At sixes and sevens

A New Year’s Day walk with a ridiculously big film camera.

Kodak Portra 400 120 film that had been kept in the worst place possible for two and a half years… in the kitchen cupboard above the cooker. Oops. Varying temperatures ahoy! I think it survived rather marvellously.

 

 

Film developing and medium resolution scans by the fabulous Ag Photographic. Posted off on a Saturday evening and returned to me on the Wednesday.

It’s the first time in many years that I’ve ordered prints along with the developing and scans. They look gorgeous and it was such a joy to see new photos for the first time in that more tangible way again.

Ahoy, Savoy!

I was asked to take photographs at Roger’s 70th birthday bash a few weeks ago and how could I refuse with such a glamourous setting and glamourous guests? Absolutely smashing evening all round.

The icing on the cake* was my ex boyfriend trusting me to borrow the absolutely amazing new Pentax full frame K1 camera from him for the task. Beautiful camera.

Happy birthday, Roger! Hip hip!

 

*The icing on the cake actually said “Happy Birthday”.

The gift of Sound and Vision

On 5th February I went ice skating at Alexandra Palace with my mother, one of my brothers, and a wonderful colleague for a David Bowie soundtracked evening of skidding about and falling over, hosted by Feeling Gloomy.

I don’t know anyone who wasn’t saddened by Bowie’s passing, and what better way to blow off the cobwebs than such a ridiculous and fun tribute.

I took my Pentax K-S1 and intended to get lots of fun shots of the inevitably Bowie-emblazoned skaters, but admittedly I spent the vast majority of the time enjoying the skating. It’s over 20 years since I’ve purposefully stepped onto ice and I loved every single minute of it.

My brother looked utterly fabulous in his golden spacesuit and I at least managed to capture this for prosperity. He drew much adoring attention both on the ice and during the journey there and back. Even the lovely staff at Pizza Express didn’t seem to mind us applying our face painted lightning bolts at the dinner table beforehand.

Farewell, Starman.

 

Postcards from the edge of the laptop

I have almost accidentally found myself constructing a series of black and white self portraits with my laptop camera. People who know me well will know that I don’t usually have a problem expressing myself verbally, but recently I’ve found this ability somewhat ripped from me. I always try and infuse my pictures with as much emotion as possible, but rarely turn the camera on myself for this purpose. The low quality images seem to create a barrier behind which (conversely) I can comfortably express more of myself.

I’m editing the photographs in Lightroom and I’ve found that another result of the image quality being so poor, is that it is really freeing up my creativity in other elements of the pictures. It’s turning out to be a really interesting way to experiment with and explore and express different visual ideas, a bit like a sketchbook. I think I’ll continue with this from time to time.

The amount of grain in the images has added interesting textures. They could almost be pen and ink, pencil, charcoal, or spray painted images. The huge depth of field and wide angle view bizarrely reminds me of my pinhole images which I find fascinating considering the ridiculous difference in equipment involved.

 

Beyond Beyond Chocolate

There were a lot of ridiculously delicious cakes provided by Abbi’s Pantry at Beyond Chocolate‘s celebration of “no diet day”. I went along to take some photographs of the food and the round table discussions.

 

I took my back up camera for this shoot, my primary camera being out on loan. I’m more than happy with how the relatively humble Pentax KS1 handled the task. I can’t really compare it favourably to the Pentax K3 in performance overall (that thing is a dream machine!), but I can say that the final image can be a hair’s width in difference. The sensors are not significantly different, and I’m using the same lenses, so I’d say the biggest difference is to do with ease of use.

Focussing is slower and sometimes clunky with the KS1. I took most shots focussing manually. Overall it’s probably comparable, in the experience of setting up shots, to using the Pentax k-x. The k-x was my first digital camera and one I used for a good few years with fabulous results but it needed to be bullied a lot in camera and in post.

The key really is understanding and getting to know the equipment, its limitations, and its potential. In general I’d say that the potential for quality images from the KS1 is light years nearer to the K3 than the k-x and I should use it more often to know how best to release its strengths and better circumnavigate its weaknesses.

The best thing about the KS1 is how very light it is. I used my favourite lenses which all seemed to weigh more than the camera. This had a really positive impact on my experience. The slightly more cumbersome handling of settings was more than made up for by the fact that my back wasn’t aching as it would with the chunky K3. For long shoots I think it will even serve well as first choice in that regard.

Beyond Chocolate

A couple of weeks ago I took some pictures for Beyond Chocolate, a thriving online community that supports women to ditch yo-yo dieting and have a healthy relationship with food.

I was really inspired by the passion and energy that co-founder Audrey injects into her work. I spent the afternoon capturing a seemingly endless stream of fresh, healthy, indulgent food, glorious food prepared by Audrey and Abbi [of Abbi’s Pantry, who I have had the pleasure of taking photographs for before].

The best way to get mouthwatering pictures of food is to use natural light. With a big wall of glass on one side of the large kitchen, although the day was overcast, there was plenty of soft natural light to play with.

