Saturday, 27 January 2018

An interesting experiment

Today I was determined to push my luck and try the new camera out in anger at a new location. A show and auction of sheep. I actually set out with three cameras. The new one fitted with a lens attachment which gives it a field of view similar to 50mm on full frame, my good compact which has a field of view like a 28mm lens and a 'proper' camera with the hated 85mm lens. When I got to the auction mart there was also a poultry sale on. I can't escape chickens!

 As I expected the 85mm lens got the least use. Why this focal length doesn't agree with me I really don't know, but it doesn't. That said I did make a couple of pictures I like with it. So perhaps I need to persevere. The 28mm equivalent didn't get much use either, but a lot of that is down to the camera being slow to focus which results in too many missed shots. When it does focus I like the results and got one picture with it that I like because it only 'works' when you really look at it. Once again I was trying to make pictures which have a lot of different things happening in them. Something most people seem to avoid. Probably for good reason as simple pictures catch the eye. But look at a painting by Breughel , for example, and you really have study them to see all the little incidents taking place.

 This isn't to say I don't go for simple too. You need variety in a set of pictures. Then again. most people aren't trying to make sets of pictures.

The big revelation for me was that I used the 50mm  field of view most of the time and didn't feel hampered. Well, not too often did I wish I'd got a zoom lens on the camera. A few times I unscrewed the additional lens and used the camera at its native 35mm equivalent field of view. If it had a 28-50 zoom lens that would be ideal!

There were handling niggles. I can't seem to work out if the new camera can be set up to use back button focusing like I am used to with my DSLRs. I got annoyed by having to refocus after every shot when using the recompose technique. So much so I switched to manual focus as a means of locking the focus off centre.

Even at its smallest size the focus point is a bit big and can miss the subject at times, which ballsed up two pictures which would have made the grade.

Other than that I managed to work with the machine quite well. I do like how quiet it is to use. Which is good, but possibly not as important as I imagine, when shooting candidly close up. using misdirection like magicians do works well too.

It was a fun way to spend some time shooting an interesting subject and getting used to the camera, and I think it's got me going on a new project. I tried a few ideas out and although I didn't get any worthwhile pictures from them I have confidence they can be used to advantage in the future.

On the computer it was revealing to compare the files. There is no doubt that a full frame sensor is best for low light. And by some way. Of the two 'crop' sensor cameras I still think I prefer the Nikon over the Fuji, but this Fuji seems to produce nicer looking colours than the last one I had. For most purposes I reckon it's usable up to ISO 6400 provided the exposures are spot on. Detail does get lost at high ISOs, but only when pixel peeping. I rarely make pictures which depend on their fine detail anyway. As a 'small' camera it's proving up to the job so far.

Obligatory gallery here. I can't tell which photos are out of which camera!

Wednesday, 24 January 2018

It's never black and white

It eventually stopped raining on Monday and rather than go fishing as it was blowing a gale I took my cameras for a run out in search of sheepy subjects. That was my excuse, I just wanted to cure my cabin fever really. Of course the closer I got to hill country the closer I got to rain. That meant I kept on driving rather than stopping to get wet. By the time I was in foreign lands the sun was trying to break out.

Motoring up the dale (what them foreigners call a valley...) I saw, but couldn't take, a good sheep picture. A line of ewes walking along a ridgeline with a buzzard holding on the wind in front of them. When I got to Bentham I saw and just missed another picture because the rain had returned and my camera was in my jacket pocket. I was a second or two too late to catch the disembodied phone taking a photograph of a for sale advert. It almost works as it is, but not quite.

I wandered around the village for a while snapping away taking touristy shots mainly to carry on the bonding process with the X100T. I think it performs a little better in terms of colour when the sun shines.

I took a new route back into and over the forest. A bleak old road in places. There was still snow and ice lying in places the sunshine hadn't reached. Up on the tops I braved the icy wind with a proper camera and an old duffer of a lens. Even a tripod would have been unsteady in the wind up there, so I'm content with my hand-held attempt at a landscape picture.

