How to find locations?

One of the problems I have always had was how to find great photo locations while having little time to spend in a town or country. A Travel Guide will give you the obvious shots, but limiting myself to those I never found satisfying. The solution I found is to scan the area to which I intend to travel in Google Earth and inspect those little blue markers that indicate uploaded photos in Panoramio. If I find something I like, I note the latitude and longitude and enter those as waypoints (favourites) in my GPS unit.

I quickly learned to zoom in a lot as the larger, more popular blue markers in Google Earth, for some inexplicable reason, always seem to contain the least interesting of photos. My guess is that the larger markers point to the photos Panoramio started off with and therefore have collected a lot of hits over the years especially during the period when few photos were uploaded. By the way, the red markers in Google Earth contain 360° panoramas and are certainly worth clicking through on to scout for locations as well.

To keep the system going, I have uploaded some of my photos to Panoramio which is the site Google uses to allow people to upload geotagged photos to Google Earth. Please have a look at the photos I uploaded.

Update: Sometimes it is quicker to use the Panoramio pages directly and browse  to area of interest via their maps. Depending on how far you have zoomed in, most photos will show up in miniature on the map and a panel on the left hand side lists the most popular photos. This way you avoid clicking on all the blue icons in Google Earth and only inspect those photos that catch your eye; all in all, a much faster process.

Lensbaby 2.0 on a manual focus camera

After having struggled with getting satisfying results with my lensbaby 2.0 on my Pentax MZ-S and Pentax K20D, both autofocus cameras, I had an epiphany and decided to use the lensbaby on my old, manual Pentax ME and all of a sudden it came together. As you probably know, the lensbaby 2.0 is focussed by adjusting the tube length and tilting the lens to adjust the sweetspot with one hand while the other hand operates the shutter. After having used autofocus lenses for so long, I had completely forgotten the effective tools that a manual camera offers to help focus. The Pentax ME comes with with split image and a microprism ring in the centre in the viewfinder which offers a lot more help focussing a lensbaby than focussing just on the matte of my more modern cameras as the autofocus points would light up but cannot be relied upon.

JLPT Kanji flashcards for JLPT N5 and N4 for Kindle

If you are interested, please find the kanji required for the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT) levels N5 and N4 in Mobi format for Kindle here and here. I prepared them for myself to be able to practice while on the go, but decided to share the files. Comments are welcome but the files come as they are.
I’ll be preparing vocabulary and grammar lists next, revisit from time to time to check for updates.

(built using the Mobipocket eBook Creator)

Long exposure photography without the hassle

If you are reading this, you have very likely seen the amazing long exposure seascapes and architectural photos that have become very popular lately. Of course, long exposures have been popular for a long time and during the years when photography was first invented, the photographers had no choice but to use very long exposure times as the emulsions used just weren’t very sensitive. But it is going through a revival and I don’t really know when and by whom long exposures became popular again, but I do admire a lot the work of Kees Smans, Joel Tjintjelaar and Sunstone Maria among many others.
Joel Tjintjelaar has a great set of tutorials available on his website which I can recommend strongly if you are curious how it is done and if you would like to try yourself.

However, the reason for this blog entry is that the chances are that your DSLR has a function built-in that sort of simulates the effect and can give quite decent results without requiring anything more than a tripod and maybe a remote control. No neutral density filters required at all. I’m referring to the multi-exposure option of your camera. I’m not aware of the details of the many different brands of DSLRs out there, but my Pentax K20D has a multi-exposure option available under the Rec Mode menu from the Menu button. When you select this to enable it by setting the number of exposures you want to take, you will find an Auto EV Adjust option that can be checked.

So what does this do? The Pentax manual states the following for the multi-exposure option: “Select the number of shots between 2 and 9 (Auto EV Adjust can be set according to the number of shots)” and that it is all it says about this useful feature. Why do camera manuals go out of their way to hide the coolest features of the cameras they describe? Why not add an appendix with “These are some of the cool features of the camera you have just bought and this is how you use them”?
Anyway, if you select several exposures and enable the automatic adjustment of the exposure, everything in the scene that is not moving will show up crystal clear, but everything that is moving, like water or clouds, will get that smooth, velvety appearance you are after. Just keep pressing the shutter with intervals of a few seconds or minutes (maybe) until you have reached the number of exposures you selected and the camera will fuse the different exposures together into a single, perfectly exposed image. If your camera wants to refocus for each exposure, make sure to set it to manual focus.– I find that it works best if you select 5 or more exposures and use a remote control, wired or wireless, to avoid any camera shake. I think that this is as simple as it gets.

