A photographic state of mind

I caught the last 85% of a program on BBC one (imagine… : The Secret of Life) where Alan Yentob looked into (I’d say investigated, but it was more of a chat with various people) the self help industry. One of the segments touched upon Zen buddhism, and it struck me (ever so slightly) that the concept of living in the moment, or mindfulness – the ability to notice what’s going on around you at a moment in time; whether it be savouring the flavour of the meal you’re eating, noticing the pattern of the shadows as the sun breaks through the bare winter branches, or noticing the multitude of birds that you can hear, etc. and so on – the ability to actually notice things is perhaps the kind of state which a photographer needs to attain to be able to recognise ‘the decisive moment’; to see a pattern, a beauty, a symmetry, a point of interest, that may connect at some deeper level with viewers of the resultant photograph.

Anyway. For some while now, I have been trying to look at things with ‘a photographer’s eye’, to think of things framed within a rectangle with a 3:2 aspect ratio (35mm film frame), mainly to see things, rather than just notice them… (As a side note, cycling to and from work every day makes me realise how many people may as well walk around with their eyes shut – and behave as if they are, crossing roads without looking, blocking cycle lanes etc.)

perhaps I should investigate this Zen stuff…?

I Am Now Mediocre…

Well, I suppose I set myself up for this one (Read my previous rant here).

Even though I have been singularly scathing about the level of pictures that I have seen in photographic exhibitions presented at our camera club (York Photographic Society), I must admit that I cannot level the same complaint at the club competitions themselves – the judges have not always scored the interesting photos particularly well, preferring safety over great art.

Freakin' November 3rd 2007 - PatAnyway, back to the point. Last night saw the judging of the annual digital and projected images competition. I had entered five pictures – one digital, and four slides (digital entry is on the right). The judge (Peter Yeo) offered extremely helpful, directed, comments, suggesting both technical and compositional tips for each picture shown.

In all, there were 140 entries for the digital images competition, and 40 for the slide competition. My digital entry was ‘dynamic’, but didn’t make it into a place. My slides, however, fared somewhat better – I had two ‘walkway’s and two ‘York Fog’s – one of the walkway pictures (My favourite, by the way – Manchester airport at night, fact fans) had very interesting technical comments (good control of highlights, perhaps half-a-stop extra exposure would have made it even better), but the big surprise was that my ‘York Fog 2 – Millenium Bridge’ gained second place.


Ok, so none of the entries I made were specifically pandering to the judge; they are all pictures that I am pleased with, so that’s good (they are all unmanipulated too, not even cropped – what a purist). It’s just a surprise to actually get placed. One downside (Heh, there has to be one!) is that I am now not eligible for the ‘New Members Print Competition’ (which I was hoping to enter) since I have now gained a ‘first, second, or third place’.

Oh – one more thing… There’s a releated competition – The John Saville Rose Bowl which is awarded for a picture depicting an aspect of the City of York.

‘York Fog 2 – Millenium Bridge’ won that.


Better LF

repeatI know that this is getting a little repetitive, but I am still enjoying the whole Large-Format-Photography experience – this is my favourite recent pic, this time scanned from a contact-print, so it has a bit more punch. Unfortunately my jpeg-editing has darkened it a little too much, but hey – the web isn’t a medium for high art!


I was going for a Chandler-esque (Polly, not Raymond) view here – plenty of movements – didn’t make notes I’m afraid)

MPP (1/50 @ f4.5),
Fomapan 100,
Rodinal 1+50, 6’30”
Contact-printed onto Ilford MG IV RC paper

Further Large Format musings…

I did another batch of contact prints from my set of Large Format (LF) negatives last night, mainly because I wanted to do a reasonable set of prints of the ‘family portraits’ I did of my sister and her family before they emigrated to Australia. The plan is to get a set of decent prints and send them off to their new address.

Yesterday also coincided with my receiving a 5×4 negative holder from ebay (I have a plan to construct my own 5×4 enlarger, so a neg holder seemed like a good place to start). The holder itself had two detachable 5×4 ‘frames’ which looked like they may come in handy – as indeed they did. Placing two LF negatives on a sheet of 10×8 paper, I was able to use the ‘frames’ to both hold down the negative without using a sheet of glass, and to give a nice broad white border.

