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Picture story

We – blogs, podcasts, websites – spend too much time talking about the gear and not enough about what we bought the gear for: the pictures. So here is a picture and the story behind it.

This is my dad. Was my dad. It’s not a great scan, but that’s not the point. My dad worked a lot with his hands. He was an electrician and later a maintenance guy in a large supermarket. In between he built everything we had, including (with a group) the house we lived in. I never saw my dad without some sort of injury to his hands. He would have a black fingernail, or cuts and a gashed knuckle. Shaking hands was like being power-sanded.

Later in his retirement he got sick, partly possibly due to the asbestos he was exposed to – it used to be sprayed onto the steelwork in large buildings to make them more fireproof. But he was a tough old bird and the lung damage was just a thing. He coped with more diseases then would kill a brown dog and had more come-backs than a prog-rock band. His nickname was Lazarus. This weekend would have been his birthday.

But that’s not the story. The story is a very simple one: this is my dad and these are his hands. He made stuff, he mended stuff and he held together a family.

Strong hands.


Hoppy birdy

One year of blogging. Slightly more than one post a week. What do I think of it so far? More to the point, what does my reader think of it so far?

The ideas keep coming, which is good. I have tried to avoid repeating myself, even though I do (repeatedly). I have mostly avoided talking technogabble about lenses or cameras. Mainly because I can’t review anything I don’t already own, and what I own is generally cheap and well-worn. Besides, camera reviews, at least the earnest ones that try to do a proper job, are boring. I have talked a lot about film, but I do shoot a lot of film. Besides, I am a film-using photographer.

How am I doing with my resolutions? I’ve taken some pictures of people that made me smile. Oddly, I have even taken some landscapes that other people like. I have even taken some that I like. I don’t intend to make a career out of it though – that’s landscapes, not taking pleasing photographs.

Duck Race 2019

Still haven’t found a good hat. Or rather, I have, but the rest of the world disagrees. In this case the world is wrong.

I did say I was going to sell-off some old kit and get the Kiev fixed. A quote to repair it is less than the cost of a replacement camera body from fleabay. Still more than I was hoping to spend though. No worries, I thought, sell something to cover the cost. The obvious sacrifice is a Yashicamat TLR. Given that I don’t shoot that much medium format, why not repair the camera that has a range of lenses and drop the other one?Except the TLR is the original pre-124g model from around 1957. Same lens etc but no meter. I found one on fleabay and watched it to get an idea of prices. It went for £40. There does come a point where it feels there is no point in selling something. If only I’d bought a Leica back when they were piled in camera shop junk bins for 50p*. If only I didn’t keep breaking stuff.

Perhaps a bigger question is why I am still blogging and not podcasting? After all, the analogue/ grain/ film podcasts are popping up like mushrooms (and developing a growing tendency to interview each other in an audible caucus race). Because writing suits me better than talking. I like to start with an idea and develop it (even if it looks like I don’t). I like to be able to show pictures with the words. I like being able to work in the small gaps between other things. If I had a podcast I would have to devote the same period of time each week to recording it. As a writer I can have several ideas in development and maintain a list of scheduled posts for a few weeks ahead. If one article takes me three months to write that’s fine – I can release it when it’s ready. Plus the writing makes me happy. And after all, dear reader, I am doing this as much for me as for you. For me it’s therapy – it quells those inner voices that say I should give up or just use a camera phone (and the ones that say I should kill again….). After reading this stuff you may want therapy too. Meet you at the pub.

Burning down the house

The main thing though is that I am learning from this. I could say that I’m growing, but that’s the pies. I’ve shown more of my pictures to more people in the last year than in probably all of the preceding ones. I’ve written regularly. One day there is a faint hope that I will finish the thriller I started writing, but in the odd few times I have even looked at it I can see that my writing has improved. No, really. Imagine what it used to be like.

So, what’s next?

More mutterings about photography, obviously. I’m like a lot of people in that while it’s important to me, it’s not the biggest thing in my life. I don’t have to earn a living from it, which is just as well if you believe that it’s one of the 25 worst jobs. That has to be worst-paid; I can think of far worse jobs.

