Quick Shots: From the Streets of London

Few things bring me the same pleasure and thrill of opening a fresh roll of 35mm film and exploring a city with the aim of making 36 photographs. While it's almost impossible for me to produce 36 "keepers" with any one roll, that's the goal, and I find that I have more keepers from any one roll of film than a similar 36 digital images. 

All of the images included here were shot on one roll in one day of walking around London with my Leica M7 and a 35mm Summarit lens. Apparently I had a thing for feet that day ;-)

Ghosts

Football

Hang

Tophats

A local

Leaning

Doorway

Ride Along

Selfie

Slacks

Crossing

Lookup

Quick Shot: High Tide at the Cliffs

If you didn't read my Leica SL review, then you probably missed these photographs I took with the new Leica SL while visiting the Hunstanton Cliffs last weekend. My goal was to test the camera in a variety of different shooting styles and techniques and to really test alot of the features a landscape photographer would use. But if you are just here for the pretty photographs, we'll cut straight to those and I won't bore you with camera mumbo-jumbo if that's not your bag!

Unfortunately, I didn't consult a tide chart before heading out, so we were at the cliffs during high tide. While this normally wouldn't be a problem, the thing I was hoping to photograph - a shipwreck on the beach - was underwater! So I'll go back next week after checking the tide chart to get the photograph I really wanted..... but I think these make some great substitutes for an underwater shipwreck!


Quick Shot: Two Eyes

The London Eye is quickly becoming a popular site for tourists who wish to have a tremendous view of the London skyline. The ferris wheel has little glass bubbles that rotate with the wheel over the span of 30 minutes. To get this double exposure showing an eye within an eye, I centered the wheel in the center of my focus screen, then took a few steps back and shot again. This image was created on my Hasselblad 503CX using Ilford Delta film.

Is it Film or Digital?

One of the most iconic places to photograph in Wales is the Llanddwyn Island lighthouse - and it's not a surprise as to why! I photographed this lighthouse with my digital Leica M-240P and my analog (film) Hasselblad camera using both black and white and color film. In other words, I have at least three versions of the lighthouse from the same vantage point. 

So my challenge to you is - which of these photographs was taken with a digital camera and which was taken on film? Leave a comment and let me know - and let me know which is your favorite version. Variations is composition are because I hand held and didn't use a tripod - they have nothing to do with the camera used. And I used several types of film..... so there could be tricks ;-)

Quick Shot: Trees

Nothing too fancy, just a beautiful image of some pine trees lined up along the beach on Llanddwyn Island in Wales. I really liked the fence in the foreground and the fact that you could see parts of the beach through the trees. I actually took a few images with my digital Leica and my film camera before I settled on this being my favorite.

This is a film photograph taken with a Hasselblad 503CX on Ilford Delta 100 Pro film.

Quick Shot: Not So Normal

One thing I really like about film photography is the ability to do some not-so-normal things with it. For instance, unlike with a digital camera, I can combine two different scenes on one negative to create a single image, called a double exposure. In this case, I shot a wooden plank door on one of the colleges in Cambridge, followed by a scene overlooking punts on the river Cam. 

The interesting thing about these shoots is that it's very difficult to pre-visualize the resulting image. In this case I really didn't have high expectations, but the resulting negative is one of my favorites from the roll. I particularly like how the trees in the upper right corner are almost 'segregated' by each wooden plank from the door.

The photographic society Magnum used to require photographers to submit prints showing the borders to prove there was no cropping or funny manipulation. So in a nod to Magnum photographers, I have scanned it so you can see the whole border of the print - no photoshop involved!

Shot with Hasselblad 503CX + 80mm f/2.8 lens on Ilford Delta 100.

Quick Shot: Wings

It is airshow season here in the United Kingdom; every weekend brings a host of interesting and often historic aircraft flying around our house, so whenever possible, we try to go catch the show.  Last weekend was one of our favorite shows at the Shuttleworth Collection. This show features a collection of mostly pre-1950's aircraft and historic cars, given it the name "Wings and Wheels Airshow."

I went armed with the Leica's to get some 35mm film shots of the cars in black and white and some digital shots of the aircraft. I wasn't planning to shoot much of the aircraft in flight and wanted to focus on shots of the aircraft on the grass runway. I'll showcase some of the wheels from the show later and today am focusing on three of the wings.

All of these aircraft were photographed with the Leica M-P 240 and Summarit 35mm f/2.4 lens.

1917 Bristol M1C
This is one of the few replica aircraft in the collection as most are originals, but it's hard to find many aircraft form 1917 that still fly! This aircraft was actually built in 2000 but carries the markings of an original Bristol that flew with the 72 Squadron Royal Flying Corps in the Royal Air Force.

