A couple of ‘new’ images and some thoughts on patience

I’ve started to have a bit more time – not much, but a bit! – for processing images from last year that in part I hadn’t even had developed, never mind scanned.  However, a few weeks ago I took a substantial number of films away for processing (the fridge door is now half-empty again!), and I’ve been scanning film ever since.  The images here – added to the Assynt gallery – are both from the same bay, made an hour or two apart (at most).  The first image is on Fuji Velvia 50, and is actually the later of the two:

Ardmair/Cul a' Bhodha

The sea in the evening light, after the storm clouds lifted; Ardmair/Cul a’ Bhodha

I think I’m not finished with the processing of the second image, but I want to include it here since it represents a bit of a personal triumph (yes, this may seem slightly pathetic to you!), in that I feel I have finally managed to process Kodak Portra 160 the way I want it:

Ardmair/Cul a' Bhodha

Incoming storm clouds; Ardmair/Cul a’ Bhodha

What is interesting about this on a personal level is that I had tried using Portra quite a bit last year, in part because great photographers like Dav Thomas rave about the tones and dynamic range that it offers.  However, I spent much of my processing time fighting to get anything like a semi-decent image from the film scans: everything had subtle but unpleasant greenish colour casts that I couldn’t seem to get rid of: terribly frustrating.  Attempting to get skin tones on portraits right was impossible, and landscapes were no better.  I should add that this is very subjective: I felt I never managed to get them quite right for me.

Part of this, I now think, was about trying to force myself to get it right too quickly.  The key issue is in part simply a matter of white balance and temperature adjustment, but there is much more to it as well, and I just couldn’t get it right.  I stopped engaging with Portra last autumn, but in about March of this year I read this detailed article by another enthusiastic Portra user, Tim Parkin.  Whilst I didn’t think of this article yesterday when I had my Eureka moment, now that I look back at it, I realise that I had indeed begun to incorporate some elements of Tim’s processing technique.  I feel I can go back to the article in detail and work through the parts I really want to use on my images.  It’s as if I’m befriending Portra again.

What is key to this development is that it comes in several stages: firstly there was an initial enthusiasm which rapidly became an experience of frustration, eventually leading me to abandon Portra altogether.  However, subconsciously the wrestling with Portra was still going on, for why would I have read Tim’s article unless I had intended to use it?  Much later, when I had some time and what I loosely call ‘brain-space’, I found I could return to a Portra image and incorporate sufficient key elements of Tim’s techniques to make it work for me.  This image here happens to be the one that I started playing with, and at some point I need to finish working on it.

None of this process should come as a great surprise to me because in my academic work this happens regularly.  I will often read a book or an article, but struggle to fully understand or engage with it and then simply ‘forget’ about it and read something else.  However, I then find my subconscious has been working away at the first text, perhaps with the help of the second, and when I need to write something that would benefit from the first, it simply ‘works’.  I go back to it, for sure, but the key arguments and opportunities it offers to develop an argument are already clearly delineated and internalised.  I know that it just needs time and patience to let it seep into my system – at least, that’s what it feels like!

Now I can observe that my engagement with photographic techniques seems to follow a similar pattern.  I need to cultivate more patience, which those of you who know me will realise is something of a challenge! 🙂


6 thoughts on “A couple of ‘new’ images and some thoughts on patience

  1. Mike Green

    Great story and very well expressed, Michael. Until your second-last paragraph, I was going to make that very point. It seems that things ‘sink in’ and are processed by the subconscious in a whole range of spheres, though for me it’s predominantly those things which I find interesting and which, I presume, my brain continues to work on. Jolly good to hear that you’ve found the ‘key’ to this particular process anyway!


    1. Michael Marten Post author

      Thanks for taking the time to comment. I suppose the challenge now is to remember to ‘leave things’ for a bit when I run into similar difficulties next time! 🙂

      1. Mike Green

        I find that that challenge works itself out nicely…. I give up on things after a bit and come back to find that the subconscious has done its bit! The trick is knowing how soon, and perhaps whether, to leave them in the first place 😉

  2. akismet-1b1e9861c3eb1ebcbaa6491bd92018bf

    I have the same problem with Portra, so much so that I stopped using it as well, as it was a bit hit and miss and having got in to colour film photography I thought it best to stick with learning and understanding the other (slide) films that I’m using. That said you’ve now got me thinking about giving it another go, albeit I need to process about 10 rolls of Ilford before I do anything else!

    1. Michael Marten Post author

      Do go back to it – now that I think I have the hang of it I’m sure it is going to be very rewarding, and some of your ‘stones’ images might also look good with it.

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