TMP

Landscape photography with a difference!

Sunny 16 and the Leica.

As part of the recovery process as explained in the next post I have been out with the Leica. My Leica is an M2 with a 5cm Elmar f/2.8 lens and a 9cm Elmar f/4. Both the M2 and 5cm date to 1957 whilst the 9cm although from the 1950’s is an updated design from the 1930’s. Both lenses are four element Tessar based designs.

The weather was nice, my wife was away visiting her parents in Portugal so I took the opportunity, grabbed a couple rolls of film and, among other places, visited Hay-on Wye.

The films I used were Ilford Delta 400, Ilford HP5+, Ilford FP4+ and Rollei Retro 80S. All of the Ilford films were developed in Adox (formerly Patterson) FX39 and the Rollei in dilute Rodinal. The films were all exposed without a meter using the Sunny16 “rule”. Every single frame has good exposure unlike a typical Zone V (18% grey)  meter whether hand held or in-camera.

You may think “GASP!!!! HORROR!!!! Exposing without a meter! I bet the negs are crap!” That is exactly what I thought when I found out about the Sunny 16 “rule”. How can you get good exposures just by GUESSING the exposure? A couple of years ago, for a laugh, I tried it.

The results were actually a revelation!

Not only were the exposures good, they were better than what a meter would have done in some of the cases. In fact, the four rolls of various films recently exposed by S16 not one frame is lost or even bad.

Furthermore, not having a meter is a liberating experience especially with purely mechanical cameras such as the Leica. Here, mechanical cameras really do come into their own and you can shoot unencumbered and unfettered by electronics of any sort. It is pure photography and  using miniature cameras (35mm for those who are not that old) your photography is fast and fluid and the camera really does become an extension of the self. A free artistic tool instead of a tool trying to become artistic.

I would absolutely recommend using the S16 “rule”. It takes only a little practise and you have to develop the nerve and conviction in your own exposure calculation. The confidence it gives you is amazing!  Soon, you’ll be going beyond the S16 rule, tweaking and making modifications to suit your own shooting style.

That is enough of the blab. Here are the photos to prove it. In a near-future post I will outline the S16 “rule’ in conjunction with the most popular black and white films, how to develop them and how to scan them. I will also talk you through a few tricky exposures and how a meter would have totally failed. Until then, I hope you like these snapshots…

HP5+ in FX-39

HP5+ in FX-39

HP5+ in FX-39

Enjoying a coffee in the Italian Cafe in Hay-on-Wye

Ilford Delta at EI200 in FX-39

Ilford Delta 400 at EI200 in Adox FX-39

HP5+ in FX-39 after the dev tank broke open.

HP5+ in FX-39

Ilford Delta 400 at EI200 in Adox FX-39

Ilford Delta 400 at EI200 in Adox FX-39

Rollei Retro 80S at EI60 in Adox FX-39

Rollei Retro 80S at EI60 in Adox FX-39

I just can’t help myself...

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I just can’t help myself.

I’m sure you’ve done the same thing as me. You buy your favourite photography magazine, browse, and there, on a double page spread is this amazing landscape. The composition is perfect, the shadow is perfect, the colour is perfect and that light! I would die for that light!. The image is amazing. And you go “I want to make a picture like THAT!”.

Well, that is a perfectly normal response. The trouble is you have a mortgage, a full time job, you’re married and have a couple of children. Oh yeah! This particular picture is also in Iceland. Yet, you still think “what gear do I need to make a picture like that?”. You just can’t help yourself.

You look at your existing camera, lenses and kit, it now looks crummy and pathetic and you think “well, that all has to go”. Whilst thinking this you have forgotten, of course, why you bought that gear in the first place. You will now sell it for the exact same reason your existing kit replaced the last lot: Because new kit will carry your photography forward and by spending even more hundreds (or thousands) your photographs will suddenly yield dynamic compositions and colours that just glow. If only I buy that Canon 5D marque III with a bunch of “L” lenses!

You are now deluding yourself as I have done for years.

But you’ll ignore me because your delusion is so strong it has you in its pernicious vice-like grip. Photography magazines are designed and written to fuel your delusion. Tantalisingly they parade in front of your very own eyes a series of amazing photographs. You pay particular attention to the camera model and make that is in small print in the far lower right corner. “I could make prints like that if I had…” If only you could hear yourself! The delusion is running at full throttle. Mix in an obsessive persona and you are in big trouble. The more your delusion is fuelled the more money magazines and manufacturers will make from you. It is an addict/drug-dealer relationship. Eventually, you’ll end up spending thousands as I have done and the results will be just the same. You’ll end up a lot poorer, more frustrated and ever more demoralised that spending all that money hasn’t yielded the results you want. I mean, what is WRONG with my Canon 17-40mm “L” lens, I MUST have a bad copy.

If this is YOU, then do not worry. The problem is actually right in front of you. It’s you!

The reason why someone else’s photography appears on a double page spread in an international magazine and ours don’t is because the photographer KNOWS how to use their equipment. They put in the effort to be in the right place at the right time often camping overnight. They are at location at 5am on a remote Scottish peak to get the light. And that’s IF the conditions are right. (It’s worth repeating) Amazing photos happen because the photographer is in the right place at the right time in the right conditions and he/she knows how to get the best from their equipment. They probably will get the same results from your equipment. Your equipment doesn’t matter! With advancing technology you can get great results from quite modest equipment nowadays! Pro kit from a few years ago is also as cheap as chips. Instead of obsessively and slavishly thinking that to get great pictures you have to spend thousands on great gear (this is what the camera companies and their sycophantic horde of amateur magazines want you to believe) the answer is actually the making of great pictures is free.

FREE!

Yes! Free! The secret of great photographs does not rest in equipment, technology or software. Great photographs come from the photographer. From inside and that can be developed for free.

All this time and money wasted obsessing about specifications and this and that when all the time the cause of bad pictures was ME and NOT my equipment. So, I am not buying into the digital delusion any more. I am not buying any more cameras and equipment. I am not buying any more software, filters or plug-ins. I am not buying the next gimmick camera manufacturers have to conjure up to sell their wares. I’ve finished! I have had enough chasing Scotch mist and magic silver bullets. I have been totally STUPID.

Read part two next week: Recovery! And how on Earth am I going to even attempt to make good pictures let alone great ones.

I have just had enough!

