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!

Instagram, why likes and followers shouldn’t really matter for creative people

At almost the same time I published this, a brilliant post was published on fstoppers by Danette Chappell on broadly the same topic. It is well worth reading hers!

Photography and the Addiction to Compliments…

Algorithm changes, Instagram feeds are full of concern over them, for good reason because any change to the algorithm the software uses to decide what photographs you’re going to get handed in your feed is going to affect the number of views other people get. If the number of followers you have, and the number of likes each image gets, then you may well be adversely affected.

My contention is that these are metrics which don’t really matter a damn for most photographers, in fact I don’t think they should matter a damn for anybody.

Now that’s not say they’re not nice, I like getting a notification that somebody has liked one of my images as much as the next person, it’s very gratifying. But that’s how social networking technology works, on many levels. Apparently it has the same effect on your brain as eating chocolate, and we all know what that’s like!  It’s what keeps people checking their Facebook all the time to see if somebody has liked their posts, it’s addictive (and the jury is out about whether literally or metaphorically). This article covers it quite well.

But really, that’s not the point for creatives, or shouldn’t be. We shouldn’t be focussing on the likes and the follows; though we should be really interested in the comments if they’re giving us feedback on what the person liked or disliked. The point of being a creative is to produce imaginative, arresting, engaging work. It’s to produce an image which we’re proud of. It’s to produce art. It’s to produce something which we post because we’re pleased with it and want to share it with people, not to post something because lots of people might like it. If you’re hoping to get some work off the back of your Instagram feed, then quality work is even more important (and then making sure you tag and promote your stuff) because a potential client is going to look at your feed and decided if your work is good enough, not based on how many likes it has or how many followers you have.

The point is to produce a feed which says: “I’m a creative who does quality work” and to be comfortable in that regardless of how many people blip their thumb on that little heart symbol.

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.

Wind, Click, Ker-Clunk: Shooting Film

First of all, I’m not going to say anything revelatory about why I shoot film, nor anything which really every content creator on the Internet says about why they shoot film. So spoiler alert, no revelations coming. But I don’t think there is any law which says I can’t add my voice to this one, if there is, then talk to my lawyer, if I had one.

Like most people of my age I started out shooting film, it was the only game in town back then so if you took photos film is what you used. Looking back, oddly, one never thought about the act of shooting film very much, one just did it. Got the roll, opened it, loaded it, shot it. Job done. It was the process of photography. I used to do a bit of monochrome darkroom and there was always magic in that, seeing the image appear in the developer tray from nothing. The almost monastic feeling of being alone in the dark with the smell of the chemicals (always use in a ventilated space my arse). I used to have a pair of cut off jeans I called my painting shorts because they were comfortable in the warm room and I knew I could wipe my hands on the legs without ruining anything. Or maybe it was just an affectation? Who knows.

Then once it became an option I made the move to digital. It was so easy, and as we had small children then it was a godsend, you could take as many photos as you liked and be pretty sure of winding up with ones you were happy to keep. I make no bones, at all, for the value of ‘spray and pray’ photography when you’ve got small children, it’s what you need. Upgraded the camera, shot digital everything, got into Lightroom and was really enjoying my photography.

Then for shit and giggles I shot a roll of film again.

It was so different, for the first time in ages I had no idea what the photo was going to look like. Hell I even stared at the back of the camera reflexively and wondered why there wasn’t a screen. It was a blast, so I did it again, and again. Film began to inhabit the top shelf in the fridge door once more. It was just fun. I acquired a couple of film Canon SLRs from my mother in law who no longer used them, I always shot Pentax before. It’s quite nice to have a camera with which I’ve got no emotional history and which I haven’t had since before I met my wife. I can shove one in my bag when I’m going out and about and not worry about it getting stolen or knocked about.

The word you hear, a lot, among film photographers is ‘tactile’ and that’s really the crux of shooting film. It’s amazingly tactile; even more so if you’ve got a camera without autowind as you thumb the film advance lever to cock the shutter. There is that satisfying mechanical ‘clunk’ as you push the button and the shutter releases. Wind, click, ker-clunk – the sound of film. There is also the fact that with film your photo is a thing, you have to manually load (with a degree of difficulty related to the camera) the roll of film and then every time you take a photo the environment physically reacts with the film surface. It’s not hitting a sensor which writes some data to a memory card which you can (and will) just over-write when you’re done. The image is a physical thing which has altered that frame of film forever. You can’t just over write it and reuse it. That fraction of a second is forever recorded onto the film. At the end of the shoot there’s no just popping the card in and downloading the data stream, you have to take that roll of film and then develop it. Once more the physical medium is forever altered and your image appears, and then when you look at the negative there, in that small square, is that fraction of a second forever frozen in time.

Now, I’m not getting all luddite and dewy eyed over this. I’m not even thinking of giving up digital and going all film. I’d not want to go back to taking n rolls of film away on holiday with me and then trying to get them through the modern X ray equipment without fogging. I love being able to take bracketed insurance exposures of things, and also taking images which aren’t worth taking as photographs but because I’ll know that whenever I look at them I’ll remember being in ‘that’ place and time taking it. With film you’re careful about using your film stock up. I love being able to take out my phone when I see something interesting, photograph it, edit it and upload it to Instagram. Digital lets you do great things and I’m all for that.

