September

Hello Dear Reader.  I’m not talking about the song by Earth Wind and Fire, but the month.  At least it’s being an ear worm and I can hear you hear you singing it in your heads.  I’m talking about September, the month, the return.  We have accomplished our re-entry into our everyday lives, and the routine that was missing in August is back.  The days are slightly cooler and have become more agreeable.  Instead of 33°C, we are back down to 23°C.  The nights are slightly cooler too and we no longer need our fans on all night like we did in August. When it’s hot, some people are in their element.  I, however, am not one of those people.  When you’re cold, you can always put a jumper on, and have a cup of tea and go inside.  But as contradictory as I am, as one friend recently pointed out to me, I do enjoy sitting outside on a Summer’s eve having a beer or three…

I love the holidays that August is famous for, but the obligation to enjoy yourself every day during these days of relative freedom is a pain in the arse. I don’t want to be melancholic, but this forced enjoyment of a good time is too much for me.  Club Med would be a nightmare!  I like my routine back.  Back at work and happy to be there.  We still have our weekends and can still enjoy them.  The jumpers are still in storage, but you hear the word “mi-saison” as the announcer of a more bearable climate.  The French news has gone the rentrée clips to showing how our Dear President has not been as good at selling submarines as other countries that can offer different and possibly more desirable options…  The Voyages à Nantes is over, and we will look for those works of art that have become permanent.  You can see grapes in the supermarkets, and other more autumnal products.  Soon we’ll be talking about the wine harvest…  In the UK it will be words like “chilly” making their return to everyday usage.  The merits of a “nice cup of tea” which will warm you up will become an object of conversation once more.  Biscuits or cake?

My daughter was born in September and this week is her birthday.  She will be twelve going on thirty.  I think she should run for President, as she seems to know everything already.  Let her fix the country.  If people go on strike, she could always sulk in her room and go on her phone…  That’ll show them!  At least she takes the dog out for walks around the village.  As any doting gather, I think she’s brilliant and can be hilarious and despite hating and eye rolling at my dad jokes, she still seems to enjoy them.  She can also turn into a she-devil at any instant and I’m trying to work out whether this is traumatic for me or just making life a little more interesting than it once was.

Molly, I think I’ve introduced her to you, is now a deb at the grand old age of 10, and has made her grand entrance in the pub, where I can be found from time to time, enjoying a pint of overpriced Guinness.  Me, that is, not the dog.  That dog of ours is one clean living dog, or a total abstainer!  She attended a Saturday night at the pub, and was noticed and loved by everyone.  She received strokes galore, was made a fuss of, and even had a couple of chips as a treat from the chip shop down the road.  My major concern was that I would lose her, but my hand stayed firmly on the lead, and the only trouble was her getting tangled in chairs.  I was amazed by the reaction to her, and she might be allowed to come out with me more often.  She’ll keep her canine eye on me, making sure I don’t get into any trouble. It’s amazing how that mutt has worked her way into my heart and is a real doggie dog, and always seems happy to see me.  To be honest, she’s happy to see everyone, but she knows how to make you feel special, in a way that only a dog can.  Unfortunately she can, with time, and dirt on her, become a little stinky-poohs, and on Tuesday I came home and gave her her cuddle, discovered a dog that had been to doggie hairdressers and was now as soft as you wish, trimmed up, and smelling lovely.  Maybe not as pleasant as finding a banknote hidden away in your wallet, but not half bad anyway!

This is supposed to be a photography blog, or at least from time to time, so let me tell about where I am on the photographic plain.  I’m still there.  Last weekend was the Journées du Patrimoine.  I could have gone into Nantes with my camera, and visit all those places not usually open to the public and get some more “exclusive” photos, but went to Clisson instead.  I never got there.  I had the Mamiya and a couple of rolls of film with me.  Exploring some of the local villages near where I live, I even managed to go to the Château de la Preuille, a local castle that has been a favourite of mine since arriving in St Hilaire in 2001.  With Medium format film, you get 12 images with each film when shooting with the Mamiya C220, and the amount of detail that is captured on the negative is amazing.  The project was to take pictures locally and see what I could get, and the restriction of 24 shots was interesting too.  It obliges you to make that little extra effort when composing your images, as you don’t want to waste that special film.  If this article has photos, then it means that I have developed my film before Friday at 17h.  Otherwise, they’ll have to be added later on. UPDATE: It appears that you will have to wait for the photos of Château de la Preuille but they will be put on here. For the moment, you get a bit of Saint Hilaire.

