Sunday, 26 March 2017

Time for a change

Spring arrived with a vengeance this weekend. Warm sunshine did worked its magic and transformed the beach into the seaside with people tramping through mud in unsuitable footwear to reach a sandy spot to pitch their windbreaks. The traffic was prolific too, making the journey to and from the beach painful. I guess this all combines to provide me with a natural break for my beach project.

"Trudging slowly over wet sand"

Saturday was off-putting enough, but at least I had the experience of being in the middle of a swirling mass of Old English Sheepdogs! This madness resulted in one half decent picture. On the whole I took very few pictures over the weekend, deleted most of them, and got nothing to add to the project.

A short while back a mention of Adobe Spark appeared on one of my Twitter feeds. Investigation revealed that a branded version is available to use for free. So I've been giving it a try as a means of presenting short documentary projects. It's all been a bit suck it and see, but with some preplanning I'm sure I could make a decent job of it for something. What I've done so far can be found at Beach Life.

The toy camera continues to both please and annoy. The controls are frustrating in the extreme. I just can't find a combination of settings that makes it fit my way of working. If I'm not accidentally tocuhing the touch screen I'm pressing a button by mistake. The touch screen can be stopped form being touch sensitive, but then some buttons I use get switched to different functions. It's driving me nuts! And don't mention the lack of auto ISO in manual mode. Or the eye sensor that switches the screen off at inopportune moments...

The files are nice, for such a small sensor. Much better than any form the mirrorless cameras I've tried before.It's almost like having the set up I used in my old film days. One body and 28mm and 50mm equivalent leness. All of which I can get in two jacket pockets. I don't really need anything more. Apart from a couple of spare batteries. This is the biggest bugbear with mirrorless cameras. They eat batteries.

I have a project in mind for this camera where it's completely silent mode might be useful. I just have to force myself to leave the proper kit at home. Oh, and I might start using it for some video ideas. Eeek!!!

Monday, 20 March 2017

Technology advances

Although I feel like I could do with a change of direction and to give the beach project a rest to refresh my brain I keep on getting drawn back to it. The weather over the weekend was dire. Rain, rain and a bit more rain. There were a couple of breaks and one coincided with low tide. I thought there might have been a chance to catch someone tending a net, but if anyone had had a net out overnight they'd been and gone. However there was a speck in the distance with some sort of trolley that seemed worth investigating. It was a youngish chap who had just given up trying to catch shrimps.The wind was too strong, stirring up the sand in the shallows and putting the shrimps off.

If the forecast hadn't been for even stronger winds he'd have been back on Sunday. When the rain stopped and the sun shone on Sunday this idiot grabbed an old camera and the lens that time forgot and hit the beach again. It was very windy. Despite the rain having soaked the sand the wind was drying it rapidly and sending it flying across the beach. I felt sorry for the small dogs having to put up with it at their level. Only the occasional gust made it sting my face. 

The near gale had brought the kite surfing madmen out and the lens was almost long enough to get some decent shots. But kite surfing action is not something I have much interest in photographing these days. The wind was really whipping up the sea and I kept having to clean my glasses and the front element of the lens.

I wasn't the only one out with a camera. There was a chap in a hi-vis jacket who I've seen there before. Like other wielders of strange white lenses he wasn't too approachable. So I took some pictures of him. One with a very feint rainbow in the background.

There was a weekender at Pontins and some inappropriately dressed ravers were wandering the beach. The beach is a place where anything can happen I didn't ask what was going on here...

I'm gradually getting to grips with the new toy. I've sort of sussed out most of its quirks and am now testing it's technical limits. In terms of ease of use it's better than the compact I bought for 'street' photography and in that department and technical performance it beats my fishing compact. So much so that I'm thinking it might find a place in my fishing bag. With that in mind I snapped up a rather well priced used telephoto zoom for it today and gave it a quick whirl at the still windy beach. Or I tried to.

As I was driving along the coastal road there was a heavy shower approaching from the west. I just made it to a parking spot in time to grab some snaps. The first with my 'proper' camera and a 'good' lens.

 Then some with the toy camera and lens. At these sizes there's nothing to choose between them.

