Saturday, 9 December 2017

Seeking snow

One benefit of living on a coastal plain is that the far off hills are visible on a clear day. with a short afternoon to spare and reports of snow on high ground I thought there might be some away from the coast. There was none to be seen on the moors to the east, but some on the more distant fells. A run out for a look would be better than waiting for glue to dry!

By the time I was  in the area where snow had fallen much of it had melted on the lower ground, but rising up it was noticeably colder and the ground, if not the roads, were still white. But what to photograph? A few record landscapes were taken but it soon became obvious that sheep were about and close to the roads.

In my haste to get out I'd grabbed the wrong lens. So it was lucky when some roadside sheep mistook me for someone with a sack of feed and came walking over when I parked up.

I don't know why, but I often find myself shooting into the sun. Sometimes it's a deliberate choice because the effects can be atmospheric, equally often it seems to be forced on me. I really wanted the sheep to be front or side lit, but it wasn't to be. They wouldn't get in position for me... So I had to make do with back lighting and a fence in the way. Not to worry, it's not a 'serious' photograph.

None of what I did was serious. I didn't have much time and had taken a different route for a look round anyway. I did spot a pleasing view as I descended a hill. So pleasing I parked at the bottom of it and walked back up. Typically the light had changed and the view was less appealing when I got to my intended viewpoint. I did see a hogg hole though. While not being a project as such I think I'll start photographing these features, and processing them in the same black and white way, until I get fed up of them.

Once again I found myself driving in the direction of home blinded by the sun. Passing through a deserted Slaidburn a lone sheep wandered out of a driveway fifty yards or so ahead of me and ambled along. I was expecting a flock to follow and slowed down, but that didn't happen. I followed the ewe slowly until it paused briefly before leisurely strolling into a yard.

Photographically not a very productive short trip, but interesting with food for thought. One thing is for sure. If there is heavy snow I'll not be venturing along any of those roads until they've been well cleared!

Sunday, 3 December 2017

In print

As promised my photos appeared in Fancy Fowl. In addition to the poultry portraits one of two judges was also included. The portraits looked okay in print. Not quite as good as ones taken with better lighting set ups, but good enough.

A lot of hobbyist photographers, and some pros, suffer from GAS (gear acquisition syndrome), I've pretty much cured myself of that affliction having reconciled myself to the fact that there is no small camera/system that meets my needs and that I have all the lenses I'll ever need. I might even get rid of some lenses. No. My affliction is book acquisition syndrome. I keep on telling myself that enough is enough and I will only buy books of new photography and no 'must have' titles. The reissue of Alec Soth's Sleeping by the Mississippi tempted me and I have to say it didn't disappoint.

Another taboo for me was supposed to be black and white photography. Yet when Bluecoat Press announced two projects on Kickstarter I signed up. I didn't take the slightly more expensive, ego boosting option, to have my name included in the book's list of supporters though.

Small Town Inertia has had a lot of coverage for Jim Mortram. I saw an early exhibition a while back. The subject is a tough one. People with various health issues struggling to survive on benefits. All very worthy, but I do find myself wondering if such books make a difference. What coverage it has had seems to have been mainly in photography and culture circles. What might be called 'echo chambers' these days. The pictures are highly reliant on the accompanying text, in my opinion. Not that that's a negative. Photographs can't always tell the whole story. Certainly a book worth having. Although I do question why it Mortram has to work using black and white film. That's just my prejudice against using old media when newer ones which can do more are available.

The late Tish Murtha didn't have the option of using digital when she was working on the photographs in Youth Unemployment. Another book I'm glad to have broken my 'rule' for. Again I wonder how much effect these pictures had when they were originally made and shown. Maybe that's not the point. Perhaps they serve as social documents to warn future generations against what can happen? Maybe they're just pictures? That's part of the difficulty with photography. Photographs are documents and they can also work on an aesthetic level.

That is something James Ravilious was aware of. Reading his widow's memoir of his life it was made clear that, when cataloguing his archive, he drew a distinction between the photographs which he considered to be well made as pictures and those which served only as records of a disappearing world.

When I ordered the memoir I also ordered the new collection of Ravilious photographs, The Recent Past. More so with rural life than the urban life depicted in Tish Murtha's work from around the same time, there is an air of nostalgia in the Ravilious pictures. Even when they depict the harshness of the farming world we inevitably see it as romantic.

