Music has always been an important part of my life. So too has been photography. Given these facts it’s not that surprising that one of my favourite things to do with my camera is to head off to a local gig and indulge both interests simultaneously.
It’s not just because I enjoy the music that I find shooting a live performance so rewarding. It is also a fairly challenging field of photography and when I feel that I’ve got a good result from a shoot I can get quite some satisfaction out of it.
Let me make it clear at this point that I have only ever shot at small music venues. I’ve never been lucky enough to shoot at a large concert hall. Conditions in such a venue would be quite different to shooting in the small pubs and clubs that I am used to.
Many of these venues have either a very small stage area or no stage at all. They are usually cramped, with tables wedged in right up to where the performers are. The lighting can often be best described as “challenging”. Very low light and often lots of different coloured spot lights illuminating quite a small area don’t make conditions ideal for the photographer. I find that red spot lights in particular can do all kinds of nasty things to flesh tones. Sometimes it’s great to pick up and use the lighting effects, other times they can ruin an otherwise good shot. Chaotic coloured lighting can be one good reason (and not the only one) to process your photos in black and white.
Getting a good view of the action is the first challenge. You have to remember that there are other people in the room who have paid their money just as you have in order to relax, listen to the music and watch the band. They do not want to have their view constantly blocked by somebody wielding a huge DSLR and a long lens. By the same token you also have to consider the musicians. You don’t want to be distracting them from their work too much and they certainly won’t be happy if you’re preventing the audience from enjoying their music with all your flitting around to get a good shot. Finding good positions that give you an interesting angle on your subjects whilst at the same time not distracting the band or audience is therefore your first hurdle as a photographer of live music.
Next we must consider what is “on stage” (assuming there is a stage). Hopefully some musicians will be present with their instruments. But then there will be microphone stands, speakers, cables, music stands, chairs, possibly small tables – all manner of musical paraphernalia. Microphone stands and microphones are one of my pet hates as they can hide so much of an artists face whilst also casting ugly shadows over them and that is the very place you’ll be looking to find some of the raw emotion that musical performances can bring out. It is also possible to make such distracting elements work for you in your photo however, depending upon how the artist interacts with the microphone and its stand. It can be difficult to separate the performers from their equipment and from each other if the performing area is small. I often find that I have the rogue neck of an instrument sticking into my field of view, or somebody’s hand or elbow.
I’ve already mentioned coloured lights, but we also have the challenge of low light to consider. You might be surprised to find just how much you need to crank up your ISO in order to get a reasonable exposure given that there might be spot lights in use. A good wide aperture will help you here of course, although that can also make your depth of field pretty shallow so expect to miss your focus a few times. I tend to underexpose my gig photos by at least a stop based on my camera’s meter anyway. Often you’ll have the performers with a dark background behind them which will “fool” the meter in your camera. You want to expose for the performers, not the background. I’ll either shoot in full manual mode, or if I know I want to take advantage of a lens with a wide aperture I’ll use aperture priority mode and dial in a bit of exposure compensation. The same approach is used if I switch to shutter priority which I might do if I want to make sure my exposures are fast enough to prevent camera shake or if I’m trying to freeze the action. Sometimes it can be interesting to emphasise movement : a hand strumming a guitar, drum sticks forming a blur as they beat the skins. However to get a low enough shutter speed to register the movement you’ll be risking camera shake. Tripods are rarely going to be an option in a venue like this. A monopod might be possible but is also an extra encumbrance (I can just see myself swiping a load of drinks off a nearby table with it when I move to find a different vantage point). Another option is to find something to brace yourself or your camera with, even if it’s just leaning against a wall it can give you the extra stability required to drop that shutter speed down a bit.
The subject of cranking up the ISO mentioned above brings me on to another of my pet hates: sensor noise. When I got my first DSLR (a Canon EOS 20D) I loved how “clean” the images looked after stepping up from the small sensor of a digital compact camera. I find that I like film grain but not digital grain, hence I do tend to call the former “grain” and the latter “noise”. I now shoot with an EOS 7D which is certainly much better at controlling noise at high ISO than either my 20D or my 40D were. However, noise is still very noticeable to me once I get up to ISO 1600 or above. If I bolt on my 70-200mm f4L lens then I can find myself having to go up to ISO 3200 to make up for that relatively small f4 aperture.
Generally I like to shoot with prime lenses, but in a small, cramped venue a zoom can be very handy as it’s not so easy to zoom with your feet in such an environment. If I can get in really close then I like my 50mm f1.4 (equivalent of an 80mm lens when used on my 7D), but my 100mm f2.8 macro is a more generally useful lens for this sort of work. It has a telephoto reach combined with a still moderately wide aperture and it is also a pretty damn sharp lens. Yes, I would love to be shooting with an EOS 5D Mk III for its performance at high ISO, I’ll have to take a lot more excellent photos and get well paid for them if I’m ever going to afford one though. I’ll be interested to see if the low light performance of the newly announced 6D is up to scratch, but even though I’m sure that will be a cheaper body I’m not really in a position to go out and buy any new camera equipment at the moment.
