Up Close and Personal

My travels this week have taken me…

Nowhere!

Not strictly true of course, I have ventured beyond these four walls occasionally, but the combination of a week that has caused a deal of introspection and the suggestion of a friend that I should turn my camera’s attention to my domestic setting led to a series of abstract images shot with my 100mm macro lens.

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And so taking it a step further I shot a self-portrait to go with  the rest and thought that would be the detailed shots out of my system.

APW_0361What surprised me was that I seemed to have developed a taste for shooting body parts, for this weekend I was working with overseas students as I usually do at this time of year, and amongst the 100 or so images that I processed of candid portraits and mid-activity action shots was one that stands out for me.  I’m not sure why, but I really love this.  Wish I could remember whose hands they are!

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A Day At The Races

Employee engagement is a concept that has gained a lot of recognition in recent years, though it has been around under other names (Job Satisfaction for example) for decades.  The benefits to businesses of achieving engaged employees include lower staff turnover, reduced sickness, better problem solving, greater commitment and so on, and no two businesses approach it in quite the same way.  Factors that affect the level of engagement that employees have include; clarity of goals and expectations, opportunities for development, quality of communication and working relationships etc.

I mention this because today’s pictures are from a day out I recently enjoyed with my colleagues.  A day at the races*.

Thirsk Racecourse was our venue, with a marquee by the finish line, a barbecue lunch, and a constant stream of liquid refreshment.  Topping all of that was the serious business of picking the winners.  For some this is a serious business; studying the form, the size of the field, the handicap carried by the jockey, the behaviour of the horse in the paddock, advice from those “in the know” and  more to identify the dead certainties, dead certainties which seemed determined not to conform with the background data!  For others it was no more scientific than looking for steeds with significant names (a strategy that worked for me in the first race when the classically named Marcus Caesar romped home.  Others just as randomly based their decisions on the colours worn by the riders.   These less logical methods proved just as successful.

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Not a single portrait today, but a montage of candids of my colleagues.  A sensible and sober bunch I’m sure you’d agree…Talent

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It was a great day, though in the end I came to grief with Karate Queen.

*Incidentally – A Day At The Races was Queen’s 5th album, and took its name from a Marx Brothers film, as did it’s predecessor A Night At The Opera.  Luckily they followed it with News Of The World rather than Duck Soup!

Location, Location, Location

I’ve long had a hankering to shoot in a derelict building; abandoned furniture and equipment, cracked paint, peeling wall coverings, cobwebs, dust and decay.  Contrast comes in many forms, and as a backdrop to a beautiful subject some form of atrophy will do nicely.  There is a movement in the UK of people committed to entering abandoned hospitals, asylums, and industrial units to take advantage of just such decline.

Today I had my chance.  Not in a public building.  Not in commercial premises.  This was a home, and not an abandoned home at that.

Admittedly it was a bit different from my two bedroom apartment.  This was a family seat of a Baron, a peer of the realm whose family moved to this pied a terre in the 20th century, when their original castle home, collapsed due to subsidence arising from mining operations.  Mines owned by the same family!

In common with many such properties in the UK, the costs of maintenance for such a large building are prohibitive.  Many stately homes have passed into the hands of the National Trust to help preserve them.  Others have fallen into ruin.

Our venue today was something of a hybrid.

Externally it looks like any other grand hall for Lord and Lady R are still in residence here, and indeed both appeared at different points of the day to see what we were up to.  Perhaps the fact that this was a nude and lingerie shoot may have piqued their curiosity!  Anyway they are to be thanked for providing a property with one wing and some outbuildings that have just the right level of grime for our needs,

and at the other end of the building access to rooms that are available to rent that have a very high specification.  APW_5314A nice place to enjoy our lunch and for the models to change.

So.  Ambition fulfilled.  Lots of grunge and grime.

And the models?  You’ll have to wait for another day to see what I was up to.

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The Crown Jewels

After the sunshine of the south yesterday, I was looking forward to enjoying more of the same at home today. Foolish really, for what greeted me was cold, grey, wetness.

I was on my way to pick up my youngest daughter, and had a little time in hand. Where would I find something to shoot in these conditions. The answer was immediately apparent; I just wasn’t equipped for the opportunity

We all make choices in life as we adapt to the circumstances that it throws our way. Whilst I’ve always been fascinated by macro photography, I’ve never been able to justify the expense in addition to my favourite portrait lenses. Today would have been the perfect occasion for their use, for the subjects were at my feet in the lay by where I’d parked.

