Tour of Britain

The Northumberland leg of the Tour of Britain passed by us today.  My E-M5ii was mounted on a tripod with the 45mm f/1.8 lens. I pre-focused it and composed the shot, setting it to shoot its maximum frame rate, achieving around 10 frames per second

 

With my older E-5, I had it set to continuous autofocus and has the 12-60 f/2.8 zoom mounted. I chose the slower frame rate, achieving around 4 frames per second.

A Point of View

Masts, Stays, Contrails and Clouds

Photography taught me to look at the world in a different way and think about what I see. It taught me to concentrate on the details and look for similarities and juxtaposed shape and form.

Boat bow
Bow and Cirrus

I learnt to appreciate movement and stillness.

Mast and Birds

What might seem commonplace to me can be unusual to someone else. An everyday view can become unique by choosing a new angle.

Fishing boat "Harvest Dawn" enters the Warkworth Harbour.
Harvest Dawn

All photos have a tale to tell. The wear and tear of the weather and the accidental piece of seaweed tangled around a mooring rope tell a story.

Bladderwrack entangled in the bow warp
Baltic and Bladderwrack

For me, a photograph tells a story by either a making a statement or, better still, by asking a question.

Harbour

Including people in the  shot helps to create a question. Who is it? Why are they there? What are they looking at? What are they thinking?

Gone Fishing

Sometimes the story may be obvious,

Lone Cyclist

and sometimes surreal.

Ape on a bin
Ape

After twelve years living in the same town and there is always something new to see, always new photographs to shoot.

Comfort

I was digging around for a particular photo and found this one instead. I had intended to publish it on my blog over the Easter weekend, but time ran away from me. The picture was actually taken back on a freezing cold, blustery day at the start of the year.

I’m not a religious person, but a good guy I knew has just past away and he was. So, this is for David.

 

Be Gone

Run off my feet for the last few weeks, so I haven’t had much of a chance to blog. I did spend half and hour in the garden watching the bees buzzing around the thyme and chives. I didn’t have the perfect lens on for shooting them, just the 70-300mm that I was trying out to see how it performs on my new camera.

I got this shot. It’s flawed, but I like it.

Bumble Bee on Chives

Shot with Olympus OMD E-M5 mkII 70-300 at 202mm 1/160 f/5 ISO 200. Converted to black and white with On1 Photo Raw

What is a photo good for?

1.2 trillion images were taken last year. This gigantic quantity of photographs is unimaginable. Perhaps you consider your shot an insignificant droplet in this Noachian deluge of images. But, every photo you take is important.

Reportage photographs of civil protests, the horrors of war, human rights abuses and environmental destruction have helped change attitudes and laws. Think of the picture of the lone man standing in front of a tank in Tiananmen Square, the little girl running from a napalm attack in Vietnam or the body of a drowned Syrian refugee three-year old washed up on a Mediterranean shore.

Photos of oil slicks, bleached coral reefs, the now extinct West African Black Rhino, receding glaciers and butchered whales galvanise people into action against the harm we are doing to our planet. Okay, so you and I are unlikely to shoot a picture that will have as big an impact, but each one can still make a difference.

Not long ago considered twee and just sentimental, wildlife photography is now an important tool in environmental preservation. When you share a photo of a bumble bee in your garden or a puffin on Inner Farne, both of which are in steep decline, it helps increase appreciation of nature and reinforce the importance of conservation.

Over 720 billion images a year get uploaded and shared on Facebook. Every one, when reinforced by those with a similar viewpoint to you, can help fight your corner, help to change attitudes and, importantly, make you aware that you are not alone in your opinions.

 

That archive of those billions of photos and the accompanying comments will be an amazing resource for the historians of the future. Imagine your descendant studying history at school in the year 2117 and using the photos you took today and your accompanying comments to illustrate their essay.

I’ve been restoring photos of my ancestors taken between the mid-1800s to the mid-1900s. Many of the original prints are fading. They are dog-eared with blotches, scratches and rips.

One of my ancestors was a bit of an adventurer. I have a badly degraded picture of him. I recovered a lot of the detail in the image which shows him with a group of people gathered in front of a train in India. I shared it with an Indian historical railway club and they were ecstatic. They were able to identify the train and make an educated guess about its location. A copy is now in their archive. Generations after the photo was taken it brought international friendship and made some railway enthusiasts on another continent very happy. I doubt the photographer ever thought that would happen.

Historians of the future, partly thanks to your photos, are going to have a far better record of our time than we have of our ancestors. Compared with the relatively small amount I deduced from that faded photo, our descendants a hundred years from now may well have a very good idea of what we looked like, what we believed in, where we were and who our friends were. Just as we look in awe at sepia-toned images of life in the Victorian age, so our descendants will be amazed by what life was like in 2017.

So, grab your camera, shoot an image, and upload it. It might help change the world.

 

 

This post is  a modification of an article originally published in the Northumberland Gazette

The Mischievous Photography Leprechaun

(This is an edited and expanded version of an article that was first published in the Northumberland Gazette.)

Northumberland is unique. We are so lucky to live here. It is truly a photographer’s paradise.

Getting great photos of our wonderful county takes a lot more than just lifting a camera and snapping. To make an image unique, something worthy of hanging on your wall and not just a record of what the scenery looks like, takes great light,  proper planning and careful composition.

sun setting
Sundown

I take my camera everywhere with me. When I go for a walk it’s hung around my neck, when I ride my bike it is in the panniers and on family trips we have to make room for my camera bag in the boot of the car. There’s not much point in me being a photographer if I don’t have a camera with me. I know that if I leave it behind that mischievous photography leprechaun, Pan O’Rama I call him, will set up some fantastic subjects and perfect lighting for me not to shoot.

