8 Tulips & The Importance of Playing

If you are a photographer, or even someone who fancies the occasional creative expression, then you know the challenge associated with the lack of creative juices. Authors call it "writers block," but all creative people are subject to this period when they can't seem to generate some new work. Which is why I advocate playing!

Every so often, I go to the Cambridge market and select some flowers for sale from one of the merchants. I often pick Tulips - they are cheap and do lots of interesting things as they open. I'll bring those flowers home and then take some different photographs of the flowers, playing with different things to get the creative juices flowing. There is rarely a goal - just to play.

This weekend I got dozen tulips and decided to play with the macro setup on the Hasselblad 503CX. I loaded up a roll of black and white film and shot 12 images of tulips in various poses. After developing and scanning, I saved 8; a few of my experiments didn't work so well! But I played around with the camera and lighting, I played with exposures, I played with focus, and I played with contrast. And the result is that I got 8 fun photographs. 

If you stumble into a "writers block" - or even if you just want to prevent it through pre-emptive therapy, then I recommend taking the camera out to play. No goals, no expectations, see what comes across the lens. You might end up with 8 fun tulip photographs!

Side Note:

Curious about the fancy setup I used to get these photographs? I caution you..... it's not fancy. The canvas background you see behind the flowers is actually the back of a pillow case. It's laying on the floor in front of a big glass door and the lighting is all natural sunlight. The camera is mounted on a tripod and triggered manually. No flashes. No wiz bang light setup. Sunshine + pillow case + film. Playing, remember?

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: 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 ;-)

Winter Inspiration: Tulip Collage

In a blast of unwelcome suddenness, it got very cold in England. While I will still go out and take many photos in the winter, the dreary and grey days can sometimes be tough on creative expression. No worries, this is the best season to work on some indoor studio work!

This photograph was one of many large format film images I took this weekend in my home 'studio.' I put quotes around the word studio because I used the furthest thing from a formal studio to get this image. I really like the resulting photograph and hope that seeing how I did this will inspire your own creative outlet and expression this winter.

Before I get into the how of the photograph, lets look at the finished image (negative was scanned on an Epson V700 scanner)...

There is one thing that really makes this image unique and different. Study it closely and see if you can figure it out. 

Need a hint? Look at the lighting.

That's it! Most people would light this subject from the top - meaning they would light the top of the flowers rather than the stems. Instead, I have the light coming from the bottom, so the stems and base of the flower have all the texture and detail.

Now how'd I do this? First step, I bought some tulips. They are a great flower for photographers because they are relatively inexpensive. I paid $7 for 20 at a market in Cambridge. 

Onto the 'studio' - in this case, my studio was actually an outdoor patio table that I setup in the sunlight coming through the big french doors in our house. The background is standard white tissue paper. I used my large format 4x5 film camera and set it up on a tall tripod. It was so tall I actually pulled out a step stool to be tall enough to get the focus correct. I metered for f/22 and selected an exposure of 15 seconds. At that length of time I don't mind being a little inaccurate, so I counted the exposure in my head.

The very unsophisticated setup I used to get this photograph. You can see the natural light coming from the door was all I needed with a long exposure.

Voila! 

Ran the negative through a standard development and scanned it here. 

I love shooting 4x5 for my 'studio' work because of the size of the negative. It's HUGE. Here - this is next to my iPhone 6 plus. Yeah, it's a big phone, but it's the negative that we're looking at here!

The large format negative vs the iPhone 6 plus

Hopefully that helps you find some inspiration to make some artwork this winter. You don't need to use a big film setup - you can use any camera - but don't let the lack of a professional studio stop your creative expression. The sun is a wonderful light!

Quick Shot: Love that Black and White Film

I LOVE shooting 120mm film. I love the square. I love the look. I love the size of the negative and the detailed enlargements. I love the look of film. There's nothing my digital camera can do to compare to the images that I can get from 120mm film. 

I took my Rolleiflex 2.8F 120mm film camera along to Greece and was rewarded with some wonderful film shots. Today I'm sharing a selection of those images - developed and scanned in my home studio. I think you'll be able to see what makes these film shots so unique from their digital equivalent. 

Quick Shot: Double Exposure

One of the fun things film can do that digital cameras cannot is the art of a double exposure. In film, a double exposure is achieved when the film is exposed twice - with two different images - creating a composite on the negative. 

As a photographer, this is rather fun, because you don't know what the outcome will be until you've gone home to develop the film. In this case, I had to wait almost two weeks after taking the images before I could leave Venice to return to my developing studio. The wait was worth it, and I was excited by the resulting images.

Here's a quick shot to introduce the concept - the first image was of the gondolas along the grand canal. The second image was with my Leica camera in the scene.

Shot with a Rolleiflex 2.8F on Ilford Delta 100 Pro film.

