Portland Street

This summer I went to Manchester twice in one month, on my first visit I spotted an area in the city centre just off of Portland Street and thought it would make a good photographic location. The area was a mix of Victorian brick passages and arches beside a 1960s office complex, a perfect urban landscape, maybe? So on my second visit not only did I bring a camera I asked my friend Paul Turner who lives nearby out for a ‘beer and shoot’.  After, we chatted about how an area is worked by two individual photographers and how interesting it would be to compare our photos; especially as Paul shot digitally and I used film. It was from this discussion that I asked if he would like to write about the subject for this blog post.

 

Hasselblad 500c/m | Kodak Portra 400

The Difference • Paul Turner

After a bite, we headed out to a place in the city centre as a starting point and we both happily wandered around exploring angles, shapes and colours, the kind of stuff that gets us photographers fired up. When out and about you can't help but see similar options for shots and there was some overlap on what we noticed, this is a big part of the pull of going out with someone else, you can both pool ideas and two pairs of eyes are always better. 

 Despite occasionally becoming separated, we did, in the course of the evening, pounce on the same opportunities for compositions. Things and places often present themselves as gifts in condition and framing. Consequently, we ended up with a small number of the same images. Well, I say the same image, not strictly the case because Tom was using his trusty Hassleblad with 80mm lens, so, 6x6 square, and I was using my full frame Nikon D750 and so 35mm format.

The images are going to differ slightly of course, but in what way and why? Well, the framing was very similar indeed but what struck me about the difference was that often debated one between film and digital, the framing difference was there but almost incidental. The difference in how each medium reacted was the most noteworthy. 

Nikon D750 | Sigma Art ƒ2 24-35mm

Nikon D750 | Sigma Art ƒ2 24-35mm

Hasselblad 500c/m | Kodak Portra 400

For the purposes of this piece I am only going to be talking about the direct comparison of these shots because the whole subject is huge, the idea of comparing these images came about after a discussion between the two of us. It isn't often that you can directly compare a set of film and digital images taken at the same time, so this seemed like an ideal opportunity. I'm not going to be talking about mono film/digital or anything like that. It is purely about these images and to that end it is interesting to see the shots side by side as a comparison...

The first thing that struck me, and I have noticed it in the past when looking at film alongside digital, is the way in which film can render point light sources; it is much gentler and more natural; I think it is more as the eye sees light sources because of the diffusion. Digital, on the other hand, is clinical in its treatment of point light and star points can usually be seen, depending on aperture type and setting. Nevertheless, in order to get light to behave more as the eye sees it with digital, it requires a bit of processing to tame that sharpness in the original file, this isn't an easy thing to pull off and can look forced and unnatural. I don't bother usually, just accept it as it is. Film on the other hand just does its thing and light has a soft transition from source. It pours out and exudes in a lovely smooth glow. Contrast is also worth looking at too. Film has less of it in the case of these images, but I am so used to seeing film it looks right, well, it looks filmic. I'm searching for a word but only filmic fits. Maybe that's it then. It just has its own quality and we should just leave it at that? Rather than trying to emulate it? No we, it seems, are always trying to emulate it. Whether it is a preset as a digital setting or an Instagram/phone widget we are always trying to get it 'filmic'.

Nikon D750 | Nikkor ƒ1.8G 50mm    •    Hasselblad 500c/m | Kodak Portra 400

Despite all the above, digital images are clean, they are able to show a large degree of dynamic range and detail with little loss in quality throughout, thus scenes are rendered accurately and if handled in a balanced way, a clear depiction of the place. They are a superb starting point for any rendering, whether needing a filmic look or not we have a great representation of a place and its lighting condition(s) complete with large dynamic adjustment potential, provided the original exposure is done correctly. Is it as it was seen by the eye while there? Well, it's a good start, filmic, maybe not but hang on where's that Portra plugin? I see contrast rendering and light quality differences in these shots to be the main points of note. Colour shifts are there throughout the comparison but I don't think they are as affecting to the feel of the pictures. On a personal level, maybe film has qualities that I recognise and is more natural to my eye, I don't know whether it's through seeing more film images throughout my life and it being tied up with my nostalgic heart, or that it's is just softer and more natural, I can't be absolutely clear. Both formats strike a chord on different levels, I'm not going to say if one is better than the other, just that there are differences and they can be stark.

