Friday, July 18, 2008

a little church 

Yes, I know I said I’d be away for a while… but this dropped into my inbox yesterday, courtesy of Joe Riley and his wonderful Panhala poetry group, speaking simple quiet words of calm acceptance; words I’m happy to leave here to watch over this space should I not be back for a week or two.

i am a little church(no great cathedral)
far from the splendor and squalor of hurrying cities
-i do not worry if briefer days grow briefest,
i am not sorry when sun and rain make april

my life is the life of the reaper and the sower;
my prayers are prayers of earth's own clumsily striving
(finding and losing and laughing and crying)children
whose any sadness or joy is my grief or my gladness

around me surges a miracle of unceasing
birth and glory and death and resurrection:
over my sleeping self float flaming symbols
of hope,and i wake to a perfect patience of mountains

i am a little church(far from the frantic
world with its rapture and anguish)at peace with nature
-i do not worry if longer nights grow longest;
i am not sorry when silence becomes singing

winter by spring,i lift my diminutive spire to
merciful Him Whose only now is forever:
standing erect in the deathless truth of His presence
(welcoming humbly His light and proudly His darkness)

~ e.e.cummings ~

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Way too stressed 

Taking a break from blogging. Back in a while.

Sunday, July 13, 2008


Doesd any horticulturalist reader have any idea what this is? Although it grows in our garden, neither of us has any idea.

And for a completely different kind of attractiveness, albeit sharing something of the same hue, here's what we found under these.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

This 'n' that 

I guess from my blog stats that there are still a few faithful visitors dropping by every now and again, and I know from Google reader that there are no end of posts I’d like to take more time to absorb properly rather than skim just sufficiently to catch up on the headlines. However, every waking moment seems to be spoken for, at least for the next few weeks. Not until the latter half of August is the pace likely to relax.

In lieu of anything more blogworthy, here then is an update on recent happenings, on the remote chance that someone might actually be interested.

Lots of time spent testing and getting to know the Canon 450D. Mostly, I’m impressed. Very easy to use, excellent menu structure, and results can be really good. Can be, but aren’t always. The autofocus doesn’t always deliver pin-sharp focus. Just a slight error, but noticeable when viewed 100%, since the 12MP sensor out-performs every lens we have between us. The forums seem to point the finger at the kit lens, but I’ve seen the same results with two other lenses. Several dozen test shots taken; many, many combinations of focus point, lens, focus method; camera tripod-mounted and mirror locked up to eliminate camera shake; every time it’s the live-view contrast-detect focus which can be guaranteed to give spot on results. But that’s not a method one would choose for general use. The results otherwise are in reality perfectly acceptable, it’s just a little niggle knowing that for perhaps in three shots the result is not quite as good as it could be. I shouldn’t be such a perfectionist…

The job change is going to happen. Not just yet, but by November at the latest and possibly sooner. To an outsider it might not look like a huge change – same employer, same division, similar work – but I know that the changes will be in areas where it matters most to me. For one thing, I’ll be working towards an outcome I actually believe in, something worth getting out of bed for. For another, I’ll be working for someone I not only respect, but with whom I know thoughts can be shared – both ways – with complete honesty. Knowing that all that is coming is already starting to have a profound change on my attitude to my daily labours.

More good news; my mother in law came out of hospital on Monday having made a remarkably good recovery from her recent stroke. There’s every chance she’ll be well enough to come to the wedding.

Ah yes, the wedding… 15 days away and thankfully all the vital arrangements are now in place. What a rush it’s been though! For the moment, we have a few days relative calm (my wife, currently covering tiny buttons with silk for the wedding dress, might disagree with that…) but I’m sure that as the day gets closer the pace will hot up again until we’re all in near-panic mode again.

And finally, here’s something to think about. We just heard of a friend who recently paid almost as much for her daughter’s wedding cake as we jointly will be paying for this whole wedding. Maybe they iced it in gold leaf…

Tuesday, July 08, 2008


Friday, July 04, 2008

3D leaf 

Just playing with the new camera... I took this for the adjacancy of the colours... but I rather like the 3D effect as well (best seen when viewed larger - click the image)...

