Friday, February 24, 2006

After the Asylum with Emma Rugg

Here's a picture of me from my summer in France. One of these days, I shall be going back there, but for the Billingham camera bag to my right, still drenched with coffee dropped by an incompetent and unhappy waiter that morning, the lure of the France, the pull of evening treks up mountainsides to catch the final glimpses of sun and the first flights of bats, proved far too irresistible this week, and, even as I write this, it is is secreting itself into Andy's luggage in order to find its way back there.

Meanwhile, it successor, a vintage Billingham 205 gleaned for a song off eBay, is proving a worthy replacement being, as it is, interesting-smelling to cats.

This week saw the new bag's first field-test: a trip to Asylum (the local university's on-campus student-haunt) to cover Emma Rugg's fantastic gig there. Much as I would have liked to have tried one of its puppy-pockets, I was just too tired that evening to attend myself. I'm a well-travelled dog, I know, but homely comforts - coffee; a fresh pack of garibaldi biscuits; telly; and my favourite scarf - proved too much of a draw that evening and, though I very much wanted to go, I got irrationally fearful of puddles of beer which might damp my clean paws, or dark corners where I might accidentally left and never be found again... So, instead, I went to sleep, dreaming of Emma, in the cavernous Asylum, singing her always beautiful, ever-changing Isolated Impressions.

Imagine my surprise, then, when I woke up to find her staring right at me, in my own home! "Was it a vision, or a waking dream? Fled is that music: Do I wake or do I sleep?" I thought to myself, and, if I had opposable digits, I'd have pinched myself to check. But, no, she was really there and a jolly nice time we had too!

Thursday, February 16, 2006


If my friend's knees were mountains
Or, rather, grassy, undulating hills,
I would climb them with my dog, Barabas,
And feed the pigeons there.

Monday, February 13, 2006

...of a beholder...

Maybe, when we look into people's eyes, we actually see ourselves, looking inwards. Rather than finding in there some inner consciousness, obscured from a work-a-day world, all we see is that world, in microcosm, an everyday world, rarefied - like an etching on a tiny ivory tablet (not that I condone killing elephants for such things, mind). All this puppy-pontificating is, of course, a blatant excuse to post an image from my newly acquired Zuiko 50mm f2 macro lens... mmm...

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Out of my window, today, I saw...

A little blue tit, ruffling his feathers to keep himself from the grey and the cold...

And Wheezer, on her daily round-trip through her territory...

two nice things:
it's almost as if
the day got just-a-fraction

Startled kitten, moody cat

Startled kitten:

Moody cat:

Saturday, February 04, 2006

On Photography, with particular reference to fish

While I was satisfied with the Emma Rugg's guinea pig's portrait, the pictures of her fish were, in my estimation, decidely mediocre.

Yes, I know. I give the impression of being infallible, omniscient even - but the reality is that I make just as many mistakes as other puppies: I get tired; I forget things; and sometimes I simply just don't think hard enough. "But we fall in order to learn how to pick ourselves up again", sayeth the Batman, and, with that in mind, it was time to re-learn how to photograph fish.

The benevolent powers that be at furnished me with a beautiful Olympus Zuiko Digital 50mm f2 macro lens for a fraction of their usual cost. For those of you who don't know, macro lenses are usually tiny optical miracles.

"...It is difficult to buy a bad macro lens. This is kind of odd in a world where 90% of the lenses sold are bad. Here's my theory: Every day at least one man wakes up and says to himself "I have a 1.5 inch long penis; I think I will buy a big SLR like a pro. But I don't want to spend money on frills like lenses so I'll get a Tokina zoom." However, no man ever wakes up and says to himself "I have a 1.5 inch long penis. I think I will buy a macro lens so that I can make a 1:1 photograph of my penis and distribute this photo from my Web server. But I don't want to spend too much on this lens so I'll try to find a cheap Sigma."

In short, anyone in the market for a macro lens is already fairly sophisticated and quality conscious. If you read USENET then you know that the world is full of people asking "is this $150 Tamron 75-300 zoom as good as a $900 Nikon 300 prime?" Can you blame Tamron/Tokina/Sigma for trying to separate people like this from their $150? But there isn't apparently a big enough collection of fools in the market for macro lenses to support a junky macro lens subcategory."

Hmm... Newly acquired lens in hand, puppyhood intact, I set off for the local aquarium in a sophisticated and quality conscious way.