More part-formed opinions and shallow commentary. More innocent joy at simple things like being in focus. Probably breaking more stuff. We’re off diving again soon, so there will be plenty of opportunities for destroying cameras and taking fuzzy pictures of green things in green fog.

More to the point, I am free and able to enjoy photography. Yay!

* Turns out I did, but was too stupid to realise. I bought what I thought was a damaged lens and was happy to use it as it was. It was only when I came to write about it that I looked a bit more carefully at the damage and realised it was an intentional design feature. So the cheap experiment turns out to be worth perhaps one hundred times what I paid for it. I should have bought a lottery ticket at the same time.

Taking it from the streets

I live in a very touristy place, so there are probably more pictures of me as background than there are of me in the family album. These will all be accidental though – shots of the side of my head as I walk through their picture. There are so many snappers that I usually don’t even try to walk behind the photographer. I used to, but there are too many of them. I’m still not mean enough to photobomb people’s selfies in front of the usual church/ old building/ old street though.

So how would I feel if someone asked to take my picture? The answer would usually be no.

If we don’t know each other, I can think of no reason why anyone would want a picture of me. Granted, if I was doing something interesting there might be a reason, but the reason would be the thing that I am doing and not my dashing good looks. I’ve got a good face for radio and the only reason I can think of that you would want my portrait is as a warning to children about the perils of loose drink and strong women.

Likewise, I don’t see myself as a street photographer. I have and will continue to take pictures of friends, family and colleagues. The same with people doing things. I love taking pictures of sports, but I don’t think I like people enough to want pictures of anyone I don’t know. There is also the privacy thing: much as I would not want to be photographed, I believe I should apply the same rules to other people.


So that mostly breaks the idea of street photography for me. That’s the second one off my list. If I’m not careful I’ll end up taking pictures of flowers with fuzzy backgrounds and lusting after lenses with better aberrations. (Too late.) So how do I reconcile the conflicting desires to take more pictures of people but not take pictures of people I don’t know?

Family, friends, colleagues – not only no problem, but I like to take pictures of them. I’m a normal friendly chap, after all. Primarily what drives me though is activity. I have found that trying to get someone to sit for a portrait is awkward for both of us. But if you are doing something, I’m right there and I’ll get your expression. Most recently it was my mum giving a running commentary on the neighbours while washing dishes. I’ll not show it here because she’s not happy with her hair. But it’s so typical of her that I’m glad I have it.

Simon King has written a good description of his approach to street photography. I love his shots that have the odd juxtapositions and humour and I hope I would have taken them too. But to stop someone in the street because I like the way they look or dress? Not my thing at all. But that’s just me – I have no valid opinion on what’s right or wrong here. I can explain how I feel and what I do, but in this my opinion caries less weight than someone who actually does do street photography.

So what I will actually do is to carry on taking pictures of people I know and very definitely taking pictures of people doing things. But actual ‘in the street’ photography I will probably confine to the occasional odd thing that makes me smile. More straight than street.

Laffin Bob

Do I worry that I’m missing-out on a photographic essential? No: there’s plenty left for me to enjoy. I’m also not part of the APS or large format revivals so I’m content to be off the pace. More hip replacement than hipster – that’s me.

Your mileage may vary, as they used to say.

Owed to joy

It happens sometimes. Not every time, but often enough that the pleasure compensates the pain.

I opened the developing tank and unspooled the film to hang it up to dry. It was shot under varying conditions with a simple meterless camera. All the frames look consistently exposed. A good start.

Then I scanned them, and a little song started in my heart. One frame was an experiment based on something I heard on the Studio C41 podcast. They were talking about large format photography and exposure, and it relates exactly to what I have been thinking about. The point of the discussion was to meter and expose for the shadows and let the film latitude and a compensating developer take care of the highlights. Basically – overexpose.

I had exposed for the shadow cast by a sunlit willow tree and the scan shows loads of detail in the shadows and luminous highlights. You can colour me happy. I’m not a great fan of landscapes, but I had been shooting some while we were in Anglesey. Those pictures made me happy too – black wiggly trees on white sand. This is what it’s all about. As the man said “I enjoy photography because it makes me sad and I hate the outcome, said no one ever”.

