Today was a good day. I like good days. A mixture of barbershops, photography, cake and tea, and most importantly, friends. On this sunny Friday afternoon, I had the afternoon off from work, it would be a perfect day to go to the barbershop and get this beard of mine seen too. I knew it was sunny just by looking out the window, and thought, let’s go manual today.
There is a rule in photography called sunny 16, that says when it is sunny, and not a cloud in the sky, you can put your camera at F16, the shutter speed identical to the ISO, or film sensibility, and all your shots should come out fine or at least well exposed. It means that all you have to do is to concentrate on the moment and press the shutter when the moment is right, and by that I mean, when you have the composition that you want from a scene.
Sean Tucker did a whole video about it and I thought, well, you’ve taken his advice in the past, so why not now. I was a bit of a sissy, and didn’t use a film camera, but instead used the Fujifilm X100F so I could see what I as getting, but to be honest, I didn’t really need to. I must have more self-confidence in photography, I must have more self-confidence in photography, etc. I didn’t go F16 but stayed a little more conservative at F11.
Right, the geeky, photographer part of this article is over. The rest of you can join in again.
So first the barber shop with a couple of photos along the way as my photographic warm-up. This visual warm-up is as important as the muscular warm-up is for a runner or any other sportsman. You get your settings right. F11 because there were a couple of clouds in the sky but not enough for F8. Remember the sunny 16 as a guide to this outing.
My goal was to go and get my flowing locks of hair shaved off, my beard to be transformed from a homeless guy into a dashing older Dude, and then get to Church, pop in to say hello to Jesus since I was too early for confession, and head off to the pub.
With less hair than before and having to battle away throngs of female admirers along the way, I eventually made it to the pub. It was a quiet day at the pub. Rob, or should I say the legend that is Rob, was standing outside ready to jump on any unsuspecting client that might come by and sit down on the terrasse. He’s a good man, and we share a love of being daft and talking utter bollocks. Our jokes are amazing, at least to us. Others might disagree, but under torture will admit they were slightly funny despite being awful!
After a couple of pints of water to quench my thirst and some awful jokes I needed to pee. On my way back up I fancied a little something to nibble on.
Rob, do you fancy some Pringles and some dip?
Do you know what I really fancy Ian?
I wasn’t going to make it from scratch but I knew a place where I could acquire some for a reasonable price. So off I went to the Comptoir Irlandais. An establishment where you can find some of the world’s more comforting produce, tea, and shortbread included. Back to the pub.
Rob who is half Scottish let me know what a great fan of Iron Bru he is. Guess what I found at the Comptoir Irlandais? Yes, you’re right Dear Reader! Scotland’s number one hangover cure, not that I’m suggesting in any way at all, that the Scots would ever need a hangover cure, but if they did, this might be it. It’s a Marmite thing. You love it or you hate it. Judging by Rob’s little eyes when I came back with the shortbread fingers, and that special drink, I think we can safely say he likes it! We of course made a tonne of finger jokes, asking our Irish friend if she would like a finger. Yes, we were at that level. Fart jokes would have been a great leap forward. And I think the phrase, that’s what she said, was uttered a few times too! So all in all, yes, it was a very good day!
There are as many approaches to photography as there are photographers. Some are top of the chain hunters with all the gear, going up mountains to get that special image. Some are machine gunners, shooting everything in sight, hoping to at least hit the target once. Some are scavengers, going out to know where people have already taken great shots, and just hope they can get something too. Others are fishermen.
And, of course, I identify as a fisherman. Now, in a time, long, long ago, before I tried to reboot a semblance of a musical career, I used to go fishing. I wasn’t a serious fisherman and didn’t have all the kit, but I had a couple of rods and knew what I could get put of them despite being a complete beginner. I wasn’t really bothered about getting a fish from the river, to out of the river, and onto a dinner plate. Even though it was an obvious bonus. It was about being outside. It was hearing the sound of the river as it was, about hearing the birdsong and about sharing something with my son. It was like a sort of mediation. You become so aware of every sensation, and it brought me so much peace.
I was far from being an expert, and getting up at the crack of dawn to go to a specofic spot just wasn’t going to happen. I didn’t chuck in a grenade to get everything out of the river. Maybe I was a scavenger, without having the vain hope that they seem to have. I think it was my patience and gratitude for every fish that did it fr me. No instant gratification…
Could this apply to my photography? Possibly. Am I that hunter that will climb mountains to get that one shot? Well it has happened, but only because there was a funicular. Or because I was in Paris and knew that I was bound to get something on film. Or even in Nantes.
