Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Old School

Your genial host Snaarman has gone all old school. 

I just bought a five megapixel pro grade camera, the Olympus E-1. This would have set you back £1200 when new but the megapixel race has left it far behind and you can buy them for well under £200 these days.

The E-1 is built like a tank, comes fully weather sealed with full aluminium construction and a lovely whisper quiet shutter. However, is it any good? Surely 5 Mpixels is almost useless in the current day and age. I do have some excellent Zuiko lenses to ensure all of those pixels are well used.

So, here are some early examples from this venerable war horse.

As always, click on any picture to see the 800 x 600 uploaded version.

Tuesday, 30 August 2011

These things

Apparently, according to a news item today, we are due to see more of these things. Electricity pylons* already march across the landscape in the most photogenic places, but they are planning newer larger versions..

When I find them all I see is lots of work in Photoshop, or else I see a lost photo opportunity. They are an essential part of modern powered society, but they are also ugly. I would rather see wind turbines than these things. 

I do include them in pictures if I think I can remove them later, but it's always a lot of work.

*Strictly we should call them Transmission Towers, the pylons are part of the towers. See: An educational post today.

Monday, 29 August 2011

Yes exactly

There is a little tea shop across town from us. It's in a kind of portacabin and does not posses delusions of grandeur. However they feel moved to put up signs like the one below all over the place

Perhaps they have been scarred by some previous experience.

Are they justified? It comes as a surprise to have phones banned in such a forceful way. 

Well, I would tend to say that they are. People do seem to leave their phone on and armed in all sorts of inappropriate places. Quite apart from the wretched ring tone in the Theatre, I find the same distraction happens regularly during Sunday services at church. Interrupting a conversation in a tea shop with your phone is bad enough, but interrupting God...

Sunday, 28 August 2011

Music 2

Here is the second of Snaarman's quick guides to music.

Previously we mentioned Folk, Blues and Busking, and made some useful observations about Violins. Today we deal with people who play music indoors and in the dark, and firstly we feature Rock Bands.

The Rock Band can usually be spotted somewhere dark and loud. Very loud, in fact so loud you can't hear the lyrics clearly. Don't worry, this is intentional. Smoke and lights are also an essential part of the experience. 

Have a look around the audience and try to find the sound mixer. This is a good place to stand, if it sounds OK for him it might just sound ok for you.

Now  we move on to Pub Bands. A band in a pub have the same ambitions as the rock band on stage. They would like everyone in the building to be deafened, and in this they can usually succeed. When you half fill a small pub with amplifiers and speakers the remaining space can be battered with sound quite easily. 

Despite the proximity, you still won't be able to hear the lyrics. Once again, this is normal.

Finally we have the String Quartet. While you may find them on stage they are very rarely found in pubs. Once again you will not be able to hear the lyrics, but in this case there are none. 

If you see a group of musicians and are unsure if they are a String Quartet or a Rock Band, look for music stands. Rock bands never use sheet music*.

Next in this series I will tackle the knotty problem of Jazz.

*Amateur musicians don't usually have sheet music. They mostly don't read music. Professional musicians have sheet music as a badge of authority to mark them out from the amateurs. 

Top professionals however don't use sheet music. This is also a badge of authority. This says "I can read music but I know the piece so well I don't need it"

(The bands featured above: Mark700, Duvet, The Kane Quartet)

Saturday, 27 August 2011

Crop ready

Sounds like a folk festival. No, it's a field of wheat waiting its turn with the combine harvester. In this case I have given the picture the Orton treatment to sprinkle some magic dust on an otherwise conventional scene.

I also narrowed the depth of field with a layers and layer mask trick that I've used before to focus attention on the cereal crop.

Friday, 26 August 2011

Even Less

On the theory that less is more, here is a picture with even less. 

In a moment of clarity I realise that this is the elusive Unit 4 on our trading estate. It seems to be this large, black, windowless shed. I've never seen anyone go in there. 

It's all a bit of a mystery.

Thursday, 25 August 2011


Battling it out in the skies over Hampshire yesterday were G-RAIR and G-ZENN. In fact this particular thermal was home to ten gliders for a short time. There has been some sort of national championship going on.

Well, it proves to be impossible to get an arty picture of ten gliders because they spread themselves out so much, so I concentrated on these two. As far as composition goes, that's more a matter of timing than anything else...

However I do maintain that the hint of cloud in the corner makes this picture. Two gliders on a plain blue background is a great deal less satisfying.

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Keeping an eye

It's hard work keeping an eye on proceedings. There's the lady with the dog to watch, the postman to observe. Sometimes it rains. The man comes with the little red tractor to tidy the exercise yard.

I don't mind being stuck indoors, watching the world go by, but it's nice to get out now and then.

