Monday, April 30, 2012

Tulips, viewpoints and black and white

click photo to enlarge
The red and yellow tulips in our garden look better than ever this year. I put that down to the much higher than usual rainfall that we've experienced during April, precipitation that began straight after drought conditions and restrictions were announced. In fact, thus far, as many wits have noted, this drought is the wettest drought on record! But drought or deluge, the tulips have liked it, though they haven't been so keen on the accompanying winds.

I photograph these flowers every year, and the low viewpoint I adopted with this shot is one I've tried before. I've shot them from directly above too, as well as from the side. Flowers are co-operative photographic subjects. In fact, the only two conditions that stop me photographing them at my convenience are wind and insect infestations, and even those circumstances are capable of producing interesting images. But the truth is, because we are so familiar with flowers, they do benefit from a variety of approaches to sustain the viewer's interest.

Periodically I like to try a black and white conversion of a flower photograph. It seems counter-intuitive that a subject that leans so heavily on colour can be improved in any way by being shown in black and white. However, some flowers display an entirely different character when seen this way, as this rose (and this one) demonstrate. So too with the tulips above. In colour the red and yellow combine with the blue of the sky to make three primary colours that impact strongly on the eye. The patches of colour that are the flower heads catch the eye first and give the viewer a lift: the shot has an upbeat feel to it, proclaiming "spring has sprung!" However, in black and white the eye tends to range across the whole of the image with the flower heads assuming less immediate importance. The mood of the shot is very different too, more subdued, even a touch sombre. The flowers look like they might have been photographed in bright moonlight, and the shadows of the knife-like leaves assume a greater importance. The texture of the petals and their subtle shading eventually draw the eye and give a quieter, subtler viewing experience than they exhibit in colour. I have a preference for one photograph over the other, but I think both, in their own way, have something to offer.

photographs and text (c) T. Boughen

Photo 1
Camera: Canon
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 26mm
F No: f16
Shutter Speed: 1/160 sec
ISO: 100
Exposure Compensation:  -1.0 EV
Image Stabilisation: On

Sunday, April 29, 2012

The general public and photography

click photo to enlarge
I've never been challenged or queried very much when taking photographs in public places. It has happened, but it has never led to the sort of significant incident that makes headlines. The police, private security guards and others are regularly reported exceeding their authority and interfering with the rights that photographers have to pursue their hobby and profession, and we must all strongly uphold our freedom to photograph in public places in the face of this kind of officiousness. But, what we must not forget is that most people, especially members of the public, are usually very helpful as far as photography goes. For example, people often wait until I've taken my shot before walking in front of me. Others are very generous, telling me about locations where I can get a good photograph. Of course, some people do make a detour to stay out of my shot, not to help me, but because they don't want to be captured on my image, and there's no problem with that. I usually find this happens in smaller places - towns, villages, the countryside - where photography is not an everyday occurrence. In cities and spots frequented by tourists, places where camera-wielding people are common, the locals tend to ignore you much more readily.

The other day I experienced a further example of the goodwill that is often afforded to photographers. I was sizing up a shot down Barn Hill in Stamford, Lincolnshire, when a man stepped out of a building to my left and was about to set off down into the town centre. "Am I going to be in your way?", he said, pausing for a moment. I told him he wouldn't be and he carried on, saying over his shoulder, "I suppose you can always Photoshop me out." I replied, "No, you'll be good foreground interest for me", at which he smiled and strode off, hands behind his back carrying his briefcase.

I've posted two shots of this particular Stamford street before (see here and here), a place with a fine selection of interesting buildings. On our recent visit we managed to dodge the rain and the sun made fleeting appearances. For this photograph, however, it had gone, but the sky had sufficient interest, the light was bright, and I managed to get a shot that I like; one that is all the better for the co-operative figure in the yellow jacket in the foreground.

photograph and text (c) T. Boughen

Camera: Canon
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 35mm
 F No: f7.1
Shutter Speed: 1/320 sec
ISO: 100
Exposure Compensation:  -0.67 EV
Image Stabilisation: On

Friday, April 27, 2012

Pubs, hotels and vanishing customers

click photo to enlarge
Anyone who lives in England or who visits on a regular basis can't help but notice the decline of the English pub. At the end of last year they were closing at a rate of 25 per week as large pub operators and privately-run businesses decided there was over-capacity and that many establishments were unprofitable and never going to be able to produce a profit. A combination of cheaper alcohol from supermarkets, the ban on smoking in buildings open to the public, the tightening of everyone's belt following the banking crash and the increased competition for discretionary spending has resulted in many closures over the past few years. Boarded up buildings can be seen in villages, towns  and cities across the country. This is nothing new of course. A hundred and more years ago even the smallest English village had a pub, and often not one but two, three or more. That was a time when beer was safer to drink than"Adam's ale" i.e. water. Most of these didn't survive the changing circumstances of the twentieth century. What is different about today's closures is the scale and the short period of time over which they are happening.