I have a certain amount of gear and a certain number of cameras. I know how each piece of kit works and what I can get out of them. But the most important thing is being out of the house. It’s about being to detatch oneself from the scene and becoming an observer who is conscious of what is going on around you. If you get that prize-winning photo, then great, and if you don’t, then great too. Just having a pit stop to have cake, and a nice cup of tea makes everything worthwhile.
When I used to suffer from anxiety, that fact of being able to detatch from a scene and become a mere observer did me the world of good. I was no longer in constant flight or fight mode. With my 40 years of this photo lark, I have managed to take one some of the basics and still manage to get a not too shabby hit rate. It’s about doing and not thinking. Yes, of course you think about your composition and your settings, but just taking everything in is far more important.
Some people have sport. Some have painting. Some have a multitude of creative pursuits that allow them to express themselves. It would appear that mine is exploring the world around me with a camera. Sometimes you win, and sometimes you don’t. The mere act of being out there exploring and letting the images present themselves to you can be enough.
Sometimes you have brunch and just feel that all is well with the world. Well, that Sunday, all was definitely well with the world, or at least, well with my world, which isn’t a bad way to be on a delightful sunny February afternoon. Out in town with my camera, well-fed, and just wandering around, seeing what would turn up in front of my camera.
If I were to be honest, I know that if I go to such-and-such an area, I will get such-and-such a kind of photo, so we can’t about wandering around aimlessly, but there was a sort of randomness… Sort of.
Get ready for some technical information, which will hopefully explain the style of photos that I am presenting to you today. When converting my images to black and white, I edited as if I had a red filter on my camera and as if I were using black and white film. When using this red filter, anything that is blue comes out in a darker tone. It’s going to be easier to use an image instead of a thousand words…
A lot of the photos that follow will exhibit this effect as if they were case book studies. You need the sky to be a certain way or it just won’t work, but when it does, you get the kind of image that jumps out at you. That and the 16-35mm lens, you can’t really go wrong. Mind you, after that delicious brunch, not a lot could go wrong…
Well, on Friday night we had the consecration of Ukraine and Russia to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. As a Catholic, and, as somebody who has actually been to Fatima, and knows what a big thing this is, it was a very moving and special moment. The majority of us wish peace for Ukraine and wish for an end to Putin’s invasion, and anyone who says it’s just a special military operation is in serious error! Since the beginning of the invasion, this is a start of hope in this grizzly war. Let’s keep praying for them! What else was Pope Francis supposed to do?
I’m sorry if Catholicism isn’t your thing, but it is mine, and I wanted to get that out there. You can hate me later.
On Saturday, I felt slightly out of it, especially after the emotion of the previous evening. I felt tired and just wanted to sleep and rest. During the week, I had started reading up on using an ultra-wide lens as a portrait lens. As it happens, I have one for my Canon 6D Mark II. The infamous 16-35mm. If you look at previous articles and on my Instagram feed, you can see the results that I have managed to get from this setup. I love the distortion that this lens gives me. It allows me to create images that although taken in real life seem to have an otherworldly feel to them. “They” say it’s all about creating images that “stand out” and I’m all for that!
So instead of just reading up on it and wishing, the best thing to do is to pull the proverbial finger out, get the kit out of the camera cupboard and use it! I’ve been using my Fuji camera systems lately and I thought it would be good to have a change. I’ve been so happy with the Canon and the 16-35mm lens in the past, and have had such great results with it, so I was feeling really geared up and positive.
Then I got out and for some reason, I just couldn’t get into the zone. I was fortunate enough to get a couple of half-decent photos, but I certainly wasn’t feeling it. I kept at it with my legendary stubbornness, but I knew it wasn’t a good day. I know you can’t have a good day every day, but I usually do better than that. Let me assure you, however, that this is only temporary, and that next Friday afternoon I will have another go. Not every photo was useless as you can see in the gallery, but you do feel a certain frustration. You’re all geared up to create and then you get performance issues. Still no idea why, but it could always be worse. I could have given the booze up for Lent and therefore not be able to have a pint of Guinness to console me. Oh, wait…
There’s a difference between knowing the theory, having practised, and being able to reproduce great results every time. That is probably the reason that I am still an amateur and not a pro.
I will not let this discourage me and next time is next time. If this ever happens to you then please don’t fret about it. Sometimes it’s just not your day. It doesn’t mean that you are a bad photographer, it just means that it’s not a good day on a given day. Be stubborn. Keep going. Don’t give up. Show the buggers what you can do!
Here are the photos. Not all of them were horrible, and one or two shine out, which is actually quite good. Tell me what you think. How should I change my approach for the next time?
