Monday, 31 August 2015


Now locals will know what I'm talking about here - or rather where I'm talking about.  Binevenagh, or Binn Foibhne [bin evena] in Irish, meaning Foibhne's Peak, is a big lump of rock about 10 miles North West of us here in the North East Liberties of Coleraine.  Fortunately there's a road up to it and a handy viewing point at Gortmore, where one can gaze out over Magilligan Strand, Lough Foyle and over to Inishowen, which of course belongs to the Free State (to use the vernacular).

There's a ferry across Lough Foyle nowadays which is a good thing, 'cos otherwise it's a long old drive around through Derry/Londonderry to get to where you want to go.  During the war (Ed: oh here we go...) my grandmother and many others like her used to take their lives in their hands and go on a wee boat across to Inishowen in order to buy food that was rationed over here in The North.  Yes, My Granny was a Smuggler - good title for a book, that, isn't it?  Of course she wouldn't have been a granny in those days but still, it must have been a bit dangerous all the same.

But I digress.

The point of this post is to tell you about the other evening, when I was minded to take the Big Camera (aka The Sinar) out for some Proper Photography.  Yes, we're talking large format here...none of your namby-pamby 135 or even 120 roll film here, no siree.

Now in spite of the Sinar being an F1 model - the 'F' apparently standing for 'Field' - believe me it is anything but portable and so it doesn't get out in any sort of field much.  But when it does come with me for a little trip, I find it rather liberating, in spite of its size and not inconsiderable weight.  Everything suddenly becomes very deliberate - more so than with roll film. Large format photography really forces me to slow down and think about what I'm doing - and usually that's a Good Thing.  If things are going well I might push the boat out and take 2, or even 4 shots in one session - usually just in the one location, since it requires a fair bit of work to set up (and take apart again).   But when it all comes together the results can be, well, interesting.

View from Gortmore, summer evening light
This particular day, a couple of weeks ago, the weather had been really bad since morning, but sometimes in this part of the world you get an hour or two just as the sun is going down when interesting things happen - and I wasn't disappointed.  The sun made a very brief appearance just before it sank behind Inishowen and for a few minutes the light was, I have to say, spectacular.   This looks a tad over-exposed to me, but the sun was very low in the sky and exceptionally bright and so this is reasonably close to how I remember it.

You will, of course, remember my post the other day where I was bigging up Unicolor processing gear and again it comes in handy for 4x5 development.  The trick here is to acquire a Unicolor 8x10 paper drum - the one that has ribs along the sides, which allow the chemicals to get to both sides of the film.  This drum will take 4 4x5 negs (with the help of a clothes-peg to keep each pair of negs separated - this guy explains it).  I've been experimenting with the volume of chemical required - Unicolor's instructions for a 10x8 print drum are 2oz, or 57ml.  This seems ridiculously low, but I've read somewhere (here in fact) that most of the developer is for wetting the film quickly and evenly and that only a little is required to actually do the work.  For now though I'm erring on the side of extreme caution - mostly as it takes a lot of effort to acquire 4 negs using the Sinar and I don't like the thought of messing things up at the developing stage.

Saturday, 29 August 2015

Au Revoir to Raghery

OK I don't know about you but I've had enough of Rathlin now - I think with Missy's snaps and my own masterpieces it feels like I've been there for a month.  So here are the last pics and stories for your deliberation, before we move on.

There are a couple of seal colonies around the island and the one by the South Lighthouse was very accommodating, the inhabitants allowing us to get reasonably close as the light was fading.

Seal colony by South Lighthouse
The younger ones were very inquisitive, bobbing their dog-like heads up right beside us for a wee look at us land-based mammals, before slipping back under the water.  The older ones just lay on their rocks and kept a wary eye on us, letting out the occasional haunting moan, as they do.

A pretty rubbish photograph this next one, but it shows the view across Church Bay towards St Thomas' Parish Church.  The graveyard bears testament to the numerous shipwrecks  (40-odd) which lie around the island (hence the presence of 3 lighthouses, I guess).  The most famous shipwreck is that of HMS Drake, the sinking of which was not due to the treacherous tides but instead due to a German U-boat, which torpedoed it in 1917 - which would be about 98 years ago if my maths is correct.

