An unknowing brush with greatness

UK. Bath, England. 1994. Magnum member group photograph taken in 1994 at launch of George Rodger's exhibition at the Royal Photographic society. Left to right: Eugene RICHARDS, Fred MAYER, Richard KALVAR, ABBAS, Patrick ZACHMANN, Howard SQUADRON, David Alan HARVEY, Micha BAR'AM, Burt GLINN, David HURN, Thomas HOEPKER, Phillip Jones GRIFFITHS, Chris STEELE-PERKINS, Susan MEISELAS, Leonard FREED, Jinx RIDGER, Martine FRANCK, George RODGER, Henri CARTIER-BRESSON, Elliott ERWITT, Eve ARNOLD, Eli REED, Peter MARLOW, Bruno BARBEY, Phillip Jones GRIFFITHS, Sebastiao SALGADO, Larry TOWELL, Costa MANOS, Rene BURRI, Paul LOWE, Donovan WYLIE, Carl DE KEYZER, Hiroji KUBOTA, Nikos ECONOMOPOULOS and Dennis STOCK. Photograph © Peter Lavery.

UK. Bath, England. 1994. Magnum member group photograph taken in 1994 at launch of George Rodger’s exhibition at the Royal Photographic society. Left to right: Eugene RICHARDS, Fred MAYER, Richard KALVAR, ABBAS, Patrick ZACHMANN, Howard SQUADRON, David Alan HARVEY, Micha BAR’AM, Burt GLINN, David HURN, Thomas HOEPKER, Phillip Jones GRIFFITHS, Chris STEELE-PERKINS, Susan MEISELAS, Leonard FREED, Jinx RIDGER, Martine FRANCK, George RODGER, Henri CARTIER-BRESSON, Elliott ERWITT, Eve ARNOLD, Eli REED, Peter MARLOW, Bruno BARBEY, Phillip Jones GRIFFITHS, Sebastiao SALGADO, Larry TOWELL, Costa MANOS, Rene BURRI, Paul LOWE, Donovan WYLIE, Carl DE KEYZER, Hiroji KUBOTA, Nikos ECONOMOPOULOS and Dennis STOCK. Photograph © Peter Lavery.

 

Back in 1994 when I was 20 and just properly starting off taking photographs I joined the then great Royal Photographic Society and quickly applied for my LRPS.
I decided to drop my portfolio up to the octagon in Bath where they would be critiqued by a panel of experts and peers.

All was good. I went to my assessment where they talked through the images and basically said they were ok and reached the heady heights required.

A week or so later I went back to Bath to collect the box of prints.

As I walked round searching for the right place to be, I headed towards the main octagon gallery as this was an area I knew and had been where my assessment had been. I wandered aimlessly through a door and into the big room where there was this big group of mainly older chaps mulling around and talking about life and photography.

Turns out it would seem that I had just stumbled into a meeting of Magnum, possibly the greatest group of contemporary photographers of the 20th century, celebrating the launch of a retrospective by one of their founders a George Roger. Everyone was friendly, said hello and pointed me in the right direction for the office I should have been looking for.

I suppose in hindsight I should’ve been awestruck, and now in retrospect I think I am a bit and rue a missed opportunity to speak with people long gone who are now my artistic heros and inspiration. You can’t go back in time, but if you could then this would be one of those moments I would certainly do differently.

Later on that day, I was wandering round Bath and sat down outside the abbey to have a pasty for my lunch. An older heavily bearded man sat down next to me, saw my RPS sticker on my folder and asked if he could have a look. He was very complementary, asked questions about what I was doing and trying to say and was generally very nice. This man was Micha Bar am.

So, after missing my big opportunity, I ended up with a smaller but all together more rewarding moment after all.

Sometimes the new big thing is the old thing all along

Yesterday I decided to make the most of the last of the autumnal crunchiness, get out with the camera and take some much needed new images. The night before I put the batteries on charge for my faithful Fuji x100 and thought no more of it. This camera has been everywhere with me. It’s been to the top of mount toubkal in the Moroccan atlas, it’s been down deep caves and visited most of the hilly parts of Britain either for fun of while I’ve been trying to find errant DofE kids in the fog.

So, up I get in the morning, pop the fully charged battery in, turn it on and………….

