Sunday, 29 September 2019

Washed out

With show season over for another summer the autumn sheep sales are taking off. With work boxed off for the week and nothing planed for outdoors thanks to another rainy forecast Friday seemed like a good opportunity to take a look at the new lighting in the sale ring at my nearest auction mart. Besides, there were Lonks...

The light in the main shed was unchanged, a mix of daylight and artificial. Not very bright at that. But it's not much of a challenge given the wizardry of  modern cameras' ability to cope with low light levels. Thanks to a broken down lorry at a set of traffic lights I was delayed by fifteen minutes and all the unloading was over when I turned up. To be honest I was feeling dispirited and went for a walk. By the time I returned the sale was about to start so I stuck around.

What a difference the new lighting, LEDs by the look of it, has made. Not only is there just one colour temperature to cope with the flickering fluorescent tubes have gone and it seemed brighter.

I wasn't restricted to shutter speeds of 1/100th or slower to avoid the effects of the tubes and could push it  to 1/250th and still have a reasonable aperture to get some depth of field. This was helpful because I'd packed my slow longer zoom which I used to photograph the auctioneer's podium and close ups of sheep.

The best chances for 'action' shots are at ringside, but I don't like taking up a spot which could be occupied by someone there on business. However, as the sale progressed room came available and I moved in to fill the gap. I tried using live view and the flippy screen, but yet again found it wanting and went back to the viewfinder. This worked much better, especially when I dropped the shutter speed to get some motion blur.  My dismal mood had lifted, but all too soon the sale was over.

The weather on Saturday morning had taken a turn for the worse. It was o bad that I almost abandoned any thoughts of going outside. Like a fool I had got up early and with a little work soon done I took a chance. Unfortunately the rain and low cloud, plus a stupid detour of my own making, got me really hacked off. If the rain hadn't stopped by the time I got to the sheep dog trial I would have gone home without getting a camera out. I very nearly didn't bother as it was. I really couldn't see anything worth photographing. Just more of the same old same old. Still, nothing ventured.

Things weren't all that conducive to getting action shots. The layout was a bit awkward, and the sheep weren't at all cooperative. Even some of the dogs got lost looking for the sheep. As I arrived over two hours after the trial had started there weren't many folk about either. I pottered about looking for different angles without any real success.

Perseverance sort of paid off. Just as I was getting fed up I saw the dog on a quad watching the action with a couple of people and their dogs doing the same. I took loads more shots than I often do of such scenes (I had plenty of room on the memory card...) looking for the best angle, depth of field, and combination of elements and gesture. I'm not sure I got it 100% right.

It's a pity that the paperwork seems to always get done in a vehicle at the trials, or in the back of a livestock trailer, as that is one element of the events which I have very few pictures.

After about three hours with only a few sheep penned boredom was setting in. When I'm not in the right frame of mind it's always a toss up between trying to break out of it or admit defeat. Rather than hang around I gave up. On the way home I felt like giving up on these sheepy subjects completely and on taking photographs in general. What's the point of taking pictures which will hardly get seen?

My gloom was lifted a little when I got home to find that a book I'd forgotten I'd pre-ordered was waiting for me. Although I had promised myself to stop buying books of photographs taken thirty or forty years ago the Daniel Meadows book had to be an exception as I admire his work so much. Not just because the pictures are good but also because he makes recordings of the people in many of them. The photographs are placed in context which a lot of contemporary (art) documentary photography doesn't.

The book itself, Now and Then: England 1970-2015, is just the right size to hold easily and flick through or read. Unlike a lot of books coming out these days it's reasonably priced too. With 160 pages containing over 100 photos it's a bargain at £25. Available here.

What strikes me most about Meadows's work is it's unpretentiousness and its sincerity. Not that there isn't an agenda. Everyone has an agenda.

There's a related exhibition at The Bodliean in Oxford next month which is a bit far for me. Closer to home Meadows is included in a show on the Wirral at the Williamson. This looks like it should be worth a visit, but I'll probably not manage it as it's the wrong side of the Mersey for me

Am I feeling any more positive now? Not really.

