Friday, 4 December 2009

A Bigger Picture in Wales: Experiencing the Landscape

I seem to concentrate on the weather a lot recently, but with some justification as far as field trips with the kids from Milford Comprehensive and Junior Schools are concerned. Today is not going to be an exception. Low cloud, drizzle and cold followed by real rain – that was our lot today. However, my disappointment at the quality of the light was not shared by the children. They are happy to be out and about with their cameras, whatever the weather.

After about half an hour we drove to St. Anne’s lighthouse, where we had another walkabout, this time on the paths around the old lighthouse and near the new one. This gave us a different perspective on the sea, especially when a tanker passed below the headland. Some good pictures were taken of the pasture with sheep in the foreground and the passing tanker behind.

Back in school, we again looked at the children’s best pictures in the back of their cameras. This is the bit everybody likes – reviewing the morning’s work and making those difficult choices. This time the challenge of deciding the difference between natural and man made added another dimension to the process. The next time we meet will be the first Friday back at school in January and we will have our last field trip. The added challenge will be to take more time over the picture taking by looking at each shot as it is taken in order to check the focus, framing, blurriness and levelness. We should be able to ensure that even more good pictures are taken that the kids can be proud of.

Above: St. Annes Head with the comprehensive kids

After lunch Cheryl and I met the juniors at Gelliswick, a small village with a shingle beach near Milford Haven. It is ideal for this field trip, with its theme of looking at the landscape and seeing what might be natural and what man-made. The shore itself with plants, sea and shingle was easy to identify as part of the scenery that was almost purely natural, while most of what we could see – the jetty with its pipeline, the road, houses and even the fields, we decided were either actually made by humans or at least altered. The children had a great time taking pictures of almost everything around them: on the foreshore with stones, shells; the sea with boats and the pipeline; and the houses by the shore.

It was good to get back to the classroom, though. Some of us took a bit of warming up!
Looking through all the children’s work that day was a great pleasure. They had done some brilliant work and everybody was keen to point out what they thought was nature and what was changed in the landscape.

Next time we meet will be the last of the field trips and we will be concentrating on taking the very best pictures we can by checking each frame after we have taken it. Then, if there is a mistake – maybe the horizon will be not level, maybe we missed the thing we were trying to picture – we can take the photo again. This way we take more care and pay more attention to what we are trying to achieve.

Ken Day, photographer

Thursday, 26 November 2009

A Big Picture in Wales

At last we have been able to do our second field trip. The weather has been so bad in the last few weeks with torrential rain, floods and gale force winds that we had to postpone our scheduled day out. The trouble is that the schools need to know in advance to fit in their timetables. Anyway, this time it worked out pretty well. The visibility was very good and the clouds dramatic, giving the children plenty of opportunities to get good landscape pictures.

Cheryl and I arrived at the comprehensive at 9.15 – just in time to follow the two minibuses to Neyland, where we parked at Brunel Quay, not far from the statue to the great man (Isambard Kingdom Brunel, that is). The wind hit us straight away, not bothering to go round us! Excitement got the better of the bitter wind and the kids wasted no time at all making pictures of the sea, clouds, the monuments to the town’s great history and the quayside itself. Walking round looking at the new bridge, the beaches and the rails set into the tarmac, lots of very good photos were being taken. Almost the final thing arriving back to the buses was staring up at the bronze statue of Brunel with a ship in one hand, a train in the other and his trademark stovepipe hat firmly on his head. Grateful to be back in the warmth of the classroom for the last morning lesson, we took time to look through all the day’s photos.

Above: Mliford juniors enjoying taking pictures despite the cold at Neyland

This is one of the main advantages of digital photography – looking in the back of the camera at your work before it is downloaded and getting a real sense of how well the session has gone and how many are cracking images. This time the challenge has moved on. Today the children had to choose their first, second and third best pictures, show them to me and give reasons for their choices. I was very impressed by the quality of the work. There has been a general increase in ability to look through the camera and compose a picture, as well as the all-important measure of holding the camera steady to reduce blurring from shake. The single vital thing, though, is the joy and satisfaction they are all getting from picture taking.

Next week we’ll go to Pembroke Castle if it’s raining and Sandy Bay if fine. The new challenge will be to say something about the landscape and the things in it – for instance, why is the castle where it is, and what natural forces have helped shape the land forms – and at the same time take great pics.

Above: Milford Comp kids at Brunel Quay

Well, after a short lunch exploring the Mackerel Wharf, we met the juniors, who had walked down to meet us. Two new children have joined the group, making a full complement of fifteen. Both Katie and Ieuan are very keen. Braving the cutting wind, we walked around the wharf taking pictures of the sea and sun, the boats in the marina, reflections in the puddles and all sorts of other images that fired the kids’ imaginations. Like the comp, the juniors are getting a lot out of their picture taking and are producing some very good work. We were all ready to go back to the warmth of the school for the last part of the day. It was so cold! I’d forgotten how much colder you feel when wind chill is added – next week I’ll wear proper winter gear.

