Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Because I'm happy...Clap along if you feel like that's what you wanna do.

Happy Camera has been merely a very happy thought for a few months now and tonight is the inaugural taster of what's to come when all that is happy is fully released on the world. A small band of diehard photographers congregate at the foot of Tower Bridge wondering if the rain gods are going to be kind, it transpires that they're not. We huddle under one of the arches and discuss what photography makes us tick, or "happy" if you will. Tonight we're going to start with some long exposure night landscapes featuring the Shard across the Thames. Luckily my new tripod turned up on time but I should really have practiced setting it up more, and maybe blindfolded. Tripod erection is an entirely different premise when it's dark, your unfamiliar fingers are cold and you can't quite fathom which way the locking plate needs to be. But I get there in the end.

I've only got 8 seconds available to me in shutter priority mode so have to switch to manual for more control and a longer time. Though with an ISO of 80 I'm able to manage with 8 second on my smallest aperture f/8 and capture the milkiness of the Thames before a passing boat chops it up again. We'd been promised a clearish window of no rain for a couple of hours but no, this non-dry January continues and the rain is relentless. I just can't seem to operate both an umbrella and a camera. It's easier when your camera is on a tripod but still the whole holding an umbrella, trying to find a nice composition and keeping said umbrella out of shot just annoys me.

My camera demonstrates, yet again, that relatively few raindrops can thoroughly drown it and I'm furiously trying to keep the lens free from being besieged. I swing my camera around to Tower Bridge. Actually the new rain drops that that are speckling my camera lens are creating an interesting effect and, as clearly the rain isn't going to get any better, I might as well work with it.

We then head over the bridge and try our hand at light painting. Some of our group are fading and slowly peeling off to either get a head start on the bar we're meeting at later or homewards and a warm bath. Our first challenge is capture the vibrant squiggles from an LED torch and then to photograph a series of 'happy' logos against a backdrop of the Shard again and other iconic buildings. My camera is now experiencing a massive sulk. One moment I can focus and play around with shutter speed next my viewfinder is just filled with a total whiteout. Our happy tutor suspects the rain is sending the electrics a bit haywire well that's not alarming at all!

I'm just about defeated, I'm cold, my lovely bobble hat is a mushy mess and my camera is fluctuating between begrudgingly joining in or refusing to do anything. I'm think it's time to dry us and our equipment off so to the bar we squelch.

Those who have headed off earlier are warm and dry and peering over a Mac learning some of the dark arts of Photoshop. We're planning what our next happy adventure will be. It's been fun but we are hoping for a dryer night next time!


Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Seeing red

I got my squashy neoprene case for my Leica last year. It's to roomier than I need but it has the advantage that I can keep my EVF attached, any number of screw on filters and the quick release plate for my tripod, or if more appropriate, a mini tripod. There's one thing that bugs me about it though, the loud strip of velcro that I have to rip open to release my camera. Most of thr time I'm photographing inanimate objects and it still grates. But particularly last year when a robin hopped into my path I knew that the extracting of my camera from its home would elicit a loud noise and, undoubtedly, a spooked robin, so I had to use my iPhone instead.

Maybe I've been spoilt, my Billingham camera bag is pleasantly quiet to open, the only velcro is attached to the internal dividers which once sited you generally don't have to wrestle with. My very pink Pompidoo camera bag has a zip, again the velcro confined to the dividers, but the crescent shape means you can happily keep it open quite safely and quietly. My previous vintage leather case for my camera just had two poppers but when upgraded my D-Lux it wasn't quite capacious enough so I resorted to the neoprene one and cursed its noisiness.

The infuriating velcro almost proved to be its downfall to. I'd been out and spotting an interesting subject, unsheathed the camera, stowing the case in my bag. I kept the camera slung round my neck and not until the next day realised the case was no longer in my bag.

I contacted the last couple of places I'd visited in the hope it had been discovered. Sadly, it hadnt!

But it hadn't gone forever, I was selecting one of my favourite scarfs to wear, and one seemed a little heavier than I recalled, and amidst its folds I discovered my naughty neoprene case clinging on like a limpet courtesy of its velcro. So that confirmed it, velcro be gone! I carefully unpicked said loud attachment, but as the case is actually too big, I needed a replacement. Rifling through my sewing box I found a big red fabric button left over from a long forgotten jacket and along with an elastic hair tie, I fashioned a new closure and, as I could, I made it a snugger fit than the original. So I'm much happier with my case, not only does it fit better but I can get my camera out without that grating 'ripping' sound.

Whilst on my macro workshop in Worksop, Doug had just bought a couple of new MeFOTO travelling tripods and I was taken by how it folds neatly back on itself to make a very compact unit. I have a great light-ish carbon fibre tripod already, but it's still bulky and when travelling, especially courtesy of the dreaded budget airlines, every bit of saved space and weight is a bonus. I checked on, but the all black one were out of stock but the red and black certainly matched my camera... and revamped case, of course, so it seemed the decision was made. I'm very happy with both so more photography adventures await I think!

Sunday, 26 January 2014

And it rained and rained and rained and rained and rained!

