Monday, 19 August 2013

Been away far tooooooooo long!

Where does the time go? I'm determined to keep this blog a little more up-to-date!
What's happened since my last entry last April? Well, managed to get back to Iceland this year for an amazing 12 day trip! Saw the Aurora Borealis for the first time and found some great locations for future visits!!
Some pics from this year's trip


Friday, 27 April 2012

Just a few shots from Iceland.

Friday, 20 January 2012

A change of format - but hopefully not of direction!

Its been a while since I updated this blog .... where does the time go?
An awful lot has happened in the time I've "been away"! The biggest change is that I've moved to digital photography and fully embraced what this technology can offer.
The reasons for my move are many but the bottom line is that digital photography meets my photographic needs; large format was starting to constrict me.
I'm dabbling with both stills and HD Video too! Current plans are a book and a short film taken during my forthcoming trip to Iceland.
I will keep you posted!

Saturday, 30 January 2010

My portable darkroom

Ever since I "lost" my wet darkroom with a house move some 6 years ago I've hankered after a darkroom - there is definitely something "womb-like" about it and I've always felt "at peace" when I'm inside one!

My transition to a hybrid workflow; film - development - scanning - printing with inkjet calmed my "need" for the dark but over recent months I've been toying with the idea of trying alternative photographic processes using contact printing; I really want to try Platinum/Palladium! My plan is to use negatives produced digitally with the Epson 3800 printer up to approximately 10x14 inches and contact print them.

Last year I managed to track down a very nice (used) contact-printing frame from Ed Buziak (Darkroom User fame) and it arrived from France in perfect condition! It has sat unused ever since quietly waiting for a darkroom!

I advertised on a number of LF Forums enquiring as to whether anyone was selling a Nova Portable Darkroom; basically an inflatable tent with a pole frame. No luck! Theye are available new from Nova but they have a £500+ price tag and I didn't fancy one that much!

Patience paid off (good old Ebay!) and I managed to bid and win one for the princeley sum of £90.00 ... bargain!

Three large-ish parcels arrived a few days later (£30 for courier!) and I wondered what I'd let myself in for - certainly didn't look "portable"!

Box 1 - set of telescopic poles that lock together to form the outer frame; Box 2 - electric blower fan to inflate tent; Box 3 - the tent itself.

I proceeded to set it up ...

1. Unzip carry bag (the bag actually forms the floor of the tent);
2. Attach electric blower and switch on - remarkably quiet!;
3. Tent starts to inflate (slowly);
4. Assemble poles;
5. 5 minutes and tent fully inflated - poles fed into sleeves and fitted in place
6. Done!

It is MASSIVE!!!!!! Firstly I've discovered it's not a Nova - I'm guessing that its a Durst that preceeded the Nova; the Nova has a simpler door than this one - this has a curved vestibule entrance and is bigger than the Nova by at least 6 inches in all dimensions. (The accompanying photo to this blog shows the Nova version!)

Inside is kitted out with a window - complete with roll down cover, a pair of lightproof tubes for electric cabling, hanging tabs from the ceiling for safelight and wall-mounted pockets for bits and bobs!

Inside it is DARK - thankfully! The electric motor serves to inflate the tent and adds a ventilation system to it; the roof has a 4 foot long light-proof fabric tube that expels waste air - it can be hung out of a window! The whole structure is ideal and very comfortable but it does take up most of the kitchen space in the house!

What's more it is very lightweight and easily packable. Assembly was a simple affair with just one person - although my wife did pop her head into the kitchen during the initial inflation but left quickly with her head shaking slowly!

Ebay has also come to the rescue with a (new) foldable table; 100x60cms surface area and adjustable height up to 95cms .... all for £40 delivered.

Now then ... where did I hide that contact printing frame!

Friday, 22 January 2010

Nifty gadget?

Using a large format camera is a real pleasure ... but there are times when it can be a pain in the rear! The whole process of taking a photograph with a viewcamera is like a carefully orchestrated ballet; okay maybe not a ballet but it does involve a number of planned moves and lord help you if you miss a stage out!

However, the main difference between photography with large format and (say) digital is the plethora of bits and pieces of gear that are needed to take the photograph! Photography should be simple .... yeah right! A DSLR and tripod might be simple enough but take a look in any LF photographers bag (usually a whopping Lowepro Trekker) and you'll see what I mean.

Once the camera/lens combination is set up on the tripod and the scene composed out come the gadgets! I'm talking dark cloth, light meter, filters, filter holders/adapters, lens hood, sheet film holders/double dark slides, roll film backs and rolls of 120 film, cable release, spirit level, lens cloth/brush, pen/notebook (to record exposure details), coffee maker, case of champagne, cuddly toy (aaahhh) and the list goes on.