Having just said that noise is another “pet hate”, another option is to go with it and see that noise as just part and parcel of the environment. A gritty, grainy photo can add to the atmosphere you capture, it’s just that I’d like to be able to add the grain when I want to rather than have it imposed upon me by technical limitations of the camera I’m shooting with.
As I said earlier, processing your photos as black and white images is a good way to deal with chaotic lighting rigs. It can also help with noise reduction as a lot of the noise tends to be in the colour channels (particularly the blue channel). Even leaving these considerations aside I can find myself simply preferring a black and white photograph anyway. The further I go with my photography the more I feel that colour can be a distraction in a photograph if it’s not actually saying something and enhancing the mood of the image in some way. Maybe not a point of view shared by many, but then this is my own personal view of my music photography. Sometimes I might like the mood that the coloured lighting is evoking so I’ll make use of it. At other times I feel that black and white can evoke a classic “music press” look.
So far I’ve talked a lot about the technical challenges of photographing a live music performance. Another challenge is in making sure that you capture those special moments in a performance. An artist might hold a particular expression for a fraction of a second, but it’s a fraction of a second which can say so much in a photograph. I will take advantage of the high frame rate of my 7D, set it into high speed burst mode and fire the thing off like a machine gun at times. This can help no end in capturing “the moment” just as it can with sports photography, although it will also lead to having a heck of a lot of photos to pick your way through, looking for the best takes. I’d rather have to deal with that than find I’ve missed all the moments I was trying to capture. Shooting this way does make me feel a bit of a cheat. At 8 frames per second, how is it possible to miss anything?
I try to keep an eye out for unique little moments in a performance. Maybe the band are sharing a joke on stage. Maybe something has gone wrong and they’re having a laugh about it. Maybe they have a little routine or story telling they go through before playing a certain song. The better you know the performers the better your chances of capturing these moments. I recently missed a good example of this at a performance by Govannen. To introduce a song one of the performers who was playing the bodhran used it as a prop to illustrate “the moon” rising behind another artists head. At the time this was happening I was politely taking advantage of the pause in the music (remember my earlier comments about frustrating the audience and band?) to move to a new position to shoot from and in so doing I missed the opportunity. Tough luck.
One of these days I would love to get the opportunity to shoot a live music performance at a larger venue, with a press pit and a professional lighting rig. But until then I’ll keep popping along to local gigs at small venues, honing my skills and techniques in the hopes that if the opportunity does arise then I’ll be better equipped to make a good job of it. As quite a large bonus that should mean I’m out and about hearing lots of great music and meeting new friends as I do so.
I was heading back to Rome! It had been nearly five years since my previous visit and on that occasion I had lugged a big rucksack all around the city with me, containing my EOS 20D and around half a dozen lenses. Did I really want to be a packhorse for a whole week during this visit? Not if I could avoid it. I convinced myself to head back to the Eternal City armed with just my FujiFilm X100 and leave my DSLR kit at home.
Portability was the reason for adding the X100 to my photographic arsenal in the first place. Whether I’m out hiking up mountains or doing tours of cities, having a camera which is small, light and capable is a big advantage. Having a camera which also doesn’t shout out “steal me” was reassuring when heading into the crowds of Rome at the height of the tourist season. Once this little thing is enclosed in the brown leather case it looks just like something out of 1960s.
But would it be “enough of a camera” for me during a trip to Rome?
Along with the advantages of small size, light weight, big sensor, great low light performance and excellent lens comes the compromise : a fixed prime lens. I love shooting with prime lenses anyway, and this baby opens up to f2. But yes, it’s fixed, no lens swapping so I would be shooting at an equivalent of 35mm for the entire trip.
I knew there would be shots I would “miss”. No ultra wide to capture panoramic views, no telephoto to get in close to the faces of statues or people. Usually this isn’t too much of a problem. Zoom lenses make us lazy. If you want a wider view or need to get in closer then just walk until you have the field of view you want. Bingo. Who needs a zoom lens?
Well, there were times during this trip where I could have done with some more flexibility in my focal length. As a tourist you often encounter roped off areas and fences keeping you away from the thing you want to photograph. On these occasions with my EOS 7D I would have bolted on something like my 70-200mm and ropes and fences wouldn’t have been a problem. With the X100 I just had to shoot with what I had and make the best of it.
Where the X100 really shone for me was in low light conditions. Noise control on this camera is excellent, even at high ISO. I decided right from the start to use the auto ISO and auto dynamic range functions on the camera and just trust it take care of all this for me. This meant that I could be outside in a gloriously sunny piazza one moment and then step into a dark, gloomy church the next and not really think about having to set ISO.
The auto ISO did give me some incredibly high ISO settings when outside in bright sunshine, I would imagine that was because I was also using the auto dynamic range. I’m not 100% sure how the dynamic range setting works on this camera, but I think it must be this which was cranking up the ISO in bright light. It’s not really an issue, the X100 is the best camera I’ve yet owned for dealing with noise. It’s something I’ll have to read up on, I think it under-exposes the shot and then brings out the shadow detail when converting to jpg in camera.
