As part of my ongoing work with my 10x8 camera, I'm happy to offer for sale 'Fallen Tree' as a darkroom print. I have made a very limited number of contact prints from the 10 x 8 negative, on Ilford's Warmtone Fibre Based paper. The image size is a little smaller than 10 x8, and the paper size is nearly 11 x 14 inches. This allows the print to be mounted with a paper border showing, should the buyer wish. As always, the screen image fails to do the print justice, which really needs to be seen in person to be fully appreciated.
Today I'd like to share a video with you.
I have been working on my 10x8 contact prints and am starting to get some sound results. The print in the video is approximately 11 x 14 inches, with the image size just a shade under 10x8 inches (I used a mask to get the paper white edges and this results in a size slightly smaller than the negative).
As always it's difficult to truly share a print online, but I hope the video gives a sense of its physicality and presence. I said in a previous post that making this print has been a bigger challenge than I anticipated (mainly because of the masking), but working with the large negative has been a joy. The adventure continues.
As the sun beams down here in a positively Mediterranean England, it’s time to update you on my latest adventures in large format. Having taken possession of my lovely new Intrepid 10x8 camera (you may have seen my unboxing video in an earlier post), I’ve been steadily working away, and I’m now beginning to see some pleasing results.
I have been on several shoots, mainly in the beautiful wooded environs of Cannock Chase in Staffordshire. I’ve also spent a lot of time in darkroom, both developing and printing. Some things about 10x8 are already familiar to me, such as camera craft and exposure, and I’ve been happy to continue to practise those. Indeed, I’m enjoying the very precise control that shooting one (large) sheet of film at a time brings. My spot meter is happy to get an outing.
Not everything has been straightforward (I had the same experience with 5x4, so that’s no surprise), and I’ve been learning at every stage. 10x8 is even more demanding than 5x4 physically (you carry more), and if image management is important in 5x4, it is at least as important, if not more so, with 10x8.
The old wisdom says that as the formats gets bigger it’s harder to shoot but easier to print. There’s something in this, and certainly interpreting the tones in big 10x8 contact prints has been a joy. Contact printing itself has, however, not been an easy process. I am starting to see why some darkroom workers still project a 10x8 negative, even to make a 10x8 print. It’s actually a slow and cumbersome process that poses some challenges whilst dodging and burning. The results are steadily appearing however, so I’m still optimistic and excited.
So what of the Intrepid 10x8 camera? I’d like to write a detailed report in the near future, so forgive me for being a little coy for now. Suffice it to say it has already produced some technically excellent negatives and has not let me down in the field (actually, there was one exception to that, on which I will say more later).
The second shot I made was a studio portrait. I wanted to test the camera in a studio situation too (much as I did with the 5x4 version). This was the first negative that revealed the sheer magic of 10x8 for me, although as I’m suggesting, more have followed. I’m going to keep shooting and printing, so as ever I’m working towards the best prints I can make. Watch this space for some new work, as well as that review on the impressive Intrepid Field Camera.
I suppose some might see this as the Achilles' heel of film photography: mistakes can't be erased. Here, I went to open my Leica and realised I hadn't rewound the film. I stopped myself in what seemed like the nick of time. Well, it was for some frames, but not this one here.
How do I feel about this aspect of film photography? I'm philosophical. Sure, I wish this frame had not been fogged, but I see such events as part of the medium. In a sense, the element of danger only adds to the thrill when it all comes together. C'est la vie.
Turn. Turn. Turn. Turn. Put down with a little jolt. Wait.
My hands leave the developing tank and my mind is wandering. I have the time in focus, no question, but I’m starting to think about what I’m doing. I’m starting to see a parallel between developing a film and something else.
Place the record down. Start the platter. Gently run the carbon fibre brush over the record. Lean it forward, lean it back, draw it outwards. Set the needle down. Adjust the volume. Adjust headphones. Adjust the volume again.
Listening to a vinyl record is undoubtedly an act full of ritual. As the old joke goes, vinyl is desirable both for its high cost and inconvenience. That ‘inconvenience’ brings a set of actions that become inseparable from the listening experience. The ritual is inseparable from the listening experience.
