Easy like Sunday morning

There’s something about getting up earlier than everyone else in the house especially on a Sunday morning. It’s probably my favourite time of the week and knowing that with the exception of six-year old Zac no one will be in a hurry to tumble out of bed and get the day started I look forward to it’s peace and quiet.

It’s a time for reading quietly with a coffee or heading out in the car with flask, camera and drone to see what the dawn has brought. On the odd occasion I will set off pre-dawn and sit and watch the day break. It’s an inspirational time of day and being out early and getting creative early really sets me up for the day. I’ve often snapped my daily 365 offering on a Sunday before anyone else in my family has even stirred.

This morning I feel jaded. A four hundred mile round trip yesterday to deliver Christmas presents to family “down south” has left me at a less than optimal pitch this morning. But I’m still up early, quietly praying that Zac isn’t, but not surprised when he appears next to me with a huge beaming smile, just as I swing my legs out of bed. It’s as if he has me on CCTV!All images copyright Dave Whenham

It’s a dull, grey morning. No real mist, just a greyness that seeps into the very bones it seems. I’ve a forty five minute drive to get to the RPS AV Day in Leeds but always leave earlier than I need; partly as insurance against notoriously bad traffic on the M62 but mainly because I know I will want to stop and take pictures at some point.

Sure enough, I’ve been driving for about four minutes and pull over to photograph trees in a field just half a mile from the front door! I’m not packing my full kit today as I expect to spend most of the day inside watching other people’s AV sequences and listening to the guest speakers. So, the much travelled Fuji X100t is taken from my ever-present shoulder bag and whilst it’s fixed 23mm lens is a little too wide for the composition I want I know I can crop in later. I’d normally “crop with my feet” as they say but a substantial wall clearly indicates that I’m not welcome to stray into the field. It’s not a day for cheeky wall jumping either!

All images copyrighted Dave Whenham

So, with a couple of images in the camera I at least know that my 365 habit will be fed tomorrow when I get a chance to update Flickr with the two images from Saturday and Sunday. I tend to look for an image early in the day even if I’m going out for a days photography. It gives me the reassurance that I have something in hand for my 365 should the day not go as planned. Other days I shoot early because I know I probably won’t get a chance later and this Sunday morning is one of those days.

I’m soon on the M62 however which even at eight on a Sunday morning is busy and heading towards my destination. I dislike driving so take no pleasure in what for me has become a chore; necessary but still a chore.

Ten minutes from the University I’m running well ahead of schedule, even for me. On a whim I drop left onto an unmarked road and to my surprise find myself facing a canal and a handy little parking spot. I knew I’d just crossed a bridge but hadn’t realised it took the road over a canal. My guess is that it’s the Leeds and Liverpool but I will need to check that when I get home. For now I have the pleasure of a fifteen minute stroll alongside the canal and the chance to breath some fresh air before spending a day in a darkened room with seventy other AV enthusiasts.

I do take a couple of snaps with the X100t but nothing serious although I do make a mental note to return on another day for a proper exploration. I’m soon back in the car though and completing the last quarter of an hour in the car. Parked at the university I have time to quickly review the images on my Fuji, reassuring myself that the 365 is “safe” before heading indoors for a coffee and a very entertaining and enjoyable day.

As enjoyable as the day is however the highlight was still the peace of an early morning .

Easy like Sunday morning you could say.

A Grand Day Out (RPS)

On a bitterly cold Saturday in October I turned up for my first ever RPS meet-up. Despite having rejoined the RPS in 2012 I have only previously attended talks and the like so this was to be my first time shooting as part of a group of RPS members.

© Dave Whenham

8.03am – cold but an interesting start to the day

There were around twelve of us in the group including Mick  who was our guide and facilitator for the day. I had arrived soon after 7.30am for a 9am start. It was dark and very cold but I was very soon joined by another first-timer. I almost missed sunrise at 8.01am due to a call of nature but iPhone to the rescue and I had a snap for my blog at least!

We were in New Brighton on the Wirral and the main purpose of the day was long exposure photography so after a quick calling of the register there was soon a forest of tripods on the beach. It was a forest that was soon in rapid retreat however as the tide was coming in much faster than many of us expected. Stood a metre or so from the waters edge I was lucky to get a shot composed and exposed before waves were lapping around my feet. Good job we had been told to bring our wellies. I wasn’t alone in performing this tripod-wave dance either. Luckily Mick had all the tide details written down so he kept us all on the straight and narrow.

