Monday, 27 May 2019

A long weekend

Where to start? Thursday is as good as anywhere. That was the day I had my car booked in for a recall. The third one for the same problem. On past experience it could mean either a full day roaming around or a couple of hours. I went prepared for the former, but with two small cameras. One being my 'expensive' compact and the other a Fuji X100T. I wanted to see if I could get used to one or both for 'street' photography. As Thursday is market day it would be an ideal test. Luckily it was a dry day and warm. After four hours I was hot and knackered so went for a sit down in the graveyard!

As it turned out I took more pictures with the Fuji, but liked the look of those from the Nikon better. It wasn't easy to tell them apart though despite the slight difference in focal lengths. With practice I got them both operating well enough for my way of shooting. Even using an optical viewfinder on the Nikon, so I didn't see exactly what the picture would look like, I got some decent shots. Not that they are all that great in teh scheme of things and don't really fit into a body of work. Just random snaps like most street photography I see.

When I did want to frame a shot accurately I used the rear screen. Difficult to see in bright light though.

At four o'clock I finally got the call to go and collect my car. I was knackered. Having planned to go on a photo-tour with a friend the next day I wasn't sure if I'd be up to it! A good night's sleep, however, saw me raring to go on another warm (if out of the wind) and sunny day.

I wasn't expecting to take many photographs, and certainly not any good ones, as it was more of a recce session. So it was a bonus to add a "slow lambs" sign to the archives.

In sheep country there's always a chance of a sheepscape or two. Not the best, but a little different.

After two sunny days it was inevitable that as the bank holiday approached rain would be looming on the horizon. There was a sheep dog trial on Saturday but I chose to stay home and get my wildlife pond fettled. Or start fettling it. I got the tadpoles out, baled out the water in teh muddy hole, put the new liner in place and half filled the pond to give the tadpoles somewhere to swim while it was warm and dry. Then the rain arrived.

Overnight the rain got heavier and by the time I got up it was heavy and persistent enough to put me right off going to the sheep dog trial that I'd been looking forward to. Shortly before lunch, however, things began to perk up. Pond or photography? It wasn't pond.

Of course I knew that the weather would be different up on the hills. And as I approached the trials field I drove into thick mist. At least it wasn't raining, but would the trial be fogged off? Nearing the turning for the trial's usual entrance I spotted a sign to 'Sheep dog Trial'. Too late to stop I carried on to the usual parking spot and had a walk to see what was what. It turned out the trial was on teh usual field, but being run from the opposite end with the parking rearranged accordingly. Looking at the parking field I was better off where I was already parked so I grabbed my gear and set off as the rain returned. There was a stiff wind blowing cold and mist hanging over the release pen causing a pause in proceedings. The wind blew the mist away quickly enough and I started to make some pictures.

The different layout meant that getting action shots was a little easier, and with a shorter focal length lens. But that still doesn't interest me much. I concentrated on looking for different views. More complex pictures which perhaps told more of a story to an uninitiated viewer. I'm always conscious of making pictures I want to look at rather than the sort the people in my pictures would expect to see. Probably does nothing to endear my photos to them, which is why I throw a few of the expected shots into my galleries in case anyone looks at them!

While it was damp I stuck with my longer zoom on the crop body. While it's ideal for action and distant subjects I don't really like it as a general purpose lens. I know a lot of folk think of such a lens as their go-to lens, but I feel that the pictures look to have a disconnect from the subject. Wider lenses give a more intimate feel to pictures of people. When the rain passed over for good I got the body with the wider lens and bigger sensor out.

I'm much happier using this lens, although the compression of space which longer lenses can provide is useful at times.

The weather had improved but people were drifting away. I drifted too.

Bank Holiday Monday and another much anticipated event. My first agricultural show of the year and plenty of sheep to photograph. Earlier in the week the forecast had been mixed but not too bad. Light showers was the latest I saw. Then the early morning forecast told a different story. Driving to the show it was, indeed. a case of light showers. On arrival it was fine so I left my waterproof trousers in the car and put the jacket on. Down at the sheep pens it was threatening to turn sunny. 