I wonder if film is similarly ‘inconvenient’. In the sense that, it demands a series of preparatory actions (in my example, development) that become an integral part of how we experience it. It is frequently said that film photographs feel ‘made’ (and I haven’t mentioned darkroom yet). Preparatory actions become ritualistic. Little rituals we enact that prolong and intensify our experience of a medium. Little rituals we do with our own little touches and personal ways.
Does digital photography involve rituals? Probably, and to some extent. Yet I notice the rituals of my use of film much more readily. Is it an accident that in my parallel vinyl is an analogue medium? It’s hard to see the same pertaining to playing an MP3.
Do analogue lovers have an affinity for ritual? My guess is they do.
To date our customers outside the UK have been charged for shipping. The good news today is that we are scrapping that charge. From now on all prints ship for free, anywhere in the world!
Today I'm launching a new series of prints in my shop called 'pocket money prints'. The premise is very simple: printed to my usual standards with my normal materials, perhaps a little smaller than usual, these prints will share my love of printing at an affordable price. They will be signed according to my normal practice (on the rear) and will come with a certificate of authenticity.
To get the ball rolling, may I introduce you to 'Emerging Alliums'. The image measures roughly 10 x 15 cm and is printed, with a slightly warm tonality, on A4 Hahnemuhle Photo Rag 308 gsm paper. It is priced at £15.00.
More good news for the would-be buyer is that I am scrapping my additional charge for postage outside the UK. The price you pay is therefore fixed at £15.00.
I will be shipping on a first come first served basis.
Today I thought I would share some thoughts with you on a print by John Blakemore entitled 'Lathkill Dale - from Lila’, 1978.
The image measures 17 x 22 cm and has been printed on a 23 x 27 cm (nearly 9 x 11 inches) sheet of fibre based paper. The image is not small, neither is it large; it has ‘stocky’ proportions which creates a sense of presence, perhaps making it look larger than it really is.
At first sight, the print presents as an even swatch of light, mid-grey. A sense of shimmering silver is there too. As the viewer moves closer the print shifts and changes, revealing a more complex tonality and a charming sense of depth and detail. Scanning up and down and from left to right, the viewer realises that there is in fact a quite staggering range of tone, from very near black to sparkling specular highlights. Mini-dramas unfold here and there, separate dioramas vying for the eye’s company.
The central trope of the image is a body of flood water. In his book Black and White Photography Workshop, Blakemore writes of the problems he had with the negative, which suffered from flare at the edges. Due to the temporary nature of the flood, Blakemore couldn’t return to make more exposures, and so had to make do with what he had.
The water is at once reflective and transparent. It is the reflecting reeds and leaves that gives the print its sparkle, reaching up the tonal scale. Yet imprinted on this, in almost ghost-like fashion, is a series of darker reflections. The viewer’s focus shifts back and forth between surface and reflection as the two aspects compete. Neither wins out, and in their interplay lies a wondrous tonal dance. The prints feels alive, shifting, sparkling, drawing one in.
Moving outwards again, a sense of settled, overall grey returns. The dominant tonal evenness reinforces the frame and prevents the eye from falling away. There is a serenity, a peacefulness; a state which belies the miniature dramas within. This is a print I could look at for a long time, and through framing, no doubt will.
I was able to acquire this print through John’s ‘Bargain Box’ which is available on his website here. It is a collection of test and alternative prints that John is kindly offering for sale at a much lower price than his regular work.
For a limited time we are offering a 50% discount on all prints in the shop. Simply use the code 'SPRING50' to claim the offer. You can use it against single or multiple items.
Like one of my images but don't see a print? I can usually accommodate requests for specific images, so get in touch.
Good morning folks.
I've been printing my Pingliang Road image today. I went for an A3+ size to get a measure of the print at a good dimension, although it strikes me this image would lend itself to a much bigger form. Below is a mini photo essay in celebration of this simple but joyful photographic act. I hardly ever tire of seeing an image 'released' onto paper.
There are lots of reasons not to print your work - time, money, storage space and so forth. Perhaps you might like to go against this today, and give your image(s) a well-deserved reincarnation.
I’ve done enough street photography now that I routinely overcome my nerves, although there are times when that familiar flutter in the stomach returns. I recently heard a comedian say that nerves can be turned into a kind of positive energy. I think I do that these days when I remind myself that I’m doing a ‘job’ - the noble job of photography - and that street is a place where the work has to be done. It’s a little mantra and a form of self-permission and motivation. When I’ve captured some frames, my nerves settle down.
