Friday, 11 October 2013

Colour or black and white…

“It’s going to be fine,” she said.

It was a comforting remark to hear.  A phrase accompanied by a warm smile that gave me a nice feeling, knowing that things would turn out for the best.

Not that the remark was prompted by any emotional upheaval I was going through. I was listening to the weather lady giving the forecast for the coming weekend.  It seemed that we were about to witness one of those rare events; good weather over a weekend in September in Scotland!

I immediately made plans for a Sunday photographic outing.  Turning to the “Scotland” pages of my well-thumbed UK road atlas (“2002 edition – with speed camera locations”), I closed my eyes, twirled an index finger (one of my own) in a few circles in the air and brought it down firmly in a decisive and manly way on to the page.  I had previously decided that wherever it landed would be the photographic location for the day.

In the planning phase, I had assumed it (the finger) would at least be capable of picking somewhere in the reasonably large land mass that makes up the Scottish nation. In the event, it landed offshore – in the North Sea to be precise (or not so precise, given my knowledge of the sea and anything to do with it).  Quickly amending the initial plan in a decisive and manly way, I opted for the nearest accessible onshore location to the finger – Lower Largo.

Situated within 60 miles or so of my home (Wishaw) and placed neatly on the East coast of Scotland, Lower Largo is one of the many places in this country I had never visited.  At least the finger had selected (well, nearly) somewhere new for me and a camera.

Next, on to the internet.  First “The Photographer’s Ephemeris” was consulted.  If you haven’t seen, heard of or tried this (free) bit of software, give it a try.  It will give you sunrise and sunset times, direction of the sun, angle of the sun, moonrise, phase and moonset, etc etc for just about anywhere on the planet.  If nothing else it will at least help you decide when to arrive and where!  Might just get a few extra minutes in that nice warm bed in the depths of winter (or summer, in Scotland).

Lower Largo’s latent likelihood to supply some serious sea and shoreline shots seemed achievable (alliteration allocation accomplished amply in a single sentence – so satisfying!). So it was on to the tide tables.  Once again, easy to find on the ’net – and useful to know if you’re going to have to chase the water for those surf breakers or whether you’re going to have to pay extra attention to make sure you don’t get cornered against a cliff…

Sunday morning came – I was up a couple of hours before sunrise. Wash, dress, breakfast, grab camera bag, car keys and dog, set satnav and we were on our way.  We arrived just over an hour later to find the sun just thinking about appearing above the horizon and the tide rolling in – keeping perfect time with the ephemeris and the tables!

It was breezy and there was a definite edge to the wind that cut through a layer or two of clothing. But the stroll along the beach was a treat to the senses – “refreshing” would be a good description. A “windswept and interesting” hairstyle quickly followed.  Not many people about – a few dog-walkers and lone early-morning exercisers, but no-one to get in the way of a scenic photograph.

The beach itself was uneventful – a few rocky shapes still managing to stay above the incoming waves.  We – me and Fudge, the dog – made our way along the shore, he was sniffing around the rocky nooks and crannies (as dogs do) I was viewing the sandy world through the viewfinder (as photographers do). We looked towards each other occasionally – mainly to make sure that we were moving in roughly the same direction, albeit not necessarily together.

Late September in Scotland means that there’s no great risk of the sun getting too high in the sky for “good light” for the landscape photographer. It’s a time of year when a clear sky at dawn leaves you with at least two or three hours to search for a picture.

As is usual on any walk with a camera, eventually something catches the eye – in this case, a nicely-rounded group of nicely-rounded boulders. A quick fumble about in the bag for the 35mm lens and I risked two frames on the scene (the M9 was in the camera bag I’d grabbed and I don’t want to wear the sensor thingy out too quick).  It felt like colour would be the first choice for this one – it didn’t strike me as having much potential for a black and white print.

Camera : Leica M9     Lens : Voigtlander 35mm f2.5      Processing : Lightroom 4.4

A bit further on and a small rock outcrop pushing its way above the sand was the next attention-grabber.  Two rows of thin, vertical plates – like the scales along a dinosaur’s spine – stood up catching the light. Covered in green algae, in the new morning sun the lines sparkled – the greens and yellows wet from the waves, catching the light rays, with the water drops reflecting and refracting sunlit spots.   I swapped the 35mm  for a 21mm and a few clicks later the deed was done. However, although I was shooting in colour, it was a shot that I knew immediately I would be processing in black and white. It seemed an ideal candidate for a high contrast treatment, accentuating the morning light rather than the details of the subject.

Camera : Leica M9     Lens : Voigtlander 21mm f4      Processing : Lightroom 4.4 

 Camera : Leica M9     Lens : Voigtlander 21mm f4     Processing : Lightroom 4.4 and Silver Efex Pro 2

We hung about for bit – me trying to get a few usable shots of the incoming tide breaking against the rocks, Fudge at my feet wondering why he was getting wet while sitting still (he hadn’t consulted the tide tables, preparation for an outing not being one of his strong points).  Eventually, inspiration ran out, we finished the walk and headed for the car and home.