As is often the case I got sucked into looking at some photographer or other's landscape tutorial video last night. When I compared the footage of him at work with his final pictures it was pretty damned obvious that they were quite heavily manipulated. Increasing saturation and contrast seems to be what is required these days. Yet it's a look I fin hard to take. I'm not the only one - I'll stick with my 'documentary landscapes'.

Today I had some unexpected free time and after playing around with the X100T indoors I made the bold move of going out with it on its own. When stuck for ideas it has to be the beach.

More a case of playing with the camera than making pictures. Back home I found myself making black and white conversions again. What my day out had begun to hint at was that I still prefer the colours from my 'proper' cameras. I really can't put my finger on why, or what the differences are. But I do sense some. Particularly when the light level isn't great and the ISO goes up. Hence the removal of colour.

At the beach I tried to deliberately overexpose some shots to try and progress the idea which started with an accident. As all too often happens, trying to replicate a happy accident failed.

Every time I use the little Fuji it feels like using a film camera. As an experience it's enjoyable, which probably explains why a lot of old timers like these cameras. That's all well and good, but there are practical advantages to a 'proper' camera. They have evolved to be used quickly and fluidly. These imitation rangefinders aren't like that. I have my proper cameras set up so I can take a single frame or a slow burst without making any alterations to the controls. I can swap focus modes without diving into the menus. Things like that. Most of all the two custom setting modes are a really big advantage.

Still, the X100T is far less annoying to use than the toy cameras I swapped for it. Time will tell if I can live with the files. What I noticed with my previous venture into Fujiland was that when printed the colours were acceptable. It was on screen that they grated a bit. And print is where it counts. Hopefully I'll get a chance to use the thing for some people photography at the weekend. That will be the acid test as far as I'm concerned. It's small size and near silent operation should (in theory) be less attention grabbing than a proper camera with a mahoosive lens. We'll see...

Thursday, 18 January 2018

Testing, testing. 1, 2, 3.

The weather has been the bane of my life recently. A lack of subject matter close to home has stopped me making use of what short breaks there have been in the rain/cold/wind (delete as applicable). All in all it's just made me want to stop in and vegetate. I have managed to nip out a time or two but mostly to play around, fruitlessly, with the new small camera. I do like using it, but it's fixed lens is more suited to getting in close with people than photographing sheep! still I have managed to test out the technical properties of its files, which are good enough for me. There's a surprising amount of leeway with the dynamic range.

On that same outing I took the upmarket compact I use as my back-up camera when fishing. It produces rather good results but suffers from sluggish focusing, which makes it a bit hit and miss for photographing people doing stuff. It lacks a viewfinder too, which is a bit of a pain.

Hoping to be taking a new direction with a project I thought it was time to wean myself off my do-it-all lens and get something a little longer. I toyed with seeking out a longer zoom but settled instead for a teleconverter to use with my much neglected 70-200. The TC arrived today, another wet and gloomy day, and I tested it for focus accuracy through a grubby window. It passed.

I guess that the results might not be super-sharp, but they're sharp enough for me. Especially given the ridiculously high ISO. That exaggerated sharpness I see in a lot of digital photography continues to bug me anyway. With lenses of a longer than average focal length there is always a temptation to photograph birds. This is something I must try to avoid. Unless I can find a way to make an 'alternative' kind of project out of it.

While I was playing around to see how slow a shutter speed I can get away with using the extended lens I gave in to temptation and photographed the sky. Plenty of photographers have done this over the years, some producing books of sky photographs. There must be a reason why cloudscapes appeal to us. Here's hoping the weather picks up to perk me up and I can move forward with my ideas.

Saturday, 6 January 2018

Nosey and knackered

Research comes in two guises. Easy and hard. The easy stuff can be done sat in front of a computer screen. There's hardly a subject you can't find out about on-line. So I knew there are sheepdog trials held most weekends through the winter, and finding out roughly where they are was a cinch. But that isn't all there is to research. There comes a point when you have to get out there and look.

Having a rough idea where to find a trial going on today I made sure I had a backup plan. Two in fact. One was to look at some wind turbines, the other to wander round a reservoir. If all plans failed I was sure I'd find some sheep in the vicinity. Plan A was to park in a car park then go look for the sheepdogs.

