Sunday, 31 October 2021

Sheep, sheep, sheep

Two days of madness this week with a breeding sheep sale held over two days. 5000 plus ewes on day one, 300 plus tups on day two. The first day being a long one. I had flagged by two thirty and as much mentally tired as physically gave up, but the sale carried on for another four hours. no doubt one of the staff when asked how he was shortly before I left said he'd be all right by the following night!

I didn't arrive too early, knowing it would be a long day, the light would be rubbish early on, and that sheep would be arriving for a long time after the seven thirty start. I had plenty of time to get arrival pictures, something lacking in my files.


There were sheep everywhere, in all the available permanent pens, in the temporary pens and anywhere else they could be accommodated.

All the usual problems were to be overcome. Finding new ways to show things being the main one, but there were also technical problems like white balance variations and the lack of light. On sunny days there's some ambient light finds its way in and brightens the inside of the sheds. Two days of gloom were what I was up against.


I find myself using the flippy screen a lot to give my self a sheep-level view. And always struggling with the awful autofocus using the screen. It might be time to spend some money on a camera with better liveview focusing. Or I could get my knees replaced so I can get lower and look through the viewfinder!

Knowing day two would be less hectic I made a slightly later start. There was the usual stuff to see and the usual pictures to make. In the main shed I used my two prime lens approach, which is becoming my preferred way to operate if I can. Aside from the lenses being lighter than a pair of fast zooms the shutter sound seems nicer too. It probably isn't though.

28/50mm is a great combo, but I might try 20/35mm for a change some time. Even if it's only to see if I can live without the 35.

In the ring, which is much better lit, I ditched the long zoom and went with my all-purpose zoom. If it gathered more light I think I could live with it as my only lens. If only life was that simple!

Once more I find the pictures with lots in them the most interesting. I made an A3 print of one from an earlier sale and it 'works' much better than as a 1200 pixel wide jpeg on a screen. There's a pleasure to be had in looking at the expressions on the faces of the people around the sale ring as well as having a picture which works as a whole. Much more engaging than simple close ups of a few faces. For me at any rate.

Thursday, 28 October 2021

Changing gear

No, not physical photographic gear, but shifting subjects as the season's change. Autumn is when the sheep dog nursery trials begin and I went along to one on a dry(ish) day. for a couple of reasons I couldn't get into it at all. One was that I don't have a long enough lens to focus in on the that venue. The other was that I'd run out of ideas. I suppose it would be quite easy to fill the memory cards with files of cute sheep dogs. Not much of a challenge, or of much meaning no matter how many 'likes' they might get on social media. I left early thinking that I am probably done with the sheep dog scene.

When the weather's been fit, and I've has time, I've been back out wandering locally making more of my boring farmed landscape pictures. Something else I'm finding a bit tedious. I take fewer and fewer photos on my walks round the mosslands these days.

With darkness falling around tea time now it seemed like an idea to resurrect my nocturnal village 'project'. It was a full moon that drew me out the other evening. I was out of practice and had forgotten what settings I'd used in the past. It was also a dry night, and in the past rain or mist has made for more interesting pictures. With the full moon clouds might have helped, but the sky was clear.

On a rare sunny, and still, afternoon I had an aimless drive around some usual haunts and ended up at the nature reserve on the marsh. They never seem to stop tinkering with things there. Some fencing firm or other has been profiting recently.

On a second visit I spied some new signage. I'm a sucker for keep out signs, and these are particularly officious!

So that's it. Gear shifted to local subjects with no real direction to anything, and maybe a few auction mart visits, possibly a poultry show or two, and perhaps a sheep dog trial out of habit (when the weather is fair) to see me through the winter.

Sunday, 10 October 2021

A long day

Another Saturday, another show and sale day.This time it was two shows and two sales. In some ways more of the same old, but with a twist in the shape of a different breed. OK, so the first show and sale was Gritstones, which were again well represented by breeders on large and small scales. The second show (which I missed most of through being in ringside for the Gritstone sale) was of North Country Cheviots. A confusing breed for me as they come in two varieties - Park and Hill. I have no clue as to the difference!

This time I was better prepared in the lens department using my fast, standard, zoom for most of the time, switching to my versatile but slightly slower lens for the sale where the light is much brighter. I also used the faster lens when I wanted to go a bit wider. I also took my 85mm along to see if I need it. I don't. It's a lens I've never gelled with despite the focal length's popularity among the massed ranks of photography forum users. My plan is to trade it, along with my teleconverter, for a macro lens of some sort. Probably a 90mm. I don't often need a macro lens but it will get more use than the 85 and will at least do something my other lenses can't.

Some Cheviots.

Although there were more Cheviots being sold I spent more time with the Gritstones, and by the time the white-faced sheep came to the ring I was getting brain tired. Even so I did get some different angles.

