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!

Sunday, 19 November 2017

Committed. I should be!

Saturday was the day of another big poultry show which I had foolishly agreed to take photos of the winning birds at. I had no idea what to expect in the way of facilities. As it turned out there were none. It was a case of photographing best in show and reserve champion. Both fowl being held by their proud owners. Flash on camera, set everything to automatic and job done.

Five minutes work after six hours wandering round the show and the adjoining auction with no inspiration at all. It really has become almost impossible to find new things to photograph or new ways to photograph the familiar.

Like a lot of photographers signage often catches my eye. Two signs for one event apparently directing people in opposite directions had to be photographed.

Elsewhere I made a feeble visual pun about chicken and chips. I'll get my coat....

Sometimes the play of light draws my eye even though I'm not all that good at making pictures of it. Maybe because I feel it's a bit of a cheap trick I don't make much of it? It can be all too easy to use lighting effects as a cop out. Some photographers have built careers on it!

One idea I did start to play around with, without too much success was to photograph through the pens. Most pens had back boards to them, so my opportunities were limited. And when people saw me pointing the camera through the pen they often jumped out of shot. Not always though.

I've tried this in the past but this time I stuck at it a bit longer. I spent more time than I usually do on a few ideas for pictures. I reckon that was because I had run out of steam. With nothing new to distract me I persevered with what little I had to work on.

Another departure from my standard practice was to put the camera in 'fast' mode and shoot bursts of up to five frames when I saw something occurring. Reviewing the results didn't seem to give me a better 'hit rate' though. Just more dross to delete.

It had been a long and chilly day in the show shed. When the door was opened at the close of play there was a mad rush of people carrying bird boxes out to the car park.

In the auction I suffered the same lack of inspiration/motivation having seen it all before. I was reduced to photographing 'characters'. A stack of pictures of unnamed people doing nothing doesn't really amount to much. Anonymous people are far more interesting to look at if they are doing something interesting.

There can still be vignettes found. But the pickings are slim and probably not worth the time expended in their getting.

Where next? When in doubt go to the sandplant! The continued attraction there is that it is never the same two visits running. Not having been for a look for some time I was surprised how much it's size has been reduced by. Work has been cracking on recently.

The graded sand piled up with tracks running through gives an appearance akin to a moonscape to my eyes. I didn't have long as I couldn't get out until late on, so didn't come away with many pictures. The overcast light worked well. There was just enough to provide subtle shadows to suggest form.

While still interesting the place has lost much of the character which I used to enjoy. It was much wilder, and also much more used as an unofficial amenity. That sounds contradictory, but that was how it felt. A sort of naturally rewilded adventure playground for people of all ages. Now it's more of a deserted desert.

Sunday, 12 November 2017


There are lots of things I dislike about taking landscape photographs. The biggest being the walking involved! Thirty years ago it wouldn't have bothered me but these days after  a mile and a half of trudging  up fairly gentle inclines my joints start moaning. Never straying from the beaten path gives you the same pictures everyone else gets. No matter how much care you might take over the framing a few minutes on Google and almost identical snaps appear in droves. The lesson here is to stop photographing the obvious views and subjects.

That said, wandering up a valley in the AONB that I had never wandered up before was interesting. Once more I was in search of signs of human influence. And as with the previous valley visit it wasn't hard to find. Once the tarmac track runs out at the borehole a rough stone shooters track takes over. Not just shooters and game keepers drive their vehicles along the track, I had to move aside to allow an RSPB (spit) 4x4 to pass me on its descent. A much quieter valley, no doubt owing to the shorter length of tarmac. And even a mile from the road it felt as if it could have been twenty.

Another thing that bugs me about landscape photography is how much it relies on the light being not only of the 'right' quality but from certain directions. As I don't plan anything technical I rely on luck in this department. An earlier visit, or even better a different time of year, would probably be better for photographing the valley. But I timed it right for a photograph of the memorial below. Fitting to photograph it on Remembrance Sunday.

