Ode to a wooden box

Fear not, I’m not about to get all poetic in my appreciation of the aforementioned wooden box. The box of which I speak is my Zero Image 612b pinhole camera. The ‘b’ is for basic of course, whereas the 612 indicates a maximum negative size of 6×12. In reality the negative is bigger than 6×12 as I’ve mentioned before. It is also multi-format as baffles inside can be moved to create 6×4.5, 6×6, 6×7 and 6×9 in addition to the titular 6×12.

When I bought it I felt it was expensive for what it was and even more so when it languished on a shelf for month after month once the first couple of rolls had been exposed. None too successfully at that if I’m honest. However, just recently I’ve used it more and have started to learn to appreciate it properly. I’ve also started to get the hang of using it more effectively too.

The biggest thing I’ve learnt is that it likes to be close to the action – very close! I’ve taken a couple of images recently featuring coffee mugs – with said mugs never more than three inches from the wooden box. Really, that close. I’m finding that for my taste, using a very obvious main subject very close to the box helps create depth and a real sense of three dimensional space. That’s not to say that every pinhole image I make has a subject right up close but it’s fair to say that I’ve never been disappointed when I’ve got in close and many images could have benefitted from being closer to the subject. This little box does have a fair sized field of view!

One of my early mistakes with this box was with regards to exposure calculations. I metered as I would normally but still seemed to get under-exposed negatives. My mistake was treating the given aperture value as gospel – my box likes light, plenty of it too. I now almost always add on at least a stop to the exposure time I calculate and am never afraid to bracket if in doubt. Reciprocity should also be taken seriously in my experience, especially with the Fomapan 100 I favour for my pinhole work. I chose Fomapan precisely because of its huge reciprocity values. It is actually helpful to have longer exposure times when your shutter is manually opened and closed by simply sliding a piece of wood to reveal and then hide the pinhole.

This is a seriously lightweight piece of kit and despite accommodating 6×12 negatives it is surprisingly small. It fits comfortably in my shoulder bag even with an SLR/DSLR with a second lens already present. Spare film and my mini tripod also fit in and I’ve made plenty of images that I’d not have been able too if the box took up more room. I like to travel with minimal kit and this box adds extra artistic capability without being a burden.

Not only is this box light and therefore easily carried in my shoulder bag “just in case” I need it, it is also pretty water resistant. No electronics to fizzle under the persistent rain we are blessed with here in the UK for a start. No lens to become rain spattered and smeared either. A quick wipe with a micro-fibre cloth and it’s like it was never wet. I’ve used this little box in torrential rain, on the beach, low down on a mini tripod with the sea lapping around and whilst I’ve been careful not to submerge it in water I’ve yet to have any issues with a malfunctioning box!

Of course, this isn’t my only pinhole camera. It isn’t even my only Zero Image camera. I have pinholes in 35mm, 120 and 5×4 large format. All of them are simply wooden boxes. I’ve written about them regularly, including this post which could have been sponsored by a rubber band company! It wasn’t but I’m still open to offers!

For some people, pinhole equates to fuzzy, unsharp images but whilst I’ve my fair share of such pictures, with or without a lens, it is my experience that a pinhole camera can also produce lovely crisp images. To support this assertion I present the image above created with the Zero Image 5×4. The key is technique. Which applies to all forms of photography I guess. Whilst a pinhole camera may be a very simple technological concept it is true that you still need good technique. For a start there are no electronics to assure good focus, the correct exposure or even adjust for slight camera movement. The first requirement is that the camera doesn’t move either during the exposure or at the time the shutter is opened or closed. This requires two things. Firstly, a tripod or other support to keep the camera still. A wall is helpful here if you find yourself without anything else although for my part a mini tripod is always in the bag with the camera. Secondly, a steady hand to ensure the camera isn’t knocked whilst operating the shutter. Some pinhole cameras have a cable release mechanism built in allowing the use of a standard threaded cable release although sadly none of mine feature this innovation.

The last ingredient I want to mention is aesthetics. Specifically YOUR aesthetic. It is my view that pinhole photography does not rely on technique alone. Good technique will help tremendously but it is not enough on its own. Using the camera regularly is vital if the photographer is to start to “see” through the pinhole. Not everything you point the pinhole at will work visually in two-dimensions and it takes time and practice to judge what will and won’t work. There’s little point though in me trying to tell anyone what will or won’t work; photography is a very personal medium and what works for one person may not necessarily work for others. Of course, it’s great when other folk appreciate your work but as ever the most important viewer of your work is you.

This has been a short appreciation of the humble pinhole camera and I have hopefully shared a few thoughts that will help those new to pinhole photography or indeed those thinking of jumping in to the fascinating genre. Technique is the key to successful images but even technique is subservient to the aesthetic.

Decisions, decisions

I used to be indecisive but now I’m not so sure.

OK, old joke but it’s very relevant still. We are hiring a caravan on the north-east coast for a few days and given how long it’s been since I had some “proper” time with my cameras I want to cover every eventuality. Except I can’t. There simply wouldn’t be enough time to use everything and I certainly wouldn’t be able to get everything in the boot of the car without ditching the suitcase. I know, lack of dedication, the suitcase should really go – but you explain that to my wife 😊

I started the process of preparing to pack for our four nights away a couple of weeks ago. I started with a yellow legal pad and various coloured pens arranged neatly on the table whilst I sipped a small whiskey. These lists were then studied and refined over the following ten days until four days ago when I started to pull gear together ready for packing. What? You thought I’d been talking about clothes? Ha!

