Sunday, 28 February 2016


It's strange how when an idea takes hold it occupies one's mind almost all the time. For some reason I can't stop thinking about chickens and photographs these days! With no poultry event to go to this weekend I've been driving around looking for the silly birds, or at least roadside signs advertising eggs for sale.

I'm not sure yet whether to concentrate on environmental shots of the signs or to close in on them to make a grid. One my drives I found a few signs that would be better photographed at different times of day, so I noted their locations and the times when the light would favour them. As the main egg laying season approaches there'll be more egg honesty boxes appearing and those might make a better subject for a typologically based series.

One route I took passed by a community farm (a hipsterish name for allotments if you ask me!). I hadn't intended stopping but as chance had it there was a car coming towards me and the gateway was a convenient pull-in for me to allow the car to pass. As I glanced across the 'farm' I saw someone I recognised so went for a chat. It turned out that both his chicken run and a large percentage of his flock had been wiped out in the Christmas flood when the nearby stream burst its floodbank. The result of the conversation was a welcome to photograph the flock when it's re-established in it's renovated home, and a lead to a poultry breeder and hen hotelier.

Not far from home I had another chance encounter. Somewhere I hadn't seen chickens before were four hens scratching away on the roadside verge. I pulled over and went to see if they'd be amenable to my presence with a camera. They were. I tried to do the old slow shutter speed trick to blur passing vehicles. But, as I should have realised in advance, it also blurred the jerky movements of the chickens. Idiot! I made do with a passing walker and their three dogs to convey movement and highlight the proximity to the road. I'm not sure it works.

Maybe I'm spreading the chicken net too wide, but these sidelines provide subjects to work on that are poultry related and keep my brain ticking along.

Saturday, 20 February 2016

User error?

There was another poultry show today. Nothing had changed from the last time I was in the shed in November. The lighting was the same, my gear was (almost) the same, but I was cocking things up. For low light situations I have my camera/s preset to cope. As soon as I go indoors I switch the mode dial to my preset shutter speed and aperture with auto ISO. So why the hell was the shutter speed way too low as soon as I walked in the shed, spotted a man appearing to apply make-up to a chicken, and took three shots which all suffer from blur?

A couple of times I found my settings had altered inexplicably and the ISO gone over the roof. Then I started to miss focus. Now this might be the result of a new body which needs calibrating to my lenses. I do hope not because a) I've never needed to make any adjustments on any of the bodies I've owned, and b) I really can't be arsed doing it.

The misery continued when I tried using flash for some shots. When I pop up the camera's flash everything works like a dream. Sure the shadows can be harsh, but I tend to use it just for close-up shots of 'stuff' and it isn't too jarring. As soon as I stick a speedlight on the hotshoe everything goes tits-up. The ambient and flash don't balance like they do when I play around at home. I can't manage to make any manual compensation. I'm sure there's a simple answer, but I never seem to find it!

At least the show was entertaining and enlightening. I learned a lot about primping poultry. Not only do they wear make-up, they get brushed and have their legs oiled. Which all made for some interesting shots - when I didn't mess up.

Then there was a man with a chicken between his legs.

Arriving early had certainly made for some fresh photo opportunities. I also started one another idea. I do like making grids and there are some things at the shows which are ideal subjects for grid-making. Today's target was the variety of things pressed into service for holding water in the show pens. Only four of the shots I took 'worked', so I made a grid of four. I already have an idea for another grid, and might even think up some more in due course.
As ever I keep an eye open for quirky or amusing details. Although some of them probably only amuse me!

A larger selection can be found here.

Tuesday, 16 February 2016

Caravan Gallery exhibition

Last May I bought, and wrote briefly about, a book by The Caravan Gallery (Jan Williams and Chris Teasdale) - extra{ordinary}. An exhibition of the pictures in the book is on tour and right now, until the end of March, the Museum of Lancashire, in Preston, is hosting it. Why I chose a day during half-term to go and see the show is one of life's mysteries. It wasn't too busy though. Most of the kids were in the other exhibitions.