© Dave Whenham

3:14pm – New Brighton Lighthouse aka Perch Rock Lighthouse (long exposure)

A blow-by-blow account of the day would soon become tedious so instead I will just comment briefly on my impressions of the day. I wasn’t keen on going initially, mainly because there was no stated limit to the group size and I was concerned about shooting in a large group in a relatively small area. Would we be forever getting in each other’s way I wondered? I needn’t have worried though as on the day common sense prevailed and the occasional photographer who strayed into shout was quickly moved by a friendly shout. No names, no pack drill of course!

I am usually a solo photographer, occasionally shooting with a good friend but normally on my own so this was a big reservation for me but despite this I chose to go partly out of curiosity and partly because my wife told me not to be so curmudgeonly and anti-social. I’m glad I did as I was told! Everyone was friendly and welcoming and I made a couple of new friends into the bargain. I didn’t catch many of the other people’s names but spoke albeit briefly to most of them during the day – I just wish I had a better memory for names.

© Dave Whenham

12:59pm – Minimalist long exposures at West Kirby

The knowledge of Mick, our friendly and approachable guide, saved all of us lots of aimless wandering and exploring as he guided us to areas of particular interest. This is also knowledge that I can apply when I return for a solo shoot at a later date.

So, what did I get from the day? Well, certainly, a few half-decent images which I am looking forward to printing in due course. I also got to chat about photography for most of my waking hours that day without boring the wife to tears. It’s not something I’d want to do every day but chatting photography with some other enthusiasts was very enjoyable.  Most importantly though I enjoyed the company of a group of like-minded people.

Even this anti-social curmudgeon had to admit it was a grand day out!

Feeling “right”

Fujifilm’s latest X-series camera was released a few weeks ago to much fanfare and insofar as I can see much critical acclaim.  And for once in my life I find myself in the vanguard, an early adopter of Fujifilm’s latest electronic marvel even before Adobe have caught up.

Do I like it? Well, I sold the Fuji X-T20 within 48 hours of taking delivery of the X-T3 so confident was I after just one play that the older model wouldn’t get a look in unless I left the X-T3 at home; and why would I do that?

As always I will leave the technical stuff and a discussion of the cameras’s specifications to others. I’m an enthusiast photographer rather than a working pro and what matters most to me is that very nebulous quality of the user experience.  User experience. Easy to type but very hard to define largely because it will vary considerably from one person to another. 

A camera needs to feel “right” in my hand. I can’t write the exact feeling down but know it when I experience it.  The X-T3 is a little bigger than my now-departed X-T20 (a camera I really enjoyed using) although it is a form factor I’m familiar with as I already own the X-T1 which is my infrared/full-spectrum camera these days. With one of my primes attached or the 18-55 “kit” lens the X-T1 feels great in the hand. Not perfect but still very, very good. I knew therefore before I placed the order for the X-T3 that I’d be purchasing the battery grip especially if I intended expanding my focal length opportunities by buying a telephoto lens at some point in the future (spoiler alert: that future is now the past).

© Dave Whenham

The X-T3 body with my 35mm f1.4 prime does indeed feel great in the hand and I’ve been using this combination a lot recently. The 18-55 likewise balances well as do the two Samyang primes in my bag (12mm and the fisheye) although the Fuji 55-200 does feel a little front heavy although this was not unexpected. The battery grip though transforms the handling from good to great. It’s good also to have the choice of travelling very light with just body and a 23mm prime for example or putting on the grip for better handling with the bigger lenses and of course three times as much battery power. As an aside, I got 1,216 images (2,432 files as I shoot RAW+JPEG) from one charge using three batteries and the grip which is pretty much what is claimed by Fuji (1,170 from memory is the claim).

