Thursday, 28 May 2015

Sheep and Rooks

More common rural scenes from Castleroe way for you today.  Nothing terribly exciting - unless you count a field of sheep as exciting, that is.

A farm trying to hide behind a hedge
You see that's what happens when you just stop your car at the side of a wee road and point your camera nowhere in particular.  A nice wee rural scene, complete with sheep things, a farm, a wee bit of a stone wall and even a tree or two.  Lovely!  Oh - and a couple of modern gates - not so lovely.

Point the camera in another direction and you might see this:

Cattle and rooks

The cattle are all munching away there, following the same route.  And there's a couple of rooks for you too, all a-swirling in the air currents.  No leaves on the trees yet - it was only April.  I know they're rooks as they are our most common bird from that family in these parts.  We get hooded crows, but they are very distinctive, what with their grey overcoat and all (as people say nowadays).  Jackdaws are common here too, but quite a bit smaller than rooks.  Magpies again have very distinctive plumage (every time I hear the word plumage I always think of 'Beautiful plumage, though' - as spoken by Michael Palin in the Dead Parrot Sketch, Monty Python).

Nice moody skies in these shots methinks.  Of course readers familiar with this neck of the woods know that that's the sort of sky we have about 11 months of the year.  The other month the clouds are much heavier ;)  Good job B&W film just loves skies like that.  I mean, what if we had loads of empty blue sky in these shots - they'd be right boring, wouldn't they?!

Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Strange goings-on

One of the things many people say they like about photography is that it changes the way they see things.  It does, I believe, encourage you to look more closely at things - you are always searching for a new angle on a familiar subject, or to actually see what is there rather than simply what you assume is there.

The other week when I was out and about around Castleroe I was driving around with nothing much in mind other than to point the camera at some things and see what comes out of the developing tank.  In this part of the world there are many farmhouses dotted about the countryside.  By some other countries' standards our farms are small affairs, probably 100-150 acres on average.  Mostly cattle are kept for milk or beef, sometimes sheep and I notice the odd lama has crept in here and there - what's that all about, eh?  There are of course also many farms which grow our staple diet - potatoes - and you get the odd field of barley or rape, which add a touch of colour to the countryside.

Here's a shot of a farm that intrigued me.

Two chimneys?
So what's going on here then?  Two large, brick-built chimneys, visible for miles around.  Unfortunately I couldn't get any closer to them - had to snap this from some distance away with the 180mm Nikkor lens.  The farm itself was up a long driveway and I didn't have the courage just to drive up and ask for a closer look.  You just never know what sort of reception you are going to get.  Anyway the point is I wondered what on earth they were used for?  I'm no expert on farming, mind, but chimneys are usually required when there is fire of some sort.  I really have no idea - they just caught my eye as something unusual and therefore interesting, probably quite old and I doubt if they are still in use.  Suggestions welcome below!

Tuesday, 26 May 2015

It's a dog's life

I've posted a snap or two of the Dog-Hound-Thing before but I'm rather pleased with this effort.  He's  just had his winter coat off and when that happens he's about 6lbs lighter, or so it seems to him.  He bounces around like a young thing again, belying his age...he'll be 10 this year, so he's well into middle age (like us all, eh?!).

I caught him the other day on the front steps, enjoying the sun.  He just couldn't keep his eyes open, even for a photograph.

Picture of relaxation
Those steps are just perfect for dangling those wee paws over.  Quite the handsome mutt, isn't he?

Monday, 25 May 2015


Symbolic things, gates, aren't they?  I mean, they stop people&animals from coming in, and also from escaping.  We have wooden gates on our driveway and in the evening it is rather nice, I must admit, to be closing them.  I feel like I'm closing off the world from our little abode, which is a degree safer.  Of course that's all in my mind, since I don't lock them and are they easy for anyone to open.  But all the same it always feels good - like a closure to the day.  In the morning one of the first things I do is open them - and it's kind of saying Hello to everyone else again, We are open for business.  Mind you, although it doesn't feel particularly bad to open them I can't say it gives the same pleasure as when I close them at night.  Funny that, isn't it?

