Tuesday, November 06, 2018

The Allotment Arc

Everyone must start with some degree of enthusiasm. Your name has been on a waiting list for several years. And here you are, with ground and weeds and a spade. Weeds, because no-one ever gets an allotment in good condition. The previous holder will have gotten slowly disillusioned, or bought a boat, or fell in love, and then let things slide. Weeds. Or as in my case, he had been struggling with health, bereavement and old age for some time. 

One starts to battle the weeds with fire and fury. Gradually you think it's taking shape, and in that shape you see problems deeper than weeds, like drainage. And the levels of the earth are all wrong. Wrestling in the mud. Eating like a horse, sleeping like a log. 

That was the first year. The second was excavations of old walls and stray bricks, the central path under a foot of earth. It's at this point that I didn't give up. Dad will recount numerous instances where he's seen fellas go mad, tearing into it. And then getting sick of it. But I carried on, and formed the insane plan of riddling every inch of earth to get the glass out, and keep the dogs safe. I spent the entire growing season of 2017, and riddled out maybe 5% of the growing area. 

2018 was not a good year. I just about kept the weeds in check. The path is choked, though, and will need re-laid to get rid of its patina of grass. Photography had gotten hold of me, the way a boat will, pushing gardening into a corner, not unpleasant, but rather a chore. It was a close thing. I joked about it several times, and thought about it much more: this is getting to be like hard work. 

But I've kept at it. And in the last few weeks I've realised I've gotten past the hump, the pain barrier, that point where people are mildly surprised and disappointed to hear one's given it up, but will admit, on second thoughts, yes, his heart wasn't in it any more. Past that this morning, I realised I'm moving slowly through the plot, clearing last year's weeds, slowly reclaiming what I did in in 2015/16. 

And the soil, you know, is lovely. Fat worms live there now. 

Friday, October 05, 2018

Llibertat: getting there...

The first time I've ever developed slide film in actual E6 chemistry. This one might be an actual print, though it's slightly wonky, it can be straightened. As soon as I looked at the first slides through the viewer, I fell in love with Ektachrome. It makes the best cross processed prints, and now I get the whole National Geographic thing. This was the last roll, long expired. But I'm expecting a new roll through the letter box any day now.

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Orange Walk: Photographic Failure and Lessons Learned

This is the only exposure worth saving out of two rolls of film for the Orangemen's Walk. It's a decisive moment, at least, but a technical disaster. There was the problem of the Nikon F's meter, underexposing everything by at least 2 stops. And a bright sunny day meant his bald head was fine, but his face in deep shadow. Post processing gave me a not-bad shot, which could have been a good print with better technique. I'm not blaming everything on the equipment, I'd have to give myself a "must try harder" in the autodidact's  report card.

The whole Nikon F Photomic meter/battery farrago means - so far as I can tell - the meter is useless. I could replace with an eye-level prism, for a stylish looking non-metered camera, but photography for me now is about getting good quality prints, not looking stylish. So lesson one, the F won't cut the mustard. Lesson two, now I know why press photographers ALWAYS use a flash - this guy's face in shadow before post-processing told me that.

So the F's on eBay, and the F4 is en-route to replace it, together with an SB-24 speedlight, (designed for the F4). And so I get dragged into the photographic 1990s. The expired film collection is also mostly on eBay, and if I've done my sums right the whole upgrade should cost very little, if anything. The room for excuses is vanishingly small now. Selling a print before the turn of the year is the goal, the commercial proof that the line between amateur and professional has been crossed. That's my final exam.

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Nikon F: the end of the affair

It was a bit like what (I suppose) it might feel like to drive a classic sports car: other drivers would give it a second glance. For drivers read photographers. It's a very stylish camera. An icon. But I need to be hard headed, and it's just not up to the job. Long story short, when I bought it back in 2011 or thereabouts, I learned that the meter would have to be tweaked to function with modern batteries. It was sent away to Liverpool for that and a CLA. It came back with dust on the mirror which hadn't been there before, and (as I've eventually worked out) a meter leading to underexposure of about two stops.

