Water at various speeds

I did a little experiment with my Ricoh GR with pictures of moving water at various speeds, which might be of interest and use to people, so hey here are the results. (The pictures were taken at Camden Lock incidentally, and cropped quite significantly as the GR has a 28mm equivalent lens.)

At 1/30, moving droplets are blurred lines, and water in greater volume is a textured sheet. This is about the limit of how low I could handhold the camera while perching on the banks of the canal.

Speed 1-30

At 1/60, individual drops are more visible but still turn into lines. There are more gaps visible in sheets of water but detail is still lost.

Speed 1-60

At 1/250 there is a balance. Individual drops are visible if they aren’t moving too quickly perpendicular to the direction of the shot, but they still blur slightly, and if they are moving perpendicular (i.e. across the shot) they’re certainly blurred. The water is still definitely moving but you can see some detail in it.

Speed 1-250

1/500 is coming close to freezing the water, though there is still a little bit of motion blur in areas that are moving particularly quickly.

Speed 1-500

And at 1/1000 the water is pretty much still, and blur is due to the limits of the camera.

Speed 1-1000

Which is best? Okay, the answer is always going to be “depends on what you want”, but, some thoughts:

  • In a landscape photo there’s a lot to be said for freezing the static details of the scene and blurring the moving ones – Ansel Adams did this a lot. The lower speeds achieve this.

  • The higher speeds are slightly alien. You only see water like this in real life if the scene is lit by a strobe. I would generally use them if I wanted to capture a very deliberate slice of somebody interacting with water drops, and I wanted to emphasise the fact that drops were involved.

  • For most purposes 1/250 is a good speed for me. People generally don’t move faster than 1/250 unless they’re doing something really quick like sports or martial arts (more so if they’re close), and if I was taking pictures of a scene with people plus moving water I’d get more out of freezing the people in the shot and retaining water movement via motion blur.

My notes from beginning darkroom printing

I’ve recently started learning to print pictures in an actual darkroom. I was a bit concerned that I wasn’t getting the full potential out of film, that I was missing out somewhere. It’s also nice to spend a few hours in a quiet dark room wholly involved in a creative process, and it is creative – the darkroom is where you do your post processing.

It’s slow, or at least I am. In the last session I spent four hours to print three negatives to a point where I was happy with them. At this stage I’m picking things that will challenge me each time – different films and development and lighting conditions – so that I learn, so this will end up being slower than if I was just printing a series of fairly similar shots.

It’s not very expensive though, even if it’s time consuming. I go to a darkroom in a community arts centre (Chats Palace if you’re interested, I can recommend it) and pay a few pounds an hour. The paper isn’t all that expensive. For learning purposes I bought a box of 100 5×7″ sheets of Ilford Multigrade RC Satin – this is a good quality paper that allows for different contrasts, not exhibition quality fibre paper but then you’d not print for an exhibition at 5×7″ anyway unless you were odd. That cost me about £20. At the moment I may use 3-4 sheets to get a print nailed – you need to use paper to test your exposure settings, and they change with each negative – but once you’ve done that you can make as many prints as you like at the same settings.

The technology of it is not difficult to learn. Objectively speaking it is far simpler than Photoshop. That doesn’t mean that it is easy to make good prints, but it means it is much quicker to get to the stage where it is your artistic ability and experience that is the deciding factor, rather than you not knowing where a menu is.

You do learn how forgiving film is in terms of exposure, but also how important lens and film quality is, because you can push the physical limits of the medium when printing. When scanning I’ve found that, while sharp film and a good lens does make a difference, it doesn’t make that much difference as you’re limited mostly by the scanner. This isn’t the case with printing, and the larger you print (including enlarging for a crop on smaller paper) the more you notice. Though even with my staple grainy Kentmere 400 it’s still not bad. I’ll probably buy more T-Max though.

