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Wednesday, May 8

Entropy, Fotospeed and the meaning of warmth

Entropy: a process of degradation or running down or a trend to disorder

Entropy is a fascinating thing. Basically, in the sense I'm meaning it here, there is only one orderly state and entropy is the movement away from that state towards a near infinitude of others. That always means a move towards less order. It's a way of explaining to teenagers why they have to put in regular effort to make sure their bedroom remains reasonably tidy. It also explains why your house needs maintenance from time-to-time.

I've just started printing again after quite a lay-off and I'm finding that entropy, of a sort, seems to be playing a role in what I'm producing. In my view, there is a kind of printing entropy. There is only one perfect print but a near infinitude of ways of producing a less than perfect print. Rather than just zeroing in on the perfect print and getting on with the rest of my life, I seem drawn to exploring all the ways I can produce the flawed versions. It's doing my head in somewhat.

It's a common enough position for me to find myself in after a break from printing. Years back, I considered myself to be a pretty decent printer but now it takes me a few sessions to get my eye in. I'm not there yet after a darkroom hiatus lasting about six months. I've had quite a few annoying disasters in recent days. So near and yet so far with some prints, too. There have been a few 12x16 prints that I thought were spot on only for something to reveal itself once I'd taken them out of the fixer for viewing. Frustrating isn't the word, especially when one of those "not quite" prints is the last one of a particular printing session. 

To be honest, the print shown here wasn't too bad from that point of view. It's my shot of Allonby that appeared a couple of weeks ago. The earlier version was a scan from the 120 negative. It was easy to make a few clicks in Photoshop and get it looking pretty much the way I wanted. It's a lot harder in the darkroom.

The first test strip (above) was to get a basic exposure for the house that's the main point of interest in the image. That was easy enough but you'll notice that there's hardly any detail in the sky or foreground when the exposure for the house is about right.That means some burning in and the house breaking through the horizon means this is likely to be a tricky operation.

The artful dodger. Not exactly Silver Efex Pro, is it?

I decided a mask was necessary to shield the house when I was giving the extra burn in time. Some people go to great lengths to produce a very accurate mask - effectively an exact outline of the house and the area to be held back - but my experience is that this can be a very time-consuming and pernickety affair. One way of doing this is to put two piles of books either side of the easel, rest a piece of card over them and trace the outline of the house, in this case, onto it. This is accurately cut out and carefully positioned the same way when it comes to making the print.

Have you heard of the Scottish reputation for precision engineering?

I don't have the patience for that so I did a rough and ready mask, holding the card in place with my left hand and scribbling the outline of the house onto it with my right. This was hacked out with a pair of scissors. No precision job this: just something to ritualistically wave about. As long as the card is kept on the move this is normally a reliable way of burning in a sky without making it too obvious.

The second test strip (above) gave me an exposure for the sky and foreground and I set to the print with mask in hand. That's the result below.

You'll see that the right hand side of the sky is quite a bit lighter - that's where the sun was - so that necessitated another test strip (below) on the right hand side to see if I could get a time to balance up the sky.

That's the final print, which worked out not too badly, at the top of the post. The two sides of the sky are fine and the mask has done a reasonable job. There's a little bit of sky overspill onto the roof of the house but not as much as you might think. If you have a look at the house exposure test strip you can see that the front roof line is in reality quite a bit darker than the slates further down which gives the impression that it's been darkened more in the burning in than is actually the case.

On the technical side, this was a Delta 100 negative from the Rollei SL66E, developed in Fotospeed FD10. The print was made on Fotospeed's RCVC glossy paper and developed in their WT10 warm tone developer. The print - it's about 11x11 inches - is too big for my flatbed scanner so it had to be scanned in two halves and stitched together in Photoshop so if you see a couple of pixels somewhere that don't line up exactly you'll know why.

The Fotospeed paper is OK and pretty much like other RC paper I've used. Which means that it just doesn't feel, handle or look like fibre-based and I don't think I'll be going down the resin coated route again. I wanted to try the combination of the paper and WT10 to see how warm the print would be having read good things about it. Print tones are nearly always very subtle but I scanned the print in colour to give you an idea of the warmth that can be achieved.

