Into the Woods

Over the course of five days last week I made four visits to a small wooded area close to where I live. Carrying an Intrepid 5×4 camera in my backpack and a tripod in my hand it was my intention to use the dull, dismal and damp conditions for some atmospheric woodland images. To be fair on the fourth visit the sun did play cat and mouse with us a little but it was still quite challenging and every time I got something set up and metered the sun disappeared/reappeared just as I inserted the film holder into the back of the Intrepid and I had to repeat the metering dance again, only to revert to the original when the sun promptly did an about face.

My mission was twofold. Practice with the 5×4 was high on the agenda as most of my 5×4 work this year has been with various pinhole cameras. As I’ve already mentioned, I also wanted to test myself in less than ideal conditions to produce something atmospheric and engaging. Another consideration which quickly revealed itself under the tree canopy was focusing. I quickly recalled that the last time I’d tried using the 5×4 in a dimly lit woodland I had considerable difficulty focusing the 90mm lens with its f8 maximum aperture. I had previously removed the fresnel screen as I’d not been happy using it despite it adding some brightness. A few visits with more time to spend would of course help me hone my skills and also I hoped determine whether or not I’d made a mistake and I needed to restore the fresnel screen.

Over the course of four visits I exposed a selection of black and white films. Some Fomapan 100 and 400, a couple of sheets of Ilford HP5+, my last two sheets of Ilford Delta 100 and a dozen sheets of Ilford FP4+ kindly given to me by John Martin.

I thought however that I’d use this post to share my approach. John shared his thoughts on “the dance” of large format photography recently and it’s a performance that all large format photographers can probably relate to. I have found that having a set routine definitely helps avoid schoolboy errors but sometimes, especially with rapidly changing light, it can be a bit of a scramble to do everything in the correct order and complete it all before the light changes again. That’s where practice comes in so useful – muscle memory is only created through repetition.

With the tripod and camera set up and the composition chosen the next step for me is to focus, something I always do before worrying about exposure. Deciding where to put the main point of focus is the first decision and then deciding how much needs to be in focus follows quickly; both are aesthetic choices even if achieving the desired result is a very technical process. Choice of aperture comes in here too as it is closely allied to the focusing considerations. I’m not going to walk through the focusing process here, it’s something better suited to the video format I think, but it was one of the main skills that I was practicing last week. I found over the course of the eleven to twelve hours in total that I spent in the woods last week that I could focus in the dim light even at f8 but I needed to let my eyes become accustomed to the gloom under the dark cloth before attempting the final, critical focusing. I also needed to ensure I was looking at the ground glass screen straight-on and not from an elevated or indeed lowered position. It reinforced the concept of practice, practice and practice, so if anyone reading this is new to large format photography let me reiterate that there really is no substitute for putting in the time.

Focus achieved its time to consider exposure. Aperture was already determined as part of the focusing process. Film speed is determined by the film being used so in reality it’s time to determine the shutter speed. If you’re my regular reader you will already be aware of my general approach to metering from a blog post earlier in the year. I use a spot meter for determining exposures but recently I’ve also taken to using a metering app on my phone to record a snapshot of the scene to keep with my exposure notes. This also shows what exposure the app would suggest and a couple of times I found this useful as it was so different to what I was planning on using that I stopped and rechecked everything thus averting possible exposure errors (on one occasion the app had been set to 100 and the meter to 400 when I was using 400 speed film so my chosen exposure was correct but on the other occasion it was the spot meter that had the incorrect film speed and not the app).

On my first visit I wasn’t really sure that what I was capturing was meeting my original “moody” objective but back home with negatives developed and scanned I could finally get a look. The first couple reminded me of some images I’d taken at another part of the woods a few years back with a converted digital camera creating false-colour infrared images. Those had what I can only describe as an under-the-sea kind of feeling (sort of) due to the rendering of the false colours and so on a whim I applied “Vintage” filter 10 in Snapseed and immediately knew that I’d met my objective and that I’d also found the “look” for this series. It’s a split tone basically, something I’ve played with in my digital past as Duotones in Photoshop. Incidentally, whilst all of the images posted to my Twitter account last week were created with Snapseed I’ve since reprocessed all of them in Photoshop using a custom duo tone. I shall hopefully be using the PS versions in a ‘zine later in the year. The pictures here are a mixture of both.