Willow, Monk Stray

At the end of the roll were a few frames I had shot with a new lens. New to me: it was made in the seventies. A couple of shots of stuff at infinity and a few taken as close as I could get and showing plenty of background. Very interesting, and another wee thrill for my jaded senses. The out of focus areas look rather interesting, and very different to the lens I used for the willow tree and landscapes. So interesting, that I want to see what it will do to colours. So onto the digital camera it goes, so that I can get immediate feedback.

Moor Monkton woods

Very interesting again. Very smooth backgrounds when close, tending towards a bit of swirly when further away. I need to try this on some portraits as the vignetting looks ideal. Plus it made me play with the digital SLR, which has been a bit neglected of late. I remembered that it has a feature of being able to take multiple exposures and merge them into a single shot, adjusting the total exposure. So I got the manual out and had a go. So that’s a new trick in the bag for when the right time comes along. The camera is an older generation digital, so suffers from noise when you use high ISO. So what I’m thinking is to shoot night skies by combining a series of longer exposures at lower ISO. This might also average-out the noise.

Happiness: enjoying what you have done and being excited to do more. Yay!

So, knowing that I used to be Beaker in a former life, this is how I interpret the title of this post. Enjoy.

Thrifty fifties

Gotta love a standard lens. Not too hard to get good performance out of, and there used to be one attached to every changeable-lens camera that was sold. There’s a lot of them about and they can be reasonably priced.

I have been using a wide-aperture standard lens that I got from a charity shop. It was a bit of a punt, as the rear element looked like it was chipped at the edge. But if you imagine that the lens throws a cone of light at the film plane to cover a rectangular frame, the damage was lined-up with the long edge of the film. I hoped that this would put any problems well outside the actual area captured by the film. I also painted the chipped area with black paint. It was worth a try, and how else am I going to get an f1.2 lens for the price of a coffee?


It renders nicely, and the out of focus areas are busy but interesting. (Eek! I’m turning into a bokeh monster)


It can get a bit too busy if there are highlights in the background though.


The chip in the lens is a bit odd though. There is no damage to the lens from being dropped and the design of the lens almost means there has to be a cutaway in the rear element to clear the aperture-operating pin. If anyone else has one of these (Tomioka Auto Yashinon 55mm 1:1.2) do let me know what a good one looks like. And yes, I know this lens uses radioactive glass. It’s an alpha emitter, so stopped by a lens cap.

I’ve also got an Industar 50-2. This is a weird little Soviet pancake lens that came with a Praktica as a rear cap. The maximum aperture is f3.5, but it renders backrounds really smoothly.

Now those are eyelashes

This cost the equivalent of a couple of fancy coffees. Probably less, because I don’t drink CostaBucks so I don’t really know what they cost. It vignettes a bit when wide open, but that adds to the results when I use it as a portrait lens on a crop-sensor digital camera (making it equivalent to a 75mm).

I’ve also got a Helios-44 which does the swirly background thing if you get close.


I’d also like to point out that my versions of these lenses seem to break the golden rules of lens-buying. What we are told is that scratches on the front element are OK, but don’t buy anything that has damage to the rear element. Avoid lenses with fungus – except the Industar 50-2 had spider’s webs instead. And if you buy a Helios-44, get one where you can turn the focus ring. Mine is so stiff it unscrews the lens rather than focusing.

Don’t care though – they cost peanuts and I enjoy using them because of the results.


So I got curious enough to go and find what my ‘chipped’ lens looks like, and it appears that the cropped rear element is a real thing and was made that way. I can only think it must have put other people (than this chancer) off, which is why it was cheap.


I have just found what these f1.2 lenses sell for. Eek! This is very far from a thrifty fifty. So, do I sell it to fund some other work, or keep it to continue playing with?

How many damn cameras do you need?

How many can you actually use?

Maybe one for quality and perhaps one that’s small and easy to carry (but that’s what your phone is for, right?).