I have a bit of a thing for old gates.  Modern gates you see in the country nowadays tend to be strictly functional - galvanised, plain, built in a factory to a cost.  Old farm gates were things of beauty, all ironwork and sometimes with fancy little turns - mostly made by skilled craftspeople.  I have my eye on quite a few around here that need capturing - strictly on film, of course!  The old ones are probably not much longer for this world (in their present form, anyway) - most are rusty, neglected and in the process of being reclaimed by Mother Nature.

These are the gates from the run-down cottages of the last few posts.  In spite of the fact that the owner has put a modern chain around them (albeit nicely camouflaged in B&W) you can still get a feeling for their former glory.  Quite lovely, methinks, even in their current state of decline.


It'll be a shame when one day some Big Lig comes by in his yellow digger and tummels the whole caboosh, gates and all.  But at least they will live on in this blog - for a while, anyway!

Friday, 22 May 2015

More ruins

More from the run-down cottage and outbuildings you saw yesterday.  Always a good hunting-ground for snaps, old places are.  Unfortunately the owner had put a big chain around the gates, so there was no getting up close and dirty, so to speak.  But that's probably a good thing - I think I'd be a bit of a liability poking around a place like this.

Nature taking over

Isn't it amazing how quickly nature takes over?  No matter how much work humans put in to making things look permanent it doesn't take long for decay to set in.  I'm sure that when this little house was occupied it was well cared for and probably had a nice wee garden out front.  Now I like a walk round a garden as much as the next person, but I just can't bring myself to get too carried away with the whole gardening thing.  Leave the best tended garden alone for a month or two and it will look very different.  I like gardens to be low-maintenance and prefer a wild look about them.  It's more natural (in my eyes) than a garden which has been fussed over and is full of weird and wonderful colours which aren't found in the local countryside.  But that's just me - give me Cow Parsley over a Carthusian Pink anyday.

Lovely stonework

I like the walls in this old building.  Not much sign of cement, the stones are just placed on top of each other.  And look how thick the walls are.  The house I grew up in (and where Mother still lives) has similar walls.  Inside they are plastered and outside is rendered and dashed, so it all looks fine, but completely impossible to drill a hole into when hanging a heavy picture or mirror.  The house has stood for over 100 years, so the old stone walls have held up well - no mean feat given the winter storms we have in these parts.

Thursday, 21 May 2015


Normally a title like 'Reflections' would have me off on my hobby horse, writing about life in days gone by, and the like.  But I'm keeping it vanilla today.

There's always a heated debate on the FB groups any time someone mentions image manipulation.  Of course these days with Photoshop it is very easy to manipulate an image, as we well know.  Some people are firmly of the view that the photograph should represent 'what was there, then'.  Others are more relaxed and say once the image is acquired in the camera, anything goes.  To be honest I find all those discussions a bit boring.  If someone wants to change an image in a particular way, then let them.  I don't see the point in trying to make some sort of 'rule' that restricts creativity.

So here's a photograph for you, snapped on my jaunt around the back roads of Castleroe the other day.  Actually, two photographs for you, to be precise.  A bit like in the episode with Father Ted and Chris the sheep, one photograph is flipped horizontally.  (As a former mathematician I am appalled at what I have just written - what I meant to write was that one photograph has undergone a reflection about the left hand edge).  Whatever - you get my drift.

This way?

Or this way

The question is, does the photograph work better one way or the other?   The top photograph is the 'correct' way - i.e., it shows a representation of the actual scene.  The eye is led into the photograph from right to left.  But naturally we (well, in this part of the world anyway) read from left to right, so perhaps the second photograph works better.  

Better photographers than me have flipped the orientation of photographs to improve the final image.  In this example above I do prefer the second image. What do you think?

