Sunday, 25 November 2012

Quote of the week

"For all that, no amount of technology will turn a mediocre photographer into a great one. Nor, in conceptual terms, will it transform a bad idea into a good one. For that you would still need to possess a rare set of creative gifts that are still to do with seeing, with deep looking."
Sean O' Hagan - Guardian Photography

Friday, 23 November 2012


Sometimes I feel like I've got it right. Time will tell but right now I like it. More from today right here.

And then I try too hard to be clever.

Thursday, 22 November 2012

More linky stuff

Watch it while you can :

If that doesn't make you think about photography you probably aren't interested in it. Apparently (from reading posts on forums) there are people who style themselves as photographers who profess no interest in the history of photography (as it won't help them make their photographs any better) and who think that studying the works of  'old' photographers will teach them nothing, and that they prefer to look at the works of current photographers. I don't know how you can make such people see the error of their ways.

Klein, who studied painting under Léger, is a prime example of someone who has been influenced by all that has gone before as well as what is contemporary. The list of prominent photographers who first studied painting, or other visual arts, is a pretty long one.

Today's news is that Lomography is 20 years old. Who cares? It's all about style over substance. Or perhaps it thinks it's medium is its message. It's one thing to be influenced by work from the past, quite another to ape the limitations of the medium that have been superseded. To my mind this is more about craft (in the quilting bee sense) than anything to do with creativity or self expression. It's only one small step removed from degrading digital photographs to make them look like they are art. It's superficial and facile. Probably all the great photographs have been made 'straight', and will continue to be made so.

The other day I was talking to an acquaintance of mine, who used to get paid for taking photographs in a previous life, and we came to the conclusion that the trend towards 'compact system cameras' (CSCs) is best avoided. Our reasoning was that although the trade-off in image quality isn't too bad the cost savings don't justify it. You get the benefit of a small, light camera, but to get the best of lenses you are paying nearly as much as you would for DSLR equivalents. By the time you have a fast lens on these cameras the bulk has increased along with the weight. And they still don't quite match DSLRs for performance.

I was tempted by a Sony Nex - APS size sensor and a viewfinder (albeit electronic) - until I reached the opinion that this middle ground is best left alone. (The fact that there isn't a fast, affordable 24mm for the camera is also a turn off as that's my preferred lens on crop sensor DSLR for carrying around town - whoch is what I'd use a CSC for mostly.)  Either put up with the 'cumbersome' DSLR or use a true compact camera. For all the niggles I have about the X10 it can produce the goods. There are times when it's 'faults' can be used to advantage. While the depth of field separation that a large sensor can provide is often useful, so can be the lack of such separation from a much smaller sensor. The increased depth of field for a given aperture (and thus shutter speed) makes hand held landscapes much easier.

I'm not sure about the sunset above. There are things I like about it - the natural and wire thorns for one.  With the sun setting so quickly I hadn't time to 'work the subject' as well as I might. I think I ought to have used that increased depth of field I mentioned above to advantage here.

Lack of depth of field was what I was playing around with below, throwing the grille out of focus to make the reflection sharp and prominent. Not shallow depth of field for its own sake, as has become fashionable. Horses for courses.

Saturday, 17 November 2012

Repetition and new seeing

With just an hour spare I headed to the sandplant again. For some reason I had limited myself to just a 35mm lens and the X10 in case I wanted to do some close-ups. One of these days I must get there at a different time of day. Always turning up late on leads to similar lighting options. Although I have started using flash, both as fill and primary light source both to change the look of the pictures and to make working in shade possible.

I began by repeating the low angle view to make shapes stand out against the sky. I did find new subjects though. As is almost always the case things have been moved around. Quite who moves them I don't know, but fly-tippers have been adding to the junk.

After a while I chanced on another way of making pictures of the plants and rubble. It needs more care to get the most out of it. Controlling the depth of field is the key.

I also relaised the possibilities of photographing the place in the manner of popular landscape photography. The sort that adorns many a calendar. The shot below reminds me of many a boggy moorland pool in a rugged landscape.

