TMP

Landscape photography with a difference!

One week with the Leica, Elmar and ACROS.

Since making my monumental decision to abandon digital photography and photograph with my 1957 Leica M2 exclusively for a whole year, I feel more motivated and refreshed. It's like a heavy weight has been lifted. As you know the Leica is essentially a hand made precision instrument sans electronics of any kind. To be free of all electronic control is a truly liberating experience. No batteries and no meter. To use a single prime lens, in my case a 1957 Elmar 5cm f/2.8 is equally refreshing. Quite quickly one begins to "see" in the focal length of the lens, you begin to visualise your composition even before making the exposure. One thing I have also found to be stimulating is using the "Sunny 16" method to evaluate exposure. Upon seeing the developed negatives emerge from the tank is a tense, but ultimately rewarding experience. Even when exposing under mixed lighting conditions not one frame is a bad exposure. I do not have the opportunity to travel far so my photography is confined to a rather local area, one to which I can quickly travel. This means one has to work hard to find interesting subjects to photograph. I would love to hop in the jalopy and spend a weekend in the Lake District, but alas! I have a "normal" life.

See what you think from this series made last weekend and during the week? All photos are Fuji ACROS 100 in Adox FX-39 exposed with the Leica M2 and 5cm Elmar. Fuji ACROS 100 is an excellent film, sharp, low grain, loads of tone. I am expecting Fuji to kill it, just like they did with the excellent and brilliant Neopan 400. FUJI - I DON'T LIKE YOU AT ALL!!!!! DON'T KILL ACROS and BRING BACK NEOPAN 400 - PLEASE!

All clad in scaffolding as a substantial repair is undertaken.

An unashamed selfie from the old Chepstow bridge. A shadow selfie as I call it. Fuji ACROS 100 in Adox FX-39. Note the supermarket trolly.

Wall in Sudbrook. Fuji ACROS 100 in Adox FX-39.

Cut off at the root. A wall in Sudbrook. Fuji ACROS 100 in Adox FX-39.

This tree seems to be growing from out of the very rock. 365 Steps, Fuji ACROS 100 in Adox FX-39.

Ivy and a tree at f/4. Fuji ACROS 100 in Adox FX-39.

A low estimated light level meant that I had to go to f/2.8 at 1/30th of a sec hand held. Fuji ACROS 100 in Adox FX-39.

Old Gnarled Tree on the 365 Steps. Fuji ACROS 100 in Adox FX-39.

Muffy with the Elmar 5cm wide open at f/2.8 a little soft made softer by moving photog. Fuji ACROS 100 in Adox FX-39.

Muffin about to yawn. Exposed f/2.8, Fuji ACROS 100 in Adox FX-39.

I tried creeping upon Muffy for a sneaky photo, but the Damned cat moved. Fuji ACROS 100 in Adox FX-39.

On the 365 Steps, Tintern to Chepstow road. Fuji ACROS 100 in Adox FX-39.

No Batteries Included.

I think I have out ranted myself on this subject over the last few posts and I think you know my feelings.

Just to briefly re-cap, at some point you become totally sick of the whole digital photography ecosystem and mentality. As you well know I have reached that point. I have become totally disillusioned with how software and technology has come to dominate photography. Not to mention my increasing abhorrence at digital manipulations that often take the original exposure into the realms of fantasy. You may be interested in having a read of my previous post HERE.

At some point, the digital gadget-camera delusion and obsession, for some, will burn out. To use a metaphor, the bubble will burst. It’s not the answer to better photography. It is a mistake to continually throw good money on new gear, software and technology when it’s you (and I) which is the greatest obstacle in the pursuit of great photographs. You want to read that again: It is YOU that is the greatest obstacle in the pursuit of great photographs. Your equipment is innocent of all charges.

So what do I do now!

Where will I go in this post-digital era?

You may remember in the latter stages of one of my recent posts my plan of photographing exclusively with the Leica for a whole year.

That began on Saturday the 1st of August.

