Tuesday, 27 December 2016

Open door policy

Whenever I get stuck for ideas the beach seems to be as good a place as any to head for. I continue to find it more alluring in winter than summer. Maybe because the light is more interesting in winter; either harsh and low or dull and flat. As opposed to bright and overhead as in summer - apart from those horribly cheery sunsets.

Because the council have seen fit to prevent beach parking during the 'off season' there aren't as many people around at the south end of the shore. Not doing interesting things at any rate, mostly the well wrapped up dog walkers and people out for a bracing seaside wander. Although I tend to prefer flat light the low angled winter sun does make photographing the dunes more appealing. It can all get a bit contrasty making the files difficult to process. Shooting almost into the sun doesn't help matters. In the dunes the fencing makes a good compositional aid.

This kind of picture is what I class as 'easy'. Just a matter of framing and not much else. In this case the fence line reflects the shape of the dune beyond. I don't think the picture says much other than 'this is what it looked like, though. The next shot, on the other hand, was made because seeing the fence almost buried by sand made me think about the futility of trying to slow the march of the dunes. Particularly on a windy day when the sand was being blown landward. I made the effort to get down at sand level and frame the picture rather than make a simple record shot. Both approaches have their uses but I felt this called for some formal composition.

That was before the dreaded festive break. Yesterday was sunny once more with an even stiffer wind blowing. So strong a wind I could hardly stand being out in it. It proved worthwhile though as the usually padlocked gates to the shrimping compound were open. By the looks of the remains of one lying on the ground they'd suffered a sever impact of some sort. Anyway, using the Urban Explorer's approach of 'if the door's open it's OK to go in' I had a look around.

There was little to see. A few shrimp nets and plastic buckets. Quite dull. The variety of vehicles was interesting though. Unfortunately the light was harsh and not conducive to what I would have liked to do. I planned to return on a duller day.

As it turned out today started off bright and then clouded over. For once I didn't prevaricate and got my self back, with a different lens too. Having a plan in mind it was a quick job, after poking around a bit more with a wider lens, to take the 'portraits' of the tractors and conversions which have replaced the horses and carts of old. It was tricky to frame the shots without too much background clutter, but the results were ideal for making a grid.

With that done it was time to hit the beach. As I got back to the car I spotted two people walking along the shore with metal detectors. Potential portrait subjects for the Beach Life project. I had two choices. Try and catch them up on foot, or drive along and head them off at the pass. I went for the latter option. It worked too. And they were amenable to me taking their double portrait. They'd travelled from Huddersfield and Barnoldswick to search the sands while their wives went round the shops. I wasn't sure if the sun coming out might have made for too much of a contrast to my previous beach portrait, but the subdued palette seems to work OK.

What I am finally managing to do with my posed pictures is slow down and pay the same attention to them as I would to a static subject. Just as I altered my position to get the perspective I needed for the tractor shots, I did the same with this portrait. I managed to  get the horizon level (thanks to the tool in the camera's viewfinder, and I avoided it going through the men's heads. Having the pier in the background helps make the scene obviously the seaside. Without it the marsh grass could be anywhere. That said, I don't want the landmark in all the pictures. This picture has been cropped to 4:5 ratio as was the coal piker portrait. I'm not yet sure if this is something I'll stick to or not.

After that amiable encounter it was wander along the sea wall and part way back, round Ocean Plaza where I made some photographs which will appear on Sandgrounding, then along the side of Pleasureland. The problem with walking along the sea wall, or the beach for that matter, late in the day is that low sun. Heading north it's behind you and you can both see what is coming your way and get well illuminated pictures of people. Then you have to turn round and walk into the sun. Which can be blinding. Working for silhouettes and shadows is one option. A bit clichéd though. Alternatively use the potential for highlight and shadow recovery of a modern camera's files and see what can be done that way.

I tried levelling the horizon in the picture above, but it lost its vitality. Not the first time I've left a wonky horizon when the landscape isn't the subject.

Always keep looking behind you when out with a camera. Doing that presented me with an abstract view of the go-kart track. By now the clouds were coming back softening the light to the detriment of the vibrant colours. So not totally satisfactory. I made quite a few attempts at getting the framing right, and still had to crop slightly. What makes the picture is that blue to grey band. Had that been all blue the picture would have been less interesting. Not that it's all that interesting anyway!