The down-turn in the fortunes of the pub has been mirrored, perhaps to a lesser extent, by hotels. The rise of mass foreign holidays in the 1960s on the back of increasing incomes and cheaper air fares made a big dent in the custom that English hotels received, and over subsequent decades this only increased. So this sector of the "hospitality industry" has suffered too. The recent economic downturn has offered some relief with more people indulging in "staycations", and the swapping of a stay in a country hotel, travel lodge or seaside resort for a fortnight in Spain, the Dominican Republic or Thailand. But hotels also have a long history of closures, with many buildings being unable to adapt (or be adapted) to modern needs and standards. I wonder if that was the fate of the Stamford Hotel in Stamford, Lincolnshire. This large building, begun in 1810 and completed fifteen or twenty years later after a period of inactivity, looks more like a Georgian Assembly Rooms with its giant order of Corinthian columns in antis. Its scale looks incongruous on narrow St Mary's Street and today it is subdivided and occupied by a number of small businesses. Looking at this Francis Frith postcard it appears that it was still functioning as a hotel in 1922. When did it stop trading I wonder? On a recent day in Stamford I passed through the building, taking this photograph of its fine cantilevered stone staircase that is lit by windows and a glass-topped lantern above.

photograph and text (c) T. Boughen

Camera: Canon
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 17mm
 F No: f7.1
Shutter Speed: 1/50 sec
ISO: 100
Exposure Compensation:  -1.0 EV
Image Stabilisation: On

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Lister Blackstone No 1 Digger (Take 2)

click photo to enlarge
Sometimes, in the rush and routine of photography, I ignore my own advice. I've long known that it is best to look at and think about a photograph for a while before coming to an opinion about its merits. That's something I've advocated before on this blog. However, when I took my photographs of the old potato harvester that I posted yesterday, due to a dearth of acceptable fresh photographs, I didn't take this elementary step, and posted what I thought at the time was the best of my images. I got it wrong.

Not by a big margin, but wrong nonetheless. Moreover, I was wrong for a second reason that goes beyond making myself more familiar with the shots. Elsewhere in this blog I've proclaimed the virtues of different aspect ratios. I was a long-time user of Four Thirds cameras with their 4:3 aspect ratio. My current Canon camera outputs images at 3:2. The compact camera I use, a Panasonic LX3, offers both of those plus 16:9 and 1:1. After thirty years using a 35mm film SLR (3:2) I found the change to 4:3 interesting but not problematic. Moreover, after a while I found that I preferred it. I still do, though I find 3:2 is perfectly acceptable. The aspect ratios of 16:9 and 1:1 have their attractions for the right subject and composition. So, when I'd spent more time with my collection of shots of the potato harvester, I decided that, perhaps, one of the others was compositionally better than the one I posted. And, when I'd placed a 4:3 selection outline over the image to improve the composition further, I wondered how, after all these years, I could still make such an elementary error.

The answer to that question, I think, lies in photoblogging. Overall this blog has been something that has improved my photography considerably, giving me a focus, urgency and a widened range that has resulted in a keener eye and better shots. But a downside is that periodically my relatively high frequency of posting results in a dearth of shots and a posting date that is too close to the date I took the photograph. Hence, sometimes I haven't reflected sufficiently on the shot, quality control slips, and I post a photograph that, with hindsight, I could have bettered. So, today I post what I think is the better photograph as well as a detail showing the maker's name. Of course, that's only my point of view: yours may differ.

photograph and text (c) T. Boughen

Camera: Canon
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 50mm
 F No: f11
Shutter Speed: 1/40 sec
ISO: 125
Exposure Compensation:  0 EV
Image Stabilisation: On

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Lister Blackstone No 1 Digger

click photo to enlarge
Yesterday the Sinclair Spectrum home computer celebrated the thirtieth anniversary of its appearance on the market in the UK. I owned one of these machines and enjoyed the affordable introduction to computing that it provided. I can't remember precisely how long I used the Spectrum before I replaced it with a newer and more capable computer, but it can only have been a matter of a few years, such is the lifespan of this kind of technology-based hardware.

I was recently looking at a few pieces of rather older technology associated with vegetable growing, simple machines and tools owned by someone we know, which have had a much longer life than the Spectrum and have been used every year since they were first acquired. The photograph above shows one of them, the Lister Blackstone No 1 Digger, an implement used for harvesting potatoes. I'm no authority on such things, but from what I can gather, it must date from shortly after the takeover of the Stamford-based farm implement maker, Blackstone* & Co, by R.A.Lister & Company of Dursley, Gloucestershire, in 1936. Consequently it is about 75 years old. This particular example was the version designed to be pulled by a horse: a model for fitting to a tractor was also offered. However, the Digger shown above has a blacksmith-made bracket that allows it to be pulled by a small Ferguson tractor, something that happens annually when the potatoes are harvested from the smallholding where it resides.

As we discussed the machine I expressed reservations about it being pulled along a tarmac road to the place where it would be used - those notched lugs on the steel wheels would make for a slow, noisy and potentially damaging journey. However, I was informed that the manufacturer supplied steel rims that fitted round the wheels, locating in each notch on the lugs. One of the pleasures of quite a lot of older technology is the way that simplicity of design and durability of construction combine to create something with a life that can be measured in decades rather than a few short years. I took my photograph of the venerable machine at rest behind an old shed alongside other equipment and cast-off remnants that gave a suitably time-worn backdrop.

 * The name "Blackstone" rang a bell for me, and I remembered a blog entry of an engine nameplate that I posted some years ago. It is the same company.

photograph and text (c) T. Boughen

Camera: Canon
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 73mm
 F No: f11
Shutter Speed: 1/60 sec
ISO: 200
Exposure Compensation:  0 EV
Image Stabilisation: On

Monday, April 23, 2012

Lilies, symbolism and eyeliner

click photo to enlarge
Today's photograph of a display of well-illuminated lilies was taken in a church. I often see this particular flower, usually a white variety, in or near the chancel. In fact, there is a long history associating the lily with the Virgin Mary to the point where the name "Madonna Lily" has become widespread. Renaissance paintings often depict Christ's mother holding the white flower as a sign of her purity. In the Old Testament's Song of Solomon the lily is seen as symbolic of beauty: "Like a lily among thorns is my darling among the maidens". All these ideas remain current today notwithstanding the fact that sometimes, possibly due to the Victorians, the lily can be associated with death!