I was planning to concentrate on the Lonk section, then wander round looking at other sheepy subjects. It was dry with intermittent drizzle as the sheep started arriving. I spoke to a family showing their Valais Blacknose for the first time. Cute sheep. And apparently very friendly. I'm not sure if they make good eating. It didn't seem wise to ask!

I'd taken along my mirrorless camera with the tilty screen, purely to try and get a good unloading picture or two. A low angle being my intention for this and other subjects. I did get a couple that worked, but... The files really are disappointing. They stick out from my DSLR pictures. Maybe it's a clash of the colour science the two manufacturers use, or the different way focus falls off between the two sensor sizes. I'm leaning towards the colour as my tiny sensor Nikon camera's pictures don't clash the same. Pulling detail from shadows is usually impossible with the mirrorless files too. It's had its chances!

Despite my efforts trying for low angle pictures of sheep running or jumping out of a trailer my favourite unloading picture of the day is a bit different. It was taken standing up and the sheep are hardly moving!

It wasn't long before the rain set in. It was sort of showery. If heavy downpours between light rain is showery! It was pretty miserable and my legs were getting wet. Despite intending to stick with shorter focal lengths I was glad I'd stuck the trusty super-zoom on the camera before the rain set in for good. As well as being useful when I can't get close it's good for close-ups.

Having spotted some pink fingernails I kept trying to get them in a picture somehow to provide a contrast. I'm not sure they really stand out enough. Then again if they were too prominent they'd become the focus of the pictures.

Capturing the judging process in interesting ways provides the dilemma of going wide for context or tight for impact. Then there's expression and gesture to consider.

While I still try not to 'snipe' pictures of 'characters' it can be worthwhile to show a judge deliberating.

I was lucky that the Lonk section was first to be judged as by the time that was over I'd pretty much had enough of being damp. Some of the sheep were looking fed up too.

Last year I got a free ticket and asked to photograph the poultry section. This year I had to pay to get in, which took the pressure off me to stick around and to take the kind of  photos which those involved would expect to look at. I didn't even take any pictures of the poultry section. None I haven't deleted at a any rate. The show had enlisted the services of the local camera club as official photographers. They were easily spotted by the bright yellow safety vests. I could have done their job, being summoned by the PA system to go hither and yon as they were. I'd have feigned deafness.

More trials in the offing and show season will start in earnest in a couple of weeks. I'm not sure if I have the drive for it all at the moment. Maybe when I've dried out I will!

Extended galleries here and here.

Monday, 20 May 2019

Lazy/Not Lazy

In order that I don't forget about events I started writing them on a calendar last year. Such forward planning has never been a feature of my life until recently. The weekend just gone was pretty crowded with sheep dog events. There was an auction on Friday and two trials on both Saturday and Sunday. The auction was inked in, but I still managed to leave a little late. I was surprised to find there was parking space available. The attendance seemed down on my previous visits and looking at the crowd from up the slope that seemed to be the case.

This time I started out trying to get pictures of the dog's having their microchips read. Space was cramped and it doesn't take long. Getting a well frame shot that both shows what's going on and works as a picture isn't simple. Especially if you want the red light on the scanner to be lit. Being late meant there weren't many dogs left to be scanned so I'll have to try harder next time.

I always find the release pens at trials throw up interesting pictures and there are people to talk to there as well. My target was to get pictures with the sheep ready for release, someone managing them, a dog and handler showing off  and the crowd. Having decided to start the day 'old school' with two cameras with 28mm and 50mm lenses attached it was a bit of a challenge.

I also like pictures of sheep being let out and using a fast burst rate is the best way I have found to get them. It means you have a chance of catching unexpected moments like a jumping sheep. The next step is to make the picture more interesting!

On the subject of the unexpected it wasn't until I saw the next picture large on the computer screen that I realised there was something odd going on in it.

Detail shots were also on my wish list. Not many presented themselves though.

The day gradually warmed up and as the crowds were thin and bidding slow I left a little earlier than I'd intended and spent the evening sorting through the photo-dross. There was a lot of nothing shots to get rid of.

