Friday, 14 September 2018

Last minute change of plan

Having got tired of lugging two heavy lenses and a big bottle of water around at the shows I was going to revert to laziness and take just my superzoom yesterday, but when I opened the back door it was trying to rain.  The forecast was for it to be dry early on with rain later, by the time I'd be heading home. Rather than take a chance I went for a compromise of sorts. The now less than unloved 70-200 went on one body and my neglected 28mm on teh other. I threw my 20mm and 50mm lenses in the bag as lightweight options.

Having been to the Westmorland Show last year I knew what to expect. Hundreds and hundreds of sheep of many breeds! I had also found out that there was a fleece competition. That was where I headed first, before the judging started. It was a bit dull. Just wool in boxes on tables. I'm sure the judging would be a little bit more interesting. I returned later to photograph the winning fleece, from a Teeswater.

This year I didn't spend much time away from the sheep pens. Being a big show it has a lot of commercial stands, and the poultry tent was cramped. A friend of mine, who told me last time he wasn't going to do another flycasting demonstration was back again. This time I got some slightly better shots of him. The fast 70-200 helped blur the background clutter more than the superzoom would have done. Not the ideal location, or light, for the subject.

The light had started off beautiful early on, low with an autumnal glow, as the sheep arrived and got primped but the day soon clouded over. Then again, with the sun being low in the sky it made some angles tricky as they meant shooting into the light. Atmospheric if it comes off though.

Low angle close-ups of sheep continue to interest me, but using the camera's liveview makes it a bit hit and miss. I can't get the focus where I want it all the time, meaning I've framed some nice shots that are out of focus. When the sheep are stationary it works much better. Perhaps I ought to read the instruction book? Of course I can mess photos up by using the wrong shutter speed. Can't blame the gear for that...

Being a Cumbrian show there was a predominance of Lakeland sheep breeds. Rough Fell, Swaledale and the inevitable Herdwicks were there in great numbers. There were so many Herdwicks I  broke my rule of ignoring them.

I'd guess that a majority of native breeds were represented including a lot which aren't usually a feature of shows in the North West. The prick-eared Border Leicester being one particularly photogenic example.

The task of finding different pictures continues, an often becomes a matter of looking for 'better' pictures of something previously photographed. Trying to get an agricultural photographer in the same frame as the sheep being photographed is a tricky one, the two being far apart. Filling the gap with something, or someone, else helps make a picture.

With show season almost at an end it's time to start pulling a selection together into a Blurb book. I have the tongue-twisting-title sorted, but haven't worked out a format yet. Show by show, or aspect by aspect with show info as captions to each picture? All part of what keeps me thinking about photographs. It helps concentrate my mind on what I'm trying to do with the pictures too.

Extended album of photos from the show here.

Sunday, 9 September 2018

Suffering for my art

No matter how careful the planning any outdoor event is at the mercy of the weather. And weather forecasts, while accurate one or two days ahead are far less so one or two weeks in advance. Up until last Monday things were looking reasonably hopeful for a dry day on Saturday, but as the Hodder Valley Show drew closer that hope evaporated. Sure enough as I drove over the fell it was  was through low cloud and mizzle. Things didn't improve during the five hours I spend trudging around in my decreasingly waterproof waterpoofs.

The weather was a great shame for the show's organisers as it kept away a lot of casual visitors. The farming folk were undeterred. They spend half their lives in raingear anyway. The sheep shook it off. Although I'm pretty sure this one was taking shelter under an umbrella. Who says sheep are stupid?

The rain was a challenge as I wasn't sure how weatherproof my cameras are. I'd taken the precaution of fitting my 'pro' lenses and ensuring they had hoods on them. The hoods do a good job of keeping rain of the front of the lenses. Because I didn't want to take too many chances on camera stayed in the bag (which I now know isn't waterproof) while I spent most of the morning using the dreaded 70-200.

I must be getting used to this previously despised lens as I didn't find myself wishing I had something else. I didn't even miss my superzoom. That was at home because I know it can take on water, and because I thought faster lenses would be more useful on a day likely to be dull.

