A Monkey's Revenge - My Blog

The best camera

The best camera is the one you have with you. These days that usually means a phone with a built in camera-in my case an iPhone 4s. This was taken today during a coffee break after shopping in Kettering town centre. I liked the way the reindeer stickers on the window seemed to be floating in the air. Problem is that I find my iPhone's camera very difficult to use for street photography and capturing a moment. I hate the lack of a viewfinder in any camera. Also the shutter lag and the incredible 'pull' on the volume shutter button. Lack of control on focus and shutter speed-etc,etc.

There are good things about the smartphone camera though. Number one of these is they are so ubiquitous that nobody takes the slightest interest in what you are doing. The quality is good enough for web use. If you are into filters there are tons of them to give 'professional effects'. We pro's will probably turn our noses up at these filters, but if it helps people enjoy photography then that can only be good news in my book.

Many newspapers are sending reporters out with smartphones for video reporting and even to take stills pics. That is always going to be second best to doing the job properly with a trained pictures person and decent gear, but in these 'good enough' times I don't see anything changing soon on that front unfortunately. 

It often amazes me when I see other photographers work on smartphone cameras. It can be very accomplished unlike my humble effort above.I have no idea how they do it with so many limitations. Perhaps I don't use mine enough to be familiar with work-arounds. I think I'll wait until somebody makes a real pocket sized digi camera that produces lovely files and has a great viewfinder. Hopefully before I retire ;-)


I've gotten out of the habit of regular blog postings. The problem is that a lot of the stuff I photograph these days can't be pre-published on here. So by the time it is published it's often a month or so ago from when I did the job and I've moved on to the next thing.

So I've decided on general rambling posts instead-here is the first one!

I'm so old that when I started in newspapers they were printed using hot metal press- paper in contact with metal set in a 'stone'.

This image is of a 'stone' at Oxford Uni Press. Fancy type. Not the same as was generally used on newspapers.

When I first started on an evening newspaper, it was located in an old workhouse. To get to the photographic department you had first to negotiate the print room with it's stones and machinery that clinked and clanked as the hot metal cooled down after that night's print run.

It was traditional for photographers to hide amongst the machinery on the newbie's first night duty and throw bits of the metal type near where they would walk to get to the stairs. Of course the old lags had laid the ground well in the first place by telling tales of ghosts to the newbie in the afternoon.

Another trick was to stick a white lab coat in the darkroom, complete with broom handle and old newspapers stuffed inside to make it more lifelike, then illuminate this with old PF flashbulbs linked to a battery and a thin tripwire or home-made device that went off when the poor unfortunate victim opened a door. It's a wonder more photographers didn't drop dead of a heart attack on being presented with a flash going off in the dark and a nicely lit ghostly apparition!

Yorkshire Tales

Facebook is a wonderful tool for keeping in touch and getting back in touch with old friends. I just discovered Jo Knowsley who used to be one of the writers for The Sunday Telegraph back in the days when it was seperate from The Daily Tel.

A kiwi by birth, Jo shares that peculiar New Zealander trait of being more british than the british. I remember her ticking me off once when I said something she considered disparaging to the royal family ;-)

I also remembered our trip to report on an old hill farmer way up in north Yorkshire who was struggling to make ends meet. We got up at silly o'clock to arrive in time before milking at 5.30 am. I casually remarked that it was "a bit bloody early to be taking pictures" and this time it was the farmer who ticked me off. "We'll have none of that profanity here, young man" he said as he invited us inside his cosy farmhouse. He then proceeded to read the bible and finish his breakfast off while we were waiting to join him to get the cows in and start milking them. Now I know there is a myth about Yorkshiremen and miserliness, but on subsequent occasions I can prove that to be untrue. On this particular day it proved to be the case though-not so much as a cup of tea was offered!

We duly fetched the few cows in to the milking parlour and then went back to look through the diaries the old chap had kept over the years. It had been a hard life-long hours and little financial reward despite people's popular opinion that all farmers are loaded!
Farmer Giles,(I've forgotten his real name), next rounded up the sheep as it was market day and he was taking them to be sold. Fastest way for him to make enough money to keep going. Unfortunately they didn't sell and he brought them all home again- a loss by the time he forked out for the diesel to take them to market and the extra feed he would need to get in for the coming winter.