Three days before departure day I threw the list in the bin and put most of the gear back in the cupboard. What caused this precipitous action? The wife announced that I had to do things with her and not spend every minute with a camera in my hand. What a nerve! I immediately loaded an Olympus Pen EE3 (half frame, 35mm) and popped that in my shoulder bag to ensure I would ALWAYS have a camera with me. With just three days to go I had to go back to the drawing board!

I decided to start over by thinking about camera and film formats I would need (want?) over those few days. 35mm – easy – the Horizon S3 was always going to make it on the trip. No question. Thinking back to our last trip away eight long months ago I definitely over-packed on the 35mm front and this was before I even owned an Horizon. Even if I didn’t admit to it publicly I didn’t want to repeat the mistake. The panoramic Horizon excepted, 35mm is my least-used format. No, the Horizon would be my sole 35mm companion. Apart from the EE3 of course which was already hiding in my shoulder bag. A roll of UN54 found its way into the Horizon and I treated myself to a glass of wine to celebrate the achievement.

So, moving on to 120. The Bronica SQ-A was one of the items that survived the cull already described. It is to be my main focus (see what I did there?) over the four days as I want to give Fomapan 100 in 120 a good workout. It’s become my go-to in 5×4 but can it do the business in medium format? So, that was easy, medium format in the bag – literally. Although, I do love playing with the ETRS … no, I can crop 6×6 to 6×4.5 if I need to. You can see that I was being strict with myself.

Except. What about pinhole? I’ve done a lot of pinhole work recently. My 120-devouring Zero Image pinhole camera has been a regular companion too, not least because it fits in my shoulder bag, and it would be good to test 120 Fomapan in the pinhole too. I popped a roll in that too and quietly slipped it in my shoulder bag.

Checking my backpack all I had was the Bronica with a trio of lenses and the usual filters. Doing well, just one camera so far, oh and the Horizon in its own small carry case. The wife would be pleased at how little I was taking. The EE3 and 120 pinhole were in my shoulder bag so they didn’t count.

I picked up the other backpack, permanently loaded with the 5×4 Intrepid camera and it’s various accoutrements. That was easy. Although I now had two big backpacks. Hhhhmmm. I’ll sleep on this.

I woke up, with two days to go, and over breakfast checked Twitter and Instagram. My Zero Image 5×4 images have gone down well and actually I had great fun with those. The three 25mm frames and a jumbo bag of rubber bands were soon nestling in the bag next to the Bronica. An hour later I had 26 sheets of 5×4, mainly Fomapan 100, loaded and sitting in the bag too. It was starting to fill up. I quietly popped my 360 camera into the backpack too without myself noticing.

I set about picking up the odds and ends that are so important. Lens cloths, air duster, tripod plates, screwdrivers, pens, batteries, cable releases … you know what I mean. Oh, film. I need film. But what to take? I will fast-forward several hours and just record that I’m taking more film than I can actually afford to use over four days and leave the rest to your imagination. Except to add that if I use even half of it I will be developing films full time for weeks.

So, Sunday has arrived and I’m doing final checks to make sure I have everything. This is a dangerous time as it’s when I usually get cold feet and start worrying I’m taking too much. In the past I’ve managed to quietly slide past this obstacle so when the wife enquired a couple of hours ago whether I was taking my drone, which I’d forgotten, I was confident the danger had passed. But, as I sorted out batteries for the drone and recharged everything the nagging doubts returned and niggled away until, shock horror, I returned the Intrepid and 5×4 gear to its place of readiness behind my armchair. The likelihood of me getting a decent chunk of time to use it is slim, it was last time too, so I decided to leave it behind in favour of the 5×4 pinhole. Since when did I get so grown-up?

So, there it is. I’m packed and once the drone has been charged and it’s firmware updated I will be ready to wrestle everything into the boot of the car. I’ve still got just the three cameras in the backpack. Oh and the drone makes another. Oh, there’s the Horizon in its own little bag, next to my shoulder bag with its EE3 and pinhole.

But wait, what’s the second shoulder bag on the floor next to it all?

Me: Photographer

I have had an interest in photography since my early teens and I suspect my experiences, at least in parts, will be familiar to many. I remember using a Kodak Instamatic to make photographs of industrial dereliction in the Valleys of South Wales for a school project. Small, fuzzy prints with strange colours but I thought they were fabulous. I passed my Environmental Studies exams too.

Early days – before marriage, mortgages and kids the soon-to-be Mrs W

Like so many of my generation my first SLR was the hefty Zenith E. I’ve claimed many times that you could knock nails in with this beast but never actually tried it if I’m honest. Looking back most of my surviving transparencies and negatives are on the soft side and nowhere near as sharp as I’d remembered. There are exceptions though. I chuckled recently when I saw how sought-after those Helios lenses are especially amongst digital users. I quickly shut up when I realised I had bought several in recent years.

Soft? Or artistic intent?

A Canon AE1 was next. Checking on the web I must have bought mine within six months of it being released although mine was definitely bought used. In fact I would be in my fifties before I bought a brand new camera. I acquired a second pre-owned AE1 fairly soon after and a telephoto lens from a chap at the local camera club. The late 1970s and early 1980s saw me photographing a lot of sports with this brace of Canons. I loved photographing motorbike scrambling and in those days with a high-vis jacket and a press pass courtesy of a friend of a friend at the local paper it was access all areas and no health and safety. Looking back it was recklessly stupid but at the time I was in my element. I even bagged a few jobs for the local paper on the back of these images. Not glamorous, mainly photographing school swimming galas but pictures of the kids swimming I was free to sell to parents, all the paper wanted was pictures of the Mayoress handing out the silverware!