It would be possible to produce a slightly warmer print than this by diluting the developer more and warming it up a little beyond the usual 20c. Fotospeed say it can be diluted at 1+9, 1+19 and 1+29 with the weaker solutions resulting in more warmth but, obviously, capable of producing fewer prints before exhaustion. I started off at 1+19 but didn't feel I was getting a good black despite sticking to Fotospeed's time and temperature suggestions. I switched to 1+9 and things improved.

The Fotospeed paper is one of the few RC papers that will tone readily in selenium and this might be an easier way of warming up the image. I haven't used selenium for a long time, though, and never much liked it's toxic nature. It's OK if used sensibly but the fumes at stronger dilutions are such that, not having an air extraction system above my wet bench, I'd only be comfortable using it outdoors.

I'd rather go down the Bill Schwab/Michael Kenna route to achieve greater warmth. They lightly bleach the highlights and bathe them in a weak sepia toner which just warms them up without any of the over-the-top effects associated with sepia. They also tone them in selenium afterwards but what do they know. For an idea of how subtle the various print tones are with the Fotospeed paper, the first print below is the colour scan and the one beneath it a greyscale scan

Overall, then, not a bad effort as far as the Allonby print is concerned. But you should have seen some of the subsequent prints from that session. Or, rather, it's better that you don't. Talk about print entropy...

Sunday, April 28

Lochee Burn - part two

What's left of New Mill with the addition of some more modern farm
buildings in the background. Taken on the Rollei 2.8F and HP5.

The previous Lochee Burn post left with a photo showing the end of the "den" part of Denhead of Gray. This one starts with the old mill, ironically called New Mill, that's situated where the den gives way to somewhat more open countryside.

Here's a quick map (from 1859) or "locator graphic" as an editor I worked for once called it to, thankfully, massive derision from the assembled cynical hacks. X marks the point where the burn breaks ground. Y is where the last pic on the previous post was taken. Z is the spot where I was standing to take the photograph above.

This post is mainly concerned with the passage of the burn between points 1 and 2. The dark blue burn coming from the left to meet point 2 is the Fowlis Burn. The light blue burn heading south from point 2 is the Invergowrie Burn, made up of the Lochee and Fowlis Burns. For those of you with a curious nature, there isn't a great deal of interest between points Z and 1 but I've yet to walk the course of the burn there so I might stumble upon a pic or two worth taking in the future.

With the scene hopefully set, we'll get underway at point 1. From here down to its confluence with the Fowlis Burn, the Lochee stream runs through some lightly wooded land, skirting the western boundary of a hotel and a couple of houses.

The burn is open to the sky for a short stretch before it dives into some trees once again. The fence on the right in the pic above has been erected by builders who are in the process of throwing up a large housing development. This photograph and the ones that follow were taken on the Rollei SL66E loaded with Delta 100. Please take the time to click on the pics to see the full size image. The 6x6 format and Delta 100 capture a lot of detail which you'll only see when the pics are allowed to breathe.

Running parallel to the right of the burn in the pic immediately above is a bit of engineering that must have served a purpose at one point but I haven't yet been able to find out what that was. It seems obvious water was once diverted into these channels but there's no sign of any of the mill buildings that I would have expected to find in the area had that been the case.

Further on there's a large walled-off area extending to around an acre that is still squelchy underfoot and seems to have been a pond at some point in the past.

The stretch of water furthest away in the image above is the start of the Invergowrie Burn. In the foreground is the Fowlis Burn coming in from the right. Out of sight to the left is the Lochee Burn. "Confluence" seems such a big word for the coming together of two piddling, wee burns which give up their very existence to make a third piddling, wee burn.

The pic above was shot on the 40mm Distagon on the SL66E. I'm standing on top of a stone slab (bridging the Fowlis Burn) just to the left of the shooting position in the previous pic. The Lochee Burn is running diagonally on the right hand side of the image.

After a couple of visits, I began to feel that I'd probably taken most of the interesting photographs that I could find along the burn so I looked out the early 1900s Sonnar lens I can use on the SL66E to see if it would impart a different look to the images. I was very surprised to find just how different similar scenes to those above looked through the Sonnar. Those pics will be the subject of the next post on the Lochee Burn.

This is proving to be an interesting project and quite a challenge. The scenery surrounding the burn is quite chaotic, almost entropy in action. There's a mad jumble of overgrown undergrowth (is that even a thing?) along most of the burn's length. Access to the waterside is topographically restricted in many spots. Along the length of the "den" part of the river's course (between points X and Y on the map), only the right bank is accessible as the opposite one rises up very steeply.

