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

Friday, July 03, 2015

Pantries, larders and disappearing words

click photo to enlarge
When I was young the words "pantry" and "larder" were often heard. My parents used both of them, interchangeably, and I knew they signified a small room adjoining the kitchen where food was stored. Only when I was older, and picked up a little French, did I realise the derivation of the words - the pantry was originally the room where bread was stored, and the larder was the store for meat, probably initially, bacon. However, houses gradually stopped being built with this specialised room-cum-cupboard, complete with stone or concrete shelf, and food storage passed to a group of small cupboards in a fitted kitchen. Today, in the UK, we are at the point where pantry and larder are no longer everyday terms.

I was reflecting on this recently when visiting an old house in the care of the National Trust at Canon's Ashby in Northamptonshire. I'd entered a low, basement-level room that had been set out to show how it was originally a food store. I pondered whether it was a pantry or a larder and concluded that it was neither, being too large for such a humble designation. It was presumably chosen as a food store for its cool, cave-like qualities, a place where food suitably stored would have an extended life in the lower temperatures it offered.

The National Trust had set it up quite nicely with a good selection of jars and pancheons. There were even hares and pheasants (presumably stuffed) hanging from joists, and if you look carefully you'll see a couple of rats (also stuffed). The light and subdued colours of the room were very appealing and I came away with a couple of shots that I quite liked, of which this is one.

photograph and text © Tony Boughen

Camera: Olympus E-M10
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 14mm (28mm - 35mm equiv.)
F No: f3.5
Shutter Speed: 1/30 sec
ISO:6400
Exposure Compensation: -0.33 EV
Image Stabilisation: On

Monday, June 29, 2015

Tenacious ivy

click photo to enlarge
Ivy is a plant I admire, one whose ecological value is apparent to me, a species without which the world would probably be a poorer place. And yet I can't bring myself to like it. The plant's tenacity, the way it comes back after being the recipient of axe, clippers, poison and much else, is awe inspiring. The way it manages to flourish in the most unpromising niche in woodland, waste land, the urban jungle and even the most manicured of gardens is, in its way, admirable. But still I don't like it.

I think my antipathy stems from the fact that sometimes it is just too successful. Not content with growing up the side of a tree it too often expands and tries to cover the whole of it, disfiguring the living giant with a mound of glossy greenery. In churchyards, it spreads horizontally and vertically, taking the sharp edges off everything as it throws a mat of leaves on gravestones, monuments, seats, trees and anything else that gets in its way. Once started it becomes a tide that can only be stopped by the most concerted effort. On buildings, what at first appears attractive soon turns to intrusive and even after removal it leaves unattractive marks where its stems have grown. I have sympathy with those who cut the stems at ground level and cause the green growth to slowly die, turn brown and eventually fall away.

On a recent walk I came across a tree with a trunk completely covered in ivy stems - not an inch of bark could be seen. Glossy leaves were flourishing in the canopy above but the trunk looked like it was wrapped in writhing snakes. With the exception, that is, of a couple of leaves that had made an optimistic appearance in the deep shade of the woodland floor.

photograph and text © Tony Boughen

Camera: Olympus E-M10
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 35mm (70mm - 35mm equiv.)
F No: f5.6
Shutter Speed: 1/60 sec
ISO:3200
Exposure Compensation: -0.33 EV
Image Stabilisation: On

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Road signs, footpaths and barley

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We were heading for the south of Northamptonshire to do a little walking and the signs were not good. In fact, the signs themselves were fine, but the trees had grown so that half of each one by the side of most major roads could not be read. Northamptonshire County Council or the Highways Agency or whoever is responsible for making sure road signs can be clearly seen hadn't been cutting the trees back and so, a couple of times, we went astray.

Had I thought more deeply about this I'd have realised that this was a taste of things to come, and in fact, the signs were definitely bad. The realisation that Northampton isn't "walking country" hit us after we'd ventured only a couple of hundred yards into some fields on a footpath. The council's waymarks were old, inaccurately placed to indicate the direction of the route, frequently missing, and invariably so faded that any information they once held was no longer legible. Those faults dogged us for several hours as we tried to follow paths marked on the Ordnance Survey map. The fact that many routes showed no sign of anyone having walked them before us didn't help. Occasionally we could see that a solitary walker had passed the way we were going, but such signs were rare.

