Street Life

“I play the street life
Because there’s no place I can go
Street life, it’s the only way I know
Street life”

Street Life: Crusaders (1979)

I’m a child of the fifties so my teenage years spanned the 1970s and my musical tastes, whilst wide, tend to coalesce around music from that decade. I’ve always enjoyed this song, no more so than when I saw the Cissy Stone Band performing it live at The Oasis Leisure Centre, Swindon. These days you will often find me walking the streets where I live, photographing the urban environment, this is my street life and one of my happy places. But other people walk the streets too and whilst I normally rise early to avoid them there are occasions when I cannot.


Street photography is a genre that, for the most part, I enjoy looking at. It’s a genre though that I rarely work in myself. However, two unrelated circumstances combined to set me out with camera in hand recently on a mission to “shoot some street”. The first was banally domestic, the wife wanted to visit the open market in Huddersfield, whilst the second was a discussion I had with a couple of friends (hereafter known as the BOFs) about zone focusing. One of the things we discussed was using zone focus on the street for candid photography.

Let’s start with a definition of street photography: a genre of photography that records everyday life in a public place. I say “a” definition because there are plenty but this one will do for our needs I think.

For my Saturday morning outing I took the Canon VT paired with a 35mm Jupiter 12 lens. A wide lens to be sure but one I’m comfortable with in general terms. How I’d fare using it for “street” was another story although I have used my digital Fuji X100T with its 35mm equivalent lens for street, albeit in tourist hotspots like London. I loaded the Canon with a roll of Fomapan 200, a film I’m growing to like immensely in 35mm. A couple of spare rolls in my pocket and I was ready.

Ready for a Full English – well you can’t photograph on an empty stomach!

Café Culture: and in two of the three images I’ve been spotted!

I said earlier that “for the most part” I enjoy looking at street photography. I should expand on that a little as it influences both how I shoot and how I edit my images. I do not enjoy looking at images that are exploitative or intended to mock the individual. When making candid images of strangers on the street I do feel we have a responsibility to these unknown people not to make them look foolish, not to laugh at or encourage others to laugh or mock and certainly not to take advantage of their circumstances simply for a picture. Always treat others as you’d like to be treated yourselves is a very good maxim by which to guide the photographer’s eye I think.

On the full negative there is a lady sat facing the couple on the left of the frame. She balances the composition as she is looking into the frame and cropping her out does weaken it in my eyes. However, I’ve inadvertently caught her with an “unfortunate” expression on her face and by my own standards therefore it’s either crop or ditch the image.

I do take this responsibility seriously, choosing not to make some photographs and also when editing later I remove any negatives where I feel my standards would be compromised if I used the image. At the making and editing stages I apply the same basic principles. My maxim … if in doubt ditch it.

The original is a horizontal image but the inclusion of a child to the right of the frame meant that I cropped it vertically as shown; capturing identifiable images of children is another red line for me – a definite no.
Following the advice to find a spot and wait … not sure these are overly interesting but they fulfil the brief of capturing everyday life in a public place
I like images which invite the viewer to construct a story around what they are looking at

For this outing there was a motive beyond simply making some candid photographs. There was a desire to try a different technique and add to my store of knowledge and tool kit of techniques. In our discussions one of the BOFs had drawn our attention to a YouTube video in which the topic of the “sunny 16” approach to metering was discussed. It was a rare example of someone using the system and explaining what aperture they were setting based on what they, and the viewer, were actually looking at. Rather than rely on dry written descriptions the author, Roger Lowe, was showing and telling (link at the foot of the page). It’s one of the best explanations of the “sunny 16” and most importantly how to use it that I’ve seen and inspired me to actively use it on Saturday. I’ve used it at need in the past but these days with a meter on my smartphone I rarely need to call upon the technique.

Tricky, rather harsh, light but the “sunny 16” proved up to the task – of course it’s all down to reading the light correctly, remember the photographer makes the image not a technique or “rule”
I under exposed this by around one perhaps two stops … printable in the darkroom and recoverable as a digital scan
Very tricky as the windows appear dark but it’s the reflection you are photographing. I looked at the light on the subject (not the reflection) and opened by one or two stops to photograph the reflection. The latitude of the film certainly helped – for this one the door is partially blown but I’ve included it here to illustrate the point

Another aspect the BOFs discussed was zone focusing, something all three of us do from time to time but not something I’d typically use for urban photography. When making candid photographs though there is not always time to manually focus before the opportunity slips away or before the subject spots you and the moment is lost. Note, manually focus, very few of my film cameras have auto-focus and with the rangefinders I typically use manual focus is absolutely the order of the day.

