It’s that time of year again: Apple have updated their operating system – from Sierra to High Sierra – which is great except that my scanner, a CanoScan 8800F, won’t work with the new system, not surprisingly because it’s four years since Canon updated the driver. Luckily, I’ve come up with a solution . . . Continue reading “Scanning the Horizon”
“I think those clouds are caused by air rising as it moves over a hill,” I suggest to the man who has pulled in just behind us to photograph them on his iPad, “I’ve been reading The Cloudspotter’s Guide, but I can’t remember what they’re called.”
“That’s right; you are a cloud spotter?”
“No . . . just nutty!”
Just as I’ve got myself back in the car and out of the cool breeze, I notice another cloud-spotting feature to the left of the lenticular cloud that is hanging above Ingleborough and I grab my camera.
“Have you seen the sun-dog?” I ask the man with the iPad; “They’re caused by ice crystals in high clouds refracting the light and they always appear at a certain distance from the sun – I think it’s something like 23 degrees.”
“I wonder if that’s because we’re at 53 degrees north?” He surmises.
I wasn’t too far out, it’s 22° but the phenomenon is a halo effect caused by tiny ice crystals in translucent cloud, so the effect is independent of latitude.
Sunset over Langstrothdale
Half an hour later I take the opportunity to photograph sunset over the top end of the dale from the first floor window of our barn conversion accommodation at Nethergill Farm.
It’s the first time that I’ve tried the ‘sunset’ setting on my camera. It might have warmed up the colours a little but it’s more successful than the camera’s default setting which attempts to adjust the exposure to make the scene resemble regular daylight.
It so good to be back in my studio and working again. I’ve just e-mailed my latest Wild Yorkshire nature diary off to the Dalesman, so it’s high time that I caught up with this online diary, which provides most of the raw material for my Dalesman articles.
It’s a month since my studio floor was taken up but there’s been a lot of work for me varnishing the new tongued and grooved timber floor and putting back my plan chest, art materials and book stock just as I’d like them (and there’s been even more work setting up our new kitchen in the room below, which is looking great).
The ‘Goldilocks’ Sketchbook
Improvements in my studio include these four Ikea Blecka hooks (above) for my small, medium and large art bags, which are hanging there ready for me to grab when I set off on a small, medium or large adventure, each complete with a selection of art materials and an A6, A5 or a square of the narrow side of A4 (that’s 8 x 8 inches) Pink Pig sketchbook. Like Goldilocks, I tend to feel that the middle sized bag is ‘just right’.
On the fourth hook my new digital SLR is hanging, plus a camera bag holding my new macro and telephoto lens. It’s an Olympus OM-D E-M10II which has great possibilities for nature photography. I sold my trusty pocket-sized Olympus Tough muji on e-Bay and I’m missing it already but I’m holding off buying the latest Tough to replace it as I want to get thoroughly familiar with my digital SLR.
The drawing is in bamboo pen using Winsor & Newton black Indian ink. I wouldn’t pack this combination in my art bags as the ink, where it has formed a blotty pool, takes days to dry.
My new camera, the Olympus OM-D E-10 MarkII, a mirrorless ‘micro four thirds’ which is a sort of lighter, scaled down version of a digital SLR, a middle of the range camera but with almost all the features of its big brothers. It has a smaller sensor but there wouldn’t be any problems printing out a photographs at A4 size. You can film HD video and even 4K on a time lapse setting.
Jessops are currently doing a deal on a kit that includes the camera body plus an everyday kind of zoom lens and another that is more powerful, which I look forward to trying the next time we visit a bird reserve. I’ve also treated myself to a macro lens as at least 50% of my photography involves close-ups of flowers, fungi and fossils.
It’s certainly one up on my previous bridge camera, which has given me a useful way of getting into more serious photography over the last three years.
When it comes to throwing the background out of focus, for instance in this close-up of germander speedwell taken with the new camera on our front lawn, the bridge camera was rather limited as you were given a choice of only two apertures. You need a wide aperture, which lets in more light but gives you correspondingly less depth of field, and a faster shutter speed to isolate a subject in this way.
I was inspired to take the plunge and finally go for the camera by our walk around Askham Bog with members of the Wakefield Naturalists’ Society last weekend. Several of the Nats had flip up viewfinders on their cameras which made photographing a flower at ground level a whole lot easier. I was using my little Olympus Tough, which is the size of a bar of soap, on the day and, with the viewfinder hidden down amongst the grass stems the process involved a lot of guesswork. My bridge camera was also lacking in this respect.
The viewfinder/touchscreen also tilts downwards so that I was able to hold the camera above my head and take this close-up of a clump of moss on the garage roof.
The Olympus E-10 also gives you the option of a regular viewfinder. When you put your eye to the viewfinder it switches on and the touchscreen viewfinder on the back switches off. Perhaps holding the camera braced against my eye will help me keep it steady.
I feature that I’ve yet to drill down through the menus to activate is the 5 way image stabilisation, which is reviews suggest works even better than the 3 way image stabilisation in the previous model of the E-10.
Olympus OM-D E-10 MarkII at Jessops.
