Friday, 21 July 2017

Celtic Cross

I had a dander about St John's RC church in Coleraine a couple of weeks ago while Missy was learning how to sing, or play piano or something.  It was a very bright day, which I don't tend to like for taking snaps - good job, eh? living where I do.  Not that I like dull, flat light either - somewhere inbetween is perfect.  But you have to take what you get, don't you.

Anyway, just for something a bit different, I stuck a close-up lens on the front of the Hasselblad.  Kind of a dumb thing to do, I know, when you've a very sharp lens on front of a lovely big 6x6 neg, but there you go.

Detail from St John's Churchyard in Killowen, Coleraine.  8"x10" print, Kentmere VC Select paper, sepia tone

I kind of like this one.  The three cheeky chaps in the foreground, hands on hips and then the big Celtic Cross looming large in the background.

Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Majestic Cafe, Porto

The Majestic Cafe on the main drag in Porto looked the part, I have to say.  Lovely architecture and the place was buzzing with staff who were dressed to the nines.  

I got me borders all wrong on this 8"x10" print on Kentmere VC Select paper, so I cut them off.

We didn't 'do' the Majestic for lunch that day - oh no, much too sensible for us, that place.  We went into a wee caff opposite for a light bite, a wee caff which turned into a bigger place once inside, Tardis-like, y'know.  Just on that subject I hear that the new Doctor is a woman!  Imagine!  Anyway, the cafe opposite the Majestic turned out just OK, a bit disappointing really, although I got a snap or two off which you might see sometime later on this place.  The good news was that after our light bite my wife and Missy continued with their shopping frenzy and I was left to me own devices.  So I wandered a bit further along the Rua de Santa Catarina.  As the shops petered out towards the top I came across some sort of Art Gallery thing.  I decided to venture in, but realised there was a man sleeping, or slumped, across the entrance.  As it was all a bit quiet and not too many people about I beat a dignified retreat and headed back down to the shops.  But all was not lost for I came upon a small YellowKorner Photographic Gallery and had a lovely conversation with the girl looking after it. There was some nice work on show - the work of this guy in particular caught my eye.  

Monday, 17 July 2017

High hopes

I had high hopes for this one as at the time the street scene looked pretty amazing:

Street scene in Porto during the festival of St John, 2017, 8x10 print
It is what it is.

Friday, 14 July 2017

Down by the river

Down by the Douro river in Porto:

The same steps as you saw the other day, in case you were wondering.  The young couple you might just be able to make out canoodling in the background was an added bonus.  As I walked around a bit to compose the shot I was worried they would break apart in embarrassment of being spotted by the old guy with the film camera but I needn't have worried - you know what young hearts are like in Mediterranean countries.

Wednesday, 12 July 2017

Shadows and lines

The strong Portuguese light on these steps in Porto caught my eye:

FP4+ on Ilford Cooltone paper (I think)

I know, not quite on a par with Metzker.

I was expecting more light like this in Porto but a lot of the days the sun was kind of hazy, coming through thin cloud.  In anticipation of better light I'd armed myself with a bucket-load of FP4+ but given the haze combined with the narrow streets and high buildings of the old city it was actually on the slow side.  It probably wouldn't have mattered so much had I the M6 with me, since it is much more usable at slow speeds.  But I only had the Nikon with me, so I abandoned FP4 in favour of my go-to film, HP5+.

Monday, 10 July 2017

The usual suspect

Here she is, pretending to take a phone shot from our restaurant in Porto.  It was festival night and down by the river, which was normally extremely busy, was absolutely heaving.  It took us a few days before we cottoned on to the fact that if you didn't grab a table at 7pm on the dot you stood little chance of getting one at all.  This particular evening we'd sat too long over a pre-dinner snifter and by the time we started looking for a table it was hopeless - well, outside at any rate.  Eventually we got one but it was inside and upstairs and just a little uncomfortably warm, in spite of the fans.  Still, no matter, we had a lovely view of the Douro river and all the Port manufacturers' caves on the opposite bank - a scene which Missy here was trying to capture on her phone:

Another lith print, on Foma 131 paper

Friday, 7 July 2017

Stonework, Porto

Another from the lith session in the darkroom the other day:

Detail from a building in Porto - I can't remember which building, but probably one of the many impressive churches that the city is host to

The lith always works well with stone-work, to my eyes anyway.  I have to admit I'm developing a bit of an obsession with this lith stuff - it might be the perfect antidote to this fixation with sharpness we see everywhere nowadays.  Lith just adds a bit of mystery to the whole thing...

Wednesday, 5 July 2017


These waterlilies were floating in the pond of the garden in our aparthotel in Porto.  Came out rather nice on Foma paper and Easylith developer:

Waterlilies, Porto, 2017

Monday, 3 July 2017

What would Roy do?

I play a little game from time to time when I'm out and about with the camera.  I call it 'What would Roy do?'.  The Roy I am referring to is my good blogger friend Roy Karlsvik - him of Between Light and Shadow (which is well worth a visit).  Roy is, in my opinion, a master at spotting a good shot when you think there's nothing there.  He sees shape and form where there isn't any and as you might expect, light and shadow.  Anyway, a quick nosey around his blog and you'll see what I'm trying (very badly) to say.

So when I think there's nothing of interest to snap, I ask myself 'What would Roy do?' and as well as putting a smile on my face I find myself looking a little bit differently at the scene in front of me.  'Cos let's face it, there is form and shape and light in most things in front of your eyes...sometimes shadow too.

This is one of of those 'What would Roy do?' snaps.  Taken from the top deck of the Porto sightseeing open-top tour bus as we drove around the city, seeing the sights as one does when on holiday.  The bus had stopped beside this balcony and I thought there might be something worth snapping up, what with all that geometry and what have you.  So here we are, lith-developed on some Foma paper:

Balcony in Porto, 2017

Friday, 30 June 2017

A parallel universe

Someway along the busiest shopping street in Porto I happened upon a rather interesting building.  Sandwiched between two retail stores was a very unassuming entrance with a sign proclaiming 'Grand Hotel do Porto'. What else could I do but wander in...

