I’ve recently been wondering if I have too many lenses. I’m not a collector, and only pick up old manual lenses for fun, to give me a different starting point in my photography. I was beginning to think that going out with three camera bags in the car was perhaps a little excessive. I was looking at the manual focus lenses, and wondered if I needed all of them. Perhaps, I thought, I should sell some. But before I did such a thing I first needed to experiment with them, to remind myself of their qualities and any pitfalls in using them. As it turns out, I like most of them, and probably won’t be selling them. They all have slightly different contrast and sharpness, and different ways of rendering out-of-focus areas, which gives different starting points for photographs.
This post is a non-technical, non-scientific look at them. First up is the Helios 44-2. Famed for its swirly bokeh, it was unlikely I’d get rid of this one anyway. Still, it was useful to compare it to the other lenses. In this photo, it is used on a Sony A7RII. This photo shows off the swirliness rather well.
One lens that has surprised me a little is a Cosina Cosinon-S 50mm f2, the kit lens on old Cosina SLR cameras. I was given the Cosina by somebody I knew as a non-working camera. I tried selling the lens on eBay, but nobody ever seemed interested. I thought I might as well try out the lens myself. Back then, my only camera was a Sony A99, while the Cosina is a Pentax K mount camera. The adaptor used to adapt K mount to A mount required a glass element in it. When I used the Cosinon on the adaptor, it never seemed quite sharp enough. And I could still never sell it. So it hung around my house, unused.
However, when I got my first Sigma sd Quattro, I discovered that the the Sigma mount is based on the Pentax K mount. The auto-stopdown lever on the Cosinon got in the way of the Sigma mount, but I “adapted” the lens (that is, I deliberately broke it) so that it would work on the Sigma. I eventually replaced my A99 with a Sony a7RII, so I bought a K mount adapter to use this and another K mount lens on it. Having done these things — which meant there was now no additional glass between the lens and the sensor — it turned out the Cosinon is also a nice lens, usable on both cameras. Again, it has a certain look that is different to modern, high-contrast, very sharp lenses, which makes it worth using as an experimental starting point.
One lens I do like but don’t use often enough is the Pentacon 135mm f2.8. 135mm is a troublesome focal length for me. When I go out to take photographs, a Sony FE 200-600G is mounted on the A7RII, and the Sigma has the 30mm 1.4. The 200-600G stays on the Sony until such time as I decide I need a wider lens. Birds and animals move, but scenery doesn’t, so I’d rather have the long zoom ready for action, rather than a landscape-oriented lens. And, practically, the short end of the zoom is close enough to 135 (especially with a crop) that I don’t think of getting a 135mm lens out of the bag. And yet the Pentacon is a nice lens, with interesting bokeh. It is has a 13-blade iris that renders out-of-focus highlights as circles, and it can be respectably sharp.
Pentacon 135mm f2.8 on a Sony A7RII
If there is one vintage manual lens that always surprises me, it is my Saitex 28mm f2.8. I originally bought this lens to disassemble for use in a home-made tilt-shift lens, but when experimenting I found that if the lens was tilted, the image wouldn’t cover the sensor of a full frame camera. So I put the Saitex back together, and started using it for fun. Then I found that, even though it is some kind of cheap no-name import, it has a really nice look to it. Certainly not as sharp as a modern lens, but sharpness can sometimes be over-rated.
It also seems to work well on the Sigma sd Quattro.
Saitex 28mm f2.8 on a Sigma sd Quattro
As it turns out, the only lens I’m likely to get rid of is a Pentacon 24mm f 2.8, which for some reason never seems to focus on either the Sigma or Sony camera. Whether this is a problem with the lens, or user error – perhaps I need to focus just backward of maximum focus peaking — I’m not yet sure. I’ll do some more experiments. This does mean, however, that fewer lenses than expected will be leaving the house, so I’m not quite sure where in the bags the lens I bought yesterday will go when it arrives.
