Saturday, 6 January 2018

Nosey and knackered

Research comes in two guises. Easy and hard. The easy stuff can be done sat in front of a computer screen. There's hardly a subject you can't find out about on-line. So I knew there are sheepdog trials held most weekends through the winter, and finding out roughly where they are was a cinch. But that isn't all there is to research. There comes a point when you have to get out there and look.

Having a rough idea where to find a trial going on today I made sure I had a backup plan. Two in fact. One was to look at some wind turbines, the other to wander round a reservoir. If all plans failed I was sure I'd find some sheep in the vicinity. Plan A was to park in a car park then go look for the sheepdogs.

Thinking I was a fair way off I started by following a footpath sign pointing to the moor where the turbines are. If nothing else I might spy the trials from up top.For once luck was on my side and no sooner had I ascended some steps through a copse than I saw sheep being herded by a dog. By pure chance I'd stumbled on the trial field!

The path ran along a stone wall to a point where the sheep were being released. I stopped and had a chat with the people in charge of the sheep pen then decided I might as well carry on upwards. This was not altogether a great idea. The path was almost vertical and I'm not as fit as I could be. I was grateful for the fence posts as I climbed ever upwards. After a sit down and half a slice of chocolate flapjack I had a wander round the top of the hill.

The sky was far from interesting and I think an hour later might have improved the light. for me photographing turbines is all about ending up with the blades in positions which 'work'. I could spend hours trying for the perfect arrangement. But my impatience always gets the better of me. Any frames where a blade is lined up with the mast is an instant deletion. Other than that it's a case of gut instinct. It's pretty much impossible to try and time a shot, especially when there are multiple turbines in the frame. It has to be a case of framing and then rattling off a few shots. The 'skill' comes in the editing. By which I mean selecting which frame/s to keep and which to bin.

While I was up there I remembered the advice about making photo essays I'd heard recently on Youtube. Advice which I've read before. Start with an establishing shot. What better than a view of a sheepdog trial from above? I used the stone wall as a partial framing device. On its own the picture is pretty meaningless, but in the context of a picture essay it might work.

Something else I read on-line this week was bemoaning how today's documentary photographs are all about the content and the form (the author mentioned the A word...) is neglected or not even considered. What this really boils down to is a lack of thought about framing, which also involves thinking about viewpoint. I don't have a problem with 'ill considered snapshots' They have their place as far as I'm concerned. Even when they are 'art'. When a snapshot is deliberately taken it inst a snapshot. The distinction is that a choice has been made.

When trying to do a little more than say 'this is what I saw', however, then a different framing choice has to be made. If you are trying to say 'this is what it looked and felt like' you have to consider how the elements are arranged within the frame's limits, and all those little things like gesture and shadow.
Had the right hand dog on the quad bike been in a more clear 'doggy' profile the picture below would have been much better. It was in the next frame, but in that one everything else had gone to cock!

After a tricky descent I got to chatting with the sheep controllers. An oft repeated reason for people becoming photographers is that they are nosey, and having a camera with them allows them to be nosey. I think this is true for me. I'm just plain inquisitive. A camera not only allows me to explore how inanimate things look, but also to learn about subjects from people who know them well.

This is another aspect of research where reading isn't as good as doing. There's lots of information about sheep, sheep keeping and so on, but people who have a day to day relation with sheep have a different outlook to the text books. I'd never read that Lonks don't fatten up quickly because they are 'big and dumb'! Apparently they waste effort when grazing by taking a bit here, wandering a few yards and taking another bite, and so on. That said, their tight fleeces are ideally suited to the wet Pennine hills where they originate from. Cheviots are difficult to herd because they are always looking for escape routes. I learned a few dog training tricks too. Photographs cannot convey the whole story.

When it comes to gesture, a snatched shot can sometimes work. Quite why I think the next picture works I really don't know. There is lots wrong with it. The one thing I always have to keep reminding myself about when framing shots quickly is to keep the main subject away from the centre of the frame. To let the rest of it, the space, add to the story telling. And I must stop worrying about my shadow being in shot...

I managed to remember the off centre message when I took the shot below. The man and dog are the main subject, but the sheep are part of the story and the woodwork helps lead the eye. I know you aren't supposed to have people looking out of the frame, but them rules is made to be broken.

