I’ve been doing some experiments exposing Ilford HP5 Plus at 3200 for the grain. Here’s a trio for your perusal. You can see they are of flowers, shot on 35mm and close-up using an extension tube. The tendency towards abstraction, and areas of simple tone, emphasises the grain I think.
One of the pleasures of 10x8: taking one’s time.
And so I have been. Taking my time. Going slowly. Slow photography. 10x8 style.
This process invites contemplation; room for visualisation before action. So today I invite you to join me as I contemplate this negative, a neg I haven’t even contact-printed yet.
I exposed for a ‘pale’ image punctuated by the dark line of the traversing diagonal branch. I envisage that the rich foliage will offer a large range of tones, even at a lighter register. As ever, questions present themselves: will this be the case? Does the composition quite work? (The bank of foliage in the foreground is perhaps too large.) Will the darker diagonal look too incongruous against the lighter tones? Is there a greater tonal range than I envisage?
Here I feel at home with 10x8: a little work here, a little work there. It fits in with my schedule and my tendency to ponder. Perhaps before too long I’ll be sharing this piece in a more finished form.
As part of my ongoing work with my 10x8 camera, I'm happy to offer for sale 'Fallen Tree' as a darkroom print. I have made a very limited number of contact prints from the 10 x 8 negative, on Ilford's Warmtone Fibre Based paper. The image size is a little smaller than 10 x8, and the paper size is nearly 11 x 14 inches. This allows the print to be mounted with a paper border showing, should the buyer wish. As always, the screen image fails to do the print justice, which really needs to be seen in person to be fully appreciated.
In this instalment of my Shanghai Travelogue I’ll be looking at the second approach I took to shooting in China, namely with 35mm black and white film. Here, I was very much on home ground: my Leica M6TTL being my camera of choice and Ilford’s HP5 Plus my film. It’s an approach I am intimately familiar with, and, in the spirit of Adams’ quote above, one I enjoy for its simplicity. Waking up in Shanghai, with somewhat more than a pocket’s worth of film in my possession, was indeed a heady experience.
I chose HP5 Plus because I know it and its development routines intimately. Many people begin to ask themselves what equipment they need when travelling to new locations, almost as if they are starting again with their photography. Instead, I prefer (and indeed recommend) familiar equipment and technique. Why change your way of working, just because you are going to be somewhere different? Increasingly, over the past few months black and white has become my preferred style, and films like HP5 Plus have been a mainstay.
The majority of my shots were exposed at 320 with a view to developing them in Perceptol. This is something like my default black and white mode right now. One loses a little speed (hence 320 not ‘box speed’, 400) and development times are long, but for me there is something of a holy trinity of sharpness, good tonality and well-controlled grain. My manual 35mm rangefinder camera allows for a contemplative approach to shooting, but when one is in the flow it also allows for speed of reaction too. Choose an aperture and shutter speed, part focus the lens, and shooting can take place almost instantaneously. I’d wager I give the best autofocus systems a run for their money with my camera so primed.
On a particularly misty day (which you can see in the shots), I decided to shoot at 1600. This flexibility is another virtue of HP5 Plus. It would mean another developer (this time LC29), but gave me a twofold advantage: speed when shooting on the underground trains, and small-ish apertures for street shots in the mist. The grain is somewhat exaggerated at this speed, but I think it complements the mist and was an effect I had visualised at the time. If my pursuit of 320 and Perceptol came from my earlier days of wanting to suppress grain for a cleaner look, my embracing grain at 1600 represents a more mature self who has made his peace with the medium and its quirks. There is beauty in grain. As ever with film, the key thing is to assess the situation in front of you and try to use your knowledge of printing and development to see a finished print in your mind’s eye.
I’ll be looking at my experience of shooting large format film with my Intrepid Field Camera in the next instalment. I hope you enjoy the shots.
I've been processing with some full-bodied tonality of late, so today it's something of a change. When this tree caught my eye it was bathed in some gentle light. I have tried to reproduced this idea of gentle luminosity, with the whites of the trunks leading a light palette. I was aiming for a silvery, airy piece.
I hope you enjoy it.