One bit of planning I had done was to consult maps. I wanted to see what the 'castle' actually looks like. Not very much as it happens. It's pretty much a stone barn with some fancy windows and door one one side. The door and windows are boarded and locked. Possibly that side is used as a shooting lodge. Sheep making use of the open parts for shelter. Again, a quick internet search shows that the building has been photographed many times from every angle.

After retracing my steps I set off to take the (very long) route home. The main reason for his was to avoid having to drive into the setting sun. Previous drives home from the AONB on bright afternoons had seen me dazzled and unable to see the twisting road in places.

The alternative route proved to be over pretty remote land. But land full of sheep. I stopped three times to see if I could get any sheepscapes. I wished I'd had a longer lens with me. Fell sheep are timid. As usual it proved impossible to get each sheep in a group to pose ideally. The late afternoon light was wonderful though and there was a bitter wind blowing, which had the benefit of moving clouds across the sky. Far better than a bald blue sky.

One point worth noting about photographing groups of animals, or anything else really, is that odd numbers make for better pictures. I don't know why this is. There's probably some deep psychological explanation. But I'm not the first to discover this compositional device works.

But sheep being sheep they don't always hang around in groups of three or five. Only children hang around with their mothers long after they've weaned. Although I wish mummy sheep had looked at the camera I like the gesture of the lamb (damn that rush stem though), the light, and the depth in the landscape beyond. There's a feeling of space to the picture. When Mrs Swaledale did raise her head it was as she ran away on noticing my presence. Bloody sheep.

Further along the road the light, or rather the shadow, on Ingleborough was fascinating. The cloud above it was equally interesting. I took a number of shots as the clouds moved and the light changed. So many it made deciding which worked best difficult. I'm still not sure the one below is the best of the mediocre set.

A little further on lay The Great Stone of Fourstones. Which is, obviously, the only stone for miles around! I don't think I could have time my unplanned visit better. The sun was beginning to set behind the stone. Better still I was the only person there, two others had just left. I did my backlit trick of stopping the lens right down, underexposing, and lining the sun up in such a way that it peeks through a small gap creating a starburst. It's not something that can be easily done using a tripod when the sun is setting quickly.

Walking round the other side of the stone and the low sun warmed the scene as well as showing the texture of the rock. careful framing kept a parked yellow car, the road and a fence out of frame giving the impression of remoteness. Photos don't lie. They just don't always tell the whole truth...

Sunday, 5 November 2017

The last chance saloon

Another sunny Sunday saw me heading, late again, for the AONB to try and find a photographic direction to approach it from. I'd chosen to take an indirect route and in so doing I would pass the Moorcock which I'd photographed the remains of recently. I was shocked to see there was next to nothing left of the old pub. Yet another reminder to photograph things before it's too late. After my previous visit I did some Googling and found that the Urbex crowd had been inside it. So it's final years have been recorded.

Reading between the on-line lines about the history of the Moorcock it strikes me that its failure was down to expansion of the property with exaggerated expectations for the business to be generated. They might have succeeded closer to a large urban area, or even in a more touristy localle. But half way up a bleak moor miles from the nearest town? The sun has finally set on The Moorcock Inn.

With little left except rubble there wasn't a lot of photographs to be made there, so I carried on to...

My intention was to head up the valley to see what there is to see. The the Ordnance Survey and Google maps suggested there might be some landscape features which would appeal to my aesthetic. Nonetheless with the sun bright on the fells I couldn't resist trying (and failing) to make a postcard picture. Even then I deliberately included the power lines.

Sure enough, further upstream it soon became obvious that this is an industrial landscape. Signs of tree felling and replanting are easy to spot, but hidden away, breaking surface fitfully, is the water pipeline. Much of the land in the AONB is owned by the water supply company. Most of the rest of it belongs to Mrs. E. Windsor or the 9th richest person in Britain (as of 2017). However there is a lot of it legally accessible these days, which I think might have pleased Fay Godwin.