Just because I'm not taking part in a 365 photo-a-day project, I'm still taking photos. Okay, not as religiously as last year but my camera is always with me so if something photogenic catches my eye, I'm ready. Several of my friends have been engaging in a dry January. I didn’t undertake such an endeavour though I think I've only had one glass of Malbec when our team got together for the last time for perhaps a year. Spanish EM is off travelling to Colombia for three weeks and before she returns, MZ will be on maternity leave, awaiting the arrival of her daughter. We had other events to celebrate too as we'd been estastic about our purple-suited CEO finally showing his true colours and disappearing out of our lives forever.

There was a single bottle of my favourite mixed fruit cider when we congregated at AM's pub, the New Rose. How I managed to make it last until the wee small hours is a mystery, even for me, I really am a cheap date!

So alcohol-wide my January has been pretty dry despite not taking a pledge, but weather-wide it's been the exact opposite. We haven't suffered as much in London as in other parts of the country but the drenching has still been of biblical proportions. Short of gathering two of every animal and peering at a blueprint for a large wooden boat, preparations had to be made for every excursion. Like many I've managed to mislay various umbrellas whilst out and about so I supplemented my burgeoning collection with a couple of replacements.

I very much prefer automatic umbrellas, it sounds like I'm to precious to fiddle with the little notch to open the umbrella but I think it's the frisson of accomplishment that pressing a button and having such a dramatic reaction can cause. I believe it stems from my childhood obsession with the Avengers. I really wanted to be just like Emma Peel . What was not to love, the racy leather catsuits, the high kicking, and the no-nonsense independent take-no-prisoners attitude. The little flicks in the corner of her eyes (probably where I got it from) and more importantly, her wit, intelligence and also artistic flare. She was my role model, she was no damsel in distress and totally capable of holding her own in any situation. And because of her I yearned to be a spy when I get up. Armed with my Usborne book of Spying, I was constantly working on my disguises, laying traps around the house and practising subterfuge. Sadly all my preppatory prepubescent spy craft didn't define my final career, but that little push of a button transports me back to those promising days and is oh so practical too.

There's been a plethora of umbrella toting opportunities this month and when I'm not being drowned I was managed to take the odd photograph of those moments after the rain.

My favourite is the reflection of our house in a raindrop poised on the point of a leaf. All these photographs needed the addition of closeup filters to focus of the miniature droplets of water and the crystal ball effect on the surroundings. The light quality is different in each photo but the common theme is rain. Hopefully next month I can get a new inspiration.


Friday, 17 January 2014

Those little things...

Back on November 24th I happened to be picked up by a black cab driver called Terry (I've since discovered his name) who told me all about ICM (intentional camera movement). He extolled the virtues of two photographers, Doug Chinnery and Valda Bailey. He also mentioned he undertook all night workshops in London with Doug, and he was in charge of driving the attendees around. A photography workshop by cab, that's got my name written all over it, where do I sign up?

I checked out Doug’s website and put myself down for the macro workshop at his house today. I'd never heard of Worksop before but it sounded a fair spot for a workshop. I discovered it was rather further north than I'd envisaged so opted to grab a night at the local Travelodge so I wouldn't have to get up at stupid o’clock and catch four trains plus, with alarmingly tight changing times.

So after a surprisingly nippy night, it's much chillier up north it seems, Doug's wife Liz kindly collected me from the hotel and the fun begins. There's only two of us (Doug keeps the groups small when the session is at his home to guarantee room to manoeuvre) so after a chat about experiences we start exploring the flowers Doug has set out for us. We both plump for the vibrant tulips. Doug has attached a wooden curtain rail to one of his sitting room walls 90 degrees to the large floor to ceiling window. The cunning idea is that when he's setting up as a studio, he clips large sheets of white paper forming a backdrop and extending to cover a table pushed against the wall. He explains he's not a huge fan of a tent as it so restricts your movements. When he's finished and dismantles the studio, the table is restored for dining, and a picture hangs from the wooden rail.

The respective tulips are placed in vases and we commerce finding a good angle. I've got a tiny bottle filled with water with an eye dropper and try adding some drops to the curve of the tulip petals. It's actually really challenging and Doug recommends administering the 'raindrops' with the aid of a wooden skewer. A useful tip for next time.

Next I turn my eye to the colourful autumn leaves and Doug has another tip. He carefully sellotapes my chosen leaves to the window turning the pane into a giant light box. I can squash my tripod up against the window to photograph the detail of the leaves illuminated by the sunlight.

Next it's a yellow rose which I'm determined to turn into black and white. I'm struggling to balance the vase close enough to the edge of the table to get my closeup filters to focus. I have to get so much closer than everyone else using macro lenses. I suddenly remember I've brought my new Plamp with me, a handy device for photographing stems, flowers, holding back stray branches and bring able to play around with angles. Doug hasn't seen one before and intends to add one or maybe two to his kitbag immediately. The other participant also suspects he's going to plump for a Plamp. I always wonder what my purchase will be after a photography workshop or holiday. So far my credit card is safe.

The seed head is next to be gently clamped and it was interesting varying the background and seeing the impact on the image. I think they make a beautiful diptych.

