Friday, December 31, 2010

December, fields and Pixlr

click photo to enlarge
Apparently December 2010 was the coldest for the past one hundred and twenty years. It was certainly the coldest I can remember in terms of average temperatures and the minimum values to which we were subjected. Thinking back through my experience of winters, that of 1963 beat it (thus far) in days of continuous snow on the ground, but the four weeks or so we have had is much more than usual. Many have lamented the weather because it has restricted what they can do, has resulted in higher than usual heating bills, and has been depressing. Certainly I haven't travelled as far afield as I would have done in more typical December weather, and the higher heating bills will follow our higher energy usage as surely as night follows day. But depressing? No! In fact, it has been a real gift to photographers. The days of compete white-outs, hoar frost, frozen water and fog have presented familiar subjects in unfamiliar guise, and photographic subjects haven't had to be searchd for - they've simply popped up at every turn.

Today's photograph is probably the last of the hoar frost images that I will post. It shows a small-holding across a cropped field. Without the heavy dousing of white I doubt whether I would have pointed my camera at it.

This particular image has one attribute that none of my other photographs posesses. All my post processing is done using one or more of the "heavyweight" image processing packages. This one, by way of an experiment, I ran through a free online photo-editor called Pixlr. I like to keep up to date with freeware, open-source and online software offerings, and make good use of several such packages that are as good as, or better than, commercial equivalents. Though this particular image didn't need a great deal of editing, Pixlr (daft name!) did what I wanted very well, and the user-interface was quite intuitive. I won't use it on a regular basis, but I could see a use for it when away from home, or as something to recommend to friends who need to edit images only occasionally and don't want to download and install any of the free packages. It's worth a look.

photograph and text (c) T. Boughen

Camera: Canon
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 92mm
F No: f9
Shutter Speed: 1/100
ISO: 320
Exposure Compensation: -0.33 EV
Image Stabilisation: On

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Photographers and the sun



click photo to enlarge
Photographers love the sun. Look at any gallery of outdoor images produced by a group of amateurs or professionals and you'll usually find the majority (often a big majority) were taken in sunlight. The colour, contrast and feel that it brings to a photograph are clearly the qualities that attract us. So alluring is the visual "punch" that sunlight brings to an image, many are given to boosting the saturation to make their shots even more eye-catching. In fact, I sometimes wonder whether a photographic equivalent of the arms race has begun in the past ten years or so, as photographers push the boundary of what is deemed acceptable saturation ever further, perhaps responding to the glowing colours of competition-winning images, and those that are feted in magazines, newspapers and online.

I was thinking about this as I processed a few shots of Lincolnshire's South Forty Foot Drain, a watercourse with origins dating back to the 1630s, that I took during the recent hoar frost. The top photograph was taken after I'd walked a little way along the bank. I was captivated by the way the frost subdued the colours, giving them a blue/green/grey cast that I found very attractive, so I used the sharp outlines of the fence, gate and stock-pen as a middle-ground point of interest and composed this image. Then I walked on, through the open gate, and started to compose another shot using a piece of eroded bank as foreground interest. As I looked through the viewfinder a shaft of sunlight passed across the area in front of me. It worked its magic on the exposed soil, giving it a deeper, redder colour, made the frozen surface of the water more reflective, and changed the colour of the grass and frost that it rested on - it transformed the scene.

I imagine that if asked to choose which of the two images they liked best, most people would nominate the one that is partly sunlit. I like it for the qualities that I cite above. Yet, to my mind the first image is preferable for reasons that are both photographic and personal. I like the muted colours that stretch completely across the image of the first shot and the way they support the feel of the coldness of the day: they tell the story better. The sun, I feel, brings an unwarranted lift to the scene in the second shot: a note of gaiety where none is required. You might argue that both are accurate reflections of the scene as it presented itself to me, and that is of course, true. However, my recollection of the time I spent here is better reflected in the first image. It says "cold" so much better! I'm aware that this is an unfair comparison: the same shot, both with and without the sun's presence would be better. But, hey, sometimes you have to work with what you've got!

photograph and text (c) T. Boughen

Photo 1
Camera: Canon
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 70mm
F No: 7.1
Shutter Speed: 1/320
ISO: 100
Exposure Compensation: 0 EV
Image Stabilisation: On

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Who eats the cabbages?

click photo to enlarge
In the Monty Python sketch set in a "greasy spoon cafe" every item on offer includes Spam. When reciting the menu the waitress notes the presence of the once ubiquitous industrial meat with a barely disguised relish. However, if you think that establishment's offerings are the depths of culinary monotony, spare a thought for the sheep in this Lincolnshire field: breakfast, lunch, dinner and supper consists of cabbage. And then, by way of a change, the next day they have...cabbage. Still, it's probably better than grass.

I pass this field fairly frequently in my car, and I've watched these sheep eat their way across it in sections that are divided off with a moveable electric fence. The field is quite a large one, and the part that was eaten first (in the background) has already been ploughed. I've discussed elsewhere the Lincolnshire custom of sheep being wintered on fields of vegetables that are either the cropped leafy remains, or those that are unsold. Being brought up in the sheep country of the Yorkshire Dales, I initially found it odd to see the animals on anything other than grass, but I've got used to it by now. However, there is one thing that puzzles me, and seeing these sheep eating what appear to be perfectly good cabbages, set me thinking about it again. The puzzle is this: who eats all the cabbages that I see growing in Lincolnshire? I know that people of my generation eat cabbage (in all its varieties) as a cooked vegetable. I even grow some. But what about younger people? Just about the only cabbage I see them eating comes in the form of cole slaw. A couple of years ago, when speaking to a farmer, I learned that the big, round, football-like cabbages in the field next to us were for that product. I do still see cabbage offered on some restaurant menus, but it has definitely moved from being a staple of the English diet to something of an unwanted relic.  However, the acres of Savoys, pointed varieties and others that I see must be being eaten by someone. But who, and when, and where? It's a puzzle.