I knew that the X100 produces some of the best jpg results out of the camera that I have ever seen, but I still wanted to have my raw files so I opted to shoot raw + jpg for the trip. Sometimes I was perfectly happy with the jpg files as they were, other times I wanted to tinker so played around with the raw files in Lightroom as I normally do.
And how did it go? Well, it was an absolute joy to carry around the X100 as opposed to all my DSLR kit. Even if I’d opted to take my EOS 7D and just one lens it would have been much bigger and heavier than the X100. I did take a few other bits of “kit” : spare battery, spare SD cards, a filter adapter ring, filter holder and a couple of filters (grey grad and polariser). I don’t think I bothered to use the filters during the whole time I was in Rome.
And the end results? Well, I can’t say that I was extatic with my photos from the trip. However, that was nothing at all to do with the camera. It was me. I was in “tourist mode” rather than “photographer mode”. I had a family to keep an eye on all the time and make sure they were enjoying themselves. For me photography is something I do best either on my own or with a small group of other photographers. Having non-photographers along really does cramp my style.
One thing I was pretty pleased with, and plan to use a lot more, is the built-in panorama mode of the X100. This did actually compensate in some way for not having an ultra-wide angle lens with me. It’s very simple to use and generally does an excellent job as long as you pan smoothly and try to keep the shutter speed down. At higher shutter speeds there is less accuracy in the time the shutter is open so you can get some banding effects. This isn’t a problem, either crank the ISO down or pop the built-in ND filter on – or both.
My tips for traveling with the X100? Do it! It’s a joy. It’s so liberating to shoot with just one small, light body with a fixed lens, especially one that can still give you some lovely narrow depth of field. Beyond that I think the most important practical tip would be to make sure you have a spare battery. If you’re used to shooting all day with a DSLR you’re likely to find yourself running out of juice a bit earlier than expected with the X100. I use flash very rarely and hardly ever use the LCD on the rear of the camera so I was able to get through a full day of shooting most of the time. If you use the flash more, take more photos than I did, use the rear LCD screen then you might well be glad of the spare battery.
Today's photo is a close up of the inscription on a memorial to one Denzil J Jarvis, an engineer from Leicester who died in the sinking of the Titanic in April 1912. His body was either never found or if found not identified so he most certainly isn't buried here. This memorial can be found in the church yard of…
A little while ago my friend Bexxi stated on Twitter that she intended her next blog post to follow a meme which I found quite appealing. Quite often I’ve found myself performing something similar on a friend’s birthday – checking the date on Wikipedia for any interesting births, deaths or events which happened that day in history. And yes, I confess I’ve previously looked at my own birthday for just the same things. I said I’d have a go at it, although something tells me I’m not going to do quite such a good job of it as Bexxi did and it has taken me rather a long time to “get around to it”.
When is your birthday?
On October 3rd
Pick three people who share your birthday and share what you know about them.
- 1961 – Rebecca Stephens, British mountaineer
As a keen hill walker I couldn’t help but include Rebecca Stephens, the first British woman to reach the summit of Everest. She originally trained as a journalist which should maybe fill us all with hope that we can make changes to our lives and go on to do the things we want to do. Rebecca’s journalistic training will have helped, I’m sure, when she took on the role of presenting “Tomorrow’s World” during the 1990s. Not that I was a viewer at the time; I remember watching that programme as a boy when it was hosted by the likes of Raymond Baxter, Michael Rodd and Judith Hann. I know that I will never climb Everest, I have no desire to do so, however I find Rebecca’s determination and commitment to be inspirational. She happened upon climbing by accident, realised it was something she wanted to do and got right down to it.
The main reason I’ve included Lindsey Buckingham is from fond memories of trailing around various local music venues over twenty years ago following my friend Kate Easton and whatever bands she was a member of at the time. With one band, “The Bijou Pleasurettes” Kate would take on lead vocals for occasional songs, one of them being “Dreams” by Fleetwood Mac. I must ask her to sing it again sometime, she always did such an excellent job with it.
But I digress, I should be telling you what I know about Lindsey Buckingham and I suppose I can skip the obvious bit about him being guitarist and lead vocalist for Fleetwood Mac now.
Prior to joining Fleetwood Mac, Buckingham had recorded an album with his girlfriend of the time, one Stevie Nicks. Mick Fleetwood heard a track from the album, “Buckingham Nicks” in 1974 and decided that he wanted whoever was playing the guitar to be in his band. Fleetwood was told that if he wanted Buckingham he would have to take Stevie Nicks too, and thus was formed the classic mid-seventies Fleetwood Mac line up of Mick Fleetwood, Christine McVie, John McVie, Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham.
