Thursday, October 30, 2014

Pine trees and weather forecasting

click photo to enlarge
I think that if retirement ever becomes boring - an unlikely eventuality - then I will become a weather forecaster. On the basis of the accuracy (or should I say inaccuracy) of recent forecasts for my part of the world I think my efforts have every chance of reaching the current high (or should I say low) standard on offer.

A couple of days ago, on the promise of sunshine and cloud with long spells of unbroken sun, we went walking at Woodhall Spa hoping to get some well-lit, autumn-themed, landscape and tree photographs. However, the forecast sun made a couple of fleeting appearances and then remained hidden by a blanket of cloud for the rest of our time there. On the day I write this we went shopping, me without a coat because no rain was forecast all day, and I was precipitated upon! These are only two of the many mis-forecasts of recent weeks. However, today's papers tell me all will soon be well because the Meteorological Office has ordered a new £97 million super computer. This will have a prodigious number-crunching capacity enabling previously unimagined quantities of data to be processed. The technological behemoth will spit out forecasts of undreamed of accuracy. Or so they say. We'll see.

On my Woodhall Spa walk I managed to get a couple of shots of passing interest. The stack of tree trunks appealed for the unexpected colours on display. They'd clearly been there a while so hints of green are not to be unexpected. But what about the blue?  Is it natural or was it applied in the cutting? I think it's the former. It seemed a good photograph to pair with the shot of some trees before they succumb to the woodsman's saw.

photograph and text © Tony Boughen

Photo 1
Camera: Nikon D5300
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 75mm (112mm - 35mm equiv.)
F No: f8
Shutter Speed: 1/125 sec
ISO:11250
Exposure Compensation: -0.33 EV
Image Stabilisation: On

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

An urban landscape

click photo to enlarge
I was raised in quite rural surroundings and, unlike most of the contemporaries of my youth, I enjoyed the countryside and what it offered. I didn't share their yearning for the bright lights and big city. Consequently, when I moved to a city in order to further my education, and then for employment, I was quite surprised to find that I liked urban living. I was discussing this with one of my sons the other day. He lives in London and enjoys the experience. During the course of our conversation I observed that as someone who relishes the visual more than many, the city offers me stimuli aplenty. The fact is, for those with eyes to see there is always something of interest in cities.

Today's photograph was taken only a few minutes after the shot in the previous post. It shows a subject that I've photographed many times in recent years - the financial district known as Canary Wharf. What I like about this group of towers as a subject is that they change with the light, time of day and season, and especially with the myriad foregrounds that can be placed before the them. This shot appealed to me for the contrast between the children and parents in the playground at the bottom of the frame with the impersonal bulk of the distant skyscrapers at the top. It's an urban landscape of the sort that I enjoy composing.

photograph and text © Tony Boughen

Camera: Sony RX100
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 37mm (100mm - 35mm equiv.)
F No: f5.6
Shutter Speed: 1/400
ISO: 125
Exposure Compensation:  0 EV
Image Stabilisation: On

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Vanbrugh Castle

click photo to enlarge
Walking over Blackheath and in Greenwich Park, London, the other day it occurred to me that, as far as the UK goes, castles can be grouped into three categories. There are those castles that were designed, built and functioned solely as fortified strongholds and that is pretty much all they have ever been: for example, Castle Rising, Norfolk. Then there are those castles that were built as fortifications but, down the centuries, were transformed into grand residences: for example, Grimsthorpe Castle in Lincolnshire. And finally there are those castles that are castles in name only, buildings that were never intended to be military structures, but which borrowed architectural elements such as turrets and battlements to give an imposing appearance to a residence. It was an example of one of these - Vanbrugh Castle - by the edge of the park, that prompted this reflection.

Sir John Vanbrugh (1664-1726) was an English dramatist and architect. His best known buildings are Blenheim Palace and Castle Howard. One of his last works was the Baroque north elevation at the above-mentioned Grimsthorpe Castle. Vanbrugh Castle was built by the architect as a home for his family. He chose a medieval Gothic style for the house which was completed in 1719. Though the architectural details that he employed could not be mistaken for the originals on which they were based, it is noteworthy that his "castle" pre-dates what is regarded as the first Gothic Revival building, Horace Walpole's villa, Strawberry Hill (also in London), by thirty years.

