Sunday, 24 February 2019

Adventures in a Lancashire landscape*

With the days drawing out it's possible to prevaricate about what to do and still manage to fit in a few hours of afternoon photography. Although it's still February the day had a feel of May to it as I sweated my way up a gentle slope on the fell. Not having been to this part of the hill before I had no idea what to expect. Most of it turned out to be heather, which at this time of year is not particularly photogenic. The only focal points are pine trees. Either alive or dead. The skeletal trees were what initially caught my eye and imagination, but they were a little inaccessible on an unplanned outing.

A lonesome pine is a favourite subject for photographers, and I failed to resist the temptation when I spotted one within shooting distance. For a change I didn't make a couple of snaps and move on, I actually had a close look at my first frames and the scene before me. That made me realise there was a gap in the distant plantation into which I could fit the main tree's trunk. It took a bit of manoeuvring to line things up as I was on the wrong side of a stone wall. I actually used the wall to brace the camera as I framed the shot using the flippy screen. Not a dramatically impressive picture. If it had been I might well have deleted it!

The accepted wisdom for landscapery is early and late to get a low angle from teh sun's rays. In winter the sun is always fairly low in the sky. But most landscapers don't like the muted hues of the English winter so they stay at home fiddling with their files from summer. Fools.

Then again most landscapers don't photograph the remains of tree felling. Looking into the low sun through a misty haze has muted the palette. It also made for a tricky file to process, but that wasn't too much of a problem. Again I made more framing choices than I often do, including portrait orientations and some with a tree stump for foreground interest. Too easy. I settled for the boring composition. This is one of those pictures which works better on a larger scale where the detail of teh brash and the tree guards are more obvious.

An hour roaming the heather was enough and I went in search of sheep. They proved elusive. I suppose I ought to plan thing more instead of wandering in hope. Whenever I spy moles hung on barbed wire I try to stop and take some pictures.I can't explain this any more than I can explain why I photography wheelie bins!

Maybe it was the lack of subjects today that made me spend more time than is my habit on each one. I spent a good few minutes trying different framings of the moles, trying not only different positions and focal lengths, but different lenses, before I got bored. That's always how things end for me. hen boredom sets in rather than having reached a successful conclusion...

Time was getting on and the light looked like it wouldn't improve when I gave up for the day. Then I spotted some sheep and rather than drive on by I pulled over into a convenient gateway. Yet again I spent some time, even retracing my steps, trying to get a decent picture or two. The light was actually getting a bit brighter too. The pictures I'd imagined didn't materialise. Sheep never position themselves just where you'd like them. I made a few snaps (including one bum shot) before attempting a sheepscape or two.

 Backlit mist with lines of walls and trees always have potential, in colour or monochrome. It's a case of trying different framings and hoping the sheep play ball. Which they rarely do.

Then play with the files to bring out just enough detail in the lighter areas without overdoing the contrast so the misty effect is retained. One of the few things I remember being taught at art school is how distance makes colours paler and bluer. This is called aerial perspective.Boost the contrast to give the picture the much valued visual impact, to make it 'stunning', and it looks like it was taken on a less misty day. Yet it was probably the mist which caught the photographer's eye in teh first place.

Another thing I was taught is that reflections are darker than the thing reflected. When some people process their reflection photographs they lift the darker tones (including those in the reflection) because they want to retain 'shadow detail' and the pictures end up looking unnatural. But I guess subtle pictures don't get so many 'like's from people swiping on their phones.

* The song title is actually 'Yorkshire landscape', unfortunately...

Saturday, 23 February 2019

Back in colour

Continuing to trawl through my old negatives I noticed that I had often pushed the limits of my own technique and those of the film stock I was using. There are a quite a few failed attempts at night time photographs for one thing. With that in mind I took myself out for an evening wander to see what current technology can achieve. The answer, to my 1981 self, is "miracles"! A tripod is hardly necessary. If I could find the enthusiasm for it there would be a 'The Village at Night' project to be made, but it's one of those ideas which will never go anywhere. Not that most of my projects actually achieve a destination, but they do set off.

The sheep dog project is definitely on the move, in a randomly wandering way. Yesterday was a return visit to the sheep dog auction I visited twelve months ago. The weather was more like June than February and people, dogs and sheep were all feeling the heat. Who'd imagine an ice cream van doing a roaring trade at this time of year?