Trees and branches grow in all directions with no pattern or orderliness. Sneaky wee brambles hide in the rough grass biding their time before they spring into action and ensnare shoes, socks, trousers and, worst of all, flesh in their spiteful grasp.

The photographic problem is trying to capture the chaos but in a way that makes some sense of it all. With the spring buds now bursting into leaf, will this extra greenery make it easier or harder to tame the jungle?

The old Sonnar looking quite at home on the front of
the SL66E

Thursday, April 25

North Pennines

Necessity, as the saying goes, is the mother of invention. We found ourselves facing a sorry situation that required some creative thinking and found the solution in ... drum roll, please ... a caravan. My opinion of caravans is pretty much the same as Jeremy Clarkson's: I don't necessarily want to fire missiles at them or drop them off a cliff but they do tend to get in the way a bit if you're on a single carriageway road and get stuck behind one. And yet, here we are, caravanners.

So how did this happen? It's quite simple, really. Cath and I can't get a holiday together because of our three, needy dogs. We've nobody to look after them and they're too neurotic to survive a spell in a kennel. Cath goes abroad in the summer for some sun with a pal and our daughter, Freya, while I stay home and mind the hounds. So we hit upon the idea of a caravan where we could enjoy a change of scenery in the company of our bichon frise pests.

Not really wanting to tow it all over the place, we decided to put the caravan on a site for the year and picked a lovely, out-of-the-way spot near Haltwhistle, the geographical centre of Britain and ten minutes from Hadrian's Wall. I sort of steered Cath in that direction as I knew there was plenty to photograph. It's 40 minutes from the east coast, the same from the west and a bit less from the Lake District. What I didn't know was just how cold and wet the North Pennines were! There are three particularly cold areas of Britain and where we have the caravan just happens to be one of them.

We've only spent a week or so at the caravan over two visits and the overnight temperature has yet to creep above zero. One morning we woke to a tapping sound on the roof. I went to investigate and found overnight snow had bent some branches down and the wind was knocking them against the caravan. Still, we survived. I lost a couple of fingers to frost bite but, thankfully, not the right forefinger I use to click the shutter so I'm good.

I'm just finding my way about the area and haven't had much time for photography yet but one of my goals is to never point a lens at Cuddy's Crags, the classic, everybody's-done-it shot of Hadrian's Wall. As much as I like Don McCullin's landscapes, even he was tempted to offer up yet another version of the crags. I wonder what the point of it is.

McCullin's shot of Hadrian's Wall.

It's just like Bryce Canyon and the black sand beaches in Iceland: where one goes with some success, thousands follow, all desperate to take the same or a similar image. I imagine people must see a shot they admire - we'll stick with Hadrian's Wall - and say to themselves, "Cracking pic! I'm going to go to Cuddy's Crags, find the spot from which it was taken and do the same thing. Then I can show it to my mates and hope they haven't seen the one that inspired me and they'll think it's all my own work. Result!"

The tripod holes must be so deep in some of these places by now that it will soon be impossible to extricate the old three-legged friend once the photograph has been taken. Perhaps the local tourist authority could do the backs of unimaginative landscape photographers a favour by cementing basic but sturdy tripods to the ground at the more popular views. Weld an honesty box to the tripod and they're done.

There's a difference between slavishly copying prior work and drawing inspiration from it. I'm trying to stick with the latter as far as possible. So no Cuddy's Crags shot from me. Ever. However, I have to admit that I did follow in the footsteps of one of my favourite photographers, Raymond Moore, and had a day trip to Allonby on the Solway coast. If we're being strictly accurate, I suppose Ray followed in my footsteps when he went to Allonby as I was there on a family holiday in about 1968 and his pics date from the 1970s and '80s. So there!

I had two reasons for returning - firstly to see if I could find the seafront holiday cottage we stayed in and to find some of the scenes Ray photographed. I quickly found that I love Allonby as much as Ray did. It's such a quirky place, oddly laid out and photogenic in that melancholic, seasidey way. If I come into a lot of money I'm going to buy Ray's disputed collection (a wrangle over ownership or something means his life's work is confined to a storeroom somewhere and seldom sees the light of day), open the Raymond Moore Gallery in Allonby and have a permanent exhibition of his work there, along with that of other northern photographers.

