Monday, July 30, 2007

It's infra-red, but not as I knew it...

I've tried this before. Infra-red photography intrigues me; the chance to turn the familiar and cliched into the strange and interesting is intoxicating. But it never works out. I've followed tutorials to the letter, I've tried playing about just about every button (even the ones I don't understand!) in Adobe Lightroom but nothing ever looked anything like the sort of stuff that I saw on the internet. I was in Kinvara, in North Clare over the weekend, and the shots I got finally looked at least a little bit like those I've seen before. Here's a couple:

Tent and Car

Three Walls

Two Windows

IR House

Ignore the hot-spots - I desperately need a wide-angle lens that doesn't do this, the 18-55mm kit lens is notorious for the blue spots in some of the pictures.

While infra-red is fun, especially when the results come out the way you wanted them, I wonder if it could make me a bit lazy. I don't have 'normal' versions of any of these pictures but I would imagine they would be somewhat underwhelming. The trippy and interesting colours take the focus, and to my eye anyway they take it at the expense of the usual things that draw one into a photo. It's fun, but I doubt it'll ever be more than a novelty for me.

I didn't just take infra-red photos, there was a pretty astonishing sunset that evening - the upshot of the crazy weather we've had recently. One of these days I'm going to stop myself taking pictures of sunsets on beaches, but the quality of the results compared to the rest of my stuff makes it too tempting to stop just yet...

Sunset (2 of 3)

Sunset (1 of 3)

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Galway Street Performance

I've blogged recently bemoaning my lack of ability to take pictures of people, so I won't go into that again in detail but there was an observation I wanted to get off my chest and I guess here's the place...

Every year Galway, normally a vibrant, fun town, goes just a little bit more mental. For two weeks at the end of July the city is host to what is probably Ireland's best Arts Festival. Galway is perfect for this; art has always pervaded the culture and the spirit of the place, and its regular citizens, blow-ins and tourists alike embrace and enjoy this spirit - indeed, it makes Galway what it is. (something I'd like to talk about one day, but not here)

Galway puts on a splendid show: besides the organised events, the main street in Galway, Shop Street, is host to an astonishing density of buskers and street entertainers for the two weeks (at the best of times one is never more than 20 or 30 feet from a busker, but this distance probably halves for the duration of the Arts Festival. The quality ranges from the mundane to the inspired, but even the most uninteresting of the entertainers add to the incredible atmosphere you can't help but notice walking down the street. It's easy to lose yourself in it, and think you are in Paris or London, in the middle of a teeming metropolis rather than the reality, which is a small town of sixty thousand people - the last outpost of 'civilisation' in Western Europe.

Anyway, I had a point here somewhere, and I'll strive to return to it. Shop Street for the couple of weeks of the Arts Festival would be a haven for somebody interested in candid people photography. Even me, with my stunted ability for whatever reason, can at least try - taking pictures of strangers bothers and scares me greatly, less so buskers on the street, and much less so again people like the one in the photos below. There's something about face paint or a costume, that puts a great barrier between the photographer and its subject. Probably a pain for somebody more skilled or brave, for me it allows a welcome disassociation and allows me to take a photo without thinking that this is a real person who may be guarded about their image or privacy.

When somebody's very act is visual, it's much easier to take photos. Even with a musician, while obviously I wouldn't be afraid to listen to their act, I would still feel slightly uncomfortable taking their photo because they have not explicitly put their image, just their music in the spotlight. People dressed up, such as human statues, or other visual art, such as dancers or jugglers, invite pictures as much as they invite you to look. This is great for me. While the pictures below (yes, this rant will end soon, and their will be pictures!) aren't amazing - they don't show anything extra-ordinary or great emotion, they at least allow me to practise ,without fear, the techniques of portrait photography. So amen to that.


Conical Hat

Move along there!


Monday, July 16, 2007

It's a funny old game...

...This photography stuff. You can get up at dawn, take a taxi across town and spend about two hours in the freezing cold just to take photos as part of a carefully executed plan and end up with nothing; you can walk or hike for hours and come away with photos that are infinitely underwhelming. Or, you can be eating a nice meal in a restaurant, go out the back door for a cigarette, and take some of your favourite photos of the year:

Surfer in Portrait

I like to think that my photography isn't pure serendipity; that order, reason and skill take precedence over blind luck - but this is a position that I find increasingly hard to defend when I have moments like this (I'm not being vain or anything - I don't think these photos contain the work of a genius or anything remotely close, I just happen to be personally proud of them)

Lahinch Surfer - again

They also illustrate to me how much the weather controls my photography, of my main interest, landscapes, at least. This is of course part of luck, and somewhat frustrating. For somebody like me at least, who unfortunately doesn't have the skill to take good landscape photo in the most seemingly drab conditions, it makes planning photo outings - the most enjoyable way of taking photos that I like - something of a hit-and-miss affair.