The second album released by this line up was the legendary “Rumours” and this is where my reference to my friend Kate singing “Dreams” comes back into the story as that song features on this album. Anyone who used to watch Formula 1 motor racing in years gone by will know very well another track from this album, “The Chain”. It also featured “Don’t Stop” (…”thinking about tomorrow..” – sorry if I’ve now inflicted an ear worm on you) and “Go Your Own Way”.
I was never a really huge fan of Fleetwood Mac, although I certainly enjoyed their material of this period and “Rumours” is one of the first albums I had owned on vinyl which I chose to replace on CD. Well, I say “replace”, I still have all my vinyl too.
Charles Duke was Lunar Module pilot for the Apollo 16 mission to the Moon in April 1972. During that mission Duke became the tenth person to walk on the surface of the moon and clocked up a (then) record stay on the surface of 71 hours and 14 minutes. During that time he left a photo of his family on the lunar surface.
However Charles Duke will probably be even better remembered in his role as CAPCOM (Capsule Communicator) for Apollo 11, the first lunar landing. During the mission all communications to the crew were channeled through one person to avoid confusion, that is the role of CAPCOM. It was Duke who talked the crew onboard Eagle, the Lunar Module, through the final descent onto the surface.
During the video of the final minutes of that operation you can hear Duke giving alerts to the crew “sixty seconds”, “thirty seconds”. That wasn’t the E.T.A., that was how much fuel they had left to burn. I can only imagine the nervous tension at Mission Control during those final minutes so it’s understandable that Duke fluffed his words a bit as soon as the landing was complete, ”Roger, Twank… Tranquility, we copy you on the ground. You got a bunch of guys about to turn blue. We’re breathing again. Thanks a lot!”
Is anyone listed as being born on the same day as you (ie the same year)? If so, what do you know about them?
Well, I have to confess that I’d never heard of Rob before starting this project. I appreciate art and I have as friends a number of artists, indeed some of whom have also been illustrators for comic books. I can appreciate the art, but I’ve never really been one for comics, certainly not beyond childhood. I did buy a few “graphic novels” in my late teens and early twenties but I have to say that I would rather read a novel than a graphic novel. I like to make my own pictures in my head.
Wikipedia tells me that Rob has worked on “Youngblood” and “X-Force“. A quick look shows me the sort of thing I never really got a taste for. People in silly costumes with over developed bodies flying through the air. Underpants on over the top of their trousers, etc.
As somebody who can’t draw anything which looks at all life like, I can certainly appreciate the skill involved. My inability to draw was one of many factors which led me towards photography as an artistic outlet. No disrespect intended to Rob in any way, or to people who enjoy reading comic books and like that style of art. It’s just not my thing.
List three people who died on your birthday and tell us what you know about them.
Much as I have respect for artists and musicians, I also have a deep respect for comedians. Somebody who has the power to create laughter is a valuable member of society indeed.
Ronnie Barker was somebody who provided much laughter to millions of people. During my childhood he was an integral part of Saturday night TV as one half of “The Two Ronnies“. But Ronnie had first come to prominence in the medium of radio, particularly as a member of the cast of “The Navy Lark“, a situation comedy set onboard HMS Troutbridge in which he performed in some 300 episodes. I was astonished to discover that this programme ran until as late as 1977 as part of my research for this blog post. It started in 1959 and I had always imagined it to be a creature of the 50s and 60s.
After the success of “The Two Ronnies”, Barker went on to appear in the highly successful “Porridge” alongside Richard Beckinsale, a sitcom set in H.M. Prison Slade which also featured the talents of Fulton Mackay as the acerbic prison warder Mr Mackay. After calling time on “Porridge” he went straight onto yet another hugely successful comedy series “Open All Hours” as the miserly, stuttering Yorkshire corner shop keeper, Arkwright, alongside David Jason.
Barker decided to bow out at the peak of his fame, retiring from show business in 1987 at the age of 58. However, he was tempted back to produce “The Two Ronnies Sketchbook” which aired in 2005 with a Christmas special recorded in July of that year being aired posthumously. The show comprised of Ronnie Barker and Ronnie Corbett introducing their old material from decades before but it proved to be a success with audiences.
- 2004 – Janet Leigh, American actress (b. 1927)
Although I enjoy films, I’ve never been one to know much about actors. To my mind, if they do their job well then I won’t even think about them as being an actor and I have no interest in their off-screen / off-stage lives. I think there are only two films in Janet Leigh’s career which I’ve ever seen, but one of them is an absolute classic which has been parodied to death : Psycho. Janet Leigh’s character, Marion Crane, features in a big way in the most famous scene from that movie. Is there anyone who has never seen Psycho? Well, just in case I will say no more.
I had to include Woody Guthrie really. He died on the very day I was born, October 3rd 1967. Although I was aware of Guthrie I didn’t know much about his life. I became interested in folk music in my early twenties thanks to influences from various friends and also due to my liking of Led Zeppelin. That’s a rather convoluted story to tell, but in essence Sandy Denny performed a duet with Robert Plant on Led Zeppelin 4, “The Battle Of Evermore” and it was from there that I started my exploration of folk music.
