Two bro’ now go to the Photo Show

I was all set to go to the big photography show at the NEC, what was it – two years ago?

I hadn’t been to it for years. The last time must be six or seven years before that. But this year the date didn’t clash with anything and my mate was also free. Plus there was going to be an analogue section, and all my heroes would be there.

The last time I’d been was with the same chum. The big thing at that time was printer makers showing-off insanely large inkjet prints from rolls of paper.

Then the covid thing started and we wavered about going to what would surely be the National Virus Exchange. My mate’s health is not of the best and he is even older than me (hardly seems possible, but true). So he decided to take the sensible option and dodge the bug. I was planning to go anyway and tell him Nikon were giving away free lenses. And then it was decided for us when public life was cancelled.

Until now. I decided at the time to keep my ticket for a future event. A month or so ago an email arrived asking if I wanted to go to the newly-arranged show. We rebooked, and the boys (true for small values of boy) are back in town!

To be honest though, the show is more about an outing with my mate than any kind of gear-hunt. We’ve had fun before looking for the most expensive camera or most useless gadget. I wonder what the big thing will be this year – probably video.

The planning for this show is going to take some thinking. Do I take a camera? My first thought is obviously, yes. But would it just be virtue signalling? (Let’s not go all dark academia here) Do I have a genuine reason or am I going to swan about with a camera over my shoulder so that people don’t mistake me for an amateur? Actually, I don’t own anything that could be mistaken for good, let alone professional. So, no showing off.

Film camera? Why? At best I will be taking snaps. I want speed, zoom and automation and I will want to post this the week after the show, so it has to be digital.

My mate of course doesn’t suffer from this existential angst. He packed away his medium format film gear the moment he got dig’ed up. (He still needs to sell it to me for 50p, but there’s time yet). But he was after new stuff and hoping that the show will let him play with options or do him a deal. So we’re off to see the wizard, with me playing bad cop when anyone quotes a price.

Next question: do I take my business cards? An easy yes – they have my contact details on. What about my Fup Duck tee shirt? (Yes, there is such a thing). Why not? I could do with a second reader. And some Fup Duck stickers too, if only to put them over Nikon or Canon logos. Actually, that would be playing the arse – I’ll take them in case anyone asks about the tee shirt.

The proper logistics are fun though. My pal lives 30 miles away, which on wiggly roads takes an hour. He’s coming to me and dropping off his thirsty motor. From me to the NEC is two hours for nearly four times the distance, even with my driving. I’ve barely had to put fuel in my car since 2019 so this will be a shock to it.

21 copy
Is it open yet?

As we are still in the time of Covid, the entry tickets are timed. Being blokes we ended up with slightly different times. So I’m in first, meaning I get the coffees in. I’ll tell him I got the last of the free lenses too.

The show was smaller than in the past, so we actually went in together. Talking to someone on one of the stands he said that there was more room between the stands, which was good, but he’d been told that there was to be no selling off the stand. There was plenty of that going on elsewhere, but that was fine. My pal was looking to try and hopefully buy around £1,000 of camera, but nobody had one of this type. He took a shine to a time-lapse camera instead, but this was the stand that was following the rules. Nay probs – he’ll be hitting t’interweb when he gets home.

pano

My delight was the analogue sector / stand / area. And I got to briefly meet some heroes. Hamish Gill was punting the Pixl-latr, Steve Dowling had some prints from the new Agent Shadow film – very nice, even pushed. Graeme of Sunny 16 had brought some caramel shortbread made by his partner Sinead. Paul McKay of Analogue Wonderland was dashing about in a dashing manner and speaking to an audience. They don’t know me from a bar of soap of course, but I listen to them on podcasts so it’s like I know them.

Pixl

And I bought some Pyro developer from Zone Imaging Labs. Ooh, and Tetenal are back from the dead – or as the guy on the stand explained to this grinning and congratulatory fool, it was a financial restructuring. Turns out he’s one of the new owners, so I’m told. Anyway, they have restructured themselves back to life and will soon release their developer pills in the UK. Incidentally, the Pinsta stand is selling a version of the Afghan Box Camera, which is poignant.

Kosmo

My other delight was all the prints on display. The stands and show may have been the methods, but this was the results. It’s always interesting to look at other people’s pictures. It got me thinking that I really need to print more. A good print is by far the best way to appreciate a picture.

