Monday, 23 November 2015

A narrower view

Continuing my attempts to love that 85mm lens I set out once more on Saturday armed with that on one body and my wide zoom on the other. It goes without saying that the wide lens got used most. I had no clear plan on where to head but the sandplant beckoned. I'd seen more activity there in passing earlier in the week so thought there might have been changes made. There had. I'd hazard a guess that the reclamation will be over soon.

The bunds have been stripped back to what looks like their final extent. The big gap in one where the plant used to leave the site for the beach has been completely filled and levelled off. The higher level of the main area has also been levelled with posts in place to mark something or other off. The whole place is looking barren. What was a micro-habitat (albeit an artificial one) in the large salt marsh looks set to become just more saltmarsh. As if there isn't enough of it being added year by year to the south. But that's by the by. The wide angle came in useful for 'getting it all in' as above, but it's also good for getting in close, and for forcing perspective to exagerate scale.

The piles of sand provide landscapes in miniature. Look at them closely and there are all manner of geological parallels to be seen. The recent heavy rains had turned loose sand into a deep sludge over firmer ground which in places had run and formed magma-like layers.

While reviewing the results from this trip to the sandplant I think I know the reason that 85 is popular. The images it makes can be quite seductive in the way it produces its out of focus areas. Indeed, that seems to me to be what most people do with it - make out of focus things that look nice with something in focus in the near distance. Most of them don't use a stick as the focal point! More here.

Sunday afternoon, while sunny, provided a pretty fruitless hour or two elsewhere. I'd gone in search of a starling murmuration which I had photographed at the start of the month with mixed results. I'm not sure if I left too early or whether the birds were roosting elsewhere, but I came away empty handed.

The other time, unlike the usual scenario where you see the swirling masses of birds from afar, I was actually right underneath them. That made for a different perspective and an approach had to be arrived at on the hoof. Or should that be on the wing? Having a 'super-zoom' lens on the camera at least gave me a few extra options.

One thing the mist did provide was a wintry atmosphere to the pictures. The close proximity of the birds also, I think, made for a few pictures which convey the sheer numbers of individual birds present in a way in which a 'swirling mass' picture doesn't. Using the lens at a long focal length to compress space also stresses the density of the numbers of birds. Faced without the opportunity to make the expected pictures you have to try to pull something out of the hat. I even tried shooting their reflections in the pond I was stood by.

Sunday, 15 November 2015

The way we see

It's a funny old game this photography lark. Or maybe I should say the camera gearhead game is a funny one. I know I shouldn't get involved in discussing gear on internet forums, worse still offering my advice, because I seem to have a completely different set of values to everyone else when it comes to choosing my equipment. Lenses in particular.

My order of requirements for a lens goes something like: focal length, size/weight, aperture, price, sharpness. Focal length is the priority because that defines how the pictures frame and look. I'd rather have a small, light lens that isn't quite as fast as a big heavy lens. never having used a lens that hasn't been sharp enough I put cost above that in terms of importance. Everyone else's seems to go for: sharpness, aperture (as fast as possible), focal length, size/weight, price.

Someone was wondering which lens they ought to get as a 'walkabout'. The big heavy pro spec 24-70 or something smaller/lighter or maybe with a bigger zoom range. I proffered my suggestion of the 28-300 and got shot down by someone who said it was far inferior in sharpness to the 24-70. Not that he had both to make the comparison because he was self-confessedly very picky about image quality and wouldn't touch it with a barge pole. There's a word for people like him. I've used both lenses and can't see a hole lot of difference between them. Where the 'crap' lens really wins is at anything over 70mm! For a walkabout lens a wide zoom range is more useful to my way of thinking. But then there are a lot of digital age photographers who are happy to 'crop to 'zoom'. Needless to say the guy who had asked for advice had really made his mind up in advance because he went for the big heavy lens saying that image quaity really mattered to him. I feel like an outsider at times!

What prompted this mini-rant (which I think I've had before...) was a lens that is very popular among Nikon users. The 85mm f1.8. It's popular because it's compact, sharp, has good 'bokeh' and is very reasonably priced. I bought mine as I thought it would go perfectly with my 28mm and 50mm lenses to complete my 'dream team'. The trouble is that, for me, it's neither fish nor fowl. Sure it's everything it's praised for being. Trouble is that it doesn't focus very close and I find it is either too short or too long. Usually too short. Maybe if I took a lot of portraits of people it would be useful, but I don't. So it isn't.

I went out this afternoon to try and get into using it. But I had a new toy in my pocket and ended up taking the majority of photographs with that. You see the compact in my pocket has the equivalent of a 28mm lens. Now some people say that is too wide for a general purpose lens. I don't find it so. During my two delves into the murky world of mirrorless cameras I almost always had a lens with that angle of view attached and didn't find it too wide at all. I like the perspective that 28mm gives. You can get in close to things and get stuff in the background out of focus enough to be undistracting yet readable . Or you can take in a wider scene with more in relatively sharp focus.

