Saturday, 28 May 2016

The futility of art

Every once in a while I like to explore some of the lesser known nooks and crannies of my local area. This is where a bike comes in useful, providing the mobility to get places not normally accessible by foot or car. The general purpose of these explorations is to try and locate unusual viewpoints and positions not normally seen on photographs. Generally I fail, but at least it gets me out of the house.

On one such trip recently I stumbled on the following which sort of blew me away

Now I not generally someone who approves or encourages graffiti, however these are not your "Baz was 'ere" type works. They are all done with considerable skill and effort (Also it could hardly be said that they are despoiling the local environment since it is hard to make concrete more ugly than it always is).

It was obvious a large amount of effort and logistics was exerted in doing these. However there location means that  virtually no one will ever see them or even be aware of them even though thousands of people drive over them every day.

So the question is then why did they do it?

It could not be for monetary award since you could hardly hang these on your wall. Nor could it be for fame since the artists are generally anonymous.  In some ways they seem the purest expression of art, since they seem to have no purpose other than to exist, seen or unseen.

Maybe they just felt the need to make the world a slightly more colorful place? Another suggestion is that this is just there way of declaring to the world of their existence . You could almost imagine the people who did the cave paintings in France having much the same idea. Or maybe it is a simple as as they did it because they could.

Since we will almost never know who did them, the motivations will be always be a mystery(I can imagine archaeologist in a 1000 years having a field day if they found these, suggesting all sort of religious significance to them).

However it did start me thinking about why I take photographs.

After all, in many ways my photographs are similar to these paintings. 99.9999% of them will never be seen apart from me and even then many will only be given a fleeting glance. Even those selected few that make it out into the wider world will only have a short lifetime before consigned to obscurity.

One suggestion would be my photos will become my legacy. But I know from bitter experience that my decedents will not put the same value on my work as I do.

When I had to clear my fathers house out, I was faced with issue of what to do with my mothers art work. My mother was quite a prolific artist with some skill.  When we cleared the house out I came across thousands of drawings, paintings and other art works. My initial reaction was to keep them, but the very quantity and size meant that this was never realistic option. In the end the vast majority ended up at the local tip, which considering that I was basically destroying my mother memory was really hard to do.

When I move onto the lightroom in the sky, my children will have the same issue. OK, they will be on hard disks rather than paper, but I doubt that will make it any better.

So in some ways my photos are like those wall arts. We may pretend that we have higher reasons for taking the photos,  but actually we do it because we enjoy it, and there should be no embarrassment in admitting that. All the rest such as exhibitions and competitions really don't matter.

We may wonder about the futility and waste of time of artists painting under motorway bridges , but as photographers can we say we are any better?

Tuesday, 17 May 2016

Happy 2nd Birthday

Black Pig Border Morris Man
Today is the 2nd anniversary of this blog.

An awful lot has happened over the last year. I have bought a new camera and my lens collection has grown again including a 150mm to 600mm which is by far the most expensive lens I have ever owned.

My photography skills I think are still improving, albeit not at the speed I would like. Alas I am no nearer working out if there is an area I would like to specialize in

You may of also noticed that the number of blog posts has slowed considerable over the last months. There are good reasons for this. Firstly work commitments has meant I have not had as much time as I would like to write blog entries. It has also meant i have a large backlog of potential photos that need polishing.

I also have a number of blogs entries which need finishing off. One in particular, the review of my new camera, has proved particularly time consuming, but I am determined to complete it. However until I have, I have felt that i could not commit to some of the other posts I wish to write.

Anyway until that point and to celebrate the 2nd anniversary, here are a few images that I have taken recently

Illam Country Park

Dovedale Stepping Stones, Derbyshire

Illam Country Park

Add caption

I usually hate Bird on a stick images, but sometimes the targets are too obliging. A yellow wagtail via a 300mm zoom

Sunday, 15 May 2016

Hell's Bells (or the art of taking pictures of blue bells)

Taken with a 150mm to 300mm lens, bringing the Bluebells together
As you get more into photography, you will find that you are more attuned to the seasons.

Instead of days and months, the year starts getting split into seasons of photographic opportunity, such as a season for sunrises, a season for sunsets, a season for Autumn colour, etc.

At present it is very much the season for Bluebells.

At this time the woodland suddenly becomes covered with a blue carpet of flowers that is irresistible to anyone with a penchant for photography.

Over the years I have tried to capture an image of these marvels of nature, with varying levels of success. However these are my thoughts on how best to photograph them.

First find your subject

The first issue is to locate your flowers in question. This is where local knowledge, and the help of other photographers comes in useful. Most photographers have there favorite spots and can be initially averse to giving out there location; with enough flattery, this information can normally be extracted. 

