Chocks Away!

Just got back from a few days on the Norfolk coast and having spent most of yesterday developing the film from that trip I am now faced with the bit I like the least – the scanning! So, by way of putting it off for a bit longer I thought I’d post a few of the drone pictures I took last week.

These were all made on Tuesday morning. Drone regulations mean that this is the only practical time when I can fly the drone in this location. It is also one of the better times of the day light-wise usually. I’d love to fly the drone in a location such as this at dusk but there are usually too many people about to do so whilst staying legal.

I usually take advantage of being an early riser and go out every morning, rain or shine, but in the event this was my only flight this week. A catalogue of things meant I wasn’t able to manage the other three mornings – but I’m keeping those to myself!!

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?

Another point-and-shoot story

There’s been quite a few posts from me over the last week* linked to a short break in Salford with a Nikon L35 AF, an extremely well thought of and capable point and shoot from the early 1980s. Well, I do have another very similar camera in my collection, one that I’ve only recently acquired.

Step forward the Yashica T2, hailing from the latter half of the 1980s this is another well regarded fully automatic 35mm camera. Like the L35 this is a camera you can take out and simply enjoy using. I’ve only used it twice so don’t feel qualified yet to write too much on the subject but I will do a quick comparison between the two cameras fairly soon.

For now, enjoy some pictures from a quick wander around town.

John Martin … if you make it this far, this one’s for you!

So, a handful of images from a first outing with the Yashica T2. It certainly won’t be the last though!


* I’m not ruling out another either!

The great indoors

I checked this morning and this is the eighth blog post I’ve managed to squeeze out of a two-day trip to Salford Quays. Not a photographic trip either, some time away with my wife away from domestic and child-minding duties.

One thing I rarely do is make images in indoor situations such as shopping malls. Partly it’s too much hassle and likely to upset security and partly that I rarely see anything that takes my eye. Part of the hassle is getting exposure right and using a light meter in these places isn’t always the easiest thing to do. However, with a fully automatic point-and-shoot in my hand most of these obstacles disappeared. With no need to measure the light and no manual camera controls to fuss over I could do what it says on the tin … point-and-shoot.

So I did.

Oh, and one last thing that I love about the Nikon L35 AF. The auto rewind leaves half an inch of film poking out once it’s finished. A big deal if you home process your films rather than send them away for developing.

Monday rumination

I’ve lost count of the number of blog posts that have been spawned by two days and six rolls of film with the Nikon L35 AF camera. But, I’m back with another. This one is mainly pictures though and very little of my wittering you will be pleased to know. Well, that’s the plan anyway.*

As is my normal practice, I’ve “scanned” the negatives with a Fujifilm X-T3 and a Nikon macro lens. One day I will get around to writing about my process for digitising negatives but today isn’t that day. Most of my recent posts have used images that have been processed using the Snapseed app on my iPad or iPhone (other technology providers are available) mainly because I’m too lazy to turn the computer on most of the time.

A
B

The two images above were each processed with a simple Curves adjustment – one (A) in Snapseed (which I’m very familiar with) and the other (B) using the Photoshop iPad app (which I downloaded today). One is cleaner straight “out of the box” especially in the sky. There is also a difference in the overall look of the image. Unsurprisingly perhaps, B for me is the nicer looking of the two. After all Snapseed is free whereas Photoshop is part of a paid-for plan. But, Snapseed is easier to use. I know that with practice Photoshop for iPad will become easier to use … but do I have the patience?

The sky in this PS-converted image is a key factor in my decision below.
Nikon L35 AF, Kodak Tri-X and red filter.

But why haven’t I considered this before? Well, this is the first time I’ve ever blogged for an extended time with 35mm negatives as my subjects. There’s also a lot of sky in many of them. The physical size of a 5×4 or even a medium format negative is generally bigger than the digital images I publish. The same cannot be said of standard 35mm negatives. The quality of the conversion is affected by many factors but as a rule of thumb I’d suggest that the bigger the negative the better the end result, all other things being equal.

Excuse my finger (bottom left)

But, given the perceived (to me) increased quality of the Tablet PS-converted images, the real question is am I going to continue with the easy route or am I going to commit to learning how to use PS on the tablet? As ever, it depends.

As I’ve said, I’m fundamentally opposed to work but, yes, I’m going to make the effort to learn to use the PS app. However, I won’t be giving up Snapseed just yet as there are many occasions when it does just fine. After all it’s powered many a blog post over the last few years.

Good Morning Salford

* It didn’t go to plan did it? In my defence there are seven/eight new images in it.

POSTSCRIPT: The issue doesn’t really arise when writing blog posts on my computer as I convert and process the images in Photoshop or Lightroom.

Travelling light

The wife and I recently took a 35-mile trip up the motorway to spend a couple of days at Salford Quays. The agenda was a wander, some retail therapy (not for me sadly – no camera shops), a coffee and later an evening meal and a few beers. A plethora of camera paraphernalia was definitely not on the agenda. So I packed very light, just a small(ish) point and shoot camera and a few rolls of film.

