New gallery: Patmos

I spent two weeks on Patmos last month. It’s a small Greek island in the Dodecanese chain, chiefly associated with John of Patmos, the reputed biblical author of the Book of Revelation or Apocalypse. Patmos is arid but beautiful, blessed with a fine climate and endless light.

Though I packed a digital SLR, it didn’t see much use – the Yashicamat came first. I brought my usual slide film (Fuji Provia 400) and some print film (Fuji Reala 100) for the first time. Daily temperatures around 31 degrees Celsius (88 degrees Fahrenheit) had shooting at dawn and dusk most days, avoiding the harsh light and heat of midday.

Patmos was created volcanically around 7 million years ago; its topsoil is loose and has the texture of Granola, crumbling beneath your feet as you scramble around. Arriving on location pre-dawn, I fell over more than once whilst clambering with my tripod and camera equipment in the dark. At dawn, the window of great light lasted around 15 minutes so it was essential to have shots pre-visualised and locations scouted beforehand.

The ‘Rock of the Apocalypse’ shots were made at dawn in Petra bay. The shoreline at Petra (Greek πέτρα, literally ‘rock’) has a tangible volcanic rim shape and the bay is dominated by a large rock of geological and historical interest. The rock contains grottoes inhabited by early Christians and, according to a controversial theory outlined by an Austrian lady I met, it may have been be the cave site of John of Patmos. This theory is of course regarded as errant by the Orthodox monks managing the ‘official’ cave and fortress monastery at Chora. History aside, the rock formation is very sculptural and makes an excellent photographic subject.

Boulders, wiry plants and rocky outcrops drew my gaze on Patmos. The hillsides at Grikos turned fiery at dawn (see ‘Hillside at Grikos II’) and came out rather over-saturated in print film (which is already sensitive to red) so I adjusted this in Lightroom. Comparing C41 (print film) and E6 (slide film) results from this trip, C41 shots like ‘Massey Ferguson, Grikos’ have more muted tones and smoother contrast. The E6 Grikos harbour images have a different look altogether, something I can best describe as ‘glassy’.

Click here to see the Patmos gallery

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.

The photographic workbook of Douglas McCarthy