In the mid-1980s a work colleague introduced me to a local studio photographer and for the next eighteen months I worked for him on an unpaid, casual basis helping run studio nights for local camera clubs and other organisations. Lots of fetching and carrying but I had great fun. They were mostly model evenings but occasionally he ran still-life workshops and the like. A promotion at work meant I no longer had the time to spare and sadly had to give this up but I’d learnt a lot and had a fabulous time doing so.

Fujichrome. Canon AE1 50mm f2.8 lens. Transparency film is very unforgiving but this scanned beautifully without me needing to tinker in PS. Not bad for a slide thats over 35 years old! It’s sobering to think this lass will be in her fifties now too. 1982/3, shot in a studio where I helped out by sweeping floors, lugging light stands etc whilst the Boss had paying customers in (usually camera clubs). I got to spend ten minutes with one of the models afterwards in lieu of pay!!

I even used the camera as a way to get out of works-organised football matches, obstacle courses, “fun” runs and the like simply by volunteering to be the office photographer. Of course, the downside was I also had to photograph the Christmas dances, presentations etc.

I was well hooked by the time I was in my late teens and whilst my circumstances would force me out of the hobby for periods of time over the years I returned to it with amazing regularity and never lost the interest.

Coinciding with this promotion was the birth of our first daughter. It was also the start of three house moves in six years due to work promotions and by the end of the decade we were living on the south coast with three young daughters and another due. Another move was also imminent, we didn’t know it but we’d be living in Bristol before number four arrived. Photography was very patchy during this period as evidenced by the number of baby pictures. Daughter One was well documented but this gradually reduced and by the time Daughter Four appeared I was taking very few photographs, a fact she still reminds me of regularly. Photography had to fit around the many demands of a young family, large mortgage and a very demanding employer.

It was a Nikon Coolpix 775, my first ever brand new camera, that was the catalyst for me returning to photography in a serious way again. It was 2002 and to acknowledge 25 years with my employer I was sent a corporate catalogue with a rather uninspiring choice of gifts. Nothing much caught my eye so I opted for an electric shaver for the wife (she’d put up with loads over the 25 years) a new electric drill and with the remainder I bought a small digital camera. This 1.9mp wonder machine had got me thinking what had until then been the unthinkable … digital photography?

Mamiya RB67 Kodak Ektar 100 colour negative film

Long story short, I didn’t enjoy the Coolpix but by 2004 I was the proud owner of a Canon 400D with 10.1mp and two kit lenses. The downward slope into chasing pixels and upgrading cameras before I’d outgrown the previous one had begun. A Canon 40D replaced the 400D within six months (easier to hold with big hands), a 5D MkII arrived (I “needed” the pixels) and a 7D replaced the 40D (better frame rate for wildlife). The 5D MkIII was next on the list (who doesn’t need 22.3 pixels) and my lens collection also grew in direct correlation with promotions, bonuses and pay rises.

The good news however was that I was back in the hobby in a big way and for the first time wasn’t going to be held back by the demands of a young family, although the hefty mortgage and demanding employer were still there. In hindsight though, the bad news was that I’d become obsessed and was constantly chasing perfection, buying ever more powerful software, obsessing over image quality and a paid-up member of the pixel chasers club. Relentless dissatisfaction with my images was starting to become the norm despite winning club competitions on a regular basis. By 2013 however I was starting to realise that this was sucking the fun out of my hobby and that the pixel race was getting ridiculous. I started to question what I was doing. So, it was rather ironic that this was also the year in which I decided to switch systems and moved to Nikon. I’d been a Canon user since the 1970s so this was quite a big deal at the time. I took a huge financial hit by selling a complete Canon digital kit I’d built up over almost ten years and bought a Nikon D800E and the “Holy Trinity” of zoom lenses (14-24, 24-70, 70-200). My pixel chasing had reached its zenith but, although I had no notion of it at the time, my interests were even then moving away from the all-singing, all-dancing digital cameras and back towards the tactile pleasures of my Canon AE1. Yes, it was still in the cupboard.

But there was one more twist in the digital tale. Starting in 2016 or thereabouts I started a three year process that saw me switch systems again, this time from Nikon SLRs to a mirrorless Fuji X system. I’d owned the Fuji X100 since it’s launch so the growing Fujifilm ecosystem and their approach to improving existing cameras through firmware releases really drew me in. It’s the only digital system I use now in 2021 but as my regular reader knows it’s not my first choice system any more.

© Dave Whenham
The start of my Fuji “journey”. Fuji X100 Winter 2011.

September 28 2015 was an auspicious day. On my 57th birthday I fulfilled a dream I’d had for most of my adult life and became the owner of a Hasselblad 500CN. I had a lovely Pentax 645 (why oh why did I sell it?) and four or five years earlier I’d also purchased a Mamiya RB67 that was going for a song in the local camera shop, so this wasn’t my first medium format film camera but it was a dream come true. It also was the catalyst for what I am doing now in 2021 as this was the moment I decided to get back into the darkroom. Whilst clearing space for my makeshift darkroom I also rediscovered a box of negatives, dated 2009-2011, and these formed the basis of my return to the dark.

