Tuesday, 29 May 2018

Summer starts here

The other week at the bantam society show I was offered a free entry to the first localish agricultural show of the summer. In return for taking some photographs. That was the price I had to pay. Still, I was going anyway. The trouble with a 'gig' is that you have to produce what the punters want. So I was prepared to take some shots of the presentation and to get some shots of the judging and of thronging crowds admiring the poultry. I hope I got away with that side of things. At least thee shots are in focus and reasonably well exposed!

I'm not sure if it was the heat but I didn't seem to be able to find my groove with the poultry. Although I did get a couple of additions to the files. One of the inspection of birds on arrival and one at the end of the day as people queued for their prize money. One chap was eager and got in before the rush to pick up his £1.

As well as the poultry tent I wanted to hang around the sheep pens. Unfortunately they were as far apart on the showfield as possible. This meant me getting even hotter walking back and forth and standing around in the open being thankful I wasn't wearing a thick fleece like some of the sheep.

The sheep gave me some new opportunities. Having arrived before opening time I was there while sheep were being unloaded and titivated prior to the judging. I still didn't make the most of the opportunity though. There can be quite a bit of last minute preparation. Horns to be oiled legs to be whitened. I'm not sure what 'fleece fix' is, but I imagine it to be some kind of hairspray!

Looking out for unusual angles, as much as for unusual things, is what keeps the mind active at events where a lot is happening. They don't always work, but can give a basis for improvement at a later date.

Another thing to look out for is the comedy element. Being ready for it and acting quickly enough to get a well framed a picture is a challenge. I just about managed with the impromptu sheep wrestling display, but missed the lamb juggling by a mile

A reluctant Lonk was less of a challenge. 

Being a Lancastrian I've developed a respect for Lonks. They make those smiling Swaledales and grinning Herdwicks look like softies. Derbyshire Gritstones are almost as tough. Not just hardy sheep, they're proper 'ard sheep!

As usual, whenever someone on Talk Photography mentions Martin Parr (as someone did in relation to his Chelsea Flower Show photos on the Guardian site) there is a volley of derision in response. They're just snapshots. Anyone on TP could have done better. Etc.

With this in mind I spent my time walking between my two mainplaces of interest deliberately looking for the Parresque and trying to imitate his style. And he does have a style. The things I noted were that seeing Parr-type subjects isn't all that easy, having the bottle to take the photos is harder, and that I have a different way of both seeing subjects and framing my shots. If I had spent the whole of my time wandering the showfield I might have managed to get a reasonable crop of pictures. I spent around six hours with a camera in hand, coming home with 577 frames (many were deleted on site). Regardless of imitating Parr or doing my own thing I still didn't manage too many decent pictures. Plenty of 'fillers' and scene setters, but not many 'good ones'. I even had to crop one...

 Possibly my most Parresque below.

Of course there was ample scope for the pictures of characters. One of the poultry judges fitted that bill. But I try to resist the temptation for such easy pickings.

While I can't fault the images from my superzoom lens I did find it frustrating at times. I was also very aware that it's long focal length makes it easy to stay away from the 'action'. This has a distancing effect on the pictures. But for some pictures the compression it provides to images is beneficial. I'm toying with reverting to a shorter zoom for the next show. Or even going back to my two fixed focal length approach - with a couple of others in the bag. Then again I have a feeling that a 28mm on one body and a 70-300mm on the other and a 20mm in the bag would see me right. If my 70-200mm didn't weigh a ton I'd give that a go. If it was my main lens I wouldn't bother about the weight, but it would be the secondary lens. Oh for the days when I only had a 50mm lens.

A mixed bag of sheep, poultry, dogs and people can be seen in the not-as-good-as-Martin-Parr-would-have-done gallery. Do I venture to Yorkshire in a fortnight to try and improve? There will be poultry - and more Lonks...

Saturday, 26 May 2018

Wedding photography

For reasons unknown, and incomprehensible, to me a lot of non-photographer types see you with a DSLR camera and 'big' lenses and suggest that you should start photographing weddings. Unaccountably a lot of amateur photographers see wedding photography as an avenue to make some cash. The only thing I can think of worse than attending a wedding is photographing one! However...

Continuing my trawl through the Dusty Negative Archive I was reminded that back in1981 I had taken my camera to the wedding reception of a friend who had dropped out of college. I don't remember much about the event apart from drinking pints with whisky chasers (although I have always hated whisky), and telling the DJ to, well, 'go away'. Looking back now I wish I'd taken more photos. There was the obligatory photo of the happy bride and two friends, but even back then I wasn't interested in photographing happy smiley people. I'm glad I never took the wedding photographer career path!

 This is more my style. Even with the on-camera flash.

Into volume two of the Dusty Negs and I'm finding more forgotten pictures which are reinforcing my belief that my subject preferences and 'style' developed early on.

And more pictures which show places which have been redeveloped in the intervening years.
Still lots more negs to scan. Hopefully some new pictures to take over the next couple of days too.

