Sunday, 4 June 2017

Going. Going. Gone?

Increasingly I find that unless I have a project to work on I don't take many photographs these days. Which is why I really need to get to grips with another subject or I'll end up just photographing the poultry world! Of course doing that can lead to developing new ideas or approaches. With the poultry auctions under way again after the avian flu restrictions it was off to the mart yesterday without any real idea of what to do differently as I've covered all the 'action'. One approach might have been to take portraits, posed or candid. I did snatch a few in the latter mode - there are plenty of 'characters' to be seen, but they rarely seem to be much more than record shots in the way some people photograph birds. There wasn't much story telling to them. More like a camera club exercise than proper photography.


There's always the comedy angle, but that feels a bit like a cop-out too.


So which way to go? After floundering for a while, as I tend to, I began trying to get an impression of how people are crowded together. This isn't as easy a concept to get across as it might seem. A wide view shows what it looks like, but not what it feels like. The old camera over the head random shot approach. Although I did use the flippy screen a couple of times.


One alternative is to use a wide angle lens in close. So I did that with both my proper camera and, thinking that it being small and silent would be less intrusive, with the toy camera. As it turned out being small and silent made no difference. If people are engrossed in something they don't notice how big and noisy a camera is. What the toy camera was was annoying to use!


The other option is to use a longer lens from a moderate distance to give out of focus, but recognisable, elements to convey a sense of depth.


Doing this got me thinking again about framing and breaking camera club rules. The idea of partially seen elements intruding into the frame is something I've been doing recently and did some more yesterday. It's almost impossible to plan, and relies on either lucky or good timing to get right.


Something else I continue to play around with in framing pictures is making complex images and looking for elements in them rather than making 'good' compositions. I have a better understanding of what I'm looking for. That's not perfect pictures, it's interesting ones where even seemingly boring elements make sense. In the case below, which illustrates what it's like in the sale ring, it's the boy squeezing through the gap between wall and rails.


Making pictures which either fill the frame with a rhythmical flow or spread elements across the frame relying on 'gesture' are still in my sights. Taking shots where many gestures and forms work together is really tricky. Some are more successful than others.



Making pictures in these ways is far more difficult than composing to geometric 'rules' and often means you don't realise what you have until you look at the results back on the computer where the editing takes place. This is as an important part of the picture making process as pressing the shutter release. I hadn't noticed the echoing of the arms in this shot until I saw it on the computer screen.


This shot came about from me persevering with a composition for much longer than I usually do. I found myself doing this more yesterday. Perhaps because I wasn't constantly looking for new pictures having exhausted most options!

While I might not have added much to the overall project I feel as if I've made some progress with my photography. Having an enforced break and coming back refreshed might have helped. It can work for sports people, why not for creative people?

Technically I'm still undecided about the toy camera. The overall 'look' of files from real cameras has an unidentifiable 'something'. I think it's the way things go out of focus rather than the shallower depth of field itself. There's something about the richness of colour dynamic range?) that is subtle but appealing. Then, of course, there is the low light performance. Apart from the size and weight of the toy cameras I'm pretty much convinced that they are no less noticeable to other people than large cameras. It's all down to the attitude, body language, and so on of the photographer. Then again I do avoid using large 'pro' lenses. Mostly because I think they make you look like a dork or a journalist!

Is it time to give up on the auctions or not? I'll have one more visit at least. There are still some things I want to try. With the agricultural show season in full swing I might start visiting those in search of fresh subject matter. Shire horses took my eye last year.

Gallery from the day here.

Tuesday, 16 May 2017

Return of the egg show

Although the national poultry gathering  restrictions weren't to be lifted until Monday there has been no restraint on egg shows. Which meant that despite living in the one area of the UK where the restrictions were not to be lifted Sunday's egg show was able to go a head as planned. With no poultry shows or auctions since mid December everyone involved has been suffering withdrawal symptoms. Even as an interested outsider I felt good to be back at a poultry related event. Needless to say the avian flu situation, and prospects for future restrictions, were much talked about.


Maybe it was being off the scene for some months, or perhaps having got more used to what to expect, or possibly everyone else having got used to me snapping away, I managed to come away with some 'new' pictures.

I had intended using the toy camera for a while but after trying a couple of shots with it I put it away. I still find using the big camera much more intuitive, and despite it's bulk it can be used unobtrusively.


Three of the judging team had made the journey down from Scotland, so there were new faces to add to the files. I was seeing plenty of possibilities for pictures, but as is always the case getting everything to align to make them is the hard part.


How do you get across in a picture the way an egg is judged? It's a complicated process involving shape, weight, colour and no doubt other esoteric factors!



And why would you need a ruler to judge eggs?


The judges books with their tear-off strips are another mystery.