AW

What did I learn from all this? That it’s the people that count. You can admire all the lenses you like, but the fun was in talking to people on the stands. The pictures too – it’s the results that count, not how you got there.

What did I not need? Any form of camera more than my phone or any business cards or stickers.

We did run a count of people wearing cameras. I got 14. But so what? I had two in my bag. There was also an action area where there were opportunities to take pictures of people juggling balls or riding bicycles, so why not bring a camera? Same if you are buying a lens – why not bring the camera you want to use it on? I should stop being snarky and just enjoy what we all do.

And the idea of using my little economical car went a bit skew on the way back when we got caught in a traffic jam, in the sun, with no working air conditioning.

So yes, the boys were glad to be back in town. Let’s see what next year brings.

Clubbing together

I got into a real rut during the covid lockdown and isolation and just about stopped taking pictures. I had packed a lot of my gear away to do some house decorating and didn’t feel like taking it out again. My scuba diving was on hold and although I was taking lots of country walks, landscapes are really not my thing.

Lethargy is a terrible feeling – you are blocked from doing something, then you lose interest in it. Work didn’t help – working from home turns out to be more intensive and less enjoyable than working in the presence of other people. What I needed was a kick up the aperture.

So I have joined a photography club. Or rather, a camera club. It seems that it was called a photography club when it was formed but changed its name. Perhaps I’m making something of nothing, but I do hope the emphasis is on photography and not cameras.

I know I have been critical of club culture in the past, but this was a way to change what I was (not) doing and challenge myself with something different. It was also a reason to get out of the house. And to unpack the camera kit, too.

The first thing to look at, of course, is the programme of speakers. Double drat that I missed someone talking about underwater photography, but he’s coming back to talk about sports photography. Beats still life.

What could I contribute? Well, I did run a learning session on PhotoShop at the previous place and I do have my cookbook for obtaining certain effects, so that might have some value. And after writing that I remembered that I also write a blog (duh!). Not that I can preen, but it shows that I put at least a little effort into my photography.

The first good news was that my local library, where I saw that the club actually existed, had an exhibition of their work. All pictures of animals (although aren’t I supposed to call it wildlife?). Pretty good. They also had a small box of leaflets with little posting box. The leaflets were a few questions asking the reader what aspects of their photography they were struggling with or wanted to improve, with space for contact details. Even better. This looked like a group that were helpful and inclusive. Not like the attitude you often see online where anyone who knows less than the respondent (troll) must be stupid. Or even worse, female. (You know what, guys? You can also use your finger to press the shutter button).

Oops! Deep breath. Put down the troll-hammer. These look like nice people.

So the first meeting was judging the entries to a club competition. And being the plague years, it was done online. This is actually way better than the club judgings I have been in before. Everyone can see the picture, for a start, plus everyone can hear the judge’s comments. And there is no muttering from the back of the room. I’m sure there is plenty of muttering, but it’s on the chat channel and not out loud.

The subject of the competition was minimalism, and as we know, I do like a bit of that.

And straying off the subject, as I do, it got me thinking about how you judge a picture. The obvious subjective judgement is how it makes you feel. I’m not talking about cute pictures of kittens here, but what emotions does the picture create? The good ones will have you running around with your hair on fire, the other stuff makes you shrug.

That doesn’t help in a competition though, when you are supposed to use objective and repeatable criteria. And, like all good standards, there are several to choose from.

The Guild of Photographers lists 12 items. A club may have its own scoring. How about some criteria that survived the scrutiny of Mensa? Or something quite specific to macro work?

This is the kind of thing the judges like

It looks like all of them broadly agree on what is good and bad. Or perhaps compliant and not. What would be interesting would be to score some of the great photographs against these schemes. Or perhaps not, because what makes a picture great is my simple rule 1: how does it make you feel? This leaves no way of comparing one against another, which is what the competition is supposed to do.

Technically, a bit rubbish

So I’ll leave it as it is. A club is a social thing and we run little competitions as much to get feedback and appreciation as anything else. And I am very happy with that.

But, do I enter pictures that I think have impact, even if they are technically poor? Or do I enter my technically best pictures? Or do I enter the stuff I’m experiment with to get some feedback? Do I put photos in to impress the judges and get points, or do I show the pictures I like most?

To be true to myself I think I am going to show the pictures that I like and I would be happy to show other people. It’s as simple as that.

