Monday, 25 February 2013

A bit of sun

I said there was some sunshine forecast for Sunday. This was it...

The first shot reminded me of something I read in a 'how to' article where the photographer wanted to 'correct' a reflection that was too dark. The thing is that reflections are inherently darker than the object they reflect. They don't need correcting. In fact when lightened they can all too easily look wrong.

Saturday, 23 February 2013

An experiment

Easily distracted as ever I pulled off the road to the market town to photograph gulls following a plough. As I'd driven past the field there was a swirling mass of birds in the air. By the time I had parked up and walked back the tractor driver had gone for his mid-morning break. Nonetheless I had a wander round and headed down a lane I've been meaning to wander down for some time. I might wander down there again on a less overcast day. On the way back to the car I added to my files of street furniture and road marking photographs.

My original intention was to experiment with using a fisheye lens for 'street' photography. In the confines of the market stalls I thought it might have a use. The results clearly demonstrate that there is scope for this approach. As so often with this sort of subject black and white can work better than colour as I think the small gallery demonstrates. Even so a couple of the frames worked okay in colour as they have colours which harmonise across the frame - one predominantly red, the other shades of green and yellow.

They are not fantastic pictures by any means, but as examples of the exercise in question I think they show how the 'distorted' lens could be made to work for people pictures. The bending of architectural features is more distracting than the warping of human features to  my mind.

The fisheye wasn't the only lens in my bag. I also had my latest toy which I rightly assumed would be just that bit too long in focal length for capturing an overall scene (which is what I try to do mostly), but an occasional portrait never hurts. The one below has been cropped slightly from the left and top - partly to offset the subject, partly to remove clutter.

Does this cropping make it any less truthful? I was reading again how there was a trend for documentary photographers to print their entire frames including a black border to prove that they hadn't cropped their prints, and so demonstrate that their pictures were 'true'. But what of the view outside of the camera's frame? Every single photograph is a crop of the view before the camera. Perhaps only an uncropped fisheye picture giving a 180° view is a true representation of what the photographer was presented with!

I suppose for roaming the streets a zoom lens might make more sense. I like the flexibility. The problem, for me, is that to get the same look as fixed focal length lenses can give (the look I see when I look at my old black and white prints) that zoom has to be a great hulking thing. If it has a hood fitted it is even larger. This might not make people around me uneasy, but it makes me feel like a camera enthusiast. The sort that uses a camera rucksack to carry a mountain of gear that never gets used, but has to be taken along just in case.

If it hadn't started trying to snow I might have grabbed a cup of tea and stuck it out longer and tried some other ideas out in the afternoon. I think I made the right choice to come home and review what I'd got in comfort rather than ploughing blindly ahead. I've certainly realised that a different way of composing is required with the fisheye. With more consideration for the entire picture, and any verticals in shot. There's a bit of sun forecast for tomorrow. That might tempt me out again.

Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Doing it against the book

As the days lengthen, and the skies clear, it becomes possible to nip out after a hard day's toil (joke!) to snatch some views of the setting sun. Spurred on by a friend's purchase of some filters I thought I'd try to do it by the book - tripod, graduated filter and some preplanning.

Knowing where the sun was going to set and where I could find some foreground interest I set up my stall. The view over the marsh towards the sandplant was enhanced by a low mist. Well, it would have been enhanced had I been using a longer lens which would have made the distant mist more obvious in the frame.

I fiddled about a bit, shooting frames as the sun sank and edged westward.

When I got bored waiting for the sun to reach the perfect point I wandered off with my second camera and made some frames.

Things had gone pretty well, I thought. The graduated filter certainly balanced the exposures and made the files easier to work on. There was only one fly in the ointment. I didn't like the pictures made on the tripod as much as the few I'd shot hand-held both with the second camera and the main before locking it down. And that despite the lack of filters... The picture at the top of the post was hand-held, and I think benefits from the presence of a figure. It also seems more my 'style' of landscape picture, be that minimal or bleak.

The two below are trying more to be in the 'how to shoot stunning sunsets' mode - and failing.

That was yesterday. Today I set off to try again but two or three half hearted frames were all I managed before the bitingly cold wind sent me back in the warmth of the car!

I can understand why people photograph landscapes. You don't have to think of a subject, just find a location. The light might change but the land doesn't tend to move, so you can get set up in advance and wait. And the pictures can look pretty.  This probably suits people with less butterfly minds than mine. People who enjoy the technicalities of photography. Control freaks!

