Thursday, 28 December 2017

Another late start

I wish I could stop being so indecisive. I spend far too much time thinking about what to do and not enough time doing something. At least I have my work head on at the moment and manage to get that out of the way early. It's when I have the first brew of the day the dithering starts and before I know it lunchtime has arrived and, at this time of year, most of the day is gone. That was how today was going until I had an early lunch and headed out with no real plan other than to try to get more used to the new camera. Despite a wrong turn I ended up in sheep country again.

Although I was hedging my bets by putting a real camera and zoom lens in my bag I started off with the fixed lens camera. It is a fun thing to use. It's almost silent to. A lot of people bang on about how using a fixed lens makes you think more about how you frame shots, and it's true. It's also true that you get tuned in to how the lens will frame things. Sometimes, though, even when you know what you want or are going to get there are times when a fixed lens can be dangerous. Such as when you would have to stand in the middle of a road! A zoom is a lot safer in that situation.

I know I don't think photography's all about the light, but sometimes the light is what a photograph is about. Seeing the sun illuminating just the head and shoulders of the figure on the war memorial I wanted to get a shot. To make it a picture I had to position myself so the pillar hid a 'road works ahead' sign, and a parked car. If I'd been using a zoom it would have been easier to get the memorial central. As it was I cropped on the computer.

Even though the sensor isn't full frame it does have a good dynamic range and I've been surprised how malleable the files are. I used this to advantage in both the above and below pictures.

Framing a view through something is a bit of a cheap trick. But t works. A pity the view wasn't more interesting...

I might have given up on the eggs for sale sign project, but I'm still tempted when I see one that is a little different. This time the camera let me down a little. Or maybe I haven't got used to it quite yet. I was sure I'd focused on the sign, but looking closely it appears focus is on the wall and window behind. I'll have to do some tests to see if this was user error (most likely) or a quirk.

While sheep arr occupying my photographic thoughts these days I'd forgotten how much easier cattle are as subjects. Unlike sheep they don't leg it when you approach them. Quite the opposite. They are inquisitive beasts and will approach you. Like most animals they can make interesting and photogenic shapes. Not that this picture is anything more than a snap. It was another experiment to see how the camera handles contrasty subjects.

When I saw the moon rising behind a clump of bare trees I was immediately reminded of Paul Nash paintings. For once I exercised some patience and hung around waiting for the moon to move into a position which pleased me, and for the light to change. I also deliberately framed with the intention of making a square picture as a nod to Fay Godwin. By now I had switched cameras as the short, fixed lens wasn't going to get me anything like what I wanted, and I stuck with it for the rest of my walk. If the sheep had been better organised it might have made a decent picture. As it stands it's yet another nice idea but not quite. Even converting to black and white wouldn't save it.

Sometimes photographs don't have to be anything more than snaps. Sometimes what is in them is enough. It's not every day a sheep sticks its head out from behind a gravestone.

Quite a few photographers admit that one reason they take photographs is because it allows them to be nosey. I'm nosey. If there's a wall I want to look over it. So when I did just that and saw some cans of sheep marker spray (Who would imagine such a thing existed?), laying where they were last used along with some ear tags, it was a scene that had to be photographed. casual though it is I think it's one of my more interesting sheep related pictures. But then, I am a bit odd that way.

Sunday, 24 December 2017

The end is nigh

The 'toy' cameras had to go. Nothing wrong with them as image making machines, I just found them impractical with the annoyances outweighing the advantages. When the quote I got for the lot was more than I'd anticipated I gave in to a GAS attack and instead of taking the money and running went for a trade in on a camera I've fancied for some time. I liked my Fuji X10 only getting rid of it because I wanted a flip out screen for fishing. I almost really liked the Fuji XE-2. But there is something about the X100 series with it's fixed lens that has always appealed. Probably to a sense of nostalgia more than anything. The original model was noted for being sluggish in the focusing department, which put me off when it was relatively new. But Fuji seem to make improvements to their new models rather than alter them for the sake of it. The third generation seemed to be much improved and with the fourth now available it was affordable.

When the used X100T turned up it lacked a user manual and a lens cap. Manuals can be downloaded for free as PDF files so that wasn't a problem. Lens caps are fifteen quid! Luckily the camera did come with a lens hood and a thumbrest. The lens hood allowed me to screw in a near 40 year old skylight filter to protect the lens when the camera is in my jacket pocket or rattling around in my shoulder bag. The thumbrest looks like a gimmick but makes holding the camera with one hand really comfy and feels secure.

