Tuesday, October 30, 2012

How I found out that DIY tattoos are a bad idea.

I have long admired the art involved in getting a full sleeve tattoo but have no tattoos myself. I wanted to know if I could get used to an inked arm so I got a marker pen and drew myself a hearty Viking and a few other doodles and enjoyed the novelty, to be honest the novelty enjoyment might have been a little bit wine-fuelled because by the end of the evening every guest at our dinner party had added their uniqueness to the collective art piece that was my arm.

It was all a proper chuckle until the next morning when I awoke to find a perfect imprint of my Viking (and his variously obscenely drawn associates) nicely printed across my naked sleeping beauty (a.k.a the wife).  I was in a quandary; should I gently wake her and in a softly spoken voice explain that she now had a Viking helmet on her left nipple, or should I leave home and start a new life in the style of the Littlest Hobo.

I crept downstairs to knock up breakfast in bed (music may soothe the savage beast, but a bacon buttie made more sense that tootling a lute to break the news), and as it turned out I didn't have to worry too much about my wife's reaction upon waking up covered in my ink, because she was much more animated by the fact that my experimental arm art had vacated my flesh and taken up residence on our only set of bed sheets.

The moral of the story?  Vikings make damn cool tattoos.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

This list will make you a better photographer

A friend recently got in touch to ask for advice on how to crack into the world of being a professional photographer, which is a world I left about a year ago.  I told my wife and her first reaction was 'tell him not to bother' but I decided that maybe there are a few helpful hints I could offer.  So this list of 'rules' is inspired by the few years I spent being paid to take photographs (as a part of a far broader business I was running).

Golden rules of professional photography

  • Getting good at photography is like learning any skill, just study what the folk at the top are doing and ignore any advice you don't like!
  • Less is more, seriously, get the photo correct, don't push your luck.
  • The clients probably a twat, but they are a twat prepared to give you money.
  • Make three backups of everything.
  • Never delete anything.
  • Composition is everything, learn the rule of thirds and stick with it.
  • Photography magazines are expensive, but the titles that are genuinely aimed at professionals are often a goldmine.
  • If anyone tells you that you can't take photos in public places they are wrong.
  • Cameras are tools, not jewellery.
  • Care for your gear but expect it to get damaged, broken, stolen and / wet.  If your camera dies getting you the shot then it was worth it.
  • Backup again.
  • NEVER apologise, ever.  I mean, don't be a wanker about it, but you have no reason to apologise about or for anything.  Unless you puke on the bride, in which case your time needs to be spent running, not apologising.
  • Shoot in RAW, no other format matters AT ALL.
  • Never show anyone bad photos, if you only have three photos from a shoot that you're utterly proud of then you only have three photos to show the world, this is not a problem.  The world is full of photographers who post 500 shit photos from every shoot they embark upon, saving the world from sifting through you mediocre crap makes your better photographer (at least in the eyes of the world.
  • Never show anyone bad photos, seriously, if you ignore everything else on this lift remember only that when people you don't know see your work for the first time you won't be there to make excuses, if they see cack photos then you are a cack photographer, at least in their eyes.
  • Breath at all times apart from when you hit the shutter button.
  • Photoshop is useful, Lightroom is essential.
  • If forced to make a choice always under-expose rather than over-expose; if you're shooting in RAW then you can fix darkness, you can't fix blown highlights.
  • Google 'blown highlights'.
  • The manual setting on your camera is your best friend... In ideal situations, otherwise rock the aperture-priority function till it bleeds.
  • Get into the habit of 'resetting' your camera before every shoot.  You cards should be empty, your batteries new, your ISO as low as it can go, your exposure compensation at zero, your metering on centre-weighted, your flash on single, your bracketing off etc etc.  Pro cameras tend to come with almost no fancy functions and a two button reset, there's a very good reason for this, a reason you'll find out the first time you complete a shoot only to find out that you've shot everything on ISO 6400.

