This avenue of trees is from Micheldever Wood in Hampshire, a spot about which I have heard much. Unusually, it is the first photo I took at the location. Typically, the initial press of the shutter results in something which is OK but, in reality, is the start of exploring the scene. More creative ideas follow on from the obvious viewpoint. I suspect that applies to most photographers. As soon as I saw this scene, though, I knew instantly that it had potential. It is close to car park and is remarkable for the number of tall trees growing straight in an orderly manner across a large are. Woods are seldom so organised and it can be a challenge to find a coherent composition.
About Micheldever Wood
The wood is renowned for its bluebells, for which I had gone in search en route to the South Coast. In my heart, I knew that I was both too early and too late. Too early, as I did not expect the flowers to be fully out. Too late, since I did not get there until mid morning, long after the best light had gone. That did not matter as my suspicions about the state of the flowers proved correct. A local photographer who I met while walking around and knew the woods well, estimated that they were around 30% in bloom. My venture was more of a foray to investigate options for another time.
Bluebells are tricky flowers to photograph. They like shade and come out just as the leaves on the trees are forming. Once the canopy is fully in place, it blocks most of the light and the resulting photographs frequently lack drama. As spring progresses, other plants grow up around them and makes it difficult to find an area which is a solid patch of purple. In reality, there is just a brief period of a few days each year when they are at their best.
Writing this blog at some remove from the time of shooting, I know that the bluebells largely eluded me this year. As will become apparent in subsequent posts, I was nowhere near a bluebell wood when they reached their prime.
When I decided to write blog articles to accompany my weekly photo, I did not fully comprehend what a commitment it would be. While the project is proceeding well, the opposite is definitely not true when it comes to publishing the images. And a lot can happen during the extended intervening period when I do not post. “Stride”, my eventual shot for the week did not start out as my initial selection. Then everything changed. I entered it into the first round of Amateur Photographer magazine’s 2019 Amateur Photographer of the Year competition. The topic was “Mad About Mono” and the magazine has just published the result. To my surprise and delight, “Stride” was selected as one of top 30. It appears in the issue dated 8 June 2019.
Here is what Amateur Photographer had to say:
“A wall like cries out to be photographed and Michael has made the most of it by waiting for someone to walk past. This image wouldn’t have worked in colour.”
I took the shot during a photo walk with the Royal Photographic Society London Region. Despite Amateur Photographer’s assertion to the contrary, I am not aware that any other participants used the wall as a backdrop. That is the risk with such events. Great fun, socially, but with the inherent risk of someone copying a shot. Naturally, that is even worse if their result turns out to be better. Although I would say all kudos to anyone who can make a shot work, however obtained.
Three Shell Scam
This is my actual favourite from the day. We started by wandering across Westminster Bridge, which was full of people. To my astonishment, I saw a number of gangs operating the three shell scam. It is a con as those betting cannot win. Rather than leaving the ball inside the upturned cup, the dealer hides it in their hand. Whichever cup the punter chooses, it will be empty. A conjuring trick, rather than an outcome based on luck.
On street gambling is illegal in the UK, so it was definitely a shock to see it happening so blatantly just yards from the Houses of Parliament. Apparently, it has been going on for some time, so must be lucrative. There were a lot of foreign visitors and such activity in a prominent place does not make for a good impression.
The Story Behind the Shot
Obtaining a photograph was tricky. I was fortunate to discover this gang who had stationed themselves at the south side of the bridge where there was some space. Westminster Bridge was too crowded to have a clear shot of any of the others. Not to mention that I was wary of hassle from any of their members. (I learnt later a friend who was on the walk had been discouraged from taking a photo.) Aside from the person manipulating the shells, each gang had at least one “minder” acting as a lookout. There were also people pretending to bet, yet did not seem the least bit excited when handed what looked like a £50 note.