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Harvest Monsters

I finally managed to catch one of the local combine harvesters in action. Monsters like this Lexion 600 (at one time this was the most powerful combine in the world apparently) can cut nine meters at a pass and move at a brisk walking pace. The corn lorry has its job cut out keeping up with the process.

Another sign of the times is the process that occurs at the blunt end of the combine, where I noticed a larger than normal cloud of dust and chaff.

In years gone by farmers would simply burn the straw (which is now illegal) or bale it for bedding. Straw is not very valuable and these days it is often not worth baling and moving. This combine has a straw chopper and spreader in the rear, so there is no sign of a swath behind the machine. 

There is nothing to collect, burn or bale. In fact the straw will get ploughed back into the ground as added nutrient for next year.

Monday, 22 August 2011


Here is Snaaman's quick guide to music. 

Look no further because you will find all you need on these humble pages.

We start with Folk.

You can spot Folk musicians by their earnest and determined look. This genre deals with relationships, loss, separation (and the Navy if the lyrics mention ropes or heave away). The songs tend to be a tad depressing.

They sometimes sing with one finger in their ear and use strange language (if you hear Eng-er-land in association with Rolling Main, then you are probably listening to folk music). If you wish to make Folk louder then you ask the audience to join in because amplifiers are not encouraged by purists.

Folk music often brings with it  Morris Dancing. Be aware that this in turn involves Beer and Beards.


The first thing to realise is that Blues and Folk are not the same thing. Blues is nothing to do with Jazz because it uses a simple tune repeated all through the song whereas Jazz generally dispenses with both tune and lyrics. 

Blues songs are not inherently depressing but they concern themselves with relationships, loss, separation and anger. Blues can be made louder by shouting, but more often amplifiers are used.


This is a mysterious pursuit of musicians. They seem to be content to stand outside retail outlets playing and singing for free. Passers by do contribute coins, but this surely cannot be construed as a regular income. Even when no coins are offered, they still play on. A wide variety of music is used for busking, including Folk and Blues discussed above. Some occasionally even play violin music. There are no recorded cases of successful busking with Jazz.


The Violin features in Folk music, in which case it is called a Fiddle. You may spot a Violin associated with a Blues song, but this is actually called Country Music. Professional violinists may be seen on street corners busking.

You make violin music louder by adding more violins, but note: If you see more than three violins then this is probably an orchestra playing classical music. If you had come expecting Folk or Blues, then now is a good time to leave.

Next, the darker side of music.

Sunday, 21 August 2011


One of the benefits of the Olympus camera range is the splendid Zuiko lenses. In this case I think their lenses are better than their DSLR camera bodies, but that's fine. I would rather have a sharp lens on a slow body than poor glass any time.

Here's a shot from their excellent 50mm f2 macro lens. So this works out looking like a 100mm short telephoto on old fashioned 35mm film. Does this shot seem reasonably sharp?

Well here's the truth. That is an unprocessed 100% crop from one corner of the original 10Mpixel shot below. That changes things. I tell you, this is one sharp lens, even Dpreview spoke of it as "close to perfect as you can get".

So, lenses are always a bit soft in the corners?? Hmm. Try a good Zuiko :-)

PS, this shot has been posted before, but I thought I would revisit the subjact with a full size crop as well..

Saturday, 20 August 2011

Half Cut

The recent rain brought the harvest to a temporary halt, and for a moment you could see fields lying half cut all around the village. You can't work when the soil is wet, the combine harvesters prefer firm ground. If the crop has too much moisture it may germinate in storage which is also a bad idea.

With this picture I was looking for the right lighting, the combination of three colours and  of course, the shapes left by the combine.

This enforced pause won't last long. As soon as the moisture has subsided the big machines will be back.

Here's a panorama of the valley near the village one morning. The graceful lines of straw left by the harvester serve to emphasis the sweep of the ground. Click for larger version...

Friday, 19 August 2011


Well, we certainly had rain yesterday. There was a long weather front running up the south of England like a finger, so that Dorset, Hampshire and Berkshire had hours of continuous rain. The front came past us lengthwise rather than sideways so one part of the country received all the rain, everywhere else just had cloud or sunshine.

Clearly the clouds were moving past briskly all the time, so perhaps it's a comfort to know that it isn't the same rain hour by hour, it's new rain.

Thursday, 18 August 2011

Adding up

Hands up if you remember and used the humble Slide Rule. 

Yes, I thought so...

Well in years gone by I used to use the unusual rotary slide rule pictured below to carry out my engineering calculations at college. It seems such a prehistoric method of calculation, vague and mechanical. Well let me tell you, this was a whole lot better than using the despised book of Log Tables.