Medium format digital is being rolled out steadily so any format will eventually be catered for and digital detail is available to all. Film is still available, albeit at a price, but it is still being produced. What I will say is, it's a great time to be a photographer, few would argue with that? Ultimately I'm choosing both formats, they are both valid tools for expressing creative intent and ideas, after all, isn't that what photography should be about? Now, wasn't there a chippy somewhere here...

Nikon D750 | Sigma Art ƒ2 24-35mm    •    Hasselblad 500c/m | Kodak Portra 400                                                                                                                                   

Thanks Tony

Unlike a lot of my photographer friends, I rarely go out for an unplanned wonder with a camera.  Roaming around spontaneously searching for a shot is not my strong point and although I keep a camera in my car just in case it’s unusual for me to use it.  Having said that it doesn't stop me trying and so last week when I found myself in between appointments with an hour to spare I got my camera out of the boot and went for a walk.  I was in Brentford an area of West London on the Thames.  I knew from previous fleeting visits that behind the high street there were quite a few old industrial buildings, warehouses and boatyards that once supported Brentford’s previous life as the London terminus of the Grand Union Canal.  The Grand Union Canal was built to link London with Birmingham and Brentford situated at the confluence of the River Thames and River Brent was well place to be the final southern point for all the freight and goods that were traded between the two cities. 

While wondering about looking for a shot I stopped to talk to Tony a demolition worker on his tea break, he was curious as to why I was shooting in ‘such a dump’ and I spent a moment explaining my particular visual take on the dull and mundane. 

‘I've got an old film camera, I think it’s an Olympus.’ he told me. 

‘If you’re interested I only wanna a score.’ he added.

Disappearing behind the security gates that acted as a barrier for the half-demolished building he was working in, he went off to get it.  I carried on photographing an abandoned sofa on the pavement.  A few minutes later he emerged waving small black camera above his head.

‘No, no it’s a Canon’ he shouted to me from across the road.

I went over to take a closer look and to my surprise in his hand was an almost perfect Canon A1 sporting a 1980 winter Olympics lens cap and even an original protective plastic cover over the inner film pressure plate. I told Tony that without a battery it was impossible to test and suggested that once powered up and tested he could certainly get something for it on eBay.

‘I can’t use eBay mate! if I get a battery would you be interested in it for a score?’ he said.

For any non British readers a score is London slang for £20, and for £20 I was interested.  I told him that I pass Brentford quite often we agreed that if he got a battery he would call me.  To my surprise about 40 minutes later I got a call.

“I’ve made a battery and tested it, it’s working okay”  Tony told me.

He had ingeniously taped together four 1.5V button batteries with a brass bolt as the positive top cap.

‘It adds up to 6V,  so it’s okay’  he explained.

Sure enough, it was and powered by Tony's makeshift battery the 37-year-old camera came to life, its red LED’s displayed brightly in the viewfinder and I could hear the shutter firing at all speeds, everything worked.  We exchanged and as he disappeared again behind the security gate he reminded me to send him the photos I took with it. 

So maybe I’m not that good at just going out and finding a shot but at least on this occasion, I found a very nice camera... thanks Tony.

Close to Home

An interview with Tom Westbury

 

I have been enjoying the photography of Southampton based photographer Tom Westbury for some years now. His work principally centres on urban and suburban vistas, comprising of compositions of the everyday and ordinary. Ordinary yet to my eyes quite compelling, his particular take on the tradition of the man altered landscapes is a balanced analysis of the space that together with his subtle use of colour and tonality creates a particular consistency; a sort of signature. I wanted to ask him some questions about the development of his photographic approach and to get a better understanding of his thinking and influences. 

• Tom firstly a bit about you ?

I'm a 35 year old British photographer. I was born in Manchester but have spent most of my life in the South of England and now live in Hampshire. For a day job I work in a communications team for the National Health Service.

• What first sparked your interest in photography ?

I was never really into photography until about seven years ago. I started a new job which involved some photography; portraits, events, corporate stuff. I was given a DSLR and decided I'd learn how to use it in manual mode. I've always been quite technical minded and like to learn how things work. I quickly fell in love with photography from there, and within a few months I was hooked and it was my main creative outlet.

• How would you define your style ?

The word 'straightforward' comes to mind. By which I mean just presenting things in an unadorned, unaffected way, and making the most of the camera's ability to capture realism, detail, and clarity.

• Tom your focus is very much on urban and suburban landscapes, often framed by buildings and structures, can you tell me a bit about your interest in this area and how it may have evolved from your photographic beginnings ? 

