Friday, 22 April 2011

Parum colligata

Parum colligata by 57Andrew
Parum colligata, a photo by 57Andrew on Flickr.


Sunday, 12 December 2010

An occasional post

It is Christmas Eve and I am at home. It is warm enough to sit outside on the terrace and drink coffee, read books, play with the iPad etc. Mrs. Ha is making gingerbread men and all is well with the world. The plan is for 2011 to be my last in full time work. I will be in my 55th year by the time I pack in so enough is enough. I am quite nervous as the outlook for investing for income is quite daunting and I don't want to start eating into my capital right away. I hope I can bite the bullet and get by.

The idea of freedom to do what I want for a while is so attractive. I am increasingly addicted to the Leica although sometimes I find myself frustrated by it. I keep reading more and more about photography. Both the creative side and the technical side. I am thinking through what I really need to do differently to tale better images. Its not about quantity it is about quality. The key word seems to be anticipation. I was reading how Cartier Bresson used to find the setting and then wait for the moment when something happened to trigger the moment he wanted. He could visualize what he wanted and sometimes varied his position by only a few millimeters to get a quite different impact each time. He was said to dance with his camera, he was so light on his feet, trying to create the image he knew he wanted. the expression "the decisive moment" is now for ever bound to HCB but it simply means picking the moment amongst many that encapsulates what it was he wanted to convey.

Whether you call it street photography, documentary photography or reportage it matters little to me. I go out to try and take a better picture than I took last time. If you are photographing people the question is to engage or not to engage. Should you "sneak" the photo or ask. I do both I'm afraid.

This was posed:

This was not

I shot this, as you can probably tell, without using the viewfinder. The lens is at waist height - I am sitting next to the man - and I guessed focus and exposure to take a candid portrait. Its nothing to write home about but I thought it was a nice example of how you can literally "shoot from the hip".

I took some photos in the local park. A lady learning tai chi from her master. I asked if I could take photos and they were quite content. I sat quietly on the bench and tried to get what I wanted. The 50mm was a bit too little but as they moved closer and filled more of the frame the shots improved. The master motioned me to shoot from the other side so I did although I didn't want to. The light was all wrong. When he took a break I moved back round again.

I am converting most of my shots to B&W now and wouldn't mind going back to film for a while. What really troubles me is that when I post images in critique fora they get little reaction. There are occasional exceptions but generally not much by way of feedback. The question therefore is what makes an image stand out enough to get a reaction, positive or negative. I have learned that they need a focal point but many photos - not just mine - are trashed for being too derivative. What does that mean? Copying the style of someone else? I guess developing your own style is hard but distinguishes you from the rest. I am a long way from there yet. Here is another one I like:

What I do enjoy is the creative process of taking a digital image and working on it on the mac with Lightroom 3, Photoshop CS4 and / or Silver Efex Pro to produce a different effect, replicating digitally the grain, tones and textures of black and white film.

In the coming weeks, my focus, if you will pardon the pun, will be on seeing better the image in the viewfinder. The Leica allows you to see what is outside the picture so you can tell when someone is about to enter the actual frame. You have context as you compose. I need to be more aware of the frame lines and think about what is in and what is outside the image boundary. HCB didn't crop his images and the sense was that he moved to make the full frame meaningful rather than cropping after the event to remove extraneous subject matter. This is far from as easy as it sounds and reflects his ability to visualize and choose the perfect or decisive moment to expose the film (or sensor as it is today).

To finish, here is another of my favourite recent snaps. This is the generation gap.....

Happy holidays everyone.

Saturday, 2 October 2010

A brief return

The autumn is returning. The super-hot temperatures are cooling and it is clear that birds are moving although I haven't seen much around the garden yet. So I have been continuing to practice with the rangefinder and have developed a keen interest in black and white imaging. I have spent some time with a pro, Craig Norris, who has given me some Photoshop tuition and is critiquing my work occasionally. I am learning to improve my composition, to make sure I have a focal point to the picture and to vary my height and angle of shooting.

All this has become something of a minor obsession and I spend a lot of time looking at the Leica Forum. It never ceases to amaze me what people post expecting (presumably) positive comments. On the other hand others doubtless think the same about my efforts and indeed Craig and I have already disagreed on images. Quite healthy too. But there are some amazingly talented people who post but I stay clear of the techno-nerds.

Moths have been few recently. They don't seem to fly much in the very hot weather but this little chap did appear recently.

This goes under the name of "anticrates sp." and is as yet undescribed to science.

Yesterday about 350 Great egrets flew past, possibly heading for the Philippines. This was a chance evening sighting but after the passage of Chinese Goshawks earlier in the year perhaps I am on a migration route! I also found a crested serpent eagle in the garden a while back.

This species calls regularly here and is seen occasionally very high in the sky but on this occasion perched just across from the house.

