Instant August – the backstory

Disclaimers: Firstly, I wrote this piece at the end of July – and didn’t  get around to posting it. As a result some things have already come to pass that I mentioned in my first draft as being on the cards, not least the Land Camera 1000, although I have hopefully edited those appropriately within the text (apart from the final Land Camera 1000 reference).  Secondly, this failure to post this piece, which I originally wrote in longhand on a yellow legal pad, was in many ways the catalyst for returning to wordpress.com. But anyway, onwards …

1977

  • Elvis Presley dies and has a posthumous number 1 with “Way Down”
  • Queen Elizabeth II celebrates her Silver Jubilee
  • I left school and entered full time work
  • Polaroid launched the Land Camera 1000 in the UK

So, a seminal year.

I remember using a Polaroid camera right at the end of my time in the 6th form. Given it launched in the UK that year there is a fair chance I used one of the first cameras sold here in the UK.

Well, long story short, I’m playing with instant film again. Although you already know that if you’ve read any of my other recent posts.

INSTAX SQ6 (i)
Instax SQ6, one of the prints from the first pack of film

What? Why? Surely Dave you’re a “serious“ enthusiast photographer? Why such frivolous pursuits ?

Well, yes, I am serious about my photography but for me that means being open to experimentation too. I enjoy exploring different photographic mediums and trying other processes and alternative technologies.  Most importantly though I like to have a little fun along the way too and frankly, having been confined to base for several months now the fun has dwindled.  So in a bid to inject some fun back into proceedings I gave into a long term itch recently and purchased a Fuji Instax SQ6 instant camera and four packs of instant film.

Let’s get a couple of things out there to start with – this is not a cheap way to create photos. There I’ve said it.  Cost of film packs varies but so far I’ve averaged at 83p per print. Of course that is not 83p per “keeper”! That is for the Instax film; films for the old Polaroid cameras work out at around £2 per print, success or failure, so not for the faint hearted. But more of that later.

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Perfectly Imperfect. Double exposure using Fuji Instax SQ6.

Secondly, if you are a control freak then these basic, mainly plastic, mostly automatic, cameras with virtually no manual controls are not for you.  The latter point in particular is one I’ve heard mentioned a few times recently as a negative but for me the whole essence of these cameras is the lack of manual controls and the focus (pun intended) on creativity. This seeming drawback is in effect their USP. Strangely enough, the presence of a plastic lens in most of them barely gets a mention.

So, in a bid to give my mojo a kick I decided in late July to haunt a certain online auction site and pick up a few old Polaroid cameras to complement my two new Fuji Instax cameras. Two? Sorry, yes two, didn’t I mention that a Fuji Instax Wide 300 was recently added to the SQ6?  These cameras are not unduly expensive, they are plastic and basic, it’s the film,  that’s where you pay!

Perfectly Imperfect - Dean Clough
An homage to Bill Brandt … with an Instant camera, Instax Wide 300.

In order to give an added frisson to proceedings I decided at the end of July to take at least one instant film image each day throughout August to complement the ongoing 365 Challenge. Sounds easy, but realistically I cannot shoot dozens of images a day until I get “the one”. I have to nail it within three or four exposures otherwise the project will impair my ability to buy food and wine!  But it is this pressure that is proving to be the biggest motivator.

It’s had an unexpected side benefit too. I’ve started to read about the subject and as a result have also taken an interest in photography beyond what was needed for my daily image. This in turn has led me to read more generally and spend less time sat aimlessly with an iPad on my lap. Last week for example I read three classic novels from my “must read” list and started a fourth expanding my repertoire of authors in the process. In short, I’ve more enthusiasm all round.

August #1
August 1st and the first Instant August image

My online research into all things instant photography led to the purchase of two books, both of which I have now read cover to cover. It also led to the discovery that some instant cameras offer a degree of manual control; enter the Lomography Instant that I mentioned in a post a few days ago.

So there you have it. In a bid to rekindle my enthusiasm I have now added instant photography to my kit bag, or should that be bag of tricks, and whilst it’s still the honeymoon period I’ve a feeling that I will still be shooting instant film as we march bravely into 2020 and beyond.

