A few weeks ago I wrote an Android App that I felt I needed myself when I was out and about in the field photographing. I’m glad that it has now almost 100 more than 220 installs. As you are well aware of, most films do need correcting for reciprocity failure to avoid underexposing your negatives for exposure times of over a second. This really gets important for Large Format or pinhole photography, and also for night photography of course.
Until now I had a folder with a few printed PDFs with tables of exposure correction information for the different films that I regularly use. I kept the folder in my camera bag where I had to replace the prints regularly due to wind, rain and other damage; an App on a phone you’re already carrying is of course easier to use.
As a bonus, in the Reciprocity App I could also include the findings of Howard Bond from his article in the Photo Technique magazine which had been formulated into an easy formula by Patrick Gainer.
It is a simple App, but packed with the reciprocity details of most black and white films currently being sold. Works fine on my Android phone as well as on my Android tablet. All information is contained in the App so no data connection is needed when you’re on a photo shoot abroad, on top of a mountain or in the deep countryside without any connectivity. It’s free, make sure to grab it!
As for an iOS version for Apple devices, I don’t have the possibility to develop an iOS App and you are probably better off with an Android device anyway. 😀
Redscale film is easy to make if you have a dark room or a change bag: Simply take all of a C-41 film out of the canister, cut it off and tape it back, back to front, and spool it back into the canister so the film will be exposed on the wrong side. All layers of C-41 film are sensitive to blue light, so the blue layer is positioned on the top normally absorbing the blue light. The result of using redscale film is a clear colour shift to red due to the red-sensitive layer of the film being exposed first as it is now on top.
You would need to overexpose a few stops to avoid having just everything in red as overexposure allows light to reach the less sensitive green and blue layers of the film. And if you are using expired film for this, you would need to overexpose even more. It is a bit trial and error.
With departures to Europe leaving Narita airport late morning or early afternoon, this means that a last night in Tokyo always results in getting up very early to catch the first Narita Express trains to be in time at the airport to make the flight. Of course it is not unthinkable in Tokyo that an earthquake or a typhoon knocks out the train traffic for a few hours, so that is why we typically stay the last night in Japan in Narita town rather than Tokyo and lately this has become the last two nights as Narita with Naritasan in its centre is actually a very nice place to visit!
Of course this is not a new idea and loads of tourists are doing this, profiting from the relatively cheap hotels and the convenience of a free shuttle bus to the airport that most, if not all, Narita hotels provide.
Narita town is as nice as any Japanese town but with some very good restaurants, especially the unagi restaurants are famous. At the heart of Narita town lies the big temple complex of Naritasan which makes a visit to Narita worthwhile from a touristic point of view too.
One thing the pamphlet only hints at is the unique chance Naritasan offers to join the devotees and visitors in the Goma ritual. Normally if you want to join in at a Buddhist temple in the morning ceremony, you need to get up pretty early. I would still recommend that you do this to give extra substance to your visit to Japan, but the great thing with the Goma ritual is that it is held every hour from early morning to late afternoon. I see so many tourists watch the ritual from beyond the glass wall, but it is just a matter of taking your shoes off, putting them in a plastic bag and sitting down inside to be part of it. When they hit that enormous taiko drum, you’ll jump like everybody else!
And when the ceremony is done, make sure to hand your wallet or camera or anything you would like to be blessed to the monks who will hold it in the smoke of the ritual for a second.
It is so easy to come back from a trip to Japan and have only stood at the window glimpsing in. Like a visit to an onsen, joining in at a temple ceremony should be high up on your lists of things to do for a successful trip to Japan. It is not difficult to join in and I can assure you that it gives a great feeling of satisfaction. Typically there are no thresholds other than our own hesitation and insecurity and I haven’t seen the tourist guide yet that explains any of this, they’re always just going on about who build this and when, but leave out so much practical information. We had a great experience at Zenkō-ji temple in Nagano and lots of other places but with so many foreign tourists and visitors at these places, I’m always the only foreigner joining in, and I’m telling you, you guys are missing out! 😀
Make sure to pick up one of the business card sized note that contains the mantra to the Fudo Myo-o deity that is chanted during the Goma ritual, see above for the text in Roman characters and translation.
Over a week ago we visited Clervaux Castle to see the Edward Steichen collection of The Family of Man, 503 photos by 273 photographers from 68 countries consisting of 37 themes. Steichen brought the collection together for the New York Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) first in 1955 and it has travelled the world and been exposed in over 150 museums before the final integral version was installed in Clervaux Castle in the North of Luxembourg.
Photos by artists such as Robert Capa, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Dorothea Lange, Robert Doisneau, W. Eugene Smith, Diane Arbus, Robert Frank and Ansel Adams and many more. I loved it! The day we visited it was relatively quiet and photography is allowed as long as you don’t use a flash. Duh!
The last photo in the collection is A Walk To The Paradise Garden by W. Eugene Smith, to close on an optimistic note, I guess. I’m a big fan of the photos of W. Eugene Smith, if you do not know his work make sure to check him out today, but although this photo is well executed it also contains little truth to me and the photos of W. Eugene Smith are usually bursting with truth. I’m sure most people would disagree, but I would not have ended the Family of Man exhibition with this photo…
The fun part of pinhole photography is that it is so low-tech: No real lens involved, no focussing, great results without any hassle. Or so you might think. For me, pinhole photography means that I need to bring my Android tablet, a grey-card and Sekonic 758D lightmeter to get the job done and get a predictable exposure. It is probably as hi-tech as I need to get for all of my photography. 🙂
My technique with which I have now been able to get decent and reproducible results, comes down the following steps:
Use the Film Crop Assistant app to get the location of the tripod and the composition right as you cannot look through the lens, of course.
