Friday, 21 December 2012

Down with film!

Back in May I picked up an old film camera for £25 and stuck a roll of XP2 in it. I fancied the idea of using my range of lenses for some flm shooting instead of being stuck with the option of 50mm or 135mm with my Pentax.

It took me a while to use the film up and today I finally got the film back - after a month.

You don't get much for £25 these days and the camera proved to be a slight disappointment. When it was good it was great. The meter worked fine. The fly in the ointment is a light leak. Only some frames were affected. It seems to be the early frames on the roll that are most affected. I'm guessing that the leak wasn't severe and if I loaded and used a film within a day it wouldn't have been a problem. As I'm not intending using lots of film I shalln't worry about it and the camera can join a pile of others in a cupboard.

My old Pentax still has a film in it from around May too. Much as I'd like to finish the roll off digital is too tempting for its speed. Which wasn't a problem when I developed my own films as I could have the negatives ready shortly after using the film up. It's the having to send away and wait that is the frustration.

While rummaging around in the camera cupboard the other week I found an undeveloped roll of slide film and a compact with a part used roll of the same and a dead battery. I bought a battery and finished off the film. I'm still waiting for those two to be developed. They're both at least six years old so the results could be 'interesting' to say the least!

Looking at the scans from the B+W film today I'm not all that sure that the 'look of film' isn't more to do with the frame size as opposed to some magic in the film itself. To me, it doesn't look much different to the results from a 'full frame' (FF) digital camera.

I think what really appeals to me about using film cameras is their physical size, and the way you consider each frame more than you do with digital. There is also something engaging about having to physically advance the film after each shot. I can see why some people enjoy the process of shooting film. But for me the rest of the process now seems rather archaic.

Thursday, 20 December 2012

Unexpected benefit

Being busy with work my photo-time has been limited of late. With a sunset in store I managed to get out just too late the other day and was stuck with the afterglow. Despite having a DSLR with a fast lens and great low light capability the most successful shots were taken with the X10. The reason being that it's small sensor delivers a greater depth of field at a wide aperture. This means less need to stop down in low light, faster shutter speeds and lower ISOs.

The more I sue this small sensor the more I come to think that it makes sense for landscape photography. Certainly if ultra large prints aren't the aim - which they are not for me.

A day later and I again had just a short time spare before dark. And it was raining. I called in at the sandplant knowing that one of the barriers had been broken down so things would have changed again.

Something else I like about the X10 is the sweep panorama function. It can be easily overused but there are times and places it serves a purpose. Out on the flatlands is one instance that springs to mind, but there are others.

Inside the sandplant the rain had created large puddles and there were new things to look at. I spent a little while playing with new ideas but lacked the time to pull them off before the light went completely.

Larger here.

Friday, 7 December 2012

Too many choices

While digital photography is great in being able to take lots of photographs for little out lay and no waiting for processing to see the pictures there is an attendant problem created of having to choose between more images. Then there's the option to turn a colour photograph into black and white, or vice versa as I have been doing lately.

The picture below was one of just three I took of the scene. Easy enough to select one that had nothing chopped off and was in focus where it needed to be from just three. On the odd occasions I make many more exposures it becomes more difficult. I do try to get it as right as I can first time, just as when shooting film. What the instant review of digital does is tempt you to take a peek at what you've got and try to improve it. With film you are stuck with what you've got. I do wonder if the 'not quite perfect' film images have a little more of an 'edge' to them because of that slight lack of perfection?

With using the X10's viewfinder more of late I also came to wonder if, in the days of film cameras with less than accurate viewfinders the imprecise framing mattered less because by the time you developed the film you had forgotten exactly how you had framed the shot - so the slight misalignment was overlooked. I might find out soon if the slide film I used up last week after some six or more years in a compact camera of mine processes okay. I also have a black and white film to pick up this week (all being well). There will be surprises on that as I can't remember what I shot on it.

Back to deciding between colour or black and white. I like both versions above, but they definitely have different moods to them, despite being from the same file. On balance the subtlety of the colour version wins for me, and it was the colours that drew me to make the exposure. The graphic nature of the monochrome version has its merits too, but I find it slightly more 'obvious'. Tomorrow I might feel differently.