The fleur-de-lys (literal French for "lily flower") has long been associated with the French royal family and is commonly found in heraldry. There is a suggestion that the three prominent petals of the total of six, like the lily (Lilium) proper above, symbolise the Trinity. However, it is also thought that the fleur-de-lys derives from the iris (Iris pseudacorus) with which it has a stronger resemblance. Theory has it that short-hand usage combined with this flower's waterside habitat resulted in it being called the "lily flower" where it should have been "flower of the river of lilies" (presumably water lilies). Make of that what you will!

If you want to photograph these showy flowers you are still more likely to find them in a church than elsewhere. When I stopped to snap this group by an ancient stone font I was taken by the fact that the large, white petals were edged with a thin, dark line; something I hadn't seen before. A quick internet search uncovered the fact that they are a variety known as Lily L.A. "Eyeliner", taking their name from the eye make-up that some women favour.

photograph and text (c) T. Boughen

Camera: Canon
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 40mm
F No: f7.1
Shutter Speed: 1/40
ISO: 640
Exposure Compensation: 0 EV
Image Stabilisation: On

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Old windmill, new sails

click photo to enlarge
I hadn't anticipated dull and dreary skies when we decided we'd visit Moulton windmill to see its new sails. After all, the forecast was for sunshine and showers. But, as we sat and ate our lunch and heavy drops of rain started to fall I began to fear the worst. Even as we journeyed the few short miles to the mill, the tallest in England, I retained a lingering hope that a patch of clear, or at least interesting sky would coincide with our time there. And it did. Unfortunately it was when we were inside the mill having a guided tour! Consequently the shots of the exterior that I'd hoped for didn't materialise, and the photograph above, taken from the external fourth floor reefing gallery (balcony), is the only one that I took of the new sails that is worth reproducing. However, I did get a photograph of Moulton church from the same balcony, and I include a photograph of the mill's stones that I took on a previous visit.

The original sails of Moulton windmill were removed after they were damaged in a gale in 1894, a severe "blow" that inflicted injury on a number of Lincolnshire mills. In subsequent years the millstones were powered by steam, diesel, then electricity, before milling finally ended in 1995. The charitable trust that acquired the mill set themselves the task of restoring it to the point where it could begin wind-powered milling again as a tourist attraction The most important step on that journey was accomplished on 21st November 2011 when new sails were fitted. The next step will be taken on 29th April 2012 when, wind permitting, the sails will be allowed to turn. Then, on 5th May 2012 (also wind permitting) milling will be undertaken. The resulting bags of flour are to be sold to visitors and local businesses.

Over the years I've looked at a number of windmills, read a few books on the subject, and increased my understanding of these buildings/machines. However, on my recent visit to Moulton I clarified a point that I was unclear about concerning millstones. I've seen many circular millstones that are made of a single piece of stone, and many that are made with a number of interlocking pieces of stone that are held together with iron bands around the rim. Why the difference? Apparently most of the single stones are older, Derbyshire gritstone examples. The pieced millstones are made of French stone that originally came into the country as ballast in ships. The latter could be assembled very quickly whilst the former had to be ordered years in advance and cut out of the outcrops on the Derbyshire moors. Clearly the assembled stones were cheaper, could be ordered nearer to the time they were required, and were as good if not better than the locally sourced stones. Moulton has examples of both kinds.

photograph and text (c) T. Boughen

Photo 1
Camera: Canon
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 24mm
 F No: f7.1
Shutter Speed: 1/500 sec
ISO: 100
Exposure Compensation:  -0.67 EV
Image Stabilisation: On

Thursday, April 19, 2012

The Jolly Fisherman, Skegness

click photo to enlarge
In the middle ages the Lincolnshire town of Skegness suffered from the depredations of the sea. Buildings were lost, and its continuance was precarious. But, it survived and its medieval church can still be seen. In the early nineteenth century the town gained some standing as a desirable resort for the well-to-do. However, most of Skegness's growth came after the arrival of the railway in 1876 when a conscious decision was made to develop the town as a seaside resort.

Under the direction of the major landowner, the Earl of Scarborough, the expansion of Skegness was planned on a grid and developed quite slowly, with wide avenues, tree planting and monuments. Only when the area fronting the sea was bought by the town council in 1921 did the brash resort that we see today begin to appear. Not that there hadn't been a concerted effort in the earlier years of the twentieth century to attract visitors.

