Tuesday, 25 June 2019

Sheep, dogs and sheep

After the Toddy show I decided to check out the brand of waterproofs which seemed popular with the sheep folk. They might not be breathable but the price was right for a pair of over-trousers to replace my ancient Dutch army ones which are well passed their prime and no longer living up to their job description. The new waterproofs arrived midweek - along with the promise of hot weather. Saturday's visit to a sheep dog trial was the first event for ages when I didn't need to either wrap up warm or keep the rain out. Those trousers had been a good investment!

With there being a three-day trial going on elsewhere I didn't expect there to be a big turnout at the one I was at, and it seemed to be the case. My main aim was yet another gear evaluation task. To see if I could do away with the consumer telephoto zoom and use my superzoom to do the same job with the sheep dog action. This venue didn't require a longer lens so it was ideal for the job. The mostly sunny day also helped in making the autofocus of both lenses work to their best advantage. I was still trying to make pictures though. The only way I can evaluate gear is by using it as intended rather than doing 'bench tests' like most people on the web seem to do.

I keep trying for a good shot of a sheep being shed and got one that is heading in the right direction.

Silhouettes on the skyline always catch my eye. A pity about the power lines crossing the frame. Or is it?

The sheep were a bit tricky and had got to know where the escape route was. This lot were making a break for it when they stopped in front of me. It's almost a picture.

Not every trial has a livestock trailer in attendance as a mobile office, but when they do I like to get a picture of it.

The lens evaluation proved to be a failure. Most of the pictures I ended up keeping were taken with the telephoto zoom, or at focal lengths it covered. I also thought the pictures looked more pleasing in the out of focus areas. That was a bit of a blow as I was hoping to sell it as surplus top requirements! As it was I decided to take it to the final day of the three-day trial to see how it fared for photographing the sheep show being held there.

Day two was probably the busiest day at this trial, with lots of other attractions to draw the family crowds, but a sheep show featuring my three favourite Pennine breeds was of more interest to me. The venue is owned by the sheep dog society and features a permanent stand and judges' box, and a 'clubhouse'. The crowd isn't all sheep dog people either, there are plenty of 'normal people' there too!

The sheep show took most of my time, and most of the day too, which meant I didn't spend much time at the trial field. It is a pretty good venue with the pen close enough to the stands for a 300mm lens to get good shots from the fence at the field edge.

Unfortunately while I was by the trials the sheep were mostly uncooperative and most handlers retired before getting near the pen. That prompted me to look for pictures around the event.
There was quite a bit to photograph and I almost wished I had attended one of the first two days.

Regardless of missing out on the dog front I had plenty of opportunities with the sheep. Being further south than I have been before there was a good showing of Whitefaced Woodlands. So many that I overheard on exhibitor bemoaning the fact that there was more competition! Woodlands are listed by the Rare Breeds Survival Trusts as 'vulnerable'. Derbyshire Gritstones are listed as 'at risk' and were also well represented. Lonks are not on any RBST list and also had a good turnout.

Although other breeds are photogenic there's more to photography for me than making pretty pictures. I like my photographs to have a point. What this point is when it comes to sheep I'm not sure, but I have narrowed my field of view from sheep in general to the three breeds mentioned above. That doesn't stop me taking photos of other breeds, but the pictures tend to be stand-alones or parts of sub-sets. Something which I haven't considered as a project within a project, but which someone else pointed out to me, is hands. Rather than hands on their own I'm thinking hands on sheep might be the way to progress the idea.

Unlike the other Pennine breeds Woodlands have white faces. hard to believe given their full name, I know! I think they are a fine looking, and very sheepy, sheep.

The telephoto zoom did a good job of the close-ups. However, it's people interacting with sheep and each other which is my main area of interest. I was able to get in close enough to use a wider zoom and to alter my viewpoints to get the framings I wanted. Even so I shot a load of rubbish which needed deleting.

I'd been looking at an Elliot Erwit contact sheet which contained one of his best known pictures. The impression we get from seeing a great 'street' photograph is that it was a quickly grabbed frame that captured a fleeting moment. Yet there it was, the last frame of almost a complete roll of 35mm film. This made me think about shooting more frames of a scene until I either get a picture or miss out altogether.