Wednesday, 20 May 2015


Today's posts are from up Castleroe way.  If I had done my homework properly I would now embark on a little history of Castleroe before showing you some snappy snaps.  But I haven't done any homework recently.  I do have a list of excuses as long as your arm, mind you - the biggest one being that my eyes have been letting me down recently.  I have inflammation of the iris, or iritis, if you want the technical term.  Unfortunately this is not uncommon in people with ankylosing spondylitis.  I have been pretty lucky so far in that I didn't have iritis once in over 35 years of having AS.  Then last November it decided to pay me a visit.  And again now.  And perhaps in both eyes.  So I'm limiting the amount of time I spend in front of a computer while things ease.  I know you understand, being the sentient beings that you are...

So - quickly then! - here are a couple of images for your amusement.  Of sheep, no less.  In fields.  In Castleroe.  Enjoy...

Lovely power lines, eh?

I wonder if living under those power lines means the lamb is half-cooked when it gets to the abattoir?   Sorry - was that comment in bad taste?  D'oh!  There I go again...  Blame the steroid eye drops - 6 times a day!

Lovely undulations in the fields in these parts

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Back to fields...

Well after our  little visit to Merseyside some 30 years ago we're back to present-day Northern Ireland.  The attentive reader will, of course, remember my mention of James Ravilious, who photographed country life in Devon over several decades.  It is of course tempting to think that today's photographs can't ever be as interesting as ones taken decades ago - and for sure, people's way of life has changed a lot even since the 1980s.  And we can't travel back in time...yet.  But that misses the point, I think.  Today's photographs are a record of this time, now.  Who knows what changes will come in years to come.

So I went out and about last week armed with some Ilford FP4+ B&W film in a gorgeous little 35mm Nikon camera.  As anyone familiar with this area knows, there are a lot of fields about.  And fields need gates.

This photograph is one I almost didn't take at all - I remember framing it in the camera and then putting my camera down, before thinking 'What the heck, it's just one frame' and lifting the camera up again to take the shot.

A rural scene, 2015
I know it's just a gate lying against a fence, but it pleases me - and that's the important thing, right?!

Monday, 18 May 2015

A canal

A canal - but which one?  Not surprisingly I don't remember anything about a trip out to a canal in the Autumn of 1984, but the camera doesn't lie so I must have been there at some time that year.  In hindsight had someone had the decency to fall in then the trip might have been more memorable,  but as that didn't happen I'll have to make do with these scans of 35mm slides.  It could be the Shropshire Union canal, or possibly the Stratford upon Avon canal.  Either way looking at the snaps it looks like a mighty fine place to be in the autumn.  What do you think?

I know I do go on about it (Ed: indeed you do, indeed you do), but didn't Mr Kodachrome do well again?  And we have to have one arty-farty one, don't we?

And that, folks, completes our little vignette of The Wirral and its surrounding regions in 1984 and 1987.  I hope you enjoyed it.  Tomorrow, back to present-day Norn Iron - for a while, anyway!

Friday, 15 May 2015

The Three Graces

Well, two of them anyway.  Postcard-type snaps for you today, continuing the series from my visit to Birkenhead and Liverpool in 1984 and 1987.  First off we have the Royal Liver Building itself.

Royal Liver Building
The famous Liver Birds are perched on top - one looking towards the river, the other towards the city.  Apparently they are a mixture of an eagle and cormorant and as usual with such icons there are a number of stories about their significance to the city.  Apparently they don't get to flap their wings many times (nudge nudge wink wink).

Clearly I didn't think much of the middle Cunard Building, as I have no photograph of it - but here is the Port of Liverpool Building:

Port of Liverpool Building

What a beautifully proportioned building.  Eh, they don't build them like that any more...  Out front there is a statue of Edward VII on a horse:

Edward VII statue, Port of Liverpool building in the background

The last photograph today is from the Albert Dock area - specifically Granada Studios.  Richard and Judy broadcast This Morning from there, and yes that was the place that Fred Talbot did his weatherman thing with the floating map, but that's enough about him.  Quite an impressive modern complex though - I love all the brickwork:

Granada Studios, Albert Dock
One more day of around and about The Wirral and its environs and then it's back to Norn Iron - for a wee while anyway!

