Return to the Developing Tank

My name is Andy, and I used to develop film, but I’ve like given it up yeah?

Seriously though, back in the dim and distant past of the late 70s, like a lot of amateur photographers I got into processing my own monochrome film, developing it and then printing it. All great fun, even down to the all pervasive smell of fixer (I used to have a pair of cut off jeans I called my printing shorts which used to honk of the stuff). But time moved on, I moved on, didn’t have anywhere to do it, gave away my stuff, etc etc. Then moved onto digital and wow, was it ever convenient. But then a year or so back I started to get into shooting film again, because, well, it’s different. And that led me back to a feeling that I should be processing my own film once more. I could kid myself it’s about cost, or getting more control over my process by being able to push or pull film, or get different contrast with different developers and stuff. But really, deep down, I just wanted that feeling of unwinding the film and seeing the images there, like magic, in a long strip. So a bit of online shopping, a new Paterson tank for a birthday gift, acquiring my old mother in law’s home made changing bag, and I was ready to go. For the first time in 35 years I was going to process film.
Now one thing I realised was that, actually, back in the day when I was in my late teens and early twenties, I was really pretty bloody sloppy about all this, but with age comes a desire to do things more properly, to accurately get the temperatures right, to wear disposable gloves, to not have a pair of cut off jeans unsuitable for non-photographic company, etc. But along with that since then with the advent of online shopping, and a general drop in technology prices, it was easy to get everything I needed ready. Also, and this was a real revelation, I could get a smartphone app called Massive Dev Chart in which I put the film and developer and it worked out all the times…and counted them down for me, with annoying little noises to remind me I should be agitating. Bit of a mild panic while my fingers remembered how to load a developing tank but once I’d got past that hurdle it was all rather plain sailing. The app told me when to agitate, stand, rinse, fix, rinse, etc etc etc…and then, after the final rinse….I pulled the roll of film out of the tank with some trepidation. I think as much because I was worried that the magic had gone as much as the idea the roll would be blank, or black, or full of light leaks or some such other disaster.

There they were. 36 negative images. I hung it up over the bath (even in my new ‘do it properly’ mode drying tents are for sissies). Pure magic. Like it was back then. Here are a couple of images from that roll – one thing I will say for scanning negatives rather than real printing though – it’s so much easier to get rid of marks with photoshop!

cemetaryshed

oxfordrabbit

I’m Andy, and I do developing…but I could stop…if i wanted to!

Advertisements

Venturing in the world of the preset

Presets. You can’t spend a lot of time on either Instagram or Youtube, cruising the photography channels, without coming across them. Or more frequently being sold them. They’re the Coca-Cola bottle of digital photography, they’re everywhere, everybody seems to sell them and in their channel point out that the images were all processed using my ‘rusty zimmer frame’ preset (why do they all have such weird names?) which is available from the link below. I’ve never been tempted by this, mainly I think because I’ve never been convinced that I’ve got a market for a one-size-fits-all post processing solution. I take an image, decide what tweaking it needs and that’s that. So why might I want a preset? Why might I want to use somebody else’s processing choices on my images? It all sounded to me like a posh version of my favourite bugaboo: the Instagram or Snapchat filter.

The other week I was somewhere or other in the Internet, and the images were processed using ‘Earthy Moods’ from the Brixton Collection on Luxe Lens which looked sort of nice, and they were on special offer, so I thought I’d take a punt and see what I thought. So I installed them into Lightroom, opened a photo of Wayland’s Smithy I took years ago pretty much at random and saw what happened. I didn’t do any fine tuning, just clicked on the preset. Here is both my original and the preset version.

Original Version

waylandsSmithyPresetExample-2.jpg

With Brixton Earthy Moods preset

waylandsSmithyPresetExample-1.jpg

I’ve got mixed feelings about the result. The first thing is that it was both my image, and isn’t. I liked the results with a lot of the presets in the pack, in some cases more than my own version, but it wasn’t ‘me’. However much it looked great, it didn’t look like anything I’d ever have done; even if I’d known how to achieve those results; it’s not how I want my work to look. That, for me, is the main reason against buying presets, that you’re essentially taking your vision of the shot and then adding somebody else’s vision to it, which may not match your shot vision. Picking an example at random, I love the work of Evan Ranft and watch all his videos. I get really excited about his urban photography style, but if he did presets they’d not work for me because we’re different photographers, his processing techniques are an extension of his photography, not mine. It might be fun to hand him some of my photos to see what he did with them, and vice versa (though probably not for Evan to be honest…), but the results wouldn’t be ‘his’ or ‘mine’. Evan did a video on what to do if presets don’t do what you want….

