Sunday, 28 April 2019

Three strikes and out

The weather forecast for yesterday was both horrible and accurate. The day started cold and wet and got cold, wet and windy.My original intention had been to go toa rare breed auction in teh morning and call in at a sheep dog trial on my way home via the tackle shop I wanted to photograph to complete the project started before they moved. Part one of the plan went well. As far as getting there and taking photos was concerned. Today I took the 'toy' camera to the auction auction knowing that the light there would be reasonable enough for the camera to cope at fairly low ISOs. I still felt like taking a hammer to it when I got home!

I don't know if I'm unusual, but I often use a camera's ability to select the focus point for me. I work on the assumption that it will focus on whatever is closest to the lens. If I'm photographing a group of sheep then the sheep nearest the camera is the one I want in focus. Saves me moving the focus point around. The camera does this just fine. Except... Whatever focus mode it's in if you touch the screen it switches to single point. Either my thumb is too big or the camera is too small but it was forever going into single focus point mode when I didn't want it to. It also defaults to 1/60th when in aperture priority and auto ISO. Once I realised this (after far too many shaky shots) I stuck it in shutter priority and stopped the motion blur. High ISO noise wasn't too bad lifting detail out of shadows at higher ISOs is not a good idea.

The tilty screen does make lamb-level shots easier, and using a camera with no viewfinder can be useful for candid shots of people. Although I prefer using a viewfinder even close up.

Playing with a couple of frames which didn't stack up in colour I found that black and white conversions worked OK as the noise isn't as distracting as it is in colour, and I think there's a perception that detail can be lost acceptably in black and white as it is using grainy film.

With enough light the high ISO shots are fine in colour. It's dingy environments where things start to go down hill. I'll give the camera a go at an agricultural show and see how it fares there. For indoor work it's back to the search for a tilty screen camera.

The sale itself didn't hold my attention for long. It had stopped raining too so I set off to stage two. Having got rid of my very-ultrawide lens I was going to be restricted to 18mm at the widest to take some indoor shots. I tried using available light, but ended up shoving the dreaded flashgun in the hotshoe and bouncing it off the white ceiling. It helped even though the space was  quite large. I'm not sure how the toy camera would have coped.

On the road again and no sooner had I arrived at the sheep dog trial than the rain came back. With the strong wind blowing it looked like it would soon blow over. When it did I got out of the car. Took two snaps and got back in teh car. It was bloody freezing! With all the dog people huddled up in their vehicles there wasn't much to photograph anyway, so I buggered off home.

Apart from wrapping up the shop pictures it felt like a bit of a wasted effort. Although learning the limits of gear is helpful as it stops me trying it in situations where I might have a chance of some different pictures. The ones I got wouldn't have been any better as pictures no matter which camera I'd used.

Back home and the culling was easy. Half the auction pics were blurred beyond my level of acceptability. A load more got dumped because I'd been shooting in burst mode and they were no more than duplicates. Then I finished off the Blurb book and ordered a copy as a proof before the latest discount code ran out. With that done I searched around for a way to reduce the size of a PDF file I'd made for a trial A4 booklet/zine and with that done uploaded it to an online PDF print service. Making hard copies is something I'm trying to do more of. Either book/zine things or plain old prints now I've found an album which makes it easy to change the contents as a sort of portfolio.

Tuesday, 23 April 2019

Bank Holiday weekends drive me nuts, especially when they are warm and sunny. Going anywhere can be a pain with all the traffic of other people going places unless you set off early and return late, and there are hardly any events being held which I'd like to go to.Yesterday was an exception, there being a sheep dog trial. As trials start before nine that meant I'd avoid the traffic one wat at least. The dry weather recently also meant I'd be able to park in the field without fear of getting the car stuck. This was a bonus as I wouldn't have to carry my bag around all day.