If you have a different brand of camera drop me a comment and let me know if your camera implements such a feature.

EXIF data and scanned images

Since Adobe’s Lightroom and most of the other tools that I use are geared towards DSLRs, I have felt the need to add as much EXIF data to my scanned images as possible. The more photos I add to Lightroom, the more important Smart Collections are getting to me and the less I want to rely on keywords. Things got even more complicated when I started using more than one film camera and wanted to use the standard ways to sort my photos by camera. Besides, I do have a blog and display my photos online, it is rather normal that my visitors want to inspect the EXIF data to understand how I arrived at this particular exposure, what my reasoning was.

Luckily, my Pentax MZ-S and Pentax 645NII cameras record exposure data on the side of the negative, but even if your camera doesn’t do this, it is still worth adding at least the camera information, film information, development information, used ISO, and any other thing that you can remember to the image. I use Vuescan to scan my negatives and it would be a great if this tool could also store all the EXIF you have available, but unfortunately it only stores the minimum EXIF data in the scanned image. I suggested adding EXIF data functionality to the image to Vuescan but I guess that Vuescan is already complicated enough and it never was added.

If you have googled how to update EXIF data in an image, you have probably come across the ExifTool by Phil Harvey. This tool can do everything and more, but in the end it is a Perl script with a command line interface. What was needed was a graphical user interface to the ExifTool and Bogdan Hrastnik has stepped up and developed the ExifToolGUI Windows tool for which you can find all information here. Strongly recommended!

Colour film

I do occasionally shoot colour film but don’t develop colour film myself although several people have told me that it is not that different from black and white development. As I shoot maybe 10 rolls of colour film a year, I don’t think it is worth stocking the chemicals at home. The following photos were shot on FUJICOLOR SUPERIA X-TRA400.

As you can see, I revisited some of the locations that I had shot during the photo walk from Parliament to Tower Bridge that I did earlier this month; this time with my Pentax 645NII while before I had used my Pentax MZ-S. If I’m honest, I think the black and white photos do work much better. However, I do like the photos I took of my wife during a walk in the forest around Ruislip. Most of those shots are backlit and I spot metered off her face and locked the exposure to get a well exposed portrait and blow out the background.

A few days earlier I had gone out with my Pentax 67II with the same film to catch some of the autumn colours. As I have only the 55mm wide angle lens for this camera at the moment, the photo walk didn’t give many memorable results but I do like the above shot.

London photo walk from Parliament to Tower Bridge

Last week I took the opportunity to visit the centre of London and walk from Parliament to Tower Bridge while visiting the Occupy London camp at St Paul’s cathedral. It is my favourite walk in London as the River Thames allows me the space I like, most of the other famous locations in London are a bit too cramped for me.

I took the Jubilee line to Parliament station, crossed the river and walked down the South Bank to Tate Modern and crossed the river again over the Millennium Bridge to stop at St Paul’s after which I followed the North Bank down to the Tower and finally Tower Bridge. It’s a nice walk and really recommended.

I had taken my 35mm Pentax MZ-S and used a roll of Fuji Acros (EI 100) and one roll of Ilford FP4+ which I exposed at an EI 200 as that had previously given the contrasty results I like for city and street photography.

The photos will show up on my photo blog over the next few weeks.

Film development without darkroom

Introduction to film development

From time to time I get the impression that people are hesitating exploring film photography because of the hassle around it and not having the possibility to create a darkroom at home. The intention of this blog entry is to explain that the development of a film opens up a whole world of possibilities and that you don’t need a darkroom to be able to develop black and white film. Colour film is quite a different story, but often enough you can still have colour film developed the same day at the photo shops in the high streets. Of course it is also possible to have black and white film developed via the photo store, but this often takes one week or longer and more often than not, the negatives are returned with fingerprints or other blemishes. There are exceptions: here in the UK, for instance, Ilford offers a high quality, reasonably priced mail order service to develop and/or print black and white film, even films from different brands.

