Summer and The Art of the Crappy Photo


Summer seems to send people into a cleaning frenzy, and I’ve been no different this year (I was fed up of the clutter and spurred to tackle it by Marie Kondo’s excellent book). This unearthed a load of old photographs I’d taken during my childhood/teenage years – most of them still in the developer’s envelope. Some were way too dark. Some had only an elbow or the flash of a leg walking past. Some of them were of flat, muddy green fields with a random blob in the centre which I must have thought was worth photographing at the time. On film, of course, you never know what you’re going to get until the roll comes back. There were a lot of crappy photos, but there were also a lot of memories in those crappy photos.

One of the great losses of the digital age is, I think, the loss of the crappy photo. Not the bad photo – that’s never going away – but the crappy photo, where everything’s not quite right. There’s such an obsession with resolution and image quality – is every hair in focus? Is that leaf in frame? Is 15MP enough, or should I move up to 20? That’s all well and good if you’re producing a piece of art, but I can’t help but feel we’ve lost something of the organic nature of documentary photography; the photos we took just because we were having a good time and wanted to remember it. Now you see people on holiday taking pictures of themselves on their phones or digital cameras. They take multiple shots, flicking through the screen to see which looks the best. A couple ask a passer-by to take their picture. After frowning at the screen, they ask someone else a moment later. The ability to flick through, delete and keep retaking photos loses something of the moment; when everything is perfect, nothing is.

I remember one photo of my dad, taken in Florida when he and my mum went there before I was born (I’m not bitter that they never took me to Florida). He was standing on some long boulevard. He’s putting too much weight on his right foot, and looks like he’s about to tip over. The picture itself is leaning to the right, as if there’s some major subsidence going on. There’s some impressive looking white building growing out of his head. It’s just about in focus.

Everything about that photo is wrong. If it had been taken on a digital camera, you’d have deleted it and taken it again, getting him to stand up, moving him out of line with the building, holding the frame straight. But there were no redos with film. My mum probably had no idea there was so much wrong with it until she got the prints back. Yet, for all that, when my dad had to go away on a business trip when I was too young to understand why he wasn’t around, that was the photo I turned to. After he died, that was the photo which was plucked from the album and ended up in a frame next to my mum’s bed. Not the professionally done wedding photos. Not the carefully posed family portraits. It was the crappy one. For all that was wrong with it, it captured something of him, something I still find evocative even today. That’s what I love about shooting film – the raw honesty of it; that, like it or not, whatever you capture on that strip of emulsion is there forever, no do-overs; and that some pictures which would end up in the trash folder can actually be records of some of our most treasured and fleeting moments. Photography is about making art, of course, but it’s also about making memories.


Long time no C-41

Well, it’s been a long time since I last posted on this blog; lots of things have got in between me and photography – work, sorting out my mother’s things, the miserable British winter and all sorts of other stuff. Then I read some advice along the lines of, if you’re pushing out the things that sustain you in order to make time for ‘important’ stuff, you’re doing things the wrong way around. I realised that’s exactly what I’ve been doing, and made a concerted effort to finish off the roll of film that had been languishing in my camera since December.

After developing 120 B&W film, I decided to have a go at 35mm B&W. Amazon (where else?) were doing a good deal on a multipack of Kentmere 400 36 exp. Kentmere is owned by Ilford, so I figured I couldn’t go far wrong.

I enjoyed shooting with this film. All my exposures were guesses based on the ‘Sunny 16 rule’ but they seem to have turned out ok (or the film is very forgiving!) I did find 36 exp film significantly more difficult to spool onto my developing reel in the dark than 24 exp and, of course, the extra length makes hanging it out to dry more difficult. I don’t know if that’s the reason why I seemed to end up with much more water spotting on the negatives than I’ve had before.

In a straight scan, the B&W film comes through in a lovely antique sepia. It’s easily fixed in Lightroom, but I’ve left these ones unaltered, as I think it fits with the subject matter.