Going through the doors into the lobby was like entering a parallel universe - outside was a bright, noisy, busy street bathed in sunlight, whereas inside the place was cool, church-like quiet and very, very elegant.  And there was me in me long shorts, trainers, white short-sleeved shirt, red face (we Irish are inclined to go red at the first hint of sun, y'know) and camera.  Hmm, I thought to myself as the two men behind the desk looked up - 'I wonder if they're going to stop me'.  But I acted as nonchalantly as I could (given the circumstances) and kept walking.  They didn't speak and I didn't make eye contact.

As I got further into the hotel it became clear the place was not your typical hotel.  It was very dark, with wood-panelled walls adorned with some lovely black-and-white photographs - portraits of famous people (and some I didn't recognise).  Very nice it was - I spent a good bit of time wandering around this impromptu gallery, getting some ideas on composition for when I next take a portrait.  Across the hall was a small sitting area - there were a couple of gentlemen sitting reading - they didn't look up.  Further along was 'The Windsor Bar', where again there were photographs hanging - this time the unmistakable face of King Edward VIII before he became the Duke of Windsor after abdicating in favour of Wallis Simpson.  I didn't spend too long looking at these photographs :) but clearly this area was marked as a tribute to The Duke. I'm guessing he frequented the hotel, perhaps more than once. I wonder if he paid his bill - I assume he did, hence the rather lavish tribute to him (a bit over the top if you ask me, but then again, no-one did).

Clearly I wasn't going to take photographs inside the hotel, so I made do with a couple of snaps on the way out.  The fancy handles on the old ironwork gates at the front found their way onto some HP5+ inside the Nikon with its standard 50mm lens attached.  Here's how they came out when split-grade printed on Ilford Warmtone RC paper:

10"x8" print of the handles on the entrance to the Grand Hotel do Porto

Wednesday, 28 June 2017

Dorothy was right

Back home now, from our week in Porto.  Enjoyed the week enormously.  Although it's very hilly, our little aparthotel was right bang in the middle of the action, so perfect really.  We still did a fair bit of tramping around - well you have to really, don't you.

But as lovely as Porto was, it is very good to be back.  Dorothy was right, y'know - there's no place like home. It's a lot cooler of course (17 degrees vs 28) but as my mother would say, 'It's a nice air' can breathe.  And I missed the clouds - really!  I mean, all that blue sky - it's not natural. It gets boring after a while.

Have a bunch of films still to develop but got 2 done the other night.  Had a little session in the darkroom last night.  I don't know if I was a bit rusty or what, but everything was a little disappointing.  Actually that's not correct - it was a big bit disappointing.  Perhaps I had me hopes up too high for some wonderful masterpieces but as yet I haven't come across any.  Ah well, maybe in the next batch, eh?  We live in hope...

This gives some idea of the general chaos in the streets during the festival of São João (St John).  Busy, busy streets, temporary fires set up for the cooking of sardines (or rack of pork if you prefer).  I'm not a great fan of hordes of people, as I'm not too steady on my feet at the best of times, but I have to say I felt very safe in Porto.  I know this shot has loads of hand-shake in it - I should have pushed the HP5+ a bit but I was half-way through the film so it was too late.  Probably around 1/4 second, hence the problem.  I was in two minds whether to take the M6 or not but opted for the Nikon FM3a.  In retrospect the M6 would probably have been the better option, certainly for shots like this anyway.

Saturday, 24 June 2017

Still not here

Last full day in the lovely city of Porto. Public holiday today, something to do with St John the Baptist. Big celebrations last night, I think everyone in Portugal was in town, or so it seemed. The thing to do is tap everyone you meet on the head with a plastic hammer - it seemed to work well, everyone was in good spirits.

Last of the series of prints I made from the new growth Ash tree. This one on Art300 paper again, but toned this time - firstly with mild sepia, then selenium. Toned well it did - strong colour shifts in both:

Wednesday, 21 June 2017

I'm not here

Things are quiet on the blogging front as I'm not here. I'm on me hols, in the lovely city of Porto. I was here years ago at an academic conference and am very happy to return. Lovely place, lovely people.

So this is a print I did a couple of weeks ago, but this time on MG Art 300 fibre paper. Lovely stuff.

Friday, 16 June 2017

Those trees again

One I've posted a few times before, but a new print made last weekend:

The dodgy left-hand edge is purely a result of me scanner - this is a 9.5"x12" print, so it doesn't quite fit on the scanner bed.  Anyway, that's not important.

The bottom line is I should take more photographs, but from time to time when I get a compelling urge to print (pretty frequently these days I must admit) I just pick through my neg files and see what leaps out.  This one has leapt out a few times but this time I stuck it on some Foma 131 paper and sloshed some Moersch Easylith developer over it for about 3-4 minutes.  There's more detail in the print than the scan - obviously!  :)  It's not particularly lithy but the overall print is decent enough.  It's not toned or anything - the Foma paper naturally comes out very warm in the lith developer.

I like the sunlight hitting the trees randomly through the scene.  There's a path there, of sorts but you get the impression there might be many other paths too.  Like life itself, eh?

Taken a couple of years ago on  a walk through Coleraine's "Trim Trail", near Somerset - across the river from Mountsandel where those oldest people in Ireland used to live.  A lovely place to walk at any time of year, to be fair.  It's been a while since I've been there - Note to self: must go again soon...and take another snap or two.

Tuesday, 13 June 2017

The ideal weekend retreat?

