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Nik Analog Efex

Nik Analog Efex

Every so often I get the urge to play with Nik Efex. I can’t help myself, it’s such a fantastic artistic resource for photographers. The above image, not to everyone’s liking I’ll agree, is a simply me throwing a straight image from a photoshoot back in 2019 (which seems an age ago now) and playing with options in Nik Efex. The app I used for this was Nik Analog Efex, a smorgasbord of effects such as film type, lightleaks, motion blur, frames, camera types e.g. toy, classic, vintage etc and a whole lot more. You can simply choose a set of presets e.g. Classic Camera or you can make your own camera kit. If you love to experiment with your images, you’ll get where I am coming from.

The image above uses just a couple of effects built using the Build Your Own Camera option, these being a classic camera, film type and light leaks. No need to over-egg the pudding, I liked the base image and just wanted to add a little interest. Besides, it’s good to keep your hand in with apps like Nik Efex or you forget you have them and more importantly, how to use them.

As I mentioned, this type of experimentation is like marmite, some will love it, some will hate it. It doesn’t much matter which camp you fall into as you’ve read this far so you must be interested! So, if you want to download and play with Nik Efex, you can. It can be had free from the DxO website by visiting https://nikcollection.dxo.com/nik-collection-2012/. Go get it!

Nailing the Film Experience

Nailing the Film Experience

Not being able to accurately digitise film makes it pretty difficult to work out if you actually took good pictures or not. Was the focus off, was the lighting good, was the subject matter sufficiently interesting to even bother! This is exactly the position I found myself in recently when I decided to experiment with B&W film and an old Pentax KM SLR that had been sitting in the cupboard for 40 years plus. Truth was, I was really keen to experience the whole emotional journey of taking the photos, developing them and finally, digitising them.

Now each part of that journey has challanges. For example, taking the photos is not quite as simple as pointing a modern digital camera at the scene and pressing the shutter. For those of you you that have experimented with the manual settings on your digital cameras you’ll know exactly what I mean. There’s a lot to think about with an SLR, especially if you have a fully manual lens attached. Firstly there’s managing the light. Old SLR’s such as the Pentax KM expose for the average light entering the lens. That means that providing the light is well managed the highlights aren’t blown and darks aren’t too dark. However, all too often the sky loses detail and the shadows can be a little too dark. Unlike digital though, it’s really difficult to pull any details out of areas that are too dark or too light. Getting the right exposure then becomes an art form and it’s the reason you used to see good photographers use external light meters in order to work out the best exposure for the scene they were photographing. The second problem is capturing an image worth the effort. With digital we are in “a throw away society” and any image not up to standard, whether through poor composition, poor exposure or poor subject matter, is tossed in the bin. Follow that same approach with film and I guarantee you that you’ll have only 5 or 6 decent images out of 36. You simply can’t leave anything to chance with film. Finally, there’s any number of things that can go wrong from poor focus through to incorrectly developing the entire batch. Trust me, you need nerves of steel to get something good with film.

Taking everything above into account, the images below are from my earliest experiments with film, in this case Ilford FP4 Plus 125.I chose FP4 because I liked the look of various images I had seen on Pinterest etc so it seemed a good start point. My very first roll had been Kentmere 400 but while I got some images from this roll, I wasn’t hugely impressed, either with my compositions or my focus. I chose to use the Pentax 50mm f1.7 for that roll and I had some difficulties with nailing focus. With the FP4 I chose to use the Minolta 35-70 f2.8-4 and the results from this lens are shown below. I think that here focus was a lot sharper plus the various images had some interest. Hopefully, you’ll agree.

The gear used to achieve these images was as follows:

  • Pentax KM SLR (circa 1980)
  • Minolta 35-70 f2.8-4
  • Ilford FP4 Plus 125 36 exposures
  • Bellini Hydrofen developer & Bellini FX100 ECO fixer
  • Home built flash-lit digitising rig using Nikon D600 and Tamron 90mm f2.8 1:1 Macro lens
A cautionary tale on why I both love and hate Ebay

A cautionary tale on why I both love and hate Ebay

Anyone following this blog will know that I love experimenting with photography. Whether that is playing with film, building stuff, digitising my negatives on a shoestring or just having fun with stuff like Nik Efex.