Here's a couple of Ray's from Allonby:

Both are from the Golden Fleece website, which is a great place to learn all about Ray and his work. I found the first of these scenes quickly enough - it's on the main road through the village - but I'm not sure if I found the second.

The first, from my iphone:

The second one has the same house name "Seychelles" as in Ray's pic but the house looks different. It's possibly just been extended in some way. What they do have in common, apart from the name plate, is the wall with pebbles embedded in cement around the coping stones.

And the cottage we stayed in all those years ago? It's still there - pretty sure it's the one in blue - and still seems to be a holiday let:

Rather than look for Ray's tripod holes - he never seemed to use one anyway so that would have been "pointless" - I used the location for some inspiration and took this pic on the Rollei SL66E.

I saw a different image to this one. I really wanted to shoot from the bottom of the road you can see in the foreground, right up its length to the house at the top. I envisioned a long silvery road, lit up by a stormy sky, punctuated by the building at its end. That would have needed something like a 500mm lens on the SL66E, though, and the longest I have is a 250mm so I had to improvise a bit.

Next visit to the caravan, probably next month, I'll be straight back to Allonby for some good, old walkabout photography. No tripod and big SL66E - just a portable 35mm outfit.

I did take a pic of Hadrian's Wall when I was last down there but you have to look hard to see it. I've been driving down every side road to see what's at the end of it and whether there's an unusual view of the wall. I quite liked the one below which offered a nice compositional trick of an old dry stone dyke leading to Hadrian's Wall running along the top of the hill.

The light was changing all the time as I stood shivering in the cold beside the tripod. Now and again I could see a hill walker or two passing the gap on the left. Eventually, the light and the walkers both arrived at the right time. This was another shot using the SL66E's 250mm Sonnar.

Here's another couple of the wall, both taken on the Konica Hexar AF during our first visit. The first one persuaded me to stop taking the obvious images and look for something a little different. It's OK but I've seen loads of shots like this of the wall and I'm sure you have, too.

The one below has the wall going over the hill-top just to the left of centre but it has the same sort of look to it. That was one of the reasons I took the SL66E with me for the second visit: I thought the square format would force me to look for less obvious compositions instead of the wall coming in from the right or left side of the frame and snaking off into the distance.

Finally, here are a few North Pennine scenes which will give you an idea of the sometimes bleak landscapes you can find there. Personally, I love it but they might be too spartan for some tastes. They were taken on the 250mm Sonnar, the 80mm Planar and the 150mm Sonnar respectively.

I've asked the question often enough before but how do people manage with one lens? The photographs I see come in all shapes and sizes and there's no way I could capture them with just, say, an 80mm lens on the camera. It would certainly make life easier if I could as the SL66E and three or four lenses are a bit of a killer when it comes to carrying them and a tripod over a hill.

I think future trips will involve working with the SL66E out of the back of the car and a nice, light but versatile 35mm outfit when I feel like going for a stroll alongside the wall. Either way, the opportunity to explore an entirely new landscape and one that offers such variety has come at just the right time for me as I was definitely starting to run out of ideas in my own backyard.

Tuesday, April 16

The Lochee Burn

It's hardly a raging torrent at the wettest of times and for much of the year it's little more than a gentle stream just a foot or two wide in places. And yet, the Lochee Burn, which only appears above ground nowadays over a 500-600 yard stretch, is what made the community of Lochee in my home town of Dundee a possibility.

Lochee was once a separate village from the rest of the town, a hard-working, rough-about-the-edges settlement a few miles to the west populated largely by Irish immigrants fleeing the potato famine. It's local nickname was Little Tipperary, which tells you all you need to know.

It grew up around the eye of a small loch. Lochee actually comes from Loch-eye, "ee" being the Scots for "eye". Feeding into the loch was the Lochee burn which actually broke ground as a spring about a mile-and-a-half to the east.

Before the arrival of the Irish, Scots had built a settlement around the loch, a gaggle of basic, thatched houses, probably with earthen walls and floors. When the weaving industry made an appearance, a couple of small mills opened with the burn proving useful for powering the odd water wheel.
A Dutch family by the name of Cox, which later built the world's largest jute complex in Lochee, were the movers and shakers behind this fledgling industry. In the early 1800s they had a mill and a large home in a countryside location near the original Lochee settlement in an area called Denhead of Gray. An adjacent row of cottages with unusual red-tiled roofs also housed a butcher, a tailor, a shoemaker and, inevitably, a pub.

