This is Polaroid Week, an annual celebration of instant photography. I’ve had all sorts of instant cameras over the years but these days just a couple of Instax cameras adorn my shelf. However, there is a vibrant online community and I do enjoy seeing what is posted. From straightforward images of everyday life to fabulous fantasy creations the instant film community is thriving.
I have however gone through occasional phases of using instant film as well as a fair number of different cameras and formats. I have blogged about it too of course on several occasions. My Perfectly Imperfect series springs to mind in this context too.
So, whilst Instant photography isn’t something I do that often, it is priceless for capturing and sharing little moments. Harry is very proud of the pepper he grew from seed … this morning we took his picture with an Instax Wide and he’s proudly carried it to school to show his teachers. Priceless!
ps – the print behind mine is one he took himself
So, to those of you celebrating Polaroid Week 2022, good luck, have fun and I’m with you in spirit!
This was my third World Pinhole Photography Day (WPPD) and as in previous years I had definite plans for the day. In 2020 a global pandemic confined me to the backyard; I compensated for the disappointment by using one of my last rolls of original Acros. In 2021 I planned to use two pinhole cameras at a coastal location but travel restrictions confined me to the local area. On both occasions I still produced results I was happy to submit which eased the blow a little.
2022 was to be different. My plans revolved around a favourite location locally and so I felt very confident. The weather was forecast to be favourable and I had cameras readied, film holders loaded and everything was set for a pinhole Trichrome-fest on the Sunday. I was planning on using 35mm, 120 and 5×4; my most ambitious Trichrome project yet. However, I failed to anticipate the demands of family life and totally didn’t see the curved ball which relegated me to chauffeur and my WPPD plans to the bin.
BUT. Where there’s a WPPD there’s a way and I found myself with a short window whilst in Brighouse to disappear for a short period. Allowing for walking to/from the location I had around 30 minutes to play with the ONDU 6×6 that I’d managed to slip into the car. I had loaded it with a roll of TMax 100 and a mini tripod completed the set up. I decided to head for a weir on the river that I’d seen images of but never photographed myself. I spent fifteen minutes trying to find the way down to it but failed miserably. To fail to prepare etc although in my defence this wasn’t what I’d planned for! I decided to cut my losses and walk back to the adjacent canal.
I chose a part of the canal that I was familiar with to start my brief “shoot” and from there walked down a very short way to a lock that I’d not photographed before. Fifteen minutes probably stretched to twenty five but I still got back to the car on time and with a roll of exposed TMax in my pocket I was pleased that I’d managed something for WPPD 2022.
The following morning I loaded the roll into a tank, made up 600ml of Rodinal (at 1+50) and set to one of my favourite parts of working with film. I find developing film therapeutic and a good way to switch off. It wasn’t long before a roll of properly exposed negatives were hanging to dry and I eagerly anticipated looking at them properly on the light box later.
The first two frames (bracketed as it was a low-contrast, dimly lit scene) failed to Wow! me but it was good to see them in the right ballpark for exposure; it boded well for the rest of the roll. Frames three and four were both views of the marina with the only difference being the addition of a yellow/green filter for the fourth. I left the filter on for the rest of the roll as I felt, rightly it transpired, that the sky would benefit from its presence.
I “scanned” the roll using a Fuji mirrorless camera and, unusually for me, processed them on my computer using Photoshop. My usual approach is to upload the “scans” to my iPad and use Snapseed but this is WPPD so deserved a more consistent approach. I made very similar adjustments to each image, made easier by a consistently exposed negative, and finished each with a gentle selenium tone in Silver Efex Pro.
From the roll of twelve I shortlisted seven from which to select my WPPD 2022 submission. All of them are presented in this post and as only one of them can be submitted I will make my choice after I’ve cogitated for a few days at least.
So, in conclusion, WPPD 2022 followed the tradition of not going entirely to plan but it was still a success in my eyes. It may not have been what I intended but I’ve managed some very pleasing images and I am definitely not disappointed as I was in 2020.
I photographed these disused, near-derelict houses in Cross Street a few weeks ago for my 365 Challenge and at the time decided to return when I got a chance with a medium format camera and a couple of rolls of black and white film. This short series of images puts Cross Street in context and finally focuses in on the small vignette that so attracted my attention on that first visit.
Looking at these again this morning before posting them to my blog I am thinking about printing them but also about producing a zine with a series of short urban vignettes such as this drawn from my local area. Before I do either of these though I need to reprocess them to produce a visually consistent set of images. I believe this will help tell a more coherent story.