Eggs are not all equal, and neither are all egg exhibitors. Somehow certain individuals are always either top or close to the top when the rosettes are handed out. Once more George Taylor took home a good haul of rosettes, and the champion's trophy.


I spent more time talking to folks than actually taking photographs. But when I saw something shaping up the camera would be raised to my eye. Having a subject that interest me to photograph really helps the motivation. How much longer poultry and poultry people will keep me interested is hard to say. There's an auction coming up, which I'm looking forward to and have plans to do something different at. I do need something else to start working on though. Even if it's another aspect of poultry keeping to look at, or a different sort of show. The two ideas I started on recently aren't panning out to my satisfaction.




Monday, 1 May 2017

Unsettled

I thought I'd got a new project under way, having started to make photographs in a more focused way of a subject I'd snapped randomly for a while. While the concept behind the project is a good one, that of a social commentary, I don't think it's for me. Even though I can imagine how it might turn out, and it's the sort of thing I'd want to look at, I guess I'm just not sufficiently interested in the subject. That's not to say I won't revisit it some time soon. I think I'm better suited to making comments against something (as with my paranoid concerns that access to the beach might be under threat) rather than as activist in support of worthy causes. or, as with the poultry pictures, showing a subject in an affectionate light.

This was brought home to me when I went out today to get some work done on the 'worthy' project and got derailed into photographing people walking dogs. Now this is a subject that interests me. Not only have I photographed people with dogs on leads in the past but Keith Arnatt's series of portraits of people with their dogs is one of my all time favourites which I've wanted to pay homage to for some time. Maybe it's the initial euphoria of coming home with a lot of pictures on a theme I enjoy, but I think I might have found a way to get into this.

Taking my own series of portraits would have been a bit too lazy to my way of thinking, although it did cross my mind. Apart from the dog walker portraits I made on the beach I haven't pursued this line. I think a nagging doubt has held me back. Taking candid shots throws in an alternative slant on the subject. Using a wide(ish) lens in close adds context, and by framing to include unconnected people doing unconnected things another layer of information is added.


Perhaps reading about Joel Meyerowitz's approach to street photography recently has rubbed of, although I've been thinking along similar lines for my photographs for a while now. The idea of having multiple subjects and points of interest in one frame. Doing the opposite of simplifying the pictures. Far more difficult to include stuff that adds to a picture than eliminate distractions - which is what the traditional thinking is. Although the pictures all include at least one dog (I tried to get more than one in the frame if I could) they are not always the most interesting subject. The whole scene is what I started to think about.

Then there's the loosening up that I started to appreciate with my early poultry pictures. Stopping fretting over getting everything levelled up and having things chopped up by the edge of the frame. I doubt I'd get many likes for this sort of picture on social media, but it's an inspiring way to work.


Whether the toy camera really was less threatening I found it worked well. At least after I'd made a couple of adjustments to eliminate some niggles in handling. Trying to get out of the mindset of wanting it to handle and behave like a DSLR is taking some doing. Although I'd taken a selection of lenses I stuck with one all the time and soon got tuned in to its angle of view. However, by using it's fast, and silent, frame rate (something I almost never use with a proper camera, not even for fast action) I raised the camera to my eye framing a little wide and kept walking, letting the action unroll as the view narrowed. Even though everyone twigged me nobody said a word. A couple even smiled. I guess photographing dogs isn't threatening. And then using a wide lens they don't realise how much is in the frame.


 All 48 (I think) dogs can be seen here.

Looking at the little TV in the viewfinder works a lot better for me when it comes to framing shots than using the rear screen. I have no idea why. It's odd, but although I had the aspect ratio set to 3:2 I processed everything a little taller using the whole of the captured images at 4:3. A handy little feature of the toy camera. The silent shutter is something else I've come to like. I'm sure that it would be useful if the camera was used as a remote for wildlife. It certainly goes unnoticed when right next to someone's ear!


While on my wanderings, which soon became a dog hunt, I took a few traditional 'street' photographs without dogs, some of my usual snaps of 'stuff' and also started thinking about another idea that interests me which I might have found a way in to. Sitting at home thinning about projects never seems to get me practical ways to get them going, whereas wandering around taking photographs does.

Sunday, 23 April 2017

Scratch that idea

Yet again something seemed like a good idea at the time. That field photograph got me thinking that I might be able to make a series of pictures in a similar vein as a bit of a project. The subject matter is close to hand, which is always a benefit. This weekend I gave it a try. even though the sun was shining and I had an idea when to be there Saturday evening saw me mistiming it to retake the picture so it wouldn't need cropping. Still feeling confident I went in search of others, even if it would only be for future reference.