NOTHING!!!!! Not a beep, not a light, not a, well nothing. It is dead, it’s no longer a camera, it’s an ex camera, it is deceased, kaput, it is no more! Just a useless lump of metal.
So, what to do? The morning had been planned around taking some photos, so that’s what I was going to do. I looked around for options, and there it was again, sat on the shelf looking like a proud statue or a memorial from the past. My trusty old hasselblad was saying, “use me, not the pesky beepy ones”.

So off we went. Clunk, whirr, bang, clack. 52 years after it was made, it still works as good as new (if with a few scratches, missing chrome and a bit of “patina”). I had to think about everything I did, no screens, no built in meter, no auto this, no auto that.

It was great. I sort of have an idea of what images I got, but won’t know until I get my chemistry set out and hide in a dark corner waiting and wondering what will I have got. It felt good. I had to use my brain and all the knowledge I’ve acquired over 30 plus years of messing with cameras.

The reason for this rambling is a bit off on a tangent. I do a lot of work in the outdoors, running DofE expeditions, mountain biking. It has been noted that over the years that there is an ever increasing massive reliance on potentially fragile technology. People walking use GPS systems, their phones and more recently and potentially worrying satellite trackers to know where the kids are.

This is all very good until something goes wrong. This can be something as minor as a battery failing or even just getting wet. Sure, use them as a backup, but don’t rely on them. These gadgets have the potential to allow leaders to sit in a cafe and watch the kids progress on a laptop screen. This is all very well until something goes wrong.

The tracker is moving, therefore everyone is ok? Well, no, it could be that everyone is in trouble and they’ve sent one lone child to find help. Sat in the cafe, you’ll never know.

The tracker has stopped moving at camp, therefore the group are all at camp? Again, no. Maybe one has made it to camp looking for his or her team, but the rest are missing out on the hill. Again in the warmth all looks good.

The same cam be said for mobile phones. It is common practice for groups to have mobiles for use in emergency. This is good, except that in most mountainous areas and even here in my kitchen, there is little or no signal. If your entire procedure relies on phoning in at camp or when there’s a problem, then things can go awry.

In the outdoor world as per the photographic one, a lot is to be said for revisiting and reinforcing the traditional skills. When technology fails us its essential to have a plan B. A OS map and compass won’t fail you if you know how to use them. They don’t rely on batteries and work as well now as they did 50 years ago or in 50 years time, much the same as my trusty old brass camera (providing they still make film then).

It’s a sad state of the modern world that technology is seen as the saviour of any situation when in reality, that technology is what has got you in that situation in the first place.

Now just don’t remind my that my new car has more in common with a stealth jet than my first 1974 mini and yes, that never broke down either.

A crossing of paths and minds

Many years ago, one of my first paid commissions was to take a few photos to finish an unfinished set of black and white images of the Mendip Hills for Somerset County Council

The set had been started by James Ravilious, a photographer who at the time I had never heard of. He is now one of my favourite photographers and has been a huge influence on my work over the years.

Mr Ravilious sadly died in 1999

There have been many crossings of paths over the years. My first exhibition at the rural life museum in Glastonbury was spurred on by seeing an earlier exhibit of his in the same venue, preceding one by Xhris Chapman, one of Ravilious’s best friends and colegues.

Subconsciously, my work has always been inspired by Ravilious, but I’ve never realised how much.

Last month, I went to an exhibition of his work at The Royal West of England Academy in Bristol. Lovely as this always is, there were some of the classic images (some of which I’m lucky enough to own signed originals of) and some new ones I’ve never seen. He did after all take around 20,000 images for his project for the Beaford Archive in Devon.

Neatly tucked in between some unseen images was one that gave me a proper tingly spine moment.

As I said earlier, my first commission was to finish his last unfinished job. At this point, I had never seen any of his images other than the few already done for this job so was really winging it.

The photo in question is a simple one of a chap ploughing with his old tractor somewhere in Devon. A fairly inconsequential image, but hopefully you’ll see why it stopped me.

John Ward ploughing, Parsonage Farm, Iddesleigh, Devon. James Ravilious 1976

John Ward ploughing, Parsonage Farm, Iddesleigh, Devon.
James Ravilious 1976

In a previous post, I have shown an image taken at Mendip ploughing match which was one for this project. Although there is 30 years between the images, the similarity is obvious. Some things don’t change. Farmers still plough using tractors from the 50s. they still wear flat caps and most importantly are meticulous about straight lines. This is something you will never get with digital.

