Steaming Along…

a7302653Excellent evening with TimeLine Events, London Camera Exchange and Sony UK at the Barrow Hill Roundhouse, the last surviving railway roundhouse in the United Kingdom with an operational turntable. Built in 1870, it was threatened with demolition in 1991 when the site was closed by British Rail.  It was saved by a group of volunteers who have transformed it into a railway museum and events venue.

Home to a collection of both steam and diesel locomotives and rolling stock, it also has an operational signal box, the Roundhouse Halt platform and Springwell Branch running line. a7302499A highlight of the visit was spotting 60163 ‘Tornado’ outside undergoing minor repairs and annual re-certification.  This A1 Pacific ‘Peppercorn’ locomotive was built in 2008, the first steam engine built in the UK since 1960. It’s a magnificent piece of engineering!

a7302486-editPlenty of opportunities to take photos of the locos on display, and there were a group of re-enactors posing in period costume.

With the temperature outside around -5℃, it wasn’t much warmer inside the roundhouse, so glad of the opportunity to use the café between photos! A chance to try some different Sony lenses, but thankfully nothing I can’t live without…  A few more photos from the evening, all taken with the SonyA7iii and either 24-105mm f4 or 55mm f1.8 lens…

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Looking Back…

As we approach the end of 2018, I’ve been looking back over my photography and also picked a few of my favourite photos from this year.

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Perch Rock – E-M1ii & 12-40mm

I started the year with a couple of Olympus cameras – a Pen-F, and an OMD E-M1ii – both excellent cameras with amazing features.  The E-M1ii was probably the best-handling camera I’ve ever used, and the arsenal of lenses I had acquired over the previous year or so were all excellent. Despite this, somehow the results I was getting didn’t really make me happy.  I tried every which way to get the result I wanted, but there was always something that didn’t quite work for me.

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Loch Lomond – E-M1ii & 12-100mm

I’d tried a Sony A7Rii previously, and although I liked the image quality, I just wasn’t sure about going back to a full frame camera with it’s bigger lenses etc;  one of the things that attracted me to the Olympus had been it’s compact size and much lighter weight. When the new A7iii came out with it’s superb image quality and better handling, auto focus, viewfinder and battery life than the ‘old’ models, a change was inevitable… I realised that convenience was never going to be a match for image quality.

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Ramshaw Rocks – Sony A7iii & 16-35mm

Rather than risk the uncertainties of eBay, I sold all my Olympus gear to mpb.com – not the absolute best prices, but fair enough, and of course a risk free and speedy transaction. This bought me an A7iii body and a couple of decent prime lenses, to which I’ve added the superb 24-105mm ‘everyday’ zoom, and the super wide 16-35mm f4 Zeiss lens. I’m certainly happy with what this camera can do – the RAW files are truly amazing, and there is no significant image degradation even with fairly heavy post-processing. (By contrast, the Olympus files would ‘break up’ under even modest processing, with nasty artefacts and excessive noise.) No such problem with the Sony camera.

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Double Trouble – Sony A7iii & 55mm

To be fair, I haven’t used the camera to it’s full potential – in fact I haven’t used it a lot as yet, but every photo I have taken with it so far has exceeded my expectations. The images (especially those taken with the prime lenses) are razor sharp, and the massive 15 stop dynamic range means that shadows can be recovered in post-processing without creating excessive noise. So much so that I think I’ve only once needed to use my graduated filters – I’m seriously thinking of abandoning them altogether, which is a fair weight saving when walking.

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Lichfield Cathedral – Sony A6300 & 20mm

I did dally with a Sony A6300 for a while – I figured it would give me an additional more portable option than the A7 kit, and at a pinch would do as a backup body, but it just complicated matters.  The image quality, although great, just wasn’t quite as good, and I found myself always wondering which camera to take when I went out, so in the end let it go. Too many complications! Just having one ‘proper’ camera makes life much simpler…

With the improvements over the last few years in the cameras in smartphones, they are at last a viable alternative to a dedicated camera for everyday use (holidays, walking, family occasions etc). So when the A6300 kit went, I got myself a new iPhone XR, and haven’t looked back – for social media posts and general family photos it’s plenty good enough, and of course it’s with me all the time. I’ve just acquired a wide angle lens for it, and that opens up more photo options. Telephoto lens next maybe?

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Plas Power Woods, Wrexham – Sony A7iii & 24-105mm 

So what does 2019 have in store?  Well, I’m certainly planning to get out more with my Sony camera – I’ve already booked to go on a couple of one-day events – not so much photo workshops as ‘opportunity days’ – the chance to shoot subjects that wouldn’t otherwise be as easy to access.  I’ve realised that I don’t really get much from traditional group photo workshops; they tend to be quite expensive, and with up to 12-14 attendees it can be rather limiting – all standing in line to take the same shot. So I’ll mostly be going it alone…

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Peatswood – iPhone XR & Moment w/a lens

I’m also super-excited about using my smartphone for ‘off the cuff’ photography – there are so many photo opportunities in everyday life, and having a half-decent camera with you all the time is definitely the way to go.  This photo was taken on my iPhone while on a family walk, and entirely processed using Lightroom Mobile & Snapseed on the phone itself.   It obviously takes longer to ‘process’ a RAW image from the phone than it does to use the standard JPG file that phones capture by default, but it really does open up some interesting possibilities.