As things worked out I took quite a few photographs, even using that hated tripod. I often find, however, that when I feel like things are going well and I'm taking plenty of pictures when I get home and look at them they're rubbish. Really rubbish. Rubbish to the extent of not being able to work out why I took them at all! However, a couple of the pictures were OK. The two I didn't work hard at taking.



Feeling like things were getting somewhere I went as far as checking t'internet to see which direction the sun would be casting shadows at various times to enable me to photograph locations I'd sussed out after the light faded. Today I went looking for these places. And once more what seemed successful while I was taking the pictures proved not to be. Even less so than Saturday. It does seem to be the case that the harder I try the worse things turn out. It's that 'being in the zone' thing. In the zone you don't feel like you're doing anything special yet the results are better than average and often some are really good.

In an attempt to do this landscape thing 'properly', not only did I take and use the tripod I also used a polarising filter. Just a shame I didn't manage to put the tripod down in front of anything that worked. Too much thinking about what I'm trying to get across about the land being a worked environment, not enough looking.


 The simpler pictures are working better.


Then I got sidetracked and wondered if odd details might actually make the point better than wider scenes.



On a technical note I have a workaround for the lack of 5:4 cropping with the 'real' camera. It allows raw files to be cropped to jpegs of that ratio in-camera. Which means I can check if I have got my framing within limits. Quite handy, but not as seamless as the toy camera's cropping. Except that doesn't do 5:4 at all.

After all this I think I'm going to have to let this project simmer before doing anything else with it. I don't think landscapes are really my thing. I prefer pictures with people in them. Preferable people doing something. Or failing that pictures of chickens. When I went for a wander this evening and saw a hen looking as glum as I feel about my photography at the moment I took some snaps of her.


Wednesday, 19 April 2017

So much for that plan

I got it right about Monday not turning out the way I hoped. I still can't get a handle on how to do what I have in mind. So I ended up wandering around aimlessly. What did happen was that the toy camera and the real one got used and the real one came out on top. Sort of. The toy still did what I bought it to do well though. So that not-quite-a-project-yet is bubbling under.

Something did occur to me after downloading the files on to the PC, though. I had taken a couple more photographs which could slot into a series that I seem to have developed. Walls. I've taken quite a lot of pictures of walls over the years, but last weekend they were all that I could find to get me interested.  I say walls, but they often have windows and doors in them too.



It's one of those subjects, however, that could easily become tedious. It's also a style of photography that is pretty commonplace these days, and much as I like it I am thinking it's a bit of a cop out - both for me and for others taking simialr photos. Maybe it's best to shoot walls as and when one takes my fancy and collate them somewhere down the line? It looks like an evening to be spent going through my Lightroom catalogue keywording all my wall pictures. Deep joy!

Having given up yet again I drove past a countryside view which I thought had potential, but the lens I had with me wasn't what I'd have chosen for it so I carried on. Later I decided to go back for a look with a different lens and a tripod - of all things. The light had changed but was sort of good, just from the wrong angle as I couldn't keep my shadow out of the frame. I took some snaps hand-held as reminders. Back on the computer I cropped one to make it look more like the way I'd envisaged it. I might not have the brazenness it takes to do bold street photography, but I certainly don't have the patience and planning to do landscapes of any sort. It was the horizontal bands and repetition of motifs that I liked about the scene. And the fact that it's a working landscape rather than a romanticised one. The elevated viewpoint helped too, in the way that C├ęzanne tilted horizontal planes in his paintings.


Wandering back from the Post Office yesterday (with the toy camera) I took a sort of wall picture. I do like flattening things on the picture plane to reduce any sense of depth. The combination of a long focal length lens and the greater depth of field a small sensor gives enhance the flattening effect.


More photos taken but next to no progress made. I need an idea I want to get across, a point I want to make, before I can find a subject. There are two options open. Shoot my way out of the deadlock until I find what I want to say, or take a break.

Saturday, 15 April 2017

Adventures in Toyland

The thing with new toys is they take time to get used to. You often have to give up trying to make them play like your old toys and find new ways of setting them up. That has meant quite a bit of messing about and taking rubbish photos. But every now and then something pops up and despite the unfamiliarities of the gear it turns out OK.


For some reason colour pictures which are almost monochromatic are often appealing. When they include light and texture they can be even better. The picture above also alerted me to a use for a feature which I thought I didn't like. When shooting raw with the aspect ratio set to anything other than the native one the screen displays the picture at the set ratio. But when it's reviewed the image includes the bits which looked to have been cropped out, but with them greyed over. However, when loaded into Lightroom the picture appears as it did when taken. Here's the useful bit. When you click on the cropping tool in LR the missing bits reappear! Somehow the camera must tell the computer to automatically crop from the entire file. It also embeds a lens profile which means there is no real need to correct any distortion the lens has.  Fiendish.