The addition of the broad border really makes a difference which is quite amazing. The shots themselves are not all that great unfortunately (if I were able to do them again, I would – using a lens hood etc. – but that’s the way it goes I guess).

toucan (still life #1)
However, the real revelation was my first ‘still life’. The negative scan (reflective scan, so not a great start – shown here) is flat and lacking – but the print is full of bite and detail – perhaps it’s just the physical object, but I feel that it’s a promising sign for things to come 🙂

Large Format…

Ok, so anyone who has read any of my recent posts will have noticed that I recently got a Large Format (LF) camera. What’s LF then? Well, basically it’s a film camera Format where the negative is Large.


The reason to go for LF is that the negative can hold so much more information (assuming that you get the exposure etc. correct). A standard 35mm negative is 36x24mm – scanning at a rather modest 2000 ppi gives around a 6 megapixel image (3000×2000) which is Ok (of course limited by film qualities such as grain, but let’s not go there at the moment). Stepping up from 35mm there’s medium-format (MF) – often a square 60x60mm. Scanning this at 2000ppi gets you to just over 20 megapixels (4500×4500). Stepping up to the entry-level LF size of 4″x5″ – or around 100x125mm gets you to 80 megapixels. Which is a lot in anyone’s money.

Of course, there are little things like the ability of a scanner to actually deal with the dynamic range of film etc. etc., so the ideal solution is to print the negatives optically, onto real photographic paper, using real chemicals to produce a silver-based image.

Now, my enlarger can deal with 35mm and 60x60mm (MF) and I can produce prints upto 16″x20″ (theoretically – the largest I’ve actually done is 16″x12″). Obviously for a given negative size, the maximum print size (whilst maintaining image quality) will vary… i.e. printing 12×16 from a MF negative will show less grain than printing 12×16 from 35mm.

2So, LF should give me the highest quality large prints right? Unfortunately no. Because my enlarger can’t deal with 4″x5″ negatives. Which means I have to contact print my LF negatives, which obviously produces a 4×5 print.

Hmmmm…. this LF stuff might get expensive 🙁

Large Format is “Go”!

On Wednesday, I received the film holders for my MPP Micro Technical camera, this finally freed me up to take some pictures (having had the camera and film since before Christmas!).

Clifton Bingo Last night I trekked a couple of hundred yards down the road and took a couple of pictures of the Clifton Bingo hall. I was then able to develop them as soon as I got home. And guess what? I got a couple of pictures!! Woo!
(Shown is an earlier 35mm picture of the building)

Large format is GO! (1)
Ok, it was night-time, and I was using a slow film (Fomapan 100) which meant that my exposures were 2 seconds @ f8 (some front shift to get the top of the building in) and…

Large format is GO! (2)
2 seconds @f5.6 (lots of movements on this one).

Now I’ve got my first couple of images at least (although I really need to sort out my development regime – 7’30” in Rodinal 1+50, swishing the negatives around in an open tray in the dark…

This morning I loaded a couple of filmholders with a view to taking pictures of the mist along the river. Unfortunately, it’s been raining rather a lot so I ended up with a picture of reflections instead. Still, my first daylight exposure (1/25 sec @ f11), htis time developed in D76 (1+0) – still swishing film around in the dark whilst counting off seconds in my head…

Uncontrolled rant at the celebration of mediocrity present in today’s society

I’ve just come back from my local camera club (‘York photographic society’) where we had an ‘exhibition’ – actually a couple of CD-roms of prizewinning entries to a couple of competitions. The first was the FIAP: ” FIAP 23rd Colour Slide Biennial 2004″. Now, Ok, this is a few years old now but I thought it might be interesting.


Well, kind of wrong. During a 34 minute show, with each image being on the screen for 4-5 seconds, I think that there were two photographs which I considered good. The rest were bog standard postcard images, or just plain bad (i.e. horizons which were 3 degrees out of level, verticals which weren’t etc. Y’know, basic technical stuff).

It was interesting only because of the – to my mind – staggeringly low-quality.

