I’m in a reflective mood this morning. Although it was published this morning my call to arms on behalf of our descendants was actually written late last night. Waking up to a couple of messages regarding the piece I got to thinking and idly picked up the phone sat on the table by my usual chair. Flicking through the photo album I found the earliest snap was from 2008, a copy of one I took with a digital camera it’s the only image from that year. Ditto for 2009, a single image and a copy of one from a digital camera. There is then a gap until 2013 when there are six … you get my drift.
It’s 2016 before any meaningful numbers of images are to be found. My photos from 2008 – 2016 aren’t lost, they are on various hard drives, but they may as well be as who is going to want to trawl through a box of assorted hard drives in the future? But enough of my soap box, the purpose of this follow-up post is simply to celebrate just a few of the memories contained on my phone – whether or not they originated on a phone.
There you have it, half a dozen or so images picked at random from my phone. Everyone has a memory attached and the ones of the grandchildren will have meaning to many other members of the family too.
As someone who spends a lot of time making photographs and puts a lot of thought and effort into both creative and technical concerns you’d be forgiven for thinking that this is a very serious hobby of mine and one not to be taken lightly. But one look at the photo stream on my mobile phone would probably be enough to dissuade you from such thoughts. I take a lot of pictures with my phone and by far the largest number of these relate to my grandchildren. There’s also a fair share of shopping lists, empty wine bottles (to remind me which ones I liked), pictures of my cooked breakfast (to wind up son-in-law who’s likely only had a cereal bar), pictures of cameras or developing tanks for blog posts I’ve yet to write, quirky signs I see on the high street … the list goes on.
“… to wind up son-in-law who’s likely only had a cereal bar…”
I also use my camera’s phone as a sketch book, capturing potential compositions to return to with a specific camera and/or film stock. Many of the illustrations for my blog posts are captured and edited with my phone. It’s used too as part of my ongoing 365 project, either capturing an “insurance” image (in case I don’t get a chance to do a “proper” one later in the day) or for consciously making that days 365 image. But the primary purpose to which I put this ever-present image recorder is for capturing those family moments.
The candid images, unplanned and planned get togethers with other members of the family, capturing special moments or just a picture of the kids playing, perhaps to send to Mum or Dad so they can see their offspring are having fun with Grandad/are covered head to toe in mud/have eaten a chocolate mousse with their fingers/insert situation here.
These moments, the big and small, formal or informal, are an important element of photography for me particularly in an age when everything is digital. Whole lives are organised and revolve around the plastic and glass electronic marvel in our pocket or bag. With a few taps on the screen I can capture an image and send a picture inmost instantaneously to any of the family wherever they are and share a special moment or simply raise a smile.
These matter. As does preserving them in a more tangible form. As a photographer with a darkroom some (but not all) of my negatives will be printed and hopefully preserved. But these are a tiny proportion of the images I will capture of the grandchildren in any given period. The phone does such a good job in this moments that it is unashamedly my normal tool for the job. Not the sole tool, I do use a “proper” camera on a regular basis, but it’s the one that is most likely to be at hand when something record-worthy happens.
Every month therefore I print off 40-50 “snaps” from my phone using one of the many Photo Apps available. For around £5 I can purchase 50 prints that can be handed around, sent to Great Grandma or simply added to the suitcase of family photographs that goes back to my own childhood and has been passed down through three or four generations now. The quality is perfectly good enough for the intended use and considerably better than my workhorse inkjet printer (budget, all-in-one, non-photo type machine) could produce.
Every few months I also put together a simple photo-book, again using an online service, and with this I will often add a few words of context or explanation for future readers. I do the same periodically with some of the more “serious” images incidentally so I have something I can hold in my hands and view in comfort. Many of my film images are scanned for social media or emailing and a good number of these also live on my phone or tablet so it is a simple job to also print these or have them preserved for posterity within the pages of a relatively inexpensive book.
So, my point is this. Don’t get so caught up in the hobby that you forget to record the mundane and everyday aspects of your life. It goes without saying I’d have thought that we should also capture those special family moments that will in years to come actually mean something to people (hopefully with your camera – film or digital). As an example, the large colourful canvas on my living room wall of three rowing boats pulled up on the pebbled shore of the only Lake in Scotland, with the sun setting behind them means a lot to me, I was there for a start, but is just a pretty picture to my family. The twenty less-than-perfect snaps I took of Louie playing in the back yard last week will be viewed and shared by the whole family who will give them far more attention than they do my “art”.