The auto-focus is not strictly something many would class as handling but it does contribute to the overall user experience as slow or poor AF can be very frustrating at best. On the X-T1  focusing with the Fujifilm 35mm f1.4 R can be slow and the lens often hunts especially in more challenging conditions. But keep in mind this lens is a venerable OAP in lens-terms having been first released for sale on January 9th 2012. I was therefore amazed and very surprised at the very nifty focusing achieved with the X-T3. It will never compete with more modern lenses in the speed stakes due to its older design and engineering but comparing it on the X-T3 versus the X-T1 does reveal a very welcome improvement in user experience.  Of course, this is my subjective view and I’ve not carried out any laboratory testing but at the end of the day it’s how the gear behaves in real life and not in a laboratory that really matter – at least to some of us!

© Dave Whenham

What I’ve not yet had the opportunity to do is a “proper” day out complete with a tripod, numerous lens changes and the deployment of filters but that should be possible next week fingers crossed.

So, all first signs are positive. I never expected to be an early adopter but having got caught up in the excitement as a fellow photographer anticipated the release of the “T3” I found myself swept along and with an order in the basket just the day before the official UK launch. I never expected to get it within 48 hours either.  With the 18-55 attached I set off for a few days in Northumberland to celebrate my birthday not really expecting much in the way of photography but nevertheless knowing that I had a pretty capable camera should opportunities arise.

Oh, and that telephoto lens? Our journey from Elland to Northumberland took us pass the Metro Centre in Gateshead and of course the Boss decided that would be an ideal opportunity for a coffee and a break from driving (not that she drives!).  Long story short – Jessops – a few secondhand lenses – Fuji 50-140 f2.8.  I tried it on an X-T2 body (the shop hadn’t any X-T3 bodies) and knew that I was about to take another irrevocable step into the Fuji-X system. I barely took the lens off the X-T3 for the following three days.

* All images Fiji X-T3 from JPEGs – just wish Adobe would get their finger out! Perhaps I should just move to Capture One 🙂

Oldie360

I’ve said before that there’s a restless quality in some of us that keeps us constantly looking and learning, trying new things and experimenting with new ways to do things. For me it is my photography that  provides this platform for experimentation and as I’ve said before I often take on new challenges before the previous one has been fully mastered. Restless you see.

© Dave Whenham

I hit 60 last month (I know, you all thought I was about 12) and wanting to buy me something a little different my wife plumped for the INSTA360 One camera. The clue is in the name – it shoots 360 video and stills. Now, we are not taking DSLR image quality here and at a point when I’ve just upgraded the little Fuji X-T20 for the X-T3 (more of which another day) it seems counterintuitive to be buying a camera with some serious limitations in respect of image quality. But, and this is important, the purpose of buying such a camera, for me, was not to produce 20×16 inch exhibition prints, but to have a bit of fun. At present the biggest audience for 360 images is to be found on social media.  The tiny 24mb/4K sensor in the One is more than adequate for the purpose and indeed obsessing about image quality is to miss the point of owning this camera.

One of the side tracks I sometimes take with the drone, especially when the conditions aren’t exactly what I’m looking for in respect of landscape photography, is shooting 360 degree, spherical panoramas and then turning these into “tiny planets”.  It’s a niche interest but for a “twelve-at-heart” sixty year old it has proven irresistible.  Now, not all of my photographer contacts think so highly of this pastime as I do but I’m not doing this for them, I’m doing it for my inner child. That said, I have now set up a separate Instagram account (Oldie360) to share my 360 images. 

© Dave Whenham

Serious? Or seriously confused?

The small 360 camera therefore gives me access to another outlet for my photographic exploits. Up until now I’ve not been using is “seriously” as I’m enjoying the fun of creating little selfie-worlds but whilst playing I’m learning. I’ve already realised that using my phone as a Bluetooth trigger is a little limiting so have ordered the small, but relatively pricey (as it currently has to be bought from abroad) INSTA360 remote trigger. This can be used discretely in the hand or if using the selfie stick it can be attached to the stick itself.

I shall write more about this new photographic offshoot over time as I get to grips with its idiosyncrasies but in the meantime enjoy the couple of 360-Selfies I’ve included here. 

Me.        Selfies.       Who’d have thought it!

365 – 277 days and counting

Wow! August 6th was my last blog post. I knew I’d been a little tardy but hadn’t realised it was that long. Mind you, my Mum used to say if you’ve nothing to say don’t say it!

© Dave Whenham

This one didn’t make the 365 – but was a contender!

