Tag Archives: Rolleiflex

Intentional Film Movement

No, the Intentional Film Movement is not a radical revolutionary brigade, forcing all digital camera users to move to film…! It’s just my play on words in relation to the current trend for ‘intentional camera movement’ (I think ICM – a bit like HDR – is interesting the first few times you see it and then it just gets tedious, mostly because it’s rarely done well, and is often done just for the sake of being able to do it, with little underlying narrative).

Anyway, rant over.  Holidays at home are wonderful: I have been tidying up this week, and came across 19 rolls of film (14 rolls of 35mm and 5 rolls of 120) that I had had developed but then never really looked at. I knew there were some portraits in amongst them that I was somewhat concerned at having lost, but also some experimental images.

Un-Intentional Film Movement - a typical 'accident'

Un-Intentional Film Movement – a typical ‘accident’

My old Rolleiflex, with six decades behind it, works really well. Except for those times it doesn’t. In particular, the film transport mechanism can be a bit dodgy: the film doesn’t always quite engage the way it should, and then the winding mechanism fails: it becomes possible to wind through the whole film without making a single image, as it doesn’t ‘lock’ for each exposure, even though the shutter can be cocked. That has resulted in some rather strange double (triple?!) exposures, in part covering the bottom or top of an image, but I found that when the film fails to engage properly (and in the meantime I can tell when this happens with the first winding of the film to get to the first frame), it also becomes possible to wind the film on whilst having the shutter open. Some of the ‘problem’ images I was getting were like this one here (oops – some of my wife’s family at a celebration last year!).

Intentional Film Movement

Intentional Film Movement

However, this also offers some interesting opportunities. Rather than being annoyed about the film mechanism, I began to experiment, whilst also still making ‘proper’ images in between the experiments (after all, this can easily be done, if you guess how far to wind the film on – does cock the shutter, it just doesn’t move the film on evenly). I tend to used Ilford FP4+ in this camera, which has such a wide latitude that exposure doesn’t really matter – and that makes it ideal for things such as this. I began to try doing two or three things simultaneously to create new images:

  1. using a small aperture, open the shutter
  2. turn the film crank whilst the shutter is open
  3. at the same time, also move the camera.

I was using a tripod (I find that easiest with the Rolleiflex – I struggle to keep the image even vaguely straight without a tripod, and so if it’s important to keep straight, then I need a tripod!), but even doing the first two of these three actions requires a degree of coordination that I struggle with – and moving the camera at the same time becomes much harder! However, the images do then become more interesting.

I tried several experiments with these techniques, using several films, all of them in this pile of unexamined films that I found this week.

Only having seen the negatives, I have been aware of the effect I was generating, and did see how moving the camera also played a role (I didn’t do so for the first roll, and, of course, just ended up with a blur). So here are some of the attempts that have resulted in more interesting shapes.

Intentional Film Movement

Intentional Film Movement

This one, which has a floaty lightness to it, is perhaps my favourite of this group of photographs – it involved a longer exposure, a smaller aperture, and slow consistent movement of the film (I think the darker line is when I stopped winding consistently). I was actually seeking to make a portrait of a friend, but I’ll not give her name here – suffice it to say that the subsequent images of her worked really rather well, even if this one doesn’t actually look anything like her!

Intentional Film Movement - a landscape

Intentional Film Movement – a landscape

I think this last image is interesting for a different reason. I intended to create a ‘cloud’, but this worked exceptionally well: what I am including here is not just the image on the film, but the jagged edge where it has been cut, and the straight line from the scanner’s film-tray. It may be quite hard to see on smaller devices (and perhaps I should have processed this a little more to bring out this contrast – all of these are simply straight from the scanner with no adjustments of any kind), but on a larger screen, I can quite clearly see a night landscape here. The jagged edge is a curved hill, and the lighter areas further up the image are (strange-looking) clouds. Of course, it is not just landscapes that can represent more abstract concepts – abstract concepts can also represent landscapes!

There is a pleasant mix here of images. Creating them involves an element of randomness, but I have tried to create certain kinds of shapes and patterns too, even if I don’t see if they’ve worked until the film has been developed.

Do I think this is going to be something I do more of? Probably not, unless there is a motif that I think might be made more interesting with this technique – AND I happen to have the Rolleiflex with me AND the film hasn’t loaded properly! The one thing I can’t predict is when the Rollleiflex will work properly and when it won’t, so there is a further element of randomness in these kinds of images – most of the time I don’t know when I might (have the opportunity to) create more!