The oldest gravestone in St Thomas' dates to 1665, which is pretty impressive and there are several dedicated to sailors who perished in the waters around Rathlin.  Some marked with names, others simply 'A Sailor', which is quite sobering.

Church Bay, Rathlin

Inside St Thomas' is a wall memorial dedicated to the Rev John Martin, first pastor of the church, who departed this life in 1740.   Inscribed on it are the words 'Memento Mori' - 'Remember you must die'.  Not a strap-line you necessarily want to have permanently tattooed on the inside of your eyelids, but perhaps worth remembering at times when events are seemingly going badly.  It might just help put things in perspective, y'know.

So, it's Au Revoir to Rathlin, we'll be back next year and hopefully take some better snaps.   I'll give the closing credits to Missy, since she took way better shots than either me or me mate Dr Charles (although he lives in a different world and mostly images).  Missy captured this on her OM-1 as we were leaving the island.  Well, OK, artistic licence and all that - she took this somewhere on our trip around the island on Alhamudilah.

Oh - and if you ever get a chance to go to Rathlin Island, just off the North Antrim Coast (or a wee bit further off the coast of Bonnie Scotland, if you prefer), take it.

Bon Voyage

Friday, 28 August 2015

Island shots

Moving on from the RSPB bird sanctuary on Rathlin you do get some nice views of the island if you are on a wee boat as we were.  The 180mm fixed lens I was using was a bit too long most of the time, but here are a couple of shots for your amusement.

Birds still filling the air

I quite like the sense of depth in that one above - the light must have been doing something interesting.

This next one shows the limestone cliffs.  They used to quarry the limestone on the island - sometime around the late 19th/early 20th century, so our host Alan informed us.  Apparently the ladders only reached so high, and that's when the quarrying stopped.  I can just about imagine what it must have been like quarrying in those days, what with only hand tools and all - but on a ladder, a hundred feet up?  Seriously?

Rathlin's Limestone Cliffs
The way the sea has eroded the rocks here is very reminiscent of the White Rocks near Portrush - not altogether surprising since Portrush is only about 10 miles away across on the 'mainland'.  It's almost safe to visit Portrush again, now that the holiday season is drawing to a close, but I think I'll give it another month, by which time no doubt we'll be having mad gales and rain and stuff - and there might just be something worth pointing a camera at.

Thursday, 27 August 2015

More birdy shots

A couple more bird-related shots from Rathlin for you today.  All a bit shaky due to the boat we were rocking and rolling about on...

Not much real estate left for those late to the party...
Our most excellent host Mr Alan Curry informed us that in summer (or what passes for summer round these parts) the rocks turn white, due to the amount of guano deposited by the birds.  If one was to return in the winter apparently one would see that the basalt rocks would have reverted to their natural blackish colour.

I quite like the way the FP4+ has captured the old rocks in this next one - in DD-X if you are interested.  As I'm sure you all know (Ed: oh yes, we all do), my current go-to products are from Ilford.  As yet I haven't deviated too far from what I used a teenager back in the 70s - well OK, so it was FP4 then and usually something like Microphen instead of FP4+ and DD-X, but you know what I mean.  Someday soon I might get all adventurous and try something else, but I like the results I'm getting at the minute.  OK DD-X is not the cheapest on the market, but I've found a cunning way to economise...

Precarious nesting
You see I found an old Unicolor motorised base and a couple of Unicolor drums which had been lying about in Mother's Loft for the last 35+ years.   Actually I think there were The Brother's, but that's OK - it's long enough ago and he's far enough away not to know or care.  The base and drums all work fine, which means I have been able to set aside my little Patterson tank - which uses 290ml for one 35mm film (or 300ml to be on the safe side) - in favour of the Unicolor gear, which is very economical by comparison.  Now I can get away with 150ml for the first reel and 90ml for each subsequent reel, up to 6 in total.  So...that means instead of say 900ml for 3 reels in Patterson-land I'm now using 330ml (360ml to be safe) in Unicolor-land.  So less than half the cost - not bad, eh?  It's continuous agitation on the motorised base of course, so I'm reducing my times by about 15% which so far seems about right.  We'll see what happens when I get back in the darkroom and actually try to print some of these properly - things might need a little tweaking here or there but for now the negs look OK.