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Unexpected pleasures

Today I had to take a trip to Liverpool and left enough time for a wander and a visit to the Tate.

I'd found out that there were some Keith Arnatt photographs on show in the Thresholds exhibition. The A.O.N.B series won't be to everyone's taste but it chimes with my view of the British landscape. Somehow I had missed the fact that there was other photography on show, so I was pleasantly surprised to see the work of Martin Parr and Sophie Calle exhibited.

What struck me was the different ways in which the works were presented. Arnatt's gelatin prints were mounted and framed in traditional style and hung in a row. Parr's laser prints were pinned to the wall unmounted in a grid. Calle's black and white pictures appeared to be printed as a grid on one sheet, framed behind glass, with a similar frame above of a colur picture and explanatory text. There was another work by Simryn Gill (who was new to me) consisting of 260 prints pinned to the wall in a large grid. I found that the least well presented as the prints were too small, detailed and numerous to be viewed or read easily. The lighting was also a bit dim at that end of the gallery.

None of these works seemed drastically different to viewing them in print or on the web. The image areas were no more than A3. The Arnatts a mere 8"x10". What was different was the Thomas Demand. At screen or book size the pictures of scenes recreated in card and paper look convincingly naturalistic. At the large size presented in the gallery the deception is clearly apparent. While this is no doubt a major part of the point, it made the exercise less interesting for me. I think I'd rather view the actual construction. Even so, as with much concept driven visual art, the idea is greater than the object. And when it's been done once, does it really need repeating?

The Open Eye Gallery has two new exhibitions opening on Friday, so I'll try and make longer cultural visit to the big city soon to visit that and revisit the Tate.

The rest of today's half decent stuff here.

Saturday, 1 December 2012

Another way of seeing

I'm not sure why, but I've set one of my cameras to shoot in black and white. Using RAW all this means is that the review on the back of the camera is in monochrome. When I import to the computer they are rendered in full colour. An early afternoon visit to the sandplant revealed more to look at. Different light, and yet again things had been moved around.

What's more thinking in black and white also seemed to make me look at things differently.

I also had another camera with me set to colour. Which didn't throw me for some reason. Even so on the computer I left all the shots as colour pictures. Quite what this proved I'm not sure. Certainly the better shots made in b&w worked that way, but they also worked in colour , only differently. After all they were seen in colour. I do think I was looking in a different way though. Thinking more in terms of tones than colours.

The sandplant project is, I'm pretty sure, drawing to a conclusion. It's not finished yet, but it's getting there. Of course if the place alters dramatically that could change. And there's the chance that if it doesn't change until spring I might find new things to photograph as the plants begin to grow and bloom. I do have a clearer idea of how it will all come together now though.

See gallery larger.

Sunday, 25 November 2012

Quote of the week

"For all that, no amount of technology will turn a mediocre photographer into a great one. Nor, in conceptual terms, will it transform a bad idea into a good one. For that you would still need to possess a rare set of creative gifts that are still to do with seeing, with deep looking."
Sean O' Hagan - Guardian Photography

Friday, 23 November 2012


Sometimes I feel like I've got it right. Time will tell but right now I like it. More from today right here.

And then I try too hard to be clever.

Thursday, 22 November 2012

More linky stuff

Watch it while you can :

If that doesn't make you think about photography you probably aren't interested in it. Apparently (from reading posts on forums) there are people who style themselves as photographers who profess no interest in the history of photography (as it won't help them make their photographs any better) and who think that studying the works of  'old' photographers will teach them nothing, and that they prefer to look at the works of current photographers. I don't know how you can make such people see the error of their ways.

Klein, who studied painting under Léger, is a prime example of someone who has been influenced by all that has gone before as well as what is contemporary. The list of prominent photographers who first studied painting, or other visual arts, is a pretty long one.