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Our debt to other photographers

Over the summer I’ve been making several portraits, almost by default just with the Rolleiflex.  This is in part to do with my 1953 project (at the time of writing, I need to add lots of portraits to these pages… I’m way behind with this!), but I’ve also just found it pleasurable to photograph some of the people I’ve encountered.  Here are two of them.

Alex (Rolleiflex, on Ilford FP4+)

Alex (Rolleiflex, on Ilford FP4+)

This is Alex, my brother-in-law.  He was somewhat sceptical when I asked him to close his eyes, but I hope he likes this!  I think it softens the portrait considerably: not that he doesn’t photograph well, but I think he looks really relaxed here.

Gwendolin (Rolleiflex, on Ilford FP4+)

Gwendolin (Rolleiflex, on Ilford FP4+)

And this is Gwendolin, a long-standing friend: my wife met her parents at university, and we first met Gwen when she was a bump!  We’ve seen her almost every two years since then and she even lived with us for a little while some years ago.  Now she makes me feel quite old – she has become an assured, adventurous and beautiful young woman, rather than a toddler running through our flat with her toys muttering ‘ticka, ticka, ticka…’

There are, of course, portraits I have made this summer in which the subjects have their eyes open!  However, the ones I have put here owe their look in part to another photographer: I have been following a fascinating project that Jenny Wicks is pursuing.  Jenny is creating astonishingly striking portraits – and all her subjects have closed their eyes at her request (do click on that link to her work, and maybe read her blog too – I very much admire her use of photography for this kind of social engagement).  Many people do not like being photographed by a large camera, but I have found that by copying Jenny’s idea I can put my subjects at ease, and other portraits – with eyes open – then become more relaxed.  So thank you for that little idea, Jenny!

I mentioned this sort of thing in a blog posting some time ago, but I think it is important to note more explicitly that we should acknowledge our debts to others.  So often as photographers we create images borrowing ideas of technique, composition and form from other photographers, but fail to acknowledge that we have done this, pretending something is entirely our own work.  As more and more people attend photography workshops, this happens ever more frequently: surely there should be some acknowledgement that the workshop leader has (hopefully!) helped in some way with an image, perhaps even stood by and offered suggestions at the time of exposure?  After all, none of us create images in a vacuum!  We are indebted, whether we are aware of it or not, to countless other photographers (and other artists and creators) – and not only is it good to show these other photographers that we appreciate their ideas, but consciously acknowledging our indebtedness also helps us to critically examine our own work and identify what is really distinctive about it.  Of course, if we come to the conclusion that our work is largely derivative rather than distinctive, perhaps we need to re-examine what it is that we are doing…!

P.S. If it is not already obvious, given that ‘Bruce Percy‘ is one of the largest tags in my tag cloud on these pages, I see myself as being substantially indebted to Bruce for what I do photographically.  You can see his incredibly beautiful and engaging work on his website.

On the beach with the Rolleiflex

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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!).

Tomorrow morning… beachscapes with the Rolleiflex

The weather is looking good for early tomorrow morning, and so I think I’ll take the old Rolleiflex down to the beach and try out some monochrome beachscapes (I have Ilford 125 film in it just now).

Tomorrow's forecast!

Tomorrow's forecast!

And I must start getting my film developed – I have rolls from October 2011 and perhaps even earlier waiting here! I know that I should, of course, start developing my film myself… that will come…

Musings on film latitude and related matters

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…

A beautiful Rollei image, as scanned

A beautiful Rollei image, as scanned

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!

Adobe Lightroom settings

Adobe Lightroom settings

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):

Elizabeth Eva Leach

Elizabeth Eva Leach

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:

Another Ilford FP4Plus sample, with similar exposure settings

Another Ilford FP4Plus sample, with similar exposure settings

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!).

Küchensee, Ratzeburg

Küchensee, Ratzeburg

(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…

First results from the Rolleiflex

I’m currently in Germany, but before I went away I scanned some of the film I had taken with the Rolleiflex and the Mamiya, and I have spent some of my time away editing of these images.  Here are two from the first couple of rolls of black and white film that I used in the Rolleiflex.  I intend to put a couple of the colour images up here sometime soon too.  I can tell that there are some issues with how my scanning is going (relating to issues such as exposure, ICE etc.), but I need to get back to my scanner to have another go at some of these things.

The first photograph is one of the very first images I took with the Rolleiflex, one evening on ‘my’ local beach.

Walkers on the beach

Walkers on the beach

The second is of a friend who agreed to be photographed for my 1953 project; more information about this image will appear on the 1953 pages in due course.

The 1953 Project: Chloe

The 1953 Project: Chloe

First experiments with scanning medium format film

Yesterday my Epson V700 arrived – purchased specifically so that I could scan my images from the Mamiya and Rolleiflex.  I plan on this being by day-to-day scanner, with really special images being sent to Tim Parkin.