In 1908 the London and North Eastern Railway company commissioned the illustrator, John Hassall, to produce a poster to advertise Skegness. His creation, for which he was paid twelve guineas, has become one of the best known seaside advertising posters in Britain. The "jolly fisherman" character that it features, as well as the slogan, "Skegness is so bracing", became so closely associated with the town they that have been used in the original form and in several updated-versions almost without interruption over the past century. Hassall's first, hand-painted poster is now displayed in Skegness Town Hall. The jolly fisherman continues to be used on many souvenirs and advertisements for the town, and in recent years has been made the centrepiece of a fountain in one of the sea-front gardens.I took this contre-jour photograph of the prancing figure on top of the cascading water, positioning myself so that the aircraft vapour trails framed the silhouetted fisherman like Hollywood searchlights. It's hard to predict the outcome with photographs that include the sun in the frame, but I've shot enough of this kind of image to know that even the big white orb and lens flare don't detract from the impact and drama that can be achieved by photographing against the light.

photograph and text (c) T. Boughen

Photo 1
Camera: Canon
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 38mm
 F No: f7.1
Shutter Speed: 1/2000 sec
ISO: 100
Exposure Compensation:  0 EV
Image Stabilisation: On

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Nelson Street, King's Lynn

click photo to enlarge
Nelson Street, King's Lynn, shown in today's photograph, was formerly called Lath Street, a name recalled in Lath Mansions, a building that was a merchant's house and which is now divided into flats. Re-naming of the road took place after a British fleet under Horatio Nelson won a famous victory over a combined fleet of the French and Spanish navies at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. Nelson was a Norfolk man who was born at Burnham Thorpe only twenty five miles north east of King's Lynn. For anyone interested in architectural history the story of the street's name, fascinating though it is, definitely comes second to the sequence of buildings that line each side.

Nelson Street is only 166 yards (150 metres) long yet it has a total of 26 buildings (either as individual structures or in groups) and a length of garden wall that have been Listed as being of architectural or historic importance. These span the years from the medieval period right up to the nineteenth century and include relatively humble dwellings as well as the fine Georgian town houses of wealthy merchants. Quite a few are buildings that have been modified as succeeding centuries tried to bring them up to date. The architectural historian, Nikolaus Pevsner describes the sequence of Nelson Street, St Margaret's Place and Queen Street as "one of the most satisfying Georgian promenades in England." He's right (though I'd add King Street to his sequence), and so, rather than describe the architectural riches at great length I invite you, courtesy of Google Street View, to take that "promenade" yourself. Don't forget to look left and right as well as up and down as you make your way through the narrow streets.

Google Street View - Nelson Street, St Margaret's Place, Queen Street, King Street.

photograph and text (c) T. Boughen

Camera: Canon
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 65mm
 F No: f7.1
Shutter Speed: 1/500 sec
ISO: 100
Exposure Compensation:  -0.67 EV
Image Stabilisation: On

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Blogger address changes

click photo to enlarge
Anyone visiting a Blogger-hosted blog in the past couple of weeks may have noticed a difference in the web address of their destination. Google has rolled out a change that, once again, doesn't seem to have been formally announced, or if it has, was so low-profile that I missed it.

It works like this. If you live in Australia and visit PhotoReflect (for example) the address you saw in your browser before this change was http://photoreflect.blogspot.com. Now, however, it will show http://photoreflect.blogspot.com.au. If you live in the UK you'll now see http://photoreflect.blogspot.co.uk, and so on for each country. You can still use the old address and you'll go to the blog, but your browser will now show your country's identifying letters. So, to all intents and purposes, for both the blogger and the blog visitor, there is no need to change anything or do anything different.

Given that last statement I imagine some of you may be wondering why there has been this change. Apparently it's to do with giving Google greater facility to control blogs based on country of access. The change makes it possible for Google to more easily block or censor a blog in one country, where this is required by that country's laws, without the blocking or censoring applying to every country right across the world. On the face of it this seems a reasonable compromise on Google's part. However, the ramifications of censorship are not always immediately evident and it will probably take a while longer before all the implications of this change surface.

All of which has nothing to do with photographs of quail eggs. These were a gift from some friends who keep domestic quails and I thought I'd photograph them in all their mottled, muted delicacy before we ate them boiled for lunch. If you've ever eaten boiled quail eggs you'll know that their small size and thin shells can make preparing them a very fiddly and frustrating experience. However, we received this tip that makes the task easier and I pass it on so that if you are ever faced with the diminutive darlings you'll know what to do. First tap the egg to break the shell, then roll it on the plate or table under light pressure from your hand and - voilĂ  - the shell will now peel off much more easily in larger pieces.

photograph and text (c) T. Boughen

Photo 1
Camera: Canon
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 100mm macro
F No: f11
Shutter Speed: 1/4 sec
ISO: 100
Exposure Compensation:  0 EV
Image Stabilisation: On

Monday, April 16, 2012

Hampton Court, King's Lynn

click photo to enlarge
The over zealous restoration of old buildings is rife in the UK. This especially happens when such properties are in private hands. If the building is Listed the wilder fancies of the owners are often restrained by the legislation. However, where this isn't the case you too often see work designed to make the property look "quaint", or conform to the owners' conception of an idealised past that owes more to Hovis adverts, television adaptations of classic novels and the illustrations of Kate Greenaway than to a sympathetic understanding of the building and its history. So, traditional, practical finishes and details are eschewed in favour of picturesque embellishments that appear to owe more to increasing the re-sale value of the property than to any appreciation of the qualities necessary to present the building authentically. However, though such treatment of old buildings is more common than one might wish, instances of good restoration in both private and public hands are not difficult to find. Hampton Court in King's Lynn, Norfolk, is one such example.

This cobbled courtyard surrounded by four ranges of buildings dating from C14, c.1450, c.1480 and c.1600 has elevations constructed of brick, stone and timber-framing. The west range incorporates a former warehouse that would have fronted the river before it was embanked. All the present structures may have been built on the foundations of earlier buildings, all have been the subject of later maintenance and updating down the centuries and all were restored in 1958-60 at a time when they were in very poor repair. In 1962 they were converted into the fifteen flats that we see today. The current name probably refers to John Hampton, a master baker who became a freeman of the town in 1645. The restoration of Hampton Court has been widely acclaimed. Pevsner speaks of it "setting a standard for such work which is reached depressingly rarely." He was right, and to stand today under the half-timbered entrance arch on Nelson Street and look into the courtyard is to look back in time.

