Last month I visited an artist friend in Deal, Kent and took along the Kodak Specialist 5×7, shooting paper negatives on some of my remaining stock of Kentona paper. I had a really nice time. We went to see a painter called Jo Aylward and stayed in the house of another artist called Ruby.
First posted 23 January 2012
Firstly, let me apologise for the late update of my blog. I have had much to think about for the last few months and feel like a different person now. Circumstances have forced upon me a new perspective. Consequently, I have been unable to pursue my usual interests in life and work for a number of months.
For many years I have cycled through all kinds of photography and printing methods, trying to increase my skills and abilities in each incrementally. There is so much that one can do in photography and so many styles to follow. I have been fascinated by virtually every aspect of photography that I have seen, and tried my hand at most of them. All of this takes many years, and I have woken up to the fact that I cannot do everything that I want to.
I have found that time is not as abundant as it once was, so I have to let some things drop. I have decided to concentrate more on my paper negative work, my portraiture, my darkroom workshops and if I still have time I’ll do some more gum printing. If anyone comes to me for a workshop I will of course cover whatever subject or style I have knowledge of, but my personal work has to be narrowed down or it will not grow. The paper negative work is going to be my main focus though, so expect some coverage in the photographic press over the next year or so,…
Workshop enquiries; firstname.lastname@example.org
First posted 21 April 2011
Looking at an analogue or digital hand meter for the first time can be very confusing, there are many options and often an overload of information. There are multi metering modes on advanced modern digital types which I find confusing even after using meters for thirty years, so I thought I might write a little about how to simplify matters and ensure consistent results.
Firstly, whatever you point a light meter at is read by the meter as a mid grey. It does this so that the whites are white and the blacks are black and to do that, it puts the exposure in the middle. To make this work, there must either be a range of brightness in the scene, or something which is already a mid grey.
Any and all light meters do this, and this is why when shooting in snow the hurried metering method often gives grey and underexposed areas where white should be the predominant tone. Another common mistake amongst beginners is to take shots looking up at trees or buildings without thinking of how bright the sky is. This causes the meter to read far too much brightness in the scene and the subjects end up as silhouettes against a grey sky. Even when a hand meter is used, false readings can arise from simple mistakes, such as having your shadow over the meter.
So let’s look at the different ways of metering; Reflected, Incident, Spot and Average.
Reflected is simply pointing a meter at something and seeing how bright it is, how much light is reflected from it. The problem though, is that if you point it at something rather dark, you will get an overexposed shot and pointing it at something light will give an underexposed shot.
Incident is a method which reads how much light is falling ON THE METER. This avoids the problems above. When using a hand meter, taking an incident reading will produce an excellent negative 99% of the time (it’s not much good with backlit subjects).
An incident reading is when a white plastic cone is fitted over the light cell allowing the meter to read light falling on the meter, rather than light reflected off the subject. The important thing is that the meter should be pointed towards the camera from the position of the subject, not pointed at the light source. If you are unable to stand in the position of the subject then simply point the meter in the same direction, but from a manageable position. As long as the direction of the light is the same where you take the reading and in the scene, the exposure will be the same.
One of the most reliable methods is spot metering. Not for taking a number of readings to average out the exposure as some meters permit you to do, as this can often lead to an incorrect reading (Because the important brightness is always two stops up from deep shadow, not half way between deep shadow and bright white). Finding the all important deep shadow tone, ( Zone III ) takes practice. If you can identify this tone in a scene and read it, you then underexpose that reading by two stops, which gives you zone V – which is two zones along. This may seem confusing, as the explanation is more complicated than the doing.
A simpler method is to set the spot meter to a film speed two stops higher than you are actually using, take a reading from deep shadow, set the camera accordingly and shoot. The film rating is not actually changed, so no alteration of dev time is necessary.
Because the meter is set two stops higher, it reads the shadows brighter than they are, the meter then suggests a faster shutter speed/smaller aperture. Shooting at this exposure causes the deep shadows to be two stops underexposed (from mid grey) which is exactly where you want them.
The explanation as I say often seems complicated, but in practice it is quite easy. give all methods a go and see which works best for you.
First posted 4 February 2011
Just before Christmas, I wrote and self published a book on the paper negative process. This technique is something I’ve worked with since the late seventies and one which I am particularly fond of. For those of you unfamiliar with it, in it’s simplest form it is just using photographic paper in the camera instead of film. The reduced ISO, paper texture and Orthochromatic response give a look totally unlike film and not easily faked digitally. In fact, there would be no point trying to fake it, as most of the pleasure comes from the slight unpredictability of the process.