Weeds or wildflowers, the descriptor mattered not for each was anointed by the heavy dew that was the inevitable consequence of the misty murk.

I had to zoom and crop to get these shots so inevitably I lost the resolution that macro would have given. Nevertheless there was treasure to be found.

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You belong among the wildflowers
You belong somewhere close to me
Far away from your trouble and worries
You belong somewhere you feel free
You belong somewhere you feel free

Tom Petty – Wildflowers

Baby I don’t care

I’ve been reading Roberto Valenzuela’s book Picture Perfect Practice, largely for the fact that it requires you to complete regular assignments to incorporate some of the content into your experience.  Much of it may be familiar, but then it never does any harm to embed best practice into your methodology.

The first chapter relates to our ability, developed in childhood to recognise geometric shapes, an ability grown through childhood games with pegs and hammers, shape matching and the like.  Squares, circles, triangles, rectangles, arches and lines can all be brought into play.

Thinking about this I was immediately reminded of a TV programme from my childhood called Play School.  Like so many programmes for the very young it incorporated games, songs, and stories, but the feature that most people remember was that in every programme there was a short piece of film.  What made it memorable was that the film was always viewed through a choice of windows; square, round or arched.  Even at that age I was being introduced to geometry as a means of framing the image.

Of course there is more than just framing that can be done with geometry. Because our eye recognises these shapes they can be used to bring balance to an image with a strong subject elsewhere in the frame, or simply be used as part of the environment of the image.

The book requires me to go and photograph 5-10 images of a number of these shapes, purely as a way of reawakening the childhood ability to spot them easily, the theory being that to be able to use them, you have to see them first.APW_1821-Edit

Fair enough.  I had a little time before a solicitor’s appointment last Friday and began looking around me for my first targets; squares.  At first I found the exercise a little obvious, just spotting square elements seemed to offer little value, but soon I began to play with the concept a little; a group of 6 square windows given more interest by framing a reflected tree in just one of them.APW_1829_30_31-Edit-Edit

Soon I was enjoying the challenge and found a couple of shots worth a bit of HDR treatment.  Sadly my appointment prevented me from enjoying the Westoe Brewery’s product.APW_1823_4_5

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I continued the theme yesterday with a few more subtle attempts to incorporate squares.  I’d better up my pace to get through the rest of the shapes, because the author demands that you complete one shape before moving onto the next!

You’re so square

Baby I don’t care

Sprung

Finally a sign that Winter is relinquishing its grip.

Not only did the sun shine, but it did its best to raise the air temperature too.  Not enough to have the beach swarming with swim suited sun worshippers, but enough to create a haziness as water vapour rose from wet sand into warm air.  The thermometer had climbed into double figures.

I wasn’t sure what I was going to shoot at first.  There was a moment of drama with a runaway horse when I first arrived, but it was already moving away from me, presenting me with poor angles and a diminishing subject.     I wasn’t in the mood to go looking for portraits so that left me with landscapes to get started with.  The beach was stonier than usual, still bearing the shrapnel of every winter storm, so I incorporated these into a few shots.  Nice enough results, but I remained unsatisfied. (click any image to open a full size slideshow without the cropping)

Maybe some candids would do?  I switched to street photographer mode but there was little to interest me.  The three elderly couples sitting and staring out to see lacked any sort of animation to lift them out of blandness.  I took a few shots, but they went straight into the recycle bin once I began processing.   As I mused on what to try next another sign of Spring appeared.  This lady is a regular rider along the coast, and I have not seen her for some months, or if I have she was so wrapped up in waterproofs as to be unrecognisable.  Good to see her in her vernal plumage._MG_1034

Looking back to the waterline I saw my chance.  A small group of men seemed to be taking turns to race a horse-drawn buggy along the expanse of sand exposed by the retreating tide (or maybe it was the same guy with a group of fans waiting to judge every run he made).  If he set off once more, I would have time to get into position before he made the turn to come back and perhaps get some shots that captured the action.  I was in luck.

As he raced South, I ran down to the shore to find a spot somewhere near the tracks he had left, thinking as I did that I must remain visible even if crouching.  Being mown down by a galloping horse wasn’t on my to-do list today.  The first shot was good, the angle allowing me to see the faces of both horse and rider, as well as a flowing mane to create movement.

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The second shot was good too.  Horse airborne and sharp, muscles, veins and ribs revealed by the oblique lighting.

