I have been planning to write about my adventures in Dublin and Galway a long time ago. It was a short business trip in 2015 for only 2 weeks but I could fit in some time to explore and of course to take photographs. I wanted to write a bigger post initially because of the great experiences I had in Ireland. Since I have not managed to put my thoughts together in the last two years, I have decided to take a more simplistic approach and let the photos talk instead of me.
I have used my beloved Leica M2 with my Sonnar 50mm ZM lens loaded with Fuji Superia Xtra 400. All the film was developed and scanned by the excellent John Gunn Camera Shop.
Music on the streets of Dublin was everywhere. I was quite impressed by the diversity and the quality of the music I heard there. It is a vivid city with many faces and to me, street musicians are definitely contributing to the charm and charter of the place.
But things were about to change in regards to the regulation of street music. Don’t know what was exactly on a stake or what the result turned to be. But at the time I was visiting Dublin, large groups were coming together, playing music and peacefully protesting against the planned changes.
I have also taken a couple of candid shots. Partly because I am really bad at this type of photography yet I needed to experiment with it. After all, I was caring a camera which was built for the task.
At the end of the day, I have returned my method of asking people if I could photograph them. I am much more comfortable with this approach. At least I have fewer issues with framing and composition when I can use the viewfinder.
People were generally very friendly and talkative with me. I was very much surprised about the number of positive reactions of people I asked to take a portrait of them. In addition to that, I myself received a lot of attention. Random people started to talk to me about equally random things ranging from the weather to the funny aerobic class across the street while we were waiting for the green light at a zebra.
I was also trying to capture little details of everyday life like this little dog who might be waiting for his owner at the entrance of a pub in Galway. All in all, I really had a great time even if it was very limited. I had a lot of good experiences, met many lovely people and I have taken an unusually high amount of photos on this trip which is a statement of itself. Someday I will go back with my family for some more exploration with properly dedicated time.
For a long time ago, I am trying really hard to identify and find the proper way formulate the reasons why I am pursuing film photography. My opinion has changed during the years quite drastically and I went through many stages. If I want to be honest I have started up because it was the only way I could afford to go with bigger “sensor” sizes and thus achieve bokeh.
Later I turned towards the typically listed reasons such as slowing down, being more disciplined and make every frame count. I was also and to some extent still is a big believer of the film look and the superiority of quality of film over digital. But as digital technology as well as the corresponding software environment matured I have had harder and harder time convince myself that these arguments stand if they are closely inspected.
The film look can be emulated so good that I have hard time to tell the difference between some of my own experimental film filtered digital and actual film photo pairs. The quality argument in strictly technical terms has melted away to me unless one uses really big formats. Even worse there are plentiful situations where digital is unquestionably excels for examples when extreme high sensitivity is needed.
One can be disciplined with a digital camera in hand as well. A memory card with just little space on it can simulate the limiting factor of roll sizes, and nothing stops us not to look at the screen every time the shutter was released.
I was really questioning all the effort, time and money I have put into equipment, film, darkroom material and software into film photography. Should I keep doing this or it would be the best to write off all the losses and switch completely to digital once and for all? I had to let this question sit on a hidden shelf for quite some time somewhere in my mind. I think I have my answer now and I am eager to share. Maybe I am not alone with my reasons.
The answer is not quite straight forward. It is an evil mixture of deep psychological hooks on my personality spiced up with a good amount of nostalgia and a tiny bit of snobbism. The trivial part is that I enjoy to handle nice, well made vintage cameras and lenses. They are built to last and most of them even have quite a bit of a history. I think I also have an anti-consumerist side which grasps for the concept of a simpler world where one does not feel the need to change camera body and even brand every second year. I adore my carefully selected gear and I am now very reluctant to change it for the next big thing from the universe of gadgets.
The not so trivial part starts with the limitation factor on choices. If I use a certain type of film, I can technically do countless things with it especially because I use a hybrid workflow which involves digital processing. But a digital raw file with a library of Lightroom filters in hand is just a bigger set of infinite. This could lead to paralysis via choices. Here is a brilliant Ted talk by Barry Schwartz about this topic. I need to accept the inherited characteristics of the material rather than trying to define it. I am very happy with the aesthetics I get from my favorite film stocks, but I have hard time to be able to decide which filter to use when I start out with a digital file.
