I am not a person who takes my cameras everywhere with me. I understand that I will lose some shots and I am perfectly fine with that. The only exception is if I am on vacation, then I will have my camera with me everywhere. While on a recent trip to Belgium, I found myself spending some time in the train stations as I city hopped from one end of the country to the other.
The rail stations in Europe are fantastic photography opportunities and many resemble museums in their art. Others are much more pedestrian, but either way they represent a great opportunity to capture some of the daily patterns of life.
Here are a few that I captured while in Belgium just to show what can be done. None of these would be considered "portfolio" quality but captured within the other pictures I have taken of Belgium, help tell the story of its people and their lives. And more importantly, taking them brought me great enjoyment...
Reading Jay Maisel's book titled "Light Gesture & Color" I ran into a section called "The Background is Also Yours" and it hit me like a brick! I love this style of shooting and have been using it for a long time. I like mixing the subject in the foreground with that of the background without telling the viewer what is the central theme of the shot.
This picture above is of the lamp post on Tower Bridge in London, or is it the London Eye in the background? It was shot on a Leica M6 with HP5 at ISO 400. Obviously I focused on the lamp post and threw out the London eye in the shot. I wanted an iconic artifact of London to be thrown in the background of a great detail that is often overlooked by tourist and local alike!
Here is a more classic shot of my wife standing over Salzburg Austria. This was taken with a Leica ME and a Zeiss 50mm lens. The Exif data tells me it was shot at f/8 but the ME does not measure the aperture of a Zeiss lens...it guess it. This was actually shot closer to an f/4. I did not want a in focus background as I could have tried for (with 1/125th of a second shutter speed I could have dropped it to 1/30th of a second getting me to the f/8 and a more focused background). I wanted a hint of where she was without distracting from her. I thought her eyes looked wonderful in this light.
The image above is a scene I keep going back to. I am a fan of Churchill and believe his iconic frame with the Elizabeth Tower in the background is great. I shot this one with the Hasselblad 500cm and Fomapan 400 film. Here I opted for the background to be crisp and in focus and used a slightly out of focus Churchill to help frame the shot.
This last image, is my favorite street photography image I have taken. The iconic building in the background, the millennium bridge all serving as a backdrop to the bubbles and their maker. I will do a deep dive into this picture soon but again I am playing with the background and foreground.
I was reading the reprint of an article written by Ansel Adams in 1934 speaking of the historical trends of photography from Pictorialism through Experimentation and finally into Straight Photography. Adams believed that this last phase was a renaissance of photography where artists were taking it back to its origins.
Adams was one of many photographers who believed that the Pictorialist movement was bad for photography as it took the art form from something clean and honest into a more painterly approach. The movement was based on photographers using the original picture as a basis for their art work. They would then use darkroom techniques, pencils, paint brushes and the like to alter the image in an attempt to prove it as art.
I am well aware of the arguments of the "Straight Photography" movement and can appreciate the fervor of its supporters however I cant help but believe that through the digital workflow, we are entering a second Pictorialist movement. One which uses Photoshop or other such programs to completely alter the original photograph.
I am not talking about cropping, adjusting the shadows or removing some sensor dust, I am speaking about a complete alteration of the photograph. If history does repeat itself then perhaps we will see a renaissance of "Straight Photography" one day...
Irrespective of your personal view on the validity of the Pictorialist movement to photography, or the belief that we are seeing history repeat itself, one thing I believe we can agree on is that it is a wonderful time to pick up a camera. Today we have a choice of digital, film or some ad-hoc mixture of the two.
With that random thought aside, let me wish everyone a very Merry Christmas. May you spend it with loved ones and in appreciation of all that we have. I was given a treasure trove of photography books which will take me the better part of 2017 to read!
I have been dreaming of a photography dedicated walk through London since arriving in England almost one year ago. It is a purely selfish, gluttonous desire and I know it! London has such great photography potential it deserves some dedicated time to pull out some of its secrets.
On Friday I took a vacation day and did just that. I went in with my Leica ME, Leica M6, Hasselblad 500cm and Hasselblad 903swc. I took a full photography backpack and decided to look like a tourist for the day! I still need to process the film but I thought I would share some of the digital images I took.
The plan for the trip started to take shape in my mind months ago, but a few weeks ago I began to draw it out on my Photography Notebook. I designed the route, planned the time and designed the shots. I had my list of equipment, pre-purchased the film and had my shot list.
The trip began at 07:00 am when I took the train into Waterloo Station. I arrived at 08:00 and bought a coffee while I waited for the light to improve. It was going to be an overcast day but I was hoping for no fog. At 08:30 I began my tour.