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I don’t really understand the concept of irony, but, if I did this may just be ironic. When I first became hooked on cameras, or rather just one in particular, I just liked taking photos. I was never really into film per se. I never understood the mechanics or technique. I was a happy snapper.

Some years later another interest, oops, sorry, obsession took over and photography quietly slipped into the background and out of my consciousness. The winds of change blew through my life once again and one obsession merged into another - computers. My morning routine was happily started by the Microsoft Windows start-up sound. I started a business. Then, by chance, by pure chance, in the tail end years of the 1990’s, I bought a digital camera, the Casio QV-10. I was doubly hooked. Computers AND Cameras!

The digital photography bug, which is really an extension of the computers, gadgets and software bug, ran it’s course. Software, photoshop, filters, plug-ins and cameras beyond count. All bought with the promise that my photography would improve and perpetuated by the self delusion that it would. It never did. Why? Because I was crap. I pinned my hope on, and swallowed the sales line of, “if you buy this (insert camera/lens/software here) your pictures would win every competition going". I switched from digital to film to digital to film to digital. Going from 0.3 mega pixels and ending up with 20.

There comes a point when you get sick of software, photoshop, filters and plug-ins controlling your “photography”. You get sick of in-camera micro-processors, in-camera software and a whole host of software technicians and engineers standing behind the scenes all waiting to pounce with another upgrade. Cameras which can shoot RAW at 12 fps for 50 frames and that can also shoot HD video. You know how much crap HD video I see in my job? A company announces a new camera model, then another new one, and another new one and yet another. A bewildering plethora of choice. You study all the specs, read all the reviews not realising you are well and truly hooked into a replenishment cycle. The cycle of which means a camera being “antiquated” in ever decreasing circles, spiralling down. Ten years, five years, eighteen months, 12 months, eight months, six months. That’s what it feels like! After almost 20 years you have done everything digitally you can. The bug dies.

You get sick of software and technology controlling your image. You get sick of seeing enhanced, photoshop manipulated landscapes. You get sick of Photoshop skills being as important if not more so than the actual act of using the camera. You become sick of the fake, the faux and the fraud.

Software isn’t photography. Filters aren’t photography. Plug-ins aren’t photography. Photoshop isn’t photography. These things produce the fake, the fraud and the faux.

You get sick of dicks uttering completely crass words along the lines of “You can do in Photoshop what you can do in the darkroom”. Completely failing to mention you can do a thousand times more in photoshop. In the darkroom you are limited by chemistry, physics, time and skill. There are no such limits in photoshop. You get tired of dicks justifying their own lack of skill and resorting to photoshop by uttering such immortal lines as "I'll fix it in photoshop later" or “the dead old guys faked it, so can I”. Sure they did! They were highly skilled artisans who developed their skills over a number of years. Today, you “rent” your software, download a “tute” and go click, click, click, clone, clone, heal, layer, adjustment layer, click, click, clone etc. DONE! If you can’t see the difference between the two then go into the darkroom and do there what you do in photoshop. Dick!

You’ve heard it all, done it all and your images still don’t look like (famous photographer’s name here).

Why?

Two reasons…

1) I am crap and you're crap. No amount of buying anything is going to solve that one.

2) My resources are limited. My time, my health, my money. I can’t afford to go to those locations you see in the magazines with the equipment I need and at the time I need.

So, I give up right!

Almost did.

When I was iPhone photographing my kit to put on the bay of e, I picked up my 1958 Leica M2. I knew then I couldn’t sell it. What a classic camera! It kept the photography desire alive. Then came a plan. Why not spend a year photographing with the Leica. No computers, no electronics, no meter. Perhaps for this digitally jaded photographer this may be just the tonic.

Have I the courage to do it!

To sum this post in a sentence would be to say that I am sick of the control of software and technology has on my photography seeing this as a solution to my photographic ills instead of concentrating on real photography. More on the later.

Oh yeah! I almost forgot. The irony. Nope I have difficulty with that one. It’s as clear as a mauve hippo.

Rolleiflex 2.8C

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The last few Sundays I have been out and about with my Rolleiflex 2.8C. This particular copy was hand made in 1953 to Rollei’s exacting standards. 61 years old and still going strong! The taking lens is the awesome 80mm f/2.8 Carl Zeiss Planar. It’s one of the best lenses I have used on any camera film or digital. In my opinion and experience it’s only pipped by the Hasselblad Carl Zeiss 120mm f/4 Makro. The Planar is sharp wide open then just gets better as you close down. There isn’t that much difference in sharpness at f/2.8 when compared with the sharpest apertures of f/5.6 or f/8. There are two other desirable qualities that I have to mention with this lens, 1) The bokeh, it’s very, very smooth and 2) its “feel”, that ineffable quality that sets this lens apart from others that I have used. Believe me, I have had so many lenses and cameras over the years that to recount the tale would be extremely embarrassing. Of all of them only three lenses stand head-and-shoulders above the others, two I have mentioned here, and the third is the lens in the Fujifilm GA645 Zi. That, however, is quite an entirely different story. In short, the lens of the 2.8C is awesome. The lens is one part of the whole. The rest is the experience of the box in which the lens lives. The Rolleiflex like my Leica M2 is pure German engineering at its best. A pleasure to use, super smooth mechanics and deathly quiet. It’s not as tactile as the Leica but fits neatly in the hands and with all the controls in the right place, importantly, the Rolleiflex is about 400g or so heavier.

My main purpose for buying this camera in the first place is because I love the square format, I love the unique rendition of film, I love being in control with me making the decisions, I love making the picture (or destroying it), I love the experience. Secretly though, I would love to tread in the footsteps of my all time favourite photographers, Barry Thornton and Fay Godwin.

Amazing lens, pleasurable to use, fantastic smooth mechanics, no plastics, no electronics, no computer. Just you and the camera. What more could you ask!

The following pictures are made using Ilford HP5+ and developed in Rodinal.

 

Testing, Testing, 124.