Born in 1912, Guthrie suffered the deprivations of the Great Depression at first hand. Many of his songs related to the plight of working class people during this period. I can imagine him travelling to find work, guitar slung over his shoulder, picking up traditional songs wherever he went and finding inspiration in plenty for his own songs. He became known as “The Dustbowl Troubadour”.
His most famous song, “This Land Is Your Land” was written in 1940 as a response to “God Bless America” which Guthrie thought didn’t reflect the realities he saw every day.
If it wasn’t for Guthrie I’m not sure that I would have been enjoying the music of Bob Dylan, Sandy Denny or Fairport Convention and he is cited directly as an influence by such diverse musicians as Joe Strummer, Dylan, Billy Bragg and Bruce Springsteen.
List three notable events that took place on your birthday.
I’m mindful of just how long this post already is, so I’ll keep this section fairly short!
- 52 BC – Vercingetorix, leader of the Gauls, surrenders to the Romans under Julius Caesar, ending the siege and Battle of Alesia.
The Battle of Alesia was the culmination of the Roman conquest of Gaul. Despite the victory, Caesar was denied a triumph and the political tensions this created led to Caesar’s invasion of Italy and the civil war which followed between 49 and 45 BC. Vercingetorix was executed after being displayed at the triumph Caesar finally had granted for himself in 46 BC. Caesar met his own end on the Ides of March just two years later in 44BC.
- 42 BC – First Battle of Philippi: TriumvirsMark Antony and Octavian fight a decisive battle with Caesar’s assassins Brutus and Cassius.
It seems somehow fitting to follow the Battle of Alesia with the Battle of Philippi. Following Caesar’s death in 44 BC Rome was once again plunged into civil war. Octavian was named as Caesar’s heir in his will. Along with Mark Antony and Marcus Agrippa he pursued Caesar’s killers. Brutus and Cassius were defeated at Philippi and took their own lives. Octavian later went on to defeat Antony at the Battle of Actium (31 BC) and become the first true Emperor of Rome, being awarded the title Augustus by the senate. He went on to rule the Roman Empire from 27 BC to 14 AD.
- 1952 – The United Kingdom successfully tests a nuclear weapon to become the world’s third nuclear power.
Although of course, they detonated the bomb on the other side of the world, in Australia. This was a modified version of the bomb that was used on Nagasaki. The bomb was detonated within the hull of HMS Plym as the British Government wanted to see the effect of such a device being smuggled into a UK harbour aboard a ship.
Tell us about a holiday that falls on your birthday.
- German Unity Day (Germany)
Not the anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989, but rather the anniversary of the formal declaration of German reunification in 1990. This is a reminder of the huge changes in global politics which have occurred during my life time. The Berlin Wall fell when I was just 22 years old and yet I didn’t venture over there to witness the events for myself. I do wish I had. I was maybe always too “responsible” for my own good when I was younger. I had a job to keep, one that really did place quite a lot of responsibility on shoulders so young. Somehow that seemed so very important to me at the time, although at that time I had no real responsibilities to anybody else. I could have just upped and gone and witnessed the events in Berlin for myself.
Finally, please tag some lovely people to carry on this meme, then link back to this post so they can find the badge and link up their post once published.
Well, this might not be in the true spirit of this project, but I’m not going to tag anyone. If anybody reads this and feels inspired to have a go then please do. I will however link back to the original post.
Hope I’ve got most of my facts right!
For the last two or three years I’d been thinking about buying a Holga. I very nearly took the plunge about a year ago but ended up buying Helmut the Rolleiflex instead. At the time I was keen to see what sort of quality I could obtain from a medium format camera and image quality was at the top of my mind. Admittedly cost was also at the top of my mind so I ended up with a rather battered but operable Rolleiflex rather than something you would stand in a display cabinet. That was much the better option for me though. If I have a camera I want to go out and shoot with it, not just sit there and look at it because I’m too afraid I might damage it.
Over the last year of shooting film again I’ve found myself becoming much more interested in lomography (lo-fi photography) and in analogue photography in general. Many times I would find myself giving a photo a “lomo” look despite it having started out crisp, clean and sharp straight out of my DSLR. I’d add vignettes, add some grain, give it a splash of one of the “lomo” presets I have in Lightroom and generally just make it look less clinical.
So finally I decided to spend the huge sum of about £27 on a Holga 120N. I wanted the original 120 version as I would much rather shoot medium format than 35mm at the moment.
A bit of background may be required. The Holga is a plastic camera produced in China, first going on sale in 1981. The body is plastic, the lens is plastic. It’s just about the most basic camera you can buy. It has a fixed shutter speed of “about 1/100″, it has two aperture settings : cloudy and sunny (although on the original “S” models changing from one to the other didn’t actually achieve anything due to a design flaw). The Holga makes use of a zone focusing system. Little pictures on the lens barrel show a head and shoulders, three people, a group of several people and a mountain to represent focal distances of 3 feet, 6 feet, 18 feet and 30 feet or more. You can “fine tune” this by setting the focus in-between these presets, but you can’t actually see what’s in focus through the viewfinder.