I used to do a lot of painting and drawing and my initial forays with photography were about using a camera to create 'instant paintings' of 'beautiful' subjects. After a while through reading and discovering about photographers and photography, I started to realise that photography has inherent qualities and it can be about more than recreating paintings and pictures with a camera. One thing that particularly interested me was how images of quite ordinary objects or scenes could take on a different quality when framed and separated from reality in a photographic print or image. In other words, worthwhile images could be made from traditionally overlooked subjects or scenes. Obviously, discovering the work of photographers like William Eggleston and Stephen Shore played a big part in this, and also the many contemporary photographers who are continuing this way of looking. Quite quickly it was possible to see meaning and value all around, in everyday places and spaces, and I started to focus more on these types of scenes, which tend to be in urban places or the borders where urban and rural intersect. I also have an interest in documenting the kinds of places we inhabit and what these places say about us and our society - so there is an aesthetic and a documentary angle in what I'm currently doing, which is what keeps it interesting for me.

• Your description of ‘the borders where urban and rural intersect’ is very intriguing, can you tell me more about these boundary areas and what in particular interests you about them ?

Good question. I think it's because these areas are often unplanned and untidy - they reveal something different than carefully developed urban areas or purely natural landscapes - you get to see a break in the facade.

• I notice that you have an ongoing series of photographs that feature new build housing developments. What is the interest for you in this theme ?

I find new housing developments in England to be fascinating. They tend towards a particular aesthetic which is a kind of pastiche of traditional styles, often eschewing modernity in a uniquely British way. I think these new estates tell us a lot about British aspirations and a sense of conservatism when it comes to residential architecture. This attitude is epitomised by the Prince of Wales, and reached a sort of pinnacle in his Poundbury development in Dorset which is the ultimate rejection of post-war ideals. I also feel quite strongly about the state of the property market in the UK, the relentless pressure to own property (despite this becoming more and more out of reach for many people) and I want to try and document this in some way. 

• Can you tell me about your practical approach shooting, what attracts you to a scene or place and how you work a particular area ? 

It's still quite spontaneous. I try to have a camera with me at most times, and  just keep an eye out for compositions or places that could work. More recently, I've started to plan out locations using Google Streetview or just by driving around. I have a real interest in Brutalist architecture so I'm also trying to visit some of the more iconic sites if I'm in the area.

• A lot of your photos feature large empty expanses in the foreground is this a conscious compositional tool on your part ?

Yes and no. It's partly for technical reasons - I haven't used perspective-correction lenses, so to prevent converging verticals I keep the camera level, which tends to reveal more foreground. At the same time, there's often a lot of interesting details and textures in the foreground which can add value to an image, so I've learned to love empty and crumbling asphalt and pavements! I've recently picked up a shift lens though and I'm keen to start experimenting with this, but I'll still try and include foregrounds if I think they're needed in a composition.

• You seem to actively shoot in flat light, the sort of dull unexciting light that so many photographers deliberately avoid, are we all missing something ? 

Haha! Tom we live in the UK so we have to take what we can get! Seriously though, I actually think that this flat light has a lot to offer a scene. It tends to level everything out tonally, minimising shadows. Combined with a film like Portra, it results in a very neutral and deadpan feel which suits a lot of the subject matter and gives images an 'objective' quality. Having said all that, I'm a fan of magic hour as much as the next photographer - I just don't find myself out shooting as often at that time of day.

• You shot film, what is it about analogue photography that suits you and your work ?

For me film has a great dynamic range and a colour-response that most closely resembles the image I have in my mind's eye. This means that most of the work is done in camera and in developing, and I don't have to think too hard when post processing. Medium/large format film can give extremely high definition images and is much more affordable than medium format digital sensors. I also develop and scan my own film (again, partially for financial reasons!), so there is a sense of being involved in more of the image making process. For the last couple of years, I've mainly used the Mamiya 7 camera, which is a medium format rangefinder camera. The camera has the perfect combination of image quality and portability, so it's really hard to justify using anything else, at least in terms of the way I work.

• Who are your photographic influences ?

I struggle a bit with influences because I think we soak up so much subconsciously and I'm probably influenced as much by music or graphic design for example as I am by photographs. I also look at hundreds of images on social media everyday which must be effecting the way I see and shoot. So rather than influences I'll just mention some photographers whose work I just really love. William Eggleston, Fred Herzog, Stephen Shore, Joel Sternfeld, Robert Adams, Alec Soth, Gregory Crewdson, Walker Evans, Nadav Kander, Polly Tootal, Alexander Gronsky, Todd Hido to name a few. Cinema is a big one for me, too - especially the work of David Lynch, Wim Wenders, Stanley Kubrick, Terrence Malick and Sofia Coppola.

