Monday, 27 February 2012

Getting the hang of it

Keeping the ultra wide on the camera is paying off. I'm beginning to see ultrawide pictures now and the 24mm end is starting to look like a telephoto. I know 'Uncle' Ken Rockwell is scorned by many photography forum dwellers, and his pronouncements on cameras and lenses can be contentious (although I'm pretty sure made for effect to generate traffic to his site), but I find a lot of what he has to say about making photographs in the depths of his site makes sense - but is probably overlooked by most of his vistors. His advice about ultrawides is spot on.

After yesterday's brief wander I gave up on the idea of trading the lens in for something a little longer. It was yet another overcast afternoon, but in some ways that was a blessing as it softened the shadows, making one shot easier to make something of. As is so often the case overcast days can lend themselves to graphic pictures that work best in black and white.

Sunday, 26 February 2012

Pigeon fun

If the photo above left wasn't a crop I'd be very pleased with it, but there is a good third of the frame missing. It's a shame the pigeon in the  bottom right picture is out of focus as it's very close to the sort of picture I'm trying to make. It's also one that shows how people think I'm daft!

The compact certainly makes getting low, and close, to the pigeons without scaring them a lot more successful than using a noisy SLR - a part from using a longer lens, which is where it all started back here.

These pigeon photos are now trying to be as much about people as about pigeons. A wider view placing the birds in the context of their man-made, and human populated, environment.

As usual, if you click on the first image you can scroll through the set to see them larger.

Friday, 24 February 2012

Web whinge (again) and a look at light

One of the biggest drawback to web display is the lack of detail available. This isn't quite the picture I was aiming for, but it makes a point. The idea is to have something small, but interesting, in a large expanse of 'nothing'. For this to work that something small has to be readable. At web size the detail isn't readable.

The crop below shows the detail better, but still not all that the full size file reveals. It also demonstrates just what you can 'get away with' when cropping for the web - something which quite a few people appear to do as a matter of course. While it might be a form of elitism there is something to be said for not cropping photos. It shows that you have an eye for a picture. If you habitually crop then it strikes me that you don't have an eye, or are bone idle!

The next two pictures are a simple example of how quickly the light can change on a windy day, and how it can change photographs.

It's subtle but noticeable. More noticeable when clicking back and forth between the two on the camera's screen. The annoying animation below demonstrates it clearly.

These two pictures have reminded me to think more about the light as part of composition. It is an aspect that I all too often neglect, concentrating on the arrangement of shapes and colours in the frame.

Thursday, 23 February 2012


No sooner had I posted about how the web is a poor place to view photos than one of my daily blog checks threw up this post. I guess we all like reading stuff we broadly agree with, and I empathise with Kirk Tuck's viewpoint most of the time, even though he makes a living from photography and I don't. He seems to have a similar view to me as to what it's about deep down.

I also stumbled upon a sneak preview of Flickr's forthcoming new look. A look that seems like it will be removing all that old fashioned white space around the pictures.

Mr. Spiering moused over the current photo view. “This is very typical of Flickr,” he said. ”Lots of white space, small photos, lots of information around.”

He then opened a new tab to show the spread, completely revamped. Suddenly the photos look more than four times their current size and lie neatly justified on the page, somehow jigsawing together without cropping or changing the order in which they appear.

Ho hum. The dumbing down of style before content. C'est le web.

Wednesday, 22 February 2012


The more I post pictures on the internet the more it seems a poor viewing experience. These days I make prints of all the pictures I think have something about them then I frame them in cheap frames to ponder over them. What is important is to make sure there is enough space around the picture to show it at it's best. That is why computer screens are poor for viewing. There's always clutter, as the first picture proves.

When I make prints on A4 paper to go in my cheapo A4 frames I don't print right to the edge, or use the smallest border possible, I leave at least an inch between picture and paper edge. If I were to use as much of the paper as possible I'd be mounting the pictures to go in larger frames. Which I might get round to one of these days for a few choice images.