I shall continue to revel in this comparatively cooler weather, with the sunshine, and not much rain forecast for the next ten days.  I look forward to seeing you in my next article.  Until then, be good, and if you can’t be good, then be careful!

The Olympus Trip 35

After the success of my review of the Fuji Film X100F, I thought I might have to present another camera to you.  For the non-techy of you, don’t worry, this camera is a doddle to use, and my daughter was using it when she was a seven year old!  It won’t get complicated. 

I wanted to use a film camera to do it.   I will presume that you have no experience of using a film or vintage cameras also, so Millennial friendly, and after a certain age, you will be meeting an old friend.  I would like to introduce you to the Olympus Trip 35.

As the name might suggest the Olympus Trip was a camera designed for travel photography and for the mass market in the 1960s and 1970s (production stopped in 1988).  A point and shoot.  No gimmicks.  Although this is not a style or fashion blog, this camera is a beautiful object, and if you thought you had people coming up to you and telling you how sexy your camera was with the X100F, then you’ll get even more people coming up to you telling you how gorgeous your camera is.  It is one of those timeless cameras that just oozes sex appeal.  I replaced the original wrist strap with a more chunky and comfortable version from Amazon.

There are some things that you will not be able to do with this camera.  You won’t be able to add another lens.  You get a 40mm Zuiko F 2.8, however the 40mm focal length will have you covered for the majority of situations for your photographic trip, and also gives beautiful results, especially with modern emulsions!.  Just look at the X100F photos and it will be self evident.  You won’t have all the modern conveniences of a Modern DSLR or even mirrorless camera, but you won’t have any problems with batteries.  There aren’t any.  The power for the metering comes from the selenium cell (which contrary to appearances isn’t a New Romantic group from the 1980’s).  You will have get film for it.  It take film from ISO (or ASA) 25 to 400 which, for when you’re on the road is fine, and will cover most eventualities.

Loading film is so simple that a child of seven could do it, and my child, when seven years old did it easily.  Then basically, you’re ready.  Off you go and explore.  I haven’t talked about how to focus the camera.  So….  The camera uses the principle of zone focussing.  You turn the lens and you will see a face, a couple, a group of people, and then a mountain.  If you turn the camera around so the top is the bottom, and the bottom the top (Pride reference, even if I am slightly late), you will see the distances marked out: 1m, 1m50, and 3m to infinity, but not beyond.  We’re talking photography, and not a film based on Ants, or Seven Samurai.

There are two shutter speeds, 1/200th of a second and 1/40th and the camera chooses which one it uses.  But 1/40th with a 40mm lens shouldn’t give camera shake.  So you can cover light from F22 at 1/200th of a second to F2.8 at 1/40th of a second.  You will see an F stop dial on the camera, and that you will see in the viewfinder.  When not using a flash, just put it to A (automatic).  If ever there is not enough light, there is a little red flag that pops up into the viewfinder, and the camera shutter won’t fire.  It’s idiot proof!

I will include a video from YouTube to show you how to load the film as it will be easier than describing to you in written language.   

So get out there and start taking some photos!  Go on the streets.  Go on a Trip.  Just get out there and start using it.  Have fun and share photos if you want!  Mine are from a trip to Portugal and the Canary Islands from 2016 taken on Ilford HP5 Plus.  Make of them what you will…

Kodak Portra 160 in action

I have already shown these photos on Facebook and Instagram, but I wanted to share them here too. I had the pleasure to take a film camera out to Nantes with some Portra in it. Kodak Portra is one of those iconic films that everybody waxes lyrical about and I can understand what the hype is about. I certainly love it and the results the I mananged to get from it. I would love be able to work out how to make my digital photos have the same feeling, but when I take film shots I don’t have to worry about it.