Unlike “Stride”, this image has more of a story which is not necessarily obvious unless the viewer knows what to look for. Clearly, the most significant figure is the man bending down and manoeuvring the cups. The individual on the right looking at me suspiciously is a lookout, with the three people in the foreground being the potential “marks”. I cannot be certain, but the woman on the left wearing a headscarf might be one of the gang. If so, she will have stood to one side in the hope that the onlookers will place a bet.
There are two other aspects of the image which I enjoy. The monochrome rendering has some lovely rich tones. And that sign in the background encouraging redemption is the icing on the cake. Sometimes, we just get lucky with our photography. To have it happen twice in a day is good fortune indeed. Especially given that shooting on the street can be so unpredictable when it comes to finding opportunities.
At the start of this photo-a-week project, I set myself an objective. No flowers. Unless absolutely unavoidable. So, for the third time, I am presenting an image of what else, ….. a flower. It is another in my series of desiccated tulips, a subject which I have been doing quite a lot of late. Far more than I have included in this series. There was even a week when my tulip images were far and away better than anything else I did. Yet, out of sheer obstinacy and contrariness, I excluded the whole lot of them. The best of those shots, incidentally, went on to do reasonably well in a recent competition against other local photographers.
Photographing a tulip
The recipe is simple. Buy a bunch of flowers and enjoy them for a week or so. Instead of throwing them out when they start to fade, hang on to them. They are nowhere near their photogenic prime. Only when they are bent and falling apart, having had an unpleasant odour for a couple of weeks or more, are they almost ready for their first moment in front of the camera.
Maybe you think I am exaggerating? My wife will tell you differently. A really good tulip or other flower can mature like a fine wine. Except you can only drink the wine once. The tulip can be photographed on many more occasions before it needs to go anywhere near the compost heap.
At the British Museum
While at the British Museum, I had a few minutes to try out a new lens, a Fuji 10-24 f/4zoom. This shot is of a honeypot location, the Great Court, which has been the subject of countless photographs. Considerately, the architect provided a high up viewing point for the purpose. Indeed, I had to wait my turn while someone else took their own photograph and others queued up behind.
Used at its widest setting, the lens performed reasonably well. As a consequence of the wide-angle of view, there was some distortion which I corrected in post processing. The edges are a bit soft, although I think that, for what I paid, the lens is a decent performer. The more so since it incorporates image stabilisation. It is difficult to design wide-angle lenses, a zoom only adding to the problems encountered. Fuji’s significantly more expensive, and bigger, 8-16 f/2.8 lens doubtless yields better results. Given the compromises of size, weight and cost, I am content to to stick with what I have.
I will not describe it as a mistake, rather a miscalculation when I started my shot of the week project at the beginning of the year. After four months, it remains on track, despite appearances to the contrary. Where I erred was in underestimating the time required to produce a blog article to accompany every photograph. It is quite a commitment. For a while, all was well. Then I started to be a week or so late which morphed into two weeks. I nearly caught up, before life got extremely busy. There was time to take photographs, but not enough to process and write about them. So today, already a week into May, I present my image for the week ending 31 March.
The shot, Goldfinch, is my favourite from a day spent at Millers Wood which is run by a bird photography enthusiast, John Stanton. A few years ago, he purchased a tract of woodland and is gradually restoring it to create a haven for wildlife. As part of the work he has undertaken, John has set up a number of hides and photogenic settings, which he hires out. While I mainly saw a variety of birds, there was a field vole which occasionally scampered about. I am certain that there are plenty of other animals there as well.
It requires a long telephoto lens, but there are photographic opportunities aplenty. Most of my shots were taken on a Fuji 100-400 lens zoomed out to its maximum length and mounted on a X-H1. That is equivalent to 600 mm on a full frame camera. Even then, some cropping is often necessary. Fortunately, with 24 MP to play with, there is sufficient scope to be able to produce an image for a good size print. For the goldfinch image, I wanted to include some context and zoomed out to around 300 mm.
