Light Reading...

Elliott & Fry

Sitting in the corner of my photo studio is this lovely Victorian Elliott & Fry portrait. The gold frame has seen better days and the gelatine has adhered to the glass and lifted in places but it’s a simply stunning photograph which I love. 

I’ve made great efforts to find out who the sitter is but even with the help of the National Portrait Gallery, I’ve been unsuccessful.

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Who the sitter is though, isn’t what’s important or indeed why I have it in my studio. I have it in my studio to remind myself every day what truly beautiful photography is, what greatness was achieved, so long ago, using film and traditional printing methods, what gorgeous light was captured and what incredible detail was achieved… the whole thing is massively inspirational.

Even with today’s modern cameras, lighting and editing software, getting a result as subtle and impressive as this is still an incredibly difficult challenge, one I continually aspire to.

The firm of Elliott & Fry was founded at 55 Baker Street, London in 1863 by Joseph John Elliott (1835-1903) and Clarence Edmund Fry (1840-1897). For a century the firm's core business was taking and publishing photographs of the Victorian public and social, artistic, scientific and political luminaries. In the 1880s the company operated three studios and large storage facilities for negatives, with a printing works at Barnet.

In the early 1940s the storage facility was bombed and most of the early negatives were destroyed. The National Portrait Gallery owns all the surviving negatives. 

Some of the high profile portraits by Elliott & Fry include Alfred Lord Tennyson, Charles Darwin, Rudyard Kipling, Robert Baden-Powell and Oscar Wilde. My mysterious portrait is definitely not a famous person, but he certainly was a wealthy person – from the high quality of his clothes, to his neatly groomed hair and the simple fact that a portrait of this quality and indeed this size (it’s huge!) would have been staggeringly expensive. 

Whoever he is, I’m very grateful to him, his decision to be photographed by Elliott & Fry has given me, both a lovely historical artefact but more importantly an inspirational photo which I appreciate and adore every single day.

Simplicity

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about simplicity, specifically how everything in life is improved by simplicity, never by complexity. Much has been written on this subject and I’ve tried to read as much of it as I can, various writers talking about ‘laws’ of simplicity, or casually misusing the word Zen as an overarching word to describe the simplicity of a task or action.

I’m going to try to talk about simplicity in photography and how I try to use the ethos of simplicity in my work… with varying degrees of success!

There’s a hugely unlikely story about the Renaissance artist Michelangelo. He was allegedly asked about the difficulties that he must have encountered while sculpting his masterpiece David – he apparently replied with a fairly comical description of his creative process: ‘It’s easy. You just chip away all the stone that doesn’t look like David’.

This is almost definitely a fanciful or misattributed quote, I really can’t see those being the words of Michelangelo but it does, at its core, contain a brilliant truth and an important message. Whatever it is you’re doing in life, whatever creative pursuit you’re undertaking, reduction is key, removing all distractions, paring down the process to it’s most minimal and focussed form, losing anything that isn’t part of your ultimate goal is paramount, culling anything that ‘isn’t David’.

In photographic terms, for me at least, this ‘Simplicity Ethos’ applies to three basic aspects – equipment, mindset and composition. 

Equipment
As photographers, we all love equipment, I guess there may be exceptions but on the whole I believe that we all enjoy our gear, whether for the sheer mechanical joy of using it or simply that they’re tools which allow us to express ourselves in a unique way. So often though, we can all become obsessed with a some new piece of kit, in the misguided belief that if we just had that new body, lens, speed light, modifier, etc. etc. our photographs would be soooooo much better… deep down though, we all know that’s not true. The great photographs of our time have nothing whatsoever to do with equipment and everything to do with simple human emotions and how those images stirred those feelings, those reactions within us. 

