35mm Film the Easy Way

Pentax MV

My previous Blog resulted in several inquiries from photography enthusiasts who were considering film photography but wanted more information. Most of the questions were about basic things and easy for me to answer individually. However I did find myself repeating the same points in reply to different people. So, in order to save time and also to give my ‘answers’ a better structure, I thought it worthwhile to bring these together in one Blog that I could point people to. Please note that if you are already using film for part of your photographic activity most of this will already be known to you. What I am aiming for are those who have no previous experience of using film and have no direct contact with other fellow enthusiasts who have. For the purpose of this blog I will be considering 35mm film, though much the same is true of 120 film format. I will also refer specifically to the current situation in the UK although I expect this will be similar to elsewhere in Europe and North America and perhaps beyond.

Pentax ME Super

Q: Is film still made or do I have to find and use out of date old stock?

A: Yes it is still made today; though many brands have been discontinued a good choice is still available in both colour and Black and White. There are even old ‘classic’ films being reintroduced like Ferannia P30 {http://www.filmferrania.it/p30/}. If you find out of date stock it is usually ok to use provided it has been kept in reasonable conditions. Be careful though as I have seen OOD stock on sale for more than the cost of new film.

Minolta SRT 101

Q: Where then can I buy film?

A: There are a number of high street stores that stock film, Boots and Jessops come to mind as well as some small independent businesses {such as Photoghost here in Aberdeen}. Buying single cassettes on the high street is normally the more expensive option compared to ordering ‘multipacks’ online from specialists {like AG Photographic  http://www.ag-photographic.co.uk/} but it’s ok just to get started and its useful to know there you can find stock if you are in a hurry. Poundland, for a time, stocked cassettes for {wait for it} … £1 but those days appear to be gone unfortunately.

Olympus Trip 35

Q: What’s best, colour or B&W?

A: Neither as they are entirely different. Not only are they obviously different to look at their main distinction is on the way and how they are processed. Common colour film is always processed in a laboratory machine often found in high street or supermarket stores {some masochists will try to process C41 Colour it at home but I personally don’t see the point}. B&W, on the other hand, has to be sent to a specialist lab {some stores will do this for you e.g. Boots} or you can do it easily in your kitchen at home whilst listening to music and cooking a Chicken Risotto.

Zenit XP12

Q: Don’t I need a Darkroom to process B&W at home?

A: No, you need a dark ‘space’ to load a small lightproof plastic drum container. I use a small internal cupboard {with lights out}. It’s dark but maybe not 100% so I load the container with my hands and film inside a folded up black bin liner and just to be extra safe, I take off my watch with its luminous dial. That step takes 5 minutes to set up and 5 minutes to complete. Once the drum is loaded I step into the light and head for the kitchen to ‘cook’ it {and maybe a Risotto at the same time}.The developing process is easy and only a couple of chemicals are needed {I get mine from AG Photographic}. It’s about 10 mins to develop, 5 mins to ‘fix’ then about 15 minutes to wash and rinse. My Risotto takes a wee bit longer and a bit more skill but both are about having a reliable, simple process and good time and temperature control.

Minolta SRT 303

Q: This is sounding too easy, what’s the catch?

A: Good question. In my opinion it’s the ‘next bit’ in the chain and it’s not something most people ask about, until it’s too late. Mind you no harm will be done as you will have your negatives by this stage and it these are safely stored you can always go back.

Yashica FX-d

Q: You’ve lost me, what are you talking about?

A: The tricky bit is what to do with your negatives after the film is developed, colour or B&W. Getting film is easy and getting it processed is easy {whether it is colour or B&W}, the outcome is a permanent negative image on celluloid}. The point is that you need to do something with that negative to get an image, either on paper or on screen. Negatives are designed for printing and although you could head for a proper ‘wet’ darkroom to work with an optical enlarger, light sensitive paper and more chemicals I would not recommend that. It’s a huge step up in complexity and the rewards are unlikely to make it worthwhile from a beginner. So the alternative is to scan your negatives to make digital copies {this is what I now do, my darkroom years are all behind me}.

Olympus OM-1

Q: That doesn’t sound so hard, I have a scanner at home, can I use that?

A: Perhaps, but common flatbed scanners won’t work with negatives as the light has to pass through the negative and on to the sensor and not be reflected from them. If your scanner can scan negatives then it will describe this in its documentation. You will also need specific software to enable this. If your scanner is able to scan negatives then this software should come with it and be obvious. Buying a good, negative capable flatbed scanner is a major investment unless you are planning on buying a standard scanner anyway. {consider it as buying a specialised digital camera at about £400–£600}.

