Sunday, 29 April 2018

I give up

It was a tough call where to go yesterday with two auctions and a sheepdog trial to consider. I plumped for the livestock auction of rare breeds - mostly sheep. This proved to be interesting from a seeing unusual breeds point of view, but depressing photographically. Maybe it was a lack of 'action', my mood, or possibly a realisation that there I can't find a way to photograph auctions which isn't the same as the way everyone else does it. Perhaps that's because I've seen too many pictures of auctions? Spending more time might lead me to seeing more unusual stuff. There's always something that catches my eye, even if it doesn't say 'auction'.

Closing in on details like lot number tags could be the way forward. That brings technical challenges of selecting the right lens to use in the inevitably gloomy light.

Close ups of 'characters' is a trope of this sort of event. I try to include them as elements of a bigger scene. My ideal is people and animals in the same frame doing interesting stuff, or making interesting shapes, which add up to a picture which works. Mostly I either fail or mess up.

Every now and then I get an idea with some promise. And as usual fail to make it work.

Because I couldn't get in the groove I left early and took a circuitous route home. Along the way I spotted a roadside hogg hole to add to the slowly growing collection.

I stopped at a couple of places for a wander and found something interesting at one of my stop-off points. The pictures didn't work out any better than those I took of sheep on the hills. After taking a hasty right turn on seeing a Welcome to Yorkshire sign ahead I found myself passing the very sight I thought had died out. Moles strung out on barbed wire. A few not so good shots had to be made.

So that was it. Back home to delete most of the photos I'd taken as the end to a rather dispiriting day following an evening of enthusiasm planning the auction mart project.

Tuesday, 24 April 2018

Let there be rain...

It couldn't last, and it didn't. Fearing the worst I decided to go fishing on Friday night as there was rain due over the weekend. The fishing was poor so I messed about with my fishing cameras when the sun began to rise. Both have good features and bad. The one with the zoom has great controls but is sluggish to focus and has poor low light performance. The one with the fixed lens has a great sensor but poor controls and is equally slow to focus. If only there was a compact camera which did everything right. But then the manufacturers would never sell any top end DSLRs.

Every time I make a landscape picture I like I can't help but think that 99% of the task is being in the right place at the right time. The technicalities are pretty darned basic. The subject ain't going anywhere so there's plenty of time to get them right.

Nice as they are to look at the majority of landscapes are little more than wallpaper. The shot above is currently my computer screen's desktop picture. I'll be tired of it soon enough and swap it for something similarly vacuous.

Sunday was sunnier for longer than predicted and I managed to find some sheep in the evening. The clouds soon rolled in and put paid to the photography though. So not much was gained from the exercise.

I did manage to find a mule which posed quite patiently for me while the sun was out. As per usual out of the many exposures I made the frame which had the most satisfying was the only one which was slightly out of focus. The next best is below. Strangely, after looking at it one and off for a few days it seems to have improved. Or maybe I've forgotten what the better one looked like?

Apart from the evening light helping the picture I was able to get into a perfect position without having to either bend my knees or lay on the ground. Shooting from slightly below sheep, and no doubt other animals, makes them look more impressive. As this one was stood on top of a flood bank my task was easy. This viewpoint also tends to put the sky as background, which is good for 'portraits' when it is blue, and because it is far away the clouds go pretty much out of focus no matter how small the aperture of the lens is. Lots of the sheep in focus and much less of the background. Another bonus.

Whether or not a picture of a sheep dropping with dung flies on it will prove useful for inclusion in a sheep project, I'm not sure. But I have one now!

Sure enough the sunny spell didn't last and rain returned after the weekend. Today I got the urge to make some prints, which necessitated a trip to town to pick up some ink. I didn't hang around but the X100T got a damp outing. There were few dogs being walked, but plenty of umbrellas getting an airing. Every once in a blue moon I get lucky, and the shot I see forming before me gets 'spoiled' by something better. Maybe not much better, but people's faces are more interesting in photographs than the backs of their heads. Although it was the umbrella which had initially caught my eye the woman stopping and turning just as I clicked the shutter and the passing cyclist made something more interesting happen. At least it suits my ideas of loose compositions in street photography having more life than the cleverly composed shots which a lot of people aim for - go in search of even.

And finally... After a winter when it was hardly fit to visit the beach I've abandoned my Beach Life project. I might pick it up again later in the year, but I doubt it. So this is about it.

Thursday, 19 April 2018

Let there be sunlight!

The lack of motivation continued. I'm sure due to the relentlessly dour and depressing weather. An enforced visit to town on a rainy day saw me snapping aimlessly with the little camera. I seem to haev a quite a few photographs of umbrellas in my archive. It could become something to concentrate on when the rain falls.

The following day was supposed to be warm and sunny. It was warmer and briefly sunny. I stopped off at the sandplant, which hadn't changed much from last time. It looks like the work is pretty much done on tidying it up. Can I face putting my pictures from there into some sort of order? Probably not!