Whether that’s a simple portrait of a refugee child or a breathtaking landscape, the feelings they generate are what matter. Do you think anyone looked at Steve McCurry’s Afgan Girl and thought, ‘Hmmm, I wonder what camera Steve used to take that?’ or on seeing Malcolm Browne’s Burning Monk for the first time, thought ‘yeah, it’s ok but it would have been better on medium format.’ The equipment is irrelevant, it simply doesn’t matter, the story matters, the art matters, the emotion matters, everything else is irrelevant. I know some of you will be crying out ‘of course the equipment matters’ and ok, if you’re shooting underwater then specialist equipment matters, if you’re shooting commercially for a glossy magazine then sure, equipment matters but even in those situations, simplicity is still key. The underwater photographer does not need fiddly controls or complicated gear, he’s far too busy, watching his depth, his remaining air, all the while still trying to compose meaningful shots while not getting eaten by sharks. Even the photographer shooting fashion for a magazine does not need to be burdened with unnecessary complexity, they’ll have a fixed and often short amount of time to shoot a model or celebrity, nothing can complicate this, nothing can be allowed to add time to the shoot, you can guarantee the gear they’re using is refined to its simplest form.

So what does this gear simplicity mean to us regular shooters? Well, for me, it means using the very least amount of gear in any given situation. For street shooting, I use either a Ricoh GR or a Fuji X-Pro1, neither of which are high-end or even recent camera’s but both are absolutely optimal for street shooting. The Ricoh is about as small as a camera can realistically be while still being large enough to use the controls, it’s APS-C sensor and fixed 28mm lens provide sharp, dynamic images, with great speed and efficiency. I don’t think a camera exists that is as low-key and inconspicuous as the GR – nobody gets offended, nobody is worried they’re having a camera pointed at them, it’s a perfect street shooter. 

My second choice, and the one I make when I feel I may want a change of lens is the Fuji X-Pro 1. Much maligned on release, Fuji’s commitment to its customers and to constant firmware updates has fixed all those early issues, making it a second hand bargain. Beautifully built in Japan, with classic looks and awesome features, I really enjoy using it. In contrast to the Ricoh which feels very ‘digital’ in operation, the Fuji feels joyously analogue, more akin to an old film camera than a modern digital. Obviously, you can shoot street photography using any camera at all, you just need to find what suits you, what feels most natural in your hand, a camera you can change any setting or control blindfolded, cliché though it is, you need a camera which feels like an extension of your own body. With the exception of a spare battery or two, a single camera with a single focal length lens is all you need, no tripod, no filters, no speedlight, just the bare bones, the simplest set-up possible… maybe even just your smartphone. 

Mindset
Although many people I talk to shoot as a hobby, with the specific goal of distracting them from their daily life, I think it’s important to be able to clear your mind before heading out to shoot. I’m not one for meditation as such but I feel its important to find a few minutes of calm, of tranquility before heading into the street to shoot. Whether that’s five minutes in a coffee shop, staring blankly into space while caffeinating yourself or on a bench in a park feeding the pigeons, try to find a routine, a ritual that works for you, one that calms the mind, simplifies your thoughts and allows you to focus on what you’re about to do. I know we’re all time-poor, and just getting out to shoot at all can be challenging but I promise, you’ll be rewarded tenfold as the time spent clearing the mind dramatically speeds up how quickly you get in to the groove of shooting, where normally it might take you fifteen minutes or half an hour to start feeling like you’re really capturing anything worthwhile, you’ll find you’re much more quickly hitting the mark, getting keepers straight out of the gate – five minutes invested at the before starting can really pay of when you start to hit the shutter button.

Composition
The streets are a generally a busy, noisy and complex environment, finding those definitive, decisive moments in amongst that kind of chaos is difficult but I have a few pointers I personally try to keep in mind when shooting. Firstly, is to always seek out uncluttered backgrounds. There’s so much going on, isolating a subject can be very tricky, particularly as you’re unlikely to be using a wide aperture and short depth of field. This means uncluttered backgrounds are key, look for clean hoardings, shutters, even brick walls, anything that won’t be a distraction for the eye. You can then shoot people passing by without worrying about distracting background objects protruding from heads, without the viewer hunting for the subject of your shot amongst a confusing scene. Obviously we’re all searching out good light but most often on the street, a single light source can make the shot. Whether that’s a single shaft of light from between buildings or a single street lamp at night, simplicity is key, less is always more. These single light sources act as a spotlight in which to capture your subject, and in combination with an uncluttered background will create a dramatic and a concise image that presents the viewer with a clear vision of your intent, they’ll see exactly what you wanted them to look at when you took the shot. 