To me, one of the best things bout these two images is that because they were both shot on 35mm black and white film, processed in the same way, unless you had my notes, it would be impossible to date either image o the nearest decade let alone year. This became apparent last year when one of the producers of BBC’s Countryfile rang me and asked if they could use some of my “antique” photos in their programme on the ploughing matches. They were shocked when i told them that there were not antique, but only a few years old.

Below is my image. I hope you will see the similarity and why it had the effect on me to see the one in Bristol.

A

Mendip Ploughing Match

Mendip Ploughing Match

 

 

Film’s not dead…….. or is it??

In the last year or so, there has been a massive resurgence in the use of film and film cameras bringing huge debate about what’s best and what is right.

A few years ago, i was approached by a gallery in London about the possibility of putting on an exhibition of my work for them. They had seen my exhibition at the Somerset Rural life museum following those of the late James Ravilious and then Chris Chapman. They had read that i had finished a commission for the former before he died. All was good, we met up, but in my usual chaotic style of the time, i forgot, and nothing more was done about it.

The thing that i remember most about the meeting was that before they’d even seen my portfolio, they had asked me to ensure that they were all analogue and that no digital stuff had been done to them at all. They professed that they felt that digital prints held no intrinsic value and therefore only sold “proper photographs”.

I didnt think much of this until i read an article in the Times magazine where Sabastio Salgado was being interviewed about his latest book and exhibition “Genesis”. Whilst at school and college, we were fed images of Salgado working, always using a Leica (R Series) and always sooting on black and white film. I’m not sure what i thought when i read that he no longer uses either. He now shoots digital using a Canon EOS 1Dx. At first i though he was giving into pressures of the modern day and then read the article and all made perfect sense. It would seem that with amazing quality digital cameras and the ability to print with digital enlargers (or whatever they are called), it is now possible to produce an end product with exactly the same aesthetics and more importantly the physical properties of a high quality fibre based darkroom print.

Salgado gives many reasons for his current photographic methodology, all which show a refreshing logic rather than the rose tinted longing for techniques past. He says that the main reason he shoots in black and white is that when he started, you had 2 choices, B&W or colour slide film. With slide film, you got a box of slides, but B&W gave you a contact sheet enabling the shots to be seen in order enabling easier building of a story for the traveling photographer.

Since Salgado’s move to digital, his workflow has hardly changed. He still works in exactly the same way now that he did with film. He shoots with the screen turned off and only using the camera information he would’ve had 20 years ago and quite often with a hand held meter.

Salgado stated that he has never used a computer (and has no intention to do so), sending the full memory cards to his assistant who converts the files to monochrome (using DXO Film Pack), does a tiny bit of adjustments to levels etc and produces the most excellent prints. These prints are produced on a digital enlarger onto traditional fibre based black and white paper thus producing a print with identical properties to one that would’ve been shot on film in the old days,

Sabastio Salgado interview from the Sunday Times Magazine

The point I am making here is that one of the worlds most respected photographers has adapted to a modern / efficient workflow to produce prints of the most amazing quality. These prints sell for upwards of £11,000 each and anyone who knows anything about photography would love to have one in their collection. So why is it that the small galleries, usually representing up and coming artists insist that your images are shot on film?

I think the time has come for people to accept the modern way of working. If the end product is equally as good then the reasons to shoot film are far and few between. A point that’s often quoted is that with digital prints it’s impossible to control editions. Possibly, but no more so than in the old days. In my darkroom monkey days it was quite common for me to run off 50+ off the same print for something like a school photo or a football team, I could do this probably quicker than can be done now with anything but the most modern digital printers.

So, as I see it, the quality is as good if not better, the workflow is simpler and the ability to control editions is if anything far easier, so digital shooting is the way forward.

Or is it??

When I’ve had enough of computers, shift lenses and Photoshop, there’s nothing I like more than taking my trusty Olympus OM2n and a 50mm lens out for a day. No computers, no autofocus and not even a zoom. As my mentor said, the best zoom lens is your feet. Some of my best images ever have been taken in this way. As the old saying goes, keep it simple, stupid!

So, my point is, digital is amazing and produces images and prints beyond compare, but there is something special about a “real” photograph that you’ve made with a 40yr old lump of brass and made appear using chemicals and processes that have been around for over 100 years. It’s’ just a bit of magic and soul you can’t get with a computer.

Maybe the iPhone is the greatest camera ever made?

