Sunday 27 November 2016

Train pics... in print and published online

So over the weekend, the combination of nice weather and steam trains running on the Worth Valley tempted me (Ben) out to the lineside with the camera.  The railway have started running their Santa Special trains, hence why "Big Jim" is covered with tinsel in the shot.  I'll do a bit more in a separate post, but anyway the pic was published online on the Railway Centre website in their 'Pic of the Day' feature.  I've had a few pics published online this way over the years; OK you don't get paid a fee for it, but it doesn't matter to me- I take these pictures because I like taking the pictures, and all they'd otherwise do is clutter up the hard drive.  The link is here, to the index of pics for November:

It did get me thinking about doing a blog post though.  We both do a lot of railway photography, myself especially.  Mainly because it is nice to be able  to do something with the resulting images, we send the better ones off to the railway magazines, but our work tends in a lot of cases to be a bit on the abstract side for the tastes of most editors.  Plus there always seems to be a few very prolific photographers who get the best locations and tend to get printed more often, so we don't get a vast amount of work published in the traditional 'print' mags against such competition.

   That being said, last week we happily received the news that I (Ben) had five of my images published in 'Railways Illustrated' over the last 12 months.  I'd spotted three of them, but typically the issues where two of the others had been featured had, by the process of Sods Law, come out at a point where I'd missed looking.  

'Railways Illustrated' was the mag which published my first ever photo, this shot of a Deltic on the Keighley and Worth Valley Railway; establishing the usual 'form' of my pics, I took this low-angle shot hanging out of a tree halfway along a badly overgrown footpath to nowhere.  It was an amazing feeling to see one of my pics actually in print in a mainstream magazine, and since then, it is the publication with which I've had the most success since. 

   So what have we got in this recent batch?  Well first up is this shot from Hirst Wood, in Bingley (November 2015 issue)- I was on a walk out with The Childs in 2015 and was in the right place at the right time; I've only ever seen a couple of other photographers knocking around this location, so I tend to get it pretty much to myself when I want to, but with the Settle-Carlisle shut to through-traffic at the moment due to a landslide there isn't a lot worth photographing right now.

   Moving on, to my slight surprise we have a shot from the Keighley and Worth Valley Railway (June 2016 issue).  Surprising because it is abstract, and a lot of the magazines don't really go in for this sort of thing, Surprising secondly because the Worth Valley has a dedicated band of established photographers who seem to be there all the time, and would appear to have the market in these pics pretty much sewn up.  Certainly since the Deltic shot I've not managed a KWVR pic in print, and on the rare occasions where I've managed to find some unusual locations on the railway and have had pics published online, these new spots tend to get a ton of photographers any following gala.  At least two I've spoken to have commented that they saw the locations in my pics and thought they'd have a go, which is a tad annoying but then this is a five-mile railway with limited pubic access, and which has been open since the 1960's, so its hardly surprising every angle has been found and staked-out by the veterans.  So it was nice to see that my lazy (in that it was shot very close to home) shot of my favourite loco, "Big Jim" got into print.

I've already put about this on the Facebook page, but here we are with a shot from the Aln Valley Railway taken over the summer (published in the October 2016 issue)- I was a little surprised at this one getting in; the subject matter is a tad unusual (the railway station is a marvelous new-build on a brownfield site, and the loco is an industrial shunter which is a copy of a 'mainline' class, so unusual enough to attract the interest of the mags), but this was the most bog-standard of the angles I took all day, and was just a snap I thought I'd include for the sake of it, not an image I was particularly in love with.

   Fast forward a bit, and this month I managed to get two shots from the Middleton Railway Diesel Gala into print too (in the December 2016 issue).  A 'standard' shot of the LMS Diesel shunter "John Alcock" parked up at Middleton...

...and a ridiculously low-angle shot taken near Park Halt.  A few of my fellow photographer friends like to comment that I take angles which are far too low, so it was pleasant to see that they'd used this one.  Worth repeating that this wasn't a trespass shot- the line is unfenced, tramway-style, at this location, and I was safely out of the movement-envelope of the passing train.

   Another thing worth mentioning is the choice in photographs- I sent them in to the mags, in amongst larger batches of images, but none of the shots were my own favourites from each of the days, and in fact were all shots I wasn't that sure about... which just goes to prove how tricky it is trying to guess what the editors will like or not.  I'm grateful certainly to have them in print though, and will keep sending in pics on the off chance.

