Sunday, 22 March 2015

Ayers Rock

As usual when lacking motivation (which is not the same as inspiration) I headed for the sandplant on Saturday to see how things had changed. It's funny how my little brain works, but this particular mound of reclaimed sand reminded me of Ayers Rock. Probably a tenuous connection for anyone else! Irrespective of that I like the way it's difficult to gauge the scale of the view.

This made a break from the easy attraction of the frogs in my pond. They were still at it, although fewer in number and less approachable. I think they must feel safer when there are dozens of them together. I thought I'd play around with DSLRs and close-up 'filters'. Once more I shot some video and the screw in close-up lenses worked well for that. Not quite so hot for hand-held stills. Sharpness isn't quite so critical with moving images.

There is a noticeable difference in 'look' between the pictures made with my compact camera and DSLRs - the difference between the crop and full frame shots is much less easy to spot.

The fishing DSLR has been getting quite a bit of use recently. It's handy for taking product shots for my website and fishing blog because the kit lens focuses close enough for me not to need a macro lens, and the 24 mega pickles mean it's easy to crop in for web use. The sensor seems to my eyes to be every bit as good at low ISOs as those in my larger sensor cameras. Even better in terms of dynamic range than the older one. If I was a landscape specialist I'd be more than happy to use the camera all the time because the speed of handling and focussing isn't a problem there. For wildlife the extra 'reach' the smaller sensor gives is quite handy. That's why I used the camera for photographing and videoing the frogs - although the compact does as good a job and is easier to use in some respects. All this has got me thinking if I really need the big sensors.

Today I was back at the sandplant with a wide zoom on an FX body and a standard zoom on a DX. Although the standard effectively becomes a medium telephoto, which was why I took that route. I keep thinking that one body of each format would enable me to cut down on lenses while covering the same effective focal lengths.

Nice in theory, but in practice there's the unavoidable fact that no matter how good smaller sensors are in decent light at low ISOs they can't match the bigger sensors when it gets darker. As I like to shoot hand-held in dimly lit buildings (tackle shop, poultry shed) that is a big deal. I don't like dwelling on photographic gear and would rather think about the photographic process. The only reason I'm pondering out loud is that I'm trying to pare my gear down to a logical minimum, primarily in terms of bulk.

Standard becomes medium
Quite why I wasn't 'feeling it' this weekend I'm not sure. So it was a surprise to find a couple of pictures from the sandplant that I thought worked reasonably well. Perhaps sometimes when you are in an uninspired mood and just snapping away something in the subconscious takes over?

This first one shows the high tide covering land which is a recent breach in the bund. I'm told the plan is for at least part of the workings to be returned to salt marsh, and this illustrates the start of that process.

The second picture does nothing more than show piles of reclaimed sand. I like the backlighting, the perspective, the curve of the tracks and the reflected clouds in the puddle.

The thirds shot was grabbed as two birdwatchers made their way back to their car. Their presence gives a sense of scale - although the wide angle exaggerates distance - and the machine adds a splash of colour to liven the image up.

Despite being in an unenthusiastic mood a few pictures have been added to the sandplant collection. This buoyed me up and I headed out the door after an early tea to see what could be done with the last of the daylight. Hand-holding for landscapes at sunset is not the recommended procedure. But it's the way I do it. I tried to capture the feeling of a still spring evening by shooting into the sun. Then again, I don't make the usual landscape pictures. I doubt many photographers would have a container as the focal point in a sunset picture...

Tangles of undergrowth and branches always attract my eye, and when lit by a low sun they can make for interesting patterns. I'm not sure that this sort of picture would work if everything was in focus from front to back. Although visual confusion is part of the point of this pictures there has to be some signifier of depth, and blur is one of them.

Monday, 16 March 2015

Accepted wisdom

I almost had my faith restored in 'that forum' the other week after I posted a thread about one of my projects and the level of discussion (briefly) rose above the 'UV filters degrade IQ' level. Ho hum. All has returned to normal with the usual ultra wide for landscape, super-tele for wildlife, nothing shorter than 50mm for portraits cobblers. I suppose it depends how you define a portrait for that last one. If only I'd had my ultra wide on I might have got both of Groundskeeper Dave's feet in the frame...

What I did manage was a picture that I quite like as an effort at summing up the first preparations for the forthcoming cricket season. There's a lot of green though, which Hockney says photography doesn't do well.

I mention Hockney because I've just this minute finished watching a biography of him on iPlayer. Well worth a watch - although I am biased as a bit of a fan. I knew he'd used and played around with photography, but not how early on he'd started. Given that he can be quite disparaging about what photography can achieve compared to painting he must have a love/hate relationship with the medium. I entirely get where he's coming from, and there are frustrations with photography that sometimes make me want to pick up a pencil or brush. Yet those very limitations are what makes the medium interesting, and challenging.