Being in China with the 5x4 Intrepid Field Camera, my nerves were very much present. In point of fact, not since my first forays in public with a camera in hand had my nerves been quite so evident. A discomfiting feeling for sure, but also a life-affirming one. My senses were alive and I was all the time reminding myself about what I’d decided to do. I had come to China. I was going to do 5x4.
My nerves were not helped by the proportional nervous and suspicious looks I received from Chinese security guards, at what felt like every ten or so yards. There are a lot of such workers in Shanghai. It helps you to feel safe, but you are being watched.
Looking back, it may have been something to do with my newly purchased plastic Nikon branded tripod. This I had bought over in China, solely for the purpose of shooting with the Intrepid. The plastic beast came with a convenient black carry-case. You know, a sort of roughly ‘gun’ sized case. A case carried by a conspicuous white man who had turned up in busy areas looking nervously at security guards, walkways, entrances, exits and the crowds. Eventually, I learned to bag the case and carry the tripod with some leg extension - so it looked like a tripod. Everybody relaxed.
I didn’t have long to shoot large format in China. I did a fair amount of scouting for locations whilst shooting 35mm, but probably did no more than the equivalent of a day with the Intrepid. I set the camera up fully on three occasions. Each time was quite magical; the locations, light and people around me each a contributing factor.
On the first occasion I drew some modest attention. One gentleman in particular was quite taken with my red-bellowed companion. He stood for some time watching me work, to the point where I began to give a silent tutorial on the shooting procedure. I know not if he wanted that, but it seemed the polite thing to do. The second time I set up the camera I was decidedly braver in my choice of location - I was in a back alley in the suburbs - but I was much more shocked by the reaction of passers-by. There simply was no reaction! I thought I was bound to be approached by the workers who came out of an adjacent building, but no, they walked around me as if I wasn’t there. I chuckled at my self-consciousness.
The last time, on a car park with derelict buildings, a car drove into my shot at the worst time possible. Just when I began my curses, he suddenly reversed away. I was back in the zone when I was interrupted again. This time a joyous ‘CAMERA!’ was shouted in my direction. It was the driver of the car as he triumphantly skipped by. We exchanged smiles and I thanked him silently for respecting the shot. Well, I like to think it was respect.
So what of my experience of using the Intrepid on this trip? And what have I to now add to my original review? Two important things stand out: one is the relative compactness of the camera; the other is that I really hardly noticed the camera at all.
I was conscious of weight and bulk on my trip, a factor that led me to equivocate over whether or not to take the Intrepid. Having solved the tripod issue, I further reduced my load by forsaking my usual Manfrotto backpack. For this generously padded pack, I substituted my thin branded urban rucksack, inside which I placed a light generic camera bag to protect the 5x4. The film holders and darkcloth sat neatly on top. While the fit was a little tight, it did provide the further benefit of being very inconspicuous. With that rucksack on my back, I was truly in urban mode.
To be able to carry a 5x4 camera in such a manner is a real testimony to the design of the Intrepid. My improvised arrangement for China has made me reconsider my normal backpack: I was left with the strong sense that I had previously been carrying more bag than camera. This was a huge plus for me working in an urban environment, but it is of even bigger benefit for those wanting to work in rural and remote locations. If you are not carrying around a lot of film holders or alternative lens choices, weight is not an issue at all.
Setting the camera up and down was a pleasure. I suppose I have now developed enough muscle memory that such actions are smooth and automatic. There really aren’t a lot of adjustments to contend with. For some large format photographers in some situations this will be a problem, but of course, it very much depends on the work you are doing. As I have written before, if you are starting out in 5x4, the Intrepid makes a forgiving companion. It’s a great ‘learning camera’.
This is what I mean by not noticing the camera. At each location I was fully immersed in making the image, and my control of the camera and exposure really did flow. I’m pleased with the images I made given the time I had. Interestingly, I think I was shooting 5x4 while still somewhat in a street photography mode. I elected more than once to include a passerby, chancing my arm with borderline shutter speeds and using my intuition somewhat for compositional placement (after all, you have gone ‘blind’ once the film holder is inserted). This may be suggestive of further personal work; crucially, for the Intrepid, it shows how it can be used quickly and with ease in public locations.