Not my best set so far, but some ideas to work on in future.

See gallery larger.

Friday, 16 November 2012

Another quicky

A heads up for a brief piece by Don McCullin.

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Just a quicky

It's odd that I find myself looking at formal (if not classical) portrait photography when it's something I don't do. One of my favourite books is the Rineke Dijkstra Retrospective.

Over on Phil Coomes's BBC page today's entry is all about a street portraiture project being carried out by Niall McDairmid. The pictures used to illustrate the feature were enough to send me over to the Crossing Paths site and spend some time looking through the complete set.

As with any open ended series which hasn't been edited down not every one is a gem, but there are some real diamonds in there. I like the use of colour and the eschewing of some well worn rules.

I wish I had the sort of personality that makes such a project possible. But I'm not a chatty people person. So I'll stick with inanimate objects for my subjects.

Sunday, 11 November 2012

Autumn tints

Afternoon light and autumn leaves are all but irresistible to anyone with a camera. Indeed, I wasn't the only one out trying to convert the scene into pixels today. In 'boring landscape' mode I eventually managed to frame the shot below. I'm not sure if I'd like the figures to be a little closer/larger or not. This one follows a lot of the 'rules' of formal composition. It has leading lines, a partial frame and the touch of red to set off the other colours.

All a bit easy really, So I tried out some 'tricks'. The fisheye came out, and I had a go at some zoom blur in an attempt to capture the feel of being in among the beech trees.

Then I stumbled on fungi on a stump. Without a macro lens and flash gun I did what I could with what I had available - the camera's flash and my 'cheapo' wide angle zoom. A lens which I've neglected but am finding more and more useful, and not too shabby in the performance stakes.

I also had a try with the X-10. Alas I couldn't get the right amount of flare for the effect I was after.

Probably the least clichéd shot I got which I like a bit was the final one of haws in a puddle. As too often I rushed it. More depth of field might have improved things. Still, the red and green work well for me

Saturday, 10 November 2012

Forward planning

I have this thing about photographing signage and road markings. And another about the relationship between the man-made and natural environments. As I drive around I notice how these all come together. for some reason I find the symmetry of T-junctions visually appealing. I made the picture below a while back and have been thinking how to go about making more.

Today I was stuck for ideas. Not wanting to repeat myself at the sandplant I set off with no idea what I wanted to do apart from try something new. I decided it was time to start working out in a practical way how to approach the junction series. I think I have the concept plotted out, in as much as all the photographs should be composed in the same way. Precisely what that way is to be could only be determined by actually taking some photos. I selected a junction in favourable light and gave it a try.

Although I tried shooting from the side of the road but the straight-on shots from the middle of the road not only emphasised the symmetry, but also revealed more of the junction. This obviously raises a big problem. How to take photos from the middle of the road without being run down! Out in the country it was easy enough with clear views and silence to hear oncoming traffic. Sunday mornings are likely to be the safest times to get this idea 'on the raod'... Even so it will still mean working fast, my original plan to use a DSLR on a tripod for small apertures and slow shutter speeds has been ditched.

Safety and practicality aside there is the issue of format. The native DLSR aspect ratio of 3:2 is pleasing enough, but I'm drawn to the wider 16:9 format. I think because it suggests the view through a car windscreen. Then again a square framing has possibilities.

I'm still at the planning stage here. The composition I think I now have sorted. Or at least the placement of the tarmac in the frame. All shots will be taken using the same focal length and from roughly the same distance from the junction to provide a standardised perspective. The next task is to try out the small sensor of the X-10.

That camera will give me greater depth of field for a given aperture compared to a DSLR and should enable me to work quickly. It also occurs to me that if I use the screen to compose I can draw a 'T' on it with a marker pen to line everything up at different locations - the horizontal line for the far edge of the tarmac and the vertical for the centre road markings.

As with some of my other arty-farty plans this will probably come to nought. Not least because the pre-planning aspect is so alien to my usual way of working.