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A few weeks ago I borrowed a mate’s Yashica Mat 124G, a fine Japanese made twin lens reflex camera. It’s most notable feature is its lens, a rather devastating four element Tessar clone. With the intent of buying this would be my second 124G. The first is an almost mint copy. I love this camera. Apart from its amazing lens the other advantage it has is no reflex mirror, no slap, no vibration. Also it  is quite able to obtain sharp pictures when hand held down to 1/30th. After all the usual checks, cosmetics, light meter, aperture and shutter speeds the last test is the lens. For this you fully open the aperture, set the camera’s shutter speed on “B” and trip the shutter. You then wiggle the camera/lens in front of a light source and check for nasties such as balsam separation, scratches and fungus. Balsam, as if you didn’t know, is the glue used to cement lens elements together. It is made from the resinous sap of certain trees. Being a biological and very green substance it is also susceptible to biological degradation and attack from fungus. Today, most lens elements are cemented using synthetics and most modern lens elements are mainly constructed from various polycarbonates (not green). When buying cameras and lenses you’ll be amazed at the number of people who don’t check for fungus. I digress. When examining the lens of this well worn 124G it became immediately apparent that the lens had a moderate degree of fungus which had grown all over one of the internal elements. As I have already mentioned the lens that the 124G has is a wonderful four element Tessar design. The front two elements are cemented, then there is an air space in which lives the shutter and aperture mechanism, finally the rear two elements in the last group, two elements cemented. I knew from previous experience exactly which surface was likely to have the fungus - the inner rear element. All you have to do is, using a lens wrench, screw out the rear group, clean and then pop it back. It takes about half an hour. Sure enough, when I had removed that rear element the fungus was revealed in all its ignoble glory. The element was carefully cleaned and inspected. The fungus did was fungus usually does - etched the glass. It had practically taken off all the surface coating of that inner element. Inner elements are coated just as much as the external ones. This is mainly to prevent light bouncing off the inner elements and causing a ghost image to appear on the negative. Oh yeah! And to prevent loss of light transmission, contrast and colour fidelity. When the process was complete and the element replaced it was time to load film and shoot a test roll. Sometimes you have to put two or three rolls through a camera after a lens element replacement (unless you have all the right equipment) as sometimes the element has not been screwed fully into its correct position.  It’s hit and miss, but generally more hit.

Now to the sample shots. All taken at f/4 due to light conditions. Illford HP5+ in Rodinal. The first three is the rightful owner of said camera checking prices on the bay of e during an all day coffee fest in, dare I say it, the Bell Hanger, Chepstow. The rest taken locally. Considering the aperture was f/4 I think the repair has done its job. How the lens will perform under strong or difficult lighting with regard to the damage to the lens will be issue in Part 2.

 

Impressions of Portugal

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Last December 2013 was my forth visit to Portugal. The first two to Madeira and the second two to the Western Algarve. On these trips I just took a compact camera for tourist snaps. It was a holiday. This last trip however,  I decided to take the Contax G1 with 28mm, 45mm and 90mm Carl Zeiss lenses. The G1 is a superb piece of equipment that comes with the best 35mm lenses in the world. I had no excuse. The thing I would say about Portugal is that the coffee is simply AMAZING! Fantastic! I could drink gallons of it. Oh, I did! The food too, superb! Eating outside at night is just wonderful. So relaxing, natural and just wonderful. I just love it! Why people want to come to the UK, that damp, wet and  miserable country full of damp, wet and miserable people. I just do not know! You Southern Europeans don’t know how good you have it!

What I didn’t like, and this is no ones fault except mine, is I felt completely out of place. All that was green and familiar was gone. The terrain is just so completely different. Semi-arid scrub, irregular, undulating, lacking cohesion, chaotic. The familiar lines of the British landscape are completely absent. No wonder, I was in Portugal. I was out of my photographic comfort zone and to be honest I would need a month or two just wandering around before I would be able to “see” the landscape. More suited to monochrome I think as the Portuguese winter landscape is barren with a minimal colour palette.

I did enjoy my stay though. The coffee, the food, and the few native people I met were nice enough. I would have liked to had more interaction with the locals, to get a feel for them and to determine their character.

I like Portugal! With a population of 10 million or so people in an area about 80% the size of England. Portugal is also Britain’s oldest ally. The agreement between the two nations signed in 1373 is the worlds oldest agreement still in effect. It was this agreement that England became involved in the Peninsular War. I am ashamed to say the Portuguese have been much more faithful to the agreement than the British. For that, the whole Portuguese nation and people get my utmost respect. Portugal is also home to the finest Moorish castles in the Peninsular. The Spanish want to obliterate the Moors from their history, the Portuguese embrace it. More respect there.

Now onto the photos. Basically, I am not happy with them. I can do better. They are basically little more than snap shots. I wasn’t trying that hard either and will rectify this next time when I take the Rolleiflex and shoot monochrome medium format. These photos made on a Contax G1 with Carl Zeiss 28mm, 45mm and 90mm lenses. Kodak Tmax100 semi-stand developed in Rodinal 1:120, water wash, alkali fix.

 

Leitz, Camera, Action!

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Last weekend I decided to dust off the old 1958 Leica M2 and 5cm f/2.8 Elmar and take it for a spin. The Leica as if you didn’t know is a 35mm beautifully built rangefinder camera. Why do I love it? As soon as you pick up the Leica the weight is the first thing you notice, then the texture of the vulcanite and the hand machined milled knobs. It’s tactile paradise. It’s the way you hold it to your face, its the way you advance the film, that silky buttery smooth mechanism. The way the focus effortlessly glides into place. The reassuring “schutt” as you trip the shutter. It mechanically imitates the word. No electronics, no plastics (to speak of), no “modes”, no controlling computer, no light meter. It’s just you and mechanical perfection. Together with Sunny 16 it is the most liberating photographic experience one can possibly have! Raw photography, true photography, total control. Bliss!

Here is a selection of Leica M2 photographs that I have made over the last few years. Sunny 16 exposure, Tri-X and Plus-X stand developed in Rodinal. I should do more of this! Not because the pictures are any good, but because I enjoyed the experience so much!

PS. You have to roll your mouse over the pictures then they go to their correct levels.

 

SHOCK! NO HORROR.

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About ten years ago I developed a 135 roll of HP5+ in my favourite developer - Rodinal. I love Rodinal, one shot, liquid, very economical, use very dilute, stand and semi-stand development, very sharp, convenient, toneful, ultra long shelf life even when opened, low grain when used dilute and finally, Rodinal is a compensating developer. I’ll do a post on developing with Rodinal sometime, you may get to love it as I do. Back to that roll of HP5+ of ten years ago. I mixed EI on the same roll, from EI200 to 1600. I have done this often with no problem whatsoever. Then, I also used a standard acid fix whereas today I use an alkaline fix. Back then I did a full stand development. That being 1:100 dilution, agitation for 60 seconds and then stand for one hour doing nothing. Water wash, fix and dry.