Which, I guess, tells us a little about how we consume images these days. Increasingly, images are viewed individually as little bite-sized portions on social media. The photo-essay (and I’m not suggesting this post constitutes a photo-essay) is less often seen in an environment where individual images are the predominant form in which photography is viewed. That said, I actually took these with the intention of creating a short series that hopefully told a story but I then post-processed them as individual images over the course of an evening and morning. This was partly because I wanted to see how they had turned out and also partly because I wanted to post one to Flickr as that day’s image for my 365 Challenge. In other words, they were produced individually to feed social media in as timely a manner as possible. As such, the “final” series doesn’t fully reflect my aims when starting out so I shall consider this set as a marker along the way. A more visually coherent set is the next step, followed by a set of prints (I will print more than this selection and play with the sequencing on the table) and finally their inclusion in a zine as the “final” form.
So, having used this blog post to choose the final images and view them as a set, I will now transfer the RAW files onto the computer and re-process the final selection using a consistent and hopefully coherent treatment. I might even try a sepia feel to them too but that’s getting ahead of myself.
TECHNICAL NOTE: All of these were made with a Bronica SQ-A medium format film camera and I used two rolls of film, one my old faithful Ilford HP5+ which I rated at 250 ISO and processed in Perceptol and the other a new-to-me roll of Kodak TMax 100 which I developed in Rodinal (1+50). I “scanned” the negatives with a Fuji X-H1 and post-processing was done using the JPEGs on an iPad with the Snapseed app.
Two identical images … one in the original colour and the other in fabulous mono! The replacement drone got a second flight on Sunday morning. A frosty morning with the sun just starting to peak into the scene.
DJI Air 2s, captured as RAW and processed in Lightroom.
Two identical images … one in the original colour and the other in fabulous mono! The replacement drone got a second flight on Sunday morning. A frosty morning with the sun just starting to peak into the scene. I will pop a small gallery of images on as another post.
The sun is rising in the top right of the image hence the warmer tones on the left of the image and the cool blues in the shadows on the right.
So, my Smart Week actually spread out a little and was almost a fortnight in the final analysis and indeed is still ongoing in the background. Did I enjoy it? What did I learn and would I do it again?
First off, it’s been a fascinating and enjoyable experience. Going away for a few days with nothing more than a phone in my pocket, a mini tripod and a holder to join the two together was a strange experience but it forced me to focus on the challenge and not get distracted by my usual photographic tools. My delve into the available software was an eye-opener and I’m sure only skimmed the surface. I tried a handful of new apps and have earmarked a few more for the coming weeks but I suspect there’s a lot more to discover.
I learnt that there is a large and evolving ecosystem out there, one that I’d been largely ignorant of. You Tube for example is awash with smartphone content (at the usual variable range of YT standards) and social media absolutely swamped with smartphone imagery. There are apps to take images, apps to process them and apps to combine images in a myriad of ways. As well as straightforward photography there is also an active artistic community that uses their smartphone as the basis of their art. A well-established online magazine, Mobiography, was a chance find but a very interesting read nonetheless.
I also learnt the importance of supporting the smartphone properly for maximum image quality; self-evident perhaps but probably not at the forefront of ones mind when using a phone. I learnt how to hold the phone more securely but also learnt that a tripod, big or small, is a basic requirement. With the choice of apps that hand the photographer full manual control of the smartphone’s camera there is no excuse now for second-rate images.
In terms of post processing I had been using Snapseed for some time and to be fair will not be changing that any time soon. However, the improvements to Lightroom Mobile were a revelation and I have added it back into my small list of post-processing apps that I will use regularly.
The acid test for a photographer would be “did I get the image?” I guess and the short answer here would be “yes”. The phone gave me all the options of a point and shoot camera in a small package that I always carry anyway. It’s no surprise the P&S camera market is in decline; based on my experience there is no need to carry a P&S when you’ve got a modern smartphone in your pocket anyway.
So, in terms of my original challenge which was to use an iPhone exclusively for seven days I definitely met and exceeded my objective. In terms of what I learnt I surprised myself not only at the amount of apps out there but at how vibrant and enthusiastic the community are. Whilst nothing will replace the enjoyment of using my full-sized cameras, certainly not my film cameras, I have to say that I wouldn’t hesitate to take just the iPhone in the future, although I would make sure I took the holder and mini tripod!
And finally, a bonus observation. It’s no secret that I love the panoramic format and therefore having a panorama mode on my iPhone is a big treat. I’ve used it both indoors and outdoors, and both handheld and on a gimbal. On the whole the results have been pretty good as this indoor example demonstrates.
However, I’ve found it a little more fussy than my Fuji camera when doing a handheld sweep panorama and occasionally it misses the stitching. The hit rate is definitely better with the Fuji but when the iPhone nails it then it does a great job and to be fair it definitely does a good job most of the time. It does pay to be wary of moving subjects though, especially with third-party apps that take a sequence of images rather than a continuous sweep. I’m thinking specifically of the DJI Go app which I used for the image above. On that occasion I asked my wife to stay still but the example below shows what can happen if your subject moves …
One of my guilty pleasures over the last five years has been drone photography. On a recent trip to Eyemouth I was able to fly the drone on each of the four mornings we were there. On the final morning we finally got the conditions I’d hoped for so I headed to the beach before 6am for sunrise at 6:20am.
