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Thursday, March 23

It's a library, Joan, but not as I knew it...

Lochee Library in the years after its opening

My photographic education, such as it was, was almost entirely library-based. Throughout my life I've been self-taught when it comes to the things that appealed to me such as photography, golf and vintage racing bikes. When I needed help or information, it was only natural to nip along to the library to get some assistance in how to to do these things.

From about the age of 12, I'd become a regular stalker around the non-fiction shelves in my local Lochee Library. And what shelves they were. In the early 1970s, the bookcases were massive affairs, probably about 12 feet long, 7 feet tall and stacked in rows and rows. And all in a sombre, dark wood. Or at least that's how I remember the place.

There was a foot-stool that could be used to gain access to books on the top shelf and I had to use it on occasion even though I was an "early developer" and consequently quite tall for my age. The books spanned decades going back to the late 19th century and covered such a range of subjects that you were almost certain to get the information you needed even though it would have admittedly taken much longer than tapping a few words into Google. Many of the books had no dust jackets and, consequently, were a bit on the dusty side! If I close my eyes I can still smell them. There were some serious books in there as well. I wouldn't be surprised to learn that you could have earned yourself an engineering degree just based on the books available under that section.

The building itself was also impressive. It opened in 1896 and was a great success from the start, necessitating an extension about 15 years later. I remember it as being largely untouched from those early years, the type of building that had you whispering as soon as you entered.

My earliest recollection of self-teaching came shortly after I'd been given a bike by a friend's father. My own mum wouldn't let me have a bike as she feared I'd end up beneath a bus and wasn't too pleased when I turned up with a 1950's Freddie Grubb racer, a fine machine and a generous donation. It had lain in a shed for a long time and the Sturmey Archer hubs gears weren't working properly. My dad had been a keen cyclist in his youth so I asked him if he could fix things for me. He said he'd only ever ridden a fixed gear bike, didn't know anything about hub gears and suggested I take myself off to the library. So that's what I did. I was 12 at the time.

In those days, there was a reasonable cycling section in the library and I went home with a couple of books which promised to arm me with the knowledge necessary to put right the Sturmey glitch. Sure enough, after digesting a few chapters I was able to diagnose the problem and get the bike back on the road. When the photography bug bit, followed shortly afterwards by golf, it was the library that provided the knowledge I needed to gain enough proficiency for enjoyment from these pursuits.

There were books by the heroes of the day such as Nicklaus, Trevino and Johnny Miller; British pros including the recently-deceased John Jacobs and some of the all-time greats - the likes of Walter Hagan, Sam Snead and Bobby Locke. There were loads of photography books as well dating back to the 1940s/50s and I know they were regularly borrowed as I'd sometimes have to wait for a particular favourite to be returned before I could take it out again.

A few years later when school exams were coming round, a pal, Keith, and I would use the library for "swotting". I remember when an English exam was coming up and we had the great idea to dig out the oldest reference books we could find on the war poets Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen, unearth the most intelligent-sounding quotes from these learned tomes and divide them between ourselves by the entirely democratic method of drawing them from a hat.

Armed with these wee phrases we could then stun the examiners with our "original" criticism. That's why I can now say with some authority that Wilfred Owen was a master of subtle harmonies in rhyme and consonance. Funny how things stick in the mind. I wonder how many more of my schoolboy peers around Scotland would be able to say the same thing having also ripped off the words of earlier literary critics!

That, in a nutshell, is my library back-story. Fast forward now to today. When we moved into our present house just over a year ago, I found myself back in the same part of town in which I grew up. Lochee Library isn't the closest one to me but it's not much further away than its rival so I signed up for a library ticket on the local council website. That's why I was in the old building yesterday and why I'm writing this post. To say I was disappointed would be a huge understatement. I had to vent.

The old, massive book shelves have long since been replaced by light oak-coloured jobs that are about 6 feet tall and the same in length. They're full of brightly-coloured books none of which looked older than about 20 years. They seemed pretty lightweight "popular" looking books and nothing at all like the serious books that once populated the serious shelves of old. It's a small library but there were still six computer stations each with a "surfer" at the controls. There was also a talking books section and others for CDs and DVDs. It had been modernised and looks like a modern classroom.

Thinking about it, it was more like a children's library in a primary school, to be honest. I wandered up and down the bookcases - there were nowhere near as many as there used to be - and located the arts section. At the end of a row of watercolour master-classes were three photography books. THREE. Two were digital - a beginner's guide and some other God-awful publication - and the third an A4-sized book of photographs by Glaswegian photographer Oscar Marzaroli.

He was described in the introduction as "Scotland's most prestigious photographer of the 20th century". Laying bare my considerable ignorance, I have to admit that I'd never heard of the late Mr Marzaroli. Maybe Phil Rogers can chime in here but I'd have thought that Phil's old tutor Joseph McKenzie might have had a better claim to that title. Or celebrity photographer, Dundee-educated but Edinburgh-born Albert Watson, who took the iconic shot of Steve Jobs (below).