As we go into the best time of the year the constant interruption and harassment that is work begins to get to me. I need a physical and emotional spring clean and jumping on another plane (as I will do later tonight) is not what I need. Striving for better photos is also very draining but in a different way. I once did some psychometric tests to determine whether I was a Type A or B. On the scale of 1-100 I was around 98% towards the A end of the spectrum so I commit totally to a project and push myself hard to improve each time. I love the challenge of the rangefinder and playing with a piece of software called Silver Efex Pro that I use for converting from colour to black & white.

I am sure this is Off Topic but here are a couple of my efforts:

Of course if you are a Facebook Friend or Flickr follower of mine then all this stuff is repetitive nonsense, for which I apologize.

I still have a hankering to write too but until I hang up my banking boots that isn't going to happen. I have wonderful ideas for this blog but either never get round to writing or my mind goes blank when I sit down to type. In reality I just want to be out there taking pictures, whether it is natural history with the DSLR or arty-farty stuff with the rangefinder. So whatever your interest, if you are still out there, here is my last offering for the time being.


Monday, 5 July 2010

Blog off.

I was surprised how long it has been since I last posted anything. Even that was just a cut and paste job. I am currently at a crossroads. My work is all consuming and my interest in it is all disappearing. Sadly I am unable to "coast" and so I continue to work like a ............... trojan. My outings with the camera are becoming rarer. Also the Leica distracts me. I love it but it is not a wildlife camera. Rangefinders simply are not the best tool for the job. But for reportage or street photography, scenics and the like, it is probably unbeatable in DSLR terms. Medium format of course would win but I can't afford a Hasselblad. Hot weather may be good for bugs but it is not good for me and 35 degrees Celsius isn't going to get me out ite and abite as Prince Charles would say. So I am going to hibernate the blog. It may reawaken some day, Rip van Winkle like (a wonderful playmaker in the mould of Neeskens) and if my plans come to pass maybe I can devote more time to it in H2 2011. But for the time being, toodle jolly PIP!

Sunday, 30 May 2010

Quote from David duChemin

Working really hard to get an image only makes it a hard-earned image, not a compelling one. Shooting someone you dearly love makes it a photograph of someone you dearly love, not one that is necessarily well exposed, well composed, or otherwise emotive to anyone but you. Shooting a poor image of an exotic place or a man with a turban doesn’t make it a good photograph, just a lousy shot of a guy with a turban. Using a long lens and getting really, really close to a duck doesn’t make it a good photograph of a duck, just a really, really close one. What makes a good photograph is judged by other criteria entirely.

I like the "duck" bit!

Saturday, 29 May 2010

Anger management for beginners

It's been a funny old sort of week. A most unpleasant contretemps in the City Plaza car park in TKS started it off on a bad foot. Two local thugs threatened me and started shouting "White shit" after I asked one of them to "fie dee" after he had tried at least 3 times to park his Jag in a space big enough for a London bus (some poetic license perhaps). I have his car number so if anyone knows how to track the trash down I'd like to introduce him to some friends of mine in blue. The so-called "security" guards in the car park feigned interest but claimed the CCTV camera, which was pointing directly at the spot showed "nothing suspicious'. Three cheers for this gloriously non-racist society. My wife, who is god bless her, Chinese, suggested I call them yellow dogs but I am very fond of Golden retrievers and I felt this would be unkind to the GRs.

A couple of days off on Thursday and Friday. The same wife, for I am monogamous - one can after all have too much of a good thing - suggested I should rename "holiday" as "working from home"-day. I see her point. Still, it gave me a chance to potter a little, run the moth trap for a few hours each night, take some more photos with the Leica, take some difficult decisions about pensions and spend more quality time with Lulu. I needed some rest after barely sleeping for several night after the CP incident due to a mixture of shock and outrage that morons like this are allowed to walk free in civil society. His plate starts MD so I guess the M stands for Moron. D is probably for Dick-head.

I confess I am struggling with the Leica. Having only a 50mm lens (in itself costing roughly the GDP of one of the smaller PIIGS) I have to see things differently. I have immersed myself in all sorts of sites and books, reading about Cartier Bresson, Magnum and looking at some of the classic work of iconic photographers. I am captivated by black and white and thoroughly recommend Michael Freeman's Complete Guide to B&W Digital Photography, which I picked up in Waterstones on London Wall 10 days ago. I am also building a fair number of links to sites that give me comfort that being "crap" is but a milestone on the march of progress towards being "slightly less crap". Sort of an experienced crap photographer.