Please use the comments box to add more rules of your own!

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

I think I hate my bicycle pannier

Gah, even the photo of the pannier is awful!
I've been cycling to work for quite a while now and over time the amount of crap I carry has changed quite a bit, not least because I now eat food each day than I ever have before.  A large part of the enjoyment of cycling to work is the chance to 'give it some beans' if I fancy getting a bit of extra exercise, and thanks to the increasing number of Strava segments en-route both the opportunity and motivation to push a little harder first thing in the morning is growing.

The downside of expending this early morning energy while wearing a rucksack is that a unreasonable amount of water defects from my body to seek asylum in the borderlands of my rucksack.  Put simply I arrive at work looking like I've been smuggling an incontinent medium-sized mammal on my back.

So I fitted a pannier rack that I found in the back of the shed to my single speed bike and fetched a second hand pannier bag from ebay.  The first day I cycled to work the experience of arriving dry was certainly novel, but on every day since I've had a growing feeling that I might hate the bicycle pannier system.  Here are a few reasons why I'll most likely be going back to using my rucksack (albeit with a fresh tee-shirt in it every day).

Reasonable ratiocination for pannier rancor:

  1. Annoyingly it takes me about five minutes to either put on or take off the pannier bag, whereas with a rucksack I step off the bike and the bag is still with me
  2. Because the pannier sits above the back wheel removing or fitting it makes my hands filthy
  3. Cold weather makes condensation form in the lid of my coffee flask, so when I get to work I have to wipe clean everything in the bag
  4. Despite the fact all the fixing bolts are tight the pannier rack still rattles like false teeth on a faulty fairground ride; I spend inordinate amounts of time troubleshooting rattles and creaks on my bikes, so having a metal rack that is seemingly impossible to silence crazes me
  5. Every sodding stone, tarmac pimple and crappy crevice in the road makes everything in the bag jump up and down
  6. Fitting a pannier rack and bag has ruined the 'lines' of my nice, simple, svelte single-speed bike
  7. Getting everything I need for the day in the pannier back is a pain, packing my bag each morning is a game of tupperware box tetris, and even although the bag is big I tend to leave something behind because of lack of space
  8. Having a rack fitted makes my bike harder to hang up in the narrow alleyway beside my house where I store my bikes
  9. I like cycling fast, but having a fully loaded pannier bag makes me cautious, so instead of sprinting to work like Cavendish I'm meandering like Ms Marple.
  10. Jelly on a drumstick would feel better to handle than a heavy pannier on a skinny bike
  11. Keeping the contents of my pannier dry will be more of a challenge than it was in my waterproof rucksack; I know I can get a bag to cover it, but each of the waterproof covers I've seen folk cycling with makes the rider look like their towing a prolapse
  12. Let's think about lag - surely a square(ish) bag on the bag of your bike creates more lag than a rucksack shielded by my generously proportioned body?  I'm not terribly fast on my bike, but every little bit of reduction in wind resistance helps!
  13. My thighs rub on the pannier bag, and they're hardly hefty as Hoy's!
  14. Now that I think about it, I think my back is colder without a rucksack on it...
  15. Originally I think I might have through panniers were a good idea because the models in the photos in the catalogues looked so happy to be carrying their bicycle bound burdens
  16. P-clips are ugly, and I had to use p-clips to fit the pannier rack to my bike
  17. Quickly popping into a shop becomes quickly locking up my bike and then slowly detaching the pannier back from the rack
  18. Racing for Strava segments when travelling too or from work didn't seem a problem with my rucksack, but now I have a rattling, clanking bag on the back of my bike sprinting up hills seems a bit pointless; I know I carry the same weight if I use a rucksack but it doesn't feel like it holds be back when it's on my, er, back.
  19. Shaking about old tupperware in my pannier bag has been a bad idea - the seals aren't great so this morning the habanero sauce from my boiled eggs leaked into my coffee mug. Didn't taste too bad actually...
  20. Three times now I've nearly dropped my bike when dismounting because of the extra weight sitting on the back of my bike
  21. Ugly, ugly, ugly.  Not all of them admittedly, just the ones in my sub-tenner price range
  22. Violent lurching when cornering
  23. When the rain is really hammering down my precious cargo (by which I mean my lunch) will be nearer the ground, which means it's nearer puddles, and therefore in direct line of fire for the bow wave when motorists overtake me while going through puddles
  24. X is always a tricky letter to deal with in alphabetical lists
  25. You still reading this list?
  26. Z was my favourite character in Police Academy, which has nothing to do with panniers but does neatly conclude this silly list.