I don’t think I will ever give up having a ‘real’ camera, but who knows!

Time for a fresh beginning…?

‘When subject matter is forced to fit into preconceived patterns, there can be no freshness of vision. Following rules of composition can only lead to a tedious repetition of pictorial clichés’ – Edward Weston

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South Bank, London

In the almost 60 years since I first picked up and used a camera, photography, in my opinion, has become both easier, and harder… Yep, today’s all-singing digital cameras and phone cameras with their mega-pixels and auto-everything are a far cry from Box Brownies, or 35mm SLRs where everything was manual; then it was days or weeks after you shot your pictures before you saw the results (and were frequently disappointed!)

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Dover Harbour

But now,  just about everyone can take a good picture – walk up, ‘click’ with your phone camera/compact camera/DSLR and there you have it – immediate result. No longer any need to understand and put into practice the technicalities of film photography like ISO, aperture, DOF and shutter speed – just ‘point and press’. No bad thing, but these days everyone is a photographer. Estimates vary, but I saw one that reckoned over 1.8 trillion photos were taken and uploaded last year! Talk about over-exposure.

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Elgol, Skye

A few years back, I was at a low ebb with my photography – I had all the latest gear, but it was all so heavy I never really wanted to go out making photos, and when I did, I rarely came back with anything I was happy with. So I changed everything and downsized, and that helped some – the new system I had was somewhat lighter, but at the expense of image quality, and in reality, by the time I bought the best lenses, I hadn’t gained a huge amount in portability. But I persevered, thinking that by working harder at it, I would take better photos. I’ve read lots about photography, joined social media groups and been on umpteen workshops and courses, but…………

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Street Market, France

What I’ve come to realise is that despite a near obsession with photography,  I’m not really getting that much out of it – I think that going to the same places that everyone else goes to, and setting up the same type of sunset/sunrise/long exposure shots is leading to a total lack of creativity.  Its not helped by the fact that everywhere you look on forums and Twitter/IG etc, there are the same shots in the same places etc, so you pretty much end up following suit. I’m less inclined these days to go out yomping around hills loaded down like someone from the SAS – I’m not getting any younger! Then of course there’s the issue of going to all that bother when other folks will get still better results because they are using bigger and better gear, or dedicate more time to photography than I want to.

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Colwyn Bay, North Wales

Looking at what I’ve shot over the last year or two, I’m really disillusioned – I’ve got lots of ‘ok’ landscapey shots, mostly technically fine, but very few ‘wow!’ shots. Hardly anything that stands out. Technically competent, but no creativity. Certainly no real satisfaction. I need to go back to shooting what grabs me, not the clichéd shots that you see all over social media and I am (even subconsciously) trying to emulate. I think some of the shots I took 10 or 20 years ago are ‘better’ in a creative sense than what I’m doing now. Bit of a watershed really…

I’m starting by going through my back catalogue, and just picking out what I consider to be creative, rather than just me-too photos. I’ve started to update my website to reflect that.
I’ve made a conscious decision that in future I will shoot for ME, and not to please others. If people like what I shoot, that’s fine, but I’ve spent too long conforming to expectations.
Here are a few of my photos that I DO like. Some are traditional landscapes, but I like them nevertheless. Here’s to that creative new beginning…

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Lake District Tour….

This time last year, when I was still a Fujifilm shooter, I booked a Lake District workshop in November 2017 with Fujiholics.  Attracted by the location, a big draw also was that the workshop was to be led by Matt Hart and Paul Sanders, two great guys that I’ve known for some time and been on events with.

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Duke of Sutherland Boathouse, Ullswater

Fast forward 9 months and I had switched from Fujifilm to Olympus, so I joined the course with some trepidation! I needn’t have worried of course – although Paul and Matt are both passionate about their Fujifilm cameras (and are official Fuji ‘X’ Photographers) they were helpful and supportive throughout.

Based at the Premier Inn in Kendal in the south of the National Park (its tricky to find reasonably priced hotels that will take groups of 15, even out of ‘season’) we nevertheless covered all the main parts of the Lake District. 6am starts each day meant that we could get to locations and set up by sunrise.  With the obvious stops for breakfast, lunch and of course CAKE, we carried on right until nightfall each day, by which time we were happy to collapse back in the hotel for a well earned supper and drink or two… A chance also to review photos from the day, and confirm plans for the next morning.

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Kelly Hall Tarn, nr Coniston

We covered quite some ground in those few days – Kelly Hall Tarn, Coniston, Ashness Bridge, Surprise View, Watendllath, Blea Tarn, Bassenthwaite and Crow Park, Derwentwater to mention a few. I, for one, came away with lots of photos I was happy with, and I’m sure the other participants felt the same. It was also an enjoyable few days spent with like minded ‘togs’ and I would definitely recommend the Fujiholics events, whether you are a Fujifilm shooter or not. They may not have the swish marketing that other well-known photo-tour companies have, but they offer a professional and reasonably priced alternative. If you want to improve your photo skills, and get the chance to shoot in great locations, then definitely check out Fujiholics!

See below for a few of my photos from the week – all shot on Olympus E-M1ii or PEN-F cameras, mostly with the Olympus 12-100mm and PanaLeica 8-18mm  lenses and Nisi ND and ND Grad filters.

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