© Dave Whenham
Birch trees on limestone outcrop
Hasselblad 500C/M, Ilford FP4+, Fotospeed RCVC Oyster

From that moment on I was destined it seems to return to film photography as my principal hobby. Learning from past experiences though I did not trade-in my Fujifilm mirrorless system but have run both film and digital side by side. I’ve even embraced the so-called hybrid approach, using film and then scanning the negatives. I refuse to spend more than a few minutes converting an individual negative though and only use those tools I could employ in the darkroom. From shooting >95% digital in 2015 though I’ve steadily increased my film usage and now in 2021 the situation has reversed and <5% of my photography these days is digital. I must emphasise here though that I enjoy both; each plays it’s part in my enjoyment of the hobby and I have no time for the digital vs film debate – it’s all photography. I even have a drone these days!

Ringstone Reservoir. It can be a little disconcerting putting the drone up into mist for it to temporarily disappear but it gives an angle I could not get otherwise.

Of course, the story goes ever on. Once I’d made the decision to concentrate on film and build a darkroom I also retrieved the Zenith E and Canon AE1 from their exile in the loft, remember them? A Nikon SLR or two (OK, several) followed as did a dalliance with a Pentax ME Super. Then there was the Olympus OM10 and because I liked the form factor of the Fujifilm X100 digital camera I started “needing” a compact film camera, or three, or more. I will draw a veil over some of the other purchases I think just in case the wife reads this. Many of these have however featured in blog posts of course.

Then, the Curse of Image Quality struck again. This time not pixels but film formats. A Mamiya TLR joined the stable, the RB67 was brought out and I started to use less 35mm and more medium format film. For a short period I became obsessed again with image sharpness but this time it was very short lived, it seems that with age does, occasionally, come wisdom. I like film for the aesthetic, the film-dependant grain, the ability to alter the look of negatives through choice of developer or processing method and there are situations where less than clinical sharpness are part of that aesthetic. I also enjoy the tactile nature of preparing to make images with film photography. Loading and rewinding film, putting the film onto reels and into tanks, standing and developing the film and never failing to be awed as the roll of negatives is eased off the reel and hung to dry.

Zero Image 612b pinhole camera, Fuji Acros, orange filter. Developed in Kodak D76(1+1)

The cameras I use most often are manual, they are also more tactile; removing dark slides, manually setting aperture and shutter speed, winding the film or removing the film back after each squeeze of the shutter. On some winding the film on and cocking the shutter are separate actions too and I enjoy the routines involved in using these cameras.

This Curse was, rather surprisingly, finally lifted when I moved in to large format film photography. I initially bought a dedicated 5×4 pinhole, partly because it was going cheap and partly because through it I could try out the loading and developing of sheet film before parting with a goodly sized lump of cash on a full LF kit. It was a field of photography I’d never really played with before and I loved the pinhole aesthetic at my first use, it helped the also new to me Large Format process had gone smoothly I suspect! I now have 35mm, medium-format and large format pinhole cameras and the Curse of Image Quality has finally lifted.

Unsurprisingly, a full 5×4 kit does also now have a place in my gear cupboard, albeit fairly recently, and I am enjoying slowly getting to grips with this format. A couple of early mistakes in terms of lens purchases means I have only limited options lens-wise but this in a way is helping as I’m needing to really work in a thoughtful manner. By its very nature LF slows you down, I’m not the first to note that of course, but this slow, deliberate, almost calculated approach is helping me to think first and release the shutter second. You can’t “spray n pray” with one of these!

Out and about in Elland on a foggy morning – I enjoy digital photography too. Fuji X-H1

Thankfully, throughout all of this my love of the hobby has never diminished, even during the barren years when I could afford neither film nor time. I use all of the many cameras I own. I never use the word collection to describe them either – they all have a use and are all tools, albeit well cared-for tools. I mainly use an X-Pro1 or an X100T from the Fujifilm stable when I choose to shoot digital despite the X-T3 permanently clamped to a copy stand. I use film cameras for most of my photography though, from 35mm, medium format, large format, instant cameras and several pinholes in various formats. I no longer see image sharpness as the ultimate goal, although that doesn’t mean I accept any old rubbish from my cameras, they still need to perform in accordance with the aesthetic I’m aiming here for. My embracing of the lo-fi as an acceptable sub-genre of the hobby was compounded recently when I picked up a couple of Diana F+ cameras and a bag full of accessories. They don’t get a lot of use but if the project calls for them they are used with as much enthusiasm as my beloved Bronicas. Sorry, didn’t I mention the Bronicas? They first appear in early 2020 but I’m running out of space here – suffice to say I picked up an ETRS pre-pandemic and then sold my Hasselblad to help fund the Bronica SQ-A kit.

So, there you have it. One photographers journey from film to digital and back again. Featuring constant upgrading to get more pixels and sharper images, returning to film and embracing MF, then getting into 5×4 for ultimate image quality … and then buying a complete Lomo kit!

Talking about GAS

Like most of us I suspect, I did not get into photography because of the gear, I got into because of its ability to capture a moment or preserve a memory but largely because of the satisfaction I got when the occasional “good” image was created.  I got satisfaction from the way it enabled this artistically-challenged teenager (and now an artistically-challenged sexagenarian) to channel some of the inner creativity that always lurked within, unfulfilled but nevertheless a part of me. Curiosity too drove me on. How things work was a childhood interest and as I grew into my teens this developed into a willingness to take things apart (not always successfully reassembling them if I’m honest) and see how they worked.  With photography I could experiment with the chemical processes, trying different developers, exposing a part-developed print to light, toning and even physically manipulating the print. Sadly, none of the evidence of these experiments survived the post-teen, starting-work, kids-of-my-own years. At least not physically, they are still real inside my head.