I know that could be a bit of a rash statement, what with those of us that take photos for a living carrying huge amounts of vastly expensive camera equipment with us where evere we go, and more so for those who have it as their hobby, sometimes simpler approach is the way forward

In an interview a couple of years ago, Annie Leibovitz the top amaerican fashion photographer when asked stated that for most people that the iPhone 4s was indeed the best camera. What was her thinking? She stated that the best camera to take a photo is whatever one you have with you at the time (as in you cant take a photo when you don’t have camera with you) and with most people these days having their phones with them all the time, this point is pressed home.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/apple/8903814/Annie-Leibovitz-praises-iPhone-camera.html

From my experience, the iPhone with it’s 8mp sensor and surprisingly good lens (which also roughly matches a 35mm lens on a 35mm camera) can take some amazing images. I have regularly taken shots with the phone that i would’ve missed otherwise and with asthetics that have proved hard to improve on with anything other than something like my old Hasselblad 500CM and its 60mm lens. Add to that all the apps that are available and you have a fantastic creative tool.

The pinacle of IPhone photography has in my opinion happened in the last month or so. The London based photographer Andrew Montgomery has recently shot and published a book “Distiled” on the modern spirit industry competly on an iPhone. Andrew has done some amazing work for clients as wide ranging as Jasper Conran, Country Life and Yeo Valley, so this confidence certainly gives the humble iphone legitimacy as a proper tool.

Andrew Montgomery – Instagram

Myself, I normally have my iPhone in my bag and have taken some pictures that I would’ve otherwise missed. I regularly use the amazing AltPhoto app to add filmic effects to the files and give them that bit more “feeling”. Add that to Instagram and you have the perfect tool for both recording and sharing exactly what you’re working on at any one time.

One of the best things about images taken on the iPhone is that due to the 8mp sensor, it’s also realistically possible to produce good quality prints up to 10″ square and beyond depending on the process and printer used.

Below, I have included one of the many images I’ve got due to just having the iPhone on me when I would not have been able to have anything else. Hope you like it. A

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The Problem with InfraRed – An adventure to the end of HIE and beyond

Ever since seeing a feature in a magazine whilst at school, i have been fascinated by the qualities of Infrared film and have made it a mission in life to try and master this most tricky of photographic mediums.

The photographer featured in the above mentioned article was the (now) late Sir Simon Marsden. For those of you not familiar with his work, he is a master if the infrared medium, producing some seriously gothic and un-nerving images of haunted sites, churches and derelict buildings around Britain and Europe. A biography and a huge archive of his work can be seen at http://www.simonmarsden.co.uk Sadly, he passed away a few years ago and his work is rocketing in price, whilst sadly and bizarrely, his books are turning up in remnant shops (which is where i’ve recently picked a few up.

About 10 years ago, i decided to dive in at the deep end, bought a book on infra red photography and a couple of rolls of Kodak HIE High Speed Infrared Film. The book was massive and in depth. it was full of examples, formulae and graphs, all about how to get the most out of this stuff. after wading trough the book, i came to a summary ion the last page that basically said “forget all you’ve just read, it’s nonsense. put a dark red filter on, set the camera to 200ASA and bracket wildly”, so this of course is what i did and the book hasn’t moved from the shelf since.

I did take note that the best conditions for this film are a spring day, late morning, so that the sun is not to high, but that the foliage and buildings have absorbed and are therefore eminating a nice amount of infrared radiation (heat). So, on such a day i packed my Xpan in the car and headed of to Glastonbury. i pulled up, set everything to idiot mode at 200ASA and snapped away. As i was using a rangefinder, focusing was still easy, although you have to adjust the focusing back to the red infrared line that you used to get on manual lenses “back in the day”.

The film was developed in Eric Purchase’s darkroom in Wells high Street where i was working at the time. You had to be very careful and either perform the whole task in the dark, or uses stainless tanks. I did the former as i never could load the metal spirals, and what with this film being so thin, not to mention expensive, i didn’t want to take any chances.

For a first attempt, i couldn’t have hoped for better results. from this film emerged the two images here of Glastonbury Tor and The Abbot’s Fish House at Mere near Glastonbury. Both of these still rank in my best selling ten images.

untitled shoot-247-web export

Glastonbury Tor HIE

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Abbot’s Fish House HIE

 

As you can see from the above images, the main effect of infra red is to define the skys along with lightening and heat reflective / emitting areas such as the foliage and darkening any absorbent areas such as woo and to a lesser extent, the stone of buildings.

