Friday, 9 November 2018


Every now and then I click a link which takes me to a website I should have found sooner. Last night was a case in point and I spent longer than expected reading bits and pieces on Peter Marshall's I'll no doubt be returning to read more. While I was there I realise that Marshall sometimes uses a slow zoom on the same model DSLR body I use, and high ISOs when required. I resolved to give that approach myself today at the auction mart.

It seemed to work pretty well. At ISO 10,000 it does pay to get the exposure right as lifting the shadows does make them quite grainy with some colour noise. But for web viewing, even quite large, the results are fine. Certainly for reportage/documentary/photo-journalistic uses. Much better than I'd ever have got with black and white film under the same limited lighting conditions.

The real upside to using the slower lens was that depth of field was increased. At times I was even stopping down to f8. Technically I've made a breakthrough by overcoming my reluctance to use much higher ISOs.

Seeing pictures which capture the experience and work visually, without being too run of the mill still remains a struggle. I see one or two.

Using the flip down screen for lower angles shots proved its worth once again. The problem is getting the focus right, although using smaller apertures made life a bit easier. Especially at wider angles. Close-ups of sheep are usually pot-luck with getting the eye in focus.

I tried the slow shutter speed 'trick' again. It'll work one of these days. There was one frame I wish I'd had a faster shutter speed.though. Sod's law!

After today's exercise I might give my superzoom a try in the mart's dim light at some point in the future. Although that might bring the temptation to snipe the dread candid 'character' shots.

Another website I found last night, maybe from the one I mentioned earlier (I forget the link trail I was following) was Life Force Magazine. I had a look through it today and enjoyed much of it. Not surprisingly the photo essays on fishing and farming topics appealed most. Whenever I get a bit stuck for motivation looking at the kind of photography I like usually does the trick.

Sunday, 4 November 2018

Autumn light and other stories

Because the clocks had gone back I set off early last Sunday in the hope of finding some sheep with a backdrop of autumnal colours. The sun was shining, so I was full of confidence. I even found some sheep in field with a footpath running through it and some golden leaves beyond. Sheep being sheep they weren't for posing where or how I'd like then the sun disappeared. When the cloud moved away and the light was gorgeous my camera froze. I got one half decent picture which almost fitted my concept. Ideally it would have been a group of standing sheep. One recumbent sheep had to suffice.

Out of the wind back at the car I sorted the camera out. which was a relief. The sun had swung round by then, however, and was no longer lighting the leaves in the sheep field so I headed off elsewhere.

Autumnal sunshine on golden leaves is very alluring. Against my usual impulses I pulled over and tried to make a trraditional(ish) landscape picture or two. Pleasing in their way, I suppose - after quite a bit of fiddling on the computer.

As I was about to get back in my car I saw the light on a tree trunk on the other side of the road. Much more my type of 'landscape' picture. It still took me a few frames before I got the one I was after.

As autumn speeds towards winter the sun stays lower and lower. This means there's no need to get up early to see striking lighting effects. especially when there's a slate grey sky. Something I'm a sucker for.

Why some people are hung up on photographing only beautiful landscapes is beyond me. I get the impression that it's not photography that interests them, not even picture making, but simply looking at 'nice' views which they just happen to take photographs of.  It's the subject that concerns them, not the picture. For me photography is all about making the stuff I see, anything and anywhere, fit the viewfinder frame in a way that makes a picture with some sort of visual structure. That's not to say that there aren't times when merely recording something is enough. There are. But if both can be combined in one picture that produces something else. I don't manage it often, but it's what I strive for.

To me the picture below is as well worth taking as any of a mountain reflected in a glass-like lochan. Certainly it's more complex, in formal terms, as an image than most landscapes. Although I took it thinking about the abstract qualities of shapes and colours it also serves as a document, and maybe (if one chooses) as a comment. It's certainly not just a picture of a fence.

Most of my photographs, I would claim, have a documentary nature of some degree. And when they are primarily intended to be documentary I still try, but usually fail, to give the pictures a form which works in that abstract way. Cartier-Bresson referred to good photographs having a geometry to them. This is something which is more complex than the usual the 'rules' usually applied by amateur photographers. Leading lines, rule of thirds, that sort of basic nonsense. But there are other ways to make pictures work than shapes and colour. It's this way of approaching photography which keeps it interesting for me. Repeating the standard formulae would bore me stiff!

I was late getting to yesterday's poultry show, the judging was already under way when I arrived. This time I tried a slightly bolder approach, getting in closer, which I think was a good move. Hopefully I'll give it another try in a fortnight at another show.

The show was one of the biggest the club has held with over 800 birds exhibited in the purpose built show hall. This time round the championship row pens had been revamped. Larger but fewer pens, with name plates for easy identification of the section winners, and floral displays to brighten the whole thing up. Awkward to photograph - with or without birds in the pens!

A few more pics here.

As I was feeling uninspired after the judging was done I thought I'd have a dummy run at photographing chicken feet to make a grid. To do it properly would require the birds to be out of the pens and standing on a clean surface. Better lighting would be preferred too. Whether I'll ever get round to taking this idea any further I doubt. Planning isn't my strong point...