So, to recap, take pictures of your family – regularly. But whilst recording all this family activity don’t get so caught up in the immediacy and convenience of your electronic friend that you fail to remember it’s lack of permanency. Once a month, once a quarter if you prefer, set aside twenty minutes and go through your bulging photo stream on said electronic marvel and commit a selection to paper and ink. Even if you simply throw them in a shoebox you will be preserving something for future generations. Taking the trouble to add dates, names and locations will be treasured by your descendants too – especially if it is in Great Grandmother’s own hand writing. Your mobile phone won’t last forever, who knows how many digital assets will be lost to the ether over the years. That box of cherished memories however, being tangible and real, has I would suggest a fair chance of surviving longer than the electronics or digits we currently give so much of our attention to.
In closing, (I make an assumption you’ve lasted this long) all of the images here, be they of my breakfast or of my grandchildren, reside on my phone and were captured with the camera on my phone, all of them were processed on my phone and all of them are candid, unposed and unscripted. They represent small slices of real life a world away from reciprocity calculations, lens and film choices, megapixels or dots per inch, developing methodology, choice of developer or any of the myriad other things that define photography as a hobby. They also matter more than all of these things too.
Capture the everyday – and physically preserve it!
I’m away at the moment, a few days rest and relaxation for the Boss and myself and a house to themselves for my eldest and her family who all live with me. It’s a celebration, our Ruby Wedding Anniversary was a couple of weeks ago and this is an indulgent stay in a castle twelve miles from the north-east coast.
Because it’s a “time away together” I’ve kept the kit to a minimum. An ONDU pinhole, my Bronica SQ-A and a Fuji X-H1. The deal is I carry the pinhole and the Fuji with one lens when we are wandering together but I can have a few hours each afternoon with the Bronica for more leisurely photography. It’s a compromise that’s worked well in the past and this morning it’s cost me a mornings retail therapy … but the Boss is happy for me to spend it in a coffee shop whilst she wanders – hence this post!
We’ve been up this way before, indeed we’ve stayed at the castle before too but never in a State room. The coast at Seaham has a wonderful pebble beach, a free car park, a gentle yet interesting walk and a harbour with lighthouse at the other end. It’s good for a day out for us and caters for both our interests
Tomorrow is our last day and we are planning on spending a few more hours at Seaham before pointing the car towards home. Together with, hopefully, a couple of hours this afternoon I’m hoping to be able to expose a few rolls of 120 and have some lovely abstracts to print in the darkroom this winter. Certainly the “sketches” I made yesterday with the Fuji are full of potential in my eyes.
If you’ve come here for tips on photographing our four-winged, six-legged friends then let me save you some time – this isn’t the place for you. If however you enjoy the whitterings of someone old enough to know better then welcome!
A social butterfly is someone who is social or friendly with everyone, flitting from person to person, the way a butterfly might dance from flower to flower perhaps. In a similar way I am perhaps the photographic equivalent in that I have an interest in all aspects of the hobby and regularly flit between different genres or topics. At the moment it mainly pinholes and panoramas (catchy title for a future post there) although my regular reader will know that I have also embarked on a project involving dry glass plates during the last week.
I think I decided early in life that I was going to be a jack-of-all-trades rather than a Master-of-One. It definitely sums up my working life well and also to the myriad of interests I’ve had over the years. I was a county-level basketball player in my teens with an England trial to my credit (I made it into the final round but not the final cut) and played every opportunity I could until the interest faded as my career took over. I collected stamps, researched family history, walked the fells, had a thriving home-made beer and wine making set-up for years. Keeping, breeding and showing cage and aviary birds took up a big chunk of my early teens, an interest that was rekindled when my own children were younger and resulted in five or six, self-built aviaries in the garden of our Bristol home. DIY, cycling, astronomy, home computers – all have consumed my spare time almost obsessively at one time or another. Photography of course, and at one time I would have a try at virtually anything the digital camera magazines could write about. Local history, social history, writing. Everything apart from cars basically. The drawers and cupboards in my home are testament to many and varied interests over the years but the one constant since the early/mid-1970s has been photography.
Over the last dozen years or so however, I have calmed down and photography has been my main and for the most part my only hobby. No more flitting then? Well no. The flitting has evolved and I now flit from subject to subject within the more limited confines of a single hobby. Currently I am concentrating mainly on pinhole photography and the lens-based large format and medium format cameras that I own are sulking in the cupboard. The Horizon panoramic cameras however have been a constant in my bag since last October and it’s probably no exaggeration to say I’ve exposed at least one roll of film per week in either the Kompakt or the S3 since then.