Over the last 24 months, I’ve tried to simplify my life considerably, this has meant letting go of many things, some that were unhealthy anyway but some that were simply ‘time vampires’ sucking away my time with little pleasure or productivity coming back in return. The full list would surely bore you to tears but edited highlights of what’s gone are: chocolate, motorcycles, energy/sugary drinks, people who take but never give, a heavy codeine addiction (prescription!) and Playstation games. By no stretch of the imagination do I live like a Buddhist Monk now but even with this tiny handful of complications gone from my life, I can focus so much more clearly.
 
Whether your distractions and complications are equipment, people or poisons, think about removing them from your life – simplify. For every item you remove, you will gain time and/or money, both of which can go towards your real passion, toward your true goals. Even if eradicating a complication somehow fails to provide money or time – I guarantee it will still provide greater head-space, greater freedom to pursue your personal mission and achieve much, much more.

Composition

I’ve taken a minute to jot down some thoughts on composition in street photography, just a few of the techniques I try to employ while out shooting. I thought this might help those new to street photography who are just getting started. I guess it might even help non-photographers, people just casually viewing images, giving them a little more insight into what goes in to them.

I’m going to skip right over the Rule of Thirds, I’m sure everyone is already familiar with that, even our smartphones now come with a handy Rule of Thirds overlay nowadays. Instead I’m going to focus on a couple of the more complex compositional tools. 

Almost as simple and ubiquitous as Rule of Thirds is Leading Lines, this is when parallel lines in a photograph, taper with perspective and draw the eye toward the subject of the shot, to the spot where the photographer ultimately wants you to look. The example below is technically Leading Lines but it’s also Single Point Perspective. The subject doesn’t have to be centred in the frame, it could be anywhere, the important component is the lines of perspective taking you in, pulling your eye to the subject. 

The next compositional aid is Parallels, not too much explanation needed for this but it takes time and practice to train your eyes to look out for them, to spot them when they happen. The parallels can be vertical, horizontal or as in this case diagonal, the important thing to capture is the repetition, to see how the flow of the image is dependent entirely on the diagonal parallel lines.

The next technique is called the Fibonacci or Golden Spiral and it differs from the other two, in that it’s far more difficult to try to use while shooting. For most photographers, it’s a template that can be applied to an already captured image, just to see if the composition and crop follow classical lines or if the image is balanced or not. 

There are many on-line articles which more deeply and elegantly explain the Fibonacci Spiral than I’m going to be able to in this quick blog post but in basic terms, the spiral structure contains a mathematical ratio that is most commonly found in nature, in sea shells, leaves and many other organic formations. It’s been used for hundreds of years by artists and painters and compositions based on it are generally pleasing, balanced and compositionally sound. If a photographer tells you that they often shoot with this formula in mind, their pants are most definitely on fire but in time, you will start to see the spiral in your minds eye when composing a shot and it might just help. As an interesting experiment, I would definitely recommend picking a few of your more successful photos, ones you really like or get good feedback on, and overlaying the spiral, seeing if there are similarities, if the reason they’re good photo’s was the golden ratio all along.

There are many other compositional techniques but these three are a good place to start. I’ll maybe follow this up with a deeper look at the ones covered here or maybe another ‘quick look’ post about three different ones.

Solitude

The sunshine of this weekend saw tens of thousands of tourists descend on the seaside towns of the North Wales coast but what struck me most, wasn't the crowds, but the examples of solitude and loneliness I saw along the piers and promenades. Most of the people I saw on their own were sadly older people, with the odd exception of a young single mother here and there. These solitary figures either stared blankly out to sea or silently watched the noisy, bustling families pass by, just invisible observers.