I can't account for what we discovered in this part of the country. Yes, it is farmland, but it is varied, hilly, wooded, and visually and historically interesting: a more attractive area in which to walk than some that we know that are better waymarked and more frequented. Today's photograph shows my wife, map in hand walking up a hill one evening through ripening barley. This path was unusual in that other people had walked it, but all too common in that the farmer didn't appear to have cut the way of the path - walkers had trampled down the line of the route. Reflecting as we walked, I could only surmise that the absence of walkers is due to the fact that in many people's minds walking can only be undertaken in recognised "walking areas" - the Lake District, the Yorkshire Dales, Dartmoor, the Peak District etc when in fact it is a pleasurable, informative and photographically rewarding undertaking almost anywhere in Britain.

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, June 25, 2015

Popular house names

click photo to enlarge
In 1988 the Halifax Building Society concluded from a study of its computer database of 15 million investors that the most common house name in Britain was "The Bungalow" with 4,485 properties carrying this very boring designation. In second place was the equally uninspiring, "The Cottage", with 4,049 references, and third was the slightly more colourful, "Rose Cottage", with 2,936 properties given that name.

Tradition weighs heavy in the name that houses are given, and once given they tend to linger. I have the complete list of the 150 or so most frequently used names, and I have to say that I must have seen most of them at one time or another and none are surprising. Such names tend to be descriptive in one way or another. "The School House" is fourth in the list and always refers to a house that was formerly the abode of a teacher or headteacher when such jobs came with living accommodation."The Vicarage" (in 12th place) is a name that arose in similar circumstances though that name usually implies that the local cleric still uses it as his (or her) home, with "The Old Vicarage" usually indicating a former vicar's residence, often sold because it was too large and too expensive for the church to maintain. Trees abound in house names - "The Hawthorns", "Oak Dene", "Beech House", "Conifers" and "Holly Cottage" are just a few arboreal names found in the list. The building's location is another favoured hook on which to hang a name - "Windy Ridge", "Brookfield", "The Mount", "Fair View" and "Corner Cottage" are examples.

Today's photograph could well be from a "Rose Cottage" because properties with that name frequently feature a climbing rose near the main entrance, around a window or on a sunny wall. However, it is a second photograph from my visit to Lower Brockhampton Manor House in Herefordshire. You can see the rose on the left of the main building in my photograph of the other day.

photograph and text © Tony Boughen

Camera: Olympus E-M10
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 30mm (60mm - 35mm equiv.)
F No: f5.6
Shutter Speed: 1/80 sec
ISO:200
Exposure Compensation: -0.33 EV
Image Stabilisation: On

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

A photographic truism

click photo to enlarge
It's a truism that it's possible to take a good photograph of a bad subject. In fact, as I've said elsewhere in this blog, many of the best photographs work despite, not because of, their subject matter. Certainly there are those who disagree with this proposition, maintaining that the subject is of paramount importance in all photographs. It's my belief that, whilst this is true where photography serves a wider need, in those instances where the photograph itself is the only goal, where it serves only itself, the subject matters less than everything else about the image.

Today's photograph, to an extent, illustrates this point in an oblique way. Firstly let me state that I don't consider it a particularly good shot. However, it does illustrate a subject (the "Rock Around the Fleet" art installation) that, in an earlier blog post, I described as WYSIATI: I don't think it amounts to much. So why did I photograph it again and post it here? Well, the colours are what drew me to take this shot - the green of the reflective water, the blue of the sky and the buff stonework, brown brick and orange pantiles of the old buildings. But all of that wouldn't have prompted this photograph without those quirky points of day-glow pink introduced by the "art installation". So, it was the colours that caused this photograph, including the lurid hues of a weak art installation. Here, the subject doesn't really matter but its colours do.

photograph and text © Tony Boughen

Camera: Olympus E-M10
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 18mm (36mm - 35mm equiv.)
F No: f5.6
Shutter Speed: 1/2000 sec
ISO:200
Exposure Compensation: -0.33 EV
Image Stabilisation: On

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Ferns, fanatics and abstruse names

click photo to enlarge
It's common to find jobs and professions using technical and abstruse language to exclude the lay person and as an attempt to increase the mystique, status and hence income associated with their activity. It's a subject I've touched on before on this blog. What I don't understand, however, is why hobbyists also fall victim to this malady.