Friday, 26 October 2018

A failed experiment

It seemed like a good idea at the time to take the little Fuji and use it to make some black and white pics at the auction mart. For one thing the lighting is inconsistent in colour, for another the camera is unobtrusive. Where could there be a fly in the ointment? Lots of places as it turned out.

I thought I could live with the slow autofocus. Even bypass it by using manual focus. That didn't improve the slight lag between pressing the shutter release and the exposure being made. Using autofocus I had forgotten about the other delay. The slow autofocus messed up a few frames by putting the focus somewhere unexpected when the shutter actually fired. Maybe a change of setting would cure that. But there'd still be a lag. This makes grabbing shots hit and miss. In this case, miss.

Hmm. Why is that in colour? It's in colour because when I got the files on the computer I converted one to colour and preferred it. Odd colours and all. I guess that black and white, for me, is to be saved for 'art' photography. The documentary stuff has to be in colour.

I did try some 'arty' stuff. Slow shutter speeds to get movement blur. Even then the lag factor messed things up for me.

All in all it was a bit frustrating. There's no doubting that for static subjects, or even slower moving ones, it can be a great camera. But for this sort of thing I find it awkward. At least for the sort of pictures I like to try for, and the way I like to take them. So my few better photos from today were mostly of subjects which didn't move much. With the odd exception.

I even succumbed to taking pictures of Herdwicks. They are very photogenic... And some pictures work better in colour no matter what.

There was another thing. Batteries. They don't last five minutes. What's more, the electronic viewfinder, while perfectly useable in daylight looks like a TV that's on the blink under some artificial lights. It's most off putting to see dark bands scrolling over the viewfinder. Those who are saying that DSLRs have had their day are jumping the gun in my estimation. Maybe the new breed of mirrorless cameras are a match, but they're rather expensive to try out only to find they aren't all the fanboys crack them up to be.

The non-technical lesson learned is that I'll have to up my game on the picture making front. I didn't come away with much more than snaps if I'm honest. I might have been concentrating on the gear instead of the pictures. But that's what can happen when the gear isn't intuitive to use, or what you are well accustomed to using more like. It was a valuable experiment to give the Fuji a concerted try out. But it#s back to the comfy old slippers of the DSLRs for me.

Saturday, 20 October 2018


This idea of taking photographs in the wood in black and white has given me a bit of direction of late. Even if my  approach is a bit arty-farty. I've been deliberately trying to avoid photographing 'views'. Scenes which might look nice in autumnal colour. Instead I've been deliberately looking for more abstract images. Plays of light where the light or shade is the focus of the picture. Also pictures which aren't in focus at all but just shapes of dark and light and tones in between. Or playing around with deliberate over or under exposure - and flash. I'm really not sure where it's all going. Which is probably why it's interesting me.

I've also gone through my archive of older photos from the wood, converting some into black and white.

I'm beginning to get a feel for what I'm looking for. With a bit more perseverance and a little luck I might manage to get ten or twenty pictures which make some visual sense when pulled together. Definitely not there yet,so I'll keep ploughing along when I get a spare half hour.

Despite concentrating on black and white in the wood I switch the camera back to colour when I leave it. Somehow my way of looking switches too and I start seeing colour pictures again. Low autumnal sun provides a warm, contrasty, light which can make things look rather Egglestonian to my eyes. Or maybe just more like Kodachrome.

In the world of sheep it's tupping time. The ewes are gathered together in small flocks accompanied by their would-be suitors. Chances to make any pictures have been slim, and I must admit the wood project has distracted me - probably because it can be engaged in more easily. When I have managed to get close enough to photograph sheep without trespassing I've been in black and white mode there for some reason. and in 4x5 ratio mode too, making sheepscapes.

Tuesday, 9 October 2018

More mono

Despite pretty well exhausting the possibilities at the poultry auctions I was back again on Saturday. The aim being to once more evaluate approaches to gear. What the day proved was what I'd already worked out! The Fuji is okay, but clunky to use and that a 'big' camera doesn't necessarily make you any more obvious than a tiny one. At least not when you stick a small lens on it.

Possibly the most difficult sort of picture to pull off well is the candid group shot. It's bad enough trying to capture the look or gesture of one person, but to get a number of expressions which work together, in an arrangement of figures which works, when you can't control any of them, is like herding the proverbial cats!

I also had my felling that for most 'documentary' photography the 28mm and 50mm combination covers most of my requirements, with the 100mm in reserve. Why not use a 24-70mm zoom? Because it is true that using single focal length lenses makes you think about framing more critically. You have to move. Sometimes, though, all you need is a snapshot - when any lens will do!

As I've mentioned a time or two before, the light in the sale ring is bloody awful for colour photography with the mixture of lighting. It's also a bit gloomy. Using the Fuji in there showed yet again why I can't love it. At higher ISOs the way it renders skin is 'unusual' to my eyes. Less natural than the big cameras.

Outdoors, in good light, photographing anything other than people, the Fuji is fine. Where I am coming to appreciate it is when using it to make black and white pictures. In fact it's the reason I'm dabbling in that style at the moment. Black and white might be the way to approach photographing in the sale ring.

It's certainly proving its worth when I wander round the wood in late afternoon when the sun is bright and low. My previous attempts in colour always seemed too cluttered, but a monochromatic approach is simplifying things. There might be a project starting.