More expensive models in the range feature a built in flash and a glass lens, but I wanted the pure, unadulterated Holga experience. This one does have a hot-shoe for an external flash and I’ve checked that it works with the flash units I have.
Film wind on is of course totally manual. Just keep turning the winder until the next frame number appears in the little red window at the back of the camera. Or not! Leave the wind on alone and see what effect you can get out of a multiple exposure.
Lastly there is a switch situated beneath the lens marked N or B for Normal or Bulb. Normal will give you that 1/100-ish exposure and B (as most photographers will know) will keep the shutter open as long as the shutter release is held down. There is also a tripod mount beneath the lens, which I was quite amused to note was metal. I’ve seen a lot of cheap cameras either have no tripod mounting thread at all or a plastic one, and yet on the Holga, the cheapest of the cheap where everything is plastic, we are given the luxury of a metal tripod thread.
If you’ve been following this blog then you’ll know that I’ve been processing my own black and white film for about a year now. As a consequence the first film I put through this was black and white, from the stock of Ilford FP4+ I’ve been using in Helmut the Rolleiflex. I was a little concerned that at ISO 125 this film might prove rather slow for the Holga, the widest aperture setting is f8 and the shutter is fixed at 1/100. Having said that, black and white film does give more latitude for incorrect exposure than colour film so I thought it was worth trying a roll of the ISO 125 FP4+.
I took a test roll on Saturday and processed it at home later the same day. As is always the case, I was delighted to see that I actually had images recorded on my film, especially considering my concerns about the speed of the film. I actually had 12 reasonably exposed frames. Not once had I forgotten to remove the lens cap, although I’m sure that is bound to happen at some point with this camera.
This is the second frame from the test roll, taken from the footbridge at Narborough station in Leicestershire on Saturday (you can click through on the image to see a larger version on Flickr). You can certainly see the famed softness and vignetting, but I don’t seem to have anything much in the way of light leaks. If anything the end result is rather more crisp and professional looking than anything I would have expected to obtain from such a cheap “toy” of a camera.
I had taken the precaution of putting gaffer tape over all the seams of the plastic body before I went out to shoot in an attempt to minimise light leaks. I think I’ll leave the tape off entirely when I shoot the next roll, just to see what happens.
I would also like to put a roll of colour film through this camera, although at the moment I’m not kitted up to process colour so I would have to send it off to be developed. However the plastic lens can produce some very heavily saturated colours so I’d like to give it a go despite the cost of processing and the delay in getting the results back.
I didn’t end up with anything I considered to be an amazing photo on this roll, but then it was just a “test roll” – I was firing a film through the camera just to get a feel for how it responded. Maybe the next film I put through will be more interesting. I’ll leave the tape off to see if I get any light leaks and I won’t be in such a hurry to finish the film to see what I have.
And due to the cheap nature of this camera I can see myself getting up to various things with it which I would never dare to do with something which cost rather more. I’m not worried about knocks and scrapes with the Holga. If I get a scratch on the lens then it will just add to the “personality” of this camera.
I’ve taken my Super Takumar lenses out for a spin mounted on my EOS 7D over the weekend. The adapter only cost £5 and I was keen to see what these lenses were capable of, particularly the 55mm f1.8 when wide open.
I’m used to focusing manually and shooting in full manual mode anyway, however I did find it quite tricky to focus without a viewfinder with a microprism focusing screen. I think I could probably get one to fit in my 7D, but I’m not sure I really want to go to those lengths (and expense).
There are adapters which include an “auto focus confirm chip” for about four times the price. With one of those I think it would be possible to select one of my camera’s focus points and holding the shutter release down whilst focussing the 7D would blink that spot red in the viewfinder when focus was achieved. For now I’ll just stick to taking a few different versions of everything I shoot hoping that one of them will be in focus.
The photo above was taken during a visit to the park with my daughter this morning. I had the 55mm set to f1.8 and I was keen to see what the bokeh was like. I have to say I love it. Not a great photo, just a “test shot”, but I think it proves the potential and quality of these 1960s lenses. Colour reproduction is great and I’m amazed how sharp this lens is, even wide open at f1.8.
A mooring ring by the side of the Grand Union Canal, near Kilby Bridge, Leicestershire. I shot this at f1.8 yesterday. I took a couple of shots and preferred the composition of the other, but sadly I just missed my focus.
I tried to shoot a few seconds of HD movie footage as the focusing ring on this lens is really smooth. All I proved was that I would really have to have the camera on a tripod – way too much shaking. Naturally no image stabilisation and on my 7D this 55mm lens actually has the equivalent focal length of 88mm.
I will use these lenses with the Pentax Spotmatic they were bought for at some point, but for now it’s great to just be able to get out and give them a go using a modern DSLR.
In my last post I was talking about the film cameras I own and use. I intended to go on and write a little about why I like shooting using film, but felt it was better to leave it for my next posting.