Today's news is that Lomography is 20 years old. Who cares? It's all about style over substance. Or perhaps it thinks it's medium is its message. It's one thing to be influenced by work from the past, quite another to ape the limitations of the medium that have been superseded. To my mind this is more about craft (in the quilting bee sense) than anything to do with creativity or self expression. It's only one small step removed from degrading digital photographs to make them look like they are art. It's superficial and facile. Probably all the great photographs have been made 'straight', and will continue to be made so.

The other day I was talking to an acquaintance of mine, who used to get paid for taking photographs in a previous life, and we came to the conclusion that the trend towards 'compact system cameras' (CSCs) is best avoided. Our reasoning was that although the trade-off in image quality isn't too bad the cost savings don't justify it. You get the benefit of a small, light camera, but to get the best of lenses you are paying nearly as much as you would for DSLR equivalents. By the time you have a fast lens on these cameras the bulk has increased along with the weight. And they still don't quite match DSLRs for performance.

I was tempted by a Sony Nex - APS size sensor and a viewfinder (albeit electronic) - until I reached the opinion that this middle ground is best left alone. (The fact that there isn't a fast, affordable 24mm for the camera is also a turn off as that's my preferred lens on crop sensor DSLR for carrying around town - whoch is what I'd use a CSC for mostly.)  Either put up with the 'cumbersome' DSLR or use a true compact camera. For all the niggles I have about the X10 it can produce the goods. There are times when it's 'faults' can be used to advantage. While the depth of field separation that a large sensor can provide is often useful, so can be the lack of such separation from a much smaller sensor. The increased depth of field for a given aperture (and thus shutter speed) makes hand held landscapes much easier.

I'm not sure about the sunset above. There are things I like about it - the natural and wire thorns for one.  With the sun setting so quickly I hadn't time to 'work the subject' as well as I might. I think I ought to have used that increased depth of field I mentioned above to advantage here.

Lack of depth of field was what I was playing around with below, throwing the grille out of focus to make the reflection sharp and prominent. Not shallow depth of field for its own sake, as has become fashionable. Horses for courses.

Saturday, 17 November 2012

Repetition and new seeing

With just an hour spare I headed to the sandplant again. For some reason I had limited myself to just a 35mm lens and the X10 in case I wanted to do some close-ups. One of these days I must get there at a different time of day. Always turning up late on leads to similar lighting options. Although I have started using flash, both as fill and primary light source both to change the look of the pictures and to make working in shade possible.

I began by repeating the low angle view to make shapes stand out against the sky. I did find new subjects though. As is almost always the case things have been moved around. Quite who moves them I don't know, but fly-tippers have been adding to the junk.

After a while I chanced on another way of making pictures of the plants and rubble. It needs more care to get the most out of it. Controlling the depth of field is the key.

I also relaised the possibilities of photographing the place in the manner of popular landscape photography. The sort that adorns many a calendar. The shot below reminds me of many a boggy moorland pool in a rugged landscape.

Not my best set so far, but some ideas to work on in future.

See gallery larger.

Friday, 16 November 2012

Another quicky

A heads up for a brief piece by Don McCullin.

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Just a quicky

It's odd that I find myself looking at formal (if not classical) portrait photography when it's something I don't do. One of my favourite books is the Rineke Dijkstra Retrospective.

Over on Phil Coomes's BBC page today's entry is all about a street portraiture project being carried out by Niall McDairmid. The pictures used to illustrate the feature were enough to send me over to the Crossing Paths site and spend some time looking through the complete set.

As with any open ended series which hasn't been edited down not every one is a gem, but there are some real diamonds in there. I like the use of colour and the eschewing of some well worn rules.

I wish I had the sort of personality that makes such a project possible. But I'm not a chatty people person. So I'll stick with inanimate objects for my subjects.

Sunday, 11 November 2012

Autumn tints

Afternoon light and autumn leaves are all but irresistible to anyone with a camera. Indeed, I wasn't the only one out trying to convert the scene into pixels today. In 'boring landscape' mode I eventually managed to frame the shot below. I'm not sure if I'd like the figures to be a little closer/larger or not. This one follows a lot of the 'rules' of formal composition. It has leading lines, a partial frame and the touch of red to set off the other colours.

