Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Assignment first glimpse

I will be attending the Roger Ballen Masterclass this Sunday. And as part of this, there is the opportunity to share 5 -10 images from your portfolio for feedback and discussion. Sounds great doesn't it?  Well it did when I signed up. But I'm rapidly going off the idea.

In an ideal world I wanted to share the beginnings of my 'domestic sublime' series, mainly because it is my most recent project and the thought processes are still 'live' in my head.  However, the 5x4 contact sheets that arrived back today reflect more than a few errors which really undermines my confidence in them. The kind of errors include:

  • double exposing: school boy error that was made firstly because of the time lag between the first and second round of exposures...easily done yet could be so easily avoided too if I get my systems sorted.
  • forgetting to shift from f5.6 to f11 when I'm ready to shoot...I can't set the aperture straight to f11 as there is not enough light to compose the shot properly.  So I widen the hole to f5.6 initially, compose the shot and then set the aperture after...well on several it looks like I haven't remembered to do this. But despite this, the exposure is there or there-abouts with all the images. So either my light metering is awry or perhaps Peak have worked their magic a little! Or I was lucky! Without the benefit of meta data it is difficult to be sure...I know, that is my cue to write notes!! Thing is, when I'm working with people/kids/animals, I don't have the luxury of time. I always feel rushed...I will just have to become more deft at it.
  • on some, there is a white haze over part of the image...I am assuming that at some point I must have let in some light as it is not the whole image or on the edges.

You know what...I find it so damn difficult. It really makes the process much much harder using this camera. It's not that I don't enjoy it, but I do think the sporadic use of the camera plus the need for haste means I'm not methodical.  And I do think a precise and orderly approach is fundamental.  As I've said before, I'll keep going with it for this course, but unless they're going to be exhibited at metre rather than centimetre dimensions in a gallery I am wondering if this is the right approach. I would certainly derive more consistent results on the digital.

All in all I probably can salvage 7 images from the 14 exposures...not sooo bad, but equally they're not sooo good either...and not necessarily how I imagined them (but that's a different issue for another day). The next stage will be to send the negs that I want scanned back to Peak and then when they return, I will work on them and submit what I have for assignment one. I feel myself willing them to be better.

Cost to date, for the record: £106. Sheet film £56. c41 processing £31. Contact Sheets £19. Costs still to come: scanning and printing. I wince as I write this...unless I miraculously find an income stream I probably need to shelve the aspiration for Epstein size prints.

So going back to the Roger Ballen talk, sadly I think showing any images from this series is premature. So what should I do? I think I may decline the offer and see what others produce...I could consider some of the soc doc work, but am not sure. I feel a little intimidated by the whole thing if I'm honest. But as I doubt myself, I hear that braver voice inside telling me the greatest learning is when you're booted out of that comfort zone. And that's where I would find myself...this I guess illustrates my fears addressed in the 'putting it out there' post. And shows my dithering on such matters...I will let you know what I decide.


  1. First of all, it's an excellent opportunity to share images Penny, and you're certainly talented, as your recent SocDoc success highlights. You've nothing to worry about.

    Secondly, 7 from 14 is pretty good going - there's a quote from Doisneau that I go back to every time I feel a little disappointed with my hit rate - "If I knew how to take a good photograph, I'd do it every time." and I think others have said they're happy with 1 per roll of film. Working on formats larger than SLR sizes introduces new problems - my Hasselblad experience hasn't been good, and I found myself doubting any ability. As you say, you should write things down, but even though you slow right down, you still feel rushed. It takes time to adapt I guess.

  2. I echo what Rob says; if you think of the "hit" rate of digital - you'll notice that it doesn't nearly reach 50%! It will be the conversation you have with Ballen, not necessarily his informed opinion of direction etc that you will gain from. It will, in all likelihood, reveal more to you about your own motivations and needs that realise now. Going there with a ready packaged complete project would be a waste of time. Take what you have and bare your soul!

  3. Well I guess the 50% I am judging it on are 'acceptable' or error free images rather than defined as a good photographs. I suspect the hit rate would be far lower if I used the same criteria I use for digital image making. Nevertheless wise words from you both and I think I know really what I need to do, just needed a push.

  4. There's two sorts of hit rate; image and technical. In the old days one per roll was a good hit rate for images, although they tended to come in batches, like a striker in football.

    Technical hit rate is a different matter, digital gives you lots of help, large format gives you none. It takes a lot of knowledge and practice to be consistent with 5x4.

    A lot of the routines you develop are about insurance, one of the reasons that pros shot mountains of Polaroid. The very best Polaroid was a black one because it told you something was going seriously wrong.