Here's Marzaroli's best-known photograph, The Castlemilk Lads, taken in Glasgow in 1963 (below). It's a cracker, for sure, but, having read the book, I don't think he can stand comparison with Joe McKenzie. Portraits aren't really my thing so I'd also drop Albert Watson in favour of Joe.

Marzaroli, according to the book, never cropped his negatives and yet The Castlemilk Lads is reduced to a square by the publishers. I guess artistic integrity doesn't survive the grave very well.

Above is a McKenzie photograph of my home town of Dundee as it was being rent asunder by the "planners" and "developers", a.k.a. ignorant, greedy arseholes (excuse the language), in the 1960s. Not only did Joe seem to have a better eye than Marzaroli but he was, from what I've seen, a much better printer as well.

But the object of this post wasn't to debate the merits of Scottish photographers. I got back home from the library trip feeling not a little dispirited. I know libraries have been on the slide for many years as people turned to the internet for their information and entertainment but this was yet another example of how we seem to be going backwards as a society. 

Yes, we're becoming ever more technologically advanced (and throwing people onto the dole in the process) but we're also demanding less and less of people in terms of making them think a bit, put in some effort and not expect everything to be dumbed down to the level of a children's library. I read the other day that the state of Idaho, within about 20 years, is forecast to lose half of its present jobs total to robots. That's just unsustainable.

It occurred to me that, such is the parochial mindset of local council officers and their SNP overlords, that the Marzaroli book was probably only there because he was Scottish. It's likely, in their view, that books about international photographers would go straight over the heads of their subjects. But, looking at the lending record of the book, it seems they might be right in a way as even a photography book about a Scot holds little attraction for today's public. The book was published in 2013 and the first lending stamp was January 14, 2014. The next was January 23, 2014. The next one was mine. Borrowed three times in three years. Says it all, really.

The only thing I remembered of the library from the "old days" that hadn't change much was Joan, the librarian. I couldn't believe she was still there. Her association with the place must be almost as long as mine. So will I be a regular visitor to the library? I fear not, especially if it leaves me in the same sort of mood as yesterday.

I'm probably feeling a trifle guilty as I haven't used libraries as much over the last 20 years either as I did when I was younger but I still popped in and out of the one in Carnoustie during our ten years there. There are a couple of old libraries in Dundee that I haven't visited for a long time and I'm hoping that they will have retained some of their character and charm. I'll keep my fingers crossed and give them a try - and maybe I'll become a regular again.

Thursday, March 16

Russians hack The Online Darkroom

I wrote in this post how I'd inadvertently missed the blog passing the one million hits mark and I've since been determined not to repeat the error when the 1.5m target was due to be reached. Well, that goal was passed today - helped by some suspicious activity from Russia.

Although anyone with even basic critical thinking skills can see that allegations of the Russians helping to elect Donald Trump were most likely "fake news", there's no doubt at all that the Russkies helped me reach another mile stone.

I was expecting to write this post in a few days but, for some reason, I got quite a spike in traffic from Russian visitors. It's happened before once or twice and I can't really account for it. I've never exchanged emails with John Podesta or Huma Abedin and never discuss politics on the blog. I have, however, sold vast quantities of US uranium to Russia. Oh no, wait a minute, that was Hillary Clinton.

So, for whatever reason, thank you Russia and thanks also to all my loyal readers who helped me scale new heights even if, in the grand scheme of things, the 1.5m figure is more mole hill than mountain.

Monday, March 13

The Fog

Lochee Road

What a pea-souper we had a week or so ago! Absolutely brilliant - if you like that sort of thing, which I obviously do. We'd just finished our evening meal when I happened to look out the kitchen window and saw just how thick the fog was. This was no normal fog, at least for this neck of the woods. Visibility must have been down to about 50 yards or so - maybe not the "I can't see my hand in front of my face" fog of Victorian London but impressive in its intensity nonetheless.

For ages now I've been planning to take a night photograph of Mills Observatory just five minutes away but was waiting for weather that was a bit special. This seemed like the ideal opportunity - or so I thought... The observatory is the oldest public one in the UK having opened in 1935. It sits atop an old volcanic plug called Balgay Hill and, praise be to God, has managed to avoid "modernisation" over its 82 years. I used to go there regularly with a couple of pals when I was a teenager. It has a The Day The Earth Stood Still vibe about it - the original with Michael Rennie and Patricia Neal and not the crappy remake with Canoe Reeves. Klaatu barada nikto!

The winding drive up Balgay Hill was scary to say the least. I was at walking pace and still could hardly see the edges of the road - no exaggeration - and there were some steep drops. Eventually, the drive from hell ended outside the observatory - and it was closed. It was a Saturday night but so what? Where better to go on a misty evening at the weekend? OK, maybe it's just me who thinks like that. I later discovered that it shuts at 4pm on Saturdays at this time of year - before it's even dark! So, back down the hill it was - very slowly - but what to do with the rest of this foggy evening?

