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Monday, October 5

Putting the HP in HP5 Plus

If I could get as much atmosphere in my night shots as they did during the 1940s and '50s, I'd be a happy man. Of course, that would be impossible as a large part of the charm of these old photographs is the time in which they were made.

My late dad, John, learned his photography during this era, making a home-made enlarger and using low grade cameras. Working class life in those days was spartan compared to what we have today. As a result of his interest in photography, I started getting involved, too. He gave me a few pointers and then I just devoured the photography books he had lying around the house.

Selo HP, hyped on the back covers of both mags, helped make night
photography possible - at least without a tripod. 

Several of them featured tips on night photography, something that was just beginning to grow in popularity as faster films became available. Still much slower than today's fast emulsions but at least giving the photographer with a steady hand - or a handy wall - a sporting chance of securing a sharp pic.

You could say, therefore, that I've been steeped, marinaded and pickled in photography books from the 1940s and 1950s. Every time I pick up something from these decades I feel a huge pang of nostalgia. As we continue packing in readiness for our house sale, I've been unearthing some nice old magazines that I'd forgotten even existed and the pics in this post came from another couple of A5-sized books (see above), actually from 1938 but close enough to the '40s.

The rear cover of one of the mags featured an add for Selo Hypersensitive Panchromatic film. Selo was an Ilford brand name and the hypersensitive panchromatic was later abbreviated and is the HP in HP5 Plus. These new faster films, coupled with the improved availability of faster lenses, gave rise to a bit of a boom in night photography after the war.

All of the pics I've scanned for this post were made on Selo H.P. and they manage to pack almost obscene amounts of atmosphere into the frame. Take a look at these:

It's definitely atmosphere that gets me going when it comes to photography. For the last few weeks I've hardly had time to pick up a camera and not much incentive either. The reason? The weather has been too nice! Sunshine makes for a pretty picture, no doubt, but I'm just not interested in pretty pictures.

This morning, however, I was inspired to take a few pics when I saw some heavy clouds over Monifieth beach sitting atop a bright patch of sky that was reflected along the water line. We'll ignore for the moment the fact that I took about half a dozen shots before realising the camera was empty and concentrate on those that I went back and did all over again.

It was gloomy, it was a little misty, there was some light rain - blowing against the front element of the 75-150mm Zuiko I had on the OM2, unfortunately - and I loved it. We'll need to wait for the results as I'm nowhere near finished the film but it was great seeing some moodiness in the landscape again.

Whether I'll end up with anything as atmospheric as the old Selo HP pics is doubtful but for me, at least, I feel the real photography season is coming round again. And already my appetite is being whetted.


Dr. Elliot Puritz said...

Thanks for the information about "HP"...and I agree with you about the atmosphere in the photos from our bygone days....or is the view made cloudy by our cataracts....:}

Well done.


amos said...

I to prefer this look and would like to see if you have any success making this look in your own photographs.

Hernan Zenteno said...

I like very much the first photo and that with the man and the buses, really a nice atmosphere. I share the taste for the old magazines. Many thanks for the information about HP. I remember that in some old developer I still have (Promicrol) that was of my father the development times appears for HPS not 5.

Omar Özenir said...

What would the F in FP4 be then? My guess is Finegrain.

Herman Sheephouse said...

Wonderful - you could achieve similar with uncoated or single-coated lenses and a bit of underexposure and overdevelopment - your Standard Rollei is the tool Bruce . . what are you waiting for? - it's piddling down this morning - stop packing and get out there man!

Anonymous said...

The last image reminds me of a photo that Yashica used with a marketing flyer for the "new" Yashica Electro 35. The photos were by photographer Charles Varon. But I am with Hernan Zenteno on the shot of the man and the buses - I absolutely love that shot!!!

morris1800 said...

Excellent night images so full of atmosphere. Could digital images produce such atmospheric results? Anyway a timely post Bruce as this time of year I promise myself that I will take to the streets for some night photography. unfortunately I never do. I revisit Andrew Sandersons excellent book on night photography and plan my approach. But never seem to overcome the mental barrier of wandering around at night with a camera and tripod. I have recently purchased some fomapan retro 320 in 5x4 would love to see how that would look with a misty or snow covered night scene. Maybe this year I'll move my ass from in front of the fire and do it !!

Keith Tapscott said...

Having grown tired of the T-Max, Delta and Acros films I had been trying in recent years, I soon went back to FP4+ & HP5+ films because I prefer the look of them.

The atmosphere in these images is much down to the lighting quality and time of day or night. Adrian Ensor's book is also worth a look for night exposures besides Andrew Sanderson's excellent book.

David M said...

"Atmosphere" is probably the right word. You would have to burn quite a lot of coal to get these pictures today. We may have forgotten what the air in cities was like in those days. In winter, every house would have been heated by an open fire. Factories and power stations ran on coal. The downside for photographers was probably camera-shake induced by coughing.

Kevin Allan said...

I wonder whether smog had some something to do with the atmosphere at the time ?

Bruce Robbins said...

Yes, good old smog. Reminded me of this post I wrote back in January:

David M said...

I have just been reading, on the LF Forum, that the number of blades in the aperture may have an effect on the "look" of an image. Older lenses tended to have a large number of blades, giving a nearly circular hole and the suggestion is that this produces a smoother out-of-focus effect (now called bokeh). A more modern shutter with fewer blades has corners where the blades overlap, which generate those pretty star effects from bright sources. These are absent in your examples where bright lights are in the frame.
This is in addition to the effect of coating, or lack of it, that we all know about already.

Herman Sheephouse said...

I've read that for a long time, but you know what - I don't really think it makes that much difference - my old 90mm Angulon has (from memory) 6 blades and yet achieves a nice old look - my 1950's Ektar has about 12 and yet looks modern. The 1930's Elmar has many blades and looks old, the 1960's 1.8 Canon rangefinder has many blades and looks modern!

Bruce Robbins said...

I think the aperture thing is a bit of an urban legend, David. Given that almost all lenses have a circular aperture wide open then there should be little difference in bokeh shot like that but there is. Also, handheld shots at night would tend to be shot wide open, I'd imagine. From what I've read it's uncorrected spherical aberrations that largely determine the character of the bokeh.

David M said...

Everybody might be right. A little bit of lens flare and aberration, a little bit of older, thicker film coating, a little bit of enlarging paper choice and a little bit of smog might all add up to the "look". Who knows? I expect there's an app... There usually is.

A sudden extra thought.
We have all ignored the process that transformed the image from gelatin to ink. The appearance of ink-printing is very much affected by the quality of the paper used, and letterpress and offset produce different results too. The images we are commenting on are several generations away from the fixer tray.

amos said...

@David M
Yes, an app! :)

David Jenkins said...

When I started in a studio (all those years ago), my mentor used mostly Ilford HP3. He rated it at 200 (ASA), and I am pretty sure under developed it,in some home made brew mixed up in the sink. It gave really soft negs. Then printed on a hard grade of paper and achieved a Dmax Black that can only be dreamed of today.

It gave a wonderful 'atmospheric' quality to both commercial and afterdark work.

Reading this is enough to make me grab the D810 and go out and try to recapture that feel.

Great read.

edgie 44767 said...

Sorry to point this out, but the photo of the man on the bus is actually a railway carridge compartment. By the way really interesting and informative blog.