• You and your camera can go anywhere in the world, where would you go and why ?

I think there's a lot to be said for staying close to home and working within a limited radius - really exploring deeply your immediate surroundings. But if I had to go somewhere else, I would like to get lost in small-town or suburban America - just because so many of my favourite images are steeped in this culture. I would also like to spend some time documenting a place where the pace of change is still rapid or accelerating - China is an obvious one, or India.

• What’s next for you ? 

I want to show my work to more people to get feedback and help to edit it into more coherent series, take a more planned approach to my practice to develop the themes I'm interested in and make more prints!

For me, Tom Westbury’s photography offers an absorbing view of the urban and suburban scenes that surround so many of us. Knowing a little more about his thinking certainly adds to their appeal. If you want to see more of Tom’s work you can follow his gallery tom_wesbury on Instagram, or visit his website www.tomwestbury.com

© All Rights Reserved | Tom Westbury 2017

Son of a Gun

It’s really good to see some of my car photos featured alongside the work of some very creative photographers in today's latest Folio page on Son of a Gun Magazine.  Check out their site here, you’ll find some very absorbing interviews and outstanding features from talented photographers all around the world.

Enlightenment II

Following on from my previous blog post Enlightenment and after spending a bit of time this weekend reading Adobe Photoshop for Photographers by Martin Evening,  a book so big that I seldom find the courage to pick it up let alone read,  I discovered that Photoshop can automate the RGB levels procedure that I described in my previous post.  Essentially by using the Auto Option feature in a levels panel, any scan can be colour corrected by 'Enhance per Channel Contrast' in effect aligning the dark and light point of the red, green and blue channels to the scans histogram.  The start point is set by default very low to the first 0.10% of each of the channels colour clipping but can set to whatever tolerance you prefer.  Thereafter the scan only requires mid grey identification,  you can do this yourself or use Photoshop by checking Snap Neutral Midtones it can find the most neutral tone or mid grey and allow for it.  In addition, the Auto Colour Correction Options panel offers an alternative automated method 'Find Dark and Light Colours' using this method Photoshop will find blackest and whitest points on any scan,  again set to 0.10% but adjustable if you prefer.  From there simply identify mid grey by checking Snap Neutral Midtones.  Both methods work well and it's very quick and easy to see which is the most suitable starting point for any given scan.  Below is a short screen video that shows the process.

 

Enlightenment

Emerging from the dark art of scanning

 

About a year ago I purchased CF Systems ColorPerfect plug-in,  I was looking for an effective scanning workflow that would allow me to skip my scanners bundled software EpsonScan.  I covered my thinking in a blog post entitled Perfect Colour here.   At that time I had concluded that colour negative scanning was a three stage process consisting of scanning with no adjustments, removal of the orange mask and inversion then finally colour correction. Almost from the off I had my doubts about ColorPerfect and over the months that I used the plug-in my doubts never abated.  During that time ColorPerfect regularly inverted negatives with odd colours that needed extensive correction.  Using ColorPerfect to make these corrections while entirely possible was with its difficult user interface never going to be a pleasurable experience and so once again I was using Photoshop to make extensive colour corrections.  ColorPerfect had become for me, simply an inversion tool and knowing that this is also possible with Photoshop I decided that some experimentation in the hope of simplification and consistency was overdue. 

CF Systems ColorPerfect inversion of a linear scan from an Epson V500

Now after some months of experimentation and testing for the first time since I started scanning over four years ago I've finally arrived at a workflow that is for me, straightforward, consistent and most importantly satisfying.  In doing so I wanted to share my experience and method.  First task scanning the film with all scanner software controls set to off and include a decent slice of orange mask.  This produces a good linear scan of the negative with no automatic adjustments from the scanning software.

• Follow these setting on EpsonScan to make a linear scan

 

• Opening the linear scan in Photoshop it is first necessary to neutralise the orange mask.  

• Begin with a levels layer and sample the orange mask with the white eyedropper tool thus indicating the orange mask as white; it will become black when inverted, as will all the other unexposed areas in the negative.

• After sampling the orange mask with the white eyedropper tool all orange base areas become white and subsequently black when inverted. Note the white areas under the trees that will become the deep shadows.

• Flatten the two layers.