A couple of weeks ago I was experimenting with digitising negatives and it became very clear that the lenses available to me were not going to be ideal for this task. They worked, just not ideally. What I needed to do a professional job, albeit it’s a home grown digitising setup, is a sharp, accurate 1:1 macro lens. Various online searches resulted in recommendations for the Nikon Micro 105mm f2.8 1:1 macro lens and I duly searched for one on the various shopping portals. By chance, this particular lens was due to complete on Ebay in a couple of days and so I set my top bid price using the Ebay automated bidding system which in this case was £239. As it happened, I won at £195 which was a good price for this lens so I was well pleased. I was surprised that the shipping option was 2nd Class Signed for but as its a 2 – 3 day service I felt reasonably comfortable. The item duly paid for it shipped next day and the shipping info was supplied. All good. Fast forward 11 days, and several messages with the seller later, still no lens. On day nine I had agreed with the seller that if the lens didn’t arrive in the next 24 hours he would refund. I have to say at all times the seller was courteous and responsive and as promised, on the 10th day he refunded my payment and the agreement was that I would refuse the delivery if and when it arrived. A couple of days later it did just that!

Now, for a few seconds I did think about accepting the lens and reversing the refund. What stopped me was that it arrived in a flimsy Royal Mail plastic bag with practically no packing. At best it felt like it had a single layer of micro bubble wrap as I could clearly feel all of the lens features. To my mind this is no way to ship a £200 lens, especially one that’s just had an eleven day trip around the UK. The opportunity for damage was simply to high. The lens was refused and returned. Hopefully it will reach the seller in good order but quite honestly, it’s somewhat of a lottery.

This obviously left me with a problem in that I still needed a macro lens. While waiting for delivery I had the opportunity to rethink my strategy and this latest research yielded several alternatives to the Nikon 105mm, for example the older version of the Tamron 90mm f2.8 1:1 macro. Searching online yielded several options but eventually I alighted on one in excellent condition, again on Ebay, this one for £179 on Buy It Now. There were a few other options available to me but I felt that I might wait 2 or 3 days and still pay close to £179 so I pressed the button and bought it. Literally 48 hours later I was unboxing a perfect example of the Tamron 90mm f2.8 and with it popped onto my Nikon D600 I digitised my first negative strip. Perfect results.

There are several things to learn from this story. Firstly, I only ever buy from sellers with close to 100% satisfaction rating and a lot of shipped items. Despite this, I got it wrong with one and right with another. Both were however courteous and responsive and that’s a big plus point. Secondly, my experience with the long and finally aborted delivery of the Nikon 105mm led me to ask the seller of the Tamron 90mm to upgrade shipping of the lens from Royal Mail 1st Class Tracked and Signed, a 48hour service, to Special Delivery which is a 24hour fully tracked service. I offered to pay extra but the seller refused the offer but still shipped by Special Delivery. That is outstanding customer service by any measure. I also asked if he could ensure it was packaged appropriately and indeed, it arrived boxed and well protected. Thank you Ebay seller jklewis133, I thoroughly recommend you to my readers.

Lomography Digitalizer 35mm Film Scanning Mask

Lomography Digitalizer 35mm Film Scanning Mask

I’ve mentioned the Lomography Digitalizer 35mm Film Scanning Mask (Lomography Digitalizer) in a few of my blogs but I thought I’d focus specifically on it for this one.

Firstly, the Lomography Digitalizer is a simple scanning mask which can clamp and hold a strip of up to six 35mm colour or B&W negatives. You could use it for any number of negatives between one and six of course but six is ideal. It consists of 3 parts, a metal baseplate, a plastic hinged frame which clamps the edge of the negative and a plastic central clamp which holds the film flat when you close the frame. Magnets are incorporated into the design to provide the clamping force between the various parts. Basic operation follows the procedure of placing the metal base plate in the bottom of the frame, placing the negative strip in the frame holder, placing the clamp on top of the negative, it has location guides for this, closing the frame and then removing the clamp. Because the magnetic attraction is now broken with the base plate, this falls away and you are now left with the negatives securely held in the frame ready to scan.

