Friday, 29 April 2016

A small step forward

The weather has been dire recently and work stuff has also kept me at home. So when the skies brightened after tea last night I grabbed the cameras and set off. I hadn't gone a mile when over to the west there were some impressive looking storm clouds. I'd just been reading Moose Peterson's blog about storm chasing in America and it felt a bit like a small scale, and tornado free, version of that as I drove along with the clouds speeding along to my right.

I wanted to get some elevation to photograph things so took a turn past the community farm hoping the bridge over the brook would provide it. It did, but the view was cluttered. As I parked up the rain arrived. It blew over quickly in the strong wind and I turned round to go elsewhere.

Back over the bridge and Graham had just arrived at the farm, and I noticed the new chicken shed had arrived so I stopped to have a look. That was a mistake. I ended up lending a hand to putting the finishing touches to its installation. Getting soaked in a heavy hail shower and the lighter rain that followed. However I did manage to get a couple of potentially useful pictures.

Once more the magic of technology enabled the capture of a picture which would have been nigh on impossible with film. ISO 800 is no problem for a modern digital camera, a big help for photographing chickens roosting in a dark shed.

In between showers and holding planks of wood I did a bit of planning. Being rubbish at directing people for portraits I made a few exposures to work out how I'd like to frame a portrait of Graham in front of the new shed. So I got my shooting position worked out by photographing the shed on its own. Even if the portrait didn't work out I'd have a picture of the new shed to contrast with one of the old shed.

All I then had to do was ask Graham to stand in front of the shed, without smiling. I think it works. The job was pretty much done by then and the rain was on it's way back so I said my goodbyes and headed home to dry out.

Even with a slightly wider lens than I had with me last time I found I could have done with a bit more to get a couple of shots which didn't pan out when I tried them. There's less room inside the run that I'd imagined. It's difficult to cover all angles with just one camera so comprises have to be made. A few more ideas for the project have come to mind, and I think I'm beginning to form a clearer idea of where it's heading now. Some progress at least.

Monday, 25 April 2016

Not much progress

I've been playing the 'push the like button' game again. It's like shooting fish in a barrel. You can't fail to get 'likes' with a sunrise or sunset. The more dramatic and saturated the better. I expect a kitten in a sunset might use up all the likes on the internet.

Then again, there is something about skies that we respond to. Maybe it's a throwback to our primitive origins when looking at the sky might give us a clue as to what the weather was going to be like. Stormy skies are probably a close second to rosy sunsets for popularity. No matter how superficial the results are as photographs even I can't resist snapping the sky at times.

Two projects didn't make much progress this weekend despite me trying. Not too hard I must admit. The tackle shop project is one I can't seem to knock into any sort of shape. In fact the more I think about it the more it seems it's not really suited to be a photographic project at all. Or at the best not predominantly photographic. There's always something new to photograph, especially when there's a change of venue. Hemp and snails? Must be for those trips to France!

Calling in at Burscough Community Farm didn't get me much in the way of poultry photographs, but it did give me a few ideas The nest boxes made from upcycled plastic containers need reshooting for one. I hadn't planned to call in and was unprepared for both low light levels and a lack of space.

There's a lot more to the farm than poultry. The idea behind the enterprise is a variation of share cropping, but done with a motivation of reducing food miles, involving the local community and benefiting wildlife rather than maximising profit for all concerned. An interesting venture in many ways.

Tuesday, 19 April 2016


Now I know what I need in the way of lenses, rather than what I want (or have been lead to believe I need) it's time to have a cull. The first step was to trade two lenses for one. The first was a lens that didn't match any body I have and the other was the hated 85mm! The lens I acquired is an old 20mm. I had been contemplating the new all sing all dancing super-sharp 20mm, but it's not a lens I envisage using much and wanted something small to keep in a bag or even a pocket. The question was, would I like the focal length?

As my ultra-wide zoom is my least used lens (after the vile 85mm) my intention is to have just the 20mm and get rid of the zoom. But would 20mm be wide enough? I don't like the curvature and edge distortion that anything wider than 18mm gives, so my reasoning is that if I need wider than 24mm then 20mm should do the job.
In an attempt to get used to the lens it's pretty much never been off the camera and I've been using it to photograph all sorts of things. It certainly lacks the near-fisheye look of an ultra-wide angle lens. In fact it gives a look I don't find dissimilar to that from a 28mm lens. But it's still possible to get the forced perspective look from a close up foreground object against the background. In fact this gave me an idea for a short project of pictures of trees in front gardens. I'd taken some in the past with longer focal length lenses but they didn't get all the house behind the tree in the frame. 20mm does. I need to work out a few things but I've made a preliminary grid of the shots so far. Quite what the pictures are about I'm not too sure though!
I've even used it for a chicken picture - albeit with a slight crop. So far so good and it looks like my plan will work. My fisheye is now up for sale and the ultra-wide zoom will be next to go.
Project wise there's not been much movement beyond a couple of roadside egg sales I've been wanting to photograph which have been in hiding. The hand-drawn chicken one (complete with superfluous apostrophe) was worth the wait.
Noticing more activity at the sandplant the other day I took a run over with the camera this evening. Not easy to see what had been going on apart from the removal of sand from the heaps. The big tides are starting to mak their mark, depositing flotsam at the base of the new bund, but that was about all. I gave the 20mm lens a bit of a work out and managed one frame I am reasonably content with.