This little community was doing fine until a big fire destroyed the mill and the Cox family home in about 1818. The family moved to a spot a couple of miles away called Foggyley and built another mill that developed over the decades into the spectacular Camperdown Works, the aforementioned world's biggest jute factory.

An attempt was made to keep the weaving community intact at Denhead of Gray but it proved fruitless. The Foggyley mill attracted labour eastwards and houses were built between the rural location and the Cox family's new business, transforming Lochee into a linear development along the path of the burn.

Camperdown Works had it's own elevated railway line and a pillar of one of the bridge supports was built over the spring that gave rise to the Lochee Burn. Until the mid-1800s, Lochee's water supply consisted of a whole series of springs in private gardens and ground which were fine for most of the year but which had a tendency to run dry in summer since they were all drawing from the same source. The Lochee Burn spring became one of two permanent public wells that provided year round water for the local community and ended the droughts and the occasional outbreaks of disease that could accompany them.

In the 1800s, the burn ran alongside roads and provided drinking water for horses. Then, as Lochee developed, it began disappearing underground in a series of culverts. Of course, there's an awful lot more to Lochee's history than I can cover here but maybe that's enough to put you in the picture. If we fast forward from this history lesson to the present day, the burn is now entirely hidden until it breaks ground at Denhead of Gray.

When I was a boy, my dad used to take my brother and I for a run into the countryside in his Morris Minor and would often use the road through Denhead of Gray as a short cut. In the 1980s, this "entrance" to the den became part of an industrial estate and was closed to traffic. The den is largely hidden from view now by commercial buildings and people new to the area will most likely be unaware of its existence. Amazingly, I'd never been back to the den until just a few weeks ago.

Cath and I were walking the dogs in the estate when I found a path going down to what I realised was the old road our family used to travel along. It brought back a lot of memories and I knew there and then that I had to make it into a wee project.

One of the nice things about film photography for me is that I get to obsess over which camera format to use for these projects along with the film and developer. It can be a lot of fun deciding which outfit would be most suitable.

Anyway, I decided that it was time to give the big Rollei SL66E an airing and, since I'd be using a tripod, the slowish Ilford Delta 100 was the film of choice. Fotospeed's FD10 was an unknown quantity with this film but, no matter, as it's good stuff and has to be used up. I'm happy to report that Delta 100 and FD10 are a match made in heaven. Sharpness and grain are what you'd expect of Delta 100, which is to say very good, but the tonality is terrific.

Seldom have I had negatives that look so good. Shadow detail is excellent, highlights are where you'd want them to be and there's just a "flow" to the contrast throughout the tonal range, a sort of smooth progression of tones in all the right places. Lovely stuff. With some films, the contrast range might be quite high but it's all from the extreme ends of the scale: in between can still look flat in areas. Not so with Delta 100 and FD10. I wouldn't call it micro-contrast but just, to re-use my earlier words, terrific tonality.

Fotospeed's instructions don't cover many films, to be honest, but they do provide some useful information. There are times for 1+9 and 1+14 dilutions and also for low and high contrast negatives to match condenser and diffusion enlargers respectively. Since I'm always fighting low contrast negatives because of the weather I like to photograph in and, given the overcast day on which I started the project, I opted for the high contrast time.

I'm glad I did as the den through which the burns flows is heavily wooded and there was very little light underneath the tree canopy. The lighting was about as flat as I'm ever going to encounter but you'd never know it from the negatives.

The SL66E proved a good choice as well. The 40mm Distagon, equivalent to about 22mm, was very handy along the confined spaces of the river bank and a little bit of lens tilt, a feature of the Rollei, helped secure front-to-back sharpness when using the 80mm Planar, although it can, if you're not careful, cause some unsharpness towards the top of the frame where overhanging branches might be lurking.

The photographs on this post follow the passage of the burn towards the sea from the point where it breaks ground to the end of the small, wooded valley that is the "den" in Denhead of Gray. Beyond that, there are the remains of an old mill and just another few hundred yards of water. None of the photos in this post is anything special on its own but, together, I think they provide an accurate depiction of the relative insignificance, at least visually, of a burn that played such an influential role and the overgrown and neglected air of the den.