However, I would like to argue that developing yourself has many benefits: If you start experimenting or your have become more advanced you would like to under- or overexpose your shots to manipulate the contrast, and then, all of a sudden developing yourself makes things easier.

What, no darkroom?

You do need a darkroom if you decide to print your negatives. However, nowadays, a lot of images end up on the web or can be printed from JPEG or TIFF images; this also applies to me and therefore I scan my negatives. If you decide to scan your negatives, you don’t need a darkroom. I use an Paterson change bag to put the exposed film on the reel and in the development tank, and the rest can be done outside the change bag.

Minimum requirements

So what do you need to be able to develop your first film? I started off with the following:

  • Development tank and reel.
  • Change bag.
  • Thermometer.
  • Measures.
  • Clock or timer.
  • Developer and fixer.

I picked up the development tank and change bag at an online store; I bought the Paterson tank as I have used the plastic reels before and find them easy to use if you make sure the reel is completely dry before use by setting a hairdryer on it for a minute. The good thing with Paterson reels is that they can be used for both 135 and 120/220 format film.
For the measures I visited my local supermarket and raided the kitchen department. To be able to measure small amounts of liquids reliably, I bought some disposable syringes without needle in 10 and 20ml sizes via Amazon.
A kitchen timer or even a watch will do to keep time, but there are also dedicated timers on the market that can have up to several stages so you can pre-set the timer for all phases of development prior to starting.
It is important that the thermometer shows the temperature reliably as a single degree difference will give different results.

For my first developer I bought some Rodinal, but, now that I have developed a lot more films, I think the best developer for the novice is probably Kodak’s HC-110 as that gives good results with most films whereas Rodinal and some films will work really well, but it won’t work so well with others. Both Rodinal and HC-110 will keep forever, so you don’t need to worry about the developer going bad once you have bought a bottle. As for the fixer, I would recommend getting the cheapest and use it as a one-shot fixer.

Once you decide that you would like to develop your own films more often, you can consider buying the following:

  • Photo-flo or similar to minimize the water marks on the emulsion
  • Distilled or de-ionized water for the last few washes, especially if the tap water contains a lot of calcium.
  • A 20μ filter to keep any water-borne dirt out of your solutions.
  • A harderner if your fixer doesn’t contain it.
  • A film canister opener (but really a bottle opener will do). I can program my 35mm camera to leave a bit of film out of the canister when it rewinds and that means I don’t need the opener but the greatest benefit is that I can already have the start of the film on the reel, before putting it in the change bag. That does safe me a lot of hassle.

I never had any use for a squeegee nor for a stop bath.

Developing a film

Before shooting a film, I would visit the Massive Dev Chart or the section dedicated to film development on my website and see what data is available about the film, the ISO setting used (in this context this is usually referred to as Exposure Index or EI) and the developer you have at your disposal. You do need to realize that these values listed are just an indication as they are highly dependent of the camera and light meter used, and the quality of the light at the moment of exposure. Once you start to understand the process, it will be easy to adapt the values listed to your own situation.

So now you have an exposed film and you have it on the reel inside the development tank and you have diluted both developer and fixer into the working solutions you have decided upon with help of the charts mentioned above. The last thing to decide upon is the agitation method. If you search APUG or, you’ll discover that there are as many different agitation methods recommended as there are subscribers. With development times of less than 10 minutes, I usually use two inversions per 30 seconds and two inversions per minute for development times longer than 10 minutes. Over-agitation causes several problems but under-agitation causes different problems. It is important to have a system as it is all about reproducibility: if you like the results, you would like to repeat what you used that time. For that reason, I always use the same temperature of 20°C/68°F, even for the water I use for the washing as the emulsion of some of the older type films, like ADOX and Efke can develop problems if the temperature difference is too large and changed to quickly.