When it comes to photography sheep are exceedingly unco-operative creatures. I knew that when I got out of my car with the camera at the ready those nearby would flee, presenting me with a shot of rear ends. So it proved, but then curiosity got the better of them and they stopped and turned to look at me. I wondered what they thought as I snapped away, and I wondered too what the drivers of the passing vehicles thought when they saw me snapping this unpromising subject!

photograph and text (c) T. Boughen

Camera: Canon
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 168mm
F No: f6.3
Shutter Speed: 1/160
ISO: 500
Exposure Compensation: -0.67 EV
Image Stabilisation: On

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

High Bridge, Lincoln





click photos to enlarge
High Bridge, Lincoln is the only remaining medieval bridge in England that carries shops and houses. London Bridge, of nursery rhyme fame, was the most notable of a number of these interesting structures, but, with the exception of the example shown above, they have all "fallen down". Quite a few bridges with buildings on them do remain in Britain. Pulteney Bridge (1773) in Bath is the most famous example of a later date, but many smaller structures can be seen that were built in the medieval period.


High Bridge is on the High Street in Lincoln, and crosses the River Witham. The stone arched structure below the buildings and road is thought to date from the C12, C13 and C16, and have been subject to the most recent restoration in 1902. The row of shops was restored at that time too. It has a ground floor partly constructed of stone and brick, with timber-framed, jettied, first and second floors. The framing is of the "close-studded" variety, and the facade facing the road has shallow oriel-like windows. Much of the original woodwork survives, and the ground buildings are still occupied today with shops and a cafe.

I took the main photograph as I passed by on a shopping expedition with one of my sons. It was taken against the light which had the effect of accentuating the "black and white work" and showing off the details of the facade. My recent reading has included Jason Mordan's "Timber-Frame Buildings of Nottinghamshire" which discusses the reasons for the development of this style of building. This is something I have touched on elsewhere, but the author makes one observation that hadn't occurred to me. Early timber-framed buildings usually have long curved "crucks", a pair of which reach from the ground to the level of the roof ridge, and form part of both the wall and the roof: the longest structural piece of wood needed for a jettied timber-framed building is the height of a floor. Moreover, each of the wall frames can be assembled before they are put into place if so desired.

You can see something of the advantages and disadvantages of the later, more developed timber-framing in this building (High Bridge may be from around 1540). By the second half of the seventeenth century the style was mainly used for farm buildings, and by the eighteenth century brick had completely supplanted timber in the areas where there was no building stone.

photographs and text (c) T. Boughen

Photo 1
Camera: Canon
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 105mm
F No: f6.
Shutter Speed: 1/320
ISO: 100
Exposure Compensation: -0.67 EV
Image Stabilisation: On

Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas

click photo to enlarge
Anyone who knows me well knows that I am lukewarm about Christmas. I don't especially look forward to the arrival of the festivities, and do tend to be glad when the calendar says January 1st. It wasn't always so. As a child I couldn't wait for it to be upon me - the special food, presents, and events all being something to relish. When my children were small I enjoyed it enormously through them, and always strove to make it something special. But, as I've got older it has palled somewhat for me. I really dislike seeing the arrival of Christmas merchandise in the shops during early October, the conspicuous consumption doesn't appeal, and the frenzied shopping in December is something to be avoided or endured rather than enjoyed. I continue to like some of the traditions, and the carols have an enduring attraction for me, but on the whole it's not my favourite time of year.

What also impacts negatively on my feelings at this time is the period between Christmas and the start of the new year, a sort of hiatus when the country has ground to a halt apart from "The Sales". That particular week is the only one in the year that I'm glad to see the back of. During those days I'm ready for January to start, ready for the chance to look forward and to plan rather than to look back, and I'm ready for the daylight hours to start to lengthen. If, after reading that, you think I must be pretty miserable at Christmas, let me say that I'm not. I don't ask much of Christmas - time with my family and friends, a few good films on television, and weather that lets me get out and about, walking with my camera, - that's all I require to be entirely happy.

So why, I imagine you may be thinking, does today's photograph show a lonely, frost covered bench in the unused corner of a frozen cemetery rather than colourful holly against a blue sky (last year's Christmas shot), a festive bauble (2008), or Christmas coffee (2006)? Does it reflect an end of year gloom that has descended on the Boughen household? The answer to that is a resounding no. The fact is I've simply been too busy to shoot anything more suitable, and this was the next image in the queue for posting!

So, as I take a break from blogging for a few days, let me say to everyone who visits on a regular or a sporadic basis, Merry Christmas to you and to your nearest and dearest, and I hope you have a splendid new year! Now I'm off to see when the 1951 film version of Charles Dickens', "A Christmas Carol", is on TV. Alastair Sim is the definitive Scrooge - my hero!

photograph and text (c) T. Boughen

Camera: Canon
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 45mm
F No: f9
Shutter Speed: 1/50
ISO: 1000
Exposure Compensation: -0.33 EV
Image Stabilisation: On

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Taking the same photograph again No. 2

click photo to enlarge
If you repeatedly walk the same routes you come upon the same photographic subjects time and again. For some photographers that is a problem to be overcome by regular travel, either locally, nationally or in distant lands. Now I enjoy travel as much as the  next person, but not for its own sake, and not solely for the purposes of photography. For me travel has to offer something wider than servicing just one of my interests. And, as I've said on more than one occasion in this blog, I enjoy unearthing new photographs in familiar places and making photographs that are variations on those that I've taken before. So, a familiar walk in the area where I live is just as likely to provide me with a photographic opportunity as is a trip to the other end of the country or to an entirely different country.

The other day I had a morning walk alone, then another walk in the afternoon with my wife. On that second outing we travelled along a track that gives a fine, distant view of Donington church. Exactly one year ago yesterday I walked the same path and took a photograph with similarities to that which I post today. The earlier photograph is from a slightly different point, has a clearer sky, and was at a time when more snow covered the ground. But, the composition is essentially the same: the principal interest resides in the horizon, the trees and the bodkin-like spire of St Mary and The Holy Rood piercing the sky, with subsidiary features being the near field, the huddle of houses and the sky. What I find interesting is how different the two photographs are in feel and colour. Each has qualities that I like - the hard, cold clarity of the earlier shot and the blue/orange complementary colours of the recent one, to name but two.

