Lensbaby goes to Chester

Clock, Chester

I find myself very lacking in inspiration right now, both in photography and in what to write about – the last one, at least, is unusual for me.  I feel a kind of flatness that I think is a combination of post-assessment deflation and the horrible grey light and brown colours we’re faced with this time of year.  I usually find I hit a low spot with photography around now, so that’s not unexpected, and it’s not so much I can’t think of anything to write about, but more that everything I’d like to write about is far removed from photography and this doesn’t seem like quite the right place.

Next weekend I’m doing some private tuition in London for someone who wants to learn how to use the Lensbaby Composer lens.  For anyone not in the know about this, it’s a kind of bendy lens that gives you a blurred effect with one sharp area in it – you can bend the lens around to move the sharp bit wherever you want to in the image.  That’s the theory anyway – in practice it’s quite hard to get it where you want it, and for anyone who hasn’t come across one of these lenses before, it’s best to bear in mind that ‘sharp’ is a relative term here.

It’s been quite a while since I’ve used mine. Some people reading this will know that I did my first Landscape assignment using this lens, only to be torn apart for it by the tutor I had at the time.  It put me off a bit.  I certainly didn’t feel like chancing it for another assignment, and the whole episode just took the fun out of it for me.  (And it is a fun lens.)  There’s also a bit of me that recognises that some of what my tutor said was undoubtedly right – it is easy to overdo the effect, and it’s easy to rely on it to make something interesting out of something that wouldn’t be, otherwise.  I can see that, and I suppose I was waiting to find some little project that it would be absolutely right for, but that project has never made itself obvious.

Anyway, it was time it had an outing, if only to convince myself that I still remembered how to use it, so when the sun came out yesterday I headed for Chester to give it an airing.  I didn’t get much time in the end – I was late leaving, and then I had to pick up a birthday card for someone, and then there was a gallery I wanted to check out, and then I was hungry so I had to go and get some lunch, and so it was late in the day by the time I managed to get my camera out.  I decided to walk along the City walls, down to the riverside, and see what I could find.

I started with the obvious – the fantastically ornate clock that sits right in the middle of Chester.  Then I went up on to the walls and, looking down from where the clock is, I got this cyclist.  In terms of getting the focus sharp, this was probably my most successful shot of the day.  I need some new glasses and I was really struggling to see whether or not I’d got things in focus – the Lensbaby requires manual focussing at all times, and I’m used to relying on Autofocus.  It was more luck than judgement, but I do like the way the cyclist has come out really clear, with everything around him a soft blur.

Cyclist, Chester

Of course, once I got home I remembered that I should have adjusted the dioptre in my viewfinder to fit my deteriorating eyesight.  This is something you only have to do once, or at least until your eyesight gets worse or you get new glasses or something, and I simply forgot about it.  This morning I did the adjustment and found that it was quite far out, which accounts for why most of my shots are nothing like as sharp as I’d like them to be – well that’s what I’m saying anyway 🙂  Here are some of the more successful ones.

Chester City walls, clockAnother view of the clock, this time from on top of the walls

City walls, ChesterUp on top of Chester’s City Walls

Dog walker, ChesterA dog walker by the riverside, seen looking down from the Walls

Lamppost ChesterAnother view from the Walls

Riverside, ChesterAnd another one…..

Red boat, River Dee, ChesterThe River Dee, from ground level this time

Railings, River Dee, ChesterEvery set of steps leading down to the river has these wonderful curvy railings each side

Water abstract, River Dee, ChesterPlaying now……not sure if the Lensbaby helps or hinders when it comes to this sort of thing, but the colours were too good to resist

Christine, The Groves, ChesterChristine

The last image has a story. I saw this woman standing by one of the benches, lifting her face up to enjoy the sun, and just had to get a shot of her.  Being my usual self-conscious and rather wussy self when it comes to photographing people, I sneaked it rather hastily – it did help that she had her eyes shut.  I moved on, and was further along the riverside fiddling with my lens when someone came up to me and commented on it being a great day for photography.  Of course it was her.  It was sheer coincidence – she hadn’t seen me – and we had a good fifteen minutes of conversation during which we found that we had rather a lot in common.  Her name is Christine, and next week we’re planning to meet for coffee!  Strange how these things happen.

