Fog

How do photographers deal with photographers block, if such a thing exists?

For some people I know it happens every year as we approach the darker months of autumn and winter. It can be hard to motivate yourself, especially if shooting means getting outside.

I’ve always preferred winter light, low-angled, sometimes soft and misty, sometimes harsh, throwing long shadows on crisp winter days.

But as the nights are growing longer, I’ll admit I’m struggling to keep my motivation.

It does feel a bit like fog, disorientating, disconcerting.

I hope it will pass in the way that autumn fog burns off eventually, as the sun breaks through.

My experiment with Washi W film

Washi W – A film made from paper that imbues a papery, textured look to the finished images. Made by the smallest photographic film company in the world – Film Washi.

Though I tend to stick to a few films, my favourite is Ilford Delta 100, I like trying unusual films or techniques that promise a totally different effect. Film Washi W certainly delivers on that.

Scanned negative

I ignored the fact that was likely to be tricky to work with. It has a very low ISO that changes according the the lighting conditions. And it’s made from paper – so developing was going to be ‘interesting’. And there’s not much info aside from the manufacturer’s website – though that is really useful and includes a link to a YouTube video demonstrating how to manage developing it without using a spiral reel and tank.

Shooting it

I loaded the film into my Hasselblad 500C/M intending to shoot in one go as I didn’t know how fragile the film was if I tried to insert a dark slide. That turned out to be ok – I put the dark slide in very gently and was able to take the film back off with no apparent ill-effects.

The film is not supposed to be good for landscapes (which is what I mainly take) so I started off with some indoor self-portraits. I took reflected meter readings and tried to be careful about the exposure, I didn’t get anything much out of them. They were long exposures so I wonder if reciprocity failure was an issue.

So after a gap of a few months I took it out to shoot the rest. It was a sunny winter afternoon – the light was fairly contrasty but much less harsh than other times of year.

I took a reflected reading and that seemed to work really well. I started shooting this this building, a pump house at Roystone Grange, with the sun behind it, throwing the end wall into shadow.

Then from the other end, (results below) with the light behind me, and finally from the side, trying to capture some of the light spilling in through arched window frames. It all seemed to work out equally well, though the sidelit windows were the least successful.

Developing

Back home, I followed the YouTube Video on how to develop it.

I love that Gaetan has a glass of wine with him (so French!) though I absolutely wouldn’t recommend it for all sorts of reasons.

I followed this method and it worked pretty well. It is pretty curly to start with but once you get it wet enough it becomes much easier to handle. And it is a delight to watch the negatives emerging in the tray under a safelight.

I could have done more fixing – you basically have to get rid of any trace of emulsion and I didn’t quite manage that at either end of the roll.

I hung the roll up to dry weighted at the bottom. I was worried that the paper might rip while it was wet but it took the weights. But it curled and wrinkled unremittingly as it dried, so I found the bigges,t heaviest books I could and pressed the sleeved negatives for a couple of days. The negs were tricky to get in the sleeve, because they were so curled and twisted. I managed one row at a time, sliding a weight on top as soon as they were in.

Darkroom prints – are you crazy?

And if that wasn’t hard enough, I set myself the challenge of printing them in the darkroom.

As you can see – the first 4 indoor shots didn’t really work, and the other results are varied. I chose a few to print – no 6 (Tynemouth Priory, shot on a dull winter day) was little more than a silhouette, so I abandoned that after one try. There was simply no detail in it at all. But the ones of Roystone Grange have got something more about them:

Darkroom print
Scanned negative

The print was incredibly contrasty even though I used the colour head on my enlarger, which gives a less contrasty result than the b&w head.

I’m still not entirely sure which one I prefer. The scanned negative does show up more of the paper texture but I like the burnt out highlights in the print – even though it took several goes to get the roof of the building to show up at all.

Darkroom print
Scanned negative

The negatives are slightly easier to handle in the darkroom, they still tend to curl and I found it impossible to lie anything near flat in the scanner – though the scanned results seem fine.

Rock Pools

Rock pools

On a long distance hike the choice of camera is an issue. Though the scenery may be amazing, and you’ll want to take your best and possibly heaviest camera for those, it’s just not practical.

Weight is an issue. And then there’s the weather.

In 2016 when I hiked the Pennine Way in the worst rain of the entire year, the choice of camera was academic – I barely got the damn camera out of my pack. I didn’t dare risk taking my elderly Hasselblad 500C/M because of the weight – something around 2 kilos.

I have an extensive collection of cameras, including a beautiful but maddening Pentax *ist – the lightest film SLR ever. But it’s fragile and I’m clumsy. So I bought something older for long distance hikes, something more robust but a camera that still felt light compared to Vlad.

Still, I didn’t get my camera out often enough. Somehow when I get in the hiking zone I’m not in the photography zone.

Sometimes it works. On the last day of the St Cuthbert’s Way, on the Northumberland coast where I was entranced by the rock pools, I spent a while exploring rock pools and trying to capture some of those textures and shapes.

Rule Britainnia

Britannia Inn

These days I don’t often take Vlad to the pub. Maybe the pubs I visit are too crowded to set up a good shot. Maybe I feel my friends and family have spent too long with me saying “hang on a minute, don’t drink that yet. I need to line up my shot.”

There have been sighs when I ask them to wait, and I totally understand. Especially when it comes to pubs like this. They’re not hip and cool micro-craft-brew pubs (though I’m partial to a proper craft ale.) These are old school black country boozers, where people sit and chat over a pint or two. Or stand and chat. The ale is the thing, as it’s always been. There are no frills, often no music, just real ale and a real atmosphere.