You can't leave a sheepdog trial without a picture of sheep being herded by a dog. With all the unpredictability involved there is only one thing to do. Had the sheep been on a level field it would have been much harder to make a half-decent picture, but the slop served a similar purpose to shooting from an elevated position. Very handy - and the sun came out at the right moment.

It goes without saying I couldn't resist a sheepy portrait or two. Backlit sheep ears are very photogenic.

I shall try to resist the temptation to look at photographs of sheepdog trials before I go to another one...

Thursday, 28 December 2017

Another late start

I wish I could stop being so indecisive. I spend far too much time thinking about what to do and not enough time doing something. At least I have my work head on at the moment and manage to get that out of the way early. It's when I have the first brew of the day the dithering starts and before I know it lunchtime has arrived and, at this time of year, most of the day is gone. That was how today was going until I had an early lunch and headed out with no real plan other than to try to get more used to the new camera. Despite a wrong turn I ended up in sheep country again.

Although I was hedging my bets by putting a real camera and zoom lens in my bag I started off with the fixed lens camera. It is a fun thing to use. It's almost silent to. A lot of people bang on about how using a fixed lens makes you think more about how you frame shots, and it's true. It's also true that you get tuned in to how the lens will frame things. Sometimes, though, even when you know what you want or are going to get there are times when a fixed lens can be dangerous. Such as when you would have to stand in the middle of a road! A zoom is a lot safer in that situation.

I know I don't think photography's all about the light, but sometimes the light is what a photograph is about. Seeing the sun illuminating just the head and shoulders of the figure on the war memorial I wanted to get a shot. To make it a picture I had to position myself so the pillar hid a 'road works ahead' sign, and a parked car. If I'd been using a zoom it would have been easier to get the memorial central. As it was I cropped on the computer.

Even though the sensor isn't full frame it does have a good dynamic range and I've been surprised how malleable the files are. I used this to advantage in both the above and below pictures.

Framing a view through something is a bit of a cheap trick. But t works. A pity the view wasn't more interesting...

I might have given up on the eggs for sale sign project, but I'm still tempted when I see one that is a little different. This time the camera let me down a little. Or maybe I haven't got used to it quite yet. I was sure I'd focused on the sign, but looking closely it appears focus is on the wall and window behind. I'll have to do some tests to see if this was user error (most likely) or a quirk.

While sheep arr occupying my photographic thoughts these days I'd forgotten how much easier cattle are as subjects. Unlike sheep they don't leg it when you approach them. Quite the opposite. They are inquisitive beasts and will approach you. Like most animals they can make interesting and photogenic shapes. Not that this picture is anything more than a snap. It was another experiment to see how the camera handles contrasty subjects.

When I saw the moon rising behind a clump of bare trees I was immediately reminded of Paul Nash paintings. For once I exercised some patience and hung around waiting for the moon to move into a position which pleased me, and for the light to change. I also deliberately framed with the intention of making a square picture as a nod to Fay Godwin. By now I had switched cameras as the short, fixed lens wasn't going to get me anything like what I wanted, and I stuck with it for the rest of my walk. If the sheep had been better organised it might have made a decent picture. As it stands it's yet another nice idea but not quite. Even converting to black and white wouldn't save it.

Sometimes photographs don't have to be anything more than snaps. Sometimes what is in them is enough. It's not every day a sheep sticks its head out from behind a gravestone.

Quite a few photographers admit that one reason they take photographs is because it allows them to be nosey. I'm nosey. If there's a wall I want to look over it. So when I did just that and saw some cans of sheep marker spray (Who would imagine such a thing existed?), laying where they were last used along with some ear tags, it was a scene that had to be photographed. casual though it is I think it's one of my more interesting sheep related pictures. But then, I am a bit odd that way.

Sunday, 24 December 2017

The end is nigh

The 'toy' cameras had to go. Nothing wrong with them as image making machines, I just found them impractical with the annoyances outweighing the advantages. When the quote I got for the lot was more than I'd anticipated I gave in to a GAS attack and instead of taking the money and running went for a trade in on a camera I've fancied for some time. I liked my Fuji X10 only getting rid of it because I wanted a flip out screen for fishing. I almost really liked the Fuji XE-2. But there is something about the X100 series with it's fixed lens that has always appealed. Probably to a sense of nostalgia more than anything. The original model was noted for being sluggish in the focusing department, which put me off when it was relatively new. But Fuji seem to make improvements to their new models rather than alter them for the sake of it. The third generation seemed to be much improved and with the fourth now available it was affordable.

