Friday, 29 June 2012

Balance of light

"Balance of light is the problem, not the amount. Balance between shadows and highlights determines where the emphasis goes in the picture...make sure the major light in a picture falls at right angles to the camera."  Elliott Erwitt
If the horses had posed better these two pictures might have been more successful. But the light was pleasing.

moody horses

moody horses

Thursday, 28 June 2012

Pixels and performance

I chap I know had been told by a magazine editor that his photographs weren't good enough for be used in print. He was asking on a fishing forum for recommendations for a better camera to improve his shots. As the camera he is currently using is one I used for four years, after seeing some of his results, I thought I'd see how bad it really is. Now, I have come to appreciate the finer points of image processing since I bought that camera, and learned a bit about setting cameras up to get the best results, so it would also be interesting to see what I could squeeze out of it intelligently instead of sticking it on Auto everything.

Camera years are like dog years these days, and six real years has seen a lot of progress in sensor technology. I wasn't expecting much from the small 6mp sensor. But it wasn't too bad.

Anything above ISO 100 was very grainy, but judicious tweaks in Lightroom to noise reduction and sharpness sliders saved some shots. Low light did see the camera struggle compared to the latest technology. But given reasonable light it performed well.

Canon S3IS ISO 800

Nikon D700 ISO 900

Focussing was less sure than I have become used to. I think because the focussing area is large and can't be adjusted. When the camera got it right it was fine.

Given the age of the camera and its limitations it did okay. So long as the ISO is kept to 100 or lower. A similar camera with an up to the minute sensor should perform far better and be well up to publication standards if the X10 is anything to go by. Something that did surprise me was how little difference in actual area there is between a 6mp image and a 12mp image.

However, what stopped me entertaining any thoughts of using a camera like the Canon S3IS as even a fishing camera was using it. Apart from the design fault that makes it too easy to alter ISO and file size (no raw) accidentally, I really missed the dials and levers to adjust things that are part and parcel of a DSLR. I also missed the top screen to check settings. Having to use the screen for that was a pain - particularly as either the shutter speed or aperture is displayed when in one mode, the other setting only appearing when the release is half pressed. Still, it was an interesting exercise. Where is that small, light, cheap, camera that handles like an SLR?

Monday, 25 June 2012


The value of making prints was made plain yesterday when I processed a couple of beachscapes into black and white. What I liked, and seen at the time, were the lines of light and shade on the sand and water - which the conversion to monochrome highlighted. I wasn't too convinced by one of them, feeling that I hadn't made the most of the framing and that the sky was lacking sufficient interest. I was also unsure if the other photograph held sufficient detail in the foreground to emphasize the ripples that suggest the strength of the wind. Even at screen filling size it was difficult to evaluate either photograph. So I made an A4 print of each.

The print of the second picture was almost immediately consigned to the rubbish pile. The other was framed and is now on the wall for consideration. I'd quite like to see it printed larger still.

Both pictures were made using the trusty 50mm lens. There's no wonder it used to be considered the 'standard' lens before zooms became de rigeur.

Saturday, 23 June 2012

Dangerous stuff

That's right, I've been thinking again!The other day someone on TalkPhotography posted a link to "100 things about photography". Kinda interesting in a way. I was wandering round with a couple of cameras today and started making up a list of my own. For my way of working it proved to be a short list of things I need to make photographs:
  1. A camera.
  2. A good pair of walking boots.
  3. An inquisitive eye.
That's about it. As I got some successful photos with both cameras I reckon the order of the list could be reversed, apart from the fact that without some sort of camera you're limited to making imaginary photographs. David Bailey said somewhere that he was seeing photographs before he had a camera - or something to that effect. I think most visually creative people do. Or if they don't mentally frame the pictures they see things which they find visually intriguing and remember them.

I continue to be interested in flatness, the arrangement of blocks of colour and texture within a rectangle and negative space.

The second picture shares some compositional elements with the first - colours, shapes - but it plays with the picture plane as the fence divides it and provides one of the visual clues which indicate depth and space. Which are both illusory in photographs as photographs are two dimensional.