I snapped up this scene a while back but never printed it for some reason - until last week that is.   OK so it won't win any awards, but it's one of those photographs that I have an emotional connection to:

Now doesn't that look like a nice place to live?  Well it does to me.  It's in Dunlewey, Donegal, very close to the old church that I snapped up a couple of years ago when on a trip with my mate Dr C.  This is the gatehouse to a serious Country Estate which lies to the south of Lough Dunlewey - notice the 'Keep Out' gates leading past the house.  I daresay a mile or two up the lane there's a big pile of bricks arranged in rather an impressive form.   There are quite a few grand estates in Donegal - well, in Ireland as a whole to be honest.  Personally I have no need nor want for a big castle thing, but this gate-lodge caught my eye.  The tranquillity of the setting, the babbling brook leading down to the lough, the trees - well it all seemed pretty perfect to my eyes.  So I snapped it up on the M6 with the 35mm Summarit lens. 

The Summarit range of Leica lenses are the cheap ones, in case you didn't know.  Of course cheap in Leica-land is anything but.  But it draws beautifully on film, this piece of glass does.  And it's a thing of beauty itself - taking 39mm filters it is really petite.  Not the fastest lens on the planet, with a maximum aperture of f/2.5 but I find it absolutely fine for the sort of snaps I take.  With the M6 I find I can handhold at speeds way lower than anything else, it being mirrorless and what have you.  Well, enough for the size of prints I make, anyway.

This one was printed on 9.5"x12" Foma 131 fibre paper, followed by a dunk in some Moersch Lith developer.  I was pretty happy with the outcome, apart from the burnt-out highlight there in the sky.  One of those artefacts that if you don't see it, it ain't there...but once you do see it, it's hard not to look at it.  Funny thing that...

Thursday, 8 June 2017

Easy Rider

This lovely lady was parked up on Portstewart Prom during the bike race week:

On Foma Nature fibre paper, toned in sepia giving it lovely chocolatey-brown blacks, if you know what I mean

I presume it's a Harley what with that big V-engine and those beautifully curved chromed pipes.  I used to know my bikes, since my dad was into his Triumph T500C in a big way.  He had it before he got married and sold it in order to pay for the honeymoon, or the house or something.  Then a couple of years later he bought it back and kept it until the end of his days.  On a weekend morning he would get up early and ride it to Belfast when the roads were empty - probably less than an hour away at the speeds he would have used :).  He'd call into Marks&Spencers (the only one in the country in those days) and get something different for breakfast.  He'd be back home to bring my mum a cup of tea and a croissant before she even knew he was away.

As a lad I had various posters on my bedroom wall from my dad's copy of MotorCycleNews that he bought regularly.  Ivan Mauger (speedway) and the famous Giacomo d'Agostini (what a name!) on his MV Agusta were ones I remember.  Barry Sheene was a bit more recent but I think he had his place on the wall too.  Anything Italian was, of course, exotic - and how could it not be with names like the Laverda Jota or Benelli Sei, with 6 cylinders - mad!  A quick look at the classifieds shows a 1977 Jota currently for sale at £14,000, so clearly it has achieved iconic status.

Unfortunately not all Italian machines lived up to the dream.  My Uni mate Simon had a Moto Guzzi for a while when we were undergrads in Bath.  Great in principle but in practice the electrics were shot - manys the time him and I pushed it up the steep hill outside our digs in order for him to jump-start the thing before riding it non-stop back to his home in Liverpool for the weekend.  Good times...for the most part, anyway.  It was a big brute of a thing to push uphill, that I do remember...

Monday, 5 June 2017


Taken during a dander about in the spring - the beginnings of new growth in the ash tree at the bottom of our garden:

On Foma Nature fibre paper, via HP5+ on the 'Blad.

I did a second print and dunked it some sepia toner just to see what gave.  I think the bleach was a bit strong as it worked fast - I could probably have pulled it a little earlier:

The two prints are very different - I can't quite decide which I like best.  The element of mystery is better in the first one, I think, but the contrast seems a little low by comparison to the second, which has a lot more sparkle to it.  In the toned print, though, the background is too bright and detracts from the main subject. 

Friday, 2 June 2017


This is what happens when you walk around your gaff looking for something to photograph - in this case, a rusty nail sticking out of a 100-year old stone wall, once upon a time lime-washed but long since neglected:

This was on the 'Blad with a close-up filter on.  Foma 131 paper in the usual Moersch Easylith developer.  Lovely stuff to work with I have to say.

Wednesday, 31 May 2017

a printer's life

From a while back, this one.  I never really got this one looking the way I wanted on regular paper&developer  - the print never reflected what I could see on the negative.  I can't show you, as all the prints I did went in the round filing basket in the darkroom (you know the one...gets emptied now and again).

Anyway, I was looking through my recent negs the other day and thought I'd try it again, in some lith developer this time and this is what came out (Foma MG131 paper if you're interested in that sort of detail).  For sure it's not perfect, but I felt it was getting there - in the sky at least:

I just had to stop the car at the side of the road when driving back home that day and point the old Square-shooter over the barbed wire fence.  The light over the North Antrim countryside was pretty spectacular at that moment, I must admit.  I had no meter with me and anyway the sun was threatening to go behind one of the many clouds up there at any minute and dull everything down so I guessed the exposure and hoped for the best.  Turned out OK - the neg holds all the information I need, that's clear.  The next step is to go back and print it using regular developer...try to get that sky coming through and see what gives. Naturally I'll let y'all know how it goes...

Oh, nearly forgot - I found a blog the other day which I'm enjoying.  It's by a dude called Laurent Girard who has been darkroom-printing professionally in New York for several decades - with many top photographers.  As might be expected, it's not your usual 'darkroom' blog - he seems to have forgotten to post anything for about a year and I'm not too fussed about the last post he did write.  Hmm...sounds great so far, eh? But his older posts are, well, simply a fascinating insight into the life of a professional printer - a dying breed for sure.  If you like your darkroom printing, or are even interested in the process from afar, I can seriously recommend a printer's life (the link takes you to the first entry in the blog).

