ARCHIVE 313 – TRACK, TADHAM MOOR (MONO)

 

 


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Track heading south across Tadham Moor, Somerset Levels; 29 Aug 2009.

I bought my first digital camera early in 2009 and, with what’s left of my mind, have been thinking that I made a total and immediate switch to digital, with my film gear and remaining films becoming at once obsolete (my last, unused films are in fact still in the fridge).

However, some images that I’ve found this morning, including this one, show that this was not the case – and I know why.  Because while digital colour pictures were fine, I just couldn’t get digital black and white to be anything other than bland, characterless and antiseptic.

Bland?  Yes, bland, and for two reasons.  First of course, I wasn’t yet aware of the editing software – most notably Silver Efex Pro –  that would solve these problems.

But second, I’d also had a thing for using fast black and white films – Fuji Neopan 1600 is the one here, but also Agfa Scala Black and White Slides – and then having them commercially push-processed.  Push-processing involves uprating a film’s speed during development so that, for example, if I’d exposed a 400 ISO film at 400 ISO, I would ask the processing lab to develop it as if I’d exposed it at 1600 ISO – and this sort of processing gave wonderful contrast and grain – its made the images really atmospheric, moody and gutsy.  (I push-processed colour slides too, most notably Fuji Provia 400X, and loved the results).

And so, when I found digital black and white to really not be doing the business, I returned for awhile to slamming away with push-processed mono film in my Nikon F6 – and this photo is an example of that.  I mean, just look at the grain in those clouds – was I photographing in a blizzard???  And the whole thing looks old – this is definitely not antiseptic newness.

But there is an irony here – and the joke is on me.  Because when I’d managed to get digital black and white doing what I wanted, via various editing programs, and then thought that I should use those programs on scanned versions of my push-processed film images >>> failure was everywhere in the air!

Because although these pushed films look good as they are, they simply do not contain the vast wealth of image data found in a full colour, digital Raw file – full colour, digital Raws are really by far the best jumping off points when converting images to black and white.

Technique: F6 with 12-24 Sigma lens at 12mm;  Fuji Neopan 1600 black and white film, push processed 2 stops to 6400 ISO, to achieve a grainy effect.  The extreme wideangle lens (12mm focal length = 122 degrees angle of view) captures detail from almost beneath my feet to the far distance.

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ARCHIVE 312 – FAMILY NEAR AKALA (MONO)

 

 


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Members of a farming family, near Akala, in the far west of Kenya; April 1979.

I like this picture because everyone is looking in different directions, which to me gives a very “real” air to the picture, i.e. they are not all posing for the camera.  The mother is posing for the camera but I think that her pose is one of the most placid, serene, genuine and friendly that I’ve seen – she is feeling absolutely at ease with both me and my camera, and is simply looking very calmly straight into the lens.  She gives the impression of being very self-possessed.

The young man on the left is smiling – and his smile, his averted eyes and the splayed fingers and thumb of his pale hand against his darker face add to this shot.  Finally, the young child (a girl?), sitting on her mother’s lap, is certainly unposed – with her attention attracted elsewhere – but staring somewhere different to her older brother.

Using Nik’s Silver Efex Pro, I’ve darkened the top of the picture, down to the top of the young man’s head, to help ensure that the viewer’s attention is concentrated onto these three people.

Technique: OM-1 with 50mm Zuiko lens; Agfa CT18 colour slide rated at 64 ISO; Silver Efex Pro.

UPDATE: this remains one of my very favourite pictures, along with the one in the Archive 310 postI only wish that I’d taken more pictures like this while in Kenya.  And what of Kenya after their general election?  Well, the current president has been re-elected and international observers think the election valid, but the opposition hotly dispute it.  Who knows what will happen now – and whether, for example, it will affect any of the six people shown in this and the 310 post?  Assuming they have survived, they will be 38 years older now, and living in a more modern Kenya than the one I knew.  And so to the eternal problem.  Others may vie for power, there may be violence, disease and destabilisation on a national scale, but whatever happens it is hard to see the lot of these six people improving significantly, while there must always be the threat that the chaos and aggression resulting from the ambitions of others will impinge upon them.

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ARCHIVE 311 – NILE CROCODILE (MONO)

 

 


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Nile Crocodile at Samburu Lodge, in the Samburu National Reserve of northern Kenya; December 1977.

This may look like a photo that demanded much courage and stealth in the African night, but in fact these large reptiles live in the Ewaso Ng’iro River right beside Samburu Lodge, and regularly come ashore to eat food put out by the lodge’s staff.