So why do film photographers in general end up with more cameras than they can shoot? I can go through my own reasons, or justifications. OK, confessions. Think of me as the witness for the defence.

It happened over a long period. I bought my first proper camera, a 35mm SLR, from new. Even though it wasn’t the latest model – it was something like a year old and not the one that was in all the adverts. But it was a better camera than the latest one and had been reduced in price. Over time I experimented with various Soviet offerings, messing-up and then fixing the shutter in a Zorki and fighting to focus a Lubitel. At some point I saw a well-used Yashica TLR in a camera shop (remember them?) and dumped the Russian pretender for a practical Oriental.

I tried, used and re-sold all sorts of things in those easy years when cameras were still being made and nobody wanted old ones. Some filled a particular niche and are still with me. My first ever SLR has new light seals and is still working well. The Yashica TLR still comes out to play when I’m feeling medium formatty. My little pocket camera I bought from new to replace a slightly lesser model that I killed by accident. This too is still with me.

Somewhere along the line I found a ‘proper’ Pentax SLR, second-hand in a shop near Hartlepool. Oddly, it’s been less reliable than the old Ricoh. Not that it doesn’t work, but it has suffered the common fault of the MX with the viewfinder readout of shutter speed slipping out of sync. Somewhere else along the line I picked up a big handful of focussing screens for it in a camera shop junk bin. So I can’t sell the MX because it would cost more to get the viewfinder readout fixed than it would probably sell for.

So that’s two SLRs, a TLR and a compact. Enough for anyone, right?

I wish it were so. There’s a Russian rangefinder, just because I like using rangefinders. There’s a K-mount SLR that came with a lens I wanted. It’s a lightweight bit of friable plastic, but it can hold the film in place behind a sexy lens so it’s sat on the reserve bench.

And then the madness was upon me. Not the madness that tries to recreate my youth by buying all the cameras I couldn’t afford when I was young. Not really. But sometimes I will read about a particular type of camera or I’m after something to do a particular job. If you don’t chase fashion you can usually find an example of what you are after for the cost of a beer or less. So that excuses my underwater cameras. And the little Canon digital that can be hacked about with the CHDK tools to do timelapse. And the weird Ricoh bridge camera that I got for 99p for the cheap shots challenge. And the old Pentax unmetered screw-mount SLR that I got to use with a few M42 lenses that were knocking about in the cupboard (but especially the 50mm f1.2 Tomioka that was on some broken old camera in a charity shop for £1).

Then there are the ones that people gave me (“It’s been in a damp box in my garage for ten years…”).

So basically, I’ve spent very little money but thrown nothing away. Most of it is worth about what I paid for it. So I’m no collector, hoarding every model of minty Minolta or tweak of Leica. I’ve basically got a bunch of stuff that accumulated over the years because I fancied having a go with it.

I have genuinely sold stuff off that I wasn’t using, although looking at the pile that’s left you wouldn’t think so. Three, maybe four folding roll-film cameras went to better homes. Some lenses I didn’t like. There’s a little Canon compact digital plus underwater housing that ought to go and an Agfa rangefinder with an IR filter fitted behind the lens. But on the whole, I have lots of cameras because I just fancied having a go with different things. There was no strategy to it, just curiosity. So, what’s in the pile?

  • 35mm SLR. ✔️
  • 35mm rangefinder. ✔️
  • 35mm compact. ✔️
  • Half-frame compact. ✔️
  • Medium format TLR. ✔️
  • Medium format SLR. ✔️
  • Medium format folder. ✔️
  • 35mm underwater. ✔️
  • Digital SLR. ✔️
  • Digital compact. ✔️
  • Digital underwater. ✔️
  • Weird stuff. ✔️✔️✔️