Sunday, 18 December 2016

History in the making

I've been prevaricating over buying a copy of Stuart Franklin's The Documentary Impulse for some time. Reading the revue on The Online Photographer prompted me to click on 'buy'. I'm glad I did. It's a thought provoking read about what constitutes documentary photography, its uses and purposes, and a whole lot more. I know it's one of those books I'll reread, maybe not all at once but certainly a chapter or passage now and then. It sits along side On Being a Photographer as a must read for anyone interested in reportage or documentary photography in my opinion.

With the book recently read some of the issues it deals with have been in my mind as I've been out with my cameras this week. Although I've not had much spare time as work continues to be hectic by my standards I have forced myself to take pictures this weekend.

With just the short afternoons to work in I returned to old themes which have stagnated. The first was a misty drive around the flatlands. I was looking for agricultural scenes to try out some ideas on but ended up photographing a pumping station on the river. I sort of liked the results but need time to let the initial impression fade to decide if they are any good. They might be a bit too picturesque for my liking. However, the book has made me think again about the worth of making 'nice' pictures as documents. At least I have found an angle (literally) to work from.

Earlier in the day I took my usual morning walk to the Post Office. At that time the fog had barely started to lift. I always like taking photographs when it's foggy. It can be good for hiding cluttered backgrounds and isolating subjects. I photographed a couple of trees on the edge of the playing field. Back on the computer I turned them into a diptych.

This afternoon I turned west and headed for the beach. If in doubt go to the seaside is my motto! I love the place in winter. All the summer attractions shut and either closed down or being renovated. I've photographed the rollercoasters many times before but today I took a couple of shots which again made a reasonable diptych. I'm wondering if there might be some mileage in making a series of these pairings.

Not an original concept, Sophie Green uses diptychs quite frequently. But she wasn't the first either. There'd be no point making pairs for the sake of it. There would have to be some thematic connection for it to work. Another one for the back-burner I guess.

Continuing my rather aimless afternoon wandering I came across a group of reenactors practising their fighting moves. I'd seen them in the same park once before, but this time I had a chat with them. Apparently Sunday afternoons are practice time and they meet up every week when they are not putting on a display somewhere.

Initially I thought I might have found another project. I could see how it could work out. However, once I began to hear about what they get up to and the lengths they go to I realised there was a problem. Just as with any group of fanatics (be they anglers, photographer, reenactors or poultry fanciers) they all have a wealth of in-depth knowledge of their subject. The trouble was that it wasn't knowledge that I wanted to acquire! This is a stressed lesson in On Being a Photographer - pick subjects that interest you.

Later I began to think there is an irony in what reenactors do. They are all about 'heritage' and history, yet they are not (certainly when it comes to the Norman period) directly connected with what they are representing. It's neither history in action or a maintaining of a cultural heritage. It's infotainment. Poultry fanciers, on the other hand, are maintaining a cultural heritage. They really are an example of history being made right now. And that is worth documenting.

These thoughts made me realise that it might be time to start getting my beach life pictures going again. A chance encounter with a coal picker who let me take his portrait (and I think this time I have made a portrait) got me back in the mood to progress this, and a way to do it. What it needs most is a commitment of time.

Wednesday, 7 December 2016

Eggs For Sale

I thought it was time to collect some of my egg sale pictures together in book format. This time I shrugged off my aversion to cropping photographs in order to benefit the layout, which I wanted to keep simple and consistent. If I'd thought on before starting this side project I'd have followed a policy used when shooting for editorial use when photographing each display - one portrait, one landscape, and one wide to allow for cropping and/or text overlay. At least having more pictures to choose from than I ended up using gave me sufficient material to work with.

My next editing task is to finish off the Sales and Shows book. The photographs are selected and sequenced, I think. Just the introduction to write. The hardest part.

Sunday, 4 December 2016


Yet another visit to the auction mart yesterday for the final pure bred poultry sale of the year. It was very much a case of diminishing returns. There comes a point when all the regular stuff has been seen and photographed and you're left looking for one-offs and trying different angles. Seeing someone lighting up penned birds was novel, and tricky to make the point in a photograph.

As far as telling the 'story' of the mart I think I've covered all the angles I can. I might have a last try in February and then call it quits.

It's almost the same as far as the show scene goes too. In another building on the mart site there was a poultry show. I got invited to take photographs while the judging was in progress. This was welcome because it's something that's lacking in the files. There was a bit more space between the rows at this show but there was still a lack of room. As usual the light was variable, both in colour and intensity. It would be a lot easier to do the journalistic thing and use flash, but I reckon that would kill the atmosphere and maybe the spontaneity.