If you’re going to go down the route of presets I’d say you can take one of two approaches, either do what I did, pick one you like the look of and see what happens or find a photographer with a similar style to you who sells presets and try those out for size. I don’t think, having tried them, that presets are really equivalent to Instagram or Snapchat filters, because they’re more subtle than those. I’d put them on a par with Hipstamatic, which I really enjoy using now and again, because it makes me see my work in a different way, not always a good way, but different. Sometimes with Hipstamatic I find the genuine lucky accident, when a combination of lens and film produces an image which I really like and which does reflect what I wanted when I took the shot. Do I regret spending my pennies on the pack? Not a bit of it, I’m sure I’m going to have loads of images in future where it’s going to be fun to try them out, and I’ll probably like the result and print or share them. I might even buy some more preset packs if I see something I think is fun, but they’re not going to be a core part of my workflow.

Hanging on in the Flickrverse (aka ‘blows against the empire’)

Back in the olden days, before the advent of the mobile phone camera and the invasion from planet Zuckerberg, if you wanted to share your photos online the game was Flickr. For me, somehow, despite all the things which have happened since, it still is. Before we go any further, I’d like to say two things clearly. The first is that I’m in no way sponsored or otherwise rewarded by Flickr and/or SmugMug, the other is that while I’m joking about Instagram/Facebook a lot here, they’re both platforms which do what they do well, and I’m happy to use them. The sci-fi imperial comments are just for rhetorical effect…

I’ve got Instagram, and Facebook and enjoy them both hugely, especially Instagram (yes, the invasion of the pods from the Zuckerberg Galaxy has got me to). I’ve experimented with 500px and even something called ClickaSnap, which somehow left me totally cold despite it’s frequent claims that somehow people were going to pay me. I know people use it and love it, but it’s just not for me. Images uploaded to my instagram also go automatically onto 500px and when I remember to check occasionally people like them. Nothing gives a snapper a warm glow like some random stranger feeling motivated to double-tap one of my photos in a vague form of quality acknowledgement. As Flickr lurched from one crisis to another and users haemorrhaged from it faster than body fluids in an Ebola outbreak, I hung in there despite a vague feeling that maybe I ought to cancel my Pro subscription and just go with the gram, but I never quite did. Right now, I’m feeling more Flicker-Positive than I have for years. Because the new owners SmugMug decided to make it less attractive for free users and the roadmap shows they’re thinking about new features for Pro users.

So why does somebody deciding to risk losing further shitloads of their user base (i.e. the ones who aren’t paying) on top of all the ones who’ve just given up over the Yahoo Years make me feel positive? Because it suggests that they believe that there are enough photographers out there prepared to stump up their pennies for a decent online platform, and making the revenue to fund that independent of advertiser revenue might give them the security to deliver. If you think about it, in the world of free hosting funded by the adverts the folks from Planet Zuck have nailed it, they’re like the empire in the original Foundation Novels, they’re everywhere, if they could have offices which covered a planet to the point that nobody could see the sky like Trantor then they’d get there. People rave about ‘The Algorithm’ affecting their viewers (and do I hate the algorithm ranting), they express concerns about their personal data, but they stick with it because for free it’s a bloody good service. Pretty much unlimited storage and sharing options in exchange for your personal data; a devil’s bargain perhaps, but one loads of people are happy to strike.

SmugMug clearly believe that there are enough people who are prepared to go down the route of just paying for a service with money rather than with data, and I think they’re going to be right. After all despite the outcry over the Adobe subscription model there are still hundreds of thousands of people every month who pay up because, well, they get a quality product in exchange. Interestingly, I don’t remember quite so much furore when The Beast of Redmond quietly slipped into a subscription model for Office, but again it’s about a company taking a pretty much guaranteed monthly revenue stream to deliver a quality product. That’s what I think, or at least I hope, SmugMug is doing here with Flickr. To be fair, offering free users space for a 1000 images isn’t exactly mean either – and to my mind anybody who has over 1000 quality images to share is probably going to be a keen enough Flickr user to want to pay for the features it offers.