1934 Hawker Hind
I have always had a soft spot for the shine of the aluminum on these World War II biplanes. This Hawker actually saw service in World War II as a bomber and training aircraft and in the 1930s was part of the Royal Afghan Air Force.

1934 DH88 Comet Racer
Unlike the other aircraft in this series that were designed for wartime, this beauty was meant to participate in the popular air races. Specifically, she flew from England to Australia. Three of the comets participated and G-ACSS (this aircraft) won the race.

The Power of the Darkroom

Since I've started working with enlarging my film negatives in a darkroom, I keep getting the same series of questions.......

  1. Darkrooms still are a thing?
  2. Isn't it expensive?
  3. Why not just scan and print your negative?

All fair questions. Let's break down the power of the darkroom.....

1. Yes, darkrooms are still a thing, but increasingly rare. Where I live outside Cambridge, the closest public use darkroom is a little more than an hour drive away, but it's worth the drive. While I could (and will eventually) build a darkroom in my house, that will have to wait until I am not living abroad, so a public darkroom is the way to go. There are several websites dedicated to helping you find a darkroom, such as http://www.localdarkroom.com

2. Name something in photography that is not expensive and you win a prize. For me, darkroom printing is no more expensive than my inkjet work. My consumables are the light sensitive papers and chemicals. In my case, I don't pay for chemicals because I have instead opted for a membership at a darkroom (The Photo Parlour), so my chemical cost is really my membership cost. Factoring in the cost of paper and assuming I make around 50 prints a year, my cost per print is around $3 - and that's good and large paper (8x10 or bigger). In digital printing, my costs are ink and again paper. The paper I was using, which is again a high quality paper, cost $2.75/sheet and my ink costs were about $2 per print. In fact, all factors considered, I once calculated that my "startup" cost for inkjet printing was almost $1000! 

Let's assume I make 50 prints at 11x14 per year. My cost per print in the darkroom, including my membership fees, is about $4/print (also assuming some margin for mistakes and re-prints/ test strips, etc). The cost for the same 50 prints done at home on my inkjet printer is $5/print (I probably have less "waste" since a printer is a very.... mechanical..... object!). 

Bottom line - it's always cheaper to mail order print, but that removes the "art" from a lot of the work. I enjoy watching my prints appear before my eyes, so for me, the costs of personally printing are worthwhile. And, in my current situation, the darkroom doesn't cost more than inkjet!

3. I really didn't appreciate the true magic of the darkroom until I began using it. This sounds stupid to say, but I always thought about my prints as having one single proper exposure. I thought there was one version that was the "proper" version (as conceived by the artist, not technically proper) and you print that version. I was blown away when I watched prints that were dramatically different come from the same negative...... slightly longer exposures in the enlarger made some prints darker and moody, while the same negative with less exposure time was light and bright. I was blown away. I can make two different prints with two different moods from the same negative? I know, it sounds stupid, but I never really considered this.

Suddenly a new world was unlocked. I now visualize an image thinking "is this a dark and moody photo, or a light and cheery photo?" ---> I am thinking about the development and enlargement before I take the picture. With digital photography I would think about the end product, sure, but I didn't think in the same tonalities and with the same possibilities that film has stretched me to consider.

The best example of how to get the different tonalities is best seen in a test strip. Check these photos below - the different slices are the same photo, but different lengths of time in the enlarger. Each has a different look and feel and none of them is "more correct" than the other.

Let's revisit a recent negative - one of a boat on the beach of Dungeness. I scanned and posted it several days ago, but let's review the original negative....... looking at it below, it's fairly dark and the image we see is a digital machine's (scanner) literal interpretation of the negative. There isn't much creative interpretation - the scanner is just trying to represent the negative in a series of shades of grey - really simplifying my image into a series of 1's and 0's. How sad.

Obviously, this is a lovely photograph! But it's not the print I imagined when I clicked the shutter. The print in my head was much lighter. MUCH lighter. It was almost white sky and the boat was very light, as though it was drawn in pencil. It was a happy photograph, while this is a little dark and moody. Off to the darkroom!

I did a test print and decided that my first print would be at an exposure of 10 seconds with no dodging or burning - just a straight print. Here's what that looks like:

This is certainly lighter than the scanned "literal interpretation" from the negative, but the sky is still too dark for my liking. I ran another print at  5 seconds, but that was too washed out - needed more contrast. To boost contrast in a black and white print, we add magenta filters, so I went crazy and added 50 magenta to the filtration (for scale, 15 is more "normal"). I ran another test strip and determined I liked the look of the print at 9 seconds. I realize this almost the same exposure as the previous print, but the magenta filtration requires more time to compensate, hence the minor change in image time. Here's the print at 9 seconds with 50 magenta in the filter (I also burned the bottom right part of the rail a little more.