To bait or not to bait?
The largest birds I saw at Millers Wood were woodpeckers but most are much smaller. They are also completely wild and tend not to stay in one place for long. A hide is a necessity, but that alone is insufficient. In order to attract the birds, John places food in concealed positions which entices them to settle a few feet away.
While the practice of baiting might be anathema to some, it does ensure that there is plenty to see. The objective was to obtain pictures, after all. In my view, the method of achieving that goal is secondary. Sure, I ended up with shots of birds eating food that did not look natural; a minor consideration when there was so much going on. Besides, I doubt that many shots of smaller birds have ever been achieved without some form of baiting.
To my mind, the difference comes down to the distinction between taking a photograph and making it. Unwittingly, maybe, but the birds were acting as models and receiving their reward in a currency they could appreciate. Namely, nourishment.
Some other images from Millers Wood
Inevitably, birds will take flight before the shutter can be pressed. They can be astonishingly quick, there one moment and gone the next. It all happens in a fraction of a second. I certainly had a goodly number of frames where the bird was absent. Occasionally, especially when shooting a burst, it is possible to catch the bird at the moment of departure. The first image is the best of what I describe as a “leaving” shot. I find the robin’s assymetrical action intriguing, captured at a brief instant with only one wing extended and one foot in the air.
Sometimes the birds appear to be looking directly at the camera. On my previous visit to Millers Wood, I had been hoping to get a shot of a woodpecker. John seemed very confident that would happen, offering a refund if none appeared. Needless to say, his money was safe. The birds are ubiquitous although I have yet to see a green one, which seem to be less common.
Having mentioned the field vole sighting earlier, I could hardly conclude without showing a shot of it. Overall, it was a very productive day and I am especially pleased with my goldfinch image.
In my last post, I commented on one of the issues which arises when deciding which photograph to publish for the week. In that instance, I had three candidates and for the sake of variety opted for the one which it would not be possible to repeat. This time, the problem is different in that I have a number of shots which could make the grade. It was a good week, both photographically speaking and otherwise. One benefit of creating a blog article each week is that it allows the possibility of featuring alternative shots.
I took this while on a photo walk with one of my camera clubs in and around the City of London. Usually I treat these affairs purely as social events and any reasonable images are a bonus. Sometimes they do prove to be very productive and this was one such occasion.
Other Photo Walk Images
There are many churches within the City of London and many are still in use. These days, they are dwarfed by the skyscrapers which have appeared during the past few years.
The walk ended just off Brick Lane where there is a wall frequented by graffiti artists. They proved to be very friendly and did not mind having their picture taken. I enjoyed chatting with them as they worked. If I can find the time, the shots I took that afternoon would make a blog post on their own. For a while, this was going to be my shot of the week mainly because I enjoyed the experience of photographing them. In the end, though, “Family Group” proved just too strong an image to ignore.
The Nomadic gardens is a community area next to the graffiti wall. There is some graffiti there as well. Unlike the wall, where the artists habitually paint over each other’s work, the art on display is more permanent. I suspect, though, that it still changes over time. The main wall at one end of the gardens proved very popular with lots of people taking photographs.
A candid shot in the Nomadic gardens.
I could not resist this shot while walking around Brick Lane. The dogs seemed quite content with their lot.
The Royal Horticultural Society’s garden at Wisley looked amazing. Probably the best I have ever seen it. The reason was that many of the trees were in blossom. Apparently, a mild winter which did not have too many cold snaps allowed the blossom to flourish. Not just at Wisley either, as the trees in my locality have also been putting on a good show this spring.
I also went to see the Don McCullin exhibition which is currently on at Tate Britain. While he does shoot in colour, all the main images were monochrome. He is an amazing photographer although his many depictions of humanity’s worst aspects are difficult to look at. It does not pay to exercise one’s imagination too much about what was happening. Nor do I really comprehend how he was so frequently drawn to war situations.