I walked to Westminster bridge to capture three images I had been dreaming about. One to the right of the bridge, one to the left and one under an arch as seen above. I grabbed more than these shots but these were the reason for my going. I then walked down Whitehall road, past 10 Downing Street, all the way to Trafalgar Square. After a few shots I decided it was time for tea and decided to try the Square Cafe in Trafalgar Square.
I then walked back to Embankment Street in order to grab a shot of Elizabeth Tower from that vantage. I captured a few shots of the Cleopatra Obelisk and then walked up Carting Lane to get to Covent Garden and St Paul's Church. It was time for lunch so I selected a wonderful French bistro. It was cold so a bit of wine was perfect to warm me up.
I then walked down the Strand to Temple Church and finally to St Paul Cathedral. From St Paul's I crossed the Millennium Bridge for a few shots from the other bank. I had wanted to walk to Tower Bridge but the light was fading so I decided to call it a bit early and get to Waterloo before rush hour traffic hit.
While I still have to develop the film, from the look of the digital images I believe I caught most of the shots from my book. I missed a few as the Temple Church was closed and the Household Cavalry guards were not out. But overall a very successful trip.
A few things I did learn:
1. My Hasselblad 500 is now broken. I will need to send it in for repairs. Just froze up on me. I am sure a bit of TLC will bring it back.
2. The Hasselblad 903swc is difficult to shoot. I am curious how the pictures come out but the fact that you have to guess at the focus distance and the viewfinder is not very good made it difficult to use.
3. Switching film, ISO and color to B&W gets confusing, especially after hours of shooting. On long trips I should simplify the setup towards the end of the trip.
4. Having a well defined path through London is the best way to go. You could be a street away from a great site and never see it. Best to have a plan, then enjoy the surprises you see while walking from one site to another.
5. Having and fulfilling these little dreams is what life should be about. It was a selfish desire and I enjoyed it. From the tea to the amazing lunch and especially the photography!
Here are a few of the digital images. All shot with the Leica ME using the Zeiss Planar 50mm f/2, Zeiss Biogon 35mm f/2, Leica 90mm f/4, Voigtlander 15mm vIII.
One of the most important peripheral tool for film photographers is the light table. These days I used a LED Tracing tablet that I bought a while ago. The light is adjustable, constant and it is about three times the thickness of a credit card!
I was looking at some images I took with a camera I was given free of charge by a family member. It was shot on the Spotmatic IIa from Pentax. More on the camera on another post but since I was checking the negatives I thought I would snap a quick picture to post on it. Checking negatives is vital before going into the darkroom. A negative that may look good on casual inspection may be out of focus or scratched in some way.
A few minutes spreading out the negatives on a light table and using a loop to take a quick look helps ensure that the time spent in the darkroom is well spent. The light table also gives you an opportunity to take some digital images of your negatives. This simplifies the process of making a contact sheet which can then be printed and kept with the negatives.
The analog to digital to analog workflow helps bring in the benefits of both mediums in my photography. There is still nothing as wonderful as holding some negatives that were properly captured and then holding the print made in the darkroom. But digital allows me to ensure that the time that I do spend in the darkroom is not wasted.
On a recent trip to Paris, a friend of mine was kind enough to lend me a Voigtlander 15mm version II lens for my Leica ME. He also lent me a Leica 28mm which he thought I would fall in love with. End result, I prefer my Zeiss 35mm to the Leica 28mm but I fell in love with the 15mm. The lens was not perfect by any means but it gave me some interesting perspectives that added a bit of spice to my images.
When I got back I began doing a bit of research and found that three versions of this lens has been made. The original, now labled as ver I, did not work well on Leicas. The ver II, helped a great deal but it suffered from color fringing on the edges and it was not coupled (no way to check focus). The ver III was supposed to fix all that.
After a few months of saving, I picked it up as a combination birthday and Christmas present for myself. The lens made massive improvements, and while still not perfect, it is a much better lens!
One thing that has confused me is that ALL the reviews I have found for this lens are for the Sony E Mount. Apparently with an adapter you can use this lens on the Sony. I did not see anyone discuss how this lens performed on a Leica M camera. So I took a leap of faith and purchased it. I have not had it too long so I cannot write up a complete review of it but here are the initial findings.
1. The version III is coupled. You can focus it on the Leica just like any other lens. This is an improvement but not as big as you might expect. With such a wide angle you can zone focus without an issue. Putting the lens on f/8 pretty much gaurantees that everything is in focus. If you open it up to f/4.5 then you have to be more careful.
