Never look a gift horse in the mouth

OK, it’s not exactly a gardening quote but it sprung to mind as I took these shots. Mrs H recently received a lovely bouquet as a reward for looking after her sisters dog whilst she went away for a few days. It was therefore opportune to grab a few photographs of the blooms whilst they were still at their prime and so I took them outside under an overcast sky to make the most of the diffused light.

Incidentally, the title phrase originated from the practice of checking a horses mouth to see their teeth as a way of determining its age, which presumably would appear rude if the horse was a present.

Gerbera daisy || © John Hallett Photography
White rose || © John Hallett Photography
© John Hallett Photography
Gerbera daisy || © John Hallett Photography
© John Hallett Photography
© John Hallett Photography

Quote… Unquote

I’m enjoying taking flora photographs in a blooming Spring garden at present but it does become rather tricky thinking of how to write a topical blog post each time. Therefore I have decided to use a garden-related quotation as a lead-in. Here is the first one, very apt given that our garden is the result of 80 years of gardening by my family.

Gardens are not made by singing ‘Oh, how beautiful,’ and sitting in the shade. Rudyard Kipling

Siberian iris ‘Iris sibirica‘ || © John Hallett Photography
Horse Chestnut (or Conker Tree) – ‘Aesculus hippocrastanum‘ || © John Hallett Photography
Spiraea cantoniensis || © John Hallett Photography
Red hot poker – ‘Kniphofia uvaria‘ || © John Hallett Photography
Siberian iris buds ‘Iris sibirica‘ || © John Hallett Photography

Back to school

You may remember my Photographing a drivers school and School report blog posts from last September where I described the typical day of a photographer at the Shelsley Walsh drivers school. Well yesterday I was there again covering another drivers school with pretty much perfect photography weather – fine, warm but with cloud cover to reduce reflections and blown highlights.

© John Hallett Photography

I used the same format and basically started the day at the bottom of the hill and worked my way up. With 35 drivers entered that means 35 shots at each location (or 70 if I double-shoot with both camera bodies holding different focal-length lenses) and so the images soon start to stack up throughout the day. At the back of my mind is the nagging thought of having to sit in front of a computer sorting them all out – especially when you have drivers ‘dual-driving’ the same car (of which there were 5 yesterday). Keeping the shots in order is therefore so important, as is synchronising the time on both camera bodies beforehand.

© John Hallett Photography

As a motorsport photographer you take it for granted that you can hear a car coming towards you. When you know the venue well you can even tell where exactly that car is; by the engine note altering at gear changes, whether the engine is accelerating, working to get up a hill or slowing down for a corner. The human brain can decipher all of this information so that you can be ready with your camera pointing at exactly the right point as the car enters your field of view.

Except when the car is electric.

One of the guests had brought a Tesla which (explaining just in case you have been living in a cave for the past few years) has no internal combustion engine and is powered purely by battery. Apart from a bit of road noise from the tyres it is virtually silent. This means it appears without warning and I was caught napping several times during the day. As more and more electric cars enter the motorsport arena photographers will need to develop a sixth sense.

Damn – even with plenty of time to prepare I still managed to miss the shot of this electric Tesla Model S || © John Hallett Photography
A nice, noisy Lotus Evora 400 allowed me ample opportunity to capture it || © John Hallett Photography

Inspiration required – enquire within.

How do you find inspiration to photograph a venue that you’ve been going to, on-and-off, for over forty years? In my case, read a book. Not whilst you are taking the photographs mind, that would be counter-intuitive, but beforehand. I’m part-way through a very interesting book; it’s not about photography per se, but a photographers story about his ‘journey’ through life complete with plenty of anecdotes and guidance. When I’ve finished reading it I’ll publish a review on this blog but at the moment all you need to know is that it gave me the motivation to find some new shots at the Loton Park speed hillclimb this weekend, a selection of which you can find below. The rest are on a gallery on my website.

Pretty much how I feel behind my camera sometimes || © John Hallett Photography

On a (slightly) related note, Alex Summers, 2015 British Hillclimb Champion and almost always in the top 5, had a guest drive in Terry Graves single-seater yesterday (his first time in the car) and still managed to be fastest driver up the hill on the day. It just goes to show that no matter how technically advanced the car, driver skill still plays a huge part. Not unlike photography really – no matter how new and expensive the camera and lens, it’s the person pressing the shutter that really makes the photograph.