This continues today. The popularity of books written by shepherding folk is, I'm sure, due to some rose tinting on behalf of the readers. Living a rural idyll sounds great when sat reading these books in a cosy sitting room. But how many of the readers could face having to get up in the predawn cold every day? No days off because the stock doesn't take holidays. Whether it's possible to depict that sort of lifestyle without the romanticism, I really don't know.

The acknowledged influence of Henri Cartier-Bresson on Ravilious is obvious. But he was far from alone in that. Most documentary photographers who followed Cartier-Bresson were similalry influenced, at least in their early years. Some broke free of the chains of his formality of composition and the decisive moment. I don't think Ravilious did. While working in one area of the country on one theme for seventeen years is a rare luxury for a documentary photographer I get the feeling it trapped Ravilious in a way.

Getting burdened with a subject matter is something that always concerns me. The poultry thing is something I need to break free of. Hence my return to the beach. The photos I took there last winter, I think, are a little different to my chickeny ones. Unfortunately I can't seem to find the same enthusiasm for the beach as I did. There haven't been many people around during my two short visits this weekend, so that might explain it. Although the nagging feeling that I should be elsewhere (although I don't know where) photographing something else (although I don't know what) kept nagging away.

It could all too easily become a case of taking different pictures of the same subjects at the beach. There are only so many ways to photograph, for example, kite boarding without resorting to the clich├ęs. That's where the line between documentary and photojournalism lies. The latter uses tricks of the trade like wide angle close ups and flash to give their pictures impact. The pictures still record, but they don't document. Documentary photographs are more matter of fact. At least that's the way I see it.

When I saw a 4x4 drive on to the beach towing a trailer I was intrigued. Even more so when I saw that a push net for shrimps was being unloaded. Unfortunately the shrimper didn't want to be photographed, but he didn't mind me taking a couple of snaps of his gear.

Leaving the beach I went in search of livestock. Conservation grazing is a big thing these days. All very right on. Land of conservation interest has rare breed cattle and/or sheep let loose on it during the winter to, in theory, keep the scrub at bay. Luckily I didn't have to go far to find the cattle, and the lowering sun was great for making romantic pictures of them. Foolishly I had gone out with the intention of trying to love a lens I keep thinking of getting rid of. Which meant I couldn't frame shots they way I would have liked to. With livestock a zoom is always a help when they don't go where you'd like them to. So my options were limited and the rapidly setting sun didn't give me much time.

It should go without saying that when I returned today with a more suitable lens the cattle were a long way off and the light was less favourable. I didn't bother tramping through the dunes to get closer.

Again the beach was fairly deserted. There were a few horsey types around, but as someone was already taking photographs of them I kept away making just a couple of environmental pictures. All in all my sense of directionless frustration continues.

Tuesday, 28 November 2017


Looking through magazines and websites devoted to landscape photography depresses me. There is all too often this idealised concept of wilderness. Land devoid of people, and often animals, and certainly no hint of anything man-made must intrude. Then there's the light, always golden or blue. And the processing with everything turned up to eleven. It's no wonder I find it difficult to make landscape pictures in that sort of vein.

As work was done and the sun had an hour or so to continue shining it was the marsh I headed to rather than the beach. I much prefer the beach when it is bright but overcast. I was hoping to get some sheepscapes. Even before I got to the marsh proper I saw some sheep close to the road. Not for the first time, but today they chose not to flee when I stepped out of the car. Even so it was those further away which presented a more interesting prospect.

One thing about the land round here is that it's not traditional sheep country. Or at least not that of the hill farming which gets romanticised. The photograph above was made in an attempt to depict winter grazing. The one below to show the marsh and how the landscape is used. The floodbank retains the tides. Without it the sea could encroach to teh natural rise in the land where the first photograph was taken. The pylons might be considered to intrude but they can't be ignored.

Looking in another direction I did deliberately choose a viewpoint which eliminated the structures on the far side of the estuary. Not because they stop the scene appearing as  natural and unspoiled, but because they create a visual backstop and limit the sense of space in a picture. I think it's important to include the pools and gutters on the marsh in the photographs. Not only to make it clear what the environment is like, but to differentiate it from the more usual notion of sheep country.