Back at the ranch, it was lunch, download and laptop. A few minutes in Lightroom 4.4 (which came free with the M9 – whoo-hoo!) and a touch of Silver Efex Pro 2 (trial version) confirmed to me that my preference was for a black and white version of the outcrop and colour for the boulders group.

In general, I find black and white photography – whether for landscape or people – preferable to look at. I’m not colour-blind (at least, I wasn’t when I was tested some years ago), but it feels like there’s less of a distraction when there’s no colour to be concerned about. Excluding, of course, those shots that are dependent on the presence of colour to make the point in a photograph. With a b&w shot I can get on with viewing the subject, the area, the light, the shadows, the detail, the lack of detail, etc in the photograph without worrying about colour accuracy, white balance, warmth / coolness, colour clashes / saturation etc.

I tend to moan (to myself, no-one listens) about the degree of manipulation of digital images that seems to be the accepted current norm.  Radioactive colours, over-saturated, exaggerated, embellished, over-inflated – all adjectives I’ve used to describe colour shots.  However, I suppose that draining all colour from a scene and presenting it as a range of light values using only black, white and grey could equally be called an extreme manipulation of the reality we saw.

So back to the title of the post – what is it that attracts us – me – to black & white?  The world we live in is full of colour, it's unavoidable.  Very few of us are totally colour-blind; we may have some visual condition that causes certain shades of colour to be less conspicuous than others, but not many people truly see in black in white only.  Some images only work in colour – for example, when a particular shade of green grass and blue sky almost merge with each other as the same grey tone, or when the pinks and oranges that attracted the eye to a real-life scene look the same tone in b&w and lose any impact it might have had in colour.  But generally, given the choice (and with no measurable data to back this up) I seem to opt for, and spend more time looking at, black and white images than colour.   

Comments invited - any examples you've got would also be interesting...


PS Apologies for not posting for a month or so - that thing they call "work" gets in the way sometimes...

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

Cambridge, 2011 : Rubbish Guitarist...

Camera : Leica M4      Lens : Summaron 35mm f3.5    Film : Ilford FP4+     Developer : Ilford ID11

Anyway, there I am wandering the streets of Cambridge on my first-time visit to the city.  As is the norm for the streetwise street photographer, I'm trying to look casual, all the while on the alert for photo opportunities that might be lurking around the next corner - or the last one (which is more usual) - at which point the trigger on my finely honed cat-like reflexes will be pulled.   Then I notice the singing.  It's definitely live music, yet it has a muffled quality, coupled with a bit of a strange echo to it.  There's a guitar, too, although it's got an odd tone that I can't quite put my musical finger on.  It's a bit like one of those buskers that stands in a shop doorway which helps to focus or amplify the sound - but it doesn't have the same clarity.

Photography forgotten for the moment, I look around for the source of the melodious racket. Natural expectations mean that I'm looking for someone standing with an instrument - or seated maybe. It didn't sound like it was in my immediate vicinity, so I widen the search area a bit.  I retrace my steps towards a litter bin I'd passed a few moments previously, which now appears to have grown an arm and has a guitar neck sticking out of it. A second or two passes as I take in the new scene, then a voice emanates from the interior of the receptacle - which is a bit of a relief, since it means that the arm is attached to something and hasn't been discarded or lost by someone.

I watch for a while as the hand moves around in various chord shapes on the guitar neck and I listen until the song is finished. The singer, still unseen and possibly unseeing, thanks his audience for the applause (although I am the only one in the immediate area and I haven't clapped, since I'm holding a camera in one hand and scratching my head with the other). He announces his next number and launches into it without much hesitation but with much gusto.

I didn't wait for the end of the second song, but, on the basis that he was actually pretty good (given his somewhat cramped studio space) I did make a modest contribution to his white-cloth coin collection facility before taking a photograph and walking on, once again in wonder at the ways people find to make a living.



Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Venice, June 2012 : Sunflower at San Marco

Camera :  Leica M6TTL    Lens : Voightlander 21mm f4    Film : Ilford HP5     Developer : Ilford ID-11

A thunderstorm had just broken the heat and humidity of Venice in June - and flooded the Piazza San Marco!  I was watching as the staff assembled raised boards to enable visitors to enter the Basilica without getting their feet, or ankles and knees, wet.  I was hoping to get a few expressions of visitors coming out into the flood, having entered in blazing sunshine, I thought there may be a picture or two pending.

I turned briefly, more to check whether there was any further imminent likelihood of another downpour, when the lady with the sunflower appeared in front of me.

No time to focus, I raised the camera and pressed the shutter release as she approached and passed, followed by a crocodile of Chinese tourists - all following the sunflower...



Venice June 2012 : One Man and His Dog

Camera : Leica M4     Lens : Leica 35mm f3.5 Summaron    Film : Ilford HP5+ @ ISO 400         Developer : Ilford ID-11.

It was 33 degrees Celsius. Comfortably uncomfortable. Too hot for working – but not for walking.

