Monday, 24 February 2020

Dogs and the 'Tube'

The weather has been putting a dampener on any outdoor activities still. So much so that I was very close to not setting off to the sheep dog auction on |Friday, and as it got wetter and wetter the closer I got I was close to turning back! Once out of the car the rain seemed lighter so I got a camera out and looked for inspiration. It was a long time coming but turned out to be the rain.

The other subject I chose to concentrate on was the dogs. Not running on the field. I'm tired of that. The dogs waiting to go on the field or in the puppy ring.

There was a BBC camera crew in evidence, along with the requisite notice about opting out of having your image used. I tried a couple of approaches to showing this.

The rain eventually sapped my enthusiasm, particularly when it got heavier, so I left early and missed the sale of a dog for a record price. Not that it would have been particularly visually interesting if last year's record is anything to go by. When I got home, after driving through heavy rain and spray I heard there was flooding near where I'd left. cars stuck in flood type flooding. A few more pictures from my short visit here.

My local wanderings have been limited by the rain, and not very fruitful either. There's still pictures to be found though. It's getting time to start pulling some together into a collection I think.

The zine project is almost complete. I got a couple of proofs printed up and it's looking quite coherent. One picture wasn't working and I had nothing suitable to replace it with so I went out for an hour to the reedbed and came away with a new idea (which didn't fit the project) and one frame which I think will serve to fill the gap. The deadline for production isn't for another five weeks or so. Plenty of time for me to tinker with the project and ruin it!

Youtube photography channels mostly drive me nuts and I try to avoid them. Quite why I've been subjecting myself to the torture of watching some lately is beyond my comprehension. What's even worse is that a couple of them have been by landscape photographers, the others street photography orientated. I guess these two genres are popular for the same reason. Their superficially easy to do. First of all there's not much to decide about subject matter. And in the case of street photography there isn't far to go.

What drives me nuts about landscape photography channels is the photographers giving the avice, and they do take the form of tutorials, are average to crap. They either churn out the same old trite stuff that's been appearing in photo mags for as long as I've been looking in them, or they aren't that good! They advice is all about superficial aspects of picture making.

The street photography vids aren't much different. The better ones (I use the term loosely) seem to also repeat the tropes of the genre. In neither of these types of video have  I yet seen any mention of having a message behind the pictures or building a body of work. There's a load of drivel talked about colour and texture, light and composition, but it's all so shallow. Sure the pictures catch the eye. They don't hold my attention though. There's nothing in them to make me want to see them again. It's like a conveyor belt of initially striking but ultimately vacuous images.

Cynical? Me?

Sunday, 16 February 2020

Rethink and more sheep

After another period of reflection I returned to the reedbed, and over the next few days made more short visits with a better idea of what I wanted to achieve. It's funny, but I've photographed phragmites on and off for years but having the zine project as a sort of motivator because there's a deadline I've got round to doing something more focussed about it.

For reasons of design I am cropping all the pictures (except the covers) square. It's an arbitrary choice. The cover pictures I'm cropping from horizontal to vertical for design purposes because I didn't take any in a vertical format, and at the size they'll be printed there's no loss of quality/detail.

With sufficient pictures to make a small zine needing only twelve it's all in the editing now. With over a month to the deadline, however, there is a strong temptation to tinker with the ordering of the pictures. That's one reason I've made four dummy copies before sending anything off for a proof. I'll try to be strong and resist any further fiddling!

I managed to take these photos before the storm arrived, although it was quite windy. That didn't matter too much as some of the pictures I wanted to have movement blur in them. What changed most over the few days was the elimination of the sky from the pictures. This was to give a visual consistency across the set of pictures. Initial ideas have to remain flexible.

With another storm scheduled to arrive on Saturday it wasn't hard to decide where to go looking for photographs on Saturday. Sheep dog trial in the hills? No chance! Poultry show? Not after last week's burnout. Sheep sale? That'll do nicely.

Once again it took me a while to get my eye in. It's as if I don't know what I'm looking for when I first arrive somewhere. One of the first pictures I took was to get a second chance at photographing a stick I'd messed up on at the last sale I went to. This time I did a better job and, although it's at high ISO, it is in focus this time!

