Sunday, 31 March 2019

Tied up when the sun shone

The sun shone as predicted, and stuff for work dropped on me as I could have foreseen. Not only could I not find time to get out with a camera during the week, I couldn't even find the time to get out and buy some stuff I need for work as there were always parcels or customers arriving. Well, there was one afternoon I snuck away but it was futile and a wasted effort. Now the clocks have altered, however, there should be more opportunities for an hour or two before dark no matter how busy I've been. Not much use for a couple of projects I'd like to kick off, but okay for another.

My best picture from midweek was rubbsih....

This afternoon I grabbed a camera with a mid range zoom and went for a tootle in the car without any ideas. I'd not gone far when I saw sheep grazing on the remains of a cabbage field. I also managed to find a place to pull over and park.The sheep saw me coming and legged it, in that nonchalant slow walk away they do. I fired off a few frames trying for a sheepscape then took some more shots of the electric fence. When I got back home and looked at the photos I'd managed to miss focus on a post a few feet away from me. I also discovered that the sheep blended into the nibbled cabbages, bot hin colour and black and white. If that wasn't bad enough I thought a longer lens would have been more useful.

After a bite to eat I was in two minds about going for a second attempt or staying home. The sun had come out again and maybe there'd be better light. With nothing else to do other than the washing up I changed lenses and put my boots back on. This time the sheep seemed less concerned by my presence. Maybe I did a better job of sneaking up on them!

The change in light did help a bit, but I had to watch out for my shadow. The longer lens helped keep that out of shot. I made a better job of the fence picture and got some others which did a passable job of showing the way the grazing system works.

Across the road there is a field of ewes and lambs. They are far more skittish than the cabbage field sheep. I tried to get some gambolling lamb pictures bu they weren't up for it. Some sheepscapes? Most were too far away to make the compositions I would have liked. The best I managed was a bit too much sheep and not enough scape.

More work is on the cards next week, but there might be more free time too. If not there is a poultry auction on Saturday. That gives me something to aim for.

Sunday, 24 March 2019

Decision time?

A long day at the Pennine interclub nursery championship today. The weather was fine for a change, although a venue I hadn't been to was both a plus and a minus. A plus as in offering different scenery, a minus in that I didn't know where to get good vantage points. On my way I stopped off to photograph the direction signs. The spelling mistake adds a certain charm.

The championship had been postponed for a week as the ground was too wet for parking. Not having a 4x4 myself I still played safe and parked on the road there being a handy pull-in near the release pen. I stared the day off there, at the top of the hill. Trialing is an egalitarian sport. Everyone, or most, take turns helping out out with the mundane tasks. There were a number standing by to guide the sheep to the post.

 Walking down the hill I tried various ways to frame the action with an ash tree. In the end I think they mostly ended up looking a bit of a mess. Maybe some sun would have helped.

I also tried to get a shot or two to show the setting in a broader context when the sun did break through.

I often try things which seem like a good idea at the time but turn out to look like I messed up! I had something in my head about the shapes on the van echoing the shapes of the field walls. Or not...

The scores were posted on a leader board after each round of five dogs, one from each of the competing clubs. Yorkshire being represented by only one club was always going to be up against the odds and soon enough it became a two dog race. In the photo below I managed to get the leaderboard and the trophies in a frame which shows the scores being updated, and I think the surrounding heads help both concentrate the eye on the 'action' and illustrate the interest of the onlookers.

Or perhaps a close up works better?

While I took lots (far too many) pictures of dogs and sheep going round the course and of the handlers at the post and pen, I tried to find new subject matter. The leader board was one new thing. Another, which gave me less time to react or plan a viewpoint was the dismantling of the pen after the presentations. How you show that this is a taking down and not putting up scene is hard to define. I guess it's all about gesture.

Apparent in the above frame is the slope of the land. Earlier in the day I had recognised the potential for this diagonal as a pictorial device. Had the clouds been more cooperative, both in making shapes to fill in the sky and by being a darker tone to aid even exposures, I might have got somewhere with the idea. As it was I struggled and failed. Reviewing the images on the PC it was also apparent that I had failed technically. None were really sharp. Whether this was down to my technique or using the wrong settings (quite likely) or a consequence of using the zoom lens with a teleconverter at both the longest focal length and on distant subjects, remains slightly open to debate. Either way the pictures look okay small, but don't stand blowing up.