Now whilst I’ve tried to fully embrace the hybrid digital/analogue approach it’s always been an uneasy alliance at best. Last week, probably for the very first time since I moved to a primarily film-based approach two years ago, I fully appreciated what the hybrid approach could do. For the first time I wasn’t just using the digitising as a way to share images in social media I was actively using the software, first Snapseed and then Photoshop, to realise my artistic vision. A small lightbulb moment but an important one. On the final two visits I was trying to think in terms of a split/duo toned final image.

I tend to use the darkroom mainly in the late Autumn and Winter months so my printing gets saved up for me to binge-print as it were. Whilst I’ve always restricted my software usage to the types of things I can do in the darkroom this is the first time that I’ve consciously gone beyond that to create a coherent series of images. Yes, I can tone in the darkroom but not with the finesse and fine control that I can in the software. I shall get some of this series digitally printed when funds permit and it will be interesting to compare them with what I create in the darkroom. Time will tell how fully I embrace the hybrid method; all of us who share film photography on social media have to accept the need to digitise our creations, whether that’s the negative or a darkroom print.

Toning? Take your pick!
Or keep it black & white!
Spot the walker!

One thing I have been pondering is how to replicate the subtle glow within the darkroom that the Snapseed filter has added to some of these. Or, indeed, if it is achievable. Quite by chance I found the answer. With no wifi in the holiday caravan I was pleased that I’d taken an old book to read. It was a series of film landscape images with notes on how they were taken and in many cases how the print was handled in the darkroom. Much of the text talked about bleaching and toning prints but towards the end of the book is a woodland landscape, and the photographer has used a diffuser under the enlarging lens for a third of the exposure. Not only that he actually specifies which filter, the Cokin A Diffuser 1, a filter which I have somewhere in the depths of one of my drawers back home. I have the beginnings of a printing plan!

So, how did I do against my original objectives? Well, I certainly got some focusing practice in low light and looking at the negatives I definitely got them right. I started by using f32/f45 just in case but by the fourth trip most of the images were exposed at f16 or f11, using front tilt to achieve the desired plane of focus. I did replace the fresnel screen at the weekend but haven’t yet been out again to see if it is an improvement.

Ilford Delta or FP4+?

In terms of the images themselves I’m very pleased with the series I’ve produced and they’ve also had a positive reaction on Twitter particularly the toned versions. The proof though will be in the printing!

If you’ve made it this far then I applaud your stamina! There were frustrations aplenty along the way, and no doubt more are ahead when I open the darkroom in a few weeks time. But, overall it has been a very successful project with hopefully a little more to be wrung out of it in the coming weeks.

Whet your appetite Wednesday

I’ve been for a few walks in a small local wood over the last four days. Accompanied by an Intrepid 5×4 large format camera, a couple of lenses and a bagful of assorted black & white sheet film I have battled dry, damp, dull and dimly lit conditions in the pursuance of my art. Blog post to follow when I’ve finished developing and scanning.

A Wanderer in Wilsden

Walsden is a large village near to Todmorden on the western fringes of West Yorkshire. Apparently, it has few claims to fame, or few that Wikipedia bother to list, but it does have a sprawling garden centre which is why I was there last week – as chauffeur for my garden-centre-loving wife. The Rochdale Canal also runs through Walsden, hugging quite close to the main road. So, after first consuming my wages of a bacon sandwich and strong black tea, I set off down the road to find the canal whilst the wife went off for her retail therapy. I was light of heart despite knowing I’d be light of wallet later and despite the nagging headache I’d woken up with.

As ever I was travelling very light with just a small shoulder bag. A mini-tripod, a few rolls of film, a couple of filters and an umbrella were the only accompaniments to the Nikon L35AF and Horizon S3 Pro, both loaded with Ilford Delta 100, a film I rarely use but had bought on a whim earlier in the month.

I had no real agenda or project in mind but instead was keeping my mind and my eyes open as I wandered. A few hundred yards along the main road I stopped to look at the textures of an old wooden fence, crudely patched with a wire mesh in places. I heard a bus pulling up fifty yards behind me and almost simultaneously I saw two ladies running towards me gesticulating at the bus. The camera in my hand was the Horizon S3 Pro and I instinctively raised it but then paused, realising that the image would have more impact if I could give the viewer some context. I waited for them to pass and then photographed them running towards the distant bus. It was I knew a good start to my wander.