Thursday, October 04, 2012

Bands and promoters - make a bleedin’ effort!

This article originally appeared in 'Issue Punk Zine' number 62.

Whenever I sit down to write a column I’m wary of coming across as some old bugger having a bit of a moan, which can be a bit of a challenge as it’s reasonably hard to disguise the fact that sometimes I am an old bugger having a bit of a moan.  Before I get fully into my flow I also need to make it clear that there has NEVER been a golden age for live music in any town; the best time for live music is always tomorrow, next week, next month, it has to be because otherwise why bother?  There is no such thing as the best band in the world or the best show you’ve ever been to, because that will happen just around the corner.  Your band hasn’t yet played their best show...

Last night I went to a gig in the back of the local Labour club, and past the rows of cheerful codgers playing whist and cribbage was a little door that led into a stubby little hall that used to be part of an old World War 1 barracks that were moved from a nearby town to the back of this labour club between the wars.  This might seem like a little bit too much detail to impart, but it’s relevant to the point I’m going to get around to making.  Nobody I know had ever hired this venue (it was free!) before, and as far as the management of the Labour club knew nobody had ever approached them about hiring (for free!) their hall.  The management were keen to see last night’s gig happen, and partially due to the fact that most beers were under £2 a pint the gig promoters had a fair idea that their punters would be keen on attending.

The promoters had covered the inside of the hall with thousands of fairy lights and drawn all the curtains, giving the hall a very dreamy appearance.  The two acts who performed (Nathaniel Robin Mann and The Sons of Joy) both put on a very inventive show, the former using some instruments I’d never seen before in my whole life, and the later playing (and yelling) 1920’s American folk-gospel songs.  Everyone came away from the show totally mesmerised, and I’d say the effort put in by the promoters played a very large part in that.
Sons of Joy
Sons of Joy playing the bowels of a lightship, point in case...

So if you’re putting on shows and deign to make the effort to create something a bit more special than blokes in jeans strumming guitars I’m sure the cosmos will smile kindly on you for making the effort.  In one of my bands (ZEEB?) we always made a huge effort to decorate any venue we were playing, to have small parts of costume given to every person through the door to wear and we even had ‘gifts’ to give to members of the audience who caught our eye.  People remembered us, and people chose to come and see us because in these cash-poor times they knew they’d get a proper show.  Now I’m by no means claiming that ZEEB? are the example to follow (especially not our ‘stuffed lycra’ phase) but don’t take your audience for granted, give them something special.  Gimmicks are only gimmicky if you’re doing them wrong.

Monday, October 01, 2012

I'm not the sheet slitter I'm the sheet slitter's son, but I'll slit your sheets till the sheet slitter comes.

Following on from my strange and rambling blog post about the bewildering emergence of the slitter machine in the bewildering world of Interwebs meme tongue-twisters a new slitter based tongue-twister has emerged.

"I'm not the sheet slitter I'm the sheet slitter's son, but I'll slit your sheets till the sheet slitter comes."

I can't be jiggered to rant and rave about how silly this tongue-twister is, because pedantry isn't sexy, and I need to avoid any activity that lowers my appeal as I'm working with a limited tool set as it is.