Since I had my other toy camera sensor technology has advanced enough for me to notice. It's the same make of camera, the same sensor size, but the files are much 'smoother'. That's the only way I can describe them. The old camera's files were sort of 'chalky'. The colour gradations unnatural. The new toy makes much nicer pictures to my eye.

High ISO values in low light are better, but nowhere near what Nikon's full frame magic can work. In good light the high ISOs aren't too bad. Somewhere close to what an APS sensor delivered seven or eight years ago. Even the cheap lenses manage to produce enough detail to keep me happy. Maybe that's because I still judge things in terms of 400 ASA black and white film! This shot is at ISO 2500. It needed cleaning up a bit to remove some noise, and a bit of sharpening, but it's surprisingly clean. I'm sure it would print OK to A4.

Talking of printing, I ran some off last week to change the ones on my wall. What interested me was how pictures which didn't look all that sharp at 100% on the computer screen looked bloody sharp printed out at 15" x 10". Plenty of fine detail to be seen. And they weren't shot with the 'best' lenses either.

While I can't see me dumping the proper camera system, the micro four thirds will make a light weight option to carry around with the telephoto zoom on. It might not give me the shallow depth of field of a fast lens on full frame, but that's not something I crave, and for the times I want a focal length over 100mm it will suffice. The lens that time forgot isn't going to be got rid of. I might not use it much, but it has its uses every now and then. The lens that I forgot, however, is going to get sold. It might fund another toy camera. One with a flip round screen for easier self takes when fishing. I might even use the toy camera for some more serious video work!!

Tuesday, 14 March 2017


This beach project is becoming something I seem to be thinking about all the time and it keeps dragging be to the shore every time I get some spare time. Just when I think I have gone as far with it as I can for the time being a trip sees me getting a new opportunity. Sunday was looking unpromising as the sun had gone in by the time I got to the beach, earlier than usual but later than would have been ideal. Seeing the lifeguard vehicles parked up I knew they might be a chance of some pictures, but I was fully expecting them to be finishing off their training session b the time I reached them. For once luck was on my side and they weren't ready to leave, and they were happy to be photographed.

I always try to find the less obvious pictures when photographing something which has been done before. Always at the beach I like making pictures with lots of space and almost-silhouetted figures scattered across the frame. When I saw two lifeguards standing in similar poses, poses which reminded me of the Anthony Gormley statues down the coast at Crosby, I had to try to make them into a picture. The distant head and shoulders in the water was lucky, although deliberately included in the frame, as was the gas rig.

When photographing movement and gesture it doesn't always matter if the horizon slopes. Not to my mind. It can lend a sense of fluidity.

Fast moving action is difficult to express in a still image. The shape of a figure is important, but water splashes add to the effect. I didn't 'machine gun' to get this frame, it is one of just three I took. In one the shape of the figure was rubbish, in the other two it was good. This one got selected because one foot is visible, whereas in the other picture no feet can be seen.

When the training was over I was asked if I would take a team photo. Having learned a valuable lesson about group photographs a while ago I took a few shots in bursts to ensure I got at leaset one where nobody is blinking! I got the impression that they had done this sort of thing before as I didn't ask for the paddle board to be in front of the group!

I followed the lifeguards up the beach and had my lunch back at my car. Carl the kite boarder was arriving as I walked off the beach and on my return I spent a few minutes trying to get some action shots. But my heart wasn't in it. Partly because I was lacking the right lens for the job but mostly because I couldn#'t think of a use for action shots. Way down the beach, however, at the high point of the dunes there were a couple of paragliders to be seen. It would be a long walk but maybe worth it.

This was my downfall. I should have realised that a fast disappearing horizon and a wall of grey getting larger by the minute meant rain was approaching. When I was within striking distance of the paragliders they fell to earth a minute or two be fore the rain did. It goes without saying that my waterproof jacket was in the car. I trudged the mile and a half or so through the dunes like an idiot. The rain was light but it wet the marram grass, which in turn soaked my trousers, which wicked the water down into my wellies.

I must have been downhearted because instead of photographing a spectacular football in the dunes I kicked it out of my way! My camera seems to have survived as I managed to cram it into my tiny shoulder bag to keep it dry.