Tuesday, 24 September 2019

Getting burned out

There are times when I get quite frustrated with my photography. And with what I have access to photograph. Which becomes a reason for the frustration with the photography.

It's really not enough to enjoy being somewhere to make pictures of it. When I get a free afternoon and the sun shines I head north east. It takes me the best part of an hour to get where I'm going. Most of the time there's nothing there to photograph except the place itself. Which I find ultimately pointless. Landscape photographs come very low down on my hierarchy of suitable subjects. Even landscape photographs taken by people who are good at landscape photography usually leave me cold. They hae nothing to hold my attention or make me think anything beyond "That's nice/atmospheric." There's no story to them.

Taking a walk down a river I tried making some pictures, but they were nothing beyond records of what it looked like.

Admittedly, a bald sky doesn't make for a great landscape picture, hence including some overhanging branches. But still... Then again, no matter how 'nice' the quality of light might be it's not really enough of a subject in itself beyond the 'that's nice' reaction.

These sort of pictures are fine as illustrations to accompany a text, in something like a guide book for example. Taken with more care to light and atmospheric conditions they might even look 'nice' printed and framed. They'd be nothing more than decoration even so.

Yet I keep on returning because I like being there and keep hoping that one day something might click.

There's always a chance of stumbling across something interesting happening. Making pictures of it is another matter. When you aren't expecting to see an event unfolding there's a strong possibility of having the wrong lens attached, and a greater chance of not being able to get in the optimal place. So it was when I had to stop to let a flock of sheep be driven towards me and over a bridge.

A longer lens would have improved the picture of the dog lying down - to make the sheep appear closer. The best viewpoint, I think, would have been on the left, by the wall on the other side of the stream. Not least because of the position of the sun. But there you go. An opportunity missed.

When the sheep had spread out in their fresh pasture I had a go at a sheepscape.

 At least my sheepscapes have sheep in them, not to mention electricity poles. The only way landscapes, of any sort, can work for me is as a collection with a theme, and certainly without 'prettyfying' things.

Sunday saw the end of the brief sunny spell and Monday was looking damp right up to the last minute. That was handy because the final agricultural show of my summer was to be held on the Monday. I wasn't all that bothered about going as it's a long trek but with nothing else to look forward to I put work to one side and set off.

With no great interest I thought I might try to keep away from the sheep pens, and even stick to using a 35mm lens. Neither plan lasted long and I soon had the superzoom out to photograph sheep.

As to be expected it was more repetition, although I did drag myself away from the small showing of Lonks to record some other breeds. One new sight for me was a Cheviot having baby powder rubbed into it's face.

A rarity was me taking a picture of someone smiling.

 Not so rare, a picture of a photographer photographing sheep.

As well as at least two 'gentlemen of the press' there were quite a few other people with fancy cameras, including two I've met before at Yorkshire shows. Once again this has got me questioning why I bother and considering calling it a day on this subject. That sense of doubt didn't really kick in until I got home and started reviewing my 300 plus rubbish photographs. Finding decent pictures which aren't like everyone else's and yet which still tell the story is hard. Maybe I set my sights too high when it comes to judging my pictures? Or maybe it' just that I'm crap?

I try to avoid the obvious pictures most of the time, but occasionally I give in to the temptation. One thing using the superzoom does is make me think about backgrounds. With a fast lens it's too easy to make a background less distracting by opening up the aperture. It makes pictures look 'professional' and sharper. It also takes context away, which reduces the story telling aspect. I still try to make backgrounds count, and make pictures which are complex rather than people (or sheep) in isolation.

When I do go for simple compositions I usually use the longer end of the zoom range to crop out backgrounds. A longer focal length, used close, blurs backgrounds even with a smallish aperture. There's more than one way to shear a sheep! If I can incorporate a happy accident due to timing so much the better.

I did wander round the rest of the show in an attempt to find something to spark my interest, but only the sheep dog trial appealed to me. The rabbit and cavie tent might have been worth a look during teh judging. Perhaps a bit too similar to poultry judging to keep me interested?

The sheep dogs weren't all that engrossing. Something else that might have been better seen earlier in the day when the sun wasn't quite so in my face. Then again the sheep were a stroppy lot.