Thursday, 8 November 2012


 There's this lump of concrete in the sandplant that holds a peculiar fascination for me, but quite why I'm not sure. Nor am I sure how to show what it is that interests me about it in a photograph. I first tried to isolate it from the surroundings by using a shallow depth of field using a long lens and a low angle. This worked to a degree.

This afternoon I stopped by on my way home from the bank armed with a wide zoom I don't use much. There wasn't much light and I was restricted to the camera's built in flash. The darkening, cloudy sky provided a more contrasting background with the low angle I chose. To get so low I was shooting 'blind', aiming the camera by judgement rather than trying to look through the viewfinder with the camera almost on the ground.

I think this shot is the best effort I've made yet at capturing what I see when I look at the stone.

Although this brief visit didn't produce any outstanding pictures what I did get have provided me with a clearer idea of where I'm going with this project. I'm starting to understand what I'm seeing and how I might photograph it.

See gallery larger.

As well as taking a different lens I also took my ignored neutral graduate filter. Being bone idle I simply held this in front of the lens. Although it's not a strong filter it does make a difference and with the banks of the sandplant in shade helped balance the exposures which included the sky.

Something seems to have changed every time I visit the sandplant, and this time a portaloo had appeared, Tardislike, with the opening of the cockle beds which are accessed from the haul road out through the marsh. Quite incongruous, but in keeping with the almost other-worldly atmosphere of the place.

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Another viewpoint

Realising that I might be getting stale at the sandplant I took a walk ouut along the track the trucks and diggers used to use to reach the sandbank where the sand was dug. This is simply a path of hardcore which stretches out over a kilometre through the salt marsh and into the sand exposed at low tide. Where marsh meets shore are two weathered concrete posts.

My intention had been to photograph the sandplant from the track, but it became apparent that a longer lens would have been better suited in order to make the sandplant larger in relation to the foreground while retaining a sense of context in the landscape. So I gave that idea up and made what I could of the flatness and light.

Back at the sandplant the recent rain had altered it a little, and the with the sun higher in the sky than previous visits the light was different. It being a Sunday there were also more people around. The shot below wasn't planned. I'd been trying to satisfactorily frame a shot of the plant against the water when the dog and woman appeared. Rather than wait until they had passed I took two shots. I'm still undecided if the one below really works.

Having amassed a fair number of photos of the sandplant I thought I'd print them out as a means of sorting them, a mass of prints being easier to judge en masse than files on a screen. With there being some seventy plus I printed them two per 5x7 sheet.

This lead to the inevitable message that the inks were low and the cartridges in need of replacement. A warning I have learned to ignore. Sure enough, despite all the colours being low, I managed to rattle off thirty six sheets without a horrible colour cast being apparent from the lack of one ink. Not only do printer manufacturers rip you off by putting very little ink in their cartridges, they set things up to tell you there is less remaining than there really is.

Having made the prints a quick scan through them gave me ideas of what to do next with the project. Although I'm still unsure of where it's all going.

The latest selection from Sunday below.

See gallery larger.

Sunday, 4 November 2012


When I was a student we didn't have to write artist statements. I don't even remember them existing. We did have to put a few words into our profiles for the degree show catalogue, but that could be anything. I used the quote from Heart of Darkness at the foot of this page.

These days it seems the artist statement is essential if you are to be taken seriously as 'an artist'. Although I doubt 'real artists'* bother with them.

Should you ever need to write an artist statement Google found me two useful resources this one, and this one. I'd use the latter myself...

Not having to bother about such trivia I struggle on in my battle to avoid making pretty landscape pictures. Sometimes the clichés are too much to resist.

Sometimes they're not.

* This book has become a firm favourite since I acquired it recently. Photographs of rubbish, cows and dog turds will not be to everyone's taste, some may refer to 'Emperor's New Clothes' but it's the approach and attitude I find inspiring as much as the pictures.

Equally inspiring, in a different way, is Dark Days, a document of the foot and mouth outbreaks in Cumbria in 2001.

Friday, 2 November 2012

Symetry - of sorts

Today I must have been feeling graphic as I wandered round town.

As usual my monochrome conversions need more work.

Some autumn tints to finish off with...