 Others had the same idea and the Piazza San Marco was as busy as we’d seen it during any of our holidays in Venice.

I was in front of the Basilica, just standing, watching people coming, going, standing, watching.

This gentleman came walking towards me. He had been with his wife (at least, I assumed it was his wife) and I had noticed him pushing the small pram a few moments earlier. They had their backs to me and I assumed (the heat brings me out in assumptions…) that the pram held a small child – perhaps a grandchild (another assumption – it must have been really hot!).

I was pleasantly surprised and smiled when I saw the small dog in the pram. Completely comfortable, making no attempt escape from its confines, content to be wheeled around in the sunshine. I noticed a retractable leash sitting in the small tray near the handle – ready for any situation where self-powered-dog-transportation couldn’t be avoided.

I took just one photograph before they passed me. I noticed the pram had a small maker’s logo and bore the title “Outward Hound”…


Monday, 19 August 2013

Las Vegas, September 2011 : Impressions of Las Vegas #2

Leica M6TTL   Lens : Voigtlander 21mm f4   Film : Ilford HP5+    Developer : Ilford ID-11

We drove to Las Vegas from Phoenix, a distance of around 340 miles or so.  We left Phoenix on the Carefree Highway – where else could you find a road with a name that makes you feel like you’re on holiday?  Along the way we were constantly aware of the desert on either side of us. We passed countless saguaro cacti, their upturned arms like surrendering soldiers everywhere, and a forest of Joshua trees (surely evolved specifically for photographic purposes).

Las Vegas Boulevard, “Sunset Strip” or just “The Strip” as the locals referred to it, leaps from the landscape and is visible long before you’re anywhere near it.  The approaching desert is flat; covered with what look like residential buildings – nothing over a few stories and covering many square miles.

However, despite the long distance view, arriving the Boulevard is still a shock to the senses. It’s a madcap place. It’s as if someone has drawn a line in the road at each end to mark the boundaries of both the luxury hotels and the relaxations of normally-permissible behaviour.

As we walked along The Strip I mentioned to my wife that it felt like we were surrounded by illusions.

Promises of instant wealth line the outside of casinos, roller coaster rides sit on top of hotels, scantily-clad showgirls pose for photographs with passers-by, people queue to watch volcanoes erupt or fountains spout water in time to music, pirates climb the rigging of sailing ships while hydraulic pumps hiss to make the ships move and sink – the result of a direct hit from cannon fire.  It’s possible to take in the view from the Eiffel Tower, buy Prada from a Street in ancient Rome, get a hotel room in a pyramid or take a gondola ride on a canal inside the Venetian Hotel.

This picture was taken on Las Vegas Boulevard.  The Eiffel Tower calls in the background, while palm trees remind us we’re in the desert (although we didn't see any on the 340 mile drive…).  Most prominent is the “hot babes” truck, one of two which seem to circle endlessly up and down The Strip, promising that they can not only find a woman who wants to meet me, but also arrange for her to visit. I mentioned to my lovely wife that I thought that this would be an impressive feat – to finally find a woman who wanted to meet me – and might be worth the price of a phone call.

She muttered something along the lines of, “Talk about surrounded by illusions…” and walked on in the sunshine, shaking her head...


Saturday, 17 August 2013

Arizona, September, 2012 : Out of Context

Leica M6TTL    Lens : Elmar C 90mm f4     Film : Ilford HP5+      Developer : Ilford ID-11

I guess a photographer's "job" is to look at what everyone else is passing by and see it a little bit differently, then present it with a "look what you missed" in the form of a photograph.  Taking things out of context begins as soon as you look through the viewfinder to compose the image. What the photographer leaves out is as important as what is left in.

These are buffalo skulls, not from the deserts of Arizona - I walked some remote sandy areas with a guide and there definitely weren't any of these Plains-loving animals to be seen - but from the main street of Sedona, a tourist town in a very picturesque part of Arizona known as "Red Rock Country".

They can be found outside the Clear Creek Trading Company premises, piled against a barrel as advertising for the general theme of the store - native American goods, leathers, crafts and drums amongst many other things.  There's no hint of their store front location from the composition and framing chosen, though. So a viewer can put their own thoughts and story to the image (at least, they could have up to the point where I spilled the beans...).

I'd recommend a visit if you're in the area - both to Sedona  for the many walks and amazing landscape views it offers and the Clear Creek store for the seven rooms of interesting stuff they sell. Oh, and the skulls, of course...



Las Vegas September 2012 : You wait ages for one...

Leica M6TTL   Lens : Voigtlander 35mm f2.5  Film : Ilford HP5+  Developer : Ilford ID-11

Along Las Vegas Boulevard they come in all shapes and sizes - Elvises, that is.  Tall ones, short ones, thin, plump, dark-skinned, light-skinned and any permutation on the theme.  Some sing, some with a guitar, some without. Some, thankfully perhaps, don't sing at all.