Returning to the Lensbaby, I’ve been doing some thinking about the kind of photography that suits it best.  I think I like it best for people photography, whether that’s portraits or street stuff.  It really focusses attention on the person/people and the surrounding blur is an effective foil.  It’s not the easiest lens to use for street photography, everything having to be done manually and all, but I like the effect a lot.  Where I don’t think it works so well is with abstract photography.  Most of the time, there’s enough ambiguity about what you’re seeing to make the added blur a bit excessive, but I’m sure there are some exceptions to this.

I do love it for macro, although I didn’t do any the other day, because it brings out the most wonderful colours in things.  I also have the zone plate/pinhole attachment for it and I meant to try out the zone plate, but I never got round to that.  I’ve tried it once or twice before and find it very difficult to know what it’s good for.  I bought the attachment for its pinhole capabilities but I’m rather ashamed to say I’ve never used it because it necessarily involves the dreaded tripod.  The zone plate was a new one on me and I hadn’t heard of it before.  Most people haven’t, so if you want to see what it does, follow this link and click Zone Plate on the Optic drop down menu towards the top right – My Sunday student doesn’t have this attachment, so maybe we’ll spend some time playing with it……..

The future really isn’t orange

Orange headlight

My photographic mojo’s been missing for quite a while, and although I’ve now got it back, I’m still pondering something that bothered me a lot during the time it went AWOL.  One of the reasons I felt no interest in carrying my camera around with me was that I kept asking myself what I was photographing for?  If it wasn’t to display the images in some way, or be part of an assignment or a commission, or to have some kind of ultimate purpose, then why was I doing it?  A while ago I would have answered that it was the process itself that was the thing, and I still stand by that, but lately I’ve been feeling the need for it also to have some kind of purpose.

I’ve got so used to working in themes and creating bodies of work for assignments, that I’ve mostly lost interest in the one-hit-wonder style of photography – you know, where you take a great shot but it stands entirely on its own without any relation to anything else you’ve taken.  I’ve got to the point now where I have lots of photographs of most types of things and I ask myself if I really need another macro flower shot.  But if that flower macro was designed to be part of a series, then it becomes greater than the sum of the parts and a lot more interesting.  This is quite a radical change in how I used to think, and I guess it’s one that every photographer reaches at some stage in their career.

This is all fine and dandy, but the trouble is that it takes away a bit from the simple pleasure of wandering around and shooting whatever comes up.  I do sometimes think that increased sophistication – in any field – has its own rewards but also leads to a certain loss of sheer and simple pleasure.  When I started drinking wine in my teens, I thought Liebfraumilch and Lambrusco were wonderful; now I really wouldn’t thank you for them.  My taste and appreciation of wine has developed over the years and, though I’m by no means a connoisseur, I can tell a good wine from a bad one.  Which means of course that I don’t enjoy the bad ones any more and I can’t help feeling this is a bit of a shame, while at the same time not wishing to be that uninformed, novice wine-drinker again.  In the same vein, I now know better than to wear those leopard-print leggings or the gold cowboy boots that I thought were just wonderful at the time, which means I look a whole lot more tastefully dressed these days but don’t enjoy my clothes nearly so much.

I was reminded of all this when I went to a new photography club that recently started up locally.  I’ve always avoided photography societies like the plague because – and I know I generalise, but it’s largely true – they’re full of men of a certain age who mostly want to compare equipment and indulge in competitions that limit the concept of a good photograph to very narrow parameters.  This group was different, consisting of people about half my age and being aimed at the more creative side of things, with its main purpose being simply to have some fun.  But it seems I’ve lost that simple fun thing, and I couldn’t get terribly enthused about what we were doing.