All a bit easy really, So I tried out some 'tricks'. The fisheye came out, and I had a go at some zoom blur in an attempt to capture the feel of being in among the beech trees.

Then I stumbled on fungi on a stump. Without a macro lens and flash gun I did what I could with what I had available - the camera's flash and my 'cheapo' wide angle zoom. A lens which I've neglected but am finding more and more useful, and not too shabby in the performance stakes.

I also had a try with the X-10. Alas I couldn't get the right amount of flare for the effect I was after.

Probably the least clichéd shot I got which I like a bit was the final one of haws in a puddle. As too often I rushed it. More depth of field might have improved things. Still, the red and green work well for me

Saturday, 10 November 2012

Forward planning

I have this thing about photographing signage and road markings. And another about the relationship between the man-made and natural environments. As I drive around I notice how these all come together. for some reason I find the symmetry of T-junctions visually appealing. I made the picture below a while back and have been thinking how to go about making more.

Today I was stuck for ideas. Not wanting to repeat myself at the sandplant I set off with no idea what I wanted to do apart from try something new. I decided it was time to start working out in a practical way how to approach the junction series. I think I have the concept plotted out, in as much as all the photographs should be composed in the same way. Precisely what that way is to be could only be determined by actually taking some photos. I selected a junction in favourable light and gave it a try.

Although I tried shooting from the side of the road but the straight-on shots from the middle of the road not only emphasised the symmetry, but also revealed more of the junction. This obviously raises a big problem. How to take photos from the middle of the road without being run down! Out in the country it was easy enough with clear views and silence to hear oncoming traffic. Sunday mornings are likely to be the safest times to get this idea 'on the raod'... Even so it will still mean working fast, my original plan to use a DSLR on a tripod for small apertures and slow shutter speeds has been ditched.

Safety and practicality aside there is the issue of format. The native DLSR aspect ratio of 3:2 is pleasing enough, but I'm drawn to the wider 16:9 format. I think because it suggests the view through a car windscreen. Then again a square framing has possibilities.

I'm still at the planning stage here. The composition I think I now have sorted. Or at least the placement of the tarmac in the frame. All shots will be taken using the same focal length and from roughly the same distance from the junction to provide a standardised perspective. The next task is to try out the small sensor of the X-10.

That camera will give me greater depth of field for a given aperture compared to a DSLR and should enable me to work quickly. It also occurs to me that if I use the screen to compose I can draw a 'T' on it with a marker pen to line everything up at different locations - the horizontal line for the far edge of the tarmac and the vertical for the centre road markings.

As with some of my other arty-farty plans this will probably come to nought. Not least because the pre-planning aspect is so alien to my usual way of working.

Thursday, 8 November 2012


 There's this lump of concrete in the sandplant that holds a peculiar fascination for me, but quite why I'm not sure. Nor am I sure how to show what it is that interests me about it in a photograph. I first tried to isolate it from the surroundings by using a shallow depth of field using a long lens and a low angle. This worked to a degree.

This afternoon I stopped by on my way home from the bank armed with a wide zoom I don't use much. There wasn't much light and I was restricted to the camera's built in flash. The darkening, cloudy sky provided a more contrasting background with the low angle I chose. To get so low I was shooting 'blind', aiming the camera by judgement rather than trying to look through the viewfinder with the camera almost on the ground.

I think this shot is the best effort I've made yet at capturing what I see when I look at the stone.

Although this brief visit didn't produce any outstanding pictures what I did get have provided me with a clearer idea of where I'm going with this project. I'm starting to understand what I'm seeing and how I might photograph it.

See gallery larger.

As well as taking a different lens I also took my ignored neutral graduate filter. Being bone idle I simply held this in front of the lens. Although it's not a strong filter it does make a difference and with the banks of the sandplant in shade helped balance the exposures which included the sky.

Something seems to have changed every time I visit the sandplant, and this time a portaloo had appeared, Tardislike, with the opening of the cockle beds which are accessed from the haul road out through the marsh. Quite incongruous, but in keeping with the almost other-worldly atmosphere of the place.

