Sunday, 26 August 2018

A lucky break

A Bank Holiday weekend means one thing is guaranteed. Rain. Sure enough it was pattering against the window when I awoke yesterday. The forecast predicted Saturday to be the only really dry day of the holiday and sure enough the sky began to clear as I approached the showground. I've learned my lesson that an early arrival not only avoids the queues and secures a parking spot close to the entrance, but means I get more photo opportunities as people arrive with their stock and doing other things such as  dealing with the inevitable paperwork that is involved to keep track of the animals and giving them haircuts.

There weren't many sheep in the pens when I got there so I was able to roam between them. When the time came for judging nobody asked me to move, so I stayed put and got an uninterrupted view of the proceedings. No that I got much in the way of better pictures because there isn't much space to move around.

On a technical side I was using my fast zoom again and although I am getting accustomed to it's range I still find it a bit of a pain. Like a fool I was trying it wide open like everyone seems to use their lenses these days. The better subject isolation it is supposed to give compared to narrower apertures doesn't look that way to my eyes. But the shallow depth of field can be a real pain at times. There haven't been many occasions I've found when it has improved my pictures, and it's inability to focus close has missed me lots. I'll give it one more try, stopped down to a sensible aperture. But only because it is sharp.

Because of the lack of close focusing I took my fishing compact along. Nothing is without problems and the slow focusing and the sensor technology combined to thwart my attempts at making pictures of sheeps' eyes. I managed one that was both in focus and not too badly exposed (once I'd cropped a bit off). A black and white conversion his some flaws too. I can imagine making a series of these pictures. But knowing me probably won't... A few more snaps from the day here.

Earlier in the week I'd taken an evening stroll along the floodbank at the marsh with nothing much in mind. The light was bright and casting shadows which picked out the sheep tracks and hoofprints. Not having gone with photographing those in mind I took some snaps. Once again I converted them to black and white because they are quite graphic in their appearance. This is something else I could imagine making a series of pictures of. Maybe I ought to do both the tracks and the yes? However, whenever I have an idea like that I start to lose interest once the box ticking starts!

Monday, 20 August 2018

Same but different

Back when I was student it was common to get 'stuck' with your work. It happened to everyone. Things are going well, progress being made, but then it all grinds to a halt. You're stuck. One guaranteed way of becoming 'unstuck' is to 'work through' whatever it is you're doing. Just keep plodding away and somehow a breakthrough is usually made. The other option is to start doing something else and return to the stuck work at a later date.

I was definitely feeling stuck with the sheep pictures. Even on Saturday in Yorkshire. I started off repeating myself photographing the judging. Nice enough pictures but nothing different.

Boredom with what I'm doing often results in me messing about. That's what seems to have happened and looking through my photos back on the computer I found a few that put a different angle on things.

The first bit of buggering about was to use a slow shutter speed. The idea has some possibilities even if this effort isn't too great.

 I spotted a visual echo of a Jacob sheep's horns and a plastic clip. Perseverance paid off eventually.

Another echo was sheep and people apparently fenced in. Trying to get all four faces clearly visible between the bars was nigh on impossible. I did my best.

Then I got a bit off the wall.

In the craft tent there was a class for animal made of vegetables and fruit. I've seen this class at other shows and wonder how it came into being! There was a cauliflower sheep which was rather good.

More from Gargrave here.

Sunday was the bantam society's auction. I almost forgot about it, and was in two minds about going when I did remember. Having been to one before I wasn't expecting there to be too many pictures waiting to be found, but I had nothing better to do.

The refreshments are always welcome, and add to the club funds, but there's washing up created. With the village hall kitchen not in use for the auction things have to be improvised. Shots of committee members doing the mundane work that makes events run smoothly are always worth having. They help tell the bigger story. So not a wasted few hours.

Sunday, 19 August 2018


It slipped my mind to post a couple of sheepy portraits I took at Rydal. The Herdwick I like because of the dry stone background, the other because the sheep looks cold without its fleece!