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C41 film processed in B&W chemicals – still experimenting in 2020!

Even now though there is one aspect that has always stayed with me – the satisfaction that comes when you hear that shutter “click”.  Or more accurately the noise, and sometimes feel, as that mirror slaps and bounces itself out of the way of the film or sensor. These small things shouldn’t be overlooked or down-played either. My Fuji X100T camera is virtually an extension to me now. I use it almost every day and can intuitively do anything that I want to with this diminutive but highly capable digital masterpiece. But, it has no mirror so that satisfying “click”, or “slap”  as some describe it, is conspicuous by its absence.  Even after around 16,000 images with the X100t I still miss the satisfaction of that audible memory of starting in the 1970s with a Zenith E.

FILM: Canalside
Bronica SQ-A

So, if I didn’t get into photography because of the gear why do I have these recurring bouts of what resembles GAS?  I don’t admit to GAS by the way. GAS, or Gear acquisition syndrome, is a bit of a buzz word in the photographic community, and of course it is not a legitimate medical condition, but nevertheless I do feel it is a legitimate concept. Camera and lens manufacturers and the growing list of firms making must-have gadgets and add-ons for the “serious” photographer rely on GAS to provide an ongoing stream of customers for their new products. Economically they have to keep selling to stay afloat and stimulating demand for new products is one way of keeping the cash flowing.  With this in mind it is tempting to say that GAS is driven entirely by manufacturers and retailers of photographic gear but that doesn’t explain why I, and many others, still choose to shoot with old film cameras and to add more of this old kit to our collections.  Incidentally, I am definitely not a collector, I am a photographer and so everything I own gets used, some of it more often than others admittedly, but none of it has been purchased to satisfy a purely acquisitional desire.

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Fuji X100t

My most used cameras at the moment are a pair of Bronica cameras hailing from the late 1970s (a Bronica ETRS) and from the early 1980s (a Bronica SQ-A).  I bought the former in February of this year with two lenses, one film back and a speed grip. By mid-March I had a third lens, a 2x converter, a set of extension tubes, three more film backs and a set of 62mm screw-in filters for black and white photography. This week I took possession of a set of macro bellows too.  In early April, having watched far too many YouTube videos I found that I “needed” a 6×6 camera, specifically the Bronica SQ-A. On the surface a reasonable, if very swift, upgrade to the 6×4.5 ETRS. But, it neglects the fact that I have a Mamiya RB67 (6×7) and a Mamiya C3 (6×6) in the cupboard with a pair of lenses apiece. I therefore have the larger medium formats covered already so despite having perfectly good options for 6×6 I “needed” an SQ-A … GAS! Pure and simple GAS.

But is it as simple? True, I had existing cameras to satisfy that creative requirement. I also have a full digital set-up comprising three Fuji mirrorless system cameras, a range of lenses covering all eventualities from fisheye to macro to long telephoto. So, I do not actually “need” any more cameras or lenses, my digital set-up covers everything I am ever likely to need and I have a selection of film cameras from 35mm SLRs, through 120 folders and TLRs to the beast that is a Mamiya RB67 to satisfy my interest in using old cameras and reliving the simple joys of producing my own negatives and darkroom prints. So, yes, on the face of it, simply GAS. 

Except….

It is this feeling that ones existing camera is somehow devalued by the release of a shiny new upgraded version that is a major indication of GAS and it is this that manufacturers rely on to some degree to keep their business model afloat. But I have not bought a new digital camera model since 2018.  I did not buy the Bronica ETRS because of any perceived gap in my kit or because I thought it was superior to anything I already owned.  I bought it because of a “feeling”.

Yes, a feeling. Remember why I got into photography. The opportunities that photography gave me to explore, to satisfy my curiosity, to exercise some creativity and to experiment. Remember too that satisfying “click” or “slap”? I bought into a new (to me) camera system in February for precisely the same reasons I bought the humble 1960s Zenith E back in mid-1970. For the same reasons I bought a secondhand Canon AE1 in 1978, two years after that debuted. For the same reason I made a pinhole camera last year and purchased a vintage Polaroid SX-70 (manufactured from 1972 to 1981).  For me photography is a way I can satisfy my need for creativity, experimentation and exploration wherever I am and whatever the situation I find myself in – even incarceration in my own house for the past two months or more hasn’t stopped me experimenting and creating.

Rose (alternative view)
Focusing screen of the Calumet Cadet 5×4 camera (taken with iPhone)

Hang on – with a full digital set-up at your disposal surely all these film cameras are evidence of GAS?  Well, for me, film photography is both a nostalgic nod to my past but also a way to further develop (pun intended) my curiosity and with the benefit of experience to reconnect with the spirit of experimentation and exploration of my teenage self.  I also enjoy the physicality of these old cameras. I can’t flick a switch and start shooting within milliseconds.  The Mamiya RB67 is fully manual; I have to unlock the focusing system, remove the dark side, lift the mirror (great big clunky lever on the side) and manually advance the film.  I then need to read the light in the scene and transfer these settings to the lens – yes the aperture and shutter speed are both set on the lens which incorporates a leaf shutter.  All of this provides a satisfying tactile experience and a feeling (warranted or not) that I have created each image myself.  Each of my film cameras works differently and this variety also appeals especially to someone like myself who has the attention span of a goldfish and is constantly seeking something new to explore. The fact that I can do so with gear that was financially way out of reach to me in the 1970s is a bonus.  