What was nice was to see the pictures printed larger than ion the book. Even though I'd seen them all before some still made me chuckle. The pictures show the general quirkiness of of Britain and it's people in an affectionate way. What I like about the work is the way it documents Britain in an unpretentious way, and the pictures aren't about being technically great photographs, they're all about being documentary. The subject is what is most important. That's not to say there aren't really some good photographs, there are.

One of the aims of The Caravan Gallery is to get people involved with their Pride of Place projects. Photography helps engage people in this with a competition, and the projects are documented in books. All in all it's a feel-good use of photography, which makes a change from some of the up-its-own-arse stuff you see in galleries these days which has to be deciphered to be understood.

 I'm a sucker for books, especially reasonably priced ones, so I took the opportunity to pick up a copy of the Lytham Pride of Place book, a guide to Liverpool and half a dozen postcards.

Having parked across town I used my compact to take some snaps on my way too and from the museum. That meant passing by a footbridge which I had photographed back when I was a foundation student doing a one week photography course. The bridge hadn't changed, but my photos have.

When the sun shines colours are more striking, which I guess is why most landscape photographers only venture forth on sunny days. Sunlight certainly does make pictures look different. I think it also explains why a lot of the photos I take outdoors don't look like everyone else's - because I go out regardless of the sunshine, or lack of it. Even when the sun does come out for me I carry on photographing the same kind of rubbish!

Saturday, 13 February 2016

Sale time

I must be taking the poultry project a bit too seriously. I've been reading magazines and books about chickens as research! The benefit of this is that I have come across dates of shows and auctions in the region. Today I made a thirty mile trip to Clitheroe Auction Mart which was holding an auction of 500 pens of poultry and waterfowl, and the local poultry club was staging a show at the same venue. It would be possible to kill to birds with one stone...

Not knowing what to expect, or even if I'd be allowed to take photos, I was travelling light. Compact camera, DSLR and three fast single focal length lenses. I always thing that using a big, bulky zoom lens makes you stand out and get mistaken for a professional - or a camera polisher.

As it turned out a zoom would have been useful. Or a second body. That said in the auction mart I mostly used the 50mm. It did pretty much all I needed. A might be expected there were all sorts of people there, from aged farming types to hipsters. It would have been easy to 'bag' a load of shots of characters. But unless they're doing something it would just be an exercise in collecting to my mind. Like the so-called street photographers who snap away at homeless people. The whole point of photographing people at an event is to show them doing something. being on the same level as a crowd presents problems, which was why I concentrated on trying to catch the auctioneer in action. Easier said than done to get a good pose with everything around making the picture work.

In the show venue the judging was still going on when I arrived, which enabled me to take some new sorts of shots. Again the problem of getting a decent angle raised its head. But one truies one's best.

The egg judging is easier as the judges don't have cages in front of them, just a table you can get on the other side of. The idea here was to once more capture some action. Not easy when they were mostly peering at eggs. But some eggs had to be broken to be examined.

Being able to see through a show cage has its advantages. And when something pops in to the frame when you are not expecting it you have to react quickly at times. Mostly I mess up, but now and then I get lucky.

Messing up technically is probably my biggest fault. I caught some decent moments in teh judging, but what ought to have been in focus wasn't. Then there are times when I get the focus right but bugger things up by being stupid. I was trying to take some semi-posed 'portraits' today. The one below is sharp enough, I like the way I framed it, but there's half a blink going on. Had I taken two or three shots one would have been okay. Well, it might not have had a blink but I bet it would have been blurry....

I did take one picture a shortly before which was in focus and the judge had both eyes open, but I'm not sure a 28mm lens is right for full length portraits. That big head/tiny feet thing goes on. If my knees had more adjustment to them I could bend them and get my eye level lower to lessen the distortion. probably better all round to use a longer lens and step back a few paces! Unusually I have cropped this, and a few other, shots.

As usual, lessons have been learned. I got carried away with using high ISO values and closing the aperture to get more in focus. The results will be okay for web viewing, and will print to A5, maybe A4. Which should be fine for any use I intend putting them to. But in future I might restrict my ISO a bit more unless absolutely unavoidable. The lighting in the venues was a pain for white balance. Daylight through the skylights and horribly orange lamps. Flash would solve that, but it would draw too much attention - although I did use it for a couple of close up detail shots. The alternative, I suppose, is to convert everything to black and white. That has the added benefit of making the noise in some shots more acceptable. But colour is a part of poultry showing. Keep on struggling I guess.