I 've photographed this courtyard a few times but I've never been satisfied with the shots that I've secured. On a recent visit I decided to concentrate on a small section, the corner where the northern range (on the right) meets the western range. I'm much happier with this outcome.

photograph and text (c) T. Boughen

Camera: Canon
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 58mm
 F No: f7.1
Shutter Speed: 1/400 sec
ISO: 100
Exposure Compensation:  0 EV
Image Stabilisation: On

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Eyes, mind and camera

click photo to enlarge
Displayed on a chest of drawers in our house is a beige, glazed, clay model of an animal. It has big ears, a wide mouth and, on each side of its body, green, feathered wings. Its tail is broad, notched, and may be either feathers or hair. The general posture, if I can call it that, resembles the way a dog sits with its front legs straight and the rear legs folded under. Except that those back legs are bent the wrong way and look more like a person's would if they were kneeling. The mythical beast, which has elements of the griffin and Pegasus about it, is a treasured possession that was made by my youngest son when he was young. He must have used his memory when he modelled the back legs of the animal, because if he'd followed an actual precedent, as he did for the rest of the animal, he'd have got them right.

Our eyes and mind often deceive us in this way. We look at something and create an internal picture that is at variance with reality. Sometimes that is because we mis-interpret the subject, but other times it's because we can't clearly see the phenomenon in question. A classic example of the latter relates to the eighteenth century and earlier paintings and drawings of running horses, with their front legs stretched forwards and their back legs stretched rearwards. It was only when the English-born photographer, Eadweard Muybridge, in the nineteenth century, ran a series of sequentially taken still photographs rapidly one after the other, that the truth of the horse's gallop became clear.

I was reminded of this when I leaned out of a bedroom window to take some photographs of rain falling on our water lily pond below. When I varied the shutter speed of the camera I recorded different versions of the effect of the drops hitting the surface of the water. None of them precisely matched what I thought I was seeing with my own eyes. The shot that I've posted today is quite close but the camera saw the shadows of the ripples on the surface of the pond much darker and in greater numbers than they appeared to me. However, it's an effect that I like, and it adds a semi-abstract, unifying layer over the young leaves and dead strands of vegetation. I frequently take photographs of this pond in spring when the lily leaves unfurl below the water, and in autumn when they die back from whence they came. Why this time of year should appeal to me more than summer when the multiple showy flowers are in full bloom I leave you to work out.

photograph and text (c) T. Boughen

Camera: Canon
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 300mm
F No: f7.1
Shutter Speed: 1/320 sec
ISO: 3200
Exposure Compensation:  0 EV
Image Stabilisation: On

Friday, April 13, 2012

Drought and fickle nature

click photo to enlarge
A casual observer might wonder how parts of the UK could be in a state of drought and suffering from such a shortage of water that the use of hose-pipes has been banned. After all, haven't these offshore islands been famous for millennia for their clouds, all-enveloping mists, regular rainfall and verdant pastures? But, much of eastern and south-eastern England is in that situation after two years when rainfall has been significantly less than usual. The fact is, of course, that the prevailing south-westerly winds bring water-laden air off the Atlantic which then falls as rain mainly on the west side of Britain and on the adjacent hills and mountains. By the time the rain does get to the east side of the island precipitation is often much reduced or non-existent. The natural dryness of the east is not helped by the fact that it is flatter and water storage in the form of lakes and reservoirs is much less practical than farther west.

However, sometimes nature is fickle and there are times when it seems to be having a laugh at man's expense. The very day the hose-pipe ban came into force it rained, and it has rained on most days since. It isn't enough to compensate for the many months of dryness, nor will it significantly impact on ground-water levels, but as gardeners we have been pleased to see it, and as a photographer I've welcomed the fine, cloudy skies that accompany the associated changeable weather. On a Fenland walk I framed a few landscape compositions that wouldn't have worked without the towering clouds drifting by overhead. Today's photograph shows a Georgian farmhouse that I've photographed before in winter. On this early spring day it looked quite different with leaves starting to appear on the trees that surround the building, onion shoots in the nearby field, winter wheat thriving beyond, and those billowing, mountainous clouds and blue skies above.

photograph and text (c) T. Boughen

Camera: Canon
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 82mm
 F No: f7.1
Shutter Speed: 1/800 sec
ISO: 100
Exposure Compensation:  -0.33 EV
Image Stabilisation: On

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Tulips, contrast and shadows

click photo to enlarge
My DSLR, a Canon 5DMk2, is set to record images in the RAW format. I do this to give me the greatest flexibility when it comes to processing my photographs and to allow me a better chance of recovering from a poor exposure. My compact camera, a Panasonic Lumix LX3, despite the fact that it can record in RAW, is always set to the best quality JPEG because I take more snapshots with it. Despite that, it has produced some images that bear comparison with any done by my more capable camera (see here, here, here and here for example, or see them all here). I know that if I shot exclusively in JPEG on both cameras my shots wouldn't be enormously poorer for it, but I would find that I couldn't achieve the quality that I required from some exposures because of the restricted ability to post process this format.

