The Online Darkroom Store

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
negative?

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.

8 comments :

Herman Sheephouse said...

Nice piece Bruce, but can we see them without the 'dusk' filter as well please?
They actually make a good set as they are though, and no matter what, ALWAYS WEAR YOUR WELLIES!!!

Bruce Robbins said...

I could lighten them, Phil, but I envisaged them as dark and moody at the taking stage. If I'd intended them to look "normal", i.e. taken in full daylight, then I probably wouldn't have photographed them in the first place. On a dull day with a subject as simple as a few trees there's just no atmosphere if they're processed to look like normal pics. Can I ask why you ask? Are they too dark on your screen?

Dave Jenkins said...

Looks like you are fully back with us, Bruce. Please keep that Ikonta. It is obviously inspirational.

Herman Sheephouse said...

Hi Bruce - work screen is like looking into the black hole of Calcutta! Now I've looked at them at home I really like the sombre uniformity! My monitor is quite well balanced, so I can see they'd make a great set of prints too.
You're getting the results with that camera!

Richard Warom said...

Love the moody shots Bruce and I second what Dave says. I've got my Ikonta back now and after a bit of restoration i.e. turning rust to metal on the inside its loaded with HP5+ and hoping that today will be a good day for a first try as its a 1938 model the lens is uncoated so it will be interesting to see what it produces thats of course if the user can do it justice, I have to say that I really like the results you have achieved with your Ikonta.

Anonymous said...

As always, I enjoy viewing your pictures--I like the mood of these photographs--and reading the accompanying text. Visiting your blog always makes me want to go out and make pictures, to improve my seeing and technique, which can't be a bad thing. Thanks. Bill

John Carter said...

Apples may have been one of the only good flora and fauna that the Aussies imported. They seemed to be always trying to improve life and causing problems. I know my Great Great Grandfather was murdered there. But I do like your overcast day idea of shooting into the sun. As I've said before overcast is a rarity in my part of California so as this has been a rainy year photography is a learning curve for me, thanks.

DavidM said...

Ikonta triumphs again!
The two of you seem to make a very good partnership. This is a nice little essay on the orchard. Another visit (or perhaps two) and you might have enough for a small exhibition.
Clearly, the camera likes you and you seem to like the camera in return.
The square format seems to like your pictures too.
Having only one lens may be concentrating your vision (sorry for the art word) despite what you've said before.
The limited number of frames seems to be giving you a little extra push, too. After ten frames, 35mm film leaves you with the uphill task of filling twenty six more frames before development, but anybody can squeeze out another couple, then dash home and see the result the same day, rather than in a fortnight.
Often, I have noticed, the last couple of frames, when the brain thinks that the job is done, can be the best of the day. 120 film offers three times as many last frames.
Even though I like the pictures, on my screen, the shadows are tending a little bit towards the dark and murky, as others have mentioned. Not quite silhouette, not quite rich darkness. The prints may well be different. Please remember that when people suggest changes to an image, they do so because they think it's a good 'un.