365 (or how to stave off photographic boredom)

Well I’ve finally reached the end of my 365 project. What is it? You take a photo every day and upload it to your site of preference. Being motivated to take a “good” photo every day is difficult. There are days when you don’t know what to photograph and days where you don’t want to photograph anything.

As a photographer, I get bored very easily. Not of photography itself, but of lenses, cameras, subjects, format etc. I’ll shoot with Lensbabies for a few days, then switch to my Tamron macro lense, then something else. I might change to a film camera for a bit, or shoot exclusively macro. It all depends.

So anyway, here are some things I’ve found helpful for doing a 365 project, which may help stave off the boredom:

  1. Go for walks with your camera, even if it’s just round the block (or wherever). Keep your eyes open and get in the zone.
  2. When you go out, pick up crap. Really. It’s amazing what you can find to photograph, especially if you’re in to macro photography. Get closer and explore objects!
  3. Scour your home for everyday objects and try to find new ways of looking at them. Admittedly, this can get old… fast.
  4. Enter competitions and do themed photo challenges. Find something to get your creative juices flowing.
  5. Look at other people’s work. It doesn’t even have to be in a style you like. Just looking through flickr tags can give you some inspiration.
  6. On those days when you don’t even want to look through a viewfinder, all I can say is to push yourself. You never know, you might surprise yourself!

Why Film?

Firstly, it’s where I started. It was several years before I tried a digital camera and even then, I kept using film. But nowadays, digital is so easy to access. I’ve been guilty of trying to decide whether I shoot one of the other that day and going for the digital camera for ease of use. After all, I just download the photos and edit them in Exposure X4.5. Easy, right?

But here’s the thing. There’s magic in shooting film. I love opening the developing tank to see if I have got images. Not whether they’re any good… whether I’ve cocked up and not developed them properly (and I’ve been doing it long enough to not mess up). There’s a rush when I take the film off the reel and see negatives. After that, it’s all gravy!

OK, so once the magic of getting some negative is out of the way, what makes film so appealing? For one, it’s tactile. Holding your negatives and looking at them on a light table feels good. A print, made on good quality paper, has weight… has presence. There’s the process itself too and creativity.

It also leads to my love of lith printing, where I feel I can be creative. Where I can build and trust my instincts to get a certain type of print. I can’t do that with digital. I can edit an image, get it how I want it, but I don’t “feel it”.

Maybe all these reasons are superficial, maybe not. It all boils down to “because I like it”!

How to get up close

A Woodlouse. Taken with Tamron 90mm Macro Lense, 20mm Extension Tube and Ring Flash.

Getting up close to an object and exploring it can be a great way of creating photographs. I’m no expert, but here’s what works for me and how I do it, for the macro-curious.

Dandelion seeds. Taken with Tamron 90mm Lense, 12mm + 20mm +36mm Extension Tubes and Ring Flash.

The first stop is the macro lense. There are lots of macro lenses out there, but I went for the Tamron 90mm. It was cheaper than other brands at the time (many years ago now) but once I got it, I discovered that it has a wonderfully soft bokeh, as I’ve mentioned in another post. This lense can get up to 1:1 , which means objects are the same size on the sensor (or film) of your camera as they are in real life.

The fibres of a jumper. Taken with Tamron 90mm Macro Lense, 12mm + 20mm + 36mm Extension tubes and ring flash.

So, this is a good start, but how can we get closer? Well there are extension tubes, which sit between the lense and the camera. It really is worth spending out on tubes that keep aperture and computer connections between camera and lense. They aren’t too expensive nowadays. You can use any lense with your extension tubes, but one of the downsides of the Tamron is the long barrel, which extends past the optics. This means your lense gets very close to the subject, which, if it’s alive, might scare it off!

You can also get filters/dioptres/diopters that screw into the filter thread of your lense. I’ve had little experience of these, as I find extension tubes less finicky and easier to change in and out. They are however cheaper and less bulky than extension tubes. You can even get clip on ones for your phone.

Reversal rings also need a nod, though I’ve never used them, so can’t give any real advice on whether they are good or not. The closest I’ve come, is to reverse one lense on another and tape them together. This does work, though don’t do it with your expensive lenses!

The bottom of a leather camera case. Taken with Lensbaby Composer, Sweet 35 Optic, 12mm + 20mm Extension Tubes

Lighting is difficult with macro and I don’t profess to be an expert at it. I just use what works. I have a ring flash, which fits on the front of my lense. It was relatively cheap but does the job. It can leave what your photographing seem a bit washed out if you’re up close. This can be fixed when editing, but it’s not ideal. It does, however, help bring out detail and having a higher f/stop and shutter speed is a boon.