Having a better idea of what to expect I still went in an experimental mode as far as lens selection went. In the end it worked OK but I could have done it all with the ol' superzoom. It might have made me resist the temptation of photographing sheep dogs herding sheep. Enjoyable as that is those aren't the sort of pictures I'm really interested in making. They do tell part of the story though as that is what the auction is all about.

For once I did make some pictures of people standing or sitting around. While I try to resist the 'character' shots they also add to the overall picture.

The addition of a sheep-fixated collie to the mix is a nice bonus.

It shouldn't surprise me by now, but it still amazes me how the collies will stare at sheep in such a focussed way. Almost nothing distracts them, and if it does it's not for long.

The sort of people pictures which really interest me and test my limited abilities are those where there is something happening. Timing is everything and with my speedy computer and larger memory cards in the cameras I'm less reluctant to keep my finger pressed on the shutter button and burn a few frames in quick succession. Doing that got me one, number three in a series of four, in which multiple elements came together. No masterpiece, but a satisfying shot nonetheless.

The auctioneer is in profile and making a hand gesture (in all the other frames he has his back to the camera), the dog's ears are prominent against a light background (not so in the other frames), and the two faces are both visible and well lit (which they aren't in the other frames). Better still is that for this frame only I raised the camera a little and got the top of the shelter canopy in the frame. A combination of seeing the potential for a picture, keeping the composition framed and taking more than one shot. It's a variation on the street photographer's tactic of seeing a setting and waiting for someone to walk into it to make the picture.

Something I wanted to show was the number of people in attendance. It really is a busy event. Doing this from 'ground level' isn't easy. A raised viewpoint makes it less of a challenge. Holding the camera above your head can work, and a flippy screen provides a framing aid. It isn't ideal, especially in bright sunshine. Luckily this venue is on a slope so all I had to do was get myself to higher ground and use a longer focal length. The compression from the longer lens also makes it looked more packed. Even so, a picture of loads of people could be anywhere. Some context was required.

Just as it's tempting to spend a lot of time photographing dogs in action so it is to photograph the auctioneers. This I didn't resist and had two or three goes at it, breaking them up to keep my mind and eyes fresh. Do you go for the close up or the contextual? A tough decision. I'm not sure I really nailed either. Maybe I ought to have spent even longer on it?

As is so often the case I came away with a list of pictures I didn't take, or didn't take well enough. All the dogs are micro-chipped. A picture which shows the scanning process would fit in well. I tried but it only takes seconds and was usually done somewhere cramped. One to aim for in the future.

What I did manage to get were a couple of detail shots. The sort of fillers I like to help break up the narrative as it were. The one of the shepherd's whistle might be the start of a series. Might.

In an effort to be unobtrusive I was using the X100T again. While I came away with some decent pictures from it I felt frustrated once again by the focusing, and also the lack of detail to be recovered from shadows at higher ISOs. It is very quiet to use when stood next to someone. But that's no use if you miss shots. Back to the drawing board on that front.

Oh aye. Shed load more pics here.

Monday, 18 February 2019

Forgotten pictures

One of the most interesting parts of going through my dusty negatives is finding pictures which I have no recollection of because I didn't print them at the time. That's why I was surprised to find some pictures I'd taken back in 1981 in the wood I've been photographing this winter. In those days it wasn't open to the public in the way it is now.
Then there are the pictures which are of subjects which I'm still likely to shoot today, and framed/composed in similar fashion. Even my more 'landscapey' pictures have a look of the ones I produce these days. As in the gate picture below - it's winter, overcast, and the ground is wet and muddy.
In amongst the poor to average pictures, most I am scanning for what they show rather than any artistic or other merit, there are one or two which stand out and make me wonder if I have lost my way over the years!

Saturday, 16 February 2019

When is macro not macro?

I'd been thinking of taking a new direction for my black and white woodland project for some time. A close up direction. Having tried close focusing normal lenses I wasn't getting the kind of pictures I had in mind, so I stuck an extension tube on my 50mm lens the other day and gave that a try. It worked to a degree.

