Honesty and Critique

I’ve spent a bit of time these last weeks, reviewing another photographers portfolio of work.  The task of looking at work, both for me, and the photographer, is that we both have to be honest about what we are looking at.

One image, the photographer kept telling me, was really hard to get – the subject matter was hard to find, and even harder to get a good solid photo of.  When I looked at it, it was a messy construction and clearly not that good.  The photographer though had invested a lot of time and emotion in the image, and would not let it go.  He was convinced it was good, and nothing I was going to say would change that point of view, but the fact is that the image is going to be perceived by others on an entirely different level from that of the photographer.

Which takes me on to the question of feedback about your work.  What kind of feedback do you REALLY want? and importantly, what is your response to that feedback?

If you really respect the person who is looking at your images – it can be upsetting to hear that they don’t like it.  After all, you want them to like what you have produced, that’s why you show it.

So, what should your response be, when someone you know and trust, doesn’t like your work.  It’s hard, because maybe the work is bad, and maybe you just need to be told that. Maybe you need to listen to their advice and go away and change something, or even forget that image, and replace it with a new one.

You should remember though, that maybe the person looking at your work just doesn’t like the subject matter.  Though in fairness, they should tell you that right from the start.  I would hope that the good critique maker, should be able to look past the personal likes and dislikes and see the image for what it is.

So it’s up to the photographer to ask the right questions at this point, and so you need to ask the reviewer what it is they don’t like about the image.  This is then hard, as the reviewer might tell you what they would do to make the image better, and that then might make it more their work, than yours.  So you have to be careful.

If I show my work to someone I trust, and say that it is to inspire calm, and they say it looks like a battle is about to break out – then I think I can safely say I missed the mark on that one – and if this happens consistently then maybe I’d need to rethink my entire strategy or portfolio.

When I judge competitions – I try hard not to say whether I like it or not – at least not at first – what I try to do is work out how an image makes me feel.  Sometimes I will say of a picture (let’s assume of an animal or bird for arguments sake), that by looking at it, I know how it would feel if I could run my fingers through the fur, or feathers, or grass, or whatever.  Then I might say what emotion it gives – peace, excitement, confusion and so on.

The title of the piece helps direct too.  An image can be confusing till I know what it’s called – then a combination of title and subject matter can bring together a unity of purpose.

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On Being too Easily Pleased

When I lived over in Cheshire, in fact about 16 miles out of Manchester, I was not too far from Lyme Park.  A National Trust estate famed mostly for the house, and the large herds of red and fallow deer that roam free on the estate – as well as its starring role in Pride and Prejudice.

There’s a tree – I’m not sure what kind, (maybe a Maple?) but it’s a great shape.  Every time I went over there, I photographed it.  From all angles, and at all times of day – sunrise, sunset, bad weather, good weather.  Different cameras, different light, different viewpoints.

While in the midst of shooting this tree (again) during the Red Deer rut, a cyclist stopped next to me.  He gets off his bike, looks at all the gear I have spread around (I was shooting deer really don’t forget), gets out his little pocket camera – takes one shot, and rides away – with me staring after him,

I watch him go, and I think that I’ve been looking at, and shooting this tree over the years.  He’s taken one shot, and I think he’s probably happy with it.  I wonder if he’s happier with that one photo, than I’ve been after 2 years of messing…….  I’d love to know.

Here’s my version of “That Tree”….

Lyme Park Tree

Harness Racing at Pikehall

Last week, a few of us met up for some social photography at Pikehall in Derbyshire – we decided that we would go and watch the Harness Racing, as none of us had ever been before.  It’s about 30 miles from where we are based, and so with lunch packed away, we intrepid explorers set off on a gloriously sunshiny Sunday….

Racing started at 2pm, and there were 9 races in total.  But, we thought, what is harness racing exactly.. the answer came from the Harness Racing Association

http://www.bhrc.org.uk/racing/the-sport/about-harness-racing/

There are various opinions as to how Harness Racing began – folk racing their horses and traps home from church, trotting horses under saddle carrying the post all over the country and being raced by their owners etc.

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Racing is thought to have begun in the mid 1700′s, the earliest recorded race being on Newmarket Heath on 29th August 1750. The Earl of March and the Earl of Eglintowne bet 1,000 guineas that four horses could pull a four wheeled chaise carrying one person 19 miles in an under an hour. A century and a half later, Prince Charles, the Prince of Wales drove a trotter on the old Lanark racecourse in Scotland.

