Saturday, 27 February 2021

Sunlight brings some progress

As March approaches I'm staying ahead on my New Year resolution to make prints and put them in albums. I've made three sets so far, However I'm struggling to think what to select for set number four. I've got all next month to think of something though.

I have settled on a design style though, which makes things easier and using a sheet of overhead projector acetate at the front of the prints works well as protection for the print which shows through the window of the Easybook. Cutting the acetate with a knife was tricky, but when I used my rotary trimmer (like I should have done in the first place) it was a doddle.

Last week after playing around with the design of my upcoming swap zine I picked a forecast sunny morning to have a try at taking some photos for an upcoming zine swap project. I got sidetracked by the light on the old Rams Head which is in a poor state of repair having stood empty since 2007.

By the time I arrived where I was headed the sun had disappeared and the light was flat. On the way, though, I did see something which gave me an idea for a new series of pictures. One that's been in the back of my mind for quite a while. These travel restricted times seem like the perfect opportunity to get it done. More on this later. The zine pics were taken and although not as bright as I'd have liked they were a start. With plenty of time I'd get another chance to take some more in brighter light.

Four days later I went back, again in an overcast, and re-shot with different framing to better fit the layout I'd devised for the zine. I slotted the pics into the layout when I got home and they worked better. I'll possibly do a post on the development of this zine after the swap has been completed. Until then I'm keeping the pictures under embargo!

Fired up by this unexpected success I went for a roam around the moss in the afternoon. There wasn't much to see as fieldwork hasn't really started yet. There has been a fair bit of ditch and drain maintenance going on. The regularity of the deposits by the side of one ditch struck me as worth a photograph.


The sign I'd managed to get my picture of the other week had suffered some kind of mishap. As I approached it another walker propped it back up, which annoyed me a little as I'd wanted to get a picture of the empty frame. I took a shot anyway.

The benefit of treading familiar ground is that you get the chance to record these changes. I trod that ground again today and once more the sign had fallen over. I got my empty frame picture!

Another instance of repeatedly visiting the same place and recording change also occurred out on the moss this week when I changed my route on a whim and went down the path leading to the pump and sump area I have often photographed. This time the pump house was no longer standing. All that remained of it was a pile of rubble.

This sort of picture might not be great art, but it can be a valuable record. Perhaps not when it's of something as mundane as a pumphouse or a road sign, but who's to say? 

With the sunshine holding I've made the most of it, even though I find it problematic for taking the kind of pictures I like taking. It's not so much the brightness as the low angle at this time of year. It can make for dramatic or atmospheric pictures, but equally it can hide detail by creating hard, dark shadows.

Chancing upon some recently 'hatched' lambs by the side of the road on Thursday I was thwarted by the sluggish focusing of my camera in liveview. I was using the screen to save my knees as I wanted to photograph the sheep at lamb-level. By the time the sheep had had enough of me I'd only managed a few in-focus pictures, and they were to poorest of the lot. The better framed and composed shots were all out of focus where it mattered. The light was nice on a couple of sharp pictures, but that's not enough for a picture. the light really isn't what it's all about.

This next one is probably my favourite because of the odd framing. A bit more of the eye in shot would have been better though.

While I've been out on my wanderings I've been scouting for what I'm provisionally calling 'ghost gates'. Unused field entrances where the gates and/or gatepost are standing but either overgrown or obviously unused. At this stage I've not committed to a methodology. Some are a bit close to busy roads so a reasonably wide angle lens will be required, which I'll use for all the pictures (if I progress with this) for consistency.
What I can't decide on is how to frame the pictures. At gate level, or eye level. Whichever it will be I'll be avoiding sunny days as they result in too many shadows making the hidden gateways even more difficult to decipher than they are in real life, and producing pictures which have too much contrast of sky and subject making processing tricky. If this does come to fruition it will have to be done in the next month or so before the leaves are fully on the hedges and obscuring the gateways completely.

More meanygate meanderings have resulted in little of note. At times the light has helped me out. Mainly where architecture has been involved as this is a subject which can benefit from contrasty light. I'm a sucker for things arranged in vaguely grid-like ways photographed head on. These pallets by the green houses on the moss were fated to be photographed by me!