2017 Projects

I currently have three photo projects in progress, I had only really planned to have two ongoing projects at any given time but one ran over, incomplete from last year so three it is. 

Project one, and the longest standing project is ‘Los Anglesey’ – a playful and tongue-in-cheek look at how the Welsh island of Anglesey is in no way comparable to the US city of LA, despite sharing a few similarities, surfing/water-sport culture, drug problems, modified/tuned cars and sunshine… ok, I’m kidding about the sunshine but definitely the other three… I’ve been collecting images for this project for some time now and it’s starting to become a decent body of work – ‘hurray for Holyhead!’. Los Anglesey is the beginning of a series of similarly themed projects, the next of which is entitled Rhyl de Janero… I’m sure you get the idea.

Project two is ‘Ghost Type’. In these austere times with the economy in downturn, more and more businesses are failing, leading to their branded and liveried assets, shop-fronts and vehicles to be sold to new owners and re-branded with new signage and typography. What sparked my interest in this was that when new graphics are being applied, especially to vehicles, very little care seems to be given to removing the evidence of the previous lettering, leaving ‘Ghost Type’. On vehicles, this seems to take the form of either unfaded paint where lettering once protected it from sunshine or simply residue from adhesive, either way, the previous wording is often still visible beneath the new. The same applies to shop-fronts, with vinyl cut lettering often not removed at all but simply painted over, still legible as light catches the subtly thicker vinyl edges.

Project three is ‘Shots Fired’. This is a collection of images which explores the way in which street photography is a form of hunting, with street photographers often stalking their prey before ‘shooting’ them. Although a sweeping generalisation, most good street photography is taken with a wide lens at close quarters, the photographer getting very near to their subjects, in amongst the scene and taking personal and candid images but there are also very successful images created a little further away, where the subject of the shot is blissfully unaware they’ve been photographed or that the shooter was even there – these are the images that form Shots Fired.

At the beginning of this post, I maybe wasn’t being entirely honest… I'm slightly embarrassed but there is a fourth project too which is a real long term effort – its called ‘Toys’ and it looks at the inexplicable practice of attaching discarded toys to the grills and bumpers of commercial vehicles. This practice has fascinated me since the mid 70’s when I first saw my local bin-lorry proudly displaying a stuffed felt Kermit the Frog on its front grill. I would always look out for the lorry on rubbish collection day, just to catch a glimpse of Kermit, his once green ‘skin’ turning ever more grey with each sighting as UV light and road grime turned his once vibrant exterior into a pale and ghoulish complexion. 

The act of adorning council or commercial vehicles with found toys shows no sign of abating even today and this series of images is a study of this practice. I’ve often tried to figure the rationale for this trend, is it simply considered amusing, is it funny and I just don’t get it? or is there something deeper going on? Does the driver feel sympathetic toward the once so loved but now discarded toy, is it a rescue? I did wonder if to the driver, it was a mournful reminder of simpler times as a child, times of hopeful childhood dreams, before the mundanity and responsibility of adult working life took over, especially doing something repetitive and possibly unfulfilling like rubbish collection. Whatever the reason, I love to see the toys on vehicles and try to shoot them when I do. More on this project soon...

Seaside

There's something fabulously tragic about most British seaside towns, they can be so tired and run-down but that's where the charm lies I guess. Flaking paint, tattered bags stuck in barbed wire and bleak brick shelters are the backdrop for that one afternoon where it almost feels like summer and people rush out to walk along the cracked concrete promenades and sit in crumbling cafés.

Fuji Low Light Performance

Since one of my earlier posts, regarding night-time street shooting, a few people have asked about the low light performance of my Fuji camera. Considering, the Xpro1 is getting on in years now, its low ISO performance is outstanding, partly due to the X-trans sensor being amazing to start with but partly due to Fuji's incredible commitment to it's customers and their continued firmware updates. The Xpro1 has to be one of the best used bargains at the moment, any niggles or worries from early negative reviews are now all but redundant with the incredible incremental software updates over the years – it's a fantastic camera and a brilliant way to get started in the Fuji X eco-system for very little initial outlay.