Monday, 11 April 2016

Micro composition

Quite how I stumbled across this video on Youtube I can't remember but it enjoyably whiled away some time over the boring weekend. I often find that when I listen to how other people make photographs that I do simialr things or have similar concerns. Sometimes they give what they do catchy names as if they are something special, or they alone have discovered. The compose and wait technique that Sam Abell talks about is one that is well known and often used by street photographers. It's something that is always worth doing when photographing people who are doing stuff. It's what I mentioned but didn't name in an earlier post. It's a technique that relies on the chance that something will happen, that you are able to freeze, that makes a picture. That's not the same as a lucky shot because it involves an element of forward thinking.

The other technique that gets frequent mentions in the talk is 'micro composition'. This is something I can't say I'd ever heard of. To me it's just a part of composition. Breaking down composition into discreet elements runs the risk of fracturing it so you concentrate on those elements at the expense of the whole. Framing a shot is all about looking at the bigger picture while taking care over the details. That's why it's hard to do well. All too often I overlook the details. There is one exception.

I'm obsessed with intersections. In the above picture I took great care to ensure the right hand foreground post lay between the shed and the blue barrel without touching either, or the white containers. Although I'm not a natural obsessive this is one thing about framing photographs that does niggle me like mad when I miss something that interacts. It's one way of differentiating a snap from a considered picture.

With the framing sorted out I then waited for the chickens to make themselves reasonably arranged. Which also meant no intersection or hidden heads. or at least as few as you can expect from a load of chickens!

It was only when I looked at the picture on the computer that I realised other of Sam Abell's compositional techniques was in use. There are horizon lines - the path, the top of the fence, the actual horizon. There are also layering clues that imply depth - the foreground and background fence posts. Note here a minor intersection niggle - the central back fence post is touching the branches of the distant tree - which was probably unavoidable in order to maintain the primary consideration of the foreground post.

It's all well and good analysing a picture like this in retrospect. It's even quite simple to think about these things and apply them when taking the photograph. The really hard part is being able to see the potential for a picture in the first place. What I saw was a load of fenced in chickens and a shed. That was the subject. So I took one shot from a standing position using the two foreground posts as a partial frame, checked the camera's screen and immediately realised I needed to get down to chicken level. Then I thought about the finer details a bit. Adjusted my position and snapped off a few frames in the hope the poultry would oblige.

Not doubt there are some who would say the light isn't 'good enough', but to my mind the flat light and grey clouds work just fine. It's how it was, not how I might like it to be. Although overcast is pretty much how I like it!

What a lot of drivel about taking a snap, eh? But then they do say a picture is worth a thousand words. To end, a picture of some words.

Sunday, 3 April 2016

Auction weekend

This weekend the poultry project progressed with visits to two very different auctions. Saturday saw a return to the auction mart for a sale of hatching eggs, dead stock and fowl. On my first visit I'd arrived too late for the sale in the ring, which is where the hatching eggs and dead stock are auctioned. The light was awful with all sorts of colour temperatures making getting a reasonable white balance was left to processing on the computer. even then it was a struggle that I just gave up on. I'll have another try if I ever use the pictures anywhere where it would be critical to have things more accurate.

28mm was just about wide enough to get the ring in from the top tier, and 100mm just about long enough to pick out people from a distance.

All the time I'm looking for pictures that tell the story, as it were, of what goes on. even then I find myself making pictures which are a bit different. The one below is such a picture. I'm not sure it works, but there's something going on that I like. It does show part of the lighting problem. A combination of strip lights and the red heat lamps is not good!
When that part of the sale was over it was into the main hall for the poultry, which this time included a number of ornamental game birds, and a pen of rheas which were so twitchy they made chickens look relaxed!
At the end of almost five hours I'd clocked up 340 frames (quite a few had been deleted at the scene) which were quickly edited down to half that, and further whittled away to make a gallery of 40. Not all 40 are that good, but they provide a flavour of the auction. The inevitable link to them is here.

Sunday's auction was held by the local bantam society where this poultry mania started out. Instead of hundreds of birds there were maybe a dozen pens of pairs or trios. There were a few boxes of eggs and a mixture of dead stock that included old poultry prints and magazines, rat traps and even a bat box. It was worth attending just for the tea and cakes. Full set here.

It's always a challenge to make good pictures of groups of people doing things. timing it so you capture two or more in positions which illustrate what is going on, without other people getting in the way, is a skill that I haven't mastered. I can imagine in my mind's eye what will make a good picture, but not only does it rarely develop, when it does someone else usually gets in the way! I spend a lot of time with the camera to my eye waiting.

A lot of the skill is anticipating when to take the shot. Despite SLRs having little delay between the button being pressed and the shutter firing, there is a lag between my eye and brain registering what is before me and my finger moving. I guess I could try shooting a burst of frames, but that is almost as hit and miss.

Another thing, which I think I am better at doing, is getting a rhythm in the pictures. When there are lots of people and other things in the viewfinder I do seem able to frame them up in a way that looks sort of composed. Not every time, but I am always aiming to have a balanced composition which the eye can look around. I know it goes against the simplification rule, but I think it makes for more engaging pictures - particularly of people - if there is a lot to look at. Maybe flicking through ken Grant's Flock last night helped me out in that respect.

No more poultry events or a while now, so maybe this project will take a bit of a break. That might be a good thing to prevent me getting stale. It's certainly harder to find new subjects. Even so, both events have given me new ideas to work on. So maybe that'll be what I do next. Unless I start on another project...