By varying exposures the feeling of time of day can be manipulated. A camera's light meter always tries to make scenes have the same brightness no matter what the light is like. What the meter calls underexposed can actually look more like a scene appears to our eyes. Modern cameras are too good at recording detail in low light at times!

It's widely accepted among those who know sheep that the creatures have one big ambition. To die! A vet I am acquainted with once said that sheep are always finding new ways to shuffle off this mortal coil. Whenever I find the remains of a sheep I take a photo or two. Even in the relatively soft surroundings of a west coast marsh it can be a tough life for sheep.

Sunday, 26 November 2017

Wet weekend

I was looking at an on-line documentary project the other day and happened to notice what gear was used. The same 'toy' camera I have. Then a few days later I saw some photos in photo magazine a friend lent me taken with the same brand of camera. That made me determined to give my toy another try out. So off I trotted only to be stumped by problem number one. I can't get it to nail focus quickly. Number two it's supposedly ace image stabilisation fails for me. Number three the battery died unexpectedly. It was showing plenty of charge when I went out but it was lying.

In focus but not exactly sharp.
Sure it can make nice looking pictures. Just as pretty much any camera can. So what you use boils down to what you find easiest to use. What you can use without thinking. maybe if all I used was the toy I'd get to that state of oneness with the thing. But it has one insurmountable problem for me. The electronic viewfinder. I have no problem with it as a viewfinder. I just don't want it to show pictures on review. The whole experience is just too frustrating. And to be honest the weight saving isn't that noticeable. I would like a smaller, less obtrusive camera though. Mainly so I don't get mistaken for a professional and asked which publication I'm working for!

The wt weather which blighted this summer continues. Yesterday I went for a look round and took some more pictures to add to my files of flooded fields and overflowing ditches. Back home I looked through all of the pictures I have labelled up. There might be scope to pull a selection together on the theme of 'Waterlogged'.

Sunday morning was wet again. Showers rolling in at regular intervals. After lunch it seemed like there might be a dry spell coming towards sunset so I went to the seaside. The sun was shining through the breaks in the clouds rapidly blowing in from the west. It's almost impossible to not make one or two pretty pictures when the weather is like that. I'm sure I could find dozens of similar pictures in my archive to those I took today.

What I didn't realise until I got the pics on the computer was that after the first few shots of the day a dust spot had arrived in the bottom left of the frame. So I had to crop it out of the frames I couldn't clone it out of. Annoying.

Also annoying was not putting my usual do-it-all lens on the camera. When the broken rainbow appeared for a short while behind where a kitesurfer was jumping I couldn't zoom in as much as I would have liked to. Again I had to resort to cropping on the computer. However, I was pleased to see that at 100% the cheap old lens had focused accurately and reasonably sharply too.

All today's pictures have been tweaked more than I usually do for my 'documentary' pictures. Landscape has that effect on me. Maybe it's because the subject isn't all that interesting and I feel the need to make the light the subject? Or maybe I'm trying to make silk purses out of sows' ears?

Once more I cropped to a square and converted to black and white. I'm not happy with the tones of theconversions I do. But I was never really happy with the tones of the black and white prints I used to make in the blacked out bathroom!

Sunday, 19 November 2017

Committed. I should be!

Saturday was the day of another big poultry show which I had foolishly agreed to take photos of the winning birds at. I had no idea what to expect in the way of facilities. As it turned out there were none. It was a case of photographing best in show and reserve champion. Both fowl being held by their proud owners. Flash on camera, set everything to automatic and job done.

Five minutes work after six hours wandering round the show and the adjoining auction with no inspiration at all. It really has become almost impossible to find new things to photograph or new ways to photograph the familiar.

Like a lot of photographers signage often catches my eye. Two signs for one event apparently directing people in opposite directions had to be photographed.

Elsewhere I made a feeble visual pun about chicken and chips. I'll get my coat....

Sometimes the play of light draws my eye even though I'm not all that good at making pictures of it. Maybe because I feel it's a bit of a cheap trick I don't make much of it? It can be all too easy to use lighting effects as a cop out. Some photographers have built careers on it!

One idea I did start to play around with, without too much success was to photograph through the pens. Most pens had back boards to them, so my opportunities were limited. And when people saw me pointing the camera through the pen they often jumped out of shot. Not always though.

