Thursday, March 31, 2011

City Guide Books

Incident on the Paris Metro - Photograph by Tim Irving
Incident on the Paris Metro - Tim Irving
My mention of Robert Doisneau yesterday has whet my appetite for a spot of Parisian photography. I have a meeting in Paris coming up, which I intend to extend by a couple of days to allow me to wander on foot and by velib.

Paris is very liberating for a photographer. Not only is it a very beautiful city, perhaps the most photogenic in the world, but Paris, and Parisians love the camera, or at least they are indifferent to it. I can't think of another place on earth where I feel so at ease photographing people as they go about their daily lives as I do in Paris.

My one issue when visiting a large city, not just Paris, is that the guide books don't suit me. I don't blame the guide books, they try to be all things to all travellers, sadly they're wasted on me. On my last visit to Paris I took a copy of "The Rough Guide". 440 pages, weighing more than my cameras and just slighly smaller than a London red brick. 99% of the contents are superfluous to me.

I need "A Guide For The No Nonsense Person". Pocket size with the following subjects:
  • Places to avoid
  • Keeping out of danger
  • Where not to eat
  • Useful phrases (Hello, I want, I don't want, Please, Thank you, Good bye.)
  • In case of emergency
  • Map
If you have any suggestions for the  "A Guide For The No Nonsense Person", I'd be happy to hear your ideas.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Testing Cameras

Bicycle Cambridge, England. Photograph by Tim Irving
Bicycle - Cambridge, England - Tim Irving
I'd never make a reviewer, not that I have a desire to review things. I'm not very interested in lots of detail. The fact that something works is usually enough for me. But review web sites are incredibly popular. People review everything to the point where I doze off. Looking on Google for oil paints the other day I found someone reviewing a wooden paint box. You can watch it if you want, but it's nine minutes of a man talking about a wooden box, be warned. I take my hat off to the man he's very talented. I would find it difficult talking for one minute about a wooden box. "It's made of wood. It has four sides plus a top and a bottom. Er...."

So  I don't review. I test! As you can see, I've been busy testing cameras using my favourite static subject, the bicycle. All the cameras passed my test with flying colours, all will take great photographs. My test is very simple. I take a couple of photos with the camera. If the negatives are reasonably exposed, we're onto a winner. An offshoot of all this testing is that I'm getting a reputation as one of the worlds leading bicycle basket photographers. Weavers from all around the world are beating a path to my door.

Sometimes a camera has a fault that actually enhances the image. Holga and Diana users will know what I mean. An obvious lens aberration or a subtle light leak that can add a touch of magic, it can also act as a signature for the photographer. Despite this desirability, cameras with faults are difficult to sell. Very few people want a faulty camera, even if it produces beautiful images. I'm pleased to say all the cameras from this batch were free of faults.

You're probably wondering which cameras took the photos on this page. I'm sorry to disappoint, but I can't tell you, it would be marketing madness to blurt it all out. To see the results you'll have to visit my Etsy shop and take a look, as I add cameras over the next few weeks.
Bicycle Cambridge, England. Photograph by Tim Irving
Bicycle - Cambridge, England - Tim Irving

Bicycle Cambridge, England. Photograph by Tim Irving
Bicycle - Cambridge, England - Tim Irving

Bicycle Cambridge, England. Photograph by Tim Irving
Bicycle - Cambridge, England - Tim Irving

Friday, March 25, 2011

Spring is here and the new lens is at work

French Wicker Trout Creel - Photograph by Tim Irving
French Trout Creel, taken with new lens - Tim Irving
Two days of sunshine and everyone has a smile on their face, including me. Everything in the garden looks wonderful, including the dead flowers. I'm getting into the swing of using my new lens, the one that I complained was too sharp. I've persevered. It's been a rough ride, I've experienced anger, frustration and mild depression, but I now think I've got the better of the little bugger. I can control all its little idiosyncrasies and use them to my advantage.

