Thursday, 31 January 2013

Link of the day

Stuff on big websites gets shoved off the home page really quickly if it isn't the kind of thing that draws in the masses. So I've made a note of this audio slide show on the BBC site before I forget about it as I never tire of listening to great practitioners talking about their thought processes.

It's been very windy round here the last couple of days, so much so that I was struggling to stay upright, let alone hold the camera steady for this shot yesterday. No doubt if I had been using a DLSR shooting 9 frames a second I'd have got more than one reasonable picture form eight attempts. As it was I had only taken the X10 out with me as I was on my way to the supermarket, taking a detour along the front to see the rare high tide when I saw the spray coming over the sea wall. The breaking spray was unpredictable so I prefocused and kept my finger on the shutter release trying to time each shot. Eight frames was all I could bear to take before getting too cold with the wind-chill!

For interest's sake, here's the picture before processing. All it took was a crop to 3:2 to improve the composition by cutting out wasted space in the foreground, a quick adjustment to the tone curve and clarity plus a graduated filter over the sky. All done to boost the contrast to highlight the spray and the zig-zag lines. I got lucky with the shot having the car where it is (and a harmonious colour) when the spray came up and a couple of gulls in flight. It's almost as if the camera knew I was seriously considering selling it and pulled this one out of the bag to confound me!

Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Not so grim

One of my recent book purchases was The North by John Bulmer.I'd seen the pictures on his website and fancied having them in a tangible form. They are fine examples of their genre and era. Whether it is the era that makes them interesting I'm not sure. There seems to be a lot of work appearing in print from the sixties of late which I put down the age of the current  photographers (entering their old age) and perhaps also that of the publishers and photobook buyers (people who were young, as I was, when the photographs were taken). The nostalgia factor is ever present with photographs as they are always records of their time.

Although I like the photographs I do have a problem with them. The nostalgia I can live with. I can even accept the focus on the cobbled street clichés. The stoic northerners facing up to the declining industry and grime. It existed in the 1960s when the black and white work was made. The same could be said for the 1976 colour work which is touted here as groundbreaking. What was photographed was undeniably there. But what really irked me was reading Bulmer's description of his approach to using colour in the north. He says, rightly, that using colour can lead to confusing pictures while black and white simplifies things to blocks of tones. It's also correct that the north "had been considered a black and white subject." Where my blood pressure rose was when I read that Bulmer chose to shoot in winter, so that he "could soften the images with rain and fog." Because "Northern terraces in bright sunlight just did not seem right" to him. This is plainly a man out to portray the north in a certain, stereotypical way. The sun does shine 'up north', even on the terraces.

The result of this approach might not have been black and white, but it did lean to monochrome. With a handful of exceptions the pictures might as well have been made in black and white. Despite this gripe from a northerner the book is still one I'll look at repeatedly. The pictures are not trying to be clever. They're straightforward, if somewhat biased.

Against my better judgement I spent half an hour at the sandplant yesterday. I was passing by on my way home and called in before the rain arrived. Sometimes a short visit somewhere can produce a worthwhile picture. In many ways this picture brings together many of the sandplant's aspects. The words describe what is supposed to be happening, the fact that the notice has been torn down and burned show the reality, there's sand, concrete, grass and litter, drabness and colour.

Sunday, 27 January 2013

Take two

Being densely wooded with spindly birch trees the quarry is another challenging place to photograph. With some afternoon sunshine today things became a little easier. It still surprises me how many frames you have to expose to get a handful of reasonable pictures. The disparity between what you see and what the camera sees can be immense.

I think there are two sorts of picture to be made in the quarry. For a while now I've been thinking of making pairs of photographs. One showing a detail which has caught my eye and which makes a picture, and another wider view that puts the detail in its place. Not necessarily with the detail obvious in the frame. Unconsciously I did this today. I started taking some wide shots, same a detail and homed in on it gradually getting closer. The intermediate frames sort of worked on their own, but editing the shots on the computer it felt as if the wide and the detail complimented each other.

More and more I am moving away from the idea of making single, stand alone, pictures when it comes to depicting environments. We are aware of our surroundings, but we notice the small things. The two ways of experiencing the world around us are linked. It's reasonable to link images in the same way.