Although it was only eight o'clock there was already a bright haze to the day. photographically this made taking photos of distant things a bit tricky. I guess some people would refrain owing to the softness the haze produces, or they'd add con trast to the files later. To my mind the haze suggests the atmosphere of the day.

The trial itself was different to the nurseries of the winter months. A longer more challenging trial with the sheep released from the top of the hill. Having walked up the hill myself some time ago and needing a long rest at the top I'm amazed at how the dogs bound up there as if they are on level ground! Trying to show how far and high the sheep are from the pen in a single picture is difficult. Particularly if the picture is to be viewed small, as here. The dogs and sheep, and people, become specks if a wide view is used. With a telephoto view the details are still small, but the distance is hard to judge.

With each run taking a long time for the action within reasonable camera range I had a lot of 'down time'. I spent some of it photographing hot dogs while struggling to provide some context.

On 'that photography forum' last week I got into an argument about how many shots to take of a subject. One cretin (I can't be arsed being polite) said that he only took three because he shot film and previsualised his pictures before setting up the camera and it would be a waste of time trying to improve his framing/viewpoint. Probably fine for him when he's photographing a church font. It ain't going to run away any time soon... The picture below was my second frame, the first was looser. It works quite well. It's simple, it shows a sheep dog graphic, a water bowl and a lead to suggest the presence of a real sheep dog. I was happy enough with it for what it is.

Then I moved right and saw people chatting in the background and the dog travel cages with crook. The next frame was the third I took as I altered framing and waited for the people to strike more visually interesting poses. Both pictures work, but in different ways. When you don't know how pictures will eventually be presented this matters. Having vertical and horizontal options of the same subject can be handy for editorial purposes. I still think that way even though the chances of my pictures being used like that are nil these days!

Almost everyone who takes photographs at sheep dog trials will take one or two of the dogs in the back of vehicles. I have long since got tired of that but every now and then a dog will catch my eye. This one looked a bit fed up.

I'm starting to lose interest in photographing the action. Partly because it's repetitive, partly because I could do with a different lens, partly because I can't always get the angles I want. This has lead me to go looking for detail shots. On their own they don't mean much, but added together and slotted in between wider pictures they add to the story telling. I've noticed in a lot of contemporary art-documentary photography the projects/books consist almost entirely of this sort of picture. As if the artist-photographer is trying to convey a story by telepathy. I think the pictures are meant to be metaphorical, but metaphors don't always get a message across.

While a head on detail shot can work graphically, there are other ways of shooting them without getting too 'clever'.

I still haven't got round to approaching people to ask if I can get shots of their whistles, but maybe portraits including the whistles might be a better idea. It would get away from the temptation of using the art-documentary style, although such a series of pictures could punctuate a project.

At lunch time there was another difference to the trial, one I'd not watched before, a brace trial where the handlers run two dogs to gather one packet of sheep each, bring them together to run through the usual trial circuit then pen them without the handler to close the gate. Finally the sheep are released from the pen and split into two equal packets to complete the run.

How to show that two dogs are in use became the challenge. Not easy when they are far apart for most of the time.

For some reason I struggled to get the action shots sharp all day. Possibly this was the result of trying different settings to my usual ones. There might also have been some cock-up at play as it wasn't until late on I noticed I hadn't switched the vibration reduction off - which I usually do for action. Next time I think I'll go back to doing what I've done previously. I might get more sharp shots.

Continuing the technical theme I was editing my results and for some reason checked the ISO value of one frame of a dog portrait. There was plenty of detail and no noise. ISO 8000. Amazing what a difference it makes using high ISOs in good light. It was nothing like a shot taken at the same ISO in the auction mart in December. This is why I never trust any reviews of high ISO performance. Unless they are conducted in crappy light levels they are meaningless to me.