In my pre-digital days I never did any post processing of colour negative or colour reversal film, though I did develop slides. I did use a range of filters on my lenses which is processing of sorts. However, with black and white I certainly experimented with chemicals, developing times, and with dodging and burning under the enlarger. I was always fond of fairly contrasty black and white images, and slides tended to have that quality anyway, so deep blacks against strong whites featured in quite a few of my prints. Nowadays I tend to favour the greater dynamic range  and more natural contrast that is possible with digital, though every now and again I like to take a left turn and produce a very contrasty image with deepened shadows.

Today's offering is a case in point. These dark red tulips grow in the shade of a crab apple tree in my garden, and I caught them on a still, cloudy evening, just as the light was starting to tail off. The unprocessed shot is reasonably well exposed with quite a good range of tones. What prompted me to increase the contrast was the dark, shadowy background in the top half of the shot. The red petals were positively glowing against this, and I thought it was an effect that I'd like to enhance across the whole frame. So, with a tweak of the Tone Curve and a few other fiddles here and there I produced this contrasty shot. I quite like it, but it may be a step too far for some

Addendum:
The sale of Instagram for $1 billion brought to my attention something that hitherto I didn't know, namely that people who take photographs on cameras increasingly apply pre-determined effects to their pictures. This has happened for many years in the world of digital photography where the result has been to make photographs look increasingly similar. Apparently that is happening with camera phones too as the mass application of the most popular effects reduces the difference between individual images. I'm not against photographic manipulation, but I do think that doing it yourself by consciously adjusting the basic parameters is more likely to retain any individuality your shot had, whereas applying a ready-made effect inevitably puts it alongside all the others that have had the same done to them.

photograph and text (c) T. Boughen

Camera: Canon
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 100mm macro
F No: f2.8
Shutter Speed: 1/160 sec
ISO: 100
Exposure Compensation:  0 EV
Image Stabilisation: On

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Corn exchanges

click photo to enlarge
A nineteenth century building that can be found in many of England's towns and cities is the corn exchange. Most of them were built during Victoria's reign, though some date from the first few decades of the 1800s. Their main purpose was to provide a space where farmers and merchants could trade cereals. However, anyone who has seen a selection of corn exchanges will realise that important subsidiary purposes of the buildings were to proclaim the wealth of those involved in this branch of agriculture and to adorn the community of which they were a part: corn exchanges are often very ostentatious! It's unusual to find a corn exchange that merges comfortably with the vernacular style of the locality: in the main they are built of stone, usually in a classical style, though occasionally Gothic is used, and they mostly dwarf the buildings around them.

Where the corn exchange is entirely new (as opposed to a conversion of an existing building) they are typically three bays wide. The central bay has the main entrance door, and often the flanking bays have doors too. Central towers are not uncommon, even above a classical facade where no Greek or Roman would have put one (though the architects of the English Renaissance such as Wren might have done so). A discernible order of architecture is often seen: at Newark it is Corinthian, King's Lynn chose Ionic. But what is mandatory (apart from the date of construction and, usually, the words "Corn Exchange") is sculpture, either in relief or in the form of symbolic figures - Ceres, the Roman goddess of agriculture, is commonly seen. Other popular subjects are, unsurprisingly, sheaves of wheat, scythes and sickles, cornucopias and rakes.

The life of most corn exchanges wasn't very long, the process of trading wheat changed, and these interesting, showy buildings were often turned to new uses based around the large trading hall that had been the focus of their commercial activity. Many towns converted them into theatres. This happened at Stamford, Lincolnshire, at Cambridge and at King's Lynn (above) to name but three. Others, such as the one on the High Street in Hull became museums. At Newark (above) a nightclub currently makes use of the building. It is a testament to their quality and adaptability, as well as the local affection that exists for these buildings, that they continue to serve their communities many years after their original purpose has passed. Long may they continue to do so.

photograph and text (c) T. Boughen

Photo 1
Camera: Canon
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 24mm
 F No: f7.1
Shutter Speed: 1/160 sec
ISO: 100
Exposure Compensation:  -0.33 EV
Image Stabilisation: On

Sunday, April 08, 2012

Revisiting photographic subjects

click photos to enlarge
Our modern world, it seems, craves novelty. Manufacturers constantly update their cars, phones, televisions, bathrooms, clothing and much else in the hope and expectation that through change they will prompt desire and trigger another purchase to replace whatever it is that they now deem to be old and consequently worthless. Camera makers are past masters at this, offering a few more megapixels, slightly faster burst rates, a touch more dynamic range and further tweaks in their new models that appear for sale with frightening rapidity. And yet as these products change they also, in many ways, remain the same, because the fact is, manufacturers and consumers enjoy familiarity just as much as they do novelty. So, digital SLR cameras look very much like film SLR cameras though they don't have to do so, and today's shiny new car isn't radically different in appearance from that of ten years ago, or from the current competitor manufacturers' offerings (to the extent that I frequently confuse marques). In the realm of fast food outlets you are successful if you can give the customer the same product from the same menu - EXACTLY the same product, EXACTLY the same menu - wherever they happen to be in the country.

This love of both novelty and familiarity affects photographers too. Many enthusiastic amateurs and professionals like to go to new and different places to photograph new and different subjects. But those same photographers also enjoy taking "just one more" shot of a favourite or familiar subject, using the different light, weather, season, lens, etc. to try and improve on their earlier efforts. I'm no different from most photographers in this respect, and will quite happily shoot the same subject over and over again in the quest for a better outcome. I've discussed this previously in this post about Quadring church, and this post about Sleaford church, both in Lincolnshire.