Minolta XD-5

Q: That sounds too much at this stage as I just want to try film to see what it’s like. What are the alternatives?

A: Yes, you are right, it’s too much to invest in something that you might not carry on with. Sure, you can send you negatives off to specialists but you won’t know at this stage what to ‘order’ them to do as scanning itself is potentially part of the creative process {well it certainly is for me}. It can also be unclear what you are actually ordering as scanning, in my opinion, is poorly explained by specialists and barely understood by standard sales staff. Think of it this way, scanning a negative is essentially taking a digital photograph of your negative so your scanner has to be regarded as a digital camera. It has no adjustments for shutter speed or aperture or ISO but it does require the you to make decisions about exposure {Auto and Manual Mode}, colour, contrast, saturation, tone curve, dust removal, sharpening and above all … Resolution. I regard my Scanner as simply one of my digital cameras.

Pentax P30

Q: So what do you recommend?

A: A simple and safe path to get you going. Remember that when you have your negatives safely stored they can be revisited anytime and scanned in different ways as you get to know better what you want and what you can do. Here is a basic plan:

Minolta XG-2

HOW TO GETTING STARTED WITH 35 MM FILM

  • First locate and check out who will process your film. I normally use Asda near to my home. Check what services they provide and the costs
  • Check that you have a working camera (operate it without film with the back open and observe that all the obvious things work)
  • Choose an easily available, inexpensive C41 colour film, Agfa Vista or Kodak Colour Plus are my current favourites and a good starting point
  • Plan to stick with one film for a time so you can learn its particular characteristics
  • Buy two 36 exposure cassettes. Ignore 24 exp. unless it is a really good deal as developing costs are per cassette
  • Shoot film and try, really try, to make each shot count so think about how the image should be … visualise it
  • Take film to processor and order negative development plus scanning at high resolution. High Resolution has no specific meaning but it’s a good request to start with.
  • If that raises any doubts with the processor try Plan B. Ask instead for negative development plus 7 X 5” prints plus scanned digital images. This should work as staff are used to associating scans with prints that they sell (its where their profit is)
  • Assess results and amend as necessary for your second cassettes … treat these two as experiments. Just to compare with my own scanning I usually do a quick scan of most negatives to assess them and the camera functionality. These scans, if printed, would yield a 7 X 5” print.

The files scan at about 5Mb but are compressed to jpegs at about 400Kb. On my PC these would look quite large so for web use I would reduce these by about 50%. I would then revisit those special shots for more detailed scanning to make larger prints (up to A3) based on jpegs that would be about 1.5Mb

Ricoh KR-5

Remember to carefully store and catalogue your negatives as you will want to revisit them when your knowledge increases and if/when you decide to undertake your own scanning.

Minolta XG-2 chrome

A Personal Thought … of all my digital cameras my Epson V700 scanner is the one that has held its value the most and which I am least likely to want to upgrade or sell off in the future. All of the photographs in this Blog Post were shot on inexpensive C41 colour film, the negatives were developed by the local Asda store. I scanned them on my V700 using Silverfast software then made some adjustment, retouched out spots and converted many to B&W (because of my preferences) using a simple photo editing programme (not Photoshop!). These are not special in any way as they were all test shots to check the working of some of the many 35mm film cameras I have rescued this year.

Pentax AFC-35

 

 

 

Why shoot Film?

A reasonable question to ask in this digital age perhaps? I recall when I was just getting seriously into digital photography in 2005 there was this debate about the comparative ‘quality’ of digital vs film. And that was really only about the comparison of a negative to a digital sensor. The question of digital print vs wet (B&W) darkroom prints was seldom mentioned.

why shoot film?