Yes I was using a 50mm lens and this menacing creature was very close by – but what my photo doesn’t show is a low wall between us, behind which I was quite safe!

Click onto the image to open a larger version in a separate window.

Technique: OM-2 with 50mm Zuiko lens and flash; Agfa CT18 colour slide rated at 64 ISO; converted to mono in Silver Efex Pro 2, using the Yellow 2 preset as a jumping off point.

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BRISTOL 123 – STEPS OFF BALDWIN STREET (MONO)

 

 


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Steps from Baldwin Street up towards St Nicholas Street.

And the effects of tilting a very wide lens slightly upwards – yes there’s a wide field of view, but see how the metal post at upper right is tilting drunkenly outwards, while less obviously the same is true of the wall at upper left.  Purists can probably correct such effects with software but I imagine this would reduce the overall area of view, and I’m happy to go with the effect as it is.

Click onto the image to open a larger version in a separate window, and click onto the larger version to enlarge it yet again – recommended.

Technique: X-T2 with 10-24 Fujinon lens at 15mm (equiv); 800 ISO; Lightroom, using the Velvia/Vivid film simulation; Silver Efex Pro 2, starting at the Film Noir 2 preset; Bristol; 4 Aug 2017.
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ARCHIVE 310 – ON A FARM IN WESTERN KENYA … AND WITH HOPES FOR A PEACEFUL GENERAL ELECTION

 

 


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Luo people on a farm near Akala, in the far west of Kenya; April 1979.

I love these portraits.  The man is at ease with me and my camera, he knows me well, and in his expression we see nothing contrived, just a calm and direct gaze.  The little boy is nervous, but is being reassured by the man’s closeness – while the little girl’s radiant smile is a delight.

This smile reminds me powerfully of African children in general!  I was often in out of the way areas in Kenya, often far off the well beaten tourist tracks, searching for unusual birdlife.  And I can remember entering villages where white people were only infrequently seen – and being beset by a tide of brightly smiling little children like these, chanting “mazungu, mazungu!” – swahili for “white man, white man!”.

And sometimes they were so curious to see me, maybe not having had close contact with a european before, that they came and wondered at the pale hair on my pale arms – and touched my arms and head as if they couldn’t quite believe what they were seeing – it was a real, uninhibited examination!

I like children anyway, I vastly enjoy interacting with them – and especially so when they can talk – and these were simply wonderful and fascinating experiences.  And I also want to mention here how friendly Kenyan people were in general, throughout my years there – friendly, hospitable and humorous.

On the negative side of things though, it was on this trip that I first contracted malaria – and that is something truly unpleasant.

Click onto the image to open another version in a separate window, and click onto that version to enlarge it.

Technique: OM-1 with 50mm Zuiko; Agfa CT18 colour slide, rated at 64 ISO; converted to mono in Silver Efex Pro.

UPDATE:  Today there is a general election in Kenya and, regardless of who wins, I can only hope that the whole thing goes off peacefully.  In many instances, the colonising powers of not so long ago drew lines around areas of the Earth’s surface and called them countries, regardless of the often extremely diverse ethnic mixes within those areas.  And so it is in Kenya.  Although I don’t see the fact on any of the news broadcasts, the current Kenyan president and his main challenger are from two very diverse ethnic backgrounds, and the recipe for violence, killing and yet more killing is sitting ready in the mixing bowl.  The current president has called for a peaceful vote and promised to abide by the result of the vote, and I can only hope that everyone listens to him.  Why do I hope this?  Well, I am mortally tired of the endless rounds of violence and killing that regularly break out around the world – I suppose that’s idealism.  On a more practical level, I spent many years in Kenya and found the Kenyans friendly and hospitable.  I can only wish them well – and hope that today’s election is proceeding peacefully, and that it will help improve the lives of everyone in that country.

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PEOPLE 287 – WAITING FOR A BUS (MONO)

 

 


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Conversation at a bus stop.

A busy picture, lots of detail, lots to look at – Let’s go ANYWHERE!  Two people caught in conversation – friends?  – chance acquaintances? – the start of a lifelong thing? – trivialities to pass the time until the bus arrives?

And two other women.  The one passing by on the left has a tumbling mane.  The other, sitting in the shelter, looks unhappy about something – and its either him or me!

There is another black and white picture of people waiting at a bus stop here.

Click onto the image to open a larger version in a separate window, and click onto that image to enlarge it further.