Of course there is also the fact that to get from the decisive moment to a print or even to a digital file, there is a lot of work involved. Prepare, shoot, make notes, develop,make notes again, scan, process digitally, catalog, select in multiple rounds, archive, print, publish online. All these steps require me to be fully present and put myself into the process. Every stage involves different skills, a lot patience and of course anything could go wrong at any given time especially with the chemicals. Because of this long and delicate process I learn to care more about the photos. Eventually I program myself to like the end results because I have to wait (sometimes months long) to get to see them.
Each and every shoot which survives my process is special for me even though they are not perfect. They have personality and I remember them all. I could mostly tell what film and camera I used even without checking the notes. They reflect a stage on my self-seeking journey, a snapshot of the way I approached a subject and the process at a given point in time. All of these factors together shape the reason why I stick to film.
Of course there are numerous things which I don’t necessarily like about film. While I enjoy working in the darkroom, I am not very happy to get in contact with dangerous chemicals. Working with old equipment means that occasionally they give up, leaving you with nothing but bitter disappointment instead of nice photographs.
This is a high risk high reward game I seem to enjoy. I would certainly think different if I would practice photography for living and not only for fun. In any case, I stop struggling for finding better answers for now. There are still many reasons I have not listed now like working with tactile physical materials or the element of surprise as the process cannot be fully controlled. But I know enough to let this question go and I will keep focusing on the actual act of shooting film rather than analyzing the motivations behind.
The second half of the Fuji Superia 400 in the Yashica had been shot during a wonderful family trip at the south of Austria. We have picked an easy trail close to Arnfels this time but one packed with nice scenery and experiences. We have passed by beautifully taken care of wine yards and a forest filled with life and with the colors of the autumn. We have picked some chestnuts, had a closer look of a variety of strange mushrooms and met with all sorts of wild and domestic animals including a little deer.
I was equipped with the Yashica TL Super with the Pancolar 80 attached to it plus I had my old Weimar Lux Cds light-meter with me. Eszter was shooting with her Nex 6, and of course we shared the duty of carrying the little one (who did not get lighter), but at least he could also run around a bit on his own due to the easy terrain.
The lights were initially quite harsh but inside the woods we were rewarded with some nice beams of light filtered through the branches of the trees. I find it very difficult to capture the delicate atmosphere created by such light conditions on any medium, but this small format film has done a decent job.
As we moved out from the forest, I started to look for details. This pole of an electronic fence seemed to be a good idea to take a picture of. Now, I find it quite boring unless I use it to evaluate the creamy background blur of the mighty Pancolar even slightly stopped down to around f/2.2. Notice the orange blob at the top left quarter of the frame. It is obviously my 2 years old running around.
Portraits of feeding animals are essential for any family photo book.
Not sure what happened with the top part of the cabbage photo. I think I must have overexposed so much that the film decided to make some color shift. In any case, I was indeed pushing the boundaries of the film because I tried to shoot as wide open as possible despite the abundance of light.
All in all it was a great trip with a handful of shoots we like both analog and digital. The Yashica served well once again, but I cannot deny that this camera especially with a bigger lens is not easy to carry all day. The weight can become a real problem if the camera is not the only extra weight one needs to take care of. Would I take it once again for a hike now that the much lighter Leica came back from service? I think will still take it occasionally, but more because of the lens not so much for the sake of camera.
To follow up the previous post where the focus was on the retro stylish look of the Yashica TL Super, here are some of the shoots out the roll which was in the very same camera. All of these photos have been taken during our last visit to Hungary in the middle of October. The film is Fuji Superia 400, which is lately my choice of color negative film due to it’s versatility and because I had quite a few rolls of it left from my Irish trip from last year. This film works great for me in almost all circumstances from low light situations (when combined with fast glass) to sunny daylight. This time I had mostly enough though not plenty of light as the weather was generally overcast. But the colors of the autumn are well retained and the scattered light helped with the portraits.