Alex Summers, Gould DJ55XD || © John Hallett Photography
Mark Honey, Peugeot 205 GTI || © John Hallett Photography
A rare ‘off’ by Dave Warner, Renault Clio 197 || © John Hallett Photography
Roger Moran, Skoda Fabia R5 || © John Hallett Photography

What a mark – no, it’s a watermark!

Watermarking photographs is always a contentious debate. Some photographers will watermark images to prevent plagiarism, some to promote their brand – others claim that a watermark spoils the image and it’s just conceited to mark an image in that way. Both sides have a valid argument. So let’s have a look at these points in a bit more detail:

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Fine Art Flora

I have decided to use the category name ‘Fine Art Flora’ to replace ‘Flora & Fauna Photography’. Why? Well partly because I won’t be taking many ‘fauna’ photographs and partly because it reflects the type of image I’m looking at creating.

Mombretia (Crocosmia) leaf after rain || © John Hallett Photography

So what are ‘fine art flora‘ photographs?

These are images of plants and flowers captured for their aesthetic quality rather than to create a record of the subject. In other words, they are intended as an image to be viewed for pleasure as opposed to be used as an identification aid; to be viewed on the wall rather than in a plant encyclopaedia.

Follow my journey as I explore the garden with a new vision.

Tulip (tulipa) || © John Hallett Photography
Wild garlic (Allium ursinum) || © John Hallett Photography
Rhododendron flower || © John Hallett Photography
Japanese Camellia (Camellia japonica) || © John Hallett Photography

Flower tips

As mentioned in my recent post April showers may bring flowers I have been taking some flower images with inspiration from the Belgian photographer Dirk Ercken.

Tulip ‘tulipa‘ || © John Hallett Photography

A few tips I have taken from him are the following:

  1. Don’t use a tripod. This goes against the grain for me who has always used a tripod for close-up and macro photography. Dirk’s reasoning is that being free to move gives far better opportunities for composition and background choices.
  2. Use a large aperture to blur the background and create that dreamy feel rather than having a large depth of field that allows the background to start taking over the shot
  3. Bracket the aperture settings. There is a fine balance between obtaining that dreamy feel and obtaining subject sharpness. It isn’t an exact science and may change depending on the subject. Therefore taking several shots with different apertures gives you the choice when viewed large on a monitor that you cannot make from the small LCD screen on the camera.
  4. The choice of background is as important as the choice of subject. Take time to look at what is behind the subject to ensure that it doesn’t compete.
Cherry blossom ‘cerasus flores‘ || © John Hallett Photography

This is still very much ‘work-in-progress’ but I’m enjoying this kind of flower photography more than ever before and with a garden full of opportunities there is no excuse for not using the camera.

Vintage sprint

Sunday saw Round 1 of this years Speed Championship of the Vintage Sports-Car Club (VSCC) held at the Curborough sprint circuit run by the Shenstone & District Car Club. A single lap of the course is 831 metres (just over 1/2 mile) and the record is 26.69 seconds – although that was in a modern single-seater racing car and not one that is over 80 years old. The aim (obviously) is to go around faster than everyone else although there are various different classes to give everyone a fair chance against similar entries.

The job of a photographer is to get some interesting shots – which is harder than it sounds when you just have a single car going around a flat circuit. The options tend to be limited to panning shots on the straight sections or capturing body-roll on the corners. And so this is what I did – interspersed with a few in the paddock.

1912 Luxior 8200cc || © John Hallett Photography
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April showers may bring flowers

With a garden full of flowers starting to bloom in the Springtime it would be churlish to overlook the photographic opportunities that it presents literally on my doorstep. And after all, when I purchased my medium-format camera one of my first additions was a macro lens (see That didn’t take long) specifically for this purpose.

Spiraea Bridal Wreath ‘spiraea prunifolia’ || © John Hallett Photography

I have been studying the work of Dirk Ercken, a Belgian biologist and nature photographer who takes some beautiful dreamy-style flower photographs, quite unlike the stark, record-type of images that I have done in the past. Fuelled by this inspiration I am making a conscious effort to take a more artistic approach and will chart my progress as I go. One of the things I will have to improve though is my flower identification skills.

Japanese maple ‘acer palmatum’ || © John Hallett Photography

Championship start

It was the first two rounds of the British Hillclimb Championship 2022 this weekend held at Prescott hillclimb in Gloucestershire. Once again this year I’ve been requested to supply photographs for the Hillclimb & Sprint Association (HSA) magazine ‘Speedscene‘ to accompany writer Jerry Sturman’s articles on the championship; which I’ve been doing for a few years now covering the Prescott, Shelsley Walsh and Loton Park events.

Steven Darley, Subaru Legacy || © John Hallett Photography
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