For reasons beyond my understanding they all choose to model the white jump-suit that couldn't possibly have been designed for life on the street at 35 degrees Celsius in the shade. I assume they gave the "comeback-all-black-leather-jacket-and-trousers" outfit a try and opted for the jump-suit.

All are happy to pose with "fans", passers-by, adults, children, male, female - for a small consideration, of course, say, $5 or so...

Here we have a range of sizes to suit any height / weight / age. It may have been the team brief just before the start of shift; a group huddle for motivational purposes. This being Las Vegas, of course, they could have been making a little wager among themselves for best / worst performance of the day - financial or musical...



Venice June, 2011 : Lost in Venice #1

Camera Leica M4    Lens : Elmar C 90mm f4    Film : Ilford HP5+  Developer : Ilford ID-11

One of the most common sights in Venice is a tourist reading a Venice street map.

One of the most common frustrations in Venice is the realisation that Venice street maps don’t include the names of all Venice streets.

One of the most common discoveries in Venice is that Venice street maps almost certainly will not include the name of the street, square or bridge that you’re currently standing in / on or trying to find.

The gentleman in the photograph walked past us as we were sitting at lunch, or rather, as we were sitting at lunch and I was viewing passers-by and mentally categorising them into “people I would like to photograph” or “uninteresting” (and therefore not worth my expenditure on film materials). He had been placed firmly in the former. However, lunch on holiday is a leisurely affair and I hadn’t expected to see him again, given the time between the first sighting and the end of the food.

It was a pleasant surprise, then, to see him again just a couple of hundred yards away from the restaurant. Standing on a small bridge, map open, looking first in the direction he’d just come from, then in the direction he was heading, then at the map, then at the name of the bridge fixed high on the wall of the adjacent building. This cycle was repeated several times while I watched. I stood at the foot of the steps of the bridge and took two photographs of him during the repetitions.  He seemed, like so many in the medieval maze that is Venice, to be lost.

I moved up the steps and stood opposite him, intending to take at least one shot with a wider-angle lens. At this point he noticed me and, apologising for getting in the way of my photograph, ducked and walked down the steps on the other side of the bridge. I followed him and asked if the needed help. “Are you offering to help me?” he asked.  I noted his accent and thought that he might be German or Austrian. “Well, I know that the Rialto Bridge is in that direction and the Railway Station is that way,” I said, indicating the relevant directions with a wave of my hand.  “They are the two most prominent landmarks on this street.”

“I’m trying to find the name of this bridge,” he said. His English was excellent.  “I have been in two restaurants, one was good, one was bad. I want to tell my friends the name of the bad one so that they don’t go there when they arrive.”  I wondered briefly whether he was going to include the name of the good restaurant in his advice, which I thought might have been more useful i.e. knowing where to get a good meal would be better than knowing where not to get a good meal. 

“I’m from Switzerland,” he went on, “Have you been there?”  “Only once, on business,” I said, “Many years ago. A very brief visit and no time for sight-seeing, I’m afraid,”. “I came here by canoe,” he said.  My eyebrows rose involuntarily, “All the way from Switzerland?”  “Yes,” he confirmed, “And every year I spend three months in Canada canoeing in the wilderness there. It’s much better in the wilderness if you are on your own.”  Three months solo in the Canadian wilderness sounded even more impressive than the Switzerland to Venice trip.

We examined his German language Venice street map, but there was no clue as to the existence of the bridge where we stood, let alone its name. I took out my English language Venice street map (never leave home without it…).  Again, no reference to bridge, street or canal could be found.

“When I left Switzerland and navigated here, the Pole was always the Pole,” he said. “I managed to make my way to Venice with a compass and a map of the sea. Canada’s wilderness is full of rivers and lakes, it’s easy to be lost. But the Pole is always the Pole. Now I’m standing here in Venice with a street map in my hand and I can’t find the name of this bloody bridge!”  

We shared a few comments and laughed at this absurdity. “Thank you for helping me,” he said as we parted, reaching out to shake hands – although the grin we gave each other was in clear recognition of the useless nature of my contribution.  “No problem,” I replied, “If you don’t ask questions, you’ll never learn anything!”



Monday, 12 August 2013

Glasgow, 2012 : Still not a bargain...

Leica M4   Lens : Summaron 35mm f3.5    Film : Ilford HP5+    Developer : Ilford ID11

Glasgow Sauchiehall Street at winter sale time last year.  Unfortunate, but fairly prominent, positioning of graffiti between two BHS window displays.

Still didn't seem like a tempting offer to me - but to each his own...


Sunday, 11 August 2013

York, July 2013 : A Crack In The Seat

Leica M9   Summicron 50mm

Fashion and functionality are rare bedfellows, more often they are poles apart. In the days of "Oxford Bags" a trouser belt would be fastened around chest-height, giving a man a feeling of safety and security - not to mention preventing chilblains in areas they are definitely not required.

The current trend seems to be for trouser waistlines to sag around hip level, revealing the fashion follower's undergarments - preferably with an embroidered designer monogram such as "Calvin Klein" or similar - the whole effect causing the crutch of the trouser to hang approximately halfway down the inner thigh.  Thus giving the walking wearer the appearance of a nappy-wearing toddler who has had an unfortunate toiletry experience.

