Analogue

I’ve mentioned film and digital photography a few times over the years of this blog and I’m not going to preach the advantages of one over the other. Today’s blog is about my recent adventures in the world of film.

Now I’ve reduced my working hours I have more time to spend on doing the things I want to do. That should include bringing the house up to scratch, tending the garden and nurturing the latest batch of spuds, and it does. But it also means I can take time out to really enjoy my passion for photography. I’ve been taking still photographs for 35 years (and I was making home movies for years before that). Up until recently, I’ve only really had the freedom to spend a day or two just taking photos when I’ve had leave. And often, leave is taken up with other things. But now I’m finally in a financial position to be able to indulge myself (within reason) and I have the time to enjoy that indulgence.

A couple of months ago I decided to make a proper effort to get back into film. I have a few old rolls of black and white film in my fridge and they’ve been there since 2010 so I loaded a roll of Ilford SFX200 into the camera and set off for Swansea Bay. As before, once the film was finished, it went back in the fridge and I determined to develop it myself. In the meantime, I loaded a roll of Ilford XP2 black and white in the camera and went shooting again. XP2 can be developed in the same machines as colour print, which meant that my local Boots store would do it in 1hr for me. Which they did and suddenly I had a CD of images that I was really pleased with.

I went through a couple more old black and white films from the fridge and one I’d bought recently and I ordered developing chemicals from the Internet. Then came the evening I’d set aside to develop my films.

Part of the developing process requires accuracy in following precise measures and timings. The other part, loading the film into the developing spirals, requires skill, dexterity and some patience. The loading is done by feel as the film has to be kept in darkness until the processing is over. I decided to use the old SFX first to practice with as I wasn’t expecting much from this ancient emulsion. I was surprised at how the loading came naturally to me – I guess, like riding a bike, you never forget. The film went smoothly on the spirals and after about 20 minutes of chemicals, count downs and another 15 minutes of washing, my first film for ages had been developed. And it was surprisingly successful, for a film at least 6 years out of date.

I quickly developed the other films and suddenly it was very late at night and I hadn’t noticed. But I had enjoyed myself, which is what photography is all about for me.

Since then I’ve been out more and more with the film camera and really enjoyed the familiar challenges using one poses. I am very aware of the limited number of frames available to me (36 shots on a roll of black and white film) and this means I take more time to consider the photograph I’m about to take. I can’t check the result straight away so I have to be confident I’ve got the image I want before I leave the scene. This slows me down and makes me think before taking the photo. Doing this reminded me of a part of photography that I loved, and still do. Taking the picture is almost an irrelevance compared to setting the photograph up.

These are things I used to do and have confidence in before digital, so it’s only a case of building the confidence back up again. And, of course, this rediscovered workflow will translate back into better, more thoughtful photographs regardless of the medium I use. And that gives me great satisfaction.

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Right to reply

I understand that elsewhere in this blog, Dave has written that I needed to have a rest after his pathetic attempt to climb Fan Hir? I have exercised my right to reply and here is the truth about it all.

We should never have started off on Thursday. The weather forecast clearly said it would rain around midday. We would have been fine if someone had managed to get up early enough, but no, Dave insisted on a lie-in despite my attempts to remind him we had a deadline to meet (I notice he didn’t mention that in his blog entry). By the time he’d faffed around and managed to get himself together, it was too late and we were running out of dry weather time. When he decided to turn around, I was still heading up towards the ridge and he had to call me several times before I came back. I love getting wet, as I demonstrated when we got to the river. In other words, Dave was the one that needed to turn back because he’s afraid of the rain.

Anyway, it turns out that he went off without me yesterday and found a great place for a walk. I should have been with him but he decided to leave me at home. Hmph! Well, I let him know how I felt by ignoring him and not sleeping on the bed. There!

He got the message because this morning, really early, we were up and off back to the place he found. And I have to admit it was quite a place. Of course, I had to be careful not to look too happy because he still has a lesson to learn about taking me with him, but it was hard not to wag my tail at all the new aromas and interesting sights everywhere. Of course, he waffled on a bit, explaining to me something about gunpowder, ruins, tramways and a mill. Yeah, whatever. When I saw the first squirrel (I knew they were around as I’d sniffed their trails out already) I showed him exactly how tired and aching I was by immediately chasing after it. It had a head start or it would have been mine. I chased or stalked several more before we left the tramway and went into the woods.

Dave likes this part of the world as there are lots of waterfalls for him to take photos of. It keeps him happy It’s fine for me too, as where there are waterfalls, there are rivers and stones to be thrown. Sure enough, we found a nice shallow bit of the river upstream of a weir (I know about these things, you know) and I could tell how guilty Dave felt by the way I didn’t have to bark to remind him to throw me stones. We carried on further up the valley on proper footpaths (I’d like to see a tram get over that kind of terrain) and once again I proved I could hack it. Tired, me? I had to keep looking back to see if Dave could keep up.

