On shooting film

Its 2019, some 15 years since sales of film peaked at just shy of 1 billion rolls / year (for comparison 1.5 billion smartphones were sold in 2018 and highlights how this technological shift has accelerated the democratisation of photography), this photographic medium is still alive and kicking. In fact, despite the contraction of the industry to a niche sliver of its former mass-market appeal, growth is now being recorded suggesting a minor rebound. Contrary to the headline "The last Kodak moment" in the Economist in 2012 the company announced a relaunch of the Ektachrome film stock 5 years later. It surprises some, often attracting comments deriding that hipster fetishisation of archaic technologies is driving a resurgence fueled by style over substance.

I'm optimistic about the future of analogue photography and I think its appeal will continue to grow over time. Our society is becoming ever more digital, in almost every respect, which I think will lead to a natural tendency for some to seek out enjoyment not tethered to a touch screen. Shooting with an old manual film camera forces one to slow down and think more before pressing the shutter. The natural delay in seeing your images with film can be a welcome pause from the instant gratification, and also the space between taking an observing the image does enable a more objective review of the image. Looking at a screen the instant after an image is captured invites a snap judgement and a quick emotional response which I find more often to be negative than positive. Sure this can mean that sometimes you think you've captured a good shot only to find later when the roll is developed that it was a dud. But the limited exposures on a roll of film force you to be decisive at the source of taking the image. In my experience this is much better than the ability to take hundreds of shots of varying angles and exposures which at best just delays the decision making process until later on and at worst wastes time and causes anxiety through overwhelming choice. This is also true on making the choice of shooting B&W or colour. Sure you can just convert your digital images later which retains maximum flexibility but I believe this to be a fallacy. The key to a great photos in colour or monochrome are typically very different and its my opinion that you should generally be conscious of before pressing the shutter. I think many people are fatigued by the megapixel war and I certainly have come to appreciate the imperfections of an image such as grain, motion blur or being slightly out of focus can sometimes enhance the creative impact of an image rather than to always be diminishing. It only takes a quick look through some of the most iconic photographs (e.g. flick through a few pages of The Decisive Moment) taken before digital cameras existed to see evidence of this.

There are some reasons to be cautious with the optimism. Firstly some film stocks are being discontinued and prices are rising. Many labs are using old equipment to process and scan and repairs could prove prohibitively costly or difficult. Then the cameras themselves are ageing and expertise to repair them is limited. However counter to these points a smaller industry could be better for enthusiasts and its better for a smaller selection of film that can be made profitably rather than a wider selection that cannot be. Specialised companies like Ilford seem a sure bet for stability over a conglomerate who will be less tolerant of limited or slow growth. Hopefully Kodak Altaris (owned by the UK Kodak Pension Plan as a result of the Kodak bankruptcy) today is in a better place because it is a company that has a much narrower focus than Kodak had generally before, whereas Fujifilm has had success diversifying and so I think it makes sense that.  As for the labs this is a bit more complex and PetaPixel have published a good article on potential for future developments. Home development is still and option and particularly for B&W it is not very arduous to get started doing this yourself. My main challenge has been with water marks drying on the film due to the hard water in my area but this is a solvable problem. That being said home development relies on chemicals and their manufacturers like Tetanol can also go out of business.

Overall its my belief that film photography is here to stay and there will still be a draw for enthusiasts to use this medium. I think the prices of decent film equipment will continue to rise over time as supply slowly dwindles, although it must be said there are so many great cameras out there that I think people will just be forced by price to discover some of the less popular brands and models, which work well but have a less desirable brand name attached. Old lenses will likely keep their money as these are also very popular with mirrorless (or Nikon DSLR for Ai lenses) bodies and using old equipment can be a good way to stand out by doing something a bit unusual. The community for niche groups like analogue photographers has been greatly enabled by the internet (r/analog, 35mmc and emulsive) and this goes a long way to encouraging and supporting this method of photography. I think also like vinyl records it will continue to keep its cool factor, as an analogue antidote to an increasingly digital world.

N.B. You may have noticed the image at the top of this article was taken with a digital camera and has been processed with Lightroom present emulating Ilford Pan F 35mm film. Its a good example of how digital methods can be achieved to obtain a similar aesthetic to film. I don't personally see this as a contradiction to why one would choose to shoot film and similarly I don't see any problems with emulating the analogue emulsions digitally. Its all down to personal choice, something that should be cherished.

Gran Canaria

The Canary Island archipelago, off the coast of north Africa, is a place I've visited many time since I was young. Synonymous with package holiday tourism it is not a place I ever really thought of much photographically, with the exception of once seeing an entry from the island in the Plant Life category of Wildlife Photographer of the Year. I knew from my last visit that the centre of the island was picturesque - I had hiked up to Roque Nublo and saw the panoramic views of thinly tree lined canyons from the summit. I regretted not taking more of a camera then, so this time I was determined to bring my Bronica along on this beach holiday.