Amateurish

I love being an amateur photographer. I am not a professional – I don’t need to make enough (or any) money from my pictures to live on. I don’t need to do marketing or sales. I especially don’t have to do accountancy.

I don’t need likes, which is probably just as well. I am not an influencer and I don’t need reader traffic to generate income. Out of curiosity, visits to shops was called footfall (when we used to go to shops). What do you call visits to your Instagram – eyefall?

I don’t even need to please other people. That makes it sound like I’m some weird Onan the Cameraman, but I do this thing because I want to and I like the results. Actually, that still fits the Onan label, but bear with me…

My wife, who is clever and learned, tells me about internal and external locus of control. In this context, are you driven by internal standards or external targets? That of course led down the rabbit hole – if you could take anything you liked from a shop without paying and nobody would ever know, would you? Would you still be good if nobody was looking and would never know?

So what has philosophy and ethics got to do with photography? Quite a lot, though it’s not really the point of this piece. Perhaps another time…

What it all means in this context is who your pictures are for. I’ve taken pictures at the request of other people and those people are the measure of my success, where that means they are pleased with the results. But the amateur stuff, the pictures I take most of the time, are taken to please me. I am my audience and my critic.

It’s taken a while to get here. Over the years I have taken pictures just for the pleasure in taking them. I always wanted to take good pictures, but I was happy to snap everything that came along. By good, I mean good to me: results I liked. What it took a long time to realise is what subjects I really liked. That let me relax and stop fretting about the things I didn’t like and focus on what I did. For example, cars are boring, but details of cars or cars doing things? Much more interesting. People are always interesting, but people doing things are fascinating. Or there is the odd and the weird that sometimes turns up in juxtapositions or looking with a alien eye. This sort of stuff I love. Which is the meaning of amateur.

Nobody tells me what pictures to take or how they should look. Nobody judges my pictures (well, of course they do, but in their head). Comparison is the thief of joy (as someone said), but I’m not asking to be compared.

It all sounds very self-congratulatory though, doesn’t it? Like humble-bragging. It’s not meant to be and I’m sorry if it sounds like it. What I am is happy that I like taking pictures that please me, and they don’t have to be for anyone else. It’s a great freedom and I intend to stop worrying and enjoy it for what it is (satisfying, difficult, engaging) and worry even less about what it isn’t (successful, famous, etc). I will cover my walls with pictures that make me happy.

Unfaithful to Pentax

I’ve done a thing I never thought I’d do, and bought an SLR that is not compatible with my Pentax kit.

Up until now all my SLRs could share the pool of lenses. This new one stands alone.

Fuji camera

Why was my head turned? A cheap and interesting lens. It was the beginner’s kit lens at the time this camera came out in the late 70s, and probably since. It’s 55mm focal length and f2.2. So far, so modest, but I heard it could give interesting results. It has four elements in four groups and the online wizards say it’s a Zeiss Unar design. This is the ancestor of the Tessar, the difference being that the air-gapped pair of rear elements in the Unar are cemented together in the Tessar. So you could say it’s not as good but cheaper to build than a Tessar.

I had a bit of fun (true for small values of fun) a while ago comparing bokeh and rendering between different types of 50mm lenses. What I hadn’t got at the time (or since) was a five element lens. I didn’t even know there was a design with four. But now I do.

It was on eBay as an Adaptall-2 fitting, which was great. It turned out to be Fuji bayonet with an Adaptall-labelled rear cap. No matter – the lens was very cheap and a bit of searching found a very cheap Fujica STX-1 body to fit it to. Even together the pair fell inside the Sunny 16 cheap shots challenge rules. We like cheap when we are experimenting.

The lens is certainly cheap. It has a plastic body and a five blade aperture. The camera is cheap too – it was Fuji’s entry model in the late 70s and early 80s. It’s totally mechanical, with a top shutter speed of 1/750. Mine has a dent on the corner and the crank is missing from the film rewind. But it works. It’s also the early version of this camera with a meter needle rather than LEDs, so it’s pre 1982, making it around 40 years old. But the meter works, so hurrah for cheap old cameras. Even so, who cares? It’s the lens I’m interested in.