• Invert the file: Image>Adjustments>Invert or cmd + I (ctrl + I on Windows)

• The now positive inversion is muddy and needs correcting

• Before correcting crop the border, this is not absolutely necessary however if you want to keep a border then be aware of it in your histogram during the next steps.

• Create a new levels layer.

• In the dropdown box select the red channel.

• Start by pulling the small white triangle under the histogram box left so that it aligns with the right edge of the histogram above. If there is a space on the far left of the histogram pull the black triangle toward the right to align it with the left edge of the histogram above. 

• To help find the edge of the histogram hold the alt key until red clipping is seen. Repeat the process on green and blue channels.

 

Initial inverted and colour corrected scan.

This is how I arrive at my starting point, a basic inverted scan ready to post process.  Dust and spot removal, sharpening and contrast controls are always necessary, often a mid grey correction and curve adjustment help finish the photo.  Obviously I don't for one moment suggest that what and how I scan is the best or only way, it's simply a refection of my experience as a film photographer. As such I'm always interested in other analogue photographers experiences and methods.  So please feel free to comment or discuss.

Finished photo, spotted, sharpened with final contrast and colour adjustments.

Photographed with Hasselblad 500c/m on Kodak Kodak Portra 800 film.

Model: Rosie Gregory

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sharing Space

And the allure of the double portrait.

 

Portraiture is predominantly the representation of a single individual and for as long as there has been art there has been portraiture.  Although the portrayal of a single person has the power to arrest the viewer and tell a story, without doubt, the traditional strength of an individual portrait is often amplified with a double portrait.  When a picture features two people there is an added dimension, a natural sense of story that emerges due to our own supposed views of the relationships between the subjects.  All of a sudden the connection is not just linear, from the subject via the camera and photographer to viewer.  In a double portrait, the relationships scatter in different directions.  It is these imagined relationships between the subjects whether they be lovers, enemies, friends, colleagues, siblings, family or even strangers that create for me, some of the most intriguing and fascinating portraits.  

For some time, I have been enjoying the work of Belarusian photographer Alexander Veledzimovich who truly exemplifies the strength of the double portrait.  His portraits regularly feature two people, they are exemplary visions of sharing space and so I recently asked him some questions about his work and influences.  

• Alexander firstly a bit about you? 

I live in Vitebsk, a town in the north of Belarus. People know of Vitebsk through the artist Marc Chagall who was born there and who then in Paris created pictures inspired by his childhood and youth in Vitebsk. I am 32 years old. I was a teacher for some time in a college but by chance became a photographer and I have been freelancing for over 10 years now.  At the moment I am in Warsaw, previously in 2010 I lived for 6 months in St. Petersburg and in 2014, I travelled around Europe for 5 months. 

• How and when did you discover photography?

An artist friend of mine had a Zenith with a 135mm lens and I liked how it all looked. I worked in America when I was a student and on the advice of my boss in 2004, I bought a Canon 300D. Probably in the second year I looked into the basics [of photography] and took pictures of concerts, friends, exhibitions, parts of an old town and even tried to make an improvised studio.  This all had little to do with the art of photography but it seemed that I had something.  Everything became more interesting after meeting Egor Voinov.   He told me to try and work with film and medium format cameras.  My photos gradually became different. Photography became a time for reflection, with the camera on a tripod and a cable release attached there came a degree of calm and concentration.

• Who are your photographic influences?

Ah, that’s a difficult question.  I like the honesty of the portraits of Oleg Videnin but at the same time I like the complexity of form of Evgeny Mokhorev.  I look for a harmonious combination of form and content, above all an ideal balance between one and the other.  For me, a good photo has visual beauty as I do not like abstract forms in which there is no meaning.  I also like the stories of Alec Soth and Cristina de Middel, they show the delicate line between reality and non reality in such an excellent way. 

• Why Portraiture, what does it mean to you?

Portraiture for me is a quiet world or place in which one can relax from premeditated photography.  I like the fact that I do not need to think about a subject and simply wait for when a person gives me the image.  In fact, after living in Warsaw for 6 months, I am realising that I needed to be in Vitebsk because, for me, it is important to near the people I know in order to create new portraits.

• You work feels like a mixture of simple honesty and constructed vision with your use of subtle props such as guns, skulls and masks.  Can you tell me a little of how and why you make these portraits?