Long story short, I got my previsualised image but as the drone was returning from its short flight it was ambushed by a small number of rather large gulls. It was over very quickly and there was only ever going to be one outcome. Gulls 1, Drone 0. Ironically, I’d seen videos of such occurrences and had cut my flight short due to the increased gull activity since I’d launched my Mavic.
It ended up on a ledge about twenty feet above sea level. Scrambling over the beach I got to a point about twelve feet below this precarious perch and by some miracle I managed to scramble up and retrieve it, tucking it into my coat in order to have hands free to get back down again. It was pure adrenalin that propelled this sexagenarian with dodgy knees up that cliff face (although any youngsters reading could’ve done it in a flash I’m sure). Back at sea level and still surprised at my rashness I inspected the drone but the dangling motor arm told me all I needed to know. I’d not be flying at Whitehaven the next morning.
After three weeks of long and tense negotiations I reached agreement with Senior Management and the Financial Controller and ordered a replacement. Not a like-for-like replacement however. My aged DJI Mavic Pro was to be replaced with a DJI Air 2s, a big improvement especially in terms of the camera and sensor.
On a windy morning with drizzly rain coming and going I set out for my maiden flight with the new drone. Nowhere exotic however, back to the flood plain where my Mavic Pro had its maiden flight almost five years ago.
So, here are a selection of snaps from that maiden flight. The new drone handles nicely and the updated app used to fly the drone seems reasonably intuitive. I’m pleased with the image quality achieved from this first outing and looking forward to seeing what I can achieve with it in the future.
We saw in an earlier post that the same principles we apply to our “regular” photography also apply to smartphone photography although one area where the differences are more apparent however is with the available software. In the previous instalment I looked at capturing the image and here I look at a few of the post-capture options but again please keep in mind that my review is by no means exhaustive and also that I use iPhones and not Android devices.
The one area I came into this project with some limited knowledge of was post processing, primarily the Snapseed app. In addition to Snapseed however I also came across a few other apps for post processing as part of my research for this challenge and was very surprised at the options available.
SNAPSEED: I will start with Snapseed because even though it’s an app I’ve used for a long while now I still learnt something new about the software whilst watching a YouTube video as part of my pre-challenge research. By default all adjustments are global but I found that it is possible to localise these after they’ve been applied through the View Edits option.
Clicking on the icon in the top right of the screen (see above left) brings up a drop down menu with the option to View Edits. Click on this and on the right hand of the screen will be a list of these edits, click on the one you want to amend and you get a new menu slide out (above, middle). The middle icon is the masking tool, clicking on this enables you to paint onto the image to determine what parts you want that adjustment applied too (above, right). A useful and powerful tool and one I might not have discovered without this challenge.
Snapseed is also available for Android users, I asked my son-in-law to download it and after a few seconds, with minimal coaching from me he was able to make basic adjustments and cropped some of the numerous images of the kids on his phone. A remarkably powerful and intuitive tool.
DIPTIC: Another app I’ve used before is Diptic which is a simple app for creating mosaics from the simple diptych to rather more complex arrangements of multiple images through the use of templates. It has a degree of customisation available but I tend to use it for presenting two to four images in simple grids. For something quick and relatively easy to pull together it is very good though especially when travelling without access to my laptop and Photoshop or Lightroom.
LIGHTROOM MOBILE: I use LR on my computer and like it’s interface and workflow. However, until a recent update I rarely used LR Mobile on my tablet as it is less intuitive and I’ve found it a little clunky. However, the new Masking options, including SelectSky and SelectSubject, have been a game changer for me and LR has become my go-to for landscape images in particular.
IMAGE SIZE: Especially useful if you want to share images on social media is something to crunch your RAW files down into manageable sizes for the web. I’ve used Image Size for a long while and saw no need to research alternatives for this project.
There are also apps which combine capture and processing in one and whilst I’m happy with my Lightroom Mobile / Snapseed workflow I did try a couple of these out too.
FOCOS: If you like using the Portrait mode on your iPhone, be it JPEG or RAW, then FOCOS may be of interest. It has a replacement camera module built in but it’s big feature is it’s image editor. Designed for the portrait photographer it enables the plane of focus to be tweaked as well as adding minor adjustments to the shape of bokeh and simulating the results from some vintage lenses. Personally I find the camera element underwhelming but the editing tools are excellent and definitely worth checking out if you regularly use portrait mode.
