Inspiration

Maybe it is just me, but sometimes when I get to a location I feel inspired, visualize every shot and when I get home, I’m happy with most of my shots. Some other time, I get to the another location, or maybe even to the same location and the feeling isn’t there and when I go through the motions and take my shots, I have no idea what I’m shooting and  I’m certain to be disappointed by the mediocre results.

KODAK TMax 400 at EI 1600, developed in HC-110 dilution b for 7:30 minutes. Agitation: 2 inversions every 30 seconds.
I call it “inspiration” but maybe you call it differently, but that feeling, that connection you have at that moment with the place is so very powerful yet so elusive. Wish I could pull it out of the hat anytime I am about with my camera, but it isn’t as simple as that. To get into that zone, I need to concentrate and approach the subject already in my mind before getting there. This usually means that I need to be able to focus and have the time to quietly explore a location. If it doesn’t happen the first visit, it might happen on a subsequent visit.  Revisiting a location certainly helps.

As a result, I’m not a person who will do well in a Photo Walk with a group of people all looking at each other, concentrating more on the cameras and lenses people have brought than on the opportunities in front of them, and, worst of all, hurrying from one location to another.

Neutral density & exposure

There are probably online calculators or Apps for this, but when I’m in the field I prefer just to have a couple of printed pages where I can see the exposure to use at a glance. See here for the PDF and a far more complete version of the table below.

A typical set of Neutral Density filters consists of an ND2, ND4 and an ND8 filter which can be combined and, if combined, the resulting ND number is the multiplication of the ND numbers of the filters used. For example: Combining the ND2, ND4 and ND8 filter will result in an ND64 filter: 2x4x8=64.

Use your exposure meter (TTL or external) to get the base exposure time and then apply the filter(s) to the lens. Find the base exposure in the first column in the table below to get the exposure time to use for the ND number of the filter(s) on the lens and then apply the correction for the Reciprocity Failure of the film that you are using, if applicable. Typically this information is provided by the manufacturer of the film and usually available for download in PDF form from their site, but also see here for more details. The easiest is when the Reciprocity Failure correction is expressed in added stops so you can just use the table to skip to the correct line.

Exposure ND2 ND4 ND8 ND16 ND32
1/60 1/30 1/15 1/8 1/4 1/2
1/50 1/25 1/12 1/6 1/3 2/3
1/40 1/20 1/10 1/5 2/5 4/5
1/30 1/15 1/8 1/4 1/2 1
1/25 1/12 1/6 1/3 2/3 1 1/3
1/20 1/10 1/5 2/5 4/5 1 3/5
1/15 1/8 1/4 1/2 1 2
1/12 1/6 1/3 2/3 1 1/3 2 2/3
1/10 1/5 2/5 4/5 1 3/5 3 1/5
1/8 1/4 1/2 1 2 4
1/6 1/3 2/3 1 1/3 2 2/3 5 1/3
1/5 2/5 4/5 1 3/5 3 1/5 6 2/5
1/4 1/2 1 2 4 8
1/3 2/3 1 1/3 2 2/3 5 1/3 10 2/3
2/5 4/5 1 3/5 3 1/5 6 2/5 12 4/5
1/2 1 2 4 8 16
2/3 1 1/3 2 2/3 5 1/3 10 2/3 21 1/3
0.8 1 3/5 3 1/5 6 2/5 12 4/5 25 3/5
1 2 4 8 16 32
1 1/3 2 2/3 5 1/3 10 2/3 21 1/3 42 2/3
1 3/5 3 1/5 6 2/5 12 4/5 25 3/5 51 1/5
2 4 8 16 32 64
2 2/3 5 1/3 10 2/3 21 1/3 42 2/3 85 1/3
3 1/5 6 2/5 12 4/5 25 3/5 51 1/5 102 2/5
4 8 16 32 64 128

I realize that if the table gives you an exposure time of 6826 and 2/3 of a second, the 2/3 of a second isn’t really going to make a difference but Excel insisted :-)

Your friend the spot meter

Haven’t we all shot landscapes where the blue sky turned out colourless or without detail, or the portrait with a bright background that just turned the face into a dark blur?
The reason is that most people prefer the imprecise outcome of the multi-segment metering mode, the one usually marked in safe green on the camera body, but the one that really should be marked in danger red.
If you understand how the TTL light meter in your camera works, you’ll learn to anticipate what shots will have a problematic exposure, really most of them, and it’ll save you some frustration next time you run into a difficult shot.

