35mm, Rants and discussions

On taking snapshots

Focus

I may have been a photography enthusiast for around ten years, but I have been a snap shooter for more than forty years.  I keep thinking about the snapshot recently.  Les brought it to my mind, with his comments, but it’s been floating around longer.  What is a snapshot.  Should we embrace it?  Kodak promoted it for decades, the brain child of George Eastman.  A Kodak Moment. 

Many serious photographers would perhaps regard someone calling one of their images a snapshot, as a slight insult.  Snap-shot suggests a point & shoot capture.  Something quickly captured with no regard to setting up a scene, lighting, or using professional photographic technology.

Yet, let’s think about this.  Some forms of “serious” photography are often snapshot.  I am of course referring to Candid and Street Photography.  Were HCB’s wonderful photographs, not sometimes, very well spotted and composed … snap shots?  Is it the subject or the intention behind an image then, that can either make it a snap shot or a “serious” image?  Is the above a snapshot?  It was a candid, a quick opportunity.  Sure I was using a very manual, medium format film SLR camera – but not so technically cumbersome that I couldn’t grab that photo before the guy saw me.  I snapped a shot of him quickly.  Maybe it’s more about intent?  I didn’t know this guy. He never even saw me creeping up to him with my Bronica.

I grew up way back in the Age of Film.  As a child, I loved dipping into the shoe boxes of old family photos.  I started contributing to them at the age of eleven, via my Kodak Instamatic camera.  Snapshots.  I kept it up for years and years with p&s classes of cameras – into the Age of Digital.  I collated a serious of photograph albums, that I regarded as my life-diary, from childhood, to fatherhood.  The Internet and social media interrupted that.  I became more serious about photography.

Family Snapshot. 1999.

I’ve been thinking about this more, while using my 35mm film compact cameras, including an autofocus from the 80s.

I’m aware that much of my photography though, is still snapshot.  Should I cull it?  Should I instead only e-publish or print only my very best, carefully composed masterpieces (as if I had any!)?  At the moment I think not.  I’m starting to appreciate the snapshot.  Even the domestic family snapshot.  I remember that old shoebox.  I keep an eye out for old photos and slides at car boot sales.  I notice many young people on Flickr and Tumblr, using film, to make their own snapshots, sometimes in an almost creative or unique way, different from those that we made in Our Day.  Film snapshot photography in the Digital Age.

Let’s embrace the snapshot.  It shows real life.

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Rants and discussions

Happiness and photography gear

Caught on a car boot sale camera (Kodak Retinette II) and poundland film.

An old gripe of mine.  Allow me to express it again, as a warning to others.

Don’t be sucked into spending money on gear that doesn’t have value in terms of your happiness.  Most of us are enthusiasts and amateurs.  There is nothing inferior about that.  Our enthusiasm can be based on either photographic technology, or on photographic images.  In truth, most of our enthusiasm lays somewhere between those two poles – some more by the technology, some more by photographs.  Either way, what really is important – or should be, to us enthusiasts, is happiness.

It is all so easy, and very common, for novices to be drawn towards spending more money, in the pursuit of happiness.  However, they do not always get what they wanted.  They may find, that their photography doesn’t really improve much.  They might find that spending another grand, allows them to capture some images in slightly poorer light, perhaps slightly closer, perhaps slightly further away, or perhaps with slightly more resolution.  No doubt there is a short lived gratification “I couldn’t have caught that on my last lens / body”.  Wow, look at that moon surface / macro of a bug / etc.  Cool images.  However, does this expensive imagery really enhance your creativity or skill base?  Once you’ve got closer to the moon, what is next?  How much did that image cost in monetary terms?  Has it been done before?  Is someone doing it better with even more expensive, or newer gear?

How much happiness do you think that I’ve had out of the 50p camera project?  Compare it to the purchase of a new upgrade DSLR camera.  The DSLR might have cost you around £500.00.  My XA2 snapshot camera cost £00.50.  Okay, I’ve also used film, but mainly budget or home developed.  Still, how much happiness do you think that the DSLR gives you in comparison?  I’m quite proud of some of the photographs that I’ve got out of the XA2.  They may be lo-fi but some are pretty cool and even unique.  I’ve tried to be creative.  Not always an easy thing for me.  There are no attachments or upgrades for it.  For the DSLR, you bet that you are going to desire new lenses, extensions, flashlights, bags, battery grips, etc.

That is the chief message of this blog.  Think, don’t just spend.