I have one small caveat. I find that the front standard doesn’t ‘lock down’ as fully as I’d like, and is prone to moving around its central tightening screw. I pondered in my original review whether the wooden bottom of the standard would be hard-wearing in the longer term. It’s not the wear that now strikes me as the issue so much as the movement.
Now, this movement might simply be a feature of my own copy of the camera, but my suspicion is that it isn’t. I have just taken possession of the new 10x8 model, and I’ve noticed an addition that solves the issue entirely. They’ve included some small grip pads on the standard’s bottom (think sandpaper stickers and that describes them well). I don’t know whether this is in response to feedback, or simply Intrepid’s ongoing commitment to design refinement at work. Either way, the change is welcome and points to an easy user modification to the smaller 5x4. The front standard on the 10x8 is very solid when tightened.
I certainly fulfilled a personal ambition by shooting 5x4 in China, and you will gather from the tenor of my report that I continue to recommend the Intrepid for such a task. I’m looking forward now to doing some work with the newly arrived 10x8, a whole different challenge again. It’s funny that I’ve been in the habit of referring to my 5x4 as ‘the big camera’. That mantle has been lifted from it by the newly arrived 10x8, a camera that dwarfs it by comparison. The 5x4 looks tiny now, but it isn’t just the size comparison that has left me with that feeling. Using it in China has made me realise just what a compact large format camera it really is.
In this instalment of my Shanghai Travelogue I’ll be looking at the second approach I took to shooting in China, namely with 35mm black and white film. Here, I was very much on home ground: my Leica M6TTL being my camera of choice and Ilford’s HP5 Plus my film. It’s an approach I am intimately familiar with, and, in the spirit of Adams’ quote above, one I enjoy for its simplicity. Waking up in Shanghai, with somewhat more than a pocket’s worth of film in my possession, was indeed a heady experience.
I chose HP5 Plus because I know it and its development routines intimately. Many people begin to ask themselves what equipment they need when travelling to new locations, almost as if they are starting again with their photography. Instead, I prefer (and indeed recommend) familiar equipment and technique. Why change your way of working, just because you are going to be somewhere different? Increasingly, over the past few months black and white has become my preferred style, and films like HP5 Plus have been a mainstay.
The majority of my shots were exposed at 320 with a view to developing them in Perceptol. This is something like my default black and white mode right now. One loses a little speed (hence 320 not ‘box speed’, 400) and development times are long, but for me there is something of a holy trinity of sharpness, good tonality and well-controlled grain. My manual 35mm rangefinder camera allows for a contemplative approach to shooting, but when one is in the flow it also allows for speed of reaction too. Choose an aperture and shutter speed, part focus the lens, and shooting can take place almost instantaneously. I’d wager I give the best autofocus systems a run for their money with my camera so primed.
On a particularly misty day (which you can see in the shots), I decided to shoot at 1600. This flexibility is another virtue of HP5 Plus. It would mean another developer (this time LC29), but gave me a twofold advantage: speed when shooting on the underground trains, and small-ish apertures for street shots in the mist. The grain is somewhat exaggerated at this speed, but I think it complements the mist and was an effect I had visualised at the time. If my pursuit of 320 and Perceptol came from my earlier days of wanting to suppress grain for a cleaner look, my embracing grain at 1600 represents a more mature self who has made his peace with the medium and its quirks. There is beauty in grain. As ever with film, the key thing is to assess the situation in front of you and try to use your knowledge of printing and development to see a finished print in your mind’s eye.
I’ll be looking at my experience of shooting large format film with my Intrepid Field Camera in the next instalment. I hope you enjoy the shots.
I didn't set out to do unboxing videos on this website, but I think there is enough interest in this camera to warrant one. This is an unusual and 'niche' camera, which I'm really excited to receive, and it's a relatively affordable one to boot.
As my body fell in and out of balance to the undulating movements of the Shanghai Metro train, my eyes and brain continued to scan for photographic opportunities. None immediately presented themselves, and so my thinking turned to the next stop and the decisions to be made about my continuing journey.
A man had entered the carriage at the previous stop, and much to my surprise he approached me. When he reached a somewhat uncomfortable proximity, he began to study the camera around my neck. He moved his head around as if his enquiry was of the utmost importance and finally stepped back a little to look me straight in the eyes. “Me: M9”* he forthrightly announced. I smiled as the penny dropped and we stood in a companionable language-less fellow photographer’s silence. The universal language of the small format photographer.