I've walked the path from which the two images were taken several times during the course of the past year, and on each occasion I've looked across at this section of the horizon. But, at no time was I motivated to take another shot until the other day when the light and weather came together in a way that caused me to raise my camera to my eye.

Why the title? See this post.

photograph and text (c) T. Boughen

Camera: Canon
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 300mm
F No: f7.1
Shutter Speed: 1/250
ISO: 250
Exposure Compensation: -0.33 EV
Image Stabilisation: On

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Enjoying the hoar frost

click photo to enlarge
Yesterday we had hoar frost on top of hoar frost such that everything looked like it was encrusted in a thick layer of sugar icing. I had hoped to do a few close-ups or macro shots of leaves, plants and branches, but the delicate subtlety of the previous day had been replaced by this heavy, white covering.

So, once again, I set off quite early to photograph the marvel of it all. This is the first shot of the day. It shows a farmhouse and a few outbuildings in the field across from my house. In fact, like a number of such buildings in the Fens (and elsewhere in Britain for that matter) it is a former farmhouse, now used as a simple dwelling. The consolidation of farms into bigger holdings, together with the reduction in the number of people involved in agriculture due to mechanization, are the main reasons why there are fewer working farms than there were.

I've never thought that this subject was particularly worthy of a photograph before, but the frost added a dimension that transformed it. The whiteness combined with the blueness of the early morning light had the effect of subduing the green of the hedge and grass and made the red/orange of the bricks and roof tiles of the buildings stand out more. The hole in the hedge gave the main subject a frame of sorts, while the tall poplar tree on the right broke the essential symmetry of the composition in a satisfying way, and acted as a counterweight to the upstairs window on the left.

I was glad I'd made an early start because when I went out again in the afternoon the wind was blowing the ice crystals off, forcing me to keep my camera covered, and each tree had a patch of white below that grew ever bigger as the day progressed.

photograph and text (c) T. Boughen

Camera: Canon
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 161mm
F No: f5.6
Shutter Speed: 1/80
ISO: 3200
Exposure Compensation: -0.33 EV
Image Stabilisation: On

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Wintry weeping willow

click photo to enlarge
I was born and raised in an upland area of north-western Britain, a region where the willow tree is something of a stranger. It's not that you don't see them: ornamental specimens are found in gardens, and they can be seen in river valleys. But, willows are not as plentiful as in lowland Britain, and the ash, beech, and other species greatly outnumber them. It was only when I moved to eastern England that I began to appreciate the species.

The willow is one of the earliest trees to come into leaf in spring, and one of the last to lose them in autumn. A very large specimen that grows in my garden near a stream sheds its leaves so late that for the past couple of years I've had to wait until the first snow has melted to clear the last of them away. But, this is a minor inconvenience when set against the beauty of the willow. The soaring, arching boughs and the cascades of supple, slender twigs give it an unmistakable shape. Its spear-shaped leaves - soft green or yellowish above, with a silver tinge below - are equally distinctive. Ancient trees are often missing a branch or a major limb, only the broken stump remaining, and frequently throwing out shoots. "Crack willow" is the old name for the tree because of the way it splits and cracks when assaulted by high winds. But, although it gives way to the elements relatively easily it can keep on growing for centuries, even the most shattered trunk or a fallen bough having the capacity to spring back to life. In the days when branches were used for fencing, clothes props and other garden and farm duties, people noted the way in which a piece of cut willow would often take root and begin throwing out shoots and leaves, the life force within trying to re-establish itself. Today this quality is exploited by artists who use the supple branches for weaving living sculptures.

Today's photograph shows part of a row of willows that lines the stream that goes on to flow through my garden. A hoar frost that accompanied a fog left the branches almost completely white, looking like cascades of water falling down a cliff. The subtle magnificence of the thousands of delicate lines curving downwards caused me to stop, wonder, then go in to the house for my camera. Through the viewfinder this composition reminded me of an etching or a scraperboard drawing.

photograph and text (c) T. Boughen

Camera: Canon
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 147mm
F No: f7.1
Shutter Speed: 1/160
ISO: 1000
Exposure Compensation: +0.3 EV
Image Stabilisation: On

Monday, December 20, 2010

The story of a blog post

click photo to enlarge
Most of the responses I get to PhotoReflect are polite, friendly and thoughtful. However, once in a very rare while an individual blog post takes on a life of its own and roams the web, ending up in odd places and provoking unusual reactions. Here is the tale of one such recent post.

On 4th December I posted a piece called "Rooks, hoar frost and adverts". In it I mentioned the humour that I'd experienced reading the advertising pitches that Toyota and Land Rover were making during the present spell of exceptionally cold, snowy and icy weather. The photograph that accompanied it was O.K., but nothing special, and the text was mildly diverting for me, but not, I think, particularly noteworthy. Consequently I was puzzled to see it achieving so many hits; enough that it is now the fifth most visited page on PhotoReflect since I changed my page counter to Blogger Stats in July. So, I did a bit of Googling and discovered that a Wiki site that trawls blogs and that indexes "similar" subjects had picked it up and listed it alongside sites discussing the Land Rover Freelander. A couple of days later I got an intemperate email (complete with expletives) from someone who owned a Freelander, and who wanted to explain to me why I was wrong to describe it as "dangerous", and how he, with a young family, had chosen it because it was a very safe vehicle. I did what I always do with unsolicitited emails and deleted it.

Later, however, I wondered whether I should have responded - in the spirit of broadening his thinking on the ownership of such vehicles. I'd have talked about how bigger, heavier vehicles are only relatively safer, and how their safety comes at the expense of increasing the risk to other road users and their children. Then I'd have suggested to him that by his logic he should have bought the biggest available 4X4, or better still, have got a massive lorry (HGV) because as far as the passengers go (though certainly not other road users), these are by far the safest vehicles on our highways. Instead I wondered why someone would invest the time and effort to justify himself, using such language, to me, a complete stranger. Perhaps, I thought, it is an extension of the "forum" mentality, whereby people proclaim their own opinions about news articles, etc. and defend them in a completely unrestrained, and often abusive, way. Most odd.

