Friday, 23 February 2018

Pastures new

In the spirit of research I went for a look at a sheepdog auction today. Not being sure what to expect I packed light with the Fuji and its two 'lenses'. This proved to be both good and bad. I'd been in two minds about making an early start to beat the rush hour traffic or setting off late. I knew parking might be difficult if I took the latter option but not the extent of the difficulty!

I don' think I've seen so many 4x4s in one place before. I saw number plates from Belgium and Finland, and heard accents from all of the home nations. Even at my age there are surprises to be had about what goes on in this country. The divide between the urban culture which the media promote as that of the nation and rural culture is a large one.

It took me a while to ease myself into taking photographs. I wanted to get a feel for the place and the event first. One of the early shots, among may which were quickly deleted, provided the crop below. Another happy accident which I find I like despite all it's technical and compositional 'flaws'.

Once in the mood it was a case of trying to find the sort of pictures I like making which tell part of the story and require careful perusal to see all that is going on. This is the challenge which fascinates me at the moment. I found some pictures by a well knows street photographer taken at country shows the other night. They were the regular fare of tightly cropped or uncluttered pictures. Good, but sort of what are expected.  Not that I''m saying my photos are better. Most of the time I miss the target.

Trying to time the release of the shutter so that three elements make visual senses at once is nigh on impossible for me. I wanted the auctioneer in the young dog ring to be making a visually interesting gesture, the young dog to be in the frame running round the penned sheep, and also the sheep and dog being exhibited at work on the field behind. I'm not 100% sure but I think a DSLR would have made that easier. There was a definite shutter lag with the Fuji, even when pre-focussed on where I expected the young dog to appear. I ended up putting the camera in burst mode and trying to predict when it would come round the pen. The chap consulting the catalogue was a nice framing bonus. If I had nailed this shot I'd have been overjoyed. Close but no cigar this time.

There were lots of dogs about,and lots of people. Sniping character shots with a long lens would have been a doddle. They always lack that all important context to me. Whether a small, silent camera really is an advantage when working close to people is still something I'm unconvinced about. I do think having a small lens on a big camera helps. Maybe that just helps my self-consciousness though? Probably the biggest help is having an air of purposefulness about you, and not looking shifty!

Another thing that frustrated me was having to keep swapping 'lenses'. It wasn't that I missed having the crutch of a zoom lens. Using just two focal lengths works well enough for me. Two cameras is the (expensive) answer...

Overall my haul of pictures was pretty thin. To be expected on an exploratory visit for someone as slow to learn as me. However, learning the limitations of a camera is valuable. I also learned something about setting the thing up. Reviewing pictures on the back screen I was convinced they were all over exposed, even though the histogram (something I never usually look at) was telling me otherwise. There was also a strange icon on the screen when shooting. I had no idea what it was.Lacking the manual a deep dive into the menu was called for. It turned out that switching off the automatic brightness control for the back screen made the pictures look perfectly exposed!

Sunday, 18 February 2018

Sheep, dogs and hens.

With one thing and another (mostly horrible weather) I've not had much chance to try out the teleconverter I bought a while back. Although the light was good enough the other day the wind made hand-holding a long lens steady difficult. That meant I didn't get any further with discerning if the thing is any use. Most of the photos were blurred from camera shake. I did manage a couple that seemd to be okay when I braced myself against a fence post. The best thing to come out of that afternoon wander was seeing a field of lambs, most of which were sensible lying down and huddling with each other to lessen the wind chill effect. More experimentation required with the teleconverter.

Latter in the week I was frustrated by work and set off to revisit my dog town project to relieve the tension. I didn't really get in the zone but found that the change of small camera does the job. The colours are much better than those out of the 'toy' camera. All I have to do for consistency is crop the frames to 4:3. This project is liberating as I'm quite sloppy, in a controlled way, about composition. That's the easy bit. It still requires a lot of photographs being taken to get the handful that rise above being snaps. The crucial factor is what's going on beyond the obvious subject. Distant dogs which need searching out in the picture are one element I like to include, and the 'bit part players' are also important. Making the edit is quite subjective, but I know what I'm looking for when I see it. Certainly seeking out pictures with dogs in them makes roaming around town more interesting than idly snapping away in what passes for a lot of street photography.

One good thing about the local bantam society is their show hall is about ten minutes drive away. Although that makes it hard to resist visiting on show days...

Last year's avian flu has had a big impact on the show scene. Birds are now routinely inspected on arrival, and carriers have to be of a certain specification - which has been a boost for manufacturers of poultry carrying boxes! I managed to get to the show early enough to get one reasonable picture of the inspections. A pity they do it under a blue gazebo.

As with anything you visit frequently it gets more and more difficult to find new things to photograph. Over familiarity makes it harder to keep looking with fresh eyes. But every now and then something different jumps out at you. Today it was an old set of scales. Most egg judges use electronic scales, but not today's judge.