In the meantime, fast forward 42 years from the last time I remember using a Polaroid camera and I’m awaiting delivery of my latest camera purchase … you’ve guessed it … a Polaroid Land Camera 1000!

Street in Southport

We’ve been to Southport a couple of times this year, just for a couple of nights to get away from the noise and hustle of our family home which bursts with three generations of our family. As the Oldies we probably need the peace more than anyone! On the last visit we decided to go and sample the delights of Southport’s retail experience. At least the wife went shopping! I went for a wander around an indoor shopping arcade. I just so happened (!) to have the Fuji X100t in my coat pocket.

Southport 1

Elizabeth Gray on the photographylife website defines street photography thus: “… street photography is about candidly capturing life in public areas.” It is one of many definitions that I have seen. Often partly contradictory, these definitions all have a slightly different take on the topic but all include reference to public areas and the word candid, or variations, crops up very frequently. However, the biggest variant I’ve found has been the inclusion of people. For some street photography seems to feature exclusively candid images of people going about their daily business. Some , like Bruce Gilden, best known for his candid close-up photographs of people on the streets of New York City, using a flashgun, are definitely in-your-face street photographers. Others take a less intrusive approach.

Southport 2

Do Street Photos Need People?

So, whether or not street shots need people in them is something that remains the subject of much debate. For myself, I do not feel that street photographs must contain people. That said, there needs to be something in the image that hints at the involvement of people. People are often in my frame, often as small but necessary elements of the composition and sometimes just as shadows or reflections. I will sometimes photograph things left behind by people, less though with the intention of leaving the viewer wondering what the story is behind the discarded objects but more as a comment on the crassness of a small element of the human race.

Southport 3
Three people, two walking into frame and a third reflected in a shop window (I/3rd way up on the left) but to my mind people are not a mandatory part of all street photographs.
Southport 4
A hint of the future presence of people perhaps?

So, with that said, what do I like to photograph on the streets? Well, pretty much anything as it happens. It’s all a matter of what takes my eye at the time and how bullish I’m feeling. It also depends on where I am. I will photograph on the streets of a small town such as Halifax but am considerably more conspicuous as you rarely see folk wandering about with a camera. A city like Liverpool or London however is a different kettle of fish as can be seen in some of the images on this earlier post many of which were taken with the same camera that I was using in Southport.

Southport 5
Next enclosure along …

The X100T, and to a lesser extent the X100 which I used before the T, is great for street and candid photography and the image quality at ISO 6400, when exposed correctly, is superb in my experience. An aperture of f4 is ideal with the 23mm lens of the X100T when shooting in public although if the main subject is a person I often open the lens up to f2.8. When the prime subject is not human however an aperture of f5.6 or f8 if the light allows is preferable for my taste.

Southport 6
Fuji X100t. 1/140th ISO 200 f5.6
Southport 7
All good street photography finishes with a cuppa!

So, an interesting hour. The wife only spent a few pounds and I enjoyed a wander around an admittedly quite arcade. I need to be in the mood for full-on street photography and the genteel peace of this old arcade was the perfect setting that morning.

Why do we do it?

(c) Dave Whenham

Why do we do it?
The 3am alarm call
Driving two hours in the dark
And the rain

For a picture?
Why do we do it?

Why do we do it?
Hiking for miles
With a twenty pound pack
On a protesting back

For a picture?
Why do we do it?

Why do we do it?
Freeze in the snow
Shiver in the rain
Roast in the sun

For a picture?
Why do we do it?

Why do we do it?
At one with the landscape
Experiencing the sights
In awe of the Sublime

For a Picture?
Why do we do it?

Why do we do it?
Enjoying the solitude
Embracing the challenges
Living the life

For a picture!

Instant August – Week 1

As I’ve already mentioned, in order to mark my resurgent interest in instant photography I have set myself an additional daily challenge for August. In addition to the ongoing 365 Challenge I am also making at least one instant photo a day using the instant cameras that I’ve been acquiring from a well-known online auction site over the last few weeks.

So, the first two weeks are now past and it’s certainly been an interesting couple of weeks. The project is not just about the experience of using these cameras, some of which are over forty years old, and whilst the problem solving is something I enjoy the key element has to be the images themselves.