I've tried this in the past but this time I stuck at it a bit longer. I spent more time than I usually do on a few ideas for pictures. I reckon that was because I had run out of steam. With nothing new to distract me I persevered with what little I had to work on.

Another departure from my standard practice was to put the camera in 'fast' mode and shoot bursts of up to five frames when I saw something occurring. Reviewing the results didn't seem to give me a better 'hit rate' though. Just more dross to delete.

It had been a long and chilly day in the show shed. When the door was opened at the close of play there was a mad rush of people carrying bird boxes out to the car park.

In the auction I suffered the same lack of inspiration/motivation having seen it all before. I was reduced to photographing 'characters'. A stack of pictures of unnamed people doing nothing doesn't really amount to much. Anonymous people are far more interesting to look at if they are doing something interesting.

There can still be vignettes found. But the pickings are slim and probably not worth the time expended in their getting.

Where next? When in doubt go to the sandplant! The continued attraction there is that it is never the same two visits running. Not having been for a look for some time I was surprised how much it's size has been reduced by. Work has been cracking on recently.

The graded sand piled up with tracks running through gives an appearance akin to a moonscape to my eyes. I didn't have long as I couldn't get out until late on, so didn't come away with many pictures. The overcast light worked well. There was just enough to provide subtle shadows to suggest form.

While still interesting the place has lost much of the character which I used to enjoy. It was much wilder, and also much more used as an unofficial amenity. That sounds contradictory, but that was how it felt. A sort of naturally rewilded adventure playground for people of all ages. Now it's more of a deserted desert.

Sunday, 12 November 2017


There are lots of things I dislike about taking landscape photographs. The biggest being the walking involved! Thirty years ago it wouldn't have bothered me but these days after  a mile and a half of trudging  up fairly gentle inclines my joints start moaning. Never straying from the beaten path gives you the same pictures everyone else gets. No matter how much care you might take over the framing a few minutes on Google and almost identical snaps appear in droves. The lesson here is to stop photographing the obvious views and subjects.

That said, wandering up a valley in the AONB that I had never wandered up before was interesting. Once more I was in search of signs of human influence. And as with the previous valley visit it wasn't hard to find. Once the tarmac track runs out at the borehole a rough stone shooters track takes over. Not just shooters and game keepers drive their vehicles along the track, I had to move aside to allow an RSPB (spit) 4x4 to pass me on its descent. A much quieter valley, no doubt owing to the shorter length of tarmac. And even a mile from the road it felt as if it could have been twenty.

Another thing that bugs me about landscape photography is how much it relies on the light being not only of the 'right' quality but from certain directions. As I don't plan anything technical I rely on luck in this department. An earlier visit, or even better a different time of year, would probably be better for photographing the valley. But I timed it right for a photograph of the memorial below. Fitting to photograph it on Remembrance Sunday.

One bit of planning I had done was to consult maps. I wanted to see what the 'castle' actually looks like. Not very much as it happens. It's pretty much a stone barn with some fancy windows and door one one side. The door and windows are boarded and locked. Possibly that side is used as a shooting lodge. Sheep making use of the open parts for shelter. Again, a quick internet search shows that the building has been photographed many times from every angle.

After retracing my steps I set off to take the (very long) route home. The main reason for his was to avoid having to drive into the setting sun. Previous drives home from the AONB on bright afternoons had seen me dazzled and unable to see the twisting road in places.

The alternative route proved to be over pretty remote land. But land full of sheep. I stopped three times to see if I could get any sheepscapes. I wished I'd had a longer lens with me. Fell sheep are timid. As usual it proved impossible to get each sheep in a group to pose ideally. The late afternoon light was wonderful though and there was a bitter wind blowing, which had the benefit of moving clouds across the sky. Far better than a bald blue sky.

One point worth noting about photographing groups of animals, or anything else really, is that odd numbers make for better pictures. I don't know why this is. There's probably some deep psychological explanation. But I'm not the first to discover this compositional device works.

But sheep being sheep they don't always hang around in groups of three or five. Only children hang around with their mothers long after they've weaned. Although I wish mummy sheep had looked at the camera I like the gesture of the lamb (damn that rush stem though), the light, and the depth in the landscape beyond. There's a feeling of space to the picture. When Mrs Swaledale did raise her head it was as she ran away on noticing my presence. Bloody sheep.