Adding a virtual frame, as in the version below (which could do with even more space for the 'mount' in my opinion), helps somewhat, but for becomes wearing when multiple images are presented in that way. Again it's down to space. They are usually too close together - as on a Flickr page for example. Space around the frame helps to define a picture even more, so I've given this one extra here.

It's not a perfect virtual frame, I made it using an on-line tool. The border could be wider, especially at the bottom. I hope it makes my point that how a picture is displayed affects how it is perceived nonetheless.

Something similar applies to books of photographs. Unless they are books of documentary pictures which work as a group I think photographs are best displayed one on each right hand page, with plenty of space around them. I dislike seeing photographs printed to the page edge and/or run over two pages. It's acceptable in a magazine, but if the book is just photographs, then it detracts from the viewing experience. That's my two bob's worth at any rate.

PS Click on the first picture for a larger (but still imperfect) comparison of the two.

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Battling the light

When I set out the sun was bright and promising a grand afternoon with a gorgeous sunset. By the time I got where I wanted to go the clouds had rolled in yet again.

As a result my inspiration left me.

I did try to make use of the ultrawide again. A couple of the shapes I managed to make in the frame made sense. The lighting didn't turn them into pictures though.

However, messing about on the computer did reveal what it was that had made me click the shutter.

The overcooked B+W conversion brings out the graphic lines in the composition of the flat colour original above.

Merging the two, and doing some other tweaks, resulted in the final colour version. Still not terrific, but a little truer to what I saw. I might return in different light.

One thing's for sure. The ultrawide made the composition possible.

Sunday, 19 February 2012

Wide and wider

He who hesitates is lost. That was me today. I really should have dragged myself out of the house earlier than I did. But I thought I'd catch the afternoon and evening sun by the beach. As I headed south along the coast road I could see I was driving towards low cloud. By the time I arrived the light had all but gone. Worse still there'd been kite cart racing (or whatever it's called) going on and they were all packing up. Other than a few dog walkers there weren't many folk about doing anything interesting.

I headed back whence I came intending to try some ultrawide landscapes of the pools on the marsh. This plan was thwarted by an accident closing the coast road. At least heading north saw me driving into sunshine.

For some reason, since I got my ultrawide zoom I've been struggling to get to grips with it. Strange, because I was starting to do okay with the lens it replaced, which covered the same range. I think I see in a more telephoto way. So much so that I have been considering getting rid of this lens.  Today's exercise was to use the ultrawide pretty much exclusively and try to make some pictures with it that weren't just big skies.

There's a meanygate (lane) I drive down as a short cut that is overarched with trees. It looks like it will make for pictures but I've never stopped to try before. The sky was blue and filled with fluffy clouds, the light angled to provided texture. I got some shots but back home they were rejected. I guess I could have tried harder, but I have a feeling the light wasn't quite what is required. Next stop the reedbeds. Backlit Norfolk reed against a blue sky has worked once, it should work with the ultrawide.

 Before I made it to the reedbeds I was struck by the play of shadows on the path. Some interest lower right would improve the shot, but the ultrawide really did make this picture possible. With it being so graphic, and the sky burning out somewhat, the black and white treatment seemed to suit.

The reeds weren't playing ball. I couldn't find any that made for compositions where the light was right. The angle of the sun did make for interesting patterns and stress on texture of a viewing platform though. This time the lens had to be zoomed in to merely wide to flatten the picture. Maybe because of the limited palette a monochrome conversion added little to this picture.

Carrying on round the path I left the reserve and came onto the farmland. It's a bit of a rustic cliché to shoot dilapidated barns and rusty machinery in contrasty black and white (I've been trying it since the 1970s). This time the conversion works because the light had gone muted, and again the ultrawide perspective has brought something graphic and dynamic to the composition.

I took a lot of time and shots of this scene. Leaving it and returning to literally look at it from a new angle. Initially I was looking at it in the context of the open landscape of the mere, but eventually closed right in to isolate the two strongest elements of the scene. A darker sky would have been preferential to add some balance. You have to take what the light offers you, or return another time.

The lens is going to spend more time in pole position. I really do need to learn how to see in cinemascope. Starting out with another lens on the camera isn't going to achieve that.