You did need to think about your calculation a great deal however. The slide rule would point to six and a bit. Now you had to ask yourself, is that six point two, sixty two or six thousand two hundred? The Slide rule would give you no hints, you had to work out a rough result in your head and refine it with the slide rule.

Just think how it would be if calculators operated on similar principles these days...

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Hot Metal

If you want to photograph a car and make it look good, then I say you should wait until dusk. There's something about the colours and reflection of the sky on paintwork that shows off the shapes and curves particularly well.

Here's an example from last year. We took the big Merc SL500 to a corn field on the top of a hill one evening. There were no buildings or trees nearby so wall to wall sky shows off the shape quite well. 

I suspect a clear sky would have worked more effectively, however the clouds add a certain drama.

Here is another (rather humble) subject photographed against a cloud free sky at dusk. Here the gentle graduation of sky colours work their wonders on the painted steel. In this case I was lazy and left the car near the local trees, which add and subtract from the image in my opinion.

Reflections of trees and buildings do give important visual cues in these circumstances, but they can also be distracting.

Tuesday, 16 August 2011


Oh dear - I've been playing with Blog Labels and this previous post ended up here, dated today. Its a mystery. Look on it as a little bonus...

One of the joys of taking up a new discipline is the opportunity and the need to learn new specialised terms. This means you have become a member of the club. You can now use these words to confuse your friends or impress your clients.

There are plenty of strange words in the science (or art) of lighting. I now casually drop terms such as Key, Fill, Kicker, Barn Door, and Separation into conversations to the consternation of those around me.

So, here is another strange term: Snoot. I suspect this is actually derived from snout. Anyway, it is a tubular item added to a light to direct its output and reduce Spill or increase Separation.

In this case the primary or Key light is the only source. It's an overhead flash fitted with an expensive custom Snoot* used to highlight the subject and leave the rest of the scene unlit. The interior of this snoot is silvered which gives a characteristic ring and  falloff to the projected light.

*OK. It's an empty Pringles Tube....

Stockbridge Bear

Here we are in Stockbridge, near Andover. A small, ancient and perfectly formed little market town. It is home to many a Gallery and sports shop, plus several pubs and hotels. It used to be plagued by the main A30 traffic passing through but that is now carried on the A303, so the pace of life has slowed somewhat.

I suspect you need to be well heeled to buy a house amongst the fly fishing community... However if you do pop in, try to visit Houghton Lodge nearby. A very pleasing prospect..

Spotted: This excellent bear, almost 5 feet tall, stands guard outside a fishing tackle shop...

Monday, 15 August 2011

Patterns Three

So, to continue the story: After a couple of years with the Olympus 8080 (a very nice camera actually) I decided I needed something faster, with a removeable lens. Clearly this argument is heading me towards a DSLR, but they were all so big, heavy and expensive. 

It was just about this time that Olympus brought out the E400, billed as the smallest DSLR in the world. Here was a worthy candidate at last. I bought mine with two kit lenses and set about finding its capabilities and its weaknesses.

Some more patterns and shapes images for you, taken with the E400.

This set up produced nicer pictures than any of my previous digital cameras. The lenses were really not bad at all, and the pictures were clean and sharp and not afflicted by noise. It was only when I traded up to my current camera and lens set that I realised just how good Olympus kit lenses are. Their semi-pro glass is better, but the kit lens pair are already so good that the difference is not enormous.

This is a ten megapixel camera, and this is where the law of diminishing returns applies. The difference between an 8Mp camera and a 12Mp camera is barely visible. If you want to double the spatial resolution you need to get a new pixel jammed in between each of your curent pixels. This means you need twice as many pixels horizontally and vertically. This, to make the change really noticable you need to change from 8Mp to 32Mp...

That's a thought to consider, eh?

The old* Olympus E400 and it's kit lenses.
*I wonder if it will ever be called a classic?

Sunday, 14 August 2011

Patterns Two

Well here we are a year later, in another place with another camera. I sold the Fuji and jumped to eight megapixels after reading the reviews of the Olympus C8080. 

What a great camera: It was made from aluminium alloy, not plastic, with a really classy wide zoom lens. The tiny rear screen could tilt, it had buttons all over it. This was certainly a better picture taking tool than that Fuji. In general the image quality was now up there with my old slides.

That's the rear bar in a smart Cotswold pub, it's ceiling covered in a collection of tankards. I used this Olympus for a couple of years and was well pleased with it.

I have to admit that indoor shots like that one above were sometimes more noisy than I would like. The camera could shoot raw image files but it took so long to process them it was a joke. 

Surely I was not going to change gear again? Is there a pattern developing?

