Saturday, 27 June 2020

A change of view

There is a temptation when you find a kind of picture which other people like to keep on repeating it. In the case of my geometric farmed-landscapes this has merit as it produces a cohesive set of pictures. What it doesn't do is pain the whole picture. It only shows the results of labour without showing how it has come about.

There can still be variations to be had, such as taking a fresh patch and looking across more undulating land.

This was a walk on a day which promised rain, and delivered. Luckily it was a warm day, I'd gone prepared too. Being quite windy the showers blew over quickly and I was fortunate to find shelter from the two heaviest. While taking shelter from the second I tried to make a picture of the rain. After all, rain makes the crops grow.

The sheets of insect netting continue to fascinate me as much as the planting patterns. I'd like to get closer still, but never seem to find anywhere accessible and visually interesting enough.

Back to collecting field patterns.

There are some things which need no explanation, such as a field of lettuces, but others make more sense when explained. I thing these grow bags need words for the picture to be understood beyond it's visual impression. Without the knowledge that the bags will be removed and the contents left to rot down to be spread on the land it looks like an unsightly pile of rubbish.

I've always had a strange liking for making pictures with lots of negative s[pace. The clarity of this blue sky struck me as strange. It was just a case of balancing the negative and positive. I always think that negative space weighs lighter than positive space. Kind of like bags of feathers to bags of stones.

In among the pictures for this project is a growing collection pictures of tyre tracks. Don't ask why.

After that walk in the rain I determined that it was time to make an effort to get more activity pictures. Not being close to any work that's going on means using a long lens which in this case isn't too bad as it can provide a sense of place. With that in mind I made a sequence of pictures of planting out. Some I was able to take at a shortish focal length.

The weather continued being changeable, restricting the times I could get out which didn't coincide with when I wanted to be out. Even so I usually find something to photograph. It was a pity the work going on with the fleece/netting was in the distance but the picture does show more than that. There is mown grass in the foreground and a cereal crop in the distance, plus the farm buildings, church, and far distance moors to suggest what the area feels like

Similarly I wanted to show the 'bog oak' in the picture below as well as the tractors and fleece 'bobbin'.

As I seek to expand the range of subjects beyond crops and cropping I've been looking at the more obviously industrial aspects of the veg industry. Mass transportation is one, and perhaps surprisingly, globalisation. How to illustrate this?

the picture above is an improved version of one I took a while back in grim light. I'd tried a second time when I thought the sun would be in the right place but there was a shadow cast across the sign. Third time lucky. I seem to be making more effort to go back to get pictures I have in my head these days.

If that carries on I'll make a better version of the picture below, which I'd prefer not to have been taken in the village. It has, however, given my a clue as to how to photograph the vegetable wagons.

More changeable weather in the forecast, so limited opportunities in prospect. Or I could put the waterproofs on.

Saturday, 20 June 2020

Sun, rain, sun

Summer has settled in with the usual unsettled weather. When I saw a break in the thunder showers promising light in the right direction for a return top the lettuce harvester I broke the habit of a lifetime and went for a second look. Not much had moved and the light was almost perfect. The pictures were an improvement on the back lit efforts.

On my way there I paused to photograph some stacked drainage pipes which caught my eye ages ago but never looked quite right. A mundane subject photographed in a mundane manner, perhaps. But I like it.

As things grow and the light alters what was pictorially uninteresting can change. The cultivated ground surrounded, I know not why, by cereal crop has sprung potatoes. The contrast in textures makes for a picture of sorts.

The aftermath of harvesting continues to pose a problem as far as picturing it goes. So I keep trying different approaches.

 Is it waste when the remains of a crop get ploughed back?

The rain we've had has come in heavy showers and longer periods of lighter rain. Most of the ditches which were dry are now flowing and the fields are holding water in places.

Gone is the blowing dust collecting on the tracks and in comes muddy deposits from tractor tyres. The soil looks darker and crops fresher. Work continues no matter the weather.

Once in a while a single frame is all that's needed. I'd watched this farmer setting up his bird scaring kite, biding my time. I dropped lucky with the kite turning 'face on' to me as I made the one exposure before it was raised too high and I had to turn the camera on its side. A minor crop to re-frame and that was it.

Yesterday, during the rain, I thought it was time I made a print of at least one picture from this project. I selected one of the 'geometric' farmingscapes to print and mount. I didn't want to make a big print as the ink in my printer is running low, so I found some  10" x 8" mounts and cropped one to fit. This revealed an advantage of putting subjects central in the frame - cropping  to other aspect ratios can often work without altering the impact of the picture too much. As always seems to be the case, putting a mount  round a picture and placing that in a frame changes a picture for the better. It always seems to make pictures look more 'serious' somehow.

