I Remember Why I Dream In Black And White


Lightroom 4 mini-review

Steve Medium Format (LR4 version) by Tim Baker

Just updated to Lightroom 4, and you can see the difference below as I redid one of my medium format images with the new ‘Process Version 2012’. Warning: on problem images it does tend to screw up your converted LR3 2010 pictures somewhat, coming out really light. It seems big changes in Contrast and the introduction of Highlights, Shadows and Whites sliders and changes with Clarity means if you have a photo using a lot of those (say a dark underexposed image, or with a lot of haze/flare) you might need to tweak it quite a lot – but my other more standard images hardly changed at all – the shot of Kirk for instance the auto-tone and the skin tones looked far more pleasing.

One good thing though is you’re given the option to view Before/After and can edit your image to match the previous Process Version, so it’s quite a quick process unless you have quite a ‘challenging’ image, in which case unless you feel there is something in the new Process Version you want, I’d leave old images be. What I found though is those old images looked rather odd in the old PV2010 in 4, they looked overexposed/light as if the brightness was turned up too high, so I’m not sure how good the claim is that your old images stay as they are…that’s the theory, but it seems a bit of a one-way upgrade so if you’ve got images you’re editing I’d recommend you finish and export them in LR3 before moving to LR4 and accept some of them will ‘shift’ and lighten.

The spotting is far faster – it tends to drag on the massive medium format scans in LR3, only slightly in LR4 as you click, then you can add another, speeding up the process no end. Also the gamut has been tweaked so highlights don’t blow so easily and it seems a softer curves at the higher end, leading to more pleasing skin in portrait shots.

Something strange when I first imported the catalog it took closing and reopening the program and some time before the previews showed (maybe they’re being ‘converted’ but there wasn’t an indicator for that, although it said it would), so if you get ‘no images found’ in Develop module try restarting the program, or opening up LR3, closing it down, then opening LR4, that seemed to do it.

I’ve also used the white balance temp/tint function on the mask brush – it’s great for when you have mixed lighting or the shift in colour due to being too close or too far away from the flash, noticed that bringing underexposed areas the colours tend to have a red bias (and too close a greenish tinge?) – this slider will help you balance the colours.

Check it out – here you can see the new PV 2012 image and to compare you can see the original JPG of the PV2010 version three posts below…it took more work to get ‘back’ to this state, but I do prefer it, the higher-range tones looks much more natural and less contrasty and highlights seem less likely to ‘blow’ – and better Clarity results although now needs to be more lightly applied :

Steve Medium Format (LR4 version) by Tim Baker

There also seemed to be far less obvious ‘noise’ (look at the black jacket, the white bits are on the image, less prominent in the LR4 version) and colour seemed less likely to go to vivid when you turned up the contrast – this was slightly annoying actually as I liked the more saturated look so I had to play with Vibrance and Saturation, but it’s good news if you have images like this which usually when you turn up the Exposure gain and contrast things used to get a little day-glo. Opposite seems to be true now, it seems to err on the other side of neutral.

And here you see the original scan – ugh indeed. That’s the magic of the tools in Lightroom and also a decent colour negative scanner (transparency might be a different story) you can get something out of a failed negative like this (what happened is I was trying to bounce light from behind, I now know I probably should have put a small flash in front, or put large reflectors closer – the balancing in this high key soft type shot, something that’s used a lot in fashion, is very hard.

Steve Medium Format unedited by Tim Baker

Not tried the other features in LR4 – import seems a LOT faster, though…but looking forward to reverse geoencoding using GPX Logger on my Android phone and using the new Map feature where you can sync a GPX file to a set of pictures so you can use any camera and don’t need an expensive device trailing a cable off your camera to tag the GPS location – yes that’s more accurate but it’s the hassle of having wires I don’t want…and this is free!

Everybody starts somewhere: my first black and white film

Kirk, 1992 Godalming College
Kirk, 1992 Godalming College

Kirk, 1992 Godalming College

Just to show you that you don’t just pick up a camera and become good – nor is it the camera that’s doing it (both big misconceptions, the amount of times I’ve shown people pictures and they’ve damned me with faint praise by saying ‘You must have a good camera!’ – grr. It’s not the camera but the person holding it, within limits as I’ll explain) here is scans from the first film I shot in black and white, and the first film I developed. And seemingly the first film I covered in talcum powder then ran a chisel over by the quality of the negs, if you zoom in it’s like snow…but I hadn’t a clue then how to handle neagtives, and also I think underdeveloped them and there were several accidents, and I suspect contamination during drying or developing since they looked pretty crappy back then too.

