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New gallery: Thamesmead

Friday was overcast so I cycled down to Thamesmead. A place of limited colour (other than grey) on the sunniest day, it has an atmosphere of its own: remote from London, poor, famed for bad social housing and (more recently) remarkable levels of fraud.

From a photographic viewpoint, Thamesmead has things to offer. The architecture is predominantly stark and colourless but full of texture. Run-down shops, evangelical churches, forlorn paths and numerous water features abound. For the first time visitor, Thamesmead can be an edgy, dispiriting experience. I’d advise photographers to be as inconspicuous as possible: dress down and don’t linger, especially in and around the estates.

To the shoot, then. I focused on compositional lines and texture and on using the sky to complement the bleak forms of the buildings. Add a dash of documentary to the mix, given the history and notoriety of the place.

Click here to see the Thamesmead gallery

New gallery: return to the Isle of Grain

Gordon and I met on Grain recently to take advantage of some excellent skies and to take the delightful air of north Kent. If you’ve been following this blog, you already know I’ve spent a lot of time there recently.

I brought the Yashicamat, my tripod and a few rolls of Provia 100F for the trip. Determined to improve my metering skills after mistakes last time out, we visited some familiar spots before heading to Grain beach for dusk.

Determining the right exposure for slide film is a skill I’m working on – it’s alien coming from digital photography, and I think experience and ‘feel’ is going to be as important as reading numbers off the meter. Looking at the tiff scans and processed films from this trip, the exposure is variable: sometimes over, sometimes under, sometimes about right. I’m hoping consistency will come with practice.

In the gallery below, I’ve used Lightroom’s ‘B&W Creative – Creamtone’ preset on three images as an experiment. Lightroom 3 has several new presets which I’ll be trying out in due course. Next time out, I’ll be using Provia 400 for the first time.

Click here to see the Isle of Grain photo gallery

New gallery: Isle of Grain

I’ve spent a lot of time over the summer cycling on the Isle of Grain in north Kent. Last weekend, I packed the Yashicamat and tripod to shoot film and shake off the rust – this was my first trip for a while. It’s been very, very dry this year and the landscape is yellow turning white in places. The wheat and onion fields are being harvested, everything’s pale and waiting for rain.

Schoolboy error no.1 – after finishing the film, I realised that I’d been using my meter on reflective, not incidental, mode all day.  Damn, that meant everything was likely to be over-exposed. There was nothing to do but send the film for processing and pray something useful would return. I used the Darkroom in Cheltenham for the first time – the website’s a bit creaky but their service is speedy: I had the film and scans back within 3 days. As I feared, the photos were overexposed by about 2 stops but I let Lightroom work its magic and they came out tolerably (N.B. I got medium-res jpegs from the lab this time, not tiffs, so exposure recovery was limited). In an odd way, the overexposure suits the parched landscape well.

Here are a few examples, with a link to the full gallery below:

Field, pylons, sky

Lipwell Hill
Northward Hill
Derelict barn

Click here to see my Isle of Grain gallery

Summer sabbatical

After completing a photography evening class, reading several books and spending considerable time thinking about the subject in the spring, I felt I needed a complete break – hence the dearth of recent posts.

I’ve been enjoying the good weather, putting a lot of miles on my bike, but am refreshed and ready to start taking pictures again. Late summer/early autumn is my favourite time of year and great for landscape photography in particular.  So look out for new images here soon.

First 120 film scans

I’ve had my first test roll of 120 film (Fujifilm Provia 100F) back from processing – here are some results:

F22, 1/30

F5.6, 1/30

F11, 1/125

F11, 1/125 (yes, it was getting quite dark at this point)

Having seen the results, I’m satisfied that the Yashica is working correctly and coherently with my light meter.  So my next step is to take the camera out and try to capture some more artistic shots.

Click here to see the gallery

Images of the Isle of Grain

Last week I needed fresh air, exercise and photography practice.  So I packed my panniers with tripod and digital camera then caught an early train east to the Isle of Grain, Kent.  Grain’s a good place to get away from London: quiet, nice to cycle around, big skies.

On the way to the train station, this wall made me stop and look, so I reached for the camera:

Now to Grain itself. The early light from 6am to around 7.30am was really nice, then cloud cover gradually spread and sunnier spells were limited, unfortunately.  So I kept moving on the bike and stopped whenever the light improved.

This is a view N from Northward Hill, one of Grain’s highest points:

(NB. I haven’t straightened this yet or removed the barrel distortion, as you’ll have noticed…)

I was trying to use the diagonal sweep from the foreground scrub, through the blossoming trees and ground lines, into the distance.  Colour is muted and the sky is not very striking, though the compositional balance between land and sky seems right.  Worth trying again in more dramatic light and/or weather, perhaps.

Here’s a view W from the same place:

Some colour is introduced by the oil seed rape field and the Portakabins.  The cloud shadow in the middle distance adds something but the flat sky again limits interest, I think.  It was time to move on, so I cycled E/NE to the town of Grain itself on the eastern shore.