It's all come to light in 2018, because it sat unused for several years, so I can hardly kick up a fuss with the technicians in Liverpool now. I don't even know if they're still in business. No one else is, apparently: camera repairers in Edinburgh and Glasgow didn't respond to my inquiries. I read somewhere you can send any Nikon back to the mothership in Japan for repair. I never followed that up, but would imagine with the postage and everything, there'd not be much change out of £100.

Or I could have a go myself, it doesn't look too mind-bogglingly difficult. But I'd have to buy tools, and a soldering iron, so I'd still be shelling out £50 or more for that, and whilst I do like fiddling around with old cameras, (it's incredibly relaxing), I can't see myself doing enought of it to justify investment in tools. And I wondered, if I got it all opened up, what if I found the diode to adjust the current had indeed been fitted by the Liverpool lads, then it would be a highly technical question: why had that not worked?

So then I thought, ok, I'll just get the eye-level prism for it, make it look even more stylish, a la Don McCullin in Vietnam. But it wouldn't have a meter, which would be ok about 75% of the time, but I'd miss 25% of my photos. Or (and clutching at straws now) I could just use it with flash, and the metering wouldn't matter. Silly sod, I really need to work with daylight a lot of the time.  And the eye level finder comes out at about £80 or more.

The bottom line is, even if I do find a technician I can trust (which I haven't) we're probably talking in excess of £100 to get it fixed. There are a lot of Fs on ebay for not much more than that, so I might as well have bought another one, but I don't want to go through all of this hassle, again, with the bloomin' meter.

The answer appears to be a Nikon F4s, which I can get for a couple of hundred quid or less. Flog the F, of course, and I'll probably take a hit on that because of the meter, but it's a question of cutting my losses and getting on with taking the photos I want to take. The F4s is ideal for that. In fact it looks like a brilliant camera.

The thing is with cross processing, do it with a pro camera, rather than fingers crossed. 25 years ago, a professional would have paid the equivalent of several thousand pounds for an F4, and I can get it for a tenth of that today.


Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Film Sort Out

(Almost) everything must go. I've started flogging my expired film collection on eBay. It seems to be going for the same price as new film. And REALLY old film is clearly collectable. I've got some Ilford 127 from the 1960s, which someone will perhaps pay good money for, as a display item. I'll spend the profits on new film. Gone are the days when unreliability in the process was what I wanted.

I've got a few rolls of expired 120 which I'll use, though, because they're Portra, Ektachrome and Tri-X. I'm going to put them through the Holga, whose hot-shoe is working. You can't rely on natural light with a plastic camera. And there's the Ilford Sporti 4, which takes a 35mm film onto a 127 reel, AND has a functioning PC flash socket. The idea's been growing for some time: when using a camera with few controls and a plastic lens, I need reliable film.


I've had 8 or 9 rolls of film through the Nikon F in the last few months. Every one of them has been underexposed by about 2 stops. I realised this suddenly whilst scanning the 2 rolls from the Orange Walk, and 2 more from the anti-Trump protest in George Sq. And I cast my mind back to the black and white darkroom course I did at Streetlevel back in March, when my prints were all coming out underexposed.

Since then I've learned to compensate with the enlarger, which is ok, but one wants good negatives. You can compensate in scanning software, too, but you lose that pin-sharpness you should get from an F and the f1.4 50mm lens.

Soon after I got the F I sent it off for a CLA to a company in Liverpool. That was back in 2011, and after seven years I'm unwilling to say categorically that they didn't do a good job. It does seem that a year later I blamed myself for the fact the F wasn't taking quite the photos I wanted, "If you take a not-very-good photo with an F, you've no bugger to blame but yourself.  You need to look at it, as I am with this one, and say 'Wtf went wrong here?'  And when you've worked out wtf it was, work out how not to do it again."