Film Shootout: Ilford FP-4 Plus

Film Name: 

Ilford FP4 Plus

Type: 

Black and White

ISO: 

125

Grain: 

Fine

Sizes Available: 

35mm, 120, & sheet

Size Tested: 

35mm & 120mm

Development: 

Following MassiveDev chart, using Ilford Ilfosol 3 developer. Seven minutes development time, 1 minute stop bath (Ilford), 5 minutes of fixing (Ilford), 10 minute rinse and Kodak Photo-Flo. 

Developing a roll of 120mm and 35mm Ilford FP-4 Plus. I measure all of the chemistry first and use the MassiveDev app on my iPad as a timer. Film is loaded into a Paterson tank.

Developing a roll of 120mm and 35mm Ilford FP-4 Plus. I measure all of the chemistry first and use the MassiveDev app on my iPad as a timer. Film is loaded into a Paterson tank.

The chemistry used to develop these test rolls. From left to right: Developer (Ilfosol 3), Stop Bath (Ilfostop), Fixer (Rapid Fixer) and Kodak Photo Flo. Again, note the MassiveDev app for iPad.

The chemistry used to develop these test rolls. From left to right: Developer (Ilfosol 3), Stop Bath (Ilfostop), Fixer (Rapid Fixer) and Kodak Photo Flo. Again, note the MassiveDev app for iPad.

Developed film (120mm and 35mm) ready to be hung for drying. 

Developed film (120mm and 35mm) ready to be hung for drying. 

Film drying in the darkroom. My drying rig is expertly crafted from a metal clothes hangar, gaffers tape, film hanging clips and a over-the-door hook. 

Film drying in the darkroom. My drying rig is expertly crafted from a metal clothes hangar, gaffers tape, film hanging clips and a over-the-door hook. 

Fact Sheet (Provided by Manufacturer): 

ILFORD FP4 Plus is an exceptionally fine grain, medium speed, black and white film. It is ideal for high quality indoor and outdoor photography, particularly when giant enlargements are to be made. In addition to general photography, FP4 Plus is also suited to copying and internegative work, and has many applications in scientific, technical and industrial photography.

FP4 Plus is robust and will give usable results even if it is overexposed by as much as six stops, or underexposed by two stops. It is compatible with all major processing systems, including those which give the standard short fixing and washing times.

FP4 Plus 35mm film is coated on 0.125mm/5-mil acetate base and is available in 24 or 36 exposure cassettes, or in bulk lengths of 17 and 30.5 metres (56 and 100ft). FP4 Plus 35mm film is supplied in DX coded cassettes, suitable for all 35mm cameras.

FP4 Plus rollfilm is coated on 0.110mm/4-mil clear acetate base with an anti-halation backing which clears during development. It is available in 120 and 220 lengths and is edge numbered 1 to 19 (120) and 1 to 40 (220).

FP4 Plus sheet film is coated on 0.180mm/7-mil polyester base with an anti-halation backing which clears during development.

Packaging:

Packaging of a 120mm roll (35mm packaging is the same, just different shape). Box is white with black and blue logo lettering. Expiration date is printed on the bottom corner, along with a suggested storage temperature of less than 20*C / 68*F.

Packaging of a 120mm roll (35mm packaging is the same, just different shape). Box is white with black and blue logo lettering. Expiration date is printed on the bottom corner, along with a suggested storage temperature of less than 20*C / 68*F.

The exterior of a 35mm Ilford FP4 Plus canister

The exterior of a 35mm Ilford FP4 Plus canister

The exterior of a 120mm roll that has been exposed. Sticker is left at the end of the roll and can be affixed with a quick lick, like a postage stamp.

The exterior of a 120mm roll that has been exposed. Sticker is left at the end of the roll and can be affixed with a quick lick, like a postage stamp.

Leftover paper backing after the 120mm film has been removed (in a dark film changing bag) and transferred to the developing tank.

Leftover paper backing after the 120mm film has been removed (in a dark film changing bag) and transferred to the developing tank.

Remains of the 35mm canister once film was removed for developing. 

Remains of the 35mm canister once film was removed for developing. 

Scanning:

Both the 120mm and 35mm film was scanned on an Epson V700 scanner using the provided film trays and Silverfast 8 software. I scanned for internet and printing, so the files were not the absolute best the scanner can achieve, but I don't need a million DPI either. I set the scanner to 900dpi using a RGB color profile. In the crops seen below, the scan quality is a bigger limiter to the quality than the film itself.

User Review:

This was the first "high quality" (aka not sold at your local drug store) film that I ran through my 120mm and 35mm camera. As a company, Ilford has a fantastic reputation for making some of the best films on the market.... they also specialize in black and white film, so you sort of expect only the best.

I have found the FP4+ to be a very forgiving film that captures great dynamic range and can therefore make up for an imperfect metering and exposure settings. Negatives consistently have a nice balance between contrasty blacks and light tones. I find the grain to this film also very appealing - too much grain can distract from the image, but the FP4+ fine grain is enough to offer texture and depth to the film without being overpowering.

Development of this film is very easy. You can use any number of developers and get fantastic results.