Tuesday, 22 May 2018

More monochrome madness

 Blurb have a 35% discount on offer until the end of this month so I've been hurrying to get together enough scans on one subject to make a bit of a book so I can see how they turn out in that format. I decided to concentrate on my Preston pictures and found one or two oddities I have no memory at all of taking. I don't even have a clue where this one was shot.
I wanted to make sure that both orientations were displayed at the same size, in a landscape format book the landscape pictures usually print larger. That meant making a template to output the pictures they way I wanted them. As it turned out this is a much quicker way of formatting the book pages than messing about with the page templates. Another lesson learned.

Depending on how the book turns out I'll either make a series of books from the Dusty Negative Archive, or one big one with sections devoted to the various subjects. That will also depend on how many pictures I end up scanning. No rush now I have the sample on its way.

Further to my belief that putting a black border round a monochrome picture I have been playing around with the split toning controls in Lightroom. I haven't a clue what I'm doing with them, but they have a similar effect on photographs. Making them look like 'proper' pictures. Add toning and a border and the result is that a casual snapshot suddenly looks like art!

If you take the photo using a wide aperture and crop to 5x4 it can make a digital picture look almost like it was shot on large format film. I could imagine making a set of pictures of sheep like this. But I won't!

One thing all this scanning and toning nonsense has driven home is that digital is much more flexible than film. And that's not mentioning how much technically better my photographs are these days. There's certainly been no improvement in my level of competence over the last 40 years. So it must be the gear and the technology that's got better!

Saturday, 19 May 2018

Dogs, frogs and other stuff

There are times when I wonder what I'm doing. Taking photographs for one's own pleasure seems to me to be a strange sort of thing to do. I'd feel a lot more confident about it if I had an end use for the pictures I take. As I don't I often don't bother taking any because it feels silly. Then again there are times when I can't stop myself taking a photograph. Although I was looking for pictures to fit my Dog Town project I still took the one below. I think it works as a standalone image. Amazingly the two main figures and dog are in focus. Quite an achievement for me with the Fuji and wide angle lens.

I even managed a couple of pictures in the two hours I wandered around which do fit my Dog Town style. The way the dog has lain in the shade makes this one for me.

All this bright sunshine and hot weather makes being outdoors taking pictures both tiring and testing. Harsh shadows are a pain in the bum. It also makes shooting backlit subjects hard work. This was all brought home to me at a vintage tractor auction. Who's a thunk such things would not only exist but be well attended? There was all sorts on offer, from boxes of what looked like junk, through the rusting skeletal remains of tractors, to gleaming fully refurbished models.

I had a semi-plan in mind to make a series of pictures in portrait orientation. It almost came off. I also entertained the idea of using (shock, horror) black and white to suit the vintage theme. That didn't last long because colour seemed important for a lot of subjects. Making abstractions worked quite well. Even if it is a cop out when there are people about, but I wasn't in a people-picture mood for some reason.

There are some people pictures in the gallery I've put together.

Leaving the auction early it was into the forest to photograph a hogg hole I had found earlier in the year but not managed to get close to because the ground was so wet. I photographed it from both sides, but the harsh light wasn't helping either way I tried.

I also photographed some sheep along the way. Just for the sake of it really. This one nearly works as a sheepscape. If only the sun hadn't been quite so bright. Or the sheep would have looked to the right of the frame...

Later, when I stopped to photograph another string of dead moles (I see them everywhere now I have them on my radar!) I tried my hand at a landscape picture. The light on the tree's twisted form was what caught my eye. In fact that was what I photographed first.

I'm not so sure that the early and late light favoured by so many landscape photographers would work for this tree. It's the way the light dapples from above through the leaves on the bark that makes it what it is. Looking back down the road I saw the potential for framing a broader vista. If I could have been bothered to move my car (just out of frame camera right) I might have made a better picture. But as it's only for my pleasure that doesn't matter!

I almost forgot. Yesterday I was so down on photography that I took some pictures of a frog in my pond. Why? Because it was there and it was easy. A technical challenge to get the blasted thing in focus and no more. The composition was a piece of cake. Oh yeah. I used flash as well. Froggy is now my computer desktop picture. For the time being.

Sunday, 13 May 2018

Timing is everything

Once more the lure of poultry proved impossible to resist. Today's show was primarily an egg show, with a junior poultry section, which didn't fill me with confidence of getting anything new. But you have to be in it to won it as the cliché goes. Besides, the sausage and bacon barms are good, as is the tea. With there only being a few birds entered the show room was pretty much as it is when not in use. That allowed a couple of sort of behind the scenes shots of stuff in storage and some cleaning equipment.

Not expecting to have much new to photograph I was in trial mode. The intention was to use the Fujis to see how they coped. Or maybe to see how I coped with them. I had a real camera as back up, along with the dreaded 85mm lens. Not trusting that lens I had my faithful 100mm macro with me too.It proved to be a swings and roundabouts affair. Making a selection of 21 frames from the day 13 of them were shot on the small cameras. That's not really to say that they were the best tool for the job, or that I preferred using them. It was simply that all but one of those 13 frames was made using the 28mm equivalent lens. No surprise there!

As far as the big camera went the 85mm failed miserably. It simply won't focus close enough for my liking. Time to get rid. All bar one selected frame shot with the DSLR was at 100mm. The odd one out being taken with the 20mm lens I'd taken along for the ride.