Loading the Lomography Digitalizer is a little fiddly especially if the film is curling. If the curl is along the negative strip then this is one problem but often the curl is along and across too so it’s really important to ensure the film is positioned correctly before clamping down the edges. This is where the central clamp does it’s work. However, because this locates on four tiny plastic prongs, it is possible to knock the film moving it slighly in the rebate when loading the central clamp. However, once the central clamp has secured the film flat against the metal baseplate, you simple close the frame and this secures the edges of the negative strip. You then remove the central clamp which drops away the metal baseplate – remember I said everything is secured using magnets. Now, while it is impossible using this technique to completely flatten the film in the holder, it does appear to do a reasonable job. Of course, the flatter your negatives, the flatter they sit in the frame. You are now ready to scan the negatives.

I should have mentioned that before doing any of the above, I recommend blowing off any dust that might be on the negatives. Cleaning both sides of the negative makes for a far better result when digitising.

In use, the Lomography Digitaliser is relatively simple to position but I do recommend either a jig or frame to ensure that you can quickly position each negative frame perfectly with respect to the camera lens. If you don’t do this, you will spend a lot of time fiddling around trying to position the frame in the right place. This is doubly relevent if you are using a 1:1 macro lens as the negative fills the frame so accuracy becomes far more important. There are other products out there that do a better job of negative positioning but they are more expensive, some very much more expensive. You pays your money and makes your choice as they say.

With regards the digitising process, if the negative is held flat, using something like a light box, mine is lit by a flash head, positioned under the frame with the camera set on say F5.6 or F8 at 1/125 or whatever your camera syncs at, ensures that you have a good DOF through the frame. This should result in a crisp, accurate digitised image. I am using a Tamron 90mm f2.8 1:1 Macro which is ideal for this task.

Nik Efex | A goldmine of gorgeousness

Nik Efex | A goldmine of gorgeousness

Every so often a piece of software is born that truly excels at what it does. One such gem is Nik Efex. Originally developed by Google as a range of free software applications for various tasks, Nik Efex has now been taken on by camera / lens guru’s DxO. The big change though is that while the Google version was free, the DxO version is part of their DxO stable of advanced editing tools, as well as being available as a paid plugin to Photoshop. However, all is not lost, Google in it’s infinite wisdom made sure that the original version of Nik Efex remains available to those, like me, who are quite happy to use an older stand alone version.

So, how do you get your hands on the free 2012 stand-alone version of Nik Efex. Well, if you search the DxO website you’ll have some trouble finding the link because DxO want you to spend money on all their new goodies. However, to make your life easy, you simply need to visit https://nikcollection.dxo.com/nik-collection-2012/ in order to grab your free for ever copy.

The tasty image above is a Nik Efex worked jpeg from my Nikon D600. In this case I used the gorgeous Nik Analog Efex to create a soft, dreamy look for this mustang with eye popping vintage colours in the background. Taken during a recent photo shoot, Nik Analog Efex makes short work of choosing a particular look for your images that really help make your product stand out from the crowd. Give it a go today, it’s 100% free after all.

How to win all your clubs photography contests!

How to win all your clubs photography contests!

When you join a photography club it can be for several reasons. You might want to associate with others having similar interests. You might want to learn about photography. You might simply join in order to be able to enter competitions. Whatever your reason, what you need to do when you start your club journey is to park the thought that everyone knows more than you, that everyone else is right, at the door! And that’s because no matter how good a photographer is, no matter how helpful or critical they try to be, they all come with baggage. The fact is that we all tend to like what we like and it takes someone truly exceptional to put that baggage to one side and to see through the eyes of the photographer they are critiquing. Unfortunately, and through personal experience, club judges rarely fall into this category because they are expected to do the job in a certain, well bounded way where the norm far outweighs the unusual, quirly or downright different. In club photography then, what you think will do well in competition undoudtadly will if it conforms closely to what typically and historically does well. Doing well in competitions is therefore less about innovative photography challanging the senses, more about knowing and being able to create a winning entry based on knowledge.

Having said all this, there is absolutely nothing wrong in wanting to succeed in club photography and just like any process, you simply need to learn the rules and to carefully study what historically does well in club competitions. This approach will maximise your chances of podium placings as well as improve your club photography.

So, what does a club judge look for in a winning image. Let’s take a look.

