Monday, 28 March 2016

Chickens everywhere

You might imagine that a walk that is taken at least twice a week would stop providing photographic subjects. It certainly gets more difficult to see new things but every now and then something shows up. Maybe it was never there before, which is usually obvious, maybe it was just overlooked. It might have been a trick of the light or a recent trimming of hedge and tree that allowed me to see a chicken weather vane I have been passing by for ages. My obsession with all things poultry kicked in and I took some photographs on my way to the village. Armed only with my macro lens I did what I could and vowed to return.
As the clocks had gone forward that very morning it was after tea that I set forth with a more suitable lens. As it turned out the focal length I used was damned nearly the same as my macro lens. Having suffered the usual fate of a bright sun hiding behind a dark cloud as soon as I got to where I intended to take some photographs that require its presence I eventually committed the crime of using the camera's pop-up flash to bring out the white chicken against the darkish sky. I keep trying various flash solution and always end up back at the pop-up through a combination of laziness and finding it actually does what I want most of the time.
From there I went on my usual roam around the playing fields and wood, as much for exercise as to look for photographs, ending up back in chicken territory where three flocks are kept along a short length of the lane. It's not unusual to see a hen or three crossing the road there, but I'd not seen one being carted back home before. It turned out to be a new arrival that had Houdini tendencies which was being taken to have its wing clipped to stop it flying over the fence yet again.
The wing clipping procedure is straightforward and something I'd like to get some better pictures of in the future. I was hampered this time by it being done over a gate. \A position more to my right would have been much better.
After the clipping the hen has to be consoled. It has to be said that the process doesn't seem to bother them at all. They are birds of very little brain.

Saturday, 26 March 2016


In the past I've mentioned how I had three focal lengths available back in the dark ages - 28mm, 50mm, 100mm - and how I have come back to finding them natural to use in these digital days. Having got rid of my brilliant but heavy 105mm macro lens and replaced it with a great and light 85mm non-macro I realised that I'd made a mistake. No doubt it's a fantastic portrait lens, but it doesn't focus closely enough to be useful for me. When a 100mm Tokina macro lens came up for grabs on 'that forum' I debated with myself whether it would fill my void. At the price it was for sale I took a chance.

Although I won't be using it much for real close up photographs I have tried it out and it's good. Mostly it'll be used as a normal lens and it certainly fits my requirements of light weight and small size. It focusses quickly enough and, quite importantly, it also renders the out of focus areas nicely. Compared to the Sigma lenses I've had it matches the colours that Nikon lenses produce. Sigmas were always a bit too warm for my liking. The burning question now is to dump the fast mid range zoom or not. Somehow I doubt I'll have the bottle for that!
Using a macro lens for landscape photography would be anathema to the denizens of photogeekdom. I see endless searches for advice on which landscape or portrait lens is best. A lens is a lens, it's what you point it at that determines whether the picture will be a landscape or a portrait. Trying to get that message accross is pretty pointless. People seem to want black and white answers.

It's the weekend, so I have been out and about looking for signs of eggs. Friday was bright and sunny which didn't make for easy photography. The light was either too contrasty or from the wrong direction. I much prefer a bright but overcast sky. Admittedly the pictures lack the punch which everyone else seems to deem obligatory these days. I'll stay out of step on this one.

Saturday was just the way I like it, except that it was trying to rain. My task was to revisit the feed merchant's and get a couple of better shots of stuff using flash. I'm well out of my depth using artificial light but I managed to improve one picture.

Anything poultry related is fair game for this project, so a couple of garden sculptures of chickens seemed worth a snap. I'd noticed them last week but knew I'd need more light to pick them out.

On the way home I stopped off at an honesty box to add to the growing collection of pictures of roadside egg sales. Although I did take a couple of wider views the pink box was appealing in issolation.

Saturday, 19 March 2016


Weekends at the moment see me photographing roadside egg sales and signs. With my mania for making grids these signs are an obvious subject. I don't have a good enough selection just yet to make a good grid, but I've put a preliminary dummy together to give myself an idea of what it might look like.

As this poultry thing progresses I've been thinking of looking at poultry supplies and suppliers. While I was out and about I decided to call in at a local corn merchants, that also sells fishing tackle, to have a look at the chicken feed. As I walked in a voice asked, "What are you doing here?" A former fishing tackle shop owner I hadn't seen for almost ten years was behind the counter! This connection made it simple to find the right person to ask about taking some photographs in the shop.

Usually I have a speedlight in my bag, but today was the day I left it at home because I'd been messing about with it. I was stuck with either the horribly mixed and dim light in the shop or the pop-up flash. However, I did warn the manager I'd be back!