Monday, 29 May 2017

Downhill Forest

A favourite walk of ours is through Downhill Forest, just a short drive from here and which is lovely at any time of the year.  So-called as there is a right big hill which leads down to the sea.  Well, unless your coming back home, that is, in which case it's uphill of course...

I took this one a while back but never got around to printing it.  Yesterday I snuck into the darkroom in the morning and used Foma MG131 Fibre paper in some Moersch Easylith developer - about 20ml of A + 20ml of B in 1litre of water, about 25 degrees.  The image came good after a couple of minutes and was done in about 5 minutes.

I'm happy with this one - the print looks good to my eyes.  The lith brings out the texture in the stone wall to the right of the stream nicely and the foliage too.  Handheld on the Hasselblad, 50mm lens (I think) and a yellow-green filter.

Friday, 26 May 2017

Derrykeighan Church

Derrykeighan Church of Ireland lies almost in the village of Dervock, just a short drive away:

I had stopped the car at the side of the road and got out with the 'Blad, got my composure sorted as best I could and was thinking this was going to be OK - as a documentary sort of snap, y'know.  Now Dervock is a fairly quiet wee place - as you can imagine there ain't a whole lot going on there, so imagine my dismay when just as I was about to press the shutter release a car drives past me up to the church.  I'm a little ashamed to say the thoughts inside my head weren't particularly God-like at that moment.  But the little car trundled up around the side of the church and thankfully parked up so that it was completely hidden by the Notice Board.  So I got my snap off OK in the end - and that's all that mattered, right?!

The church is built from basalt and the stone is a lot darker than it appears in the shot above.  That's what using Foma MG131 Fibre paper in Moersch Easylith developer does for you, but I think it makes for a more interesting print.

Derrykeighan was one of those places we used to pass through on a Sunday afternoon when my father would drive us all up to the Antrim Hills for a day out.  There used to be a little corner shop and he would stop there and buy choc-ices for everyone.  In those days it seemed like it was a long way from home but in reality is wasn't more than about a 20 minute drive.  Funny when I think about it now, how time seemed to pass slower as a kid.  I suppose it's all relative to your age...

Believe it or not, I once knew of a girl called Kerry Deighan.  Not that she lived in DerryKeighan, mind you - that would have been just too good.

Wednesday, 24 May 2017

A game that no-one wins

It's been a tough day today, with the news coming in from Manchester.  It doesn't help when you've a teenage daughter who has tickets for a very similar concert in Belfast later in the year.  Just when we thought we'd got rid of all that nonsense in this part of the world, eh?  My thoughts are with the families of those murdered and injured.

This blog is not the place for politics.  I generally don't comment. But for some reason this one has got my dander up.  Let me say my piece and then no more.

In this part of the world we had 'The Troubles' where there were bombs going on and off for the best part of 30 years.  I'm lucky - I chose good parents.  I lived in a place that was relatively immune from it all.  And I'm stupid enough to realise I could have a very different outlook on life given different circumstances.

It's hard to make sense of anything these days, it really is - the more I read, the more I despair about the human condition.  Well, perhaps not the human condition per se, more so the way the world is going, I suppose.  I do see the struggle that certain communities have to survive and thrive in difficult environments and there are grass-roots movements which offer hope.  That, I think, is where the future lies, even if those voices aren't heard by the large part.  What I don't get - and never will - is the point where a person thinks that detonating a bomb in a place where innocent men, women and children are going about their daily business is a Good Thing.  For sure it gets people attention, but at what cost?

In this part of the world we have what is called the politics of 'What-about-ery'.  For every Bloody Sunday there is a Kingsmill.  Arguments dissolve into a 'He started it' slanging match and before you know it we're talking about events that happened hundreds of years ago.  What-about-ery is often used to justify anything, no matter how base a deed. It's a bloody game that no-one wins.

But you didn't come here for this.  Life must go on - 'tis the nature of the thing.  As trivial as it seems, here we go - back to the usual photographic observations on the state of play in the North East Liberties of Coleraine in May of 2017.

The symmetry of these two parked up on Portstewart Prom last week caught my eye:

Notice the flashy new chromed railings and the new pavement, part of a large refurb last year.  I like the railings - they should be good for lines and that.  We've got fancy new LED street lights as well, but Mother doesn't like them.  I don't either - they're dark in colour and keep getting in the background of me snaps and standing out like a sort thumb - like in this one of Missy here from a few days ago.

Taken on the 'Blad/50mm combo.  I cropped it, just to see:

Not sure which I prefer.  I might try a lith print next, just to inject some, well, lithiness to it. You never know...

Monday, 22 May 2017


Another one from Portstewart taken during Race Week:

HP5+, Warmtone RC paper.  Via the 'Blad/50mm combination - roughly equivalent to 28mm on a 35mm format although it could be any one of three possibilities, since the aspect ratios are different.  This page tells all.  The square format is very addictive.

Friday, 19 May 2017

Buttermilk pancakes and an Indian

This Bad Boy was parked up on The Prom last Friday and I have to admit, it looked pretty damn good.  All shiny chrome and luscious lines with that big V-Twin engine what have you.  Not sure it would be my cup of tea were I a biker, but I can appreciate something different and well put together from time to time.  This is a tightly cropped version of a print I made for my Facebook Fiends - crop of a scan of the original print with a digitally added border (I know - yuk!):

Indian Easyrider bike, Portstewart Promenade, 2017.  On HP5+/Ilford Warmtone RC paper.

Here's a scan of the original print, just for good measure:

The reason I cropped it was the crane in the background - OK so I lost the cow-horn handlebars and the funky wing mirror, but I felt the crane in the background was too distracting so I did what was necessary.  In hindsight perhaps I was too critical.  