I don’t use a stop bath; once the development time has run out, I pour the developer out and pour some water in the tank, shake it violently before pouring the water out again and introducing the fixer. I do two inversions of the tank per minute during the fixing phase and use the manufacturer recommended times for fixing a film.

To wash the film, I use tap water for the first phase after I have poured the fixer out and let the film soak for several minutes before changing the water several times. The last wash I do with de-ionized water as the tap water is pretty calcium rich where I live and I wrap it up with some de-ionized water with a little bit of photo-flo.

Drying the film

The main challenge I had was to dry the developed film without getting too much dust to settle on the soft emulsion. Lots of people will recommend the bath room after having run some hot water from the shower head to fill the room with steam that will take down the dust, but I found the easiest way for me was to buy a cheap Ikea Billy bookcase with a door and without installing the loose shelves. I cut a big hole in the centre shelf and attached a couple of hooks in the top to hang my 120 and 135 format films from. No ventilation or heater was needed to build my own, cheap drying cabinet.

Scanning the film

I use a Nikon Coolscan V ED for my 135 format film and an Epson Perfection V500 PHOTO for my 120 format films. The Nikon scanner is great but difficult to get hold of and I would say that the Epson scanner is fine and quite cheap and it can be used for both 120 and 135 format film. The Epson scan mask is not great, and I would like to recommend the DigitaLISA film scanning mask as released by lomography.
I prefer Vuescan as tool, but I think that there is no problem to get started with the software that comes with your scanner. To change contrast and to be able to play around with some other exposure settings, I use Adobe Lightroom.

As I am a nerd, I like to keep any info I have about the scanned images and add it to the scanned TIFF file as EXIF data with help of the ExifToolGUI tool, but that step is of course completely optional Smile

Adjustable Neutral Density filter

I just bought one of those adjustable Neutral Density filters (ND2 – ND400) that I noticed having surfaced on the market for very reasonable prices (I paid £13 for mine in 77mm size). Of course, one needs to be careful what one puts in front of an expensive lens as a bad filter will make a great lens look mediocre.
For the lenses of my 35mm cameras and DSLR I have sets of different ND filters: 0,3, 0.6, 0.9 for my prime lenses and it is always difficult to pick the right density factor straight away and sometimes I feel like I really need to add two or more of them together to get the reduction in light I want. The Adjustable ND filter covers a whole range and more and getting just one filter does make a lot of sense for people like me who carry lots of filters around in different colours and sizes.

I took my Pentax 67II and loaded it with some Fuji Acros 100 as I know that I wouldn’t need to correct for reciprocity failure with exposures of up to 30 seconds. My first trip took me to the Grand Union Canal around Rickmansworth.

The weir in the photo above was shot with an exposure time of 15 seconds. The water  flowing over the weir turned nicely white and the rest of the water developed that nice, undisturbed quality. To take this shot, I turned the filter until the camera’s TTL meter showed the desired exposure time in the viewfinder.

This second photo shows the lock at the same location, again the exposure time was set via the TTL meter and by turning the filter until an exposure time of 15 seconds was displayed in the viewfinder. As a result of the long exposure, the whirlpool in the front of the photo became a lot more noticeable.

The results were very promising, even in full sunlight the adjustable ND filter allowed me to chose exposures of 15 seconds. The next day it was one of those days you have occasionally in autumn: very clear but loads of wind. I figured that I could go to the Ruislip Lido and capture a couple of clouds in motion with an Orange Filter and the adjustable ND filter.

In the bright sunlight that would often suddenly change when a cloud covered the sun, the handling of extreme long exposures became tricky. But even if the lighting stayed constant, with the two filters, it looked like the TTL results where not reliable any more. To be investigated!

To summarize: The adjustable/variable Neutral Density filter I used did everything it promised on the box and I haven’t seen any drawbacks yet. It allowed me extreme long exposures that the camera could handle via the TTL meter. Only time will tell if the filter is durable but the construction does like solid and certainly not more flimsy than any polarizer filter that I own. The only (minor) remark that I have about this particular filter is that the filter size of the front of the filter is not the same as the filter size of the lens which means that once the filter is on the lens, you cannot use the lens cap for protection of the filter.