That said I was still trying to capture the environment's feel in single pictures. With the sunlight and snow still on the ground it was easier to see the structure under the crowded clutter of branches and the uniform green of the moss which covers rock and wood.

It was only on the computer that I realised I had made another 'pair' of pictures. It's as if the two above are telling the same story in different ways. Looking at them posted one above the other I also see they share a subtle compositional element of intersecting diagonals.

In the confines of the quarry the 3:2 ratio felt more appropriate. More suited to depicting how you feel surrounded by either trees or rock depending on where you are. If I could make good panoramics I'm sure they would work well in conveying the sense of enclosure I feel in the quarry. I played around with the fisheye in an attempt to achieve that, but without much success. There could be places where it would work well. In among the dense gorse for example. Or possibly when the leaves are on the trees making an overarching canopy.

On a technical note today was revealing. I was using two cameras, one full frame one crop. No matter which lens I put on which camera I felt more comfortable using the full frame. Both in the field of view and the rendering of the image in terms of depth of focus. Even when stopped down there is a more natural look to the images. This is something that is even more apparent when I compare them to those from a smaller sensor. As sharp, detailed and noise free as the files are from my X10 they look artificial. Almost hyper-real. There's something I can't put my finger on that jars. Maybe its the way tonal gradations are rendered, maybe it is the depth of focus, or a combination of factors. I see the same in other people's photographs from the camera, so it isn't the way I'm processing the files. Big and heavy full frame cameras may be, but it's the pictures that matter. Looks like I'm stuck with carting a big lump around with me.

Saturday, 26 January 2013

Trying too hard

When the sun shines it seems much easier to find photographs that look like the ones everyone else seems to make all the time. Maybe sensible photographers only go out on sunny days!

With a heavy localised snowfall last night, localised as in not in my village but seven miles away, the canal in the next small town was looking scenic. I'd been told by a friend of mine that the canal was drained for a short section and the junk in it would be perfect for my sort of pictures. Whatever they are!

As it turned out the drained stretch was inaccessible due to (health and) safety fencing. I made a few record shots that will probably never do anything more than languish on a hard drive.

The moored barges were as colourful as you'd expect. The sun, however, was in my face and low in the winter sky. One shot that could have been quite nice was ruined by a large blob of green flare that went unnoticed one the camera's screen. C'est la vie.

The sky in the shot here is a little over exposed. I've posted the image as an example of a perfectly composed tourist office brochure picture! In its way it's a comment on the changed role of the canal system. The mill in the background is in the process of being demolished. The barge isn't used for working on the cut. The new residences are built on a former industrial site. Canals that were dug for transportation of goods and fuel are now used for leisure and to sell a romantic dream of waterside living.

Here's the gritty reality of the derelict mill.

The sunshine tempted me back out after lunch and a change of lens with the intention of furthering what might become a project based around the local ditches and drains using the 5:4 ratio. There is a photograph that I want to make (a rare case of previsualisation!) that needs the sun at a certain point in its transit. The time was right but the timing was wrong. When I got to the bend the sun had gone into hiding. Instead of making the picture I had in mind I played around with some ideas about constructing diptychs and triptychs. It was the process I was trying to work out for future reference so the quality of the images was immaterial. That done I headed back to the car via the wood. Half way back the sun came out again...

Hoping the light would hold I headed for the sandplant. I'd deliberately stayed away while the snow was on the ground. The thaw was rapid this afternoon and by the time I arrived there was little to be seen. It's getting to the stage where I will have to leave the place alone until there's been a major change, either in the seasons to encourage plant growth or by some major work on the site. I might give it a visit to concentrate on tiny details but I'm getting stale on the other fronts. That said I did make some new pictures that I like. One puts the place in context, illustrating its proximity to the town. This wasn't planned but purely the result of using a longer lens than I have done most times before. The telephoto compression was what made the point.

Aside from the pictures that fit in the project I also made a couple that seemed out of synch. This final shot I converted to B+W and boosted the contrast. I'll probably tire of it soon enough. For now it's okay. The latest sandplant set can be found here.