The weather continued to fail in meeting expectations. A dry afternoon turned showery when I visited the marsh. However, I did get to add a sheep's skull to my collection of both photographs and found objects.

What I always seem to find with small cameras is that on overcast days they don't render landscape colours the way I like. And I can't get them right on the computer either. I also find that they can be too sharp for my taste. I don't know what it is. There seems to be too much detail, with too sharp edges. maybe there's some unknown trickery going on in the firmware.

With no clear aim in my head I have been trying, once more, to bond with 85mm as a focal length. I've done this by sticking the lens on a body and taking nothing else. It's kinda working. But the bloody thing will never focus close enough for me.

Yesterday the weather did as it was told. Later than I should have, and without planning for food and drink, I set off in the heat and bright sun for the forest. I had nothing in mind, just wanted to get out and clear my head. All I did was park up at a few spots and photograph stuff close to the road. It was just practice really.

I wasn't brave enough to risk the 85, but did resist the temptation of the superzoom. Which meant that I saw lots of faraway things that might have made pictures. Like sheep with lambs.

The making of great pictures isn't always important. record shots have their value, but even those can be lifted above simply snappery with a little thought. Trying to include some context and detail helps a documentary picture even if it's something and nothing.

Sometimes I just can't get things right. This barn, or rather these two barns, have seen me before. I know the picture I want to make, but never quite manage it. The first one below has the closest barn breaking the skyline. Which is good. Unfortunately because of the focal length the distant barn is rather insignificant in the frame. The viewpoint needs to be further back and the focal length longer to provide more compression.

Unfortunately at 85mm the topography put me too high and the closest barn no longer breaks the horizon. Ideally I'd prefer a longer focal length too. I should have taken the superzoom, and knelt down...

It's a few years since I first visited this barn, but there were the remains of a sheep inside. This time was a repeat. I doubt it is the same sheep, though.

By the time I had done at the barn I was regretting my lack of planning and hunger decreed that the last few hours of daylight would have to be ignored as I headed home for food and drink. At least  an afternoon in the sunshine cheered me up and got me planning some proper, focussed, sessions in the near future.

Sunday, 8 April 2018

Situation normal

This morning I processed yesterday's pictures in colour. Despite thinking I liked the black and whites, I find the colour ones more to my liking. Certainly those where the white balance isn't all over the shop. In future I shall restrict my use of monochrome to places where every picture has mixed lighting temperatures, and when I want to be 'arty'. So nothing much has changed!

I must admit that I should really try to remember to set a custom white balance in lighting situations such as the auction sale ring. Two things hold me back. I forget, and I can never remember how to do it...

Something interesting happened when I'd processed all the files. I made a different selection for a gallery to that which I made with the black and white pictures. even though I was selecting from the same batch of images. Not wildly different, but different enough - here.

After lunch I ventured out to look for the promised sunshine and sheep. Sheep I found, lambs indeed, but the sunshine didn't show itself until I'd given up and had the kettle on back home. While motherly ewes are protective of their offspring and take them away from the first sign of unknown humans (mostly), lambs are inquisitive. They'll stand and stare at you for long enough to get plenty of shots of them. With no blue sky for a background I wasn't able to make any decent pictures from my favoured low vantage point of lambs on an old flood bank.

One ewe was quite confiding and didn't rush away from me. She still refused to strike any photogenic poses though. At least one more shot added to me 'square sheep' sorta-project.

Saturday, 7 April 2018

Breaking my own rules

Quite where my aversion to the contemporary use of black and white photography has come from, I'm not sure. In part at least it's probably a result of reading about how documentary photography changed from black and white to colour in the 1980s, or thereabouts. Partly, also, from years of shooting colour for slide shows and magazines. Not least because it seems to me that black and white doesn't tell the whole story. When I look at old monochrome photographs these days I find myself wondering what colours things were.

Having spent much of today at the photography auction with my cameras set to black and white (shooting raw so I maintain colour originals but see a black and white preview on the screen) I have realised why some people eschew colour photography. It makes it much easier to make photographs. It simplifies the composition process. It's more graphic and less visually confusing.

It was purely by chance that I started using black and white. I'm not in the habit of checking every frame I take on the back of the camera. In fact much of the time I don't review shots straight away. That's why it took me some time to realise I had the white balance set to 'cloudy'. All the pictures were orange! When I switched back to auto white balance something made me swap to black and white too. probably the contrasty lighting.

What I did find myself doing was making pictures like the ones I used to make when I shot HP5. I was thinking more of making standalone images than pictures which would work together to tell the story. Even so I managed to put a small gallery together - here.

While black and white eliminates the horrible white balance issues in the sale ring, some of the pictures I took only make proper sense in colour.

