New Year plans

Can’t think of any really.

No, wait, I have. I’m going to approach this year on two levels. On the one hand I go about getting work and carrying out my photography as I always have done; practical steps, reasonable approaches and on the other, I make sure I have at least one completely far-fetched plan on the go at all times.

First out of the gate is my proposal that I’ve just sent off to ask if I can make a set of documentary photographs covering a year in the life of ‘someone well-known in their field’ (I’ll tell you who that is if I get anywhere with it).

I’m expecting one of three responses:

1. Yes, great, when can you start

2. No

3. it gets ignored

We shall see!

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22 Dec 2008

A right old ‘country’ day today.

Lit a fire before breakfast, went with Elliot to the home ed group in the village behind the tractor repair yard, got stuck into making Christmas Angels,

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came back to find Rachel and Harper still not well and so, took Harper with me for some fresh air and to look for some wood for the fire, found some, chopped it up, helped bake bread and finally typed it all up on an apple mac laptop with a wireless broadband connection.

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Ooh arr.

PHOTOGRAPHY BASICS – LENSES

Right. Here’s one they don’t always tell you (this post is only relevant if you’re interested in the nerdier, more technical aspects of making photographs by the way).

Tentatively leaving aside the massively important task of actually looking at and seeing your subject (no easy job), this is a quick look at the tools for the job.

Whatever lens you own, whether it’s a very expensive and well-made lens or whether it’s all you can afford and frankly a bit budget, there is a trick to help you get the most out of it in terms of it producing, sharp, quality images. And the trick is this. ALL lenses produce immesuarably better images if you close the lens down by a stop or two.

The real-world tip here is that when photographing in low light, for atmosphere for example, one is often forced to open the lens right up to get as much light in as possible – to say f2.8. Even though that’s a setting that’s there for you to use, it really is a last resort. If you were to close it down to just f4 – not much of a difference – the image quality leaps. Try it with a digital camera if you have one. Say you were at 60th-f2.8. You’d be inclined to think that for image quality, it’s worth hanging onto the 60th to perhaps avoid blur. A fair assumption but a much better move, in my opinion, is to brace yourself for a 30th and close the lens to f4.

The difference isn’t subtle. In nearly all my tests with various lenses, f2.8 looks ‘alright’ and by contrast f4 looks ‘great’.

I should point out that there are extremely well made lenses available (Leica for example) that are spectacular wide open but they’re rare. And expensive.

PHOTOGRAPHY BASICS – BLUR

This is a reply I gave to a friend’s enquiry. I’m posting it in-case it’s of use to anyone else. It was a question about blurred images when photographing family members:

“Blurring in low light is due to one of two things – either the subject is moving or you, the photographer, are moving. A way round this is to make sure the camera’s shutter goes ’snap’ very rapidly (a high shutter speed) – rapidly enough that you can ignore any movement. And the only way you can achieve this is by using a high ‘film speed’ or in your case a high ISO setting. You could also try moving the camera with your subject as you snap. This would mean that you’re all moving in the same direction at the same speed resulting in a sharper picture. And of course there’s always a tripod. This will sort the problem of your shaky hands but doesn’t solve the little ones hoofing about!”

Lets Project Update

Lets project going really well. I’ve got more to post when I’ve processed the films but if you haven’t had a look, there are a few new ones (click on ‘LETS project’ page).
I’m finding portraits more and more just a matter of looking and making firm decisions. If I see something I like there are two options. Either I’m ready and I snap the shutter and and I have it or else I have to stop the subject moving when I feel they are being most authentically ‘them’. The key to this is physical contact. If I were to shout, as photographers have done for decades, “hold it” in an effort to buy me time while I get the camera into position, it would almost certainly burst the bubble of authenticity. If I were to gently but decisively grab hold of the subject’s arm, for instance, and quietly ask them not to move, the fact that a stranger has got hold of them will, more often than not, stop them in their tracks. I can then jump in and get as authentic a photo as possible with time enough to do a good job technically. It’s always worth doing. When I subsequently let the subject off the hook, there’s great relief all round which generally leads to further natural gestures.
Just thought I’d let you in on that one.
Christmas is jingling itself around our house accompanied, if not aided and abetted, by Chris Rea and George Michael singing their timeless MOR pop classics (not in person obviously).
This is sad to admit but I’m very excited by my recent purchase of a new saw. It’s for helping me with the logs we find for firewood but, honestly, table legs are looking tasty as are fence posts, clothes props (I did actually saw that up – oops) and broom handles.
I’ll get used to it.