So what does the father of Tessar look like? (I was going to call it John Durbeyfield, but that’s just too obscure). Quite hard to focus in dim light, but that’s more to do with the camera’s screen than the lens. It feels very plasticy – focusing it or changing the aperture feels like bits of plastic sliding on each other rather than brass or aluminium. It doesn’t rattle like some old lenses though, so that’s a bonus. Closest focus is 0.6m which isn’t bad. Some people have raved about its bubble bokeh, but I’ve seen so many adverts claiming that anything from a telescope to a microscope is a bokeh monster that I don’t really believe them.

As I’m not sure about the camera’s light seals I shot it first with the tail end of a part-used film. No light leaks apparent, so all seems well.

For the camera buffs it’s a basic SLR and works just like they all do. The shutter speed range and the one in use are visible at the left of the viewfinder with the meter needle on the right. A half-press on the shutter button switches on the meter. There is a lock for the shutter release so it’s safe to leave the shutter cocked. This is a cheap and basic camera that would (and still does) do the job. The only real drawback, then as now, is that you are largely confined to Fuji lenses. The flange distance was less than M42, so there was an adapter available at the time that could get you access to a wider range of screw-mount lenses. Whether the adapter is still available I don’t know, and I have no wish to use this camera with my M42 lenses – this is to mount the mighty Unar.

So how did it handle? Like a film SLR. All the usual controls in the usual places. A little limited in bright conditions by the low top speed, a little limited in dim conditions by the small maximum aperture and a dim focusing screen. And the lens? At the usual range of distances and apertures, just like any other standard lens. I’m not going to point it at a resolution chart or even a wall – what’s the point?

These are the first shots out of the camera. First test of course is to recreate the bokeh shots I did, but using Wilson’s fruity friend.

Fuji pine

Nice and smooth with a hint of double image in the white bench.

Fuji tree

The possibility of a bit of swirly in the background.

Fuji Charlie

Again, nice and smooth. A bit of double image or outline in the strand of plant, which mean it may well do the fabled bubble bokeh.

Still, for what it cost this is fun. Fun enough that I used it for the Casual Photophile Challenge.

———

PS – the Classic Lenses Podcast then did an episode on this lens. Looks like mine is a good one for not being cracked.

Does gear matter?

I think it does, but only in the sense of having the right tool for the job. Hammers for example. There’s lots of different types, to do lots of different jobs. You could put carpet tacks in with a sledgehammer, but you would need someone very trusting to hold the tack while you swung the hammer. Or you could use a tack hammer and keep your friends unbruised.

I should hang my head in shame though – I have a long history of improvising tools for one-off jobs. Things like using coins to pack-out the jaws of a spanner or cross-cutting the end of a bolt to use it as a thread tap. Things that make mechanics cry, let alone engineers. But photographically, some things do need the right kit. Even then, it’s possible to adapt.

Long lenses for example – you can use a shorter lens and a smaller sensor to take advantage of the scaling – a 200mm lens on APS-C becomes the equivalent of 300mm. (Sorry – 7 degrees or 122 mils). Use the better high ISO performance of a modern sensor and you can also cope with smaller apertures or a teleconverter.

Long lens and wide aperture. Or alternately, you should have seen the size of the spider.

For wider angle views it may be possible to stitch several shots together. I’ve also used one of those wide angle adapters that go on the front of a lens. Can be a bit rough at the edges but it could be the only way to get an extreme wide angle shot without owning an extreme wide angle lens.

You can get told off for lying on the floor in church

I’ve also wittered about the capabilities of a digital camera to emulate different types of film, so there are ways to get the look of something special for a one-off requirement.

Some things can only be done with specific kit though. It’s difficult to get the look of large format without actually using large format, for example. Smooth, grainless tonality, shallow depth of field, and the transition from sharp to soft – I’m sure there will be a clever PhotoShop action that can render the effect but it’s going to take some effort.

Underwater is another example – it’s difficult to take pictures without a waterproof camera or a housing. I have seen a cheat though. This was a box with a glass or plastic window that can be pushed down through the surface to allow a camera to see underwater without getting wet. It’s a miniature version of a glass-bottomed boat. But for any other situation I need an underwater housing or a specialised camera. So that’s one for the list of necessary things.

Panoramic shots may also need dedicated kit. The extreme of this is the Xpan or the Widelux or Horizon. The only alternative is to copy the craze that was on a lot of cameras (probably in the 90s) of cropping the frame to a letterbox. You could match the look of an Xpan but probably not the quality from a smaller frame. You won’t match the look of a Horizon though, as it has a swinging lens. So that’s another special shooter on the list.

