Thursday, 29 September 2011

Too obvious

When I was at the beach yesterday the sunset was an unavoidable subject.  I took a lot of shots, most of which were rubbish, some of which were trite, a few that almost made it.

Partly as an experiment I posted a selection on a non-photography forum. I was interested to see if the ones which looked like a thousand other sunset photographs proved more popular. They did.

No prizes for picking the 'winner' from these two.

Sun off to one side, reflection on wet sand. If the horizon had been slightly higher it would have ticked all the boxes for approval. But I was trying to see if I could make a picture work with the horizon deliberately centred. It sort of does.

Sun all but invisible and central, very low horizon, hardly any subject matter. Ticks none of the boxes for approval. Placing the sun anywhere but on the centre line made no sense to me. That would have been composition by numbers.  In fact I should have taken a few more shots after the sun had completely disappeared.

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

The bait digger

Strictly speaking not a bait digger as he was using a more efficient pump rather than a spade. The light was fantastic and I managed a semblance of a story while being distracted by the setting sun and the afterglow.

All taken using the 70-200 with a x1.7 teleconverter. At 100% they are remarkably sharp. The 150-500 might be getting the heave-ho to fund a x2 converter.

One of my favourite 'scapes of the evening is below.

Sunday, 25 September 2011

Night light

Round here they've been replacing the old streetlights, the ones that make the sky glow orange, with what I assume are LED lights which cast a whiter light.

This actually feels a little disconcerting as I have come to think of night light as orange, and now it looks like a subdued daylight. What it does do is make for interesting possibilities with night photography. Especially so when the sky has the old orange glow. 

To eyes accustomed to the old way the night looked it's other worldly. I think I might try some tripod efforts to see if I can improve on my shaky hand held efforts, an example of which is shown tiny here to cover up the blur!

Saturday, 24 September 2011

You shouldn't need to ask

"Does this processing work?" If you're asking, then odds on it doesn't. Then again a lot of people seem to like heavily processed images. It was ever thus. The attraction of effect over content all too frequently triumphs. One effect I've seen a lot of is one I've never been able to reproduce. Not that I've wanted to reproduce it, but I was curious to know how it was achieved. Having recently downloaded the trial of Lightroom I have now found out. Don't ask how I did it because I can#'t remember, but it is certainly something Lightroom can do which GIMP cannot - or not readily. Moving the Lightroom sliders about to see what they did the effect materialised on a B+W conversion. So I maxed it out! Quite why anyone would choose to apply such an effect to a candid, street, portrait I cannot say. But some do.
This second image is what I started with. Just a touch of exposure compensation and some level tweaking. Much more to my taste.
Almost raw
Combing the two, however, gives the original a bit of a lift without looking too outrageous. I'm still not sure I wholeheartedly approve though.
Done to a turn
This whole digital processing lark is something I wish I didn't have to bother with. When I did my own B+W printing all I ever did was use different grades of paper and vary the exposure times. Dead simple. Now there are all sorts of tweaks that can be done. Many variations can be made without having to waste a sheet of paper on each to check the result. I do wonder that having so much flexibility is really a good thing though. It not only makes processing harder, it makes editing fro the options more difficult too. On the positive side it can make images look a whole lot better than they do when they come out of the camera. So I guess I have to keep on playing around and trying to make the final results look like I haven't!

As an aside, and not something consciously done in making the shot, the out of focus chair back serves to nicely separate most of Martin's head from the cluttered background. I should pay more attention to such details when looking through the viewfinder instead of noticing them later.

Friday, 23 September 2011


I've admired Maciej Dakowicz's Cardiff After Dark photographs since I first found them. To me they are street photography at its best. And something that couldn't have been easily done before the advent of digital technology.

As far as I'm concerned the images simply show what goes on in a non-judgemental way, always trying to make pictures and usually succeeding.The captioning is generally sparse and without much comment. The viewer is left to interpret the photographs as they feel fit.

Dakowicz's photographs have rightly achieved wide acclaim in various photo publications, on websites, and in photography shows and festivals. It is really good photography.