I have digital cameras. I have quite a few of them. I use them all the time. They’re great! I have a couple of Canon EOS digital bodies (7D and 20D), I have a little Fuji compact (an A235), I have an old Olympus compact (a C-750) and like many people I walk around with a phone which contains a digital camera. So, when I have two Canon DSLRs and a nice array of lenses to use with them, why do I still shoot on film?
Shooting on film isn’t something I do on a daily basis. It’s “reserved” as a special treat. Film costs money, chemicals to develop the film cost money, processing the film takes some time and effort, scanning the negatives takes time, removing the dust spots from those scans takes yet more time.
It’s so much “less bother” to just fire away with my 7D, plug the memory card into the card reader and get playing around in Lightroom. The images produced can be exceptionally sharp and clear of grain. And of course, whilst shooting I can instantly see anything that’s a complete write off and delete it.
I still catch myself “chimping” when I use a film camera, glancing at the back of the camera a moment or two after shooting to see what I’ve got and then cursing myself for having picked up the habit to the extent that I still do it even when there isn’t a little screen on the back of the camera (although admittedly I’ve never done this when shooting with my Rolleiflex, that would just be absurd).
A lot of the time I want the clinical results that a modern DSLR will provide. But is there a nagging feeling that they are maybe just too clinical? I find myself adding “grunge” to photos I’ve taken with my DSLRs. I might add a vignette, add some grain, throw the colours out, fade the colours, convert to black and white, convert to black and white whilst adding grain and a vignette at the same time.
I think, sometimes, that I miss that feeling of serendipity you get with shooting on film. In “The Old Days” I’d shoot my roll of film and either take it into a shop to be processed or post it away. I might wait a week or more before I could see what results I had. And the cameras I was using back then were mainly old and / or cheap, leading to unpredictable results.
There’s a whole movement of photographers who enjoy “Lomography” – “Lo Fi” photography. Using “toy cameras” with plastic lenses and crazy light leakage, home made pin hole cameras, cameras made out of Lego bricks, digital “key fob” cameras which are tiny and do weird things with colour saturation and vignetting.
There are others who use their DSLRs with a Lensbaby to add some serendipity back into the process. I’m one of them and have really enjoyed using my Lensbaby Composer. I have their “soft focus” optic and their fisheye optic to make the results even weirder than is normal with a Lensbaby. I’ve cut my own aperture rings to influence the shape of the “bokeh” – as if just shooting with a standard double glass optic in a Lensbaby wasn’t a big enough dose of serendipity.
But serendipity is just one part of the equation. The other part is the sheer joy of shooting with a camera which is seventy years old, using a film standard developed one hundred and eleven years ago. Taking a light reading with a hand held meter, composing a photograph using a waist level viewfinder in which the image is reversed from left to right. Squeezing the shutter release, winding on the film with a little hand crank and knowing that everything within the camera is working due to precision engineering. No electronics in sight. No batteries, no bleeps, no flashing LEDs. And then to get home and soak my exposed film in a series of chemical baths, still not knowing whether I have anything worth looking at. If I do have images recorded on that film, which are not yet visible, knowing that I can completely mess up anything on the film by making the simplest error during the development process. And finally, opening the development tank, pulling the film off the spiral and seeing images recorded on that strip of acetate. It really is a magical feeling.
Autofocus, auto exposure, zoom lenses, instant viewing of the photo you’ve just taken – all wonderful advances in photographic technology. But maybe also they take away some of that magic and make it all just way too precise, too clinical, too predictable and too easy?
Last year I started my way down the path to getting back into film photography. I bought my Rolleiflex, I learned to process b&w film and I had a lot of fun.
Just recently I’ve been lucky enough to become the proud owner of several more film cameras and associated equipment. My dad decided to have a clear out and knowing that I would put this photographic equipment to good use, I started to come home with bags of it after every visit.
The photo above shows me holding my dad’s Ricoh GR1s, a 35mm film compact produced in the late 1990s. It is small and light and yet very sturdy due to a magnesium alloy body. It also sports a 28mm prime lens which has a great reputation for being sharp. For a long time I’ve felt the need to have a compact camera which is light enough to carry on hikes up mountaints, and sturdy enough to withstand that kind of environment. The problem with digital cameras which might fit the bill is that they either have very small sensors (not good) or are very expensive (also not good). Here I have a full frame 35mm camera with a great lens which would be well suited to landscape photography (or street photography) and I’m sure it will soon be taken to the top of a mountain or two.
My dad also gave me a Canon EOS 300v, an SLR camera of a similar vintage to the Ricoh. I’ve run a roll of film through it but not yet processed it. The advantage of this camera is that I can use most of the lenses I use with my EOS 7D with this body.
And then my dad gave me a Pentax Spotmatic, which was the first SLR sold offering Through The Lens (TTL) metering. This came to me along with a couple of great Super Takumar lenses : a 55mm f1.8 and a 135mm f3.5. I’m very keen to get out and shoot with the Pentax and I’m also looking forward to trying those Super Taks out with my EOS 7D. I’ve invested (all of about £5) in an M42 to EF adapter so I’m set to go.