Having had a look round I'll have a better idea of what I want to get photographs of next time. However, there's even less room in  the shop than in a poultry show so I might have to dig out my widest lens as well as the flash gun. But that will bring another set of problems. Namely the distortion ultra wide lenses can produce, and the alteration in perspective created by having to get closer to things to make them large enough in the frame.

The combination of artificial lights and flash really messes with the colours of things, and the deep shelves weren't helping matters either.

The idea of making portraits of people appeals to me, but being naturally reticent of talking to strangers is a huge obstacle. However this poultry project has proved to me that asking, and getting, permission to photograph people is a lot easier than I'd imagined. Watching how other people do thing is always fascinating and a great way to learn. At least for me. I've always found it easier to learn how to do something by watching and imitating. That's why it was interesting to watch how Laura Pannack goes about directing people while she shoots her street portraits.

Of course I also like grabbing shots of unsuspecting victims. People I know are the safest bet. But even then I'm liable to get an adverse reaction!

Friday, 11 March 2016


After years (decades?) of being looked down on as the poor relation of camera lenses Sigma's latest 'Art' series are now revered as something special by the pixel peepers for whom sharpness is all. I had to chuckle when I posted the pic below on a camera thread and someone commented on how much detail the lens had retained despite  the crop. He'd read some of the exit data on Flickr and spoted the focal length, then asked if it was the f1.4 Art lens.

Alas it wasn't. It wasn't even Nikon's latest f1.8 (rated not far behind the Sigma for sharpityness), merely the old, much maligned for its lack of sharpityness, f2 version. I tried not to gloat too much... Just goes to show that most lenses are good enough for most purposes most of the time. And most people can't really tell the difference by looking at real world pictures.

It seems like a week ago but it was only Wednesday I had a run out in the sunshine. Sun that was coming and going as clouds blow over. Driving up the Ribble valley I was sure there was a picture to be had from the side of the road. One that showed the transition of winter to spring. Light snow remaining on the top of Pendle Hill, lambs in the fields, bare trees lit by the sun hinting at new buds. But my lack of patience prevented me waiting for the light to be right.

Even when I got bored waiting for the light and added some foreground interest I was too idle to frame the shot quite right. The sign should be slightly further to the left so as not to intersect with the slope of the hill and to put the curve of the stream banks more to the right. There was a good picture to be made with the light and dark, but I couldn't be bothered. Probably because I wasn't all that interested in the subject. If I was doing a project on the valley it might have been different, but landscapes pictures for the sake of it seem more like exercises in composition than serious picture making. They don't have much of a message unless they are really, really well considered.

Someone posted a comment on my YouTube slide show of old pictures from Southport to the effect that I'm the kind of miserable git who likes showing the bad side of things. Guilty as charged, m'lud. Showing the sunny side, the public face, is boring.That's what everyone wants to show. It also denies the fact that there is another side to things. But good or bad, it's all just stuff.

And the town isn't exactly thriving. There are empty shops, charity shops, endless coffee shops. Yet the council are continuously pestered by local business groups with grandiose plans to regenerate the place - in order to line their own pockets. None of which will make a jot of difference. The sandy beach is turning to salt marsh. The town is out on a limb with no easy road route in from anywhere except Liverpool. There's no proper centre to the town. And the parking charges are extortionate.

It's the seaside town they ought to close down! But I like it. Because it's a mix of scruffiness and almost presentableness, increasingly peopled by immigrants and the aged.

That's what my Sandgrounding blog is all about. If I'm being pretentious it's social documentary. A mish-mash of snaps that seen as a whole paint a picture of the town that's the opposite of a tourist brochure. Showing the bad side of things? Someone has to do it.  It's certainly something I'm more comfortable doing than taking pretty pictures of rolling hills and gambolling lambs!

Sunday, 6 March 2016


The sun was shining and I was stuck for ideas. When in doubt I hit the sandplant. It never fails to surprise. Andrew and Fergie? I must have entered a time warp!

I continue to be intrigued by the 'landscape' in the sandplant. Although it's entirely artificial the way the weather acts on it makes it look almost natural. The rain in particular acts on the sand to create a sort of speeded up geological erosion. Channels and landslips all in miniature.

After lunch I went to look at the remaining flooded lands. Some is still under water but other parts are drying. One reason the process has taken so long is that a couple of the automatic pumps burned out. It looked like ditches and culverts had got blocked too. Two portable pumps are in place here to deal with the water the permanent one should have been shifting.

 Here is the same place when the flood was almost at it's highest.

An evening wander down the lane gave me a chance to have a word with the owner of the rescue hens. Apparently they survived the mass M62 chicken accident a year or so back and are now healthy and happy. They certainly know who feeds them! All being well they'll be having a proper photo-shoot at some time in the future.

