Friday, 29 January 2016


When I can't find anything to photograph I mess about. Which is what digital is ideal for - no cost frames and instant feedback. This afternoon I stuck my fisheye on the camera to see what I might be able to make with it, but having no preconceptions. The wood seemed as good a place to go play though.

With it being overcast, and pretty dark in the wood, I was a bit scuppered without a tripod. Not that it mattered as there wasn't anything to get me interested. So I started buggering about and popped up the camera's flash. All I'd be wasting would be the charge in the battery.

An over exposed to white object in the foreground is a fairly oft-used device. It gives a ghostly appearance to the object. Doing this with spindly branches against a background of darker branches created a kind of ethereal, menacing effect in the woods this afternoon. I deliberately underexposed the ambient light to heighten the effect and used the camera's built in flash. Out of sixty or more shots I got two or three that had something going for them. 

I think spinning the camera might have been a step too far though. I'd started to lose interest by then - as usually happens when I play with techniques. I get one half decent shot then want to move on and take proper photographs as the novelty has worn off.

On my way to the wood I took the long route and passed by the free range chickens. Unusually they didn't flee as soon as I turned up.

The ones in the paddock were easily lured towards my camera when I through a handful of gravel in their direction. Stupid birds thought they were being fed. No wonder they looked confused! Just as with groups of people that aren't being directed getting a visually coherent arrangement of poultry takes patience - with no guarantee of success. Unusually for me both the chicken pictures have been cropped.

Thursday, 28 January 2016


It's long been obvious to me that if I posted most of my photos for 'crit' on a photography forum they'd get ripped to shreds. My subjects are often 'boring', and I don't do much post processing so they lack that, apparently. essential 'pop'. At least 'that forum' has now got a personal project section where I feel happier posting stuff for comment because it tends to be mostly about the project and from people who also work on projects - of which there are few.

Another boring photograph

When I delve into the other sections I see lots of photographs that are well executed and show far more technical mastery than I could ever be bothered to develop. Yet there's rarely anything that interests me. I keep looking at the people and portraits section in the hop that I'll get some inspiration to fire me up to get my finger out and do some proper portrait work, but it's all uninteresting. The best photo in there I have seen recently was a picture of the child from someone who had only just taken up photography. It was badly out of focus, but it was the kind of picture you wanted to keep looking at rather than note how well done it was and move on to the next perfectly uninteresting picture. It had captured something beyond what the kid looked like which - no matter how good the lighting, posing and composition - most of the portraits fail to do.

I guess if I am ever to find inspiration for making portraits of my own the only way forward is to get out of my safety zone and make some. The old learning by doing routine.

Friday, 22 January 2016

Interesting listens

As an avid trawler of the internets and follower of various blogs and things I came across some audio interviews with photographers a few days ago. They might not be everyone's cup of tea, but I've found the three I've listened to interesting. They come across more as rambling chats with friends than professional interviews, which gives them a certain charm. At least there's not much talk about gear and the stress is on the process and business of making photographs and making them pay. Check them out here.

I'd better post a picture or two. A walk to the village ended up at the old churchyard. It's somewhere that always seems photogenic in winter sunlight. I never stick around long enough to really get stuck in though. Maybe I ought to make an effort some time. The angel I first photographed back in my student days. It seemed a bit 'Joy Division' at the time.

Maybe it's the subject matter, or maybe it's the contrasty light, but black and white feels right for the graveyard. It simplifies the pictures. I guess it also adds a slight air of melancholy too.

Thursday, 21 January 2016


It's funny how things you detest can be fascinating. I loathe sitting in wooden hides peering at distant wildlife. Yet the hides and the people in them can be interesting. That's the main reason I go to nature reserves. The wildlife I enjoy looking at is the stuff in the trees and bushes between the hides.

Hides, by their design, are dark places, which presents technical photographic challenges. Not least because of the dramatic contrast between the light levels inside and outside the hides. Sometimes that can be a benefit, such as when a shaft of sunlight comes through a window.

An alternative strategy is to shoot reflections.

Some 'wildlife' photographers behave like sheep. Every time the barn owl they were looking for showed up it sounded like a machine gun nest had opened fire on the advancing enemy!

Given how far away the owl was I doubt there'd have been a decent picture amongst the hundreds taken in the short time before I got bored and left. The sad thing being that none of the other hide visitors could get a decent view of the bird because of the hide-hoggers taking up two places each with their cameras, bags and flasks.

