I’ve posted very little here recently, and have only added a couple of incidental items on my micro-blog. This has two main reasons: I’ve been very busy travelling for work (Germany, Norway, England in the last four weeks), and I’ve also had quite a backlog of films to scan and process. Concentrating on film and finding a revised routine to my workflow – now that I think I’ve understood what I’m doing with my new Epson scanner – takes time, and after various false starts, I think I’m finally getting there. There is now, of course, a bit of a backlog of both film and digital images (I’ve not stopped photographing!), and coupled with a desire to redo the galleries here, you’ll appreciate that I’m struggling a bit…
However, this posting is tangential to all of these thoughts! I have, partly because of the 1953 Project (and yes, there are images to go online from that, too!), occasionally been carrying the Rolleiflex with me as a ‘casual camera’. This regularly elicits interesting conversations with complete strangers, which can be surprising and very nice. For example, last week I was dining with a friend in London and after our meal I wanted to photograph her with the Rollei; a couple at a neighbouring table began talking to us about the camera, photography and so on… culminating in a request that I might consider photographing their wedding next year; of course, I declined!
The film I’m using for the 1953 Project is Ilford FP4Plus, which is rated at an ISO of 125. Ilford’s website says it has ‘enormous latitude for exposure error above and below‘ this speed. I chose it for the project partly for this reason, thinking it wouldn’t much matter if the exposure was slightly off on my portraits because I could always recover the images once they were scanned in. I didn’t realise quite what ‘enormous’ meant to Ilford, but these images clearly show that. The first image above is the scan from the negative (Vuescan reversed the negative for me). I made adjustments in Lightroom, as this screen capture shows: upping the exposure by four stops, pushing the fill light and brightness up, and then reducing the contrast and clarity settings to bring the grain under control. Aside from dust removal, these are the only changes I made to the image, revealing… Elizabeth Eva Leach, Professor of Music at Oxford University, with whom I had a stimulating lunch at the beginning of September (click on the photograph to go to her blog):
It’s not a great portrait, but it astonishes me that it worked at all, not just because of the film exposure issues: the café was relatively dark and I could barely see anything on the ground glass (so focusing was mostly a lucky guess), the lens was wide open at f2.8 with an exposure speed of 1/10th of a second – and yet it’s reasonably sharp despite all this! And this isn’t a coincidence: another portrait taken under similar circumstances was just as underexposed and with similar Lightroom adjustments it came out fine too:
What I love about all this is the visceral nature of the film and the process. For sure, I could have taken these portraits on a digital camera and bumped up the auto ISO settings – but I’m not convinced they would have looked any ‘better’ (they would have been different…). Of course, even the process of ‘extracting’ an image from an almost entirely black square of film gives me enormous pleasure – it’s like finding a treasure! I don’t regard myself by any means as a format fetishist, but returning to film does give me huge pleasure: my use of the Mamiya for landscapes makes me photograph with much greater consideration and precision than I used to with the digital camera, and I LOVE that.
For example, here’s a dawn image from the Mamiya taken on Velvia 50 of the Ratzeburg Küchensee in northern Germany this August. I remember taking quite a while to compose it in order to make sure the twisted twigs were below the tree line, whereas I think with a digital camera I might have fired off a good half-dozen shots at different heights and then hoped one had worked when I was back at the computer – but here I composed slowly and carefully, got it right, and then made… two exposures (er… the first one had a misplaced graduated filter that I noticed after squeezing the cable release!).
(I’ve lightened the exposure by half a stop and added a little fill light, otherwise it’s as it came from the scanner.)
In a few weeks’ time I’m off to Assynt with Bruce Percy. I’m really looking forward to this, and though I’ll take my Mamiya, I will mostly use the Nikon D90 so that images can be readily critiqued by Bruce and the group. I’m keen to observe myself with this, as it were: I’m sure my recent return to film will have changed how I use the digital camera for landscapes. Before going to Assynt, I’m also going to the Isle of Mull for a week of secluded reading – and I may just take a photograph or two whilst I’m there…