Man in park

Memories of black and white with no focus…

When I was a kid I remember the smell of developing fluid floating through the house from my father’s basement along with the sounds of an industrial sized drier. Obviously, like all photographers of the time, he shot in black and white.

We would go to some remote country destination each weekend, or a city market where he would wander around strapped with camera bodies and lenses, and bags of various sizes. The pictures he took where like magic. They hung in our hall in plain wood and glass frames, wonderful old craggy men smoking on benches, peering out onto passing guests.

Of course he was a semi profesional photographer at the time, so no wonders there. He won some awards too. I wish I still had one of his pictures. A small black kid, shabbily dressed, holding onto and peering out between wrought iron railings, which was shot during  a period of great racial discrimination. He even shot me in an ad campaign for ESSO when I was very young. I was washing a small white pedal Ferrari that I was too week to drive down the gravel path, as had been envisaged. Of course I didn’t get to keep it 😦

Last year I went to visit my brother in Southport, and on the way home I wanted to pop into Liverpool to catch the Larks in the parks festival in Sefton Park. Unfortunately right when we got there the shutter button on my Canon 5D Mk3 stopped focusing. It was at that point that I learned about the back focusing button, independently of any article, tip or tutorial.

It still amazes me how much we can now do in photography these days. So much in fact that when I bought my first proper digital camera [Canon 550D + EF-S 18-135mm f3.5-5.5 IS] in 2008 it really through me. The idea of just being able to move the ISO to whatever value I wanted really was witch craft. I threw out the rule book and started experimenting with just about every setting without regard for the laws of physics. I mean I could just see the results on the screen! Couldn’t I? Well yes and no because it’s not always what it seems. What looks great on a small digital screen doesn’t look so good blown up on a wall with that little bit of camera shake visible for all to see.

Some of the results where interesting, but I soon realized that while digital gives you some great advantages, there are also a boat load of disadvantages. Flexibility can be a bitch!

Learning on a great guitar might make it easier, but learning on a shitty one makes you a better player! I feel sorry for all those people cutting their teeth with digital. Film taught me that a moment is just that, a moment. A one time thing, and that your goal is to put it in a picture. That you can’t go back, it can’t be changed, re arranged or replayed with a button. Once it’s gone it’s gone, and you get 36 goes if your lucky and shelled out for a long role.

That day in Sefton park thank God I took a lot more than 36 shots, but it got me thinking. Back in the day just taking a photograph you put it all on the line. You never quite knew how things would turn out, but today you have almost complete control. Indeed, even when things go wrong there’s still a chance that you’ll find some feature that will still make it all work or rescue that shot.

Obviously these have all been processed. There is nothing inherently natural about black and white from a canon 5D Mk3 because it’s designed with low pass filter specifically for colour photography. All these pics have been processed in some way, either in Lightroom or  Photoshop to up the contrast and make them more black and white.

I will not fight that, I will celebrate it because if my father had been alive today he would grasp all this technology with both hands and scream for joy. Of course he’d probably do it after carefully reading all the manuals 🙂

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