    You always focus at the largest aperture, it gives you the most accurate focus because of the brightness of the image and the small DoF. You should always use a loupe to focus and preferably have a fresnel lens over the focussing screen to even out the brightness across the screen.

    On Sinars there's a depth of field aid, you focus on the farthest point you want sharp and the nearest point that you want sharp, it then tells you what f stop you need and where to set your point of focus.

    A typical routine might be to set up the camera and frame up the subject, consider any movements required and then perform the focussing routine. That tells you what f stop you need. If you're shooting flash then all you have to do is pour on enough light to obtain that f-stop, measuring it from invacone readings back towards the camera, taking into account any bellows extension effect by dialling that in as a reduced ISO.

    If you're shooting with available light then you have to consider what shutter speed that f-stop equates to. Perhaps you need to freeze some movement and it's too slow, in which case you may have to compromise on your DoF, or perhaps the slow shutter sped is going to introduce reciprocity failure problems.

    Having establish your composition, your DoF and your exposure, you then do a Polaroid to check all of these things, if necessary going over the Polaroid with a loop.

    After pulling the Polaroid that looks the way you want you leave everything set on the camera. The only reason to touch the camera is to load the film and cock the shutter.

    If you're shooting live action you now introduce the model, with the shutter cocked, the dark slide loaded into the camera, with the sheath pulled out and turned around so that the black side faces forward and then slipped back in about a centimetre, this prevents light leaking in through the light trap. You put your head near as damn it level with the lens to look at the subject and direct them, when they're looking right you shoot.

    It helps to have an assistant manipulating the dark slides, keeping a note of everything that's happening from a technical point of view. You might need to know details that don't seem that important when it comes to processing the balance of your film.

    Put a test through before you put the balance through, colour negative is a lot more forgiving to work with, both in exposure and colour balance than tranny, you get a second bite at both, but it's always worth getting a look before you spend all your money.

    1. Thanks Clive for the thorough and helpful response, I can see this is or has been second nature to you and your suggested work practice is very helpful...I will refer back to this in some detail to try to improve my way of working. An assistant would be great, but unlikely...I'll have to learn it the hard way I think. I need to start writing notes and use the digital like the Polaroid was used. I have a loupe and a light meter and will continue working with colour neg for the reasons you suggest. I suspect I should have started with lifeless landscapes before introducing people really. But accept I need to set the whole shot up before introducing the models. Flash is another area I want to experiment with but for now will stick to ambient light. I'm hoping it'll become less of lottery over time. I guess with the digital camera, you can practice, take your 10,000 pictures and other than memory it doesn't cost you. Whereas I am acutely aware of the cost of each sheet of film which means I go out less than I would otherwise and therefore don't get the regular practice and consequently make more mistakes than I perhaps should. I'll keep at it...thanks again for making the time to respond Clive, it is really appreciated.

    2. I thought you could train your hubby to assist. ' }

      So many things can go wrong at every stage, from loading the dark slides, to shooting, to unloading them, that you need routines to minimise all the risks.

      For example when I'm off loading I keep a rubber band around my wrist, so I know where it is in the dark,once I've closed the box I hold it in my right hand and slip the rubber band off my wrist on to the box so that it won't fall open when I'm taping it up with the light on.

      As regards shooting you can always practice without any film in the dark slide. ' }

      Get someone to buy you some Fuji instant film and a holder as a present and use it sparingly as a final proof, it will save you money in the long run. ' }

    3. Ha, yes, my dear hubby has had to model, prop-make, deliver, carry, counsel, console as well as a whole host of other jobs he didn't see in the small print when he signed up all those years ago! I've leaned heavily on open-minded friends too, but the technical stuff is down to me.

      Strangely I'm generally fairly organised and do have the odd Germanic tendency for order and systems...I guess I'll get there after I've made every mistake in the book!

      You know I think I have a Fuji instant film holder that the guy gave me with the camera and never used it. It even has film in!! I did go on a LF course about 18 months ago but they were unfamiliar with the system so haven't got to grips with it. I still don't know how to use it and I vaguely recall reading recently that the fuji instant film is no longer being made. But that may be wrong.

  5. Show the pictures Penny. If not this series, then some others. I think it is really important to just do it. No excuses. You will learn so much. I think your work is great - but even if it wasn't, what is the worst that can happen? He'll say there are some learning points or room for improvement. With these pictrues he will surely be able to see beyond the technical points to the idea behind thsi work and talk to you about that. I know I'm nagging but I think you will regret it if you do not bring work of your own along.

    1. Consider it done Eileen, I know you're right...