It is perhaps not coincidental that I lost interest in photography altogether around that time. So the realisation that it actually WAS the camera at fault, not me, was quite something. As soon as I left Street level with the 4 rolls of underexposed negatives last Monday, I walked around to Merchant City Cameras and told them the situation. They don't deal with that sort of thing, but suggested Cameratiks in Edinburgh. I at last got around to contacting them this morning, and will take the train through there when I get the time.

Monday, July 16, 2018

Photographic Crunch: Update

I took a few not-bad photos at the 10k womens' race: the one of the winner crossing the line with her hands up would have made the back page of a paper in the olden days, but not really good enough to make a sell-able print, now. I learned a lot,including: just be calm, and remember to look at the meter needle, look at the background. And think, don't just snap away. I also learned that I really don't like HP5+, not enough contrast.

I've only got the negs to go on from the Orange walk, and from the anti Trump protest in George Square. Several of them look intriguing, and I'm looking forward to scanning them to see what's print-worthy, sometime later this week.

I processed four films yesterday, different makes, different speeds and therefore dev times, and promised myself I'll never get into that ridiculous situation again, taking four times longer than it should have. I've been using up expired film, all different manufacturers, but from hereon in it's Tri X, Ektachrome, and Portra, for both 35mm and 120.

And I've realized making contact prints is unnecessary when one has access to a scanner, (unless a contact print is wanted as a thing unto itself, to hang on a wall).

I didn't do the pride march - it's website seemed to suggest it was mostly commercial enterprise, and anyway the anti-trump demo popped up the day before. Not sure about the pipers now, either, will seem very tame after the Orangemen and anti-Trump.

Might try it with the Holga and 3 rolls of old Ektachrome, or I've got a couple old rolls of 35mm for the Nikon... this whilst we're waiting for the re-launch of Ekatachrome, which could be any day now.

BUT, if I'm wrong about the negatives from the Orangemen and anti-Trump, and they turn out to be merely not-bad, then I need to soldier on a little longer with black and white in the Nikon.

The point is, must be able to go to any public event with the Nikon and black and white film, and consistently get several exposures which would, in a parallel universe, "get in the paper". 

Saturday, May 26, 2018


As far as I recall, I got to this point five years ago when I just stopped doing photography. The point where scanning the negs and putting the digital images obtained on Flickr so that virtual friends and passers-by can say "Great shot!" has lost its appeal. The point where instead of "Great shot!" people in-real-life need to be saying of an actual print, "Hmm... £60 quid, eh? That would go nicely in the hall."

My last bit of experimentation was with 6x9 contact prints, and I'll come back to that eventually, but the rest of 2018 is about getting to be really good with 35mm, that means the Nikon, black and white, and 10x12 or 11x14 prints. I've just finished Victor Blackman's My Way with a Camera, probably the best book about photography I've ever read, and I'm going to adopt the strategy of being a press photographer circa 1970, and showing up at any potentially photogenic event in Glasgow, Nikon F in hand.

Not to sell them to a paper, obviously, but to sell the prints to discerning punters. And put them in competitions. Per Vic Blackman, the only criteria is that they have people in them, and action. Photos of empty streets just won't cut it. So here we are:

Friday, May 11, 2018


The Gevabox, I have learned, focusses pretty well on f11 from about 6ft to infinity, and is only a little blurred at 4ft. Whilst developing the first roll from it, and making the contact prints, it occurred to me that a slightly less than 6x9cm contact print was a staple in vernacular photography until the 60s - think of all those old prints an older relative used to keep in a Quality Street tin. So I went on eBay and got an old frame: I assume that a small chemist's shop with no enlarger, just a cupboard darkroom would use that. I need to cut up photographic paper to just the right size, dozens of 6x9s, and away I go. Instead of a single photo, roughly A4 size, I'll produce 8 6x9s, and that's the image, all 8 of them, relating to each other, looking simultaneously like some thing from your granny's photo tin, the same image size as almost everyone now takes on their mobile phone. Voila.