I had a few problems with it not focusing close enough for some ideas I got. I could have messed about with different extensions but it seemed like a good enough excuse for buying a shorter macro lens than the one I have (which I don't use for close up photos very often). At the back of my mind was using the shorter macro as an alternative for the 50mm. Don't ask me why! Anyway, I took the plunge and by Friday I had another new toy to play with.

Some people test lenses by shooting brick walls or test charts and then zooming in on the files to check for edge to edge sharpness. I stick the lens on a camera and go take the sort of pictures I always take. Then check that they are in focus where they should be. Job done. Despite the accepted wisdom these days being that a 60mm macro lens on a 35mm sensor camera is less than optimal, I happen to prefer it to the longer lens. At least for 'creative' pictures. I might not be using it as a true macro, but it gets closer than a standard lens would while still giving a broader view than a longer lens would.

As a non-macro lens it's fine, if slow to focus. It even works for sheepscapes.

My plan today was to leave the zoom lenses behind for my visit to the sheep sale. The 'new' macro went along for the ride to keep the usual selection company. In the end I wished I'd taken one fast zoom and the 20mm as I kept finding myself lacking reach or framing too tight. The light was as awful as ever with warm foregrounds and cool backgrounds, vice versa or worse!

I got one or two different pictures for my troubles but didn't manage to nail anything that stood out.

The pregnancy scanning was tricky to photograph well. A combination of the light and my restricted position accounted for my poor effort below.

It being a sale of traditional (Lonks and Gritstones) and rare breeds (Hebridean and Whitefaced Woodlands) I intended to photograph the traditional breeds mostly, but in the end I came away with more pictures of the Woodlands. The seem a more placid breed, and are very photogenic.

I'm not one of those people who waxes lyrical about the way certain lenses 'render' images, but there is something about the 28mm f1.8 Nikon I have which strikes a balance between sharpness, depth of field and the quality of the out of focus areas which appeals to me. Maybe it's just the focal length which does this, or maybe not. I do like the lens though. And it's a lightweight.

Capturing action in the sale ring is always difficult for me. Aside from the timing and focusing, getting a decent vantage point tends to beat me. I was using the flip down screen again, and again finding it frustrating. I think I have two choices. Abandon it for anything moving, or try a different system. Given that the latter option costs money, lot of money, I reckon I'll be taking the other choice. Maybe I should invest in some knee pads? Or a folding stool?

Sale ring inaction is much easier to deal with.

The over-long and repetitive gallery tells a slightly better tale of the sale. It's a bit of a mishmash with not much in the way of standalone images. That's the story of my photographic life!

Sunday, 10 February 2019

Carry on clucking

Gale force wind and accompanying rain didn't encourage me to go out yesterday. If the wind hadn't woken me up early and I hadn't promised to attend the poultry show I might well have stayed home. At least I'd be indoors taking photographs, which was a more tempting prospect than a sheep dog trial. Plus there'd be the mart café to provided sustenance.

The poultry shows held at the mart always coincide with a auction. I have gone as far as I think I can with poultry auctions, so didn't spend much time in that area. There was a big entry of dead stock in the sale and the bird section was so overbooked that there is to be an extra sale in a month's time, which I'll probably miss through being elsewhere.

The only 'new' picture I got was of some smashed eggs dropped outside the sale ring.

I hadn't expected much more from the show and initially felt like I was going over well ploughed land. The light in the show shed seemed even worse than usual. Very dark to start with as the rain was falling but brightening later. It was still variable in intensity depending where in the shed I was, and the artificial lights were their usual inconsistent colours. I set a tungsten white balance which seemed to do a better job than the auto setting - as it did in the sale ring, but the pictures still needed tweaking on the computer.

The pre-show checking of birds entering the building is one thing that has proved difficult to photograph in the past. When I saw the appropriate name on the carrying box below I hoped it might make for a picture, the cock's comb visible in the other box was down to luck. A better effort than many I've made of this element to showing poultry.

The judging was more of the usual. I'd gone armed with the long, fast, zoom with this subject in mind. It works well for creating out of focus backgrounds and for tight framing to cut out clutter. It can lead to less involved framing though.