All in all a busy, if slightly disappointing, day. I made some decent but boring pictures along the canal. Photographs that would fit in with the world view of Lancashire Life magazine where the county is always bathed in sunshine and litter and mess don't exist. It was a day spent using two of my neglected lenses. Always a good way to make you think differently. Even if the results don't always work out well the thinking is the important thing.

Friday, 25 January 2013

Looking for a different ratio

Maybe it's looking at large format landscape photographs of late that has seen me switch my camera into 5:4 format on a frequent basis, or maybe it's the subject matter that's doing it to me. Although I prefer to compose within the camera  I've cropped a number of shots to 16:9 as well as a means of concentrating on the subject.

My initial idea for taking photographs in the wood was to concentrate on details in the context of their surroundings, sometimes slightly out of focus. It was too easy to lose sight of the wood for the trees and this seemed like a solution to avoiding messy pictures with no point of interest. All too often the results seemed trite. Low level shots of mossy stumps or logs weren't doing it for me. The odd fungi shot was okay, but too many became tedious.

The snowfalls and melts, however, began to help matters. A lot of snow on the ground hid the general clutter of leaf litter and fallen branches making the shapes of the trees stand out. When the snow melted it often lingered on the larger logs and stumps so they stood out against the leaf litter. There were distinct graphic elements for me to work with. This kind of subject is still something of a struggle for me, but it is becoming clearer where I'm heading.

There hasn't been time to stop when I've been driving past the icy, snow covered saltmarsh this week although it has looked bleakly inviting. Yesterday the sun played its usual trick of breaking through in mid-afternoon luring me out, then disappearing behind a blanket of uniform grey. The intention had been to do things properly with low ISO and tripod. The cold and laziness kind of changed that plan so I boosted the ISO and hand held. I didn't feel like I was missing much as things seemed less appealing once out of the car. There was one brief spell when some clouds broke. The lack of depth of focus doesn't detract from the shot to my mind. Unfortunately there wasn't much scope for finding foreground interest. The colours were pleasing though and the high viewpoint helped somewhat. In 3:2 portrait format there would have been either too much sky or too much grassy stuff. Now I've set the camera so I can easily switch aspect ratios I expect to be chopping and changing on a frequent basis.

Tuesday, 22 January 2013


Internet photography forums are a constant source of bemusement (and amusement) to me. People asking which lenses they should be using as if there is a hard and fast answer. People seeking advice on what to photograph -I wonder why they bought their cameras in the first place, it's as if they like the idea of owning a camera but don't have any reason for making pictures. People asking what to do when they get 'stuck'. This last one is very common.

There's a misconception that progress follows a constant curve. You struggle along gradually improving as a photographer.
In reality progress is made in steps. Some people make one step and imagine that's all there is to it.
Anyone who really wants to improve does so in a series of steps, some being higher than others. Between these steps are periods of satisfaction. These last varying periods before disillusion sets in and in the ease with which the next improving step is made.
It's a constant swing from satisfaction to frustration with what you are doing.The only way to move on is to keep banging your head against the wall until you break through. You might keep on doing the same thing until suddenly you do something differently, or you might try doing different things until you find the one that works. There's no set path. The only certainty is that you won't find the solution on a forum - you have to put the effort in yourself.

My head's hurting, but I feel like the mortar in that wall is loosening.

Sunday, 20 January 2013

Down the drain

More and more I'm realising how my pictures work best as groups or collections. Looking back through some older files I see recurring themes which can be pulled together. Going right back to when I began rediscovering photography I was taking photographs of ditches and drains.

What the photographic attraction for me is with ditches is hard to say. Partly an anglers affinity with water, partly my fascination with man's impact on nature and nature's constant retaliation. And there's the straight lines. Snowfall always seems top get people out with their cameras, but it is terribly difficult to photograph. Grey skies don't help make for picturesque scenes, but the light does keep harsh shadows at bay.

As ever the flat land is difficult to work with. One way is to get a high viewpoint, another is to get in close and concentrate on details. The three frames here were all conceived as5x4 crops, two being shot as such using the in camera cropping facility. I'm not sure why, it just felt right. No doubt there would be many who would clone out the branches intruding into the top right of the first picture. I considered it, but somehow the 'imperfection' feels right. The world is messy. Why tidy it up?

