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Author Archives: john-hallett
Having a break
John’s photography blog is having a break. Back later…
If I be waspish, best beware my sting
The title of this blog post is a quote from William Shakespeare’s “The Taming of the Shrew” and is a fairly weak introduction to this photograph of a wasps nest and the story behind it.
It all started when I went into one of the garden sheds and noticed a wasps nest in the roof space. It was now December and the wasps would have abandoned it long ago but I still tapped it a few times with a stick just to make sure that there were no stragglers left behind (placing myself conveniently by the door just in case). It’s not often you can get so close to a fully-formed nest and so it seemed like a good photographic opportunity; trouble was it was in the rafters about 15 feet from the ground, there is little lighting in the shed, and in that position it would be little more than a record shot. I therefore decided to move it.
I put up some ladders and gently scraped the nest off the wooden rafters with a paint scraper so that it dropped gently into a cardboard box that I was holding. Although the nest is quite robust it is not at all hard and the closest analogy I can think of is that of a partially-deflated football. It is entirely constructed of a paper-like substance that the wasps create from wood and saliva, which I can imagine makes it quite warm inside.
So, with the nest safely ‘in the box’ it was time for me to develop a concept for the shot. A wasps nest generally brings a feeling of fear and trepidation, and instinctively you don’t want to touch it in case it awakens the stinging army within. So my concept was to build on this in terms of ‘an accident waiting to happen’ with a hand dangerously close to touching the nest. And why would a hand be there? Well maybe to operate a fuse box, often located in a roof void and rarely accessed.
Some photographers like to sketch a layout of a shot beforehand to pre-plan the composition and lighting; which is OK if you happen to be good at sketching. I’m not, and so I just created a mental picture in my head – whilst also contemplating the practicalities of the how to set the shot up. However, I now have a multitude of concepts for future still-life shoots in my head, the details of which are bound to get forgotten, and so I am toying with the idea of using my iPad and iPen to make some digital sketches on Microsoft OneNote (an app I mentioned in my blog post Note To Oneself back in April) to act as an ideas board. I will report back on how this works out.
To create the scene I hung the nest up near to the fuse box in the studio using a metal hook and clamp and lit it using a single strobe with a snoot and honeycomb diffuser (which seems to be my modifier of choice just at present, following the chiaroscuro theme). I wanted a high-contrast shot with dark, well-defined shadows – typical of the type of sharp lighting in a loft space from a torch. The only thing missing was a ‘hand’ and so the camera was positioned on a tripod with a remote shutter release so that I could extend my hand into the shot and fire the shutter at the same time.
With the shot taken it was time for some post-processing to further define the shadows and, with a bit of Photoshop editing, I added the image of a wasp head exiting from the bottom of the nest.
Sign of the times
During my visit to a nearby Victorian Town museum I took these shots of a selection of old enamel advertising signs which were commonly used up until the 1950’s due to their vibrant colours and durability. But how many of these names are still in existence?Continue reading
Port for coal
The Shropshire Canal at Coalport was created in 1793 to allow tub boats of coal from the Shropshire coalfields to be transferred onto river boats (called ‘sprys’) in order that it could be sailed down to Bristol and then on to the worldwide market. Workers were needed to operate this riverside trans-shipment port and so dwellings were built to house them – and thus the village of Coalport (coal-port) was created.
At about the same time, entrepreneur John Rose founded a china works immediately adjacent to the canal utilising the transportation link for both raw materials and finished goods. The village is now synonymous with Coalport China although it was the coal that paved the way to its creation.
Duck under the bridge
Another shot of the Shropshire Canal at Coalport in the Ironbridge Gorge, but this time looking towards the Hay Incline Plane. This amazing piece of Victorian engineering was built in 1793 to transfer flat-bottomed ‘tub’ boats full of coal from a canal at the top of the valley down to this canal at the bottom. A tub boat would be slid onto a wheeled cradle to keep it level and then the weight would take it down the rails, pulling an empty tub boat back up at the same time. A steam-driven ‘brake’ at the top controlled the speed.
A morning walk just a few minutes from my house, and the same route as I’d taken with the dogs just a few hours previously – only it was dark then! This is the frozen Shropshire Canal with the bottle-kilns of the Coalport China Works in the distance. The kilns went cold in 1926 when china manufacturing ceased and transferred to Staffordshire.
It was just below freezing and the frost gave a Wintery feel to the scene – and to my fingers. It is a shot taken with my iPhone 14 Pro Max which once again shows how the gap between phone camera and DSLR camera is getting smaller.
Back in Black
Those of a similar age and musical persuasion to myself will probably recognise the title of this blog post as an album by Australian rock band AC/DC released in 1980 (and not to be confused with the Amy Winehouse album Back to Black). However this is not about music but about creating studio photographs with the background in black (see what I did there?)Continue reading
Past the finish line
It was a pleasing end to my motorsport photography season to have the cover shot of the British Hillclimb Champion 2022, Wallace Menzies, on the front of the November/December edition of Speedscene magazine. Inside, there were a further five of my photographs from the Prescott event in September and six from the Loton Park finale at the end of the same month – including the all-important ‘class of 2022’ group shot.
It also marks the end of my motorsport photography ‘journey’ (for the time being, at least) having recently sold my 35mm gear to concentrate on medium format photography, which doesn’t lend itself particularly well to sports. For almost a decade I’ve enjoyed this fast-paced genre but I feel that it is time to move on now and explore other avenues.Continue reading
Comparatively speaking…part 2 (Macro)
Extract from Comparatively speaking…Part 1: Now that I’ve thinned out my photography gear it seems like an opportune time to run a comparison of my medium format camera and smartphone to see how they compare in the real world. It’s clear that the much larger sensor on the Pentax 645Z is going to take images which will be capable of being printed sharply at billboard size but what about the majority of shots that just end up on social media? Is a smartphone, such as my iPhone 14 Pro Max, good enough? Let’s put them to the test.
Part 1 concentrated on landscape shots. This part is a much closer view of the world in macro (which, technically speaking, is 1:1 ratio). Both the Pentax and iPhone have dedicated macro lenses so let’s see how they compare (I also have a set of extension tubes for the Pentax but have left them out of the tests to provide a fairer comparison).Continue reading