Black and White or Colour?

Ok, this isn’t going to be easy to resolve but I’ll try to make a few valid points. For commercial work I shoot almost exclusively colour – for my own projects I shoot 99% black and white. Commercial work doesn’t really factor into this discussion as it’s about accurately recording the clients requirements, displaying an event, place, product or person in a way that reflects what they really look like. The black and white or colour debate is when 100% of the creative decision making is in my own hands, what then do I choose to shoot?

For me, the decision was made many years ago, iconic photography from great photographers like Ansel Adams, Diane Arbus, Fan Ho and Robert Frank were admittedly only shot black and white as it was the only option available to them at the time but that meant their creativity and attention was focussed on storytelling, on forms and shapes, on composition and on capturing a creative, artists vision of their subjects. Would their most revered and famous work have been improved by being in colour, I don’t think so, do you?

I’ve debated this point with other photographers and their argument is often that colour is how we see life, therefore colour is how we should shoot – period. The secondary argument is often that technology has evolved, colour is available to us so we should be using what’s available, this is possibly the weakest argument as many technological advances are available to us but we shouldn’t shoot everything with 360 degree cameras for example, simply as they're available to us.

Taking pictures should be about creating meaningful images, telling stories, recording moments, capturing memories, it should be about creating art. Does a photo being black and white automatically make it art, absolutely not, does turning an unsuccessful or poor quality colour photo into black and white, suddenly make it a good, successful or in any way artistic image – of course not, but for me it forces my focus on the composition, the story, the shapes and forms, the elements that I personally find important.

With current post production techniques, seeing a colour image is in no way a guarantee that the colours are an accurate rendition of what the photographer was pointing their camera at anyway, colours are enhanced, filtered and otherwise manipulated. We’re almost never seeing them in their original state, therefore the argument that ‘colour is how we see the world’ is somewhat redundant too, we’re not seeing an accurate record of the colours present at the time of the shot, even in an ‘as shot’ example, something as simple as the camera’s colour temperature settings, changed how the colours were recorded and consequently, how the final, theoretically ‘unedited’ image now looks.

When shooting film, I always shoot Kodak TriX 400 which is a classic black and white stock. When shooting digital however, I always shoot RAW but depending on the camera body, I always turn my viewfinder (if it’s an EVF) to black and white and any LCD live previews and JPGs to black and white too. I think this helps my shooting as it filters out all distractions, it’s very easy to be blinded, distracted by a dominant colour but a monochromatic image forces me to look for composition, interesting geometry and pleasing shapes.

You’ll often hear photographers talk about the ‘quality of light’ and it’s something I’m perpetually hunting for myself, great quality of light but it’s never the colour of the light that’s interesting, it’s how diffused, how dappled, how harsh or how soft the light is, definitely not its colour.

The sample image below is colour for a somewhat obvious and important reason, how meaningless it would be in black and white, but that’s the point right there isn’t it?, this is a lazy photograph, made only vaguely interesting by the colour, the story is weak. Once the viewer has acknowledged ‘oh look, three yellow convertibles in a row’, the image is over, there’s nothing left to discover, no greater interest or depth, its use of colour is a crutch for an otherwise dull shot – this to me is why black and white is and always will be, so important and my personal choice for my own work.

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Liverpool International Horse Show

I know, I know, these aren't horses but between show-jumping events, there was a somewhat random FMX show with flame cannons, fire dancers and many perplexed equestrian faces around the arena. Anyhow, it was a massive challenge for the humble Fuji, a really fast moving target, absurdly low light, huge contrast between blinding flames and deeply shadowed ceiling, my terrible lens choice... everything was stacked against getting any kind of useable shot but surprisingly, most turned out ok. Obviously, these shots have no artistic merit but they are good test results for equipment and settings.

Cancelled Train

On my way home from Liverpool yesterday, my onward train from Chester was cancelled so I had just over an hour to kill waiting for the next one. Rather than just sit in Costa waiting, I thought I'd take some low light shots on the platforms. I've not shot with my Fujifilm camera at night so was interested to see how it would perform, how the noise levels would be at such high ISO's and it really didn't disappoint. Chester station is extremely old and poorly lit, the light that was there was harsh and unpleasant but the Fuji handled it so well.