  • Club judges are pixel peepers: When having to differentiate between one image and another they will revert to technical imperfections in order to choose one image over another. It’s a proven technique that works as it provides them with justification to discount or mark down an otherwise good image.

  • Club judges are traditionalists: Unless the competition is themed, club judges will often prefer to stay with stuff they know and stuff they know their audience will appreciate. Landscapes, sports and wildlife all do well for this reason, portraits less so unless the judge has an interest in them (and that can be a little dodgy as they will undoubdatly be looking for flaws) and finally, at the end of the list, documentary / reportage. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with this genre of course, it probably comprises most of the published works in history, but it is a genre that judges all too often seem to avoid.

  • Club judges seem to like obviously emotional images: I have seen similar images win multiple contests even in the same season. That tells me that you can’t go wrong in club competitions if you tug at the judges heartstrings especially if the image is technically on point. That means paying real attention to the quality of your post processing. With animals, mother and child shots, especially primates seem to do really well. If you live close to a zoo or wildlife park, this type of capture is not particulalry difficult either. Just remember to pay attention to the details and nail the post-processing.

  • Judges like good post-processing: As I mentioned above, good post-processing is a must if you want to win competitions. This is often why reportage photography (often called street / candid photography) falls down as the capture of the image is often an instant decision and everything else, such as lighting, composition and technical perfection has to take second stage. You can offset these limitations to a certain degree in post with some deft manipulation but be careful as sometimes the post-processing lessons what was captured. So to reiterate, judges love well composed and post-processed images and much of what you hear in their judgmements relates to how well or poorly an image was post-processed.

  •  Judges love good composition and rules: Leading lines, the rule of thirds and odd-numbers are important differentiating tools for judges. If you are able to think about your composition before you press the shutter, that is the way to take a winning shot. Bringing in leading lines with due reference to thirds etc won’t do your image any harm but bare in mind,for many scenarios the judge will have seen it all before. Keep it fresh!

  • Judges hate clutter: If your image is difficult to read due to clutter or being overly busy it is likely to fare badly. Judges love a central subject and the least amount of detail around that subject the better. If your eye wanders around the image, so will theirs! For macro and wildlife eg insects, birds and animals in the wild it’s all about controlling bokah and any spurious foreground objects that detract from the image. For landscapes its all about composition and viewpoint and for portraits, it’s about controlling and manipulating light efficiently. Before entering your images, ask others for their opinions, Quite often we seem images differently and taking on advice before pressing the submit button will often pay dividends.

  • Judges like what they like: I hate to say it but research your judge before entering your images. Your club will often post information on your judge prior to the competition, or at least email you with their name, closing dates etc. All you then need do is visit any resources where they add their own images. This could be the associations they are affiliated to, their own personal website, instagram or facebook. Knowing your judge doesn’t mean an automatic placing but it does mean you are maximising your chance of the judge understaning your work and being naturally drawn to it. Be aware though, judges might often feel that they are at the top of their game and you presenting an image that is close to, equal to or, worse still, better than anything they have done, might not go down too well. Just a thought!

  • Judges like familiar things done a little differently: If you are a judge you are going to see 1000’s of landscapes, 1000’s of wildlife shots and 1000’s of sports images. Differentiating your image from others in the competition you are entering, or from all those that the judge has seen before, is what is going to win you a placing or a spot in the top three. It’s no good choosing that image from your archives on the day of the competition, those decisions need to have been made before you pressed the shutter. Location, position, angle of view, getting high, or low, weather and a whole lot more will come into play here so be thoughtful, be wise and be patient.

  • Judges are taught how to judge: Get hold of a copy of the guidence issued to judges by the various associations they are affiliated to. There will be judging guidence issued by those associations because judges are trained to judge. If you know what they know, then you are better able to consider what of your photography will work best.

There will be other things club judges look for in a competition entry but I think the above guidence, certainly from my experience, constitutes a good start point. Personally, I rail against club competitions because I am less interested in winning than I am about what the photograph means to me. For me, it is often the imperfections and vageries of my images, that would no doubt degrade my chances of success in competitions, that attracted me to press the shutter.

Do I enter club competitions? I have done with some success but as my interests continue to evolve, that need is becoming less and less attractive nowadays.