Note: This is the first in what will probably become a series of life-writing exercises, published in this blog to enable friends to find it easily. Should any of these exercises ever interest anybody else, well, that’s a bonus…
I first went down to Devon in 1975. My friend Phil had moved there in the autumn of 1973. I knew Phil from secondary school, where he was also friends with my friends Chris and John. Phil had lived in the same town as us for a couple of years, those formative teenage years when we began to share the same tastes in music, books and other aspects of culture, such as the occult, the supernatural and UFOs, thus making us deeply repugnant to the girls in the school. Phil’s mother and guardian were, however, restless, and they found a house on the edge of Torbay, and so Phil left us.
When Phil moved to Devon, we never supposed we’d all remain in contact for many years afterwards. Why should we suppose such a thing? We were young, and people move on. But Phil’s parents returned to Warminster occasionally to visit friends, enabling Phil to also visit us; and he took the step of actually writing a letter to us, which encouraged us to write back, initiating a long-lasting epistolary exchange. And as soon as we were old enough, having maintained this contact, we started visiting each other.
Chris and I first made plans to visit Devon during the summer of 1974, and various close and not so close friends had toyed with the idea of joining us. After all, what young person wouldn’t like the idea of a trip to Devon? To be sixteen-ish and to have a holiday without parents? Of course, Phil’s mum and guardian would be there to watch over us part of the time, but we could visit Torquay, Paignton, Totnes and Brixham alone, without grown-up concerns shaping our days.
Unfortunately, in the end I couldn’t go. I don’t know why. I almost certainly had no money. I was never keen on shelf-stacking, whereas Chris would happily slave in Gateways in exchange for the money required to feed his appetite for books and albums. I simply visited his house and listened to his music, and bought very cheap second-hand books with my paltry pocket-money. I probably had a paper-round, but money from that was almost certainly used to maintain my drum-kit.
So, in July 1974, Chris alone made the trip to the house on the hill in Marldon. Phil was by now going out with his first girlfriend, Alison, and Chris returned with tales of the fun he’d had down there, how great Alison was, the walks they’d gone on, the places they’d visited. Chris was now, in a way, different. He now had knowledge and experiences I hadn’t.
Chris and I made a plan to visit over the Easter break in 1975. This time, I was determined to go. This would be my first holiday without parents. I was sixteen and three-quarters, Chris was seventeen and half. This was to be the only time Chris and I went to Devon together, and I think this might have been Chris’s last visit to Phil’s.
Chris and I hitch-hiked down to Devon on the 27th March. The hitch was smooth, and we arrived at Phil’s relatively quickly. There is nothing really memorable about the hitch, except I do remember that one of our lifts dropped us off on the A303 near Wincanton. There was no bypass then, and the road to the west of Wincanton was twisty. We had to walk quite a long way to find a safe and practical spot at which vehicles were likely to stop and pick us up.
The house in which Phil lived occupied an enviable position just off the Torbay ring-road, on a hill outside the village of Marldon, with a view of the sea at Torbay. All around were fields and lanes waiting to be explored. Close by was Blue Mountain (which wasn’t really a mountain). There were footpaths to Torquay and Paignton, although I don’t remember visiting either of them on this trip.
What remains most memorable about this visit is snow. Just after we arrived it began to snow. A soft, slow fall of wet, heavy flakes that was to persist into the evening. As it fell into the night enough settled to leave a thin covering of wet snow and slush the next day. For the week we were there the weather remained cold or cool and often grey.
We slept in a caravan parked in the drive. We had as many spare sheets and blankets, sleeping bags and coats as we could muster to keep us warm. Before we got into our beds, we read by and were kept warm by gas burners on the wall. Using these, however, caused condensation to form on the walls and windows as the water vapour from the burning gas met the cold metal and glass of the caravan. The heat quickly leaked away through the thin walls once the burners were off. We were young, though, and covered by many layers. Rather than the cold, what I remember is droplets of water running down the walls, and the smell of the gas burners, which is almost impossible to describe as no immediate analogue comes to mind. I think, perhaps, it is the smell of burnt propane and hot ceramics.
