Archive for March, 2016

Keep Trying!

Thursday, March 10th, 2016

Some days I get home, go through the images on the cards from my two cameras and find virtually every frame is sharp and usable and I feel rather dissatisfied.

Because I know I can’t have been trying hard enough.

Particularly with modern digital cameras it has become too easy to take pictures that are technically fine – the camera generally takes care of most of that for you, with auto exposure and autofocus. Mostly too, using Program mode on the Nikons give a sensible choice of shutter and aperture, and Nikon’s Matrix metering does a pretty good job with most of what used to be ‘tricky’ exposure problems in the old days.

I notice the difference with exposures when I use the Fuji X cameras – where I spend far more time twiddling the +- exposure dial to get acceptable results. The Nikons also do a rather better job on auto white balance, though since I almost always shoot RAW that can be corrected in Lightroom.

Of course there is composition, but it isn’t hard to compose safely unless things really kick off and you don’t have time to think; and careful framing has become something of a habit over the years.

So, barring my occasional senior moments (I’ve been having them since I first picked up a camera seriously around 1970 at the age of 25), on a day when I’m coasting perhaps 90% of the pictures are fine … but.

(The other 10% are generally with the 28-200mm, a nice lens but one that sometimes has a little problem with focus, especially when you are in a hurry, when the D810 often ignores its AF-S Focus Priority – Custom setting a2 – only to take pictures when in focus.)

But on the good days, the number of usable images is much lower, sometimes well under half. But if I’m lucky there may be just a few that really make me smile. My best images always come from working a little on the edge, being visually (and often technically) more adventurous. And you always learn more from your failures than from those that go too easily right.

It’s one reason why I like working with the 16mm fisheye, though on so many occasions it would be totally hopeless. But its different view forces me to think differently, to work at things rather than take the easy route.

Junior Doctors

Monday, March 7th, 2016

There is certainly something very wrong in the state of England at the moment, and the junior doctors dispute with Health Minister Jeremy Hunt epitomises it. When a government minister resorts to misusing statistics and lies on such a grand scale it should inevitably lead to resignation, but Hunt – like Iain Duncan Smith – seems to get away with it, supported by the BBC (over-anxious about its licence) and the rest of the media, whose proprietors, like the government itself, are rubbing their hands at the thoughts of the rich pickings from private health care as they gradually privatise the NHS.

But while I despair at the actions of the Tory government (and Labour don’t have much of a record at the moment, though perhaps things may change) I have been truly heartened at the response of the junior doctors, who almost to a man and woman have taken a stand against the imposition of a new contract. The strength of their opposition isn’t because of the money or even working hours – most already work unsocial hours and  there were many placards to show that colleagues were unable to attend because they were at work on a Saturday – but because doctors working in the NHS want to see it kept as a service dedicated to the public good rather than working for private profit.

Of course money and working hours are important. Already many junior doctors live highly disrupted lives with overnight and weekend working on a regular basis – because the NHS is already a 24/7 service, particularly for the junior doctors. For those whose partners are also working in the NHS it can be something of a nightmare, especially for those who have children.

Junior doctors are not really ‘junior’ and may remain junior doctors for many years after completing their initial medical training, working their way to becoming consultants. It’s a demeaning term, perhaps deliberately so, and one I think they and the BMA should refuse. They are doctors, hospital doctors rather than GPs.

Supporting the junior doctors at the protest consultants, GPs, nurses and other health professionals, all of whom realise that the future of our NHS is at stake. They see the injustice and the lies and realise that many or most of them are going to face similar demands from our corrupt government if it manages to get its way with the junior doctors.

Photographically it was a fairly straightforward event to cover, with most of those taking part being keen to be photographed, and was distinguished by the range and invention of the hand-made placards and posters that some of the doctors and others had brought, as well as those produced by the campaign with details of colleagues supporting but unable to attend. As usual when working in crowds, the 16-35mm was invaluable, and used for all of the pictures above, with the 28.0-200mm being mainly used where I wanted to isolate a single figure – as in the image below of one of the leaders of the protest holding a poster ‘Not Fair, Not Safe. #saveourNHS’, taken at 1/250 f6.3 ISO 1600 at 75mm with the Nikon D810 in DX mode – so a 112mm equivalent.

