Monday, 31 December 2018

The best laid plans and all that

With Christmas over and done with I went in to town to get some stationary, and also to visit an exhibition at the art gallery. The shopping went well, the exhibition viewing less well. The  gallery had shut down before Christmas and doesn't open again until after New Year is done with. Bloody austerity. Or bone idle council staff more like. As I'd paid for two hours parking to give me time to look at the exhibition I went for a wander.

Out of character I'd stuck my 50mm lens on a DSLR body rather than take my Fuji with it's wider alternative. The town was pretty quiet and I was a bit pissed off. I did find the reflections of 'that bridge' worthy of some attention. I got one shot that is OK, but I should maybe have persevered.

There weren't even many dogs being walked, and I am trying to stick to one angle of view for that project, but once I'd got used to the change in viewing angle of the longer than usual lens I got a couple of shots. I still prefer using the wider lens, not only does it put more background into the frame it's surprising how people don't realise you are photographing them when you are up close.

Saturday was scheduled to be the brightest day for a while so I made plans to get out and about. While it was sunny at times it was also cold from a strong wind. As a result I spent more time driving than photographing. It was that wild even the Swaledale sheep, a hardy breed, were taking shelter. As another daft experiment I had taken my telephoto zoom and my neglected wide zoom. The wide zoom proved once more why it's neglected.

Closer to home, with the afternoon light lasting longer, I've managed to wander round the wood a couple of times. The first visit was not going well until I took a low viewpoint shot of the base of a tree. I'm not sure what struck my about this but something resonated. Continuing my wander I got teh idea of taking some low down pictures of the tree stumps in the wood. There seemed to be loads of them. But I wanted to do them 'properly' using the lowest ISO - which would mean a tripod!!

Rather than hump my big tripod and faff about setting it low I dug out my Gorillapod and remote release.

There were a few fungi about which I had a go at photographing. The results were as rubbish as ever when I photograph fungi. I have no idea why. Possibly a lack of a macro lens, or more probably a lack of genuine interest...

I didn't fare much better with the stumps. Firstly there weren't as many as I'd imagined there to be. Secondly the ones there were tended not to be easily separated from the background, had saplings sprouting next to them, or were obscured by undergrowth when viewed from the best position. My vision of a set of well isolated stumps made into a three by three grid of nine was thwarted. I should have known better than to pre-plan something.

In the end I settled for six far from ideal stumps. Ho hum.

Wednesday, 26 December 2018

Challenging weather

Glutton for punishment or up for a challenge?Probably the former in my case being someone who likes and easy life. I knew it would be overcast today, and I know that whatever the weather on the coastal plain the Pennines to the east will have something completely different. It was no surprise to see veils of mist rising from the valleys as I headed east. I was encouraged to see sunlight breaking through creating some very appealing lighting effects. However...

As I left the motorway and began to climb towards the sheep dog trial field the mist closed in, but not enough to obliterate all the wind farm from view. I pulled the car over and made some exposures. It didn't take me long and the mist began to clear. That spoiled what I had in mind for the pictures, but gave me hope for the sheep dogs.

Continuing onwards the mist descended once more. Thicker than ever. There was no sign of even a gentle zephyr to shift the stuff. On the positive side, it wasn't freezing fog! Fog isn't conducive to sheep dog trials, which meant there was a lot of standing about and talking going on.

The quad dogs were irresistible, and captive, subjects.

This being a charity open trial, and an annual social event, there was outdoor cooking taking place. Not your average barbecue, but what looked very much like a very home-made wood-fired oven cum grill cum hot plate. Call it what you will, the toasted sausage butty was great.

Eventually the fog lifted just enough for the sheep to be seen and the trial got going.

All the time the mist would clear a little, then descend again, then clear, then descend, then... This meant it could be hit or miss for the dogs. Some appeared to struggle to spot the sheep. I struggled to make any decent photos and was restricted to shooting only when the dogs were close.

Back home I chose not to boost the contrast on the action shots in order to preserve the misty feel. It is all too easy to add a bit of 'punch' to pictures which are taken under such conditions. If the aim was illustration, then that would be fine, but I hope my pictures convey some of the 'feel' of the day. Even if the subject matter is more of the same old stuff it provides a counterpoint to the pictures I took during the summer heatwave.

