Thursday, 22 October 2020

Is he taking my photograph?

 One from my walkabout on Portstewart Prom a couple of weeks ago:

Portstewart, 2020.  On Ilford MGV RC paper.

The guy on the left has spotted me (hard not to, with me pointing a great big Hasselblad at him).  He didn't say anything as he passed, though I made sure not to make eye contact.  We're outside Morelli's Ice Cream shop - the group of young 'uns on the right all have cones, I think, or are waiting to order.  Not many masks in sight on that day - I would hope that would have changed if I returned today.  

Northern Ireland escaped relatively lightly in the first wave of COVID-19 but right now we're in the middle of a big surge in cases.  The closest big hospital to us (in Derry) was described as 'a war zone' the other day.  I think it was bound to happen - the whole North Coast was flooded with people all summer - I've never seen it so busy.  And almost no-one was masking, it seemed.  We did what we could to isolate, given the health issues in our house - groceries were ordered online and everything was wiped before it was put away.  Door handles and light switches were bleached regularly.  We didn't eat out and we stayed away from people as much as we could - my dander down Portstewart with the camera was probably the one exception in the last 9 months.  Even so, our household has just been advised to quarantine for 14 days, since one of us has been close proximity with someone who tested positive.  You aren't informed of the details but School, I think, has been the weak link for us - there were quite a few 'positives' just before it closed for an extended half-term.  So we're playing the waiting game at the moment - we should know by the weekend if we're in the clear or not.  The whole house has been bleached from top to bottom and we have the windows open as much as possible but there isn't really much else one can do.  So far no-one has symptoms and I sincerely hope it stays that way. 

Monday, 19 October 2020

Twelve Months

A year ago to the day (well, almost) we were in the Italian City of Bergamo.  Seems a bit unreal now, looking back - it wasn't long afterwards that the city was badly hit in the first wave of Covid-19.  For weeks we saw dreadful images coming from the hospitals as they were overwhelmed with patients.  We don't hear much about it nowadays, which, I was going to write, was probably a good thing but a quick search would indicate that the Bergamo story isn't over yet. The whole COVID-19 thing is going to run&run, it would appear.

I printed a lot from that short trip after I got back but there were one or two negatives lurking in the files that didn't get the full treatment and here's a couple for you today.  Both taken in the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiori - handheld at some stupidly slow shutter speed on the M6 with, if I remember correctly, a 90mm lens.  It printed OK on 9.5"x7" paper but I'm not sure it would scale up without issues.

I cropped this slightly, but I wanted to get some of the people in to show the sense of scale in this building.  The craftsmanship of the stonemasons and ornamental plasterers is rather impressive - that lovely soft Italian light coming through the windows is just perfect for showing off the subtlety of the whole thing.

You really need a view camera with a lot of negative real estate to do justice in these sorts of environments.  I'm not sure tripods were allowed in the Basilica, but even if they were it was a busy old place and I wouldn't feel too comfortable using one.  Plus it is, after all, a place of worship and not just there to be photographed.

A far cry from a Presbyterian dissenter's Church in Northern Ireland. While I can look in wonder at the design and skill involved it's not for me.  Give me a wee country Church with plain white-washed walls and not much else.  It's what you're used to, I guess. Both on HP5+ printed on MGV RC paper.

Thursday, 15 October 2020

Fomapan 200 in the TiTAN pinhole camera

I was out with the TiTAN pinhole camera again.  Can't stop myself - the thing is so light and portable and easy to use it's really quite addictive.  There's a couple of things I wish it had, though.  One would be a built-in framing device, or at least one you could slide onto the cold shoe and get a rough idea of the composition.  Up to now I've been winging it, with mixed results.  I like the 4x5 format so it's a shame to crop it, as I've needed to do a couple of times so far.  Like in this shot, for example, where I simply got too much foreground in.  I ended up cropping to 6x12 (1:2) format.

Ballintoy, looking out to Sheep Island.  Rathlin Island is clearly visible behind and there's even the faintest bit of Bonny Scotland visible to the right. Fomapan 200 on Ilford MGV paper.