Although I was mostly using a 'proper' camera I also had the Fuji with me. Yet more inattention to detail saw me ruin a load of shots with that camera. I'd forgotten it was set to electronic shutter. This didn't matter in the big shed where the lighting is a mix of natural and tungsten. In the sale ring there is a crazy mix of lighting, which includes fluorescent. Electronic shutters and fluorescent tubes can result in dark horizontal bars across each frame. That's exactly what happened. A couple of decent pics were ruined. Bugger.

I took the scenic route home. Despite the rain having abated, the dreaded white sky was back in evidence.

Friday, 6 April 2018

Old gate, no gate, 'new' gate

Thanks to my mania for photographing things over and over and over I can now reveal the story of the missing gate. The gate had been removed for repainting. And in the process it had the sign moved. That's it. No mystery!

Sunday, 1 April 2018

Laid up

It's been difficult for me to get out and about this last month or more. If it wasn't the Beast from the East making it unpleasant to be out, and closing roads in sheep country, it was the bug I contracted which immobilised me for the best part of three weeks. By the time I felt like moving around the weather had turned bad again. It's only in the last week I've felt like getting out with a camera when the weather took a turn for the better. But with nothing in mind to photograph the results have been poor.

I've been on the hunt for lambs, it being springtime. But the poor little things are living in mud and are far from photogenic. Not that I've managed to spot any when the sun has been shining. I've had to settle for sheep that haven't lambed. Not that I've managed anything worthwhile on that front.

On the days the sun has shone when I've been out the sheep have avoided me. When stuck for a subject recording 'stuff' passes the time.

Recently a barn owl has been making frequent appearances over the field behind my house. barn owls being corpuscular this means light levels are low. The owl also tends to stay well away from my back fence. At least it does when I have a camera in my hands. This results in noisy pictures of a far off bird. In the spirit of 'fixing it in post' I take the opposite path to most photographers. Instead of improving the image quality I degrade it. Convert to monochrome, add more grain in an attempt to add atmosphere. I'm not sure if it succeeds.

No need for computer trickery to add atmosphere when it's misty. Of course I left it a little too late to go out in the fog. By the time I got anywhere I might have made some interesting pictures the sun had burned the mist away. So I was stuck with this. At least I can add it to my file of gate pictures. Where the gate has gone, remains to be seen.

Coincidentally, not long after making the misty picture I read a blog post praising the 'dehaze' feature in Lightroom. It's some sort of contrast boosting feature that saves you using a combination of the other features to get a similar effect. I avoided using too much contrast or clarity in the misty picture because it stopped looking misty. The before and after shots used in the blog post shared that trait. To my eyes the un-dehazed picture looked more interesting than the treated on. Sure the dehazed version had more punch. But the scene hadn't been punchy, it had been hazy. Photography is getting dumbed down through a combination of digital trickery and lack of understanding. It's that bloody 'wow factor' again. I shall continue to refrain from giving my pictures punch!

It being Eastertide I was loathe to leave home today. But the lull in the biting winds and hints of sun tempted me out. last week I'd been reading a book about the derelict farmsteads on the localish moors. It explained to me what the piles of stones I've seen over the years are. I thought I'd go and revisit a couple armed with my newfound knowledge. Once moor the light thwarted me. Although making pictures of moss covered rubble isn't easy no matter what the light is like.

White skies are the bane of any sort of landscape photography, perhaps with the exception of minimalist themes. However, modern sensors capture more detail in such skies than the eye perceives. The problem is recovering that detail in a way which looks 'right'. It's all too easy to end up with a landscape that is in colour and a sky filled with black and white clouds. It's a look that is quite common these days. It's awful. I prefer the white sky. Also, if the sky is darkened too much it simply looks 'wrong' The sky is always brighter than the land.

Being stuck indoors has given me time to read and to think. The former is good. I'm not so sure about the thinking bit though! A friend leant me a book by one of the celebrity shepherds a few weeks back. It clarified some thoughts I've had. Twitter and Instagram are giving alls sorts of subcultures a chance to expose their worlds to the general public with their own photographs. This could be seen to negate the need for 'real' documentary photographers to cover such subjects. Subcultures have long been a source for documentary photographers. Are they now out of a job? I think not. If anything I reckon they are needed more than ever.

In the shepherd's book, mostly his own phone photographs interspersed with brief notes, he makes the point that people (by which I assume he means the non-farming folk who follow him on Twitter) don't want to see dead sheep. This is self-censorship, or (more acceptably?) self-curation. It fits Martin Parr's view that "all photography is propaganda". A documentary photographer would, again I assume, photograph dead sheep.

This has given me encouragement to stick at photographing subjects which seem to be well photographed. I guess it's about having faith that one's own 'vision' is capable of spotting the unexpected, the unusual, the stuff that is kept hidden. Not necessarily in order to expose the unacceptable. Just to record the facts. That's what a document is at it's best - a record without comment. Although there is always the element of interpretation on behalf of the photographer and the viewer. There is also no guarantee that pictures are used without comment. They can be appropriated and have a twisted interpretation placed upon them. It's a muddy area. Photographs are not innocent.