Tag Archives: photography

Photo showcase: Going against the grain

Going against the grain

Going against the grain (Click to view larger version)

Although I normally use the “photo showcase” category to revisit older photos, this is a new picture, taken just yesterday on a walk up above Hinterzarten in the Black Forest.

I have a bit of a thing for signs, as those who’ve followed my Flickr stream over the years will no doubt be aware (here is a collection of them put together especially for this post), and this one immediately caught my eye as it still had a lot of crispness despite being obviously rather old and weathered, and the red stood out really well against the grey boards of the background (it was a farm building of some sort, with chickens out the back…). The exposed grain of the sign perpendicular to that of the boards added interest that would have been absent had the sign been more pristine.

As it had been foggy when we left Freiburg, I didn’t bother with a “proper” camera on this occasion but relied on my phone instead. I knew it would therefore be well-nigh impossible to get a “straight-on” picture of this without horrible perspective distortion on the upright lines, so I went for a quirky tilt instead.*

* OK, let’s face it: I wanted a quirky tilt in any case.

When I got home and reviewed my pictures, I was annoyed to see I’d just nicked off the right-hand corner of the sign, making the whole shot look really careless and sloppy, despite what I thought had been valiant attempts to frame the sign nicely with a bit of space around it. The moral of this is that you MUST review your pictures properly at the scene when using a new version of a photo app in which all sorts of stuff has obviously changed. Clearly in this case, the lens doesn’t capture everything on the screen.

I almost deleted the picture in disgust, but I desperately didn’t want to, having thought of ever such a clever name for it and all that. The solution I decided to try was to tilt and recrop. The additional tilt was included so that I could get the left-hand edge of the sign absolutely vertical and (I hoped) give the picture a sense of balance, to pretend that there was a deliberate stylistic choice in there. The lopping off of the right-hand corner of the sign needed to look more deliberate, too. I’d have cropped it in a bit more closely on the right, but I didn’t want to “shave” too closely to that small round knothole above the edge of the sign.

The result is something I’m surprisingly happy with. I’d never have made a deliberate choice to chop off part of a triangular sign in that way when taking a picture of it – it would have felt like a poor framing choice – but I guess that in trying to save the photo I’ve just ended up going a bit more against the grain than I originally intended. I could have tried to “sell” it to you all as some kind of maverick, original conceptual idea. But then again, necessity is the mother of invention and all that.

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Travelling light

There was a time when going on holiday – or even on a day trip – meant packing my photo rucksack full of as many lenses, filters and other bits and bobs as I could carry.

Times have changed. I now have one saddle bag for all my clothes, and another that needs to accommodate my sleeping bag, cooking equipment and camera stuff. This ist smallest camera bag, and it fits inside a cycling helmet with room to spare (I’m just showing you this for scale – it’s not how I’m planning to transport it!).

20120818-140323.jpg

Yes, I could get a teeny tiny camera or just use the one on my phone, but I do want to be flexible and (maybe) experimental in the pictures I take, so a DSLR it is. It’s my old, smaller one (Canon 300D), simply because it’s light, not worth much now and a little battered as it is. I’ve got my two smallest, lightest lenses (though one has some zoom), one polarizing filter, two batteries, three memory cards. It’ll be enough, I think.

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Photo showcase: Sofa to go

Sofa to go

The sign says: “No dumping of rubbish” (but you probably guessed that…)

As a lazy kind of experiment, I thought I’d take a look through my Flickr stream to see if I could find any shots taken on exactly this day (15 July) one, two, three, four, five or six years ago. I had a sinking feeling when 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008 and 2007 in turn all yielded absolutely nothing, but to my great relief there were six of them (and mercifully, not too shabby, either) for 15 July 2006, back when I was new to photography and couldn’t get enough of it.

This was my clear favourite – in fact it’s a picture that’s always made me smile and one that I should really print out and frame one of these days. A pretty mundane, non-picturesque site by the side of a country road (I think, though I don’t remember the precise location) is transformed into a sight of wonderful, belly-laugh audacity by that funky orange monstrosity (which in its heyday must have been a great piece of furniture!). I love the fact that someone had obviously made the effort to place it absolutely neatly in line with the sign and the edge of the verge, so that it almost looks as though it belongs there.