The next morning, there was still some snow cover on the hills, and the sun came out.
I recall very little of the rest of the week, except the notions the photos trigger. There was a lot of walking over the few days we were there. It was cold to begin our visit, as evidenced by the snow and the coats.
One thing I do remember is that I read George Bernard Shaw’s “Back to Methuselah”. Even now, I’m convinced, in an off-hand, amused way, that I’m going to live until I’m 150 simply because I desire to do so, and by some Lamarckian magic my desire will change my genes to enable such a feat.
Phil, meanwhile – trapped as he was on a hill a long way from the people at school he’d only recently got to know, and having split with Alison – had been unable to ramble at anybody for days before we arrived. Thus, we were subjected to a panoply of his fantastic notions and theories. By the time we left, he’d lost his voice. Some might say it was unfortunate for Chris and me that events happened in that order.
As the week progressed, the weather slowly warmed, as can be seen by the change in outer wear. Here are a couple more images from our walks around the lanes. Our coats have become more lightweight, so the weather had certainly become more clement.
In this picture I’m wearing my black military blouson. I had a thing for blousons. This is, I believe a Civil Defence blouson, and had CD buttons (which should, of course, have been removed). Later, I would sport RAF blousons.
Meanwhile, in between rambling interminably, Phil found time to practice his Frog Dance.
We went to Brixham, that much is certain, because I describe what I thought about it in a letter to Phil in 1976. I was impressed with Brixham; the harbour and harbourside, the architecture, the houses climbing up the sides of the hills, and the arcades and amusements. The whole trip to Torbay left a distinctly watery residue in me. Not only was there Brixham, but I could see from the dining room at Phil’s house the sea at Torbay and large ships at anchor there. Later, after I’d returned to Wiltshire, I had a dream about Brixham and a sunken ship. The dream went something like this, although this retelling contains the kind of rhetorical flourishes that forty years of writing and rewriting has wrought:
I walked around Brixham harbour. At least, it looked like Brixham harbour. No – it didn’t even look exactly like Brixham harbour. It felt like Brixham harbour, though. I was there with Phil and Chris.
The tide was very high and lapped at the very top of the grey harbour walls. And on this particularly warm, blue and sunny day in Devon, the harbour waters were clear. Not just the clarity of unusually clean Channel water – unpolluted by oil and diesel slicks, crisp packets, polystyrene cups, unsullied by the shit pumped daily out into the Channel from the coastal towns, clear not only of cans and prams, shopping trolleys and tyres, and all the usual detritus of a vast world population eager to rid itself of its disposable but convenient trappings – but a Mediterranean clarity. You could see from the surface of the water all the way to the bottom of the harbour. And even there the mud was clean; nothing marred the rippled and water-fluted surface. But most amazingly, sunk deep to its blue funnel, an oil tanker lay submerged in the harbour. The harbour was empty of all other vessels except this monster. Not a trawler or tourist boat could be seen on the still, smooth water. There was only this oil tanker, completely visible through the glass-clear water.
I stood and looked at the sunken giant for some time. And time and again my eye was drawn to the only part of the tanker protruding from the water: the funnel. The funnel was blue, with a gold star on it. The blue was deep, and electric; so deep it was almost black, yet so bright it seemed to burn. The gold was quintessentially gold – though only a colour, it seemed precious in its own right, a precious colour, a twenty-two-carat colour. I was mesmerised by the combination of colours, and the incongruity of that single giant funnel rising from the clear water of the empty harbour. Phil and Chris had walked on, leaving me alone, contemplating the form and colour of the funnel. After a while I became aware that I couldn’t smell the fish, diesel and oil I had learned to associate with the harbour, and even the seagulls were quiet.
On Thursday the 3rd April, Chris and I hitched back to Warminster, leaving the croaky Frog Dancer once again to his own devices. Our journey only took three and half hours. Phil’s mum had made us “lovely sandwiches”, but as Chris noted in a later letter, we never ate them until we arrived at my house.