So, do I have GAS? 

Well, despite my implied protestations above the answer is probably “yes”. However, in my defence I would point out that all of my gear gets used and rarely gets sold-on these days as I regularly return to them.  I am also not upgrading to the next miracle-electronic-marvel every time Fuji release an upgraded model (my X100T is two generations old) but I am expanding my creative opportunities with new purchases. This past week I have used all three of my Fuji mirrorless digital cameras, both my medium format Bronicas, the Mamiya RB67, an Olympus Pen EE3, a Nikon L35AF, a Canon ACE, the Fuji X100T, the full-spectrum (infrared) converted Fuji X-T1 and not forgetting my smartphone!  

All of which suggests that there are degrees of GAS in the same way that real illnesses have degrees of severity. That GAS is not necessarily a “bad” thing and that GAS does not always benefit manufacturers.  But this is not the forum for such a discussion – and that is not a bad thing either!

Morning constitutional

I have captured this with many different cameras

Most mornings I wander down to the local newsagent for the wife’s paper and sometimes venture as far as the local supermarket. Reading my recent posts it would be easy to think that I only go out with a film camera these days but that wouldn’t be accurate. My Fuji X100t still accompanies me everywhere.

This morning I took the Diana F+ in order to shoot the last six frames of Lomography 400 colour negative film that had been in the camera for months. It’s a camera I will be selling as soon as I’ve confirmed it’s working properly by developing the roll of film. With those six frames completed I pulled the Fuji out of my pocket and shot the equivalent of a roll of 35mm film with that.

With “red filter” option

The X100t is an old friend and a camera I’m completely at home with. When the X100f came out I didn’t even look at the specifications of this successor such was my total faith with the “t”. The X100v was released recently, with tilting screen and a new processor, but other than briefly looking at the press release I’ve not even considered it – within the X100 series I’ve found the iteration of this camera that suits me nicely. I did buy the original X100 but it’s idiosyncrasies were too much for me and I sold that camera before returning with the third iteration in the guise of the X100t.

Versatility and great tones straight out of the camera are key features of the Fuji X100t which is why it lives in my pocket

So, three images here all captured whilst I walked to the supermarket this morning using the Fuji X100t digital camera that I carry with me everywhere even when primarily shooting one of my film cameras.

Velvia Misadventures

Sligachan Bridge – Hasselblad

That exposure is important is a self-evident truth that doesn’t need expanding upon here. Imagine my disappointment then when two precious rolls of Velvia 50 came back from the lab with muddy shadows, muted colours and on one roll evidence of winding on problems with the film holder.

That was 2015 – and so disappointed was I that I threw the two sleeves in a drawer to lay undiscovered … until today.

The offending film back is history needless to say. After first checking that it could not economically be repaired I placed it on a shelf until many months later when I felt ruthless enough to get rid of it. I did however decide to scan a few of the images today and reflect upon the disappointment publicly for the first time – luckily I only have one reader!

The picture of Sligachan Bridge at the top of the page was one out of a tiny number of images from 24 negatives that did not disappoint and I clearly got the exposure just right by luck or judgement. To be fair it was a tough day for metering such an uncompromising material as slide film as it was generally dismal, grey and prone to raining. The very occasional ray of light filtered briefly through but on the whole it was naff – I vividly remember struggling to adjust the camera settings with one hand whilst holding an umbrella with the other.

Sligachan FAIL!

To try to deal with the differences in tonal range between sky and foreground I decided to use my Lee filters. I also chose to fit the holder with the attached polariser figuring this would help me control the glare from the water. I made so many mistakes you’d think I was a complete rookie. The reflection of the filter holder can be seen in the image above around the edge and a bright circular area in the middle shows it is the filter holder and polarising filter we are seeing. Honestly, if it wasn’t for the fact that I’m wanting to record my learning this image wouldn’t see the inside of my hard drive let alone public gaze.

Hasselblad in the rain on Skye in 2015

But, it was not all doom and gloom, especially as I am able to sit here today and reflect upon the myriad small things that went wrong, the Sod’s Law of a defective film back and of course a couple of pleasing images. In hindsight it was a crap day weather-wise and I should’ve stuck to the Nikon DSLR in my other bag!

Photoshop has rescued this one to some degree but not totally

The image below was a direct result of the faulty film back. It was a newly purchased second back and I was using it for the first time. I had one roll of the 120 Velvia 50 in this back and the other in the original film back I’d been using ever since I’d purchased the Hasselblad. Whereas most of the other frames on that roll have a small degree of overlap this is a complete double-exposure. But its not all bad news as it was in fact this frame that alerted me to the exposure errors I’d been making all morning as, unlike the other frames which are generally too dark, this had a reasonable exposure level despite being exposed twice. I’d forgotten the old film adage “expose for the shadows and develop for the highlights” it seems.

An interesting, if unintended, double-exposure

I couldn’t do much about the faulty film back, that was pure bad luck and I stopped using it the minute I realised it was slipping. Sadly, as I only have 120 roll film developed when I have half a dozen or so exposed rolls, I’d put three or four more rolls through the back before I found out it was defective.