I find my pictures are less fluid when I try to work this way. It's the capacity for spontaneous framing that I like about photography. The almost instant response to something I've seen. As soon as I try to perfect the view it begins to go stodgy and look laboured.

On Monday I'd taken a late walk round the wood intending to get some more ditch photographs, but I'd left it too late. However I did snatch one shot that I am currently happy with. It's pulled off something I've been trying to get right for some time. Now I realise that it's all about the angle of light that makes it work. With flat light everything would merge together. It was the picture of the dog walker with the stand of trees in the background that gave me the clue. The low angled light gives both form and depth while still having an overall flatness to the picture. A photographic equivalent of a Jackson Pollock drip painting -if  was  to be pretentious!

This is yet another picture that is wasted on a screen at this size. One of the key elements is invisible at this size. A broken strand of barbed wire. That was as much what cought my eye as the latice of branches and the light.

A tripod was used. Set up quickly, in the spot I stopped when I saw the picture, but not carelessly. I must work that way in future if I pursue this landscape (is it landscape?) path, rather than do it the way Outdoor Photography tells you it should be done.

Sunday, 17 February 2013

In and out of focus

Although I'd headed in the direction of the market on an errand I turned back home for lunch. In the afternoon I decided to try some landscape ideas out as I thought I had it in my head what I'm trying to do with the ditch photos.  I made a few half-hearted attempts, sans tripod and filters, before jacking it in. I wanted some people in my photographs. So maybe I haven't worked it out yet. This left me with a bag full of gear that I didn't want to lug around the market, so the fall-back was the beach.

In a way this was fortuitous because I was wondering if the ultra-wide zoom would be a viable lens to use for beach people pictures. At first it didn't look as if there would be anyone to photograph. Then I saw a couple of blokes well out on the shore who appeared to be setting up to fish. Odd. They were well away from the water, the area isn't noted for fishing, and the tide was going out.

There was another chap out with a camera heading their way so I gave him first crack. However he turned left and wandered off photographing stuff, so I wandered out in the general direction of the 'anglers'.

The open expanse of flat foreshore, sea and sky doesn't suit the untra-wide. Not for my vision at any rate. I find the compression of a long telephoto more useful. The short tele was some use.

It turned out one of the guys with the rods was a novice and the other was giving him some casting instruction. I started chatting and asked if I could take some photos. No problem. Well, not exactly. Taking photos was easy enough, but taking good ones wasn't. It always seems when I visit the beach I have to shoot into the sun. With the casts aiming west this put the sun on the casters' backs. So to get a frontal shot (more engaging to see their faces) I was shooting against the light. Thank goodness for what can be pulled out of digital files.

If that wasn't troublesome enough the ultra-wide proved to be just that bit too wide to get good action shots without running the risk of physical damage from a wayward cast! The cheapo wide zoom would have been more useful.

That's not to say it didn't make a couple of good shots. The one below I think works well as it not only illustrates what's going on - one demonstrating to the other what to do, but the angles work to keep the eye in the frame. There's an implied lozenge formed by the rods, their reflections and an imaginary line between the men's feet.

The casting shots proved beyond me. I couldn't time them right at all. even at 9fps. Admittedly I didn't have long to get my eye in. With practice it would come right, I'm sure.

If I could work out how to order the frames in these damned galleries the series below could be made to make more of a narrative. C'est la vie. (Edit: Worked the ordering out and updated the slideshow.)

Saturday, 16 February 2013

Finding Vivian Maier

Discovered via Google+

Friday, 15 February 2013


We can always find some way to justify spending money of stuff we've managed well enough without for long enough. I had rationalised my desire for an 85mm lens by deciding that as I rarely use my 24mm (which since switching to full frame has been replaced by a 35mm) or my 50mm (which now feels like a short telephoto having become accustomed to using the 35mm as my 'standard' lens and 'seeing' pictures wider) I needed something longer than 35mm and with a wide aperture. I also convinced myself that smoother out of focus areas would look nicer than the almost double-vision effect my longer cheap zoom gives at its longer settings. I also fancy the idea of taking one body out and two lightweight single focal length lenses - just like I did 30 years ago.