I've found that with fewer things interesting me I'm spending more time on anything that does catch my attention. I must have taken ten or more shots of these scales, and a good job too because only three or four weren't either blurred or out of focus! I also spent quite some time trying to make the next shot work. I don't think I did in the end, but it's OK. If the people and poultry don't make shapes or gestures to 'finish' the picture there's not a lot that can be done about it.

Once again I was playing around with the small camera and once more found it very capable. Not without it's drawbacks but so far it seems to be the small camera I've got on with best. It's high ISO performance is acceptable, the smaller sensor is advantageous in getting more depth of focus for a given aperture, and I think it's leaf shutter overcomes the problems fluorescent lighting creates with white balance banding when using a focal plane shutter camera. I might be wrong about that last point but white balance was consistent across the frame no matter what shutter speed I used. No doubt I'll find something annoying about it eventually!

I didn't get many people doing things pictures for some reason. One being not many people were doing things, another being that I popped back home during the judging. There are a few which will be added to the useful file though, mostly detail shots like the scales. Small selection here

Saturday, 10 February 2018

More experimentation and decisions

A good feature about poultry shows and auctions is that they take place undercover. Which was handy today as it was yet another full day of rain. This gave me a chance to try out the new camera some more, in even more challenging light, and to make one final attempt to learn to love the 85mm lens. I also took along my huge, heavy and therefore neglected long zoom.

This time I was using the new camera with the wide angle adaptor attached. Unfortunately I had it's distortion correction set incorrectly at first. This is a feature of modern non-DSLR cameras with electronic viewfinders which compensates for less than perfect lens designs. Somehow or other the software manages to embed the corrections into raw files. The early shots from the day I took looked as if they'd been taken with a fisheye lens! I managed to correct the distortion in Lightroom without too much fuss. Luckily most of the pics were junked, but a couple were worth salvaging.

As can be seen in the picture above the quality of light at this auction mart is weird. There are at least two different sources everywhere, creating colour casts which can't be readily sorted on the computer. Black and white conversions remove this problem, and also cover up for the noise which is a result of the light also being dingy. This is the only time I don't mind making conversions. But they are no use to fit in to a project shot in colour. Ho hum.

Using the screen rather than the viewfinder made for taking lower level shots close up and discretely a doddle. But I find it a little sneaky.

Overall the camera did OK. But it was at its limit for low light handling. As soon as I started using a 'proper' camera everything got much easier. I was also reminded that a big camera isn't necessarily more obtrusive than a small one.

For the most part, when I switched to the longer zoom, I didn't use it to 'snipe' shots of characters. The main reason being that I don't like the perspective and 'look' that approach gives to the pictures. While most people love long lenses for the separation they provide between subject and background, it can also make the people look disconnected from their environment.I much prefer context.

My main reason for using the lens was to try to get a decent shot or two of the auctioneer in action. As well as using the neglected lens I also set the camera to it's highest frame rate to see if that would help catch a telling gesture. Although I rattled off plenty of shots (for me) I'm not sure I took enough.

I ended my day using the two focal lengths I seem to feel most comfortable with in situations like this. 28mm and 50mm. Why 28mm suits me I don't really know. It's something to do with having to get close to a subject to make it large in the frame, and when you do this there is a lot of background visible, and even at wide apertures it is in reasonable focus. All this without the perspective looking distorted. That is why I prefer to use the two lenses rather than a zoom which starts at 24mm - there's a tendency to use it at its widest when I need to go wide.

The 50mm feels almost like a telephoto (other people's 85mm lenses probably fill this role for them) and allows me to throw backgrounds out of focus a little. It focuses quite close too, which I like for shots such as the one below.

Although I might not have come away with many decent photographs, I have decided to get shut of the 85mm lens and use the zoom more often. I had thoughts getting another Fuji so I could use one with the 28mm equivalent adaptor and another with the 50mm adaptor, but for the sort of low light situations I tend to adopt that approach they are not a patch on proper cameras. Outdoors in summer they'd be fine, but then I'd probably have my superzoom in action! I'll be sticking with the Fuji for my 'street' camera I think. It's by far the best I've tried to date.

Gallery from the day here.

Sunday, 4 February 2018

Take that photograph NOW!

Yesterday I had the daft idea to go and use the Fuji to take some 'gritty' black and white pictures of a derelict building I'd photographed some years ago (seven as it turns out). But when I set off the rain started yet again as I drove over the river swollen by a big tide. I carried straight on at the roundabout and headed for the marsh where I trudged about in the wet as the tide ran out.

I'd set the camera to black and white and took all my pictures that way. Using an electronic viewfinder this way is a bit strange to me. I'm not actually certain that seeing the picture in the viewfinder in black and white helps me.