As a final technical note, one of the photographs in this post was taken with my latest 'toy' camera. It processed well with detail lifted from the shadow and some highlight recovery. I was almost convinced that this system might be usable if a higher spec body was bought. Then I compared it to a frame from a proper camera and changed my mind! It's not a lack of sharpness or the greater depth of field (which in itself can be useful), it's the transition from in focus to out which is less smooth on teh smaller sensor. Although for some reason my compact, which has an even smaller sensor, doesn't seem as bad. Maybe I need a faster lens? But that would be almost in the price range of a full frame lens and big enough to make the toy camera less compact (which is it's main benefit for me). I ought to take my compact out more I suppose.

When I upgraded my computer I had it in mind to star making short slide shows, some including video clips. It's taken me a while to get round to start learning some new software, but at last I have dipped my toe into it. This is my first silent attempt. I'm getting the hang of titles and captions. Adding sound comes next. Then perhaps video effects, although I want to keep things simple. What will be required are storyboards to plan things out in advance. Eek!!

Tuesday, 16 April 2019

I never learn

In a fit of madness I got myself yet another camera with horrible reds. The trouble is the bloody things tick all the right boxes on my 'camera for wandering round town with' spec sheet. Except for the way they render various shades of red. First time out with the thing and the reds hit me straight between the eyes as soon as I loaded the files on the PC. After a bit of fiddling I've made a profile which tames them a bit. Today's search for red things to test the profile was fruitless. There was nothing red to be found! I'll give it a few more goes before throwing the camera at a wall.

The main reason for buying the camera was to get a tilty touch-screen. This does work well. Apart from it being too easy to touch the screen accidentally. As the camera has no viewfinder the use of the tilty screen automatically lowers the viewpoint, making it similar to that of a twin lens reflex camera, or any with a waist-level viewfinder, from the days of film. This makes you less obviously photographing when around people.

Reds are easily sorted in black and white. If only I could find a project to justify black and white conversions. Doing them just for the sake of it is a bit naff. Even worse if it's done because 'street is best in black and white'.

The bus station, however, is mostly black and white, so conversions don't lose much, in fact they rather enhance the graphic nature of many photographs taken there. Although sometimes a small touch of colour works too.

One unexpected advantage of a tiny camera, and this one is tiny, is that it could easily be held at arms length as I leaned over a railing to take a couple of shots of the interior of what was the art school where I did my foundation course. The place has been deserted and up for sale for a few years now. A shame.

Or held up high to another window. The windows were very grimy, hence the soft look to the pictures.

The lens I got with the camera is nice and compact, although it does distort a lot at the wide end which isn't a big deal for people pics but not so good for architecture.

The dilemma now is to persevere with this latest small camera and ditch the Fuji, or look elsewhere for the perfect little camera. This one would be fine to take fishing. My fishing compact might be better for taking anywhere. Decisions decisions. So far no camera I've tried has been as easy to use as a DSLR, although teh fishing compact comes close. Maybe forget the quest and stick with one of those great big lumps!

Tuesday, 9 April 2019

Easter lambs

Of all the events I've photographed I think sheep auctions are the most difficult to tell the story of in pictures. Certainly without resorting to the obvious. That doesn't stop me trying, but it can be frustrating.

This time I was determined to get some unloading shots. At least this takes place outdoors where the light isn't as gloomy as inside the shed or sale ring. Sheep jumping out of trailers is a bit of an expected picture, but hard to resist. Not easy to capture though. I wasn't helped by trying the flippy screen and liveview again. It really doesn't work well on the DSLR for action when a subject is moving off the focus point. I'll persevere with it for a while longer before I'll admit defeat!

Looking back at the results of the day I'm wondering if I've been overdoing the low level shots anyway. There are some eye level ones which work better. Low down can give a lot of space at the top of the frame to fill. Waist level can be a good compromise.

Sheep level has its uses though.

When I see an open door my inquisitive nature takes over. Behind the scenes pictures add variety and interest to a project.

Is it cheating to spin a can round in order to reveal what it is? I don't think so.

Lamb level is as low as I can get. Again the focus point let me down. If only it had an auto area setting which would pick out whatever is nearest the camera no matter where in the frame it is.


