Parade outside the Box

I’ve covered many military parades before and to a certain extent you can initially make a mental note of all the ‘safe’ shots that you need to obtain in order to cover the event effectively but you should always keep an eye open for other possibilities. This applies to all your jobs. If you have to fulfill a brief then make sure you do so but don’t forget to also keep your creative eye open for other pictures. Push the limits and really look for alternative pictures. Try different techniques on the fly to see if you can get some good results.

Don’t be afraid to experiment and see what you can achieve, it costs nothing other than a fraction of a second. Learn and understand exposure and then under or over expose on purpose to see the effect. Get away from convention. Get away from the norm. Everyone else will be doing that. Shoot straight into the sun. Get your flash involved by popping some light into an underexposed image it can make it really jump out, especially with the red tunics some of the troops here are wearing.

Blur your pictures on purpose, whilst adding some fill flash and see what happens. Many pictures won’t work, some are close and one or two will look good. However, don’t think that this is a ‘hit and hope’ approach, relying on luck alone to get a picture, remember, it’s partly luck but also it needs a sound knowledge of the techniques in the first place and then all you need is the imagination to push it.

Despite all of this the one thing I find is the most helpful of all is probably the most obvious piece of advice. LOOK for pictures, really look, as you move around your subject, look for angles, look for an approach, look for something different. It takes concentration and after a long shoot you can be drained from the concentration involved but sometimes, if you get a good shot, it is worth it.

The Allotments

The allotments in Saltburn are a thriving community of enthusiasts with a wide range of horticultural experience, from the seasoned gardener to new owners of their own small piece of real estate in this coastal town in Cleveland. I started this project of photographing the allotments and some of the people who spend their spare time tending to their land a few months ago.

Before you can own an allotment like the ones in Saltburn, like many others, there is a long waiting list before you get the go ahead from the council, typically the allotment you are allocated is overgrown or needs to be altered to meet your own requirements and the work begins in earnest as soon as you get the keys from the council.

What I found out by talking to many of the owners is how despite having an original idea of how they wanted their allotment to look it soon became apparent that the land they leased became a work in progress, constantly evolving as their own needs evolved.

There is always something to be done – fences and gates to be fixed, plants to be tended, weeds to be picked, in some cases, chickens and hens to be looked after, pigeons to be fed and watered. It take a serious amount of commitment and dedication to keep on top of the work.
Some new allotment owners are slow to get on top of their own piece of garden and are soon asked by the allotment association to make more of an effort. With waiting lists long and filled with potential owners who are keen to take ownership those that don’t make the effort are politely asked if they wish to continue. All the people I met strived hard to look after their own allotment and went to great effort to maintain and look after their land.

Despite providing well for their chickens sometimes illness or infection takes its toll on them and the big worry is that whole stocks of birds can be wiped out, something that also carries a heavy financial burden.

Recently, vandalism has caused damage to some allotments with greenhouses having their glass smashed and sheds broken into and some tools stolen. Owners are looking at ways of reducing the risk with possible installation of CCTV cameras to monitor the road in and out of the allotment area.

Despite the graffiti sprayed all over the fences and corrugated metal that lines the road through the allotment once you pass through the ramshackle gates that form the entrances to the allotments they are transformed into individual ‘secret gardens’ that in some cases stretch back for 40 or 50 metres with paths that meander through a miriad of bushes and shrubs and reveal ponds and bird feeders hidden away. Despite the proximity to a busy rail line and constant stream of human traffic passing through the allotments there is a varied amount of wildlife that frequents the area.

With food prices rising the produce that can be grown in these allotments can contribute a large amount to reducing the owners food costs, all manor of fruit and veg can be grown and there are frequent competitions to judge the ‘best of’ various categories. What is certain is that the owners take great pride and as true gardeners they follow the seasons carefully to ensure that they plant at a time that will give the maximum yield.
Seasoned owners seem to know intuitively when to plant and when to pick and reap the rewards of their labour, newer owners struggle at first until they gain the relevant knowledge to allow them to develop their land.
Sometimes new owners really do have to start from scratch with their first step of allotment ownership being the building of an entrance. Cutting the fence that has been put up to mark off the land that they now rent and building an entrance that can be secured is the first hurdle that needs to be overcome.

One thing is certain it takes a lot of time and effort to keep on top of their allotments but with increasing experience comes the satisfaction of knowing that they can start to provide for themselves and reduce costs of buying food whilst at the same time enjoy the highs and lows of tending to a piece of land just as people have done for hundreds of years.

Howzat!!

I’ve only ever photographed cricket once before, many years ago, using black and white film with a 35mm SLR and I think the longest lens I had then went up to 200mm. I remember devving up the film and running off 8 x 10 inch prints in my bedroom which I had converted into a makeshift darkroom, with the enlarger perched on a chest of drawers, the window covered in black card and a bin bag taped to the frame and a seed tray from a garden centre containing smaller trays of dev, stop and fix ready to drop the prints in stood next to me.