Thursday, July 03, 2008

A Do-It-Yourself crash course in wedding photography 

I was 7 when I had my first camera. Even then, landscapes were my first love, and they've remained so ever since. I’ll often go to great lengths to avoid getting people in shots. So what am I doing committing to photograph an event where the people are the whole raison d’etre? Although the couple are keen on the idea, and it saves a considerable sum of money, I was very reluctant to take it on. What if I foul it up? What if they’re disappointed with the result? There are no second chances.

I browsed a few websites of wedding photographers, looking at what you get for your money. Some seem to take nothing but gimmicky shots – the horizon at a different rakish angle every time; some take ‘reportage’ photography to the limits; many showed what I though were poor choices of lighting angle and obvious technical flaws. Judging by their websites, some seem only to deal with those clients whose budgets are as big as their egos, although at the other end of the scale was one whose offering looked more like a set of awkwardly posed snaps taken with a the digital equivalent of a box Brownie.

I found just one site that I liked, a photographer whose work I could honestly say I admired. He had far fewer samples than any other site I saw, but every one demonstrated an understanding of light. Moreover, his charges were surprisingly reasonable. He wasn’t available though, although he very generously answered my technical queries about the way in which he used fill-in flash.

However, even if I said yes, there was a flaw - my camera is not really up to the task. We can’t use flash in the windmill, and an ageing ‘compact’ camera just doesn’t have the necessary high-ISO performance – even ISO 200 is too noisy for anything but snapshots. So the deal is that we buy a new DSLR which my son will take with him to Zambia to replace his film SLR, and I’ll use it for the wedding.

In amongst all the thoughts – apprehension, worries, fears on the one hand, but also excitement at the opportunity - as if from nowhere, a formula dropped into my head. Five things to think about for every shot – address each one, get the balance right, and it might just work. Five isn’t too big a number, and thankfully we’ll have plenty of time so I wont have to rush. If I keep my head, I might just be able to keep all of this in mind.

1. First there’s the location, the context of the shot. Angles, background, light, shade, colour. The risk in my case, especially with such a stunning background, is that I’ll pay more attention to the background than to the subject. Or indeed that in countering that tendency I’ll swing too far the other way.

2. Then there’s the subject itself. Composition: the subject in context. The subject is the reason for the photo; in general it could be a thing, or a colour, a shape, shadow, light itself, or even a feeling – a personal response to a scene. But here of course the subject is the very ‘thing’ I usually avoid photographing – people. Somewhere in the 3 weeks I desperately need to get some practice…

3. The obvious worry is the technicalities – getting a perfectly focused, perfectly exposed image. That, at least, I can work on. Every spare moment I’m playing with the new camera – trying to find its weaknesses, exploring the new facilities it offers (subjectively lower noise at ISO 800 than my own camera at ISO 80!!), experimenting with flash (something I almost never use, but judicious use of diffused fill-in flash is a great way to bring faces to life), trying out different image parameter settings, trying out RAW processing. I want to be as familiar with it in just 3 weeks time as I am with my own camera after – what is it – 3 or 4 years.

I’ll preface the next remark by saying that the Canon EOS-450D is a very nice, very well thought out camera – but it’s not perfect. Perhaps I was expecting too much of it; it is after all ‘only’ an entry-level DSLR. However, I was quite surprised to find that the lens can’t deliver the same resolution that the sensor can, by quite a margin – in fact, it’s no match the lens on my Olympus C-8080. In fairness, its not that the Canon lens is particularly bad, it just reflects how amazingly good Olympus lenses are. And the out-of-camera jpegs are rather too saturated, too punchy for my liking. If I want to make a worthwhile upgrade from my 8080 I’ll have to aim higher than an ‘entry-level’ DSLR. An EOS40D with a lens to do it justice? A Nikon D90 when it materialises…? Such a shame that the Olympus SLRs are let down by their sensors.

4. But enough dreaming. Thing number four is the light itself. I read somewhere how landscape photography is all about waiting for the light to do something interesting. I wont have the opportunity to wait for it, but I can at least make sure I take note of what the light is doing and aim to work with it.

5. It’s the last of these five things which worries me most. The least tangible, the least manageable and perhaps the one thing that, if you get it right, can make up for failings in all of the other areas. Capturing feeling, emotion, sparkle, in pixels. Good photographers have the social skills to bring out the best responses in people, and the total familiarity with their equipment so that the technicalities remain where they should be – unobtrusively ticking away in the background. I’ll most likely be fumbling with both of those skills…