The results were horrid. For the sake of it I consulted the Oracle (the web) and other users reported that HP5+ and Rodinal are not a happy mix. I wasn’t a happy bunny as HP5+ in my other favourite developer, Prescysol, is just wonderful. I heaved a sign and consigned the HP5+ and Rodinal combination to the metaphorical dustbin. Never did HP5+ and Rodinal again.

Then, a week or so ago I came across a post by Cooking Film (http://cookingfilm.wordpress.com) an excellent blog from a Portuguese photographer. In this post Cooking Film uses HP5+ and Rodinal. I thought “Good grief, that’s is going to be absolutely awful”. The photos were actually lovely with wonderful tone. “Must be terribly grainy” I thought. I knew I had a roll of 120 HP5+ from the Hasselblad just waiting to be developed. I didn’t know what was on it. I thought “what the Hell, lets just do it in Rodinal and see what happens”. I know, reckless or what. I threw caution to the wind.

What I was expecting was a repeat from ten years ago. What I actually saw in the scans completely shocked and surprised me (yeah, sad, I know).

The tone was good considering the subject. The dynamic range was excellent. The sharpness was razor. But it was the grain that shocked me. Rodinal, unlike the vast majority of developers is not a solvent developer. Most other developers use I think Sodium Sulphate (or other chemistry) to soften the grain. The downside of this of course, is a loss of sharpness to varying degrees depending on the developer. Rodinal has none of this namby pamby business. If you don’t like grain, then don’t use Rodinal. Grain can be attractive. Grain can add so much to your pictures in the way of atmosphere, texture, definition and sharpness.

Lets get on to the pictures. I made these exposures at the Piercefield Manor. A beautiful old mansion house with a rich history built on the money of a Caribean sugar plantation and slave labour. Now in its final death throes. Crumbling. Decaying. I suppose, come the day when it has falling into nothing part of its ignominious past dies with it. Now, only rich in texture and photo opportunities. Well, it would be if some pillocks hadn’t fenced it. Over the last ten years or so I have been photographing parts of the Manor as they fall into ruin.

The below is a 100% crop of the above, a 5847px x 5847px file at 2400dpi. Scanned on a Epson v700 using Epson Scan.

Pleasant Surprise

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Over the last couple of months I have been researching new films, mainly because my standard film stock is creeping up in price. Its not at the point yet where I am going to abandon film, but buying 10 rolls of certain films hurts the pocket. So, being prudent and parsimonious to a fault and looking to the day when a roll of film cost £7, I began my search for a medium speed film. At the low end of the price scale I looked at Fomapan 100, AGFA APX and Rollei Retro 80S. Now I already have experience of the APX films and like them very much. Very toneful and responsive in Rodinal. No surprise there as both are AGFA products. I decided to purchase a few rolls of Fomapan 100 in 135 and Rollei Retro 80S in 120. I didn’t want to spend that much. The Fomapan 100 is still working its way through my RTS II and Olympus Pen F. The Rollei went into my beloved Yashica 124G. Last Sunday I popped out to one of my favourite local hunting grounds the Pierce field Manor. Much to my disdain I found that some idiots have now fenced off the entire site. Not very pleased about that. Still, I had an enjoyable time exposing the film. On arrival home I developed the Rollei film in my usual way using my old time favourite developer Rodinal. Using a dilution of 1:120, 30 seconds agitation followed by five invertions every 15 minutes for 1 hour-ish. With a semi-stand development ten minutes here or there doesn’t matter. The temperature? About 22 degrees. With dilute Rodinal the temperature doesn’t really matter (Yes, I have done the tests) anything from 18 to 24 degrees will do just fine. After development was a plain water wash, again, the developer is so weak that you’re wasting money using a chemical stop. Then a four minute fix in an alkaline fixer.

I wasn’t expecting much to be honest. What I saw in the scan was pretty amazing. The grain was very low, the scan very sharp, great resolution, lovely tone. Apparently Rollei Retro 80S is a derivative of AGFA’s Aviphot Pan 80 aerial film. So that explains the great tone. I have already ordered some more. See what you think of these test shots.

When is a Landscape not a Landscape?

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As a rule I do not enter competitions. Let me tell you why.

1) I don't need to have my work validated by anyone. If people like it, well, that's fantastic, in fact, it's a privilege. If they don't, Oh well! That's just too bad. I have a particular vision in mind, and selfish as it may seem, I want to pursue that vision, I photograph for me. It's a deeply personal affair. Intimate even. It's something in-built. I just have to do it. I need to express myself creatively. Always have done, always will. (Perhaps this paragraph should say 'I'm not really good enough').

2) For me, photography finishes as soon as the shutter button is pressed. It seems, for many, that's where it begins. I would like to class myself as a photographer and not a photoshopper (please forgive the invented word). Now coming back to competitions, I was looking at the results of the Landscape Photographer of the Year competition. What struck me was the amount of winning entries that are obviously photoshopped beyond the real. It seems more time is spent working on an image than was actually spent taking the bloody photo. The hours spent making these pseudo faux images is not photography. Now I have no objection to people producing imagery and calling it digital art (or whatever), I do object it being passed off as 'photography'. Have a look at www.1x.com and see what I mean. It's a land of make-believe and pseudo intellectualism.

Perhaps you don't care!

Perhaps you don't give a toss at seeing images that really don't belong on this planet because they are so fake they could not possibly be taken on this planet. Perhaps you don't care at seeing virtual, unreal images that really beggar belief (I'm still talking landscapes here).

I think that this is totally destructive to photography in the long term. I think this computer and gadget driven fetish will wear off one day. I think people will become sick of pretend imagery and sick being sold new gimmicks such as blink detection, smile detection etc. How about having a gimmick on your shiny new 20 mega pixel camera called 'crap photo detection'. Now THAT will be worth having!

I just wonder what Photoshop CS 7 will offer YOU! and how Adobe will flog it to you. Instead of the 'magic removal tool' how about a 'crap photo detection' filter. Now THAT will be worth having! Cameras and Photoshop can only be developed to a finite degree. They must, at some time come to a point where they can not be developed further. This must give the R&D teams at Adobe and the camera companies sheer NIGHTMARES.