There are cranes all over the place these days - can't move for them on account of all the new building going on.  Properties in Portstewart with a "Sea View" go for a premium - well north of half a £million is not uncommon. Mostly outside money, of course - there are no jobs in the area which could support local ownership of such expensive properties and not that many businesses either.  What passes for industry around The Liberties would be farming and tourism.  We'll soon be like all those other seaside towns across the UK - full of people who 'come down from the city' for the weekend expecting skinny lattes and croissants and wine bars and what-have-you and then the place is deserted on a cold wintry morning in November and you'll be lucky to get a decent drop of tea and a buttermilk pancake.  Actually, come to think about it, I'll take that any day of the week - I quite like cold wintry mornings in November without many people around.  And I'm happy with a decent cup of tea and a buttermilk pancake too.

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Race week

At this time of year in The Liberties the annual North West 200 road races take place (motorbikes).  The circuit is on public roads, which are of course closed for the practice and race days.  As speeds of up to 200mph are reached there is a huge effort made to make it as safe as possible, with many hundreds of straw bales attached to lamp posts, stone walls etc.  Still, when accidents happen they can be pretty bad, as you can well imagine given the speeds involved.  Thankfully this year there were no fatalities even though one of the winners described the course as 'terrifying', largely due to the fact that there had been quite a lot of rain on the main race day (Saturday) and the roads were somewhat greasy.  I can only imagine what that must have been like.

Now I do get that motorsport is not everyone's thing,  but it's part of what we do in this neck of the woods, with races in Cookstown, Tandragee, Dundrod, and Armoy to name a few.  Indeed, the road-racing season is a big thing in many peoples' lives in Northern Ireland.  If it is your cup of tea, you might be able to catch some of this year's NW200 action from BBC here.  I'm not sure but I think the BBC might restrict access to some of their content so if you can't see that link then there are a few YouTube videos that are good - this one I think is still one of the best - New Zealander Bruce Anstey passes the end of 'our road' at about 1m38s in.

It's one thing riding the circuit at high speed, it must be quite another when you are doing 190mph and only a few inches from another rider - hopefully someone who knows what they are doing, eh? US film photography blogger Jim Grey of Down the Road fame might possibly remember the part of the circuit at 3m10s, where him and his new wife Margaret took time out from their honeymoon to meet me in Portrush last September.  It's funny watching this video - these are the roads between Coleraine, Portstewart and Portrush that I drive every day to and from school and the beach.  Not at these speeds, of course.

When I was a callow youth I liked nothing better than crawling up to a hedge at the side of the road and poking my OM-1 and 200mm lens through it to photograph the bikes as they sped past.  But I don't photograph the racing any more - it's hard these days to get close to the action.  Also, to be honest I don't want to get that close - I don't know if it's my age or the fact I'm a parent but these days I'm thinking more about the danger rather than the thrill.

So now I contend myself with a walk around Portstewart on the Friday evening of Race Week and see what ends up on me film - sometimes not a lot, it has to be said.  But this week I'll show you a few of the darkroom prints that I made at the weekend.  I was out with a camera not always known for its street-photography prowess, a Hasselblad 501cm.  Certainly not as convenient as a 35mm camera, but when you get those negs back in the darkroom it's hard to not to think you made the right choice...every time.

I asked this biker lad and ladette if they would mind if I took their photograph and they duly consented.  Ice-creams almost finished, coffees ready to go they were clearly enjoying themselves.  I kicked myself afterwards - I should have asked their names. The band is setting up in the bandstand to the right (that funny building to the right with a roof like a witch's hat).

This particular print, on Ilford Warmtone RC paper, looks way better than the scan - I don't enjoy scanning and like to get it over with as quickly as possible.  I know I should spend some time learning how to scan better, since I'm doing this blog-thing, but nowadays the less time spent at a computer the better.  That's just the way it is.

Anyway, there's something about this shot I really like.  I had asked the couple just to carry on as normal and ignore me while I attended to the usual composition and focus.  Certainly they knew they were being snapped (hard not to with a 'Blad pointing at them) but they still look pretty relaxed.

I dunked the print in some sepia toner just to see what gave - not sure if it helped or not, mind you.

Monday, 15 May 2017

Taking the air

Ah there she is herself, taking the air on Portstewart Prom:

On Cooltone RC paper.  Some-one tried to add a bit of vignetting and as you can see make a right hames of it.  Eejit.  He should have left it well alone...some people never learn, eh?

Friday, 12 May 2017

Al fresco dining in The Liberties

Portstewart Prom (the place where people come to promenade in the late afternoon) was buzzing the other evening.  And rightly so, as the weather was most clement.  People were out in force and quite a number were having their fish and chips al fresco:

I know - shadows!  I was a bit far away with the rangefinder so had to crank up the enlarger a bit.
Tonight is the Big Night for the Prom - it's North West 200 week, where those mad eejits race around the roads in their motorbikes, doing 200+mph.  John McGuinness crashed today during practice and broke his leg - that would be John McGuinness with over 20 wins in the Isle of Man TT races, second only to the late great Joey Dunlop.  Mr McGuinness is 45 years old, in case you were wondering.

Anyway, Friday is the day before the big race day and 'tis customary for visitors (of which there are a great number) to descend on Portstewart Prom for the craic and to see the fireworks.  I'm not a great one for crowds but I might dander down and see what gives.  Who knows, I might even load some fresh-ish HP5+ into a camera just for the occasion.  

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

If you really want An Irish Republic

It has, believe it or not, taken me two days to produce this masterpiece:

My old Uni friend Simon, his partner Catherine and I took the train to Derry-Londonderry last Saturday and after the obligatory visit to the Guildhall to see the exhibition about the 17th Century Plantation of Ulster and the similarly obligatory walk around the Walls (which Simon and I first did about 35 years ago) we dandered up the town before getting the train back to Coleraine.  Towards the top of Shipquay St is the War Memorial and I snapped Simon as he leant over the railings in a pensive sort of mood.  I liked the Sinn Fein election posters against the backdrop of the 1927 War Memorial - kind of tells you all you need to know about this part of the world, really.

