Back to the past

Like many, I learned the basics of photography before the digital age. Pause while I put on the sunglasses of nostalgia. With the glasses on, I remember the thrill of unpacking the film from its cardboard and plastic containers, fiddling to load the film without exposing too much leader, and hoping to squeeze an extra frame if I was using black and white, which I would later develop myself.

Only 36 shots on a roll, so I had to make every one count. Even so, with slide film I’d bracket either side of the measured exposure which would often result in only 12 unique photos from every roll. The film speed was given but we all had our favourite adjustments to get the results we wanted. Professionals would buy batches of film manufactured at the same time and expose one roll to test the proper settings for that batch. Colour print film had a wide exposure latitude, forgiving any minor errors in exposure (which is why wedding photographers used it). Slide film, and to a lesser extend black and white film, had to be accurately exposed or compensation applied at the processing stage. It had to be a consistent exposure variation for the whole film so we had to decide in advance. Many, including me, had two camera bodies loaded with different films just in case. My preference was for slide and black and white.

When I started, lenses were all manual focus. Film cameras had a great focusing screen with a split prism that made focusing easy in most situations. As my main interest was landscape, there was no need for lightning fast focusing. Part of the appeal for me was the slow, methodical approach and the actual taking of the photograph was almost secondary.

Then, once the snaps had been taken, there was the delay in seeing the results while the films went off for processing. Sometimes, if I was on holiday, I might have to wait up to two weeks to see the final prints or slides. Black and white film was slightly better as I’d process it myself and this could be done overnight. But then, all I’d have was tiny negatives until I printed off the images I wanted. I got good at assessing photographic potential from these tiny reversed images.

And here is where the nostalgia goggles start to leak reality.

I didn’t always develop the black and white films immediately after taking the photographs. Once I left college and the convenience of darkrooms set up and ready to go, I sometimes waited until I had two or three films to do. And then, I sometimes waited until I had more. It was all about the darkroom. At first, it was in my bedroom and had to be set up and put away every time I wanted to use it. And then I set it up in the garden shed and it was cold, damp and uncomfortable. So I started using less and less black and white, which was actually my favourite medium.

Slides came back from the processor in boxes and to view them properly I had to set up the projector. Which meant loading up the magazine in just the right way so that the projected images were the right way up and the right way around. It took time and was fiddly, so I got a smaller viewer for checking the results. And it was more convenient but no one else saw them.

The prints from print film stayed in their wallets and only occasionally got put in albums. I have some of those albums still on my bookshelf. They look impressive but I can’t remember what’s in them. I have sent for recycling more photos that I can remember.

One day, I bought a digital camera. The quality of the results weren’t the best but they were instant and that appealed to me. This meant I could retake the photo straight away rather than wait until I was next in the area. I could see the pictures on my computer and I could edit them without having to go out to the shed dressing in several layers of warm clothing. I didn’t have to breathe in chemicals and wait for the negatives to dry, all the while hoping no dust got on the wet film.

With the nostalgia goggles fully removed, I confess that I sold up all my film gear and went digital and never looked back. I have no regrets in doing this and I think it rekindled my interest in photography. I made the decision when I saw the results from a 6mp Fuji DSLR and for me, the moment when digital quality surpassed analogue quality was when I got my Nikon D300. Not only can I check the results (and for those who would never stoop to such crass activity are missing one of the main advantages of digital technology), but I can change film type and sensitivity without having to worry about rewinding a partially exposed film (and remembering where to wind it back on to afterwards). A modest memory card costs less than a roll of film plus processing and can be reused. Digital is just better.

So today, I picked up a CD with 36 images scanned onto it by the people that processed the film I dropped off to them about an hour earlier. I’d taken the photos on film that was at least four years out of date, on a camera made in the mid 70s using manual focus lenses probably made in the late 60s. And despite all I’ve said above, I enjoyed using the camera. I’d forgotten about the satisfying clunk as the mechanical shutter thumps down on it’s mounting and I’d forgotten about the big, bright viewfinder than made focusing a pleasure. The camera required me to translate the meter reading into aperture and shutter settings by interpreting three little red LEDs. I had to trust it was accurate but I also had to know roughly what to expect. And I found I did.

The images below are from that film. Some of the colours are odd and there’s a lot of grain. I suspect that’s a combination of out dated film and poor scanning from the shop. They were just test shots I took while out and about so they’re not masterpieces. But I have more film, some of which is new, and I’m sure there’ll be more posts about the old fashioned way of doing photography.

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Something wickedly aromatic this way comes

I was woken early this morning by a wet nose on my hand, a reminder that there’s a new boss in town now. But when I looked out, there was a lovely mist in the air and I immediately thought of getting out to some woods to try and get photographs of trees in the mist. We’ve been going to the woods above the Upper Lliw reservoir for a while now and I knew with the right conditions I could get the photos I had envisaged.

Rufus managed to eat half his breakfast but I was faffing about so much that I only had a cup of coffee. I knew the mist would soon burn off and so i wanted to get going as quickly as possible. We set off and it didn’t take long to make the journey over the misty hills to the little valley in which the woods nestles. Of course, with my luck, the mist had lifted from that part of the world and so we entered a clear, sunlit plantation with the early morning rapidly warming.

The calls of buzzards echoed through the trees as we made our way along the track towards the reservoir. In the distance, I could hear seagulls calling from the reservoir dam. As I feared, there was no sign of any mist and we reached the shore of the reservoir with only a few speculative photographs taken. The water was still and the seagulls were sat on the wall of the dam. On the opposite hills I could see mist brushing the tops, and I realised that the cloud was coming down again, which would introduce the mist tot he woods.