And if you think that just means one example of each…


Do I use them? Yes. Not all the time, but often enough to want to keep them around. The least used are the medium format ones. Having only 12 or 16 frames makes me feel I should use them for special occasions. I could sell some of the less-loved and less-used items but most of them are worth less than the postage would be. Mostly because I bought kit that was cheap but working and then used it rather than coddled it. So it has, er, patina. Or in some cases, rust. I don’t really care. I know there was a big discussion on the Sunny 16 podcast about the evils of hoarding working cameras in a time of decline, but I’ve spent in total less than the cost of a nice Leica and lens. Probably less than the cost of a ropy Leica and a fungoid lens. Definitely less than the cost of a fashionable 35mm compact. So I plan to use this stuff until it dies or I hate it. If it dies I probably won’t bother to replace it. If I grow to dislike something, it can go to Fleabay or a charity shop as I see fit. And one day I will learn which is the most reliable camera, Darwin will rule and the creationists will be wondering why new film cameras don’t just appear in the shops. (It could be something to do with us tasting the fruits of Apple)

In the meantime I’m going to keep playing with my toys, selling the ones I am bored with and occasionally buying a new one when I get the curious itch. Too many damn cameras? Probably; but I enjoy photography and that to me means all aspects of it. And I have the beautiful freedom of not relying on my photography to make a living. If I did my kit would be selected for reliability first and then functionality. But I am free to play.

Weeeeeeee! 😁

PAS or PoS?

There’s a lot of interest in “premium compacts” – little 35mm point-and-shoots with good lenses. A lot has already been said, and I think we can all agree that there is a strong follower of fashion thing going on.

But, sharp lens or not, there is a real risk that the electronics on a twenty or thirty year old camera could expire. We all know this.

In this case the electronics are fine – the lens focus motor has jammed. I need a bigger hammer…

Perhaps more to the point though is what one of these cameras can do. My own view is that if your wee gadget if fully automatic, then what you’ve got is a snapper. It can be great fun, and very creative, to use a camera with no controls at all. Being automatic makes it more likely that you will get recognisable results. But as we know, sharpness alone is overrated. And do you want to pay big money for something that has a limited life expectancy? And by big money, some of these things go for £1000+. Well, obviously the answer is yes if the name on the lens or camera matters that much to you. Say though that you like the idea of a competent point-and-shoot and it would be nice to have a few more controls than on/off. What is a photographer to do?

You could take a look at the Pentax Espio range (or IQZoom, which is the same thing). They brought out a wide range of cameras that played all the options. The nice thing though is that they added some useful settings like multiple exposure and a B shutter speed. They are also surprising well regarded. You can also get some of them for less than the cost of a coffee. Equally, there are loads of other makes and models that are better than you would give them credit for, and that cost less than a Contax.

So if you have a sudden hankering to be a celebrity clone or street-fighting snapper, here’s a strategy:

1. Find the cheapest point-and-shoot you can. Jumble sales, car boot sales, charity shops, friends and family. Pay no more than £5 – ideally £1 or less. Tip – if it’s a zoom model and the lens is partly out (not fully retracted), the camera is dead.

2. Clean the lens, blow-out the film gate. Find a manual. Load it with film and have a go.

3. Look at the results. Think about the experience. If you hate compact cameras in general, give it back to a charity shop to sell-on. If you hate this particular camera, do the same but go looking for its replacement. What does this one not do that a better camera should? That’s what you are looking for.

This way you can either get off the treadmill at small expense, or work your way intelligently towards something that is right for you.

4. If the camera dies, recycle it properly. We may need those rare elements.

Want to find out where to even begin? Go and surf Canny Cameras.

What’s my name?

If you haven’t done it yet, you will. Your camera, lovingly loaded with 100ISO colour print film, turns out to be 400ISO black and white when you finish the roll and open it. Or not loaded at all. Or you load and shoot the same roll of film twice.

Back before the last ice age, I worked as a chemist. Not the dispensing kind – I was the model for Beaker. I worked in a quality control lab within a manufacturing business, so we were processing multiple large batches of samples every day. One soon learned to label everything. My favourite tool was an ancient fat propelling pencil that took a wax insert that would write on glassware but was water soluble so it was easy to clean off.

The habit carried-over when I switched to working in IT. I did some big office moves and became a label fundamentalist.

Speaking of habits, my grandad used to say that a habit was a good servant but a bad master. He also used to iron his socks, so make of that what you will.