Perfect! This is actually my final print - there are several others that I used to tweak the dodging and burning and show slight differences in the foreground, but this was my final version. 

So why bother with the darkroom - that's why! Look at what an incredibly diverse set of prints I got from a negative that, to the scanner, looked very dark. The darkroom has unlocked my creative potential and has me visualizing my artwork in a whole new way.

Quick Shot: Dungeness

I spend most of the week researching the places I'll spend time exploring on the weekend. When I found my way to some photographs of Dungeness, I knew I'd have to take a day trip to see it in person.

Dungeness is home to one of England's still operational nuclear power stations and sits along the southern coast, just a few miles from France. In fact, it's so close to France that my cell phone starts to provide me with text messages welcoming me to an international destination! Along the beach leading to the power station is a bunch of, well, junk. But it's very photogenic junk!

With the Leica and Rolleiflex T in hand, I took about two dozen images of the junk around the Dungeness Nuclear Power Station. I haven't finished the roll from the Leica, so all of these are from the Rollei. I think it's one of the more interesting piles of junk I've had the chance to photograph in England!

PS - keep your eyes out for power lines in these photos that lead from the power station!

Quick Shots: Stroll Through Cambridge

Street photography is all about catching a split second in time that tells a story, which is sometimes very challenging. When previously using my Nikon dSLR, I didn't do much street photography because it was bulky and can be very intimidating to people when they see you hold this massive camera up and aim at them. Now that I'm starting to use a Leica, street photography has opened up in a whole new way - the Leica is no bigger than my iPhone, so it's not intimidating, and it's virtually silent. The combination means I can take pictures without my subject feeling like I'm invading their personal space!

Armed with the Leica MP and the Adox Silvermax film (which I absolutely adore, by the way), I took a stroll through Cambridge to capture a variety of the sights and sounds of this university city. My stroll coincided with graduation for students from the University of Cambridge, so it was busier than usual with lots of interesting personalities available to photograph. Here's a selection of prints from my stroll - do you have any favorites?

This woman was relaxing to enjoy one of the first nice days this spring. I was convinced to take the photograph because of her tattoos and seeing that she'd taken her shoes off. 

We were walking down the street and I saw the boy being hoisted onto the bike seat and knew I had to get in front of them to take a photograph. The boy was so excited to be sitting on his mom's bike!

A lot of the street musicians in Cambridge are not terribly good, but there are a few worth stopping and listening to as they perform. Tobias was very good!

I walked right past these two German men without noticing them until my ears caught them speaking German. Having taken some German in school, I turned to see who the voice was attached to and was immediately captured by them. For me, it's the little boy who looks bored that really makes the image.

Soon-to-be graduates from one of the Cambridge University colleges line up in procession to enter their graduation ceremony. I intentionally underexposed to create a stark contrast between the black and white of their robes. 

This woman's Thai food truck always smells delicious, but there's normally a long line so I haven't stopped to taste it (yet). The woman in the foreground was just placing her order.

Quick Shot: Cambridge Lounger

I always carry a camera when I walk through downtown Cambridge - the college environment with lots of young folks milling about naturally lends itself to a place of unexpected photo opportunities. 

Ironically, I had just been talking to my friend as we walked about another photograph I'd seen where the photographer imaged straight down on some Cuban men playing dominos. It was a creative and fun use of a different angle in the photograph. No sooner do I finish telling him this then we come across one of many bridges crossing the River Cam. I looked down and saw this scene of two punters lounging on break.

I immediately knew I was going to take the photograph, but I was a little nervous of being "caught"..... I don't want to steal a photograph of someone, but looking straight down on a subject would lead to an awkward look if he saw me. There's no way to pretend you aren't photographing someone when looking straight down on them!

Thankfully, the punters were both deep in conversation and didn't notice as I composed and shot this image. I think it tells a wonderful story and am glad the photograph of the Cuban men playing dominos inspired me to try my own top-down shot.

Shot on Leica MP with Adox Silvermax 35mm film. Developed in my home studio and scanned on an Epson V700.

Quick Shot: Trees on a Hill

My start in film photography began in what most people would consider the wrong direction. Rather than first investing in a 35mm camera, I started in large format photography with a Zone VI 4x5 film camera. If you aren't familiar with the camera, it looks like the old style bellows camera that you imagine Ansel Adams using (he actually did use this style!). The film it takes is sheet film that measures 4x5 inches in size, so the negative is huge and therefore captures extreme details. 