View from the coastal path – grey enough for you?

The light and weather were very flat at this point so I thought I’d take some monochromatic photos.  I trundled along the path and tried to capture the texture and lines of the concrete itself:

I like the diagonals drawing the eye towards the water, the muted palette and the contrast of the rippling water below; I’m going to try printing this.

On the theme of concrete, texture and weathering, here are two shots a little further up the path, taken from Grain beach:

I prefer the first (portrait) shot as I think it’s better composed, with the seashells at bottom and the cloudy sky up top; it is also a printing candidate.

Next time I’m going to Grain, I’ll bring the Yashica – it’d be interesting to compare how medium format film captures the last few subjects.

Getting started in medium format photography: equipment

So, the accessories arrived a few days ago.  Here’s the Gossen Lunasix F light meter I purchased from eBay:

Gossen Lunasix F
Gossen Lunasix F

Gossen have thoughtfully archived their old manuals as pdfs on their website so I was able to get this with ease.  I’ve never used a light meter before but it seems quite straightforward in practice.

Here is my Yashica Mat itself:

Yashica Mat
Yashica Mat

and here’s everything cased up:

Your starter for 120

The manual is obviously dated but it’s concisely put together.  The slide film (or ‘E6’ for short) is Fujifilm Provia 100F which I’m using as a control group to begin with.  I’ll be trying and comparing colour negative film later on, if the money doesn’t run out.

First time out

Monday’s weather was tepid spring: the odd sunny spell but mostly overcast, warm in the sun but otherwise cool.  Nonetheless, I was determined to take the TLR out for a trial run so I headed to some local woodland with camera, tripod and meter.

I spent forty minutes walking the woods, looking for shots and analyzing the light.  Then it was time for action.  Tripod out, TLR out of case, meter out – whoops, the cases are on the ground – and so on.  I then composed the shot using the viewfinder on the Yashica Mat which pops up from the top:

Yashica Mat viewfinder
Yashica Mat viewfinder

It’s large, fairly bright and has grid lines (great for me, I’m usually 1/1.5 degrees lopsided).  The viewfinder image is laterally reversed which is weird when you start moving the camera or tripod – it’ll take a while to master.  There’s a magnifying glass you can pop down for precise focusing.  I found myself really taking time to get the composition right, metering the scene several times (I have not put the Zone System into practice yet – all in good time).

It’s not digital – I took four photographs in around two hours.  Ok, it was my first time so everything took longer than it should.  Still, when you have the cost of film and processing in the back of your mind, you do your best before you press the shutter.  There’s also an element of “Hmm, is that idea really worth setting up for?”.

When I finish the roll, I’ll have it developed straight away to verify the exposures and make sure everything is working as it should.  I’m noting shutter speed and aperture for each shot as I go.  I’ll have some results to share before too long.

Back to the old school: first steps in medium format photography

Last week I bought an old medium format film camera, a Yashica Mat TLR (Twin Lens Reflex) made sometime between 1957-1971.

Yashicamat TLR


Image quality – this camera takes 120 film, a format Kodak created around 1902.  TLRs are most associated with the Rolleiflex brand but it’s a little more complex than that (here’s a great summary). You get 12 shots a roll and the negatives measure 6cm x 6cm. The total film surface area is much larger than 35mm: 3136 versus 864 (click here for an excellent summary).  Larger negatives offer finer image quality with superior saturation, tonality and detail through capturing more information through the lens.  The lens on this particular model (Yashica made many over several decades – see here for details) is a Yashinon 80mm F3.5.

Fit for purpose – I’m interested in landscape photography in available light and I’m trying to get better.  In two weeks’ time, I start a 10-week tutored portfolio course (of which more soon) and I’ve been reading books on the history of photography, and on landscape photography in particular.  I’ll be shooting digitally (Nikon D40) for the portfolio project but during the course I’ll certainly be practising with the TLR.  I think medium format has real potential if I can get things right behind the camera.

It’s not digital – the TLR should be a useful counterpoint to my digital habits as it’s so different.  Whilst it’s hard to take technically poor photos with today’s digital cameras – their ease-of-use and economy are great – they can encourage sloppy habits.  With digital, you’re shooting at no real cost and you know you can trash all rejects later; therefore, it’s natural to (even unconsciously) take less care making the photographs themselves.

The completely manual operation of a TLR – bring a light meter, set the shutter speed and aperture, crank the film advance – and the expense of film (and processing it) perhaps makes for a more frugal and careful photographer – we’ll see.  Though I expect to use the TLR in a considered way, mostly with a tripod, TLRs can of course be used handheld and they were used by press photographers before the ascent of 35m SLRs.

Sergeant Karen M. Hermiston of the Canadian Women’s Army Corps, 1944 (Library and Archives Canada)

What next?

I have 5 rolls of Fuji Provia 100F slide film (E6) for starters, and a batch of Provia 400X on the way.  So when my light meter arrives tomorrow, I’ll be ready to take the Yashica Mat outdoors.  The forecast this weekend looks decent too.