Further along the road the light, or rather the shadow, on Ingleborough was fascinating. The cloud above it was equally interesting. I took a number of shots as the clouds moved and the light changed. So many it made deciding which worked best difficult. I'm still not sure the one below is the best of the mediocre set.

A little further on lay The Great Stone of Fourstones. Which is, obviously, the only stone for miles around! I don't think I could have time my unplanned visit better. The sun was beginning to set behind the stone. Better still I was the only person there, two others had just left. I did my backlit trick of stopping the lens right down, underexposing, and lining the sun up in such a way that it peeks through a small gap creating a starburst. It's not something that can be easily done using a tripod when the sun is setting quickly.

Walking round the other side of the stone and the low sun warmed the scene as well as showing the texture of the rock. careful framing kept a parked yellow car, the road and a fence out of frame giving the impression of remoteness. Photos don't lie. They just don't always tell the whole truth...

Sunday, 5 November 2017

The last chance saloon

Another sunny Sunday saw me heading, late again, for the AONB to try and find a photographic direction to approach it from. I'd chosen to take an indirect route and in so doing I would pass the Moorcock which I'd photographed the remains of recently. I was shocked to see there was next to nothing left of the old pub. Yet another reminder to photograph things before it's too late. After my previous visit I did some Googling and found that the Urbex crowd had been inside it. So it's final years have been recorded.

Reading between the on-line lines about the history of the Moorcock it strikes me that its failure was down to expansion of the property with exaggerated expectations for the business to be generated. They might have succeeded closer to a large urban area, or even in a more touristy localle. But half way up a bleak moor miles from the nearest town? The sun has finally set on The Moorcock Inn.

With little left except rubble there wasn't a lot of photographs to be made there, so I carried on to...

My intention was to head up the valley to see what there is to see. The the Ordnance Survey and Google maps suggested there might be some landscape features which would appeal to my aesthetic. Nonetheless with the sun bright on the fells I couldn't resist trying (and failing) to make a postcard picture. Even then I deliberately included the power lines.

Sure enough, further upstream it soon became obvious that this is an industrial landscape. Signs of tree felling and replanting are easy to spot, but hidden away, breaking surface fitfully, is the water pipeline. Much of the land in the AONB is owned by the water supply company. Most of the rest of it belongs to Mrs. E. Windsor or the 9th richest person in Britain (as of 2017). However there is a lot of it legally accessible these days, which I think might have pleased Fay Godwin.

While one of Godwin's themes was land ownership her concerns were with restrictions of public access and the despoiling of the landscape. I'm interested in land ownership and usage too, but not in a campaigning way. Unless it's pointing out the similarities between conservation organisations and sporting estates in keeping the riff-raff of their land!

Mostly I'm fascinated by the way man-made structures appear in the 'natural' environment. I don't see them as heroic or unsightly. The longer they are there the more they become part of the whole. We often overlook them, or take them for granted. Unlike some people I don't have a hierarchy of acceptable structures. The drystone walls and stone barns of the Yorkshire dales are thought to be picturesque. A cast iron pipe crossing a bracken covered clough is thought to be ugly. I can't see why.

My biggest failing when it comes to landscape pictures, of any sort, is impatience. I can't be bothered with the fuss of setting up a tripod, and even worse I can't be bothered waiting for the light to improve the pictures. More dedicated photographers than me will get into position early, set the tripod up, set the camera, then lounge around eating their snap until the light 'makes the picture'. I'd either fall asleep or wander off doing something else. Either way I'd end up missing the perfect light that lasted for a fleeting moment!

Whenever I have the work of Fay Godwin in mind I try making square, black and white, pictures of a landscape-ish sort.

For some reason bald skies seem to work better in black and white than in colour.

I liked the idea of the photo below of a blocked hogg hole that I briefly considered seeking more of these features out and making a series of similar shots. Then I remembered that I'd get bored doing that sort of typology project.

Up the valley I was wondering how it had got so late and why I was feeling knackered. Measuring the distance I'd walked using Google maps when I returned to civilisation I found the answer why. It was almost five miles. And still no closer to sorting out the project.