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50p camera, flickr, Rants and discussions

Work of Art

Giants. Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge. 50p camera project, Olympus XA, Kodak Tmax 400 film, Developed in LC29, scanned on Epson V500.

This post was inspired by Les.  He said that a lot of Flickr photographers don’t post a photo of a dog, unless it’s a work of art, but dogs are very much a part of many of our life’s (not a quote).

I’ve noticed on a few photography forums, that the majority of film photographers, just like digital photographers, do concentrate on quality.  Quality in terms of sharpness, exposure, depth, colour, focus, grain/noise, as well as composition.  Except for composition, most of these attributes are of technical origin.  That is good.  However, this can develop into the obsession held in modern digital photography, for technical perfection.  More megapixels, more sharpness, etc.

As photography enthusiasts, should we always obey the rules of technical perfection?  I’d argue, no.  As Les suggested, it could be more fundamental to photography, that we photograph life and our environment as we see it.  A record rather than a work of art.  That does not always mean a sharp perfect image – we don’t really see the world like that.  Our brains use our biological eyes like third rate scanners.  Much of what we think we see, has been filled in by the brain.  But we see signs, smiles, danger, sex, and … dogs (edit.  I nearly said and rock n’ roll).

In film, we are the alternative.  We have the opportunity to capture what is important, rather than to burst mode thousands of bytes of robot controlled perfection.

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Internet, Rants and discussions

Finger Painting in photography

Agfa Isolette I folding camera, Shanghai GP3 film, developed in Rodinal.

I picked up this quote (I haven’t been able to check it’s authenticity), alleged to have been made by the renown photographer, Harry Benson: “Boundaries of photography are changing, the Royal Photographic Society will show digital photography that’s been Photoshopped to hell. That’s not photography, that’s finger painting“.

The heavy use of PP (post process software such as Adobe Photoshop or LightRoom) has, and continues to be much debated.

The critics will say that good photography is made in the camera, that post process is a crude way of trying to cover poor technique, that it can not make a bad photograph good, but frequently makes a good photograph bad.

The defenders of post process software will insist that it is nothing new, that even before digital photography, many acclaimed photographers made edits using traditional dark room techniques such as cropping, dodging, and burning.

Either way, both camps will recognise that unless in the hands of particularly skilled, experienced, and creative artists, heavy photoshopping is not a very good idea.  It often causes eyes to bleed.  The current fashion for heavy HDR or faked HDR, are two examples of eye-bleeding gore.  Well, at least in my humble opinion.

Yet so many people do it!  This leads me to wonder how we see our own images, and how others see them.  That we can make a good image dreadful, in post process, suggests that we must see our own images differently to others.  We need to listen to our critics more than we listen to our own egos.

I mentioned the fashion of HDR.  I saw a digital photographer recently suggest, that if you can tell that it is HDR, then it is too heavy.  I agree with that.  It’s not just online.  I’ve seen rows of gory, vac packed HDR images on display at camera club galleries.  Just as we use to see rows of selective colour (color splash) on display.  A fashion.  In fifty years time, we will be able to date images by their post process mistreatment.  “Ah yes, the Horrible Dynamic Range style, early 21st Century.”.  Maybe we also need to listen to the imagined critics of the future.

I’m being cruel.  I am aware, perfectly, that taste is personal, that photography styles are horses for courses.  It’s unfair to pick on the HDR crowd.  It isn’t just them.  Look at the digital glamour photographers, that plasticise the faces of their models, the virtual botox style.  I’d better shut up before I upset everyone.

Do I use post process / scan software on my hybrid film photography?  Hell yes.  The first level occurs in the digital scanner software.  Even switching all available controls to manual, the scanner software cannot resist correcting and balancing the scan for us silly humans.  Rather like a full digital camera does, in microseconds after we press the shutter button down.

I’ll sin even further.  I scan fairly big, then open it using an Open Source post process software package called Gimp 2.8.  I’ll more often than not, correct levels, curves, heal dust and hair, maybe straighten or crop, then resize and compress a little for upload to an online web server.  That might make me a bit of a hypocrite then.  Except for one thing.  I still want my images to look natural.  I don’t want people to notice my post process corrections.  I want them to see a photograph, hopefully sometimes, a photograph with feelings.  A photograph that was captured using the technique of silver salts in an emulsion, painted onto a film of plastic.  Not a glossy supersonic image painted with virtual pixel brushes.

That is what I want to do.  Make photographs.

