Sunday, August 02, 2015

Not better, just different

click photo to enlarge
There are two basic approaches to starting a business - offer something that hasn't been offered before, or do something that is already on offer, but do it better. Those two stratagems also apply to photography it seems. There are many photographers who crave novelty in their subjects, needing to shoot that which they have never shot before. And others - I include myself in this group - do a lot of photography that involves re-shooting a subject in different light, weather, time of year etc. In recent years I've taken quite a few shots of the Humber Bridge because I've driven over it and lingered around it every couple of months. The different circumstances have been enough to produce shots that offer diverse interest.

Today's photograph is about the sixth shot I have taken of the Old Guildhall in Peterborough but only the second I've posted on this blog; four I judged to be not good enough. The weather of today's shot contrast markedly with the first shot I posted though the season is the same, and I like it less. But, it offers something that pleases me, particularly in black and white with the application of the digital equivalent of a yellow filter.

photograph and text © Tony Boughen

Camera: Olympus E-M10
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 14mm (28mm - 35mm equiv.)
F No: f5.6
Shutter Speed: 1/1600 sec
ISO:200
Exposure Compensation: -0.3 EV
Image Stabilisation: On

Friday, July 31, 2015

Photographing the commonplace

click photo to enlarge
Many enthusiast photographers, possibly the majority, spend a lot of time searching out extraordinary subjects for their camera, engaging in holidays and travel with photographic subjects in mind, studying the places and objects photographed by others, and even buying books and visiting websites that list the most photogenic locations for photography. By and large, that's not my way. Though I take my photography quite seriously, it more often than not comes about as a by product of another activity engaged in with my wife, be it walking, travelling, shopping, gardening etc. And, as I've said elsewhere in this blog, my photographic goal is not extraordinary subjects (though I'll photograph these if I come upon them) but an attempt at extraordinary photographs of ordinary subjects.

Photographing the commonplace and securing a good image of it is a very difficult thing to do, and if my experience is anything to go by, produces more failures than successes. But, when it happens, it is extremely satisfying because of the way the photograph reveals beauty and new interest in something so familiar. Seeing such subjects requires you to train your eye to notice them because, by their very nature, the commonplace is easily overlooked. What I find is that, for a while, my eye becomes attuned to seeking out these photographs and then, unaccountably, that facility declines for a period. I've been in a fallow spell for some time. However, the other day I saw this image (above) on the table next to me and, though I make no claim that it is extraordinary, I hope it's a sign of my return to this way of seeing.

photograph and text © Tony Boughen

Camera: Olympus E-M10
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 45mm (90mm - 35mm equiv.)
F No: f5.6
Shutter Speed: 1/640 sec
ISO:200
Exposure Compensation: 0 EV
Image Stabilisation: On

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Benefaction board

click photo to enlarge
Until the advent of the Poor Law Act of 1832, legislation that set in motion Unions and then workhouses of the kind seen at Southwell, the support of the poor was organised at the parish level and involved charity, bequests and benefactions made by groups and individuals. Many churches still display old benefaction boards that describe the money, rents, land etc that was given to produce an income to be spent supporting the poor. Often these benefactions were very precise in what they stipulated should be done with the money, and the fact that they were publicly displayed in church made the terms of the gift widely known and less open to abuse.

The example shown above is displayed in the church of St Peter at Barton upon Humber in Lincolnshire. It appears to date from the eighteenth century and is more ornate than many, but is quite typical in terms of what the benefactor stipulates. Though the spelling isn't quite standardised, abbreviations abound, and initial "s" can be confused with "f", it is still quite easy to read. I hope you enjoy doing so.

photograph and text © Tony Boughen

Camera: Olympus E-M10
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 45mm (90mm - 35mm equiv.)
F No: f5
Shutter Speed: 1/100 sec
ISO:1000
Exposure Compensation: -0.33 EV
Image Stabilisation: On

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Poppies and contre jour

click photo to enlarge
Light through petals is a beautiful sight. During the summer months I frequently make use of the low sun of morning and evening as it slants across our gardens, lighting up the petals of the flowers. A those times of day there are also pools of deep shadow and the combination of illuminated flowers and shade makes a striking contrast.

However, there is one problem with photographing contre jour flowers - the best effect is seen from behind the blooms because the flower heads are always turned to face the strongest source of light. Consequently, if you are a purist about such things (and I don't think I am) then every photograph of this kind has an unsatisfactory element to it.

