Tuesday, 23 July 2019


I decided to give an agricultural show a miss the weekend after my expensive visit to the GYS. I couldn't get myself motivated to photograph sheep again. It was a show I've been two a couple of times before and didn't think there'd be anything either fresh or relevant to my sheep breed obsessions on the Saturday. While there would be rare breeds on the Sunday it was the cricket World Cup Final - and I wasn't missing that for anything!

Even so, by Saturday evening I was getting the urge to use a camera for something. Without much inspiration I went in search of potatoes. One day this might get to project stage, but at the moment it's all a bit random.

An unexpected bonus was to find some potatoes being irrigated. This is something I photographed many moons ago on a sunny summer evening as the sun was setting. The atmosphere was different this time. No backlit water jets, but a grey sky. I did a lot more processing to the files than I usually do simply because what I had seen and what the camera saw were not the same. I still managed to resist overdoing the clarity and sharpness though. Which far too many people do not these days.

Still lacking sheep show motivation, and with the Royal Lancashire Show the following weekend I took the plunge and ordered a new-to-me lens.The idea was to go to the show using just this lens (35mm) and the 70-200mm rather than rely on 'old faithful'. If I was forced to look differently I might see some fresh pictures. That was the plan.

A new lens needs testing, and the only way I know to do that is to take it out somewhere and snap away at all sorts of rubbish. Most of the pictures will get binned, but that's not the point. The idea is to get used to using the lens and to learn how it behaves. Also to find out if it has any faults when it's a used model. When in doubt, head for the sandplant! I didn't think it had changed since I was last there, but it had. Albeit subtly. I added a few more shots to the file, which I really must edit down to something concrete.

It was forecast to be wet on the Friday of the RLS, not quite so wet on the Saturday, and hot on the Sunday. This was another factor in my lens choice as the superzoom is less water resistant than the 70-200 and the 35mm. I gave the first day a miss as it was pelting down, and as there weren't any of my favourite sheep being shown on the Saturday I intended to look around other parts of the show as well as the sheep dog trial which was on all three days.

My first stop was still going to be the sheep pens. There I was surprised to see the Valais Blacknose owners I'd met at Great Harwood, and both pleased and surprised to see a picture I'd taken there as part of their show banner. It's odd that despite their cuteness I don't find myself spending much time at all trying to photograph these sheep. Cute and cuddly doesn't appeal to my aesthetic senses.

The sheep rings were well set up and gave reasonable access for photography. It's got to be a case of looking for pictures which are not the usual judging shots since I've got so many of those in the files. I still take some, but more on the off chance that one might be a little better than one I already have.

Juxtapositions often make for good photographs and when I saw a steward using an umbrella with photographs of sheep on I dashed to get closer.

Even though I spent some time at the sheep rings I didn't take many photos. I even got distracted by the nearby cattle rings for a few minutes before heading off to the trial field. On my way there I passed The Sheep Show. An amusing piece of sheepish entertainment, which is also informative, that was well attended despite the rain.

Next to the sheep marquee was the shearing demonstration. Also entertaining and informative. Popular as a place to shelter too.

As ever I found the 70-200 a bit too short when out in the big wide world. For photographing the falconry display from outside the ring I had to crop most shots to get anything close to a picture.

Knowing I was going to return on the final day I noted this display down as one to revisit and get a shot I'd 'seen'. When you stumble on something like this without knowing what it entails you often aren't in the right position, and/or have the wrong lens. Sunday I'd take the 70-300 and stand somewhere different. I even checked the timetable to make sure I didn't miss the display. Pre-planning!

It paid off. I still had to crop a little to improve the framing, but I got the pictures I'd hoped for. Maybe not perfect, but close enough for shots which aren't for anything special.


While this lens might be a slow aperture 'consumer' lens it's not a bad performer (by my less than critical standards). The biggest problem I have is not with lenses, but with focusing modes when it comes to fast moving subjects like birds of prey and sheep dogs. As the owl was flying towards me it was pretty straightforward, ut when there were falcons flying around I struggled a bit. I also struggled with the sheep dogs.

I'd had a bit of a go on the Saturday without much success. I didn't hang around the trial field for long though as it was raining. Sunday was drier and the grass dry enough to sit on (using my camera bag as a ground sheet). The lower angle made for a different look to the photos, and my position was quite good. Unfortunately the sheep were quite cooperative around the pen with the only chance for 'action' when it came to the shed when they were far from cooperative. Some action happened a bit too far away. In order to get a decent picture much cropping was required. Not something I like to do. It's fine for social media nd phone viewing, but not great for printing or full screen slide shows.