On the day I took this photograph we had hoar frost again, alongside a thick fog and temperatures that never rose from several degrees below zero. During a circular walk I passed a lone tree that I've photographed a couple of times thinking it would make an image, but which thus far hasn't. On this occasion the weather and the frosted white umbellifer in the right foreground made a composition good enough for me to think, "That will do!"

photograph and text (c) T. Boughen

Camera: Canon
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 47mm
F No: f8
Shutter Speed: 1/100
ISO: 100
Exposure Compensation: +0.3 EV
Image Stabilisation: On

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Puddle ice compositions


click photos to enlarge
We've had a couple of days of thaw and now the thermometers are back to showing sub-zero temperatures day and night. But, as they say, "it is an ill wind that blows nobody any good", and the return of the cold has at least been accompanied by bright skies. So, a walk with the camera over a few well-trodden paths seemed in order.

I don't know about you, but I have come to realise that I can walk the same routes on many days over many years, and still come up with something new to photograph. Familiarity doesn't always breed contempt (to quote another old saying), it can just as easily reveal new possibilities. If, that is, we care to look for them. The puddles on our path, that had been frozen for the best part of two and a half weeks, had more or less returned to liquid, but on this walk were ice once again. But what ice! I'd love to know the physics that created the two main pattern types that most of them exhibited on one of the tracks. I mentally gave them the names "Feiningers" and "Arps" after the names of the painters whose works they brought to mind.

The Feiningers were the compositions with straight, thrusting, and angular lines. The Arps, by way of contrast, had soft curves and concentric loops. No one else seemed to have walked the path since the latest freeze so all the puddles were intact. I took several shots, all of which I found fascinating, and here I present a fairly random foursome that shows two of each type. However, though my photograph choice is random, the recurring details of these ice patterns shows that their creation wasn't entirely down to chance, but was influenced by some common processes that were repeated across the ground the night the puddles froze over. Someone will be able to explain them. I can't.

photographs and text (c) T. Boughen

Photo 1
Camera: Canon
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 73mm
F No: f6.3
Shutter Speed: 1/80
ISO: 100
Exposure Compensation: 0 EV
Image Stabilisation: On

Friday, December 17, 2010

Snapshots


click photo to enlarge 
snap-shot, n.
Also snap shot, snapshot
1.a. A quick or hurried shot taken without deliberate aim, esp.one at a rising bird or quickly moving animal.
2.a. An instantaneous photograph, esp. one taken with a hand camera. Also transf. and fig.
 from The Oxford English Dictionary

If I extracted the first part of definition 1.a. and added it to the second part of definition 2.a. I would have a description of the word "snapshot" that more accurately describes how I took today's photograph - "A quick or hurried shot taken without deliberate aim...with a hand camera."

We'd gone into an art gallery and museum as a respite from the weather and to see some paintings, and we were ascending the building in the lift (elevator). My mind was clearly elsewhere because I didn't notice the wonderful reflections that the mirror walls of the lift were producing until it stopped and my wife had started to move towards the door that was about to open. At that instant I raised the camera to my eye and took this "snapshot". Everything is wrong about it. The aperture is F8 (unnecessary), the speed 1second (not hand-holdable), the ISO 3200 (it needn't have been) and it is blurred. Moreover, I look like I've got an enormous stomach (it's bigger than it was but not THAT big) due to my bulky gloves in my fleece pockets. And my hat is rammed down over my head in its warm but silly "outdoor" position. My wife also looks heftier than her sylph-like dimensions warrant because of the position of her cold-weather, thick red coat. Incidentally, recent photographs might suggest that she possesses only a red coat. The fact is she has three different red coats (and a few of other hues), the red colour not being entirely unconnected with the fact that a splash of red can often be just what a photograph calls for!

Those criticisms notwithstanding, and despite the fact that the shot isn't sharp, I quite like it. So I've posted it as the latest in my intermittent series of self-portraits.

photograph and text (c) T. Boughen

Camera: Canon
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 17mm
F No: f8
Shutter Speed: 1.0
ISO: 3200
Exposure Compensation: -0.33 EV
Image Stabilisation: On

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Tips for better sunset photographs


click photos to enlarge
Like most photographers I'm easily seduced by a good sunset. However, over the years I've come to realise that, whilst achieving a mediocre or satisfactory photograph of a sunset is fairly easy, making a good one is actually quite difficult.

Photographing a sunset, in some ways, presents similar difficulties to photographing a fast-flowing river that tumbles over projecting rocks: the things that captivate our eyes don't necessarily translate well into a static, two dimensional image. In the case of the river we take our shot after being entranced by the sparkle of light on splashes, and the ever-moving swirls and rushes of light and dark on the surface, and then are disappointed by the lack of life in our resulting image. With sunsets the luminous quality of the light, the depth of colour, the subtle gradations of single colours, and the faster movement of nearer clouds across the face of more distant ones all encourage us to raise our cameras. But, as with running water, we can be frustrated by the flatness of the photograph.

I've come to realise that one or more of three things are required for a good sunset photograph. The first is a reflection of the sunset in water - in the sea, a river or a lake. I lived for twenty years near a west facing coast and was repeatedly impressed by the way in which such a reflection can multiply and transform the power of even a quite modest sunset. The second is that the sunset must have good qualities in terms of the depth of colour, the contrast across the sky, and the shape and consistency of the clouds. Every good sunset you look at repeats the magic of the first one that you ever saw, so a weak one with a sliver of colour against the horizon should usually be ignored, photographically speaking. The third thing that can make all the difference is an interesting (often silhouetted) shape on the land below. I've used piers  and breakwaters with the sea, but pools on the sand and mud are equally good. On land anything will do that acts as a hard foil to the soft sky.

Today's photographs show a sunset that I captured when driving home from a shopping expedition. The clouds above had a lovely, colourful, soft quality, those below a brooding darkness, and sandwiched between was some blue/cyan sky with vapour trails. Both images use the tower and short spire of Swineshead church as the ground interest. The portrait format shot was taken first from a greater distance, but I was happier with the nearer landscape format image that made more of the church's silhouette.