While one of Godwin's themes was land ownership her concerns were with restrictions of public access and the despoiling of the landscape. I'm interested in land ownership and usage too, but not in a campaigning way. Unless it's pointing out the similarities between conservation organisations and sporting estates in keeping the riff-raff of their land!

Mostly I'm fascinated by the way man-made structures appear in the 'natural' environment. I don't see them as heroic or unsightly. The longer they are there the more they become part of the whole. We often overlook them, or take them for granted. Unlike some people I don't have a hierarchy of acceptable structures. The drystone walls and stone barns of the Yorkshire dales are thought to be picturesque. A cast iron pipe crossing a bracken covered clough is thought to be ugly. I can't see why.

My biggest failing when it comes to landscape pictures, of any sort, is impatience. I can't be bothered with the fuss of setting up a tripod, and even worse I can't be bothered waiting for the light to improve the pictures. More dedicated photographers than me will get into position early, set the tripod up, set the camera, then lounge around eating their snap until the light 'makes the picture'. I'd either fall asleep or wander off doing something else. Either way I'd end up missing the perfect light that lasted for a fleeting moment!

Whenever I have the work of Fay Godwin in mind I try making square, black and white, pictures of a landscape-ish sort.

For some reason bald skies seem to work better in black and white than in colour.

I liked the idea of the photo below of a blocked hogg hole that I briefly considered seeking more of these features out and making a series of similar shots. Then I remembered that I'd get bored doing that sort of typology project.

Up the valley I was wondering how it had got so late and why I was feeling knackered. Measuring the distance I'd walked using Google maps when I returned to civilisation I found the answer why. It was almost five miles. And still no closer to sorting out the project.

Saturday, 4 November 2017

Don't give up the day job

It was the big day today. The day when I had to take the 'official' photographs of prize winning poultry. Thank goodness I wasn't charging. Then again, if I had been doing it for money I might have taken more time and care over the job.

I suppose that for a first attempt it wasn't too bad, but the law of Sod dictated that the one bird which I messed up most with, for no reason I can fathom, was the overall champion. Why the judge had to pick a white call duck I really don't know. The only thing worse than all white or all black birds/animals to photograph are black and white creatures. So it could have been worse.

My improvised lighting worked as well as I could have hoped for. I knew the light wouldn't be soft enough and not being dimmable was  hindrance, but the basic idea was sound. Two lights on the background and flash on the camera. Then crop and edit the hell out of the files on the computer!

The 'studio' set-up could have been larger for some of the bigger fowl though...

The platform could be both wider and deeper, and the background taller. Being able to get the bird further away from the wall would help, and a higher background would be better for tall birds. Still, I work with what I'm given. There's no option. In a fortnight I have another 'gig', this time with no permanent 'studio' to use. I can't wait.

One of my more successful results

The down time was spent mostly drinking tea and eating. I did get one or two new pictures. Nothing startling but some ideas to work with next time.

Hoping to prove that my lighting set up would work with any camera that had a built in flash I had taken my fishing compact along. It's been playing up a bit recently, a bit temperamental. When I tried demonstrating it the flash it wouldn't play ball. It worked perfectly when I'd tried it a few minutes earlier. That bloody Sod and his law.

Because I have pretty much photographed myself out at these shows I played around using the compact to shoot some video. At first glance it looks quite good. But then I'm no expert and am just amazed that I managed anything watchable at all. If I can get my ancient PC to edit the clips I'll upload them.

I also played around using the compact as a stills camera with surprisng results. For someone like me the increased depth of field small sensor cameras turn out is a bonus rather than a hindrance. It's the noise being quite bad at anything over ISO 400 that I find frustrating, but at web sizes, and probably 5 x 7 inch print size, pictures look fine.

The biggest drawback with the compact is focus speed and shutter lag. Drives me mad and I can't think why it has to be that way. Probably just a consequence of tech that's a few years old. I'm considering selling my 'toy' cameras (I've been using them again of late and hating the experience). I might use the cash released to buy a more up to date small sensor compact with a fast zoom lens. Or I might not.

More from the day here.