Batteries charged and off I went to the beach yesterday. It being the last Saturday before Christmas there weren't many people around for me to pester. The upside being that all the shots which went wrong due to my unfamiliarity with the new camera were just random snaps. One mistake, however, had something about it and with some heavy processing gave me an idea for a short project. All I need is bright, low sun. So that'll be the end of another project idea!

One my way back to the car I took some of my 'pictures of nothing interesting' shots, and found the camera ideal for them. I can see it might be useful for my jaunts around town. It's snappier to use than the upmarket compact I was using before the 'toy' cameras. That can go back in my fishing bag for the time being as the idiot-proof camera I can had to passers by.

Having had time to evaluate the results I was keen to have another outing with the camera and set off for the beach again on Sunday morning. I didn't make it. There had been big changes at the sandplant which I hadn't noticed the day before. If I had spotted them I'd have packed some more appropriate gear. One camera with a 35mm equivalent lens and another with the 85mm lens I don't get on with attached wasn't my ideal choice.

If I'd had a wider lens with me I'd have made different pictures, but as it was I don't think I'd have made any better ones. Taking a lot of pictures, even knowing that most would be deleted, over a short space of time while thinking about what I was doing proved a good way to learn the camera. I came away fairly happy with the way I had it set up and reasonably fluent in using it. No major niggles causing frustration as was the case with the toys. One nice feature is that by pressing and holding the 'menu' button most of the buttons which might get pressed accidentally can be locked, while others still function. While the electronic viewfinder is good, it can be switched off and an optical one used. Nice. It feels like the camera has been designed by people who use cameras rather than electronics geeks.

The changes at the sandplant look very much as if the final layout of the place has been settled on. The bund which was across part of the flat area has been extended, the sand and debris on the seaward side removed and the whole area towards the saltmarsh cleared and levelled. There is now an embankment surrounding a flat area on the same level as the road. Large piles of sand waiting to be removed are inside this area.

The last brick building has been demolished and the scrap metal collected in a pile. It won't be long before the work is complete. Then we'll have to wait and see what happens next. I'm sure the birdy people would like to create another eyesore, sorry, visitor centre... More pics, which I doubt a different camera would have made any better, here.

A quick visit to the beach saw the cameras pretty much staying in my bag then back home for lunch and a look at the results. Content and with still plenty of life in the battery I thought I'd head to sheep country as the forecast for Monday was one of rain.

I went armed with the same two focal lengths as a challenge, and because I was mostly scouting rather than seriously looking for pictures with the day still overcast. However there were plenty of sheep about near where I parked. But they weren't up for a photoshoot. I tried to do some 'arty' stuff suggesting what the area is like. It didn't come off too well.

Then I went somewhere else I didn't expect any sheep but thought I'd have a look around anyway. As I started walking the sun came out! They are difficult to make out in a small rendering but there are sheep on top of the hill behind one of the most photographed dwellings in the Chorley region.

Although it's at the foot of the moors this is a former industrial area. The stream which flows down from the hill has been channelled and managed by sluices in days past to fill a chain of lodges. Three are no more, one having been drained quite recently. There are plenty of relics of this water management system still to be found. If it was the sort of thing I could get into photographing it would make for an interesting project. But it's too much like landscape photography, and too dependent on the light for my butterfly mind to cope with. I still enjoyed blundering about looking for angles to make pictures while the light was 'interesting'. Again, I used the new camera finding it capable and not annoying. A flippy screen might have helped, but you can't have everything!

So far the camera is proving usable, but the real test will come when I try it at a poultry event or similar. That won't be for some time though and I'd like to give it a dummy run somewhere before hand, but  can't think of anything going on which might be suitable.

Saturday, 16 December 2017

Changing times

A trip to town yesterday to visit the bank saw me forgetting change for the car park. That meant that I had to park in far away street, but had no time limit. As I'd taken a camera with me, fitted with the old 'rubbish' 35mm lens I had a wander after I'd been to the bank. It being a cold and miserable day with a high wind chill factor there weren't many other fools on the pier or beach.

However, there were things to be photographed. In the spirit of making a record rather than good photographs I snapped the demolition of one of the shelters on the pier. I still tried to make an interesting picture.

Elsewhere the pitch and putt enterprise is open to offers. Not easy to make that look interesting.