I used a single lens, my big favorite the Pancolar 80mm for the entire roll. I try to force myself to carry only one lens at the time. This helps me learn the quirks of the given setup by focusing on it for a longer period. Also if I have only one lens available I need to solve every situation with it which could help me leave my comfort zone and thus contribute to my creative development.
This lens has it’s caveats and sweet spots to learn as well. Others may observe these differently as many aspects of the character of a lens can be judged subjectively. I find myself shooting with the Pancolar most of the time wide open or close to it. This is where the character is mostly evident in the form of beautiful smooth bokeh when the background is right. The lens is plenty sharp in the center at least for my eyes and subjects. Stopping down to medium apertures where the depth of field is still small enough to have some background blur makes it evident that the iris is very far from circular. This case the background can be very busy which is not always desirable. In addition contrast can be too high to my taste especially for portraits.
Of course the photos from this post were not the only ones from this roll. The Yashica was with me on a family hike in the south of Austria where both the light and my subjects were different. I will publish a selection from those shoots in the next post with the hope that I can show the versatility of this film and my single lens approach.
What would a photographer do if he would suddenly need to carry an ever moving child on his back to every location he would take photos?
Of course he would use the new situation in order to justify a new purchase of a lens for the sake of portability to compensate the extra weight he now has to carry. This is how I ended up buying a Voigtlander Color-Skopar 35mm f/2.5 pancake II. It is tiny, extra light and being a wide lens, it is slightly less prone to the shaking introduced by the little one in the carrier. The price is not too steep neither for a native M mount lens plus I have found a quite handsome copy on a local trading site. It was literally no way out of this deal and so far I am very happy with my decision. Thanks to Ben (Flickr) for selling me the lens.
One of our first trips with the new gear lead us to the Grüner See. This is a temporary lake in the mountains which is filled by the water of melding snow every year for a short period of time. As the name suggests the lake has a beautiful green color even though the water is crystal clear. The bottom of a lake is essentially a meadow with grass and rocks and ordinary objects like a bench. The lake is surrounded with forest and mountains and it is truly spectacular. At the time of our (end of April) visit the level of the water has probably not yet reached the peak.
I have loaded a roll of slightly expired Fujicolor Pro 160NS from my stash, and even finished it on the very same day. Good weather, nice location, one of my favorite film stock and a new lens to test. I think it was a perfect start for the Voigtlander. I am actively fighting my G.A.S. (Gear Acquisition Syndrome), so I hope that I will value this lens on a long term. So far I am quite satisfied with the images I have got with it and honestly I think that there will always be place for a small good performing 35mm lens in my bag.
Two friends with the same passion for photography, both using rangefinder cameras almost indistinguishable from the distance. The cameras are matched with fast 50mm lenses from the same brand and color.
Sounds like these photographers or at least their choice of gear is quite the same. While this statement is true to some degree, there are significant differences. In fact, there are more differences than the obvious technological dissimilarity between the capturing media used by the cameras (Ilford Delta 100 film in the Leica M2, Kodak CCD sensor in the M9).
Ramón uses a digital Leica M9 P which of course captures color information and renders in a very unique way. Many including himself claim that under ideal circumstances the CCD sensor in this camera creates much more pleasing results than other sensors used in other digital cameras with the same sensor size. This is a topic can be argued for a long time, but at the end of the day, it is his subjective view and his decision to use a rangefinder with this sensor.
At the same time, I was using a classic Leica M2 with a black and white film. Even though the output of the digital camera is also appealing, the analog workflow is still favorable to me. It is partly because I enjoy the process of creating the image in this old-fashioned way, but also I can achieve the film look what I am looking for much more naturally.
My primary lens is a Zeiss Sonnar f/1.5 which I love for many reasons but mainly because of its bokeh. Ramón has a Planar f/2 from the same ZM series, although I believe this is not his standard lens. Both lenses are fast 50mm primes, yet they are quite different. The Planar is reliably excellent lens, which can be praised for its great sharpness and generally beautiful bokeh.