I focused on her eyes, and tried to be sure that Jeremy Hunt at to top left with a speech bubble saying ‘Lies’ was still clear. It worked better than I expected at f6.3, perhaps with a little help in post-processing, adding a little local contrast, clarity and sharpening. It has to be basically there when you take the picture, but a little dodging and burning etc can help. Though Reuters wouldn’t approve!

More pictures at Junior Doctors protest to save the NHS.

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End the killing in Palestine

Thursday, March 3rd, 2016

Protests at the Israeli embassy in London are somewhat frustrating both for protesters and also for photographers. You can’t actually protest at the embassy as it is a short distance down a private road, Palace Green, where protests and photography are both banned. Instead protests take place on the busy High St Kensington, with police attempting to keep the protesters inside a relatively narrow pen surrounded by barriers on the opposite side of the road to the gated entrance to Palace Green.

The Israeli embassy is only a short distance away, so the protests can obviously be heard there, but it isn’t a good location for a protest of any size. Police generally keep traffic running in both directions along the A315, the major route to the west from Hyde Park Corner and the penned area is long and narrow, getting very crowded. A narrow area of pavement in front of the shops behind the pen which police try to keep clear also gets very congested.


Glyn Secker of Jews for Justice for Palestinians

Police also harass photographers who try to work outside the pen along the front of the protest along the road. It is almost the only place from which to take pictures and if you stop police who are standing in a line along it are likely tell you to move on, though we were suffered in a very narrow space close to the platform from which the speeches were being made. Though the small crowd of photographers and videographers there meant it was often difficult to get a clear view.


Traffic passes very close to the barriers


Inside the pen, the crowd made it hard to work and difficult to move around.

More pictures at End the killing in Palestine.

I didn’t stay long, as I had another event I wanted to photograph, but was rather pleased to leave, having had enough arguments with police already. The location does present them with a difficult job, but it would be possible to make it a little more friendly and safe for press and public with a few more traffic cones and another foot or so of space.

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Photographer Trump Thumped

Wednesday, March 2nd, 2016

One of America’s best-known photographers made the news for all the wrong reasons when he was beaten up by “Trump’s Secret Service security detail at some ten-cent political rally in Virginia.”  As photographer Nate Thayer goes on to say in his post Trump Beats Up an Iconic American War PhotographerTrump should hang his head in embarrassment and shame. And America should be outraged.”

Thayer puts Christopher Morris into perspective far better than I could, but I strongly recommend taking a good look at his web site. Morris was at the event working for TIME, and you can read their response as well as an article on NBC News. He was attacked and then briefly arrested because he was taking pictures when protesters interrupted Trump’s rally and Trump shouted the order to his goons “Get them out of here!”

While it unfortunately isn’t uncommon for photographers to be assaulted while covering protests, either by police, stewards or by protesters, it seldom makes the news as in this case. This morning I read of an incident in London last night where a photographer was pushed and impeded by protesters, and such things are common, particularly when covering the extreme right.

The London police have usually been well-behaved recently when I’ve been around, but photographers are often jostled and officers deliberately stand in their way to prevent them taking pictures. A few years ago I used to be threatened with arrest frequently, although I haven’t yet been arrested I have several times been held by police for some time. Several photographer friends have received compensation for injuries and unlawful imprisonment from police.

I’ve also been assaulted on several occasions by stewards on a march, and once near the US Embassy was lucky to avoid serious injury when sent flying backwards, narrowly avoiding a concrete obstruction and rolling over with only slight bruising. I’ve been lucky too when pushed into oncoming traffic.

Such things should not happen. And they should certainly not happen at a political rally and at the order of a candidate for the US Presidency.

