Tuesday, 31 January 2012


While waiting for the harriers to turn up I wandered around, snapping away. Oddly I find the non-bird pictures hold my attention more. I'm guessing it's because I find them more graphically interesting.

Having a zoom lens allows too many options at times. I moved in closer and zoomed out to get a similar framing. The result has a different feel. I can't decide if it is more succesful though.

Monday, 30 January 2012


I've been tempted back to trying to capture some wildlife shots this last few days. I have a shot in mind, but the window of opportunity is small (about an hour) and the birds fickle.

A full frame camera's low light performance and focus tracking would be beneficial, but so would the reach of a crop sensor. It's hard to decide which route to take.

The first of the shots below is closest to what I'm after - a harrier hunting over the reedbed with an evening sky as the backdrop.

This third shot is of an unexpected hen harrier which came even closer - but the autofocus went haywire and I got a slightly blurry shot that should have been spot on. So it goes.

Sunday, 29 January 2012

Portrait landscapes

Two similar compositions from an evening walk. To a degree the equipment used has dictated the visual outcomes, which helps emphasise the nature of the two subjects - which are actually both man made watercourses just a few dozens of yards apart. Both have been processed from RAW files, the most drastic manipulation being the addition of graduation to the skies.

The photograph on the right was shot using a telephoto zoom on a full frame DSLR which results in the shallow depth of focus giving a soft look that suits the more natural elements of the image.

The photograph on the right was taken using the X10 on a wide angle setting giving greater depth of focus laying stress on the industrial elements of the sewage works. The straight course of the ditch and the hard edge of the pipe in the foreground contrast with the delicate reed stems and the curves of the water in the left hand picture.

Individually the images work. Together they make a pair commenting on what we think of as the natural world and man's intrusion into it - while one scene looks entirely natural it has been created to appear that way, yet the other is obviously artificial and has been colonised by nature.

None of this occurred to me at the time I made the pictures!.

Friday, 27 January 2012

Sensor size and big skies

There are pedants who maintain that small sensors do not give greater depth of field.Well if you take the same lens, then strictly speaking they don't. But when people say the smaller sensors do give greater depth of field they are referring to framing the picture the same with the two cameras. In which case there is a difference.

The X10 has it's lens barrel handily marked with the full frame equivalent focal lengths. I took advantage of that to frame two shots using the same shutter speed and aperture on the X10 and a full frame camera. No guessing which of the two shots below is from which sensor!

This extra DOF can be advantageous, as can the X10's close up capabilities. I couldn't get the shot below with the full frame gear I have.

Out on the flatlands it's difficult to make anything of the landscape because there's nothing there! One approach, I suppose, is to make skyscapes. The ultra-wide lens is the traditional tool for the job.

There are a few things out there to make some visual interest. Most striking to me are the coverts and farmsteads that break up the horizon ever so slightly. Although it is largely featureless the light changes quickly on windy days. And when the weather's bad it can be quite dramatic at times. If I was into landscape photography I'm sure I could spend hours out there waiting for the light. I think I'd do it with a large format camera rather than a DSLR though.

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Panorama fun

When a new toy has a gimmicky feature it would be silly not to try it out! Quite what I might do with panoramas made in-camera I'm not sure. They do provide a different way of seeing, it's not like what an ultrawide angle or even fish-eye lens will give as there is no curvature, it's a different kind of distortion. It was misty afternoon, so doing these by hand left a lot to be desired - although they do demonstrate the effectiveness of the camera's software.

The 'straight' view of the above pano'

Where I think the effect works best is at what might be called crossroads. A series of such shots taken with more planning and care could be interesting. Click on the pics to get a better impression.

Saturday, 21 January 2012

Inspiration's all around

'I'm always photographing everything as practice.' - Minor White

Just as a painter is always sketching, the subject matter being largely irrelevant as sketching is as much about looking as picture making, it seems that a photographer can sketch with their camera. I've just read A Bigger Message: Conversations with David Hockney which stresses that his art is all about seeing. Hockney is somewhat disparaging about photography, although he uses cameras to make pictures himself. It is the single-eyed vision he most objects to. But also the lack of one of the three elements he says the Chinese deem essential to be involved in the making of paintings - the hand, the eye, and the heart.

What I feel he fails to understand is that picture making with a camera is not the same thing at all as picture making with the hand. It makes a different sort of picture. Pictures that are not intended to be looked at in the same way, or to convey the same meanings which paintings are capable of conveying. Photographs are literal, paintings are metaphorical. Photographs say "I saw this", paintings say "I experienced seeing this". This is, undoubtedly a simplification, but is the essence of the difference. For all that, photographs can have mystery and bear lengthy contemplation.