Occasionally this is frustrating, but the flipside is when beautiful surprises occur and provide you with amazing images.
The book was self published on Blurb.com using the Booksmart software. Previous books done this way had all been purely images. This time I had to marry up text with image and attempt page layouts.
That in itself is not too difficult, the Booksmart software gives templates for drag and drop simplicity. However, I hadn’t bargained for how totally bloody frustrating the software could be!
It allowed me to drop sections of text in, but as soon as I tried to change a word or add a new bit, the font size would jump from 8 to 16 and the line below would drop down two spaces. Each time I tried to rectify the problem things just got worse! Whole pages of text would jump across to the previous page and lay themselves over a full page image! Aaaarrrggh!
I battled on and just got the book out in time for a few Christmas sales, only to find that there were one or two typing mistakes and the colour cast of some scanned prints had given a very green look to a few images. Also, the font size was a little too large when seen in hard copy, something that is difficult to judge on screen.
I set about producing a second edition immediately and came up against all the previous problems. Hopefully, this version is a little tidier.
The second edition of the book is now available and I apologise to anyone who bought and was disappointed by the style of the first. The information is still sound, take consolation in the fact that you have a very rare book -only six copies sold I believe.
The new book can be seen here;
First posted 5 August 2010
One of the problems that arise when using large format cameras, is the difficulty in determining exposure when the bellows are extended beyond normal ‘landscape’ use. By that I mean, when you are shooting anything from say, 10ft away to infinity, your exposure will be whatever your meter indicates, but if you decide to shoot something close-up, say a flower, the lens will be much further from the film plane and light will be lost.
There is a calculation which can be employed to work out the extra exposure needed for a given lens and extension, (Measure the film to lens nodal point distance, then use the formula; bellows extension over focal length equals compensation factor) but for me, doing maths out in the field takes away a lot of the pleasure of photography. If only there was a simple way of working out the exposure difference……….
Well there is! There is a simple device called ‘Quickdisc’ available online. It is a handy (and free) download from http://www.salzgeber.at/disc/
Once the page has been downloaded and printed, the shapes are cut out and stuck to a piece of thin card.
The disc is placed in the scene at the distance to be photographed and the card with the scale is held on the camera screen. If the longest dimension of the disc image on the screen is compared to the scale on the measuring strip then the exposure correction scale will indicate the amount by which the exposure needs to be altered. The disc is unlikely to be absolutely square on to the lens, so using the longest dimension overcomes the problem of having a distorted shape on screen.
I have used one for years and it has been really useful.
First posted 1 June 2010
Have you amassed a large collection of negatives since you began photography? how about transparencies, prints, your camera collection? What is going to happen to all this stuff when you die?
I have amassed a very large collection of all of the above, plus a collection of other photographers prints, glass negatives, books and ephemera. I have my fathers negatives and those of an elderly gentleman who died about ten years ago and who’s equipment I was buying off a relative. I took the negatives because the family had already burned all of his medium format transparencies and were considering doing the same with the negs.
A lot of my junk is of no importance to anyone but me, but I’d like to think that my negatives would be valued and preserved. How does one go about ensuring that a lifetimes work is treated with respect?
I can visualise with horrible clarity a situation where my negative pages and prints are sold off for a pound each on a junk stall as some ancient old curio, as many old photos are these days.
Should I leave them to my kids in my will? None of them know how to print, so what will they do with them? I can either leave them a valuable archive or a storage/disposal nightmare.
Should I make top quality prints from all my favourite negatives and destroy the rest so that nobody can print my work badly? How can I know which ones are going to be of value in the future?
All of this has been buzzing round my head for quite a while and I don’t have a simple answer for it.
I would be interested to hear other photographers comments.
Posted 01/06/2010 at 6:28 pm
Interesting thoughts. I went through that a year or so ago. I have a terminal illness and wanted to make sure my grandchildren and possibly their children could get an idea of who I was. One of my sons stepped up and offered to take the negatives when I pass and organize them and try to find some organization that will preserve them.
Posted 01/06/2010 at 6:45 pm
If none of your children are able to print well then you have failed The recent program on Brian Duffy springs to mind – his lad making images from his negs. There is plenty of time for the work that you are creating to gain the recognition it deserves and then it should be an issue.
