Shooting Models in a Derelict Mansion

Shooting Models in a Derelict Mansion

Where better to spend the day after the coldest night of the winter, than a derelict mansion riddled with broken windows, standing around behind a camera? Well that’s how I spent the 3rd of February – at Woolton Hall, a once grand, but now semi-derelict mansion on the outskirts of Liverpool. The event, organised by photographer John Ayliffe, brought together a number of photographers, models and makeup artists. I officially went as an assistant to my friend Rob Lycett and helped him lug his gear to the second floor and with lighting models.

I’ve been keen to try shooting my film cameras with studio lighting and this was the perfect opportunity to try it out. I went with my Bronica SQ-Ai medium format camera and my Vivitar v335 35mm SLR to shoot with my Pentax glass. (I’d have loved to use my Pentax MX, but didn’t want to be restricted to its meagre 1/60 flash sync speed).

The Bronica was loaded with good old HP5+ and owing to a sudden parting of the clouds, was mostly shot with natural light as it was just do damn gorgeous in the room we were in. The Vivitar on the other hand had the sublime Kodak Portra 160 loaded in it and was used extensively with Rob’s studio lighting setup. The light setup most used was a giant softbox on a boom to provide fill light and a gridded (or in some cases bare) speed light to add rim lighting or more directional hard lighting. We also made good use of a large reflector, both in the naturally lit shots and the strobe ones.

The models were all very professional and took the freezing conditions in their stride – helped by a copious number of hot water bottles and some time basking by infrared heaters, in the one part of the mansion where the electric still worked, between shoots.

Overall it was a great experience and something I hope to do again, albeit preferably in warmer conditions next time!

Climbing Pen-y-ghent with Two Rolleis

Back in May my partner convinced me to go climb Pen-y-ghent with him, one of the Yorkshire Three Peaks. At 694m, or 2,277 feet, it’s not the tallest mountain but it’s still a fair challenge, and the total hike which took us from Horton in Ribblesdale to Ribblehead was on the order of 12-13 miles. I took two film cameras to document the trip, my Rollei 35 SE loaded with Fuji Neopan Acros 100 and my Rolleicord Vb loaded with a roll of Provia 100F. I had the 16 exposure kit in my Rolleicord as I wanted to maximise the number of shots I had. I didn’t break out the Rolleicord until after climbing to the top of the mountain so all the shots in colour are from the decent.

The path was pretty gentle to begin with and we joined a fairly steady flow of walkers, setting off at about 10 in the morning.

The path got gradually more rocky and uneven as we neared the foot of the mountain.

The path gradually gave way to a stony steps. As the route is so well walked these stone paths are essential to prevent the terrain from getting eroded into gullies.

Looking up towards one of the peaks with the scree slopes beneath. There are a few points where some mild scrambling and rock climbing are required to reach the summit from this side, but it’s all pretty tame really.

Getting near the top the views are already looking pretty spectacular with clear views for a good few miles before the haze sets in. Being a national park, there are no pylons or big roads to mar the landscape.

Looking back at the long way down the mountain side.

On reaching the summit we waited our turn to get a selfie by the OS trig post. I forgot to get a shot on film so this is from my iPhone, looking back at the path we’ve just climbed up. Now with the hard bit done it was time to breakout the Rolleicord and get some colour shots.

The previously clear blue skies started to get a few clouds as we began our decent on the opposite side of the mountain. The path on this side is largely made of big stone steps.

You can just make out the white line of the path we’ll be walking, snaking off into the distance. You can even just make out the Ribblehead Viaduct over the cloud shadow on the mid-righthand edge.

Looking back over my shoulder I could see the peak of Pen-y-ghent slowly receding.

Getting a little more cloudy still.

Rollei Vb w/ Xenar 75mm f3.5, 16 exposure kit. Shot on Fuji Provia 100.

Every structure was encrusted with a mix of moss and lichens, as seen here on this old gate post.

I used a yellow filter on the Rollei 35 which helped brighten the path and some of the moorland reeds and grasses.

Towards the end of the hike, the footpath took us through a farm yard. Look at the date above the door of this farmhouse – that building has stood there since 1681!