Do I photoshop my images. Yes I do. But I do so with restraint. Levels, contrast, sharpening, toning, exposure, de-spotting, dodging, burning and that is it. I am only prepared to spend 20 minutes on a picture. A bad picture is a bad picture is a bad picture regardless of relentless photoshopping. I would like to see an end to photography competitions that are also photoshop competitions. I would like to see an image judged on the basis of the RAW file as well as the finished picture. That way the photographer's photoshop skills can be judged independently from his/her photography skills. The finished result should still look realistic - and that's the point.

Now coming back to the original start point, one of the judges of the Landscape Photographer of the Year competition (UK) is Charlie Waite. I admire Mr. Waite's work. I have a couple of his books. He is the standard to which I aspire. A man who shoots largely on film using 6x6 Hasselblads (I believe). I am quite shocked that he accepts the degree of photoshopped entries to the competition. Brilliant images they are, without doubt. Photographs they are not.

When is a Landscape not a Landscape? -When its not photoshopped into being unreal. It's the extent to which Photoshop is used.

Canon Powershot G11 review

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A couple of years ago I was approaching the summit of Crib Goch, one of the Snowdon sub-peaks. The asthma was kicking-in and I had a well packed rucksack that included a DSLR, a 24-70mm f2.8 lens and a 70-200mm f2.8 lens. By the time I had reached the summit, I was fighting for breath and every step a battle of will. Well, that's what it felt like. I looked at my colleagues who disappearing into the distance on the ridge. I thought to myself "sod this for a laugh". Upon my return home I started to think about the possibility of a small light weight solution that could deliver superb results when printed at A3.

Research lead me to the Ricoh GX100, a ten megapixel camera with a 24-70mm lens. As I have a rather tight budget I took the risk and purchased one second-hand. The GX100 ticked many boxes, light, small, superb lens, live histogram, easy exposure compensation, good battery life, great handling and more important, RAW shooting. High ISO performance isn't an issue for landscape photography which is usually the crippling feature of the small compact cameras and for quite understandable technical and commercial reasons.

It was last September that the GX100 saw real action when I took it and my DSLR gear for another jaunt up Snowdon via Crib Goch. The rucksack still weighed a tonne and the DSLR gear stayed out of sight. I took the DSLR gear mainly out of paranoia. The weather was just fantastic and the GX100 performed excellently with only a few caveats. This being the RAW files had a distinct red cast to them. OK, that can be easily rectified by Photoshopping. More importantly the RAW write-to-card speed was pedestrian to say the least. A good 20 seconds or so. OK, you may say, that isn't too bad. Well, when you take a few hundred pictures you find yourself falling behind your climbing buddies. I found this rather frustrating, or rather you frustrate your mates because they end up saying "Where's Chris - Oh! There he is, taking another blummin photo". I do stop and take quite often. Besides that, the performance of the GX100 is quite superb. Really excellent sharpness and resolution from the RAW files. And having a 24mm lens is a real boon for some excellent panoramas. If you can live with the slow RAW write speeds and shoot low ISO stationery subjects, the GX100 may be for you. The Second hand price is good too.

On to the Canon Powershot G11. A few weeks before that particular Snowdon trip I was at an education trade show and there to my surprise was a Canon stand packed with all sorts of goodies. I could not resist having a play with all sorts of nice things. A Canon EOS 5D, a G10 and a few HD camcorders. It was the G10 that caught my attention and I managed to give it a good go. I was impressed by the design, handling, speed, live histogram, those milled metal knobs (so reminiscent if my Leica IIIc), the exposure compensation dial. As I did happen to have an SD card and took a number of RAW pictures at various ISO with the intent of processing these when I returned home. Upon doing so I was really impressed with the resolution of the G10 and put off by the apparent lack of dynamic range and noise, which was present even at the base ISO. So, understandably, I lost interest in the G10.

Forward to early 2010. With the GX100 sold on eBay it was time to purchase the replacement. The only real choice was the Canon Powershot G11 and the Panasonic LX3 With the latter having a better review on dpreview.com I decided to go for the G11. What swung it was the aesthetics actually. Fickle, I know! I just loved the strong and powerful design. Also, there is some compatibility with my EOS 40D in terms of colour rendition and accessories.

The Canon Powershot G11 in use. OK, no anal resolution charts or 100% crops for those rather sad 'pixel peepers'. Just a 'normal' users use. If there is such thing as one. Although I have had the G11 for a few months I bought the thing as a hiking and mountaineering camera. So, when I went to Snowdonia (again) in April, it was the ideal opportunity to put the G11 through it's paces. Then it was Snowdonia again in July. In fact, on this trip, I was going to take my DSLR gear as well as my Leica M2. As it happens, the weather forecast was, essentially, inclement so say the least. Baptism by Welsh weather then. See below pictures.

Conclusion. I really enjoyed using the G11. I love its design and handling. I really love those rather tactile knobs. The speed is excellent for a compact. It focusses well and the exposure is good. This is what I love about these kinds of camera - the live view histogram. This means you can quickly adjust and maximise exposure BEFORE you take the shot, instead of taking a shot, previewing, adjusting compensation, then taking 'the' shot, and so on. Back home on the computer an analysis of the colour, dynamic range and sharpness was very pleasing for a compact. No complaints in that area either. About half of one stop can be recovered from the highlights when shooting in RAW. More data can be recovered from the shadows than from the top end. I did a day's shooting on one battery, almost 300 RAW files. In comparison with my EOS 40D I would say that ISO800 on the G11 is equivalent to ISO2000 on the EOS 40D. Colour rendition is the same and dynamic range quite close. The G11 does have the advantage of having corner to corner sharpness at f4, and you won't achieve that with any DSLR. So for landscape photogs it's ideal. I found the menu system intuitive and easy to use with all the important major functions accessible from the various buttons. Briefly I would like to mention the three features I did not like, the view finder, the rear dial and the size. The view finder really needs to be 100%. I don't care if it's small, but, 100% it MUST be (come on Canon, you can do it, you know you really want too). The rear dial is a little too small and plasticy, even for my small fingers. My third slight complaint is that the camera is just about pocketable. I can live with that. But for a camera that I can easily slip into my pocket and go anywhere the G11 is a little clumsy, that is why I have just bought the Canon Powershot S90. All in all, I love my G11 and I would recommend it to anyone who prefers static or slow moving subjects.