Then there was the something like ‘the tropical photographic competition’ – run out of Florida apparently. This time the show was 30 minutes of ‘creative photography’ from 2007.


You know when you first play with Photoshop? You load in a picture and apply the ‘watercolour’ filter? Or perhaps the ‘posterize’ filter. Perhaps you’re really avant-garde and use edge-detect. You look, and say ‘hey wow’, and then you get over it?

Apparently not. I reckon about 80% of the pictures had been posterized, or watercoloured, or had edge detection applied (or turned into an oil painting). Of those that weren’t, the rest had had a really neat ‘page turn’ effect added. Cool! Or perhaps ‘selective colouring’ had been used. Woo! Way to go. For those photographers with more time on their hands, why not motion blur the background?

In short, I was not impressed.

I had a discussion with another member of the club afterward and he basically said that if you enter competitions, you enter to win; and to win you submit pictures which you know the judges will like. And that means you look at what has done well in the past, and recreate it.

So, it seems to be ‘a renowned prize-winning photographer’ you need to lose all shreds of creativity, and just follow the herd.

That’s not for me. I’ll still enter the competitions, but I won’t be upset when I don’t win – who knows, maybe one day I might even get some useful feedback.

This is identical to the stuff which has annoyed me about music creation over the past few years; everyone seems to think that slapping a fistful of samples together over a beat which sounds kind-of-like-something-that’s-in-the-charts constitutes writing a track. Worse still, this gets perpetuated and soon all of the creativity has been squeezed out of music (the same applies to so-called manufactured bands – a couple of safe covers, a number one single and then it’s back to the dole queue for you my lad).

If it’s any consolation I now feel sufficiently fired up that I might even start doing some more music (that, of course, no-one will like).

Sorry about the rant 😉

ps: with regard to photoshop. I have no problem with it per se, but it does annoy me when people print out their latest abomination and cheerfully remark that they wouldn’t be able to repeat the picture since they ‘were just messing about’. That’s not art, that’s mindless button-pushing. A monkey could do that (an infinite number of monkeys would be able to do rather better I fear)

So, the journey continues…

I now have some filmholders (double-darkslides) to go with my recently-purchased MPP Micro-Technical camera. I bought the camera at a camera fair just before Christmas and spent a few contented hours getting the shutter up to scratch and making a temporary ground-glass screen.

Having bought some film (which arrived before Christmas too) I have been champing at the bit somewhat – unable to take pictures without darkslides (I should have got some filmholders with the camera, but the seller said that he was going to send them on – they have now arrived!). This has meant that I have been able to read up on and experiment with the effects of the camera movements.

I think that this weekend I will do a few portraits of my sister’s family before they emigrate to Australia on June 22nd… and hope I don’t mess up the processing!


I probably have too many cameras. There, I’ve said it. I cannot possibly use all of them all of the time, but I do use all of them some of the time.

I have been wondering about getting a digital SLR, since it would give me more scope for experimentation (at least the feedback loop is much shorter), but have simultaneously been feeling the pull of yet another film format – this time large format (LF). LF cameras use sheet film rather than roll film, generally have a negative bigger than 6cm x 9cm, and offer all sorts of exciting movements, where the relative positions of lens and film can be moved around.

Last Sunday, the large-format pull won. I picked up a Mark VI MPP Micro-Technical camera from the Boston Spa camera fair. The price was good, but there are some caveats: There was no ground-glass screen, the shutter was erratic and the cosmetic condition left something to be desired. However, this is a complete camera and has set me back about half what I was expecting (looking at ebay etc.).

The digital SLR will have to wait…

However, as I said at the top – I have too many cameras. I managed to offload one of my cameras to the guy who I bought the MPP from, but he wouldn’t take two of the others I had with me. Still, that retained equilibrium in the camera count.

Until Wednesday, when my local camera club had an auction to raise funds for the club… The idea being that people bring in their unwanted photo gear and auction it – all proceeds going to the club funds. I spent a whopping £11 and picked up 11 rolls of 120 film, an unopened pack of 12×16″ black and white photo paper, various darkroom odds and ends, and…. another camera. A Yashica-Mat TLR from around 1960. Perfect condition, and only a fiver.

I really must stop buying these things!