All images: Delta 100 developed in ID11
Cameras: Nikon L35AF and Horizon S3 Pro

Moving on down the road I wasn’t sure where I could access the canal but knew it would be on my right. Coming to a large junction I spotted my route and turned right to join the canal at a road bridge. There were five potential routes from this one spot and so I was glad I’d plumped for the right one.

Reaching the canal I turned left and continued walking out of the village. I knew I would have to turn around fairly soon but was keen to explore a little way in both directions.

I got talking to a chap walking his dog and enquired as to whether when I turned to head back I could come off the canal nearer to the garden centre. He explained I could but that it was easy to miss the point of exit as it wasn’t obviously a footpath. Armed with full instructions and a warning that if the garden centre appeared on my right then I’d missed the turning I turned and started walking back in towards Walsden.

I found the exit very easily with the instructions I had been given and I almost certainly wouldn’t have noticed the way out without the clear description from the chap I’d chatted to earlier..

By this time I had wandered for around an hour, using both rolls of Delta and enjoying the opportunity to wander out of doors. I made the last exposures with the S3 Pro just yards from the point at which I would rejoin the main road and decided not to load new rolls but to return to the car. My headache was no more, I had a few new nettle stings and the opportunity for a cool bottle of water was very appealing.

My favourite from the day

Back at the car I unloaded both cameras, checked Twitter on my phone and caught up with notifications and new posts from overnight and enjoyed a drink of cool water (always park in the shade folks). My wife is known for completely losing track of time at a garden centre, or any shop for that matter, but in the event she was only in there for three hours or so which by her standards is a quick visit. We celebrated this achievement by sitting in the car with an ice cream each before heading for home. Driving back, with some decent latent images (I hoped) on the films nestling in the pocket of my shoulder bag I reflected that it had been a grand day out.

A stream of consciousness

My last blog post generated a fair bit of conversation over on Twitter even though the images themselves were only to be seen in the accompanying video. To rectify that here are a few “views”extracted from the rather long negative.

As experiments go it was one of my more successful and whilst I cannot claim it as an original idea, I’m sure its been done many, many times in the past, it was new to me. Roman on Twitter kindly commented:

I like these photos a lot. Feels like a kaleidoscopic impression of a walk.

Roman W S on Twitter

I’d seen them as a visual stream of consciousness but like Roman’s description too. It’s given me an idea for a variation on the occasional 9 in 45 series. Just need to find the right opportunity – perhaps Holga Week in October?

It’s a hobby!

It’s drizzling this morning. That fine, almost unnoticeable kind of rain that leaves you soaked in under ten minutes. The sky is like a huge soft box; white, tending towards grey, unbroken cloud lining the heavens and ensuring that there are no places for shadows to lurk. It’s a lose-lose situation for the photographer. Everything is dull and uninspiring, colours seem to be hiding, shyly withholding their colourful bounty. The contrasts between light and shade, the black and white photographers stock in trade, are barely noticeable.  In short, a morning that will be challenging for both colour and black & white practitioners of this dark art we call film photography.

It’s also the first day this week when I’m free to indulge my hobby and get out with a camera and a roll of film.  There’s something special in getting out with a camera especially these days when we’ve spent so long confined to our houses. As a result even a wander around my local patch, something I’ve been restricted to in many ways, is still a pleasure.  Whilst I was “shielding” I didn’t leave the house except to sit in the garden. Four months, which could have been a nightmare, but were not thanks to my hobby. Since Lockdowns have eased and then subsequently been lifted I’ve made a few trips outside of the area but photography has still been largely confined to a one or two mile radius of my front door.

Infrared film photography in the front yard

Returning to my four months confinement. Four months in which I actually bought a new camera kit despite not being able to get out and play with it.  I spent the time instead playing with apples and pears, photographing them using window light on my new-to-me Bronica medium format kit and even making the effort to set up the monorail large format Calumet camera.  I even made some darkroom prints, something I don’t often do outside of the Winter months.  Determined not to be defined by my incarceration I actively looked for things to do to keep me active, to keep me interested and to keep me from getting down in the dumps. I bought some black and white toners and played with those. I decommissioned the darkroom in my cellar and relocated it to my study taking advantage of the growing number of places now willing to deliver almost anything including large sheets of MDF.

