Here be Rats

Earlier this month I had a hospital consultation and unusually for these strange times it was in-person rather than by telephone so I headed into Halifax, mask in pocket, for my early morning appointment. Also in my pocket was my mobile phone with it’s handy light meter app and in my shoulder bag was the Horizon S3 Pro loaded with a roll of Adox Silvermax. Little did I realise when I left the hospital but I was just about to go and make four images that would provide me with a totally unprecedented (for me) and unexpected response on social media.

My view of Halifax town centre 10/5/2021

Have you ever peered behind the facade of your town centre?

I do regularly, in the name of urban photography of course. The service yard behind various premises including offices and fast food premises in Halifax town centre that I ventured into was a sight and smell to behold. As I slowly edged my way inwards I was stopped in my tracks by a movement that I only just caught with my peripheral vision. What was it? A piece of paper flapping perhaps?

Fuji X100T – I pretty-much ALWAYS have this in my bag

Well, no actually. A second movement in my line of sight confirmed what my subconscious had suppressed. I’d aroused the interest of a family of rats.

When I got home I developed the film in home-made FX55, an eco-developer I have been trying out, and hung the roll of images to dry. There were various panoramic views of the “public” face of the town centre but my attention was focused on the three images I’d taken before rats-stopped-play. I’d also taken a few on my ever-present Fuji X100T and knew that with the silver-rich Silvermax I was using in the Horizon there was the chance of some fabulous tones alongside my signature panoramic viewpoint – just so long as I’d got my exposures right.

I was not disappointed and having waited impatiently for the film to dry I was quick, unusually so for me, to scan the negatives and get them on to my computer. I love darkroom printing but even I have to admit that this hybrid approach has its appeal at times! Uploading the first image to my Twitter account I was nevertheless very surprised when my notifications went crazy. The four images from that six or seven minutes in the back yard have given me my best ever response on social media and I was very humbled at the response they generated – even the one that suggested I be permanently posted to the service yards of Halifax!

… to finish, one with a sepia tone

It was a strange sensation making the images, stood in a less then salubrious situation with the local wildlife increasingly in evidence, but I knew as soon as I released the shutter that, so long as I’d worked out the exposure correctly, I would have a couple of very nice images for my portfolio. I didn’t stay long however as the rats were getting increasingly curious! Seriously!!

All images: Horizon S3 Pro camera | Adox Silvermax film | developed in FX55 unless stated otherwise

Tuesday Triple

Three images from a recent visit to Scammonden Water, within sight and sound of the busy M62 motorway. I was on my way home from a local reservoir where I had been practising with the Intrepid 5×4. Like many of us I do practice setting the camera up whilst I’m at home, developing muscle memory as it were. However, being out in the field is a different experience, especially stood a few feet from a busy road hence the occasional trip out. I will (hopefully!) be going to the coast for a few days at the end of the month and will be taking the Intrepid for some long exposure photography.

All images: Horizon S3, Orwo UN54, Rodinal (1+50)
All images are scans created with a mirrorless camera

Whilst my main purpose for the short trip was practising with the 5×4 I still had a couple of other cameras in the boot of the car, one of which was the Horizon S3. Having spent around six months making urban panoramic images with the Horizons it was a joy to point the camera at something that was living.

West Vale

26/3/2021: Horizon S3, Kodak Tri-X, D76(1+1)

West Vale is a village in Calderdale, West Yorkshire, England. The village falls within the Greetland and Stainland parish of the Calderdale Council. West Vale is part of Greetland. The reason it is not called East Vale is because it used to be part of Elland District Council who historically ‘gave’ the area to Greetland.

This panoramic was taken from the edge of Elland which overlooks West Vale.

Returning to the dark-side

Whilst I have been making digital photographs since around 2003 I actually took up photography in the 1970s so I have always kept an interest in the film photography world and have also continued to shoot the occasional roll of film. Thus it was no surprise to me when I found myself shooting film more regularly in early 2019. What had been half a dozen rolls a year became a couple of rolls a month. My year-end tally for 2019 however still showed that around 85% of my photography was still digitally based. 

Another misty morning meandering with the panoramic camera and a roll of film. Horizon Kompakt and Ilford HP5+, home developed in Diafine (3+3) Shot 9th November Processed 11th November Scanned with a Fuji XT-3

This was the situation going in to 2020 and then the World as I knew it went mad.  However, despite the pandemic and despite shielding at home for four months, I still made images. On digital and film. Thus it was that by the end of 2020 the situation had reversed and over 90% of my photography that year was film based; I shot and developed 180 rolls of film, both 35mm and 120, along with around 40 sheets of 5×4 film.

But why? 

Well, initially it was down to Lockdown that affected me from mid-March until early August 2020.  Not being able to go beyond my front gate for over four months I ended up reading more and I also bought a few more rolls of film to amuse myself. Cameras that had been in boxes for years saw the light of day, were cleaned and brought back into use.  A few purchases to replace lost filters or minor accessories such as eye-cups soon became a project to build up a full Bronica ETRS medium format film system; don’t ask me how! By the time I emerged from my isolation in early August 2020 I was shooting film daily and almost exclusively.

Horizon S3 Pro | Kodak Tri-X | D76 (1+1) Shot 8th February 2021 between 8.45 and 9.15am

It wasn’t all film though. My 365 Challenge, which I had started in October 2017 was still going strong and my most-used tool for this job was still the Fuji X100T.  I realised however that I was using it like a film camera, often taking just one or two images with the 365 in mind.  In early August when my consultant gave me the thumbs-up to take short walks I found myself walking to every corner of the small town I live in. Nowhere is more than 20 minutes walk, so forty minutes there and back. This was when my ongoing project, documenting Elland’s urban landscape on black and white film, was born.