Maspalomas is a typical resort town, but in addition to a beach covered with sunbathers, there are extensive sand dunes that arc and fall for some distance up to the sea. I arrived early in the morning, before eating breakfast, and soon as the sun rose the heat became intense. The sand, generously peppered with footprints, provided lots of fun compositions and works really well for black and white images. Despite pushing on for thirty minutes or so the heat got the better of me and I retreated back to the car to head home for some food.

I'd never been to the west side of the island before, so I headed off exiting the port town of Mogan on to the winding mountain roads. There were clouds and fog lingering over the core of the island, and luckily I found a turn out to stop to allow me in getting some images. I was glad to have brought my 250mm f5.6 lens to isolate a composition on the rock face of the intense detail faded out in the frame by the hanging fog. The trip concluded with a nice seafood lunch in Agaete and getting very lost as night set in, with the GPS navigation opting to route me away from the motorway and inland down steep single track roads.

Bovine Portraits with the Nikon 300mm f4.5 Ai-s

Here are some nice Hereford/Angus cattle that made for nice subjects to test out my new Nikon 300mm f4.5 Ai-S ED lens. The quality of this lens is great bringing out so much detail on the cow's coat and the focal length provides great subject isolation with plenty of working distance from the animals.

Winter in Rural Williamstown MA

Williamstown in western Massachusetts is a small college town near the borders of New York State and Vermont. Its a part of the country where it used to be possible to make a decent middle class wage from the many industrial jobs in town or North Adams, which is a short drive away. Nowadays its economy appears more focused around the college, tourism and second home owners. Mass Moca, a large art museum, is situated in North Adams and well worth a visit. Afterwards the brewery next door is great for a tipple. There are also a great number of hikes and walks along the Berkshire mountains that flank the Williamstown's outskirts. Its this landscape, with Mount Greylock - the tallest mountain in Mass - at its centrepiece, that I had the pleasure of capturing this past December as I visited family for Christmas.

The mountains in this part of the world are relatively small; they roll through the landscape with a thick bristle of trees. There are no jagged cliffs and high vistas to assist with composition and I have found it hard in previous visits to fully capture the essence of the place. Fortunately this year provided some great weather to photograph in - snow, but their air not too cold, and plenty of morning mist for the sun to slowly burn off.

Not far from the house I was staying in, is a beaver pond. Frozen over with a comprehensive sheet of ice and scattered with surface snow, the trees and branches poking through provided some interesting shapes to keep my occupied. I took my Nikon FM loaded with trusty TMax 400 and started trying out some conventional compositions with my 50mm Series E which is ultra light and sharp. I'd forgotten just how good this combination was!

Then wanting to try out some more abstract shots of the landscape I swapped the 50 for the 300mm F4.5 ED AI-S I'd just picked up on eBay for a song. The build quality of this lens is incredible - the focus ring is moves as freely as a wisp of air and it really wasn't too heavy for hand holding. That being said it was hard to keep the shutter high enough to mitigate the shake, something apparent in more photos than I'd have liked, but still the results are very promising. I'll write a little more specifically on this lens in my next post.

2018: A year in review

Time feels like it is racing by faster than ever to me. Reminiscing about the past year does make me realise however how much I have done and yet the extra that I did not accomplish. If 2017 was the year that really kindled my passion for photography, then 2018 was a year that I tried to hone in on the aspects I really enjoy and start to think about developing my own style.

Looking back at my favourite individual images I would saw there tend to be more B&W than colour. Overall I think I've realised that Landscape photography is the key focus I want to pursue. Certainly I've noticed in terms of consistency, which I recognise is key to assist with curation of a portfolio, I think my black and white images together are better. I seem to gravitate towards patterns with structure in the image rather than strong use of colour, which to me feels an incidental component of images I create. Part of this might be because photography is an abstraction of what we see, diminishing and accentuating aspects of the real, and it could be that limiting oneself to black and white is intrinsically a bit easier to do this as even a snapshot in B&W will be altered significantly from what we see. Or perhaps its because I find dark moody B&W landscapes leave more to for the observer to interpret. The open questions from ambiguity in the image draw me in.

Probably one of the things I did this year that'll help me most going forward were a few boring tasks in tidying up my Lightroom library with useful tags and sets and also migrating to Koken the technology this site is built upon. I started to curate my work on this site and also take a more active approach on Instagram which for now seems to still be the best photo sharing platform for a broad audience overall. This seems to be a good foundation in 2019 to keep sharing my work and I also aim to print more of my work - potentially going through the process of putting together a book looking back at some of my favourite images from my first 10 years of photography.

