Monday, 27 February 2012

Our Allotted Time

This weekend brought two together two things that we have not seen for some time: warmth and sunshine. This Sunday morning I found myself with a spare hour and a half free between dropping off and picking up my son at hockey training.

So with the prospect of having some quality time taking pictures I made the classic mistake. I got into the car to go to find somewhere to photograph. I don’t know how often I have done this. The trouble with getting in the car is that instead of taking time out to walk, look and photograph, I end up driving around, looking for something interesting and looking for somewhere to park. This never works. Most of my images are usually of details shot near-to. You can’t see these sort of things close up whilst driving. In fact, you can’t see much at all other than the road and other traffic when you’re driving.

I ended up stopping in the car park of a local beauty spot, a place famed for its big open skies and wide vistas of huge fields. I’ve been here many times before to take pictures, usually in evening light and often when the fields are ripe and abundant. At this time of year, there’s not much in the way of close details to be seen – most of the fields are currently under the plough and the hawthorn is not yet out. There’s not that much to hold one’s interest or make a compelling image. So if there are pictures to be had, they do not present themselves very often, or have been seen at other times. I spent three quarters of an hour on a short walk before abandoning the location and headed back to hang around at the sports ground and wait for my son.

One way I prepare to make my precious spare time more effective is to prepare a ‘projects’  file where I note down different projects that I want to photograph, with notes on different subjects, locations, techniques and equipment that I might need. I often use this, and it helps me to have a clear goal so I can quickly channel my thoughts and preparations when going out to take pictures. But it’s been a while since I last looked at this file, and had forgotten what a useful aide memoire it can be.

On the way back I remembered that I had promised myself to go and visit local allotments, and I made detour to a rather fine one just half a mile from the sports ground. Allotments are such wonderful places. I love the enterprise that goes on in these places, the way that people will tend to their plots to grow the most wonderful vegetables and fruit, construct wonderful frames and nets to protect and support their produce. I like the mix of human ingenuity and construction, working in conjunction with the natural cycle. They are places where people have invested a lot of their time, energy and love into their plots. Places that have a purpose, places that interesting to look at, places that are visibly rich.

I quickly found all sorts of things to photograph, an almost dizzying richness of subjects jam packed together. And before I knew, I had run out of time. But next time I have an hour or so to spare, there will be one place I know that I can fall back on, if I’m short on ideas or I can't find my projects file.

Wednesday, 22 February 2012


Sennen Tufts - Orange

Despite a week away in the farthest point west in the country, I had little opportunity to have some time to think about my pictures. Until literally the last, fading light at the end of the holiday. With a setting sun, an encroaching bank of cloud, I found myself on Sennen beach in Cornwall with a few minutes to grab some pictures. 

Sennen Tufts - Cyan

What to do? Play with reflections to maximise the fading light, make the most of the small amount of colour in the sky. Look for interesting shapes. Shallow depth of field to show the shapes more clearly. Subject? What to say? Look, little tufts of rope, discarded on the beach but still vibrantly coloured, still interesting, alien shapes under a grey sky and grey sands. Lower still until my knuckles touch the damp sand, closer still, make the subject clear and large, closer until the lens cannot get focus any more. Fire the shutter as focus locks. Check the image. Fail; try again, fail better. Try again and again until I’m happy or have exhausted the opportunity.

Within a few minutes I had the small set of pictures shown here, and felt satisfied that I had some pictures I would want to look at again.

Sennen Tufts - Black

I must admit that I’m really enjoying using the new G3. It’s focussing is so fast and accurate, much better than the old Nikon. It is a real advance to be able to touch the screen and pick the key point of focus for the image, rather than the focus and recompose method that I have used since my first days of photography. I sometimes use focus tracking or the new pinpoint focussing, but most times I use the basic one point touch of the screen.

The other major reason for buying the G3 is the articulated monitor on the back of the camera. With this, I can put the camera into positions and still check the composition that would be difficult or impossible without. Such as low down, on wet cold sand at the end of a grey day in February.

Monday, 20 February 2012

Less is More

Winter Fields, Barton Farm, January 2012, edit 5

The strange thing about working with joiners is that there is no definitive image, no 'correct' way to compile the picture. I took the photos for this picture about a month ago, and decided in the field that I would need as many cells horizontally as was needed to fully capture the row of trees, and that I would need two or three rows of clouds to make up the sky, with four rows of the ploughed field. This was the picture that resulted -

Winter Fields, Barton Farm, January 2012, edit 3

I showed a copy of this picture to my colleagues at Arena. Those that offered an opinion were very complementary, but I felt that the picture was not finished and could do with some modifications. I wasn't comforatable with the 'clam shell ' pattern that had developed in the picture. So I sent a copy of the image to my friend Noel Myles who is the most accomplished artist working in this technique today. His advice? Reduce a row of foreground perspective and probably a row of cloud.

I've done this and also reduced the width of the composite. Result - the trees have greater prominence, the field reads more realistically and the sky is more harmonious and believable.

Winter Fields, Barton Farm, January 2012, edit 5
To my eyes, Noel is right. A much better picture that read more easily. I've learned a few things with this picture, and I would (will) shoot it differently next time.