(c) Dave Whenham

Instant Trials

To mark my resurgent interest in instant photography I have set myself an additional daily challenge for August. In addition to the ongoing 365 Challenge I am also making at least one instant photo a day using the instant cameras that I’ve been acquiring from a well-known online auction site. But, it seems that not every day is suitable for instant photography, at least not when you’re still only a tiny way along the learning curve; my SX-70 Sonar for example uses 100 ISO film and needs lots of light or a tripod.

August #16
Instax Wide 210 – slightly more forgiving with 800 ISO film

The Lomo’ Instant uses Instax Mini film which is rated at 800 ISO so I thought I would use it for my daily image on 16th. Now, I am already liking the aesthetic from the Lomo Instant – I am amazed at how differently it renders images than say the Instax when they are using the same film stock. One thing however that is becoming very clear is that setting the correct exposure first time is going to come from experience. My Fuji Instax cameras generally do very well in Automatic mode and do it consistently but results from the first pack of film in the Lomo Instant are certainly not consistent and I am already sensing a tendency to underexpose.

LOMO TEST STRIP
Three test shots – Lomo’ Instant and Fuji Instax Mini film

For my first shot I left the camera on the Automatic everything setting and the result was very under exposed so I then shot another at Automatic but with +2EV of compensation set with much better results. For good measure I also shot a third image at +1EV for comparison. The results are shown above. In the end I used the version from the Instax Wide 210 shown at the top of the page for my Daily Instant but I have to say that the Lomo has the potential for much more atmospheric images once I’ve mastered it’s foibles.

To be fair this was not an easy scene on a dull day when it was actually raining but it’s an exercise I can repeat on a brighter day to see what happens in different conditions. I will also put the camera on a tripod and play with an external light meter to see how well the camera settings relate to light meter readings.

Breakfast in America

Breakfast in America … well not quite, but breakfast at an American fast food joint in West Yorkshire 🙂 We did take the long way home though (I wonder how many will get the lyrical connection?)

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Image 228 in this years 365 (Fuji X100t)

Todays image in my 2019 365-Challenge happens to be the 656th daily image since I started taking an image a day in 2017. Taken with my Fuji X100t its main appeal to me was the receding composition giving a sense of depth to the two-dimensional image.

Of course, I played with a few other compositions with the only rule being I could not move more than six inches from where I sat. I made a tactical error by sitting half-way along a bench seat so next time I set myself such a challenge I will think more carefully about where I sit.

© Dave Whenham
Fuji X100t

The only other successful shot from breakfast was again playing with perspective and depth this time looking upwards. I did however have one final play with this idea on the bus home but overall a mini project that ended a bit more thought before jumping in!

© Dave Whenham
Top Deck – iPhone XR + Hipstamatic

Smartphone(ography?)

Over the last 12 months my photographic interests have shifted considerably and whilst stills photography is still a primary interest (it needs to be as I’m 650+ days into the 365 Challenge) my main interests these days are Audio-Visual, instant photography and exploring what can be done with my iPhone.

I recently joined a smartphone photography group run by the UPP through which I hope to see a range of work each month produced by other enthusiast photographers using smartphones. I am particularly interested to see how people interpret the world around them through the medium of what is essentially a point and shoot camera albeit one with a built-in darkroom and special effects studio!  I see a lot of smartphone images every day on the internet but these will be from a small group of people who would classify themselves as enthusiast photographers and I’m wondering if they will therefore approach things differently.

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Candid: iPhone XR + Hipstamatic app

Purchasing the Huawei P20 Pro smartphone earlier in the year persuaded me of the potential for smartphone photography and whilst I sold the phone within a few months it was in no way a reflection of the built-in camera, which is superb, but simply that I couldn’t get on with the Android software that powered the other functions of the handset (text messages, internet browsing, checking emails … oh and making phone calls).

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Huawei P20 Pro – this printed at A3 beautifully

I have a small album of smartphone images on my Flickr account which I shall be adding to over time. I’m only just starting to realise the full potential of this creative tool though. They say that necessity is the mother of invention and my prolonged spells of being confined to barracks over the last couple of months have at least given me the opportunity to play, to experiment and also research the options. I have settled on a few key Apps for my use, figuring that getting to know a few pieces of software well will in the long run produce better results than a nodding acquaintance with a whole store-full of Apps.