Monday, March 21, 2011

The Boot sale Camera Challenge

Fujica GER 35mm camera - Photograph by Tim Irving
Boots ale Camera, Fujica GER - Tim Irving
I think they originated in the US, but car boot sales are now a British phenomenon. They've become a national pastime every Sunday during the summer. It seems that every event I visited last summer including car shows, summer fetes and flower festivals,  incorporate a car boot sale, whichwere more popular the main event. A quick search on Google revealed there is even a daytime TV programme "Boot Sale Challenge".

I'm a bit of a sucker for boot sale bargains myself, last summer I bought three notable items. A very nice Sinclair Spectrum computer from the 1970's for £4. A set of tomtom drums for £1, and the Fujica camera you see above for only £2.50. What bargains!

The computer and tomtom ended up in the attic with the rest of my junk, but the camera has been put to use. Not much use mind you, just one roll of film, that has taken me six months to use. You see this camera turned out to be a bum steer, a lemon that has several faults. The problems include a non working meter, faulty wind-on lever and a shutter that fires only if the month has an "R" in it. On the plus side, it has a good lens, the rangefinder is working and it is light tight. I'd call this camera challenging.

So I took up the camera boot sale challenge, the camera has been with me on almost every assignment since last September. I have taken a photograph with the camera whenever I've remembered. I was hoping that the photos would be naive and quirky, but they've turned out to be very normal. I'm pleased to report that the images are all perfectly acceptable. This says a lot for modern film which is more impressive than the camera.

The images were processed and returned to me on a CD. I have cropped and made adjustments to contrast and colour in PhotoShop, that's my normal working practice.
Photograph from the bootsale camera. Kodak Ektar 100 film. Photograph by Tim Irving
Photograph from the bootsale camera. Kodak Ektar 100 film. Photograph by Tim Irving
The Fujica has now joined the old computer, tomtoms and a lot of other junk in the attic, it has done its job. I hope I never have to use it again, but if I did I'd be confident knowing that it can produce photographs as good as any other camera, no matter how expensive.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Photographs of Old England

Bowling for England - Model Village. Photograph by Tim Irving
Bowling for England - Tim Irving

Here is a small selection of photographs from an assignment last week. The figures and surroundings date back to 1929, I felt at home. The weather was very English, raining continuously for four hours, adding to the authenticity.

To my followers who have never visited England, the photographs on this page illustrate perfectly the English way of life. God save the Queen.

Filling up at an English Garage - Photograph by Tim Irving
Filling up at an English Garage - Tim Irving
The English Village Church - Photograph by Tim Irving
The English Village Church - Tim Irving
Croquet in the Rain - Photograph by Tim Irving
Croquet on the lawn - Tim Irving

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Nearly Day

Sea King, Boat builders - Photograph by Tim Irving
Sea-King - Tim Irving
It's 9.45am. The postman has just delivered a package I've been eagerly awaiting, containing transparencies and CD's, all the photographs are from last Saturday. A day when I spent several happy hours wading through mud on the Thames estuary. It was a very good day. The beginning of which will be remembered for the bacon and egg rolls with a cup of tea. Midday was seafood heaven, the herrings were outstanding. Finally, before returning home I sampled deep fried cod in beer batter with a glass of local ale. Unfortunately, the day will not be remembered for my photographs. I'm a little deflated in seeing the images some of them nearly make it, but not quite.

You get days like these, where everything is full of promise. Saturday was a lovely day, mild for the time of year, with a light breeze. My timing was spot-on, with the tide out. The low sun produced dramatic shadows. But none of my photos cut the mustard.

I'd be wasting my time dwelling on my failures. The devil is in the detail, it's the small annoying distractions that ruin the composition. I need to concentrate more on the subject, less on the lunch. I accept Saturday was a disaster and move on.

This Friday I'm out again photographing another lovely place. Two nearly days in a row would be a disaster, both financially and to my ego. I'm taking Friday very seriously, I'll let you know how it goes.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

My Lens is Too Sharp

English Landscape with Snowdrops, photograph by Tim Irving
English Landscape with Snowdrops - Tim Irving
The photograph above was taken with my new lens, the one I bought 2 weeks ago. I've used the lens twice to date, I'm not sure it's me. The areas out of focus are very pleasing but the areas in focus are too sharp by a long way. Normally this isn't a bad trait in a lens as long as it's controllable. Generally, a lens becomes softer as the aperture is opened wider. However this lens is as sharp as razor no matter what I do.

