First Film Results!

Last week I told you about my new adventures in black and white film photography, well here’s a selection of the results. I need to work on my digitisation process a bit more because of course this is all still a bit trial and error.

I’ve owned a scanner in the past, but the results were never more than “ok” in spite of it being quite a high-end Nikon machine, so I’m using a digital camera and a copy box which I constructed myself.

As much as possible I want to preserve the beauty of the negatives (and they are quite lovely) and while this might only be truly possible by making direct prints from them, that’s not so practical when it comes to showing them on my blog.

But away with all this technical talk, what about the subjects of the photos?

There’s the shopfitter in Bath who didn’t mind me taking a few frames while he was on his cigarette break, but wasn’t going to pose. That’s ok, I just wanted an interesting face and some half-decent light for my test photos. He was the perfect candidate.

Then, back in Frome, I met Bad Rasta who travels the country selling balloons and novelty toys at carnivals. He was on a break before the start of the evening carnival in the town and was great fun to chat to and was very happy to pose for me with his van and balloons.

Finally Geoff, a Frome local who I met while wandering around the funfair in Frome. Full of interesting reminiscences, a face full of character, and a pig skin jacket that belonged to his father.

There are more photos of course, but some were just tests to check the camera metering and to see how the Kodak Tri-X film would handle different lighting situations. I wanted to make sure I had a few engaging portraits to share.

Of course the question has to be is this worth all the effort and expense? And of course the answer is yes. Ok, I could have taken these photos digitally with better technical quality for web, but these negatives would print beautifully well, and even if I never get the pleasure of doing that, it does give me satisfaction.

There is also the fact that knowing how to do this improves my work as a digital photographer. I’ve always firmly believed that having a background in processing and printing my own film work back when I started has always been a big advantage over photographers who didn’t get that grounding. So to continue it now is helping me keep in touch with the basics.

And besides all that, getting out and about to discover personal stories and just talking to people I wouldn’t otherwise get to photograph makes the whole exercise utterly, utterly worth it.

Victoria, London

Street photography isn’t something I get to indulge in often, but on Saturday I was in Southwark, London, with barely an hour to spare before going to see a concert in the cathedral. To make use of my limited time I had a wander round Borough Market with my Fuji X20, bags of really interesting late afternoon sunlight filtering through the structures of the market and little scenes of traders winding down from a busy day.

With all the shoppers gone, or congregated at nearby bars, I was able to move about and frame scenes without too much clutter, and as I rounded one corner I was struck by this vision of a waitress with red hair, concentrating on her mobile phone and smoking a cigarette while the evening sunlight lit her up brilliantly against the shaded backdrop of a closed stall.

Now I’m not a natural street photographer and on the whole I don’t like to snap pictures of people without their knowledge, especially if I intend publishing the photos in some form, so I approached and asked permission to shoot.

Victoria (for ’twas her name) agreed, but at first she wasn’t sure if I wanted her to pose, so I explained that if she went back to what she’d been doing, that would be just the ticket. Within seconds it was as if I wasn’t there. I took 10 frames, three of which worked well and two I’m posting here.

Once I’d done taking pictures I went back over for a chat, to take her name and some details and to give Victoria my email address so she can have a copy if she wants. Then her cigarette was done, her break over and she dashed back off to the wine bar to continue her shift. Click photos to enlarge

I’m not saying these are prize-winning photos, but the big step for me is that unless I’m under pressure of a brief, I find it incredibly difficult to approach strangers and ask them to pose for me. I generally need to know the pictures have more of a purpose than just my own joy of taking a photo, which is silly. As a photographer of almost 30 years’ experience I really should know by now that I have absolutely every right to record what is around me.

And as long as I do this with dignity and technical ability, I really should get over myself and just get on with it.

 

Experiment Time!

Last weekend I had a sudden urge. I dug out my old film camera, found a roll of Fuji film in the fridge (three years out of date, but what the heck) and headed out into miserably wet weather to see what I could find.