My photograph shows a view of the upper parts of the building rising above the trees at the edge of the park. It suggests how the building might have been seen when it was first built, but misrepresents the surroundings today - the site is actually in a residential street and the surrounding buildings are decidedly domestic in character.

photograph and text © Tony Boughen

Camera: Sony RX100
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 37.1mm (100mm - 35mm equiv.)
F No: f5.6
Shutter Speed: 1/250
ISO: 125
Exposure Compensation: 0 EV
Image Stabilisation: On

Thursday, October 23, 2014

The Shambles, Settle

click photo to enlarge
Today's photograph shows a building in the centre of the small market town in Yorkshire where I was raised. It is called "The Shambles". Like the more well-known Shambles in York this name is said to derive from "shammels", the Saxon for shelves, ledges or benches. It is in the centre of the market place, a location where, in towns across Britain, you invariably find old and interesting buildings. This structure has steps at the left and right that lead down to a basement level with six shops, above that is the next level seen through the arches, where there are six more shops. Over these, reached by stone steps at the right side of the building are six, small, two-storey dwellings. The two lower floors date from the seventeenth century whilst the upper dwellings are Victorian. Over the years a couple of members of my family have lived in the Shambles.

This building, along with the former town hall of 1832, the Georgian column and drinking fountain, and the buildings that mark the periphery of the market place, all offer much of visual and historic interest to the visitor. However, like many market places across the land, it is converted (for six days of the week) into a car park that is crammed with vehicles. The exception is Tuesday - market day - when it is crammed with stalls and vehicles. Whilst one must be glad that the space continues to host a market, the permanent presence of cars really does lessen the appeal of the area. There is no respite, even at night, from the infernal combustion engine, as my smaller photograph shows. In Britain some enlightened towns that are trying to rescue these civic spaces from the car, but they are few and far between, and in Settle, below the limestone crag of Castleberg, buildings are closely packed and space is at a premium. So, to fully appreciate the town's market place it is necessary to mentally expunge the vehicles - not an easy task!

photograph and text © Tony Boughen

Photo 1
Camera: Nikon D5300
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 20mm (30mm - 35mm equiv.)
F No: f8
Shutter Speed: 1/250 sec
ISO:100
Exposure Compensation: -0.33 EV
Image Stabilisation: On

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Acer leaves and real colours

click photo to enlarge
The widespread use of photographic enhancement is starting becoming a problem. I don't frequent social media websites, but the images that I see associated with them frequently have an effect applied - bleached colours, heavy vignetting, "antiquing", heavily saturated colour, etc. Enthusiast websites such as Flickr, 500px and the rest all too often feature shots that have been heavily processed to the point where I'm often tempted to ask, "On which planet were these taken?"

Now, I'm aware that photography comes in many forms, and manipulated images have always featured in the craft. However, too often the manipulation is to achieve no other end than to make the image more eye-catching; in other words they are a substitute for vision and skill, and they frequently take the photograph into the realm of painting. Down the road of ever more effects, lies an escalation that ends in madness.

The other problem with the omni-presence of manipulation is that it makes us disparage reality and even forget what it looks like. Consequently it can make some examples of photographic reality look like examples of manipulation. Take today's photograph of fallen acer leaves. The colours on display have a similarity to shots that have received a washed-out magenta cast. But, there has be no such trickery involved. These are the colours the camera recorded and they are quite close to what my eye saw. The only effect I've added here is that old stalwart, vignetting, where I used it to accentuate the shadows that were naturally invading the scene. My armoury of effects, by and large, involves the digital equivalents of the wet process effects we used in pre-digital days, especially dodging, burning and vignetting. Am I old-fashioned? In this regard, probably.

photograph and text © Tony Boughen

Camera: Nikon D5300
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 100mm (150mm - 35mm equiv.)
F No: f5.6 Shutter
Speed: 1/160 sec
ISO:720
Exposure Compensation: -1.0 EV
Image Stabilisation: On

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Ivy, like rust, never sleeps

click photo to enlarge
A few weeks ago I was well into the third day of cutting an area of rampant ivy from a vertical-lap wooden fence when, instead of hitting the chisel with my wooden mallet, I hit my hand. The pain was excruciating and I thought I'd broken my index finger. However, an hour or so later, after ice-pack treatment, I began to think that bruising was the worst of it. And, after a few days that's what transpired. This patch of ivy had expanded over the years, despite me regularly and savagely chopping it back. Of course, ivy is like rust, it never sleeps, it is always colonising fresh ground. So, having had enough of it, and in agreement with my neighbour, we decided to be rid of it. It is now gone, though I'm sure some will appear from the ground in a fresh attempt to re-assert itself when spring comes around.

I remembered my ivy (and my finger) recently when I was photographing this corner of the churchyard at Long Sutton, Lincolnshire. You might think this is a neglected acre or two of God's ground. Nothing could be further from the truth. The churchyard is well-maintained and its fine collection of seventeenth century, Georgian and later tombs are well displayed all year round. But, by way of contrast a few edges are left in a semi-wild state, and was one of these patches that drew my photographer's eye. I liked the the contrast of the deep shade, the ivy-covered gravestones and the prominent uncovered cross, with the sunlit, orderly graveyard beyond. As we went on our way, I thought about the volunteers who must periodically control the ivy to prevent it completely smothering the trees and the gravestones, leaving them undifferentiated mounds of shiny leaves. I didn't envy them their task.

photograph and text © Tony Boughen

Camera: Nikon D5300
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 40mm (60mm - 35mm equiv.)
F No: f8 Shutter
Speed: 1/60 sec
ISO:1100
Exposure Compensation: -0.33 EV
Image Stabilisation: On

Friday, October 17, 2014

Mist on Giggleswick Scar

click photo to enlarge
The all-enfolding mists of autumn are viewed by many as an unwelcome intrusion after the brightness and warmth of summer. But, to poets such as Keats, and to many photographers they are a pleasing change that transforms familiar landscapes and offers a melancholy note that is rarely to be found in the warmer months.

