody will read. So here's some drivel that nobody will read.

And here's a picture I forgot to post last time. Sheep photographed through hessian. I had to focus manually, which is why I like lenses which don't require a swicth to do when in autofocus mode and why back button focusing is advantageous. I'm not sure if it works as a picture or if it just looks like a mistake!

Sunday wasn't quite as awful as the weather people said it was going to be. At least not first thing. Which was why I went to the dog trial forgetting that whatever the weather is like at home it's worse on the bleak moors. It was cold and wet. The rain was dripping off the hood of my new jacket and running down my spectacles. It was getting in the eye piece of the camera. Half the time I was guessing what I was photographing. I lasted a couple of hours, some of it spent sheltering in the livestock trailer. It was also pretty gloomy and the slow zoom I'd taken was a bad choice.

I'm always looking out for pictures when I have a camera in my hand, even pictures which have nothing to do with the subject I'm supposed to be photographing. People silhouetted on the slope of a hill could become a theme.

During an idle evening I trawled Google maps for well known UK landscape photography destinations. Some I knew would be easy to find from Streetview having driven past them over the years, others proved to be a surprise. That bloody Scottish mountain I had always imagined to require a bit of a hike up a valley. How wrong I was!

Back in the real world, sort of, I have been looking around for a short project to put into a zine for a challenge I've got involved in on TalkPhotography. Lurking in the projects section I've found there are a few others who do daft things like this. Not many among the thousands of forum members, but a few. Initially I thought I might take more nocturnal pictures and compile them but I lost interest. Today I took a stroll along the reedbed walk at Martin Mere and, as I have done before stated messing about photographing the reeds. This time using slow shutter speeds and moving the camera and stuff.

I got quite enthused by this as a project idea and thought that some 'studio' pictures of the seed heads might work in to it. I gathered a few stems and started thinking how to approach this aspect of the project. I couldn't wait to get home and make a start. However, after uploading the initial pictures and realising they looked better on the back of the camera I ditched the idea altogether. I'm not sure why.

Saturday, 25 January 2020

Back to basics

Bad weather makes for good photographs. So the saying goes. When the mist came down the other afternoon I downed tools and rushed out with one camera and the 35mm lens. In the wood (again) I realised that a longer lens works better for that kind of misty scene, particularly when the mist is wispy. Never mind. Walking back through down the farm track the mist closed in a bit.

As I thought about making my evening meal the mist got thicker and the street lights came on. With nothing better to do I went back out again to see if I could make any nocturnal pictures. The floodlights on the rugby pitch make interesting light when it isn't misty. When there is mist in the air the effect is enhanced. As most of the pictures I was seeing involved silhouettes the monochrome conversion seemed justifiable. As it did for the daylight mist scenes which were about shape and tone rather than colour.

Encouraged by my results I couldn't wait to get back out the following evening when I saw the mist come down early. Alas it thinned again soon after, but I ventured out nonetheless, still armed with my minimalist gear.

 At less than an hour for each walk I came back with some decent pictures. This made me revisit older night time shots and begin to think about a project. What became apparent was the better pictures involved silhouettes or 'bad' weather rain soaked streets or mist. As always, if there is a person in the frame the picture becomes more engaging regardless of how well it is composed!

With ideas for this project floating around in my head I was somehow enthused to get to today's show and sale of sheep up north. However, arriving rather early I was turned off the idea and very nearly came straight back home. Instead I dropped off a repair job and took a detour back to the mart. On my return things were livening up. I picked up where I left off in the dark - with just the one camera and the same lens. That didn't last as I found myself cramped for space. Although being restricted in how you can frame shots can lead to thinking harder.

It was time to go back to the old ways and use my three trusted focal lengths - 28mm, 50mm and 100mm. It worked. I ended up ditching the 100mm after a while. It might be a bit old school to use just a 28mm and a 50mm, but there is something about both the simplicity of the approach and the look of the pictures which 'works' for me.

I even did a Martin Parr pastiche...

After my initial lack of enthusiasm I managed to get enough pictures to make a gallery - here.

The struggle still between recording what goes on and making interesting pictures which aren't in teh usually accepted 'good photograph' style or are livestock photography clichés. My photographic life would be so much simpler if I didn't want to be doing something 'different' all the time!

For the time being keeping away from zooms and sticking to the handful of focal lengths I have is a way of forcing myself out of a box. I do much prefer repositioning myself to get the framing I want to taking the easy option of twisting a zoom ring. It feels more like taking photographs did in 'the old days'. I'm not sure if the pictures are any better than when I use a zoom though.

Thursday, 23 January 2020

A flip-through test

Video isn't my strong point so this was a spur of the moment experiment before it got dark enough to go and take some photographs for a new project. Next time I'll get the lighting and focus sorted better.