Once more I've been thinking (eek!) that engineering types should be barred from taking up photography as a creative outlet. They seem to get obsessed with knowing how everything works and striving for technical perfection. Then my mind wandered, as it does. Some people pick up a guitar in order to copy their heroes. Most probably start that way. Then there's a split. One group remain content to play other people's music perfectly. They listen to music to analyse the technique of the players. Another gets bored with that and wants to make their own music. They listen to the songs, not the performance. There's something similar goes on with photography. 

There is a large tranche of photographers who look at photographs on a technical level. They obsess over the shape of a catch light in a sitter's eyes. They drool over the tonality of a platinum print. It seems like comparatively few look at photographs to see the pictures. It's no wonder I feel out of step...

Saturday, 5 March 2016

Egg sighting

Another Saturday, another pre-Easter egg hunt. Roadside egg sales are a soft target in some ways. But they do require finding. As with so many things photographic it's always wise to strike while the iron is hot. I've driven past a couple of signs thinking it'll be easy to go back any time and photograph them when the light is better. The problem is the hens must have gone off the lay as the signs ave disappeared!

On the positive side I found an honesty box I hadn't noticed before. I parked up and started snapping away when another car pulled in and the chap who got out asked me if there were any eggs in the box. I said I hadn't a clue, I don't eat eggs. He was a bit bemused by what I was up to. Understandably so. Still, he got the dozen eggs that were left.

Being indecisive I'm never sure how best to frame some shots. With signs and honesty boxes the dilemma is whether to show the context or close in on the detail. I think it all depends on the final mode of presentation. There may even be a case for using both. For example one contextual shot serving as a lead in to series or grid of details if the presentation is in book form.

Later the sun broke out and I stopped by the canal to do some more 'conventional' amateur photography. Pretty picture making. I really don't have what it takes for this.

Some gratuitous shallow depth of field.

More (ill-placed) splashes of red.

Slightly postcardy, but less interesting to me than the egg signs. And also not as much going for them as the shots I made in town this morning of the usual nonsense. I guess I just like boring photographs - and traffic cones!

I think it's just as hard to make a good 'boring' picture as it is a good 'interesting' one. Maybe even harder because there are no traditional rules to follow. In fact, if you follow the traditional rules the picture won't be sufficiently boring.

Footnote: I've been shooting in Auto mode again when walking round town. The shame of it!

Wednesday, 2 March 2016

It's complicated

One of the golden rules of photography I am always trying to break is the rule of simplification. Like every 'rule' it has its time and place. And like every rule the complete opposite can work too. It's just that in this case making complicated pictures is a lot more difficult than making simplistic one.

When it comes to making complex people pictures the big problem is timing. either you miss a moment, or moments fail to coincide. At the poultry auction the other week I thought there might be a picture to be made/found focusing on the two men in flat caps leaning on a livestock pen. What I needed was for thier expressions or gestures to coincide with something going on n the background. One good reason for eschewing the fad for super-shallow depth of field.

In the first frame there's not much going on at all. The young lad talking to the guy in the cammo cap is okayish, but there's not really much to it. I'm sure that if I posted this frame for crit on a well known forum I'd be advised to crop it down to the two men in the flat caps. But that would just be another random shot of two old blokes.

I kept the camera framed and waited. The chap facing the camera spread his hands and one behind him pointed at something. It could have been good, if I hadn't timed it badly, or maybe things didn't time themselves - it's hard to know in a split second. The downward gaze is what stops the picture working as it might have done. I'm not saying it would have been great, but it would have been a lot better.

Making simple pictures is a lot simpler. But not so much of a challenge and they are often not as interesting. But it's pictures with impact that most people seem to want to make. Ones that hit you straight between the eyes. All too often they are superficial though. Sure you notice them, but, like a one line joke, you are soon looking for another. Make pictures that have more going on in them and they can hold the attention longer.

But busy pictures are very often frowned on. Strange when you look at the pantheon of history paintings. They contain many figures in many poses and are held up as masterpieces. Try something similar in a photograph and you get told to simplify. Makes no sense to me. I think the reason is that amateur photographers are largely driven by the desire to make pictures in the commercial mode. Editorial and advertising images have to arrest the eye. Their job is to make you look and either want to buy something or read an article. Even landscape photography is prone to falling into the decorative chocolate box or calendar style. None if it is about trying to make you think too hard.

I know that the DigitalRev YouTube videos can be a bit silly, but the latest in the series of cheap camera challenges is a really good lesson in how to interact with people. Okay, so the guy is a fashion photographer and it's London fashion week and the people are fashionistas who crave attention, but as ever it's interesting, and educational, to watch a photographer at work even when the camera is really cheap and nasty. As the hakneyed phrase says - it's not the camera that makes the pictures....