I was packing my Rollei 2.8f bolted to an old Slik tripod that I've had for about 30 years, travelling light in other words. With no big bag to lug around I parked the car and went for a wander around some old streets not far from my home, the tripod over my shoulder as if I were one of the seven dwarves on the way to work. There was one scene that I'd been meaning to photograph for almost as long as the observatory but it's next to a busy junction. It's not that easy to get parked nearby and there was also the feeling that I'd look a bit of a tool setting up a camera on a tripod with all the traffic rushing by. I've always been overly self-conscious in that regard.

But, on this night, the fog was so thick that it largely masked the personae of those people daft enough to be out and about in it. Everyone had the look of the evil spirits who come for the bad guy in Ghost. Sorry for the film references - that's the last. This scene is a cobbled pathway leading up a hill and features in the two photographs immediately below. It would have been great to have had a figure in the pics but anybody walking through wouldn't have recorded as the exposure was around 20secs at f8.

I tried using myself as a model by clicking the shutter on B, running up the hill and posing by leaning against a railing with arms folded but all that was on the negative was a ghostly and busty-looking Mrs Doubtfire-type figure (aargh, I did it again). Folded arms on a side-on shot do not come out like folded arms in the dark and fog. The shot at the top of the page with the budding crocuses in the foreground was taken from the same spot but in the opposite direction.

My favourite shot is probably the one below. This was taken in a very old part of town much of which has sadly been razed to the ground over the years - or, in the obscene language of planners, "improved". There used to be lots of old mill buildings around here and cottages dating back 150 years or more. The last row of the old cottages was gutted in a fire that I remember watching when I was about 10 or 11. Word of the blaze spread faster than the fire itself and by the time I'd reached the scene half the youngsters in the neighbourhood were watching the firemen at work.

The Old Lodge House

The mills were knocked down and replaced by yards surrounded by steel fencing. In the '70s there was a permanent retail market in a now-demolished mill adjacent to the lodge house. The house, which may once have been occupied by a mill manager, is still lived in and in good condition but it does look slightly incongruous in the commercial/industrial setting.

The thing that attracted me to this shot was the floodlight just hidden by the left hand side of the lodge. It does a great job of throwing the building into some sort of relief. I wasn't sure whether or not to crop out the steel gate on the left hand side of the frame but figured, since it was a 6x6 neg, that I could always crop it out later on. On the one hand, it places the lodge in its proper context but it's a spookier shot without it.

Old Muirton Road

Finally, I ended up in Old Muirton Road which has just a few houses in it. A railway line used to run past this street and across the road is the old station, now a social club. I was a little surprised when I developed these negs that the scenes didn't look quite as misty on film as they did on the night. Perhaps it had lifted a little since my trip up Balgay Hill but I certainly didn't think so at the time.

The other thing I noticed (not for the first time) is how nice old design is. New stuff is just so ugly by comparison. There seems little effort to make anything the best way they can nowadays and there's hardly any adornment on buildings and "street furniture". I was checking out another potential scene a couple of nights ago to see what it looked like at night and when might be the best time of day to photograph it and was struck by the street lamps (thankfully, not literally).

I'm guessing they're from the 1930s and replaced the original gas lights. The first electric lamp in Dundee was lit in 1894 but the town council was still replacing gas ones as late as the late 1950s. These lampposts had been converted to newer bulbs so they weren't completely original. But they had a lovely, graceful swan neck extension supporting the light. All the newer ones are plain with just a sharp right-angled extension. Wee details like that can mean a lot. They show that designers are thinking of people and not just the bottom line. Anyway, for all the extra it would cost to do a nice job why settle for an ugly alternative?

The technical parts of these negs were simple enough. It was the usual Tmax 400 developed in D76 1+1. I took a meter reading from the ground in front of me in most of the pics coupled with a little ritual waving of the meter to see how my chosen exposure would fit in with the highlights and shadows.

The Rollei was in its element. Since replacing the standard focusing screen with a cut down one from a Mamiya RB67 the camera has become more usable in low light. In bright light, the stock screen is easier to focus but it suffers at night. The Mamiya screen may not be as easy to focus in good light but is a real boon in available darkness.

I'm beginning to get a taste for night photography again and will probably mix up some Barry Thornton two-bath to see how it handles the highlights from street lights. It was once my favourite developer but it began to produce negatives that were of too low a contrast when I started doing a lot of bad weather photography so I gave it up. Having since found my long-lost stash of raw chemicals, I'm able to give it another go. We shall see.

Thursday, March 9

Inspiration from a book

A slightly battered Nikon FE and a couple of rolls of film - that's
all the fun I need.

Here's a humble little book that sometimes gets me itching to go out with a camera and might do the same for you. The printing isn't of the highest quality and neither, to be honest, are the photographs although they're OK.

It won't look cool on your coffee table and it's not one of those that cost twenty quid when it was new and now sells secondhand for £250 - if you can get your hands on one. It won't make you appear sophisticated if you mention at the local camera club that you've been reading it. And yet the book's concept is one that I find irresistible.