Cinematic Scenes

I tend not to crop my images too much, I try to get the framing as close as possible 'in-camera', maximising the available resolution and keeping my compositions honest, forcing me to physically move, change my position and frame my shot correctly. Instagram aside, I don't use crop ratios that differ from the cameras own proportions, this weekend though, while out and about shooting, the local landscape felt quite epic, almost cinematic, so I shot with this in mind and cropped the images to 16:9.

Wreck of the Seven Sisters, Menai Straights

Wreck of the Seven Sisters, Menai Straights

Menai Bridge

Menai Bridge

Looking across to Snowdonia from Anglesey

Looking across to Snowdonia from Anglesey

Llanberis Pass

Llanberis Pass

New York I Love You, but...

I'm kidding, there is no but, I simply love you. I have to be 100% honest though, in the 90+ degree heat of summer, you don't smell entirely great. Huge piles of hot trash and millions of perspiring humans make for stale and malodorous air but even that can't detract from the sheer intoxicating chaos of your streets and sidewalks. 

Intermittent dips into the merciful relief of more fragrant, in-store air conditioning, the only momentary sanctuary from the oppressive humidity and oxygen-starved heat of the streets.

For a street photographer there can be no better city... there's almost just too much going on, too many staggering scenes and outlandish characters. Unlike the normal street-tog 'hunt' for a shot, the task becomes one of filtering, of trying to find a clean, meaningful shot in amongst the maelstrom of activity on every corner – it's extremely tiring but enormous fun. 

Obviously, there are times when a stereotypical New Yorker, with a somewhat cliched distain for tourists will take offence and tell you 'not ok buddy, not fuckin ok at all' upon which, no amount of apologising will placate, they're annoyed and that's that. In the UK, in the same situation I may engage, explaining my rights and correspondingly theirs but NY is their town, I am the tourist, the visitor, there's no need for conflict, I try to be as respectful as I can.

None of this can take the shine off the experience and you find yourself walking for many miles more than planned, my iPhone health app tells me I've averaged 7.6 miles per day, peaking at 12 miles on one particularly fruitful and inspiring day. This is way further than I would ever entertain walking while shooting the uk streets.

All these miles, all this material translates into some heavy data, even using my humble cropped-sensor and compact Ricoh GR, I'm averaging 5Gb of images per day. (granted, only about 2mb will be any good but still)

Each evening I pull the images from the SD card to the hard-drive of my laptop, then to an external drive and lastly, push them up to my Amazon cloud drive. I know this is probably overkill but storage is so inexpensive nowadays and US hotel internet connections are so fast, why risk losing anything? 4 locations should cover it! SD, SSD, HD and cloud. I'm not really of that calibre yet but if you think, just one photo can be life changing, can be iconic, can have a significance, an importance beyond your own lifetime and career, are you prepared to potentially lose that if your backpack gets stolen?

This brings up the issue of shooting Raw. My view on this is simple, ALWAYS shoot Raw, anything else seems crazy. I know Eric Kim wrote an article recently suggesting we unburden ourselves of massive file sizes and the associated storage and backup problems they create but I wholeheartedly disagree. It's about the only thing I do disagree with him on though, for years now I've found his insightful and freely given advice, hugely helpful. He seems to be a cool and generous guy.

I guess some of the reasoning for Eric's suggestion of shooting only jpgs is location specific. Maybe if you were backpacking in the Himalayas, with limited access to both electricity and Internet, maybe maximising SD capacity is the main goal. Weight too may be critical, maybe you're traveling with no laptop, just a tablet with limited capacity and most likely no Raw facility anyway. 

For New York though, with the super-bright summer sun creating such hard contrast from light to dark, the extended dynamic range afforded by Raw enables my shots to be subtly enhanced (rescued!?) a stop either way to neutralise the contrasty conditions. Although I'm doing my utmost to expose correctly, inevitably I'm finding myself pulling down the highlights and pushing up the shadows, just to open them up a little and expose a bit more detail. 