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Another viewpoint

Realising that I might be getting stale at the sandplant I took a walk ouut along the track the trucks and diggers used to use to reach the sandbank where the sand was dug. This is simply a path of hardcore which stretches out over a kilometre through the salt marsh and into the sand exposed at low tide. Where marsh meets shore are two weathered concrete posts.

My intention had been to photograph the sandplant from the track, but it became apparent that a longer lens would have been better suited in order to make the sandplant larger in relation to the foreground while retaining a sense of context in the landscape. So I gave that idea up and made what I could of the flatness and light.

Back at the sandplant the recent rain had altered it a little, and the with the sun higher in the sky than previous visits the light was different. It being a Sunday there were also more people around. The shot below wasn't planned. I'd been trying to satisfactorily frame a shot of the plant against the water when the dog and woman appeared. Rather than wait until they had passed I took two shots. I'm still undecided if the one below really works.

Having amassed a fair number of photos of the sandplant I thought I'd print them out as a means of sorting them, a mass of prints being easier to judge en masse than files on a screen. With there being some seventy plus I printed them two per 5x7 sheet.

This lead to the inevitable message that the inks were low and the cartridges in need of replacement. A warning I have learned to ignore. Sure enough, despite all the colours being low, I managed to rattle off thirty six sheets without a horrible colour cast being apparent from the lack of one ink. Not only do printer manufacturers rip you off by putting very little ink in their cartridges, they set things up to tell you there is less remaining than there really is.

Having made the prints a quick scan through them gave me ideas of what to do next with the project. Although I'm still unsure of where it's all going.

The latest selection from Sunday below.

See gallery larger.

Sunday, 4 November 2012


When I was a student we didn't have to write artist statements. I don't even remember them existing. We did have to put a few words into our profiles for the degree show catalogue, but that could be anything. I used the quote from Heart of Darkness at the foot of this page.

These days it seems the artist statement is essential if you are to be taken seriously as 'an artist'. Although I doubt 'real artists'* bother with them.

Should you ever need to write an artist statement Google found me two useful resources this one, and this one. I'd use the latter myself...

Not having to bother about such trivia I struggle on in my battle to avoid making pretty landscape pictures. Sometimes the clichés are too much to resist.

Sometimes they're not.

* This book has become a firm favourite since I acquired it recently. Photographs of rubbish, cows and dog turds will not be to everyone's taste, some may refer to 'Emperor's New Clothes' but it's the approach and attitude I find inspiring as much as the pictures.

Equally inspiring, in a different way, is Dark Days, a document of the foot and mouth outbreaks in Cumbria in 2001.

Friday, 2 November 2012

Symetry - of sorts

Today I must have been feeling graphic as I wandered round town.

As usual my monochrome conversions need more work.

Some autumn tints to finish off with...

Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Undue influence?

There's a minor internet storm going on about a prize-winning photograph which was apparently 'inspired' by another. Same location, same aspect ratio, similar composition. To my mind that's not being inspired. Inspiration is wishing to go out and make something which has similar properties to an image that moves you. Or maybe even aping an image unconsciously. We have all seen so many photographs now that unconscious influences are inevitable.

Sometimes we see something that reminds us of a previously viewed photograph. The similarities may be subtle. Maybe we register them, maybe not. The photograph we make may be made with the remembered image in mind or it may not.

During my last visit to the sandplant I made a picture which I was aware reminded me of a famous, and in its own way now controversial picture.

It is by no means a replication of the Roger Fenton photograph(s). Nonetheless I was conscious of the bank to the right and the debris strewn across a rough surface when I framed the shot. Unfortunately I failed to frame things so the eye was kept from wandering out of the left hand edge of the frame.

Monday, 29 October 2012


I stopped by the sandplant again today. This time deliberately using the X10 to change the way I would see things. This certainly worked but not in the way I'd imagined. My intention had been to take mostly close ups, particularly of plants, and to try some panoramas. The panoramas didn't pan out as well as one I took last time.