So, there we have it. My dirty washing publicly aired as it were. I hope the lessons I learnt will be useful for others:

  • This is film – expose for the shadows,
  • Shield filters to prevent glare or reflections especially when they stand proud of the lens,
  • Check the filter holder is large enough not to encroach into edge of frame,
  • When using a Lee 105mm polarising filter in the standard holder ensure it isn’t reflecting off the front element of the lens (the front element of the lens I was using is fairly deeply recessed in the lens barrel),
  • Meter once, meter twice and meter once again,
  • Check “new” gear before entrusting lots of film to it,
  • Expose for the shadows – this is film!

Lomography: in an Instant

Scanned with an Epson Perfection V550

Lomography – love it or hate it, a true lomography image has a very distinct look. Despite being an old-f@rt I love the look of these lo-fi images and have indeed owned a couple of film Holgas for quite some time now. Imagine my delight therefore whilst exploring the world of instant photography for the Instant August project to discover a Lomography instant camera. Even better it was half-price in a flash sale on their website. Just as well because the full retail price is ridiculously expensive for what is in fact a cheap plastic box with an extremely basic, need I say cheap, plastic lens. It’s the one thing that spoils Lomography as a company for me – they price their cameras way too high and whilst the prime target market may well be affluent enough to afford them I for one could not justify that sort of expense. Even at half-price it was pushing things (even so, I told my wife it was half again of what I actually paid!).

Lomography film on the other hand is well priced but this may be because there is a lot more competition in the film emulsion market than there currently is in the production and sale of plastic cameras. I like to be even handed in my criticisms.

Three for the price of one – Halifax Piece Hall

One of the things I enjoy about instant photography is the (almost) immediate gratification. Now, it could reasonably be argued that digital photography actually does give truly INSTANT gratification as you can see the image on the LCD screen immediately after pressing the button. However, in my world the final product is a physical print, regardless as to whether it starts life on a piece of plastic or as a series of 0s and 1s is irrelevant to me; the ultimate aim of every image I make is to print it. Now, don’t misunderstand me I do not print every digital image I make, think of the time required if nothing else, but I am always aiming for an image worthy of printing and ultimately hanging on my wall. Instant photography therefore, whilst a side-line in my photographic interests, appeals to me because the objective EVERY time is a print.

Lomo’ Instant – Piece Hall, Halifax 12/9/2019

What the Lomo’ Instant does is offer me the best of two of my niche interests – lomography and instant photography. I shoot images every day, without exception, but I don’t shoot film, instant film or create images in a lomographically-inspired vein every day. The vast majority of my 365 images for example are straight-forward digital images. Year to date 71% of my 365 images have been made with a Fuji camera for example with only 9% coming from the iPhone and a mere 2% from my instant camera collection, none of which were made with the recently acquired Lomo’ Instant.

Piece Hall – a Grade I listed building

I couldn’t tell you exactly why it is for me that lo-fi photographs appeal so much. Perhaps it’s a reaction to the homogeneity of so many technically excellent yet sterile and soulless images that bombard us constantly these days. Or is it the fact that they are deliberately different thus appealing to the inner rebel? The “Perfectly Imperfect” tag sums it up for me quite nicely. These are not perfect images but flawed and therefore somewhat more human as a result – is that what gives them “soul”? Or are they actually just junk and I’m deluding myself?

The only image here not scanned on my Epson, this was copied with my phone

Before you start shouting hypocrite at me I do know that it is the wonders of digital technology that enable me to share my photographs, instant or otherwise, with a wider audience than the people in my company at any time. The fact is that even if I were not sharing my images online I’d still be making instant prints, I’d still be printing from both film and digital cameras and I’d still be framing prints and hanging them on the walls of my house. The digital sharing is a bonus and a welcome one at that – I’m neither a hypocrite nor a Luddite!

I thoroughly enjoyed my first outing with the Lomo’ Instant and you can bet it will be going out with me again very soon.

9 in 45: reflections

When I posted my first 9 in 45 series I chose not to ponder on the experience but to leave it a few days. With the benefit of those few days I’m now ready to jot down some observations.

The linear route for
9/45 #1

1 The first stop was at the top of Salterhebble Hill. A view I’ve seen countless times on foot, from the car and from the top deck of the 503 bus. Yet until the timer stopped me at this point its one I’ve never thought to photograph, and yet it makes a nice image.

2 Stop 2 came a few yards too early for the image I’d usually shoot from this stretch of the canal. With a fixed 23mm lens there was no “cheating” so I was forced to work with what I had. It was the only time on the walk I wished I was working in colour.

3 Spoilt for choice at this spot however in the end the final composition was dictated by the very bright sunlight. I used the overhanging branches to shield the lens and effectively shot into the light here.

4 A simple composition, I love converging lines.

5 One of my favourites from the walk and surprisingly not a composition I’ve shot before. I usually stop five paces further on underneath the bridge and work with the shapes and reflections.

6 This one needed little thought and in fact I’d hoped I wouldn’t find myself stopping at Woodside Mills, somewhere I can rarely resist snapping. I tried to make something a little different from the norm therefore by focusing my attention on the water rather than the brickwork.

7 If I could strike this from the series I would.

8 I’ve had this in mind for a while, but with a view to shooting it with the Holga 120-Pan film camera. I did in fact return the following afternoon and shoot this with the plastic-fantastic toy camera and am looking forward to the comparison.

9 The observant will notice how close this is to image number 8. In fact just the other side of the bridge. A call came through on my mobile phone which I needed to take and I was stood here when the timer went off for image 9. Rather than miss the timings I shot this with the phone clamped between shoulder and ear. An example of total familiarity with the camera being an asset – especially as I decided on a very shallow depth of field and also the diagonal light and shade composition.