Six of the best from today’s walk

Six of the best from today’s walk

A photography blog isn’t much use without images. Today’s walk was a goldmine of the everyday offering up the unusual with more than enough going on to help me put this little blog together. For a change, I was porting the nifty pocket sized Canon GX7 Mk ii compact and decided to put it into Scene Mode for a bit of variety. Most of the images captured were in what Canon calls Grainy Black & White and this can be somewhat over-the-top but at times, I quite like it the harshness. The colour photos were simply taken on auto as this mode does a great job if you aren’t focused, excuse the pun, on capturing something that needs a little TLC. Enjoy.

Hammered again! Why do I do it?

Hammered again! Why do I do it?

You’re probably thinking at this point that by hammered I mean blind rolling drunk. Regrettably, no, although I wish I had been. What I actually mean is that yet again I enter a competition in good spirit and faith only for my images to be misunderstood or worse still, sidelined. Now, before going further I need to come clean and say that these two particular images actually did reasonably well, one getting 17/20 and the other 18/20. It is however not so much the scores, judging is highly subjective after all, it is the comments that I find the most telling.

Let’s start with the candid image above. Firstly, in your whole life, how many times have you seen an image like this? Seven lads, all obviously together, all on their phones rather than chatting or interacting. It’s unique. You’ll never likely never see this image again, ever. It’s also a social statement, about how we now interact with each other. We all do it. I do it everyday. Sit with friends and tap away on my phone. With regards the judges comments, the most pleasing was that it was reminiscent of Martin Parr. I was happy when I heard that as I am a huge fan of Martin’s candid photography. Thank you judge. Less pleasing was being told off for the title “The future of social interaction” as it was unecessary to spell out the obvious. Not sure about the relevance of that one. Beyond this the judge did praise my ability to “get the shot” without being sworn at, beaten up or chased off but then she went on to say that had I got lower, I could have got more of their faces. I personally think that lying on the ground in front of them would have probably given the game away and I would have lost the opportunity to take this uniquely candid shot. Worse still, it might have offered the opporunity to give me a good kicking! Personally, I know the value of this image, both to me and as a unique and hard-hitting comment on society today, and for these reasons it is priceless.

If my first image failed to capture the imagination and wonder of the judges, my second one (see above) did somewhat worse. Personally, I love this image and as for the first one, it captures a moment we see all too often today. The loneliness and isolation that the pandemic has created for so many of us. It is an image of our time. Simple, elegant, dark, asking lot’s of questions. Err, not exactly (imagine sound of a needle scrapping across a record)!! According to our judges, it’s probably a personal trainer on a break! Oh, and they wanted to see more detail of the head. Apparently, capturing him wearing a hoody or a hat was simply not good photography.

With comments such as these, and bearing in mind that critiquing other peoples work provides an opportunity to “do better next time”, I am really not sure what I am supposed to do with these. My normal approach is to fester and froth for a while when I get bad feedback, eventually coming around to the idea that I can learn from it. Thie real problem comes when you get no useful feedback as you really struggle to know how to improve and move forward as a photographer. If the assumption is that to do better in club competitions you need to get better at taking the types of photos that do well in clubcompetitions, then that’s simply not going to happen. It’s not important enough for me to want or need to do that.

I write this piece tounge-in-cheek really as I knew I was on a hiding to nothing entering images with a social, urban context in a photography club competition. My entries were actually unique in that the vast majorit of the 60 entries covered the more usual genres of abstract, wildlife, sport and portraiture. Within these there were some wonderful photography, worthy of high points and placings in the top three. Would I have chosen the same ones? Truefully, no, but then again I have a particular perspective on photography and what I like doesn’t necessarily resonate with others. Does this experience make me want to enter competitions? Sadly, no. I think I am much better suited to project work and that is probably where I will focus my attention in the future. I think creating a body of work has more meaning in the overall scheme of things and ultimately is the evolution I seek.

Bonne chance mes amis.

Part 1: Digitising film with an office scanner

Part 1: Digitising film with an office scanner

According to Wikipedia, William Heath Robinson was an English cartoonist, illustrator and artist, best known for drawings of whimsically elaborate machines to achieve simple objectives. In the UK, the term “Heath Robinson contraption” gained dictionary recognition around 1912 and became part of popular language during the First World War 1914–1918 as a description of any unnecessarily complex and implausible contrivance. My name isn’t Heath Robinson but I came close today! Here’s the story.