When we turned back, guess who made the decision? Yup! Mr Fitness decided we should go back to the car and once again, he had to call be back as I was all for going on. I chased several more squirrels, kept taking the lead, caught more stones and I still had the energy left to sneak into the female changing area near the car park (much to Dave’s embarrassment, although I knew there weren’t any people in there – you should have heard him trying to call me back!) Payback is such good fun.

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5 years in the planning

Yesterday, after 5 years of planning, discussion, postponement and more planning, I climbed Pen y Fan. Big deal, you may say, recalling the various times I’ve mentioned the highest point in the country south of Snowdonia. But yesterday’s ascent was a special one for me. I went in the company of a friend who, 5 years ago, was ill and who I promised to take to the top of Pen y Fan once she was better.

I’m glad to say she is better, and has been for a while. But it’s been impossible for us to synchronise our busy social schedules to arrive at a day to go. The weather hasn’t helped. Work hasn’t made things easy, either. But yesterday it all came together on an splendid, sunny morning. We were early enough that there were plenty of parking spaces and few people actually making the ascent. Normally on a summer Saturday there are queues of people making the long, steady climb to the top.

We set off at exactly 8am, as laid down in the project plan. We took a steady, approach and kept the pace nice and easy. Sadly, much of the talk on the way up was work related but it meant that we were occupied so that the metres slipped by without too much trouble. Before we knew it, we had reached the bwlch and rather than the howling gale I half expected, there was a gentle, cooling breeze which took the edge off the warmth we were all feeling.

It was a short walk to the top of the mountain, skirting to the east of Corn Du which wasn’t on the plan for today. The first time I ever came up here, in the company of one of my friends present yesterday, we’d missed pen y Fan completely as it was hiding beneath a cloud and we’d climbed Corn Du assuming it was our goal. It was only when we were driving off to have lunch afterwards that we realised there were two peaks not the one we’d seen.

No such trouble today and we spent a few minutes enjoying the clear view from the top before making our way back down to the car park again. By now, there were a lot of people climbing; families, dog walkers, joggers and lots of kids all sporting massive back packs. One of the rewards for getting tot he top is that you can be smug on the way down, jauntily breezing past those who, like you on the way up, are panting and taking short breaks to rest.

By the time we got back, the car park was full and as we sat and enjoyed hot drinks, we were passed by more walkers and many cars trying to find somewhere to stop.

A great morning.

 

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More history on your doorstep

I went back to Mynydd Betws with Rufus this morning. It’s a nice place in good weather and he can roam free. I had another purpose to go there, though, and that was to have a look at some marks on the ground I had seen on a Google Earth image and which I had found out were the remains of anti invasion defences from World War 2.

This part of the mountain, about a mile south of the wind farm, doesn’t have a clear name on the map. But when you climb up off the road and reach the flat top, you can see how easy it would be to land some gliders there. Looking south, you can see Swansea and Port Talbot – both important ports during the war. Swansea, of course, was deemed important enough to spend three consecutive nights blitzing it during 1941, which resulted in the almost complete destruction of the town centre.

Rather than permanently station troops in the hill, which would have been stretching limited resources, they dug a series of parallel ditch and mound structures in a grid. Any kind of aircraft trying to land there when the structures were fresh would have tipped over, or had it’s wheels or belly ripped open.

Today, all that remains is a series of low humps which would still make landing a plane very risky. They resemble the henge monuments of 4000 years ago in terms of appearance, except that these are in straight lines rather than circles.

Last year, I may have missed these when walking over them; they are so spread out that they seem unconnected. It’s only when you see the bigger picture – literally in this case – that they make sense.

Rufus, oblivious of the history around him, enjoyed a good walk in the countryside.

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Run to the Hills

After some shorter walks of late, it was time for Rufus and I to head off to the hills. Neither of us had done much recently; I’ve been choosing woods and commons for our strolls so I can get some photos of the local wildlife, so the bigger hills were out. Instead, I decided to head off the Lly y Fan Fawr, a favourite of Rufus’ and sufficiently challenging to make a nice return to proper walking. As Rufus is getting on a little (don’t tell him I said so), I keep an eye on him to make sure he’s not overdoing things but he’s always been an active and fit hound, and he enjoys the outdoors.

I was disheartened to find sheep everywhere when we parked up. Rufus isn’t interested n sheep unless they run. Sheep are only interested in running when they see us. As a result, I always have Rufus on the lead when we’re near enough that he might chase them. For the first half hour, he was on and off the lead as we encountered sheep hiding in dips, skulking by the river and popping up from behind boulders. But in between, we were able to get some quality stone catching and dredging done. I am clearly improving in my stone throwing skills as Rufus didn’t have to bark once.

As we followed the river up the hill, the sheep disappeared and I was able to let Rufus roam. This is where I wanted to check to see if he was okay and not getting tired. I needn’t have worried. While he isn’t as fast as he used to be, he still has the energy to range across the hillside, occasionally stopping to make sure I’m ok. In fact, I found myself running out of puff and Rufus was coming back to urge me on.

On the way up, I saw a pair of bright purple flowers on their own and standing out against the green of the moorland. Not being a flower expert, I couldn’t identify them but they looked vaguely orchid-like to me. I snapped away until Rufus came to hurry me along.

