Day ten of my 50mm project and I decide to reach once more for my vintage Pentacon 50mm lens for a morning stroll around Exeter.
This is a lens that I had purchased a few years back while dipping my toe into the waters of vintage lenses and their usage with mirrorless cameras, just one of the many and varied chapters along my photographic journey.
At the time, I liked the lens for its close focusing ability but my obsession with wanting clinically sharp images, meant it was cast aside for much of the time, left to its fate in my box of ‘stuff I may use later’.
My decision late last year to withdraw from the desire to keep up with newest cameras on the market has been late in coming but I am really enjoying using a twelve year old DSLR that was out of my budget at a time when it was one of Canon’s flagship models.
What has changed with regard to the pentacon lens? Perhaps the challenge of shooting 50mm has given me the reason I needed to get to know this lens a little more, to embrace the flaws and use them to my advantage.
An image I took of a gravestone in a local churchyard, I shot at wide open for one shot and stopped down to F4 for another , it was the wide open image I preferred, the softness around the edges leading the eye to the subject perhaps ?
I do find myself using the Petacon lens for close up shots a lot more than I would the native Canon 50mm 1.8, the ability to get closer to the subject is one reason, the other is that I am rediscovering the joy of manual focus, taking more time to look around the frame, being more involved in the process of photography than simply clicking the shutter when the autofocus system says I can.
With the ground dusted in a coating of frost, my eye was drawn to the contrast of the white and green, simple natural beauty at my feet, likewise, greenery behind the centre shot above, adding a perfect backdrop to the subject, while the catkin just looked better with its monochrome edit.
If I am depicting this lens as a one trick pony, I will dispel that notion with my last few images of the day, my walk home takes me through the city centre, where I try its hand at street photography and a couple of landscapes, shot at F2, I was more than happy with the results, okay, so they are not competition winning images but I think they tell a story, record a moment in time that can never be recaptured, most importantly, I enjoyed my two hours, capturing the world through a vintage lens.
As another weekend approaches, I am keen to become more familiar with my recently acquired ‘new but old’ camera set up, a canon 5d Mk II, so with a few errands to do in town this morning, I take the 5d with a 50mm lens for a brief spell of ‘street’.
With rain showers forecast for most of the day, I shall find a few of my favourite spots around the city and familiarize myself with the camera setup.
There are said to be two types of street photographer, the hunter and the fisherman, the hunter is always on the move, looking for that moment that will tell the story, the fisherman however, will find a spot and wait for the scene to unfold, this is my approach today, as the work goers and Black Friday shopper’s pace will be a little quicker in order to get out of the rain.
My first shots are not fantastic as it is a learning curve getting used to an unfamiliar system but it takes little time before I am happier with the images, most of which I have in mind to be edited in black and white to depict the grey and dreary mood of the morning.
With about 30 or so images taken, the clock has worked its way to nine AM, it is time to tick the boxes of the days ‘to do’ list so that I can leave tomorrow free for a longer day of photography.
There is a chill to these late September mornings, this morning is one of those, with a cloak of grey mist adding a ghostly feel through the gloom.
I love these atmospheric days, and head out with a camera in hand, with a view to some moody monochrome images.
The walk towards the quayside may be familiar but the moments I capture today will be unique, as I seek out the abstract and the seemingly ordinary.
Cobwebs in railings, shimmer in the slight breeze, dew laden, like pearls as they capture what little light the morning offers.
A council workman steam cleans the pavements, almost enveloped in his self made mist, another shot in the bag.
The panic of pigeons as they sense my approach, I love how the camera caught the moment just before the last one took off, maybe not the best composition, yet it conveys that avian sense of urgency in perceived danger.
I have walked past the pane of cracked glass umpteen times before, today I see its potential in my ‘noir’ mindset, another abstract to the collection.
With a busy day ahead, I call time on my spontaneous outing but look forward to sharing the images later in the day.
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 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.
Friday and Saturday had been a complete wash out in terms of any plans I had of getting out for my weekend photo walk, can there be any rain left to fall I ask?
Sunday morning and much of the same, as I enjoy my first brew of the day and a bacon butty, the skies are a grey wash of mediocrity, the gentle sound of rain against the windows, is this to be another ‘stay in’ day?
As I finish breakfast, I look out to see that there appears to be a break in the rainfall, without further ado, I decide to get some fresh air, even if it is only for a brief time.
The rain may have stopped but the sky still shows intent, so I set a brisk pace as I head towards my undetermined destination.
It is on these spontaneous forays that I find myself becoming more creative, looking for shots that I have not taken before, which in a city I have lived in for over twenty years, can be a challenge.
A lot of today’s shots will be black and white, to capture the mood of the day, but keep an open mind.