Posted 01/06/2010 at 6:47 pm
The fact that I am sitting scanning in images of our niece escaped me – doh. I am making a project of her first year – all the selected images will end up as digital negs and out as plt/pd prints and given to her parents in trust as a first year birthday present – I will also give them all the negs as hopefully they might be important to her in the future.
Posted 01/06/2010 at 7:19 pm
I have thought about this for a while myself and am in exactly the same boat: thousands of negatives, slides, prints and family snapshots going back nearly 100 years. Sadly, I have to assume that it will mean nothing to others (we have no kids of our own) and have come to odd terms with continuing to photograph for myself while acknowledging that little of what I am doing will survive my death. I plan on asking the next generation if any of them care, but if not, I’m not sure what plans to make for it all.
Posted 01/06/2010 at 9:51 pm
you could bequeath them to the museums dept and hope that they got the respect we gave to the equivellent some years ago, (even if it was for only a couple of years). or you could leave them to me and know the headache was passed on for a few years with the off chance that there may be a print or two made with care and attention, although, probably to a slightly different recipe.
Posted 02/06/2010 at 10:01 pm Ah the dilemma.
My feelings are that if anyone can make sense of my negs – or even find them, they are happy to them. Otherwise, I shall leave them to someone I don’t like with instructions to take great care of them.
For you Sir, I suggest leaving them to the kids.
- David Ellwand
Posted 03/06/2010 at 1:13 am
Bret Weston celebrated his 80th birthday by burning all but 12 negatives which he donated to the Center for Creative Photography in Tucson. Brian Duffy also had a good old blaze. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/8287779.stm
- Les Dix
Posted 03/06/2010 at 2:51 pm
I think this is where having your best work carefully presented in a series of portfolios or even blurb books makes it easier to have it preserved for posterity. I think that if all my work was a pile of loose prints and negatives they would eventually end up in landfill.
Posted 14/06/2010 at 5:43 pm
Fancy a joint back garden bonfire?
Posted 21/06/2010 at 3:59 pm
One suggestion I might have is to ask for a massive coffin when you pass on,
and as to be buried with all the images that you didn’t manage to pass on to
a reliable source before you die… slightly eccentric of an idea perhaps .
The only thing I could think of seriously, is trying to either sell them or give them
to galleries, collectors, young (trust worthy) photographers, whom you know will
take good care of them and will make the best use for them in your name.
It is worth noting that a lot of the most well recognized and admired photographic
practitioners have all become acclaimed with their work after they died, which is
quite sad when you think about it. Though even then, it shows that if your work is
good enough and if you are a lucky dearly departed, then someone will discover your
work and it will become highly acclaimed. Usually it does so because of a recurring element with the work that is unique to itself, a recipe instigated only by the skills,
craft and the uniqueness of the photographer him/herself.
Posted 05/12/2010 at 12:41 pm
I shall leave them to the person that means the most to me at the time in the hope that they will do the same when their time comes.
I guess being bought for a quid in a car boot is some level of success and anything that brings enjoyment is fine by me
Posted 16/02/2012 at 11:36 am
I suppose we all think about this from time to time.
Start on the premise that negatives are worthless and of of no interest to anyone. They will be a burden to the next generation. What on earth would they do with them ? They are yours, a record of your activity in a raw form. If you’re a Magnum photographer, or a frequently hung artist that can compete with Ansel Adams in a commercial sense, or a collection at the V&A, that’s different.
On the other hand, the finished work we’ve created can live on. Prints and books have a future, so frame a few of the most interesting, create a high quality portfolio in a book/s and give them to anyone you think might look at them in 10 years time. Realistically, it should contain the history of your life with many portraits of you and your family. What a drystone wall looked like on a winters morning is not of interest to family, sorry.
My best friend of 25 years died suddenly and his family couldn’t bear to throw his work away. They didn’t want it, had no room for his equipment and no desire to develop the skills to process them . So, the negs came to me and I cut the 23 binders down to 4. Now after 10 years of never being required, it’s going to the rubbish tip on the next clear out.
Photography is a hobby; a pastime; a profession and the satisfaction belongs to the creator. If one’s images are not in demand during your life, they won’t be after. Even Flickr will only accept a 2 year subscription. Make some books.
First posted 21 September 2009
Earlier this year I was shooting a lot of 10×8 and was convinced that I’d never pick up a 35mm camera ever again. By August I was fully in love with the 35mm format once more! Now, in September I am shooting 5×4, seeing pictures everywhere and producing images that I am really happy with.