No doubt the rose tinted spectacle wearers would accuse me of making the town look down at heel. Well guess what? It is!

With some free time from my pre-Christmass workathon I snuck out this afternoon. It was a toss up between the beach and the marsh. The marsh won and I was rewarded with some reasonably approachable sheep.  This pair was distracted so I was able to get a profile shot of them. Just a bit of practice really. I can't imagine the picture being of much use to me.

Nearing the floodbank I saw a potential picture, but the sheep spotted me from a far, and there was no way to get the angle on them I really wanted anyway. So it was a case of a near miss. I needed to be closer to alter the angle of view in order to eliminate the treetops in the background. As I got closer the sheep wander away down the other side of the bank.

Something I'd like to make a decent picture of is the tracks sheep make on the land. In places they are worn deep from decades or more of pointy hooves repeatedly following the same path. It'll need a combination of viewpoint and light to make it work. The picture below had a decent viewpoint, but that's about all.

One bad thing about digital is the way it renders the sun. Film has a more subtle transition from darker tones to very bright tomes than digital. So shooting directly into the sun, with it in the frame even slightly diffused never makes the picture look the way it did to the eye. The best you can hope to do is underexpose while trying to retain some detail in the shadows. Unless the intention is a pure silhouette. The way marker in the picture below caught my eye as it resembled a cross. With the light as it was there was a biblical feel to the scene. Not that I'm a believer, but a cross is a powerful image. Which is why religions adopt it in various guises.

Saturday, 9 December 2017

Seeking snow

One benefit of living on a coastal plain is that the far off hills are visible on a clear day. with a short afternoon to spare and reports of snow on high ground I thought there might be some away from the coast. There was none to be seen on the moors to the east, but some on the more distant fells. A run out for a look would be better than waiting for glue to dry!

By the time I was  in the area where snow had fallen much of it had melted on the lower ground, but rising up it was noticeably colder and the ground, if not the roads, were still white. But what to photograph? A few record landscapes were taken but it soon became obvious that sheep were about and close to the roads.

In my haste to get out I'd grabbed the wrong lens. So it was lucky when some roadside sheep mistook me for someone with a sack of feed and came walking over when I parked up.

I don't know why, but I often find myself shooting into the sun. Sometimes it's a deliberate choice because the effects can be atmospheric, equally often it seems to be forced on me. I really wanted the sheep to be front or side lit, but it wasn't to be. They wouldn't get in position for me... So I had to make do with back lighting and a fence in the way. Not to worry, it's not a 'serious' photograph.

None of what I did was serious. I didn't have much time and had taken a different route for a look round anyway. I did spot a pleasing view as I descended a hill. So pleasing I parked at the bottom of it and walked back up. Typically the light had changed and the view was less appealing when I got to my intended viewpoint. I did see a hogg hole though. While not being a project as such I think I'll start photographing these features, and processing them in the same black and white way, until I get fed up of them.

Once again I found myself driving in the direction of home blinded by the sun. Passing through a deserted Slaidburn a lone sheep wandered out of a driveway fifty yards or so ahead of me and ambled along. I was expecting a flock to follow and slowed down, but that didn't happen. I followed the ewe slowly until it paused briefly before leisurely strolling into a yard.

Photographically not a very productive short trip, but interesting with food for thought. One thing is for sure. If there is heavy snow I'll not be venturing along any of those roads until they've been well cleared!

Sunday, 3 December 2017

In print

As promised my photos appeared in Fancy Fowl. In addition to the poultry portraits one of two judges was also included. The portraits looked okay in print. Not quite as good as ones taken with better lighting set ups, but good enough.

A lot of hobbyist photographers, and some pros, suffer from GAS (gear acquisition syndrome), I've pretty much cured myself of that affliction having reconciled myself to the fact that there is no small camera/system that meets my needs and that I have all the lenses I'll ever need. I might even get rid of some lenses. No. My affliction is book acquisition syndrome. I keep on telling myself that enough is enough and I will only buy books of new photography and no 'must have' titles. The reissue of Alec Soth's Sleeping by the Mississippi tempted me and I have to say it didn't disappoint.

Another taboo for me was supposed to be black and white photography. Yet when Bluecoat Press announced two projects on Kickstarter I signed up. I didn't take the slightly more expensive, ego boosting option, to have my name included in the book's list of supporters though.