The question of digital print vs wet (B&W) darkroom prints was seldom mentioned (that is quite another matter. This debate has moved on as digital sensor improvement has grown to the extent that in basic terms digital can deliver much more for less cost that film. So why bother shooting film? Best to unclutter ourselves save for a few die hard eccentrics (like me) surely?.

things move on

Well there is another way of thinking about it. If I were a rich man (which I am not), then as well as my usual work day car and my SUV I would probably have a vintage Morgan, just for special occasions. As I said, I’m not rich but not so poor that I can’t afford myself a few little luxuries.

vintage morgan

So it if that when I think I deserve a little treat I reach for one of my personal film cameras to indulge myself in the challenge and pleasure of shooting film (I have about 6 that I use regularly and another handful that I am getting back into use for other photographers). But it’s not just about the selfish pleasure of working with these old cameras, the physical nature of them, the sensual nature of shooting then winding, the precision of MF lenses, the anticipation of waiting to see results. There is more, much more …….

blooming flower

I have made use of old film cameras or sometimes by ‘converting’ digital cameras to behave almost like film cameras in workshops aimed at improving digital photography. How does that work? Well the thing about shooting film is that it slows you right down and forces you to think carefully about getting it right ‘first time.’ But even more importantly it encourages you to fully visualise how your shot will appear knowing that you are not able to ‘see it’ instantaneously on the back of your camera.

on line

Both Film and Digital techniques when worked together provide the best insight to personal, for pleasure, photography. On that basis alone I highly recommend that all photographic enthusiasts either revisit film photography to compare with heir more recent digital work (if they are ‘old timers’ like me) or give it a try (if from a much younger generation) to experience and appreciate the work of the master photographers from the Golden Age of the 60s and 70s.

black and white sunset

Final though is there is no need to make a big financial investment. If you avoid the big named collectable brands a good 35mm film camera is quite affordable and the depreciation is … well nothing if you look after it! And who know you just might make a profit.

time for tea

 

 

 

 

You don’t need to be Big to be Beautiful

Some of my favourite weddings have been what some people would call ‘small’.  I tend to refer to them more as ‘short’ since clients are maybe only looking for a photographer for a few hours and are probably looking for less formal photography, less ‘posing’ and so forth. Looking back on 2015 one of my most pleasant memories was what the bride to be described as ‘only a small wedding’ when she first contacted me.  It just so happened that this wedding was to be held in one of my favourite places, Glen Esk.  Although I know the area and the venue, I had never photographed at The Burn, Edzell before.  As is my usual practice a pre-visit, to scout the location was called for.  Well any excuse to take a day of and go wandering in the glen.

Wedding

This shot was taken ’round the back’ as often the best places to shoot can be the less obvious.  It pays, come wedding day, to know when the best light and sympathetic backgrounds are to be found.

Wedding

And the same with interiors.  All the time I am thinking, “can I shoot this as naturally as possible?”

Wedding

No problem at all!

Wedding

With just the slightest touch of flash to lift the shadows.

Wedding

With a lot of the ‘unposed’ shots I used Black and White to underline the documentary approach.

Wedding

And so far as the ‘posed’ shots it was quite enough to just get the right people in the right place, with nice light and let their happiness shine through.

Wedding

Guests totally relaxed …

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And our newly weds sharing a bale of straw!

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Glen Esk, a most memorable wedding in the glen.

Wedding

Our congratulations and best wishes to Roisin and Jason.

You can see a short animation here :  https://vimeo.com/146895624

Why Street Photography?

Obviously, people are my favorite subjects for photography, though I do venture into other areas. Most of my work is of subjects who asked me to photograph them or their event. But there is another aspect of photography that I revel in, it’s called Street Photography.

Now that in itself is potentially misleading as sometimes there are no ‘streets’ involved at all! So let’s, for now at least, just say it’s photographing people, unposed  in their natural environment, at work, play etc.

Aberdeen Journal

Of course boundaries are rarely so defined of clear so some ‘crossover’ is to be expected. The main areas of overlap being documentary style weddings or portraits where the subject knows they are being photographed but are not posing.

Edinburgh Fringe August 2015

Most of my work in this area is project based with the aim of some future publication or exhibition or taken as demonstration shots for the coaching programs I am involved in. Why should anyone want to learn how to shoot Street Photography?

Well it’s a great confidence builder and encourages the photographer to see clearly and act quickly whilst remaining unobtrusive. Very valuable abilities to be able to draw on.

Street Photography workshop

Why are my Street photographs always Black and White?

Well they don’t have to be but unless colour is necessary I’d rather do without it. If the image is strong enough, then it works.

Aberdeen Journal

And does there always have to be people as the subject?

Probably but people don’t need to be the main focus as its more about showing real people in relation to their world and to each other.

Edinburgh Fringe August 2015

And what about Social or Political Comment?

Entirely optional in my opinion and sometimes best left ambiguous …. you can add your own caption or interpretation depending on your view. But best not to jump too quickly to conclusions.