Anyway, due to shooting into the sun the subject brightness range was immense and the first straight print had no tone whatsoever in the sky.  That print went in the bin.  I tried a simple burn in and it looked awful so after a bit of thought I figured out that perhaps this was a negative that might benefit from pre-flashing.  I'd never done it before so read all I could about it in a short space of time - like here, from Ilford.  If you are into darkroom printing then you probably already know about the toe and the shoulder of the negative-density exposure curve.  Pre-flashing gets over the inertia of the paper, gets up past the toe and gives you a chance to get a little more tone into the paper for negatives where the highlight detail might normally be lost.  But don't take my word for it  - do your own research, as they say.

So I did a pre-flash test print - wound the enlarger up high, closed down the lens and set filtration to 00.  As a result I reckoned that for my situation, using Ilford Warmtone RC I could get away with about 4s before tone started to show on the paper.  So I pre-flashed a few sheets.  I did wonder how long the paper would hold it's 'pre-flash' for and the only mention I could get of it was from Roger Hicks, who reckoned a few hours to a day.  Good enough, anyway.

My first attempts were moderately successful - I got tone and detail in the sky but lost a lot of sparkle in the rest of the print:

So I regrouped and read some more and someone somewhere said that when pre-flashing it was appropriate to increase the contrast in the rest of the print and decrease the exposure.  Makes sense I guess when you think about it since you're effectively fogging the print a little...I think.  Anyway, this afternoon I took a deep breath and ventured forth again into the darkroom to try just that and yes, pretty much it worked.

I ended up pre-flashing at grade 0, printing at higher contrast/lower exposure than suggested (grade 4), burning in the sky at grades 2 and also grade 4, an additional burn-in at grade 4 for the top half of the print and lower-left (Simon's jacket) and a 9s dodge around Simon's face.   Whew.  After all that we get the result shown at the top of the page and shown here again just 'cos:

It's been a 2-day self-taught workshop with one negative and while 24 hours ago I never wanted to see that negative again now I think Yes, I can deal with it.  I'm happy.

Monday, 8 May 2017

A Professor Calls

Me old mate Simon and his partner were over last weekend.   I met Simon on my very first day at Bath University, way, way back in 1981 - he had the room next to mine.  That's only what, 36 years ago.  Nothing, really.

Ideally there'd be a stunning Irish backdrop out the window, but no, I managed to catch some random building with scaffolding.  Ah well.  This isn't the best shot in the world but it's natural and I like it.  Kentmere VC paper.

Simon studied Pharmacy, I was reading Maths.  Not that I read enough, really.  But still, can't go back now, eh?  Interestingly we both ended up in academia, although he was a bit more successful than I was.  Nowadays he runs a big research lab somewhere in Glasgow and spends shed-loads of £s designing anti-cancer drugs, while I just annoy everyone around me by pointing old cameras at them and muttering about f-stops and shutter speeds.  

It was good to catch up with him and his partner Catherine.  You might see some more prints of our couple of days together sometime soon, when I get around to it.  It is hard to be in the darkroom these days, when the sun is out and the air is warm.  Goodness knows that doesn't happen very often around The Liberties, so you have to make the most of it when it does.  Top up the Vitamin D and stuff - good to protect against osteoporosis, innit.  They tell me there's an osteoporosis epidemic coming, they do ('they' would be the medical people I have occasion to hang about with on a regular basis).  Y'see the media have everyone running scared of skin cancer, and so people slap on the old Factor 30 at the slightest hint of sunshine.  Thing is, I'm told, you need your 30mins of sunshine every day during the summer in order to absorb enough Vit D to last you the rest of the year.  Or else you're in trouble - or will be, down the line.

Friday, 5 May 2017

Brooke Park, Derry

We were in Derry/Londonderry the other day, visiting my mother-in-law.   Missy and I went for a dander about in nearby Brooke Park and very nice it was too.  Brooke Park, by the way, has just undergone a major re-vamp, although where the £5.6 million went I'm not entirely sure - although there was a swanky new cafe in the middle of it, all concrete and glass and what have you which I'm sure swallowed a large chunk of it.

I know, I know - that old underexposure gremlin raising its ugly head again.  That's because I was back using the rangefinder after a long lay-off in favour of the Square-shooter.  First-world problems, I know.  Looking down towards St Eugene's Cathedral.

Brooke Park.  Interesting history - like most places in Derry, to be honest.  In the centre of Brooke Park was a building created in 1839 using the legacy from a Donegal Businessman Mr John Gwyn, who left a small fortune (£40,000) for the provision for orphaned boys (Mr Gwyn being orphaned at an early age).  So I do the swanky new cafe a disservice, since it is on the site of the original Gywn Institute (and with the original cornerstone and a 'time-capsule' embedded in its foundations, apparently).   Gywns' Institute, by the way, has been a children's home (1840-1901), museum, library, pathological laboratory, welfare food centre and civil defence assembly point before being firebombed during "The Troubles" and subsequently demolished.  But it lives again, in the form of the cafe.  I wish I'd taken a photograph of it now.  It's just to the right of the bench in the snap above...