Both those pictures were made with a DSLR and a 50mm lens. The more I use that combination the more I think I could manage quite well if that was all I had at my disposal.

The other camera I had with me was the X10. The secret to using any camera is to work with its strengths. For me the strengths of the small camera are two fold. It's close up capability and it's great depth of field. When the two strengths are used in tandem it becomes easy to make pictures of small things and place them in the context of their surroundings. These plants pushing through the tarmac of a disused car park behind the dunes is an example of this at work. It's also an example of nature recolonising areas that man has forsaken. The X10 might prove useful for exploring that theme further.

The depth of field that this camera provides is also a boon for making landscapes pictures. This is not one of my strong picture making points, but the dunes provide some elevation, and visual variation in comparison to the beach and the inland landscape round here which makes seeing pictures a little easier. Flat lighting doesn't help pick out the shape of the dunes, but the marram against the sand makes for patterns and visual depth clues.

Thursday, 21 June 2012

The smaller picture

Ever since I've been visiting the sea front since renewing my interest in photography I've been fascinated by the old sand winning plant. Most of the buildings were demolished some years ago and all that remains are the crumbling sand wall that was piled around it for appearances sake and some foundations. There are piles of rubble and gates which are regularly broken down too. There has to be something to say about the place visually as it is gradually recolonised by plants - and the rabbits which make their home there.

It was only yesterday that I came to consider that the way to do this isn't by making pictures which show it as an industrial edifice, but by closing in on the details. How the sand blows over structures, how plants don't care where they grow but eventually take over. Juxtaposing natural forms and colours with manmade ones.

There's a sign on one of the gates saying that the site is to be reclaimed as saltmarsh. Not a strictly accurate phrasing as the area wasn't saltmarsh before the plant was constructed. No doubt all will be tastefully landscaped to remove any trace of the industrial past and a habitat created that fits the current conservation guidelines in keeping with the sanitised version of the landscape we are expected to accept.

I find it both fascinating and reassuring that nature always reclaims land that man builds on, given sufficient time. Consider how quickly airfield runways from WWII became grassland. Not for nothing did my parents call willowherb Blitzweed. The intrusion of plants and animals into the built environment, and the way they take it over if allowed to, is an interesting subject for the camera.

On another note I have been considering a way to collect together what I consider my better photographs in one on-line location. Flickr is fine as a dumping ground to throw things up to look at for consideration, or as an easily searched archive, and it's great for hosting photos to post on forums. But even using sets and collections it doesn't encourage careful editing.

I looked at some free and paid for galleries, but didn't like them. I considered making and hosting my own, but couldn't find a flexible enough way to change images. Then I wondered if Blogger could be used.

It's by no means perfect, but by messing about with the controls I think I might have come up with something usable for the time being. Still very much under construction, what I am playing around with can be found at

This exercise has made me realise how difficult the selection process is and how few good photographs I have made. Must try harder.

Monday, 18 June 2012

Sand and sky

Last week's Radio 4 book of the week was Strands by poet Jean Sprackland. It's about a year spent roaming my local beaches. As such I found it interesting and annoying in equal measure. Interesting because it told me things I didn't know about a familiar location. Annoying because it didn't match my perception of the beach. Nonetheless I bought myself a copy, which I am half way through, and got the urge to visit the sands again.

The area of beach I visited yesterday evening is where the shrimpers travel to the water. Their bastardised amphibious vehicles are penned in a compound above the high water mark and there is a churned track leading out to sea. A couple of posts serve as waymarkers. The shore is gradually being colonised by marram grass, to such an extent that the area is known as 'the green beach'. Not so much a beach as salt marsh in reality. Human activity is making its mark at the same time as nature is fighting back.

 The sea on this section of coast goes out miles, possibly literally, when the tide ebbs. Even on a summer evening the shore is a barren place. Trying to find pictures that are both interesting and say something about the sense of place is not at all easy. Not without reverting to cliché. There might be  some flotsam to make a hackneyed picture with - a shell on rippled sand, a branch silhouetted against the setting sun. Mostly it's sand and sky. There's sea if you walk far enough, and there's dunes and habitation if you turn around. Mostly it's sand and sky.