Soon after this, in May I believe, Phil visited Warminster. But that is another story.
I am so excited … hold the front page … This week I launched my first creative commercial venture … an Etsy shop where I can sell my handmade books. I’ve been making handmade journals, commonplace books and sketchbooks for a while now and this week I finally took the leap of faith into the world of setting up my own online shop.
Journaling has always been so incredibly important to me and having beautiful books to write in makes keeping a journal even more special.
So, what is a journal?
It’s your story, your history, your present moment. It’s a gateway into who you really are and how you really feel. It’s a place to play and a place to get down to some serious work. Keeping a journal, whether you do it every day, once a week, or only in moments of strong emotions, good or bad, can…
So, this summer I was experimenting with still life photography, using various pots and garden flowers, and various lenses. While I was doing this I thought it might be educational for me to take a series of photographs using the same subject and background using various of my lenses at their maximum aperture, so that I could get a feel for the quality of the out-of-focus areas (the bokeh, indeed). Having done that, I thought it might also be of interest to any other passing photographer to see the results.
There is nothing scientific about this “test” or “comparison”. It is qualitative rather than quantitative. So, without further ado, let’s get into it.
All photos were taken with a Sony A7r2 on a tripod, using appropriate adaptors.
The first lens is an Autochinon 50mm f1.4 (PK mount). This is the version with the six-bladed iris, rather than the one with … more blades (I can’t remember exactly how many, but I know the other version is a lot more expensive). It’s a busy but bubbly kind of bokeh.
The second lens is a Canon 50mm f1.8(manual focus, FD mount). This lens is from an old Canon AV-1. The bokeh seems quite similar to the Autochinon — although perhaps the bubbles are slightly better defined.
The third lens is the good old Helios 44-Mf2.0 (M42 mount). I appear to have moved the camera slightly closer in this shot. You can, however, see the difference in the bokeh. There are still some bubbles, but fewer of them, and it all feels a little more swirly.
Finally, the fourth lens is the Sony SAL 50mm f1.4. The bokeh here seems a little harsher; certainly less bubbly than the Autochinon and Canon, and not swirly like the Helios. There’s something kind of… sharp… about this bokeh. It’s not offensive but it wouldn’t be my go to lens for out-of-focus highlights, However, it does have other advantages, chief among them autofocus on my A99 and A7R2.
One further interesting comparison might be with the Canon 40mm f2.8 lens. This doesn’t open as wide as the other lenses, so more of the background is in focus. Still, in this scene, I find the OOF areas a little gnarly. As with the Sony above, it’s not offensive, but I don’t… quite… like it. Again though, it is a small, light, AF lens, even on an adaptor, so very useful.
My favourites are undoubtedly the two old manual focus lenses at the top of this post, the Autochinon 50mm f1.4 and the Canon 50mm f1.8.
(The head photo at the top of this post was taken with a projector lens with a homemade cardboard triangular iris. More on the bokeh of other lenses in the next post!)
A very short and easy-to-read verse novella. A reviewer at Goodreads complained that the poem was doggerel. I didn’t think the entire poem was doggerel — there are various forms in the complete poem, some more “simple” than others. But the novella is in a sense a propaganda piece, so it makes sense, I think, that the beginning of the poem should have the kind of rhymes and rhythms that would draw the average reader in, the type of reader whose normal reading fare is perhaps not poetry.
The poem has the same feel to it as Powell and Pressburger’s A Matter of Life and Death – a conversation between Britain and America about why England/Britain/the United Kingdom should be helped by the United States in its fight against Fascism — the protagonist’s father fills much the same role as the adversarial advocate in that film’s heavenly court. (In fact, as I write this, I wonder how much of an influence The White Cliffs had on the film).
