Thursday, 24 December 2020

One project wrapped up

Much to my surprise I got the bug to complete my look at all teh bridges and locks on the canal. I had to contend with the weather and light again. either bright and in my face or deadly dull and wet. But I pressed on and got it done. There's still some mileage in a canal project if I can find a way 'in' and get motivated. Here is a Flickr slideshow of the locks and bridges in numerical order, which is not the order I photographed them.

Locks and Bridges

It was an interesting exercise in a number of ways. Planning it out, looking for pictures and evaluating the not-so new lens. I'm glad it is only a short canal as I'm pretty sure I'd have got bored if it had been much longer and wandered off, metaphorically, to photograph something else. It also got me out of the rut of walking the same routes around the moss and seeing the same old stuff. A change being as good as a rest.

Not often did I feel the lens limiting. When I did I reached for the wide zoom. Or on one occasion when I put the wrong lens on my second body a standard zoom. As I suspected, 24mm is usually plenty wide enough when I need wider than 35mm. I think the cull has been decided. Although why I keep hanging on to my collection of single focal length lenses has more to do with clinging to an idea than a practical choice. The idea of doing it 1970s style with two focal lengths on the bodies and two more in the bag is a romantic dream. One (almost) superzoom is an easier option!
I've tried to progress the on/off night time project without any success. I thought Christmas lights might make it worthwhile venturing out after dark, but they didn't. Or I failed to make anything of them. The best pic I managed was of a dog poo bin.

With the canal pictures boxed off and no great ideas how to take that subject any further, until the days lengthen, it was back to the moss and meanygates. Not much had changed along my usual route, but sprouts were being cut one dismal afternoon. No doubt heading towards Christmas lunch tables.


A sunny but cold Christmas Eve tempted me and a few other people outside. Having managed to get out fairly early I set off for a slightly longer trudge not expecting to see much new in the area I've not visited for some time. How wrong I was. There is a serve yourself produce stall which wasn't there before. I guess the increased pedestrian traffic from locked-down folk who don't usually go walking about the meanygates prompted this to spring up. It's not the first I've seen appear locally this year.

I'd seen some machinery loitering in a field for some weeks but took that as a sign its work was done, so hadn't bothered taking a look at it. That was the case but thanks to the sodden land there were still remnants of the carrot crop to make it clear what had been harvested. A few more pictures got added to the files.

While poking about the carrot field I saw some bright red figures approaching in the distance. As they got closer I left the carrots and headed in the walkers' direction. It was a cheery surpise to find Mrs Claus and two of her elves taking a stroll. I guess Santa had set off on his journey and their work was done for another year!

This may be a short post, both in words and pictures (although there are fifty odd in the slideshow) I feel like I've achieved quite a bit lately. Maybe not taken any great pictures or advanced my photography, but getting the canal mini-project done felt good.
The editing of meanygate pictures has gone quite well and I'm now at the zine designing stage. More of a selection and sequencing stage, I suppose. I've got a cover and title sorted for the geometric crop pictures and have done a first draft selection which revealed some shortcomings in my first edit of pictures. I'll need to go take some out and bring some more back in to get the feel to the zine I'm after. Provisional cover below.

Monday, 14 December 2020

Locks and bridges

Seeing Bill Robertson tweeting pictures of bridges on the northern reaches of the Lancaster Canal gave me the prod I needed to start on a long considered look at my local cut. Although I've taken plenty of photographs along it's length over the years I've never made a concerted effort to document it. On Saturday afternoon I paid a short afternoon visit to the last lock to see if I could find a way in to start a project. It would be a handy, as in nearby, alternative to the moss seeing as there won't be much more to photograph there for a month or two. Besides, having an alternative might revitalise me for a return to the flatlands.

The day had turned misty by the time I got out, which didn't bother me. Winter can be pretty miserable so no need to make shiny happy pictures. How to approach the subject? As always it's the choice between scenic or formal/geometric/abstract for me. But always fairly prosaic.

Away from the locks canals can be fairly boring, as in lacking variation, until a bridge is arrived at. My initial idea was to document locks and bridges. So that was how I started to formulate a plan.

Plans and me don't go together well. I can make them, no problem. That was what I did. Found a map of the canal and worked out where to go to photograph each lock and bridge. Saturday dawned sunny but I had work to do. When I got to the cut I discovered what I already knew. Mornings are probably the best time to take photos along most of the canal as it runs north-south and the towpath is mostly on the east side. At this time of year the sun would be shining along the canal after noon. With it also being low in the sky as we near the solstice that limited my options. It did provide some benefits though, as in highlighting texture and providing silhouette opportunities.

At the time I felt like I'd made a lot of good pictures. Looking at them on the screen told a different story. Mostly dreck. There ended the project! Not because the pictures were rubbish but because it was relying on following a plan. If I am going to start a canal project it's going to have to take a different line of attack.

In terms of pictures taken the above is about my lot for the week. A couple of good technical things have come out of this last week's dismal efforts though. One day I deliberately took a different lens along with me to accompany the 35-150 which I thought was a bit 'cool'. I took a couple of photos using the same settings on the other lens and the zoom and inspected them on the computer. In a 'blind' test the zoom actually looked to have made a slightly warmer picture. 

The other thing is that I took both that zoom and my wide zoom on my Saturday ramble. For photographing the locks and bridges the wide zoom was useful. I suspected it might be because on the Friday 35mm had proved a bit limiting. The reason being that space at the locks is often cramped where the best vantage points are. Plans to chop in the wide zoom are on hold for now.