I’ve just shot today’s “insurance” image; an image taken early in the day just in case I don’t get out later for a proper walk or shoot.  In the 340 days since I started the picture-a-day I’ve only used my insurance shot twice but I still take one most days just to be safe.  I have a list of potential images in my head centred around the Dean Clough area of Halifax. Many of my daily images have come from this historical and immensely interesting site and in addition I am there most mornings when taking the wife to work.  It is therefore also a great option for the insurance shot.

I guess this concept of an insurance shot is one of the most important things I’ve learnt in the context of how to approach a 365.  Another is not to stress out about it, the images will flow if your mind is receptive, and it cannot be creatively receptive if you are stressing about the next shot.  It is a Challenge but it is not a matter of life or death after all!

For me the most important question is whether or not I’m happy with the image I post each day. For the most part, indeed almost all, I’ve been very happy. There are a couple that with the benefit of hindsight I’m not overly keen on but nevertheless there are none that I regret posting.  Indeed, the Challenge has meant that I’ve got a lot of images this year that I simply would not have made without the daily challenge.  There are numerous days when I would probably have stayed at home and not ventured out were it not for the Challenge.

© Dave Whenham

This one didn’t make the 365 either – although the shot the drone was taking did!

But, has it made me a better photographer? Well the first thing is to define “better” but I’m not in a philosophical mood this morning so I will skip that. What is sure though is that I am very confident with all of my cameras, know how they will react and can shoot unconsciously meaning I no longer worry about the mechanics but can concentrate on the creative aspects.  I’ve written before about muscle memory and it’s great that whilst prior to the Challenge I largely had it for my most used camera I now have it for all three cameras.  I genuinely believe that being able to operate a camera without needing to think about the mechanics makes for better images.  Aperture/shutter speed/ISO are the only things I actively think about other than composition. Not however from a how-to-set them perspective but how they will affect the aesthetic of the image I’m trying to create.

My experiences with the drone are also convincing me of the importance of being able to operate your great without thinking too much about it.  I was out one Saturday recently with a good friend and watching me with the drone he commented on how much more at ease I was with the operation of the equipment compared to the last time he saw me fly it (last November, I flew it into a tree). Most importantly he said that he had already known that without watching me as he’d seen the improvement in my aerial compositions.

So,  three quarters of the way through the 2018 Challenge I do feel I’m reaping the benefits I’d hoped for. Taking images is now just part of what I do every day. Whilst I do not have the luxury of a full days shooting every day I am spending time every day with a camera. One of the benefits I hadn’t anticipated was that I am now “photo-ready” at all times. In the past if there’s been a couple of weeks between shoots I’ve taken time to get my eye in and settle in to the rhythm as it were. Now my eye is ever-ready it seems and I am better equipped to take advantage of even the smallest opportunities for image making.

 

 

Lost and Found

Well, not strictly lost but certainly forgotten about!

My least used camera body and my least used lens are the Fuji X-Pro1 and Samyang 85mm. I decided to give them both an outing this morning as I went in search of my 218th 365-2018 image.  After all the sunshine recently a dull, overcast day with a grey sky provided all the inspiration I needed to find a contrasty black & white and I was happy with the image I came back with (below).

© Dave Whenham

Whilst the memory card was in the reader I noticed there were other images on the card which had not been transferred to my computer. Most appeared to be just test shots as I no doubt fiddled with settings and tried ideas out. But there were some that had clearly been shot with intent.

© Dave Whenham

The composition bottom right (above) is one I’ve shot many times and is shown in context below. It is a favourite “insurance” shot for my 365 although hasn’t as yet made it into the collection itself. I suspect that most of these images were probably early morning “insurances” as I pass all three locations on the way to the paper shop for my wife’s papers.

© Dave Whenham

© Dave Whenham

Looking at these as I drop them into the page I’d be happy to use any of them within my 365 which suggests that even when shooting my “insurance shots” I am still thinking and paying attention to the composition etcetera. I’m clearly not simply happy-snapping so there is something to post, but instead I’m making sure that, however mundane, I have something I’d be happy to add to the series. This was something I said at the outset – I don’t just want to take 365 photographs but I want to make 365 images that I’m happy to have on my portfolio.

Finally, a gratuitous colour popping image – it was clearly what I had in mind when I snapped this otherwise very mundane scene!

© Dave Whenham