It's the Shell Guide to Photographing Britain by Jorge Lewinski and you can pick up a copy for two or three pounds - sometimes including postage - from the likes of Abebooks or Amazon. What's so special about it then? If you're like me then the most enjoyable part of photography is being in a new environment with a favourite camera, a roll or two of film and time to spare.

This book is your armchair companion revealing new places of interest and offering glimpses of tantalising new scenes and subjects that, if you're in the UK, might well be within reach of an afternoon's drive.

Another good thing from my point of view is that the late Jorge didn't rely on famous landmarks or world heritage sites for his photographs: these are small scale landscapes - the kind you can walk across in an hour or less - and intimate, homely vignettes of charming locations, hamlets and rural life.

There's some basic info about techniques and equipment for those new to photography, a section of "on location' shoots and a gazetteer with suggestions for photographic expeditions of the down-to-earth kind. For instance, one of the on location features is The Trossachs, Scotland's lake district, and little more than an hour's drive from me.

Trossachs church

I should really make an effort to get to know The Trossachs better. I've passed through a few times but the picture opportunities aren't the kind that wave at you as you drive by. There are definitely some lovely landscapes to be photographed but I'd have to do some research first to figure out where to go.

Norfolk fields seen from the church at Ranworth at sunset.

I implied earlier that the photography in the book isn't spectacular and it's not. The book gives me the impression that Jorge was up against a tight deadline when travelling the country looking for subjects. The printing of some photographs is heavy-handed as if he's gone into the darkroom with the intention of producing an ambitious number of prints by the end of the day rather than giving each his best effort. That's maybe doing him a disservice: it could also be a sign of the times since contrasty landscapes were in vogue in the UK in the early '80s when the book was first published.

A field in Norfolk

Weston Underwood in Northamptonshire

Llantysilio Mountains looking towards Llangollen Valley

But none of this matters for me. I've been enjoying this book for about 30 years and still pick it up now and again for another read. Were I able to go back and choose a new career then illustrating and writing travel books like this would be high up on my list.

Every time I flick through its pages I'm reminded that I really was a fish out of water as a newspaper reporter and only wish I'd realised that in time to do something about it. Ah well, maybe there'll be a time machine along in a wee while. Until then, I'll keep writing and illustrating posts for this blog.

Wensleydale, near Hawes

Wednesday, March 1

Grange Orchard

Do you see the sun just above the trees? That's what patience
gets you. What do you mean it looks like a dust spot on the

So there I was at home, at a bit of a loose end and wondering what I could do for a couple of hours before picking Cath up from work. Well, the Grange Orchard has been at the back of my mind for a while as a possible wee project so I decided to have a "recce" to see what sort of picture opportunities there might be.

I wrote about the Carse of Gowrie orchards in this post and this one. The Carse orchards used to have some significance nationally and even further afield. I read somewhere that it was a single cutting from a tree there that made its way to Australia and kick-started that country's apple industry. There used to be a plethora of them but they've gradually died off, been mis-managed out of existence or turned over to developers. There are still a few to be found, though, and I had the idea that it would be good to record what's there while I had the chance. 

What seems to have contributed greatly to the orchards' decline was the increasing use of farm machinery. Some bright spark discovered that the trees' fruit yields could be doubled by underplanting them with an arable crop. This was fine when hand tools and ploughs were in use but when large machines became more common it was almost impossible to cultivate between the trees. With no crop planting and a greatly reduced fruit yield, the economic value of the orchards diminished, followed by landowners' interest in maintaining them.

A bit of jiggling about with the Super Ikonta was needed to place
the trunk of this tree against the sky between the two background
conifers whilst trying to place the upper branches on lighter
parts of the sky.

The weather didn't look too promising and I wasn't in the mood for hauling the SL66 and tripod along so I packed - guess what - the Super Ikonta! To be honest, I didn't think I would be taking any pics at all - the Zeiss was just there for a bit of insurance. The light didn't improve much as I drove the ten miles out to Grange, a small village half a mile inland of the River Tay.

From what I've seen in the past, the orchard ground tends to get quite soggy but it looked all right on this occasion. I'd taken along my wellies just in case but decided to brave it with trainers - what a hero. I climbed over the gate walked about ten paces and then heard the dreaded "squoirch" as my feet began to sink into the sodden ground. It was a case of bashing on or climbing over a slippery gate and going back to the car. I decided to risk trench foot.

A low viewpoint helped the branches of the subject tree "rise
above" the background bushes.

The only light I could see was in isolated patches in the sky: there was nothing hitting the trees or casting anything even remotely like a shadow in the orchard. On grey days like these I find the only solution is to shoot directly into the light otherwise copious amounts of mid-grey is all that's on the negative. The bare branches of the trees would stand out quite nicely against the sky but I had to make sure to give the scene enough exposure to ensure separation between the trunks and branches and the background bushes and trees.

The other thing I had to keep in mind was to ensure wherever possible that the twisted and contorted trunks and branches of the apple trees were placed against clear sky and not lost against a tall conifer or similar. I metered the grass and based the exposure on that reckoning that a mid-grey foreground would help the darker, shadowed trunks stand out a bit. I wasn't too bothered about over-exposing the sky as it would be easy enough to burn it in at the printing stage and, since there was no texture to speak of in the upper parts of the branches, there wasn't really any important detail to lose there.

