On Hiring a Model (or how I vaulted out of my comfort zone)

I’ve written in this blog before about the challenge of finding people to photograph. I was on Instagram last autumn and for once the hashtag #gloucestershiremodels (or it might have been #cotswoldmodels, I forget which) produced somebody who actually was a photographic model, as opposed to somebody deeply involved with miniature railway layouts. She clearly not only was fine being photograhed and was really good at modelling but actually lived locally. An exchange of messages established that we’d like to work together but for this was a business and so it was going to cost me; well I thought, I’ll get some time in photographing somebody but I’ll also learn a lot. So went for it. A few messages later we agreed that as I really wanted to shoot outdoors on location it was going to be worth wating till the spring for a reasonable change of nice weather so we booked it for June.

Fortunately we booked it, though we couldn’t have known it at the time, for a date two weeks after they raised the lockdown restrictions!

I’m going to admit that, as the date came closer I got more an more nervous. This is somebody who shoots with people who have loads of portrait and model experience. This is somebody good enough to ask money. What if I appear a complete doofus? I did the best I could to avoid this, I watched a really good course on LinkedIn Learning on Natural Light Portrait Photography, made sure my batteries were charged, cleaned my lenses and breathed deeply.

The range of locations was, of course, drastically reduced by the lockdown. She normally models a lot in the oh-so-scenic town of Bourton-on-the-Water, but Bourton was dealing with the lockdown by closing off all the public areas and the car parks so the tourists would stay away. But the week before me she’d shot in the neighbouring village of Lower Slaughter and it looked amazing; so we decided to go there if she thought we could get two hours out of it as I’d never been there. Got there early to both find a parking space and have a quick scout around and the place is just so lovely. I personally think it’s nicer than Bourton (prob due to the lack of a tourist infrastructure or any tourists, it doesn’t even have a car park or public loo).

Well, needless to say it all went fine; Mel is both a total professional and great company. I fronted it out right at the begining that she’d done this far more than me so I was happy to hear any suggestions she might have for photos, and also anything where she could clearly see I wasn’t doing things in the best way possible. We spent the full two hours wandering around the village: ‘how about in front of that plant?’ ‘what about on that bridge?’ ‘how about if I sat by that tree?”. The time just flew past and at the end of it I had photos I liked and which I hope Mel likes too.

So what’s my take home message about hiring a genuine model? Essentially it’s worth doing it (at least once). For your money you get somebody who, unlike probably your friends and relatives, is used to being in front of the camera. I think it was Bailey who said that models understand what they’re doing there and know that it’s something beyond just ‘being’; ordinary people don’t really get that. Mel made sure that while I did my bit through the viewfinder she set herself up in ways which she knows are going to work, she gets where to look, and how to arrange her arms and legs. In addition you’re not imposing on their time, ask a friend and you know they’re putting themselves out for you, with a model this is their job, and you hired them to do it. They’re going to expect to spend however long it is being photographed and aren’t going to get annoyed at you for taking up time they could spend doing something else.

In as much as one time qualifies me to make suggestions then I’d say the big one is to remember they’re a professional and to treat them like one: that means be polite, reasonable and pay them what you agree, when you agree to do it.

So, here are some photos (which is what you’re really interested in…). The model is Mel Bond and you can find her on Instagram as Melanie.Butler353 (all images subject to copyright)

Svema fn64 and a 40 year old Pentax lens

Okay, so that title is not as punchy as ‘four weddings and a funeral’, I admit it. But it does accurately explain the post content. Does what it says on the film can and all that.

A few months back I bought two rolls of Svema fn64 from Analogue Wonderland to try out because it was different and a bit of a new line: and the blue package is quite nice, though that wasn’t really something which influenced my descision. I popped it in the fridge for when I felt like using it. In retrospect that wasn’t a great idea, because I hadn’t read the warnings about light piping with this film on the webpage of the Film Photography Project who supply this film to Analogue Wonderland. As an aside, I have to wonder why the FPP supply this film in translucent containers under the circumstances, putting it in opaque ones might be more user friendly? So several months in the door of our fridge being opened in our nice light kitchen wasn’t a great choice as we shall see.

Well, the UK plunged into lockdown, and the school where I work closed leaving me working at home, but with more free time and energy. Normally I walk about 10k steps every day at work, and with both going down the shop to get bread and needing to go out for a walk every day, I decided that I was going to do a couple of photography projects. The first was that for my Instagram I was going to take a mono abstract photo every day (inspired by this interesting video about Maarten Rots on Sean Tucker’s Youtube). I also decided that when I was out and about I was going to take a camera and shoot film every day, and as I was working on my monochrome skills I’d shoot only mono film seeing as how I had some in the fridge of various kinds. The weather has been bright and sunny so I thought a good time to try out the 64 ISO Svema (‘bright’, ‘sunny’, see ‘light piping’ above).