Usually, everything in a portrait stems from that person being photographed.  I do not like to photograph in a studio and I do not like to specifically pre arrange reconnaissance visits.  I like to visit my subjects in their home and wait and see what comes of it.  In this way, I can make an honest and powerful photo, one which I can love even after many years.  Put simply, there is a person, there is me, there is a camera and random things around.  Of course, I select the things I like but everything depends on what the person understands, whether he holds a toy pistol or wears a mask.  My best photos are lucky improvisations

• Many of your photographs feature two people what is your interest in these double portraits?

Actually, a double portrait immediately creates a story; the observer looks at the photo in a different reality and tries to interpret the interrelation between the people.  In a single portrait, there is a stronger relation between the observer and the subject but it is more difficult to create a theme or story.

There is no doubt for me, that Alexander's unique and particular approach offers the viewer a memorable take on portraiture.  You can see more of his excellent work on his website here.

© All Rights Reserved | Alexander Veledzimovich 2016

Perfect Colour

If you've read any of my previous blog posts you may have guessed by now that I see scanning as the dark art of the hybrid analogue/digital workflow. Using a standard Epson V500 I’ve been scanning my negatives for almost four years and frustratingly still have not achieved enlightenment.  In February I finally purchased CF Systems ColorPerfect plug-in. Until now I felt that although inconsistent the results from the V500's bundled EpsonScan software were acceptable and the use of additional software would not be worth the disruption in workflow.  EpsonScan generally does a good job of converting scans, automatically applying black, grey and white points, but it can also be hit and miss.  Disconcertingly on occasion, I've even found that two shots taken in the same light directly one after the other could look very different in preview.  It’s not the scanner, it's the software.  The automatic initial adjustments applied are exactly that, automatic and adjustments.  If these adjustments are there or thereabouts, then making small modifications is straightforward enough.  However getting control of these adjustments within the EpsonScans interface for anything more profound is not easy and so inevitably is done in Photoshop.  In reality using Photoshop to correct EpsonScans limitations.  So eventually tiring with EpsonScans variable results I thought why not try another way?  

It is not my intention that this is a review of ColorPerfect, for me it's too early for that but I have found the process of making RAW or Linear scans of negatives to be beneficial. By scanning negatives with no adjustments seemingly all information on the negative is captured.  I now think of scanning as a three-stage process.  Scanning which is just that, scanning the negative as a negative, no adjustments, no sharpening, no dust removal. The next stage is conversion from negative to positive and the removal of the orange mask.  Finally, colour correction, finding mid grey, contrast, highlight, mid-tone and darks adjustment.  In a conventional workflow scanner software such as EpsonScan or VueScan work to produce a final colour corrected scan in-line with all stages happening together in one process or it can be broken down and done separately, as I now currently prefer.

I hoped ColorPerfect with its vast library of film emulsions would somehow magically convert negative scans to positives while retaining the basic colour characteristics of each film type. The truth is as I see it, that ColorPerfect is a database of orange masks used to convert negative to positive. Thereafter its features are much the same as any other colour correcting software and in common with EpsonScan getting control of these adjustments is no easy process in ColorPerfect either.  ColorPerfect has some excellent colour correction features but they are hidden behind a difficult user interface that is neither intuitive nor graceful.  It does, however, convert an unadulterated negative scan to positive.  A scan that includes all information, effectively removing the orange masks and thereafter ready to go to Photoshop for the all-important final process of colour correction.  

I have no doubt that Adobes post-processing either in Photoshop or Lightroom is more powerful, more adjustable and more user friendly than anything scanning software can offer and in this workflow there is no need to correct their limitations either. The conclusion? Well as yet for me, there isn’t one, only progress because colour scanning still remains a dark art. 

1975 BMW 3.0 CSi | Hasselblad 500c/m | Kodak Ektar 100

Tripod... It's a Monopod

On a recent family day out we visited Hampton Court Palace the famed Tudor residence of King Henry VIII.  Sited on the River Thames at Hampton some 11 miles from central London this 500-year-old royal palace remains one of the largest Tudor buildings in England.  I don't usually take a camera on outings like these, beautiful palaces and castles don't whet my photographic appetite.  Even though I live very close to the palace I had not been there since I was at school and at this rate, I may never go again, and so as a sort of challenge, I thought why not?