My 80-year-old mother-in-law, still as bright and brisk as a good Autumn morning, was sitting to my immediate left when I took this photo. She was writing a postcard home at the time.  During a pause for thought (it's always difficult to know what to say and to compress the events of the holiday into the small space provided) she was looking for a place to put her pen for a moment.  I remarked it was a pity we weren't sitting in the seats in front of us, since there seemed to be an ideal pen-holder available there.  No doubt other options for practical uses are available - which would, at the very least, provide a much-needed link between functionality and fashion ...


Saturday, 3 August 2013

A few comments on comments

Bruce over at The Online Darkroom (a blog well worth viewing, if you haven't been there already) kindly gave me a rather long mention on one of his posts recently, following which someone - who wishes to remain anonymous - asked why he (or she) couldn't leave an anonymous comment on this blog. It seemed they had attempted to leave a much-valued comment, but weren't allowed to without a profile of some sort.

With complete understanding regarding why anyone would want to remain anonymous on the internet (although I'm pretty sure the NSA and a whole load of other three-letter-acronym-type-agencies already have more than enough information about any of us...) I checked to see why anonymous comments were being rejected.

Using my IT skill (that's singular, not plural) I quickly found the fault, which I can summarise for the even-less-IT-skilled-than-me as follows:
  1. I'm an idiot when it comes to IT stuff.
  2. See 1.
There is a very clear list in the Template for a blogger to select re' ID's for comments - including "Anonymous". For some reason (hmm... see 1 and 2 above, I would suggest...)  I had picked an option limiting who could leave comments - a bit silly, really, considering they are one of the most useful  things in the blog, and I welcome any feedback, however brief.

I have now ticked the correct box, which should enable all readers to leave a few (or many) words without revealing an ID or needing a profile.

Hopefully, Anonymous will leave that comment sometime...

Best Regards


Thursday, 25 July 2013

Rome 2010, Plaza Nuovo


Headless in the Plaza
Camera : Leica M4        Lens : Summaron 35mm f3.5        Film : Ilford HP5        Developer : Ilford ID 11

The life of a street entertainer is a curious one. The passer-by sees only the end result; the singer and the portable amplifier / guitar / microphone, the juggler with his props. Hidden to the non-participant is the background organisation, the co-ordination, the transport arrangements for awkwardly-shaped-but-necessary pieces of equipment, the assistance from the assistants.

Setting up presents us with another range of opportunities. Most of us ignore these activities, preferring to wait until the finished product is performing in front of us before we pay any attention – and sometimes, not even then. Some of us are mildly curious. Particularly when it’s not absolutely clear what the finished product will be.

Here, the headless figure will, after a few more minutes of assisted dressing, become the Invisible Man. Encased in a framework of clothes, head and hands hidden from view, he will sit motionless in the chair, posed under the hat tied to the lamp post on the right. A pair of sunglasses suspended from the hat will help to complete the illusion. On the occasions when a passer-by is sufficiently impressed to stand, look and donate a few coins, the artist will make a novelty noise to signal his thanks. Throughout, he will remain still. Whether this is due to restrictions imposed by the clothing, posture or, perhaps most likely, the risk of becoming misaligned with the hat and sunglasses – thus ruining the “act” – is not known.

However, it’s not easy to perceive all of this just by watching the female assistant dress what appears to be an oddly proportioned very tall headless male. So we are given the chance to exercise our imagination and attempt to guess the end result, or, as someone did on this day, to simply walk by and wonder, just for a moment.


Rome, October 2010, Piazza Nuovo : Liberty breaks...

Liberty breaks
Camera : Leica M4     Film : Ilford HP5     Lens : Summaron 35mm f3.5      Developer : Ilford Perceptol

The Statue of Liberty was not something we had planned to see during our holiday in Rome. In the event, we were not disappointed – nor were we surprised to have missed the opportunity to see said Statue.

I arrived during a break. 

The gentlemen on the left of the picture is a “living statue”. Like all living statues, he stands, for periods, costumed and, for the most part, immobile. Occasionally, particularly when potential donors pass by, he moves; beckoning them closer for a photographic oppor-chance-ity.  Where such invitations are accepted, the guest is encouraged to a place close by the Statue. A brief comical moment ensues, where the Statue of Liberty takes on an unexpected and humorous pose for the benefit of the camera and the guest. Completion of the photo-shoot is followed by a gesture towards “the tin” with the unspoken expectation of a small – or perhaps a little more – remuneration for the time, effort and overall pleasure passed on by the experience. Lastly, but not leastly (?), there is a gesture of thanks for any donations received. All this is done with no spoken word, for as we know, statues rarely, if ever, speak (I leave the subject of statues moving within this context to your own thoughts). For reasons best known to himself, and certainly not shared with me, the gentlemen chose the Statue of Liberty as his ideal representation for the City of Rome.