I’ve also finally got a light meter so I can get out and shoot with older cameras which don’t have an in-built light meter. It’s a Weston Master model S74/715 which was produced between 1939 and 1945, which makes it a very fitting companion to my Rolleiflex which was built at around the same time.
I’d still like to get my hands on a folding 120 camera, but I have plenty to play around with for now and it’s great to put some of this fantastic engineering back into use. Getting out to shoot with my 1945 Rolleiflex is such great fun, especially in combination with the Weston Master light meter. There’s not a battery in sight and 120 film was introduced back in 1901 so I’m using technology which is in parts over a century old to capture views of a 21st Century world.
About fifteen years ago my friend Marc and I enjoyed a very memorable walk at The Roaches in Staffordshire. It was on a bright but icy cold day in January and I vividly remember thinking that my ears were going to freeze off as I’d neglected to bring a hat along with me.
On October 29th 2011 we set off to recreate that walk. We might have been fifteen years older than last time around but we were going to prove to the world that such numbers mean nothing. Indeed we planned to walk a few miles further than we had done on our previous visit. Although I did once again neglect to bring a hat with me…
We parked up just below the imposing profile of Hen Cloud and started upon our ascent of the ridge which rises to an altitude of 505 meters (1,656 feet). The Roaches is a popular location for rock climbers and we passed several groups crawling spider like up the cliff faces as we made our own way to the top.
We did enjoy a few minutes in the sunshine to admire the views from the top of the ridge but ominous clouds were already massing to the north, threatening an imminent change of weather. As we made our way along the path to the northwest, towards Doxey Pool the sun vanished for pretty much the rest of the day.
I was quite surprised by the number of walkers up on the ridge. We had planned to stop and take photos by the triangulation point as this has become something of a tradition during our walks together. However the trig point was surrounded by a walking party I can only describe as a herd, so we walked on by and decided to take those photos during the return leg of our walk.
Soon after passing the trig point we were dropping down towards Roach End and then heading north towards Gradbach Wood which contains the next objective of our walk : Lud’s Church.
Lud’s Church is a deep, naturally formed chasm running for around 100 meters through the forest floor and reaching a depth of 18 meters (around 60 feet) in places. The rocky sides of the fissure are covered in thick, verdant moss and the place is associated with legends of the Green Man and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Small trees cling precariously to the rocks above your head as you walk the length of this dank passage.
Fifteen years ago this had been the final destination of our walk. This time around we had determined that we would head onwards out of the forest to the west, heading towards Danebridge.
At Danebridge we only had to walk for a few yards along the road to reach the path we intended to take which would lead us up the Dane Valley and back towards The Roaches. However as we made our way down towards the River Dane I spotted a building on the opposite side of the river which sported the word “brewery”. It was our duty as walkers and connoisseurs of Real Ale to investigate. And it was only a very short walk away.
What we discovered was the Wincle Brewery which had moved to this location just a matter of five months previously. There was a brewery shop which was open to the public offering bottles and kegs of beer for sale along with free samples to taste. We each bought a single bottle of ale and I am drinking my bottle of “Old Hag” as I type. It would have been good to buy a little more, but liquids weigh quite a bit, there is only so much space in a rucksack and it’s possibly not the best idea to be carrying around too many pressurised glass bottles in a situation where you could easily slip over and smash the lot.
After a few minutes sampling the delights on offer from the Wincle Beer Co. we headed back to the river and continued our trek up the valley. After a little while we reached the edge of Gradbach Wood once again and soon had quite a steep climb to head back up towards The Roaches.
The light was fading fast and the cloud had descended upon The Roaches as we made our way back up onto the ridge. The flocks of walkers observed earlier in the day had more sense than we did, they’d all gone back home, or to the nearest pub by the time we were trudging back along the cold, wet and windy path. We did make time to take a few photos including our planned shots at the trig point. Following that it was time to put the camera away, put on the gloves and make our way along the ridge at a fairly brisk pace before it got totally dark.
Eventually, with perfect timing, we made it back down from the ridge just as darkness descended for the night. It had been another wonderful walk on The Roaches and the day was ended by a visit to “Ye Olde Rocks Inn” at Upper Hulme for some pub grub and a pint. It’s amazing how good a mixed grill and a glass of ale can taste when you’ve really earned it.
I’ve had a roll of 120 film sitting waiting to process for over a week, so I thought I’d better get it sorted out over the weekend. I processed it this evening and all went well…
…Until I took them down after drying and discovered they weren’t actually quite dry. And the way I discovered this was them getting stuck to the protective paper sleeve that I put them on after cutting.
I’ve made rather a mess of the film, but I’ve learned from it. I’ll never do that again. I was just too keen to get them scanned in and see the results.
It’s certainly not the best roll of 12 photos I’ve taken using “Helmut” the vintage Rolleiflex, but it’s a shame to spoil the results in this way having done all the trickier bits just fine.
Chalking this one up to experience and I’ll just have to see what I can salvage.