I'd like to recommend two other works. Many people know Satyajit Das as the author of Traders, Guns and Money. However he has also written a wonderful eco-traveller book called In Search of the Pangolin. I have read this twice. Firstly before I had met Das and again after having met him for breakfast in The Mandarin Oriental. Having done many similar trips I can confirm many of his experiences are familiar. The Amazon trailer says:

A pangolin is an obscure species of scaly anteater. Prehistoric in appearance, it is about the size of a cat with a long tail, and is covered in large yellowish-brown scales. "In Search of the Pangolin" is a unique potted travel narrative focused on eco-tourism, from the point of view of two eco-tourists, as they search for the beast over a period of 15 years. The book combines wicked humour with passionate and often poignant insights into the natural world and the culture, games and deception of conservation. The book's central focus is to provide insights into the world of eco-travel and eco-travellers. Outlining the grand spectacles and magnificence of the natural world that the traveller seeks out, and exploring the promise of eco-travel (furthering conservation and environmental awareness), the book also addresses the shallow reality (eco-travel is in fact another form of consumption and harms the world that it is seeking to preserve).

This really understates it and it is one of my favourite reads. And Das didn't pay me to say that!

And then another of my all-time must read authors, Simon Barnes. An amazing writer on both sport and natural history he has a growing list of wonderful works behind him. My favourite remains "Flying in the Face of Nature: Year in Minsmere Bird Reserve". However I think any person with a reasonable interest in natural history and especially those with a passion for it will emerge from "My Natural History" a happier person. I seem to have missed out on the diversion into recreational drugs that Barnes admits to but otherwise I did find myself feeling oddly in harmony with much of what he wrote. He is one of the people I would like to have round to dinner - maybe with Das at the same time. If Charlotte Uhlenbroek were free to join us I am sure it would be a wonderful evening.

If I may return to the Leica for a moment, I find myself looking at the images and wondering if it really merits its reputation. It is hard to put your finger on but there is a certain difference from the typical DSLR output. The colour seems to be purer, the images sharper without any processing, they have a sense of light and harmony that I don't sense in others. The images seem to float rather than be static. And they do convert wonderfully to black and white. It is probably a personal deception, trying to convince myself that somehow just handling the Leica will rub off some of that CB magic, the defining moment will find me (or I it) each time I sally forth on my strolls into Sai Kung. I read somewhere that Cartier Bresson claimed that he often walked 30-40km a day when working a location. I guess I walk about 3-4km. Maybe if I walked ten times as far my photos would be ten times better. But perhaps not.

By close of play Monday I will have taken a significant step on the road to retirement, moving my pensions in to a QROPS and hoping I can make better investment decisions than the existing bunch of trustees. Giving up a defined benefit pension seems mildly crazy but you only die once and I am now the age at which my paternal grandfather died and my father passed on at 65 so somehow I don't feel I'm giving up a lot. If I get to 70 I'll be turning metaphorical cartwheels in my wheelchair. Some days I feel I'll do well to make it through to sunrise. As my dear old Dad used to say, "see you in the morning..... if I'm spared". And of course, on October 22nd 1986, he wasn't. I fell out with religion that day and have never looked back since.

So there we are, not much on birds and bugs but a few metaphysical musings and some books to read. Today I was cheered up by discovering something called the Gutenburg Project, which allows you to download out of copyright books for free and I immediately downloaded some P G Wodehouse. If a younger reader passes by and thinks "who he?" just google for PGW quotes and discover such gems as:

"As for Gussie Finknottle, many an experienced undertaker would have been deceived by his appearance and started embalming on sight."

I also discovered that the swallows in the garage have young and in the hedge opposite a newly fledged Tree sparrow was being stuffed to the gunwales with caterpillars by a loving parent. Hey ho. The Yellow dogs can bark but they can't take the joys of the world away from us.

Your devoted scribe

White Shit.

Friday, 21 May 2010

On Sai Kung sea front yesterday most of the restaurants had these horseshoe crabs on "display". They really are amazing looking things. I believe they are Tachypleus tridentatus.

People were fascinated by them and I have to say they remind me of a childhood game called "Magic Robot". Who remembers this?

I had gone down to see if there were any terns still about but I drew blank. I did however see a Black-crowned night heron, the first I have seen here. The light was just amazing - crystal clear. Today, back to normal - very hazy. All I have seen this morning, apart from some butterflies in the garden, is a flock of 30+ egrets flying in the distance. The sun was glinting off them and it was like a moving pattern of frost on the windows. They circled for ages without landing before disappearing out of sight. They cant be far away.

One of our garden plants has been stripped back to the stalks and stems by caterpillars. This seems to annoy Mrs. Ha and the good old gardener has immediately offered to nuke the lot of them. Sensibly I was consulted before death and destruction was let loose on the poor things so they are still there, munching contentedly on what is left. This is clearly their only larval food plant in the garden as all other plants are untouched. I sense the word "organic" is not in the local dictionary.

The pollution in Hong Kong seems to be getting worse rather than better. Yours truly has been diagnosed as asthmatic and it is all down, it seems, to inhaling the local air. I have no choice as far as I know. Not breathing can have dangerous side effects so I have decided that in my next incarnation I shall come back as a horseshoe crab and if anybody asks me a question I shall swing my tail and point to the answer. Just like the magic robot. Happy days.