The rather light and featureless skies were better manipulated in black and white. Which also suited the semi-silhouettes, which processing turned into very-nearly-silhouettes.

Even before setting off I was in a bit of a 'why do I do this' phase. I could very easily have stayed in bed.

There was another chap there yesterday taking photographs which made me question what I'm doing and why. I had a look at what I imagine is his Flickr stream last night. It made me think that doing this for a hobby is really just pissing about. Especially when there are other people photographing the same events. What is the bloody point of taking all these pictures to stick on-line where hardly anyone looks at them and having them clogging up my hard drives?

If I'm only doing this photography thing for my own amusement I'm not sure I want to bother any longer. It's not that I think my pictures are crap. I'm arrogant enough to believe that when they are good they can be really good. They're certainly a match for the ones I see which people get paid for.

Perhaps I need to start telling the world I'm working on a book (a real one that people would pay money for, not a self-indulgent Blurb creation), on the basis that then there would not only be a purpose but no going back! Not for the purpose of making a profit, but to prove they pictures have some worth to others. On the basis that if they are prepared to pay for them then they must ascribe some value to them. As I believe pictures exist to be looked at this does seem to be the only way forward.

Hey ho. The sun's supposed to shine this week. I might feel more positive by Wednesday...

Even at sheep dog trials I see poultry!

Thursday, 21 March 2019

I got religion

It's been a funny week. I've managed o resist embarking on a project or doing something for an existing one because the light hasn't been right. Usually this doesn't stop me, but one idea requires sunshine and the other tends to lack subjects when the sun doesn't shine. Instead I've been evaluating my gear with a view to jettisoning some more. No that I'm sure I reached a decision!

One afternoon I went for a walk to both look at somewhere local and see how it might work to go 'old school' with my gear selection. One body, two lenses just like 1981. This had been the original motivation behind the Fuji X100T acquisition. Trouble is the cameras are kind of frustrating, and there's something about the files that irks.

The walk proved little except that I coped. I still prefer a DSLR to anything else. Maybe because I have mine set up how it suits me and I'm used to it. It's not that I change settings all the time, but when I do I don't need to enter a menu. Push a button, spin a dial. Job done. One lens on the camera, the other in the bag and I'm sorted.

My route took me to an old church I've never photographed before, but one that does get photographed despite it not being particularly picturesque. As is par for the course the sun and blue sky which had inspired me to go out had turned to a grey overcast by the time I got to the church. Still, I could play around with finding viewpoints for a return visit. The purpose of the outing wasn't to take photos as such, more to see how the old school system worked.

Using just the 28mm was restricting in some ways, but made me think harder. I tried a lot of angles and thought I'd found some good ones. It's strange how one's perception of what works can change in the time it takes to get home and look at the pictures on a big screen. When I did that most of them looked awful, and the better ones were not as good as I'd previously imagined.

 I was bored that evening so buggered about in Lightroom...

The visit to the church must have got me thinking because the following afternoon I headed in the other direction to another old church. This one I have photographed before. Again I was in testing mode. I wanted to compare three cameras using similar focal length, or equivalent, lenses. As it turned out I did my testing mostly looking over a gate at some sheep.

I was hoping to discover if there really was any difference in the look of the files from the three sensors. It turns out there is. It's subtle, and probably not to be noticed in printed images. But even without zooming right in on a big screen there is something. I know the wisdom is that the difference in depth of field between adjacent sensor sizes is either minimal or easily compensated for, but... There's more to it than that. The lenses make a difference, as do the sensor designs.

 The current mania is for making super detailed files. Fuji's sensor design seems to be made with that in mind. Unfortunately super detailed files don't appeal to my eyes! I find them too clinical. I'm still in two minds about ditching the X100Ts. Partly because of the files, mostly because of the handling.