This one was quite straightforward: stand in a field, point
a camera and click.

I wandered around the field in much the same fashion, searching for interesting-looking trees that I could photograph against the sky. There was one group of three trees - that's the pic at the top of the post - that had me standing around on the one spot for about 25 minutes. I was lining up to make an exposure - 1/60th at f11 for all of these pics, by the way, on Tmax 400 - and caught a very fleeting glimpse of a weak sun as the clouds blew cross the face of old Sol. I fancied a bit of that so I decided to wait until the same thing happened and try to get the sun sitting just about the trees.

Experienced landscape photographers will know what happened next. Nothing. It's always that way, isn't it? I reckon a good 15 minutes must have gone by before the clouds again briefly parted - only to reveal that the sun had moved relative to the trees during that time and was now spoiling the composition! Hadn't thought of that. Now I know why the ancients used to pray to the sun: it was so they could achieve better compositions in their cave paintings.

Another fairly run-of-the-mill tree that probably won't make
the cut if I have to "curate" the photos for this project at some
point in the future.

By now, my soggy trainers had almost taken root in the moist ground and my feet were feeling pretty cold but, having come thus far, I was in no mood for giving up. What an idiot, eh? The orchard is a roundish shape and part of it is bounded by a road. A few buses and cars came and went and goodness knows what the drivers and passengers made of me standing stock still in the middle of the trees staring at the sky. I didn't really mind the wait at all. Being able to stand in a nice bit of countryside with the birds twittering away is hardly a chore.

Anyway, after another ten minutes or so I could see a lighter patch of cloud blowing towards where I guessed the sun should be and kept my fingers crossed. There had been several false dawns in the build up to to this point where promising breaks in the heavy cloud closed up again as they approached overhead. But this time - the prayers must have worked - the clouds were light enough to reveal the sun - again just for a few seconds but long enough for my lightening reactions to kick in.

A click and it was all over - the sun captured in the frame and the last frame on the roll exposed. I actually punched the air and said "Yes!" in a voice that was probably a bit too loud and exultant for what had just happened. What are we like, eh? The sun might not look like much in the first photograph but it means a hell of a lot to me, I'll tell you! I'm hoping it will take on more significance in a print than it does on a computer screen.

Old trees are wonderful things. These are around
150-200 years old.

It was an eventful day, photographically speaking, and it wasn't over yet as I still had to develop the film. That proved more stressful than it should have as well. I was getting set up at the kitchen sink when Cath came in for a blether, being a sociable type. I normally develop my films when the house is empty and, mixing up some D76 1+1, I was distracted just enough to accidentally pour water over my digital thermometer (it's a cook's thermometer) in the beaker and set its LCD display off on some sort of epileptic fit that seemed to have no cure.

My back-up thermometer is a conventional photographic one - at least, it follows the convention for thermometers from around 1968. It's a round dial on a stick and takes a while to settle at its eventual reading. I've never used it in anger as it never seemed to agree with the digital one. But, thermometers don't necessarily have to be spot-on so long as they're consistent and I'd nothing else to hand so I gambled a little with the oldie.

Another tree that had to be "slotted" in against a bright patch
of sky between two other trees in the background. I was pleased
that I managed to get the lower branches nicely arranged against
the background bushes.

It worked out OK in the end. I threw Cath out of the kitchen - yes, well, I do most of the cooking so it's my domain anyway :) - and gave the film my usual 10 minutes in the developer. The negs were scanned on my decrepit Epson Perfection (just wet myself laughing again at that model name) 3200 Photo sandwiched between two pieces of glass from a 5x4 neg holder. The scans are rubbish. I'm going to ditch this set-up, dust off my D700 DSLR and a macro lens and shoot the negs on the light box in future.

The resultant digital files were wrung through Lightroom with the aim of simulating dusk in the images. I think I've made them just a little too dark. They look fine on my laptop with the brightness turned well up but they're gloomy-looking on the iPad. Oh well, I'll sort it out at the printing stage.

Tuesday, February 21

Park bench

Yes, you've guessed it. Another Super Ikonta shot. I've sold all my other gear and kept just the Zeiss. That last sentence wasn't true, of course, but you never know... This was taken in a light mist in a public park in my home town of Dundee. I'd dropped Cath off for an appointment and had about 40 minutes to kill. I decided I'd go for a walk around the park hand-in-hand with the Super Ikonta.

There's not a lot to say about this photo really other than that it's all about a feeling of emptiness. I'm sitting in the living room listening to Frank Sinatra's A Man Alone album, my favourite of his although not one of his better known ones. It's all about loneliness, melancholy and what might have been. Seems to fit this picture rather well.

As usual, the film was Tmax 400 developed in D76 1+1.

Thursday, February 16

More from the Super Ikonta

What a good buy the old Zeiss Ikon is proving to be. As a walkabout camera it takes a bit of beating - fairly lightweight, compact when folded and capable of producing very nice results from its (one!) 75mm Tessar lens.

