Tuesday, 25 September 2018

The official end of summer

On Sunday I ventured to the forest for a bit of a nosey and had to stop the car, possibly on the wrong side of the border, to snatch a shot or two of some weather. My usual hand-held landscape snappery. I might have overcooked the result on the computer in the quest for dramatic effect.

Monday was the day for the final agricultural show of the year on my calendar. It required another sortie into enemy territory, which is always nerve wracking. Still, I wasn't the only invader at the show. One stalwart from my local poultry society was judging and commentating on the pig classes. Doing  a grand job of entertaining the crowd too.

Being held in the Dales I wasn't disappointed with the turnout of sheep. There were lots of the expected breeds and a goodly showing of some rarer ones too. Not just Yorkshire breeds. As I'd arrived not long before judging commenced I didn't find much to get interested in until I started to look for details. Although I did manage one judging picture which I like for its black-and-whiteness.

The light was bright, but with the sun being lower in the sky than in high summer it was bringing out texture. Unfortunately I had gone ill prepared for the sort of pictures I ended up looking for. If I carry on attending shows in the future I may well embark on making a series of shots of horn brands.

Once more it was a case of boredom with the same old subjects which led me to start taking pictures in a random way, often not looking through the viewfinder or at the rear screen. Doing that got me this.

At other times I did use the viewfinder. Why it takes me almost all day to get into a zone where I start to see pics I can only surmise. It's probably because I'm not taking photos every day. The more you practice, the luckier you get. As the saying goes. You can't go wrong with a frame within a frame.

The majority of the sheep pictures I took were pretty run of the mill as you can see for yourself here. The same can be said of my feeble efforts from the show's sheep dog trials. Apart from not being well equipped for the task, deliberately so as I hadn't intended photographing the trials, I wasn't in the right frame of mind by the time I left the sheep alone. Whether a 'better' lens would have made any difference I really doubt. I'm not sure I can go anywhere with the sheep dog thing, if I'm honest.

The people and their dogs, rather than the action, seems to be the more compelling aspect from a picture making point of view. Maybe I just need to change my approach.

I was more fascinated by the exhaust pen full of sheep than with the trial action. Unfortunately it was in the shade, which was good for the sheep on a sunny autumn day but not so good for photography. Picking out compositions from a mass of huddled sheep kept me interested for a while. I didn't manage anything I was happy with that was technically satisfactory. Even by my low standards! So I buggered about on the computer to make a graphic image (as opposed to a photograph) out of one frame. Some might call it 'art', but it's not in my book. More the sort of thing you might put on a greeting card.

With the show season over I've got the Blurb book to finish off, and a wait for their next big discount offer before I get it printed. Typically there was 40% off until last Sunday. Not that I'm tight or owt, but I'd rather pay less than more for something!

Saturday, 22 September 2018

Back to boring

At a loose end on Sunday and with a deadline looming for an advert revision I took myself out or a couple of afternoon hours looking for a suitably watery landscape. It's a bit different taking photos when you know both what kind of subject you need and what sort of picture. In this case I needed a picture in portrait orientation with some space for lettering/text to go.

After much scrabbling and slipping I found a likely looking spot and set about doing some of my hand-held landscapery. I ended up with two frames which were suitable from the dozens I took. Back on the computer one fitted the lettering better than the other. The 'reject' actually worked quite well as a standalone picture.

On the Saturday Lancashire got beaten in the first of the T20 semi-finals, so I went in search of moorland sheep to cheer myself up, even though it was cloudy and windy. On my way I snatched the photo below. I can't make my mind up whether it is absolute rubbish or brilliant. It's certainly not in between the two extremes!

On the moor there were indeed sheep to be found. Most were the flighty type with large circles of fear, fleeing before I could get within range. There was one which was braver. Keeping an eye on me all the time but grazing closer so long as I didn't move. Not quite the shot I was after though.

The week saw a return to spending my time working save for an hour's exercise walking round the fields and wood. There's not much left to photograph on my regular route save the changes in light. I find slate grey skies with brightly lit foregrounds all but irresistible.

During the darkening evenings I spent my time trying to put some order into my sheep show pictures. It's when I come to distil them into few enough to put into a Blurb book that I realise how bad most of them are. Then there's the matter of making them work alongside other pictures, which can sometimes help mediocre shots but also see some good ones dumped as they don't fit visually. I also come to see the pictures I should have taken, but didn't. The ones which would have made the collection stronger. Still, things are coming together. I might take some more next week at my final show of the summer - if I manage to drag myself there. The cover looks OK. Of course, I might change my mind about it yet...