I like the even light, the muted colours and the banality of these pictures. As with many of my recent 'landscape' photographs they really work better larger where the texture and detail is revealed. They were all taken within a few hundred yards of home on a walk through the woods to the fields beyond.

The wood itself poses a different problem. Being able to see the wood for the trees! It's somewhere I've been before with a camera and struggled. It's early days, two recent visits are forming ideas, and a project may evolve. It's all about trying to use your personal vision instead of trying to replicate pictures you have seen that others have made. Being so close I can make short visits to the wood at any time of the day. Like the sandplant it's a place that people use, and abuse, in an unregulated way. Although it is visited by many dog walkers, mountain bikers and kids messing about, wit the attendant rubbish, there is wildlife. Not just the expected birds and squirrels in the trees. I have seen hares in the wood in harsh times and rabbits at any time.

Friday, 18 January 2013

This and that

Yesterday was another of my cultural visits to Liverpool. Despite there being a bitter wind with threats of snow causing me to refrain from dawdling I managed to snatch one shot that has something going for it in a minimal, graphic kind of way on my way to the Open Eye Gallery.

The exhibition I wanted to see was that of the landscapes of E. Chambré Hardman. The prints were a totally different experience to seeing the pictures on the web. Not so much because of the change of scale, but because some seemed to be printed in a fuzzy, painterly, way. I'm still not sure I liked it.Nor was I taken with the rustic romanticism of a few pictures. The quarry and cooling towers were more my kind of thing.

The other exhibition was in a modern vein. One piece that stood out as less contrived (although it was a composite panorama) was Tabitha Jussa's Eldon Grove. I guess when it comes to 'landscape' photography I lean towards a documentary style in my preferences. Which is probably why I picked up a book that was in the gallery's sale. I've been thinking of buying a copy for some time but having a chance to flick through the pages made up my mind. A Landscape of Wales by James Morris is a far from romanticised view of the principality, yet it isn't sneering either. The photographs are just what they are.

Talking of books, my printed version of the pictures of dry patches arrived today. I was wondering how the photographs from the X10 would reproduce in the laser printed form I assume is used by Blurb. I think they've turned out pretty well with none of the blocked shadows or lost detail I had feared might occur.

With using a tripod more frequently of late the ball head I have was frustrating me. Framing my shots is the only technical aspect of photography which I obsess about. Having a camera 'droop' after the head is tightened drives me nuts. I'd thought about getting one of the pistol grip heads but wanted to try one out beforehand. Luckily for me I bumped into a friend of mine who has one last week when we were both out with our cameras, so I gave it a whirl. I was impressed enough to get one for myself.

Me being me, however, I have swapped it round to operate left handed and back to front! I got to try it in anger at the quarry last time I was there and it worked a treat. I can grip both the trigger and the camera to line everything up just right. And there's no 'droop' either.

After posting the previous blog entry I made a larger jpeg of the first picture and set it as my computer's desktop. This has become one of my ways of seeing if I can live with a picture. In this case having it fill the screen completely changes it. The intricate details that drew me to make the shot are clearer, and it makes a lot more sense. So much so that it's making me wonder if an A3 printer might be a sound investment. There are times when I'd like to see a print that's larger than A4.

Wednesday, 16 January 2013


If you don't previsualise your photographs you're just walking around taking pictures of thinks that interest you. That was the gist of a post on a forum a while back which I managed to avoid getting into an argument over. I don't see anything wrong in wandering around looking for interesting things as a strategy for making photographs. Not if your life doesn't depend on making great photos. Where I beg to differ with the theory is probably in the definition of previsualisation.

The term conjures up in my mind a great deal of forward planning. Almost in the way a painter might make preliminary sketches to sort out ideas of composition and colour before starting on a painting. The final outcome being decided on in advance and worked towards. This degree of conceptualising might be advantageous if you have a customer to please, but if you are working for yourself then, for me, once the image has been conceived there's little point in going through the tedium of making it manifest. You might as well give a technician the brief and let them get on with it - rather in the way that Damien Hirst (among others) relinquishes the making of his art objects to his minions.