The following photos were taken on Portra 160 film using my Pentax ME Super, which as the name suggests is pretty cool, during the month of May just after lockdown and in Nantes where I can be found often with a camera around my neck.

Portra 160 is described as having a natural color palette with low saturation and low contrast. It has breathtaking color, sharpness, and very fine grain. I really love these colours. Normally the name Portra might suggest Portrait and you’d be right in thinking that. For portraits it’s magical. But it also seems to work in street photography.

I do love the Cathedral in Nantes and haven’t been back inside since the fire. I miss it and the music from the organ which was magnificent and depressingly no longer there.

https://shootitwithfilm.com/how-to-shoot-kodak-portra-160/ This could interest you too

https://www.alexburkephoto.com/blog/2019/5/16/metering-and-shooting-kodak-portra-film And here is another link that you might want to have a look at. Loads of info and worth a read. I wish I had have know about this first. I don’t think I was too far off though.

https://fstoppers.com/film/unofficial-film-film-look-long-term-review-kodak-portra-400-502260 This article is on Fstoppers and discusses Portra 400 but it’s a good read too.

My Mamiya C220

My Mamiya C220, aka my little baby, aka possibly my favourite camera, has just been repaired. It is a Twin Lens Reflex, or TLR for those in the know. Why is it my favourite camera? For a few reasons.

Reason 1. I can actually see what I’m doing. I look into the viewfinder and can see everything really clearly without my glasses. The perception of depth of field is amazing and it’s almost like looking at a 3D tv screen.

Reason 2. It looks so cool! When I’m out on the streets the camera becomes a conversation piece. If I’m taking photos with my Canon 6D and zoom lens, people can get slightly tetchy and think I’m up to no good. Going for the understatement of the year award. However with the Mamiya they seem to think a guy with that big a camera around his neck deserve special respect, even though size doesn’t really matter and it’s all about the moment you’re capturing on film. It starts a conversation and therfore an exchange. You tell them that it’s Medium Format and what that entails. which leads me up to Reason 3.

Reason 3. It’s a Medium Format camera. Now, all the hipsters started discovering film a short while back, and talked about how awesome it was Dude! They were there with their Canon Ae1’s feeling so “with it” because “film is just so authentic man,” and because “film photography is real photography”, and that “digital just isn’t the same man!” Well guess what, you bearded little hipster you, film is how we OG’s rolled back in the day, because that was all there was. That was with 35mm film photography with 135 film. Medium Format just blows their minds because it’ 6 x 6, which translated means each negative mesures 6 centimetres by centimetres. Yes, size does seem to count again. You’re basically getting a huge amount of information on your negative.

Reason 4. Because of the depth of field you get with that 80mm lens. Alright you can get the same depth of field with a smaller lens, but it’s not the same. I’m worried that size is becoming a theme in this article and may show lack of confidence and hidden insecurities…

Reason 5. Did I say it looked really cool? I’ve just looked further up and it appears that I have already said that. Remeber what I said in a previous article about the importance of the “film process” which takes you from buying the film, putting it in the camera, taking the photos, right through to developing, and then scanning your negs, etc. When I use digital, it’s great. I love it. It is so dependable. I press a button and the camera can do so much. It’s like driving my Renault Scénic to work every day. It does the job and does it really well, and I still enjoy it. Taking the Mamiya out for a spin is like getting that beautiful vintage MG out of the garage and driving out to the coast, and just enjoying the wind in my hair, or my memory of what that felt like. It’s a camera that gets me excited to go out and take photos.

Was it good for you too? Right. Let’s get down to the nitty and the gritty and show you some photos. I used two rolls that day. One was Fomapan 120 format ASA 100, and the other was Ilford HP5 shot at box speed. The C220 doesn’t have a light metre so I calculated exposition using “Sunny 16.”