However, the question of applicability of statue to city is irrelevant. Everyone needs a break – including Liberty. Obviously not a full “remove costume, make-up, props, pedestal etc” break, but a short period away from the hustle and bustle of stationary Statuary Life. That’s when I arrived; the Statue of Liberty was sitting, robes raised (though not in a way that would bring scandal to bear upon the original), props cast aside for the moment on the fountain rails and on the floor. Silver-painted tiara removed, leaving only the white-painted face as scant clue to his chosen occupation.

Then the gentleman in the suit turned up. He leaned for a moment or two on the concrete pillar before noticing the strangely-garbed figure on the left. Unaware of the remarkable resemblance to any famous statue that this person may take on with just a few deftly-placed additions and a strangely reminiscent pose, he looked, then looked away, thought, looked again.

I caught his gaze on the first look. There’s no hint of emotion in his face, no obvious immediate clue as to his thoughts – other than perhaps mild curiosity at the sight of a male in a white over-garment and with a white-painted face.

Like the old “candid camera” trick where one man looking skywards causes, eventually, a small crowd of passers-by to gather round, all following his eyes skyward, so the viewer is bound to follow the gaze of the man in the suit.
We live in the same societies that have existed for thousands of years.  Human groups gather together and set norms – anything outside of the norm is worthy of attention. Different groups set different criteria – these become the “culture” for that group and may be very different from other groups.

Is there something more unusual about wearing white robes and props than donning a dark suit? After all, only the shape and colours differ…


Estimating Exposure – A Little Light Relief…

Of the plethora of photographic subjects confusing both to the novice and experienced film photographer, few can be a greater source of torment than that of “exposure”.  “What aperture are you getting?”  “What shutter speed are you using?” “Will the Auto’ setting cope with this scene?” “What Zone should I put the shadow / light / mid-tone into?” All are commonly heard conversations between photographers of any standard.

In a bid to assist those of us who may have limited knowledge in the subject, I list a few of my own experiences in finding methods that have worked for me with, for the most part, some degree of success.

1. Manual estimation 
For outdoor photography, I use the “Heavy Overcast 4” rule. This is a seemingly simple method.  Take the ISO setting you’re using e.g. – ISO 250 – and set this as your shutter speed i.e. 1/250th. Then set your aperture to f4.   The result will be perfectly exposed pictures.
I should point out that this is a derivation of the universally-recognised and implemented “Sunny 16 Rule”. All I’ve done is to  calibrate it for the Scottish climate, where humidity often reaches 100% (or “rain” as other parts of the UK call it).
As a reminder, the “Sunny 16” rule states that, if it’s sunny, take the ISO setting you’re using e.g. – ISO 250 – and set this as your shutter speed i.e. 1/250th. Then set your aperture at f16.   The result will be perfectly exposed pictures.
In Scotland, adoption of the “Heavy Overcast 4” produces almost identical results, i.e. perfectly exposed pictures, but with less depth of field than those taken in a sunny country.

2. Phone Bill
No, not that dreaded envelope asking for money, or your latest contract update tariff details.  I refer to Bill, my BFF, photographic advisor and general all-around good guy. Bill has been taking photographs longer than I have. To be a little more pedantic, I have taken photographs longer than he has, but this was mainly due to those panoramic shots I had enlarged to about 36”, he’s never done anything bigger than 20” x 16”.  But he has taken photographs for a longer period than me (let’s not get into night-time photography and lengthy exposures, I’m confused enough by the first part of this paragraph).
Bill has an uncanny ability to accurately measure light values without the aid of any mechanical device.  If I’m in any doubt with regard to manual estimation of exposure (see 1 above) I know I can ask Bill for advice and he’ll fine-tune it to within a 1/3rd of a stop – very useful if I’m using slide film.  
Bill’s expertise became even more available with the advent of the mobile phone. Now I don’t even need to take him with me on photographic outings to get the benefit of his remarkable lux-calculating gift.
Bill’s capacity extends beyond visible light, too. I’ve called him from some remote locations in the USA when it’s been night time in the UK where he was and day time where I was and he’s given me some incredibly accurate advice re’ exposure and  light zones, even though he couldn’t see the conditions.  He also gave me some advice related to phone calls and world time zones (which I think was uncalled for – I don’t know how anyone could that angry so quickly, especially in the middle of the night).

I'm pretty sure he wouldn't object to me handing out his phone number to interested parties, so PM me if you're having difficulty and I'll get his number to you.  Expect a response as soon as he's completed his Anger Management course.