Early on I spotted a personalised polo shirt being worn by one farmer. I took a quick shot of the wording on his back. As it was it made a 'one liner' as I call them. A picture that is worth a single glance of recognition of the message. Later I was stood by the guy and it struck me that a photo of a wider scene which included the shirt might merit a second look.

As I got into my stride I tried to capture the feel of the show rather than what it looked like. The results are a bit chaotic, which I like.

This isn't to say that I ignored details. One, which was another hand picture, got me close to making a picture of the awarding of a rosette.

Details do tend to be one-liners, but this sort of picture can work either as a group or to add to the rhythm of a sequence.

The lens evaluation was a bit of a flop. I didn't work out if using the telephoto and a wider zoom was any better or worse than using the do-it-all lens. Either in terms of the dreaded image quality or the user experience. I do know that the results from all the lenses I use are on a par when it comes to the ways I'm likely to show them. In fact, apart from light gathering I can't see any need to use fast 'pro' zooms at all. I can get subject separation with slower lenses by using  longer focal length and standing further back. Most of the time I'd rather have more depth of field anyway. Bu tI'm not normal!

In terms of adding to my collection of sheep show pictures and idea development I was more successful. That's more important than gear. With good ideas the gear's not all that crucial.

Sunday, 16 June 2019

A slow week

Quite why I hardly picked up a camera since North Sheep I'm not sure. The weather's been dodgy for one thing, and I've lacked any motivation for another. Last Sunday was fair, but I didn't drag myself out until the evening. Going down the stairs with my camera shadows and light caught my eye, as it sometimes does around the house, and I took a few shots. One day I might collect some of these pictures together. I often convert these pictures to black and white, but I've not bothered with this one. Yet.

I had nowhere in mind to go with the camera, which is why I returned with next to nothing worth saving. What little did catch my eye was once more effects of light and shade. While photographs aren't always about the light, sometimes they are.

As the week went on I was hoping that Saturday would at least be dry, if not sunny, as it was the day of the Todmorden Show. While it wasn't red hot as I drove to the show ground it was getting warmer by the mile, and it was dry.At the gate disaster struck. I couldn't get the gear lever out of first gear. I managed to park up and with the engine off jiggled the lever free. Try the car again, call the AA, or go photograph sheep? The car wasn't going anywhere, so I went to look for the sheep pens!

It was quiet when I got there, most pens still being empty.

When they had filled it was Gritstones to be judged first followed by Lonks. The Grits were judged near the end of the aisle between the pens, which made getting photographs relatively easy from outside the pens.

Gearwise I was in a two fast zoom mood. I felt like doing it the way it's 'supposed' to be done, and at wider apertures than I usually use.Some pictures were even taken at f2.8...

When it was time for the lovely Lonks to be appraised I found myself wishing I'd stuck in a longer lens. Either my trusty do-it-all superzoom or the 'consumer' telephoto zoom. I couldn't get myself close to the action either for general shots or details. 200mm just isn't enough at times like that.

In advance of the show I'd told myself I'd take more 'character' shots this time. Much as I try not to take this sort of picture they do have a part to play. I think interaction pictures are stronger than isolated individuals.

Detail pictures are always on my agenda, but finding them can prove problematic. It's worth putting the camera down for a while and just looking at what's going on for a while. I was doing that when I noticed a lot of the hurdles used to make the sheep pens had TAS (Todmorden Agricultural Society) painted on them. Then I started to look for how I could incorporate that in a picture. I'm not sure I succeeded, but I did try.

I also remembered that I have a mini-project of pictures of baler twine and its many uses in farming on a slow heat. Yet I'd never photographed it at an agricultural show. Some yellow twine and a matching ear tag changed that.

Time was getting on as I wanted to catch the sheep dog display at 12. The Lonk judging was almost over by then so I went to see the waterfowl being herded. I'd met Elaine earlier and she'd said the geese were in a funny mood as they were still laying, and the ducks weren't her best squad so things might go a little awry. As I got to the arena the geese were in flight back to their trailer!

Not knowing what the plan was, and there being a goodly crowd around the side, I expected my chances of getting any decent pictures were slim. I was right. I did get one or two that were okayish. If I'd waited for the 3pm display I might have improved on them, but I didn't want to hang around until then in case my car was still immobile and there would be a wait for the AA.