I decided that if I was going analogue I was going to go proper analogue and shoot on my Pentax MX with the the 50mm Pentax f2 lens which I bought with my K1000 in 1979 (calm down, it’s the K mount one, not one of the semi mythical Super Takumars). I’d been watching Daniel Milnor on using on a 50mm lens so you learn how to shoot with it, this lockdown does mean I watch a lot of photography Youtube, so I’d made my choice. Mono film, vintage 50mm lens. There was a slight added wrinkle in that I’d picked up a 50mm Yashica f1.9 lens in a charity shop for which I had a converter so I did shoot a few frames with that. Very interesting effects, definitely the ‘vintage lens’ look, however I’m not sure the stop down is working properly with the MX shutter as the exposures were signficantly off, so no more using that one till I sort that.

I shot the first roll and developed it, as per massive dev, in Rodinal 1:25. Actually it’s not Rodinal itself it’s a Rodinal clone, nature identical Rodinal as one might say. First impressions were that the film is physically nice to handle, I sure I read somebody somewhere say they worried about it tearing but I didn’t find it fragile, or feel as though it might be. The film dried as flat as my normal Fomapan does….and then I noticed that somehow the negatives didn’t look ‘right’, my first impression was that they were quite dark, but it was ISO64 and maybe I’d tended to overexpose a bit. Once I scanned them I found they were a bit on the overexposed side, but I liked the results, they had that quality to them which is the reason for shooting film on 40 year old lenses in the first place. If they were pin sharp and with massive dynamic range you might as well shoot digital. So here are some from that first roll.

Now, if you look at the long edge of each frame you’ll notice that it’s a bit paler, a bit more overexposed, as though a beam of light had shone along the edges of the film. In a strange way I quite, sort of like the effect, but I’d rather this had been an effect over which I had control. The two images of the tumbledown shed and the river are with the Yashica lens, the other two are the Pentax one.

So I attempted to learn my lesson a bit and when I wanted to let the film warm up I took it out of the translucent container and put it in a plain black one. Then loaded it quick and out of the light. Shot the film off, all with the Pentax lens and repeated the Rodinal 1:25 development. This time a number of the frames at the leader end were blown out entirely, and the rest also had the light margins. But again in a lot of cases I quite liked the effect and I do like the way the images look. With the clarity pushed up in lightroom the structure of things like wood and bark come out really nicely. I’m really pleased with the one of the bridge and the one of the bench, and the way the film has handled the scene.

So what’s my take home thoughts after this experient with Svema, and this rather longer than normal blog post? Overall I liked it, and I enjoyed shooting with it. I’d like to experiment more with it, maybe try different developers, or shoot it through a more modern film camera with a newer lens. For me though the problem is that in the UK there is a not inconsiderable price premium on this film: a 24 exposure roll is over twice as much as a 36 of FP4 or Foma 100. I’d love to shoot more with it, but really I can’t justfy the cost though I’d buy some if it turned up short dated or discounted (or if Analogue Wonderland or the FPP gave me some, hint, if you’re reading this…). I’d say it’s definitely a film to have a go with if you’re into trying something new and worth the cost of a roll to see if you like it.

Just read that article on light-piping first.

Using Instagram Differently (at least to the way I did)

A couple of months ago, in the nature of an experiment, I decided to make some changes to the way I used Instagram as a consumer. I realised I was scrolling through a whole load of rather samey content, I was seeing a lot of images from people I’d followed because I’d seen a photo I liked, but a lot of it was, just, when I put my hard nose on, repetative.

The first thing I did was, rather ruthlessly, prune the people I followed based on two criteria:

  1. Was it somebody I was ‘actually’ friends with, and so wanted to keep in touch with?
  2. Was it somebody whose work I enjoyed seeing, or more to the point, would I care if I stopped seeing their work?

The thing which surpised me after doing this was that I had pretty much pruned my list of people I was following by half: yep, half of the images I was scrolling through were from people I didn’t know and to which I was pretty indifferent. Immediately, I was having a much more enjoyable experience because I was only seeing people I cared about living their lives, or photos I was enjoying.

This then

The next thing I decided to do was to abandon reflexive liking – ‘scroll, that’s an okay photo, double-tap move on’. Because I realised that in most cases, if I liked it or not didn’t matter a damn. For the ‘group 1’ people of course I was doing it because they were going to see I had and think “oh, Andy liked my photo” (or I hope they do), but for most people it’s just part of ‘x number of people liked this photo’ and really, what does it matter? It’s no use to me because, unlike Flickr, I can’t easily just see all the photos I’ve liked. So now, apart from my actual friends, I only like an image I really like, something which catches my eye as especially striking.

That’s then cleared up ‘scroll space’ for me to discover new photographers with work I like, I’ve been using the adorama createnomatterwhat hashtag which is getting be new viewers and I’ve been going through every day and looking at their work (which was the idea behind the tag) and finding a number of photographers who pass my ‘do I want to see this stuff again’ test.