The more I shoot this film, the more I find myself really liking it! There's not much to complain about, it's a very solid all-around film for a variety of shooting conditions. Portraits, architecture, landscapes, etc all look great; if you are setting out for a day of shooting with no expectations of what you might photograph, Ilford FP-4 plus is a great choice to load up. Where other films are particular good for portraiture, et, the FP-4 plus is a wonderful "do all" film and the 100 speed offers a very fine and pleasing grain. 

A super crop (200%) of a 900dpi scan on an Epson V700. This isn't even remotely close to the best scan quality possible, but the detail and sharpness is very apparent. The grain is very fine and not overbearing.

A super crop (200%) of a 900dpi scan on an Epson V700. This isn't even remotely close to the best scan quality possible, but the detail and sharpness is very apparent. The grain is very fine and not overbearing.

Another super crop, but this one is at 300%. Again, incredible sharpness and detail captured in this negative.

Another super crop, but this one is at 300%. Again, incredible sharpness and detail captured in this negative.

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: Dali's Tree

"Of all the subjects in the world to photograph, why choose this one?"

It's a great question..... what makes this subject worth photographing at the moment of capture? In this case, the motivation to make the print was because my subject reminded me of one of my favorite painters, Salvador Dali. While it would be ta stretch to say any of my photographs are "Dali-esq", this tree with its twisted and mutilated shape reminded me of the sort of tree Dali would imagine and dream up.

We were walking along a trail in the Lake District on our last morning before heading home. I had just switched to a new type of 35mm film that is made in Germany called Adox Silvermax. The film has more silver content than most films and the manufacturer claims it can get up to 14 stops of dynamic range..... to put that into perspective, my digital camera gets about half of that!

I really liked this tree. It's warped from years of abuse by the wind and the morning light cast a nice glow on the surrounding grasses. Using my Leica MP and a 75mm lens, I composed and took the photograph, deciding that at that instant, this was the best subject in the world to photograph.

When I look at the negative (which I developed using Kodak HC-110 - same stuff Ansel Adams loved) and the scanned image, I can't help but think of the works of Salvador Dali. What do you think? 

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: Boardwalk

Using my digital SLR camera, I was always taking a color image and converting it to black and white, but using black and white film opens a new world of possibilities. Suddenly I find myself evaluating a scene for contrast and tonality and trying to make an educated guess about how that will translate onto the black and white film emulsions.

I had been walking along a coastal section of England's Lake District taking photographs of the sand dunes and waves. While the images were interesting, I wasn't overly inspired with the subject and was headed back to the car when I turned around to see the path I'd just been walking. The late afternoon sun was casting a nice glow across the top of the grass, but there were some dark shadows along the path as well.... I figured it would make for a good black and white image, so I grabbed the Leica MP and fired a single exposure. Turns out, it was my favorite photograph from the walk on the beach!

Shot on Kodak TMax 100; developed in my home studio and scanned on an Epson V700 scanner.

Let The Games Begin: Film Shootout

Film is such an interested and complex (and fun) medium to work with for photographers; nothing makes your art more rewarding than developing a roll of perfectly exposed film.

Although the film industry has been in a decline for the past decade with the rise of digital cameras and cellphones with built in cameras, there is still a healthy community of film-heads and analog shooters who can't completely surrender to bits and bytes. For us, the choices are getting fewer and fewer, but the quality continues to improve as companies like Kodak constantly work to improve their films.

As film shooters we have to be willing to commit to a piece of film for up to 36 future images, so a lot of thought goes into selecting each roll or sheet we're going to shoot. Which is why I'm going to undertake a project to shoot as many different films as possible while providing detailed reviews and comparisons of each film.

Here's the thing - I'm not willing to waste a bunch of film to get "scientific" results by shooting the same scenes on the same shooting conditions. That's really not practical for real photographers who walk around all day in different lighting conditions with different subjects. So I'll shoot each roll like I normally would - for the purpose of making fine art prints - and I'll provide my comments and reviews as I go through the rolls.

I will develop all of these films myself, which can also introduce some variation in how a film looks, but I will only use the same developers and process to try and minimize those variations.

Here are the initial contenders for the review. I am going to start with the Ilford FP-4+ and will work through them one at a time from there - check back on my blog and to this post as I'll link my finished reviews on this page. Interested in seeing me shoot a particular film? Send me a note and I'll see if I can get it added to my reviewing list

  • Ilford FP-4+ (35mm and 120mm)
  • Kodak Porta 800 (35mm)
  • Rollei RPX 100 (120mm)
  • Kodak Ektar 100 (35mm and 120mm)
  • ADOX CHS 100 II (35mm)
  • ADOX Silvermax 100 (35mm)
  • Ilford SFX 200 (35mm)
  • Kodak TMax 100 (35mm)
  • Fuji Neopan Acros 100 (35mm)
  • CineStill Film (35mm)
  • Ilford Delta 100 Professional (35mm and 4x5)
  • Kodak Tri-X 400 (35mm)
  • Rollei Retro 80S (35mm)
  • Rollei Superpan 200 (120mm)