After they left the fix I dropped them in a bucket of cold water and when this was full of prints I would carry it to the bathroom and put them in the bath with the tap running to wash them before drying them off by hanging them from lines of string using clothes pegs – it was all very high tech! So I was looking forward to shooting cricket again last week, only this time armed with a couple of Nikon D2x, a selection of top-end lenses including a 500mm f4 which you can pick up for the price of a family car! I borrowed it.

The match was between Durham and Sussex at the Riverside Ground in Chester-le-Street in County Durham, England and was a 4 day affair as part of the LV County Championship.

Now I have to admit from the start that a big cricket fan I am not, some of the terms are a bit confusing and lets face it, it is a bit boring! But I didn’t want to miss the opportunity to shoot a sport that I don’t get to photograph very often. The weather was perfect and the crowds weren’t huge but it was on a Thursday that I went so not surprising.

The first thing I try and do when I turn up to cover something I am not familiar with, especially sport, is to have a look around the ground. Looking for places to go to give me the best view of the sport, looking for what can be one of the most important factors in shooting sports – a clean background.

I had a quick look at some cricket photos on the internet the night before to provide some inspiration and possible ideas and most of the ones I had a chance to look at were straight action shots – bowler’s bowling and the batsman, well, batting. Don’t take this to mean I viewed some of them with any less respect for this fact. Getting good action like some of the ones I saw still takes great skill needing perfect timing, a good position, patience (cricket is a long game!), good light etc etc. But I wanted to explore a little if I could and try and get something a little different as well.

Knowing the game was due to run all day and knowing that the weather forecast was looking good I decided on a position to start from, aware of the sun’s position, I had decided to move from position to position as the sun tracked across the sky, trying to keep it directly out of my lens. (Although, shooting straight into the sun can give great effects so don’t rule it out).

With Durham opting to bat first and Sussex fielding I took a wander around the ground hoping to get some wide shots to show the venue, it is quite impressive, especially with Lumley Castle perched on higher ground behind the stadium. Considering the day before play had been called off because most of the pitch was under water from recent rain the ground staff had done a great job in getting it ready for play.

I always find with the sports photography I have done it takes a while to get ‘warmed up’ to get your eye in and to get your timing up to speed but then you start to see shots or potential shots as they happen, you get to anticipate what will happen, how a bowler, in this case above, does his follow through and if you watch it enough you know when he is at his most animated. I have to say as well that the majority of these are single shots, in other words, I didn’t have the camera on ‘continuous high’ and hose the players down. I feel it helps improve your timing, there is a shutter lag with digital, albeit very small these days and with the ball travelling at around 90 miles an hour or so it is very easy to miss, and I did, plenty, so you have to concentrate and understand the game and its’ nuances. This will only come with time.

I always try and get something a little different if I can, to use composition to good effect and try and see the smaller details which can make strong pictures. I had seen the empty red seats in one of the stands at the very start and really wanted to get a shot like that below, at f4 my background blurred out just enough to carry it off, but I would like to see it thrown out further.

As the day went on I continued to move position, to shoot from higher to try and lose the advertising hoardings and fill the back with the grass to simplify the composition. Cricket is very repetitive, the bowler tends to have a very similar ‘action’ as he bowls, soon you can observe how others react as he takes his run up to the wicket, the batsman not at wicket will move tentatively forward, the fielders will all close in slightly. What I found helpful was keeping one particular player in my lens for a while, whether it was a batsman or bowler or fielder and follow them for a while to try and capture a shot if they had hit a six, bowled someone out, or caught them out!

Again keeping an eye out for the small details, I had noticed that after each over, the helmets were lined up behind the stumps and I thought it would make an interesting composition.

I really like this shot below, I can’t claim it is a high drama action shot – it isn’t, but I like the subtle effect, the expectation that something is going to happen. Again, using simple composition and a ‘clean’ background brings attention to the players.

And then, after all that waiting….

Howzat!!!

On the whole it was a good day, some shots worked but some didn’t, some were close to being winners and some were miles off the mark. Luck plays a part without a doubt, but an awareness of composition, of timing, of light, knowledge of the game (limited in my case), imagination and patience all play a part. I’m not sure when I will get the chance to shoot cricket again but hopefully next time I will apply what I picked up this time and get even better shots.