Other things that you learn after a while are that certain cameras will work due to the infrared counters used in most modern cameras will fog the film, also, the halation (the white glow effect) is increased by longer exposures. it doesn’t seem to matter what the combination, but two shots, both with technically identical exposure amounts, but one with a longer exposure coupled with a smaller aperture will always have a greater halation effect. this is possibly due to the film heating up under exposure, but in the words of Stephen Fry on QI, “Nobody Knows”

The biggest problem with IR film is that you are technically photographing heat not light, and in such, your light meter and your eyes will only give a rough guide and can both be easily fooled by a large margin.

Earlier this year, i went out with my last roll of HIE to see what i could get and almost give it a fitting send off rater than sitting like a relic in the freezer (where is always lived until a couple of days before use). I did what i always did and set the camera to 200, red filter, bracket wildly etc, but this time with more varying results than I’ve ever seen before.

St Andrews Clevedon HIE

St Andrews Clevedon HIE

The First shot of the day was of St Andrew’ Church in Clevedon, taken from an area known as poets walk due to it’s regular visits from Tennyson and Coleridge ‘back in the day’. The sun was out and you could feel the heat on my burning bonce. The image seems to have come out very nicely. theres not to much grain, the contrast is nice and more importantly there was no bleed from light leaking from the next frame or even through the camera itself. (I learnt to use something like my EOS 1V as this has a metal back that is IR proof unlike the plastic ones on lesser cameras).

Congresbury HIE disaster

Congresbury HIE disaster

I went to Congresbury St Andrew’s to try and get a picture of our local church as the last image on this film. all the settings were the same, but as you can see, it’s all gone a bit wrong. there seems to be light leakage and really heavy grain. Obviously, as it’s in the same tank / camera, it isn’t light leakage or a development problem, so the only thing that i can think of was that is just different atmospheric conditions. maybe, some light could have got in while lens changing,  but to be honest, i can’t figure it. This was at the same time, the biggest problem and the biggest joy of HIE. When it didn’t quite work, oh dear, but when it clicked, wow!!

In the last 10 years, digital technology has moved on leaps and bounds, both with the cameras and also now, the software that runs things. For my commercial work, i use Canon EOS 5D mk2 cameras, so it seemed an obvious move to see if i could attain the same visual results via a totally diferent route.

Again, Congresbury church was my subject due to is locality and medieval magnificence. The image shot has been featured in an earlier post about the lens used (The new Canon 24mm TSE mk2). The process to get the below image was quite simple. Using Alien Skin Exposure within Adobe Photoshop CS5 I ran the film simulator with the Kodak HIE settings. It is possible within this to adjust the contrast, histograms and above all, the grain and halation so associated with the original film stock. The results are quite nice and about as near to the original that it’s possible to get digitally.

Congresbury Church via Exposure 4

Congresbury Church via Exposure 4

If i was to critique this image beyond the fact that i think it’s a very nice image that fulfils my Marsdenesque gothic ambitions. I haven’t pushed the halation to much as i didn’t want to overdo the effect at the expense of the quality of the image.

Having recently updated my software to Adobe Photoshop CC and Lightroom 5 (as opposed to aperture that i was using previously) a few new tools have become available to me. the most relevant one here is the “Negative Clarity Adjustment” that allows you to take the razor sharp digital image and soften it in a way that it more happily resembles and analogue image. Furthermore, I have tried having the file printed onto standard Ilford Multigrade paper through a digital enlarger by MetroPrint in london. using this method (and possible a bit of toning) the images are indistinguishable from traditional outputs. In the latest version of Lightroom, there are even functions that will enable me emulate the film, granulation and halation without any other software. Just need some practice and experimentation here.

Now, after years of not knowing and going down the digital route, i have finally got hold of some of the new Agfa/Rollei 400 IR film. reviews say this is as near to HIE that can be got now. It is sat in the fridge, waiting for the right weather to head of to a subject that i have been meaning to photograph for many years. I have a plan, i have the camera and now, once again, i have the film i need. Here we go again………….