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Rants and discussions

Slowing Down

Bronica SQ-A camera. Zenzanon PS 150mm f/4 lens. Shanghai GP3 medium format film. Home developed in Kodak D76.

I just feel as though I’ve hit another rough patch with my photography again.  That I’m not making any advances, that it might not really be worth it.  I really want to use the little XA2, but just can’t muster the enthusiasm when I get time.  I just don’t feel that I see anything new, that I have any new material.

I’m sure I’ll be back into action again soon.

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Rants and discussions

The Vinyl Effect

Bronica SQ-A camera. Zenzanon PS 150mm f/4 lens. Shanghai GP3 medium format film. Home developed in Kodak D76.

There have been a number of reports of recent, from blog posts like this one, to an article on the BBC website, that discuss the Vinyl Effect, or the unexpected survival, of film photography.

There appear to be a number of tribes responsible for keeping film photography so buoyant, and even in the news:

  1. The Last Breed.  These are the old photographers that have continued to cling to film.  While many melted away into a digital future, as sensor technology improved – these guys refused to budge from their dark rooms.
  2. Born Again.  These older photographers did give in to digital technology.  Now they have returned to film.  Why?  Perhaps in some cases pure nostalgia.  Sometimes though, they’ve grown disenchanted with digital technology.
  3. The Student.  They’ve attended a college where dark room skills are still taught in photography class, and they’ve been bitten by the magic.  These are young people.  They’ve also perhaps embraced the cross over between film and digital – hybrid photography using scanners or digital cameras to capture processed film.
  4. The Hipster.  They love vintage cameras.  They love light leaks.  Poorly processed and scanned film becomes cool and sexy.  It is seen as real.  A revolution against robot digital perfection.
  5. The Lomographer.  Close to the hipster, almost the same tribe, but they’ll shell out on a Lomo or Chinese toy camera.  Cross processing, expired film.  Flash gel.

I get the impression on Flickr, that it’s the youngsters – students, hipsters, and lomographers that have had the most impact on film and film camera sales.

That’s great news for us film photographers, as long as the fashions continue.  More available film for a while yet.

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Rants and discussions

Kim’s Story

he Tight Fisted Photographer speaks. Pentax SP500 Spotmatic. Super Takumar 55mm f/2 lens. Rollei Retro 400S b/w film. Developed in R09.

Most of us here are enthusiasts – amateurs, you photograph for the love of it.  What are we hoping to achieve?  We enjoy capturing light, we enjoy making still images, that perhaps, we find interesting, or attractive.  Perhaps they document something that others might enjoy looking at.  Perhaps they tell … or even suggest, a story.  We might like them for hidden patterns, their tones, their colours, or for their visual mathematics We might appreciate the composition.  The perfect photograph.  It makes us look, we appreciate it. 

Now that I have conveyed that opinion to you, here is a horror story all too common.

Kim is attracted into photography.  She uses a compact camera, family members and friends tell her that she has a gift.  She buys an entry level DSLR, because everyone does.  Her photography doesn’t improved particularly at first, but she is intelligent and competent, and masters the controls of her DSLR.  In that pursuit, she picks up shiny photography magazines from the superstore.  They tell her, what she already feared.  In order to improve further, she needed to buy a better lens.  The kit lens was too slow, distorted, and awful.  Suddenly her lens – and even her images, appear less spectacular, a bit imperfect.  They needed to be sharper, more detailed.

So Kim works overtime, goes without evenings out, decides not to holiday (vacation) in such an exotic place.  Pity, she could have had some great photographic opportunities there.  She buys a “great lens”.  Faster, less distortion, wow, this’ll do it.  But then she reads the newest issue of the magazine.  Her camera is entry level.  You can’t progress to advanced photography  with a beginner DSLR.  The sensor is too small Kim.  A larger sensor will capture more IQ.  Best scrap that holiday altogether.  Best cut out the car upgrade, its going to be a tough year.

She buys a full frame DSLR.  Hang on, she’ll need new lenses.  You know where this story is going.  How else can she produce those sharp, full detailed, perfectly exposed images.  It doesn’t stop.  her software is entry level.  She needs a licence for the newest Adobe package.  Best start budgeting tight.

Then suddenly Kim has lost her interest in photography.  There was something missing in her photography.  She did everything right – followed all of the HDR and RAW tutorials in the magazines.  Her images were glossy, highly detailed, sharp as a pin, technically perfect.  People would congratulate her on her wise choice of gear.  What could be missing?

