Trying out my Domke Wraps

In the interests of full disclosure I’ve not been sponsored to write this in any way; if the makers of Domke Wraps need to sponsor a blogger as minor as me then in fact I’d worry about them!

For Christmas, I got a couple of the 19” Domke Wraps. I never use a proper camera bag, generally I prefer a no frills messenger bag because it’s unobtrusive, compact and I can fit in stuff like a book, my glasses, cake, etc. Just out of interest have you ever noticed how the makers of camera bags never consider that maybe you need to carry stuff other than camera equipment? Back in the late 70s I had a brilliant waist belt camera bag made, if I remember, by [Cullman](https://www.cullmann.de/en/home.html) which not only took my camera and a couple of lenses but also a few chocolate bars, a can of cola and a paperback; that being the age when I could drop a million calories a day safely and didn’t need glasses. I never saw another one; my local camera shop had this on special offer because they’d been sent it as a distributor sample but it hadn’t actually ever been launched as a dealer item. Generally though I find camera bags wonderfully lacking in usefulness for the average snapper who needs to put a camera in a bag and go out for the day. Every time I hunted for some solution I kept coming up against these things called Domke Wraps, which are a somewhat padded sheet you can wrap around stuff and secure with velcro. Well, I thought, what the hell, I’ll put a couple on my Christmas list.

Well today was the first time I got to try them out in anger. I wanted to go out with my Mamiya 645 shooting this morning and take a couple of extra lenses with me. Now the Mamiya is way too chunky for my messenger bag, and it’s not something I take out for casual snapping, so I’ve got a small rucksack for it. It goes into a sort of padded squidgy box thing from eBay, but I’ve never really had a solution for the lenses…until now! Made the wraps into pouches, stuffed the lenses into them and put them in the bottom compartment of the rucksack. Job done! I was so impressed with just how easy a solution this was and felt confident the lenses were going to be protected enough in there. The big win I think is that next time I want to take one of my digital cameras out for the day I can reconfigure a wrap and use it to protect that in my messenger bag. Got to admit, I’m a convert!

So if you’re looking for an easy solution to carrying your camera stuff in a bag which can also hold a paperback, your glasses, possibly a re-usable coffee cup should you find yourself heading towards a coffee outlet (these days we’ve moved on from cans of cola), and which doesn’t scream ‘camera bag, steal me’ then I’d say they’re worth a punt, especially as in the grand scheme of things they’re not that pricy. Mine, I suspect, came from [WEX](https://www.wexphotovideo.com/domke-f-34l-19-inch-protective-wrap-blue-1647996/), but they’re readily available from other places.

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What’s a Photograph Worth?

I’ve just been watching a great video by Erik Wahlstrom, a man who produces consistently good, if occasional, Youtube content on photography. In it he’s posing the question of what a photograph is worth, both in monetary terms and personally. I’m not going to recap, go and watch it, then come back…

 

…okay, so now you’ve seen it. I don’t know about you (feel free to comment) but I think he’s spot on, especially in his comment about ‘country club bragging rights bidding wars’, not just photography but what you might call significant art sells for sums of money which are ludicrous. The effect of which is frequently to put art in the hands of collectors from where it never sees the light of day at prices public galleries can’t afford. The prices don’t reflect the art, they reflect the identity of the artist; prove it’s not ‘school of xxxx’ but ‘by xxxx’ and the price rockets. It’s the same art, it looks the same as it did when it was ‘school of’ but somehow it’s worth a whole load more. I always in a way think it’s sad on programs like Antiques Roadshow when somebody finds the photo auntie Dot bought at a jumble sale in the 70s for 25p is a lost masterwork valued in the hundreds of thousands..because now they’ll never be able to risk leaving it on the wall of the living room because it’s going to be a theft magnet and they can’t manage the insurance, so it’s going to be sold and they can’t enjoy it any more. If I had a painting I thought might be valuable which I enjoyed there is no way on earth I’d get it assessed and appraised, I just enjoy it.

So, you’re reading my _photography_ blog, and Eric was talking about _photography_, so where am I going with all this talk about great art and school of somebody or other? Well, I think super-value photography is a particularly ridiculous idea, far more so than a painting really. Because, at the end of the day, the huge difference is that there is only one Mona Lisa, or Bar at the Folies-Bergere, or Seagram Murals; the one the artist created. Okay, so they might have returned to the subject multiple times but the results are all that bit different. With photography, as Fox Talbot rather intended, multiple reproductions are not only possible, but desirable. With a photograph you’re not seeing the unique hand of the artist in the finished work. Okay so Ansel Adams printed his own negatives, and the Weston family are a dynasty of printers, and there are others, but generally for a photograph the act of creating the image in the camera is the ‘thing’, not creating the finished product. I’m not saying that’s not an amazing skill, it really is, but when you look at a photo on a gallery wall generally it’s not the name of the printer you’re celebrating.