Small Town Inertia has had a lot of coverage for Jim Mortram. I saw an early exhibition a while back. The subject is a tough one. People with various health issues struggling to survive on benefits. All very worthy, but I do find myself wondering if such books make a difference. What coverage it has had seems to have been mainly in photography and culture circles. What might be called 'echo chambers' these days. The pictures are highly reliant on the accompanying text, in my opinion. Not that that's a negative. Photographs can't always tell the whole story. Certainly a book worth having. Although I do question why Mortram has to work using black and white film. That's just my prejudice against using old media when newer ones which can do more are available.

The late Tish Murtha didn't have the option of using digital when she was working on the photographs in Youth Unemployment. Another book I'm glad to have broken my 'rule' for. Again I wonder how much effect these pictures had when they were originally made and shown. Maybe that's not the point. Perhaps they serve as social documents to warn future generations against what can happen? Maybe they're just pictures? That's part of the difficulty with photography. Photographs are documents and they can also work on an aesthetic level.

That is something James Ravilious was aware of. Reading his widow's memoir of his life it was made clear that, when cataloguing his archive, he drew a distinction between the photographs which he considered to be well made as pictures and those which served only as records of a disappearing world.

When I ordered the memoir I also ordered the new collection of Ravilious photographs, The Recent Past. More so with rural life than the urban life depicted in Tish Murtha's work from around the same time, there is an air of nostalgia in the Ravilious pictures. Even when they depict the harshness of the farming world we inevitably see it as romantic.

This continues today. The popularity of books written by shepherding folk is, I'm sure, due to some rose tinting on behalf of the readers. Living a rural idyll sounds great when sat reading these books in a cosy sitting room. But how many of the readers could face having to get up in the predawn cold every day? No days off because the stock doesn't take holidays. Whether it's possible to depict that sort of lifestyle without the romanticism, I really don't know.

The acknowledged influence of Henri Cartier-Bresson on Ravilious is obvious. But he was far from alone in that. Most documentary photographers who followed Cartier-Bresson were similalry influenced, at least in their early years. Some broke free of the chains of his formality of composition and the decisive moment. I don't think Ravilious did. While working in one area of the country on one theme for seventeen years is a rare luxury for a documentary photographer I get the feeling it trapped Ravilious in a way.

Getting burdened with a subject matter is something that always concerns me. The poultry thing is something I need to break free of. Hence my return to the beach. The photos I took there last winter, I think, are a little different to my chickeny ones. Unfortunately I can't seem to find the same enthusiasm for the beach as I did. There haven't been many people around during my two short visits this weekend, so that might explain it. Although the nagging feeling that I should be elsewhere (although I don't know where) photographing something else (although I don't know what) kept nagging away.

It could all too easily become a case of taking different pictures of the same subjects at the beach. There are only so many ways to photograph, for example, kite boarding without resorting to the clich├ęs. That's where the line between documentary and photojournalism lies. The latter uses tricks of the trade like wide angle close ups and flash to give their pictures impact. The pictures still record, but they don't document. Documentary photographs are more matter of fact. At least that's the way I see it.

When I saw a 4x4 drive on to the beach towing a trailer I was intrigued. Even more so when I saw that a push net for shrimps was being unloaded. Unfortunately the shrimper didn't want to be photographed, but he didn't mind me taking a couple of snaps of his gear.

Leaving the beach I went in search of livestock. Conservation grazing is a big thing these days. All very right on. Land of conservation interest has rare breed cattle and/or sheep let loose on it during the winter to, in theory, keep the scrub at bay. Luckily I didn't have to go far to find the cattle, and the lowering sun was great for making romantic pictures of them. Foolishly I had gone out with the intention of trying to love a lens I keep thinking of getting rid of. Which meant I couldn't frame shots they way I would have liked to. With livestock a zoom is always a help when they don't go where you'd like them to. So my options were limited and the rapidly setting sun didn't give me much time.

It should go without saying that when I returned today with a more suitable lens the cattle were a long way off and the light was less favourable. I didn't bother tramping through the dunes to get closer.

Again the beach was fairly deserted. There were a few horsey types around, but as someone was already taking photographs of them I kept away making just a couple of environmental pictures. All in all my sense of directionless frustration continues.

Tuesday, 28 November 2017


Looking through magazines and websites devoted to landscape photography depresses me. There is all too often this idealised concept of wilderness. Land devoid of people, and often animals, and certainly no hint of anything man-made must intrude. Then there's the light, always golden or blue. And the processing with everything turned up to eleven. It's no wonder I find it difficult to make landscape pictures in that sort of vein.