Overall, this has markedly improved my user enjoyment of Instagram,

Badminton (no rackets) 2009

It’s another photo from my past, which I’m doing not because I set out to but because it was on my desktop and I quite like it. It’s a photo of event rider Paul Tapner, clearing the L200s at the Badminton Horse Trials 2009. By a strange co-incidence his son is a pupil at the school where I work, so when I came across this image a few weeks ago I was able to send a copy home via Tapner Jnr.

One of my sons and I used to go to Badminton every year, it was our annual day out and we loved it. The walk round the course is about 4miles, you spend the day walking round, stopping at jumps, watching some riders go past, etc. All in all, a good day out.

Paul Tapner jumps the L200s

Film Macro Lens on Digital

When my mother in law decided she’d stopped photography I aquired her stuff, a pair of film Canon EOS 500s with assorted lenses, including a Sigma 90mm macro lens. I’m a regular digital Canon shooter and so I naturally wanted to try this out on my digital bodies (I decided to use my 450d, not my 6d as a test bed for this). However, despite fitting nicely, every time I tried to take a photo I got a lens connection error and, however diligently I cleaned the terminals, the error persisted. Occasionally I’d have another go, only to have the same result. However, for some reason my duckduckgo fu (I refuse to use Google) went transendental, or I used slightly different language, not sure which, but I found that all film vintage EF lenses were interchangable with digital bodies *apart from some Sigma lenses* due to a slight mismatch in the electronics. There were suggestions of how to take it apart and solder in new chips, or of paying other folks to do it, neither of which appealed. So I left it.

Then, in the middle of the night as sometimes happens I wondered if the secret was just to put some tape over the contacts, that way the camera wouldn’t think it had a lens at all and might work. Then to my surprise, when I did some digging I found this video in which the presenter does just that. But I sat there this morning, methodically put tape over the contacts on the lens, put it on the body and….it worked. Joy unconfined and all that.

Ok, caveat time, I’m not saying to do this. Just because he does it and it works and I did it and it worked, doesn’t mean it will for you.

So today I’ve been, in between working at home due to the lockdown, popping out into the garden and seeing what happens. Broadly the results a good, but a couple of things did prove challenging. The first is that with no communication between the camera and the lens, the autofocus doesn’t work. My eyesight isn’t great and I find using the camera with glasses tricky, so I got a lot of out of focus photos, especially with the very small depth of field. Also the lens has no manual stop down, or it’s fixed at 2.8, I don’t know. However as I didn’t have a light meter with me there was a lot of exposure guesswork. But I got results which I liked. Not sure if I’m going to be doing a lot of this, macro isn’t really an area I’ve ever got into in a big way, though the bokeh is amazing and I might want to explore the lens a bit for for non-macro shooting. 90mm is a fairly useful short telephoto in it’s own right.

So, as is traditional, here are a couple of images. One is your genuine macro type shot of an Acer leaf just coming through, and the other is a telephoto distance shot of our Art Nouveau planter.

Shadows, mainly in the kitchen

Like everybody else with much reduced horizons I’m looking for things to photograph around the house; I am allowed to go for my daily walk, but stopping to take photos is somewhat frowned up as not being in the spirit of the thing. So I’m largely falling back onto my two old standbys of photographing the garden and photographing shadows. One of the nice things about our house is that the west facing windows mean the low, bright, sunshine in the late afternoon often casts amazing shadows…

Sloth..not a deadly sin..

Went over to the Cotswold Wildlife Park again (sans school party) yesterday, much more restful. Fortunately one of the sloths was not only just over the path in the tropical bird house but also decided to take a peer at at us which was great. One advantage of the Canon 6d and 24-105 lens is that it gives me the ability to crop in quite well to bring out his/her (I have no idea which) wonderful expression

How do people find, and keep track of, photographers to watch?

It is a fact universally acknowleged that the photographer who wants to improve needs to look at the work of photographers who are better than they are, who inspire and create great images. The problem I find is how to find new work, and when I’ve found it how to keep track of it. Of course if one had a limitless photobook budget this would be easier, but I for one do not. I do read Black and White Photography and The British Journal of Photography every month, which are both full of inpsiring stuff, but I find the problem is that I haven’t found a way to keep track of them all. I could make notes of their names in a book, or bookmark their websites with something like Pocket or Instapaper, but that doesn’t turn into a way to keep going back and looking at their images.

One idea which is sort of developing in my head is a version of those digital photo frames which you can use to show a rolling slide show of your photos (As an aside I keep thinking of getting one of those) but rather than flipping through my own work it would pull up an image from somebody else’s website and display it. Now all good inventions, well actually all inventions, start with a wild idea: the issue is turning it into a reality. I’ve broken this down into two phases

The finding an image phase.

How do I pull an image from somebody every day? One possiblity would be to use something which already exists like Pinterest to do it, which would definitely be easier than trying to write something which visits the website of a selected photographer and downloads a random image.

The displaying phase.

How do I show the images? I’m thinking of something around the Raspberry Pi computer or Arduino board using Wi-Fi and hitched up to a small monitor, somehow then showing full screen images.

Anyway, it’s a crazy idea in my head at the moment. If there are no further blog posts on this topic you’ll know that’s how it remained!