Another pearl of wisdom from Eric is allowing time for the shots you take to marinate – and I completely agree. My terrible impatience has me editing the days images each evening but this is a bad time to do it, probably the worst. The problem is, you still have a relationship with the experience of taking the shots. If you edit a street image on the same day you took it, you're not subjective about the true quality of the shot, you can still hear the Jazz drifting from a basement bar, the smell of the street food and feeling of the sun on your back. All these things heavily influence how you feel about each shot – just park them, edit at a later date when those emotional feelings have had chance to fade somewhat, you'll be much more likely to select images for their true merit, trust me, you'll just make better editing choices. 

New York

I'm currently enjoying an amazing visit to New York City and for street photography, it's an absolute dream location, the sheer volume of interesting characters and scenes is almost completely overwhelming, there's just so much to shoot, so much to capture. Quantity however, is still no guarantee of quality and finding those shots that really resonate, that really mean something is still hard, they're just as elusive here as they are in any other city. I'll be posting a full New York photo section when I return.

Brooklyn Flea Market

Brooklyn Flea Market

Mystery

It may well just be my age and I appreciate I may be completely alone in this view but I'm going to say it anyway... I don't understand the modern obsession with selfies, they are a complete mystery to me. We're living in a glorious age, where we each take for granted, the powerful cameras we're so fortunate to have in our phones, what a time to be alive. So with all that photographic power in our pockets and the world being such a complex, beautiful, fascinating place, filled with extraordinary people and sights, what do we choose to photograph? Ourselves, yup, we turn the camera around and snap our own gormless faces, gurning and pouting, searching for the one that makes us look the most attractive. Not such a great time to be alive after all, just a sad time of vanity and narcissism, squandering the incredible tools we've been given and the photographic opportunities they afford us. 

As I mentioned right up front, I suspect this might just be a trend that has escaped me as I've seen too many summers but I can't help thinking what a terrible waste it all is. 

Until Friday the amount of selfies I'd taken was exactly zero, none, not one, then while working in my studio, I took two minutes to shoot myself. The resultant shot is below, and how awkward it is too, I couldn't even bare to look directly at the camera, the side profile somehow more comfortable for me (even with my somewhat Roman nose!)  

I suspect my selfie count will stay at one for ever now, I've not been bitten by the selfie bug, nor do I feel the need to try to make myself look good, I'm happy with my slightly solemn and honest side-selfie, however unflattering. 

Headshots

I've shot actor Francis Tucker many times before, probably every year for the last five or six years, his look ever changing and his need for current headshots ever necessary. I'm fairly happy with these, particularly for such a simple set-up, single reflector, no additional fill light and a very quick, ten minute shoot.

Light Leaks

After everything I've said in earlier posts about e(vil)bay 35mm film cameras being incredible value and Lomo being hipster-nonsense, I received some processed film back yesterday and this is what I learned: 1. Not all inexpensive 35mm camera's from ebay are in perfect working order (that should have been obvious right?) and 2. Light leaks and unpredictable results can be cool after all.

The camera in question was clearly in need of new seals, something I suspected when using it for the first time. While the film was away I replaced the seals myself, which, when you see the images below you'll agree was the right thing to do... however, these images are some of my favourite shots taken on film so far. I can't adequately explain why, what characteristics make them appealing, I just know that I like them... and that I regret having fixed it. 

I've put two further films through it since which are currently being processed, I sort of hope I've made a mess of replacing the seals and they still leak a little – there's every chance of this as I've not done it before but I did try to do a good job, only time will tell. 

They're back!

Well, my processed films came back and I'm pretty pleased. This is not to say the shots are anything outstanding but the fact there were actual images on each of the four films is, I feel, an achievement considering how ham fisted and clumsy I felt taking the shots.

The Tri-x is, as you would expect, really contrasty with short transitions between shadow and highlight but they do have a nice feel. Please excuse the poor quality scans, my scanner is excellent for line art and documents, it's really not a film scanner.