Kodak TRI-X at EI 400, developed in HC-110 dilution H for 11 minutes. Agitation: 2 inversions every minute seconds.

Especially when shooting film, but even if you are using a DSLR and have the ability to chimp and check the outcome of the shot on the on-camera screen, the exposure of the photo above will be difficult to realize in multi-segment or centre-weighted metering modes if you point the camera at the ceiling window and release the shutter: The bright ceiling window will be normally exposed and the underexposed stairs on the side will have lost all details in deep shadows and a wonderful opportunity is lost.
The camera’s TTL light meter usually gets blamed and when money is no issue an external light meter is acquired, yet the solution is simple if your camera supports spot metering and the locking of an exposure reading (usually a button marked AE-L.) And as far as I know, most modern DSLRs and film cameras support these powerful yet underused tools these days.

I can assure you that you get much better and much more predictable results by selecting the spot meter mode of your camera: Find an area in the shot that you reckon is a good approximation of neutral gray, meter this area and lock the exposure and bingo, you’ll have a great exposure. If you cannot find an area that is neutral gray, meter off a gray card and if you don’t have a gray card, meter off the inside of your hand.

Next time that you take a portrait and you’re not sure how the background is going to influence the shot: Walk up to the subject, meter directly off the face making sure you don’t cast a shadow, lock the exposure reading, walk back to compose the shot and shoot. Bingo, another well exposed shot! 
It is as simple as that: meter, lock exposure, shoot!

Shoulder mount

This is not an RPG launcher, it is the shoulder mount with camera and lens mounted that my father used for his photography. My father made the shoulder mount from a piece of beech wood to be able to support his camera during the wildlife photography he enjoyed. He got this gear together around 1959 or 1960.

IMGP5960

The cable release was integrated with the pistol grip of the mount for ease of use and the combination with the Pentacon-F camera and the Tamron 400mm f/6.9 lens he used was well balanced and easy to use.

IMGP5965IMGP5985For years he would disappear all Saturday afternoon after work and get back to disappear again into the darkroom. At the time, the fastest film around was ISO 400 film. Imagine using a manual camera with an external light meter, manually focussing on the ground glass and a 400mm lens at f/6.9. No surprise that he used to push the film as fast as he could and solely rely on his experience to guess the exposure and correct for any underexposure during development.
Yet the results are not overly grainy and well exposed, see here for an example.

Pentacon-F

While back home, my father gave me his Pentacon-F, the camera with which I used to shoot my first photos before I bought my PENTAX-ME.

IMGP5967

Made in Dresden, Germany, by VEB Zeiss-Ikon between 1956-1961, it is a completely manual camera with exposure times between 1/1000 and 1 second, and a bulb setting. The lens is a 50mm f/3.5 Meyer-Optik Primotar E.

IMGP5975 IMGP5980 IMGP5990

I’ll clean it a bit and then shoot a film to see if it hasn’t developed any light-leaks or other problems. It will be good to go back to shooting completely manually.

Eightfold Path: Right Mindfulness

In my series about the Eightfold Path and Photography, Right Mindfulness, being part of the Concentration division of the Eightfold Path, refers to remaining focussed at all time.

Fuji Neopan Acros 100 at EI 100, developed in HC-110 dilution E for 7 minutes. Agitation: 2 inversions every 30 seconds.

But Right Mindfulness, to me, is to be always aware of photography, how the things around you would translate into a photo, translate into a better photo than the one you took of the same subject last time. It isn’t about being jealous of the locations I never get to travel to, it is about what I can make of the locations I can visit.

On the drive into work I have lovely views and I drive past quite a few gnarly old pollards, it is a pleasurable commute. I have stopped along the way, taken time and shot some decent photos. As I drive there everyday, I do visualize taking shots of the ever changing landscape, visualizing different angles and exposure settings, but that isn’t all, I think I am still missing the point: like Michael Kenna, I must focus on simplifying the composition, removing clutter until I get to the truth of the subject.

Eightfold Path: Right Effort

In my series about the Eightfold Path and Photography, Right Effort, being part of the Concentration division of the Eightfold Path, refers to the constant effort of abandoning ill habits that we have picked up or are tempted by and to the strive of developing new and better habits.

