SUNNY DAY



This is a companion piece to Misty Day, with pictures taken a couple of months later: February 16th 2017 instead of December 18th 2016. After a cold spell we had several spring-like days, on and off, with temperatures as high as 17C (near enough 63 degrees in old money) though it felt warmer in the sun. The logic of the stroll and the choice of equipment were the same: what I'm more concerned with here is how we analyze our pictures and what we learn from them. For example, the picture above, with its blue sky and springlike weeping willow colours, seems to me to work well as part of a set on the changing of the seasons (which is the subtext of the "sunny day") but is a bit insipid on its own. 



Because you don't have a great deal of time and effort invested in the pictures, it's easier not to take them too seriously: to impose radical crops, for example. A great deal of foreground has been cropped out of the picture above, and to me, it makes the picture stronger. Is it perfect? No. The bridge is a little too central for my taste. But it's still a stronger picture than the original, below. 



In the original, I was too heavily influenced by the stone seat in the foreground. It's far too dominant, and it's irrelevant. A lesson I need to learn is how to ignore stuff like that; to realize that it won't be in the picture, so it doesn't need to be in the composition. Or even in focus: I needn't have shot at f/16, risking a compromise on a too-long shutter speed. 

The uncropped version does however illustrate some of the clues that tell us it's a sunny day. The little bit of sky that we can see is frankly rather grey, but the dappled sun and the shadows, along with some bright highlights, still lend it a very different mood from the misty day pictures in the companion piece. More broadly, this shows us how an impression may be made up of numerous small clues instead of one big one such as the blue sky at the beginning of this piece. 



Here, by contrast with the previous shot, I needed the full area of the picture. The prow-like point of the divider between the main river and the mill stream has to be in shot, as does the blind (and slightly drunk) window of the mill, above the main part of the river. The viewpoint is severely constrained: a bridge, with no guard rails, perhaps 1.2 metres (4 feet) wide. I dared not step back...

Perhaps a zoom lens, or even a very slightly wider lens (50 mm or even 45mm -- I have both) might have worked better than the 55/2.8 Micro Nikkor; but part of the appeal of a walk like this is using simple, high quality equipment. Sure, I have a 35-85/2.8 zoom but it's bigger, heavier and not quite as sharp, at least at the wider apertures: it's very good by about f/5.6 or f/8, which is probably what I was using here. Also, a prime lens forces you to consider viewpoint quite carefully: you can't just stand in one place and zoom in and out until things look right. This may suit some people better, but it doesn't suit me. Maybe I should try it for the third set of pictures I have planned for the same walk.

Finally, the reflection of the wall in the water on the left makes it harder to "read" as water. Maybe I should have been a tiny bit further still to the left.



What appealed to me here was the jumble of roofs and the thousand-year-old donjon (castle keep) on the upper left: I was trying to balance it visually with the bridge on the lower right. This is one of the reasons I like 55mm and even 58mm lenses: I could get more in with a 50mm, or still more with a 35mm, but the proportions of the bridge and the castle would be upset, with the bridge assuming more importance, and the castle not being so obvious.

Neither the modern wall of my garage (dead centre, butting on to the lavoir behind the bridge), nor the streaky, rusty corrugated iron roof of the building behind it, is as ugly in the picture as they seem to me in real life. Somehow they are softened by, and subsumed into, the rest of the picture. The television aerial in the centre is another matter. I am half tempted to clone it out, but there is a certain reality or truth in the picture that would be compromised if I did, so I haven't. The lesson here is simple: a small detail can ruin an otherwise excellent shot, and we may not even notice it unless we train ourselves to do so. 



Here's another view of the bridge in the park, which illustrates how some pictures need to be reasonably big in order to work. You can see the bridge all right on a decent sized monitor, but it gets pretty much lost on a small tablet or (worse still) 'phone. There's also the out of focus foreground. It certainly helps in creating an impression of depth but even at that I'm not sure. Out of focus foregrounds work in very few pictures, and I am not sure that this is one of them. 



This one is just plain dull, or at least, that's how I see it now: I may like it better if I come back to it. The appeal is the bent tree but it doesn't really read well. It is however a very good example of "if you don't play, you can't win." One of the enormous advantages of digital is that the marginal cost of another exposure is as close to zero as makes no odds, so it's often a good idea to shoot even if you're not sure there's a picture in it.

What makes it so bad? The dull, green water, and the fact that the bent tree doesn't really make an effective centre of interest: there are too many other, competing, stronger shapes. You can see too that despite the blue sky reflected in the water I was losing the sun: it kept disappearing behind clouds.



Finally, a return to the point I made with the first picture. This fallen branch is all right as part of the theme, and could be used to illustrate all kinds of pieces about countryside management, but it's basically just a record shot. Actually, it's not an absolutely straight shot, because I cropped the bottom off: the wooden shoring between the tree and the river was too dominant in the original picture.

Now: what do you take away from this article? The pictures are frankly fairly ordinary, so you might well think, "I could do better". If you can, the very best of luck to you. I hope to do the same myself some day. But if I do, it will be because I've looked at the pictures; thought about what went wrong and what went right; and tried to learn from both my successes and my failures. In other words, the important thing (apart from the physical exercise of the walk) is the aesthetic exercise of thinking about pictures. Well, that and getting off my backside, going for a walk and actually taking some new pictures. 


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Words and pictures copyright (c) Roger Hicks 2017