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Kodak Portra 400 and Fujifilm Pro 400H by Laura Daly

For the last few weeks I have been experimenting with colour film.  The first rolls I picked up were the muted, pastel options from Kodak and Fujifilm.  Both are 400 speed films, but I had read on various sites that they tend to look a little better (perhaps a bit more dreamy) when a stop over-exposed.  So, all the images you'll see were metered at 200 ISO.  I tried out the films during two main trips, Cambridge city and Wimpole Hall estate (a National Trust property to the west of the city), and luckily I had sunny, bright conditions!  It will be interesting to see how the films perform in more dull conditions. I processed the films myself at home using a Tetenal 1L C-41 kit.  The results have been fine, although I have had some problems with chemical spots and the occasional streak.  This is a bit weird, as I have had no such problems with my black and white development.  I know my technique and steps are OK, so maybe it's a curiosity specifically related to the C-41 chemistry...

The sharpness of both films is great, with minimal grain (much less compared to a 400 speed B&W film e.g. HP5+), but less contrast compared to other film stocks and formats.  The main difference between the films is the colour cast you get straight from the scanner.  The Portra is much, much warmer, much more yellow than the Fuji.  The colours are muted in both, but the Portra images seemed much more summery - perfect if you are going for that look.  Take a look at the images below and decide for yourself which film you prefer.  Let me know in the comments below.  [Again, I have only edited the images to remove dust and hairs from the jpegs, I have not corrected colour, contrast etc]

Kodak Portra 400

Fujifilm Pro 400H

Wandering in Wicken Fen by Laura Daly

Finding time to go out shooting is usually my problem.  With limited free time, sometimes that motivation to go out with the camera is missing.  But every time you do, you remember why, and this trip to Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire was one of those times to remind you not only how enjoyable making images can be, but also that we are so lucky in Britain to be surrounded by such varied landscapes. Wicken Fen is a National Trust property between Ely and Cambridge.  There's a good variety of things to shoot, with an old wind pump, wheat fields, waterways and Konik ponies.

Windmill-1506Wheat-1541Fenland skies-1555

The boardwalk around the marshy fens takes you around the old windpump.  A light breeze added a nice bit of motion to the wheat in the foreground of the shots I was taking of the pump.  Not being a full-time pro, it is a lot more difficult to get the (cliche?) sunset/sunrise shots, but luckily the April weather was being kind, providing some lovely clouds and rain storms on the horizon.  It was actually a blessing in disguise, as recently I've been trying to move away from the traditional thinking of landscape photography - the more you look on sites like 500px, the more the landscape shots begin to look the same!

Tree-1530Wind-1563

Looking to the skies also gave me some different looks.  The D750's much derided flippy screen is so useful when trying to get alternative perspectives...and without looking like a prat bending over in less than flattering positions!  Shooting at f/8 with the highly recommended Nikkor 16-35mm f/4, the images I was getting were brilliantly sharp with lovely contrast.

Solitary konik-1595Konik portrait-1607

The absolute highlight of our visit to Wicken Fen was seeing the wild herd of Konik ponies.  These were absolutely beautiful animals who seemed completely at ease in their environment.  In the case of the stallions in the herd, perhaps too comfortable...The horses were curious to the point of following you along the fence, which made them great subjects for some portraits.  Of course, coming here on a landscape shoot meant I did not have anything longer than 35mm, but they got so close that ended up being the perfect focal length.

Snout-1598

Wide angle lenses can actually be great for unusual portraits of animals.  The image above is not right - the focus is on the middle of the snout and not the eye, and there's a hand on the right.  But, actually, there's still something charming about that horse.  If only the focus point had been in the right place...

Geevor Tin Mine, Cornwall by Laura Daly

Day 5 - Geevor tin mine.  The weather picked up dramatically from the first few days (if you saw a previous post, we were engulfed by some murky weather), and we headed off to one of the best known tin mine museums in Cornwall.  Tin mining used to be a huge industry here, and the landscape is covered in old stacks and derelict shells of former mining outfits.  There is even a Poldark mine...Geevor tin mine is home to a fantastic wealth of information about mining, and you can even walk through a shallow mine shaft which is manned by people who used to work here.  Claustrophobic individuals might want to avoid that!  One of the best parts of the mine (especially for a photographer) are the buildings devoted to the workers themselves, where they came in in the morning, where they prepared for the long day in the dark, and where they cleaned up after a hard day mining tin.  I tried to capture the feel of the place in a photo story style, with a number of images trying to show the conditions they faced and the spirit they had while working here. At the bottom of this structure you could see the shaft this lift was using and how deep it was. Certainly not for the faint hearted.

This was part of the lift construction to transport miners and their equipment underground.

Next to this structure was the building complex for the miners.  You could see the company had tried to provide some home comforts for them considering the difficult working conditions, but it did seem quite bleak.  The whole area was called "the dry", purely because the miners would dry their overalls here, and have a shower to get clean and dry.  There was a very clear sense of hierarchy in the dry, with separate mess areas and shower areas for the bosses.  The more interesting part was the mass locker room for the "grunts" of the mine, the workers.  So much of their stuff had just been left when the mine was suddenly closed in 1986, and the museum has left many of these items, dust and all, to give a sense of what it was like.