Thinking I was a fair way off I started by following a footpath sign pointing to the moor where the turbines are. If nothing else I might spy the trials from up top.For once luck was on my side and no sooner had I ascended some steps through a copse than I saw sheep being herded by a dog. By pure chance I'd stumbled on the trial field!

The path ran along a stone wall to a point where the sheep were being released. I stopped and had a chat with the people in charge of the sheep pen then decided I might as well carry on upwards. This was not altogether a great idea. The path was almost vertical and I'm not as fit as I could be. I was grateful for the fence posts as I climbed ever upwards. After a sit down and half a slice of chocolate flapjack I had a wander round the top of the hill.

The sky was far from interesting and I think an hour later might have improved the light. for me photographing turbines is all about ending up with the blades in positions which 'work'. I could spend hours trying for the perfect arrangement. But my impatience always gets the better of me. Any frames where a blade is lined up with the mast is an instant deletion. Other than that it's a case of gut instinct. It's pretty much impossible to try and time a shot, especially when there are multiple turbines in the frame. It has to be a case of framing and then rattling off a few shots. The 'skill' comes in the editing. By which I mean selecting which frame/s to keep and which to bin.

While I was up there I remembered the advice about making photo essays I'd heard recently on Youtube. Advice which I've read before. Start with an establishing shot. What better than a view of a sheepdog trial from above? I used the stone wall as a partial framing device. On its own the picture is pretty meaningless, but in the context of a picture essay it might work.

Something else I read on-line this week was bemoaning how today's documentary photographs are all about the content and the form (the author mentioned the A word...) is neglected or not even considered. What this really boils down to is a lack of thought about framing, which also involves thinking about viewpoint. I don't have a problem with 'ill considered snapshots' They have their place as far as I'm concerned. Even when they are 'art'. When a snapshot is deliberately taken it isn't a snapshot. The distinction is that a choice has been made.

When trying to do a little more than say 'this is what I saw', however, then a different framing choice has to be made. If you are trying to say 'this is what it looked and felt like' you have to consider how the elements are arranged within the frame's limits, and all those little things like gesture and shadow.
Had the right hand dog on the quad bike been in a more clear 'doggy' profile the picture below would have been much better. It was in the next frame, but in that one everything else had gone to cock!

After a tricky descent I got to chatting with the sheep controllers. An oft repeated reason for people becoming photographers is that they are nosey, and having a camera with them allows them to be nosey. I think this is true for me. I'm just plain inquisitive. A camera not only allows me to explore how inanimate things look, but also to learn about subjects from people who know them well.

This is another aspect of research where reading isn't as good as doing. There's lots of information about sheep, sheep keeping and so on, but people who have a day to day relation with sheep have a different outlook to the text books. I'd never read that Lonks don't fatten up quickly because they are 'big and dumb'! Apparently they waste effort when grazing by taking a bit here, wandering a few yards and taking another bite, and so on. That said, their tight fleeces are ideally suited to the wet Pennine hills where they originate from. Cheviots are difficult to herd because they are always looking for escape routes. I learned a few dog training tricks too. Photographs cannot convey the whole story.

When it comes to gesture, a snatched shot can sometimes work. Quite why I think the next picture works I really don't know. There is lots wrong with it. The one thing I always have to keep reminding myself about when framing shots quickly is to keep the main subject away from the centre of the frame. To let the rest of it, the space, add to the story telling. And I must stop worrying about my shadow being in shot...

I managed to remember the off centre message when I took the shot below. The man and dog are the main subject, but the sheep are part of the story and the woodwork helps lead the eye. I know you aren't supposed to have people looking out of the frame, but them rules is made to be broken.

You can't leave a sheepdog trial without a picture of sheep being herded by a dog. With all the unpredictability involved there is only one thing to do. Had the sheep been on a level field it would have been much harder to make a half-decent picture, but the slope served a similar purpose to shooting from an elevated position. Very handy - and the sun came out at the right moment.

It goes without saying I couldn't resist a sheepy portrait or two. Backlit sheep ears are very photogenic.

I shall try to resist the temptation to look at photographs of sheepdog trials before I go to another one...