Saturday, 13 August 2011

Patterns one

Here is one of my favourite subjects: A repeated pattern of everyday objects. I took a picture very like this on cheap print film with my old FED50 some years before. That was then, this is now. Film is dead and I was in the brave new Digital World when this picture caught my eye.

I had to have another go at it.

By this time (2003) I had already owned one digital camera, but the less said about that the better... This second digital camera, a Fuji S602, was a distinct improvement. It offered three whole megapixels, a half decent lens and proper mode controls with Aperture priority. All the inconvenience of film was behind me. Instant results. Excellent. Surely I would be happy now...

Friday, 12 August 2011

Mono Market

Taken in 1997, this is just an ordinary picture of the Saturday market.

I believe we should take pictures of the ordinary because in time it becomes the unusual and eventually the extraordinary....

Here's a revelation: This was actually taken on XP2 monochrome film. I coloured it in. I don't think you would know, would you..

Thursday, 11 August 2011

Silver Halide

I say it's about time for some Monochrome in this blog. 

Imagine: Recording an image by exposing a Gelatin* base and the Silver Halide* crystals in it to light using a wind up clockwork shutter. That image stays locked in the silver provided you keep it dark. It stays there until you treat it with a sequence of chemicals* and then it produces a black and white negative view of the scene.

Now you must repeat the process with Silver Bromide paper and yet more developer. Eventually, now that the image has passed through two lenses and two different light recording media and untold chemical reactions, you finally have a picture you can look at.

You can't change from a slow film to a fast film on a whim. You have to wait to get the film back from the chemist before you know it the "pictures have come out". There's grain and fogging to contend with, and the ever present smell of Amfix on the fingers.

So, I wonder what new image recording technology waits around the corner that will make our old fashioned DSLR digital cameras seem like something out of the Ark?

These images courtesy of Nikon cameras and Ilford monochrome film.

*Thereby upsetting Vegetarians and Environmentalists in one go.

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Tea or Coffee

A post in praise of the humble Tea Shop, and the most excellent coffee break. Surely there is no day out that cannot be improved by a nice cup of tea or an Americano and a Danish Pastry.

Here we are in Le Cafe Journal in Warminster High Street, enjoying the latter. Later that same day we had a nice cup of tea in a WI tent at a churchyard fair and on both occasions we watched the world go by.

Now that would be an achievement: To be able to write "Occupation: Watching the World Go By"

Tuesday, 9 August 2011


The National Tree Breeding Institute have finally solved the problem of unstable trees. Global warming threatens us with higher winds and consequent tree loss.

The NTBI have applied genetic engineering to the problem and produced a four trunked tree that proves to be immensely stable:

Trials of prototypes are being carried out at a secret location in the west country.

Monday, 8 August 2011


Wookey Hole to be precise. We paid this place a visit at the weekend, and what an experience it was. The car park was almost full, there was a short queue for the caves and in we went.

We had the usual spiel from the guide, not as witty as the same tour thirty years ago, but delivered with a stronger Zummerzet accent.

There are pictures to be taken down there, but you would need a tripod (forbidden) really, and the coloured lighting does no-one any favours. Off camera flash (also forbidden) would help. It was atmospheric and impressive as always, but I don't think I need to see it again now. Anyway here's the obligatory cave shot.

So, if the cave was fairly empty, were was everyone? We found out when we came out: We got lost and ended up in School Holiday Hell. The have lots of amusement rooms full of kids, and we must have stumbled through them all before we came across the way out.

On the up side, they had this unrestored Austin Seven there. 

After all this we repaired to Wells for a pleasant walk, a beer and a meal. Mmm. Lovely.

Sunday, 7 August 2011

Digging Wells

I dig Wells, man. 

I guess I've always dug it. What a lovely Cathedral city, small and beautifully formed, and a joy to behold on a sunny afternoon.

We spent part of the day amongst the tourist excesses of Cheddar Gorge and Wookey Hole, so it was just the right decision to revisit Wells for afternoon tea. It never fails to please. We had a short walk around the Bishop's Palace (a three picture panorama shown above) which is a haven of calm and well mowed lawns. I recall there is a tea shop hidden in there somewhere.

Experienced Wells watchers will know that the Bishops Palace is surrounded by a large moat, as splendid as any you might find around a castle. However this is hidden from view, and if you stand and admire the Cathedral, you could easily miss this key feature of the city, pictured above and below.

We were so seduced by the sunshine and the surroundings that we sat down with drinks in the recently remodelled courtyard of the Swan Hotel on the edge of the green, watching the play of light and shade over the Cathedral west face in the afternoon sunshine.

However, the real world is never far away, and rather like Winchester and Salisbury there are boarded up shops and guys looking for spare change from the visitors.

So, if you appreciate fine stonework and city life in miniature, I dig Wells....