Plenty of time to actually focus manually for these subjects

So, serendipity at play again. I had the opportunity courtesy of the wife’s shopping trip, the inspiration through the BOFs conversation and the example of watching Roger Lowe’s practical demonstration. All I needed to do was put it into practice.

Easier said than done!

With Fomapan 200 I have been slightly over-exposing the film by rating it at ISO 160. For the “sunny 16” method I need therefore to set a shutter speed of 1/160th or as near as practical. I plumped for 1/125th. For the most part this was the shutter speed I used all day although in some instances I dropped it to 1/60th rather than open the lens right up. One thing that I was concerned about was how slow this shutter speed was, easily enough to handhold and get sharp images but many of my subjects would be moving and up close. I’d normally have opted for around 1/500th second and so with hindsight I was wondering if I should have loaded a faster film. Next time I probably will because I have lost a few frames to motion blur but on the whole I “got away” with 1/125th on the day.

With the ISO baked-in due to the film stock I had loaded and the shutter speed pre-determined my only way to control exposure was via the aperture ring. It was here that I almost regretted my lens choice as the aperture ring on the Jupiter 12 sits inside the lens barrel rather than around it as is more normal. It’s slightly less practical and you can’t change aperture without looking into the lens barrel. With the Canon 50mm lens that I usually use the aperture ring is located around the barrel and with gentle click stops I don’t need to remove the camera from my eye to change aperture (so long as I know what aperture it’s currently on).

That aside however, my main concern was focusing. It’s a comfort thing I guess but I’m used to focusing manually and, allowing for the aperture, controlling what is in focus and what is not. A wide angled lens makes this slightly less problematic but nevertheless after two rolls of zone-focused street photography I remained concerned about focus until I got the negatives on a light box.

One roll of the two, both look similar and my fears about focus and exposure were out to rest once the negatives were out of the tank.

There we have it. Two rolls of “street”, both zone-focused and “sunny 16’d” for the most part. I found the hardest part was deciding upon exposure but this was partly a comfort thing. My cold-shoe meter was, reluctantly, left at home and I only used the phone metering app a handful of times to double-check my decisions. Each time I went with my “sunny 16” estimate. Zone focusing was less of a concern, although I was nervy about subjects being in focus I have used zone focusing a lot recently and understanding the characteristics of the Jupiter 12 lens also helped. Ironically, the thing I worried about most was the thing I knew best!

Sometimes a person in the right spot just makes the image … it’s not an image of them but the image is weaker without their presence
Again, a small element but the people strengthen the image

During this excursion I went wide and got in closer than I’ve typically done in the past. Previously people would be an incidental part of the image but I set out today to make them the subject.

I was pleased with this on two counts. Firstly it’s an interesting image that sets the scene and shows how busy the market was. Secondly, the two techniques of zone focusing and “sunny 16” combined to create this image … had I stopped to focus/meter then I’d have missed the opportunity
One of my favourites from the trip. Plenty of interest, layers of depth to the image too. From a technical aspect, sharp and well-exposed.

Did I succeed? You be the judge of that and I’d welcome any advice or guidance in the comments section below.

LINK to the “sunny 16” video


I wrote recently about my ongoing exploration of the work of Saul Leiter (1923-2013). In terms of my own photography I’ve been working on images taken through glass or more precisely, compositions whereby the reflections in the glass are an integral part of the image. I’ve incorporated myself in many of these too thus adding reflection selfies to the mix. One location has been a particularly fruitful source of images.

There are actually three large windows to play with
Scan of darkroom print

35mm Lucky Dip – Adox HR-50

The third roll of film in my 35mm Lucky Dip was a gift from Jevon and it wasn’t until AFTER I’d used the roll that he expressed his view:

Best of luck. I have rarely managed to get a clean negative but when I have the detail is phenomenal

Jevon C

He’s not wrong of course!

I used the roll on a wander around my local patch with Andy (@Holga_Pics) and sadly the weather was rather overcast and wet; indeed we got a good soaking once we reached the farthest point of the walk from the sanctuary of my front room.