I am aware people pay loads of money for apps to create this out of focus / halation / grunge effect and here I am spending ages in Lightroom spotting the galaxy!

Anyway here is my shots from Godalming College, circa early 1992. Above is the first proper shot of Kirk, and probably the first portrait shot I was proud of. All of these are shot on Ilford FP4 ‘Safety Film’ (!!!) I think bulk loaded at the college. Camera – well hence the limits I was talking about, I was using a rather strange second hand Russian or German 35mm camera, I forget the make but those who like Holgas or toy cameras probably would love it. It had a square aperture, and the lens seemed to be falling off…it was almost impossible to focus or work out how to focus it, I obviously worked it out towards the end of the film as I do have some in focus shots, but it seemed rather shallow depth of field – and also using 125 ISO film in those dark classrooms was also not easy.

Needless to say I didn’t use the camera again, but quickly got a cheap Praktica SLR rather than borrowing my Dad’s old trusty yet heavy Zenit and the rest is history.

Language Block, 1992

Language Block, 1992

Mr Stevens class, 1992

Mr Stevens class, 1992

In the art room, 1992

In the art room, 1992

In the art room, 1992

In the art room, 1992

What was your first b&w, or indeed first film like?

Black and white film thoughts

El Escorial by Tim Baker

Wrote this on another blog of mine but it bears repeating here – It’s obvious I have a very different style with film and black and white…I remember skulking around looking for textures and shadows, and of course colour means nothing, it’s all about the contrast – what usually looks to you as being contrast is quite often different intense colours and looks completely limp in black and white.

I miss that considered approach…just flicking ‘black and white’ switch isn’t really it (why I’ve never used the ‘Black and White’ function in Lightroom til now) because the visual thinking is different. The approach is different. The headspace is different. You need to be in the right mindset, and it usually shows if you do it after the fact.

Also there seems to be loads of diagonals, but hey, I’m an ex-art student. That’s what they get taught 😉

And many pictures of plane trees for some reason…

El Escorial by Tim Baker

Film 7 – Lindisfarne colour

CNV00137 Lindisfarne by Tim Baker

OK obviously I took more than Infrared at Lindisfarne (there is one plain black and white which will have to wait since I’m out of canned air) and also some colour…this is the fading I mentioned earlier in a previous post. Looking at other Kodak 160NC (NC stands for Neutral Colour) photos I’ve taken it probably wasn’t the best choice for landscapes as it does tend to come out looking rather limp, and it was usually used for portraits anyway but it was all I had. Even then there’s something odd going on with the colour in these pictures? Not sure if that’s the film, the odd lighting or more likely the 8 years in my fridge…

CNV00123 Lindisfarne by Tim Baker

 CNV00137 Lindisfarne by Tim Baker

It’s more like these were taken in 1964 not 2004…very strange. It was a rather overcast white sky day, and obviously a lot of the paintwork has faded – but doesn’t explain the blue/green grass? And the odd looking blues…

CNV00133  Lindisfarne by Tim Baker

CNV00124 Lindisfarne by Tim Baker

CNV00126 Lindisfarne by Tim Baker

CNV00130 Lindisfarne by Tim Baker

Maybe a rescan will fix these – obviously unlike the other scans these were done at process time, and rather than tweak the fairly low-res JPGs it’s probably better to rescan the ones I like. Neutral Colour does create pastel shades, but in none of the other that I processed at the time and printed do have greens that faded. Or weird pink gravestones?:

CNV00151 by Tim Baker

CNV00151 by Tim Baker

CNV00152 Park bench by Tim Baker

CNV00143 Lindisfarne by Tim Baker

Film 5 / Nikon Coolscan 8000ED

My scanner finally arrived today (no thanks to the usual crapness of UPS) and just been playing with it. It’s a medium format scanner, so it not only can do 35mm but also 120 and other sizes (even 16mm film strips with the right film holder!). It’s pretty good, although I knew that the software doesn’t work that well on Snow Leopard/64 bit systems – it is upto 10 years old after all – so I’m currently using my old 10.4 Minimac as a dedicated scanning computer. Currently it’s going through it’s first 120 shot, a portrait I took in 2009. It’s a massive beast but I love that it seems that it’s been hardly used, the 35mm and slide film holders were still in their plastic unused – it looks like it’s only had fairly light medium format usage.