Now being equipped with just one pair of hands I've always taken photographs by making sure that I've got the open backpack nearby the tripod so that all these "essentials" are close at hand;fine if you're on terra firma but what happens when you decide to venture into water? I'm only talking wading to knee-deep here but nevertheless this dictates that the said camera bag is likely to be some feet away or out of easy reach.

I can hear you ... use a photovest!

Now I've tried them ... and to be honest I always feel a bit of a nerd! Photovests are fine if you're a budding photojournalist in a war zone but they do (when I wear one) look ridiculous. Once I've filled the pockets with what I need I look like the "Michelin Man" and I've yet to find one that suits the LF user - the pockets are way too small for things like darkslides/Quickload holders.

I've always been on the lookout for something to carry my "bits" when the camera bag is not immediately to hand; I've tried smaller shoulder bags in the past and they can hold a bit of gear but they tend to be bulky and not ideal when ducking back and forth beneath a darkcloth; the same goes for the "bumbag-type" of bag, they don't move but don't hold much gear either!

I also tried the Silvestri Tripod Apron and this was almost the answer to my prayers - but too few pockets and those that it had were a bit too small - I'm fussy I know!

Enter... the "Chestvest" from a US-based company called "Newswear". At first glimpse it does look something akin to a military flak jacket but bear with me and I'll try and convince you otherwise! The idea behind the vest is that it incorporates a lightweight but heavy-duty harness with an "apron" of lightly-padded pouches designed to take large lenses teams? However, the pockets are perfect for my "bits"!
The two central pockets are bellowed and will comfortably accept three 5x7 double dark slides in each or I can get my Canham 6x17 motorised roll film back in one and the ground glass screen from the Titan XL in the other ... happy days!
The two central pockets are flanked by smaller pockets that will comfortably hold a light meter and Lee filters/filter holders. The flaps of these pouches are also pockets for smaller items like cable releases, spirit levels etc.
Most importantly for me the whole assembly is quite comfortable to wear - despite the harness not being padded. It means that I can "load up" and wade out without having to return to the bank/shore/backpack to take the photograph!

Saturday, 16 January 2010

Ilford Delta 100 ... my film of choice.

As a committed black and white photographer I've narrowed my choice of film down over the years and have (finally) found my "holy grail" ... Ilford's Delta 100.
Many years ago my fave film was Agfa'a APX 25; an outstanding film, grainless and with a pleasing tonality and although I only used 120 roll film (in a 6x12 film back) it made lovely prints. It became discontinued a few years back, a victim of the impending arrival of digital and I've lamented my loss ever since!
When I moved to 5x4 I tried both Ilford FP4 Plus and Delta 100 and stuck firmly with the latter; developed in Paterson FX-39 - a lovely combination.
So for the last few years my film stock has been Delta 100 in 5x4 and also in 120 roll film (in a 6x17 Art Panorama back).
However, my move to 5x7 meant that trying to find Delta 100 in this format was nigh on impossible - plenty of FP4 Plus and Efke film stock but (despite showing as being manufactured by Ilford) the only Delta 100 to be found was across the pond.
I decided to stick with FP4 Plus but very soon noticed a few shortcomings when comparing images shot on both films in 120 format on the Canham 6x17 film back. The FP4 Plus was struggling to keep up with Delta 100 in the shadow department as well as being somewhat "grainier".
Having asked advice on the UKLF forum I decided to try shipping some Delta 100 (5x7) from the US; at about £85 (plus tax plus import duties) it would certainly not be cheap!
just before ordering a forum member suggested contacting Ilford as they were listing 5x7 on their UK website. This made sense as the film is made here in the UK!
A check on their website showed Delta 100 5x7 (box of 100 sheets) as a stock item! A hasty telephone call revealed that this format was in fact a special order and not normally a stock item? However, a check revealed that they did in fact hold this film in stock?? Great (I thought) and enquired as to the price. £175 plus VAT for a box of 100 sheets!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Not to worry, Jo C to the rescue! A quick phone call to one of her contacts at Ilford meant that I was able to get 2 boxes (200 sheets) for the princely sum of £200 all in!
The film arrived 2 days later - excellent service.
BUT I ask myself the question, "why is it so difficult to purchase film in the UK" especially one that's manufactured here?
For those who may be interested? I rate the film at 100 ASA and develop it in Ilford Perceptol (1:1). I tend to underdevelop my film as I find it scans better; allowing for the continuous agitation of the Orbital Processor and this further reduction I find that developing times run to about 13 minutes.