It isn’t all about sharpness, detail, technical perfection.  Not for every school of photography.  We are creating images.  You can create images with a pinhole camera.  You can create images on a disposable film camera.  You can create images on an IPhone.  All can contain beauty and interest.  The great photographs of Henri Cartier-Bresson were far from technically perfect.  But they were often astonishing.

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Rants and discussions

The Way

That way. Bronica SQ-A camera. Zenzanon PS 150mm f/4 lens. Shanghai GP3 120 film. Developed in Kodak D76. Epson V500 scanned film.

There is no one correct way in photography.  Sure, we should all learn the rules of lines, depth, composition, texture, colour, and above all, exposure.  But what are we striving to create?  I can’t really give a definitive answer to what I consider a good photograph.  Perhaps something with mystery, a suggestion of a story.  Something about a person, a culture, a place.  I like an image that is attractive, but then again, we all have our own subjective idea of attraction.

Photography is a journey, but that journey is different for all of us.

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Dogs and animals, Rants and discussions

Capturing light in emulsions of silver

Puppy, spotted in the street and captured on the Pentax SP500 Spotmatic, loaded with Rollei Retro 400S b/w 35mm film, then home developed in Rodinal. Cropped in Gimp.

This is why I like home developed film photography.  This is why it is still worthwhile – even in the Digital Age.  Photography isn’t just about capturing the most detail, the sharpest, the full dynamic range.  It isn’t even always about perfect exposure.  It certainly isn’t about full frame sensors.

It is about love of light.

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Monochrome, Rants and discussions

Shanghai GP3 – tight fisted 120 roll film

Anita makes shadows on the headstones at Upwell. Trying out cheap Chinese 120 roll film, Shanghai GP3, in the Bronica yesterday. Bronica SQ-A. Zenzanon PS 150mm f/4. Shanghai GP3 120 film ID11 at 1:1.

How did I miss Shanghai GP3 for so long?  The cheapest 120 medium format b/w negative film on the market.  Somehow, my frail old brain must have filtered it out as “Chinese”, perhaps associating it with those ‘orrible Chinese toy cameras.  My attention was finally brought to Shanghai early in the winter.  I bought a pack of ten on Ebay – which appears to be where they are being marketed.  I shopped for minimum price, and bought this ten pack with free p&p, working out at a cost of £2.10 per film.  Crikey, that is cheap.  When you think that I have to shop around normally to find Foma Fomapan or Ilford HP5+ for around £3.50-£4.20 a film with p&p.  Heck, if I was to pop in a local shop and try buying Ilford Delta Pro, then I’d expect to shell out at least seven quid a film or more.  So you see that Shanghai is incredibly cheap at £2.10 per film.

Taken from outside of the church. Couldn’t resist the beautiful light. Testing a roll of Shanghai GP3 budget medium format film. Specs as top image.

So what is it like?  Well, I mainly use faster film, especially at this time of year – mainly around ISO 400.  A couple of stops saved on the camera are essential when trying to capture street or candid.  Shanghai is rated at an optimum ISO 100, although I hear rumours that it might be nearer to ISO 80.  Still, we’ve been having some mid-day January sun of recent, so a couple of days ago, I thought that I’d have some fun with a test roll, and promptly loaded an SQ film back with Shanghai GP3 film.

Photograph taken yesterday in Upwell church yard, of a headstone leaning against a tree.Trying out the Chinese budget film. Specs as top image.

One characteristic of GP3 that is worthy of note – there is no sticky tape at the end of the roll.  If I was to shoot more than one roll, then I’d need a roll of sticky tape in my pocket.  After a quick shoot at Upwell church, and along a drove, I took the film home, and later that day, developed it in a dilution of 1:1 Ilford ID11 at 20C for 14 minutes.  (By the way, I recently calculated that such a dilution costs me £0.71p per 120 film.  I have been told that I could save money by switching to Kodak D76.).

After processing and drying – the second characteristic – this stuff dries out really curly.  Not a good characteristic if you are to digitally scan the negative in a mask on a flatbed film scanner.  I’ve heard people complain about Foma being curly – but I never had a problem with it.  Shanghai IS curly.

The results.  I never pretend to be much of an authority nor an expert.  However, to my eyes – much better than expected.  Very smooth, fine grained (although having recently shot a lot of Fomapan Action 400 – anything else looks smooth).  Good tones and contrast.  A real surprise – a budget film that looks good.

Although slower than the film that I like for my kind of photography, Shanghai GP3 is definitely going to feature as a medium in my photography in the future.  I’ll keep a film back loaded.

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