Shooting Kodak TMAX 400 film I was fairly sure that there would not be enough light to hand hold and so I bought a monopod with me.  Sure enough in the interiors rooms at ƒ8 I needed 1/8, well within the usable limits of a monopod.  Before shooting any interior shots I asked the staff if it was okay to use a monopod.  The staff member consulted with a colleague on her walkie-talkie and said that a monopod was okay, however for future reference a tripod was not.  At this point, I also established that the photos were not for commercial use and that in effect I was a tourist like the hundreds of others visitors surrounding me, all happily shooting away with their phones and DSLR's - on ISO6400 no doubt.  Albeit I was using a rather strange contraption, a film camera.

A little later I was in another wing of the palace and a guard came up to me to say that I was not allowed to take photos using a tripod, I told him it was a monopod and that I had sought permission and that it had been granted.  Of course, he went off to check and so as I wondered out of the room yet another guard stopped me and asked if I could wait (and not leave the room) while they awaited their response.  "No, if you want to find me I will be in the next room" I told them.  Having no desire to stand about waiting because they didn't know their own rules.

10 minutes later while standing in the garden with my wife and daughter a senior guard came up to me and politely told me that photography is not permitted in the palace with tripods.  It's a monopod I explained.  He said that they were not allowed either.  Okay no problem, “But can you tell me why I had been told it was permitted when I asked and now it’s not?"  He pointed to the two bands around the cuff of his red jacket in a puerile implication that he was in charge and went on to say that tripods are a health and safety concern as other visitors can trip on them and that they damage the floor - like shoes don’t!  Furthermore, he went on to say that basically, they don’t like “proper" photos been taken by photographers, "Only tourist with point and shoots cameras really".  Apparently, the people at Historic Royal Palaces get snooty when unofficial photos appear on the web and in publications he added.  Er… what do they think it is, the 1980’s?  It could be argued that phones can take a perfectly good photo of an interior and moments later it will be on Facebook, Instagram, Flickr or any other website.  All this, while I'm still loading a film in the back of my camera and fiddling about with my light meter.  He even asked me what type of photos I was taking?   I couldn't see the relevance of the question but my response was measured and polite "I’m taking photos of the palace, like everybody else."  Later at home I looked on the official Historic Royal Palaces website and this is the one and only rule surrounding the whole debacle, nothing about health and safety, nothing about monopods and certainly nothing about “proper” photography.

• The use of tripods inside the building is not permitted unless arrangements have been made in advance with our conservation team (to protect the floors from the tripod base so that it doesn't cause damage).

The protection of cultural treasures and valuable antiques is an important job no doubt, but hassling paying visitors who have not done anything wrong I'm sure is not. I might just go back to photographing empty doorways in Staines at midnight! 

 

 

Controling Film Curl

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Something that has bugged me ever since I started scanning has been curly film. For 20 years I worked in the lithographic print industry and remember well the drum scanning machines and the lengths the operators went to mount transparencies on the drum. Air cans, squirrel hair brushes, wet mounting in oil to avoid Newton Rings and optically clear film overlays to secure the transparencies completely flat around the drum. All a far cry from the plastic film holders with their flimsy frame clamps that are supplied with most flatbed scanners. 

While scanning all too often I've dropped in a strip of film, clamped it down only to see the film bellying out. Thoughts of wet drum scanning nagging in the back of my mind. My solution until now has been to weigh down the film. After developing and drying, my best option was days underweight to try and achieve a degree of acceptable flatness. 120 film is flatter but not always great. 35mm; especially black and white can be terrible, the plastic clamps doing little or nothing to help.

After speaking to my friend Nicola Neri, a Milan based portrait photographer, whose beautiful film portraits often feature film borders. Borders are an indication that he is doing something different, his recommendation was to purchase a sheet of anti-reflective glass and to simply lay the negative direct on the scanner bed and place the glass sheet on top. My initial experiment was to purchase a sheet of 30 x 20cm etched defused anti-glare glass from a local picture framing shop.

 

Etched defused anti-glare glass is slightly frosted on one side, It’s the type of glass that was used before the clear modern anti-reflective coated glasses in use today. By placing the negative emulsion side down on the scanner bed and then placing the frosted surface of the etched glass on the non-emulsion side, unsightly Newton Rings were avoided. 

 

Unsightly Newton Rings are avoided by placing the etched surface of glass against the non-emulsion side of the negative.

However, there are three disadvantages to this: theoretically the film should be just above the glass for perfect scanning focus; not directly on it.  Only one scan can be made at the time, each frame needing to be masked and scanned before moving on to the next. Finally, the scan is back to front.