The Sonnar is a bit more hectic with the potential of surprises both in positive and negative ways. This lens can be bit soft wide open, but the bokeh is just phenomenal most of the time and from f/2 sharpness is already more than enough to me. The Sonnar has a bad reputation of focus shifting which is change of the focus plane when adjusting aperture. I personally don’t have any issues focusing with this lens. We switched lenses for the day, so we could experiment and see the differences. At the end of the day we enjoyed using these lenses, they both performed well on digital sensor and on film.
Also note that we use the cameras with different style. One of us covers only 1 eye with the viewfinder and keeps the other eye free open while the other covers his entire face with the camera and thus limited with single eye framing. Naturally this difference can be explained by the magnification used on the viewfinders, but it is also hugely a personal preference.
The great similarities and the differences between the cameras and lenses made me wonder can be photographers categorized at all by the type of gear they use? I guess the answer is controversially yes and no. Surely we use the same style of camera with the same focal length. This would put us into a technical category of normal lens rangefinder shooters. But even if we would use the exact same gear we would end up different results which we would have achieved in different ways. I think the most distinguishing feature in the photography of 2 individuals is not within their camera, but behind of it.
Eszter, Leica M2 , Carl Zeiss Plannar 50mm f/2 ZM, Ilford Delta 100, Rodinal 1+50, 20°C, 8 min
It is not easy to be a tourist. Visiting popular places has the obvious disadvantage that they are already photographed from every possible angle at every possible time of the year.
So what can a photographer do who is short on time and cannot afford the luxury of deeply explore his travel location? In other words should one leave the camera at home when going to a family afternoon visiting a hipped touristic site? Some would say yes. Just enjoy the time with the family and do not break the flow with those annoying stops to stare through the viewfinder. There is no way to take new, refreshing original photos anymore. There is even a camera called Camera Restricta which checks online how many publicly available photographs have been made on a certain GPS location.
If the count exceeds a limit, the camera denies taking any more pictures. While this camera offers a really extreme solution to the issue, it certainly raises the awareness that we should approach spectacles with care. After all, no one wants to create the 10 000th identical photos about that waterfall.
In my opinion, it is absolutely possible to take outstanding photos at locations which are considered completely exhausted as photographic resources. It is challenging indeed, but challenges are there to accept and conquer them.
This is what I have tried to do lately. I was sent on a business trip to Dublin and of course, I tried to get the most out of it. Due to the packed by work nature of my travel, I had not much time for exploring, but I had a weekend and a few afternoons to work with. So I teamed up with my college and friend and picked some quite touristic places to visit. So we went to Glendalough, an extraordinary place with a beautiful mixture of nature and early medieval architecture. We had a great time and we were truly amazed by the wonders of this place, but as expected there is quite highly developed tourism involved here.
I was terrified when I realized that people were taking literally thousands of pictures just under that few hours we spent there.
But after the initial hesitation, I have started to shoot and tried to make up a set of rules I applied to make a difference.
Think with a head of a tourist
I tried to picture what is the easiest shoot one could get. This is what most people are up to. It is also a good idea to step back a little and watch what locations others choose. After I have mapped the patterns, I have picked a little bit different, harder to reach so to speak less trivial spot and angle. Many times just a few meters what you need for a significantly better shoot.
Use something special
According to a popular saying, your camera does not really matter. I agree on that a talented photographer can take stunning images with just about anything. On the other hand, a bad photograph is not any better just because it was taken with some exotic gear.
But the reality is not that all black and white. In the age of mass-produced digital cameras, smartphones and even smartphone cameras, a good old film camera can really shine out.
This is not the primary reason, why I shoot film, but it is great fun to see how much people are surprised because of the image quality and (I hope) cinematic look of my pictures.
Focus on the details
The world is full of neat little details. Many see only the big picture. Want to squeeze somehow the Eiffel Tower into the frame. But sometimes details are just more interesting. Better still often there is no indication whatsoever about their origin. Therefore it is always a good idea to have a camera in the bag no matter how touristy is the place to be visited. There is always the chance for a nice rusty road sign lurking at the next corner.
I have to admit that this photo with the fern was not taken at Glendalough but in Galway. However, this is my favorite detail photo from this roll.
People make things interesting
All humans are addicted to the look of other humans. Why not exploit this property of the mind and compose someone into the frame. It does not work at all times, but chances are that a handful of these photos will be the best ones. At least this is the case many times with me.