 

Take 2: Tinkerbell

Whilst visiting my mother for christmas I took the opportunity to get some shots of her cats. On boxing day I found one curled up in the hallway with the sunlight filtering through the front door. I used the 55mm lens that I wrote about in my last post.

There was just enough light, with a wide aperture and a slow shutter speed, to get some fairly lowish ISO close ups. The cat didn’t mind the camera at all and kept remarkably still which was ideal. This shot was taken at 1/15 of a second which is about as slow as I’m comfortable with handheld using this lens. With this combination of elements, I could get some really smooth close ups.

Now that I have a new computer I can edit without headache again, and it’s such a relief. Adjustments are quick and easy.  Digital images straight from camera can often look a little lifeless, flat or cold. No matter how carefully I adjust my camera settings, if nothing else they nearly always benefit from at least a slight adjustment to white balance and/or exposure.

 

This picture looked pretty good to begin with. The focus in the eyes is pin sharp and the expression on the cat’s face is adorable, but the raw image was dark and murky. It was underexposed and the white balance was too cold and too pink. My camera is fairly good at getting exposure right with a manual lens, but it’s not always perfect.

What I wanted to capture was the delicate complimentary colours of the cat’s fur and eyes, so the whole key to this becoming a striking image was in simply correcting the white balance and exposure. Pretty much everything else had been handled already in camera and by the beautiful lens. The finishing touches were then just some small tweaks to give it a hint more of a glow and increase the definition without losing the natural softness of the lens.

Here are the main adjustments I made in Lightroom for the final edit:

  • Raised the exposure
  • Adjusted the white balance manually
  • Slightly deepened the blacks
  • Raised the clarity
  • Added a very slight touch of vibrance
  • Adjusted the tone curve into a gentle s shape with brighter lights and hilghlights and slightly lowered darks and shadows
  • Slightly raised the orange and yellow luminance

Click here for more cat portraits on flickr.

We’re abseiling, we’re abseiling…

A few weeks’ ago I went to collect my prize for the Avery Hill Winter Garden‘s photography competition and I was briefly interviewed by a lovely chap from SEnine magazine.

There I am on the far left.

There I am on the far left.

A week or so later I got an email from the same lovely chap suggesting I might want to get some photographs of an abseil event being hosted by Wide Horizons at Avery Hill Park this month. Incidentally, that’s the event in the article on the opposite page to my interview.

The abseil was last Saturday so I went up there as it was starting up and just as the sun was starting up too. I got some lovely shots during that morning and I think the early start must have got to me as I ended up agreeing to abseil myself. Interesting choice for 9.15am after being in photography mode for a couple of hours.

I have an extreme fear of heights at the best of times and leaning backwards off a 100ft tower isn’t something my instincts tell me to do. I did have to beg for a supervisor to come down at the same time as me. I was so grateful that he agreed and from there it was fairly easy. The staff there were all so fantastic and for something  that I would have never voluntarily been interested in, it was actually thoroughly enjoyable all round.

Taking these pictures was a very immersive experience in that the action is so immediate and emotive. I think that’s probably the main reason I said yes to abseiling myself. I already felt like I understood the experience and knew the fear was irrational. I’d observed it repeatedly. I’d also been up to the top of the tower to get pictures of the view when I’d got there so I knew how high it was. Plus, of course, everybody else was clearly so safe.

One of the main reasons I love photography is the way you can capture such a fleeting expression of emotion, or an occurrence, that otherwise isn’t held. You can freeze a moment of time in a way that can trigger a very pure form of empathy.

I went back again in the afternoon and got a few more shots. I am really pleased I returned later as there were some very impressive small children showing excellent calm and poise. I can’t say the same for myself. I learnt a new expression: “sewing machine legs”. Due to shaking so violently.

Here are just some of my personal favourites from the day. You can see the whole caboodle over on Flickr.

And now for something completely different…

I was asked by a member of The Real People to take some photographs at a gig of theirs last Friday in London. I’d never shot a gig before so it was a huge joy to find that I got a real buzz from it.

I like to force myself into trying new things and stepping out of my comfort zone when it comes to creative endeavours. You might find things in yourself and your skills that surprise you.

The gig was really high energy and I think this comes across in the photographs. I have resisted a temptation to convert all of them into black and white. I feel that all the bright lights and colours of the gig add an immediacy to the images that monochrome can sometimes displace.

I have a lot of images still to work through… but here are some of my favourites so far. I’ll be adding them to an album on flickr bit by bit as I go through them all.

 

I took along a friend of mine who loves to take photos at gigs and I got a lot of courage from seeing him unafraid to move about and get into positions for good shots. I was worried I might find it a bit of a struggle with the low light and movement involved but in reality after I’d set the ISO and lowered the exposure bias, I was away.

I decided to take two lenses with me. A 35mm and a 50mm. Both have wide apertures and I thought they would be ideal zippy little lenses for the task. At the last minute I decided I would pack my trusty 77mm as well. I just had a feeling I might want something a little longer and the lens is pretty sharp wide open. I’m so pleased I had it with me. I used it for most of my shots.