As it happened there was a photographer and reporter at the show and the auction, apparently doing a feature for Lancashire Life. It was the usual hit and run thing. Pose a few shots of people holding chickens, take a few names and on to the next job.

Getting in for the judging came with a price. The birds from champions row needed photographing for the club and because the poultry folk have got to know me and  I have 'a good camera' I was asked if I'd oblige. Bugger! I almost put a flashgun in my bag but changed my mind at the last minute. It was going to have to be available light or he pop-up flash. The background wasn't ideal and as it turned out the camera's flash was useless. I did warn everyone that I couldn't promise much. They're OK on the web but I haven't tried printing them.

Organising and running these shows takes a lot of time and effort. Even on the day there are cards and prizes to sort out, making sure everyone gets the correct awards. This is another aspect that's been under represented in the files.

While I think the next auction might be my last, at least for a while, I'll continue attending shows. There are still aspects I want to photograph. More from the show here.

Monday, 28 November 2016

The blue hour

A lot of 'stunning' landscape photographs get taken shortly after sunset at what is often called 'the blue hour'. The sun has set but there's a glow on the horizon and if the sky is clear it's decidedly blue. Most photographers don't like seeing contrails in those clear blue skies. But I'm not most photographers. On clear, still, cold winter days I am often amazed by how many contrails there are. How busy the sky is. Where are all these planes going? Who is on them? Why are they travelling? I've often wondered if it would be possible to make pictures about this.

Making a late walk to catch the last post the contrails were more noticeable than ever. The darkened evening sky and the low, red, light from below the horizon made them stand out more than during the middle of the day. But on their own they would just be streaks on a blue ground. By focusing on natural forms in the foreground and letting them go to silhouette I got a nice contrast. Maybe something to work on a bit more to make some better images.
After a bit of a wait in the Post Office the street lights had come on. so I sought out some more village views. Being out earlier than last time businesses were still open, which altered how they looked. The slight hint of light in the sky also made for a different atmosphere to last time. Still just sketches really. A tripod would make the pictures sharper and less noisy, but some locations would see me getting run down to get the perspective I want!

On the last leg of the walk home I started to get snap-happy. For some reason these looser shots which I take without much thinking often seem more mysterious. And after dark the familiar does often become mysterious.

Once again I find myself wondering why other people can't come up with subjects to photograph when taking a walk and looking seems to work for me. maybe that's because my subjects aren't so much what's in the pictures but ideas. The contrail pictures aren't about contrails, they're about mass global transport and the environment. Maybe that sounds pretentious, but it's how I think about them. The random snaps are as much about what is hidden in the shadows as what is shown in the light, and also about the recurring theme of mine, seen also in my Englishman's Home pictures - privacy. Lights on, curtains drawn.

Saturday, 26 November 2016


At last I've had some time away from work forced on me and managed to make use of it with the camera. Friday saw me having to go into the market town of Ormskirk for an unspecified period while Vauxhall attended to my car on its second recall. The first recall saw me wandering around the place all day, so I didn't know what to expect. Thankfully it was all over before lunchtime. The place grows more like a ghost town each time I visit it.

That means there's not much to photograph, especially on a non-market day when the streets are all but deserted. Without the market there are few places to buy anything that isn't a coffee or junk from a charity shop. Shops which have been there years, as far back as I can remember when I was on work experience in the town, are closing down. The record shop where I bought Never Mind the Bollocks went long ago, but the greengrocer's which I photographed back in 2013 with it's wares displayed on the pavement as ever, is also appeared to be no more. Maybe it was shut for the day, but it didn't look like it. Photograph things when you have the chance because they might be gone before you realise it.

Whether it would be worth recording the closed down shops, the charity shops and coffee houses, I'm not sure. It feels a bit obvious, the sort of thing you expect someone is already doing. But is it being done?

I was in half a mind to go an have a more serious look around today but I let things slide and had some shopping I wanted to do. That meant a trip to the seaside. With the shopping a failure I headed to teh park and ride for some cheap, time unlimited, parking. The bloody council had put the charge up by 50p, so I parked in a two hour free parking zone and used the park and ride toilets anyway. Tight? Me?

I left the car in bright sunshine, and almost immediately began to see pictures to add to Sandgrounding. But barely had I got to the sea front than a heavy mist rolled in.

I've written about mist and fog before. They are transformative and simplify what can be seen. Not one does background clutter get hidden, but colours become softened and can almost disappear completely. Fog is a sort of monochromatic filter. I don't know what it is about the go-kart track that attracts me, but it has done ever since I picked up a camera and walked past it.