Thursday, 16 February 2012

An experiment

Messing about in Lightroom I tried out the gallery creator for the first time with some shots from my walk around the village. This is purely to see if the gallery can be embedded in this blog. Looks as if it can. The gallery can be viewed larger here.

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

The weathered door cliché

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

The internet is stupid

Not only is the internet stupid, but there could be people even less bright who believe it. Well, if there's anyone daft enough to think this is right they must be as smart as an amoeba.

Monday, 13 February 2012

Hacked off

It was a bad day at 'the office' this morning, so when I was free in mid afternoon I took myself out for a couple of hours to chill. The upside was that I finally decided to call it a day on chasing wildlife around with a long lens. To do it well it takes the same level of commitment, and a similar level of patience and determination, as is required to catch big fish. That sort of investment I'll save for the fishes.

What I realised is that I'm an opportunistic photographer. I like to go about observing the world and making pictures of little bits of it that I find interesting. No matter what they are. I also realised that I am getting a handle on seeing landscape pictures. This is not easy in the flat world I live in, and it means not making pictures that follow most of the tropes of landscape photography. So boring landscapes is what I have to make do with.

Today I was aided by an elevated viewpoint walking along a flood-bank. Although I had taken a DSLR and long lens to look for birdies I also had the X10 round my neck. It makes a reasonable job of landscapes. There is detail, but it's not as smooth or crisp as a larger camera would produce. Good enough for the web and A4 prints though. Straight out of the camera the RAW files look rather bland. However the information is there.

I think I'm still tending to go overboard on the processing. I am also wondering where the 'truth' lies in pictures that are manipulated like this. Does it matter so long as the information was there to start with? If I was painting the picture I'd surely try to paint how it felt to experience a place rather than get involved in a futile chase for strict verisimilitude.

One thing I will not be doing, ever, is removing pylons and suchlike from my landscape pictures. They are part of our world, so should be left in the frame. In fact, I often deliberately chose views which include man made 'intrusions' into the natural world. You can call it a cultural commentary or something if you like. It's just the way I see things. Even the marks made by a tractor working a field can become part of the subject matter and composition.

The picture above was tricky to process. I haven't made the best of it. I'm thinking now that's because it would have benefited from the use of a polarising filter. Not to mention different light.

I can understand why people photograph landscapes. There is always a willing subject. It requires no interaction with other people. However, it mostly seems to be about making pretty pictures. For me it's more about the spirit of place and man's manipulation of the world than an idealised, nostalgic, romanticised vision. Unfortunately I can see how, to really get to grips with this, it could require the same depth of commitment that wildlife photography does. It could also require a similar investment in equipment. Although it may not need wildly expensive telephoto lenses, I am not convinced that even a high resolution DSLR is suitable and think that to do it true justice it would require a view camera and a set of lenses. Then again that kind of smacks of a romanticised nostalgia for a way of working!

Sunday, 12 February 2012

Breaking in the boots

This afternoon I took my new boots for a walk, and some camera gear despite the mist that descended after lunch. I had nothing much in mind but I was determined to find some love for the 14-24 which I started the walk off with. I keep getting the horrible feeling I ought to have gone for something less ultrawide-to-wide. It has its uses, and it's scarily sharp, but it's uses are specialised. I took some shots with it that failed to satisfy compositionally. The most satisfactory one was a shot of a bridge which sits well in my current trend for taking boring almost symmetrical landscapes.

I walked up the side of the drain in the above photo fully intending to use the lens around the barn just about visible in the distance. However when I got there there were thousands of pink-footed geese feeding in the field beyond the barn, with more flighting in. I swapped to the 70-200 (and cursed not slipping the teleconverter in the bag) in the hope of getting some shots of geese coming in to land. It was not to be. So I took a couple of shots of the back wall of the barn. Who says you don't need vibration reduction and high ISO performance? Well people like me who hate tripods need them both!