As in the film Mrs Miniver, which was also intended to persuade, the novella is set in a certain class of British society — there are children with nannies, husbands who think that first children should always be named a certain way, people who think that primogeniture is very good thing, people who live in the countryside in big houses. It conveys a stereotypical view of England (we’ll call it that) that reflects the mores of, say, the upper middle-class, and believes that those people, those mores, define England. For that reason the poem feels very located in a particular time and place, and doesn’t speak to a wider or modern audience. Yet, it wasn’t really written for a “wider” audience, certainly on this side of the pond. It was written to inspire an American audience to agitate to save a stereotypical Britain.
And, after all, stereotypes can be powerful. This poem was apparently successful in speaking to the American public about the perils Britain faced. The battered old copy I read was a 15th edition, so “doggerel” in part it might have been, but that doggerel struck a chord with readers in a way that more “elevated” or “sophisticated” poetry might not. And as I mentioned earlier, the poem is not doggerel throughout; there are some nice structures and lines later in the poem that indicate that simplicity of form might have been an intent. (Caveat: I do not know enough about Alice Duer Miller’s other poetry to be sure that this is so.).
It has historical interest, certainly, and also has pertinence to cultural studies. It has some interesting lines and some nice turns of phrase. So: A short read, that some might find irritating for a variety of reasons, but others might find inspiring for a variety of reasons.
 I like “Mrs Miniver”… That bomb shelter scene!
About 10 years ago, one of my oldest friends died. He kindly left me a sum of money to play with. I’d just got back into photography, and was at that time using a Sony R1. I liked the interface, and the handling. Around the same time, Sony released the A850 as a cheaper alternative to the A900, and that, and a couple of lenses, were within my reach because of my friend’s kindness.
So, an A850 went on the shopping list… But what lenses? Well, I only needed a couple, I thought. And who needs a bagful of prime lenses? A nice wide angle zoom, and a long-ish telezoom would surely suffice. The Sony 70-300G had been well-reviewed, and who needs anything longer than 300mm, right? The wide angle presented a bit of a dilemma, but after reading a few reviews, I settled on the Sigma 24-70 f2.8 IF EX DG. It was a big, heavy lump of glass, with a big front element to let the light in. Due to its girth, it’s become known as FatSig.
I’ve always been impressed with it. Other lenses have come and gone over the years, but old FatSig remains with me.
The 70-300 gave way to a 70-400, then a 150-500, then a 150-600. And of course…only two lenses? What was I thinking? I discovered M42 adapters, and the fun of finding old lenses to use. 50mm M42 lenses made me realise I might need a 50mm AF lens as well… And, oh, look, there’s a second hand Minolta 50mm f1.7 on eBay!
Still, though, FatSig was always there. It has nice contrast and lovely colours.
Sometimes you feel the need to go a bit wider than 24mm, so yes, you might need a Cosina 19-35, or a Sigma 17-35, or a Tokina 20-35. So each of them was duly experimented with, and the last remains with me. The Tokina is a nice lens too, for the the price.
And, of course, when I moved to the telephotos that started at 150mm, there was now a gap between them and the top of the Sigma’s range. Some experiments later, I ended up with the Minolta 100-200 which I still have – a sharp lens with lovely colours.
As time goes by, the lens bag has filled with more lenses (mostly cheap and fun). But the Sigma 24-70, good old FatSig, remains in the bag.
Ten years of use, dropped once and fixed once, still a lovely thing.
I’ve liked many of Thomas’s poems (when forced to learn “Adlestrope” when I was fourteen, I took against him, but learned the error of my ways later in life), and have often wondered what his famous nature writing was like. So, I dipped my toe in the luxuriant waters with this short collection of essays published by Penguin in their English Journeys series.
Now, I found in this book what I feared most. I’ve always been wary of nature writing, and the recent increasing interest in it has brought to my attention snippets in magazines and papers, writing that I’ve tended to find a little over-wrought, a tad repetitive, and just a touch rich. And it was the same with the essays in this book. I think I like my writing… with slightly less cream and sugar, let us say, a little less piping across the marzipan.