I’ve basically got two incompatible things that need to play nicely together. One is an old HP Office Printer / Scanner and the other is some 35mm Kentmere B&W negatives that I developed a week or so ago. You can read about that experience in another of my recent blogs (check the February 2021 archive).

Now, as everyone knows, a flat bed office scanner doesn’t work particularly well with negatives. That’s because it needs a reflective surface to capture enough light into the sensor to record the item being scanned.  Secondly, most office scanners, especially old ones like mine, can only scan at 600 DPI or, if you’re lucky, 1200 DPI so they are woefully inadequate for scanning small, semi transparent negatives. While for office work, 600 DPI is overkill, for film negatives, colour or B&W, the more resolution you can throw at it the better. To put this in perspective, the Epson Perfection V600 Photo, one of the leading brands of photo / negative scanners available today, can scan at 6400 DPI natively. That’s a huge difference to my measly 1200 DPI maximum and so my Heath Robinson approach to scanning negatives using the HP Envy is never going to procude stellar results. That being said, what I’m after here is simply to be able to view positive images of the film I’ve processed so that I can at least look at them in detail and choose any I want to process further. With regards a long term solution of transferring 35mm film into the digital realm, well, that’s another story!

OK, let’s look at my approach in a little more detail. First up, I made a circular cover, a bit like an old air raid shelter or pig pen, from carboard lined with metallic kitchen foil. The idea was to bounce the light from the scanner arm off the shiny surface and down on to the back of the negative. That was an epic failure in that it simply couldn’t reflect enough of the tiny amount of light on to the back of the negative to be useful. Other approaches I have read about, for example uisng an wedge might do better but I think the amount of light available is always going to be a limiting factor. Into the bin then with that idea!

Second up was my idea of shinning a light from a desk lamp from above down on to the negative. This however tended to create patchy light, strong in some places, weak in others which blew out some frames while leaving others darker. Putting a piece of white paper over the negative to help diffuse the light so there weren’t any hotspots worked but as I was scanning a length of six 35mm images each time, the curl of the negative caused the paper to lift resulting in the scanned image being out of focus in places and still somewhat patchy with regards lighting. I needed something transparent, and heavy, to hold down the negative! Fortunately, I have some LED light panels and these have transparent diffusers ideally suited to this task. One of these was placed directly on top of the negative, curling edges duly negated, and on top of this I put a piece of 80sgm white paper to help diffuse the light still further.  The light source at this stage was still from above. This improved things quite substantially so I thought I’d play around with this idea to see if I could improve on it still further.

The final pieces of the jigsaw finally fell into place once I realised that I could use the white plastic sheet attached to the lid of the scanner as a handy reflector. This is there to put pressure on whatever you are scanning, an A4 sheet of paper for example, in order to hold it flat to the glass. Ths meant repositioning the light to the front of the scanner so that with the lid propped half open (with a pair of scissors), the light illuminated both the paper and the white panel in the lid equally. This had the effect of making the lighting much more uniform across the scanning area. Reversing the plastic sheet with the white paper on top of the negative and the plastic sheet on top of that actually made things worse so I changed back to what I had previously. The final eureka moment came though when I laid the film parallel to the moving scanner bar rather than at 90 degrees to it as I had been doing. This meant that I could reduce the scanning distance; distance equals time taken to scan, plus the light from front to back was more uniform than from side to side.

This final setup seemed to give me the best of all worlds, faster scanning at the higher 1200DPI resolution and more uniform lighting. We should not forget though that this is never going to be a long term film to digital solution, it’s simply great for seeing what I’ve captured in more detail than holding it up to the light. Unfortunately, unless I change the scanner to something better, the quality is still poor!! One thing I do suggest irrespective of anything else, is cleaning all of the surfaces in contact with the film negatives as any marks on any diffusers you may use, or on the glass of the scanner etc will likely appear on your digital image.