To my astonishment, having shot the roll, I discovered Frome Photo Centre still runs a one-hour service, so I headed off for coffee and cake at Paccamora while my film was being processed and printed.

Now I no longer have a film scanner, so had to use a slightly Heath Robinson arrangement to digitise the negatives, and even then they don’t come out as positive images. A bit of work on them in software is required to achieve positives, and the colours aren’t perfect, but it’s a chance to be experimental. See what you think…

The exercise was fun, despite the fact I was soaked by the end. The portrait of Anthony pleases me because it was literally a frame to finish the roll and I used a 30-year-old flash gun to light him, yet it looks so natural. At some point I’ll organise a decent scan of this shot.

I’d like to get back to shooting more film, if only for personal projects, but will probably do black and white rather than colour because I know I can process this myself and get exactly the quality I want. Of course if a client wants a job shot on film, I’ll jump at the chance. For all the benefits of digital, film still has a certain quality about it which digital can’t quite replicate. It would be interesting to talk to a client who wants that difference in their marketing imagery.

As if this wasn’t enough, I decided to pop out on Sunday evening with my friend Nik Jones, a graphic designer based in Frome, to shoot some long-exposure pictures. This time in digital. Nik wanted some pointers on getting photos of trailing car lights, so we headed to a bridge over the Frome bypass.

As a result of that little adventure, I turned a series of still images into this GIF animation using gifmaker.me.

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So my weekend spanned everything from old-school film to new-school animation, and while all this might seem to serve little purpose beyond a weekend’s entertainment and a blog post, exercises like this get me thinking about new approaches and techniques which I can apply to client work. It would certainly be interesting to speak to anyone interested in having either film-based photography on their website or even a GIF. I can think of interesting applications for both.

Fun Experience in Frome

This week is mainly a thank you to Frome visitors Imogen and Ben who became accidental models when I was out and about last week with work experience photography student Becky Collis.

It was a quiet Monday afternoon when we took a stroll up Catherine Hill seeking a photographic opportunity for Becky to get to grips with. I spotted this stylish couple, classic film cameras in-hand, walking up the hill and approached them to ask if they would pose for us for a few minutes.

They were gracious enough to agree and patient enough to let Becky and I take turns at posing and photographing them. I decided we should apply newspaper rules to the task, so the photo had to have a news feel to it, would require captions and a speedy turnaround at the end.

The photos below show Becky in action, followed by her portrait of Imogen and Ben, then her action shot of me followed by my version. Just click to see them larger and to cycle through the set.

Becky caught some nice light outside Kushi clothing store, who also kindly allowed us use of their bench, while I opted to bring them away from the window front. The light wasn’t as pretty, but I got the separation I wanted from the background. My preference would have been to use portable lighting to lift the daylight, but this was also an exercise in minimal equipment (precisely because I didn’t have portable lighting with me).

Within about 40 minutes we’d returned to the office, processed and captioned our images and delivered them to online galleries in the same way as we would have delivered them to clients. Job done and a nice little exercise.

So thank you Imogen and Ben (good luck with your studies!) and thank you Kushi for the loan of your bench. It was the perfect bench test!

 

The selfie, a fine tradition

I’m a little nervous about this week’s post in that instead of featuring a photo of some poor, unsuspecting client, it features me. This potentially opens up my comment box to many hilarious responses, but that’s ok, it’s probably justified.

Self-portrait of Tim Gander reflected in a shop window near Paris

The man behind maketh the photo (click to enlarge)

The reason for inflicting this narcissistic portrait on you isn’t just that selfies have been a feature of the news in recent months (most notably David Cameron, Helle Thorning-Schmidt and Barack Obama at Nelson Mandela’s memorial service), but having taken the shot, it sparked a thought about photographers and selfies as something of a tradition.

