Isn’t it ironic …

I’ve recently reread Nick Dvoracek’s book The Pinhole of Nature, and whilst doing so I made a few notes of particular passages that caught my eye.

A pinhole image of The Pinhole of Nature

“… it is rather incongruous to make a negative by the most primitive method possible, and then, use such hightech methods to make the positive”

Nick Dvoracek The Pinhole of Nature

Now, this resonates quite strongly with me. Not least because it links back to some of the conversations I had last weekend. I do find it amusing (do I mean odd?) that I sometimes spend hours creating negatives or glass plates, only to copy them with a digital camera and import them into Photoshop to finish off. I typically only print from the negatives in my makeshift darkroom during the Winter months when shorter days and unpredictable weather are more likely to see me indoors.

I’ve commented before on the irony of going to the expense, and at times the trouble, to create images using so-called traditional methods only to then digitise them in order to share them with others. Modes of communication have changed and you are more likely to share images and even ideas with fellow enthusiasts via social media these days than in person.

Now, I could use an inkjet printer to make prints of these digitally finished images but that would mean buying a printer and I could never get cast-free black and white prints when I did own a printer. Or I could have prints professionally made, something I’ve done from time to time when I’ve wanted something to hang on the wall.

Media City, Salford Quays – this one hangs on my wall

But who would see them? Who for that matter sees my darkroom prints when I do manage to wrestle one out of my study cum darkroom?

I’ve decided , and your mileage may vary, that it doesn’t matter if I’m the only one who sees my prints because I’m the only person for whom I make prints. I’m certainly not yet competent enough to think about actually making darkroom prints for other people. Which segues nicely into another Dvoracek quote:

“I’m not sure if I could have come up with this good a print with traditional darkroom methods, and it would have taken me forever, wouldn’t be easily repeatable, and driven me crazy. I’ve never romanticized darkroom work.”

Nick Dvoracek The Pinhole of Nature

Now, ain’t that the truth!

Dvoracek was talking about using software and a printer to create digital prints of his pinhole images. He makes a great point. So long as the source file isn’t amended then in general the printer can churn out as many identical prints as you need. But, do we need to reproduce exact copies? If we are not selling prints then I’d argue it is not a necessity. And if we are selling prints isn’t the unique selling point of a darkroom print that it is a one-off?

At the end of the day we come back to a question I’ve posed before. Who are you making photographs for? The answer to that is key in determining if any of this actually matters in the final analysis.

Thoughts on …

I don’t often feel compelled to write a blog post but this morning I’m feeling the need to write … something … anything. Usually, if not from the start, as I finish the first sentence I know what my theme is going to be but today I’m not sure where I am headed.

I’ve spent the last five nights away from home. Initially, it was just the two of us but the last three nights have been spent in the company of members of a photographic group on the group’s annual Rally. The days have been spent out with a camera (never just one with me though) and the evenings spent talking “shop” and catching up on the domestic goings on of the other members. We only meet once a year and for the first few years we attended it was pretty much just photo-talk but as the years have gone on we have spent more time catching up on events in each other’s “real” lives. It’s alway a fabulous long weekend, regardless of the weather.

iPhone 11

This year we were in Shropshire, an area of the country I’ve only ever driven through prior to this weekend. It’s an area I hope to return to though. Until today the weather has been very kind to us. Today, I loaded the car in the rain and we very quickly decided that the planned walk would leave us uncomfortably wet, especially with a three hour, minimum, drive ahead of us. As “luck” would have it we passed a large garden centre just outside Shrewsbury which is why I’m sat pounding a keyboard – garden centres are the wife’s pleasure and definitely not mine!

But it’s give and take. She spent an hour or more yesterday sat on various rocks whilst I photographed a river, a waterfall and then a reservoir. Today is my turn to sit patiently. At least I haven’t had to scramble over slippery rocks and boulders nor have I slipped and slid down muddy river banks. I haven’t even had to wade across the same stream four times, so I count myself lucky.

My habit at home is to develop films on a daily basis, as I expose them basically. Being away, all that I’ve been able to do over the last few days is carefully stow the exposed film in the bottom of the suitcase ready for our return. I have taken a few images on my phone and also on my Fuji digital camera however so I’ve had something to play with in between the various activities of the day. It gives me something to share on social media and I often come up with something that pleases me aesthetically too.