As I sit here my shoulder bag is at my feet. It contains an ONDU 6×6 pinhole, the Horizon S3 and the Fuji X100T digital camera that goes almost everywhere with me. The larger Fuji digicams are upstairs, one is used almost exclusively for photographing negatives (it’s my most used digicam by a country mile). The two Bronica cameras are sulking in their respective bags along with their lenses and various accompanying accessories. There are also an embarrassingly large number of other cameras kicking around unused now for months and in some cases over a year.
I have made some efforts to give life to my collection, all of which I have used by the way, just not recently in most cases. My Mamiya C3 Professional TLR is on loan as is the Mamiya RB67 and of course one of my 5×4 pinhole cameras is currently on a “world” tour. I keep promising myself that I will either use or move on cameras but rarely get that far although I did pass a spare Holga to a fellow photographer recently so I have made some effort!
But, am I alone as a photographic butterfly? I suspect not. The hobby has so many options that it’s hard to be anything but. Only the most single-minded and focused individual dedicates themselves to a single aspect of the hobby. It’s a hobby that caters to a whole spectrum of interests. For the digital photographer with an interest in computers there’s endless opportunities for combining the two interests. Like making things? Handy with tools? Photography has you covered! Interested in historical processes or chemistry perhaps? Say no more. Photography has an avenue you can follow to your hearts content. The list goes on.
So, I will remain a photographic butterfly, probably until I shuffle off this mortal coil, and I am sure that there are many subjects I’ve yet to experience. One thing is for sure though and that is that the wide and varied range of skills and knowledge this butterfly has acquired over the years is all of great use as these interests develop (no pun intended). This photographic butterfly has been accumulating a decent spread of transferable skills along the way!
Like many of us amateur photographers I fit my hobby around family life. I’m luckier than some in that my family are all grownups although with ten grandchildren and the cost of professional childcare along with the failure of many employers to cater for working parents with school-age children that benefit quickly gets negated. I probably average only one solid four or five hour block of time to myself in an average week. If like today that coincides with awful weather with no redeeming features such as dramatic clouds or light then enthusiasm can wane a tiny bit.
But, I am lucky in that my better half understands and encourages my hobby so I can often sneak in an hour or two when I should be sorting my domestic chores. She is also fairly tolerant when we go out for the day and so long as I’m not toting a huge bagful of kit she’s happy for me to take a camera, or three, along. She’s also happy for me to wander with a camera whilst she is shopping so long as I’m back at the designated spot on time and not so far away that I cannot be summonsed to give an opinion on something.
A recent weekend away in Salford, staying at a Travelodge on the Quays, was a case in point. I took a shoulder bag as normal (I am required to carry any bits n pieces designated as necessary) and still managed to squeeze in three cameras, a mini tripod, Z-plate, a few filters and half a dozen rolls of 120 and 35mm film. The ever-present Horizon S3 Pro was joined by the new Ondu 6×6 pinhole and as a last-minute impulse the Olympus EE3 half-frame 35mm camera.
Now, the Quays, or more specifically the Media City UK complex, don’t hold particularly fond memories for me. Twice in three previous visits I had been harassed by security guards controlled by a remote, faceless supervisor with CCTV determined to be a total jobsworth. The first time I had a little sympathy for them, I had a large tripod and a pro-spec Nikon DSLR. They mistook me for a professional photographer and demanded my permit. Explaining I was not a professional and the images were just for my own amusement was futile so I asked where do I need to go to request a permit. Turned out it had to be done in writing well ahead of time! As there were very few folk about at the time I was fairly frustrated by this totally jobsworthian attitude. The fact that my companion on the day, a professional shooting images for her business, was not even spoken to just rubbed salt in the wounds.
So, despite not toting a large tripod or large “professional -looking” camera I was nevertheless wary. In fact, I was only approached by a lanyard-wearing official once but he turned away when he heard the clockwork whir of my Horizon!
Over the weekend I used all three cameras, all six rolls of film and also the “emergency” roll of Tri-X I keep in the pocket of the Horizon case. Three 35mm rolls through the Horizon, the Ondu swallowed the three rolls of 120 and I chewed through seventy five half-frames with the Olympus. All of which was accomplished whilst walking with the wife or whilst waiting whilst she explored the outlet shopping centre (twice).
One of my hobby horses is the advisability of knowing your cameras inside out such that you don’t need to think about the operational aspects; using the camera becomes instinctive and you are free to concentrate on composition. Such is the case with any camera I take out on an outing with other people, especially non-photographers. I save new or rarely used cameras for those occasions when I can concentrate totally on the photography. By following this maxim I was able to scan for possible images whilst walking knowing that I could take the camera out of the bag and make the exposure with barely a break in my stride. The pinhole is an exception here of course and I simply stored up possibilities and went back for these whilst the better half was shopping.
