Tea But No Tea

In the last few days I’ve photographed a number of tea-related events, starting with a picture of my wife holding a giant plastic tea cup in front of a local church to send to the local paper as publicity for an event she’s running. Friday night I was in a church in Islington, photographing a bishop and the CEO of Traidcraft, and on Saturday afternoon in another church taking pictures of a tea party and African dance workshop.  Those pictures were all for other people and will appear elsewhere, but here and on My London Diary you can see the work from a rather more spectacular event, ‘The Invasion of the Tea Ladies‘, with around 60 of them in checked pinafores and head scarves dancing around Parliament Square and in Trafalgar Square.

© 2010, Peter Marshall
A rather surprised man takes in a line of tea ladies dancing around Parliament Square

All of these events were part of Fairtrade Fortnight, promoting the idea of Fair Trade – of which Traidcraft was one of the pioneers in this country, although now it’s big business and in virtually all the supermarkets – and in particular trying to get us all to “Swap our Cuppa” to fairly traded tea.  More about it on My London Diary too.

I was late arriving, as the first train I can get to Waterloo without paying an arm and a leg doesn’t arrive until 10.04, and the event was scheduled to start at 9.45am.  My train was a little late and it’s about 1200 metres from the station so I was a little out of breath when I got there at 10.14, lifted my camera to my eye, pressed the button and nothing happened.

Nothing. I couldn’t understand why. Battery OK, card formatted and empty, everything switched on. I had a new lens on the camera and was worried it might be a problem with that, so I changed it. Still nothing when I pressed the button, and I was getting a little desperate. But fortunately I’d brought two bodies, so as I couldn’t get the D700 to take pictures I started to work with the D300, and every time I had a moment to spare tried to work out what was wrong with the other camera.

I tried taking out the battery, and replacing it. Tried a new battery. Looked through the menus. But every time I had just a few seconds before the tea-ladies caught my attention again and I wanted to take more pictures. The whole business was a bit more complicated because I can’t actually see the menus or markings on the camera properly without my glasses on, and I photograph without them, at around the limit of the dioptre correction on the eyepiece. So to look at the camera I had to take out my glasses, put them on, then I’d have to take them off and put them away to take pictures.

© 2010, Peter Marshall
Big Ben shots are obligatory when working in Parliament Square

It was a bit more than a quarter of an hour later, when the demonstrators halted briefly halfway up Whitehall that I noticed that I had actually recorded some pictures on the card – random shots of the pavement, and then a few minutes later when they stopped again that I realised what the problem was when I noticed a small light flashing on the front of the body after I’d tried to take a picture again. The camera was in self-timer mode. It’s something I’ve never used on these cameras and I had no idea how to turn it off or on, though it was a relief as I’d begun to anticipate a large repair bill.

I carry the small quick start booklets for the two cameras in my camera bag – not the full manuals which are rather thick, so I took a look through that, but couldn’t find anything.  Then I took a good look at all the knobs and buttons on the camera, and eventually recognised the symbol for it on a dial surrounding what on an old-fashioned camera would have been the rewind knob.  It’s not a dial I use much, but also switches between the high and low continuous shooting ranges. Once in a blue moon I do switch to the higher rate, but otherwise the camera is permanently on the lower, when I can usually manage to take a single exposure by taking my finger off the release fairly quickly, or hold it down to get 3 fps. It’s also where you switch to live view – which again I don’t.  Very sensibly Nikon has made it with a button you have to press down to allow the dial to turn.

I know the camera wasn’t on that setting when I put it into the camera bag. So somehow in transit or taking it out of the bag the button got pushed at the same time as something knocked against the dial and turned it.  It is a very unlikely event, but it happened. If it ever happens again I’ll realise what it is rather faster.

© 2010, Peter Marshall
Tea ladies dancing in Trafalgar Square

Unfortunately in my desperate attempts to get the camera to come back to life, I’d tried a ‘reset’ using the two green labelled buttons. I should have known it never works, but just loses all your carefully stored settings. Most of them I remembered to set back the the normal values I use in the custom settings. But I’d forgotten that it also returns the camera to what Nikon think the default value for the ‘Quality’ should be. Unfortunately its about the last one that anybody sensible would use, a relatively low quality jpeg.  So although I was taking pictures and they are not a complete disaster, they do serve as a very good reminder why you should always always always record images as RAW files. Tweak as much as you like and many of the pictures still have areas of empty black and harsh tones compared to the exposures made as RAW in the D300.

And although there were 60 tea ladies, there was no tea to be had.

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