Which leads me now to the point which, unbeknownst to me, this post has been heading all along. I am the only member of the group, which has around 100 members, who still works primarily with film. Two others use film occasionally but everyone else is fully digital. Most of those at the Rally were very interested in what I was doing. Many were amazed at the variety of formats I work with, pinhole, 35mm, panoramic, medium and large format; my regular reader knows how diverse my work is. A very small handful were frankly scornful. With all the digital delights available why was I messing with glass plates, large format cameras and everything else when “you can create the effect in Photoshop”.

But that’s just the point. Everything that they are creating in Photoshop is derivative of earlier photographic processes. They see no irony in the fact that I was creating with my hands a tangible artefact which they were also striving to create, albeit with software on a computer, to exist as only a string of data on a hard drive. One didn’t even realise that the term “dodge and burn” predates photo imaging software. Couldn’t understand how the basics of contrast, exposure, localised and global adjustments, toning and vignettes and much more all have direct references across to darkroom printing. They left much wiser than they arrived.

My philosophy with regards to photography is to try everything at least once. To gain as wide an appreciation of both the history and application of the subject. I have tried virtually all genres of photography, apart from extreme sports and underwater, some of these I enjoyed and continue to work in today, others weren’t my cup of tea and I moved on from. Currently I work primarily in film, predominantly black and white film which I process myself. I also dabble in glass plates and darkroom printing. A secret pleasure is drone photography, I have a full mirrorless system based on the Fuji X-series and have previously used Nikon and prior to that Canon full-frame DSLRs. I’ve been down the Photoshop rabbit hole, have some embarrassing reminders of the early HDR craze, composited images to create a completely fictional world. In short, I have spent almost fifty years learning and trying all sorts of photographic processes – cyanotypes any one?

So, my message to the two “less educated” individuals was that until they’ve tried something for themselves it might be wise to refrain from spouting “digital is the only and best method”. It has many benefits and even I continue to be amazed at what I can achieve in a few minutes on the computer. My first published piece was for Airfix magazine, over forty years ago, when I wrote an article showing how to create the impression of spaceships in flight with models, wire, fishing line, coloured gels and 40 watt bulbs. All on Kodachrome 64 slide film. So, no margin for error. What took me several days in the late 1970s can be done to a far better standard in minutes these days. But I bet I had more fun in the process!

I doubt if even my most patient and loyal reader has made it this far … but if you have thank you an mind as I pop my soap box away … until the next time!

Changing the view

Horizon S3

Over the last eleven months or so I’ve gained a bit of a reputation for my swing-lens 35mm panoramas so it’s a bit of a surprise to note than in recent weeks I’ve moved to pinhole and large format in preference to the panoramas.

Until you think about it that is.

Zero Image 612b

I rarely move far from home these days so it is no surprise that I’ve temporarily run out of things that I want to photograph locally in the panoramic format. Once Winter arrives there will be different conditions and the chance of fog, rain, snow and ice to revitalise my panoramic wandering. Until then I’ve other formats to play with whilst still ploughing my local, urban furrow.

“What about Autumn!” I hear someone cry. Well, it’s no secret that I’m generally a black and white film worker but what will be less known is that once Autumn arrives I typically pick up the Fujifilm X-H1, a digital camera, and a 16mm lens for those colourful autumnal clichés. As I decided a few months back that I was no longer going to develop colour film myself there is also less incentive to load colour film. B&W film photography fits around this diversion.

Fuji X-H1

Incidentally, I’ve still used my panoramic cameras. I’ve been experimenting with gels as contrast control filters on the KMZ FT-2 for example. I also took the Horizon S3 Pro to Hunstanton recently, but my main focus (see what I did there?) here at home has been urban pinhole and woodlands in 5×4.

As an aside when I went to the Norfolk coast recently I took a bag of 120 film along with the ONDU 6×6 and the Bronica ETRS. For the 35mm Horizon I took three rolls of 200 speed colour film, yes you read that right, colour. I used two and these will hopefully make an appearance here on the blog shortly. Once I get them back from the lab; but more on that in a future post.

Fuji X100

So, whilst I get most enjoyment from my panoramic cameras, and wouldn’t dream of leaving Elland without one, I am pragmatic enough to recognise that mixing up the formats helps keep me fresh and interested. Especially in the current circumstances when our “normal” activities are anything but. Your mileage may vary of course but as a self-confessed photographic butterfly mixing up the formats can be just as effective at keeping my mojo alive these days as travel did in the past.