Edinburgh Fringe August 2015

Not everything needs to be explained, maybe Time and Place ….

But what is going on here and does it really matter?

Aberdeen Journal

Its probably worth saying at this point, in case of any doubt, what you can see in a public place (in the UK) you can legally photograph.

What you do with it is quite another matter of course.

Aberdeen Students Torcher Parade at Upper Kirkgate

Its just ‘our world’ … one random instant frozen for ever.

Edinburgh Fringe August 2015

People, places and emotions coming together … seen by all of us but captured by only a few.

Wedding

 

So many photographers …. so little time!

 

Faces off the Street …

Faces off the Street … a little project run in conjunction with Inspired Aberdeen to bring a little ‘life’ back into Union Terrace Gardens over the Spring Holiday time. The Challenge for me was to provide some family ‘interactions’. As I have always been interested in photographing people as I find them and without any artificial aids, such as additional artificial lights (or even reflectors) this was my solution. I simply asked passers-by if I could take their photograph. There was no catch, no ‘sales’ talk, just my promise to take an ‘honest likeness’ and e-mail them a good image file for free. So here is just a small election of my ‘Faces off the Street’ portraits taken under the arches on UTG. The technique was minimum fuss and the direction to sitters was, please ‘just look at the camera.’ Afterward I got some great feedback with several people commenting on how their ‘character’ came through, for me that counted as success!

Inspired Portraits
 

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And of course, thanks to the magical white rabbit who brought us all together …..
 

Inspired Portraits
 

Hope to see you all again sometime soon ….

Yuk! its January again.

January, to be honest, is not the busiest month of the year for either portrait or wedding photography. Nor is it a great month for getting out and doing some photography coaching … it’s just not that kind of month.

However it is a good time to sort out a few things to do with personal projects and for me time to contemplate something that has been on my mind for some time. I’m looking forward to publishing a small book, with the working title of ‘Aberdeen Journal’ featuring some of my black and white photographs of ordinary things in and around the streets of Aberdeen.

Not really exhibition pieces, nothing spectacular either, just little personal insights into the everyday life in city and its people without comment. At this time most of these things are commonplace but I have a vision that in 50 of 60 years time people might look back and say, ‘do your remember it like that?’ For now these are just sketches of an idea and I thought that now, January 2014, would be a good time to share some of them. Feel free to add your own captions.

Aberdeen Journal

 

Aberdeen Journal

 

Aberdeen Journal

 

Aberdeen Journal

 

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Aberdeen Journal

 

POM November

 

Olympic Torch arrival in Aberdeen

sea front and seaton park in Autumn

 

IMG_0349 web

Child photography is 90% Action

Meshel Watt, with with son Liam opted for the newly renovated Duthie Park Gardens for our session on Brushing Up your Family Photography skills. Liam was to be our subject and Meshel was to have a go at capturing him. My role was to coach Meshel and take some ‘Back Up’ photographs of Liam for Meshel to keep. Meshel and I had already had a session just to go over some basic camera features. That was useful and highlighted a common problem with’family photography’ and that is capturing ‘things’ on the move. Not only do you need to have a ‘fast’ camera and the skills to use it but you also need to set up photographic situations so that your child can be ‘gently managed’ into going along with this strange concept of being photographed. So, its 10% photography and 90% action! Here are a few of my Back Up photos of Liam.
 
Portraits of Liam Watt, Duthie Park, August 2013
 Portraits of Liam Watt, Duthie Park, August 2013
 Portraits of Liam Watt, Duthie Park, August 2013
 Portraits of Liam Watt, Duthie Park, August 2013
 Portraits of Liam Watt, Duthie Park, August 2013
 Portraits of Liam Watt, Duthie Park, August 2013
 Portraits of Liam Watt, Duthie Park, August 2013

Good photographs should show more than a ‘likeness’, they should show ‘character’ ….. I think I know this young lad!

How many wedding photographs does it take …

How many photographs do you need for a wedding? In these digital days it would appear to be hundreds, sometimes many hundreds! Yet, when putting together a comprehensive book or album a select hundred or so is usually adequate.

I don’t plan to feature many individual weddings here … but in this case I’ll make the exception.

One wedding in a very rain swept Edinburgh, yet doesn’t nature have a way of adding her own charm to make each day unique?