Thursday, 14 May 2015

Ferry across the Mersey...

More from my visit to The Wirral in 1984.  We did, as I said, cross the Mersey on the ferry.  This is the view as you go through the terminal to the dock - or was the view at that time anyway.

Approaching the Mersey ferry (Liverpool side I think)
Apparently in the video of the famous song by Gerry and the Pacemakers it was the Mountwood ferry  they used - we got the Woodchurch (well, it would be, wouldn't it? - see previous post), as seen here coming in to dock.

Woodchurch Ferry coming to take us 'across the Mersey', 1984

The strange thing is I have another photograph of the Woodchurch ferry coming in, clearly from the Wirral direction this time.  As you can see, although the structure of the vessel is the same, the paint job looks different.  This was causing me a bit of grief until I remembered that Kodak date-stamped their slides.  A quick check revealed that this next photograph was taken in 1987, so clearly the vessel had a new paint job sometime between '84 and '87.  Mystery solved!

The 1987 version of the Woodchurch ferry
And here's a close-up, with a couple of scallys looking over, no doubt wondering if my camera was worth nicking.  Haha - only joking!!  Not all scousers are thieves...just like not all Irishmen are thick, right?!

The Woodchurch in close-up

I can't say I remember much of the crossing to Liverpool in 1984, but this is the view looking back to The Wirral.

View from the ferry, towards The Wirral

This is the view looking forwards, towards Liverpool, with a very threatening sky:

Storm brewing over Liverpool, 1984
Looks like The Wirral was definitely the poor cousin in this relationship, doesn't it?  Let's hope it's had some EU urban regeneration funds since then.  My mate Prof Simon informs me: For those not familiar with the Birkenhead skyline, the huge brick structure seen in the image 'View from the ferry, towards The Wirral' that resembles a Stalinist shopping mall not uncommon in Moscow, is in fact a vent for the first Mersey road tunnel completed in 1934. Thanks Simon for that useful snippet - I'm sure it will ease the minds of the legions of readers of this blog (Ed: legions now is it?).

The three mightily impressive looking buildings on the Liverpool side (Pier Head) are known as the Three Graces.  On the left is the famous Royal Liver Building (1911), in the middle the Cunard Building (1917) and the one on the right is the Port of Liverpool Building, the oldest of the three, finished in 1907.  Apparently they are now part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site in Liverpool.

I have to say what a wonderful job Kodachrome did of capturing those colours.

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

More from The Wirral

Continuing our theme of a photographic social history of The Wirral, we have the famous, or should that be infamous, Woodchurch Estate.  My Uni mate Simon took me on a tour of the more salubrious areas of the Wirral as a payback for me taking him around the Bogside in Derry/Londonderry when he visited Northern Ireland.  I think he got off lightly, by the look of things here:

Woodchurch Estate, The Wirral

Simon went to school there, he informs me, but it can't have been that bad, since he is now a Professor of Medicinal Chemistry at a leading University.

Rents are cheap, apparently
I'm sure the Woodchurch Estate, like the Bogside, has been completely revamped since these photographs were taken in 1984.  I wonder how long these flats were lived in for - they look fairly modern for the time, although clearly the local disaffected youths had been using the windows as target practice.  I like the sink dumped in the front garden - very Tracey Emin.

Tuesday, 12 May 2015

Social History

Sometimes you come across a photographer who really makes you stop and look - and think.   James Ravilious is one such person.  Ravilious photographed rural life and landscapes (mostly around Devon) in the 1970s, 80s and 90s and he was pretty darn good at what he does - if you have a spare minute you could click here to see his work.

I'm warming to this sort of photography - it's slow and thoughtful and doesn't require any special props or events.  It kind of just depicts life and the world as it is.  The more I look back at photographs I've taken from 30 years ago the more I see the value of photography as means of documenting social history.  I wish I'd taken a lot more snaps back then - of mundane stuff like buildings and places as well as people.