As I was saying the other day, the price of Ilford sheet film is about twice that of Foma's offerings, so I bought a couple of boxes of Fomapan 200 to play with.  It's the first time I've used this film, so it was all a bit of an experiment.  As usual, I did no research before I went out.  Given the f/206 aperture of the pinhole I was down around 15 second for this shot.  Now, if I'd been sensible and read up about Fomapan 200 first, I would have been advised to increase this by a factor of 9 (nine!), so 135 seconds or just over two minutes (or open up 3 stops, if you prefer).  Now that is serious reciprocity failure compensation.  But I didn't know that, so I just exposed for the 15 seconds.  I had metered for 100 iso, so one full stop less than box speed.  Either way, once I got home and read up on it I knew I was in a bit of a pickle.

I'd also read that Fompan 200 and ID-11 was an OK combination, so I went for that.  1+2 dilution and instead of the suggested 10 minutes I gave it a an extra 2 minutes which I hoped would go some way to recovering the exposure situation.  I opted not to do my usual rotary drum process but went for tray processing total darkness.  I didn't have high hopes but I was delighted with the negative when it finally emerged from the fix and I could switch the light on.  4x5 negs are so big they are pretty easy to read and I could see detail in the light bits (corresponding to the ground and rocks) and, more importantly, the dark bits (corresponding to the sky).  Result!

When printing, as I said I cropped out the foreground as there wasn't much of interest there.  The sky got a bit extra to bring out the cloud detail and the ground and rock on the right got a bit less - there is more detail than came out in this print but I wasn't unhappy with the result as it stands.  

So, getting back to the camera itself there are a couple of options for a viewfinder.  One would be use a shoe-mounted external finder - I've a 21mm Voigtlander finder for the rangefinder which would come pretty close to the 20mm equivalent focal length of the pinhole but that finder has framelines for 35mm (i.e., 2:3) and not 4x5, so I'm not sure how useful that would be.  Maybe it would be OK - the formats aren't massively different and with a bit of practice it might be fine.  But it's a nice bit of glass which would be easily scratched...the TiTAN camera is ABS and you can chuck it around without worrying too much about it so I'm not sure these two would really be a good match for each other.  Something like a fold flat finder that mounts on the cold shoe might be better, I think - MPP make one, as do Linhof, I understand.  They have a wire frame and a simple viewing sight but while they're not massively expensive they're not pocket-money either.  The other option is to use a phone app, of which there are a few available (some free, some for a couple of pounds).   Not quite sure what I'll end up doing but as I already have the Voigtlander finder I think I'll try that first and maybe see how it compares to one of the free Apps.  

I mentioned there was a couple of things about the camera.  Apart from the viewfinder issue, the use of the pinhole/lens cap to effectively 'open the shutter' is something I'm not yet comfortable with.  The normal method is to first remove the dark slide and then when you're ready to shoot, take the cap off.  It's quite a tight fit (as I'd imagine it would need to be) so there's I always feel like I'm slightly moving the camera as I take it off.  Now given the shutter speeds are always pretty long that's probably not a massive issue but still, it just doesn't feel right.  It is possible to wiggle the cap so that it's nearly off (but hopefully still light-tight) and then it's just a case of gently removing it to expose the film and perhaps that's what needs to be done.   More practice is required!


Monday, 12 October 2020

Running man (and dog)

Around the Spring and Autumn equinoxes we can get pretty big tides on Portstewart Strand.  I've been caught out a couple of times in the past, the result of which are very damp and soggy feet until I get home.   This guy and his dog had the right idea - keep away from the water's edge and keep moving:

Man and Dog, Portstewart Strand.  HP5+ on Ilford MGV paper.  The sun was out.  See? - we do get the sun from time to time.  Not usually for very long, of course...

As you can see, I wasn't taking any chances that day, since I was up on the dunes with the 'Blad when I snapped them up.  From being on the Strand pretty much every day for a few years (walking with The Hound) I rarely go now, which is not a good thing.  Apart from the exercise, a morning walk on the beach is pretty good soul food - a chance to get the cobwebs blown away and clear the head a bit from the chaos that's happening all around. I need to get back down there more often. The Hound had it right, of course - live in the moment.  