As work was done and the sun had an hour or so to continue shining it was the marsh I headed to rather than the beach. I much prefer the beach when it is bright but overcast. I was hoping to get some sheepscapes. Even before I got to the marsh proper I saw some sheep close to the road. Not for the first time, but today they chose not to flee when I stepped out of the car. Even so it was those further away which presented a more interesting prospect.

One thing about the land round here is that it's not traditional sheep country. Or at least not that of the hill farming which gets romanticised. The photograph above was made in an attempt to depict winter grazing. The one below to show the marsh and how the landscape is used. The floodbank retains the tides. Without it the sea could encroach to teh natural rise in the land where the first photograph was taken. The pylons might be considered to intrude but they can't be ignored.

Looking in another direction I did deliberately choose a viewpoint which eliminated the structures on the far side of the estuary. Not because they stop the scene appearing as  natural and unspoiled, but because they create a visual backstop and limit the sense of space in a picture. I think it's important to include the pools and gutters on the marsh in the photographs. Not only to make it clear what the environment is like, but to differentiate it from the more usual notion of sheep country.

By varying exposures the feeling of time of day can be manipulated. A camera's light meter always tries to make scenes have the same brightness no matter what the light is like. What the meter calls underexposed can actually look more like a scene appears to our eyes. Modern cameras are too good at recording detail in low light at times!

It's widely accepted among those who know sheep that the creatures have one big ambition. To die! A vet I am acquainted with once said that sheep are always finding new ways to shuffle off this mortal coil. Whenever I find the remains of a sheep I take a photo or two. Even in the relatively soft surroundings of a west coast marsh it can be a tough life for sheep.

Sunday, 26 November 2017

Wet weekend

I was looking at an on-line documentary project the other day and happened to notice what gear was used. The same 'toy' camera I have. Then a few days later I saw some photos in photo magazine a friend lent me taken with the same brand of camera. That made me determined to give my toy another try out. So off I trotted only to be stumped by problem number one. I can't get it to nail focus quickly. Number two it's supposedly ace image stabilisation fails for me. Number three the battery died unexpectedly. It was showing plenty of charge when I went out but it was lying.

In focus but not exactly sharp.
Sure it can make nice looking pictures. Just as pretty much any camera can. So what you use boils down to what you find easiest to use. What you can use without thinking. maybe if all I used was the toy I'd get to that state of oneness with the thing. But it has one insurmountable problem for me. The electronic viewfinder. I have no problem with it as a viewfinder. I just don't want it to show pictures on review. The whole experience is just too frustrating. And to be honest the weight saving isn't that noticeable. I would like a smaller, less obtrusive camera though. Mainly so I don't get mistaken for a professional and asked which publication I'm working for!

The wt weather which blighted this summer continues. Yesterday I went for a look round and took some more pictures to add to my files of flooded fields and overflowing ditches. Back home I looked through all of the pictures I have labelled up. There might be scope to pull a selection together on the theme of 'Waterlogged'.

Sunday morning was wet again. Showers rolling in at regular intervals. After lunch it seemed like there might be a dry spell coming towards sunset so I went to the seaside. The sun was shining through the breaks in the clouds rapidly blowing in from the west. It's almost impossible to not make one or two pretty pictures when the weather is like that. I'm sure I could find dozens of similar pictures in my archive to those I took today.

What I didn't realise until I got the pics on the computer was that after the first few shots of the day a dust spot had arrived in the bottom left of the frame. So I had to crop it out of the frames I couldn't clone it out of. Annoying.

Also annoying was not putting my usual do-it-all lens on the camera. When the broken rainbow appeared for a short while behind where a kitesurfer was jumping I couldn't zoom in as much as I would have liked to. Again I had to resort to cropping on the computer. However, I was pleased to see that at 100% the cheap old lens had focused accurately and reasonably sharply too.

All today's pictures have been tweaked more than I usually do for my 'documentary' pictures. Landscape has that effect on me. Maybe it's because the subject isn't all that interesting and I feel the need to make the light the subject? Or maybe I'm trying to make silk purses out of sows' ears?

Once more I cropped to a square and converted to black and white. I'm not happy with the tones of theconversions I do. But I was never really happy with the tones of the black and white prints I used to make in the blacked out bathroom!