Here's a couple of snaps from 1984, taken during a visit to The Wirral with my Uni mate Simon.  Not that these are anything like Ravilious's work but they remind me of good times and there is a little social history present in them.  Here is Simon, hamming it up, with his girlfriend at the time, Bev, showing her appreciation.  I like the guy coming out of the shop with his loaf of bread.

Woodchurch Estate, Wirral, 1984
Pity I cut their legs off, but no-one's perfect.   I remember going across the Mersey (on the ferry, naturally) - by the look of things this snap must have been taken as we approached the terminal.

The Wirral, 1984
While I haven't been back to The Wirral for many years I'm sure it looks a little different nowadays.  When I see photographs like these I'm reminded how transitory it all is - and how today's ordinary can become tomorrow's interesting.  So - I'm off and about with the camera to take some ordinary snaps - who knows, in 30 years time they might even be interesting!

Monday, 11 May 2015

Beach life

We are blessed in this part of the Ireland - lots and lots of beautiful sandy beaches all around.  In the summertime - as I have complained about before (Ed: here we go again) - we get of them.   The visitors come partly because of the beaches and while I'm sure the local traders are happy about that, I'm not.  I like beaches to myself - or almost - and thankfully for about 9 months of the year things are just dandy that way.  Unfortunately we're coming into the 3 months of the year when things get rather busier.  Roll on September, eh?!

These shots were taken a while back at the White Rocks, just outside Portrush.  This post should have been titled Beach - Still Life, but I thought that was way too poncy for a title.  Anyway, here's a rock for you:

A rock
Almost a 3D look to this one, or is it 2D - or maybe it looks like it's just floating.  Anyway, the rock was looking all lovely and weathered and everything, half-submerged in the sand as it was.  It came up rather well on film I think.

Sand, rocks and some grass
The rocks in this last shot are more typical of the ones you get around the White Rocks area - and I rather liked the wee bit of grass growing beside them. Quite dark sand on this part of the beach - there is a lot of basalt around, as well as limestone.

I tried to go out to the White Rocks again recently, but was thwarted not by the weather as such, more by the effects of coastal erosion.  Seems the storms we'd had over the winter had washed away a lot of sand and access to the beach was nigh impossible - well, completely impossible for the likes of me who are a bit unsteady on their feet.  I did see a couple of pheasants though - a male and a female - and got very close to them, so it wasn't a completely wasted journey.  No snaps of the birds, though - I was in the car at the time.  Besides, capturing birds with a 35mm lens is pretty impossible - unless they are half-tame like the robin that my mother feeds cheese to every day:

Mother's cheese-eating robin

Friday, 8 May 2015


When I was last in the darkroom, which seems like an awfully long time ago now (before Christmas) I was having a lot of fun experimenting with toning - Selenium toning, to be precise.  This process not only makes the image more permanent on the paper, but also increases the blacks (Dmax) as well as giving the print a warmish, almost purple tone and removing the greenish cast that some papers have.  Some papers react better than others - for example, the standard Ilford Multigrade IV doesn't tone well at all, whereas Ilford's Fibre Warmtone paper does.  I've not tried the latter - although I did experiment with Fotospeed's RCVC paper and that did tone very nicely.   As I'm writing this I realise I'm dying to get back to having some fun in the darkroom again...

Here's a shot I snapped the other day.  It's the view I get when I step outside my front door, of the old sheds that in my grandfather's day were part of his butchery business.  The largest barn was where the animals were slaughtered and a very rusty old winch still lives there.  Nowadays, at this time of year, the swallows have a natural perching place on the wire rope.

Our yard, as it looks in Spring
When I scanned this neg I though how nice that would look printed, and either toned or even printed on lith.  Now as you know I'm not a big fan of Photoshop but it is necessary when you are working with digital images, even scans from negs.  So after a little poking around I came found PS's duotone effects.  This was a 'sepia duotone' effect.