Sunday, 3 January 2010

Glencoe ... in the snow!

Following a heavy dumping of snow over much of the north of Britain, a quick check on the Kingshouse Hotel webcam showed that Glencoe was heavily covered in the white stuff - time for a visit up north!
Having nursed a particularly severe case of "Man Flu" throughout the latter part of December the only time left for a visit was over the New Year period - thank goodness for an understanding wife ... or is she simply glad to see the back of me?
With a room booked at the Kingshouse Hotel from 31st December for a couple of days I made the long trek from South Wales to Glencoe in a shade under 10 hours. I arrived in total darkness but the degree of snow cover was obvious; almost knocked down a deer on the A82 across Rannoch Moor too - they are really big when viewed from close up!
New Year's Day was bright and crisp with light snow flurries and litle wind - but with heavily overcast skies calculating exposure would be interesting - as would composition - all the foreground was .... you guessed it ... snow covered!
Ventured up to Lochan Na' Achlaise and old favourite; been done to death but in these conditions offering me a new perspective from previous visits. I came here a few years ago and the temperatures meant that the water in the Lochs had frozen but this visit combined the same low temperatures with heavy coverings of snow too. Another problem quickly arose - where was slid ground and where was snow covering a multitiude of nasties; rocks, holes, water!
As usual the silence was rewarding until a group of photographers arrived to join me at this popular location ... and proceeded to walk across the frozen loch to get a closer viewpoint to the now-famous "tree on the island". Now I'm not sure how deep the water is but a foolish move perhaps? But they were using digital cameras so probably can be forgiven their stupidity!
For anyone who knows the area the beauty of Glencoe is that many superb locations are accessible from the road and at other times there are usually plenty of parking spaces on verges - but the heavy snowfall combined with the work of the ploughs had meant that the verges were now high embankments that did not allow easy parking!
I managed to expose 8 sheets of 5x7 (Ilford FP 4 Plus) along with 3 rolls of Ilford Delta 100 (in 120 roll film in the 6x17cms format) PLUS 2 rolls of colour negative film!! (a first for me).
The Walker performed admirably in these cold conditions; it seemed to thrive on snow and I had none of the problems associated and previously experienced with wooden cameras in such low temperatures. It makes a difference, to me anyway, not having to worry about expensive kit getting wet! On a number of occasions the camera ended up with a festive layer of snow covering whilst set up and waiting for "the" shot; the lens was protected with a Lee Wide Angle Hood so everyone was happy! The Canham 6x17 film back ran out of juice very quickly in such temperatures but a fresh battery and a gel hand warmer taped to the battery compartment solved the problem!
I use both the 120mm Nikon and the 210mm Schneider for the photographs I took and both performed flawlessly too.
I had a bit of a tragedy within the first hour or so of my trip with my Gossen Starlite meter - I inadvertantly stepped on it thinking I had put it safely in the pocket of my down jacket! I hadn't and a backwards step meant that it received the full force of my "full frame" whilst wearing a pair of plastic climbing boots too! Not a pretty sight ... the meter NOT me!
Thankfully the back-up had been brought along - a simple Sekonic Digilite L328; a meter that I rarely need to use and one which I always wondered as to its suitability for large format work; it has no memory or average function and it only measures ambient light in shutter-priority mode whereas I tend to favour aperture-priority metering. However it was fitted with a 5 degree spot metering attachment so it's versatility was improved.
Tragedy Number 2 ... whilst traipsing back to the car in (quickly) disappearing evening light across Rannoch Moor I was hastily following my previous footprints in virgin snow as my outward path had proved without hidden surprises! When a carefully placed foot disappeared through the snow and promptly continued to break the ice layer covering the stream that I had inadvertantly walked across and continued through until I was up to my groin in a combination of freezing peat/water/ice slush. Extracting myself was fun as I was carrying a fully laden Lowepro Super Trekker on my back and my Gitzo tripod in my hand!
Thankfully there were no witnesses to this event and 10 minutes later I was warming up back in the car!
I've processed some of the film and I'm really pleased!
The attached image is a view across Rannoch Moor as evening approaches (well approximately 4pm) taken on the Walker 5x7 on a sheet of Ilford FP4 Plus in 5x7 format. I composed the image with the 6x17cms back and planned to use Ilford Delta 100 but the image was too narrow; so the composition in-camera was a cropped 5x7 ... about 9x17cms! Lens used was the Nikon 120mm with a Lee Yellow/Orange (16) filter to try and put some depth to the sky. The exposure was 1/2 second at f32.