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Tuesday, April 17

Twenty-six months in the making

It was in November 2015 that I first spotted this scene. I'd been visiting my old mum and the light from the mid-morning sun was almost blinding as it reflected at a glare angle off the wet surface of a north-facing road.

At the time, I was driving but I thought there had to be a shot there somewhere and made a mental note to have a look at it when I had more time and, more importantly, a camera with me! The actual road in question, Elmwood Road, was about 1000 yards away, give or take a few inches, so a telephoto lens would definitely be needed.

The other issue that occurred to me was the potential difficulty in trying to get an unobstructed view. Between the road I was driving on and Elmwood Road was an urban valley full of houses and some old industrial units. I needed to be at about the same elevation as the road to catch the reflected sunlight and that meant shooting across rooftops, chimneys and trees.

Anyway, with those thoughts filed away I went about my daily business resolving to return, sort of like The Terminator but with a creative bent, at some point in the future. As sometimes happens, days ran into weeks and then I realised that the low morning sun I needed to light up the road wouldn't be back again for a year. Bugger.

I suppose the shot remained somewhere in the deep recesses of my photographic psyche but, for whatever reason, I either didn't see the same scene the following year or wasn't looking for it because the relevant period in 2016 came and went as well. As did November 2017.

In the early part of this year, however, I did see the ideal conditions and that got me thinking again. I put my longest lens, a Tamron 300mm f5.6 SP, on the Contax RTS and went for a recce. It didn't take too long to figure out the best spot from which to take the photograph but the planting of the tripod was going to be crucial. Quite literally, there appeared to be only one spot where I could get a clear enough photograph to make the shot worthwhile. A couple of feet either side and I was encountering near-distance foliage that threw indistinct but annoying blurs across the foreground of the scene. Possibly if I'd had a 500mm lens I might have been able to find another location further back but with the 300mm it was Hobson's choice.

I did think about attaching the 2x converter Tamron made for the lens but I knew from experience that it wasn't the contrastiest lens in the world to start off with so I ditched that idea. My recce also showed that I'd need to take the photograph at about 11 am, a little later than when I'd first noticed the glare but it was almost two months later in the year. So, I knew the lens, I knew the spot and it was just a matter of waiting from the right light. A couple of days later, after I'd dropped Cath off at work and was heading home I saw the right conditions again so all systems were go.

Non-photographers probably think that our hobby is a relaxing, almost boring one but when a shot is totally dependent on the light and that's constantly changing then it can be quite an exciting time setting up a tripod and hoping you'll be quick enough to achieve your goal. Such was the case here but there was also the wee issue of trying to catch a nice arrangement of vehicles on the road. There were workmen carrying out some road repairs just next to where I had to set up. I set the lens at f11 and bracketed a few frames and then the inevitable happened: curiosity got the better of the workies.

"What you photographing, mate?" asked one. Rather than try to explain it, I invited him over to have a look through the viewfinder. He must have liked what he saw as he beckoned a couple of his pals over for a look as well! I suppose it must have appeared quite a funny scene to any onlookers - men in hi-viz jackets taking turns to peer through a camera parked on a street in a housing estate. I'm surprised we didn't have a stream of people coming out of their homes for a butchers as well, just in case they felt they were missing out.

With the shot having a lengthy gestation period I wanted to make sure I had a good neg of it so I must have taken about a dozen shots, bracketing a couple of stops and trying different apertures in the hope of capturing the utmost sharpness of which the lens was capable. The shutter speed was also hovering around the 1/60 of a second mark and I was a bit concerned about camera shake or mirror vibrations spoiling some frames.

The Tmax 400 film was developed in ID11 stock and most of the frames are fine although a couple lack a little sharpness. Maybe 1+1 or 1+2 would have provided a bit more bite. The exposure on them all was on the generous side but it was a tricky scene to meter. The sunlight was so strong bouncing off the road and I wanted to make sure that I got some detail in the surrounding houses. Although the plan was to print down everything bar the road to emphasise the reflection, I didn't want the surrounding environment to fall away into detail-less shadows.

The pic above is a scan of the negative and hasn't had a lot of tweaking beyond some burning in of everything except the road surface. I've got a fair number of very similar looking negs to choose from and it may well be that one of the others will make a better print but I'll leave that decision until I've made a contact sheet. In the meantime this particular frame will serve to illustrate that it can be a good idea to keep an image, or a potential image, alive in your imagination until such time as you can commit it to film. Or, ideally, record it in an "ideas" book.