Sepia duotone effect

It certainly warms up the original image, although one thing I find with most of the preset tones is that they are much too strong.  These are of course only the presets and with a little more time it might be worth learning how to configure things myself.  I'm just not sure I want to invest that much time and effort into Photoshop though.

There are of course many different toning chemicals available to the traditional darkroom printer, as well as Lith Printing, which I am really looking forward to experimenting with.  This is kind of how I would expect a Lith print to look, again using a preset PS duotone.

Lith effect

I think this photograph works really well in B&W and it might be one of the first I print if I ever get back in the darkroom.  The sink is all but finished - but I'm giving it shed-loads of gloss paint before I apply some yacht varnish, so it's another couple of weeks away from completion.  But it's getting there - honest.  

Thursday, 7 May 2015

Nothing remarkable

I've been looking around the old Internet as of late - mostly photography-based blogs and stuff like that.  There are a lot of people doing very interesting stuff which makes my efforts seem very crude and ordinary by comparison.  Still, one has to start somewhere, right?

Someone I think is very good is Andrea Ingram and her blog is BoxesBellows.  Andrea lives on the Isle of Lewis, just off the west coast of Scotland and takes some very good snaps.  From time to time she goes all creative-like and comes up with something very special (usually in the darkroom) but a lot of the time she simply snaps away at anything and everything on Lewis.   The more I visit her site (and I do a lot) the more I really like her work.  At first glance it can look very mundane (sorry Andrea!) - yet another photograph of nothing much in particular, but then I look a bit more closely, then step back from it and it begins to grow on me.  A lot.  Click on the link and see for yourself.

So here's a very ordinary snap for you.

Nothing remarkable
I captured this little scene the other day with the new camera.  That's the River Bann by the way, and just out of shot is the village of Castlerock.

I quite like this - it kind of is what it is, if you get my drift.  What do you think?

Wednesday, 6 May 2015

Andrew Cairns

My original intention with this blog was to mix my interest in photography with some local history - and from time to time throw in some genealogy stuff (remember my first post?).  Of late I've been more into photography than anything else (as you know, right?).  Posts on the genealogy front have been a bit sparse, apart from a couple of old shots of mother, so let's put that right.

My mother's dad - my Grandpa - had a brother, Andy Cairns.  Unfortunately I don't have any photographs of him at all, which is a shame.  Andy joined the Royal Irish Rifles in 1916, lying about his age (he was 16 at the time, said he was 19) and was discharged due to a dodgy ankle in 1918 (Army records state that he hurt his ankle falling out of a tree some years before enlisting - my guess is he was probably after apples).  His reasons for joining the army we will never know, but bearing in mind this was 1916 in Ireland, my guess is that 3 decent meals a day had something to do with it.  His dodgy ankle notwithstanding, on his Army discharge papers it states that 'He answered his country's call' and with his £20 discharge money he went to Philadelphia.  There he met and married a certain Selina M Henry, whom my mother was named after.   We all thought Selina Henry was American, but after a bit of digging around it transpired she too originated from Northern Ireland.

Selina Henry

My grandpa's brother and his new wife Selina had a child, Andrew, who was born in 1925 in Philadelphia.  Tragically Selina died when Andrew was just 5 years old, and his father brought him back to grow up in here in Ireland - my mother can remember him being around when she was young.  Young Andrew joined up with the US Army on Christmas Eve of 1943, when he had just turned 18 - a good looking young lad he was to, as you can see:

Andrew Cairns, US Soldier
On this photograph he has written 'With Love to Aunt Marion' - Marion would have been my grandmother, also known as Minnie (or just Grandma to me).  Here is Andy in the prime of his life...