A test shot of OOF smoothness
With this in mind I visited my local 'pusher' to have a play with lens. Like any good dealer the manageress suggested I took the lens fro a walk round town... In town parking is expensive so I only had half an hour to be on the safe side. All I was really interested in was what the pictures would look like at wider apertures or when shooting something close with a cluttered distant background. I made a few such shots then began trying to make pictures. Not consciously, it just happened because I had a camera in my hand.

Having just a matter of minutes to use the lens rather than some undetermined period of time it felt like I had to look harder. Quite why, but it felt almost stressful. As if I had to make pictures, and some of them had better be half decent.

What surprised me was how many things I found to point the camera at. Not everything worked out. As is to be expected the hit rate was about normal. That still meant there were one or two worth saving. Would I have been so trigger happy using film? I doubt it. I expect I would have seen just as many possible shots, just not pressed the button on all of them.

It was only back home that I checked the results. Two reasons for that. Firstly you can't judge anything more than composition and exposure from the screen on a camera's back. Zoom right in to try and check focus and all you see are pixels! Secondly I've stopped checking the screen most of the time anyway. I'm shooting more like I'm using a film camera again. If I haven't got a shot I haven't got it. This is when doing my town and beach type stuff. On my sessions using a tripod I review shots with some care. It's a different way of working. I've even begun to use the live view feature for framing - and the helpful virtual horizon! Photos checked I made the inevitable decision and lifted the mattress...

Sun shining and new toy in hand I first visited teh dunes, and then one of the town's parks on a whim. It took a while to get used to seeing at the longer focal length, but not too long. There's something about using single focal length lenses that seems to make you think harder about making pictures. With a zoom on the camera you can see something and all too often all you do to alter framing is use the zoom. With a FFL lens you have to move forward and back, and in so doing you also move left, right, up and down. You might not need to, but you automatically check out other angles. Despite having all afternoon to make photographs I ended up with about as many worth keeping as I managed in that pressured half hour in the morning.

I don't know why it is my dog walker photographs tend to end up converted to black and white. I took two today, similar in some respects, different in others. Both worked better in monochrome. The first was intentionally taken as a picture of a dog walker. The second I was framing as a picture of trees when the dog walker appeared. I suspect that with the human and animal interest being so small, and the 'ground' of the images consisting of intricate detail, they should work well at a larger size than they are presented here..

Tomorrow I might visit the market again, with just the 35mm and the 85mm. After I put the other lenses up for sale.

PS For some reason the Blogger interface seems to knock the contrast out of the pictures in the blog when it resizes them. Click on any picture and it will open up larger, and hopefully crisper.

Sunday, 10 February 2013


Since yesterday's post I've been mulling over what the difference is between a snapshot and whatever the opposite of a snapshot is. It doesn't seem to be a simple differentiation to make. Certainly not in the blurry area between photographs made deliberately to embrace the snapshot's strengths and a snap, or when  it comes to a photograph that has had to be hastily taken to catch a fleeting moment.

It's much easier to make the distinction between a snapshot that has been made with no thought to framing or viewpoint and a photograph in which those two elements have been carefully considered. Popping out late this afternoon when I thought the rain was abating I managed to prove to myself that I am capable of making not-snaps.

My New Year resolution was to make more people photographs, and to force myself to interact with people in order to make them. Although the pier and seafront area usually has plenty of people about, even when it's raining, they aren't generally doing anything more than walking or sitting. People engaged in an activity are more interesting to both talk to and photograph. I drove past the pier to the end of the seafront where dog walkers park, and where horsey types take their steeds for a gallop along the sands. Today there was a horse box parked up, but no sign of horses. I wandered off making a few of my usual pictures of stuff along the high tide line until I spotted a couple of horses in the distance.

My timing was a little off in getting back to the car park. Mainly because I got sidetracked by a subject I've never seen from a particular angle before. However, I managed to get a few shots in while chatting to one of the riders before they boxed the horses. Most didn't work at all, or were soft or blurred. Two were technically okay and the one below I am quite happy with. Initially I was annoyed that the horse had shook its head, but on reflection I think the slight motion blur adds to the picture. The horizon was wonky, but when levelled the balance of the shot went out of kilter - the horse box got too close to the frame edge, so I left it not quite straight.

Things I like about the picture are the subdued colours and the splash of red, the space in the frame and the separation that gives between horse and rider and the horse box. What really pleases me, and which isn't apparent, is how I moved position so the horse hid a parked car. I guess it's doing things like that which differentiate snaps from photographs. The thought that's gone into the picture which isn't obvious to anyone viewing it - but which the photographer is aware of.