Today's shot illustrates this up to a point. To achieve the striking red points that make this photograph work I had to be in a position where all the flower heads were facing away from me. In fact, it matters less in this example because the flowers are working as points of colour in a larger composition rather than being the sole subject. I took the photograph on an evening walk as we passed a field of oilseed rape.

photograph and text © Tony Boughen

Camera: Olympus E-M10
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 36mm (72mm - 35mm equiv.)
F No: f5.6
Shutter Speed: 1/1250 sec
ISO:200
Exposure Compensation: -0.3 EV
Image Stabilisation: On

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Southwell Workhouse, Nottinghamshire

click photo to enlarge
A small magazine that I edit recently carried an article written by a man who was sent to the workhouse in Boston, Lincolnshire, at the age of 6 years old, following the death of his parents. What made the episode even more heart-rending was the fact that he went to live there with his younger brother but his siblings were looked after by relatives. It was an experience that the writer detested, circumstances from which he tried to escape, and a place he was glad to see the back of when he was old enough to leave.

I thought about this man's story as we walked down the path in today's photograph, through well-tended vegetable patches, towards the large workhouse building, one of a group that constituted, from 1834, the Southwell Poor Law Union Workhouse. It was our second visit to a building that was erected in 1824 for 158 poor people of all ages who could not, mainly through age or infirmity, support themselves. Most "inmates" were elderly but some were of working age and there were children too. From the outset a great stigma attached to being sent to the workhouse. People who were subjected to its spartan regime felt failures, and whilst there were those who went willingly because the alternative was homelessness, hunger and death, there were many who went reluctantly and looked forward to the time when they would be able to leave.

To my twentieth and  twenty-first century eyes the building looks forbidding, having all the welcoming character of a factory or a prison. Passing into the outdoor exercise yards, where inmates were segregated by age and sex, the penal comparison becomes stronger. Walking up and down the stairs from sparsely furnished room to sparsely furnished room - all very much the same - and down into the depths where food was prepared, the feeling of a prison was further reinforced.

The building is in the care of the National Trust, one of the buildings they have bought and opened to the public that is not a former country house. Perhaps, as I said to my wife, an antidote to the excess of their multiple mansions.

photograph and text © Tony Boughen

Camera: Olympus E-M10
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 12mm (24mm - 35mm equiv.)
F No: f5.6
Shutter Speed: 1/1250 sec
ISO:200
Exposure Compensation: -0.3 EV
Image Stabilisation: On

Friday, July 17, 2015

Fourteenth century door, Southwell

click photo to enlarge
In medieval Gothic architecture an arch that is convex below and convex above and sweeps up to a sharp, tapered point is very characteristic of the fourteenth century. Such a form became fashionable at that time and appeared in window tracery, tomb canopies, blind tracery, door surrounds, wooden doors and much else. It is called the "ogee" arch and such an arch is described as "ogival". Another term used to describe this "S" shaped moulding is "cyma recta".

We visited Southwell Minster in Nottinghamshire recently. It is a relatively small major church, cathedral-like, and is mainly of the twelfth century (Norman period) and thirteenth century (Early English period). As we entered the building through the north porch I stopped to admire the wooden doors through which we were about to pass. They were so clearly fourteenth century, very sculptural, and so well lit that I had to photograph them. The sinuous moulding that decorated the surface had ogee forms at the top and bottom of each cell indicating its date. However, that pattern, very like a net pulled taut, also suggested the fourteenth century. It too has a specific name: architectural historians call it reticulated (meaning net-like) tracery. Within each shape I could make out the worn forms of quatrefoils, four-leafed shapes also much used in Gothic architecture.

It was clear that the door had survived because of the shelter from the weather that the large, vaulted porch provided. However, the wear of everyday use over a period of seven hundred years was evident in the worn mouldings, splits, knocks and gouges. Sometimes on such doors the metal-work is also original, frequently worn very thin through long use. Many of the large headed nails looked as though they dated from the time of the door's construction. But, the door handle, though rusted and marked, hadn't the wear of centuries and it is probably a Victorian replacement.

photograph and text © Tony Boughen

Camera: Olympus E-M10
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 12mm (24mm - 35mm equiv.)
F No: f5.6
Shutter Speed: 1/15 sec
ISO:2000
Exposure Compensation: -0.33 EV
Image Stabilisation: On

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Belton boat house

click photo to enlarge
I've long felt that the UK's country houses are largely stuffed with expensive tat, objects that serve no purpose other than to provide something on which the wealthy owners can spend their excess of money. Truly, shopping as a leisure activity didn't begin in in the malls of the second half of the twentieth century, but much earlier, on the Grand Tour and in the workshops of painters, wallpaper manufacturers, and craftsmen who decided that there was a living to be made parting the wealthy from their cash by selling them elaborate and ornate versions  of everyday articles, or specially created objects whose sole purpose was to be collected.