When the Daily Mail gets their hands on his shots they are used (and cropped) to promote their particular vision of 'broken Britain'. A set of photos of upper class twits in similar drunken states is required to redress the balance!!

What this helps to illustrate is that photographs in themselves make no statements. That is all down to teh viewer to impose on them. Or in this case, for the media to ram down the viewer's throats.

PS -

Thursday, 22 September 2011

Country shows

I found these photos by Paul Russell via the BBC Viewfinder blog which I thoroughly recommend. I was aware of Paul Russell's photos, but hadn't been checking them out recently. Well worth a look.

Wednesday, 21 September 2011


A walk to the shops today gave me two more Lost Balls Found taking the total to 50. The interesting fact is that I spotted number 49 on my way out but didn't notice number 50 (which must have been there all along) until my return journey. It's always worthwhile retracing your steps or to keep turning round to get a different view. It's surprising what you can miss.

Number 50 - with 49 in the background.

Monday, 19 September 2011

The shock of the familiar

One of the many things I don't understand about some people who take photographs is their apparent need to travel to far off places to take them. Even when this is limited to their own country they are, to my mind, closing their eyes to what is around them. For me one of the attractions of photography is it's ability to make you see things differently. By it's very nature it isolates sections of the world by placing them within the confines of a frame, and in the process transforms them. It is an intensity of vision rather than the subject which 'makes' a photograph.
"To see a world in a grain of sand,
And a heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand,
And eternity in an hour."
If your subject is people they are no less interesting and varied in your own neighbourhood than they are on the other side of the globe. A Tibetan monk may be more colourful, exotic and picturesque, than an inner-city vicar - which may superficially enhance your photographs, but he is no more human. I've had my fill of orange robes. Photography is about seeing, not travelling.

There is always the problem when visiting places that others have photographed of repeating what they have already done. There's an iconography of accepted subjects, and of course the familiarity of the resulting images makes them palatable to an audience that doesn't like to be challenged. Making images of what is familiar to you is almost always going to be more challenging for an audience as they will most likely be less familiar with the subjects than they are with more distant but widely photographed subjects.

Perhaps this is why I find McCurry's photographs of people in far flung places beautiful yet somehow trite and Parr's work at times harsh, but fresh and intriguing. I'd rather look at photographs that withstand prolonged and repeated scrutiny to appreciate than those which satisfy the eye immediately by playing all the old tricks for effect.

Another benefit of taking photographs in familiar, often visited, places is that of time. Time allows for change, not only of light and the world itself, but also of attitude of mind. In one state of mind something may appear uninteresting, in another it could seem intriguing. The photographer of the exotic doesn't always have this facility available.

Writers are often encouraged to write about what they know, even if only as a jumping off point. Photographers should perhaps photograph what they know in order to see that unexpected world in the familiar grain of sand.

All this is, of course, is merely a way of justifying my banal and insular photographs!

Saturday, 17 September 2011

Failure in the rain

For some time I've been chasing pigeons with my camera, trying to capture an image of a bird with the street in the background making a picture. It relies a lot on luck, which so far has been mostly bad. While I may not be a stickler for sharpness I've not even got close despite trying various autofocus modes and manually prefocusing. While not a street scene the shot on the right is my best effort so far.

In a fit of inspiration I tried the same tactic on dogs being walked, and the ever-unreliable screen on the camera suggested it was a better option. The big screen on the confuser told another story. Blurry dogs. They look okay at minuscule size but a print would be disappointing. The idea is good. The execution flawed.

All was not lost. Rain makes for good street photography in my experience. People are too concerned with keeping dry to worry about a nutter with a camera. They're not the best pictures in the world but they have bits working in their favour.

What I like about this first shot are the colours and the way all the faces are hidden save for that of the sleeping child - which isn't immediately obvious because it merges into the pink bag.

I don't know what I like about the second shot. Maybe the limited palette and the graphic nature of the umbrella.

The graffiti certainly lifts the third shot. A bare wall would not have been anywhere near as visually interesting, not even given my taste for acres of negative space.