I could imagine a wall or two of these pictures all nicely mounted and frames making a cohesive presentation. While they have a consistent look I do feel that pictures with people in them have more interest, hold the attention longer, even if they are distant and small in the frame. Things going on are more interesting to look at than things. A mix of the two sorts of picture is what I think works best in a long term project like this one. Must make more effort to get people in pictures.

Saturday, 13 June 2020

Some progress

After the repetition of recent wanderings my latest two turned up unexpected bonuses. There were challenges too. The light being the main one. The first evening would have benefited from a low sun. It was grey. The second would have been improved by an overcast sky. What this did make me realise is that when people say it's all about the light they are only half right. Certainly when it comes to documentary photography.

Last night when the sun was low and bright it struck me that a great deal of landscape photography is all about the light. The light is the subject. The actual scene is secondary. Anywhere will do that makes a nice composition. There's little that ever tells you where the picture was taken. But gosh, that sky, those shadows... And much the same can be said of what passes for portrait photography. The connection of viewer and sitter, and the capturing any essence of character, plays second fiddle to the lighting.

So when I got back and inspected my pictures from both walks I accepted them for what they are. Documents of what was there rather than idealised versions of what I'd like it to have been. This should be obvious as the first lesson I remember making an impression on me at art school was to draw what you see, not what you think you see. Like drawing and painting, photography should be primarily about looking.

The first route I had planned lead me to a crossroad. When I looked right where I had thought of going left I saw a sprayer in operation, and easily accessible without venturing off the track. Plan hastily altered and off I went. I'd gone out with my two zoom kit and one body so started ong then switched wider while intending to order the pictures differently.


It was for the close ups of spraying water which would have benefited most from low sunlight. Without it I had to boost contrast on the computer. Contemplating the final results I think the softer look works well enough. Brighter pictures might have looked too 'pretty'. To editorial.

The route for my second walk also changed once I was out. Again I had thought to turn left at the crossroad, but instead carried straight on as that would bring me round past some machinery in a field. On my way I saw a run of electrified, by solar power, rabbit netting. The flip down screen really is a benefit for low angled shots. After trying a number of heights for the camera I settled on having it right on the ground. Without a screen an angled finder would have been required, and when I have used one of those it still required sprawling on the deck. I'm not sure I could manage without this modern feature.

Not far beyond the netting was a windmill type bird scarer, right by the track. I've tried to get pictures of these many times and never managed to get anything but contextual ones. It was very windy, once more, so timing the shots was down to chance and a fast burst rate. Then I tried a slow shutter speed but the blur did nothing but make the blades disappear. The frame below has been selected for it's central composition as this is a theme within this project.

When I got to the machinery it was strongly, but not directly, backlit. This did give me a chance of usable pictures by exposing for the sky and lifting the shadows in post. Done to extreme this gives a very false, cartoonish, look to pictures but I think I managed to avoid that with this frame. Although I took some pictures of the machine in isolation I preferred having the trailer and second machine in the background for context. Had the lighting been frontal I'd have gone with an isolated shot.

I like to take detail shots of some things as they can find a use in the final presentation of a project.

It was approaching the golden hour when landscape photographers usually have their tripods in place ready when I started to make my way home. The closest I cam to a golden hour picture was when I saw the light and shade falling on a farm building. Sometimes I fall in to the same trap as a lot of others!

 As crops are picked there are often crates left in fields and these are becoming a sub-set for me. These were lined up nicely, and the partially picked crop worked well as a story telling feature.

I do my best to keep two things in mind when making pictures. The formal arrangement of shapes within the frame, and showing what it is I'm photographing. The latter being more important, but when combined with a successful arrangement of shapes that aspect is enhanced. The barn wall explains nothing. The remains of a partially picked crop and the crates explain something.

While I'm happy enough with the way this project is going I am finding the lack of people doing stuff is an obvious omission. It's certainly a bit of a frustration. Earlier starts will have to be made whenever work doesn't get in the way. Then I might get the chance to interact with someone, or at least photograph work in the distance.

Monday, 8 June 2020

Nothing much to say

The wanderings continue. The themes remain the same. geometric compositions of crops. Pictures of things isolated in fields. Odd detail shots.