The Lockdown Diaries Part 2

If you’re still here then it means that you’re still alive and not dead from Covid 19, or the light beer virus for those in the know, which is a good thing after all. Soooo…

Lockdown is officially over but it doesn’t really feel like it. People are still covering their faces with masks, which would have been a motive to arrest people during the Gilets Jaunes demonstrations. Strange how things change so quickly.

I have a tendency towards social anxiety that can be treated with beer, but not the light variety. I tend to withdraw into my room and not come out. For the others it must be like living in a Victorian Mansion where you don’t go onto the East Wing despite the ominous noises that come out from there. Or me being a legend like the depressive yeti, where it was once seen near the fridge but then vanished. I think I mentioned that my son’s girlfriend was living with us during lockdown, and then one day there was a knock on my door, and she told me she was going home to her mother’s. That came a bit out of the blue, and I went into anxiety overdrive, like why is she leaving, what had my son done, what had any of us done, I’m sure I always flushed the toilet, didn’t I buy her her favourite jam for breakfast etc. Apparently it had been planned all along. She was just there for the duration…

It’s strange how you can get used to a situation and then all of a sudden everything changes and you don’t know what world you are living in anymore. It’s like entering the Twilight Zone, nah nah nah nah, nah nah nah nah….

Things are open here like shops, Mac Donald’s, schools and the like, but it’s not the same. The omnipresent fear of the dreaded virus is strong. No touching people, no being close to people, changes at work…. I hate it. Sometimes I’d rather be dead. Human kindness seems to have packed up ship and buggered off. Human warmth doesn’t exist. There is just this fear. People being short tempered and distant, and complaining about everything. Not just suspicious minds, but suspicious everything. The authorities say one thing one day, and then it changes. When we need strong leadership we realise that they are as shit scared as the rest of us and don’t know much more than we do. And yet life goes on, but I hate this life.

So what can I do about it? Not a lot. When I get to work I have to go through a checkpoint managed by my workshop bosses. They take my temperature, and put a small amount of gel into my hands. Nobody shakes hands anymore and you just go to your work station. The coffee machine has been shut off, and I really feel isolated in my stores. People used to come in and have a chat, but that’s gone. And I’m the lucky one. I have Alexa with me who plays me BBC Radio 2. The presenters do a great job, and it makes me feel less alone, but it’s not the same.

I know I shouldn’t complain and just keep calm and carry on, take it on the chin, and stiff upper lip and all that, but this situation is without precedent in my lifetime, and is slowly wearing me down. Thank God I still have my photography. It really is my only therapy and gets me out of the house and doing something constructive.

Talking about photography, let’s please, move onto something les anxiety inducing. The following photos are of the pond and prairie that I talked about in my last article. There is a mixture of digital and film photos. I have been exploring the notion of pushing film. This not involve putting a film canister in the table and nudging it forward gently, but not exposing it at box speed.

Let me explain. I buy Ilford HP5 Plus black and white negative film. Normally it is to be exposed at 400 ASA. However, by under exposing and extending the developing time you can get a little more contrast on the negative. Other consequences are that with less light, I can still have smaller apertures and get more in focus. I will get more grain but that’s fine. It adds to the analogue photo I think. You’ll see what I mean when you see the photos. There will be three galleries, one showing digital images, one showing the images from the film exposed at 800 ASA, and the last gallery showing images exposed at 1600 ASA. How does that sound?

This first gallery was taken with the Canon 6D Mark II and the 16-35 mm F4 lens.

This second gallery was taken on the Pentax ME Super with a 50mm F1.7 lens with Ilford HP5 but pushed to 800 ASA

This last gallery was taken on the Canon AE1 Program with a 50mm F1.8 lens on Ilford HP5 but pushed to 1600 ASA

The Lockdown Diaries Part I

Now I realise that this title might sound like the beginning of a series of posts that will have even more episodes than the Avengers film franchise, or for those of you who are my age, even more films than in the Sly Stallone Rocky series, minus the boxing. And I’ve purposely not indicated how many episodes there might be, so like that I’m covered and I know you’ll just keep coming back for more.