What appeals to me about photography is that enables you to wander around and find pictures in the world. Pictures you would never dream up in a thousand lifetimes. Pictures that can only be deciphered and understood after they have been made. The trick is to put yourself in the places these pictures are found more often than not.

This is not to say I don't have vague notions of what I want to make photographs of. The subjects, in a broad sense, are clear in advance. It's the specifics I don't previsualise. And any chance discoveries can sidetrack me.

The quarry has been in my mind since the visit the other day. I have ideas of what I want to photograph there buzzing around my head, but no idea how to go about it. I can only decide that by trying different things until they start to work.

When the light changed this afternoon promising blue skies and a colourful sunset I downed tools and grabbed the cameras to try and snatch the last couple of hours of daylight. I had one fairly clear idea of trying panoramic shots among the gnarled trees I'd found. By the time I pulled into the car park the sun had disappeared again and the coastal plain was being covered in mist. It was bloody freezing too!

I was there, so I could at least have a dry run even if the pictures would be either grainy or lacking in definition due to the flat light. Given more time, and more light, there could be something to work with there. The intricacies of the branches and the details of the, mosses, lichens and fungi are lost on these web-sized images. A shame because those are the properties that appeal to me about the environment.

Dragging myself out of the gloom I made another attempt at a view over the quarry to the plain. I liked the result, compositionally, but the file needed too much work to get the colours and contrast to my taste and ended up looking artificial.

I seem to be getting used to the ultrawide angle though. Starting to 'see' (previsualise?!) with it's perspective. So much so that as I was walking away I grabbed a shot more or less on the fly (just the one frame) of something that I found interesting and got a composition I really like. If I'd realised it at the time I'd have made more than a snapshot. Technically it's rubbish. So I fiddled with it, slightly more successfully than with the landscape,  but still proving that you can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear. One of these days I'll get to spend more time at the quarry one a day when the light works in my favour. I can already previsualise the photographs I'll make....

Monday, 14 January 2013

I don't get it.

What is this fascination with using out of date film, or making digital photos look like they were taken forty years ago and just discovered in a dusty loft?

Just before Christmas I wrote about finding a camera I hadn't used for years and finishing the slide film that was in it. I also found a 35mm film cassette. It turned out that the lone cassette was empty! The film in the camera finally came back from the lab - with a note saying the film hadn't been stored correctly. No surprise there. The pictures were awful. Two here could have been okay had the film been in top condition. One I've converted to black and white because it was the only way to salvage anything from it.

I'm still trying to finish off a roll of black and white I put in my Pentax in the spring of last year. Using the camera today (I took two frames) I realised that part of the attraction of film (for me) is the physical use of the camera. Winding on the film and cocking the shutter just feels good. It seems to connect me to the picture making process. The slide film was in a motorised compact and it wasn't anywhere near as pleasing to use. In fact it felt quite like shooting a digital compact. The noise the mirror of the Pentax makes when it thunks back down is so more pleasing than the rattle of a DSLR shutter and mirror too. Is this just nostalgia? Is it some wierd nostalgia that makes people debase their photos to look aged?

Sunday, 13 January 2013

Out and about

It was a funny sort of day. A frosty and slightly misty start seemed an ideal combination to try and find some new looks at the sandplant. As it was going to be a big tide pushing the birdlife close in off the saltmarsh there would be birdwatchers using the bunds to get an elevated view. Not only am I interested in the detritus and plantlife in the sandplant I'm also interested in the people who use it for recreation. Although I usually get there when it's deserted.

Sure enough there was ice to be found, and a fresh scattering of junk. With the tide due to peak around noon I was there before the birdwatchers arrived, but there were soon plenty arriving to flock together at the favoured viewing spot.

I've got well over 150 shots that have something going for them from the sandplant now. The latest selection from the near 200 I took today are here. Many are variations on a theme. I keep them all because the time will come when I edit them down to a manageable collection. Most of the similar shots will be rejected. That's no reason to not take more. The hope is that one will really stand out. Another reason is that there might be some that stand out as individual images but don't fit the flow of the series, in whatever form it finally takes. The form is slowly coalescing in my mind's eye.