There’s a few on the roll where I’ve clearly misjudged the exposure and these have very blocked up shadows but where I’ve got the exposure right the negatives sing almost. Looking at them on a light pad the detail, even in the 35mm format, is incredible. The base of the film is also exceptionally clear which perhaps enhances this perception when the sheet of negatives is laid out on the light pad.

I’ve “scanned” the roll with my mirrorless camera and also printed one negative in the darkroom so far (more will follow) and the negatives have been very easy to work with in both scenarios.

Printed straight at grade 3 … I’m going to reprint at grade 2 and also dodge a little detail into the windows particularly above Andy’s head.

The darkroom print above, consciously printed a little darker to emphasise the wet conditions, has lots of detail and also lots of potential for further manipulation (tinkering with images didn’t start with Photoshop you know). This was a straight print and when I look at the negative it’s clear that there’s more detail in the shadows. I don’t want to change the overall mood of the finished print but I think there’s room for a little more detail in those shadows; it’s certainly available in the negative as the comparison below shows. The digital version has been fully processed to bring out detail in the shadows.

Digital top and darkroom print below

So, would I use this again? Short answer is that I’d have no qualms about using it. So long as it’s exposed correctly it will reward you with loads of detail and extremely sharp negatives. However, it is a 50-speed film and this couple with its lack of tolerance of poor metering doesn’t lend itself to my style of handheld, urban photography on the hoof.

Cropped and edited

This time, pleased as I am with the outcomes, I can at least say that it has not deflected me from my “three film” goal. That said, if Jevon wants to send me some more …

In the meantime here’s a few more digital versions from this roll.

The only image here taken with the Jupiter 11 (135mm) lens – all the others are Jupiter 12 (35mm)
The film captured a full range of tones … the key is careful metering
Probably my best exposure … detail throughout in a very contrasty scene
One for Andrew K
A reminder of the conditions.

I know my favourite … what’s yours?

Frugal Film Project – May update

A short-roll this month as it turned out. Most of my hand rolled cassettes have 30-36 exposures but for some reason this one had less than 20. A fact I only found out when I got to my ultimate destination and found just one frame left in the camera. Ho hum, the FFP has been good at throwing curved balls so far this year so I wasn’t that surprised. Slightly disappointed as I was looking forward to exploring a new-to-me location.

The FED-4 performed impeccably again although this time out I paired it with a new-to-me lens that had only arrived that morning. The Jupiter 11 lens has a focal length of 135mm and a maximum aperture of f4. This isn’t the time or place for a lens review. However, my lack of experience with the lens, indeed I have limited experience of using a telephoto lens within the urban environment, meant that not ever image worked out. By the end of the short roll though I was starting to get my eye in I thought.

Polling station selfie

The viewfinder of the FED-4 is calibrated for the 50mm lens so with a 50mm lens fitted you focus and compose using the same viewfinder. Fit a 135mm lens though and whilst you still focus using the viewfinder you need to fit an external viewfinder to the cold shoe in order to compose the image. It was an interesting experience especially as mine kept sliding out of the cold shoe which made for some fun and games.

Depth of field is going to be a big consideration with this lens
I even managed an image for a forthcoming project – “Peeking”

So, despite the disappointment of an unexpected short roll I really enjoyed this month’s roll. The 135mm lens will add a new dimension to using this camera too; I just need to practice a bit more with it before June!

Stoating without intent

Finding myself in Batley recently with an hour to kill I did what comes naturally and took what fellow #believeinfilm photographer John F calls “a wee stoat”. Armed with a Canon VT rangefinder camera (not something JF would probably choose) and a roll of Ilford Delta 100 I turned my back on the car and went in search of some images.

I rarely, if ever, go out with a clear plan or objective. Occasionally I will have the aim of making some pinhole images for example but rarely is there a clear plan with regards to subjects. This wander was no exception and I simply attached a yellow filter to the Canon 50mm lens, set my cold-shoe meter to ISO50, slipped my hand through the wrist strap and set forth. You could say I was about to go stoating without intent, which is just how I like it!

No, not that Jessops

Back home with the developed film on the light pad I noticed a fair few images that could loosely be described as architectural and the thought occurred that these would make a nice little set for a blog post. I therefore copied the negatives with a digital camera (oh, the irony) and uploaded them to my tablet.