And finally, it’s not something that is digitisable. You’ve made something that exists in the physical world. You may be able to put it in a scanner but at best looking at it on a screen will not be the same as seeing the original. I’m not quite sure what to do about this but it’s novel. I feel like making a zine or something.

Observation about social aspects of shooting film

I find myself having to defend my position of using1 film cameras a lot less frequently than I used to. When I talk to anyone interested in photography and mention this, they either don’t even mention it, ask some questions about how I afford it2, or say “oh yes I do too”.

Film photography seems to have become acceptable, at least in the circles I have encountered, for the purposes of:

  1. art, and/or
  2. fun

Those are the two aspects of photography that I am most interested in; I don’t know about you.

I’m coming to the conclusion that the only people who really care are on the internet, and thus don’t really exist.

  1. not exclusively. But a lot. 

  2. answers: (a) “film’s not that expensive really” (b) “I develop my own B&W film which costs very little to do” (c) “the cameras are cheaper so you save money that way as well” 

Rolls and shots

One of the features that gets used by both film and digital advocates to promote their argument for their preferred medium is the limitation of the number of shots on a roll.

Digital advocates:

“I can take hundreds of shots in a day on a cheap SD card. Having just 36 on a roll means I might miss something, and I’ll be reluctant to take shots because I’ll be thinking about the price. Plus, I could miss something while reloading, or when the roll comes to an end too early.”

Film advocates:

“Having limited shots on a roll means you don’t just spray them around, you take more time composing and choosing shots and you end up with better results.”

There’s truth in both of these – quite a lot in the digital one, though I wrote it to illustrate some common misconceptions too. Film really isn’t all that expensive, particularly if you develop it yourself, which I do for B&W, and if you scan it yourself, which I do for both. The process doesn’t take that long either.

It also isn’t hard to carry much more film than you will ever ever get through in a day, changing rolls on most cameras is quick, and any sensible person will have a backup pocket camera anyway if they’re that worried about losing something in the seconds changing a roll takes.

(I’m not saying there are no advantages to the digital workflow by any means but capacity is way less significant than people make out.)

On the other hand the common film defence isn’t really true either. Fine, it is good to think before taking shots, but if you get into the habit of not taking shots because of the value of the film you’re as bad as a digital user who takes hundreds of shots of everything because they can.

A lot of the classic (and thus film) street photographers took absurd amounts of pictures. Garry Winogrand took on average several rolls a day the whole of his photographic career – there are anecdotes about him shooting a whole roll while walking less than one block. He shot so much film it wore down the backplate of his Leica. He wasn’t just taking pictures of clouds and fire hydrants and the backs of people’s heads though; every picture he took had a point to it, but he didn’t ever stop himself. (He also took multiple shots if he could, though with street work this isn’t always possible. This is something I’ve heard lots of good photographers say they do.)

So I suppose the conclusions that I’ve come to are:

  • Shooting more pictures doesn’t mean you get more keepers. It doesn’t work by a ratio. A roll of crap pictures on film will have no more keepers than 500 crap pictures on digital.

  • You shouldn’t ever stop yourself from taking pictures though, at least not in 35mm. (Okay, if you’re shooting medium or large format you should probably pick and choose more.) Also take more than one if you’re not convinced you nailed it the first time which you probably didn’t.

  • If in doubt shoot, but it needs to be a reasonable doubt.

(this post originally appeared on Google+ – I should have written it here first though)

What is light, anyway?

I expect that better writers and philosophers than me have explored what it is that photography teaches us about perception. Certainly it is teaching me that light is not perception. First of all, with black and white film, I had to reconcile the difference between what I was seeing with my eyes when taking pictures, and what actually came out in the negatives. It’s hard to recognise how much levels of light really vary in the real world when just looking at things – eyes, after all, are very well suited to looking at things in all levels of light where there is any at all, and also many different levels of illumination in the same scene.