Moving the darkroom upstairs

Freed from the shackles of confinement I bounded out of the door every morning with a camera and a roll or two of film and became better acquainted with my local patch.  With families not allowed to mix and my live-in daughter furloughed my child minding services were not required. For the first time in years I was free to do what I wanted. And I did.  I discovered an aptitude for urban photography hitherto hidden from me. The very ordinariness and familiarity of my surroundings made me work harder and with this came the rewards associated with working harder.   A few months later I was to discover the world of swing-lens panoramic cameras but that’s well documented already.

Two minutes from my back door

But, back to today. It’s an hour later and I’m sat in a local cafe enjoying a Full English with a mug of strong, black tea. It can truly be called builders tea not least because most of the clients this morning are from a couple of local building sites.  The light has changed, it’s one EV brighter, but other than that it’s still the same.  The drizzle hasn’t abated and the pavements have a dark sheen, damp but not yet wet enough to provide reflections and the opportunity for the canny photographer to make images from these.    It’s sat here, that those months of walking the streets around my home looking with fresh eyes at familiar places, starts to repay in spades.  I’ve a plan and a pinhole camera, a roll of Fomapan 100 and a mini tripod.  All I lack is the cable release that will help keep everything stable with exposures in the minutes. 

Breakfast eaten, tea drunk and the bill paid I’m back on the streets again, armed only with a pinhole and a roll of film I’m ready to take on the day!

My experiences using the KMZ FT-2

I’ve already written several times about this camera. I have talked about the camera itself, cogitated on my first experiences using a loaned KMZ FT-2 and of course written about loading the film into the cassettes and into the camera itself. To conclude the series I am going to reflect on my first few months with this camera and what I’ve learnt.

Perhaps I should start by saying that this camera can be a fair bit of work. For a start, as we’ve already discussed, it needs two special film cassettes (I only have one) but even with two, loading is a bit of a chore. I borrowed one with both cassettes before buying my own. Firstly, film has to be transferred from a standard 35mm cassette into a special cassette, in the dark. This then needs to be attached to a second special cassette, in the dark, before being loaded into the camera … in the dark. I made a video demonstrating this aspect. To make it more helpful I made the video … in the dark (not).

Let’s skip the using of the camera at this point and jump ahead to unloading the film from the camera … in the dark. I simply dump the camera in the changing bag, pop in a pair of scissors, tank and reel and take the film directly from the camera onto the reel and into the tank. From that point on its business as usual as the film is standard 35mm film. With negatives the size of three “normal” 35mm negatives however there’s only two per strip in the filing sheet.

Now, if you like using a camera one-handed then this one isn’t for you. Similarly, if you like to “run ‘n’ gun” then this one isn’t for you. Shaped like a brick and weighing in at just over 1kg in its case this isn’t a camera you carry about just-in-case you might need it. With just 12 frames (assuming you respool a 36 exposure film) and an awkward loading/unloading regime it is best used when you’ve a definite plan in mind. Not that I take my own advice there of course! I tend to pop it in my shoulder bag alongside my main camera for the day although do occasionally make a trip with just the KMZ FT-2 or, more often, take it partnered with the Horizon S3 Pro.

I’ve never thought of these panoramic cameras as being for specific subjects or situations. My approach has always been to proactively look for compositions that work well in the format. Over time my hit rate has improved and one thing I’ve learnt is that a straight, long, thin, linear subject only works occasionally. In general it is better to look for compositions where the viewer has a choice of where to let his eye be led. Urban images at intersections of two, three or more streets are usually more effective (see below) than a straight-on view of a row of houses for example. There’s exceptions to every “rule” however.

In truth, the principles that apply to other formats also work with the panoramic form. Don’t be afraid to turn the camera on its side to create long, thin and tall vertoramas.

I’ve found that leading lines work very strongly in this vertical format, really dragging the viewers eye up through the frame.

Presenting these vertoramas as diptychs or triptychs works nicely too.