Use the grey-card and the lightmeter to get a reading.
Use the Pinhole Camera Calculator app to convert that reading into an basic exposure time that matches the f-stop of my pinhole lens.
Use reciprocity failure correction tables specific to the film that I use the Reciprocity app that calculates the exposure time to use for a given film and metered exposure time.
Use the Timer option of the Android Clock to time the exposure.
No doubt you can find similar or better tools for the Apple world.
A few weeks ago, just after Worldwide Pinhole Photography Day, I picked up a Skink Pinhole Pancake Retro Pro Pentax 67 for my Pentax 67II camera. It has the standard mount so it will fit on the Pentax 6×7, 67 and 67II cameras no doubt and with the proper adapter, I expect that it can be used on a whole host of other cameras; I intend to try it out on my Pentax 645NII later this year.
Over a few weekends I have had the chance to experiment with it. I’m happy with the results, of course the images are soft but attractive in their softness. Before I started I was expecting a bit of vignetting but there was no sign of it.
A video compilation I made of the videos that my wife and I recorded during our trip to Japan last December/January. We need to get a camera with shake-reduction, but somehow the shakiest parts are the most fun to watch 🙂
We had some great time and I’m glad that we spent a lot of our time in new areas for us like Nagano and Hokkaido, those areas were so rewarding! I’m getting pretty bored with the touristy areas of Tokyo like Shibuya, Ginza or Shinjuku and the crowds at Ikebukuro were overwhelming, but Ueno, the busiest area by far, always stays fresh for me as you can tell from the video. 🙂
If you are a fan of the work of Michael Kenna, like I am, you recognize the scene in the photo below from his photo books or from the very inspiring video that he put up on his website. If you haven’t watched it yet, take a few minutes and watch it now and you’ll love it. This photo is taken around Biei in Hokkaido and this is an amazing area, especially in the snow, and a very popular area for photographers these days.
For me the most remarkable thing in the video is that Michael and his assistant enter the field and plough through the snow to find the right spot to take the photo. When I visited in January, the fields at several of the famous locations around Biei were roped off and large signs in Japanese, Chinese and English every 20 meters indicated that it was forbidden to enter the fields, including the area around this copse. But as you can see in my photo, people do enter the field nevertheless; damaging the seedlings, spoiling the shots with their tracks for us who decide the follow the rules and triggering investigations by the forestry ministry. We ran into a car of the ministry and a guy was taking eyewitness reports about the people who had entered the field that morning.
I’m not saying that Michael Kenna behaved incorrectly, it is clear from the video that the field was not roped off and no signs were visible at the time. But I’m saying that if it is roped off and if signs are indicating that it would hurt crops to enter the field, people should follow the rules. You might have your shots, but what if the farmer is fed up with the constant damage and decides to level the copse and end this great location for everybody forever? You probably don’t care about that, as I said, you have your shots… 🙁
Normally I never hesitate to shoot first and ask questions later, but the reason for the ban was explained and I would hate to leave tracks that would impact all the other photographers that would come after me as is obvious from my photo. Thanks for nothing!
Aoi-ike or Blue pond is a relatively new tourist attraction around Biei, Hokkaido; very beautiful with dead trees in a blue pond. Of course the pond wasn’t blue frozen over, so the choice for black & white film was no issue.
The scenery was lit up at night making it a magnet for photographers who, probably because they wanted to catch snowflakes in the foreground, couldn’t stop using their flashes resulting in images of walls of white in the heavy snowfall with no trees visible. I guess you need to know what you’re doing to get the effect right and probably using your flash in automatic mode wasn’t the correct way as it was pretty much pitch dark even with the lights so the flashes were bright like nuclear explosions. (A “feature” of a DSLR on a tripod is that everybody standing behind you gets to see the result on the tiny screen and I checked out the results of quite a few of my fellow photographers — it didn’t look like any of them had any “keepers.”) 🙂
Anyway, a lot of my long exposures were ruined by the flashes and I tried to out-wait them for an hour or so, but in the end I gave up and returned at another night which turned out to be exactly the same. In the end I returned during the day time as the pond was just a couple of kilometers from our hotel at Shirogane Onsen on the way to Biei.
There was a time that I thought that I would never need a tripod but when I bought my medium format cameras and wanted to explore long exposure and still-life photography, I bought a very sturdy Manfrotto 055XPROB that could handle my Pentax 67II and even my 4×5 Cambo SC2 large format camera. I think it is something each beginning photographer goes through: “I don’t need a flash or understand lighting techniques, I shoot everything with available light.” or “I don’t need a tripod, I shoot everything handheld.” Until you finally realize that these things actually can help to get better results when used correctly and that you’ve been holding yourself back for no reason.
I’m very happy with this tripod yet it was not something that I could take easily along on my travels because of its weight and size. I felt the need for a lighter tripod, yet a tripod that could support my Pentax 645NII medium format camera which is my camera of choice when travelling. So before my trip to Japan, I decided to buy a Manfrotto MKBFRA4-BH Befree as it had good reviews.
I had wanted to test the camera on the tripod but ran out of time. The new tripod certainly felt less sturdy than my main tripod and I felt a bit nervous as I started doing quite a few long exposures both in Tokyo and Hokkaido. To my relief the results were fine, the images sharp even with the longer lenses. I guess the moral of this post is: Test your equipment before setting off on an important trip as you need to know whether you can rely on it or not and not just hope for the best. 🙂
Film photography, travel, techniques and background information