Into the Woods

Over the course of five days last week I made four visits to a small wooded area close to where I live. Carrying an Intrepid 5×4 camera in my backpack and a tripod in my hand it was my intention to use the dull, dismal and damp conditions for some atmospheric woodland images. To be fair on the fourth visit the sun did play cat and mouse with us a little but it was still quite challenging and every time I got something set up and metered the sun disappeared/reappeared just as I inserted the film holder into the back of the Intrepid and I had to repeat the metering dance again, only to revert to the original when the sun promptly did an about face.

My mission was twofold. Practice with the 5×4 was high on the agenda as most of my 5×4 work this year has been with various pinhole cameras. As I’ve already mentioned, I also wanted to test myself in less than ideal conditions to produce something atmospheric and engaging. Another consideration which quickly revealed itself under the tree canopy was focusing. I quickly recalled that the last time I’d tried using the 5×4 in a dimly lit woodland I had considerable difficulty focusing the 90mm lens with its f8 maximum aperture. I had previously removed the fresnel screen as I’d not been happy using it despite it adding some brightness. A few visits with more time to spend would of course help me hone my skills and also I hoped determine whether or not I’d made a mistake and I needed to restore the fresnel screen.

Over the course of four visits I exposed a selection of black and white films. Some Fomapan 100 and 400, a couple of sheets of Ilford HP5+, my last two sheets of Ilford Delta 100 and a dozen sheets of Ilford FP4+ kindly given to me by John Martin.

I thought however that I’d use this post to share my approach. John shared his thoughts on “the dance” of large format photography recently and it’s a performance that all large format photographers can probably relate to. I have found that having a set routine definitely helps avoid schoolboy errors but sometimes, especially with rapidly changing light, it can be a bit of a scramble to do everything in the correct order and complete it all before the light changes again. That’s where practice comes in so useful – muscle memory is only created through repetition.

With the tripod and camera set up and the composition chosen the next step for me is to focus, something I always do before worrying about exposure. Deciding where to put the main point of focus is the first decision and then deciding how much needs to be in focus follows quickly; both are aesthetic choices even if achieving the desired result is a very technical process. Choice of aperture comes in here too as it is closely allied to the focusing considerations. I’m not going to walk through the focusing process here, it’s something better suited to the video format I think, but it was one of the main skills that I was practicing last week. I found over the course of the eleven to twelve hours in total that I spent in the woods last week that I could focus in the dim light even at f8 but I needed to let my eyes become accustomed to the gloom under the dark cloth before attempting the final, critical focusing. I also needed to ensure I was looking at the ground glass screen straight-on and not from an elevated or indeed lowered position. It reinforced the concept of practice, practice and practice, so if anyone reading this is new to large format photography let me reiterate that there really is no substitute for putting in the time.

Focus achieved its time to consider exposure. Aperture was already determined as part of the focusing process. Film speed is determined by the film being used so in reality it’s time to determine the shutter speed. If you’re my regular reader you will already be aware of my general approach to metering from a blog post earlier in the year. I use a spot meter for determining exposures but recently I’ve also taken to using a metering app on my phone to record a snapshot of the scene to keep with my exposure notes. This also shows what exposure the app would suggest and a couple of times I found this useful as it was so different to what I was planning on using that I stopped and rechecked everything thus averting possible exposure errors (on one occasion the app had been set to 100 and the meter to 400 when I was using 400 speed film so my chosen exposure was correct but on the other occasion it was the spot meter that had the incorrect film speed and not the app).

On my first visit I wasn’t really sure that what I was capturing was meeting my original “moody” objective but back home with negatives developed and scanned I could finally get a look. The first couple reminded me of some images I’d taken at another part of the woods a few years back with a converted digital camera creating false-colour infrared images. Those had what I can only describe as an under-the-sea kind of feeling (sort of) due to the rendering of the false colours and so on a whim I applied “Vintage” filter 10 in Snapseed and immediately knew that I’d met my objective and that I’d also found the “look” for this series. It’s a split tone basically, something I’ve played with in my digital past as Duotones in Photoshop. Incidentally, whilst all of the images posted to my Twitter account last week were created with Snapseed I’ve since reprocessed all of them in Photoshop using a custom duo tone. I shall hopefully be using the PS versions in a ‘zine later in the year. The pictures here are a mixture of both.