Somewhere in Europe during WWII

Andrew survived the war and returned to Philadelphia, enrolling in college to study photography (!), but was killed in a car crash in 1950, when he was 25.   Sad not just for the loss of his life, but for the fact that his partner Dorothy was at the time pregnant with their daughter, who was born never knowing her father.  Times must have been very hard for them, for Dorothy applied for an State pension, based on Andrew's war service.  This application was rejected by the State of Pennsylvania on the grounds that Andrew had enlisted from Northern Ireland (even though he had been born in Pennsylvania and was living there at the time of his death).

And that, we thought, was that.  Andrew's father had lost contact with the family after WWII, his partner Dorothy wrote for a while but as the older generation in Ireland died out the links were lost.

It is truly amazing what you can find on the Internet these days, with a little perseverance.  There is a website called and people from all over the world upload photographs of headstones to it.  Some people spend their days wandering around graveyards, taking photographs of headstones that look interesting to them.  Through this website I stumbled upon Andrew's headstone in Greenmount Veteran's Cemetery, Philadelphia:

Headstone with Andrew Cairns, his mother and her parents, Philadelphia
Alongside Andrew we see his mother's name (Selina M Cairns) and her parents, Robert and Elizabeth Henry, originally from Belfast.  This was an amazing (and extremely lucky) find and my mother was quite emotional when I showed it to her.  Both mother and son died very young - Selina when she was 24 and her son Andrew when he was 25.  My mother got a lot of comfort knowing that Andrew's resting place was beside his mum.

I should perhaps add that through this connection on my family tree (on I have met a very lovely person from the West Coast of America who is descended from the Henry line.  We have corresponded very frequently - and it turns out there are lots of Selinas in her family tree.  The 'original' Selina (i.e., the oldest one we can trace) was Selina McCaughey/McCaghey, born in Co Antrim in 1829, died 1939 in Bangor, Northern Ireland.  Sometimes it seems like a very small world.

Tuesday, 5 May 2015


Sometimes inspiration is hard to come by.  There is more than one way to approach your photography of course.  One way is to plan a shoot, reconnoiter the location beforehand, know where you are going to stand, what camera/lens/film combination to use, what time of day/weather conditions you want and so on.  That's what the Michael Kenna's of the world do.  The other way is simply to go out and about without a clear vision and simply see what presents itself to you.  I'm mostly in the latter camp these days.  I'm getting better at always carrying a camera and the more I do, the more I'm convinced that there is always something to photograph - even on days when inspiration appears rather thin on the ground.

I wrote yesterday a little about the idea of photographing the same place again and again and this is something I can see myself doing more of.  Yes you can go visit somewhere new and get great enjoyment from that, but there is a real challenge in finding new ways to photograph a familiar place. Perhaps partly the reason for thinking like this is that my lack of mobility means I'm less inclined to jump in the car and drive long (or even short) distances these days.   But maybe also the familiarity you have with a place gives you an advantage - perhaps you are more able to see beyond the obvious.

The other day, when the Nikon arrived, I loaded it up with film and just walked out around the house, ready to photograph anything just to test the camera.  Now I'm not saying any of the resulting snaps are masterpieces or anything, but I was mildly happy with them, given that I practically know every leaf and tree in the garden.  One of my favourite quotes is by Gerry Winogrand, who said something along the lines of 'I photograph something to see how it looks when photographed' - the fact is that the world does look different in print (or in scan, as we have here).

It's a plant

The next one here really needs a wee birdy sitting on the post, but none was available at the time...

Where's the birdy?
Interesting depth of field in this one...taken with the lens wide open of course, at f/2.8.  The post is sharp and although the wire in front of it is reasonably sharp too, behind the post the sharpness falls away very quickly.  I must take that shot again, perhaps with the focus point slightly behind the post.  This particular lens (180mm) clearly has an 'interesting' character to it and I think I'm going to enjoy using it.