This is Wrest Park – a late 19th Century stately home attached to a huge estate which has a variety of different gardens from the 17th Century onwards; apparently of great interest to people who like their gardens rigid and geometrical. Personally, I can take or leave coordinated flower beds.

Wrest Park
Wrest Park

There is also an orangery here; a house for growing oranges (I guess they don’t like being outside in our climate). It’s used for events and weddings, but was empty when I visited. It’s effectively a glorified greenhouse, and it’s bigger than my home …

Inside the orangery
Inside the orangery

Outside the orangery, some cherubs keep watch. Or at least they do when they aren’t reading.

A cherub reading a book
A cherub reading a book

Kentmere 400 developed in Ilfosol3 1+9

Tintern Abbey

The foul, English winter is continuing quite nicely at the moment – short days and early nights. Even during ‘daylight’ hours, everything is dark and grey and bleak: not ideal for photography, especially as most of my current film stash is slow ISO.

Here are some more pictures from the Rollei from back before Christmas. These were taken at Tintern Abbey in Wales, the picturesque ruins of a Cistercian monastery nestled in the Wye Valley. For over 400 years, it was a religious power-house in the area until, like most English abbeys, it fell foul of Henry VIII’s reformation and its stone was taken away to be used elsewhere.

What remains is quite beautiful, and inspired Wordsworth to write his poem of the same name.

FIVE years have past; five summers, with the length
Of five long winters! and again I hear
These waters, rolling from their mountain-springs
With a soft inland murmur. — Once again
Do I behold these steep and lofty cliffs,
That on a wild secluded scene impress
Thoughts of more deep seclusion; and connect
The landscape with the quiet of the sky.
The day is come when I again repose
Here, under this dark sycamore, and view
These plots of cottage-ground, these orchard-tufts,
Which at this season, with their unripe fruits,
Are clad in one green hue, and lose themselves
‘Mid groves and copses. Once again I see
These hedge-rows, hardly hedge-rows, little lines
Of sportive wood run wild: these pastoral farms,
Green to the very door; and wreaths of smoke
Sent up, in silence, from among the trees!
With some uncertain notice, as might seem
Of vagrant dwellers in the houseless woods,
Or of some Hermit’s cave, where by his fire
The Hermit sits alone.

(Read the full poem here)


The view towards where the high altar would have stood

02All that remains of the abbey’s magnificent windows

Ilford Delta 400, developed in Ilfosol3 1+9

Bath Christmas Market

Every year, the town of Bath holds a Christmas market where vendors set up their temporary chalet type stalls around the Abbey and surrounding streets. There are always lots of handcrafted goods on sale, from clothes to Christmas decorations, and it’s a very festive experience all round.

I took the Rollei for a walk around the market. I have really fallen in love with shooting this camera, it’s just a totally different experience from using an SLR or rangefinder. One unexpected side effect is how much attention the camera gets! People just stop and stare at you as you use it. One elderly gentlemen stopped me after I’d taken a shot to tell me that his father had used a similar camera. ‘The last time I saw one of those used in public,’ he said, ‘was about 50 years ago.’

It really is a wonderful feeling to be able to get these old cameras out and about, doing the very thing they were designed to do.


Stalls in the town centre


The front of the Abbey


Matrioshki imported from Russia

14A couple enjoy roasted chestnuts.

Ilford Delta 400, developed in Ilfosol3 1+9

Rolleing round the Christmas Tree

To run a test roll through my Rollei, I went to Audley End House in Essex. I really enjoyed using this camera, and the sharpness is phenomenal.

Once the site of a Benedictine abbey, Audley End became the dwelling place of the Lord Chancellor, Sir Thomas Audley, when the land was given to him by Henry VIII post-Reformation. This was all later demolished, and one of the finest country houses in England was built in its place, so that James I might be entertained there.

