Sunday, 1 February 2015

And now, a word from our sponsors

I wish! Of course I don't really have any sponsors but, despite the fact that I benefit in no way from doing so, I would like to sing the praises of Paramo. Landscape photography often involves walking distances and standing for long periods in the cold and yesterday's trip out to the Clwydian hills was a perfect example; although the walk up Bryn Alyn was not particularly long, it was a useful 'leg stretcher' and, once on top, there was an icy gale blowing which made photography very difficult.

Wearing decent gear on such an occasions makes a huge difference and I am now fully invested in the Paramo range having found nothing better. This is what I have:

Taiga Fleece -  This was the first Paramo garment I purchased. It was not particularly cheap and is certainly not the lightest fleece but it is water repellent and has extremely effective wind proofing. It is, quite simply, the warmest fleece I have owned. It is virtually indestructible; I've had it for around eight years, wear it all year round (in all but the hottest weather) and it still looks good.

Alta II Jacket - This is a waterproof jacket which has all the features you would expect from a good hillwalking jacket; wired hood, ventilation, adjustable cuffs, articulated shoulders and sleeves. Most importantly, it keeps you dry, is comfortable and, like the fleece, provides an effective barrier to even the coldest winds. It is also very soft and quiet - the latter possibly being more relevant for wildlife photographers but I have never liked noisy jackets.

Cascada Trousers - These waterproof trousers are incredibly warm and comfortable and, like the Alta II, keep you dry. They can be worn over other trousers but I tend not to do this as they are no at all like typical over trousers. One of the knees of my pair was ripped by a nasty fall on some rocks but, for a very reasonable cost, they were quickly repaired by Paramo and there has been no loss of integrity. I can happily crawl around in wet grass to get exactly where I need to for that photograph.

Torres Smock - Possibly the warmest thing I've ever owned. It is fantastic for those really cold mornings waiting for sunrise. Light but not compact - I carry it in a compression sack when not wearing it. This also proved to be a godsend when I used to watch my daughter's riding lessons - I'm convinced the 'indoor' school is one of the coldest places on earth.

Gaiters - Again, not the lightest but very easy to get on and off, breathable and pretty much bombproof.

I also own a couple of base layer shirts which, combined with the various jackets, ensure maximum benefit from the system and, while I can't claim to have tested these garments in the most extreme conditions possible, I have found them to be the best of their type I have ever worn; they keep me warm and dry and show no signs of wear. In these days of disposable goods, it is refreshing to find a company that places so much stock in producing hard wearing goods. As I've already mentioned, Paramo aren't the cheapest but still represent good value. I've not gone as far as buying the underwear yet but never say never.

Sunday, 16 November 2014

Square Mile - A Confession

I was slightly embarrassed a couple of weeks back when a friend asked me how I was getting on with my 'Square Mile' project. The truth is that I have done nothing since that second post back in February. It's not that I haven't been doing any photography as, hopefully, you will have seen from my Facebook page. I have not, however, spent any time taking photographs in the immediate vicinity of my home as planned.

When I began to mull this over, I realised it was largely because it's hard to make really interesting photographs out of what is, in truth, a very ordinary village. I knew this at the start so it simply means I have not stepped up to the challenge I set myself - a big fail on my part.

With a little time on my hands this afternoon, I set about correcting this and went for a walk around the village. To make things even more challenging, it has been a very dull day so I didn't even have the benefit of some nice light to work with. Here, then, are the results of that walk.

This is a section of Old Chester Road, heading up to Helsby Hill. There is not a great deal of autumnal colour left on the trees but this hedge drew my attention with it's blend of browns and yellows. Having taken a couple of very 'straight' photographs, I used a variable Neutral Density filter to allow some intentional camera motion during the exposure in an effort to abstract the colours and textures.

Walking down into the centre of the village, I came across a tree with only a small number of leaves hanging on and adopted the alternative approaches of front and back lighting.

It was when I reached the village centre that I had something of an epiphany. As I mentioned earlier, there is nothing very exceptional about Helsby. It only has a handful of businesses, one of those being a Post Office and it struck me that there is no way of telling how much longer we will have that Post Office, or the red phone box. It occurred to me then that, although I may not be able to create amazing images within my square mile, I can record aspects of the village which may not be there forever. Why it has taken 26 years to come to this realisation, I cannot say.

My final photograph is of the window of Helsby's newest business, a very pretty looking tearoom. Reflected in the window is Helsby's defining feature, it's hill.

More to come!

Friday, 5 September 2014

To Bin Or Not To Bin

It's been quite a while since I last posted a blog entry and, although that's a fail on my part, it is perhaps appropriate given the subject of this post; that is, the rediscovery of long forgotten images and how they can be given a new lease of life.

I recently had cause to go through my back catalogue of files and came across the image below. This was a photograph I took in 2007 and had never bothered doing anything with, feeling it lacked any real interest; but, having a little bit of time on my hands, I did a quick edit to produce the image you can see here:

Both the software I use and my own editing abilities have improved over the years and I feel that I am able to make a lot more of a photograph than I could back in 2007. It remains, however, little more than a record of the scene - an interesting subject photographed in the middle of an overcast summer's day. With so many grey tones in the picture, it did strike me that this might make a suitable subject for black and white and, with a little help from Sliver Efex Pro, I came up with this:

By removing what little colour there was, I am left with a moodier scene which is much more representative of how I think I probably felt on the day.

So the moral of this story is that you should never throw photographs away as you never know when they might come in useful. Or is it? If I never deleted anything, I would have run out of disk space a long time ago, my catalogue would be huge and filled with rubbish and I would have constant reminders of just how rubbish my photography can be at times. So I do delete. There are (far too) many images which never see the light of day because they are irredeemable; either because of rookie mistakes (not sure I can really get away with calling myself a rookie - 'stupid mistakes' might be more apt) or because an experiment simply failed. The trick, I guess is to recognise images which might just be useful in the future and not delete them just because, at that moment, they disappoint. In this instance I did at least have a picture which had an interesting subject and a reasonably good composition. All it needed was seven years of software and skill enhancement.

Sunday, 16 March 2014

Match Day - Part 2 - 'That's What We Do'

Time for an update for one of my ongoing personal projects. I have continued to concentrate on images of the build up outside the ground and was pleased to see the return of the police horses for the last two home games. I chatted to one of the police riders and made the observation that I hadn't seen them around much this season and he confirmed this suggesting there has been a change of policy. I'm sure it is a reflection of how little trouble there is these days (a good thing) but can't help wondering whether our two latest opponents at home have anything to do with the reappearance of the horses (West Ham and Cardiff in case you are interested); I hasten to add that both games passed off peacefully.

There has been much discussion of new stadiums over recent years and, although I am very well aware of the limitations of Goodison Park and admire the fantastic modern facilities of other clubs, I know it will be a very sad day if Everton ever leave this grand, old place; the surroundings are so much more characterful than some of the much nicer, but rather sterile new stadiums.

As for the photography: Well, I admit to still feeling a little uncomfortable pointing my camera at people in the street and some of the pictures have captured the odd suspicious look. However, match day has been so much a part of my life that I feel passionate about recording it. This time, however, I've also tried to find some more unusual compositions. I will leave it to you to decide whether or not they stand up.