With the exception of the ever present winding drystone walls, the land is pretty bare. This ruined barn sits in rather splendid isolation.

We encountered a lot fewer walkers on the far side, you can just start to make out some of the cool limestone pavements the area is known for in the distance in this shot.

I’d love to come back here when I can spend a bit more time to explore and photograph the limestone pavement.

The background haze gradually increased as the afternoon wore on.

Ribblehead Viaduct

The last stretch of the walk ran along the road to Ribblehead and as it wasn’t very visually interesting, this part of the hike really felt like it dragged out. When the amazing Ribblehead Viaduct finally came into view though it was all worth it. Unfortunately to get a good shot of the viaduct would have required a fair bit more hiking down into the valley it crosses – something neither of us had the energy to do at that point. So instead after having some refreshments at the fairly mediocre Station Inn pub, I quickly ran up the road to get this view from behind the viaduct before we had to dash off to catch the train home. The trains only stop every 2 hours at Ribblehead so we were keen not to miss it.

Project: Hopes & Dreams

I should preface this by saying I’m really not that interested in football, and find myself somewhat bemused by the wave of fervent excitement (and almost always dashed hopes) that wash over the nation every 4 years with the World Cup. But this year was a little different, for once our team actually did fairly well, and I found myself fascinated by the St. Georges flags that were suddenly popping up everywhere. The idea for a project sparked into my mind. So here I give you, Hopes & Dreams. A mini project documenting how England’s brief blaze of glory at the 2018 World Cup expressed itself in the windows, on the cars and down the streets of my corner of West Yorkshire. All shot on my newly acquired Pentax MX on a mix of Fuji Neopan Acros 100 & ADOX Silvermax 100.

   

Football did indeed for a little while come home.

120 Quick Takes Part 2

It’s been about 10 months since I last wrote about my experiences trying different film stocks so I thought it was high time for a new article. This time I’m also going to cover some expired films as I was given a hoard of old deep frozen film by a friend so have more experience with it now.

Black & White

Agfa Agfapan APX 400 (expired)

Rolleicord Vb, Xenar 75mm f3.5 w/ 16 exposure kit. Agfapan APX 400 @ ISO 320

This film hasn’t been manufactured in over a decade now, the roll I shot expired in 2005. I shot my roll of this film at ISO 320 to compensate for loss of sensitivity. The film has a traditional style emulsion that produces a noticeable but not unpleasant grain. I feel like it renders light quite softly, but still produces a good detail and sharpness. I shot this roll in my Rolleicord Vb.

Lomography Earl Grey (ISO 100)

Bronica SQ-Ai w/ 80mm f2.8. Lomo Earl Grey @ ISO 100

Earl Grey is rebranded Foma Creative 100. It’s a really nice, fine grained ISO 100 classic emulsion. I enjoyed shooting Creative 100 so it follows that I also like this rebranded version. Results from my SQ-Ai look crisper and sharper than from ETRS, but I’d put this down to differences in the lenses rather than any improvement Foma may have made to the film itself since last year. Sold in handy 3 packs it’s a really solid black and white film, and provides a cheaper alternative to say Ilford FP4+.

Ilford FP4+ (ISO 125, expired)

Rolleicord Vb, Xenar 75mm f3.5. Ilford FP4+ (exp. 2005) @ ISO 100

As part of the film stash I was given I got several rolls of FP4 plus, all dating back to the early 2000s. I’ve now shot a couple of rolls, exposing it at ISO 100 to give the old emulsion a slight kick. The results are great, it all looks as good as new producing lovely, fine grain negatives with a lovely tonal range. I also have some older non-plus rolls of FP4, including one dating back to the 1980s which I’m hoping to try over the summer.

Colour Negative

Kodak Portra 160

Rollei Vb w/ Xenar 75mm f3.5. Kodak Portra 160 @ ISO 160

I really like this film! It’s flexible, very fine grained and with a lovely warm palette. Compared to Kodak Ektar 100, it’s much easier to work with – you don’t need to worry about shadows turning blue, colours are a bit softer and more natural. You also get 2/3rd of a stop more light to work with over Ektar. It handles over exposure well giving you lots of headroom if you want to shoot at ISO 100 or slower speeds. You can sometimes find a five pack of Portra 160 for as little as £25 on Amazon which makes it a bargain for such a high quality film.