I can’t explain this aspect of me, I have to follow these urges and make the work that inspires me at that moment.
There are distractions; Usually a gift or a find in a junk shop, an old or unusual camera which I have to explore. Some turn out to be quite good, most are left on the shelf after two films, but occasionally there are special examples, cameras which have a life of their own and which possess a special magic.
I am trying to cut down on these distractions though, I don’t hunt out old cameras as much as I used to, mainly because I have so many that are hardly ever used and I don’t think I should clutter up my studio any more. I’ve made a kind of resolution to clear out a lot of the stuff that I don’t need -For instance, the other week I was looking for something and found four 35mm cameras that I had forgotten even buying!
So for the moment it is 5×4 and who knows what it will be in a few weeks?
First posted 7 July 2009
My posts have been delayed recently because I have been away a couple of times and had a number of teaching workshops to do.
In my personal work, I have been using a 5×7 inch Kodak Specialist camera with old Ilfospeed paper in the back. This technique can produce lovely results, but often the paper negatives are difficult to print.
Recently, I acquired a box of old Ilfospeed RC paper from the photographer David Ellwand (author of the book ‘Fairie-ality’). I tested it and found out the effective speed, then shot a tree in my garden as a test. I discovered that it had an unusual texture (when used as a negative) and I liked the look of it.
I had also been playing around with various lenses on the 5×7 camera and managed to grab myself half a day to go out and do some tree shots. I thought the combination of this paper with one particular lens would give me a really nice result.
That evening I processed the negs and did contact prints.
The resulting images were really disappointing, there was one neg which had potential, but the other seven were terrible. What had I done wrong? I was really hacked off with my wasted half day and had a good old moan to my wife later in the evening.
She wisely suggested that I spend the evening watching a programme on a photographer online (Annie Leibovitz). We watched it together and I immediately knew what I had done wrong, -I was concentrating too much on the process of photography and not actually looking for things that needed photographing.
The next morning I grabbed a 35mm camera and spent 15 minutes at most walking around the garden taking pictures of things that looked interesting. The experience was electric! – I shot a curled up hosepipe, a plant, some interesting pebbles collected on holiday last year and one or two other subjects and totally enjoyed finding pictures instead of playing with equipment.
I can see now that this has happened before and I have allowed myself to get too wrapped up in an enjoyable, but distracting area of photography.
The next free day I have, I will let the picture dictate the appropriate equipment, not the equipment dictate the picture. A valuable lesson learned.
First posted 20 April 2009
I’ve just returned from a two week break in the West of Scotland shooting mainly 10×8 landscapes. I shot almost every day and now have a lot of sheets of film which need processing separately. I intend to use the two bath process as this gives me the most even development where there are large areas of even tone, such as skies.
When I first began processing 10×8 film in IDII, I was occasionally getting blotchy, uneven marks in the sky. The two bath process though longer, is superb for smooth tones and I have not found a high contrast situation yet where it couldn’t cope. When I need punchier images I either print on a hard grade from a two bath neg or, – (I hope you are sitting down) I occasionally process in Multigrade paper developer!
I know that many people are going to be horrified by that statement, but with such large negs, the grain increase is not noticable and the quality is actually really good. I will show some Images illustrating the differences in a later post.
When processing for salt printing or other alternative processes, the paper developer method is ideal. You get a bit more contrast and the slight grain increase is of no consequence with these processes. The only time I definitely wouldn’t use paper developer is in high contrast situations, as it tends to be quite vigorous.
I also took a 35mm kit with a few lenses and a digital compact with me on my trip. The 35mm didn’t get much use, but I did quite a bit on the compact. I used it for comparison shots to use in forthcoming magazine and blog articles and also to take pictures of what I could see on the focusing screen, as a sort of polaroid.
First posted 12 Feb 2009
I contact printed my 10×8 negs onto some grade 3 Forte Fibre Based paper today (this paper is slightly less contrasty than a grade 3 on Ilford Multigrade). the main reason I chose it was that the exposure for the shadows can be determined by a simple test and the highlight detail can be controlled by development. This made it perfect for these large format negatives, because of the full shadow detail and long tonal range.
I was impressed with the technical quality of these negatives and the tonal range this developer gives. I really enjoyed making the contact prints and I’m very pleased with the shots themselves.