I left the longer lens on an carried on my walk. The land around the drain is flat and featureless, and with the low mist I didn't think the wide view would be very revealing. There was a nice arrangement of plastic crates left in a leek field. The lone red crate performing Constable's trick for setting off landscape paintings. The mist and the light was less than conducive to a good picture though. Constable would probably have left his paints at home today.

The first shot is a 10x8 crop which I find more relaxed than 3x2. Somehow there's a greater stillness in landscapes framed at this ratio. Or so it seems to me. I can't decide if the wider or zoomed view makes the most of the subject. The flat lighting does neither any favours.

Something that displaying all these shots at sizes suitable for the web fails to do is show the fine detail and texture that the original files posses and which would be obvious in a print. This is one reason I make prints of my favourite pictures. These are then popped into cheap frames and scattered around the place to give me time to mull over them and work out if they are as good as I initially think they are. Only by living with pictures can you get a good handle on their merits.

Saturday, 11 February 2012

Guess the ISO

Just an observation. This is a shot I took of some new boots for my fishing blog - although I ended up using one taken with the X10...

Good as the compact is, there are still some things that DSLRs excels at.

I didn't realise the ISO setting until I came to edit the photo as I had it on auto. The lower picture is a 100% crop - with no sharpening.

The ISO? 7200.

Friday, 10 February 2012

Tree fellers

I'd gone out looking for a couple of bitterns that have arrived at the nature reserve I worked at in the '80s but hadn't taken a lens along suitable for photographing them. I was hoping to get some shots of the bird watchers. As it happened the bitterns hadn't been seen this morning, and it was a dull day making it too dark in the hide for any available light shooting. There were, however, some volunteers on a chainsaw course and I got chatting to their instructor, Colin.

I was hoping to get some tree felling pictures, but there was more log cutting going on. The one tree I did see felled got stuck, rather spoiling the effect!

Even in the shade of the pines the D90 coped pretty well considering the slow zoom I had attached. It's a a pain to use compared to the D3s though. I also got a shot with the X10. A shot that seems a little 'flat' compared to the shots from the DSLR.

Given that there wasn't much going on and it was just on lunchtime I got mostly pictures of men standing around in a wood. At least they were wearing bright colours to stand out from the trees.  Some winter sun slanting through the branches would have given the shots a lift. C'est la vie.

Monday, 6 February 2012


This is probably less than two hundred yards from home. I can't see the need to travel the world to find pictures. They're all around if you look with an open mind.

Sunday, 5 February 2012

Owl mania

When word gets out there's a rare or photogenic bird around 'wildlife photographers' descend en masse at the location these days in a photographic twitch! I'd found out, accidentally via the web, that some short eared owls had been showing about five miles from home so I thought I'd go and see what the score was.

I hadn't taken my long lens because my primary intention on heading out with the camera was to get some misty landscapes, but the mist had cleared a little too much, and I had also had it half in mind to shoot any photographers I might spot.

Sure enough there were seven or eight people around, most with cameras and long lenses. Why they were all stood out in the open and not making use of available cover I don't know. Still, the owls showed. And the frenzy commenced. So I snapped the snappers!
Spot the shorty
Quick, there it goes!
The big advantage of the X10 is that I can sling it round my neck while carting a DSLR around and hardly know it's there. As I had the 70-200 attached to my full frame body, which I find suits my way of seeing landscapes in the flatlands, this gave me a good coverage of focal lengths.

Although I still can't take to the 4:3 'compact' format for landscape orientation shots, I find it works well used vertically. 3:2 can be a little narrow in this orientation.

I'm getting more into manipulating images to get a look I like. This is partly because the raw files from the X10 can be kind of 'flat'. Partly because I'm finding my way around Lightroom more.  I think I might be overcooking things a little in my new found enthusiasm. However, this has made me realise how much work people do to the images we are accustomed to seeing.

Contrarily, when it comes to landscapes, as a subject, I find myself drawn to the 5:4 format. Maybe it's time to start taking this landscape lark more seriously and take a tripod along. I still can't help thinking that a DSLR isn't the best tool for the job.

I must ease off on the neutral grad in Lightroom

Thursday, 2 February 2012


An even more minimalist, and unintentional, companion piece to an earlier picture.