Out of all the (few) shots I took I preferred all but one in colour. That's the advantage of raw files. Even if they look black and white on the camera's screens they turn out in colour on the computer.

I'm sure that if I flt landscape photographs were my thing I could make a decent body of work based around the marsh. But whenever I look at sets of landscape pictures I don't find myself enthralled by them. No matter how good they are, or how interesting the ideas behind them are.

Feeling at a loose end today the sun came out and I made a second attempt to get to the ruins. I thought I would have posted the pictures from my first visit on this blog, but it appears not. for reasons lost to my memory I used a wide angle lens and a flash gun. I think the flash was new and I was playing around with the new toy. It seems the day was dull and overcast and I think the artificial light quite suited the subject matter.

This time I was playing with the current new toy and its not-too-wide lens attachment. I find the 28mm-on-full-frame field of view natural to use. It doesn't often feel restrictive. certainly not as a wide view. sometimes it can be a bit short, but not all that often.

After making the walk along an increasingly muddy track I arrived at the path which lead to the old building. Or it did seven years ago. Today there was just an overgrown pile of rubble. Another small piece of industrial heritage gone. Now I'm wishing I'd taken more pictures on my first visit.

A lot of the time people convert pictures of old stuff into black and white. Same as it gets often used for street photographs as a default mode. Despite trying this I continue to prefer the original, colour, versions of the vast majority of my photographs. Perhaps this is because I am less interested in their formal qualities than I used to be, and more interested in what they document. There is also the possibility that colour can convey more of the 'ambience' of a subject. In black and white the rust hub below doesn't look as damp and gloomy as it does in colour. Not to me at any rate. I wonder how long it'll be before this has disappeared too?

In a way these pictures of the remains of small industrial sites are landscape photographs. But they'd never be categorised that way by those who have to fit photographs into narrow genres. They'd more likely be in the urbex box, although not too neatly.

However, this is a subject which interests me. The reclamation by nature of abandoned industrial sites. I'm not sure it interests me enough to concentrate on it all the time though.

Saturday, 27 January 2018

An interesting experiment

Today I was determined to push my luck and try the new camera out in anger at a new location. A show and auction of sheep. I actually set out with three cameras. The new one fitted with a lens attachment which gives it a field of view similar to 50mm on full frame, my good compact which has a field of view like a 28mm lens and a 'proper' camera with the hated 85mm lens. When I got to the auction mart there was also a poultry sale on. I can't escape chickens!

 As I expected the 85mm lens got the least use. Why this focal length doesn't agree with me I really don't know, but it doesn't. That said I did make a couple of pictures I like with it. So perhaps I need to persevere. The 28mm equivalent didn't get much use either, but a lot of that is down to the camera being slow to focus which results in too many missed shots. When it does focus I like the results and got one picture with it that I like because it only 'works' when you really look at it. Once again I was trying to make pictures which have a lot of different things happening in them. Something most people seem to avoid. Probably for good reason as simple pictures catch the eye. But look at a painting by Breughel , for example, and you really have study them to see all the little incidents taking place.

 This isn't to say I don't go for simple too. You need variety in a set of pictures. Then again. most people aren't trying to make sets of pictures.

The big revelation for me was that I used the 50mm  field of view most of the time and didn't feel hampered. Well, not too often did I wish I'd got a zoom lens on the camera. A few times I unscrewed the additional lens and used the camera at its native 35mm equivalent field of view. If it had a 28-50 zoom lens that would be ideal!

There were handling niggles. I can't seem to work out if the new camera can be set up to use back button focusing like I am used to with my DSLRs. I got annoyed by having to refocus after every shot when using the recompose technique. So much so I switched to manual focus as a means of locking the focus off centre.

Even at its smallest size the focus point is a bit big and can miss the subject at times, which ballsed up two pictures which would have made the grade.

Other than that I managed to work with the machine quite well. I do like how quiet it is to use. Which is good, but possibly not as important as I imagine, when shooting candidly close up. using misdirection like magicians do works well too.

It was a fun way to spend some time shooting an interesting subject and getting used to the camera, and I think it's got me going on a new project. I tried a few ideas out and although I didn't get any worthwhile pictures from them I have confidence they can be used to advantage in the future.

On the computer it was revealing to compare the files. There is no doubt that a full frame sensor is best for low light. And by some way. Of the two 'crop' sensor cameras I still think I prefer the Nikon over the Fuji, but this Fuji seems to produce nicer looking colours than the last one I had. For most purposes I reckon it's usable up to ISO 6400 provided the exposures are spot on. Detail does get lost at high ISOs, but only when pixel peeping. I rarely make pictures which depend on their fine detail anyway. As a 'small' camera it's proving up to the job so far.

Obligatory gallery here. I can't tell which photos are out of which camera!