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Rite of Passage

I made this image a few days ago on my Hassleblad 500 CM film camera while down in Suffolk.


I had been teaching one of my workshops all day since 04:45 and by this time in the evening, after the workshop, I was very tired and had to really push myself to go down to the beach to work.


I made some images digitally and was pleased with the result. It was then, as the light faded, that I moved over to making some long exposures with film.


I have set myself a goal of working with one film (Kodak 400 Tri-X) in the Blad, using the one lens I have, in order to try and master it. This was a seven minute exposure (without using ND filters). The long exposure was necessary as there was almost no light left in the sky.


Working with film is technically demanding - especially for me being primarily a digital photographer used to the instant feedback from the camera along with the histogram.


For long exposures with film you have to use a hand held light meter and ensure you take the readings from the correct areas (the camera does not have a light meter). Then you have to calculate the exposure length adding in extra time for 'reciprocity failure', something that doesn't affect digital cameras. Film is sensitive to light but the longer the film is exposed to light the less sensitive it becomes - so exposures don't get longer in the way digital long exposures do. For digital exposures for each stop you increase the exposure you simply double the previous exposure time. You do the same with film but then have to add on a bit more - and the longer the exposure gets, the more you have to add on.


I am hopeless at maths so I was relying on my iPhone to not only measure the time to hold the shutter open in club mode (using the stopwatch function) but also calculate the reciprocity failure values, which was even harder as I was tired and working in near darkness.


I love the grain and simplicity of Kodak Tri-X 400. It gives me the rough feel I am looking for, although I am tempted to also try Ilford Pan F 50 which I use in my pinhole camera as this give smoother grain. I don't think it will have the feel of the Tri-X though.


I am slowly getting used to the wait while I get the films processed (by the excellent Peak Imaging in Sheffield, UK) and love the excitement of holding the film up to the light outside after picking them up. Then the dash home to get them on the scanner to really see what you have.


I was delighted with this image, it fits exactly with what I visualised on the beach. I am inspired by Michael Kenna but also by Josef Hoflehner, who does stunning mono long exposures on film.


I have a very long way to go to get close to the skills of guys like them but I am learning so much from the process and enjoying it immensely. The results are wonderful to see on a big screen and I can find no way of truly emulating the feel that film gives you digitally.


I now look forward to trying to print this image for my wall. Here comes another steep learning curve!


I am running a low light and night photography workshop in Whitby on Saturday 12th May - drop me a message if you would like more details


See My Profile Page for links to my website, photography portfolio and workshops. You can also sign up to my newsletter.


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Taken on April 20, 2012