I have scanned a whole two strips of 35mm slides (one of the nice things is you can just leave it scanning 12 pictures while you do something else!), I chucked some of the harder slides at it first to put it though it’s paces – these are from Berwick, August 2004 and yes are one of the ‘lost films’.

Berwick 2004 by Tim Baker

Pretty good, although this is using the Digital ICE (the infra red noise technology that takes out dust and scratches and marks on the surface of the film) and 14 bit this isn’t using the multisampling or Super Fine CCD modes…that’s noticeable as there is banding in the darker parts of these shots which apparently that fixes:

Berwick 2004 - John by Tim Baker

Berwick 2004 by Tim Baker

I’ve run these through Lightroom 3, something I trust more than Photoshop CS5 nowadays (and far faster) – apart from needing some colour noise reduction, sharpening and the banding issue they’re great. I think switching multisampling and Super Fine CCD will fix those – at the expense of a lot more time!

Film 4: Barcelona

CNV00037 Barcelona by Tim Baker

CNV00006 Barcelona by Tim Baker

Film 4 is another C41 black and white film, and I’m pretty sure this is Barcelona which we visited Xmas 2004.

CNV00010 Barcelona by Tim Baker

CNV00015 Barcelona by Tim Baker

CNV00014 Barcelona by Tim Baker

I love the selective focus on this shot of a park tree:

CNV00016 Barcelona by Tim Baker

This is the shot that gives it away as Barcelona – my style of shooting can be very abstract and thus difficult to indentify, but I remember taking this shot and where it is, it’s the roof of one of the Gaudi houses in Barcelona, I think Casa Batlló.

CNV00037 Barcelona by Tim Baker

Something very mysterious about this shot. maybe it’s the shadows and the impending motorcycle…this type – ie. speeding motorcycle – is not just a Daniel Johnston track it’s also one of the recurring memes in my photographs, I tend to capture them just so.

CNV00034 Barcelona by Tim Baker

I must say I still LOVE Koday T400 CN tonality, the smooth soft ungrainyness might be an anathema to purists but it just *works* under certain conditions, especially with stonework and very contrasty angular images of a European sort! I’ve noticed my similar shots on Delta 100, FP4 or Neopan tend to have that sharp grain that B&W-philes love, but also tend towards the stark heavy contrast which there is no going back from…at least with Chromogenic films you have room to breathe with some detail remaining in the shadows.

As before, taken with the Nikon F90 and the 3.5-4.5 28-105mm – I still have both.

Film 2 and 3: Madrid again

CNV00160 libreria perez galdos in Madrid, Tim Baker

Had to google it, but this is Libreria Perez Galdos, a very old bookshop in Madrid:

CNV00160 libreria perez galdos in Madrid, Tim Baker

Keeping up the Libreria link, here’s my partner John in his bull tshirt – this didn’t identify totally Film 3, but the bag he’s holding probably full of maps is from Madrid, so can be pretty sure this is also Madrid.

CNV00081 John in Madrid, by Tim Baker

CNV00083 Madrid by Tim Baker

This again is Fuji Superia – 200 this time. Of all the C41 films this has held up the best, only slightly strange green/blue cast sometimes, not sure if that’s the film (Fuji films do have a green/blue bias) or some fading in the reds? Check out this Spanish flag picture…not sure yet if it’s the processor/scanner (again a Fuji process lab so should match well) but the fact the yellows look a little odd probably suggests some magenta fading?

CNV00113 Madrid by Tim Baker

But all in all, a good advert from Fuji, I doubt they’d expect their films to be left in a tupperware box for 8 years after exposure, but the Superia 200 has held up really well, strangely better than the 100, although that could be exposure on my end. Kodak’s Royal Supra 200 film did less well as we shall see, which given it’s bargain-basement cheery nature not that surprising, but the real shock was the professional Kodak 160NC didn’t really survive that well either.