Two further points. Some modern cameras have a mode that allows you to enhance the colour of a sunset. Treat this with the contempt that it deserves and ignore it. A photograph of a sunset should be a celebration of the natural beauty of our world, not a technologically boosted image that ends up looking like an imagined Jurassic landscape minus the dinosaurs or an apocalyptic painting from the fevered mind of John Martin. And the second point? I've posted quite a few black and white photographs over the past several days, and I thought it was time for a splash of colour!

photographs and text (c) T. Boughen

First photo
Camera: Canon
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 119mm
F No: f8
Shutter Speed: 1/160
ISO: 100
Exposure Compensation: 0 EV
Image Stabilisation: On

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Black and white on a grey day

click photo to enlarge
On a recent visit to Newark, when the weather forecasters promised sunshine and cloud and the elements delivered leaden skies, mist and drizzle, I said to my wife, "I think any shots I get today will be black and white". It's perfectly possible to tease colour photographs out of lifeless days, but a brief appearance by even a weak and watery sun can make all the difference (as this winter landscape shows).

But, that day the sun made no appearance at all, and so I concentrated on images that looked like they might work in monochrome, (see yesterday's) and in my search for colour I tried a few indoor shots. Today's photograph was taken for two reasons. Firstly, it shows ice on a large stretch of water, something that until last year wasn't too common a sight in our Gulf Stream caressed islands. And secondly, it seemed a suitable subject and lighting for a black and white image. The River Trent is a navigable river that flows through Newark and several other large towns and cities. At this point a canal-like loop was taken off the main flow and warehouses and locks were built to serve the barges and the town's industries. Today the warehouses are waterside flats and most of the river traffic is pleasure craft, some of which are berthed at a nearby marina. However, enough remains of the infrastructure from the Industrial Revolution to give an idea of how the area must have been in its hey-day.

The big disadvantage of a dull day as far as black and white goes is the absence of deep shadow and the consequent dearth of drama, contrast and three-dimensional modelling that shadows can offer. So here I looked for a grey shot to reflect the grey day and concentrated on the details of the buildings and water.

photograph and text (c) T. Boughen

Camera: Canon
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 105mm
F No: f8
Shutter Speed: 1/60
ISO: 200
Exposure Compensation: -0.67 EV
Image Stabilisation: On

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Market squares and cars

click photo to enlarge
When we walked round the corner into the Market Square at Newark in Nottinghamshire my spirits rose. We'd just walked up from the River Trent, skirting the ice that remained on the footpaths, trying for photographs where the overcast sky, low light and intermittent drizzle allowed, and were presented with this unusual sight. What unusual sight, I hear you ask? Answer - a market place that is empty of both market and, more importantly, cars. It is one of the sadnesses of our age that town market squares, when they are not full of stalls, are packed with cars. This means that no visitor (or resident) can fully enjoy the prospect and architecture that the centuries have bequeathed to us. Wherever I go - King's Lynn, Boston, Wisbech, Ripon, Settle - in fact almost everywhere, I find the same situation; market places pressed into service as car parks on the days when the markets aren't in session.

Now there are those who say that allowing cars into the centre of a town, especially at night, is good for the life, safety and security of the area. I won't deny that there is some merit in this argument. But, there is a heavy price to pay in terms of the appearance of what should be the jewel in the crown of the town. Our planners seem to find it too much to ask of people that they walk a hundred or two hundred yards in order that our built environment can be seen at its best: this in a country that needs to do more to tackle the obesity afflicting our population. But, to the great credit of the town, that view doesn't prevail in Newark, and the scene that  I show today can be experienced every day when the market is not held. This is news to me only because, I now realise, all the previous visits that I have made to the town have been when the market was in session!

My photograph was taken through a window on the third floor of the Town Hall, a Palladian building of 1774-6 by John Carr of York. I liked the composition of the expanse of the Square, with a few people and lamp standards dotted about, against the backdrop of buildings dating from the 1400s to the nineteenth century.

photograph and text (c) T. Boughen

Camera: Canon
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 40mm
F No: f8
Shutter Speed: 1/30
ISO: 250
Exposure Compensation: -0.33 EV
Image Stabilisation: On

Monday, December 13, 2010

Climbing the north face of the high street

click photo to enlarge
"Our Himalayan suit will keep you alive in minus 40, minus 50 degrees. Not so many people are going to go to Everest but you can trust we are going to keep you dry even if it's only while you walk the dog."
Timo Schmidt-Eisenhart, head of European division of North Face outdoor clothing company (quoted in The Guardian, 11th December 2010)

The other day I was laughing at and lamenting Toyota's advertising pitch for its 4X4 vehicles. Their suggestion that because they are the only manufacturer to make an off-road vehicle that has journeyed to the North Pole then you should buy one for whizzing about the roads and lanes of Britain seemed to me risible. And then, a couple of days later I read an article about North Face and how their clothing, which includes some that is designed for climbing etc, is a fashion hit on the high street because of, to quote one of the authors, "the discreet badge of masculinity the logo confers." Ridiculous, but probably right. People are daft enough to swallow the line spun by such companies. In fact it appears to be a basic marketing approach across a range of consumer products. You want to sell cameras? Get a high-end model into use by professionals then sell the consumer models on the back of it. How about a family saloon? Take the body shell of your mass-production model, gut it, re-engine it, change everything except the basic shape, compete in rallying or some other form of motorsport, then use the resulting images and associations (and trophies if you happen to be successful) to sell your mainstream cars to the man in the street. There are plenty of men (and increasingly women) who will buy cars on this basis. Ludicrous or what?