The Ugly of War

I’ve just been on the blog of photographer Edmond Terakopian, the link is below…
http://edmondterakopian.blogspot.com/

One of his latest entries has a link to two multimedia pieces from John D McHugh, a photojournalist currently working for the Guardian newspaper who has recently spent time with the US troops in Afghanistan, in this piece, linked below, a medic from a US Medical Helicopter – a ‘Dust Off’ as they are called, tells of his experiences…

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/video/2008/sep/08/sixmonthsinafghanistan.afghanistan

A very powerful piece of multimedia, probably one of the strongest I have seen for raw emotion and for trying to explain the difficulties faced by these medics and others working in this country. All of this is done without any of the imagery that you would normally expect to see on a piece covering this subject. The way the young medic explains what he has seen and what he has to do tells the viewer more about combat in the seven or so minutes it lasts for than anything I have seen for a long time.

Check it out. It’s worth a look.

After the Rain

In the late evening of last Friday 5th and the early hours of Saturday 6th September the residents of Morpeth started to become more concerned about the heavy rainfall that was falling on their Northumberland town. The environmental agency had issued flood warnings as the River Wansbeck began to rise to alarming levels. Sandbags were hastily placed to try and offer some protection to homes and businesses, some residents moved their cars to higher ground where friends lived as the water began to flow over the banks of the river.

Suddenly the water began to rush through the surrounding streets, a fast flowing torrent engulfed everything in it’s path – homes were swamped, with water rising to 3 or 4 foot in some, casting furniture and belongings aside with little effort, local pubs and businesses along the river found their cellars quickly filled with dirty, dark river water, ruining their stock and as cars were damaged and hit by floating debris elderley people were quickly evacuated to temporary shelters by members of the RNLI and Police and Fire services.

On Sunday morning myself and fellow photographer Matt Kirwan ( http://www.mattkirwan.co.uk/ ) drove to Morpeth to document the aftermath of the floods and tried to record some of the devastation brought on this town and how it affected the residents in what turned out to be the worst floods experienced in some 40 years…

Road signs telling of the dangers remained in place highlighting the disruption.
Front doors of houses in Carlisle View, a street right on the banks of the River Wansbeck suffered some of the worst damage, looking closely you can see the water level reached over the letter boxes.

As the water level dropped a young child in bright rain gear walks along the edge of a flooded street. From reports in the media there were no serious injuries as a result of the flooding.

This man had returned from holiday the day before to find the flooding at its peak, hastily trying to salvage some of his property he moved it upstairs in an attempt to save it, although many of his belongings were destroyed by the river water and all he can do now is begin the long process of cleaning up. The house next door belongs to his mother, she was also on holiday at the time of the flooding and has yet to return to her home.

Tom Donnelly, Morpeth resident and local businessman surveys the damage to his boats on the River Wansbeck. He has run a rowing boat hire business on the banks of the river for 24 years. Mr Donnelly said that it was the worst flooding he had ever seen. As the river levels increased and the risk of more serious flooding became more apparant he was forced to sink some of his boats to ensure they weren’t ripped from their moorings with the force of the water.

Local residents make their way through the flooded streets of Morpeth on Sunday morning as the flood waters slowly begin to recede.

The force of the water rushing through the town caused severe damage to several public buildings. The church was flooded as was the Health Centre and Ambulance station. The public library also suffered damage as the windows were smashed by the force of the water and shelves of books were flung all over the building.

Local resident Helen Patton also returned to her home from her daughters’ house to try and salvage what she could from the chaos. As the floodwater hit her furniture was scattered all around her front room only settling once the water receded. Her bathroom was covered in a thick layer of sludge and all her ground floor carpets were ruined. Family photo albums were destroyed along with other personal items .

A resident waits for word from other family members who have returned to their home to search for any personal items that might have survived.

Cars caught in the rising flood waters.

A young girl sits on a damaged piece of furniture, prepared for more rain.

A grandaughter greets her grandmother in knee deep flood water after she returns from her flood damaged home following her rescue attempt to save ‘Milly’, her cat, carried to safety by a police officer.

The effects of this flood will be far reaching for local residents, many people were forced to evacuate to safer and drier ground, homes were severly damaged and will take many months to be repaired and returned to how they were before the flood. In covering this event it was strange how, despite suffering from this flood how open people were when talking about the damage that had been caused to their homes and their property. Many invited you in, a complete stranger, and then allowed me to photograph their homes and the damage. It was like they wanted to talk, to vent their frustrations, their concerns.
It was a shame that we couldn’t spend more time there, to hear more stories, to glimpse more into the lives of someone else. It’s a unique thing to be allowed this opportunity. Initially you feel almost like a voyeur, you feel a little awkward, you feel like you shouldn’t be there. But then you start taking pictures and it develops from there. A comment or a look leads to a conversation and the connection is made. Press work, by it’s nature is fleeting, you go in, shoot the pictures and then go. Probably to another job. I want to start to develop these stories further, to see them through to their natural conclusion or to a point where you can’t take it any further.
That’s why photojournalism has always held such an appeal.