CineStills 800T

Rolleicord Vb, Xenar 75mm f3.5. CineStill 800T @ ISO 800

I’d wanted to shoot this film for ages – then after finally buying a roll, it spent several months sat in my fridge as I didn’t know what to do with it! The trouble with CineStills film is that it’s seriously expensive. A single roll of 800T cost me £15 – that puts a lot of pressure on you to make good use of it. I ended up taking it to Amsterdam with the hope of getting some good night shots around the city. Unfortunately it turns out Amsterdam isn’t a very brightly lit city! So I wasn’t that happy with many of the shots I got because I struggled to find brightly lit subjects to fill the frame, oh well c’est la vie! Still I like the look of this film, the glow you get around the highlights due to the removal of the anti-halation layer looks cool. Grain is incredibly fine for such a fast film, easily rivalling Portra 400. If I buy any more it will probably be in 135 format just so I don’t have to stress quite so much about the cost of each shot!

Rollei CN200

Bronica SQ-Ai w/ 80mm f2.8. Rollei Digibase CN200 @ ISO 200

This is an interesting film, unusually without an orange mask, making it slightly easier to digitise. Unfortunately my test roll didn’t turn out brilliantly, resulting in some of the shots having areas of uneven development. The film has a noticeable, but fine grain and good sharpness. Shadow areas can tend a little towards purple and it doesn’t give you much leeway for underexposure in the shadows. It’s probably better to exposure it at ISO 160 to give yourself more headroom. I was hoping to get some more of this film to play with now I’ve got my C-41 process better nailed down, but sadly it seems to be discontinued.

Lomography CN800

Bronica SQ-Ai w/ 150mm f4. Lomo CN800 @ ISO 800

Rollei Vb w/ Xenar 75mm f3.5. Lomo CN800 @ ISO 400

This film has been a really pleasant surprise. I bought it just because at the time I’d never shot an ISO 800 colour film, and at £15 for 3 rolls it seemed like a bargain. Shot at ISO 800 it produces nice colours and reasonably tight grain. But shoot it at ISO 400 and it produces lovely punchy colours and a very pleasing soft grain that makes it rival native ISO 400 films like Fuji Pro 400H. Having a film that works well from ISO 800 on down is incredibly handy if you know you’re going to be in quite mixed lighting conditions. I don’t know who makes this film (it’s sourced from China), but I highly recommend trying it.

120 Quick Takes Part 1

Project: In the Way

The first medium format image I took last year was of a stile I regularly cross as I climb the hillside en route to Hebden Bridge. I’m not sure if I’ve intentionally photographed it before in the years I’ve lived here and used the route, but anyway something made me think it would make for a decent first shot and indeed I quite liked the result when I got the film developed. As I continued my analogue journey, trying various cameras and films, I noticed the stiles and gates on the paths I was wandering often filling a frame or two on a roll. By around the middle of summer I decided that by the end of the year I’d collate all these images together into a bit of a project. The only rules I set for it were that the images had to be on film and had to be of a gate or stile on a footpath. As such it’s a mix of colour and black white, medium format and 35mm across a variety of film stocks.

I call it “In the Way”. It’s presented here in roughly chronological order.

These images were taken on a mix of the Bronica ETRS, Bronica SQ-Ai and Rollei 35 LED. Films used include Kodak Portra 160 and 400, Kodak Color Plus, Fuji Provia 100, Fuji Acros 100, Fomapan 100 and Ilford FP4+.

As usual if you enjoy my photography and writing please consider purchasing a print from the store here or on Etsy. If you see something not on sale you’d like let me know and I’d be happy to make a print for you.

Exploring the Northern Quarter

It’s been ages since I last posted here but a camera has rarely been out of my hand during that time! I’ve sold the GR1s that started my film journey at the beginning of the year and supplemented my Rollei 35 LED with a fancier 35 SE model. I’ve also just shot my first paid wedding job, sold some prints and even some stock images on Alamy. It’s great to have my photography at least paying a little of its upkeep.