The last of the photographs I am showing from our visit to Belton House near Grantham, Lincolnshire, is a view of the boat house. This small building sits at the edge of a man-made lake that is surrounded by trees. Like much else at Belton it is more than it needs to be. However, it makes a nice eyecatcher in its location and doesn't quite scream "money" in the same way that the house does, even though it was designed by the notable architect, Anthony Salvin, in 1838-9 and is in the style of a Swiss chalet with fish-scale tiled roof and walls of basket-weave pargetting.

photo and text © Tony Boughen

Camera: Olympus E-M10
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 42mm (84mm - 35mm equiv.)
F No: f8
Shutter Speed: 1/125 sec
ISO:200
Exposure Compensation: -0.3 EV
Image Stabilisation: On

Monday, July 13, 2015

Enough is as good as a feast

click photo to enlarge
The purpose of our recent visit to Belton House, a National Trust property near Grantham in Lincolnshire, was to see the interior. On our first visit in January only the grounds were open to visitors.

As we wandered from room to room, taking in painting after painting, tapestries, elaborate furniture, ornate plasterwork, collections of objets d'art, hand-painted wallpaper, row upon row of books and the rest, I quickly felt sated and the title of today's blog post came to mind. The fact is, there was simply a superfluity of everything, and everything dripped opulence. I found myself wondering how many thousands of people had spent their lives in penury, scraping a living, hungry, dying before their time, so that the cosseted residents of this stately pile could agonise over whether to buy a Meissen figurine or one from Limoges, whether it was to be a Gobelins tapestry or one from a less prestigious source, or if walnut burr might look better than figured mahogany on the new console table.

I took a few interior photographs but was happier when we were outside once more. The gardens didn't induce the same state of mind and I took a couple of photographs of a statue that looked like Ceres, but without the stalks of wheat in her container. She was standing in some gravel surrounded by lavender in the Dutch Garden at the north side of the house. As it happens, today's title could also apply to the two photographs that I'm showing. I prefer the simpler shot over the wider angle view, even though it is a product of the foreshortening of my lens and not an image that occurs to the naked eye. On reflection, my feelings about this house may have been partly  influenced by the fact that in recent weeks we had visited two other National Trust properties that were on a smaller, more human scale. We are shortly going to see, for the second time, Southwell Workhouse. That should be a contrast!

photograph and text © Tony Boughen

Photo 1
Camera: Olympus E-M10
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 150mm (300mm - 35mm equiv.)
F No: f7.1
Shutter Speed: 1/500 sec
ISO:200
Exposure Compensation: -1.0 EV
Image Stabilisation: On

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Belton House revisited

click photo to enlarge

I first visited Belton House, near Grantham, Lincolnshire, in January on a cold, bright day when the shadows were long, the grass was frosted and the man-made lakes were almost completely frozen over. I posted a couple of photographs from that visit, one that showed the distant north elevation of the house in black and white, and one of the deer park tree guards. The other day we returned for a second visit with a view to having a look inside the building.

Before we did that I managed to get a second shot of the exterior, this time the south elevation that looks across the deer park. The trees with their guards helped to frame the building and the fleeting sun that periodically appeared from behind well-figured clouds cast patches of light across the scene that gave it more interest than the flood-lighting of the sun on a south facade can achieve unaided. What is depicted in the photograph is James Wyatt's 1777-8 veneer of warm, honey-coloured Ancaster stone over a seventeenth century structure. It occurred to me as I examined this facade that it looks better from a distance where its massing impresses: when you are closer to the building the detailing is insufficient to keep your interest.

photograph and text © Tony Boughen

Camera: Olympus E-M10
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 14mm (28mm - 35mm equiv.)
F No: f5.6
Shutter Speed: 1/1000 sec
ISO:200
Exposure Compensation: -0.33 EV
Image Stabilisation: On

Thursday, July 09, 2015

Burne Jones and Biblical names

click photo to enlarge
As a child I attended a Church of England primary school, the only primary school in the place where I grew up. Consequently I came to know more Bible stories than if I had gone to a non-denominational school. Like many children I responded to these stories as a mixture of history and myth because some of the things that happened in them seemed highly unlikely. I also came to know the names of many Biblical characters and was fascinated by some of the more unusual names that I remember to this day.