 The people watching were more interesting, although it's always a case of seeing them from behind.

 Five hours trudging around with a camera bag over my shoulder did my bad foot no good at all. So it was no wonder that the tractor shuttle left as I arrived at its departure point. I couldn't be bothered waiting for the next one to turn up and set off back to the car park. Even if I continue to photograph at agricultural shows I'll not be visiting this one again unless I get paid. Enjoyable though it is the journey is  too much of a trek.

Poultry shows have lost interest for me, sheep dog trials are going the same way and I'm undecided about sheep shows and sales. The trouble is I can't think of anything different to photograph. Well, I do have one idea...

Monday, 16 September 2019

Wet and dry

What a summer.A traditional British one with no two consecutive days the same. Or so it seems. My visits to agricultural shows have been a mix of red hot and soaking. Last Thursday was the Westmorland County Show with a weather forecast so bad that I very nearly gave it a miss. Looking out of the back window early morning I was lulled into a false sense of hope. Like a fool I set off. As soon as I arrived I put my waterproofs on and my hood stayed up until I left not all that much later. Once the sheep classes had been judged I gave up. Despite the drenching it was a fairly enjoyable three and a half hours.

In some ways rainy days are good for my kind of photography. The light is even and the wet surfaces (and people) provide a sense of atmosphere. I'd gone expecting rain and  had the hated 70-200mm on one body because it is more weatherproof than my other longer zooms. The other body could have had the 24-70mm on for the same reason, but I opted for the small and light 35mm. I ended up wishing I'd gone for the 28mm at times. If I had taken that route I'd probably have been wishing I'd used the 35mm!

The photos were pretty much the usual stuff with a few fresh ideas tried to relieve the monotony.

Two days later I went to the Hodder Valley Show, arriving early the lush grass was damp with dew from a night of clear skies. The clouds stayed away and it was soon warm enough to dispense with the sweatshirt. What a difference a couple of days made!

Again I was prowling around the sheep pens. Again it was mostly Lonks and Swaledales. Unlike the Westmorland where I was outside the judging areas I sneaked in at Hodder Valley as it's a more relaxed event. This time I was back using my two zoom approach with the lightweight options. I'm not sure this really gives me any advantage over the superzoom to be honest. Although the shorter lens does seem to give a nicer 'look' to some pictures.

Particularly early on while the sun was quite low there was a warm, Autumnal light which was pleasing.

Testicle checking is still on my wish list of pictures, although a short sequence (of which the next two shots are a part) might be the way forward.

I was still, inevitably, looking for detail shots.

 I'm not sure how I'd categorise pictures like the two which come next.

I don't often set up pictures. I might turn a bottle around to show a label or something like that, but nothing much more. However, when I was handed a rosette and prize envelope to look after while judging continued I tried something. I should have taken a little more care, and made more than two attempts.

There are more sheepy pictures here.

Being a small show everything was close to everything else, and this included the sheep dog trial which was visible from the sheep pens. With judging over I strolled down the hill to the trial where the sheep were being uncooperative.

If I had got there earlier I might have had better light on the pen, but there wasn't much action there while I was watching thanks to the sheep. I'd been on my feet for a long time and my dodgy foot was starting to ache a bit. That's my excuse for not taking many photos. I got one or two which were okay though.

That's almost it for this season's shows. Where my photography is headed from here I'm not sure. I went to the bantam society show on Sunday and maybe I was still tired from the Hodder show (or wanted to listen to the final test of the Ashes series) but I really couldn't get up any enthusiasm for photographing poultry, made my excuses and left after an hour and a half. Despite that I did get a couple of pictures to add to the poultry file. I guess there's always an outside chance of getting something. Maybe that's the way forward with long term projects. Be more selective and don't try to always record everything from a day. I dunno.

With the death of Robert Frank a few days ago there have been many obituaries all mentioning his most well known work, The Americans, and most pointing out that the 83 pictures in the book were chosen from 767 rolls of film - a total of some 27,000 frames. That's roughly one picture from every 333 by my reckoning. A reassuring statistic to my mind.