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.


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!

Eightfold Path: Right Action

In my series about the Eightfold Path and Photography, Right Action or Right Conduct, being part of the Ethical conduct division of the Eightfold Path, is the aspect of the path that ties it all together: I need to act rightly and selflessly in harmony with the other aspects of the path.
Fuji Neopan Acros 100 at EI 100, developed in HC-110 dilution E for 7 minutes. Agitation: 2 inversions every 30 seconds.

In the original interpretation the usual examples given are: don’t take lives, don’t steal, etc. But the more general original definition said to “train oneself to be morally upright in one’s activities, not acting in ways that would be corrupt or bring harm to oneself or to others.”
For me, for my photography, this translates into learning not to get unnecessarily hung up on my photos or on how people value my work. If people like them I’m happy, if they don’t, that is fine too. More important is what I think of my photos myself. I guess that it is a cliché,  but I’m my worst critic although I do enjoy the improvements I made and I think that Right Action is just about that. One thing that I learned is not to judge photos immediately after you developed a film or get them back from the lab, I’m always hugely disappointed at that time, but find quite a few treasures a couple of weeks later.

Eightfold Path: Right Speech

In my series about the Eightfold Path and Photography, Right Speech, being part of the Ethical conduct division of the Eightfold Path, does refer to abstaining from lying, from divisive speech, from abusive speech, and from idle chatter. Translated into a photography related topic, I think it would mean that we need to respect other people’s opinions and work as shown or displayed on social networks or other parts of the Internet, no matter what.

Snowdonia, Wales 2010; Ilford PAN-F Plus at IE 50; developed: Rodinal 1:50, 11 mins; agitated for the first 30 seconds and then 2 inversions every 30 seconds

How easy isn’t it to rip into somebody who has misunderstood HDRI and who pushed to slider controls of Photomatix, or similar tool, to the maximum and proudly created an awful tonemapped image with blatant haloes around all the contours? And all the other comments are loving it? Are they not seeing the problems of the image?
How many more times do you want to see a black and white photo of a kid with one aspect of the photo left in colour?  How often aren’t we infuriated by people in any of the photography forums who we know for sure are stupid for not understanding the same thing we find so obvious? Better stop now, I could go on for a few hours more.

But none of these are reasons to attack people personally or talk down their work, Right Speech teaches us. There never is a reason for doing this. You can give your opinion and engage in a discussion, but there is no reason to be abusive or react in an abusive way when we are abused for our opinions or photographic work in turn. In the end, can we really be sure that our opinion is the only valid one?

The fact that I had way too much fun writing this blog post shows that I have plenty to learn about Right Speech.

Eightfold Path: Right Intention

In my series about the Eightfold Path and Photography, Right Intention or Right Resolve, being part of the Wisdom division of the Eightfold Path, really asks the question “How far do you want to go to change any ill habit that you might have? And how far do you want to go to learn new good habits?”

Venice, Ilford FP4+

If you don’t have any ill habits, I guess you’re good to go on this one. :-) However, if I look into myself, I know that I can do better on several things, for instance:

  • If I’m travelling and am tired, do I get up at 6 o’clock to get the famous tourist attraction almost all by myself without the other tourists blocking the view? Do I hold off on going to the restaurant for dinner when I’m hungry because of the wonderful light?
  • If, after a long day, I think that I might get a better shot or composition if I walk closer or further away from the subject or change lenses once more, will I do it or put on a zoom lens and make do?
  • A landscape photographer spends days hiking and scouting the area for the best light and best location to shoot a handful of photos, how can I expect a good shot when I just happen to pass?
  • Do I make the shot in camera or attempt to solve the issues in PhotoShop or LightRoom days later at home?
  • Am I really sure I have full control over the exposure before I release the shutter or are some things left to chance? A TTL lightmeter is so easily fooled and cannot be relied on if the subject is lit a little tricky (and isn’t that always the case?).

Etc. etc., I think everybody can come up with a personalized list as long as their arm easily.  I think I can improve on several of these topics myself even though I think my intention is right most of the time.

Eightfold Path: Right View

In my series about the Eightfold Path for Photography, Right View, or Right Understanding, is not merely understanding how the camera works or how to get a correct exposure. These are definitely things that are part of Right View and using the camera in Manual Mode should be second nature. But Right View, being part of the Wisdom division of the Eightfold Path, is all about understanding all  the factors that define the outcome of a photo. It is what Ansel Adams referred to as ‘pre-visualization’ of a photo. Not just camera handling, exposure and composition, it is about knowing what the result will look like before you press the shutter.

Adox CHS 25 ART stand developed: Pre-soaked for 5 minutes followed by APH 09 developer in a 1+120 dilution, agitated for the 1st minute and then left to stand for 1 hour. 
I think the Right View must exist always, not just for those cases when I know that I can pull off a decent photograph, but everywhere and always driving the other seven factors of the path.

The Eightfold Path and Photography

In Buddhism, the Noble Eightfold Path is the last of  the Noble Truths, the one that leads us to the end of suffering. Don’t worry, one night’s stay at a Buddhist temple on a beautiful mountain and participating in zazen and copying the Heart sutra haven’t made me go all bananas all of a sudden, but it is a fact that Zen art does resonate with me and who can say no to developing insight into the true nature of reality when we’re talking about photography. It is something that I’ve always found difficult to achieve: looking at things differently from others, simplifying the composition  and finding the essence of it. Don’t the photos that win prizes and acclaim excel in exactly that?

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

The Eightfold Path is traditionally written down like this:

These are not stages that need to be reached one after the other like the steps of becoming a sage or a list of commandments, these are the practices that describe how an aware photographer behaves and reacts to challenges.  These are things that need to be practiced in unison for us to improve ourselves.  It is tempting to cherry-pick the ones that would obviously apply to photography but let’s show Right Effort and include all the precepts.

Over the next few weeks I’ll explore Eightfold Path and how I would apply it to my photography.

Somerset House

Having lived around London for several years and having carried my camera on me for many an impromptu photo walk, I usually went to the South Bank if I didn’t go to the Battersea area. I liked the space you have on the banks of the River Thames and the chances for some easy street photography with the tourists and the performers.

So, many times I have walked underneath Waterloo Bridge being intrigued by the underside of the bridge or by the skateboarders on the Southbank Skatepark, but little did I know that a far more interesting place lies just on the other side of the river: Somerset House.

Ilford HP5+ at EI400; developed in HC-110,  dilution H, 10mins, agitiated every 30secs  Ilford HP5+ at EI400; developed in HC-110,  dilution H, 10mins, agitiated every 30secs

Somerset House has regular photo exhibitions, free access and a free guided tour. The most well known photography subjects in Somerset House are the Stamp Office staircase and the Nelson staircase.

Fuji Neopan Acros 100 at EI 100, developed in HC-110 dilution E for 7 minutes. Agitation: 2 inversions every 30 seconds. 
On my 35mm camera I had brought a 20mm lens to be able to get as much as possible inside the frame. The first time I visited I had loaded Ilford HP5+ at EI 400 which was perfect. The next time I visited I had loaded Fuji Acros 100 at EI 100 and that almost was a mistake as it was darker than you would expect.

Travel, techniques and background information