Having made my tests on the sheep I carried on to the church. Luckily the officious person who told me I couldn't take photos on a previous visit wasn't there to annoy me. Yet again the blue sky and fluffy clouds had merged into grey and I was stuck with a uniformly bland sky. This time I swapped between 28mm and 50mm. Trying the Fuji and the other camera (both at 28 equivalent) at times. One advantage of a small, non-DSLR, camera with a rear screen is that it can be held out in odd places for different angles without having to ed or kneel down. But that's no benefit if you don't like the pictures! I do like the pictures from the other camera, but its handling qualities let it down. I suppose I should stop trying to use every camera like a DSLR and embrace their quirks.

One problem at this church is it is right beside a main road, and a set of traffic lights. This not only puts the street lights in the picture, but traffic. If I was taking serious shots I'd either wait until there was no obvious vehicles in the picture, or take multiple shots and merge them to erase the vehicles. But I'm not that interested in taking serious shots of churches as architecture.

It's more interesting to try to take pictures which evoke the sense of place. I first photographed this particular memorial back in my film days. It's the most obvious one in the graveyard. I've photographed it more recently too. My approach was slightly different this time. Trying to get the church in the frame rather than concentrating on the angel.I don't think I quite got the angle right.

Maybe I'll go back and spend more time looking for my kind of pictures. Pictures along the lines of the one I took as I left.

You might say it's been a testing week. It started off trying the 16:9 crop in the X100T with the idea of using the camera to make a series of pictures of the village. The aspect ratio worked. Then I decided I could do the same with a DSLR by setting it to video mode, which crops to 16:9, taping up the rear screen to that aspect ratio, setting it back to stills and using that for framing. The idea revolved around using a tripod in any event. The Fujis were now redundant for another project.

I'll give the other camera ago for the Dog Town project when I get a chance. If it works I reckon my days of using Fujis are numbered. The only trouble then wil be resisting the temptation to trade them for something else in the inevitably fruitless search for the perfect small camera.

It's the lack of a local project that's at the root of all this gear thinking. If I had something real to occupy my thoughts I'd just get on with taking photographs.

Friday, 15 March 2019

A week off

With no work to be getting on with, well not much, I decided to spend this week chillin'. I started off scanning more of the dusty negatives, which was less of a chore than I anticipated. Possibly because I had plenty of time to do it rather than a couple of hours of an evening. Not much of artistic merit turned up, but some interesting pics which show how places have changed in the last 35 to 40 years.

There are enough pictures to make a couple more books which I'll get printed when Blurb has another big discount offer. One will be pictures of Southport and the other pictures taken while travelling by bus and train.
Of course the week I decide to spend taking photographs turned out to be wet, cold and windy. That was why I sat down with the scanner. There were a few breaks in the rain during which I managed to sneak out. The sun even shone a couple of times. One was a visit to Southport where I didn't really do much but did walk past a potential picture, stop and go back. I think it was worth it. A little straightening on the computer and I like it - for now. While some say photography is all about light, the shade helps at times. A limited colour palette doesn't go amiss either.

The black and white project has wound itself up so I was back in colour in the woods trying something different. It was an experimental session to see if there might be something to work on. As yet I'm uncertain.

One wet afternoon I had another go at photographing the skull. I'd bought some more reflectors and with a little messing about made some progress. I don't think I have either the space or patience for doing this sort of thing. I certainly couldn't face doing it on a daily basis.
After a false start this morning I made it into Preston after an early lunch. Like a pillock I hadn't taken enough change to get two hour's parking so had to restrict myself to an hour. At least the sun was shining, which I like for taking photographs in towns. Even if there's nothing happening there can be architecture that benefits from some contrast.

being time constrained seems to concentrate my eye and I felt like there was too much to photograph at times. In towns there are always plenty of graphic subjects to play with. Rectangles, squares, circles and so forth. They often seem to suit a vertical framing too.


It's a bit of a 'trick' but including a figure in an essentially graphic picture can make a difference. Or at least relieve the repetition.

While walking around it was soon apparent that it would be quite easy to make a set of pictures on the theme of the declining high street. Boarded up shops and for sale signs abound once you step off the main thoroughfare. Again a series of pictures of such subjects might be boring without the inclusion of a figure here and there. The easy option would be to frame a straight on view and wait for someone to walk past.