Off we went, back along the path. This time Rufus took a diversion the continued along near the shore of the reservoir and I followed. A subtle haze filled the woods and I managed to get some photographs that I was happy with. I’m always happy when taking photos at my own pace in such beautiful surroundings and I didn’t really want to stop. But I was conscious that it was getting warmer and both Rufus and I aren’t great in the heat.

Walking back to the car, I caught a whiff of something deeply unpleasant. Rufus has a habit of rolling in unpleasant things and I kept an eye on him in case he dashed off to dive into this one. But he seemed to show no interest, which is very unusual. Then it dawned on me why; because the deeply unpleasant aroma was coming from Rufus. He had already rolled in it while my back was turned (or more likely, my eye was at the viewfinder). Rufus is the master of discovering impossibly awful things to roll in. I don’t know what this was but I tried my very best to keep upwind of him. At the car I tried to wipe the worst of it off but it made very little difference. Needless to say, the back windows were kept open and the air conditions was on full blast in an effort to remove the smell from the car.

 

We took a short detour to see the wind turbines but further up the mountain the mist was much thicker and I only managed to catch a glimpse of the base of one or two, plus the odd blade slowly spinning by. Then it was back to the car and a swift drive home to the shower. A curly and damp but sweet smelling Rufus is currently dozing on the sofa.

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If you go down to the woods…

I called around for Rufus to see if he could come out to play, and he could! A lads day out!

Dave turned up and rather than have him cry again, I agreed to take him for a walk. 

We drove down to Whiteford and parked up in the little field before heading down to Cwm Ivy wood. The mist was just clearing and through the canopy of leaves the sun just managed to shine through. The wood was quiet and peaceful and the only other living thing I saw was a pheasant, which ran across the path in front of me.

There were lots of smells and I found a dead sheep to roll in.

There were a lot of sheep around, and quite a few horses on Llanrhidian marsh but no birds other than the odd seagull. Rufus found the only water for miles around in the form of a thick, muddy drainage ditch. He dived in.

I was hot and needed to cool off. Elephants have mud baths and if it’s good enough for them it will do for me. Besides, the way Dave mutters after I emerge covered in goo is funny.

After we’d crossed the dunes, we dropped down onto the beach. The tide was way out and in the distance we could see people harvesting cockles near Whiteford lighthouse. Rufus managed to find another pool of water left over from the last high tide. As I was sending a text message, I started to hear the now familiar grunts, whines and yaps that told me I was taking too long.

Dave was spending far too long playing with the little gadget he carries around and there was a significant danger of the tide coming in and the sun setting before he’d thrown me any stones. Al I did was remind him of his responsibilities.

I threw stones for Rufus and he was happy to chase back and forth, cooling his paws as he went.

The simple things can keep Dave occupied for hours.

We headed back over the dunes, meandering between the largest of them to find the easiest route back to the woods. I was too slow to stop Rufus rolling in a large, fresh cowpat. By the time I got to him, he was covered in it.

It was so aromatic I just had to cover myself from head to toe. Dave shouted a lot and wouldn’t come near me.

We walked back to the car in near silence. All my attempts to wipe the mess off him didn’t do much good and in the end I resorted to covering it in sand in the hope it would dry it more quickly. It worked to a certain extent and I was able to use fern leaves to remove some more. But the smell remained and when we got back to the car I had to open all the windows.

Dave must have been hot as he left all the windows open as we drove home.

Of course, Rufus had to go straight into the shower when we got home. There was a lot of huffing and puffing and groaning but I have never seen as much dirt and muck come off him. It took several applications of shampoo to get rid of the worst of the smell.

But I sure looked good at the end of it.

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The boys are back in town

One of the good things to result from cancelling my trek is that I can get back to more sensible walks, and that means Rufus can come along again. So today, I picked him up and we headed off to Broadpool in Gower for a couple of hours of exploration.  Water attracts Rufus like a magnet, but Broadpool itself is hard for him to get in to and out of, so he treats it like an obstacle to be overcome. I can almost sense his frustration as he sees me stop to take yet another photos of some interesting bit of flora.

We skirted the north end of the pool, heading away from the road and towards another, hidden pool that we discovered a few months ago. While Rufus made his own way there, I stopped to take photos of the heather. I looked up to see that Rufus had disturbed a heron, which was flying over Broadpool. But he didn’t care and as I watched the laboured wingbeats as the heron gained just enough height to clear the road, Rufus was back on track. He disappeared behind some ferns and for a moment I wondered where he was. Then I heard the tell-tale splashes and I knew he was fine. By the time I reached, the water, Rufus was ankle deep, looking at me and waiting for the first stone of the morning.

Many stones (and some nifty catches) later, it was time to venture further west to parts of the common we hadn’t been to before. While I was distracted snapping away at a small grasshopper on an orange fern leaf, Rufus disappeared, lured by the aroma of something he had to roll in. The first I knew about it was when he got within 10 feet of me. It was the most appalling stink he’d ever managed to find, and he was so proud of it that he kept coming up to me to show it off. As I brushed the worst of it off with some dead fern leaves, I was gagging.

We went straight back to the pool for a bath. Stones were thrown to tempt Rufus deeper until he was swimming. Then I wiped him down again. Of course, it was all a game to him and there was much tail wagging and barking. When we finally got back to the car, the aroma was much weaker but I still drove home with the windows open and the air-conditioning blasting air from the front to the back.

Rufus had a long shower when he got home, which was punctuated by deep groans and sighs.

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