Bathams

I could be wrong (it was long time ago) but I don’t think that pint was mine. And I may have asked to hang-on-a-minute-don’t-take-a-sip-yet but it looks like I took quite a while to set up the shot.

black&white, photography

High Dale

High Dale

Sometimes while out on a hike, you cross fields and pasture, descend through trees and are confronted with this.

Just a short way from a trail packed with hikers, racers, strollers, cyclist, you can experience limestone dales without a soul in sight. You can take your time, examining the crumbling dry stone walls, the skeleton hawthorn trees not yet awakened with a froth of blossom.

You can have places like this all to yourself.

Familiarity

I’ve recently been reading about how habit is good. I used to think it was restricting, born out of the laziness of not having to think.

But it seems I was wrong all along.

Freed from the burden of yet-another-decision about what to wear when you get up for work, what to eat each morning for breakfast, space is made for the important decisions, and gives you space to think, and be creative.

So it is with walking. If you walk a regular route, there’s no need to consult the map at every turn, you already know the way. You can concentrate on putting one foot in front of the other.

Familarity

I’ve walked this way many times before, putting one foot in front of the other. It’s always different – sometimes it feels like an uphill stroll – at others it’s hard going, battling the wind or rain. Sometimes the wind cuts right through, chilling through layers of winter clothes. Or it’s humid and midges and horseflies are ready to pounce on any inch of bare skin.

I’ve stood here and watched the winter light pick out the distant hills, or seen the land smothered in snow. It’s been wet and muddy or dry and dusty under foot. I’ve seen it in all weathers at all times of the day.

That fence

I used to rebel against habit – but lately I’ve found that rather than breeding contempt it gives space and time to get better acquainted, to learn to love something I used to take for granted.

light

Thursday 14th March

Which was between storms. Gareth had receded, blowing away the blustery rain showers that shook catkins from trees and plastered them like roadkill on country lanes.

Thursday 14th March

So instead of my usual leisurely lunchtime stroll or hurried circuit sandwiched between sandwiches eaten al-desko and the first meeting of the afternoon, this was a dash from desk to field and back. It was bitterly cold, and when it’s like this the chemicals in the pack film react – sometimes the sky develops and angry purple hue, but this time it was pale. So it might be hard to see the puddles on the flagstones, or rain in the leaden sky, but it’s all there if you look closely enough.

Loughrigg

The sense of isolation is deceptive. The bustling town of Ambleside is down there somewhere – the fell is low and accessible compared to the bigger summits of the Langdale Pikes or Crinkle Crags.

Loughrigg

So I didn’t exactly queue but there was a certain amount of hanging around and beforehand and a sense of a growing huddle of people anxious for their moment while I lined up my shot.

On the cusp

flic.kr/p/2cxbvmw

A trip to Dartmoor. They say the best camera is the one you have with you – but my Olympus Mju Zoom is more than that. Small enough to slip into a pocket, with a zoom lens that captures plenty of detail – its a perfect “go anywhere” compact film camera. Ideal for travelling fast and light across a military firing range*.

*Luckily, there was no activity on the day I was there.

45/52

Layered up against an artic biting wind, we headed out for an easy 8 mile hike in the White Peak. Though at times it was hard going against the wind that blew with all its force, as we slithered across muddy fields, heading for the High Peak Trail and Harborough Rocks.
After all that being blown about we headed to Stanley’s Ale House for a locally brewed ale called Jaggers Clough, which was the closest I’d been to a jagger or a clough all day.

Crow Stones

Taken in late summer when the midges were biting and there was not another soul around. I had the film loaded in the camera for a long time, but this day I finally got around to finishing it.
It’s not a difficult hike, but these rocks are far enough off the beaten rack that we had the hills to ourselves. Warm late summer sun on our backs as we roved around the broken, low edge on Howden Moor. We stopped at the Crow Stones for a good half hour waiting for the sun to come out from behind clouds that billowed out like galleons sailing across the sky.

Lumen prints

This summer I tried my hand at some alternative processes, including lumen prints for the annual Utata summer project. It’s deceptively easy — all you need is some photographic paper and a picture frame, coupled with your own imagination — and it’s loads of fun.

So, how to do this? You’ll need a darkish space to set up your paper for exposure. I used a contact print frame to hold the print flat while it exposed , but a photo frame will do as well.  A piece of glass might do the trick as long as  it’s heavy enough to flatten your object (if it needs flattening, if not I don’t see any reason to use one).

The subject doesn’t have to be a plant — I got some interesting results with a feather. But plants and flowers do have the advantage  that when you press them they release moisture that reacts with the paper and adds to the effect.

So when you’ve selected your plant, go to your darkened room and arrange it on the photographic paper and squash it into the frame. Then  put it somewhere light until the paper darkens. I left them indoors for a few hours on a sunny summer afternoon. Some people say that the paper will melt in direct sunlight but I didn’t find it a problem.

When the print is dark enough, go back to your darkened room and remove the plant (or whatever you’ve used). You can scan the prints without any visible harm – I set up the scanner first so that I didn’t expose my print to unnecessary light, and kept the room darkish until I’d finished. I guess you could also photograph them with a DSLR, but I haven’t tried that.

I washed my prints in water and then fixed them in the darkroom so that I could enjoy them in daylight. They lighten considerably but the effect is still very pleasing.