Audley End House shares a common story with many English stately homes, being built and remodelled with the fashions of the times, and requisitioned by the government during the war (it was used by the Special Operations Executive’s Polish Branch). After the two world wars many of these stately homes became too expensive to retain, it became harder to find enough people to employ in domestic service to keep them open, and hefty inheritance taxes made it difficult for families to pass them on. Like Audley End, many were given into the hands of the state and are now open as visitor attractions.

I’m not generally a fan of stately homes; I prefer my history to be more ruinous, but Audley End is close to me and has lovely wooded grounds, which didn’t suffer too much from the less interesting geometric influences of 18th and 19th century design. Within the house itself, there is a whole attic wing in which a small army of servants would have lived, and a network of back stairs allowing them to move around the house without disturbing the residents. I suppose this is what rankles me the most; how a small group of elite gentry could live comfortable lives off the back of a much larger servile class: how the indulgences and worst excesses of that period exploited an underclass of people who were kept staunchly separate as if their mere presence offended the eyes. I wonder how much things have really changed.

However, history is what it is, and these buildings remain today as a symbol of a mainly bygone era, and maybe as a warning against our own excesses.


The driveway and front of the house


Part of the extensive grounds


I visited just before Christmas. There was a Victorian Christmas fare being held. As I was walking around, I realised that my Rollei would have been almost a contemporary of much of the stuff that they had on show!

All on Fuji Neopan 100, developed in Ilfosol3 1+9

Cross Processing

As a few people have asked me about, I thought I’d put up a brief post on cross-processing C-41 film in B&W chemicals. I by no means claim to be an expert on this, so try it at your own risk! I can only talk about what I did. I apologise in advance if this post is boring and technical!

The film I shot was a Kodak ColorPlus 200 24 exp. film which expired in November 2014. This is just a cheap, C-41 colour film. I used standard Ilford B&W chemicals:

Ilfosol 3 Film Developer

Ilfostop  Stop Bath

Ilford Rapid Fixer

I used a 35mm Paterson Super System 4 tank.


Before I started, I did some reading on cross processing. There wasn’t too much consensus across the net (surprise!). Some people said it was a waste of time, asserting that you’d only end up with a roll of fog, or very thin images. Other people seemed to produce good results doing it.

C-41 and B&W film have a different chemical make up. Again, I am no expert or chemist, but C-41 film has different dyes than B&W. Processing it involves steps that you don’t have in B&W, such as bleach fixing (blix) and stabilising. C-41 is also much more temperature sensitive than B&W. Apparently, even half a degree can make a huge difference when processing C-41.

B&W chemicals work best at about 20C, C-41 at about 39C, so this is a problem straight away. The way around this is to leave the film in the developer for longer. I came across the suggestion of doubling the developing time. This takes a bit of guess work as, of course, there are no suggested developing times for C-41 films in B&W chemicals! Turning to the trusty Massive Dev Chart, I found that the average developing time for ISO200 (Fomapan 200 for example) in Ilfosol 3 is about six minutes.

I doubled this to twelve minutes. I agitated the film for the first minute by rotating it in the tank, then did the same for ten seconds every minute.  I then poured out the developer and poured in the stop bath for 30 seconds (as recommended on the bottle). The fixer recommends between two and five minutes – I went for the full five.

After that, I poured out the fixer (the film is now lightproof), and filled the tank with tap water. I let this stand for 45 minutes, poured that out and filled the tank with distilled water (my tap water is insanely hard). I agitated this constantly for two minutes before tipping it out and hanging the film in the bathroom for an hour to dry.

So, in a nutshell:

1. Develop for 12 minutes.

2. Stop Bath for 30 seconds.

3. Fix for five minutes.

4. Stand in water for 45 minutes.

5. Rinse in distilled water, agitating for two minutes.

6. Hang and wash again.

This left me with some useable prints. Here is one of the originals as it came from the scanner.


The other key difference with C-41 film to true B&W film, is that C-41 film comes on an orange ground, whereas B&W is clear. This is why the picture has an orange colour cast. This can cause problems if you plan to make your own prints in the darkroom, but isn’t too much of an issue if you’re scanning.

