I love black and white but some images just work better in colour. In this case I still like the black and white enough to keep it here.
Over the past few months I've been using film again, after about fifteen years of being solely digital in most of my image making. A few months ago I was reunited with the Nikon FM that I learned on and caught the film bug again. That said, I was never much of a fan of the FM as a general walk around town camera. It is a great camera and beautiful to use but not far enough removed from my Canon 6D, which I really love. The light meter in the FM is also quite good for the time, but I'm totally lazy. Even though as a kid I had learned how to think about light and create an exposure, I'm more likely to trust the dot and snap than pause and think.
A couple of months ago while trolling eBay I came across an old Leica M2 with a Leitz Summar lens for £200. Bargain of all bargains I imagined knowing it must be a bit of a wreck. Turned out it was. Shutter was full of holes, timing was off and the body was leaking light.
Repairs of this nature are beyond my novice skills, so I sent it off to Red Dot Cameras in London for an overhaul. Weeks later I got an email to let me know that this one was beyond repair. Disappointed I said thanks and that I'd try myself as this camera would be used and not put in a case like most of its generation. Hours later I got a call saying they would do their best and only charge me about 30% of the original estimate, only the work would not be guaranteed.
The Summar that was with the M2 has a beautiful dreamy quality similar to putting a bunch of vaseline on the filter. While beautiful, I can get the same effect in photoshop with a little more control. Since then, I was able to get a Summicron 50mm from about the same period in the 1950's and have been delighted with the results. I blew off a few rolls of colour film winging exposures and at times pulling out the digital camera when I was unsure. The Canon 6D is a pretty incredible light meter... even gives a stunning preview.
Previously, the closest I'd come to a rangefinder was a Contax T2 which isn't one at all but is closer than my SLR cameras. The M2 is old and the patch is dim. Focusing is work. So much so that you slow down. You find yourself thinking about the image, the light, the exposure, the composition and that light sounding click and buttery Leica wind-on which is surprisingly satisfying. Taking pictures of the kids is best done when they are exhausted, unable to move and in exceptionally good light.
Working digitally for so many years has been amazing. Not only are the rewards quick and accessible. So is the learning. There is a great sense of "got the shot", it's there on the screen. The massive resolution and tonal range of raw makes tuning all but the worst exposed images a dream. We read about 20 megapixels and wonder if that is enough.
Then you load up a roll of film like HP5 or Tri-X. The smell gives me flashbacks to being a kid, it's unmistakeable. For quite a few shots I'd look at the back of the M2 after clicking, forgetting that there was no bright full colour screen and laugh to myself. "See you in a few weeks, I guess". Better make sure I got the F'n shot? More importantly, what do I want the shot to look like? Where are my darks, lights and midpoints? What film do I have loaded?
Weeks later when the prints arrive it's quite exciting and refreshingly retro. "oOhs", "Uhs" and "Mms" followed by a slight sense of satisfaction. Passing around prints is nice, more personal than Facebook, 500px or Whatsapp and sparks a much more interesting conversation that reminds me that we now have two different types of sharing. One that is real, personal and intimate. The other is a whole other conversation, for another time.
Getting scans at the same time as processing is also great. A great reminder of how far we have come. None of that depth of tonal range or resolution found in a RAW file. It just is what it is. You either got or you didn't. Or got something unexpected that will work out just fine. Having less depth in tonal range isn't a bad thing. The whites are there, the blacks are there as are the mid tones but there is a greater degree of separation between them, making the image more graphic, stronger in composition.
Then, there is that grain. The world of digital photography obsesses about noise and loss of depth at higher ISOs. Seldom is there a discussion about the character of that noise. Tri-X and HP5 are beautiful films both with unique characters. They are tonally different. Their grain patterns are different. Like an old friend, they are surprisingly forgiving and great fun.
Will I give up digital and just use film? Hell no. I'm a geek. I love new technologies and all the opportunities they bring. My phone is an amazing camera. Using old film and cameras is like a creative savings account that pays over time.
It was a cold wet January in Ourense, Spain, but it was still absolutely beautiful. It never seems to get that cold but boy did it rain. And rain. And rain. Nonstop for days. Wandering around the town with an umbrella was nice. The rain was warm, the mood was good and the atmosphere in the city was beautiful as usual.
Over the last 20 years I've become incredibly used to bouncing around in fractions of stops to get the "right" exposure with a modern Nikon or Canon DSLR. It is easy to forget how much light doesn't change. Especially when it is overcast. Film is very forgiving, even when I know I was totally winging it, the prints looked OK. The fuji film I was using created really nice contrasty tones which converted to black and white extremely well.
