Tag Archives: light

On the beach with the Rolleiflex


What is there not to like about winter? I fell out of bed at 7:15 and was on the beach at the bottom of the road twenty minutes later – marvellous! In the summer, I’d have to be up at some horrific time to do the same thing (and the light isn’t so good…).

It was lovely to watch and photograph (sort of) the sunrise, seeing the light change and transform the shapes on the beach. I wasn’t too interested in the sun itself, of course, but the patterns of the beach and the water on black and white film will hopefully work.

I wasn’t the only one out there: apart from the perennial dog-walkers, two other folks with cameras and tripods were on the beach. Of course, I felt terribly superior: they had some new-fangled digital camera-thingy, whereas I was using my 60-year old Rolleiflex TLR… and now I’m off home to breakfast (whisper it: and to my digital camera for some family photos later on!).


Recommended site

Being a cheapskate and fairly broke (these two are inexplicably related, though I don’t want to go into that just now!), I was very happy to stumble across this site: DIYPhotography.  The first page I came across was a posting from a little while ago on making your own softbox:

Image © DIYPhotography home-made softbox (click image to go to the Flickr page)

Image © DIYPhotography home-made softbox (click image to go to the Flickr page)

This is just great: I love the improvisational and creative elements to this, and the diversity of comments offering all sorts of advice and improvements.  There is something very communitarian about all this that really speaks to me!  I’m excited about photographing a couple of new models soon, but before I do that I’m going to print this out and make myself a softbox or two to go with the umbrellas I already have…

The wonder of film

This evening I needed to be in nearby Musselburgh, where I would be waiting for half-an-hour at the harbour. Musselburgh has a lovely small harbour, and at the moment all the sailing boats are ‘parked’ in the car park round the harbour (in spaces that are marked ‘dinghy parking’!).

Stephanie, photographed on Ilford FP4 plus (ISO125)

Stephanie, photographed on Ilford FP4 plus (ISO125)

On the way out of the house, I took my camera, tripod, spirit level, filters, a 28mm and a 50mm lens – and looked forward to capturing some of these boats and the harbour scenes. I took my favourite film camera, the old Nikon FM2, with one of the last three rolls of Fuji Sensia that I have: this is a bit of a trip down memory lane for me, since I used to use Sensia a lot before switching to Fuji Velvia for colour landscapes; Fuji have recently announced they are stopping the production of Sensia so I have just bought three rolls of it to play with for the last time. It was fairly dark when I arrived in the harbour, and as I took my bag out of the car and began to set up, I realised that I had left my light meter at home – since the FM2’s slowest shutter speed before getting to the bulb setting is 1 second, the camera’s meter would be useless and I would have had to more or less guess all my exposures… so, sadly, I packed everything away again and went to buy a newspaper instead. Next week, when I expect to be there again, I’ll remember the meter!

I’ve read two nice postings on other people’s websites recently about using film. The first one was from the great Bruce Percy, who discussed how much he enjoyed using a particular kind of Kodak Portra film for a recent trip he made to Ethiopia and then, referring to Canon’s 5D digital camera, noted:

I get a lot of correspondence from people wanting to know how to get the same look with their 5D. You can’t.

If you want the look of film, then shoot film.

It doesn’t get much simpler than that! The other piece I’ve come across is more of a short essay by the wonderful Max Marinucci (though the second part describes how he develops film, so you may want to skim read that bit if you just want to pick up on his philosophy about film):

…patience and parsimony are virtues to be cultivated and nourished. When shooting film, you immediately accept the fact that it may be a little while before you see the fruits of your work and, by living with this, you will become a more disciplined shooter, which will in turn carry on to your digital side as well. It also means that shooting everything in sight without any thought into basics like light and composition is out of the question since you only have 24-36 shots in a roll of 35mm and it makes no sense in spending time/money developing simple, careless snapshots. This is a valuable exercise in restraint and it brings us to actually THINK before we shoot. Would you have taken a picture of your toes with film just because you can? I sincerely doubt it.

Although I use my Nikon D90 digital camera a lot, there is something wonderful about film that cannot be beaten by the more ‘clinical’ nature of digital… and it has to do with all these key components of photography that often go missing in the techno-madness that camera manufacturers obscure from us as they add ever more silly functions to their cameras: patience, composition, light, perspective… I’m not a dogmatic film shooter: of course digital cameras have their place (I couldn’t be involved in the same way in the African film festival if I wasn’t using digital, and I do like my D90). I think it is just a question of being reminded of that at times, of using film and digital in different circumstances as appropriate, and above all, appreciating film for all the wonder it can bring to the craft of photography.

The beauty of autumn

The beauty of autumn

The beauty of autumn

I love the autumn – the clouds that fill the skies, and the soft gentle light that allows for a different kind of photograph to be taken from the harshness of summer light.  So whereas other members of the family, and colleagues at work are sorry to see the summer days going and resent the autumnal weather and nights drawing in, like a little child I’m getting rather excited at the opportunities that lie before me with the soft diffused light that is the hallmark of this season.  Of course, all the seasons offer something different, but autumn and spring are perhaps the two I prefer, at least in terms of light.

I’m planning a few short trips over the winter into the Scottish hills so that I can benefit from this light in a variety of landscapes, and am also intending to try a variety of film types (b/w print film in particular) as well as the usual digital images.  So interesting times ahead…

Cityscapes and landscapes

As a historian by day and a photographer by night (as it were), I find I am fortunate enough to have two very different creative outlets: archival and writing work, and the making of images. And later today I am off to Germany for a week and will be able to indulge in both: I’m going to a private archive in Düsseldorf for a few short days, and then – via a circuitous train journey through half of Germany in order to include a meeting with a colleague – going on to visit family in the north. The archive is very close to the Rhine and so I’m hoping for some evening or night opportunities there, and my family live in a small town called Ratzeburg, which is on an island surrounded by three lakes; I’m hoping to catch the sunrise at least once across one of the lakes.

It all sounds like a near-perfect week, combining enjoyable work and pleasurable past-time… especially after the long and exhausting semester I’ve had…

A wedding and a baby

I’ve been very privileged to be asked to photograph at a wedding of some close friends in May, and this week I photographed friends with their beautiful new baby. I was somewhat nervous about both of these tasks, but have enjoyed them tremendously, each in their own way. The wedding involved minimal formal direction and a lot of casual/candid shots, and the baby shots involved the first proper usage of my new studio lights (though I just used the one light with a white umbrella, as there wouldn’t have been space for two more lights, and the living room of their flat had a lot of lovely natural light). I still need to process all of these, but will do so very soon, and I’ll then post a couple of images here too.

A slight sense of desperation

I haven’t been able to make time for myself to get out and take any photographs for what seems like weeks and weeks now. This is undoubtedly down to the day job and the fact that this is just an incredibly busy time for me, but it it is nonetheless deeply frustrating – the need to get out there is really overwhelming! Even around Edinburgh where I live, the spring light has been lovely in recent times, and I’ve longed to get into the Pentland Hills to the south of the city for some early mornings. Flying into Edinburgh recently after a short holiday in Germany, I loved the views of the hills from above, and felt a strong urge to get out there and spend some time in the landscape. But I don’t expect it to be happening this weekend, this week, or even next weekend.

Apart from anything else, I know that I need to do this for my own well-being, but my 5-in-the-morning starts have been about finishing lectures and marking essays, not about seeing the dawn light through a lens!