3. Organic method
Thread a natural quartzite crystal* onto some linen string. Holding the string lightly between thumb and forefinger of one hand, suspend the quartz pendulum-like over the palm of the free hand. Then state clearly your estimated exposure loud enough to register with the crystal’s harmonic vibrations e.g. “1/125th @ f8 @ ISO 200”.  The pendulum will swing in a clockwise circle if the exposure is correct, anticlockwise if it’s not.  Obviously, if it’s wrong change one or more of the variables and state the new exposure. Repeat the changes in variables etc until the correct exposure is indicated by the pendulum.
Pros :
  • Easy storage
  • Lightweight (depending on the size of the crystal)
  • No battery dependency issues. 
Cons :
  • Accuracy within 2/3rd of a stop means it may not do for slide film**
  • Needs concentration
  • String can sometimes get tangled
  • Upcoming Pagan Festivals can sometimes adversely affect accuracy 
  • Any area where Ley lines converge can cause underexposure (I normally allow +2 stops for this).
*Use quartzite for black and white negative film only.
**For colour work – especially slides – I use onyx and cobblers’ twine (waxed) for more accuracy.  For night photography, try moonstone (yes, I know that sounds ridiculous, but it’s given me consistently good results) and string made from the fibres of young nettle stems.

4. Homeopathic method
Drink up to a half pint of evening primrose anti-stress cure diluted in ion-free water at 1 part evening primrose to 1,000 parts ion-free water.  Your pupils may dilate a little initially – particularly if it’s dark – as they become more sensitive to changes in light levels. Allow at least 45 minutes to elapse before estimating exposure settings.  When the 45 minutes is up, go with your gut instinct for shutter speed and aperture (NB : set the shutter speed first, then aperture, for obvious reasons).
NB : You may suffer prolonged nausea and one or two severe rashes on various (unpredictable) parts of your body as a result of mild poisoning or allergic reaction from the primrose.  However, consider this a small premium to pay for such well-exposed negatives. 

5. Use a hand-held* light meter
Using a hand-held light meter opens up a whole new range of problems.  Do I point it at the subject? At the camera? At the light source? Do I calculate a point where all three intersect and point it at that? Do I measure reflected light bouncing off the subject? Do I measure incident light falling on the subject? Do I take a spot reading? If Yes, which spot?  A light spot? A dark spot? Both and divide by two?
In my opinion the whole thing  just isn’t worth the weight of one of these things in the bag. 
Personally, as far as light meters go, I have vast experience gained over a long number of years in estimating the light without one, and even greater experience in finding plausible excuses (many of them used more than once) re’ why I got it wrong, so I don’t usually bother with one of these contraptions.
*Other parts of the body may be used for gripping the device as a no-cost option.

6. Auto setting
Auto-exposure is good for 98% of the photographs I take.  Unfortunately, the ones I want to keep usually fall into the other 2%, where it makes a complete mess of the whole thing.
I had high hopes that this inability to predict what’s going to be good / not good would be somewhat diminished by the advent of digital photography and the availability of the preview / review screen.  Although I can now see what went wrong much quicker than I used to, I haven’t yet seen a corresponding increase in the quality of my output – a fact which I lay squarely at the feet of the digital camera manufacturers in a large box already near-full to capacity and clearly labelled “Broken Promises”.
The ultimate auto setting identifies scenes / people worth photographing and categorises them as suitable for magazine / journal / National Geographic / newspaper / stock photography / prize-wining competition / domestic use only etc etc. This would be really useful and I’m pretty sure would sell like hot cakes (although the “Hot Cakes Shop” in our local High Street went out of business recently, so perhaps that’s not the best analogy).  Of course, this degree of advancement of auto-exposure has yet to be achieved. Until such time, take my advice and leave auto-exposure well alone.

7. Bracketing
By far the best solution and available to all photographers at zero cost since the digital revolution.  Set your auto-bracketing camera to take 6 or 7 shots with 1 stop intervals either side of whatever it thinks is “normal”.  Your journey may be delayed slightly as your picture-taking will take 7 times longer – but it’s your hobby anyway, so no loss there.  Additionally, you’ll be able to tell all your friends – photographic or not – that you visited (place the name of country / city / event etc visited here) and took 700 shots where they would have taken 100 (or any other number multiplied by the 7 shots you’re now taking).  This automatically promotes you to their superior in the photographic world and, potentially, opens up the professional scene and a new source of income.
The downside, if it can be called that, is that you have to view all the shots and discard the under / over exposed ones.  However, I’m sure there’s a setting in Photoshop that can do that automatically while you get a coffee or something.
Pros :
  • Photographer thinking eliminated
  • May even be able to produce one of those HDR (Horrendously Digitised Rubbish) images from a merge of seven below-par images.
Cons :
  • Digital photography promises in general.
8. Lucky Dials
You’ll need a piece of stout card about 6” x 3” (150mm x 75mm), a pair of compasses for drawing circles, a pen, two strips of card about 3” long x ½” wide (75mm x 12mm) and a pair of scissors.
Draw two circles about 2½” (62mm) diameter on the card. Using the pen, mark a series of your preferred shutter speeds around the circumference of one circle (they don’t need to be in any order and you can repeat a speed if it’s a particular favourite).  Mark a series of your ideal apertures around the circumference of the other circle – again if there’s one or two you really like, repeat them a couple of times.
Using the scissors (NB : you may want to get a non-photographic person to help you) cut the card strips into arrow shapes.  Make a small hole about half-way along the arrow.
Now attach each arrow to the circles so that it can spin freely (one of those old-fashioned paper clip thingies is good, but, come on, you can improvise for this bit, you can’t expect me to do everything for you).
Load the camera with film, hold the card with the circles horizontal and spin each arrow. When the arrows stop, note the speed and aperture they indicate and set these on the camera (no need to bother with ISO for this method – that stuff’s over-rated anyway).
You can use these settings for the whole day or you can re-spin the arrows at any time during a photo session – entirely up to you.
Pros :
  • If you’re the lucky type, this is the method for you.
  • Eliminates worries regarding ISO settings
  • Works equally well for flash, ambient, incident and reflective light without changing position
  • No battery dependency issues.
Cons :
  • If you’re not the lucky type, this method may be prone to error.
  • Small amount of exertion in spinning the dials.
  • Waiting for the arrows to stop spinning means it may not be suitable for action photography.
  • If your handwriting is messy, there may be a bit of difficulty in reading the results on the dials.
  • In wet weather ink can run and the card can get a bit soggy. NOTE : There is a commercially-available carbon fibre set available (with titanium arrows) with inset-silver ring engraved with speeds and apertures which is lightweight and waterproof. Call me if you’re interested.
Results I’ve had from this method vary, but then again, what part of “Lucky Dials” didn’t you understand?