Looking through the day’s photos and appreciating the care they all have taken was a very nice experience. The challenge of choosing the three best (and why) was taken up with enthusiasm. Also, we started to take the pictures more carefully, trying to look at the whole picture as well as the main subject. Next time we’ll look at the things in the landscape and ask ourselves how they came about or why they are there.

Ken Day, photographer

Friday, 6 November 2009

A Big Picture in Wales

Wet, wet, wet!

Milford Haven today has been rainy from 9 am to 3pm, just the time we have been doing the first of our outdoor photo sessions with children from the comprehensive and junior schools. Cheryl and I were a few minutes late due to big road works along the way, but that made no difference to anybody’s enthusiasm at the comp.

So, we made our way immediately in the minibus and cars to Withybush Woods, which is near the airport and has paths through the woods. Dripping though it was, there were no complaints and loads of photos taken. We looked at leaves on the ground, moss and patterns of trees against the grey sky. After a while we came to a wooden bridge and took more pics of rain falling on water, and the group had the job of standing there trying to enjoy the rain while I took their picture. A bit further along the path we came to a lake with a small stone bridge and a lovely granite seat.

Above: MH Comp Withybush Woods

Some great shots were taken here. Then we made our way back to the vehicles in very good spirits, despite the constant rain. Back in class, everyone looked the pictures taken that morning and had the tough job of deciding which was the best. It was easy for me – all I had to do was sit and look at all those lovely photographs!

After lunch Cheryl and I met the juniors at the Rath, and supposedly in the under the cover of the bandstand. The weather, however, was doing its best to spoil our afternoon by blowing the rain horizontally at us off the sea. Luckily, the Winter Gardens are close by and we were at least out of the worst of the wind and able to take some photos. It’s a nice place to visit even on such a day. Apparently, the swimming pool used to be there and now it has been landscaped, making lots of photo opportunities for the children.

Above: MH Juniors Rath Golf

The rain eased a bit, so we walked over to the Memorial Gardens, where there are plenty of chances to take different kinds of images, with mature trees, various memorials and other structures. Having taken all the pics we could, the children made their way back to school and we set about sorting the photos we’d all taken that afternoon. It’s not an easy task, but it gets us in the swing of making decisions about what looks good. This practice will be handy towards the end of the project next spring when we will need to look at all the photographs and make the difficult choices of our ten best to go in the exhibition.

Ken Day, photographer.

Thursday, 22 October 2009

A Big Picture in Wales

Today was day one of the two year project called Experiencing the Landscape, which is giving children from ten schools from south west Wales the opportunity to take a camera out and photograph their local landscapes. Co-ordinator Cheryl Kitt from Llandeilo and professional photographer (me) Ken Day from Llandybie started with two schools in Milford Haven – the Comprehensive in the morning followed by the Juniors in the afternoon.

Two of the best things about this project for me are the excitement on the kid’s faces when we arrived, and then, after the boring bits (for them, I’m certain) of the introductions etc, the handing out to them of their own new camera to use for the project. It was definitely Christmas early for two classes of children today! The cameras are beautiful in silver and, though simple enough to point and shoot without much training, deliver a result that’s good enough to print out at A4 and look really brilliant. The kids love them.

(Above: Milford juniors in their special garden pergola)

This is, after all, the end point of the project. After they’ve taken pics around their schools, and have gone out on four field trips to different beauty spots, they will be sorting the photos out on computer and then choosing their best ten images. The culmination will be a big exhibition in a local public venue in the spring, with a panel of pictures of each child’s work.

But back to today. The Milford Haven Comprehensive group are a lively bunch, being a mixture of year tens and sixth formers. The younger ones, as you’d expect are less restrained in their enthusiasm and showed their pleasure in having their own camera to take out by getting excited and snapping away to each other. The older kids were a bit more relaxed and showed their cool and their superior knowledge of cameras. Actually, they were really pleased to be part of the project. When we all went out into the grounds of the school for a bit of practice, all of them took it seriously and the first set of pictures showed great promise. As part of the project will be about the pupils making choices from their pictures, we started that off by asking the kids to choose their best shot of the day. At this stage, all they had to do was look through the images on the screen of the camera and them make an agonising choice. Cheryl and I looked at everybody’s favourites and heard why they were the best.

(Above: Milford comprehensive checking out their new cameras)

After lunch, Cheryl and I went to the junior school, where we were greeted by a very excited class of children, waiting to get their hands on the cameras. Naturally, they were all quick to work out how to take pictures and were soon snapping away at each other in the classroom. As soon as we had made our introductions and had said what we are going to do, we took the cameras outside to a very special garden in the grounds of the school. In the middle of the garden there is an octagonal pergola and we all had fun taking pictures of the plants, the flowers, the roof of the pergola and even ones of me!

Later, we went to an enclosed courtyard in the heart of the school where there were mature trees, birds feeding at hanging nuts, a pond with fish and even some gullible adults to sneak up on and photograph. Then, back in the classroom, everybody had to choose their best picture and say why they thought it was good. Just like in the Comp, the juniors are a great bunch to work with and I can see we will have real problems reducing the best of their pics to just ten each for the exhibition next spring.