The project has grown a little since my first couple of visits. I've since shot a roll or two with the Rolleiflex 2.8F TLR and HP5, a nice film with FD10 but not as good as the Delta 100. I also dug out an early 1900s Sonnar lens from an old folding camera, which can be fitted to the SL66E via an adapter, to see if it might impart a different look to the burn and its surroundings. It certainly does but these images can wait for a follow-up post as this one is already long enough.

I also have some pics of the burn further on in its travels where it joins forces with the Fowlis Burn to become the Invergowrie Burn, a minor tributary of the River Tay. And, to complete the burn's story, I'll be going back to photograph the railway bridge pier at Camperdown Works where the spring emerges, although I might do this at night to give it a bit of atmosphere. So, if all of this is your sort of thing, look out for another couple of posts in the near future.

Who'd have thought that a chance detour whilst out with the dogs would have led to an interesting series of photographs and the chance to do a bit of research and learn more about an area I've known since childhood without ever really knowing it at all.

Wednesday, February 27

Placing the V&A in context

‘Dundee’s setting is probably more extraordinary than any other city in the UK. It is about as ideal – ludicrously ideal – as any setting could be.’

Those are the words of actor, comedian and writer Stephen Fry, not exactly my favourite "celebrity" but, still, he got it right on that score. Dundee sits on Scotland's longest river and the one with the largest flow of any in Britain, the Tay.

The city's waterfront was once a jumble of old docks, sheds, 19th century buildings and atmosphere - it had the last in spades. Then came the 1960s, in my opinion the worst decade of the lot. Anything old was torn down to make way for some of the ugliest architecture man has ever devised, really brutal, disgusting buildings that shame their "architects" who were so obsessed with fashion that they threw style out of the window.

This aesthetic defenestration seemed to hit Dundee harder than most cities of its size and it left the place looking a right mess for decades. This partly contributed to a reputation for being a "hard" place, something Phil Rogers likes to exaggerate out of all proportion as he plots his escape to the safer streets of downtown Mogadishu.

Slowly, however, Dundee is regaining the confidence of old, helped by a £1 billion regeneration of the aforementioned waterfront, the star of which is Kengo Kuma's V&A design museum which opened last year.

The V&A has proved to be a very popular attraction with hordes of tourists visiting it over the winter months since its opening. I didn't poke my nose around the front door until last week, though, preferring to let a bit of the fuss die down so I could have some peace and quiet to take it in.

I needn't have bothered waiting as it was still bethronged by thronging multitudes. It was nice to see the venture doing well but, to be honest, there isn't a lot to interest me within its striking walls. "Design" isn't my thing - fabrics, furniture, that sort of thing. If I want that there's always Ikea. Haha. I love the exterior of the building and the inside is nice as well but it's unfortunate that I found the people there a lot more interesting than the exhibits.

I'd have loved for part of it to have been kept as Scotland's Photography Museum along the lines of the Bradford media museum. I never get to see any famous exhibitions unless I can be bothered travelling a hundred miles or three. An international class venue on my doorstep would have been fantastic but it seems there's more demand for Charles Rennie Mackintosh than David Douglas Duncan - or at least that's what the V&A thinks. I beg to differ.

St Paul's Cathedral seen between the exit ramps from the road bridge.

A couple of tourists enjoying a riverside stroll in the winter sunshine.

Anyway, the point of this post is that I had a couple of hours to spare and decided to have a walk along the waterfront past the V&A to see if I could capture a different image of it from those I've seen online. Most of the pics I've noticed have been garish, over-saturated digital things. That's not an indictment of digital photography so much as it is a criticism of the taste of some of the people behind the pixel capturers. But then, no doubt they'd think my pics are under-saturated - and I can't argue against that!

I shot off a roll of HP5 but there weren't too many interesting images. Some looked more like straightforward record shots of the V&A, which is what they were I suppose. I've included a couple of the more interesting ones in this post along with a couple of boring ones. Your task is to figure out which is which.

The first pic on this page was a grab shot and the last exposure on the roll. I had the Contax 137 MA with me and had been checking out this view of the museum through a 100mm Sonnar lens but wasn't sufficiently moved to click the shutter.