   Finally, getting pics in print is nice (as it comes with financial reward) but I mainly send them off to an online mag, Railtalk, the editor of which I've known for a few years.  A lot of photographers send in their images; I'm happy to get the pics seen here than just cluttering up my computer, and the team behind Railtalk put a lot of effort into getting the work out there.  We have some pics in this months, and its free to view if anyone is interested:

Next time, either Birmingham, or some info on a commissioned shoot at City Hall in Bradford...

Monday 21 November 2016

Half Term... Fireworks Finale

So after the last couple of very, very wordy blogs, lets end the Half Term updates with some pretty pictures of Fireworks.

Given how awful the weather was during the day on Saturday, it was nice that the dry (if overcast) nights provided a little more opportunity for shooting pics, and happily the caravan site we were stopping on was hosting a firework display for the last weekend of the Half Term.  It has been a little while since either of us have done any firework pics, but no matter.  We also decided to leave the new SLR behind and just use the D90 given the risk of jostling and dropping into the mud…

So that was that then- a somewhat action-packed Half Term, and our last shoots in Wales of 2016.  Up next, either a trip to Birmingham or our shoot at the City Hall in Bradford, probably...

Sunday 20 November 2016

Half Term... Inflatable toys, in the dark, on the beach...

Right, onto my (Bens) main project of the holiday, and shooting some pics for the ongoing "Inflate-Deflate" series.  To briefly recap, this is an experimental series shot using inflatable toys as the subject matter, which derived from a studio shoot project at Uni, and developed into the main project as seen below:

I wanted to try (amongst various experiments) a shoot outdoors, and did a few 'daylight' practises with multiple exposures back in the late 2000's, on a riverbank in West Yorkshire (as I didn't have chance with work at the time to hit the coast, and just wanted to try the idea out):

Anyway I wanted to combine the outdoor location idea with the original 'backlit, black background' idea, so after the many setbacks with trying to shoot the pics at the location of the Dalek shoot, down at the coast between Harlech and Shell Island (as mentioned in the previous post), I turned this time back to a location recce’d for “The Home Is…” about three years ago, near Abersoch. 

On that occasion we got chased off by a chap with a big dog on the public footpath, who seemed to object to members of the public, especially tourists, on his patch.  The above shot is as close to a pic from that recce as we managed in the end, from about a mile west along the shore.  This time, I would be parking up in a lane near where a bit of rock pokes out as the headland where the arrow is pointing.  Maybe the dog walker was upset we might do something with his giant arrow which was hovering menacingly over the beach.

A benefit of the night’s drawing-in during the October half term is that it is dark nice and early (duh), and if I could get shooting soon I’d have a few hours to get the pics done.  It would mean no possibility of doing a preliminary test shoot and return visit which I’d have preferred, so I’d have to wing it, but early signs were good; no traffic, nobody else parked up near the lane, no mad dog walkers, or indeed doggers, and the rain stopped.

Unfortunately arrival on the beach showed the tide was in.  I’d have about six square feet of shingle at the bottom of the ramp.  Again, no matter; after a lot of frustration getting to this point, a giant Kraken flailing around wouldn’t have put me off.  I figured that by the time I’d set up, the tide would be heading out with a bit of luck. 

Not for the first time that night I pondered on my perennial thought of what the Normal People were doing at that point; non-artists who would be sat at home with loved ones, maybe having a drink, watching telly, or out at the pub or cinema or clubbing or something… not stood on a cold, dark, deserted bit of beach in North Wales trying to set up a camera in the pitch black, using only a fading red-LED torch to try and preserve some semblance of night vision, with hands too cold to work properly.  Smug non-arty Normal People.

Of course, a problem with this shoot, after such a length of time, is that one forgets the practicalities.  The previous shoots, done indoors, are quite relaxed affairs, crucially undertaken with access to Radio 4 and endless cups of tea.  Even the large-scale outdoor shoots usually mean an assistant/model to help set up, or be mugged into blowing the toys up at least.  Using the world’s smallest, and apparently worst quality air pump to inflate toys, standing at a 35-degree angle on a concrete ramp above the sea in the dark and the cold, soon proves irritating and back-breaking.  The discovery that the new-out-of-the-packet inflatable toy your using has been helpfully damaged by someone (in the factory or shop) who thought it would be apparently hysterical to stab lots of pin-holes in it, which you only discover when it won’t stay inflated and have no spare of that toy, only adds an extra note of wonder to proceedings.  As does the discovery that the beach might be empty of humans, but contains all manner of slimy, jumping many-legged insects which swarm horribly over any source of light.  That particular sort of thing might please Chris Packham and Autumn Watch, but I was less than amused.