I popped the scan into Lightroom. Converting it from colour to B&W corrected the colour cast. All I then did was flip the image (yes, I scanned it back to front!) and upped the contrast to about +25. Here’s the final image. I’m sure it could be improved more in post, but I like to leave them as natural as possible.

High Street

I hope that was a semi-coherent account of what I did. Do drop me a comment if you have any questions! And, try it!


Praktical Results

It hasn’t been a great week for photography here in England. Shockingly, it’s been cold, dark and wet! Sunset at the moment is around 3.45pm, which means that it starts getting dark before it’s started getting light. The sky has been a miserable sheet of dark grey since new year, which rather takes the ‘photo’ out of photography…

I shouldn’t really complain (although it’s a contractual obligation to complain about the weather if you live in the UK), as we had a very late winter and some glorious sunny days right up to the end of December. I shall be grateful for those, instead!

I previously mentioned the Praktica BC1 that I found in a charity shop. I took it out for a spin at the end of December, and have just got around to scanning the results.

For the price I paid for it, I’m pretty impressed by the Praktica. It’s solid, it ‘feels’ like a real camera when you’re using it, but it’s not too big or heavy to carry around. The viewfinder is large and bright (although the film advance lever does tend to stick you in the brow), and it’s easy to focus. The auto-metering is a bit of a waste of time, with the camera starting to suggest ridiculously slow shutter speeds as soon as a shadow crept into frame, and the frame counter doesn’t work on this particular camera. I think I coped quite well with that defect through a combination of my legendary ability to count to 24 and by advancing the film until it wouldn’t go any further! Here are the results:


Goodrich Castle, Ross-on-Wye. This is probably one of my favourite English castles. It was built in the 11th Century, and is one of the best preserved ruins. During the Civil War, it was occupied by Royalists who set fire to many of the surrounding farms. It repelled one siege by Parliamentarians, as its thick walls and deep moat were basically impenetrable. They returned, however, for a second attempt with the largest mortar of the period, and dug mines underneath the towers to collapse them. Starved down to their last 30 barrels of beer, the Royalist garrison surrendered, and the castle was slighted to prevent it ever being used again – the fate of so many of our castles.

The mighty keep

Heading down into Wales, here is one final resting place on the way to a local graveyard. A tale is told of a young lady who married an older, wealthy, widower. Soon after the wedding, he died and was taken for burial. The procession stopped and rested the coffin on this stone (it was a long journey and the coffin was carried by handcart in those days), at which point there came a knocking from the coffin. A carpenter was called, the lid was opened and the old man found to be very much alive. According to the story, when he died many years later, the young widow asked the procession not to stop that time…


The graveyard itself was cold, frosty and built into a hill.


It’s hard to believe we had such nice weather less than a month ago. Roll on summer!

Praktica BC1 on Agfa Vista+ 200


Rolleing Back Time

The first digital camera I owned did everything for me. Even when I got more serious about my photography and invested in cameras with manual controls (and a bewildering array of options, bordering more on computer science than photography!) there was still the safety net of flicking back to aperture or shutter priority and letting the camera do half the work for you.

Taking out my first film camera with full manual controls (I don’t count my toy cameras with only two aperture settings) was a daunting experience; having to decide all those exposure settings all on my own!

It’s amazing, though, how quickly that trepidation wears off. It’s also amazing how deep that rabbit hole goes when you start rolling back the technology. It’s truly addictive. Which is why I couldn’t pass this up when I saw it in the window of my local camera store.


I’ve wanted a TLR for a long time – they’re just the iconic vintage camera, so much so it’s even the image that the government chose for the speed camera warning signs in the UK: it just says ‘camera’!

The less fun type of camera

As much as I wanted one, I’d been equally scared by all the levers and dials and loading 120 film. But the price was right and the camera was in good condition – clean, unmarked lenses, clear viewfinder (I love the little magnifying glass that pops out to help you focus), and had been fully serviced. The viewfinder hood is missing its catch, which is no big deal as it stays shut on its own, and the bodywork is a little worn. But I remembered a piece of good advice about old cameras: worn bodywork means the camera was well used, which means it’s more likely to have been well loved and looked after, rather than the pristine model that’s been laying unused for decades, letting everything stick together.