My other lighting setup is a normal angle lamp, with an LED bulb in it. I sort out a background, usually some paper of some sort, and move the lamp around until I’m happy. I’m sure there are plenty of people out there who would be horrified at this lighting setup!

As for holding the camera, I prefer to hand hold. I like to move around the subject a lot, looking for views that work. I occasionally use a tripod, but don’t like how it holds me back. You can also get focusing rails for your tripod, which allows you to move your camera forward and backwards and side to side in small increments. I’ve never used one but can see how they’d be useful, especially for focus stacking.

A very macro flower. Taken with Lensbaby Composer, Sweet 35 Optic, 12mm + 20mm + 36mm Extension Tubes

While trying not to be a broken record, I’d like to mention Lensbabies again. Using an optic such as the Sweet 35 with extension tubes, you can get very interesting macro photos. It can be great for creating abstract images too. It’s worth looking into at any rate.

I hope explaining how I make macro images is helpful to anyone who is looking to dabble in macro photography.

Captures Of The Day (30/4/19)

We went for a very long dog walk today. There were lots of photographic opportunities . I’ve wanted to photograph the graffiti at the entrance to Los Altos park, but wasn’t sure how to approach it. I’m quite happy with how it turned out.

Blue graffiti with white stars on it.
Graffiti stars

Just things like this padlock jumped out at me. Using the Edge 35 Optic I took an interesting slice through it.

A padlock.
Padlock

One of the best pieces of photographic advice I’ve had was to always look back the way you came. Things have more potential if you look again. That’s what I did for this image of trees in Los Altos park.

Trees in black and white.
Trees in the park

Sometimes the imperfections in something so bold can make for interesting photos. This was a bollard that has seen better days.

Luminous yellow background with cracks through it.
Luminous Cracks

And finally, more trees from Los Altos park.

Vertical trees with curving horizontal branches behind them.
Trees at odds with each other

Fumbling In The Dark

There is a saying: Your first darkroom is for your enemy, the second for your friend and the third is for yourself. You learn many things from making your own dark room. Simple things, like what the ideal hight of a unit should be (for me, about waist height); where the safelights should go; how to blackout a room, which took several attempts to get right.

I had my first darkroom many years ago (not counting several attempts to use the bathroom), in a small shed attached to my mum’s house. I built all the units and even had a flap that allowed access to a chest freezer. There was a wet side, a dry side and plenty of shelf room. As I worked in it, I found what worked and what didn’t. It wasn’t quite for my enemy, but I wouldn’t have said it was for a friend either. It did however work, and I started to learn how to work in a darkroom.

After this, I went through many years without a darkroom. I could still develop film, with a Paterson tank, but print making was out of the question.

Life went on, as it does, and then I was eventually able to set up a new darkroom, in a shed again! I took what I’d learned from my first darkroom, thinking I had skipped a step. Since I first started working in it, I’ve had to adapt it and add things. It sort of works, so I’d say it’s now for a friend.

My (somewhat messy) darkroom.

Blacking it out was troublesome, as it’s a normal 8×6 shed. Lots of ways for light to get it! I bought a lot of (in-fact, far too much) blackout material from Firstcall-Photographic. I then got a hefty staple gun and attached it to the walls of the shed, overlapping it all. Thick black duct tape helps to cover light leaks too.

Ventilation was my most recent addition to the darkroom, and much needed. I took a bit of a punt, not fully knowing what I was doing. My first attempt was a failure. I bought a solar powered extractor fan and a tumble drier hose. The extractor fan only worked in strong, direct sunlight and the hose wasn’t even slightly light-tight.

Combi-flex tubing, with an in-line extractor fan.

So, I did a little research and ordered some combi-flex tubing, an in-line extractor fan and a couple of vent diffusers. This was much more successful. I did still make one mistake. I ordered 100mm width tubing and 100mm width fan etc. This meant that the tubing wouldn’t fit over the fan, as it was the same width. Doh! I cut a short line along the length of the tubing, allowing it to fit on the other parts, fixed it with jubilee clips and then covered everything with lashings of black duct tape. It works!

I still don’t have any running water, but that’s OK. I fill a large bottle of water in the bathroom, using a darkroom thermometer to get the temperature right, to mix chems. I also fill two large trays with water, so I can place a freshly fixed print straight in one of them. Then after a quick agitation, I move it to the second one to wait to be washed.

I’m sure I will make many changes as time goes on, but that’s my darkroom for now. As for the mess, I think it’s part of my creative process!