Technique: X-T1 with 55-200 Fujinon lens at 305mm (equiv); 400 ISO; Lightroom, using the Velvia/Vivid film simulation; Silver Efex Pro 2, starting at the Fine Art High Key preset; Broad Quay, Bristol city centre; 14 July 2016.
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PEOPLE 285 – GOING TO WORK 29 (MONO)

 

 


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Going to work.  The bike beats the jams but he’s jammed in – anonymous, wary, vulnerable, claustrophobically picking his way between shifting walls of gleaming metal and glass; lungs poisoned by fumes, ears blasted by engines and horns, and always the thought that he’ll fare worst in any tussle with these mechanised beings.

Oh come, you’ll say, mechanised beings?each has a human driver!  Well, the way things are going, that may not be true for too much longer – so, thinking of the Terminator films – is this Rise Of The Machines???

Technique: this is tight crop, aimed at accentuating how the cyclist is being hemmed in, to accentuate how the “mobile metal monsters” are queuing up to squeeze closely past him.  And these feelings of claustrophobia are (hopefully!) added to by cropping The Man Himself; and especially so his eyes, which at once renders him anonymous and unknown; leaving only his mouth, which looks rather taut, stressed and ready for the worst.

And here also something that I very rarely do – using Lightroom to completely produce a black and white image.

Earlier images from this series can be found here: 1, 2, 3, 45, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 1213, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 2324, 25, 26, 27 and 28.     Each will open in a separate window.

Click onto the image to open a larger version in a separate window, and click onto that image to enlarge it still further.

Technique: X-T1 with 55-200 Fujinon lens at 305mm (equiv); 400 ISO; Lightroom; Capture NX2; Baldwin Street, central Bristol; 19 July 2016.
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PEOPLE 282 – GOING TO WORK 26 (MONO)

 

 


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She’s in the rush to work, in a winter’s dawn.  Gazing out impassively, from light into darkness, a latter day Mona Lisa in a frame within a frame.

And the D700 is working flat out, wide open at 25,600 ISO – grain, shadow, contrast, darkness –  and yet more grain.

Earlier images from this series can be found here: 1, 2, 3, 45, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 1213, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 2324 and 25.  Each will open in a separate window.

Click onto the image to open a larger version in a separate window, and click onto the larger image to enlarge it – and the grain too!!! – yet again.

Technique: D700 with 70-300 Nikkor lens at 300mm; 25,600 ISO; Lightroom; Silver Efex Pro 2, starting at the Film Noir 1 preset; Temple Gate, central Bristol; 23 Dec 2016.
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ARCHIVE 305 – SUNRISE WITH THREE DUCKS (MONO + COLOUR)

 

 


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Three ducks and the sunrise over Tealham Moor, south of Wedmore, on the Somerset Levels; 23 Nov 2012.

As with my pictures of crows aloft , the birds are dwarfed by the immensity of their element, yet quite at one with it.

Click onto the image to open another version in a separate window, and click onto that image to enlarge it.

Technique: D700 with 70-300 Nikkor lens at 300mm; 400 ISO; conversion to mono and colour restoration in Silver Efex Pro 2.

UPDATE: Minimalism once more, and the slightly unreal look of colour restored to a black and white image.

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ARCHIVE 304 – SWAN PREENING (MONO)

 

 


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Mute Swan preening in the harbour at Mevagissey, Cornwall; 24 Oct 2012.

Two of these beautiful waterbirds appear very much at home in this harbour – no doubt vastly encouraged by the people who regularly feed them!  Having been fed, this pair hung around right below the quay, and I was able to look right down on top of them.

This is a Minimalist shot.  There are comparitavely few tones, and the shapes are dominated by the huge, oval mass of the bird’s body, with the neck writhing snake-like back over the closed wing, trying to reach somewhere awkward.  My gaze was attracted to the contrast in shape between the bird as a whole and this sinuous neck.

The bird’s face is hardly seen – just the dark skin around the eyes and the base of the bill – but this is sufficient to give some focus to the shot – and the eye following the sinuous neck back arrives at this small area of black.

I’ve cropped the shot quite closely, so that the bird appears so large that it seems to be bursting out of the frame.  But keeping the dark backdrop up against the right vertical of the frame, and so preserving that soft and beautifully curving breast, was totally mandatory!

Click onto the image to open a larger version in a separate window.

Technique: D700 with 70-300 Nikkor lens at 300mm; 800 ISO; converted to mono in Silver Efex Pro 2, using the Darken Contrast Vignette as a jumping off point.

UPDATE: very much a long-term favourite of mine, for the reasons given above.  The simplicity of this image is really the thing; Minimalism; less is more.  Looking at it again this morning, my eye is also drawn to those half-seen little bits of plumage detail along the bird’s flank, along the image’s bottom margin.

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