I’m a notorious one for missed opportunities when it comes to taking pictures, but this is a chance capture that makes up for so many of those. I wonder who left the sofa there, and what became of it…

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Photo showcase: Cobbles

Cobbles 1

Cobbles 1

Following on from this post a couple of months back, this week I am continuing my occasional series of posting a picture I took some time ago and including a few comments on it.

This picture was taken way back in 2006, when I’d just started getting into photography. If I took the same picture today, I might go for a quirkier composition with the subject more off-centre, or introduce some stronger contrasts in the processing. However, I’m happy with it the way it is overall, with the diagonal slant and the colours that come out in the cobbles. What’s more, it’s a picture that sums up quite a bit about Freiburg.

These cobbled streets are a feature of the entire city centre – you’ll find them in the market place, and many of the streets have these built-in (and also constructed out of cobblestones) water channels – a hazard to tourists but – I am reliably told by M – something that born-and-bred Freiburgers can successfully negotiate without calamity. My entire walk to work is along cobbled streets, including some other quite impressive examples of decorative work and colour. It’s amazing to watch the artisans as they create a new one or replace an old one after street repairs and to explore the older patterns in the pavement that reveal, by means of e.g. a pretzel-shaped design in the cobbles, that today’s anonymous, one-size-fits-all mobile phone shop was once a bakery. There can be a tinge of sadness at this realization, but the pleasure that something historical has been preserved is normally the stronger feeling.

Bikes are another thing you can’t fail to miss in Freiburg, though even locals find it hard at times to avoid (near) collisions and accidents given the challenges posed by narrow cobbled streets, tram-lines, sometimes not-very-visible water channels, exceptions to the one-way system for cyclists, and stand-offs with groups of tourists, delivery trucks, stray (mostly out-of-town) motorists and less roadworthy occasional cyclists in the pedestrian zone (where it is mostly OK to ride a bike, but there needs to be some foresight and care shown by everyone using the area). I always breathe a sigh of relief when I’ve successfully got beyond the urban ring road on my bike and have left behind the juddering, shuddering cobbles, motorized and two-legged (or occasionally four-legged) obstacles and the general noisy, seething mass of moving objects.

Dangers aside, we’re actually jolly lucky to live in a city which is within easy striking distance of an elaborate mesh of purpose-built or dedicated cycle paths, and I rather wish I’d properly discovered the joys of cycling in the area rather earlier. Still, I’m enjoying it now, and long may that last. My only slight qualm is that it’s hard to impossible to take pictures while cycling, but I find solace in the fact that cycling is perhaps healthier than photography. ;)

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Photo showcase: cold comfort

Cold comfort

Click on the image to open it in Flickr (opens new tab / window)

I spent a little while a day or two ago tidying up some of my photo sets on Flickr – reassigning photos to sets, updating the content of sets, and so on. In particular, the set I call my best pics (a purely subjective title and certainly not all of whose content has been rated highly by others) had been a little neglected and in fact contained some items that I really didn’t like any more or just didn’t find as appealing as the items either side of them, plus some more recent shots that I was particularly pleased with hadn’t been added.

This photo was one that I decided to leave in the set as it’s one that I love just as much now as I did when I took it. It hasn’t been viewed very frequently so I decided to try to give it a little of the TLC I think it deserves by showcasing it here. Maybe this will become a regular feature of sorts – we’ll see.

The picture was taken in March 2009 when I attended a photography get-together in Oxford. It was a wonderful day out, and you can see a lot more photos by (and of) the participants here. As you might expect, we almost experienced sensory overload from the amount of majestic, historic architecture we saw in the course of the day, but as I often find is the case, it’s sometimes something a little more mundane that can make a more interesting picture.