Then there are shots like the one below which almost achieved what I had in mind, but somehow fell short of the mark. These are saved for future reference.

Apart from the birders there was a lone dogwalker in the plant today, and also a visitor from Malaysia and her daughter who were taking photographs. The daughter had a new camera and was ardently taking photographs of cracks in ice and all manner of things and clearly absorbed in what she was doing. It made me wonder if all photographers retain this childhood inquisitiveness. I'm sure that it's a simple fascination with looking at things that makes me take photographs.

With the air being still and the mist blurring the horizon I was wishing I'd made provision to photograph the incoming tide. As it was I snatched a few half-hearted 'could have been' shots of the water flooding the marsh before heading for lunch

Snow was threatened for later but it seemed unlikely. An afternoon with the tripod at the quarry was in order. As soon as I got out of the car it began to sleet. I wasted too much time trying to capture a view over the quarry to the land beyond. The low cloud was just that bit too thick to make the scene work.

Taking a turn down the side I worked a few more ideas that failed, in part due to the light but also due to sleet on the lens.

I am finding the tripod less restrictive than I used to. The legs could be faster to adjust though. But framing shots isn't the problem it used to be. Heading back to the car I noticed a path through the bracken which didn't look 'official'. That inquisitiveness kicked in and I followed it. It lead to an area of twisted moss covered oaks, ferns and lichen encrusted rocks. If the sleet hadn't been doing its best snow impersonation I could have amused myself there for some time. As it was I noted it down for a return visit or two now I feel like I'm getting a handle on making pictures of softer natural forms.

Friday, 11 January 2013

Great minds

One of my recent book acquisitions is Approaching Photography by Paul Hill. Essentially it's an illustrated essay about various aspects of photographic practice (as opposed to technique). It is written in plain English rather than abstruse academic language, making it easy to comprehend. For anyone new to the theory behind photography and photography it is a good starting place. Although not to in-depth I'll be going back to it again.

One thing that struck a particular chord with me, being in one of my periods of doubt about what I'm up to, was the comment that just because everything seems to have been done already it hasn't been done by you.

This was a timely and encouraging reminder. For some reason I had searched Google images for Lewis Baltz. I'd done this before and been discouraged by finding pictures of walls and piles of debris that, despite being in black and white, reminded me of some of my photographs. Despite having started photographing these subjects before seeing the Baltz pictures I had become dispirited when I first stumbled on them. However I had forgotten about them until the other day, having put them out of my mind. The best plan is undoubtedly to do what you want to do even if someone else has already done it. Even if your photos don't make the grade they can lead you somewhere new.

I had been planning on writing something here about perspective a couple of days ago. This morning I opened up Eric Weight's latest journal entry today to see he had mentioned one aspect of it. The way mist can gradually soften the appearance of things as they recede into the distance.

My intention had been to compare the ways the two pictures below suggest space within the picture frame.

Both of these pictures were made with the blocks of complimentary colours in mind. Maybe subconsciously I had also seen that the warmer blocks were closer to the lens than the cooler ones. The left hand picture uses aerial perspective to suggest space (distant objects are hazier than closer ones) while the right hand picture uses linear perspective (objects that are the same size in reality appearing smaller as they recede). That one has a shallow depth of field and one is in greater focus enhances each picture's reliance on it's means of describing space.

With thoughts of imitation and coincidence in my mind walked to the Post Office this morning, camera round my neck set to shoot in black and white. Quite what I was going to shoot I had no clue but I wanted to work in monochrome. It had rained overnight and I saw a dry patch where a car had stood on the drive of a house I passed. I took a couple of shots thinking it had something about it. Then I realised that I had seen more of these dry patches and that they had a melancholy feel to them. At the risk of becoming pretentious they seemed somehow melancholy. On my way home I photographed each dry patch I saw.

Ordinarily I impatiently upload pictures as soon as I get in, but today I was a good little boy and did some paying work first. Only when that was out of the way in the late afternoon did I see what I had got. Loaded into Lightroom, and edited down (some I shot in landscape and portrait format) I found I had precisely 20 shots which worked as a coherent series. There were some which stood as single images, but the whole was much greater than the sum of its parts. I processed the files then made a simple Blurb book which I uploaded and ordered. The physical collection, and time, will tell if my initial judgement is to be trusted. Right now it feels like this spur of the moment project has succeeded.