I was wearing no discreet badge of masculinity from North Face or any other "top brand" when I took today's photograph. In fact, the temperature was a couple of degrees above zero, and felt positively balmy compared with previous days. My subject is the Italianate pool and the classical loggia of the war memorial in the grounds of Ayscoughfee Hall, Spalding. The ice shows signs of melting, but it was several inches thick and so needed a good few days of higher temperatures before it became home once more to the mallard that were huddled on the bank nearby. The memorial building is by Edwin Lutyens who was also responsible for the Cenotaph in Whitehall, London. It is a fine piece of work that I must make the subject of a future blog post. Incidentally, the grounds of Ayscoughfee Hall are now public gardens with a cafe etc, and the unusual and wonderful name has prompted me to suggest, on more than one occasion, that we should have an "Ayscoughfee cafe coffee", a remark that usually provokes groans and pitying looks in my companions.

I seem to have taken a lot of contre jour shots lately, and have probably done enough to fulfill the pledge I made a few months ago to do more of this kind of shot.

photograph and text (c) T. Boughen

Camera: Canon
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 24mm
F No: f8
Shutter Speed: 1/400
ISO: 100
Exposure Compensation: -1.0 EV
Image Stabilisation: On

Sunday, December 12, 2010

A river runs through it

click photo to enlarge
Spalding in Lincolnshire, that is, and the river is the Welland. In fact this short river, only 35 miles long, that rises in the Hothorpe Hills of Northamptonshire and flows into The Wash near Fosdyke Bridge, runs through a number of other towns and villages including Market Harborough, Stamford, and Market Deeping.

The derivation of the word "Welland" is unknown, and like many rivers, it is likely to be one of the oldest names associated with its locality, probably being of pre-Celtic origin. It was, for many years, one of the rivers whose flooding was controlled by "washes", areas of pasture enclosed by raised banks that run parallel with the river and over which flood water was allowed to spread during times of high water. In 1953 the Coronation Channel was built to divert excess water from the Welland, around Spalding, as a means of alleviating flooding.

The town of Spalding grew up along the banks of the River Welland, and today roads on each side provide pleasant, scenic routes through the town. Much of the waterside is lined by fine, brick-built Georgian terraces and individual houses, as well as the remains of warehouses which have been converted into flats. The presence of this water-course with its attendant landscaping and old buildings gives the town a Dutch feel, and in fact there have long been connections between this part of Eastern England and that country, both in terms of agriculture as well as land drainage.

My photograph shows the tree-lined, grassy banks of the River Welland and a couple of the large old houses. It was taken on a December afternoon in the yellow-tinted light of a low sun, with the remains of snow and ice still visible by the water's edge.

photograph and text (c) T. Boughen

Camera: Canon
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 32mm
F No: f8
Shutter Speed: 1/125
ISO: 100
Exposure Compensation: -0.6 EV
Image Stabilisation: On

Friday, December 10, 2010

Early evening sun, snow and mist

click photo to enlarge
It's surprising how much of the detail of what you learn in school stays with you throughout your life. I was looking at a cup of cold tea the other day and into my head popped the phrase "colloidal substance". A colloid, as I recall, is a substance dispersed evenly throughout another substance. The word was explained to me by my teacher by reference to, among other things, cold tea. The following day I was looking for a late afternoon/early evening photograph while walking along a track past the village of Bicker when mist started to roll in from the north west. As I started to take my photographs of the trees and church tower with the bright disc of the sun above, the mist started to thicken and the whole of the horizon gradually disappeared from view, the landscape becoming enveloped in a thick fog.

On my journey home I tried to remember the precise difference between mist and fog as it had been explained to me in geography lessons. I recollected that the density of water droplets and the consequent degree of visibility was what separated one from the other, and it was in the hundreds of yards (metres today I suppose), but I couldn't recall the precise figure. So, later that day I looked it up. The current definition of fog is visibility less than 200 metres. However, if you are a pilot it is less than 1000 metres. That latter fact wasn't one I knew and puzzles me somewhat. Do pilots have enhanced vision? As far as mist goes, it is the discernible presence of water droplets with visibility greater than 200 metres.

So, by my reckoning this photograph, which incidentally was taken from near the point where I took this one the other day, shows mist. What it doesn't show is how cold that afternoon was. The temperature was about -8 Celsius (not cold in world terms, but quite nippy as far as the UK goes), however the perceived temperature was a good bit lower due to the wind. The time I had my gloves off to change lenses was as long as I could stand it, and I haven't felt that cold for a few decades - in fact, the last occasion would probably be when I was at school learning about colloids, and the difference between mist and fog!

photograph and text (c) T. Boughen

Camera: Canon
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 228mm
F No: f8
Shutter Speed: 1/200
ISO: 100
Exposure Compensation: 0 EV
Image Stabilisation: On

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Gates and Thomas Hardy

click photo to enlarge
On December 31st 1900, Thomas Hardy wrote what has come to be one of his best loved poems. Apparently it was published in The Times newspaper on the following day, a fact that I find remarkable.* The original title was By the Century's Deathbed but today we know it as The Darkling Thrush. As I took my photograph of this field gate that leads into a pasture in the village, it was the first line of Hardy's poem about a bleak and wintry landscape that came to mind - "I leant upon a coppice gate when Frost was spectre-grey". Of course my gate wasn't the entry to a coppice, nor was the sun "the weakening eye of day" - it was rising. My mood wasn't quite as sombre as that of the poet either, perhaps because it was morning light that I surveyed as opposed to his end-of-day gloom.

In some respects this is an unusual poem to have achieved such popularity, and it must surely be not only its accessibility, but also the introduction of the thrush's song and the note of hope that it brings, that makes it so well liked. I don't know if this is the last of the snowy morning photographs that I'll post, but Hardy's poem makes me think I need to get out at the end of the day and take a few more downbeat images.

*Addendum: The poem had been published in The Graphic some time before Hardy added a note that it was written on 31st Decemeber 1900, so publication in The Times the next day isn't so remarkable after all.

For anyone who doesn't know the poem, here it is. Hardy died in 1928 and so his work is now out of copyright.