Emma and Lee’s wedding in just ten photographs …

Emma and Lee's wedding
Brother Stewart learning the ropes …

Emma and Lee's wedding
After braving the wind and rain to get to St. Margaret’s on the Castle Rock the ‘thumbs up’ said it all.

Emma and Lee's wedding
Never wanting to be too serious humour eventually broke out. The bus loads of tourists in the Great Hall behind us will be showing their versions of this worldwide

Emma and Lee's wedding
Never mind the rain, the vintage Jag is well waxed!

Emma and Lee's wedding
A spot specifically chosen by Emma, a Maths Graduate. But I think Lee knows his figures as well.

Emma and Lee's wedding
The inspiration for this style came from a discussion from Emma …. ‘yes of course I can do hand colouring if you want’. We decided that the original B&W made a rainy Edinburgh too dull so went for a vintage ‘continental’ look.

Emma and Lee's wedding
When I previewed the evening venue, The Caves, I thought it might be very dark. But when I saw it finished and candlelit, it deserved a photo.

Emma and Lee's wedding
What a splendid evening, for all of us.

Emma and Lee's wedding
Let the fun begin. I know photobooths are fun …. but I can do Fun and it comes in High Resolution!

Emma and Lee's wedding
A good Ceilidh is hard to beat
 

Don’t say “Cheese” please …

I find one of the trickiest aspects of wedding (and sometimes portrait) photography is to get away from photographs that look ‘overposed’. Sometimes people try too hard to be just ‘perfect’ in every way and are genuinely uncomfortable being ‘on show’ to the camera. Whilst a few have a talent for posing, the majority of us can end up looking a bit stiff and sometimes not showing our ‘best side’. In these cases a documentary or ‘invisible photographer’ approach can work wonders. Of course this never applies to children who are great at breaking the formality of some sessions. They just love playing up to the camera! Sometimes the most interesting shots are before people fully realise photographs are being taken or by the photographer shooting less obviously or indirectly. Whilst doing the usual and necessary shots I’ll always look for those informal opportunities to help build the essential background to any wedding day.

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Getting arranged for some of the more formal shots.

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Reflections in the mirror.

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Kids just wanting to have fun (whilst waiting at Aberdeen Registry Office).

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“Before you go … one last shot please?”

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After the parents have gone next door the children play at “grow up” posing.

Wedding

Quietly and from a distance … the photographer is no longer noticed.

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Just showing the different attitudes to being photographed.

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Sleepy time at last.

Wedding

Posing now over … Its time to relax with family and friends. But for the photographer there is still a chance to capture some great memories.

Caire and Zander's wedding

Or just distract the guests with a request. Ladies always believe that their partner would benefit from a little ‘straightening out’.

So what does a photographer do with his day off?

What could be better than just going off with some light hearted friends to take photos just for fun!

And if you want to take a my short photographic visit to the Don between Cockbridge and Blythnie as I photographed for the Don in a Day Project, come with me … http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UJcUkeIKrMs

The Diverse Don

Well if there is a ‘good cause’ behind it that is even better. So this weekend I set of to join the Don Diversity Collective on a bit of a photographic ramble up the River Don from Alford.

The Diverse Don

I had already pledged my support to their aims and ambitions for although it’s partly about photography the key thing is that it’s to draw in many different people to use photography to celebrate the River Don.

The Diverse Don

“Don Diversity Collective is an independent community group who are planning to run photographic exhibitions featuring the River Don. As a collective group they are offering practical photographic help and advice to members who might want to exhibit.

The Diverse Don

The group is open to everyone, regardless of ability, experience or equipment and has several highly competent and friendly photographers on hand to help out.

The Diverse Don

Regular picnic outings are planned along the course of the Don so anyone can come and meet new friends and develop their photography to ‘friendly exhibition status.

The Diverse Don

Our aim is to encourage the widest possible participation in a celebration of the river Don through photography”.
Well said!

The Diverse Don

So from my point of view well worth supporting and if Sunday is anything to judge from there are more great adventures to come.

The Diverse Don

Special thanks to James Kerr (no relation) from the River Don Salmon Fishery Board who was our Guide and font of knowledge and also to Lesley Bilton Cruikshank who is co-ordinating the project.

The Diverse Don

Did I forget to say, but the dogs enjoyed themselves too!

The Diverse Don

Final shot … one happy snapper.

The Diverse Don

And if you want to take a my short photographic visit to the Don between Cockbridge and Blythnie as I photographed for the Don in a Day Project, come with me … http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UJcUkeIKrMs