There's only so much variation to be had in the pictures of crops in fields, so it's getting harder to find anything fresh. A new crop is one way, or a different arrangement of the rows. In this case it was both. Potatoes are sprouting now. When they flower there'll be a chance for some colour, although the rows might not be so obvious as the leaves fill out.

A change of light is another potential variation.

Or just development of the crop.

I'm not sure what the attraction is of things in fields.

I suppose they add detail to the story.

It took me a few goes to make a picture of an irrigation outlet. The old favourite head on shot did the trick.

Crops are starting to be picked on a large scale now. Finding ways to show this in a graphical way, rather than showing people doing the picking, isn't easy as things look less well ordered than when the crops are growing.

The weather has changed and become the more usual British summer of grey skies and flat light. Which is fine in its way.

Although the main focus of this project is the flat, farmed landscape I am also drawn to the greenhouses in the area I'm photographing. Maybe they will become the focus for another project in.

Monday, 1 June 2020

Late and early

What with work and the heat I've not been too tempted to wander the flatlands so much. Friday I ventured forth in the evening to try a different camera/lens combination. I'd been thinking that I could probably manage 90% of the pictures I like to take with a 24-120mm lens, or even a 35-150mm like Tamron make. It had occurred to me that if I stuck the 24-85 on the crop sensor body I've been thinking of selling that might give me a clue if the idea would work. So that was what I did. And it did work. To a degree.

The extra effective length over 85mm was to my liking. But the 35mm effective shorter length was limiting. In the bright evening light all was well, but the camera gets noisy in low light. Not so much noisy as blurry-looking. I suppose I could just have put the old 28-105mm on a full frame body and had done with it!

Subject-wise there was a fair bit of interest. There had been a few changes - things planted, things harvested - and work in progress.

The prolonged dry weather and the couple of days of strong wind have set back some crops. The courgettes from an earlier post were being watered by hand in an attempt to give them a boost. I'd noticed that after the winds many had lost leaves.

I have to admit that I chickened out of photographing the watering. Some times I don't give a toss and will take photos of anyone without asking, other times I don't. No idea why. In this instance I think it was a case of distance. They were too close to not notice me, and too far away to speak to without shouting! As it turned out the farmer came over to me while I was photographing the supportive stickers on the tractor and we ended up having an interesting conversation. That's why I now know it was courgettes being watered.

While I am still looking for semi-abstract, graphical landscape pictures I am also starting to look for less 'arty' pictures which give more of a sense of place, using more traditional framing. Trying to get two or three elements which make the pictures site specific. In this case greenhouses, telephone poles and fleeces.

Although only a brief walk it had proved quite productive and I wanted to get out again, but much earlier. That had to wait until Sunday when I was out the door by seven thirty, teh heat jsut starting to increase.

This time I had gone back to basics and put the 24-85mm on a 'proper' body. Breaking my usual habit I shoved the 70-300mm in my little shoulder bag next to a bottle of water. Both of which proved useful. I ended up doing a fair bit of lens swapping. I find that when it comes to longer focal lengths 85mm isn't enough - hence the 24-120mm thinking. Like in my early film days I ended up keeping the unused lens in one of my jacket pockets rather than the bag!

This proved to be a longer walk, in terms of both distance and time, resulting in far too many frames exposed. Before setting out I had determined that closer pictures of crops would be worth adding to the files. With many now close to harvesting subjects were easy to find. A left behind weeding tool was a nice bonus in this instance.

Not convinced that isolated vegetable portraits were the way forward I tried some environmental shots choosing a lower angle than for the semi-abstracts. I can visualise how the various types of pictures can come together in a final presentation. Or at least I have a vague idea.

Turning into one meanygate I could see the irrigation boom I'd photographed a while back was in operation. That would be a challenge but useful for the project. By the time I was in lens range it had shut off. However, that meant that I could get some closer shots of the boom and the sprayer nozzles. Both wide and close-up shots were taken. Too many choices of viewpoint and framing though.

In the back of my mind I always seem to have thoughts for making series of 'boring' pictures of things. With this project it's farm machinery and buildings. When it is bright this kind of picture is very much dependent on having the sun more or less behind you, or at least to one side. when it's overcast it doesn't matter so much.

Something I have become aware of looking at the pictures from this project is how having bright sunlight and cloudless skies gives a completely different look to the pictures I usually take on dull days. They almost look like someone else took them. It does raise a question of how coherent the project will look when the weather returns to normal. I have some already taken on duller days and they look a little out of place. I'll cross that bridge in due course rather than fret about it now.