I didn't think with such harsh back-lighting, there would be much on this frame at all but I quite like the silhouettes. With what I've already learned, I can't wait to get back out there, shoot more film and see how I can improve. To be continued...

Setting myself up for a fall

I don't imagine a huge audience, waiting with baited breath for my posts but my apologies for the time since my last post, no excuses really.

I'm of an age where, like many photographers, I straddle both film and digital eras. That said, during the film years, my use of film was limited to holiday snaps and disposable cameras, although, I did have a childhood friend who, being a little older than me had more mature hobbies, photography being one of them. I often dabbled alongside him in his makeshift darkroom, taking enough interest to participate but never fully fathoming or comprehending what I was really doing. I enjoyed the process as much as, if not more than the results, the chemicals, the anticipation, it was fun. Then my friend moved away and my coat-tailing came to an end.

It seems a lot of photographers have a phase of revisiting film, some for the nostalgic joy of it, some to genuinely learn more and to slow down their shooting and others, well, just for the hipster nonsense of it – deliberately accidental light leaks on expired film in plastic lomo cameras and all that stuff.

You can probably already see where this is going can't you? Yup, you're absolutely right, I've been shooting film. Let me back up a bit to the decision to try it. I'm already not much of a 'spray and prey' shooter, I'm pretty conservative with my shutter count, always try to get what I need in an efficient way so already, almost a film shooter mentality.

I'm happy enough with my current digital gear, I do suffer from gear acquisition syndrome like everyone else but not to the same degree as most shooters, but I do have the occasional yearning for old-school rangefinders and dslr's. I don't fully understand modern digital cameras that are designed to look old or 'classic' though, to my eye, they never truly pull it off, looking good from the front and top but ugly as all hell on the back, an awkward hodge-bodge of screen and buttons  in sub-optimal positions for use, shoehorned on there, and be honest, which side of the camera are you spending 99% of your time?

To be fully fair, there are some beautiful, although still not perfect ones out there, the new Olympus Pen is an elegant example, looking and feeling almost hand made, lovely knurling and details on the dials but it's still a bit, well, awkward on the back.

Sorry, I've wandered off-topic slightly, where I'm getting to is – I've bought four film cameras, a Zorki-4 from the 50's, a Pentax SV from the 60's, an Olympus OM10 from the 70's and a Canon A1 from the 80's – each with 50mm lenses. Nothing too remarkable there I hear you say but the remarkable thing is, they're all in great shape, are mechanically sound, function beautifully and I bought all four, including their lenses for less than £100 (about $145).

Even if none of them worked, they are beautiful objects and although a bit of a photographer cliché, would make lovely 'decorator items' or 'shelf art' – they're simply nice things. The fact that they work is amazing. The only exception being, I have my suspicions that the longer shutter speeds on the Zorki are not entirely accurate but considering this camera is 60 years old, it's a very minor worry and a small miracle there aren't more significant issues.

So, this is my first post containing no images at all, it's simply me, setting myself up for a terrible fall. I have four films currently being processed and I'll report back when they're in. A few things are likely... my claims that the cameras are in great shape may be shattered when glaring mechanical issues present them selves in the form of light leaks and sticky shutters. What will also be under the microscope will be my ability to even use such old camera's with the limited or complete lack of assistance they provide. The Zorki is a rangefinder with the smallest viewfinder ever which I can barely see through as I wear glasses, the focussing is sketchy at best. The Pentax, like the Zorki has no light meter, so exposures are calculated (approximated?!) in my head... these aren't excuses, well, ok, maybe they are a little bit but I'm fully prepared for whatever comes back, they may be completely blank negatives – anything is possible and I can't wait! 

Tokyo

I've not really had chance to breathe since getting back but here's a few images which will be featuring in an upcoming book of street photography, of which I'll post more info when it becomes available. As for Tokyo, well, I fell completely in love with the place and I'm desperate to get back there as soon as time permits. Have a look at some more Tokyo Street images here.