Looking at some Tony Ray-Jones pictures when I got home I realised that he must have had some influence on me as he made pictures in which there was a lot going on. And all of it in reasonable focus. In fact when I look at quite a lot of older pictures in the street and documentary modes I see that this is a common trait. yet today, even in journalistic pictures, subject isolation through depth of field has become a common feature. This device, like all devices, has its place, but it cuts out information. And I think photographs are all about supplying visual information.

New toys have to be played with. At the end of the pier I had a play with motion blur when I spotted the roulette wheel in the 'penny arcade'. While I was messing about a young lad popped into the frame and peered at the wheel. A little bit of luck turned a technical exercise into a picture.

Why the new toy? I'd used my fishing compact round town a few weeks back and found it more useful and more fun than using a DSLR.The only down side being the 'compact camera look' the files have. Just too much depth of field and an artificial sharpness that I don't mind in my fishing photos, but don't care for in the pictures I take as pictures. It also has that annoying 4:3 aspect ratio which is fine in a vertical orientation, but drives me nuts in horizontal.

I did quite like the Fuji X-E2 with the 18mm lens attached. It had the 28mm angle of view and the 3:2 aspect ratio, but the colours and look of the pics didn't please me so I got rid. I like the colours from my fishing camera which is a Nikon, like my DSLRs. Ever since it came out I'd fancied the Coolpix A, but at damn near a grand on launch it was too rich for me as a 'pocket' camera. Not proving to have been a marketing success, and the silver body less popular than the black, it seemed too good to miss now Amazon are selling them off for less than I paid for my fishing compact. Down in price to less than a third of the launch price!

After just two days with the camera it's too early to say if I'll take to it. There are the usual compact camera handling foibles - like no viewfinder and slowish focusing - but the files can't be faulted. 3:2 ratio, APS size too, ISO 3200 perfectly acceptable for my needs, colours that match those from my DSLRs, a lens that's easily sharp enough. It will enable me to integrate photographs from both compact and DSLR in the same sets without jarring (to my eyes) like the Fuji did. Did I mention that the 28mm field of view suits me?

More from 'playtime' here.

Saturday, 7 November 2015

Cluck cluck

Yes, it's show time again! November is the big open show of the year at the local poultry fancier's club. Apparently people travel the length and breadth of the country to get there. And I thought anglers were mad.

There's a problem with going to an event time after time in that you either run out of ideas for pictures or start repeating yourself. On the other hand there is also the chance, admittedly slim, that you'll get so bored of taking the same old pictures that you'll get all wacky and start trying off the wall ideas. They don't always work...

This time I decided to stop until people were packing up to see if any new opportunities would arise. Once the presentations were over it was bedlam in the show shack. People everywhere carting large crates of fowl around. Hardly any room to move, let alone swing a camera. Still, chickens are endlessly inquisitive and entertaining. All you need is good timing.

I had hoped the end of the show might be a time to get a few shots of people with their fowl, but all they want to do is get away. I'd tried a few people/chicken shots earlier but the backgrounds are always cluttered, with insufficient room for a wide aperture to work it's blurry magic, making framing shots tricky. The light is too low to keep the ISO down, too. I guess flash might be the answer, but it goes against my nature to use it.

Once more I was using my fast zoom. The results can be okay, but for some reason I tended to stop it down a bit too much and buggered up a few shots through too high ISO. Okay at screen size but I'm not sure how well they'd print. Not as badly buggered as one would-have-been-good shot that looked like it had been taken in thick fog. I hadn't realised the shack was so warm and the lens misted up as soon as it came in from the cold. My specs doing the same should have given me a clue...

I don't know why it should be that I feel happier using two bodies with fixed focal length lenses on them instead of one body with a zoom that covers both lengths and more. But I do prefer using my feet to alter my framing over turning a zoom ring. Maybe it's because it makes you think more about framing shots? Or maybe I'm kidding myself?

Obligatory gallery here.

Sunday, 1 November 2015


Continuing to be frustrated by my inability to take the kinds of pictures I'd like to I've been buggering about taking pictures of autumnal leaves. A terribly clich├ęd subject that is difficult to do anything new with. All the usual tropes get trotted out at this time of year. The single leaf, leaves floating on water, symbolic and metaphorical leaves. Usually perfect leaves - just golden or brown.

I've actually been struggling with this subject since late September. Making use of those few fleeting minutes when the sun is low in the sky to backlight leaves in the local wood. It's one of those frustrating things. The window of opportunity is small. The sun sets remarkably quickly once it reaches the right angle, and by the time I've worked through the crap ideas and started to get some better ones it has sunk too low. Then the following day it's either overcast or I can't get out in time.

Quite what I'm aiming for I don't really know. It's getting late in the year now and there are far fewer leaves around to work with. I guess the photos will have to get put aside with nothing to be done with them. But it kept the little grey cells active.

As the weeks wore on I got more experimental and pushed my uptight boundaries to get me out of my comfort zone.

I even broke out the flash gun to see what that might produce.

Distractions naturally occurred and my usual geometric style came back into play. Organising blocks and straight lines within a frame is where I'm most comfortable.

There was one other leaf picture I've taken recently which really doesn't fall into any of the usual autumnal pigeon holes...