First a little background to how this photo came about… I was in a little town near Paris, France at the weekend for a wedding (don’t worry, I was a guest, not the photographer – I haven’t gone completely mad!) and had some time to kill between arriving and the start of the service, so I took my camera and went for a wander around the streets.

Now I can’t speak for other photographers, but give me a super-reflective surface like a shop window and some interesting light and I can’t resist playing around to see what I can do with it, and this particular shop window seemed to call to me to make a selfie.

I’d just lined up for the best shot I thought I could get when I spotted a man in the reflection, walking along having a fairly lively conversation with himself. I waited until he moved through to the right spot and caught him in mid-animation. Without him I think the shot would have been about 50% less interesting, and possibly not even worth keeping. You can tell me if you think it’s worth keeping anyway, it’s probably not for me to say.

I’m not saying this photo is anything special, but where the selfie of iPhone fame tends to be of drunk teenagers gurning at themselves, there are plenty of examples of photographers who have used themselves as models when experimenting with light, composition and reflections. Take a look at the Vivian Maier official website and you’ll see she really played with the genre.

I suppose what I’m trying to say in probably too many words is that there is no shame in taking selfies. They can be flippant and fun, they can be more considered and exploratory. I could be honest and admit that mine is even more self-absorbed than a quick iPhone snap (which I’ve also done on occasion), but when there is no one else around to model, well you just have to go with what you’ve got.

I find them a useful way of trying out something new, I just wish I had a better model to work with.

Another Chapter

Smiling portrait against a grey background of author Sally M Gander

Standard head shot for small usage

Author portrait sessions are fun, I just don’t get to do them very often. That’s a slight understatement because in fact I believe in the last 15 years as a freelance I’ve done the grand sum of two. The first was in May 2003 for sci-fi writer Karen Traviss for her book City of Pearl, the second was in November last year for young adult fiction writer Sally M Gander* as part of the launch of her debut ebook, The Big Deep. A gap of just over a decade. Hardly London buses then.

What’s fun about them is that they are an opportunity for more creative input than I tend to get with, for example, corporate portraits. Using Sally as an example, we were able to discuss style and mood which feeds into considerations of location and, for me at least, what kit to use. Also, since the writing world has changed so dramatically since the halcyon days of 2003, we needed to consider context a lot more.

Author Sally M Gander's photo session in the street is interrupted by a passerby hugging her

A hazard of taking portraits in the street

Not only will these photos be needed for a possible inside jacket, but also for all kinds of social media, blog use, press use, print and digital. In fact I suspect the shoot covered Sally for pretty much everything barring projection onto the London gherkin (not sure what my obsession with all things London is this week).

We started the session with some fairly straight head shots, indoors against a white backdrop, then switched to grey. Some smiling, some straight-faced as these are useful for when a portrait is to be used very small somewhere.

After the warm indoor part we ventured onto the chilly streets of Frome and worked on getting more mood into the shots and making sure there was a variety of landscape and portrait orientations and shots with left/right emphasis. In order to work fast I stuck to just two lenses, a 35mm and a 105mm, and a single flash to augment the rather nice daylight.

Even keeping it simple takes some time. Add in the odd interruption (a hazard of taking photos on the street) and a couple of changes of location, and by the time I’d finished Sally’s eyes were watering so much it looked as if she might be crying. It’s possible she was, it was bitterly cold.

Landscape portrait of Sally M Gander, author, taken in Shepherds Barton, Frome

A landscape-oriented shot is also useful

The session finished, later that day I did the editing and processing on the files and delivered them to Sally, who said they were absolutely the best photos ever taken of her (I paraphrase, but she was definitely pleased).

So now all I have to do is wait another decade for my next writerly client. I’ll let you know when it happens.

Frome-based author Sally M Gander poses by a stone wall in Frome

An alternative backdrop and different expression change the mood completely

To buy Sally M Gander’s debut novel The Big Deep, click here.

*Yes, there is a relationship between myself and Sally M Gander. We are married. We are separated. We are friends.