Macro lenses let you focus on things that are very close. They let you fill the entire frame with tiny objects like baby fish. They're also usually incredibly fast lenses, so if the said fish moves, there'll be less blur. Firing a flasgun at point-blank range is likely to stun a fish, particularly when it's been living in a darkened room/bottom of the sea all its life, so it's best to make as much use of available light as possible (unless you want fish fingers for afters...mmm....)

The trick is to work out where the fish will be, focus on that, and then manually alter focus for the shot. Shots: take many. The result should be some beautifully detailed studies of your chosen fish:

Better - sharper - but still relatively uninteresting, lacking in humour. Still hopeful, I turned my attention to an anemone clown fish that looked a bit like the eponymous hero of Finding Nemo - surely there'd be some comedy value here?

Yup, funny how looking again at something from a different angle makes them all the more interesting...

Ultimately, as much as I like to look at the reflections of crescent moons in the left eyes of nightingales, there's more to photography than stupendous amounts of detail. With my 50mm macro - the optical equivalent of a razorblade - still between my paws, I felt the urge to take dreamy photographs, that at least echoed with something of the alien, submarine world that these fish had been pulled from. Where better to do this than the aquarium's Twilight Zone, with voiceovers by Captain Picard? Here, there were jellyfish which look like spaceships. The original images were upsettingly dark, but a playaround in Photoshop resulted in a series of these:

I love the way you can see the fragile networks of veins running all the way through this jellyfish, and the wispy tendrils that help it navigate the ocean currents. Interesting that, though you could see these in the flesh, they were nowhere to be seen on the original colour image.

My conclusion? Being a good photographer is about having a clear vision of the image you want to capture. Having stonkingly good kit also helps.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Emma Rugg's Guinea Pig

Shooting guinea pigs (with a camera, not a shotgun) is, presumably, one of the activities that Olympus is currently touting its new E-330 model as the perfect solution to, given that it has a live preview function and a flexiarm LCD display. Such technologies would, of course, allow you to avoid the bizarre bodily contortions that are required otherwise. But, then, isn't that half the fun? If the best photography is about presenting the world as you see it, what's the use of a picture that depicts the world as you've never seen it? My advice if you're thinking about the new E-330: pick up a weatherproofed E-1 instead for the same money, and prepare to get uncomfortable :-)

And, with that, I'd best be off. Despite the calico-esque colouring of the above guinea pig which ought to strike a chord, Fran still looks like she wants to "play" with (aka "eat") it...

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Who would have thought it?

Who would have thought it, that a quiet, unassuming little puppy like me would make it into the pages of this week's Amateur Photographer? See clipping from above, and note its resemblance to a blog entry posted last October on this very site!

Battlestar Galactica

This week was one that brought with it bad tydings from across the sea. Firstly, I heard, much to my despair, that my favourite tv show Alias was being axed. Oh no! "Yes, it's the end of the world," you might cry, "Look, The West Wing is being axed too..."

But, then, post-Sorkin West Wing was kind of wrong, really. And President Bartlet wasn't in it so much; and they faffed around with Donnatella, even though she's the very epitome of woman.

Thankfully, every cloud (of bad tv networking judgement) seems to have a silver lining and this week was also the week that I found the DVD box-set of Season 1 of Battlestar Galactica going for a song on the internet. This fascinating remake of the eighties show that was, I hear from people a little older than my good puppyish self, rather good, takes the conspiratorial, labyrinthine story arcs of Alias, mixes them with a dash of hardened West Wing-ish politics (West Wing - Wing Commander - don't know why anyone didn't think of it earlier), and then throws in a scoop of dogfighting a la Top Gun, after it's been suitably heterosexualised for a prime-time audience.

Everyone eats noodles with chopsticks, and the steadycam in space has an extraordinary zoom - so, visually, it's a fine ersatz for Joss Whedon's Firefly too...

This time round, the Cylons, those old Dualit toasters of yore, look human, like deadly, predatory, highly sexual, scantily dressed Christian fundamentalists in fact... They have a Plan, read the intros.

Being the underdogs, evolved from robotic slaves an'all, I'm getting drawn in to siding with them, even though, in season 1, they wipe out the entire human race in an afternoon and then spend eleven episodes hunting the remainding 47,000 down... Yes, you see, but they never hurt any puppies...

Anyway, I have a theory that the humans will get to Earth, humanity will reassert its silly greed, anger, etc. - and then, finally, there'll need to be a person with a really cool car who can chase down criminals beyond the law. Enter: the calmer side of Cylon technology. Not convinced? See below and shudder...

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