Towards the end of the show there are some of his landscapes which are invariably bleak, although one does show some crepuscular rays. Which marks it out as an exception in his body of work. A ray of sunshine in a Don McCullin photograph.
When going through the week’s images looking for “the one”, I had a number of options. I could have shown the latest in the series of flower images I have been making in the past few weeks. They are good, to my eye at least, but would repeat what I have done previously during the project. I also have some family shots which are personal and not for sharing. Eventually, the choice came down to some shots of herons in flight taken at a local park and the one here, “Red Queen”. The decision made simply because this is a set-up which will not be repeated. The park I can visit at any time and maybe get some better light than I experienced previously. When doing a project such as this, variety as much as quality can be the ultimate arbiter.
This shot was taken on the Fuji stand at The Photography Show held at the NEC in Birmingham. For the past few years, Fuji has always had something to photograph. This time there was an “Alice In Wonderland” theme. Initially we only had the Mad Hatter, who was suitably eccentric both in dress and manner. Later on, the Red Queen* joined him. Not exactly the harridan Lewis Carroll depicted in his book. While the setting was picturesque and handed to onlookers on a plate, photography was not necessarily straightforward.
Firstly, there was the light which consisted of the standard illumination in the hall. Flat and even, great for looking at everything on display at the show, just not much of it. I wanted a high shutter speed to counteract subject movement and a reasonably wide aperture. That meant my shots were all at ISO 3200 and f/2.8. Then there was lens choice. I had only taken a couple to the show, both from Fuji. I had made my selection to keep the weight down on a day when I did not expect many shots.
There was the 18-55 for versatility plus the 56 f/1.2. I chose the latter for its speed and ability to isolate subjects from the background. That was the one which ended up on the camera. The problem was that it was just a fraction too long and it was not always easy to get everything into the frame. Then there were the models who were left to do their own thing. With so many people wanting shots, direction was not a practical option. As so often happens with photography, chance played its part in the final result.
Hatter and Red Queen
A shot of the Hatter and Queen together.
* Queen Confusion
Lewis Carroll wrote two books featuring Alice as the heroine. The first was “Alice In Wonderland” with “Alice Through the Looking Glass” as its sequel. Each book has a character who is a queen, but the two are very different in personality. Alice In Wonderland has the Queen of Hearts to whom the desctiption of termagant could apply. The Red Queen appears in Alice Through the Looking Glass. Although formal, she does not share the other’s anger and is not unkindly.
In common culture, the two queens have become conflated into one. The setting for my shot is almost certainly the Hatter’s** Tea Party from Alice In Wonderland. Yet the queen is dressed in red and without any emblems suggesting she could be the Queen of Hearts. Moreover, she is holding a flamingo. That, too, is a reference to the first book when the Queen and Alice play a game of croquet using flamingos instead of mallets. Given I had to opt for one or the other when titling the image, Red Queen seemed more apt due to the model’s costume.
Wikipedia has more about the two queens and how they are often mistaken for each other at this link.
** Yes, a footnote to a footnote. Lewis Carroll simply called his character the Hatter. The “Mad” epithet did not feature although it was a term routinely applied to those who made hats. The primary cause was almost certainly neurological damage due to the use of mercury in the felting process. Again, Wikipedia has additional information.
This shot, Pairings, was taken at the conclusion of a street photography walk. It was a circular tour, going from King’s Cross in London to Camden Market and back. This is a well known location which I have never previously managed to find. It is a subway which I had heard described as being a link between King’s Cross and Paddington railway stations. In reality, it is one of the entrances to King’s Cross. I had been looking, just not in the right place.
The usual shot here is to have an otherwise empty corridor with a small figure at the far end to provide a focal point. On a busy Saturday afternoon, that was never going to happen. This was about as quiet as it got and as close to the “ideal” composition that I saw while I was there.