The speed of the exposure is determined by a spring which pulls the lens turret around. Brakes are used to vary the speed giving the four shutter speeds found on the FT-2. At 1/400th second when all the brakes are off the camera physically bucks in your hand from the force. Pop the camera on a tripod, set it to 1/400th, cock the shutter and watch the whole thing shudder when you release the shutter. Which explains why I believe the best results from this camera come from using it on a tripod. That said, I do tend to use it handheld, especially when photographing urban locations such as my own local patch.

Book-ending subjects can work well too, as in the example above where a very simple scene has been bookended by trees which give added context and hold the viewers attention in the central portion of the frame.

Count the leading lines

One thing I’ve not mentioned is that as the film wind-on and cocking of the shutter are two distinct operations the opportunity for double, triple, whatever exposures is the photographers for the taking. The one below is three or four exposures for example.

Don’t be frightened to crop as there’s plenty of real estate available.

In summary, it isn’t the easiest camera to work with but I’ve never been afraid of working for my images. Despite everything I’ve said about its idiosyncrasies it is however great fun and worth the effort in my view – your mileage may vary of course!

A tale of two cameras

I have a couple of fully automatic point-and-shoot cameras from the 1980s in my collection, as those who have read some of my recent posts will know. Both are well-respected members of the 1980s P&S community and both have produced some very pleasing results for me. But how do they compare?

I don’t propose providing the full technical specifications of these two cameras, that information is readily available on the internet for those who might be interested. I am going to consider how they have handled for me over a few different scenarios. If you are looking for test charts and graphs then I will save you some time and suggest you stop reading now; this post relates to my real-world usage of both cameras and I definitely did’t get my white lab coat out for this comparison.

Yashica – Kodak Tri-X

SCENARIO ONE: Both cameras loaded with bulk-rolled Fomapan 100 from the same batch. We were indoors with a toddler and a three-year old in a dimly lit room who’s play was mainly running around giggling interspersed with sitting on the floor. Both cameras kept up with what was going on and the leisurely pace suited them both. See also the section on Flash below.

SCENARIO TWO: Outdoors in a back garden, changeable light and four youngsters (aged three to nine) were playing on a makeshift water slide. Both cameras had 400 speed films loaded (one had Fomapan 400 the other Kentmere 400). In the event I mainly used the Yashica, given the overcast light I was forcing fill-flash to try to freeze motion and the fast refresh cycle of the Yashica proved a clear winner.

SCENARIO THREE: Urban wanders in Salford (Nikon) and Elland (both). This is my main photographic activity at the moment. Wandering the urban environment making images of whatever takes my eye has since the pandemic been the mainstay of my photographic output. Both handle very well for this type of photography. The automatic exposure on the Yashica particularly impressed on its first outing whilst the Nikon performed consistently and reliably. The filter thread on the Nikon would make it my preferred choice for B&W work (see below) but that would be my only reason for choosing the one over the other in this scenario.

Nikon – Kodak Tri-X

In terms of handling then there is very little to choose. Both have a decent grip, both feel comfortable in the hand and on both the few controls that they do have all fall easily to an appropriate digit. The speed of the auto-focus was generally OK although pre-focusing and recomposing was a big feature as both use a single, central focus spot. The Nikon didn’t miss a beat focus-wise although the Yashica only missed on a couple of occasions. The shutter release is fairly sensitive on the Yashica whereas the Nikon needs a very definite push downwards. Not a major problem as you know about it so can adapt, however, if using both cameras simultaneously its easy to forget and I’ve several “premature exposures” from the Yashica as a result.

Fomapan 100 – handheld

Batteries – being fully automatic cameras both need batteries to enable them to function. No mechanical fall-back either – it’s either working or it isn’t. The Yashica uses the 2CR5 6v battery, not something I tend to keep in the drawer whereas the Nikon uses two AA batteries which I not only keep in the house but are also readily available in all sorts of shops. I use rechargeable AA batteries which helps with cost but all told the Nikon is cheaper to set up; what I don’t know yet is how this works out longer term as I’ve not used other for long enough to judge. The manufacturer claims 1,000 exposures for the Yashica (500 with and 500 without flash). The Nikon manual claims around 100 24 exposure rolls without flash or 10 with constant use of flash. My crude calculation equates this to around 1,320 frames on a 50/50 like for basis compared to the Yashica’s 1,000. Even if they were the same the Nikon with its AA batteries would be more economical to run however.