A particular limitation is in portraiture. I'm still not convinced that photography can make good portraits. Not straight photography at any rate. Which is why, leaving aside Martin Parr's dictum that a smiling face ensures a snap, I'm never sure where the line is drawn between snapshot and portrait. Does a portrait have to be premeditated? Or can it be grabbed like the picture above? And does colour reduces the chances of success? Black and white certainly adds an aura of seriousness. Maybe I'll post some people pictures on a forum and ask for advice. If only I could get them sharp...

Tuesday, 10 March 2015

Buses and books

I try to follow Niall McDiarmid's blog on Tumblr but I often miss a few days. Luckily I spotted the announcement that a second book was imminent so I've been checking to make sure I didn't miss out. Having placed my order it's safe for me to let my reader(s) know that Via Vauxhall is now available to pre-order!

Having enjoyed Niall's previous book, and having seen a number of photographs from this project, I'm looking forward to receiving my copy.

It seems like there's a bit of a thing in the UK for bus centred photography. Tom Wood's All Zones Off Peak is out of my price range, but George Georgiou's recent Last Stop is tempting. Maybe the subject appeals to me because I spent a lot of time on buses as a student and took photographs of my own in bus stations and even on buses?

Bus stations are places where people gather with a common purpose of travelling, but are often preoccupied and oblivious to everyone else. There's also something about the functionality of bus stations that suits photography - not least the now listed Preston bus station which I am far from alone in having photographed. The three photos below were made circa 1979/80 in the now 'redeveloped' bus station in Southport. I wish I'd made more of them, but at the time the place was somewhere that would always be there. Just like everywhere. We assume nothing will change, although it inevitably will. Reason enough for recording any of the everyday places we visit.

Sunday, 8 March 2015

Back to nature

Free time for photography has been limited for the last couple of weeks. A couple of walks to the Post Office and a brief trip into town have been about it. No time to dawdle and explore things has resulted in the expected not much. There was one picture from the village which has something about it that I can't put my finger on.

I think it says something about suburbia, and the way the tree has been pruned (actually to avoid the branches fouling the power-lines out of frame above it) could be a metaphor for control of the environment. I guess it depends how much you want to see in a picture.

With little time to get my self into anything I went back to photographing wildlife. The arrival of (at the latest count) 83 frogs in my small wildlife pond, and the clouds parting gave me a chance to lie on the wet grass and see if I could make any pictures of froginess. I even shot some video footage!

I tried a few lens options on my crop sensor 'fishing' DSLR. I used this in favour of full frame because it has a flip out screen that makes shooting low to the water easier on the neck. There's a bit of lag between pressing the shutter release and the picture being taken though, which you don't get so much of when using a compact or mirrorless camera. In fact, when I did use my compact camera (which also has a flippy screen) it was much easier to hold the camera low.

Most of the better pictures were made with the compact. Aside from the manoeuvrability of the camera it has a useful close-up facility that used at the lens's widest setting allows small frogs to be large in the frame while showing a lot of the surroundings. Sort of environmental wildlife photographs. Not the usual approach for 'macro photographers' who like to take pictures of small creatures filling the frame. Putting a subject in context like this gives more of a feel of its character.

There's a parallel with street photography there. Hardcore  street photographers often extol the virtues of wide angle lenses and getting in close as a badge of honour. Yet they still concentrate on making their subject (victim?) large in the frame. The benefit of a wide lens is that it gives a wide view. Photographing people in town this can convey the feeling of being in an urban environment, photographing wildlife in the country it's the sense of being in the great outdoors. But both require the surroundings to be in the picture, even if not in sharp focus.

Of course, wider lenses do get more in focus that shorter ones, but not so much if you have a subject close to the camera. It's surprising how you can throw a background out of focus even with a 24mm lens. Controlling depth of focus is something that is often overlooked in favour of the two extremes of maximum depth of field used by landscape photographers and super shallow DOF used by hipsters.

Back at the pond even the built in flash of the compact did a pretty good job with close-ups. This camera is a versatile little tool when used with thought and care. It's not perfect. I'd like it to have a touch screen to make moving the focus point around quick and easy. Then it might be perfect for this kind of stuff.

What this sort of picture does better than the standard close-up frog portraits, I think, is show the character of the little amphibians. Being down at their level with them surrounded by water and vegetation takes you more into their world. A waterproof camera might do that even better.

It's a pity that the frogs will soon disperse for another year. They are engaging and willing subjects that I can't resist posting more pictures of.

The odd one out - fisheye lens on DSLR

No doubt my next post will consist of more 'serious', but dull, pictures like I usually take!