One unexpected benefit of Focos occurred to me whilst processing a potential “365” image a few days ago. It was a street image, with a large foreground leading to a passer-by in the background who was a small but important element. I’d not noticed that the phone (iPhone 11) was set to Portrait mode so when I looked at the image the background was slightly blurred – I swore gently. On a whim though I imported it into Focos and adjusted the aperture setting to “f20” and bingo! one image saved.
PHOTOSHOP CAMERA: Even Adobe have got in on the act with Photoshop Camera with built in filters which will appeal to some. I’ve not spent long with this and my first impression is that it’s a little gimmicky but we are all different and this will I’m sure appeal to many. I have enough tools in the box for my needs though so I doubt this will be something I play with very often.
So, this has been a quick look at the apps I’ve been using recently. Another app I occasionally play with is DistressedFX+ which enables you to add textures and overlays to your photos.
There are lots more and this challenge has encouraged me to look more closely at some of them. I’ve downloaded Darkroom, another RAW editor, to play with along with a camera-replacement called CameraPixels which is also RAW capable and looks very interesting.
I shall be back soon with part 4 of My Smart Week series of posts where I will draw some conclusions and reflect on my experience.
We saw in the previous post that the same principles we apply to our “regular” photography also apply to smartphone photography. The need to keep the camera/phone stable is a fundamental requirement however and the one area where you might need an additional piece of kit. One area where the differences are more apparent however is with the available software. For example, it is possible to bypass the phone’s camera module completely and install third party apps with which to control the camera, all of which offer additional functionality. I consider a few of these here but my review is by no means exhaustive and keep in mind I use iPhones and not Android devices.
The camera app built into most phones (in my case an iPhone) is designed to be easy to use which is what you’d expect as the majority of users are probably not enthusiast photographers. I’ve always found it worked well enough for my needs and as I carried a camera too the fact that certain functionality was missing was not an issue for me. Recent improvements, of which I’d been blissfully unaware, have given iPhone users RAW capability and a handy raft of manual controls together with a new “night” mode for low light photography. I have happily made use of these but once I started to use the phone as my main camera for this challenge I soon found that I wanted even more control so decided to check out some apps designed as a replacement for the onboard camera module.
REEFLEX: The first app I tried was Reeflex, a freemium app meaning the basic program is free but premium functionality is a paid-for extra.
I paid the £4.50 for the premium features all of which relate to the ability to use long exposures for motion blur or light trails. RAW support is a given and the app certainly delivers what it promises. I enjoyed how intuitive it was, how pretty much everything you need is on-screen rather than hidden in menus and how quickly I got to grips with it. There’s a fair bit on the screen which means some of it is a little small and as I mentioned in my previous post it can be difficult to read everything when the phone is close to the ground. On the whole it worked very well although I did find it froze a few times when I was out using it but I couldn’t pinpoint it to a particular sequence of events.
That said, had I not been challenging myself to explore the smartphone ecosystem, I may well have stuck at this app and not explored further. Indeed, I am still using the app despite the Challenge being officially over and that I am using my film and digital cameras again.
Given that the app is basically free, and if you don’t need long exposures it is totally free, then it’s an easy app to recommend, especially as it is extremely intuitive and easy to use.
EVEN LONGER: It’s a strange name for sure but this is an extremely powerful tool for the long exposure fans. It’s not free although there are various options including a one-year subscription for £6 or a lifetime purchase option at £18.
I have seen some rave reviews for this app so was keen to try it. The interface (left) is clean and uncluttered with the reassuringly familiar large white shutter button prominent in the usual place. The good news is that it is also very intuitive to use; I managed some test images without bothering to read any instructions!
A small point, but the built-in level is fabulous and probably my favourite feature (I know, little things).
One useful feature is the ability to save the image incrementally as it builds up. The example above was saved at 45 seconds during a two minute exposure.
I’m looking forward to playing with this app over the coming months mainly due to its ease of use. It does what it says on the tin and makes iPhone exposures even longer.
DOUBLE EXPOSURE: This is an app that does what it says on the tin. There’s a useful tutorial built-in and you can create double exposures using existing images, using the inbuilt camera or a mixture of both. I haven’t used it a lot but it’s good fun and at £4.49 for the full version, which offers much more control, it won’t break the bank. There are loads of alternatives however.
Whilst the iPhone’s inbuilt app is perfectly adequate and indeed I used it for much of this project , I did appreciate the additional functionality from apps like Reeflex especially as I enjoy long exposure photography. There’s no escaping however that you don’t need to invest in alternative apps unless you want ultimate control.
I was mainly interested in exploring ways to create long exposures with the phone but what I’ve learnt has encouraged me to explore further and see what other options there are for gaining more control of the phone camera. I will no doubt be resea4ching further over the coming weeks.
The one area I came into this project with some knowledge of was post processing, primarily the Snapseed app. In addition to Snapseed however I also came across a few other apps for post processing as part of my research for this challenge and was very surprised at the options available. I will consider these in part 2.