Anyway, I have been photographing things for practice, partly to familiarise myself with my new toy, but also because I do it anyway. No matter how often you tread the same path, or sit in the same wall, things are in constant flux. If you look. This is something Hockney talks about in relation to landscape changing with the seasons, but I find it applies just as much in the home as the light through the windows changes.

I suppose it depends how you look at the world, but I can find things that interest me visually anywhere. Influenced by reading Hockney's views on how we don't look ta things from a fixed point - the essence of early cubism, and by the fact that photographers frame and re-frame shots (even if not making an exposure with each re-framing) I wondered if a more truthful way of showing photographs is to show the ultimately chosen composition alongside the rejected ones. Fruit have long been a favourite subject for still life painting. Photographers often  approach subjects by trying to idealise them in an attempt to make them timeless. But look at still life painting throughout history and it reflects the time it was painted. So why not include the electric socket and plugs?

Friday, 20 January 2012


Two portraits. One taken with a full frame DSLR, the other with the X10. Both using available light. It's only the depth of field that gives the game away at this size!

Thursday, 19 January 2012


There is one big advantage of the X10 - stealth. Ray who owns the tackle shop hates being photographed and merely raising a DSLR to my eye has him giving me black looks. Not only is the X10 small, it also has a quiet mode in which it makes no sound at all. No focus confirmation beep, no faux shutter sound, nothing. The use of the screen for framing also allows for unusual angles to be used that subjects think mean you aren't getting them in shot.

I'm still getting to grips with the best settings to use, but I can see the value of a camera like this for candid shooting and understand why Leicas are so suited to it. Given the available light I think the results from this wee camera are damned good. A little noise reduction has been applied, although it might not have been required in truth.

ISO 640

Sunday, 15 January 2012

First impressions

The new toy
Having taken the plunge yesterday, and spending some time familiarising myself with the controls, I had my first chance to try my new toy out this afternoon. That's it on the right, a Fuji X10.

Is it the future? Not yet it ain't. For what it is, a souped-up compact it's really good. As a functional camera it relies too much on menus for my liking, although I'm sure that with familiarity I'll get it set to a way that suits me. The viewfinder will take some getting used to. At least with it only giving a partial view of what appears on screen parallax isn't too much of a problem, and with 12mp to play with images can be cropped back without too much loss of image size.

Macro setting
There are some features I really like. The macro capability is great, and I can see it providing me with some interesting images when I get to grips with it. The small sensor's depth of field lends itself to close-up shooting.

I also like the size of the camera. It's unobtrusive in the extreme. It's also very quiet, and can be switched to a silent mode.

My first digital camera, all 1.3mp of it's sensor, was a Fuji as was my second. When I bought my third, a canon S3IS, I wasn't as keen on the colours it produced. The X10 makes as lovely pictures as my previous Fujis did. So that's nice.

All in all I find it hard to fault the files, JPEGs at this stage, that I've got. Had I gone straight from the S3IS to the X10 I would have been overjoyed and thought I'd reached Nirvana. But having got used to full frame Nikon files I have become spoiled. These are nice, but there is something about full frame that gives a different look to the pictures. It's hard to define, but it's definitely there.

However, this camera isn't a DSLR. It's a different tool for a different job. It's for taking fishing when I need to cut down on gear, and for taking round town, and anywhere else I go, where a DSLR draws attention to you. It'll get used a fair bit.

I do miss framing through a viewfinder, although it was better than squinting at the screen this afternoon in the bright sunshine when the screen was hard to see clearly. Nor do I like the arm's length hold when framing with the screen, but it has the advantage of making you look like a happy snapper.

It was fun wandering around for an hour or so seeing what the camera can do. It can do a lot.

A square crop seemed to suit this shot
I'm not sure about the native 4:3 aspect ratio in general, but it worked for this shot. Lovely blues and yellow.
A shot 'from the hip'
This current trend towards smaller sensors is not the way forward for me. They are good, and getting better, but they are being driven by a fad for making cameras as small as possible in order to compete with the ever improving phone-cameras. The technology must surely be available to put a large sensor in a small body with an integral viewfinder and simple analog controls.

No doubt I'll have more adventures from compact camera land anon.

Friday, 13 January 2012

The jury's out

I didn't look at all three small sensor cameras, nor did I take any shots with both the ones I did look at. The handling, and the viewfinder, of the one I did play with made further investigation of alternatives pointless. It felt very much a 'real' camera. Unfortunately time was in short supply as I'd parked on the street and spent too long wandering round town taking photos - once I start it's hard to stop, especially when the sun is shining.