Now whilst I’ve tried to fully embrace the hybrid digital/analogue approach it’s always been an uneasy alliance at best. Last week, probably for the very first time since I moved to a primarily film-based approach two years ago, I fully appreciated what the hybrid approach could do. For the first time I wasn’t just using the digitising as a way to share images in social media I was actively using the software, first Snapseed and then Photoshop, to realise my artistic vision. A small lightbulb moment but an important one. On the final two visits I was trying to think in terms of a split/duo toned final image.

I tend to use the darkroom mainly in the late Autumn and Winter months so my printing gets saved up for me to binge-print as it were. Whilst I’ve always restricted my software usage to the types of things I can do in the darkroom this is the first time that I’ve consciously gone beyond that to create a coherent series of images. Yes, I can tone in the darkroom but not with the finesse and fine control that I can in the software. I shall get some of this series digitally printed when funds permit and it will be interesting to compare them with what I create in the darkroom. Time will tell how fully I embrace the hybrid method; all of us who share film photography on social media have to accept the need to digitise our creations, whether that’s the negative or a darkroom print.

Toning? Take your pick!
Or keep it black & white!
Spot the walker!

One thing I have been pondering is how to replicate the subtle glow within the darkroom that the Snapseed filter has added to some of these. Or, indeed, if it is achievable. Quite by chance I found the answer. With no wifi in the holiday caravan I was pleased that I’d taken an old book to read. It was a series of film landscape images with notes on how they were taken and in many cases how the print was handled in the darkroom. Much of the text talked about bleaching and toning prints but towards the end of the book is a woodland landscape, and the photographer has used a diffuser under the enlarging lens for a third of the exposure. Not only that he actually specifies which filter, the Cokin A Diffuser 1, a filter which I have somewhere in the depths of one of my drawers back home. I have the beginnings of a printing plan!

So, how did I do against my original objectives? Well, I certainly got some focusing practice in low light and looking at the negatives I definitely got them right. I started by using f32/f45 just in case but by the fourth trip most of the images were exposed at f16 or f11, using front tilt to achieve the desired plane of focus. I did replace the fresnel screen at the weekend but haven’t yet been out again to see if it is an improvement.

Ilford Delta or FP4+?

In terms of the images themselves I’m very pleased with the series I’ve produced and they’ve also had a positive reaction on Twitter particularly the toned versions. The proof though will be in the printing!

If you’ve made it this far then I applaud your stamina! There were frustrations aplenty along the way, and no doubt more are ahead when I open the darkroom in a few weeks time. But, overall it has been a very successful project with hopefully a little more to be wrung out of it in the coming weeks.

I #believeinfilm

“How do we want to use our artistic voices? Do we want to elicit a favourable response from others by playing to the crowd, or do we want to speak the Truth as we see it with the things that we make, even if the response from people isn’t the one we want?”

Sean Tucker – The Meaning in the Making

These are not my words, they are from photographer Sean Tucker, known to many for his YouTube channel but watched I suspect by many people just to hear his philosophies on life and in particular the art of photography. He articulates better than I’ve ever done a recurring theme in my own personal philosophy towards my photography. I was only truly happy with my work when I stopped playing to the gallery.

This conscious ploughing of my own photographic furrow started a few years back and pre-dates me joining Twitter and engaging with fellow photographers, mostly film photographers, and encountering the #believeinfilm community. I have found that by consistently being true to myself I’ve connected with like-minded souls. Some have similar tastes to mine but many have different tastes and I’ve enjoyed seeing and discussing their work immensely. I have also enjoyed seeing the pleasure others derive from their own work and this encourages me to stay true to myself. Whilst it’s not necessarily influenced changes in my own approach it has definitely led to a greater appreciation of other approaches and been a source of inspiration and motivation. Oft times too it has sparked an idea which I’ve then run with on my own terms as it were.

That’s not to say that I don’t sometimes post a “crowd-pleaser” for the enjoyment of others. I do – but only work that remains true to myself and thus I hope that it is not solely for my own gratification (although we all appreciate an ego stroke occasionally). I’ve also learnt how much pleasure, and at times inspiration, these images give to others. I make that last assertion carefully, it’s not intended as arrogance but in recognition of the mutual support the community gives to each other.