Friday, 17 August 2018


I managed to drag myself to the Lake District yesterday. There was a sheep dog trial on along with a hound show.I guess I'm just a miserable old git but as this event attracted  holiday makers I didn't enjoy it as much as I might have done.

The trial fields (there were two being run at the same time) were fenced off which was restrictive from a photography point of view. Then there was the crowds who had less of a clue as to what was going on than I have. It was the sort of event I could imagine Marin Parr revelling in with its mix of tweedy types with their back of the Range Rover picnics and Berghaus clad townie. So I had a bit of a go at 'doing a Parr'.

Once more I was trying to love my 70-200, and this time it was making more sense. Perhaps I'm starting to see in those focal lengths. Still wish it would focus closer though.

The sheep dog trials didn't hold my attention for some reason. Probably being fenced off was to blame, but there's also the issue of there not being all that much to them. Certainly not much I haven't already photographed. The only different stuff showed the setting of the trial, and the audience.

The weather was typical of Cumbria, rain and sun, but mostly rain! After three hours I'd got bored and thought I'd carry on north to look at the remains of an auction mart pictured in Hill Shepherd which Google showed was gradually decaying. On my way there I had to pass Castlerigg stone circle, so I called in to see what it was like these days. It being thirty years or so since my only visit to it. The stones were still there. I have only a dim memory of my first visit but things I guess it had been winter last time as there certainly was no ice cream van in evidence.

I took some photos to show that the stones are not in the least remote. It was a shame there were no sheep in the field, only tourists. While I wanted people in my pictures I still managed one or two without figures in the frame because rain set in and they all headed back to their cars!

I even gave one a black and white conversion and the black border treatment!

Time was pressing and hunger beginning to set in so off to the old mart. Cloud cover had rolled in by the time I got there so the light level was low and the sky uniformly white. I think it would be better to photograph the mart in winter with the leaves gone from the trees and the weeds died back to give a clearer view of the buildings. It's not something I'm likley to do though. I'll settle for my high ISO record shots.


Leaving there I took a circuitous route home, stopping to make some rubbish pictures of a sheepfold (including what might be a sheepwash) in glorious sunlight.

Monday, 13 August 2018

Diminishing returns

The weather forecast for yesterday was less than favourable. Despite the promise of rain up in the hills I was half hoping the rain would fall as it should have made for some variation in my pictures in this sunny summer. As things turned out the rain stayed away, save for a very few light drops. The show in question was celebrating its 30th anniversary, unusually young for an agricultural show, but it is a reincarnation according to the show catalogue.

From attending last year I was expecting a good turnout of hill sheep, and I wasn't disappointed. There were lots of Lonks and plenty of Gritstones. That's not to say there wasn't a host of Euro sheep, a healthy rare breed section and a fair few Blue Faced Leicesters. Why some people take the piss out of BFLs for being ugly I don't know. I think they are noble looking creatures with plenty of character. Thankfully those cartoonish Herdwicks are a rarity at most of the shows I go to!

This year the poultry section was back but it was a very small affair which I didn't spend much time looking at. My mind was focused on the 'big' sheep. Unfortunately the layout is one of the worst for photographing from the sidelines once judging is under way. Nonetheless I got one or two shots of sheep being washed and groomed before the serious business got going.

Then it was on to repeating the inevitable sheep-grip and judging shots. This one I converted to black and white just for the hell of it really.

Followed by more attempts at out of focus sheep in the background of pictures of something else.

As part of my plan for a wet day I'd taken my fishing compact along so I could keep it dry in a jacket pocket. Also because it has a nice flippy screen and doesn't look 'professional'. The idea being to use it for 'candids' and low angle shots. It has the disadvantage of a silly aspect ratio, but despite a crop to 3:2 reducing it's pixel count it can produce detailed frames which match up well enough for on-screen display to pictures made on larger sensors. At low enough ISO values the results print well enough too. Maybe it's because it's  Nikon that the files match those from my 'proper' cameras in terms of colour and tone regardless of sensor size.