But I’m also absolutely going to keep shooting film too

Wendy in Drewstaignton ’79


Time for another ‘photos from my past’ post, we’re still in 1979 but we’ve had a camera ‘upgrade’.

This photo was taken in August ’79, in a small village in Devon called Drewstaignton, which is just on the edge of Dartmoor. I was there on a National Trust working holiday, which were then called ‘Acorn Camps’ (they still exist, but are no longer called this) where we spent a week living in the village hall and doing menial jobs on behalf of the trust in the nearby woodland of the Castle Drogo estate. It was great fun when I was 18, probably would be less so now.. The girl in called Wendy, and she came from Yeovil, and oddly enough at the time we looked enough alike to be plausible as fraternal twins.

I’d bought my Pentax K1000 by this time but as it was very new and I was very nervous about taking it out and about (in a way I’d never be with a camera now) I didn’t take it. I took a Russian FED 4 which I picked up cheaply in the now defunct Logan Cameras in Walton centre. I’m pretty sure this was actually one of the only times I actually used the thing because while today they have something of a cult following, it’s actually a bloody pig to use and the rangefinder focussing was always far more a matter of luck than anything! I still have it and periodically think I ought to put a roll of film through it for old time’s sake, and also because now I’d be able to write a blog post about retro camera use. Though over the intervening quarter century the rangefinder focussing appears to have got even less user friendly: possibly as a result of it sitting in the bottom of cupboards…brooding my photographic demise.

As you can see, I still wan’t really much of a photographer. Clearly nobody had told me the Robert Capa dictum about being close enough as I could have taken about 30 paces forwards and still got her all in. Why in retrospect I went for a full body shot at all is a mystery, head and shoulders would have been better if what I wanted was a photo of her. But even full length did I really need so much of the traffic island? I think not. I left the exposure up to the FED’s light meter, I suspect the light wasn’t great but even so I can see it plotting my photographic demise even then. She’s also standing funny, I think now I’d have done something about that too. If anybody reading this knows Wendy Ball (now probably Wendy ‘something else’) late of Yeovil, feel free to re-unite her with this photo…for which she will then probably hunt me down and kill me.

It’s shot on Kodak Kodacolour II and scanned in using the Epson Scan software on a Perfection 3490 flatbed scanner.

Is This Why We Haven’t Seen Ektachrome Yet?

A year ago Kodak delighted the film photography community with the announcement that Ektachrome was coming back. It was the zombie we were happy to see lurching back from the dead; well okay actually that would have been Kodachrome but it’s close. So we waited….and waited…and well…waited. According to the press release it was expected in the ‘fourth quarter of 2017’.

So we come around to the annual tech industry bunfight in Las Vegas, marked this year by non helpful robots and high tech safes you can open with your fist, and there is an announcement from Kodak!

They’re moving into Cryptocoin mining.

Yes, that’s right, Kodak are going to into the crypto market. They’re going to release their own coin into a field already so chock full it’s like a platform on the central line after another technical failure. In what universe do we need another crypto currency? It looks as though it’s all part of a plan to create a blockchain based digital rights management system, in which somehow their software will continuously trawl the Internet looking for unlicensed rights managed images and then (presumably) charge people in Kodacoins to use them.

Kodak says in their release that “Kodak has always sought to democratize photography and make licensing fair to artists. These technologies give the photography community an innovative and easy way to do just that.” – actually licensing is fair to artists now and doesn’t require any new technology. It just requires people to get their heads round the idea that copyright exists and to pay for it. The idea that this is all going to be solved by unleashing some kind of crypto magic bullet misses the point, once the software has found an unlicensed use of an image and notified the perpetrator whether or not the photographer gets paid for the image isn’t going to come down to the fact that it can be paid for in crypto currency. It’s going to come down to who has the deepest pockets in the game of ‘so sue me buddy’.

I’m also confused about how this blockchain is going to work. The idea of a blockchain is that it’s decentralised and untamperable with. That works quite well with a crypto currency transaction list, but how is it going to work in practice with lots of photographers licensing lots of images to lots of people? How many users will have to host the blockchain, how big will it get, how much bandwidth will it consume? I’m also, personally, not convinced that managing the finances in something as volatile as a crypto currency is going to be an option. With the current system of stock libraries at least you can licence your image and get paid in a known value of dollars which isn’t going to fluctuate wildly the way we’ve seen other crypto coins doing over the past few months.

I’m genuinely interested in both the answers which Kodak will give in due time to these questions, and I’m sure lots more people will be asking them. I’m looking forward to see how this idea develops once Kodak get it off the ground. Given the rise in their share price rocked by 120% after the announcement there are a lot of folks out there with their financial heads screwed on who reckon this has legs.

But I hope the development of this isn’t what’s been holding up Ektachrome, because however much the company seeks to diversify and to make up for both it’s failure to see a way to ride the digital advent wave, and then to misread the fact that there was still going to be a market for film and shut off production of two of their best lines, they are still a company with a heritage in film and should celebrate that. Especially when there is a known market for Ektrachrome in a way there isn’t for Kodacoins.