Perhaps the medium is wrong for the subject. Perhaps it requires a large format camera to make large prints where details such as a runner on the tide's edge would be clearer to give a better sense of scale and emptiness. Perhaps it can't be done photographically.

Saturday, 16 June 2012

Hard times

Shopping in Preston I was struck how many shop fronts were boarded up along Church Street where all bar two of the pictures in the gallery below were made. There are a couple of strongish pictures in there. The overcast light adds to the sense of depression but I can see how a stronger set could be made by spending more time on the subject concentrating on the blue boards, but as usual the parking ticket was running out.

Sunday, 10 June 2012

Sunday morning

Trying out a different Lightroom web gallery. All pictures made with a 35mm lens bar the final one.

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

The problems with projects

There's a saying that a painting is never finished, only abandoned. That's a problem with projects, too. Deciding when to call it a day. The time has come to abandon my then-and-now project and live with the second edit of the Blurb book I put together. Looking through the copy that arrived today there are things that could be improved. Some of the pictures could be reprocessed, some retaken. I could tinker with it for as long as I liked and it would never be 'finished'. As it's not a commercial venture and I don't have a reputation to live up to I'm happy to leave it alone and move on.

At least this was a fairly straightforward project in as much as there was a finite number of old photographs that had been taken. No matter what happened there was always a known goal in sight even if there was no timescale involved. The lack of a deadline took any pressure off. While there was a way of working defined in as much as I knew what focal length was going to be required for all (bar one, as it turned out) of the shots this was not really a restriction.

Setting yourself a specific way of working can bring an element of discipline to a project. The problem here is that discipline means a high degree of motivation and commitment is required. If you have the right kind of personality this can work. Earlier this year I started following a blog documenting someone's project making portraits of strangers in northern towns using one camera and flash. Not only was the equipment limiting, there was to be at least one portrait every week. After a few weeks the updates got less frequent then fizzled out completely. Today I had a look and the blog was gone.

That's another problem with projects - stating at the outset what you intend to do, and it not happening for whatever reason. I know I'm not disciplined enough to make a plan and stick to it, which is why I do open ended things like the Lost Ball series. It's opportunistic and with no demands being made. originally I set myself limits of only taking one photograph and using whatever lens I had on when I saw the ball. Those constraints soon went by the board.

Working on the then-and-now project did have the advantage of bringing a focus to what I was doing. However I still carried on taking what seem like random photographs. The thing is that they are only random as in them not relating to each other on a particular day. Almost always they relate to previously taken pictures. There are themes I recognise that, if I was to trawl through my files, I could collect together in groups. A new theme that has begun making its presence felt concerns hedges, fences and gates and what they keep hidden from view.

I think it's got something to do with exploring how people are trying to hide from society and notions of privacy. If I was that way inclined I could go out seeking subjects which fit the concept and make a series of photograph of them, then bring them all together in a collection accompanied by some pretentious statement about them being a comment on, or investigation into, the paranoid state of society today. Instead I'll snap away when I see something like the gates above, and eventually there may be a collection of related images.

One more problem with projects is knowing what to do when one comes to a conclusion. I have a number of themes which I could explore in a more concerted way than I currently do. My worry is that concentrating on one might blinker me. I much prefer to have an ongoing loosely defined project like Sandgrounding, which is only limited in the scope of the photographs by geography. It's a sort of project incorporating sub-projects. None of which are clearly definable.

Saturday, 2 June 2012

Ambiguity and accident

This photograph is nothing more than a snapshot in many ways. What I like about it is the way the windows offer both reflections and clear views to confuse the space. I find my eye continually refocusing as I try to work out what is where as objects merge in to each other. I'm also surprised by the unconscious composition which has placed diagonals cutting the top right and bottom left corners to not only keep the eye in the frame but provide a rhythmical element.