I think I could well be printing this last one once the enlarger gets its new lights, which is, apparently, imminent.  Honestly.  Two weeks I'm told.  Everything else has (almost) been done...I've made a sink-like contraption and fitted taps to the wall, which need to be plumbed in, although that's not absolutely essential to get printing again.  Mrs North East Liberties has agreed a one-week turnaround to get my thick curtain-inside-the-door trimmed to a decent length, which will stop me tripping over it.  The Nova processor has been re-glued and hopefully is now chemical-tight as we speak (although yet to be tested).  I think that's it finally getting long last.  Funny how these projects take a lot, lot longer than anticipated.

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Normal service resumed

Well Missy has gone back to school and the rain is coming down like stair-rods (as they used to say round these parts) so things are getting back to normal.  Stair-rods are of course mostly a thing of the past - unless you have a very grand house, that is.

So where were we...oh yes, Rathlin, or Raghery if you prefer.  Seems like an age ago now.  Luckily I don't have too many of my wonderful B&W creations to show you - mostly 'cos they were pretty dull affairs.  Rathlin, in case you haven't been paying attention, is a wee island off the north coast of Northern Ireland and lies between us and Bonnie Scotland.  It's where Robert the Bruce lived in a cave for a year and saw his famous spider, before he returned to Scotland to become King, or something like that.  It's also where Richard Branson crash-landed his big balloon thingmy that he flew in across the Atlantic.  In gratitude he donated a few coins for an activity centre on the island which now bears his name - the centre, that is, not the island.

And it also has a place in world history, for it is here that a certain Guglielmo Marconi made the first wireless transmission - between Ballycastle on the mainland and the island.  Well, although Marconi was The Man, apart from an initial survey he left the actual experiment to his right-hand-man and his colleague.  And history, as they say, was made.

So...what to tell.  Well, the RSPB bird sanctuary is a place of wonder, where thousands of seabirds come to nest each summer - puffins, razorbills, guillemots, fulmars, kittiwakes, shags and gannets to name but a few.  Here's the sort of thing you can expect to see from a wee boat:


All those wee dots are in fact birds.  You'd have to be quite sociable to be a sea-bird on Rathlin in July.  Quite a noise they make too.

I apologise for the rather blurry snap here - but hey, you try standing on a boat in the middle of the Atlantic trying to get a shot off with a 20-year old film camera.  It ain't easy.  Plus I only had 100ASA film loaded, so me shutter speeds were too low.  Ah well, you get the gist...

Tuesday, 11 August 2015

Missy's Rathlin colour wrap-up

Before we start on the B&W images from Rathlin (Ed: do we have to?) I'll post the last few of Missy's colour snaps.  These were all taken on her Olympus OM-1 with a cheapish Zuiko 35-70 f/3.5-5.6 zoom lens.  To be quite honest it was a perfect combination.  I was armed to the teeth with the Nikon and a 180mm f/2.8 and most of the time it was just too long.

Nice wall

Same island, different wall

Smuggler's Cottage at sundown (seal's head just visible in foreground)

Kaci doing what she does best

All in all I think that's a pretty fine collection of photographs by Missy and makes for a very memorable trip to Rathlin.

Normal service will be resumed shortly.  For now, though, there will be short interlude while I visit an old friend that I used to do important work with - or so I told myself at the time.  I'll be taking a camera with me, so all being well you'll catch up with that story in a couple of week's time.

Monday, 10 August 2015

Changing conditions

As I've already mentioned, the weather as we arrived in Rathlin was poor - steady if unspectacular rain.   But true to form the conditions improved and as we found ourselves near the East Lighthouse there was an interesting cloud formation across towards the mainland.  So interesting that I pointed my camera at it...and Missy, who was behind me, pointed her camera at me.

Photographing the photographer

Unfortunately the weather lifted only briefly and we were soon enveloped in a rather cool breeze coming in from the West which brought a general murkiness to Rathlin again.