The light levels were the usual problem in the main shed. Made worse by the cloud cover which was noisily dumping rain on the shed roof by the gallon. Being an in-lamb sale all ewes were being scanned. As last year the chap doing the scanning was tucked away in his crate, but one pen of ewes were scanned in their pen, which gave me a chance to try to record that. A couple of frames worked okay.

This was a sale of rare and traditional breeds. With a large consignment of mixed rare breeds I tried to get some record shots of those. The dim light and dark wool didn't help though.

There was a bit of showing taking place too. This was in the better lit new shed. Unfortunately I messed most of the action by being in the café eating a bacon butty... I still managed a few frames for the files. I'm not sure if I 'saw' this picture or it was down to chance, but I like the way it combines two things in the one shot, even with one being slightly out of focus. Had it been shot in teh fashionable super-blurry background mode it would have had no narrative to it, but as the background activity can be 'read', it does.

As usual I continued with my sub-framing approach. Again chance played it's part and I got two, maybe three, sub-frames in one shot if you can count the faces on the left framed by the ring structure and the ones behind the ring gate.

Either I'd settled in to looking or the butty and brew had kickstarted my imagination but I was now seeing pictures and reacting when something happened.

The prize winners' photo call is part and parcel of shows these days as marts are quick to poist to social media. A phone snap instantly uploaded beats a professional shot even a few hours later when it comes to promotion. It's become one of my habits to photograph the photo call, always trying for a new angle, but rarely succeeding. Choosing where to focus is tricky when light levels restrict apertures but this time I think I got it about right. Sub-framing again.

Did I mention sub-framing? A bit extreme this but I was trying to show the size of the crowd and give context by including a sheep. Otherwise it's could be a picture of a crowd of people attending an auction of anything.

I've been looking at other people's sheepy photographs again on t'interwebs, and again I see that mine often take a different approach. Not just to the technical aspects such as composition and processing, but purpose. While the documentary aspect is important, so are the formal ones, but most of all I try to avoid being journalistic without being arty to the point that the documentary aspect gets lost. Hence my liking for 'busy' pictures which many might consider cluttered. Then there's also my penchant for large areas of nothing. Which doesn't always work!

An uncurated over-long gallery here.

Saturday, 8 February 2020

Change of tack then back to the old routine

It's not like me to be indecisive or change my mind, but... After ditching the original reedy idea I went back to take a different approach. Then I went back again, and again. Gradually a direction was arrived at as I played around with focal lengths, shutter speeds and exposure. I think I have made progress to the stage where I should be able to sort out enough pictures to make a zine which is coherent. Because this is 'art' I am feeling free to crop and process the hell out of the pictures I've taken! This is a taster.

What I did find was that after an hour of playing around, sorry, experimenting with techniques, I started to tighten up. Hence the return visits over successive days. Even after my brain has frozen from pursuing one direction I can open up to other picture making chances. There is a stack of drainage pipes which I have photographed before, but armed with a 20mm lens I tried something different. It's landscape photography, but not as we know it.

All this messing about was just filling in time until today's poultry show and auction. After my experience at the sheep sale the other week I was determined to do this with the 28/50 combo and nothing else. I started out well enough using the 50mm to get this chicken pimping shot and a few others.

The 28mm wasn't getting much use, I reckon because there was a lot of space to work in. Despite this it was the 50mm I swapped for the dreaded 70-200mm. That lens works well for photographing the judging when there is room. Much as I wish it didn't!

I found it a struggle to get anything much I was happy with. No doubt I could have repeated picture ideas I'd done before, but that seemed pointless. If it was a paying gig to record the events then fair enough, do the greatest hits routine, but when the project is broader than the one day's going on I can't face covering the same ground.

After the judging was over I had a look in at the auction, swapping back to the 50mm. Again there wasn't anything fresh apart from a change of roles for some of the staff. I can't find a way to revitalise my approach.

Part of my difficulty, I'm sure, is the gloomy nature of the mart. There's never enough light to get enough depth of field for the kind of pictures I like to take. It's no problem for the fast-lens-wide-open-all-the-time crowd, but for the "f8 and be there" mob which I belong to it's hard to get to f4 most of the time without either losing shutter speed or the ISO hitting five figures. It's not too bad in the sale ring with its new lighting, but in the other sheds it's a nightmare.

I've a choice of poultry or sheep next weekend. I think the chickens will have to do without me. Then again, I've got a bit stale of the sheep front too. How do some people manage taking photographs of landscape all the time?