I've got another one simmering away on the back burner - that's it above - but I won't be able to do much about it until October. I took a photo of that scene with my iphone so know when, to the hour, I have to be standing in a particular spot in the Angus market town of Forfar, to capture it on film. All I need is the right weather.

Do any readers use an "ideas book" and, if so, how effective is it proving to be?


Marcus Peddle said...

I used to write down ideas in a notebook, but my poor organisational skills soon made that useless. I then found that making a snapshot with whatever I had in hand was a good way to remember a scene for later. Either to get better light, to photograph it with a 'proper' camera, or to bring a shorter or longer lens than what I had on me.
I don't get construction workers looking to see what I've been photographing, but sometimes guys (always guys) with cameras will see me doing something with a serious-looking camera on a tripod and then stand behind me and make a snap in the general direction my lens is pointing. I sometimes wonder what their photos look like, and vaguely worry that they did better than me with none of the effort and cursing . . . .
Great post. Looking foward to seeing more photos.

Herman Sheephouse said...

I know exactly where you were Bruce . . well, ish! Was that roughly from the top of Buttars Loan? It's a huge compression of space and works very well.
Waiting, like that, is something I have ever done - far too impatient. If it is there when I am there . . . this being said, abut 15 years ago I came across some moraines in a glen and have always wanted to go back and photograph them with something more appropriate and with more time . . . maybe some day.

Bruce Robbins said...

Hi Marcus,

If someone took the same photograph that I was lining up I'd treat that as a compliment. Needless to say, it's never happened! I'm like you where being organised is concerned. For me, a quick iphone pic is probably the best aide memoire. Geotagging is a handy feature so that I don't have to remember where I took a pic but can find it in the exif info. I go all over the place when I'm out in the car looking for pics and it can be difficult sometimes bringing a location to mind.

Bruce Robbins said...


You're close - it was a couple of streets east in Pitalpin Street. I did think of asking someone in the street if I could take the pic from their upstairs bedroom to get a better view but that would have been pushing it too far. Haha.

DavidM said...

When you are about to take the picture and somebody stands in front of you to take their own shot, you will know how very, very amused and charmed you are. Well, by the accident of time's irreversible arrow, you are the bloke in front and can laugh all the way to the darkroom.
It's always possible that this bloke is a very shy member of the Bruce Robbins Preservation Society. There must be members everywhere.

Bruce Robbins said...

Can we call it the Bruce Robbins Appreciation Society instead? Preservation sounds like I'm a fossil or maybe an old wreck like the Mary Rose. We can argue about the accuracy of all this at a later date. :)

Martyn Lacey said...

I use a sketchbook which ends up containing all things photographic.
I sketch out scenes, ideas for shots some made, some found.
I have accumulated sketchbooks over the years contains scene notes, developing notes so that I can refer back years later.
Like you I take a pic on the iPhone if I see a promising shot then return with the camera at a later date to get the shot.
I sometimes form ideas using a thought chart, like a family tree where one thought or idea can be added to as more ideas come to mind and can include notes on lighting, view points weather and so on.
Well that’s how it’s been in the if I don’t write it down or sketch it I will have forgotten it by tomorrow.
Do you ever see a photo, formulate the idea and return enthusiastically to nail the shot then wonder where the magic went between tripping the shutter and pulling the print from the tray? Then a grab shot turns out to be the print you wished the other one had been.
I guess that’s the decisive moment factor.
Anyway where’s the Carse project now? Any further on over the last few weeks?

DavidM said...

Appreciation it is, sir.
Forgot to mention that I like the picture, so here it is...
I like the picture.

Now that reminds me of something I've noticed. I've been unfaithful to TOD and watched the blogs of other photographers. When they're out and about waiting for the exact moment of sunset (or whatever) they say they are looking for a "composition" not a picture or image. Is this a new trend among the millennials? is that even the right word for them?

Bruce Robbins said...


Do I ever wonder where the magic went? Only every other photograph! I'll update the Carse in a few days. Got a couple of films to scan but my scanner is on its last legs...

Bruce Robbins said...


Thanks, David. "Composition"? Don't know about that one but nothing would surprise me with this "younger generation". Haha.

An old fart

Martyn Lacey said...

I have just shared you on our RPS analogue group FB page.
We had our AGM yesterday at the V&A in London and I thought your blog would be of interest to members.
Hope that was ok.

Bruce Robbins said...

No problem at all, Martyn. Very good of you to think of me. Thank you.