Fiery Skies

Oh well, I suppose I'll have to learn to live with it - there are of course things I can do to increase my chances of success. One lesson which I have certainly learned by this is that I should carry my camera everywhere, and a tripod if possible (these images are slightly blurry because they were handheld at a very long focal length) It is also gratifying to think that there was at least some skill involved; I didn't have to take the pictures the way they are - that bit at least wasn't pure luck. A healthy dose of each is needed, but I'm beginning to think that the luck factor is of more importance than I previously thought.

Lahinch Sunset-3

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Spanish Point

Spanish Point is becoming a bit of a regular photography subject for me, but it's got more to do with the ease of getting there than the landscape itself. This time I was there for the hilariously titled "Willie Week", a week-long festival of traditional Irish music and hard drinking. It's OK, but it definitely doesn't get my heart racing. Here's a couple that I took earlier in the week:

Sun Peeking Through

Spanish Point


And that was that. I'm starting to realise that there is something really obviously lacking in my photos, and that is people. I have a massive problem taking pictures of people; they always seem to come out wrong, no matter how hard I try. Taking landscapes is easy - I can experiment with different settings and take a lot of pictures of the same scene, especially with digital.

As I become more picky about the quality of light and time of day I take these pictures, that time is shrinking but it's still aeons compared to just one or two chances you get with a portrait. For some reason I find it incredibly hard. Just having one or two goes to take a pictures isn't enough for me yet, and I've got a bad feeling it's going to be a long time before it is. I've read at least as much, if not more about portrait photography as I have about landscape in an attempt to rectify my problem, and while I can (I think) see my landscape stuff going on at least a slow upward curve, the same is not true for the former.

This didn't really bother me up until now. I didn't want to photograph people; our beauty is nothing compared to nature's, for me at least. But I'm starting to realise that pictures need something - something to draw people to, with which they can relate to, and that in many cases is other people; so many of the famous photographs that my limited knowledge is aware of contain people's faces, expressions of joy, sorrow and anger are universal and will nine times out of ten affect us as a viewer so much more than a beautiful but vacant landscape scene.

Maybe someday it'll come, or maybe someday it won't. Perhaps I'll always photograph nature and stay away from people. And I might be happy - and get over this current disappointment. There's something a bit galling about looking back on years of photography in the future and not having one nice picture of people I know!

Monday, July 09, 2007

Salthill Airshow 2007

It's been a while since this has happened but it was definitely one of my favourite photography outings of the year, with probably the best haul of decent photos in one day I've ever had. - I probably wouldn't have enjoyed if it wasn't for the opportunity to take photos, not for moral reasons or anything like that, it's just that the spectacle seemed surprisingly mundane despite the best efforts of the obviously talented performers. Even though I've always been delighted by such things as planes and other boy-in-man's-body sort of stuff, I found myself strangely bored and unmoved by the display. Still though, taking photos was hugely enjoyable; another re-affirmation of the reasons why I photograph and why I'm continually interested and enjoy it. (Well that sentence was a bit of a meal, wasn't it?)
I was worried about the performance of my humble camera - I've tried to take pictures of fast-moving subjects in the air before this (mainly birds), and to say that the results were underwhelming would be a massive understatement - I've never got a decent picture of a bird in flight, a type of photo I mistakingly thought I would be churning out on a regular basis when I first bought by DSLR. However, I experimented a bit with the settings on the camera and using a combination of 'closest subject' focus, and continual rather than servo focus mode I managed to catch the planes flying by more often than not.

And that was probably the most technical sentence I'll ever write, long-winded and badly structured as it was.

The event itself could have been a photography nightmare; constantly changing light, thunderous downpours and drab, cloudy skies could have ruined both my photos and more importantly, my camera. Luckily there were periods of sun in between the waves of rain, and having dramatic clouds rather than a clear blue sky actually helped matters rather than hinder. As I wrote above, I was immensely happy with my crop of photos, and here they are:


The Blades

Thunderbirds are Go!