I suppose there are some who seek to maintain a level of exclusivity, or wish to elevate their past-time into something grander than it might appear. But it's also true that hobbyists join together in clubs and societies, and that many of these struggle to achieve the numbers required to make them vibrant and effective. Obscure names don't help with this. Why, for example, do some people call themselves campanologists rather than bell-ringers (which others are quite happy to use)? What benefit arises from the more obscure name? Or what about the numismatists and philatelists? What's wrong with coin and stamp collectors that they need to label themselves with names that many will not connect with their  hobby? And then there are the pteridologists of the British Pteridological Society. "What and who?" I hear you say. Or perhaps not, because today's photograph is a heavy clue to what pteridology might involve. It is, of course, the study of ferns. Quite why the English word needs to be supplanted by a word of Greek origin in the name of this society I'm not sure but it's a common feature of many such groups.

Today's photograph shows a fern, and I'm sure that any British pteridologists could give it its proper name. I can't. I simply photographed it for the way the light was falling on its very regular fronds and how I thought it might look when converted to black and white.

photograph and text © Tony Boughen

Camera: Olympus E-M10
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 45mm (90mm - 35mm equiv.)
F No: f1.8
Shutter Speed: 1/2500 sec
ISO:200
Exposure Compensation: 0 EV
Image Stabilisation: On

Friday, June 19, 2015

Back street shop front

click photo to enlarge
The British character is traditionally supposed to be low key, reserved, eschewing ostentation and brashness. There is an element of truth in this view. However, there have always been plenty of exceptions to this rule, and the internationalisation of many aspects of life have introduced more "showy" elements into British culture.

When I first crossed the waters that separate our island from the rest of the world one of the first things I noticed was how much more intrusive advertising could be in some European countries. Large cut out letters forming names on top of buildings were commonplace in Greece and France but very rare in Britain. Store fronts often had names on that stretched right across the facade where in Britain they were usually more modest. Roadside adverts were more noticeable even given the lower population density. But, things change, ideas are imported, and Britain now exhibits more of these kinds of features despite having planning regulations that seek to control them. I came across this example in Hull recently. The shop's location off a main thoroughfare clearly prompted the owner to come up with this large, eye-catching advertisement that could be seen by anyone glancing down the side-street. And, despite the colours having begun to fade, it worked, hence my photograph!

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

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Photographic and architectural contrasts

click photo to enlarge
It would be hard to find a greater architectural and photographic contrast than is exhibited in the last post and that of today. A large, angular, urban, twenty-first century health centre made of concrete and steel is just about as distant as you can get from a late 1300s, timber-framed, rural manor house with a later fifteenth century gatehouse and moat.

The photographic treatment adds to the contrast. Black and white, I think, suits the modern building. However, when I idly looked at a monochrome version of the shot above it simply confirmed my opinion that I had to stick with colour despite the "chocolate box" character that it gives to the subject. I recently commented on how, when you visit a place for the first and perhaps only time, you have to accept the weather and light that prevails. Here it was shortly after 10.00am on a June morning with scarcely any cloud in sight when we came upon Lower Brockhampton manor house in Herefordshire. Consequently the light was bright and sharp and the colours vibrant. This house is a subject I'd like to tackle on a slightly misty autumn morning with some brightness and cloud. Or perhaps a bright, late spring evening when clouds pick up a yellow tint from the low sun. As it was the strong white of the paint over the timber-framed walls had to be controlled by under-exposure, and a bit of post-processing was required to get the whole scene back to the brightness levels that my eye saw.

photograph and text © Tony Boughen

Camera: Olympus E-M10
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 9mm (18mm - 35mm equiv.)
F No: f5.6 Shutter Speed: 1/1600 sec
ISO:200
Exposure Compensation: -0.33 EV
Image Stabilisation: On

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Architecture in black and white

click photo to enlarge
My earliest "serious" photography at the start of the 1970s involved a Russian Zenit E 35mm camera with a 58mm f2 lens and lots of rolls of Ilford FP4 film. It was a fairly basic setup but all that was needed to get an understanding of the basic principles of good exposure and composition. Later I added a couple of lenses, then moved to an Olympus OM-1n, and after a year or two began my own film processing and printing, again, in black and white. At this time colour prints were the favoured means of printing, but I went with black and white and slides (transparencies). At around the time our first child was born I started using colour film.