Giving the X100 a hard time in Morocco (Part 2) Marrakech the souks and palaces – The touristy bit, day 1

So, after much flapping, faffing, getting up at 3.30am and general worrying, we all finally  arrived in Morocco. We land at Marrakech airport to my first culture shock. When we left Bristol, it was raining and the airport was packed with EasyJets, BA and every other carrier you could think of. Here, there was us, an Arab airliner, a row of fighter jets and three private jets of the Alan Sugar / Gun running drug dealer type. Marrakech airport surprisingly was a nice experience. The building is massive, light and cool and the people very helpful. I did get held up for ages in immigration, but that was mainly due to the staff having a chat and trying to explain to a girl (with whom they seemed to have no common language) that she needed to fill a form in and return to the back of the cue.

We found out taxi (that we had pre booked by the riad). As we were to learn was the norm, his first concern was the money, and he promptly whizzed us to the cash-point. (It is not possible to buy Moroccan money (Dirams) outside of the country, so everyone is at the mercy of the cash-points at the airport for their first helping. Into the taxi for the scariest ride (up to that point) of my life and off to the city centre. We passed loads of palaces, palatial hotels and luxurious looking buildings. my hopes were high. THEN, we arrived in the main square, where we we bundled out of the minibus (but not before 200 dirhams had changed hands) and into the chaos that would be our home for the next couple of days. Our bags were put in a handcart and before we knew what was happening, he was gone. with us following behind.

I really wasn’t prepared for this. racing through the back streets past market stalls, butchers (selling things you don’t want to imagine), jewelers (Rolex 20 euro!!) and more beggars and near dying mules than i have ever seen in my life. Right turn!! Down a tiny alley we went. past an old man going to the toilet in a doorway, someone led unmoving under a blanket on the side and a girl “inviting” us into her house, we finally arrived at a dark black door with a cracked tile sign pronouncing “Riad Linda”!! Oh god, this was it, what had we let ourselves in for. In we go.

Inside, the Riad Linda was a very pleasant surprise, clean, airy, lovely rooms and waiting for us on the table, our first of many mint teas. And r e l a x ……..

Our room at Riad Linda

Our room at Riad Linda

After some lunch, it was decided that it was time to once again brave the outside world, so, off we went to the square and the souks.

 

Giving the X100 a hard time in Morocco (Part 1)

For years now, ever since getting a copy of Albert Watson’s “Maroc”, i have wanted to visit Morocco and experience the place for myself. Like many people with a place like this, i had many idealised preconceptions of what it would be like so needed to find out for myself. Friends looked at various tour companies itineraries for Atlas trekking trips, and it was decided hat it was possible with a bit of organisation to book exactly the same facilities (accommodation, food, guides, transport) ourselves, achieve the same targets (which was to summit Jebel Toubkal and to trek the High Atlas along with spending time in Marrakesh) and save a considerable amount over the standard tour companies. Everything was booked and after totting up, we had simply managed to knock the 1 of the front of the tour price. Bargain!! Let’s go!!

Friends gave various advice ranging from the loveliness of the Berber people and the scenery, through the madness of the citys through to the seemingly standard advice for traveling anywhere outside of Somerset of “Don’t eat or drink anything, it’ll all kill you”. Although initially dismissed, this should have been the one bit of advice i heeded more than any for reasons i will explain later.

This is supposed to be a camera review rather than a travelogue, so i will explain my thinking for my choices of equipment. For work i use a Canon EOS 5D mk2 with a wide array of L series lenses. The problem with this is that although the image quality is fantastic, it is very heavy (we had a 20kg Easyjet baggage allowance and had to carry a lot of kit whilst walking). Also i feared that walking round Marrakesh, a large camera with a big lens may prove conspicuous and lead to unwanted attention.

After much research, i decided the camera for the job would be the Fuji X100. I had seen excellent reviews for the camera, downloaded and played with sample files that seemed stunning, but for me, a selling point was the traditional approach of the camera, with all the dials and buttons in the right place, just like they used to be on a proper camera. I still like to use my old OM2, so found the aesthetics particularly appealing.

Given we were traveling over new year 12/13, i thought best to get the camera early so i could familiarise myself with its functions and foybals before the trip, so in September, the camera arrived.

The first thing i noticed was the array of functions and settings that for a “professional” camera all seemed a bit pointless and were and still have been ignored. who ever wants to apply in camera sepia effect anyhow?

The first thing i did when receiving the camera was to remove the lens cap and fit the £70 adapter ring and lens hood (who on earth thought that £70 for a hood makes sense is beyond me although there are now after market versions available for 1/4 the price). The main advantage of the hood is to allow the fitting of a std 49mm filter which has proved vital for the protection of the camera. It is ridiculous that you cant use the hood and the lens cap together. I have managed to use an old OM cap for transporting purposes though.