We recently spent several days in the Yorkshire Dales, the area of my upbringing. Rain was quite frequent, as it often is in such parts, but not in quanitities or at times that prevented us having a long walk each day. One of our rambles took us on to the limestone upland known as Giggleswick Scar, an area of cliffs, scree, caves, short sheep-cropped grass, rowan trees, bracken - all the attributes of what geographers call a karst landscape. A thick mist accompanied our walk to the summit of the Scar but shortly afterwards it started to clear from the high ground leaving the grey blanket in the valleys below. Today's photograph shows rowans and hawthorns silhouetted against the mist in the Ribble valley with the summits and clouds beyond. When the mist started to dissipate it was quite difficult to distinguish between the hills and the clouds, but by the time of my photograph this was more easily done.

photograph and text © Tony Boughen

Camera: Nikon D5300
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 95mm (142mm - 35mm equiv.)
F No: f8
Shutter Speed: 1/400 sec
ISO:100
Exposure Compensation: -0.33 EV
Image Stabilisation: On

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Motion blur river

click photo to enlarge
Elsewhere in this blog I've described myself as primarily an "incidental photographer"; that is to say I most often  take photographs when I'm out and about doing something else. I can be enjoying a walk, shopping for the week's groceries, visiting friends or relatives, enjoying my garden, taking in an exhibition at a local gallery or viewing an historic or recent building, to name but a few activities where I use my camera. And, because I prefer to travel light, I'm often without the range of accessories required to secure the photograph that I'm looking for.

Today's shot is an example of this. Ideally I'd have used a tripod and a neutral density filter. But, being in the countryside with only a dslr plus one lens, I had to do my usual work-around for a motion blur of this turbulent water i.e. Manual mode, low ISO and a very small aperture to produce the required low shutter speed for this fast moving torrent. It took a couple of shots to get the right exposure. However, eventually I got the amount of blur that I wanted in this shot of dappled light and rich colours on the River Ribble at Langcliffe, North Yorkshire, when it was in full flow after heavy rain.

photograph and text © Tony Boughen

Camera: Nikon D5300
Mode: Manual Priority
Focal Length: 85mm (127mm - 35mm equiv.)
F No: f20
Shutter Speed: 1/10 sec
ISO:100
Exposure Compensation: -0.33 EV
Image Stabilisation: On

Monday, October 13, 2014

Reflecting on walnut trees

click photo to enlarge
Over the past few weeks the same incident has replayed several times. A grey squirrel has hopped across the lawn with a large walnut in its mouth. It has stopped, dug at the grass with its front feet, decided the spot was no use, and then moved on to repeat this action until a suitable spot is found. There it buries the walnut. Do they ever find them again? I suppose so, but I never see it happen. Do we have a forest of sapling walnuts sprouting from the lawn in spring? No - so I guess they are retrieved and eaten by the squirrels at some point in the winter.

I never noticed walnut trees until I moved to Lincolnshire. They probably existed where I lived in the other parts of England, but not until I moved to this county in the East Midlands did I see them in sufficient numbers that I became aware of the trees. The village where I live has several. A couple are in a small playground/park where they provide amusement and collecting opportunities for the local children. Another one is in a field that is visible from the front of my house.

This tree is slowly succumbing to age and the weather. Last year, during particularly windy weather, a large bough fell off. This year the top branches were completely free of leaf. It can't have many more years left. The field in which it is located was once pasture and I imagine that the sheep and cattle found its shade welcome in high summer. For thirty years or more, however, it has been used for vegetable and cereal growing and as far as the farmer is concerned it has become an obstacle around which agricultural machinery and vehicles must be carefully guided. I posted a photograph of it on the blog two years ago when it was looking very fine against a dark and threatening October sky. The other day it was the tree's shape in the mist, augmented by a gathering of rooks in its topmost branches, that caught my eye.

photograph and text © Tony Boughen

Camera: Sony RX100
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 37.1mm (100mm - 35mm equiv.)
F No: f5.6
Shutter Speed: 1/160 sec
ISO:125
Exposure Compensation: 0 EV
Image Stabilisation: On

Thursday, October 09, 2014

Autumn cherry leaves

click photo to enlarge
Apparently the intensity of colour of some autumn leaves is affected by the weather that prevails before and during the time that chlorophyl production in them begins to decline. A spell of warm, sunny weather with cool but not freezing nights results in the leaves producing sugars during the day that are retained by the closing of veins prompted by the lower temperatures.The accumulated sugar combined with the colder nights triggers the production of the anthocyanin pigments that produce the reds, oranges and purples in leaves. Yellow leaves are produced by carotenoids that are always present and not weather-dependant (which must account for why the lime trees' leaves are a fine show every year).