When the used X100T turned up it lacked a user manual and a lens cap. Manuals can be downloaded for free as PDF files so that wasn't a problem. Lens caps are fifteen quid! Luckily the camera did come with a lens hood and a thumbrest. The lens hood allowed me to screw in a near 40 year old skylight filter to protect the lens when the camera is in my jacket pocket or rattling around in my shoulder bag. The thumbrest looks like a gimmick but makes holding the camera with one hand really comfy and feels secure.

Batteries charged and off I went to the beach yesterday. It being the last Saturday before Christmas there weren't many people around for me to pester. The upside being that all the shots which went wrong due to my unfamiliarity with the new camera were just random snaps. One mistake, however, had something about it and with some heavy processing gave me an idea for a short project. All I need is bright, low sun. So that'll be the end of another project idea!

One my way back to the car I took some of my 'pictures of nothing interesting' shots, and found the camera ideal for them. I can see it might be useful for my jaunts around town. It's snappier to use than the upmarket compact I was using before the 'toy' cameras. That can go back in my fishing bag for the time being as the idiot-proof camera I can had to passers by.

Having had time to evaluate the results I was keen to have another outing with the camera and set off for the beach again on Sunday morning. I didn't make it. There had been big changes at the sandplant which I hadn't noticed the day before. If I had spotted them I'd have packed some more appropriate gear. One camera with a 35mm equivalent lens and another with the 85mm lens I don't get on with attached wasn't my ideal choice.

If I'd had a wider lens with me I'd have made different pictures, but as it was I don't think I'd have made any better ones. Taking a lot of pictures, even knowing that most would be deleted, over a short space of time while thinking about what I was doing proved a good way to learn the camera. I came away fairly happy with the way I had it set up and reasonably fluent in using it. No major niggles causing frustration as was the case with the toys. One nice feature is that by pressing and holding the 'menu' button most of the buttons which might get pressed accidentally can be locked, while others still function. While the electronic viewfinder is good, it can be switched off and an optical one used. Nice. It feels like the camera has been designed by people who use cameras rather than electronics geeks.

The changes at the sandplant look very much as if the final layout of the place has been settled on. The bund which was across part of the flat area has been extended, the sand and debris on the seaward side removed and the whole area towards the saltmarsh cleared and levelled. There is now an embankment surrounding a flat area on the same level as the road. Large piles of sand waiting to be removed are inside this area.

The last brick building has been demolished and the scrap metal collected in a pile. It won't be long before the work is complete. Then we'll have to wait and see what happens next. I'm sure the birdy people would like to create another eyesore, sorry, visitor centre... More pics, which I doubt a different camera would have made any better, here.

A quick visit to the beach saw the cameras pretty much staying in my bag then back home for lunch and a look at the results. Content and with still plenty of life in the battery I thought I'd head to sheep country as the forecast for Monday was one of rain.

I went armed with the same two focal lengths as a challenge, and because I was mostly scouting rather than seriously looking for pictures with the day still overcast. However there were plenty of sheep about near where I parked. But they weren't up for a photoshoot. I tried to do some 'arty' stuff suggesting what the area is like. It didn't come off too well.

Then I went somewhere else I didn't expect any sheep but thought I'd have a look around anyway. As I started walking the sun came out! They are difficult to make out in a small rendering but there are sheep on top of the hill behind one of the most photographed dwellings in the Chorley region.

Although it's at the foot of the moors this is a former industrial area. The stream which flows down from the hill has been channelled and managed by sluices in days past to fill a chain of lodges. Three are no more, one having been drained quite recently. There are plenty of relics of this water management system still to be found. If it was the sort of thing I could get into photographing it would make for an interesting project. But it's too much like landscape photography, and too dependent on the light for my butterfly mind to cope with. I still enjoyed blundering about looking for angles to make pictures while the light was 'interesting'. Again, I used the new camera finding it capable and not annoying. A flippy screen might have helped, but you can't have everything!