This lens doesn't focus very close, so when I was struggling to get some shots in focus I wasn't surprised. What did throw me was that I could focus closer manually. It took me far longer than it should have done to realise I had set the focus limiter at five metres to infinity when photographing the sheep dogs in action last weekend. Once I slid the switch to 'full' I was in business. After many missed shots.

The longer zoom has its uses, but I'm not sure they are all that important or do much more than a simple 100mm lens couldn't have done. Unsurprisingly, the majority of my pictures were taken with the 'standard' zoom. This does focus close, and has no limiter for me to forget has previously been engaged!

With the show being the fiftieth the society has held it was a nice touch that they had special rosettes made for the event. Piled up they made for a picture to help tell the story of the occasion.

Something that has been missing from my show photographs is the unglamorous aspect of doing the admin. I took quite a few shots using the flip out screen and live-view over the day. I even used the face recognition feature while so doing. It's not as slick as it could be. I was tempted to seek out a mirrorless camera just to have live view and face detection that works much better on a flippy screen. The temptation lasted only until I evaluated the costs involved!

My main gripe with using live-view with my cameras is the slow process of moving the focus point around. That's where a touch screen comes in useful. Dragging the focus point with a thumb is speedy. I could have done with it to photograph the chicken below as I wanted the tea tin in focus. Using the four-way selector to move the point took ages.

The day had worked out better than I had expected. It's funny how simply getting on with taking photographs can result in a lack of inspiration at the outset ending in a successful conclusion. Not a big collection of great pictures, more the addition of a few decent ones to the overall body of poultry show work. Two or three good pictures and half a dozen 'useful' ones from 500 or more seems like a good hit rate to me. Nobody takes five hundred great pictures in their entire lifetime!

The reason I had about two hundred more pictures than a usual day's haul was that I had my new regime of taking more shots of one view had been in action. The most time consuming part of sorting the all those pictures out was the editing - editing being sorting out the good from the bad, the useful from the useless, not the fiddling with how they look. When whittled down to 57 (still too many really) for a gallery (here) it took me just a few minutes to process them. Adjust white balance, correct exposure, highlights and shadows, then export to the gallery and some jpegs for this blog. Easy peasy.

Friday, 8 February 2019

A question of style*

A small step forward was made the other day in setting up the Fuji for candid shooting grab shots. I'm not sure why it worked but setting the camera to shoot continuously managed to get more frames in focus and more taken. For some reason it hasn't always managed to focus and fire. Maybe I've not held the shutter button down long enough for the sloth-like camera to find focus! Now I've got a faster computer selecting from multiple frames is not the chore it used to be, so this makes it a practical technique.

The scanning of my Dusty Negative Archive is back on the go. Again the speedier PC is making life easier. Although it took a bit of fiddling and a software upgrade to get the temperamental scanner speaking to the new PC.

I've reached early 1981 and it looks like I was having a period of experimenting with slow shutter speeds.
It's also become obvious that I had pretty much found my 'style'. What made me choose the subjects  I still choose to photograph I really don't know. I'm sure I was unaware of photographers picking similar subjects, and I certainly don't know where my way choices of viewpoint and framing came from. I assume there was some outside influence, but can't think what it might have been as it doesn't strike me as if it came from the photographs I was looking at. There are similarities with photographers whose work I know now from the same period, and a little earlier, but I don't remember being aware of them at the time.
Style is distinct from 'look', which is what a lot of people think they are searching for when they talk of finding their style. Look is all about the processing along the lines of filters which can be applied to phone camera pics or in compact cameras. It's superficial. Style is about how you see the world. I've probably said that all before!

Something that digital does much better than film is allow for failures. If I had had an endless supply of film, and the cash to develop it, I might have taken my photography further back in the 1980s. Looking through the negatives I'd try three or four attempts at something then stop. No doubt for fear of wasting film. With digital I don't worry about wasting a dozen frames. Although I usually give up before reaching that total. There is a law of diminishing returns with ideas. The initial spark has a freshness, but repetition tends to make things stale. Too much thinking isn't always a good thing.

My woodland project is coming to a close. Even so I have found some fresh directions to take now I have a better grip on where it's going. Some of it is experimentation with technique as the project is not about making 'great photographs', more about metaphor, symbolism and mood.

* The post title comes from this oldie but goody.