I've been using it a lot more than I thought I would and loving every minute with it. Being a rangefinder, it gives me pretty much the same problem as all other rangefinders: it's difficult seeing the field of view with glasses on. My method is to focus with specs on and then take them off for the final, somewhat blurry, composition.

I'm hoping this lack of clarity at the vital moment of releasing the shutter is responsible for the bloody annoying left-leaning tilt I'm still getting. The pics on this page weren't too bad from that point of view but the latest film I've developed from the Super Ikonta - I'll post some results in a few days - had some hellish horizons. What makes it worse was that I was making a real effort to keep the horizons level! Maybe one leg has suddenly become shorter than the other, or something.

The first pic at the top is another view of Forter Castle in Glenisla. You'll maybe recognise it from a couple of similar pics I've posted previously. This is my first medium format shot of it and the snow makes it a little different from the others.

This (above) is an early morning shot I took just north of Dundee. It was a little frosty, one of those hard, crisp days that make life worthwhile in the middle of winter. The light was lovely and I hid the sun behind the tree to stop it dominating the scene. There's a dry stone dyke nearby that I climbed over whilst on the hunt for other pics. Here's what I found:

There was a full set of clubs in the bag and some balls. Bizarre. I know that secondhand golf clubs don't have a great value these days but chucking them over a wall instead of selling them or giving them away is just weird. Maybe the owner had just had the round from hell and his temper got the better of him. They're probably still there as there aren't too many of us dyke hurdlers around. 

Reminds me of a story about a well-known, club-throwing pro from the 1950s and '60s called Tommy "Thunder" Bolt. It was the last hole of a difficult round and Bolt had a second shot of about 120 yards to the pin. His caddy handed him a 1 iron. "What the hell are you giving me a 1 iron for," asked an angry Bolt. "It's the only club we've got left, boss," was the reply. Incidentally, Bolt grumbled away to the ripe old age of 92, "nursing his wrath to keep it warm", to mis-quote Burns.

On the way home from Glenisla we stumbled across one of those dreich, dismal shots I like. Doesn't look too hospitable, does it? I love these scenes - the puddle makes a more interesting foreground than a ploughed field and the low-lying cloud on the hills adds a bit of mystery and moodiness. Looking at these pics must make you think I'm some sort of intrepid hill walker but they were all taken no more than 20 yards from the car.

Another shot from the Glenisla trip, a nice, gentle one this time. Not much to say about this except that I didn't even have to walk 20 yards - I was leaning on the bonnet.

The final Glenisla pic. Come to think of it, I had to park the car and walk about 50 yards up the road for this one so maybe that does qualify me as a hill walker or rambler or something. The light was going a bit by the time I took it and the branches were doing their best to stop what light there was reaching the ground. I was leaning on a fence post for extra support.

The shutter speed was around 1/30th - probably hand-holdable with the Super Ikonta without the support. There's not enough depth of field for front to back sharpness but I like the overall mood of this one. I can just see a fairy prancing about in the snow. Or maybe that was me making my way back to the car...

Tuesday, February 14

Some answers...

There were a few questions in the comments to my last post about "one-lensing" but rather than respond to them there, which can get a bit messy, I'll answer them here if that's OK.

First up was my pal Phil Rogers (Herman Sheephouse) who wondered whether it might be the weight of my Benbo tripod that was putting me off carrying a lot of gear. Should I not be thinking about hand-holding the Rollei SL66 if the tripod is too much of a back killer? He said, "Remember the quality of those Zeiss lenses is such that you could shoot wide open and still get superb results -it's worth thinking about." He also wondered if a lighter tripod such as a Gitzo or a Chinese copy might help matters.

Yes, the Benbo, fantastic though it is, is definitely on the heavy side. Rumour has it that when Benbo discovered they were over-stocked, their surplus tripod tubes were bought up by a Middle Eastern concern and used for the foundation piles in the Burj Khalifa tower in Dubai. I have a lighter tripod with no quick release plate so I might either get one for it or buy a ball head to save a little weight.

Hand-holding the SL66 isn't much fun. Maybe I'd get away with it if I had a waist level finder but it's the 45 degree prism finder on the camera and that has to be held up to eye level - not so easy with a heavy camera.

Steve Weston asked if I considered using a zoom lens. I've nothing against zooms really apart from the fact that, all things being equal, a prime lens is likely to be better. The shot at the top of this post was taken a couple of weeks ago on a Nikkor AF 70-210 zoom which isn't too bad at all. The one below was done with the Nikkor AF 28-105 which I like a lot.

I don't think any zooms were made for the SL66 and they'd be huge if there were any around but certainly for 35mm SLRs it's an option. I've got what's reputedly the best zoom made for the OM system - the 35-80 f2.8 Zuiko - but it has some fungus issues so I haven't used it. Maybe if it cleaned up well it would be a possibility.