The G12! My wish list for the G12 would be a 100% view finder. I'm one of these old types who like to have the camera to my face instead of at arms length. I feel more engaged with my subject when the camera is at my eye, whereas I feel removed from my subject when holding the camera at arms length. Of course I would like to see a greater dynamic range and lower noise. A full metal and weather sealed body would be nice and so would a faster auto-focus system. We'll see. Thanks for reading.

Y Garn from Tryfan - Canon Powershot G11
Y Gribin from Y Garn - Canon Powershot G11

Second Severn Crossing

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Well, its 11pm Sunday evening and time for a quick update. I was hoping to have finished my review of the Canon Powershot G11, but words and samples failed me. I've never been one to express myself verbally. So, I was thinking 'what shall I do for this weekends article?'. Then, when reviewing some pictures I took a few weeks back and that had laid quite dormant on my Mac, I decided to process a few. I recalled the journey down to the Second Severn Crossing, it was a Sunday afternoon and the Sun had actually decided to show its face. I just jumped into the car and bidding my wife farewell with the words 'I won't be long' I was off to the first place that came into my mind. I really should plan locations in advance. Twenty minutes later I was wandering on a path that takes you under the bridge. I had mixed feelings about being here, but, after a few sterile months of shooting, creative frustration was making me a little stir crazy. Like the first crossing I find both bridges quite bland, lacking texture and contrast with that expanse of mud that is often on ugly display. I had with me my EOS 40D and my Tokina 20-35mm lens. Now, this is quite a nice lens, twenty years old (probably more) full metal body, nice rubber grips, internal focussing of sorts and real glass. None of that polycarbonate rubbish. I took about ten frames and selected the below three. I'm not too sure about the finished result though. I never am. Never satisfied with my own work. Even when I shoot a wedding and the clients squeal with delight when browsing their album for the first time. Still not satisfied, always restless, always thinking 'how could I do that better'. OK, there are some with which I am happy, but, generally, not. I guess that what drives me on perhaps, the drive to improve.

Return from Tryfan

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Time for another update as I attempt to do this every week AND make it interesting. After looking at the Met Office forecast on the Thursday I decided to take my Canon Powershot G11 only. It was going to be bad, and I wasn't disappointed. My usual Snowdonia routine is travel up Friday, climb Saturday, return Sunday, or climb Sunday as well and return home on Monday. From where I live in South Wales, Snowdonia is a 5hr (or so) drive. Stopping at BK in Builth Wells, coffee (and a bite) in Dolgeddlau (DON'T use the Public Convenience - it's awful), coffee in Betws Y Coed (the Alpine Coffeee shop - the best coffee in Betws). Yes, there is a lot of coffee involved. And after a climb it's a stop at Cafe Gwynnant (the best coffee in Snowdonia). After a lot of coffee and pee breaks, we arrive at Ogwen Bank Holiday Park. Unload, and into the pub for a bevvy and food (it's very good as well). So the plan was Tryfan North ridge on Saturday followed by Y Garn and Elidir Fawr on Sunday. The plan went swimmingly. Drizzle and light rain above 600m or so with a steady 20mph wind increasing to 30mph on Sunday. Visibility above 600m was about 100m on average for the Saturday decreasing to 20 - 50m on Sunday. Rubbish for photography excellent walk/climb. 15hrs of it over the two days. Not bad for a fat, unfit, forties chap like myself (OK. I exaggerate that bit, I'm not that fat, not that unfit, but definitely 40's). I love it, I love Tryfan. Try it! here's a few snap shots of the day.

Snowdon - Again!

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I'm drawn to Snowdonia like the provebial moth to light. I don't quite know what it is about these lumps of rock, there certainly is something very special about them. Snowdon and especially Tryfan have an alluring character and views of which I will never tire. So, off I am again this weekend. This time to climb Tryfan with a few friends on Saturday followed by Y Garn and Elidir Fawr on the Sunday. I'll be taking my EOS 40D with it's Sigma 15-30mm and Sigma 50mm f1.4, my Canon G11 and my Leica M2. That's some load. I'll make the final decision on the day and maybe take just one. I'll be trying out my new Lowepro Slingshot 302AW and see how this is suited to lugging gear up mountains. Most mountain photography, as you know, is taken from a nice safe position at the bottom, looking up. The view looking down affords you a different perspective, especially if the weather is good. At least, I'll come back with the typical tourist photos. I'm happy with that! Part of the satisfaction is making it to the top, fear of heights and all. Making a few good exposures is icing on the cake. Part of my motive is inspired by Mr. Poucher's book 'Welsh Peaks', of which I would like to emulate and produce a more up-to-date version in colour. Part of my mission is to photograph the route up the mountain and to produce a guide of safe Snowdonia walking. Too many people are needlessly killed or injured because of ignorance and sheer stupidity.

Here's to a good weekend!  Yours as well as mine.

Update: The 18th of May, 2010.

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WOW! where has the year gone. Its almost half done. You may have noticed that I have not added much to the site over recent months. I think this is a combination of weather, work commitments and illness. I have never been able to get out when the weather actually has been suitable. Mucho frustration there. What I have done is added some relaxing music to the slide show. So, go HERE, select a slideshow, dim the lights, use a decent sound system on your PC/Mac and relax with a glass of wine. In the background I have been quite busy, what with the work commitments work as well. I have trundled over the Carneddau (Snowdonia, North Wales) taking in four of the fourteen Welsh 3000 peaks. The legs hated me. I am still processing the pix, the light was good for scrambling/hiking, not good for photography. It was very diffuse and hazy, there is also a strange reflectance from the rock. Its hard to explain, but it does effect the quality of light. On the Snowdon massif itself there's no problem, that's a different sort of rock. On the Glyders and the Carneddau which share the same kind of glaciation erosion the light can have this certain quality. I don't like it myself. Anyway, I'll process a few and see what happens. Incidentally, on the 13hr hike (yes! That's a long story) I took my Canon G11 and EOS 40D.

I am still working on the wedding and portrait gallery, I hope to have that completed in the next few months. And finally, cyanotypes. Yes, I have been producing some of these quite fascinating easy-to-do prints. This is part of my long term plan to bring 'everything' in-house, just in case film goes the way of the Dodo, or becomes more expensive than I think is economically viable.

Right, my finger aches (I'm a one fingered touch typist, with an amazing rate of ten words per minute), it needs a rest and a coffee.

All the best and ciao for now.