Monday was a brighter day than forecast. As work has returned to normal volumes I slipped out in the early afternoon, fully expecting there to be nobody at the beach and intending to take some comparison shots with my new camera and my current compact. I was pleasantly surprised to see two men putting nets out on the beach, and within walking distance.

I was still a little late to photograph the process close up, but at least I got some shots to document the activity.

While my 'big' camera has a flip down screen the focusing in live view isn't as snappy as with compacts and mirrorless cameras. The new camera also has a flip down screen. The main factor in me buying it as I want to use it for a couple of projects I have in mind in the same way as some medium format film cameras are used at waist level. Having two old and knackered knees which make squatting to get a lower viewpoint painful a flip down screen helps get the camera down low. I tried to get some different perspectives. Not all together successfully.

Today I had to go to the bank and the supermarket. With work done for the day that gave me the chance to walk around for a bit playing with the new toy. Not only did I want to use the flippy screen I also wanted to take advantage of the camera's aspect ratio choices and try to use the square format.

The square is noted to be difficult to compose pictures in. It's rarely used in painting. Yet there have been photographers who have used it well. It had crossed my mind to pick up a film camera that shoots square from waist height, but I recalled the faffing about when I tried going retro before. Maybe someday, but not right know.

I started off trying to set the camera up to suit me, but that continues to prove difficult. Although the touch screen is great for moving the focus point quickly to where I want it I keep managing to touch the screen accidentally, and move the point to where I don't want it. For casual street photography it's probably best to leave the camera to choose the focus point itself and switch the touch screen off.

The fold down screen is good for candid photography. I'm just going to have to shorten the strap and start wearing the camera round my neck instead of over my shoulder. The lower than eye-level viewpoint gives pictures a different look. And for one of the projects I have in mind it will make the pictures more engaging to the viewer.

I can't fault the quality of the images from the camera, and despite it being a Panasonic like the G2 I had some time back, the colours are much nicer to my eyes. It's not great at higher ISOs in low light conditions. Not the sort of low light I photograph in at any rate (and I am spoiled by the big camera in that respect) but if I can get used to handling the damned thing I think it might prove to be a good 'round town' tool. The silent shutter combined with a wide angle lens means you can photograph people up close without them knowing anything about it!

Friday, 10 March 2017

A wasted week?

Although I've hit the beach four times this week I've not managed to come away with much of use for the project. It has been a case of bad timings. That's the drawback of trying to do documentary style photography in your spare time. On Monday rangers were putting the posts in to restrict the on-beach car parking which starts again in April as I arrived. Walking off dragging his buggy behind him was a kite buggy person. I'd lucked out there. The rangers I thought I'd approach on my way back but they knocked off early!

Tuesday the rangers were back in operation but I decided to walk north for a change. This was a waste of time in terms of activities but I did photograph some 'litter'. Where this stuff comes from I just don't know.

As I was about to give up I was approached by a boisterous Vizsla and got into conversation with Dave, his owner who was willing to be photographed. Somehow, although the camera was set to underexpose a little, I managed to slightly overexpose the picture. Baffling. It seems to have printed okay though.

Wednesday I was back again and although I asked nicely the Lone Ranger wasn't up for being photographed so I had to settle for photographing his van and post hole digger. The kite buggy guy was there, in action and more than happy to be photographed.

The sun is still low around three in the afternoon which makes shooting into the light a bother. It's no better for portraits with the light coming over my shoulder because it makes the subject squint. Give me bright but overcast days every time.

Thursday I went into Preston in what turned out to be a fools errand. The shop I was going to turned out to be an empty shell. I took the time on the parking ticket to wander round trying out another venture into non-DSLR camera ownership. The light was bright, the sky a vivid blue and I was seduced into trying to photograph this light. Maybe given more time I would have settled into a way of looking, but what felt like good pictures at the time I took them turned out to be pretty rubbish. I also mistimed what might have been a good 'steet' photograph. Using one of the clichéd tricks of that genre - the reflection in a shop window. A split second later and I'd have got the reflection.

Slightly better, but equally clichéd, was this architectural abstract. Although they aren't easy to find I find this sort of thing a bit lazy.