Today I want to share some images I took recently in Manchester’s wonderful Northern Quarter; a trendy, bohemian enclave that’s in the early stages of gentrification – so it’s still a nice mix of the rundown and the new and all the interesting people haven’t been priced out yet. It also has an excellent street art scene with a nice mix of posters, sticker art and painted pieces including some big murals.

All of these images were shot on Ilford Delta 400, a film I love using in medium format that is also fantastic in 35mm. I developed them in Ilford’s DD-X in my Jobo rotary processor.

The Rollei 35 is a fantastic camera for street photography because it’s so small and discrete. Set the aperture to f8 (or smaller if the light will allow) and use the hyperfocal markings to get all the depth of field you need for a typical street scene unfolding before you without worrying about precise focus. Unlike the 35 LED which only has markings for f8 and f16, the SE has everything from f2.8 to f22 marked on the lens barrel. It’s great not having to guess where the f11 and f5.6 marks are, even if their tight spacing makes it all feel a little imprecise.

There’s lots of poster art to find including some large cut out pieces. I’m a fan of this type of street art as it doesn’t ruin the lovely old brickwork beneath that gives the area a lot of its charm.

You can find lots of nice little independent shops, bars and cafés in the area – go use them and enjoy them while they last. (The UK has a horrendous record of allowing its towns and cities to become overrun with chain stores which rapidly purge the life and culture from an area).

If you squint hard enough you can almost see all the potted shrubs and happy chatting couples traversing this space that no doubt the architect’s gleaming renderings presented. Of course the reality is a dead quasi-public space no one uses.

Manchester’s old buildings are quickly succumbing to redevelopment and unfortunately that often means demolition. New life being breathed into deprived areas is great and much needed, but it’s hard not to worry what will replace characterful old buildings that in other European cities would be protected and treasured.

I’ll leave you with this final image of a strange figure painted on a wall that reminds me of Spirited Away’s “No Face” character.

As usual if you enjoy my photography and writing please consider purchasing a print from the store here or on Etsy. If you see something not on sale you’d like let me know and I’d be happy to make a print for you.

120 Film Quick Takes

120 Film Quick Takes

Since getting into film photography I’ve been keen to try as many different film stocks as I can get my hands on. Despite the resurgent popularity of film you never quite know how long any of these are going to be around, so it’s nice to use them while they’re still being freshly produced.

Black & White Films

Ilford PanF+ (ISO 50)

This is the slowest film I’ve shot with to date, rated at just ISO 50. Obviously this is one for bright outdoor shooting or tripod based long exposures. The benefit of such a slow film is the fineness of the grain and the ability to shoot wide apertures without requiring ND filters or very high shutter speeds.

In terms of grain, I’m a bit disappointed with this film. It’s not as clean as the faster Delta 100, Acros 100 or even Rollei Retro 80S. It’s the least grainy of Ilford’s classic emulsions, but if you’re only choosing it for clean and crisp images then you can find better, faster options. On the plus side I’ve found it handles contrasty situations very nicely with good shadow and highlight detail. This film is super quick to develop, requiring a 1:14 dilution of Ilfosol 3 and even then only taking 4 and a half minutes. I’ve read that PanF doesn’t have good keeping qualities once exposed so it’s best to develop as soon as possible after shooting.

Ilford FP4+ (ISO 125)

I really like this film, although it’s a traditional emulsion, grain is well controlled and fine, albeit still fairly noticeable in clear blue skies. Being a fairly slow film its best for use in bright conditions where it produces lovely tones. I’ve developed it in both Ilford DD-X and Ilfosol 3, which both produce similar results. In the later it’s very quick to develop requiring only a few minutes, which is good if you’re impatient like me! FP4+ tends to be very affordable and is available from £4 a roll.

Ilford HP5+ (ISO 400)

This was the first film I shot this year and I found it a bit too grainy for my liking in 35mm. Things are slightly better with the bigger negative sizes of 120 film but it’s still a bit grainier than I’d like, especially compared to Delta 400, even when that’s pushed a stop. HP5 is generally regarded as a fairly forgiving film when it comes to exposure latitude but I’ve not tried pushing or pulling it yet to confirm that. I think I generally prefer T grained films like Acros and Delta, but if you’re more a grain fan then this is probably what you want. I’ve only developed it in Ilford’s DD-X which may not be an ideal match. HP5 is usually around £5 to 6 a roll.