Images 1, 4, 5 and 9 are my favourites from the challenge. In fact the only image that I do not like at all is number 7; if I’d been walking slightly faster I’d have had a fascinating old factory building in sight rather than a line of parked cars! Thinking it over now I might have gone for a view down the line of parked cars and tried to do something with converging lines perhaps.

Overall, I enjoyed the discipline that the Challenge imposed. With hindsight I would not have chosen such an oft-trod route, especially for my first go, but hindsight is a wonderful thing. For my next attempt I will chose somewhere less well known. Accepting Mr C’s further challenge I will also shoot in colour, out of my comfort zone, but to ensure I comply I’ll shoot JPEGs which can be posted as-shot.

If you’ve not tried the Challenge then I urge you to give it a go!

Film Friday

Alliteration is an “in” thing it appears, Throwback Thursday was the one that caught my eye recently along with Flashback Friday. I have to admit to being partial to a bit of alliteration especially in image titles. But as always I’m digressing before I start.

The aliteratively-challenged Instant August was a very successful project in my mind and if it weren’t for the inherent cost of doing so I’d have continued the project into September. It did however reawaken the long suppressed itch to get the film cameras out of their box. I have a Mamiya C3 twin lens reflex camera that I’ve never used; a birthday present last year that came with a jammed shutter so hasn’t yet seen a roll of film.  I can’t even remember if I resolved the issue or not.  There’s also a Mamiya RB67 and a Hasselblad gathering dust in the cupboard. In a box underneath are a dozen assorted SLRs of various vintages and brands some with lenses others not. 

Birch Trees (1)
Birch trees …Hasselblad 500C/M FP4+ Home developed and printed

So, totally ignoring the cost implications, I ordered six rolls of 35mm black and white film and five rolls of 120 film.  All black and white and none of them my usual Ilford or Kodak emulsions. Adox Scala, Redscale, Kosmo and a few different Foma emulsions are all on order and will shortly be sat next to my medication on the middle shelf of the fridge. I’ve a tin full of out of date film to play with too but wanted some fresh film initially. With developing costs it might have been cheaper to stick with “Snappy September” (I needed a thesaurus to come up with snappy for instant!).

The plan, insofar as it is a plan, is to post one shot taken on film each Friday until the end of the year, so that’s 17 posts for Film Friday 2019. The first few posts are likely to be images from the archive but the aim is that those from October onwards will be new images. 

© Dave Whenham
The shot here does have a certain atmosphere or charm I guess – Holga 120 PAN.

All of which leads me to think about where my photography is heading at the moment. A move from landscapes to urban subjects, a tendency to focus my lens on the more mundane aspects around me, instant photography and Instant August , Hipstamatic and Distressed FX on my iPhone and now plans for Film Friday.

One of the blogs I follow regularly is Postcard Cafe, proprietor Mr C.  He recently commented on one of my posts that:

“… with photography I feel like I’m on a constant learning curve to improving my eye, skills, images and enjoyment.  I cannot see a point where I stop learning from my photography.”

Mr C … Postcard Cafe

That resonates with me. Add to that a naturally restless nature and a tendency to get sidetracked very easily and my photographic meanderings in 2019 look normal. I find that recently I’ve been very drawn to more “mundane” scenes with a more graphical quality both in colour and black & white. Not sure if it’s a sign of tastes evolving/changing or whether it’s a natural reaction to the 365 Challenge where I have to rely on what’s around me for my daily image. That the single stand-alone landscape images that I have in the past always been drawn to are less achievable for many reasons is one reason I guess. 

I also think that the discipline of a daily image is slowly retraining the eye to look beyond the obvious. When I accepted the 365 Challenge I also set myself the added criteria that I needed to be proud of the image hence no snaps of my tea or other social-media staples. It’s a source of great satisfaction that I’ve achieved this aim.

So, whether or not we could have predicted Film Friday at the start of 365-2019 is debatable. I do think however that it’s genesis is possible to predict with the benefit of 20:20 hindsight!

365 – 650+ images in!

October 2017, an email from Max innocently suggests I join the 365 group he’s involved with, starting with the next iteration of the challenge on 1st January 2018. Great idea! Why not?

Twenty-four hours later I remembered, a year or two before I’d attempted a picture-a-day for February, the shortest month no less, and I not only struggled I produced some really abysmal images. What was different in 2017 that I thought I could manage 365 consecutive days? I started looking in all the drawers for the marbles I was certain I’d lost the day before.

© Dave Whenham
2017 – the first 36 images of the 63-2017 Challenge


The 63-2017, as I’ve commented before, set me in good stead for 2018. So much so that I’m now well into the 2019 Challenge and over 650 consecutive daily images to the good.

To satisfy the inner geek here are year to date camera usage figures, with 2018 in brackets:.

CameraImages%
Fuji16974%. (65%)
Smartphone4017% (3%)
Drone83%. (9%)
Instant camera42%. (-)
Other94%. (1%)
Nikon– (22%)
365 August 2019 mosaic
The latest set of daily images which includes two Instax prints

It’s too early to do a complete “review” of the 2019 Challenge but suffice to say I continue to make a daily image and continue to enjoy the experience. Many of the images I’ve taken would not exist if it were not for the Challenge BUT there are none that I would not, with hindsight, have taken so hopefully that means I have not compromised on quality because of this focus on quantity.