I can’t count the number of times a moorhen appeared, or a pond. Whether it was the same pond or the same moorhen, I’m not completely sure, but there was often a pond, and often a moorhen. I also began to lose my way in lists of flowers, and trees and routes, colours, sounds, leaves everywhere, the textures of bricks and stones and tiles, and it was definitely too much; it all tumbled down in a cascade of adjectives and nouns.
For me, the best essay was “The Village” — I think because it had the feel of a narrative, that there was a little life writing, some biography in it. Of course, there were passages of loveliness in many of the essays, but, as I say, after a while it all became a bit too much. Still, many people greatly admire Thomas’ essays, and find the richness a pleasure. But I think I’ve learned that I prefer the spare fictions of a Maugham, Greene or Rendell. And one idea returned to me again and again as I read through the essays: that I preferred the compression and discipline of the poems; that, for me, Thomas had said everything he needed to say about his love of nature and his connection to the countryside in Tall Nettles.
In July I published the latest in the Dereham Nodes, Genial: The Love Song of Simon and Julie. Genial is the next novel in my Dereham series of novels. I don’t like to think of it as a series, really. The novels are stylistically and generically different. The novels are simply interconnected. They are set in the same town, and that is where the interconnections occur.
Genial is Node 4.5. Why Node 4.5, you might wonder. There is a reason, naturellement. This node is more a novella than a novel, as it is only about fifty thousand words. The story is also, in terms of genre, quite different to the other novels. It’s a love story, as the subtitle indicates. It doesn’t really involve spies, UFOs, the paranormal, crazy people, or any of that stuff. It does involve friendship, which, I realise, is quite a theme of the later novels in this series. It also takes place in the background to everything that is happening in Raven of Dispersion (Node 4), while Simon later becomes a major character in The Ethical Hitman (Node 5). So, to me, it felt like a novel that was in the same network, but slightly off the main routes.
So, what is Genial about? It’s about the summer of 1976 — the dazzling summer, the long hot summer, the summer when the sun shone always, and would shine always and forever — and young old friends Simon and Julie drift through the glorious lazy holiday that stretches before them, wondering what they should do about the loves they somehow left behind, before the sun came out. As they share time together under the blue skies, in the sultry heat, with their friends — the friend who loves his car, the friend who loves fixing cars, the friend whose boyfriend loves his drink, the friend who loves all the boys, the friend who loves somebody else’s girlfriend — they wonder who it is they should love. Out on the hills, out in the fields, and riding in cars with the wind in their hair, Simon and Julie become languorously entangled. Can this entanglement last longer than sunshine? Or is it only a creation of this magical summer? Their story is episodic, picaresque, sentimental, romantic. And most genial.
Various characters from other novels appear, and Simon and Julie themselves re-appear in later novels in the series. The novel also holds another secret or ludic notion, a notion at which the blurb on the back of the book hints.
I had a break from writing after finishing Genial. It’s been a pretty intense 15 years of writing and editing (especially when you consider that my day-to-day job is technical writing!), including five novels and three non-fiction books. However, this year will see me get back into the groove as I work with sometime co-author Kevin on Node 0, and start writing Node 6. And I will be chasing a publisher/agent again.
This was my first Penelope Lively novel. Her name on spines has followed me around bookshops for the best part of my reading life. But in my drive to read more women authors, I found a couple of Lively’s second-hand, and thought I’d give them a go. She is a prolific author, and the first two purchases were pretty much pot-luck. Turns out that Moon Tiger, the first of the two I bought, was a Booker prize winner. However, I began my Lively journey with the slightly slimmer Judgement Day.
Judgement Day is story set around a church. That might make it sound like some kind of story about religion or belief, but it’s not really about that, although those topics are touched on. We meet the people involved in the church, but not all of them are religious. They are the members of a fund-raising committee — the old church is in need of repair. It is through this committee that various inhabitants of the town meet. There are also other characters who are not part of the committee and not interested in the church who nonetheless interact with the central characters and add colour and motivation to the plot.