My personal favorite was Yoxall in Staffordshire. Unfortunately it has been closed to the public for the last couple of years meaning this year so I have had to locate new sources. On the plus side, it has meant I have been forced to explore new ares in my local neighborhood that I would of otherwise not of found. Also, unlike Yoxall, I can bring my tripod, which can be essential in woodland where light can be challenging.

I must also admit that I have also sneaked a few shots at the Bluebells growing in my neighbors garden. While not technically wild, I doubt that anyone except a expert horticulturist could tell the difference, and it has given me far more opportunity to experiment. 

Tips on Photography

So once you have found a potential area of Bluebells, the next question is how to do them justice in a photograph?

I must admit that photographing Bluebells can be frustrating because the resultant images can often fall a long way from your vision of the scene. 

The best methods of getting a good shot seems to be to get either very close or take the photo from some distance.

The reasons for this, as a friend once remarked, is that they are very scruffy little flowers. Single Bluebells are not as impressive a flower like  a Rose of a daffodil. Therefore you really need to take them in a mass or concentrate on a detail specific details.

The other thing to be aware of,  is that the reason that bluebells standout is because they contrast against the background. Blue and green are very complimentary colours and therefore the combination of blue flowers against a forest green can make very pleasing image. However Green has the capacity to overwhelm the visual scene so reducing the impact of the blue.

My initial temptation when taking  images of Bluebells is to use a wide angle lens.

It generally provides a wider depth of field than other lenses meaning I can get close ups to bluebells while maintaining a view of the forest , therefore providing a context without having to shut down the aperture too far. 

However in my experience wide angles do not work well with these scenes. Part of the reason is that although bluebells live in clumps, they are never as closely packed as they first appear. Wide angles tend to extenuate this spacing. So rather than getting a mass of blue, you end up with a bit of blue and a lot of green.

I have had more success by taking a few steps back and use a telephoto or a zoom. This compresses the scene and pushes the flowers together. This in turn creates a stronger swath of blue.

The second method is extreme close ups.  With bluebells I think it is better to get really close to the flower via a macro lens or via use of extension tubes. 

I have been using a 90mm macro for most of my closeups, but sometimes even that is not enough and have added a extension to get even closer. The main problem is that you get a very narrow depth of field. Also autofocus will tend to lock onto everything but the part of the flower you want. The only options in these cases is to select a small aperture and switch to manual focus. This will also mean that you will need to use a tripod due to the slow exposure. Because of the slow shutter speed, the wind can also come into play meaning you may need to shelter the flowers in some way. 

One trick worth trying with close ups is to take a spray bottle and give the target subject a good dosing before photography. Bluebells are very good at forming droplets which gives a great dew like effect, especially if the sun is behind them. Another thing I have been tried is to slip a black card behind the flower to make it stand out. However this is not always easy without another pair of hands to hold the card steady.
Artificial Rain added
Against a black card brings out a nice contrast
If you are lucky you might get some mini-beasts too!

A challenge with bluebells is finding a good specimen which is not cluttered with other flowers

While some limited 'gardening' is acceptable in the wild, please be sensitive to the fact that bluebells are for everyone. Scything huge swathes of foliage down to allow you to get that perfect shot should never be done. As responsible photographers, we should always be careful to leave the site as you found it and try and avoid treading or lying on bluebells. 

This is an advantage to doing my closeups with bluebells in my neighbors garden. Here I can position myself with minimum damage to the local environment.

Its all about the light 

There is a temptation to believe that Bluebells can be taken in any light, but the I believe the best illumination is in early morning or late evening sunlight, when the sun is low in the sky. Especially good for macro work is if you can get the sun behind the flower to get that blue glow.

Sunlight behind the flower gives a nice sunstar effect

In woodland, look for patches of light that add contrast to an otherwise bland view, since this adds depth. If you can find a path leading through the bluebells this adds nice leading lines and can add a focal point to your images. 

Best of all, if you go early in the morning, sometimes you get sunlight filtering through early mist creating fingers of sunlight as it comes through the trees.

A patch of dappled sun breaks up the shapes

The lucky combination of a early morning start, burning off mist and bluebells

The other thing to think about is the background. Bluebells contrasting against tree trunks can work especially well, because they standout much more than against green foliage. Taken against things such as walls or bodies of water are equally effective.

Beech trees add great contrast


So those are my thoughts. I don't think I will ever get a perfect Bluebell shot, but it is fun to keep trying. Also remember that there are no rules in photography that cannot be broken. So the important thing is just to keep experimenting during this great time of year.

The blur of out of focus bluebells is a nice contrast