I've been looking at our ornamental cherry trees recently, wondering if they would produce a good show of colour, particularly some of the fiery reds and oranges that make the garden come alive. The recent weather and the information above suggests they will. However, that weather is about to change with rain, wind and storms coming in from the west. With that in mind I decided to take matters into my own hands and make the best of the leaves as they are now. The low sun enhanced the hues of several that were on the ground, allowing me to achieve my aim of a photograph of contrasts and colour.

photograph and text © Tony Boughen

Camera: Canon 5D Mk2
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 100mm macro
F No: f8
Shutter Speed: 1/80 sec
ISO: 100
Exposure Compensation:  -0.33 EV
Image Stabilisation: Off

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Classical busts and wash drawings

click photo to enlarge
I was talking with a farmer a while ago and during the course of the conversation I observed that I knew more about medieval ploughing than I did about the modern methods. It was only when I reflected on that conversation some time later that I realised there are quite a few things from the past that I know about in some detail, but when it comes to the modern equivalent I am rather less well informed.

One such example that came to mind recently is the training of architects. It was this Georgian classical bust on the stairwell of the Maister House in Hull that prompted the thought. The work is one of two pieces on brackets that flank a large statue of "Ceres" by John Cheere. The smaller works may be his too. However, I didn't check their provenance because the lighting of this bust, when I reviewed my photograph on the camera screen, immediately made me think of the ink wash and watercolour drawings of the architectural students of the Ecole des Beaux Arts. More particularly I thought of "An Antique Relief" by Charles Rennie Mackintosh, painted c.1886 when he was a student at the Glasgow School of Art. The ability to draw well and render accurately used to be part of the training of architects. It was need not just to sketch basic ideas, to depict their vision before it was constructed, but also to communicate large and small details to the builders so they could turn ideas into reality. I imagine drawing must play a part still in architectural training but technology in the form of the computer probably figures just as large.

So, to make the bust look more like an eighteenth or nineteenth century architect's ink wash I converted my photograph to black and white and slightly increased the contrast.

photograph and text © Tony Boughen

Camera: Nikon D5300
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 35mm (52mm - 35mm equiv.)
F No: f4
Shutter Speed: 1/60 sec
ISO:6400
Exposure Compensation: -0.33 EV
Image Stabilisation: On

Sunday, October 05, 2014

WYSIATI

click photo to enlarge
I've always liked the acronym, WYSIWYG (wizeewig). It originated in web design, particularly with the kind of web editors that behave more like desktop publishing programmes as opposed to the original and more basic html editors. It describes the fact that as you build the page the appearance and position of objects appear as they will in the finished article, rather than as lines of code as is the case with non-WYSIWYG editors. Like many good linguistic ideas it has taken on a life of its own and can now be found applied in areas far beyond computing and web design.

I'd like to see WYSIATI assume a similar widespread use. This acronym is usually attributed to Daniel Kahneman, the Nobel Prize winner in Economics who uses the term in his 2011 book, "Thinking Fast and Slow". He applied it to overconfidence in understanding around the concepts of "known knowns", "known unknowns" etc. Was it used much, or at all, before then? I don't know, but I can claim to have used it on November 14th 2010 in a blog post about the artist Ai Weiwei's display of ceramic sunflower seeds at Tate Modern. It's something that comes to mind when I look at quite a lot of contemporary art because a great deal of it is so devoid of depth, meaning and resonance. With such work what you see is all there is, and what you take away from it is nothing but a lament about another wasted opportunity.

I had this feeling recently when I surveyed some of the art on display around the town of King's Lynn. It was the result of a collaboration between the Norfolk town and the Maison de la Culture d'Amiens in Northern France. I applaud such partnerships and projects: I just wish that they produced a better outcome than the offerings I saw the other day. That includes the example in today's photograph. Apparently, the piece entitled "Rock Around the Fleet" that is located in the old dock basin of the Purfleet River, "is a series of floating buoys with metal designs suggesting seabirds, which evoke a feeling of movement and animation reminiscent of the past." Yes, really!

photograph and text © Tony Boughen

Camera: Nikon D5300
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 18mm (27mm - 35mm equiv.)
F No: f8
Shutter Speed: 1/125 sec
ISO:100
Exposure Compensation: 0 EV
Image Stabilisation: On