Thursday, 8 October 2020

Strawberry leaves

I snapped up the strawberry leaves from our planter just as they started to turn, a couple of weeks ago.  Came out rather nice on MGV RC paper, I thought:

Strawberry leaves, 2020.  Nikon F3 and a 28mm or maybe 24mm lens, if you care about such things. HP5+ in ID-11.

It's rather satisfying when you take the camera for a walk around the garden - a place you've walked around thousands of times - and find something new worth snapping up.  It doesn't always happen, mind you.  I guess that's the challenge we all face - to see familiar places with fresh eyes, since you can't always be going to new places.  It's not all about the light, although there's no doubt that's the dominant entity in this whole process.  It's about form and shape and lines and pattern as well as shadow and that other thing.    

Monday, 5 October 2020

Man waiting

Man waiting to cross the road, Chicago.  What a snappy title, eh?  It was a dreary wet morning here in The Liberties yesterday (Sunday) so I did the only sensible thing and retreated to the darkroom, where amongst others I printed this shot from downtown Chicago from a couple of years ago.  It's rather sad to think about when I might be there again.  The Brother and I video-call every Sunday but there's no substitute for the real thing.  Having said that, I'm not inclined to go again in mid-summer (too hot) or Thanksgiving (too cold) so that only leaves Spring and Autumn, which usually coincides with The Brother's busy time at work.  We'll see.  Who knows what 2021 might bring - on current form, it would be a brave person who would predict anything.

Somewhere downtown Chicago, 2018. Ilford MGV RC paper.

It appears that Ilford is raising its prices again.  Coming just after May's increases this seems a tad worrisome.  The headline increase in May was 15% but that was only for certain products (chemistry, I think - paper was increased by a more modest 3% and sheet film hardly at all).  Now the word on the street is that Ilford are talking about a 6% increase in October for all film and paper.  Will it drive people away from film photography?  For established film and darkroom users I doubt it.  Most of us are only too delighted to still be able to use film and paper at all in 2020.  It might mean that more people do a mix of film and digital photography.  Perhaps it will deter newcomers from dipping their toes in the world of film.  There are alternative suppliers of film and darkroom paper, of course - Foma perhaps being the most obvious.  I was going to write how much cheaper Foma film is to Ilford's but after checking online I realise that's not always the case.  I looked at one UK supplier that I've used many times and for 120 film, the price of Fomapan 200 and Ilford FP4+ is almost the same.  For 35mm, 30m of FP4+  comes in at just over £72 and the same for Fomapan 200 is just shy of £50, so a pretty big disparity there.  For interest, 30m of Tri-X 400 is available on special order at the knockdown price of...drum roll...£120!  But for 4x5 sheet film, the difference in price is quite astounding - 100 sheets of Fomapan 200, for example, is about £80...the same quantity of FP4+ is currently £150, or nearly £160 after the increase!  

I'm glad about the 120 film prices, as this is probably the format I use most of these days and for that format I'll be sticking with Ilford for now.  For 4x5 sheet film, though, I doubt I'll be buying Ilford in the future - the price difference is just too great for all the work I do in that format.  I've still a good few sheets of FP4+ Delta and HP5+ in the garage fridge so when that runs low I'll probably try my luck with Fomapan.  The jury is out for the moment for 35mm film.  I do like to support Ilford - as well as making high quality film that I know well, Ilford manufactures in the UK and, perhaps more importantly, it takes me back to my youth.  But I can see myself using 35mm film from other manufacturers from time to time.  

As I say, there are alternatives - this wasn't intended to be an exhaustive 'What films are out there?' sort of post.  I've a mate in Belfast who is into these ultra-low ISO recording films such as Kodak 2238 or Fuji 4791.  These are shot at ISO (20 and lower), so they're not for every situation but they seem to scan well enough from what I can see. Anyway, my mate has bought 1000s of feet of this stuff for not-very-much-money...enough to last him a few decades no matter how extravagant he is, I think.  