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And then the third.  Initially I felt it lacked something.  Shot side on, the lack of any angle made it feel flat, but the mane and tail flowed nicely.  Could I give it anything in processing?  Judge for yourself.  I found the use of overlays to dirty the sky and sand helps give more movement and drama.  This is my favourite, but which one is yours?

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Fight!

This is not an invitation to my alliterative best friend to display her martial arts, arm wrestling or pillow pugilism skills.  It is rather a memory from three decades ago.

Let me explain.

In the far off days when I was a young and naive banker, someone in Personnel made the decision that it would be good for my development and leadership skills if I were to attend an Outward Bound course, which would instantly transform me into a dynamic and assertive leader.  I hope they claimed a refund if that was there hope, but nevertheless the experience has stayed with me, and shaped the person I am now.  This was the first true adventure of my life, and without it I may not have pursued so many of the others that I have experienced since.  The three weeks of mountain skills, rock climbing, canoeing, fell running and so on weren’t easy by any stretch of the imagination, but they gave me a love of landscape and the outdoors that more recently has taken me to Asia and Africa as well as many more wet (and occasionally not so wet) days in England’s Lake District.

One of the many activities that I undertook for the first (and only time as it happens) was Orienteering.  There are checkpoint symbols dotted about the promenade near to where I live, but I have never seen anyone use them, so I don’t know how popular the sport is these days.  Has it been overtaken by geo-tagging?  Anyway, in our case the route we ran was to be nowhere near as flat or open as the Seaburn coast.  We were to race through a densely planted pine forest.

For the most part, this wasn’t a problem, with pathways and fire breaks to run along in search of the red and white markers that signified a control point, but often as we neared our objective we would realise from our maps that the actual objective was not on the road or footpath.  It was somewhere in between, requiring a plunge into stiff brush with the added bonus of sharp pine needles that pierced clothing from every angle.  Our instructor laughed uncharitably at our cuts and scratches as we completed the course, and asked how we had enjoyed pushing our way through these natural barriers.  The technical term for such terrain he told us was “fight”.  It must have seemed appropriate for I still remember it clearly over thirty years later.

I was reminded of it again today, though not because I was doing battle with pine trees.  The UK has been battered by wintry conditions that have brought heavy snow and disruption to much of the country, and whilst we on the North East coastline have escaped the whiteness, the cold and driving winds have made their presence felt here regardless.

It was as I parked the car ready to take some pictures that the term “fight” returned to mind.  Fighting to control the car door from being forced to angles that its hinges had never anticipated, fighting close the boot as the wind inverted the parcel shelf into a wedge that prevented closure, fighting to remain steady enough on my feet to keep an image in focus.  I failed at the first attempt, but this plant amply demonstrates the conditions I was facing, as did the grasses nearby.

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On the beach I am accustomed to seeing the wave tops turned to spume by the power of the wind.  What I am not so used to it seeing it spread right up the beach by the forces at work.

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Here the fight was to make progress against the forces of Euros and the fight to catch your breath as the wind whipped it away from you.  As I looked into the distance I could see great eruptions of white water and knew immediately that I must head that way for a shot that I have long wanted to capture; waves breaking over the Roker lighthouse.

When I got there I positioned myself on the bridge over Roker Ravine, both for shelter and the fact that its parapet was at perfect height to support my camera.  I was working with both teleconverter and zoom lens so wanted to be as steady as possible.

I focused on the lighthouse, and waited.

I recomposed the shot slightly.  And waited.

I fired off a few test shots.  And waited.

Though I was wearing my photography gloves which give snug protection but for a small circular hole in each thumb and forefinger which can be stretched to allow flesh access to controls, the heat conducting properties of camera and lens were chilling my fingers uncomfortably.

I changed my autofocus point.  And waited.

At no point did any wave reach the North pier with sufficient force to be thrust skywards and over the lighthouse.  There were a couple of minor attempts which made nice enough pictures, but nothing with the drama that I was seeking.

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Was the tide too far out to be deep enough?  Or too far out for waves to be forming at the right spot.  I don’t know.  What I do know is that at the South pier, where there is no lighthouse to provide a benchmark for height, all hell was breaking loose.  It must have been down to the angle of the wind but in the fight for the picture I wanted today I lost.

I did get a consolation prize though.

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Postscript – 24th March

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The following morning saw very similar conditions, still no waves over the lighthouse, but some drama nevertheless.  The wind had brought down a lamppost yesterday, and in a mood of caution the local council decided to fell another half dozen just to be cautious!