Friday, 14 September 2018

Last minute change of plan

Having got tired of lugging two heavy lenses and a big bottle of water around at the shows I was going to revert to laziness and take just my superzoom yesterday, but when I opened the back door it was trying to rain.  The forecast was for it to be dry early on with rain later, by the time I'd be heading home. Rather than take a chance I went for a compromise of sorts. The now less than unloved 70-200 went on one body and my neglected 28mm on the other. I threw my 20mm and 50mm lenses in the bag as lightweight options.

Having been to the Westmorland Show last year I knew what to expect. Hundreds and hundreds of sheep of many breeds! I had also found out that there was a fleece competition. That was where I headed first, before the judging started. It was a bit dull. Just wool in boxes on tables. I'm sure the judging would be a little bit more interesting. I returned later to photograph the winning fleece, from a Teeswater.

This year I didn't spend much time away from the sheep pens. Being a big show it has a lot of commercial stands, and the poultry tent was cramped. A friend of mine, who told me last time he wasn't going to do another flycasting demonstration was back again. This time I got some slightly better shots of him. The fast 70-200 helped blur the background clutter more than the superzoom would have done. Not the ideal location, or light, for the subject.

The light had started off beautiful early on, low with an autumnal glow, as the sheep arrived and got primped but the day soon clouded over. Then again, with the sun being low in the sky it made some angles tricky as they meant shooting into the light. Atmospheric if it comes off though.

Low angle close-ups of sheep continue to interest me, but using the camera's live-view makes it a bit hit and miss. I can't get the focus where I want it all the time, meaning I've framed some nice shots that are out of focus. When the sheep are stationary it works much better. Perhaps I ought to read the instruction book? Of course I can mess photos up by using the wrong shutter speed. Can't blame the gear for that...

Being a Cumbrian show there was a predominance of Lakeland sheep breeds. Rough Fell, Swaledale and the inevitable Herdwicks were there in great numbers. There were so many Herdwicks I  broke my rule of ignoring them.

I'd guess that a majority of native breeds were represented including a lot which aren't usually a feature of shows in the North West. The prick-eared Border Leicester being one particularly photogenic example.

The task of finding different pictures continues, an often becomes a matter of looking for 'better' pictures of something previously photographed. Trying to get an agricultural photographer in the same frame as the sheep being photographed is a tricky one, the two being far apart. Filling the gap with something, or someone, else helps make a picture.

With show season almost at an end it's time to start pulling a selection together into a Blurb book. I have the tongue-twisting-title sorted, but haven't worked out a format yet. Show by show, or aspect by aspect with show info as captions to each picture? All part of what keeps me thinking about photographs. It helps concentrate my mind on what I'm trying to do with the pictures too.

Extended album of photos from the show here.

Sunday, 9 September 2018

Suffering for my art

No matter how careful the planning any outdoor event is at the mercy of the weather. And weather forecasts, while accurate one or two days ahead are far less so one or two weeks in advance. Up until last Monday things were looking reasonably hopeful for a dry day on Saturday, but as the Hodder Valley Show drew closer that hope evaporated. Sure enough as I drove over the fell it was  was through low cloud and mizzle. Things didn't improve during the five hours I spend trudging around in my decreasingly waterproof waterpoofs.

The weather was a great shame for the show's organisers as it kept away a lot of casual visitors. The farming folk were undeterred. They spend half their lives in raingear anyway. The sheep shook it off. Although I'm pretty sure this one was taking shelter under an umbrella. Who says sheep are stupid?

The rain was a challenge as I wasn't sure how weatherproof my cameras are. I'd taken the precaution of fitting my 'pro' lenses and ensuring they had hoods on them. The hoods do a good job of keeping rain of the front of the lenses. Because I didn't want to take too many chances on camera stayed in the bag (which I now know isn't waterproof) while I spent most of the morning using the dreaded 70-200.

I must be getting used to this previously despised lens as I didn't find myself wishing I had something else. I didn't even miss my superzoom. That was at home because I know it can take on water, and because I thought faster lenses would be more useful on a day likely to be dull.