As it turned out the car went into all gears as if there'd never been an issue. I did drive through rain on my way home, so I might not have got any decent sheep dog pictures in any case.

Back home and the day of mishaps continued. For some unaccountable reason one of my cameras had been set to shoot small jpegs. How that happened I have no idea. Luckily there weren't any earth shattering pictures amongst the files. I only noticed this cock up when the pics were on my PC. And only when I happened to spot the file info. I had wondered why there wasn't much highlight recovery in one file though. What did surprise me was how little processing the jpegs needed. The camera's settings had done a pretty good job. Although they did look a little over-sharpened to my eyes. More like everyone else's pictures tend to look!

Whatever the case, I know from past experience that a 3 megapixel file will print nicely enough to make a double page magazine spread. As that's how I tend to judge 'image quality' they'll do for most uses I'm ever likely to put them to. On this blog, where pictures appear much smaller than that, I doubt anyone could tell which started life as full size raw files or tiny jpegs!

A rather short selection of pictures from the sheep show can be seen here. Short because I left early, couldn't get a good position for the Lonk judging, and because I was feeling jaded. The latter might have been because I was concerned how the day would pan out with the car.

Unless I go to the first day of the Cheshire show on Tuesday I don't expect to be doing any show photography for three weeks. There might be some sheep dog stuff, but I'm not sure if I can face any more of that. of course I might be bored out of my tree and even sheep dogs will seem like a good reason to get a camera out!

The Cheshire show isn't too appealing. It's expensive for one thing, there don't appear to be any sheep breeds of interest to me for another, and it's in Cheshire. However, I am kind of keen to try photographing a show with just one, or maybe, two focal lengths. All right, three... The gates open at eight. Can I face the M6 on a Tuesday morning?

Thursday, 6 June 2019

Sheep only

Who could imagine that there would be a National Sheep Association and that it would hold a biannual show in the north of England? There is, and it does! This time round it was to be held not too far away, so I took a day off and went for a look. I wasn't sure what to expect and as an experiment I went armed only with the Fuji and it's native lens. Apart from broad views that would mean having to be in close. Not that I was really there on a photographic mission. If I had been I'd have taken a proper camera...

I expected a good attendance but wasn't prepared for the number of cars and trucks parked in the fields around the show itself. Once inside the marquees and sheds it was a struggle to go against the flow of people. It was packed.

While having the atmosphere of an agricultural show which hasn't taken the route of trying to attract people for a family days out  North Sheep is more a rural trade show. There were feed and seed merchant stands, sheep handling kit displays and all manner of agricultural kit. naturally the main focus was on the sheep breed societies stands and those of individual breeders. Some had obviously spent more than a few bob on their display and marketing material.

There were lots of sheep to look at, and some of them were friendly.

Some less so.

Aside from a row of food and drink vendors attractions were all sheep related. There was a farm tour for which the queue was even longer than for the toilets. Then there was a sheep dog display with a very quietly working dog.

The local Young Farmers had a display and were running a stock judging competition.

Young Farmers were also involved in a three way shearing competition. Cumbria, Yorkshire (on home turf) and Lancashire competing in a team event which judged not only on speed but on fleece handling and packing. I couldn't get close top the action without barging my way in, so I stood at the end of the shed and held the camera up, shading the screen to make it half way viewable for framing. With the camera in high speed shooting mode I pretty much sprayed and prayed. One burst was out of focus, one poorly framed but others weren't too bad.

An advantage of the X100T is that even in burst mode it's almost silent as it not only lacks a mirror but it has a leaf shutter. Disturbance for teh shearing team and the audience was pretty much nil.

I guess I got lucky with the viewpoint as very little is obscured and yet there is a lot going on, particularly in the final frame here.

After about four hours I had seen everything I wanted to see, twice.Despite the single fixed lens I hadn't felt restricted. A zoom, even of moderate focal length, would probably have resulted in more isolated detail pictures. But I doubt they'd have been any more interesting than the pictures I came away with. It was both liberating (not having to carry lots of stuff or think about zooming in or out) and challenging in a good way (it made me think about what to photograph and how to frame shots). Whether I could take the same approach to a sheep dog trial, I'm not sure. I'd certainly not get many action shots!