As you might have guessed, and I think I’ve already said before; let me just go back and check… Yes I have said before, my big lockdown project was to eat cake, drink tea, take a couple of photos and get this film photography funk over and done with, like flared trousers in 1980.

With the help of YouTube, calming myself the “f” down, and a couple of purchases on Internet, I sorted myself out. Now I knew that I could take a reasonable photo. But developing was a different matter. I had lost confidence, and it was time to grab the bull by the horns, which is easier than grabbing it elsewhere, and just start at the very beginning, which as Julie Andrews reminded us, is a very good place to start.

When you take photos with an analogue camera, you need an analogue camera, check, some film, check, and then you load the film into the aforementioned film camera, and go out and take some photos. I did this in my village, and you’ll be able to see where I walked: the vines, the park, and the prairie where there are lots of ponds, with lots of ducks who had been doing what ducks do in the Spring and swimming with the ducklings and being fed bread by my daughter. The noise of the frogs, the animals, and not my fellow villagers from the Vendée, was deafening!

When you get back from your walk, you disappear into your bedroom and set out the developing kit, minus the chemicals, on your bed, and hope that you still remember how to get the film from inside the film canister, onto a plastic spool, which goes into a drum, and then a cover goes onto the drum to keep everything away from any light. Oh yes, you do this by putting everything you need into a developing bag, and doing all this by touch and without seeing what you’re doing. If this sounds like a lot of faffing about when you can just use your phone to take “pics”, well you’d be right, but I’ll get back to you on that, later on.

You take this “drum” into the bathroom, and put it on a shelf and then prepare you chemicals. You will need a developer, a stop, and a fix, and I’m not talking about smoking a cigarette that makes people laugh. The developer will make the pictures (in negative) appear on the film. The stop, you’re not going to believe this, will actually “stop” this process, and the fix, will fix the image on the negative by disolving the excess emulsion that was on the film. Then you have the cleaning process which will allow you to have some wonderfully clean negatives that will dry, and then can be cut up into strips, and then put into sheets that will protect the negatives.

But enough of all this negativity! Let’s make those negatives into positives… Bloody hell I’m sounding like some American self-help book! I do this by scanning each negative which will make a positive, and I end up with a picture on my computer. Yayyy, go me. Good job I’m not called Nads!

As you can see I’m really into recycling in a big way, because I’m sure I’ve used that joke before.

I then class these photos by camera used to take them, and by date. It’s my OCD going into overdrive again. My house is untidy despite the efforts of my long suffering wife, but my hard drives are so well organised, that a librarian would be proud of me.

After this I get to play with the images on my computer and then after minimal editing, I publish them, either on Instagram, on Facebook, or here.

So I have these images ready to share with you. But further up I talked about faffing about and why don’t I just used my phone like everyone else. Well? Firstly I’m not like everyone else as my parents will tell you. Some people will say the film photography is about slowing down. You take your time to think about the shot, you look at the scene before you and take the time to decide what elements are interesting, what to include and what not to include. You think if this picture that I can see I my mind’s eye is worth taking and worth the expense and time to develop it. But that’s only part of the story. I like the process of capturing the photo with film. You click the shutter, wind on the film, don’t look at the back of your camera to check if your picture turned out OK or not, and hope for the best. With time, this becomes “normal” and might teach you some patience. I also like using the old camera. It’s looks better hanging around my neck than my phone. When people see you using a film camera, people look at you as if you are more worthy, and a craftsman exercising his craft. There’s the touchy feely side of actually going through an analogue process and manipulating something tangible and getting a result from that process, instead of just creating an electric image. The quality of those images with the famous “grain” may not be as sharp as some digital images, but they have a certain quality about them that cannot be produced digitally. There’s also the thing about converting nearly all my digital into black and white, so why not just cut out the middle man and do everything on black and white film?

The two main film cameras that I use are the Canon AE1 Program, and the Pentax ME Super. I have others of course, but these are the main two and the following photos were taken on the Pentax using a 50mm F1.7lens and Ilford HP5 black and white film.

I hope you enjoy my efforts.