Despite carrying the camera, nearly all my best shots are from when I have planned them. But, I also know that however carefully I plan a shoot, Pan will also play his tricks on me.

As always, I spent a good hour the night before planning the shoot. I checked Sollumis.com and Photoephemeris.com to see which direction the sun would appear above the horizon, and at what time. I read the weather forecast, checking the wind speed and direction, and used Google Earth and an OS map to work out the best place to stand. I checked the tide times too. My camera batteries were fully charged, memory cards formatted and the camera setting adjusted for the shoot. I fitted the appropriate lens and screwed the filter mount to it. My filters were cleaned and packed and I checked my tripod over.

Coquet Sunrise

I’m good at waking up early. Creeping out of bed, trying not to disturb my family, I was outside long before dawn.

The skies were beautifully clear. I jumped on my bike and pedalled to the location to get that perfect shot. This was going to be competition winner. Landscape photographer of the year, here I come! Of course, Pan dumped a cloud bank across the horizon, completely obscuring the sunrise. The light was flat and there was neither colour nor interesting features in the too-heavy clouds.

Although things can go wrong, planned shoots do usually produce far better results than impromptu ones.  I drove up to Lindisfarne two days later, having added the important crossing times to my plan. From the car park, I hiked to the beach in the dark. I set up my camera on the tripod and carefully composed the shot and watched the beautiful morning light appear.

I did get the shot. Patterns and pools in the sand left by the receding tide lead my eye to Lindisfarne castle silhouetted against the glow from the early morning sunrise; pastel oranges complementing the retreating dark blue of the sky.

That mischievous photography leprechaun left me alone, chased away by proper planning and careful composition.

 

Street Life

The art of photography is wide-ranging, appealing to so many different tastes. Still life is the staple for some while capturing birds interacting with their environment is the aim for others. For me, the timelessness of black and white is king, while others yearn for colour.  Many prefer to carefully compose a landscape using the unadulterated natural lines of hills, water and trees. I think a person, animal or bird changes a scene to something far more dynamic.

The Walker

I think the same applies with architecture. Buildings, bridges, streets were put there for people and adding people into that environment changes the entire feel of the image. These are, of course, my subjective tastes and not everyone will agree.

The psychology, techniques and even the terminology of photography are similar to those of hunting. Heading out into the field, carefully aiming, breathing out and waiting for that split second to get that perfect shot, then gently squeezing the trigger could easily describe either activity. Photography is without the slaughter.

It’s not without its controversies though. I’ve always been fascinated with street photography. There was a trend a while ago for photographers to force their camera into faces, capturing unflattering views of people’s features close up. These did the reputation of photographers no good at all. Fortunately, times have changed again and projects like Brandon Stanton’s “Humans of New York” and Max Gor’s “Raw Streets” work in London have a much more deferential approach to photographing strangers. Both Stanton and Gor’s excellent and respectful work are often on-location portraits and usually much less about the interaction with the urban setting, although Gor does some splendid candid work too.

In style, they are quite different from the great Henri Cartier-Bresson who stepped back and documented people interacting with their world.  The documentary, candid style that he pioneered is what really appeals to me.

When he said your first 10,000 photos are your worst, Cartier-Bresson was speaking in a very different time. His quest of trying to capture what he called the ‘decisive moment’ has been lost, swamped by the scatter-gun photography of multiple exposures and the trillion snaps a year that are vomited out by those seeking to record and share their every waking moment. If he lived today, I wonder if he would have said your first 100,000 photos are your worse. Photography for many has become more akin to dropping a cluster-bomb rather than hunting for that shot.

Saying that, there is  nothing wrong with shooting multiple exposures. For wildlife and sports photography it is a boon. My next camera, the Olympus OMD EM1 mk ii, has an unbeatable 60 frames per second frame rate. But, that is not why I am buying it. It’s the image quality, versatility and portability that enable me to get the images I love to take. I can think of no camera better to have on a street assignment or for shooting puffin on the Farne Islands.

Of course, if you head out into the street, recording what you see, you will capture moments in time that are uncomfortable, images that challenges the viewer to ask questions about the world we live in and even make judgements about the rights and wrongs of publishing some pictures.

 

Night Shooting

Yesterday evening I had a delivery of my brochures to make to a local holiday business. Walking back with Johanna I saw the moon had a huge halo, a   moonbow. Formed by ice crystals high in the atmosphere reflecting the moonlight, they are fairly unusual here and this was the largest I had ever seen. Johanna and I walked to the harbour and I grabbed a few shots.

Portrait of Johanna under the moonlight
Johanna and the Moonbow

This was a 5 second exposure (“Sit very still, my lovely wife!”) at 12mm, f/3.2. The foreground is lit by sodium lights, hence the off colour cast in the foreground. The wide angle of the lens distorts the horizon in these forst two shots, which I could correct in Photoshop, but I actually like the strangeness of the warped look. This first image actually works really well as a black and white, the version I am adding to my portfolio.

 

Moon with Halo over Amble Little Shore
Amble Little Shore Moonbow

This is a panoramic shot of three images stitched together.

Walking to the end of the pier, the moon was illuminating the sea nicely but it was too dark to focus or compose the next image, so this was a point and shoot shot. I set the camera on the tripod facing out to see, turned the focussing ring to almost infinity and increased the aperture to f/4.5 to give me a bit more depth of field. Using the viewfinder I checked the position of the flashing light to guess the composition, the other images were shot using Live View. It was a 50 second exposure at 20mm.

Coquet Island viewed from Amble
Coquet By Moonlight