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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 😀
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.