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Many ‘match’ races used to take place between two horses, and also betting on horses trotting a set distance inside a certain time, some of the more notable recorded ones being:- In 1800 Phenomena, a brown mare 14.3hh, trotted 17 miles on the road in 56 minutes, when she was 12 years old. Some questioned the accuracy of the timing so she repeated the feat in three minutes less! She also trotted 19 miles in an hour, and at the age of 23, she still trotted 9 miles in 28.5 minutes. Creeping Sally was only 14 hands and blind, but she was backed to cover 50 miles of public road within 5 hours, trotting in harness. Her blindness probably proved an advantage that day, as there was a thick fog at Shoreditch and for all of the 25 miles out on the Harlow road. She turned round and headed back to London in 16 minutes under the stipulated time, with no signs of distress.

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In 1839, two horses which were driven in tandem trotting 45 miles of road in 2 hours 55.5 minutes, were Tommy and Gustavus, a 24 year old. Both horses had won individual match races. By driving this pair backwards and forwards over a measured five mile stretch of road between Hampton and Sunbury, Mr Burke of Hereford won £100 for completing inside 3 hours. Lady was a trotting mare from Birmingham born in 1828 by Mr Richard Taylor from the noted horse Matchless out of Cheshire Cheese Lass. She was less than 15 hands but her first match was won against a 16hh horse, between Litchfield and Burton on 23/11/1832. She won easily passing him at the distance of 5 miles after giving him a mile start. On 13/5/1834 she trotted 17 miles in 55 minutes, carrying 12 stone.

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The main foundation sire of American Harness Racing stock was a grey English thoroughbred called Messenger, and he was exported to America in 1788. His career as a stallion lasted 20 years, and today nearly all of America’s Standardbreds can be traced directly back to one of Messenger’s great grandsons, Hambletonian. The name Standardbred derives from the early American trotters who were required to reach a set standard of 2 minutes 30 seconds for a mile, in order to gain breed recognition. As far back as 1800, many top class American Standardbreds have stopped in Britain on their way to Australia, and British breeders have benefited from them resting here.

(info taken from the BHRA Website) – All images by Diane Seddon LRPS CPAGB

See the full set of images here http://www.oaktreephotography.co.uk/pikehall

The Rut of the Reds (Cervus elaphus)

Red deer are our largest mammal in the UK.  Stags weigh anything from 90 – 190kg with females 63 – 120kg. The number of branches on antlers increases with age. Up to 16 points in native animals – who can live typically 18 years.

DSED1606The breeding season, or rut, occurs from the end of September through to November.  Stags return to the hinds home range and compete for access to hinds by engaging in elaborate displays of dominance, including roaring, parallel walks and fighting.  Serious injury and death can result but fighting only occurs between stags of similar size that can not assess dominance by any of the other means.  The dominant stag then ensures exclusive mating with the hinds.

DSED6903Only stags over 5 years old tend to achieve mating despite being sexually mature much earlier (before their 2nd birthday in productive woodland populations).  In woodland populations hinds over a year old give birth to a single calf after an 8 month gestation, between mid-May to mid-July each year.

DSED1996Injuries do happen, and sometimes even death.

Red deer are active throughout the 24 hour period but make more use of open spaces during the hours of darkness in populations experiencing frequent disturbance . Peak times of activity are at dawn and dusk.

DSED7496ARed deer are widespread throughout the UK, and can be found in many parks and in the wild.  Bradgate Park in Leicestershire, Lyme Park in Cheshire, Tatton Park, Dunham Massey, and the Lake District.   Also common in East Anglia, and the South West of England.  In Scotland in the Scottish Highlands, Dumfriesshire.

 

The Damselfly

In my last post I talked about Dragonflies, and in this one, I want to talk about their smaller counterparts, the Damselfly, but first the differences between the two..

Dragonflies have eyes that touch, or nearly touch at the top of the head, they are stocky, and have different sized wing pairs.  When they perch, the wings are held open.

Damselflies have eyes that are clearly separated, one on each side of the head, they are long and slender, and have evenly sized wings, which are held close when they perch, as can be seen in the image below.

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Blue Tailed Damselfly Perching

Damselflies are carnivorous insects that live and breed near a wide variety of freshwater habitats. They lay their eggs in water, and the immature damselflies spend the first several months or years as aquatic predators. These immature damselflies, called nymphs, have external gills that allow them to extract oxygen from the water. After undergoing metamorphosis, new adult damselflies fly away from the water for a brief period of several days to several weeks, after which they return to breed. Both adult and immature damselflies are predators whose diet consists primarily of insects. (Corbet, 1999; Silsby, 2001)

Damselfly eating an aphid
Damselfly eating an aphid

The mating behaviour of the damselfly is quite unique.  Males have two sets of genitalia.  To mate, the male must grasp the female behind the head, and curl his abdomen into a circle.  In this position the male and female are said to be ‘in tandem’ – if the female is receptive, she will curl her abdomen forward to join the tip of her abdomen with the male’s second set of genitilia, sperm is then transferred from one to another.  This position, called ‘the wheel’.  After mating, the female will lay eggs usually below the water line, often guarded by the male

Mating Damselfly
Mating Damselfly

The average Damselfly, probably only lives between 3 to 4 weeks as an adult, but the damselfly nymphs can spend months in this early stage, depending on food source, temperatures and so on.