One immediate question of course is can this setup be improved to give more acceptable results. I think the answer to this is yes, especially if you have a newer and higher resolution office or photo scanner. I did a bit of surfing on google and newer scanners can routinely scan at 2400 DPI and above. That will definately improve your resulting digital image resolution albeit the actual scan may be slower. The difference between scanning at 600DPI and 1200DPI in my tests was quite considerable visually although you can still see the individual LED tracks (banding) on the digital image. It likely that newer designs of scanning arm now exist too which will remove or at least minimase this effect.

I also think that the paper plays a role in final image quality. I can definately see the structure of the paper on the image, this being caused by both reflection and by the light shining through the paper leaving the paper texture as an overlay. What I need is something translucent with ultrafine grain!! That or somehow remove this from the mix or move it further away from the negative.

Another possible improvement is to change the light source. I was using a small halogen table lamp with a 3″ non-diffused circular screen but if you had say a flat LED panel, especially with a diffuser, I imagine that the light could be made much more uniform and brightness better controlled. A daylight colour bulb would also help as mine is a warm white so white balance is warm when viewing the digitised image.

Finally, holding the 35mm film strip flat using something purpose made would reduce curling of the film and thereby improve focus accuracy. It would also remove the need to use the plastic sheet to hold the negative down. Having looked around on the web, and having failed to secure two going quite cheap on Ebay, I finally circumed and purchased a Lomography Scanning Mask from Speed Digital for £30 which I am awaiting delivery of – see image below. As soon as that arrives, I will repeat this experiment and see how much improvement I get using all of the above enhancements as well as tryout a few other ideas such as using a white screen and photographing the negatives suing my phone and an app such as Google Photo Scan which looks promising.

In the meantime, here are a couple of shots of my test setup. As you can see, all pretty basic stuff.

Taking criticism on the chin!

Taking criticism on the chin!

Man and dog relaxing

If you pick up almost any book on modern photography, whether about a particular photographer or about photography in general, and take a look at the images they contain, you’ll find very little in common with the images that do well in club photography today. The simple fact is that so often, revered and highly regarded images from some of the best photographers of any generation would most likely bomb in club competition anywhere in the world. Would Saul Leiter, Shirley Baker, Vivian Maier or Fred Herzog do well in my club competitions? I’d really ike to think they would but I suspect there’s a fair chance that they would struggle.
 
Conversly,  I feel that the types of images that do well in club competitions would not necessarily acheive critical claim in the broader world of photography. To my mind there is good photography, and there is good club photography and the overlap between the two sometimes appears to be quite marginal. For this reason, I’m not a huge fan of club competitions because I often feel alienated as my interests lie in general, in reportage and documentary, and outside of the more popular genres of landscape, portrait, sport and wildlife photography more associated with my club and indeed other clubs I know of. That being said, I’m not adverse to participating in any of these other genres of course, in fact I love to spend time with my fellow photographers irrespective of where we find ourselves. If that is in the studio or on Dartmoor that is absolutely fine with me. It’s just that if I have a preference, I would be shooting urban and social documentaries rather than seeking out the natural landscape.
 
This brings me on to my main reason for posting today. Now, I will be the first to admit that the image above is not “typical photography club fare”. It is however what attracts me to photography and it is what continues to make me want to take photographs. The sad thing is that this image, although having much more in keeping with many of the photographers I admire, is never going to win over the hearts and minds of the typical club judge. That is a dissapointment to me, and I would assume it must be a disappointment to many other documentary and reportage photographers who take what they see. It’s this diversity in photography, just like any other art form, that makes it such a special genre.

All of the above being said, the one thing competition does deliver is criticism or more importantly, a critique that you can often work with and which helps to improve the image. The header image above is from a recent club competition and while in general the comments were bland and meaningless, the judge did suggest that perhaps it could be improved by converting to B&W. Now normally, I prefer my street images to be in B&W because, as the judge concluded, colour often distracts but I chose colour for my submission because I felt that the colours and tones better played to the deprivation of the scene and so added something positive to the image overall. In hindsight though, I think that the judge was right to suggest going with B&W as it does produce a particularly gritty image that adds rather than detracts from the social message I was trying to put across. If I was putting the same image in competition tomorrow would I choose B&W? You can make your own mind up as to which image, if any, works best for you and if you have any comments, it would be good to hear them.