The following morning I couldn't face going out again, it was gloomy and threatening rain anyway. But by lunchtime I was bored so headed off to catch the end of the nearest trial. The other trial wasn't far away and many runners were booked in to both. With it being late on and the runners split between venues it was quiet. As at the auction I was still playing around with the crop sensor camera, gradually learning it's foibles and slowly getting more consistent results.

The other camera had a standard zoom attached and as well as using that to take detail shots I also started looking for landscape pictures with the action smaller in the frame. I also got on a bit of a vertical orientation kick for some reason. There might be some scope for progressing in that direction.

On my way home I had to pull over to photograph a hand painted sign. I think I should have slowed the shutter speed to blur the vehicles though.

Sunday morning and I was lethargic again. It was gone ten before I decided that pottering about or finishing off some work wasn't very appealing. The weather forecast wasn't great but it wasn't going to rain. Where to go? One venue I knew was a bit restrictive so I plumped for the other, which I'd been to a week before. Taking a different route I got a bit lost...

One idea I had in advance was to take pictures from a distance if I could get a decent vantage point. As it turned out there is a lay-by on the road which crosses the moor above the trial field and a footpath leading down through it. I slowly worked my way down the hill through the heather, bilberry and cotton grass pausing to fail to make any worthwhile pictures of the latter.

The footpath actually passes right by the release pen where I again hung around for a while before heading back up the hill in order to drive down it to the trial field.

It was more of the same old stuff practising long lens technique and panning, and trying to remember which focus mode works best for it. This technically dependent photography isn't my style. I'm still stuck in my 1970s mode of using the central focusing aid to get focus then recomposing the shot. It doesn't work on fast moving dogs!

My hit rate has improved, and the crop sensor body works better than I thought it did. part of my dissatisfaction was that the display screen doesn't seem to be as detailed as on my other cameras and at higher ISOs it loses detail compared to the full frame sensors. In bright light it's fine, in more usual north of England gloom it's a bit pants. I'm not posing any pictures of running dogs because, if I'm honest, I find them boring.

Probably more boring to normal people are the kind of pictures I like taking!

Pictures which include running dogs with the sheep and shepherd are on my interesting list. It's the interactions and gestures which give them life and make them pictures. Framing them so as to avoid cropping is the big challenge. When stuck for a composition, bang the subject in the centre of the frame.

I'm sure that sheep dog aficionados would concentrate on the dogs in such pictures, whereas I tend to look at the people, although the gestures of dogs and sheep are just as important in making the pictures work.

As the day wore on I went back to looking for wider views. Balancing the size of the dog and handler with the scale of the landscape is tricky. Such pictures are best seen at a large size than I post on-line.

A long weekend of making my eyes and brain work together has left me feeling a bit burnt out.

Monday, 13 May 2019

Decisions made

Sunday saw me dragging myself to the egg show without much enthusiasm, or hope for getting any decent pictures having been there before. My main reason for going was to make a final decision about cameras/sensors. I took two small cameras and a big one with a smallish sensor. The light in the village hall isn't too bad so it was as much a handling test as anything.

Even with the reasonable light I came to the conclusion that for any indoor photography without additional light the big ol' sensors win every time. The cameras might not be unobtrusive, but as I repeatedly discover, that doesn't matter. It's big lenses that put people on their guard.

All three cameras did OK, although the one I used least might have been down to focal length more than anything. Even so that was the camera which took my favourite photograph of the day! The 90mm equivalent focal length seemed natural to me despite thinking 30mm equivalent might have got more use. The camera with the zoom got most 'keepers'. Again, not much of a surprise as the tilty screen was used a fair bit.

Although I thought I'd seen everything there is to photograph in the egg judging world the 'level stick' was new to me. That made the visit worthwhile on its own. And I got a decent shot of it in action. 

Final decision? Stick with the full frame DSLRs - even if they aren't fashionable in these days of mirrorless transition. They work, I have the lenses I like. No need to change. The Fuji, yet again, pissed me off with its clunky in-out-shake-it-all-about focussing. It's gonna have to go. I can understand why rangefinder users like it - they're used to a slower way of shooting. In that respect it is quite like the film shooting experience. But times have changed. When the subject isn't going anywhere fast it makes nice files though.

One from the smallest camera to prove that at screen sizes there's nothing to choose between any sensor, even at higher ISOs.