This chance encounter was another case of the light helping out. The shadow on the wheel adds a little extra visual interest to what's going on.

Ever since starting to photograph the local veg growing I've been after a picture of either a potato or a carrot, or a few of either, on a road surface. It's always been a regular sight round here at harvest time. But not since I've been looking out for it... that's why I snapped this carrot today!

Monday, 15 February 2021

Frozen out

No snow here, but it's been cold enough to freeze the ground solid which has given the farmers a chance to get machinery on the land and work under way. However a strong wind or really dull light has kept me indoors most of the time, with just a few late afternoon forays with a camera.

Even so new sights continue to appear when trudging the usual routes. They just get further apart than they used to.

When I did happen upon some activity I was a bit late on the scene and couldn't quite get the angles I wanted. The idea below was to have backlit gulls against dark fields. In addition to poor angles when the tractor got in range for a well framed shot it was too close to me for the gulls' comfort and they wheeled of and upwards.

That evening I did manage to get the setting sunlight reflecting off one of the road signs, which is a picture I've seen but never managed to take before. Usually when the sun is at the right angle to reflect it also casts my shadow into the frame. This time for some reason only the sign was lit.

Next time out I was later still and only managed a couple of pictures. One showing recent cultivation with still frozen surface water, the other what looks like hail stones but which are actually fertiliser pellets. Not important pictures on their own, but potentially useful in a series.

Being stuck indoors induces boredom. Boredom induces web browsing. Web browsing induces impulse purchases. I'd forgotten I'd ordered Joanne Coates's zine from ADM so it was a pleasant surprise to get an email notification that it was on its way. I'd seen the work on a number of websites over the last few years and was glad to have a hard copy of some pictures from it. It really needs a bigger publication with text to do it justice though.

When Camerasnaps tweeted a video of them going through Blood Sweat and Tears I immediately searched out a copy. Great documentary photography of the miners strike of 1984 published straight after the fact. If it had been a new publication I'd have given it a miss in keeping with my attempt to restrict my photobook buying to contemporary work, 'vintage' editions and the very occasional reprint at a more affordable price than the original of the same book on the collectors' market.

Also via Twitter I discovered The Dartmoor Collective and ordered a copy of their nice little collaborative zine, A Worked Landscape. A subject right up my street. Zines for a fiver are a great idea and should be encouraged.

The freeze finally came to an end today but it took a while for me to get work out of the way and make the most of the last hour of sunlight. I timed it just a bit late to catch some field and ditch work going on, and had to console myself with some static subject matter. An advantage of a flat landscape is teh ability to spot things which have appeared since a previous visit from afar. A big yellow digger by one of the pumps I have photographed numerous times had to be investigated.

I tried, and failed, to make a picture including one of the irrigation outlets but framing using the flip down screen was more trouble than I could be bothered with as time was short.

Even getting a shot of the digger on its own was tricky to frame without having something cutting into the left edge.

The greenhouses I sometimes walk by usually throw up some chance of a picture. If not of or through the glass then something reflected in it. Today was no exception. The greenhouses are used for bringing on houseplants and they are now being stocked up ready for the spring season. The trays of seedlings making for a nicely repetitive pattern.

The lack of contrast in the above picture being due to the dirty glass. The same applies to the picture below, with the addition of out of focus whitewash on the inside of the glass which I deliberately used as a device to provide a visual unifier to the picture's structure.

A reflected sunset is irresistible. So I didn't resist. Quite a few frames were exposed and only two or three worked. I tried focusing on the reflection and on the glass. The pictures with the sharp reflections were the most immediately satisfying. I've kept both versions though as I might change my mind with time. That's something I often do, keep two versions in case what initially appeals about a picture loses it's attraction as time passes.

With the warmer conditions set to stay for a while I'll be trying to get out and about more often, at more productive times. That's if work allows me to.

Monday, 1 February 2021

New gear makes no difference

What a winter. Locked down and real winter weather. Some snow fell but didn't stick for long. The sub-zero temperatures have been another matter.