And that brings me to the final reason I stick with Flickr, because actually the quality of the images is overall better, because it’s always been a platform entirely for photographers, while Instagram is a platform for anybody who wants to share some photographs. When I surf on Insta I find a lot of images I like, and often new people to follow, but there are also a lot of photos where frankly I find myself thinking ‘seriously, why did you bother?’ – well they bothered because it was fun, and their friends will find it fun too, and it will help people remember the experience of that birthday party / wedding / stag do / weekend in Benidorm / whatever. Those are all great things, and most of us do them, but that’s not the user base who are going to go for Flickr – that’s what I think Yahoo etc missed, they thought they could compete with The Zuck Empire on it’s own turf, and they couldn’t – not with a user base into Sagan numbers, quick easy upload from the phone and immediacy of sharing. I think SmugMug have realised this and refocussed onto photographers, who care about the quality of the image itself as much as the context.

The thing which I think would be a good add-on to the Pro Flickr roadmap would, oddly, be a quality print on demand service. If they partnered with print labs in various countries and you could order a print from inside Flickr, billed to the same card which pays your subscription, with all the options for size and quality built into the platform. There’s a lot more interest in printing our work now among photographers. If you’re listening SmugMug? That would be nice.

If you want to give Flickr a go, then the free option is worth trying out. This is mine, and if (or when) you have an account I’d love you to let me know so I can see yours.

Doing the Prime Lens Challenge

A few weekends ago, Sue and I went to Glastonbury for a couple of days, it’s a town we both know and like and it gave us the opportunity to visit some gardens: Barrington Court, Forde Abbey and Chalice Well if you’re interested. I’ve been in a bit of a creative rut lately and was looking for something to pull me out of it a bit so I decided to do the prime lease challenge.

For those who don’t know, you go somewhere and take only one lens, which can’t be a zoom. Traditionally it’s a 50mm so I took my Canon 50mm 1.8, however on a crop body it’s actually the equivalent of about an 80mm, but it’s still a prime. My rationale for doing it this trip was that it’s somewhere we’re going to to go again, and frankly which you could do for a day trip, so if there was something really great which required a different focal length I could always photograph it next trip. So I put only my 450d and 50mm in my bag and that was that.

80mm equivalent is a very strange lens to work with! It was consistently either too wide or too telephoto, but I think that was the point. I realised how much of my composition relied on being able to get just the right focal length based on where I felt like standing rather than standing to get the best image. I did a lot of shuffling back and forth, and finding a different angle when the one I started with wasn’t working. I also found the ladder to the snake in that having that 1.8 aperture not only let me get natural light interiors I wouldn’t have felt confident with before, but also allowed me to make some other photos with tight depth of field which wouldn’t have worked with the zoom lens.

As an older person the exercise tool me right back to my roots, as back in the 80s everything I shot was on either a 35mm, 50mm, a 135mm or occasionally a 300mm mirror lens. Zooms were either really expensive or really pants so I didn’t own one. Looking back I never really considered creative choices in the process of lens selection, it was based on what I wanted to fill the frame with.

Has it changed my photography for ever? Well no, but it has made me more aware of the effect of the focal length of the lens (which frankly I never know because I just zoom to what looks right) and the effect it has. It’s also made me want to get out my old MX and prime lenses from the 80s and so some more photo shoots with those; on film of course which would be even more limiting. I wonder what only having a 300mm on the front of the camera would mean….?

Motor Bike, front end remains – 79

Motor Bike Front End

Should you not have guessed, we’re into ‘photos of my past’ territory again with this one, and I can date it pretty much spot on to 1979. What you’re looking at here is the remains of the front end of a Honda CD175 in blue, which you can’t see in this photo, not a million miles away from this one. It’s in this state after a reasonable speed impact with the front end of a Renault something or other on the Jacob’s Well road near Guildford. This is apparently a well known accident black spot due to it’s tight bends and poor visibility, a fact to which I can heartily testify. Now, to put the record straight, this was totally and entirely my fault, something on which the police had already decided leading to a £60 fine and 3 points on my licence. Luckily I walked away from this, well I walked out of the casualty department which is broadly the same thing, and never got on a motor bike again.

