Friday, 30 December 2011

"Something tells me it's all happening at the Zoo"

I feel blogging needs to be fairly regular to have any value so I guess that means my blog has little value. Somehow I never seem to find the time to write and it's been many months since my last entry. I could make a new year's resolution to blog regularly but I'm afraid I will have broken it before long. However, I will endeavour to write more frequently so as not to disappoint my large following (ahem!).

With the exception of my cats, I don't often photograph animals. I don't really have the right kit for it and I am in awe of people who do it really well; people such as Andy Rouse and my good friend Dave Griffiths. That said, I rarely go anywhere without a camera and a Christmas Eve trip to Chester Zoo with the aforementioned friend offered a challenge to produce some decent images. I deliberately chose to use my Nikon D300 rather than the usual full frame camera so that I would get the benefit of a longer effective focal length from my rather modest 70-200mm zoom and this was certainly adequate for the big animals.

However, for the smaller animals, I was forced to look for compositions that would compensate for the lack of focal length:

And, of course, for some, a bit of cropping was required:

It is also a fact that, although vastly improved over recent years, zoos are not the best places to photograph animals. For some you have to contend with very low light and glass. A polarising filter may be of use for eliminating reflections from the glass but, if it already quite dark as it was here, you can do little more than get the lens very close to the glass and hope.

For others, the problem concerns the viewing angle. Chester Zoo have introduced a walkway above the cheetah pen and whilst this provides an excellent viewpoint for seeing the animals, it is very hard to get a decent photograph from above. I resorted to creating something that was more about texture and colour than it was a study of the animal itself.

In conclusion; I will never give Andy Rouse anything to worry about but they are definitely the most pleasing results I've ever got at a zoo and I might even go back again next Christmas Eve if invited.

Saturday, 9 April 2011

My Day Out

It's been quite some time since I've been able to spend a day purely on photography but that opportunity was presented to me recently so I grabbed it enthusiastically. My first objective was to spend some time practising a technique for plant and flower photography developed by Niall Benvie so I headed off to Ness Gardens to have a go. What I discovered was that it's not as easy as it looks and a botanical garden, despite being blessed with interesting plants, may not be the best place to tackle it; it's something of a challenge to find suitable specimens which are positioned in such a way that you can set up the various tripods, stands and diffusers. That said, I spent a happy couple of hours having a go - with mixed results.

It was refreshing to try something new and I'll certainly keep working at trying to perfect it.

Following lunch, I decided to head for Port Sunlight . I hoped to find more blossom to photograph but, despite not finding anything suitable, was content to wander around the village for a while. I've always enjoyed spending time in Port Sunlight. It really is a beautiful oasis of calm surrounded by industry, busy roads and some not so attractive areas.

Finally, I decided to head for the Mersey Ferry. As you can see from the picture above, it was a really lovely spring day but certainly not the kind of conditions where you can expect anything very dramatic. My decision to go to the Ferry was really more about nostalgia than photography. I love the Ferry. I suppose it has a lot to do with the fact that it is an iconic symbol of my home town and also that it brings back many memories - when I was young, the Ferry was part of our long commute to my Grandparent's house in Norris Green. Now, of course, it is more a tourist attraction than a mode of transport but it's still so very important to me. I like to bore people with the tale of how I got to steer the Ferry one day and I'm certainly not going to waste this opportunity to do so. It promise it is relevant to the blog - bear with me.

My Mum and Dad bought me my first 'proper' camera for Christmas when I was 16, a Cosina 1TA. Eager to try it out, I headed down to Woodside on Boxing Day to take a ride on the Ferry. I was pretty much the only passenger that morning and rode back and forth a couple of times before being invited up to the bridge by the Captain who then let me steer for a short period while we were in mid river. To this day it is one of the biggest thrills of my life. The Captain even took a photograph of me at the wheel but, sadly, this was long before digital and he was clearly not used to handling a manual SLR - the picture was hopelessly underexposed and no use at all so I only have my memories together with the picture below which was taken that day on the first roll of 35mm film I ever exposed (scanned from the 30 year old negative).

Back to the present: as I waited to go down onto the landing stage at Woodside, I was puzzled to hear the sound of a foghorn from the direction of New Brighton. As you've seen, it was a beautifully sunny day. Once on the landing stage I could see why; a narrow bank of fog stretched across the mouth of the estuary with just the tops of the Seaforth dock wind turbines protruding. Just then, the Snowdrop swung out from Seacombe and headed towards us with the fog as a backdrop. I hadn't expected anything remotely dramatic but I was lucky enough to see this.

Sunday, 6 March 2011

Good Light?

I read an article in a magazine recently in which the author challenged the assertion that there is such a thing as 'good light' for photography. Essentially, his argument was that there is only 'different' light. In making his case, he mentioned a book written by an unnamed, well known photographer which, he said, had initially misled him to believe that 'good light' was all important. I found myself wondering whether he was referring to Joe Cornish's book 'First Light'. If that was the case then I suggest he re-reads the book because I think he's missed Joe's point entirely. That said, is he right?