Darkroom paper is, of course, another thing entirely and that's where most of the cost of B&W photography lies.  When I started printing seriously again, about 7 years ago, I began with Resin Coated (RC) paper.  Then, as soon as I thought I knew what I was doing and could run with the big boys I switched almost completely to Fibre paper (considerably more expensive but oh so nice).  Now I find myself using more and more RC paper again and only printing on fibre when I think the shot (and the negative) warrants it, which is altogether a much more sensible approach.  Ilford paper is legendary, of course - but Foma make some lovely emulsions too, as do Adox. And then there's Slavich for when you need something completely different.  Like most darkroom printers I must have a dozen or so varieties of paper from all these manufacturers lying about (well, mostly in the freezer, to be precise.  I only keep a few sheets of each in the darkroom for convenience).  It's not so easy to compare prices as every manufacturer's offerings are different but Ilford fibre papers are about 10-20% more expensive than Foma and obviously that price differential is going to stretch a little once Ilford raise their prices.  But variety is the spice of life - especially in the darkroom - so I think I'll continue to buy a range of papers from different manufacturers as the notion takes me. 

When all is said and done I don't really look too closely at the cost of it (probably a good thing!).  It's my only hobby and if I was a member of Portstewart or Portrush Golf Clubs I'm sure I'd be spending a heck of a lot more every year with not so much to show for it - you can't frame and hang a decent drive on the wall, to my knowledge... 

Thursday, 1 October 2020


Via Fotospeed lith on Foma 133 paper:

Columbine, 2020

The flower was growing in front of my mum's garage, which provided a useful backdrop for the shadows to fall.  

I haven't been out with the camera much lately - my excuse being Missy's University application process, which has just started in earnest.  In the UK a central admissions service (UCAS) handles applications - each student initially makes five choices (Course&University, e.g., Computer Science at Bristol University).  The key thing is their Personal Statement, 4000 characters which they can use to make their application stand out from all the others.  Ideally, around next March-April time they will get five offers back...but that's not guaranteed, it's up to the University Admissions Team, who have to balance their allowed intake with the applications they receive.  (Each course will have a fixed number of students for that year's intake.  That number is determined by the University, who take their allowance as set by the Government and divvy it up between their courses).  An 'offer' specifies the minimum grades an applicant must meet to be accepted on the course - like ABB, or BBC if you're on the traditional route of taking three A Levels.  (Yup, just three subjects - we force our students to specialise very early in the UK.  Far too early if you ask me, as it means that if you're opting for a Science Degree you're likely to be doing Math, Physics, Chemistry or similar.  So no foreign language, no humanities.  You can see the problem...)

Once the student hears back from all five Universities those five initial choices are whittled down to two, a Conditional Firm (CF) and a Conditional Insurance (CI).  The CF is the Uni/Course combination you really want...and the CI is your insurance, so you choose one with a lower grade offer than the CF.  If, come August when the A Level results are published, you meet the conditions of the CF offer then you're in!  If you fall short, hopefully you meet the CI offer, in which case you will be accepted onto that course.  If you fall short on both CF and CI offers then all is not lost but it's not a given that you will get to go to University at all.  There is a 'Clearing' system which opens in mid-August and a mad scramble then ensues where students left 'hanging' try to secure a place on a course and University that still has places.  That's the short version of the UK University application system!  

I know, it's a bit of a crazy system and the craziness stems from the fact that at the start of the application process neither the student nor the University knows what grades the student will get - which seems rather stupid when you sit back and think about it.  The only thing the Universities have to go on are 'predicted' grades (as determined by the school/college at which the student is currently studying) and earlier national exam results such as GCSEs, taken 2 years before University.  The whole thing is much more straightforward in countries such as the US, where the SAT scores are known before the application process begins.  There's talk almost every year in the UK of changing the system but as usual after it gets kicked around a bit nothing happens.  You get the traditionalists moaning about 'standards' and such like.  And that's one word I hate to hear coming out of a so-called educational expert's mouth.