There is a trick I'll share with you. It's more suited to portraiture than landscape, but it can help. Years ago, when I did wedding photography, I used to keep a soft focus filter on the lens. Very useful for hiding spots, wrinkles and scars on the otherwise radiant bride. The alternative, which I used above, is to breathe on a plain glass filter, to take the edge of shapness.

As you can see in my photograph the weather is glorious here. I've spent 2 afternoons in the countryside hunting snowdrops. I've also seen my first bluebells. They're not fully open but there are plenty of them, I'll persue them next week.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Using Toy Cameras

Marwin Diana Camera. Photograph by Tim Irving
Me and my Marwin! Diana Camera - Tim Irving
I'm a big fan of toy cameras. Dianas and Holgas have been my tools of choice for many years. They used to be really cheap, I'm talking pennies, or even given away in promotions. Today they're very trendy and very exclusive, I've seen them for sale at MOMA and the Pompidou Centre, in fact if you want one you'll probably pick one up at your local museum. They're not real cheap anymore, but they are affordable and they're great fun.

There's no doubt that these cameras can produce wonderful images. For the photographer the simplicity allows you to concentrate on the subject and composition. Overall though, toy cameras seem to be misunderstood. The reason is, in normal use you wont see a lot of difference between the photographs of a toy camera and any other camera. Of course if you look carefully, you will see a softer image and maybe a little colour fringing, but at standard print sizes that you'll get from the lab, the difference can be hard to see.

These cameras are bought on myths and half truths. "The photos look vintage" Not true. "They produce unpredictable results and colours" Not true. "The photographs look arty" Not true. What is true is that toy cameras tend to share certain traits; The images are softer, especially around the edges. Contrast is low. And some cameras produce definite colour fringing. One thing that is usually consistent is they all produce flare.

Once you know these characteristics you can get the best (or worst), out of the camera  by exploiting these traits. Shooting high contrast or very low contrast subjects. Shoot very saturated or very subdued colours. And, shooting facing the sun to make the most of that flare. Another trick to exploit lens distortion is to compose your subject close to the edge of the frame like I did with Liverpool, below.

There you go, just some thoughts for you. Good luck and have a great weekend.

Liverpool with Pidgeons - Photograph by Tim Irving
Liverpool with Pidgeons - Tim Irving

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Using Out-Dated Film

Untitled -Tim Irving
Last summer I bought a big bag of mixed 35mm colour print film (40 rolls), from a car boot sale. There are no famous names here, it's all re-branded with names like Prinzcolour which I'm familiar with and Kirkland Colour, which I'm not. Most of the film was meant to be used by 2001 but some expired as long ago as 1997.

I originally bought the film with the intention of keeping a few rolls for myself and selling the rest, but no one wanted it. Last week my 40 rolls were still in tact. They were sitting in their bag, in the corner of my office laughing at me for wasting my £2.

I've taken up the challenge to use the film and over the last few days I've exposed the first roll of "Kirkland Colour Print Film". I cross processed the film using E6 chemistry and the results (gold fish above), are to my liking. The second roll is now in my Nikon waiting for my next outing, tomorrow. I can't wait!

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Suze Rotolo

Suze Rotolo and the Dylan walking in Greenwich Village
I was saddened to hear of the passing of Suze Rotolo this week. I knew nothing about her life except she lived with Bob Dylan for 3 years at the beginning of his career. Dylan's self-invention was already in full spate, they had been living together for some time, but she didn't discover his real name – Robert Zimmerman – until he dropped his wallet and his draft card  fell out.

Apparently Suze was an artist of great vision, but the reason for her fame and for my humble tribute is the wonderful album cover above. One of my very favourite photographs. Good bye Suze.


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