10 Dec 2008

Met up with a couple of photographers who I’ve got to know since moving to Dorset.

Both are avid users of film over digital and I thought I was the only one left. Brendan, who came over in the afternoon, brought along some prints and we had a good chat about technical matters relating to printing (quite nerdy really – that’s describing me by the way). I did a portrait of Brendan using his 6×6 SLR which was beautiful to use and then some on the Leica mainly as I’m on a roll at the moment with portraits. As long as people fall into the category of being human and have a head, I’m interested. If you don’t have a head, I’m still quite interested. I’m just obsessed with finding and portraying the (as I see it) inherent good in people.

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There was late-night-shopping in Bridport, Christmas and all, and Rachel was helping on the treewise stall. It was very cold. Dry-and-brittle-with-smoke-coming-out-of-your-mouth cold. I took Elliot along to Santa’s Grotto. We’re very keen to encourage a sense and appreciation of magic and wonder in our children and it’s surprisingly difficult to do. The general impression I get is that even some children are adopting the concept of Father Christmas as a bit ‘wink-wink’ ironic.

Anyway, I also bumped into Michael Harvey who is a small-camera nut like me. He was out with his Leica and some fast film and he was using a viewfinder eyepiece that goes onto the hotshoe. I had a go and, honestly, if you thought capturing the world with a rangefinder camera was satisfying, uncomplicated and vital, just try it with this viewfinder. A measure of how nerdy I can be is that I haven’t stopped thinking about it since.

Also, popped into the darkroom to do a bit of printing. Did two hours. Listened to Mark Radcliffe on Radio 2 and froze my fingers washing the prints. 

And here, with no connection to this post is a recent snap of where we live. In the distance is Colmer’s Hill:

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Logs and other matters

A couple of days ago, I went to the woods with David, one of our neighbours, to find some wood to burn. For keeping us warm at home.
I enjoyed learning about different species of tree. David has grown up amongst trees and woodworking and I also grew up in the countryside playing among the trees. However, I think if pushed, naming three species would be my limit and I wouldn’t necessarily get them right either.

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Today, by contrast, I had a job in Fleet Street in London. By complete contrast I should say. Met some nice folks who worked on designing oil and gas supply pipes and systems. After that, I went to visit my friend Dominic, who is a photographer, who we used to be a neighbour of and timed it right as he had some food ready for lunch.
I also met up with another photographer, Lucie, who is doing a project on Portrait Photographers. She’s done some great people so far and so was pleased to be on her list. I’ll link up with it when she has some stuff online.

Playing live

Yesterday and the day before that I had a couple of gigs. I play guitar every day at home, just writing the same song again and again but with subtle refinements each time. I’ve come to the conclusion that I’ve only got a limited number of things that I want to write about in music. Most of the thrill for me is getting the song ‘right’.

Again, whatever.

So, I’ve been playing at home but to get out and play in front of people is always much more fun. It’s also hard work on the fingers. This has positive benefits though. The next day my playing is always more musical. 

Sorry, I’m boring myself.

The gig last night was at a friend’s 50th birthday party in the village of Uploders. My grandma has recently, and kindly, bought a ‘Sat Nav’ for my 40th birthday present (which is 2 years away – long story). All very high tech, all very useful most of the time. Last night though, on heading out for Uploders, I was ‘taken’ to a dark and muddy field with a gate that had a sign on it which read ‘Pig Farm’. That wasn’t what I was after. I switched over to ‘brain nav’ and got out of the car, listened for a party and found my way there.

A pic of me at the party by my friend Ella:

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Did another couple of portraits for the LETS project. Really pleased with how it’s going. I’m finding that my first impression of the subject and location is always the right one. It takes nerve to trust that it’s going to work. I used to get quite anxious when I first started doing portraits for other people. It only takes observation. Just look, don’t panic. I’ll post the images in the next couple of days.

Why make a photograph?

More cerebral (as I like to think) nonsense for you here.

Photographs. I remember now. What a privilege it is for us to see things. The art of photography is no different to any other. What’s important is to look. It’s enough to go about your day and give what passes in front of you your full attention. To make a permanent record of it, perhaps use a camera. Or a pencil. Looking is the thing.