The show features an adjacent sheep dog trial, which I was looking forward to. Unfortunately it was on the other side of a beck, which I didn't fancy paddling through, or taking the  long way round. I still managed a couple of shots from across the beck, which give a feel for the conditions.

Despite my intentions being to concentrate on the sheep I don't turn up a chance to take a snap of anything else which catches my eye.

For those prepared to put up with it rain can make for good photographs. For me it gave me pictures which might be of the same activities but with a different look. There's something about the way even dull light plays on wet surfaces which is photogenic.

When it comes to sheep preparation rain can put people in unusual situations. And unsual situations make for good pictures.

Just as I was struggling to stay dry the stewards were having trouble keeping the rosettes and prize envelopes dry.

I persisted in my low angle shots using the flippy screen. It's not ideal as there's quite a lag between each frame even in burst mode. Focusing can be a bit haphazard too. That resulted in a 'nearly' shot. Generally speaking foreground objects ought to be in focus. That's the way we see the world.

I kept my finger on teh shutter release and somehow fluked a somewhat better picture. Not only is the focus improved, there's more going on in the frame. Still not perfect though.

Despite my reservations about using this approach through the rails of the pens I think it might actually result in better pictures than being on the same side of the hurdles. I'm certainly less likely to end up with four or five sheep on top of me! Previously I'd used a wider angle, but I was restricted to 24mm because of the lens I was using. I'd put the 70-200 away by this stage as an enforced change of viewing angle. I much prefer pictures of people taken from close in.

The compression and subject isolation which telephotos bring to pictures has its place, but it visually implies distance. For people it's more important to imply connection. Which is what moderately wide to 'normal' focal lengths do.They also don't distort figures at the edges of the frame like ultrawides will. I see that a lot in news and editorial pictures and it frustrates me. Ultrawides can also be used as a cheap trick to give pictures impact. I don't think such pictures stand the test of time.

I wonder if phonepics will stand that test?

Photographing in the rain was like photographing a new subject. I think that's why the album I compiled has a lot more photographs in it than usual. No doubt I could make a tighter edit once my initial enthusiasm for the 'new look' dies down. See the pics here.

Show season is almost over, but even if rain is forecast I'm hoping to be making it to at least one, maybe two or three, more before the month is out. Then what?

Sunday, 2 September 2018

Undercover sheep

The Bentham Show is a bit different to most agricultural shows in that apart from the vintage tractor and vehicles and some trade stands most of it is held inside the auction mart.The downside from a photographic viewpoint is that means the light levels are lowish. The upside is that harsh lighting isn't much of a problem. In fact it can make for for visually apealing pictures when the sunlight streams through the slatted walls of the mart or through the skylights.

As has become my habit I arrived in good time to see the sheep being unloaded. Unfortunately there wasn't much opportunity to get any decent photos. So I wandered around the mart itself before it got busy. This allowed me to take some pictures which make a nice comparison to the more modern marts I've already photographed. Also a bit different to how it would look on market day.

With the sheep judging taking place in the aisles between the mart pens it was even more difficult to get an angle on proceedings than at an outdoor show. However, the Rough Fell sheep were being judged on the outside edge of the pens, so I spent some time there taking the same sort of pictures I've made elsewhere. Except of Rough Fell sheep!

Although I shy away from taking random shots of the onlookers at these shows sometimes I relent when their expression seems to say something about what's going on.

In the spirit of relieving the repetition I try odd compositions. Which I'm not sure always come off.

Then there are attempts at catching small incidents. Which also usually fail.

One intention I'd had for the day was to take more close ups of sheep's eyes. The light levels and the shyness of the sheep pretty much put paid to that. I was hoping to get side on shots to maintain a visual continuity, but the only one which I liked was a frontal view of a Teeswater.

When the sun shone on a pen of Blue Faced Leicesters I spent some time trying to get a shot of them making shapes which pleased my eye. One frame almost got there before the sheep got fed up of looking at me. It was a tricky scene to photograph, but thanks to the wonders of technology the camera exposed well, and the slightly overexposed highlights were easy to recover on the computer. Older digital tech and film (at least in my technically inept hands) would have struggled with such a contrasty scene.