Something I have noticed about my show and sale photographs is that I make a lot of pictures that have a lot in them. Whereas other 'sheep photographers' tend to go for more tightly framed shots. I don't know if this is good or bad. I do try to adopt both approaches, but I like looking for wider views with some visual rhythm to them, and also try to keep an eye open for random intrusions into the frame, odd croppings of figures, and other accidents. These seem, to me, to add vitality to the pictures which rigidly composed shots can sometimes lack.

Some Gritstone pictures.

Another thing that's been in my mind again (I've mentioned it in the past) is that my approach  to this sort of subject is less journalistic than it might be. Other photographers seem to manage to record the prize winning sheep and the ones which make the most money. If I any of those make it into my edits it's by pure chance - unless I'm asked to photograph them! I suppose I'm always looking for pictures that give the flavour of the event rather than the straightforward documenting of facts. As Tom Wood said, "When the stuff is too journalistic and documentary then it is journalism, if it is too conceptual and arty then that is another thing, but where the two meet - that is interesting." That's my excuse - and I'm sticking to it!

Thursday, 7 October 2021

Lonk mania

Some time back I read an interview with a documentary photographer who travelled the world to take photographs of ordinary people doing extraordinary things. The other day I read of another who had to leave their homeland in order to be inspired by other cultures. What a load of crap. If you look hard enough there is plenty out of the ordinary to be seen anywhere, and if you get involved at a local level you get a much deeper insight of and appreciation for what is going on. For all Martin Parr's global travel he still photographs in the UK and comes up with subjects which are far from ordinary for most people. Homer Sykes has been photographing in the UK for most of his life. Both have created huge and fascinating archives of British people being ordinary.

My accidental falling into the world of sheep shows and sales has provided me with plenty of pictures of ordinary folk doing things which are ordinary to them but extraordinary to outsiders like me. Until I delved into the history of Lonk sheep I would never have thought that  there was an annual sheep show which had been taking place for nigh on 300 years less than an hour's drive from where I live. But there is.

Ever since I found out about this show I've wanted to visit it. Unfortunately the date always clashed with my one chance to deal direct with my fishing rod customers which gave them a chance to get hands-on with my wares. In 2019 I decided to give this tackle show a miss and go photograph the Lonks. The best laid plans and all that saw me getting wildly lost and arriving too late. Last year the show was cancelled. This year the dates didn't clash. Although I ended up missing my tackle show through being ill. I'd recovered by the following weekend and, with the route firmly lodged in my head and a map by my side, I made it to the sheep show!

There was also a sheep dog trial taking place in the field nearby so I arrived early to take a look at that. The set up wasn't ideal for photography with the dogs running behind a fence which restricted my view. When the trailers began to arrive for the sheep show I headed up to it.

In practice it was like any other small sheep-only show. A few pens set up in a field. However this was Lonks only, which meant the real die-hard Lonk breeders were in attendance. Faces I hadn't seen showing at other, larger, shows.

Not only were the sheep of one breed, they were also the best of the best, in that it was a show restricted to those which are registered by the breed society as meeting all points on the breed standard. Sheep judged to be up to scratch are then horn branded as a sign of their status. This is something which I wasn't expecting to see. So it was a nice bonus when a pen of sheep were branded. This is a painless experience for the sheep as the horn is just like a fingernail and without feeling. There is lots of smoke though.

With that out of the way it was on to the judging of the many classes, which went on all morning and resumed after lunch. There wasn't anything markedly different to any other shows when it came to what went on, but I was getting pictures in a new location. There were also larger entries in many classes than at other shows.

This show was the first time the society secretary had to show my zine of Lonk show photos to the members with most events having been cancelled due to Covid-19 since she received it. Another copy I had given away at Kilnsey had also been passed around and I was pleasantly surprised how well it had been received. The comments people made to me about it and the whole thing of documenting their shows and sheep made it all worthwhile and convinced me to carry on.

A week later I was back at the mart for the first time since lockdown one. And I was photographing Lonks yet again! The occasion being the annual show and sale of registered sheep. I've attended this before so I knew what to expect. I had, unfortunately, forgotten how dimly lit the main shed is and found my latest favourite zoom lens just a little lacking in light gathering. I took most of my photos around the pens 'old school' using my 28mm and 50mm lenses. This worked surprisingly well. 

The day starts with sheep being penned, primped and their lot numbers for the sale attached.

That is followed by buyers weighing up which sheep they are going to bid on.

Next up is the show. There aren't as many classes as at the previous show, but entries in one class were much higher. How you pick the best from 27 sheep I have no idea. I went for a bacon and sausage butty while they were whittled down!

After all the classes have been judged the winners of each class come together for the selection of the champion and reserve.

With that done the auction could commence.

The 'dance' of breeder and sheep is always likely to provide pictures which convey the action taking place. It's tricky to get good angles as positions outside the ring are limited and the buyers have more right to be ringside than I do. So it's quite challenging. Which is what makes it interesting.

Autumn is when the tups go in with the ewes, so this is when there are plenty of sales taking place for sheep farmers to select new blood for the breeding season. That means I'll be back for more in the near future!