Damselfly do need a minimum temperature at which to fly – in the early mornings, they can be seen spreading their wings to dry out the morning dew, and warm up.

Damselfly in morning dew
Damselfly in morning dew

Damselfly and Dragonfly populations are good indicators of environmental quality and population levels are a good indicator of the health of the area.

They are the most ancient of insects, with evidence of them being found as fossils some millions of years ago.

Snow is falling

A trip into the Peak District this week showed just how cold it’s been.  No real snow where I live, but a mere few miles, and a touch of elevation, and the temperature has dropped like a stone.

First Snows
First Snows

It’s been good to get out though, after so much work on this month – and though this post is brief…. it’s made me remember why I love photography so much.  It’s the getting out and doing it.  I could never be an ‘armchair photographer’, one of those who say, “I’d love to get a shot like that” – well the answer to that is, you can….. you just have to get off your backside, and get out and shoot it….  Enjoy the weather………

Higger Tor

The 2012 Rut

Every year I try to get pictures of the stag rut – and every year, I come back with super images of deer, but not of them fighting.  I dream of seeing two huge stags scrapping away, preferably on the brow of a hill, with a dramatic sunset going on behind them; and one of these years I’m going to get my dream shot.

In the meantime, I’m plodding all over the place to get the best I can, and this week, although I didn’t get them fighting, I did get shots of Fallow Deer Calf born this summer – looking like Bambi…

In Britain, the Red deer rut peaks in October, though does usually kick off in September. The male Red deer are fighting for supremacy, to allow them to control and mate with the largest harem. The best time to see the rut is, as with most wildlife spectacles, early morning and evening, but don’t get too close as the males can be very aggressive at this time of year.

The fallow deer rut peaks a week or two later than the Red deer, but is also definitely worth a watch. Fallow deer can be found in most counties in England and Wales, and there are large populations in pockets spread across Scotland. Young fallow start breeding when they are about 18 months old. The mating season, or rut, starts in late September and peaks in mid October. Usually, the doe gives birth to a single fawn between late May – mid June. The fawn is weaned by October.

Peak District Magic

I live on the borders of the Peak District – and have done for many years – but it seems that only in the last 3 or 4 of those years, have I actually started to look around more.  Why is it that you don’t look on your own doorstep so much, but feel you have to travel to another County, or even another Country to get those spectacular images.

The Peak District has been photographed to death, to the point where I reckon there are tripod holes in the ‘best’ places.  Having said that, it’s not been photographed by ME, and so I’ve been making every effort to get out there and shoot, and this at stupid times of day, but when the light is at its best.

So – one morning towards the end of July – we arose from bed at 2.45 in the morning – having seen what looked like a reasonable weather forecast – it had been cool overnight, but dry, and the morning was set fair….   mist was intermittent as we headed off – and by the time we arrived at Calver, and Curbar village, the fog was really thick – we started the climb to Curbar Edge, and climbed out of the cloud inversion – what we saw was incredible…

I have never seen such a sight in the Peaks for a long time – Sometimes you have to forget the images, and just enjoy the view… Once we turned around though, we saw what was happening on Froggat Edge


The sun was just starting to come up – sunrise scheduled for 5.10am, with a hint of pink in the sky, it was just amazing.

The last shot for this blog is one I took of my better half, with the dog, shooting into the sun along the back of the edge…. a truly amazing morning.


I’m still working on the new blog layout – not had much time this month, but I’ll battle on… keep watching.

Mother Cap

Just above Millstone Edge, on Hathersage Moor, in the Peak District lies Mother Cap.  It’s a place I visited in the winter with a couple of photography friends, and I had an image in mind ever since.  Today, I woke up early, and with an unmitigated amount of enthusiasm.  It was 2.45am….

My other half, stuffy with sleep, actually agreed to come out with me, but when I said “well, lets go then”, I though he was going to just turn over and ignore me.  However, by 3am, we were up and about, with a confused dog, who wondered why breakfast was coming in the middle of the night – by 3.20 we were on the road, and by 4am we arrived at the Surprise View Car Park (gosh, I wonder why we were the only car there……?)  The hike up to Mother Cap was easy, and although it wasn’t cold, there was a stiff breeze.  Dawn was timed for 4.50 – but it was actually 5.05 before the light got over the hills, and onto the rocks.

Mother Cap at Dawn
Millstones on the Edge
Silhouette before Dawn
Poppy on the Rocks

It was so good to be out and about so early – not another soul in sight – and although we know the day is setting out to be another hot one – we had the coolest time, the greatest light, and a second breakfast when we got home.

Time for a nap me-thinks…..