Photographing action like this continues to baffle me. This might be because I am always trying to keep my framing the way I want it. In turn this often means that the autofocus points are in the wrong place. I should probably use the most effective focus points and crop the pictures after the fact. But that goes against the grain for me. I'm also unsure of what would be the most appropriate lens for the job. Probably the most expensive one! It's also possible that a different camera body might work better. As I'm not doing this for a living I'll struggle on with what I've got!

As the focus points in the camera I was using are not close to the edge of the frame, and I often want the dog at the bottom of the picture, I tried shooting in crop mode. While this puts the edge of the frame closer to the focus array, it does make framing shots more tricky as only a thin line indicates in the viewfinder where the final frame ends. A mirrorless camera with its electronic viewfinder would be easier to use. And it would have focus points right up to the frame edge. Maybe one day I'll have another try at that sort of camera. Maybe not.

When the fog returned around noon it was time for the bonfire to be lit and the auction and raffle to commence.

Overall it was another day spent fishing and not catching very much. That's when taken in isolation. The thing with projects is that even one picture from a bad day might find its place in the final edit. So no day is totally wasted. The usual collection of pointless pictures can be seen here.

Friday, 21 December 2018

Tinsel and turkeys

I can't get enough of the Christmas spirit, which is why I fancied taking a look at a load of oven ready fowl being auctioned today. There were two advantages to this; it wouldn't require and early start, and it would be indoors. The latter was important as the weather was wet - yet again. I knew there wouldn't be much to photograph in some respects, but I had hopes for getting one or two festive looking pictures if I could work the tinsel and fairy lights in somehow.

For the sake of cussedness, I guess, I elected to eschew the comfort of a zoom lens and go with the 28/50/100mm trio. To my surprise I ended up suing the 100mm macro lens most, followed by the 50mm. Occasionally I wished I could have zoomed one or other of the lenses in or out a touch, but mostly I managed to move my feet to get the framing I wanted.

The light was not quite as challenging as usual because the red-glowing heaters weren't switched on (for the sake of the fowl), so getting a reasonable white balance was almost possible. I still had to do more processing than I like to get the out of focus tinsel to shine and glow.

Not much more to say apart from, here are a few pictures. First a scene setter, then some tinselly ones.

These and a few more here.

Wednesday, 19 December 2018


I think I tend to write this nonsense when I have nothing else to occupy my time of an evening as much as when I have something I want to think through.

Last Friday I had a chance to go in to town to get some stuff bought and the sun was shining. It was the sort of light that some street photographers seem to thrive on. I think that is because it makes for contrasty pictures with deep, dark shadows and any colour picked out brightly. The contrast makes for graphic pictures. Regardless of content or composition the results are superficially impressive. I was playing around with pre-focusing the lens on my Fuji and made few snaps. That's all they are, but I've seen worse passed off as 'street photography'!

It's all too easy to get seduced by the 'look' of a photograph and ignore the fact that it's really not that interesting a picture. That's the way 'filters' work on various digital imaging gadgets aimed at people who aren't photographers, or perhaps aren't visually educated.

As I didn't have much time I couldn't get into seeing better pictures and since then my time for using a camera has been limited by paying work. And by the usual weather conspiracy. There hasn't been much light at all some days, never mind 'interesting' light. When the sun has shone it's been at times when I've been tied up with something. Today was a case in point. The sun was out in the morning while I waited for the UPS van to arrive. It actually arrived sooner than I'd expected so I got prepared to go out with a camera. By the time I was ready the clouds had gathered and all was dull.

Thankfully the woods project doesn't demand bright sun light. As I am messing about with techniques I can live with noisy pictures, blurred pictures and other assorted 'defects'. I'm not aiming for technical perfection. It was during a visit to the wood on an overcast afternoon that I began looking up. The patterns of the now bare branches when silhouetted became ambiguous. With a little imagination they could look like dark river systems flowing through a snowy landscape seen from above. With a bit of manipulation of tones when converted to black and white these abstractions have something going for them. I've been making more since my first effort.
These are an offshoot of the main project, which continues as something exploratory. The less leteral pictures are the ones I'm finding most interesting. Although I'm really not sure if they, as a series, are any good. Nor am I all that sure of what I'm doing! They are not exactly documentary in nature and are more than a bit 'arty'... One thing is for sure. Restricting myself to using black and white when photographing in the wood is more productive than when I have shot in colour. I think the temptation with colour is to look for the usual woodland pictures of autumnal tints or translucent springtime leaves. Chocolate box fare.

