Monday, 26 November 2018

Time for a cull?

I'm trying to build up the courage to part with a load of lenses. To fight the feeling that I need to be able to cover all focal lengths so I can deal with any subject in any situation. The feeling needs fighting because I'm convinced that I make better pictures when my focal length range is limited to 28mm at the widest and under 200mm at the longest. I didn't miss the ultrawide zoom when I got rid of it, and I don't use it's not-quite-so-wide replacement. I could easily replace that with a single focal length. The trouble is that just like that box full of stuff in the garage that might come in handy some day, even though it hasn't come in handy for ten years, it's difficult to get rid!

As part of my therapy I take a single focal length lens out on my local walks, either to the Post Office and back or round the woods. The lens varies from day to day, but is always within my comfort zone.

When it comes to developing a visual style to your pictures I think this limitation is a good thing. It forms a way of looking for pictures. One of my long time ways of looking is for grid-like patterns. I saw one on a shed I have walked past loads of times down by the canal last week. I couldn't have replicated the picture the following day because there was a van parked in front of the building. Another reminder to take pictures when you see them instead of waiting until the light is 'better'.

With winter almost officially upon us it's turned colder of late. That made me wonder about going to a sheep dog trial on Saturday. The weather forecast was less than promising on the sunshine front, which would limit me for photographing the action with a longer lens. My options are 400mm at f5.6, or 200mm at f2.8. The latter to be used on an APS sensor with less than great high ISO performance.

After breakfast there was a hint of the clouds breaking up, and in the direction the wind was coming from, which happened to be the cold, cold, east. As hill country is east of me I took a chance. For once I was heading to brighter skies as I climbed into bandit country.

In addition to the longer zoom I had my standard zoom on a second body. I still find the wide end a bit too wide at 24mm. The difference between that and 28mm is trivial on paper, but I find it quite marked in practice.

My first move on arriving at the venue, which was the same one I had visited back in January when I had my first experience of sheep dog trials, was to walk up to the release pen. I'd taken some prints with me from back then and was pleased to be remembered by the two chaps letting the sheep out. I passed the prints over to one of them. The wind was as biting as it had been earlier in the year but this time I was on the right side of the wall where it was a bit more sheltered.

I'm not sure why, but I still prefer photographing sheep dogs rounding up the sheep to take them  to the release pen. They're doing what they were originally bred for. Something I heard being moaned about later in the day - that it's hard to get a real working dog any more.

Somehow or other border collies have it in their genes to be fixated on sheep. even when the woolly bleaters are a long way off collies will stare at them and follow their every move. At the Nidderdale show I watched to sit entranced by the sheep on the trial field, their heads swivelling like those of the crowd on Wimbledon's centre court, while the lurcher their owner also had was sniffing around the grass oblivious to the existence of sheep.

One picture I wanted to get was of sheep being released. It wasn't easy and I didn't get 'the' picture, but I did get one that is OK for now. This lot of sheep were well trained, or had good noses, as they needed no help to find their way to the starting post. The trough of 'provin' at the post might have had something to do with that.
After spending some time up the hill I made my way down to the more sheltered lower ground where the usual line of vans and trucks was in evidence near the handler's post, the judge's truck parked in line with the post. As chance would have it the light improved after I got lower down and there was even some afternoon sunshine. Albeit at a slightly awkward angle.

With it being dry and reasonably warm the entrants weren't sat in their vehicles, which gave me a chance to get a few photos. I should have taken a few more. I liked the sheep-fixated dogs in the two pictures below.

Photographing the action is something I still find problematic. It's deciding which of the three elements - handler, dog, sheep - is the one to have in sharpest focus. When they are all on, or close to, the same plane as can be the case at the pen it's not a problem. But when there is more going on then they can be quite some distance apart. If I was a sheep dog trial journalist then I guess I would always focus on the dog. But I'm not. I'm as interested in the people. Maybe more so.

Even at the pen there are challenges. It can make for static pictures, which have their place such as when the sheep are being particularly stubborn. It's good when movement can be implied, as in the frame below where the sheep are leaning, about to make a break for it. The dog's pose suggest action too. If the handler's stance had been more animated it would have made it a much better picture.

Something similar applies to catching a dog setting off for the start of its run. Getting a good shot of that is pure chance. It is for me! There's no clue as to when the signal will be made, and freezing the dog in the ideal shape is a matter of luck, even with a fast frame rate. This next frame is one of my better efforts so far. But again, the human is a bit too static.

If I was taking photos in a commercial capacity I guess it would be a case of making sure I got shots of each competitor and each dog regardless of how good or bad the pictures were. That seems to be the way that 'event' photographers work be they attending a dinner dance or a horse show. That approach maximises their chances of making a sale to as many attendees as possible. I suppose it earns a crust, but it must be mind-numbing if you really like making pictures. Thankfully I'm not doing that so I can wander away from the action and try to make 'landscape' pictures with tiny figures in them.

With the days being short and it being a nursery trial for inexperienced dogs which often didn't complete the course the trial was soon over, or so it seemed. All that remained was for the winners to be decided and the prizes handed out. More pics here.

Although I might not have learned many lessons while taking the photographs I learned one on the technical side back home on the computer. The smaller sensor camera is not up to use at ISOs over 2000. Not compared to the larger, more modern, sensor I've become used to. I'd be as well using that and cropping as using the smaller sensor. Much as I dislike cropping my pictures when it comes to distant action it's a cheaper option than purchasing either a more recent small sensor body or a longer lens. In the summer the smaller sensor was fine, but gloomy winter days show its weaknesses.

As the small sensor body is 'well used' and cost me peanuts I'll hang on to it. It's actually not bad for photographing chickens with a flash gun! One of the reasons I got the not-quite-ultrawide zoom was to use on the crop sensor body as a standard zoom. I'll not be doing that so another good reason to move that lens on. The really tricky lens decision is my trusty superzoom. Since using the 70-200 more and more I'm growing to approve of it at last. But... It doesn't go to 300 and focus close.

Small steps. Get rid of the least/never used lenses first, trying not to replace them with more oddities - there's this old 28-200 I've seen mentioned. Then make a decision about a second cull. I remember getting rid of the 150-500 and 14-24 were both quite liberating experiences as I no longer felt I had to use them to take pictures which weren't really in my style. The trouble now is that my focal length range has narrowed, but I have more lenses doubling up within that range. I really don't need four lenses that do almost the same job!

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