Labelling is a good habit though. But I can’t really write on my cameras and hope to wash it off afterwards. So I use tape.

Yes, my grandad used to buy socks in boxes…

I tried using the paper-based masking tape, but this stuff resists being written on and falls off when you are not looking. So I use electrical tape. My dad was an electrician, so I was brought up on fluff-covered rolls of gooey black PVC tape. That stuff is the opposite of useful for labelling. What I found in my local hardware shop is white electrical tape, which is perfect. The glue doesn’t smear and the tape releases cleanly without leaving a sticky patch. I can write on it with a marker or ballpoint.

So what I do is label every camera that is loaded with the film it contains. When a film is taken out of a camera, the label moves to the film container. If I’m developing it myself, the label then moves to the lid of the tank. If I remove a film part-shot, the label will show how many frames I’ve used.

I am delighted to say that I have not fupped a single duck since I started doing this. But, as I learned in IT, make something idiot-proof and the idiot gets upgraded. I may not mistake my films any more, but I have moved on to greater things and discovered many new and interesting ways to fail.

Go me!

Push me, pull you

Despite the dread, you really have to do little. (See what I did there?)

So, pushing film means underexposing it, or exposing it as though it had a higher ISO, which is the same thing. To compensate we give it more development.

When we pull film we overexpose it then give it less development to compensate.

Why would you bother? Well sometimes pushing the film is the only way to get the picture. The side effect of giving it more development is that the contrast can be increased. This means you can also push the film when you want to deliberately increase the contrast. Ted Vieira shoots 400ISO black and white film at 1600 and loves it.

Similarly, you might pull the film to reduce contrast.

But what does increase or decrease development mean? By how much? Let me consult the notebook of photographic lore.

Clever book

Pushing film
1 stop, increase development time 50%
2 stops, increase development time 80%

Pulling film
1 stop, decrease development time 30%
2 stops, decrease development time 50%

The book of all cleverness also gives a formula to calculate the development time to use if you are pulling film. Take the normal development time and halve it. Take the times increase in exposure (eg 2 stops is 4 times increase, so use the figure 4) and take the reciprocal of this number (so 4 becomes 1/4). Multiply this reciprocal number by the halved value of development time. Add this number to half the normal development time.

So, imagine I pulled the film 1 stop (2x increase in exposure). Normal development time is 10 mins. Half the dev time is 5 mins; multiply by 1/2 = 2.5 mins. Add this to half the dev time of 5 mins and the new development time is 7.5 minutes. The quick reference above says cut development by 30%, so it’s a fairly good match.

Or you could start with a degree in maths. Or you could look up your film and developer combination on the Massive Dev Chart. But it your special brand of madness is not there, try the suggestions above.

But why on earth would you pull film? Well the Zoners will tell you that it is to increase the number of tones captured on the film, so expanding a high-contrast scene to show more of the intermediate tones between black and white. The book of photographic cleverness says that you can match the amount you pull the film to the tonal range of the scene like this:

‘Nomal’ range 125:1 – normal exposure and development.
250:1 – overexpose 1/3 stop, cut development 10%
500:1 – overexpose 1/2 stop, cut development 20%
1000:1 – overexpose 1 stop, cut development 30%
up to 4000:1 – overexpose 2 stops, cut development 50%

Beware though, this leads to the Dark Zone.

What I have come round to is pushing the film so that I can use better cameras settings in poor light, then using Rodinal at 1:100 to do semi-stand development.

The Enid
Even FP4 can be pushed, if it is all you have to hand. This was pushed two stops by the simple +80% development time method.

Fixed it in post

From a cartoon I saw that had a group of surgeons gathered around a screen in an operating theatre. One of them is leaning over to tell the patient “we’ve fixed your leg in Photoshop”.

I hear a lot of people saying “I’ll fix it in post” and an equal number insisting that one should get it right in-camera. So what’s the right answer?

I’m not sure there is a single right answer. I can tell you my experience, and it’s tied to my gradual learning of how to use Photoshop. I started with something like Elements 5 and progressed to Elements 7, which does most of what I need.