Then, just after I'd put everything away in my bag, I saw the plane heading for the airport which lies further west along the Tay. I just managed to get the camera to my eye using the focus and exposure setting I'd been toying with earlier and take a single shot. The composition was a bit rushed as a result. That's the full frame below. It's not too bad but I prefer the more dramatic crop at the top of the post.

The second pic of the V&A places it between Dundee's two bridges. The bridge in the background is the rail bridge whilst the top half of the frame is filled with the underside of the road bridge. The rail bridge - proper name, The Tay Bridge -  fell down with great loss of life in 1879 when its central supports failed in a storm and a train heading to Dundee plunged into the icy water. Incidentally, I happened to be on a train heading in the opposite direction exactly 100 years to the day later and remember wondering what the chances were of lightening striking twice, so to speak. Fortunately, it didn't and I'm here to tell the tale. The road bridge, for the sake of completion, opened in 1966 - the same year, apparently, that England won some some small football tournament in their own backyard.

This view of the V&A shows the ship's bow profile that the architect was keen to pick up on, given Dundee's shipbuilding heritage and the fact it's right next to Captain Robert Falcon Scott's RRS Discovery, built just a few hundred yards away in the city's docks by the Dundee Shipbuilding Company. Scott's Terra Nova ship, which conveyed him to Antarctica for his final, ill-fated voyage, was also built at the yard.

I tired pretty quickly of trying to do something clever with the museum and poked a lens - the same Sonnar - at the road bridge instead. It was a lovely afternoon and the water was very calm and reflective - a bit like myself on that day. A weak sun was shining on the water but in a very subtle way - you can just see its presence around the pier of the road bridge and the supports of the rail bridge in the background in the pics below.

The first of these was the one I "timed" best. I took about 15 shots in total of various vehicles crossing the bridge but it was tricky capturing them at just the right place. That place was squarely atop the pier and the only one that was spot on was the photo featuring a single deck bus. There's a nice reflection of the sun on the top of the bus.

Now, if I could have grabbed a pic of the double deck bus in exactly the same spot I'd have been happy but, as you can see below, I was just a little too hasty with the old trigger finger. The pic doesn't appear well-balanced to me but it's not too bad I suppose. 

I should say a little bit about the film and developer here. It was HP5 done in Fotospeed's FD10. The combination is very nice in my opinion. In fact, it's the best I've managed to get HP5 to look. The negatives were tonally on the money and grain is well controlled. I've found that grain can sometimes get a little out of hand with HP5 but it's just where I'd like it to be with FD10,

I'd been meaning to try FD10 for a while as I had a hunch it might be what I was looking for. It's cheap for a start! I'd actually been put off by the experience of a FADU member who had problems with it but the more I read the more I realised those issues were peculiar to that individual and almost certainly, in my opinion, user error. I'm glad I decided to give it a whirl.

Tuesday, February 19

The Forgotten Mists

Here are a few images that slipped under the radar when I was writing my last post - just forgot all about them. They were an early attempt - I think it was at the start of the year - to give myself a shake photographically speaking and get on with things. I'd just dropped Cath off at work and decided to stop off at a local public park and golf course to see how it looked in the early morning mist. I wasn't really in the mood but I do like a bit of fog and it proved a worthwhile exercise.

The picture above is my favourite from the day. I love the pose the golfer has struck whilst following his pal's drive to its final resting place. I'd watched this photo developing over a few minutes as I stood on an adjacent football pitch. It was the big tree in the foreground, which seemed to be framing the winter tee perfectly, that first caught my eye. So I was in position with the Nikon F90x and an 85mm lens waiting for the lads to finish their putting before driving off.

The photo of the woman walking underneath the goal posts was another slow burn pic that I could see coming a mile off. She had a dog with her but it managed to hide itself in the undergrowth at just the wrong time. Yet another case of dogs not doing what I want them to - now, if only she'd had a pet seagull...

My second favourite shot from the roll was the rural junction (below) all busy with road markings, signs and telegraph poles. It reminds me a bit of a couple of Ray Moore images - if I can get away with saying that. These shots are all about the placement of the various elements within the frame. Sometimes you have a measure of control over them, depending on how they're sited and how much room you have to move around without losing the overall composition, and sometimes the smallest shift in viewpoint ruins things. I had just a little room to manoeuvre.