I can vaguely remember thinking the Benbo tripod design was a good one back in the 1980s but in those days it was out of my price range, and I didn't use the tripod I had anyway. Before Christmas I was checking a photographer out and found a video of him using Benbo tripods which got me thinking that the time might be right. Despite all the tales of woe I've read on forums that they are tricky to set up but a few instructional videos didn't look that way to me. Even so, knowing my antipathy towards tripods I managed to resist buying one, despite the fact that they are now comparatively affordable.

It must have been a combination of the lack of photographic productivity and a dull evening's web browsing that made me crack. I told myself it was a late birthday present to myself...

When the tripod arrived I found it was dead easy to set up. Easier than my Manfrotto. I screwed one of my spare tripod heads (which I have kept as they have little resale value) and after playing around indoors took it for a walk. I do have in mind a series of pictures which would benefit form being taken using a tripod. That was another excuse for the purchase.

The photo series is to shoot vertical landscapes including ditches in the foreground. My initial intention being to use a 35mm lens for all the pictures. That was what I took out with me on the tripod expedition. I only made one test shot and it decided me that 28mm might be better on a couple of counts. Whether this project within a project comes off is still up in the air...

One thing that was a bit annoying with the Benbo was the fixed hard plastic feet. They're great outdoors where the pointy bits will dig in to soft ground, but indoors they don't work so well. I thought that I might cut the points off and see if that improved thinsg. Or maybe remove the feet and replace when with plain rubber ones. I went in search of rubber feet and found a website selling nothing but plastic and rubber ferrules for chairs, tables, walking sticks and such like. Noticing that they had some large ferrules I measured the Benbo feet and took a chance that I might be able to push the largest size over the spikey feet. When the ferrules arrived that was indeed the case. Indoors the tripod is much improved. Outdoors it remains to be tested.

With the deadline for the thirds zine swap looming (it's three months away but that's looming in my world) I have been scratching my head for a plan. The ones I've had so far have yet to come to fruition. Then I had a flash of inspiration. Put two ideas together. With a dry day in the offing I headed for my chosen location and set to work.

The results were promising and a play around putting them into a zine format went quite well too. The only negative being that the light on the day I took the photos was a bit bland. Normally that wouldn't bother me but for the zine concept I think a sunnier day would have worked better. As I know exactly what photos I want for this it should be easy to go back and get them. Of course the sun has yet to shine... That might not be a bad thing as the project might work even better when the leaves start to appear on the hedgerows and trees. 

Still being stuck for a fresh project to get my teeth into it's been a case of going back to the moss hoping to find something's changed. I don't know why but I can usually find something different to make a picture of from the greenhouses I sometimes walk past. Not that they meet with widespread adulation.

The lack of sunshine has meant that frost and ice lingers into the afternoon. I added to my selection of detail shots with this one of some frosty but cracked ground.

When I saw this 'flow' of straw which I'm guessing was deposited as the field drained it cried out to be recorded. However I don't think the picture succeeds in getting across how the chopped straw has formed the flow. Certainly not at this small size. Maybe larger it would. Or if I'd had a wider lens to exaggerate the effect. Or if the light had been different.  Or?

At least fields are drying, in some places because of pumping. I wanted to make a picture of this bright red pump in a way that was more than a picture of a bright red pump. I tried to do that by including the fallen branch/tree over which the blue pipe lay as I felt it echoed the black pipe. The pipes, trunk and bottom of the ditch lead the eye in a circle towards the pump, which already stands out as the brightest object in the frame. That's the way I read it at any rate.

Elsewhere I tried to make a picture of some machinery in a field which included a 'bog oak' laid on teh side of the track.

I almost found myself wishing I wasn't so dead set on avoiding wide angle lenses at times. Would have a few more millimetres improved things?

That's been about my lot. This afternoon the sun made a rare appearance and there was hope of a sunset to drag me out into the cold. I had a letter to post so walked along the main road before contemplating heading to the fields. The warm light of the low sun cast a soft shadow on a rendered wall. I'm amassing a collection of similar pictures which might make a series at some point.


The light didn't last. By the time the sun was low enough to be considered setting it was behind yet another bank of greyness. I'm not crying out for bright sunshine to get on with any of my plans, all I want is some relief from the relentless dullness. Maybe when the sky lightens I'll start feeling a bit more positive about making photographs, which in turn should get my coming up with more and better ideas. Buying a new tripod certainly hasn't done that.