However, I am more willing to make slight crops when I can't get the framing right because the focus points aren't in the right place. My current camera doesn't have as wide a coverage of focus points in the viewfinder to keep the dog as low in the frame as I'd like most of the time. I still feel like cropping is cheating, but the guilt is lessening each time I do it.

When things are less fast moving I can focus and recompose, eliminating the need to crop.

One thing I have done recently is reduce the number of active focus points to make moving the one in operation around faster. It's helped a great deal.

In the sheep rings Sunday was a bit of a disappointment with fewer sheep and breeds than the show catalogue suggested. Quite a few Lonks though. So that was good. But not much in the way of different pictures. That meant looking around for other breeds and detail shots.

Over the two days I took more pictures with the longer zoom than the 35mm. The 35mm, however, felt as useful as a shorter zoom, though. Occasionally I wished it had been a little wider, but the gap between 35mm and 70mm didn't feel too long. The only drawback to the longer zooms compared to the superzoom is the longer close focus distance. That makes getting the kind of tightly framed detail shots I like pretty much impossible. I can see a 35mm/100mm combination working for me in dimly lit environments like auction marts.

Wednesday, 10 July 2019

A big day out

Twenty nine quid to get in to an agricultural show!!! Last year I baulked at the ticket price for the Great Yorkshire Show and I very nearly didn't bother this time. But I thought I'd take a chance on it being worth the drive and inevitable tedium of getting in to the site. Although the sheep judging wasn't due to start as soon as the gates opened I planned to arrive well beforehand. That proved a good move given the traffic. I even managed to get a parking space quite close to the entrance. While I'd made good time I still missed the early classes for the Gritstones, which was disappointing, and much of the sheep tarting up had already been done.

The GYS takes place on a purpose built showground complete with permanent buildings for all the livestock and show rings which give good access for the viewing public - and photographers. There are two huge open-sided sheep sheds with the rings in between them. All very handy.

As well as being big the show is also more formal than even the larger of the shows I've been to before. Exhibitors all have to wear a white coat, which is something only seen in the rare an minority breed sections of smaller sheep shows.

Continuing my concentration on Lonks I managed, rather surprisingly, to add a couple of pictures to my files which I'd been after for some time. Not great pictures but at least I've got records of these two aspects of ram evaluation. Ram lambs first and aged rams second.

As ever I photographed other stuff going on and made a few of my 'head scratchers' - pictures which are a bit off the wall.

Overall I didn't add much of value to my Lonk file. There were opportunities to look at other breeds as there were more there than at any other show in the country according to the PA commentary.

Whitefaced Woodlands continue to attract my lens, and Lincoln Longwools were a breed I'd not seen in the flesh before. Both breeds live up to their names.

Although the Lonks and Grits had been judged there were still more breeds to go, which meant that there was some preparation going on. At the small shows where the sheep are paraded between the pens I can't recall seeing a trimming stand in use. This show gave me a chance to get some photographed along with more shots of spray whitener in use.

Photographically I probably should have made more of an effort with the shearing competition. By the time I got there I was starting to flag and with their being a large crowd I didn't want to push in front of them.

Round the back of the shearing stage was the pens for the hundreds of sheep to be clipped. Again I could have done more with that. Instead I made a video clip of sheep being unloaded.

As at the Nidderdale Show there was a carcase/carcass competition. Behind glass in a chilled trailer so too difficult to photograph for a lazy git like me. However there was a lamb judging competition accompanied by displays of the various carcase/carcass categories. Like it or not, sheep breeding is usually all about meat. I like meat!

For a change I left the sheep and had a wander round. I even took a turn round the cattle area, but it don't hold much interest for me for some reason. It's not that I don't eat beef or cheese or drink milk, I just don't find cattle very appealing as subjects at the moment. That might change.

While the raison d'être for the show remains livestock competitions it has grown way beyond that to encompass general commerce and celebrity. I deliberately avoided the celebrity shepherdesses and vets, and did my best to avoid the general tat on sale. I did look at some sticks, but managed to keep my cash in my wallet. What little cash remained after paying to get in.

While the event was extremely busy the majority of the crowds were to be found away from the livestock. Most non-farming types would pay a fleeting visit to the show rings or stock pens then get back to their spending, eating and drinking.

Despite the expense and the journey I was glad I went. I met people I know, got one or two reasonable pictures for the files, and had a new experience. Inevitably I 'saw' loads of pictures I'd missed when I came to review the day's haul, and realised things I should have done - like get there even earlier. But that's the name of my game.

Technically I'd reverted to my superzoom because I wasn't sure what to expect. It struggled a bit in the sheep sheds as they were darker than I'd expected. A sunnier day might have been different. Outside it was fine and the flexibility is always handy. My fall backs were the old 20mm, which got used outside and in the sheds where there wasn't much space between the lines of pens, and the 50mm which helped gather light but was sometimes too long in the shed. For a lazy person uninterested in making super sharp pics, or pics which have creamy bokeh, the lens choices work well.