I am a few weeks behind with my shot of the week posts, but that is no bad thing. When I first saw this image, I thought that the empty area on the right would be better if filled with the main subjects. The smaller, but equally important figures in the background, seemed to leave an empty space. While creating this post, I realised that the image as shot image is in reality the stronger. The “empty” space acts a lead in to the subsidiary figures while the main subjects drag the eye back. Being on the right is the weaker position.
Purists might argue that flipping images goes against the spirit of photography. Unlike other art forms, ours is a realistic medium in as much as it captures light which was there at the time. That does not mean that we should always remain faithful to the original capture. Besides, there is no such thing as straight image. Whether film or digital, the image requires some processing afterwards capture and decisions made about presentation. Even supposedly unmanipulated images on slide or instant film are not immune. The way they render will have been determined in advance and with slide film the photographer will choose one which suits the subject.
Very, very occasionally, I do reverse images. In most instances, though, I invariably prefer the original composition. It was how I saw the scene and what made me take the shot. The reason that I do not do it more often has nothing to do with the sanctity of the photograph. That is a poor motivation. It is only the final result which matters.
If one word sums up my photography for this week, it is “barriers”. With a lot going on, there was just one opportunity for a photographic outing. Naturally, I went where there might be some good prospects. First stop was the BBC’s new headquarters at the end of London’s Regent Street. Frustratingly, part of the iconic forecourt was sectioned off for filming. Never mind, the Millennium Bridge across the Thames was a short bus ride away. That is always good for a few shots. Except this time it wasn’t. Half of it was fenced off for the installation of new lighting. Well, the Turbine Hall in the Tate Modern Library has proved fruitful in the past. You guessed it. Closed off to the public.
Some days, photography is like that. Come to think of it, life is like that and does not always go to plan. Eventually I found my shot for the week at the southern end of the Millennium Bridge. Thankfully, that section was free of barriers. You might think it strange that many people are wearing light coloured clothing on a cold and dull day. Except all is not what it seems. This is a monochrome conversion of a shot from an infrared camera.
Infrared images are typically noted for effects such as foliage appearing lightened and skies turning dark. Yet long ago I discovered through experimentation that in scenes where those elements are not present, an infrared camera is usable for monochrome. Admittedly, unlike a true monochrome camera which records only tones and no colour, conversion to black and white is necessary. With that proviso, it creates some interesting images. The dyes in artificial fabric do reflect a lot of infrared light, which accounts for the appearance of people’s clothing in this shot.
A further example of a monochrome image from my infrared camera is below. I took it as I crossed the Millennium Bridge, looking across from the opposite side with all the fencing. Had the sky been clear instead of cloudy, it would have been rendered black. Which, all things considered, is not a bad idea for a future shot.
Barriers to Photography
While I wrote about the barriers which appeared in the photos I would like to take, I did come across a hindrance of another kind. Namely my camera. I was using my Canon EOS 7D which, according to Lightroom, is the one I have used most. It accounts for around a third of the images on my hard drive. For a long time I have appreciated its ergonomics but not its bulk and weight.
In an effort to reduce the load, for a while I experimented with micro four thirds cameras but never really committed to the system. Then I discovered Fuji’s cameras. A X-E2 with the excellent 18-55 lens became my mainstay for a few years, being compact, light and versatile. It has been responsible for a number of my most recent successful images. Recently I added an X-H1 which has been a revelation. While it is a more substantial camera, it handles in a similar manner to my 7D. Put simply, it feels right and is at home in my ha In a way, I might add, that the X-E2 does not despite its many other virtues.
Using the Canon 7D again, it felt clumsy by comparison. That partly explains why I was shooting in locations which are not normally associated with infrared. Aside from my usual experimenation and wanting to see how things look in infrared, that is. The camera is a modified 450D which is smaller and it felt more convenient. One of my requirements for a camera is that it should not get in the way of my photography. That is a criterion which the 7D no longer consistently fulfils, which made me reluctant to take it out of my bag.