Meanwhile, elsewhere on the reserve there was a foraging redwing which was unconcerned by people passing by just a few feet from it. A little more wary of a fool with a camera, but even so there was no need for a 6000mm lens to get a snap or two of it. It is only a snap, but I find more enjoyable to be close to a bird with no window or wall between me and it than sat in a wooden hut watching something you can only see the feathers on thanks to high magnification lenses. But then I'm no wildlife photographer.

Tuesday, 19 January 2016

Feeling jaded

It's one thing to not feeling motivated to take photographs, but it's really frustrating when events and/or conditions conspire against you. It's not a lack of motivation, for a change, that's kept this blog quiet of late, but lack of opportunity. By the time I've got work out of the way it's either been going dark or raining - or both - for the last few weeks. What I need is a project of some kind that can be undertaken indoors or in the dark! It might be time to get my finger out and get the 'big project' under way in a considered manner. Then again...

I have managed to take a couple of  opportunistic 'church' photographs recently on my perambulations around the village. The ideas seem to be right, but I'm unsure about the execution.

Once more I have been let down by my sloppy technique. It's too easy to imagine that the wonderful technology in cameras and lenses these days automatically compensates for our failings. Autofocus can miss out. Particularly at the limits of closest focusing. The indications might be that focus has been attained, but it isn't always reliable. The same goes for image stabilisation. It does a remarkable job. But you still have to exercise good hand holding technique to get the best out of it. Being lazy I often forget this and end up with slightly blurry shots that should have been much sharper. One way to hide such a failing is to display or print the picture small. Like the one below!

Despite not getting down to anything 'serious' of late, there's always a photo opportunity to be found when you have something like my Lost Balls Found project on the go. Although I haven't photographed every ball I see for some time now it's been going so long that it's become a habit. This is number 363.

Friday, 8 January 2016

Picture this

Looking at the majority of pictures taken by hobbyists, and reading the 'crit' they give I am always finding myself wondering if I'm on a different planet. The usual first port of call for comments are technical. Is it sharp, are the highlights blown. That sort of stuff. After that it's on to the rule of thirds, leading lines and all that jazz. Very rarely does anyone comment on what the picture is trying to say. I think this is because most hobbyists aren't concerned with their pictures doing anything beyond looking nice.

One 'rule' that I have mentioned on here before is that of simplification. When I simplify it's to stress the subject. To make a picture that says little more than 'look at this'. To that end I'm likely to put the subject slap bang in the middle of the frame. Something you must never do!

yet when I'm trying to tell a story I like to have a few elements in a picture that work with each other to provide context and explanation.

What started out as making a straightforward record shot of a hide because the sun was shining for a change, but which I thought I might have a use for among a collection of pictures on a theme of nature watching, got worked on.

Almost everything was in place to show the artificiality of the hide and the path leading to it. I'd made use of a framing element in the tree to the right and the bushes/hedge to the left added texture, the path being a visually leading element. As a composition it was OK.

A few steps along the patch and a shift of camera angle and the result was improved. The path draws the eye in better - the wooden rails intersect the edge of the picture away from the corner. More importantly the pool and reeds to the right are more prominent, so placing the hide in the landscape better. The composition works better and there are three things telling the story - the path, the hide and the pools/reedbeds. The light on the rails against the shaded ground beyond enhances their leading line effect. The colours are subdued but bright and harmonious. Best of all there's no wasted space. By not settling for the first shot I ended up with a picture that looks better and tells a stronger story. It's more useful as a picture.

All this is based not on the idea of making pretty pictures but of adopting a documentary approach. As something you might hang on your wall to brighten a room there's not a lot going for it. But as a picture to form part of a broader narrative it could well have its place. These days I'm always on the look out for pictures that can form part of a collection on my hard drive which I migt be able to pull together into something bigger at some point.

My current photographic obsession is my aversion to looking at wildlife through hide windows and the false perspective it gives to nature watching. Despite its transparency glass distances the viewer from the birds and the landscape. If that glass is in a spotting scope the distance between bird and viewer can not just be psychological it can be very real. Trying to put that across in a still image is a challenge. Knowing what you want to say is one thing. Saying it in a picture is quite another.

If there's one thing worse than a cold hide with letterbox windows it's one with comfy chairs and a picture window. Although I rail against the idea that 'it's all about the light' when it comes to photography, there are times when 'the light' makes you want to photograph it. Even if the result is a bit promotion brochure-y.