For instance, I am currently indoors in a not terribly well lit bar, but I can easily see everything around me. If I concentrate, I can tell that I have a lower depth of field here than I would in daytime, and that my eyes have to adjust slightly to see things at different distances. But I have to concentrate to notice that. There is probably 1/1000th of the light in here now than there would be outside in full daytime, but that doesn’t matter to me in practice, except if I am taking photographs, when it suddenly matters a great deal.

There is also the issue of colour. Most of the light here is very yellowish, but I adjust for that pretty well – I instinctively know that the menu by the candle is white, not yellow, and that the plant on the other side has green leaves. When there is more light and the difference is more subtle I barely notice the ambient colours. On the other hand, here are two versions of the same shot taken on Elite Chrome 100 in downtown LA recently.

Note that this is slide film, so there aren’t any of the odd issues regarding colour correction that you get with colour negatives. But the uncorrected picture looks very blue. I googled to see whether this was a known issue with the film (several others from LA at the same time have the same) and saw some people saying “yes, shadows are blue with Elite Chrome” but then also others saying “but shadows are blue in natural light – they’re lit by ambient light from the blue sky, not from the sun”. From my memory, the second picture is closer to what I remember, but look at how the white balance correction in the second picture also removes a lot of the blue from the sky, which really have should stayed. And, you know, it was pretty monochrome in the shadows. Perhaps it did look like that and I’m misremembering?

What helps me get past this sort of rumination is remembering that the point of taking photographs is to produce a good picture. Maybe the camera and film will capture colours and light in a way that won’t correspond to what I remember seeing, but that’s okay – what matters is knowing how they will capture the scene given the settings I choose, what sort of results I want, and matching the two together.

More film experiments – C41 colour in B&W chemicals

Yesterday I developed some cheap ISO200 Agfa colour film from Poundland – unsurprisingly, £1 a roll – in B&W chemicals. I’d heard that this was possible, but reported results varied from “it’s fine but negatives are really dark” to “it’s all grainy and horrible and negatives are really dark”, and detailed instructions were a bit limited.

The summary of my report is that (a) it looks fine, the results are actually surprisingly sharp (b) negatives are really dark due to the orange layer on the film which does… something… but you can compensate for this when scanning (c) it turns the developer orange as well so best not to re-use it.

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Experiments with stand development

I have occasionally heard about “stand development”, which appeared to be, instead of using a concentrated solution of film developer for a short period of time (agitating frequently), using a diluted solution of a film developer and letting it sit there for a long period of time. Well, I have absolutely no problem with letting chemicals sit on a shelf rather than having to pay attention to them. Really, I am extremely relaxed on that point. So I decided to try this process. I have a lot of Ilfotec LC29; I made up c. 500ml of a solution at 1 parts developer to 100 parts water (1+100) and immersed a roll of 120 Fomapan 400 film in it for an hour. Initially I gave it 30 seconds of agitation, and, after half an hour, another 30 seconds. After the hour was up, the usual stop bath and fixer for four minutes.

The results seem quite reasonable. Shots in bright light have not come out that brilliantly, but that is a problem generally with Fomapan 400 in my experience (also, perhaps, how I expose it). In mixed light, they have come out well. The grain isn’t any more than I’d expect from normal development. And: it used 5ml of developer, and also gave me the time to cook dinner while it was going. I think I may do this again – mixing up more concentrated solutions is faster and allows for re-use of the mix, but I rarely want to develop that many rolls in a short time. I’m not sure how useful it would be for pushing.

Tree for OS X and a bit about workflows

I’ve been impressed with an outliner called Tree recently.

The selling point of it is that, instead of the normal vertical view, it expands horizontally, which I find much more space-efficient and natural. If you are writing whole paragraphs, a standard vertically-indented layout might be better, but mostly when I use an outliner each node is at longest one sentence, and usually just a couple of words. If I use a mindmapper, I usually set it to auto-layout and put all the branches on the right of the main node, which means it looks rather a lot like Tree with more lines and bubbles. (However, with Tree one can also set individual nodes to expand vertically rather than horizontally.)