Next I'm rooting through the box of curios and selecting shells and seahorses. The first thing that catches my eye is a nautilus shell displaying that fabulous golden ratio. I shoot it from every angle and finally opt for the classic full frontal. It's such an iconic design of nature, I even detected that spiral in the yellow rose from earlier.

After a tasty lunch at a local garden centre we return just as the rain starts. The raindrops on the window give me an idea and I spend some time seeing if I can get an interesting reflection of the wrought iron table, chairs and the garden beyond in the droplets.

After that I start checking out some of the other flora. It transpires that the biggest insult of the day is if you think you've shot a photograph that IKEA might turn into a print. Though you could argue that "we should be so lucky!" The chrysanthemum could lend itself to a fine art print I think, especially in monochrome.

My final subjects are the orchids and again I decide to work on a diptyc. The entire effect is very Japanese.

I'm the only attendant now so Liz has been trying out both her new camera and new MeFoto tripod and I think I might be in trouble. I love my carbon fibre tripod but it's still bulkier than I'd like and I'm sure it could be lighter. Liz's tripod is more compact than mine as it folds back on itself and despite it not bring carbon fibre, it annoyingly lighter. I will have to check them out, I think.

I've loved the workshop today, I always learn something new and really appreciate the license to utterly immerse myself in photography and hopefully have some fine shots to add to my collection. I hope to join Doug on his workshop later this year in London, my taxi awaits!

Wednesday, 8 January 2014

Just doing it!

First Photography Social of the year and we’re back at Smithfield Meat Market again. We’ve congregated considerably too late or rather too early to see the meat part of the market. The refrigerated trucks will roll in later.

I'm running late as usual, that just one more email syndrome is hard to shake off so I join my team whilst they're formulating their plan what to photograph. We’ve been given the challenge of ’Just do it.’ No one of us are dressed in any way that could deem sporty so we first try and get a good cyclist shot. Resorting to Google we can see the Nike ads we’re trying to emulate go for crisp clear shots so slow shutter speeds are out. The light is not too hot so opt to stay under the well lit entrance to the market and somehow lure cyclist into range.

We spot a lone jogger and one of our team pounces. This might work. We need a blandish background for them to pose in front of and I opted for a small slice of wall to the left of one the large openings into the food hall. The shot is not as dynamic as I hoped but we don't want to try her patience. We don't use my shot but RD’s cyclist.

To change the mood the individual shot is “dead slow!” My first thought is trying to get a still shot juxtaposed against the traffic. The cars aren't really doing any great speed here but after some playing around I found a good spot to balance my penguin. I chose the wait indicator on the pedestrian crossing. The position gave me some nice bokeh from the traffic behind and a fine shadow of the lonely penguin!


Wednesday, 1 January 2014

365 days later...

So this is what the fruit of my labours of a 365 photo-a-day project looks like all concertinaed together. It's been a marathon, often a joy, sometimes a revelation and occasionally results in a photograph I'm really proud of. The photography bit has always been easier to keep on top of than the writing bit. I promise myself that I’ll just write a few words and then I'm slaving over a work of Tolstoy, random reminiscences just pouring out, which then bringing other memories to the forefront. If it were my full time job and I could be paid for it I could indulge in these flights of fancy but that’s a pipe dream so I need to curtail it sometimes.

I must admit I do love looking back on old posts, I've never been a diary keeper and capturing moments, memories, thoughts is curiously intoxicating. And even though it's often a slog to get it all down in a satisfactory manner, I relish the re-reading another day.

The whole exercise has encouraged much introspection, retrospection and I'm definitely aware of a marked difference in my photography over the year or at the very least, my observation. I just notice what's around and about so much more now. I find myself squinting at scenes I spot, imagining how I would capture it. I'm much more aware of cinematography than I've ever been. I catch myself watching a film and thinking about the lighting, depth of field, background bokeh and angles rather than the actual plot. I'm wishing I was there and could photograph that landscape, that cityscape, that situation. I drool over sunrises and sunsets on TV shows and my shutter finger itches.

My passion has clearly become by obsession. I hate being without a camera and even though I carry two of them, it’s extraordinarily rare I resort to the iPhone camera. I've just fallen for my EVF, I prefer the immersion in the image you get looking through the view finder. I rarely review my pictures in liveview too, preferring also reviewing through my EVF. However, as many cameras don't do that I often get accused of taking photos (especially on the tube at night) when I'm just looking at some captured earlier.

I feel I need to continue a project for 2014, and hopefully continue my progression. However, I do need to find a way to make it less time consuming writing-wise, and I suspect that will continue to be my biggest challenge.

I've been very taken by a book I preordered for Kindle on my iPad a few months ago and it suddenly turned up late last year. It is The Art of the Photograph. Essential Habits for Stronger Compositions by Art Wolfe and Rob Sheppard. I do really admire Art Wolfe’s photography and this book is proving to be an inspirational gem. He talks of the importance of surrounding yourself with inspirational items, places to go that provide succour and constantly seeking photos that transcend the subject and create something special for you and the viewer.

Much food for thought to be had for the photographic year ahead. Now what to do with the next 365 days...I’ll get back to you on that!