Setting the exposure times needed a bit of experimenting... too short above...

...and too long this time.

And then of course the lights were visible underneath too.

The first shoots on the ramp though showed promise, so out came more inflatables, and as the tide receded, more locations were opened up- actual sand!  Rock pools!  And a surprising (for a British beach) lack of too much rubbish, dog poo, or dead jellyfish.  Or indeed giant Kraken flailing around.

At this stage I should probably go some way to mention the ‘concept’ (as a lecturer once instilled in me the belief that there should always be a message or story to justify an image… apparently just making a pretty picture isn’t enough).  The whole concept of the “Inflate/Deflate” series is to try and create unusual and eye-catching images, deliberately using what are colourful but ultimately disposable inflatable toys as the subject matter.  Exploring the ‘disposable’ angle, a previous shoot had toys burst and deflating, another with a model actually in the act of destroying them.  For this shoot I reckoned  I’d explore the idea that these toys either washed up on the beach after being lost, or were just abandoned when people cleared off at the end of the day.  A fair few times over the years I’ve seen people just abandon summer toys they cannot be bothered to take with them, so it seemed a logical jumping-off point for the shoot. 

Actually it brings me onto another problem, which I only noticed when I made the mistake of getting rid of a lot of the early props used in the mid-2000’s and had to buy new toys for the reshoots in 2012… modern toys are crap.  Due to a change in legislation about the manufacture of plastics (apparently) stuff like inflatables have to be made from a thicker, harder plastic (which is paradoxically less flexible), so consequently new toys are smaller, more expensive, and more brittle and pop easier.  Added to that a wonderful culture of suing people, and they are now covered in a distracting and bewildering array of warning labels, which slightly ruin photographs. 

I mean seriously, who apart from clowns stand balancing on beach balls?  And why would a clown be wearing ladies flats to do so?  Must be some very odd circuses about, and certainly in more numerous quantities than I’d have guessed to require a specific label on every toy...

So given all that, I ended up using, and reusing, such surviving older toys as I had left in the props cupboard so often because of this that of the two-dozen toys bought along for this beach shoot, four had slow punctures and one popped outright whilst it was being inflated, which dented my humour even more than if the aforementioned Giant Kraken had accidentally been summoned by the light of the torches.

On which note (the popping toys, not the Kraken), this ball is something of a keynote toy for the project- in fact I think it might be the oldest photo prop of any description I have, certainly the most-used, having been featured in the first exhibited show of “Inflate/Deflate”, then all three incarnations of “Happygoth”:

... and also the ‘travel poster’ shoots for the Model Village, and even lent to three other photographers for use in their shoots (as well as each version of “Inflate/Deflate” shot since).  Which all does indicate that I ought to grow up, stop doing photography projects with toys, and become a serious reportage journalist (if only I could master shooting in greyscale…). 

What all this use does unfortunately mean is that nothing lasts forever, and after having been inflated and deflated dozens of times, sat on by a variety of models, stood on, laid on, bounced on, kicked, thumped, thrown into bushes and trees, dropped onto shingle, stabbed with spiky jewellery, exposed to red-hot studio lights and on at least one occasion had a model poke it repeatedly with a rock to try and deflate it quicker, the ball leaks like a sieve and won’t stay inflated.  But I was determined to get at least one picture using it in this shoot before it gets binned, so as many puncture-repair patches as I could find were applied, and shots hastily done.

As that toy died, tt was time now to break out a few different inflatables, and try something which would need more than one light to illuminate it: 

The lilo is another ancient prop, featuring in the first expanded version of the project in 2007 (one of the toys bought in the mass, cheapo purchase from a closing-down seaside shop which enabled so many toys to be acquired).

I thought I'd try lighting more of the scene, using a torch to pick out more of the shingle, but didn't like the effect.  I did feel however that it needed something else, so added a similar-coloured beach ball:

This seemed to work a bit better, so I also took a few shots of the ball on its own:

This sort-of worked, but a slight breeze picked up and so a lot of the shots were spoiled by the toy 'blurring' as the wind moved it around.