Feeling somewhat dispirited I left the mart early and went for another peek at the lamb sculptures which I'd noticed the other day were surrounded by daffodils. The sculptures are not positioned well to make photographs without including the road and/or road signs. So I chose for making the setting obvious.

Despite the lack of worthy additions to the files I have come away with some thoughts on how to do better in future. So it wasn't a wasted journey.

Back home I found some more sheep related photography/documentary stuff on-line. This cheered me up as I didn't think it was anything special, despite it's grant funded status. I shall continue doing what I do in my own half-arsed way!

Sunday, 7 April 2019

Another mixed week

Trusting the weather forecast is a mug's game. Friday was supposed to be wamr and sunny, so I decided to take the day off and head for sheep country. That didn't pan out. Eventually I went for a look at the changes on the sea front intending to make some pictures to show how it has changed. Although I got there I didn't feel like doing anything. I'd passed the sandplant where the car park which has been free to use for as long as it's been there is soon to be turned into a money maker for the already well funded RSPB.

The notices of impending doom now make it clear why the big sign stating the car park opening times was erected a while back. There being no gate or barrier to the car park it had seemed a bit ridiculous. When the barrier arrives it'll make much more sense.

The RSPB love erecting signs and notices. Locals seem to love removing them when they are intended to keep them out of places they have roamed for decades.

Later, after nipping home for a longer lens, I went for a look at a flock of sheep and their lambs. Wary critters, sheep. Harder to sneak up on than many wild animals! I got a sheepscape and one or two pictures of sheep which are okay.

Even when 'cast' (lying on their back unable to right themselves) sheep don't like being approached. After putting my camera down I quietly went to the aide of one such sheep. Despite my careful approach the ewe thrashed about and kicked her legs so energetically she was able to stand up and (as sheep do) walk slowly away a few yards and have a wee. Why couldn't the daft animal have righted itself before my arrival?!

Always on the lookout for pictures which don't obviously say 'sheep' I spied a couple of supplement licks and tried to make a picture of one. The heavily hoof-marked ground was what made the picture for me.

Saturday was poultry auction day. Again I was in two minds about making the early start. I was glad I did. Not only did I manage to stop and make a sheepscape en route I also got some new additions to the poultry auction archives. There was a huge entry of hatching eggs, each lot having to be allocated a number. Catching the moment when the number on the sticky label was visible and in the process of being stuck down took a good few attempts.

In the other shed the early morning light was doing its thing casting shadows on the proceedings. This only lasts until around ten (and only occurs in spring and autumn) but makes it easy to get impressive pictures.

I must have had my eye in for seeing light effects, as I spotted one in the mart café. Mmm, bacon...

The action in the sale ring didn't present much other than the usual. There wasn't much different in the main shed either, until I started looking in a different way, trying to make those 'complex' pictures I like to look at. I never miond accepting happy accidents such as people walking close to the camera.

Sub-framing is a bot of a cliché but it can help break up a set of pictures.

In line with my recent days at sheep dog trials I took a lot more frames than I used to. Especially when I saw a potential picture in the hope that something better would happen rather than settling for the first or second frame and moving on. This means a lot more deletion on teh PC, but it pays off often enough to make it worthwhile. Not a new technique, but one I've never followed through to the degree I should in the past. It can also result in a series of pictures which work as sequence.

Six hundred frames were soon whittled down to 200, 45 of which can be seen here.

Leaving the mart I could happily have headed home but the sun was shining so I turned left aiming for some hills and some sheep - with a bit of luck.

As is to be expected when the sheep spotted me they sidled off! So that meant sheepscapes were to be sought. I really don't know why the middle hours of the day are thought to be bad for landscape photography. Maybe three o'clock doesn't count, but I still like the sun well up in the sky. But then I don't like my landscape pictures devoid of life - animal or human. If there are no figures in a landscape, where's the story?