QuiraingIsle of Skye, Scotland (2018). Bronica SQA + 250mm f5.6 + Kodak Portra 400.

I was fortunate enough to take a couple of pure photography trips in Scotland and Iceland this year and also got some good shooting opportunities in Cornwall and the Canary Islands. The former were great trips that got me to most of the locations I'd dreamt of photographing. There was however alot of driving, which I don't mind, but meant that I could not afford to wait for the best light at each. It makes me realise the benefit of visiting the same place multiple times, with the first trip as more of an overall scout, so in future its easier to focus more of specific areas of interest. Next year its unlikely I'll travel as much, but I'm hoping to be able to do at least one photography focused trip.

The tools I have at my disposal grew, accelerated by a bout of gear acquisition syndrome, although overall it was the Bronica SQ medium format system that I already owned that I feel assisted me in capturing my best shots. I love the square format and the way it encourages me to take care capturing each shot due to the slow set up time and limitations of 12 shots per roll. The addition of the 250mm lens turned out to be very useful for compressed landscape shots but the 2x TC for it failed to impress. As for my Nikon collection I satisfied my urge to own all of the top line film SLRs apart from the F6. In particular the F5 was a big help for exposing slide film this year and got a number of great shots from Scotland and Iceland that look great projected on a big screen. The F4 didn't get much use and has lingered with a half exposed roll of Cinestill 800T for far too long. Using this more in 2019 is a new years resolution as is not buying any more cameras.

Fire in Central LondonNikon F2 + 50mm f2 + Kodak TMax 400

Digital took a back seat to film in 2018, although the Fuji XE-2 Mirrorless was a welcome addition, particularly for its size to image quality ratio and using my 55mm non-Ai Nikkor Macro lens with the peak focus indicator in the EVF. As for analogue, TMax 400 was the B&W stock of choice, or Delta 400 when my local shops have run out of stock (which has appeared to be more frequently than I'd have liked!). For colour I mainly shot Portra 400 as I wanted the speed and softer colours than Ektar which I used to use almost exclusively but has fallen out of favour. In 2019 I want to shoot a few more rolls of Ektar. I shot a few rolls of slide film too and got good results with Provia in 35mm in my Nikon F5 (which I've also enjoyed projecting on a big screen with a new to me Kodak Carousel), but inconsistent ones with Velvia 50 on my Bronica clearly showed how challenging it is for a newcomer to meter well for this film's narrow latitude.

So, aims for 2019? I want to continue thinking about the best way to curate my work when publishing it and keep trying to develop my style with B&W landscapes. I'd like to put together a book of my favourite landscape shots in the past decade but also read more photobooks to inspire me as I've found spending too much time reading or looking at images for inspiration online can be fatiguing and actually be counter productive.

Oh and one more aim - to shoot more and not end up with rolls of film stuck in a camera for longer than a month!

Acoustic RaysNikon F + 85mm f1.8 Pre-Ai + Kodak TMax 400

Photo of the week: El Golfo Details

Lanzarote is awash with texture and martian colours. Nowhere is this more distinct than the Green Lagoon just outside the town of El Golfo. I arrived there around sunset and the sun setting illuminating the rocks was a sight to behold. The details of the red, blue and brown volcanic rocks drew my eye and soon the Bronica was mounted on my tripod with the 150mm lens pointed at an intersection of colours I found particularly interesting . This was actually one of the images I was looking forward to seeing most when my film returned from the lab especially to see how Kodak Ektar rendered the colour. Opening the high quality scan on the CD that Peak Imaging (who I've used quite alot this year for my process and scanning) I was taken aback. Those vibrant tones! But then I realised there was a mark in the center of the frame. Checking the negative, clearly something had gone wrong, with a dark mark and halo effect around it. Things can go wrong in many places when shooting film and the feedback loop is pretty long. Unfortunately I'm not in the habit of bracketing most of my shots so I understood that regardless of the root cause Photoshop's clone tool would be the solution. Still I was interested to hear what the issue was so I sent it back to the lab for their inspection. Great customer service, in my opinion, should be primarily judged on when there is a problem for the client. This was the first issue I'd had in the many years and rolls of film I had sent to Peak Imaging and so I was keen to see how this was handled. The negatives and CD were sent back to them using their freepost label and within a couple of days one of the lab managers called me with his feedback. I had a good conversation with him and he described how he was quite perplexed by the mark as being on frame 8 of the roll it seemed unlikely to be a processing issue. Perhaps the roll itself had a manufacturing issue. Anyway he offered to digitally fix the image and produce me a 10x10 print of the image which was very welcome and despite not being able to offer a clear theory as what happened I appreciated the thoroughness of his explanation for what it could have been and why each scenario had reasons to be unlikely. Digital saved the analogue day!