I brought the camera along when I moved to England, but had to wait a little bit while I sourced film before I could take it shooting. After finally getting some 4x5 sheet film, I headed to one of my favorite local sites, a National Trust area called Lyveden New Bield to take a few shots. Four actually - that's all the film I packed!

I took this photograph on a complete whim. I wasn't sure it would work, but I liked the hill with a few trees that was being back lit by the sun. It was early spring, so the trees just had the little buds where leaves would emerge any second. Framing the image was tricky - especially as the wind kept blowing the trees pretty heavily! I loaded a piece of film and waited several minutes for a slight reprieve in the wind and then shot at the fastest shutter speed on the lens hoping to freeze the limbs for a perfectly sharp silhouette. I got lucky!

Developed at home in my studio - film is Ilford Delta Pro 100.

Quick Shot: Misty Lake

I just returned from a long weekend trip to the beautiful Lake District of England, but this trip was a little different from most of my other ones. It's been over a decade since I didn't use a digital camera of some type on a trip, but I "cut the cord" and only brought film for this journey. 

Since returning, I've been busy developing and scanning lots of color and black and white film from the trip and I'm excited to finally share some of the images. This first one was taken at the end of a a boat pier on Lake Windermere. It was a foggy and drizzly morning, which gave the lake a mystic feeling. I really wanted to try and capture that mist, so I pulled out the Rolleiflex, which was loaded with Kodak Ektar 100 film and took this shot. I think it's a great way to tease some of the other Lake District prints coming soon....... what do you think? Ready to see more?

Quick Shot: City Bikes

Equipped with my new Leica MP 35mm film camera and a 35mm f/2.4 lens, I hit the streets of Cambridge to practice my street photography. As you may have read in my blog about my first impressions of the Leica, the first time shooting the camera was a little clumsy as I adjusted to the different controls. Despite these differences, I designed a few photographs in my head and focused on getting those images during the walk.

One of the images I imagined prior to the walk was a photograph to capture how active cyclists are in downtown Cambridge. The city is off limits to drivers in many areas, so the roads are flush with folks commuting via bicycle. To really depict that scene, I wanted a shot of bikes in a line as the primary subject in focus and then a blurred person zipping through the scene on their bike. As I originally imagined it, the biker would have been further away and less prominent in the scene, but people don't always do what we want, and I actually kind of like the result. The initial reaction may be to think "thats a terrible photograph, its not in focus," but I hope the viewer lingers for a moment longer to realize that the bikes in the background are in focus and then wonder..... was that done on purpose? The answer is yes!


Quick Shot: A Stroll Through Cambridge

I have teased about my most recent purchase in previous posts, but if you missed it, I recently added a 1974 Rolleiflex T Whiteface 120mm medium format film camera to my collection. This camera is absolutely fantastic and it's quickly become one of my favorite cameras to shoot with.

My first roll of film was "wasted" on pictures of my dog around our house, but my first real roll of film was spent on a long day walking through Cambridge, England. I wanted to focus on learning the camera - focusing, shooting, metering, composing, etc. I packed a roll of Ilford FP-4+ and headed into the heart of Cambridge to see what came between me and the camera.

Each roll contains 12 images so I took.... 12 images. The roll was then brought home and developed by me using the methods I had practiced on my first throw away roll. I was very pleased that, upon seeing the developed negatives, I had 12 perfectly exposed images! phew!

Upon closer inspection I did notice a problem with a few images. If you look closely you can see some vertical streaks on the film. Turns out that Rolleiflex changed how the camera was loaded for the T variants - previous versions had you thread the film under a roller bar, but the T doesn't go through the roller. I had just read some generic "how to load film" instructions and did not catch this little difference. The vertical streaks resulted from the film being run under this roller bar, creating very small scratches on the film. That's okay- this was the time to trouble shoot those things and it really only shows on a few images.

I scanned each of these images using an Epson V700 scanner - there is no adjustment or color correction done. What you see is what I got! What do you think?

Quick Shot: Yellow

One of the best parts of living in another country is getting the opportunity to see the different seasons - at this point I've seen all four of England's seasons and spring may be my favorite. Why? Just look!

For a short time every spring, the farmlands around England turn florescent bright yellow with this flower before returning to their natural (normal) green color. I've had friends tell me this was coming, but nothing compares to seeing it in real life. Everywhere around my house is neon yellow! So I didn't have to go far to get this shot- the trick was capturing the expanse of yellow!

To help give the sense of the brilliant yellow, I took a panorama of six images and stitched them together.  And I certainly did not need to do any work in Photoshop to further enhance the yellow.... that's all natural baby!