Despite technology having improved since I last tried to go mirrorless I'm still not convinced. The one thing I always liked about them is the way live view performs for taking low level shots. I put this to good use today on my late afternoon trip to the beach.

This might come in handy for the project. There were a couple of people out with bait pimps but one disappeared into the far distance while I was distracted by trying to photograph a shrimping tractor with some 'great' light behind it. A longer lens would have been useful to make the light over the turbines and Welsh mountains larger in relation to the tractor, but I was once more ill equipped.

Looking out towards the gas rig the light was strange. The sea almost calm with a haze over it made the horizon seem to float and shimmer.

Even when photographing vehicles 'gesture' is important. Their outline makes all the difference to how they are understood within the picture. With people and animals it's even more important. That's why the few pictures I took of the other bait digger, using his home made pump, didn't work out. That there were few lugworm around didn't help me with information type pictures either. The one worm picture I got might have worked if I'd got the worm sharp.

So I made do with yet another beachscape with person (and pup) small in the frame shot. How many more of these do I need?

Sunday, 5 March 2017

Higher ground

Sunday's weather was forecast to be wet. All day wet. My plan was to make an early start on Saturday to make the most of the fine spell before it ended late in the day. Oversleeping put an end to that plan. Even so I managed to get out before twelve. While the sun was shining brightly the wind was quite strong and cool. The changing light was good for making the kind of landscape photographs most people seem to like.

With not much happening around the beach entrance I thought I'd take a long walk to where the dunes rise up high. On the beach the walking was easy. Climbing to the top of the tallest dunes nearly did for me! The view was worth it and one day I might go back with a tripod to make some (technically) better pictures.

Although it's not all that far a walk it does bring the wind farm and the Mersey entrance close to a longish lens. It still means shooting into the low light at this time of year once it gets past noon.

Of course, while I was stood atop the dunes another cyclist on a fat-tyred bike went past. One of these days. One of these days...

Down on the beach I made a couple of pictures in my usual landscape style. Showing man-made elements.

By the time I was getting back to the beach entrance the weather was changing. I like making wide shots using a long lens of people on the beach showing the shapes people and animals make against the clear sandy background is Lowryesque.

Messing around with video again I've come to be fascinated with the surreal way people who are not the subject can wander into a frame doing unrelated things. It's something I'm trying to incorporate into my photographs.

The kite flying couple were back again, but they arrived shortly before the rain and struggled with the gusty wind and soon beat a retreat. I spent more time shooting video than stills of the kite flying. Editing video is beyond the power of my computer. Thankfully. Otherwise I might find myself getting into that side of things. Which would no doubt mean more expense buying different cameras and recording gear.

Thursday, 2 March 2017

Some progress, but not much.

The slightest hint of sunshine has dragged me out a couple of times this week even though I didn't expect to find much to photograph. The first trip to the beach was a late afternoon jaunt with hardly any cars parked up and a few dog walkers about. But I did spot someone metal detecting in the distance. I'd seen one of these scoop-shaped spades with holes in before and thought it looked home-made, but it turns out they are commercially available. The holes let water drain away, making it easier to lift when digging in wet sand. You live and learn.

Once more I attempted a portrait. Which I think is one of my better efforts.

The missed opportunities continued. While I was chatting with the detectorist two fat bike cyclists went past. One of these days I'll time it right to get a decent picture or two of them. Today I got out a little earlier, but still just too late to find out what had been going on with this strange looking kayak thing.

I hadn't realised the wind was as strong as it was. It's direction had brought out the kite surfers, who had all downed tools like me to take time out enjoying themselves. Apparently it was the first good wind since Christmas. Looking back it's three years since I took any serious kite surfing photographs. I didn't get many action shots today as I had only taken a mid-range zoom. I've been holding off from using long focal lengths as it distances you from the subject. Literally and emotionally. Shorter focal lengths draw viewers into people pictures more.

It was so windy that the kites were being weighted down with sand while the kiters took a break.

Although this beach project is about the people and their activities there I like to take scenic shots to try and convey what it's like to be there with the changing light and tides. Today's tide was a high one.

Yet another portrait attempt. I think I'm working on the theory that i I try enough of these pictures a handful will be okay!

Just as an example of how windy it was, and how nuts the kite surfers are, I took some more ropey video footage!