With the judging over I was able to get closer to some sheep to try for a portrait or two. This moody looking Lonk for instance.

Much as I enjoy attending shows and watching photographing the goings on I'm thinking that I need to get some plan behind what I'm doing. Or maybe start something new. I'll have a rethink when show season is over. The inevitable gallery can be seen here.

Sunday, 26 August 2018

A lucky break

A Bank Holiday weekend means one thing is guaranteed. Rain. Sure enough it was pattering against the window when I awoke yesterday. The forecast predicted Saturday to be the only really dry day of the holiday and sure enough the sky began to clear as I approached the showground. I've learned my lesson that an early arrival not only avoids the queues and secures a parking spot close to the entrance, but means I get more photo opportunities as people arrive with their stock and doing other things such as  dealing with the inevitable paperwork that is involved to keep track of the animals and giving them haircuts.

There weren't many sheep in the pens when I got there so I was able to roam between them. When the time came for judging nobody asked me to move, so I stayed put and got an uninterrupted view of the proceedings. No that I got much in the way of better pictures because there isn't much space to move around.

On a technical side I was using my fast zoom again and although I am getting accustomed to it's range I still find it a bit of a pain. Like a fool I was trying it wide open like everyone seems to use their lenses these days. The better subject isolation it is supposed to give compared to narrower apertures doesn't look that way to my eyes. But the shallow depth of field can be a real pain at times. There haven't been many occasions I've found when it has improved my pictures, and it's inability to focus close has missed me lots. I'll give it one more try, stopped down to a sensible aperture. But only because it is sharp.

Because of the lack of close focusing I took my fishing compact along. Nothing is without problems and the slow focusing and the sensor technology combined to thwart my attempts at making pictures of sheeps' eyes. I managed one that was both in focus and not too badly exposed (once I'd cropped a bit off). A black and white conversion his some flaws too. I can imagine making a series of these pictures. But knowing me probably won't... A few more snaps from the day here.

Earlier in the week I'd taken an evening stroll along the floodbank at the marsh with nothing much in mind. The light was bright and casting shadows which picked out the sheep tracks and hoofprints. Not having gone with photographing those in mind I took some snaps. Once again I converted them to black and white because they are quite graphic in their appearance. This is something else I could imagine making a series of pictures of. Maybe I ought to do both the tracks and the yes? However, whenever I have an idea like that I start to lose interest once the box ticking starts!

Monday, 20 August 2018

Same but different

Back when I was student it was common to get 'stuck' with your work. It happened to everyone. Things are going well, progress being made, but then it all grinds to a halt. You're stuck. One guaranteed way of becoming 'unstuck' is to 'work through' whatever it is you're doing. Just keep plodding away and somehow a breakthrough is usually made. The other option is to start doing something else and return to the stuck work at a later date.

I was definitely feeling stuck with the sheep pictures. Even on Saturday in Yorkshire. I started off repeating myself photographing the judging. Nice enough pictures but nothing different.

Boredom with what I'm doing often results in me messing about. That's what seems to have happened and looking through my photos back on the computer I found a few that put a different angle on things.

The first bit of buggering about was to use a slow shutter speed. The idea has some possibilities even if this effort isn't too great.

 I spotted a visual echo of a Jacob sheep's horns and a plastic clip. Perseverance paid off eventually.

Another echo was sheep and people apparently fenced in. Trying to get all four faces clearly visible between the bars was nigh on impossible. I did my best.

Then I got a bit off the wall.

In the craft tent there was a class for animal made of vegetables and fruit. I've seen this class at other shows and wonder how it came into being! There was a cauliflower sheep which was rather good.

More from Gargrave here.

Sunday was the bantam society's auction. I almost forgot about it, and was in two minds about going when I did remember. Having been to one before I wasn't expecting there to be too many pictures waiting to be found, but I had nothing better to do.

The refreshments are always welcome, and add to the club funds, but there's washing up created. With the village hall kitchen not in use for the auction things have to be improvised. Shots of committee members doing the mundane work that makes events run smoothly are always worth having. They help tell the bigger story. So not a wasted few hours.