Another reason for my lack of drive to get out on Sunday was having been at a sheepdog trial the day before. That had been another exercise in camera evaluation. I got myself another APS DSLR body to give me a cheaper way than buying a longer lens of getting more reach for photographing sheep dogs in action. I ended the day wishing I hadn't bothered.

There were two reasons for this. Firstly the camera didn't seem keen on focusing on distant things at the full length of my cheaper zoom. The lens I was hoping to weld to the camera. At close range or shorter focal lengths it was fine. With two different lenses it was fine. For some unknown reason it improved performance after lunch and started producing acceptable results. I have no idea what was going on, it might have been something to do with the focus modes I was using.

Being in trial (pun intended) mode I had other gear with me. I was also seeing if the Fuji might work as a second camera for this sort of event. I took two shots to start with then put it away for the day. It really doesn't work for me. My cheap and cheerful mid range zoom, on either an FX or DX body on the other hand works great for me. Better on the larger sensor. That decided me to stick with it as my outdoor go-to lens for the summer rather than rely on the do-it-all superzoom. The second body might get a longer zoom, or simply my 100mm.

The day also served to convince me that photographing sheep dogs going round the trial field isn't my thing. If I was a mad keen trial person then it probably would be, but as I'm interested in making decent pictures there's not much scope and it relies on long focal lengths which don't make my kind of pictures most of the time.

That said, I was able to get a couple of decent driving shots when the dogs took the sheep to the exhaust gate as I was able to stand near to it with the slope putting me at sheep level - saving the old knees.

Of course, long focal lengths do have their uses. I find them handy for pictures of dogs, and handlers with dogs as they both give separation from the background and keep me away from the subject so they don't notice me. Although that latter point is moot.

I struggle to find detail shots at the trials. However I made a pair of pictures to show a fancy crook and a practical one.

I'm posting the next two pictures because the second one was the result of me persevering for longer than I often do in the hope of getting a better picture. It's not perfect. I'd have liked a sheep dog and sheep in the distance, but it's not too bad of its sort.

What drew me to the scene initially was the two men and their dogs having a near symmetry. I positioned myself to get the judge's 4x4 in the frame and the handler (he's 92 by the way) at the post. The first frame here (I took a few more) was not too bad but I moved a little to my left to separate the vehicle from the chap on the left. Then waited until both dogs were looking at the sheep.

I was hoping to get both men in profile, as they were chatting, but settled for one. It wasn't until I got the pics on the PC and was toggling between the two I thought worked best that I realised that the guy on the right had crossed his legs mirroring the pose of the other chap and making the picture. I'm not sure that having both faces in profile would have improved the shot. It might have been too 'static'. It's funny how little things in pictures can make big differences. Something else I only noticed later on was that the right hand dog lead is a contrasting colour to the bloke's jeans. Nothing much, but it helps the story, I think.

I'm not sure why but I prefer photographing sheep being driven as a flock rather than as small packets round a trial field. When it was time to gather them up to take back to the release pen I was almost in the right place. Getting the three elements - sheep, dog and shepherd - together is down to luck I reckon. One of those subjects to keep trying until it clicks. The sheep in the background were a small bonus.

The way back to the release pen was up the narrow lane. While quiet a flock of sheep on the tarmac destined to attract a car or two.

A busy couple of days which have convinced me of a way forward to pare my gear down. The Panasonic is going in the fishing bag, the Fujis are just going. The DX body is going to stay for the time being. If I can fathom the focus issue it'll be worth keeping for anything I need maximum reach for in good light, and possibly with a couple of small primes as a knockabout camera.

I'm keeping my 'pro' zooms mostly for rainy days as they have better weather sealing than my 'consumer' zooms and for low light situations. The mid-price zooms will become my staples for outdoor use in fine and sunny weather. My big resolution is to concentrate on the middle range of focal lengths as I think they make most of my best pictures. Forget trying to cover all bases and home in on making good pictures of a more intimate type.

Open trial season is well under way now with plenty to choose from, including tow and three day trials. Agricultural show season has also kicked off. Will I stand the pace or am I already running out of steam? Time will tell.