STOP!
STOP!

My go-to App therefore for any post-production is Snapseed. I believe that smartphone photography should mean exactly that, all the stages of the process completed on the smartphone, in my case these days an iPhone XR which I believe is the current entry-level iPhone. Therefore I shoot with the iPhone, post-process with Snapseed on the phone and then upload to social media or the cloud from where I can grab images for Flickr if I so desire. I use Instagram too (link is to one of my three IG accounts) and always post to that account from my iPhone. I’m not impressed by the Flickr App on my phone however so prefer to upload those from my desktop.

Piece Hall, Halifax: iPhone + Hipstamatic via Instagram. The logo applied in Snapseed

Capturing the images is done either using the phone’s native camera or with the Hipstamatic App. Which of these I use at any given time depends largely on the intended purpose and to some degree on how I feel. Pictures of the grandsons for example are largely for family consumption so I use the native camera. This is not set in stone though and a recent exception were a few images of Zac (see first image above) which were captured for my 365 and I chose to use Hipstamatic for the effect created by the John S “lens” and Rock “film”.

At present these two Apps do pretty much everything I need so I am concentrating on learning how to use them rather than diluting my efforts chasing loads of other Apps. The one thing that would make Snapseed the perfect post-production tool on my phone would be more sophisticated black & white conversion options or at least a range of B&W presets. I’m still looking in to other options but at present am converting images with the very basic tool within Snapseed and then tweaking with the regular fine-tuning tools. I’d appreciate being able to quickly replicate particular looks however which is where presets are so useful.

Zac (double exposure)
Double exposure in-phone: iPhone XR Hipstamatic (John S + Blanko)
Finishing touches (including logo) in Snapseed

Interestingly I choose never to use presets within Photoshop or Lightroom when processing images from my Fuji cameras yet I am starting to see them as key components of smartphone photography. Horses for courses?

There will be more on this topic in coming months I’m sure. In the meantime, I’m finding that by using two mediums (instant and smartphone) that are not technically “perfect” I am more likely to experiment – is this something that others find?

LOMO’ Instant

First impressions count and on removing the box from its brown cardboard packaging this afternoon I was taken aback by the presentation of this instant camera from Lomography. Why oh why didn’t I take a picture of it, pristine and glossy in its box? Well, I didn’t, so you may have to Google it 🙂

Purchasing this instant camera was a spontaneous, you could say instant, decision; I’d previously researched the camera and it’s more recent siblings and decided that the unpredictability of the results was too much of a gamble given the cost of film. But then I saw a 24-hour flash sale which gave me not only the camera but also the three lens attachments for less than half the usual price. I clicked “Buy Now”, paid and only then remembered my earlier decision not to buy this brand. Well, too late to have second thoughts – at least that’s what I told myself.

© Dave Whenham

Of all the Lomo’Instant cameras, this one offers the most manual exposure control and as this aspect was important to me it made it the obvious choice compared to the Lomo’Instant Automat which does it all for you.  The Lomography website explains it in detail.

It effectively has one shutter speed (1/125th second – although it has a Bulb mode too), one ISO setting (Fuji Instax Mini film is rated at 800) and five aperture options (f8, f11, f16, f22 and f32). The built in flash can be set to fire, not fire or fire-when-needed. I have a light meter on my iPhone (Lux App) which enables me to check the light levels and set the camera accordingly. As an enthusiast photographer I also have a set of ND filters I can hold in front of the lens if I need finer control.

© Dave Whenham
The first 5 snaps

I only had time for a few quick snaps today but they were enough to settle my concerns about the potential results. It will take some careful thought and application but I’m sure from even this small test that this camera will enable me to produce some interesting and satisfying work. The Instax film itself is very stable and I’m thinking that my understanding of light and the exposure triangle will stand me in good stead when getting the best out of Lomography’s little box of tricks.

Watch for more over the coming months including a more in-depth review of using the camera. Cameras to me are about results and user experience not technical specifications so don’t hold your breath for those though!