Summer arrived this weekend, its suitcase packed with blue skies and temperatures in the mid to late twenties centigrade, the first prolonged period of decent weather for some time.
Not wishing to sound ungrateful but I will not be one of the many seeking sand, sea and surf, instead I will seek the shade of a woodland walk, while continuing with my series of vintage lens shoots.
Today’s lens of choice is a Helios 44-2 58mm lens, bought some years ago on an online auction site, these lenses are known for their swirly bokeh wide open at F2, with a decent sharpness throughout the focal range.
My introduction to the Helios lens was with my first film camera in the 1980’s, a Zenit TTL, at that time,it would be true to say that I did not appreciate what I had, equally, my relationship with photography had barely begun.
Today’s destination is Dane’s wood, owned by the National trust just a couple miles from the Killerton estate near the village of Broadclyst.
Normally, my woodland walks tend to be in the mid to late autumn months, capturing the changing colours of nature, today will be finding areas of interesting light, flora and fauna, looking for more abstract shots of the woodland.
It is a slow amble through the woods, enjoying the cool shade of the trees,while listening to the birdsong above as I look for my next subjects, of which there is plenty. More and more, I am enjoying the more deliberate process of manual focusing, for sure, auto focus has its many advantages but for me it is not critical in capturing the ‘moment’ in an instant as it would be a journalist, sports or wedding photographer.
A two hour mooch around the woods seems like just a few minutes, it never ceases to amaze me how fast the time passes by on my camera walks. Emerging from the woodland path to the car park, it appears that the world and his brother are looking for a parking space, it looks like a good few others have no wish to go the beach either.
After moving house earlier this year, I had left a few boxes unopened and put to the back of various cupboards until just recently. Among one of the boxes was my collection of vintage lenses, which have since found a new lease of life on my mirrorless camera.
A recent trip to Dartmouth saw me using a Carl Zeiss Jena 50mm 2.8 lens, a lens with very pleasing colours and image quality. With a few errands to run in town last Saturday, I chose to take my Super Takumar 50mm 1.4 and 55mm 1.8 lenses for a little street photography.
One of the pleasures of street photography is not knowing what will unfold as you shoot, today’s best moment for me, was capturing a hen party as they were about to embark upon the day’s revelry.
The vintage lens project may have been a little late off the ground but will become a regular part of my photography this year, I still have a 30mm and 28mm lenses to spend time with, in the coming weeks, watch this space.
The pick of the days images are posted below, I would welcome comments, questions and feedback from anyone, especially if you were thinking of experimenting with older lenses.
My last blog was about how I had rekindled an interest in using vintage SLR camera lenses on a modern mirrorless camera body, and how the more deliberate process of manual focus and controlling an aperture ring on a lens made me feel much more a part of the photographic process.
Up to now, I had used my vintage lenses for more creative compositions, the wide open aperture of my Super Takumar 50mm f1.4 allows for some lovely bokeh for close ups of flora and such but it occurred to me that I had never used one of my older lenses for an entire shoot.
As I am always keen to give myself new photography orientated projects, I decided that for my next outing, I would not pack my usual 20-60mm lens, instead picking out a Carl Zeiss Jena Tessar lens 50mm F2.8.
With a trip to the picturesque town of Dartmouth on the cards, I was looking forward to the first of these one lens only forays.
As I left Exeter, the morning sky was just a miserable mass of grey, in contrast, Dartmouth was bathed in a warm late June sun, with plenty of holiday makers determined to make the most of the day.
One of the things I enjoy most about photography are the spontaneous conversations that may be had with fellow photo hobbyists, I had a lovely chat with one gentleman who recognised the lens and said he had used one in the late sixties and early seventies on his Praktika film camera. He was curious about using older lenses on modern cameras, he went away with the idea of rediscovering his older lenses that had not been used for some years, he was even more pleased when I told him that his current Sony camera was perfect for his needs, he just needed the adaptor. (His wife was even more pleased when she knew the adaptor would not cost that much!)
I was aware of how much more deliberate I was in picking my shots today, I was spending more time looking for something a little different, part of this, could be my familiarity with Dartmouth, I spent a very happy 5 or six years in and around the area, while I was working as a chef in the late 1980’s and early 90’s, it will always remain a haven of happy memories.
With just a 2 hour parking limit, there was no time to walk as far as Dartmouth Castle, that can be another trip for another day, back at the car a brief look at the images on my camera screen looked pleasing, this lens renders colours in a way I like, perhaps a little over saturated but not overly so.
On seeing my efforts on my computer screen, I was more than happy with the images from this lens, my only regret being that I had not used it that much before, there were a few shots where I had missed focus but the sharpness of this little gem even wide open was surprising.
There is no doubt that I have become used to the clinical sharpness of modern day lenses, so today’s outing has given me a eureka moment, realising that not everyone who sees an image cares about the sharpness,or what camera was used, more that for them it evokes a memory, or it reminds them of somewhere similar that they have visited, regardless, for someone else to take pleasure in a photo means that my job is done!
As I browse my vintage lens collection, I have another 3 50mm lenses to choose from, I am already looking forward to the next outing.