I am really bad at photographing people without their acknowledgment. I am not just bad at it, but also I prefer not to do it. That is why I asked these girls for this picture.
This is my quick guide for myself. I hope some of you will find it interesting. If you have something to add, or just like to comment, I would be happy to read your opinion.
At the beginning of this year, I have given away a few lenses and cameras. Among others, Paul and Dan received a camera. Miran, on the other hand, got a 135mm lens and all three of them sent me a self-portrait taken with their “new” cameras/lens.
Paul is a UK based professional photographer who has a strong focus on family photography. Check out his site, it really is lovely. He has got a Fed 3 with a 50mm lens. The camera was not fully functional, still, he has got some nice results, so we can see his mighty beard.
Dan is a teacher from Canada who is now starting again with film photography using the Practika MTL-3 camera I sent him. His self-portrait is remarkable in my opinion because he managed to frame and focus so close perfectly. His Flickr profile can be found here.
Miran is a really nice guy from Slovenia who is also a long time follower of the blog and he received a 135mm f/2.8 Pentacon lens. He has chosen another approach of taking a self-portrait using a tripod and the self-timer and pre-focusing the lens. To see Miran’s blog, follow this link.
Anyway, it was really nice to get in touch with them and actually with all of you who wrote to me. These portraits just made the whole thing a little bit more personal. It is also interesting to see that each of you used a different approach to make these photos and they are quite different in style and mood as well. But the most important for me is that it you gave a good use of the old gear.
Just about a week ago I was called by the reception at work that a package arrived with my name on it. I was genuinely surprised because I have never received anything unexpectedly at work. Who on earth would have sent me a package and especially to this address? It must have been a conspiracy.
My curiosity reached an even higher level once I picked up the package and I realized that the sender is an old photographer I only know remotely through a friend. I made some small animations in flash for him as a favor and I’ve almost completely forgotten about it. It seems that he has a much better memory and he sent me this little package to cheer me up.
Well, he managed to make me very happy, because the small box was full with gorgeous films of many types. There were even some legendaries like the Kodak Ektar 25 and some, which I have never even heard of before, such as the Lucky SHD. Now I have film for tungsten light and a bulk package of medium format Ektachrome. It is truly an amazing gift, even though some of the films had expired way before I was born (which unfortunately was already a pretty long time ago).
Of course, I have already had an interesting collection of films. But, with this addition, my stock has reached the critical mass to share it with you. After this post, I finally free someplace in the freezer and it will become hard to show the full collection as a whole.
Kodak Technical Pan
Agfacolor Portrait Xps
Ilford FP-4 Plus
Forte Supercolor Fr
Fuji Superia Xtra
Fuji Pro 160 NS
Ilford Pan F Plus
Kodak New Portra
Fuji Pro 160 Tungsten
Lucky SHD 100
Kodak Portra 160 NC
Kodak Elite Color
Fujifilm Pro 160C
Kodak Gold 200
Kodak Farbwelt 200
What film really means to me
Also, I have started to think about my very intense reaction to this gift and decided to try to summarize my thoughts and feelings about what film means to me.
Film powers old cameras
First and foremost film allows me to use the plethora of cool film cameras, which would otherwise be used only as fancy paperweights at best. This way I can experience what other people could feel when they used these now vintage cameras through history.
Even better, if I put the state-of-the-art film into any old camera, I can achieve state-of-the-art results if the lens is good enough. I think it is fascinating that someone can reach levels of quality today with the very same gear his grandfather used, which was considered impossible at the time the camera was made. This is something a digital camera of current times will never be able to provide. If this would not be enough, the film opens up the world of medium and even large format photography on a very affordable price point compared to their digital counterparts.
Film is a symbol with deep meanings
But film is a lot more than the ticket to film cameras. It is a very deep symbol in our culture. It symbolizes nothing less than eternity. It captures moments but unlike the digital sensor, it encapsulates them. Film itself becomes the frozen moment of memory and emotion. This is, of course, a process, which cannot be reverted. Once something is captured it will be preserved unchanged as long as the film physically exists. This very nature of film gives us the impression of truthfulness, the feeling that anything recorded on film must be real. Of course, we all know that any image in a medium can be faked, but it is very hard to alter the film for ordinary people after it was developed.
