Flaming good luck

As a corporate and press photographer it’s not always possible to predict what will happen on any given day and last Tuesday was one of those days when a very welcome surprise dropped into my lap.

I’d woken up thinking my regular Tuesday networking meeting would be followed by admin and blog-writing, there being no bookings on the diary that day. However one regular client had other plans for me.

The Olympic torch relay was setting off from University of Bath for the city’s leg of the torch journey, and it just happened that the university’s staff photographer had been taken ill. I got an early call during my meeting asking if I could cover at the last minute.

I didn’t need to be asked twice. I’d hoped to catch a glimpse of the procession as it passed through Frome, but to be given the chance of a paid commission to cover the event setting off from Bath was too good to miss.

Even on days when I’m not expecting a last-minute call I take the core of my kit in the car when I leave home, and on this occasion I already had most of what I needed with me. I just had to pop home for my 80-200mm f2.8 lens and slap on some sun cream (nothing worse that standing around in the baking sun waiting for an event to happen and slowly getting sunburn).

I arrived well ahead of the event for a briefing session and was told the one shot the University really needed was a torch-bearer in front of the sign at the campus entrance. This wasn’t a shot I could set up because you can’t just dive in and interrupt the procession, so it was a case of keeping nimble and thinking fast.

The shot very nearly didn’t happen. The sponsors’ buses came through, then there was a gap and I could tell the torch bearer was coming up the driveway because of the crowd reaction. What I hadn’t quite anticipated was a socking great press truck which had to turn slowly at the junction where I was positioned, the only point at which I could get bearer and sign in one frame, which blocked my view of the bearer at the crucial moment. I had to think and move fast.

Olympic relay torch handover at University of Bath

Olympic Torch Relay sets off from University of Bath. Torch bearer Fay Hollister passes the flame to David Malough as the procession leaves University of Bath Claverton Down campus.

The frame you see here is one of only 4 I had time to grab before the changeover was done and dusted and my chance to get THE shot gone forever. I’d have liked a better view of the sign with fewer Met police runners blocking things up, but there’s only so much you can achieve in about 15 seconds.

My camera review has arrived!

Woman on steps of Shepherds Barton, Frome

I was stunned at the quality from this little camera

To make up for my not publishing a blog article this week, feast your eyes instead on the review I wrote and shot pictures for on the Canon G1 X for Warehouse Express (see here).

I’m really rather excited about the whole process of reviewing a camera, and it’s been an interesting exercise. I wanted to shoot pictures that I would be proud of, in the style of the kind of work I do. Too many reviews just feature colour charts or random photos of pretty scenes on sunny days, and I wanted to push the G1 X to see what it’s really capable of.

Do take a look at the article and I’ll be happy to hear what you think.

Now go. Go on read it… you still here?


An unexpected call to help with Olympic torch procession coverage meant my regular Tuesday article didn’t get published. I do apologise, I must try harder.


Leica good essay? You might Leica this one…

There’s been a lot of on-line chatter this past week about Leica, from the surprise announcement of a black-and-white only digital camera to the record-breaking sale price of another, much older Leica which in its day would only have been capable of shooting black and white, there not being any colour film in 1923 when the camera was made. It’s like the circle of life.

What is it about Leica cameras that seems to get photographers wriggling in their seats like school boys with full bladders and frogs in their pockets? And why are they so excruciatingly expensive (the cameras, not the frogs, bladders or pockets)?

In case you’re not aware, Leica, a German brand, are famous for their compact 35mm cameras of the kind used, perhaps most famously, by Henri Cartier-Bresson. They pioneered the 35mm film format and make cameras and lenses to an extremely high standard of manufacture. Many older Leicas (like the one sold at auction last week) have become highly collectible and even fairly common models will fetch eye-watering sums on the secondhand market.

It wasn’t so many years ago Leica appeared to be on the verge of extinction. I don’t know what the state of their finances was, but ‘people who know about these things’ were starting to write Leica off as a brand because they seemed to be slow to respond to the digital era, but by striking deals with the likes of Panasonic, developing their first digital M-series camera and a bit of clever marketing, they look like they’ve pulled back from the brink.

The problem for Leica (if it can be said to be a real problem) is that among many professional photographers, the brand is being harmed by the perception that only rich boys with little or no real photographic talent can afford to buy them.

The Amazon price of the current M9 camera is as close to £5,000 as makes no difference, and that doesn’t even include a lens, for which you’ll need to scrape together another £3,500 for a new one. The newly-released M9 Monochrome, which only takes black and white digital images, is priced at over £6,000 without a lens.

A camera make which used to be aimed mainly at the professional appears to be shifting its (pun alert!) focus towards the wealthy amateur, which may not matter much to Leica but may dent its professional reputation in the longer term.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve seen pictures of and from the M9 Monochrome and it is a very desirable camera indeed, and I think I understand the point of a black-and-white-only digital camera. But scanning the various professional photographers forums and you get a sense of rising indignation that those who might be able to make best use of such cameras can ill afford them. On the flip-side, if Leica priced the new camera at a level pro’s might be able to afford, everyone would rush out and buy one and Leica would lose an important ingredient of their reputation – their exclusivity.

By now you’re probably wondering what my actual point is, and my point is… I’m not sure. I’m conflicted. It would be a sadder world without at least one camera manufacturer making products that set the heart racing. Maybe it’s good to have such things to aspire to, but cameras are just things after all.

I’m not a huge fan of the current trend towards retro-styled cameras, some of which are better to look at than to take pictures with, but to be fair to Leica they have, like Porche, stuck to a design principle since the year dot. Manufacturers like Fuji with their X100 are starting to prove a camera doesn’t have to cost the price of a small continent to function well, but you won’t find too many Fuji cameras becoming collectible in years to come which brings us back to the brand-conscious collectors.