These are just a few of the methods I’ve used which I trust you’ll find helpful. As your experience grows, no doubt you’ll develop equally good techniques for getting that ideal exposure.

I wish you good shooting…


Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Rome October, 2010 Crossing header

Camera : Leica M4   Lens : Summaron 35mm f3,5    Film : Ilford HP5+ @ ISO400   Developer : Ilford ID11

I shouldn’t be surprised at what people do to make a little (or a lot of) money. One of the more unusual I’ve seen was a passing lorry bearing a nicely presented sign declaring the owner / driver to be in the “cattle foot trimming” business. I had, at the time, little awareness of the need for pedicures amongst the bovine breeds. However, the knowledge gained from this brief encounter means that, if ever I find myself the unexpected owner of a cow, I can rest safe in the knowledge that I can, at the very least, arrange to have its feet looked after by a specialist in the field (or the cowshed – dependent on where I decide to keep the beastie).

The gentlemen in this photograph had perfect timing. Not so much in his ability to head a football – I could never lay claim to even scant knowledge of nor interest in anything to do with such skills and I confess that I am completely devoid of any talent whatsoever when it comes to  “sports” such as football.  It was more his apparent perfect utilisation of the limited time afforded to money-making by a set of pedestrian crossing lights that caught my attention.

His modus operandi appeared to be :
  • Select a relatively busy street with a suitable pedestrian crossing.
  • Approach the pedestrian crossing and push the button indicated, signalling a request to stop the traffic (thus rendering the road safe for “pedestrians crossing”).
  • Wait until the crossing lights indicate that it is safe to cross.
  • Proceed into the road, in front of the now-stationary traffic, simultaneously launch the football into the air and bounce it on (or off?) the forehead.
  • Continue to bounce the ball off (or on?) the forehead as a public demonstration of hours of self-discipline spent practicing this little-appreciated skill (N.B. : Allowing the ball to touch the ground at any time during this part of the activity generally ruins the whole effect. Avoid this if at all possible.)
  • On reaching the mid-point of the crossing, stop the ball-bouncing activity and tuck the ball under an arm in a smooth, sportsmanlike motion (left or right arm is optional and only further demonstrates the ambidextrous nature of the perpetrator).
  • With the ball safely restrained under one arm, extend the other with hand open (palm uppermost) and approach the driver’s window of each of the lines of stationary vehicles.    (N.B. : This is a clear indication that a cash reward is expected in return for the entertainment already supplied.) Smiling is optional, but may well assist in allaying any fears on the drivers’ part as to the mental state of the person approaching.
  • Be fairly insistent, though not aggressive, since many drivers do not retain cash readily to hand within the vehicle and may need to be persuaded to make an effort to   a) search for it   and   b) part with it.
  • The pedestrian crossing warning lights / sounds will, at some point in the cash-retrieving proceedings, make it clear that it is no longer safe to stand amongst the vehicles (which may well be moving by this time). Discretion should be used as to exactly when this moment is reached, at which point it is desirable to beat a hasty retreat to one side of the road or the other.
  • On reaching the pavement (irrespective of the side chosen) push the pedestrian crossing button again and repeat the whole sequence until  a) carrying the weight of money received makes it impossible to continue  or    b) fatigue in the legs makes it impossible to continue   or   c) the blinding headache caused by bouncing a ball continuously on and off (or off and on?) the forehead makes it impossible to continue.

Whatever one thinks of this gentleman’s chosen occupation, is it better than relying wholly on a State Benefits System for an income?  Should such skills, perhaps achieved through pursuit of one or more hobbies, be used to generate income as a supplement to a State Benefits System?  Should income generated by this activity be declared to the Inland Revenue (or Roman equivalent)?   Discuss…