Nostell Priory Lake: A pair of mallards makes careful progress over an expanse of ice between two areas of open water. After a minute or so the female decides that it will be quicker to fly.
Focus on Teapots
We spot our friend Roger in the cafe, so naturally the conversation comes around to photography. Focussing on a teapot, I ask him how I can get over the problem that when I use my bridge camera, a Fujifilm FinePix S6800, on macro setting I have to get in so close that the proportions of my subject get distorted: the spout looks jumbo sized.
You need use a bit of zoom, suggests Roger. That works, the spout is now in proportion with the teapot, but, with my shaky hands, I’ve got a problem: the zoom magnifies any camera shake and the smaller aperture of the lens means that the camera will be selecting a longer shutter speed, again increasing the risk of blur.
I tell Roger that I’m considering upgrading to a camera with image stabilisation and he tells me that my camera probably has that as an option. He drills down through the menus and sets it to always use sensor shift image stabilisation. It’s a well hidden option and looking back through the settings menu, I can’t now see where he found it.
Depth of Field
But it works. I hand-held the camera for this shot of rosemary in a stone trough in the courtyard. Introducing a bit of telephoto to a macro shot results in a smaller depth of field than I’d get at the wide angle end of my zoom lens, throwing the background out of focus and giving more emphasis to the subject.
I use the photograph of the sage as reference for my sketchbook page for today. I’m reading a couple of books on botanical art so I decide to try drawing in 4H and then HB pencil before adding the watercolour, lightest shades first, which in this case is the pale yellow of the stipples on the leaves.
This green-leaved herb looks like marjoram or oregano. I cropped my original photograph to show this detail because I couldn’t get in this close with the macro. There’s a limit to how far you can zoom in before the auto-focus ceases to work. A red box marked ‘AF’ appears centre screen. I found that I had to zoom back out a little before the auto focus would work successfully.
This is the exposure meter that my dad used with the Akarette 35 mm camera that I drew yesterday. The Weston Master III Universal Exposure Meter was made in England by Sangamo Weston Ltd, Enfield, Middlesex and distributed by Ilford Ltd. This was model no. S141·3, serial no. T5385.
In low-light situations you flip out a filter at the back which is simply a plastic disc perforated with small holes. As you do this, the light scale flips over too. Taking a reading here on my desk I would have set the Akarette to 1/5oth of a second at f5 if I was using 64 ASA film, which is what I’d set the dial to when I last used this meter in the 1970s. ASA is referred to as ‘Weston Rating’ on the dial.
It was built to last, no batteries required and the photo-electric cell is still working fine, but I’m glad all of of all the exposure options that are built in to my current digital camera. The meter is bulkier and heavier than the Olympus Tough that I keep in my art bag.
This German Akarette with an Isco-Gottingen Westar 1:3.5/50 mm lens was my dad’s first, in fact only, 35 mm camera. It’s not an SLR so focussing involved setting the shutter speed and aperture then rotating the outer ring of the lens to select the estimated distance in feet. It focussed from 3.5 feet to infinity but for close-ups you had to allow for the parallax between viewfinder and lens.
You could switch to a second viewfinder if you fitted a 75 mm lens, which we never had. I believe my father bought the camera secondhand from Wallace Heaton, London. A big advance on our box camera.
It’s powered by clockwork, wound up every time you wind on the film, so the sound of the shutter is a retro delight. It also has a satisfyingly retro shutter delay of up to ten seconds. My dad once set it up to photograph my mum in a formal garden then had to leap over little box hedges and flowerbeds to get himself into the picture. I can’t remember now whether he quite made it into position but if he did it was by a hair’s breadth.
I more or less took over this camera when my dad started taking cine film. The most frustrating thing for me was its inability to take macro photographs. It travelled with me to Iceland on a college field trip (just me and my tent, I didn’t go with a group) but by then its days were numbered because I’d discovered the delights of using the Pentax Spotmatic – with macro lens – on the college photography course.
A gorilla pod attached to an old photographic enlarger stand was the best thing that I could devise to make my two YouTube videos of me drawing with vintage pen nibs. I intend to improve on this set up but at least I discovered that it works in principle.
I’d like to make a portable version, with a light framework attached to a drawing board, so that I can film my regular sketches on location, for instance at Old Moor bird reserve or at the farm park.
This walk, which starts and finishes at Wakefield cathedral and passes Pinderfields, the Old Park and the Chantry Chapel. There are a number of Robin Hood connections, including a sculpture of his sparring partner George-a-Green, the Jolly Pinder of Wakefield. On 25 January 1316 the maidservant of Robert Hode, was fined two pence for taking dry wood and green vegetation from the Old Park. This walk must pass very near the scene of the crime!
More about Robert Hode and the early Robin Hood ballads in my Walks in Robin Hood’s Wakefield, available in local bookshops, visitor centres and some farm shops. Also available online, post free in the UK, from Willow Island Editions, price £2.99.
The walk passes the site of St Swithen’s chantry chapel. Walk it while you can because there are plans for a relief road which it is proposed will go through the Old Park, later the site of Parkhill Colliery, linking with the roundabout near Wakefield Hospice at Stanley Hall.