As Thayer ends his post:

“How dare you desecrate the work of people like Chris Morris who has risked his life to document events far more important than your irrelevant little political campaign, Mr Trump? You should be defending the rights of people like Morris to do his job, not arresting them.

“Even Saddam Hussein didn’t arrest Christopher Morris, but Trump did. What does that say about America in 2016?”

Middle East Problems

Tuesday, March 1st, 2016

London has long been a city which has welcomed people from across the world including political refugees and the protests that I photograph here reflect conflicts from around the world, at the current time particularly the events in the Middle East. It was of course our geopolitical meddling in the era of the British Empire that played a large part in setting up most of these continuing problems, and more recently as poodle to the spectacularly incompetent USA in bringing some of the pots to boil. Along of course with some help from the other Western nations, including Germany, France and Russia, all fighting for a share of the spoils.  Back in the past it was a very profitable business – as the huge late Victorian and Edwardian banks and offices in most of our cities provide solid evidence of the success of our exploitation.

We picked winners and losers; drew straight lines on maps and generally supported despots, overlooking their crimes. Among the losers were the Palestinians and the Kurds, and in October both were out protesting on the streets of London.

Kurds were protesting against the bombing of a peace protest in Ankara which killed 130 people, mainly young activists, blaming Turkey and President Erdogan for the massacre. Kurds living in Turkey have long been a persecuted minority, with persistent government attempts to eradicate their culture and language.  Many of them want their own nation, Kurdistan, which would also include Kurdish areas of Syria and Iraq, and back the PKK and its leader Abdullah Ocalan, held in a Turkish jail for since his arrest with the help of the CIA in 1999. In recent years the Kurds have been trying to make peace with Turkey, but since Erdogan and his AKP party did well in last year’s elections, they have been clamping down on all opposition in the country. The protesters describe Erdogan as a fascist dictator.

The protest received support from a wide range of groups, including some from the British left.  More at Ankara peace protest bombing.

A couple of days later I was outside the Palestinian Authority UK Mission in Hammersmith where the Zionist Federation had come to stage a protest against the stabbings of Jews in Israel and groups supporting Palestinian resistance to Israeli occupation and terror had come for a counter-protest condemning all violence in the country.  Police kept the two groups over a hundred yards apart, though just within sight of each other.  More pictures of both at Zionists and Palestinian protests over killings.

At the time I wrote:

Loud public address systems meant they could at least hear some of what the others were saying. But it was clear that those supporting Israel were deaf to what the Palestinian supporters were saying, with Professor Manuel Hassassian, Palestinian ambassador to the UK quite clearly condemning the violence on both sides and down the road a speaker making as his main point the ‘fact’ that the Palestinians refused to condemn violence against Jews.

Both groups of protesters were predominantly Jewish, and the pro-Palestinian protest had been called by Jews for Boycotting Israeli Goods along with other Jewish groups, while some extremist right-wing Christians had come to support the ZF.

From Hammersmith where the stand-off was continuing, I took the tube to Westminster, for Citizens UK Vigil for more Refugees ,  a candlelit vigil at Parliament calling for 1000 Syrian refugees to be resettled in the UK before Christmas and 10,000 a year for the next 5 years.

The vigil was in Old Palace Yard opposite the Houses of Parliament, and I often find it just a little frustrating that it is almost impossible to see that most obvious and iconic symbol of Parliament, the clock tower of Big Ben from that location. But working in the middle of the crowd I did manage to have it just visible, floodlit at top centre of the image above.

I made the image by available light – almost entirely from the candles. Parts of the protest were lit up by powerful floodlights for video, but these created problems for me with a very different colour temperature to candlelight. Using the D700 at ISO 3200 and 1/40s f2.8 with the 16mm Nikon fisheye gave a rather underexposed result that needed some work in post-processing – along with the use of my usual plugin to ‘defish’ the image to a cylindrical perspective. The ultrawide lens is great for working inside crowds, though it was a little difficult to move around particularly with people holding lighted candles.

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