The above encounter, heartwarming as it was, was in no way typical of my experiences of shooting on the streets of China. Up until that point in my travels, I had moved - it felt like - largely as a ghostly figure who had been granted special permission to photograph with impunity. I should be careful not to mistake Shanghai for ‘China’ (the larger entity), and I suppose I should consider the slightly blissful ignorance of the stranger who has no language (I remember well the chagrin of the man on the Paris Metro whom I addressed using the wrong pronoun form). Nevertheless the impression remains: doing street photography in Shanghai was for me a delightful and effortless experience. The Chinese people were curiously indifferent to my photographic posturing (was this the ‘another tourist’ effect?). So it was that I enjoyed the twofold advantage of great freedom, and that freshness of vision that comes from arriving in an unfamiliar land.
During my stay I developed a very high regard for Chinese people. Notwithstanding the danger of generalising (and being mindful of the possibility that as I stranger with no language I simply missed the cusses and negative asides), there is a quiet humour and warmth to the Chinese people that hadn’t come across to me in screen and other media representations. As for any stranger in an unfamiliar place, there were things that were exoctic to me at the start: the face masks, the extension to mind and body in nearly every Chinese person that is the mobile phone, the unquestioned coexistence of fragile human flesh and speeding motorcycle on the pedestrian pavement (and oh, how I nearly met my doom on so many occasions!). And sure, if you are on the Metro, expect to get pushed. Gently pushed, without aggressiveness and with some care, but pushed nevertheless. You are but one of some 1.4 billion people.
On a visual level, Shanghai offers up a heady cocktail for the photographer. The city is enormous, and is dominated by skyscrapers, commerce and competing modes of transport. Naturally, there are plenty of tourist sites, meaning that traditional Chinese styles and customs commingle with the dominant background of modernity. This mixture created a slight tension in my shooting: on the one hand the desire to record visibly ‘Chinese’ culture; on the other my street photographer’s instinct to look for juxtapositions and events that would deliver some social insight. I wanted to avoid making images that were too obviously ‘tourist’ in nature, however, this is in reality difficult to avoid. Not only was I a tourist after all, but I wasn’t about to numb the joy and excitement of my visit with too strict a shooting regime. All in all, I had the equivalent of three full days worth of shooting to work with.
I had decided early on to honour my current work in black and white, and I settled on Ilford’s HP5+ as my primary film. There will be much more about my experiences shooting this in my next post, as well as a final post about the work I did in 5x4. I simply couldn’t resist the draw of colour in China, and, while I did shoot a roll of colour film along the way, I wanted to use my Sony A7II mirrorless camera for this task. I have been making photographs for long enough to remember the somewhat disappointing colour prints I had labs make for me from colour transparencies. My technical know-how and ambitions didn’t stretch beyond these prints at the time, and I have since found a much happier home for my occasional colour work in contemporary inkjet printing. (I suspect I am not alone in this: digital and inkjet have been something of technical revelation for colour work.)
The Sony A7II is a marvellous machine. It is small, packed with technology, and, thanks to an underlying metal chassis, reassuringly solid. The viewfinder is efficient and effective, if not quite the equal of a glass one, and the in-body stabilisation gives a tangible advantage in hand-holding slower shutter speeds. With my Novoflex adapter, I can mount my Leica and Zeiss lenses, and a clever magnification system enables pinpoint manual focussing. My Sony / Zeiss 55 is arguably the most technically accomplished lens I own; it certainly makes a claim to being the sharpest. Built like a tank with a metal focussing ring, it is relatively small and balances superbly on the camera body.
It isn’t quite all roses in the garden of Sony mirrorless, however. Despite the technological array at my fingertips (and being the king of high ISO shooting in my kit), I don’t have quite the same satisfaction in shooting with it as I do my Leica rangefinder. The reasons for this are numerous and warrant a more detailed exploration, perhaps for another occasion. I don’t find the Sony as fluid to use, nor have I entirely gelled with its viewfinder and focussing options. On are more tangible level, the battery life is appalling (a second battery, or more, is a must - I suspect the stabilisation is a huge drain), and I’ll be darned if I don’t turn the aperture wheel the wrong way every time I stop up or down (I’m convinced this is because turning an actual aperture ring is so hard-wired in my brain that I think I’m turning a ring when I turn the wheel - and the direction is wrong!).