It was boggy underfoot. No surprise there after our recent rainfall, so I was very quickly soaked. Rufus isn’t bothered by the water so I decided not to be either. After several close shaves, where I nearly disappeared into the bog (well, maybe not quite) the lake appeared ahead and Rufus was off. Fan Brecheiniog was capped by a blanket of cloud, as was the far end of the lake.

We didn’t stay long as a cool breeze was blowing, and without the sun to warm us up it was getting a little cold. Rufus shot off and I let him choose the path going back down. We meandered down the hill, always heading towards the river. Such are Rufus’ priorities. I got even more soaked than I was already but we quickly reached the upper streams that feed into the Tawe. Then we followed the water down, past sheep and waterfalls, towards the car.

On the way back, I spotted an odd looking flower and leaf on the rocks by a waterfall. The leaves looked like little troughs with curled edges and the flower was tiny, blue and four petalled.  I took a few photos and once again, Rufus came along to see what the delay was.

After some more stone catching, I had to put Rufus on the lead to pass another small flock of sheep. These all had pink heads (no drugs, just dye to identify the owners) and it reminded me of a walk here a few years ago where I came across lines of sheep with pink, green or blue dye. They all stayed together in their respective colours, but moved in one long line, following a path across the hill.

Above us, a red kit circled and swooped, probably watching the lambs. In the distance across the road, I could see three more. We reached the car without incident, having walked three miles in just under two hours.

Back home, I managed to identify the two flowers. The purple one was an Irish Marsh Orchid and the little purple one was a Common Butterwort. The Butterwort is carnivorous and traps insects in the curled leaves with a stick coating.

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If you go down to the woods today…

…in theory, you would find a bunch of like minded souls on hands and knees pointing cameras at bluebells. That’s what I thought as I’d planned to meet up with some friends and colleagues from work to go hunting for photogenic bluebells. But, typical for me, I got the directions wrong and ended up in a completely different car park. With no phone signal to check where everyone was, I waited a few minutes after our rendezvous time and then headed off to where I thought the bluebells would be.

Merthyr Mawr car park is right next to Candleston Castle, a fortified manor house dating back to the 14th Century. It is in ruins now and is the home to ivy and other creepers. Not far from the castle, I came across a large area of bluebells and set about snapping away.

The danger with Bluebells is that they can end up looking pink or purple in a digital image because they reflect so much infra red light. So it pays to bracket exposure to try some slight under exposure. I added a polarising filter too, although this seemed to make little difference. As I was crouched down n the ground, I went to lean on a small branch only to notice a line of ants marching along it. A closer look revealed a veritable motorway system complete with streams of ant traffic moving in both directions. I went to fit a macro lens on the camera and saw that my camera bag was right in the middle of another ant highway. I looked around for a place to safely deposit the bag but everywhere was crawling with ants. I was reminded of every film where ants attack humans and I was waiting for the inevitable biting and tickling that would signal my being carried off to some underground nest.

But instead, I found a clear space for the bag and took some macro shots of ants carrying food back to the nest. I had to use the ring flash as the light levels were too low under the canopy of trees to allow a decent depth of field and shutter speed fast enough to freeze their movement. I was pleased with what I got.

I explored the woods for a while, sheltering from a couple of short but sharp showers under the trees. Then I slowly made my way back to the car, stopping once again to get some close ups of the bluebells, now looking their best in the sunshine.

Shortly after I left the car park, I got a couple of text messages telling me everyone else had arrived there.

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Out

Rufus is staying with me at the moment. He’s been pretty good this week, always lying on his fluffy cushion in the conservatory when I get home. So today, we went out to the river for a wander in the glorious sunshine. But it wasn’t sunny. A thick mist had descended during the night. Nevertheless, out we went.

We headed off to the river above Craig y Nos. There were waterfalls to photograph, and stones to throw. I suspected there would be more stone throwing that photographing. I was right.

Straight off, Rufus remembered what the tripod meant. As soon as I’d sent up the camera, he would position himself between it and the waterfall. Every time I got a nice composition, he would stand there, or jump into the water, or brush past, knocking the tripod.

We walked on, one of us wading, the other trying to keep dry. Eventually, the sun started to shine through the low cloud and before long, a patch of blue sky appeared. Within a few minutes, Fan Brecheiniog was visible and it started to get warmer. We walked up the side of Moel Feity and were rewarded with wonderful views down the Cerrig Duon valley. Not having done a lot of hill walking recently, we were both a little tired so after a couple of hours, we headed back home.

I was out in the afternoon. When I got home, Rufus was fast asleep on the cushion. I surprised him when I opened the door. But a little later, my neighbour called around to let me know that he’d seen Rufus out on the street, He’d tried to catch him, but couldn’t. Later he’d seen Rufus sneaking back through the side gate. I checked, as I’d blocked up a gap in it earlier in the week. But when I checked, there was another gap that appeared to be too small for him to squeeze through. My neighbour said he’d seen him push the wooden slat aside.

More fence work required tomorrow, I think.

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