Monday, 4 May 2015

A project

A place I know well is Portstewart Strand.  A 2-mile long stretch of sand between Portstewart and the mouth of the River Bann near Castlerock.  I got into the beach a few years ago when Missy was going to the local primary school.  After dropping her off I would take the Dog-Hound-Thing to the beach, where he would chase after the ball for a while.  Although Missy goes to Coleraine High School now I still like the beach for a morning stroll - good soul food it is!  I did try a few other venues when Missy moved schools, but with my mobility issues sometimes I didn't feel very safe, particularly since I'm usually carrying a camera.  So most days I go the extra mile or so and head back down to the beach in the mornings.  The D-H-T still likes to chase the ball, though he's getting older now (10 this year) so these days is content with carrying the ball more than chasing it.

I'm considering having a photographic 'project' this year and that project may well be 'Portstewart Strand'.  I have in mind a sort of '12 months of the year' thingmy.  I'm on the beach every week of the year - although I tend to go less frequently in the summer months since it does get very busy.  In the winter time I'm there every week no matter what.  It can be quite cold (understatement of the year, that) but to my mind much preferable, since there are only the regulars on the beach - mostly dog-walkers like myself  You do need the right gear, of course.

Here's a few shots with the new Nikon from a day or two ago. This particular day the wind was really very cold and so I headed into the sand dunes, which tend to be a little more sheltered.

Towards Castlerock from the sand dunes
Lovely grainy sky in this, methinks.  The old FP4+ in DD-X, as usual.  I must get round to trying some new film/developer combinations.  There are so many around and variety. as they say, is the spice of life.  However, I like the quality DD-X gives me and I seem to be able to get consistently good results (or results I like, anyway) from it.  Since I haven't been into film again for very long (less than a year) it's good to stick to one combination while honing your processing technique.  So I can see myself sticking to FP4+ and DD-X for another while and then maybe being a little more adventurous.

The beach to themselves...well, almost
The more I think about it, the more I like the idea of this project.   The challenge is to seek out different views of the same place - but since there's a couple of miles to work with that shouldn't be too difficult.  The good thing is this being Ireland you can take the car onto the beach, so on the days when the legs aren't working too well (that would be most days these days unfortunately) then I can drive fairly close to where I want to be.

Friday, 1 May 2015

Depth of field

For the last few years the online photographic world has been obsessed with bokeh.  Now I've mentioned this in a previous post not so long ago, but I came across a couple of old slides from The Archive which prompted this short discussion on the nature of bokeh.  Man how I hate that word.  It means how an out-of-focus background looks.  Not how much the background is out of focus - which is a consequence of how far the subject is away from the camera and the aperture used - but rather how the out-of-focus areas are rendered.  And that, my friends, is lens-specific.  Some lenses give it a smooth, creamy look, others are harsher in how they behave.

If the lens is fully stopped down, as it might be for a sunny day and a fast film - say at f/16, then there isn't going to be much depth of field to talk about - most everything that's in the frame will be in focus.  On the other hand, with the lens fully open, at maybe f/2 or f/2.8 there is going to be a lot of the frame out of focus.  The faster the lens, the shallower the depth of field will be at full aperture.  With luck your subject will be in focus (assuming that's what you want  and that's not always the case - right?!) and the background out-of-focus.

Because different lenses behave differently, lots of photographer-type dudes and dudettes just love to try different lenses and see how they render those out-of-focus areas.   In this post you can see some interesting bokeh in black and white.  Here area couple of colour shots for your interest - both with shallow depth of field and a blurry backgrounds:

Interesting background rendering
Just look at all that swirly stuff in the background!  Now the question is, do you like it, or not?

What about this one?

Cabbage white butterfly on thistle

I'm not sure 'bokeh' can either be judged as 'good' or 'bad' - just different.  Some might say if the background detracts too much from the subject - with either good bokeh or bad bokeh - then that's a Bad Thing.  I think that the photograph is what it is - in the above snaps there is a definite subject (in focus) and a background (out-of-focus) and the viewer is aware of both elements of the photograph.  If the photographer wanted, he/she could have cropped in real close to remove any background - so it's there for a reason.

I like the way different lenses render scenes differently, in a similar way to how different film/developer combinations behave.  It all adds to the richness of photography.