I did put a card in and take three shots in the shop, but wasn't able to fathom out any more than how to switch from aperture to shutter priority and alter the settings. Back home the improvement in image quality compared to my old small sensor camera was evident. More pixels and less noise (at ISO 500).

ISO 500, f2.8, 1/55th sec, 100mm (approx) equivalent
Not up to DSLR standards, but way better than I ever got from my digital 'fishing cameras'. Certainly more than good enough for web use. An A4 print of the shot above rattled off on my home printer looks good enough too. A jumped up point and shoot, perhaps, but one that operates like a camera of old and produces images which are, in ways most people are likely to use them, perfectly acceptable.

Have small cameras taken over the world? Not yet. I'll not be ditching the DSLR gear just yet, it has more features (some of which I use) and the viewfinder shows me exactly what I'll get. Then there's the look of the files. Small sensors are always going to have limitations that can't be got round. Ye cannae change the laws of physics, Jim! If you want shallow depth of field you need a large sensor. (there are those who will argue the point, but in the real world they are wrong.) For self-taken fishing trophy shots, however, a large depth of field is beneficial. And this camera has a feature that disappeared, even from film SLRs, many years ago - the ability to accept a cable or bulb release directly into the shutter release button. Such a simple physical connection thing that got replaced by electronics.

It might be a jumped up point-and-shoot compact, but it could still be more camera than I need for fishing. Then again, maybe not. I guess I'll have to take the plunge and see if it can replace a crop sensor DSLR for fishing and 'street' photography. It's the print that has convinced me. Time to lift the floorboards and dig out some cash...

No doubt the time will come when small cameras with large sensors and the features that DSLRs have today are available, and then things will change. How far away that day is remains to be seen. My guess is quite a long way off. No doubt such cameras could be made right now, but the marketing departments know that progress is better made in small steps, forcing people into multiple 'upgrades' rather than in one big leap.

On my wander round town taking photographs of odd stuff I got taken by the play of light and shadow in and around an alleyway. I rushed it, if I'm honest. Even so the composite below illustrates how curious people are when you are pointing a camera at something. It's not the first time I've noticed passers-by taking a puzzled look at my subject, but it is the first time I've captured it (I almost said, on film!).

Thursday, 12 January 2012

Small is beautiful. Possibly...

There appears to be a school of thought on the infernalweb that small cameras are the way forward. People seem sick of great big heavy DSLRS. I can see the point in this argument. SLR cameras have got larger and larger as they have become more and more automated. My ancianet Pentax ME is not much larger than my 6.3mp bridge camera, and way smaller than my full frame digital. For unobtrusive shooting the Pentax attracts a lot less attention. It also weighs a lot less and as such is less of a pain to carry around.

Another part of the argument in favour of small upmarket digital cameras is that most images these days don't need the resolution of large sensor cameras. They'll either be viewed on screens, or printed fairly small. This makes sense, my 6.3mp Canon bridge camera did me proud when I was writing regularly for fishing magazines it (as did it's 3.2mp Fuji predecessor). Double page spreads and cover shots looked fine to me. But comparing the images it produces with a crop sensor DSLR's output makes them look awful. Lack of contrast, noise at anything over base ISO. A general lack of flexibility. What's more the handling of the camera is clunky compared to a DSLR.

It was the handling that saw me always using it in either Auto or Program modes. Aperture and shutter priority modes are available, but involve the use of on-screen (or in-viewfinder) menus. Very frustrating.  There are also buttons that were so easily pressed by mistake that the quality of the jpegs and the ISO settings could be altered without my knowledge. I'd have the camera set to the highest quality only to find the pictures were taken at a lower resolution. Bloody annoying.

After weighing the camera bag I took fishing the other day I'm considering another small 'compact' camera to take with me on those days a long walk is involved. I can't face using the Canon any longer - DSLRs have spoiled me! All I ask for is a small camera with easy shutter and aperture adjustment that produces images as good as a crop sensor DSLR. That can't be much to ask? I also demand a viewfinder for framing. I have a compact camera that lacks a viewfinder and absolutely hate holding it with both hands to frame shots on the screen. It's a poor way to hold a camera steady too.

Not only would a lightweight camera be useful to take fishing, a discreet one would be handy in town, and nice to cart around anywhere just in case. So, tomorrow I intend going out to look at some small cameras. I have three in mind - although I'm already pretty sure which one is most likely to part me from my cash. I'm taking a couple of memory cards with me in the hope I'll be able to bring some files home to inspect.