The Darkling Thrush
 I leant upon a coppice gate
    When Frost was spectre-gray,
And Winter’s dregs made desolate
    The weakening eye of day.
The tangled bine-stems scored the sky
    Like strings of broken lyres,
And all mankind that haunted nigh
    Had sought their household fires.
The land’s sharp features seem’d to be
    The Century’s corpse outleant,
His crypt the cloudy canopy,
    The wind his death-lament.
The ancient pulse of germ and birth
    Was shrunken hard and dry,
And every spirit upon earth
    Seem'd fervourless as I.
At once a voice arose among
    The bleak twigs overhead
In a full-hearted evensong
    Of joy illimited;
An aged thrush, frail, gaunt, and small,
    In blast-beruffled plume,
Had chosen thus to fling his soul
    Upon the growing gloom.
So little cause for carollings
    Of such ecstatic sound
Was written on terrestrial things
    Afar or nigh around,
That I could think there trembled through
    His happy good-night air
Some bless├Ęd Hope, whereof he knew
    And I was unaware.

photograph and text (c) T. Boughen

Camera: Canon
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 24mm
F No: f8
Shutter Speed: 1/800
ISO: 100
Exposure Compensation: -0.6 EV
Image Stabilisation: On

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

A drought then a deluge

click photo to enlarge
When this present spell of snow came I eagerly went out into the lanes, fields and village hunting for photographs. For four consecutive days I came back with shots on my memory card, none of which were any good. I find that I sometimes have periods like this when I can't see the images, and the more I try the less I succeed. But, I've been involved with photography long enough to know that if I carry on looking and shooting, eventually things will come right.

And so it proved this time. On the fifth day I gathered a clutch of minimalist images, and on each subsequent day I've been happy with at least one shot I've taken. Today's was taken on the same day as yesterday's image, when the light seemed to brighten but the fog thickened to the point where the horizon began to be difficult to discern, and earth and sky started to merge. It gave me a landscape that included very little, and so I needed a focus of interest. And what could be better than my wife in her bright red jacket, a small point of brilliant colour against the almost monochrome background!

photograph and text (c) T. Boughen

Camera: Canon
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 40mm
F No: f5.6
Shutter Speed: 1/500
ISO: 100
Exposure Compensation: +0.6 EV
Image Stabilisation: On

Monday, December 06, 2010

On the other hand...

click photo to enlarge
...I have five fingers.* What I meant to say before that joke intervened was (with reference to yesterday's thoughts on what morning light can bring to your photography), "On the other hand you can go out in the afternoon and just deal with what ever fate sends your way". A couple of days ago fate dealt me snow with fog sufficiently dense that the other side of a very large field could barely be seen, but not so thick that the sun wasn't making its presence faintly felt every now and again. Looking at the scene I immediately thought of Whistler's paintings - his tonalist style, his nocturnes and his waterscapes. Or perhaps Mark Rothko, a painter who said there was no landscape in his works.

I probably wouldn't have taken the shot but for the sun. Its brave attempts to force its way through the murk gave a weak and watery spot of interest to the sky. That seemed to be just enough to work with the snow covered field with the odd pieces of earth showing, and the hedges, trees and buildings of the village on the horizon. So I framed a 1/3:2/3 split and took my photograph of not very much.

Minimalist photographs, "photographs of nothing", appeal to me, but aren't always easy to spot. Here's another one that I took last year by the sea where they can more often be captured, and here are some more thoughts on the subject from an early blog post.

* A Steven Wright joke.

photograph and text (c) T. Boughen

Camera: Canon
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 50mm
F No: f8
Shutter Speed: 1/200
ISO: 100
Exposure Compensation: +1.0 EV
Image Stabilisation: On

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Early morning light

click photo to enlarge
As I said in one of my early posts on this blog, I'm a morning person. Of all the times of day the morning is the one that I value most. It seems to hold in its grasp the promise of the day to come, to have a freshness that afternoon and evening cannot match, and the first light of the day is incomparable. It has been said that if you want to take photographs that catch the viewer's eye, then go out with your camera in the early morning. If the sun is present, with or without clouds in attendance, its low angle allows you to make silhouettes, add drama, and simplify your images. Those three things are important in making your photographs noticeable. Often when you include the sun in the image the results are not quite what your eyes see, and can be quite unpredictable, but that's part of the fun!

The other day I strode out into the snowy morning just as the sun was rising. The temperature was -8.5 Celsius but there was no wind, and the crispness of the air was matched by the sharpness of the light. I set off down a lane that I don't use very much, largely because it holds less visual interest than others that I favour. However, at this time of day it allowed me to walk towards the rising sun. Hares scattered as I walked along, their feet throwing up powdered snow as they dashed away, and I stopped periodically to frame trees against the ever brightening sun. The photograph above is one of the best I took. It's not much of a subject, but for me (though maybe not for everyone!) it demonstrates the power of light to transform the ordinary into the interesting or extraordinary. I liked this one because as I progressed down the lane a bank of fog made an appearance, and it added a diffuse quality to the image that contrasts with the the harder outlines of the branches.

photograph and text (c) T. Boughen

Camera: Canon
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 45mm
F No: f8
Shutter Speed: 1/1250
ISO: 100
Exposure Compensation: -1.0 EV
Image Stabilisation: On

Saturday, December 04, 2010

Rooks, hoar frost and adverts

click photo to enlarge
When "Frozen Britain" (copyright - BBC TV) is in the grip of a "White Hell" (copyright - unimaginative and overworked journalists on, it seems, every newspaper) movement becomes more restricted than usual. The paths, where they exist in rural areas, have become packed snow which has turned to ice: minor roads ditto. Major roads have largely been kept open, but fresh falls and freeze-thaw make stretches periodically difficult or impassable. Consequently the radius over which I have chosen to roam during the past week has been less than two miles, the odd shopping expedition by car excepted. And the amount of time I've spent indoors has increased. This doesn't have to be a bad thing because it directs you to activities that need doing or that you would like to do. It's also a time when you take your pleasures where you can, and when you find fun in unexpected places.