Thursday, 16 February 2012

Pearblossom Highway

Pearblossom Highway was a landmark work of photographic art, but you will not find it in standard histories of photography. I don't know why. Every photographer should have a good look at this picture, because it challenges and overcomes many of the weaknesses in photography. He has manipulated the perpsective of the composite by photographing from a multitude of viewpoints, usually quite close in, sometimes using a ladder.

I came across this rare video of Hockney talking about the picture on YouTube, recently posted by the Getty Museum. Hope you find it interesting.

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

First Quad-Joiner-Weaver

I've started working on a new technique for producing joiners, particularly for portraits. This is the first trial which went together a lot more easily than I expected in Photoshop. Need to work on the shooting sequence but I have some ideas how to improve this. More to come shortly.

 I don't know what to call the technique yet though...

Sunday, 12 February 2012

Time to think

This afternoon I went on bracing walk with the family, with cliff top views to the see on our left and folded fields on our right. With low grey clouds, spits of rain and a fairly strong wind picture taken was always going to be difficult. But low light, difficult footings and difficult weather are nothing in comparison with the reluctance of family and companions to pause for just a minute to allow you a minute or two to make a picture. Usually it’s a cry of ‘come on, hurry up’ or ‘don’t hold everyone up!’ And if you do manage to persevere with taking the picture, there’s that famous challenge ‘what on earth are you taking a picture of?’ and ‘that will be a rubbish picture’. 

Yes, usually it is. Because you need time to think, time to really look, time to compose, time to set the zone of focus, time to include and exclude all the elements that add or detract from the final image. You need time to explore, take a frame, take a better one, take a chance, try something different, time to get ‘in the zone’ as they say.

 The picture below was taken last spring when out for a short walk, one by myself. Although I knew I had to get home fairly soon, I allowed myself a little time to stop and look at a relatively new gatepost. The sun was just grazing across the surface of the grain of the wood on the sloping surface at the top of the post. It reminded me of the ploughed fields that I had seen earlier in the walk. By moving in very close I could make this illusion work; the distant trees appearing as though they were at the top of this imagined field. All that was really needed was just a little time to look, and some time to think.

Imagined Field 2011

Thursday, 9 February 2012

Fallen from the Sky

Here’s an image I’m fond of, and is typical of one of my approaches to picture making.
Fallen from the Sky 2010

I love to be outdoors and that is where the vast majority of my pictures are taken. I'm not interested in picture-postcards, 'chocolate-box' style of landscape photography that seems to pervade all the newsagent magazines. But I am interested in the way small details can represent a larger whole, especially if the picture can be constructed so that there is narrative between the subject and the background.

This shot was taken on a changeable day in the autumn of 2010, with lots of broken cloud scudding by. It was a time of some frustration and disappointment for me – I won’t bore you with the details. I noticed a water trough close to the path that I was walking along. I’ll admit that I ‘m a sucker for reflections. There are usually opportunities to build an interesting layered picture. Drifting gently across the surface was a rather water-logged feather, and on close inspection it seemed to be floating on a fully submerged red leaf.

I was out photographing with my remarkable Panasonic LX3. The lens on this wonderful little camera has the ability to focus right down to almost zero distance from the front element. It does this at the wideangle position of the zoom, which means that close-ups show a large amount of background. Close-up subjects are given great prescence. It’s ability to show details-in-context was one of my main reasons for buying the camera. 

For this image I moved the camera in close, just above the water, until I had got good detail in the feather and leaf, set off against the reflected sky. I pressed the shutter and made a little prayer for fallen leaves and fallen angels.

Monday, 6 February 2012

A Cold Snap

Last week was particularly cold here in southern England, probably the coldest it will get this winter. At the weekend I was out fairly early on Saturday morning dropping my wife off in the countryside for her run with friends, and had an hour or so in which I could take a few pictures. Despite the brilliant sunshine, it was -8.5°C when I started taking pictures, and I could only survive a few minutes without gloves before my hands started to go numb and unable to hold the camera. Too cold to allow the time to work on a composite, but I managed to get a few single pictures that pleased me and got me to start thinking about the spring.

I would have preferred a heavier frosting of the countryside, but it has been exceptionally dry as well as cold.

First Pressing

It’s rather strange writing a first post as I’m sure nobody will read this when it is first published. Hopefully it will be read if the blog picks up a readership, so I feel I really should lay down some explanation of what I do and why I’m writing a blog.

Firstly, it’s a means to spur me onto a regular output of pictures and writing, and a simple way of putting up pictures that I can access from wherever I am.  Secondly it’s a way of sharing my work with the wider world and explaining the reasoning and methods behind the picture. And thirdly, well, who knows where it will lead?

My interests in photography have changed over the years, but I guess my over-riding concerns these days are about looking and perceiving, and the visual and emotional response that results. From this I find that there are three basic approaches to picture taking that are rich seams to mine. The first is the close up detail; the near-field picture that emphasises one small item against its environment. The second is the focussed stare, in which the object stands clear from its surroundings, which in turn will be unfocussed. And the third is the fractured, multiple image, that is made up of many smaller glimpses, that is as much to do with memory as it is to do with vision. 

That’s enough words for now, I’ll explain more later. Here’s a picture to be getting on with…