Inclement weather in Rathlin

Friday, 7 August 2015

Fair Head

Just opposite the South Lighthouse is Fair Head and it was beautifully lit in the setting sun - Missy captured it very nicely with her OM-1 and a cheapo Agfa film:

Fair Head in the distance, seals in the foreground
Those funny looking rocks in the foreground are in fact some of the seal colony which seems to live around this part of the south of Rathlin.  They let us get real close and some of the younger ones came swimming right up to us to see what the craic was.  The light was fading fast by this time so shutter speeds were getting longer - hence the almost impressionist look of this one, if you know what I mean...

The ruined Smuggler's Cottage was nearby, which made a decent subject for what I think was a rather impressive photography by Missy.  Composition-wise hard to fault, this one:

Smuggler's Cottage, Rathlin Island

I'll throw a few more shots in here for good measure, so you get a feel for just how lovely this part of the world is:

Thursday, 6 August 2015


Our most excellent host Alan offered us transport while on the island, which was very helpful, saying as my legs aren't the most reliable of things.

Rathlin is unique as an island in Ireland as it has 3 lighthouses.  The most visited one is at the place where the RSPB bird sanctuary is, to the west of the island.  This is also unique as it is upside-down - well, the light is at the bottom of the structure, if you see what I mean.

To the East of the island we have, um, the East Lighthouse.  Hilary reliably informed me it is well known to be haunted - and she herself has heard footsteps when inside once.  She also mentioned the strange lights which sometimes can be seen coming towards you on the single-track road which leads to it...apparently the lights never reach you.  Spooky...

East Lighthouse, Rathlin Island
Towards the other end of the island, the bit nearest Ballycastle, we have the South Lighthouse.  We drove over there in the evening, just as the sun was going down.

South Lighthouse, Knocklayde in the background
You can just about make out Knocklayde in the background with an interesting cloud formation on top.  It really is a beautiful place, very peaceful, with only a few seals for company.

Wednesday, 5 August 2015

Country roads and puddles

As we arrived the rain was settling in nicely, but we were assured by Hilary, our hostess, that the weather would pick up later in the day.  In the meantime she served us a hearty pick-me-up of home-made wheaten bread, cake and tea, which was just what the doctor ordered.  After a suitable period of hanging around waiting for a break in the weather we ventured out to take the air.

Two old men, Rathlin Island
Kaci was in her element.  She can't pass a puddle without stopping for a look and a splash.

Perfect - another puddle!

Tuesday, 4 August 2015

Missy Rules Rathlin

Missy's lovely little OM-1 was fully loaded on our trip and she snapped away.  And did a rather good job too, in my humble opinion.  She had a colour film loaded, of the £1 Agfa variety from Poundland and while SnappySnaps's prints were awfully washed out the negs were recoverable with a bit of Photoshop colour tweaking.

Rathlin is a really peaceful place and just perfect to relax for a couple of days.  The harbour/Church Bay is the centre of life, which Missy captured rather well for you:

Church Bay, 2015
All the time my mate Darryl and I were trying for some arty-type photographs, different angles, etc, while Missy, being new to the game, just snapped away at whatever she saw.  And of course she made a much better job of it than us (Ed: no surprise there, then).

Some wee boats in the harbour

Monday, 3 August 2015

Rathlin Island - 2015 style

Well I had a couple of weeks off blogging, as I'm sure you all know (Ed: eh?).  In those weeks I actually did some things, visited some places, y'know.  One was Rathlin, a great place to be in July, when the seabird colony is at its peak.

This year Missy wanted to stay over for a night, so my mate Dr Charles and his young one Kaci came along and made it a very enjoyable trip.  Lots of photography was talked - by the adults anyway.

We stayed in one of the guest houses on the island - not that you are spoilt for choice, with only a couple of hundred people normally living there.  But we landed on our feet with Alan Curry and his wife Hilary, who not only fetched us from Ballycastle and put us up for the night but generally looked after us very well indeed - more of that to come.  Here's Alan talking the head off some people in his wee inflatable, Alhamudillah ('All Praise Be To God').  I'm not sure if Alan is religious or not, but he was telling us his daughter studied Arabic, so I'm guessing that's the connection.

Alan, with Alhamudillah, Rathlin Island
There's a bigger 'proper' boat you can take over from the mainland, but it's nowhere near as much fun, and you don't get the benefit of Alan's local knowledge.

The other boat