They say photograph composition is all about omission. Usually that refers to using the frame to crop your view so as to exclude stuff from the picture. But not always. Moving position to alter perspective can be just as effective.

Just to prove I'm not making the car up, here's a snap of another view of the same scene. Not only is the car in shot, part of the horse box looks more like it's some sort of helmet the animal is wearing.  Of course this effect can be used as deliberately to make a picture. One of my favourite examples is this one by Matt Stewart. Photography isn't just about shutter speeds and apertures and pin sharp images.

Saturday, 9 February 2013


I got involved in a discussion on the Talk Photography forum about the merits of the photographs of Martin Parr this week. There was a faction dismissing them as snapshots in the usual way anything modern is dismissed, that their granny/child/cat could have done as well. The photographs I placed a link to were criticised for mostly technical 'faults'. Bad use of flash, intrusive objects in the frame, and so forth. And for being no more than snaps.

This brought home to me something I've picked up on from a couple of intelligent websites/blogs I visit to read about gear. There is a considerable cadre of photographers for whom technical perfection is an over arching must.

I'm not a gear head, but I like to know what's going on. For example Nikon are about to introduce a replacement for one of my most used lenses (which I recently read has appalling distortion - that I hadn't noticed...). It's a cheap, variable aperture zoom  that I have already seen described as 'pointless'. It adds a feature I like in a lens - a focus ring which doesn't rotate when the lens is autofocusing and which can be used to over-ride the autofocus motor. Sometime I like to focus manually, and that feature means I don't have to flick a switch. That doesn't make the lens pointless for me. But for someone who has to have technical perfection in their images I guess it's not up to snuff. It's also smaller and lighter than the equivalent 'good' lens. Another bonus for someone like me who would rather stick a spare lens in a jacket pocket than trudge round with a camera bag over one shoulder.

What interests me about gear is how it handles. I want my gear to let me work fluidly in the way that suits me. That's why I do the opposite of what all the forum experts tell you to do. I use cheap lenses on expensive bodies a lot of the time. Cheap bodies mean lots of menu diving to change functions. Expensive bodies have the buttons and switches on the outside. And when looking at my photos (even pixel peeping) I often surprise myself when I check the lens info. I can't tell the good lenses from the bad a lot of the time!

Which brings me round to this afternoon's jaunt. Midweek the forecast was for sunshine today. But that gradually changed and drizzle arrived. I did some work in the morning and by lunch time I was bored. I checked the website of the gallery in the local market town and it looked like there might be something to look at. The market would be on and the rain would mean umbrellas would be up. They can make for interesting shapes and I find an urban environment more suitable for shooting on overcast days than the flatlands.

As it turned out the exhibition wasn't too bad. The artist statements were cringeworthy, but some of the pictures were okay. There were even some photographs which didn't make me angry!

The drizzle was quite heavy at first which meant keeping the camera under my jacket. This looks a bit furtive, although it's only done to keep the rain of the lens. However, after a visit to the bookshop the drizzle eased up. Unfortunately it was getting on and the streets were rather empty and the market stalls starting to wind down. I took a few shots of goods on various stalls. I don't know where this fad for fake-fur animal headgear has come from but it makes for colourful pictures. The one at the top of this post I like for the complimentary colours and the lines. Is it a snapshot? It's a single frame that was taken quickly, although carefully. Where's the line drawn?

The shots below were, obviously, taken more slowly. The pictorial device being used is to split the frame in two with the main subject on one side and some contextual content on the other. The first frame could have worked if the woman closest to the camera had been wearing a darker jacket - a row of three dummy heads with areal one tagged on at the end. As it is the light jacket sort of gets lost in the background. The second frame works a little better because the distant couple add depth, and the polythene covered trestle adds some context. One thing's for sure, pictures with people in them are far more engaging, even if they are out of focus in the background.

It's a funny old world. As I was walking along one row of stalls I heard someone call my name. Turned out it was a chap I know through fishing who has taken up market trading. I stopped for a chat and a few 'snaps'.

I ran off an A4 of the above picture which I'll give to Matt when I see him again. I can just about read the small print on the Twinkie box if I get the magnifying glass out. Not bad for a lens that's small and light but isn't supposed to be up to much towards the corners...