The third point is no big deal it is easy to flip the image in post-processing. The first and second are, and so to achieve the correct height and position the use of the scanner frames was necessary. Removing the clamp on the 120 frame was easy, a slight twist and out it popped. The next step was to have strips of etched glass cut to fit the channels of the film frame. On my 35mm frame, it was necessary to cut away some small lugs of plastic that held the 35mm strip in place at the leading edge, this was required in order to get a clear channel for the negative and glass to sit in. With clamps removed the negative can be placed in their original position but clamped down by the weight of the glass. The glass now completely flattens the film and the frame holder keeps it at the ideal height and in position so that the software can make multiple scans. The total cost of the cut and polished glass was £12.00 (approximately €15.00/$17.00) and for me, a cost-effective solution to control film curl.

Scanner featured is a Epson v500, glass is Matobel etched defused anti-glare glass.

So High in Soho

Neon, Rain and an October Evening Shooting on Film with Tom Sebastiano: a Sitter’s View

Wearing 140mm heels in always a vertiginous challenge.  Finding your feet, your balance and your poise for a portrait is an even higher ask. So there we were, Tom and I, in London’s drizzling Soho watching the orange glow of raven black taxi lights bleed onto the patent wet cobbles; hunting out the acid neon light I am so addicted to for my portrait.

Naturally a little peacock-like I found it quite amusing trying to find space to hold still for Tom’s camera in the indigo night inside the gay rainbow streets of London.  It’s not an easy task for Tom to find the right places for light levels or just a spot for us to squeeze into, whilst London sometimes saunters and sometimes rolls itself past. 

Clattering girls, wrapped couples, strutting gayboys, drunken huddles; London’s streets has it all. And now it has us leaning into stripper’s signs in doorways the tart pink glowing in my eyes; slipping down alleyways under the guttering street lamps; tearing a muscle or two twisting in Madams’ forbidden doorways: all like Alice running down different roads with Tom the Mad Hatter taking the twists and turns. 

 

 

The lights flick on and off as Tom shuts the camera lense; capturing the journey shutter by shutter.  The challenge from the sitter’s perspective is that you have no safety net of an image to see. You’re committed to film in a moment and don’t know how you look or how the frame will sit.  The moment is captured and you move on; you catch another and another and another. You have to trust Tom to tell you how to move yourself and where to look. 

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A quick heel change from YSL suede boots into beetle black Jimmy Choos and I sit on the stained steps in Charing Cross station.  Strip lights that make you a little glue faced; the dirty floor littered with London’s trash; I think Tom likes to mix a little grime and grit into his images.  Relieved to be sitting after two hours of walking and standing I look up and I think about some of the more troubling clouds in my mind.  That’s the shot.  It took a whole evening of persistence and tenacity but now there it is and remains. That moment captured.

Rachel Donati is a professional copywriter specialising in creative content and brand communication.  I Shot Rachel with Kodak Portra 400 & Fuji Neopan 400 using a Hasselblad 500c/m

 

OnFilm Photo

I was really pleased to be featured on the community work page of todays OnFilm Photo website. This is a great new site that amongst other things showcases the work of talented film photographers together with a short interview. In addition there is a swap centre where people are swapping film from around the world and a flea market where you can buy and sell things! Worth checking out for sure.

Expired Experiments

The resilience of film was made evident to me in my friends darkroom last week. Just for fun and experimentation we decided to mix some old powdered chemicals in the form of a Nova Pro-Speed 41 Press Kit.

'How old is the kit ?' I said.   

'I last one I used was in 2003 and it was old then' he replied hopefully.

So who knows when the kit was actually past its sell by date but the deal was one film each to see what we got. Nova marketed Pro-speed 41 as a kit for professional press photographers. The kit came with full documentation for airport security and was sealed in zip lock labelled bags. I can imagine a press photographer in the 90's setting off to some far-flung place and processing their work in a grimy hotel room at the end of a days shooting. 

 

It would seem that one of the big advantages of the Nova kit was its flexibility of developing temperatures. The instructions recommended an optimum temperature of 38º but the enclosed printed table gave development times from 32º - 43º as well. For my part I choose to develop an expired Fujicolor Pro 160 film and so it was with some apprehension and relief when the negatives came off the spiral and I saw the film, it looked good with a decent orange base and strong negative images. But it wasn't util I scanned them that the true durability of analogue photography was made evident to me, in spite of using an old kit of chemicals and expired film I was still able to see some decent images, for colour if not content!

 Mamiya RZ67 with Fujicolor Pro 160NS developed in Nova Pro-Speed 41 Press Kit chemicals at 34º for 4:45 minutes.