The show features an adjacent sheep dog trial, which I was looking forward to. Unfortunately it was on the other side of a beck, which I didn't fancy paddling through, or taking the  long way round. I still managed a couple of shots from across the beck, which give a feel for the conditions.

Despite my intentions being to concentrate on the sheep I don't turn up a chance to take a snap of anything else which catches my eye.

For those prepared to put up with it rain can make for good photographs. For me it gave me pictures which might be of the same activities but with a different look. There's something about the way even dull light plays on wet surfaces which is photogenic.

When it comes to sheep preparation rain can put people in unusual situations. And unsual situations make for good pictures.

Just as I was struggling to stay dry the stewards were having trouble keeping the rosettes and prize envelopes dry.

I persisted in my low angle shots using the flippy screen. It's not ideal as there's quite a lag between each frame even in burst mode. Focusing can be a bit haphazard too. That resulted in a 'nearly' shot. Generally speaking foreground objects ought to be in focus. That's the way we see the world.

I kept my finger on teh shutter release and somehow fluked a somewhat better picture. Not only is the focus improved, there's more going on in the frame. Still not perfect though.

Despite my reservations about using this approach through the rails of the pens I think it might actually result in better pictures than being on the same side of the hurdles. I'm certainly less likely to end up with four or five sheep on top of me! Previously I'd used a wider angle, but I was restricted to 24mm because of the lens I was using. I'd put the 70-200 away by this stage as an enforced change of viewing angle. I much prefer pictures of people taken from close in.

The compression and subject isolation which telephotos bring to pictures has its place, but it visually implies distance. For people it's more important to imply connection. Which is what moderately wide to 'normal' focal lengths do.They also don't distort figures at the edges of the frame like ultrawides will. I see that a lot in news and editorial pictures and it frustrates me. Ultrawides can also be used as a cheap trick to give pictures impact. I don't think such pictures stand the test of time.

I wonder if phonepics will stand that test?

Photographing in the rain was like photographing a new subject. I think that's why the album I compiled has a lot more photographs in it than usual. No doubt I could make a tighter edit once my initial enthusiasm for the 'new look' dies down. See the pics here.

Show season is almost over, but even if rain is forecast I'm hoping to be making it to at least one, maybe two or three, more before the month is out. Then what?

Sunday, 2 September 2018

Undercover sheep

The Bentham Show is a bit different to most agricultural shows in that apart from the vintage tractor and vehicles and some trade stands most of it is held inside the auction mart.The downside from a photographic viewpoint is that means the light levels are lowish. The upside is that harsh lighting isn't much of a problem. In fact it can make for for visually appealing pictures when the sunlight streams through the slatted walls of the mart or through the skylights.

As has become my habit I arrived in good time to see the sheep being unloaded. Unfortunately there wasn't much opportunity to get any decent photos. So I wandered around the mart itself before it got busy. This allowed me to take some pictures which make a nice comparison to the more modern marts I've already photographed. Also a bit different to how it would look on market day.

With the sheep judging taking place in the aisles between the mart pens it was even more difficult to get an angle on proceedings than at an outdoor show. However, the Rough Fell sheep were being judged on the outside edge of the pens, so I spent some time there taking the same sort of pictures I've made elsewhere. Except of Rough Fell sheep!

Although I shy away from taking random shots of the onlookers at these shows sometimes I relent when their expression seems to say something about what's going on.

In the spirit of relieving the repetition I try odd compositions. Which I'm not sure always come off.

Then there are attempts at catching small incidents. Which also usually fail.

One intention I'd had for the day was to take more close ups of sheep's eyes. The light levels and the shyness of the sheep pretty much put paid to that. I was hoping to get side on shots to maintain a visual continuity, but the only one which I liked was a frontal view of a Teeswater.

When the sun shone on a pen of Blue Faced Leicesters I spent some time trying to get a shot of them making shapes which pleased my eye. One frame almost got there before the sheep got fed up of looking at me. It was a tricky scene to photograph, but thanks to the wonders of technology the camera exposed well, and the slightly overexposed highlights were easy to recover on the computer. Older digital tech and film (at least in my technically inept hands) would have struggled with such a contrasty scene.

With the judging over I was able to get closer to some sheep to try for a portrait or two. This moody looking Lonk for instance.

Much as I enjoy attending shows and watching photographing the goings on I'm thinking that I need to get some plan behind what I'm doing. Or maybe start something new. I'll have a rethink when show season is over. The inevitable gallery can be seen here.