The rest though is largely down to the lens. After all, a camera is just a device for putting a sensor or film behind the lens and (usually) providing a shutter and a method of checking the focusing. If the lens is fixed to the camera, then owning the set is the only way to get what that lens will do (unless you buy one of the transplanted jobs). What this means is that you don’t need to own dozens of cameras – at least not for practical reasons. A wide range of lenses that can be fitted to whatever camera has the best sensor/ shutter/ viewfinder then makes a lot of sense.

It’s partly why I stuck with Pentax – I can put all manner of lenses on the front, including medium format ones. Until I win the lottery and buy a K1 it means I use film for full-frame and APS-C for digital and to get the focal length multiplier.

I guess what I’m coming round to is a rationalisation. I definitely have too many cameras. While they can be nice toys, I need to think what category or use each one is in. Once a particular slot is filled, I probably only need one example. Small film compact, for example. I think I have five, so four of them could be surplus. Small digital compact? They are a bit more specialised as I have one converted to IR and some that have housings. Roll film toy cameras? Two.

I may build on this

So I’m going to be organising my gear by function with the aim of treating it like a set of tools. I need a range of spanners (or a good adjustable) rather than ten 10mm ones. I can feel a cull coming on for the surplus and the pointless. I might also put some thought into making sure that the uses that are important to me are adequately met. Not kit for kit’s sake, but for the sake of what I want to be able to do.

What about you? What set of circumstances does your kit need to cover? Do you have a good working tool for each one or a set of toys?

The Casual challenge

I do like a bit of a challenge and those nice people over at Casual Photofile have created one. A list of 34 things to photograph. The extra challenge for film users is to get them all, in order, on a single roll. Game on!

So this is going to take a bit of thought. I can’t take several shots of something and pick the best. I’m going to have to Deer Hunter it. I’m also using a camera for which I only have one lens, so there’s no playing about with that either.

I also cocked up at the start. I was using a new light meter I’d just bought without giving enough attention to how it worked. So the first couple of frames may be underexposed. I may have to stand-develop the film to recover those without blowing the rest.

Another aspect to the challenge is that thing about doing it all on a single roll of film. If I was going to shoot pictures on the theme of something wet, for example, I would go to a place and take several pictures. But this is one shot. I suppose I could go to the place anyway and take the challenge camera with me, then decide at the time which scene to commit to film. But I would prefer to think about the theme and take just the one shot. It feels more in keeping with the idea of the challenge, especially as I will be taking the pictures around where I live as I emerge blinking into the light after lockdown.

Taking only one shot of each subject is a challenge too. Like most people I would normally develop an idea. I’d take a picture, then reframe it or change the exposure, or maybe alter the depth of field. But this is one shot: what I shot is what I got.

So what did I do? I carried a copy of the list around with me and thought about what the next subject could be. If I hadn’t got the challenge camera with me I went back to shoot my single frame.

For anyone that didn’t follow the link above, this is the challenge list:

How did I do? Well, the original plan was to shoot the whole role, develop and scan it and then put the pictures up here. But I am conscious that it is taking me time and that if you wanted to have a go, all I am adding is delay. I will therefore post this as it stands and then come back to it later when I have my photos to show.

It also gives me time to think about what I want each item to mean. “Wooden” for example – something made of wood is easy; a bad actor would be harder.

Have a go.

Found versus made

Do you make pictures or find them? I usually find them: I take a camera for a walk and take pictures of what I see. I rarely build a picture from an idea. Someone doing advertising or product photography probably builds more than finds – they have to create a story around a subject. That might the definition of professional photography – that the photographer is able to make a story around a subject to match their brief or their intention. That, and getting paid for it.

I have done this (not getting paid, making a picture) – I wanted to take a picture of a friend’s business which was in a narrow street, and I wanted glancing light across the front. So I worked out when the sun would shine down the street at the right angle and turned up with a swing lens that would let me blur the buildings at either side. But the rest of the time I just snap what I see.

What got me thinking about this? An interview with Lottie Davies. She was talking about the result of several years’ work to make an exhibition and book called Quinn. It is an immersive story with pictures of the subject travelling through the country. The person Quinn did not exist and the tale is a story. But the pictures tell the story. This is about the best example I have of made. Every detail of this story was imagined and then created.