It’s also very quick to use. The window layout is just a row of icons, a row of tabs, and then your outlines – no extraneous fluff. It has intelligently designed keyboard shortcuts and behaviours that appreciate that you have probably used outliners before; commands to move nodes around are familiar from OmniOutliner, Notebook etc, and their action is context-sensitive, with, say, Enter either editing a title, ending that title and creating a new node, or finishing note text on that node and moving back to the title.

It not only reads OPML but will happily write to it as well without having to mess about with the Export option (though this won’t preserve your coloured labels I suspect – notes, it will keep, as those are part of the OPML spec). I use this in combination with Dropbox and the iOS app CarbonFin Outliner, which doesn’t do horizontal unfortunately but does sync to Dropbox as OPML. I can transparently open, edit and save outlines on my Mac and both iPhone and iPad, now, without hoop-jumping being required, and OPML being an open format I know that I won’t be unable to read these files in a few years’ time, should I ever wish to read them again which is fairly unlikely given the rubbish I write.

I mentioned OmniOutliner before, which has a very good iPad client, which I would love to use. Unfortunately it won’t save to Dropbox or in fact sync to anything (it will export, but not actually sync) and I’m afraid that desktop OmniOutliner is basically abandonware, despite Omni’s repeated assurances that version 4 is coming out any minute now. OO for iOS really is a lovely piece of software, but unless you only want to write on the iPad it’s useless for any serious workflow, and the desktop version looks, feels and is ancient.

The combination of Tree plus CarbonFin Outliner, however, lets me work on outlines on three devices in a convenient and effective way, and, while it doesn’t have all of the styling features, multiple columns etc that desktop OO does, Tree is miles faster and more comfortable for just writing outlines. Something I sort of like to do with an outliner. The pair of them together also cost far, far less, to the point where I can happily recommend them to anyone with a Mac, an iThing and a hankering after outlines without suspecting that I might have wasted somebody else’s money.

Blurry Trip – the fix

I decided that there was no point not trying to fix my Trip 35 with the focussing problem, but knowing that I don’t have the best record when it comes to disassembling cameras, I also decided to use the least invasive method possible. Here, for the record, is what I did.


  • Very small jeweller’s screwdriver, flat head
  • One roll of film – in this case, some old HP5+ 400 that I had
  • A tape measure
  • Small tripod and cable release (you may not need either as long as you can keep the camera in the same place reliably)
  • A newspaper or other detailed object, to focus on

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Blurry Trip – maybe it is the focus after all

I did take a test roll with the Trip to test the focussing, and it looks like I may have been wrong about the speed and camera shake. This is good in that it means I am not a useless trembling photographer, but bad in that it means that there is probably something wrong with the camera.

I took pictures of a walkway outside my flat using the four different zones, being quite careful to hold it properly. The four settings seem in practice to correspond to:

  1. Fairly close things in focus (this should be 1m)
  2. Things further away in focus (this should be 1.5m)
  3. Everything out of focus (should be 3m – this is the recommended zone for the Trip, I expect it has the most useful depth of field)
  4. Everything even more out of focus (should be infinity). Zones 3 and 4 are actually worse for distant objects than zone 2.

This is not what the distance says, and was confirmed in other pictures, which means it looks like it needs adjustment in some way. I am quite confident in my ability to take cameras apart, but I am not very confident in my ability to put them back together again. Trips are so cheap, though, that it barely seems worth it to send it off to somebody to get it fixed – the cost would be about the same as a fully refurbished one from, say, Trip Man. Plus I really need to spend less on cameras.

Adjusting the focus seems to involve opening the front and top, jamming the shutter open and then turning the lens to focus on an object at a known distance, using a piece of tape or ground glass on the film rail. Or I’ve seen people referring to using other cameras as collimators, though that looks more confusing to me. I suppose I might as well try to do this myself, given that the alternative is a camera that looks nice but doesn’t work. Everything else about it seems to be fine.