I’ve owned the camera for a while now but until this week have only ever used it for short walks and only ever used a single roll at a time. This was to be the first trip with just the camera, a red filter and half a dozen rolls of film in my bag.

Spoiler alert: I had a blast!

Did I mention filters? Yes, the L35 has a proper 46mm filter ring – a real boon for a black and white photographer who enjoys using contrast filters. The observant however will wonder why a red filter and not my habitual yellow or yellow/green filter. I couldn’t find it amongst the disorganisation that is my gear cupboard is the truthful and slightly embarrassing answer.

It turned out a good choice though as I found a roll of Washi Z in the bottom of the bag and I’d intended using it with a red filter so that was a bonus. Together with this rogue roll I took five rolls of Tri-X and a single roll of Kentmere 400.

Let us just dwell on that lone roll of Washi Z. It’s the lone sour note in an otherwise fabulous two days. I decided to load it on Friday morning as the route we were taking had plenty of greenery amongst the urban. It was the only part of the Quays that we were not traversing more than once too so these images would be unique. I spent a happy hour using all 24 frames, started up the automatic rewind and popped the camera into my bag. It takes 20-30 seconds to rewind and I used that time to get another roll out of my pocket and consult my phone. When I took the camera out of my pocket it had stopped whirring and so I popped the back to remove the roll.

You guessed yet? Yup, it hadn’t rewound. Roll ruined. Back at home I was to find, by measuring, that only one frame had been rewound. However, stood outside the BBC Studios, my immediate concern was do I load another roll? I did, it wound on correctly, and I proceeded to the wharf side to capture some gorgeous clouds. Click. Whirr. Click. Whirr. A vertical and a horizontal composition. So far, so good. But, on the next attempt the shutter wouldn’t release. There was the hint of movement in the focus indicator needle but other than that the camera was locked solid. On a hunch I popped fresh batteries in.

Click, whirr and the third frame was exposed.

So, the thing this episode taught me is that the batteries will become exhausted without warning. I always carry spares so wasn’t in a spot but that didn’t make me feel better. My take out from this is that in future I will keep the camera in my hand whilst it rewinds as there’s no warning when it runs out of juice.

Worried about the 35mm Nikon f2.8 lens and sharpness? Don’t be.

Now, whilst this isn’t a camera review it would be remiss of me not to talk about how the camera handled and frankly how much fun it was. It’s a bit of a boxy, brick-shaped camera and not quite pocketable. I could slip it in my fleece pocket, just, but there was no chance it was going to fit in the pocket of my shorts like my usual “travel-light” camera, the digital Fujifilm X100T. It does have a neck-strap so I was able to walk hands-free when required.

All the images here were edited with Snapseed on an iPad

Camera-handling is difficult to nail down in a sentence or two, not least because it is such a subjective and personal experience. I have bigger than average hands and this camera sits very nicely whether carrying or using the camera. There are very few controls on this mostly automatic camera but ergonomically they all fall easily to an appropriate digit enabling the camera to be used without removing it from the eye. Despite only using the camera occasionally I didn’t miss any images through fiddling with controls. The +2 exposure switch is easily found on the side of the lens and holding the flash down to prevent it firing is easy to achieve with just a slight shift in the way I hold the camera.

Around a 50% crop

This is basically a fully automatic point-and-shoot 35mm camera albeit with a superb little f2.8 lens. Creating images with minimal depth of field is at the mercy of the prevailing light as the camera makes all the decisions regarding aperture, shutter speed, even focus point. However, it is possible to force the camera to focus where you want it to by placing the focus point over the desired object, half-pressing the shutter release to achieve focus, keeping the release half-pressed you can then recompose and complete the exposure.

Shallow depth of field is achievable with some thought

Similarly, there is a back-lit switch which, when held down during the exposure, will add two additional stops to the chosen aperture/shutter speed combination. I used this a fair amount.

In conclusion, the camera delivers some lovely crisp images and is very easy to use. The control freaks won’t like the very limited amount of control they can exert but it is possible to be creative with some thought. However, if you are a fully manual kind of photographer this camera is best avoided. If, like me you enjoy photography and at times need to make life easier in order to preserve domestic harmony then this camera needs to be on your shortlist.

Rather flat light which was a shame but we work with what we have

The proof of any camera’s worth though is the pictures made with it. Despite rather “meh” light over the two days it performed well. Five rolls, 180 frames, and it didn’t miss focus once. Exposure is perhaps a tad over but well within the latitude of the film I was using and could even be down to my scanning technique. It even handled the red filter well. Some people have mentioned a slight vignette but I didn’t find that a problem. There is a very faint drop off around the edges but it isn’t that noticeable and in fact I add a stronger vignette to many of my images.

With added vignette!
Friday morning, 7:30am and for thirty minutes we enjoyed the best light of our visit.

Finally, and incredibly, this is the fifth blog post that I’ve squeezed out of our mini-break. However, all of the images here are from a single roll of Kodak Tri-X that I exposed on Friday morning. With another four rolls of film to work through don’t rule out another blog post or two!