War-time building at Errol Airfield

Nasir asked about the D76 250ml stock "rule" that I touched on in the post. Specifically, "By following the 250ml of D76 stock rule, what do you do if you only want to develop one roll of 35mm? Mix up 500ml working solution if you want to use 1+1 dilution? My stainless tanks only require 250ml of solution to cover a 35mm spiral. Am I just better off using 250ml stock and going with a shorter dev time?"

I'm afraid that's the way it is, Nasir. It's wasteful but I don't see what else can be done. You could try mixing just 250ml at 1+1 on a test film and see how it works out. There are plenty of people on the forums who don't bother with the rule who say their films come out fine. It might be worth trying it yourself.

I can't be bothered with test films so I just stick to the rule but I think I'll go back to Firstcall's Superfine, otherwise known as Rollei RHS, when my D76 has been used up. It would still work out a little more expensive but there wouldn't be a lot in it and the consistency I got with Superfine was great. It works really well with Tmax 400 and that's all I'm using now.

My only slight concern is that I haven't actually made any prints from Superfine/Tmax 400 negatives. They look nice but they might be grainier than the D76/Tmax 400 combination. Whether that proves to be the case and whether or not it's something that would bother me remains to be seen. From the scans I've made from both combinations, they look pretty much the same to me.

Thanks to everyone else who left comments and suggestions. It's amazing how small the percentage of commenters is relative to the number of readers I have and I appreciate you all. :)

Saturday, February 11

Three into one doesn't go

Back in October, I wrote a post about my difficulties in going out for a few hours with just one lens. I know there are readers who can do this and they're probably bemused by my rumblings of discontent.

The photo trip in question was to the Fife village of Crail on a picturesque stretch of coastline known as the East Neuk. That wee outing caused me to do some thinking as I was pretty fed up carting the Rollei SL66 and heavyweight Benbo tripod over soggy beaches and rocks made slippery by the retreating tide.

There must be a better way of tackling this sort of thing, I thought at the time, and still do, to be honest. It was in the comments that a couple of people advised just taking the camera and one lens. True, this cuts down on a lot of faffing about and the heavy weight but I find it leaves the compositions I can achieve being dictated more by the lack of the "right" lens than by creativity.

I know you can never have the right lens for every photograph otherwise we'd all be followed around by a pack horse and a small Himalayan sherpa but it's still nice to tilt the odds in one's favour. Generally speaking, I'm happy with the 35mm format equivalents of 28mm, 50mm and 135mm in the bag with a 300mm lens in the car. As I wrote in the Crail post, I took three photographs there - one with the 80mm, one with the 40mm and a third on the 250mm. With just one lens, I'd have missed out on two photos.

I developed the film last week and posted here are the three pics I was referring to. They're nothing special but do illustrate the point. The first was taken on the standard lens and the second on the wide angle. The last one of the Isle of May was on the long tele.

I suppose if I'd used the wide angle on the harbour shot then I would have got the whole of the reflected house in the frame had that been bothering me but I'd have got masses on top of that as well. We're talking about the difference between a 24mm and 50mm lens on the 35mm format. The shot of the old cobble stones depends on the exaggerated perspective of the 40mm for its effect. Yes, I could have used the 80mm but there would have been little point in taking that photograph at all.

Here's the Isle of May. At the time, I thought I really needed something longer than the 250mm - which I don't have - but, looking at it now, I quite like the bit of foreshore. Again, I wouldn't have taken this pic with anything wider.

I was making the same complaints in October when visiting Alyth Den (never realised I was such a  moaning old bugger!) again in the company of the SL66, its four lenses and the light-as-lead Benbo. I wasn't very happy with the pics I took - they were, eh, a bit boring - but here are a couple anyway which were taken with the 80mm (top) and 40mm.

So, they may not have been the most interesting photographs of Alyth Den but at least I had the right lenses! When I leave the house, I haven't a clue what I'm going to be photographing - absolutely no idea. So how do I decide which lens to take if I'm going to be a one-lens chap? Speak to the local seer? Have a wild guess? Or just accept that I'm going to miss quite a few pics that day?

That's why I'll never be a one-lenser. I had a similar problem today when Cath and I went for a run up to Glenisla. I took the lovely recent addition of the Super Ikonta and meant to throw my bag with some Nikon 35mm gear into the boot - but forgot. That meant I was up a lonely glen with light snow and mist with only a standard lens. I spent half the time telling Cath that I'd just seen a pic but needed a telephoto. I took a couple of those shots with the aim of blowing up the centre of the neg but it's hardly ideal.

But enough of my gripes. I've got a few options: stick to 35mm, put up with the heavy medium format gear, or go for something like the 645 format. I've been here a couple of time already in the recent past and I'm in no rush to make up my mind.

One good thing that came out of these rolls of 120 Tmax was the fact that you can develop a few rolls  in a tank of D76 1+1 without any problems provided you stick to Kodak's recommendations. In this post, I wrote about how a couple of 35mm rolls had come out a little under-developed because I'd failed to stick to Kodak's recommended 250ml of stock solution per film. This time, I developed three 120 rolls in the one tank with the proper amount of stock and had no problems.