Moving on. I'm well aware that it's possible to lose inspiration or motivation. To feel that what you are photographing has no worth. I feel that all the time. But I don't log on and ask people where I can find inspiration. As soon as I go out, or even stay home, with my eyes open I begin to see things that are visually interesting. The resulting photographs may not be marvellous, but they usually have something going for them. Of course it's nice to have a project to give a sense of purpose to your photography. And so it was this afternoon when I called in at my local tackle shop.

I visit almost every week yet I still find fresh things to photograph. Not every time, but often enough. I'm a little hampered in my efforts to capture the proprietor as he has an aversion to cameras, but I'll get a good shot or two of him eventually. The shot here shows him doing what he likes doing best. Counting money! More from today have been added to the Tackle Shop page.

Sunday, 8 January 2012

What is 'street'?

Over on the Talk Photography forum someone defined street photography as being only about taking photographs 0f strangers on the street. I have to concur that is the way it is seen these days. The same poster kind of decried the 'decisive moment'.

If 'street' is only about photographing people on the street, and judging from the photographs a lot of would-be street shooters post on the interweb it is, what happened to composition or the capturing of a look or gesture? To me that is what photographing people anywhere is about - particularly when they are unaware of the camera's presence. A snapshot of a stranger is just that. A snapshot. Its being taken on a street doesn't magically elevate it to a higher status as an image.

I admire those photographers who can consistently find moments on the street and freeze them with a camera. It's a remarkable skill. To belittle their achievements is only showing up your own shortcomings. I take photographs of people in towns. Very few of them are anything more than snaps. Occasionally I grab a picture of a 'character', but in itself I don't find that sufficient. It's a lazy option. Making pictures is much more difficult.

I guess what I'm saying is that I'm more interested in using a camera to make pictures than taking photographs. Which (like the rest of the above) I might have mentioned before.

As 2011 drew to a close it was time to sort through my archive and pick out my favourite pictures. As usual I found a couple that I hadn't thought much of at the time they were made and saw them afresh. Then I began the process of editing them down. I had intended to make a Blurb book from the best (for my own amusement), but after much consideration realised that there were some pictures that were good, but didn't fit alongside the bulk of the shots. There were two themes - people and places - so I split them into two groups. The people pictures are gathered in the book below. I've ordered myself a copy to see what the quality is like. Last year's effort I got printed on the standard paper, which was a bit thin. I'll be interested to see if the upgrade is worth the extra.

As I said, this is purely for my own amusement - to see how the pictures look as a collection. The virtual book gives an idea, but a hard copy is something else and the best way to judge your own work. Photographs are made to be printed and handled. I believe they are best collected in book form too.  Some of the pictures I wouldn't include in a broader selection, but I wanted to fill as many pages as I could for the money!

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

Tone is in the fingers

No matter what instrument a guitar player with an identifiable style plays he/she will always sound like themselves. This doesn't stop wannabe guitarists finding out what equipment their hero uses and buying the very same stuff! They may nail the tone. They may have the technique. A lot of guitar players never get beyond emulation and fail to develop a style of their own. Individually or together having great tone and the chops isn't enough - something else has to be brought to the mix to make a style of one's own.

What has this to do with photography? It seems to me that the buying of the same equipment as a photographic hero is carried out by many even though it is widely acknowledged that it's not the camera that makes photographs but the photographer. Photographers also mimic techniques, subjects and compositions that are the trade marks of the photographers they admire. Prowling the streets with a Leica no more makes you Henri-Cartier Bresson than playing a gold top Les Paul makes you Jimmy Page.

A photographer's style transcends the equipment they use. Having a recognisable style can be commercially successful as clients will know what they are getting in advance, but artistically it can be unfulfilling.  Some artists dabble with styles early in their career then settle into a mature style. Others are constantly exploring new media and ways of seeing and working. The early paintings of Lucien Freud are distinctly different to his mature works, but still recognisably Freuds. Yet David Hockney has changed his working practices, media, and scale throughout his life while also producing work that is recognisably his. Style is not superficial. It underpins everything.

How does this impact on my photography? Since realising I have a style, or possibly just things I repeat, I am always trying to make photographs that don't follow my usual parameters for image making. Yet no matter what I do I always see something that resonates with my previous efforts. I am undecided if the image below is good or bad. It certainly doesn't follow my usual compositional style, nor my available light practice, but there is a simplicity and lack of focal point that I see in many of my shots. I guess there's no real escape from a way of looking and seeing.