You might well guess that this shot was taken inside a church, and you’d be right: it’s St Mary’s University Church. I like the way that even just showing parts of some objects – in this case with most of the background in very soft focus – can conjure up a clear sense of place. The way the light was falling on this pew also made it a more appealing choice: I find low-light photography VERY challenging and am often unhappy with the results. Yes, it’s something I need to work on and put a bit more effort and time into…

My eye was also drawn by the contrasts the scene offered. The battered, worn pew is a world away from the polished carved seating you find all over the place in many of Oxford’s other well frequented historic sites, and it is an excellent foil for the crisp, new-looking brocade of the cushion. The colours are another important source of contrast – the eye is clearly drawn to the cushion – and I did make the decision to tone down the saturation of the wood just a touch, though it really was only a minimal change that was necessary. I also wanted the detailed, regular pattern of the cushion to have the upper hand over the chaotic, random marks on the wood, though without losing any of that essential rough/smooth, random/carefully organized juxtaposition.

I did boost the overall light/dark contrasts and sharpness some more, because it’s a shot that screams out texture with the high relief of the velvety, silken cushion cover next to the splintered wood. I wanted it to be a tactile shot and for the visual element to help to convey sensations of other sorts.

Last but not least: the title “Cold comfort”. I wanted something that expressed the inherent contrasts I’ve just explained above, and I also love double meanings. I didn’t necessarily want to emphasize the negative tone of the term “cold comfort”, but if anyone else wants to include that element more prominently in their interpretation of the photo, then they’re welcome to do so. ;)

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Acanthus Ice

iPhone image processed in Camera+ (clarity + vibrant effect + square crop)

It’s just about a week on from my last post, and I’m still fascinated by the effects of the continuing cold weather. I’ve seen ice in countless forms – transparent, opaque, smooth, rough, brittle, solid, airborne, waterborne, shaped by the sun, the wind and by infinite crystalline forms.

Today’s ice treat was discovered on the (large and numerous) windows of a classroom where I was supervising an exam this morning. The rising sun was casting its weak, wintry rays obliquely across the grassed area outside the room, and this highlighted the most amazing patterns in the ice – amorphous blobs where it was beginning to melt at the edges, geometric arrangements reminiscent of school experiments with magnets and iron filings, and ornate, delicate leaf-like displays that were sometimes like ferns, at other times like acanthus leaves in a medieval book of hours.

The picture you can see here started life as a pale but detailed study of some of the acanthus-like patterns: blue, white and grey with just a hint of something reflecting the golden sunrise in the background, quite a long way away from the window. An interesting piece of documentary evidence, but not really very eye-catching.

A bit of bold experimentation with my camera app soon transformed it into the image shown above. Yes, its transformation was in technical terms pretty skill-less and arbitrary, merely a case of selecting certain presets to ham up saturation and contrast, and the image has been greatly denaturalized as a result, losing most of its photo-like quality.

But in this case I rather like the abstract effect that has resulted, mainly because it seems to allow a multitude of interpretations. I can see fire and ice, water, foam, clouds, rock and mud all at once. The brown-green shapes could be trees in a nightmarish Expressionist landscape, or peacock feathers, fountains or grasses. The colours and brush-stroke-like forms remind me of the painting styles of Turner and Munch in some kind of unlikely but not displeasing combination.

A slightly different crop with a (probably too heavy) frame can be seen on Flickr.

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December 25 – Photo

Sift through all the photos of you from the past year. Choose one that best captures you; either who you are, or who you strive to be. Find the shot of you that is worth a thousand words. Share the image, who shot it, where, and what it best reveals about you.

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December 7 – Community

Where have you discovered community, online or otherwise, in 2010? What community would you like to join, create or more deeply connect with in 2011?

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Lime is not only the fruit…

Lime Kiln, Aberystwyth

Anyone who has been down to the harbour in Aberystwyth will have spotted the lime kiln that stands out as one of the oldest – and oddest looking – things you can see in the immediate area. As a child I always thought it looked like a giant sandcastle, which seemed to provide a satisfying enough raison d’être for this oddity, given that Aberystwyth is known for its beach and a castle as well. Even the cracks in the brickwork resemble the worrying structural faults that sandcastles tend to develop as a result of overzealous reshaping or gravity-defying planning.