In my last article Dear Reader, I promised you some colour photography and in this article, you’re going to get it. The sun was still warming my back and it felt good to be alive again! I talked about missing out on the Jaune in the Grue Jaune, but not this time. Shorter article maybe but some great colour for you. When I bought the Fujifilm X100f one of the things that had was the Classic Chrome film simulation, which was supposed to emulate Kodachrome which of course died in 2009 and can no longer be processed. The X100f of course has other film simulations, which you can look up on the web, but that Classic Chrome look just got me. A slightly more subdued colour range with a certain warmness and something that you just can’t quite put your finger on, which reminded you of an age gone by in photography.
I mean the whole camera seems to have a certain vintage vibe to it despite all the technology hidden away inside. The little knobs and buttons everywhere just remind you of a film camera. How was I supposed to resist? As you can see in various articles and various photo galleries, I didn’t resist and I’m still OK with that! I even went on to acquire an XT2 with interchangeable lenses, which offer me more variety in the kinds of shots I can take, as well as keeping the same feel to my shots.
Everyone says to shoot in RAW. I can hear them even now saying, “Shoot in RAW you fool!” Well I do, but I also shoot jpegs to have those images already colour edited to fit that Chrome feeling. It’s consistent and I still have my RAW files to fall back on if needed. The Fuji Jpegs are amazing and it helps me to cut down on the amount of editing that I have to do. I’m basically lazy, so if I can avoid doing something and yet get a perfectly satisfactory result, then I’m going with the path of least resistance.
On this outing, I was using the 18mm (24mm equivalent) lens with the XT2. Again, I’ve talked before how I decided to go wider instead of longer, and if any of you are laughing at this point, get your minds out of the gutter! I’m talking photography!!
So without much further ado, let me present you with some colour photography taken on the XT2 in Nantes.
Back in 2009 I had a camera that died on me. It might only be a camera to you but to me it was everything. It was my first camera. I was heartbroken. To those of you mocking me, just think back to your first car and to your first accident in that car. Alright, you may not be shedding a tear you unemotive bastard, but you might just have the smallest of inklings about my loss. It was my fist camera that had taught me the basics of photography, and since 1987 had been a relatively constant companion, and part of me. My son now has it on a shelf looking pretty damn cool on one of his shelves.
It was at that time that I had come back to film from digital. Why bother using filters that would emulate film photography when you could get the same thing straight out of camera without going through the rigmaroles of messing around in Photoshop to get that result? At that time, although digital gave me a lot, there was something missing. Like most of us I was looking for something authentic.
I went to the camera shop to see if anything could be done to repair my camera and bring it back to life. With hope I entered the shop that would become a familiar haunt, and had to face the brutal truth. My Praktica MTL3 was dead. It had passed on, this camera was no more. It had ceased to be. It had expired and gone to meet its maker. It was a stiff. Bereft of photographic life. It was resting in peace. It was pushing up daisies. Its metabolic processes were now history. It was off the twig. It had kicked the bucket. It had shuffled off its mortal coil, run down the curtain and joined the bloody choir invisible. IT WAS AN EX Praktica MTL 3! Any similarity to a Norwegian Blue parrot pining for the Fjords is a mere coincidence! So I asked him if I could buy the one in the display cabinet and he said of course I could and that yes it was a little expensive, it came with a 6 month guarantee, and here was a film for it, and no mention of Bolton or Ipswitch. Although not exactly the same it was a purchase that set me off on a series of events that lead me to “collecting” a certain quantity of cameras. It was either that or becoming a lumberjack.
Through YouTube, articles on the net, and my own research, I learnt about some of the iconic cameras that I never had, and at that stage, the hipsters hadn’t bought up everything on EBay and you could still get something very decent for un £50, which now of course might set you back between £150 to £200! So I was very fortunate to start collecting when I did.
On the famous YouTube, and its infamous photography videos that I still seem to watch on a regular basis, I went down the rabbit hole of specialising in film cameras. There was one guy, called Matt Day, who waxed lyrical about his Leica M6, and how much he loved using it to take images from his everyday life. I started thinking, could this be my next acquisition. And then I started looking at the prices that these things cost. Megabucks, which is something that I don’t have and even if I did, such a purchase would be grounds for divorce. It’s cheaper to keep her, as the classic Rhythm and Blues (before it became R’nB) so wisely reminded us.
Therefore, what is the difference between my new old Praktica MTL3 and a Leica M6 I hear you say. Well, both are German. One is a classic camera from a West German manufacturer, and was the gold standard of 35mm cameras from pre war times right up to the modern day, and was a rangefinder, the other one being a relatively cheap and yet very solid SLR from the old East Germany.