Being the first meeting, it was all a bit vague what we should do and eventually we decided to go out and look for the colour orange.  I can’t quite remember how orange came up; I think we thought it was unusual enough to make it a bit of a challenge.  It was nice being out on a shoot with other enthusiastic people, but I realised pretty quickly that I’m not interested in shooting orange things for the sake of it – I’m really not.  Had I had some kind of passion for orange, or some other non-arbitrary reason to shoot orange, then it might have been different but I didn’t.  Had I been trying to develop my colour awareness, then that might have changed things for me, but I don’t feel that need any more.  Had I wanted to show the use of orange and its implications in western society  then it might also have been different, but I didn’t.  In other words, I found it rather empty and meaningless and not very interesting, and I also found it a bit sad that I felt like that. None of these shots really hang together in any other way than the colour, and it seems that’s not enough for me any more.  No, for me the future really isn’t going to be orange.


Chimneys, Chester

Traffic cone

Orange thing, River Dee, Chester

Orange bricks, Chester

Chester, here we come……

Moon over Chester

Moonlight over Chester

After feeling as if we’ve been stuck in a holding pattern for the last several years, life has suddenly taken off like a roller coaster on speed.  Geoff has had a job offer which he’s accepted and we’ll be moving to the Chester area in February.  So that’s one rental property to find, one house to pack up, four animals and household contents to transport up there, one house to put on the market, numerous friends to try and see before I go, and six weeks to do it in!  Please pass me a large glass of wine immediately……

It hasn’t quite sunk in yet. I thought we’d be ecstatic when this happened, but actually we’re both feeling a bit gobsmacked.  There is one little flaw in the whole thing, in that he’s had to take a salary cut of nearly 25% and we’re not sure how we’re going to manage in the long term.  In the short term, there’s the redundancy money to cushion things and house prices up there are considerably lower than they are here.  So that’s a worry.  But it’s a great job that will challenge and stretch him, and he’ll be working in a very small company which is something I’ve always thought would suit him well.

It’s an interesting area. Chester, as you can see from the photo at the top, is a gorgeous place – all mediaeval and quaint while still being a very sizeable town.  We’ll only be 40 minutes by train from Liverpool, an hour from Manchester, and even better, a bit over two hours from London so I can still meet up with my lovely and very much valued friends.  That’s a huge relief as it’s going to take some time to make new ones.  We’re also right next to the North Wales coast and mountains, and not far from the Peak District.  So lots of interesting – and I should think photogenic – places to visit.

It’s really exciting in so many ways, while being immensely scary at the same time. I’ve lived in the Canterbury area now for over twenty years and I’ve loved it here.  I love Kent – it’s a beautiful place with so much to offer and I feel very sad about leaving it and will miss it badly.  But I’ve felt a bit stagnant for some time now and I’m ready for a change and looking forward to exploring a brand new place.  At last life is moving forward for us, and hopefully in the right direction.

Anyhow, it seemed appropriate to share a couple of photos I took when we went up there for the interview, and a few others that were taken in the Lady Lever Art Gallery in Port Sunlight, which isn’t far away.

Chester windows

Chester window


Chester squirrel: Chester is almost entirely surrounded by its mediaeval walls and, although this squirrel was quite high up in a tree, walking on the walls put us at the same level.

Ceiling, Lady Lever Art Gallery

Ceiling, Lady Lever Art Gallery, Port Sunlight

St George

St George, Lady Lever Art Gallery.  He’s actually standing on the dragon, but there’s only so much you can get in the frame.

Chandelier, Lady Lever Art Gallery

Chandelier, Lady Lever Art Gallery

Coloured gloves

And finally, nothing is so vulgar as a coloured glove…..I hope you’re aware of that.

Lady Lever Art Gallery