Today is mainly teapots: photographing ceramics with Fuji X system.

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Clive Bowen is one the U.K’s most renowned and respected potters. He makes earthenware pots made from Devon red clay dug from the banks of the river Taw, thrown and slip decorated before firing them in huge woodfired bottle kilns. Following centuries  old techniques these ceramics are wonderfully utilitarian yet each unique in character, glaze and design. Today Clive is making mainly tea-pots. These are tricky little blighters. They line up on a wooden board, each perfectly thrown, the tiny spout crafted and cut so that it pours correctly and the handle shaped and attached securely, the lid correctly sized and alined.. It takes a lifetime of skill and trust in the material to get these right.  Every stage of studio pottery is crucial: preparing the raw material, throwing the clay, decorating, glazing, stacking the kiln and firing. Each stge frought with hazards and serendipity. But for now I am not going to talk about Clive or pottery; his story is for another day . .. any one who wants to know more can let me know. Instead this post is about photographing ceramics.

Studio Pottery is born of Earth and made from fire. It requires space to breath and to come alive.  The colours glow and glimmer.  Of course I could take these shots in a studio environment with back lights and strobes, umbrellas and stands and get sharp crisp images but for me the life of the pot, of the craft and skill that goes into it’s making, the energy of the piece would be lost.

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As you photographers know taking images of shiny things or surfaces is a nightmare. Every light source is reflected off the surface.  So I never use flash or soft box but stick with natural light,  North Facing if possible. I have tried back lighting but this just makes the image look naf and dumbs down frame centre where you actually want to show case the pot or cluster. On my Fuji XF 35mm lens I use a polarising filter, which sometimes helps to avoid blown out light hot-spots. I am not necessarily interested in the finest detail as these shots are not going to pixel peeped or printed to huge size. What I do need though for product photos,  is consistency.  Therein lies a difficulty when every pot is different, depth of glaze,  colour from dark to light, shininess, form and shape. To overcome this I shoot in jpeg mode not raw, this is because the Fuji film simulation modes are so reliable I know my colours will  be matched whenever I am shooting. I use velvia for a standard look. Classic chrome is my favourite, but not for ceramics. Similarly I find it easier to use auto. white balance rather than use a grey card.  I keep an eye on iso when shooting but don’t mind if it creeps up. Fuji jpeg noise at high iso can give a grain like look which again does not necessarily detract from my final image.

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Today I am photographing new work by Clive for a flyer to advertise an exhibition in Japan. His pots are being shown alongside  ceramics by Bernard Leach and other well known potters.  It’s early morning, for a few moments the sun is out. I have set up a super large jar with a couple of jugs alongside for scale. Stopped down to f5.6 so as to get some depth of field. [Wide open on the XF35 1.4 means half the pot will be out of focus] I take a couple of shots, Blimey! the lens is hunting like crazy for focus, light is reflecting off every surface. Grr! who wants sun?  I always take back-up images of every pot or cluster with a second camera. Today I use the original X100. The filmic quality of it’s sensor is still brilliant,  sometimes it is the only camera I ever need. Sure. the trusty little beast nails focus immediately, captures the shot where the 35mm couldn’t.  I move everything into the kiln area, where it is almost dark, light source.. one open door. Even here I underexpose by one stop, givening me better depth of colour and detail in darker areas on processing.  On blown areas I huff on the pot,  slide back about six feet and dash off the shot.  Breath on pot again.. repeat.  Some folk I understand rub soap or some other gunge on the ceramic to dull it down. That doesn’t work for me because the final image comes out flat and lifeless. My quick blast of warm breath takes the shine off for just long enough.

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I have to take a couple of shots of Clive in the workshop. There is strip, natural and tungsten lighting from all over the place. I turn everything off and just use light from the window which is covered by a lovely film of red clay dust. No room in this dynamic, creative area for a tripod so everything is handheld. For those who are interested my settings are as follows: sharpness plus 1, colour neutral zero, shadows and highlights neutral, auto ISO with shutter speed set at 80 slowest, dynamic range 200. I use single focus mode with the focus point set centrally to about middle size. The smallest setting is just too small for reliable focus on a glossy ceramic surface. Photometry is set to area mode. The XF 35mm wide open fairs much better in this environment.  The XF 60mm just about manages but ISO is sky high and noise is unacceptable.  I use the X100 and the 23mm slightly wider angle works very well for shots which include both Clive and his work area. Nice light on his face hands and the dark clay. I am done and out of here.

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Processing is done in Lightroom 6. I know these Earth colours by heart, green and gold, brown and ochre, and with the Fuji jpegs I only need to tidy up with some levels and a little crop here and there. I rarely add clarity, or luminence but sometimes lighten shadows and darken highlights.  I complete the edit with a little darken vignette.

 

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Snow Buntings, Crow Point and the Fuji XPro 1

A few Snow Buntings have made the onerous journey from the Arctic to Crow Point, North Devon.  Today there was a harsh frost, temperature minus four, so they may have wondered why bother?  Nevertheless a brilliant clear,  bright morning, with wraiths of mist gently rising off the River Taw and Torridge estuary and frost lying white, coating the dunes with tiny ice crystals.  Then typical of this Biosphere in a few moments,  a sharp,  freezing wind kicked up and the landscape changed from blue to grey as a heavy mist rolled in from the sea.  The surf, at low tide, some half a mile away.. invisible, yet still heard,  loud, Atlantic waves, at least ten degrees warmer than the air, the cause of this pea souper. Out of the gloom, random and abstract, a runner, miles from any where..

 

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Then we saw the Snow Buntings, squat, fat little creatures, hunched against the cold, feeding on frozen seed heads in the short Burrows grass. Flitting suddenly to another station, a flash of white and they are gone.

Back to my Fuji roots: coast and landscape

Overlooking the wild Atlantic coast it is never easy to forget the savage beauty of the ocean or the calm sunset of a still day.

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For a while I have been focussing on other photography projects but this evening I slung the lovely old Fuji Xpro 1 over my shoulder with XF18mm attached and set off along the sand.  Dusk comes slowly here in North Devon.  The light hangs in the air,  there is a glow,  cast from the sand and the sea, reflections of gold and blue.  Today not a cloud in the sky, a faint mist already drifting across the sand-hills,  everything calm. Around me feeding on the shoreline, Oystercatchers and Egrets, Sandpipers and Sanderlings. The haunting cry of the Curlew echoes across the River Taw.  Sometimes it is awe inspiring, sometimes you have to look out and look up, how can this magic be here for me,  yet others, far away suffer oppression and tyranny?  So for today I whisper a quiet thank you.

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Soul Intention: Big Sound Soul Band

The fabulous Soul Intention big sound soul band played two scorching sets in North Devon last night. It is not often we get a chance to see a full on professional big band,  with five piece brass section, pushing out brilliant Soul Oldies.  Chris, the male vocalist, seems to capture the real feel of these Soul Classics while Terry, female vocals, has a gorgeous mellow tone which enriches the mix.  The audience danced all night. Can’t wait to take some more shots of this smashing band.

 

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Mist across the River Torridge

Here in North Devon, where the cool Atlantic ocean meets the green combs of Exmoor, two broad rivers run into the sea. Either side of the estuary stretch mile after mile of yellow sand and dunes,  a protected area, where sheep and ponies on one side roam and the other where nature takes it’s fine course. And spanning the broad river Torridge a great bridge, twin to the ancient one that has existed for ten centuries at Bideford port, the Little White Town. If you should rise early one morning, when the sea fret is drifting along Bideford Bar and make your way alongside the Tarka trail, you will find the mist spread across the bay and river.

 

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