The central characters are, for me at least, Ruth, the atheist with an interest in church architecture; the ineffectual and doubting vicar, George; the church Warden and veteran of World War 2, Sydney; and Martin, the troubled child of warring parents who lives next door to Sydney.
The story is told from various viewpoints, first one character and then another. Lively chops the viewpoints around quite quickly, with perhaps half a page devoted to one voice, then a page or two to another. Changes in viewpoint are clearly signposted, so the story is easy to follow, and each voice is distinct enough, because of their internal dialog or concerns, to keep the characters straight.
The novel follows the characters as they interact – through the fund-raising committee, or because they are neighbours, or because their children play together. Even though what happens might be considered mundane, still I wanted to know what was happening, what the result of these relationships would be. Because it is a novel, of limited duration, you know there will be a pay-off, a crisis. But how? And what? Why the title? What is, when is, judgement day? To reveal that would be to write a spoiler.
Suffice to say that a novel I thought would be about one relationship was very much about another. And ultimately, it is very sad book. You begin to see a glimmer of hope, changes occurring, a blossoming, perhaps. But that is cut short. And you can see and feel sad lives stretching out beyond the end of the book.
I was going to create this blog post back in January. But I became so involved in editing one of my books, trying to get it ready for July, that I never did get around to writing this. Until now. I can hardly believe it’s September already.
Back in January, I thought it might be interesting to look at the photographs I’d taken during 2017, and select my favourite from each month. I did that at the time, and I’ve since reviewed them again while writing this post. Turns out, only two have been replaced in my affections.
In January, I had to pick my son up from Grateley station, in Hampshire. I arrived early, so thought I’d take some shots of the station platform and lights. I also caught a very bright Venus.
Grateley Station — Sony RX10
In February, Lizzie and I went on one of our bi-monthly trips away. This time, we went back to one of our favourite places, the East Devon coast. Seaton, in particular, is liked by us. This photo was taken in the early evening, and catches two young people gossiping on the pebbly beach. There’s a cool winter feel to this shot I really like.
Seaton Beach — Sony RX10
March. The evenings were drawing out, the weather was beginning to warm, the farmers were harrowing and ploughing. Although not very wet, the tail-end of winter and the beginning of spring were damp, with many cloudy days. This particular cloudy day, however, looked fine with the stand of trees and the sheep. This photo was taken with an odd old lens, a Kaligar 52mm medium-format lens, which was mounted on a Sony A55 using a Fujita 66 to Pentax adaptor and a Sony/Pentax adaptor… The effect of the various crop factors was to make the Kaligar somewhere around 50-60mm on the A55. I had bought the lens on a whim for a mere £24. I sold it for a few bob more a few months later.
Large Copse with Sheep — Sony A55, Kaligar 52mm
Halfway through spring. The nights are noticeably longer. The sunshine is feeling warm at last. This photo was taken on the way home from work one evening. I was aware that there was a traffic jam in Marlborough, so took a shortcut through Savernake Forest. I noted that the track was dusty, and that the sun was setting behind the trees. So I drove up and down the track before taking the photograph, to create a little hazy atmosphere…
Sun Through Savernake Dust — Sony RX10
Spring is about to tumble into summer! Sunshine, long evenings and warmth. One thing I find fascinating is the routes of old roads. Salisbury Plain is crisscrossed by old roads, prehistoric, modern, early modern… probably medieval as well. One of these roads, the old Salisbury-Devises turnpike road, still exists, although its route across the Plain is maintained by the Ministry of Defence now, and is a gravel track right across The Black Heath. This heath is a high point of the central Plain and the road follows a ridge across it. The photo shows the old road as it enters onto The Black Heath. The building is an observation point for the military.