It’s all about the chemistry

I have a few friends who are very passionate about photography and like to play with it as much as I do. I think getting together with like minded people is one of the best ways of learning and I always find that we can inspire each other to try things in a slightly different way than we might normally think to alone. I’m very lucky to have a good friend who likes using film as much as I do and we spent some time recently shooting loads of film and developing loads of film.

Developing film is so exciting. Unlike developing my pinhole negatives which can be done under a red light because I use photographic paper (and therefore can be watched closely as images appear in the developer), film has to do its work alone in the dark. Well, of course, you do also have to help it along and make your hands work alone in the dark too…! Seeing the strips of film as they hang to dry is just a wonderful thing and often really surprising. Particularly so with the 6×7 negatives which are so large they make for beautiful objects of themselves. Portraits and landscapes alike just look a dream with this wonderful beast of a camera.

Home scans aren’t always perfect, due to some types of film lying rather flatter in the negative holders for the scanner than others, but I’m extremely pleased with how these have turned out nonetheless. I’m very new to developing film myself and I got a slight light leak in one roll during the process but hey ho, that’s how you learn not to make the same mistakes again of course. Some have a particularly gorgeous tone due to scanning them in colour rather than monochrome. Here are some of my favourites from the 6×7.

 

I also had a little cross processing fun with some 35mm. I had some C41 black and white film which really requires different processing to a standard black and white film, but I developed it as a regular black and white film anyway just to see what would happen. Some of them were totally bonkers, but I rather like them.

Take 2: Aaron

This is not so much Take 2 as Take 3. Or maybe 10. Or just keep counting.

One massive downside with digital photography for me personally is the fact I take so long in making decisions. Time. There are almost infinite possibilities as to how your photos can end up looking via a few clicks on your computer. It’s just one big digital, and therefore very precisely and easily adjustable, darkroom.

Now that I have a better digital camera in the form of the Pentax K3, it handles editing so effortlessly and gracefully that I have even more options at my disposal than I did before. This is a pleasure to behold but it is also a curse. It’s more pleasurable to spend more time editing, so it’s easier to spend more time editing. Working full time you only have so many free hours to start with… and editing was already taking up a bit too much of my time.

At the weekend I finally put my favourite lens – a fully manual 55mm f1.8 – onto my new K3 body. I’ve no idea why it took me this long. I spent a sunny day in Greenwich with my brother Aaron and I got this really nice picture (my reflection notwithstanding!). I figured it would be good for editing practice and it was.

 

Things should be way easier edit-wise for me now. I could often use pictures pretty much straight from the camera now if I wanted, or easily add one of my self made black and white editing presets with very few adjustments to make a perfectly polished finish to the shot, and yet I can never leave it at that. I still need to tinker. To see if I can “improve” a picture further.

I sat and played with this photo for an afternoon, trying out various different colour edits. I was very happy indeed with my black and white version but I could not seem to get a nice colour edit for some reason. None of them really shone like the black and white edit did. And I think this was mainly a problem of choice. Skin tone is often a tricky subject to be happy with in itself, but with this one I just did version after version and they all sort of looked ok, but I just kept scrapping them unsatisfied.

This happens from time to time when I’m editing and it can be a bit frustrating. It’s like when you say a word over and over and it suddenly loses all meaning. Sometimes you have looked at the same picture in such detail for so long that you can’t remember what you are trying to do with it anymore or even really tell what it looks like. When that happens I often like to take a break, but sometimes instead of doing that, I give myself something else to do with the picture for a bit.

I’ll start making quite extreme random adjustments. Or attempt to edit it in the style of someone else, or to give it a very specific “look”. In this case, the sunglasses and strong sunlight made me want to attempt a look reminiscent of CSI: Miami. Often such idle playing can reveal something in the image you might not have otherwise hit upon.

The last version of Aaron’s portrait in this post here is not at all an edit I would have done otherwise. I learnt a few new tricks from my experimenting. Now that I’m used to how it looks, although a bit extreme and contrasty for my usual taste and not really my style, I do quite like it. And I am liking it more and more each time I look at it. This edit has so many tiny adjustments layered on top of each other. Like the black and white edit, it also has some coloured highlights from the split toning settings. I’d never really played about with that much before for a start.

Go play. It’s one way to guarantee learning something meaningful to you. Whatever that might be.

 ***

In other news I’ve entered a photo competition. If you could possibly spare two minutes, maybe you would like to please help increase my chances of winning a camera so that I don’t have to spend the rest of my life paying off the one I currently have. It would also make my day. 

Registering is quick – I promise – and all you’d need to do is to click on this link and write “I nominate this photo.” underneath my pinhole photo of a ukulele and say why you like it. If you do of course. If not, thank you for tolerating this plea. If indeed you did.

Time it was and what a time it was, it was…

I spent an evening rediscovering some old digital scans of negatives I think I might have lost. They are photographs from a road trip I took with my best friend in 2008 across the Pacific northwest (America and briefly Canada). I was a little concerned I had lost the digital files too when the CD wouldn’t work via my laptop but then I popped it into another computer and they pinged into life. I hadn’t seen these photos in years. It was a real delight. The scans are a really nice quality too. Here are some of my favourites. The whole kaboodle are over on flickr.