This project however hit top gear in October thanks to an impulse buy. I bought a new-to-me camera, the Horizon Kompakt. A Russian-made, swing lens camera for shooting 120 degree panoramas on 35mm film.

Needing to run a few rolls through to test the camera and also get it moving freely again I bought a brick of 35mm film and got out of the armchair and onto my feet. I found that as each completed roll of negatives hit the light pad I was starting to see subtle changes in the way I was using the camera; my eye was becoming attuned to the panoramic format and how to create depth within the image. All the usual photographic skills however, nothing different or new. Simply using light and shade, shapes within the urban landscape and utilising the sound knowledge of exposure acquired through years of using cameras manually and regularly choosing not to use the automatic modes or at least knowing when to override the electronic Brain in the camera. Of course, many of the cameras I’m using these days are purely mechanical with no electronics. The Kompakt for example is clockwork as is the Horizon S3 Pro I bought as a late Christmas present to myself.

Calder & Hebble Navigation 10th February 2021 Horizon S3 Pro | Kodak TriX | Kodak D76 (1+1)

One of the first tangible results of this project was a ‘zine’. An A5 Landscape book/magazine with 50 pages of 170 gsm silk paper with a 350gsm gloss cover. Over 20 double page spreads where incorporated and I was thrilled with the quality. I had twenty copies printed, kept one for myself and sold the rest via Twitter so fellow film photographers in the UK, EU and America; so I covered my costs too which was a welcome bonus.

I will return to the project in a future blog post but in the meantime to celebrate my return to full-time film photography and the start of my urban panoramas project I’ve included a few images in this post come from the first few months of seriously shooting film panoramas.

Flooded woodland – frozen and enchanting. 10th February 2021 Horizon S3 Pro | Kodak TriX | Kodak D76 (1+1)

FOOTNOTE: When I first returned to using film more extensively I initially felt that I had left the warm cozy world of photography magazines, unlimited YouTube videos and countless other online resources relating to digital photography and in to an arid desert. But I was wrong. There is a thriving worldwide online community dedicated to film photography and none more so than on Twitter. Many images get shared but the biggest plus for me is that there is real interaction and it is on the whole done in a fabulously generous and tolerant way.

New Horizons

Back in October 2020 I bought a new-to-me camera, the Horizon Kompakt. A Russian-made, swing lens camera for shooting 120 degree panoramas on 35mm film. In January 2021 I added the Horizon S3 Pro to the bag having also played with an Horizon 202 in December 2020. This post is a summary of the key things I have learnt whilst working with this incredible but very idiosyncratic tools. They are in answer to questions I’ve been asked over the last few months and are in the order they tumbled out of my head!

1. So long as you load the camera properly and wind on smoothly there should be no problems with torn film. Unlike my Kompakt and 202 the S3 is relatively very smooth.

It rained toay … all of the day! Horizon Kompakt | HP5+ | Kodak HC-110 (B) Shot and developed 20th January 2021

2. To the right of the film gate in the S3 there is a silver bar with sprockets – the film goes under this BUT make sure you also thread the film UNDER the black bar to the immediate left of the silver bar. This is important to ensure film lies flat and reduces tearing risk considerably. With all of the models the basic advice is that if it can go under then it should!

3. Some film stock is inherently thinner and prone to snapping, I’ve used mainly HP5+, Tri-X with the S3 although have used self-rolled Kodak XX successfully. The key as I’ve said is to be gentle.

Horizon Kompakt | Ilford HP5+ | Kodak D76 (1+1) Shot 15th Fenruary 2021

4. I use an app on my phone to gauge exposure and it’s rarely too far out. It’s a wide field of view though so I use my experience to tweak if appropriate, especially high contrast scenes such as the one above. I rarely bracket but that’s an option too I guess. If shooting something like HP5+ there’s plenty of inherent latitude within the emulsion itself. 

5. Expect 21 frames on a 36 exp film. Around 14 on a 24 exp film. Don’t be tempted to try and squeeze an extra frame – therein lies film snapping potential 😀

Calder & Hebble Navigation 10th February 2021 Horizon S3 Pro | Kodak TriX | Kodak D76 (1+1)


6. Some users report banding at one end of the frame. Not regularly however and when it does appear it is mainly when the sun is around in my experience – so not that often up here! There’s some debate as to whether it’s light leaking in through the shutter hood as it travels. Myself and many other Horizon users I know tend to keep the camera in our shoulder bags until we are ready to shoot. Anecdotally this does appear to work. In my experience, it’s not as big a problem as many make out though and in any event the negative is wide enough that you can crop it without an issue. Interestingly, the more basic Kompakt seems to suffer less from this phenomenon in my experience.

7. If your Horizon has the handle use it as it really helps keep stray fingers out of the shot. I also hold the right hand side of the camera from the back between finger tips to keep stray fingers out of harms way when pressing the shutter. It feels (and looks) a little odd to start with but is worth persevering with.

8. I used HP5+ exclusively to start with as it’s a film I’m very familiar with. Now I’m confident with how everything works I’ve used all sorts of film stock with success, even home-rolled Redscale. In short, I would say that once you know what you’re doing then anything goes film-wise!

9. Metering: I took my spot meter out just the once but decided that this just slowed me down and took some of the spontaneity out of using the S3. Now I take a basic reading when I leave the house using my phone, set that and then tweak as I need to based on my assessment of the scene. If the light changes dramatically I take a new reading. 

10. One last thought, make sure the film is tight on the take up spool too as this helps ease pressure on the film as it moves through the film gate. 

I’ve not talked about composition here, just the mechanics of using the camera and creating images. I may well pen some thoughts in that area too … but don’t hold your breath as this post is my first in almost six months! I must rectify that.