Eventually we saw on TV that Farmer Giles had gone out of business,(Channel Four did a TV documentary on him after our visit). Sadly hill farming on a small scale simply wasn't viable at the time and I imagine he was one of many who had to give up the job and their way of life.


Farmer Giles turned out to be Paul Dunn- and he has written a book and also done voice recordings for the BBC as well as the C4 documentary. It was in Helmsley, N. Yorkshire.
he Channel Four documentary is here.

National Twits

It particularly annoys me that the National Trust are at it again, sending threatening letters out to stock agencies wherever they see photos for sale with their properties featured.I took mine off several years ago, cancelled my two NT subscriptions and make a point of not buying anything from them or visiting any of their properties. So NO NTcards,merchandise, etc.

My sister works for the NT-but not in their picture library. It's a short-sighted policy to have a go at photographers who try to make a few quid flogging stock pics of NT properties. They will have lost a fair bit of revenue and pissed off people like myself who used to basically fund my membership and frequent visits with the pics I was able to sell.

Their own stock library could have benefited from this if they had been more enlightened and asked for a cut of any profits made from photo sales elsewhere.
As it is they have pissed off most professional photographers, created a bad atmosphere and lost revenue. Stupidity at it's finest. Welcome to Britain's heritage....but don't try selling any photos or any kind of commercial use of images shot on their property! I will not even use one of my photos here from past visits or jobs shot on NT properties for national newspapers like The Guardian and The Telegraph-in case they decide to get legal on me. In effect they got LOTS of free publicity and extra visitors as a result of my efforts, and those of other professional editorial photographers.Their loss- and also the nation's.Sad that nobody in charge at the NT can see what has occurred and talk to people like me to make changes that would benefit everybody. As guardians of our heritage they leave an awful lot to be desired!

Roving around Rover

Last week was an interesting one for me. I gave my first talk for Manfrotto up in Sheffield at Harrisons Cameras Training Centre, where I met the excellent Phil Coates who was also giving a talk about his action and travel photography and videography.

One of my jobs last week was to photograph the Jaguar Land Rover production line at JLR Solihull for The Guardian. I recognised the Lode Lane site immediately. Clearly I have excellent visual memory, because I remembered it from when my late Uncle Tom Robertson worked for Rover on the same site and although he wouldn't recognise the place these days it's still shoe-horned into the same place.

The new plant is very swish and so are the vehicles they produce there. Last year I photographed the JLR boss, Ratan Tata and under his company's stewardship JLR are doing really well. First impressions and the one that my Uncle Tom would have noticed is how few workers there are on the production line compared to the old days. Robots everywhere and it does resemble a scene from the Terminator movies. Very clean everywhere and also very high tech. Men and women mind the machines as the robots pick up and assemble aluminium sections of the new light weight Land Rovers and Range Rovers.

As the machines go about their business, fork lift trucks and electric vehicles towing bins of parts navigate the areas between them. I hadn't expected so much safety to be in place, but there are cages around all the robots and before you can even tour the place you have to sit through a safety film. Safety goggles, high vis vests and even watch protectors must be worn.

We passed another tour going in the opposite direction-a party of youngsters being shown around. Time was of the essence so I grabbed photo opportunities wherever I saw them but also missed a few where there simply wasn't time to stop and take pictures. At the end of the tour a surprise was in store- I met a photographer mate who was doing a PR shoot for JLR- great timing as it was the day the 500,000th Range Rover Sport vehicle was rolled off the line, destined for a lucky owner in Dubai.

We compared notes about the pretty awful lighting in parts of the factory. Perfect for production of cars, not so good for photography! My friend mentioned that he needed to use flash to light the people on his PR shots, but of course that shines back from the flourescent safety jackets they all wore,(and not possible to remove them as that would show the safety aspect in a bad light if you will excuse the pun). His solution was to take pics with and without the flash and then blend the images together in photoshop....clever stuff!

Leaving the assignment in my beaten up old Ford car felt a little sad after looking at all those nice shiny 4x4 vehicles.
Especially as further down the road my battery warning light came on and I realised the poor Focus needed a new alternator!


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