It seems that the actual park came after Gwyn's Institute and opened in 1901, offering 'a place of outdoor recreation for the citizens of Londonderry and to be a place where in particular the working man could enjoy on the Sabbath day his pipe and a pleasant walk or rest after the labours of a severe week's toil'.  A grand Victorian park, then.  Such was the legacy of a certain James Hood Brooke, a Presbyterian philanthropist. Mr Brooke died in 1865 and directed the trustees of his will to procure lands for a public space - specifically stating that the space should remain open on Sundays.  I suspect that was fairly radical for the times and typical of those Presbyterian dissenters.  The monies weren't sufficient for the lands on the Gywn estate and The Honourable The Irish Society agreed to stump up the difference, provided that once the lands were laid out they would be transferred to the Londonderry Corporation and forever maintained by them in perpetuity in accordance with the provisions of the Public Parks (Ireland) Act.  So it's a People's Park - and Mr Brooke is surely content with that, wherever he is.

Christ Church, at the lower end of Brooke Park - just opposite St Eugene's Cathedral. c1830.

On the western slopes of Derry/Londonderry, Brooke Park is all up and down.  A pleasant space, though, in-between the very busy Northland Road and less busy Rosemount Avenue.   Next time I'll take some better snaps - I hope!  Actually next time I've promised Missy that we will go into Christ Church and St Eugene's Cathedral.  All being well it will be recorded on some Ilford film and reproduced here for the legions of readers of this blog.  Indeed.

Wednesday, 3 May 2017

Me and trees

I seem to take a lot of photographs of trees.  I like their natural beauty, the seeming randomness of the branches and just the sheer size these things can grow to.  And the age they can grow to - some, they reckon, are several thousand years old.  What a tale they could tell, eh? Another reason I think is that where I grew up there were a lot of them - a very strong, early memory for me is standing in the garden of my parents' house of an early autumn evening, light fading, strong wind blowing.  The noise of the wind in the leaves was captivating - I seem to remember standing there for a long time, fascinated by it all.  Early autumn is still one of my favourite times of the year.

Anyway, here's one of those tree-things I snapped up in Derry/Londonderry's Brooke Park, a short walk from my mother-in-law's house:

M6, HP5+ on Ilford Cooltone. 8"x10" print.

Monday, 1 May 2017

Hard Times

Times are hard in the McNeill household - just look at the clothes my poor daughter has to go about in:

Downhill Forest - sitting on a cycle ramp which someone has knocked together in the middle of the forest, as you do. 6x6 neg, 50mm lens, probably f/4.  Ilford Warmtone (I think) and sepia toned.
We walked around the other side of the ramp and I snapped her up again.  I twiddled the settings and the print has a bit more life about it that the first one:

Saturday, 29 April 2017

In his ales and his cups

These days it's a rare event for me to be in a public house but I had occasion last weekend when I was out with my stepson for a catch-up and a couple of beers in Belfast.  I had the M6 with me, of course - it's so nice to carry about in terms of size and weight you're hardly aware you have it with you.  Ironically, this was the very first beer we had and the shot didn't turn out great:

The 35mm lens was fully open, which means f/2.5.  The speed was down low, probably 1/4s or something, so I set the camera on the countertop and hoped for the best with regard to composure.  As for focus, well I just set the thing to minimum focus and judged by eye where to put the camera.  As you can see there was the expected shallow depth of field.
It felt strange to be served in these round, dimpled glasses.  I remember when I was a lad these were seen as 'old men' glasses and we preferred the straight pint glasses - much cooler.  Are these dimpled beer glasses coming back into fashion?  Perhaps the old folk are right after all - everything does come full circle, given time.

Anyway, we had a good night, talked the bit out, put the world to rights and yes, probably too much drink was taken, but these things happen.  Towards the end of the night we ended up in a tavern called "Granny Annie's" where all the bar staff wear white shirts and flat caps and the whole theme is one of Steam Punk.  Although I'm never that keen on themed bars I quite liked it - it was certainly different and there might even be another snap or two to come.

More guesswork with regard to those trivial things that get in the way - like exposure, focus&composition but altogether a better result, even though it was near the end of the night.  Don't know what that means - am I'm just a better photographer after a few?  Or, is Heverlee just altogether more photogenic than Sam Adams?   Whatever the answer, after extensive tests I can reliably inform you that Sam Adams is a much nicer beer!

Thursday, 27 April 2017

Happy Feet

The other evening we ended up in Portrush, for a dander around the harbour.  It was the last weekend of the Easter break, so there were quite a few folk around&about.  It was actually nice to see the place a bit busier than normal, since in winter-time there's hardly a sinner in sight.  I won't be saying that come July, mind, when the place is heaving.  Can't win, eh? Either a feast or a famine, as Mother is apt to say.

Although there was a wind that would have cleaned you, in the shelter of Portrush Harbour it was quite pleasant when the sun was out.  Mrs NE Liberties even got the shoes off for a paddle - here she is just after:

8"x10" print on Kentmere paper; Rangefinder&35mm

Tuesday, 25 April 2017


Two of the many ornaments that live in our house - not surprisingly, more to do with my wife than me:

8"x10" print, Ilford Cooltone RC.  From the Hasselblad, 50mm lens with close-up filter on HP5+

Although it looks like these were photographed in the middle of the night it was actually around midday and the light was good - I overexposed a bit under the enlarger and burned in the edges quite heavily.  Now it looks like two heads poking up through the ground - or maybe a dustbin.  Let's call them Nagg and Nell, in homage to that Irish fellah Beckett.

Composition in the camera was tricky, since I've only got a waist-level finder and I was pointing the camera down.  Not easy to get it right unless you're a bit of a contortionist - which I am definitely not. Some sort of prism finder might prove more usable in these situations but as usual there are a lot of different choices and after a bit of poke about I feel I could write a dissertation on the subject of finders for V-series 'Blads.  The genuine Hassy ones, surprise surprise, don't come cheap - particularly the metered ones such as the PME45, which seem to fetch ridiculous prices.  But there are more affordable non-metered ones like the PM45, which get good reviews from the folks on FADU.   And then there's cheapo (relatively-speaking, that is) Russian jobs which might just do the trick, considering that it might not get that much use.  I do like the standard waist-level finder - it's very light and it's great to be focussing directly on the ground glass.  We'll see.  A less costly option might be to use a tripod and then rotate the camera 90 degrees - since it's a square negative it won't make any difference on the film.  I'll try that first, methinks...