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Call me cheap

For a change I stuck my two cheapest zooms (both bought used for comparative peanuts) on a couple of bodies and went to see what I could find at the beach yesterday. Almost as soon as I arrived, to find the beach closed to cars, it began to rain. So I didn't stop long. What I tried to do was make a picture that showed the beach as deserted. I failed. Not easy making something empty look interestingly so.

There were a few other detail shots, details really, that which worked a little better. One experiment was to try the macro setting on one of the lenses. Previous attempts had lead me to think it wasn't so good but with some thought it seems to be reasonable. A trite shot of rust and paint looked pretty detailed on the computer screen at pixel-peeping level.

This gave me the impetus to try the lens out under more controlled conditions to see if it would serve for doing product shots for my website. If it did it would save me buying a short focal length macro lens as my long macro lens is a bit awkward to use for this work. Camera on tripod, ISO low, aperture stopped down and hey presto. Close enough for rock and roll!

Zooming in to 100% and it looks too good - showing up dust and flaws! More than adequate for my purposes. My bad impression of the lens before must have been due to operator error. No surprise there.

This little experiment also made me think that using available light might be a better plan than the messing around with flashguns I've been trying. Pick an overcast day and lock the camera down so shutter speed isn't an issue and I should be okay. With my improved processing skills cutting out the background, when required, is a lot easier than it used to be. Who says you can't teach an old dog new tricks?

Sunday, 6 January 2013

Misty morning

Ever since I got my first SLR I've liked taking photographs on misty days. Tones become mutes, the light is soft and even and distant backgrounds get obliterated making for flatter images that are often more graphic - which suits my way of seeing.

Unfortunately the mist burned and blew off before I arrived at the sandplant. A pea souper would have been more suitable for what I had in mind. However, things had altered since my last visit and I managed to make pictures that were different enough to those I've made in past visits. One in particular could be the best I've managed of the sand washing troughs.

I had intended to use the tripod but I didn't see any need for small apertures. I prefer using a  shallower depth of field in the sandplant than I had done in the quarry the other day.

View larger here.

As I headed inland the mist was still quite thick so I took a detour to the lane that winds over the moss. Just as my arrival at the sandplant seemed to cause the mist to rise so it did along the lane. There is a stand of trees that I want to photograph, but they usually get lost amongst the background. Today they stood out against the mist. Until I got the camera out that is. I grabbed a few hasty shots before the moment had gone completely. Oh well.

Friday, 4 January 2013

Out of the comfort zone

Quite why I ventured forth with my tripod and remote release this afternoon I'm not sure. Making something of the flooded farmland using the tripod, its use forced on my by the very dull light late on the other day, must have played a part. Indeed, it was my intention to try more of the same today but I took a detour to the disused quarry I've visited many times before without much photographic success. Rather like the sandplant it is a mix of a man-altered landscape and natural recolonisation, but in this case with some landscaping as the place is now a country park come nature reserve. It is still prone to misuse by the mountain bikes which the signs clearly forbid.

With water in mind I was drawn to the peaty pools that are a feature of the quarry. It took me a few attempts to find my eye, but by the time the light was failing I was wishing I'd arrived earlier.

There was an accidental discovery. The shot on the right was taken by my inadvertent firing of the shutter by the remote release in my pocket. I liked the look of the frame and tried to use the slow shutter speed to better effect. I'm not sure why it is that the consciously made images never seem as spontaneous as the accidental ones even given the abdication of some control. The frame below was the best of the bunch. It sort of captures some of the atmosphere of the quarry in winter.

More straightforward were the static shots of the pools, birch trees and rocks. I deliberately desaturated the files to try and stress the overcast, late afternoon winter light and the feeling of dankness in the quarry. It was interesting to work in a different way, using the tripod and often the live view screen for framing (although I still check composition through the viewfinder).

All today's shots were made with my little used ultrawide zoom. In the confines of the quite claustrophobic quarry it proved invaluable. I think I'll be returning for a longer session at some point to try out some more ideas.

View larger here.