And I guess that’s my point. An understanding wife, a thorough understanding of the camera and film you are using and a can-do approach means that “serious” photography is possible even when you don’t have a “serious” amount of time to do it in. Hopefully the images accompanying this post don’t disprove my theory!
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.
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?
What do you do when you’re totally distracted by domestic things over which you’ve no control? When you have no option but to sit and wait and see what happens? If you’re like me you pick up the nearest camera and pop out for a walk. Which is what I did at the end of last week whilst number two daughter was in hospital for the birth of her second child.
My “rule” for impromptu wanders is to grab the nearest camera and on that day it was the Fuji X-Pro1 with a 35mm lens. However, sitting on the table next to it was a GoPro Fusion 360 degree camera that I was charging in order to make sure it was still working before my (fingers crossed) short break at the end of this month. I don’t use it very often but it’s a fun camera that I like to take with me when I go away. I slipped it in my bag too.
I promised the wife I’d be back within the hour and drove down to the local canal, parking a ten minute walk from a small patch of woodland that I often wander through with a camera. Approaching through the trees the first thing I noticed was the bluebells. Not as many as in previous years but a pleasant surprise; what with the pandemic and everything I’d forgotten it was bluebell time.
I took a few images with the X-Pro1 but wasn’t really “feeling” it, I was probably too distracted by other things. So, I pulled the GoPro from the bag and carefully placed it amongst the bluebells being careful not to trample any of the delicate flowers. The camera is controlled via a smartphone and seeing the live feed quickly absorbed me as it always does. This isn’t a first choice camera but when I do use it I never fail to get fully immersed in what I’m doing.
Half a dozen compositions with the GoPro and it was time for me to start walking back to the car if I was to keep my promise to be back within the hour. I couldn’t resist a couple more though and placed the camera in the branches of a tree and did something I very rarely do … a selfie!
I’ve used several 360 cameras over the last couple of years and without exception have found the post-processing part every bit as much fun as taking the images in the first place. Which is very unlike me. This can be done on the computer and in my view this gives the highest quality files BUT playing with the images on my phone or tablet seems to me to be very much in keeping with the ethos of the camera and how its used.
So there you have it. Photography doesn’t always have to be a “serious” pursuit, and in fact having a bit of fun with it can help distract you from other matters when needed.
Oh, nearly forget, we have our first granddaughter – mother and baby both doing well.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
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!
Back in the day there wasn’t the internet to guide and inform the wannabe photographer. There were plenty of magazines and books but resources like YouTube were not even a gleam in a developers eye. Heck, home computers weren’t even a “thing”! So, when I returned to the film photography fold a couple of years ago I was amazed at the number of dedicated websites, personal blogs and, best of all for someone who likes to see things being demonstrated, there was also a growing band of personal channels on YouTube all dedicated to film photography.
The bubble burst fairly quickly for me though and within a few months I was an occasional visitor only and it wasn’t unusual for there to be well over a hundred unread notifications in my Inbox. There were still some good channels, there were also some who every now and then put out something interesting but on the whole it seemed to me that “influencers” had cornered the market. Homogeneity was taking over and style rather than substance was the order of the day. One roll of film was all it took for some of them to pronounce on the efficacy of a particular film stock. They didn’t even develop it themselves, leaving that to a fashionable film lab.
Now that’s a broad brush and of course there are still good channels out there and I’m sure that there are loads I’ve yet to find but recent trends have been enough to put me off regularly dipping into YT as a source of helpful information. Plenty of entertainment certainly, but content seems a little thin to me. Film photography is currently “hip” and finding simple, straightforward advice from experienced users is not easy. I’m lucky, I have a good grasp of the basics, but a newcomer really needs to be a detective to find answers to some of the basic questions. Or perhaps I’m not savvy enough to home in on the good stuff.
So, when a channel pops-up that can meet the needs of beginners and more experienced photographers alike I feel it needs to be brought to the attention of a wider audience.
It is a fairly new channel, with around 150 subscribers, but material is being added regularly from quick tips to detailed explanations on determining the true speed of your film given your choice of developer and processing technique. But what I like most is that it is practical, gimmick-free and succinct. It reminds me of when I first started photography in the 70s and the biggest source of information was usually some of the members at the local club who freely gave of their time and experience to help a newcomer to the hobby. Dipping into this collection of videos is like having club night every night.
So, thank you John Finch for providing a rich source of easy to understand and truly useful information for both the buddying film photographer and more experienced hands. I’m looking forward to making FX55 next month – inspired by a Pictorial Planet video.