When I eventually run out of steam with this project the really hard part will start. Editing the pictures into a series, probably a book. The only way I can think of doing this is to make small work prints and physically play around with them. For once I don't think working with images on a screen will cut it. Not sure why but I reckon it'll be easier to spot the weaker pictures that way.

Sunday, 9 December 2018

Cold hands, damp feet

That great bane of my photographic life, indecision, struck again yesterday. I knew the weather forecast was dire, and even worse for the moors, so had resigned myself to staying home out of the strong, chilling wind and in the dry. I had a parcel to collect and decided to take a walk for it. The weather wasn't too bad and it appeared to be brightening up. Back home I got the camera gear, wrapped myself up and took a chance. Fool.

It was brightening, and the weather was heading in the same direction as me. But it's another world in bandit country! First of all I got the wheels spinning as I looked for a parking spot on the hill. Then I realised that although I'd put my thick, wind resistant fleece on (to good effect) my fingerless gloves  were still in the pockets of my not-so warm fleece.

Technically I was trying a different set up. That lasted about a dozen frames before I ditched it. As it happened the post and pen were quite close to the line of vehicles meaning that 200mm was almost long enough. With the light being poor that was helpful as I could keep my aperture fairly wide. The angles available weren't great though. Time to get some scene setting pictures.

For a moment it looked like the sky was going to break up and some nice cloud formations materialise - along with some sunlight. It didn't last. I did manage to get a tiny patch of blue sky in the frame below. As I was concentrating on the overall framing of the shot and the trialling action I failed to spot the collie looking out of the back window of the Land Rover. A nice bonus.

Failing to spot things was my modus operandi. Why I didn't frame the shot below as it appears here I really don't know. Maybe my brain was cold, or maybe I grabbed it quickly while the dogs were looking at me. Although it still niggles, I am getting more relaxed about cropping my pictures. Just as well, because when it comes to action I find it very difficult to get framing spot on and focusing.

Black and white dogs are a bugger for getting exposures correct. Black sheep aren't much better. It's not so simple to keep detail in their fleeces without messing up the rest of the frame, especially when they are running on pale winter grass under a grey sky.

The break in they uniform greyness was short-lived and soon there was a wall of rain on its way. I managed to get my not-very-waterproof overtrousers on but the rain was blurring my already steamed up specs. Unable to tell if the blurry viewfinder was due to the state of my glasses or missed focus from the camera I felt like I was fighting a losing battle! Something black fleeces do well is show up rain. Unfortunately only really visible when the photos are seen larger.

There are times when pictures really aren't enough. I was chatting to a novice handler prior to her run (it was a nursery trial so the dogs are all inexperienced) and she said both her and the dog were nervous. At previous trials they hadn't done very well and hadn't completed a course. Today I saw quite a few get timed out. Even experienced handlers. Excuses abound such as the wind, the sheep, you name it!

Her dog was from the line of dogs bred by a friend of hers who is now in a home suffering from dementia and she is training the dog, and its sibling, in respect - sort of as a thank you, if you get my drift. The run took place during the sunny spell and went well with the sheep penned easily. The picture below shows the end of the run with dog round the back of the pen to drive the sheep back out. The handler was well chuffed and hoped that when she told her friend it would put a smile on his face. The dog wanted another go!

Despite frequently looking towards the west for a glimmer of light and hope I saw none. Things were not going to get better, weather-wise of photographically. It was time to admit defeat. My damp toes reminded me that I had ordered a pair of boots a couple of weeks ago. That seemed like a good excuse to leave before the trial was over and go collect them. While I was in the shop I picked up a second pair of fingerless gloves so I can leave one pair in each fleece. A small selection of pictures from the day can be seen here.

The forecast for Sunday was, naturally, far more pleasant. So much so that I took a walk along the canal. There is work being done on the lock to the river. Quite what I'm not sure, but the lock looks to be dammed and  there are pumps in place. The sheep on the bank between canal and field were on the move. Being herded towards the pen by the swing bridge. I only had my little camera with me so my options were limited. it should go without saying that where the canal was calm enough to reflect the sheep the background was industrial. Where the background was rural the canal was ruffled by the breeze. Another nice concept poorly executed.

Tuesday, 4 December 2018

More bad timing

Relying on the weather forecasts is not the best way to plan photographic outings. Mind you, looking out at the weather and guessing what it'll do isn't reliable either. A frosty dawn with a clearing sky seen through the window and a forecast of sunshine in the hills seemed ideal for a venture to the auction mart followed by a trip into the valley and/or the forest. Setting off it was looking promising with mist lit by a watery but bright sun. Nearing my first destination the mist thickened making the distant fells disappear along with the sun. Oh well.