When inspiration completely fails it's time to snipe a character picture or two with the longest focal length.

If you can't get near the judging you can at least get close to the penned sheep. of course they never hold a pose that suits what you have in mind. It took a lot of failed attempts before I got a picture of a horn brand which I was happy with. Maybe if I wasn't so set against cropping frames on the computer I might have got it sooner!

You might imagine that taking pictures of a sheep's wool would be simple. But I think it would be better to do it under more controlled conditions if large prints were the intention.

Although the breed classes are held between the pens and awkward to photograph the group  and interbreed classes are held outside the pens. Here it's the gathered crowd of spectators which get in the way.

For the junior shepherd class there was even more of a throng. I didn't want to get in the way of any proud parents offering encouragement, but managed a few shots using the flippy screen.

While the super-zoom I use is useful for both long shots and detail shots I'm thinking I rely on it too much. As with all 'people doing things' pictures being in close with a wider angle lens makes for more engaging results.

Perhaps I should give my old 50mm and 28mm combo an outing at the next show. With the zoom in the bag just in case!

Sunday, 5 August 2018

Sheep galore

Photography has been a write off since my previous post. I had hoped to get to the English national Sheepdog Trials but was thwarted by work commitments which also scuppered another trial. I could have gone to the second day of that one yesterday but went to the agricultural show I'd been looking forward to instead. I knew there'd be plenty of sheep, and there was a poultry section. Arriving a bit late I missed out on the poultry action and the sheep arrival and primping. But there was lots going on and the sheep judging was soon under way.

 As the poultry marquee was at the opposite end of the show field to the sheep pens I passed the main ring a time or two. When I spotted a woman holding a cow balloon watching the cattle I hoped there might be a picture to be made. For once I stuck around and didn't settle for the first picture I took with the balloon and a real cow in the frame. I got lucky with the eighth frame when the ballon cow floated into line with the real calves.

And so to the sheep. There were some three hundred entered into the various classes, which included a fair few Euro sheep, a selection of minority breeds, and plenty of Blue Faced Leicesters and North of England Mules. The BFL entry was the largest ever at the show. Disappointingly the interbreed champion was a Beltex, although the reserve was a Swaledale.

This time I had gone armed with a wide angle zoom and my loathed 70-200. It wasn't a great combo. Or maybe I need to get used to it. The wide angle I find useful, but the range of the 70-200 bugs me, even though it does produce images which are super sharp.

With the wide angle I made use of the flippy screen on my camera to get low angles without having to bend my knees or kneel down. A touch screen would be a big help for positioning the focus point when there is action involved, but the depth of field of the wide angle often compensates for that.

Even at eye level I found the wide angle a help when it came to getting the large groups of sheep in the frame. I've not seen sheep judged en masse before. How the judge reached his decisions in selecting the sheep to make the final selection from, and how the entrants recognised their sheep when they were indicated, I don't know!

 Finding different pictures is never easy, and sometimes I start taking snapshots of anything that catches my eye without thinking about what I'm doing. Other times I take a snap, try to improve it, and end up thinking the first snap was the best!

Other times I keep on snapping until things work out a little better. maybe not great, but better.

The sheep section at this show is well organised with the officials having their own polo shirts, and there are plenty of trophies.

There is also a strong turnout for the three age groups of young handlers. Not all shows manage to get numbers of entrants for this. The youngest handler this year was just 14 months old, complete with white coat and flat cap. And a little bit of help from a very placid sheep and mum! All the young handlers get a rosette.

This time, partly because I was lacking ideas, I did take a few 'character' shots. Trying to capture a judge pondering is difficult from both the timing and the positioning sides of things.

The low angle approach provided for some unusual opportunities, but the slight delay between prossing the shutter release and the shutter firing made timing tricky.

An enjoyable day out with some half decent pictures made, far too many of which can be found here.

 I still came away wondering what the point of taking these photographs and writing this nonsense is.