But there’s another side to the battery equation – flash recycling times. As I mentioned in scenario two above the Yashica’s bigger battery and faster recycling times proved a real winner when the flash was being used for very image. This might be a consideration when deciding which camera to take with me therefore depending on what I think I will be photographing. I think I’d chose the Yashica for a family get-together over the Nikon for example.

Fomapan 100

Flash – the Yashica tended to bring the flash into play much quicker than the Nikon especially in the indoor scenario one. So, it was helpful that the 6V battery enabled almost instant recycling on most occasions; meaning that I wasn’t waiting for the camera to catch up with me before taking the next image. The same couldn’t be said for the Nikon sadly.

Several times I forced the Nikon to use the flash to give me some comparison images but looking back at the scenario one negatives the Yashica fired the flash on EVERY frame. As was to be expected from small, onboard flashes the results were nothing special although on a couple of occasions the Yashica managed a nicely balance image (bottom left in the grid below). The top two images are from the Nikon, with the lefthand one being flash-free. The bottom two are both Yashica and both used flash. Image-wise there’s little to choose however when using flash indoors although on the whole I don’t really like the results from either camera in this situation!

Fomapan 100
Yashica – Fomapan 100

The little storage area above was very dim, with very little light penetrating the gloom. The Yashica did a sterling job with the help of its flash. This was a “grab and run” as I was leaving the cafe.

In the second scenario I was photographing the kids coming down a water slide in a back garden. I forced the flash to fire during this experiment. The recharging speed of the Yashica meant that I favoured it in this instance – however, when I looked at the negatives the Nikon had captured the kids more sharply, more often relative to the Yashica which surprised me. There was a fair bit of motion blur evident in some of these images.


Now, filters, particularly coloured contrast filters, are primarily of concern I guess to black and white workers but it’s something that I certainly look for. You’d look in vain for one on the Yashica although the proper 46mm filter thread on the front of the Nikon lens will be a delight to those who use contrast filters in particular. For an urban photographer, with a tendency to keep a yellow/green filter in place, this one facto alone makes the Nikon the first choice for urban or even landscape photography.

Fomapan 100 – YG filter on the Nikon and I believe the Yashica fired the flash!

I have been more than happy with the quality of the negatives from both cameras. The first roll from Yashica for example scanned very easily and responded to a gentle Curves adjustment very nicely too. I’ve not yet printed from any of the negatives in the darkroom as that’s a Winter occupation for me. Negatives have been sharp though showing the quality of both lenses. I’ve used a variety of films both 100 and 400 iso and I’ve developed them in both my go-to Ilford ID11 and Kodak HC-110.

Nikon L35AF & Kentmere 400
Yashica T2 – IlfrdFP4+

I’ve used both cameras a lot over the last couple of weeks putting a dozen or more films through them during this time. With little to choose between them its fair to say that either camera would be worth looking at in my view.

But, which is best?

Yashica T2 – Ilford FP4+
Nikon L35 AF & Kentmere 400

Well, as ever, it depends. Indoors or at family gatherings the Yashica definitely gets my vote largely due to the speedy flash recycling. This means I’m not left waiting before I take the next frame – important when your subjects are grandchildren! There is a “no flash” option too if needed which is worth knowing given the Yashica’s tendency to pop the flash whenever it fancies (it even did it outdoors yesterday).

For general outdoor use however then the Nikon wins hands down for me simply due to that filter ring. I am a traditional black and white worker and the use of contrast filters is second nature to me. Given that both cameras produce lovely images out of doors then the choice comes down to what some people might consider minor differences but which to me are of some importance.

I hope that my ramblings are useful to someone, somewhere and if even one reader finds them helpful then my job is done. Thanks as ever for reading this far (unless of course you’ve simply skipped to the end – in which case shame on you! 🙂


FOOTNOTE: I used both cameras with home-rolled Fomapan 100 from a bulk roll. I put two rolls of each through each camera and on one occasion the wind-on motor of the Yashica ripped the film straight out of the cassette. It cannot be rewound in that situation and unless you have the means of providing a completely dark space (I use changing bags) it is impossible to rectify without losing the roll. Mind you, if you’re rolling your own you probably have a changing bag at least but I thought it prudent to mention it.