As digital photography technology advances ever forward, camera companies are cramming more and more megapixels on to sensors, adding ever more features to make the photographic process more instantaneous. Modern camera lenses are now clinically sharp, even the humble ‘kit lens’ offered with a new camera is no longer the cheap and cheerful offering it once was.
With a long time passion for photography, I have embraced all the above with vigour but I feel that sometimes I am forgetting one of the reasons that I got into photography in the first instance, the whole process of manual focusing a lens, learning how to read the light and expose correctly (more often incorrectly in my early days). For all my mistakes, they were all part of the learning curve, just one of the many steps in my photographic journey.
Every now and again, I retrace these steps to an extent, by attaching an old manual lens to my mirrorless camera, I went through a stage of finding some cheap lenses through online auction sites, a few of which have become firm favourites and will not be parted with, others were not so good and found their way into charity shops.
Today was one of those days where I took out my Helios 44-2 58mm lens and an industar 50mm 3.5 – 4.5, both od Russian origin, both mass produced so incredibly plentiful and cheap.
The Helios wide open at F2 produces a swirly bokeh, ideal for shots in woodland where the background can be isolated from the subject, the Industar has a more muted colour palette which I like for street photography.
While a manual focusing lens may not be ideal for street photography, there is pleasure to be had in finding a spot and pre focusing, waiting for someone to walk into frame, with a small city such as Exeter, it is just a matter of time before someone obliges.
Maybe I need to spend more time with these legacy lenses, I felt more immersed in the process, rather than just being in charge of pressing a button!
Without doubt, Fuji’s X100 series of cameras have long held an appeal for me, the small form factor and image quality are now synonymous with most of Fuji’s crop sensor cameras but it is the film simulations and superb Jpeg engine that draw so many photographers of all levels into the Fuji fold.
I have mentioned in earlier blogs about my own reluctance to make the most of the Jpeg files with earlier models, the mantra of ‘RAW is best’ stuck in my mindset, that is until I really started to experiment, and appreciate just how good the images could be.
Every now and then, I make the decision to shoot just JPEG’s for an outing, today’s trip into town was one of those days, I just felt that I did not want to spend too long in front of the PC screen, I had already edited a load images from two previous outings from this weekend.
Don’t get me wrong, I do enjoy the editing process almost as much as the outing but occasionally, its good to let the camera do the work.
Only very basic edits were done to these images, a little added contrast, highlights and shadow adjustment and cropping / straightening where needed.
Outings such as this are a reminder of how much fun photography can be, it is all too easy to feel that even as amateurs we need to take a ton of gear with us and obsess over making every pixel count, instead of just getting out there and simply enjoying the moments we capture.
As the painstaking process of cataloging years of photos continues, it has been interesting to see how much my photography follows a familiar pattern as the months pass by.
The winter months capture the bleak and moody landscape of the moors, or perhaps a walk along a desolate beach, the months of early spring capture the beginnings of new life, daffodils, snowdrops and tulips bring welcome colour to the bland browns of winter.
Summer brings the occasional trip to the seaside and for me, the season of classic car shows and steam rallies that are always a pleasure to visit, then of course, the colours of autumn, with a plethora of woodland walks.
This of course was during normal times, when the freedom of choice to catch a train or bus for a day out was taken as a given….. until last year.
Looking on the bright side, it made life very easy in planning my photo walks, “where shall I go this weekend? I know, lets do Exeter! “
Let me be the first to say that I consider myself lucky to live in such a historic and beautiful city, where walks by the river are just a walk away but I began to wonder if it was possible to take any more photos of a place that I have lived in for over 20 years.
The initial feelings of frustration and not a little resentment subsided into a more positive frame of mind, challenging myself and my creativity to find something different from familiar ground, after all, I was still able to get out, for many this was not the case.
With this renewed and more welcome mindset, I have looked to process familiar scenes in a different way, learning new editing techniques to keep myself motivated to keep getting out there and taking photos.
Sunday morning, the only morning when I tend not to set an alarm, yet still I wake at around 4am, my futile attempts at a lie in are appeased by the thought of my first cuppa, while I lazily thumb through the weekend papers or read one of the three books I currently have on the go.
A quick look out of the window and of course it is still dark, the rain covered road and pavements reflecting the lights of the few cars that pass by at this early hour.
Regardless of the weather, I have planned to spend an hour or three by the sea, a little shutter therapy is a welcome Sunday pastime, so make sure my camera bag is ready and batteries charged.
The earlier rain has cleared, but the overcast skies still show some intent, a strong breeze offers plenty of wave movement with the high tide just about to turn.
Dawlish Warren offers so many photo opportunities on days like this, naturally I look to try a couple of long exposures to capture the drama in both clouds and sea.
Setting aside my tripod, I then decide to make my first attempt at the concept known as ICM photography. ICM or intentional camera movement is where the camera is deliberately moved during exposure time, so an exposure of a second or more is recommended to get the desired effect, the effect essentially being the polar opposite of the sharpness and definition photographers strive for, a blurred ‘arty’ looking image, that implies an image rather than defining it.