I've posted shots of the subjects in today's post before too. One Humber Quays is a new office building in Hull that I've passed and photographed a few times, and the semi-abstract architectural detail is one that I frequently walk near when I'm in London, and each time try to come away from it with a better image. Familiarity with a subject often allows you take a better photograph of it because you have a fuller understanding of what it offers. Of course there's no guarantee that this will happen, and occasionally the freshness of discovery prompts a shot that trumps one bred of close acquaintance. You can be the judge of which of these forces is at work in the examples I post today.

photographs and text (c) T. Boughen

Main Photo
Camera: Canon
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 28mm
F No: f7.1
Shutter Speed: 1/125
ISO: 320
Exposure Compensation: -0.33 EV
Image Stabilisation: On

Friday, April 06, 2012

Shattered beauty

click photo to enlarge
Medieval stained glass is quite commonly found in English churches. However, it is often miscellaneous, jumbled fragments, complete sections of larger works, or reconstructions. The latter, often by Victorian restorers, usually have many pieces of the older glass missing and sometimes incorporate new glass in the form of decorative frames. Complete windows can be found, undamaged, just as they were conceived centuries ago, and a few complete church schemes have survived. However, the mutilation of the fabric of our churches that the Reformation set in train mean that very often we have to envisage the beauty that was by mental extrapolation from the little that now remains.

The following passage from Article 28 of the 1547 Injunctions of Edward VI makes it very clear that the destruction of stained glass was authorised to be prosecuted with severe vigour:
"Also, that they shall take away, utterly extinct and destroy all shrines, coverings of shrines, all tables, candlesticks, trindles or rolls of wax, pictures, paintings, and all other monuments of feigned miracles, pilgrimages, idolatry, and superstition; so that there remain no memory of the same in walls, glass windows, or elsewhere within their churches or houses. And they shall exhort all their parishioners to do the like within their several houses." With this kind of official consent stone, wood and metal sculpture was vandalised or melted down, wall paintings were covered over with limewash and stained glass was smashed, some to be replaced with clear glass, but many destroyed windows were left empty. The danger with the latter course was that the weather would enter the building causing damaging and dangerous decay to the building's fabric, and so a further decree of 1559 ordered the repairing of such windows. Many church priests and congregations hid their stained glass, others collected and saved the shattered remnants, but elsewhere it was left broken on the ground and in time covered in earth. Interestingly we can see windows today that have been replaced or reconstructed from all of these circumstances.

Today's photograph (another from the vaults - see yesterday), is a re-assembly of fragments that can be seen in the church of St Agnes at Cawston in Norfolk. It looks like the beautiful work of the Norwich school of glass making that, along with York, flourished in the 1400s. The small photograph gives the context for the main image and shows how the restorers tried to make something of the figures and decorative fragments, musician angels, biblical figures and architectural canopies, all that remained after the iconoclasts had put down their hammers.

photograph and text (c) T. Boughen

Main Photo
Camera: Canon
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 200mm
F No: f6.3
Shutter Speed: 1/200
ISO: 400
Exposure Compensation: -1.0 EV
Image Stabilisation: On

Thursday, April 05, 2012

One from the vaults

click photo to enlarge
Recently I've been feeling, as a television advertisement of yesteryear used to say, "one degree under". It's nothing of great significance, but set against my usual healthy self, it's an unwelcome change that probably accounts for my recent photography being more sporadic than usual and somewhat uninspired. So I've done what I often do in these circumstances and trawled though the vaults for a few shots worthy of posting.

Today's was taken in February last year in the Wellhead Gardens at Bourne, Lincolnshire. It shows willow branches and their reflections in one of the stretches of water that run through the small public park. It's a shot that I like for the semi-abstract effect produced by the soft, water-colour, cloud reflections overlaid with the veil of dark, delicate, almost ink-like lines of the slender willow branches. The subtle range of colours and the difficulty of working out what is real and what is reflected also appeals to me. Reflections in water are a recurring theme in my photographs, one I never tire of, but which I suppose is an acquired taste.

If you do like this photograph you may wonder how it got overlooked or left behind. There are a few reasons. Sometimes the rate of my photography is such that I move on to the most recent crop of images before I've exhausted the previous one. On other occasions the time of year changes, and I do like to reflect the seasons in the shots I post. I also like to ring the changes over the course of a week or so, so sometimes I forsake a shot because it has too many characteristics of one I've recently used. And finally, I'm sometimes just plain careless and don't properly notice an image that I think is good enough to be posted. Today's falls into the latter category.

photograph and text (c) T. Boughen

Camera: Canon
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 32mm
F No: f8
Shutter Speed: 1/100 sec
ISO: 200
Exposure Compensation:  -0.66 EV
Image Stabilisation: On

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Time of the signs

click photo to enlarge
Near my house, at the entry to a short, scenic lane, with old houses, fine gardens, sturdy trees and a stream alongside it, there is a sign on a pole. It says "Unsuitable for heavy vehicles". Despite the fact that any driver of such a vehicle would have to have the visual acuity of a mole in sunglasses and the intelligence of a dead ant NOT to notice that the lane was unsuitable for his lorry, someone, somewhere, felt it needed spelling out in the form of a permanent sign that disfigures the locality.

The modern world seems obsessed with signs, particularly those designed to be read by drivers. We must have long passed the point where it is impossible for even the most diligent and alert person behind the wheel of a vehicle to take note of every piece of information that highway engineers have put before them. Indeed, there must be an increasing number of locations where to attempt to do so must surely impair your ability to drive safely. In other words they risk becoming counter-productive, encouraging that which they are designed to prevent. When the present government came to power one of the minor policies it gave voice to (and one of the few that I had any agreement with) was the desire for a reduction in the number of signs along our roads. But, they seem to have failed to achieve this goal just as they they are failing with many others. I recall a survey a few years ago suggesting that a large percentage of motorists had forgotten what a significant percentage of the road signs mean, so anyone thinking that a reduction in signage would be detrimental to road safety needs to factor that into their calculations too.