Monday, 4 February 2013


It hadn't been my intention to take any photos today, but after a visit to the bank I made a detour on the way home and stumbled upon a ditch that is in the process of being re-profiled. I had taken the X10 along with me just in case so grabbed a few snaps. The wind was icy and the light fading, so I couldn't do much more.

Back home I played around with a triptych as an exercise in proportion. What this revealed to me was that this sort of thing needs to be planned in advance so that the three images work together. If I'd put the digger on the right and flipped the pipe photograph the eye would have been lead towards the centre frame from both outer pictures instread of wandering from right to left and out. As this was only an experiment it doesn't matter. The format is something that I'm thinking about using seriously at some point. Having to think out something in advance will be another venture out of my comfort zone. Which keeps things interesting.

Rather more successful, but not perfect, was a panoramic shot. I like the way it shows the unworked ditch, a section that's been roughly shaped and the finished job all in one picture. A pity that this sort of thing works much better at larger than screen size. If I didn't hate most things technical I'd be more tempted to use a 'proper' camera to make panoramics from multiple shots. I suppose I could always stick the fisheye on one and chop the middle 'letterbox' out of the pictures!

Sunday, 3 February 2013

Here comes the sun

For once the sun shone all day yesterday, even though I sneaked out earlier than usual to ensure I had some of its rays to work with for a little while! On Friday I'd paid a flying visit to the sand dunes before rain forced me home and thought a return in brighter light might be worthwhile and make for a change of scene and subject matter. As things turned out the light was too bright. The shadows harsh from the still low winter sun. There must be a light that is soft enough, yet bright enough, to provide separation between the sandhills to prevent them merging into a uniform smudge. I have managed it in the past.

Having planned on stopping out most of the day I took myself into town to purchase a replacement lens cap and some masking tape. I didn't stick around though as I thought a visit to the pier area was in order. The sun had certainly brought people out en masse. Despite the chill northerly wind there were families and dog walkers on the beach and strolling along the pier. Admittedly they were all well wrapped up in fleeces and windcheaters. The people, not the dogs!

I began in my usual fashion of looking for formal arrangements of 'stuff'.

It was surprising how much more colourful the sea front was with a clear blue sky and bright sunshine.  This changed the way I looked for pictures. I began to look for light, shadow and colour. I also broke a habit of a lifetime and stopped waiting for people to move out of shot when I was photographing a view and waited for them to move into the frame. The images seemed more compelling with people in them. I started to consciously include people in wider views as well as closer scenes, even trying out shots where a too-close person made an out of focus part of the composition. This didn't pay off well enough, but was a worthwhile exercise for future reference.

The sunlight certainly made the compressed view on the right work better than a uniform light would have. The shadows give a sense of texture and form that enhances the feeling of depth to the angled planes and lines. It's a view I must have seen many times but never felt compelled to make into a picture. There's something about the colour harmonies that I like too.

As my bones aren't as young as they used to be I headed to the prom for a rest. Before sitting down and watching people go by I saw the carousel having a spin. The bright sun worked against me. I was trying to get a slow shutter speed to blur the motion while being fast enough to allow me to keep the stationary centre in focus. The ambient light was just a bit too bright and I had to fiddle around to get a decent exposure.

This kind of subject is where digital really beats film. The only way to get a few good images is to take lots, and lots. Your control over what is in the frame is somewhat limited, so making many exposures gives you a fighting chance. Had the light been in my favour I'd have made many more than I did, but I know when I'm fighting a losing battle. As it was I had to do some localised exposure adjustments on the PC to make the shot below what it is.

I found a seat with my back to a pillar which stopped me casting a shadow in front of me and had a rest, while waiting for something to happen or someone to pass by. It's the kind of thing you could spend all day doing.

Recuperated I headed back to the beach hoping the tide might come in close again but it was not to be. The beach was all but deserted and the day was drawing to a close. I took a last wander out onto the sand beneath the pier and made a photograph of the Millenium Bridge. The bridge is a staple of many local photographers repertoire. I've made a few shots of it myself. However, I have noticed that it has also cropped up unintentionally in quite a few of my photographs. Somewhere I have a photograph taken getting on for ten miles away in which the damned thing makes an appearance! With it standing out so well against the blue sky I made a point of framing it deliberately into a number of pictures throughout the day. Sometimes as an obvious feature, others not.

These and a few more pictures here.