The old town part of Ourense is perfect place to walk around. The buildings and streets are lined with cafe's and interesting faces and places.
Walking around with an old Leica, with no meter is much more fun than I expected.
On a cold night, you just can't beat a cup of chocolate sauce and churros! Mmm!
After a much needed break from work and life back at home it was time to go home. While giving Estrella some time to say Adios to her Familia, I took another opportunity to wander around the train station and get a few more pix.
Just back from a few amazing days in Orense, Spain.
When I was a kid, this house was alive with family and coming and goings. Full of art and antiques.
Seven. For me this is about the time you want to let your kids know that they have complete control over how they look in photos. They can always feel awkward, shy, uncomfortable, But they can make it look they way they want. Confidence is an illusion.
On another point purely technical and photographic. I have a love/hate relationship with this Sigma 50mm F/1.4 DG HSM EX lens. There are times when I take photos and I hate how horribly out of focus it is. It front focuses by more than my canon 6D can correct for and the results are terrible. That said if I do the right thing and take my time. I can't imagine a better lens for taking portraits. Switch to manual focus, rock back and forward a few centimetres, until the eye highlights are in focus and it's perfect in every way. At F/1.4 there is lots of colour shift but the results are completely pleasing.
Never to be accused of being last minute about anything. I was back home in Dublin in August waiting on my passport which I needed to travel to Spain the next day. These images are all from Grafton Street. Wandering around town (Dublin City Centre) or anywhere, for that matter, with a camera is great fun. Especially with digital, though the urge to look at the screen can end with a punch if you are trying to sneak a pic of a rough looking character, chiefly fat bankers. One of the only things I don't like about street photography is that it has a name.
The sight of three generations of males in the window of a coffee shop runs in sharp contrast to the Dublin of thirty years ago where this scene would have taken place in the dark corner of the pub. Pints, shorts, peanuts, crisps and lemonade. Definitely seemed like a whole load more fun back then. While the three of them were definitely together, there was no eye contact or conversation between them. What hadn't changed was, they were not going shopping.
There is a school of thought in photography that an image should not be cropped. Yeah OK, it is nice to see and capture an event in all it's purity, but there are also times when you feel something and click. Later when reviewing the images it isn't there. That familiar feeling of emptiness and head scratching as you realise they are all crap and you are unfortunately insane and imagined the whole thing. I like to go back over sequences that are a few months old, when my memories of the scene have faded. Quite often that feeling pops up again. Imperfect, poorly framed or exposed. Or in my case, often quite small in the frame. I spent most of the 80's and early 90's walking about with a telephoto lens, which seems to have had a long term effect on my sense of scene.
The second and third images here from M&S coffee shop on Grafton street were both feelings that there was something there that was interesting. On review months later the graphic composition of the light and the silhouettes of the people was so obvious in the first image, but quite small in frame. Latter was tilted and poorly exposed. I remembered at the time that the guy's face was lit in a very interesting way but the reflected arm on the coffee was luck. Cropping, recomposing and exposing the images gave them new life and restored that feeling that there was something interesting when I was walking down the street. Something that I like.
Dublin has real character all the time. It is and feels like a cosmopolis. While it is far removed from the place I grew up, it still has an energy that is unlike anywhere else in the world. Also, luckily for me, mine was the last passport handed out on that day and we were in Orense the following evening for a well deserved break.
Halloween weekend we all headed up to Malin Head for a little sight seeing and a few laughs. We had a visitor over from Spain and thought it would be a good idea to show off a little of the country. Though explaining how we were going to drive head north out of the North to the most northerly part of the south without entering into an odd history of politics was difficult.
The sun was out and Banba's Crown looked beautiful, but this is the most northerly part of the island and the wind was baltic. Standing straight was difficult enough, but then I thought it would be good for the girls and I to play a little game. It goes something like this. Stand facing the wind. Bare your teeth as far as you can while facing into the freezing cold wind. First to flinch loses.
Heyzus, the pain was unbelievable. We felt like our teeth were going to shatter as our heads were squeezed with the pain. That combined with the near suffocation as our breath was blown from our lungs. Good crack as we say. We laughed hard and I was impressed with the girls for being such good sports.
The abandoned buildings are more interesting than the view when you are a kid. Especially when it is freezing cold outside and you have refused to wear your sensible school coat.
There is a one eyed teddybear above the Monster logo.
The thought of going on a road trip with your seven year old kid, where there is just the two of you is amazing. No distractions. Lots of chat and an vain attempt at getting lost on this very small Island. Ended up visiting the folks.
Great thing about working in Ulster University's Belfast School of art is there is aways something interesting going on.