This support ranges from the emotional to the practical and I’ve encountered so much of it in the twelve months I’ve been active on Twitter that it’s changed my own attitudes too. In the last few months I’ve loaned out five different cameras, one of which is doing a UK Tour, gifted many items that I no longer need but others would find useful and provided support in many other ways by sharing my experience and learnings from the last 45 or more years. In return, I’ve had the chance to borrow cameras and even glass plate holders, tap in to a wealth of knowledge, exchange ideas and experiences and learn from so many talented photographers. This corner of social media has for me turned out to be a friendly, supportive one that I look forward to dipping into every day.

Another quote from ST:

“… find joy in the act of photographing alone and not necessarily from the results.”

Sean Tucker – The Meaning in the Making

Again, this captures exactly how I feel. There have been many times when I have been totally underwhelmed by a strip of negatives yet have had so much pleasure in the process, from loading the film through to hanging the negatives to dry that I don’t feel in the slightest bit disheartened. The physical act of creating those negatives in all its tactile glory has often been enough for me. This quote also ties in nicely with my philosophy of creating work that makes you happy and count any positivity from others as a bonus.

I know that this has in some degree trodden old ground for me, but it has hopefully put that into its current context. I shall continue making film photographs until I stop enjoying it or until I’m robbed of the faculty to do so. I hope that I will continue to plough my own furrow, to share and interact with like-minded photographers around the globe and gain enjoyment from the sum of the many parts that form the hobby and not get fixated on simply the outcome – however important it is.

Posted to my blog with thanks to the whole #believeinfilm community on Twitter.

A stream of consciousness

My last blog post generated a fair bit of conversation over on Twitter even though the images themselves were only to be seen in the accompanying video. To rectify that here are a few “views”extracted from the rather long negative.

As experiments go it was one of my more successful and whilst I cannot claim it as an original idea, I’m sure its been done many, many times in the past, it was new to me. Roman on Twitter kindly commented:

I like these photos a lot. Feels like a kaleidoscopic impression of a walk.

Roman W S on Twitter

I’d seen them as a visual stream of consciousness but like Roman’s description too. It’s given me an idea for a variation on the occasional 9 in 45 series. Just need to find the right opportunity – perhaps Holga Week in October?

The great indoors

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

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

So I did.

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

Monday rumination

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

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

A
B

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

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

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

Excuse my finger (bottom left)

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

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

Good Morning Salford

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

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

Don’t force it

Those who actually know me will know that I haven’t been a member of a traditional camera club since the 1970s. For transparency I will note that I have been a member of a postal photographic club for the past ten-plus years however. I’m not going to discourse here on my reasons for not being a camera club member nor am I going to discuss why I have been a member of a postal one for some years. I may (or may not) do that another day. But what I do want to talk about is in some way linked to a key aspect of both.

Competitions.

When I first joined the postal club the monthly and annual competitions were the main attraction. Pitting my skills against other photographers, seeing my success rate in competition grow and being accepted as a “good” photographer we’re all key drivers. All was good in the world it seemed. But the bubble burst a few years back when I suddenly realised that all I was doing was producing photographs to satisfy the whims and fashions of camera club judges. Monthly, peer-judged competitions started to annoy me because they were microcosms of everything I disliked about club judging.

“Fred” doesn’t like landscapes so never scores them highly, “Jim” doesn’t understand macro photography so always scores 6/10 regardless. If “Tom” sees another ‘tit-on-a-stick’ he will be ill. “Bill” meantime is highly competitive and more than once has been suspected of tactical scoring. Which meant that you start to look for images that will play to the prejudices and whims of your peer group.

So, it’s the worst of both worlds. A lack of constructive commentary and having to make my own artistic preferences subservient to the whims of others. Slowly, it dawned on me that I had stopped growing as an artist and was merely rushing around trying to make images that worked for others in order to gain plaudits that meant nothing at the end of the day. I’ve an impressive list of competition wins and associated silverware but very few of the winning images mean a lot to me.

Here be Rats. Have you ever peered behind the facade of your town centre? I do reglarly, in the name of urban photography.

The thing is I like dark, gritty images. I like to play with chiaroscuro and I’m not bothered if there isn’t “a full range of tones (well done)”. I am also drawn not to the picturesque and colourful but to the reality of urban life, usually in black and white to boot. Remember “Here be Rats”? It doesn’t help that I am mainly a black and white film photographer these days. I once entered a darkroom print in a monthly peer-judged print competition. Eleven digital prints and one silver. The comment that, with hindsight, led to me turning away from club competitions, was:

“nice pic Dave but do think that you could add a gentle S-curve to add some bite to the image and perhaps check the histogram and tidy things up with a Levels adjustment”.