Sunday was a dismal day of rain. Once work was done I was at a loose end. Twidling my thumbs I decided to grasp the nettle that is my meanygate project and sort through 3,000 pictures to try and put some sort of order to at least some of them. This I managed by selecting out the more geometric fieldscapes. After two or three passes through the initial selection I now have it whittled down to 108. I've put them into 'contact sheets' and am letting them brew for a while before having another go at editing them down to, probably, a zine format.

While going through the files I realised that there are more pictures of fieldwork that I'd imagined. Editing those down will be the next task. Depending how both edits go I'll either make two zines or one zine of the geometric pictures and a larger book of a combined edit. I must say that a grid presentation of the geometric pictures could work well. Trouble is that grids are difficult to present at a meaningful scale as some of these pictures need to be viewed at A4 or larger to see the important finer detail.

Monday, 7 December 2020


A lack of free time at the right time continues. If it's not waiting for parcels to arrive or be collected it's weather keeping me indoors. When I do get out there's usually only an hour or two of day light left. I've had to revert to getting my photo-fix when visiting the post office or even the pillar box!

That said I have still managed a few longer walks round the moss. Not with great expectations. I have recorded some recent changes. The drier weather has seen tractors able to get on the land in places.


The same view a day later.


 The Zwartbles continued to be friendly and I was looking forward to getting some more pictures of them after a second close encounter. Two days later they'd gone...


Not to worry. They were only a distraction and were unlikely to provide me with a body of work, or even add to my sheep folders which I would prefer to be about native breeds rather than immigrants.

While some land is drying, slowly, other places are continuing to hold water. there have been efforts made to clear it in a few fields.

Feeling like I needed a change of scenery I went in search of leeks. No matter how I try I can't get to grips with making pictures of leeks. That doesn't stop me getting drawn back to them time and again.




 As the week ended temperatures dropped and there was enough of a frost one morning to solidify the standing water. When the sun started to break through I headed out and a light mist began to rise. Once more it wasn't enough to make for really dramatic pictures, and there is little out on the moss to make for foreground interest in any case, but there was a chance for a hint of the atmosphere created.

Also a chance to get some icy pictures. Quite why I'm not sure.

This continual photographing of the land and 'stuff' is getting me down a bit. I've even watched a few landscape Youtubers recently, admittedly for entertainment rather than education, and all that has done has made me question the taking of photographs without people in them. 

My intention might not be to make standalone 'frameable' pictures of the land, but even though I am trying to show how it changes and is changed the pictures themselves don't engage me much. The one which comes closest of the recent lot is the one with the tractor in.

And there's the nub of it. Even the sheep around the mineral bucket is engaging in that there is stuff happening. Not only is it a picture of something, it's also about something - and there's depth to it with foreground sheep and the more distant ones clearly walking towards them. There's action. The sheep are quite graphic, the red bucket also works in the way Constable included a splash of red in many of his landscape paintings to add vibrancy, life. But the main reason I find it more engaging is that there are creatures in it.

In my hierarchy of subjects people interacting with each other or with animals is at the top. People on their own come next, closely followed by animals interacting and then animals on their own. Things and landscapes are somewhere below all those. This is why I'm tiring of looking at the sort of pictures I have liked for a while, the deadpan pictures of places. I've made enough of them myself, but they are starting to merge into one another. That's why my most satisfying picture for some time is the snap I grabbed of one of the mossland farmers when he stopped for a natter. It might not be the best picture I've ever taken, but it was a real boost to take it. The sooner social distancing can be kicked into touch the better!


The new lens continues to be my mainstay as I work out if I can live with it. The focal length range hasn't limited me so far. In fact the more I use it the less I find myself wanting anything wider. Although I have taken to carrying my fancy compact with me just in case I need the 28mm angle of view. So far that has only been on a couple of occasions. It's still had me wondering if a 24-120 might have been a more versatile choice than the 35-150. The colour rendition of the 35-150 is still nagging at me. However, when the sun shines it seems to do a better job. Maybe on these cooler, duller days I should go back to a Nikon lens to see if that makes any difference to the colours. Most likely nobody else would notice the colours.There's also the possibility it's all in my imagination anyway!

The short daylight hours not only restrict my time outdoors, they make me spend to much time reading or listening to nonsense on t'internet. One subject which has got me thinking is focal length choices. There are a couple of people (influencers?) who have an aversion to the 35mm angle of view. One even railed against it, and anything wider, in a blog post. While I suspected a tongue in a cheek I thought his reasoning was a bit off. He did make one valid point in that wide angle lenses are becoming the de facto recommendation for street photography. This is all well and good in the right hands, but as the disgruntled blogger said, they can result in messy pictures with too much distraction in them.

Now I don't have a problem with pictures that contain more than one point of interest. In fact I like them. They are not easy to make well though. Which is why it's worth trying to rise to the challenge. I wonder if the reason some people prefer longer lenses is a reluctance to get close to their subjects and maybe an inability to take in a scene as a whole. It's much easier to use a longer (50mm or more) lens to isolate a subject from a scene than to make the subject a part of the scene. I reckon it makes for 'one liner' pictures too. I prefer shaggy dog stories!

Out in the countryside, however, I find longer focal lengths easier to use as there can be way too much space for wide angles lenses. This might be why the 35-150 interested me with my foray into landscapery? I'm sure that when I'm able to get back to the marts and shows I'll be digging out the 28mm or 24-70mm again, getting in closer and putting subjects in context. Which is what it's all about for me.