First impressions are very good.  The scanner is really solid (and pretty big), though as many others have said, the plastic film holders seem to be very flimsy  – a strange contrast to the heavy scanner.  Even just from one day’s careful use, I’m wondering how long these will last (it feels like a ‘when’ not an ‘if’ question).  Replacements are, apparently, available.  I find it slightly irritating that although a FireWire 400 connection is available, there is no Firewire cable in the box, meaning I need to make do with a USB connection for now (I expect the FW connection to be faster).  Photoshop really struggled with saving these large files (several minutes the first time), but I did have a number of applications open and I don’t have much memory for this kind of thing on my Mac.

Regarding the scans: I have done the typical male thing (according to my wife) and just plunged straight in, scanning some colour transparencies and monochrome negatives.  I had used the monochrome film (Ilford FP4 Plus) before in 35mm form so had some idea of what to expect, though I didn’t know exactly how the Rollei would impact on it, and my use of my lightmeter obviously needed to be up to scratch.  The colour transparency film was completely new to me: Fuji Provia 100F, and I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect; this was shot using the Mamiya and mostly using the camera’s meter, rather than relying on my lightmeter.

So, with auto sharpening, broadly similar settings (though I am intrigued that the Silverfast software has a specific setting for the Ilford film, which I used) and general playfulness, I think I can say with some certainty that buying the Epson was a good choice.  Here are two images that I have scanned yesterday at 6400dpi, along with 100% sections – this is not necessarily the best dpi to choose, but the files were already coming in at around 500mb with this size, and for playing I didn’t want even bigger files as they just slow everything down.  I don’t want to make excuses but these are the first (monochrome/Rollei) and second (colour/Mamiya) rolls I have shot on these new (to me) cameras.  I can see from other scans that I need to work on greater stability for the Mamiya when I’m not using a tripod – it’s heavier than I think, and perhaps my recently injured arm means it’s harder to hold still at slower shutter speeds.  Neither of these images have had any post-processing.

With this first image of my friend Toni (taken on the spur of the moment in a pub garden, and yes, that is a fresh pint in front of her!), if you can ignore the fact I didn’t have e.g. a yellow filter with me, there is clearly a richness in the tones that does just what I would expect the Ilford to do – and the Epson scanner captures the depth of these tones rather well, I think.

Ilford FP4 Plus/Rollleiflex

Ilford FP4 Plus/Rollleiflex

And here we have a 100% detail of the edge of Toni’s glasses.  It’s hard to know if I had focussed entirely accurately (almost certainly not, and depth of field was very shallow; I think I was resting the camera on the garden table as I had no tripod with me), but even so, I find the definition reasonably ok (bear in mind that at 100% and the more usual 300dpi, these images would be enormous!).

Ilford FP4 Plus/Rolleiflex

Ilford FP4 Plus/Rolleiflex

Here is the Provia, first the image as a whole (which, if I use it, I will ultimately crop, rather than leave at this size/aspect ratio):

Fuji Provia 100F/Mamiya

Fuji Provia 100F/Mamiya

And here is an excerpt at 100%, which again shows considerable definition (and the tif file shows good shadow detail – some of which seems to have got lost in the conversion to the jpg file):

Fuji Provia 100F/Mamiya

Fuji Provia 100F/Mamiya

I’m not sure I like the Provia 100F that much, but perhaps that is because the colours didn’t quite come out the way I thought they would; everything seems to have a slightly purple tinge, even when there is no obvious purple in the scene as there is here; I think that is very unlikely to be the scanner.  In any case, I look forward to using the Velvia I recently bought – I already ‘know’ the Velvia from 35mm photography (the Provia was given to me by the same person who is passing on the Mamiya – he had it in the fridge but never really got around to using it, so it is quite old and maybe not at its best).

My preliminary conclusions: getting consistently decent scans will require some effort, as well as consultation with the manuals (don’t tell my wife!).  But early results are certainly promising, and working with something like the Epson V700 will be enjoyable, I think; the time needed to learn how to do scans properly is perfectly normal (I expect to learn how to use a new camera, so why not a scanner?). There are some early niggles: for example, I would like to use a different colour space/ICC profile: I’m using the recommended proPhoto RGB in Lightroom as Adobe itself says this is better than Adobe RGB, and yet the scanner defaults to this older setting (somewhere in the manual there must be something on this…!).  Above all, using something as good as this Epson scanner will require me to produce much better images in camera to get the best out of the scanner – and creating better images is, after all, what this is all meant to be about!