Gallery of the auction here, and the show here.

Sunday, 7 February 2016

Automatic for the pheasants

Work was doing my head in, and my back needed a good stretch, so I headed out to the reserve for a break to play around without any preconceptions. As always seems to be the case these days the sun had shone all morning while I was toiling away and decided to hide as soon as I set foot out of the door. At least the dim light made it easier to play around at turning day into night.

Having taken my super-zoom I thought I'd be struggling for light in the hides. Indeed I was having trouble getting the exposure I wanted using aperture or shutter priority mode. No amount of fiddling with exposure compensation or metering modes would produce the results I was after. In desperation I spun the dial to the one mode the forum experts decry. Auto... Well not quite full Auto. Auto with disabled flash. It worked! The only drawback was not being able to select a focus point. However, as I use back button focus I was able to jiggle things to get the focus on what I wanted then release the button to lock focus and re-frame the shot.

By some magic trickery it made a better job of balancing the exposure between the brighter outdoors and the dim hide interior than I was managing by doing things 'right'. I still had to make use of the camera's wonder sensor to recover detail, but it was one less thing to think about.

Once more the occupants of the hide were more entertaining than the wildlife outside. I was sorely tempted to make some pro-Nikon  comments while I earwigged a dreary conversation about the specs and performance of Canon's top of the range cameras. Another topic that was mentioned was how dreary the light is around here and how much easier life is behind a lens down south. I suppose low light levels are a problem for Canon shooters...

The main thing with wildlife photography is access to your quarry. And if it happens to live in a dull environment then reflect that in your photos. Although I don't take serious wildlife pictures I never turn down an opportunity when it falls in my lap.

Walking along one of the paths I saw a cock pheasant pecking away at something. I fully expected it to scuttle off as I approached, which it did. but it didn't scuttle very far. Just out of sight behind an earth bank from whence it quickly popped its head up. Then, being bold, it began to retrace its steps just a few feet away from me. Even the pheasants that feed in my back garden are less approachable than this one was. the earth mound was just the right height to put the bird more or less at my eye level without me having to bend my creaky knees, and therefore make the pictures I took look less like the snaps they were.

The ISO was quite high (8000), but there's a surprising amount of detail retained even after a minor noise reduction exercise, and that superzoom is pleasingly sharp.

Tuesday, 2 February 2016

Shortage of time

The desire to work on h photographic projects and the necessity of earning a crust are pretty much incompatible. Projects require time, and making good pictures requires making plenty of bad ones to get you into the swing of things so the good ones turn up.

All that is by way of saying I've not had much time to devote to photography (or fishing) of late. One project that is easy to work on is my Home Range project, which is a growing collection of pictures in the Egglestonian mode taken on my walks around the village.

Also on these walks I take vaguely documentary shots of places which are liable to change. For some reason the other day I made a few in portrait orientation and put them together in a row. This presenting of pictures as a set, the set being the work, continues to interest me. I might have to find a cheap way of printing these up at reasonable sizes on single sheets of paper to see what they look like stuck on a wall.

Time constraints aren't conducive to making much of my visits to the nature reserve. The whole place has been badly planned from the start. All the best views from the hides face west - meaning the setting sun always blinds you! A low sun shining through narrow windows into a dark space makes for a photographic challenge. But it can also make for interesting light and interesting pictures. It would have been much more difficult to get the results today's digital cameras can produce if restricted to slow colour slide film.

I'm still not sure if there's a project to be found from these visits. But it's somewhere to go for a couple of hours. Maybe I need make longer visits?

There was one lovely ironic moment today, though. One of the window-hogging long lens machine gunners had only been gone a few minutes when the barn owl he'd been photographing a few hundred yards away flew under the hide windows and perched briefly a few feet away. So close I doubt his telephoto would have been able to focus on the bird! My 50mm lens would have focused had I been quicker and had the camera been set up for outdoor shooting and not for low light. Still, the snap below is a nice reminder of the incident