Over the past couple of days I've had a few good laughs at the advertising pitches that the snow has prompted the manufacturers of 4X4 vehicles to make in the press and elsewhere. Did you know that Toyota manufactures the only such vehicles ever to have driven to the North Pole? I didn't, but once I'd read it I had to be physically restrained from going out immediately and buying one. I mean, it stands to reason that a vehicle able to do that MUST be able to cope with anything that the British weather can throw at it. Then there was the Land Rover Freelander 2 advert with the subtext "don't you wish you had one of these in this snowy weather" and the line "anywhere is possible". That last one had me wondering. Anywhere? Now I know that the school-run is possible because I see them on it. And I also know that parking on the pavement is possible because I have to step round them (and resist the temptation to walk over them). And many 4X4 drivers (owners of Freelanders included) can drive on grass verges and churn them up - in fact many seem to see it as a duty, so I know they can go there too. But anywhere? How about into the average sized parking space? In fact, the press reported that one Lincolnshire driver this week found that his Freelander didn't stop him leaving a snow-covered road and ending up in a drainage ditch with tragic consequences. Anywhere? Not really.

The truth is, manufacturers of such vehicles know that many people's (especially men's) capacity for self-delusion knows no bounds, and the ability to go to the shops at any time, including on the two or three days of the year when that might not be possible for two-wheel drive cars, is all the bait needed to make people part with a sum that can buy two or three perfectly good and less destructive vehicles. Of course none of the adverts mentioned the massive redundancy involved in these thirsty, heavy, over-engineered trucks dragging around excess metal for the other three hundred and sixty days of the year.

I was mulling this over as I photographed the rooks at the top of the hoar-frost covered churchyard trees in the village the other day. The easy grace with which they slipped from their perch, then glided and slowly flapped to their destination made me wonder if, one day, man will be able to move about as easily, and with as little impact on his environment.

photograph and text (c) T. Boughen

Camera: Canon
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 300mm
F No: f5.6
Shutter Speed: 1/500
ISO: 100
Exposure Compensation: 0 EV
Image Stabilisation: On

Friday, December 03, 2010

Football, journalism and snow


 click photo to enlarge
Does the journalism that we consume through our newspapers, TV, radio, the internet and the rest reflect the way the general public sees things. Whilst each medium clearly is a mouthpiece for its owner and the chosen editor, it should surely seek to mirror, in some way, the views of the intended readership. I pondered this question as I glanced at the column inches devoted to the fact that the UK is not to host either of the next two football (soccer) world cups. The build up to the FIFA vote was headline news across the country, as was the "dream team" of Prime Minister David Cameron, Prince William and David Beckham, who were all wheeled out to promote the bid. Then there was the sub-plot to the main story - a programme on BBC TV that exposed the "money for votes" corruption and the self-serving nature of the whole selection process - which the papers saw as an unpatriotic "spoiler" that had the potential to scupper the UK's chances. In the event the UK had no chance, got nowhere near being selected, and after that fact became known the newspaper stories turned to either the heartbreak and anguish of it all or to the perfidy of the process.
 
None of this reflected my feelings, or as far as I'm aware, the feelings of anyone I know well. A great many people were as indifferent to whether or not we hosted the world cup as they were to the Olympics being here, and certainly felt that greasing the palms of narcissistic FIFA was demeaning. The whole episode did offer a little humour in the area of journalistic fawning however. The example that made me laugh out loud was the BBC radio presenter who, before playing a recorded clip of David Beckham's words of support, described it as "eloquent". Now David Beckham has been, and may still be, a good footballer, but eloquent he ain't. And so the extract proved, each sentence seeming to include a "you know" or an "obviously", or both, the whole passage a jumble of unremarkable and awkwardly assembled thoughts.


As I thought abut what I might do with my day I decided not to join my fellow citizens in an orgy of wailing and teeth-gnashing as we ponder a world-cupless future for the UK, and instead went for an afternoon walk with my wife and my camera in the hope of securing at least one reasonable snowy photograph. These were the best I came up with - my wife "Nordic walking" across the fields, and a shot of some old fleur-de-lys topped railings around a grave in the local churchyard - the latter a shot similar to one of the same subject covered in hoar frost that I posted a while ago.

photograph and text (c) T. Boughen

Photo 1 (Photo 2)
Camera: Canon
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 24mm (300mm)
F No: f8 (6.3)
Shutter Speed: 1/500 (1/320)
ISO: 100 (800)
Exposure Compensation: 0 (+0.33) EV
Image Stabilisation: On

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Taking the same photograph again

click photo to enlarge
The truth is you can never take the same photograph twice. Whatever steps you take to try and achieve this goal it will always end in failure. The light will be different, as will the sky, the shadows, the movement of living things, the colours - everything in some small or major way. Ah but, I hear you say, what about if you shoot an inert subject under studio conditions with a tripod-mounted camera and reproducible artificial lighting? Even in those conditions, and even if your eye can't discern a difference, a close examination of the electronic file that you produce will show it to differ from the previous one. However, I will agree that if you can't see a difference then to all intents and purposes there isn't a difference!

So, if we accept that it's extremely difficult to take the same photograph twice, why are many photographers loath to shoot the "same" shot again. Is it seen as boring or a mark of a lack of creativity? Having "done" that subject, are such people simply incapable of doing it again? It isn't all photographers - or painters for that matter. Many creative people recognise the value in studying and portraying a subject in different ways, in different light, at different times of day and year. It certainly suits me to re-visit a subject and try and improve on what I achieved earlier, or make something different of it.

Today's image is a case in point. Each time I visit the National Centre for Craft and Design (also known as The Hub) at Sleaford I walk to the top of the converted and extended warehouse building and take some photographs of the medieval church of St Denys and the surrounding roofscape. I posted such an image in February of this year, and on my afternoon visit last week I took another shot which I post today. The two shots differ principally in terms of light and field of view/aspect ratio, with the second one looking much more three-dimensional. What I did find interesting, however, is that the point at which I took the recent shot was not discernibly different from where I stood for the earlier one. It seems that, despite me knowing that I was taking a different shot, there was part of me unconsciously trying to make it the same.

photograph and text (c) T. Boughen

Camera: Lumix LX3
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 9.3mm (44mm/35mm equiv.)
F No: f2.5
Shutter Speed: 1/640
ISO: 80
Exposure Compensation: 0 EV
Image Stabilisation: On