To continue my recent(ish) attempts to look more carefully at things I photograph, not just through the viewfinder, I decided it was time to find out a bit more about this landmark…

In fact it is the last survivor of a number of such kilns in the Trefechan area around the harbour, dating back to the eighteenth century. In those days Aberystwyth was a busy sea port, something that is hard to appreciate today given that the harbour is home to just a few small fishing boats, modest sailing yachts and the like. Back then, limestone was shipped in from places further down the coast, together with culm (a mixture of coal dust and clay), the fuel needed to convert it into (quick)lime.

Burning limestone (calcium carbonate, CaCO3) at temperatures of 800-900°C causes it to break down into carbon dioxide (CO2) and calcium oxide (CaO) in a process that was said to result in blue flames and lots of thick yellow smoke coming out of the kiln. Calcium oxide is a very reactive compound traditionally known as quicklime because of its lively behaviour on contact with water. Adding water produces so-called slaked lime (calcium hydroxide, Ca(OH)2).

Are you still with me? Nowadays I suspect most of us could come up with a good few ideas for how you might use lime of the green, citrus variety (mmmm, caipirinha!), but this other sort of lime has most likely slipped into obscurity for us “younger” generations and/or anyone not interested in the chemical side of it. However, this stuff was hugely important in the heyday of these kilns, and had been for a long, long time before that.

The Romans used lime in mortar and concrete, and for centuries it was also used for making whitewash, a kind of paint that was popular not just because it was cheap and gave a fresh, clean look to the walls of houses but also for its added durability and anti-bacterial properties. In this part of Wales lime was used rather more extensively in agriculture – farmers purchased calcium oxide to slake and spread on their fields to neutralize the acidity of the soil, improve drainage and provide access to nutrients for their crops, the beneficial properties of lime having been noted as early as the sixteenth century. Without this fertilizer arable farming would have been well-nigh impossible, and concentrating on sheep or dairy farming was simply not an option for the subsistence farmers of pre-modern times.

The decline of the lime burning industry in West Wales in the nineteenth century can be mainly attibuted to two factors. Firstly, agriculture had changed almost beyond recognition even within the space of a century, and fertilizers had moved on, too. Those farmers who were still growing cereal crops in this area could choose between potent, if pricy, imported guano (anyone who has experienced the seagull problem in Aberystwyth might wonder why it needed to be imported…*), more readily available and economically produced bone meal, or superphosphate of the sort manufactured in England since 1842.

Secondly, the coming of the railways might have turned Aberystwyth into a tourist resort, but in industrial terms the area became marginalized as the local shipping trade was gradually wound down and inland, more central areas were more economically integrated into the industrial transport network. Even today, when you travel by train to Aberystwyth you can feel as if you are travelling to the end of the world…

* I do know why, but I don’t want to expose myself as a faeces nerd ;)

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Hacked off

No, it’s not me that’s hacked off today, but rather one of the apple trees I was taking pictures of the other day.

I’ve taken pictures of tree stumps and the grain of natural chunks of tree on many occasions before (see here, here and here for some of the better examples), and my motivation and focus have always been colour, texture, form.

This time it was different, though: it struck me that there was more of a story to be told in a shot of this tree stump. It’s not any beauty of the grain that attracted me, nor particular colours, shapes, or light, nor the challenge of trying to capture in visual terms that resinous scent of sap that freshly cut wood exudes.

Here the sawn-off point where there was once a branch struck me so much more strongly as an injury, an amputation, the image of something cut short in its prime. It’s the context that enables me to attempt to show that here: I started by shooting from another angle where the light fell more flatteringly, artistically. But then it was just another tree stump, a rather unattractive one at that. Only after I moved around and changed the background to juxtapose it with its obviously fertile, beautiful, infinitely more eyecatching neighbour could it actually tell its story.

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