So, where does the worth of a photo derive? I’d say from two places. The first is the creative mind behind it and the second is the actual work taken to secure it; we can marvel at the sure eye of Bailey photographing Shrimpton, or marvel at the nerve of Capa on bloody Omaha. Both of these photos have ‘worth’ for that…but I’d also say the worth should go to Bailey and Capa because they were the people who put their minds or well being into the images. A print of one of the photos should, I’d say, be worth far less even if it’s done in a real darkroom from the original negatives. Not worth-less, worth far less, you’ll notice, a skilled professional went into a darkroom and used all that skill to produce the print but the worth again should derive from the labour power of the artisan, not because of the original photographer or subject. Obviously, if you could find a print of one of Capa’s D-Day series, which you could guarantee was actually printed by Capa, then I’m not dumb enough to argue that wouldn’t be worth more!

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!

UK Thrift Stores – less good for snappers than their US counterparts

I’m a big fan of the ‘thrift store challenge’ YouTube channel, where they go into ValueVillage (or somewhere of that ilk), buy a camera for less than $5 and see what they get from it. Always watchable and good fun – and if the photographer in question is good enough, the results are somehow comforting inspiring in among the latest gear videos. Mind you they can also be deeply depressing when they do better than I can with a camera which cost me a metric shit tonne more than $5. This example is working at a higher budget, but it gives you an idea and Joey from Awesome Cameras is always worth watching.

The thing I have noticed however, is that in the US and Canada thrift stores seem to generally have a reasonable selection of cameras. Go into a UK charity shop and at most they might have one strange and unbranded digital camera, generally they don’t have any. Said camera might also be significantly overpriced by the way; I saw a digital camera in one yesterday for which they wanted fifty quid, when something at least as good is available from leading online retailers for not a whole lot more. I shop in a town which is both a well heeled area and has a plethora of charity shops, so I’m working off a decent sample here.

I’d love to say I’ve got an insight into this, but I really don’t. I’m not sure if they won’t accept them, and UK charity shops are very picky about what they’ll accept and try to sell. I once asked in a charity shop if they had a pair of jeans they couldn’t sell as I needed a bit of denim for a repair, and the pair they gave me were in better nick than the ones I was wearing every day; there is a bit of a pulled thread in one of the legs which is why they felt it wasn’t saleable. So maybe it’s because they don’t want to take the risk of being saddled with something which they’ll need to dispose of as ‘faulty small applience’ rather than just chuck in the skip? Maybe they’ve got a deal with somebody who pays a flat fee for any they have and resells them through a well known online auction house? Maybe the good people of the UK just don’t ever think that anybody might want them? If anybody works in a charity shop and can shed any light on this then I’d love to know the reason.

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.

I’ve decided that Snapchat is the worst thing for photography…like everrrrr

I’ve got a snapchat account, I don’t use it but I’ve got one because I like to experiment with all these things; I’ve got accounts on pretty much everything (apart from the Chinese social media platform WeChat which my son has so he’s beating me there). But I like to find out how these things work, some like the twin pillars of Empire Zuck I use a lot, some like Flickr I want to use more and some like Tumblr and Snapchat I hardly use at all. Putting this out there now before I get deluged with irate hate mail from Snapchat users, which actually would be nice because it suggests that real people rather than just bots read my blog, for what it’s for then I get snapchat. Somebody and their friends, at a party, quick photo, few filters, bit of text, all their mates see it. Job done. With the added bonus that the photo then disappears unless somebody screenshots it, and I understand it lets you know if somebody has? That last one is one of the great strengths of Snapchat for what it is…and the great curse for photographers.

Let’s face it, teenagers do things they really, really, really don’t want to come back and appear later in life, perhaps at a job interview. I know of one very successful woman with a great career who dimly remembers being patched up aged 18 by St John’s somebody later on than being in Trafalgar Square and new year and possibly before the copper explained she couldn’t sleep in the phone box. But at least there aren’t photos of this, genuine tangible evidence isn’t going to rear it’s ugly head now on somebody’s social networking. For things like passing out in Trafalgar Square Snapchat is definitely the way to go. Totes (down with the kids, me).

But that’s where I think it loses out in so many other situations, because you don’t have the photo. With all the others you take the photo, it’s saved on your phone, then you process and post it. If it’s no good then sure you can delete it from your phone afterwards, I’ve done post and delete loads of times, but the option is there. You take that photo with Snapchat and you can’t revisit it, you can’t look at it the following morning and say “hey, without the rabbit ears Auntie Flo would like a copy of that”, or “I don’t have any photos of me and friend x at event y”, or the organiser of the party realises they don’t have photos of something. With snapchat you’re condemned to the death of that image; it’s taken away choice and actually I think, no app should do that.

I know that it’s possible to take the photo, then put it via Snapchat later on, which would seem to me to be the best way to go as it gives you the best of both worlds. But in what I’m going to term ‘the snapchat moment’ who thinks that far ahead?

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.