Now this is only a benefit for me because I always have the camera set to shoot in either 3:2 or 1:1 aspect ratio. In the shot above that meant there were extra pixels above and below the frame I had made. But I had made it with the signs on the fencingcut off slightly. By sliding the image down a tad I was able to correct my mistake without having to alter the aspect ratio of the final picture. This feature can also be used to correct wonky horizons without losing as many pixels as would be the case from a 3:2 sensor.

Now there are some photographers out there who think you have to use every pixel you've paid for. But as I bought the toy camera in order to shoot square pictures I allowed for that in advance. And 12mp is plenty for me no matter what. So by shooting what amounts to a 16mp 3:2 sensor I can correct minor mistakes with no loss of resolution.

Having discovered this helpful foible I put it to good use once more when I fell into my bad habit of framing people too low. I couldn't rescue as much of the clasped hands as I would have liked, but I certainly balanced the frame better.




With all the fancy tricks for focusing and the silent shutter I thought I'd try some street photography. Every time I try shooting from the hip I wonder why I bother. Although I like the off-kilter angles the method produces, all too often the compositions fall flat. Then again, sometimes you include something unexpected like the message on the board below.


Ordinarily I always have my cameras set to take one photograph per press of the shutter. Today I thought I'd try using the silent burst mode to see if that made a difference. The one decent picture I got doing that was the first frame in a burst! I'll be going back to one at a time again! It's not perfect, but I like the strangeness of this picture. 


Today's wanderings have convinced me to go back to photographing the things I usually do in the way I usually do. Which may well mean putting the toy away. Or at least saving it for when I need to use it's special features - the silent shutter, the flippy screen or the square format. As it takes up next to no room it'll be no hardship to cart it around with me just in case.

One thing's for sure. I compose pictures much better with my eye to a viewfinder. And for an electronic one the new toy has a pretty good viewfinder.


Looking on the positive side, I might have made some progress on settling on a new project. If only by eliminating one idea! I think I have also managed to accept a lesson I had learned long ago. That I give up too quickly. I spend plenty of time at the poultry shows and auctions, but on local 'projects' I tend to run out of steam after a couple of hours. Some of this is because I often make a late start after getting work out of the way. There's rain forecast tomorrow. I'm going to try to use that as a day of work and make Monday a day of photography. It probably won't turn out that way though...

Sunday, 9 April 2017

Flatfish time again

Having a natural break from a project sees me floundering again. I have three ideas, one of which I'm playing around with, but I can't find a good way 'in' to any of them yet. When I get free time I still get drawn back to the bloody beach. Today, however, put an end to that on a sunny weekend. The road was chock-a-block  and no fun at all. As a result it's been a week of unconnected pictures. Which I don't find very satisfying.



Things got so frustrating that I set up a 'studio' in my garage and set about photographing some of the objects I've picked up off the beach over the last few years. I was going to get clever with the lighting but found that the strip lights and window light gave an effect which I preferred. I might have another go to correct the things I don't like.

Firstly I'd light the background (a wrinkled old sheet), secondly I'd make sure the 'horizon' fell in the same place in each frame, thirdly I'd manage the depth of field better to keep the background equally out of focus in each frame.

Naturally enough I made a grid of twelve of the pictures.

I chose to use my 'toy' camera for this as it gives more depth of field than a DSLR. I'm not sure that was a wise choice. The fold down screen helped, but my DSLR has one of those. Being able to select different aspect ratios is one of the things I like about toy cameras. The square format was what I wanted for these pics and it's much easier to frame things right when the picture on the screen is already cropped than trying to guess.

After some discussion on Talk Photography about these pics I am going to collect more bottles. I have a few more than the two in the grid already.




Another benefit of toy cameras is for shooting in black and white. The viewfinder looks like a tiny black and white telly! I still prefer to use colour, but I am getting an irrational urge to do a short project in black and white. Sometimes it seems appropriate for certain images. But I'm not sure I could sustain it for a prolonged period.


Some pictures are almost monochrome when processed in colour.


It comes down to tools for the job. The toy camera has one really useful function for taking candid photographs. A truly silent mode. The only sound is that of the aperture blades closing and opening. With the screen flipped down and the camera at waist level it's surprising how close you can get with a wide angle lens! There's always a price to pay with anything, it seems. The price with the electronic shutter is that under fluorescent light it gives horizontal bands on the pictures.


Shooting at waist level gives a different look to the world, no matter what is being photographed. And I'm quite struck with the novelty of the square format at the moment. I just can't find a project to use them for. As soon as I go back to a real camera, however, that big, clear viewfinder and the subtlety of the tonal gradations in the files makes me wonder why I bother with anything else. No doubt my ideal camera will be made when I'm to decrepit to use the thing.