The mart on sale day is a mix of the traditional and the modern. Moving sheep around the pens is something that has probably remained essentially the same since permanent marts were first built. The means by which the livestock is kept track of, on the other hand, is all done digitally these days. Laptops, tablets, electronically scanning of tags are the order of the day.

It being almost foggy outside the shed was even more dimly lit than usual, so I started off trying to make something of the light coming through the door.

However, damp wool in near zero air leads to mist rising from the sheep creating an interesting visual effect. Not one that I found easy to convey. Switching from the standard zoom to the superzoom for the compression it afforded helped exaggerate the mist. That the lens forced the ISO value upwards was not a big deal as any loss of detail would not be noticed as the misty air had a softening effect. I started shooting into the light, but then shot with it to heighten the effect. Neither really provided anything I was happy with as pictures. But I have a better idea how to approach a similar situation in future. Bright coming through the slats might have been nice. But you still need something as a subject to make a picture worth looking at - no matter how attractive or evocative the light is.

As the day slowly warmed the sheep stopped steaming and, hoping that the the sun might make a late break for freedom I headed to the valley. The mist had all but gone and the sun was still in hiding. Thinking that higher ground might provide a better chance of either sun or mist that was where I went next. Driving to the pass I saw a quad bike rounding up a flock of sheep and managed to find a pull in. By the time I had parked up and walked down the track I was just too late to grab any pictures.There wasn't much daylight left to go wandering so I jumped back in the car and carried on.

I got where I was intending to park and seek out some sheepscapes. Which path to take? Up the road or along the path? I chose the path. I'd just crossed a bridge when I heard another quad and saw it enter the field to my right. Retracing my steps I arrived back at the road in time to see the sheep being driven away from me. Just out of range for a decent picture. Twice in a few minutes I'd missed out on some potential pictures for the files. Oh well.

I carried on walking up the road, past the barn the sheep were now in, and found nothing worth of a photograph. I did take a few frames, but they are long gone now. Time to head for home.

The day was darkening and cooling, a gritter had sprayed me as I walked up the road earlier, and there was mist forming in the valleys and hollows. I stopped at one point - more in desperation than hope - where there was a hint of brightness. I managed to get some sheep in a couple of frames, but they weren't in teh right place. The result is a near miss rather than a success. I reminder of what might be possible at some point. It had been a  pleasurable but rather frustrating day or 'might have beens'

Monday, 26 November 2018

Time for a cull?

I'm trying to build up the courage to part with a load of lenses. To fight the feeling that I need to be able to cover all focal lengths so I can deal with any subject in any situation. The feeling needs fighting because I'm convinced that I make better pictures when my focal length range is limited to 28mm at the widest and under 200mm at the longest. I didn't miss the ultrawide zoom when I got rid of it, and I don't use it's not-quite-so-wide replacement. I could easily replace that with a single focal length. The trouble is that just like that box full of stuff in the garage that might come in handy some day, even though it hasn't come in handy for ten years, it's difficult to get rid!

As part of my therapy I take a single focal length lens out on my local walks, either to the Post Office and back or round the woods. The lens varies from day to day, but is always within my comfort zone.

When it comes to developing a visual style to your pictures I think this limitation is a good thing. It forms a way of looking for pictures. One of my long time ways of looking is for grid-like patterns. I saw one on a shed I have walked past loads of times down by the canal last week. I couldn't have replicated the picture the following day because there was a van parked in front of the building. Another reminder to take pictures when you see them instead of waiting until the light is 'better'.

With winter almost officially upon us it's turned colder of late. That made me wonder about going to a sheep dog trial on Saturday. The weather forecast was less than promising on the sunshine front, which would limit me for photographing the action with a longer lens. My options are 400mm at f5.6, or 200mm at f2.8. The latter to be used on an APS sensor with less than great high ISO performance.

After breakfast there was a hint of the clouds breaking up, and in the direction the wind was coming from, which happened to be the cold, cold, east. As hill country is east of me I took a chance. For once I was heading to brighter skies as I climbed into bandit country.

In addition to the longer zoom I had my standard zoom on a second body. I still find the wide end a bit too wide at 24mm. The difference between that and 28mm is trivial on paper, but I find it quite marked in practice.