The opposite might be Henri Cartier-Bresson, the ultimate street photographer who took pictures that he found rather than made. Except he too saw a scene and waited for the right person or people to be in it and in the right place. But he didn’t direct them and his pictures are of what happened in that moment.

I suppose the distinction doesn’t really mean anything, as we all do both. It did help me appreciate the craft that went into something like Quinn though, and it will make me think that I should perhaps put more effort into making rather than accepting what is or hoping it was different.

Tempus fugit

From the Latin: fruit flies like a banana. Or maybe, as Yeats said, “things fall apart; the centre cannot hold”. Except we’re not talking about the state of post-war Europe through christian imagery; I’m grumbling that my old kit is wearing out.

Own something for long enough and it will eventually crumble. For example, I’ve owned several old motorbikes. One was built in the early 60s and was primarily built for the police and army in parts of Europe. It was over-engineered and low powered, so it wore out slowly rather than broke. Mine had gone through the initial phase of bits breaking and had been maintained and fixed to a point where it mostly worked. I did the National Rally on it, so I must have had faith in it not breaking.
I also had a bike built in 1985. This wore out much more rapidly, but I also rode it much more (and faster). I was always on the lookout for used but good spare parts, as I needed to have replacement parts on hand for when stuff wore out. It was also useful to have a spare set of wheels, as I could fit new tyres to them and then do a quick switch. This was because I was commuting on the 1985 bike so I needed it on the road. One of the main differences between the bikes though, was the availability of parts. The newer bike was easier as there were still new spares available. The old one was an adventure. I had a copy of the parts list (in Italian, to go with the owner’s handbook in Serbo-Croat) so I turned internet detective to find people with supplies of the bits that wore out. It helped that Italian bike-makers tended to use the same electrical components and the manufacturer of my bike re-used components across several models. Having the part number meant that you didn’t need to know what the part was listed as on the supplier’s shelf. So the bike had an electrical switch from a Moto Morini, a rear light lens from a Moto Guzzi, an air filter from a Leyland Mini and a generator belt from a Fiat Panda.

I did eventually crash the 1985 bike. I split it up and sold it as parts to other owners. It made more money than selling the wreck and kept a load of other old bikes on the road.

But what has this got to do with photography? Well, it’s one reason why I have several cameras. Stuff wears out. Something as simple as crumbling light seal foam can take a while to fix. A cheap camera body with the right lens mount is a useful spare. For example, I was out in the cold when the camera I was using started misbehaving. Either the second curtain of the shutter was sticking or the mirror was locking up (probably the latter). So I rewound the film and loaded it into a spare camera that takes the same lenses. This will give me time to investigate the dodgy one (which immediately resumed working when warm). I’ve written previously about getting stuff repaired. Having a spare camera will let me do this with minimum impact.

dead pool
The dead pool

But, let’s face it, none of these cameras is getting younger and nobody is making new ones. While I dislike the idea of GAS or collecting for its own sake, having a spare is useful. The good thing is that so many people have jumped on the classic lenses thing that it’s fairly easy to pick up a camera body. The lens junkies sell off the bit they don’t want and if you are happy to avoid the overpriced favourites (Pentax K1000 anyone?) You can get something functional and cheap. I like both of those. And while I can’t fit the air filter from a Mini, there are plenty of entry level or clone cameras that will take my lenses.

What I should also do, I think, is send any dead camera bodies I have to the mender with anything that I send for repair. Since nobody is making these cameras any more, the dead ones are probably the only source of parts for the menders to keep the working ones going. A bit like old motorbikes.

piston
Not a camera but a thing of beauty nonetheless

One thing that happened in the old motorbikes world has yet to be matched in cameras, and that is people making new parts. Old motorbikes became so popular that people started remaking components for them from new. I suppose this could happen with cameras, but the most difficult part is the shutter, and only Copal seem to make them (and only sell them in bulk). Not quite the same as my old motorbike: that could use a certain Toyota car engine piston as an alternative to the original. There’s hope though – I did wish for Copal to sell shutters to makers and I’ve been very good this last year. How about it, camera fairies? In the meantime I’ll fix what I can, get someone clever to fix what I can’t, and pass-on any spare parts to people who can use them.

What are you looking at?

When you go out, what do you look at? Probably your phone. If you’re out with a camera, what do you look at? Is it the thing you came to take pictures of, or other things (or your phone)?

It can be boring walking around with a camera hoping something will turn up. When it does, it’s often the same old stuff, shot in the same old ways.