Ilford Delta 100

Delta 100 produces very clean, sharp images with good dynamic range and is practically grainless in appearance. It doesn’t block up shadows as much as Acros, with a broader mid-range. Handily like most Ilford films, you can buy this as individual rolls so it’s cheaper to experiment with. The film develops very well in Ilford’s Ilfosol 3. Delta 100 usually commands a price in the £5 to £6 range.

Ilford Delta 400

Delta 400 is one of my most used films. It’s great at box speed with fine grain and even pushed a stop 800 barely looks any different. It has a fairly flat contrast curve which is ideal for digitising, where you can tweak contrast as you see fit in post.

I’ve developed it in both Ilford DD-X and Ilfosol 3. DD-X is probably its natural match, especially for push processing. Results with Ilfosol 3 diluted to 1+14 have been a bit mixed so far, I’ve developed one roll pushed to 800 which came our great and another at box speed which was unacceptably grainy. I shall try 1+9 and see if that improves things or go back to DD-X. Amazon sell this film at £4.99 in which is about the best price you’ll find it for.

Fuji Neopan Acros 100

This film is stunning and my favourite for black and white photography. The digitised results could be from a modern digital sensor they’re so clean. If you’ve seen this film described as ‘grainless’ and not believed it, well believe it! Ok if you look very hard or try and push shadows or lightlights too much you’ll uncover a bit, but in a well exposed shot it’s amazingly clean.

Another benefit of Acros for those wanting to do long exposures is that it doesn’t suffer from the usual reciprocity failure that many films do. In terms of rendering, Acros tends to block up shadow areas but has huge range in the highlights, this produces some really beautiful results but needs careful exposure. I’ve had good results developing in the rotary processor with both Ilfosol 3 and DD-X. Unfortunately unlike with Ilford’s films, you can only buy this in 5 packs which makes it a little expensive here in the UK at nearly £6 a roll.

Fomapan 100 Classic

Foma is an interesting company producing traditional emulsion films at their plant in the Czech Republic. Fomapan 100 Classic actually reminds me of Ilford’s FP4+ quite a bit in the way it renders, although perhaps with slightly less sharp results overall. Still it’s a rather attractive film and given its low price in Europe, hard to ignore if you’re on a tight budget. It can be found for less than £4 a roll which is an increasing rarity with 120 film.

One thing to watch out for if home developing, is that it’s very flimsy and easy to mark when loading onto a spiral. It’s the first film I’ve handled that when unwound from the take-up spool was very loose – most want to tightly wind up again.

Fomapan 200 Creative

Despite the fairly low speed of ISO 200, this film is rather grainy and characterful making it good for fairly brightly lit scenes you want to give a bit of a gritty edge. That said if you don’t nail the exposure or want to darken a sky in post, things can get very messy. Like Foma’s 100 Classic, it’s a rather flimsy film which can make handling a bit more tricky when home processing. Unlike its cheaper slower sibling, 200 Creative tends to be in the mid £4 to £5 range.

Rollei Retro 80S

Rollei branded films are interesting primarily for their near-infrared sensitivity. In fact they do make purely IR film too, but I’ve not tried it yet. The benefit of having some IR sensitivity means in theory you can cut through haze on hot days which should be a boon for landscape photographers. Unfortunately it’s been a fairly poor summer here in Yorkshire, so I’ve not been able to test this aspect yet. Like the Foma films I’ve tried, Retro 80S is rather thin and while I had no trouble loading it onto my Jobo’s spiral, it’s remained very curly after drying which makes handling a little more fiddly.

In terms of image quality this is a remarkably good film. It’s as clean and grainless looking as Acros or Delta 100 with only a slight hit in speed. I’ve found it really doesn’t like underexposure, quickly losing all detail in dark shadow areas. One image, where I had to shoot what I thought was just 1 stop under to get a hand-holdable shutter speed, barely even registered on the negative!