If this is 79 then my guess is that we’re in the first years of the Pentax K100 and I think, from the depth of field on this, that the standard 50mm lens was probably quite far open.  I’m taking a punt on FP4 as that was rather my monochrome film of choice at the time. I rather like the effect of the high contrast monochrome on this with the shiny chrome,  the deep shadows and the pebble dash of my old mum’s kitchen wall in the background. There are actually lots of fun textures in this and what looks like a bit of motion blur on the wall but not on the bike, something I have no idea how I achieved (to label this ‘intentional camera movement’ would be taking ‘stretching the truth’ right out to ‘downright lying’). All in all, I’m rather taken with this image now I’ve re-discovered it after so many years!

Nick, with grain. 1980

Nick Smoking

 

Doing another one of the ‘photos from my past’ posts here. If you think these are somewhat self indulgent well, you’d be right. But they’re quite fun to do; most of these early ones come from rolls of film where I no longer have the prints and there isn’t a contact sheet for the negatives, so it’s a bit of rediscovery for me too. Sometimes a long forgotten negative turns up something a bit nice, and this photo is one of them.

This negative sheet at least has a date on it, June 1980, and as we’re into the Pentax years now I’m guessing it’s taken on my K1000.  I’ll do a proper post on this in due course as I’ve got an image from the test roll of film so it would make sense to do that one. But I definitely hadn’t had the camera long. It’s taken on Iford HP5 film, hence the rather nice contrast and grain.

The chap in the photo is Nick Harvey, who was my best friend at the time and with whom I spent a reasonable amount of time doing, well, nothing very much really. He had three great loves in life, home electronics, Genesis and Status Quo, and I’m not entirely certain which order they came in. Of the three his enthusiasm for bodging audio equipment was more likely to lead to his death than the others were (I once saw him pushed over backwards on his chair in an unfortunate incident involving a valve amplifier and a badly earthed soldering iron…  As one did, perhaps more than now, in the days before social networking we lost touch. He trained as an avionics apprentice for British Airways, but then after he finished his apprenticeship they decided they didn’t have a job for him. No idea what he went on to do after that. It’s taken in my bedroom, I remember having this prints…

My original plan was to scan the adjacent negative to this one, and that probably will turn up in due course as there’s a story behind it. But when I looked at this one I thought that it really isn’t a half bad candid portrait. I think I’ve rather captured his character in it (you’ll need to take my word for that), and the grain and contrast gives it a rather nice gritty mood. I don’t remember taking the photo, but the photo does bring back many enjoyable memories of circumstances in which it and similar photos could have been taken.

What Did TS Elliot Know About Photography? Nothing!

The Waste Land begins ‘April is the Cruelest Month’, which one has to assume reflects in some way the opinions of TS Elliot on the subject of the calendar. Whatever the merits of the poem, and it is very good, it reveals one thing and one thing only about TS Elliot’s knowledge of photography.

He clearly didn’t have any!

How do we know this? Well clearly no photographer if asked to choose the cruellest month is going to pick bloody april are they? Spring in full, well, spring. Loads of colour. Great Light. Long days (but not so long you don’t get great golden hour without having to stay up till after the late news on TV. Bit of rain to dampen things down, make some puddles and give you interesting reflections. April cruel? Don’t make me laugh.. Hell you’ve even cleared your credit card statement from Christmas by then and can think about some equipment upgrades!

Nope, I would defy any photographer to opt for any month other than January. It’s dark when you go to work and it’s dark when you get home and the weekends are, well, dark. A dank, grey claginess covers everything, broken up only by the times when it’s actually raining. Of course while there are loads of puddles you don’t get interesting reflections because the light is so flat. If you’re lucky you might get a bit of snow, but that’s going to be short lived and then contributes to the overall dampness. At least you’d stand a chance of some golden hour and still be home for tea, but of course you don’t get golden hour twilight, it just gets progressively greyer and greyer till you realise it’s actually dark.

Great poet, crap understanding of photography I say.