Add a wintry sun to fog and it becomes easy to see pictures. It's hard to stop snapping away.

Every now and then the sun would strengthen and add light to a subject.

Then it would fade and a little help might be required to add some 'spot colour'. To heighten it I used the photography enthusiast's hated tool - the pop-up flash of my camera. I actually like the effect the pop-up flash gives. The drawback is that when I'm wearing a cap the peak gets in the way and half closes the flash which then refuses to fire.

Soon the fog was really closing in. All I could do was get increasingly minimal.

Maybe it was the fog, maybe it was having a break away from any serious photographing. In just under an hour I'd rattled off a load of frames and come away with some I like and some that have got me thinking. Why it is that some days you get in the zone is a mystery. One thing I do know is that being there doesn't last long. As in anything, when you are in the zone your brain is working overtime. It can't last before the intuitive thinking starts to get sluggish and you slip back into trying to make things work. Which they rarely do when you desperately want them to. far better to stop. Chill. Start again and hope you can get back in the same frame of mind.

Tuesday, 22 November 2016

No time to focus

Time hasn't been on my side lately. The old enemies of work and weather have kept my cameras out of action. I'm less inclined to just set off snapping away and increasingly only wanting to take photographs for projects. Luckily my Sandgrounding project, which doesn't require great examples of photographic virtuosity is a good enough temptation when I can add a couple of hours on to a trip into town. As usual my attention was drawn to the scruffy and down at heel!

This time out I actually had something specific in mind to investigate. Something that might become serious. If it does then it would give me something to work at on weekends when there are no poultry shows. However, my plan was thwarted for the time being by two unforeseen circumstances.

Last week I'd ordered three more books from Café Royal Books. Cheap, A5 black and white, saddle stitched (printer speak for stapled!) publications. One was of photos by Ken Grant taken in Southport. So I went and took a couple of snaps in Cable Street for myself.

There's something messy in Ken Grant's pictures, which I also see in some of Tom Woods, which appeals to me.Messy but with some kind of underlying structure at times, but the subjects are what is really important. Fussing over making pictures like Cartier-Bresson's with his famous 'geometry' and decisive moments feels kind of tedious. It's my antipathy towards 'clever' photography kicking in again. Or maybe my low boredom threshold?

I have taken a lot of pictures which fit a certain style of urban, documentary, landscape photography in my time. It's quite prevalent around the web and in print. Where things are presented head on, almost flattened as blocks of colour and/or texture. Often shot on overcast days. I used to really like it, but now it's got to look a bit easy and become another trope.

The more I look at pictures of places without people in them the more I think they are a lacking. Pictures of people doing stuff, in environments, is what is most interesting to look at. Portraits of peopel isolated aren't very interesting to me. That's why I found more of the rejected portraits from the Taylor Wessing prize to hold my attention than any of the shortlisted ones. But I'm no great judge of what makes a portrait.

Closer to home I've been making an occasional snap on my way to or from the Post Office. Over the river the pet food factory is expanding. Too far away and too fenced in to really document it, but it will be changing the landscape. I'll look back at pictures made in the past to see how much of a change.

Saturday, 5 November 2016

On the home straight?

Thankfully, I was saved from having to act as official photographer at the bantam show today. But this time it felt like I am coming to the end of this part of the project. There weren't many pictures I thought needed  taking again. I did try to get more of people tarting their birds up, and some shots of their 'make-up' kits. Some more of this stuff for variety and choice would be good to have.

This shot would have benefited from a shift to my left and a swing of the camera to the right.

 But when in doubt, shoot straight on to a subject.

Trying to get a clear shot of what is being done with cotton wool buds or nail clippers is difficult. And having to use a slowish shutter speed doesn't help either. So the wider shots have worked out better. When there isn't clutter in the background. But finding the right angle is all part of making decent pictures. An important part too.

What I must make an effort to do in future is photograph the judging. It's the biggest gap in the project, apart from 'at home with my chickens' pictures.

The judges get special treatment and  a table of their own for lunch. The light through the window was irresistible.

Naturally some of the raffle prizes that weren't (literally) chicken feed had a poultry theme.

Some of what I got today should fit into the book to either replace existing pictures or take a place of their own. With one more auction and show this year I hope I'll get what I need to make it all fall into place.

I had another dabble at portraiture. I'm making slow progress. At least I'm getting the backgrounds free of clutter and somewhat out of focus. I need to work on my framing and subject direction.

Gallery here - and soundtrack here!