It has been my intention this year, to spend less time editing my photos, attempting to capture the mood with in camera presets or ‘recipes’ I have been creating over the last few weeks.
With today being such a dull day, monochrome and desaturated colour images, with contrasty shadows are the order of the day, with only a little cropping as needed done in post processing.
Despite the short duration and distance of today’s jaunt, I feel that I have salvaged something from this weekend and look forward to my next outing.
Last weekend was the first weekend in a long time that I did not manage to get out with the camera, my days off were spent unpacking boxes and settling into my new abode, so no opportunity for the usual shutter therapy.
My hopes for a bright and sunny Friday and Saturday are to be dashed by two days of wind and rain.
Ever the opportunist, Thursday evening is at least dry, so decide to head out for an hour or so, just around the city centre for some night time photography.
As I walk past St James station, I realise that I have lived in Exeter for twenty years and never taken a photo here, in daytime the small station is one of the many smaller ones along the Exmouth railway route but the lights reflecting on the platform catch my eye enough to take a photo.
In all honesty, I have no plan in mind for tonight’s impromptu foray, as with the station image, it will be whatever catches my eye, as I make my way into the city centre.
I love the way a city seems to take on another persona at night, the way light reflects onto other buildings, or onto the street, offer chances not seen during daylight hours.
While I do not consider myself to be a ‘crowds’ person, I look forward to times when the city streets will be busy once more, where the hospitality and retail industry can open their doors once more and to see my home city getting back to business as usual.
Most of my exercise walks in lockdown have followed a well trodden path away from the main city centre, strolls along the riverside are a brief respite and a reminder of the normality that we once had before this ever present threat of covid.
As much as I enjoy capturing the beauty of a sunrise or the mist rising from a river on a cold winter morning, these strange times have a story of their own, the following words are observations and images, taken over the last couple of weeks, on my brief incursions into a city in lockdown.
The city streets are bereft of bargain hungry shoppers, a melancholy silence hangs above the city, where even the faintest sound will drift between empty alleyways.
Shop window displays remain unchanged, last season’s merchandise that nobody can buy, only essential shop doors can welcome the customer for now.
An optimistic gull perched upon a street light waits for morsels that rarely appear, once easy pickings have become a drought, so he files to another spot, where he is quickly dispersed by a rival already close by.
Lone souls find a place in the winter sun to drink a welcome hot tea or coffee while others patiently wait for their buses to take them home.
I think we have become a little more sociable these days, while we have spent a lot of time at home, the company of a stranger is a welcome yet brief chance to make each others day a little more pleasant.
I was asked recently if I found it more difficult to enjoy street photography with so few people around, to a degree maybe but I look to find other subject matter within the streets to photograph. rainwater on a bench perhaps, colours and textures lit by the sun as they cast patterns, shadows of people against a wall offering an abstract take.
For as long as the current lockdown remains in place, I will continue to make my observations but I am looking forward to the days when my images are of a city free from the necessary constraints, where we can meet once more with friends and revisit those places we have missed.
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.
My first seaside walk since early March saw me going back to my home town of Salcombe last weekend, my main agenda was to visit my dad for father’s day, the second to enjoy a low tide walk along the shore of a favourite haunt from my childhood.
With the tide at its lowest ebb, there is an opportunity to walk along the best part of the beach, taking in views of the town of Salcombe from a different perspective, it is here that many of my favourite views can be seen.
From an early age, I have enjoyed these walks along the shore, especially after winter storms, where all sorts of maritime debris would be washed up along the shore, all treasures to a youngsters mind.
To this day, I unashamedly love peering into rock pools, and still like to look under seaweed for any small crabs that may be lurking beneath, evoking memories of looking for peeler crabs for fishing bait in spring and early summer.
It is true to say that absence makes the heart grow fonder, my absence was just 3 months, yet I felt a new appreciation for something that can be so easily taken for granted.
The second part of today’s jaunt, was a revisit to Slapton sands, another of my favourite beaches, with it’s lagoon or ‘ley’ to one side and the open sea on the other, the two are sandwiched by probably the longest length of straight road in Devon, a road that over the years has been washed away more than once by savage winter storms.
As popular as ever, the beach was busy, but not crowded to the extent of those recently depicted in the mainstream media, the visitors here were observing social distancing and there was a happy buzz as complete strangers were making new friends while waiting for their takeaway food or drinks from the pub and cafes, attempting some semblance of normality in these odd times.
It was here I have taken my favourite shot of the year so far, a gentleman with his two dogs, sat on the sea wall, he kindly agreed for me to take his photo, which if I am being honest, was not expecting.
As usual, a rather enjoyable trip to the seaside, as usual, time passes too quickly but looking forward to my next trip here already.