The aim of this collection of photographs is to show how the majority of locks on UK canals continue to operate using Victorian engineering, and without any modernisation or 21st century technology. There are some exceptions to this: e.g.: the Anderton Lift and the Foxton Incline Plane lift, and although some rivers do have electrically operated locks, the principle of how a boat progresses up or down hill remains the same.
I visited two locks to take the photographs: one at Napton on the Oxford Canal, a narrow canal, and one at Stoke Bruerne on the Grand Union, a wide canal. The only difference between a narrow and wide canal is the width of the locks, but I wanted to show the different winding gear and gates. I avoided taking photographs of scenery or boats as there are many such photographs in existence. This was an exercise in photographing the locks and their workings rather than a create a set of “postcard” images.
I used a 24 – 105mm zoom lens as this gave me the flexibility of being able to take close up photographs and also to stand back and zoom into the subject without falling into the canal! All the photographs were taken on aperture priority. I found the first set taken on the narrow canal difficult as it was a dull day and I each time I closed down the aperture to increase the depth of field the camera increased the shutter speed. Without a tripod (which would have been impractical) some photos were blurred and some overexposed. I had to alter the exposure compensation each time to allow for this. The second set of photographs on the wide canal were taken on a sunny day so I had less complications with over or under exposure. I have indicated on the back of the 10 printed photographs which ones were taken on the dull and sunny days.
I took some photographs of people working the locks, which I think worked well, but perhaps I should have taken more of the boats going down and coming up in the lock to show how the water controls the functionality of the paddles and gates.
I was pleased with the photograph of the wooden bollard. It was taken with a wide aperture (f4) to blur the background and from this angle it is difficult to assess its size. (Actually it is about 18” high). The bollard would have been installed when the lock was built, and now, with many years of ropes having been wrapped around it, has taken on a very different shape. It’s no longer straight sided.
I felt the photographs of moving water worked well considering the camera was on aperture priority, rather than shutter priority. Because they were taken on a sunny day, the camera set the shutter speed fast enough for the water drops to be in focus, which was my aim. I also took some of the moving water where the shutter speed was slower, and these can be seen on the contact sheet. My preference is for the drops to be visible.
When I assessed my work I was a bit disappointed as I felt I had not been able to show all the workings of the lock from the bank. There is much more to see from within the lock chamber itself but of course that is only visible from a boat.
Although I am pleased with the technical quality of these photographs, I think overall the collection could be improved by telling the whole story of how a boat gets from one level to another using only mechanical technology. Whilst all the photographs are of the same subject, there is no narrative, and anyone who is not familiar with locks would not necessarily understand what is going on.
I intend to take more photographs in future when we next take our own boat through some locks. The view of the engineering inside the lock chamber is easier to see and photograph. I will then revisit this collection and aim to tell the full story.