The Entrance to the Black Heath — Sony A99, Sigma 24-70 EX DG
In June, we took another of our bi-monthly trips, this time to Hele on the north Devon coast. This area — around Westward Ho!, Ilfracombe, Combe Martin, Lynmouth, and Exmoor, is another favourite. As we drove around some backroads near Combe Martin, we arrived at the top of a high down. The light was intriguing, so we stopped to take photos. I could see this interesting sea of green, a field among trees, distant from where I was standing, so used the far reaches of the zoom to snip this shot from the wider landscape.
Near Combe Martin — Sony A99, Tamron 150-600mm
In July I took a trip down to North Hampshire — in fact, what would have been South Wiltshire at one time — to visit a friend in Martin. We went for a walk on Martin Down. This was full of wild flowers at the time, including one I don’t recall seeing on Salisbury Plain, the rather lovely round-headed rampion.
Round-headed Rampion — Sony A99, Minolta 50mm macro
By August, the weather had been dry for a while. The tracks across Salisbury Plain are a mixture of chalk (unimproved) and gravel (improved for use by the MoD). The eastern Plain in particular has a lot of gravel tracks. When these tracks are dry, vehicles kick up a lot of dust as they travel along them. This can be very photogenic. In the photo below, two off-roaders were travelling along the track. I photographed the second of them through the hazy dust, capturing also the dust trail they had both left behind them.
Suzi Kicking up a Dust Storm — Sony A99, Tamron 150-600
Back to the centre of Salisbury Plain again for September’s favourite. This is on The Black Heath, at the junction of two old turnpike roads. To the south, the road heads towards Salisbury; to the north a road heads towards Devizes, across The Black Heath; and a road heads north-west towards Market Lavington. The fingerpost in the photograph had only recently had its fingers reinstalled. For at least four years, only the post had stood here.
This day had been very stormy, with thundery showers and thunderstorms all around — in fact, I had chased a storm across Wiltshire, and you can see one of the photos from this chase at the head of this post.
Track Towards the Cloud — Sony A99, Sigma 24-70 f2.8
As you’ll have noticed by now, a lot of my photos are taken on Salisbury Plain. You might also have noted references to chalk and gravel tracks. Some of these tracks do get quite tricky to traverse by mid-winter, and an off-roader becomes useful — even necessary.
For my needs, any off-roader has to fulfil three functions. It has to be small enough for Lizzie to drive — she is very wee; it has to be cheap, because we use our off-roaders as photography platforms, so we happily climb all over the bonnet and roof for better angles; and, it has to be decent off-road — not Land Rover or Unimog proficient, just decent. A Honda HRV ticks all the boxes. This has slightly over-sized tyres for extra ground clearance, although I know which ruts not to drive in, despite the tyres — I usually know a way around.
When I was taking photos one afternoon, I turned around and noticed the cool evening light on the battered old Honda, and thought it looked pleasing. I knew that the Sigma would take a nice photo of it.
Old HRV – My Transport Over the Plain — Sigma DP2 Merrill
Autumn. Most of the leaves have fallen from the trees. I prefer bare trees to trees in leaf. This group of trees, one of the Charlton Clumps, is one of my favourite subjects. You will find many interpretations of this clump on my Flickr pages. This photograph was taken in the late afternoon — the light was nice, and the clouds all fluffy and lovely.
The lens was an old M42 mount 135mm lens, made or distributed by Cimako. It only cost £5 and was actually very nice. I don’t know why I sold it on. (Well, I do really — an abundance of M42 135mm lenses in my bag).
Autumnal Charlton Clump — Sony A99, Cimako 135mm M42
Into the final month of the year. Salisbury Plain attracts several species of rare or scarce birds. The wide open spaces, the relative peace and isolation (if you discount the odd passing tank or explosion), the tracts of treeless grassland, are enticing to certain birds. During the summer months, Montagu’s harriers and stone-curlews nest here. In the winter, hen harriers follow their prey south and quarter the grasses, hunting for meadow pipits and skylarks.
This female hen harrier favoured me with a relatively close approach in lovely late afternoon sunlight.
Winter Plain Harrier — Sony A99, Tamron 150-600
And that is the story of my photographic year, 2017. What will this year bring?