So far the camera is proving usable, but the real test will come when I try it at a poultry event or similar. That won't be for some time though and I'd like to give it a dummy run somewhere before hand, but  can't think of anything going on which might be suitable.

Saturday, 16 December 2017

Changing times

A trip to town yesterday to visit the bank saw me forgetting change for the car park. That meant that I had to park in far away street, but had no time limit. As I'd taken a camera with me, fitted with the old 'rubbish' 35mm lens I had a wander after I'd been to the bank. It being a cold and miserable day with a high wind chill factor there weren't many other fools on the pier or beach.

However, there were things to be photographed. In the spirit of making a record rather than good photographs I snapped the demolition of one of the shelters on the pier. I still tried to make an interesting picture.

Elsewhere the pitch and putt enterprise is open to offers. Not easy to make that look interesting.

No doubt the rose tinted spectacle wearers would accuse me of making the town look down at heel. Well guess what? It is!

With some free time from my pre-Christmass workathon I snuck out this afternoon. It was a toss up between the beach and the marsh. The marsh won and I was rewarded with some reasonably approachable sheep.  This pair was distracted so I was able to get a profile shot of them. Just a bit of practice really. I can't imagine the picture being of much use to me.

Nearing the floodbank I saw a potential picture, but the sheep spotted me from a far, and there was no way to get the angle on them I really wanted anyway. So it was a case of a near miss. I needed to be closer to alter the angle of view in order to eliminate the treetops in the background. As I got closer the sheep wander away down the other side of the bank.

Something I'd like to make a decent picture of is the tracks sheep make on the land. In places they are worn deep from decades or more of pointy hooves repeatedly following the same path. It'll need a combination of viewpoint and light to make it work. The picture below had a decent viewpoint, but that's about all.

One bad thing about digital is the way it renders the sun. Film has a more subtle transition from darker tones to very bright tomes than digital. So shooting directly into the sun, with it in the frame even slightly diffused never makes the picture look the way it did to the eye. The best you can hope to do is underexpose while trying to retain some detail in the shadows. Unless the intention is a pure silhouette. The way marker in the picture below caught my eye as it resembled a cross. With the light as it was there was a biblical feel to the scene. Not that I'm a believer, but a cross is a powerful image. Which is why religions adopt it in various guises.

Saturday, 9 December 2017

Seeking snow

One benefit of living on a coastal plain is that the far off hills are visible on a clear day. with a short afternoon to spare and reports of snow on high ground I thought there might be some away from the coast. There was none to be seen on the moors to the east, but some on the more distant fells. A run out for a look would be better than waiting for glue to dry!

By the time I was  in the area where snow had fallen much of it had melted on the lower ground, but rising up it was noticeably colder and the ground, if not the roads, were still white. But what to photograph? A few record landscapes were taken but it soon became obvious that sheep were about and close to the roads.

In my haste to get out I'd grabbed the wrong lens. So it was lucky when some roadside sheep mistook me for someone with a sack of feed and came walking over when I parked up.

I don't know why, but I often find myself shooting into the sun. Sometimes it's a deliberate choice because the effects can be atmospheric, equally often it seems to be forced on me. I really wanted the sheep to be front or side lit, but it wasn't to be. They wouldn't get in position for me... So I had to make do with back lighting and a fence in the way. Not to worry, it's not a 'serious' photograph.

None of what I did was serious. I didn't have much time and had taken a different route for a look round anyway. I did spot a pleasing view as I descended a hill. So pleasing I parked at the bottom of it and walked back up. Typically the light had changed and the view was less appealing when I got to my intended viewpoint. I did see a hogg hole though. While not being a project as such I think I'll start photographing these features, and processing them in the same black and white way, until I get fed up of them.

Once again I found myself driving in the direction of home blinded by the sun. Passing through a deserted Slaidburn a lone sheep wandered out of a driveway fifty yards or so ahead of me and ambled along. I was expecting a flock to follow and slowed down, but that didn't happen. I followed the ewe slowly until it paused briefly before leisurely strolling into a yard.

Photographically not a very productive short trip, but interesting with food for thought. One thing is for sure. If there is heavy snow I'll not be venturing along any of those roads until they've been well cleared!