Today's photograph, taken on the beach at Wells-next-the-Sea, Norfolk, has two signs, and I'm not ashamed to say that I don't know what they mean. If I were a sailor then I would make sure I did know. However, I have no interest in boats small or large, so I endanger no one with my ignorance. The fact that they are two different colours means, I suppose, that they must do more than simply mark the position of the groynes. From what little knowledge I have I think the green sign may be one of a pair (with a red one) marking the deep water channel. However, the purpose of the yellow one eludes me. By analogy with road signs they are probably warning markers because they are triangular. But I could be wrong, and beyond that, and despite a search I made, I'm clueless.

Of course, it was those green and yellow triangles, stridently coloured to make them noticeable, set against the blue of sea and sky that prompted my photograph, illustrating once again that the nature of something doesn't necessarily preclude it from being the subject of a photograph.

photograph and text (c) T. Boughen

Camera: Canon
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 105mm
F No: f7.1
Shutter Speed: 1/1000 sec
ISO: 100
Exposure Compensation:  -0.3 EV
Image Stabilisation: On

Monday, April 02, 2012

West Rasen packhorse bridge

click photos to enlarge
The packhorse was the main method of transporting goods for sale during the medieval period. Commercial loads such as wool for export, or the salt from the Fenland salterns destined for the towns of the Midlands and Northern England, all relied on strings of packhorses led by a man on foot. Carts were costly, much less common than is generally appreciated, and bridges that were wide enough to support them over rivers were few. However, a line of packhorses could cross a bridge that was barely wider than that needed by a man on foot, particularly if it had very low (or no) parapets at the side so as not to impede the packs slung over the horses' backs.

The packhorse bridge shown in today's photographs is at West Rasen in Lincolnshire. It spans the River Rase at a narrow point, and is thought to have been constructed in 1310 on the orders of Bishop John Dalderby, who was Bishop of Lincoln from 1300 to 1320. Wool from church-owned lands provided the main income of the church, and its unimpeded journey to markets was deemed to be worth the expense of a construction such as this. It's interesting to note that the bridge supports in the main channel has cutwaters only where they are needed, that is to say, on the upstream sides. I have seen later bridges of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries that have them on the downstream side too, such was the increase in desire for symmetry over utility.

Immediately adjacent to the packhorse bridge is a relatively new road bridge. It replaced an arched bridge made of brick that was built in 1856. Prior to that bridge's construction the river had a ford at this point for anything unable to use the packhorse bridge. On a day such as the one on which I took my photograph the crossing of this minor, shallow river - little more than a stream - looks a simple affair. However, when the water was high and the ford dangerous, heavy carts had to wait, sometimes days, for the flow to subside, though the mail coach that used the road daily was hauled across with ropes and its horses were led over the packhorse bridge!

photographs and text (c) T. Boughen

Photo 1
Camera: Canon
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 24mm
 F No: f7.1
Shutter Speed: 1/100 sec
ISO: 100
Exposure Compensation:  -1.00 EV
Image Stabilisation: On

Sunday, April 01, 2012

Night in the city

click photo to enlarge
"Night in the city looks pretty to me,
Night in the city looks fine.
Music comes spilling out into the street,
Colors go waltzing in time."
from the song, Night in the City by Joni Mitchell (1968)

The countryside figured very large in my childhood and teenage years. Unlike most of my contemporaries who were aching to be off to the major towns and cities where more happened, I was very happy with my rural surroundings. I appreciated the beauty, the opportunity for outdoor solitude, the natural history and, in most cases, the community that rural living entails. In fact, and on the basis of fairly limited experience, I imagined that I didn't like urban areas much at all. But, when I eventually went to live in a city, I found that I liked it just fine: it wasn't worse, it was just different. Some things were not as good, of course, noise and traffic for example; but some things were better, such as the ease of meeting like-minded people and the wide range of visual stimuli.

That latter advantage isn't, I guess, one that most people would list among the benefits of city life. But for a person who has wide-ranging interests and derives great value and enjoyment from what he sees around him, it immediately hit me right between the eyes as well as in them! The fact is, cities have so much to look at and what there is to see is always changing.This facilitates photography because there is always something at which you can point your camera. So it's perhaps not surprising that I regularly head out from my rural Lincolnshire fastness towards the larger towns and cities, as much for photographic reasons as any other. Having a son living in London means that I go to the capital fairly regularly and as far as UK cities go none is bigger.

It was on my most recent visit, when walking on the south bank of the very full River Thames one evening, looking at the sparkling towers of Canary Wharf, that the words of Joni Mitchell's song chorus, quoted above, came to me. "Night in the City" seems to me to be one of those songs that have been somewhat forgotten, which is a pity because it is melodic, basically simple yet with some complexity, is distinctive, has great honky-tonk style piano, time-signature changes, and a strong contrast between verse and chorus. It's perhaps that it was written for her own vocal style and range, and fits it so well, that other singers cover it much less than formerly. It must be time for that to change!

photograph and text (c) T. Boughen

Camera: Canon
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 32mm
F No: f5.6
Shutter Speed: 1/10 sec
ISO: 3200
Exposure Compensation:  -0.33 EV
Image Stabilisation: On