Why the Leica! As much as I would love to make those amazing landscape previously mentioned I can’t afford it. Also, I don’t have the time, the money, the commitment, the determination or the sacrifice that would be inevitable. Besides, why do what millions of photographers are doing! In a trough of photographic despair three weekends ago I threw all my gear on the bed and started using my iPhone taking pictures in preparation of posting the whole lot on the bay of e.

My frame of mind was that of walking away from photography. I have had enough of many things previously discussed. In a future post I will cover the issues and mental state of my personal voyage in photography, depression, dissatisfaction, obsession and Aspergers.

There I was dejectedly snapping away, being agitated by the faux shutter sound, when I picked up my Leica M2. I paused and held it in my hand. I admired the aesthetic of its classic lines, the reassuring weight, my thumb caressed the texture of the vulcanite. I put down my iPhone and held the Leica in both hands running my fingers over the metal work, enjoying the tactile sensation of the milled metal knobs. Advancing the mechanism and releasing the shutter is silky smooth and is mechanical bliss. I did this several times. I found it calming. I then knew in that instant the Leica had to stay. I could NEVER sell it. From out of the darkness a little flicker of photographic light waxed, a beacon in the black.

It was then I hatched my plot. To be photographically digital free. To go back to basics, not even using a meter. No electronics, no batteries, just a plain mechanical camera. A machine! To photograph exclusively with the Leica for a whole year. So, starting the weekend just gone that is what I have initiated. My only expense - film and developing sundries, and I will keep a tally of the costs involved.

Electronics, computers and software will only enter the picture (Haha! Pun!) when the negatives are developed. There are a few problems to be overcome! The negatives often have drying stains despite the use of a wetting agent. The negatives often have a number of small white specks - dust! Worse still, the negatives often exhibit grainy skies despite the grain being smooth elsewhere. As the sadly late and great Barry Thornton once said “you can’t make a fine print from a course negative”. Technique needs to be improved.

Already from using the Leica for a short period I have found that you quickly learn to pre-visualise the print, you become more aware of the subject, a deeper impression is made on your memory, by using a prime lens you begin to “see” the lens. Further benefits discussed later… The below pictures exposed practising the Sunny 16 method and developed in Adox FX-39 and are Kodak Tmax 100 unless otherwise stated.

Farm Lane 1

Farm Lane 2

Bottle, Elmar 9cm f/4.

Cribyn, Brecon Beacons. 1958 Leica M2, 5cm Elmar f/2.8 Ilford FP4+ in FX-39

Waiting...

Passing by.

Bit of a blur.

The SSC.

I just love my garden.

The best Fell walkers...

When in Wales...

Shadow Selfie (you hear it here first...)

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.

Pen y Fal - Sugar Loaf

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Saturday afternoon’s jaunt was yet another trip to Pen y Fal, Sugar Loaf to the English speaking world. A shapely peak that seems to tower above Abergavenny as one travels the A40 approach road. Abergavenny is surrounded by three “big” hills, Sugar Loaf (596m), The Blorens (561) and Ysgyryd Fawr (486). For a hill of this stature the ascent is easy and pleasant. The rewards far outweigh any pain with excellent views all around. If you have a couple of hours to spare I would highly recommend this little hill with a lot of Welsh character.

However this trip was made on a biting winter’s afternoon late in December when the weather can be bitter. If you have the visibility the dark and dank cloud cover can make the landscape ominous and brooding. Ideal for atmospheric photography. Wrap up warm with adequate winter clothing as a bare hand will be rendered immobile in a matter of minutes. Not good if you need to operate a camera. The wind ripping across the exposed summit can cut and chill to the bone so take care.

I had with me the Fujifilm Finepix S5 Pro and the Rolleiflex. I had the 1953 Rollei loaded with HP5+ which I exposed at EI200. On this day the conditions were pretty cold and with intermittent bright clear patches which seemed to make the darkness darker. Then, thankfully, the weather deteriorated rapidly until one experience a short but sweet blizzard of heavy snow. This is what I call fun! I managed to expose a full roll of HP5+ and this awaits development which I will do during the week. For now, some of the pictures from the S5.

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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.