Saturday, 30 November 2019


The project vacuum continues to frustrate me, so I've resorted to the old standbys of wandering round town, locally or just photographing random stuff at home. I pretend that it's all good practice...

As a rule I see photographs of street art as nothing more than record pictures. The real picture's being the ones on the wall. However, I thought the empty cigarette packs on the table in the smoking alcove added a slightly different touch connecting real life and imagined life - or death!

Maybe it's having the small Fuji as my regular opportunist camera that has tuned me into using a 35mm lens on my 'serious' camera. It's not a focal length I used to gel with, but that's changed. It's starting to feel like it does what either a 28mm or a 50mm can do. When I have the room to move forward or back it certainly works like that. Other times it can seem a bit too short or long. It's a good compromise for travelling light.

Clear blue skies are a pain for scenic shots. Putting something in the space can help. Framing this church with this shrub is something I've tried before and the frame below might be my best effort yet. Even if I cheated and used a zoom.

Having a camera lying around encourages me to snap sights on the Winogrand basis of taking photographs to see what things look like photographed. The accidental use of the pop-up flash made this view through a window take on a different look.

Walking by the canal on a frequent basis I'm still convinced there's a project lurking there. What the hell it is has yet to strike me. Perhaps I need to start thinking in black and white?

The monochrome approach could be the way in to a documentation of the village's suburban environs. Although that might be an unconscious influence of pictures I've seen over the years at work. Likewise the 5x4 crop. One advantage of black and white for this sort of thing is that bald skies can be darkened without out looking fake as the images rely to a great degree on their graphic nature.

Then again, colour brings something to such subjects. As does winter sunlight.

On the whole I'd rather stick to colour for documentation as it's all about recording information to my mind. looking at old pictures I often wonder what the colours of things were.

It may be the next village along, but photos of the old brickworks/builders yard would have been worth taking before the new builds started. I hope someone had the foresight to take them.

I would probably have been to a sheep dog trial today, and maybe a poultry show tomorrow but this first dry and sunny weekend in ages sees me car-less. It's no good having fantastic cameras if your most useful piece of photo-gear is off the road. Shank's Pony for me at the moment. At least it's made me start looking harder close to home.

Sunday, 17 November 2019

Out of adversity?

The lack of ideas continues, as does the repeat visits to places in the vain hope that I'll find something worth photographing. With the weather still refusing to settle any sunny day has been seized as chance to get out with a camera. Even though I know I'll be wasting my time as far as getting anything useful goes.

I drove to the auction mart a week ago and didn't even get the camera out of the car. The sun was making a rare appearance so I headed to higher ground. For once I found some sheep action of sorts. But not enough to make more that casual shots. Although the tup's bum picture has something going for it. I determined to stop going on these wild goose chases.

A couple of days later the sun made another appearance as did the undomesticated geese. It's strange that I find it impossible to make decent pictures of places I like being in. There must be a project to work on about the moors, but I'm buggered if I can find a ket to unlock the box it's in. You might imagine a neolithic burial site would kickstart something, but it's just a ragged pile of stones. The best I could do was contrast the ancient stones with the transmission masts which also echo the dead pine trunks in the middle distance.

Friday had another sunny afternoon, which is short at this time of year, and I ended up at the sandplant.where nothing much had changed. I'd set out intending to look for sunset sheep and only had the telephoto zoom with me, which limited my options. There are no sheep at teh sandplant so what made me go there is a head-scratcher.

I found some sheep elsewhere, but the sun decided to set behind clouds and the light was grim. The sheep weren't playing ball either. I got home earlier than intended so dropped the big camera off before going for fish and chips. I stuck the Fuji in my jacket pocket and tried it for some night time pictures. Where there was a bit of light it worked OK. While I'm not a big fan of its files as a rule it does do black and white conversions I like. This messy picture (with self-portrait) has given me some ideas for the future.

On Saturday morning it was a struggle to get out of bed and go to the poultry auction and show. I really wasn't in the mood. Repeating myself at the auction wasn't going to happen. My daft idea of shooting the show entirely in vertical format was forgotten. It was hard enough to see any pictures. Arriving after most birds had been penned might have had some bearing on that. I did manage to get a picture which gives a better idea of a chicken being put in a pen than any I've managed before. Which was a small victory.

I still like using the flippy screen for low angles. Rather belatedly I have realised that the focusing issue is best overcome by prefocusing and waiting for action to come to me. The hit rate is much better that way.

Not being interested in the auction I was resigned to getting pictures of the judging. Despite the much increased entry for the show over previous years there didn't look to be as many judges! This can be a subject where the longer zoom can be useful to blur a background.

In this case there wasn't much background to blur.

Pictures like this are very much dependent on gesture and expression  of judge and bird to lift them above being ordinary.

Although these sort of pictures are nice enough a wider lens used closer, as always, draws a viewer into the scene. In most judging situations the best place to be would be in one of the pens looking out!

A better opportunity came after the judging was concluded and one judge was mentoring someone else. I rattled off a lot of frames on this, always trying to file the frame with shapes and gestures.

I even tried the flippy screen , but I think the eye-level pictures worked better in terms of engagement.

When it comes to detail shots it's pretty much impossible to find anything new. Variations of repeated themes from past shows are inevitable.

There can be novel effects of light and shade though.

I might not have been in the most enthusiastic frame of mind for taking pictures at the show, but I still managed to come away with some that are worth adding to the files. A larger selection can be found here.