Foma Fomapan 100 at EI 100, developed in APH 09 dilution 1:167 for 2 hours

But then we all know that the ill habits we’re talking about are typically contradictions of each other: For instance: on the one hand we should not hesitate and miss the crucial shot, on the other hand patience is a great virtue for a photographer to have. In my experience, constantly taking shots to avoid missing the crucial one is a guaranteed way to come back with nothing at all, so that isn’t an option for me (any more.) Every photo shoot that isn’t in the controlled environment of a studio is going to be different and unique, and experience will no doubt help, but will only take us this far and not further. To me, Right Effort is the realization of this and without relying on shortcuts which will lead to repetition of previous work, we constantly need to improve ourselves to grow.

The old road to Nara

There is a lot more to Nara than just Nara Park with its famous temples and its hordes of tourists being enthralled by the deer. If you prefer to venture a bit off the beaten track there is this rather unique walk that even the most seasoned visitor of Japan hasn’t done yet: From the beautiful Yagyū no sato (柳生の里) area east of Nara, the Takisaka-no-michi is a 12km, 3 hours walk  from Enjō-ji Temple to Nara Park.

The path of the Takisaka-no-michi

Take the bus from Nara JR Station to Enjō-ji Temple, ask the tourist information at the station for bus number and pick up a Nara Bus Pass as the trip is covered by the pass. Enjō-ji Temple is already worth the trip, but once you’re done there, take the footpath that starts on the other side of the road via which you arrived. You’re now on the Takisaka-no-michi which first leads up gently and then descends towards Nara past tea fields, a tea house (a stop here is recommended!), Ojizō-sama statues and plenty of rock carvings of monks and Ojizō-sama.

Ilford HP5+ at EI 400, developed in HC-110 dilution H for 10 minutes. Agitation: 2 inversions every 30 seconds.

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Buddha images carved into the rock in the 13th century.

The walk is easy and doesn’t require any particular skills or any particular fitness. If you have a look at the map provided by the tourist board, you will notice a loop just past the halfway point: if you turn left here there is a little more climbing to be done through a gorge with some beautiful rock carvings, but if you would like to take it easy, just continue and both routes will join again a little later.

What I particularly liked about this walk was that it led through so many different landscapes: First meandering over the tops of the mountains, then down into a rural valley with farms and the tea harvest in progress. A little further the landscape changed again dramatically when we descended into the gorge and crossed the river over tiny bridges. After we left the gorge and entered the forest again, we eventually joined a river again and the unpaved footpath changed into a flagstone paved path that must have been important and probably filled with pilgrims in the past. The path eventually led us back to Nara.
The walk was quiet, we met a few Japanese tourists and didn’t run into the crowds again until we entered Nara Park. None of the people in the crowd seemed to sense that there was so much more to be enjoyed in Nara.

DIY Film Drying Cabinet

This might come in handy for other people starting developing their own film. Together with using de-ionized or distilled water in the last few washes, this solved all my problems with “spotty” negatives!
 
DIY Film Drying Cabinet

I was having big issues with dust on my negatives, the often recommended and repeated solution of running the shower in the bathroom for a few minutes and then hanging the negatives in the steam-filled bathroom didn’t solve the problem at all for me: every negative was just covered in white specks. I did wonder whether the people recommending that were actually having problems with dust or just repeating something they had read once on the Web and thought it made sense.
I started looking at film drying cabinets but affordable solution were not obvious and it looked like I was about 5 years too late to buy a ready-made one.

In the end I decided to buy a cheap IKEA Billy bookcase with glass door and put some hooks in the top and cut a large hole in the middle shelf to allow it to be used for 35mm film as well. I attached some clothespins to the hooks and glued some felt around the inside of the door to keep even more dust out.
No fan, no heater, just give a film a few hours and it’ll be dry

Solved my problem for a very decent price!

Eightfold Path: Right livelihood

In my series about the Eightfold Path and Photography, Right Livelihood, being part of the Ethical conduct division of the Eightfold Path, is about taking your photos without causing harm to anybody, directly or indirectly. I wouldn’t go stalking a ‘celebrity’ or their kids to make a living, but I worked in the casino  industry before, so it is not really possible for me to lecture people.

jazz

Indeed, it is easy to despise paparazzi, and a lot of people do, yet many more people seem to be lapping up the gossip and the silly celebrity culture that creates the whole paparazzi industry. The urge to live our lives in the light of somebody whose only achievement is that they have been on TV is the root of the problem and will no doubt be the subject of many studies to come in 10 or 20 years time. Show Right Action and live your own life!

Travel, techniques and background information