While using the screen to frame low level shots usually works well it proved difficult in the bright sunlight. The screen was often useless at low level, and not much better at eye level. Despite this frustration I had to drag myself away as I kept finding new things to photograph.
While I am having no trouble finding photographs I am struggling to come to terms with is the direction to take with them. It is tempting to take the gritty black and white line to point up the industrial dereliction. Then again colourful close ups of plants thriving in the desolation would suggest another viewpoint. As always with photography there is a tendency to prettify everything. More so when the sun shines or the light is dramatic. Although objectivity is impossible I'm striving to be as neutral as possible while still showing how I experience the place.

If the photographs ever get to a point where they are to be gathered together in a coherent selection then it will all come down to the final edit. There's no doubt that I like the place the way it is. How it offends common sensibilities with it's neglected dereliction while proving nature can take care of itself without being managed. Perhaps I should eschew objectivity.

See gallery larger.

Sunday, 21 October 2012

Blot on the landscape

Perception is all. For normal people Southport's sandplant is an eyesore in need of 'development'. To me it's a shining example of how the natural world recolonises a man-made landscape. Since the plant was demolished the wildlife has moved in. There are rabbits living there and their predators visit. Plants are taking over and these draw in birds.

Of course it attracts humans too. Motorbikes tear round it at times, travellers have stopped there, dogs are walked and allowed to run free, people fly model aircraft and race model cars, birdwatchers use the bunds as vantage points to scope across the saltmarsh, vandals spray graffitti, and I wander round it with a camera as do other locals.

Most times I just pass through, but today I spent some time with a bit of a plan in mind. The initial idea was to concentrate on the recolonisation, and the way people use the place (if there were any people about). Then I got sidetracked by the forms of the place itself and the light. As a result the pictures split themselves into two. Colour and monochrome almost paralleling the two themes, although there is some crossover between the two sets below.

I intend looking back through my older photographs of the plant to see if I can make a larger coherent collection, and to return with other ideas in mind to further explore the place.

See gallery larger.

See gallery larger.

Monday, 8 October 2012


Because photographs flatten everything they allow one to play around with representation in an ambiguous way.

For example, the reading of the picture above alters when the information is provided that the sky is reflected in water.

The Lost Balls Found series continues apace. I have now clocked up 112 balls.

Saturday, 6 October 2012

Sunshine for a change

As I like photographing the banal I can always find subjects. No matter how often I walk the same route to the Post Office I see something different every time. Plants grow and die. Light changes. The chance of low autumn sunshine seemed to increase the vibrancy of colours and make me notice shadows. So I snapped some. Mostly using a wide aperture because it was the colours and play of light that was interesting rather than the details.

Friday, 5 October 2012

Classical landscapes

When I was messing around trying to get to grips with the fisheye lens the other day I got to thinking again about how the distortion it creates both has uses and is only distortion if you think literally.

The photograph below is one of those nearly shots I'm so good at taking. The sky was too bright to make it easy to get a uniform exposure and I had a fair bit of fiddling to do on the computer. What immediately struck me about the picture was the way the trees curved to create a frame in a way that reminded me of classical landscape paintings. I was thinking of Claude Lorrain for some reason which Google disabused me of - although I did find an example or two of his work that had a leaning tree on one side of the picture.

What Google did throw up was this landscape by Hendrik Frans Van Lint. I find it hard to imagine that trees would lean so conveniently as framing devices in nature. Trees always lean with the prevailing wind. Painters can move and reshape objects to suit their compositional ideas. So why shouldn't the photographer use the optical features of a lens to do likewise?

Note also the use of shade in the foreground of the painting as part of the frame (easily applied in Lightroom with a graduated filter!), and how this also helps enhance the aerial perspective.

Wednesday, 26 September 2012


A brief run round the local low lying land to see what effect the rain had on it. Just using the X10. The sweep panorama mode was useful for showing the extent of the flooding, but needs more care than I took in my hasty attempts in the rain.

Although there are no remarkable pictures, I took them mainly as a record, I found that I needed to crop fewer of the shots to make the composition satisfying. I guess sometimes a 3:2 aspect ratio isn't the right one.

The Lost Ball project progressed past 100 today. It was a bit like shooting fish in a barrel with the debris rafts trapped above bridges, though!