Tuesday, 5 January 2016

Feeding frenzy

What larks. Nikon announce two new 'flagship' cameras (FX and DX) and the fora are alive with the sound of photogeeks chewing over the specs. Oddly enough neither camera interests me beyond making one I own and want to part with likely to drop in price as the tech chasers offload their cameras (the model that replaced the one I have...). Better get it sold PDQ!

Coincidentally it's a camera I've been using recently and which still produces files I like the look of. The only things I hold against it are size and weight since getting used to my light camera. So what if it only has half the number of pixels. I've never needed all of them in any case.

Once more the internet experts have been driving me nuts. Photography is really simple these days. Cameras do so much of the heavy technical lifting for you it's easier to concentrate on making pictures. yet whenever a beginner asks a simple question that can be answered by 'put the camera in P mode to start with and learn the more technical aspects later' they get chapter and verse on the 'exposure triangle', or teh incverse square law, or hyperfocal distances or some other nonsense. All they want to know is the easiest way to get decent exposures and in focus subjects.

Then you get people offering advice on techniques they have never tried, but because they understand all the technical crap think they can help anyone. It was a query about how to improve fishing self portraits that has prompted this rant. When it comes to the technical stuff I stay away from offering advice on 'that photography forum' because I know my idiots guide approach to photography will just get shouted down. But I DO know how to take a decent trophy shot of myself holding a fish. So I posted my simple technique for success.

Even with examples of my own selfies the 'experts' continued to proffer their advice based on pure theory. In the end I couldn't take it any more and had to tell them to butt out... I should do more fishing or photography than forum watching but the weather's been off-putting. It brightened over the last couple of days but yet again a combination of work and waiting for parcels has kept me indoors. By the time I've been free it's gone dark! Still, I much prefer overcast days for vaguely landscapey subjects, but brighter ones than we've been getting of late.

The second day of the year saw me back at the reserve not photographing wildlife. The paradox of nature conservancy claiming to get people closer to nature while distancing them from it continues to intrigue me.

Look! An owl.

Friday, 1 January 2016

Still wet

As usual when I set out to improve on a hastily shot photograph by using a tripod and taking my time I end up with a result which is the opposite of an improvement! The picture below failed because I used too slow a shutter speed in an attempt to get more of the scene in focus like you are supposed to for landscape photographs. Not only did the water go all smooth, despite the wind, the grasses and even the wire of the fence blurred too. It was pretty windy. I'm not cut out for this sort of thing.

Another day, with the sun shining, I went elsewhere to look at the floods. This put me back in my comfort zone. Shooting hand held and not trying to make 'clever' photographs but to make records of what things looked like. Photographs of such a documentary nature are more about telling the story than being technically, or artistically, great. Which suits Mr Sloppy (who was steered away from pursuing a career in graphic design because he was a messy drawer) down to the ground! In a couple of places on either side of the main river the intakes of pumping stations were well below the level of the flood waters.

To the east of the river much of the flood water must have been the result of three breaches in river banks. The use of a helicopter to repair these breaks in the flood banks making the national media. I made a few record shots of the machine in operation for my records. Quite heavily cropped, but still with roughly as many pixels as my older cameras use for the full frame makes for acceptable images for web use. As screens increasingly become the primary viewing medium for photographs the need for all the pixels some cameras have is, ironically, decreasing. It can't be long before galleries are equipped with large screens for photographic display. Can it? If some collector is willing to pay thousands for a print, might they not be willing to pay similar amounts for custom made screens to display a single image? If only my crystal ball worked!

To the west of the river water naturally drains into what was the mere. Where the drains meet the channel which winds through the salt marsh stands the pumping station which has been upgraded a number of times in its history. Without the pumps the mere would return unaided by severe weather.

These recent posts might seem to have little to do with photography. I'd say they have quite a bit to do with it. Or at least with the uses photography can be put to. As I've said before, I'm increasingly drawn to the idea of making photographs to document the world I inhabit. I try to make my photographs work in formal ways, as pictures, but more so in ways that tell a story. Maybe not on their own, but in combination.

I'm beginning to think that the way for me to get a handle on how to photograph the wet places of mere, moss and marsh is to forget about being abstruse and arty, trying to do it through implication, and to take a straightforward documentary approach to the picture making.