The pic was taken at the wonderfully-named Tullybaccart, a spot five miles or so from the western outskirts of Dundee. I've been going there since I was boy and it feels like home. The road rises to this point as you leave the city and then drops beyond it as you enter the countryside leading to Coupar Angus.

My mum and dad cycled out this way regularly in the late 1940s. A quarter of a mile beyond Tullybaccart is a hidden spring a short distance from the road where they would scoop up some water for a brew on an old Primus stove. There's an old and very handy bridge next to the spring beneath which they'd shelter if it had turned windy or wet.

My mum's 88 now and every time we pass Tullybaccart it triggers the old memories and she retells stories I've heard countless times - like how she never shared the work on their tandem on the way up to Tullybaccart but liked to pretend she was giving it the beans on the way down. She was actually sitting patiently in the car when I took the pic.

Finally, a shot that required a little bit of Photoshop trickery to get it to where I wanted it to be. It was the trolley tracks (we’re back on the golf course) in the foreground that appealed to me but they're not too obvious on the negative such was the general low contrast murkiness of the morning, albeit that the mist had started to lift by this time.

Ten minutes on the computer and I was able to bring out the features that had caught my eye although I left it "untoned"since the colder image tone suited the subject matter better. It will be interesting trying to achieve this look in the darkroom.

Tuesday, February 12

A Slow Start to the Year

When readers start contacting me to see if I'm still above ground, it's time to write a wee update of what's going on with my photography. I'll bring you up to date in this post and it shouldn't take long as not a lot has been happening.

It seems to go like this most years. Starting in December, I tend to run out of something. Not sure what it is - inspiration, get-up-and-go, creativity, something to say? Whatever, it leaves me thinking there's not much point in getting the camera out and I stop looking for pics as a result. I've probably shot three rolls of film since November and nothing very interesting at that.

In the last few days though, I've noticed that I've started to take more of an interest in things - possibly a combination of having watched the Don McCullin programme on BBC4 last week and the extra brightness to the days courtesy of the sun getting it's finger out and climbing up the sky a little bit.

I finished a roll of HP5 Plus I'd had in the Nikon F90x for a few weeks at the weekend and developed it on Sunday night in Fotospeed's FD10, the first film I've bathed in that particular concoction. It's early days yet but it looks as if it's another excellent developer.

I've been meaning to try it for ages partly because it's very good value but also because I'd read some good things about it. The HP5 negs turned out very clean with nice tonality and grain that looks quite fine. There's a good level of sharpness as well so I'm very pleased at this stage. I've now got a roll of FP4 on the go that'll get the same treatment at the weekend.

I've posted a few scans from the HP5 roll here to give you an idea of what the combination is like. The highlights are well-controlled and there's adequate shadow detail. The pics are nothing to write home about, mainly just some shots I took when out for a walk up a hill about ten miles away. It was a lovely, cold day and a chance to get a bit of fresh air and much-needed exercise.

I almost forgot to say something about the pic at the top of the post. It was taken on the Mamiya Press in the Fife coastal town of Crail, a picturesque fishing village. Most photographs of Crail - including not a few I've taken myself - tend to concentrate on the pretty red-tiled houses around the harbour. I didn't fancy going over that old ground the last time I was there so sought out something a little bit quirky to see if I could break the mould. I quite like it although I doubt it will find its way into any tourist brochures.

Here's another recent Mamiya Press shot, a replica of one I'd taken earlier on 35mm. I like this scene at Clunie village and thought it might benefit from the extra detail from the 6x9 negative.

I've just about satiated any lingering equipment-buying impulses having used just about everything, at one time or another, that I've ever fancied. However, I couldn't resist a bargain I found on Gumtree recently - a 100mm f2.8 Sekor for the Mamiya. When I bought the camera it came with the 75mm and 100mm f3,5 lenses and very good they've proved to be.

The 100mm f2.8 is supposed to be superior to the slower lens and the one I got was about a quarter of what you'd normally have to pay for it. I'll try them out side-by-side and probably keep the better of the two. Can't see much point in having both sitting around. It might not be quite as straightforward as that, though, as the f2.8 is quite a bit bigger and heavier so it would have to be noticeably superior to win its place in the gadget bag.

The Mamiya is already a big, heavy beast and certainly doesn't need any extra weight being added to it without good reason.