One pic I’d thought of a while ago was to have a number of inflatable rings arranged on the beach, and by this time the tide had retreated enough for some nice reflection shots. 

The first attempt was, again, a little too dark.

A slightly longer exposure gave a better picture, and so I added a few more:

This was definitely getting more abstractedly away from the initial concept of abandoned, washed-up inflatables, but worth a go, I reckoned.  I liked the reflection effect on the wet sand, so I picked the nice green striped ring and shot a few pics with it:

The big rainbow-striped ball used in the initial shot was recovered from where it had rolled to whilst deflating, was hastily refilled, and then used in the same spot before it too died completely:

At this point I decided to inflate whatever was left and stay longer than planned on the location, given the weather was holding.  This was a pack of three matching toys picked up for a couple of quid at a Toys R Us when I was in buying some bits for Textiles at work:

I used the same spot then for this shot:

Though it was a little trickier to light evenly, whilst keeping the torches hidden.

Again, this was another much-used toy, featuring in the daylight underwater shots tried a couple of years ago.  Interesting how some of these toys survive much use and abuse, a thought which occurred at this point as this was when one of the toys exploded utterly in a slightly nerve-shredding bang in the otherwise silent night.  It did lead however (once the annoyance had worn off) to a further idea, of getting weird light effects from the punctured and deflating toys.

I simply put the exploded beach ball over the lights, and I quite liked the effect... I nipped back up the beach to where the various toys which had punctures had been thrown to deflate.  The 'Happygoth' beach ball, the rainbow-striped ball from the first shot, and a pink swim ring.  I added the blue ring (which was intact) to try and balance the shot a bit.  This pic, whilst crowded with multiple toys, is close to the 'abandoned toys' idea at least.

By now the tide had gone out considerably (indeed I was getting knackered chasing back and forth to the water’s edge for the swim ring shoots) and it was getting close to knocking off and going home time, however the falling tide had exposed some rock pools.  I wanted to try some reflection shots, and this seemed a good opportunity without having the inflatables floating away before I could get the shots if they were right on the edge of the sea.

I used three small beach balls, the last remaining ones of the dozen or so of this design bought for one of the studio shoots:

It did however  reveal a problem; they were floating around too much and blurring on the water.  Putting the lights in sealed-up freezer bags and taping them to the toys helped anchor it all, but another effect was a slight fuzziness on the camera lens, unnoticed at the time. 

I reckon in hindsight it was either fine misting salt-spray on the lens, or maybe condensation.  After four hours of shooting pics in the cold I was stopping noticing the little details.  If the giant Kraken we’ve all heard so much about had surfaced behind me, I doubt I’d have noticed or cared.

Appropriately the last shoot of the night was a set on the rock pools with the old, transparent "Happygoth" ball, which was hastily re-patched and re-inflated, though it can be noticeably seen to be deflating over the course of the dozen-or-so shots I took. 

One problem is that the lights were too obvious to start with...

By the time I managed to sort that, the various punctures meant the ball was looking a bit flat and worse for wear, but I did quite like this shot:

This also ended the shoot for the night, as when trying to reposition it I managed to rip yet another hole in the toy on a sharp bit of rock, and had no more patches to mend it.  Shame really, but it may yet be repairable for a future shoot.

Tired but happy with the results, I then spent an annoying twenty minutes trying to deflate the rest of the toys and pack up; in the past I might have just popped and binned the lot, but the aforementioned comments about the poor quality of anything I’d buy as replacements meant I felt inclined to keep them this time, even the already damaged toys which might need to be patched up for reshoots.  And again, it would be easier with an assistant or model to help with this annoying stage, and also cleaning sand and small jumping slimy sand-creatures, off lights and kit but hey-ho.  Back to the car, and a slightly spooky encounter with an Army Landy full of troops on an otherwise deserted, fog-shrouded road aside (maybe Kraken hunting- alright I’ll stop now, it was a long night), it was an uneventful run back for tea and medals.  Or whiskey and bed, to be more precise.

So that was the shoot; I’m actually terribly happy with how it all turned out, whilst at the same time being annoyed with how many toys got damaged which disrupted certain shots.  I also would love to do a reshoot with some better props (rather than this hastily-thrown-together set- sods law was that when I got home I found the box with the better-quality toys in, buried in a cupboard), but that will realistically need to wait until next year, but at least it has shown a possible way forward for the project…