So, I bought it. The camera shop owner even dug around in his store and found me a case for it (the case is for a Yashica but still fits nicely). According to Rolleiclub (if I’ve worked it out right), it’s a Rolleicord II, Model I made between 1936-7. Pre-war. I find that amazing.

I picked up some 120 film on eBay to try it out. Part of the reason for wanted to process my own film was to try and keep the cost down a bit: 120 film is much more expensive here than 35mm, you only get 12 shots per roll and the processing is astronomical.

If I don’t manage to ruin the film, I’ll post the results up here!

Processing Nicely

Something that I really wanted to do getting into film photography, was to start developing my own films. A few videos on YouTube later, I bit the bullet and ordered myself a Paterson tank and some B&W Ilford chemicals (processing C41 sounds a bit too tricky right now).

Much to my surprise, with the Christmas holiday right in the middle, it all arrived pretty quickly – thanks to a certain online retailer’s speedy delivery service. The only problem was, I didn’t have anything to develop – all my films had gone to the lab already.

So, I thought I’d kill two birds with one stone. I took my inherited and, as yet, untested, Zenit for a walk, and burned through a whole 24 frames of Kodak ColorPlus 200. Having become used to being slow and measured when shooting film, this felt very decadent.

The Zenit seemed OK. I lost a few frames because I forgot it has a funny aperture ring on it (you set the aperture but it stays wide open so you can see through the viewfinder. You then have to manually close it). I lost another few frames half way through my walk when the shutter decided to go into B mode for no discernable reason. Still, I finished the roll and hurried home and waited for it to get dark.

Loading the film in complete darkness was easier than I thought. As the Kodak is a C41 film, I had to guess the processing times, but after an hour of pouring stinky chemicals around, I had my roll of film.

I learned a few lessons. Namely that I might have been being a tad ambitious, considering I:

1. Shot the roll on an untested camera.

2. Was using a cheap film.

3. Was cross-processing on my first ever attempt.

Which means I will never know which one of those contributed to some of the more … exotic … results.

I did, however, get a few salvageable shots and, all things considered, enjoyed the experience and was pleased with the results – even if they do look like they were shot 60 years ago.

High Street

The local High Street, c.1945


The Road out of Town


Village Green (reminds me of a Victorian postcard…)

And then, there was this…


The Learning Experience

Happy new year, everybody. Keep on shooting.

Local Wanderings

I finished up a roll in my Fed4 last week; here are some pictures I took locally. The autumn colours were gorgeous this year.

My nearest big local town is St. Albans. It’s a lovely, historic town with a thriving market on Saturdays, which I love to shoot. St. Alban was martyred here; the first Christian martyr in England, in the early 300’s. Alban was not a Christian, but hid a Priest in his house who was fleeing from Roman persecutors. Alban asked the Priest about his faith, and was himself converted to Christianity.

Later, Alban dressed himself in the Priest’s robes and allowed himself to be captured by the Romans, allowing the real Priest to escape. The Romans were rather upset to be duped, and demanded that Alban renounce his new faith. When he refused, he was sentenced to death. According to legend, Alban was beheaded on the hill where the Cathedral (a former Abbey) now stands. At the bottom of the hill is a spring, which is said to have sprung up from the place where his head landed. Unusually for an Anglican Cathedral, the Abbey houses a relic of St. Alban.


Below the Abbey is a large park, with a lake visited by all kinds of birds.


Not far outside St. Albans is the site of what used to be a large psychiatric hospital, built in the 1930’s and closed in the 1960’s, to the loss of many local jobs. Most of the buildings are gone, but some still remain – now converted into housing. The hospital was built in the grounds of a grand old estate, so covers acres of woodland, grassland and even an orchard.