These were all taken with a Nikon F80 with a 28-105mm 3.5-4.5D lens.

Film 1: Madrid

CNV00023 Madrid by Tim Baker

CNV00023 Madrid by Tim Baker

All the films are processed but I’m waiting for the scanner to arrive (amazing how expensive next day delivery seems to take nearly a week, but anyway) I thought I’d share with you the pictures I got back today from West End Cameras – here is the first film, from July 2004 in Madrid. Totally forgotten about these, remember taking the pictures of the shop fronts though. This was taken on Fuji Superia 100, the colours might have faded a bit but held up well, although is it me or is there something odd going on with reds/magenta?

CNV00018 Madrid by Tim Baker

CNV00007 Madrid by Tim Baker

CNV00006 Madrid by Tim Baker

These were all taken with a Nikon F80 with a 28-105mm 3.5-4.5D lens.

Welcome to my lab

Welcome to my lab!
Welcome to my lab!

Yes I know my shower looks terrible. And storing chemicals in drink bottles - don't do this kids!


So that left the black and white (silver) photographs…what to do with those? Like E6 the prices for processing B&W film are usually pricey, unlike E6 there wasn’t a place that would do it at basic cost – cheapest was Peak at £4.44 and that had to be sent off, and probably postage extra. So I decided to get out the ol’ Paterson tank that I’d kept, and all the other gear which is still in serviceable nick. I used to regularly develop film, especially during my C&G days – I had a leaky old secondhand tank before then, but got a nice 2 roll tank when I was doing my C&G and needed to cheaply develop a lot of film, and a changing bag. Weirdly the newer spiral sticks, the older one is fine…

Milk thermometer

Milk thermometer...developuccino anyone?

Problem was I accidentally smashed my thermometer years ago (no not in a fit of pique, just moving it) and so needed a new one…but it seems no-one actually sells mercury or spirit thermometers anymore. Yes you can get them online, but not actually in a shop…well you can pay £14-18 pounds for a gold-plated Paterson or ‘photographic’ one – why is it whenever the word ‘photography’ is added to anything the sellers eyes light up and wants to charge double for the same thing? Do they think all photogs are made of money? –  but seriously unless you are doing colour developing you don’t need that sort of accuracy. For black and white all you need is a cooking or propagation thermometer with the scale around 20 degree (that’s the hard bit).

So eventually I got a ‘Milk/Latte’ thermometer from Nisbets catering shop in Shaftesbury Avenue…works fine and makes a damn fine cup of coffee! No not tried it with coffee but it measures just fine. And was about 8 quid – there was an even cheaper one at 4 quid but there was only one so couldn’t check if they were usually consistent. Online there are loads of thermometers, just remember that the scale needs to go down to 20 degrees C or whatever temperature you usually develop – a lot of the cooking thermometers I found started at 50 – and I didn’t trust the fridge thermometers to withstand the chemicals! Also the latter thermometer has a long ‘stalk’ which is really convenient for mostly empty bottles or poking into the tank to check the temperature where the film is – I saw a cheaper stubby traditional thermometer at West End Cameras for a fiver but obviously you’d have to hold it all the time.

So after the palaver of finding a cheaper (if not really cheap) thermometer, I needed chemicals…not of that sort, although after spending far too much time in Robert Dyas and hardware shops a little recreation would have not gone amiss…no I needed developing chemicals, and fixer. I’m used to Ilford ID11 developer, and see there’s a newer one called Ilfosol S obviously designed for the lomography/small batch home developer. It’s expensive though, ID11 was reasonable but even at 1:1 wouldn’t cover 5 films and it’s really not recommended to reuse it especially dilute. There are all kinds of fancy developers out there, Rodinal etc but they tend to be specifically suited for certain films and as I had a motley mixture of makes I needed a general purpose developer.

So I went with Kodak D76 which is almost chemically the same as ID11 and about as old a formula and Agefix, Agfa’s fixer which is discontinued at Process Supplies where I also get my storage stuff from (more later about that) – I think the D76 which was more than enough at 3.8 litres cost around 4 pounds, and the fixer which again was far more than I’d ever need was 7 pounds. Slightly cheaper than Silverprint or West End Cameras, but not massively different.