Call it my working class chip if you like, but I do have a problem with the idea of someone spending £9,000 on a camera they’ll use to take pictures of parties, kittens and tourist attractions, or perhaps even worse they’ll keep it in the presentation case never to be used at all in the hope of selling for a profit later. On the other hand, give the camera to a professional and you have to ask if it’s in poor taste take pictures of starving Africans with a camera that costs enough to buy them an irrigation system and a lifetime supply of seed and livestock.

If a camera which cries out to be used to take pictures of the human condition is so expensive that its self-selecting market is largely the untalented rich, is that a problem?

You could link this argument to one about people who buy Ferraris and Lamborghinis, but people who buy for the purpose of ostentation might be lousy drivers and photographers, or they may be brilliant photographers who like to arrive in style. Perhaps it’s the ostentation that professional photographers dislike, maybe it’s jealousy.

Perhaps in my case there is an underlying, uneasy insecurity that while I point and snipe at rich kids with all the gear and no idea, would a £9,000 camera in my hands result in some great, Pulitzer Prize-winning photo essays on the Mexican drugs war or child sex trafficking in the UK? I’m starting to think my point today is this; could someone please buy me a Leica M9 Monochrome with a 35mm f2 Summicron so I can at least find out?

Review preview

For some time now I’ve contributed occasional articles to the Warehouse Express blog site where I’ve discussed topics as diverse as looking after your copyright on social media sites, the changing face of photography since 1945, fast flash synchronization, and using flip-out screens on compact cameras.

The flip-out screen article was inspired by my having bought a Canon G11 which has one such flippy-outie screen. Warehouse Express asked if, being something of a G-series fan, I would be interested in writing a review of the G1 X, Canon’s new, beefier version of the G-series cameras. How could I refuse? So they sent me one.

Having played with the G1 X for over a week now, I have to say… well you’ll have to read the finished article to know what I think of the camera and see the pictures I’ve taken with it, but I’ll give you some insight into how the review process is going.

Canon G1 X

My review copy of the Canon G1 X

I was a little daunted at first when I realised I was actually going to have to go out and take pictures with this camera, preferably ones I’d be proud to show and which would demonstrate its capabilities. I mean I’m always happy to take pictures, but I don’t like reviews that don’t really push the equipment or show interesting photos. Colour charts and pictures of buildings on a sunny day don’t really do it for me.

As luck would have it, the day after the camera arrived so did some heavy rain and local flooding (don’t worry, no houses flooded). I grabbed the G1 X leaving all other cameras at home on purpose and headed out to the affected part of town. The camera was going to have to sink or swim! Well, not literally; I don’t think buoyancy tests are a normal test for a digital camera.

Since then I’ve shot portraits, events, street scenes and I’m hoping to test the camera in the most difficult of lighting conditions, the Frome farmers’ market at Standerwick, which has been a long-term photographic project for me.

With a bit of luck I’ll have a total of about 3 or 4 weeks to really try this thing out, and once I’ve processed the images and written up the review I should think the finished article will go live on the Warehouse Express blog pages pretty swiftly.

Don’t worry, I’ll be sure to make a big song and dance about my first product review. I won’t let you miss it.

Until then, I will offer this sneaky peek at the picture set since the picture below has already been released for editorial use via Alamy Live News.

flood waters in Frome

First outing I had with the G1 X was a bit of a weather event

Film isn’t dead, it’s just resting its eyes

Getting rambly and nostalgic in my middle (going-on-old) age…

Remember film? I do. I remember hand-processing black and white film in the Bath Chronicle dark room. I remember chemicals that stained my clothes and made them disintegrate. I remember the beautiful, shiny strips of cellulose hanging in the drying cabinet, fluttering ribbons of potential Pulitzer prize-winning images awaiting the lightbox, the loupe and the enlarger.

And now I’m getting all nostalgic again because for some strange reason I went from preparing to sell my last film camera (a Canon EOS 1N) on Ebay to buying black and white film and shooting some photos with it the other week.

This change of heart/mind came about partly because having seen some of the feeble prices the 1N commands on Ebay I knew I’d get more than 90 quids’ worth of fun from using it again.

I hadn’t used the camera since the year 2000 when I went digital, but it still works perfectly, and going back to film has re-informed how I shoot digital.

As an example, because I was shooting film that I didn’t want to waste I decided to be extra careful with the metering, so I used a hand-held light meter instead of relying on the built-in one. Seeing the consistency in exposure across the negatives, and thinking of all the times I’ve had to override the metering on my digital cameras, I think I’ll use a hand-held meter a lot more often when shooting digitally.

Now as tempting as it is to go back to processing my own films, and I do still have the tank, bag and reels for doing that, I don’t think I’m going to go that far. At least not yet.

For my first outing with film in 12 years I opted for Kodak BW400CN, which is black and white film you can process in a colour lab, which means that having shot my film I was able to drop it into Boots and have it processed and printed in an hour.

The next stage was to choose a couple of negatives and have them scanned by the lovely folk at click2scan who by amazing coincidence have just expanded into a premises in Frome. The photo here is my favourite from the roll of 36, which was mainly test shots for metering, contrast and the like.

Catering staff on cigarette break in Frome, Somersey

Smokers, Apple Alley, Frome

I’ve put another roll of the 400CN in the camera and might shoot colour after that. If I do, I’m sure I’ll keep you updated here.

In the meantime, why not dig out your old film camera and try some shots (instead of taking snaps on your iPhone and trying to make them look like old timey Polaroids, Kodachromes or sepia prints) But be prepared for something that took me by surprise; at first, every time I shot a frame, I’d find myself looking at the back of the camera where the digital preview would be. A slightly embarrassing tic I need to deal with.