Sunday, 23 April 2017

Old Parish Church, Ballymena

Ballymena lies between NE Liberties and Belfast - it's about a 30 minute drive away.   The name is an Anglicised version of the Irish An Baile Meanach, meaning Middle-town.  Appropriate, since it lies in roughly the middle of County Antrim.

Last time I was able to walk around this old church - this time the gates were locked and I had to be content with poking the rangefinder through them:

8"x10" print, from the rangefinder and a 35mm lens.
Ballymena is known locally as 'City of the Seven Towers' and it's always a source of amusement to people - what towers?  Well folks this old Church of Ireland Parish Church, built in 1707 is one of the original seven towers.  Only 2 others remain now.  I guess once upon a time the towers were clearly visible from the surrounding area - not so the case nowadays.

The last service here was held in 1855, so this building provided for the community for almost 150 years.  Amazingly, it's been derelict now for slightly longer.  I reckon it'll be around for a few years yet - a wonderful testament to the knowledge and skills of those early 18th Century stonemasons from this part of the world.  I'm sure that many of them would have made their way to North America during the great migration of the Ulster-Scots during the18th Century and their skills would have no doubt been in great demand when setting up their new communities in Virginia, Pennsylvania, New England and beyond.

Friday, 21 April 2017

Branching Out

Another one from the garden the other morning, when the light was nice:

Hasselblad/50mm/close-up filter/HP5+/ID-11/Cooltone/Multigrade/Sepia

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

Life's a beach

Yup, here they are, the young ones:

On Portrush East Strand last week, with the Skerries in the background.  The sun was out - now that makes a pleasant change!  From the Hasselblad via a Zeiss 50mm lens, yellow-green filter and HP5+ - not that any of that really matters, but it's nice to know, for some reason.  And nice to use, too, I have to say.  The Hound, by the way, is coming up on 12 this year.
This one is on Ilford RC Cooltone - ain't it crisp?! Seemed appropriate for the contrasty light and it didn't disappoint.  Perhaps I said already, but I really like this paper.  A little sepia tone as well, for effect.

About 2 seconds after this was snapped The Hound was off the lead running for the ball - a bit like those ones who temporarily adopted Mr Karlsvik over there in Norway-land or Scotland-land where he can sometimes be found.  In spite of his age, he's still pretty fast and enjoys a good ball chase.  That's The Hound I'm talking about, just to be clear - not Mr Karlsvik, who I'm assured is still young and fleet of foot :) The Hound is also happy enough just lazing about, which seems fair enough.  He's extremely anti-social, though (a bit like his owner) - he really doesn't acknowledge the existence of another dog, no matter how much they invade his personal space in an attempt to have a play.   If his Death-Stare doesn't work the teeth get bared and if they still don't get the message after that he will snap.  Fair enough - they've been warned.  Apart from that, The Hound is a big docile, lovable, extremely hairy pet who just wants pats and treats (yes, yes, I know - a bit like his owner, apart from the hairy bit).  His eyesight isn't what it used to be, due to cataracts, but apart from the considerable expense involved I'm loathe to put him through an operation at this stage of his life.  For the most part, he's OK - just occasionally a ball gets away from him and then he has trouble tracking it down.  Not too bad, all things considered...

Monday, 17 April 2017

Horror Show

This was one of those 'last frames' that you have to take in order to finish the film that has been hanging around in the camera just a day or two too long.  Or even a week or two, given my current state of snapping.  Ah well - it'll come good sometime soon, I'm sure.

Anyway, part of one of the old wooden doors on the outbuildings:

The thing that caught my eye was the cobwebs and the wood grain - only when I printed it I saw a sort of a face-thing.  Disturbing, in hindsight - perhaps I could sell it to one of those horror genre film directors, like James Wan or someone.  I was using the 50mm lens on the Hasselblad with a close-up filter on the front, which works pretty well in the sense it allows you to focus a lot closer than normal.  Right...

On my current favourite paper, Ilford Cooltone RC - for that Art-School look.

Friday, 14 April 2017

Consistently inconsistent

Been a tad busy with other stuff recently, but I managed a quick darkroom session this morning.  Nothing new, just picking out a few negs here and there from the Archives and trying to bring them to life on 8"x10" Ilford Warmtone RC paper in lith.  Without much success, I hasten to add.

Rathlin Island sea stacks, last summer

Not quite sure what's going on with those strange-looking bands towards the bottom of the print, as you can see.  And along the bottom edge looks like a paper fog - which I'm sure it isn't.  Very odd.

Mussenden Temple, at Downhill
This one looks a bit more traditionally lithy, but I'm not too sure about the horizontal streaking visible on the building and in the sky.  Over-enthusiastic agitation, perhaps?  I've a feeling that it all stems from over-cooking the developer - maybe need to take the temperature down a notch or two.

Comparing the two prints the first one is all cold whereas the second one has that warm lith-like appearance.  Like I say, no consistency...

Friday, 7 April 2017


I had a stroll around the new Remembrance Garden in Coleraine the other day.  It did, naturally enough, make me reflect on the tenuous grasp we all have on this thing called life.  There's lots of lovely lines around the garden, not terribly well captured here, mind you:

Looks low in contrast, I know, but the print is a whole lot better.  HP5+ on 8"x10" on Ilford Warmtone RC, glossy, which is a lovely paper.
The disappointing thing about the garden was how poorly maintained it was - the paths needed a good clear up from dead leaves and other detritus from the winter, the bins were overflowing.  While I don't usually like everything to be squeaky-clean perfect with every blade of grass accounted for, this is one place where I'd be prepared to make an exception.