Overall though I’m amazed at the quality, if you want a cheaper alternative to Acros or Delta 100 it’s a very good option. A roll of 80S will generally set you back around £4.50. The only real downside is that at just ISO 80 you will need brighter light or longer exposures than with comparable ISO 100 films. I’ve found 80S develops very well in Ilford’s Ilfosol 3.

Colour Negative Films

Fuji Pro NS 160

This was the first film I ran through my Bronica and I quickly decided I didn’t like it. I’ve found getting nice colours out of it when digitising to be a real chore, especially compared to every other colour negative film I’ve shot. It’s also expensive (quite a bit more so than Kodak Portra 160) working out at around £6 a roll, so it’s really hard to recommend. On the plus side the grain is fairly fine. It really doesn’t like underexposure and I’ve seen some odd effects at the edges of a few frames that I suspect might be light leaks which I’ve not seen with other films shot in the same camera. So I’m not sure if it’s an artefact from development, me miss-handling it or something else going on. Overall a thumbs down.

Fuji Pro 400H

Unlike NS 160, 400H is actually pretty nice. It digitises well and I’ve not seen any strange ‘light leaks’ or other issues. Overall performance is much the same as Kodak Portra 400. I’ve shot it at box speed and at ISO 200 and had nice results each time. This film handles greens very well so it’s particularly suited to landscape photography. It develops well in Tetenal ColorTec C-41. Available only in packs of 5, the cost per roll is around £6.

Kodak Ektar 100

Kodak advertises this as the finest grained colour negative film and it certainly produces very clean results. Colours tend to be punchy and saturated in bright light, but they can take on blue or purple casts if it’s gloomy or a little underexposed. I’ve found shadow areas in otherwise well exposed sunny scenes can turn very bluish which can require some post-processing to correct. This is certainly a film where you want to carefully expose for the shadows.

I’ve had good results developing Ektar with the two bath Tetenal ColorTec C-41 kit. Amazon has recently had fantastic prices for Kodak 120 films, with five packs selling for £25 or less, that makes this film an absolute bargain at around £5 a roll. More typically it will fetch somewhere between £5.50 and £6 a roll.

Kodak Portra 400

As the name suggests, Kodak wants you to think of this as a portrait film. To date I’ve yet to shoot a single portrait with it, but the colours lend themselves well to landscape and street photography too. Grain is fine and not overly apparent. I’ve shot several rolls of this over exposed by a stop at ISO 200, which has a nice effect on the colours. I’ve seen reports you can overexpose this film by up to 6 stops and still get very useable results. Of course like most film it’s less a fan of being underexposed, but then at ISO 400 you already have good latitude and Kodak produces an ISO 800 version if you need further flexibility. I’ve found this film can be a little bit grainy in the sky, at least developed with Tetenal’s C-41 kit. Pricing is around £5.50 to £6 a roll.

What next?

There are still quite a few films I’d like to try which I’ve not yet had the opportunity to. In particular these are on my list:

  • Kodak Portra 160
    I want to see if this is a good alternative to Ektar with a little more exposure headroom.
  • Kodak TMax (100, 400)
    I want to see how this compares to the Ilford’s Delta films.
  • Fuji Velvia
    This film is legendary so I’m keen to try it sometime.
  • Fuji Neopan 400 CN
    There’s only two Fuji B&W films so I might as well try them both, this is a C-41 process one.
  • Rollei Digibase CN 200
    This is an interesting film in that it doesn’t have a colour mask so it should be easier to digitise. After being floored by how good Retro 80S is I’m keen to try more Rollei films.
  • Ilford Delta 3200
    I’m interested to see what the quality is like from such a fast film, probably one I’ll save for the depths of winter when there isn’t much light!
  • Ilford XP2 400
    I’ve heard good things about this but I’ve been avoiding using my expensive colour chemistry on B&W films so far as this is another C-41 process one.
  • CineStills 800
    I’m really keen to try this film as I’ve seen some lovely images taken with it. It can be a bit expensive and hard to find in the UK unfortunately.

If you’re wondering why I’ve not listed Kodak’s Tri-X, it’s because I have shot it in 35mm format and didn’t like it much. I’m not a fan of grainy films generally, especially where equal speed cleaner films exist, and my experience with HP5+ has taught me that moving up a format size doesn’t really change the overall characteristic that much.