2. The color fringing is now fixed. This version can be used in color. The problem with the previous versions is that color was not an option unless you cropped it a great deal. If you only shoot in B&W then this is not a problem. The old version is a better choice and here is why...
3. The new version is MUCH larger than the previous versions. One reason my friend likes the 15mm is that it is so small it is easy to toss into your camera bag and take it along. This version is larger, in fact it is larger than my 35 and 50 mm Zeiss lenses.
4. Image quality is spectacular BUT you must know how to shoot with it. There are small tricks to really get the most out of this lens but that is a topic for another post.
Thus far I am extremely impressed. With my Nikon equipment I have the Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8 which is a mother of a lens. It is large, heavy but amazingly sharp. It also weighs as much as the camera itself. This lens is small, albeit bigger than its predesessors, and sharp. I would like a stop or two faster but the size would make it unmanagable. It will not shoot most of my pictures, as my 35mm and 50mm will continue to carry that burden, it will however add a special perspective to my images. It is a niche lens but does it wonderfully.
For those of you who have never shot with a Voigtlander lens do not fear. The quality is top notch and the glass is amazing. I am pleased with my purchase and while I have not had enough time to know the lens in and out, what I have seen, impresses me a great deal.
Paul Strand while looking for his photographic voice, stumbled upon what would later evolve into "Straight Photography". In the constand battle with the mainstream art world, photographers were trying to justify how photography could be art. Most people saw it as a science hence no ability was required on the part of the photographer. So long as you understood the scientific process you could capture nature. This lead to the Pictorialist movement where photographers would heavily manipulate their images to add artistic flare.
Straight Photography was a movement to go back to the unaltered photograph as art. The simple play on light, shapes and tonality should be enough to make a work of art. I see a great deal of photographers turn to simplicity as a way to describe emotions with objects and light. The image above is just such a photograph. Post processing is very basic on this image with a simple, underexposed image of a stairwell. The main protagonist is light and shadow. There is no story to be told.
The old wrought iron railing, stone steps and the imperfect wall are the only things visible in the image. The light was coming through a very small window in the tower that was built as a monument to the Great London Fire. It is about 400 steps to the top and things get very dark up the stairs. I was not after the telling of a story, nor was I interested in a grand gesture to make the picture. I wanted to capture an emotion. Dark, sturdy, timeless and imprisoning. Photography can do that. A simple image with a mirage of emotions.
On the other end of the spectrum you have the story telling nature of photography. There is an old saying that a picture is worth a thousand words. A photo that is taken in 1/60th of a second can transmit a story by allowing the viewer to fill in the before and after of the image. Or, as in the case of the image above, it links two seperate stories onto single story board.
The Muslim mother and daughter taking an image of a military guard under inspection. The daughter seems to be hiding behind her mother, looking over he shoulder at the cell phone being used as a camera. In the photo there is a gate that seperates them but the photograph forces the viewer to see the cultural divide more so than a simple gate.
The two photographs are essentially the same in that they are the same size, shot with the same camera and by the same photographer on the same day. The facinating thing is that the two images could not be more different in styles, message and content. The fact that I can tell both using the same medium still amazes me.
As mentioned last night, undeveloped film has been stacking up so I developed two rolls yesterday which were HP5+ from Ilford with a native ISO rating of 400. I pushed it to ISO 800. By this I mean that I set the camera for ISO 800 and shot normally. When I developed I developed it with the ISO 800 time. This means more time spent in the development fluid.
Pushing and pulling film, defined as processing the film at a faster or slower rating than the manufacturer suggests, is a great tool for film photographers. When I go on vacation I typically take some rolls of HP5 rated at ISO 400 and HP4 rated at ISO 125. If I am shooting in strong light I will load the ISO 125 film but for most of my shooting I like ISO 400.
But there are times when there is far too little light for ISO 400 and a tripod is not an option. I can then choose to shoot my ISO 400 film at ISO 800 and let it sit in the development soup a little longer. The benefits are that I take less types of film with me while still being able to shoot a wide range of light conditions. Pushing and pulling film also gives it a different character to the shots.
The downsides are that the grain structure may increase beyond a point which is considered pleasing. The point at whcih this happens is very subjective however I find that high grain reminisent of Henry Cartier Bresson shots. Take a look at "The Decisive Moment" and you will see grain in all its glory.
The shot on the left (of the boat on a rack) was shot on HP5 and pushed to ISO 800. The shot on the right was also shot on HP5 but kept at ISO 400. Both developed on ID-11 at a 1:1 mixture.