My first move on arriving at the venue, which was the same one I had visited back in January when I had my first experience of sheep dog trials, was to walk up to the release pen. I'd taken some prints with me from back then and was pleased to be remembered by the two chaps letting the sheep out. I passed the prints over to one of them. The wind was as biting as it had been earlier in the year but this time I was on the right side of the wall where it was a bit more sheltered.

I'm not sure why, but I still prefer photographing sheep dogs rounding up the sheep to take them  to the release pen. They're doing what they were originally bred for. Something I heard being moaned about later in the day - that it's hard to get a real working dog any more.

Somehow or other border collies have it in their genes to be fixated on sheep. even when the woolly bleaters are a long way off collies will stare at them and follow their every move. At the Nidderdale show I watched to sit entranced by the sheep on the trial field, their heads swivelling like those of the crowd on Wimbledon's centre court, while the lurcher their owner also had was sniffing around the grass oblivious to the existence of sheep.

One picture I wanted to get was of sheep being released. It wasn't easy and I didn't get 'the' picture, but I did get one that is OK for now. This lot of sheep were well trained, or had good noses, as they needed no help to find their way to the starting post. The trough of 'provin' at the post might have had something to do with that.
After spending some time up the hill I made my way down to the more sheltered lower ground where the usual line of vans and trucks was in evidence near the handler's post, the judge's truck parked in line with the post. As chance would have it the light improved after I got lower down and there was even some afternoon sunshine. Albeit at a slightly awkward angle.

With it being dry and reasonably warm the entrants weren't sat in their vehicles, which gave me a chance to get a few photos. I should have taken a few more. I liked the sheep-fixated dogs in the two pictures below.

Photographing the action is something I still find problematic. It's deciding which of the three elements - handler, dog, sheep - is the one to have in sharpest focus. When they are all on, or close to, the same plane as can be the case at the pen it's not a problem. But when there is more going on then they can be quite some distance apart. If I was a sheep dog trial journalist then I guess I would always focus on the dog. But I'm not. I'm as interested in the people. Maybe more so.

Even at the pen there are challenges. It can make for static pictures, which have their place such as when the sheep are being particularly stubborn. It's good when movement can be implied, as in the frame below where the sheep are leaning, about to make a break for it. The dog's pose suggest action too. If the handler's stance had been more animated it would have made it a much better picture.

Something similar applies to catching a dog setting off for the start of its run. Getting a good shot of that is pure chance. It is for me! There's no clue as to when the signal will be made, and freezing the dog in the ideal shape is a matter of luck, even with a fast frame rate. This next frame is one of my better efforts so far. But again, the human is a bit too static.

If I was taking photos in a commercial capacity I guess it would be a case of making sure I got shots of each competitor and each dog regardless of how good or bad the pictures were. That seems to be the way that 'event' photographers work be they attending a dinner dance or a horse show. That approach maximises their chances of making a sale to as many attendees as possible. I suppose it earns a crust, but it must be mind-numbing if you really like making pictures. Thankfully I'm not doing that so I can wander away from the action and try to make 'landscape' pictures with tiny figures in them.

With the days being short and it being a nursery trial for inexperienced dogs which often didn't complete the course the trial was soon over, or so it seemed. All that remained was for the winners to be decided and the prizes handed out. More pics here.

Although I might not have learned many lessons while taking the photographs I learned one on the technical side back home on the computer. The smaller sensor camera is not up to use at ISOs over 2000. Not compared to the larger, more modern, sensor I've become used to. I'd be as well using that and cropping as using the smaller sensor. Much as I dislike cropping my pictures when it comes to distant action it's a cheaper option than purchasing either a more recent small sensor body or a longer lens. In the summer the smaller sensor was fine, but gloomy winter days show its weaknesses.

As the small sensor body is 'well used' and cost me peanuts I'll hang on to it. It's actually not bad for photographing chickens with a flash gun! One of the reasons I got the not-quite-ultrawide zoom was to use on the crop sensor body as a standard zoom. I'll not be doing that so another good reason to move that lens on. The really tricky lens decision is my trusty superzoom. Since using the 70-200 more and more I'm growing to approve of it at last. But... It doesn't go to 300 and focus close.

Small steps. Get rid of the least/never used lenses first, trying not to replace them with more oddities - there's this old 28-200 I've seen mentioned. Then make a decision about a second cull. I remember getting rid of the 150-500 and 14-24 were both quite liberating experiences as I no longer felt I had to use them to take pictures which weren't really in my style. The trouble now is that my focal length range has narrowed, but I have more lenses doubling up within that range. I really don't need four lenses that do almost the same job!