With it being an egg show there was the usual contents judging, providing an opportunity for some 'cracking' shots. Why I insist on trying to time my action shots rather than setting the camera to burst mode, I don't know. It's nothing to do with believing that timing things to one frame is a more worthy approach, relying on skill. It's more like forgetfulness that there is the option for shooting a burst. I started out doing it the old school way and got lucky. I'd never seen a wooden egg cracking device before. How to show what it's for? I think having the egg a milimitre away from the pointy bit might do it. Pure luck that I managed the picture below.

After a couple of attempts at nailing an egg cracking picture I turned the dial to high speed. After one out of focus burst I tried again. Ten frames later I had a sequence which was in focus, and one picture that worked on its own. I even got the egg cracker in the shot.

I still don't find the X100T as fluid to use as a DSLR. This may be because of a familiarity difference. Probably the most annoying feature is how tired it gets. That's the inherent problem with cameras that use an electronic display. They have to go to sleep to save battery power. The drawback is that they don't like waking up. A DSLR, on the other hand, can be left switched on all day without much drain on the power source. I've missed a few shots now because of this.

On the plus side these new-fangled cameras are discreet. They can be operated completely silently, which means that up close with a wide-ish angle lens you can photograph very unobtrusively.

The files seem to lack something in the colour department to me, and I was finding exposure to be less sure than the DSLR. For stationary subjects this in't a big deal, it's easy to chimp and correct. But when timing is important it can be a let down.

Once again I paid for my cups of tea by photographing the prize winning birds. Well, three of them. The 'studio' had been enlarged and was much better. The lighting still isn't ideal, but it's improved. I also got spotted by the organiser of the poultry show at a local-ish agricultural show. Soft lad has agreed to go and take some photos for them... I would most likely have been going anyway. So no great hardship.

Friday, 11 May 2018

Steps which can't be retraced

Scanning all those old negatives got me thinking about revisiting some of the places in the pictures. With that in mind I went to Preston this morning to have a look at what has been done to the outdoor market. Not with the intention of recreating earlier pictures, but to see what it is like since the regeneration project. I know we tend not to like change, but it seems planners don't like outdoors very much. Half of the main market is now an enclosed space. There'll be no fear of a pigeon crapping in someone's coffee. The glass box which now resides under the Victorian market roof is home to some of the stalls from the recently closed indoor market - also due to be redeveloped into something we can't live with out these days. A cinema complex I believe.

No matter where I go I can usually find some untidy quarter to photograph. There's always a tension between making good pictures and making a point. Trying to do both at once is the ideal. Difficult to pull off though. Very difficult.

The other end of the market is as it always was. Open to the elements and pigeons. I guess stalls of cheap goods staffed by people in layers of thermals isn't the kind of image that town planner and councillors like to project of their domain. Yet it is things like that which give towns and cities (I keep forgetting Preston is a city) their character, and which are part of British culture.

The smaller covered market section, the old fish market, has also been given a 21st century facelift with fancy new stalls and 'market boxes'. In other words, containers turned into supposedly trendy shop units. They're a big thing in the metropolis, apparently. There is no market in this section on a Friday, hence it is deserted.

Feeling a little despondent I went for a roam towards the (in)famous bus station. In so doing I passed the inevitable pound shops. No town is without the nationwide chains, but there are independent pound shops with individual character. There's probably a project there for someone...

After some years of dispute over the future of the bus station, loved and loathed with equal passion on both sides, it was given listed status and is being renovated. As Preston isn't a place I visit regularly these days I was unaware of the extent of the changes being wrought. The underpass from the Guildhall to the bus station is no more. Which makes me rather glad I took some photos of a walk through it back in late 2014. Those are steps I'll never retrace.

Although I have always been a fan of the place I'll admit that the bus station itself had become tatty. The clocks weren't working and it was looking tired. Given that the council used the prohibitive cost of refurbishment as a reason for demolishing the Brutalist building there is a lot of work going on and everywhere is bright and clean.

Whichever camp you are in there is no denying that Preston Bus Station has character, and as a designed space a sense of integrity.

I got to thinking about character of place as I passed coffee shop after coffee shop. All the same as the ones in every other town and city. That monotony can be relieved in Preston. Long before Costa and the rest were thought of the then-town had a coffee shop of note. It's still there today and looking just the same. It's got character. Terribly old fashioned though.

With the seemingly ever expanding UCLAN (Preston Polytechnic in my day...) there is another growth sector which I'm sure the city fathers love dearly. Student housing - a potential project for the architecturally inclined. Despite the shiny new accommodation blocks I managed to found it's seedy side.

With my time running out I had a brief wander down some back streets and found a picture that's just a picture. No message, no social comment. Just a pair of gloves.

A sort of fruitful couple of hours which gave me a few things to consider and work on. And I managed to sort the settings on the X100T to stop me messing up pictures. It did take me an hour though! Interestingly, or maybe not, I took most of the pictures at 28mm equivalent. I tried 50mm eq as a nod to the lens I used in 1979-81, but it just didn't work for me.