So both were made by the Boche, one further to the left that the other. They say a picture is worth a thousand words, so a video must be worth two thousand words! Earlier I talked about a certain Matt Day, well here is a video of his from last year talking about the differences. I’ll let you watch it, and then we will be both on the same page! I can tell you’re impressed.
Soooooo, I wanted to learn about a rangefinder and see how they worked out in real life. But, as I said earlier it’s cheaper to keep her, so I was going to have to find another way of doing things. As many photographers on a budget but wanting to get some half decent materiel, I looked East, towards Mother Russia. Communism is messed up, but it did leave some rather solid cameras, and to the rangefinder aficionados, the names Zorky, and FED will be familiar. The Zorky looks very vintage, rather sexy and exclusive with its Cyrillic writing on the top of the body, but I was not comfortable about using a camera without a light meter. The Sunny 16 rule should be easy enough to follow, and with the latitude that black and white film photography gives you, you shouldn’t go too far wrong, but I was being stubborn, which is so out of character for me.
I moved on to looking at the FED 5, especially since I had found one for only 15€ imported directly from the Ukraine, which at the time was not at war or hadn’t been annexed either by Mother Russia. Oh you naughty boy Vladimir!!
Let’s get the boring stuff out of the way first. The FED 5 was produced in the Ukrainian city of Kharkov from 1977 until 1990. It is a 35mm format rangefinder camera, with interchangeable lenses with a Leica M39 screw thread, (mine has a 35mm f2.8 lens, which is great for street photography). It has a focal plane shutter, shutter speeds of 1 second to 1/500th of a second, bulb mode, and the flash sync speed is 1/30th of a second. What more could you ask for. The film loading is similar to the Leica where you remove the base of the camera, load your film etc. and then put that base back on. Because you know that it’s about the bass, ‘bout that bass no treble…
To do the metering you have to put your faith in the selenium cell light meter, on the top right of the front of the camera. This will give you a reading on an EV meter on top of the camera next to the “calculation wheel”. One dial is for the speed of you your film. Now don’t go looking for Din, ISO, or ASA, but look for GOCT, or GOST. 90 GOST is 100ASA, 180 being 200ASA etc. For 400ASA I just turn the little dot to the S in GOCT. It’s one of those Soviet things that is just a quirk of this camera. This will give me a reading on the outer dial with my shutter speeds and F Stops combinations to nail that exposure!
As with other Soviet-era rangefinders, the shutter-speed selector rotates when the shutter is released, and this should not be changed “until after” the shutter has been cocked. If you change the shutter speed before you cock the shutter first, the setting pin can be broken when you advance the film and cock the shutter! Don’t even bother trying. I never have, and it still works today!
Focussing is easy which is always something that catches my eye, no zone focussing, and it’s slightly different to the SLR. As you saw in the video, there is a ghost image in the middle of the viewfinder and as soon as that ghost image disappears, it means that you have focussed successfully.
Anyway, I paid my 15 Euros and a Ukrainian camera arrived two weeks later in an original box which is still in a display cabinet in my hallway. The leather case still smells of leather! So I tried the damn thing out. Worked out how to load the film which as completely foreign to me but still doable and not too demanding even for me. It is supposed to be the street photography camera par excellence for a few reasons. Firstly it looks pretty sexy around my neck and the leather is top notch without necessarily having a leather fetish, but each to his own! You can use zone focussing with the lens as you can see at such and such an F-stop, the part of your photo which will be in focus is shown on the lens. There is no mirror that slaps up, and the camera is relatively silent, and can be used to close to your subject and get that trendy and yet timeless street portrait. Shooting from the hip.
I can hear you saying, well thank you Ian for all this information. Really great, and almost useful. But pray tell, is it any good? What’s it like to shoot with? Is it worth me looking into? Can I buy you a Leica M6 for your birthday?
Well Dear Reader, let me address your interrogations. Firstly is it any good? It is definitely slightly sexy and certainly looks the part! I wasn’t used to the focussing of a rangefinder but found the focussing to be spot on. I’ll let you have a look at the photos and let you judge! What’s it like to shoot with? Once you get used to the way a Soviet camera functions it’s actually pretty neat! What I do like is being able to get my exposition without having to look through the viewfinder. You know that you’re going to be spot on, and indeed I was. That’s half the battle won, which is what we’re all about. It works mate, it works! You need to be able to get that sot that you want and I think that’s pretty simple to do. Is it worth me looking into? All depends on what you’re looking for. If you can get one for a relatively cheap price then get one just to try out; you can always sell on. I certainly have no regrets and it’s still in my collection which just goes to show you! Can I buy you a Leica M6 for your birthday? Who am I to refuse such generosity?