I’m just a tinkerer at heart and whilst I spend very little time these days using Photoshop or indeed on the computer I do use the tablet every day and do 99% of my photo editing on this handheld device. My app of choice for this is Snapseed and I’ve a pretty consistent workflow these days designed to keep my photo editing to a minimum. My go-to adjustments are both global and local contrast tweaks, sometimes correcting the exposure and regularly applying good old-fashioned dodging and burning to an image. Occasionally however I will go off-piste as it were and play with some of the filters and effects that are also part of the software but rarely in my sights. Today I added a “noir” filter to one of the architectural images, liked the effect and applied it to a few others. The results are here for you to see.

I’m part-way through writing an initial appreciation of the rangefinder cameras that I’ve been playing with recently for this blog. I have also just concluded the purchase of a lovely little Leica IIIf from another #believeinfilm stalwart who I’ve got to know through the Twitter community. I am a somewhat anti-social individual at heart, enjoying my own company (something I learnt during my working life where I was often away on my own working) but the #believeinfilm community on Twitter is changing that at quite a pace!

Think I prefer this version

So, I hope you like these images; do let me know what you think in the comments.

I can’t resist a bin (dedicated to Andrew K)
A little slice of AC heaven

End of the roll

Yesterday’s post had a definite theme but there were a few images on the end of the roll of HP5+ that didn’t fit the theme. So, rather than waste them I thought I’d post them on there own this morning.

Looking over my shoulder as I carefully negotiated the cobbles downhill
Last look back over my shoulder at the snicket
North Bridge sneaking in from the left, the modern flyover just creeps in top right too – user error!
Halifax flyover, designed to ease town centre congestion, and traffic using North Bridge, it was completed in 1973.
A last look back at the snicket from the car park
The last one on the roll

Revisiting the Snicket

There’s a famous 1937 photograph by Bill Brandt simply titled The Snicket. Taken on a visit to Halifax it’s one of a handful of images he made along the route of a now long-disappeared railway line. I’ve traced many of the locations but this one was most poignant as I’d unwittingly been parking next to it for quite a while when picking up the wife from work. I’ve written about it on this blog many times and this week I returned for a brief visit whilst the wife was shopping nearby.

The Snicket is actually a steep, cobbled slope leading up to the old railway bridge and Brandt made his famous photograph from the bottom of the slope looking up along its length. Seen in context it has little of the brooding presence of that 1937 composition; which can still be seen today albeit with an overhanging tree coming in from the right that wasn’t present back then.

I had the Fed 4 rangefinder with me, the N61 55mm lens and a couple of short rolls of film. One was Kentmere 400 for the FFP and the other my everyday film Ilford HP5+.

An overview of the wider scene, the bridge would have been there in Brandt’s time. The Snicket is just behind the modern concrete pillar to the right of the frame. That is one of the modern flyover supports and wouldn’t have been there in 1937.

Apart from the number of cars the area is little changed from the 1930s. The old mills have been renovated and whilst the carpet manufacturers and the like have long gone the buildings still bustle with new industry. Travel agency, insurance company, art gallery and a hairdressers for example. There’s even a small theatre company based there.

This visit was short. I walked there from the supermarket car park and after photographing the snicket from the bottom I walked up the steep cobbles to the top where it joins the railway bridge. Pausing to load a new roll of film I made some images looking down the snicket and also captured some of the graffiti on the old bridge which is still in daily use as a footpath. All too soon though my phone beeped and I was summonsed back to the car. It’s no hardship though, I’ve photographed this location many, many times in the past. Here’s to many more visits too!

Looking back down from halfway up
Looking up from halfway down
From the top looking the other way. To the right is the site of the long-gone railway line that served the mills in the Dean Clough complex.
Stood on the site of the old railway line looking back at the snicket

A Sunday Stroll with Saul

“I go out to take a walk, I see something, I take a picture. I take photographs. I have avoided profound explanations of what I do.”

Saul Leiter

Today I did indeed go for a walk. Nothing unusual in that. I did see something(s) too and took photographs. Whilst walking I was pondering the quote from Saul Leiter (above) and, without wishing to be pretentious, I was thinking, not for the first time recently, how well these words chime with my own thoughts. I’m not however comparing my work to Leiter’s, I’m simply acknowledging my debt to him and his influence on my own photography.