Update 13th of April 2010

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Heck! Where does the time go! Well into spring, April already. And what's happening on the photography front? Well, not much really. Here in South East Wales, UK, we have actually had quite a few nice days. You know, Sun, blue skies, bitter cold wind. Brrrr!!! Not my thing at all, I've had the lurgi three time this year and that has contributed to me not actually doing much. When the weather becomes clement, THEN, will I venture forth. I have committed the cardinal Sin of every monochrome photographer, I have decided to start a colour gallery. I feel like a heretic. Unclean. I don't really see things in colour and the new gallery consists of photos taken from my trips to Snowdonia over the last four years. In fact, I have found that a good number of the pictures taken lend themselves to colour. I am quite pleased with result, but the acid test is knowing what you think, please take a few minutes and let me know.

To go to the Gallery. http://wyephotography.zenfolio.com/thecword

Leica Lust?

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The name of Leica is synonymous with the histrory of the miniature 35mm or small format. The Leica is many things to many people. Almost worshipped by some, denigrated as an elitist rich man's toy by others. I have two Leica cameras, a 1946 IIIc and a 1959 M2. Leica M2. I had to flog some gear, but, finally, I bought an M2. I love it. The smooth film advance, the solid feel, the bright rangefinder, easy to use with glasses and that wonderful shutter sound. Heaven! So superior to the Barnack cameras but many of the sentiments are the same. I do love the finder. It feels as if you are looking right through the camera and directly at the subject. In fact, the camera melts away and become an extension of the eye. It is, without doubt, the best rangefinder I have used. Like the IIIc mention below, the M2 is so tactile, the milled metal, the vulcanite. Love it! The M2 is a huge leap from the Barnack cameras. One word of caution, the 50mm frame on the M3 and the 35mm frame on the M2 are difficult to use if you have, what Leica succinctly calls, 'defective eye sight' (1950's manual). To the rest of us that means you are a genetically inferior glasses or spectacle wearing specimen who should not really be using a Leica in the first place. Can I conclude that only perfect Human specimens can use the perfect camera? Sorry, Adolf, I didn't quite catch that...

Leica IIIc I have wanted one of these cameras for years and when one was offered at a very good price, well, mine it became, and disappointed I am not. It came with a 1936 un-coated heavily scratched and slightly hazy f2 5cm Summar. It just had to be replaced and this was with the f2 5cm Summitar (1949). The venerable Summar still has its place, it's soft and it flares. Some would call it the Leica glow, and yes, the lens has character. It has low contrast (Hello photoshop), but, even so, the sharpness and resolution isn't that far behind the Canonet (below). I just love it. The IIIc is so tactile, the milled metal knobs, the satisfying weight, the feel in the hands, it's so right. It says shoot with me. Even the separate VF and RF is just brill. No light meter, no plastic, no battery, no electronics, no controlling micro computers. REAL PHOTOGRAPHY - YOU in control. It's slow, it forces you to THINK, to STOP, to ANTICIPATE.

Of course, both have no light meter so either an external meter or the use of the Sunny 16 (or Overcast 5.6 if living in the UK) rule will have to do. I would recommend becoming practised at the Sunny 16 rule as it does liberate you from inherently misleading light meters.

So, briefly, how does it compare. I can only make a comparison with my Canon Canonet GIII QL17 and Fed 3 rangefinders and quite a number of Japanese and Russian SLR cameras. Mechanically, the Leica is way ahead. Solidly built with very smooth gearing. You can not only tell by the physically smooth action but also by the sound. The Leica just sounds indescribably smooth. On the other hand, the Japanese and Russian cameras just do the job. Inherently, the horrid and ratchet sound to their mechanism is indicative of an inferior design, build, materials and mass production. My Yashica Mat 124G sounds like its about to make an espresso.  The Japanese and Russian cameras feel functional in the hand, whilst the Leica (and to the same degree the Rolleiflex) feel reassuringly pleasurable.  The Japanese and Russian cameras just get the job done, the Leica adds to the pleasure and experience.

Optically the same thing applies. I have had 5 Leica lenses, 4 from the R system and 1M. All superb, especially the 50mm f2 that was on my R camera. The bokeh was so good it gave some images an almost 3D like quality that seemed to pop from the print. My M Summarit is a 1949 screw lens with an M adapter, it performs slightly behind the exceptional lens on the canonet. I put this down to the fact that the Summarit, being a 1949 vintage is showing its age with some internal markings. I think when I have a more recent lens on the M2 I will be able to produce a better comparison. One characteristic I find among my Japanese lenses is the fact that they commonly have a very sharp centre and a soft edge (which improves until you reach equilibrium at f11). The Leica lenses on the other hand are much, much more consistent in sharpness across the frame. I actually prefer this.

To conclude I would say that the Leica is a status symbol, its an elitist trade mark, you buy into the culture and the elitism, the feeling. The cameras are better quality than the 'compitition' beyond doubt and together with the best lenses available for the 35mm format make an irresistible allure. BUT, their price point, even second hand, is BEYOND their worth. It is this fact that makes the Leica the afore mentioned elitist rich man's toy. Should you buy one? Perhaps! I suppose it depends for what reason you want to buy. Is it to own a piece of camera history? or the simple pleasure of use? or to join that exclusive club? or is your ego so weak you need to feel better than everyone else by the power of camera bling? or perhaps you feel your photography is so inadequate that owning a make used by Cartier-Bresson or Salgado will somehow make you feel better? One thing for sure, no matter how good a camera it won't make you a better photographer!

2010 and thoughts of the decade.

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Can I believe it! The start of a new decade. How has yours been? When I started photography in the early '80's with the Praktica MTL5 things really didn't change much for years. That all came to an abrupt end in 1999 with the launch of Nikon's D1. I think the last decade has see more camera launches than the previous 3 at least. Perhaps more.

I bought my first digital in 1997, I think it was the Casio QV-10. I was hooked. The fact that I was also hooked on Macs made it even sweeter. I think the QV-10 had a resolution of 640 x 480  - something like that. The results were - well, pretty interesting. I have distinct memories of the camera getting really hot and draining the batteries very quickly. How things have changed! I purchased my first professional digital camera in 2003, the Canon EOS D60. Of course, it revolutionised my small photography business, even better, my beloved Mac became part of that business. I was in paradise. Computing, designing and photographing all day. It was a happy obsession - for a while.