Something which occurred to me when pondering the fast lens mania is that here are two ways to avoid distracting backgrounds. One is to use shallow depth of field to eliminate background detail. The more challenging way is to move position in order to hide distractions behind your subject. do that and there's no need for fast lenses. Another alternative is to make the backgound part of the picture. Although that doesn't allow for the other mania of simplifying everything. It was the picture below which got me thinking about this.

It falls into my 'head scratcher' category as it's not conventionally composed, but it came about after doing the simplification thing. I expect a lot of people would have closed in on the sheep's head retained on the stand, trying to isolate it. That's what I did at first. When the background sheep appeared I realised that something might happen to make a picture.I'm not sure if it did. What I do know is that the shapes are interesting in an abstract way. Which is something I'm looking for more and more these days.

Sunday, 7 July 2019

Going round in circles

It really does feel like I'm repeating myself at the moment going to the same sorts of events. Both of this weeks outings left me feeling a bit flat at the end of the day. I didn';t think I'd come away with anything worthwhile at all. Although looking through the silly number of frames I taken didn't produce as large a selection to 'tell the story of the day' on either ocassion, I did  have a few pictures which could find a place in the sheep project as a whole. I should know by now that's the way with longer projects.

Friday was a sheep dog auction that was down on entries, so not many folk about. This time I resisted the temptation to photograph the dogs on the field using a telephoto and concentrated on getting in close with my little 'kit' zoom. I don't know if it's boredom or an experimental nature, but I keep playing around with less than standard compositions. A lot don't work at all and many I like raise the eyebrows of others!

Before I set off I was hoping to improve my record of the micro-chip scanning of dogs on booking in. But as there weren't many entries that was mostly over by the time I arrived, even though I thought I'd got there in good time. I got two chances and one 'nearly' picture.

I also wanted to get some shots of the trailer used as the on-field office. But again that didn't quite work out.

Other than that it was more of the usual fare. dogs looking cute and general scenes.

When the sun was out it got warm and the ice cream van was well patronised. Seeing people licking their vanilla cones I put my Martin Parr hat on. His is not a style which is as easily mimicked as you might imagine!

The thing I'm constantly striving for is pictures which aren't 'record shots', or the sort of stuff you'd see reporting an event in the local free sheet or in Lancashire Life, but also not so 'arty' that the subject becomes irrelevant. It's a difficult balance to strike, making pictures which tell the story and give a flavour of what's happening and yet which stand as pictures on their formal structure.I suppose it's that challenge which keeps me going back for more. And back for more I was the next day at an agricultural show!

I wasn't really in the mood when I got there and the low turnout of sheep didn't help either. However things picked up as the day wore on. Even though I did spend a lot of time looking. This time I took the do-it-all zoom plus a 20mm and a 50mm in case I fancied being radical. The extra focal length of the DIA lens was useful round the sheep pens where access and angles were restricted. Not that there was much to catch my eye and I resorted to looking for detail shots plus the usual stuff like sheep tarting up..

It was a little unusual to see a priest judging the Suffolks. I thought I'd been transported to Craggy Island for a moment! I failed to get a shot which showed his dog collar clearly though.

Where I was slightly more successful was photographing the sheep dog and sheep shearing displays. The longer lens again came in handy for the former, and I got some better pictures than at the previous display I'd photographed. The waterfowl being more cooperative and the light brighter helped.

Having photographed the shearing demo last year I was in two minds about bothering this time round. Not only that but I'd put most of my gear back in the car and almost left for home because my bad foot was aching. However after a sit down I stuck the 50mm on teh camera and the 20mm in a jacket pocket and went back travelling light.

While I didn't get anything other than snaps doing it, I found myself more confident in taking pictures of people close up with these lenses. Very strange. As the shearing was about to commence I wandered over for a look. It was being held in the main ring so I imagined the lenses I had with me would be useless, but the barriers were moved and the public allowed into the ring for a better view. I joined them, kneeling down to get a more useful angle and allow people to look over me.

At first I thought I'd picked a bad spot as the sun was in my face but that nearly worked to my benefit as it backlit the fleeces as they were thrown up to spread them before rolling. There wasn't much time for the demonstration, which meant I couldn't develop ideas, but I got a couple of pictures which will fill a gap in the project for now.

What this episode proved once more is that limiting the gear you use forces you to think more creatively. With lenses that means viewpoint selection and framing. Dare I go to the Great Yorkshire Show with just my trusty 28mm and 50mm lenses? Or how about the 35mm and nothing else? Eek!