Really!

I spent three fruitless hours looking for the S-Curve and Levels sliders on my enlarger – not!

So, although I maintain my postal membership I no longer participate in monthly peer-judged competitions nor do I enter any of the annual club-wide competitions.

What I’ve realised over the last few years is that only one persons opinion matters. Mine. That not being egocentric, I make photographs for my own amusement and enjoyment after all. I am not being paid to follow a brief and if I were I would move heaven and earth to give the client exactly what they want regardless of whether it’s to my taste or not. I once made a reasonable secondary income photographing children, not posed portraits but informal and natural images. This often involved me crawling around the floor or playing games outside but it enabled me to capture the images their parents wanted and were paying me for. A few of these, with appropriate permissions and model releases, won me “Best Image”, Best Portrait” and “Best Monochrome” trophies in annual competitions but by entering these I was only pandering to the judges, deliberately picking images I knew would appeal to them.

It won me no plaudits but the collaboration with a local sculptor gave me enormous satisfaction.

I am very aware that given the way my photographic tastes have evolved I am moving ever further away from current club ideals. That’s fine as I get great enjoyment from making them. I’m also very pleased when some of these images strike a chord with the couple of online communities I use. Let’s face it will all like a pat on the back sometimes and I’m no exception. The appreciation of others is a cherished bonus.

So, I guess all of the above could be summarised in just one paragraph. Rather than forcing your photography down a path to create images to please others look first at what pleases you. That is the path to follow, the one that leads to your own artistic expression and the one that will in the longer term give you the most pleasure. Be yourself, don’t try to be something you are not. Of course, if you like winning competitions then you have to follow the fashions and trends; there is nothing wrong with that so long as you are happy doing it. But when the fun of competition starts to pall then it’s time for you to stop, reassess and refocus (pun intended). I did and I’m very glad I did too.

A short stroll

Urban details – all the images here are uncropped, in all their full-frame glory

After that first success I wanted to give the HP5+ in Perceptol a try in 120 format too not least because, panoramic cameras aside, I use more 120 film than 35mm. The camera I chose was the Zeiss Ikon Nettar 518/16 mainly because I had loaded it with a roll of HP5+ a few weeks ago to take with me on a trip out and then never used it (because I forgot to pick it up as I left the house if I’m honest). I only took a short stroll but it encompassed a scene dominated by trees and greenery, some of my usual urban details and a view across the valley. All things I’ve photographed before so I knew what to expect.

I’ve captured this scene many times which makes it a good one to test out this new combination

After reminding myself how this camera focuses, or more accurately remembering to actually set the focus ring, I made a first exposure thirty yards from my garden gate before heading to Gog Hill to recreate an oft-captured scene. The light in the lane under the trees was too low for me to handhold so I walked further down to a point where the overhead trees are less intrusive and where I could get a shutter speed I was more comfortable with. When I pulled the film out of the developing tank to hang it to dry, this negative (see above) blew me away with its detail and clarity. This camera was made from 1949 until 1957 so is older than myself (one day I will make the effort to narrow down its age more precisely).

Missed my focus slightly – tree sharp, wall not quite so

Whilst I was making images to test the new-to-me film/developer combination I couldn’t but help to notice how instinctively I was using the Nettar. I haven’t used it since a trip to Liverpool in 2018/2019. Aperture and shutter speed are set around the lens which needs to be cocked before each exposure – it’s like using a large format lens but in miniature. The thing I need to remember to adjust is the focusing ring, hence the slightly off focus above, but I think I only forgot to do that the once.

Sun in frame (top left) but detail holds up well
The histogram suggests this has every shade from black to white

For the record, this was the second roll of film I had developed in this initial batch of stock Perceptol. Reading the information sheet that Andrew had sent me I noted that development time should be increased by ten percent for the second film so the original thirteen minute development time now became fourteen. The only off-putting thing is going to be development times I suspect but I’m just going to think of the rewards.

Packed full of detail and texture – not the best light but a lovely result

So, there you have it. A typically dull day but the negatives are full of detail and texture. I tried a variety of scenes with foliage, brickwork and sky all represented and even let the rather milky sun creep into the top left corner of one image. I was already a convert after one roll but this just consolidates my thoughts. My bulk roll of 35mm HP5+ is due to arrive today and I’m ready for the off.

Gog Hill – Zeiss Ikon Nettar, Ilford HP5+, Perceptol