I used the D60 for all my personal work as well. Following a discussion with a fellow wedding photographer I switched to a Fuji Finepix S2, mainly for the wonderful colour and skin tones so vital to wedding photography. Finally, the S2 was joined by a Nikon 1Dx and then later, an S5. I didn't use film for quite a few years.

Yet, there was an intense dissatisfaction with digital. On the professional commercial side, yeah, no problems, very happy there. It was in my personal work where I was suffering. There I am a monochrome shooter and I was rather sick of 'converting' to monochrome, or people commenting "that's a nice 'conversion' ". It felt 'impure'. So I started shooting film again. Out came my favourite film cameras, my Leica, my Fujifilm GA 645Zi, my XA, my Canonet QL17 GIII, my Rolleiflex and my Yashica Mat 124G. Oh! and a few others recently added.

What I had missed was the gorgeous tones, the subtle way film renders light, that wonderful grain structure, the texture, the dymanic range, the bokeh, the incredible resolution and sharpness of medium format. So film has been fighting back over the past few years, especially in MF. I think I shoot more with film now than with digital. I have nothing against digital. It clearly doesn't suit all applications and tastes.

It's nice to know some things haven't changed though. Amateurs are still obsessed with 'tech specs' and data charts 'immediacy' and all that crap. It is an insecurity fueled by amateur photography magazines and manipulated by the subtle language they use. It is a bit like a carpenter obsessing about his lathe or chisels. No! The carpenter focuses on the finished result. In our case it is the picture be it produced by a Box Brownie, a Holga, Pinhole, Large Format or a Nikon D3.

Another thought struck me as we ended the decade. And that thought is that I feel sorry for the Research and development departments of the camera companies. It must be an incredible pressure to come up with the next gimmick that will make you guys rush off to replace your month's old camera. Remember how reviewers derided the first implementation of 'Live View' in the Olympus E330? OK, fledgling technology now De facto. What will they try to sell to you next? Remember! The purpose of Canon, Nikon, Pentax, Olympus etc. is to MAKE MONEY.

It makes me laugh when people say, as did a work colleague did recently "I can shoot all day and it doesn't cost me a penny". The fact is, I have spent more money on digital than I ever did on film. Take into the count of the cost of your computer (and its upgrades) the associated software (and their upgrades) the camera (and the upgrades). How much?

My Mac cost me (and I am rounding figures for ease) £1000 plus £250 for a 22"monitor, software £600, printer £300, camera £750, lenses (10-20mm, 24-70mm f2.8, 70-200mm f2.8 all Sigma) £1300. Total £3900. That doesn't include the number of upgrades over the last ten years or consumables or my back-up bodies. OK, I'm a pro and I had to buy the kit that does the job (portrait, social, but mainly wedding), you are probably an amateur and probably have spent less. You may have bought a EOS 5D, in which case you may have spent a good deal more. Why not calculate your expenditure for the decade right now! I won't tell your wife! We'll keep that secret! For convenience we'll use a contemporary figure of £3000. Neither can you say you don't upgrade at some point. You all do. I do. I've spent like you wouldn't believe. My income is less than £20,000.

So that £3000 equates to 600 rolls of colour film or 1000 rolls of B&W. Half that if you have, say 7x5 prints as well. 300 rolls of colour film is 10,800 prints. On just some very rough figures that is an incredible amount of film/prints for all your current digital 'stuff'. Take into account that to manufacture your digital hardware is incredibly un-un-green. A computer has a huge carbon footprint to manufacture. Shockingly so in fact.

So, film is cheaper, greener and has better all round quality than digital.

So why digital? Yes, its very convenient. The hardware/software companies have you locked in a perpetual upgrade cycle. They are making more money than ever. This is not an argument against digital, I use it exclusively for all my commercial work. These are my thoughts of the decade. So, to conclude, I would like to leave you with the thought on the next 10 years. What cameras will we be taking about at the end of this new decade?

And finally. Despite the computerised control device (aka camera) you may be using, what goals have you set yourself. For me, it is to improve the portfolio, sell more prints, get more visitors, build up a reputation.

All the best.

New Images for 2010

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Welcome again!

The past few months have been reasonably quiet. You know, weather, dull, overcast, grey and pretty miserable all-round.  I haven't been doing that much shooting. Really, not much for the last two or so months. So I decided to save what I had to a do-it-all update. Funnily enough, on the few 'good' days we have had here I have been unable to make the best of it. I blame that four lettered word most people don't like using. WORK. Normal bread-and-butter work. So here is my offering from the last few months http://wyephotography.zenfolio.com/au_courant.

Liberation!

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It's funny, you spend 20 years with a camera in front of your face and then you come across something that makes you realise how ignorant you are. This happened to me recently when, by accident I found the Sunny 16* exposure rule. I never really thought about how exposures were made in the time before light meters. I remember about five or six years ago a friend telling me his uncle used to 'guess' exposures without a meter. I just thought that was utterly ridiculous. How could anyone make any good exposures without a meter? So, here I am, and having eaten a rather large humble pie, making exposures without a meter. So, what is the Sunny 16 rule? Simple, the following table demonstrates aperture with the subject being photographed...

f16: Bright Sun with clearly defined or sharp shadows. f11: Bright with soft or fuzzy shadows. f8: No shadows. f5.6: Overcast but bright. f4: Dull.

Notice, the aperture is dependent on, basically, the intensity of the shadows cast. What about shutter speed? Simple use the reciprocal of the EI of your film. This means if you rate your film at EI100 use a shutter speed of 1/100 of a second. Say if you were using Neopan 400 at box speed. then. your shutter speed would be 1/400 of a second. "WAIT! My camera doesn't have that shutter speed". No problem. Use a shutter speed of 1/500th. Well, what about using Tri-X at EI 200. Again, no problem use a shutter speed of 1/200, reducing your development time accordingly.

Hmm, Chris, does it actually work, I mean, no meter? See for your self from the following pictures. In order from top to bottom, f16, f11, f8 and then f5.6. The negatives are Kodak Plus-X developed in HC-110, then scanned with only 'Level' adjustment. Voila. It works quite well.

Above: f16

Above: f11

Above: f8, No shadows.

Above: f5.6, overcast.

And where does the liberation enter the picture. Well, the above pictures where taken with a Leica M2 (1959) and a Leica IIIc (1946). No electronics whatsoever, no controlling computer, no clever software, no battery. Just YOU! True liberation.

*or, if you live in the UK (as do I), the 'Overcast 56' rule.