The final picture comes closer to succeeding in a sort of linear composition with figures (including the dummies) spread across the frame. A far more painterly approach to creating a picture. Oh well. Lessons learned I think.

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Why did I take this photograph?

That's a question you are supposed to ask yourself. Well, in the case of today's shot the reason I took it is different to why it intrigues me now.

I took the shot because I saw a man up a ladder and a woman's dress on a dummy and thought it made an interesting, if obvious, contrast.

Looking at it now it intrigues me because the image plays with perspective and the picture plane. Everything in the image is presented flatly, yet when you read the image there are multiple layers: the text on the window, the figures behind the glass, the perspective of the shop interior emphasised by the shelving and strip-lights, the reflections of the buildings and people. All these elements force you to change focus, although the image is flat.

Saturday, 10 September 2011

Live view

At last I've found a good use for live view on a camera. Okay, so it's useful for low level photography, but an angle viewfinder can do that job. No, where it really is useful is shooting in the dark. I tried some nightscapes last night, and composing in live view made the scene much brighter and the whole process easier. The photos could be better, so I'll have to try again and take more care, but at least now I have a handle on how to carry things out from a practical standpoint.

Thursday, 8 September 2011

Nifty fifty

As with 'bokeh' 'nifty fifty' is a term that didn't exist when I started taking photographs. A 5omm lens was what you got when you bought an SLR camera. It was considered to be  a 'standard' lens.Today the 'nifty' seems to have gained a cult following. Perhaps this is because it provides a cheap way to get a fast lens and the 'bokeh' effects that come with that territory. Fine if all you are interested in is getting soft backgrounds for the sake of having soft backgrounds. Whatever happened to 'f8 and be there'? I choose a lens by focal length to make the photos I want to make. There's no point having creamy-dreamy backgrounds if you can't frame the shots.

For some time I've had a 24mm almost welded to my crop sensor camera. The image quality may not be all it could be, but it makes good photos. Prior to that I had a 35mm which had better IQ and also made some good pictures, but not as many. I found the focal length neither here nor there for most things. Odd as it equates to 52.5mm on 35mm film and I used to manage okay with a 50mm on my Pentax. So I picked up a f1.4 'nifty fifty' to see what difference that would make.

As an alternative to the 24mm it's an improvement over the 35mm. It does require to adjust how I see though. For walking around the two lenses provide a nice compliment to each other and make different photos. I can't say that the faster aperture bothers me much. There's not a great deal of difference between the out of focus effect at 1.4 and 2.8. It's noticeable, but in most instances it wouldn't bother me. With the ability to use higher ISO values with digital than film there's no advantage to be had there as there was with film. For me it's speed is certainly no reason to choose the lens.

Why not use a zoom? Simply because a fast zoom, I have one which covers the same range and more, is big and heavy. With either of these lenses on the camera it's light and unobtrusive. The spare lens can also slip easily in a jacket pocket. Of course, I can use also use the same lenses on a full frame digital. And when I do fit a zoom one of these primes can go along in a pocket keeping me mobile (I hate carting a camera bag around) and giving me extra options.

The 50mm will also have a place as a fishing lens. My travelling light kit can now consist of the two primes and an extension tube - the fifty plus a tube does a good enough job of close up work. It's a pity I don't have a teleconverter that will fit it too.

Should the 'nifty fifty' have the cult status it seems to have? I don't think so. It's just another lens that does a job or two. It doesn't work magic.

Monday, 5 September 2011

Cropping and context

I guess this is what could be called a 'street portrait', as it captures an expression and sort of works as a composition.

But it's not what I saw - and failed to capture well.

The point is that cropping can alter the meaning of a photograph. No doubt that is why early Magnum photographers filed away the edges of their negative carriers so a whole frame would be printed with a rough black border. The whole frame and nothing but the frame. Does cropping matter? I suppose it depends on how the photograph is used and the intentions of the photographer.

Sunday, 4 September 2011

Iconic Photos

Another site worth visiting added to the links list in the side bar is Iconic Photos. Good to look at and interesting to read.