In between those two multi-reel sessions, I'd developed a roll of 35mm Tmax with 250ml stock at 1+1 and went with Kodak's fairly vigorous agitation sequence. That led to over-development so my regime now (D76 1+1) is the 250ml stock rule, ten minutes development and agitation of four inversions at the start and four every minute thereafter. I still don't like the results as much as with Firstcall Superfine (Rollei RHS) but that's another matter.

Thursday, February 2

Ferrania P30 resurrection: BRAND NEW black and white film

From early testing of the new Ferrania P30 panchromatic film.
More sample pics from Ferrania below.

* Hat tip to readers Ian Lee and ZZPZA for this story

This IS exciting news. Ferrania, the Italian company determined to bring back the glamour days of 1960s Italian film manufacture, has announced that it's entered the "Alpha" stage of its new 80 ISO P30 panchromatic black and white film. Not a rebadged film from another manufacturer but an entirely new emulsion. It should be available from the middle of this month - but only in the 35mm format. Who said film was dead?

P30 is a famous old name deriving from a very popular movie film stock from decades ago. The new Ferrania company bought up some of the old film making plant from the original firm a few years back and has been beavering away on new emulsions. They're working on bringing a colour slide film to market and now they're ready to proceed with what could be a wonderful, silver-rich mono film - once they've ironed out the inevitable glitches bedevilling them at this early stage of production.

To that end, Ferrania have come up with the singular idea of asking photographers to buy the film and report back with any faults encountered and their impressions of the product - in the same way that beta testers help out software developers. This feedback will help Ferrania improve the film. No doubt people will have different views on this but we live in different times from the peak film years. But more of this later.

The film's specification sounds nice. It doesn't offer anything new on the ISO scale as there are already a few films clustered around the 80 ISO mark such as Fuji Acros 100, Foma 100, Rollei Retro 80s and even the likes of Pan F in the right developer. However, if P30 is faithful to the original emulsion then we'll benefit from a silver heavy film that promises "the look" from old Italian movies of the 1960s. Sounds like it could be the perfect partner for a Leica M and 50mm Summicron!

Here's Ferrania's enthusiastic announcement:

Cairo Montenotte (SV), Italy – FILM Ferrania is proud to announce its first product, FERRANIA P30®, in a limited ALPHA edition. 
FERRANIA P30® ALPHA reproduces, with modern techniques developed by FILM Ferrania scientists, the exact film that made Ferrania world-famous more than 50 years ago. 
With its cinema pedigree, ultra fine grain, and very high silver content, FERRANIA P30® ALPHA has no peers in the modern analog film market. 
FILM Ferrania CEO Nicola Baldini said, “Each frame is like a piece of jewellery.” Pasolini, Rossellini, Visconti and many other Italian directors powered their masterpieces with P30 film. 
In 1961, Sophia Loren won the Academy Award for “La Cio ciara” ( Two Women) by Vittorio De Sica and the entire world started to appreciate the beauty of FERRANIA P30® . In 1963, the legendary film 8 ½ by Federico Fellini was shot on FERRANIA P30® stock, cementing its place in cinema history.

"Each frame is like a piece of jewellery." I love Italians. I really do. OK, it's a bit over the top but at least it shows the passion for which Italians are famous around the world - and the film industry could do with some more of that. Personally, it's thoroughly whetted my appetite and I can't wait to try it out.

Pre-sales of P30 in 36-exposure 35mm format will begin around mid-February through the company's online shop,

P30 is coated on a triacetate base and features what Ferrania describes as "an incredibly high silver content" of 5 grams per square meter. I'm not sure how this compares with other films - maybe someone can chime in below in the comments.

From the examples the company has released, P30 looks to be a very high contrast film but I can't see the fully developed product having quite that look. From memory, the Italian black and white movies had a long tonal range and I'd expect the final version of P30 to be similar, depending on the developer of course.

In an email interview I did with Ferrari's David Bias in 2013, the company said they were interested in one day resurrecting P30 and it's great to see them follow through.

With regard to the beta testing of P30, here's what Ferrania had to say:

Just like software goes through Alpha and Beta stages, we expect our P30 film to go through these same stages. However, we want to make it perfectly clear that the worst of these issues are being resolved before sales begin. 
In the coming days, we will share numerous updates from the factory, explaining the problems you see in the sample images below, as well as the solutions that are being created every day to ensure that the film you will purchase is amazing. 
That said, this film is an ALPHA edition for a clear reason. When the shop launches, every customer will be invited to share their experiences with us - and this data will be fed directly to the factory team. 
When released, the data you provide will directly affect the progress of this film from ALPHA, to BETA, to the final product.

So, the film you'll be buying - and please buy some if you can to encourage Ferrania - will be well-developed but probably still with some room for improvement. Isn't it great to think that we might be able to contribute to the development of a new black and white film! Or do you expect the product to be fully developed by the company before being sold?

Finally, it's time for some early, contrasty test shots taken with the new film and just released by Ferrania. Enjoy.