However... The camera continued to frustrate me with it's bloody stupid focusing. I know I should set it to manual and use the back button to focus, but that's still slow and results in missed shots. I laos found a downside to having face detects enabled. When there are no faces, or they are very small in the frame, the focusing works as if the feature were disabled. Centre point and recompose works fine. But when there is a face in shot and it's not what you want in focus the camera votes against you!

While there is much I like about the camera the best thing for it is to get sold. That way I'll stop using it. I can use my expensive compact almost the same way as I do the Fuji and suffer similar frustrations. I don't need two annoying, but capable, cameras. No doubt ten camera manufacturers could make a small and nimble camera which handles and performs just like a DSLR. But then people wouldn't buy DSLRs! Oh well.

Tuesday, 4 June 2019

A shorter weekend

It could have been a three day weekend with sheep dog trials on from Friday to Sunday. I gave Friday a miss as there were jobs I wanted to get done. Such as stocking the empty freezer so I could eat! fate being what it is that was the best day for weather of the three. By the time I made it to the trial on Saturday the day had turned wet and windy. Hey ho away we go again.

For some reason, no matter which body/lens combo I tried I was having focusing problems with the longer lenses. Combined with the damp I was feeling like packing in, going home and never photographing sheep dogs ever again.

As usual I started off looking for 'scene setters' showing the location and layout of the course but the focussing iproblems weren't helping. Shown small I can get away with the longer range pictures but they don't display well much larger than seen here. I was trying to get across the distance involved by showing the distant sheep/dog on the hill for a sense of scale, Alongside a wider view the sense of distance is (I hope) conveyed.

My late arrival and the many curtailed runs saw the trial end early. I didn't get much photography done but did add to my collection of dogs in vehicles.

I also spent some time taking pictures of the recently clipped sheep in the exhaust pen.

Towards the end I was getting action shots in focus.Something I did improve on was capturing the shedding of a single sheep from a group of three. Not perfect but it gave me the idea to try to make a better attempt of making a sequence of the process.

This was day two of the three day Deerplay Hill Trial.  The best dogs from the first two days go on to the main event, a double gather of two packets of four sheep. This trial is a real tester, even the first two days prove too much for many, the second day sorts out the best of the best.

I arrived shortly before the start and saw the pen being enlarged and the Facebook live-stream being set up in a livestock trailer. The picture of that not being as I'd have liked because I was trying to keep out of shot of the iPhone!

After a fairly dry start rain arrived in waves and the wind picked up so much that holding a camera steady was a struggle. I didn't bother much with 'close ups' of the action and, like most people, took refuge in my car for long periods where I got frustrated and a bit bored. I made a few attempts at shots from the car.

Eventually the rain gave up and the sun even showed its face. But that was right towards the end of a long day.

Usually the judge stays in their vehicle while judging, but a times he got out and even walked on to the trial field for a better angle. This made for something different. Also an example of when captioning pictures could help explain what's going on.

As always I was looking for pictures around the action.

One of the competitors was spending some of his down-time taking photographs. As you'd expect his focus was on dogs in action, no doubt close-ups. We had a chat about the problems and challenges of photographing sheep dogs. I can see that his knowledge of working dogs will give him an edge in predicting what is likely to happen next. Always a good thing when photographing action.

If I was interested in that side of photography I'd invest in a longer, better, zoom lens. But that's a road I don't want to go down! As ever I got to pondering the difference between the sort of pictures 'insiders' take, and are expected to take, and those 'outsiders' take and the difference the intended audience makes to how you approach a subject.

At the end of the day I joined in the photographing of the overall champion with his dog and trophies. I let everyone else get the front on view and settled, intentionally, for shooting at an angle as I wanted to get the post and the hill in the frame. Hoping to catch something less than static I did the paparazzi trick and rattled off a load of frames in rapid succession. Not my style at all!

While that shot is not much different to the phone pics which appeared on-line within minutes I took one which I like much better despite the lack of handler and dog.

Something I've been thinking about is how getting too involved with a subject can lead to a shift from taking 'outsider' pictures to 'insiders'. There's a risk of the pictures becoming too journalistic or editorial. The things recorded can morph into the expected ones taken in the accepted style. That's one reason I don't usually do the posed winner's pictures, or take portraits of people with their dogs. I'm trying to show the unexpected and make pictures which work as pictures or have some strangeness to them while still being essentially documentary.