The three men depicted in this stained glass by the Arts and Crafts artist, Edward Burne-Jones, have names that were odder than most. They are Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, characters in a story about the prophet Daniel, who were thrown into a fiery furnace on the orders of Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon and were saved by God, an act that much impressed the king. This glass, in the west window of the church at Middleton Cheney, Northamptonshire, is the best of a particularly fine suite of glass made by William Morris' firm for the building between 1864 and 1870. The contraposto stance of the figures, the faces, the deep, rich colours and the semi-abstract depiction of the flames are all characteristic of Burne Jones, and the quality of the glass is typical of the Morris firm at its best.

photograph and text © Tony Boughen

Camera: Olympus E-M10
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 16mm (32mm - 35mm equiv.)
F No: f5.4
Shutter Speed: 1/80 sec
ISO:1250
Exposure Compensation: -0.33 EV
Image Stabilisation: On

Tuesday, July 07, 2015

Four Thirds macro on OMD E-M10

click photo to enlarge
When I used Olympus Four Thirds cameras I recall people being a bit sniffy about that manufacturer's 35mm f3.5 Macro lens. The consensus was that the Olympus Four Thirds 50mm f2 was better. At three times the price perhaps it should have been. However, what people often seemed to forget is that there are not many poor dedicated macro lenses and the 35mm f3.5 isn't in any way a poor lens. In recent years I used the Canon 100mm f2.8 L IS Macro, a lens that is universally regarded as one of the sharpest lenses available, and the fact is I was pushed to see a great difference between it and my Olympus lens except in the "creaminess" of the bokeh: in that regard the Canon excelled.

When it came to putting together a set of lenses to use with my new OMD E-M10 (what a clunky name!) I considered the Olympus Micro Four Thirds 60mm f2.8 Macro. However, I thought it might be useful to see how the old 35mm macro performed first. So, I bought a £25 Chinese-made adapter, with auto-focus connectors, so that I could use it with the new camera. It appears to be well-made and works as advertised but is slow (as expected) to auto-focus, and "hunts" (also as expected) too much. It would be a lot better, I'm sure, on an OMD E-M1. But, using the E-M10's manual mode with magnifier it works extremely well. And in fact, when I used the Canon in recent years, I usually used it in manual mode.

I did a little flower photography to test the combination and while snapping one of my favourite flowers, a California poppy, this hover fly settled on it. The slightly cropped shot above is the best example I secured that demonstrates the resolving power of the lens/camera combination. And it was wide-open and hand-held!

photograph and text © Tony Boughen

Camera: Olympus E-M10
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 35mm Macro (70mm - 35mm equiv.)
F No: f3.5
Shutter Speed: 1/320 sec
ISO:200
Exposure Compensation: 0 EV
Image Stabilisation: On

Sunday, July 05, 2015

A new camera system

click photo to enlarge
I've had several emails recently from sharp-eyed readers who have noticed that many of my recent photographs have been taken with an Olympus OMD E-M10. The fact is, I've sold most of my Canon "full-frame" equipment and invested some of the returns in Micro Four Thirds (MFT). I enjoyed the Canon camera and lenses but I never really came to terms with their weight. Had I been younger it might have been different. But, as someone who shot with an Olympus OM1 for about thirty years, and then eventually settled on Four Thirds cameras and lenses, it was perhaps inevitable that I would succumb and seek out something smaller.

I was very unhappy when Olympus pulled the plug on Four Thirds - everything about that system appealed to me. And, having been left high and dry with only vague promises about future compatibility of old Four Thirds lenses with future Micro Four Thirds cameras, I went to a different manufacturer for my gear. But, now I've taken the plunge, albeit in a smallish way with an OMD model at the end of its product cycle and therefore quite good value. I'll buy another, higher end, body in the fullness of time, one with both phase and contrast detect sensors that will fully utilise my Four Thirds lenses. But, for now, I'm happy enough with the E-M10 body and a selection of MFT lenses, though I must make some adjustments to make it choose lower shutter speeds. I'm also using a third party adapter with my Four Thirds 35mm macro lens, something that works quite well. The Sony RX100 will continue as the camera I always carry when photography isn't uppermost in my mind. That just leaves the question of my Nikon D5300 and the 14-150 lens. Will that still have a place in my armoury, or is that on its way out too? Time will tell.

Today's photograph is a shot taken with the E-M10 and the 9-18mm (18mm-36mm in 35mm terms) wide angle zoom, a lens I am particularly enjoying. It shows the interior of the medieval church of St Botolph in Boston, Lincolnshire. The fine Victorian font is by Pugin - not the famous A.W.N. but his gifted, prolific, though less well-known son, E.W.

photograph and text © Tony Boughen

Camera: Olympus E-M10
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 16mm (32mm - 35mm equiv.)
F No: f5.4
Shutter Speed: 1/80 sec
ISO:1250
Exposure Compensation: -0.33 EV
Image Stabilisation: On