After initial testing, i began to like the camera although the first problem came to light. The battery is awful!! going out on a normal day, with a full charge in the morning the red light would be flashing after half a day or a hundred or so shots. Looking at this, i realised that i would need a spare which was ordered before departure. The other thing i did to save power was to turn off every unnecessary functions such as reviewing on the screen and the flash and simply use it as i would’ve a “proper” camera. this worked and almost tripled the battery life i was getting.

The standard test all my kit seems to get is a wander round the village and / or a quick snap of the dog looking cute. As can be seen from the images below the image quality is stunning, as good as and if not better than any camera i have used before. That was that concern put to rest than. The auto focus is quick enough, not lightening fast, but good enough for this type of camera. The metering was spot on and the composition using the LCD viewfinder was perfect. It has to be said that i found myself using the rear screen as a viewfinder a bit which would not be possible on the trip. I also noted that the manual focus option is to say the least pointless and has obviously just been put in to please the traditionalist. It is so slow to use that it is far more viable to auto focus on a point and then recompose using the AF lock button on the back.

The only other setting change i made was to turn on the shutter sound. as bizarre as this may seem, it was difficult to tell when a photo had been taken on silent and one of the options is convincing enough to be a real shutter.

Everything was tested and we were ready to go.

It was at this point that someone mentioned vaccinations to which the resounding response was “Oh Dear!!”

I the next part, we actually get to morocco and the test (of me and the camera) starts in earnest.

Tilly on Porlock Weir Beach

Tilly on Porlock Weir Beach

St Andrew's Church Congresbury

St Andrew’s Church Congresbury

Canon 24m TSE mkII

Many years ago, i used to own the previous version of this lens back in the days of shooting on film and having to squint through the viewfinder at the tiny gridded screen.

Oh, how things have changed!!

I’ve been using this new(er) version on a Canon 5d mkII, mainly attached to a Manfrotto carbon tripod via one of their excellent new ball heads (I will be doing a post about this at a later date).

The first thing that hit me about this set up was how i instantly reverted to working as if using the old 5×4 setup from “back in the day”. I found myself composing on the LCD screen as if it was the ground glass on my old MPP. with the grids turned on it was fantastic. I was able to check verticals as well as the essentials of composition. This setup also lets you (fairly acuratly) assess the final exposure, practically negating the need for a light meter for most architectural shots.

The thing i had read most about this new lens was that it had a much wider range of shift movements, so in a typical small boy style i decided to try my first shot by pushing it all to the limits. Not wanting to be to adventurous, my first target was our village church. i have been trying to get a descent picture of this ever since i moved here a few years ago.

To push everything, i gt as near the ground as possible to try and make some of the interesting headstones and tombs as much a part of the picture as the church itself. I was particularly taken by the gothic angel and tried to get her in a decent proportion to every thing else. I think i managed this, although a number of people recon the result is a bit sinister and don’t really like it. i do, so that’s all that matters really :)

Another thing i was told about this lens was that it didn’t perform above f16. So with all this in mind, i pushed everything. It’s shot on f22, with the lens at maximum shift. I used standard differential focusing, checking that the nearest object was withing the zone whilst the furthest point was well withing infinity. What this has shown is that this lens is incredibly sharp, even fully stopped down. The colours are fantastic and most importantly, there is absolutely no distortion whatsoever. as yo can see from the back of the cross. This is perfectly straight from the camera and has had no adjustments to make it more so.

I have always liked the work of the late Simon Marsden and have found many of my images going towards his style of Infrared Gothicry (if that’s a real word). The finished file of the church was put through Alien Skin’s “Exposure 4” on the Kodak HIE setting (as this was my favourite film until its discontinuation). Ex4 gives a very good and accurate rendition of this film, so i find myself using it a fair bit.

A copy of the final print is available at: http://www.andrewchamberlain.co.uk/-/library/art-prints

On jobs since, i have used this lens to produce panoramas and other joined images. the total lack of distortion making light work of a job that used to be prohibitively difficult with my old lenses.

So, to sumarise, this is a fantastic lens that lets me work in a way that is not possible with standard wide angle lenses. possibly the best photographic investment I’ve ever made, AND, so impressed am I, that i have just ordered the 17mmTSE to go with it. Be sure that i will be posting image s from this and writing about it when it arrives and I’ve had a bit of a play.

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