There is no doubt that the well established principle that photographs (in particular, landscape photographs) benefit from the 'golden hours' - those periods around sunrise and sunset. It also cannot be argued that the dramatic lighting often seen as storms are breaking or clearing can make for an equally dramatic image. But, is he right - is all light good for something?

During half term, we were invited to spend a few days with friends in their holiday home in Anglesey. One of them is also a keen photographer so we made plans to go out for sunrise on the first morning. As we set out, I suspected we were in for a disappointing morning as there was heavy cloud cover and a strong, biting wind to contend with. Our intention had been to photograph at one of the many lovely bays to be found on the northern coast of the island but it quickly became clear that wasn't going to be worthwhile so we instead headed down to Moelfre harbour - a location that has worked well for me previously (see below).

On this occasion, however, the conditions were far from favourable so we decided to move on again, concluding that there was little hope of a decent photographic session and we might as well look for future locations. With this in mind, we headed over to the headland near Point Lynas and explored a little. The photograph below is the only exposure I made that morning. It was hand held (I couldn't be bothered setting my tripod up) and, consequently, lacks depth of field. It is no more than a record of the scene for future reference.

So, I would say that, on this particular morning, the light wasn't good for photography. It might not look so bad from the image above but that has been tweaked a little to give it some life. It was, without question, a miserable morning.

I wouldn't say his argument isn't without merit though. If I was to take it literally (as I think he possibly did in relation to the book he mentions), I would have to disagree. However, I think what he was really trying to say was that we shouldn't ignore the possibilities which exist even in non-dramatic light and that some subjects actually work better in those conditions. In this, he is absolutely right.

The following pictures were all made in bright but overcast conditions later that day. Not grim lighting as we'd experienced first thing.

 In each case, the scene would have been less effective had it been lit by direct sunlight. It is very true that different subjects benefit from different lighting. It is also true that different light can create a very different mood in an image. The pictures below were taken from the same spot, at the same time of day, one day apart. They make for an interesting comparison but it's up to you, the viewer, to decide which has the greater impact on you - and that's the beauty of photography!

Friday, 28 January 2011

Shell 4 Villages Half Marathon

This post isn't about the landscape, light or for that matter about photography at all. This post is about my eldest daughter Kate who ran in the Shell 4 Villages Half Marathon last Sunday. Running a half marathon may not seem much of a feat to many people but it's something I have never done and it's something Kate had never done either - before last week. Kate is not a runner. At least, she wasn't before she made the decision in October to run in this annual race. I'm not exactly sure what initially prompted the decision to run but it was quickly followed by the idea to run in aid of Cancer Research in memory of her Grandmother (my Mum) who died of cancer in September.

Kate trained consistantly, even through the awful December, running in snow and ice. Unfortunately she picked up a strain about three weeks before the race and was unable to train after that. Consequently, come the day of the half marathon, the furthest Kate had run was 8 miles.

The 4 Villages is not the easiest race of it's type being a fairly hilly course and, of course, run at a time of year when the weather is often not good. On Sunday, however, the conditions were about as good as you could possibly hope for.

Kate finished the run in a really impressive time of 1 hr 55 mins and raised around £400 for cancer research. At the finish line, she was totally shattered and had to be held up. She was utterly determined to finish and I could not be more proud of her. I also know her Grandmother would be very, very proud of her too. I am also very grateful to our friend and neighbour L (1566 above) who ran with and encouraged Kate all the way.

Sunday, 2 January 2011

It's been a good start to my photographic year - I have an image published in the January issues of two photographic magazines. Of course, it wouldn't be me if there wasn't a slight fear that it was more about peaking too early than a good start.

This photograph is featured in the Viewpoints section of Outdoor Photography. Sadly my suggestion for this part of the Clwydian Range didn't make it into the main Viewpoints and it is only reproduced as a very small picture but I going to be positive and regard it as a foot in the door. It's not the first attempt I've made at getting something into this magazine so it's good to have finally succeeded, even in such a small way.

The photograph was made in January of last year. I was able to make it into the Clwydian hills on the morning following a fresh and heavy snowfall. I spent a full day walking in the area, enjoying the most amazing conditions and, in the process, was able to make half a dozen images that I am really happy with.

This picture is published in the January edition of Professional Photographer magazine and is even more pleasing as it comes from being shortlisted for the Architecture category of their 2010 competition. The competition attracts entries worldwide so I can only be pleased with even getting close to winning.

In case you are wondering what this is of; it is the walkway between the multi-story car park and John Lewis at the Liverpool One shopping centre. I've been through it on many occasions but this was the fist time the sun was at just the right angle to complete the scene by casting shadows that echo the roof. I would like to be able to claim that I previsualised this on a previous visit but I'm afraid that would be a lie. It was pure, dumb luck that I was there at the right time.

A good start but the trick now is to build on that.