A close up of both images shot the grain difference between the two. The pushed shot has larger grain size in the shadow regions. The amoung of grain does not change but the size does. Both have been scanned with a very poor scanner (it is fast and dirty but my real prints are made in the darkroom so I do not need high quality scans).
Below are the shots I took with my Nikon F2. The Lake District is a fantastic place with vibrant colors and wonderful people. After this roll I switched to some color film but I just ordered my C-41 chemicals to process those.
The shots of the hotel were meant (fell a bit short) to capture some of the old grandeur of the hotel. This place was popular in the 1930's and it was great to see its dated past in the decor.
I love shooting film, but there are times that I miss the simplisity of digital. Today I am looking at well over a dozen rolls of film that need to be developed. I decided to attack some film that needed to be pushed. Here I have reloaded some film cartridges with HP5+ film with an ISO rating of 400. I exposed them at ISO 800 and need to give them a bit more development time.
Part of the trouble with pushing and pulling film is that you have to process it differently than the standard ISO film. I typically shoot two types of film, HP5+ and HP4. This has a native ISO of 400 and 100 giving me a massive range to shoot in. But occasionally I need to push the HP5+ to 800 ISO or HP4 to 400 (when I have run out of HP5+) and the result is a ton of film that has to be processed seperately.
Normally I develop film in a three reel, Paterson tank allowing me to do three rolls of film at once. It works great however when I have two rolls of ISO 400 and one of ISO 800 I have to process it twice. So I leave it for a little while and watch it stack up.
So this afternoon I decided to attack two rolls of HP5 exposed at ISO 800. I am now waiting for it to dry. One roll came out great, as it was shot on my Nikon F2. The second roll was shot on my Rollei 35 with a new battery modification which is overexposing the film. This is the second roll that has come out overexposed. Fortunatly film is forgiving and I believe I can rescue some of the images but I need to take a closer look at that issue.
I will share some of the images tomorrow.
One of the lessons I have learned rather late in photography, is that of gestures. I always assumed that a "gesture" was a movement of the hand or body but in photography I began to realize it can be so much more. Just as bokeh is difficult to describe and is very subjective, so is "gestures".
The wonderful thing about photography is that it has been around since 1826 or so which means it is old enough to have a history but young enough for it to still be defined. To understand a bit more about "gestures" I went to the obviousy place...the Masters themselves. And I found a great place to start with Jay Maisel, the author of "Light, Gesture & Color". For those who do not know Jay Maisel's work he is a true master and one who is open to sharing what he has learned.
Mr Maisel describes "gesture" HERE. His definition is a bit more open then others I have seen. Most definitions I have seen refer to "gestures" in terms of portrait photography. In the shot above, I was sitting on a ferry boat and I saw this couple through the front windows. They sat, spoke to each other and then the woman got up to leave and I captured this moment when their hands lingered together after their bodies had turned to go.
The key central theme of the image is this gesture. Everything else in the image is not note worthy and is easily forgotten. Yet, years after this picture was taken I can recall the gesture of their hands as the lovers parted ways.
The very subjective nature of "gestures" makes it a difficult concept to teach. I did not understand what was meant, althought I did ocassionaly get lucky and caught it in my own photographs. I only began to understand it when looking at the contact sheets of images I loved. I then began to understand how the same scene was somehow less interesting seconds before and after the image was taken. As I looked to the reason the image was selected, I found myself staring at an amazing gesture.
Once I began looking for it I found I was able to find it more often. I would select a scene that was compositionally interesting and then wait for the gesture. The image below was taken in Indonesia. I saw this man working in a rice field, composed the shot and waited for the gesture that would make the shot. The mans hands and facial expression are the gestures I was looking for. Straight forward, unblinking and powerful. This is not the image of a downtrodden worker, this is an image of power.
But gestures on people are easy to see and understand. The different betweena good portrait and a poor one is its ability to capture the gesture that defines that person. A twinkle in the eye, a slight smile or frown, something personal about the individual.
The image below was shot in China and was of a street cleaner. I wanted to capture just a gesture and nothing more. Something that would define the scene better than the scene itself. I watched her work for a few minutes and distilled the scene down to the elements that defined it. Those few things that I would remember long after I left. I focused my camera on those things and let everything else fall out of the scene.
It was not the ladies face, which reflected the placid look of someone going about their daily business, nor was it her dress which was a standard uniform. The street she was sweeping was interesting but so were a million others in China. What struck me was the home made tools being used, her shoes and the way she moved her feet. She was delicate and precise with small feet dancing from one position to another.