So how do you get to (or back to) a state of wonder where everything is unusual? Because if you look with curiosity the world is fascinating.

That might be the answer. I’m a curious person, in both senses. I want to know how everything works. Except people of course, as my wife points out. Which is fine by the way – we compliment each other’s weak spots. But I do seem to spend my time when we’re out going ‘ooh, what’s that?’. What it leads to is me looking everywhere but where I’m going. Which is also fine, by the way – I still manage to dodge the things I shouldn’t step in.

Anyway, the point of this is to ask if it’s possible to develop that curiosity to see things that could be pictures. Or if you want to – I’m not saying this is a good thing and I’m certainly no paragon. But it can be fun. If you have ever had to wander around streets of shops (we will get to do this again, I’m sure) there is more to see than what’s in the windows.

Try looking up. Lots of buildings are older than the shop they contain and the clues are above the shopfront.

Sometimes you have to pretend to be an alien. If you didn’t know what a thing was, what could it be? A book that is very good for this is POET – the psychology of everyday things. It studies the assumptions that are built into objects. Like a door with a big loop handle that you have to push, not pull. (And then go and read my rant about poor design assumptions). But in this case it’s a way of looking at the world around you.

Someone installed a pylon upside-down

So it makes you think about why the things you see look the way they do. Who decided to do it that way, and why?

How would you have spaced the words?

Sometimes the alien says ‘how did that get to be there?’ Rather than just assuming that it is. This is the same thing that so annoyed my mum – she bought a film and lent me the family camera for a school trip to France and I came home with pictures of bins.

I do remember how much I enjoyed one aspect of geography at school, and that was being given a map and asked to work out why a town or village came to be where it is. It was usually down to paths and rivers, transport and raw materials. One way of recreating that interest, and another book recommendation, is to have a look at some Gooleys.

Sometimes weird stuff happens

But sometimes the weird stuff is just there for the looking.

So next time you’re out, be more alien.

Modifying cameras

Have you ever modified a camera to make it work better for you?

I’m not talking about cosmetic changes like changing the leatherette (although I love what Peggy does with these), but functional changes. I know one of the frequent improvements is to add a grip. But these are finely-crafted and removable, whereas I’m talking about hacking the actual camera.

I’ve basically made two sorts of changes: for handling and for protection. You have to not care about resale value though. Speaking of which, who are these people who can sell a pristine old camera on eBay? How does anyone manage to use a thing for years and leave no visible marks of use or wear?

Back to the plot – for protection I mainly use Sugru. It’s perfect for creating bump corners – I’ve wrapped a small waterproof camera in it to protect the corners and the lens from being dropped or put down badly.

Sugru to protect from bumps, grip tape to avoid giving it the bumps

This is ideal, as I most often use this camera with cold wet hands on an open boat. The camera lives in an open plastic tool tray so needs all the protection it can get.

Before finding Sugru I used two-part epoxy putty to make things like a replacement for the plastic piece that fell off the end of a wind-on lever.

Although I no longer have it so can’t share pictures, I did make a remote release adapter for an autowinder. This was a bit of brass sheet that I bent and maimed until it fitted around the trigger button on the autowinder. I drilled a small hole and used a cable release to form a thread in the soft brass. This let me fit a long air release that ran inside my overalls and put the bulb in my hand. The camera was mounted on a bracket on the side of a crash helmet. The result was Heath Robinson’s version of a helmet-mounted camera. And yes, it worked.

Next to Sugru the other great find came from an article by 35hunter, and this is to use the sticky-backed grip tape that is used on skateboards.

This stuff is very good and could even be reversible, if you wanted to change the grip or sell the camera. I added a strip and a patch of tape to a Canon compact to provide grip for my fingers and thumb.

The tape has just enough ‘tooth’ to be grippy without being uncomfortable.


So since the grip tape came as a sheet large enough to cover a skateboard deck, I couldn’t just leave it at that. The obvious next step was the underwater housings for my diving cameras. Like the little Fuji compact, I’m usually handling these in water and wearing gloves. While the camera is usually on a tether, it’s useful not to let go of it in the first place.

What’s next in my mad plan is to replace the whole leatherette on a camera with grip tape. That’s a possible for the future though – I’ll wait to see which one starts peeling first.

So ok, not major modifications but practical, and they can be done without needing a 3d printer or workshop.