Out for exercise
Camera ever present
No explanations

Today I decided to walk to the top of Elland and have a stoat around a more residential area, where some of the larger and more expensive properties are to be found. The walk started along familiar lines from my front door but, having done the hard bit and slogged up the long, steep hill to the Memorial Park I suddenly decided I’d rather wander around the grittier centre of town.

Start of the walk – Canon VT
I got to the top of the hill to the left … and changed my mind!

A quick change of direction and I was cutting back and down through the park towards the town centre. Sub-consciously at first but with a growing realisation that what had prompted the about turn was that what I wanted to do was photograph shop windows! Saul Leiter was inside my sub-conscious it seemed. The ad-hoc reflected-self-portraits of last week are slowly evolving into a more considered project it seems. I had two cameras with me, both ideally suited to the purpose too.

Spot the ‘tog – Canon VT
Shop windows – Canon VT
Dowload our app – Canon VT

At the start of the walk I was switching back and forth between the two cameras. The Canon VT, loaded with Ilford Delta 100, was fitted with the lovely Canon 50mm f1.4 lens and a deep yellow filter. Jon’s Leica IIIf meanwhile was loaded with Ilford HP5+ (rated at ISO 250) and sported the 35mm Jupiter 12 lens and an orange filter. However, as I reached the edges of the centre I popped the Leica back in my shoulder bag and used just the Canon.

Doubt they will be able to do much for my “hair”
Canon VT
Canon VT – The Restaurant through the bus shelter
Leica IIIf

This last month or so I’ve really got into the swing of using rangefinder cameras after decades of avoiding them in favour of SLR cameras. Perhaps it’s a sign of the times; I’m not getting any younger and the fact I can drop these rangefinders in a pocket really appeals. My back appreciates this new-found interest in the format too.

Canon VT

I’ve used three different Leicas, three Zorki 4/4K cameras, a Fed4 and of course the Canon VT de luxe. Of these the Barnack Leicas have definitely wormed their way into my photographic heart and it is only a matter of time before I give way and buy my own. The Canon VT however has been a revelation. Manufactured in the year I was born I found an immediate affinity with this camera and it’s barely been out of my hand since I got it.

Canon VT
Canon VT – next stop the pub next door
Leica IIIf

As I reached the further edges of the centre and turned for home I found myself outside the craft pub run by our local brewery. It would’ve been rude not to pop in and say “hello”. Suitably refreshed I swapped the Canon for the Leica noting there were ten frames left on the short roll of HP5+. The final leg of my walk was along very familiar ground and I finished the roll of HP5+ with a couple of images of the local bakers window.

Canon VT
Tasty Bites – Canon VT

I had some Perceptol stock made up specifically for the HP5+ which I metered at 250 deliberately as I find pulling the film in this way and developing with stock Perceptol gives some lovely negatives. I decided to also treat the Delta 100 to a bath in Perceptol too for simplicity.

Leica IIIf
Leica IIIf

As I’ve mentioned, I’m new to rangefinder cameras but it seems that I’ve taken to them like the proverbial duck to water. Their small size and the ease with which I can carry not just one but two has been a revelation. Today I was using black & white film and the twin bodies enabled me to have both my preferred 35mm focal length covered but also the 50mm which I’m slowly falling back in to using. I started all those years ago with 50/55mm prime lenses but slowly over the years gravitated towards 28/35mm as my preferred focal length. I have a Zorki 4 sat on my desk loaded with colour film too and could quite easily add that to my shoulder bag without really noticing the added weight/bulk.

Anyway. I trust you’ve enjoyed your afternoon wander through town with me. Catch you again soon!

In the Shadows

I needed to go in to Halifax recently and as always I popped a camera in my shoulder bag. It happened to be the Canon VT de luxe as one of my objectives was buying a wrist strap from our local camera shop. A roll of Kodak Double X was loaded and a yellow filter popped on to the 50mm f1.4 lens.

My “mission” was simply to get out with a camera after a period of illness had confined me somewhat. I had no real focus but in the end the images I brought home split into three elements. There was the ongoing, but very recent self-portrait series, some traditional “street-style” photography and also a few chiaroscuro-inspired images made in the Piece Hall. It’s these that I’m posting today.

The final image here was my 365 image for the day. Incidentally, it was also my 1,999th consecutive daily image.

So, a blog post with no big message beyond the reminder that photography should be fun, go out, make images and enjoy doing so!