So after all that…time to develop some film. After wrestling with the film and the bottle opener (hmm Kodak seem to weld their cannisters shut!) and finding out conveniently that my shower head screws off making a handy power washer, I start to develop my first films in years.

Like a E6, Like a E6…

Well E6 might not be a fancy bling plane but it’s the process for developing slide film – and in my searching for places to develop film it not only is pricier than C41 colour negative processing, it’s rarer. I looked up a few places – Peak Imaging, Jessops, West End Cameras but as these 2 films might be utter trash I didn’t want to spend 5-10 quid per film (oh hai I’m in London in the UK if you didn’t know). I tend to want stuff now also, I hate waiting for packets to send or arrive from far off places – hence when talking about products and companies I’ll probably mention London-local services. Call it revenge for all those endless articles that seem to deny anywhere but the US exists 😉

The cheapest place I found for processing apart from black and white is Genie Imaging in Wandsworth – at £2.20 a roll for C41 and E6 you can’t really argue. You get those prices using their special online booking system, Photos2You which only seems to work in my Safari browser (probably using something my locked-down secure add-on Firefox is stopping). Obviously you have to send them the films by post (or upload pictures for prints) but you can save time and money by picking up them if you’re local. We’ll see if it’s worth it, but looks to be the cheapest in London and maybe the UK for most things outside colleges or universities (I do wonder as an alumnus whether I could’ve popped in with all my films but it seemed slightly pisstaking!)…but I didn’t go with them for the 8 C41 films.

Why? Well call me old fashioned I have hard enough time working out what’s going on with black & white negatives, let alone colour…I need a preview, at the very least a contact sheet. So I’m using West End Cameras who are having a 3,99 develop and scan offer….cheaper than the Genie prints, but at least gives me a preview of what’s on the bleeding things. I’ve used West End for 120 prints a few years back (I will speak more about my Medium Format rig in a future post).

And no I don’t work for any of these people…just I’ve spent a lot of the week trudging around places and the internet so I may as well save you having to do same…most places processing of film either doesn’t exist anymore (have Boots stopped now?) or is hyper expensive so it’s good to support the shops and small trade places that are still supporting film and true photographers of analog and digital, rather than the short-sighted Jessops who has totally ditched all of it’s analog products (even storage!) apart from printing paper. Sad. And I don’t agree that there isn’t the demand…

Photo archaeology

Like many people I stopped taking film pictures in the 00s – I found my digital compact far more convenient and when I bought my Nikon D70 in 2004 that sounded the death knell for 25 years of chemical photography.

Problem was, I had films with the odd few exposures on them, or finished but waiting to be processed. As it turned out they waited a LONG time – 8 years in fact…waiting in my fridge as relics from a lost time.

So I decided finally to do some photo archaeology and process them – which also meant some detective work as I had no idea of what photos were inside these little cannisters of metal…exciting, and something you miss from the instant digital age.

So what did we have in the little tupperware time capsule?

2 x E6 Slide films, both marked ‘fogged’ – one Ektachrome the other I forget.

8 x C41 (colour) process films, a combination of cheap (Kodak Gold! Woo! I won loads of this in Letter of the Week in Amateur Photographer…I used it for random stuff) to more expensive inc Kodak Portra (remember that?) which might have some portraits on it. Or not. Also a couple of rolls of C41 process chomogenic black and white film – I loved Kodak’s T400CN which survives in a different form.

9 x Black and White films…3 of these are self loading DIY cannisters – I still have the bulk loader (pictured) filled partly with Fuji Neopan, and these are Fuji Neopan 400. Also Ilford Pan-F, FP4 and Delta 100, Kodak Plus-X 125 (again, no more *sniff*)  and most interestingly 2 Infrared films – Konica 750nm and Kodak HIE – both of which aren’t made anymore. Remains to be seen if they’ve gotten fogged in the fridge (and in the case of the Konica at least twice I’ve accidentally opened the stupidly unmarked plastic cannister going ‘ooh what’s this?’ to then suddenly put it back in.

So what shall be done with these? More in a following post…