Film is commitment
Once the film is loaded into the camera, there is no way to return and the photographer has made his/her commitment to a particular type of film with all its properties. Although there are plenty of parameters that can be changed later (thinking of push, pull, cross-processing and other tricks), the characteristics of the used film will be inevitably present in the result and the possibilities to change this in post-processing are rather narrow. Today there is much excellent software out there to manipulate photographs. The possibilities of manipulations are nearly endless and even film/developer simulation is possible on a very high level (though it can be debated how truthful such simulations are in reality). I embrace and endorse these tools, but, honestly, the countless amount of options often makes me insecure in my decision. I tend to hesitate and eventually I run into contradictions with myself. I want to retain the maximum amount of detail, while also wishing to bestow a strong character in the image. As a result, many of my images are good, however, they fall short of featuring such a strong character and I am frustrated because of the possible other ways I could have chosen. One has to be able to keep the power of the tools provided under control, otherwise, that power is useless. It seems that I am not fully ready yet for the marvels of the digital post-processing revolution. I just prefer to work the character given by the film I choose and then try to get the most out of it in post-processing. Yes, it comes with commitment, but it gives me results (I like) and frees me from the burden of too many possibilities. All in all, I am much more satisfied with my film images.
Film is responsibility
A piece of fresh unexposed film is like a newborn baby. It has an inherited genetic character, but it is completely blank, has no criminal record and can become virtually anything. It is the responsibility of the parents (sorry photographer), to provide the best start and guidance to achieve the most. Shoots can be repeated, but every frame is an effort and an investment, especially if someone (like me) uses a tedious hybrid workflow. Of course it is not a good idea to over complicate or worry too much about the process of taking a photograph, just like an overprotective mother can be also harmful. But it is important to be aware of the responsibility over the film we are about to use.
Film is heritage
Needless to say that film has an enormous historical heritage. The different materials, processes and characters resemble historical periods, great moments, fantastic artworks and intellectual advancement. Film has such a deep roots in our culture that it is impossible to not to feel its importance and legacy.
Film is fun
Despite all the serious thoughts here, film also provides a lot of fun. It is such a gamble to use a crappy camera with some expired film and hope for cool light leaks. There are plenty of applications for simulating this, but I think part of the fun is that the control is not completely in or hands.
Film is alive
Unlike digital files film has an organic grain structure. It can be emulated by software, but computers can only work with pseudo-random generators. There will always be a pattern in digitally added noise. Film has a life-cycle. It ages and it can go bad when stored inappropriately. On the other hand, even if it is expired and stored recklessly there is still a chance that something interesting will come out of it. A box of expired film (like the one I have received) is like a box of old exotic old wine. You could find something truly amazing or the complete opposite, but you cannot say until you taste it yourself. This is also part of the magic.
Film is magic
If I needed to find a single word to describe what is the most significant property of film, I would say it is simply magical. There is something mystical about the chemical process, which forms a photograph. I always found this quite fascinating even though I am aware that everything about it is well described and no dark arts are involved. But when I combine this feeling with the uncertainty of the result (especially when I use expired film) and with the waiting necessary to finally get the developed film back from the lab, the experience is truly magical.
These aspects are just a few among the thoughts circulating in my head about film. These are all interconnected, and after all, that is why I feel special when I can hold a package of film in my hand. I am sure that others would come up with a completely different list, but I am pretty certain that almost everybody who is old enough to have had some connection with film photography retains some emotional connection to it.
Just one more fun thing to think of
I have played around with Blender and made this highly sophisticated scene of a plain and 2 boxes. I painted a texture for it based on some old Forte and rendered the scene. It is pretty obvious that this is not a photograph because of the sharp edges and the way to perfect texture, But the point is that it is possible to make it photo-realistic with some additional effort. An image generated solely by a computer to tribute the film which may be one day substituted entirely by the computer, or at least the possibility will be given. In the end, it is all about personal and professional preferences.
Computer generated illustration of old Forte film by Camerajunky