One thing I did want to record at the auction, if nothing more, was the new line of cages in the cattle pen section. Poultry sales must be doing well for the mart to add more permanent cages. I tried to take some pictures of the sale in this area but it proved tricky. Getting in position before the throng arrived would have been the best plan.

Perhaps the lesson from this is that if you stick to it and take enough pictures some of them will be OK. Another manifestation of the 'working through' a period of being stuck. If you don't take any pictures none of them will be any good!

Saturday, 2 November 2019

Demotivation - with a twist

Having become stuck with my long term projects, going over the same old ground, I decided to back off on them despite having nothing to replace them with. As a sort of last hurrah I managed to drag myself out of bed at silly o'clock on Friday to get to the sheep dog auction in time to catch dogs having their microchips scanned.It was dark, cold, and poring with rain when I left home. I really wished I was still tucked up under the cosy duvet. At least there wasn't much traffic on the roads.

After a quick look round I started looking for photographs. This time I had left the temptation of a focal length longer than 100mm at home. That way I wouldn't get side-tracked by the dogs running on the field or sniping pictures of 'characters'. With my rainy day standard zoom I would be forced to get in close. This worked well for the scanning. Although I didn't get any really strong pictures I did manage a few which showed the green light of confirmation a-glow. Not all the dogs are keen on big sticks being waved around them!

With the main purpose of the mission accomplished I wandered up to have a chat with the chap taking the sheep off the field and see what picture opportunities there might be from a vantage point I'd not sought out in previous visits. This was where a longer lens would have been useful, but I settled for some dog pics.

For one I even used the camera's crop mode. 10 megapixels is plenty for most of my uses.

Back among the crowd I was struggling a bit. I was trying to carry on with the 'chaotic' theme from the poultry auction but was finding it difficult to find a position where I could get faces in shot. I even tried my 20mm lens for a while.

The wide end of the zoom was usually wide enough, though. Although the physical size of the lens, especially with the lens hood attached, annoys me. I'm sure that with a less bulky lens I would fare better in cramped situations simply because the chances of bashing someone with the lens is reduced! I have noticed that using a relatively wide angle lens up close to people tends to go unnoticed. I reckon because they imagine you are photographing something furter away than a couple of feet.

Partly because I'd hit the four hour wall when I run out of steam, and also because I wanted to get home in time to receive a delivery from the postman, I left well before the sale was over. Looking through the pictures in the evening I kept 'seeing' loads I should have stuck around to make. Armchair photography is always easy!

Saturday morning saw me just as reluctant to make an effort to photograph poultry as I had been to photograph sheep dogs. At least I wouldn't have far to go. Despite knowing that some of the best chances for making pictures occur as people arrive I didn't get there in time for it. I had an excuse. A lame excuse, but an excuse.

The next best chance for pictures is during the judging, and I'm fortunate that despite the sign I am allowed to enter!

This time there was something a bit different to see. One of the judges has a platform which attaches to the pens to stand birds on. Finding an angle was the only real challenge aside from usual technical limitation of the strip lights.

I've got enough pictures of poultry in pens, but every now and then there's something a bit unusual. I'd never had bantams down as climbers before!

I must be learning, at long last, to persevere when I see a potential picture. The bird below had all too briefly turned to face me smack bang in the centre of its pen, surrounded by rosettes and prize cards. Of course I missed theat shot because chickens don't stay still for long. On that subject the 1/100th maximum shutter speed the strip lights impose makes it really difficult to freeze chicken motion. I just hoped the bird would repeat it's position for me, framed the shot and waited. You can feel a bit of a fool standing in front of a chicken with a camera pressed to your face not taking pictures fro a few minutes. After some near misses it turned and looked at me. Not dead central, but that's OK. It's also almost in focus.

As judging progresses a silence falls in the village hall as the results are read out and show catalogues marked.

With all the judging done bar the selection of overall winner and runner up it's back to the show to feed and water the birds, and check on who's won what.

There's also the photographs of the winners to be taken. I've managed to wriggle out of that task. Which is a relief!

Listening to an interview with Daniel Meadows on the A Small Voice podcast it struck a chord when he said that he'd spent a lot of his life wishing that he'd taken pictures like Cartier-Bresson or Diane Arbus or Bill Brandt and that it took him a long while to learn that he’d actually taken pictures like Daniel Meadows.

Looking at pictures taken by people who win competitions or set up in business as photographers a couple of years after picking up a camera can be a bit dispiriting. How come they're getting recognised when your own stuff is languishing unloved by the great unwashed? When I look critically at these pictures and compare them to mine it becomes fairly clear. They've learned their photography by looking at different sorts of pictures to the ones I've looked at. They are influenced by pictures that win competitions or are taken by people doing work for hire. My influences have always been in other spheres - documentary, reportage, art. And I've never been interested in any photography which demands technical perfection or the mastery of lighting techniques. That's trained monkey territory to my mind.

Aesthetically, my pictures are rarely 'bright' or contrasty and colourful. The depth of field is rarely shallow unless I'm forced into using it because the light is gloomy. The people in my pictures are hardly ever posed, and very rarely smiling. It's not that I can't take those sorts of pictures. It's that I don't want to - most of the time.

All the above also relates to my 'landscape' pictures. I don't seek out the picturesque. When I try to I fail to make pictures. But give me an agricultural landscape I get closer. I guess I do have a style. It's just not a populist one!