The photos in this article were taken in Montaigu, Vendée in 2016 and feature my daughter. The film is Illford XP, which is a black and white film that is developed with colour film chemicals and processes. C41 for those in the know. It’s always strange seeing photos from nearly 6 years ago and I remember that outing with my daughter as if it were yesterday. It was one of the ways I used to cope with my depression. I might not know what day it was but I remember taking each photo. We all cope in our own individual ways I suppose…
Sometimes you read an article, or watch a YouTube video that makes you sit up and think, yeah, that person’s right about that. Why do I even bother? Is it about self-validation through the Gram? Is it the process? Is it to provide a document?
Watch the video first and then we’ll come back and have a chat. OK?
So why do I bother taking photos? Well? Have I slipped into the “selling myself” on the Gram, and also trying to find a social acceptation and validation through my photography? Quite possibly, but not solely, but I would be lying if I said I didn’t give a damn about the likes. I love it, but despite that I would still continue. This past week I have been on holiday. I have been looking at the weather to see what kind of light I could get, but more importantly to see if I would get rained on! Sgt Gilbert once told me dinnae worry Petal, your skin’s waterproof. And he was, of course, right. But I do prefer being dry, the way I like my Martini.
So why do I do I bother? I could go on about my fascination with cameras that started at an early age and developed as time went on. You can read about all that on my About Me page. I still get off when I go into a camera store, but strangely more when I go into a film camera store and see all the historical models and stuff from another era, que les moins de vingt ans, pourraient jamais connaître, as Aznavour said in one of his songs. But it’s not just the kit, despite having spent a certain amount of money collecting. I have to justify each thing I buy and it has to allow me to progress. Sure I’d love a Leica, and maybe one day I might acquire one, but I don’t need one to progress. But above all, I love the process. I love the process of going somewhere, getting my camera out, and just taking a photo. It’s amazing. My OCD loves doing film photography, because there are more steps to getting the photo and you have to go through more hoops to get there. Choosing the film you’re going to use, putting it into the camera which will shape the photographs you will take, and winding on the film after each shot. I also love the sound that the camera makes. The click and hearing the mirror going up and smacking back down telling you that you have just created and image. I don’t get that with digital cameras, but I still love Digital. It really is getting out, and just seeing what you’ll get. If I want more control over the outcome, then I’ll be in my studio where I can control everything. But isn’t leaving it to chance so much more exciting?
So does this still mean that I’m an amateur photographer? Can I still take photographs just for me? Yes, but I do like sharing them with you. But as I’m not selling my photography as a professional, I have this freedom to take photographs on my own terms. I can choose to go where I want to go. I can choose what is important to me especially when I’m out. This is what I did in that first outing of my holidays. Showing them here is like my Latrigue albums. Sure, I share the hell out my articles, but it’s not like putting everything on the gram, and I know well that not a tremendous amount of people will see them. Here people generally look just at the album at the end of each article. And you know what, that’s great!
Social Media will change, and so will Instagram. Some would say it has changed hugely from its inception. Facebook, has morphed into this enormous monster too. But they are only temporary. Art, if I can be as bold to call what I do, art, has been around for centuries. Photography is starting to get established after 150 years. People did it before Instagram, and will still do it when Instagram no longer exists. Will I still be doing it? Possibly. I have this need to create images. I have this desire to record the world around me. If people didn’t see them, would it stop me? Probably not. Is it part of leaving a legacy for my children’s children, sharing events and places from my relatively short time on God’s earth? Definitely. A picture can tell a thousand words. I can see one of my photos, and remember what was going through my wind when I took it. It brings me right back to that instant.
The question raised in this video for me was about the process of photography, and would I still do it if nobody was to see any pf my photographs? Yes I definitely would. This photography lark has provided me with a kind of therapy which allows me to stand back from the world and observe it. I am no longer an actor, but merely an observer and I can press record if I want to. It gets me out of the house and outside trying to find new places and visit old places too. It has given me an opportunity to learn new techniques and offer myself different options to allow my creativity to manifest itself. There is still something so magical about creating an image that excites, and enthrals me. Yes I will keep going.
Thank you for perusing moments that no longer exist. Just as an afterthought, I should probably tell you where these photos were taken. Trentemoult, just opposite Nantes, on the south bank of the Loire river. And taken on my Canon 6D Mark II, with the 16-35mm lens.