During those years, and since, architecture has been one of the subjects at which I have most often pointed my camera. Moreover, architecture has been the subject through which I have most frequently reverted to black and white. There's something about the sharp edges and details of buildings, as well as their three-dimensionality, that makes them ideal subjects for presenting in monochrome. Today's photograph is of the Wilberforce Health Centre, Hull, a 2011 building by HLM Architects. The colours of the building are off-white and grey with highlights of dark red, quite eye-catching. However, the contrasts of the colours alongside the shadows produced by a bright June day suggested to me that the building might look well with a black and white treatment. I think it does, especially with the digital equivalent of a yellow filter that darkens the sky and gives the building greater emphasis.

Incidentally, you may wonder what has happened to the rightmost cyclist's bicycle - it appears to be missing a wheel. In fact it's a small-wheel folding bike produced by the British manufacturer, Brompton and it's yet to be unfolded.

photograph and text © Tony Boughen

Camera: Olympus E-M10
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 9mm (18mm - 35mm equiv.)
F No: f5.6 Shutter Speed: 1/1600 sec
ISO:200
Exposure Compensation: -0.33 EV
Image Stabilisation: On

Friday, June 12, 2015

Return to Prince Street, Hull

click photo to enlarge
Like many photographers, when I find a subject that appeals to me I try to secure the best photograph of it that I possibly can. However, if you have only a single occasion on which to get your shot, then you have to put up with the light, weather, season and other circumstances that prevail at the time. Consequently the end result can be disappointing because you don't achieve the possibilities that you can see in the subject.

But, where the subject is one that you can photograph with reasonable frequency the opportunity exists to improve on your earlier efforts. If you look through this blog you will find several photographs where this has been my motivation. The Humber Bridge is one such example in this blog - see here for the deep rich colours of winter, here for a dull, damp winter view, and here for a contre jour shot with people for scale. Today's post is another example of a trying to get a better shot of a subject.

I first photographed Prince Street in Hull in the 1970s and 1980s. The view from the Market Place through the archway to the curving line of three-storey, multicoloured, terraced houses of the 1770s is quite appealing. I'd more recently tried again with the subject at the end of November 2012. On that last occasion the flat lighting and the line of rubbish bins waiting to be emptied detracted from the shot. The weather on our recent visit was much more promising, and as we walked through this part of the Old Town I tried again and produced a shot that I like much better. The contrast between the deep shadows of the arch and trees with the bright, sunlit buildings works very nicely, and the silhouette of the wall-mounted street light adds a welcome detail.

photograph and text © Tony Boughen

Camera: Olympus E-M10
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 28mm (56mm - 35mm equiv.)
F No: f5.6 Shutter Speed: 1/2000 sec
ISO:200
Exposure Compensation: -0.33 EV
Image Stabilisation: On

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Art Deco shops

click photo to enlarge
I've written elsewhere in this blog about how, in Britain, the architecture of the 1920s and 1930s was very conservative, noting but not, in the main embracing, the forward-looking developments of Europe and the United States.

This often manifested itself in a style that is sometimes called "stripped classical" with recognisably Greek,  Roman or Renaissance-derived columns, entablatures etc pared down to plainer, un-archaeological forms; a reluctant nod to Modernism. The style known as Art Deco and its synonyms or variants, Moderne and Jazz Moderne and Streamline Modern, also used classical forms in this way, but more enthusiastically and with the introduction of newer and different elements. British cinemas of the 1930s frequently adopted this style, as did quite a few factories and even power stations. On the high street Marks and Spencer's architects used white stone with classical, streamline and even Central American motifs in an attempt to show their modernity. The men's clothing store that was found in most large towns and cities - Burton - also adopted this approach.

On our recent visit to Hull I photographed the main windows of the curved facade of the Burton store at the top of Whitefriargate. This building dates from 1935 and is the work of the store's architect, Harry Wilson. It is faced in a veneer of black marble slabs with tall, narrow window bands featuring attenuated glazing bars. The central windows are given a "classical" emphasis with a pair of pilasters. However, the capitals are, if we are to compare them with anything, stripped down Egyptian! The balconies have iron-work featuring curved bars, not unlike those on the step ventilators of the Art Deco doorway of Hull railway station's hotel. The colour of the paintwork is gold, making the building stand out even more from its much more staid neighbours.

photograph and text © Tony Boughen

Camera: Olympus E-M10
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 23mm (46mm - 35mm equiv.)
F No: f5.6 Shutter Speed: 1/500 sec
ISO:200
Exposure Compensation: -0.33 EV
Image Stabilisation: On