I have an ND filter attached to my camera lens, at F5.6 I have an exposure time of just over a second, so begin my experiments in earnest, the first 5 attempts are not brilliant as I try different speeds with the camera movements. On my 6th attempt, I have something that looks interesting if nothing else but it is a concept I will have more attempts at in the future.
Putting the filters away, my aim is just to stroll to the far end of the Warren and take the footpath around the nature reserve side of the beach, a long slow trudge through the soft sand that is the pathway.
Naturally there are several other people with the same idea of spending some time at the beach, a chance to to do some ‘street’ photography by the sea.
Over the coming days I will go through the days shoot, the shots posted here are my favourites from the day.
In the last eighteen months, I have occasionally set myself small challenges while out on my photo walks, I find that setting a theme or challenge helps me become more creative in my shot making when shooting for my own pleasure.
I am becoming more accustomed to my more compact camera setup, I have been taking full advantage of the G9’s twin card slots, shooting Raw only on one card, JPEG on the other, just to see how the different in camera picture styles are rendered.
One particular style I am using more often than not, is the LmonochromeD setting, which produces some good quality Black and white images, that require little or no post processing.
My G9 is coupled with my Ricoh GR3, which also has some very good monochrome simulations, my favourite being the high contrast black and white. The ricoh also has the added advantage of shooting 1:1 aspect ratio in RAW, shooting ‘squares’ is something I like to do on a regular basis.
Last week’s photo outing to Sidmouth and Budleigh Salterton saw plenty of changeable weather, bright and sunny one minute, then some rather nice moody clouds scuttling along in the wind, perfect for some black and white shots.
More and more these days, I am enjoying spending less time editing, which in theory, means I could spend more time out with the camera …..
In April this year, like many, I was furloughed for a number of weeks, time that I think I used fairly constructively in finally getting around to cataloguing and sorting through a few terabytes photos, a job that had been remained permanently rooted to the bottom of my ‘to do’ list for far too long.
Once the decluttering phase had begun with the photos, it became contagious, books, cd’s and dvd’s found their way into my ‘no longer required’ boxes, ready for when we may once more safely give to charity shops or to the local recycling facility.
Then came the crunch day, when I decided it was time to purge the camera gear that had lain unused for too long, ebay bargains I had intended to sell but used, liked and kept, older models of newer cameras, the classic case of gear acquisition.
I was given plenty of time to evaluate my decision, with only essential shops still open, it would not be until the beginning of August that I was able to trade in at my local camera shop and collect the Lumix G9 I had decided upon.
One of the deciding factors in deciding upon the G9 was the weather proofing, it would give an opportunity to still get out on those wet and windy days, as long as it was paired with a weather sealed lens of course.
It is only in the last couple of weeks that I have acquired the Olympus 17mm 1.2 Pro lens, great not just for being weather sealed but good for low light photography, of which there will be plenty of opportunities with the clocks going back an hour just a week ago.
Having a couple hours free this Saturday morning, rather than making a cup of tea and heading back to bed after hearing the rain against the window, I packed the G9 and headed into town to hopefully get a few moody wet day shots.
It was still a little early to capture people in numbers as they went about their day, however, I did manage to capture a good few reflections and ‘outside looking in’ shots as shops were preparing to open.
These shots have had very minimal editing, I really like the tones that the in camera ‘L monochromeD’ setting offers.
Now I have no more excuses not to go out wet days, as a whole new wet and windy world awaits to be captured.
With autumn stepping into Summer’s vacant shoes, I reluctantly bid a fond farewell to those long, light evenings, but welcome the opportunity to capture the colours and moods of one of my favourite seasons of the year.
With woodland and riverside walks high on the agenda, hopes will be high to capture that colourful carpet of fallen leaves before they fade to winter mulch, golden leaves on lichen cloaked rocks teasing us with a show of colour before the barren winter months to come.
It is also at this time of year that I try to embrace the inevitable darker evenings, by honing my favourite photographic genre, low light and night time photography.
Emerging from summer photography mode into the discipline of low light work, my skills area little ring rusty, it is time to re-hone the skills with a couple hours night shooting around Exeter.
With me, I have my Olympus EM5 MKII with a recent new addition, the 17mm F1.2 Pro lens, with the EM5’s image stabilization and the wide aperture, I want to see how this combo performs with hand held shots.
As usual, the Ricoh GR3 tags along, small enough to fit in a pocket, it is a great little camera to stand on some of the street furniture, that act as a substitute tripod.
No night time foray is complete without the obligatory traffic trail shots, I do my duty with the ricoh perched on top of a metal pavement bollard, a passing bus giving a nice abstract look to the scene.
The olympus with the 17mm perform admirably too, my first shoot with this lens, so experimenting aplenty here.
I have deliberately chosen a less busy Thursday night for tonight’s foray, tomorrow will see more looking to start the weekend, I am happy in an emptier city.
With a little of the ring rust shaken off, I have a couple of ideas for some night time photography projects in the coming months, after all, I may as well take full advantage of the longer hours of darkness.