Shirts, pants, socks, jackets, so many items were left behind.

The personality of the miners shone through. A few bikers' lockers were grouped together, showing a shared love of machinery.

Some of these men also seemed pretty good at riding, with some stickers from competitions they had entered.

Photographically this area was quite challenging.  The light was both low level and of varying quality, including a mixture of different light sources.  It took a little while to recognise the white balance that was needed (although granted, shooting in RAW meant this could be corrected in Lightroom).  Also, I had to open the lenses and shoot at a higher ISO - ISO is less of a problem with the Fuji X system as it produces pleasing film-like grain, but the wide aperture meant that I missed good focus sometimes.

Clocking in for the last time in '84.

The sense of humour of the miners was clear to see.

Alongside the items left by the workers were photographs of themselves, along with some stories of times in the mine.  It was eerie to read these in the quiet calm of the empty dry, especially with their property hung up around you.

Shower time in the Dry. This shower was for the normal shift workers. There was little privacy.

Abandoned tokens, for the abandoned possessions.

Mono conversions are fantastic with the files from the Fuji X-Pro1.  The RAW files have such nice tones directly out of the camera, it takes little work in Lightroom to bring out a little more contrast.  The more I use this camera, the more it seems the files take less work than with the Nikon D750.  The files don't react well to sharpening, but if you get it right when taking the image (i.e. minimising camera shake), you don't need to add sharpening in post-production as the files are that good.  Particularly with the 35mm f/1.4 and the 18mm f/2.

The workshop.

This was a nice break of routine for me, as it allowed me to consider a set of images to convey a sense of a place full of history.  Normally I'm more accustomed to finding the "one" image with landscapes, but I really enjoyed our day at the mine.  As I would relish the chance to photograph a wedding in the future, this kind of storytelling is great practice, except for the lack of people of course...

Bedruthan Steps, Cornwall by Laura Daly

Day 3 - the north Cornish coast.  After a brief visit to the impossibly busy Padstow, hunting down decent landscape images was back on the agenda.  Fuelled by a delicious chick pea and potato curry pasty, we headed along the coastal road towards the Bedruthan steps (find them here - http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/carnewas-at-bedruthan/).  Again, like many of the National Trust locations in Cornwall, there is parking, and as we arrived late in the afternoon it was free.  The north Cornwall coast is extremely breezy because of its exposed location, which is why surfers flock here in their VW Transporters.  But this breeze made it pretty tricky for us to keep the camera steady for longer exposures!  So after a mild period of quiet panic, we hooked the gear bag onto the tripod and started shooting... bedruthan-steps-1-0923

Once again (like many of my coastal adventures) I broke out the Lee filters - both the ND grad (2 stops) and the Big Stopper were used.  I just can't get away from blurring the motion in the ocean!  When setting up a shot like this, I always take a series of images:  first one is for checking composition only, next one checks the exposure using a ND grad, and then the next few I use to get the exposure time right for the right look in the water.  I would always recommend this approach, because sometimes I find that the image without certain filters actually appeals to me more.

Bedruthan steps 2-0925

These two images were made right on the edge of a pretty fragile cliff (there were warning signs a little way along the soily edge to our left), but the platform was stable enough for the tripod.  The breeze was up, but there wasn't too much blur in the image from wind shake...we were lucky!

Heading north slightly, we made our way down a pretty steep (but well-paved) set of steps to the first lookout over the Bedruthan steps area.  The wind (and the spray) was picking up so we opted against going down the famous steps and instead stayed up on the cliff above the beach.  Avoiding some camera shake here seemed pretty much impossible and so the images from this location weren't as sharp as they could be, but the view was excellent.

Bedruthan steps

The beach was quite busy with people walking their dogs, but with the longer exposure their movement nicely compliments and matches the motion in the water lapping up onto the beach.  The colour of the ocean was fantastically blue, but it needed some help from Lightroom in order to make the images match what my eyes saw.  Generally though, colour reproduction from the Nikon is usually excellent.

Bedruthan steps beach

We continued on for another half mile or so (it felt further with the rolling terrain) till we reached the headland that had been a feature in the background of the images we'd produced so far.  From this position, we could also see Newquay in the far distance.  Combined with the rough sea, you could really see from this point why the north Cornish coast is a mecca for surfers.

Distant Newquay 1-0946

The sun was pretty much directly to our right in this location, so it was making the contrast a little trickier to control, and the colours of both the sea and the surrounding foliage was not quite as vibrant.  However, the new dehaze slider in Lightroom worked wonders to clear this up slightly.

Colour version

Monochrome conversion

Because of this weird side light and high contrast, a mono conversion seemed a good bet to combat this.  I have included both versions for you to compare.  With time getting on we decided to call it a day and start to head back to our rented cottage.  It would have been amazing to stay for a sunset, but this wasn't just a photography trip, and I owed my husband some dinner...