I dropped lucky with a slightly angled shot when a woman wearing a scarf with a colour that matched the shop came into the corner of the frame. I noticed her as I made a click and took another two frames but the first lucky one worked better because of it's less contrived appearance.

For my walk round Southport I'd taken just the 60mm macro lens. I found that a bit too long at times and knowing that Preston streets are a more cramped and crowded I swapped it for the 50mm in an effort to learn to love it again. Looking through all my old negatives had made me realise that it wasn't such a bad focal length.

There were a couple of times when the 28mm would have saved me from stepping into the road, but it didn't take me long to start seeing in 50mm. One thing is for certain, having only one lens doesn't limit the number of pictures you can find, and having no other option stops you dithering over which lens to use! If I had all day to walk round town I might take two lenses, using one in ten morning and the other in the afternoon. Chopping and changing every few minutes messes up your way of looking.

The failing high street strikes me as a bit of an easy subject. That's not to say it should be discounted. However, I also noticed something else during my hasty wanderings. Something which might just make for a project if I can get motivated and summon up the courage to do it the way it should be done. Which probably means it won't happen...

Sunday, 10 March 2019

Should have stayed home

The strange heatwave last month was long forgotten as I foolishly went east for the last nursery trial of the season. The forecast had been for showers and I was tempted to give it a miss, but just as decision time arrived so wid the sunshine. It looked bright where the weather was coming from so I'd be driving in to improving conditions. Wrong again.

If the wind had been from a different direction the driving rain wouldn't have been as much of a problem, but it was in my face and the camera's lens. Taking shelter in the livestock trailer didn't make much difference as the wind was so strong the rain, and hail, was almost horizontal!

I tried to be creative from within the trailer, but it didn't work too well.

Thinking I might get a different perspective, and the wind off my back I set off to climb the hill and look back and down on the field. No sooner had I reached the track part way up the slope than a heavy squall came in. I took shelter behind the pine plantation by the quarry. Stopping ever so briefly to take a couple of shots. One of which I quite like. Not because it's a stunning landscape picture, but because it shows the horrible weather and the impact of industry in what were wild places. My kind of landscape picture.

The morning continued to be showery. The sheep were being uncooperative. I find the best opportunities for action and interaction pictures come as the sheep are to be penned. yesterday few got that far and some which did walked straight in to the pen without the dog doing anything.

With the weather so vile everyone was either hiding behind or sat in their vehicles leaving me with little else to photograph in the spells between the action near enough to focus a lens on. I tried to take some photographs which might sum up the weather and conditions.

I tried taking a walk up to the release pen where I could have got my back to the wind. I hadn't even got to the kissing gate before yet more hail blasted me! I gave that up a a bad job.

 Eventually the sun came out for good, but only when it had moved round to a less than helpful angle.

At the presentation I got asked to photograph the winner of the championship trophy - with his dog, Fred. I thought dogs would be more cooperative than chickens. Not so. While his owner was stood up Fred was quite well behaved, when asked to kneel for someone else taking phots Fred thought it was playtime and rolled on his back for a tummy tickle.
Jane Bown used to claim only to take two shots when sent out to get a portrait for the Guardian. I got my shot with the second frame.Maybe she was on to something?

Then I got one of 'my' shots.

One of my daft ideas had been to do more portraity type pictures. Handlers walking off with their dogs for one. That didn't work as I couldn't face moving my position in the rain. The wind didn't help either as there were gusts which almost took me off my feet.

I was using my fast but heavy zooms today as I know from experience they are better at coping with rain. I find them a bit limiting though. The longer zoom doesn't go long enough or focus close enough. The 'standard' zoom shouldn't be restrictive but somehow it stops me seeing pictures while single focal lengths helps me. It's weird because the theory says that one lens covering my most used focal lengths should be ideal. Yet I'd rather use two lenses on two bodies, or one lens which covers the complete range of the two zooms and more. Guess I'm just plain odd.

Another frustrating and unproductive day. At least it didn't snow. If it had done I might not have got home.