A further quirk is worthy of a mention. The camera insists on defaulting to a 1/60 second shutter speed when in aperture priority mode. It almost always does. While there is no doubt a logic behind this, especially given the in-body stabilisation, the problem is that 1/60 doesn’t always work. With my 55mm lens mounted, it is quite in keeping with the old advice to use the reciprocal shutter speed of the focal length. So, 55mm = 1/60. This is, however, somewhat conservative if you are looking for pin-sharp shots. You are much better off with 1/125 second or even faster. The camera might be stabilised, but the world is not. Nor is the body of the street shooter who sometimes puts camera to eye before the muscles can arrest the body’s momentum. I see the results of this in my shots. You don’t always have the luxury of being able to steady yourself properly.
I had a thoroughly enjoyable time doing street photography in China, and I hope this is something that comes through in my images. It’s tempting to make a recommendation about China as a potential destination for photographers, but not everyone shares my perspective and predilections. If you practise street photography, and think you might be coming from a broadly similar perspective as my own, I wager you’d like it. In many respects, Shanghai is a lot like London, Paris, or any other major metropolitan centre. It’s the Chinese visual culture that makes Shanghai special, and experiencing it was a great thrill for this particular western newcomer. I would like to have spent longer in China, and would certainly like to return. For now I’ll be busy processing, printing and savouring the work I did there.
In the next instalment I’ll be presenting my China work on black and white film. I hope you are able to take a look.
* Leica M9 digital rangefinder.
As the aeroplane edged ever closer to its destination in Shanghai, China, I looked across a misty vista of azure blue mountains stacked liked an Appia stage set. In my somewhat dreamy state, I turned over my photography plans and choices for the trip. How was I going to shoot in China? What equipment had I chosen to bring, and were these the right choices?
That I was going to do street photography was in no doubt, and I was resoundingly set on making black and white film shots. My Leica M6TTL rangefinder was a given, and, while I could probably have made the case for other emulsions, I was set on Ilford HP5 plus as a primary 35mm film. In the past I have proclaimed the virtues of travelling with familiar equipment and working methods, and I wasn’t about to turn my back on this principle in China. It is difficult to ignore colour in China, and for this task I planned to turn to my Sony A7II mirrorless camera. A mix of film and digital was an approach that had worked well for me in India, an equally far-away place in my world.
Somewhat less clear cut was my decision to bring my Intrepid 5x4 field camera. Initially I had thought to leave it behind, my substantial Manfrotto tripod being too bulky and heavy to take (the trip wasn’t entirely about photography, and books on so forth needed to be transported). However a certain mischievous Twitter acquaintance* gave me a tempting idea: simply buy a cheap tripod when in China and leave it behind if needs be.
So it was that my Intrepid came to be sitting snugly with my other equipment and film in the overhead locker. I wasn’t sure what it would be like to move stealthily with my Leica on the streets of Shanghai; I was even less sure what it would be like to stand with my red-bellowed wooden friend on Chinese streets meeting head-on the full rigours of 5x4. My thinking started to become a little extreme: a image of a Chinese policeman telling me to pack away my tripod came into my head. I was an obstruction, a danger to Chinese citizens going about their daily business….
I’d like to present, then, a modest three-part series of travelogues recounting my experiences in China. I want to show you my work, give you some insight into my thought processes and shooting choices, and provide what insight I can into doing photography in Shanghai (although, naturally this will be limited in the sense that my trip was but one week long). As the final instalment will be about the Intrepid Field Camera, I see this as an extension to my original detailed review of the camera, a sort of mid-term report, if you will, of the camera’s performance. Early impressions are one thing, but a much more informed (and sometimes different) picture emerges when an item has been used over an extended period. I will be posting some of my images on Twitter throughout this period, so please do look out for them, and I hope you enjoy the coming instalments.
The plan is thus:
Shanghai Travelogue Part 1: Street Photography in China
Shanghai Travelogue Part 2: Enter Ilford HP5+
Shanghai Travelogue Part 3: Using my Intrepid 5x4 Field Camera
*For those of you that know him, I need only say that his true identity is something of a mystery.