There are many positives to undertaking a challenge which requires the regular production of images. Not least is the incentive to use the camera. Life has plenty of other distractions and it is all too easy not to take a photograph for a while. Another benefit such a project is the opportunity to try different styles of photography. A couple of weeks ago I was doing just that when shooting a tulip past its sell-by date in infrared against a black background. I like to photograph a variety of subjects, but that particular shot got me thinking about other possibilities. There was definitely scope for further experimentation in a personal project which has no rules about repetition.
The shooting set-up this time was similar but I chose a tulip which was definitely in its prime. At least, I hope so as I had bought it earlier that day. I again shot with my infrared camera but used a different lens. One which is marketed on the basis that it is not very good. Or rather, that its optical defects introduce an ethereal quality to images taken with it. In other words, character is a more important attribute than absolute sharpness in its rendering.
The lens? It is Lomography’s Daguerreotype Achromat 64 f/2.9 Art Lens to give its full title and a reinvention of the world’s first photographic optic lens. The original was created in the 19th century by Charles Chevalier for the Daguerreotype camera. Optically, both versions are alike in that the design consists of two lens elements in a single group. The modern update has features which were not present in the original. It is conceivable, for example, that the Chevalier lens did not have an internal focussing mechanism. What I can be certain about is that dating to 1839, it did not come with a choice of mounts such as the Canon EF fitting on my copy.
It also seems that the first lens came with a fixed f/4 aperture. The Lomography reinvention uses Waterhouse stops to change the aperture. These are plates with circular holes which are inserted into the lens barrel. Granted that it is not as convenient as an aperture ring but this is a manual focus objective and operation is not going to be quick. Besides, although capable of serious work, in some ways the Daguerreotype lens is a novelty. The Waterhouse stops add to its appeal.
It is possible that my description of the Chevalier lens is not entirely accurate. I have done some research on the Internet but details are frustratingly vague. The most informative article which I have found is from Lomography, although it is not as comprehensive as I would like.
Wide open, the Daguerreotype lens produces a very ethereal looking image. Stopped down, it becomes surprisingly sharp despite the simplistic optical design. Wide open at f/2.9, it can be very soft. At f/4 some of that softness is reamins but already it is appreciably sharpening up. This shot was taken at f/5.6 which is the limit for retaining any of the len’s characteristics.
Focussing proved to be a challenge. My infrared camera is a modified Canon EOS 450D and usually I rely on autofocus. Focusing using the viewfinder on a DSLR is difficult as it lacks the necessary aids which were abundant in the days of manual focus. Fortunately, the camera has live view but in infrared everything looked grey. Added to that, a soft focus lens does not provide much detail to determine easily the exact point of focus. I found it best to use one of the smaller stops to get the clarity I required and magnify the image. f/5.6 worked well and once I was confident of the focus I could switch to a larger aperture if I wanted that option.
Colour is our eye’s response to different wavelengths of light in the visible spectrum and it follows that colour cannot exist in infrared. A digital camera is still recording in colour and some hues will be apparent in the image. This provides an opportunity to introduce false colour effects during post processing. The colours of my tulip shot are not dissimilar to how it looked although that is a coincidence. Other flowers with different colouration which I photographed at the same time turned out similarly with the same processing applied.
The final change was to flip the image for a stronger composition. It looks as though the flower is saluting, hence the title. I know, I have anthropomorphised a tulip of all things.
To give a better idea of how the Daguerreotype lens performs at its maximum aperture, I took this shot with lens wide open. Again, I used my infrared camera. In reality, the flowers were white and yellow, not pink as seen here.
A shorter than usual blog post than usual for this week’s image for the week. There was a lot going on which did not leave much time for photography. I took this photo in my local woods and enjoyed seeing the sun catching the bare branches at the top of the trees. The bright day is a harbinger of the forthcoming spring and warmer days.