Apart from the obvious learning curve (cliff) of using Photoshop itself, I realised that what I have been learning are the skills that a good darkroom printer would use. I have also been building a library of effects: how to obtain the look of certain types of processing or film, such as lith printing. And yes, I have also been rescuing mistakes such as poor exposure, poor background, poor framing and so on.

And while I appreciate that one should endeavour to get it right in camera, even Ansel Adams recognised that post-processing was required to finish the job. He called the negative the score and the print the performance. In his case though this wasn’t fixing it in post, this was developing its full potential. Another example – in the digital world we are supposed to expose to the right: to capture as much light as possible short of blowing the highlights. But to avoid the result being high key, we then darken the final image to get back to what we saw.

So perhaps we should separate ‘fix it’ from ‘develop it’? As I said, I’ve done my share of fixing. Sometimes you grab a shot with less than ideal exposure or you make a mistake or the lighting is too contrasty. The dynamic range of a raw file can be your friend. Recover those highlights, put some detail back in the shadows and remove that colour cast. Ideally though, you would get it right at the time. Otherwise you might a well swap your camera for your phone and reduce your input to pointing it in the right direction.

Developing the image though, that’s a completely different game. I’ve spent a lot of time reading articles on improving images in Photoshop, or methods of obtaining a particular look. Some things are really simple and make a big difference, like midtone contrast using an unsharp mask (amount 20% radius 60 threshold 0, since you ask). This isn’t a fix – it’s something I might have been able to do in the camera or darkroom if I knew how. Perhaps it’s fairer to say that I made the effort to capture all of the tones and range in the subject and then used my post-processing to interpret the captured data in a way that pleases me. Like Ansell Adams, except he was good at it. Having all of the information present in the original file or negative means I can re-interpret it any way I want. There is a picture of a motorbike in an earlier post that is mostly shadow and a few highlights. The original negative shows all the detail you could want, but who wants an accurate picture of a bike engine when you could have moody darkness?

It’s the same as when I learned that I could dodge or burn only the highlights or shadows. What a difference it can make to do some tiny local adjustments that would only have been possible in-camera under studio conditions. Or I would have had to do something clever in the darkroom with cotton buds and bleach. And the joy of having shot for maximum detail originally is that I can go back each time I learn a new trick and improve on my previous version. And the joy of something like Photoshop is that I can experiment, go too far, wind it back and learn.

So now I have my very own cookbook of editing methods so that I can recreate things that worked. Nothing fancy or wordy, just a brief description and a diagram of the various layers and settings. Most of the techniques don’t get used – who needs posterisation or cross-processing in every shot? But it makes things much easier that I have just one place to look when I do want to pull a trick out of the bag.

Coming back to this idea of doing it all in camera and not relying on post-processing, what do you think of the film photographers who make prints showing the entire image area of the negative plus surrounds? These are the prints that say “look, I framed it perfectly and I can prove it”. I wonder if their prints were made as straight enlargements onto grade 2 paper, or if there might have been a bit of dodging and burning? Surely if you can compose perfectly in camera, you can expose perfectly too? Unless it’s art, of course. Or perhaps what they are saying is “I spent some serious coin on this film, so I’m printing even the bits with sprocket holes in”?

This all makes me sound horribly smug. I have honestly bent, broken, burned and generally cocked-up everything at some time. Photoshop has both saved my arse and, more often, helped me drag at least a cotton purse out of the pig’s ear I started with. But I do believe I should be using it to develop the potential of a picture rather than saving it from the bin. And I do try hard to get it right in-camera. If you are doing the wrong thing, then getting better at it with practice just makes your results wronger. It’s better to make the effort to do something right, as then every improvement you make to your methods will make things righter. The problem comes when you are getting reasonable results even though you are doing it wrong. You have to cross the ditch of awful to get to the other side and this can hurt. But if the majority of your shots don’t need to be rescued, it leaves you a good margin of safety for the odd one that does.

Aysgarth Lower Falls

By the way, the Photoshop cookbook is a real thing. It’s quite terse, as it is mainly reminders on how to get particular effects. But if there is any interest I could post it online. Let me know in the comments.

Up the revolution!

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